Can we quantify sound quality?

Reading about, and listening to music are quite different things and the subject of some great on-going conversations I’ve been having with my clients. You’ll be well aware that I try to best articulate what I hear with new audio components – turning it into a readable and informative summary so you can make the choice as to wether a particular item or component may be just what you are after, or something that you really didn’t know you needed (but do…) 

The latest missive deals with the new flagship models from NuPrime – the Evolution One Mono Power Amplifiers. This has been one of the most difficult reviews I’ve had to write – not because of any problems but because the NuPrimes have proved to be so far ahead of anything else I’ve ever dealt with.

The D-Stream WAMP-200SB digital amplifier

Embracing Digital – the new D-Stream WAMP-200SB amplifier.

The form of this beautifully compact new amplifier has a heritage in French design, taking cues from the minimalism of Le Corbusier, the originality of Philippe Starck, and the classic sleekness of the Citroen DS

On sound quality alone, the new D-Stream WAMP-200SB stands as the best sub-$1000 amplifier I’ve had the pleasure of listening to. It’s engaging, balanced, and produces room filling sound on a good variety of speakers – both compact and floor standing. It’s easy to use, beautifully designed and finished, and is quite possibly the smallest amplifier you have seen. My two demonstration units have performed faultlessly and identically.

This would be enough to warrant our firm recommendation. But there is a lot more to the D-Stream story – the streaming, wifi and multi-room abilities make this amplifier even better. As either an introduction to real hifi, or as a way to breathe new life into an existing system, The D-Stream WAMP-200SB has exceeded all our expectations and we’re confident you’ll be thrilled with how it sounds and performs in your own home.

Read our full review here.


Keith Eichmann is unstoppable. It’s almost a full time job keeping up with the continual flow of innovations and improvements to his cable range. In the January newsletter we introduced you to the QFlow7 Bi-wire jumpers and Classic Harmony Banana Plugs.

This has led to a complete revision of the speaker cable range which I’ve detailed here.

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The new KLEI Classic Harmony Banana plugs – NZ$160 a set of 8.

In short, all but the entry level speaker cables are now terminated with the new PureQ Banana plugs, which are another level up again and on top of this there are further refinements made to the cables themselves.

Having made direct comparisons between the original generic gold plated banana plugs used on the previous cables and the Harmony Classic, I’ve been busy with the soldering iron, upgrading all our home and demonstration cables as the magnitude of the improvement was so great as to render everything else I’ve heard obsolete. At just $160 for a set of 8 – enough to do a full cable set, this should be at the top the ‘must-do’ list for all KLEI, Eichmann and SlinkyLinks and Kimber speaker cable owners. If your speaker cable conductors will fit in a 4mm (standard binding post) hole, then we can fit these plugs for you.

To further eliminate any sense of complacency I felt, Keith launched the new QPurity8 bi-wire jumpers (NZ$920 a set) on me – these use the very best PureQ plugs and even better cable. Again the improvement was immediate – I found even from cold the sound to be more organic and natural, the music flowed and engaged me in a way I’ve not had before. But what happens over time is even more dramatic – a happy client writes…

‘I’ve had a sound binge over the last several days, adding about 30 hours to the Q8 jumpers and plugs (over the previous 20), and what an astonishing difference this has made. The purity jumpers have made a huge difference which is ever-increasing as you predicted.  Hugely increased energy is being released it seems, with the sound stage becoming more prominent, projecting further in both directions, into the room as well backwards in depth; all frequencies seem to be gaining in dynamic energy, without loss of tone or subtlety; and the gain in richness and texture in the lower frequencies is just wonderful.  There’s an amazing overall improvement in musical presence and dynamic action. I keep thinking it can’t get better and it does! ‘

As if this isn’t enough we now have the third model of KLEI AC power cables to flesh out this part of the range. The new gPower3 AC cable (NZ$750) sits just above the original gPower2 in price but has the benefit of technologies explored in the flagship Purity AC models.

Soundwise there is an clear improvement over the entry level cable – more balanced and smoother. I’ve not had as much time as I’d like as yet, but like all KLEI products there is a marked improvement in performance as the cable settles in with use – the system as a whole becomes smoother but more open and involving and continues to improve steadily over a period of weeks.

For anyone who has an original gPower2 AC this is the perfect opportunity to shift this to another component in your system and get the latest model running into either your integrated or pre-amplifier. You’ll get everything you liked about the original and then some.

If you’re wanting to test the water with an AC cable then this is the model to go for – it’s appreciably better than the entry level and really doesn’t cost that much more. To my own ears the new cable is closer to the Purity AC in overall smoothness and scale.

Given all these developments can be a little hard to fathom, I’ve put together a special demonstration pack so you can introduce yourself to the KLEI range and hear just how great an improvement you can get when you combine all of the elements, even at the enty level. So if you’re keen, you’ll get a box with….

A gZero series ACmains cable (NZ plugs – 1 or 2m as required)

A pair of the entry level gZero1 analogue interconnects

A pair of 3m gZero2 speaker cables with the new Harmony Bananas

A set of the new QFlow7 bi-wire jumpers (assuming your speakers are compatible).

You have put quite a lot of care into choosing your components – this is a chance for you to hear everything working together at its best. Just e mail me.


 

 

 

 

 

 

KLEI QFlow7 bi-wire jumper cables.

All about the new QFlow7 bi-wire jumpers and Classic Harmony Banana plugs from Keith Loius Eichmann Innovations (KLEI) at Totally Wired.

Find out why this is the best and most affordable upgrade for almost all stereo cables and speakers. The story starts with a simple banana plug…

The new KLEI Classic Harmony Banana plugs.

I’ve got a lot of time for Keith Eichmann – he’s very quietly spoken but endlessly enthusiastic about sound quality. Since the introduction of his original ‘Bullet’ RCA plug we’ve been on board with his cable and connection products. This has taken us places we’d never expected to be: His best cables – speaker, interconnect and power – offer stellar levels of performance that have redefined what we thought was possible, not just from the cables, but the systems into which they have been connecting. Possibly even more importantly, his entry level options deliver the highest levels of performance we’ve heard at easily affordable prices.

Now he’s delivered a speaker cable plug that is quite possibly the very best available yet are only NZ$160 for a pack of 8.

And a design it is deceptively simple to the point where it doesn’t appear to be anything special – the complete antithesis of many things in high end audio. But as with all things from KLEI there is much more to the story than that.

It would have been easy for Keith to go back to a previous speaker cable plug design – the Bayonet Plug – which was very good. But the new plugs, outside of fitting into the same standard 4mm sockets found on almost all amplifiers and speakers, are completely different. And better in all regards – sound quality, durability, ease of connection and most staggeringly of all, are less than 1/4 of the cost of the previous benchmark.

‘The KLEI Classic Harmony Banana appear to allow every detail and nuance of the recording to be conveyed with amazing clarity and dexterity – something I have not observed to this level in any similar product. They really are – the last thing you want at the end of your speaker cables! ‘

The above comment is from a full review of the new KLEI plugs – I really recommend you read this as it is well written, comprehensive and informative. I’d have been happy to get these plugs just on the basis of this but having now got them in my hot little hands there are a few things we can add.

The design of the conductor is origami like – a single flat piece stamped out from a sheet then rolled and pressed. There is no more metal than there absolutely needs to be and a minimum of machining. It could almost be described as a ribbon cable shaped to fit a 4mm hole. Every other plug suddenly seems needlessly complicated  and compromised.

But what it’s actually made of is the key – the Harmony Bananas are made in a similar way to the Harmony RCA plug pins where the metals used are formed and layered in a very specific manner.  The metallurgical processes that we use provides and maintains mechanical strength and the very high %IACS ratings – we are talking conductivity levels of more than 25% above gold. Read more here

In the past I’ve been able to compare SlinkyLinks with both standard gold plated plugs and some special silver plated and cryogenically treated versions – the difference was immediately apparent with increased detail coupled with improved smoothness. What I’m hearing from the new KLEI Harmony Banana plugs goes well beyond this – the sound is much more lucid and engaging from the outset, and just gets better with time.

If you have any speaker cable you regard as good – Kimber, SlinkyLinks, QED, Audioquest, Nordost, Monster and the like, you really want to fit some of these plugs as it will be one of the greatest upgrades you’ll ever make for so little.

Even more surprising is that for cables with existing plugs soldered on you can use the new KLEI Banana plugs as an adaptor and still have a worthwhile gain.

‘I have inserted the existing banana connectors, which are already attached to the Nordost Blue Heaven speaker cables, into the Classic Harmony bananas. I wasn’t necessarily expecting much (if any improvement) since the addition of Classic Harmony bananas, as adapters, are an additional connection with the existing bananas. 

However, I have used them for approximately 45 hours of play time and the addition of the Classic Harmony bananas, as adapters, are making a noticeable improvement to my system. That is more clarity, better balance, improved tone, slightly more depth to the sound image, more specificity to the sound image.’

Of course the moment you take the old plugs out and cleanly re-terminate (or get me to do this for you with high quality silver solder) the end result is going to be a whole lot better again.

At home I’ve replaced the original gold plated instrument plugs on our demonstration sets of KLEI gZero6 and Purity cables – it proved to be a lot easier than I’d thought and the gain was vast. I’ve never heard anything remotely like this with plugs of any breed on any speaker cables. It’s not that there was anything wrong with the originals (just about every set of SlinkyLinks employs the same plug) – but the improvements in detail, soundstaging and just general flow of the music are so in your face as to make the only question; ‘why didn’t I do this sooner?’

One night later as the newly attached KLEI banana plugs burnt in the improvement was even greater so there is no going back. Just by way of comparison there are plenty of banana plugs that cost more – most are gold plated brass – which if you’ve been paying attention to what we’ve learnt about conductivity is pretty terrible. As a proof of concept the premium WBT 0610AG 4 mm Banana Plug employ their ‘nextgen’ principle of low mass which is straight out of Keith Eichmann’s design philosophy (the original Bullet Plug) and are platinum plated silver rather than the gold plated copper of their lower cost versions. The KLEI plugs are NZ$20 each – the WBT 0610AG are NZ$95 each.

And (as if this isn’t all enough) these plugs make bi-wiring easy as the plugs can nest into each other.

Which leads nicely into an application for these plugs which I’m going to be the first to cover in detail – the new KLEI QFLOW7 Speaker Binding Post Jumpers (NZ$320 a set). I thought the plugs were good  but this is next level again.

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The new KLEI QFLOW7 Speaker Binding Post Jumpers (NZ$320 a set)

Most speakers now feature two sets of terminals to allow bi-wiring (or bi-amping). And there is no doubt that two sets of cables sound better than one. But – and this is the big but – bi-wiring costs exactly twice as much and there is some debate as to whether this is in fact the best option when compared with a better quality cable for around the same end price.

We also know that almost all speakers with bi-wireable terminals come with ‘jumper’ bars or cables to connect the two sets together for single speaker cable use, and that this connection can be far from ideal.

The new KLEI QFLOW7 Speaker Binding Post Jumpers solve 3 critical issues at once:

  1. The cable used – Keith’s new Q7Flow series speaker cable is astonishingly good – this dramatically improves transmission of the musical signal between the two sets of terminals. The nature of the cables used – differing for positive and negative, means that the recommended connection may be not what you’d expect. 
  2. The plugs used – the new KLEI Classic Harmony Banana make this connection set up possible AND contribute greatly to the sound quality. 
  3. By greatly improving the performance of the speaker, the benefits of a higher quality single speaker cable run over bi-wiring are magnified – the longer the cable run, the greater the cost benefit ratio.

There is clearly a lot going on here – the quality of these jumper cables is far ahead of almost all speaker cables produced by every other cable designer out there. Think of them as a speaker upgrade and you can’t go wrong – they are simply one of the very best value improvements possible.

The moment Keith told me about these jumper cables I was excited. Would they make the new Monitor Audio speakers we’ve been listening to sound even better?

Since first reviewing the Monitor Audio Silver 6G 300s (an elegant 3 way floor stander), I’ve been quietly improving the system they are connected to, working on placement and getting them almost to the point where they are run in. Suffice to say we’ve been more than happy with the results and the series of incremental improvements have bought the system to a level of transparency that would have previously cost a lot more. And I’m really enjoying the bass that comes from a full sized speaker. Both amplifier and speakers are only a little over $3000 each so we’re not talking silly money and there is every chance that your own system may be better so what I’m hearing could well be just a start for you.

As we’ve intimated above, I was first able to listen to the plugs in isolation and the improvement made by them alone is greater than many I have heard. But it’s only the start.

The Monitor Audio 6G series have the same almost generic jumper arrangement that you’ll find on most speakers – gold-plated flat bars with some indeterminate substrate that clamp into place between the twin sets of binding posts. Really no better or worse than anything else out there so I won’t pick on them.

So – out they come and in go the new KLEI jumpers. The 100mm set are perfect – the cable in the negative set is markedly thicker and of an obviously different construction to that used in the positive leg but there was still plenty of flexibility and neither cable was either stretched or stressed. The plugs fit snuggly there is a really tactile sensation as they slide in and make firm contact.

Then the existing speaker cables are plugged into the back of the jumper cables – this is where you’ll have to pay a little more attention. First, the cables you are using should be fitted with banana plugs – for the moment, it really doesn’t matter too much which you are using as you can probably see where things will eventually go.

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The KLEI QFlow7 jumpers – note the configuration of speaker cable inputs.

First – take the positive (usually red or white) plug of your existing speaker cables and insert this in the top positive KLEI jumper plug already in the top socket of your speakers – this connects to the tweeter (and sometimes midrange). Next connect the negative (black) plug into the lower (bass) negative socket of the KLEI jumper set. This completes the circuit. Do the same with your other speaker and you are good to go.

There will be an immediate upswing in clarity, sound staging, fine detail and bass. Simply put you’ll hear more coming from your speakers. But as I’ve found all KLEI products, this is just a taster of what is to come.

The KLEI jumpers are made from their new premium speaker cable – the QFLOW7’s which, at over NZ$1500 for a 2m pair may well be on the nice to do list (but more on that later). These cables specify a run in period of 300 to 450 hours – that’s around 18 days of continuous 24 hour playing.  Despite being much shorter, the run in period for the jumpers is the same.

In the first day and evening of intermittent listening the sound literally improved between albums – the level of change I was hearing is directly comparable to that of a the Purity level speaker and interconnect cables that have previously seduced me. I started listening at 40/100 on the amp which was as we were prior to the arrival of the jumpers – it was startling how much more was coming out of the speakers – as if there was a significant increase in amplifier power.

Carolijn noted that even listening at her desk at the other end of the long living room that the sound was carrying in a way that it never had before from the system – voices were much clearer and lyrics were suddenly making sense – you could hear the poetry rather than just a bunch of words.

I found that instrumentation – the picking of guitar especially became more lucid and defined. With more information flowing the apparent pace of the music picked up and I was suddenly re-engaged with songs that I’d played to the point of over familiarity.

It was like the arteries of my music system were being progressively unblocked – with every hour it was faster, fitter, more responsive. Given all the music being played at this stage was  predominately mixture of MP4 and MP3 downloads of New Zealand bands – the effect you’ll hear from better analogue or other types of music is going to be much greater again. But hey, I was having so much fun we didn’t want to stop.

Getting away from indie bands to some film soundtracks showed greater depth to the sound. Piano keystrokes took on a softer more analogue tone and low bass gained definition to almost growl at times.

It’s easy to differentiate between the effect of the new KLEI Classic Harmony Banana plugs which are used at both ends and the Jumpers as a whole – the improvement made is an order of magnitude greater and while there is a worthwhile gain over time with the plugs alone, the Jumpers  performance tracks upwards at a far faster and more obvious rate with new parts of recordings being constantly revealed. All I want to do as I write this is put another album on to see what will happen – it’s as if my collection is being progressively renewed.

A good analogue comparison is to that of a high quality record cleaning machine – for those that have had their vinyl records properly cleaned, you’ll know the decrease in background noise combined with revelations in detail are nothing subtle. Unlike record cleaning this is a whole lot easier and less costly.

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Original jumpers – replaced and not missed…

What I’m hearing is akin to replacement of a complete set of speaker cables. This could sound a little crazy but it’s really no different to what we have found with the KLEI AC cables – for all we can talk about of the supposed inadequacy of many metres of AC cabling in the walls and out to the street, as so far as our system components are concerned, what they really see is the first metre or so that they are attached to – and it’s in this way that I think the KLEI jumpers are able to produce a disproportionately great improvement to the sound of speakers- it doesn’t matter whether you have long cables or short, state of the art of just competent, by upgrading the first step from your speakers you’ll unlock performance that was previously congested.

Some of Keith’s cable design science does fly above my head despite being at this for many years – yet once you hear and see them in action it all makes more sense. The unusual configuration effectively forcing signal flow through all parts of the cable as a complete circuit rather than the conventional approach of effectively parallel connection between bass and treble paths especially.

This means that you get the full benefit of Keith’s unique cable designs – while you could briefly argue making the same configuration with normal jumpers, going via what we know to be compromised materials could in fact be even worse as you’d effectively double the path length and lose what may be an optimal connection for either the bass or treble.

I was pondering the apparent increase in volume –  but when we look at the huge differences in conductivity between a set of conventional jumpers and the new KLEI ones, I know what I’m hearing is not just an impression but grounded in real science. If the performance of the plugs is plausible to you then the cable will be even more so and the combination of the two becomes a literal no-brainer.

No-one disputes the efficacy of bi-wiring – there are plenty of straight forward reasons why it sounds better, yet everything I’m hearing with the KLEI jumpers tells me these are a better solution for the vast majority of systems. You get a greater benefit from both the plugs and cables used and  I’m starting to get the feeling that the improved signal path gives a greater degree of coherence between the low and higher registers.

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The KLEI jumpers connected via Kimber 4TC and QED plugs into Sonus faber Veneres.

Going to smaller stand mount speakers – the Sonus faber Venere 1.5s – the improvement wrought by the introduction of the jumpers was every bit as compelling. If anything the degree of enhancement to midrange clarity was more marked – again the sound was able to travel and fill the room.

The upswing in vocal clarity was uncanny – never before have I heard these entry level speakers perform in such a way and it reminded me why I’ve always liked them.

By day 4 the rate of improvement had not slowed – every album played was effectively new. And this was consistent when swopping between speakers, even taking into consideration that there is a settling in period with making such changes.

In 30 years I’ve sold countless pairs of speakers with bi-wire terminals, kilometres of speaker cable and and endless banana plugs of every breed – suddenly we have a single product which will lift the performance of every one of these systems. And that means yours.

While the idea of a better jumper cable isn’t new and a number of options are already on the market, these fall short of the new KLEI QFlow7 – remember that what you get is a radically better plug, some very special cable and a smarter configuration enabled by the construction and differing cable architecture in the two parts.

Keith really has done something special here and it is a combination of things that could never have happened before – the new Harmony Banana plugs have been a long time coming and the rapid development of Keith’s unique speaker cable designs, his obsessions with metallurgy and conductivity all combine in these 100mm long jumper cables – it never occurred to him to make a lesser version, yet he’s kept the price down to a level that only gives partial payback on the development of the constituent parts. I’ve got a very good idea of the material value of these if I didn’t have a red flag hanging in my office it would be easy to demand a much higher price that reflects the performance gain.

There is no down side to this – improve the sound of your system with the KLEI QFLOW7 jumpers and you may well be perfectly happy and stop there – but if you want to take advantage of this new found transparency, just replacing the banana plugs at the amplifier end of the speaker cables is going to be the literal icing on the cake. If you haven’t already, we’re hoping that you’ll explore the other cables in Keith’s range – it’s been a little hard to keep up over the last 4 years but we’ve gone from the introduction of the Harmony RCA plug which replaced the original Eichmann Bullet plug to the comprehensive range of analogue and digital interconnects, speaker and AC mains cables – every single one of which is a performance statement in itself.

That the KLEI QFLOW7 jumpers are a distillation of all this is great to know but it’s the sound you get that really matters – It’s a fact that I’ll never want to listen to my speakers without them again.

Given that I’m still a long way from full burn in, this is not the last word on the KLEI jumpers. My experience (which is also shared by many of our clients) with all the other cables tells us that 3 and even 6 months from now there will still be little revelations. The pattern of what I’m hearing is consistent with all the other KLEI products.

The cable used – the new QFlow7 sits at a level slightly above that of the  KLEI gZero 6 speaker cables (which are improved upon by the new Harmony Banana plugs) and so there will be very few systems out there that have a better cable. 

For all my listening to of cables (and components) over the years, I’ve never heard any thing like this level of performance enhancement for so little. The same amount will otherwise only get you the entry level interconnect or a set of barely adequate speaker cables and not even come close on a decent mains cable. It’s the cost of a competent MM cartridge or a low end cellphone pressed into play as a music source. Yet the KLEI jumpers will work their magic in almost any system, never wear out and basically make you a happier more relaxed human being. And that, my friends, is possibly the best recommendation I could ever give. 

KLEI QFLOW7 Speaker Binding Post Jumpers NZ$320 a set. e mail me now to order.

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Customer review –

‘There was an immediate improvement in clarity, bass and detail and, quite noticeably, in the sound stage.  As you found, there was an improved sound projection into the room and that produced a greater sense of stage positioning, including three-dimensional depth as well as spread. The increased dynamic (the implicit increase in amp power you described), certainly gives a greater sense of speaker control in all frequencies with more responsiveness to shifting dynamic levels; and the detail in soft passages is just exquisite.’


If you’re committed to the very best sound quality and have an appropriately well set up and transparent system Keith is offering a premium version – these will utilise the top of the range QPurity level speaker cable AND the new PureQ banana – this banana plug will not be available separately other than in Keith’s own Purity speaker cables. These are not yet completely developed so we don’t have a price but we’re going to be giving a clean trade up deal for anyone who gets the new QFlow7 jumpers, likes them then wants to take the next step – at worst we’ll get back a partially run in set which is hardly a problem for us.

It’s possible that I do sound like a KLEI true believer – it’s a label I really don’t mind as I’ve listened to many cables over the years – I started with QED, became a Monster advocate, learning about the improvements delivered by advanced dilectric and conductor design. I’ve had the revelation of first hearing Kimber when I was a confirmed Linnie and realised Frank was right all along. Then worked my way through the Kimber speaker cables, was converted by the AG interconnects then Select models.

When the NZ made SlinkyLinks came on the scene it was obvious that these offered something equally special and these provided our introduction to Keith by way of the Eichmann Bullet Plug that was a big part of the SlinkyLinks story and performance. It’s no accident that they share the less-is-more approach with speaker cable plugs, and that silver does wonderful things, when correctly used.

But it’s the responses from our clients that have proved most convincing – these are just some.

‘…the inclusion of the gZero6 SC(speaker cables), has just brought the whole system on song. I truly believe that these KLEI cables have been the most substantial upgrade for the money invested in our system! I feel all our components have come together at their full potential. As a whole, the KLEI cables have transformed our music with tremendous smooth detail, speed, tightness & space, not least improving the bass beyond what I thought was possible.

To say the KLEI interconnects are quite remarkable, is nothing short of fact. I was expecting an improvement of some sort, but was not quite prepared for the magnitude of what was to come! Detail, speed, ambience & a total sense of space, around each individual instrument & voice. Notes that used to just end abruptly, now have an ambient trail of decay, as if you can sense the size of the room the instrument was recorded in. So thank you John, for your always sound & tested advice & guidance. Every comment & description you spoke of about these cables is spot on. Totally Stoked!”

‘They make a huge difference, so once again the Eichmann cables are showing their worth.  I’m quite convinced that what I now have are making an amazing difference to the system in terms of clarity, distinction between instruments, complexity of tonal quality, particularly in the areas of mid-harmony and support parts, and a general improvement to the soundstage, notably in the middle area between the speakers, bringing it forward and removing any sense of sound being generated from two sources.  It’s all coming together wonderfully well I think and with 300 odd hours of improvements to come as the cables are run in.”

If you are going to take a punt on any KLEI product, these new jumpers would be the perfect introduction.  For any existing owner, they will be the literal icing on the cake.

So you can see that it’s been a progression and along the way I’ve learned a lot but as is often the case, the more you know, the more questions you have. And every so often we find an answer. Keith Louis Eichmann – take a bow.

John Ransley – Totally Wired.

Boxing Day Sale and some Summer reading for you.

Making your records sound better.

Back to the beginning – making your records sound better. Your best choices for cartridges and phono stages.

The delivery of the flagship Well Tempered Royale 400 to a client and impending arrival of the new Simplex II turntable has got me thinking about analogue and how it fits in to the modern music listeners life. There is obviously still interest and enthusiasm for vinyl and as well as turntables, we continue to install and send out a steady stream of styli, cartridges and phono stages.

A well set up analogue system is a thing of beauty and will give you many hours of enjoyment and relaxation. Having your turntable sounding great does take a little bit of investment and effort but there are few things in the world of audio that will respond as well to even small improvements.

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The Well Tempered Royale 400 turntable – magnificent!

Let’s investigate several ways we can help you get more out of records – the phono cartridge, phono amplifiers, plugs and cables. And talk alittle bit about record care.

The whole idea of listening to LPs is that it’s going to be better and more rewarding than digital. As digital has improved dramatically since the inception of CD, the competition to an analogue system has got tougher and we expect more. But the good news is that modern analogue is up to this challenge.

In the first instance, the quality of new LPs is the best it has ever been. It may seem counter-intuitive but the rise of digital has made production much easier and lower in cost. What used to only happen in purpose built studios can now be done on a laptop. And within studios technology has also raced forwards so the level of production we’re hearing on most new releases is far better than the days of cassettes and vinyl.

Add to this the greatly improved standard of pressing of records – just about every LP I’ve bought in the last few years has been thick, flat and clean – and you have a recipe for real analogue enjoyment that is a completely modern alternative rather than just some nostalgia trip.

This is not to say there isn’t still a place for preserving, collecting and playing old vinyl – as an archival format goes it still takes some beating. With a new cartridge, phono stage and maybe even turntable, you’ll get far more out of your records than was possible when they were originally pressed.

The stylus and cartridge are very much the business end of any record playing system, being in direct contact with the LP and converting the physical movement of the stylus into the electrical signal which flows through your hifi system. So your choice of phono cartridge will have an immediate and direct bearing on the sound you hear.

And your choice is broad – from the entry and mid level Nagoaka models at around $200, the specialist Well Tempered items, to the state of the art Dynavector Moving Coils, we’ve got the perfect choice for almost every turntable and level of expectation.

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The Dynavector Te Kaitora Rua MC cartridge.

Until you have owned a Dynavector Moving coil cartridge it can be a little difficult to explain just how good they sound. Having worked my way through many different cartridges at home and installing even more on clients turntables, it’s the Dynavector that always makes analogue magic. The sound is unfailingly rich and  engaging. Read our just-updated page covering the Dynavector range here.

The Well Tempered TLC is based on the Nagaoka MP150 which is a recommendation in itself (and in both directions). This is your best MM option. Well Tempered also make a very special MC cartridge with a a New Zealand connection. – The Kauri.

The Nagaoka MP series are easily the most popular choice for the budget minded – although in similar price territory to the Ortofon range they offer much more – it’s a richer, fuller, more upfront sound yet with less surface noise. It should also be noted the replacement cost of Nagaoka styli is much less than the Ortofons.

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Perfect for the budget conscious audiophile – the Nagaoka MP110.

With all cartridges and styli there is a working life of between 1000 to 1500 hours – you might be able to squeeze out a bit more but chances are you’ll be doing no favours to your records and the sound will be less than involving – if you haven’t been using your turntable much lately this will be the reason why. While just replacing the stylus is the default option, the best this can do is take you back to where you started. Why not take the opportunity to upgrade by slotting in a more modern and better sounding design?

The next step for vinyl enthusiasts is a phono stage – the importance and performance gains to be had by selecting a better phono stage or amplifier are easy to underestimate. Until you hear them.

Having the personal experience of stepping through a broad range of both cartridges and phono stages it has become obvious that the effect of the latter is at least as much as that of a cartridge. And that the benefit of improving both is cumulative – i.e. you’ll get better value and sound from your turntable system by considering both, either at the same time or by taking a stepped approach.

While replacing a cartridge or stylus is usually a ‘must-do’ because of either wear or damage, an old or inbuilt phono stage will slog away forever so can be put on the back burner. Yet it all goes back to our original proposal that the whole idea of listing to records is to enjoy better sound. Even our lowest cost phono stage – the new Cambridge CP-1 – is better than just about any built in unit and from there the performance gains leap away.

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The Pure Audio Vinyl Phono stage

The NZ made Pure Audio Vinyl is by far the best we have heard. Everything we love about analogue is there – it’s open and transparent, powerful and dynamic when the music lights up, yet unnervingly quiet so you’ll hear the finest details as tracks fade away. The build quality is luxurious – for any moving coil cartridge owner, the Pure Audio will be a once in a lifetime purchase that maximise the performance of any model and can be customised to suit.

The Dynavector P75MK3 is the most popular phono stage in New Zealand – the obvious first stop for any Dynavector owner. Read more about this here.

The NuPrime HPA-9 is a really interesting option – more than just a phono stage and only $150 more than the Dynavector, it’s a brilliant analogue preamplifier and headphone preamp.

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It’s a unique phono stage and headphone amplifier – the NuPrime HPA-9

It is at its best with Moving Magnet cartridges and can do things in terms of connection and matching that no other phono stage can come close to. You can connect it directly to any competent power amplifier and even just with digital sources, I’ve heard very few preamplifiers of any breed or cost that compete on sonics and certainly none that do on price. It may take a little while to get your head around the NuPrime HPA-9 but if you have an interest in better sound you most certainly should learn more.

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The Well Tempered RIAA

While you might think that Well Tempered products are in the upper realms of cost, the WTL RIAA phono stage at $660 is wee ripper. What makes the Well Tempered phono stage so special is the sound – it’s a wonderfully solid and warm presentation backed by real power and drive. We don’t know the back story behind the design but it’s immediately obvious that this phono stage gives a full scale analogue performance from even modest cartridges. It comprehensively blitzes anything else we’ve tried at this level.

The WT phono stage is easily the biggest and best value upgrade for almost any turntable fitted with a moving magnet cartridge – the logic of placing more resources in the phono stage than cartridge has always been compelling to us – styli and cartridges wear out and need replacement to maintain sound quality, but a good phono stage lasts a lifetime and makes easily affordable cartridges sound far better than they have any right to.

Here’s a great little trick for anyone who is keen on a do-it-yourself upgrade. The new KLEI Harmony RCA plugs from Keith Eichmann do amazing things for sound quality and you’ll just need 2 for a turntable.

KLEI Harmony plugs by Keith Eichmann.

When I first tried the original Eichmann Bullet plugs on my own Linn I couldn’t believe how much better they were than the expensive looking metal bodied plugs. The new Harmony plugs are far better again and even the most costly models (the Absolute Harmony Plugs) are just on $100 for a pair. (they come in packs of 4 but if you’re also buying a new cartridge or stylus at the time I can break a pack up).

And of course if the plugs are an ear-opener, the interconnect cables when used either with a turntable with RCA sockets or a phono stage take things a whole lot further again.

Record care.

Just to re-iterate the most important part of record care – it’s a worn or damaged stylus that damages records first and foremost. After this a lot comes down to handling and the obvious. Don’t pinch the edge of records between your fingers, make sure your hands are clean, keep LPs out of the sun and away from heat.

For really cleaning records, there’s nothing to beat the Nitty Gritty systemshttp://www.nittygrittyinc.com/index.html. While costly, they transform even brand new records and really do the business with older discs. The reduction in noise plus the dramatic increase in detail has to be heard to be believed. As a long time owner I’ve never regretted buying one.

The Nagaoka Rolling record cleaner.

As a much lower cost alternative, we also have the Nakaoka 152 Rolling cleaner. With no fluids and a mysteriously sticky roller that can be cleaned and used again and again, this gets all the scunge off your records without any fuss.

There is a new version (the 1000) which is pictured and due to arrive shortly but I do still have a couple ofthe original 152s which are very similar. The results from the Nagaoka are very close to the Nitty Gritty and it’s actually a lot easier to use – highly reccomemnded.

Once clean (or from new) the Nagaoka Anti-static record sleeves are and essential for keeping your LPs pristine – we’ve got plenty of packs (50 in each) for just $65.