October 29, 2010

It's A Very Powerful Impression! VPI Scout II Turn Table, Dynavector DV-20XL Cartridge.

VPI Scout II turn table, and Dynavector DV20XL is one musically powerful analog combo. Note the powerful out board motor unit!

VPI Industries has been making turn tables for a long, long, time. I regret that I never truly heard them at their full performance potential, until now that is. The VPI Scout II, featured here with the JMW Memorial 9 inch tone arm mounted with Dynavector DV-20XL cartridge, is the entry level of VPI turn tables. It's performance, however is anything but entry level!

It took me a little more than 2 hours of assembling the turn table and tone arm, mount plus align the cartridge, before the first tunes are being played. Before we get to the sound, I must say that the VPI is quite a heavy and solidly built turn table. There's an industrial like feel to the finishing of the whole package. The VPI Scout has four pointed isolation cone feet which are easily adjustable to keep the turn table level. The JMW Memorial tone arm is of uni pivot design, and feels right to these pair of hands and fingers. The cartridge alignment is simple to set with the VPI supplied protractor. I set the cartridge's tracking force to 2.1gsm, which is on the heavier side. I tried the anti skating device setting, but ended up preferring the sound with the device dis-engaged(this was a tip I got from Jim Smith's book, "Get Better Sound", which I'll share later). As the cartridge is low output type at 0.34mv, I set my phono stage to 72db gain setting and loaded it with 120 ohms setting. The signal from the turn table to phono stage is via a pair of VdH D-300 MKII shielded interconnects. This was the final setting which all sonic description is based on.
Cartridge alignment is easy with the VPI supplied single point protractor.

Tracking force is set at 2.1gsm, checked using Ortofon cartridge digital scale model DS-1.

From the very first LP, I knew I was in for a vinyl treat of the black arts! This turn table rocks! Literally. I found my self spinning all the rock albums in my collection dating from the 70's and 80's. This turntable has the energy and vitality to play rock albums convincingly. The treble, while not the most extended is airy and quite refined, yet never lacking in attack, should the music called for. The mids is on the rich side, rendering vocals and especially male voices a throaty quality. The female voice is not short changed either, Tsai Qin still sounds like very much her usual self on Lou Ge, rendering classic love songs very emotionally. The bass is loud, proud, but does not stand out like a sore thumb. The bass guitar is fat, full, and weighty, yet agile. It plumbs as deep as my speakers will go, and rock my listening chair gently. NOW, THIS IS WHAT I CALL BASS! Period.

With this kinda bass, how can I pass on this turn table without playing some soul and R&B LPs? I pulled out Alexander O'Neal's 1988 Christmas album, "My Gift To You", and was rewarded with sweet, sweet soul sound, especially the ever classic "Merry Christmas To You" track. I know, I know, it's not Christmas yet, but the mood's there, the music's there, and the VPI Scout just blows my mind, listening to the strong, manly vocal of Alex, harmonising with the ghostly back up guy slightly back in to the left side of the stage! Santa, I've being a very good boy this year too! Please, please make my Christmas wishes come true??? He! He!
The Dynavector jewel box like packaging.

I'm sorry, I got carried away back there. But that's just what the VPI/Dynavector combo did so, well, carry me away in to the music, all night long, every night! The sound staging properties are good, rather than great, there's width but depth perception is some what lacking. Solid imaging makes up for the short fall though. This turn table combo is also very dynamic and excitingly exuberant. It's also eerily quiet, with an extremely dark back ground and low noise. I did not find any problems with speed stability of the turn table. A special praise must go to the Dynavector DV-20XL cartridge, that for the price, this is probably the most transparent, dynamic and tonally well balanced available.
The JMW Memorial 9 inch tone arm is of uni pivoted design, providing excellent finger and hand feel.

Note the VPI provided screw on clamp, which helps to flatten out warp disc effectively and lowers back ground noise too, making a quieter turn table. All the review sonic description is done with clamp in use.

So what price would you pay for this analog set up? Price break down is as follows:
1) VPI Scout II turn table(with tone arm included): RM$9900.00
2) Dynavector DV20XL cartridge: RM$1700.00

I am now looking forward towards more VPI turn tables to play with, and I've just heard the latest Classic model has a long waiting list. I can't wait to lay my hands on one of those too. He!He!

VPI is sold by Centre Circle Audio, contact Sky or Nelson at 03-77282686.

October 26, 2010

A Class Above, KEF's All New Q Series Speaker Range.

The latest KEF Q series range shown here also includes floor standers, complete with center speaker and sub woofer to make up a full AV/HT or just plain 2 chanel music system.

KEF launched the all new 8th generation Q series speakers at the Perfect Hi-Fi's Bangsar showroom last week. Members of the press and dealers were shown highlights of the new speaker.
An expanded view of the latest innovative KEF Uni-Q driver.

KEF's Q series is the most economical entry in to the level of high tech Uni-Q drivers. KEF has also incorporated many new and innovative technical features in to the new speakers. For the asking price, the really do pack a lot of high tech ingenuity.

The main reasons driving the all new Q series change is customers request for more bass response and smoother, more detail mid range frequencies. That resulted in the Q series going back to square box enclosure design for maximum box volume and an extensively reworked, updated Uni-Q drivers, based on those found on the latest mould breaking KEF Blade Concept speakers.

Also launched is the T series flat speakers for AV/HT lifestyle systems. Again, this speaker driver technology is trickled down from the KEF Blade Concept.

KEF also took the opportunity to launch a second speaker product in the form of a compact AV/HT 5.1 system called the T series. The T series inherits much of the Q series technology, but cleverly compressed to suit the speaker enclosure thickness of no more than 30mm! The drivers themselves measures just 27mm in mounting depth. The T series is designed to complement today's compact, wafer thin LCD/LED screen displays. A special design feature of the T series speaker's favours wall mount, which result in meatier, fuller sound. Table top mounting brackets are provided for those who prefer not to wall mount.

For those who favour the egg shaped KHT series AV/HT speakers, KEF will still keep those in production for now. "There's market for both ranges to co-exist", says Calvin Yeung, who is KEF's Business Executive.
The full range of KEF speakers on display at the Perfect Hi-Fi Bangsar showroom.

Franco Lock(Senior Business Manager for Asia Pacific) and Calvin(on the left) are the Kef's Representative present to officiate the launch.

We were also treated to impressive demos of 2 chanel music and AV surround effects of the KEF Q and T series speakers.
The latest KEF Q 700 floor stander on demo with matching sub woofer.

KEF speakers is now available at Perfect Hi-Fi and it's dealers, including Hi-Way Laser and Nova Hifi.

Please call Andy Tan at 03-58821693 or Alvin Tan at 03-21421693 for enquiries.

October 25, 2010

Kimber Kable Loom

Many of you must have heard this by now - hooking up your systems with cables from only 1 brand, also called a cable loom, will give you better sound. Nordost is a strong advocate of this (perhaps the originator even?). Our fellow blogger, Lam Seng Fatt of hi-fi avenue, also tested this with MIT cables and reported positive results.

We are also going to investigate this here too. Big E collected an entire set of Kimber Kable from Hi-Way Laser for this test, enough to link up an entire system, starting from the mains supply, going all the way to the loudspeakers. And I got this tasty assignment.

Kimber Kable galore:
left: KS3033 speaker cables (RM10,470/8ft pair);
top right: KCAG balanced interconnects (RM3,470/m pair);
bottom right: PK14 powercord (RM850/6ft) and PK10-Gold powercord (RM1,490/6ft)

Kimber Kable PK-14 (14 gauge powercord), I'll use them on the CD player and pre-amp

Kimber Kable PK-10-Gold (10 gauge powercord).
This thicker powercord will be hooked up to my monoblocks

Kimber Kable KCAG silver interconnects.

Kimber Kable KS-3033 speaker cables comes with the best cable packaging I have ever encountered, a genuine Pelican carrying case.

I hope to report on these cables individually and as a cable loom if time permits.

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

October 24, 2010

Digital Music Center. Bryston BDA-1 DAC.

The Bryston BDA-1 DAC, front and back view.

This review might come in some what late for most people who are already on the media server band wagon. This Bryston BDA-1 DAC isn't exactly new product either. It's being reviewed many times over, and in the process have garnered a string of industry awards and accolades. If anything, this review serves to only re-enforce that stellar reputation.

Priced at RM$8,800 each, the Bryston BDA-1 isn't exactly short of competitors either, mostly of newer and more advanced designs too! That puts the Bryston DAC in a technical disadvantaged position today. However, it more than makes up for it in serious sound quality as you shall read on.
Digital stack, top to bottom: Sony DV-NS730P DVD player, Bryston BDA-1 DAC and Marantz CD7.

The Bryston is very well built in a sturdy case design matching those found on their BP-26 pre amp and BCD-1 CD player. Bryston has put in special emphasis on stiff power supply and regulation stages plus the discreet class A output circuitry, around the garden variety Crystal CS-4398 DAC chip, implemented in balanced pair configuration. The Bryston also has 8 digital inputs of various types, including one USB.

I tested the Bryston BDA-1 in 3 modes, first using my Marantz CD7 as a CD transport connected via the coax 1 input of the Bryston DAC. I evaluated the BDA-1 with and without the up-sampling engaged, but ended up preferring the more airy spatial, and detailed qualities of the up sampled sound. I normally do not favour up sampled sound, so here's a little unusual. The rest of the review description is based on the up sampling engaged, unless mentioned otherwise.

I found the Bryston DAC to offer class leading sound qualities, competitive with the likes of the Metronome, Wadia and Esoteric x-03(all previously reviewed here and the Esoteric is my reference CD player) as it's equal playmates. The tonal balance is near neutral with a twist of sweetness in treble and warm mid range reproduction. The bass is tight, extended and powerful. For the first time, I felt there is beauty associated with near neutral tonal balance which isn't normally exclusive either. The level of transparency is startling, and puts the Bryston in the same league as the Wadia and the Esoteric mentioned above. Sound stage is huge, enveloping with great depth perception. Imaging is solid, and packed with density. Each musical performance, irregardless of genre, comes alive. I've never enjoyed digital gear quite like this since the Wadia and the Esoteric. There's a musical element present here(very much like the Linn LP12's ability to carry a tune), that seldom comes with digital gear.

Next up, I thought since my Marantz CD7 uses the highly rated Philips CD-Pro transport, I'd try and use the Bryston with something a little more generic, like a DVD player for transport duties? The unit used is an old Sony DV-NS730P DVD player. Like the Marantz, I used the coax connection to the Bryston DAC. I found that with the generic Sony DVD transport, the sound qualities of the Bryston changed little, except there's now less low level recording detail and resolution on offer. Otherwise, the beautiful near neutral tonal balance and big enveloping sound stage plus musical qualities remains unchanged. In both cases, a Wireworld Starlight coaxial cable and PS Audio Statement SC power cord was used.
Another look from the back.

Finally, who'd buy a DAC these days without a USB input for use with media servers? So I lugged the Bryston BDA-1 to my buddy's place for a DAC shootout and evaluation session. My buddy is an expert, when it comes to the topic of computer audio. So anything he says goes with me. First he said that comparing the Bryston DAC against the other newer designs is quite futile, as the former does not have an asynchronous USB input, on top of that, it locks the input bit rate at 16/44.1k only. Music files of higher resolution would be down sampled to the locked input bit rate of the Bryston USB input. My buddy said "the Bryston would be fighting the other newer DACs with one arm tied around it's back!".

In the 3 DAC comparison session, the Bryston goes head on with a state of the art DAC costing at least 3 times the price, and one newer competitor of the latest design in the same price range. I cannot reveal the identities of the other 2 DACs for they were not officially submitted to me for a review. In the interest of keeping everything the same, only 16/44.1k rips stored in a Mac Mini were used in the evaluation process. All the DACs had their up sampling feature dis-engaged.

In terms of sound quality, I taught the Bryston to be surprisingly competitive with the latest batch of DACs. All the sonic qualities mentioned above was still there, only this time when compared to the super high end DAC costing 3 times more, the Bryston sounded a bit noisier in the back ground, as in a bit of whitish hazy compared to the jet black back ground of the later. The mid range of the Bryston is slightly forward against the creamy rich mids of the more expensive design.

When compared to the newer competitor of the latest design in the same price range, I thought the Bryston to sound more refined and less edgy. Overall, the most expensive state of the art DAC still wins by a small margin. The Bryston and the other competitor is virtually neck to neck in terms of overall sound performance. The newer competitor had more snazzy and up to date features like an asynchronous USB input that allows up to 24/96k input resolution files. The newer competitor also features a volume or gain control pot for output level matching, or can be used to by pass the need of a pre amp. In all three DACs a Wireworld Ultra Violet USB cable and Wireworld Silver Electra power cord was used to standardised the variables. All three DACs were also level match as close as possible for the comparison.

I think if one is shopping for a DAC in the ball park of up to RM$10k for price, one can find quite a few options, all featuring newer technology and offering more features for the money. However, if one uses sound quality as the sole criteria for evaluation, than I believe the Bryston is a champ! Ignore it at one's peril, as they say.

I can see the Bryston BDA-1 DAC being put in to service to upgrade one's aging CD player's(preferably one with a good quality CD transport) performance, at the same time function as a digital music center for computer audio and other secondary digital component requirements. And by the way, the BDA-1 does respond rather well to good quality power cords and isolation cone tweaks.

This Bryston DAC has shown me new found respect for the Crystal CS-4398 DAC chip and it's capabilities, and not necessarily the better the spec list, the better the sound. Why does that sound so familiar, especially when it comes to audio products?

Bryston is sold by AV Designs, contact James Tan at 03-21712828.

October 22, 2010

Audio Pro LV2 Speakers Let Your Music Flow Free!

Stylish, versatile and good sounds, hall marks of the Audio Pro LV2 speakers.
Audio Pro has released a range of wireless speakers with audiophile like sound quality called the LV series. These speakers only requires one to plug them in to a power supply point, hook up the supplied USB signal transmission dongle to source, which could be a PC, lap top or any USB capable AV Receivers. It's quite literally plug and play as there are no software to download or install. Audio Pro also supplies a remote control for convenience. The signal receiver, DAC and 25W amplifier are built inside the compact and stylish, leather wrapped speaker enclosure. The speakers are available in choice of black(as pictured above) or white finish.

One may also explore beaming music in 3 separate zones through out the house, all wireless via the home wi-fi network. However, this requires installing multiple pairs in various sections(zones) of one's home. The beautiful part about the multi zone option is that all three zones may have different programs being played simultaneously at the same time! I can imagine those who want music all over the house and not wanting to hack their walls to install wiring all over the place will see the Audio Pro LV2 as a god send!

Audio Pro is also preparing to launch the larger LV3 speakers which are an interesting floor stand design that looked very similar to a pair of Bose 501MKII(remember those?). It is expected to come with simple to use room correction feature on top of what is offered on the LV2 pair.

I had the opportunity to listen to a demo at a CMY Audio & Visual showroom and came away pretty impressed with what these LV2 pair of speaker can do musically. Go and audition them at any CMY Audio & Visual showrooms, if wireless lifestyle designed speakers with good sound floats your boat.

Audio Pro is sold by CMY Audio & Visual, contact John at 03-21439206.

October 20, 2010

A Thinking Audiophile's Tweak? Harmonix RF-900 Tunning Spike Base.

A set of 4 pcs Harmonix RF-900 Tuning Spike Base.

Any experienced audiophile worth his salt would agree that any thing you put below your hifi equipment will have an effect on it's sound, some more so then others. It's called isolation.

Harmonix offers many options for isolation tweaks, the RF-900 Tuning Spike Base is one the more economical models. It's designed to be placed under one's pair of speaker spikes. It serves dual purpose in this instance. First, it prevents your speaker spikes from ruining your beautiful floor surface, second it tweaks the sound of your system.
Nice packaging!

A set of four Harmonix RF-900 TSB as pictured above will set you back RM$800, that means you'll need to spend double that to cover a pair of speakers. The tuning spike bases are actually very well made and finished from alloy. It weighs substantially more against the regular grade of spike bases. The bottom of the TSB is lined with a layer of felt material, which allows one to easily pull or push the speakers about, if sitting on top of the Harmonix.
The RF-900 in the back ground VS Clearaudio supplied TSB.

The RF-900 in fore ground VS generic brass TSB.

I used the Harmonix RF-900 below my pair of PMC Fact 8 speakers, replacing the generic brass made ones that I bought from Am Corp Mall. For the duration of the review, my hifi system set up remained unchanged. I felt with the Harmonix spike bases brought about some subtle changes to the sound of my system.

First up, the sound of my system was already leaning towards the darker side of the tonal palette. Adding the Harmonix in to the mix made the darkness even more readily apparent. I thought the sound took on a slightly warmer tonal balance yet still maintaining it's transparency factor, which I so prize. Imaging outlines appeared softer and more organic than usual. The Harmonix did not change any other sound properties in my system.
The PMC Fact 8 speakers resting on generic TSB set.

Does the Harmonix work with other hifi equipments too? You bet! I had the Clearaudio Solution turn table with me at the time, and it had 3 spikes resting on Clearaudio provided bases. I replaced them with the Harmonix TSB and found an interesting change in sound too. The Clearaudio had highly extended and exacting high frequency characteristics, with an neutrally open, uncoloured mids. I found the Clearaudio turn table gave a richer if softer and more organic sound with the Harmonix. The whitish haze in the noise floor drop too, making an already quiet Clearaudio, dead quiet! Now, this would not be notice able without a direct A/B comparison. I played this trick on to 3 unsuspecting visitors and they all shared my findings with amazement.
The PMC Fact 8 speakers resting on Harmonix RF-900 TSB set.

Like all tweaks, there's always a win some, lose some result. I've yet to find a tweak that wins on all counts! The Harmonix RF-900 is no different. While I found my self enjoying more audiophile technical parameters in the sound performance, over time I also taught my system to start sounding a little less musical too. The result is a less emotionally engaging listening session, despite the hifi pyrotechnics. I know musicality means different things to different people, and the one inexplicable trait that bothered me may actually not be felt by others. My advise in such a case is to try it out for your self, in the context of your own system. Your mileage or experiences may vary.
Nice shoes!

I guess here's a tweak that appeals to the thinking audiophile's sonic needs. Or perhaps you're an emotional audiophile? Go ahead, try it out and see which camp you belong to!

Harmonix is sold by Nova Hifi, contact MK Lai at 019-2226129.

October 18, 2010

The Future Is Now!

The Future Is Now! High end digital done right, for best sounding results.

Ladies & gentleman, this is the high end media server, a.k.a. "computer audio" based system that changed the perception of many high end audiophiles, mine included, about the sound quality possible with the latest digital hifi gear available today.

Doc, as the system owner here is fondly called is a fore runner and very much an advocate of computer audio. He's also helpful to newbies and very approach able too! My journey with him in the last two years or so has being a steep learning curve on all things lifestyle and hifi.
An Apple iPad for remote interface to access the stored music library on iTunes.

During those two years, Doc was never quite happy with his hifi system, but one day, he decided to go all out and start a fresh, the result is the system you see here, set up in the main lounge area of his stylish abode. For this system, Doc uses a Mac Mini computer stored with ripped 16bit resolution files as music source. The Mac Mini runs iTunes music library interface, which is controlled via an iPad and quite about the best I've seen to date(pardon my minimal exposure to computer audio).
Still the best known music library interface available today, the Apple iTunes.

The Mac Mini sends digital signals to a Weiss DAC202 via the use of fire wire connection. There's an LCD screen to view/access the music library and album cover arts. The Weiss DAC then outputs the analog signal via it's balanced(XLR) analog outputs to a Mark Levinson No.326S pre amp. The signal is then sent to a pair of matching Mark Levinson No.531H mono block power amps rated at 300W RMS per chanel. An interesting feature about the class A/B biased ML power amps is that they run on Switch Mode Power Supply modules.
The Apple Mac Mini is a fine sounding source component.

Doc chose to use a pair of Revel Ultima Salon 2 loud speakers, also from Harman International stables. These are impressive looking speakers, and their sonic capabilities are certainly top class as demonstrated here. The good Doc, is a fan of Wireworld cables actually, so he uses the 5-2 Silver Eclipse interconnects. The Doc also has a plethora of Wireworld and Shunyata power cords in used with a Furutech e-TP60 distributor. Speaker cables are Siltech Classic Anniversary 330L(a bit of my influence here perhaps?). An FE Spider rack to isolate the DAC and ML pre amp rounds up the accessories list.
Apple, Weiss and Mark Levinson. In good company!

By the way, this system also plays a support role in an impressive HT instal by the good folks at AV Designs, which needless to say has some of the best picture quality presented here via the use of JVC D-ILA projector and panamorphic lens combo. A Denon surround AVR processor with 5.1 chanels rounds things up on the AV side of things.
A 300W mono block of the Mark Levinson No.531H.

Now we just wanna feature on the most important thing here, which is the sound. On immediate firing up the system, I could say that this is one of those dark, broody, and extremely quiet systems, a sonic signature of the ML amps, I guess? Despite the use of only 16bit resolution files, the level of transparency of this system is way up there amongst the best of CD/SACD based systems can offer. The tonality is a shade dark, but highs are naturally rendered, airy, and highly refined. The mids are solid, with elements of throaty male vocals rendered "like kopi O kau-kau" kind of sensation. Mid range purity and texture is all there for one to enjoy in delight. While I expected the bass to be more extended on the lower end, it offers a tightly focus and tuneful foundation for the musical contents.
Revel Ultima Salon 2 speaker.

The sound stage is wide but depth perception could be further improved. The good Doc is still experimenting with his speaker position. There's an overall liveliness in the sound that makes this system highly enjoyable, ever so missing on most other computer audio based system. Just an observation, for a speaker design utilising all those metal drivers, I never noticed any form of glare, hardness nor ringing which are common in more budget offerings. But then, this is a top of the line Revel we are talking about, a flagship design!
Furutech e-TP60 power distributor.

FE Spider(original) rack, with Weiss DA202 and Mark Levinson No.326S pre amp.

If there's an award to be given to the category of "The Most Improved System Of The Year", this system is certain a very deserving candidate. The good Doc, being one who does not rest on his laurels has more up grade plans in the works.
Another look at the Revel speaker.

A legendary high end brand called Mark Levinson.

The Doc looks forward to the enormous processing power of a new Mac Pro Tower computer with SSD(Solid State Drive) to replace the existing Mac Mini. That will allow the tunes to be loaded from hardisk to the solid state drive, before playing, which is technically the superior way, but he's not sure if the final result is better sounding. Next, Doc also has plans for a pair of Siltech Classic Anniversary 770L speaker cables too!

Is that the making of a totally killer system or what?

Keep up the good work Doc!

October 15, 2010

My New Room - Part 2

The photo of my new room above was taken last night. It has a skewed perspective, like when you look into a funny mirror. I used Photoshop to merge a few photos together to produce the panorama. I guess that was all what it could do with the photos I provided. The lens used was a little too wide.

Anyway, back to the new room. The wait for the sofa set turned out to be shorter than expected, it was delivered last week. I have also put up bookshelves and CD racks at the room corners behind the sofa. The bookshelves were filled with magazines, boxes of my hifi stuff and documents and trays of CDs.

With all these additions, I could sit down and have a more complete evaluation of how the system sounded.

A few things that I dreaded before I moved in did not quite happen.

First dread was excessive brightness. that did not happen, not even when before the sofa and the bookshelves were added. When I did not hear excessive brightness I grew concerned again instead of feeling relieved. I was afraid that, with the sofa and the bookshelves, too much absorption could occur and I would end up losing treble volume and sparkle.

In fact, though without brightness, the treble in the beginning was diffused and lacked definition. On cymbal work, for example, there was no sense of the stick hitting metal. I was so happy that I did not hear excessive brightness I missed it all together. Until PuchongWong pointed it out to me. This was probably caused by too much reflection/echo. The definition actually improved with the sofa and the shelves in.

There was also another aspect to it. The treble got better when I placed Shunyata Dark Field cable lifters under the loudspeaker cables, two per cable, close to the cables ends. The effect of the Dark Fields was not night and day, but it was significant enough. My speaker cables didn’t lie on carpet, so rather than the ‘Dark Field drains away static electricity build-up’ angle, I tend more towards Jim Smith’s assertion in his book, ‘Get Better Sound’, that cable lifters reduce resonance in the cables (induced, for example, by the vibration transmitted by your speakers to the floor when they play). I also found that 2 pieces of Dark Fields per cable were enough, adding a 3rd one made the sound a little too dark for my liking.

However, the area that I dreaded most was bass boom or a fat bottom. I had very little experience and success dealing with bass in my old room. In the new room, probably due to its bigger space, the bass did not sound too excessive to start with. But it sounded lumpy and blur, and if I pause a track at the middle of a loud bass note, I could hear it go on a short while more.

I piled what I could find – boxes and luggage full of books, magazines and stuff that were not yet unpacked, into the four corners of the room, which are the places that created the most amount of reflected sound (not just bass but the whole spectrum. You can stand close to and speak into a room corner. You might be surprised by what you hear, I was). Later I also piled on some Auralex LENRD bass trap that a friend loaned me. I put the bookshelves at the corners and stuffed them with magazines and boxes. All these, plus the plush sofa, solved the problem somewhat.

The bass region could use more work for its definition, extension and focus though. However I can live with it right now. All the ‘ad hoc treatment’ I put on will be replaced with more proper and permanent solutions in due course.

Soundstage wise, it was wider and deeper than what I had in my smaller old room. The soundstage though, did not extend much beyond the left-right speakers and beyond the front wall. Both were confirmed by listening with the hitting-on-wood-block-and-walk-around tracks on the ‘Throne’ CD, intended to test stage width and depth. I would also like the images to be better anchored. More work on speaker positioning needs to be done.

My other concern was my 60-watt Pass Labs XA60 monoblocks. Would they be powerful enough to drive the EgglestonWorks to satisfactory level in the bigger room? In fact, before I moved, some friends were already teasing me to get a bigger amp. To my pleasant surprise, the little XA’s played fearlessly. The Pass Labs–EgglestonWorks pairing retained its tonal quality, details and speed. In terms of dynamics and loudness, I can still enjoy Hugh Masekela’ ‘Hope’, Charly Antolini’s ‘Crash’ and the torture tracks from the Manger disc. Though they would sound a little stretched at time, I think for at least 90% of my music, these little guys are fine.

So, there are more things to be done. And I’d definitely value observations from friends who come and visit. In the meantime, I’d enjoy the music too (don't forget the music) :-).

October 13, 2010

The Future Is Now!

A iPad as system music library interface.

Growing tired of my recent analog only adventures? If so, then let's go back to the future! As I see it, the future is in fact NOW! Here's a sneak peek to a system that I am about to post on the next home visit topic.
The Apple iTunes excellent presentation scheme.

I had not very long ago being on the cautiously skeptical camp, when it comes to media servers and as this system owner so eloquently calls it "computer audio". But since my post last month, questioning "The End Of Days For The Physical Media?" has prompted many to ask me what had caused me to view the subject matter more favourably now?
A Mac Mini for processing power!

The answer lies in this super high end music system, which once experienced, will forever change one's opinion. I've counted and this system has so far changed 3 very high end audiophile's perception towards "computer audio"!

Don't go away if you want to know why!

October 12, 2010

Now Spining, It's a VPI Scout II Turn Table.

Folks, the turn table market is certainly heating up with fever. I now have a VPI Scout II complete with JMW Memorial tone arm, mated with Dynavector DV20XL spining in my music cave.

I believe we have a new standard setting turn table.

Stay tuned to find out more.

VPI turn tables is sold by Centre Circle Audio, contact Sky at 012-3371787.

October 10, 2010

Clearaudio Stradivari MC Cartridge.

The Clearaudio Stradivari MC cartridge. Made from sustain able grade ebony wood, according to Robert Suchy.

The Clearaudio Stradivari MC cartridge was launched in year 2005 with much fanfare, winning numerous industry awards and garnering glowing reviews. My experience with this Clearaudio cartridge started sometime in year 2007. Many of my high end vinyl kakis have this cartridge mounted on their turn tables.

The impression that I always get when listening to a turn table set up mounted with this cartridge is of powerful dynamics and transient response, neutral tonal balance plus a totally quiet back ground.

So when a buddy of mine decided to upgrade to the Clearaudio Goldfinger V2 earlier this year, I took over this cartridge from him. This is an early model Stradivari, we are talking about, not the current V2 designated version. It's a very light cartridge, weighting just 4.4 grams. Clearaudio provides an additional weight attachment if one requires a heavier cartridge. I mounted the cartridge on to my Linn Ittok tone arm with the weight attachment. I had the tracking force set to 2.8 grams as recommended in the manual(this was before I had a chat with Robert Suchy!). It's a medium output MC cartridge rated at 0.6 mv(Millivolt) and recommended loading setting is 300 ohms. I used the 62db gain setting on my Pass X-Ono phono stage, but felt it sounded best balanced when I loaded the cartridge at 249 ohms.

The Clearaudio Stradivari is an excellent tracker. During it's time with me, no LP has managed to upset it, even the most warped, but still play able in my collection. As with my experience earlier, the sound of the Stradivari is strictly neutral in tonal balance. The high frequencies are extended, with good attack on high hats, and very realistic sounding, if only shows up some what dry in my set up(this was not the case with others I've heard). The mids are open and vocals rendered with absolute clarity, but my preference is to have a bit more density here. The bass is highly extended and articulated, but possibly needs to have more tracking force to show more weight. Dynamics and transient response is hugely bold and fast. It is also capable of generating a 3D like sound stage, if the recording captures it in it's vinyl groove. I must also mention the Stradivari's extra ordinary ability to dig up all, even the tiniest musical information from the LP's groove, which results in it's excellent transparency that is most true to source. In the context of my system, I've found this cartridge to have exciting and explosive thrill ride qualities, yet ultimately, I also found my mind wondering away from the music after playing a few tracks.
My Stradivari, mounted on the Linn Ittok with the extra weight attachment. The latest V2 versions have the extra weight plates built in to the resonance star crown, on top of the cartridge body.

Another buddy had offered me a set of Oyaide HSR-AG cartridge leads for a small, tidy sum. It seemed that this 5N pure silver cable is just the antidote I needed for the Clearaudio Stradivari. The Oyaide leads offered a certain sweet warmness and organics in the sound which offset the naturally analytical, if accurate behavior of the Clearaudio cartridge. The main sonic difference is in the high frequency reproduction. The highs reproduced with the Oyaide in the line of signal, is slightly sweet, attractively airy, yet trading nothing away from the realistic attack of high hats. The high mids are also smoothed out some what and some recordings with sibilance which the Stradivari will certainly let you know is now less piercing to these ears.

Is the any down side to the Oyaide cartridge leads? Yes! I found them rather stiff and hard to dress from head shell to cartridge. The leads are also quite brittle in feel, that they may snap if one twist too hard, or agresive an angle.They are also much heavier than the normal grade cartridge leads, so cartridge tracking force will have to be re-calibrated to suit.
Oyaide HSR-AG, mate this to the Clearaudio Stradivari for even more excellent sound.

In comparison with today's V2 designated Stradivari, the latest version offers a slightly warmer tonal balance, but one can never call it rich or lush just yet. The sibilance on the high mids are naturally lessened with the latest model too. As a very experience Clearaudio cartridge user tells me, the V2 version is easier to set up, but the earlier version loses little in terms of performance, if one's experience and set up skills is good enough. With many previous Stradivari users trading up to the newer V2 versions of the Clearaudio super class cartridge, there are quite a few to choose from now days. I see prices varying from RM$4000.00-$4800.00, depending on age and condition of use, the Clearaudio Stradivari is clearly very good value when bought used, compared to the latest price of RM$9800.00 for the brand new latest V2 version.

I must dispense with this caveat when shopping for used cartridges, and this applies to all used ones. Buying a used cartridge can be an excellent value up grade proposition or the most horribly wrong hifi purchase experience known. Cartridges are very delicate instruments, which demand a certain level of care and respect when in use. They are easily damaged and abused, or in the case of an old, highly used cartridge, just simply worn out. When buying used cartridges, do make sure you know the owner habits or history. If possible, request for a test play if it's still mounted. Otherwise, if buying from a trusty retailer, make sure to negotiate for a limited warranty of some sort, just in case if the worst should happen. You'll never know, after all.