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!


Jacko said...

Weiss Minerva DAC is not HDMI connected but firewire.

OdioSleuth said...


You are proof that we have eagle-eyed readers. :-)

Thanks for pointing out the mistake. Article has been amended accordingly.

junchoon2989 said...

speaking of which, does anyone know a good HDMI 1.3a compliance DAC available in the market?

KC said...

NSK - Great effort as for me an unforgettable memories of the music produced from your two system.
Hi Jacko.
You like the Weiss - how about trying out the MSB Platinum DAC 3? I am still keeping your beautiful, gentle+ world class equipment, when are you coming to experience this?
Hi Odiosleuth
The future also there will be also no need for Preamp - a major source of distortion and coloration other than been rather expensive to design and make it to be extremely good with very low distortion, not forgetting savings on cables , etc. DACs that are designed in this area are like MSB Platinum DAC3, Berkeley Audio and CD player like the NAGRA, if you still stick with CDS!- Hope you can compare it yourself with and without. I trust your judgement and keen to have your opinions after your evaluation - listen as many times as you want. Moving on, where and how to design a world class power cords + interconnect ?