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Edward Barker
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Turntables: Kuzma XL with separate power supply and Kondo Mains lead,  Garrard 301, 2 x Garrard 401, Systemdek Transcription
Arms: Kondo-wired SME V, Kuzma Airline, Cartridge Man Conductor, Hadcock 242 SE, Ortofon 212, Mission 774, Kondo wired Rega 300, Scheu 12-inch
Cartridges: Kondo Io-M, Cartridge Man Music Maker 2 & 3, Koetsu Urushi, Madrigal MC1, Empire MC1000, Shure V15
Phono amplification: Kondo M77 
Digital: Teac  transport, Audion prototype valve DAC
Tuner: Rotel
Preamp: Kondo M77 with phono
Power amps: Kondo Gakuoh PP
Speakers: Living Voice OBX-RW,  Proac Super Tablettes 
Ancillaries: Kondo KSL LP and Kondo KSL VZ interconnects; Kondo SPC speaker cable and Kondo KSL ACz power cords; Clearlight Audio NFT cabling; Silver Arrow cabling and mains leads; Audiomagic Mini Stealth conditioner, Incognito wiring on Conductor and Hadcock 242, Living Voice Mystic Matt, Boston Audio Graphite Mat, Kyrna isolators, Cartridge Man Isolators and setup tools, Dr. Feickert protractor. 2 x separate 30 amp mains wiring spurs.
Room: 16.40' x 14.75' x 11.12'
Review component retail: £650

If we were to use a frequency spectrum analyser to examine a number of different interpretations of a piece of music—say Bach’s Cello Variations as performed by a competent student, a military band member and Yo Ma Ma—we’d probably find there was little the graphs would reveal about the differences in performances. There might be a few peaks and lows timed slightly differently, some shifts in overall volume. But by and large they would be very similar. Yet when we hear them played, one version might sound hesitant, flat and on the back foot; another forward, all leading edge and umpa-lumpa; and the third heart-rending. It’s the same as someone reading or reciting poetry. This is a skill very few possess these days. Many recite poetry with far too much emphasis on the underlying rhythm and not enough on the natural spoken conversational sense of a line. Even the slightest shift in register can change a line from sounding like a piece of bombastic drivel into a spine-shivering moment of epiphanic connection, of the kind that will cause us to change our lives.

Let’s take a look at the string quartet. What is the difference between a plodding performance and a transcendent one? It’s not in whether the right notes are hit or the basic sequences followed. No, the differences are far more subtle. It’s not just about emphasis, timing, setting up expectations and then manipulating them. Yes, the master artist does use a host of techniques to elicit emotion and a connection to an audience. But there is this thing underneath which we’ve talked about in the Van den Hul review. It’s not a secret code. It’s not an underground river. It is a bit like flying at night over a country and seeing the lights below. To one set of eyes they will be a random set of lights. To another they will be read as a coastal road followed by a canal path and so forth. They will have meaning. If then you see these lights as active veins pulsating and connecting different routes, that is a visual representation of what I’m talking about. It’s a hidden energetic set of pulsations and modulations that light different aspects of the temporal performance against the backdrop of each other and in so doing create the heart of the meaning and emotion of a great piece of music.

It’s this hidden aspect of a performance that is the key to our viscero-spiritual connection to a piece of music. It’s been rarely discussed in audio circles outside of the hand-waving ‘musicality’ label. We can’t hear it when we are listening out for anything and particularly when we are listening to ‘sound’. The only way it appears is over time when we’ve lost any expectations we might have had and just sit back and are able to connect to the music for the sake of the music itself. Think of it this way: a family photograph, a kid with a bucket on the sea shore. One person might completely and legitimately be concerned with the graininess of the photograph, the odd angle, the way the sun reflects off the waves. To another the way the child is absorbed in their bucket. But a third person will feel a gasp, a heart-stabbing pain of loss, recognition and awe all caught in one. Same photo.

On arms.
Cartridges and turntables are electro-mechanical devices. An arm is purely mechanical (if you exclude its internal wiring). In theory this makes it a far simpler proposition to engineer. In practice it’s anything but. Once the basic parameters (such as whether it will be linear or pivoted, what type of bearings will be specified, the dimensions, construction materials and so on) have been established, one key consideration from the designer’s point of view often focuses on energy dissipation. The cartridge is a small mechanical device where a sliver of hard material is shaken back and forth and up and down violently hundreds even thousands of times per second. Each time the stylus/cantilever assembly is yanked in one direction, Newton explains there will be an equal force created in the opposite direction. This equal force is really considerable. Most of it gets channeled into the arm wand, which ends up resonating at particular frequencies. If we looked at an arm wand under a microscope while it’s playing a record, it would look like a blur because it’s shaking so much. Which is not an ideal way to hold a cartridge cantilever steady while it’s being shaken violently in so many directions. One thing that will help is to reduce the amount of weight being shaken violently in the first place (hence the advantage of high-compliance low-mass moving coil assemblies like the Van den Hul). The less weight there is that’s shaking, the less concomitant energy will need to be damped in the arm.

So what happens to all that energy transmitted into the arm wand? Some of it gets dissipated into the material of the arm wand, some lost in the coupling between the metal and whatever it touches such as the counterweight, the cable and so on. Most of the energy though will travel up the arm wand (which is normally a tube just like a woodwind or brass instrument) at a resonant frequency and the harmonics of that frequency till it meets a point of resistance, which will normally be the bearing where it will bounce and reflect or refract back again. So again, under our microscope imagine what is happening to the arm wand and the bearing. The waves are both traveling through the material of the wand and over its surfaces. At the same time the entire arm wand is shaking, that is moving back and forth and side to side. When it meets the balls in the bearing it will bounce off them and cause them to bounce against their bearing race. This is known as bearing chatter. In theory and with many caveats, the tighter the fit and the tolerances in the bearing, the less it will chatter.