So I had a working budget system that sounded remarkably pleasant and while it was a bit soft and lacking in grip for long-term listening it worked.
But how to get that little bit more from it? How to turn it into a system that demanded my attention rather than encouraging me to read the paper?
I tried changing the speaker cable to some AudioQuest Type 2 cable but couldn’t hear any real change in performance. I tried an alternative interconnect cable and again no obvious change.
Now I’m used to changes like these making very significant sound quality differences, so what was different? Back to basics I think. Back to simple system set up before anything else.
I started by checking the stability, solidity of the Atacama SE24 stands and the fact that they were vertical. I tightened the front baffles of the Pearls and checked the HF mounting screws were tight. Most elements were almost right or almost tight so attention had been required. Did it make a difference? A small one, an increase in focus, a slight bit more grip in the mid.
Next came a sort out of all the cables and the mains. Cables were dressed to not wrap round each other or for signal cables to be distant from mains cables. The mains 10-way block was swapped for an Olsen 6-way and each plug inserted and removed a few times to clean the contacts.
I would be lying if I said that this transformed the system but it was another step forward.
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At this point I began to suspect that the MS20i Pearls were sounding a bit more laid back that they should have. At their time they were considered to be quite mid-forward – a balance that it more normal now. This pair – a MS ref pair – were not. I suspected the FerroFluid in the HF unit had become sticky with age. They are 15+ years old and have been stored in some warm places.
I removed the tweeters and disassembled them carefully – I don’t think one can buy spares now – and even more carefully use a piece of kitchen roll to wipe away most of the FerroFluid. On reassembling the Pearls I found I had a new pair of speakers. A bit courser, a tad of colouration that hadn’t been there before but they now had life and energy that made music far more enjoyable.
Next came a computer rebuild to give me a ‘puter with enough get up and go to work with JRiver. A Dabs deal of Motherboard, Intel CPU and memory for £150 allowed me to rebuild an older machine and bring it up to date
The new computer didn’t bring any performance advantages except in speed and flexibility but did allow me to connect it to the Samsung LCD TV rather than a monitor thus reducing the power supplies in the room by one and giving me a decent sized view into my music.
The new mobo did have a SP/Dif output which I utilized initially into the Arcam r-DAC for convenience. While the system was definitely significantly better than before the improvement mods started it still wasn’t ‘cooking with gas’.
A chat with Martin Colloms elicited his view that something like a Denon PMA250 would make a significant difference. It’s probably only 15 rather than 30 years old and rather more of the era of the Pearls. I managed to borrow a PMA350SE which I reckon would be around £100 on eBay and plugged it in. From cold, having had no running for years, it sang.
I have to revisit the AudioQuest Type 2, try the AudioQuest Forest USB cable and then optimise the computer playback.