August 2, 2009

Spicing Up Your Hifi with Telos Caps

This is an old post of ours in the blog we previously contributed to.

First up, confession, I do not use a lot of tweak accessories with my hifi. The current items in my system that can be seen as tweaks are generic caps on the rca inputs of my monoblocks, my pre-amp (4 pieces), my cd player's digital output and a trio of finite elemente ceraballs under my pre-amp. If you want to count my finite elemente pagode signature rack as a big tweak, then you are welcome too. :-) My cdp, monoblocks, and speakers sit on the feet and spikes that they come with. All my cables either just dangle there or snake on the floor.

I like to equate audio tweaks to spices in cooking. Spices can't turn a fish dish into beef, but they are instrumental in supplementing and bringing out the true flavours of the main ingredients, and also to help the chef achieve the flavour that he/she aims for. The key, I think, is to use the right kind and the right amount.

I had a ball with Telos' products when Lil'KC and Ken visited me some time ago (see "Talking Torque again..." on April 13). The experience prompted me to call John Sin of C&O Audiophile Enterprise (012-5269313) to request for a complete set of Telos caps for evaluation.

Telos Caps Galore
John is a good sport. He supplied me with all I wanted, including Telos' rca caps, xlr caps (both male and female) and the speaker caps - they are of both the Gold and Platinum varieties, so that I could also do a comparison between the two.

The number of permutations possible for evaluation is limitless of course. One can mix Gold with Platinum, go the whole 9 yards by covering up every speaker, rca, xlr terminal, or cover up some but leave open others.

I got different results with my 2 cd players. Though experience with both was positive, there was a difference in the number of Telos caps I needed to achieve the sound quality I think has best balance of virtues. So I suspect they will be system dependent - you may need more of fewer than me to achieve the final result. Horses for courses.

To start, I took off all the generic caps I was using, and listened to the sound. It was not unlistenable, just that there was some hash in the highs and a slight confusion in the sound.
Telos RCA caps (Platinum above, Gold below)
Then, I proceed to put on the Telos Gold caps on each piece of equipment in sequence, listening for a while at each step, starting with the speaker terminals of my EgglestonWorks The Nine and going upstream. I started to hear discernible difference when I got to the rca inputs on my Pass Labs XA60 monoblocks. Yes, the background got quieter, the sound became a little smoother. This feeling is reinforced more and more as I ventured further up the chain. By the time I finished, the final transformation in sound was really quite pronounced - My system was operating on a velvety dark canvas. The images became more focused, their edges were better defined. The sound was smooth. Decay could be followed easier, take any well recorded vocal music, I used 2v1 and Rickie Lee Jones' 'Pop Pop' albums, and follow each phrase, you can track it until it vanishes into the darkness.

It was an impressive start. The words that easily came to mind to describe the improvements were 'clean', 'clear', 'transparent'.

A day more of listening, I was itching to 'tweak' the sound again. The sound now was controlled, to my ears just a little tight probably. I wanted to add a little liveliness and organic feel in the music, more flow. I pulled out some of the caps and tried out different configurations (well, this sounds easier on paper, like I said, there were a lot of permutations). At the end, I left the speaker caps and a few pairs of caps on my pre-amp out, and achieved what I wanted. In the process, I just need to sacrifice a bit of that background quietness.
Telos XLR caps (female version left, male version right)
Before I could go on to make comparison with the Platinum version, my Meridian developed a fault and had to go back to the dealer. I pressed my Copland CDA822 cd player into service. After a 3-day acclimatization period, I started evaluating the caps again. Suspecting that the Copland's relatively looser sound (the new Meridian has comparatively more defined and denser images) would benefit with more caps (which turned out to be true), I threw all cautions to the wind and put all the speaker, rca and xlr caps on again, where I did not have enough Gold rca caps, I used the Platinum ones.

The transformation was again pronounced - quieter, clearer, cleaner, more defined, tightened and focused images and soundstage.

A couple of days later, while enjoying the sound quality improvement, I felt the music did not involve me as much as before. It was a very polished performance no doubt but probably missed a bit of that something to pull me into the music fully.

I just have to find the right balance point like my previous experience. Rolling things back, I stopped with 3 more pairs of rca caps compared to the equilibrium point with the Meridian. This combination gave me listening bliss thereafter. It made me wondered far and wide into my CD collection, as it made many CDs so listenable.
Telos Speaker Caps
This experience told me that while the Telos caps gave good results, the users might have to experiment for the right number and the right combination for their system. As I said earlier - horses for courses. I also suspect the finite elemente pagode signature rack, which has greatly cleaned up my system's sound, probably warranted fewer caps to be used.

I was not done yet, I went on to compare the Gold to the Platinum version. I replaced all the Gold caps on my pre-amp to the Platinum ones. My goodness, the Platinum version was even more potent. All the earlier improvements were there and made more pronounced. In addition, they added more body and solidity to the sound. Transparency improved further, image edges were so well defined and everything was so easy to 'see'.

The old feeling did resurface though, I enjoyed the hifi attributes, but was not enjoying the music so much. The reason was found in the controlled and slightly sculpted highs. It could be heard on old recordings that have tape hiss (I used Billie Holiday's "Holiday for Lovers" Verve 314 589 932-2) and tracks that have a lot of cymbal works (such as the "Drum Improvisation Track" by Ron Tutt on The Sheffield Lab's Drum & Track Disc, at about 01:00 - 03:00), where the initial strike was heard cleaner and clearer, but the subsequent spread-in-the-air quality was curtailed a tad.

No problem, I was familiar with the routine already, I replaced the Platinum caps with Gold pair by pair. And found the best combination again with 2 pairs of caps reverted back to Gold.

Now, my system can be played louder without harshness, emotion and musical enjoyment was retained as before, even greater improvement in noise level and soundstage definition.

That was fun. These caps are going to stay in my system.

You should go out and get some, their quality is excellent, their price attractive (downright cheap with the Gold rca caps, I paid RM10 each for the generic caps, Telos' cost RM13 each list price, the quality between the two is a wide gulf). Experiment a little, I am quite certain that they will do something positive for you.

Let me leave you with this little cheeky tale - I was chit-chatting with a friend and told him how impressed I was with the caps. He then threw me this - "if an equipment's sound is badly affected by the 'holes' at the back, such that they have to be covered up, the manufacturer should give us as few 'holes' as possible, right? If, rather, the caps could improve the sound by virtue of them being added to the equipment, then the manufacturer should give us many many 'holes', so we can use a lot of caps to improve the sound, right? So, which is which?" I went gaga for a while.

Then I thought, the heck with it, I like the Telos caps, I am enjoying my system, should I care? :-)

List prices of Telos caps:
RCA caps - Gold --------------- RM130/10pcs
RCA caps - Platinum --------- RM250/10pcs
XLR male caps - Gold -------- RM130 /pair
XLR male caps - Platinum -- RM250/pair
XLR female caps - Gold ----- RM130/pair
XLR female caps - Platinum - RM250/pair
Speaker caps - Gold ---------- RM200/4pcs
Speaker caps - Platinum ---- RM350/4pcs

Telos is carried by C&O Audiophile Enterprise 05-5456477 / 012-5269313 (Mr. John Sin)

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