September 29, 2009

Power Of Silence. More Adventures With Audio Prism Noise Sniffer.

Audio Prism Noise Sniffer.

Over the years, many have accused high end power cords and PLCs of been useless devices with "Snake Oil" label. Are they really?

With the Audio Prism Noise Sniffer at hand, I set to find out.

Let's see what the Audio Prism Noise Sniffer results say, Refer to the chart below:

Note: All figures are represented as decibels(db). Ambient[B] taken as room's noise floor for base line comparison. Direct/Wall[C] as per reading taken direct from wall power point, unfiltered. Filtered[D] as per reading taken from Power Line Conditioner outputs or Power Cord's IEC end. Extention[E] readings are taken if any extensions are used from PLC to power front end equipments. Results[F] are taken in (-) minus readings to represent the power line noise reduction in decibels(db).

A post mortem of the results obtained.

Based on the Results[F] columm figures, it would appear that the PS Audio Power Plant Premier regenerator is the most effective in cleaning up EMI/RFI noise riding along power lines, by reducing a whooping -62dbs from the 112db reading taken direct from wall. This means that the output of the PS Audio PPP is dead silent taken in to consideration that room ambient is 50dbs, when gauge from the Audio Prism Noise Sniffer's tiny speaker.

Coming in joint 2nd placing with -59dbs noise reduction reading is the Pure Power 1050i and the Furutech Daytona 303. My much loved Torus Power RM8A only managed a close 3rd placing with a noise reduction of -58dbs. As to why the other Torus Power RM8A only managed to reduce noise by -51dbs? That has to do with the point in time when I took the powered measured from wall, which only read 105dbs. The results would have been much the same as mine should the noise from wall taken at that time been noisier, say at 112dbs?

Furutech Daytona 303.

Torus Power RM8A.

PS Audio Power Plant Premier.

However, the results above are just one of the few aspects of noise reduction measurement, in relation to what we actually hear via our hifi system. I must stress that the chart above alone is in no way a justification of which is the best PLC available in the market. The chart above should instead, I feel be taken as a guide to help you narrow down your choice of PLC for audition in your system.

Based from the above chart, there are ten facts that stood out quite clearly.

1) All transformer based PLCs, irregardless of brand, will leave a some residue noise, on both the Torus Power RM8A units measured, there was a consistent 2db transformer hum at output, I would consider that as the best of the transformer based PLC breed measured.

2) The Audio Magic Stealh XXX, PS Audio PPP, Pure Power 1050i and the Furutech Daytona 303 deserves special mention here as their results were total silence, i.e. total noise elimination. Though the Audio Magic Stealh XXX measurement results only showed -42dbs, one must note that it started with only 92dbs of noise measured from wall. I am sure if the wall measurement was noisier, say 112dbs, we would have got a very diferent results, which I am very confident that the Audio Magic could do much more than this survey had indicated.
Audio Magic Stealh XXX.(photo is an older model)

3) Any sort of power cord extensions, used post the PLC's output, is sure to act as an antenea for EMI/RFI noise. In my own case, the noise picked up along the 10ft of cable extension post Torus Power was +17dbs! In the case of the Subang Jaya, all Furutech based system, the 12ft extension used post Furutech Daytona 303 was +12dbs, indication that the Furutech Evolution power cord used for that extension is superior compared to my rather economical JPS Inwall, in terms of noise sheilding.

4) Low cost power line filters like the Audio Prism Quiet Line MKIII(-30dbs noise) and Isotek Isoplug(-19dbs noise) are more effective than I had imagined. However, the trick is to install them as close to your equipment as possible. They do loose their effectiveness rapidly with more distance. For a mere RM$200-300/pc, they are PLC bargains when used correctly, and great for first timers starting out in the PLC journey.

5) Exotic and high price power cords actually do make a diference, irrespective one can hear it or not, the Audio Prism Noise Sniffer can tell the diference! The most expensive power cord of the group measured, the JPS Kaptovator, priced at RM$5K+/per meter can reduce power bourne noise by -18dbs! On the contrary, the typical standard power cord supplied with most electrical appliance and hifi equipment picks up +6dbs of noise along it's 1 meter length! Along the way, we have Shunyata, PS Audio amongst other specialty power cords available in the market, effectively reducing an average of -6dbs of power bourne noise along it's one meter length. Does that give you something to think about?

6) Small tweaks, like an X-2 capacitor, installed on the IEC end of my JPS Inwall power cord, does reduce noise by as much as -4dbs! As measured on two of my identically terminated JPS Inwall, one with the X-2 cap tweak and the other without.

7) Dimmers are an absolute NO-NO!, in a hifi room, note the system where the PS Audio PPP resides and had a dimmer light switch installed, with the dimmer in use, the effectiveness of the mighty PS Audio Power Plant Premier is reduced to a mere -14dbs, from the previous -62dbs when the dimmer switch was not in used.

8) Good plug points and contacts can also reduce noise by as much as -2dbs! This was demonstrated between the use of the much supperior built Isotek Multiway vs the cheap 'n' cheerful Wireworld Electrifier in my system.

9) Though results were unlisted, and I do not have concrete proof of what I am about to say. I believe that economically priced digital gear are more prone to digital power supply noise bleed back in to the system power supply, compared to the higher end models. This was demonstrated when I plugged the Stello CDT-100 and DA100 Signature pair in to the Wireworld Electrifier, sans the Isotek Isoplug filter, I found the noise floor from the output of the Wireworld Electrifier to measure at 73dbs, vs my resident Marantz CD7, which measured at 71dbs, same as in with or without the Marantz CD7 plugged in. There was a 2db noise floor diference in favour of the more expensive, if older Marantz CD player. Reason being, I guess is that the higher end CD players have stiffer and better filtered built in power supply modules, compared to the economical model.

10) The RGPC 400 Pro, is perhaps the most misunderstood power product by the consumer. In used, either as part of the RGPC Isogray or as a stand alone product to power a hifi system, it consistently reduces only -1db of noise. I feel therefore, a need to clarify the purpose of the RGPC 400 Pro. It's not a power noise filter. It's intended more of a power storage and peak power draw smoothening device. The RGPC 400 Pro will store up to 2000W of power, and when required, can release all those energy in an instant, as it is usually installed much closer to the hifi system. My guess is the the -1db noise is more a result of good contact then anything else.
Pure Power 1050i.

One final thought I wish to add to the Noise Sniffer Results chart above. Whilst the regenerator type PLCs technically reign supreme in this simple but high effective Noise Sniffer test, it doesn't quite tell the whole story. If you'd look back at my previous reviews of the Pure Power 2000 PLC, which is regenarator based on class D amplification technology, you'd read about my mentioning about it's sinewave output profile of a saw tooth like pattern. This saw tooth like pattern, mostly emiting 3rd order harmonics, which are some what less pleasant to the human ear perception, much like why some audiophiles prefer tube amps over solid state. I do believe that the current PS Audio Power Plant Premier is class D based as well, compared to it's older models.

With this final analysis, my time with the Audio Prism Noise Sniffer had come to an end. Did you notice how much A/C power supply infomation, one can get from this little device, with aide from an SPL meter and a little thoughtfulness?

The Audio Prism Noise Sniffer is an essential tool if one is serious about experiencing how power supply noise issues effects our hifi system's performance.

Audio Prism products sold by Hi-Way Laser, contact Kenny, tel:019-2813399.

September 27, 2009

Well Matched and Excellently Done

I have been wanting to blog about this system for a while. In fact, I wanted to do this since I knew its owner more than a year ago. However, I never quite got the owner's go-ahead.

I visited this system again a couple of weeks ago, and I finally understood why the owner acquiesce to my request now. His system's performance previously was no slouch, but he had brought it a few notches up since. I was surprised by the magnitude of improvement that it has shown. That was the best ever performance that I have heard from it over a number of visists.

So here, I give you Mike Lau's hifi system.

Like many Malaysian audiophiles, Mike had his system placed in the living room. It was the most prominent feature that would attracted any visitor's attention. Since the living room was pretty spacious and opened to other parts of the house, there was no problem of echo, boominess or other ills that could afflict a system in a poorly set up dedicated room. I was simply impressed by the bass performance from this system, it was very well defined with no bloatiness or boom at all, each bass note was clearly delineated with no smearing while at the same time solid, hefty and could go deep.

Whatever acoustic treatments Mike did, he did it discreetly. There were some curtains and bamboo blinds on the wall and windows, and carpet on the floor, those were all that I could see. However, Mike did pay rather extensive attention to isolation of his equipment with various cones and platforms, you'll see some of them in the photos to come.

Mike's latest acquisition was the Ayre CX-7eMP cd player, a player that Big E and me also sang praises about just last week on this blog. I am glad to know that Mike heard and recognized the same fine qualities from this player as we did. :-)

The tranducers were a pair of Thiel CS2.4 (it saddens me to know that Mr. Jim Thiel, founder and designer of Thiel Audio passed away a few days ago). This pair of Thiel defied all the stereotypical comments about Thiel speakers that I have heard before - bright, sharp, technically accomplished but not quite organic/musical. I do not know what magic Mike had conjured up, but here I did not hear anything, none whatsoever, that would confirm these comments. Again, another prejudice debunked for me.

With the Thiel coupled to the Pass Labs XP-10 pre-amp and X250.5 power amp, the sound was very coherent and musical - we listened and listened, and if it was not dinner time, I would have stayed on and requested more.

Soundstaging from this system was impressive, the stage was nicely thrown up behind the plane of the speakers, and it was wide and had excellent depth and layering. Images were well focused and had natural body, it was not one of those thin-but-taken-as-well-defined kind of sound. In fact, it was more analogue sounding than digital.

For electricity supply, Mike used a Furutech distribution block C-TP60/20 with a Furutech cord to the wall, powercords to the equipment were the excellent JPS Labs Kaptovators and Power AC+. Being the methodical person that he is, Mike said that he had not found the power line conditioning product that could fulfill his expectation entirely, it was a win-some-lose-some proposition compared to getting the juice directly from the wall, but he is on the search. Given his past achievements in building his system, I bet when Mike found what he wanted, his system's performance would go up a further notch.

The cables that strung the system together were JPS Labs Superconductor 3 from cdp to preamp; Audioquest Colorado from preamp to poweramp. Speaker cables were Furutech Reference 3 that he was testing out at that moment.

This is one very well matched system and I was very impressed with the enjoyable sound to say the least. Mike's dedication to this hobby of ours had seen him moving his system performance from one level to another, always upward.

Excellently done, Mike!

September 25, 2009

Anticpating "Love's Tapestry"

I caught up with Maggielurva of the Desirable Audio fame yesterday. The man seems to have disappeared from the radar for a while now. What's he up to exactly? Maggie told me that he is taking a sabbatical from Hi-Fi and is now producing a couple of long-overdue audiophile albums.

Maggie invited me to the first practice session for the "Love's Tapestry" album featuring Roger Wang on guitar (Maggie seems to love his guitar!) and Philipino singer Gina Panizales on vocals. Maggie's house seemed to have changed a lot since the last time I visited; it is more spacious now and more classy too. But his main Hi-Fi system remains the same, taking centre spot in the living hall.

I asked Maggie what inspired him to do this album of English classic love songs. He revealed that it is a recent romance that left an indelible mark in his life and the girl involved is someone who loves 70s & 80s pop music just like Maggielurva. So the album is actually inspired by and dedicated to this girl. Wow, how romantic for an audiophile! Maggie is very ambitious with this project as this is his own label's, Pop Pop music, first audiophile album. To make it even more delicious for audiophile music lovers, he and his partner have invested substantially in the studio by the name of Tutti Studio. Apart from the state-of-the-art Neve console board that cost a whopping Rm200K, Maggie has wired the key links thoroughly with Stage III Concepts cables, his all-time-favourite cables. Readers of Desirable Audio would know how crazy Maggie is with Stage III cables. In his mind, nothing beats Stage III cables in the areas of high frequencies and transparency.

When I reached Maggie's house, Roger and Gina has already started. Roger is playing with his spanking new Harp Guitar (which is built by a luthier in Kepong!), an odd shaped guitar that has extra 6 bass strings! Roger explained that he needs more bottom/lows in his music hence the birth of the idea to build a Harp Guitar. Gina Panizales may be a foreign name to many of you but I can tell you how great her voice is. She has a great tone and a very seductive bassy voice. I have never doubted Maggie's talent scouting abilities. Any singer who can pass his test must be of a certain calibre. The duo did a couple of songs which are familiar to me - "Still" by the Commodores, "Persistent Rain" by Aiza Seguerra. All I could say is this duo is even better than 2V1G! Roger is English educated and certainly adept in Western pop music and Gina seems so at ease with this kind of classic love songs. I was greatly entertained by them!

Maggie told me that recording should start end of next month. Some of the songs will be just a guitar and voice and some will be with a trio. I really can't wait for its release! Maggie said it would be ready for Valentine's Day next year. Gee, this die-hard romantic :-)

I would be covering more on the progress of "Love's Tapestry" here. One thing for sure, this will be the most-anticipated local audiophile album in 2010!

September 24, 2009

Bright Lights, Big City, Bad Power? More Adventures with Audio Prism Noise Sniffer.

Bright Lights, Big City, Kuala Lumpur, home to 3.5 million Malaysians. That's the official figure, add another million or so if illegals are to be counted, He!He!

Using the very same method I described on my earlier Audio Prism Noise Sniffer post for checking RFI/EMI noise riding along the power lines to my home, I've decided to check out other areas of Kuala Lumpur, where friendly homes are open to my probing. The list is not exhaustive, and does not cover many areas, but I believe it's a fair representation of overall power condition within the Kuala Lumpur and Klang Valley in general. You get the idea.

As usual I begin with checking the room ambient noise before doing any further measurement. Whilst there are rooms quieter than the 50db of the SPL meter limit, it'll not show. But all room's ambient noise taken is somewhere between 50db(quietest and SPL meter limit) and 54db(noisiest). Now 4db may not seem like a lot, but I must stress that our average system playing music at average SPL peak of 90db volume in a 50db ambient room may only require 25Watts of theoretical amplifier power, playing the same music it the same 90db volume with the same system in a 53db ambient room will require the use of a theoretical 50Watts amplifier, for us to hear the same volume and music dynamics. So a quieter room is a better room for hifi enjoyment.

With the room equation out of the way, lets see if your area has noisy power lines.


Putra Heights, USJ: 92 - 112

Petaling Jaya, Section 13: 92 - N/A

Petaling Jaya, Bandar Utama: 88 - 102

Puchong, Bandar Putri: N/A - 102

Serdang, Seri Kembangan: N/A - 112

Kuala Lumpur, Jalan Ipoh: N/A - 113

Kuala Lumpur, Seri Hartamas: N/A - 105

Subang Jaya, SS17: N/A - 112

From the chart above, where possible like Odiosleuth's and my own place, I managed to measure the lowest A/C power noise(88db and 92db), which are typically Sunday afternoons, and peaks which are usually week day evenings, at (112db and 113db) when factories are not closed yet, or operating at night shift and at the same time, many people are already back from work, at home turning on their lights, plasma TV and every other home appliance you can think off. If you take the peak levels recorded, deduct with the typical room ambient measurements, that will translate to between 40-60dbs of RFI/EMI noise riding along your power supply lines.

For most of us listening to our hifi system at 90-95db music peaks, which is already very loud(this I've been told off by countless people! He!He!), which I measured in my own room with peak music playing. Having power supply lines noisier than our peak music volume only make things very unpleasant to listen to.

The tools for the job, Audio Prism Noise Sniffer and an analog SPL meter.

Of course, prior to this most of us would never know how bad the situation was, because the noise was inter weaved in to our music, showing it self as grainy high frequencies, irritating sibilants, edginess in the music and may even result in indistinct and unstable imaging. Hence over the last two decades or so, audiophiles begin to find ways to solve this A/C power supply noise issue.

Many have advocated a separate and dedicated power line(from 3 phase supply, if possible), pulled direct from incoming, all the way in to the hifi room where the MCB panel is no more than 6 feet away from the power point you plug the hifi system in to. I did not get a chance to measure a home with this power layout for hifi room, so I cannot confirm nor deny it's effectiveness.

The other more common way for most of us is to power our hifi system via a power line conditioner. In my case as exhibited earlier, some other auxiliary equipment were also used to achieved a minimised, or noise free power line as close as possible result. With that in mind, armed with the Audio Prism Noise Sniffer at hand, I went about checking various PLC systems available in the market and their effectiveness in power line noise reduction. Stay tuned.

Audio Prism is sold by Hi-Way Laser, contact Kenny, tel: 019-2813399

September 23, 2009

Fresh Ayre! Ayre CX-7eMP CD Player.

A breath of fresh Ayre.

The market forces naturally corrects it self, especially when times are competitive. Just as we have found the Stello CDT100 Transport and DA100 Signature DAC's performance punching it's way right above it's own and in to a price class above, along comes the Ayre CX-7eMP to move the goal post, and forges ahead.

To be honest, I've never been a fan of Ayre CD player's. Whilst I have found them to be technically accomplished, and it's sound ticks all the right audiophile boxes, I just thought all previous non MP designated Ayre disc spinners to lack a little PRAT, or musicality. I've always yearned for a little more sparkle, plus rhythm and pace, each time I heard it. So I was naturally a little reserved when Kenny of Hi-Way Laser asked me to take this latest model, priced at RM$15.3k, for a spin.
As I first plugged the player in to my system to run in for 2 weeks, I did no serious listening. However, on the third day of it's residence in my system, I had a visitor. My friend was immediately impressed by the Ayre CX7-eMP. He said he'd like to investigate about this player more. By the following week when I visited him, he had already bought a unit, and is extremely pleased with his decision! Congrats, man!

Still all this while, I did not seriously listen to the Ayre yet, but I knew the Ayre's performance was potent, real potent. Odiosleuth took it home for a spin whilst I got involved with other subjects, and he was singing daily praises for the Ayre CX7-eMP.

When it was my turn to listened to the Ayre, I switched between the "listen" and "measure" mode to establish my preference. In the context of my warmer and probably mellower system balance, I found myself preferring the "measure" mode, contrary to Odioslueth's preference.

When in "listen" mode, I thought the Ayre's performance was smooth and organic, but in 'measure" mode, I found the Ayre more incisive, with authority, had better dynamic contrast and lastly, more pin point imaging qualities. All my review experience was based on "measure" mode there after.

The Ayre CX-7eMP on my rack.

The Ayre's tonal balanced is strictly neutral compared to my warmer Marantz CD7, yet I've found both players have so much in common, sound character wise. The highs and mids are almost in distinguish able, except the very slight bloom on the mids on the Marantz. The bass front is where the Ayre trumps. it's bass is at once solid, articulate and tuneful, making the Marantz seemed a little bloated in that area by comparison. This is exemplified when playing a double bass track, when it had the Marantz seemingly caught wrong noted, the Ayre's note to note transfer quality remained clean and clearly audible by comparison.

The Ayre's extension at bandwidth extremes on both ends are as good as it gets. However, the refinement factor,especially the high frequencies though class leading, still cannot touch those levels set by the Esoteric X-03, which is clearly at twice the price, belongs to a class above. Just to put things in to perspective.

I found this Ayre CX7-eMP to excel in rhythm and pace or PRAT this time, perhaps the area of biggest improvement compared to the non MP designated older players. Now, it doesn't mean this player sounds fast trying to rush from note to note. But rather, it allows each note to finish cleanly, before starting the next musical note, all in it's own time, yet never sounding slower or faster than it needs to be. I value this quality in a source highly. I believe if a source does not have musicality to start with, one can never get it back at the pre amp, or at any stage further down the audio chain. However, having musicality at source alone does not guarantee a musical system as it too could be lost along the way, in the hifi chain. So if your source have musicality like the new Ayre CDP has , you'll need to work hard to preserve it.

Another big step forward compared to the older non MP designated Ayre CD players is the sound stage and imaging. I have found the previous non MP Ayre to project a very distant, laid back sound stage, but with limited stage layers in between, not this time. Due to the improved stage layering aspect, I have found the vocal imaging and the subsequent musical instrument behind very clearly separated. The imaging is dense, full bodied, and combined with the sound stage properties mentioned above, one can easily get that "you are there" feel.
The Ayre also digs up a little more information from the CD compared to my Marantz. Low level and subtle details stood out from the music mix more clearly than before, yet never really calling attention to itself. You're just informed that it's there and the music moves on just as quickly.

The sign of an excellent product.

The build quality of the 11.5kg Ayre is very solid. The tray slides in and out smoothly and being a CD-Rom transport, the CD TOC loading time is a tad slower, but once that is done, it's track to track search time is just as fast as any other CD player. I also found the back panel where the interconnects are located to be very warm while in use, an indication that the Ayre's analog output is Class A, which is absolutely my cuppa tea. The remote is functional plastic, rather than the expensive and heavy aluminium variety. I thought the dim able blue LED display to be rather spartan but that's just me. Lastly, it's best to leave the unit on stand for best sound.

At the RM$15K price range, the Ayre CX-7eMP is probably the best choice one can make, if you're shopping for a high quality CD source. Go visit Hi-Way Laser and listen to it for yourself.

Another point to note, if you own an older version of Ayre CX-7 or CX-7e CD player or C-5X or C-5Xe series multi player, you owe it to yourself to check out the up grade options available, to up date your player to the latest MP designated spec. Up grade option prices are not confirmed at this point in time, but do call Kenny at the contact no. listed below for more details.

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

September 21, 2009

Absolute Power Corrupts! Audio Prism Noise Sniffer.

Audio Prism Noise Sniffer sniffs out all the EMI/RFI noise riding along the power lines to your hifi system.

To some I seemed to be obsessed with power! Power supply for our precious hifi system, that is. Well, let's just say that it all started with a quest for lower noise floor for my audio system, and somehow, for every question I managed to find an answer to, more new questions sprouts in to my curious mind.

Along the way, came the Audio Prism Noise Sniffer, courtesy of Kenny of Hi-Way Laser, which retails at RM$895.00 each. As it's name indicates, the device sniffs out the dreadful EMI/RFI noise from your power points, which supplies the all important A/C juice to your hifi system. Now you can't fight an enemy that you can't see or hear. The simple looking Audio Prism Noise Sniffer, once plugged in to the power point, allows you to hear how dirty, nasty EMI/RFI sounds, via a little speaker and a volume(more of a sensitivity) knob. The manual advises to turn the volume(sensitivity) knob to 12'o clock to check for noise once plugged in to a power point. If you can't hear anything, then try to further turn up volume knob and see if you hear any further disturbing noise. Real easy!

I was curious how loud the EMI/RFI noise on the power would be, so I borrowed an SPL meter froma friend to make things just a little more informative.

When I first plugged in to the power point used to power my whole hifi system, turned the volume knob to 12'o clock as per suggested by the manual, I heard a very rude loud noise via the built in speaker of the Noise Sniffer device. I was shocked! But I was also curious, how loud is the noise? I asked around some sifus, and came to this conclusion.

That's how the noise is measured, just to give you an idea.

I first need to know my room ambient noise floor as a base line reference. Then I need to know how loud the EMI/RFI noise is from the power outlet. I borrowed an analog SPL meter from a friend and bingo! I can now measure everything in db scale. I merely placed the SPL meter pick up mic at the middle of the built in speaker of the Noise Sniffer each time I want to measure something. Oh, just one more thing, I made sure every equipment in the hifi chain is switched "on" to simulate the real world use of an hifi system.

Audio Prism Quiet Line MKIII Parallel A/C Line Filter plug.

I first measure my room's noise floor, which shows 52db. I proceeded to measure again the power point used to power ny hifi system. No wonder I had a very rude shock, the decibel meter swung wildly pointing to 112dbs! I then proceed to check how effective my Torus Power RM8A PLC is, by plugging the Noise Sniffer in to one of the spare outlets. This time, I was in for another pleasant suprise! The decibel meter only indicated 54db of a very soft "be....ep, be......ep" sound. WOW! The Torus Power really works! It has managed to bring EMI/RFI noise levels down by a whooping 58dbs, just 2dbs above room's ambient! Highly impressive indeed, however when Odiosleuth threw me one of his spare Audio Prism Quiet Line MKIII parallel A/C line filter (BS std)plug, just nice for plugging in to one of the Torus Power RM8A's spare outlets, I proceeded to measure the noise again, but only this time, the last 2dbs of "be...ep, b....eep" transformer residue noise also turned silent! This is truly brilliant stuff.

The Audio Prism Quiet Line MK parallel A/C line filter plug, installed at the end of the spare outlets on the back of the Torus Power RM8A. Silenced the 2db transformer residue noise.

I then wondered what will happen if I plugged the Noise Sniffer in to my Wireworld Electrifier distributor powered by a 10ft long JPS Inwall power cable. With all my hifi equipment switched on as before, I proceeded with the same test, and again, I am surprised by my findings, the EMI/RFI readings this time shows 71dbs on the Wireworld distributor! That means the 10ft long JPS Inwall was acting like an EMI/RFI antenna, picking up 17dbs of noise along the way!

I know, I know, some of you readers have previously pointed this issue out to me, and are now thinking smugly "I told you so!". I can now confirm that you guys were correct to raise concern of the issue. Please give your self a big pat on the back! Lesson learnt for me.

Isotek Isoplug though the circuit design is very slightly diferent from the Audio Prism product above, but just as effective in soaking up EMI/RFI noise from the power lines.

Now that I know my problems I set out to fix it. I went to the friendly Center Circle Audio guys to borrow an Isotek Isoplug, and an Isotek Multiway distributor. I plug the Isoplug in to one of the spare outlets on the Wireworld Electrifier, and this time, I can confirmed my suspicions. The speaker of the Noise Sniffer was silent, I turn the volume further up till full, it remained dead silent! The Isoplug was absolutely effective, that it brought down all the 19dbs of noise picked up by the long power cable including the remaining 2dbs of transformer residue noise from the Torus Power PLC.

The Isotek Multiway only has minimal noise filtering capabilities, but does provide surge protection for hifi equipment plugged in to it.

The Isotek Multiway was less effective as it was only a very mild filter plus surge protection model. I swap the entire Wireworld Electrifier over to the Isotek Multiway, sans the Isoplug and the measured noise levels went back up to 69dbs! only 2dbs better than the Wireworld Electrifier. I plugged in the Isoplug back in to the Isotek Multiway, and all those RFI/EMI noise went away again, just eerily quiet like as earlier experienced.

Of the two possible solutions, the Wireworld Electrifier and Isoplug combo proved superior in total EMI/RFI noise elimination.

I reverted to the Wireworld Electrifier and Isoplug combo, which I found so effective, and started listening to some music. It's good to know that sometimes, technical results does co-relate to what one hears in music reproduction.

My final choice, the Isoplug does run hot to touch, as it converts noise to heat.

I heard more silent, jet black back ground noise, if any at all, with volume at pre amp adjusted to my usual listening levels. When the music played, the first thing that struck me was how much more relieved all the vocal and instrument images are from the black back ground of the sound stage. I heard better low level resolution, inner micro details within the music mix. I also heard sharper transient response, and some improvements in musical dynamics. All in small quantities, you might say, but it all certainly adds up to better musical enjoyment and fatigue free listening. I could feel much more "connected" to the musical playback easily compared to before.

The most effective and useful hifi tool I've come across so far, price at RM$895.00 each, every high end aspiring audiophile, and those serious about noise floor reduction/elimination, should have one!

I've never come across a more useful audio tool before the Audio Prism Noise Sniffer! I am considering very hard on purchasing the review sample. However, I bought Odiosleuth's spare Audio Prism Quiet Line MKIII and the Isotek Isoplug to fix my noise issue.

Stick around, as I use the Noise Sniffer to check out the most effective PLCs, power cords, Klang Valley power supply noise and confirm or perhaps,reject a few power related speculations and myths too!

Audio Prism power products sold by Hi-Way Laser, contact Kenny Sin, tel:019-2813399

Isotek Power System products sold by Center Circle Audio, contact Sky, tel:03-77282686

September 20, 2009

Love is in the Ayre CX-7eMP CD Player

The measure of how good a piece of equipment is is not whether you can live with it, but whether you can live without it.

Well, I did not come up with the above. It was Wes Phllips of Stereophile who put the thought into one of his review articles, quoting the wisdom of one of his readers.

And how true it was. Living with the Ayre CX-7eMP CD player for me was such that for the few times I took it out from my system, I had a really strong urge to want to put it back as soon as possible. I found living without it become more and more difficult as time went by... It was not love at first sight nor was it a fleeting crush, but more like love that crept up on you over some time and suddenly you realized that you have fallen head over heels for it.

You really do not have to go on to read my description of this cd player's performance, nothing is better than going out and auditioning it. Even better if you can do it in your own system over a few days. No need to do quick swaps for comparison, let the experience seep into your body - and see what happens to your music life.

Let me spoil this 'romantic' slant a bit now - you should live the CX-7eMP for a few days because I found that it sounded the best when it was put constantly on standby when not played. If it was left unplugged from the wall and cool down (say over a day), it would regain the best sound quality only after a day or two after being put into service again. So a quickie comparison/shoot-out may not tell you the true story. The first couple of days I had the cd player, I was feeling neutral about it, though it was no doubt technically accomplished. Only over time did I begin to really appreciate what this player could do.

The CX-7eMP was a very high resolution player, the amount of details it could dredge up from the cd format was amazing, the window on the music was wide open. The information was portrayed and arranged in a well organized manner, I was listening to the climactic last movement, 'The Great Gate of Kiev', from Mussorgsky's Picture of an Exhibition (Abbado Edition, DG 437016-2, not exactly an audiophile recording), which varied from a hush to a loud crescendo, from a few instruments to the entire orchestra belting it out. In all these, there was no confusion or the feeling that the instruments were knocking into each other, every thread was separated nicely while at the same time woven as a musical whole. I could really 'see' into the music.

Bass from the CX-7eMP was exceptional. It was easily the best that I have experienced in my own system. Each bass note was projected nicely by the player. Initially I got the feeling that there was less 'quantity' in the bass region, i.e., the bass was lighter, but with closer listening, I believe that was not the case. The feeling might arise because there was no 'fluff' in the bass note, each note was well defined and nuanced, it also went deep. The bass came off with impressive solidity - each note from the Ayre has a 'solid core', rather than the relatively slightly soft at the centre bass that I was more used to. Try Shelby Lynne's "Just a little lovin' " CD, on every track the bass was so well presented that there was no smearing of the rest of the frequency range. It was a rare occasion that I actually listened through every track and was enjoying not just the bass performance but more importantly the music too.

The bass was also nicely integrated into the mid and the high. The picture was seamless, such that I could not really circle on anything that 'stood out'. The timbre accuracy was very very good, each instrument just sounded natural and closer to the real thing. Soundstaging was also excellent, one of the best I ever had in my system, it was detached from the speakers and was nicely 3-dimensional.

The Ayre was not one of those frenetic or fast machine. Its demeanour could be described as gentlemanly, it refused to rush, though it can't be described as slow. Its preference was to paint you the entire sonic picture, to present every note fully. Each musical note was given its full measure, it has a beginning, sustain and an end that tapers off. I like this a lot, I got more music, instead of relatively truncated notes.

Musically, the Ayre CX-7eMP was very enjoyable. It was one of those rare machines that allowed me to put in many of my CDs, even those previously written off as badly recorded ones, and the music would come out quite coherent, allowing me to enjoy so much more of my collection. It did not do so by sweetening the sound or turning down the highs. It sounded just as even as ever. It made me think when we said that certain CDs were unlistenable, was it really because of the recording quality or was it the fault of the cdp that was playing it.

I have not heard earlier generations of the CX-7, so I can't tell you how big the improvement was. The MP apparently is the 3rd iteration in its evolution. Older cd players sounded harsh and 'digital' purportedly because of ringing in the sound. Ayre's new 'minimum phase (MP)' digital filter eliminated pre-ringing, and coupled with a gentler rolloff reduced the post-ringing to about just 1 cycle, Ayre contented that this gave the most musically natural playback. Ayre's claims seem to bear out in my listening session. If you are interested to read more about Ayre's approach, there is an excellent white paper on Ayre's website.
Back of the Ayre CX-7eMP. Click to display the bigger version, you'll notice the digital filter switch with the 'listen' and 'measure' settings

The CX-7eMP came with a switch at the back with 2 positions - 'listen' and 'measure'. The 'measure' position applies the 'minimum phase' filter but not the gentle rolloff, the 'listen' position applies both. I tried these 2 positions in my listening and preferred the 'listen' position with a wide margin. The 'listen' position sounded much more natural and gave all the qualities that I described above; while the 'measure' setting sounded more hifi-ish, superficially more detailed but not actually so, there was also some 'etching' and a hollowness in the sound, it could not hold my listening attention long.

For RM15.3k list price, you get a piece of equipment that is built like a tank, a pleasure to use and that has an excellent voice. Older generation of the CX-7 players can be updated to the MP status, however the local dealer has not finalized the price yet.

Yes, the Ayre CX-7eMP is a fabulous CD player that is easy to fall in love with. Go ahead and have a listen. This one is special.

Ayre is available from Hi-Way Laser 03-7873.8325; 019-281.3399 .

September 18, 2009

10,000 Hits!

Hip! Hip! Hooray!

10,000 blog hits in less than two months. I am speechless.

A big THANK YOU is in order to our loyal readers, friends and supportive dealers.

We couldn't have done it without your support, and we hope to continue to innovate creatively and bring this hobby of ours forward.

September 16, 2009

A Small Wonder! Jeff Rowland Capri Pre Amp.

Jeff Rowland Capri also available in black, but not in Malaysia!

This pre amp review has been an experience of sorts for me! For starters, up till now, I've always come to associate neutrality with boring sound! Like so many audiophiles, I seek comfort in the warmer tonal palette, when it comes to hifi preferences. But the Jeff Rowland Capri breaks new ground here, by being tonally neutral, yet somehow manages to sound infectiously musical at the same time! The highs are detailed, highly extended with neat decaying pattern, and smooth. There are no veiling of the mids to speak off, and the bass is at once solid, tight and well extended. Bass slam is impressive too, especially the kick drums. I played Micheal Jackson's Billy Jean track on CD, and I swear I've never heard such many layers of texture on the synthesized bass lines.

Also for the first time since a long, long time ago too, I've being rediscovering my music all over again. The Jeff Rowland is extremely transparent at this price level. I felt it's transparency factor very nearly approaches the twice as expensive Bladelius Saga pre amp! Every CD or LP I played in the last 2 weeks, I heard inner details that I've never did before. This set me in music mining mode, playing CD after CD, LP after LP for hours un ending, yet I never felt tired or fatigue. It was also this time that I rediscovered my rock LP collection, Smoke On The Water by Deep Purple, All Right Now by Free, Spirit Of The Radio by Rainbow, and many, many others. I just wanna enjoy more and more music.

Small wonder in my audio system, pretty in satin silver too. Finished in only JRDG know how to.

It's also being a long, long time since I had hifi goosebumps. When playing my favorite Queen track on CD, sound track for the movie, Flash Gordon, I found myself marvelling at the special effects sound of the movie inserted in to the music. The sheer realistic-ness of the dramatic dialog and special effects sound gave me goose bumps. Now any hifi component that gives you goosebumps when you listen to music is surely worth buying without even consideration!

The Jeff Rowland Capri's micro and macro dynamics are amongst the best I've heard from a pre amp at this price level. The sound stage is of the walk thru variety, with rather realistic spatial cues and airiness thrown in for good measure. Images are solid with healthy density, and this includes those at the fringes of the sound stage.

The back end, note the phono option on input 1, RCA.

Listening to the Jeff Rowland Capri in the last 2 weeks made me realised just how dated my Pass Labs X2.5 pre amp is, sound quality wise. Other than a tinge of lushness that the Pass X2.5 offers as a sonic sanctuary, the Jeff Rowland Capri have it licked in just about every other audiophile tick box. You may argue that it's not fair to compare the two as the Pass Labs is an old product no longer sold. I agree, but i must also stress that when the Pass was sold then, just a few years back, it's retail price was exactly the same as the Jeff Rowland Capri, which makes this past comparison all the more valid, if you factor in how much sound quality has been gained with the latest batch of pre amp design. Well another point to note is that the Pass Labs is the only other pre amp that I have around, and has been my reference for the last 2 years or so.

I'll also have to tell you that all Jeff Rowland Capri(s) sold by CMY come equipped with a built in phono stage, default to input 1 via unbalanced RCA. I've found this built in phono stage to be an excellent option to have, for those with an analog rig. I used it to replace my Pass ONO clone, and immediately noticeable was how silently quiet and noise free the built in phono stage is. Even when played to near full volume, at 98/99 setting, when I lift off the tone arm, I heard no hum, no hiss what so ever. Granted, the gain stage is available is only 60db for MC and 40db for MM cartridges and only 4 load resistance selection is available. Connected to my 0.4mv out put Benz Micro Glider L2, loaded with 100ohms resistor setting, I would have appreciated just a little more gain, but that just didn't stop me from enjoying the music, as the pre amp still had enough guts to play as loud as I could want, and do it without any signs of breaking up, or coming close to limitations. The phono stage is just as transparent and as dynamic sounding as the pre amp it self. That's why I found my self reaching out to my rock LP collections every time, something which I had not done in a long, long while. I could say that the built phono stage quality is as good as any other high end stand alone unit if you had an MC cartridge putting out 0.6mv onwards. When not is used, Jeff Rowland also supplies you a pair of Cardas shorting caps to cover the phono stage input to prevent it from picking up RFI/EMI stray noises.

If phono stage not in use, Jeff Rowland provides Cardas shortings caps.

Whilst I opened up the Jeff Rowland Capri to switch the phono stage settings, I took the opportunity to marvel at the internal build quality, which exudes class and an eye for detail that is unmatched. The whole chassis is milled from a solid billet, not unlike the many times more expensive Ayre KX-R pre amp. Inside, resides a Class D switching power supply card, the front panel control and display board. The small pre amp board is attached to all the inputs and outputs for the shortest signal path possible. Also note that the internal parts quality count, with Cardas RCA plugs and the PCB is of the best quality possible. By looking inside, I noted that only 3 ICs stands between the input and output signal path. A BB2311 digital volume chip and two op amps operating in balanced configuration for 14db gain stage. I had previously DIYed a pre amp like this before(another older Jeff Rowland design too!), but I never got the sound quality level anywhere quite like this! That Jeff Rowland is such a genius of an amp designer!

The package, with comprehensive manual, power cord and remote.

The Capri has 4 inputs, which 2 are balanced. A pair of RCA and balanced output each. The six button, slim designed remote does pretty much everything you need to do from your couch. The display is in unfashionably light green/yellow is non dim able. The ergonomics are pretty functional and easy for practical use.

To sum things up. You'd guess by now that I loved this Jeff Rowland Capri deeply, and you're not wrong. Retailing at RM$15.5k, which is a popular price point in high end dome, the Capri is absolutely good value on it's own. However, if you're in to the black stuff like I do, the optional phono stage really brings the value quotient up and over the roof indeed! I could even call it cheap, because you've got a pre amp and a quality phono stage in a small and wonderful package, that is called the Jeff Rowland Capri.

The JRDG Capri, and 102 Power Amp. Match made in heaven, according to CMY. Also best selling pair since JRDG arrived these shores a few months ago.

If you're in the market for a high quality pre amp at this price range do check it out soon, as John of CMY tells me, sold as a package with it's natural partner, the Jeff Rowland 102 power amp, the Capri is almost sold out. However, fret not, John tells me he has another batch of new stocks arriving soon. Trust me, it's worth the wait!

Jeff Rowland is sold by CMY Audio & Visual, contact John, tel: 03-21439206

September 14, 2009

The Room Wizard Of Oz.

A typical Room Wizard EQ menu operating on screen.

Do you know how much of your room's sonic signature you're hearing thru your hifi every time you turn it on to play some music? Some say as much as 40% of what you're hearing thru your hifi system is influenced by your room's sonic signature! Every room, based on their L x W X H layout, volume of air in cubic capacity and choice of furnishings will leave their sonic thumb print on to your hifi's reproduced sound.If the above is true, then your room's sonic signature could potentially make or break your hifi system's sound, irregardless of price. So how do we deal with it?

I personally know almost too many audiophiles whom spend large fortunes of $$$ on cables to try and correct their system's sonic capabilities to what they want. They mostly feel that cables can cure every audiophile ills. I hate to break this to you, if you're one of those guys! Cables cannot make sick system sound good. Cables are like vitamin supplements, if you've a good, healthy system, then spending some $$$ on the right quality cables can enhance the sonic performance some what. If you've got room acoustic problems, your hifi system will never be able to perform to their full potential, because the room is interfering too much in to the sound!

Now I've also seen in some cases, where the room's sonic signature can be used to aid a given hifi system's performance. Think of your room factor in aviation terms, just like an aircraft(your hifi system). If your aircraft is always flying against a head wind(your room), it will ultimately fly slower then it's full top speed capabilities, the flight would also be rather turbulent, burn up more fuel in the process and will delay arrival to your destination(sonic nirvana?) some what too. Then imagine if your aircraft is flying with the assistance of a tail wind? Not only would it fly faster, smoother, use less fuel doing so but will probably arrive to your destination just a little bit sooner too! Isn't that nice?

Now, do you know why pilots do pre-flight plans just 3 hours prior to take off? It is so that they have an understanding of the latest en route weather developments, calculate their fuel requirements for the journey based on weather, air traffic and load factors. Lastly, also figure out alternative routes and identify possible emergency places to land in case if the worst should happen. For the pilots, all the information is available to them from various sources like meteorological dept, radar read outs, maps and aircraft manual.

But the typical audiophile has little or no access to such information. Some highly experienced ones can probably hesitate a close educated guess, but how do you confirm what's right or wrong, and what's good or bad for your hifi system?
The mic been set up for measurement.
When it come to room acoustics, at least in the Malaysian and Singapore hifi scene that I know of, Joamonte stands as one the most experience person to talk to. I know he is Singaporean and our political differences between governments does not quite allow us to sing praises of each other. But this is hifi we are talking about, and others may disagree with me, only because if they know some else better! Well if you do, please do me a favour and introduce that person to me. I am always eager to learn from another expert source.

Quite recently Joamonte visited me and asked if I like my room acoustics to be measured by him. While I already have a pretty good idea about my room sonics, I'd love to confirm my hunches too. So Joamonte set up his rig in my room for measurement.
Joamonte busy at work, note the amount of equipment he has to lug around!
He uses a mic powered by microphone pre amp, set it up in my usual sweet spot to pick up the variable frequency sine sweep generated by a laptop computer loaded with a software called the "Room Wizard EQ", which you can download from for free. The sweep signal generated from the laptop computer is looped in to one of my pre amp inputs. Adjusted for normal listening volumes, Joamonte starts by scanning for room ambiance to get a base line of the room's noise floor. Once that's obtained, he then uses to frequency sine sweep to measure the in room response. The system would generate 3 charts of the room almost instantly after the final test tone is over. Now the easy part is over, as most of us with a bit of money can invest in the hardware required to do the job and the free software is icing on the cake.
Doing the frequency sine sweep for analysis.
The though part is actually interpreting the results as shown from the charts generated, then armed with his past experience Joamonte can tell you a lot about your room from the 3 charts. He can tell you about the noise floor, room mode's frequency and it's peak decibel, the room's decay response time and the room's dynamic range(this is important as your hifi system's dynamic range would be cap by the room's!).

Joamonte explaining what all the charts mean to me.
The following charts are results of my room's measurement.

From this frequency response chart, it's very obvious that there's a major room mode at 48Hz peaking 20dbs above the average response. Joamonte recommends that I fix the room mode, because once the 48Hz peak is fixed, the next immediate dip at 100Hz will level up to ensure a flatter response curve. There's also a gentle roll of once past 2.5kHz which is at high mids frequencies onwards, considering most of my plastered brick walls are bare with some diffuser treatment, it's o.k. not to do anything about it. The good part is that my room response is relative flat at the mids. It is also noted that the best sweet spot with the least room mode is actually 6 inches further up front from my present sweet spot. That means pushing my listening couch further in to the room by six inches. I did try that position for a while, but that means listening to the speakers at nearly near field position. I did found that the bass had tightened up and became more linear, but I had lost some sound stage depth by then. I reverted to my original couch placement.

The above is a waterfall chart which tells me about my room's decaying time, which measured 0.5 milliseconds. According to Joamonte, that's pretty good. A fast room decay time means there's minimum note smearing, i.e. that a musical note could stop before another one starts. Too long a decaying time means certain notes hang around the room for too long, polluting the next note as it starts, causing ill defined imaging properties amongst many other perceived ills and could even contributed to harshness in worst case scenario.

This chart tells you about my room's dynamic range. Which Joamonte says at 50db for a small room measuring 12 x 10 x 9.8(L x W x H), is reasonably good. I've observed that some rooms have much less dynamic range, when I followed him on a few other measuring jobs. The impulse chart works on the assumption that if one listen to music at peak 100dbs, minus the room's noise floor at 50dbs, that leaves your with about 50dbs of dynamic range. However, the interpretation of the impulse chart is not as simple. Most hifi system would struggle to reproduce un clipped music at 100dbs peak. In fact 95 dbs is a more commonly attainable peak music level. Joamonte has describe in detail to me, but he's the pro, I am the bro, so I can only understand that much.

Now that I know my room's biggest issue, I worked towards to fixing it. But sometimes, music is just not as simple as graphs or charts dictate. I've tried a few methods to reduce the 48Hz room mode with some success.I managed to reduce the room mode peak by as much as 8dbs. However, I've found the flatter frequency response chart to sound a little dull, perhaps due to less bass volume perceived! Maybe I am the sort whom likes my music rich. I eventually settled for a small reduction of the room mode peak by 5dbs, which to me is a fair compromise. It did not take too much bass volume away, whilst gently tightening up note to note articulation on instruments such as Cello and Double bass. However, the dreaded Fret less bass is still somewhat fat and poorly controlled though that too, has seen some small margin of improvement. That small flaw, I could live with.

Remember that an audio system's performance is about the least compromise of all the audio properties that it is required to perform. This way the end result will be a system that has less noticeable flaws, and will likely result in very even handed overall performance.

I choose to do things the hard way, by exploring the possibilities(read DIY) myself. Joamonte can always come up with a series of professional solution which you can subscribe to for a fee.

For those interested to know more about their room's sonic signature and possible remedies if required, do leave your e-mail contact on the comments section. I'll pass them to Joamonte for him to contact you.

I wish to thank Joamonte again for his time and advice regarding my room. He is indeed if I may call him that, "The Room Wizard Of Oz!"