AUDIOLAB: NAD, Audiolab, TDL RTL2 speakers Heybrook HB1s and other vintage kit

I have recently upgraded my hi-fi in a couple of ways and these changes have made me rethink my strategy for putting together a set of equipment on a relatively tight budget.

Firstly, I had been using an NAD C320BEE as a pre-amp with an Arcam P75 power amp. I decided to upgrade these in two steps. First I would get an Audiolab 8000S and use it for a while as an integrated until I could afford to get a suitable power amp to use with it. Selling the NAD and Arcam would fund the purchase of the 8000S (available in silver at a bargain price recently). However, when I got the Audiolab amplifier I was completely blown away by it. It was so much better than my previous set up, that I’ve now decided not to bother with the separate power amp. I now realise that on my limited budget I am far better off getting a good integrated amplifier than a pair of OK pre/power amplifiers.

That changed my focus to my speakers: a pair of TDL RTL2s that I have had from new since the mid-nineties. I wasn’t sure which way to go with new speakers. I had found a number of your recent articles comparing bookshelf and floorstanding 'speakers very interesting. After my experience with my amplifier, I wondered if I would be better off buying small, good quality speakers (Usher S 520 for example) rather than OK large speakers. However, I wasn’t sure how much I could live without the bass that my floorstanders produced.

So I decided to experiment. I managed to buy a pair of Heybrook HB1s for five pounds on e-bay (I’ve had a soft spot for Heybrook since having a pair Solos in my student years). They didn’t sound too great, but I was able to source a pair of replacement bass/mid-range drive units from Pure Sound (£65 each), and it was an easy job to fit the new drivers. I thought they’d just give me an interesting comparison with my TDLs that would help me better choose my next speakers. What I wasn’t expecting was just how much better the Heybrooks would sound compared to the TDLs.

The detail in the mid and high frequencies is just brilliant. Yes, they don’t go down as low as the TDLs, but I’m finding I’m not missing the lowest frequencies. Since getting the Heybrooks up and running at their best, I haven’t had the TDLs plugged in. I am a new convert to the pleasures of listening to good stand mounted 'speakers.

So now I am turning my attentions to my turntable. However, with this I am not sure where to spend my cash, and was hoping that you could point me in the right direction. I have a Linn Axis deck with Basik Plus arm (the straight one with the removable head shell), Goldring 1042 cartridge and a Graham Slee 1 phono amp.

I have a budget of around £200-300. For this, I could replace the arm (second hand Linn Akito for example or would a Jelco SA-250ST be worth considering), the cartridge (would I get much improvement from a moving coil with the Axis/Basik setup?), or I could get a better phono amp (a pre-owned Graham Slee 2 SE looks very attractive). Which option would you choose? Or should I save my money until I can afford to buy a better turntable? Any advice would be gratefully received.

That you like your freshly renovated Heybrook HB1s doesn't surprise me one iota. They are a classic Peter Comeau design and are very musically engaging and crisp to listen to. Allied to your Audiolab 8000S, which is a fine budget amp in its latest form, and your Linn LP12, I imagine it's already a strong sounding system. I would be tempted to replace the phono stage first, and there are a number of different routes you could take.

For example, if you find the system just a little too 'spry, crisp and dry', an Icon Audio's tube phono stage would be a great thing to save for, and not so far out of your budget if you sell your current stage. Alternatively I'd counsel an ANT Audio Kora 3T SE, which would also add depth and space, and a touch more tonal warmth compared to your existing stage, but have a tighter, tauter bass than the valve phono stage. My personal preference would be for an LFD Audio LE phono stage but I've never seen one pre-owned for sale.

Don't mess around with your arm at this point; the Akito would be a good upgrade but it's hard to be sure you're spending your money on a good one, given that most are well over a decade old. Just tighten up your cartridge mounting bolts as much as you can and clean all your contacts with Kontak.

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