October 31, 2009

Love Is In This Ayre Too - Ayre C-5xeMP Universal Stereo Player

In September, I posted a write-up on Ayre's excellent CX-7eMP CD player. I was smitten by its stellar performance, and I gushed about its performance to my hifi buddies, Big E included. I liked that machine tremendously, however, I was not ready to 'commit' myself, so to speak.

Big E, being someone not known of doing things by half measure, decided to do his utmost best to push me over the edge. He thought the top model, Ayre's C-5xeMP universal stereo player would do the job. So he went back to Hi-Way Laser and requested a review unit.

During my first listen to this Ayre C-5xeMP in my system, it was quite fresh out of the box, with just few hours clocked on it. My experience with the CX-7eMP indicated that Ayre's players needed a few hundred hours on it to bloom fully. In fact, the C-5xeMP's manual mentioned that 100-500 hours were required for full break-in.

However, I was gobsmacked during the first listen. It was like finding out that the girl you thought you'd fall in love with had an elder sister who was even more attractive, more beautiful. In that first session, the Ayre C-5xeMP handled my piano test piece, George Winston's piano solo album 'Autumn' with such aplomb that I sat through listening to the whole CD. The piano had excellent clarity and attack, and each note was very well defined. George Winston's sustain pedal, which he used a lot, was nicely resolved such that it did not muck up the main music line. The Ayre also impressed with Shelby Lynne's "Just A Little Lovin'", showing off with palpable air, solid bass and articulate vocal.

Before I go on further with my listening impression, let me get a few likes and dislikes about the Ayre C-5xeMP out of the way. I like the chunky and sturdy remote control, especially its simple layout and its backlit function. I like the fact that the player is built like a tank, an improvement even from the already very well built CX-7eMP, though the senior player is only 0.5kg heavier according to the spec sheets (12kg vs 11.5kg).

I dislike the small and relatively dimly lit display window of the C-5xeMP, I got to squint even from just 2.5m away to read the display, the C-7xeMP's large and bright display is much better. I also found that the C-5xeMP's disc drawer a little clunky, the CX-7eMP's and even my 85%-cheaper Marantz DVD player's drawers worked more smoothly. The last dislike is more serious in my opinion, the universal player defaulted to the high resolution layer on a hybrid discs and the user did not get to choose to play the CD layer if he wanted to. So on all my SACDs, I did not get to compare the performance of the SACD layer and the CD layer on the Ayre. Hmmm...this Ayre is a bit 'dictatorial' in what it wants you to listen, isn't it? :-)

Ayre, apparently, is the pioneer in 2-channel universal audio player - the Ayre C-5xeMP plays all types of silver disc (CD, MP3, DVD-A, DVD-V, SACD), but for multi-channel formats, the player will down-mix to 2 channels or play the stereo mix. This is fine with me and, I believe, with many audiophiles too as we have concentrated our dosh and effort on setting up as good a 2-channel system as we could muster, to expand it to an equally good full surround capability is a headache that I do not need. :-)

Ok, now, how had my courtship with the Ayre C-5xeMP proceeded? Well, just like in any relationship, things got a little bumpy later on. To anyone looking at evaluating this player, please heed the break-in advice. After the initial period, the Ayre's sound quality turned a bit worse, it had some mechanical-ness in the music flow and some nasality in the sound, it was not entirely interesting to listen to. These characteristics started to fade away when I hit the 200 hours break-in mark, and things went on an upward swing thereafter.

However, this player does have the same temperament as the CX-7eMP, I need to always keep the C-5xeMP on standby by hooking it up to the mains (by the way, it does not have a power switch, there is just a standby/on switch on the front panel). If it cools down, it needs a day or so of continuous disc spinning to get back on top. Even switching on from long term standby, I found that it sounded much better after 1-2 hours of spinning a disc (merely keeping the player on did not quite do the trick), so I decided to go through this warm-up routine every time I wanted to do some serious listening. I think I have just a bit to go before hitting the 500 hours mark, if this behaviour changes later, I'll report here too.

With these characteristics, anyone who would like to do quick A-B comparisons should beware, otherwise the Ayre might be put at a disadvantage.

How does the Ayre C-5xeMP's sound then? In one word - fabulous! I am basing my listening experience on CDs rather than high resolution formats, as that is my primary source. The descriptions I used for Ayre's CX-7eMP CD player earlier can be applied almost verbatim to this universal player too, just that in some areas, the C-5xeMP subtly or substantially improved on the junior model.

The sound from this universal player is just seamless, the frequencies are well balanced and beautifully integrated. It is also the most uncoloured player I ever heard in my system - with the many CDs that I fed it, it seemed to show up more sound characteristic differences among them than I ever heard from other players. I found listening to music much more enjoyable with the sound 'varieties' I could get from my CD collection.

The Ayre C-5xeMP was very listenable. It did not seem to just emphasize smoothness to the sound like some others, its excellent resolution and the way it played music just sounded more 'right' to my ears, therein its listenability. You can call it naturalness, timbre accuracy or whatever, I just felt that what it produced was what was on the recording and it got closer to the real thing.

The Ayre C-5xeMP also expanded the soundstage in all dimensions. There was excellent scale and a grandeur to the music, especially on orchestral performance.

With its improved resolution, there was also air and atmosphere aplenty. On some recordings, such as simple vocal track, the sound just floated on a cushion of air and had a palpability that I rarely experienced before.

I like to circle out its bass performance too, it was exemplary. Bass was solid, very well defined, powerful yet nuanced. The best I have had in my system.

On speed, like the CX-7eMP, the Ayre C-5xeMP did not rush, though it did come off as more capable rhythmically. Jazz music swung better but the rhythmic drive was not over-done, again it just sounded more 'right' to me compared to some other players (which could actually sound more exciting to some ears).

There was one area though, if my aural memory is correct, that the CX-7eMP did better. That is in the area of decay, the CD player seemed to hold music decay more steadily as it faded into silence, the universal player was just slightly wavering on the way down. I do not know if this is a run-in issue, I hope it is, because it is a quality that I valued highly in the CD player, as it made each musical phrase more complete.

On balance, the Ayre C-5xeMP universal player is a more capable player than the CX-7eMP CD player. It should be, the universal player has a list price of RM26,100, a more than 10 grand increase in price compared to the CD player (RM15,300). However, whether you think the improvements are worth the price increase is entirely up your own personal judgement.

I fell in love with the Ayre C-5xeMP. Many say love is blind, I admit it as much.

So I am not letting this beauty out of my life. I bought the review sample.

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

October 29, 2009

Wadia Digital Moves To CMY Audio & Visual.

Wadia 170 i Transport Dock for Apple i Pod users whom wanna connect to hifi.

Wadia Digital, one of the leaders in the field of digital music source, has confirmed it's move to CMY Audio & Visual in Malaysia. This is a very positive development for the brand representation in the local context as we can now, touch, feel and most importantly, listen to the products before committing to a purchase. No doubt, I am quite certain most will find no cause to resist, after a test drive! He!He!

The new Wadia 381 CD player. Looks like the previous models doesn't it? The inside is aparently a plenty that is new!

Two products are scheduled to appear on CMY store shelves in the later part of November, says John. They are the highly anticipated Wadia 170 i Transport dock for Apple i Pod owners looking to hook up with hi fidelity. More importantly for us in this blog the new Wadia 38i CD player, which we hope to get for a test drive when it comes.

Congrats to John and his team at CMY Audio & Visual for landing another top brand!
For enquiries, contact John, tel:03-21439206

October 27, 2009

A Friendly Chat With Brian Russell, President Of Bryston Ltd.

Brian Russell a.k.a. "big boy" carrying a mono B28 SST "big amp". I wouldn't mess with him!

A seasoned audiophile used to tell me, that in his days, Bryston stuff was something only one would buy if he couldn't afford a Krell or Mark Levinson. Strictly class B stuff, he said. How times have changed!

According to Brian Russell, President of Bryston, the last 2 years have been a peach for Bryston, whom recently dropped in to KL, AV Designs, to be exact, for a pit stop of his Asia Pacific tour. James Tan cordially invited a few of us friendlies to have a chat with Brian. The Qs are not entirely mine, but are a summation of the few of us whom was there.

Q: How has the current financial turmoil effected Bryston?

BR: In fact Bryston couldn't have been better! We've got rave reviews with all our recent new product launches, like the 28B SST power amps, the recently renewed SST2 amps, the BCD 1 CD player and the BP26 pre amp. The Torus Power range also did surprisingly well in the market. We just couldn't make enough products to meet orders list!

Q: How did the recent Hifi and Audio Shows fared stateside? The recent KLIAV 2009 in KL recorded significant increases, in both trade participants and visitor counts.

BR: Some were more effected than others, like CES, will always be CES! It's the more regional shows, like one held recently in Atlanta, where only a third of total visitor numbers turned compared to last year! That was a pretty depressing show.

Q: How does Bryston test their amps in the factory?

BR: We do not do any listening test in the factory! We only do measurement test in the lab. There's just no space to do so!

Q: So there's no PMC speakers in the Factory?

BR: No, there is no space in the factory, we only use small speaker drivers to ensure there's output from the amps we produce. We listen to our products at home. We have 2-3 employees whom we entrust them with gears to take home for listening trails, where by they report their findings and any faults that may have experienced then. James Tanner and Stuart Taylor does most of those listening trials. James has 3 systems of various set ups in his place, where he'd put the Bryston gears thru its paces. James has amongst others at the moment, a pair of PMC, Thiel, Martin Logan and Magnaplanars, I think. He is constantly changing speakers so when I get home later, it'll probably all be changed?

Q: But many have said that Bryston amps and PMC speakers work best?

BR: For the record, Bryston amps will work best with which ever speakers of your liking, within reason of course! I guess many do feel that Bryston works best with PMC speakers is perhaps, because PMCs have transmission line tuned cabinets, which places more difficult loading on an amp. Our Bryston amps have that capability to control the woofer's forward and aft movement better in a transmission line tuned cabinet, there fore giving more favourable results, sound wise.

Q: Bryston seems to be venturing in to hybrid class D amps in the professional segment, any plans to introduce similar concept to the consumer audio line?

BR: We call it a hybrid because we used a linear(non switching) power supply with a class D module, which is out sourced. We feel that for the PA and piped music applications, a hybrid class D amp would meet the need for a multi chanel, efficient and non absolute audio critical quality. However, we have no plans for a hybrid class D in the consumer high end market. Audiophiles will mostly avoid class D based amp, and I will agree with them that class D sound can never be as good as class A or A/B amps. Maybe in the future, but most certainly not anytime soon.

Q: How many employees does Bryston have in the factory?

BR: We have about 50 employees.

Q: There's been a slew of new product launches from Bryston lately, what's next?

BR: We are hoping to launch the new Bryston SP3 processor for the home theater market in about six months from now. This will replace the Brsyton SP2 processor.

Q: Would the SP2 be upgrade able to SP3 spec?

BR: No, the SP3 works on a totally new architecture, circuit wise. However, we've come to learned from many customers that they appreciate a module upgrade able approach, and we've incorporated that feature to the new SP3 to allow it some degree of future proof. The SP3 has an over sized case and there are empty, unpopulated slots on the SP3 main board to accommodate new cards and video modules should we need to add features later. However, should existing SP2 owners wanna up grade to the new SP3, we may have a program in place by then to make it as financially painless as possible to do so.

Q: Bryston has been doing very well in the last 2 years you've said earlier, what did you do differently this recent 2 years compared to before?

BR: Bryston have always been doing the same things in the last 37 years of our existence. We provide quality products with a realistic mark up, and back it up with the best warranty and after sales services in the audio industry. Who else would offer a 20 year warranty on the audio products? The only difference is that in the last 2 years, there was a proliferation of audio blogs and online consumer feedback journals, such as yours(now remember that's HiFi-Unlimited)! The internet based media offer insights, exposure and reviews of our products at speeds that no traditional print media can hope to match.

Q: Your amps have 20 years product warranty, why 5 years only for digital products like BCD-1 CD player?

BR: Now again, tell me if you know another manufacturer whom will offer you a 5 year warranty on a digital product? You see, digital products component lifespan turns over just too fast. 5 years is a very, very long time in the digital world. Take the Philips transport that we used for the BCD-1 CD player, barely 2 years we've launched the product, Philips now tells us they no longer make the transport! We bought the last batch of transport available from Philips, log, stock and barrel, to make sure we have enough spares to support the BCD-1 for the next 5 years at least!

Brian demo-ing the BCD-1 CD player's reliable CD tray!

Q: Speaking of the BCD-1 CD player, are you ever going to improve the CD tray motion quality? It's the single biggest let down in the otherwise impressive product!

BR: I am gonna throw you a grenade for bringing this up! He!He! Yeah, we know about that problem, but it's really not a problem is it? The Philips sourced CD transport is very reliable, and even if we used an all metal transport, would it had contributed so much more to the sound?(Perhaps? I quietly thought) It would just probably glide in and out smoother and give a better perception of quality, that's all. That'll be something we'll have to think about in the BCD-2, our next CD player. Now don't get all excited and ask me when that"ll come. It's still a white sheet of paper now!

Q: Yes, perception, that's the word! But isn't that important in the market for high end audio?

BR: Yes, perception is important, but that's also why we see so many brands out there selling a 20 thousand dollar amp with fancier quality case and marketing perception at say, 100 thousand dollars. Bryston just would not do that. By the way, do let me know if you are in the market for a 100 thousand dollars amp, I'd gladly sell you one with an emperor's clothing plus my personal signature on it and just for you, it'll come with a 40 year product warranty! Show me the money!(Now I am wondering which part of me looked rich?)

Q: You mean Bryston products are actually priced accordingly to reflect the product's actual manufacturing cost with a fair mark up factored in?

BR: Matter of fact, yes! We will provide a product of the best technical quality and specifications where possible, irregardless of selling price. For instance, if we used a certain grade of capacitors in our amps, and a supplier can come and suggest a better spec capacitor, for example, long life span, we will test it and if confirmed to meet the promised specs, we will certainly adopt it in our parts catalogue tomorrow, even if it means we have to pay more for the better capacitor. Now if the supplier says we can save money on a better capacitor, than I'd be very careful about it, because, there's just no such thing as that, if it's too good to be true, it probably is!

Q: Speaking of the "new" yet to come BCD-2 CD player, with the dawn of hi-rez music down loads, do you still think there's a market for CD players? If so, how long do you see the CD player will still be around?

BR: Hey! They said the same thing with vinyl, right? Look at the market today, the turntable is still around, and a growing market too! Why? There'll always be guys whom have vinyl collections, and they'll still need good quality turntables to play their collection. I see the same thing happening to CD. There'll always be a guy, like my self, I have 5000 CDs, and I'll always need a CD player to play my collection. Down loads or not!

Q: I have been playing with the latest SST2 amps lately, and they are very good! I would consider them to be absolutely sonically superior to the earlier non squared SST series. What's changed?

BR: As electronics specs and quality improved, we will incorporated these newer parts, like transistors in to our designs. The SST2 upgrade was just that. It's got lower noise floor, higher signal to noise ratio and closer L/R chanel matching tolerance. Also, THD is significantly lower in the SST2 series, like 0.005% on the 4B SST2.

Q: Now, can one subjectively hear lower THD in amps?

BR: You probably have to ask James Tanner about that! However, I suppose, you hear what you wanna hear right? There's always the tube guys too remember?

Q: How is the current financial meltdown in the US affecting Bryston?

BR: Despite the financial situation in the states, they are still our single biggest market by taking 45% of our production. Asia/Pacific and Canada are about even at 25% and 27% each respectively.

Q: Who do you consider to be Bryston's biggest competitor?

BR: I'll tell you this as I've told all others whom asked this question before! It's the room! Now, people have suddenly become aware of their rooms, they spend a lot of money to build custom ed rooms! Money, which would have been better spent in my opinion, buying bigger Bryston amps! He!He!

Brian and local man AV Designs, James Tan getting a li'll friendly! He!He!

After that long chat, we all had some refreshments and got all too friendly with each other!

October 25, 2009

I Have Seen the Future…

Computer-based audio has been coming up strong, this trend has been catching on in Malaysia too. I personally believe that this is the future of digital music replay, and it is just a matter of time that I jump onto the bandwagon. A group of audiophiles in the Klang Valley has been dabbling in this area for quite some time, apparently, and last night I visited Mr. NSK, one of the very experienced enthusiasts in this area.
NSK’s system was situated in the large living room.
Note the notebook computer on the top shelf centre

In NSK’s system, there was no longer a disc spinner. All the music was played from a notebook computer with a large external hard disk attached. An interesting thing is that the main notebook computer that streamed the digits was remotely controlled by another notebook computer near the listening seat area. The main notebook was slaved to the controlling one, and all the listener’s commands were duplicated from the controlling notebook onto the main one. Pretty cool (the other solution that I have seen for remote control was to use an iPhone to remotely control a MacBook).
The main notebook computer (top) and
the remote controlling notebook placed close to the listening seat (bottom)

NSK has ripped all his cd collection into the hard disc uncompressed, a couple tens-of thousands tracks I believe it was. He has also bought and downloaded a few hundred high resolution tracks from the net.
Weiss Minerva DAC

The bitstreams were transmitted to a Weiss Minerva DAC, via firewire. We spent the night listening to both high resolution (24/96, 24/192 and some other odd combi) and normal red book tracks. The red book tracks sounded excellent via the Minerva, however, those high bit rate high sampling rate tracks sounded even better, not day and night, but consistently I could hear a denser sound field, like there were more ‘pixels’ in the sonic picture, the music also sounded more natural and had better flow.

From the frontend on, we come to something really unique. After the frontend, there were 2 separate signal paths. NSK is that first rare audiophile I ever met to run 2 systems at the same time in the same rig.

The first system consisted of a PrimaLuna Prologue 2 integrated amplifier and a pair of Odeon Orfeo speakers.
PrimaLuna Prologue Two

Audio Physic Avanti (left), Odeon Orfeo (right)

The second was bigger – with a Blue Circle BC3 tube pre-amp, a Conrad-Johnson MV60 tube power amp and a pair of Audio Physic Avanti.
BlueCircle Preamp and C-J MV60

Soundstage voltage regulator

Cabling was a mix of Transparent Reference and Cardas. A Soundstage voltage regulator was also in use.

I really tip my hat to this guy. While many of us would find the financial commitment for one system heavy enough, not to mention the time and sweat required to make even just one system sound good enough, NSK could juggle two at a time, and speaking of sound quality, both system sounded quite excellent. It is like a guy going out with one girl on each arm, and both turn out to be stunning beauties!

We started with the PrimaLuna – Odeon system, if you think that a ‘bookshelf’ speakers would be too small for such a big hall, you would be wrong. The Odeon had a big sound, and could play loud to fill the space. The midrange was especially beautiful, it had density, an appealing layer of warmth, and it was articulate and very musical too. On its own, one would not find anything amiss really, I personally felt that I could listen to it for hours. Well, wait until you move on to the bigger system.

The bigger system showed even greater extension. Now the sound took on extra gravitas, it had bigger scale, the soundstage was very wide, and the sound was even better resolved with better definition of the images.

And on both systems, music was played with conviction, good speed and boldness. Both had a good level of energy. I really liked this a lot! It was not one of those refined, probably too sweet and softly-softly sound which I usually got bored with quickly.

NSK has arranged the seating at the other end of the hall, which he also recognized as too far away (probably 5m or so from the speakers), at this position, a bit of echo could be detected. NSK said that he was going to buy a listening chair and placed it a couple of meters forward soon. We tested the new position and with more direct sound coming to the ears, the sound quality did indeed improve quite a bit. Way to go, man.

This best part of this visit was definitely seeing computer-based audio at play. The convenience was appealing, and the resolution and musicality was impressive. I can’t say how much difference there was compared to spinning cd in a cd player, hope one day I can make this comparison in my system myself. But I believe this really will be the future of digital music replay.

Yes, I have seen the future at NSK’s, and it is beautiful!

October 24, 2009

A Magico Soulution! Only At Audio Image.

Magico V2 speakers.

Folks, I finally found the chance to hear the magic of Magico for my self. Audio Image has a pair of "budget" priced, (RM$65k/pair! See, I told you not to question my logic of "value") Magico V2 speakers on demo with the Soulution pre/power kombi!

Soulution pre/power kombi.
On the front end was a Nagra CDC CD player, which I admire a lot too! The best sound description of the demo system is just "Oh.... so natural".

Full frontal view of the "budget" Magico.
I think the Soulution pre/power kombi may have just found a buyer as I was there. So if you wanna hear the Magico strut it's stuff, hurry over and pay Adrian a visit!

The rear view of the Magico, note the three black cyclinders sticking out the back? Adrian says by inserting a shaft in to a marked hole on the cylinder's sides(which you'll notice if you look close enough) and turning the three cylinders clock/anti clock wise, you can tune the sound of the Magico in your room! A bit like positioning the Shun Mooks tweaks!(remember those?) Adrian, you sure about that?

Please contact Audio Image for an appointment, tel:03-79563077

October 22, 2009

De Ja Vu? Diana Krall, Quiet Nights.

The sound is lush, smooth, syruppy and romantic. Just like my system! He!He!

With this new CD, titled Quiet Nights, Diana Krall seems to have come full circle, since her first studio effort called The Look of Love. Well at least for me she did seemingly done so.

From the very first song, Where or when, it just struck me as how similar it sounded to the earlier album. A peek in to the liner notes shows just why, this album is produced in collaboration with Tommy LiPuma, Al Schmidt and orchestral arrangement conducted by Claus Ogerman. The very same people behind the scenes of The Look of Love!

Whilst listening and peeking through the liner notes, one thing that really struck me sonically was especially the way the high hats and cymbals sound. Refined, delicately airy and that soft glowing brass tone reminds me of some bespoke or custom made musical instrument(glad to know that after more than a decade away from the drum set, this fella can still hear and recognise something special). Again I found that in the liner notes was a special mention of drummer Jeff Hamilton plays Bosphorus "Hammer Series" cymbals, Reno drums and heads. Regal Tip signature sticks and brushes. WOW!

I am just so happy to note that it has proved my last big hifi upgrade(the Siltech Classic Anniversary 330L speaker cables), which caused a roar amongst many whom know me, is now proving to be so sonically transparent, it's little cues like this that makes a hifi discovery day worth while!

Quiet Nights also sounds and feels so similar to this Diana Krall effort. Only that The Look of Love came first, and at that time sounded like a breath of fresh air, so many audiophiles and music lovers naturally bought a copy. I can't see the same ground breaking success with the latest CD.

Before I proceed further, it must be made known that I am not here to trash Diana Krall. In fact, I've been her fan since The Look of Love, but I some how gave up buying her CDs after a few preceding albums, only because she is ever so predictably polished. Diana Krall is one classy dame, that's for sure, she's always in control and never gets a note wrong. However, sometimes, just sometimes, I'd really wished she'd let her hair down a bit and just have a little fun! In her concert DVDs, she seldom teases or interacts with the audience, she seldom gets up and boogie a little. She's always primed and proper, just singing intently behind the piano. I guess what I am trying to say is that she should show a little personality behind the beautiful face.

The whole Quiet Nights CD feels just like The Look of Love all over again, just with different songs. I like track 2, Too Marvelous For Words. Track 4, The Boy From Ipanema. Track 5, Walk on By(but Sybil's R&B flavoured version is a whole lot better!). Track 8, So Nice(kinda gives Stacy Kent a run for the money!) and lastly, Track 9, Quiet Nights. The bonus track, which is Bee Gees inspired tune, How Can You Mend A Broken Heart is surprisingly good too.

Recording quality on my Malaysia Edition, a.k.a. el cheapo local pressing is decent and if I don't compare to the US pressing, I'd probably not missed much. No, I didn't compared, if you have to ask.

Forest Gump(remember that cheesy, but feel good Tom Hanks movie?) says "Life is like a box of chocolates, you'll never know what you're gonna get, till you open it up!" Diana Krall is so..... unlike that box of chocolates, because you'll always know what you're gonna get! That is polished performance, classy song arrangements and very decent recording quality, if only lacking a little soul.

October 20, 2009

Upgrade Your Interconnects? Siltech Zero Ohm Link Jade.

Sign, sealed and delivered! The packaging and the QC check list, sign by the technician whom checked it before leaving Sitech's factory.

I was intrigue by Siltech's Zero Ohm Link concept. It's like an extra grounding within the interconnect, promising less noise and better dynamics due to improved signal to noise ratio within the interconnect cable.

I asked John of CMY to loan a pair of Siltech Zero Ohm Link Jade to try, along with it came the Siltech ST-18 IQ interconnect reviewed a few days earlier. John said the Siltech Zero Ohm Link Jade will certainly improve the budget ST-18 IQ. John really knows his products by heart!

How does one use the Zero Ohm Link? Well, you plug both ends of the Link in to both sides of your connecting equipment, then you plug your existing cable in to both ends of the Zero Ohm Link. That's easy.

The Siltech Zero Ohm Link Jade is part of the Classic Anniversary Series.

I have written extensively about the wonderfully competent Siltech ST-18 IQ. So I'll write about how the Sitech ST-18 IQ plus Zero Ohm Link combo sounds like. First thing that hit me was that the combo was way, way quieter, like as if the noise floor went down by a few levels. Back grounds are now pitch black, making musical images stand out from the back ground in an almost relief manner. Vocals gained weight and density, to the point the singer almost standing in front of your listening room. Also improved were transient response and dynamics of an orchestra on full crescendo hits that much harder too.

The ST-18 IQ plus Zero Ohm Link combo brought the overall performance level by an extra 10% or so, if I could estimate a measure able figure to it. Hence when I say, the combo moves the ST-18 IQ's performance levels that much closer to the way more expensive AQ Sky, which has been my permanent reference since last year. However, I must stress that the differences described above are rather subtle, and only post direct A/B comparison will become apparent. One would certainly not note the improvements otherwise. So the Zero Ohm Links does work as advertised, especially partnered with Siltech cables.

The Siltech Zero Ohm Link Jade plus ST-18 G3. Note the quality craftsmanship.

Then I got a little adventurous, and went on to try the Zero Ohm Link with my AQ Sky! The result that was most immediately notice able was the focus of the vocalist mouth size in the imaging. The mouth went from orange size to re-focused no bigger than a Malaysian 50 sen coin! Unless one likes small mouthed singers, and I know some people DO like that! Musical instruments also seemed more focused with stronger outlined at the seams of the images. I felt overall, the AQ Sky plus Zero Ohm Link resulted in a harder, less organic musical presentation. Not quite the qualities that I want in my system. Hence I would caution again that try before you buy is certainly a must if you do not have a Siltech interconnect to start with, or plan to partner the Zero Ohm Link with cables of other brands.

The Siltech Zero Ohm Link Jade plus my Audioquest Sky, doing connection service between my CD player and pre amp.

Now here's the shocking part, the price of the Siltech Zero Ohm Link Jade is RM$4650.00 for the XLR terminated 1.5M pair review sample. I could already see many of you asking, "why not just buy a new cable then?, wouldn't if be more worth while?" Well yes, that would be quite sensible too, but here's what I can see. If you already have one of Siltech's budget range cable, and seemed happy with it's sonic strengths, but wanna push the performance envelope a little further, then the Zero Ohm Link may just fit the bill. That value call will surely best left to your own judgement, as I know, the Jade is the entry level of the Zero Ohm Links, meaning there are more expensive ones available too!

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

October 18, 2009

An Object of Art - The Pathos Endorphin

The Pathos Endorphin CD player is art, both in its design and its prowess in reproducing music.

I had the Endorphin for less than a week in my system, but it was already run-in by Centre Circle Audio, its distributor, and it has also made its round at Big E's place. The Endorphin was so consistent that I found it easy to get a handle on its performance only after a few listening sessions.

Yes, this player is art, it's like an artist who always finds beauty in his/her subject and convey that to the audience. The Pathos Endorphin finds beauty in the music it played, this CD player is a SUPREMELY musical beast. Now, there are two CD players among those that I have heard in my system that I regard as at the forefront of music making, the Pathos Endorphin and the EAR Yoshino Acute. Their commonality? Both of them have tubes in their path, is this saying something?

Anyway, every listening session with the Endorphin was enjoyable, it was non-fatiguing, it made CDs with questionable recording quality sounded acceptable, even good. And it did this with one more positive quality that distinguished it from the Acute - it sounded, for the lack of a better word, neutral. Its sound was balanced, there was no once frequency that stood out, while at the same time every frequency range was conveyed impeccably, much as I wanted to, I could not point out any colouration that it consistently added to the sound.

The Pathos Endorphin made music with a swinging and rollicking quality, it was not like one of those harder charging or harder hitting player, the Endorphin was more cultured and gentler in its temperament. Probably not a rocker's CD player, but like I said before, it is SUPREMELY musical, and jazz, vocals and light classics played right into its hand.

The focus of the Pathos is on the music, it was strong in detail retrieval, soundstaging, dynamics etc., but I do not think those areas would be regarded as the main forte of the Pathos, its forte is in its endeavour in letting you hearing all the music. I honestly never heard separation like what the Endorphin delivered - every line, every music strand was gently teased off from one another. Vocal was separated from the instruments, the instruments was separated from one another, there was no congealing at all. Each line flowed and were weaved into one musical whole at the same time. Your can pay attention to the total picture, or whenever you want, you can zoom into any instrument on the stage and follow it through. This quality was addictive, and I could not remember any other player that I have heard having this quality at this exalted level.

For RM32k, you buy a excellent sound quality and a chunk of audio jewelry. Its design is something that only Italians can achieve - just like their high fashion, it is one that any demanding lady of the house would not object to giving a prominent display. It is also an imposing machine, its took up the entire top shelf of my rack, it is just that its line of design was refined and elegant, so much so that no one will complain or notice its bulk. Pairing it with an amplifier from the same house, the Logos or the TT perhaps, you would have the world's most beautifully sculpted hifi system.

Listening to music on the Endorphin is lovely. I believe its owner may conceivably consider it as the last CD player he/she would ever need.
Pathos is carried by Center Circle Audio, contact Nelson Chia, Ph: 03-77282686

October 17, 2009

Sensible Silver. Siltech ST-18 IQ.

The Siltech ST-18 IQ looks very simply constructed but the feel and look is of justified quality for the price.

This little known series of budget Siltech cables, has been sold since it's G3 designation for a few years now. It's currently available in improved IQ guise due to consumer demands for quality sound at sensible price. This review sample, at 1.5m long, XLR terminated interconnect is priced affordabily(by Siltech standards) at RM$1950.00/pair. So don't question my opinion of what's affordable. I do know of cheaper interconnects out there, but not better at this price.

Knowing fairly well that silver based cables can be such a dog to run in, I hook the Siltech ST-18 IQ on to my home brew kable kooker Rev B.(see article located under DIY category of this blog) solution for 72 hours prior to auditioning.

I don't know if it's because this cable struck a particularly favourable synergy with my system or just plain luck? But when compared to my usual reference Audioquest Sky interconnects, this budget Siltech ST-18 IQ gave away very little in terms of musical performance to the former reference costing almost 10X the price when new!

"That good?" you asked. Here's the low down. The tonality of Siltech is fairly neutral with a tinge of warmth, just enough to remind me of their current G7 Classic Annivesary series cables. The highs retained that Siltech signature of grain free, delicate smoothness with a pinch of sweetness thrown in for good measure. The mids are open, if a little dry and the bass is articulate and tuneful, if not as full or robust when compared to the AQ Sky.

In terms of frequency bandwidth extension, the Siltech ST-18 IQ just doesn't extend as high of as low as the AQ Sky. But this is only discernible post interchanging the cables a couple of times.

The staging width is slightly reduced, but illusion of depth is well maintained. The imaging is pin point and portrayed with enough conviction. This cable excels at micro dynamics and does warm acoustic instruments like guitar, violin, piano, cello and double bass realistically. However, horns does tend to lack bite and missing that burnish tone of metallic ness. Again these short comings are only apparent in a series of repeated A/B cable swaps.
This Siltech has gotta be one of the most transparent interconnect on the right side of RM$2k. All the musical nounces and recording details, no matter how low in level, are easily reproduced. This is especially true with classical music, where during times, there are members of the orchestra clearing their air tubes, droping a puck or turning a page of their musical notes as they prepare for their next note, all this action are clearly reproduced, even as the music is on going. In this respect, it is as good as the AQ Sky!

What I found so amazing for a cable at this price is it's sheer musical coherence from top to bottom frequency presentation. The music never becomes disjointed, or sound very impressive in some areas only to be let down by other areas of sonic performance. In other words, this cable has very even handed performance in all sound aspects. The Siltech will do everything within it's limitation at 75-80% of the AQ Sky bench mark. During it's 3 weeks attached to my system, I've never felt the urge to pull it out and re-insert the AQ Sky back in to my system. I never even felt the lost of the AQ Sky from my system! It's that good, and that says plenty about the fine qualities Siltech ST-18 IQ interconnect. It just punches way,way above it's price bracket, sound performance wise. Now, if that's not sensible enough for you, than I don't know what is?

If one is looking to step up from the likes of vdH D102 MKIII or other cables of similar grade, I bet that there'll be no cause for complains, unless one's system synergy is way off neutral, or for some funny reason, in compatible with the Siltech's sonic strengths, and sometimes just plain ol' personal preferences thing. It's o.k. after all it's only hifi, and it's meant to be fun.

The Siltech ST-18 IQ plugged behind my Marantz CD7, and what's the other Siltech plug for? hint, hint! It's in the follow up story. Stay tuned.

In the later part of the review period, I managed to bring the budget Siltech up a notch closer to the AQ Sky! Stay tuned to find out.

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

October 15, 2009

Middle Kingdom In Amcorp Mall. Audio Synthesis Make Over.

The main shop front entrance to Audio Synthesis.

If one is a fan of China made hifi or just wanna get some budget gear, the person will surely know this Middle Kingdom shop at Amcorp Mall called Audio Synthesis, located on the 2nd Floor. Helm ed by the very friendly and ever smiling Simon, it's a place one can feel comfortable to hang out in.

The display area for window shoppers! Now, does that hifi rack on the left look familiar???

Simon recently expanded his shop by an additional lot. This allows him to have a bigger and more comfortable, acoustically treated main demo area. The smaller demo area in the existing lot is now used to demo smaller systems.

The main demo area, don't those Chinese B&Ws look ever so familiar?

With launching the latest China high end brand called Be One Audio, a.k.a. Chinese McIntosh amps and Be One Audio speakers, a.k.a. Chinese B&W! Not too long ago it was Jungson, a.k.a. Chinese Krell, that Simon was selling. These Chinese companies un ashamedly taking on other's brand identity with no idea or little understanding on what it takes to build a brand, they can own for long term success.

Be One Audio mono block power amps on the right. Too bad they weren't powered up, other wise, you'd realised why they're called Chinese McIntosh!

Original flagship CD Player on the left, Shanling flagship CD/SACD on the left. The Original does sound rather impressive for the $$$. For those whom do not know, Original is a CD player specialist brand, from China of course.

Another look at the Shanling. At the bottom is a costumed finished sand box for isolation.

Audio Synthesis also stocks some of the more respectable Chinese brands like Shanling, Cayin Spark, Aurum Cantus speakers, Meixing and Audio Vega, the last two being tube amp specialist. Simon also stocks some Ho's LS3/5A version speakers and various other hifi starter kits

Ho's LS3/5A on top and another similar sized speaker for comparison.

Original CD player, Audiolab pre/power amps.

Some of the accessories selection.

For me, the best part of the shop is quite possibly the accessories section, where various Chinese brands like Yarbo, Bada and Snake King are available at very reasonable cost. All kinds of connectors, spades, bananas, speaker/amp heat shrinkable sleeves, IEC, RCA and XLR plugs are all available. Great place for an audio cable DIY-er.
One can also find various old model Shure, Denon and Akai cartridges, and bits and pieces of tone arm head shell for turntables. China made tubes are also available here.

Audio cable DIY-er's candy shop! All kinds of terminations and connectors available here! A wide range of isolation spikes, cones and floor coasters also sold here.

Power supply choices.

Simon also stock some pretty impressive looking, yet high affordable power cords and receptacles, all Chinese made of course! There's also a selection of affordable used/pre-owned gear that Simon sells on behalf of his clients, on consignment of course.

Some of the used gear selection available.

Simon also recently started stocking acoustic panels, which can be costumed finished to match one's home decor. He also sell the latest audiophile furniture craze called Guizu wood hifi rack! The FE spider clone racks are also available here in various guises.

A costumed finished acoustic panel awaiting collection for a customer wanting to match his home decor.

Aurum Cantus flagship speakers.

Lastly, Simon also offers repair services, particularly an expert on older Marantz gear and Philips based CD players.

Guizu wood audio rack, much sought after apparently because they sound good!

If in Amcorp Mall, and wanna have a feel of the middle kingdom hifi and sound, do drop by and pay Simon a visit.
Audio Synthesis contact, tel:012-3203380

October 14, 2009

Your Feel Good CD Player? Pathos Endorphin CD Player.

Is it an alien space craft? No, it's the Pathos Endorphin CD player.

Nelson of Centre Circle Audio is one smart cookie. He told me that the Pathos Endorphin is an alternative choice for people whom rejects the Esoteric SACD/CD players, which Centre Circle Audio also sells. Many audiophiles are prejudiced in opinion that the Esoterics are too sterile and bland sounding, based on what the previously older models they may have heard(I bet they didn't experienced the latest X-03 model just yet!).

The truly hand crafted wooden shipping box, I hope no more trees than necessary were chopped making this box.

What's the meaning of the word endorphin? No, it has nothing to do with dolphins!(I thought about that too!) I checked the www to find that it's a compound secretion by our brains to either reduce pain or for the inducement of feeling good. Sounds like Pathos intends for it's flagship CD player to be the panacea for "audiophilia nervosa" or have intentions to make you feel good about your latest extravagant purchase?

Nice fine Italian carpentry!

Let's find out. When I first saw the hand chiseled solid wooden box for packaging, I was in shock! The box's top cover was screwed shut by no less than 12 long screws all round. I am glad I had a motorised screw driver around for the handy job. The second shock greets you when you actually see the Pathos Endorphin in the metal. Did I brought home a miniature alien space craft? Because it sure looked like one! Only on closer inspection did reveal clues like the 6H30 out put tubes and a transport cover the opens to allow access to the Philips CD Pro2 unit and a manually adjustable display panel, that it's actually a humble CD player. One smart feature that I like about this top loader CD player is that there's no puck to muck around with or get lost! The transport puck is cleverly built in to the top cover of the transport. All you have to do is slot the CD in to the center spindle, close the cover and the transport self detects the CD's TOC, once that's done, the Pathos is ready to play. Probably just easier to check the panel for it's RCA, XLR out puts and an IEC style power cord input.

I used the XLR out puts, note the out put's dual mono lay out.

Build quality is exotic to say the least, and 2 remote is provided, a nice shinny all metal unit(it's called a coffee table remote!) and another one which is the common Philips look alike plastic affair(quite possibly meant for everyday practical use). One thing I have to complain about is that all those little buttons on the top fascia is unlabelled, as so are those buttons on the coffee table remote! How do you know which button does what?(you have to read the manual, smarty pants!) Only the practical Philips look alike plastic remote have labelled buttons, which is why I used it all the time the Endorphin spent in my system.

I am very sure you are now asking, never mind all those, but how does it sound?

I had the impression that the high frequencies don't extend as high as the Esoteric X-03, but yet I still managed to get an airy feel when listening to music. The mids are exceptionally strong point for the Pathos Endorphin, it has a very natural sounding warmth that fills vocals with full bodied density, and lends classical instruments such as wood winds, bassoon, flute, viola, violin and cello it's most natural timbre of woodiness. Double bass also benefited from the mids timbre treatment, yet always sound articulate making it easy to follow note to note precisely. Electric guitar bass lines are gutsy, well filled in and well defined. The kick drum's energy is never short changed either.

Philips CD Pro2 transport and the 6H30 out put tubes.

This is a highly refined CD player, it's forte is reproducing classical music with all the hall ambiance and spatial cues preserved. Staging and imaging properties are first class with believe able stage depth and layering recreation(even in my small listening room). I had no trouble feeling like I am in a concert at Dewan Philharmonik Petronas.

I am a little disappointed that the Pathos Endorphin doesn't dig out as much low level musical detail information as the Esoteric X-03. It also blunts micro dynamics a little some what but seems to do macro dynamics and transients pretty well. But I think the Pathos is not about measuring and ticking all the right audiophile check boxes either, no doubt it does all those reasonably well too.

The manually adjustable display panel, it would've been way cool to motorized this and make it remote adjustable too!

The Pathos Endorphin is more about engaging and connecting to the music reproduced. A visitor commented that Japanese female singer Noon sounds so much more seductive thru the Pathos than he is used to, making him wanna "air" caress her romantically. Just in case you were wondering, we were playing Noon's "Smilin" CD, track 4, 500 Miles. Macho male voices, like Toscho's Back By Popular Demand CD, makes me feel like he's gone thru a lifetime of coarse social grinding behaviour pattern. The Pathos has a way of bringing out the musical uniqueness of each CD played thru it. I would surely classify the Pathos Endorphin as a beautiful, colourful sounding CD player, rather than an accurate one(like the Esoteric X-03).

This says it all! The Pathos prestige.

Which brings me to the question, with the Pathos Endorphin and the Esoteric X-03 both retailing at the same RM$32k price, which would be your choice?

I think one's choice between the two would eventually boil down to the matters of system synergy, personal preference and musical diet.

You now see why Nelson is such a smart cookie? With the Pathos Endorphin and the Esoteric X-03 in his stables, looks like he's got both sides covered now!

Pathos is sold by Centre Circle Audio, contact Nelson, tel: 03-77282686