March 1, 2013

We Have Moved On To www.AV2Day.com

Continue to follow us on www.AV2Day.com

It's official! Time for us to bid farewell at HiFi-Unlimited here. Like every journey, there must be a destination. We believe we have come to a point where the destination is here and now. It's been almost 5 roaring fun years of blogging about hifi with my partner in crime Odiosleuth. We have both grown so much richer in our musical and hifi experience, yet left some what poorer in finances(hey! it's about having fun while you're at it right?)!

For all those who followed and accompanied us along the way, fret not! Your lunch/tea/coffee break reading will remain just as interesting, if you choose to follow us over to www.av2day.com for a new chapter in our hifi and AV journey. In www.AV2Day.com , you will also see Lam Seng Fatt's musical and hifi journey continue from his days at HiFi-Avenue blog. Dick Tan will be our AV guiding light in the fast moving world of home theater.

Last but not least, we sincerely wish to thank all our dear readers and all the dealers who supported us with loaner equipments all these while. We hope that all who have supported us in the past will continue to do so in the future on www.AV2Day.com , a new chapter in the Malaysian hifi and AV scene.

See ya there!

February 26, 2013

Best Of 2012!

Odiosleuth did his countdown of the best gears of 2012 last month. Here's my belated list, due to high work load, poor health and the need to finish all the reviews before I write this. Un-like the previous years, we didn't quite get an optimum mix of equipments in all categories to list a top 3 followed by other notable mentions in each particular class, be it digital or analog source, amplifiers, or speakers. We did, however got an overload or cables to write about. You know what they say about the hifi industry, when the going gets though, sell 'em more cables!

So this year, I'd just list down 10 of my most memorable hifi experiences, followed with a few notable mentions, which though some not officially reviewed or previewed in this pages, we have strong reasons to believe that they are of notable sound quality and product of substance, worthy of your time to further investigate, should you be shopping in those categories.

Here goes, THE BEST OF 2012!
Eggleston Works Ivy Signature.

The Eggleston Works Ivy Signature speakers are now on demo in Centre Circle Audio. To me these are almost the perfect big boy speakers that can be had in an imperfect world. Beauty, brain and brawn, the Ivy Signature has it all. Bass, bass, bass, the Ivy's got plenty of it, tight, accurate, and with no overhang. The highs have the best of silk dome smooth qualities in the air too. The mid range fully fleshed out vocals, with plenty of presence and bite. It's got some of the best bang slamming dynamics in the business, yet able to handle the small things, such as truth of timbre, harmonic texture, tonal colour with aplomb. The Ivy is also one of the most transparent speakers out there today, exposing recording flaws and imperfect musical performances as they are only meant to be, yet the Ivy take no hostages, and you never have to pay the price of exposed imperfections. It just gives the whole essence of listening to music that much more value. It's a do it all speaker with potential stunning performance, but they do demand the best front end components and all else connected before it to give their all. Priced On Application only. Consider this as the preview that qualifies it being here too.
dCS Puccini CD/SACD player

The dCS Puccini charmed it's way in to our hearts and mind, not quite the way we remembered it to be. I always thought dCS had a house sound that is full of details and resolution, but can be musically underwhelming. That is until the kind folks at A&L Audio Station had us putting the Puccini thru it's paces right in the comfort of our own homes. The dCS had details in spades for sure, but within those details, also lie the musical intent and emotional content of the playback performance. One can put the "entry" level dCS with the SOTA likes of TAD-D600 or the Wadia 9 Series stack of components we rated so highly last year, in the same ring on a three corner fight, and the Puccini won't disgrace it self, even if the odds of winning are stacked against it. It kinda reminds me of the Jaguar automobile motto not too long ago, it's got Pace, Grace and Space!
Skogrand SC Air Markarian 421 cables

Another memorable product experienced recently is the Skogrand SC Air Markarian 421 cables. It's a SOTA cable that not only lives up to it's name by price, but actually matched by performance too. Some say they heard god speak to them when listening to their hifi with this cable, others that have not experienced the connection, but still nothing short of audio nirvana if such a place existed?

Can't afford the Skogrand but want a taste of today's SOTA cable performance? For a smaller outlay, one can consider the Wywires Gold range, which gives a Skogrand like musical experience, but the only difference being, the Wywires does not quite have the fully developed mid range density of the more expensive cable, all other performance parameters being near equal.

Wywires till too expensive? Fret not, the latest Taralabs range of budget cable, namely TL-2/14 speaker cable. The sound is very much in mould of Skogrand and Wywires, except that it lacks the bandwidth and transparency of the two, but not the bass slam! Highly recommended!

All the above three cables share the same sonic DNA's and in some way or another, they might as well be cousins from the same family tree just a few generations ago. The only difference is rich relative, middle class uncle, or poor cousin just starting out in life.
SVS PC12-NSD vs PB12-NSD sub woofers

When it come to low, low bass, can't go wrong with SVS Sound. Be it the trouser flapping experience of the top woof PB13-Ultra, or the entry level PB12-NSD. For the budget conscious AV enthusiast who still cares about the slamming "low down" experience, there's not much in the market that can compete with the PB12-NSD.
Aesthetix Calypso pre amp

I love tube pre amps for their beauty in tonal colour. The Aesthetix Calypso comes as fine as tube pre-amps do. They play in the same sonic levels of ARC LS-26(now 27!), yet beats the LS-26 with much more pronounced dynamic contrast and burst of musical transients. For those who love the convenience of having phono stage and pre amp all in one box, there's the Janus(twin of the Calypso) to consider. And finally, Aesthetix offers greater value for performance ratio too, brand power aside. Odiosleuth highlighted why he was impressed with the Aesthetix Atlas 200W hybrid power amp, and I share his enthusiasm, plus what a fine pre/power combo the Calypso/Atlas would make.
Rega Apollo R CD player and Brio R integrated amp

It's hard to ignore the shoe box sized Rega R series components, as musical reproduction, NOT hifi goes! They're god sent to those starting their journey on hifi, or some one coming down to earth from the orbit of upgrade stars. Also perfect as a second system that doesn't take up much space. However, it's the Rega Apollo R that deserves most of the accolades as it will not make a fool of it self, even when inserted in to a system costing many times it's own price! If you believe in the almighty, the Rega R series component's only sins are of the omission kind.
KE blade speakers

The KEF Blade is a technological tour de force show case for the company's 50th Anniversary in business. It's a speaker with designer elements and high WAF(Wife Acceptance Factor), yet sounds like an audiophile's pair of dream speakers. By today's crazy high end speaker prices, the KEF actually seems like a pretty realistic buy too. It's only weakness? Bass doesn't quite go as low, nor as hard as some American speakers.
IsoTek EVO3 Polaris PLC

I think this IsoTek EVO3 Polaris is the finest effort ever by the company, yet it's asking price is not astronomical either. It's honest to goodness British way of doing business which will endear them to the market for a long, long time to come! I am still thinking about it, now that it's gone, if that's any indicator of how good it was. Most times, you'll only miss a good thing after it's long gone.
YG Carmel speakers

The YG Carmel is perhaps the company's most captivating speaker in it's line up. I would consider it to be a serious rival to Magico's V3 speakers in every way. It's the exquisite small speaker for modern quarters(i.e. small rooms) given today's sky rocketing real estate prices, many well heeled folks have less space for hifi. I thoroughly enjoyed my time with them and may some day aspire to have them as my permanent daily reference too!
TAD CR-1 speakers

The TAD CR-1 is certainly one the best, if not THE BEST, small high end mini monitor ever. Need I say more? I congratulate Odiosleuth for his fine speaker choice, but now, herein lies the problem, the CR-1s are so revealing, that it's exposing all the short comings fo the poor guy's front end components, be it, even if they are already mighty good to start with. Here's to another round of up grade orbit, buddy. Ha! Ha!

OTHER NOTABLE MENTIONS:
Pioneer BDP-450 Blu-Ray player

The Pioneer BDP-450 is an excellent Blu-ray player, especially in 3D mode, no doubt about it. What surprised me however, is that it makes a mighty impressive CD/SACD transport too, accessed via it's co-axial audio output, for connection to an external DAC. It's built like a high end audiophile CD player too, with rigid all aluminium and steel casing, equipped with weighty proper metal feet, not make believe plastic feet. The transport drawer action is smooth like a high end CD player too! Sound is detailed, smooth, coherent, noise/jitter free, and most of all, musical rhythmic flow, accompanied by big-big sound stage, deep and wide.
Wilson Audio XLF speakers

No, I didn't hear Wilson Audio XLF speakers yet, there's only one pair in Malaysia now. My sources are based upon people(whose ears I trust) who have heard them in action, and they rated the mighty Wilson  as the BEST speakers they've ever heard(and these are true blood high enders who have listened to nearly all the top hifi systems in the region), period! I wish to congratulate the proud owner fo the Wilson Audio XLF, you know who you are!
New B&W 802D speakers

I was never in love with any of the previous incarnations of the B&W 800 D series speakers, despite their high tech diamond tweeter and kevlar mid bass driver calling card with 1st order x-over topology for the smoothest hand over frequency point. They were very good on the hifi performance parameter, but they always struck me as being rather business like in their musical presentation. If diamonds are a girls best friend, then some degree of musical beauty is to be expected, and in it's latest form, the B&W 802D actually delivers them in spades. Looks like they'll be around for a little while more!
ASI Super Tango speakers

These Frank Tchang designed Super Tango speakers are nothing like you've ever heard in high end dom! They will never be another pair of speakers that sound like the Super Tango. They are definitely not shy and rockers will love their explosive dynamics with gutsy and big hearted musical delivery. Viva la de France! They an enigma, if they ever was one.
Marten Design Django speakers

Marten Design Django XL is a scaled down version of the Getz, but with beefier bass, tuned for American taste. All the sonic goodies offered by the Getz are there with little down side, at only half the price! Marten Design just launched the Django L, which is a smaller brother, trickle down technology have never meant better than this!

Well folks, that's the end of our adventures in HiFi-Unlimited. Stay tune for some last words before we call it a day.

February 22, 2013

dCS Puccini CD/SACD Player


The dCS Puccini SACD/CD player made it to my "Gear that Impressed in 2012" list (see my post of the same title on 14 Jan 2013). In that post, I said that "In one stroke, the dCS Puccini vanquished my past impression of the dCS house sound... The dCS Puccini continues the dCS tradition of being technically excellent, but it also sounded excellently organic, with music flowing naturally."

This dCS is now one of a couple of digital players that I'd aspire to own.

If I were to look at it in terms of features on offer, the Puccini is the most complete and most versatile digital player that i have ever come across. In addition to its ability to play SACD and CD, the Puccini has 2 digital inputs, both RCA, that accept 24 bit PCM at 32, 44.1, 48, 88.2, 96, 176.4 & 192kS/s, so you can be certain that your investment is future proof if you decide to include CAS into your playback system (nowadays, this no longer seems to be an 'if' question though, but a 'when' one). The Puccini also has a word clock input, and therein lies an upgrade path. When the upgrade itch gets too strong, the owner can add the Puccini U-Clock, which incidentally also has an USB input, allowing you to stream music from your PC and notebook.

Another attraction to investing your digital future with dCS is that the company is committed to updating the technology in its customers' gear on a continuing basis. dCS provides periodic firmware upgrade for their players mostly for free.


Before I go on to talk about my listening experience with the dCS Puccini, let's get a couple of its features that affect setup out of the way. The first is the matter with the upsampling schemes and the multitude of digital filters that it offers, you can select to convert the PCM signal from your CDs or your rips to DSD and run it through one of the 4 digital filters on board; or you can keep the PCM signal and choose one of the 3 filters on offer (classic, long and asymmetrical, the last one seems to be similar to Meridian's apodizing filter and Ayre's 'minimum phase', labelled as MP, offerings). In the week I had the Puccini, I found that I always preferred the PCM upsampled to DSD option, so throughout the evaluation period, the setting of the player was maintained that way. DSD sounded more continuous and more analogue to my ears. After that, the choice of which filter to use did not matter much, their differences were subtle to me at best.

Next is the setting the dCS Puccini's maximum output level, which is either 2V or 6V (applicable to both its balanced and unbalanced analogue outputs), and whether to connect the dCS Puccini directly to my monoblocks or to a pre-amp. It has a volume control onboard that allows direct connection to a power amplifier, bypassing the need for a preamp and also the use of a few cables. dCS advises that if you connect directly to the power amp the output level should be set to 6V (and you'll use the Puccini's volume control to set the listening level). If you use a preamp, whether you choose 2V or 6V, the volume control should be set to maximum.

So, I had to decide whether to leave my Pass Labs XP20 preamp in the chain. I found that generally without the preamp, the sound was slightly purer and more rounded; with the preamp in, the music's dynamic expression was better. The XP20 was transparent and neutral enough to ensure that the differences were minor if they were there at all. In the end I decided to leave the preamp in as I enjoyed the slightly freer dynamics (however I know of a Puccini owner who swears by the sound without a preamp). On the choice of  either 2V or 6V output level, I couldn't say that I did a scientific comparison by making sure that the sound pressure level for both settings was the same when listening, but at the end I thought the 6V setting gave better transient and control with no loss of refinement and delicacy, so 6V it was.



Thus set up, I was extremely impressed by the dCS Puccini's portrayal of my favourite music. There was an inherent rightness to the sound that was instantly recognisable, a trait seems to come naturally with much of British hifi equipment - which many credit to the school's midrange naturalness. It was a sound that one will instinctively feel at ease with, not requiring much processing in our brain to believe that there was actually a singer and some musical instruments playing in front of us.

The expression of timbre and tonal colours from the Puccini was top notch. The solo violin in Sarah Chang's Debut album positively shimmered, with beautifully rendered harmonics. The violin was floating in mid air, and the notes were wrapped in a rich silvery brilliance. The playing was lyrical. I never heard this CD with so much technical sure-footedness and yet full of expressions of emotional beauty.

The solo piano on Danny Wright's Black and White album was another high point. From the pings on the right hand to the bangs on the left, every note was excellently reproduced, and again done with full harmonic beauty. I could almost get the illusion that the Steinway was playing in the room right in front of me. I could hear the hammer striking the string. I could hear Wright's workings on the keys and the pedals. The amount of information reproduced were impressive.

With vocal music, the dCS Puccini laid bare all the details in the singer's performance, such as the little breathes, the little nuances in the voice, the little vibrations and turns in his/her elocution. Some may dismiss these audiophile artefacts as unimportant in musical enjoyment, however the dCS Puccini showed that all these were not just sound but an integral part of the performance, and they came across clearly as part of the performer's artistry. I had much more enjoyment with the Puccini's take on the recordings that listening to music that I thought I was already familiar with became a journey of new discoveries.


The Puccini's highs were pristine and rich. The mids sounded naturally correct. The bass might lose out a little on slam but it was well defined, agile and tuneful. The Puccini's music rendition had a natural flow, an ease and a density that is very rare in digital reproduction.

I just wanted to listen on and on. It was hard to let go when the time came. I bet the dCS Puccini will do the same to you too.

The dCS Puccini lists for RM73,625. dCS is carried by A&L Audio Station, Ph: 03-7958 2884

February 18, 2013

Frank PB-15000Ws Power Bank Storage


The Frank PB-15000Ws Power Bank Storage has been making waves in the Malaysian audiophile community for a while now. What is remarkable is that the raves for the Power Bank are not limited to a certain group, everyone, from the ultra high End to the entry level, is not immune to the Power Bank's efficacy. Among them are users of flagship systems such as Wilson WAMM, Wilson Alexandria XLF, Wilson Alexandria 2, and EgglestonWorks Ivy Signature. You can't get stronger endorsements than these.

It is apt to call the Frank PB-15000Ws Power Bank Storage a rare phenomenon in hifi. I myself have never come across any hifi component that could so unite the opinion of such a wide spectrum of audiophiles, who not only praise it but also put their money where their mouth is by installing at least one unit of the Power Bank in their system. Many are so enamoured that they do not stop at just one, but have gone on to their second and even third units. The Power Bank's effect apparently is cumulative, and its creator Frankie Voon mentioned that in his experience 3 units seems to be the magic number for optimum performance.

The demand for the Power Bank has been outstripping supply, so it was certainly my good luck that Frankie agreed to send me a completed unit temporarily for this writeup.


The Power Bank is built into a very sturdy chassis that is suitable for a power amplifier. It had to be, as the finished product is as heavy as or heavier than many power amplifiers. Weighing in at a substantial 38.5kg, moving it is a 2-person job. The side fins on the chassis are purely decorative as the Power Bank remains absolutely cool to the touch even after many days of being left on continuously. The Power Bank is installed parallel to the electrical circuit feeding your system (meaning none of your hifi components is plugged into the PB). There are 2 versions, one that is directly connected into your house's power supply board, to one of the MCBs; and another version that can be plugged into a wall outlet near your system. Frank told me that the former is better, the latter version is only about 70% as effective. I got the latter version as it involved less work to install for the purpose of this writeup.

I was advised to let the Power Bank plugged in for a few hours to a few days to bring out the Power Bank's full effect. There is a switch at the back panel that switches the Power Bank on/off and for selecting different electrical phases.

As to the Power Bank's operating principle, honestly I do not have the required technical / engineering knowledge to explain it properly, so I quote Frankie directly, "The Frank Power Bank works like a fuel surge tank. The design of the Frank Power bank is a modified Autoformer, meaning that the Autoformer is connected parallel to the incoming mains power. The electrical current for the equipment does not run through the Power Bank itself. It is not current limiting, and it lowers the impedance."

After leaving the Power Bank on overnight, I sat down for my first listen. Normally, at my place, the sound quality between night and day, while not 'night and day', shows quite a bit of difference. At day time, the sound is cleaner and showed better coherence. With the Power Bank, the first listening, which was done at night, showed that the sound quality difference had diminished a lot. The second effect that caught my attention was the black and silent background, which allowed the sonic images to stand out and proffered much better dimensionality and focus for the soundstage and images.  These effects held true in every one of my listening session. The Power Bank was acting very much like an excellent mains treatment products in this regard.

A longer acquaintance with the Power Bank also showed its other effects on the sound quality – bass was slightly stronger and better defined, the little nuances in the music became more pronounced and easier to hear, the sound became just that little more articulate. Musicality was the main beneficiary.

The Power Bank also softens the sound (as opposed to ‘hardening’ it), giving the music a more flowing quality. The treble especially, became tame, and had an almost languid quality, which I believe will benefit tremendously systems that sound aggressive, hardened or bright in that region. Your system will not be fatiguing during long listening sessions.


With so many audiophiles adding the Power Bank into their system, I’d think that the Power Bank's effect is rather universal, it is not system dependent or location dependent. Will the Power Bank also capture your audiophile heart like it has done to the others? Well, try to listen to it yourself. Call up Frankie, discuss with him and see what arrangement you can strike up.

But be forewarned, as many are waiting for their unit, patience is a required virtue before you get to savour the charm of the Frank Power Bank PB-15000Ws.

The price for the Frank Power Bank PB-15000Ws is USD2,600/unit. Call Frankie Voon at +6012-2981011 to discuss or visit http://fv-euroaudio.blogspot.com/.

February 14, 2013

No Silly Wire! Wywires Gold AES/EBU Digital Cable.

Wywires Gold AES/EBU digital cable, close up of the Xhadow plugs.

Those of you who knew me back then, I mean way..... back then, when I was still enthusiastic about the automobile and the daily driving experience, would probably have called me by my nick, Silly Willy! How did that nick came about? you asked.

At a time when every one else was spending money making their cars go faster, I was the only silly fella spending money on bigger brakes, suspension strut bars and numerous other stuff that just didn't make the car go faster. Hence, the nick as I had spent the most money on my car, and it's never the fastest in the drag. Silly right? Not to me, I didn't see it that way, I never wanted the fastest car off the line anyway. My aim to modifying cars is to achieve the most well balanced behaviour all round, so most things are never really about being the fastest, it's more about the over riding confidence of knowing that the very powerful car will not turn around and bite me around the corner or when the going gets though. It's more about having refined control and predictability of measured performance over raw speed. So what has the automobile story has to do with this Wywires Gold  AES/EBU digital cable review?

Well, how about the silly audiophile who spends loadsa moolah on cables? Some already consider me being one, as my JPS Aluminata AES/EBU digital cable cost nearly as much as the Bryston BDP/BDA-1 combo individually! However, as per my car modifying motives, I see cables as an equipment offering improved transmission and refinement, as an accessory that allows the main equipment that's linked up, to perform at it's best potential.

Wywires calls it's digital cables LITESPD for Lite Speed?

I am sorry for the long winded introduction, but let's get back to the subject that matters here, is the Wywires Gold AES/EBU digital cable under review. I was pretty impressed by the value to performance ratio of the Wywires Silver AES/EBU digital cable when I reviewed it the last time. The Gold series cable seen here looks pretty much the same, light weight in build and neat if non-extravagant dressing, plus those lovely Xhadow plugs attached at both ends. This cable is very bend able too, compared to my super stiff JPS Aluminata.

I found this cable to offer pretty much the same kinda of sonic characteristics of the Silver tested earlier, but only with more of everything that matters, More bandwidth, more dynamics, super fast(Lite Speed!) transients, deepest bass extension, higher highs and the blackest of black back grounds, and most importantly noise free too.  All these hifi performance parameters bring the Wywires Gold AES/EBU digital cable right up to par with my JPS Aluminanta reference.

The Wywires Gold is tonally neutral, with just enough laid back-ness to take it away from being clinical. There are enough areas of performance that should see the Wywires Gold standing head over shoulders against what I think are some of the best digital cables(one being the JPS Aluminata, the other being the Wireworld Platinum Starlight) available in the market today. What the Wywires does really well over the other cables is it's ability to project a huge walk thru sound stage, with solidly anchored imaging properties, yet do it all with the correct scale as intended in the recordings. The Wywires are really great for re-producing big orchestras, with highly realistic mid hall vantage point of view from my listening position. All that with more than enough reflected and deflected ambiance as sonic cues in the atmosphere of the recording hall. Even re-playing smaller ensembles and other small system friendly music, such as girl/guitar and piano, especially with hi-rez music files, the music is always captivating and enchanting. I keep hearing little details usually buried deep in the mix, in an organic and naturally presented fashion, as opposed to that rather "obviously highlighted" fashion that the JPS does so. Despite the fact, the JPS was actually considered pretty natural sounding previously, which was why I made it my reference for the longest time.

If musical PRAT is your thing, then the Wywires also have 'em in spades. There's also an effortlessness in the way the Wywires present music, as opposed to the tensed and ready to spring manner of the JPS. Neither character is bad, just what your system needs? Horses for courses, really.  While the Wywires was in my system over a two month period, I've never found myself returning to my Linn LP12 turn table. My Linn just sat idle for 2 full months, which has never happened before. I think there's something in the performance of the Wywires gold that makes digital music sound complete and satisfying, that I no longer yearn to take refuge from digital in vinyl.

That's all ye' get for ye' money! The said cable, a certificate of authenticity and an invoice in a plastic zip bag.

Just as I was about to embark on this review, I called James(of AV Designs) to enquire about the retail price of this Wywires Gold AES/EBU digital cable, and was surprised to hear him saying RM$3,199.00/piece for the 1.5 meter length review sample. I thought I heard wrong, because I was expecting the Wireworld, or JPS like pricing(which is nearly double!) due to the impeccable sonic performance of the Wywires, which stands head over shoulders against the other two!

Now, sonic considerations aside, I'd like to keep this Wywires Gold AES/EBU digital cable, just to look less silly in front of other audiophools.

Wywires are sold by AV Designs, contact Tony or James at 03-21712828.