Wednesday, 4 December 2019

Where we’re at ..

It’s been a while. Not that long, but still.

So, what have I been doing? 

I’m still madly in love with Tidal and MQA, but I have made one major change. I’ve taken-back my iPad and repurposed it with an iPhone 5 .. and you know what? .. there isn’t a perceivable difference. Which is mind-boggling. 

A smaller footprint, but the same big, clear, highly-detailed sound ... but ... it’s ... so ... darn ... small. I can’t get used to it and I don’t want to bring my iPad back into the mix.

The future will see me use the AudioQuest Cobalt Blue DAC somewhere else and I will be buying the Auralic Vega G1 at some point as my main digital device. 

As always, I’ll let you know 😎

Thursday, 24 October 2019

TIDAL Observations ..

Well, having tested out Tidal for a couple of weeks now on the free trial, I can honestly say .. it’s a keeper.

Surprisingly, I’ve not really visited my 77,000 strong song library held on my external hard drive. It seems that Tidal has everything that I could possibly need. Added bonus is that there’s a good smattering of what I like in MQA (thank you so much AudioQuest Cobalt Blue DAC)*

All I really need to do now to enhance my music experience, is get a better cartridge for my turntable. 

Thinking on preferred formats, I have to say: I like all of ‘em. At the end of the day, it’s the music that counts. All I can really say is upgrade what you have until you’re 100% happy. When you’re happy: Stop.

* Best purchase ever.

Friday, 11 October 2019

Alternate DAC/Streamer to MQA heaven? ..

Hmmm .. I’m exploring all avenues. Having more-than-strongly thought about the Auralic solution (Hi-End DAC / Streamer), thanks to John Darko .. I might think about hooking-up my iPad to an Audioquest Cobalt DAC to experience MQA. It’s certainly a lot less expensive.

Anyway, here’s John with a great 20 minute video about it (try to not let it fry your 🧠) ..



Thursday, 10 October 2019

TIDAL .. Here I come! ..

https://drive.google.com/uc?export=view&id=1bMsDv3ngaB7qUd_1VXqVXQ85I6IT-IwL
Having taken out a three month free trial for Amazon Music HD, as good as it is .. I’ll more than likely drop it for the more expensive TIDAL.

*Just started a 60 day free trial.

Why (you may ask)? .. Much better resolution equals better sound quality. Plus ... the new audio magic of Bob ‘Meridian’ Stuart’s MQA technique and the promise of being able to listen to albums in Studio Authenticated Master quality (much, MUCH higher than Amazon HD).

I won’t get the full benefit of listening to fully unfolded MQA until next year when I get my Auralic Vega G1 DAC / Streamer, but I can listen to the first unfold via my IOS devices and Roon .. and .. BOY! .. even that sounds amazing!

Saturday, 5 October 2019

Naim’s NAP250 Power Amp. Does it live up to expectations? ..



The short answer is: ‘Yes! .. and then some!!’.

It’s now been plumbed-in for 24 hours and the first thing to notice is its vice-like grip on fast moving bass notes .. there’s no ‘slurring’ .. every note is rendered distinctly. 

There’s also better imaging. My KEF Q900’s seem to have disappeared, leaving a band playing music in my living room.

Overall, I’m really happy with my purchase. I could take it further with a NAC52, or go for the Classic black range, but .. no .. reaching the end of the Olive line at this stage is perfect for me.

Next stop: A new digital front end. A combined DAC/Streamer, here I come! 

Thursday, 3 October 2019

Upgrading Path Continues ..

Here we go. The last link in the amp chain ..

https://drive.google.com/uc?export=view&id=1h7WOBNez-u2VZa8rdUYkXsT17159RBui

Here comes the Naim NAP250 power amp (upgraded from my NAP140). Should be plumbed-in to the system by Saturday.

What a year it’s been so far. Upgraded my Naim pre amp from a NAC102 to a NAC82 (a NAC52 is way out of my pay grade), upgraded my PSU from a Hicap to a Teddy Pardo DualTeddyCap (incorporates the equivalent of 2 x Hicaps and a NAPSC) and now the power amp upgrade from a 140 to a 250. Why a Chrome Bumper version of the NAP250? Word is, it had a better toroidal transformer in it than the later models 🍻

To be continued ..

Tuesday, 10 September 2019

New PSU has arrived ..

.. and what a fantastic addition to the system it is!

https://drive.google.com/uc?export=view&id=1BF1HgQiiVqCqEfWrM23mOLDty1t7syds

I bought the Dualcap from Teddy Pardo (Manufacturer and Naim member). It basically performs the role of 2 x Hicaps and 1 x NAPSC in one box (so out came my one Hicap and NAPSC and in went the Dualcap).

https://drive.google.com/uc?export=view&id=10JNZ0Z63XrB-A95Q1se_9zE34cFmFI19

To say the difference was night and day is about right. It’s only been in my system for about a day (definitely not burned-in yet) and the separation and soundstage is incredible. Plus I can tell the difference between a kick-drum and a bass guitar now.

https://drive.google.com/uc?export=view&id=1RznQVDLPWqd7bSGFE9JkqALU4wWnPflY

The one niggle I have with it has nothing to do with it’s performance and all to do with the currency conversion and VAT. Customers have to pay in U.S. Dollars and as the Pound is in the toilet at the moment, my wallet took a hammering. That’s the only grumble I have.

It even came complete with all the necessary cables ..

https://drive.google.com/uc?export=view&id=1EFcOQctZ6el3XH9eatDe-3ovu5MQf1Sshttps://drive.google.com/uc?export=view&id=1tb9TS5DTobBvGbo-uaECjR7SQ9Vhd1CJhttps://drive.google.com/uc?export=view&id=1kC2yQ56ZOctlsZNYYjaAxuT-smRF2uKD

The product is superb and highly recommended for Naim users.

*All pics courtesy of Teddy Pardo’s Website.

Saturday, 3 August 2019

Digital Cables ..

Hmmm ... not sure whether to wipe the egg off my face, or pat myself on the back! 

The Meridian 563 DAC .. LIVES!!!!!!

It seems that either my IXOS Coax cable has bitten the dust, or ... the internal Coax input is kaput! 

I found out the problem was the £80 Coax, as I plugged in my under £5 Optical and the Digital signal was shown as ‘Locked’ (as it should be when the DAC senses a live connection).

Sound quality difference between the two? None. Zilch. Zero. Nada.

Which brings me along to the thorny issue of: Why spend £80 on a Coax cable when a £3.50p Optical cable delivers EXACTLY the same goods?

Very good question! 

The answer? Don’t. 

If there’s no perceivable benefits to be had, then you’d be a fool to spend the extra on something that isn’t an audible upgrade.

.. and that’s shocking to me, as that IXOS cable was the bees-knees. Or so I thought.

Everyday is still a schoolday.

Thursday, 1 August 2019

R.I.P. Meridian 563 DAC ..

R.I.P. Meridian 563 DAC. You served me (and my music) well for nigh-on 30 years. Rest in Peace, ol’ chum. You’ll be missed (especially as my music in the living room is being routed through the internal Sonos DAC, which quite frankly sucks donkey balls compared to the 30 year old Meridian). Fear not! Behind every cloud, there is a silver lining, as the hunt steps-up for a Hi Def DAC that will outperform the Meridian ✅

Wednesday, 26 June 2019

Finally! A new Pre Amp ..

I took the plunge and upgraded my Naim NAC 102 pre amp for a (cue drum roll) .. NAC 82 .. plus NAPSC. What a difference!! 

I’ve had it plumbed into the system (amp-wise: NAP 140 / Hicap) for just over 4 hours as I write this. The sense of detail is amazing! Where there are passages of silence .. there’s no noise. The noise floor is so incredibly low .. it’s non-existent.

There’s a sense of ease (for want of a better term) and the stereo separation is pin-point.

Next up to purchase is a NAP 250 power amp .. and my wallet’s itching to be emptied. Meanwhile, here’s the 82 ..

https://drive.google.com/uc?export=view&id=1QCZB8NehfyVUNmyEdSFTNvEEGMcW6xra


Tuesday, 30 April 2019

Upgrade? Yes, Please! ..

Tentatively .. providing ‘it’ doesn’t fall through .. I have the chance to upgrade either my turntable, or digital front end, or amps.

If it’s going to be the turntable, I’m looking at a Rega arm and an Ortofon 2M P&P Black (definitely keeping my SL1210 Mk.2) ..

If it’s going to be a new digital front end, I’m strongly thinking about going the Auralic Vega G1 Network Streamer route (which will retire my olde Meridian DAC) and with the help of Roon .. will stream lovely Hi Res files to my Sonos.

If it’s going to be an upgrade to the amp end, it’ll be a NAC 82 (to replace my NAC 102) and a NAP 250 (to replace my NAP 140).

I’ll let you know if any of these are workable .. ‘if’ everything pans out.

Saturday, 20 April 2019

Mishaps and Lost Treasures from The Attic (Part.1) ..

Back in the dim mists of time (early 90's), I had an AV system that was splendiferous! The main amp was Denon's AVR-3200. An absolute humongous best of an integrated amplifier ..





Time moved on and my AV system's components got either put to one side or sold as hard economic times bit-in. The AVR-3200 got put up in the various attics of houses we moved to. It collected dust and occasionally I thought to myself .. what if .. what if .. I put it to use someday again? Indeed, what if?

So, nigh-on 30 years after last turning it on, I took it down from the attic and gave it a good inspection. Surprisingly, the actual body had nary a mark on it, but peeping into it from the top .. it looked like I'd finally discovered the resting place of my hair from decades ago .. I could have knitted a new jumper out of it, if only I had the skills.

There was only one thing for it: take it my workplace and give it a damn good (but gently applied) blow-out from the compressed air blower that we used for cleaning out the inside of old, dusty, musky desktop pc's.

With that job done, it was back home .. plug it in .. and hope it didn't blow up.

The big bang didn't happen as a resounding 'click' from the solenoids and relays kicking back in to action .. no burning smell (that was a good sign, surely?) .. no overheating .. hmmm! .. after all this time .. good I be still on to a winner???

Leaving it to settle in, I went back up into the attic and plugged in my same-period-as-the-amp Sony DVP-NS92V SACD/CD/DVD Multi Player and loaded-up Bowie's awesome 'Ziggy ..' SACD (using toslink for connection) ..

I almost passed-out when the flippin' thing played! .. however .. not flawlessly. There was some distortion at peak level on certain songs.

Not to be deterred, I switched out the Optical connection and replaced with a darn good IXOS stereo interconnect. Bliss! The analog section of the amp was 100% flawless. After nearly 30 years in various attics, through cold winter's and scorching summers, I'm surprised it even turned on.

As I'm now using Naim amplification, the trusty Denon will not be going back into the 'system, nor will it be heading back up into the attic .. Nay! .. of to eBay she will shortly go.

Part.2 of this particular stream of consciousness will be coming soon.

Saturday, 9 March 2019

Gravity and Jolly-Japes in the Man-Cave ..

.. don't go there. Really.

I'm a big believer in Backup! Backup! Backup! That's why I generally use 2 x 2TB Ext HDD and 2 x 1TB Ext HDD's to save a mixture of Music, Film and TV on to.

Every boy likes a change to his Man-Cave, so when organizing 'a bit of a clean-out', I needed some help from our Nik to hold one part of a divided (but pushed-up-hard to the other) worktop. I needed it moved to the left .. I thought she'd follow me .. so, on my command: " .. NOW! .. " .. I figured she'd push, so the worktop could be inched to the left (it did have a Sonos Play:5, the aforementioned HDD's, 1 x Laptop, 1 x TV, 1 x Tablelamp on it) .. she pulled right .. the worktop did the 'el collapso' .. all HDD's fell to the floor including the Play:5 😭

AAAARRRGGGHHHH!!!!!

After much changing of the colour of the air, I surveyed the damage. On inspection (trying to fire the damn thing up) .. 1 x 1TB HDD was completely totaled .. luckily, everything else hadn't met its respective maker.

Please note: I'm a huge music lover and my 1TB HDD main drive had just bit the dust! The backup drive was fine, but what to do???

With Roon entering my life (with no music storage cap) .. like the man in the film when faced with a massive shark said .. " .. we're going to need a bigger boat .. ".

It was time to start moving things around. Things were moved between the 2 x 2TB and the remaining 1TB and my laptop's 'C' drive. After several days, my music now was stored on the two larger drives and my transient TV progs and Films were shared on the 1TB drive and a good quality 500GB drive that I had knocking-around.

I honestly don't know why I hadn't done this before. Music has always been more to the forefront of my life than Film or TV ever was.

Out of bad things, come change and good things. From a broken egg, a superior omelette was made.

The moral of the story is: If you want to make a change .. struggle .. and do it yourself!*

*Sorry, Nik.

Friday, 1 March 2019

The furthur adventures of Roon ..

I've had Roon now for about a month and I can honestly say it's the best Music Library app/program I've ever known. As a devout Sonos user, it's highlighted that systems shortcomings (particularly the absence of playing back true Hi Def files).

What refuses to play on Sonos, delights being played back through Roon .. aleit downsampled. And there's the rub.

I think in 2019 I'm going to be moving away from Sonos (at least the Connect anyway) and use something capable of working hand-in-hand with Roon (Roon sees a 24 bit file and (something like) Bluesound plays back a 24 bit file).

I'll possibly even hook-up an Aurelic to it, so I can make the most of Hi Res files, as Sonos without my Meridian DAC tackling ones and zeroes .. sounds .. how do I put this? .. utter crap. I think taking the digital-to-analog conversion away from the Bluesound will be worth it.

Then it'll be time to sell the Meridian and the Sonos Connect. C'mon Sonos .. sort yourselves out. Introduce the capability to play Hi Res.

So ..

Roon ..

If you have a digital library .. hook yourself with Roon and I absolutely guarantee you will be feeding your digital addiction forevermore.

Especially if you've got 24 bit files and the hardware to play them back on.

Monday, 11 February 2019

Punk Radio? .. Yes, Please!

Well, I never like to have idle hands, I always like to be doing something.

As some of you dear readers might know, I run a huge Facebook Music Group .. Songs From Under The Floorboards: The Best Of The Punk, Post-Punk, Alt Era. It's a heavily Magazine (the band) influenced Group, with nearly 3,000 members.

I was thinking about how to move things on and make it even better for our members, when I hit upon the idea of adding an internet radio station under the same banner.

The trial has been so successful, we're going to go ahead with it and keep it as an ongoing thing.

If that type of music floats your boat, instead of today's radio fodder of George Ezra, Ed Sheeran ad nausea .. here's the url for it:

Songs From Under The Floorboards Internet Radio Show

Wednesday, 30 January 2019

Record Labels: Download Cards! Be Consistant!!

A nice day to be had, swanning around Chester. I picked up the last Kate Bush boxset that I needed and another 2 x Siouxsie and The Banshees Half-Speed Abbey Road Remasters ( .. only 'Kaleidoscope' and 'The Rapture' to find now).

I was really looking forward to getting home and taking out the download cards from the Banshees albums.

All the other Remasters had download cards that enabled WAV 96khz 24bit versions of each album to be downloaded .. (except I always had to convert them to FLAC in order for Sonos to play them, but ... since I discovered Roon ... no more conversion needed).

Carefully, I took off the polythene that encased the album sleeve .. I took out the inner bags .. peeked inside ... No download card ... for either album!

NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!!

Why oh why can't record companies be consistant?!?!?!

There is a digital hole in my hi res collection! I am beyond grief .. I'm stuck to the old FLAC 16bit CD Rips of 2 of the most important albums in the Banshees catalogue .. 'Peepshow' and 'Hyaena'.

Damn you, Universal!

FIX IT!!

Sunday, 27 January 2019

Name that Naim Admin .. Why .. it's Me!

Today's the day I became Admin for the Naim Audio FB Group! 8,000 Members strong!

The fella who owns a NAC102 / NAP140 / Hi Cap .. is feeling very happy with himself.

Very short blog post .. I just had to spill 👍

Saturday, 26 January 2019

Room for Roon?

I've recently become a convert to the Roon 'ecosystem'.

If you're not familiar with it, Roon basically gathers together all your audio files from wherever you store them on your network and adds wonderful stuff like cover art, biographies, album reviews .. all the metadata you can shake a fist at (and then some) plus an artist radio feature (gathered from your networked music library) which sympathetically marries similar tracks together.

Did it change my life? Actually, yes it did.

I've been a staunch Sonos user since the first units came out a looong time ago. The whole house has been networked for what seems to have been always .. (over 10 years .. pretty much) .. and the damn thing about Sonos is there's a 66,000 track limit imposed in its architecture. That may be enough for some, but not for me (being a lifelong consumerist of music).

Roon works around Sonos' limit .. you just have to completely ignore the Sonos app (as good as it is).

The other annoying thing about Sonos is it's lossless file limit. The highest resolution that you can normally play is CD quality. Pfft, to that! I want Hi Res .. which is where Roon shines. It'll take anything Hi Res (without changing the file format or 'down res'ing-it) and play it back through the Sonos.

Fantastic! .. and to think I almost discarded the Sonos and was seriously thinking about going with another manufacturer.

Another good thing about Roon, is you don't have to take it to the next step and spend £1500 or £2500 on their Nucleus or Nucleus + range of hardware. The free Win.10 app will do for now.

Is Roon free though (even though the app is)?

Well .. no. There's a choice of buying either a 1 year or lifetime license. There's a 2 week trial period and then (if you're suitably impressed) it's time to make your mind-up.

At this stage, I'm going for the 1 year option, but I'm fairly certain that when I discover everything that Roon offers, I'll be upgrading to the lifetime option.

It's that good!

If you're interested, have a good look through their website.

https://roonlabs.com/

Thursday, 24 January 2019

Ribbed Amplifiers and Paintbrushes ..

Having loved music and hi fi (equal measures / go hand-in-hand), it was particularly fortuitous that I found myself working in a store that had a museum of hi fi .. er .. I mean a hi fi shop.

Seriously. I was like a kid in a candy store.

Now I could actually listen to all the great bits of hi fi that I'd previously only been able to read about in the hi fi press. That's a little fib, actually .. as I'd bought various amps and cd players 'on the journey'.

At least I could have an 8 hour demo now 😏

I'm a devil for misremembering model numbers .. so if I'm talking about giving the giant-killing Pioneer Axxx amp from the '90's a pass, (because although the sound wasn't bad at all; the build quality left a lot to be desired) .. it's only because I can't remember the darn numbers.

EDIT: A900!!!

Same as the NAD 32xxPE .. damn fine integrated amp, but .. erm .. looked a bit nouveau bauhaus (I actually bought that one though, because .. just because).

EDIT: 3220PE!!! *The alzheimer's hasn't quite kicked-in yet*

The first integrated amp that really caught my eye was Musical Fidelity's B200. An all-black, ribbed-topped beauty of a beast. It didn't run hot like the Class 'A' amps, (like the name suggests .. it was Class 'B') it weighed a ton .. and the sound .. ahhhh! .. the sound! .. rock-solid, great mid-range .. but .. but .. BUT .. those bleedin' ribs on the top .. collected dust like a Dyson. I used a paintbrush to 'flick-off' the dust. The things you do, eh?

Anyhow, like I said when I started this blog. A collection of missives. Recollections of fun times. A jumble of professional mischief (sometimes).

Just a note though, the blog .. alas .. won't be all about my workings in that illustrious musical centre of Salop .. sometimes it'll just be 'boring' stuff about what bit of hi fi hardware I've bought, or what bit of vinyl I've spent out on etc ..

Prepare to be amazed! .. or bored-rigid 😮


Wednesday, 23 January 2019

Who goes there?!?! .. Elephants on the Roof! .. or something else? ..

The time came when the electricity supply main-box that provided the building became so unreliable, it had to be replaced.

Knowing that the job was going to have to be done when there were no customers about and there were going to be electricians left to their own devices amidst millions of pounds-worth of musical instruments, hi-fi, televisions etc .. it was decided that three lucky bods .. er .. members of staff .. should 'keep guard' and make sure there were no 'security issues'.

With duvets bedded down on the hi fi floor, armed with copious amounts of canned-beer and pizza (plus one of those new-fangled dvd players for film-watching), we were all set-up.

In the interests of protecting identities, there was (lets call him) Haymar and .. er .. Ardean and myself. Shropshire folk will get the joke behind Ardean's name :)

None of us could sleep that night, between the coming and goings of the electricians and the excitement of being left to our own devices with beer, pizza and Robocop (the film and not another assumed identity).

Eventually the electricians finished their work and left the premises. A deathly quiet descended over the building, except for strange creaks and taps every now and again.

As an aside, we had a professional ghost-team come in a few years later to do a full-on paranormal investigation, but that's another story for another day, suffice to say that that was a hell of a night too.

Salop Music Centre ran parallel to railway tracks coming in to Shrewsbury and a train crash happened in the early 1900's (several post office workers lost their lives in the crash).

Morbidly, part of the back-side of SMC was used as a morgue in the 1940's (oddly enough, manned by Peter Owen's dad). It always remained forever cold, no-one liked going in there (oddly enough, it was Ron Bowen's (assumed identity) workshop for many years. Go figure) .. so .. the building definitely had history.

Anyway, about 4am, we all heard what sounded like a herd of elephants running across the roof .. huge noise .. plenty of footfall.

All three of us split-up and ran outside to different points to try and catch the would-be breakers in, who had obviously got onto the roof from the railway lines, despite having to negotiate a steep-drop, a sharp, pointed metal fence that ran along the embankment, plenty of thistles etc and a 20' hike up to the roof.

We saw nothing .. not a soul. .. and we were out there pretty damn fast, we should have seen at least somebody .. but there was no-one.

Still no explanation to this day. One day I'll cover the paranormal investigation :)


Tuesday, 22 January 2019

Welcome!

Hi! This is my sneaky attempt to create a blog detailing my adventures in Hi-Fi and is not meant to be chronological at all. It should read as abstract missives. Enjoy!

After I bought my first Music Centre (well, in truth; my mum did. The paper round didn't stretch that far), music was forever embedded in me. This eventually led me to working in an A/V + Hi Fi store for 11 wonderful, weird and funny years. The Hi Fi shop in question was Shropshire Hi-Fi (within the Salop Music Centre store of Independant shops. SMC Sound and Vision also being one of them). Shropshire Hi Fi is still an active concern today, working under Peter Owen. There is no-one on the planet like Pete. Pete is a Legend.

After Shropshire Hi-Fi, I carried on working within the store at SMC Sound and Vision, working with High End Audio and Television products under the equal legend that is Bernard Littler (Retired).

Sadly, SMC Sound and Vision are no-more; but the business was absorbed by SMC Custom Installations (another separate 'SMC' division, at the time).

Happy days indeed. I would be telling an untruth if I said I didn't miss working there.

Between Shropshire Hi Fi, SMC Sound and Vision and SMC Custom Installations .. I had the time of my life.