Lockdown Frontiers:

How to survive and keep audiophile sanity

Lockdown survival tips
for audiophiles, vinyl junkies

and those who serve them

[Italian version here]

Product: Music Lover & Audiophile Sanity
Price: YMMV
Author: Mark Wheeler - TNT UK
Published: Coronavirus Covid19 lockdown 2020

Social isolation may offer peace and quiet for some people, an opportunity to dress like a slob for other people

"It didn't need social COVID 19 isolation to encourage some folks to dress like a slob," remark Plebs Chorus, stage left, "But fortunately the sartorial excellence of TNT-Audio readers has never been challenged!"

Possibly because we do not meet by webcam, replies the the Old Scribe

Some readers may be revelling in 80% paid furlough time to clean and tidy their audio systems, deoxidise the contacts and spin their vinyl through their ultrasonic cleaners. Others may be missing the chance to visit audiophile friends, to discus system tweaks over beer or Barolo. They might miss congregating closely in tiny rooms in hotel rooms to hear the latest models at audio shows. Those TNT-audio readers (and writers) in the health and care sectors may be busier than ever, either coping with different policies in institutions or struggling to deliver a service in the community or virtually via overstretched bandwidth.

All of the above TNT-audio readers and writers need the touchstones of music and audiophilia to ground us and keep us from ruminating about the possible impending disaster to loved ones, about which we can do nothing except self isolate.

Many independent record shops and audio businesses could be suffering too. Not just lives are being lost but livelihoods too. The great thing about small businesses is their capacity, like small boats and cars, to change direction quickly.

Small businesses relatively local to your Old Scribe's mountaintop lair include Mansfield's Vinyl Lounge where your Old Scribe's has previously spent a happy Record Store Day. Proprietor Richard is contacting those customers who had ordered records in store and sending the LP's out at no extra charge. Direct online sales are usually UK shipped free, and they're on Discogs too. We might miss the fine coffee and chat listening to potential purchases, but we can still keep our vinyl addiction satiated by mail order from the companies who keep vinyl alive even during the unfashionable times.

Shortly after a message from Richard, my copy of Rory Gallagher's lavishly presented triple album Check Shirt Wizard arrived, excellently packed in a made for the purpose corrugated cardboard LP box. This is well recorded by the Rolling Stones Mobile at one venue and Maison Rouge Mobile at two others, on the 1977 Rory Gallagher UK tour. Having been previously unmoved by Gallagher on LP, it was during that tour that your Old Scribe was introduced to Rory live and went see him twice the following year too. This album has been well produced and the track list is ordered not by concert venues but closer to the set list of the time. There is reasonably consistent production between tracks. An evening listening to this album goes some way to mitigating the unavailability of live concerts during Covid19 lockdown.

Not far from Vinyl Lounge is Vinyl Passion turntables, turntable modifications & turntable accessories and Missing Link, the cable company lead by the same family team. Now would be a great time to spend some of that time setting up the system with a proper spring clean. Purchase a new Dust Buster and perhaps upgrade the subchassis and armboard of your Linn Sondek LP12.

Vinyl Passion also have a new two speed power supply for synchronous motor turntables (ubiquitous subchassis types and many others too numerous to begin listing) that claims to be significantly more accurate than other aftermarket offerings (your Old Scribe has seen the results on the test bench which support this claim) for a lockdown turntable performance boost. An obsession investigating unexpected phenomena from his old pro audio days led Mark Sears to delve into the stranger effects of materials in conductors and connectors, knowing that somehow this must all be down to physics not magic. Solving the electrical noise problems at a well known midlands music venue started Mark's career.

As well as Missing Link cables, this part of the world boasts Black Rhodium Audio cables. One of the oldest companies in the audio cable business, formerly trading as Sonic Link in the days when they also made hand built amplifiers. As Black Rhodium they have moved upmarket as new research they say, has enabled performance improvements. Proprietor Graham Nalty was well known as a designer and author in the electronics technical press, whose circuits may still be the backbone of those clone amplifiers emerging from emerging markets. Black Rhodium, despite the absence of audio shows to host launches, continue to develop new refinements and entirely new lines to their range. For the Covid 19 lockdown Black Rhodium have a new offer.

Graham Nalty says, "Closure of hi-fi shops throughout the UK coupled with minimal exports orders due to the Coronavirus has challenged Black Rhodium to seek new markets and new opportunities to sell online. Black Rhodium has some great assets (and very goods stocks) of high quality wire and connectors. So Black Rhodium has risen to the challenge. '99' by BLACK RHODIUM offers consumers the benefits of superb sound from using very high quality parts, but simply constructed to keep prices low."

"99 by BLACK RHODIUM offers a high grade 1m stereo interconnect and a 3m speaker cable pair for only 99. Both cables use a silver plated copper wire insulated in silicone rubber as is used on Black Rhodium high end hand built loudspeaker cables. The RCA interconnect is terminated with the Graham Nalty GN-3 gold plated RCA plug (used on the award winning Operetta interconnect). Both cables can be purchased directly from the Black Rhodium web site

Elsewhere geographically but in remarkably similar territory to Graham Nalty's amplification approach, that of amplification focused on not compromising between good rhythm and accurate bass, is Les Wolstenholme of Avondale Audio, both these designers recognise that amplification is about modulating the power supply so the power supply is the foundation of everything. Readers will remember that Les took the rather lacklustre Arcam Alpha 5 CD player and completely reworked the electronics to create the Avondale Audio Arcam Alpha 5. Les is as busy as ever, the famous NCC200 and ICC220 power modules (showing a clean pair of heals to the classic Naim NAP250 ensuring Les remains busy long after many have hung up their soldering irons. Les now has the NCC300 modules to add to buyer choice.

A little further North, in Huddersfield, MCRU are also beavering away with an ever busier online accessories business. As well as all the parts to make DIY mains cables (something we at TNT-Audio enjoy) Dave caries some invaluable accessories like comparatively low melt silver solder (although as amateurs we do not need to be ROHS compliant) and useful little devices like ferrite covers for unused RCA sockets. There's even a Spring Sale (the season not the suspension component) on now.

Wherever you are, so many small specialists are accessible without a personal shop visit. We can continue to satisfy the cravings of audiophilia nervosa without leaving our houses. Remember to respect the safe distance from the delivery person and enjoy some new toys while you have the time.

"What was all that about?" dema Plebs, stage left, "No critique? No comparisons? It almost sounds like all those advertising driven audio mags"

Conclusion

No suppliers equals no hobby. It is the small suppliers who embrace innovation and keep new manufacturers coming to the market. It is the small suppliers who are run by enthusiasts who try to make a living from their enthusiasm. Independent record shops kept vinyl alive while major chains like HMV tried to kill vinyl by refusing to stock it nationally when it was still a major format. Independent hifi shops sold the brands that the Hifi Markets/Haymarket Press axis (in the UK) ignored. Independent suppliers can still support us and we can support them in a symbiotic relationship during lockdown.

Audiophiles are at a distinct advantage during lockdown. Our hobby, nay, our obsession, keeps us indoors anyway, much of the time.

We know how to spend hours immersed in some soldering task, or in a mindful zone of fine tuning. We know how easy it is to lose ourselves for several hours, carried away by the intensity of a recorded performance. We are the lucky ones, whose habits already tend to socially isolate us for sustained periods; we must spare thoughts for those frontline care workers and health workers who put their own lives at risk every day.

Music enjoyed while writing this editorial

Reference system

on vinyl as it happens

  • Rory Gallagher Check Shirt Wizard
  • Captain Beefheart and hs Magic Band: Clear Spot
  • Captain Beefheart and hs Magic Band: Safe as Milk
  • Grateful Dead American Beauty
  • David Bowie Black Star
  • Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds: Abattoir Blues
  • Atomic Rooster In Hearing of Atomic Rooster
  • Toots and the Maytals Funky Kingston
  • James Brown Get it Together very influential double A-side single
  • James Brown: Cold Sweat; King label original

Reference system in use today:

  • Modified Turntable: Michell Orbe SE

  • Turntable Modification 1: Pedersen subchassis & suspension kit

    Turntable Modification 2: Pedersen Orbe SE replacement 2 layer isolation

    Turntable Modification 3: Pedersen Michell Armboard isolator

    Turntable Modification 4: Additional motor vibration control

  • Pick-up arm 1: HadcockGH242 SE with all silver wiring from cartridge to silver Eichmann Bullet plugs

  • Turntable support 1: Origin Live Ultra wall support, chrome plated, nylon cord replaced by chains

  • Turntable shelf 1: 10mm laminated glass

    Turntable shelf to Orbe SE feet interface: PolyCrystal Point Discs sadly now obsolete but absolutely superb and superior to RDC cups and Michel Tendercups

    Turntable shelf wall isolation: RCD Cups (larger surface area than Polycrystal Point Discs reduces wall plaster deformation)

    Turntable shelf support: Rawlbolts embedded in hard plaster

  • Turntable 2: Garrard 401 in plywood & concrete plinth

  • Pickup arm 2: SME 3012 II with FD200 damper

  • Turntable support 2: Wilko AV shelf frame, filled with kiln dried sand, RDC cone feet

  • Turntable 2 isolators: Eraudio turned Steel Cones

  • alternative turntable shelf: ERaudio Large SpaceHarmoniser

  • Tuning: Yamamoto Sound Craft incuding Yamamoto PB9 & PB10 and BrightStar extra large IsoNodes and regular IsoNodes

  • Various cartridges: Dynavector XX2 Mk2; modified Decca London; Audio Technica VM95 range of all styli options; selection of classic Stanton, Ortofon and Shure moving magnet types

  • Phono pre-amplifier: Canor TP306 VR+ supremely transparent phono-preamplifier

  • Integrated amplifier: Canor TP106 VR+

  • Line Pre-amplifier: Audio Research Corporation Reference 3 tube rolled and vibration controlled internally by Pearl valve cooler/dampers and externally by small ERaudio SpaceHarmoniser, Eraudio turned Steel Cones & RDC cones, on kevlar sling supported by Wilko sand-filled steel frame.

  • Crossover: Behringer CX2400 analogue variable Linkwitz Reilly (4th order) 3-way

  • Treble Amplifier: de Paravicini (HiFi World) designed SET6080 in RATA Torlyte case and outboard mains transformer, and components voiced to match mid and bass

  • Midrange Amplifier: Assemblage SET300B Signature variously tube-rolled and components voiced to integrate

  • Bass amplifier: Care Music prototype class A biased to 20W, 1.2kVA ps, and components voiced to integrate

  • Alternative amplifier: Breeze Audio Nelson Pass Zen clone SE class A FET 10W

  • Tuning planks: ERaudio Large SpaceHarmoniser

  • Loudspeakers pair 1:TQWP/Transmission-line hybrid passive loudspeakers (18mm & 25mm birch-plywood cabinets; long fibre natural wool stuffing; Deflex panel lined) loading the late the late John Wyckoff's Hammer Dynamics bass-mid driver

  • Passive crossover with litz-wired inductors & couture capacitors and B&CDT400N & B&C DE-35-8 tweeters or Fostex ring tweeters.

  • Loudspeakers pair 2: 3-way active Focal Audiom loudspeakers:

  • Loudspeakers 2 Bass drivers: Focal Audiom 12 VX with dual layer Cerwin Vega 2 layer cone roll surround, in 3 layer 25mm birch-plywood braced, hardwood chipboard fibreboard - birch-ply reflex cabinets, with Deflex subwoofer sheets & Deflex wedges and centre supported long fibre wool.

  • Loudspeakers 2: mid-range drivers: Focal Audium 7K with rubber solution surface damping removed. Mounted in separate enclosure with 50mm fiddleback sycamore baffle, 25mm birch-ply bracing, Deflex standard sheets, Rattletrap Extreme damped, decommissioned missile warhead, aluminium faced copper mesh reinforced resin outer shells.

  • Loudspeakers 2 high frequencies: Focal TC120TDX with felt focus ring

  • Alternative high frequencies: ESS Heil Air Motion Transformer

Some wire is used to join these components together. No interconnects cost more than 10% of the device at each end, much of it made by the Old Scribe from high quality components without Pixie Dust. Old Scribe amplifier-to-loudspeaker wire (full range, mid-range, tweeter) is ultra-low impedance Black Rhodium S900, a low-Z variation (3x3mm^2 csa) on the Black Rhodium S300 & S600 cable that came out well in Ben Duncan's objective and subjective correlation tests, selected primarily to match the OPT/driver damping factor, not for any magical qualities. Bass only loudspeaker cable Naim NACA 5, which remains rarely challenged below 300Hz. Mains is supplied by an audio only ring main with Radex earth (ground) non-inductive connections and a technical earth. Crossover and power amplifiers fed by a minimum connections hydra. Sources and pre-amp from terminal blocks within the audio only ring.

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Copyright 2020 Mark Wheeler - mark@tnt-audio.com - www.tnt-audio.com