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Reflex (a sort of a review)

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IvanM View Drop Down
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    Posted: 30 Jan 2008 at 9:29pm

I just thought I’d post a note to say how much I am enjoying the sound from my Reflex phono stage.  It’s been cooking for the best part of two weeks and is now sounding excellent.  I am not sure about the pro’s and cons’ of MM vs MC or even if the comparisons are all that valid considering the typical difference in cost.  What I can say for sure though is that your unit is producing a quality and presentation of sound that I have not heard previously from a modestly priced MM cartridge.  And that certainly throws into question the need for spending the extra 100’s of ££££’s on a MC cartridge and the additional gain stage, unless one has a very flexible budget.

 

For what it’s worth here are some (hopefully objective) observations.  

 

The process of burning is proving to be an interesting journey and one with occasional backward steps.  After initially sounding very clear but slightly distant and small the sound developed more scale and weight but then became quite veiled (around day four or five).  Then I came home from work a day or two later, to find that while I had been out, around 6-8 new backing singers had pitched up to assist Paul Simon with his Graceland project.  So noticeable was the change that it actually made me laugh.  I can see how those who do not give these things time to hit their stride could miss the point. 

 

Initially the unit seemed to favour some sounds such as female vocal, percussion and saxophone but the sound is now very even and natural.  I am impressed by the level of intelligibility, I have actually been able to easily make out a couple of bits of lyrics that had previously eluded me.  This is interesting as this is not the most detailed sound I have ever had from my record player, some years ago I used an Ortofon MC30 Supreme, which produced texture and a shimmer around strings etc. that I have never bettered even with more expensive MC’s.  But this observation raises the question of what is improved intelligibility if not the ability to let one hear more detail?.  That’s not to say there is a lack of detail but you have to listen for it rather than anything leaping out at you.

 

When I started listening more seriously (around a week in) I thought the frequency balance favoured the upper treble though this, like some of my other observations may be a function of the new cartridge (a Goldring 1024) which is also still running-in.  This has now either evened out or my ears have grown accustomed to the change.  It’s also fair to say that my last cartridge was a little soft on the top end.

 

I am pleased to report that everything exists in its own place and when present in a recording, spatial/acoustic information is clearly presented, though again naturally rather than in a spectacular fashion.  For me this is a very important as I find it makes following individual strands of the music easy to do.  This and other elements of the presentation such as the voice sized voice, remain stable pretty much regardless of changes of level and complexity.  The cartridge must take some credit for this I guess but keeping everything separate when everything kicks off is a good trick.

 

I have not encountered any noise problems, there’s woosh if I turn things up very loud but that’s all and it certainly never impinges on the sound once the stylus is on the record.

 

One thing I do find every time I start a listening session is that If I go back to the very first track after playing a side of a record, the first track sounds better, not in a big way but definitely better.   I think that the following is what changes: 1. voices come into better focus (for want of a better expression) 2: tonally things become more representative of the actual instrument  e.g. piano becomes more rounded, more plinky (no such word but it describes what I mean) and possibly decay more naturally, electric guitars seem to buzz more.  I think there may also be an effect on the timing/rhythm but this is subtle and may just be down to the fact that I have quite recently played the track and my brain is attuned to it.  That said and at the risk of sounding like someone from a hifi mag: if I had to decide one way or the other, I’d say that on the second playing, I am definitely more inclined to tap my foot.

 

Whilst still looking forward to further improvements, I am pleased to report that I’m delighted with my new piece of kit and the new lease of life it has given to my vinyl collection.  This week I bought my first new vinyl records in about 10 years, I was amazed how much new stuff is now coming out on vinyl and how much old stuff is being re-released.  I may be sticking my neck out here but I think I can confidently predict that vinyl records will bring the downfall of CD’s, i-pods, Napster and the lot!  J.

 

I'd like to agree with you but then we'd both be wrong.
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Darren/Audio Elevati View Drop Down
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote Darren/Audio Elevati Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 30 Jan 2008 at 9:50pm
What a review (well sort of review).  Superb stuff - write some more!
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John C View Drop Down
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote John C Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 30 Jan 2008 at 11:24pm
Thanks for that Ivan.
Graham will really appreciate the questioning of spending 100's of ££££'s on a MC cartridge. I think he's still waiting for a challenger on the other thread LOL.
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Sol View Drop Down
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote Sol Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 31 Jan 2008 at 5:32pm
Bloody Hell Ivan did you crib my notes?
 
I bought my Reflex at a similar time to yours I guess. Anyhow ... the journey through burn in has been almost identical:
  • the second playing thing sits true here
  • the period of favouring uppper treble
  • the subtle shift since then that has you deciding whether the kit has changed or yourself
  • and then the detail thing .. there's ultimately more detail from my digital set up, yet I find I can hear subtle quiet dialogue in the background just as well! The digital set up has also started to sound a litte grained in some detail (like reverberation trails) in comparison 
  • The naturalness

What you didn't mention ws the front to back seperation .. initially everthing was 2 dimensional, but slowly the 3D stuff is coming through (I did have an alarming moment with Lush by Orbital when there's an annoying whir that circles over my head some 9 ft from the speakers. I was convinced it was something playing elsewhere momentarily until it shifted from right ear to left! I've never had anything project into the room as much as that!) 

Anyhow .. another week I reckon and she'll be 99% there. 


Edited by Sol - 01 Feb 2008 at 11:04am
Semper in excretum, nil profundum variat.
Non illigitimum carburundum!
Cuius testiculos habes, habeas cardia et cerebellum
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IvanM View Drop Down
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote IvanM Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 31 Jan 2008 at 11:52pm
Hi Sol
 
Glad its not just me then! Smile
 

I fully agree with your observations regarding the 3d effect.   I didn’t mention it in my post as it was still quite vague, I wrote the post a day or so before putting it on the board as I was waiting to see if there were any other noticeable changes.  Of course there were but not until the night after I’d posted (well maybe two nights).  

 

It was on playing Lou Reeds’ New York that I was startled to find that Lou had decided that his nonchalant narrative would have greater impact, if he were to take a full pace forward, which is exactly what he had done!  Lou had also arranged for the drums to be moved backwards and put up on a riser.  This caused another one of those odd moments to which the only response I seem to have is to laugh. In reality I am sure the changes are as you say gradual, I guess its’ the daylong gaps between listens and the threshold effect, that leads to those surprising moments. 

 

There have been other changes since my post but I am not going to say anything more until I am sure the metamorphosis is complete.  As you suggest another week would seem sensible.

 

I'd like to agree with you but then we'd both be wrong.
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John C View Drop Down
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote John C Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 31 Jan 2008 at 11:58pm
I'm glad you're liking chaps Big%20smile. It's great to get such direct feedback like this.
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IvanM View Drop Down
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote IvanM Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 19 Feb 2008 at 6:25pm

 A sort of an update to a sort of a review

Well I think that my Reflex has pretty much become itself now and after a few nights faffing, I am pretty sure I have the tracking weight and bias about as good as I can get them (which won’t of course be as good they can get).  That last bit of magic that getting these right gives up, can only be found by careful listening and the clarity that the Reflex provides makes this a fairly easy task.  Being able to hear when you’ve gone past it, shows just what a knife edge, the sweet spot of the bias is on (and it’s a fair way away from where the numbers say it should be, which is why I do it by ear).

Last night I relished the delights of the recently acquired Wincing the Night Away by The Shins, I was surprised again and delighted, by a sprinkling of banjo that hadn’t troubled my ears at all when listening to it on CD.  After that came the also fairly fresh In Rainbows, by Radiohead.  Listening to this I was aware of the understanding that exists between the players in that band, able as I was to easily interpret the delicate interplay between different strands of the music as it rolled out from the deep, wide and dark space in front of me.  Both albums have made me conscious of remarkably clear and expressive vocal presence; the different size and weight of various instruments and how beautifully drums and bass can work together (drummers are cleverer than they get credit for – assuming that drumming slightly behind the beat is done deliberatelyJ).

All these details I describe are very easy to detect because this is the most eloquent, insightful and informative vinyl set-up that I have had.  If I had to choose one word that sums up the effect of the Reflex, that word would have to be: intelligibility.  I have never found understanding what I am listening to easier than now.  This isn’t just about clarity and space though, timing and rhythmic information is also presented in a way which my brain finds very easy to understand.

That’s not to say everything is perfect, later on I played Ian Dury’s New boots and Panties and as I am on many familiar tracks, I was aware that the Goldring 1024 glosses over some texture on sustained strings and sax that my last (MC) cartridge would not have missed.  I should make it clear that no sounds are missing.  In-fact as I write this, I am playing an old Cranberries album and discovering several bits of vocal and odd Irish instruments, that I hadn’t previously noticed: it is just the texture of sound that comes up short.  For instance, the front end of percussion leaps forth with startling clarity but a brushed cymbal just doesn’t quite sizzle and shimmer as much as I know it should. 

On balance I am way ahead on points, the Goldring didn’t cost an 8th of what a replacement for my MC would have and last night I was made more aware than ever, just how cunning Ian Dury’s words are and how well the Blockheads (who are way cleverer than I appreciated back in the day) weave their funky web behind and through them (or Dury’s weaves his words through the Blockheads funky web, or something else; anyway its quite brilliant and great fun to listen to).

Reading this back, I realise this is turning into a record review but I don’t suppose that’s entirely a bad Thing.   Aside from helping me get rid of a small but annoying lump in my wallet, I did buy the reflex to enhance my recently rediscovered love of listening to records: it seems to be working.

So as anyone who has bothered to read this far (and god only knows why you have) will have guessed; I am delighted with my reflex.  It is in my view excellent value for money as it is remarkably effective at doing what it it’s supposed to do.  The only issue now is that I keep catching myself wondering just how good things would get if I went for a top flight MC and the Elevator?  This rather defeats the object of my original plan, that being reviving my record deck without spending too much!  Just can’t help wondering………

And finally!  Considering I never tire of listening to my records at the moment, I am tempted to ask: if music be the food of love is the Reflex the Viagra?

I'd like to agree with you but then we'd both be wrong.
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