February 28, 2010

Announcement! A Wadia For Your i-Thoughts.

Grand Prize! Wadia 170i Transport. Picture shown with iPod attached. The iPod or iPhone to use is your choice, and is sold separately. By the way, you'll also need to connect the Wadia 170i Transport to your high end rig via a dedicated DAC.

Dear readers,

Hifi-Unlimited is proud to announce our first ever reader's participation event. The event's grand prize, which is a unit of the latest and coolest Wadia 170i Transport, worth RM$1480.00, is generously sponsored by CMY Audio & Visual, the new distributors of Wadia in Malaysia.

What does the Wadia 170i Transport do? Well, do you want the "cool" factor of the iPod or the iPhone, and marrying the convenience of portable music to the sound quality of your high end audio system?

The Wadia 170i Transport is a highly acclaimed and award winning device, to connect your Apple iPod or iPhone to your high end hifi system via a dedicated DAC of your choice. I've heard recently, in a friend's system, where his high end hifi rig was sourced by loss less music files from his iPhone, attached to a Wadia 170i Tranport, via a high end DAC, and came away pretty impressed by the sonic results. To this pair of ears, the sound quality of the iPhone & Wadia 170i Transport combo is clearly superior to any CPU based music server I've came across so far.

So you asked, "what do I have to do to win the Wadia 170i Transport?" Simple, just e-mail Odiosleuth your most positive thoughts, up lifting emotions and out of this world experiences with Wadia products and services past and present. You may even tell us your wish list feature on future Wadia products. Otherwise, any other constructive Wadia related topics can be considered for the event.

Terms and conditions of HiFi-Unlimited reader's participation event:

1) This event is open only to our Malaysian readers with MYKAD registered postal/home address. No proof of purchase or past Wadia ownership required.

2) All e-mails to Odiosleuth must contain the following information, MYKAD No., Tel No., and Postal/Home address. Failure to include these 3 important information will result in your e-mail being disqualified. We will not publish your contact no. or address on line. They are strictly for winner's identity verification only.

3) Your e-mail contents must not exceed 300 words.

4) You may send as many e-mail entries as you wish, should you think it'll increase your chances of winning, however, repeated sending of the same e-mail contents will not count after the first one received, and the subsequent e-mails will be considered null and void. In other words, DO NOT SPAM!

5) Readers may start sending e-mail entries to Odiosleuth@gmail.com, starting 1st till 27th March 2010. Any e-mails received past the deadline of 12.00pm, 27th March 2010 will not be eligible for the event.

6) The HiFi-Unlimited editorial team will select, based on what they feel is subjectively the best e-mail of the week representing the Wadia theme, (i.e. 08th, 15th, 22nd & 29th March 2010) for publication on this blog site to qualify for the final selection by CMY Audio & Visual to win the grand prize.

7) The grand prize winner will be notified by e-mail, and our announcements here at HiFi-Unlimited in the month of April 2010.

8) All immediate families of the HiFi-Unlimited editorial team, and employees of CMY Audio & Visual are prohibited from participation of this event, except for the grand prize giving ceremony.

9) All weekly qualifying selections by the HiFi-Unlimited editorial team and grand prize winner selection by CMY Audio & Visual are final. No further correspondence over the matter will be entertained.

10) Should you have further questions about this reader's participation event, please ask in the comments section below. We will try to clear your doubts. And lastly, Good Luck!

So what are you waiting for? Put your i thoughts to e-mail, and we may just reward your effort with a Wadia 170i Transport!

Finally, a special thanks to our generous event sponsor, CMY Audio & Visual.

February 24, 2010

Clarity Defined - Cardas Clear Interconnects and Loudspeaker Cables

I listened to Cardas' cables in my system on one occasion in the past, that was probably more than a year ago. I had the Cardas Golden Reference loudspeaker cables in my system for a few weeks. The Golden Reference gave a sound that was easy on the ears, the pacing was easygoing, the tonal balance was pretty much on the warmish side, which many would take as the signature of Cardas' cable range. I thought they would be pretty suitable to balance out the hard and cold digital sound that many a system suffer from.

Fast forward to now, Cardas has come up with a new flagship range, called 'Clear'. Hi-Way Laser generously loaned us both the interconnects (XLR, RM11,990 for 1.5m) and loudspeaker cables (RM22,299 for 3m) for evaluation over a few weeks.

Cardas Clear Interconnects

Cardas Clear Loudspeaker Cables

While they are the new top dog, Cardas kept to a down-to-earth design - no flamboyance, no gimmicks. The interconnects and the speaker cables come in the same rather-non-descriptive blue jacket. And both of them came in simple zip-lock plastic bags, which can be off-putting when one is spending a 5-figure sum. This is one area that Cardas should just spend a few more bucks to improve upon, I think. Well, packaging wise, getting the Cardas cables definitely was not like unwrapping a Christmas present, so to speak. :-)

Ok, those were my grouses about their looks - but looks are just that, looks. I like the XLR connectors on the interconnects and the spades on the speaker cables. The XLR connectors are different from the usual run-of-the-mill Neutriks, they are chunky and lock securely. The spades are thicker than usual, they are robust and inspired confidence. I understand that these are Cardas' proprietary design, more interestingly, the cables and the terminations are crimped together under high pressure, such that they become like one continuous piece of metal, rather than being soldered together. This should improve signal transmission.

XLR connectors on the interconnects

Spades on the loudspeaker cables

I listened to the Cardas Clear Interconnects in my system first, putting then between my digital frontend and my pre-amp. Big E had generously burnt-in the cables beforehand, and the interconnects' performance settled down in my system after a few hours of use.

The Clear Interconnects' positive traits became apparent after just a short listen. George Cardas was right on the money when he named his cables 'Clear'. The interconnects afforded my system with a wide open clarity that I rarely experienced. The soundstage especially, opened up and became wider; each individual image became more focused, better defined, this was achieved by throwing away the fat in the sound and fuzziness at the image edges. The space in between the images was either dead silent or filled with ambiance cues, whichever was appropriate from the recording. I did not hear the amount of warmth that was Cardas' trait in its previous offerings. There was still a minute trace of warmth, to be sure, which lent a slightly forgiving quality to the cables, but the Cardas Clear sounded very much neutral to my ears.

At the end of the day, matching was still the key with the Cardas Clear interconnects. I feel that to get the best of the interconnects, your system should already has some natural warmth and some good body, then the Clear interconnects will let you know how good your system sounds; if your system is a little cold or a little threadbare, the neutrality of the Clear interconnects will expose it for what it is.

Encouraged by the interconnects' results, I moved on to put in the Cardas Clear loudspeaker cables. My, my, I found the Cardas Clear loudspeaker cables hit square in the middle of two excellent cables that I heard recently - on one hand the Clear speaker cables had quite a large measure of the energetic and dynamic nature of the JPS Superconductor 3 which I currently use, on the other hand they moved towards the Siltech Classic Anniversary 770L in term of silkiness and smoothness.

No, the Cardas Clear did not equal the Siltech in these areas of refinement, for that you have to add about RM10k to the price. However, when the Cardas was compared to the JPS, the latter sounded relatively untidy. Well, that probably was how it should be, the Cardas also added RM10k or so to the price of the JPS, sitting smack in-between the JPS and Siltech.

The Cardas Clear loudspeaker cables have the same virtues of the interconnects, just much more so than the interconnects, such was my observation from my listening tests. The Clear loudspeaker cables conjured up an even wider and deeper soundstage. The soundstage's dimensionality was easy to discern due to the clean sound where there was no noise or any 'dirtiness' to obscure the very fine details. Complexity in the music was easily unravelled. Image focus and delineation was first rate.

Take a classical orchestral track, I could hear the orchestra's sections 'spread' in front of me, with each instrument section nicely defined and focused. Take solo piano music (George Winston's Autumn), as the music moved from the lower register upwards, i could hear the acoustic source of the notes moved from left to right as on a keyboard, note by note, a great testament to the definition and staging capability of the Clear. The piano notes were also rendered with incredible details and excellent harmonic structure.

Through the Clear loudspeaker cables, bass had solidity and punch. Midrange had body and a certain creaminess on vocal, which I found very appealing. Ella Fitzgerald, for example, could just about melt every listener's heart. Highs were smooth and had certain silkiness and shine. The warmth that I heard in Cardas' Golden Reference was almost completely gone. What took its place was excellent transparency and honesty.

At the end of the day, I found both the Clear interconnects and speaker cables excellent representations of the high end cable creed, though, in my opinion, the speaker cables' performance was just ahead of the interconnects', in my system at least.

'Clear' - definitely an appropriate name for Cardas' new cable range.

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

February 23, 2010

Reclaiming The Throne? Wadia 381 CD Player.

Wadia 381 CD player, built substantially and weights 26kgs. Note the pointed end at the bottom of each corner column?

Many once considered Wadia the formidable king of digital, a.k.a. CD players. However, after several boardroom and ownership tussles, the company faded in to obscurity. But the guys in the Technical Dept. kept themselves busy, and now under new stewardship, it seems that Wadia intends to come back with a vengeance and hopes to reclaim the throne it lost a while ago. Wadia had found commercial success with the ipod dock(which I've heard one recently being feed by an iphone on lossless WAV music files, and came away pretty impressed), now can the subject in review help Wadia reclaim the digital throne? We find out, courtesy of CMY Audio & Visual, the new distributors of Wadia in Malaysia.

The double box c/w foam inserts packaging is common practice in high end audio products, Wadia does not stray from this tradition, at least not when a product retails for as much as RM$29,500.00! It just makes good business sense to protect the merchandise en route to the customers. He!He!

The 26kg player is substantially built and just carrying it out of the box requires good lifting habits like squatting and keeping one's back straight is necessary to avoid injuries! The build quality is as excellent as standards set by previous Wadia products and one has to attach the four points on each corner at the bottom before proceeding to rack placement. Wadia has thoughtfully supplied a set of 4 matching point coasters if your do not wish ruin the surface of the hifi rack.

The Wadia 381 uses a Teac supplied dedicated CD transport, but I don't think it's from the VRDS stables either. It's probably a similar unit used in the Esoteric SA-50, by the looks of it. The CD tray opening/closing action is just not as smooth as on those Esoteric players. I also found the transport command/controls a little sluggish when in use, as if it just takes a few seconds longer, before it decides what the command is, and action is taken. I also found that one has to be extra careful when putting a disc on to the slim fit CD tray, as it tends to jam up while closing, especially with slightly warped disc. However, I did not found any damages to my CDs.
The Teac supplied dedicated CD transport.

The Wadia 381 has the usual RCA & XLR analog outputs and an IEC power input on the back panel. For a little more money, one can have the Wadia 381i(i for input, get it?) , that comes with a variety of digital inputs like USB amongst others, to allow easy connectivity to other digital music files as an alternative source. By the way, did I mention the Wadia 381 has a built in digital volume control, with output voltage selector? This will allow those with a single source, a.k.a. the CD, to by pass the pre amp and wire the outputs of the Wadia direct in to the input of one's power amp. The digital volume control is remote operate able, but I only wish the voltage output selector was remote accessible too[one has to open the casing and access the internal setting jumpers on the output board to set the output voltage, which is user select able between 2v(default), 4V and 8V max].
The back panel.

Other user remote select able features are phase invert, and algorithm setting. The end user is allowed to choose from 3 select able algorithm A(default), a.k.a. Digimaster ver 2.5, algorithm B which has an airier high frequency emphasis, and lastly algorithm C which is sonically between A and B. After repeated test switching, I've decide to leave the Wadia in it's default algorithm A setting, which I felt sounds best in the context of my system.

Straight out of the box, I programed the Wadia to play on repeat mode for a few days to run in, like I always do if time permits.

The Wadia 381 replaces my recently restored Marantz CD 7, first, wired as usual via XLR thru the my Pass Labs X2.5 pre amp then the audio signal is sent to my Pass Aleph power amp. On the first CD it self, The Best Of Vol 1, by Depeche Mode, I was floored! In all honesty, I've never heard this CD so well reproduced before. Depeche Mode's music is 80's dark electronica at it's best, along with the one man electronica band of Howard Jones(both were then my favourite artistes). The various synthesizer keyboards and electronic drum kit, not to mention the voice of Dave Gahan were reproduced with full explicit detail and separation of tone, texture and correct timbre. Not only that, the rather complicated music had the right structure and rhythmic drive that many CD players in high end dome just could not reproduce. Depeche Mode's music at this spectacular level realism must be experienced to believe! Most CD players before the Wadia 381 just either sounded noisy or rhythmically lost when playing these music. A few hours down the road, after repeating the Depeche Mode CD's surreal experience twice, and countless other of my favourite disc, I called it a day, only to remembered that I completely forgotten to evaluate the Wadia's audiophile technical performance! By then, it was just too late in to the night to re start the system again.
My favorite 80's electronica band. Apparently, the sound of multiple synthesizer key boards are very difficult to correctly reproduced. So far only the Wadia 381 has managed to do it right.

The Wadia 381, not only loved 80's electronica music, it just simply loved all music and is as genre blind as I am! Feed it some pop/rock music, you get the feel the immediacy, and driving rhythm of the musical performance. Feed it some girl, guitar audiophile favorites, and one hears all the "air", vocal porn, and the fine(micro dynamic) plucking of the guitar strings. Feed the Wadia some classical chamber music, and it rewards one with a rich and lush musical flavour. Feed it some big band, concert or big, big orchestral works and expect it to present a relistically big, layered sound stage, with plenty of hall ambiance to boot.

Am I getting ahead of my self here??? I think I was just over excited. Now calm down, and tell our readers what you actually heard(is this the left brain of Big E speaking)? Oh yes, the Wadia is tonally neutral, yet leaves just a tinge of warmness in the presentation. The highs are not especially smooth like the Esoteric players, but they are by no means harsh or grainy to listen to. The mids are open, clear, yet full bodied. The bass is pretty special in the way it kinda mimics the analog vinyl's. The bass is bouncy, tuneful, detailed and always articulated. It extends very low too. In orchestral pieces where the compressor powered pipe organ is used, I could feel the lowest notes reproduced in a wave like short burst, sweeping towards the sweet spot. It so very powerful.

The Wadia digs out as much information as it can from the CD source, but again, this is still the Esoteric X-03's forte. The frequency at extremes band width appears just as wide as the Esoteric player, but both driving towards different directions. The Esoteric seems to extend north towards the higher frequency extremes, while Wadia chooses to head south towards bass sphere. Both CD players will present very incredibly real sound stage and imaging factor, but I'd put the Wadia as the slightly more laid back and darker sounding one, if that's your cuppa?

Next, I remove my pre amp from the system equation, and wired the XLR cable straight in to my power amp via a pair of 4 meter long Cardas Golden Presence inter connect. Even in standard 2V output setting, the Wadia had ample drive and enough gain to play music sufficiently loud straight to the power amp. With out the pre amp, I found the sound to offer more immediacy and true to source, at the expense of some mid range bloom and lushness. The moisture quantity in the audiophile "air" quality also reduced somewhat. All other sonic attributes mentioned earlier remains just as valid via the "direct" connection.
Proudly made in the USA! Flag flying on the side panel of packaging.

During it's time in my system, a visitor went as far as saying that the Wadia 381 sounded very much like a poor man's stack of DCS digital system. That's compliment indeed, just looking at the Wadia's retail price, any body who could afford to buy the Wadia is definitely not poor! I would see that said statement rather pointing towards the excellent sound vs value ratio of the Wadia, should one compare it to a stack of DCS digital components.

In my system what really set the Wadia 381 apart from other CD players is the ability to draw me in to the music each time. Every time I put a familiar CD which I thought I knew well, the Wadia presents the CD in a whole new way, making me rediscover another aspect of the same CD like never before. I felt the Wadia just edges ahead of the competition, by not having any particular sonic character out standing, but on every technical and musical merit applicable, it does it all very well and it is this very high level of aggregate strength, that makes listening music, through it a truly special experience every time.

Ladies & gentlemen, the throne has a new king. Hail the new king!

Wadia is sold by CMY Audio & Visual, contact John, tel03-21439206

February 20, 2010

Perfection? PS Audio Perfect Wave 10.

PS Audio Perfect Wave 10 power cable. Note the new oval shaped plug with rubber grip pads for easier handling of the thick and rather heavy 10 AWG gauged cable.

I've always been a fan of PS Audio power cables, since the xStream series. In my personal experience with PS Audio power cables is that they always effectively lower system noise floor, enhance bass performance and in general, offer good value to money performance ratio. I also however know, that many will disagree with my above statement. These folks would claim that PS Audio power cables tend to fattened images and makes bass bloat, some even say the PS Audio power cables will introduce veiling(blur, or in cantonese speak, "mung cha cha") to a system's performance! See, how different horses for different courses do apply in power cable reviews as well. The attractive packaging, just like before.

If you've experienced PS Audio power cables like I did, then read on!
The new gold plated contact points.

The latest series of the PS Audio power cables are called Perfect Wave. I am assuming they(PS Audio) are referring to the delivery of the perfect sine wave in A/C power to one's hifi system? The model on review here is the second top, Perfect Wave 10, which supersedes the well received Statement SC. Build quality is up to usual PS Audio high standards, with multi core braided internal construction using single crystal copper stock. The biggest improved area must be at both ends of the termination. The A/C plugs are now oval shape with rubber grip pads for improved handling of the cables(it's not easy wrestling snake like stubborn cables in to place!). The connector pins on the input plug and contact points on the IEC end are now gold plated for smoother high frequencies presentation. Many users have suggested that the previous series of PS Audio Statement SC's contact points are nickel coated which resulted in less than pristine high frequency reproduction.
Another look at the attractive and purposefully designed plug.

The PS Audio Perfect Wave 10 took a long time to burn in. I had to kable kook it for a full week before beginning it's formal review. The un kooked cable sounded bass sluggish, had rough mids and grainy highs. With the Perfect Wave 10 well kooked, time to start some serious listening.

Upon installing the Perfect Wave 10 in to my Pass Labs X2.5 pre amp, replacing my older series PS Audio Plus power cable, the sonic improvements were clearly apparent if both came from the same sonic DNA. The bass performance to the latest Perfect Wave 10 is very similar to the older Plus model(this cable has some of the most robust bass response), except that the bass lines are notably more well defined and bass note to note transfer is easier to follow. The mids are just as full bodied as before. The main improvements I feel, lie in the high mids onwards. The high mids are smoother and more flowing, the highs are definitely airier, more detailed and nounced, on the latest cable. I than switched the Perfect Wave 10 over to power my Marantz CD player, which I heard all the same qualities as when used in the pre amp, except only to sound more musically flowing too. Compared to the AOR Reference 003 that I have been using in the past year, I found the Perfect Wave 10 to offer substantially lower noise floor, resulting in blacker musical back grounds, allowing imaging stability to improve somewhat.
Comparing 3 generations of PS Audio power cords side by side! From left, Perfect Wave 10, Statement SC and Plus. Sonic comparison would show the latest Perfect Wave to be the most neutrally inclined PS Audio yet, the Statement SC to be some what darker and less sparkle by comparison and the oldest Plus to be the darkest and bass heavy sounding cable. Along the PS Audio cable evolution, the sound has gone from rather bass tilted to rather neutral tonality(but still warmer by the standard of most neutral). Let me try to make some sense by saying if Siltech is Yin, than PS Audio is Yang(but getting less Yang by each evolution).

For the sake of those using the previous series of PS Audio Statement SC, and curious how much improvements could be gained by switching to the Perfect Wave 10, I borrowed an example from a buddy whom have just upgraded to another power cable. Comparing to the Statement SC, the Perfect Wave does a few things better, if only just a little. Again, the main improvement are from the high mid frequencies and above. The Perfect Wave 10 does give better high extension, that bit airier, and slightly tidier separations on the high frequencies. High hats and cymbals sound a bit more open by comparison. All other prized sonic attributes of the "older" Statement SC is retained. I would go as far as putting the numeral indicator to the sonic improvements going from the Statement SC to the latest Perfect Wave 10 to be between 5-10%. This result is again system dependent and the usual YMMV caveat must be absolutely applied here.

Retailing at a little more than RM$3k, I'll again leave those already using the PS Audio Statement SC to make their own up grade calls. However, if one is looking to splurge up to RM$5K on a power cable, be sure to give the PS Audio Perfect Wave 10 an audition, as I am very sure it is one of the top contenders, for power cables within this price range.

PS Audio is sold by A&L Audio Station, contact Yap(Wah Chai), tel: 03-79582884

February 18, 2010

Marantz CD7 VS Linn LP12. A Format Debate?

The formats debate. Let the games begin!
With my Marantz CD7 restored to it full glory, it's time to take it for a shake down, against my recently acquired Linn LP12. Despite the format differences, there are certain similarities between the two music making machines. First, both belong to the rather early technology designs of their kind. The Linn first appearing in the late sixties and were considered obsolete by the eighties when newer designs appeared. The Marantz appeared in 1999, a year in which by digital time line defines as a third generation but with the best of second generation digital technology. Both machines have achieved raved reviews in their time and have a cult following, even till today. Both do not have what is defined as neutral sound by today's standards, but rather a warm, comforting sound of the ol'skool hifi.

First up, I wish to denounce that this is not a CD vs LP debate, despite the tittle! I rather see it as a sharing of discovery, the strength's and weaknesses of both formats. One must also note the the CD player in general, is a one box solution, just plug in the necessary power and signal wires, and let there be music. The LP play back system is far more complicated, as it requires at the very least three components, namely the cartridge, turn table and phono stage to work together, before any sound is offered. It reality, it's rather Marantz CD7 vs Benz Micro Glider L2, Linn LP12 plus Pass Lab X-Ono combo to be fair.

I'll used 6 familiar songs that I have on both CD and LP formats for the shake down.

1) Way Out West by Sonny Rollins: This is a monumental work by a trio that's easy to appreciate, even for non Jazz lovers. It's an easy song to compare as there are only 3 instruments in the recording, a saxophone, a double bass and a drum set, recorded in dual mono technique. In the format comparison, while both sounded similarly warm in tonal quality, the LP edges the CD by presenting the saxophone's brass burnish tone quality, more realistically than the CD. The drum kit too sounded more convincing in the way the actual drum stick "hits" the skin patch with impact, followed by decaying of the drum cylinder. High hats and cymbals do sound a little more shinny and simmering decay in to thin air with much, much more conviction. The first round LP wins. My copy of LP is a recent Acoustic Sounds re-issue still available currently. My CD copy is actually a Hybrid SACD re-issued by Naxos in 2003.

2) Black Coffee by Claire Martin: This Linn recording sounds superb, in both formats. There is consistent clarity, neutral tonality and excellent band width extensions heard from both formats. For me however, the CD just edges out slightly, due to a fuller bass and dense mids plus just being able to dig out more resolution in the song. Giving the song a more dynamically fulfilling rendering. My LP is the Too Darn Hot album re-issued in 2006 and CD copy is actually a Hybrid SACD Linn Selektions 2004.

3) Misty by Tsuyoshi Yamamoto Trio: This is classic Three Blind Mice recording. Tsuyoshi's piano sounds more immediate on the LP, but there seems to be an odd harmonic pitch distraction on the LP, perhaps a wow and flutter issue? By comparison, the CD seems a little less dynamic on a micro level, but that odd harmonic pitch distraction did not show up some how. I'll call it even this time as both formats shows sonic flaws highly evident upon critical comparison. The LP copy is the TBM 25th Anniversary re-issue and the CD track was taken from the Three Blind Mice Jazz Sampler Volume one, track 10.

4) Lou Ge by Cai Qin: I used track 1 for comparison, as I do not know the song name being non Chinese reading illiterate that I am. Again, I found the CD version of the song to sound fuller, and warmer. The CD also did not have the vocal sibilance in the high mid section of the LP. I was more able to connect to the CD on an emotional level than I did on LP. I found this somewhat surprising. My LP copy is a re-mastered, German pressed re-issued in 2008. My CD copy is one of the original 1985 version, not the re-mastered version available now.

5) Foreign Affair by Tina Turner: I used the title track for comparison. I felt this album captures Tina Turner at the peak of her career and she's in top form vocally. The track also features Mark Knopfler of Dire Straits fame, on guitars. I felt both CD and LP copies of this track to be the closest matched, to the point that, with playback volume level matched between formats, I found it hard to differentiate which was which! It was that close! In the end, I decided to call it a tie here. There's a reason for the results, in which I suspect boils down to the format issues. Both CD and LP copies are original 1989 UK pressing!

My summary of the results. To me, it doesn't really matter which format did better, as they both have their charms given the right moment and software. I am also well aware, as I pointed out in the Black Coffee track, that my CD player was able to offer more musical resolution in perspective, probably means that my cartridge, the Benz Micro Glider L2 was not as good in that respect. I also took pains to point out the version of pressings that I used to each song comparison to dissect the possibility of pressings and their varying degrees of quality, be it re-mastered or re-issued. This factor certainly showed up on the Foreign Affair track, where both formats are the original pressings, the sound quality was also too close to call!

The end questions I'll have to ask are as follows, are we truly listening to the format quality or the various quality that different pressings offer? Is one format really superior to the other?

February 16, 2010

Back From The Brink. A 2nd Lease of Life For My Marantz CD 7.

My Marantz CD 7 is given a second lease of life!
It's now become public knowledge that some sucker is desperately looking for spares to repair his beloved Marantz CD 7.

With all hopes of getting a spare Philips VAM1252 transport mechanism assembly faded, and everyone around me offering either condolences or celebrating my opportunity to up grade(again?), one guy came up with an idea. Why not go DIY? I answered that "I've not done digital before, what happens if we get stuck?" "Then go ahead and spend the money on that CD player upgrade!" he replied.
The inner chassis with moulded compartments for high strength, just like a car's chassis.
Attention to detail, rubber dampers affixed to bottom of PCB for vibrational control.
As I am not prepared to spend RM$30k on a replacement CD player just yet, I took up his offer to go DIY. Along the way, we got another DIYer buddy, who works as a hifi technician for another big brand. So you'll understand both their request to remain anonymous.

The hollowed out transport mechanism. We took it out to perform the rebuild.
Just in case you forgot what's wrong with my Marantz CD 7, the transport seems to not recognise most disc I wish to play. For some reason it failed to read the TOC(Table Of Contents) on the disc. TOC is the no. of tracks and time information to be displayed when played. Some disc will also have album tittle and artist name too, if one's CD player is designed to display those.

Then we spent a weekend opening up and dismantling the Marantz CD 7. Now I know what makes the up the players heft and weight. The double layer full copper coated casing with the internal chassis moulded with compartments just like a car's monocoque chassis and the outer flat cosmetic panels is the answer.

We've found the best way to access the transport mechanism is from the bottom. Once the bottom chassis plate is removed, it will reveal the VAM1252 transport mechanism assembly with the custom Marantz transport control board(none standard as found on original Philips VAM1252) at the very bottom. We start by removing the custom Marantz transport control board, then access to the bottom of the transport mechanism is revealed. We took the transport mechanism out to find the fault. It appears the center spindle of the original transport had self destruct. The center spindle is to hold the disc while the transport bridge clamps down to stabilise the disc before the spindle motor starts to spin the disc to read TOC.

The bottom of the Philips VAM1252, a.k.a. Philips CD Pro. Note the parallel stainless steel guide rails on either side of the laser diode assembly?
Looks very much like this Philips CDM12.4?, which we used as the parts donor for the rebuild.
We searched the www for information on Philips transport options available. I found that the CDM12.4 is a perfect parts donor candidate for a complete transport rebuild, i.e. we'll strip down the VAM 1252, a.k.a. Philips CD Pro and throw away everything inside except the body. We then proceed to transplant all the new parts removed from the CDM12.4 bar the body. How is this possible you ask?
Top: Philips VAM1252, a.k.a. Philips CD Pro. Bottom right: Philips VAM1254, a.k.a. Philips CD Pro 2.

You see, the only thing PRO about the Philips CD PRO is that metal alloy chassis and an extra laser diode assembly guide rail built in parallel for perfect tracking alignment. All other parts like the laser diode assembly and guide rail motor and center spindle motor is identical to the Philips CDM 12.4!
Philips CDM12.4 top view.
Once the transport rebuild was completed, we re assemble the transport mechanism and start testing. During testing, we encountered another problem, the CD player now reads the disc TOC, and proceeds to play as per usual, only to start skipping irregularly after halfway thru reading a disc. It seems that the new transport doesn't quite like to track the outer parts of a disc. CD players normally reads from the center(TOC, then track 1) towards the outer rim(last track) of the disc. More research on the www was required. I chanced upon a web site called http://www.lampizator.eu/ authored by maverick DIYer Lukasz Fikus. This man adds enthusiasm and inspire our repair work even more than before. He gives away so much information and actual BS about CD players! Do check out his interesting Lampizator concept if you're DIYer, and have a thang tube out put CD players. If only there are more hifi people like him?
The custom Marantz transport control board. Note the 2 blue coloured capacitors are the replacements done by Mr Oh. These capacitors are the regulator/charge storage for the spindle and laser diode guide rail motors.
Following a lead provided by Lukasz on his web site, it would seem that we're experiencing some trouble with the custom Marantz transport control board. It's apparently a common problem that most center spindle or laser guide rail motor doesn't fail, but more likely that the charge regulator/storage capacitors for the motors on the control board had dried up or leaked over a period of time. But neither of us were quite sure which capacitor to fault. I proceeded to bring the control board to Mr Oh, a reputable hifi and CD player specialist repairman in Kuala Lumpur. With his vast experience in CD player repairs, Mr Oh quickly pointed out the faulty capacitors and proceeded to help me replace them. While I was there, Mr Oh very kindly allowed me to raid his parts bin for what ever I need to fix my Marantz CD 7.
Fitting the custom Marantz transport control board from the bottom of the mechanism.
I went home to re assemble the board on to my CD transport mechanism and started testing again, this time the disc reading was faultless from beginning till end. Success!!!, not quite yet. There was still some scratchy noise with the disc reading. It did not affect the disc play, but there was that noise, coming from the transport during playback. I consult Mr Oh again and he mentioned about:

1) alignment of the laser diode assembly guide rails, they must be strictly parallel. Check!

2) alignment of the center spindle to motor and then bridge clamp height. (this is easier said than done) but we managed after many attempts. Check!
Alignment of the spindle to motor and bridge clamp height. This alignment is most tedious to perform.
3) alignment of the tray and bridge clamp centering. Check!
Bridge clamp motor viewed from below.
With all the alignment in place, we reassemble the transport mechanism assembly again to test and this time, success! We tested disc after disc for 2 days with perfect reading results. Once confirmed, we reassembled the whole CD player again and ready to plug the Marantz in to my system again.
Alignment testing, SACD Hybrid disc which are thicker(just very slightly) than a normal red book only CD.
After 3 weekends that we used to complete the transport mechanism re build and testing, the result was very satisfying. Listening to the newly restored player, I heard the same glorious sound like I used to, no more no less. The Marantz CD 7 lives again!
CDR Testing!
More testing!!!
I wish to thank my two DIYer buddies(whose names I am not allowed to mention) for helping me to re build the transport of my CD 7. A special thanks and appreciation goes to Mr Oh for helping out with his time and effort.
Marantz HDAM output module.
Jewel in the crown! The prized Philips TDA1541S2, made in Taiwan for close tolerance and excellent linearity measurement.
The DAC and out put board. Note the balanced topology.

The copper coated/potted power supply transformer.
The spring loaded suspension mounts, made of teflon.
Other than Lukasz Fikus Lampizator web site, my other www resources includes the following sites:





For more info, you may also Google or Yahoo search on Philips CDM12.4 or VAM1252 or Philips CD Pro.

February 14, 2010

X-Static. Milty Zerostat 3.

The Milty Zerostat 3 static zap gun.

More analog stuffs? You bet! I've gone crazy over vinyl lately and in the process, started to look in to accessories that makes a vinyl nut's life that bit more exciting, not to mention better sounding too!

Since my vinyl revival, I've been pulling out almost all my 20 plus year old LPs to play again. I was horrified that some of those LPs have accumulated a lot of static and dirt, due to years of storage. I just couldn't stand hearing all those "ticks and pops" and "screechy" distortions coming from the LPs any further when I played them.

CMY Audio & Visual very courteously allow me to take the Milty Zerostat 3 for a home trial. The Zerostat 3 is a gun like device, you point the nozzle a few inches(12 inches max) from the item you wish to zap static away, press the trigger then release gently, and wah la! The static is removed.

How does it work? According to the instructions printed at the back of the box, the Zerostat 3 releases a very low voltage positive ion charge as the trigger is pulled, and will also release a second charge of negative ion, once the trigger is allowed to pull back in to it's original position.
The contents in the packaging tray, note the charge indicator nozzle attachment on the lower left. Please ensure that nozzle attachment is removed when in use. Otherwise, you've just wasted another charge!

Milty also supplies a charge indicator nozzle attachment, for easy verification of charge ability. To check, all one has to do is to attach the checking nozzle on to the original nozzle of the Zerostat 3, then pull the trigger as one would to zap away static, watch for a red LED to light up on the attachment nozzle. If the red LED fails to light up, then it means you've used up all the 50 thousand zaps available from your Milty Zerostat 3. Priced at RM435.00 each, that works out to less than RM$0.01 sen per zap, if costing does matter.
Money For Nothing, by Dire Straits. One of my very first LP purchased back in 1988.

I took out my favourite Dire Straits, Money For Nothing LP, an original 1988 UK pressing, which has been played like thousands of times by now, and the more popular tunes like Money for Nothing, Sultans Of Swing and Private Investigations are so dirty and full of static, it was almost un bear able to listen to. I thought of sending the LP to be cleaned. But with a zap by the Zerostat 3, I can say that nearly 80% of those nasty surface "ticks and pops" had vanished! The slightly screechy high frequencies were gone too! The LP is now not only listenable, in fact I can almost enjoy the music now. But some of those stubborn surface dirt still clings on and only a through wash will do those I guess.

LP or CD, the Zerostat 3 does make it better!

The Milty www. also noted that CD sound will benefit from a zap too! So I tried it on one of my current favorite CDs, I Dream Of An Opera, produced by Rhymoi Music China. This is one of the best Chinese recording I've come across till date. The recording is totally natural sounding, and capable of transforming the listener to the recording of the event in a China CCTV studio(if you hifi system is up to par). The recording of various Chinese classical opera themes with traditional instruments like Erhu, Guzheng and Pipa amongst others, is re-arranged with Western classical influenced sound for a more gentle representation, to allow easy accessibility of the music, which includes non Chinese international audiences. I only have a very small gripe regarding this CD, that is on track2, tittled Mulan, the main Erhu located on the left side of the sound stage, can sound some what aggressive or forward in many hifi systems, including mine to various degrees. I listened to the same track again, after the zapping the CD with the Zerostat 3. This time, I found that same Erhu, to be more sympathetic to the ear, less distracting, and puts the Erhu back in it's place within the sound stage, compared to the previously outstanding forward sound of the said string instrument.
I Dream Of An Opera. One of my favorite Chinese CDs. There's so much to like from this excellent JVC recording, produced by Rhymoi Music China.

I then proceeded to zap every CD before I started playing in the CD player, each time the result is predictably the same. If the CD has some form of glare or edginess in it's sound reproduction, the Zerostat 3 treatment either reduces or eliminates it to certain degrees.

Apparently each zap is supposed to be permanent once treated. But I sometimes found my self zapping the same LP a few more times, just to be sure, but it does not bring further improvement on the once treated LPs.
The Zerostat 3 even makes a difference on cartridges! Hey, this doesn't look like the Benz Micro Glider? Patience please, story to come in due time.

I've also found another use for the Zerostat 3. I've found by pointing the nozzle from a few inches away to the direction of the cartridge helps too. I've been in the process of running in an "old" new cartridge this past month or so. The highs are somewhat fizzy and splashy at the same time. But I have no choice except to endure whilst the cartridge is being run in. With a zap from the Zerostat 3, the said cartridge now has a gentler, not to mention tidier sounding high frequencies. It brought a smile to my face each time I listen to an LP.
The offset printed box, with simple instructions on the back.

I am keeping the Milty Zerostat 3!(If it seems that I am always lapping up review samples, call me weak if you must. I just can't help my self, not especially if the product is so effective!)

Milty Zerostat 3 is sold by CMY Audio & Visual, contact John, tel:03-21439206

February 12, 2010

My Dream Hifi System, For The Chinese New Year Of The Tiger 2010.

Gong Xi Fa Cai!

Folks, here's a wish list of hifi equipment I hope to put together for the year 2010, should if everything comes my way, such as those listed below in no particular order:
1) A new bigger house with purpose built "golden ratio" hifi room and 3 phase 415V power supply.This can only be the result of things happening from 2) onwards.

2) I had struck 1st prize for the lottery[At last count RM$8 million(USD$2.5 in case for our international readers are wondering) in cash].

3) My boss had suffered a remorse for underpaying us employees for so long that he decides to make up for it with a super duper big, big ang pow this Chinese New Year!

4) My other half doesn't divorce me to get half my new found wealth after learning about my next "grand" hifi upgrade scheme. This is to prevent me from spending all my dosh away! See, she really, really loves me! He!He!

With all those mundane everyday life's shackles taken away,here we go!

Source: I'll start with a stack of DCS Scarlatti digital front end. These have probably gotta be the most "un digital" sounding digital products that I've ever heard. They sound superbly natural and organic but not quite like analog either. It's quite hard to describe the sound unless one has heard a DCS Scarlatti stack in optimum conditions to know what I am getting at.
DCS Scarlatti stck of digital components.
For analog source,I'd like to have the latest Clearaudio Master Reference with CMB bearing and clad in the lovely Panzerholtz wood trim too. And yes, please add the Clearaudio Goldfinger V2 cartridge too , if that's not too much to ask? Many would probably question my choice of analog turn table, but I've heard this combo many times over and still feel that it's one of the best analog rigs around so far, only beaten by it's much, much more expensive and sophisticated big brother, the Clearaudio Statement.
Clearaudio Master Reference turn table.
Clearaudio Goldfinger V2.

Pre amp: Burmester 808 mkV or VI by the time I get it! He!He! It must come with all the extra balanced input and output cards, plus that excellent mc phono stage card too! Why Burmester, you ask? I've also heard this with the Clearaudio combo mentioned above and the sound is absolutely fabulous. They are like perfect partners! After all, both are Germans.
Burmester 808 mkV pre amp.
Power amp: That would be the all time classic Krell KAS 2 mono blocks(actually, they come in power supply and one chanel amp box per side, that makes it 4 blocks for stereo pair!) . I know these are grand ol' dames from the 90's! KAS means Krell Audio Standard, and sound wise I still think they do hold the "standard" till this day. Why that blast from the past??? For me, I see the 90's as the "Golden Age" for solid state transistor amps. There's beauty in the sound of balanced topology full class A out put designs, just like my Pass Aleph 0.(except the Krell is a few levels up altogether in the high end niche)
Krell KAS 2 mono block, sound quality un surpassed till this very day!

Speakers: This is easy, it's gotta be the JM Lab(or is it Focal now?) Grande Utopia EM. Technically the most advanced state of the art speaker design available today. Though I've not heard the latest version yet, but if the previous Grande Utopia BE is anything to measure by, the EM will take musical enlightenment a few notches up!
JM Lab Grande Utopia EM. State of the art speaker design available today.
Cables: Siltech Royal Signature series all round! Just because I like the ultimate refinement they bring to the final sound. It's just like my hifi has just graduated from finishing school.
Siltech Prince/ Princess interconnects.
Siltech Emperor speaker cables makes up Royal Signature series.
Power Conditioner: Torus Power RM32A. This is the biggest, meanest power supply Torus makes. One is probably enough for all the front end plus the Grand Utopia's EM powered modules! But I can always add more if required!
Torus Power PLC, Need I say more about them?
Hifi Racks: All Finite Element of course! No other rack is any more worthy for all the components that sits on them!
Finite Element racks.
I guess all those purchases would certainly add up to nearly RM$2 million or so, guess I'll just keep on dreaming.

GONG XI FA CAI!!! And may all your audiophile and musical dreams come true in the year of the Tiger 2010.