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!

9 comments:

OdioSleuth said...

I heard Doc's system on Sunday, it has indeed improved leaps and bound from his previous one. The Revel Ultima Salon 2 are particularly yummy.

The convenience of computer audio is absolutely tempting...choosing your music from the iPad is cool and convenient.

Congrats to Doc.

san said...

Big E,

I disagree with your statement, how can you say that many high end audiophiles have changed their perception on computer audio? With a few friends of yours, you can mention that? Who are you to judge?

Big E said...

San,

Strong reaction indeed.

First up, I did not state, nor made any statement that "many high end audiophiles have changed their perceptions", I counted 3 so far. I know there are others on the band wagon, but they have already being in to computer audio for a long, long time.

I must admit though, that the absolute majority of audiophiles still have a negative perception on the subject matter. But I can see the trend emerging in the coming years, without jugdement or prejudice applied.

I am not sure where you got the impression that I am doing so.

Hey! I see your point too(I was once a skeptic too, remember?), I've yet to hop on the band wagon, but I am open minded enough not to disregard computer audio for now and in the near future.

In other words, it's ok to disagree with me, after all, I can never be right all the time.

Thanks for reading.

Drubb said...

Big E ,

You can count me 4.
Now listening to computer music using my friend's Bel Canto 24/96 USB Link as interface into my Cary Audio 306 SACD player with J River serving as Media Control Centre. It brings a different perspective compared to CD playback but quite fascinating.

Computer music allows us to download hi rez files 24/96 and 24/192 and this is when it gets really exciting. From my initial, limited listening session, I notice a lower noise floor and improved micro as well as macrodynamics.

Hi san,
I have been a doubter till very recently. But now I have found a new 'toy' to play with. Computer music has rekindled my flagging interest in hifi. It's the fun in discovering and making inroads into this mystifying ( to me at least ) territory that keeps the adrenaline flowing :=)

Hi Doc
Really great taste in decor and components.
My friend and I are also looking into firewire interface. At the moment we are playing with the Focusrite Saffire Pro 14. A poor man's interface ( in hifi currency ) nonetheless. Hope to get my Weiss INT 202 in a month's time when the dealer's stocks are replenished. Cheaper than your DAC 202 and I don't need to duplicate my Cary DAC this way.

I notice the cables going into your iPad. Should get yourself TeamViewer or any other remote controller from the app store. This will allow remote control of your Mac from your iPad. It's free.
You will see the contents of your monitor on your iPad. Really cool, but you will need wifi for this to work.
Congrats on your great system.

mikelau.2 said...

Drubb,

What attracted me first was the smooth and seamless reproduction of music. But the turning point for me was the hifi attributes. The moment I realised that pc playback was no way inferior to my current system there was only one way forward.
Funny thing is, with pc playback I am finally enjoying music and not listening to sounds and looking for faults. I have never listened to so much orchestral & light classics in that short period, besides my favourites.
And with the help of good friends I am now building a new but much more powerful pc customised only for hifi.

Big E said...

Hi!All,

It's great to see such passion for rekindling hifi and music, brought about by a very unlikely source, computer audio.

Like Mike said, if it ain't sounding worse, then it can only sound better!

FYI, I brought another visitor to Doc's place last night, and he too, is now a believer! Talk about the system that changes mind sets.

vin said...

Drubb, how do I get in touch with you? I am using a Cary Audio 303T and would liek to exchange notes on the inputs.

Drubb said...

Hi vin,
Sorry I missed your post earlier. I do not own a 303T but I have a friend who does. Anyway, please feel free to mail me at:
drubb1452@gmail.com
Be hearing from you soon.

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