plasticpenguin

My top 5 equipment.

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Posted (edited)

This is a light hearted look at various pieces of hi-fi I've either demoed at home or in a dealers demo room. Think I'll start with speakers and in the interest of fairness I've omitted equipment I've owned in the past or current set-up. Obviously, all home demos have been since 2010, so I had the Leema Pulse and Arcam A65 Plus. 

Instead of giving star ratings I'm going to give them marks out of 5 for sound with a Oooo rating, room compatibility with 'That's Cool', and amp pairing as 'Yee-haw' and to live with, it'll be 'To Live with'.

Usher S520: Demoed at Infidelity Hi-fi in 2009. The amp and CDP were Arcam FMJ A18 and CD17. Speaker cables were Naim of some description

About a year before WHFI gave these speakers 3 stars, even their description didn't ring true. Anyway, I was looking for an alternative to the RS6s so I wandered aimlessly into the dealership. Because they knew my gear (purchased the CD73 from them a few years before) and had the Arcam A65+. This was the closest they had.

Contrary to the slightly iffy reviews they sounded really pukka, incredibly well balanced, and nicely detailed with a bass definition that belied their price tag. I was literally scratching my head looking for some serious sonic faults, but for a sub-£500 standmounter they were sophisticated sounding.

However, after the impressive sound it all went Pete Tong: Whoever came up with these ludicrous colours needed a check-up from the neck up: Bright yellow, nasty red and more conservative gloss black. Which ones did he have on dem? you guessed it, migraine yellow. "Do you like the Ferrari Yellow?", Derek the salesman asked. I just shook my head and asked if he had a pair of sunglasses. So what's the scores....

Oooo: 4.5/5

That's Cool: N/A as it wasn't at home

Yee-haw: 5/5

Live with: 2.5/5 (due to the hideous colours)

Totem Arros: At home circa 2010, with the Arcam CD73T and Leema Pulse

Not sure where to start on these little Canadian Mounties. Firstly, the sound quality was totally bonkers. We were convinced they shouldn't come in a cardboard box but a good quality straight jacket. "How? why?..." Mrs. P was referring to the bass depth from such tiny boxes. Not quite the perfect all-rounder, but in terms of knitting the music together and stereo imaging they are staggering. Without any question they do have a distinct sound, and although the tonal balance never strays beyond the uncomfortable, they aren't shy when it comes to telling who's the boss. However, if your room has decent acoustics they should fit in well with any amp other than one with a bright over zealous presentation.

In terms of positioning, despite having rear ports, they are as easy to place as they are to lift up. I've always commented you could hang them from a lampshade and they would still sound impressive. If you're the sort of person who preaches from the temple of bass (and you like knacker-shaking bass) they probably aren't going to work for you. Likewise, stick them in a large room and their diminutive proportions will count against them.

Their idiosyncratic presentation won't suit everyone though. 

Regarding amplification: The Arros can be tricky little suckers to drive so make sure your amp has enough oomph to make the most of their unique talents. Smiles per miles these are hard to beat.

Oooo: 4/5 

That's cool: 4/5

Yee-haw: 4/5

Live with: 4/5

PMC DB1i: at Infidelity Hi-fi 2009 (same demo as the Ushers), using the same amp and CDP. And a subsequent home dem with Arcam A65+, using Kudos stands

With a retail price of £800 they sounded more composed and detailed. When asked by the dealer if I would like a home dem, I bit his hand off. This was a Friday and had them until Tuesday, as they didn't open on Mondays. Once rigged to the 40 watt Arcam, I thought they might be too hard to drive: Oh-no no... they sounded awesome. Of course, if you are looking for Disco levels the little 40 watter won't cut it with these tiny blots from bedfordshire. But for everyday listening they were a sound revelation, every aspect the presentation out bullied the much larger RS6s... however, due to their minuscule proportions, outright bass is never going to extend to the larger Monitor Audios.

To hear these at their best they need to be at least 18" from the back wall, in fact I actually found them a little more demanding than the RS6s in this respect. Don't ask why... 

Having heard these with various different amps (Arcam, Naim, Leema) they really are the swiss army knife of loudspeakers. Nothing, it seems, will faze them. Ideal for small to medium rooms, as long as you can give them some breathing space.

It was based on the strength of the DB1is that I purchased the TB2is blind.

Oooo: 5/5

That's cool: 4.5/5

Yee-haw: 5/5

Live with: 4/5 (based on getting the room right)

KEF LS50: Loaned from SSAV in Guildford, circa 2012. Leema Pulse and Arcam CD73T were the driving force. Used my PMC dedicated stands.

First thought after placing them on the stands was 'oh my gawd', couldn't conceive they would live up to the reviews -- they looked lost on my stands. It was like Blue tak(ing) a mouse to a coffee table.

How wrong was I? In short, very. To be truthful, though, the first few tracks I struggled to come to terms with their abilities. Thankfully, as in many cases with hi-fi the 'slow burners' tend to be the best... as my ears adjusted to the presentation I was understanding why so many people rave over them. Contrary to what I've read from personal testaments they weren't hard to drive, nor were they bright. Similar to the Totems they let you know who was boss and what was going on with each track... the detail in the upper midrange was particularly revealing. Overall they thoroughly entertaining, and bang for your buck was astonishing given their size.

Great for small to medium rooms and I would suggest a very good amp would be needed to make the most of their talents. As with any speaker, Totems aside, they need a good 18" from the wall to prevent any boom. The major downside to the LS50 is the aestheics. They could divide opinion. And, oh, those driver colours: You can have 'Winton' orange or 'Smirf' blue. Mmmm.... as a Chelsea fan it has to be the Smirfs.:)

Fabulous overall.

Oooo: 5/5

That's cool: 4/5

Yee-haw: 5/5

Live with: 4/5

Focal Chorus 714. Home demo from Infidelity in circa 2008, using the A65+ and CD73T

First thing that struck me about these Focals was the treble levels, even compared with the RS6s. It wasn't quite as lively but it was nevertheless very audible. The midrange and bass sounded well controlled, but I could imagine with the wrong amplifier they could rear up and run off into the sunset. However, on planet earth, with the right amp they were impressive to say the least.

For quite some time I grappled with my own conscience on whether to swap the RS6s for these 714s, but eventually decided it would be like changing free range eggs with goose eggs -- it was just another egg. And one could get egg on their faces if chosen for the wrong reason.

Recommended for medium sized room and would need a about 24" from the back wall. Overall an enjoyable experience.

Oooo: 3.5/5

That's cool: 4/5

Yee-haw: 3.5/5

Live with: 4/5

This is really just to highlight a few of the most memorable speakers over the years, and I'll add the most memorable amps over the next few days.

Edited by plasticpenguin

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If you read other magazines, the writers in them gave the Usher S520s glowing reviews - in fact they were just about the only hi-fi component Noel Keywood, David Price and I ever agreed on at Hi-Fi World!

I picked up a pair very recently that were badly described and very cheap. They’re still brilliant, IMHO.

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@plasticpenguin

I bought RS6’s 2.5 years ago and sold my DB1’s as part of house move. Wish I hadn’t sold my old kit, long story... Luckily I didn’t hear them side by side. But for me to keep speakers for over a year is impressive, let alone over 2.

However, since we’ve moved I’ve tried quite a few speakers side by side against the RS6’s, most recently IPL S3TLM’s and preferred the MA’s and kept them. 

Will be swapping them out soon for PMC’s again, but floorstanders this time, and am currently on the scout for a decent and fair priced pair.

I rate the RS6’s very highly, for what is now a very cheap speaker (250-350 value). Out of curiosity, so how would you score them on your scale?

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I think when looking for a top 5 in my books it has to be how many were sold and how many do you ever see up for sale second hand.

From the 70s the Mission 103, 103D and 105 with the 101 preamp has to be in the top 5 amps as I know thousands were sold (we sold hundreds from just one little shop), yet they appear very infrequently second hand (more often are tatty 101 preamps where owners have improved the preamp).    So for me great amps are those that sold well and whose owners are loath to part with them.  There are others of course but that is how I would decide.

In the turntable lineup  - there are a few notables that rarely appear second hand but the Oracle and the big Micro Seiki and Marantz are up there - rarer than SP10s on the basis of ads seen.

Loudspeakers .. there are quite a few, KEF 105s, 107s, 101s, Radford, Yamaha NS1000s, Old Tannoy 15", IMF and other great loudspeakers that sold well and again are fairly rare second hand and selling for lots more than they cost new.

What will be interesting to see is how much of the stuff from today will be for sale tomorrow and that greatness for me is second hand rarity on items that are known to have sold well and were known to perform well of course.

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8 minutes ago, Amormusic said:

But for me to keep speakers for over a year is impressive, let alone over 2.

Oh dear I must be doing something wrong then - in nearly 50 years of hifi i have bought 5 pairs of main loudspeakers and two pairs of small loudspeakers for kids systems and I recently bought a pair of Time Windows as the price was just so rediculously low and they are in the garage for when my lad gets a house (or daughter whoever is first).  My last loudspeaker purchase for me was the Art Impressions in 2002 ... I go to shows and bake offs and visit friends and dealers and have yet to hear summat that would want to make me change them.

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1 minute ago, uzzy said:

Oh dear I must be doing something wrong then - in nearly 50 years of hifi i have bought 5 pairs of main loudspeakers and two pairs of small loudspeakers for kids systems and I recently bought a pair of Time Windows as the price was just so rediculously low and they are in the garage for when my lad gets a house (or daughter whoever is first).  My last loudspeaker purchase for me was the Art Impressions in 2002 ... I go to shows and bake offs and visit friends and dealers and have yet to hear summat that would want to make me change them.

No I just want to try everything, so very regularly buy/try/sell different kit. I buy sensibly 2nd hand, then never lose money when I get rid of it (in fact cumulatively I’ve probably made a fair bit).

What I like I keep, until I get bored, I often have more than one of something. I’ve also gone through quite a few amps in past few years, but have had the Arcam now for a while too as “the keeper”. 

Next plan is to go up the food chain in the Arcam range, or do an about shift and pick up an Abrahamsen. 

Essentially, I’m just indecisive and want to own and try everything... as long as the music’s pumping and I’ve got a smile on my face I’m happy 😀😀

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1 hour ago, Amormusic said:

@plasticpenguin

I bought RS6’s 2.5 years ago and sold my DB1’s as part of house move. Wish I hadn’t sold my old kit, long story... Luckily I didn’t hear them side by side. But for me to keep speakers for over a year is impressive, let alone over 2.

However, since we’ve moved I’ve tried quite a few speakers side by side against the RS6’s, most recently IPL S3TLM’s and preferred the MA’s and kept them. 

Will be swapping them out soon for PMC’s again, but floorstanders this time, and am currently on the scout for a decent and fair priced pair.

I rate the RS6’s very highly, for what is now a very cheap speaker (250-350 value). Out of curiosity, so how would you score them on your scale?

Oooo rating 5/5

That's cool 4/5

Yee-haw 4/5

Live with 4/5

That's just based on my own experience. 

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57 minutes ago, uzzy said:

I think when looking for a top 5 in my books it has to be how many were sold and how many do you ever see up for sale second hand.

From the 70s the Mission 103, 103D and 105 with the 101 preamp has to be in the top 5 amps as I know thousands were sold (we sold hundreds from just one little shop), yet they appear very infrequently second hand (more often are tatty 101 preamps where owners have improved the preamp).    So for me great amps are those that sold well and whose owners are loath to part with them.  There are others of course but that is how I would decide.

In the turntable lineup  - there are a few notables that rarely appear second hand but the Oracle and the big Micro Seiki and Marantz are up there - rarer than SP10s on the basis of ads seen.

Loudspeakers .. there are quite a few, KEF 105s, 107s, 101s, Radford, Yamaha NS1000s, Old Tannoy 15", IMF and other great loudspeakers that sold well and again are fairly rare second hand and selling for lots more than they cost new.

What will be interesting to see is how much of the stuff from today will be for sale tomorrow and that greatness for me is second hand rarity on items that are known to have sold well and were known to perform well of course.

What's that got to do with how you find them or how adaptable they are?

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It is strange but I found the DB1i to be the trickiest to find the sweet spot when it came to placement. Whether it was the A65 or not I don't really know. Not had those issues with the TB2is.

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15 minutes ago, plasticpenguin said:

I found the DB1i to be the trickiest to find the sweet spot

But when you do, gosh they are are excellent, first time I listened to London Grammar after I got mine, my jaw hit the floor.

Not had those issues with the TB2is.

Strange as both rear ATL ported, which is what I would have initially thought. I’ve not heard a set of these. 

Don’t know how to multi box quote so added in italics 

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22 minutes ago, Amormusic said:

Don’t know how to multi box quote so added in italics 

44 minutes ago, plasticpenguin said:

It is strange but I found the DB1i to be the trickiest to find the sweet spot when it came to placement. Whether it was the A65 or not I don't really know. Not had those issues with the TB2is.

Just click on the individual replies.

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24 minutes ago, Amormusic said:

Don’t know how to multi box quote so added in italics 

I would expect the same from the TB2is as well, but remember the DB1 were heard with the A65 and the TB2s Leema. That shouldn't make a difference but...

Most speakers, unless infinite baffle, need a little breathing space.

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1 hour ago, plasticpenguin said:

What's that got to do with how you find them or how adaptable they are?

Bugger all but is IMO a measurement of top equipment (as per the heading of the thread) and  of course some of these will be found in dealers' and dem rooms (though rare perhaps) ..

The heading had nowt about adaptability but I am sure the wife could use the speakers to prop the ironing on which is another use (aka adaptable) and as it was in your words "light hearted" there has to be lots of wriggle room.  :D 

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Posted (edited)
2 hours ago, plasticpenguin said:

It is strange but I found the DB1i to be the trickiest to find the sweet spot when it came to placement. Whether it was the A65 or not I don't really know.

3 inches (8cm) from the wall, on tall rigid stands (or PMC’s own dedicated wall brackets), with no furniture between them, and about a foot or more from corners. Five to six feet separation and the same distance from the listener. A little toe-in (or not) to your taste.

Either way,  almost as close to a wall as the plugs and - typically - inflexible speaker cables will allow.

Edited by chebby

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Posted (edited)
9 hours ago, Amormusic said:

@plasticpenguin

I bought RS6’s 2.5 years ago and sold my DB1’s as part of house move. Wish I hadn’t sold my old kit, long story... Luckily I didn’t hear them side by side. But for me to keep speakers for over a year is impressive, let alone over 2.

However, since we’ve moved I’ve tried quite a few speakers side by side against the RS6’s, most recently IPL S3TLM’s and preferred the MA’s and kept them. 

Will be swapping them out soon for PMC’s again, but floorstanders this time, and am currently on the scout for a decent and fair priced pair.

I rate the RS6’s very highly, for what is now a very cheap speaker (250-350 value)

This chancer is taking the rise.

Not only are they heavily marked but two of the posts are snapped.

In that case mine are worth £700, unmarked (there's a couple of light scratches) and the posts and drivers are immaculate. Some people, eh?

Edited by plasticpenguin

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