December 31, 2010

Nice Shoes from Atacama

I wanted to get some spike shoes for my loudspeakers. You know, that little coaster like thingy that goes under your equipment’s spikes to protect the finishing of your floor? Some also claim that they make a difference/improvement to the sound.

My loudspeakers were sitting on 1 ringgit coins, which, with their uneven surfaces, weren’t really protecting the wooden flooring when there was a 125lbs loudspeaker pressing down on them via 4 little pointed ends.

Remembering seeing some small no-name spike shoes, made from metal (which looked like brass to me) in Hi-Way Laser, I detoured to their showroom on my way home from work. I was thinking of getting myself 2 sets of 4. Alas, they ran out.

Kenny suggested Atacama’s spike shoes instead. Their price was affordable, at RM59.90 for a set of 4. So I duly paid and got myself 2 boxes.

The Atacama spike shoes are chunkier than the normal spike shoes. The top is a metal piece painted in black with a small indentation at the centre. The indentation is a nice design feature, making it convenient and easy to sit your equipment’s spike onto the shoe. The bottom is made of a hard rubber type material, making it non-slippery, and I believe also provides some measure of isolation from the vibration coming from the floor. I found also after a few days' use, the hard rubber created a suction effect, making the shoe stuck to the floor, the equipment placed on top of the shoes became more stable.

I first tried them out under my EgglestonWorks loudspeakers. I found that there were some small changes to the sound. Firstly, there was a little more incisiveness in the highs. However, there was also a little more warmth in the bass and the bass notes’ outline became less well defined. Investigating the matter, I found that the speakers would rock gently when I pushed on them. Well, it must be the rubber bottom of the shoes, which is slightly squishy and thus a heavy loudspeaker put on top of it would rock a little.

I did not like the idea of wobbly loudspeakers. Hmmm, where else could I use them? I looked around. Not under my hifi rack, it was already sitting on a quartet of FE cerapucs. Not under the monoblocks either, which have big rubber feet.

Ah, I know, I could use them underneath the spikes of my subwoofer, which is used for AV duty, and I could also use them under the spikes of the rack that houses the AV equipment.

Atacama spike shoes under the Q-AV subwoofer

Atacama spikes shoe under the AV equipment rack

Putting the Atacama spike shoes under them was a breeze. Easily done. For one thing, the subwoofer and the AV equipment rack definitely did not rock, but were rock steady instead.

Then I switched on the AV system for a listen.

Holy cow! What happened? I never heard it so good from the AV system. Clarity of soundtrack and dialogue improved. The sound was much more coherent. There was greater visceral impact from movie watching. However, the biggest improvement was in the bass. The bass from the Q-AV subwoofer was quite good to start with, but now it went even deeper and came better defined, it was clean and punchy, a big step up from before. It was an improvement that went beyond the relatively little outlay!

Well, so far, I have neglected my AV equipment. I paid scant attention to them after they were installed, they were just sitting there. It goes to show that a little tender loving care could bring big dividend from things that you have been ignoring all this while.

I believe they will also work in hifi, underneath your hifi rack for example. For the result I got, the Atacama spike shoes have proven themselves many times over their price.

Atacama is carried by Hi-Way Laser, contact Kenny at 019-2813399

December 30, 2010

Hercules To Power My Linn LP12. Hercules Power Supply For Linn Sondek LP12.

All the contents in the Hercules power supply kit. Also included is a very clearly written install instruction guide with illustration. PCB board and compnent contents are of high quality and very well made.

The Linn Sondek LP12 is such a successful product, that many have found it profitable to design and sell after market substitute parts or accessories to avid tweakers! Stamford Audio is one such out fit located in the UK, but has an e-bay store to make it easy for us to place orders. I placed my order on the first week of December, and it arrived about 10 days later! Not bad at all, considering I only asked to use the services of Royal Mail and Pos Malaysia.
The package that greeted me when I came home from work just a few days prior to Christmas.

Since restoring my Linn LP12, I've always wished for the capability to play 45 rpm singles or re-issues, as I've got quite a few of those in my vinyl collection. I know the Linn Lingo power supply is available, but they just proved to cost more than I am willing to pay. Hercules seems to be the next most popular and obviously cost saving option.(What??? Big E talking about cost saving in hifi purchases? That sure doesn't sound like him, He! He!) Other than cost saving option, I also needed something that didn't take up another rack space, which clearly only the Hercules option is viable, because it's designed to slot neatly where the original Valhalla resides, all the wiring is the same too.
The original Valhalla power supply board.

The Hercules power supply kit came with everything one needs(sans tools) to complete the job, and comes with a clearly written with illustration installation instruction guide.

I needed a place to work without turning my LP12 over to avoid having to set the three point spring suspension system "bounce" again. So I had my Linn placed on a pair of dinning chairs on both ends of the turn table, this way I could slide in on my back(just like a mechanic slides to work under a car)and work from beneath the turntable. I had the platter and gypsum board base plate removed to access the original vintage Valhalla power supply board.

I start by removing all the wiring to the mains power cord(2 core) and a 4 core cable to the motor. Then very carefully unplug the plastic clips holding the Valhalla board by use to a long nosed pliers. I used very gentle force to pull out the fragile looking vintage Valhalla board and had the original Linn power switch removed from the top plate.
The new Hercules supplied dual speed switch vs the original Linn item(red LED only).

All the Valhalla components removed.

Note the plastic clips in white used to secure the power supply board. This is only available for Valhalla equipped Linn LP12s made after 1982.

Next, I had the new Hercules board installed back in to the original slot, by re-using the original plastic clips that secure the Valhalla board to hold down the new board. Then I re-wired all the cables as they should be according to colour codes and replaced the top plate switch with the new dual speed unit supplied by Hercules. I hooked up the power cord for a brief test run to confirm that I did everything right, re-attached the bottom base plate and platter and away I go!
The Hercules power supply board now in place and ready to go. All done in 25 minutes, D.I.Y. style.

I only expected the Hercules power supply to provide me with the extra option of 45 rpm playing speed other than the standard 33 rpm. So it was indeed a pleasant surprise that I also got some sonic improvements. Totally notable from the first LP spin is the bass quality. The slightly bloated and ill defined if voluminous bass quality of the Linn took on a more solid form. It's like the bass lines shed a few pounds, and in the process improved definition, yet proved more tuneful than before. It's qualities are closer(though not exactly the same) to the kind of bass that I so enjoyed with the VPI Scout II turn table I played with just a while ago.

Another area that yielded improvement was the imaging, which took on a more precise outline, against the now darker sound stage in the back drop, making stage depth and field of layering perception more obvious, then the previously rather flat presentation. Finally there's also a sense of reduced noise floor and quietness, which I believed had it's share of contributing to the above improvements. The reduced noise floor also allows my Benz LP cartridge to retrieve more inner detail and low level resolution from well recorded LPs.

I also noticed better timing and rhythm flow with the Hercules and there is less speed "wandering", even though if at first, the Hercules seems to make the motor feel less torquey, resulting in slower start up to speed time.

There is only one area of the Hercules that I did not like. It seems to dump out quite a bit of it's own EMI/RFI back in to the main power lines. This is because I heard more noise and white hash being feed back through the CD player, if the Linn turn table is turned "On" at the same time! So that means, I can only turn on either source at any one time, which is quite frustrating, as I like to keep all my components on boil when I in a listening session.
Press and release the switch immediately to start 33 rpm play, and the red LED glows.

Press switch and hold down firmly for 5 seconds and the blue LED glows to indicate that it's now spinning at 45 rpm.

It cost me slightly less than RM$1000.00(including postage) for the Hercules power supply kit to arrive at my door step. It's an investment worth many times it's sonic returns. I highly recommend this Hercules power supply kit, if one cannot(or does not want to) stretch his budget for a Linn Lingo, of which I am told(but cannot confirm), along with a Radikal motor will out perform it, at a very much higher cost!

By the way, this is very likely to be the last piece of investment I will do on the Linn Sondek LP12.

December 28, 2010

Customised Your New Focal Speakers.

The latest Utopia III series speakers now not only great sound, but comes in any colour of your choice.(the front baffle would still be piano gloss black finished, but the 2 side panels are only limited to your imagination!)

Asia Sound Equipment, the local distributor for Focal speakers tells me that buyers of the Utopia III and Elektra 2 range is now allowed to customised their units.

Focal will allow discerning customers of the two ranges to express their individuality by allowing any choice of automobile gloss finishes(you'll need to provided the automotive manufacturer's paint codes to Focal, or if it's a non standard colour, then you'll need to provide a small quantity of wet sample). Now imaging your latest Focal Utopia Skala speakers in Ferarri Yellow! Or the Elektra 1028 speakers with a customised message?

The Elektra 2 series speakers uses very similar drivers to the flagship Utopia III series, but packaged in a more conventional enclosure.

Focal will also allow another area for customization. It's the aluminium tweeter panel on the front baffle, which Focal will allow one to engrave his/her personalized message, or just to name your pair of speakers, to make it that much more special.

One more feature, due to be incorporated in to all Focal Utopia III series speakers manufactured from 1st January 2011 is the use of an RFID chip(of which every speaker will have one embedded within it's beautiful cabinet) like technology to secure identification and speaker origins by use of a hand held scanner, which all of Focal's authorised dealers will be equipped. This is to safe guard the interest any potential buyer of the latest Utopia III model, new or used, by allowing each speaker to be readily identifiable of origins and authenticate it's ownership history.

The best part of all is that all these extra value added services will cost you nothing, when you buy a pair of the Utopia III or Elektra 2 series speakers now.

Call Eddie Tan at Asia Sound Equipment, 03-79552091.

December 26, 2010

My Benz! Benz Micro LP MC Cartridge.

The Benz Micro LP, not to be confused with the American LP-S. The American version is much heavier at 16 grams or so, and have more bass response to suit American taste. However Albert Lukaschek(Benz designer) still have much to recommend for the LP model.

As I've written earlier in an earlier article, "Is Your Vinyl Playback Optimised? Clearaudio Azimuth Optimizer." I have a new cartridge in the form of the Benz Micro LP. I have detailed my cartridge set up on the Linn Sondek LP12's Ittok arm in the earlier article and will just touch on the sound quality.

The Benz LP flagship cartridge has been around for a long, long time, hence it could be easily forgotten or taken for granted. However, I am one of those guys who likes a proven product, and feel that the Benz LP must be doing something very right to with stand the test of time. Now that I've logged nearly 200 hours of play, it's sound has stabilised considerably and I can report more confidently.

The Benz LP seems to have very similar chassis construction as per my old Benz flame, the Benz Glider L, but adds on a black Ebony wood body, for a warmer sound presentation. Also differing from the Glider is the micro polished, ruby stylus tip and cross coil windings in the signal generator. The Benz LP is also quite a heavy cartridge, weighting in at 10.6 grams.
The Benz Micro LP will accommodate more expensive turn table arm combos, over the Linn LP12. Hmmm..... the Clearaudio Innovation turn table sure looks nice with it!

The sound of the Benz LP is classy to say the least. It does not quite have the ultimate micro detail and dynamics resolving power, so obvious as with the latest Clearaudio Stradivari V2 cartridge(it's most natural price range competitor). The Benz however, makes up for it on the tone colour department. It's clearly the richer(not to the point of lushness though), and fuller sounding of the two cartridge.

The Benz LP is still considered neutral in tonal balance, despite the presence of a slight warmness, just enough to prevent it from sounding cold, and analytical at least. The highs are extended and smooth yet will bite when the recording demands it so. The mids has a slightly rich presence range that always puts the vocals in front of the staging. The bass is not particularly outstanding(this is perhaps, more of a Linn LP12 characteristic?), but is firm and tight enough, yet can remain supple should the recording ask of it.

I love the way this cartridge proves it self to be utterly transparent because it picks up so little of the LP's surface noise. It responds well to dynamics contrast and transient speed, but only to lose out to the above mentioned Clearaudio, obviously. If anything however, it's the way the Benz LP puts everything above together, so cohesively, that not one particular aspect of it's hifi performance stands out in any way. I find it to disappear from the audio chain, mostly except for the slight tinge of warmness, that the Benz LP will always allow the music and the recording to speak for it self. There is also an element of forgiveness, not found on the Clearaudio, is that when playing poorly recorded or re-mastered LPs, the Benz does not really punish you for doing so, but merely let it be known. In other words, it's less pain full to hear poorly pressed LPs on the Benz, of which I have many. Some of my high end analogue buddies have argued that I am shooting the messenger, rather than the source of my problem, and the only reason that the Benz does better in this respect is because it's less transparent!

Good or bad? The matter of forgiveness, in hifi equipment, I leave for you to ponder over. In the mean time, I'd like to summarize this review by saying that the Benz Micro LP, retailing at RM$8,200/pc, is quite possibly a bargain of a cartridge at the sub RM$10k price range. It does pretty much most of what the current flagship of other more costly brands of cartridges does at more than double the out lay, and punches way above it's weight in the context of my Linn Sondek LP12. The Benz will probably survive up grades to turn table and arm combos that cost more than 3 times it's own price, yet will certainly make no fool of it self. This much I am confident. As a fellow audio reviewer and Benz buddy said to me the other day, "Once a Benz man, always a Benz man!"

Benz Micro is sold by Audio Image, contact Adrian at 03-79563077.

December 23, 2010

Brasileiro Princess, Z Yan.

Brasileiro Princess, how's this for a musical Christmas gift idea?

As many of our readers would know by now, Brasileiro Princess is the pretty Z Yan, and she is Pop Pop Music's latest artist release. Her music is mostly Mandarin classics and modern pop re-interpreted with a lightly twist of Bossa. There's also one Cantopop track inside which at least for me, didn't amount to much.

From the very first intro prologue, the princess's voice struck me as being larger than her petite frame would suggest in real life. And she wisely avoided singing with that typical queer sounding "falsetto" that many Chinese female audiophile vocalist do, consciously or otherwise. Her voice has enough range to carry off the relaxing & easy going, songs presented here. ML has a knack for spotting talents and moulding diamonds out of carbon. He has also wisely retain the services of Maestro Tey Cher Siang on most of the arrangement and piano work, Roger Wang on guitars, last but not least the highly talented Salvador Guerzo of the Solianos fame, on saxophone. These guys are some of the best musicians in the local music scene.

Amongst my favorite tunes here are Autumnal Night, Let's Go See The Clouds, Romance In The Rain(Cher Siang's Jazz timing signature arrangement is very much at play here), Coyness(a Faye Wong classic remake in typical striped down signature of Pop Pop Music style!), and surely Autumnal Poetry which Salvador's saxophone is so well recorded, that beautifully warm burnish tone, finger and mouth piece control, breathing technique is all exposed evidently that it competes fairly for attention against Z Yan's vocal.

The recording quality is the best yet from Pop Pop Music. The excellent acoustics quality of The Ark Studios is well preserved, most evidently on the highs. Compared to my favorite Jz8 album(another excellent Pop Pop Music recording), the Brasileiro Princess album's highs are very much livelier, less dark and more open. There's more studio ambiance to be heard and instrument placing in the sound stage is less congested and more convincingly spaced, with good depth perception. There's very little additive EQ-ing or reverbs used in this otherwise natural sounding recording.

This is a highly enjoyable album, and during this silly season of giving, I think it makes a perfectly meaningful gift of music for any audiophile or music loving family member and friends.

Merry Christmas & Happy New Year!

December 22, 2010

PMC FB1i & TB2i Signature Series Speakers Are Here!

PMC FB1i Signature(front) & TB2i Signature(back, stands are optional).

To celebrate the PMC FB1i & TB2i speakers 10th Anniversary milestone in production, PMC has decided to bring out a limited run of Signature Series, to commemorate both the highly successful models in the company's hifi speaker range.
PMC TB2i Signature.

The Signature Series speakers have specially tuned passive cross over networks that gives it's legendary mid/vocal range signature. Also new is the exclusive cabinet finished in Palissandre Rose veneer.
PMC FB1i Signature.

Previously, as experienced with the PMC LB1i Signature speakers, demand had totally out striped supply. Both the latest addition to the Signature Series is likely to experience the same phenomenon, especially in Hong Kong, Taiwan and Japan.

We've been promised a review pair of the TB2i Signature speakers soon.

AV Designs have secured a very limited quantity of the two models for the privileged few. If these PMC speakers floats you boat, call James Tan at 03-21712828.

December 20, 2010

Power from Pathos

Pathos' InControl pre-amp (RM24,000) and InPower monoblocks (RM48,000) are now on demo in Centre Circle Audio's showroom. Pathos' phono stage, InTheGroove MkII, came along for the ride too.

Left top - Pathos InTheGroove phono stage
Left bottom and right - Pathos InControl pre-amp power supply and the main chassis

Pathos InPower monoblocks

The InPower is rated at 80w/8ohm. I heard them driving a pair of EgglestonWorks Andra III, not exactly an easy pair of speakers. However, the InPower pair was unfazed. I heard refinement, excellent soundstage, beautiful tonality, and well controlled, well defined bass notes. Quite unexpected, the last bit. Probably not meant for rock recordings at concert level, but large scale orchestra will be right up their alley, while at the same time, you will also enjoy beautiful and natural vocal and instruments.

Contact Centre Circle Audio, Ph: 03-77282686; Nelson Chia 012-2876807; Sky Wong 012-3371787

December 18, 2010

10Qs For Brasileiro Princess, Z Yan.

Our Brasileiro Princess looking pretty in white.

Z Yan, a.k.a. Brasileiro Princess, is the latest artist promoted by Pop Pop Music. Leslie a.k.a. ML very graciously invited me to have a chat with the pretty princess, during the Brasileiro Princess Press Conference. By the way, just in case you've not been following, Brasileiro Princess is a collection of Chinese(mostly mandarin) classic and contemporary tunes, re-made, re-arranged, and performed with Bossa influence.

Hey! Chatting up pretty girls is something I enjoy very much, and Z Yan's very positive outlook is a joy to endear. Here goes my 10Qs!

Big E: Please tell our readers and your audiences a little bit about your self?

Z Yan: I was born in Melaka and traveled often to Johor with my parents. It was much later in my life that I came to KL to study in a private college.

Big E: How and why did you get involved in the music industry?

Z Yan: I've loved music since my child hood days, but I never ever dreamed that I'll be singing as a recording artist. It all started when I moved to KL, where during the weekends, me and my friends would attend live concerts, like those now staged in No Black Tie. I half heartedly volunteered to audition, when the producer for Music Toxin, Mr Chow Kam Leong asked if any one in the audience wanted to record for them. I did my demo and eventually released my first CD album, titled "Wishes" under the Music Toxin label in 2007.

Big E: Is that how you meet Leslie and Pop Pop Music?

Z Yan: I was introduced to Leslie by Mr Chow, and I very quickly learned that Leslie had eclectic taste for music. When he proposed that I should be Brasileiro Princess, in a Bossa flavoured album, I was immediately in agreement, as Latin music happens to be one of my favourite genre!

Big E: Are you happy and proud of your Brasileiro Princess album, and how well do you think it'll do in the sales charts?

Z Yan: I am very happy and proud to be given the chance to participate in the Brasileiro Princess album, but Bossa music is still a fringe genre in Malaysia, and our Chinese music lovers are very conservative in their musical choices, so only time will tell how the market would react to the CD sales.

Big E: If there's another chance to record another Pop Pop Music album, would you still do Bossa?

Z Yan: Yes, surely! In fact should we do a follow up album, I'd like to add some Salsa, Samba and other forms of creative Latin Jazz repertoire just to push the music concept further.

Big E: How do find working with some of best talents in the Malaysian music scene today?

Z Yan: I like working with Pop Pop Music. They're a very open and flexible label which allows us to develop our selves as artist in our own time. There's very little pressure and every recording session is fun with the guys!

Big E: I know for a fact that every Pop Pop Music artist has a day job to pay the bills, what's yours?

Z Yan: No, I don't have a day job! It's a night job actually. I do sing at hotel lounges, events and cafes for a living. If you happen to be in Tropicana City Mall anytime this month(and this month only!), you can catch me singing live at Santini cafe there from 9pm onwards.

This CD is on sale NOW! Look out for it.

Big E: You'd know by now that Pop Pop Music is an Indie Label producing audiophile oriented recordings, and do you know any family or friends who enjoy hifi as a hobby?

Z Yan: Actually, Leslie is the first and only audiophile I know at the time! But when he brought me to his home, and showcased his music thru his hifi system and it all hit me, that an audiophile demands crystal clear recordings. Every vocal technique, emotion, musician play and recording detail is so realistically lay ed across, in between the two speakers!

Z Yan dedicating her thoughts on my personal copy of her "Brasileiro Princess". The CD inlay booklet has some pretty nice pictures of her for eye candy.

Big E: You're a very pretty girl. Has anyone ever done something romantic, like sending 99 stalks of roses to impress you?

Z Yan: I am totally flattered that you find me pretty, but thanks for the compliments anyway. At this point in time, the most romantic thing anyone can do for me is to buy 99 copies the Brasileiro Princess CD, and distribute it to everyone he knows! In fact, he'd really impressed me if he bought 999 copies of the CD!(She's really focus on the task at hand. What a gal!)

At this point Leslie was smelling something fishy and jumped over then said, "Hey! She's taken!!!

Big E: Ha! Ha! By the way, Z Yan, all of us handsome audiophiles here would really like to know about your "actual" status. Are you available still or "taken" as Leslie suggested?

Z Yan: That is a question I do not want to answer now. I'd like take a few more years to prove my self in the music industry. Perhaps you can ask me this question again in a few years time. Ha! Ha!(See, I told you she's really focused!)

With that question, I'd like to leave a little room for our fellow audiophiles to ponder over her status as we explore in to her Brasileiro Princess recording. By the way, do enjoy the nice tasteful photos of Z Yan in the CD inlay booklet as eye candy as we listen to her soothing Bossa voice and music.

Brasileiro Princess CD review coming soon!

December 17, 2010

Raidho Acoustics at Centre Circle Audio

Centre Circle Audio has recently acquired the distributorship for Raidho Acoustics, a Danish high end loudspeaker brand.

Their first shipment promptly sold out, the second shipment recently arrived, consisting of 3 models in Raidho's C-series - C1.0, C2.0, C3.0. Raidho uses ribbon tweeter and ceramic midrange/woofer drivers on all their C-series models.

Left - Raidho C2.0; Freq resp: 40Hz-50kHz; Sensitivity: 89 dB 2.83 V/m; List:RM50,000
Right - Raidho C1.0; Freq resp: 50Hz-50kHz; Sensitivity: 88 dB 2.83 V/m; List:RM33,500 with original stand

Left: Raidho C-3.0 - Freq resp:30Hz-50KHz; Sensitivity: 90 dB 2.83 V/m; List: RM90,000

I had a brief listen with the C2.0 paired with Parasound electronics when CCA first brought them in a few months ago. It was an instantly impressive sound. Very balanced, neutral, refined and smooth, yet capable of excellent dynamics.

The distinctive ribbon tweeter on all Raidho C-Series models

Don't miss out, go down to Centre Circle for a listen now.

Contact Centre Circle Audio, Ph: 03-77282686; Nelson Chia 012-2876807; Sky Wong 012-3371787

December 16, 2010

De Tonemeister, ATC SIA2-150 Integrated Amplifier.

The ATC SIA2-150 integrated amp is all UK made, and feels built to last forever.

I find it rather unfortunate, that I have to use a German term, to describe a very English product. However, that is exactly how I felt after giving the ATC SIA2-150 integrated amplifier a spin. Kenny of Hi-Way Laser, the local distributor of ATC tells me that the amplifier range is still all England made, unlike some of their economically priced speaker models. ATC speakers have a reputation of requiring a lot of quality watts to sound great, and this amplifier is designed to drive such speakers. My PMC Fact 8's load factor is a stroll in the park for this ATC amp.

I first came across the description of a Tonemeister, from the CD inlays of Deutsche Grammophon recordings. The Tonemeister's job, is to ensure the accuracy of tonal quality is reproduced on the final mix process just before the CD stamper making stage, as he heard it during the recording session.

The ATC SIA2-150 integrated amp is a beefy design, weighing in at 26kgs! The bulk of the weight is located just aft off the aluminium front panel, where a huge power supply transformer is located. This amp certainly looks like it's built to last, based on the reputation of ATC's pro-market roots. All switches operate with an re-assuring solid "click" and all sockets are of high quality and setting up the amp is a cinch. I must say that I did find all the black plastic vertical lines decorating the front panel quite un-necessary, serving only to clutter up what is otherwise a relative clean(or perhaps plain) looking face. As it's model no.SIA2-150 would suggest, this amp puts out 150W x 2 chanel at 8 ohms. I also some how suspect this amp is probably happier driving 4 ohms speaker loads, of which my PMC isn't.

The model no. says it all!

The ATC amp takes unbalanced RCA signal from my Marantz CD 7 player via a pair of DIY-ed interconnects, whose cable stock originated from Belden(another pro-market application fav). My usual Siltech Classic Anniversary 330-L pair of speaker cables connects the ATC to my PMC Fact 8 loud speakers. A big red JPS In-Wall power cord completes the complimentary of cable line up in use for the ATC amp. A rear power switch puts the amp on standby mode and from there on all the front panel functions are duplicated on a sheepishly cheap looking, if functional in use remote made of grey plastic.

The first thing that struck me about the sound of this ATC amp is that mid centric beautiful tonal quality. The highs are smooth and laid back, complete with subtlety. The warm, rich mid range gives vocals an excellent sense of presence and body. Bass is relatively tight, if a little lite. There are no lumpy, or fat, unwieldy bass lines to complain about here either. I did find the kick drums, like the high hats and cymbals sounding a little more distant(or laid back) than usual. I suspect this ATC amp running on some sort of high bias class A/B topology, which contributes to the rich, warm tonal palette. The heat sink ventilation slots on both sides of the top panel, and the whole amplifier casing runs rather hot, after a long musical work out session, so make sure to place this amp with good air flow in mind.
The ATC SIA2-150 allows RCA inputs only. The speaker terminals are silver coated and very grippy! I found the roundish ventilation slots on the top panel making the styling a little more fuzzy than it needs to be, just like the front panel black vertical plastic stripes.

The ATC amp is capable of giving good sound staging and imaging properties, even if the separation of musical instruments at the back end of the stage are less then convincing. It's transparency factor, frequency extension at the extremes and dynamic contrast factor is competitive for a component with high end aspirations in the sub $20k price range. Noise floor is rather low too, which is good. I also like the fact that the ATC amp exerts total control over the cone driver movements of the PMC Fact 8 speakers. I've rarely seen such tightly regulated cone movements on the PMC speakers, which I could attribute to perhaps, the excellent damping factor of the amplifier.

The beauty of this ATC amplifier, lies not so much on each of the individual hifi parameter of averaged qualities mentioned above, but rather, how it's all summed up in the final presentation. Aside from the beautiful tonal quality, there is utter coherence from the sound that is seemingly cut from the same cloth, making it easy to appreciate the music. It's poise and musical balance is never in doubt.
The headphone socket is at the back panel, an odd choice of place. The ATC amp has 5 inputs, a pre out and a sub out, plus a record out RCA socket in pairs.

There was a time when made in UK integrated amps from the era of Audiolab 8000A, Mission Cyrus 2 and the original Exposure Classic Series used to cost no more than RM$5k in the 1990's hey days of British hifi. General inflation and escalating hifi prices in the last few years have pushed the price tag of all the above mentioned products(of which none are now UK made) markedly up wards and this ATC SIA2-150 integrated amp does not escape that cruel reality as it retails for RM$17k today.

In fact, I felt this amp pretty much follows the sonic path laid by the above mentioned classic British designs, but executed in today's modern interpretation which results in a much more refined, authoritative and powerful sounding product. A British amp designer used to say that "the mid range is key to musicality, once you get the mid range right, everything else will fall in to place!" I think that kinda sums up the ATC SIA2-150 very nicely.

ATC amps and loud speakers are sold by Hi-Way Laser, contact Kenny at 019-2813399.

December 14, 2010

Getting the Picture Right

A week after the installation of my home theatre system (see my earlier post "The Movie Guys Have Landed!" in November), Jeff from AV Designs came over to do his magic - calibration of the TV and projector.

Jeff's tool of trade consisted of a spectrophotometer (that is the name I found google-ing), that is the thing you see hanging on the plasma TV in the photo above, which reads the output of the TV or the projector; a DVD that outputs various test patterns; a calibration software and a notebook PC for the software to run on.

It did not seem to be an easy job. Jeff spent close to 2 hours doing it for both the plasma TV and the JVC DLA-B250 Projector.

Jeff went through an iterative process. He played a number of test patterns from the DVD, the output on the screen was read by the spectrophotometer and displayed on the notebook PC. After reading it, Jeff made a number of changes to the setting on the TV and the projector, then the whole process was repeated again, until he was satisfied with the final result.

I don't have the technical knowledge to tell you everything about the calibration results displayed on the notebook PC (see photo above). Jeff did tell me a thing or two. See the graph at the bottom right corner? That is the measure of the red, green, blue colour outputs at various light intensity. Jeff's target was to get the 3 colours to show a rule flat line with each coinciding with the others - signifying that all the colours are being output at the same intensity level. In reality, Jeff said, this was hard to achieve for every projector model out there, there was bound to be some drift. His job though was to get them as close as possible to the ideal.

It struck me that this is not unlike our audiophile world where we aim for an even frequency response, such that there is no bass boom, bright treble or a forward midrange.

After calibration, the first thing I noticed was that the picture looked dimmer. However, this feeling was short lived, after a few hours of viewing I felt it was just right.

The first improvement I noticed was how natural people's skin tone was. As we look at people every day, that would be the thing we're most familiar with and we'd know instantly whether it is right or wrong - the analogy in the audiophile world would be vocal/speech.

I could also discern more details on the screen, even when a scene is dark - there were details in the blacks.

On the projector, switching back to the original setting, I felt the picture was a little glaring. It was like a bright sounding hifi system, a long listening session would tire you out. Actually, the original picture that came with the JVC projector was already very good, and I did not feel I missed anything before calibration (well, I am a HT novice, what do I know?), however after calibration, I did not want to go back to the original setting anymore.

Picture from Bluray movies was just stunning. There were details everywhere. I found that I enjoyed the movies so much more. Even movies that I previously dismissed, I found myself enjoying it from the beginning till end. On good movies, the watching experience was so much more 'intense'.

Size and details really help in giving us the cinematic experience in a home theatre. On scenes that I found slow moving, say a long dialogue, especially on a movie that I have watched before, I found my attention switched to looking at the 'scenery', so to speak. There was so much more to be seen in the background on every scene. Even on the main characters, I'd be attracted by the details in the facial expression and the costume. On the calibrated projector, every scene was beautifully and naturally rendered.

My home movie watching experience has been transformed!

December 13, 2010

Press Conference For Launch Of Brasileiro Princess Album.

The talents behind the Brasileiro Princess album. From left: Leslie Loh(a.k.a. ML), Z Yan, Stefano, and Cher Siang.

Last Wednesday, 08th December, Pop Pop Music held a press conference for the up coming CD, soon to be available in stores sometime this week, Brasileiro Princess album. I was invited for the fun and got to chit chat with the SYT(Sweet Young Thing) of a princess.

The press get to throw questions for the main production team, comprising ML, Stefano, Cher Siang and the princess in person, Z Yan.
An MC controlling the proceedings on the Press Conference.

Some of the princess's friends were there to lend support and throw in some fun and games. Light snacks and drink were complimentary of Fullhouse restaurant, who hosted the event in the Sunway Giza Mall, Kota Damansara.
A friend of the princess, throwing her some "pretty" difficult questions!

My chit chat, a.k.a. 10Qs with princess Z Yan will be featured in these pages soon. Stay tuned.

December 11, 2010

Step In To My Dreams, Susan Wong.

This ones' hot and fresh from the oven! Just released for sale on 24th October 2010. I've been following Susan Wong's music career since her early efforts under the guidance of mentor/producer Keith Yip, with albums like Close To You and Susan Wong 2. She is now recording under the Evosound label with a more urban and sophisticated style, both in substance and packaging qualities.

For some very wicked and perverse reason her latest album cover art reminds me of the highly airbrushed/photo shopped effect, much like Mariah Carey's No.1s album cover art! However this music review is not about her appearance(which most of us will agree that she's actually quite a babe) , but rather about the music and sound quality of the recording.

Susan seems to have settled in to her comfort zone of tried and tested laid back re-arrangements of cover hits past and present. Not a song on this album will ever ruffle your hair! Well, I guess she's just catering to her main targeted audience, the middle age audiophile unkers(beer belly, receding hair line and all!) wants. For these unkers, the good news is that, she is still singing with that queer, soft highish(come to bed with me) tone of voice that almost all audiophile female vocalist of Chinese origin(think Tong Li as an extreme example) use as currency of their trade. We have the late Teresa Teng, who was the originator of this vocal signature on some of her most memorable songs to thank, for the current state of affairs(to be fair, Teresa is often imitated by seldom equaled).

I must however praise her for being brave enough to take on new materials like Beyonce's recent massive smash hit Halo, but I find the effort in vain, as the song is just simply too big for Susan's vocal range, plus, who can compare to Beyonce's vocal prowess anyway?

Other songs from this 14 tracked, mostly 60's & 70's era pop/folk influenced album that interest me includes Susan's take on Something, which is actually quite good, Simon & Garfunkel's Sound Of Silence. She also re makes Happy Together which is originally rather up beat to become her own. The recent radio friendly "green anthem" called Big Yellow Taxi is also well interpreted. For me however, it was her excellent re make of the Beatles hit I Wanna Hold Your Hands that stole the show. The musician ship quality backing Susan is actually pretty good too, come to think of it, especially Ignacio Lamas subtle and effective classical guitar play for vocal companion.

The recording quality is where her latest albums differ most compared her previous non Evosound releases. There's now a darker, more accomplished quality to the overall sound. The highs are now softer, more refined too. Recording noise floor is low and the layer of whitish haze back ground evident on her earlier efforts are now banished.

This is a relaxing, easy listening album for the audiophile female vocalist brigade and certainly a must buy for her fans and fiends alike!

December 9, 2010

Naim Uniti Music Servers, On Demo In CMY Audio Visual, Sunway Giza Branch.

The whole Naim she-bang!

Music Servers and Digital Media Players are currently fueling my imagination! CMY Audio & Visual has added more fuel to fire my imagination further by demoing the latest Naim Unity music server, along with the excellent Ovator S-600 speakers powered by all Naim electronics.
The Naim DAC allows USB input, but with hi rez files too?

I must say that the CD ripped files playing at 16/44.1 is pretty satisfying, musically. Go have a listen and see if you can agree with me?
The screen is non-touch sensitive, but just a display only.

By the way, these pictures are taken using my iPhone 4, I think the picture quality is amazing from what is, essentially a hand held multi tasking device!

Naim is sold by CMY Audio & Visual, contact Andy at 016-9765277, located at Sunway Giza Mall in Kota Damansara, PJ.

December 7, 2010

Focal Utopia Speakers On Demo, At Asia Sound Equipment.

Focal Skala Utopia.

I've always admired the flagship Focal Utopia series loud speakers. I've been anticipating these beauties to come for months, since Eddie Tan of Asia Sound leaked about their impending arrival.

Well, they're here and on demo in Asia Sound Equipment's Amcorp Mall showroom. A pair of stand mounted Diablo Utopia and another pair of Skala Utopia is on demo. I absolutely loved the sound of the floor standing Skala Utopia! Now if only I had the dosh$$$.
Focal Diablo Utopia.

The flagship, Grande Utopia EM has been sold, and I hope to have a chance to listen and perhaps feature them here later. The owner is indeed a blessed soul for having what is possibly the best speaker in the world today?
Focal Grande Utopia EM.

If you've been waiting for these too, then call Eddie Tan at 03-79552091 for an audition appointment.

December 6, 2010

Brasileiro Princess Launch Party - A Pictorial

Pop Pop Music's Leslie Loh held a home party last Saturday for the launch of his latest creative effort - The "Brasileiro Princess" album. Here are some photos. Enjoy!

Leslie and his Bossa Princess Z Yen

Leslie making a point...

The Princess and...

...everyone else were rapt in attention.

Princess talking about her journey on the album...

... She was in turn playful,...

... contemplative,...
...but most of all, she was happy.

All the best to Leslie and Z Yen on their creative effort.
Please go to the pop pop music blog for the latest on this album.