The Entry Level #4 Page 2

Indeed, the Soft Machine seemed to have become a tighter unit, as if they'd been on the road for a couple of weeks honing their skills. In the process, however, they'd lost some of their power and urgency, forfeited some of the danger and madness that is essential to any good rock band. Through the Wharfedales, there was more nuance, detail, and resolution to the sound, but less rock'n'roll: The Soft Machine had become jazzy.

This was an interesting and unexpected development, and it wasn't exactly wrong—after all, the Soft Machine's sound contained jazz elements, most notably in Wyatt's effervescent percussion. The Wharfedales were simply highlighting those elements—the poetry of Wyatt's rhythmic patterns, the long decays of horns and keys—at the expense of what was, through the PSBs, a more chaotic sort of improvised rock. The PSBs, with their more forward balance, occasional brightness in the mid-treble, grittier brass textures, and slight lack of overall clarity, painted a more aggressive picture of this music.

Those differences were also evident when I turned to Henry Cow's Unrest (LP, Red 002). The closing track, "Deluge," opens like a free-jazz exploration and features a simple but lovely two-note bass repetition and scintillating cymbal work; together, they create a frame for a twisting, turning tenor sax solo. Through the Wharfedales, the percussion and brass sounded so sweet and compelling that I couldn't help but think again that the Diamond 10.1 is a great jazz speaker. But when the violin and clarinet came waltzing in, sorrowfully and methodically, to flood my listening room with pure emotional intensity so rich and sumptuous I could cry, I realized that the Wharfedales weren't performing only as great jazz speakers, providing nuance and resolution, but also as great emotional conductors. The Diamond 10.1 had a way of letting go of the music that the PSB Alpha B1 couldn't match.

But before I could get too wrapped up in this sudden wave of overpowering emotion, the music took another turn. The strings floated away and left open a path for a lilting vocal: "Don't disturb me while I'm dreaming / Walk softly on my peace of mind." The sky softly brightened, I missed the last two lines of the verse, and the music came to an unexpected end. But this was fortunate because, after all, I had to maintain my composure; Natalie and Nicole were expecting me sometime soon.

The girls! I wish they were here with me to hear this. Would they hear what I'm hearing? Would they even care? Probably not . . . Hmm, wonder what's for dinner . . .

I cleared my throat, straightened myself out, and hooked up the PSBs. Through the Alpha B1s, Unrest took on an overall lighter hue—highs were more present, lows more reticent, and voices and instruments didn't flood my room with the same weight and impact—and in those moments where voices and instruments came together in harmony, the PSB lacked the Wharfedale's fine resolving ability and therefore couldn't quite untangle the intertwining lines with as much clarity and definition. Finally, through the PSBs, the band seemed to play "Deluge" at a quicker pace. Either the PSBs were sacrificing some harmonic richness for greater transient attack, or I was getting hungry. Now that I had a better grip on the Wharfedales' sound, I turned my attention to the Rega RP-1.

In what ways has the RP-1 ($445), Rega's latest turntable, surpassed its predecessor, the popular P1 ($395 when last available)? Like JA's review of the PSB Alpha B1, Art Dudley's review of the P1 appeared in the May 2007 Stereophile (obviously, a great issue; you can buy a copy here); he admired its forgiving nature with poorly recorded material, enjoyed its big, bold images, and praised its ability to convey the tension between musical notes. I subsequently persuaded my Uncle Omar, among others, to purchase a P1 from John Rutan's Audio Connection in Verona, New Jersey, and later scored a Rega P3-24 for myself (heh-heh-heh). Omar has since upgraded the cartridge on his P1 from the humble Ortofon OMB 5E to an Ortofon 2M Red ($99).

To compare the RP-1 and Omar's P1 I used the PSB Alpha B1 speakers, feeling that their more forward presentation would more readily expose any differences between the Regas. Beginning with Henry Cow's "Deluge," I again focused on that dramatic, rising tide of violin and clarinet that precedes the lilting verse—it really was quite somber and lovely. As far as I could tell, the two record players were tonally identical. I was surprised to find, however, that images through the P1 were even bigger and fleshier. And then, with the P1, I heard something I hadn't noticed at all through the RP-1: In the very earliest moments of the song, the sax melody very quietly emerges from the left channel before revealing itself plainly in the right, in a clever and subtle foreshadowing. Paradoxically, the song's generous shift from somber waves to bright skies was more abrupt through the P1, and therefore not as emotionally uplifting or stirring.

Perplexed, I switched to something new: Moondog's 2: Madrigals: Rounds and Canons (LP, Columbia KC 30897). While both players provided solid stereo imaging, good presence, and thrilling impact, the RP-1 did a far better job of illuminating the fast-moving, intertwining vocal harmonies: Whereas the RP-1 knew, without a doubt, that the most exciting thing about life is "L-O-V-E, love, it's love!," the P1 thought it might be "loaf." And though both players produced plenty of air around the shimmering cymbals of "Nero's Expedition," the P1 kept confusing "Nero" with "Neeno."

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zachisawesome's picture

Do you know where they sell wharfedale speakers online in the US? I'm really interested in a pair of the 10.1s after reading this because the nearest dealer to me is outside Philadelphia which is about 3 hours away. I couldn't find anything online in my searches.

I was also wondering if you had any plans to switch out the Cambridge Audio Azur 340A, for a different integrated like the Marantz pm5004? As a fairly poor recent college grad I really dig these "Entry Level" articles, because they cover products within my price range, some of which I own, like the RP1.

Stephen Mejias's picture
Hey Zach.
Thanks for reading. I'm glad you're enjoying the column.

Music Direct is selling the Wharfedales for $299/pair. In the July issue, I'll be discussing the NAD C316BEE and Jolida FX 10 integrated amplifiers.

zachisawesome's picture

Thanks, I don't know why music direct didn't come up in any of my searches.

I'm excited I'm really interested in the Jolida, are you going to be pairing it with the wharfedales?

Stephen Mejias's picture
No, I no longer have the Wharfedales on hand -- Bob Reina is using them and will provide a complete equipment report in an upcoming issue. I'll pair the Jolida with the Klipsch Synergy B-20 and PSB Alpha B1 loudspeakers.
zachisawesome's picture

I was really curious to see if the jolida could drive the wharfedales since they don't seem to be particularly efficient speakers. Did the Azur have enough power to get a decent volume level?

Stephen Mejias's picture
Did the Azur have enough power to get a decent volume level?

Yes, it did. The system played very loud with no sense of strain in my small (13 x 11 x 8) room.

maxmelvin19's picture

Hi Stephen,

In a comment I left under one of Michael Lavorgna's articles over on audiostream, he suggested both your Entry Level column and contacting you with respect to my question. I know your time is limited, so I don't want to waste it, but I have done my best to find the answer to this question from respected online sources but I'm not getting a very clear picture at all. Here goes:

In the budget hifi arena (say sub $400 for a speaker/amp system in your money) does one get better sound from an active/powered desktop speaker or the traditional bookshelf passive and separate amp? (That is, keeping the variables to a minimum.) I'm making my first foray into high fidelity and I my research gives me the following options:

1) Audioengine A5+

2) Tannoy Mercury V1/Q Acoustics 2010i & Marantz/NAD/Yamaha lowest end amp

Lots of erm...impassioned forum members have been pushing low end professional studio monitors but I'm after smooth, tone-centric, detailed and *forgiving of track/mix quality* speakers so I assume home audio audiophile products are the way to go?

Btw, I won't be listening nearfield but in a small attic (loft) flat (apartment) with the speakers on the edge of a counter top or on a bookshelf with some space behind it (because of the slanted roof) and my gf and I will sit 6-8 feet from the speakers. My sources are just a laptop and maybe the TV and I hope to get a DAC lile the HRT microstreamer in about 6 months time.

Any advice/direction would be very much apprecieted. I care about listening to music and money's very tight (I have a useless masters degree to thank for that!) so I want to make the right descision.

Thanks,

Max

SNorene's picture

I have a 7.1 system using the PSB Alpha 1's - T1 x2, B1 x2, C1 x1, LCR x1 and an i5 PSB Sub. Absolutely amazing quality and sound for the money. I listened to a lot of speakers, and was very tempted to buy Definitive Tech's, but was twice the money for not much of a difference. I do wish to audition the new Golden Ear surround setup...but would keep the PSB's just move them into the bedroom.

LOVE PSB's !!!!

ack's picture

Very excited to see a review of the Jolida FX 10 and looked at buying the NAD C316BEE before someone gifted me a Marantz receiver.

Any plans on reviewing any of the entry-level universal disc players?

This might make sense for someone in a smaller space who uses a 2 channel system for playing music and enhancing their experience watching movies.

I am seeing people in the forums doing this more and more out there in that real world space.

Stephen Mejias's picture
Any plans on reviewing any of the entry-level universal disc players?

I really haven't thought much about the smaller variety of discs at all, so I have no immediate plans to cover any universal disc players, but, in the future, I'm sure I'll get around to it.

ack's picture

Then I should point you to Needledoctor.com for their new Pro-Ject Essential for $299 which Pro-Ject to my knowledge never sold in the USofA before. Entry-level phonographic goodness.

TNtransplant's picture

If you're exploring the music of Robert Wyatt, presumably you've already come across his excellent first post-accident album "Rock Bottom" and even ventured further to discover his shortlived post-Softs group, Matching Mole (the first album was excellent ... I'm less inclined to recommend the second). If you want to check out some off-the-beaten track releases, a 2009 CD from France's Orchestre National de Jazz called "Around Robert Wyatt" is a fascinating collection, including the participation of Wyatt and a few other notables. Wyatt's also prominently featured on several Carla Bley and Michael Mantler albums and (Pink Floyd drummer) Nick Mason's Fictitious Sports album, which was really a Carla Bley set under the PF's drummer's name.

BlueSteelAudio's picture

If you're aching to replace those speaker cables, I have heard good things about Paul Speltz's "Anti-Cables." A six-foot spade-terminated stereo set costs just $60, so I assume they're fair game for review in The Entry Level. I am also very curious about the Anti-Interconnect (with Eichmann Bullet Plugs), but I don't know anyone who has them. Any chance you'll check them out?

http://www.anticables.com/

MrWatermelonMan's picture

Hi Stephan,

I enjoyed your review. I'm interested how you thought the RP1 stacks up against the P3? I'm currently thinking of purchasing the RP1, but I'm also considering buying a clearance P3-24 that I've seen for GB£75 more (without a cartridge) but not sure if I can justify the extra expense (especially to the Mrs). I'm also aware of a second hand P3-2000 (I think) being sold privately that I might go check out. Any thoughts?

Thanks

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