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Inter.View to Doug Hewett of Manticore Audio Visual

by Lucio Cadeddu

Manticore Audio Visual is a well-known Company devoted to analogue systems (turntables, dedicated power supplies, arm rewiring etc.).
Their turntable Mantra has gained a good reputation among audiophiles worlwide.

LC > Which are, according to you, the most critical areas in a TT (platter, bearing, motor, chassis construction, suspension...) ?
Which are the main problems in extracting sound informations from an LP ?

DH > After 15 years in the Hi-Fi industry and 14 of those years designing record players, and after careful observation and study of other designs, I can say that the centre bearing and spindle assembly is of paramount importance and that the motor, being the sole energy source for the quality of the transduction of mechanical energy in the groove to electrical energy in the cartridge, has almost equal importance.
All other areas of design in the turntable unit, other than the quality of the drive belt, are lower order.
Of course, I am only talking turntables here - the tonearm is equally important within the system. Tribology, which is the science of bearings, lubrication etc. is a well documented discipline but it is surprising how many poor bearing designs there are out there. Rather than dwell on the poor ones, let me say that the Rega bearing is exceptionally good ( which is why the turntable has dominated the lower price area for so long ) and the Linn bearing is exceptional. The standard Manticore bearing owes a debt to both of these and our new Megabearing concept, which is available for all decks, takes the design even further.

The main problem extracting sound information from the groove is that the mechanical resonances created by a tonearm / cartridge system compliant enough to track the audio bandwidth ( and a bit each side ) at the micro level, and free enough to get across the mostpart of the radius of the disc at the macro level, are at least one order of magnitude larger than necessary to ' drive ' the electrical generator in the cartridge. That leaves a lot of spare mechanical energy to get out of the system.

Getting back to motors, and remembering that energy cannot be created or destroyed, the quality of the electrical signal passing out of the record player is derived from only a small fraction of the energy available in the motor drive system. It's where the rest of that energy goes that makes a good record player.
Even so, and leading on to the next question ......

LC > How do you see the future of TTs and LPs ? Do you believe that vinyl is here to stay, despite of the progress of the digital technologies ?

DH > Even so, we still have not got anywhere near the information locked into the groove. That is to say that the disc itself is not the limiting factor in the system. It's probabaly one of the great accidents of technology that a silly piece of cheap plastic can hold data of the complex level of music. It's also ironic that this is self-evident only to a relatively small number of people because the information resolution cannot be measured, except by the receptive, trained and artistically- inclined human ear.

The future of turntables is assured because enough people do recognise this fact - they are a small minority however so I never see vinyl coming back in a big way. But nor do I see it dying and I do see a resurgence in interest - in the British newspapers today EMI announced that they are recommencing vinyl production of certain titles ( Dark Side of the Yawn etc. ). This is a major change in policy and of significant importance.

Compact Disc is here to stay until we discover a data medium that doesn't involve mechanical movement. Digital still has a long way to go and I see further advances in sound quality in the next year. The limits of the present system however will always make it in inferior to analogue vinyl for discriminating listeners.

LC > I believe one of the reasons of the great success of the Compact Disc as a *perfect and pure* mean of reproducing Music is due to the fact that TTs, as they were sold, were -usually- badly installed and the cartridges poorly aligned. So *common people* started to think that TTs and LPs sounded bad *by default* and that they were very prone to fast aging.
A CD player, conversely, sounded more or less the same, even if badly installed (after all, there was nothing to align...). What do you think about that ?
And what do you think about the renewed interest in old TTs (Garrards, Lencos etc.) ? Is this just pure *fashion* ?

DH > Compact Disc was and is a success for reasons other than sound quality. You have to remember that the majority of ' customers ' do not have as sensitive hearing as you or I. Maybe music does not share the same importance in their lives as it does in ours. Or maybe it does, but there are differences in the factors of appreciation. When vinyl was the major medium, most listeners enjoyed it on crap Japanese systems and didn't appreciate its finer qualities.

The convenience and handleability of the little disc is nice. And the accountants who run the big record companies ( and stores ) love it. Work out the sales value per cubic metre of CD against vinyl - it's massive. This means cheaper storage, cheaper transport, less damage loss, more value on the shelf of the shop. And now the initial investment has been made, cheap production. As I say, the accountants love it. And so do the majority of the customers. It makes a great Xmas present for the person in the street. Especially if he's an accountant.

The renewed interest in older turntables owes more to nostalgia, fashion and prejudice than to any inherent qualities in the design. These old decks are nice to own ( I own quite a few myself ) but they cannot seriously compare with modern, well-designed products.
But your point about badly installed and poorly set-up units applies to a Linn LP12 as much as a Nippon Crappo. When customers telephone me and say that they have gotten rid of a Linn and replaced it with a Garrard, I smile inwardly and feel very sorry for them.
The Linn LP12 is a very fine product and a constant yardstick for us here at Manticore. Linn are a succesful and first-rate Company and companies like Manticore exist very much under their wing.
That's not to say that all of their products are as good as each other, nor to say that they can't be bettered by competing products. But when I hear members of our industry denigrating people like Linn and Naim, I make a mental note to avoid those people in future. Prejudice, ignorance and jealousy ( and a reasonable bearing ) are the Garrard's salient qualities.

LC > Some CD-players designers are trying to mimick standard TT features into their digital machines (3 point suspension, belt drive etc.). Are you planning to enter the CD-player market in a near future ? If so, what are, according to you, the key features a good cd-player should have ?

DH > No plans to get into the CD-player market - I just can't get any enthusiasm for it. There's still so much to do with the records. And amplifiers still have a long away to go with analogue front ends.

LC > We have realized that power supply plays a key role in the sound quality of every HiFi equipment. Even power cables (AC cords) deeply influence the sound of an audio device. What are your opinions and advices on this argument ? How can we improve the sound of our beloved TTs working on the power supply ?

DH > Power supplies are very important. We currently make three models of AC synchronous supply, all upgradeable, and each one makes an easily discernible difference on our decks, Linns etc.

I have formulated a theory about the relative importance of components in systems.
I include the mains supply as a component. It wouldn't surprise me if those people who swop their Linns for Garrards have poor mains supplies.
One guy I know who has a 10,000 system moved house recently and the system which sounded fine in his first house is almost unplayable in the new one. So we have a different mains supply and a different room ( and different ley lines - only joking ) that has made a serious investment in a music-playing system, temporarily, money down the drain.

We'll sort it out but the point's still valid. I have heard 2,000 systems sound great in one house and mediocre in another. Most Hi-Fi shops have poor supplies. Our own factory is blessed by a good supply. Our modest test set-up sounds really good and visitors comment on this. But that's more luck than design.

LC > According to you which are the main improvements in sound quality we can get by tweaking a TT (rewiring, blue-tac_ing etc.)?

DH > Get the best cables in the arm that you can. We do a rewiring service and LOVE Cardas cable - clearly the most musical. Also the best power supply you can afford.

LC > Finally, may you unveil to our readers some of the secret plans at Manticore?

DH > We have two big projects this year.
The first is a phono stage that employs System Integrity wiring - this isn't balanced but it does keep signal hot, signal return, screening and earth separate on each channel and throughout the system until the power amplifier star earth point.
The lousy 2-pin RCA phono connector is the single biggest problem with current Hi-Fi systems. This is a big topic and I would welcome the chance to talk again with you soon. There are details of the thinking behind this on our Web site.

Our second big project is to begin CD-ROM publishing ! How about that for an analogue turntable Company. Besides a project to put the full Manticore technical files on all turntables onto CD-ROM, we are also preparing an interactive volume of African birds and an interactive guide to the English Lake District. Both of these because close friends have already done much of the groundwork.
The CD, ironically , is a major step forward in computers and even though the sound is shit, the possibilities are enormous. For instance with the African birds, we can have the bird-song on audio to accompany each photograph.

Otherwise it's business as usual - helping people improve their systems and consequently their love and appreciation of that most beautiful art form.

Courtesy Doug Hewett for TNT.
Copyright © January 12nd 1997 Lucio Cadeddu

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