November 30, 2010

Music Carrier Of The Future? Part 2.

Go to to find out more about these hi rez recordings available in USB format.

After digging around, I've found that Cardas has started selling USB format hi rez pre-loaded music content.(ML, now you can sell your hi rez music content in this format?) This is trully the start of a new dawn.

Is the rest of the music industry ready to join the new digital format in hi rez?

Why am I so excited about the USB as a music carrier?

Just hang on a bit more to find out soon........

November 29, 2010

Music Carrier Of The Future?

Yes folks, it's the ubiquitous thumb drive or USB stick. No joke! As a matter of fact, any USB compliant hardisk drive will do, but you'll need SSD(Solid State Drives) to get seriously good results. Me and a few other buddies have just experienced a new audio nirvana, in fact the experience was so out of this world, one remarked it was like as if he had visited the Messiah and back! By the way, if you need to know, this was coming from a fellow Linn LP12 turn table owner.

Welcome to the age of hi rez down loads and SSD data storage technology. And just in case you're asking, what has all this gotta do with the Apple iPad?

Well, the iPad is just an optional interface, or the icing on the cake! It's that indispensable bit that makes hi rez down loads so...... very sexy and the user experience ergonomically complete.

Stay tuned! More to come..........

November 28, 2010

My Centre Channel Conundrum

A Sonus Faber center chamel shown here.
If you are a home theatre purist, please don't read this post. You would probably find what I did as 'sacrilegious' to Home Theatre.

When I was planning the home theatre package for my new home, the location of the centre channel came as a headache.

The problem was two-fold. One was the location of the centre speaker itself; The other was the distance relationship between the centre and the left-right (L-R) pair.

The central position where the centre channel speaker was to be located was occupied by my hifi rack. A possible solution was to get a tall stand, so that the centre speaker could be positioned behind the rack and be higher than the rack, so that its line of sight to the audience was not obstructed.

However, this meant that the projector screen got to be located higher off the ground. I calculated that for the bottom part of the screen to clear the centre speaker, it would have to be more that 36" from the floor. That was a position too high for my taste. I personally prefer the picture to be at eye-level. In fact, AV Designs' advice was for the bottom of the screen about 24"-30" from the floor.

Even if I decided to position the centre speaker thus, ignoring the fact that a screen positioned too high would mean I had to 'look up' at the screen like sitting in the cinema front row, the speaker's position close to the front wall would be 60"-70" from the plane of the left-right speakers (the left-right speakers are positioned about 90" from the front wall, a position I optimised for stereo/hifi). AV Designs' James Tan advised that this would likely cause a disjointed sound from the left-centre-right array, even after compensating for their distance difference in the AVR setting. His experience was that the distance differential between the centre speaker plane and the L-R speaker plane should not be more than 40".

Another possible solution I thought would be for the centre speaker to go in front of the hifi rack. That would look weird, I rejected that idea instantly.

So I toyed with the idea of not installing a centre speaker at all. Some people I spoke with thought that you would lose a lot of information on the movie soundtrack omitting a channel. The dialogue would be gone, as dialogue is usually encoded in the centre channel.

Well, not really. If you switch off the centre channel in the AVR, it will automatically route the centre channel sound to the left and right channels equally. This is called a 'phantom centre'. I remembered seeing this done in a Holfi surround sound demo in an early hifi show in KL, though it was meant for music. The argument was that the centre channel speaker would adversely affect the imaging as integrating and matching the centre speaker to the L-R was not easy.

The same was advocated by Jim Smith in his book 'Get Better Sound' too (tip #24). He put forth the same argument that the centre channel muddy up the sound. However, there is a price to be paid. The duty of the centre channel is to anchor the soundstage at centre for viewers who are seated off-centre. Not having a dedicated centre channel would mean that there would be no soundstaging for viewers who are seated away from the sweet spot, just like in a stereo set-up.

I briefly tested the 2 settings in AV Designs' showroom, one with centre on, one with centre off. Yes, with the centre channel off and listening from an off-centre position, the sound was not so dimensional. At the same time, vocal also sounded slightly recessed and thinner. I did feel that the vocal was smoother and the diction clearer though.

Anyway, I decided to ditch the centre channel in my own set-up.

Well, this was sure like listening to stereo. In the sweet spot, you'd get a nice soundstage, with depth and width. Off centre, the soundstage diminished. The vocal also sounded a little recessed. Though I feel these did not affect the enjoyment of the movie much, after watching close to 15 movies this way.

The disadvantage of not having a dedicated centre channel was that I could not adjust the gain of the centre channel independently, say, to make vocal more prominent by boosting it 1/2-1db higher. Anyway, the diction still came off very clear, so catching the vocal on screen was not a problem. This goes to show that a setup good for hifi should be able to tackle movie soundtrack well too.

If you also try this in your home theatre, I'd like to hear about your result.

November 27, 2010

"Greatness" In The Making!

This is a system I've heard much about from the hifi social grape vine. On a recent telephone conversation, I asked a buddy, "what equipment maketh the system?", he replied, "have you heard or seen a Continuum turn table, Dartzeel amps and Playback Designs CD player in action?" I was all ears and ready to go.

The system owner Mark, is a friendly expatriate living in a luxurious sky pad somewhere, in an up town Kuala Lumpur district. The KL skyline night view from the lounge, where this high end audio system resides, is amazing! Ditto for the sound that accompanies that view, with a glass of the finest Chilean red wine in hand, that's life I could get used to.

The system in the sky. Well for this system's sonic capabilities at least, the sky's the limit! Note the KL skyline view at night, it's pretty nice indeed.

Mark is a go getter, knows what he wants, and how to get it! The system we're featuring here is merely a work in progress and depending on the out come of other things the revolves around him, what we are witnessing here, is just "Greatness" in the making.

Digital front end is Playback Designs MPS-5 CD/SACD player.

For a start. Mark's digital source is the latest Playback Designs MPS-5 CD/SACD disc player. It had just arrived from the US a few days prior to our session, and still in the process of breaking in. The analog front end is where my heart is set aflame, by the beautiful Continuum Criterion turntable, c/w Cobra tone arm and mounted with an Air Tight PC-1 Supreme MC cartridge. The Criterion comes with it's own packaged speed control/power supply unit, and ultra quiet air pump for the vacuum LP hold down system on the platter.

The analog front end, Continuum Criterion turn table with it's auxiliary boxes and the Dartzeel NHB-18NS pre amp, with built in phono stage. Just below the turn table is the speed control/power supply unit, and below the pre amp is the air pump unit for the turn table vacuum LP hold down system. Did I spot smoe FE Cera Pucks at the base of the rack too?

The signal is then feed to the Dartzeel NHB-18NS pre amp's built in phono stage(and direct to the line stage from the Playback Designs CD/SACD player). The matching NHB-108 Model One power amp from Dartzeel(rated 100W x 2) is used to power a pair of early production B&W 805 stand mounted speaker on top of it's dedicated designed stands.

The cutesy "face" look of the Dartzeel pre amp.

The outboard power supply unit for the pre amp.

On the supporting equipment list, a Shunyata Hydra 8, along with a host of other power cords from the same company serves the system's power requirements, except for a lone Jena Labs Model One power cord which serves the power amp. Mark stresses that the Jena Labs power cord is quite special in sonic flavour, and part of the results we're hearing is due to the Model One! Since he is living in a high rise building, the option of dedicated power line is NOT available to him. An interesting feature of this system is that the interconnect level of all the equipment, except the turn table, runs on 50 ohms BNC terminated cable, especially supplied by Dartzeel, for best sound quality. The beautiful part is that the Playback Designs CD/SACD player is designed to output on the 50 ohms BNC terminated cable too! Mark says other then fiddling with the speaker cables in the future(a pair of Chord speaker cables are used now), he doesn't really have to bother with interconnects. Mark also finds the Shunyata Darkfield cable elevators helpful to the sound and routes his cables neatly around them.

Dartzeel NHB-108 Model One power amp, sitting on custom made SRA isolation platform.

The "exposed" top panel of the Dartzeel power amp, just like those high end, hand made, mechanical Swiss watches. It looks more like a work of electronic arts! Note the 2 pcs of Walker Audio Valid Points resonance control disc on top.

While at it, I shall mention that the room is lightly treated acoustically for the front glass panel and 1st side reflection. There are also some beams on the ceiling to break up standing waves and a piece of carpet takes care of floor bounce.

Mark is a big fan of Shunyata products, uses Hydra 8 for PLC duties and nearly all the company's cables too.

Except the Jena Labs Model One power cord for his power amp. There's a built in network passive filter box on the cable.

Shunyata Darkfield cable elevators keeps the cables off the ground and neatly routed.

All the best equipment in the world is no good if it's sound doesn't live up to it, right? This system does not disappoint on that count. The sound from the digital source is very organic, without the usual leanness associated with the CD medium. It's kinda hard to describe the latest high end digital offerings at this level, except to say that there's not much trace of digitalis here, yet it's not quite like analog either. Hmm........... perhaps I should listen again when the player is more settled?

The sound from the analog front end is stupendous, and can possibly rival the best of analogs rigs I've heard else where, not necessarily published here either! The sonics is of absolute smoothness, silky highs, lush in the mids dense with flesh and highly supple bass. Despite the small stand mounted B&Ws, this system delivered more than necessary bass in a manner that's never flabby or uncontrolled. It doesn't quite go very low, but the roll off is very smooth that one wouldn't question, unless specifically looking for it.

The ol' dame of the system, still highly capable, but now out classed B&W 805 stand mount speakers.

The staging and imaging qualities of this system is highly convincing, with softly edged images for just enough pin pointing cues and excellent depth of layering perception. The system is so highly transparent and resolving that it makes listening to classical music instrument very much life like, where all the texture, timbre and harmonics is presented with a halo of "air" around it.

This is not the system if one is looking for "wham, bang, thank you ma'am" type action. Rather it's a system that draws the listener in to the music with it's immediacy, presence factor, refinement, and sonic charm with elegance. Time flies when one is enjoying one's self, and our 2 hours time is up as it's getting late.

In his spare time, Mark restores vintage hifi too! Here is a Revox B-77 reel to reel tape deck, in mint and ready to play condition!

His latest on going project, a Garrard 301 turn table, "almost complete and just waiting for a few more bits & pieces", according to Mark.

An up skirt peep at the anal-og beauty! Sorry for the pun intended, just for the hifi perverts. He! He!

The Air Tight PC-1 Supreme cartridge, mounted on the stylish Cobra tone arm.

What a beautiful sight! I just can't get enough of it.

Before I left, I asked Mark what would he change at next given chance? He said the speakers are definitely a little long in the tooth, and will be the next change. He still loves the B&W sound and is looking in to the more grown up models of the latest 8XX D Series, provided he gets a bigger place to play! With the speaker change, that ol' pair Chord speaker cables would be going too!

In the mean time, Mark is also experimenting with a few isolation tweaks at the moment and hopes for further sonic rewards soon. This system just has so...... much potential to be tapped in the future, and like I said, we're just merely witnessing "Greatness" in the making now!

I hope to visit Mark again later and track his hifi journey together with our readers.

November 25, 2010

Linn Super Audio Collection Vol.4, Various Artist.

Gilad Tiefenbrun introduced some of Linn Records latest artist and recordings during his visit here not too long ago, when he demo-ed the Linn Studio Masters downloads on the Linn Klimax DS based system. That got me to remember the opening track of this CD/SACD Hybrid sampler disc here by Maeve O'Bolye titled Pray It Never Happens. One of the very reasons I bought this CD.

This is a truly heart felt song, so touching, that every time I play this song, I am emotionally drained by the feeling of sadness. Maeve's voice has that vulnerability, sorrow, hurt and innocence all rolled in a simplistic guitar strum yet melodic tune. Yes! guys, rejoice, girl/guitar music has never felt so... bad yet sounded this good! By the way most folks who know me will know by now I am no fan of this popular audiophile genre of girl/guitar music, but for this I'd happily make an exception. After such a breath taking opener, allow me to share a few of my preferred tracks with you.

The next track called Everything I've Got Belongs To You, by Claire Martin maintains her standard of high art vocal pop/jazz. It was track 3, titled A Good And Simple Man, by Ian Shaw that drew my attention again. Ian's male vocal is unique and stylistically refreshing. The recording captures the lips, throat, teeth, tongue, chest, and most importantly heart of the music.

Carol Kidd does a cover of Stars Fall On Alabama in her own vocally stunning yet easy going style. Track no.5, called For Alun Lewis, performed by Garreth Williams Power Trio is another track that caught my interest.

For tracks 7 & 8, this Linn sampler focuses on Chamber Classical music. For those who want a dose of brilliantly recorded classical instruments performed in sparse, open arrangement, the recordings captures all the instruments sonic harmonics, texture and timbre in it's full glory.

Track 9 is an excerpt of Aria: Sehet, Jesus Hat Die Hand; Chorus Wohin? composed by Bach and performed by Dunedin Consort. This is a Diva and Choir performance backed by a orchestra. The recording captures the Diva and Choir interplay against the orchestra in the back drop perfectly, with an amazing amount of hall ambient cues.

From here on till track 15 are all classical sampler tracks from Linn Record's library, all excellent recordings and great demo tracks for showing of one's system capabilities.

Many audiophile CD samplers make us compromise on boring music material for supposedly superior recording quality. Some audiophile recordings are made to sound too obvious, they try too hard in the sound department, but instead sounds un-natural, and overly re-produced. This particular Linn Super Audio Collection Vol.4, does not force us to make any concessions. The art of making great music with excellent recording presentation is at it's peak here! Kudos to Linn Records for an excellent effort!

It's nearly the end of the year now, so I can confidently say that this is quite possibly the best sounding and most musically satisfying CD I bought this year in 2010! By the way, for a very modest cost, Linn also offers this as a high rez "Studio Master" download too on their www.

November 23, 2010

Good Music For Christmas

Ho! Ho! Your ex-audiophile, now-aspiring-music journalist (Nick Hornby wannabe!) strikes again!

Christmas is near, time to shop for some good CDs, shall we?

You know we have always been supportive of local efforts so once again, that label sharing the same name with Rickie Jones album, is once again in the limelight for two major releases this month, to usher in the festive season!

First in the limelight is local guitar maestro, Roger Wang's Greatest Hits album, his first compilation in 10 years. This album has 26 tracks in 2-CD culled from his best-selling 6 albums, including his partnership with Mia Palencia in the fab duo Double Take (one of the album is a Christmas album, hoho!), his collaboration with Gambus man, Farid Ali, his solo album "Journey Home" and of course his most successful collaborations with Leslie Loh, the guy behind pop pop music.

The 6 albums have been remastered by Keith Yip to ensure much better sound quality and consistency. In fact, all Roger Wang albums have good recording quality with plenty of sheen and energy on his Maton. We are eager to hear this new remastered CD!

Roger told us that to make this occasion special, he is giving away a special custom made guitar pick with his signature for the first 299 customers who order thru pop pop music. You can read Roger's personal feelings for this significant album in his blog.

For those who want the best of Roger Wang's music, this is the perfect time!

Next up is the highly-hyped Brasileiro (Chinese Bossa Nova) album with local singer Z Yan. From the sampler we heard, it is indeed refreshing music! Apparently many top Malaysian musicians are involved in the album, including Tay Cher Siang (JZ8 pianist), Roger Wang, Xiong (The Brasileiro guru who has the same hairstyle as our LS3/5a guru) and Salvador Guerzo, one of the top arrangers in Malaysia. There is even a promo video to highlight all the great musicians behind this project.

Interesting to note, the producer Stefano Chen, is a Beijing-trained tenor/vocal coach and he is the youngest brother of Kenny Sin, the boss of Hi-Way Laser!

Time to look for IGM Cheah and get some discounts!

November 22, 2010

Is Your Vinyl Playback Optimised? Clearaudio Azimuth Optimizer.

The Clearaudio Azimuth Optimizer unit, which can also function as a phono stage and head amp.

A few days after writing about my Clearaudio Stradivari MC cartridge recently, the left chanel decided to give me the silent treatment! I checked all my connections and by swapping the left and right chanels of signal to and from my Pass X-Ono phono stage confirms my worst fears. The generator coil, made of 24k gold had shorted on the left chanel of the Stradivari. Time to spend more $$$, I guess. Dang!

I searched around and had considered the following cartridges as a suitable replacement candidate for the Stradivari. They include the new Clearaudio Concerto or Stradivari V2, Shelter 901 and lastly, a Benz Micro Ebony L. I eventually out did my self with style as usual and got a Benz Micro LP instead!(that story to come pretty soon)

As anyone can tell you, mounting a cartridge and setting it up correctly is probably the most nerve wrecking thing to do in this hobby of ours! Especially for me because I've got what you'd call clumsy, big, fat fingers. One false move and you've just lost your mega buck super high end cartridge, reduced to scrap trade me in value for you next cartridge purchase! Most of us can count on our dealers to mount and set up the cartridge that we purchase with satisfaction. However, one will never know how to do it if there's no practical experience. I choose DIY.

With the help of a Linn protractor borrowed from JT(my buddy/sifu who helped me to rebuild my Linn LP12), I started to mount and set up my new Benz LP cartridge. The Linn protractor made mounting the cartridge with correct overhang and parallel alignment easy at 3 points. VTA is adjusted by sight to run straight and parallel, using 180 grams audiophile grade LP as reference. Next with an Ortofon DS-1 stylus force scale, I set up the VTF to 2.2 grams(the maximum of 1.8-2.2 grams recommended by Benz Micro).

I started to play the new cartridge and the sound was phenomenal! It's probably the best cartridge I've ever had till date. Over time, as the cartridge run in, the sound would deteriorate a little and the vocal images tend to drift between center and right off center. Even at way past 100 hours the center imaging was still drifting off right. I played some large symphony works and it was than I realised that perhaps, just perhaps, my left chanel was playing a little softer compared to the right.

CMY Audio & Visual, the new dealers for Clearaudio in Malaysia was a life saver when John asked me to write about my experience with the Clearaudio Azimuth Optimizer. I've seen Robert Suchy demo this equipment at the KLIAV show recently and can still remember what it's about and how to use it. A short demo in the CMY showroom again just to make sure I get it right and off I go.
With the tone arm lead connected to the azimuth optimizer unit, play the supplied test LP and one is ready to work, repeatedly for best results.

What does the Clearaudio Azimuth Optimizer do? It's an equipment designed to ensure that you've align the cartridge's azimuth angle, so that the L and R chanels track equally and produce an equal L-R signal output. It also checks the L-R chanel cross talk values, for those who wish to confirm what's probably written on the cartridge's manual/spec sheet. This particular Clearaudio Azimuth Optimizer also doubles up as a phono stage and can drive a head phone, or power amp direct, should one wish to displace the pre amp in chain of a vinyl sourced only system.
The R chanel output reading at one extreme point of adjustment!

Using the Azimuth Optimizer is easy enough, as the Clearaudio package also provides a 1kHz mono L-R chanel signal test record to do the job. One would need to disconnect the tonearm outputs from the phono stage and plug in to the clearly marked L-R chanel input of the Clearaudio unit. Then proceed to play both the L chanel first, record the cartridge output in -db as shown on the display, the track plays for a minute only, then switches to the right chanel, again record the output of the said chanel.

Now you've got the figures, look carefully, ideally as an example, the L-R chanel reading should look like this: L -30 - 0db and R -0 -30db. In other words, both chanels should read equal on the output display. Should your R is reading higher than the L chanel, then one can adjust the cartridge by gently rotating it clockwise as viewed from the front. The reverse should apply if your L chanel output is reading higher. Play the same 2 tracks on the LP again , and look at the L-R chanels readings now, repeat the cartridge adjustments again. Repeat the entire procedure as many times as required, but one must remember to make very small rotations either way. Very small adjustments seems to effect the readings big time!

My first output readings confirms my suspicions that my right chanel was playing louder, by as much -5 dbs, compared to the left. I proceeded to gently push the cartridge slightly clockwise. I repeated the whole adjustment process back and fourth, probably more than 50 times at least! At one point, I got pretty close with the L chanel reading -42.78 and the R chanel reading -43.25, but I was too greedy, I wanted both chanels to read exactly the same. I repeated the azimuth optimizing process many more times than I could remembered. After nearly 2 hours of fiddling around, I settled for the following results, L chanel reading -43.28 and R chanel reading -42.81, as I was getting tired.
The test LP has 1kHz signal in L or R mono per track, one can play the track right across to the end to check consistency of the optimized azimuth adjustment.

I then proceeded to un-hook the Azimuth Optimizer unit off my system, re-connect my phono stage and start playing some music. Lo and behold! The stereo imaging focus just snapped tightly together, like a well focused picture. The imaging wandering off right is now a thing of the past, and replaced with a more 3D presented image with solidness, much lacking before. With such accurate set up, I now felt that I could play my LP12 with the anti skate setting disable for even better results! The L and R chanels seemed very balanced now, despite the slightly higher reading on the left. When I play large scale orchestral works on LP, I now get great stage width and depth of field perception. It's like I was previously viewing an orchestra performing thru an averagely focused camera lens, and now that lens seems tightly focused by comparison. Each musician has it's own elbow space around the sound stage portrayed. I also thought the bass performance firmed up a fair bit too, as the woofers on both sides of the speakers seem to work with each other more, rather than slightly muddled and "off" phase sounding. There was also much lower surface noise, as the stylus now tracks at an optimal angle on both stereo chanels of the LP's groove. The Clearaudio Azimuth Optimizer certainly helped me to set up my new cartridge more accurately than if I had done it just by ear. No doubt, many turn table sifus or high hands think they don't actually need this to get it right either, but just to confirm one's ability is a blessing rather than "guesstimating" in the dark.
The package, including a wall wart power supply, the main unit, test LP and instruction manual, written in German like English

In theory, most of us can easily hear a 3db volume difference clearly, and many old hand audiophiles can identify with just 1db of volume difference. I'd hazard a guess that most, if not, none of us would not be able to tell a 0.5db volume difference clearly. Add the inconsistent music mix between the stereo L-R balance and the difference would be even harder to tell. With this Clearaudio unit, at least one guess work is taken out of the equation to accurately setting up a turn table. I must caution though that it's best to mount and set up all the other usual parameters of the cartridge and turn table first, let the cartridge to complete break in(if new) and leaving the azimuth optimizer as the final perfecting set up act. Otherwise the results will change once you've move your cartridge in any other way, no matter how small the adjustment.

CMY Audio & Visual is fully committed to the Clearaudio brand. They have invested in all the proper tools as specified by Clearaudio requirements to correctly set up the beautiful turn tables that they sell. CMY will at no charge, provide as a value added service to all their Clearaudio turn table/cartridge customers the full cartridge mounting and set up process using all the proper and necessary tools, including this azimuth optimizer by the manufacturer. Should owners of other turn tables including Clearaudio's NOT purchased from CMY Audio & Visual, requires this service, there's an RM$500.00 fee charge able.

Should one be interested, please call CMY Audio & Visual, ask for John to enquire at 03-21439406.

November 20, 2010

Excellent Silver – Kimber Kable KCAG interconnects

This is second step of my ongoing investigation of Kimber Kable. After the earlier listening of Kimber’s power cords, I went on to its KCAG silver interconnects.

The 2 pairs of KCAG interconnects replaced my own Audioquest Sky and JPS Superconductor 2. One pair went from my Ayre C-5xeMP universal player to Pass Labs X2.5 pre-amp and the other pair from the pre-amp to Pass Labs XA60 monoblocks.

The KCAG is a slim cable, I could make out 3 shoestring-like silver cables weaved together to form one interconnect. Its slimness makes it very flexible, thus installing them and routing them in the system was not a problem at all.

As a silver cable, the KCAG has many of the virtues typical of silver cables. They sound very clear and open. The image was highly focused and nicely delineated, that means that soundstaging in terms of image specificity was very very good.

The KCAG’s best performance area was the highs, it was very extended and also sparkly, yet sounding smooth and never jangly. It sounded more extended than the copper cables I have heard and even slightly more extended than my Audioquest Sky, which incidentally is also silver.

The 2 pairs of KCAG, when compared to my Audioquest+JPS combination, were leaner in the mids. I suppose it is a matter of listener taste, see whether you tend towards a focused and slimmer sound or a more, for the lack of a better word, voluptuous one.

The KCAG’s bass was good too, though not offering as much impact as copper cables. It sounded well defined and tuneful. It was a more organic bass sound. Listening to jazz, for example, each double bass notes sounded natural and different, rather than an incessant drone.

For its list price of RM3,470 per balanced meter pair, the KCAG offers excellent value for one to go into the silver cable world.

Now, I am also building up to a Kimber Kable ‘cable loom’, i.e., same-brand cable in the entire system. The KCAG is the second step. Pairing the KCAG with Kimber’s own power cords, the PK14 and PK10 Gold (refer to my post here for the write-up on the power cords), I have to say that the cable loom proponents do have a point.

It is all a matter of matching.

The solid bass from the Kimber power cords, especially the PK10 Gold, made the system's bass into a articulate and yet an impactful one. While the quietness of the power cords allowed the clarity and extension of the KCAG to shine through. It was like having the best of both worlds.

I preferred the performance of the KCAG with the Kimber PK14/PK10 Gold power cords, rather than my own set of Shunyata (which are more a midrange beast). The all Kimber pairing complement each other better.

While I am not saying not to mix and match cable brands, I do think now that sticking with a cable brand throughout lessens or eliminates the probability of making a mistake, i.e., a cable mismatch. If you have an aim to achieve a certain sound with your cables, by all means go ahead and find the best cable combination for the job; otherwise, the success and return may be higher if you stick to just one.

I shall now go on to the third and last Kimber Kable cable pair, the KS-3033 loudspeaker cables. They are next.

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

November 19, 2010

The Rega RP1 Turn Table Arrives! On Demo Now, At Asia Sound Equipment.

The new Rega RP1, pictured here in "Cool Grey" finishing, which is the sample I saw on demo in the Asia Sound Equipment showroom. The RP1 package comes with an Ortofon OM-5e MM cartridge pre installed.

The much anticipated Rega RP1 turn table has arrived, and on demo at Asia Sound Equipment, whose showroom is located at Amcorp Mall.

The new Rega RP1 comes with a few new features, like the latest RB101 tone arm, which is a much more rigid compared to the previous design. The new phenolic platter material looks a whole lot better quality compared to the older MDF laminated design. And lastly, a bearing which is supposed to quieter and smoother. Yet, despite all the changes, the RP1 still has that simplicity looks of the Rega turn table range.

The new entry level table from Rega is so......... good, performance wise, that it has made the previous Rega P2 redundant.

Asia Sound Equipment has thoughtfully kept the last Rega P2 and P1 units on demo next to the new RP1, so that one can verify Rega's performance claims for themselves!

We've been promised a review sample to come soon, which I am really looking forward to experiencing Rega in my system all over again.

For enquiries, please call Asia Sound Equipment, ask for Eddie Tan at 03-79552091.

November 18, 2010

Get Better Sound, By Jim Smith.

This book will benefit all audiophiles of all levels, especially for beginners, because they get to do it right first time!

We normally don't do books, but after a buddy pass me a copy of this I felt, that more people should at least know about it. If you've been a Stereophile reader, you'd probably seen this cover pictured as an advertisement. I am also very sure the magazine did a write up about Get Better Sound.

Jim Smith, the author of the book has spent more than 30 years building a career in the high end audio industry, state side. He has won many accolades over the years, including a few "Best Sound Of Show" awards at the CES trade show.

This book, often referred to as a "Set Up Manual" by Jim, consist of 202 audio tips to improve your audio system, high end or otherwise. Most of the tips are based upon Jim's many years of practical experience in the field. Most of the tips are scientifically explainable, which Jim does very well, and where a tip cannot be justified by theory, than he'll just state his opinion and one can experience on their own by trying the tip out. The book is written in an easy to digest manner and uses mostly layman's terms that most of us non engineering qualified dummies can understand easily. Also as where and when required, Jim also throws in a simple diagram or cartoon illustration to make his point easier to understand.

I've been reading the Set Up Manual for 2 months now and can say that by just implementing 5 of the 202 tips, I managed to get a major improvement in my system's audiophile sound quality. The 5 tips I've implemented are:

1) Tip #54: The big turn off! This is regarding digital displays on modern pre amps and CD player designs. Jim reckons the best is to turn all displays off or to leave them all on! Do not use the dimmer on the equipment to dim the LED intensity half way, because it sounds worst. This never really crossed my mind much as it seems to be such a small and insignificant detail, but since Jim brought it up, I tried and agree with Jim totally.

2) Tip #72: Finding the best sounding location for your electronics and sources! I've heard many sifus talked about this, about NOT having a tall rack in the centre and in between your speakers, because it can do much damages to your system's sound staging and imaging capabilities. I had previously already located my sources and electronics to the side of my room, where it does the least damages, but my mono block power amps and PLC unit were still in the way. I had those moved further back in to the rear wall, away from the speakers, and true enough, the imaging qualities of my system took on a more solid quality.

3) Tip #76: The best bass-if you don't know where to start with your seating area! This tip tells us that the best bass volume and quality can usually be found somewhere between 16 to 30 inches from the rear wall of the sweet spot. This is where you should place your throne for best bass sound. I used to have about 9 inches away from my head to the rear wall, but now I have shifted my throne further out in to the room, exactly 16 inches away from the rear wall. The result is punchier and much cleaner bass note to note transfers.

4) Tip #77: Fine tuning tonal balance and stereo imaging with stereo separation and speaker placement! Over the years of practical experience, Jim has established a theory to the distance between the X(the 2 lines measured from tweeters which connects at the tip of your nose) and the Y(the line between your 2 speakers) values of a triangle(when viewed from plan), between the sweet spot(seating area) and speaker distance. Jim recommends that the Y value is approximately 83% of X value. Jim also acknowledges that for small rooms, the ratio can sometimes work in reverse too, which is exactly what I did in my small 10 x 12ft room. Once the placement is right, one can adjust by fine tuning the final speaker position and experiment with toe in. The result is a great improvement of sound staging qualities in my room. I used to sometimes experience what some sifus called the Do-Re-Mi effect, a wide sound stage with a triangular effect, where the instruments on both sides are at the speaker plane, and the vocals is placed in the center, but behind the speaker's plane. With this tip implemented, it's Do-Re-Mi no more for my sound stage quality, which makes for a more natural and convincing listening session.

5) Tip #96: Listening with anti-skate disabled or turned off! John Grado, the cartridge designer is an early supporter of this point. I used to employ the anti-skate fine tuning to enhance my vinyl playback's center imaging. I was never really satisfied with the results, because while the vocal imaging was dead centre, the music also sounded kinda dead with paper like imaging too. I found that with the anti skate disabled, I was able to enjoy a more 3D vocal image, with greater weight and density, and without constriction of any kind. You can say it's a new kind of "musical freedom". However, the down side to this in my experience is that the cartridge mounting, tracking force, VTA setting process requires much more exacting standards, which requires the use of more accurate setting up tools, like a proper protractor, digital cartridge weight indicator and an azimuth optimizer, which I'll write about shortly.

There are numerous other tips mentioned by Jim, that I've implemented previously, mostly on the advise of visiting sifus, and friends. Some other tips I have unwittingly implemented previously by thinking of the most logical, all before reading this book. I can summarise that the implementation of just the 5 tips above, is much more than anything else I would've gained from changing equipment or adding tweaks and accessories!

More then just hifi set up tips, Jim also provides his thoughts on some of the most controversial audio debates, which is fun to read. If one is serious about improving or "Getting Better Sound" then this book is worth your small value of investment including some time and sweat. It doesn't matter if one is a beginner, old hand or high hand, virtually everyone stands to gain something from reading this "Set Up Manual"!

Jim Smith deserves our commendation and support for sharing his vast audio experiences. Lastly a special thanks goes to my buddy who passed me this book.

November 16, 2010

A Diamond For The Masses? Usher Dancer Mini 1 Speakers.

The Usher Dancer Mini 1 is a compact floor standing speaker finished in glossy piano black on the front baffle, and a Sonus Faber like lute shaped back, mounted on an over sized plinth for added stability.

Priced at RM$12,400.00/pair, the Usher Dancer Mini 1 speakers are the second most economical model available with Diamond DMD tweeter driver. The most economical Diamond DMD equipped Usher speaker is the the BE-718 Diamond DMD, in fact just think of the the Dancer Mini 1 as the floor standing model of the former and you'd not be far off. Both are typical 2 way design utilising a Diamond DMD driver for high frequencies and a 7" mid bass driver made of untreated pulp surface(which looked very similar to those Scanspeak drivers used on older Wilson speaker designs, ala Watt/Puppy 2, perhaps?)

The packaging came in 3 boxes, two for the speakers themselves, and another box for the heavily mass loaded, wood/alloy sandwiched plinth, finished in powder coated black. The heavy plinth forms an anchor to weight down and perhaps provides some mechanical dampening to the main speakers attached on top. The over sized plinth also provides greater stability by allowing 4 cones to be mounted under each corner. Usher had thought fully provided over sized coasters for the pointy cones too, to protect the beautiful flooring in most of today's homes. The Usher's cabinet finishing is first rate, reminding me of those very high end Sonus Faber speakers!
It's two way design, made up of a Diamond DMD tweeter and a 7 inch Scanspeak look alike mid bass driver.

Assembling the speakers to their plinths is an easy 4 screw job, and once attached, the speaker weights substantially more, so make sure you assemble them near or on site where you intend to place them. I used the Usher Dancer Mini 1 in place of my usual PMC Fact 8 pair, and not surprisingly, the Usher settled in very well, right in the same place as originally occupied by the PMC. That means 41" of the rear wall and 22" off the side walls. The Usher Dancer Mini 1 does not seem to like toe in at all, so I had them firing straight ahead in to the room. The Usher allows bi-wiring, and this is an area that allows fine tuning to the speaker's tonal balance. I tried, as usual, plugging my Siltech speaker cables in to the high terminals, the low terminals and cross terminals, but eventually end up settling for the low terminals for a smoother tonal balance across the frequency range.
The WBT style speaker wire terminal is bi-wire able, offering positive finger feel.

From the very first tune, this speaker struck me as an especially strong, dynamic and musically bold performer, both macro and micro wise. The review pair was a showroom demo and therefore should be thoroughly run in by now, but it wasn't. I waited a week or so for the high frequencies to settle down before starting serious auditioning. Once settled in, the high frequencies were smooth, extended but did not seemed as airy as I'd expect from other diamond tweeter designs I've experienced in the past. The lower mid bass is warm but punchy and the Dancer Mini 1 actually digs lower in the bass department than it's compact driver/cabinet size appears to suggest. The gentle grunt at the lows make listening to loud rock/pop or techno music such a joy.

However, playing classical music is not one of the Dancer's forte. It was perfectly fine with an orchestra on full crescendo, thanks to it's great transient and dynamic response. However the quiet passages can expose a discontinuity between the tweeter and mid driver on the cross over frequency point, and this causes harmonic and timbre rich instruments such as the flute, oboe and wood winds to sound flat and lacking in some wooden texture. Violins and violas suffers the same by having it's strings emphasized over the wooden body reverberation that follows. Perhaps partnering the Dancer with a tube amp can ameliorate this issue? I don't know, but I would suspect that it's highly possible as I've heard the Usher/Primaluna(tube amp) combo on demo in CMY Audio & Visual showrooms before and did not notice the above issue.

The Dancer Mini 1 redeems it self with vocal(think 2V1G style, girl/guy & guitar) music. The vocal is portrayed with great focus, immediate clarity and absolute chest density. The Dancer feels most at home playing rock, pop, R&B, techno and dance music, when it's allowed to play the transient and dynamics calling cards. This is one speaker that plays fast and plays very loudly! The threshold of cone break up is very high, as I've never quite manage to push hard and loud enough(it came a point that it was just too loud for me to bear, but the music was still clean and maintained it's composure). I would suspect the Dancer Mini 1 to make a great high end HT speaker too, with it's matching surround and center package.
Another look at the Usher Dancer Mini 1 speaker.

Ultimately, this pair of Usher speaker offers good value, if classical music is not a big part of one's musical diet and taste. It's hardy drivers and beautiful enclosure would almost certainly ensure long term reliability and decor friendly. It's not particularly fussy when it comes to setting up in the room. It's also an easy load for most amps to drive and control. I would however caution one to audition the Dancer with his/her own amplifier, if this speaker is shortlisted for purchase.

The Usher Dancer Mini 1 is not the most polished of diamonds for sure(given it's nearly budget pricing), but it certainly qualifies as a diamond for the masses who can aspire to own with little financial burden.

Usher is sold by CMY Audio & Visual, contact John at 03-21439406.

November 14, 2010

The Movie Guys Have Landed!

My Hifi/AV room was a hive of activities. AV Designs sent their crew to get my home theatre system installed. The kids were anxious, they pestered me frequently with "Can we watch movie yet?"

It took slightly more than half a day. The AV Designs crew went about getting the job done efficiently. You know they have done this numerous times. It was also the cleanest job any contractor has carried out in my new house, literally. The AV Designs guy asked for my vacuum cleaner. For every hole they drilled in the wall, they put either the vacuum or a plastic bag underneath the drill bit to collect the dust. At the end, I needed to do only a very light wipe-down of the place. It was a job well done!

The equipment list:

Projection System:

JVC DLA-B250 D-ILA Full HD Projector -RM9,999
This is JVC's new entry level full HD projector. It also marks the first time that a JVC D-ILA projector is available below the RM10k price point.

Unic FVP-106 Framed screen, 16:9 format (106in diagonal) -RM1,500
I decided to take this lower cost screen option. The other screen option that James proposed is from the renowned Stewart Filmscreen. Its SNL-100 framed screen (100in diagonal) would set me back RM7,900. If you want to see what a premium screen can do to the picture quality, visit AV Designs' showroom, one is used in its demo system.

Wireworld Chroma 6 HDMI cable 9 metres -RM1,190

Audio/Video System:
Pioneer VSX-LX53 AVR -RM4,599

Pioneer BDP-LX71 Bluray Player - RM4,599
This bluray player is under evaluation at my place for a short while while I decide. I am still contemplating whether to go for a Bluray player; since for DVD duty I can use my Marantz DV7001, while for Bluray replay, I am considering a Sony PS3, which can do dual duties, as in Bluray movie and gaming duties (not that I am a big gaming fan, but the children would be thrilled).

Wharfedale Diamond 10DFS Surround speakers (4 pieces) - RM1,000 per pair
One pair for surround L-R, and one pair for surround rear (shown)

Q-Acoustic Q-AV Subwoofer - RM2,790

Cabling - RM1,500, Pictured is the oxygen free bulk cable used for the surrounds.

As an alternative, a higher end audio option was also proposed by AV Designs. For the surround duty, it was the PMC DB1i at RM4,400 per pair. For subwoofer, it was PMC's TLE-1 at RM12,500. Both are pictured below.
As you can see, I have chosen to go for mainly entry level stuff, figuring that it being my first step into home theatre, there is much for me to learn; and upgrading, just like hifi, can come later (and honestly, after all the renovation and furnishing for the new house, I also needed to look after the wallet a little bit. :-) ). AV Designs' James Tan proved to be flexible, he listened and recommended the combinations accordingly.

I have also saved some money on the audio side by using my EgglestonWorks loudspeakers for front left-right duty. After decoding by the Pioneer AVR, the L-R analogue signal is passed through the Pioneer Pre-out to my Pass Labs pre-amp which has a bypass for HT, where the pre-amp is set to unity gain and the volume control is done by the AVR.

There is also one unusual thing about the audio setup of my home theatre system, see whether you are eagle-eyed enough to spot it. I'll touch on this in my next post. Anyway, I shall share more on the audio side of my HT system in the next post.

On the visual side, I can say that I was totally bowled over by the picture quality that the JVC DLA-B250 displayed, despite it being new out of the box and not yet calibrated too. The quality on Bluray material was approaching films I see in the cinemas. The picture was natural, easy on the eye, yet very detailed. My better half and the children also commented spontaneously on how clear and nice the picture was, without any prompting from me. I believe it can only get better after AV Designs come over to do the calibration next week.

If you like to discuss with AV Designs your home theatre needs, you may contact James Tan at 03-21712828

November 11, 2010

Another Nail On The Coffin? The Music Retail Business Scene.

A future without music retail therapy ?

The music retail scene in Malaysia is depressing. In the last few years, we have seen the lost of Salem Power Station, Tower Records, and many smaller scale music retail shops, owned by music loving folks like my buddy James. His shop, Action Valley Trading, folded sometime earlier this year. James told me that his music business revenue has been on the decline since year 2005. James is now a successful financial and wealth management adviser.

Quite sometime ago, we also noted with sadness that Borders chain book store in Malaysia had decided to stop selling music and movies to reduce floor space, hence lower cost of rental to concentrate on selling books and other print ables only.

Today, I see MPH bookstores clearing their music and movie inventories, in a similar move like Borders, to sustain book sales. With that, it got me doing a count on what's left of the music retail scene in Klang Valley, which yours truly resides.

We are now left with the following music retail that I know of, while my list may not be comprehensive, please feel free to update any other music store that you as our dear reader know of and still in a healthy state of operation, that I have missed out.

1) Victoria Music, located at mainly Sg Wang Plaza, Amcorp Mall and Atria Shopping Centre. Stock quite a variety of music and staff are generally helpful. Will also special order for you if not available locally with a small deposit.

2) Rock Corner, located at Subang Parade, I Utama BU, Mid Valley Mega Mall and perhaps, other places I am un aware of. Have just as great variety of music, but with larger audiophile music section. They've got a great inventory database search system, if their staff available then is helpful enough(the guys in 1 Utama BU are normally pretty good). Otherwise the staff can be sometimes be non-attentive, especially at the Subang Parade branch, where they stock a decent variety of non-audiophile rock/pop LPs. Which is a shame!

3) CD Rama @ Popular Book Store, located in every Popular book store. Their specialty is Chinese audiophile CDs from China. They are also very supportive of Pop Pop Music releases. Most of their part timer staff is however, unhelpful(they tried to help but knows little about music or what they have in store). In other words, you're pretty much on your own and what you see is what you probably get!

4) Love Music, located in Ampang Park, one of the very first retail complex in KL, the store is small, but stocked full of music, from floor to ceiling! And should you not find the title you want, they can order for you with a small deposit. The lady boss is enthusiastic and extremely helpful.

5) The flea market stores @ Amcorp Mall every week ends. Most of these stores sells used CDs and LPs. Most of the used LPs there are of the horrible sounding Australia/New Zealand pressings. There are 2 exceptional stores, one on the 3rd floor just next to the escalator maned by a young chap that sells mostly good condition CDs, and other on the LG concourse, maned by an older gentleman that sells mostly audiophile grade LPs.

6) Various Hifi-Outlets now selling audiophile music. I hate to say, but this is where I get most of my music now days. Sad to say, my relationship with hifi stores is better than with music stores! I find most hifi stores like A&L Audio Station, CMY Audio & Visual, Nova Hifi and Center Circle Audio to have most music I want to buy in stock. Surprisingly, these people do know non-chart music better than most of the music retailers mentioned above.

In the past two years, I've bought nearly 50% of my music from Amazon web store on the www. I've also bought some of my music overseas when I am traveling. So not surprisingly the local music retail industry is not doing well, that is, if I am a representative of a typical audiophile, the last small bunch of paying customers for music that we consume.

If audiophiles typically make up of 5% of total music market customer. Of these 5%, if 50% bought stuff from the Internet or overseas, that really says something about the reality and viability of music retail sales. That means, despite a drop in purchasing customer, the local music industry is just not stocking the right merchandise perhaps for this group of customer? Well, maybe the 5% audiophile music market really means nothing to them?

I do not have any answers or remedies to the problems faced by our music retail industry. All I know is that the middle aged audiophiles are quite possibly the last batch of paying customers for music, because most youngsters I know today are raised on the environment of free downloads! Once it's free, most people don't really mind if it's MP3 or high rez files, especially when music is played back on iPods, PCs or laptops! It's just good enough.

I also think on the whole, the world wide music industry is on a slow, down ward spiral, with instantly manufactured artist like Lady GaGa, Justin Bieber and all those other guys disguised as rappers. I surely doubt if any one of them would be remembered in twenty years time! They're just too forgettable and their music too disposable. I do not see any future Elvis, The Beatles, Micheal Jackson, or even a Miles Davis in any of today's artist, in terms of musical relevance. Despite that, I think Taylor Swift and Maroon 5's chart music is pretty cool.

It's a sad, sad time for today's music industry indeed.