The Current System

Last updated Feb 2006.

I feel this is probably superfluous information. On the other hand some people have asked what stuff I currently use, because in older articles I refer to other pieces of kit I had. So to keep up to date (and to give people a flavour of my tastes so perhaps putting my tweaks into better perspective), here is what I use:

Linn LP12 turntable, with a Trampolin base and a home-made Armageddon-style turntable supply (although I also have a Avondale Audio Taps psu).

Linn Ekos II tonearm.

Linn Akiva cartridge.

A phono stage based on the Naim circuit, but with onboard regulators and quality components etc. This phono stage has moved about a bit depending on what tweaks I have been playing with. It is now inside my LP12 with a short armlead (a la Naim Prefix).

The phono stage then runs into 24 position switched attenuator acting as a volume pot. I used to use a homemade 28 position switch with 1.5 dB steps (after finding it was streets ahead of any carbon track affair I have used). However the one I have now is from Audio-Links, and uses a high quality Elna switch as a base, and the 0.1% precision Welwyne resistors (which I really rate by the way) and variable step sizes (small when loud, and bigger when quiet) which really works well. It is an 'L pad' design such that each setting retains its own discrete potential divider. My one is 10 k impedance.

This can then run into a line stage, which is basically the 72 line stage circuit but with on board regs etc. The system also works well (better in many ways) just using it passively i.e. without the line stage, although it took a fair bit of messing to get it that way.

The phono stage (and line stage) run from a large raw dc power supply (1000VA core Audio Grade custom made toroidal coil from Antrim Transformers, Schottky diode bridge rectifier, and a bunch of the largest N-type Black Gate caps for smoothing.

When it comes to amps and speakers, I used to run a Naim-style active system, constructed from 4 homemade `Naim 135' type power amps, being fed from a heavily tweaked Naxo box, and driving active SBLs, or Kans (or indeed homemade 'Super Kans').

I then developed a liking for B+W Nautilus 802 loudspeakers, so much so that I moved from the active set-up to the passive 802s (still driven from the 4xhomemade135s).

Over the last few years I have also experimented with other amps, and now tend to use a pair of large homemade digital amplifiers based on the Tripath digital amp modules. These bi-amp the 802s. Digital might seem an odd choice, but these beasts are remarkedly good, and with some care can produce great sounds. They also drive the 802s very well and have bags of power. Interestingly I notice Naim have recently started using Tripath digital chips in an AV application (well if it's good enough for them...).

My current speaker cable is bi-wired Audioquest Gibralta. Interconnect cables running from the turntable and from preamp to the power amps are from Audio-Links; their very nice Reflex cable.

To finish, I now also have a CD player - a Meridian G08 player. Not as good as the vinyl, but not too bad.

Future changes? Interestly, a friend has a Music First passive-magnetic preamp, and it works gloriously just being fed straight from the phono stage. In fact, I really can't fault it, and I suspect I will get one sooner or later.

It is perhaps of some interest to say word about the past loudspeakers I have had. I've very much been a Linn-Naim type of chap, and on reflection, probably my most successful speaker (until getting the B+W 802s) in terms of enjoyability and musicalness was when using active Linn Kans. The active SBLs which replaced them were a good deal `better' and bigger and more suitable for big room etc etc, but with hindsight I would say I probably found them less fulfilling in many ways. In fact in the end I built myself a Kan-like speaker from 36mm MDF using Kan-like drivers, and it cured many of the Linn Kan problems (eg, you realise it has a significant cabinet colouration which a thicker cabinet cures to a large extent; opening out the speaker in the process). But I still have a lot of respect for Linn Kans. About SBLs I would say that, they really need a solid wall behind them and prefer a suspended wooden floor. I had a concrete floor and it robbed them of some warmth, making them sound a little more analytical and hard (and shouty) than they should ideally be. Get them just right however and they are very exciting, albeit sometimes a little too in-your-face for their own good. The more recent Naim SBL-replacements are also good, but I'm sticking with the 802s.