April 30, 2011

AVP Soundcraft, Now At Jaya One, PJ.

AVP Soundcraft is now opened in Jaya One, PJ. They represent high end audio brands like Simaudio solid state electronics, Verity Audio speakers, Nagra tube electronics, German Physiks & Canton speakers, Saphire Screens & cables, Acoustic Solid turn tables and lastly Audioplan cables. They are also authorised dealer/installer for Mitsubishi HD projectors.

Waymond Loke, on the left is the Store Manager in charge. There's three dedicated demo rooms within the showroom.

An AV demo room.

The Verity Audio speakers and Nagra combo demo room.

The Nagra tube gear is exquisitely built, with sounds to match too. I am seduced by the glow of the 845 tubes before even the listening had begun.

Left - Right, German Physiks, Canton(made in Germany, NOT China, don't let the name fool ya!) speakers. And the proud standing Acoustic Solid turn table.

The Canton, Simaudio combo demo room.

Simaudio electronics in a row.

Waymond tells me that they only import the RS versions of the Simaudio gear. RS stands for RoHS compliant models, which cost more than their North American counterparts of equal model ranges. So don't expect near American prices(equal to the latest USD$ vs RM$ exchange rates) for local Simaudio gear, but mother earth will thank you for buying the more environmentally friendly manufactured version.

By the way, everything you see in the showroom now are available with a special discount, as a cause for celebrating the showroom opening. My buddy who accompanied me for this assignment was happy with his bountiful hifi bargains hunting galore.

AVP Soundcraft is located at 11-LG-1, Block D, Jaya One, 72A Jalan Universiti, 46200 Petaling Jaya, Selangor. Contact no. 03-79609733. Do call to enquire for your promotional discount, to avoid disappointment.

April 29, 2011

Clarity MP At Jaya One PJ.

The main entrance of Clarity MP showroom.

Clarity MP's high end showroom is now opened in Jaya One. This is a showroom highly anticipate by both customers, and fellow dealers alike. The showroom display and decor is indeed impressive, matched only by it's stellar cast of products from brands like Mark Levinson, Revel, Lexicon, Wisdom Audio, Kaleidescape, Speakercraft, Dream Vision and Vutek.
Main reception area, with "simple" AV demo system.

Lexicon Surround Sound Processor.

The men in black, Chris Lee and Alfred Wu.

The showroom is helm ed by Chris Lee and Alfred Wu, both friendly and very professional gentlemen. Clarity MP also specialises in designing and commissioning of complete dedicated AV room installs, using products from the brands they carry.
Wisdom sub-woofer.

The warm & cozy "small" AV system room.

Kaleidescape music & movie server.

The "big boy's" AV system room, highly impressive state of the art picture & sound performance.

Revel Ultima and Mark Levinson 53A power amp.

Clarity MP is located at Block C-41-G, Jaya One, 72A Jalan Universiti, 46200 Petaling Jaya, Selangor. Phone/Fax No. 03-79605503. Do call for a visit appointment.

April 27, 2011

Music Maker Supreme - Ayre DX-5 Universal A/V Engine

I have, finally, listened to all 3 disc players from Ayre in my own system. They are the CX-7eMP CD player, the C-5xeMP Universal Stereo Player, which incidentally is also my resident digital frontend, and the latest top of the line DX-5 Universal A/V Engine.

I can only say that I am amazed how Ayre has managed to keep the pecking order in terms of sound quality among the trio, given that the 2 machines that came before the DX-5 are already performing at the very high level within their price point.

The DX-5 has all the virtues of Ayre house sound, and it renders them even better. The sound is full and organic, even more natural and more analogue than its own siblings.

This is a supremely listenable machine. With all my reference CDs that I played, whether it was classical, vocal, or jazz, they were all very easy yet very enjoyable to listen to. I could listen to every piece of music with great interest and without feeling any listening fatigue. The sound was unforced and so rich in details that it must surely be ranked as one of the best in this area. However the DX-5 just unfolded the details for the listeners rather than highlighting and forcing them onto the listener. The details served the musical message.

The DX-5 is not merely a piece of hifi, but a music maker. That is the one accolade I would bestow on this Ayre.

The DX-5 retails for RM38,000 list. It inherits the design cues of the C-5xeMP. If you just take a casual glance, both machines look similar from the front. The obvious difference is that the DX-5 is a few cm shorter than the C-5xeMP. Then, you would also notice that the disc tray is placed above the display in the DX-5 but the other way round on the C-5xeMP. I’d like to see a sturdier disc tray than the plastic one currently on the DX-5.

The USB input on the fascia. This one plays MP3 and WMA files only.

Another distinguishing feature easier to miss is the USB input at the left bottom area of the DX-5’s fascia. How convenient, I thought. With this USB port at the front, I was looking forward to plugging in a thumb drive and playing CD quality or high res material. Alas, it was not to be. I discovered that this USB port could not handle CD quality or high resolution files in AIFF or FLAC format, instead it only worked with down sampled files in MP3 and WMA.

Note the other USB input at the left bottom corner. This input allows you to stream digital music files from a PC. Note also the various options to output analog (balanced and single-ended) and digital (including AV via HDMI) signal

Anyhow, if you are set up for computer based audio, you can stream your music files to the USB port at the back of the player, i.e., the DX-5 can be utilized as a USB DAC, just like Ayre's own QB9 DAC. I don’t have a computer audio setup, so I relied on a friend who was heavily into this for a listening test. The DX-5 accepted the data stream from the computer without problem, up to 24/192, and the sampling and bit rates were shown on the DX-5’s display. Comparing music files ripped from a CD and the original CD itself played on the DX-5, we could not hear, for all intent and purposes, any meaningful difference.

I also briefly used the DX-5 as a Bluray and DVD player playing movies, using its HDMI output into an AV amp. The picture quality was better than my other disc players, it looked slightly more natural and smoother. However the improvement in the video sound quality was much easier to hear. I don’t know how and why, movie soundtrack from the DX-5 had a more natural quality.

Almost the entire time I used the DX-5 as an audio disc player though. I listened to CDs and SACDs. On classical music, such as Dvorak’s Symphony No.9 (Christoph von Dohnyanyi and the Cleveland Orchestra), the DX-5 conjured up a huge stage, the big orchestral spread filled the front of my listening room. The sound had excellent density, dynamics and weight, yet it was also agile. On vocals such as Pop Pop’s Brasileiro and 2v1g, the performanc was filled with emotion and it flowed organically. On classic jazz recordings, such as Sonny Rollins’ Way Out West, the saxophone was seductive, the double bass was thumping away with excellent rhythm, the drum had good attack and the cymbal/high hat had that spread in the air quality.

The sound from the DX-5 was so attractive, so easy and so enjoyable to listen to, I found it hard to pry myself away from a listening session.

It was always “Ok, this is the last CD, I need to go to bed now”, but then I’d find myself putting in yet another one and repeating the same phrase for another half dozen of times...

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

April 26, 2011

Jaya One PJ, The New High End Hang Out!

Jaya One is a lifestyle dining and night life entertainment hub in Petaling Jaya, now a heaven for high end audio too?

Jaya One, the new business and entertainment center in PJ is shaping up to be quite the new high end audio hang out too!

With well established players like Music By Design, Nova Hifi and The Experts Group already operating there, last month saw another 2 new outlets for high end audio. The newbies are AVP SoundCraft and Clarity MP, both have dedicated showrooms for AV and stereo systems.

I hope to do a dealer focus on the new outlets soon. Looks like the high end audio business is getting very hot indeed, with new players bringing in new, or previously under represented brands back to Malaysian shores.

April 24, 2011

The World's Finest Cables? JPS Aluminata Co-Axial Cable.

I spoke about the critical link between the Bryston BDP-1 media player and the BDA-1 DAC, which is the digital cable linking the two components. Just for kicks, I thought I'd set about looking for a reference grade cable to start, so that I can gauge the sonic compromises as I work my way downwards to the real world priced cables. With that in mind, I called Sky of Centre Circle Audio to check if he has any, and bingo! This JPS Aluminata co-axial cable, priced RM$5.8k, was available for my taking. Some of you may remember my fondness for the other Aluminata family members in the JPS Labs cable range.

The JPS Aluminata co-axial cable is exquisitely built with the finest materials, workmanship, and packaging. It's terminated both ends with patented WBT RCA locking plugs. The thickly insulated cable is very stiff and can be tricky to manage in tight space. Since the Bryston BDP-1 came with BNC outputs, I'd have to used an industry grade BNC-RCA converter on one end, available from the electronics shop. However the BDA-1 DAC accepts RCA inputs, so no problems there.

By the way, the AES-EBU version of this JPS Aluminata cable is available on special order basis too.
Both ends of the JPS Aluminata is terminated with this WBT locking RCA plug. It bites the female end of the RCA sockets so hard, and the super stiff JPS cable nearly ripped out the female socket from the Bryston's PCB board.

Let's dissect the sonic properties of the JPS Aluminata in detail. This is certainly one of the most transparent sounding high end audio cable that I've heard to date. Every little musical information, that is encoded inside the Bryston BDP-1 is all transmitted wholesale to the DAC. I am astounded by the last bit of moisture lingering within the instruments in the sound stage. Every vocal/instrumental performance technique is presented without any veiling, for one's scrutiny. The most astounding part is not the way the cable presents it self as tonally neutral. Here's an area which I feel I need to further clarify, because there's the tonally "neutral" where you, the listener is made fully conscious about it, as you listen and then there's the tonally "neutral" naturally unforced in every way. I can almost say that the JPS is so.... "neutral", it's hardly there in the audio chain, sonically. You just can't hear it!, until you compared it with other cables, then suddenly one is aware of the cable in the system.

Another area I wish to highlight about this cable is the back ground. Lesser cables will always have a layer of white haze noise present(sometimes mistaken as "air" in lower end hifi) within the musical back drop. Better cables tend to sound darker to various degrees, for that bit of extra convincing sound staging and imaging property. The JPS is in a class of it's own, as in, it presents "nothing", yes, nothing, zilch, not even a hint of darkness within the musical back drop! It's that impressive, more so only because it never sounded the least "dry" either! Just "nothing" within each musical note, and sound stage.

The cable also handled transient response and musical dynamic peaks with the speed and explosiveness closest to "live" music, amplified or otherwise.
The all aluminium casing and certificate of authenticity.

With time, I had even forgotten about evaluating the cable, I was just as lost in the music, just as the effects of the JPS Aluminata is lost in the hifi reproduction chain.

I feel that this cable is very worthy of it's tittle as one of "The World's Finest Cables", only because I subscribe to the belief that cables are a necessary evil, and the best cable is no cable. The JPS Aluminata for me came as close to my beliefs as far I as I've experienced from any other cable, up til today. None came as close as this. Now, is that a great start to my cable search or what?

JPS Labs cables is sold by Centre Circle Audio. Contact Sky, Nelson at 03-77282686.

April 22, 2011

Did You Miss Me?

This is a very poor quality PET cup. One must hold it around it's top diameter edges to prevent it from collapsing. The ribbed middle section of the cup is too weak to hold. I wish they would stop using this cup and just revert to washable Chinese ceramic tea cups, for the environment's sake. If you recognise this cup, then you'll where I've been to. Ha! Ha!

I've been away for the past few weeks, leaving Odiosleuth to hold the fort here on HiFi-Unlimited with thanks. It's been a few hectic weeks away from my music.

Been away from one's hifi system for such a long time has it's benefits too. Suddenly when I re-started my system again last night, I had never thought my system sounded this good! I think being away allows our ears to take a breather from the sound reproduction quality that we've grown accustomed to and took for granted. We audiophiles are always seeking the last bit of performance from our system and can be insatiable in our quest for better sound quality. Being away stops that quest for a while and allows our ears to be re-calibrated. Once we switch on our system again, our re-calibrated ears allows us to appreciate our system's able qualities that much more than before.

Regardless if you've missed me or not, one thing is sure is that I miss my music, re-produced in high quality audio. That for me, is high end audio at it's best.

April 17, 2011

Ultimate Reference in Petaling Jaya

Ultimate Reference, a new hifi showroom, has opened in Petaling Jaya. It is conveniently located at the new 10 Boulevard commercial block, on the Sprint highway, before the Damansara toll entrance to the NKVE/PLUS highway.

Ultimate Reference's address and contact is as follows:

Bougainvillea Block,
10 Boulevard, Lebuhraya Sprint 6A,
47400 Petaling Jaya

Ph: 03-77314999

The people behind Ultimate Reference, Mr. Yoon Tuck Chee and Mr. Fong Weng Hin, are veterans in the local hifi scene. Having established themselves up north in Ipoh, they believe it is now time to expand their presence to the Klang Valley.

Take a look around the Ultimate Reference showroom:

The hifi system at the main area consists of Vitus, Audionet and Marten

Bladelius, another highend marque that Ultimate Reference represents

The latest incarnation of Audionet's excellent ART CD player, now in G3 guise

Cable showcaseEntreq from Sweden, a cable brand that is new to me. Big E and myself will definitely be interested in a extended listen

Loudspeaker lineup - Amphion, Marten and ADAM

In addition to hifi, Ultimate Reference also has a heavy emphasis on AV. It has 2 demo rooms set up for this purpose.

AV equipment from Marantz, Denon and Vivitek

The smaller of the two AV rooms demos a complete AV system at a little more than Rm10k, consisting of a Philips Bluray player, a Denon AV amp, Boston Acoustics loudspeakers system, a Vivitek full HD projector and a screen from IMAGE screen of Germany. The picture quality from bluray material was impressively detailed and came with good depth.

The main AV room, showcasing an acoustically transparent screen from IMAGE screen, all the loudspeakers are hidden behind the screen. The acoustic treatments on the wall and ceiling are brought in by Ultimate Reference from Vicoustic of Portugal.

April 10, 2011

What is in this Naim? The Naim Uniti All-In-One Audio Player

A lot is in this Naim.

It is a CD player.

It is a tuner.

It is DAC with 4 digital inputs (!), 2 coaxial and 2 optical.

It is an iPod dock, catering to the i-generation.

It is a USB music player. There is a USB slot at the front panel, you can plug in a thumb drive or a HDD.

It is networkable, so you can use it to stream music or play music from the net.

It is a pre-amp (however the pre-amp output is limited to Naim’s DIN style connector, so its compatibility with others is limited, unless you get a pair of interconnects customized with DIN to RCA termination).

And to round it up, the Naim Uniti is also an integrated amplifier, giving out 50w per channel into 8 ohms. With its pre-amp output, you can also bi-amp your loudspeakers by adding a Naim power amp if you so wish).

The Naim Uniti is complete as it is. So, you just need to add a pair of loudspeakers, and you’d have a very decent music system.

The line level inputs and outputs at the back of the Naim

I started by evaluating the Naim Uniti as a CD player. No, in fact, when I started, I wanted to use the Uniti as a digital player cum pre-amp, by-passing my own pre-amp. I thought that with a shorter signal path and just a pair of interconnects instead of 2 in the chain, that should be the best sounding set up for the Uniti. But alas, the pre-amp output was using the DIN connector, and I did not have a pair of compatible interconnects, so I had to ditch that idea.

Back to the Naim as a CD player, since it has single-ended output only, I needed to change from my Audioquest and go back to my trusty Wireworlds. There I came to another road block. The RCA ins and outs on the Uniti are spaced rather close – it is nothing out of the ordinary, it is the British hifi style. However, the tight spacing meant that I could not get my Wireworld Eclipse interconnects, which has chunky RCA connectors that Americans so like, to plug into the RCA outputs. I had to resort to a pair of those red-and-white interconnects that were thrown in with my Marantz DVD player.

I listened for a few days this way, as the Uniti was left to burn in. The sound was not objectionable. It was in fact quite enjoyable and was improving as the days go. However, there was a lisp in the treble that never went away. I thought that was the characteristic of Naim, then it struck me that it could be the interconnects. I rummaged through my cable box and found another pair of Wireworld, the Lunar, Wireworld’s entry level model, they could fit into the Uniti with its much less chunky RCA connectors.

Well, the lisp was gone for sure with the Lunar, and there was further improvement to the sound, the slight dryness to the sound which I attributed to the Uniti was also eliminated. This experience confirmed that the Uniti ought to be paired with a good pair of cables and it deserves some care from the owner.

The swing-out CD tray, note the small puck beside the spindle, used to weigh the CD down

I enjoyed operating the swing out CD tray on the Uniti. You manually pull open the smoothly operating tray, which swings open in a curve, lift a small pug from the CD spindle, put the CD on, put the puck back, which is held down magnetically, push the tray back in, the Uniti reads the CD, and you are on.

As I alluded to earlier, the Naim Uniti’s sound was quite enjoyable. It was musical. Though the listener’s musical enjoyment would come from a direction different from others, as the major contributing factors are the pace, rhythm and timing stuff that Naim is so famous for. Yes, the Naim portrayed PRAT the foremost, whether it was fast or slow music, it was always exhilarating, never boring.

The Naim sound was lean, and I meant this in the best positive way. There was no excess anywhere, no warm fat bass, syrupy or chunky mid, or saccharine sweet high. The Naim just got on with making out the music notes as they should be - it sounded natural and it sounded right.

Next, I tested the Naim Uniti as a USB player. Big E lent me some of his ripped CDs in AIFF format and some high res music files in 24/96 and 24/192 FLAC format. You could use either a thumbdrive or a USB HDD to connect to the Uniti’s USB port on the front fascia. Well, I discovered that the Uniti did not recognize AIFF format, and it would play the 24/96 FLAC files but not the 24/192 ones (I believe it could play MP3 and WMA file formats, though I did not try them).

I had to plod on nonetheless. Playing high resolution 24/96 FLAC files via a thumbdrive or a HDD via the Uniti was easy. Navigation via the file system was done with the remote and the Uniti’s nice, much bigger than usual display window.

Plug a thumbdrive into the USB port...

...the Naim Uniti reads the file directory for a few seconds, and the filenames come up in the sizeable display window

The high res material had an edge over CD. Though I did not have anything duplicated on both high res and red book to do direct comparison, I heard certain consistent qualities from all the 24/96 FLAC files I played. The sound was richer; the music sounded more ‘continuous’ and smoother; there were better details, for example the setting in which an acoustic recording was made could be better discerned.

The sturdily built Uniti remote

I did not try out the other source capabilities of the Naim Uniti, mainly because I did not have the infrastructure to do so. However, I believe the Uniti will turn in an equally musical performance with an emphasis on PRAT on all of them, and the higher res digital you go, the better it will sound.

The strangest design feature, shouldn't the loudspeaker output on the left be labelled and wired for the right channel, and the output on the right for the left channel?

As a last step I tested the Uniti as a complete unit, i.e., playing CD/USB and using its amplifier section to drive my loudspeakers. Here, I discovered something really quirky (to me at least). The left/right loudspeaker channels were wired reverse from the norm! I initially thought it was a mistake, but no, the labels were right. Can some Naim user tell me the rationale behind this?

The 50w per side amplifier section has the same sound characteristics as I described early for CD and USB – lean, excellent PRAT, musically enjoyable. However, it could not push my EgglestonWorks speakers to satisfyingly high levels. I decided to bring it downstairs and use it on a pair of Sonus Faber Concerto bookshelf speakers, which turned out to be a much better match. And there it was letting me enjoy exhilarating music for a few days.

For its asking price of RM15,000 (list), the Naim Uniti simplifies the music lovers’ life, distilling the functions from many boxes into one. As we always say, simple is beautiful, isn’t it?

I am sold on Naim’s house sound. It’s musically enjoyable and my listening sessions usually turned into a 1-2 hours affair. Now I know what all the fuss is about.

Naim is carried by CMY Audio & Visual, contact John at 03-21439406.

April 3, 2011

Living With The Bryston BDP-1/BDA-1 Combo.

I was very impressed by the Bryston BDP-1/BDA-1 media player combo when it spent nearly two weeks in my man cave. Impressed enough to wanna buy them! I waited more than a month for them to arrive and since then have lived with them for two months. As some may say, it's easy to find a new best friend, but living with that person could open a whole dimension to that relationship. Here's my take so far on living with the Bryston combo.

The Bryston BDP-1 top, and BDA-1 bottom shelf.

When I first set up the Bryston combo, I just wanted to start off quickly with some music. So I set them up just by dumping them stacked on to the top shelf of my FE clone rack, on the space last vacated by my beloved Marantz CD 7. I just re-used all the cables available at hand to start things going and at the very least have some digital music during the long Chinese New Year holidays.

Using my way too cool iPhone 4 as the interface to access my music.

I fired up the player and was greeted with sound. However, I was not prepared for what I'd describe as a discrepancy in the sonic results that I had known from during the time of the review, more than a month ago. The Bryston combo sounded horrible with digitalis symptoms a plenty. However, having a few buddies on the band wagon, is really reassuring. Jo and Felix, both who got their units from an earlier batch assured me that they need some time to run in.

150 hours or so of continuous playback, had proven them right. The Bryston combo finally opened up and blossomed. I heard some of the sonic characteristics that made me wanna buy it in the first place. Both my Bryston buddies were on the express tweak experimental highway and their daily updates of what worked and didn't, came on a daily basis. I just followed the path laid down by them. Kudos to these two enlightened gentleman who proved time and again that hifi need not be a selfish hobby.

Bryston BDP-1 cables in white! From left, AOR Ref 003 power cord, Voodoo Reference AES/EBU digital cable(out), Telos Gold RCA cap, and LAN cable for WiFi router.

I started by experimenting with power cords, and found that the BDP-1 is not too sensitive about one power cord choice. However the BDA-1 would benefit from careful consideration of power cord choice. I found that Felix made AOR Ref 003 power cords suited the Bryston combo way better than the PS Audio xStream Statement SC. The sound with the PS Audio seemed incoherent, bass heavy with lumpiness, and constricted overall sound. The Felix made AOR Ref 003 is just way more open sounding, with better tonal balance, if a little less smooth on the highs. The PS Audio xStream Statement SC found new lease of life powering my Pass Labs X-Ono phono stage, with superb results.

Bryston BDA-1 DAC cables from front to back, AOR Reference 003 power cord(with Furutech IEC plug), Telos Gold RCA caps for inputs, Voodoo Reference digital cable(in), and Audioquest Sky XLR(blue) analog output.

I then set about to split the combo by giving them each a shelf of it's own. However, that meant re-configuring my rack space. It was a lot of work, as in the process, I also re-tensioned all the joints on the FE Spider clone rack. Trick to getting good sound from the said rack is to first tighten the joints on the outer legs, as solidly as possible. Then work towards the joints on the inside of the centre crown hub, where all the four legs are linked. However, the joints here need only be finger tight. I know it appears wobbly at first, but once all 3 tiers are done, one by one, starting from the lowest, working towards the top shelf, will result in a just as solid rack. By the way, if one has the FE Spider clone(or the original one for the matter), it's worth investing in the Ceraball Spider too for each tier, and a set of Ceraball universal for the feet of the four outer columns. The Ceraballs do make a huge difference to the sound, even if they're insanely expensive!

Odisleuth came over for a quick listen, and remarked " What did you do? the Brystons didn't sound like this the week before!" I replied, "I did a few things".

The Bryston combo as set up on the first day in my man cave. Do not stack them like this, as it's very bad for the sound quality.

If there was one thing that turned me away from CD transport/DAC combos all this while is due to the fact that the digital cable linking the two could make or break the sound. The Bryston combo is no exception! The AES/EBU cable that links up is one of the most important component, that will shape the final sound. I am in the process of checking out my options and you'll certainly read more about it in the near future.

In the mean time, I am also checking out other things that will affect the performance parameters of the Bryston combo, again which I'll report on in the future. I've discovered many other things that I normally take for granted when it comes to audio, but the Bryston combo makes me work harder, just to squeeze more performance out of it. There's really too much to write about in a day.

Simultaneously, I am also cataloging my entire CD collection, only this time, in to a 2 terabyte hard disk in my PC. I am also working on back up copies of the data, just in case the worst should happen. If there's one thing I hate about living with the Brystons is the amount of CD ripping required to catalog all my 2000 plus CD collection, not huge, yet it's still many hours of work. However, more importantly, as I go along, I rediscovered my music collection. To find rare albums in my collection that I've long forgotten about. Even then, my analog rig too, is benefiting from the new found perspective when setting up the Bryston combo.

It's all hard work, but it's worth all the effort, because I am finally advancing, and much nearer to achieving my sonic goals. More updates to come.