Project – Eikona Ellipsoid

This is a highly unusual enclosure for the Jordan Eikona full-range loudspeaker. It has been carefully designed and executed by one of our UK customers. A detailed construction thread is available on the DIYaudio website and we asked Nathan for permission to describe the project.

The aim of this design was to achieve the best possible sound quality with a visually beautiful enclosure. To this end, Nathan designed an ellipsoid shape constructed of a laminate of 29 layers of 12 mm plywood panels. (This is becoming a popular construction method with Eikona users.) The cabinet was built in sections to allow access to the interior and once the ply panels were stacked and glued together, each section of the enclosure was sanded smooth, both externally and internally.

The external shape isn’t just for appearance; it’s smooth surfaces and rounded shape should help stereo imaging, with no reflections from cabinet edges. The internal shape doesn’t follow that of the exterior but has been carefully designed to focus and absorb as much of the rear radiation from the Eikona as possible.

It’s a very impressive project, with careful attention to detail – even the loudspeaker connection sockets were built especially to avoid spoiling the elegant shape of the enclosure.

We asked Nathan to explain his thinking behind the project and his listening impressions:

DESIGN

I chose the Eikona drive unit for several reasons, some of which are specific to the Jordans and some to full-range drivers in general.

I occasionally visit hifi shows. Every time I do, I find that most of the systems that I really enjoy are either using full-range drivers by themselves or with powered subwoofers. With virtually all of the multiway speakers, I find the crossovers really obvious. I can usually pretty accurately state what the crossover frequency is with just a quick listen. The sound is nearly always disjointed.

Of the full-range drivers that I’ve heard, the two brands that have impressed me the most are Jordan and Voxative. The two brands definitely have different sounds. Overall, I lean towards the more neutral sound of the Jordans, though I could happily live with either. The main advantage of the Jordan over the Voxative is the price. The Voxative drivers are massively more expensive than the Jordans.

Jordan drivers are insanely good value for money. To build a two-way you would need to buy a pair of mid bass units, a pair of tweeters and all the components for the crossover for the same price. (If you are new to speaker building, you will probably also need to buy a calibrated microphone and design software.) 

If I were to go down the separate mid-bass and tweeter approach, I would have to mount one drive unit above the other. This will inevitably result in a certain amount of vertical integration problems at the crossover frequency. A full-range driver acts as a point source, so won’t have this problem and should result in better imaging …

CABINET

One of the benefits of translam is the ability to make more complex shapes, both external and internal, than is possible with more conventional construction. Translam can be done with only a relatively modest toolkit, and the material is cheap. Even though I am using high quality Baltic birch plywood, the total cost of building my cabinets, including all the tools, fixings and finishing materials, is less than £200.

Finally, if done well, translam produces a really good finish. 

My design is for a 4.5 litre sealed box, with a Q of 0.65 and a -3dB point of 86 Hz. The cabinet is 280 mm diameter and the wall thickness varies from 40 mm at the front to 100 mm near the rear.

The front section is an ellipsoid, to avoid the formation of standing waves, and the rear section is a logarithmic cone that smoothly transitions from the front section. All sound waves emanating from the driver are reflected towards the rear of the cabinet. Apart from the small flat rear panel, which is only 32 mm in diameter, there are no surfaces that can reflect sound back towards the driver. 

As sound waves travel towards the rear of the cabinet, their amplitude will become greater. To promote the sound being reflected to the rear, the inside surface is smooth so that it acts as an acoustic mirror. The absorbent wadding (Twaron Elves Hair from Mundorf) is inserted in such a way that there is an equal weight of wadding per unit length of the speaker. This means that the density of the wadding increases exponentially towards the rear of the speaker.

 

SOUND QUALITY

I have a little tradition. Every time I upgrade or make a significant change, I always play something by Leonard Cohen first.

I had come into this project with high expectations. I am very familiar with the Jordan JX92 driver. Probably the best system that I have ever heard used a short line of 4 Jordan JX92s per channel. The rest of this system is about 10 times the cost of mine so if I can get in the same ball park, I’ll be happy. The majority of people who have experience of both JX92 and Eikona prefer the Eikona, so hopefully I’m off to a good start. 

As this are  Jordan drivers, I expected midrange magic and these speakers do not disappoint. They have a richness and smoothness but also a real sense of solidity. Often when you find a speaker with warmth and richness in the midrange it can sound a bit airy and diaphanous. Although these speakers have a real sense of space and air around each image, the image is solid. I don’t just mean solidly located but also that the sound is emanating from something solid. Vocals don’t hang in space, they stand in space. The quality of the midrange is probably largely down to not having a crossover mucking everything up. 

I had been a bit worried that the quality of the top end might be lacking compared to using a dedicated tweeter and that any cone breakup might add a bit of harshness in the sibilance region. The top end of the Eikona is beautifully extended and smooth. No need to worry at all. Many people who use the JX92s add a super-tweeter to fill out the top end. With the Eikona this is not at all necessary. I think that the improvement in the top end is one of the biggest differences between the two drivers. 

When I initially set up the speakers, I ran them without the subwoofer. Even in a sealed cabinet they go surprisingly low. More importantly, as they give up at lower frequencies, they do so with real decorum. They don’t complain or try to force out notes that are beyond them, they just bow out gracefully. My previous speakers gave up with much more complaint, the distortion of the bottom end colouring the midrange. The addition of a high pass filter helped cure this. 

They sound like the -3dB point is lower than the calculated 86 Hz. It probably isn’t but because of the way they roll off, it sounds like it. More important than bass depth is bass articulation. You get a real sense of the character of bass notes. I have heard it said that to improve your bass, upgrade your tweeter. This is because the character of bass instruments is carried in their harmonics at higher frequencies. If you stick a crossover into the mix, much of the harmonics will not be in phase with the fundamental. The parts of the sound don’t line up anymore and the character is lost.

I had been holding the idea of adding an active filter in reserve. This would have been used if the bottom end gave up with any signs of distress. As the roll off has no issues, one is not required here. Likewise, there is no audible breakup in the sibilance region so no notch filters or similar are required either. The final possible filter would be for baffle step. Possibly due to the shape of the cabinet, baffle step doesn’t seem to be a problem. The bottom end sounds perfectly in balance with the midrange. With these speakers, absolutely no additional filtering is required. Not only does this avoid putting anything in the signal path that could mess with the phase coherence of the speakers it also saves on the cost of building said filter system.

The one area of sound quality that keeps surprising me is what I refer to as mid-bass. This is the bit between the upper-bass and lower-midrange, in the range 200-500 Hz. It is so clean and tight. Wooden-bodied instruments and toms have real character. This could be due to the driver being so much lighter than one that would normally be used for this frequency range.

The general consensus and Jordan’s recommendation is that they should be toed-in so that the axes cross a good distance in front of the listening position. My experiments seem to confirm this advice. 

What really made a huge difference was pulling the speakers an extra foot into the room. The soundstage exploded when I did this, huge, focused and solid. Unfortunately, this is not a position where they can live permanently. I would love to try them in a larger room where I can get them 3′ or 4′ into the room.

Whilst moving the speakers around I noticed something slightly uncanny. I had my head close to a speaker and the sound all appeared to emanate from just in front of the phase plug. It appears to come from here regardless of where I listen from. Normally, sound appears to come from a speaker more as a whole. This would suggest that rounding off the cabinet has had a profound effect. You normally get a lot of clues as to the location of the cabinet from the sound diffracted from its edges.

Compared to other drivers that I have experimented with (which is a lot, I worked for a hifi dealer for 10 yrs and ran their servicing department), the Eikonas don’t seem to change as much as most with run-in. They are definitely sounding smoother through the midrange and top end but haven’t lost any of their incisiveness or bite.

Basically, I’m loving the sound of these speakers. I think all the work required to make the complex cabinets has definitely paid off.

Very happy. 

 

Revamped amps part 2 – tube or solid state?

You’re looking to buy a good vintage or second-hand amplifier, so do you go for tube (valve) or transistor?

This is a difficult question to answer. 

On the face of it, tube amps are an antiquated technology with performance that is grossly inferior to modern solid-state designs: 

  • tubes have characteristics which affect the tonal balance of the speakers connected to them;
  • the life of output tubes is pretty short, often 100s of hours (less than 500 hours in a pair of 100W mono amps I once owned);
  • the heat that the tubes generate can shorten the life of internal components; 
  • distortion is often audible (one reason for the ‘creamy’ sweetness in older designs) and low bass can be severely distorted due to the output transformer saturating too early. 

In summary, the performance of many tube amps is as if you’d added a graphic equaliser and had a good play with the adjustments.

In contrast, modern solid-state amplifiers offer inaudible distortion at all frequencies, masses of clean power and, these days, with good examples of popular models, very long and reliable lives. In all honesty, the best solid-state amplifiers can be regarded as commodities; you plug them in, switch them on and then basically forget about them as they do their job without drama. My own solid-state power amp dates from the early 1970s, it’s so ugly it has to be hidden away (it’s a pro audio unit) yet still performs very well and, sonically, just gets out of the way.

But the thing is, tube gear can look so wonderful. Glowing tubes evoke all manner of positive emotions. The best tube amps can perform very well and can have long lives, but it’s my view that such examples are few and far between. Most are poor derivatives of very old designs and perform as such. As with vintage cars, one needs to enter into an emotional relationship with the amplifier and fuss over it periodically to keep it running properly. Many valve-lovers enjoy tube rolling; fine tuning the sound with different tubes (old or new). For me, the fact that you can change the sound by replacing a tube shows the sound is coloured to varying degrees, but owners of such amps don’t care at all as it’s part of the fun and joy of ownership.

Having said all the above, I currently own a pair of rebuilt Quad II tube power amps. These were saved from a skip have  been fully and sensitively rebuilt by a master craftsman. I have to say they sound is glorious, if they’re not pushed too hard, adding character to the sound that is so darned addictive. I get them out to play every so often, but couldn’t use them day-to-day as so much is missing from the musical picture they present.

Let’s compare these old Quad II power amps with Quad’s solid-state 606/707/909/QSP/Artera family of power amps dating back to 1988 or so. 

The 606 family of amplifiers makes for a superb used buy, offering plenty of power for today’s music productions and a genuine ability to drive more difficult speaker loads (around 230 watts per channel into 4 ohms). They come from a different world of reproduction quality, yet the amplifiers themselves look like small breeze blocks. It’s these visual shortcomings that often result in their being ignored by the audiophile fraternity. Those that do try one in good order (most are), fall in love with them and are genuinely surprised how good they are. The Quad IIs beat them hands-down on visual charm but when it comes to reproducing modern recordings on good loudspeakers …

For the uninitiated, I’d avoid tube amps as they can be money pits if you buy incorrectly. There’s one current popular brand that is absolutely terrible and a dreadful example of the breed, yet wealthy enthusiasts buy them and use them with totally inappropriate speakers, giving a sound far removed from that intended.

So if buying vintage or used, I recommend sticking to well-reviewed, solid-state amplifiers. If you’re genuinely beguiled by the golden glow of tubes, save for something recent and properly designed. Quad and Radford immediately come to mind, along with the more expensive E.A.R. models. There is a wide range of tube amps out there (most of them imported), but many don’t live up to their alluring glow. 

 

Revamped amps part 1

 

Quad II tube amp photo from www.keith-snook.info
Radford Series 3 amp photo from Radford Revival

Customer Project – The Eikona Egg

No matter how good your loudspeaker drive units, the ultimate performance is limited by the cabinets (and the room in which they are used). Most of our customers are happy to try their hand at building cabinets the traditional way, using plywood or MDF and straightforward carpentry. For those who would like to try something different … the Eikona Egg.

The Eikona Egg has been built by Daniel in Singapore, a longstanding customer who has built several of our designs. This one differs in that the cabinets were 3D printed, allowing a cabinet shape which would have been difficult to achieve by conventional means.

Neither shape nor technique is unique. One of the most interesting commercial designs in recent years is the £30,000 Hylixa by Node Audio, which uses precisely this approach with outstanding results. However, the difference here is that Daniel’s loudspeaker is a DIY design available to anyone with access to a suitable 3D printer.

The cabinet volume is approximately 5.5 litres and has a reflex port which is not entirely accurate for the Eikona (but can be blocked to turn this into a sealed enclosure). The cabinet was designed for a particular driver, but the Eikona will fit, as shown in the photographs. The feet are a matter of taste but they can probably be modified or omitted if required.

Daniel says of the results:

The main advantages of these enclosures are minimal time smearing and a better transient response versus the conventional box enclosure. Over the past few years, I have built different enclosures for my two pairs of EJ Jordan drivers. But I’m finding myself enjoying this design the most.”

You can find the 3D printer files and associated documentation for the 5” driver 3D Egg on the Thingverse website here.

Revamped amps part 1 – buying a vintage hi-fi amplifier

The recent Vinyl Revival series of blogs has received a lot of attention, including coverage in the hi-fi press. It seems that there is a genuine interest in buying and maintaining vintage audio equipment among our customers. With this in mind, we went back to our industry expert for advice and recommendations for people investing in electronics, in particular, vintage amplifiers covering the period 1960s to 1990s.

Photo courtesy of World of Design

 

Should you look for a UK-made amplifier or one made in the Far East?

This is a difficult question to answer for several reasons. Far Eastern amps often had good quality components in superbly-finished casework, offering decades-long life in many cases. Unfortunately, the beauty could often be skin deep only, with pretty mediocre performance in too many of the thousands of models released to market in the 1970s. The best examples are now appreciating classics and of course each enthusiast has their favourites, from the slightly clinical Yamaha integrated amps to the fruity, lush-sounding Luxman and expensive Accuphase examples of the time. Sadly, each maker had their classics and clunkers, so care must be taken.

As for the UK, the one cause for concern is that some manufacturers seemed to suffer from poor component quality, especially electrolytic capacitors. All the classic names in the 1970s suffered, including Quad and Radford, together with the late 70s pretenders Naim, for a variety of reasons. I’ve seen many examples of all three makes in dire need of service, some all but blown up due to component ageing. Lower-price UK makes such as Armstrong and Goodmans suffered even more, I think, as regards construction and component quality – although I remember the Goodmans receivers (the Module 90 and 110 were especially popular) performing quite well when they worked. By the 1980s, this was starting to improve and amplifiers started to become more reliable.

Can I make any recommendations? I know a good few but I’ll no doubt be leaving out others. From the Far East, some of the top models offered by several makers gave good power and sound. Some of the odd-ball types could sound amazing when new (Sony/Yamaha V-FETs) but they can fail catastrophically today and specialised parts may be long discontinued, transforming some of the amplifiers into heavy door stops .

As for UK vintage amplifiers, Quad and Naim are well-known and now very expensive for their age. Creek and Cyrus seem reliable, popular and easy to service and there’s much fondness for the old A&R A60, Creek 4040 and NAD 3020, if you can find a well-cared-for example. I’m personally fond of the very slim, quirky amplifiers from the original Cambridge Audio from the 1970s, but I fear they suffer component issues now and weren’t always reliable when new either.

One general thing is to make sure any amplifier you buy has short-circuit protection. If an elderly output stage fails, the protection will normally try to save the speaker. Ideally, ALL old amplifiers should be checked over by a good engineer; solder joints, even on battleship-grade Far Eastern amps, can dry out, often with disastrous results.

 

Revamped amps part 2 – tube or solid-state?

A stylish home theatre in Sweden

This week we are featuring another home theatre system, this time built by a customer in Sweden. 

The system uses seven Jordan full-range drivers, three Eikonas for front and centre and four Jordan JX92S drivers for rear surround. The Eikonas are in slightly modified SL cabinets, which we consulted on – especially the centre speaker which required adjustment of the speaker position for a balanced look.

The results look terrific; very elegant, discrete and fit the room well – exactly what a good loudspeaker system should do, whether for a home theatre or stereo system. The flexibility of our Eikona full-range driver is ideal for this.

The sound is backed up by a pair of BK subwoofers and the whole adjusted using ARC measurement and equalisation software.

I’ve given them a lot of play-time during this weekend.

The fronts go plenty deep to below 40 Hz, however I’ve tuned the fronts to 80 Hz and then the two BK XXLS400 subwoofers take care of the low end! Stereo image is amazing and the soundstage between the fronts LCR is seamless.

Dialogue is just perfect. 

Comparing the specially designed SL-Bs to the small 4.3 liter cabinets with Jx92s is hard as it’s different drivers and the cabinet is different, with that said I’m surprised how good and relatively deep the small ones go. They drop at 85 Hz with a nice bump at 120 Hz making them sound bigger than they really are. I’ve tuned them to 100 Hz letting the subs take care of the bass.

 Watching movies is intense especially with an Atmos or DTS X soundtrack, you are there in the middle of the action.

 Can I recommend this setup? YES with capital letters, I’m surprised so few have made home theater setups with these drivers. 

The combination of Eikona SL and Anthem amps with ARC is amazing!

Look how they track – I’m truly impressed and I work with sound as programme director for NRJ radio in Sweden. This is top notch!

 

 

 

 

Arizona Home Theatre

Jim is based in Arizona, USA and contacted us last year for advice on using EJ Jordan Eikona loudspeakers in the  home theatre system he was building. In fact, he was embarking on more than a home theatre, he was constructing an entire house, using a stunning mix of modern techniques and traditional adobe construction (see photo below). We gave  recommendations for the best cabinet sizes and alignment for his particular use. We then waited to see what Jim had done. It took a while – after all, he had a house to build – but we were finally rewarded with the following photographs and comments:

We have been in the new house for 6 months now. It has been one project after another. But just as things settled down, COVID 19 hit. Interesting times for sure. Anyway, I thought it would be nice to share some thoughts…..

I designed this system on my own. It is very different than the typical home theater set-up which inevitably includes box speakers everywhere and most of the time sounds horrid. I have been into (and still actually prefer) 2-channel systems.  Over the decades, I have figured out that full-range speakers without crossovers and the simplest electronics are the way to go. With this background in mind, the last thing I wanted was a surround receiver and a bunch of multi-driver tower speakers in my room with over-hyped, exaggerated, sonics designed for movie special effects. I wanted a musical system first, that would hold its own with movies.

The Jordan Eikona speakers work perfectly. They are small, each one mounted in a sealed 4.5 litre box.  The center speaker sits on a shelf below the TV and the front left and right channel speakers are recessed into the walls. The boxes for the rear speakers sit in little niches built into the brick walls. As the attached pictures of the room show, the system is non-obtrusive – almost invisible.    

Most of my listening is music streamed via Tidal or YouTube. With better recordings, the sound quality through the system is awesome. Like I said, I prefer 2-channel systems, but I must admit that the “all channel” stereo setting on the receiver sounds extremely engaging, surrounding you with “big” sound. And since the sound is coming from the Jordans, the music sounds glorious. With a big 4K TV, the experience comes close to a concert setting, but in the comfort of your home. The Eikonas are so smooth and natural sounding; instruments and voices sound as they should. You can listen for hours on end without any fatigue.  The system conveys emotion, warmth and detail.  

I’m very happy with the system, even with a mid-fi surround receiver.  My next project is a turntable. I picked up a completely refurbished Garrard 401 and I’m having a plinth built for it.

The rest of my system includes an Onkyo RZ830 receiver, Samsung Q70 83-inch TV and a pair of TBI subwoofers. The subs are amazing for music. They won’t shake the room like typical, high-end home theatre subs, but for music they are perfect. They integrate so well, you don’t even know they are on until you turn them off. I don’t know how widely they are available, but I would try to give them a listen. I strongly recommend them with the Jordan speakers: 

http://www.tbisound.com/_pdf/EMPEROR%20DPM.pdf

I really do enjoy the Jordan speakers. Their ability to produce a natural sound is uncanny. Pianos, strings, drums, whatever, all sound like they do in real life. When you listen to other speakers, you realize how colored their sound really is. 

For the fun of it, I went to a local hifi shop and listened to some speakers that cost up to $5000, including some Bower & Wilkins. I did not like any of them. In comparison, they lacked clarity, coherency, and were fatiguing. Besides watching movies, I have also been streaming a lot of music. No matter the source material, the Jordans are easy on the ears. As a result, I tend to turn the volume up. With the other speakers, I would turn them down because they offend my ears! 

 

Vinyl Revival – part 3

So far in this series, we’ve looked at what older turntables are worth considering and what to avoid. Now it’s time to look at turntable maintenance with our turntable expert.

What is a good, basic maintenance routine to keep an old deck going?

Old lubricants in bearings and motors can dry out with time. Even Rega turntables need their main bearings checked and cleaned out, plus re-charged with the recommended oils if necessary every ten years or so. Belts and idlers need checking, cleaning and the former replacing every so often. As to how often I can’t say as usage plays a huge role here.

Springy belt-driven decks may need the suspensions checking and general fixings tightening up, but in the Linn LP12, the religion which built up around it and the exorbitant prices charged for a service (£200+) can be off-putting. I’m instructed to replace springs and grommets as a matter of course, but I’m not entirely sure it’s entirely necessary in a lot of cases. It’s done because it’s done! If a deck is basically working right, I’d leave it alone generally, but obviously if – like top Garrards and all Lencos – the main bearing needs a drop of oil on the top bearing sleeve periodically, then please keep to that regime. Other top decks also have things needing to be checked.

Obviously, styli need to be kept clean. Signs of stylus wear are often heard in the form of increasingly wild ‘sibilance’ after which groove-damage will occur. Already sparkly Ortofon cartridges just get worse and worse until the mis-tracking becomes unpleasant, for example.

Are there any makes or models to avoid either because they’re not good or just too complicated for beginners?

If you’ve never owned a record player before, I’d probably suggest playing safe with an aforementioned Rega!

All turntables from the 1980s and before will need work doing and it’s up to the individual to thoroughly research the model that interests them. Very old decks will have audio cables in various degrees of age-contamination which can cause hum and intermittent sound.

As for decks to avoid, it’s tricky. At the very bottom, the Garrards and BSRs derived from record player base chassis – Garrard SP25 series, BSR MP60/P128 and so on – will need VERY careful work to free off gummed-up mechanisms and, after all this, rumble is still an issue. But as modern cartridges are readily available tracking at 2g upwards, these decks can still have a new lease of life.

Many good-looking Japanese decks at the lower price range can be awful as regards playing records with any form of fidelity, mainly due to very flimsy construction and bad acoustic feedback which ruins the sound. Sometimes, and as Rega recommend, removing the lid when playing can improve things a good bit.

Vinyl first-timers should probably avoid any of the very springy belt driven decks, unless they know the history or have an experienced pal who can help set it up. Once set up, Thorens decks tend to stay set unless messed with, but these are so expensive now they may not appeal to first-timers. Duals and Garrards come up cheap and some of them are bargains if you can sort them out!

The Vinyl Engine site is a good one here as well as the UK Vintage Radio site for some things. Lencoheaven is a great resource for Lencos but be warned, there’s a lot of modifying going on there!

Japanese direct drives, even the best ones, can suffer dirty speed controls and switches (I have an SL1500 I thought I’d sorted ten years ago that once again suffers wayward speed due to bad pitch presets and main switch). The wiring to the amp on some can ‘go off’ over time as I discovered. Main bearings and motors will need a drop or two of something, I suggest.

Are there any simple tools worth investing in?

A set of decent small screwdrivers

A set of tweezers or fine, long-nosed pliers are useful for fitting cartridge tags

A set of suitable cartridge screws – I use stainless steel 2.5mm Allen head bolts and nuts as well as suitable aluminium equivalents, which some cartridges prefer for mechanical reasons

A stylus balance – there are many digital ones these days, but I have huge fondness for the old AR plastic one, now sold as a Rek-O-Kut model (shown near the bottom of this web page). It’s incredibly accurate for each quarter gramme increment.

Vinyl Revival – part 1

Vinyl Revival – part 2

Vinyl Revival – part 2

If you are interested in playing LPs, either for the first time or as a return to vinyl, it’s can be difficult to know where to start, especially if you’re interested in vintage gear. Following on from the first part in this series, we asked our turntable expert which models he would recommend.

Which models would you recommend as easy to use, set up and service?

If buying new, I’d say a Rega Planar 1 would be a great place to start. It’s no fuss or bother, has a great Audio Technica-based cartridge, and third party elliptical styli are available for them if you know where to look, so no need for upgrade nonsense. The Planar 1 has superb, reliable sonics if sited carefully. Rega LISTEN to music on their products and, to me, that’s important!

ProJect do a ridiculously large range of assorted decks in all shapes, sizes and budgets, but seem very popular if the models from Rega aren’t around.

Older gear is tricky as ALL of it needs at least some work, so it’s not for the uninitiated. Older Regas are good generally with RB-series tone arms (the straight black ones, not the S-shaped one which may need work) and Rega parts are not expensive if needed. Beware of old classic Garrard and Dual autochanger decks as they all suffer from hardened grease, which is a nightmare to remove and carefully replace – everyone ladles it on with a trowel…

What should you look out for when buying second-hand?

Condition, obviously. Has the deck been modified or got at by an over-enthusiastic amateur? Why is it being sold? Can it be demonstrated and collected rather than risk it being badly packed and then having it kicked around in transit? Can the purchaser afford to let a professional service it or are they happy to read up, learn some basic maintenance and do it themselves? Prices are daft, but too cheap is often as bad as too expensive.

Any forgotten models you’d recommend?

I’m sure more will come to mind as soon as this is published, but here are a few:

The Yamaha YP800 was a nice-looking deck.

Micro Seiki DDX/DQX 1000 – always needs proper siting but I bet they’d sound good today.

In a comparative review conducted 50-odd years ago, the Sony TTS3000 belt drive beat the Garrard 401, Thorens TD124 and Goldring Lenco G99, together with its TTS8000 offspring which rarely came over to the UK.

I’ve never used or owned one, but Elac made some interesting decks, as did Perpetuum Ebner (which Dual bought – they were kind of related in the dim and distant past due to shared family, I believe).

Should auto-changers be avoided?

Audiophiles would never contemplate an autochanger but some are often worth considering. 7″ singles were designed for stacking, so there’s no harm at all in playing them one after the other in a stack. (The label area has a raised profile and often with a ratchet type arrangement so two singles together kind of ‘grip’ each other and the grooves don’t touch at all unless the single is very worn. Many LPs lack any real form of separating the grooves these days and even if they have lipped edges and slightly raised label areas, I really wouldn’t stack.) I wouldn’t use LPs in a stack but many in the US still do! The better the stylus, the more critical it is on tone arm alignment and Vertical Tracking Angle becomes very important for best sound and minimal wear.

Many borderline ‘HiFi’ changer decks had single and multi spindles and the Garrard ‘Autoslim’ series were often used this way (any Garrard with the same basic control layout as the SP25 models and having a kind of rotating ‘flipper’ to sense record size is an Autoslim chassis model). Later BSRs similar to the MP60/P128 also had replaceable spindles.

Larger format Garrard decks from the late 60s onwards cannot stack 7″ singles with smaller centre holes (any adaptors made for the deck are long gone now) and I’m not keen on the way LPs are pushed off a side support to clump down on the platter below.

If you’re seriously posh, then the better Duals from the mid-60s onwards can make excellent changers and offer easily replaceable cartridge carriers for ‘every day and best’. LPs drop on a cushion of air, so if you must stack LPs, these are the safest. Garrard did something similar in the Lab 80 changer, but it was only this model, sadly, as the auto spindle was fragile and easily damaged. My Dual 1019 is a fantastic deck in anyone’s terms and ‘VTA’ is easily sorted with an extra 3 mm mat on top of the existing one.

In general, all autochangers all need a lot of degreasing work by now and are not for the faint-hearted.

 

Part 3 will look at maintenance and which turntables to avoid.

 

Vinyl Revival – part 1

Vinyl Revival – part 3

Vinyl Revival – part 1

Today we start a series of blogs celebrating the vinyl revival. It isn’t just younger audiophiles rediscovering the tactile pleasures of the LP, more experienced enthusiasts are getting back into the format after decades of digital.

The series will look at some of the classic turntables available on the secondhand market – what is worth investigating, what should be avoided and, crucially, what do you need to get the best out of them?

The series is written by a longtime turntable expert and ex-industry vinyl retrophile:

I’ll begin by describing some of the turntables I’ve used over the years: At school I discovered Garrard turntables, first via the TA2 deck and later the SP25 mk 1, which really did have a ‘laboratory standard’ vibe about it to my young eyes; I briefly owned later SP25s and still have the SP60 autochanger version of the SP25 mk2.

For my eighteenth birthday, I had a Lenco GL75 and loved it until I had the funds to get my own direct drive deck, a wonderful ‘mean looking’ Technics SL110. By this time, a springy, belt drive deck made in Scotland was gaining headway and a demonstration was booked to hear one. Yes, the Linn LP12 really DID make records sound better and clearer back then (it got rather worse sonically in subsequent years before it started to get better again in the early 90s, but I digress). When I began working in hi-fi retail in the 1970s, I was trained well to set up the LP12. No two were ever quite the same back then – they needed experience and skill to get them stable long term. I thought I got pretty good at it. We also sold many Rega decks and I have great fondness for them, as well as the excellent UK after-care they offer. 

In the late 1980s, I heard how badly high-end vinyl usully sounds compared to master recordings and how very close domestic CD replay was getting. That was until I heard a Nottingham Analogue record deck and realised how much closer one of these decks (with retipped Decca cartridge) could sound to the master recording. 

I’m a confirmed Dual turntable fan and own several, in addition to Lencos awaiting some servicing and use. I’ve had fun lately with a Thorens 160 mk2 which I’ve almost turned into a ‘Super’ and fitted a Linn Basik Plus arm which works well. 

So many decks, so little time … Among my favourites have been:

Garrard Lab 80 mk2 and my current AP76 and Zero 100.

Dual decks, of which the 1229 and 701 stand out. A Sony PS8750 was so good, but to many it was just another Japanese direct drive and didn’t last long on the market. The Pioneer PL-71 suffered a similar fate.

Lenco GL75/78 – endearing and delightful decks that don’t need carving up, double or triple platters, just some careful thought and a set of modern V-blocks for the arm.

The AR XB – the arm looks crap but in reality it’s very, very good indeed if the main bearing hasn’t gone wobbly or worn out.

Thorens TD150 mk2 – the direct parent of the Linn LP12 which underneath all the expensive add-ons is a TD150 on steroids! The Thorens TD125 mk1, with original tight-fitting main bearing, is an excellent deck too I feel. They need some gentle restoration now though.

I have to say the Linn ‘fruitbox’ LP12, but you HAVE to get a suitable arm for old ones and check for wear as parts cost the earth and forty years is a long time on sometimes suspect main bearings.

Garrard 401 – the supreme 60s ‘rumble box,’ but I love ’em! Lesser Garrards endear themselves to me. The top one, I suppose, is the Zero 100, which is a conversation piece but plays records rather well with the right cartridge.

Bang & Olufsen Beograms – loads of models often based on a common chassis. Potentially very good indeed but a specialist thing now as the hardened lube syndrome is an issue on many and cartridges cost a king’s ransom to either re-tip or replace (Soundsmith in the US re-manufacture them at various high prices).

My favourite, favourite turntable is the Nottingham Analogue Mentor (now replaced by the Dias model) with a Decca Garrott Microscanner cartridge. I had a high speed Revox B77 (IEC eq) with which to compare and the Notts Analogue was the best sound I’d EVER heard from vinyl. Lack of funds all round and not liking cheaper cartridges in it when the Decca failed caused me to all but give it away in pre-internet days and I bitterly regret it now. The 32 kg graphite top platter as still used in today’s models, with unipivot arm and stabilisers – as Stax did in the UA7 – so the arm doesn’t wobble. My parents’ house had engineering-grade bricks in the wall which were very difficult to drill into but held the 45+ kg mass of the deck and concrete base. It was a brilliant deck.

On Wednesday, our expert will begin delving deeper into the second-hand record deck market.

Vinyl Revival – part 1

Vinyl Revival – part 3

Cut your own vinyl

We’ve written before about the resurgence of interest in vinyl and we’re going to be featuring a series of blogs about this next week. Meanwhile, how about cutting your own vinyl?

This the Easy Record Maker, an instant, record-cutting machine – possibly the first time a domestic vinyl cutter has been made available. It has a cutting arm and a playback arm, and can record via the built-in USB interface. Playback is via USB, a headphone jack or the built-in mono loudspeaker. Think of it as a Polaroid camera for records and you won’t be far off.

It’s manufactured by Gakken in Japan and designed by renowned artist and electronic musician Yuri Suzuki. Yuri has always been interested in the technology of sound, as well as its applicability to art, and has recently become a partner with Pentagram, the famous design agency in London (whose founder, Kenneth Grange, designed some of the early B&W loudspeakers such as the DM7).

The turntable/cutter is supplied as a kit together with a set of two-sided, blank, 12.7 cm discs (which are available in a groovy range of colours). The little machine records at 33 and 45 rpm.

Cut your own singles or, if you’re feeling particularly evil, record some streaming music and then amaze your audiophile friends by how much better vinyl can be!

 

Join us again on Monday for the first in a series of guest blogs about turntables, vintage audio and the best way to get started in vinyl.

UPDATE: Thanks to Susan Parker of Audiophonics for alerting us to another domestic record recorder, the Pye Record Maker. Here is a photo from a recent eBay auction: