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Positive Feedback ISSUE 60
march/april 2012


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Dear David,
I'm sorry not to have been in touch earlier: unfortunately your message arrived just as I started work on producing a recording of Berlioz Nuits d'ete with the Scottish Chamber Orchestra and their amazing young Conductor, Robin Ticciati. As I'm sure you can imagine, the demands on my time on such a project extend well beyond the actual recording sessions and it has been impossible to find an appropriate time to call.

I've just read your article from Positive Feedback issue 60, so I suspect the immediate rush for my opinion is over, however perhaps I can still contribute an alternate view.

As is well known, the great majority of Linn's catalogue was recorded in high resolution PCM and that remains our current working method. We are very pleased to be able to offer these high resolution PCM files for sale to the public as our 'Studio Master' format and we have found a rapidly expanding market for these files, not only amongst the audio enthusiast community, but from a larger section of the musically interested public.

While we continue to support SACD as the best available physical sound carrier, we see the future of high resolution music being streamed hi-res PCM files and have invested heavily in making the processes of buying, cataloguing and playing these files as user-friendly as possible. So we don't sell DSD on the Linn Records website, and have no plans to do so.

The strong growth in our DS streamer and studio master download files seems to bear out this position and this seems to be accelerating as more and more manufacturers enter the market and as the range of 'Studio Master' quality downloads expands and develops.

While I'm sure that from your editorial perch you are entirely objective on all matters, it seems to me that there are certain sectors of the audiophile community which seem to hold the  presumption that DSD is inherently superior to high bit high sample PCM. Most of this seems to be fuelled by a few of the 'noisier' SACD labels trying to create a point of differentiation and the language of the discussion doesn't seem to have evolved very far from the DVDa vs. SACD debate which proved such a magnificent advertisement for our industry 10 years ago.  I've worked a lot in both forms of recording, in fact I was one of Sony's earliest SACD engineering partners, and even gave one of the opening addresses at the European Launch of SACD. I've probably had more opportunity than most people to do active comparison from self-generated source material and I have to say I don't agree: you can make genuinely great, warm, truly satisfying recordings on either medium.

With very best regards,

Philip Hobbs
Producer and Audio Consultant

Linn Records Ltd
Glasgow Road
Glasgow G76 0EQ 
+44 (0) 7785 334 384

Dear Philip…

Thanks for your very cogent response; I appreciate you taking the time to reply to my inquiry. I have myself enjoyed the work of Linn Records for many years now. Clearly you are committed to SACD as a physical transport, a decision that I concur with: in my opinion, it is the most flexible and powerful way of issuing audio on physical media with maximum resolution and playback options.

I do not claim “objectivity” from any editorial perch that I inhabit, nor do I believe that objectivity is possible or desirable in human experience. I think that the best we can do is to see and understand our preferences… a fundamental form of self-knowledge… and then be as dispassionate as possible when evaluating alternatives.

Having done a number of listening comparisons myself between high-resolution PCM (e.g., 192kHz/24 bit or 176.4khz/24 bit) and DSD (64fs, or 2.8224mHz bitstream), my long-standing preference is for DSD, with Double DSD (128fs at 5.8448mHz) truly slamming the door. I think that DXD at 352.8kHz is the only thing that gives DSD at 64fs a run for its money, but Double DSD pushes ahead again.

Your preference is in the other direction, and I respect that. But we definitely disagree agreeably here; even at 192/24, I find a certain edge or glare, a lack of ease or naturalness, that I find DSD to provide as an apparent birthright of that format.

Nevertheless, I am pleased to see that Linn Records is continuing to press ahead with higher resolution formats, the same way that HDTracks does. In fact, I was enjoying the SACD of the Retrospect Ensemble’s Bach Easter & Ascension Oratorios just this afternoon. If we must have PCM, I would rather have higher resolution files, recorded very well, as you do; they reduce the edge that PCM seems to have as an inherent quality in its system of encoding.

They don’t eliminate it, but they do ameliorate it. DSD resolves the issues to my ears; thus my friendly query.

All the best wishes to you and to your fine colleagues at Linn Records,

Dr. David W. Robinson
Editor-in-Chief, Positive Feedback Online

Was there a conscious attempt to create your "Big Ten" editorial rules with Moses' tablets as a guideline? I was struck by the similarities: the five commandments reminding Israel who was in charge as compared to PF's multiple restatements of your authority. Some philosophers argue that jealousy (see Old Testament, commandment one) renders one ineligible to demand respect. In your defense, however, I do sympathize with your sense of vulnerability.

Several widely-respected ethicists--including Peter Singer--would argue that the expenditure of multiple thousands of dollars to more closely approach personal musical ecstasy fails to measure up as a moral use of one's resources in the bloody face of world poverty. (I plead guilty to spending at least twice as much on audio each year as on charity.) The official poverty level cut-off for a family of four in the U.S. is about $23k/year. Isn't it reasonable to be concerned when so many retail standards of audio excellence approach or exceed this amount? And is it not also true--if embarrassing--that for many of us our greatest recorded musical joys once required only a transistor radio and a lid?

I am probably no more virtuous than your other readers. As a comfortably well-off retired physical sciences teacher with an understanding and generous wife, a good home, healthy family, happy dogs, and good friends, I have nothing to complain about. Why do I feel guilty when I think of spending 5k for a phono preamp, Doctor?

Howard Cowan

Woodland Hills, California

P.S. Who is the seemingly disturbed individual who owns Dakiom?

Hello Howard…

Thanks for the comments; you had me chuckling here. Sorry to be tardy in responding… this email got lost in the shuffle of the past month.

As a matter of fact, the parallel to Moses was in the front, and not in the back of my mind when I wrote these, all the way back in 1997. Whether or not their explicit nature erodes anyone’s respect is neither here nor there as far as I’m concerned… I wanted the imperatives understood. Mission accomplished, I think.

Everyone has to answer the question about money, choices, and the poor as they feel led. I seem to remember that Judas (ironic, no?) once objected to expensive perfume for the feet of Christ on the grounds you are sketching. Not all luxuries are wrong; not all charities are righteous. As Dr. Hans Rookmaaker once observed, sometimes is it a sin not to invest in beauty.

I concur.

I can’t answer your question about guilty feelings, Howard; I assume that you must be doing things in your life that manifest virtue… you will have to decide where the ethical fulcrum is for you.

I do observe that there is a fundamental difference between guilty feelings and true moral or ethical guilt.

One is neither truly condemned nor truly acquitted on the basis of feelings (or their lack) alone….

Thanks for the opportunity to reflect with you.


Dr. David W. Robinson

Hi Mr. Kobesky,
I just finished reading your review on the Audio Technica AT150MLX cartridge, which I found very interesting!

I would have a question for you that plagues me quite some years now! Moving magnet cartridges need a specific load capacitance for optimal tonal balance. This is not new and back in the 70/80ies phono stages allowed to adjust this load capacitance. Attached you find a photo Shure had in their user manuals of their V15-III showing the large impact of this capacitance; as you see above 3-4 kHz the changes are drastic (1dB equals about a 10% difference in level).

Also from my experience, this effect is by far not small or one that is easily neglected; on multiple occasions with different cartridges I could assure myself that one clearly hears even when changing the load cap by 25pF differences in tonal balance when listening seriously! One hears 50pF changes easily without effort - and that with my 'standard' ears. If I listen to my Shure V15VxMR with only 200pF it sounds too bright, lacking bass, a bit hollow, in short I wouldn't recommend this cartridge. Add the missing 50pF and the great sound makes clear why it is such a popular cartridge.

Coming to your review: the phono stage you used does not allow to adjust this load capacitance, so there is certainly an impact due to the non-optimal value of the loading. (For completeness, a Shure V15VxMR cartridge has a recommended load capacitance of 250pF, the Audio Technica AT150MLX between 100-200pF.)

How is it possible that this important detail appears to be completely unknown? No reviewer seems to address this point, much less tries to find the optimum loading. How can that be when it affects the sound so much?

Honestly, I'm not trying to sell you criticism as a question, but I'm honestly completely clueless why moving magnet cartridges are tested under such disadvantageous conditions.

Maybe you could spend a few minutes to help me understand!

Thanks a lot for your time,

All the best, Hannes Allmaier

Dear Hannes,

You are, of course, correct regarding capacitance. As for your other points, I can only offer my particular rationale regarding my approach to reviewing.

First, I think there are better sources than me on the subject of loading and it would be impractical to include a detailed analysis of every parameter of cartridge setup in every review. As a result, I tend to include only the ones that stand out. For instance, if a cartridge is overly sensitive in one particular area, then I will mention it, be it VTA, VTF, loading, etc. If memory serves, I did not find the 150MLx to be exceptionally sensitive to different load capacitances though I don't have in my notes what value I ended up settling on for which arm/cable combination. (I believe I set the 150MLx up on multiple table/arm combos.) 

As you noted, many phono stages these days—particularly those built into budget preamps and integrated amplifiers—are not adjustable beyond perhaps one standard setting for MM and one for MC. The 150MLx is a relatively inexpensive cartridge and I think a lot of people will use it under less than optimal conditions. Wherever possible, I try to approximate real world conditions of how a product will likely be used. So, in a case like this, I might try it with a non-adjustable phono stage and then with something like the Avid Pulsus, which I used for the majority of my listening. (I've been tardy regarding submitting system updates; I no longer own that Rotel.) I think I used a Pro-Ject Tube Box SE as the 'budget' phono pre with the 150MLx. In any event, since everyone's system is different and without knowing cable capacitance for a hypothetical user, it's impossible to offer a useful universal suggestion. 

The result of all of my listening was that, with a phono stage that costs many times what the 150MLx does and then again under less than ideal conditions, the core strengths of the 150MLx remained consistent. Since I heard no dramatic deviations I thought it not worth mentioning. Another writer with a different set of ears might have felt differently. 

Your letter has left me thinking it might be worth devoting an entire article at some point to the finer points of MM cartridge setup. You are absolutely right that it has become overlooked these days in our efforts as a community not to discourage budding audiophiles by hitting them with too much technical jargon. (Heck, I remember even Harman/Kardon's budget tables in the 1980s included cap adjustments right on the front panel!)

I think I can speak for everyone at Positive Feedback in saying that we appreciate having thoughtful readers like you who offer useful feedback in increasing the quality of our discourse. Thanks for taking the time to write to us, and of course, thanks for reading!


Ed Kobesky

Glad to see you've discovered Dan Wright's marvelous mods. I've had the Ultimate Truth 5400es for about a year, and owned his modified versions of earlier Sony players before trading up. Wanted to share a few aspects of my setup/experience with the MW 5400: I use the 1950's metal base Phllips Miniwatt 5AR4 in the PS 9.0 power supply. It is expensive, but to my ears a substantial improvement over every other 5AR4, including every Mullard variant I tried. I have tested a number of different AC cables including KS Emotion (not Elation) and found the Audio Magic Clairvoyant Liquid Air power cord to be superior to everything else I've tried on the Sony box. The Liquid air cord is not my 1st choice on any other component, but on the 5400 transport it results in the most analogue sounding digital front end I've ever heard. I've discussed the Liquid Air cables with Dan Wright at Modwright, and he agreed that they are the most analogue sounding cables he's come across. Note that I have a Vitus Andromeda AC cord on the separate power supply. My MW 5400 sits on an ERA board courtesy of a trio of Yamamoto ebony cones/Audio Points brass cone cups. The ERA board in turn sits atop a Townshend Seismic Sink within my custom rack. I have a large Quantum Physics Noise Disrupter on top of the 5400 transport box (left side where the power enters), and a Shakti stone on top of the PS 9.0 power supply. The Ultimate Truth umbilical passes through a Z-Sleeve.

Your review is spot on. I hosted a listening session for several audiophile friends a month or so after I was finally satisfied with my setup and tweaking of the MW 5400. As these friends were walking down the hallway to the listening room I heard ...."I didn't know he'd added a turntable".......

Hi, Cellarino

Thank you for the useful information. It's clear you've put in the time to take the SONY to another level!

The SONY is the first piece I've had in a long while that reflects BIG bennies for small $$$ in tweaks. I will look into some of those you mentioned.


Marshall Nack

The Higher End

About the "expectation of privacy" and those emails to Positive Feedback Online

Ye Olde Editor

We do like hearing from you, our readers. It adds a great deal fun to what we do, encourages our editors and writers, provides information we may have missed, and correction that we may need. This is all to the good.

Your communication with us these days is almost always via the highly rational path of email. And we do read it, responding to the constructive correspondence—which is most of it, really—as quickly as possible. (The destructive stuff is routed directly to the bit bucket. Didn't yo' mama teach you better than that?!) Dave Clark and I are generally pretty rapid in getting back to you if a response is needed from us, or in re-directing inquiries to the appropriate person at PFO if it needs to go to an editor or writer.

By the way: please understand that the writers and editors at PFO are helpful folks, eager to assist their fellow audio/music lovers, or they wouldn't be doing what they're doing. Nevertheless, PFO is not an audio consulting service. Please do not clog the gears with complex requests for assistance with the sourcing of audio gear in your personal setting. Remember too that PFO is not, and has never been, an audio ombudsman. If you are having problems with a particular vendor, company, or dealer, please avail yourself of the normal channels for such resolution; no audio publication has the time or resources to take on such a responsibility for consumers. Enough said.

With an increasing flow of emails to Positive Feedback Online, and upon evidence of some recent confusion on the part of our email correspondents, it's become necessary to re-state the ground rules by which we operate here. So gather round the campfire, friends…

Any time an email, or an exchange of emails, is both constructive and of potential wider interest, we exercise the reserved right to publish it in "Reverberations," the letters section of PFO. This is, after all, a publication, a "journal for the audio arts." We are seeking to further educate and entertain our readership in our common love for fine audio, and contributions in the form of emails/letters from our readers are one way that we accomplish this goal. When you write to any of us… our essayists and reviewers included… we assume that you are aware of our nature as a publication, and that you write to us in the light of that knowledge.

This means that—unless you request confidentiality explicitly in your email or letter—there is no expectation of privacy here at Positive Feedback Online.

To put it another way: Any email or letter sent to this journal will be considered fair game for publication, unless you state in the document itself that the contents are private/confidential.

So… our default is PUBLISH.

The reverse is also true: the editors do reserve the right not to publish an email or letter. We are not obligated to publish your letter or comments simply because they are submitted. And hostile, negative, sarcastic, destructive emails or letters are never published.

So…sometimes we DON'T PUBLISH.

Finally, our subtitle for "Reverberations"—"Our readers respond—we respond right back!" is not a guarantee that we will always respond to an email or letter that is published. Often we do; sometimes we don't… usually when we don't, it's a case of res ipsa loquitur.

So finally… sometimes we PUBLISH WITHOUT RESPONSE.

I think that makes things clear. Having said all of this in the name of clarity, keep those cards and letters coming in!

All the best,

David W. Robinson