December 31, 2009

2009 in Retrospect - Digital Frontends

Well, 2009 has been one helluva year for me as far as hifi is concerned. I got to listen to many excellent gear, many times thank to Big E's resourcefulness in requesting these interesting items from the local dealer/distributors. I hope you, our readers, have also enjoyed yourselves reading this blog as much as us listening to and writing about the equipment. :-)

I thought of writing some sort of a wrap-up for the things that came through my place throughout the year. I'll start with the digital source, as it is somehow the category with the most number of items. I counted 8 disc spinners including a transport+DAC combo. I do not purport this article to be a 'shoot-out' kind of thing, but instead intend it to be more of a comparison. I do not judge good or bad as I believe each one has its place and it is how much a particular player complements your personal listening preference and your system's balance - you pick your own poison.

The players are sorted by price, I then attempt to choose one word that best characterize each, which is followed with a short derscription of the player's performance, as heard in my system's context. Here goes:

1. Stello CDT100 cd trnasport and DA100 Signature DAC (RM6.6k nett/pair) - ROBUST

The Stello pair offers the best value for money among the lot. The sound is robust, it is not one of those soft and gentle kind. They have an enthusiasm in music making and as such convey the musical message very well. The mids are its best area, they have real presence, being projected slightly ahead of the rest of the mix.

Connect them via their i2s link, otherwise, I don't think you are listening to the best that they can do. The versatile DAC accepts multiple inputs including USB for computer audio, so your investment is future-proof.

2. Bryston BCD-1 (RM11,900 list) - NEUTRAL
This Bryston BCD-1 goes about doing its job in a very even-keel manner. It is not euphonic/sweet, nor was it hard hitting/aggressive. You won't call it refined, but it is not rough either. It is just a excellently competent machine going about presenting the information on the cd as it is, and that is saying a lot. Its approach is "the whole truth, and nothing but the truth". It produces excellent details, with well balanced frequency ranges.

3. Ayre CX-7eMP (RM15,300 list) - CORRECT

The Ayre simply sounded correct with any cd played. You would think that the sound coming out from this Ayre would be how music actually sound like, and that is what pushes my buttons. Personally, I like this player a lot.

The CX-7eMP also had the knack of holding the music line all the way down to nothingness, an impressive machine that conveys each music phrase in its entirety.

4. E.A.R. Yoshino Acute (RM16,800 list) - MUSICAL

The E.A.R. Yoshino, like the other two tubed players in this survey, had music in its heart. It sounded supremely musical, always. Others may impress by sounding bigger or more dynamic but the Acute let you enjoy all your music. It is one of those rare players that let me slip in a disc, switch off my 'analyze' mode and straight go into 'listning enjoyment'.

5. Esoteric SA-50 (circa 20k list) - REFINED

A player that has so many features that even the kitchen sink is thrown in for good measure :-). Excellent built, flawless operations.

Sound is ultra refined, smooth and cultured. If you have an aggressive beast of a system to tame, the Esoteric will be your soother. A player that says its owner has a taste for the finer things in life. Also plays SACD (stereo only).

6. Ayre C-5xeMP (RM26,100 list) - CORRECT

Well, I can't think of a different word from the CX-7eMP. The C-5xeMP has that correctness thingy as its younger sibling. The senior model went slightly ahead though in terms of dynamics and pace, music also has a more rhythmic quality via the C-5xeMP.

My current resident player. Also plays SACD and DVD (sound only)

7. Pathos Endorphin (RM32,000 list) - FLOW-y
This is an imposing piece of gear, easily the one that takes up the most rack space. Want to add some Italian design chic to your system? Get the Endorphin.

Another tubed player that will just let you enjoy your music collection. This one has a certain swinging, rollicking feel to it. Music flows really well. It will make you sway along with the music, quite addictive. The sound is also smooth and easy on the ears.

8. Metronome CD One T Signature (RM46,920 list) - BEAUTIFUL
Beatiful both in build and in sound. The sound quality is no doubt high-end - clear, polished, elegant. Sheer beauty!

This tubed player is also highly musical, rubbish in the CDs is held at the gate and only the music is let through. A player that you can listen to for long hours without even a hint of boredom. Let me say it again - this is real High-End.

I missed a few others, including the Bladelius Embla and Esoteric X03-SE.

HAPPY NEW YEAR to all. Hope in 2010, everyone gets the best sound from your system and, more importantly, enjoy more music!

December 30, 2009

All I Need? Manley Stingray iTube Integrated Amplifier.

Manley Stingray iTube, note all the top plate electrolytic capacitors are customed for Manley.

Just looking at the product, I knew the company is run by someone special. I ran a check thru and found out the following. The company is run by a lady boss called, EveAnna Manley who also happens to be a Harley riding and classic Hippie style air cooled VW driving chick. Oh yeah! the lady boss is also a pretty sharp shooter of the photo graphic type, do view her gallery on the above www link. She lives a full rounded lifestyle.I also found the product manual(download able from www site) to be an excellent source of tube info and a very entertaining read. This chick's got humour too!

Upon opening the shipping box, the first thing that greeted me was a quality digital multimeter supplied, then upon complete removal of the amp from the packaging, I also found one of the most comprehensive accessories pack supplied. Only thing missing is a pair of white cotton gloves, like those which Sonic Frontiers(remember them?) used to supply. This indicates practical hands on manual tube biasing required. The full procedure instruction with picture guides is on the product manual. I did not try it though.

Note the iPod docking area, just on top of front face plate.

The Manley Stingray iTube is an integrated amplifier using 8 x EL84 output tubes, 2 x 6414 driver tubes and 2 x 12AT7EH input tubes for it's circuitry. For all that, the amp pumps out 32Watts in Ultra Linear mode, or 18Watts in Triode mode, switchable, your choice of course. As it's name would suggest, the amp is also design to dock an Apple iPod as music source, if you so wish. The amp will then sync up with the iPod and allow the user to control the i source from the supplied hand held remote, which is pretty cool, but wait, the best part is the chunky, back lighted remote supplied by Manley is RF/IR control switchable, again your choice! I did not have an iPod at hand to try out the iPod dock operations, but I did operate the remote entirely by RF, which is more flexible as you can point from any where, or even operate the Manley Stingray iTube from another part of the house, because RF means radio frequency, and using RF mode control means line if sight is not required, unlike IR(Infra Red). There is no XLR input, so it's back to RCA connections for me which is a pain.

The chunky, back lighted, full function RF/IR remote! Note the iPod controls at the bottom?

There's two infinite rotary knobs on the front panel, blue LED lighted for effect, the left unit knob is a source selector and the right knob doubles as volume and balance control. There's a small standby switch in between the two knobs. I must confess to find that the Manley has one of the most transparent sounding pre amp section using the Cirrus 3310 volume chip application. Many other high end brands also use the same volume chip.

The left chanel back panel, note the "ON/Off" switch next to IEC power input. The right chanel is on the other side, refer to plan view below.

The rather heavy amp(has to be with 3 trannies inside, 1 for power supply and 2 for output) is left sitting on the ground in between and connecting to my Audio Physic speakers via Siltech Classic Anniversary 330L speaker cables and I brought Odiosleuth's Copland CDA-822 CD player closer to fit my 1.5m Belden RCA interconnects(I'd like to use something better, but that's all I have for now). Power cables to both the CD player and amp are my big, fat, and red JPS Inwall, powered via my Torus Power RM8A PLC. Then the listening starts, which from the moment the play button pressed, I knew I was in for something special, just like the Manley Labs lady boss.

See the Stingray? Plan view. For some reason, Manley like to name their product after under water creatures, like the Shrimp pre amp!(discontinued model)

I first switched between the Ultra Linear and Triode modes to sample the differences. Using a live acoustic concert recording, Nils Lofgren's Acoustic Live, using the UL mode gives a more forward and immediate presentation, like as if I am sitting in the front row seats of the concert. I could feel Nils energetic plucking of the Takamine acoustic guitar's steel strings and hear the following fainting re verb of the body and the stage acoustics. So far, so good. I then switched to Triode mode, this time the presentation is more laid back, like as if I am seating in row F seats now, not too far away from the stage, but far enough to lose that immediacy and energy of Nils guitar playing performance some what. Since we're on the subject of sound staging, the Manley is merely average in this respect. The sound stage does not expand beyond room boundaries, nor separate layers within the stage depth very well. In this regards the Krell S-300i, tested last month out performs the Manley. However, the Manley fights back with very convincingly solid and filled in imaging, especially voices.

Switching between modes doesn't change the slightly warmish, golden tonality of the amp, which I think is good as it gives a certain consistency to the hifi performance perimeters. I ended preferring the raw and energetic presentation of the UL mode, and from here onwards, all further sonic description is based on that, as is. The highs have nice bite, and giving cymbals and high hats that attack, sustain and decay quality. There's also a certain alluring shine to the highs, not brightness, I must remind you. Mids are solid and vocals are given bodies to make them more convincing, other than the mouth. Bass, always a weak point in tube amps is surprisingly nimble, with little mid bass bloom and never seems to be out of step with the rest of the music, if does not extend particularly deep.

The two front infinite rotary knobs are surrounded by striking blue, blinking(when rotating knobs) LEDs.

Micro dynamics of acoustic guitars like the Nils Lofgren CD is very well reproduced, but macro dynamics of an orchestra playing at full crescendo tends to harden the sound some what. I was playing Eiji Oue conducting Minnesota Orchestra's Symphonic Dances, by Rachmaninoff, a Reference Recording CD of excellent quality. To be fair, I was playing very loudly, and only by easing the volume a bit the sonic hardness disappeared. When not playing the same CD too loudly, I also noticed that truth of timbre and harmonic texture of wood winds and flute instrument were amongst the most faithfully reproduced, by the way, ditto for string instruments like violin and piano.

The Stingray iTube is highly resolving, even with the lowest musical details. I find that PRAT is also the amp's strong suite, always musical and rhythmically on tune. It's slight tubey warmness adds just right amount of pleasant bloom to music. Whilst the Manley was adequately driving my 89db @ 4 ohms rated Audio Physic Spark to realistically loud volumes, I still found it's head room limits as mentioned above. Unlike other tube amplifier designs which allow a choice of 4, 8, or 16 ohm speaker binding post tab, the Manley only has one fixed tab of 5 ohms, which means driving 4 ohms rated speaker designs like my Audio Physics is likely to give the best results. However, as in anything audio, nothing is quite certain, and specs are just that. I doubt using the Manley Stingray to drive less sensitive speaker designs in a big room is a good idea, so do take note and try partnering it with your own speakers when considering it's purchase.

Manley tube porn.

If you find warmish, golden tube sound allure, don't normally play your music too loudly like I do and want to dock you iPod with your hifi rig, I've not tried anything that comes sounding this good at RM15k. If I had not yet committed to bigger sonic aspirations, the Manley Stingray iTube may just be, all I need.

Manley products is sold by Hi-Way Laser, contact Kenny, tel:019-2813399

December 27, 2009

Job Hazard! HiFi Reviews.

Watch out Santa! Oooop.....s #$@&*^? Where's Rudolph?

Look, working everyday, irregardless of job nature is dangerous, in the above case, even Santa has his unlucky days!

While reviewing hifi is not our main income job, we do nevertheless suffer from the job hazards. There are a few types of job hazards that we've experienced or that I can think of thus far.

1) Lost or stolen review items during it's time with us! Though we cannot be held liable or responsible for that happening, it's still very troublesome, to go through the process of police report and worst of all, informing the dealer who loaned us the equipment!(I pray everyday for god to deliver us from evil!)

2) Review items damaged during our review period. We do take a number of pre-cautions when reviewing the equipment, but there remains some perimeters beyond our control. There could be a variety of reasons for this, like:

a) Damaged during transportation back home and to the dealer's place.

b) Lightning strikes and TNB power surges/spikes when in use.

3) And lastly, this is absolutely THE worst thing that could happen to an audio reviewer! We play with an item for a period of time, in which we then report on our subjective aural experience and practical use of the subject matter, then which, we dutifully return the item to the dealer. However, every once in a while, a product we lived with so..... captures our ears and hearts, that we just gotta have it, couldn't let it go and quite possibly, don't wanna live another hifi day without it! What do we do???

a) In this scenario, if the product is affordable and the particular dealer's terms is accommodating enough, we'd most likely end up buying the review sample!(I believe this has happened more than a few occasions by now.) Then we'd not have a problem and go on our merry little ways.

b) The worst part is that after living with an insanely expensive equipment(and they rarely do disappoint, performance wise!) for a couple of weeks, we have developed feelings so deep for the particular equipment, can't eat, can't sleep, but can only dream about it, then the problem begins, if only because, it's priced way outta reach! We simply just couldn't afford it, irregardless how friendly the dealer's terms are. Now that would be heart wrenching, wouldn't it? Off course, we then lapse in to the full course of withdrawal symptoms, like stop listening to our audio system and music for a protracted period of time, suffer from insomnia and possibly weight loss. But time and hifi buddies are great healers. Eventually, after the symptoms run it's course, all will be well again, as we move on to play with other new toys coming our way.

Reflecting back on this year 2009, we've been thru quite a few of scenario 3a) and b), but thank fully so far zero 1) and 2). I am sure by now, most our loyal readers following our hifi exploits will know which items are in scenario 3a). But just in case you've forgotten, we'll remind you about it as we reflect upon the great hifi products that so...... have us smitten, and just for a bit of suspense, we'll also reveal out 3b) list! Stay tuned.

December 26, 2009

In Love With A Princess - Siltech Royal Signature G7 Princess Interconnects

We continue our investigation of the excellent cable range from Siltech - this time Big E collected a pair of interconnects from its current top range, the Royal Signature Series G7, called the Princess. In the Royal Signature Series, the interconnect range are named after the female side - Princess, Queen, Empress, whereas the loudspeaker cables are named after the male side - Prince, King, Emperor.

More than a year ago, I listened to the predecessor of this Princess, the Siltech Signature Series G6 Forbes Lakes SATT, in my system, . The Forbes Lakes took everything that I used in my system, albeit many times cheaper, to the cleaners. Their impact on my music listening was nothing less than revelatory. Since that experience, I took them as the best interconnects as far as I am concerned. And 'Siltech Forbes Lake' was the name mentioned whenever anyone asked me which cables I considered the best in my system's context.

At RM20k a pair, I could not afford the Forbes Lakes, so I had to see them go. Now, their replacement came in with a further increase in their premium, the Princess goes for RM23k for 1.5m.

The Princess' construction quality continues with the Siltech traditional, it is nothing less than impeccable. Its look is virtually indistinguishable from the Forbes Lake. To my eyes, they are one of the most handsome pair of cables around, pity that they'll spend most of their time behind your equipment. The cables are pretty weighty, probably attributable to the amount of metal in them and the 2 clamps, one on each end. They inspire confidence even from just looking at them, no kidding. :-)

I put them between my Ayre C5-xeMP universal player and the Pass Labs X2.5 preamp, then I sat down, ready to repeat my previous experience of an amazing musical ride.

The Princess did not disappoint, the first quality that caught me was the quietness of the system. There was just music pouring forth from the speakers, the space between instruments and the time between notes were jet black. Illumination came from the music itself and no extraneous noice intruded.

Throw in something more complex, such as some tracks from Hugh Masekela's 'Hope' album, instrument delineation and separation was the best I have heard. Noise made by the audienc was clearly defined apart from the band, while instruments and voices of the performers could be heard in their own, separated space, and the whole thing was sewn together as a musical whole. It was uncanny.

This, of course, means that the Princess excelled at soundstaging. The stage spread slightly outside of the left and right boundaries of my speakers, stably anchored down just behind them. Images were well defined, layered and dimensional.

The Princess also rendered music very articulate. Recordings, rather than being rendered technically, became musical performances. In my listening session, violin and female vocals simply adored the Princess.... Listening to Anne Sophie Mutter and Itzhak Perlman's violins, I was bowed over by their artistry with the instrument and their beautiful string tone. The harmonic structure of the notes was excellently preserved and rendered. The Princess gave that silky, shiny, silvery hue that leave the listener in no doubt as to its pedigree - that it was high end.

It was amazing how much more music I could enjoy with the Princess, cd after cd became an enjoyable listening experience. The Princess interconnects are not for technical analysis, they are for musical enjoyment. They will not be your partner if you just want to know how high or how low the notes goes, how fast the transient was, whether the bass could hit you in the chest. No, they are about refinement, good taste and, above all else, musicality.

The Princess is pristine water from a mountain spring - clean, clear, but not bland. There is a certain sweetness to it, other than than it does not add any colour to the sound.

Such natural beauty does not need additional make-up, really.

Siltech is carried by CMY Audio & Visual, contact John, tel: 03-21439206

December 25, 2009

Lite Et Bonbon. Metronome Technologie CD One T Signature CD Player.

Presenting the Metronome CD One T Signature CD player.

Lite et bonbon, is a direct translation from French to English, meaning "lite & sweet". Some how this CD player's sound just reminded me of that pop cornology description term. This is a truly special CD player, from the very first pressing of the "play" button.

The sound is cohesive and presents music with a wide screen like sound stage presentation, along with excellent depth perception and stage layering quality. I will not say this player is bright, but rather un like it's competitors, it just doesn't try to paint the darkest sound stage back grounds possible. The highs is at once extended, airy and sweet, with a generous degree of sheen to the presentation of high hats, cymbals and just about any other metals based musical instruments. The player imparts a certain "rightness" of metal ring to the overall high frequency presentation. The mids have excellent density and presents vocal images solidly. There's also a tendency to make female voices sound a little more seductive compared to other players. Male voices are not short changed either, as they are presented with more heft and chest than female voices. The thing I admire most about this CD player is the way it twist the nuances out of the throat, tongue, lips and teeth of a vocalist! My friend KM, calls this vocal porn!, if there's such a thing. For me, that imparts a certain humanness to the music which adds to the Metronome's appeal. Bass is naturally rendered, though not as tight nor extends as low as some other high end players. Despite that, kick drums can still "kick" and bass lines are clean and clear, making from one note to another easy to follow.
In the flesh, build quality is excellent.

This Metronome CD One T digs out almost as much information from the CD format as the Esoteric X-03, which is my reference this far. That makes the Metronome one of the most transparent CD players around. Low level piano details like the track 6, And so it goes, from Jennifer Warnes, The Well CD is re-played fully with as much information as I could remember. Micro dynamics of an acoustic guitar is realistically reproduced and when the music calls, such as an orchestra on full crescendo, the transient and macro dynamic is played out flawlessly. I was playing track 1 & 2 from the Diabolus In Musica, Accardo Interpreta Paganini, a Deutsche Grammophon recording of violin led orchestra works by Paganini. My visitor jumped up and declared after listening, "makes your Marantz CD7 sounding slow & dull by comparison!". He obviously liked what he heard. I liked what I heard too, especially the way this CD player handles rhythm and pace. It's very hard to describe, it does not sound un necessarily faster than other players, but it just sounds right. You may call it musicality, but some in the high end circles would not include musicality as a performance perimeter of high fidelity. Might I dare ask, what's high fidelity without musicality? What good is the most tonally balanced, most transparent, best specified hifi equipment, if it does not musically involves the listener on a higher emotional level?
One of my latest favourite classical CD. Salvatore Accardo plays violin concerto pieces by Paganini, back by London Philharmonic Orchestra, conducted by Charles Dutoit. The 1978 CD recording is dynamic and "grand" sounding. The Metronome CD One T has the ability to reproduce the lighting fast transient violin playing techniques by Accardo as represented by track 12, Sonata Moto Perpetuo, where most of the lighter moments will only to be glossed over by lesser CD players.

You see, the Metronome Technologie CD One T is French made, by a group of ex-Jadis engineers. The French combines artistic industrial design flair with strong engineering fundamentals. You can see it in their Peugeot/Citroen automobiles, their Airbus aeroplanes and their TGV trains. They value the finest quality of life, above all. This CD player represents that musical philosophy of the French.
The Philips sourced CD Pro2 transport, with magnetic puck and blue glow LED. The top sliding cover glides very smoothly when handled manually. It's a joy.

Build quality is excellent, with thick aluminium fascia and box construction. The top loading transport is a Philips CD Pro2 unit, mounted on a suspended sub chassis for vibration control. The top loader's sliding cover action is super smooth and well built. As usual for a top loader, a magnetic puck is required to keep the disc clamped down. The DAC type is not mentioned, but the spec indicates of the up sampling variety, however, curiously, no sampling option choices are allowed. All I can say is, why bother? When the default chosen setting is so spot on! There's only co-ax digital output option. Analog output can be chosen between RCA and XLR. I used the XLR outputs exclusively. The simple blue fluorescent display is non dim able, non switch able either.
The Metronome Technologie CD One T's back end.

The Philips Standard RC5 up market remote, with metal top plate.

For a player costing a little more than RM$46K, I'd expected the remote to be more than a Philips standard RC5 issue, with a metal top cosmetic, no back light and many non-functioning buttons, however, in actual use, the remote proved to be very ergonomically intuitive and felt chunky in the hands. Yep! folks, that's the only thing I managed to nit pick on this Metronome Technologie CD One T. By the way, the "T" is to indicate an pair of 6922 output tubes employed in the player's output stage. By the way, I heard little or no tube colouration at all in the player's sonic quality. The cheaper Metronome Technologie CD One Signature makes do without the "T" out put stage.
The internals of the cheaper Metronome Technologie CD One, sans the out put 6922 tubes. Note the transport mounted on the triangular suspended sub plinth for dampening transport vibrations.

In summary, this is one of the best and most "humane" sounding digital players to have come my way so far. It's sound is special only because of that "humane" quality it adds to the music it's asked to reproduced. So far, in this respect, no other player comes even close!

Metronome Technologie is sold by CMY Audio & Visual, contact John, tel: 03-21439206

December 23, 2009

Rega Turn Table Upgrade Kit, By Asia Sound Equipment.

Here are two affordable upgrades for all those Rega turn tables out there. These items are in house engineered and precision made locally by Asia Sound Equipment. Since I am a Rega turn table user, Eddie Tan thought I should try them out on my P25, of which only 2,500 units were made to celebrate Rega's 25th Anniversary in year 1999. I some how seem to be an easy sucker for Anniversary audio products. Hmm.........

The acrylic platter up grade option by Asia Sound Equipment.

First up is an acrylic platter, designed as a drop in replacement for any of the standard issue Rega glass platter, for the P1, P5 and the various versions of P2 and P3 turn table. In comparison, the acrylic platter is slightly thicker and feels heavier than the original supplied glass version. It seems to be designed as a perfect fit for the current versions of the Rega turn tables. The various earlier versions of Rega turn tables, like my P25, will require a slight height adjustment to the inner plastic sub platter to fit the acrylic platter. This is easily done by fitting some light plastic extensions on to the sub platter, to extend the height a little so that the new acrylic platter will lift off the plinth, instead of resting on it.

The Rega standard supplied glass platter on the resting plastic inner plastic sub platter.

The acrylic platter for comparison.

I must also caution that doing so changes the VTA(Vertical Tracking Angle) of the cartridge, which is non adjustable on a standard Rega turn table and tone arm package, though there are plenty of after market VTA adjustments kits on offer else where. In the philosophy of Roy Gandy(Rega's founder and boss), I chose to ignore the importance of the VTA adjust ability aspect, but the actual sound result may be attributed to the influence of the changes of VTA too. You may choose to either use the standard Rega supplied felt mat or not, a matter of preference, I think. I much prefer the resulting sound with the felt mat in use, so do note this when reading the review further down. With that taken care of, let's start listening.

Immediately, upon the drop of stylus on to the LP groove, I noticed lower LP surface noise. LP hiss is almost eliminated too. But best of all, I heard less high mid sibilance so prominent on glass platter ed Regas. The acrylic platter also tidied up what ever so slightly splashy high hats and cymbals on drum tracks. The mids are now more solid with good body density, great focus and definition, solidly anchoring the singer(vocal) to the ground. Bass is more articulate and tightened.

Acrylic platter in used with the Rega supplied standard felt mat.

The acrylic platter up grade lifts the hifi performance perimeters of my Rega P25, while manages to keep it's best virtues of the signature musical flow and tempo. In short, there's practically no down side to spending the extra RM$400.00 on the acrylic platter up grade, irregardless, which ever various versions of the glass platter ed Rega turn tables you have or planning to buy new. I would have bought this acrylic platter up grade my self, if not for a pending turntable up grade on the horizon!

The high quality brass LP clamp, with bubble level built in on the top surface.

Next up is a brass LP clamp, with a bubble level inserted in to the top face of the clamp, for easy indication of your Rega turn table's level setting. The clamp is quite weighty and looks very well made. Like all record clamps, all you need to do is place it on the center spindle of the platter whilst playing an LP, and any changes in sound will be heard.

Sitting on the LP, thru the centering spindle.

In use, I thought the level of performance improved is very, very subtle, compared to the acrylic platter up grade. When used together with the acrylic platter up grade, I found that the LP clamp made little differences, if at all to the sound of the Rega turn table. It is only when I reverted to the original Rega supplied glass platter, I taught the subtle sonic changes more worth while. I found that the high mid sibilance that came with the glass platter to be more subdued with the LP clamp in used. Other wise, all other musical and hifi performance perimeter of the Rega turn table remained unchanged. In fact, come to think of it, the LP clamp can be used for any other turn tables, as all the center spindle is of the same size. Not bad for a well made product costing RM$55.00/pc!

The acrylic and LP clamp in use as a package.

In summary, one may choose to get both items as an up grade kit for their Rega. I personally feel the acrylic platter up grade brought along more meaningful sonic results, with or without the brass LP clamp in use. If you choose to continue using the Rega supplied glass platter, then adding the brass LP clamp is a less aggressive option, only if less rewarding, sonically speaking. No pain, no gain! As with all things turntable, set up and cartridge to phono stage compatibility will invariably influence the sonic out come and as I will put in caution my usual caveat, your mileage may vary.

Rega is sold by Asia Sound Equipment, contact Eddie Tan, tel: 03-79552091

December 22, 2009

My Vinyl Revival! Pass Labs X-Ono Phono Stage.

Pass Labs X-Ono. An example of the more commonly found Rev.2 version.

With my CD player's recovery health status in limbo, with minimum chances of ever fully operational again, in it's original form, I indulged with my other source, the humble LP.

With one of my hifi buddy's recent phono stage upgrade, I was offered a prospect of owner ship to his pre-owned Pass Labs X-Ono phono stage. I know, this is not the latest XP series model and that I would offer no new perspective on what is an out dated product. However, this blog also serves to document both mine and Odiosleuth's hifi journey too, so I think I'll make a quick mention of it here.
My actual unit which is the Rev.1 version, or the one of the first batches of X-Ono's ever made. Note the shoe box sized power supply box.

The unit is a Rev.1 version, in which while the audio circuit is the same as the more common Rev.2 version available here, the main difference is in the power supply casing. The Rev.1 version power supply box is plain black shoe boxed sized, whilst the Rev.2 version power supply box is full sized, same as the main audio box. The Rev.1 also makes do with 2U steel casing while the Rev.2 version gets CNC-ed thick aluminium panels all round, just as per the front panel. Both Rev.1 and Rev.2 connects to their power supply boxes via 24 pin terminated custom cable.
The back panel of the audio box. RCA input, XLR output. Note the Telos Gold RCA caps for better noise rejection and slightly improved sound staging and imaging focus. I hope to get a pair of Telos Platinum caps to try later.

Now, the sound. I must first stress that in the process of auditioning audio gear for sound quality, if a particular equipment gives you goose bump moments when playing music, it is worth investing your $$$ buying and your time listening to it! The Pass Lab X-Ono did just that within 20 minutes in to the home trial session! Never mind if the cartridge loading and gain setting was not even finalised. It's that good! I took a further 2 weeks of continued listening to finally confirm the both the earlier mentioned settings. Mated to my Benz Micro Glider L cartridge, I ended up using 76 ohms loading and 66 db gain settings.

With the setting finalised, I sat down and listened to some music. Compared to my home brewed Pass Lab Ono DIY-ed effort, I found the real Mc Coy Pass Lab X-Ono to have much, much lower noise floor, better dynamic range & frequency extensions at both extremes plus, it's a whole lot more transparent to boot! Couple that to rather refined and textured high, smooth(but not the smoothest yet!) mids and iron gripped bass slam, I felt my LP reproduction performance levels taken up a few notches. I think the Pass Lab X-Ono is a great musical all rounder, as if you can remember, I am musically genre blind. My playback gear must do all musical genre equally well, and be compassionate to most the poorly recorded 70's and 80's rock music in my LP collection.
The Rega P25 and the Pass Labs X-Ono. Interesting but goose bumps inducing musical experience.

However, all that transparency is also a double edged sword. Along with all the sonic improvements points I heard, the sonic limitations of my Rega P25 turn table are also laid bare for nit pick. I heard what can be described as, a slight greyness in the back ground noise, LP surface noise is starting to get notice able and some wow and flutter problems when playing piano tracks. Don't get me wrong, it's not that I no longer love my Rega P25 turn table, it's a great value for money product, high in musical satisfaction and gets most of the hifi fundamentals right. However, I'll have to admit that there are better turn tables out there, like the Rega P9 or Linn Soundek LP 12 for instance.

Needless to say, after much deliberation, I bought the Pass Lab X-Ono phono stage, to spear head my vinyl revival.

December 21, 2009

VPI Now At Centre Circle Audio

Vinyl lovers, if you are looking for a new turntable setup, check out the vpi range at Centre Circle Audio.

Three models from vpi have arrived - Aries 3, Classic, and Scout II. The Classic model, especially, has garnered rave reviews from Harry Pearson apparently, and Nelson Chia told me that it is his best selling model in the range.

Contact Centre Circle Audio, Ph: 03-77282686; Nelson Chia 012-2876807; Sky Wong 012-3371787

vpi Classic with jmw memorial 10.5ise tonearm

vpi Scout II

December 19, 2009

Asia Sound Equipment @ Amcorp Mall PJ.

The Asia Sound Equipment store front, located on 1st floor of Amcorp Mall.

There are many happenings in the Malaysian high end audio scene lately. One of the more recent develpoment is that Asia Sound Equipment, located on the first floor of Amcorp Mall PJ, has opened a second showroom on the 3rd floor of the same building.

The hifi demo systems on the 1st floor showroom. Your choice of digital or analog?

Rotel budget hifi.

Rega system, P3-24 turtable, Fono phono stage, Brio intergrated amp.

Rega Saturn CD player.

Rega P3-24 turn table.

Xindak tube amplifiers, very well made in China.

The full range of Rega RS speakers.

Full range of AKG head phones sold here too.

The AV system demo, consisting of Rotel precessor receiver and Paradigm speakers.

The 1st floor lot is used to demo and display their full range of Rega turn tables, electronics, speakers & accesories, Xindak tube electronics and cables plus a host of other brands like Rotel electronics, Thorens turn tables and AKG head phones. One can audition any of the above mentioned hifi equipments in comfort.

The display area of the 4th floor show room, just next to Mc Donalds.

The up market JM Lab Alto Utopia and Paradigm Reference Studio speakers on display/demo.

The 4th floor show room demo is sourced by, what else, but Rega turntables!

More Paradigm speakers, and Xindak tube amps in the back ground.

The tastefully decorated 3rd floor showroom mainly showcases premium brands like Paradigm and JM Lab speakers. These speaker products are demoed with, what else? But Rega source and amplification.

The man in charge! Eddie Tan. Note the blue coloured Citibank safe behind him? He only opens that to his best customers! He!He!

Oh, by the way, did I tell you that there's a generous trade in offer for purchases of Rega turn tables? The pair of JM Lab Alto Utopia on display is also available with a generous discount. To make way for what seems to be the newer Skala or Grande Utopia EM perhaps?(fingers crossed).