June 29, 2011

Impressive Jeff Rowland Corus Pre-amplifier

Big E reported extensively on this Jeff Rowland Pre-amp a few days ago, see his post here. I concur with his findings, the Corus indeed is one of the best pre-amps out there.

The construction quality will be the first factor to captivate anyone who crosses the path of a Corus. True to the Jeff Rowland tradition, the main unit is impeccably built, the jewel-like front fascia has the signature Jeff Rowland wavy reflective pattern, and the main body is carved from a solid billet of aluminium (the review unit from CMY is protected with a transparent plastic film as shown in the photo):

In its bid to keep any interference from the music signal inside the main chassis, Jeff Rowland builds the remote receiver and the power supply as outboard units:

Outboard remote receiver

Outboard power supply. On the other end of this box is a power switch and an IEC inlet

From the power supply on to the pre-amp inputs and outputs, you can see that the Corus is dual mono in construction:

The remote control is chunky and heavy as it is also carved from a solid billet of aluminium. The only complaint I have is that the buttons and the labels are too small. After a while though you would be able to get to the right button by touch, even in the dark, by ‘feeling’ for its position:

The Jeff Rowland Corus' manual lays down the design philosophy and features, click on each photo for a bigger version:

The sound of the Jeff Rowland pre-amp kind of took me by surprise. I don’t know where I got the impression, but I thought of Jeff Rowland as sounding delicate, refined and probably quite civilised. However the Corus came out to be robust, fast and powerful, yet at the same time, it also sounded smooth and refined (so I am still right on one count). This is a pre-amp that would let its hair down to party and it can rock when the occasion calls for. And while doing all this it would still maintain its poise, it absolutely would not offend.

The Jeff Rowland Corus is indeed impressive and in my opinion is one of today's pre-amp top dogs no doubt. The Corus lists for RM54,450.

JRDG is available at CMY Audio & Visual, contact John at 03-21439206.

June 27, 2011

The Best Digital Vintage? Linn Sondek CD12 CD Player.

The Linn CD12's smiley face has inspired the sleeker, more sinister looking, smiley face of the current Klimax range.
For me, 1999 was the best vintage year in digital, the year that saw statements like the Marantz CD7 and this Linn CD12 being brought to the market. If you've been a faithful enough reader, you'd know of my fondness for the Marantz CD7 and some of it's more luminous 16 bit TDA1541 DAC based ilk. By 1999, the said DAC chip had ended of it's production run. So this Linn CD12 does not use the TDA1541 architecture, instead it uses the then latest state of the art Burr Brown 1704 DAC chips, which is now still considered the top dog "for CD use only" chip, in the form of the BB1704-K. Like the Marantz CD7, Linn also used the Philips CD Pro transport, in an even more ambitiously modified guise.

Linn says that a product with the no.12 designation as it's model name only comes around once every quarter of a century or so! It's the only other product with a no.12 designation after the Linn Sondek LP12, which was first made in the seventies. Linn said at that time, it would not make a CD player until it can make one that sounds comparable to the LP12. That's a very lofty goal indeed.

The all metal CD tray has been given the "Chrome" treatment. The tray also responds to simple commands, like play, stop, and next track. Once the tray is closed, the CD will automatically play and if you push the tray once, the CD will skip to next track, nudge twice for two tracks. A solid holding nudge to stop play. That's how Linn gets away without buttons on the front face plate. A full feature, learning remote is provided to allow whole Linn system operations. A second simple Philips RC-5 remote is provide too, for people who just want to simply operate the CD12. 
This particular example of the Linn CD12 belonged to a buddy who recently got distracted by CAS in the form of the Bryston BDP/BDA-1 combo. He had left this CD player sitting aside for sometime now. I had cheekily told him that CD players must not be left sitting around for too long, or the transport would die soon after once it's reverted to regular use. I asked if he'd allow me to "keep this player spinning for a while?" Ha! Ha! Here's another perfect example of the "What you do not ask, you do not get!" theory in practice.

This CD player cost RM$90k when new, once upon a time, when the great British pound was truly unassailable in it's value. Since it's launch, among those lucky enough to have auditioned one, many have declared the CD12 as the best CD player in world. I wasn't one of those people, I've never heard one till now.

The Linn CD12's output circuitry is fully balanced, as evident by the 2 pairs of single ended RCA out, and a single pair of XLR output. AES, toslink, BNC and co-axial digital out is provided too.
Sound wise, there's a lot to remind me about my other Linn no.12 Sondek turn table, especially that dense, creamy smooth mids. The high frequencies are some of the finest, and most delicately reproduced, that I've heard from a digital source, albeit, if slightly rolled off. The bass line is fat, and just a little bouncy, enough to "follow the tune" so to speak! It seems to go just about an octave lower too, compared to other "bright" sounding CD players out there!

This CD player will lay out all the details it could dig out of those five inch silver dics. The result is a highly detailed and transparent window in to a musical event recorded on CD, albeit, if some what flat and two dimensional kind of sound stage(only if compared against the best of today's up sampling capable players). However, one of the performance aspects that kept me astounded for the whole 2 weeks that this player was with me, was the way it held images tightly, calmly unfazed by musical peaks within it's allocated space within the sound staging(at this stage most players would start to sound nervous and the sound stage falling apart!). Can a player this creamy smooth rock too? Surprisingly it can. Rock music never lost it's vital bite and energy when playing thru this Linn. They just sounded a little darker and flavourful, just like a fine bottle of 24 year Chivas Regal malt. The Linn is certainly in it's element when doing the usual audiophile music variety of vocal(especially simple girl guitar stuff!), jazz and classical music. The Linn has an amazing ability to sweeten, and make female singer's voice more sultry and alluring than usual, and searing string sections of an orchestra at full on tilt always sounds pleasantly woody in harmonics, accompanied by the necessary attack and vigour yet never cutting in to the ears. Playing the Linn CD12 does in a lot ways sounds like the LP12, but I'd have to say the later is still superior in many ways, sonically speaking, of course.

Compared to today's available digital technology, the Linn loses out somewhat on band width and out right dynamics. For the little that the Linn lacks, it more than makes up with what is lacking in most of todays' high end hifi, and that's a musical soul.

The display is simple LED only. It'll display the usual information track no. and various modes of time. 
How much would one have pay these days to buy in to a little bit of hifi memorabilia, and a great digital classic at that? A scan thru e-bay's UK history revealed 4 units of Linn CD12 were transacted in the last 2 years. Prices start at 2,800 pounds for an early production model and a mint condition, late production model was seen transacted at 4,500 pounds. Linn CD12 production went on for a full decade between year 1999 till December 2009. Apparently, Linn made a revision to the CD12 some time in 2003, which some claim to have result in improved sonics. I don't know, but I checked and found that this particular unit is made in year 2007, which certainly places it as a late model.

As I write, the unit has been returned to my buddy. I have a burning question on my mind, will he return to CDs from CAS???   I also wish to thank him for sharing his joy with us.

June 24, 2011

Auralex Room Tune Packages By Acoustic Inovations.

Acoustic Innovations are associates of Centre Circle Audio. They offer room tune consulting, design and building(if required) services. They are also the local representatives of Auralex room tuning products.

As most experienced audiophiles would readily acknowledge that the room your hifi resides in, is the single most important factor in achieving great sonic results. However, most will nearly not have a clue as to where to even start with acoustic treatments. Every one says start by clapping your hands as you walk around your room. Done that, then what?

Do you think you have a problem?

If your answer is YES, you call Acoustic Innovations of course!

Check out their various packages starting from the basic and affordable to very comprehensive, and lastly, if required, custom design and build projects.

Contact Nelson at 012-2876807 for a solution in room tune package.

June 22, 2011


What comes in 2 chassis, weighs 40kg (~90lbs) and carries a 6-figure Ringgit Malaysia price tag? (hint: it resides at AV Designs).

This is the singularly most expensive piece of hifi gear ever been featured on HiFi Unlimited. It also is the one piece of equipment that makes the most impact in my music listening experience. It totally transformed my notion of what truly highend, state of the art equipment could achieve with sound reproduction.

Every listening session has been a revelation. I look forward to more.

More stories to come...

June 20, 2011

A Jazzy Teresa Teng!

Another interesting concert in the local music scene!

Fancy a jazzy Teresa Teng? Look no further than Pop Pop Music's (PPM) latest musical showcase "A Jazzy sound of Teresa Teng" on the 6th of August 2011, to be held at Bentley Music Auditorium.

It is too simplistic to look at PPM as just a niche audiophile music label. Fact is, they have penetrated widely into the mainstream consciousness with a large legion of non-audiophile supporters, 7 good-selling albums, a series of full-house concerts, increasing corporate exposures (the same way as how Dama Orchestra builds its portfolio and foundation) and a wide media coverage. Its latest glory includes having 4 albums listed in Hong Kong's Audiophile (Fatt Siew Yum Heong) "CD Bible" and Taiwan's Audio Art (Yin Xiang Lun Tan) magazine, and a 3-page coverage in The Edge financial daily. Like it or not, it is by far the most unconventional and exciting music label in Malaysia, in a time when all music labels are suffering from bad business and seeking survival.

According to Leslie Loh, the head honcho of PPM, in a recent interview, "A Jazzy Sound of Teresa Teng" aims to change how traditional music lovers perceive Teresa Teng music. He doesn't want a "traditional" and "predictable" interpretation of Teresa Teng. If anything, this man is anything but traditional or predictable.

His cast of musicians have now become the De Facto "Chinese Jazz standards" team in Malaysian. Led by Pianist and musical director Tay Cher Siang, aided by famed Sabahan guitarist Roger Wang, with vocals from the petite-yet-impressive Winnie Ho from 2V1G. Tay, in particular, has now become a household name in the local Jazz scene. He is widely recognized as the most talented jazz pianist in the scene and the leader of the most active jazz trio in Malaysia, having toured 25 countries in just a short span of 2 years. Leslie Loh relies heavily on this man, as you can tell from his recent productions. He has proven time and again that he has a knack in picking and grooming the best of the local talents.

Our team of writers at Hi-Fi Unlimited have all been invited to this grand event and we look forward with bated breath!

Local Hi-Fi dealer, CMY Audio and Visual, is the major sponsor for this concert.

For ticketing info, please visit poppopmusic.

June 19, 2011

A Sensational Corus. Jeff Rowland Corus Pre-Amp.

The Jeff Rowland Corus pre-amp comes in a kit of 4 pieces, from left, the external remote receiver unit, the dual mono SMPS power supply unit, the main pre-amp unit, and lastly, the hand held remote. All the kit is exquisitely built, and will probably last forever if taken cared for. 

I've been waiting for this Jeff Rowland pre-amp to show up since it's CES debut. That's because I've heard the Jeff Rowland big boy pre-amp, the Criterion in action a few times on demo at CMY Audio & Visual, Damansara Up Town showroom, and can't help but to fall deeper and deeper impressed with it. There's a problem though, priced at RM$88k or so, the Criterion will very likely be out of reach for most of us mere mortals, which includes this humble blue collar worker here. Hence the attractiveness of the Corus, which is essentially the same pre-amp, with a simplified out board power supply unit. The big boy Criterion has a battery charged, full sized power supply unit, while the Corus makes do with a simple universal SMPS(Switch Mode Power Supply) unit. Am I getting your attention now?

However, I am still not a happy man when I got this baby home. Read On if you want to why?

The actual review unit with it's protective sheet still on the face plate. It's an absolutely fabulous looking pre-amp. The volume control has 99 non linear steps. This pre-amp has 3 XLR inputs and 2 XLR outputs for bi-amping purposes(the second XLR output is gain adjustable). There are just as many RCA inputs and outputs. All inputs are also individually gain adjustable. I would advise anyone to read the manual carefully before attempting to set up this pre-amp. There's just too many things to set up.

The JRDG(Jeff Rowland Design Group) Corus pre-amp is exquisitely built, one can't help, but be impressed by the special face plate treatment, the carved from inside out solid aluminium casing casing(just like the Ayre KX-R), the dual mono audio circuity boards and power supply unit, the external remote terminal and the remote unit it self, carved from the same inside out solid aluminium technique. If pride of ownership is as important as hand made fine Swiss watches, then JRDG products are certainly up there in terms of satisfaction, no other hifi product is as extravagantly styled or built, regardless of price.

As usual, my faithful Pass Labs X-2.5 pre-amp made way for this beauty for shelf space, and my, my, what sonic bounties the JRDG Corus brought my audio escapism sessions. I got more notes, more details, more performance, more dynamic contrast, faster transient response and plainly speaking, more music, from a totally silenced back ground noise(what noise?, who said SMPS is noisy power supply?).

The Corus pre-amp is tonally neutral(I hate that word), but not neutral in the "neutral" per say, but rather of the disappearing kind, if you get my drift? This pre-amp does not high light any particular area of the audio spectrum, it doesn't choose musical genre and it's never offensive sounding in any way. Like the best audio components, it just gets out of the way and let the music speak for it's self. The highs are not only refined, but suave too. The mids are gloriously rich and dense(Some may say JRDG mids is pristine clear, just like Evian mineral water!), so perhaps the pre-amp was simply reflecting those qualities of the Bryston BDP/BDA-1 combo? Lastly, the bass has a textured and slamming quality that propels the music's rhythmic foundation.

Like all great pre-amps, the sound staging and imaging properties are beyond reproach, provided your system is nicely dialed in.The sound staging is wide, and deep(that disappearing walls effect) with each layer within the layers well separated. The imaging is rock solid and clearly outlined, but not exactly hard edged lines either, but just right. One more strength of this pre-amp is the linearity factor. My work horse Pass Labs X-2.5 will start to sound edgy, with distorted highs and staging/imaging falling apart, when playing at nearly full volume. The Corus just sailed thru at all volume levels, while holding everything tightly together, until it came to a point my where my ears couldn't take the SPL any more, but the sound is still pristine clean and clear. It's an amazing experience, especially with Reference Recording's orchestral symphonic tracks, dance, house and rock music.  
The dual mono SMPS power supply unit, note the two power umbilical cords that goes to the back of the pre-amp? The small black box on top is the external remote receiver unit, which is wired to the back of the actual pre-amp unit too. Jeff Rowland believes in separating the remote and power supply units to keep RFI/EMI interference away from the delicate low signal level audio circuits. 

For the basis of comparison, the sonic character of this JRDG pre-amp lies some where in between the two extremes which on one side is anchored by the solid and hard hitting, "yang" sounding Burmester 808 MK V, and the Ayre KX-R representing the softer more organic, "yin" camp on the other side. In the context of my system, the Jeff Rowland Corus certainly falls towards the more "yang" side of things, but is more nicely refined, and delicate sounding on the highs, rendering the twice more expensive Burmester just a little course by comparison(we must however, remember that the Burmester design is more than a decade old, and pre-amp circuitry thinking has marched on since). By comparison again, the Pass Labs XP-20(which Odioslueth recently upgraded to) is dead center neutral, with just a tinge of rose coloured warmth thrown in for ear pad like comfort, within the context of where all the four great pre-amp design is positioned sonically.

All four are great pre-amps in the market one can buy new today. Throw in the Bladelius Saga and ARC Reference 5, and we'd have a grand party of six. Some may like the Burmester, others prefer the Ayre KX-R on the other extreme end. And we have the rest lying in between those two extremes. In the context of my system, the JRDG Corus reigned supreme, as the best pre-amp one could buy at any price!

Now, just so why am I not a happy man yet, if it's the best? Priced at RM$54,450.00, is way beyond my affordability factor for now. While I am working hard towards getting one, if you have the means without much effort, and in the market for a state of the art pre-amp, why not give this Jeff Rowland Corus a chance?

I am now wondering how much more supreme can the top dog JRDG Criterion can get?

JRDG amps are sold by CMY Audio & Visual, contact John at 03-21439206.

June 18, 2011

ProAc K6 On Demo At CMY

A new highend loudspeaker from ProAc is currently on demo at CMY's Damansara Utama branch. Hot on the heels of its use of carbon fibre loudspeaker cones in the Carbon Pro series, ProAc has identified Kevlar as the choice material for the follow-up model, the K6.

The K6 is a 3-way speaker, featuring two 6.5" kevlar bass drivers, a 2" soft dome midrange, and a ProAc ribbon tweeter. The K6 lists for RM70k.

Contact CMY Damansara Utama branch 03-7727 2419.

June 17, 2011

DIY Audio Guide Blog.

Does your next DIY project look like this?

While many have accused us of being a snooty high end audio blog, we do not exactly sneer at DIY audio efforts either.

DIY audio can be just as fun, if not more rewarding than high end audio. I've indulge in little DIY adventures of my own, as you may have read in these pages. These days, I am more happy to sit back and enjoy my music.

However, if getting your hands dirty and enjoying your own audio inspired sweat and tears excite you, then go visit the latest local DIY Audio Guide Blog, linked on the right hand side column.

Have fun!

June 16, 2011

Even Better the Second Time Around - Pass Labs XP-20 Pre-amp

This is my second time having the Pass Labs XP-20 pre-amp, Pass’ current top dog in its 2-model pre-amp line-up, for a listening in my system. The first time was 2 years ago, in my old room, with largely similar companion components in the system. You can read about it here.

Then, I was extremely impressed with the advancement made by the XP-20 over my own Pass Labs X2.5 pre-amp, now discontinued. The senior and newer model showed its predecessor a clean pair of heels. I was so tempted to acquire the XP-20 unit, but my brain got the better of my heart and I reluctantly returned it to the distributor. I did go back to enquire about the unit again a couple of weeks later, but some lucky soul was ahead of me and the XP-20 was gone.

The matter thus lay dormant in my memory… until recently. We at Hifi-Unlimited are sort of having a pre-amp ‘phase’ now, triggered by the revelatory performance from Ayre’s KX-R pre-amp a few months ago. We became interested to know how the current crop of top pre-amps fare, possibly with the latest component improvement. So Big E got hardworking scouring for pre-amps from a few marquees to listen to. In fact, even as I am writing now, a Jeff Rowland pre-amp is waiting in the wings for us to tell its story.

Anyway, let’s go back to the Pass Labs XP-20.

The Pass Labs XP-20 pre-amp is a 2-box affair, one box containing the circuitry and the other containing the power supply. The additional space afforded by the additional box allowed Pass Labs to design a more elaborate power supply and also to reduce its interference on the audio circuitry. The only downside I see in this is that you’d need additional rack space to accommodate an extra box.

In terms of inputs, it has 2 balanced and 3 single-ended pairs plus a tape loop. The fifth input can be used as a home theatre pass through with unity gain, which I found handy to hook my AVR to, since I drive my main speakers as the front left-right channels in my 6.1 AV setup. In terms of outputs, it has 1 balanced pair and 2 single-ended pairs, all can be used at the same time.

The operations of the remote control had been improved on. Now, you can press a button to directly select a function, rather than the previous generation’s approach where you had to scroll through the menu using arrow keys to choose what you want.

All the qualities I heard in the XP-20 during the first encounter were still evident in this second helping. I’d go further to say that the XP-20 performed even better now in my system. Probably because of the bigger space and treatment of the new room, the system breathes better, allowing the quality of a component to come through easier.

The Pass Labs XP-20 sounded quieter than my Pass Labs X2.5, it also sounded more composed and calm, but, at the same time, had improved dynamic range and dynamic contrast. Music came through breathing and living, with greater excitement and more verve.

Focus was very good, image edges were clearer and it was done to a right degree, sounding natural to my ears as it avoided going overboard and became the clinical and etched type. With such good focus, the images had excellent separation, left to right, front to back.

The XP-20 conjured up a dense sonic picture, like it was made up of many more pixels. The pixels are finer too, giving the sound a smoothness that I rarely experienced and once experienced found very hard to live without.

The highs through the XP-20 was clean and transparent; the mid had good body; the bass, while solid, was the fist in velvet glove kind rather than the bare knuckle type. Overall, it has a very even balance without undue emphasis on any frequency spectrum.

Compared to the Ayre KX-R, in terms of tonal colour, both are essentially neutral but with a slight nudge in different directions. The KX-R had a tinge of golden hue and a dab of honey sweetness especially in the highs. Good recordings of female vocals tend to melt your heart. In contrast, the XP-20 was slightly more silver-ish, slightly more muscular sounding, and it emphasized the effort and energy in the singing which set one’s pulse racing just a tad more. Overall, the Ayre KX-R triumphed in the refinement department. Well, that’s what you’d expect to get paying more, I suppose.

I find that much as I love the Ayre KX-R, I love the Pass Labs XP-20 too. The KX-R’s pricing is prohibitive to me. The Pass Labs XP-20, though having a lower price tag than the KX-R, still lists for a 'financially challenging' RM31,200. But should a man let his love slip away a second time?

Should I?

Pass Labs is carried by Perfect Hi-Fi. Contact Andy at 03-5882 1693

June 13, 2011

Paradigm Speakers Warehouse Sale, At Asia Sound Equipment.

Asia Sound Equipment is located on the 1st Floor of Amcorp Mall. You can't miss it.
Asia Sound Equipment in Amcorp Mall is clearing out all their stocks of Paradigm speakers, get this, AT COST! I believe there's no better deal than this, if one has been eyeing these Canadian boxes.

Eddie Tan tells me that they have a wide range of Paradigm speakers in stock to clear at first come, first serve basis. Hurry up, before it's all gone!

For enquiries, call Asia Sound Equipment at 03-79552091.

June 12, 2011

Privileged Membership. Wireworld Starlight Platinum AES/EBU Digital Cable.

Wireworld digital cables are mostly well reviewed, and my experience with the real world priced Starlight 6 was rather positive. My good buddy Jo Ki has nothing but good words to say about this cable, and the man is seldom wrong about hifi(as he bought one to go with his Bryston BDP/BDA-1 combo too!). So when offered the alpha Starlight Platinum by James of AV Design, I am game. The cost of this Wireworld is RM$6,900/piece.
The all aluminium high strength flight case that packs the Wireworld Starlight Platinum cable.

The Wireworld Starlight Platinum arrived in a mini flight case, and inside it's packed with a certificate of authenticity of the well built cable, each marked with serial no. The Starlight Platinum is actually quite bendable, unlike the similarly top dog JPS Aluminata. This makes managing the cable routing easy, behind the equipments.
The cable and certificate of authenticity.
 Like the JPS Aluminata, this Wireworld is just as transparent and quiet sounding. All the recording details contained in the FLAC or AIFF music files it gets from the Bryston BDP-1, no matter how minute or insignificant, is dutifully transferred to the BDA-1 DAC, via the Starlight Platinum. This cable exhibited very even tonality and coherent presentation of the music. Like the JPS competitor, this cable could almost just disappear from the hifi equipment chain. The sound stage and imaging factors are just equally believable without resorting to the use of vivid imaginary powers of the mind! In overall terms of hifi performance, I'd rate this Wireworld digital cable right up there with the JPS one tested earlier.

There are areas of differences in the way the two top dollar cables represent in hifi qualities. First, even though both cables exhibited incredible bandwidth, the Wireworld seems to go one octave towards the lower frequency spectrum, where else the JPS extends further at the other end. This means music via the Wireworld seems to have more bass line detail, texture and slam while the JPS offers an "airier", more spatially dimensional top end. Next is the way both cables handle dynamics and transients. The Wireworld would seem to be the more dynamic sounding cable, only to find that the JPS offers faster transient response subjectively. How does these subtle differences hifi parameters effect the music passing thru these cables? My take, the Wireworld is more suitable to play rock/pop music as it's hifi qualities plays more to the genre's strength. The JPS is more naturally suitable if one musical diet leans towards acoustical instruments, like jazz or classical. Don't get me wrong, both cables will do all genres of music to satisfaction, but only to the ninth degree, from then on is where their differences in musical genre priority lies. While I am not splitting hairs here, but the subtlety of differences can sometimes be very persuasive indeed.
Each cable is individually serial numbered

Both cables are naturally in the same top end market by pricing, and it's only natural that they be compared against, otherwise, I might be doing you, my dear readers disservice, if you happen to be in the market for digital cables at this exclusive and privileged level. In the end, I suspect that one's musical diet and system balance will find synergy with either cable. The Wireworld Starlight Platinum fully deserves it's alpha cable status.

Wireworld is sold by AV Designs, contact James or Tony at 03-21712828.

June 9, 2011

Cables Do Deteriorate!

The cable guy learns! Recently my Astro(cable TV subscription) channels started to look like the picture above. It had a grainy, pixelated quality to it, and eventually the channels would drop out of service(meaning no picture, or sound). I called the service dept of Astro, which promptly sent a technician to my place to check out my complain.

The technician first suspected my set top decoder, which is more than 10 years old by the way, has developed a fault. He swapped in a new slim line, set top unit of the latest design, the fault persist. He proceeded to check the out door mounted satellite dish, no problems there. Then he said the mostly likely problem is the aged coaxial cable linking the receiver dish and the set top decoder. The use of a signal generator on one end and using the built in signal meter on the decoder unit proved that the cable was indeed impeding the signal transfer(a.k.a. signal loss). I remembered when I installed the Astro system in my home 8 years ago, the decoder signal meter showed 78% signal at the decoder. It showed 44% today.

Like fine wine, the coaxial cable has aged! Unfortunately, fine wine taste better when aged, where else aged cables just lose their transmission properties, slowly over time. A new cable was installed, I paid for the service, problem solved!

I used to advocate buying used high end audio cables for budget conscious audiophile, just as I've done so my self. With this episode, I've come to suspect that perhaps audiophile cables are just as prone to lose their signal transmission properties over time, without us even knowing it?

Granted, high end audio cables have better metallurgy, insulation material and termination quality compared to the industry standard coaxial cable used by our Astro installers. The question is, if the industry standard coaxial cable took 8 years to age to the point of non-function, how long would it take for a high end audio grade cable to lose it's transmission properties?

Would 10 years be a fair estimation? Are used high end audio cables still a good buy, especially those more than 5 years old? Only you, can answer that, unfortunately. So let buyer beware.

June 7, 2011

Hot Indeed - Krell S-350a CD Player

Big E is enamoured with this Krell. You can be pretty sure of that. He calls it ‘Hot’ and ‘A Giant Killer’. Go read his review from June 3, 2011.

With endorsement like that I couldn't resist to hear it for myself in my own system, could I? Who does not like an underdog winning the day?

So, the Krell S-350a CD player duly arrived at my place. Straight out of the box, the construction quality impressed already. It is a very sturdily built box, the proverbial built like a tank quality seen in all Krell gears. The player is also deeper than usual, and it just barely fit on my rack. The remote control is a metal one, chunky and heavy, one that can inflict serious damage if dropped on your toe. If I had not known and were to guess its price, I’d come up with a figure circa RM20k. However, it goes for RM10,500. Boy, was I impressed again.

The Krell S-350a has a deeper than usual body

When the Krell S-350a started to play, I was impressed a third time. This did not sound like anything I knew or was expecting at this price level. I bought a CD player 7-8 years ago at the same price range, and I can vouch that the sound quality was not even close to this. It shows how much we have advanced in terms of price/performance ratio for digital players now.

The rear of the Krell S-350a

The only comparison I could do was to compare the Krell to my own Ayre C-5xeMP player. Ok, the Ayre costs 2.5 times more, so some may say this is not fair. Still, the Krell stood up to the challenge and its performance was nothing to be ashamed of. Well, I understated. In fact, in many performance areas, the Krell stood toe to toe with the Ayre. In contrast, my old player at the same price as the Krell could not hold a candle to the Ayre.

The Ayre player did pull ahead of the Krell S-350a in a few areas. It retrieved a bit more details from the silver discs, especially the micro details (little flexes in an artist’s singing and playing, ambiance and air); it also sounded somewhat more dynamic; the sound stage was marginally bigger. However, I could conclude all this only after a couple of A-B swaps. I think if I were to walk into a room blind and was asked which player was playing I would have a tough time giving you a correct answer.

The Krell S-350a comes with both balanced and single ended outputs. One strange feature is that the balanced output's left-right channels are reversed

I like the Krell S-350a’s sound. It is not the highly analytical, matter of fact and cool type. It sounded robust, hearty, yet smooth, very organic and natural. This is one that will allow you to enjoy your music for long hours. It is the same set of characteristics that I recognise from the Ayre C-5xeMP, thus this Krell really struck a chord with me.

The Krell S-350a comes with both digital inputs and outputs. Handy if you have an external digital source

The Krell S-350a is absolutely a worthy upgrade from any midrange CD player. In fact, I would go out on a limb and suggest that anyone who is looking for a high end CD player to include this Krell in your audition. You may find few reasons to spend more.

As Big E said, this one is hot, indeed.

Krell is available from Hi-Way Laser, contact Kenny at 019-2813399 or 03-78738325.

June 5, 2011

AIME At Home.

 The system view.

We've visited CK's home a few times now, with each visit, he drifts a little more towards the obvious! More and more Audio Image range of products gets added in to his room. Now the migration is complete he says! CK invited us over for a listen to what is likely the final destination of his system building journey(really? Are you sure CK?). 
This Clearaudio Ambient turn table has been modified to accept a Schroeder tone arm, which is highly modified with use of AIME brass counter weight and head shell, to mount the Clearaudio Stradivari V2 MC cartridge. 

Let's go in to his system detail a bit since we last visited, Clearaudio Ambient turntable, check. Marantz SA11S1, changed to Lindermann CD1 player. AIME phono stage, check. Nagra PLL pre amp, check. VAL 845 mono block power amp, changed to Odessey Stratos Extreme. Audio Physic Scorpio, changed to AP Medea! There are plenty more minute changes which we will mention later.

For CK, his belief in finding the right dealer and sticking with him through out the journey of hifi system building seems to have paid off.  Lovers of the black arts called vinyl will be familiar enough with that hifi shop called Audio Image. The shop owner Adrian, is quite the tweaker himself, and possibly the only other person I'd trust to mount my ultra expensive cartridge(if I bought one that is!). Lately Adrian has been busy, dreaming up new products for his house brand called AIME. They include phono stages, transformer based power line conditioners and energisers, isolation boards and cables. I asked Adrian, what does AIME stands for? "Audio Image Musical Experience" he answered. He further advise that AIME is pronounced as AIM(the E is silent), and not AI-ME as more popularly thought. Yes, Adrian's products aims to bring you a musical experience each time you turn on your hifi for some music.
The AIME phono stage, with separate power supply chassis. It also come with a remote controlled multi EQ curves selection. The black board that all of CK's equipment sits on is the "famously mysterious" AIME isolation board. It's highly affordable too, apparently. 

The system starts with a Lindemann CD1 for digital and a Clearaudio Ambient turn atble, using a highly modified Schroeder tone arm mounted with Clearaudio Stardivari V2 MC cartridge. The vinyl system is then supported by a 2 pc AIME phono stage, equipped with remote controlled multi EQ curves. The hifi chain also includes the lovely sounding Nagra PLL pre amp and lastly, an Odessey Startos Extreme power amp(Extreme spec amps get beefed up power supply and uses boutique brand audiophile grade parts). The mouth of the system is a pair of the early Audio Physic flagship Medea speakers, which features the famed Manger transducer driver all round(in the front baffle and both the side panels). 
The Lindermann CD 1 CD player sitting on Clearaudio Magix magnetic levitation device for total isolation. Note the external power supply units at the bottom shelf, the black one on the left is for the Lindermann and the silver one on the right is an SMPS(Switch Mode power Supply) for the Nagra PLL pre amp.

CK uses only AIME products(where possible) for all his auxiliary equipment, such as the transformer based power line conditioner, volt meter, power strip, all cables in the system and isolation boards. Equipment support is courtesy of Finite Element Spider, with full Ceraball footing and interface. Clearaudio Magix magnetic levitation devices are used for the Lindermann CD1.
This top loading Lindermann CD1 uses a modified Philips CD Pro transport, internally suspended on 3 points, much like a Linn Sondek LP12 turn table.

All AIME cables, which are terminated with European sourced silver cable stocks and WBT plugs can be order in single or "shot gun"(as shown here) configuration. My personal experience suggest that for a little more $$$, the "shot gun" version always wins, in sound quality terms.
From top: AIME transformer based power line conditioner, power energiser, power strip. All power cables are also supplied by AIME.
The tube based Nagra PLL pre amp, inputs on the left and output on the right, because of internal straight line circuit design, which obviously benefits the sound.

We started the listening session with some CD play back. The sound is lush and organic, with much refined highs and reaccessed mids. The bass has a supple quality too. The sound is totally devoid of digitalis syndrome. However some might find this kind of presentation just too polite, perhaps?

The vinyl source proved superior in this set up. With much more conviction and faster transient response. The vinyl source is less dark sounding too. The highs is airier and just as refined, the mids lucid and warm with density that one you'd expect from a top drawer vinyl play back system. The bass is well defined and tuneful, which shows the speaker set up skills, considering the AP Medea(with 10 inch bass drivers) is no small speaker in a room measuring only 10 x 13ft. By the way, the room is bare and un treated in anyway, except for a front wall curtain and regular home furnishing items, like the rug on the floor. CK used to be big in to resonant cups and Shun Mook tuning, but has come to realised that a well set up high end system can sound better with less "Ajinomoto"(a famous Japanese food MSG brand).

The Odessey Stratos Extreme power amp is excellent value for money. Some call it the poor man's Soulution, only because it sounds much like the later but only cost 1/10 the price. However, it's price tag(at RM$10k or so) is clearly entry level high end.

The sound stage provides excellent perception of both width and depth. The sound is room filling and is satisfyingly musical. The imaging properties are not as clearly outlined as some(just a little blurred on the edges), but is dense and just as believable. I believe this is a characteristic of the speaker, which radiates sound from all sides of the box, much like the MBL 101 Radialstrahler system. The system is highly transparent and will reveal the recordings faults for better or worst.
The Audio Physic Medea is the former flagship prior to the Kronos. It uses 3 Manager transducer drivers for all round sound field dispersion. This gives an immersion effect and throws a believe able sound stage, however imaging is not as pin point as normal box speaker designs.

CK seems to be satisfied with his system(for now) and is just happy to enjoy the music. He has spent much time and resources to reach this high level of playing field and wants to reap the happy ending. However, I just have this suspicious feeling, from one audiophile to another, that he'll want further improvement after a while. After all sonic conquest and lust for better sound is an audiophile thing, that comes naturally! Ha! Ha!