September 29, 2011

The Rock Anthem! Full FM Acoustics Set Up.

I've known this system owner(like many others, he also wishes to remain anonymous!) for a few years now, back then he was the biggest, meanest Naim boy in town. I remembered he had racks full of Naim gear plus ancillaries and that bad ass pair of full active Naim DBL speaker. That Naim system was probably one of the loudest and proudest of hifi systems I've ever heard.

However, with age catching up and the desire for something decidedly more up market, he opted for the whole she bang of FM Acoustic hifi gears! As one may already know, FM Acoustics products are Swiss made, with watch like precision. There's also another incentive to getting FM Acoustics gears. You see, these are not your usual available in stock kind of hifi gears. One has to put down a size able deposit, wait for it to be lovingly hand made to spec, could be anything from 3 to 9 months before your brand spanking new FM Acoustics gear arrives your door step. However, knowing that moneyed audiophiles can't stand the long wait, sometimes people whom had earlier booked an FM Acoustics equipment can opt transfer that booking to another impatient audiophile for a fee. And because there are also so few of these hand made beauties floating in the used market, I've heard some people actually made a profit when they sell their FM Acoustics gear after using them for a few years! It's reputation is that FM Acoustics is one of the best value investments when it comes to hifi equipments(Just like a Rolex!).

Such is the legend of FM Acoustics. Oh! By the way, many famous music industry people uses FM Acoustics hifi gear at home too, one of them includes the famous orchestra conductor Leonard Bernstein!

The full Esoteric/FM Acoustics system is placed in the living quarters of the house, hence the need to have some decor friendly touches to please the other significant members of the family.

Alright, back to this system here, which the Hifi-Unlimited team had a chance to sample. The system starts with a CD/SACD source in the name of top drawer Esoteric X-01D2, with it's internal jitter clock by passed with a G-03X Master Clock which is stable to +/-0.1ppm accuracy, according to the spec sheet on the Esoteric web site.

The signal then goes to a FM 255MKII pre amp, which is a full balance design. I did find it odd that for a pre amp costing the price of an apartment in the city does not come with remote control of any kind! FM Acoustic obviously believes in keeping the audio signal free from unnecessary frills(Big E, get your big fat ass off the couch! That bit of exercises will do you good, my left brain tells me). Now, does the words "Pure Audio" come to mind?

The pre-amplified stereo signals than goes to a pair of active x-overs which comes with the FM Acoustics XS-3 loudspeakers. However, there are no attenuation allowed at this point. The x-over just accepts one XLR line input, and then splits that signal to a hi-freq output and another to lo-freq output, both pairs of output being XLR too, of course. Two pairs of FM 111 power amps are used to vertically bi-amp the pair of XS-3 speakers.

The FM Acoustic XS-3 loudspeakers are the smallest in the range of loudspeakers offered by the company. There's another two bigger boys in the range.

The FM XS-3 speakers continues that pyramid shaped tradition and a special feature of these speakers are the two knobs and a tweeter located at the top of the sloping pyramid, facing towards the back wall. The two knobs allow for volume and bandwidth attenuation of the said back facing tweeter. There's the usual front facing high-mid-low drivers located at the front baffle as well, which strangely do not allow the removal of the speaker cloth grills, much to the common audiophile chagrin! However, this system owner is no ordinary audiophile, who is female vocal obsessed, listening to girl/guitar music, or finely crafted for sound kinda music. He is quite the rockerfella instead!

As per most full FM Acoustics system, all cables are also supplied by the same company, which are optimised to perform as a one. No cable play, plays allowed here!

The FM 111 power amp puts out 230W @ 8ohms and 360W @ 4ohms. It ran very cool through out the night as we pump up the volume. This lucky system owner probably has closet rock music lovers as neighbours or at least, very understanding ones!

As we listened away in to the night, vino in hand, dark Swiss(what else?) chocolate' melting in mouth, sound in ear, but music warming the heart and soul, ahh....... The next most sinful things known to a music lover after perhaps, love making? Make no mistake, the experience of such an encounter is surreal. If there's ever a graceful rock music system, this has gotta be it!

FM Acoustics signature sound is lightning fast transient and dynamically proud, if a little on the cool side of neutral. There is no noise floor in the system to speak off, despite never resorting to the use of power conditioners. There are high levels of analytical prowess at play here, with big scale presentation and the illusion of wide, deep sound stage. The system easily dispenses the recorded music venue's ambient cues if at first the highs appears to be slightly dry, but on closer analysis, it's probably just a little less dark in the back ground. The mids are full bodied with chest and high mids to reproduce the rock guitar which will bite when necessary. The harmonics, texture and tone of the bass and electric guitar with pedal notes well sustained. Bass have slamming quality if doesn't quite go as deep as a speaker this size and ambition should.

Compared to his previous Naim system, which this FM Acoustics set up share many common traits, but with richer, denser mids and more refined highs. Where the Naim system starts to sound strained, the FM Acoustics just coolly strutting it's stuff. The system owner may have grown up in his hifi taste and status, but his penchant for rock/blues based music remains, Stevie Ray Vaughn, Pink Floyd, Roger Waters, Dire Straits, Mark Knopfler, Bruce Springsteen, John Mellencamp, Metallica, Megadeath(?, maybe not) but you get the idea. All of those artist mentioned were on rotation during our listening session that night.

The front end consisting of Esoteric X-01D2 CD/SACD player enslaved to G-03X Master Clock. The FM 255MKII pre amp completes the volume control duties. Note that little box on the left, which is the x-over of the XS-3 speaker, which takes a signal from the pre amp and then splits it in to hi-freq out and lo-freq out to facilitate bi-amping by the four FM 111mono blocks.

At this level, it would be churlish to even talk about prices anymore. For a blue collar worker like me, it'll be mission impossible to even dream of having something like this. However, thanks to the system owner's generosity in sharing his musical experience with us, you our dear readers, get to know that such a fine and shining system exist, in Bolehland.

September 26, 2011

Paranormal! Parasound JC 3 Phono Stage.

Would you believe me if I told you this review took nearly half the year in the making? It's a long story, as you shall see. One of my buddies took delivery of his unit(one of the very first to reach Malaysian shores) sometime in March 2011. He instantly alerted me that this Parasound is something out of the ordinary, and that I should let the word out to our dear readers. I began arranging for a review unit instantly with the kind folks Center Circle Audio. Unfortunately, I was called away for an assignment, and when I returned, I found out that another reviewer from a local daily had beaten me to it. Like my buddy, the said reviewer was so... impressed with this Parasound JC 3 that he decided to keep the review sample! By then stock had run out and I had to wait for the next batch that came in last month.

A look at the innards of the Parasound JC3 will make almost any vinyl/hifi lover and DIY-ers knees weak. John Curl's attention to detail and production execution is first rate and will certainly put some of the more expensive rivals to shame! 

Post KLIAV, the review sample is in my man cave waiting to slot in to my LP playback chain. It replaced my 2 box Pass Labs X-Ono and here's what I found! But first, I must take the opportunity to admire the sumptuous build quality of the JC(designed by the same John Curl, of previously Mark Levinson JC series phono stage fame) 3. It's solid battle cruiser like build quality is re-assuring for reliability. Parasound's www proudly displays the very thoughtfully designed innards of the JC 3. A few touches stand out, like the huge AC input power factor filter cap on the right side of the casing, feeding clean power to a C-core transformer for low flux leakage. The power supply/regulator board and the C-core transformer is isolated from the AC input and both the dual mono audio signal boxes to further shield the venerable low level audio signal from the cartridge. Like most sub RM$10k phono stages, the Parasound JC 3 does not offer much flexibility when it comes to signal gain and cartridge loading choices.It's either MM @ 47db gain with default 47k ohm loading or MC @ 68db gain with 100 ohm loading. One may leave the MC loading option wide open at 47k ohm too, however I did not need to try. The Parasound, like my Pass Labs, offers RCA only input, with a choice of RCA or XLR output, which I used for the course of this review. My resident Linn Sondek LP 12 turn table mounted with Benz Micro LP low output(0.34mv) cartridge rounds up the partnering ancillaries.

The front panel of the Parasound JC3 only has two buttons. The one on the left is an ON/OFF switch, and the one on the right is a MUTE switch. The Parasound logo in the middle glows a healthy red when powered.

The Pass Labs X-Ono had ruled supreme the phono stage world within it's price range for almost a full decade, and the Parasound JC 3 show us just how far that world has progressed sound wise. I noted that even though the Parasound only had 68db of gain, it sounded as loud as my Pass on maximum 76db gain. I was also surprised that my cartridge sonically mated well with the Parasound on 100ohms of loading only. I was immediately impressed by the dynamics, and sense of urgency that this Parasound projects, it's very nearly equal to that of the X-Ono. Tonal quality aspect, the Parasound very much follows today's trend of absolute neutrality, as compared to my warmer sounding Pass. However, that absolute neutrality does not necessarily mean boring either! The highs are open and highly extended, never failing to convey a sense of top octave energy, if not as overall liquid as the Pass in presentation as I witness when playing Charlie Antolini's Crash LP. The mids are solid, but never beguiling like the Ayre P-5xe phono stage which plays the violin instrument like no other I've heard. The bass is fast, articulated and never short on impact. If anything, I found the musical presentation with the JC 3 when playing the Crash LP more up front and energetic compared to the warmer, more laid back X-Ono. 

The Parasound JC 3 is also impressively transparent with ultra low noise floor to boot(an area which the Pass X-Ono lost out). The Pass at maximum gain had some white hash in the quiet back musical grounds compare to the dead silent Parasound. Despite the up front musical presentation, I never felt fatigue or any ill effects of jarring highs. In fact, there's a real sense of musicality on offer here, which makes me look forward to every vinyl listening session during it's two weeks in my system. I think I spun nothing but vinyl during that whole two weeks!
The rear panel only has one RCA input and a choice between RCA or XLR output. The toggle switch selects cartridge loading.

There are few credible contenders in the phono stage market for less than RM$10k today. In fact, I counted three, from established high end marques.
1) PS Audio GCPH
2) Ayre P-5xe
3) Parasound JC 3
From the list, PS Audio sits right at the most affordable end, but still puts up a set of impressive hifi performance. Both the Arye and the Parasound offers more high end performance for a reasonable top up, the difference being the Ayre has lower gain for MC cartridges, and that makes it rather selective for partnering cartridges. While the Ayre's sound is definitely smooth with mid centric beguiling, it's slightly weak dynamics and lack of drive will works against it, unless partnered with a suitable medium output MC cartridge like the Clearaudio Concerto V2. The Parasound is the best sonic and musical all rounder, that balances speed, transparency and accuracy with musicality, that makes it a great partner for medium to low output MC cartridges like the Dynavector Karat D3(also sold by Center Circle Audio) or any of the higher range Benz Micros, like my LP. However, all three phono stages on the list does trade off adjust ablity for sound quality. I guess one has to pay more when looking for phono stages with higher flexibility but not necessarily better sound either. Do note that the Ayre P-5xe was never formally reviewed here either, but I had the opportunity to play with it in my system for a few days, sometime ago.

Should one wish, the other phono stages available at RM$10k or less are the various versions of FV Euroaudio's Pipit phono stages by Frank Acoustics(or simply Frankie, if you know tha man!) and the various versions AIME's from Audio Image, all locally made with pride!

Charlie Antolini's Crash LP is a very dynamic drum recording. It was know as a speaker buster back then in the 80's! This cover art represents the original pressing. My LP copy is a recent JETON re-issue, which looks slightly different on the cover art.

That more or less sums up my impression of the Parasound JC3 phono stage, priced at a very reasonable amount of RM$9,200.00 only.  Due to the very successful product sales world wide, Center Circle Audio tells me there is currently a waiting list for the Parasound JC3. If one dabbles in to the black arts, one should really check this Parasound out!

Parasound is sold by Center Cricle Audio, contact Sky, or Nelson at 03-77282686.

September 23, 2011

Official Launch of TAD's Complete System

TAD, or Technical Audio Devices, is Pioneer's subsidiary focusing on supplying high fidelity audio equipment to the professional world and the highend audiophiles.

Products bearing that 3-letter name have impressed us tremendously, including the TAD-D600 SACD/CD player and the TAD-C2000 pre-amp. We had the good fortune of getting loan units to listen in our own systems and I hope our lucky star continues to shine, so that a couple more TADs will come our way.

TAD's product line is finally complete. One can now put together an entire hifi chain with all TAD equipment. All the products, from digital frontend to loudspeakers, are now available in Malaysia. This complete TAD line-up was showcased in the TAD official launch in Malaysia held by Pioneer Malaysia and AV Designs in the latter's showroom.

The complete TAD system...

consisting of (from top to bottom) TAD-D600 SACD/CD Player (RM129,000), TAD-D600's power supply, TAD-C2000 pre-amp (RM128,000), TAD-M2500 poweramp (RM115,000)...

...and the TAD Compact Reference loudspeakers (RM148,000)

Mr. Low of AV Designs kicking off the listening session

A section of the attendees listening intently

Mr. Kazutoshi Takahashi, MD of Pioneer Malaysia, was on-hand to field questions from the hifi scribes

Here, he was talking to our very own Big E and Lam of Hi-fi Avenue

One for the album. Mr. Kazutoshi with a section of the Malaysian hifi bloggers

The sound from the TAD system was smooth and musically very inviting no matter the music genre, from vocal to classical to rock, as was heard in the demo session.

The complete TAD system can be auditioned at AV Designs now. Contact James Tan at 03-21712828.

September 20, 2011 Event, CAS Introductory Session For Forum Members.

Over the weekend, CMY Audio & Visual at Sunway Giza Mall, Kota Damansara branch graciously hosted the Hifi4sale CAS Introductory Session for forum members numbering to nearly 30 by head count. The session conducted in 2 parts started off with the forum administrator, who wishes to remain anonymous, demonstrating the differences between the PC based and a Mac based CAS setting up parameters and the resulting sonic differences.

Part 2 of the session fetures local hifi guru Jo Ki demonstrating the various isolation options available to take any CAS sonic performance to a higher level altogether. The key point of the day was not if any or each idea/implementation is superior, but rather those present are asked to witness and form their own conclusions, and perhaps even further explore on their own resources.

The session ended with a "Lucky Draw" where two lucky winners were allowed to pick up a CD each from CMY's music selection library.

I leave you with some pictures of the day!

Hifi4sale administrator(right), doing his PC vs Mac CAS demo session.

Jo Ki takes over and furthers the concept.

Jo demo-ing various isolation options which raised more than a few mind boggling questions!

I spotted this neat system on demo in CMY Audio & Visual, Sunway Giza Mall branch.

This Audio Pro LV-3 wireless powered speaker caught my fancy, because it looked really pretty, and reminded me of the ol' Bose 501 speaker from the 70's!

The Audio pro LV-3 is supplied as a mirror image pair. That means both speakers require it's own power cord! However, no other wires are required since this baby works with a wifi transmitter supplied.

This to add a little promo value for CMY's friendly and accommodating efforts.

September 18, 2011

Absolutely Beguiling – Vitus Audio SCD-010 CD Player

The Vitus Audio SCD-010 CD Player surprised me. If anyone were to tell me that this entirely-solid-state CD player was tube-based, I’d have believed him.

I had listened briefly to Vitus’ amplifiers in showrooms and in hifi shows, they gave me the impression that they embodied the best qualities of solid state gear, their sound being clean, balanced and well controlled. However, they were less likely to be associated with terms like ‘warm’ or ‘honeyed’. So when the local distributor, Swedish Statement, brought the Vitus Audio SCD-010 CD Player over to my place, I had the same expectation too. (At the same time, they also brought a pair of Marten Design Getz loudspeakers, that is a story for another day)

Indeed, during the first couple of hours of listening, the SCD-010 seemed to re-affirm my expectation. The sound was clean and clear, everything was there, but the music seemed a little detached emotionally.

After that, as my normal habit, I put the player on repeat for a few hours then I put it on standby when not playing. The SCC-010 in the standby mode was warm to the touch, and indeed when it sprang to life from standby, it was ready to perform in its top form. After a full warm up, the other side of this player came to show itself, and it was an astonishing transformation...

The SCD-010 is one hunky piece of gear. It weighs a very heavy 26kg. The build has the tank-like quality of the best high end gear; yet undeniably its line also has the clean-cut, minimalist and softer touch of the Scandinavian – Vitus Audio is Danish. I like the look very much. I would complain about its display window though, being too small to read from 5-6 feet away. This handsome machine lists just a shade shy of the RM100k mark at RM91,995.

The Vitus SCD-010 is a top loader, the cover manually slides open and close very smoothly. After the disc is placed onto the spindle, you’ll use the magnetic puck to weigh it down. The transport is a Philips CDPro2 LF that Vitus says it has also heavily modified by stripping it ‘down to its basic mechanical and electronic parts and totally rebuilt. This ensures a lower level of errors in reading the digital information on the discs, which leaves the error correction system in the drive with much less work to do’. The SCD-010 is a CD only player.

Digital outputs and inputs on the left, analogue outputs on the right

It has the normal analogue outputs, 1 RCA pair and 1 XLR pair that Vitus builds with its own amplifiers’ topology. It has 2 digital outputs, 1 RCA and the other XLR. It also has a couple of interesting features. Firstly, it has 2 digital inputs (1 RCA, 1XLR), I had no way to verify the resolution that they could accept as I did not have any external high res digital source, however the local distributor told me that they accept up to 24bits/96kHz. Secondly, there is a built-in volume control. Used in conjunction with the digital inputs, it means that you can do without a pre-amp if you are running all digital gear.

Comparing the SCD-010 running straight into my monoblocks to having the signal through my pre-amp, I preferred the straight through method a little more, though it was a close call. Straight through, there were slightly clearer details. With the pre-amp in the path, there was slightly more body to the sound. I ran it with the pre-amp in the chain most of the time as I needed its pass-through feature for my home theatre setup.

After the initial run-in warm-up period, the SCD-010 settled down to a stable sound. Boy, was I in for a treat! This player caressed female vocal like no others. It was the most seductive I have ever heard from Stacey Kent from a compilation of her songs (Stacey Kent - Collection). Her voice was in turn sultry, creamy and yet powerful, her performance was dripping with emotion. There was an inner glow to her voice that just pulled the listener’s attention in. I bet everyone who heard this can’t but fall in love with it immediately.

The SCD-010 also turned piano music from a mere recording into a great performance. My favourite piano reference CD – George Winston’s ‘Autumn’, was transformed. A few things stood out, first was the definition and delineation of the notes, each note was cleanly enunciated, the slight smearing of one note to another in the lower register that I used to hear was gone. Each ping of the piano key was illuminated, like it was surrounded by an aura. Details were excellent, I could hear into the minute changes as each note came into being, progressed and finally dissolved. Reverberation and air in the recording were aplenty, whether it was natural or added as it may be. They all added so much more musical information to the performance itself as to bring the recording up another level.

The SCD-010 sounded totally in control all the time even as it tackled complexity, speed and dynamics. It did them pretty well, though in this regard I think some other players could out-slam the SCD-010, especially some high-enders from the US of A. However, I am pretty certain they could not match the Vitus’ beguiling charm.

The Vitus SCD-010 came across as peerless with vocal, acoustic music and small scale ensembles. It has a very natural, very analogue and rich sound, not unlike the kind we attribute to tube gear. With the Vitus SCD-010, you’ll listen more with your heart rather than your head.

This CD player has a musical soul.

Addendum 19/9:

I neglected to mention that the Vitus SCD-010 CD Player comes standard with Vitus Audio's own Andromeda power cord.

The Andromeda is a sturdy and very well constructed cord. More importantly, it matched the CD player extremely well, adding to its virtues. Compared to my Shunyata power cord, when used on the SCD-010, the Andromeda made the CD player sound quieter, the background was pitch black. It also added further to the silky smoothness and richness of the SCD-010's sound (Haagen Dazs ice cream came to mind :-) ).

Since the Andromeda matches the SCD-010 perfectly well, I don't think there is any need for the owner to go seeking for another power cord, really.

Vitus is carried by Swedish Statement. Please contact Koo at 012-2891682 or email

September 17, 2011

Back For a Second Show

"The Jazzy Sounds of Teresa Teng" is quite possibly this country's first audiophile-grade and audiophile-inspired showcase (outside DFP) : great acoustics, great sound, great music and great ambience.

They are back for a second show, this time a charity fund-raising drive.

Go if wanna find out what's the fuss about!

Date: 14th October 2011 (Friday)
Showtime: 08.30pm -10.30 pm
Venue: Bentley Music Auditorium, Mutiara Damansara, PJ
Admission Pass: RM150 | RM110
Booking and Enquiry: 6012-208 3790
Online Booking:
Ticketing Outlets: All Rock Corner (except Bangsar Village) and Victoria Music outlets.

September 15, 2011

French Kiss. Triangle Gene'se Trio Loudspeakers.

I asked Maxx Loh, boss of Maxx Audio "How much does these pair of Triangle Gene'se Trio cost?" He replied, "RM$12k plus, with the dedicated stands". I was thinking to my self, "heck I could nearly get a pair of Audio Physics Tempo 6 for the money". When I told Odiosleuth about the Gene'se Trio and the price, his response was "I could get a pair of Sonus Faber Liuto with some top up!"

What's the moral of the story, you asked? I am just trying to bring up a relevant point that people tend to remember with fondness about the brands they know best. You'll see that as a previously satisfied owner of the Audio Physic Spark V pair of speakers, I immediately compared the Triangle Gene'se Trio to the Audio Physic Tempo 6 which retails for a similar price. Ditto for Odiosleuth, as a former satisfied owner of a pair Sonus Faber Concerto back then. No such loyalty for the Triangle brand unfortunately, just because of the very fact that it just stepped in to the Malaysian high end scene. The Triangle Megallan Cello demo-ed by Maxx during the recent KLIAV show certainly raised more than a few eye brows, or some inner ear hair! Maxx is bent on building that example of brand loyalty from scratch.    

Triangle Gene'se Trio in my room. Noticed the slight down ward tilt the stands bring?

The Gene'se Trio is a 2 way stand mount, sits pretty in the middle of Triangle's offering, just a series below the top flight Megallan range. As I un-packed the speakers and scrutinised it's rather well made quality, with an industrial like grade of red shade vinyl, semi gloss finished side panels which are of the currently fashionable lute shape. In contrast, the front baffle is painted smooth, piano gloss black. Then I moved on to assemble the dedicated matching triangular looking stands, finished in semi gloss black. I must advise that who ever is buying a pair of these babies, to seriously not stinge on the stands and go for generic ones, because the Triangle originals not only stylistically match the speakers, but the also contribute to the sound dispersion pattern by slightly tilting the baffle at an down ward angle, making sure the tweeter fire towards ear level, when one is seated in the sofa throne. Well, at least in MY sofa throne, it made perfect sense.

The floor spikes on both back ends of the stand. The front single large spike comwes with it's own attached coaster. These stands allows for sand or lead shot filling.
The stand's top panel is lined with rubber like pad. Also note the screw in holes for one to attach up ward pointing spikes for speaker to stand isolation tweak. I used the common blue tack interface instead, as I did want to dmamge the speaker's finishing. 

I started setting up the Triangle speakers in my man cave at the usual spot where my pair of PMC Fact 8 sits, which is 42 inches from the back wall and 19 inches from the side walls. I found the bass response to be on the light side, and hence I moved the speakers around and eventually settled with the final position of 40 inches from the back wall and still 19 inches from the side wall, which gave the best compromise between weighty bass response and good sound staging width/depth perception, which all the sonic properties on this review is based upon. I thought the Gene'se Trio to be one of least fussy speakers to set up, which is certainly helpful.

The back panel and speaker cable terminal allows for bi-wiring and bi-amping should one chooses to do so.

A closer look at the horn loaded tweeter with phase plug.

This is the first time I had a speaker of French origin in my place. Is my first ever French kiss unforgettable?  Read on! From the very first tune, while sounding rather seamless in frequency response, I've realised that this speaker is not exactly the most neutral. No doubt, the Frenchness(softly recessed mid range) of sound character has been reduced to a very minimal degree. Another area of concern, a ghost of the past actually, is that ear piercing high frequency reproduction emanating from a horn loaded tweeter is nearly always evident with such designs, as a result of the horn colouration. There's also no mid range "honkiness" heard during the Gene'se Trio's time spent in my system.

The highs as smooth as the best of dome tweeters, though not the most elegant sounding. There's ample "air" quality to the presentation, with cymbals and high hats sounding a little shinier than usual. The mid range is open, smooth and often make vocals sound more pleasure able than usual. Female voices like Katie Melua's are sweetened with a certain degree of sultriness, and male voices like Don William's sound buff, and throaty, due to a slight highlighting of the presence range in the frequency response. It is also this very reason that the harpsichord, an instrument with lots of string harmonics and texture, sounds so wonderfully real. The bass extends to no more than 50Hz or so in my room(I've a funny suspicion that the bass response will go lower if the stands had been filled), but what ever was available, came with a finely textured, and punchy quality. Kick drums still has enough kick to still sound convincing. It is only when asked to re-play instruments like the double bass or the piano which made me realised clearly, that this is still a stand mount speaker, which will certainly make a great candidate for sub woofer augmentation.
I like this The Katie Melua Collection CD a lot, she's got a non diva, girl next door kinda voice. She cleverly stays within her vocal range and never push things too much, but her lyrics are at once poetic and honest. Pop sensitivities adorn this otherwise well recorded "Best Of" album. She does a pretty mean John Mayall And The Blues Breakers remake here too, Slow Train Crawling Up A Hill. Get it if you're a sucker female vocals. 

By the benchmark of today's modern speaker designs, this pair of Triangle is fairly transparent and low in noise floor, which I would have expected other wise, due to it's horn loaded tweeter design. Kudos to Triangle for banishing most of the horn's nasty characteristics! This pair of speakers also surprised me with it's sense of scale, which is larger then most stand mounts and even some junior floor standers. Like most stand mounts, this pair of Triangles sonically disappears in to the room, throwing a rather wide and deep sound stage, however I did found some of the layers within the depth somewhat compressed.

If there's an area that leaves this speaker sounding dynamically challenged is when playing hard charging rock/metal music, where playing loudly is essential, for me at least(and it's mighty loud!) to connect with the musical flow of the genre. There's also a take no prisoner approach when it comes to bad or poor recordings, this Gene'se Trio will certainly make one regret feeding it with such. I suspect again, this is the double edge sword arising from the highlighting of the presence range by design.

Very suitable partners, Pass Labs Aleph 0 and Triangle Gene'se Trio.

I would sum up that this pair of speakers is made for people would play mostly acoustic music, like girl/guitar or girl/piano genre. It's right at home playing small ensembles and jazz trio or quartet performances too. It certainly loves audiophile quality recordings and sounds like it too! In other words, look else where if most of your musical diet is centered around pop or rock/metal recordings, especially those from the 70's which most are poorly recorded.

However, should some one ask me again today, that very same question I asked Maxx earlier on in the opening of this article, and if I would still reply with the Audio Physic Tempo 6 without at hint of hesitance? Well....., I am not so sure anymore. Ha! Ha!

Triangle loudspeakers is sold by Maxx Audio, contact Maxx Loh at 017-6778820.

September 12, 2011

Spidey's Secret. FE Spider Clone Set Up Tips.

I bought my two FE Spider clone racks a few years back when I re-modelled my man cave. As a hifi green horn at that time, I wasn't even aware of the Finite Elemente brand of hifi racks. However, I thought the Spidey clone on display at the Middle Kingdom shop in Amcorp Mall looked good and very adjustable for my needs at the time and sometime in the future.

And I was not wrong! When my Pass Labs X-0.2, a 3 chassis preamp came about I set out to look for another 2 Spidey clone shelves. I found them on our local Hifi4sale website, I contacted the seller called Kakibook, and made the arrangements to pick them up from him.

Illustration #1

I brought the 2 extra shelves home and started to dismantle my existing set up to accommodate them. In my usual spirit of sharing, I hope that some of you readers out there are using the same stuff, be it the clone or the real Mc Coy(I am not sure this tip works with the real Mc Coy though?) may benefit from this set up tip. I've tried to set up the Spidey clone rack many times, and the result is a hard, card boardy, if very focused sound. Some of my buddies who use the same Spidey clone also report a very pitchy, sharp high mid range cut in the ear bleeding sound. A few of them are on the brink of giving up on this cheap Chinese sh*t(as they call it!). I hope this article comes in the nick of time?

As I've said, I've set up these Spidey clone a few times now, each time with a different method, and each time, result in different sound from the same hifi components. I am most happy with the sound I got from the latest set up method, which I am sharing here.

Illustration #2

I started by observing the quality of the new shelves and compared them to the older ones I got a few years ago. The latest shelves have better finishing on the wooden spider links, otherwise all else looked on par quality wise. I am glad to report that cheap made in China sh*t have very consistent fitting tolerances, as the latest shelves fit on the the older outer aluminium columns with the same precision too. 

First, when assembling the wooden spider links to the centre crown, as on illustration #2, note the hex screws with the red washers(from the inside of the crown), when tightening the hex screws, at this stage, do not tighten fully, I suggest finger tight or perhaps even a little free play is alright too, and leave it at that. Continue all four wooden spider links exactly the same and the result will look like illustration #1 on the top.

Illustration #3

Then continue to attach each shelve tier to all the four aluminium outer columns. This time again, do not tighten all the hex screws yet, again finger tight or a slight free play is ok too. Once you've got all the shelves on just like the picture above(illustration #3),  then you can use either the black rubber interface provided, or like me, use the FE Ceraball Spider(the real ones as they are no clones of these yet!). Now you can attach the spike feet and cups provided, or in my case, FE Ceraball Universal to the bottom of the four outer columns, as shown on illustration #6. Then put your equipment on to each shelve. I know, all the hex screws are not yet tightened and the whole Spidey assembly is a little wobbly at this point, but do not worry, it'll hold, provided your gear is not extra ordinarily heavy. All my equipment weight and 8mm thick glass interface adds up to about 80kgs or so, and it held as pictured in illustration #5.

Illustration #4

Now with the aid of a spirit bubble leveler as seen on top of my Linn LP12 turn table's platter(illustration #5 again). You can start making adjustments to the four outer columns by either extending the spikes up/down wards or in my case the FE Ceraballs Universals(as shown on illustration #6 below) to level the whole Spider rack assembly.

Illustration #5

Now here's the funny thing, once you've got the top tier shelve leveled, all the lower shelves will sort themselves out, with very minor adjustments required, which we now get to. The final part! The minor adjustment of each lower shelve required is the small free play of the connecting hex screws on the centre crown and the outer columns. At this stage, there's nothing you can do about the free play inside the centre crown, but tightening the outer columns hex screws as pictured on illustration #4, you can actually push up/down slightly the connecting wooden spider links to level them on each individual lower shelve whilst tightening the hex screws. Once all the shelves are levelled, you can sit back and start playing some music.

Illustration #6

With the FE Spider clone rack set up this way, the hardness of the sound is no more, replaced by a more expansive sound stage with organic imaging qualities. The pitchy high mids are gone too, replaced with smoothness and solid mid range density. the whole system some how sound more effortless too. There is an openness to the sound which made the music on play very liberating. I am enjoying my music with a new perspective all over again.

A note about those original FE Ceraball Universal and Ceraball Spider, when used with the Spider clone rack, they do bring about some sonic improvements over the standard issued spikes and rubber interface. However, the cost of the original FE Ceraball varieties is very high and some might question my use of them with that cheap Chinese sh*t of a rack. For me, hifi is an irrational hobby after all!

The whole dismantling and re-setting up of the FE Spider clone took me about six hours in all, or a good part of my afternoon, with the aid of some elbow grease, but for me the results are worth the effort. I hope this little tip helps other users of the the same product.

September 9, 2011

Pass(t) Statement, Pass Labs X-0.2 Preamp.

All 3 chassis of the Pass Labs X-0.2 preamp, top is control/power supply unit and both the mono audio boxes below, one for the left and the other for the right chanel.

If there's one thing that I'll admit to about hifi is that I am kinda of a bottom feeder within the high end circles. I am not a wealthy man with unlimited resources, however I do crave for excellent sound quality in my pursuit for musical satisfaction. What's a poor guy like me to do?

The answer is to obviously buy "terpakai", or used gears! In the context of my hifi system, for the purpose of system matching synergy, I've always been secretly hoping to find a used bargain in the form of a Pass Labs X-1 preamp, to complement my existing X-Ono phono stage and especially the Aleph 0 mono block power amps, due to their 20db only, 3 gain stage topology, which requires preamps to have a certain level of gain, unlike much of today's latest zero gain designs. Clearly the X series of Pass Labs preamps is the more suit able candidate to match my power amps.

As fate would have it, I have out done my self again in spectacular fashion, the moment I crossed path with this Pass Labs X-0.2 three chassis of a former flagship preamp. I asked for a home audition and as they say, the rest is history!

I've separated the control/power supply unit to the shelf on the left, just below the Linn LP12 turn table, and placed the two mono audio chassis on the bottom right  shelves.

Switching over from the entry level Pass Labs X-2.5 preamp, it was easy to hear where all the compromises were made with the cheaper model. Not that the X-2.5 is a bad product, in fact far from it. I've been a happy camper for a good 4 years or so in terms ownership satisfaction. However, when compared to the alpha X-0.2 sibling, it's easy to experience a whole new level of refinement, bloom and dynamics in musical performance. By today's high end standards, the X-0.2 is not particularly neutral on the tonal front, compared to the 6H30 tube based ARC Reference 3 and the latest batch of reference level preamps which we reviewed recently. While the entire Pass Labs X series preamp shares similar sonic characteristics, the level of high frequency refinement with less grain and mid range smoothness improves as one moves up the range with the X-0.2 most charming with a certain romantic bloom, so evident in earlier tube preamp designs. The X-0.2 offers subliminal, textured, and solid bass reproduction. It's noise floor levels are not as low as the latest XP-20 that good ol' Odiosleuth had up graded to recently, but still amongst the most quiet of preamps as they come. Out right transparency and low level signal preservation is another area where the newer preamp designs like the XP-20 has clearly marched on. So clearly, statements about the XP-20 out performing the Pass(t) statement product are not without substance.

The X-0.2 claws back with superb micro and macro dynamics, plus top notch linearity to boot. This is where the X-2.5 tends to fall short, during orchestral performance climaxes, with the string and horn section on full tilt while the tympani beating relentlessly, as experienced when playing the opening track from Reference Recording's Eiji Oue conducting the Minnesota Orchestra, performing Rachmaninoff's Symphonic Dances. During playback of orchestral materials like this, the X-2.5 will sound hardened, with the sound stage collapsing syndrome clearly apparent, while the X-0.2 sails on calmly, with not a hint of stress. I suppose the wider(double) volume range of the alpha preamp helps too. The Pass X-0.2 also better preserves timbre and harmonics of  wood wind instruments like the flute and oboe, not to mention string instruments like the violin, cello and piano, especially of the "grand" variety.

Like much of the older tube based preamp designs too, the X-0.2 offers an expansive sound stage, with clearly perceptible layers within the depth portrayed. It's ability to add a "halo" of air around each vocal, or instrument presented within that deep sound stage makes the musical reproduction just that bit more convincing. Many people, including Odiosleuth commented that there's a certain tube like sound element in my system since the addition of the X-0.2 preamp.

When last available in year 2009, the X-0.2 retailed for nearly RM$36k. I got this clean 2006 example for half the original outlay. It's certainly not cheap, but this is a very charming, if not the most neutral sounding top flight preamp I've come across. I'd certainly think it's got character, with it's Y2K millennia retro lab chunky styling and robust enough build quality to last a life time. Pass Labs certainly thinks so too, because after a 2 year break, they had decided to re-introduce the latest 3 chassis statement design again, this time in the form of the XP-30, which incidental had just started shipping out of the US now!

A closer look.

With the 3 chassis(connected by no less than 4 umbilical cords) Pass Labs X-0.2 preamp, I had re-align my hifi rack space requirement, as along with the 2 chassis X-Ono phono stage and 2 box Bryston BDP/BDA-1 combo digital source and a Linn LP12 turn table, pushing my shelf space levels to a grand total of eight!  Thank fully, the FE Spider clone design is as modular as the original, which I'll touch on the set up soon.

September 4, 2011

Legends Of Jazz Showcase, With Ramsey Lewis.

I got this superb "Made for TV" Legends Of Jazz Showcase compilation at the end of last year. In my busy days of ripping CDs, this one got misplaced somewhere within the boxes and boxes of my collection and never surfaced again, until recently. It has been enjoying a second lease of life since.

An accomplished Jazz pianist himself, Ramsey Lewis convinced LRS Media to present "America's Best Cultural Export" of the 50's and 60's again to modern day TV audiences in stunning hi-rez AV quality. The result of the session recordings are witnessed on this DVD/CD(a more costly Blu-ray set is also available) set, for us non-US citizens to appreciate.

For something that cost a cool RM$60.00 each set, the entertainment and musical value is excellent. The Jazz performances by some of the most revered legends like Monty Alexander, Dave Brubeck and Chick Corea are of the highest standards and the AV recording quality is crystal clear. The recording venue is also acoustically treated, which the eagle eyed viewer amongst us would've noticed. All sub genres of Jazz are covered here, from mainstream to Scat, Blues, Fusion, Mumbles and even Bossa, each is a classy performance in their own right.

My favorite tracks include the following, The Panther(for tight, dynamic bass guitar performance), performed by Marcus Miller and Lee Ritenour. Followed by My Funny Valentine(a dark, reflective and moody horn performance), by Chris Botti, then the track called 12 Year Old Boy(a Blues/Rock/Jazz fusion tune), by Keb'Mo and Robert Cray.  A highly polished rendition of the ever green, They Can't Take That Away From Me(saccharin sweet vocal duet), by Jane Monheit and John Pizzarelli.The session are hosted by Ramsey Lewis himself.

The DVD has great picture quality too. However, I am sure the Blu-ray version is even better too. The best thing is, one does not really need to be an absolute Jazz fan to appreciate the performances. In fact, I am sure many will even start to further explore Jazz music after this DVD/CD set. This set is a must buy for all AV and music connoisseurs.

September 2, 2011

10 Qs For Mario Binner Of Audio Note UK Ltd.

Wng Tatt Yew of Audio Note Malaysia told me that I should meet up with "Super Mario" because he's a very experience industry veteran, who has lots of interesting stories to tell. And then we went "away" from the KLIAV show, for just a few hours!

We spoke about so many things, related to Audio Note, tubes, music, DIY, and hifi in general. Here are 10 of the more interesting topics.
The Audio Note boys, "Super Mario" and Wong Tatt yew.

Big E: Mario, it's nice to met you. Now, where did the "Super" bit came from?

MB: You know the game called Super Mario Bros? Ha! Ha! At this point Tatt Yew chips in, "you know, all the systems he set up sounds "Super". Hence the name!"

Big E: Tell us a little bit more about your role in Audio Note?

MB: At the moment, I am mainly the AV show demonstrator and system set up guy. The last few years, I've been really busy, which includes about 10-12 scheduled AV shows world wide every year, with system set up in between those shows.

Big E: Does that mean Audio Note clearly believes in the effectiveness of AV Shows over advertisements then? Because I never see printed adverts of Audio Note in the major hifi rags.

MB: That's correct. Advertisements are very costly and you can never be sure about their effectiveness. I think that advertisements are great exposure for a new brand just starting up, however Audio Note is at different level of business development stage. We are an established brand, with a loyal customer base. We find that by doing AV Shows, we can physically touch base with our existing customers and interact with new ones. I mean in the hifi business, what better way to sale your product other than thru a successful demo? For us at Audio Note, doing AV Shows seems more logical and offers us a more effective way to communicate with our customers, both existing and potential.

Big E: You mentioned about doing system set ups, does that mean at the customers home, when they make a purchase?

MB: Yes, when a customer purchase a full line of level 5 Audio Note components or higher, I'll be made available to set up the system, at cost(meaning travel, meals and accommodation cost will be bourned by the customer).

Big E: How many levels of product does Audio Note have and at what price in RM$ would a level 5 full Audio Note system cost?

MB: We have from level 0-6 currently, but a level 7 system will be available soon. 0 being entry level and the higher the level, the more expensive the component that form a system. A Level 5 Audio Note system would probably cost from RM$800 thousand up wards!

Big E: The excellent system on demo at KLIAV 2011, which level would that be?

MB: The KLIAV 2011 demo system is between level 3 and 4. The CD transport and DAC are level 4 components, while the amps and speaker are level 3.

Mario at ease with a cup of coffee.

Big E: Now, we move to Audio Note DIY products, I've heard many DIY-ers complained that the kits do not sound exactly the same as the original Audio Note equivalent product, especially the Ongaku kit, when it was available. Any reason why the kits do not sound the same as the original?

MB: There are a few reasons why the kits sound different from our original Audio Note factory built products. First, it's a well known fact that if you give the same kit to 10 DIY-ers, all the 10 kits would end up sounding different upon completion. That's very much due to the fact that all of us uses different soldering iron and each person's soldering technique is just a little different. Next is the fact that most DIY-ers will never truly follow the assembly instruction strictly, as they'll make changes along the way when building a kit, these changes, no matter how small they may seem does have an effect on the final sound. Lastly, this is probably the biggest contributing factor to the kit's sound. The parts. Most parts we throw in to the kits are the ones that didn't make the final pair matching specs when we build our original Audio Note products. Not that the parts are defective or anything like that, they're just probably slightly off the tolerance spec during the stringent pair matching process. Having said that, I still feel that our amplifier kits does offer great value for money, sound quality wise, for those who enjoy a bit of tinkering them selves. However, I do caution about buying our speaker kit though, well if you really want to, then at least do buy the built up cabinet too. That's because the carpentry skill required to build a speaker box is just something that most people do not possess. Lastly, I'll also like to say that to these ears(as he points to his pair) the speaker kit does somehow sound inferior to the original Audio Note speakers.

Big E: Since you mentioned speakers, I noticed that Audio Note speakers share more than just a passing resemblance to those old Snell designs. I know as I used to own a pair of Snell Type J speakers. What's Audio Note's relationship with Snell, if any?

MB: You're right about our speakers looking much like the older Snell designs. It's a long story, but I think it's as good a time now to tell than any other. We started of as Snell's UK importer. Peter Qvortrup loved the sound of Snell speakers when partnered to our tube amps. For years, it was the way we sold our systems. However, tragedy struck with the passing of Peter Snell(the original owner and designer of Snell speakers). He used to scribble his designs of scraps of paper that was conveniently found, it could be on an old envelope or a piece of napkin, if he was having a cup of coffee and cakes! You get the idea. With his untimely passing, no one knew where he kept his designs, not even his family members who eventually took over the business. They employed a new designer to fill in for Peter Snell, and the rest is history! The Snell speakers from that point onwards bear no resemblance what so ever, to the past designs, and worst of all, to Peter Qvortrup's ears, they just don't sound as good. It was also from that point on where Audio Note would reverse engineer Peter Snell's speaker designs, and in doing so over the years, improve upon them too. The speakers at the KLIAV show are Audio Note Type J, the same as the Snell Type J as you used to owned, but better sounding, due to some of the improvements we've made.

Big E: The 300B based mono block amplifier on demo at KLIAV 2011, I've never heard a 300B tube amplifier design sounding so dynamic, tell us a little more about it?

MB: At Audio Note, we believe that small watts does not mean small sound. The Quest Silver, is a 300B based mono block amplifier which out puts 9W. All our amplifiers will preserve the music's dynamics and transient reproduction no matter how small the out put may seem. The magic is in the way we actually match the output transformers(which are made in house) impedance to the tube's circuit design. My own personal favorite tube amplifier is 2A3 based which outputs only 8W, it's the most linear power tube I've come across.

Big E: What about CAS(Computer Audio System) source, what's Audio Note's opinion?

MB: For us at Audio Note, when it comes to digital, CD is just about acceptable as far as sound is concern. We're still pretty much dugged in to analog as source, either vinyl or master tapes. Which is why Peter Qvortrup has just bought an old LP cutting lathe, waiting to be restored and given the full Audio Note treatment when time permits. The intention is to produce or re-issue some of the music dear to our hearts on vinyl. However, don't hold yor breath for them just yet. It's likely to take a long time to restore the cutting lathe, and add that to the music which we will choose to produce or re-issue, and by the time the copy right lawyers sorts out the legalities, and you'll get the idea how long it's gonna take! It's really any one's guess at the moment.

After that chat session, "Super Mario" proceeded to demo to me some his personal music collection, which are superb, by the way. Now, if only Audio Note re-issues some of those music played that day, I am all ears for those Audio Note LPs! Mario is the last person I spoke to at KLIAV 2011.