We are clearly interested in supplying goods and services to our customers but at the same time we are constantly aware of the shortage of good and reliable information on sound reproduction issues.This site addresses those issues. It's a long site but I hope readers who persevere with it will find the content interesting and useful. The issues raised are very relevant to sound equipment selection. Our guiding principles are audio engineering and cost effectiveness. Undoubtedly truly high quality sound reproducton continues to be a source of great joy and to that end we have a somewhat purist philosophy. Where I'm "preaching to the converted" I apologise.

Please feel free to ask questions ( I'll do my best to answer them.



I am pleased to announce that the shop is open for business including visitors and demonstrations. We are generally available during our normal Tuesday to Saturday hours but with the mild constraint that we now operate an appointments system. Please email or call (07775 838165 or 0121 427 4740) to arrange a visit. This arrangement was driven by covid but it has worked so well we have decided to keep it for the extra flexibility it provides.

John Townrow FRAS




The original shop, which was in Birmingham (UK), was opened in 1972. Our first shop was at Five Ways Edgbaston hence the name of the company. We moved to our present shop in 2004.

We have maintained our specialized approach to sound reproduction and still support "hi-fi" in its original sense. We think sound reproduction has more to do with engineering than with magic. Five Ways Hi-Fidelity Ltd. supplies new equipment only. A separate business "John Townrow Classic and Vintage" deals with classic, vintage and pre-owned items. This site (i.e. the Five Ways one) covers hi-fi issues in general so there are numerous references to classic products which are available from the other business. There are links to that business on this site.

We repair and rebuild valve amplifiers. We re-tip and rebuild cartridges. We supply special cartridges for playing 78rpm. records. We have a loudspeaker drive unit repair service which is very useful when replacement originals are no longer available. We service and align REVOX B77 tape recorders. We have a fully equipped mechanical engineering workshop with extensive machining facilities. These facilities are rare if not unique among hi-fi dealers. They enable us to undertake a wide variety of custom work, particularly with record playing equipment.

In short, we cover the products and technologies of the last century rather well. This does not mean we are locked into the past. We cover leading edge modern products and technologies as well. Visitors are welcome Tuesday to Friday 10-30 to 6-00 and Saturday 10.30-5.00 (currently by appointment following on from our covid management policy).

We have a demonstration room where visitors may audition our favourites but increasingly we are dealing with customers who are too far away to travel to our shop. Today there are many parts of the UK which are no longer served by true hi-fi specialists. In such cases we do our best to help on the telephone and are happy to supply by mail order. The number of specialized retailers with proper audio engineering knowledge and expertise is now very small, so we commonly get visitors from more than 100 miles away.

Enthusiasm for high quality sound reproduction now exists throughout the world so we are geared up for tax free exporting to many countries (but not all!).

Historically we worked closely with AVI for more than 25 years so a few words are appropriate regarding this relationship. For most of that time AVI made hi-fi separates. These were world class products and still have an enviable reputation. Some of these iconic products are illustrated in a later section on this site but are now only available second hand. Around fifteen years ago AVI took the bold step of discontinuing all its separates (amplifiers, tuners, CD players, passive loudspeakers) in favour of the newly developed ADM9s. These were active loudspeakers. They had an amplifier for each drive unit, built in top class DAC (digital to analogue converter), USB connection and remote control volume. Later they had two digital inputs and one analogue input.The ADM9s were successful but the success was tempered by the established preferance for separates.

(UPDATE ON AVI Sadly AVI has now disappeared from our portfolio of suppliers. There is currently no production. AVI is passing into history. A consortium was assembled to revive the brand but progress has ground to a halt. The active speakers can't be re-introduced because some of the components are no longer available. A re-design would be called for and most likely a price increase as well. . There is much positive coverage of AVI products on our site. This remains as valid as ever. We've kept it on as a useful source regarding second hand items and as worthy history. There is a caveat. Second hand AVI amplifiers are well supported (by PDG Electronics 0208 426 5980) but AVI active speakers are not. We continue to supply replacement remote controls for both early and late ADM9 etc. ADM9s and DM10s were outstanding in terms of cost effectiveness. They provided a very high standard of performance for modest cost. Active speakers from other makers and which give similarly high standards of performance were and are considerably more expensive. The AVI range of active speakers was an anomally which we do not expect to be repeated. Consequently our focus is currently on the separate amplifier/speaker approach. Despite the engineering advantages of the active approach there is no doubt that most enthusiasts still prefer separate amplifiers and speakers. Happily we are an agent for speakers from Graham Audio. This company is a master of passive speaker design.

Illustrated to the right are some of the models from Graham Audio. In order they are: LS5/9 LS6F LS6 LS3. All are shown with their grills removed.

The hi-fi market has changed hugely in the last 20 years. In the seventies and early eighties the hi-fi system was the aspirational consumer durable and generally all the rage. Whether we like it or not the term "hi-fi" has passed into general usage for describing any domestic sound system. It is short for "high fidelity" which was first used in this context over sixty years ago when enthusiasts who were disappointed by the poor standards of reproduction provided by mass market products wanted to produce results which were much better. By the turn of the century hi-fi in the original sense had become a niche market for connoisseurs appealing only to those who value high quality sound reproduction (music or other programme material) or have an interest in the equipment, past or present, which is used to achieve it. Faithful and realistic reproduction of musical instruments and human voices (or indeed any other acoustic event) continues to be a worthy and useful objective but it deserves a wider audience today especially as equipment costs can be lower in real terms if informed choices are made. What is also interesting is that today there is a divergence from the "high-fidelity" concept at both ends of the price scale. Some ultra expensive equipment available today sounds dire and in no sense addresses the "high-fidelity" issue.
Some is so bad that it puts people off hi-fi for ever. Much equipment which superficially sounds impressive is actually wrong i.e. inaccurate, coloured, distorted and ultimately fatiguing but by then the money has been spent.

The new century has seen huge developments in sourcing and storing program material digitally. Nevertheless, music libraries stored on computers and iPods still need first rate amplifiers and loudspeakers for the best results. Sometimes a separate DAC is also required. This is usually where the one built into the computer isn't good enough. It is worth pointing out that an iPod with files recorded in "lossless" and using its on board DAC gives results surprisingly close to those with CD players. That's how much things have changed. We feel it is very important to embrace and incorporate these new technologies. We have no problem combining modern digital sources with classic separates systems. We cover sound reproduction issues from vintage to leading edge.

We have a comprehensive portfolio of suppliers to cover domestic hi-fi. We try to recommend the best equipment for the job in hand and if this turns out to be something we don't sell we'll say so.



Electric recording, i.e. with microphones, electronics and electromechanical devices, came in around 1925. It was a huge step forwards. Before that recordings were made and replayed entirely mechanically. It was only the direct sound from the performers which drove the stylus which modulated a groove on the wax master. This limited both what could be recorded and how well it could be recorded. After 1925 78RPM records became progressively much better as is very apparent when these old recordings are played on suitable modern equipment. We've always been better at recording sound than replaying it. Most of the replay equipment of the day wasn't really up to the job - at least in respect of domestic equipment.

At around the same time (1926-28) cinema made the transition from silent films to sound films. This was a huge driving force for sound reproduction. Electronics was very much in its infancy and suddenly it became necessary to design sound systems which would work in cinemas which before long might have capacities of 1000-2000 seats. Using the best valve electronics of the day, amplifiers were designed and built to give an output of about 20 watts (sometimes a bit more but not much). That does not seem to be much power to a modern enthusiast. This is how they did it. Most modern and near modern louspeaker systems as used for hi-fi and elsewhere are very low in efficiency (acoustic energy out/electrical energy in), As a percentage this is usually in single figures, often low single figures. What the cinema engineers did was to use drive units with mains energised magnets (wound field) and then to horn load them. In this way they were able to increase the efficiency to around 50% at least in terms of usefully directed output. The horn loading gave better coupling to the room and ensured that more of the out put was directed where it was wanted. It worked. 20 watts with 50% is the equivalent of 500 watts with 2%.

Many of these systems were in use well after WW2. Cinema sound equipment had been very much a case of necessity being the mother of invention. I see quite strong connections between what was done for the cinemas and the development of domestic hi-fi in the 1950s. I well remember being stunned by the sound quality in my local Granada cinema in the late 1950s. This was especially so when records were played between the films. To many people the cinema gave their first taste of high quality sound reproduction.









It is important to understand that high quality sound reproduction is essentially old tech. Results were available decades ago which compare favourably with the best available today. Consequently real progress is now slow. It is interesting that SME decided to re-manufacture the Garrard 301 and that Thorens has recently introduced an updated version of the classic TD124. Both these products started life in the 1950s. Key products from the past have been re-discovered, some a long time ago (e.g. Garrard 301, Thorens TD124, LS3/5a) others more recently (e.g. Quad 33/303, Spendor BC1). By now most of the truly excellent products from yesteryear have been identified by enthusiasts. This has the consequence that with fixed supply the prices are only going one way. Even so, many classic products, serviced where necesasary, are still more cost effective than new equivalents. Even with the new equipment we recommend and sell we tend to favour classical constructional methods where possible. Hand made British hi-fi products are well regarded worldwide with good reason.

Recently we have seen a huge resurgence of interest in open reel tape recording. This has increased demand for Revox tape recorders, especially the Revox B77 models. These machines are only available second hand and the prices have increased considerably in the last year or two. We continue to support the B77.

It's true that digital technology has come along but ultimately a digital source becomes an analogue one as the DAC output is analogue and this is what the amplifier amplifies. It is a simple matter to add digital sources to an analogue system. It's fair to say that digital technology has had a lot to do with convenience and utility but not a lot to do with ultimate sound quality. First class sound quality may be achieved without it.

There are some uncomfortable truths here for the industry but good news for end users. Summarizing:

Solid state amplifiers. These were mature technology by the 1990s and some good examples were made in the previous 30 years or so. This means that carefully chosen second hand amplifiers are usually more cost effective than new ones of similar performance. Furthermore, when no longer wanted they may be resold for about the same as their purchase prices whereas new amplifiers often struggle to achieve half their original cost. It's worth remembering that much development has had more to do with reducing production costs than improving performance. I can think of no new amplifier which outperforms a serviced Quad 33/303 for the same cost. That's without even considering the aesthetics of classic British products. AVI 2000 Series pre/power combinations (still available second hand for around £1000 or even less but don't come up very often) are a very hard act to follow and new items of similar performance and specification cost thousands. We are thus at something of a loss when it comes to helping our customers with recommendations regarding new solid state (transistor) amplifiers. Furthermore we don't recommend any amplifier which relies on surface mount components. What we do like are the hand built Graham Slee models which we are happy to recommend and supply in cases where they are powerful enough to do the job (which they often are). Any new amplifier which meets our criteria is likely to be expensive irrespective of manufacturer.


Valve Amplifiers. Power amplifiers were fully developed before 1960. From then onwards it was simply a matter of execution rather than design. Modern resistors and capacitors are better and then, as now, the results were very dependent on the output transformers which were and are expensive components. Rebuilding old valve amplifiers using modern resistors and capacitors is a good idea. For those who want to use valve power amplifiers classic examples are very cost effective. Some of them have iconic status and consequently are sought after by collectors as well as users. They are usually resellable for around the purchase price and sometimes more.
A downside to valve amplifiers is the ongoing maintenance commitment as valves have a limited life and should be regarded as consumables.
Vintage valve pre-amplifiers have not aged so well. By modern standards the signal to noise ratios tend to be challenged and the mechanical switching tends to be noisy. It is common practice today to partner valve power amplifiers with solid state pre-amplifiers. In cases where the power amplifier has input selection and a volume control a pre-amplifier may be unnecessary as record playing requirements can be satisfied by a separate phono stage and line level sources need no extra gain.
There are some new amplifiers which we are happy to recommend.

Loudspeakers. Passive moving coil loudspeaker technology topped out around 1980. There has been no significant development since then although there has been progress on available materials. Passive loudspeakers are the ones driven by external separate amplifiers and include the vast majority of domestic hi-fi loudspeakers.This technology is no longer the only route to the very highest standards of sound reproduction. Active loudspeaker technology is the other route. With new equipment it can be more cost effective (the section below on AVI covers this subject further). To be fair this view is based on using the AVI ADM9/DM10 series as a reference. These products were somewhat under priced for their capability and are no longer made. Similar products from other manufacturers were and are inclined to be rather more expensuive. Nevertheless a given standard of performance is potentially achievable at lower cost by using active technology than by using stand alone separate amplifiers and loudspeakers albeit at some cost to flexibility. Some passive classics give a very high standard of performance as do the best examples of new passive loudspeakers, provided, of course, that good amplification is used. This is a case of the most refined versions of the earlier technology versus the new. All passive loudspeaker systems need passive crossover networks and these are always a problem and one which is not always satisfactorily resolved. Active loudspeakers avoid this by using a different approach. Drive unit behaviour is of course a problem with both technologies as is cabinet behaviour. Having said all that it must be admitted that most enthusiasts prefer separates. Classics such as restored BC1s (see link below) are very cost effective. Having said that, good BC1s are not easily sourced as our separate S/H business knows all too well. Most offered for sale are at least partly defective and commonly require hundreds of miles driving for collection.

Where very compact passive loudspeakers of the very highest standards are required S/H classics can cost more than new equivalents. For such applications we recommend the Chartwell/Graham LS3/5 which is a BBC licensed design. With some second hand LS3/5as now making well over £1000 a pair (and some over £2000) the new LS3/5s from Chartwell/Graham are something of a bargain at £1945 a pair. Recently added to the range is the Chartwell/Graham LS3. A pair of these is only £1322. It's an in house design which compares favourably with the BBC licensed LS3/5 and LS3/5a. The LS3s are the cheapest new serious high fidelity speakers we can offer. Larger loudspeakers which could replace BC1s and have the same attention to detail start below £4000. We can supply the Chartwell/Graham LS5/9 at £3839 per pair. This is another BBC licensed design. To be fair, it can be driven louder than the BC1 and is more robust. It is also a bit smaller than the BC1. It is a very accomplished design which carries our full recommendation in respect of both performance and build quality. This model is a good choice where "only new will do" or where seeking unmolested Spendor BC1s has proved too tedious. It is something of a universal speaker as it does a good job with heavy pop music as well. There is another good model from Chartwell/Graham at £2445. This is the LS6. Just introduced is a new model from the firm. This is the LS8/1. Much more on this below. The LS5/8 continues at £7785. Where passive loudspeakers are required for whatever reason the Chartwell/Graham range which is hand built in the UK is a hard act to follow. The video interview with Derek Hughes under "Technology" on the Graham site is strongly recommended as is the video on the home page. They provide much insight regarding developing high grade loudspeakers.
It's now a fact of life that seriously good new speakers cost more than a £1000 and justifiably a few thousand for some applications. (See also section 8 below under "Slaying Dragons")

Record players. Here we can make a stonger case for buying new. It isn't that there are no good old record playing decks. It's quite the reverse. One problem is that of the good ones some have achieved an iconic status which goes way beyond their engineering merit and utility. Another is that because of the general strong interest in playing vinyl few second hand decks are coming to the market. For new decks costing less than £1000 we recommend the Project range where £400 - £500 will buy a very satisfactorey deck including an Ortofon cartridge. The new Project Debut Carbon EVO (£499) is already an award winner and carries our full recommendation. We normally have this model on demonstration. Significant improvement only comes with significantly larger budgets. We cover this area with the British built Origin Live models. We normally have an Origin Live turntable and arm on demonstration. All our record players are carefully set up before supply to customers unless this service is not required.

Phono stages. These are pre-amplifiers which bring cartridge signals up to line level and also apply the RIAA correction to the frequency response. They are commonly stand alone devices and have been for some years. They are also found within some amplifiers and pre-amplifiers where they fulfil the same function.These integral phono stages are not generally of the highest standard and while OK for casual use are generally not good enough to satisfy the serious vinyl enthusiast. For serious use we recommend new stand alone devices e.g. models from Graham Slee or Lehmann.

Cartridges. As these are at least in part consumables (because styli wear out) the utility of classics is limited by the cost effectiveness of rebuilds (£300 or so for a moving coil) or the availability of replacement stylus assemblies of adequate quality in the case of moving magnet types. It is possible to re-tip moving magnet types but this is only justified in the cases of more expensive examples.

We are very familiar with classic and vintage hi-fi equipment and know the practicality of the various options. In this respect we particularly like Quad and AVI amplifiers because they rate highly in the utilitarian sense but are also well supported in respect of service and repairs. We always like to have examples available (indirectly, see link below) from both ranges, including Quad valve amplifiers. With loudspeakers we particularly like Spendor BC1s (hard to beat for accuracy and realism), AVI Neutrons (good compacts), AVI Pro9+s (very capable bookshelf speakers), Quad ESL 57s (because of what they are) and the Klipsch Heresy (not for accuracy and realism but for robustness, loudness, portability and friendly sound). There are other loudspeakers from the past which are worth considering but that's our short list. For second hand items please follow the link below.

For people who want a seriously good and cost effective separates system it makes a lot of sense to mix well chosen classic products with new. On our recommendation this is likely to indicate a classic for the amplification (Quad or AVI), new for the record player (Project or Origin Live) and new for a CD player (because CD players have a limited life and are often unrepairable). With speakers it can go either way depending on availability. Exceptions are the aforementioned LS3/5 and the new LS3 for cases where space saving and compactness are issues. Classics to do the same job are likely to be roughly as expensive if available at all.

At the "budget" level there is a plentiful supply of second hand amplifiers, receivers, CD players and loudspeakers at very low cost indeed sometimes free.

There's a handful of currently produced passive loudspeakers which gives a standard of performance we like and a short list of classics. S/H amplification by AVI (2000 series pre/power combinations from the 1990s or LAB Series models from the 2000s) is good enough for anything. The Quad 303 is a very good power amplifier despite being an old design. A Quad 33 in a good state of service is fine for line level signals but perhaps a bit challenged on phono. The 33 phono stage (MM) is actually quite good but for critical use an external device might be preferred. In line level mode and with an external phono stage if needed and with the filters and tone controls cancelled it is almost a passive control unit having almost no electronics in the circuit. The Quad 44 is arguably a bit better. Its main advantages are greater versatiliy and flexibility. A 33/303 set used as just described is actually seriously good and should serve well until the transducers (record players and speakers) and signal sources are of a very high standard i.e. the Quad amplifier will not easily become the weekest link in the system.


Digital Sources. Adding these to an analogue system is no problem. Nor need it be expensive. The Behringer UCA 202 works from a USB output and provides an analogue signal to feed into an amplifier (i.e. it's a DAC). It does other things as well including analogue to digital conversion. This is not something we sell but it is widely available for about £30 and is surprisingly good. At a higher level we supply the Graham Slee Bitzie (£350). We have tested this product extensively and think the results are good enough to satisfy most enthusiasts. I use one at home between the USB on my computer and my 33/303 so that I can play my iTunes music library (and TV and DVDs and CDs!).
Stand alone streaming devices (e.g.
Project/Box Design which we supply) normally have analogue outputs and will go straight into an analogue system.
Adding an
Edirol UA55 (see below) or similar to a classic separates set up makes a very capable system which can handle digital signals from music files on a computer as well as permit creation of digital files from analogue program material. These devices connect to a system as would a cassette deck.

A carefully chosen classic/vintage separates system is not only very versatile but would have a charm not shared by much new equipment. New electronic items tend to compare very unfavourably with carefully chosen classic items where repairability is concerned. They are more complex and usually not made with repairability in mind. Many modern items make use of circuit boards populated by robots and using surface mounted components. These boards are very difficult to repair at component level and commonly the whole board needs to be replaced. This is not so bad if the board is still available but it might not be years down the line causing an expensive piece of equipment to be written off. Some of the iconic products from the past also bring aesthetic satisfaction being pleasing examples of commercial/industrial design. Where required the addition of a new CD player to a vintage system is not a problem. With new equipment we are very selective about what we recommend in the hope of providing good long term service.

Click HERE for our assessment on cost. This section has turned out to be quite popular!


Here is some feedback from a happy BC1 customer:

Hello John,

Just a quick email to say many thanks for the BC1s we picked up on Saturday.
Your customer service, as always, has been impeccable, even taking the trouble to set them up at the drop of a hat while we went window shopping in Harborne, us having descended upon you without notice.
I've now bought an AVI amplifier, an AVI CD player, the BC1s and a watch from you and can't fault anything.The BC1s really have been a revelation, one of those, "where have you been all my life?" experiences.Like a bigger LS3/5a in many ways. Same great midrange and imaging, but with some bottom end and a little more air and space up top.
Feel free to use these comments on your website etc if you wish.
I've attached a picture of the BC1s in the context of the rest of the system.



FIVE WAYS HI-FIDELITY LTD supplies only new equipment. I have another business which is completely separate and deals only with classic, vintage, and other pre-owned items.


JOHN TOWNROW ---- Classic and Vintage


We are. We recognized the merits of AVI products and AVI's approach to sound reproduction on day one. We have worked closely with AVI ever since. Sadly there is currently no AVI production.

AVI active loudspeakers (ADM9 etc.) are now deservedly passing into the classic product arena along with other discontinued AVI products.


History now.

Please note that there is currently no AVI production.

We have kept AVI coverage on this site because of its historical interest and guidance where second hand products are sought.

The following section is all about AVI active speakers.



ADM9 and successors


Shown here with Apple Mac Mini and plasma screen but many other configurations are possible

For detailed information visit:

This is the latest and final version of the ADM9. It has two optical inputs and one analogue input. It has upgraded analogue electronics and a 24/192 DAC giving access to the higher bit rate program material which is available from non-CD sources.

Where a computer or TV screen is used for display, an ADM9 system becomes a media centre as DVDs, television, iPlayer etc. could be shown as well as heard to good effect.

The merits and utility of ADM9s may be summarized in 4 groups:

1) Real progress in reproduced sound quality.

2) User friendliness with the modern ways of doing things.

3) A smaller number of boxes with much less cabling.

4) Low cost.

This model is no longer available and is superseded by DM10 which has the same features but with some upgrades.



This is an active loudspeaker which is smaller than the ADM9RS and has a line level analogue input only. It is capable of very high sound quality and is compatible with modern and legacy signal sources. A pair of these just needs an analogue signal where the level may be varied e.g. an iPod or a pre-amplifier. Another AVI bargain at £995 per pair.


This is a new model. It does not replace the DM10. It is larger and more capable than the DM10. £2995 per pair. Details are now on the AVI web site. More will be added here in due course.


The original ADM9s were introduced in spring 2007. These were active loudpeakers with powerful amplification and the ability to provide first class sound quality. It didn't stop there. They had a first rate DAC built in, a USB connector, analogue inputs (L & R) and RC volume as well.

All you needed was the addition of a computer to create a seriously good hi-fi system. There were no worries about sound cards and DACs as these issues were resolved by using the USB connection and the DAC in the loudspeakers.

The computer provided all radio, download and recording functions making hi-fi separates unnecessary. The ADM9s could even be used with just an iPod.

They were something of a breakthrough and were only £1000. They offered sound quality which was better than many separates systems costing several thousand pounds and more as well as providing modern facilities.

An alternative version of the ADM9 soon followed with an SPDIF optical input instead of the USB connection. This version had wider connectivity than the USB version (where a computer was essential) and still had an analogue input facility .



Where extra extreme bass is required a sub woofer is available at £995


AVI has taken the already excellent ADM9RS and investigated ways of making it even better. This has led to the development of a new model - the DM10. This model incorporates several improvements but follows the same concept as the ADM9 series. Two of the changes are fundamental. There is a new bass/main drive unit with a specially developed cone material. This gives an even cleaner sound than the ADM9 unit. The other change is to the cross over filtration which is now 8th. order. These changes leave most conventional passive loudspeakers even further behind.

DM10 £1995

It is important to remember that this product includes speakers, power amplification, pre-amplification, digital to analogue conversion, remote control and an analogue input as well as two digital ones. Only signal sources need be added. The product is capable of the highest standards of sound reproduction. It is actually impossible to provide a system using today's separates to match the DM10s in performance at or anywhere near the price.




What did our first ADM9 customer say?

I am absolutely delighted with my adm9s! Having collected them from John Townrow at Fiveways on Saturday (who has been brilliant to deal with again) I got home, plugged in everything and listened. Having realised first of all that I'd read the programming instructions incorrectly for the one-for-all handset and so had swapped channel and volume, I switched to the digital input and played. It is absolutely incredible. The breadth and depth of the soundstage is remarkable - much wider than the speakers in my listening room. And the detail is amazing too - I'm hearing things I haven't before. Friends and family alike could not believe that the sound was coming from the mini-mac and "those little loudspeakers". I hooked up the turntable through the analogue input too - it was so easy to do though I can't see vinyl surviving the cut for me much longer. This system will transform the way I and my family listen to music. Thanks for a brilliant product. Mark

email from another customer:

Hi John, you sold me a pair of AVi's ADM9 active speakers in May and I wanted to let you know they're costing me a bloody fortune, as now I can't stop buying music! I've found the quality of the sound, the clarity and power, an absolute revelation, and the system is so brilliantly simple. They've been such value for money and a real pleasure to own. Best regards, J

What did our tests show?

We have now tested the ADM9.1s extensively and have some very interesting results. Using WAV files derived from CDs, CDs themselves (read on a computer) and transcriptions from analogue material subsequently stored as WAV files on the computer (actually in iTunes) we have noticed that all the results are generally better than we have had before with almost any systems using passive loudspeakers. Only the best separate amplifier/loudspeaker systems challenge or beat the ADM9s. There are new levels of clarity, detail and resolution in all cases. Some of our analogue transcriptions are from 1930s program material. Even with this supposedly unchallenging material we are hearing more than with almost any previous replay system (including the original ADM9s as well as the various separates systems) and with very few exceptions. This begs the questions (1) What was holding the performance back previously? (2) If previous replay chains were having this effect on 1930s material what are the implications for modern material?

Clearly we need to take a critical look at passive loudspeakers.

We have no doubt that the ADM9.1s represent a significant step forwards in audio engineering as well as providing huge utility with modern digital sources and libraries.

How do ADM9s (now DM10s) manage to be so good?

To understand this it helps to consider conventional passive loudspeakers first. However good the drive units used the performance is always compromised to some degree by the crossover network. The limited steepness of cut off is such that for some distance, often an octave or more, either side of the nominal cross over frequency musical notes are trying to get out of both drive units. Crossover components generate phase shifts referred to the frequency of each component of the signal. Correcting for these shifts by time delay is a non starter as the delay required would be frequency dependent. Phase coherence between the outputs of the two drive units is essential. Level issues have to be addressed as well. The components need to be of large value in all cases and the networks complex if these problems are to be addressed reasonably effectively. Even then the loudspeaker system is likely to be a complex and difficult load for any amplifier called upon to drive it. Often drive units are not effectively controlled giving rise to unstable behaviour and false bass.The whole exercise is one of disaster management, especially so with three way systems where the lower crossover is placed around 200-300 hz. The cross over networks in the most competent two and three way systems are invariably complex and have many components (e.g. LS3/5a, Spendor BC1- both exceptional performers).

The ADM9s and DM10s solve the above problems by using a different approach. Each of the two drive units (in each cabinet) is connected directly to a dedicated, state of the art, power amplifier. Each amplifier only has to drive one unit of known properties i.e. known impedance and not a difficult load. The dividing network comes before the two power amplifiers. It is active and uses smaller and more manageable components. A steep cut off is achieved and phase and level issues are addressed more easily.

In addittion, the ADM9s and DM10s have built in digital to analogue conversion (DAC), two digital (SPDIF optical) inputs, one line level analogue input and pre-amplification. There are remote control of volume and remote control of input selection.

The ADM9s and DM10s are winning combinations which provide real engineering progress in sound reproduction, user friendliness with the modern ways of music library management, a great saving in the number of boxes and amount of cabling, and last but not least a cost saving compared with other new equipment.

A point often missed with ADM9s is that they do not have to be used with digital signals. The analogue input may be used alone, still providing amplification with remote control volume and loudpeakers in one pair of boxes. A phono stage or even a complete pre-amplifier may be plugged into the analogue input. ADM9s are cost effective even for an analogue only system.

(ADM9s and DM10s are now something of a bargain on the second hand market but it's important to assume that service back up is no longer available. For this reason our focus is now wholly on separate amplifier and speaker solutions.)


We can now supply entry level record cleaning machines which nevertheless use the fluid/brush/vacuum off system. They are made by Project and cost only £349 (VC-E) or £449 (VC-S2 ALU). They are very cost effective accessories for the vinyl revolution currently under way.

Full details available at:



Increasingly we are being asked to do this work on vintage record players and radiograms. Our resources include facilities for restoring wooden cabinets as well as the contents.


Another exceptionally useful product. It connects to a USB socket on a computer which provides a power supply and digital traffic in both directions. It has built in DAC and ADC. It has comprehensive analogue and digital input and output connections. It has a headphone socket for monitoring. It is ideal for digitizing analogue material and for providing high quality conversion of digital files (e.g. in a music library) to analogue. This device, together with a computer, when added to a conventional separates system will bring the latter into the 21st. century at a stroke. It is also a very useful accessory for AVI ADM9s in their optical/SPDIF version or the new ADM9.1s (because these do not have analogue to digital conversion built in). Full details may be seen on:

We are happy to recommend and supply this product. The build quality is very good and the price is low for the performance and versatility. Our tests show that the performance is excellent and easily exceeds the "good enough" requirement. First upgraded to UA-25EX, the latest version is "Quad Capture" UA-55.


Sadly even this is now discontinued. Alternatives are available.


1. Don't do it at all without a good reason. It is time consuming and often the music is available from other sources.

2. Because it's time consuming it is only worth doing if it is done well.

3. Most if not all record players sold with on board phono stages and USB connections are unsuitable for one or more of three reasons:

a) The record playing part is unable to play the records well enough.
b) For the best results the levels need to be controlled in the analogue domain in order to balance the channels where necessary (e.g. as in mono) and to make full use of the available digital resolution.
c) The ADC device (analogue to digital converter) included in the record player might not be good enough.

4. A good record player is a necessity, just as when listening only. This does not mean it has to be a new and expensive one. A classic which is well set up will do.

5. The line up we recommend is:

a) The record player
b) An adequate phono stage (e.g. stand alone Project or a pre-amp/amplifier that contains one)
c) An Edirol UA-55 for level setting and ADC (or equivalent)
d) The software "LP Recorder" (or an equivalent if the computer is Apple)
e) The software "Audacity" which is free and excellent for editing and repairs.
f ) "iTunes", which is also free, for final storage.

6. It is our experience that especially with older recordings the version on an LP is often the best available. This is nothing to do with LP v. CD as a contest per se (what is being stored is more relevant than the storage medium). It is because the old recordings and mastering were competent whereas when the same material is re-issued on CD the results are sabotaged by incompetent transcription and mastering. This is very common and when we burn CDs from our digitized LP files we often find that ours are better than the ones which are available commercially.

7. We recommend using WAV files for digital storage or if not WAVs one of the other uncompressed formats. There is no case today for using data compression to save cost because storage space is now so cheap. Slightly compressed formats (e.g. 256kbit AACs) are indistinguishable from uncompressed formats on straight listening but are not suitable for subsequent processing. So there it is, use WAVs (or equivalent) and use 16bit/44.1. The latter is CD specification and also what "LP Recorder" uses. Start with clean undamaged records and you'll be amazed by the quality of the files you create and the CDs you can make from them.


In a record playing system the phono stage is very important. Whether in the pre-amplifier or stand alone it has huge influence on the end result. It actually does more amplification than the main amplifier (i.e pre and power). Phono stages included in pre-amplifiers and especially integrated amplifiers and receivers are commonly cheaply executed as are some low cost stand alone types. For best results a stand alone model is usually required and it won't be a low cost item. It's common for a good device to cost about as much as the cartridge if not more. It is impossible to achieve the full potential of an otherwise good record playing system without a good phono stage. There are many record playing systems held back by inadaquate phono stages. We have this area well covered by Graham Slee, Lehmann and Project.


Moving coil catridges generate signals by moving coils in magnetic fields. Moving magnet cartridges generate signals by moving magnets near coils. In the first case the coils are very small and the magnets large. In the second case the magnets are very small and the coils large.The underlying principle is thus much the same in both cases. Nevertheless there is a widespread view that generation by moving coil is fundamentally superior. The real differences in complete catridges have more to do with engineering and execution. Load matching is also an issue and needs to be considered with some care.

Moving coil cartridges almost without exception do not have interchangeable styli. This gives the generators better structural and engineering integrity. The motor is a complete self contained unit securely mounted inside the cartridge body with (hopefully) no availability of unintended degrees of movement. The detachable stylus assembly in a moving magnet cartridge is in conflict with this principle. There's potential for relative movement between the assembly and the main body and also for the assembly body to resonate. Years ago we used to improve already good ADC cartridges by gluing on the stylus assemblies. Not as wasteful as it sounds because the styli cost about 70% of the the complete cartridge price.Today some of the more expensive MM cartridges have locking screws for securing their stylus assemblies (e.g. Nagaoka).

Making moving coil cartridges is more labour intensive and it's highly skilled labour at that. Moving magnet types lend themselves to more mass production techniques and the cost savings these provide.

The results from both types depend on the cantilever material and the quality and profiles of the diamond tips. It is very important indeed critical that the tips are fitted accurately. Line contact tip profiles try to deform the grove walls over a greater area (hence less pressure per unit area) than elliptical or conical types and because of their very small minor radii provide greater resolution of detail especially towards the centre of the record. These tip profiles require extremely accurate mounting in their cantilevers and the cartridge and tonearm need to be set up very carefully as well. Most of the cheaper cartridges (MM and MC) use aluminium cantilevers. This is not an ideal material. Better results are to be had from boron or sapphire. These materials combine greater rigidity with lower mass. It's worth going for these materials where budgets permit.

It does not follow that a cartridge which will track any obstacle course it is offered will also be a good information retriever. A cartridge with a floppy imprecise suspension may well have extreme tracking ability but be poor on accurate imformation retrieval. Cartridges which produce very good sound quality are not necessarily also exceptional trackers.

The life of a stylus point is typically about 400 hours or 1000 LP sides. In the case of a moving coil cartridge a full service rebuild is usually needed as well as a new tip (total £300 or so usually) when the stylus is worn out. With a moving magnet cartridge it is only necessary to purchase and fit a new stylus assembly (which contains all the moving parts). Stylus assemblies are quite expensive for the more capable examples and can be more expensive than a moving coil rebuild. Stylus assemblies are usually available immediately or nearly so. MC rebuild can easily involve a down time of two months or so. At least one of the MC cartridges we strongly recommend has a service exchange system. Good MM stylus assemblies do not have to be manufacturers' originals. The Japanese company Jico makes assemblies for the Shure range and which have boron or sapphire cantilevers with line contact tips. The work is very good. We can supply these items to special order. Where MM stylus assemblies are expensive i.e. more than about £150 it is a good idea to get the existing stylus assembly re-tipped with an Expert Paratrace diamond (a service we provide). This may well give an improved result as well as saving money. We don't change our cars when only the tyres are worn out.

Moving magnet cartridges range in price from under £100 to about £750 with some outliers above that. Interesting moving coil cartridges start from about £700 and go on a long way from there, certainly into thousands. We can offer some very good MC cartridges for less than £1000 and wonder whether there is a case for spending more. They all work on much the same principle so once the requirements of top flight cantilevers and top flight diamond points have been met significantly higher costs seem hard to justify..

Top flight cartridges whether MM or MC deserve a top flight phono stage. With useful MCs starting roughly where MMs leave off (pricewise) it seems unlikely that a MC cartridge would be partnered with an entry level phono stage. Certainly it shouldn't be. Most moving coil cartridges have much lower output voltages than MM types and consequently more demands on phono stages. (As a technical aside the power output from low output MCs is about the same as MMs. If this were not so it would not be possible to use transformers to match low output MCs to MM inputs. This is sometimes useful but only where a seriously good MM phono stage already exists so this issue does not come up very often).

As there is no case for choosing a low output MC cartridge without also choosing a good to very good phono stage it follows that limited budgets are better applied to MM technology.

Hopefully the above information is useful. We can't say that all competent MC set ups are better than all competent MM set ups. MC set ups tend to be preferred but the word to stress in the previous sentence is "competent ".

To put all this into perspective, it is important to understand that the turntable and tonearm are likely to have more inpact on the end result than the actual cartridge choice provided the cartridge is above a minimal standard. It is also true that the better the turntable and tonearm the more apparent become the differences between cartridges.


Traditionally the rule has been "seat the cartridge properly and attach it firmly to the head shell". Products have been introduced recently which challenge this view.

They are for insertion between the cartridge and head shell and are intended to subdue unwanted structural resonances and at the same time give the cartridge a better environment for information extraction from the record.

These devices appear to draw variously from three engineering principles: frequency selective decoupling; damping; insertion of a lamination by a different material (which will tend to subdue structural resonances and vibration traffic).

As these ideas seem to be somewhat counter-intuitive we've been running our own tests. Others, including some reviewers, have done likewise. Generally the verdicts have been positive. Nevertheless we recommend trial before purchase.

Conventional wisdom and practice have hitherto indicated that mounting the cartridge firmly and having good geometry preservation (i.e. no unwanted degrees of movement available) are required for good information extraction from the record. It has also been the case that putting a soft decoupling material between the cartridge and arm would isolate the cartridge from most of the structural resonances and other vibrations in the arm. The problem is that these two ideas are in conflict.

Devices are now available which try to get the best of both worlds - a "golden compromise".

The engineering principles involved in information extraction from records are complex but in this context we need only to consider some of them. Hopefully this will give some insight into how one of them (the Funk Firm "Houdini") could work.

There are two effective mass issues with cartridge/arm combinations. Firstly the cantilever in the cartridge has to have inertia (effective mass) against which to work. Otherwise there would be no relative motion between the stylus/cantilever and the rest of the cartridge and consequently no signal. Although the more effective mass the better for providing a signal it seems that at least for medium and high compliance cartridges the effective mass of the cartridge alone is sufficient. Secondly it is vital that the fundamental resonance of the arm/cartridge combination lies out of harm's way. This is the effective mass of the combination bouncing on the springiness of the stylus/cantilever suspension. The frequency needs to be above record warp rates and above deck suspension rates yet well below audio frequencies. It needs to be certainly between 8hz and 15hz and perhaps ideally between 10hz and 12 hz. At these low frequencies most if not all of the effective mass of the arm comes into play as the decoupling between the cartridge and the arm will not apply or apply less at these low frequencies. (Although the Houdini is quite floppy if you move the cartridge very slowly by hand the arm will move with you. If you move the cartridge rapidly the arm won't follow.)

To varying degrees all arms have structural resonances and vibration traffic. If these get through to the cartridge they colour the sound and in the worst cases degrade the clarity and resolution. The Houdini blocks this transmission and allows the cartridge to perform in isolation. It is as though the arm does little more than deliver the cartridge to its place of work.

The Houdini shouldn't work but some reports from practical tests indicate that it does, at least for medium and high compliance cartridges. For low compliance cartridges the match is not so good as their relatively stiff cantilevers require more effective mass to work against than simply that of the cartridge body. The foregoing covers the theory and thinking behind the device. Nevertheless we recommend a trial before purchase as the cost is not insignificant and the utility of the product does not seem to be universally accepted. Two versions are available. One for cartridges with nut and bolt fixing and the other for cartridges with scew holes in their tops. Each type is £300.

We have also tested the Origin Live Cartridge Enabler. This is a 1mm. gasket which fits between the cartrige and the head shell. The material is fibrous and slightly resilient. We got an improvement but it's hard to explain how. Perhaps partly due to vibration blocking and partly due to better seating of the cartridge.This device has also been tested exstensively by others and the general verdict is that it provides an improvement with most if not all cartridges. Certainly worth a try at £25.

It is impossible for a stylus to read the vinyl groove without at least temporarily deforming the vinyl albeit to a slight extent and at a microscopic level. The idea is that the vinyl is deformed only within its elastic limit and thus recovers its original shape. If the elastic limit is exceeded plastic deformation occurs and this is permanent. Crystal cartridges with their stiff cantilevers and high playing weights were common in the 1950s and 1960s in sub hi-fi record players and radiograms. These removed information from LPs on a first playing due to plastic deformation. It was not a question of gradual wear.

Properties which affect the interaction between the cartridge and the vinyl groove are stylus profile, cantilever compliance, tip inertia (effective tip mass) and down force (playing weight). Most modern MM and MC cartridges score well enough on these properties so as to give no problems with plastic deformation when correctly installed and set up.

It's a good idea to start with the manufacturer's recommended playing weight. This is usually expressed as a range with a middle value given. The recommendation is not just about optimising tracking. It is also about correctly aligning the mechanism and vertical tracking angle. Mis-tracking must be avoided as it adds an element of impact which applies instantaneous excess force to the groove. Playing weights up to about 2.5gm with good tracking are generally acceptable. No degree of mis-tracking is acceptable. Some cartridges will track at little more than 1gm. This capability is usually accompanied by rather high cantilever compliance dictating a tonearm of very low effective mass (sometimes even negative!). Most good cartridges have their best playing weights between 1.5gm and 2.5gm.

General contact wear should be negligible for the vinyl but is not so for the stylus. Stylus wear is obviously a gradual process starting on day one.. Automatic replacement is recommended after 400 hours of playing. Eventually the wear creates flats on the surface of the diamond. These create sharp boundary edges which scrape away at the record causing irreversible damage. It's no good waiting for an audible degradation in sound quality. By then it's far too late. It is also important that the record is clean (enter the record cleaning machine!). Some dust is markedly abrasive and does no favours to either the stylus or the record.

On the issue of damage it is worth noting that sometimes improved results may be obtained by switching to a different stylus profile which acts at a different height in the groove thereby avoiding the damaged region.

Always it is essential to set the bias (sometimes called anti skate) correctly. This equalizes as far as possible the forces on the two groove walls and keeps the cantilever running centrally in the cartridge. This is best set with a test record.



This machine has been the industry standard since the early 1970s. We've had ours since the middle 1970s and consequently are very familiar with its capabilities. To get the best results from a record the record must be clean. This is even more important today where there is much interest in archive retrieval. To create a good digital file from a gramophone record it is necessary to play the disc expertly once and that means start with a clean one. Full details of the current product range and its history are to be found on the manufacturer's site:

There is another site covering some of the current range at:

Two issues are commonly overlooked. One is that new records are often contaminated with mould release agent and consequently benefit from cleaning before use. The other is that many of the alternative systems risk re-contamination of the record whereas the Keith Monks system removes the dirty fluid completely.

A Keith Monks record cleaning machine may be regarded as a useful and significant upgrade to a record playing system and one that costs less than some of the many others on offer. I think it's fair to say that a record cleaning machine should be an integral part of any vinyl enthusiast's system. It doesn't have to be a Keith Monks machine. We can supply useful cheaper, but admittedly less capable, machines from from Knosti and Project.

We supply the machines, the consumables and the spares.The classic industry standard professional machine is £4K+ inc. VAT (P.O.A.). This is illustrated below.

Some new models have been introduced. The new models are intended for serious home use. They clean just as well and just as quietly as the pro machine. The models are Prodigy, Microlight and Redux and are priced at £895 (a few left at £795), £2495 and £2995 respectively. The Prodigy has been very favourably received and is a useful addition to any record playing system.

Please note that the latest machines use the new threadless nozzle system.

We have an in house record cleaning facility which uses our Keth Monks pro machine. This service is available by arrangement.



This is a totally modern recording device which replaces a tape recorder and microphones. It can make high resolution files up to 24 bit/96 kHz. Other formats are included as standard notably 16 bit/44.1 kHz (CD specification). It has built in condenser microphones for making high quality X/Y stereo recordings. It has connections for external microphones and line level sources. It may be mounted on a tripod or .microphone stand. All that and it fits into a pocket.




Project has a new and updated range of phono pre-amplifiers from £69 to £799. All Project items may be ordered through us.

Illustrtated (right) is the entry level Phono Box MM. Moving magnet only. £69




Moving magnet and moving coil with selectable input matching.



This comes with an Ortofon 2M Red cartridge (£95 when bought separately) and is a total bargain at £299.

A revised and upgraded version is now available, also with a 2MRed. THE DEBUT CARBON EVO(£499)

The full Project range including prices may be viewed at:


This British company makes a range of excellent record playing equipment which is generally considered to "punch above its weight". As well as arms and turntables it makes drive system upgrade kits and useful accessories. We can supply all the products subject to availability. The company web site is large, very good and includes prices so best to view the range by visting:

Items may then be ordered from us along with any advice which might be needed.


Another British company making excellent products which we are pleased to supply. The company is famous for phono stages but also makes headphone amplifiers, power amplifiers, DAC pre-amplifiers, connecting cables and USB DACS. All items are hand built. The company web site is large and contains a mine of information. Rather than show extracts from it here it makes more sense to direct readers to the site which also includes prices:

Items may then be ordered from us along with any advice which might be needed.


This is a top flight British manufacturer of loudspeakers. Performance and build quality are of the highest order. Most of the products are made to comply with BBC license requirements. Others are designed by Derek Hughes (son of the founder of Spendor) who also acts as a consultant. The Chartwell brand (famous for high quality speakers decades ago) is now in the same stable and is used on some of the models. Prices start at £1322 per pair for the LS3. Shown right is the LS3/5 without its grill. This speaker measures only 30cm.(h) x 18.5cm.(w) x 17cm.(d). Full details are available on the manufacturer's site and the interview with Dertek Hughes is well worth a viewing (under "Technology") as is the video on the home page:

Graham/Chartwell speakers are supplied in matched pairs. The matching is to within 1db. This is important for critical applications and helpful where amplifiers do not have balance controls. Interestingly Spendor BC1s were also supplied as matched pairs. Should a single BC1 bass unit require a rebuild it is likely that the pair match will be lost. Should this be an issue it is a good idea to rebuild both bass units so that pair matching may be restored.


This model has just been introduced. It is the same size as the Spendor BC1 (63.5cm. x 30cm. x 30cm.) and has similar drive unit configuration (but not the same drive units). The crossover frequencies are 3.5khz and 14khz. As with the BC1 the lower crossover avoids the critical mid range. The LS8/1 was designed by Derek Hughes (the son of Spencer Hughes who designed the BC1). As might be expected, we have compared the performances of the LS8/1 and the BC1.The LS8/1 is illustrated right without its grill.

LS8/1 v BC1

The Spendor BC1 is an iconic classic product which gives an outstanding performance in respect of accuracy and realism. It is still used as a reference against which other speakers are judged. Its weakness lies in its limited capability with heavy bass, especially that commonly found in some synthetic pop music. Heavy metal and the like need to be played with some caution. The BC1 is at its best with acoustic instruments and human voices.

Having run our initial tests on the LS8/1 we can report that it is about as good as the BC1 at what the BC1 is good at i.e. lower midrange upwards. We can't say it's better. Just about the same. Where it is significantly better is in the way it handles bass. Here it is much more secure and robust than the BC1 and handles heavy metal/pop music without anxiety. It is thus a universal speaker. It also eclipses to some extent the very good Graham LS5/9. So is it better than the BC1? Our verdict has to be "yes". We now know the price is £4712 per pair. For domestic use (i.e. rooms not enormous) we can't see any need to spend more.






This is a shortform list indicating some of the items we like and recommend. All prices include VAT. This tax applies in the UK but not to exports.


Graham Slee Proprius power amplifiers with volume controls (pair of). 2 x 26 watts. Very capable. £1299.
Graham Slee Majestic pre-amp/DAC. Standard power supply (PSU1) £1600.
Ditto with Enigma power supply £1800.
For new valve amplifiers please ask.

For pre-owned Quad 33/303, AVI 2000 Series and AVI Lab. Series see John Townrow Classic and Vintage.


Box Design (Project) Speaker Box 5. Bookshelf size and actually quite good. Little point in spending more on new speakers unless substantially more. £249 (pair)
Graham Audio/Chartwell LS3. Black or white £1322.
Graham Audio/Chartwell LS3/5. Classic BBC derived and licensed design. Cherry £1945 (pair)
Ditto LS3/5a £1945 (pair)
Graham Audio/Chartwell LS6. Cherry £2445 (pair)
Graham Audio/Chartwell LS5/9. BBC derived and licensed design. Cherry £3839 (pair)
Graham/Chartwell LS8/1. £4712 (pair)

For pre-owned Spendor BC1 and others see John Townrow Classic and Vintage.


AVI (new models). Sadly nothing available.

For pre-owned AVI ADM9, DM10 etc. see John Townrow Classic and Vintage.


Project Debut Carbon DC including Ortofon 2MRed cartridge. £299
Project Debut Carbon EVO icluding Ortofon 2MRed cartridge. Enhanced capability compared with the above. This deck gives very good results. There is little point in spending more unless quite a lot more. £499
Project Debut Pro. Deluxe version of the EVO. £699
Origin Live Aurora with Silver tonearm. £2380
Origin Live Calypso with Encounter tonearm. £3910
Origin Live Calypso with Illustrious tonearm. £4440
Origin Live Silver tonearm. £790
Origin Live Zephyr tonearm. £1080
Origin Live Encounter tonearm. £1440
Origin Live Illustrious tonearm £1970


Ortofon OM5E (mm). £49
Ortofon Super OM5E (mm). £75
Ortofon 2MRed (mm). £95
Ortofon 2MBronze (mm). £325
Ortofon 2MBlackLVB (mm). £829
Denon DL103RSP (low output mc). A custom built variant and a giant killer. £795
Benz Micro Glider SL (low output mc). £ P.O.A
Shure M97XESP (mm). A custom built variant with a sapphire cantilever and Paratrace tip. £469
The above Shure special is another giant killer. Limited availability.


Project Phono Box MM. £75
Lehman Black Cube SEII (mm and mc). £850
Graham Slee Gram Amp 2 Communicator (mm). Basic power supply. £180
Ditto with PSU1 power supply instead. £335
Graham Slee Gram Amp 2 S.E. (mm). Basic power supply. £260
Ditto with PSU1 instead. £414
Graham Slee Gram Amp 3 Fanfare with PSU1 (mc) £435
Graham Slee Era Gold V with PSU1 (mm). £585
Graham Slee Reflex (mm) with PSU1 power supply. £695
Ditto but MC. £695
Graham Slee Accession with PSU1 (mm). £936
Graham Slee Accession with PSU1 (mc). £1200
Ditto with Enigma power supply instead of PSU1. £1400


Knosti Generation II. £90
Project VCE. £349
Project VC-S2 ALU. £449
Keith Monks Prodigy. £895 (Small stock still at £795)
Keith Monks DiscoveryOne Redux. £2995


Box Design (Project) CDBox S3. £399
Box Design (Project) CDBox DS3. £599


Box Design (Project) Streambox S2. £269
Box Design (Project) Streambox S2 Ultra. £629

DACS (digital to analogue converters)

Graham Slee Bitzie. USB powered. Has analogue output and volume control. Also functions as a headphone amplifier. £350
Bitzie with Lautus USB cable. £400
Graham Slee Majestic pre-amp/DAC with PSU1. £1600
Ditto with Enigma power supply instead of PSU1. £1800


RCA/Phono standard pair. From £22
Graham Slee CuSat RCA/Phono (2 cables). 0.6m. £135
Ditto 1.0m. £140
Graham Slee Libran balanced cables (2 of). TRS or XLR or mixture. 1.0m. £230
Graham Slee Lautus USB cable. £96.


Origin Live Cartridge Enabler. £25
Sorbothane feet. Various. Per set. From about £20
Record weight (Puck). Tonar or Project. £60
Origin Live Platter Mat. £43
Ortofon alignment protractor. £5
Project tracking force indicator. £8
Equipment stands. Usually Atacama/Apollo. From about £300




Actually it's been happening for the last 20 years or so. There has been a revolution in the ways music is sourced and stored. Music can be stored in a library on a computer and selections can be taken away on an iPod. Play lists can be assembled at the click of a mouse. Music can be downloaded from internet sites and with care the sound quality can be very good. Music can be streamed in real time. Never before has so much music been so readily available. This seems to have broadened interest in h-fi and also caused a subtle change of focus even among audiophiles. Here there is a little less preocupation with frontier pushing audio engineering and more interest in and excitement about the music. There are more people enjoying more music from more sources than ever before. Even discriminating (sound quality) listeners are asking that their equipment should be simply good enough and free of offensive vices.

By "good enough" we mean a standard beyond which further improvement is redundant - a standard which is sufficient to maximize musical enjoyment of the material to be played or at least most of it.This varies from person to person and application to application and there will always be people who want "state of the art" systems providing reserves of performance for those occasions when superb material is available. Suffice is to say that we operate between good enough and best possible (or at least well on the way). The equipment and the ancillaries we supply cover this range.

The changes which have taken place are so fundamental as to be reminiscent of 1972/73 when calculators replaced slide rules. We have no doubt that the trend is to have a computer (or other digital source) included in a hi-fi system. The utility of doing this is so great that to oppose this flow is to enter Canute territory. Parts of the hi-fi industry were taken by surprise with the result that there was a lot of finished stock which was no longer what people wanted and which became difficult to sell even if heavily discounted. FM tuners (because of DAB and on line radio), DAB tuners (because of on line radio), stand alone CD players (many cost more than a computer - even a laptop - plus a first class DAC), pre-amplifiers (often only needed for volume and input selection) and cassette decks (obsolete technology, archival use only) have all been affected. Power amplifiers and loudspeakers continue to be essential and the great survivor is, of course, the record player. Not bad for technology which goes back to the 1950s (if you think LPs) or the 1890s (if you think Emile Berliner and the first gramophone records).Vinyl is currently a strong growth area.

What is also clear is that using resources, materials and space more sparingly and less wastefully are now issues with hi-fi equipment buyers. The spirit of the times, perhaps. The new technologies reduce the number of separate items required.

The latest development has been a strong increase in interest in playing records. Classic and vintage equipment continues to grow in popularity. Perhaps there is a reaction to the latest technology. Sometimes the best way forwards is backwards.Open reel tape recorders are back again.



There is a huge amount of mis-information put out on hi-fi issues. I'll cover some of them. Everything I say is backed up by real experience and real tests.(Tecnophobes go straight to (13)!)

It can be. It doesn't have to be. It's a question of implementation. We have made live recordings on an open reel tape recorder which have been at least very good and which some listeners have described as better than any CD or LP they have ever heard. We have converted these recordings very competently to digital files using both 16 bit/44.1 (CD parameters but CD not in the test) and also 24bit/96. The latter gave results, when converted back to analogue, which were indistinguishable from the master tape by the group of listeners who participated in the test. The former gave results which were difficult to distinguish from the master tape. We concluded that for most purposes for most people for most of the time correctly and fully implemented CD was good enough. We also concluded that many commercial CDs do not even fully exploit the 16bit/44.1 parameters and are compromised by earlier inadequacies in the process of creating them. We would have no hesitation in making important live recordings directly to digital files using 24bit/96. The sound quality following conversion would be about as good as an analogue tape recording but would have better signal to noise ratio and wider dynamic range. It's worth remembering that almost all fresh program material is either supplied in digital format or has involved digital stages in its production or both. There are, of course, enthusiasts who use program material simply as a test medium for equipment. Generally it's the other way round. Most people simply want to enjoy the music in which case replay requirements are driven by available program material and media.

The whole issue of analogue v digital is not always understood. Any sound reproduction procedure for a real acoustic event starts with analogue (the event) and ends with analogue (the listening). Consider a performance in a studio and the analogue signal relayed via cable of uncompromised quality to a reference grade amplifier and reference grade loudspeakers in a listening room. The results would represent best achievable sound reproduction. Now consider insertion in the line of digital encoding and decoding. Digital encoding and decoding are not perfect processes. Distortion and unwelcome artifacts are always present to some degree. Even with a very high sampling rate and a large number of bits the result cannot be an improvement - but it can be indistinguishable if tested by listening. So far analogue seems to be ahead but this is only for a system as described. The real contest lies elsewhere. If the digital signal from the studio were stored then there need be no further degradation. The problems with analogue material are in storage (recording), transcription, transmission and distribution. In all these areas the analogue signal is vulnerable to degradation so in practice digital wins on convenience - given adequate implementation.The sooner the precious, vulnerable, analogue original master signal reaches the safety of a digital file the better if only for the safety. Putting it another way, analogue cannot be replicated without degradation whereas a digital file can.

The above is commercial and practical reality but it is fair to add that some enthusiasts think that any journey into the digital domain is just another opportunity for degradation of the sound quality or even a certainty of such. It has been our experience that most listeners find the results from competently decoded uncompressed files to be totally acceptable. Nor do we find that the end result is recognised as digitally sourced by listening alone. I don't think many people today would create a music library other than digitally. A library on tape has no random access. Play lists are fixed and access can only be sequential.

The reality is that we always start and end with analogue but often digital is a useful imtermediary. It's only fair to add that digital files are vulnerable to over-processing and information loss if not implemented competently.

This is a complex issue which is clouded by a lot of silly chauvinism from the self styled champions of both media. The following is our view.

All our tests and experiments indicate that a 16bit/44.1 digital file is sufficient for storing music so that the analogue sound can be recreated to a totally satisfactory standard using modern DACs. A higher specification for the digital file is redundant or nearly so. This implies that in principle a CD (being merely a portable device for carrying the data and using 16bit/44.1) is all that is needed. In practice it is not quite so simple.

It seems there is mounting evidence that CDs are sometimes corrupted in manufacture so that reconstituting the intended digital file becomes difficult. Conventional CD players are not as good at doing this as computers. In such cases it seems that better results can be obtained by re-writing to a CD-R using a computer and then playing that disk in the CD player (or replaying from the music library using an external DAC) following importation. There is some logic to this. Computers have to make bit for bit copies and will retry a disk at high speed until they get it right and have loads of processing power with which to do it. In other words a computer is better at restoring the originally intended digital file than is a CD player i.e. the error correction is better. If this problem is real, and we suspect it is, then CD playing on a stand alone CD player is handicapped. There is a spectrum of performance available from CD ranging from badly recorded/badly mastered/badly manufactured/badly read to well recorded/well mastered/well manufactured/well read and this is without considering the quality of the DAC. Modern DACs are generally good to excellent and should not be an issue. The algorithms and interpolations have been refined over the years. It is our experience
that most listeners do not find the inherent compromises in the digital domain to be catastrophic. Some enthusiasts disagree. Some listeners find the results from a good vinyl record on a good record player player "more musical" than any digital source.

It is worth emphasizing that the inadequacies of 16bit/44.1 (negligible) and the inadequacies of CD are not the same thing. One of the reasons for acquiring files with higher bit rates (which are becoming more available) is to avoid CD problems rather than for the higher resolution per se.

If everything is right with CD all the way through to the 16bit/44.1 file then it is a hard act to follow and certainly good enough for most listeners. The record player/vinyl LP system is today an extremely refined version of a very old technology. The system is vulnerable to distortion and colouration from start to finish as well as inconvenient in use. Speed stability (under varying load!) and rumble have to be addressed.The performance decreases towards the centre of the record because of the reducing writing speed and always the frequency response has to be distorted on both record and replay (RIAA). The primary reason for doing this is to increase the playing time per side by de-emphasizing the low frequencies so that the groove spacing can be reduced. Because the higher frequencies have smaller amplitudes anyway (for constant signal level amplitude falls with rising frequency) it is possible also to improve the signal to noise ratio by pre-emphasizing the high frequencies. The very fact that different top quaIity record players do not sound the same as each other is clear evidence that we are dealing with a flawed medium. It is actually impossible to get a truly clean sound off a record player. A moment's thought about the steps involved in the process should make this obvious. Nevertheless, very good and sometimes astounding results are possible. The system is good at recording and reproducing fine and subtle detail but poor on signal to noise ratio and dynamic range. Despite the inherent disadvantages in the system, the distortion and colouration need not be catastrophic (see 11 below) and a very good euphonious sound is possible. Under favourable circumstances it is possible for an LP system to compete with a fully implemented CD (and easily beat a CD which is poorly implemented) but the virtue balance would be different. The LP system will have at least a trace of colouration. It is no surprise that the sound from an LP when everything is right is preferred to the sound from a CD when the latter is sabotaged by being poorly made or poorly read. Some enthusiasts think that with a reasonably good record playing set up the results will always be better than those from a CD player. I guess it depends on the meaning of "better".

I think it's fair to say that designing a system to extract information from a vinyl record cleanly and completely is something of an engineer's nightmare. The issues raised above are only part of the problem. The stylus excites the vinyl disc creating resonant and non-resonant vibrations which need to be conducted away so as not to compromise the signal by getting back via the stylus. This function falls to the turntable mat (if any) and the platter. In both cases the absorption is frequency selective so the balance of the sound is affected by mat and platter choice. Stray vibrations from the stylus/cantilever also travel in the other direction and pass into the headshell and arm where they excite available structural resonances and some energy from these feeds back into the cartridge and colours the sound. Then there are the issues of arm bearing play and friction. And so it goes on.

LPs suffer from problems caused during manufacture. I'll describe just two. Contamination with mould release agent is normal. Happily this is easily treated by record cleaning machines and explains how new records commonly sound better after a good clean on a Keith Monks machine or one of the others. The other problem is more serious as there is currently no treatment available. This is where the spindle hole is located off centre and it is not uncommon. The effect of this is to cause variations in reading speed about the written speed of the groove. If this is slight it may well pass unnoticed. If severe it will manifest as audible wow (pitch variation at a slow rate). Reading speed depends on the radial distance from the centre spindle and needs to fit with the written speed which it will if the hole is truly central. As far as I know there is no deck in current production which features centre hole correction.

Despite all the problems with playing vinyl many of us strive to overcome them with great enthusiasm. Extremists think vinyl is the only true sound. I must admit that after looking at the complexity of CD replay the vinyl/record player approach seems elegantly simple at least in principle!

We are well aware that some listeners prefer vinyl or even judge it to be more accurate, more realistic and "more musical" than good CD or anything else. Perhaps the explanation for this lies in the realms of psycho-acoustics and physiology as well as audio engineering (see 11 below). A well known blind test was conducted some years ago where a master tape was compared with an LP made from the same master tape and played on a well known record player of the day. Many of the listeners thought the latter was better! No sound retrieval system is perfect. This applies to both analogue and digital systems. Even with uncompressed files digital to analogue conversion is limited by the algorithms and interpolations used. Likewise analogue to digital conversion. Nevertheless in practice we find that competent digitally sourced material when competently converted to analogue is acceptable (i.e. good enough) for most listeners and they don't even recognise it as digitally sourced.

A top grade LP played on a top grade record player can compete with competent CD on perceived sound quality - though not on signal to noise ratio, dynamic range or freedom from colouration. Getting every bit of information from an LP is hard and many enthusiasts expend a great deal of effort and expense in this direction. For reassurance we ran tests similar to (1) above where we took the signal from a very good record player and very good LP and created digital files in 16bit/44.1 and 24bit/96. The conclusion was the same as in (1) i.e on re-conversion there was no discernable difference with 24bit/96 and precious little with 16bit/44.1 - when compared with listening directly to the LP. That's what our listeners concluded. The first implication is that no program material should be inadequately reproduced just because it has been encoded and stored digitally. We think any audio analogue signal, however pleasing and for whatever reason it pleases, can be encoded and decoded so that the listener is unable to tell the difference.The second implication is that the extra performance from 24bit/96 does not bring a significant improvement. This brings the conclusion that even if vinyl could beat CD there would not be any useful ground to occupy. CD on a good day (i.e. perfect 16bit/44.1 file) is good enough. Getting the best possible results from vinyl is expensive and difficult. It costs thousands, not hundreds, if the equipment is bought new. Most people are interested in what can be achieved easily and cost effectively rather than in proving points and winning contests. What we can say is that a good LP played on a good record player will produce results which are wholly acceptable i.e. "good enough". Likewise a good digital file competently decoded. I know there are dissidents who abhor anything digital. I sometimes wonder how easily they would tell the difference on a blind test. We've learned by experience how listeners' judgements are affected when the source and equipmeny used are unknown.


A present trend is for record players (LP and 78RPM) to become retrieval devices used for transcribing records to computer libraries. It is very interesting to see the way attitudes change when LPs are transcribed to a computer library. Suddenly presentation is an issue. Given good sound quality, the priorities become avoiding noises at the start and finish, dealing with dirt and damage and considerations of rumble and recorded hum. Judgement about sound quality is inclined to change when the listener does not know what equipment has been used.

What is the importance of this contest between vinyl and CD? Ultimately none at all. The equipment used is surely dictated by the medium carrying the music so you just give it your best shot in either case. Today both media often become no more than transit camps en route to a digitally stored music library on a computer.

A very good tape recorder which is very well aligned is capable of recordings which are good enough for just about any application. Signal/noise ratio and dynamic range limitations are less than many suppose and the results from live recordings on tape are about as good as it gets. Wider tape brings greater signal to noise ratio and dynamic range. A digital recording system using 24bit/96 or better will come out close. The older technique is a huge achievement in inter-disciplinary engineering. The new technique is simple and cheap once the chip designers have done their job. Both systems are capable of providing results which are "good enough". Although a tape recording provides the best result the program material cannot be published without adding another medium be it LP, CD or a file for streaming etc. All one has is a master tape for demonstration or for transcribing to another medium with its own limitartions. A master tape is fine for proving a point but in commercial practice it is the the next medium which sets the limits.

Implementation again but not much of an issue now with so much broadcast material available on broadband. We believe DAB is capable of good results but a good tuner is essential together with a high bit rate broadcast. Almost all program material is handled digitally by the broadcasters before transmission whether this is by DAB or FM. All the feedback we have had from DAB users with AVI tuners has been very positive.The number of stations is much greater with DAB than with FM. It now looks like FM might not be switched off for a while. Nevertheless, with DAB providing more stations and sound quality sometimes about as good as today's FM it seems radio listeners are better served by DAB - given a good tuner. If FM does not offer so many stations and the sound quality from today's FM is not significantly better than DAB then it would be a mistake to buy an expensive FM tuner especially as FM might be switched of in a few years time (now looking unlikely). We stress "today's" because we think FM is not as good as it could be or used to be. With the availability of on line broadcasting all this is becoming history.


No it isn't. The cables need only be competent. Interconnect cables first.

Interconnect cables are a necessary evil whenever hi-fi separates are used. Most published cable tests are not done with reference grade equipment and lack scientific method - there is no control. The control should be no cables at all i.e. the two pieces of equipment should be plugged directly together. Any cable which changes the sound is then revealed as defective i.e. introducing distortion. Most tests simply arrange cables in order of preference. If all the tested cables give results which sound differently from each other then either only one cable is acceptable or none of them is acceptable. We think some of the "exotic" cables are actually functioning as tone controls or filters and possibly masking the vices of defective electronics. Another issue rarely covered is that the demand on connecting cables depends on the relationship between the source impedance and the load impedance i.e. the demand on the cable depends on the actual items connected together. A low source impedance on the output of the sender feeding into a much higher impedance on the input of the destination component (typical of AVI) means mainly voltage transfer and little current flow hence less demand on the cable and connections. With less difference between source and load impedance there is more current and less voltage transfer hence more demand on the cable and connections. Suffice is to say we are generally happy with cables costing tens of pounds rather than hundreds. We believe these satisfy the competence requirement. The advice which recommends spending 10% of system budget on cables is nonsense. Our much praised analogue recordings were made using £2 per metre studio microphone cable and played back using different £2 per metre cable from the tape recorder to the amplifier. The results were generally considered to be exceptionally good. How then could the degradations present in more commonly available program material be reversed by selecting expensive cables? Nor is it possible to remove the defects from a bad system by cable selection alone. "Re-arranging the deck chairs on the Titanic" springs to mind. Signal cables do need to be well made with good terminations. They do need to be immune from work hardening of the conductors with repeated flexure. The insulation and dielectric materials need to have long term stability. High purity of the conductors and immunity from corrosion are necessary. So is screening against external interference. So is freedom from microphony. A pair of interconnect cables to meet all our requirements does not need to cost hundreds of pounds. Perhaps £100-£200 for a really well engineered set but that's about it.

It is, of course, essential that all mechanical electrical connectors e.g. plugs and sockets should be clean and make good contact. It's not a good idea to create unwanted diodes/rectifiers/resistors.

With the tiny signals involved the wiring between the cartridge and phono stage needs to be considered with some care. This applies to the internal arm wiring as well as the cable from the arm to the phono stage and also any junctions involved. As a cautionary note, high cost is certainly no guarantee of a good outcome. We recently had an interesting report from a customer. He took a Din to RCA phono plug lead from an old deck where it connected the output from the arm base to a phono stage. It was a perfectly ordinary low cost lead. He substituted it for the supplied lead which came at some expense with his famous tonearm and reported an improvement. He also tried the lead in a friends system where the friend had purchased a supposed upgrade cable which cost more than £10000 (yes 10k) and both listeners thought the simple ordinary cable gave better results.

Loudspeaker circuits are low voltage high current things. The resistance/impedance values involved are just a few ohms so it is obvious that cables of very low resistance are required. We recommend multi-filament cables with plenty of cross sectional area and high copper purity. We believe this requirement can be met for around £3 - £4 per metre for cables of modest length (the longer the cable the heavier it needs to be). There is some empirical evidence that the dielectric material (insulation) used has some influence on the results. Even on an extravagant "peace of mind" basis about £20 per metre is the upper limit of our recommendations. More expensive "exotic" cables are in the area of interesting experiment and are likely to be a waste of resources. Again with expensive exotic cables there is a risk of buying tone controls and filters - not the right way to go. We are happy to use £3 per metre cables when playing our best program material. With active loudspeakers (amplifiers and loudspeakers combined as one piece units) loudspeaker cable is not an issue as there isn't any.

Always when offered a new device (or procedure) it is a good idea to ask the question "TO WHAT PROBLEM IS THIS DEVICE A SOLUTION?"

Well designed and built valve amplifiers are undoubtedly capable of first rate sound quality whether recommissioned classics or current production. A problem is that they are not always sufficiently powerful for the job in hand. Sometimes powers of around 100 watts are demanded, sometimes unnecesarily or misguidedly but nevertheless demanded . If valve amplifiers were to be this powerful they would not be cost effective. Valve amplifier design peaked more than half a century ago. Designs have hardly progressed at all although modern resistors and capacitors are much better. So much depends on the excellence of the output transformer, that is its design and its execution. This is typically the most expensive component and something of a challenge (both then and now) and it needs to be scaled up in size (and cost) with the power output specified. Valve amplifiers take time to warm up to achieve their best results and have an ongoing maintenance commitment because valves are consumables. They can be something of a luxury and tend to be less cost effective than solid state equivalents (and there are some). Having said that and where cost is not an issue seriously good valve amplifiers are a hard act to follow. They have simple circuits and usually an absence of surface mount components (which are our pet hate). There is a handful of affordable new valve amplifiers of modest power rating which gives good results when matched with suitably sensitive speakers. I particularly like the"Little Italy" from Unison Research.

On the issue of power there really is no scope for argument as measurements can be taken. There are few if any serious high fidelity loudspeakers with efficiencies (sensitivities) significantly above so called average. If modern digitally sourced program material of wide dynamic range is played to a robust and perhaps somewhat excessive sound level using a powerful amplifier then the loudspeakers can often demand 100 watts to accomodate the peaks in the signal. This is beyond the capabilities of most valve amplifiers. This problem also leads to catastrophic degradation in sound quality with over stretched solid state amplifiers where the users mistakenly think they are sufficiently powerful (the perceived differences between small transistor amplifiers are often due to differences in overload behaviour).

While the above is true it is also true that for domestic use power ratings below 100 watts are often sufficient. Some of the reasoning is covered below.

There are two reasons for needing plenty of power with a transistor amplifier. One is to make sure there is enough power to give the required sound pressure levels. The other is to have sufficient head room to be sure the amplifier is never pushed outside its operating envelope ( i.e. distortion thresholds are never crossed) as the consequences are catastrophic. Valve amplifiers are more forgiving. If driven too hard they tend to be self limiting (soft clipping) and the distortion valve amplifiers produce tends to be harmonic which is not especially unpleasant and even harmonics are often perceived as pleasant. Nevertheless, we are still talking about distortion. In practice a transistor amplifier needs a safety margin in power rating compared with a valve amplifier doing the same job. Valve amplifiers are, of course, less challenged by record players where the maximum possible dynamic range is less than with CD or other modern digital material. Also, perceived loudness does not have a linear correlation with the amplifier power in use.Twice the power does not make the system sound twice as loud or anywhere near it. The difference is 3db. The smallest discernable change in volume is 1db. This equates to an upward change in power of 25% or a downward change of 20%. Bearing in mind the foregoing, a 15 watt valve amplifier can be quite useful. Many people still enjoy valve amplifiers made by Quad and Leak and rightly so.

Putting that into perspective, a 150 watt system would be 10db louder (i.e. ten times the sound pressure level) than with a 15 watt amplifier but would not be perceived as 10 times louder by a listener. Hearing is logarithmic. Most listeners would reckon that around a five fold increase in level is required to make the sound seem twice as loud. In practice the amount of power required from an amplifier depends on the efficiency of the loudspeakers, the scale of reproduction required and the dynamic range to be accommodated. In use the difference between 10 watts and 100 watts is much less than people think. It's quite possible that if 10 watts won't do the job 100 watts won't either. Most of us have been exposed to discos or big bands with sound reinforcement where the sound quality is appauling. This is commonly due to insufficient amplifier power for the exceptionally high sound pressure levels they (perhaps mistakenly) want. Applications like this using loudspeakers of normal efficiency (and hopefully sufficient power handling) can easily need more than 1000 watts of amplifier power.

There are further complications. The power of an amplifier is usually measured using a purely resistive load which says little about what the amplifier will do when connected to a speaker (all of which present complex loads) but gives the highest figure on paper. Another point is that amplifiers do not necessarily maintain their best performance throughout their power ranges. This gives rise to the concept of "useful power". It's quite possible to have an amplifier rated at 100 watts which only gives of its best in the 0-20 watts range making its useful power only 20 watts. Another amplifier rated at 25 watts (e.g. the Graham Slee) could well maintain its high standard over the full 25 watts making it just as useful if not more so for critical applications. For critical applications the 100 watt amplifier would have no greater utility as the extra output would be bought at the expense of sound quality.

There's another complication. Amplifier power is normally given as watts (RMS) into 8 ohm loads with both channels driven by a steady (sine wave) signal. Music isn't like that. The frequencies are all over the place and the power requirements vary from tiny ones to huge peaks of short duration. Notwithstanding what I have said previously about some amplifiers running out of steam qualitywise before their rated powers are even reached some others will provide useful outputs of good quality above their power rating for a fraction of a second which is just enough to accommodate signal peaks. Putting together the foregoing, it really is possible for a 25 watt rated amplifier to allow music to be played louder than a 100 watt rated amplifier using the same speakers and program material.

Another issue is that some amplifiers have a poor power response. In such cases the rated power is not available at all audio frequencies. This could, for example, cause a droop in power response at low frequencies which might be where the power is needed.

Hi-Fi loudspeakers vary in efficiency (sensitivity) by around a hundredfold between the least and the most efficient. This really does mean that one loudspeaker driven by 1 watt can be just as loud as another driven by 100 watts. The most accurate and realistic speakers tend to be grouped towards the low efficiency end of the range. Exceptionally efficient speakers may well provide a pleasant sound but probably not an accurate one.

From the above it follows that while it's nice to have plenty of amplifier power it's crucial to look at what one actually has and make sure that the distortion threshold is never crossed. This is especially important with solid state amplifiers. Remember an increase in dynamic range from 60 db to 80 db requires 100 times as much power! In practical use there is no significant difference between 50 and 100 watts provided there is no distortion threshold between the two.The Quad 303 really is powerful enough for most domestic applications.

It is actually quite difficult to tell the difference between good amplifiers, including between valve and solid state, PROVIDED EACH AMPLIFIER UNDER TEST IS KEPT WITHIN ITS OPERATING ENVELOPE BOTH IN RESPECT OF POWER AND BAND WIDTH.

AVI solid state amplifiers (now only available second hand) provide sound quality which is comparable with the best valve amplifiers but with plenty of power for domestic applications and more. In our experience they do not suffer quality loss as more power is drawn. They are also very cost effective. Today valve amplifiers have limited utilitarian value outside the audiophile arena and perhaps the musical instrument arena (i.e. rock groups etc.). I have to admit that some extreme enthusiasts get pleasing results with very simple high quality valve amplifiers of low power (often under 5 watts and in one case we know 2.3 watts) partnered with speakers of exceptionally high sensitivity/efficiency (often horn loaded). I don't doubt that the results can be pleasant but I am inclined to query the accuracy. Valves are now the province of audio engineering historians and retro minded enthusiasts as well as today's audiophiles. With their "purist" approach today's audiophiles often find valve amplifiers beneficial. Incidentally our reference grade tape recorder is full of valves. It works rather well. Sometimes simple is best. Good old technologies are usually rejected for cost reasons rather than lack of merit.

A message which emerges strongly from this section is that sound reproduction is a logarithmic world.

This is an area where consumers are especially vulnerable. It's worth explaining what is involved in playing a CD. A CD is simply a convenient device for moving around digital files. It is not like a cassette or LP both of which carry an analogue of the music which can be replayed in real time. The CD is put into a disc reader which reads the digits in packets and stores them temporarily in a buffer after which they are passed on to a digital to analogue converter (DAC). There's filtering out of spuriae and a bit of analogue amplifation to give the required output level and that's about it although component choice, power supplies and circuit layout are issues. There is a timing issue when decoding CDs. This is to do with the spacing of the digits (jitter). The necessary reference clocking is now done very well by high quality standard chips making special custom devices unnecessary. There is no justification for CD players costing thousands and players such as the AVI one was on the limit for a state of the art machine. There is a huge amount of charlatanism and deceipt in this sector. We heard recently of a customer who bought a £3000 supposed audiophile machine (not AVI!) and then bought an £80 machine from a well known supermarket and found it to be better. Today it looks like CD players are not even the best devices for playing CDs (see (2) above).

This is not the case. Larger speakers are usually associated with greater bass extension. For high quality accurate sound reproduction bass extension is a secondary issue. The primary issue is always absence of distortion. A good result here may be achieved (perhaps even more easily) with a small speaker (e.g. LS3/5 or LS3/5a). Even small speakers can be competent down to about 70Hz and rolling off below that. In acoustic music and human voice there is not much content below 100Hz and very little below 70Hz. Provided this is the intended application it seems that larger speakers are something of a luxury. Nevertheless a good big one will beat a good little one provided they are equally good. More easily said than done.
It follows from the above that high quality sound reproduction is available to people who cannot or do not want to accommodate floor standers or stand mount speakers in their living spaces. Compact speakers (e.g. LS3, LS3/5, LS3/5a) are very tolerant of installation and may be placed on furniture or included in book cases etc.

This is not really a contentious topic. Pre-amplifiers are either separate or incorporated in integrated amplifiers. What has happened is that the required functionality has evolved over the years. In the past pre-amplifiers have been designed to provide most or all of the following functions:

1) Volume control.
2) Input selection.
3) An electronic buffer (a partition or firewall which enables all inputs to see an optimal loading for all settings and the power amplifier to see an optimal souce impedance for all settings)
4) Tone controls.
5) Filters.
6) Balance control.

7) Gain.
8) A phono stage.

Today it is quite likely that 4 to 8 are not needed or not wanted. With enthusiasts wanting stand alone phono stages it turns out that most signal sources provide a volt or so and most power amplifiers have input sensitivities around 500mv. - 1 volt. This means that no net gain is required. If only one signal source is required and it has an output level control it may be connected directly to a power amplifier. Otherwise only 1 to 3 are needed.

This may suggest using a so called passive control unit. These generally cover 1 and 2 but not 3 (unless very clever). If the matching between sources and power amplifier is carefully optimised the results can be very good as would be expected. The problems are shifting impedance matching and possible interaction with the capacitance of the output cables. In other words passive control units can give good results but not always. 3 does matter.

It is a simple matter to replicate the CD playing proceedure in (7) using a computer and a computer can even store the file for further use. Ordinary low cost consumer grade computers usually need a sound card upgrade (£50 - £150) to reach the standard of a good CD player. Alternatively an external DAC may be used. Music libraries can be created on computers ("iTunes" is very good software for this purpose - and it's free). Even LPs can be put into the library as digital files ("LP Recorder" is very good software for this). Files can be copied to an iPod for remote use. The iPod can also be connected to a hi-fi system and if "lossless" files are used the results are very good. If the library is stored on a lap top computer and wireless transmission of the signal is available then any track in the library can be played through the hi-fi system without wires and (apart from size) the computer does the job of an iPod as well. This whole area is currently very active and computers are undoubtedly here to stay in h-ifi sytems.The conventional hi-fi industry is now under attack from the computer industry. This is a change we welcome as it brings extra levels of convenience and utility. A computer running iTunes is a good example and is also very cost effective.

To define this we need something akin to the Turing Test for artificial intelligence (person in one room is having a dialogue with a computer in another room and cannot tell whether he is talking to a computer or a real person). Here it is: Perfect sound reproduction occurs when a blindfolded person cannot tell the difference between the reproduced sound and the real acoustic event. Very difficult to achieve but at least it indicates what to aim for.
We are well aware that some listeners like the replay chain to modify the sound. Perhaps they find real musical instruments too bright or enjoy warm colouration and sometimes even greater distortions. These are requirements we cannot address as they diverge from our goal of providing accurate realistic reproduction. We don't see the replay system as a musical instrument but rather as a "silent witness" which neither adds to nor subtracts from the sound. We are about sound reproduction, not sound production. We find that most listeners like clean, clear, realistic sound reproduction when they hear it.

The term "distortion" means little unless the type of distortion is specified. There are many types of distortion which vary greatly in the damage they do. Two common types are examples of the differences in consequences. Harmonic distortion is relatively benign and is not catastrophic up to a few percent. Intermodulation distortion is catastrophic in tiny quantities. Few people realize that the analogue tape recording system has about 2% harmonic distortion at full modulation yet master tapes are generally held in very high regard.

We are very interested in the ways people judge sound reproduction for accuracy and realism. We are not talking about conscious preferance for a degraded sound just about judging what is right. The human senses involve receptors or transducers followed by interpretation in the brain. These systems are more interested in differences (i.e. changes) than absolutes and use stored models for reference. All this makes the senses systems less than wholly reliable. Optical illusions are well known. Colour perception depends on the environment in which the colour is observed. We suspect that judgements about sound are affected by the auditioning environment (not meaning the acoustic environment) as well as by the stored reference models. The blindfold in the first paragraph matters. This is perhaps a fruitful area for scientific investigation. There is also the common negative reaction to anything new. Different tends to be percieved as different worse rather than different better. Many listeners are excessively loyal to existing systems which to an outsider are obviously distorted. To some people (not many) a truly clean sound comes as something of a shock, provoking instant rejection. These phenomena might go some way towards explaining why some listeners in a domestic environment perceive an accurate digitally sourced sound as too "raw" and the coloured sound from a record player as accurate. Some program material suppliers use a "sweetening" process. Typically this involves an analogue stage which adds a little euphonious coloration and "softens" the sound. This is commercial expediency at work.

We can't over-emphasize the utility of the "good enough" concept. This enables the listener to enjoy a very wide range of program material without anxieties about whether further improvements in sound quality are available or needed. Chronic anxiety about sound quality makes the listener easy prey to the excesses of the hi-fi industry. We are not always good judges of reproduced sound quality and the placebo effect is very powerful. So is cognitive bias.

There is no way a first class high quality sound reproduction system will ever be a low cost item. This is true whether it is executed with all new items or a mixture of new and good classic products. Having said that, it needn't and shouldn't be ludicrously expensive either. Some of the very high prices we see today are an insult to the intelligence of the prospective customers. How on earth can a pair of loudspeakers cost more than a new car and in some cases an up market new car? The work and the intrinsic content are just not there. A loudspeaker is a tool to do a job so how is it that so many expensive examples are more like sculptures than functional tools? They involve extra cost and aim for aesthetic appeal where the audio engineering alone should be sufficient. How can a moving coil cartridge cost several thousand pounds when the content is similar to that in the good examples at about £1000? How can DACs and CD players be thousands when the components used are only a few pounds or ten of pounds each? Some very expensive items are actually good in terms of the job they do and the results they give but usually alternative items at a fraction of the prices give comparable or even better results if carefully chosen. It's about informed choice. We've heard reports from people who've spent over £50,000 on a system only to realise they've been duped when they hear a much cheaper competent system such as AVI actives or a good passive system. Forget the notion of diminishing returns. Dearer can be worse as well as better. There is no correlation between price and performance in hi-fi. Where hi-fi is concerned truth is all to often an early casualty. We dislike the title "High End" as it isn't clear whether the "High" refers to the price or the performance (or both) and there are no objective standards by which judgements may be made. The Emperor's new suit springs to mind. Unfortunately the hi-fi industry is fertile territory for charlatans and mountebanks. Today there is a huge number of products aimed at the hi-fi market which is after all quite specialized and small. Sometimes it seems like there are more products available than potential customers. We see numerous attempts
to "re-invent the wheel".

We think it's about enjoying music. High quality sound reproduction increases the enjoyment. It's as simple as that. The equipment we supply (and ancillaries we recommend) amply covers these requirements and we can offer whatever level of user convenience is needed or wanted.
For general use we don't think it's very productive to have a competition for the best replay medium in respect of sound quality. If CD is the source a CD playing facility is needed. If LPs are the source a record player is needed. If DAB a tuner is needed. If tape a tape player. If a cylinder a phonograph. If the internet a computer or equivalent.

We think pushing the frontiers to achieve further progress is best left to the engineers. That's what the creators of the program material do. They are simply consumers of technology trying to be commercially successful. It is a self evident truth that with the more capable storage/replay media the limiting factor is often the original recording (including any processing) rather than the reply chain - if the latter is of first class quality.

John Townrow


Above clockwise are Graham Audio LS55 LS55F LS8/1 VOTU (all shown without grills)



Prices include UK VAT.
Please note that the list below is given for the sake of historical record and reference. All of of the products are now discontinued.

Lab Series Integrated Amplifier (line level inputs) £1599
Lab Series Integrated Amplifier with phono input £1699
Lab Series Preamp (line) £1399
Lab Series Preamp with phono £1499
Lab Series V2 Power Amplifier £1649
Lab Series CD Player £1499
ADM9 (pair) £1000
ADM9.1 (and later ADM9T) (pair) £1125 (plus £50 for rosewood)
ADM9T Red Spot £1250 (plus £149 for optional premium HF unit)
Sub for ADM9s and ADM9.1s £800

Neutron 4 Loudspeakers (pair) £549
Neutron 5 Loudspeakers (pair) £399
Pro Nine Plus Loudspeakers (pair) £899
Duo Loudspeakers (pair) £1299
Trio Loudspeakers (pair) £3250
Brio Loudspeakers (pair) £4950
Amp-Pak for Neutron 4/PNP/Duo (pair) with loudspeakers £499
or retro fit by specialist £599
18" Professional Sub Woofer £4995

OUR ADDRESS : Five Ways Hi-Fidelity Ltd., 103 Grove Lane, Harborne, Birmingham B17 0QT, United Kingdom.

HOURS OF BUSINESS : 10.30 - 6.00 Tuesday to Friday & Saturday 10.30 - 5.00 (i.e. closed Monday)

NB. From April 13th. 2022 we will be generally available during the above hours but will be operating an appointments system so please call or email to arrange a meeting before visiting. This system was driven by covid but has worked so well that we decided to continue with it for the welcome flexibility it provides.

TELEPHONE : 0044 (0)121 427 4740




PS. We have a sister business which sells wrist-watches (mechanical only) with the same commitment and enthusiasm. See LINKS below





We'll add to this list from time to time (the AVI site) (our watch business site) (the site for Project and Ortofon) (the Teac site) (the Roberts site) (the Edirol site) (the famous record cleaning machine) (the site for SME) (the site for Origin Live)