Listening #90 Page 2

A head-to-head comparison between the Shindo/Lundahl and Bob Sattin's CineMag proved less than straightforward: The latter, in its preferred setting, had audibly more gain than the former. That said, even after careful matching of listening levels, the CineMag was noticeably more colorful and punchy, with better timbral distinctions between instruments: The back-line woodwinds that play such an important role in the Sir Adrian Boult/LSO recording of Vaughan Williams's Job (LP, EMI ASD2673) weren't only spatially more distant than the other instruments in that group; they were physically, timbrally, and texturally more realistic. The CineMag phono step-up didn't quite equal the Hommage T1, but its performance gain was qualitatively similar.

That makes this last bit of news worth waiting for: The CineMag phono step-up from Bob's Devices sells for $395 plus shipping—which is roughly one-tenth the price of the Hommage T1.

What does the Hommage get right that Bob's CineMag missed? A little more timbral color and meat in the sound of acoustic guitars. More clear shimmer in the sounds of cymbals and the like—including such things as the glockenspiel in Beck's "Golden Age," from Sea Change (LP, Geffen B0004372-01). Extra bigness in everything, as appropriate. Still, the transformer from Bob's Devices represented a clear step in the direction of all those sought-after qualities. And that's nothing less than wonderful.

Although prices vary somewhat, depending on transformer choice and various functional and cosmetic options, nothing in Bob Sattin's current product line goes for more than $900. Costlier choices from other sources can still offer qualities that aren't found here: LP enthusiasts who can afford to do so will surely benefit from choosing those and other playback components as one might select a very good brandy—but it's wonderful to have choices that can be had for significantly less, and still bear comparison.

Ordering details, plus a wealth of good technical information, can be found at Bobsdevices.com. Especially for the LP enthusiast who has yet to experience the superiority of a moving-coil pickup combined with a transformer step-up device, I can think of no better place to begin.

Angels & Angles
I bought my first subscription to Stereophile in 1983, and during the 27 years that followed—only slightly less than Franz Schubert's lifetime!—I clipped out and saved a few favorite articles. Incompletely, and in no particular order, they include J. Gordon Holt's treatise on room dimensions, "In Search of the Hi-Fi House" (April 1990, Vol.13 No.4); John Atkinson's reviews of the Spendor S100 and Acoustic Energy AE1 loudspeakers (December 1991, Vol.14 No.12, and September 1988, Vol.11 No.9, respectively); and literally all of the music essays written by Barbara Jahn and Richard Lehnert published as part of this magazine's "Building a Library" series.

A recent article stands with the best: Keith Howard's "Arc Angles" (March 2010, Vol.33 No.3), which introduces and explains the science and the math at the heart of phono-pickup alignment. Long one of my favorite audio writers on either side of the pond—he led the formidable reviewing team of Jimmy Hughes, Alvin Gold, and John Bamford during the best years of the UK's Hi-Fi Answers magazine—Keith's editorial talent runs parallel to that of our John Atkinson: He writes with equal clarity and authority about the art of music and the technology of its reproduction.

"Arc Angles" leans toward the latter, of course. Notwithstanding the clear prose (and the very good graphics), the piece is dense with information that may require multiple readings by the tiny handful of Americans who don't use trigonometry in our daily lives. But the effort is very worthwhile, especially for the LP enthusiast who uses a tonearm of greater-than-average effective length, believing that it offers lower-than-average distortion by allowing the playback stylus a straighter arc as it travels across the record. To recap: In "Arc Angles," Keith observed that the performance advantage of a 12" tonearm is quite real, but that its potential is squandered—or its performance worse—if the thing isn't accurately aligned.

Equally important, Howard redefined, with authority, the zero-error alignment "nulls" that constitute accurate alignment. Regardless of tonearm length (but depending on the precise radial boundaries of an LP's modulated area, a topic I'll come to a few hundred words from now), those radii should extend to 61.6mm and 118.4mm from the record's center. Incontrovertibly.

Because I've raved in these pages about recent 12" arms from EMT and Schick, and purchased one of the former for my own use (the latter is still here on loan), Keith Howard's research along these lines (haw) is of greater than average importance to me. But there's a problem: As with most such products, those two arms are usually paired not with individual headshells and the sorts of A-mount phono cartridges that most hobbyists think of as traditional, but with integrated pickup heads, such as the Ortofon SPU series. Thus, the EMT and Schick arms resist efforts to adjust the key variable of headshell offset angle.

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