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.


kiarch said...

BIG E, This is a good write-up and an accurate description on the performance of Mark's system. I have had 3 past visits and I can testify the claim that Mark's system is very musical conjured from a well balance bandwidth that gives good tones, timbre textures; and its well set-up for good staging hence, soundscape that draws listener into the music.

We have to thank Mark for the given opportunity that allowing us to see and hear such high end system live(!), which would otherwise only read about them in the magazine. Thank you Mark for being here as your "second home"; we hope you stay here permanently.

Big E said...


Thanks for making this write up possible to share with our fellow readers.

I hope to follow up with Mark later when he has bigger speakers to play with. Ha!Ha!

junchoon2989 said...

it seems that the Playback Design has an upgrade of the power supply which improve the sounds. maybe Mark should consider that???

Aldevio said...

It seems unbelievable, but even the manufactures have requested photos of the equipment of their backs and have never been answered or found on the web.
How will they be? Anyone know? Anyone ever seen?