January 1, 2010

Happy New Year!

I am looking back to hifi 2009 with fondness and a tinge of sadness. It was a year in which my WIP(Work In Progress) hifi system finally started to sonically move to the direction that I've always wanted. However to do so, I had to "invest" and "upgrade" some of the system's components to higher quality ones. Here's a few items that I would clearly classify as category 3a) a.k.a. items which I've reviewed, liked and can afford to buy.

1) Furutech Power Plugs: I've found Furutech IEC and US NEMA5 standard power plugs to offer very good price to performance ratio in the Malaysian hifi market at least. A good electrical plug connection can reduce system noise floor by as much as 2db when I measured with the Audio Prism Noise Sniffer aided with an SPL meter. It also helps to prolong equipment life span by causing less arching on the connecting points.

2) Finite Elemente Ceraballs: One of the most effective isolation devices I've come across. They do all the positive things normally associated with isolation cones, but with minimised draw backs that come along with cones. That means the Ceraballs do bring about more defined and focused sound stage and imaging qualities, tighten up in room bass response(especially if used under speakers), but do not sharpen the high frequencies and induce sibilance as isolation cones tend to bring along.

3) Torus Power RM8A: Unless one resorts to re-wiring and reconfiguring the whole house's power lines and MCB box, a high quality PLC(Power Line Conditioner) is essential to fully bring out the best of one's high end system performance. A PLC's prime job is to eliminate as much EMI/RFI pollution from the in coming power supply line, usually resulting in lower system back ground noise, like tweeter hiss, which are most notice able. With reduced noise floor, one can easily hear what he'd been missing, all this while. The Torus Power RM8A is my choice for the job. Granted, that it is not a cheap solution, but one that did brought out the best qualities of my system and took it's sonic performance up by a few notches. With reduce noise floor, staging and imaging qualities improved with better separation and layering plus reduced congestion. System tonal qualities, timbre and harmonic qualities are flushed out in full. And finally system transparency and resolving qualities gain new levels of sophistication.

3) Siltech Classic Anniversary 330L: I spent most of year 2008 improving my interconnects, and left little budget for pair of speaker cables to match. I finally found my choice speaker cables which I could afford in 2009. The Siltech Classic Anniversary 330L brought about some much needed refinement, and further enhanced transparency to the system performance capabilities. I feel it was as if the last remaining system bottle neck( all cables are information bottle necks) has been cleared.

4) Isotek Isoplug: With the Audio Prism Noise Sniffer, I realised that if one runs a long power cord post PLC connection to distributor, the said power cord acts like an EMI/RFI antenna. This results in less than pristine power supply once at the distributor level. At this point I found the Isotek Isoplug helps to cleanse the EMI/RFI pollution if used at the distribution points. Hence not wasting the heroic effort put up by the Torus Power RM8A PLC further up stream.

5) Auralex MetroFusor Diffuser Panels: I spent some time at the end of 2008 to attend to my room acoustics with some measure of success, and relatively little cost. I am happy with the results. However, with the above items in my system, I felt that it was time to re-look in to the matter again. The opportunity arrived when I was asked by Center Circle Audio to do a review of Auralex products. I choose to do the MetroFusor panels because it was very affordable and fitted in to the scheme of my room acoustic treatment system. Finally, it was easy to DIY too.

6) Telos RCA/XLR Caps: This is one hell of a controversial tweak! Subjectivist swear by the sound improvements they've heard, objectivist question and demand justification to what is deemed, un measure able pseudo science at best! Nevertheless, I bought a couple of sets for use in my system and they are now an indispensable part of my system. One can use these a combination of these Telos Gold or Platinum caps on the un-used RCA sockets to sculpt sound stage dimensionality, imaging focus, and tighten bass or further define treble frequencies. With a bit of trial and error, and once you get used to their characteristics, they're easy to use.

7) Shunyata Darkfield Cable Lifters: Whilst there are better cable lifters out there at a higher price, I've found the Darkfield to offer great value to performance ratio. I used them to elevate my 3m long XLR interconnect between pre and power amp to great effect. However, one should get some to try before buying, as their results does varies with cables types and brands. So very naturally, the YMMV caveat applies here!

These are the items that I had reviewed in 2009 and liked them enough to make them a permanent feature in my hifi system. I also bought a Pass Labs X-Ono phono stage in December out of an up grade opportunity as one of my hifi buddies upgraded his phono stage. This recent purchase has made me sit up, and re look in to my vinyl set up for 2010.

Oh yeah! I did mentioned a tinge of sadness? I am a little sad that my much loved Marantz CD7 transport mechanism assembly has bitten the dust after more than 8 years of faith full service. I am saddened by the fact that the original Philips CD Pro(VAM1252) mechanism is no more being produced and the newer Philips CD Pro2(VAM1254) is not exactly back wards compatible either, well not without modifications at least! I am still in the process of looking for a replacement as it is.

I must sum up year 2009 to be an event full one, for the hifi community at least. And lastly, a big THANK YOU to all our readers who supported us by following HiFi-Unlimited. Keep up the good work, as we could not have continue doing so without your much valued support.

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