March 9, 2011

Go Your Own Way! An Alternative Route To Hi-End Dom.

The view from the throne. If everything seems highly symmetrical, that's because HS is an engineer by profession. He maps and aligns all the hifi equipments, in his man cave with the use of a 3D laser projector, for perfectly symmetrical alignments, starting with his main speakers.

I've got a confession to make, that I once dream of embarking on a high end project like this! The difference between me and the system owner HS, is that I only dreamed, he went ahead to execute it. And trust me, what satisfying results it was for me to hear it for the first time, my dream, but HS's reality project!

HS was once upon a time, a fully paid up member of the Malaysian ultra high end audio club(think six figure $$$ system price tag with equally big brand names!). However, he felt like he may have reached the pinnacle of performance level with his existing audio system then. He promptly sold the whole system away and started this project presented to you here.

This system is located in a big, acoustically treated room measuring 16 x 22 x 10(L x W x H), which also doubles up as an impressive big screen home theater too. All speakers for the home theater set up are flush mounted in to the walls and does not interfere with the stereo set up which is the main rig, as far as we're concerned here.
The equipment, from left, Weiss DA 202 DAC, Marantz SC 7 pre amp, SA11 S2 SACD/CD player.

From the pictures, you might asked,"Where's the power amp?" The answer is there are no power amps in this system. It's an active system, with an elaborate D'Appolito configuration, using double pairs of Genelec active studio monitors. A pair of matching Genelec 18 inch powered subs forms the base(bass) of the bottom octave.
The source, Marantz SA11 S2, as a precision transport.

The audio chain starts with a Marantz SA11S2 SACD/CD player, but used only as a transport. The reason being that this latest Marantz not only has an SPDIF digital out, but also an internal word clock by pass feature, when used in conjunction with the digital out.
The processor, Weiss DA 202 DAC.

This allows HS to use the Weiss DA202 DAC, which is currently one of best your $$$ can buy in the market today. The bonus of going for the top dog DA202 is it's built in high precision(1 ppm) word clock. When used together with the SPDIF out put from the Marantz CD transport, it's supposed to eliminate most of the jitter along the data transmission line.
The pre amp, Marantz SC 7.

HS also uses a Marantz SC 7 preamp, receiving input from the Weiss DAC. The pre amp than outputs via RCA to the main speakers and XLR to the subs, as they are all the active kind, remember?
The cabling from the pre amp. Note all the Mogami cable stocked, DIYed cables, the 2 RCA outputs goes to the main speakers. The XLR outputs goes to the pair of subs.

D' Appolito style configuration with built in time/phase alignment towards the sweet spot. One of the best DIY speaker efforts I've come across, from execution of concept, build, to sound quality. Well done!

One can see the elaborate set up of the main speakers, consisting a pair of active Genelec studio monitors. HS had a wood frame done up to mount the Genelec monitors in D'Appolito style with adjustable angling of the speakers, which allows him to tune the speaker's time/phase alignment towards the sweet spot. The matching pair of Genelec 18 inch subs are mounted about 3 feet or so, just behind the main speakers, nearer to the room corners, boy, do those big bad ass subs still needs corner re-enforcement? The intended result is clearly to aim a pair of full range, high dynamics speakers. But one must wait till the sound report, which I'll come to shortly.
The Genelec monitors are active, meaning they have an amplifier built in, note the power cord?

Cable management!

HS is big on tweaks and this what separates a system of excellence from another also good system. He has pull a dedicated 32 amp power line in to the room just for audio only. All power cords(which are DIY-ed by the same Master sifu in Hong Kong as per G Man's (see my posting last year on the home visit section, titled Pride Of Malaysia) system, sit on ceramic cable lifts. All wall power sockets and IEC plugs are from the Furutech and Oyaide stables. HS is also big in to the power of Shun Mook, and has many tricks to utilise them to tweak his system. All equipments and signal cables sit on Chengal wood blocks with Shun Mook and cones for isolation! Now, HS tells me not just any wood block, but only the best Chengal will do, don't say I didn't warn you, just in case you decided to do so, because I nearly did too!

Now we know that HS's power cords are DIY-ed, so are all his interconnects and co-axial cables. They are Diy-ed from Japanese Mogami cable stock and all terminated with Audio Note silver RCA plugs on both ends. HS says the Audio Note silver RCA plugs, sounds the best amongst all he had tried. I won't challenge him on that if I were you.
Shun Mook tweak stand, especially built by HS.

A close up of the Shun Mook stand.

First reflection diffusers.

Main speaker and sub woofer. Note the black panel in the rear wall? That's one of the in-wall mounted HT speaker.

The sound of the system is big scale, in fact, nearly life sized. The perfectly neutral tonal quality is totally free from warmness nor, analytically quality. Just neutral. The highs are very much grain free, with finely spot lighted details, and just a dash of overcast "air" to give delicate high hats and cymbals a certain kinda surreal quality. The mids are tightly focused and vocals do appear to float in between the speakers within the sound stage. The bass has anaemic sleeping quality to it, if the music is as such, but when unleashed, the power of the 18 inch pair is never in doubt. From some of the tracks played during my visit, especially the original Trinity Sessions, by Cowboy Junkies, do reveal a certain low rumble of the earth, kind of feeling as if a bull dozer is just passing by outside the building, as it should with this recording. I believe this system clearly extends well down to 20Hz and below in the bass department, effortlessly too. Care to awaken the sleeping dragon, anyone?

This is clearly a high resolution, low noise floor system, as low level details are clearly laid out within the huge sound stage, defined within the context of the musical event as presented. Transient and dynamics is a strong point of this system too. This system is one of those that presents rock solid musical image stability. Musical images that are clearly grounded and securely anchored within the sound stage. It must be heard to be believed.
The control panel on the Genelec active sub woofer.

Just for kicks, I asked if HS can do an A/B test of the Weiss ultra precision word clock vs the standard Marantz issued one? He obliged and switched between the two word clocks, using the same Cowboy Junkies CD. The Weiss word clock clearly showed it's superiority with better musical timing and coherence, with a quieter back ground. The whole effect also made musical images some what more relief from the back ground comparatively.

I've already warned you that HS is not your common audiophile and I hope you now understand why! For the more adventurous amongst us audiophiles, sometimes going one's own way has it's rewards too! Now, who says we don't cover DIY projects?


PUG said...

Great stuff indeed. Care to share what is the estimated cost of the whole rig ?

what kind of wood does he use to support the amps ? Is it the same type used by the owner of the "Pride Of Malaysia" setup, as it looks the same colour.

Who popularised this way of isolating the equipments ? what are the pros and cons vs using racks? Maybe you can do a writeup on would be interesting.

I noticed that under the DAC, there are 2 bars of deep brown wood which is different. what are those ?

what are the sonic effects of different woods and the configuration.

also what cones is he using under the equipment ?

Can the owner share what model of Mogami cable he used for RCA and XLR cables, and also the power cables ?

HS said...

I will try to answer some of your questions.
Cost of the rig? By BigE definition, I still qualify as a paid member of the club, but just bearly!
Owner of Pride Of Malaysia is my Brother in Audio. We use the same cables, cones and wooden racks. All these items are DIYed and not avialble commercially.
The dark brown coloured wood block under the DAC is ebony wood, same as the Shun Mook wood. If anyone of you have access to ebony wood, please please let me know how and where I could buy them.
You are correct to assume that there is a sonic effect on the different type of wood used, configuration of the rack and the weight of the equipment resting on the rack.
I am abroad currently and if I remember correctly the Mogami cable model is W2534. Power cables are made from Cardas and cryo treated cables. I have since BigE's visit replaced my Mogami DIYed cables with another type of DIYed cable.

Big E said...


You're fast! Thanks.


All your Qs answered, from the hourse's mouth too!

wong said...

wah,, very good design.6 star diy.


PUG said...

Thanks for your reply.

Where did you buy your changal wood ? Those look very good quality.

what DIY interconnects cables and connectors have you changed to and what are the sonic changes compared to the Mogami ? Do you use the same cable to make RCA and XLR's