January 2, 2011

Gears that Impressed in 2010

HAPPY NEW YEAR! It is 2011.

Throughout 2010, quite a number of hifi gear went through my listening (and now also viewing) room. A number of them made a more indelible mark than others. I’d like to highlight them in my first post in the New Year.

In alphabetical order:

1. Ayre MX-R Monoblocks (RM78,000 per pair; Hi-Way Laser)

Hifi jewellery which is also built like a tank. The chassis is carved from a solid billet of aluminium. At 300w/8 ohm per side, the MX-R was totally unflappable. Its bass was rounded and agile, propelling the music along, the mids were liquid and creamy smooth, highs were crystal clear. Its soundstaging ability was top notch, creating a 3 dimensional stage in front of the listener.

There is nothing better than slipping comfortably into your listening seat and let the music produced by the MX-R wash over you.

Full write-up here and here.

2. Bryston BDP-1 Digital Player & BDA-1 DAC (RM8,800 / RM8,400; AV Designs)

After being suitably impressed by the BDP-1 and BDA-1 at a few listening venues, I finally had the chance to listen to them in my own system for a couple of days when James of AV Designs brought them over to my place. Since I have not written anything substantial about the Bryston pair, I am going to write a little more here.

The BDP-1 and BDA-1 pair shone excellently in my system. There is no doubt in my mind that this is computer audio done absolutely right. Whatever reservations I have about listening to music with the digits being streamed from a PC to a DAC, this Bryston pair threw them out the window in one stroke.

Playing high resolution download music files from Linn, Chesky, Reference Recordings and others, the BDP-1 and BDA-1 are without peers. Music was rendered naturally and with great details –for example, I could hear the air and the atmosphere of the recording venue in an acoustic recording (choir, classical, jazz etc) much more realistically and clearer than ever. The Bryston pair brought the recording venues into my room.

Compared to CD quality recordings, high res music had greater richness, density and offered ‘punchier’ tonal colours. CD quality, in comparison,sounded relatively washed out and disjointed. One big area of improvement was the highs. On its own, highs from CD could sound smooth and sparkly, but when compared to high res materials, in general, CD quality sounded somewhat jagged. The highs from high resolution materials sounded seamless, saturated (as opposed to hollow) and silvery. High res recordings simply gave the impression that it was closer to the real thing.

On CD quality music, the BDP-1 and BDA-1 sounded just as good as, if not better than, a high end CD player. Listening to uncompressed files ripped from CDs, I did not detect any detail missing when compared to the original CD. In fact, on a few tracks, I thought the rip even gave a little more details than the CD played on a CD player. The BDP-1 and BDA-1 should be seen as another high end CD player, and should be evaluated as such.

On all types of recordings, CD quality or high res, the BDP-1 and BDA-1 offer a sound that is the hallmark of Bryston, which is neutrality and accuracy embodied.

At the heart of the BDP-1 is a computer, striped down and dedicated to one purpose only, i.e., to read the music files from your storage (thumb drives or hard disks) and send the digits to the DAC. Its function is similar to a normal CD transport, just that the storage media are different.

Unlike using a computer, based on what I read so far, where the audiophile has to experiment and figure out the best music playing software; figure out how to configure the software for the highest quality playback, so that the software does not inadvertently downsample your music file or add unwanted processing; find out how best to reduce noise and interference inside the PC environment; and find out how best to ensure that jitter-less data reaches the DAC, the team in Bryston has sorted out all these issues the best they could for you.

Just plug in your music file storage and play, this is computer audio without angst!

Read Big E’s full writeup here.

3. Cardas Clear Loudspeaker Cables (RM22,299/3m pair; Hi-Way Laser)

The name says it all.

The packaging and the build of these cables are non-descriptive, but their performance is absolutely top notch. They are refined and quiet, yet at the same time could be dynamic and impactful when the music calls for. The Cardas Clear has everything I want from a pair of loudspeaker cable.

Full write-up here.

4. JVC DLA-B250 D-ILA Full HD Projector (RM9,999; AV Designs)

Ok, this one is not hifi but AV. However, I must include it here as this JVC has fundamentally transformed my movie watching at home. The enjoyment derived from movies with this projector is a quantum leap from all my previous experience. Properly calibrated by AV Designs, the picture is amazingly real and natural, with oodles of details. I dare say that in quite a number of instances, the picture looks even better than what I see in local cinemas.

5. Wadia 381 CD Player (RM29,500; CMY)

The Wadia 381 CD Player is the most resolving CD player I have ever listened to in my system.

The sound is crystal clear and squeaky clean. It also has refinement and great focus. The soundstage comes with precise placement of images and 3-dimensionality. No music information escapes this massively built CD Player.

The player to wring the very last bit out of every CD, and I believe it could be the last CD player for many.

Full write-up here and here.

So there you go, the 5 items that impressed me most in 2010. Wishing all our readers a great hifi journey in 2011.

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