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Manley Labs Stingray II integrated amplifier

The history of hi-fi in movies is not a long one but there have been some notable examples; the Nakamichi cassette deck seductively spinning a tape on 9 ½ Weeks, the TEAC reel to reel that steals the scene in Pulp Fiction and – most recently – the appearance of a Manley Stingray II amplifier in Another Round, winner of the Best International feature film Oscar in April this year. It’s not hard to see why director Thomas Vinterberg would have chosen it, on style terms alone the Stingray is a distinctive piece of kit even before the glass starts to glow. I was struck by the way that the front of the amp, where the controls are, appears to be floating with the only visible legs being at either end of the diamond-shaped chassis. This is achieved by having the weight of the mains and output transformers at the back on the other two legs which counterbalances the front.

Manley Stingray II

The Stingray II is an integrated amplifier with four EL84 output tubes per channel that can be run in triode or ultra-linear modes, the former specced at 20 Watts and the latter push-pull arrangement doubling the output. This tube is not found in many amplifiers today but made its name in one of the classic tube amplifiers of yore; the Leak Stereo 20 where a single pair of EL84s per channel delivered a sound that continues to charm listeners to this day. The Stingray II is more powerful and has a significantly wider range of features including inputs and outputs on the flanks either side of the controls. One of these is a minijack input for smartphones and computers and the other a 1/4” headphone jack. This last connects to the output from the output transformers and is a fine headphone amplifier, especially in triode mode.

A processor under the bonnet allows the Stingray II to be controlled remotely by either RF or IR commands, the walkie-talkie style handset can be run in either mode and allows operation from another room should the urge take you. Despite (or because of) its substantial size, this handset is quite nice to use, one of the few that’s designed for those with less than dainty digits, and if you look hard you’ll find most of the controls you need. Unlike many modern tube amps the Stingray II doesn’t have an auto bias system, instead there is a multi-meter and screwdriver in the box alongside clear instructions on how to set the current going through each tube. I gave this a go and found that the bias was close to the required 250mV on each, fine tweaking of each allowed it to be set precisely and quickly.

One of the quirks of the Stingray II chassis shape is that the socketry is on the back of either flank, which means that cables stick out at 45 degrees and those for left and right channels are quite far apart. If your interconnects aren’t attached to one another that’s not really a problem, but it does make for a more cable rich appearance that some might find an aesthetic challenge. There are three line inputs on RCA only alongside a record loop which effectively forms a fourth input and can be selected with the arcanely marked ‘insert’ button on the remote. The minijack on the front forms another input of course. The way this amp looks can be changed by altering the display which can be dimmed permanently or timed out after a specified duration, you can even select ‘starlight’ mode where you can choose how many of the LEDs twinkle “in a (mostly) random sequence”. Cool.

Meet Your Maker: Robert Koch of Robert Koda

Originally from South Africa, Robert Koch now lives in Japan and his amplifiers are both made in Japan and realise many of the best aspects of ultra-specialist Japanese audio electronics. Perhaps more importantly, however, high-performance audio has been a passion for Robert from a very young age. We spoke to him about how he created Robert Koda and where the company goes from here…

 

How did you start out in audio?

Our family home had two music rooms, both with decent kit. By the time I was 12 or so audio quality became important to me. With the interest in audio came an interest in electronics and radio. I became a licensed radio ham as soon as legally able at 16 years old. Through the club, I was able to get a hold of plenty of technical information but as it happened our city library had all the AES (Audio Engineering Society) journals. A golden find leaving me immersed for days on end, and building huge files stacked with photocopies.

 

What was your first big break?

As a youngster, I was approached by a chap who wanted me to build him an Audio Research M300. I turned his offer down, but he gave me an after-school and weekend job at his high-end audio store. I spent a decade or so at that store and we were always looking for the “Holy Grail”.

My other big break was to meet Kondo San (Kondo Hiroyasu of Audio Note fame, who died in early 2006) who was kind enough to take me under his wing. I remain incredibly thankful for the opportunity and care Kondo San – and later Ashizawa San – gave me.

 

What did you learn from working with Kondo San?

Perseverance and patience first. Materials and technique second. Then perseverance and patience again – Completing the task you set out upon without any loss of interest or focus.

 

Is this why your amplifiers use both valves and solid-state as a base?

As a teenager I learned how tubes work before learning about transistors. I have always loved tubes, but I have come to better understand their inherent limitations and fields of usefulness. On the other hand, I have learned how to better harness semi-conductors in such a way that mitigates their (mostly) soluble flaws. So, it’s a natural flow to follow what can lead to the desired result.

 

Your products are minimalist yet use balanced and single-ended inputs and outputs. Why?

A pre-amplifier needs to be useful in a number of settings. Some power amplifiers are best run with a single-ended input, others not. The same goes for source components. If there is no or at least very little sacrifice a pre-amplifier should be able to support all these conditions unless specified for a particular niche. In the case of K-15 there is no sacrifice but there is added cost since in our application at least the volume control becomes twice the monster…

 

Why are your preamplifiers low gain?

It’s all in the pursuit of ‘the purest signal path’! I tried passive pre-amps and found that even though greater voltage gain was not required to achieve a desirable listening volume, there was a definite collapse in sound quality as compared to a decent active pre-amp. Our pre-amps are built with sufficient gain (x2.5) to reach suitable volume even on older digital mastering, and our pre-amps offer loads of power gain. For example, the K-15 might consume 80µW from the source while delivering 27,000µW into a load.

 

What is the secret to your amplifiers’ absence of sonic signature?

“Dynamic simplicity” is a strong theme and key word in our designs. Music is in a constant state of flux and in order not to displace this delicate time and amplitude relationship we need inherently stable electronics that does not introduce additional moving parameters. Every aspect of the design needs to be ‘sorted.’ For example, a Class A/B output stage would place a music/loudspeaker related shifting load on the power supply and if the power supply was imperfect, time shifted voltage fluctuations could influence other parts of the amplifier resulting in a corrupted outcome… Quite the opposite of our vision of “Dynamic simplicity”.

URL: robert-koda.com

Robert Koda K-15 EX review

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Robert Koda K-15 EX line preamplifier

Uncompromising. Minimalist. These are words that are often bandied around the audio world (I’ve used them far too many times myself) to the point where they have almost no meaning. In some cases, they can be a convenient excuse to justify the absence of a key aspect of a component in some all-too-often nebulous claim to improved performance. But when it comes to the Robert Koda K-15 EX line preamplifier, you begin to see that these terms still have some life left in them. And also, you begin to discover that the terms are not entirely interchangeable.

Let’s break those terms apart, in the light of the line preamplifier; ‘minimalist’ is doing without a remote or a balance control, ‘uncompromising’ is recognising the extent of the damage including either of those circuits has on a preamplifier. ‘Minimalist’ is limiting the preamplifier to five balanced or single-ended inputs and two balanced or single-ended outputs, ‘uncompromising’ is wiring those inputs point-to-point direct to the selector without any form of circuit board to get in the way. ‘Minimalist’ is replacing a potentiometer with a resistor ladder to make a better volume control. ‘uncompromising’ is going for a custom-designed L-pad attenuator instead. An L-pad design means ‘volume level’ isn’t a point on a potentiometer, it isn’t even a ladder array of resistors (because that means the potential for many resistors and solder joints in the signal path); this arrangement means there is just one resistor per channel in the signal path at any given volume level. What’s more, those high-precision carbon composition resistors are specifically designed for audio use and are only ever used in audio applications (Koda stresses that these parts are only used in audio applications).

 

Robert Koda K-15 EX internal image
Only the best components are used in the Robert Koda preamp

Then, there’s Robert Koda’s unique ITC (Inverted Transconductance Coupling) circuit, which uses solid-state semiconductors in the way most companies use triodes. And then there’s the way the K-15 EX acts as, in essence, a single-ended preamplifier and a balanced preamplifier, whose paths only cross should the need arise, creating a ‘best of both worlds’ design.

Continuing that ‘best of both worlds’ approach, the K-15 EX is a solid-state preamplifier that largely eschews printed circuit boards and is built point-to-point like some of the very best valve amplifier designs. The point-to-point circuit design also allows greater control over the materials used in the signal path, and in this case, Robert Koda hard-wires everything with high-grade silver wire (as befits Koch’s Audio Note heritage). The K-15 EX tips its hat to modernity by building each section of the preamplifier into well-isolated ‘rooms’ within the chassis. Some of those rooms are extremely well isolated, too; the zero-feedback, choke-regulated power supply (which, one could argue, is the best the pre-transistor world could offer and remains unequalled today) is housed in what could best be described as a vault, designed to prevent any stray magnetic fields from escaping the power supply’s clutches. Every other stage in the preamp also has its ‘best case scenario’ chamber, whether that be copper, mu-metal, or iron. It’s easy to say that “nothing is left to chance” because, frankly, a preamplifier at this lofty aspect should leave nothing to chance, but the Robert Koda K-15 EX shows just how many of the best preamps still leave some elements left un-addressed because they have always been that way.

However, ultimately none of that is more than ‘surface’ relevant, because it simply contributes to a preamplifier that is discussed in hushed tones among audio’s cognoscenti. This is a product that isn’t just extremely expensive and so exclusive that Robert Koda has a Morgan-like waiting list. It’s a product you have to ‘earn’ rather than just ‘buy’. There are other (granted, not many) preamplifiers that have a similar price-point, and some that are so built-to-order that you might be waiting months to get your sample, but few make such demands on the design and implementation of the system or so crucial a set of listener requirements as the K-15 EX. Frankly, if you aren’t ready for that degree of analysis of system and music yet, the Robert Koda K-15 EX isn’t your preamplifier. The preamp may yet be in your future when you have reached the pinnacle of what ‘mainstream’ high-end audio can achieve and wish to go even further.

Shunyata Research Omega QR-s power cord and DF-SS cable elevators

Fans of British TV from 15 or so years ago might remember Mr Doovdé by the Phonejacker, Kayvan Novak. His schtick was to phone up companies and repeatedly – and frustratingly – pronounce acronyms as proper names, such as ‘Derveder’, ‘Doovday’ or ‘Doovdé’ in place of ‘DVD’. So, I am pleased to review Shunyata Research’s Omega Querse power cord, especially as it comes supplied with a trio of Derfs cable elevators. OK, so it’s Omega QR-s and DF-SS, but from here on in, when you see the term DF-SS, you’ll be thinking ‘Derfs’. Sorry, Shunyata.

Omega QR is the absolute pinnacle of Shunyata’s research and development in power cord and took three years of iterative product testing to deliver a performance that sets the standard for eliminating any kind of dynamic compromise between outlet and component. The people heard it, loved it… and then whined about how inflexible it was. So, Omega QR-s was born; a cable that takes the technology found in the very top power cord Shunyata makes with the sort of flexibility that means your DAC or phono stage isn’t floating in mid-air.

Shunyata Research QR-s power cord

Like most things Shunyata, the Omega QR-s bristles with Shunyata’s own technology, each neatly described by its own acronym, none of which get the Mr Doovdé treatment for brevity. Omega QR-s uses a QR/BB module (which provides a local reserve of energy to mitigate the inductive reactance of the power cord, but without resorting to an R/C network) and a NIC (Noise Isolation Chamber) device in the central tube surrounding the cable, which is already one of Shunyata’s Noise Reduction designs. Factor in the company’s VTA-Ag (outer copper strands with a solid silver core) conductors, its own CopperCONN connectors with carbon fibre outer shells, a design optimised for optimum current delivery by its proprietary DT/CD measurement system and finalised with Shunyata’s KPIP kinetic phase inversion run-in process and you have a lot of tech in one chunky cable inside its own flight case.

Shunyata’s Omega QR-s is one of the most dynamically unconstrained power cords out there, and that’s saying a lot. Granted this needs some big-hitter electronics to fully realise, but it lets the dynamics through almost irrespective. Meaning if you end up with one of those ‘reviewer’s folly’ systems where the cable is five times more expensive than the device it pokes into, you still hear the dynamic freedom of expression. Naturally, if order is preserved and you use something really high-end (I used the Gryphon Ethos CD player, which I hope doesn’t remind Gryphon that I have the Ethos CD player), then that ‘dynamics, unconstrained’ presentation takes on a gravitas all its own. This applies just as much to small-scale ‘girl-with-guitar’ music as it does with an orchestra playing at full tilt, but perhaps the best example of how it works well is with the soundtrack to Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom [Branford Marsalis, Sony]. Playing ‘Those Dogs of Mine’, the separation between vocal and piano is marked, and Viola Davis rasping vocal and its inherent humour comes through perfectly. But really, the whole album is extremely well recorded and benefits from the extra sense of dynamic freedom the Omega QR-s brings.

Innuos PhoenixNet network switch

When you have produced some of the best regarded music servers available and followed that up with a USB reclocker that outperforms many streamers what is your next move? For Innuos founder Nuno Vitorino it was to develop a network switch from the ground up. In many ways it’s the next logical step, if you have an Innuos Zenith server and a PhoenixUSB reclocker you will also have a DAC and everyone makes those, but as others including Melco and Ansuz have discovered the network switch is just as critical a part of a streaming system as the core elements mentioned above.

You don’t of course need a dedicated switch in a streaming audio system but they have proven to be a good way of reducing the incoming noise from the rest of the network. Most networks are based on the giveaway router supplied by your ISP and the equally cheap as chips power supply that comes with it, replacing that power supply is the least expensive upgrade you can make by the way. If you can use the router provided solely as a modem and hook it up to a decent router albeit not one that’s festooned with aerials, those things pick up as much noise as they send out, that will also help.

I asked Nuno for his take on the problems with regular network switches and he explained “we saw tremendous potential for improvement as there were many design decisions that were made to satisfy IT requirements rather than audio. In IT, you want the switch to take your data from A to B as fast as you can and preferably consuming the least amount of power. As long as power noise doesn’t prevent the destination from processing the digital data, everything is ok. In audio it’s a different story – we don’t want to simply receive the data, we want the signal to contain as little noise and interference as possible as that will influence components down the chain. This is why we decided to build a switch that makes very little noise in the first place rather than trying to prevent it. For this we required a different approach to designing a switch in order to simplify protocols, keep paths short, power the chips as cleanly as possible and make sure the timing of the signal is spot on. The only way we could do this was designing a switch from scratch.”

Innuos PhoenixNet network switch
Half-sized Innuos case matches the range

The PhoenixNet looks very much like the PhoenixUSB at a glance as the two share the same half width casework and Innuos’ distinctive stealth styling on the front panel, but around the back things are rather different. This unit has four, just four, chunky ethernet ports. This gives you some idea of how dedicated the PhoenixNet is to audio duties, it will work as a general switch but only just. For one thing it has maximum throughput of 100Mb where all commercial switches are good for a gigabit, you don’t need high speeds for audio signals and adding the capability introduces noise, which is very clearly the enemy. Inside the case on a very neatly laid out circuit board you will not find traffic prioritisation circuity nor switching regulators because neither are required for audio signals. Neither is there any optical decoupling which is a popular method for isolating noise, Innuos found that the decoding process required to turn light into an electrical signal introduced more noise than they were able to achieve with purely copper connections.

AURALiC Launches Amazon Music Unlimited on All Products

Beaverton, Dec. 17, 2021 – AURALiC Inc., today announced that it will now offer the capability to stream Amazon Music Unlimited on all of its streaming products.

Owners of AURALiC products may now control and play Amazon Music from within Lightning DS, a feature-rich and intuitive control app designed in-house by the AURALiC engineering team. With Amazon Music Unlimited, subscribers can stream more than 75 million lossless, High Definition (HD) songs, with a bit-depth of 16 bits and a sample rate of at least 44.1 kHz (CD quality). Customers can also stream more than 7 million songs in Ultra HD (better than CD quality), with a bit-depth of 24 bits and a sample rate up to 192 kHz, which reveals even more nuances that were once lost in files compressed for digital streaming.

 

 

The team at AURALiC continually seeks out new, high-quality music subscription services to integrate with their award-winning product range as part of an ongoing effort to provide customers with as many options as possible when streaming music at the highest levels of quality.

About AURALiC Founded in 2009, AURALiC designs innovative, high-performance audio products focused on getting the most out of your music. Whether stored on a hard drive at home, or streamed to you from an online service, AURALiC products will bring all your music to life.

Contact:EU/UK: Richard Bates, [email protected] 

Russ Andrews RANS-1 Network Switch

A couple of years ago, the concept of an audiophile network audio switch was all but the stuff of sci-fi. Now, however, it has become a staple of the modern face of good audio. What’s changed? In no small part, it’s the result of an ever-broader acceptance and understanding of audio meeting the requirements of networked audio. The ‘everything makes a difference’ drive of modern audiophiles might not extend to the direction of a water faucet or folding over pages in books anymore (what happened in the 1980s stays in the 1980s), but it does reach almost everything electronic in and around the audio system. The RANS-1 by Russ Andrews takes a lot of the good concepts in traditional audio electronics and applies them to the network connections we use to get the music that drives those audio electronics today.

The RANS-1 approaches the network switch in a classic audiophile way; it separates the boxes into ‘gubbins’ and ‘power supply’, then uses higher-grade components in both to get the best possible performance out of the ‘gubbins’ part. l am not being dismissive here; this is a tried, tested and trusted way of improving an electronic circuit in the audio world and it has worked for the preamp, phono stage, DAC and even streamer, so why shouldn’t it work on a network switch? OK, the naysayers (of which there are many, and Russ Andrews makes products that are naysayer-magnets at times) will argue that in many cases adding a separate power supply and more esoteric components in a device is little more than gilding the lily, but they say that about a lot of things. Sometimes, a spot of lily-gilding can produce results, even ones that aren’t in the 1940s book of audio engineering.

Russ Andrews RANS-1 Network Switch
The rear of both switch and external power supply

The Russ Andrews RANS-1 is an eight-port gigabit switch in identical and nondescript enclosures with pinpoint blue LEDs on the front and the usual array of yellow and green LEDs to accompany each port. This eight-port switch is given additional shielding and damping, as well as a custom Trichord clock. The box without any ports is a linear power supply with a single IEC inlet (a Russ Andrews Yello power cord is provided) and the two are connected by locking three-pin power connectors, with a short (0.3m) Kimber PBJ cable to hook them together. The power supply feeds the switch and its internal clock with separate supplies. I guess if you asked nicely you could play ‘Pimp My RANS-1’ with a more exotic power cord and connecting cable, but this is more than enough.

REL Serie T/7x subwoofer

First, let me begin with an apology. I got into publishing at a time when ‘hot metal’ was still just about a thing and REM and the KLF were in the charts. And in that time, I have never once broken an embargo. Until I flagged up the REL Serie T/7x in one of our Next Issue contents pages! My apologies to all concerned.

In my defence, I was left unsupervised with a really good subwoofer I wanted to discuss and my excitement got the better of me. The new three-strong Serie Tx range represents a new starting place for subwoofer experts REL and the Serie T/7x (in between the T/9x and T/5x) is something of the sweet spot; a good balance between price and performance that makes it the perfect choice for audio enthusiasts in the jumping-off spot for subwoofery.

A subwoofer in an audio setting has to balance bass depth, speed and integration with the rest of the loudspeaker sound. This is subtly different to the requirements in home cinema, where the subwoofer is considered a channel in its own right, rather than a reinforcement to the sound of a pair of good speakers. Get it right in audio, and it’s like you’ve given the main speakers the freedom to be themselves, opening out the soundstage, making the midrange more clear and open, and focusing the sound more tightly and accurately. Get it wrong and you have a speaker that slows the music and booms along with the song, undermining what makes a good system. REL has always batted above average in making a good sub that integrates well into a domestic audio system, so any changes to the REL genome is met with some trepidation.

REL Serie T/7x bottom
There’s a front and a down-firing driver

The T/7x uses the well-trodden path of a front-firing active driver with a down-firing passive radiator; in this case a 200mm ‘FibreAlloy’ long-throw unit with an inverted alloy dust-cap housed in a steel chassis, and a 250mm long-throw unit with its own inverted dust-cap. This is driven by a 200W Class AB amplifier and includes the usual Neutrik speaker-level connector alongside the regular line-level inputs. REL also has an optional ‘Arrow’ wireless connection that can be used with the T/7x. The cabinet is no longer an equal-sided cube; its stubbier look isn’t just decorative, though; although it looks smaller, cabinet volume has been improved slightly over previous models in the same ball-park.

Enleum AMP-23R integrated amplifier

When it comes to amplifiers power is cheap, especially if you are looking at transistors. You can get 100 Watt amps for sums that don’t break the bank… and that’s your classic Class A/B types; if you go for Class D, prices are significantly lower. But there was a time when modest power outputs were the norm for solid-state amplifiers and 50 Watts was considered more than sufficient for the average system. Indeed, there used to be a school of thought that considered high power to be a bad thing, quite possibly a philosophy emanating from a certain Salisbury based company where 100 Watts used to be considered so excessive as to be vulgar.

Enleum is very much in favour of low power amplifiers and has been making them under the Bakoon name for 12 years now. Its biggest AMP-51R is specified to produce 100W but it costs nearly twenty thousand dollars. By contrast, its debut product from 2009 – the AMP-31 – offered 15W for approximately the same price as the Enleum AMP-23R. The new AMP-23R is a 25 Watter and a rather distinctive beast with three large and asymmetrically placed feet under a small but perfectly formed enclosure. An amp that is more minimalist than most, its maker Soo In Chae has taken the less is more philosophy to heart and extended it to the power output and size of this amplifier. Specifically in the way that the signal paths are much shorter than usual and the circuit was designed to be quieter and more efficient than most.

Enleum AMP-23R
The tall feet make the diminutive AMP-23R stand tall

The AMP-23R is an integrated amplifier with only two controls, a button that switches it on or off that also doubles as an input selector, and a volume control. The headphone output shares exactly the same circuits all the way to the output section, and the output relay is switched and selects to output to the headphone jack when a headphone is inserted. But that’s it. There is barely anything in the way of lighting either, just tiny LEDs to indicate input. The volume knob, which is actually a stepped attenuator, has a delightful mechanical display where a white indicator moves behind the pierced holes that surround the knob, so this is pretty much invisible in low light. The design of the case alone make the Enleum a cult product, but things are a bit different around the back as well.

Two of the AMP-23R’s inputs are on conventional RCA phono connections but the third pair are on BNC connectors, the type used to make a proper 75 Ohm link between a digital source and DAC. The RCA phonos are marked ‘voltage’ the BNCs have Enlink beneath them and provide a proprietary current based connection for forthcoming Enleum source components. Prior to the fire at AKM which eliminated a key supplier of audio chips Soo In had planned to release a phono stage and a DAC with Enlink outputs, these are now expected “later next year”. The only other elements on the back of the AMP-23R are a pair of good quality five-way binding posts for speaker cables and a power inlet, there really isn’t the space for anything else.

Lindemann Musicbook Source II and Power II

From the Lindemann press release

Following the recently announced Musicbook POWER II, the Musicbook SOURCE is now available from LINDEMANN in its second generation as well. Both models have been carefully revised and now, as a team, offer even more musical information together with an amazing sense for timing and interplay. Sound quality at the limits of technical feasibility! 

Important to know: despite considerable bottlenecks of the electronics market LINDEMANN continues to manufacture the musicbooks in series. The production is secured for the upcoming years! This works not least owing to 100% made in Germany. 

POWER II 

In its current version, the Musicbook POWER II has become some kind of hybrid amplifier: The voltage amplification is largely provided by an ultra quality analogue J-FET gain stage; the adaptation to the speakers is handled by proven N-Core circuit technology which is used as a power buffer. The result is impressive: sparkling verve and a wealth of detail, combined with total control over the loudspeaker. 

Prices: Musicbook POWER II 500 = EUR 2,690.– / Musicbook POWER II 1000 = 3,590.– 

SOURCE II 

Likewise, the Musicbook SOURCE II has been systematically developed further – with a focus on the analogue preamp. The headphone output sounds even better now and can also drive 16-ohm headphones. 

Even more effort was put by LINDEMANN into the further development of the firmware where initial bug fixes and patches have finally turned into a completely new stack. The most important novelties are the implementation of Spotify Connect and TIDAL Connect. Moreover, there are minor and major new features such as the elimination of the lipsync problem when connecting a TV set, network standby, fixed-level line output with analogue volume control bypass, dB-linear volume control in 80 incremental steps, sampling rate display for the digital inputs, Spotify selection via remote control without using the app and many others. 

Lindemann Musicbook Source II
Lindemann’s latest preamplifier in the Musicbook line: Source II

Owing to 1-bit re-sampling, the great-sounding AKM converter modules and the upgraded preamp, the new Musicbook SOURCE II once again raises the sound benchmark for the best streaming DACs. By the way: despite worldwide supply shortages LINDEMANN will also in the future relies on the probably best converter modules from AKM and the already legendary 1-bit re-sampling process for the SOURCE II! 

Prices: Musicbook SOURCE II = EUR 3,590.– / Musicbook SOURCE II CD = 3,890.— 

LAST BUT NOT LEAST 

As you may well expect from LINDEMANN, “ancient“ models – as far as possible – can always be kept up to date. Since early November existing users of the Limetree BRIDGE, Limetree NETWORK and Musicbook SOURCE I models can also enjoy almost all features of the SOURCE II with a general and, as usual, free firmware update (if not already present)! 

For more information see www.lindemann-audio.com 

 

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Rogers LS3/5A SE stand-mount loudspeakers

To say the classic BBC LS3/5A is ‘iconic’ is something of an understatement. Even though the design is older than many of the people who buy a pair today, despite the BBC having long since moved on to other loudspeakers for speech monitoring in small spaces, and the age of the design notwithstanding, the LS3/5A still pulls in the kind of cult following that few other products can match.

As such, the LS3/5A’s specification sheet is functionally sacrosanct. Which means that Rogers making an ‘SE’ version could be the stuff of pitchforks and burning torches (OK, angry posts on internet forums and Twitter feeds… but that is merely the 21st Century version of the angry mob). In fairness, Rogers is one of the few brands that could make a souped-up LS3/5A, as most of those original era BBC-designed loudspeakers sold in the domestic market had a Rogers badge. But that brand equity would be eaten up fast if the SE version of the LS3/5A was more an ‘homage’ to the speaker than the speaker itself.

Rogers already makes standard 15-ohm versions of the LS3/5A, using new versions of the 19mm Mylar dome tweeter and 110mm Bextrene mid-bass cone originally made by KEF. Everything about those standard Rogers LS3/5A is as per the original LS3/5A; an outstanding mini-monitor of its time that still sets a high bar in terms of transparency, especially in the mid-range. However, if we are being truly honest about the LS3/5A, its dynamic range is somewhat ‘muted’ in its standard guise. In an effort to not be burned at the stake for my heretical stance, that is set against modern loudspeaker designs, many of which trade tonality and accuracy for excitability, and that’s one of the big reasons why the LS3/5A deserves its cult status.

The whole SE version project actually started out as trying to find a way to make the LS3/5A more dynamic without changing the speaker itself. Rogers experimented with the loudspeaker stand and found Panzerholtz (a.k.a. ‘Tankwood’) to be a perfect, if costly, partner. Panzerholtz is a mix of hardwood and phenolic resin, prized both for its acoustic properties and the fact it’s literally bulletproof! It ends up being about the densest material this side of making the stand of solid metal, but without the hysteresis issues or the problem of making a stand into a kind of 24” tuning fork you can get with solid metal stands. It wasn’t too much of a step from there to seeing what impact Panzerholtz would make when replacing one or more of the thin walls of the LS3/5A’s cabinet. Listening tests followed fast.

Line Magnetic LM-512 CA preamp/LM-845 Premium integrated/power amp

Greg Chapman at VAL Hi-Fi is a brave man. He became a dealer and distributor when the industry is thick with others doing the same thing and took on a marque sold directly by the manufacturer at prices a distributor/dealer could not hope to match. Line Magnetic is a Chinese company specialising in valve amplification. It has a substantial range of products on the market, many of which are also available on eBay at what appear to be silly prices. There is at least one catch with such apparent bargains, and that’s the line in the small print that goes, “International postage of items may be subject to customs processing and additional charges.” And that is on top of pretty steep postage prices. As anyone buying from Europe has discovered this year, “customs processing and additional charges” can add up significantly, with both VAT and import duties adding in the region of 40% to the cost at your door.

What Greg has in his favour is the ability to demonstrate the product; a bargain isn’t a bargain if it doesn’t work with your system. He also offers a two-year warranty (six months on the tubes); saving a few quid importing an amplifier from the other side of the world doesn’t seem like quite the bargain if it comes with a whole heap of grief should something go wrong with it. On top of that, you’ve got to hope that what you buy isn’t counterfeit, something that Line Magnetic warn about on their site. These factors favour buying from the official source, and all of which add up to buying added peace of mind.

The LM-512 CA preamplifier is the top model in Line Magnetic’s range, and it’s a substantial beast with a very distinctive volume pointer that can be used as a knob or controlled with up/down buttons. In most instances, you will use the neat aluminium remote for this and input selection. It’s essentially a tube preamplifier with an RCA 22DE4 for rectification, 6922 (ECC88 equivalent) valves in the driver stage and Mullard 6KZ8 triode/pentodes providing gain. It counts Jensen and Mundorf MCap capacitors among its components and includes a solid-state bridge rectifier, a job done with tubes in some preamplifiers. Construction internally uses point-to-point wiring. Although a circuit board is exposed when you lift the tube cover, this is mounted on springs to provide a degree of isolation to the smaller tubes. There are large rectifier tubes fixed to the main chassis below. External build and finish are to a high standard, and only the styling gives away this preamplifier’s geographic origins. I like using chunky connectors and switches on the back panel where there are three RCA inputs and one pair on XLR, the latter provided with a rare hot pin switch to suit different arrangements within the connecting cable. Output is on both connectors, although the XLR connections do not provide a balanced signal that requires extra transformers.