Audiophile Systems Review - August, 1995

By Geoff Armstrong


Welcome to the Audiophile systems review page!

Here is where we present reviews by experienced audiophiles of their own systems.

There is a great deal of diversity in audio, in terms of design approaches for individual components, how to assemble a successful system from a mixture of these components, and finally the expectations of the audiophile who is putting the system together.

There are the arguments concerning categories of components such as digital versus analogue, tube versus transistor, single ended versus push-pull, panel speakers versus moving coil types etc.

Then audiophiles have different priorities regarding what a system should be able to do:

Rhythm and tempo; can I tap my foot to the tune, or wave my imaginary conductor's baton?

Timbre or quality of tone; can I tell a Borsendorfor from a Steinway?

Dynamic contrast; differences in loudness during a musical performance, both subtle and wide; does the performance contain all the elements of surprise that it should?

Soundstaging and ambience; is the full drama of the original event re-created in terms of where the instruments appear to be placed in space in relation to each other and to me?. And is the atmosphere of the place where the recording was made conveyed by the system, so I can be fooled into thinking I'm there?

Interestingly, different cultures tend to place these priorities differently.

For example, an emphasis on rhythm and tempo above other aspects of reproduction originated from Britain as a result of the influence of Ivor Tiefenbrun of Linn products. This is the acclaimed strength of the famous Linn LP12 turntable.

Timbral accuracy or tonal quality/colour is emphasised heavily by the French, but is perhaps also held in the top rank by the older British school, which I tend to think of as represented by Quad, Spendor and the BBC.

We probably have the Japanese to thank for the recent renaissance in single-ended triode amplifiers and highly efficient horn speakers; but it took a long time for the message to get through to the rest of the world.

The Japanese tend to place great importance on dynamics.

Emphasis on soundstaging and ambience retrieval originated from the United States. This may seem harder to justify in purely musical terms; but it is an important part of a musical performance - particularly of symphonic music which is full of drama. The fact that the brasses suddenly pierce through from their position at the right, towards the rear of the stage, is an important aspect of appreciating the musical performance and the composer's intention.

All of these are generalisations, of course. But it is true that an audiophile who places emphasis on one of these parameters may be willing to accept compromises in one or more of the others.

To a certain extent this may depend on the type of music you listen to.

Most of us probably view our systems as evolving. (In other words we're never satisfied).

Personally I would like to see my system evolve to an "all singing, all dancing" system that could get all of the above right and all other aspects of music as well.

I believe there is a danger that we audiophiles could hold back the development of such a system (or at least, such a system at an affordable price) if we allow ourselves to be locked into a particular audiophile "camp".


Because as soon as a system can do "more", the mind has more information to deal with, and follow. For example, if a system which focused mainly on getting the rhythm and tempo correct were suddenly replaced or upgraded to a system which provided all of the subtle and not so subtle dynamic contrasts, all the tonalities of the various instruments, and accurate soundstaging, as well as the rhythm and tempo, it may be perceived as not "doing rhythm and tempo" as well as the previous system, simply because the listeners mind now has a lot more information to process, and cannot focus as easily as before purely on the rhythmic aspects.

I believe the mind can only be trained to process increasingly complex musical information if the person concerned gradually listens to more and more complex and intricate music (which for me is ultimately the most rewarding) over the years, and this can be achieved by gradually improving your audio system, paying attention to all aspects of musical reproduction, so that it keeps pace (pun intended) with the music you're listening to.

NOTE: I am including all categories of music here, since within each category there is a range from simple, less serious and less subtle music, to relatively complex, serious and subtle music.

I remember it was in the mid eighties when Peter Qvortrup spoke enthusiastically in the UK about single ended triode amps and horn speakers, which have always been popular in Japan. For many audiophiles these items may well be the "appropriate technology" for reproducing music. It has taken ten years since then for this equipment to really "catch on" in the rest of the world.

I want to use these pages to spread that sort of information more efficiently.

If you believe you have something to share with the rest of the audiophile community, you are invited to submit a review of your own system to me. It must be a review of the system as a whole, not a review of each component separately with it's own sonic check-list. The review should include the following:

  1. An in depth review of your system. Aim for 1500 words.
  2. If possible, take some colour photographs (preferably one photo showing everything) of the equipment within the room it is used.
  3. It would also be nice to have a picture of you, the happy owner/reviewer of the system (in the photo along with the equipment, if possible).
  4. Please also include a complete list of the components including accessories.
  5. I would also like to know your musical tastes.
  6. Finally whether you are completely satisfied with the sound of your system or whether you have any frustrations. If so which?

I am looking for as much diversity as possible; anything from systems utilising single ended triode amps and horn speakers built into the walls, to the most ultra-high-tech systems with digital correction for room interactions; but I would like the attributes of each system described in real musical terms, e.g., timbral accuracy etc...and I invite reviews from all over the world. If you express yourself better in a language other than English we will try to find a translator.

I cannot guarantee that your review will appear, because we will, of course, only select the articles that we feel clearly describe a particular approach to putting a system together, and contain useful information for the readers.

By the way, since these will be reviews of real systems, in the homes of real people, we cannot guarantee to readers that all of the components which make up the systems are currently available, or will be available in your area. The idea is to use these reviews to help you determine your own approach to audio. And if you find yourself in one of those "camps"; come on, it's time to get curious, there's a big world out there.

I have also come across audiophiles who are knowledgeable about different areas of audio, either from a technical or non-technical point of view, and I will be including some "think pieces" from these people.

Please send your system review or "think piece" to me (Geoff Armstrong) at [email protected].

The address for the photographs will depend on your location in the world, so we can discuss that by correspondence.

I have been actively seeking out audiophiles who have taken their own individual approaches to putting successful systems together, and who can express themselves well in writing, in order to allow us all to share the different approaches they've taken. I hope the effort I have put into finding and encouraging these people to write, will be evident from the quality of the articles that appear here.

Geoff Armstrong

Copyright 1995, 1996, 1997 Secrets of Home Theater & High Fidelity
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