A Rooftop FM Antenna and a Hopping Mad Mom

By Steve Greene

What’s the worst thing in your parents’ mind that you did as a teenager?  Wrecked the family car shortly after getting your driver’s license?  Got your girlfriend pregnant?  Maybe you threw a big, noisy and messy party at their home while they were away?  Well, my teen transgression was much nerdier, but it did have the benefit of teaching me some important lessons: wires make a difference, and grounding is important.

What could I possibly have done, you ask?  Well, my parents, who rarely ever left town without us kids, decided to finally take a long weekend away from us.  They took advantage of a weekend special of dancing, dining, and lodging at a hotel about 100 miles away.  After all, they thought, I was at home from college and my sister had just turned twenty-one, so surely we could look after my twelve-year-old brother.  What could go wrong?  We were trustworthy kids.  I had recently purchased my first quality stereo component, a Pioneer QX-8000 quadraphonic receiver, which I was obsessed with. So when I came home from college I’d be sure to hang around at home with my stereo, watching my brother, and staying out of any trouble.  What they didn’t know was that I was bothered by a bit of multipath distortion on my favorite FM station: Georgetown’s WHFS, home of very popular DJs Surf and the Weasel.  I loved that station and the progressive and psychedelic rock they played!

I had started receiving and collecting both Lafayette Radio and Allied Electronics around age eleven.  I’d pour through them from cover to cover every year, numerous times, dreaming about what electronic gear might lie in my future. It was early Saturday morning, and I had a hunch that I knew what might solve my multipath distortion problem. I had recently read an article in High Fidelity Magazine about a dealer in upstate New York who had installed an FM antenna on a customer’s roof.  The article was quite detailed explaining how to safely mount a mast and antenna securely, as well as the importance of grounding the antenna. So I headed to Lafayette, with their latest catalog in hand, in order to check out their FM antennas and accessories.

My bedroom system 1975 -Pioneer QX-8000 and Alliance rotator box

I had a plan. My bedroom was on the corner of the first floor of our house, and my Dad had a nice, sturdy ladder. I was going to drill a hole through the side of the house in order to bring the twin lead to my QX-8000 in the bedroom. I knew the 6-element Finco FM-4G was $17.15, while the 10-element Lafayette FM “double driven” model (with a whopping 10–foot boom) was just $11.95.  Plus, I’d need about 50 feet of 300 ohm twin lead at $2.29, a five foot antenna mast at $1.49, heavy duty 4” wall brackets at $4.78, several wood screw insulators to hold the twin lead where it would run down the wall from the roof, a lightning arrestor, and a ground rod and ground wire for another $9. Then, the piece de resistance, I would need a plastic tube about 3/4 inch in diameter and about 13 inches long for $1.19. As I totaled up my expenditure in my head, I realized I was going to have more change left over from the $50 I had burning in my pocket (part time jobs really pay off) if I bought the bigger, but cheaper, Lafayette antenna instead of the Finco!  The total would be about $35 plus my labor (yes, I’m referencing the 1973 Lafayette catalog, that I still have, to confirm these prices!).  I paid the cashier, loaded up my goodies in my hand-me-down Corvair, and headed back home.

While the installation took me way longer than I expected (about four hours) the FM antenna was finally installed.  I had completed the job safely, only teetering on the roof once during a sudden gust of wind, but the sturdy mast saved me when I grabbed hold of it!  I also realized that I had to shove some gunk into the tube entering the house, so that it wouldn’t be a direct path for insects.  Wadded up bubblegum seemed do the trick…but I later changed that to insulating foam.  The Pioneer QX-8000 sounded great on FM, although I was surprised that the signal strength meter didn’t show much of a jump in gain.  However, since the multipath was highly reduced on WHFS, I was pleased over all.

I could hardly wait to show my parents my big accomplishment when they returned home Sunday afternoon!  I didn’t have to tell them, though.  When they pulled up in the driveway my mother instantly saw the antenna and shrieked, with hands to her face, “oh my God, Bob (sounded like “Bawb” with her New England accent), he’s ruined the looks of our house!”  No amount explaining how much better my FM reception sounded could calm my mother down.  You’d have thought I’d painted the house orange (which “Bawb” later did, although it was supposed to be “Harvest Gold”…but that’s another story).  I could tell my father was slightly amused and, I hoped, impressed enough with my newfound antenna installation skills that he could stave off the punishment my mother was demanding in exchange for her loss of curb-appeal.

The following week my father revealed my punishment: buy them a TV antenna with Alliance U-100 rotator for the TV in the family room.   The real punishment was not, however, my financial outlay for that purchase.  The real punishment was that, despite my proven new-found skills, I was not allowed to help—but watch my father install their new antenna to a vent chimney on the roof, standing in the backyard, poised to call for help if he fell.

My mother, upon seeing the new, added structure shooting from the vent chimney was further horrified.  But, our Montgomery Wards color TV (our first color TV!) now had a fantastic picture with no ghosting on any channels.   Even she had to admit that the antenna effected a huge improvement to their television viewing.

Dad's curiously short antenna mounting - the punishment antenna

However, much to my surprise, he had only mounted the antenna about one foot above the rotator!  He could have mounted it another three feet higher!  What was up with that! Surely you want to mount an antenna up as high as possible for best reception and lack of interference.  I guess that was his one consolation to Mom; make it a teeny bit less noticeable from the front of the house.  My antenna, on the other hand, could be seen from any angle in the neighborhood!  I was so proud!  Oh, and the ¾ inch hole I drilled through the wall of the house to run the antenna wire through the plastic tube?  Well, my Mother never saw that until they sold the house and retired to Florida a few years later.  I had proudly shown that piece of work to my Dad who stated at the time, “pretty nifty…And NEVER show that to your Mother”.  It was hidden from view behind my stereo equipment thank goodness.

But folks, that’s not the end of this story.   I mentioned at the beginning that this experience taught me a bit about wires and grounding.  How so?  Well, after settling in a bit with my new antenna system for my QX-8000, I became a bit underwhelmed by the RF gain.  (I still have the QX-8000 although it’s languishing in my attic, lonely).   I decided that maybe I should have bought the more expensive, albeit shorter, Finco FM4G antenna.  So, off to Lafayette I went about six months later and bought one.  I decided that two is always better than one, so I replaced the five foot mast with a ten foot mast and mounted both antennas on the same mast, one pointed towards metro Washington DC, and the other towards Baltimore.  I added another twin lead wire to the new Finco and installed a “knife-switch”.  (Remember those?  They looked like a mini version of the switch Dr. Frankenstein used to bring his monster to life).  The knife switch allowed me to switch between the two antennas depending on which station I wanted to listen to.  The new twin lead connected to the Finco antenna had some kind of foamed insulation, so I experimented by switching the wires where they connected to the two antennas on the roof to compare the wires.  I discovered the slightly older wire actually had better signal strength.  My first realization that wires do make a difference!

I didn’t think she’d notice, but soon Mom wanted to know why there were suddenly two antennas where there was formerly only one.  She complained about this until I finally decided that the Finco FM4G was a better antenna than the Lafayette antenna—it was more selective and had better gain despite being shorter, better tuning and spacing of the elements no doubt.  “Hmmm,” I thought, “Save up a bit more money and I can take down the Lafayette and put an Alliance U-100 rotator on that mast so I can aim the Finco in any direction.  No more need for a second antenna.”  And that is what I did!  This change also eliminated the knife switch, meaning there was one less junction for the signal to pass through.  Eventually, I even tried using a coax, shielded 75-ohm cable versus an unshielded 300-ohm twin lead for less noise pick up. However, since that also means you lose a bit of signal strength, I eventually settled on the twin lead.  My multipath worries were eliminated by the use of the rotator, and I could relax without further modifications to my FM antenna set-up.  Being a big Red Sox fan, I often tried to listen to games at night on AM with the QX-8000 receiver, but the noise level was often too annoying.  I discovered that by running a ground wire from the AM antenna ground tap on the back of the receiver to the FM antenna’s ground rod outside, I could improve the AM performance pretty dramatically.  This provided a much, much lower noise level so that the signal I was seeking could emerge from the background.  A proper ground is a must in an audio system, and I can’t overemphasize how much that will take the performance of your system to an even higher level.

My Finco FM4G and Alliance U-100 on Mom - Dad's roof circa 1975
This is why I was so excited to work with Nordost’s QRT Power Products. Our QRT QBASE distribution bar helps establish a common ground in your system and eliminates ground loops. I had thought the QBASE was the end-all-be-all in grounding, until we released our QKORE products last summer.  The QKORE dramatically reduces the noise level in a system by creating a clean, artificial earth, which has a dramatic and positive effect on the sound—bass becomes tighter, extends lower, and becomes more powerful.  The overall image moves further out into the room and extends beyond the boundaries of the speakers.  It’s really quite dramatic, and has to be heard to be believed! For my mother’s sake, I wish I had those products when I was a teen, I could have hid them much better than a rooftop antenna!

Oh, and speaking of my old FM antenna set-up at the old family house—out of curiosity, I drove by that house on a business trip… and lo and behold, the FM antenna and mast were still mounted on the roof!  Strangely enough though, no twin lead-connecting cable could be seen.  I guess there are no audiophiles living there anymore!

Questions From The Show Floor

 

By Michael Taylor

Going to trade shows and dealer events are great chances for me to get out there and meet both current and future Nordost customers. You might have seen me during one of these shows, either performing cable demonstrations or manning the sales booth in the market place. One thing I always encourage is for attendees to take the opportunity to ask questions during these events. Now I would like to share two of our most-asked questions with you!

 

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Question 1: It’s easy to position round speaker cables in a system, but what do you do when they’re flat?  What is the best way to position Nordost speaker cables

Well, I can tell you what not to do: lay them flat on the floor! (Unless, of course, they are rear channel speaker cables that need to be hidden under the rug.) Let me explain… our speaker cables have a flat construction in order to keep conductors apart—allowing for both low capacitance and inductance. The secondary benefit of this construction method is that the separation of conductors makes it possible for them to resonate naturally, enhancing the performance of the cables. Since we mechanically tune most of our premium cables, we can get even more performance benefits from these resonances. Laying cables flat on the floor will dampen them, not to mention that the more surface area is in contact with the floor, the faster buildup of static charges occur. All cable dielectrics hold electrical charges, which can impede or alter the signal passing underneath them. We suggest laying the cables in a vertical position, where only one conductor touches the floor (or using Sort Lifts where nothing touches!).  Additionally, if you have any excess cables, don’t coil them. Simply run them in a serpentine pattern.

 

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Question 2: Why aren’t Nordost 75 Ohm Digital Interconnects terminated with RCA connectors?

The answer is simple: they simply aren’t good enough.  RCA connectors are, and should be used for, analog interconnects. But when it comes to digital signals, performance is dependent on keeping impedance exactly where it needs to be. The more you deviate from 75 ohms, the worse the performance—and we won’t accept that.  RCA connectors allow too much variance, which is why we won’t use them.  For 75 Ohm matching to occur, you have to use a connector which is specifically designed for that purpose: a BNC connector.  We terminate all S/PDIF cables with BNC connectors, and include a BNC to RCA adapter in the package in case your gear requires an RCA termination.  Even though an adapter may be used, it is still far better than terminating the cable with an RCA and having the impedance swing in all directions.

Analog vs Digital — The Great Audio Debate   

One of the most hotly contested debates in modern-day hifi is one of source and substance: analog or digital. The preferential rift isn’t as clear-cut as one would think. Thanks to the recent resurgence of vinyl (and even reel–to-reel, which is increasingly seen at hifi shows), one’s inclination towards LPs or CDs, tapes or WAV files, can’t be determined by the decade one was born in.  There are benefits and deficiencies to both formats to be sure, and that is exactly what we are exploring here…

 

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Argument for Analog

Aside from the obvious nostalgia, there are several reasons why discerning music lovers would opt for analog over digital sources. To many, vinyl recordings have a more authentic, natural quality than their digital counterparts (which critics often describe as cold and uninviting). Some may argue that analog bandwidth is superior, especially when compared to the dumbed-down results of compressed recordings (although those recordings are getting better with time, thanks to modernized digital files). Bandwidth aside, the REAL allure of analog is its raw charm, which has the power to elicit an emotional response from listeners. The term that is typically associated with this emotional response is “analog warmth”. It is interesting to note that this distinctive warmth is in fact a side-effect of technical imperfections in the analog recording process. Whether it is speed-stability issues of magnetic recording tape, or harmonic distortions created by transformers, each of these flaws leads to an enhancement of the mood, character, and enjoyment that comes with analog reproduction. And that enjoyment is only amplified when you add the ceremonial aspects to LP listening. No skipping around tracks—just you, the music, and the liner notes and artwork provided on your canvas-like cover.

 

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Digital Defense

Where analog may sweep with the nostalgia and feel-good factors, digital sources win out in terms of precision and convenience. We have advocated for “analog warmth”. However, let’s not forget that a lot of that warmth is the direct result of distortion—and some of that distortion is not so welcome. In general, digital recordings have a greater SNR (signal to noise ratio), and in many cases, that leads to a more enjoyable listening experience. Of course there are some wonderful pressings of vinyl available, but those LPs come with a high price tag. Unfortunately, the majority of affordable records are noisy, warped and distorted. Furthermore, while the ritual of getting out an album and listening to it play out in full may stand the test of time, the album (or tape) itself does not. The grooves and tapes of analog recordings can only withstand so much play time—digital files, on the other hand, can be listened to ad infinitum without any negative repercussions to their sonic integrity. Even at “first play”, you may be better off going with digital, since even standard CDs have significant dynamic advantages over vinyl. Lastly, consider the convenience of digital storage and the variety of digital streaming. Thanks to new technology and ever-improving files, audiophiles can keep their entire music catalog at their fingertips and explore artists and genres that they never would have been exposed to otherwise, with the click of a button.

 

The debate of analog vs digital could go on and on without a concrete, impartial conclusion. For the most part, the correct answer is highly individualized and preferential. It is a testament to our industry that we have so many great options on which to experience high fidelity recordings. But a debate is a debate, so we ask you: How do you like to have your music delivered to you?

Making Your Marque: The 12 Most Important Products in the History of High End Audio (PART 2)

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I hope all of our Nordost readers enjoyed Part One of this blog and, strange as it might sound, I hope that NOBODY agreed with all of my choices! In Part One, I explained my reasoning for choosing “The Most Important Products” but I need to say again: my choices are not carved in stone; rather, they’re my opinion, based upon my knowledge of the components that preceded, as well as those that followed, my selections. It is my fondest wish that readers of this blog will sit down over dinner, drinks and some serious listening sessions and not only debate my choices but refute them.

High End Audio has a rich and fascinating history distinguished not only by the products themselves but by the personalities of their designers, critics, and the dealers that sold them. The process of discussing and debating my choices is actually more critical to the future of High End than my process of selecting them is. Enjoy!  – Anthony Chiarella


 

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photo: quora.com

Quad ESL 57

“From a theoretical point of view, an electrostatic is an ideal way to make a loudspeaker – it matches the air perfectly and it’s all predictable, as ordinary loudspeakers are rather variable. It has some problems which are rather difficult, mainly due to the stretching of the diaphragm. It mustn’t shrink and that sort of thing. Very high voltages, 10,000v, make it difficult, but it’s an ideal – I think most loudspeaker manufacturers have looked at it and said ‘What a lovely way to make a speaker, but it’s not very practical’. And a lot of manufacturers have tried it, too, and most of them have said ‘This is not profitable. Get back to putting loudspeakers in boxes and start selling ‘em lad!’” – Peter Walker, Quad Founder, Hi-Fi News

Introduced in 1957, the world’s first production, full-range electrostatic offered a higher performance alternative to every dynamic, box-type loudspeaker of that time. In pioneering an exotic, purist technology in the quest for ultimate reproduction of classical music, Quad didn’t simply pave the way for subsequent electrostatic and planar loudspeaker manufacturers, it became, arguably, the first true High End Audio company.


 

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photo: carpwrangleronline.weebly.com

Celestion SL-600

More than any other loudspeaker, the SL-600 was the ultimate expression of the design concepts first proposed by the BBC LS3/5A; namely, a point-source whose compact enclosure and closely-positioned drivers eliminated most of the problems endemic to larger loudspeakers. Certainly, the SL-600 wasn’t the best “mini-monitor” ever made. Wilson’s WATT and Celestion’s own SL-700 quickly surpassed it—but, in its use of avant-garde technologies, including the first dome tweeter designed with the assistance of laser interferometry and an inert cabinet built from an exotic, honeycomb-aluminum laminate called “Aerolam,” the SL-600 gave the compact speaker credibility, not only for use in “Bang-for-the-buck” systems, but for inclusion in the finest and most expensive rigs, as well.


 

 

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photo: ultraaudio.com

Harmonic Resolution Systems SXR Rack System

Anyone who believes that equipment racks are merely accessories, and not true audio components, has never heard an HRS product. Designed by Mike Latvis and built in Buffalo, NY, HRS products elevate (pun intended) EVERY aspect of system performance— and Mike can scientifically prove it! Over the past four decades, there have been all sorts of attempts, from Target to Torlyte to CWD to Stillpoints, to use audio furniture to improve system performance, but HRS demonstrates that every one of them was inadequate. Actually, I could have chosen any HRS Rack System but the SXR seems to provide the best performance-per-dollar, and also leaves enough cash in the budget for HRS’s matching Isolation Bases, which are required to complete the system.


 

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photo: www.soundstage.com

Wilson Audio Specialties WATT

At a time when state-of-the-art loudspeakers (Inifinity IRS and RS-1B, Magnepan Tympani, Wilson’s own WAMM) tended to be enormous, dauntingly expensive monstrosities, audiophiles started plunking Dave Wilson’s recording monitor atop Entec Subwoofers (in the days before Wilson’s “Puppy” woofer was available).  This created a system whose resolution, transparency and spatial description rivaled those behemoths at a fraction of the price and, more importantly, did so with a footprint of slightly more than one square foot per channel. By enabling apartment dwellers and other décor/budget-sensitive music lovers to mount the summit of high end performance at a time when that luxury had been reserved for those with no budget or space constraints, the WATT was a truly seminal product, as has been proven by Wilson’s meteoric success ever since that speaker’s introduction.


 

 

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photo: audiomatch.nl

dCS Elgar

With the help of fine digital products by Krell, Levinson, Audio Research and other iconic manufacturers, the CD had, by the early ‘90s, become the software format of choice…even among audiophiles. Still, digital was considered inferior by the high end cognoscenti when dCS’s first consumer product bowed in 1997. Designed by a company credited, not only with the world’s best studio processors, but also with the developing threat-avoidance technologies for fighter jets, the Elgar was perhaps the most thoroughly engineered digital product in history.  This statement was supported by the fact that it stayed in production, and defined the state-of-the-art, for nearly a decade— no mean feat for a computer! By elevating digital reproduction to a position of parity with world-class analog, dCS’s Elgar deserves its place on this list


 

photo:   www.rewindaudio.com

photo:  www.rewindaudio.com

Technics SL-1200

Of my twelve selections, this is bound to be the most controversial. The SL-1200 wasn’t the first commercially available direct drive turntable.  Its big brother, the SP-10, earned that distinction in 1970.  Nor was its sound quality universally applauded by audiophiles, a fact which Technics both acknowledged and addressed when it introduced a modernized version in 2016. It was, however, among the most beloved audio products ever made (the most robust, too!), as well as one of the longest-lived, with a production run that stretched from 1972 to 2010. Muse to the Hip Hop movement, the SL-1200 also inspired the current crop of state-of-the-art direct drive turntables by Continuum, VPI, Brinkmann and others.


 

Making Your Marque: The 12 Most Important Products in the History of High End Audio

By Anthony Chiarella


Here, at the dawn of the 21st Century, High End Audio has reached a remarkable state of refinement: the current crop of top-notch components offer performances which approach theoretical perfection, heirloom build quality, and a level of aesthetic beauty which elevate fine audio to the level of fine art. It wasn’t always this way. Half a century ago, most audio products suffered serious flaws, both sonically and operationally, which relegated the pursuit of performance to a handful of technically talented individuals who also possessed the time and patience to deal with temperamental components.

Among the thousands of products and hundreds of manufacturers and designers who developed HiFi in the second half of the last century, only a few fulfilled the promise of High End Audio. The dozen products selected here aren’t necessarily the best-sounding, nor are they the best built, the most reliable, or the most attractive; rather, these components are, in my opinion, the most directly responsible for the present-day state of the audio art.


 

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Dynaco Stereo 70: Introduced in 1959, the Stereo 70 combined the now-ubiquitous Williamson Circuit with high quality output transformers and highly efficient production methods to deliver an amplifier that created Dynaco’s legend as “The Poor Man’s McIntosh.” With 35 watts-per-channel—massive power for the time—it also facilitated consumer acceptance of less efficient acoustic suspension loudspeakers, which continues to impact the HiFi industry today. During the ST-70’s production run, the Philadelphia company sold over 350,000 units (both pre-assembled and in kit form), making it the Model T of tube amplifiers…and that’s A Good Thing!


 

Linn-Sondek-LP12

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Linn Sondek LP12: Of all the classic turntables, I have to confess that the LP12 is my least favorite, owing to its combination of blasé build quality, unjustifiably high pricing, the kooky group dynamic of its “Linnie” cult following and of course, its colored (if unfailingly musical) sound. Nor, with the exception of its single-point bearing, was its design innovative: its belt-drive motor system and three-point suspended sub-chassis had been advanced by Edgar Villchur’s Acoustic Research XA turntable in 1961, more than a decade before the LP12 bowed in 1972. What makes the Linn seminal has more to do with its marketing. At a time when loudspeakers were universally considered to be the most important determinant of sound quality, Linn pioneered the notion that turntables had a distinctive “sound” and that the source was the most critical component of a state-of-the-art audio system. Because it forever changed the way we view system-building, the LP12 earns my vote as the most influential turntable of all time.


 

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Audio Research SP3: When it was introduced in 1970, the SP3 was, arguably, the best-sounding preamplifier available, and at $595 MSRP, something of a bargain too! All of which has nothing to do with its inclusion on this list. More than any designer of his time, William Zane Johnson succeeded in offering a commercially viable—and better-sounding—alternative to the marketing-driven transistor gear which dominated American audio dealerships. Having designed his first product—a three chassis Triode amplifier—in 1949, Johnson almost singlehandedly kept the ideal of high performance alive through the dark ages of HiFi, and is therefore more responsible than any individual for the High End Renaissance which began in the late 1970s.


 

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Mark Levinson ML-2: In the early days of the transistor, solid state amplification was the sonically-second-class-citizen to vacuum tubes. All of that changed in 1977, when Mark Levinson introduced the ML-2. A 25 watt-per-channel, pure Class A monoblock, the ML-2 was heavy (nearly 70 pounds), ran hot, was ringed by sharp heat sinks, which sliced many an audiophile’s hand, and, at $3,600 per stereo pair, was among the most expensive consumer audio products of its era. It was also the first component to cure what had previously been considered unsolvable sonic shortcomings of transistor amplification, while simultaneously demonstrating the inherent—and previously unrealized—strengths of solid state; namely, transparency and speed.


 

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sthifi.com

Nordost Quattro Fil: The first line of cabling to incorporate all of Nordost’s core technologies, including cutting-edge materials, high purity OFC with silver plating, and, most notably, the use of “Micro-monofilament,” an innovation which, by helically winding a synthetic thread around the conductors, enabled a virtual air space dielectric, while maintaining the flexibility of the cable. The result was a series of cables whose sonics, after a monumentally long break-in period, simply embarrassed everything which came before. Of course, subsequent generations of Nordost Reference products have pushed the performance envelope even further, but as with the other components on this list, those “subsequent generations” might never have existed without the development of Quattro Fil.


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stereophile.com

BBC LS3/5A: Chartwell, Kef, Falcon, Goodmans, Harbeth, Rogers, Spendor…over the years, so many companies built—and continue to build—the LS3/5a, under license from the BBC, that audiophiles could spend an evening trying to conjure a comprehensive manufacturers’ list. Originally developed in 1975 for use in broadcast vans, the 3/5’s tiny cabinet panels barely vibrated, its waifish baffle virtually eliminated diffraction, and, with a woofer and tweeter so close they looked as if they were having sex, driver cohesion was, for its time, remarkable. One of the longest-lived—and, with over 60,000 pairs sold, best-selling—designs in audio history, the LS3/5A was a perennial “Best Buy” and served as a gateway drug, simultaneously making the wonders of High End Audio accessible to a larger audience and exposing the audiophile community to the glories of British Box Loudspeakers.


Continue to Part Two >


 

Video Vibes – How HDMI cables matter for Audio AND Video

Video Vibes: Image quality worthy of an audiophile

By Anthony Chiarella

We audiophiles are a strange bunch. When it comes to sound, we obsess over every detail of our HiFi systems, moving speakers half an inch at a time, adjusting toe-in by fractions of a degree, using micrometers, jewelers’ scales and USB Microscopes to precisely calibrate our turntables and spirit levels in order to optimize our equipment racks. We spend a fortune on items that, to the uninitiated, seem to be minutiae, because experience has taught us that EVERYTHING influences sound quality. And yet, when it comes to video, we suddenly become misers. Lazy misers, at that!

Think about it: How many hardcore audiophiles apply the same rigor to video performance as they do to audio? Audiophiles either don’t care about video performance or they don’t think they can do anything to improve it…and nothing could be further from the truth! Anyone who owns a projector knows the importance of proper video calibration. Years ago, Joe Kane and ISF (Imaging Science Foundation) developed effective calibration standards for all video display devices — CRTs, DLPs, Projectors, Plasmas, etc.— and any dealer that sells quality home theater products insists on careful calibration and optimization of the video systems they install.

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The point of all this, of course, is that image quality DOES matter, and that careful tuning can provide significant enhancements in video performance. When it comes to “Bang for the buck,” the most profound improvements come from upgrading your High Definition Cables.

If you’re reading this blog, you already know the impact that changing interconnects or speaker cables can have on the sound of your system. An audio cable has to deal with two basic parameters: frequency and amplitude. The audio bandwidth spans 20,000 cycles, which means that an interconnect must carry two (stereo) channels of 20 kHz bandwidth. By comparison, the bandwidth of a Hi-Def video signal is 6GHz. That’s 6,000,000,000 Hz, or about Three Thousand Times the bandwidth of an audio signal! And that’s not the whole story: whereas an audio cable carries two channels of data, an HDMI cable carries three High Speed Digital Signaling Channels, eleven Channels of full-range Audio (plus LFE), as well as a TDMS Clock Channel, and a Data Display Channel (DDC), not to mention FIVE grounds! Of course, all of these various signals must travel the length of the cable in perfect synchronization and arrive at precisely the same instant in time. Obviously, the job description of an HDMI cable is far more complicated—and far more demanding—than that of an audio cable. So, why haven’t video connoisseurs been investing in better cables the way audiophiles have been doing for the past 40 years?

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The problem is that, until recently, most HDMI cables have been indistinguishable from each other. Made in enormous Asian factories, generic HDMI cables are designed and manufactured to the lowest common denominator, with cost, not quality, as the overriding concern. All of which explains why Nordost HDMI cables are the ONLY choice for quality and performance. The same philosophies that Nordost applies to their audio cables—conductor design, material quality, mechanical and electrical isolation, dielectric optimization, ultra-wide bandwidth, and precision manufacturing—make Nordost HDMI cables the world’s finest. Need proof? DPL Labs, an independent testing facility that has developed standards for HDMI cables, has certified that all Nordost HDMI cables achieve the highest possible level of performance.

Available in three grades—Blue Heaven, Heimdall 2 and Valhalla 2—Nordost HDMI and 4K UHD cables are precision-manufactured in the USA from the finest materials available. All feature Micro-Monofilament dielectrics, silver-plated Oxygen Free Copper (OFC) conductors and DPL High Speed Certification. Most importantly, however, these three Nordost AV cables share one unique feature: each offers a cost-effective means of elevating your Audio/Video system to new and higher levels of performance. Try one and you’ll see…and hear!


LEARN MORE:

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Pushing the 4K/UHD Digital Envelope

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Danger Lurks at the Bottom of the HDMI Abyss


 

Vinyl Is Back! Everything You Need To Know About LP Records

Still Spinning, Still Grinning… Vinyl Is Back!  

Everything You Need To Know About LP Records

by Anthony Chiarella

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I’d forgotten just how great LPs can sound. This point was driven home a couple of years ago when I added a new turntable to my reference system. At the time, I had a $65,000 digital front end, and I thought the sound it produced was about as good as High End could get…until I started spinning records. My analog rig—turntable, arm, cartridge and phono preamp—cost less than half as much, but outperformed my digital stack in almost every respect. Instrumental timbres were richer, with finer harmonic detail, imaging was more three dimensional, and the spaces between the images more palpable, with an airiness and cohesion that was just, well, more lifelike than even the best digital systems. I found this especially true with older, analog masters, but surprisingly, many modern digital transfers actually sounded better on vinyl! (In fairness, I should point out that there are many digital masters which outperform their analog counterparts.) Of course, sound quality alone doesn’t explain the renaissance of the LP record. The tactile pleasures of holding an album cover—an experience that was diminished with the “compact” disc and eliminated completely with streaming—provide a powerful sensory experience. The ability to see and savor album artwork, not to mention lyrics and other “extras” included with many LPs, is sorely missed with CDs and modern digital formats.

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The “chore” of removing an LP from its jacket, placing it on the platter, clamping it, cleaning it and carefully lowering the needle into the groove was supposedly one of the reasons why CDs became more popular than LPs; however, for many LP lovers, the ritual of preparing the record for playback actually enhances the experience. And then, there is the hardware. Does any other component in the stereo system equal the beauty or visual artistry of the turntable? Since the time of Edison, record players have been sources of pride and collectability, as well as the focal point of most HiFi systems. (There are several turntables in the Museum of Modern Art’s Permanent Design Collection.) Once you’ve decided to “take the plunge” and join the Analog Renaissance, there are a few vinyl-specific things you have to know. Whether you’re looking to spend a few hundred dollars or a hundred thousand, here’s everything you need to get started… Today’s top ‘tables are true works of art, designed for aesthetic appeal as well as performance. Brinkmann, Kronos, TechDas and many others offer superbly crafted analogue systems, engineered to last for several lifetimes. At lower price points, Rega, Project, EAT and VPI offer entry-level ‘tables whose sound quality approaches state-of-the-art, though without the visual beauty or obsessive craftsmanship, which defines cost-no-object products. Ortofon and Sumiko dominate the market for reasonably-priced phono cartridges, while Kiseki, Koetsu and Lyra continue to develop exquisite cartridges for music lovers who demand “the best” regardless of cost.

Being a high-performance software format, there are two more variables you’ll need to address if you want to extract the highest possible performance from your analog rig. First of all, pay attention to where you mount your turntable and the structure upon which you place it. Record players are vulnerable to “acoustic feedback” (which sounds like a loud, uncontrollable hum) if placed too close to speakers, especially those with prodigious bass; additionally, a turntable placed upon a wobbly floor or rickety stand will be prone to “groove skipping.” Of course, a rigid, high-mass—and expensive!—equipment rack is ideal, but budget and décor often render such purchases impractical. Here are a couple of hints… First, make sure you place the stand upon which your turntable rests near a load-bearing wall (usually one of the exterior walls of the house), as these are the most solid points in the room and the least prone to footfalls and other mechanical interference. A wall-mount shelf—available online for under $150—offers great isolation at a very affordable price. Next, if you’re using a piece of furniture, make sure it’s top surface is level and that it doesn’t wobble. (Small pieces of plastic can be used to “shim” the legs of your furniture to keep it stable and level.) Finally, in order to minimize acoustic feedback, try to position your equipment rack as far from your speakers as possible. We’re almost done!

You’ll also need a few accessories to make your ‘table sing and maintain those precious slabs of vinyl in pristine condition. If your turntable has a detachable phono cable, you may want to consider and upgrade. The signals that are sent through a phono cable are the most delicate in your hifi system, and you would be surprised at the nuances that a high quality cable can bring to sound fidelity. Companies such as Nordost offer a wide range of tonearm cables that run the gamut cost-wise. Another thing to consider is record cleaning machines. Record cleaning machines haven’t changed since vinyl’s “golden age” of the 1960s through ‘80s, when most libraries owned “wet-system” machines that would wash and vacuum their vast collections. The best of these are made by Okki Nokki and VPI, range in price from approximately $500-$1,000, and are recommended for music lovers with large record collections. (Even for small collections, the improvement in sound quality is amazing!) Need to spend less? Spin-Clean makes a dry-system vacuum machine which starts under $80, while AudioQuest and MoFi offer manual brushes starting at under $15! Assuming you’re setting up your own analog rig, a protractor and stylus gauge are essential…and cheap!  Add some stylus cleaning fluid and a package of record sleeves (to replace the old sleeves of used records) and you’re ready to discover the pleasures of LP Playback. Enjoy!

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HIFI: THE NEXT GENERATION – or, why our kids will love High End Audio as much as we do!

HiFi The Next Generation

Or, Why Our Kids Will Love High End Audio As Much As We Do!

by Anthony Chiarella

After 40 years in audio, I’ve got a pretty awesome stereo system. Of course, it didn’t start out that way…

In 1975, when I bought my first rig, I spent every dime I had on a Kenwood Integrated amp, a Philips Turntable and a pair of KLH speakers. It was a popular “Entry-Level” system and cost a fortune! Back then, we didn’t know electrolytic capacitors, tone controls and most of the other technological particulars of this system were sonically degrading, or that it would quickly become obsolescent –its resale value sinking like a stone.

Back then, all of my friends wanted a slammin’ stereo. Aside from a car, it was the “Dream Purchase” for virtually every High School student in America. Nowadays, with computers and a host of tech toys competing for young consumers’ attention (and cash) stereos haven’t been the “Objects of Desire” that they used to be. That’s all about to change. Today’s entry-level gear is SO good that it is attracting young music lovers in numbers not seen in decades!

Millennials and Hipsters are discovering the pleasures of High End Audio, drawn largely by the resurgence of vinyl records. On a recent trip to my local Barnes and Noble, I was amazed and gratified to see that almost 20% of the store’s floor space was occupied by record bins, with dozens of hip young gunslingers flipping through stacks of freshly pressed LPs. Just last week, legendary recording engineer, Bob Ludwig, told me that every album he masters is now released on vinyl as well as digital. The “Analog Boom” has caused turntable sales to skyrocket, and the quality of entry-level turntables has kept pace. Pro-Ject has just built the largest turntable factory in Europe, capable of cranking out over a quarter million ‘tables a year! Rega has recently introduced new models at both lower and higher prices than ever before, hoping to lure first-time buyers with bargain ‘tables and then encourage them to upgrade to flagship products.

Sales of tube electronics—especially at lower price-points—are also flourishing. PrimaLuna, whose all-tube integrated amplifiers start at $1,799, has experienced sales growth of over 25% per year for the last several years. Rogue Audio, another bargain-priced tube brand headquartered in Pennsylvania, has experienced similarly spectacular increases. On the speaker side, KEF’s LS50 redefined what’s possible for under $1,500, while Elac now offers more than a half dozen high performance models which retail for under a grand. And of course, Nordost’s Leif Series has put ultra-high-performance cabling systems within the reach of every music lover.

Thanks to the “Hip Factor” of vinyl records and vacuum tubes, a new generation of consumers (with high disposable income!) is discovering the pleasures of Audiophilia. Better still, entry level equipment has gotten so good—and for so little money—that it’s now possible to assemble a world-class HiFi system at prices that would have been impossible just a few years ago. A NAD 316BEE Integrated Amplifier ($379), Project Debut Carbon Turntable ($399) and Elac Debut B4 speakers ($179/pr) deliver super sound for less than one thousand dollars, giving budget-constrained consumers a heaping helping of high-end panache and long-term investment potential for about the same price as a weekend at the Jersey Shore.

Want a super-cool system? Match a PrimaLuna Prologue Classic Integrated Tube Amplifier ($1,799), Rega RP3 Turntable ($899) and Dynaudio Emit M30 Towers ($1,199). You’ll get dynamic, full-range sound—and the warm glow of vacuum tubes—for under four grand. Throw in Nordost Blue Heaven Power Cords, Interconnects and Speaker Cables and the tab is still under five thousand bucks. An ARCAM irDAC II (arguably the world’s best budget D/A Converter) adds $800 to the package, along with superb digital sound quality! Fully loaded (including appropriate cabling and accessories) we’re still around $6,000 for a system whose performance would have cost over ten thousand dollars just a few short years ago.

My point here isn’t to design systems for the readers, nor is it to pitch products that I admire. I’m simply trying to illustrate that High End Audio, whose long-term viability was once in question, is alive and well and growing at a healthy and satisfying pace! More importantly, it isn’t just veteran audiophiles upgrading existing systems; rather, it is Millenials, Hipsters and other first-time buyers looking to make a lasting investment in quality HiFi gear. Of course, these new customers will upgrade over time, as we all do, which should guarantee a long and prosperous future for the hobby we love. For all of you who are worried about the future of HiFi, rest easy. High End Audio is getting better and better!

Deconstructing the QRT Qx2/Qx4 for the masses -by Jon Baker

Deconstructing the QRT Qx2/Qx4 for the masses

by Jon Baker

Perhaps the most troublesome component of any audio system is the power grid. It’s a problem not easily understood, and as a matter of fact, the problems seem to be getting much worse. Why? With new technologies such as wireless and cellular, the electrical grid has become polluted and distorted, rearing its ugly-head at the most sensitive point, your home. It’s frequently hard to recognize these issues – think of it like pollution in our urban cities. It’s usually difficult to comprehend the problem until a storm rolls through and either washes or blows the muck away. The QRT technology has a similar effect riding your audio solution’s pollution.

Historically, the provided solutions have been to use filters. However, these solutions can choke a system and add some unwanted, nasty side-effects, such as decreased dynamics or a picture quality which is flat and two-dimensional.  Nordost’s power management solutions employ three fundamental concepts to cure power inconsistencies from the outlets in your home, one mechanical and the others using the power of field generators to influence the power coming out of your wall receptacles.  The initial R&D was developed for the celebrated, award-winning Thor, and over the years the technology has been refined and expanded upon.

I’ll begin with the chassis – all QRT power solutions (Qx4 and Qx2) use simple mechanics. The chassis for the QRT products are mechanically tuned, meaning the Qx2/Qx4 are designed and tooled to specific dimensions with the end caps being made from high quality billet aluminum. The tuning and shear weight of the Qx2 and Qx4 create a mechanically grounded environment which is extremely important for the QRT system to work properly.

The foundation of the Qx4 technology employs the use of field generators— two for the Qx2 and four for the Qx4. The QRT field generators don’t impede the power line, and therefore, unlike many other currently available solutions, the Qx2 and Qx4 don’t limit either the source impedance or peak current. Rather, the field generators act at the source of the problem, reducing negative EMF and RFI effects, as well as improving the consistency and regularity of the AC waveform. The QRT system does all this without limiting the voltage swing or altering the impedance of the AC supply. QRT allows energy to change from one state to the next in a more orderly and coherent manner. The result is a reduction in the total error of a little over 5%, or in other words, a reduction of 50% in the error value!

Another Way To Think About It:   Think of these solutions as being similar to a common water filter (perhaps in an extreme scenario) you might use in your kitchen. Those filters certainly filter harmful metals, however they can also filter out other salts and minerals, which are extremely beneficial and necessary. But what if you had a field generator around your faucet pulling those unwanted metals away from your precious water, but not taking away the so-called nutrition – this would be the QRT method and advantage!!!

The last of the primary benefits the QRT system offers is related to an element of the chassis design. Remember those billet end-caps I mentioned a bit ago? Well, they contribute beyond mechanical tuning and resonance control. Because of their heft, they act as a “book end” for the QRT field generators, limiting the directionality of the field generators vertically. This is why QRT placement in your entertainment system is extremely important. When placed in the center of the rack system (meaning- middle of the rack) the Qx2 or Qx4 field generators also influence the components around the system in the same way they do the AC waveform. The components’ power supplies are cleared of undesirable, EMF and RFI. You could consider this a QRT “ecosystem” so to speak, and when using multiple QRT products in your entertainment system, a multiplying effect is created.

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The Well Grounded System (or How I Learned to Improve My Sound and Love the Earth)

The Well Grounded System

or

How I Learned to Improve My Sound and Love the Earth.

Significant sound system upgrades often cost thousands, if not tens of thousands, of dollars.  The upgrade I am about to describe costs a fraction of that and delivers a performance improvement that you never thought you could get from your existing components.

It was one of those rare things that happens when you don’t see it coming but floors you when it occurs.  It all started when Nordost introduced a new cable product: The QLINE Ground Wire.  The QLINE is designed to work with the company’s QBASE power strip and take maximum advantage of the focused star grounding feature of this power and ground distribution system by creating a secondary ground for your hifi system. But what real difference could adding a secondary ground make? If you are familiar with Nordost’s foundation theory, you will see that this product perfectly reinforces the importance of a system’s foundational elements and how crucial it is to get this right. This got me wondering just how well my system was grounded.

The QLINE utilizes Micro Mono-Filament technology, and a 10 AWG, silver-plated 99.9999% OFC stranded conductor, with FEP insulation.  It comes fitted as standard with a spade lug for the inside connection to the QB8 and a type of termination that fits into a standard ground rod connector fitting.

IMG_4933After a quick inspection, I found it would be easy to use an existing intrusion into the house from an incoming cable line that was right behind my Nordost QB8 power strip.  My house is a ranch on a slab foundation, so it was pretty simple to install a ground rod just behind my wall outside.

I went to my local big box hardware store and spent a total of only $15.00 on a copper clad, 8’ ground rod and connector.  After some precarious moments pounding it in from atop a ladder, I was ready.  I was able to use a 2 meter QLINE ground wire to connect my QBASE to the ground rod.

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Let’s back up just a moment first, and explore some of the long-held axioms of a properly grounded system:

“Connect a clean ground to your system and you’ll hear an obvious drop in the noise floor with blacker backgrounds, less grain and more vibrant instrumental and tonal colors.”

“A simple and cost-effective addition to any Hi-Fi installation which leads to a significant reduction in sonic pollution.”

Or maybe:

“The purpose of a good ground is to provide a safe path for the dissipation of static charges, EMI and RFI signals and interference.”

Knowing that all of these things are true did not prepare me for what I heard.  After warming up the system for a few hours, my wife and I were ready to do an A B comparison; both with and without the ground wire connected (I often evaluate new equipment with my wife Stephanie).  After listening to some selections for a time without the ground wire connected I then attached it to the QB8.

Some of our comments from my notes after hooking up the ground wire:

Steph – “Well, that sounds different”

Me – “Better bass”

Steph – “More like live music, less like HiFi”

Steph – “You can hear her singing more easily, understand words better”

Me – “No doubt about it.  Larger soundstage, more depth to the image”

Me – Definitely better stereo separation and dynamics, especially with micro-dynamics in the bass”

Never in my life as an audiophile have I experienced such a profound improvement in system performance – in ways that I did not expect – for so few dollars!

If installing a separate ground rod isn’t practical in your situation, a copper cold water pipe (if it’s copper all the way to the meter) makes an excellent ground as well.  Just make sure you bypass the meter if you are connecting it to the house side.

The use of a dedicated, clean, low impedance connection to ground fits perfectly with the Nordost multi-outlet power distribution units, the QB8 and QB4.  The external ground post tied into the focused star ground topology with the QLINE creates a solid earth connection and minimizes noise and general sonic pollution. It’s an easy solution to achieve solid ground, and it sounds fantastic!

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