The office system

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Shortly after buying my Stream Magic 6, Cambridge Audio discontinued their award-winning Sonata NP-30 streamer on which the SM6 was based. Discounted to £180 I snapped one up for my office. (I’ll post a separate review some time…)

I had been listening in the office to CDs on a Marantz CD-94MkII. I initially tried an Audiolab 8000A and Acoustic Energy AE1 bi-wires but really didn’t like the sound I was getting in my ‘half an attic’. (If you can imagine half a Toblerone cut down the length of 4 or 5 pieces as the shape and volume of my office space you get the grim acoustic picture.)

I’d put this all away before the NP-30 arrived. No problem with Ethernet – that was there from a long removed iMac workstation. So I dug out a big old Lentek amp, which hadn’t been powered for 25 years and a pair of Tannoy ICT contractor CPA5s – theatre reinforcement speakers I’d used very successfully in my cellar office at a previous house. I was on the point of giving up as the Lentek sizzled through 15 minutes of capacitor charging before waking up. Two 1m-lengths of Teflon wrapped silver-plated cable (amazing what you find lying around) completed the sonic picture.

A fantastic transparency was apparent from the off and got better as the amp ‘cleared its head’. But I needed to think differently for imagery. After some experimentation, the toed-out, close speakers and central ‘baffle’ provide good stereo in a difficult acoustic – though the balance control needs to favour the side with more ‘air’.

Hit the right replay level and the back wall dissolves – imagery and musical coherence are exceptional. But you can’t go loud and there’s no bass, so the system is pretty much dependent on the right source material. Hi-res Baroque, guitar, folk-rock work brilliantly – the 24/96 Chesky binaural Amber Rubarth Sessions from the 17th Ward is magical. Oddities like Ghislain Potvlieghe’s CD recording of Friederich Wilhelm Rust sonatas on tangent piano are truly stunning; Martin Simpson’s Dives And Lazarus from The Definitive Collection on Highpoint CD is excellent. Roy Harper and Duncan Browne are meat and drink. Yet the system does make a fist (albeit lightweight) of material like Indiscipline from King Crimson’s Discipline (24-bit remaster). Sadly the NP-30 cannot stream 88.2 or 48kHz sources (which is a lot of SACD material and my vinyl rips – shame).

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(This is one of the most communicative systems I’ve put together, possibly bettered only by a Marantz CD-65SE, Pm-4 Class A amp into Acoustic Energy AE1s used in my ‘den’ during my stay in America.)

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