TNT-Audio Readers' Corner
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April 2003

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Upgrade options
Dear Lucio,
Thank you for giving people like me an opportunity to get the opinion of experts like you for free! Here's my question: My current hi-fi set-up (modest as it is) is as follows:

I listen to a lot of jazz, some rock and a little of Western Classical. I have around US $500 - 600 to spare on upgrading my set-up. What is the best I can do? The options I have considered are:
  1. Add a sub-woofer - the ASW 100 from Monitor Audio
  2. Upgrade the CD player to the Marantz CD6000-OSE
  3. Add a pre-amp like the NAD C160 - Will a pre-amp make a big difference?
  4. Change the Yamaha amp for the NAD 320 BEE
I am confused. Which option will give me the best improvement in sound? Or is there a 5th option that I have not considered. I am only looking at playing music & not a home theatre set-up right now. Waiting for your advice.
Thank you & warm regards.
Arunh Krishnan - E-mail:

Dear Arunh,
I'd suggest upgrading your CD player first. If you need more bass (considering you plan to add a subwoofer) avoid the Marantz CD 6000 OSE. Get a second-hand Rega Planet instead. Other options could be the Linn Mimik (or even a Karik, both second-hand!), a Rotel 1070 or a NAD C541.
Perhaps you will have even some money left for future upgrades. In the meanwhile, plan to build some of our inexpensive DIY cables. These will be a major upgrade over the stock cables you're probabily using (both interconnects and speaker cables).
Hope this helped,
Lucio Cadeddu

A cumulative reply on DIY cables
Pete and Lucio- hope you don't mind a joint letter.
Dear Pete,
Saw your comment on Maplin XS67X on the TNT weekly letters. I too had thought this cable looked good: in addition to silver plating it has PTFE primary insulation with an FEP outer insulation. However, according to my catalogue, the central conductors are "silver plated copper covered STEEL". From what I've heard that might not be such a good idea, but others may know better. I too had thought this cable looked good: in addition to silver plating it has PTFE primary insulation with an FEP outer insulation.

Dear Lucio,
Like Pete I wanted to say thanks. I've made up the TNT Triple Ts for my speakers (as per TNT design between main amp to Quad ESL63s) and slightly modified between base amp and Gradient subwoofers. I was very very happy with the results.

I then went on to change all my mains cable to screened cable reasoning that it could not hurt and it would be easy to do (and undo if I did not like it). Most are simply the Merlino design albeit with 1.5 mm sq conductors.
For the power amps I used two lengths of the same cable. Two conductors were twisted in each for the mains "signal" ie live or neutral and the third in each was left for earth. Although the impact was not as immediately obvious as the speaker cables, in some ways it is more profound. I'm hearing much more detail, voices seem more natural and the sense of stage depth is MUCH more apparent and believable.

All this brings me to some questions. If such an improvement can be achieved with a fairly basic screened cable, I wonder whether even better results could be achieved with better cables. Looking through the cables in the Maplin catalogue there are quite a few which offer some potential improvements eg

Unfortunately no one cable offers everything. Do you have any opinion regarding the relative importance of screening, dielectric and conductor material for mains cables? For example is dielectric important, since in this case we don't want higher frequencies transmitted along the wire?
My initial thought was to try to construct mains cables from low loss satellite cable- Maplin XS46A (double-shielded copper braid and mylar, 1.25mm sq copper conductor, 5-cell polythene insulator)- or from an interesting RF cable- Maplin XS 68Y- (double-shielded silver coated copper braid, 3.1 mm sq silver plated copper conductor, solid ploythene insulator).
I realise that since the first of these has a solid conductor it might be somewhat inconvenient, but are there any other reasons why these co-axial cables should not be used for mains?
Don Fleet - E-mail:

Dear Don,
in my opinion shielding/screening and geometry make the most relevant differences in mains cables. For example, our TNT TTS design is normally referred to be a sensible upgrade over our standard TNT Merlino. For safety reasons I'd use only mains certified cables. This, normally, excludes satellite cables.
Hope this helped,
Lucio Cadeddu

Pathos Classic One
I just read the review you wrote on about the Pathos Classic One. This amplifier seems to have the bright sound that I like, as you have described. I have a concern about using it in my system, my speakers are Magnepan MMG, do you think they would make a good match?
I am not worried about bass because my subwoofer will handle all of that. My main concern is getting decent power output. My current power amp is a Parasound HCA 750 which has enough power for me just that the sound is very dark and I want something to brighten my system.
Do you have any suggestions for amplifiers or integrated amplifiers?
Lawrence O'Meally - E-mail:

Dear Lawrence,
I see no problem in matching the excellent Pathos Classic One (now "New Classic One") with your MMG's, particularly if one considers you're not worried about its "light" bass range.
Anyway, a careful listening test before buying should be mandatory.
Keep me updated,
Lucio Cadeddu

Money saving upgrade
I have just come across your site...and I'm very glad I did! I was inspired by all the DIY stuff, and this weekend have built a hybrid of the FFRC and twisted-twin (I have plenty Cat5 as I work in Networking!).
I also built analogue and digital interconnects out of FT125 Satellite co-ax.
Although the cables are still being broken in I can already hear the imporvements (I had Cable Talk 3.1 and QED Qnect 2 previously).
Thank you and all your staff for such a money saving upgrade!
Best Regards
I have seen XS67X on Maplin, it is a Military-grade coax with silver plating and PTFE, I intend to use some to make some interconnects soon.
Pete Kavanagh - E-mail:

Dear Pete,
glad to be of some service. Keep us updated on your new project of DIY interconnects.
Lucio Cadeddu

TNT StoneBlocks
Hi Lucio. I read about your TNT Stoneblocks and I have a few simple questions for you. Do I place the Stoneblocks under each rubber feet of my CDP or should the blocks make direct contact with the bottom of the CDP chassis?
If the latter, is it okay to use 3 blocks in a triangle arrangment instead? Secondly, I'm just a newbie playing with an entry-level Denon CDP and receiver (the power cords aren't even detachable on them :-P), do you think such equipment level would see improvements from vibration isolation?
Thanks a lot for your reply.
Danny Tsang - E-mail:

Dear Danny,
even low-end gear can be improved via simple and free tweaks. As for StoneBlocks, since every component reacts differently to this tweak, try all the variations. I suspect the best results will be achieved by directly coupling the chassis to the StoneBlocks, in a triangular arrangement...but one never knows. Try and keep us updated!
Lucio Cadeddu

Klipsch RF-3 inquiry
Hi Lucio,
Congratulations on your excellent web site. For some time I follow the articles and applying some of the tweaks (Akropolis stands with my previous Tannoy M2's, FFRC cables, FleXy) really improved my system.

At the moment I use Klipsch RF-3's togehther with interchanging a NAD integrated and a a refurbished '58 H.H. Scott tube amplifier. At power hungry times I plan to upgrade to a good transistor integrated. You have auditioned thr RF-3's for a good period of time and are very familiar with it.
I am very pleased with them and do not think of upgrading them at the moment. What will you think about RF-3's powered by a Naim Nait 5. I am not very familiar with Naim's and your remark on Krell+RF-3 worries me a bit.
If you can find time and drop me a few lines about this I'll really appreciate it.
Thanks a lot and regards
Yaman Basa - E-mail:

Dear Yaman,
I'm sure the Nait 1 I reviewed last week would be a match made in Heaven. Never auditioned the Nait 5 + RF-3 combo...but I suspect it could be quite good as well. It all depends on what you're searching for: power and dynamics or smoothness and refinement? Perhaps a warm sounding tube amplifier could be a better choice. The RF-3's need to be "tamed" a little bit in the mid-high range. Try to audition the Nait 5 paired with the RF-3's and let me know. Please be sure to avoid FFRC's cables, then.
Hope this helped,
Lucio Cadeddu

Dear Lucio,
I have quite a few questions to ask you....
First of all let me explain you the system I have at the moment:

I am planning to make an upgrade on my cd player (1) and on my speakers (2):

1- Cd Player: the Sugden cd21 is more musical than the Rotel 991, specially with voices, saxos, trumpets, etc.. but it has very little detail (specially on low freq) and very little microdynamics and dynamics in general.
The Rotel, on the other hand, is a bit thin and forward with voices, is not musical, but has a lot more detail than the Sugden, specially on low freq, and has a lot of microdynamic detail for the money..
The upgrades I am thinking about are:
1.1- Trichord clock 3 with PSU (normal or "never connected" model)
1.2- Perpetual Technologies DAC

The thing is that I am not sure which cd player would benefit more from the Trichord clock 3 modification or from the addition of the external DAC. Trichord have suggested upgrading the Rotel, mainly because there is more space available inside the case, and also because the internal DAC in the Sugden is only an 18 bit model.(?)
I am a bit confused, and don't know really which option to do: Trichord vs Perpetual Technologies DAC? Note that if you advice me to upgrade via DAC, I can always do the Trichord clock upgrade in a later stage.
(Which cd player shoud I keep in order to achieve the most musical and detailed sound after the upgrades are carried out?)

2- Loudspeakers: I initially intended to buy the Proac D15. They are very musical and sweet with the Sugden (very nice sound), although the bass lines were a bit blurred and soundstage was just average (poor). (Nothing compared to for example an Audio Physic Virgo mk3 on the soundstage issue). Another option, though more expensive is the Reference 3A da Capo speakers. I have discovered accidentally the DIY loudspeaker scene, and I am starting to think it may be a better option to achieve a much better sound for similar money, and the fact that the speakers will actually outperform the rest of my system is also appealing, because it will enable me to carry out future upgrades to my electronics without changing speakers ($$$). The speakers that look interesting to me are:
2.1- SEAS Thor loudspeaker kit, designed by Mr. Appolito. (parts only - 1100 Euros)
2.2 -Avalon boxes with Thiel ceramic drivers and simple crossover (I include a picture of these speakers to give you an idea) (Much easier to drive than the SEAS). I initially also considered building the Proac 2.5 clone, although it looks both 2.1 and 2.2 are much better loudspeakers.... (parts only- 2500 euros)
I would of course build them using only the finest components availble in the market: WBT Topline binding posts, silver wiring, Auricaps...etc I don't have any reference on how these speakers may sound since I don't know any DIYers in my area. I don't really know what commercial loudspeakers they can be compared to on a performance level, so I will trust your advice also in this respect.
I want a very musically engaging loudspeaker, a huge soundstage (much LARGER and more defined than Audio Physic Virgo mk3), good dynamics and timing, with a very open sound and loads and loads of detail, and a bit on the warm side when partnered with my Sugden amplification.

I am really confused on what to do, both with the cd players (I should sell one) and with the loudspeakers, and I find it extremely difficult to audition further products since I live 300 kms away from any major city and only have a Vespa PX to move around, which is unsuitable for carrying the electronics to stores...

I hope you can help me out with these problems and I can finally decide on my final system and concentrate on listening to my record collection and on discovering and buying more music....
Thanks in advance for the help,
Best regards,
P.S. To give you an idea of the sound I like, I'll tell you that on my first system I tried to upgrade my speakers for B&W 602 s2. The dealer that sold me the rest of the system really liked them and offered me a no compromise 1 week home trial. They had more dynamics and were slightly more open than the Monitor Audio, but I beleived the Monitor Audio to be a much better speaker in a whole for half the price of the B&W (I didn't take into consideration the price for making my decision)- The tonal balance was much nicer (better) with the Monitor Audio than with the B&Ws, which were to bright and forward for my taste. Bass also was a bit of a "show off" nature with the B&W..... I finally kept the Monitor Audios....(This was quite a few years ago, and I have quite educated my ear since then and I am know in the quest for my audio nirvana...!) Music tastes: high tech jazz, downtempo and relaxed electronica, jazz, funk ...etc
Thanks again Lucio
Borja - E-mail:

Dear Borja,
DIY loudspeakers can be quite a bargain, normally they can be compared with much more expen$ive commercial products (even twice as much). You need good drivers, good passive components and...a good design :-)
Unfortunately I do not know the DIY designs you mentioned, except the ProAC 2.5 clones, which have been successfully built by several Italian readers. Perhaps someone knows these designs better and can give you his opinion.
Another option is the second-hand market. For the same amount of money (without the hassle of DIYing :-)) you can buy excellent speakers, such as Thiel CS 3.6's or 2.2's (or even 1.5's), ProAC Response 2.5's or 3.5's, Tannoy D700's and so on.

As for CD players, I'd keep the Rotel 991 and upgrade it with the Trichord stuff.
Hope this helped,
Lucio Cadeddu

Scott, great review!
I've chosen a different upgrade path for my Njoe Tjoeb, first I installed the OPA627 opamps, that are really much better than OPA604: they bring a lot more detail, without making my ears bleed; then I swapped the Philips tubes for a pair of Amperex Bugle Boy: another quantum leap! The Amperex removed the last trace of sibilance, and made the bass tighter and deeper (IMHO, Philips tubes are a bit muddy in the lower octaves).
Now it sounds so much better than the stock unit, that given the price of the upgrades I'd consider them mandatory for every Tjoeb owner!
Best regards
Stefano Tommesani - E-mail:

Hi Stefano,
Glad to hear you have started tweaking your Tjoeb. I too have the OPA 627's. I happen to prefer the sound of the AD 825's but that's just me. To each their own, thats the great part about the Tjoeb :-) Swap tubes, opamps, add the upsampler, whatever, and you can make it sound how YOU prefer. Best part, it's ALL cheap :-)

Speaking of detail, I was afraid that the Upsampler was going to be too much for my reference system but it wasn't. It just made the Beast even more refined.
Best Regards,
Scott Faller

TNT Hydra
I was just looking at the DIY HYDRA project and I'm really interested. You wouldn't happen to know if there's a US version available would you (I had to ask). I figured the best option for me would be to wire this with four female 3 us prong outlets. I initally considered wiring it for four cables directly to each componant but I'd have to pick which componants go where each time and rewire if I moved stuff around...what a hassle. PLus I'd have to cut some of the cables to equipment that has it wired inside already, or hyas unique conecctors etc. not something I'm comfortable doing.
For example my Dynaco ST-120 which I'm about to rewire and put a new AC cord on unfortunately doesn't have a removeable AC power cord...great amp...major design flaw...same thing with the Harmon Kardon A500 Award Series integrated tube amp...these are older pieces and I don't want to cut into thier sheet least rewiring them I can save thier original cable in case someone wants it.

Oh yeah I was wondering if you've ever considered modifying those relatively cheap lousy power-strips...I have several from the lousy really cheap plastic ones to a fairly nice sturdy metal one. They almost all have the lousy LED and switch (easily removed and bypassed). I'm thinking of starting with the really cheap ones so I can throw them away if things go wrong until I can perfect a design...then modify the nicer ones once I have it down. Do you think it would be worth the effort to try to improve one of these (the nicer one I have doesn't have as much a negative impact as the others)...
I really think it could be improved by rewiring with better wire, it has a shjielded cable going to the wall socket so I'd probably keep that but even that's an option I could try...I was just wondering if you thought it's possible to get quality performance out of one of these, maybe a simple circuit to filter the AC...(I know nothing about circuit design so I'd need help here...) ANY and all info and/or help you can provide would be greatly appreciated.
Jason Ruiz - E-mail:

Hi Jason,
Sorry I don't know about the US version of the plug, but modifying cheapo strips could be very benificial. Best to open them up, get rid of all the switches, LEDs and brass track, and wire point to point with say 1.5 mm solid core and solder all joints. Then replace its own cord with 1.5mm solid cord plaited like Kimber wire (or your sisters hair...)
As for circuit designs for filters go see the DIY section of TNT
PS If you fry yourself it's your own fault :-)
Geoff Husband

Norh S9
Dear Sir,
I have read very interested your test of the amplifier Norh SE9 Finally, a vacuum tube integrated amplifier at a low price.
I have speakers Pro Ac Response with sensitivity 86 db/w/m. I listen a lot of jazz, classic and rock music but I don't need loud or strong bass, so can it be good for me? Now as amplifier I use a Naim Audio Nait 2 (old version) but I like so much vacuum tubes, can you help me?
Thanks and good listening,
Aldo Viterbo - E-mail:

Sr. Viterbo,
I did not have Pro Ac Response speakers to use with the SE9 when it was here, but I did have a pair of nOrh SM6.9 drum speakers that are rated at 87dB, slightly higher sensitivity than the Pro Ac Response. The sound quality using the SE9 with these speakers was quite good at low volume, but became unacceptable at higher volume.

If you keep the volume level relatively low (80dB or less average) the performance should be acceptable, but you also should expect rapidly deteriorating sound quality if you turn the volume up too high for the combination. At 80dB average, you would have only about 15dB headroom for the peaks, which should be adequate for your selected music at that volume level (though not sufficient for a lot of classical music or any other music with a wide dynamic range).

On the plus side, as with many single-ended amplifiers to which I have listened, the SE9 sounds very good at low volume. You are right, while the SE9 isn't the "best" tube amp you can buy, for the price it is hard to beat.
I hope I have helped a little bit with your questions. Please contace me again if I can clarify anything.
Richard George

Jolida JD-100A
Just read your informative review. Thank you. And I have a query. I'm just now getting back into audio after a lengthy bout of lawschool and other deviations.
I am saddled with an older Adcom amp and preamp, Energy AP5+2 speakers, and a Sony CDP-CX255 jukebox (w/ a Toslink optical output). The latter is my most immediate concern, as while I like the jukebox functionality, its obviously lacking in decent digital reproduction.
I've considered an external DAC interface (Omegastar, Northwood, etc.) as a solution, but have been told to simply get a good CD player instead as the transport in the Sony is also lacking. Certain CD players with Toslink inputs would also allow the Sony to piggyback on the newer CD player's built-in DAC, so this might be the better solution.
Could I trouble you for an opinion?
Nick - E-mail:

Hi, Nick,
Thanks for your letter. Congratulations on your new legal deviant status :-)

First, I am not a fan of CD changers. When one buys a CD changer, a certain percentage of the purchase price goes to the changing mechanism. I'd rather buy a single play CD player and have as much of my money go to making music.

Additionally, when using an outboard DAC, a Toslink connection isn't the best way to do it. Toslink connections are known for adding jitter, which degrades sound quality.

All is not lost however. What I propose is this: use the Sony for "non critical" listening, i.e. throwing a post graduation party, background music while working on legal briefs, taking a nap, etc.

A high quality CD player, like the JoLida, will bring much enjoyment for those times where you really want to enjoy your music. I predict, after hearing the difference, you wont use the Sony much anyway, or miss its changing ability.
Nels Ferré

Fi-X amp
Hello Richard,
I just read your review about the Fi-X and I would have a few questions for you: does it have negative feedback? This kind of amps usually don't but...
Does it really sound that good? Can you just "plug & play" the 45's?
Thank you
Emanuel Voulgarelis - E-mail:

Sr. Emanuel,
I enjoy the Fi X very much. In fact, it is the favorite amplifier I own - yes, I had to buy it! I have one other amp that can, with critical listening, be found to have higher fidelity. It is a little more detailed and definitely has better holographic imaging. But, the Fi X sounds more musical to me and enhances the experience of listening to most types of music that I enjoy.

I mentioned my only real objection in the review, which was a power transformer hum. Since the review, the X has broken in more and the hum has reduced to where it is barely noticeable.

Can you buy a better sounding amp? Yes. But I think you would have to pay quite a bit more. For instance, Fi's 2A3 Monoblocs are definitely better, but cost 2 1/2 times more.

As for your other questions, no, there is no global negative feedback used in this design. Don Garber (owner and designer of Fi) says that the 45s are a plug-in, that the Fi X is compatible with both 2A3 and 45. Even though the X was designed for the 2A3, I prefer the sound and performance using 45s. Perhaps you could ask Don Garber (owner of Fi) if the X can be 'optimized' for 45s.
Thanks very much for writing.
Richard George

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