October 31, 2011

Need For Speed? Acoustic System International Liveline Digital Co-Axial Cable.

ASI Liveline interconnects can be used as a 75ohm digital co-axial cable too, as tested here. 

I've been reading some of the comments at the Audio Circle Forums that quite a number of the Bryston BDP-1 owners actually preferred the sound via the single ended BNC output over the balanced AES/EBU output when sending digital signals to the DAC in use, mostly the matching BDA-1 from the same company. I thought I'd explore this area further my self, since I still can't get over the sonics offered by the single ended JPS Aluminata, another co-axial cable. My search for a BNC terminated cable available in the context of the local market is virtually zero. The closest thing is to use a co-axial with a BNC-RCA adaptor, on the BDP-1 side of the connection. CMY Audio & Visual offered me to try out this ASI Liveline single run interconnect, which Franck Tchang confirms that it meets the 75ohm spec and recommends that it can be use as such. Hey! If the designer is cool with it.

This is a rather light weight cable, with a very flexible feel, making it an easy tuck in to tight rack spaces. I've been advised to use the red end to receive and the black end to send the audio signal in positive phase. Just reverse the cable if you prefer to do it in "inverted" phase, which I did not try. That's all we need to know about when using this cable. The basis of review noted below is obtained with the cable used in positive phase.
From the moment the music started flowing, two things became apparent that set this ASI cable apart from others tested previously are speed and richness of tone. This is a very high speed cable, capable of delivering lightning fast transient response and micro dynamics. Certainly macro dynamics is not short changed either. Always an exciting listen, the ASI never gave me the feeling that it's rushing the music. The other area that awed me was that apparent richness in tonal quality. Normally cables can either sound rich and slow, or bright and fast, so I think Franck has somehow pulled the rabbit out of the hat here!

The following technical performance parameters represents nearly the highest of standards for a cable retailing at only RM$1490.00/pc(double that amount for stereo pair), only falling slightly short when bench marked against the best cables like the JPS Aluminata which retails for about 5 times the price. The ASI Liveline is rather quiet and will present a rather neutral sound stage that is neither too forward or too laid back. The quiet back ground makes minute details in the music easy to pick out from the whole presentation. The wide bandwidth is probably responsible for an "airy" smooth treble, yet without loss of high hat and cymbals bite. The rich mid range allows for vocals to be presented with body and bass is fast, articulate yet tuneful, if not particularly extended.

This is an excellent value for money cable capable of giving those alpha top dogs a though run. I can only speculated that these ASI Liveline cables will exhibit similar traits when used as a stereo pair interconnect, which makes them worth checking out if one is thinking of an upgrade from existing entry level ones.  

Acoustic System International(ASI) products is sold by CMY Audio & Visual, contact John Yew at 03-21439206.     

October 28, 2011

10 Qs For Brian Russell Of Bryston Ltd.

Brian Russell hokding the award winning Bryston BDP-1 Digital Media Player. That's hard work Brian, one more wood fire pizza for you. Ha! Ha!

It's been more than 2 years since I met Brian Russell, marketing head honcho at Bryston Ltd. The Canadian company has had a successful run with their amplifier products and has since branched out in to the digital arena, first with the BCD-1 CD player, then a BDA-1 DAC and lastly, the TAS 2011 Product Of The Year Winner, BDP-1 Digital Media Player, which incidentally is also my resident reference digital source.

AV Designs invited a few local hifi scribes to ask Brian 10 Qs, which are not all entirely mine, however, I cherry pick the 10 best bits for your reading pleasure!

Big E: Welcome back Brian, what brings you to these shores again?

BR: I am en-route to Bangkok after attending the Australian Hifi Show, held in Melbourne last week. However, since Bangkok is now flooded, I'll stay here instead.

Big E: Congrats for the success of the BDP-1 Digital Media Player, which I heard just won TAS 2011 Product Of The Year!

BR: Yeah! The BDP-1 is quite the game changer in the digital music market, because it allows music lovers to interact with their whole music libraries with a different experience. It's like when people just went from LP to CD, now that was a fundamental shift in music experience. Now the same is happening all over again when people move from CDs to music files.

Big E: Do you use a BDP-1 at home?

BR: Not yet, due to the fact that it's so successful in the market place, our production output is still catching up with market demand. I am now taking my sweet time to ripp all my CD collection on to the computer for storage. Once my collection is ready, I'll take the BDP-1 back home with me. I am currently using a BCD-1 as digital source. By the way, we are now shipping the last of the BCD-1 CD players out of the factory, because Philips has officially stop ed manufacturing the VAM series transports. We've been thinking about building a final Bryston CD player that you can buy, and we're thinking to make it the best CD player we can. What do you think?

Big E: Actually, there are two ways of looking at it. I believe there are people like me who already have a BDP-1 and would like a integrate it with a state of the art CD player that allows DAC input capable of the next generation of 32/384 hi rez file precessing. The other way is just a simple but well engineered transport to be added on to the existing BDA-1 DAC, which in my opinion, is a very high performance unit.

BR: There are few things we're considering at the moment but our market feedback shows a preference for top loading CD players in the premium market. Do you agree?

Big E: Actually, I have neither preference for top loaders or tray drawer based CD players, as long as the drive is well designed with equally high attention to build quality. Of more importance is the elimination of jitter error. Other then a next generation CD player, what other products can we expect from Bryston in the near future?

BR: We've just successfully launched the SP-3 Surround Processor and we have a back log of orders to clear at the moment. However, the next product on the launch pad is called the BHA-1, a head phone amp. It's already in the final stages of design, and will be ready for production very soon.

Big E: A head phone amp? Wow! Is it a portable unit or a regular hifi sized box?

BR: It's actually a full size unit, just like a BP-26 pre-amp box, without most of the knobs. We've designed the BHA-1 to have multiple inputs, and a front panel volume control. The circuitry is designed to drive any, and I mean ANY head phone design you can find in the market, including the very demanding high end electrostatic models. We feel this is an area that we can draw a new generation of hifi consumers who are now just using an iPod for their music and are used to head phone listening habits. We hope that once they experience the effects of a great head phone musical performance, they'd feel more comfortable about stepping in to the high end audio.

Big E: What is the expected price of BHA-1 when it hits the market?

BR: We have not finalized the product pricing of the BHA-1 just yet, however in Bryston tradition, we'd like to price it afford ably, so more people can have access to our quality products.

Big E: How is the Bryston affected by the current turbulent world economies, especially in the US and Europe?

BR: I'd be lying if I say we're not affected in any way. However, I dare say that in the scheme of things, we are less affected than many other high end audio companies. You must believe me when I tell you that times are really bad.... out there right now.

Big E: Since you're rather less affected than others, do you see this as a good opportunity to pick up some other high end brands out there for portfolio extension?

BR: Well, I wouldn't say it to you even if I have any such plans! Not here any way, but seriously, NO, we are not looking grow via the acquisition or merger route.

Jo sharing some insight on the BDP-1 and future Bryston CD player with Brian.

Big E: What did you do prior to joining Bryston?

BR: I was actually a chef, would ya believe me? Then one day, I woke up and asked my boss "If I wanted this, and that, in my life, would I be able to achieve my goals here?" He said no! And told me to look elsewhere in pursue my dreams. Joining Bryston was easy, because my father was one of the founders of the company! That's how I achieved my dreams, because everyday, it just doesn't feel like I am going to work! See, I am now here having fun just chatting with you guys. Hey! I am very hungry now, where's wood fire pizza we're talking about? Ha! Ha!

At this point, all the cakes and coffee became meaningless, and so we adjourned to have some wood fire pizza, and Brian shared his killer recipe of it too! Yummy, yum, yum. He's right, this doesn't feel like work after all.

We'd like to offer our thanks to James and Tony at AV Designs for making this fun session possible.

October 25, 2011

A Hifi Trio Visits London.

London is a melting pot of artistic culture and heritage, as befits it's world city status with an ole' world charm. It's also a place where many musical talents are waiting to be discovered. This group of hifi trio has been hoping to make this journey for some time now, as travel buddies. Group travelling allows us to discover the hidden personalities, that don't normally surface during usual interaction. It allows us to bond as buddies even more after a successfully accommodating trip. One can see why we're such great buddies, hifi or not!

Here are some snapshots for our memories.

HMV is now the world's largest music retailer(since the demise of Tower Records). We went and stuff our selves silly! All music related memorabilia and merchandise is available under one roof.

A chamber music ensemble playing some favourite baroque pieces beautifully, at Convent Garden performance square. All kinds of acts are available if one have the time.

David Osbourne is the Puncture Kit. He is one seriously talented drummer. Note how he mounts all the drum kits on to his bicycle so that he can take his act anywhere!

Home of St Martin In The Fields. This place normally features classical choir and orchestral acts, when it's not serving mass congregations.

Sir Nelson Pass, but this fella built no amps!

I remember this guy from years ago, when he gave my lady companion a scare! One can indeed earn a descent living from artistic expression, even as a mime!

The tradition is still alive and well. Felix got the scare treatment too!

Jo visits the EMI London office.

Other than music, the other most natural thing that audiophiles love is food! The trio caught here binging some fish & chips.

More glorious food! Three(Char Siew, Siew Yuk & Duck) roast rice anyone?

In the pub. Cheers Jo, fancy an ale?

What else was the trio up to in London? Stay tuned to find out.

Photos are courtesy of Felix and Big E.

October 22, 2011

Power with Finesse – Parasound Halo JC1 Monoblock Amplifiers

The Parasound JC1 is one big monoblock amplifier, in bulk, in weight and in power. Coming in at 29kg (64lbs) a piece, you need to have a sturdy rack to house it, or, sans which, you just have to let it sit on the floor, like me. Its power rating is 300w into 8ohm; 800w into 4ohm; and, get this, it is even rated down to 2 ohm with a whopping 1200w on tap. Peak current delivery is 135A. With specifications like this, it will remain unfazed by any real world speaker load, I believe.

Indeed, when partnered with my EgglestonWorks The Nine loudspeakers, any CD and any music was a walk in the park for the Parasound Halo JC1. I played Charly Antolini’s drum opus “Crash” to room shaking, chest thumping, ear splitting level. It was exciting! On the track ‘Co-pilot’, the snare drum was tightly focused between the loudspeakers, the sound and transient was fast and impactful, hitting like a relentless jackhammer and yet everything was well defined and well controlled at the same time. On the other more complex tracks, all the instruments – percussion, drum, electric bass were clearly delineated, rhythm and speed were very good. The entire performance was also presented coherently. Nothing ever got into mush. The JC1 held the woofer cone on the loudspeakers with a tight grip, starting and stopping with precision.

Another CD that allowed the Parasound Helo JC1 to strut its stuff was Nils Lofgren‘s ‘Acoustic Live’ album. It was recorded with a live audience. The JC1 conjured a huge soundstage at the front of my room, and gave a good sense of the audience surrounding the performance as indicated by their applause and their shouts of excitement at the beginning, mid and end of each track, ambient cues were also aplenty. My favourite from this album was ‘Keith don’t go’, the acoustic guitar’s low notes sounded weighty yet agile, the high notes were just slightly sweet and had an airy quality to them. When Lofgren got into his guitar pyrotechnics, the JC1’s speed and cleanness made a good account of itself. It was an exciting and exhilarating listening experience.

Having confirmed that the Parasound Halo JC1 could make an excellent account of itself at speed, dynamics and detail retrieval, I turned to something more introspect and refined – female vocal. Both my reference CDs – a Stacy Kent Compilation and the 2V1G first album came through with flying colours, proving that the Parasound Halo JC1 had the requisite delicacy to handle the human voice. The JC1’s mids and highs had finesse, it could deliver female vocals with naturalness and sweetness.

There are a few small toggle switches on the back panel, used to control bias level, use of the rca or the xlr input and, more unusually, to lift the ground connection

The Parasound Halo JC1 had none of the negative qualities associated with solid state. Its treble region never sounded brittle or too sharp. In fact, it was silvery smooth. The amplifier also never sounded aggressive, coarse or mechanical, qualities that could afflict some high powered amplifiers. Extension and airiness were very good. I never got listening fatigue playing the JC1 for long hours.

The JC1 had its foot firmly planted in the solid state camp. My similarly priced full Class A Pass Labs XA-60 monoblocks has a sound that kind of stood in-between solid state and tube, being warmish and organic. The JC1 compared to the XA was a little less colourful, but it gave an impression of sounding more accurate in its presentation. The sound was not lean, just a little less rounded. What it had in greater measure was focus and control.

The Halo JC1 has a bias switch, the ‘low’ setting gives out 10w of class A power, whereas the ‘high’ setting gives out 25w. After a short comparison, I found that I preferred the ‘high’ setting unsurprisingly, though it was less environmentally friendly since more electricity was thrown away as heat. At the ‘high’ setting, the JC1 sounded more at ease, the music flowed better. The sound approached that of a class A amplifier, yet its quality in terms of power, dynamic swing and control were not diminished one bit.

No audiophile will complain about having too much power. Especially when the power was delivered without compromise to other qualities that we also hold dear – delicacy, refinement, details etc.. Having huge power reserve on tap also gave some peace of mind. With the Parasound Halo JC1 I did not have to worry about what kind of music I wanted to play and how loud I wanted to play it.

The Parasound Halo JC1 is listed for RM39,000/pair. If you are looking for a powerful amplifier that can drive any loudspeaker, with lifelike dynamics yet remaining composed and never go coarse, check the JC1 out.

The Parasound Halo JC1 epitomizes the best of today’s solid state.

Parasound is carried by Centre Circle Audio. Call 03-77282686 for an audition.

October 18, 2011

Casino Royale OST, Dusty Springfield-Bacharach.

This has being an audiophile favorite, apparently much discussed and debated, to which all I plead ignorance until now, that is. So how audiophile can I get?

I was first captivated by this 24/192 DVD-A sourced hi rez file from the opening track, which is the main theme, played by Herb Alpert & The Tijuana Brass band. This rather wacky horn based track, with zippy rhythm and plenty of bite, forms the main Casino Royale theme,  which will be re-used in parts of the remaining musical score through out. Most of the tracks here are credited to Burt Bacharach.

The most famous track in this OST which is well covered by now, by every aspiring jazz, female vocalist(most nicely done by Diana Krall) is of course, Dusty Springfield's The Look Of Love. Here, Dusty's relaxed rendering is most original that I've heard till date, until my buddy Jo (Ki), came to my place and told me that this hi-rez file had totally changed Dusty's rendition from the original pressing LP. Jo was in the opinion that Dusty's vocal had been giving a boost and did not sound frail or vulnerable enough!!! I later went to another well known vinyl sifu's place to confirm Jo's observation. He had 2 different LP pressings of the same Casino Royale OST, of one is the original and the other a re-issued. He played me both the pressings and on the original, it confirmed Jo's observation, of Dusty's frail, breathy rendition of the song, which is one the most moving experience I had with The Look Of Love. Playing the re-issued LP pressing, that vocal frailness by Dusty is now gone, and replaced with a healthier sounding version, which I suspect, is probably the master used for the analog to digital transfer? The vinyl sifu, told me in that case, then go back and listen to my hi rez digital copy!

Let's go back to the sound track. The other outstanding track for me is the instrumental version of The Look Of Love, in which now, a saxophone takes center stage, but panned to the right side of the sound stage. A well reproduced saxophone track is emotionally rich in tone, density filled with lightness of air from the mouth piece to the highly controlled notes rushing out at flange of the horn. This is one audiophile killer.

Another track that I like is Hi There Miss Goodthighs, from it's suggestive tittle, you'd be right to guess that it's actually sensual music suitable for some romantic scenes as portrayed in typical movie fashion. You'd also be right to say that it's a twisted sax based music, Burt Bacharach at his romantic best.

One of the most comical track on this OST is Dream On James, You're Winning. It sounds very much like a tune that Johnny English would use for his OST too. Needless to say, the sound quality of this hi-rez file is well produced, with little of the hiss on the original master tapes evident. The wide dynamic range offered here will put many system to the test, with screaming high mids and forward top end being symptomatic of a system playing on the edge.

I've always liked James Bond movies and sound tracks, but frankly, which able bodied, healthy red blooded male demographic doesn't? The too good to be true lifestyle of a suave, high flying secret agent seems just almost too alluring, with all those government sponsored gadgets, super cars, and let's not forget all those eager to be romanced women. This Casino Royale OST is actually a spoof of the original movie with the same title, and it's different because it's just FUN!

October 14, 2011

Audiophile, And Proud Of It!

A music lover's romance or audiophile's wet dream? Why make the distinction, as long as this beauty is helping me to re-position my speakers. Ha! Ha!

It seems like my earlier music review article, featuring The 1969-1981 Singles, by Carpenters have rubbed more than a few feathers the wrong way, only because I confessed to recognise the talents of the hugely popular artistic duo via the latest 24/96 remastered hi-rez downloads. The so called "music lovers" immediately accused me of being an audiophile, like as if it was something that I should be ashamed of. Many also pride their huge collection of music as proof of being a music lover, rather than an audiophile, yet they have very ambitious audio rigs at home, and behave in a highly critical manner when they go visit fellow audiophile homes. I wish to ask this pertinent question to those who behave as such. Why the double identity, split personality behaviour?

It's actually been happening for a few years now, that I see and hear many audiophiles declare themselves to be music lovers. I could not understand that why we should be ashamed of our fairly healthy, if somewhat obsessive hobby, in pursuit of "The Absolute Sound"? We are also not as proud to "parade" or show off our equipment to fellow enthusiast, unlike those motorcar or super bike loving folks!

When I was in to stamp collection, I proudly lugged my heavy albums with me to share my collection(OK, plain showing off, if you wish!) when I knew I was about to meet fellow collectors. My friends who like to go fishing talk about their latest sea fairing adventures and show photos of their finest catches with pride. So why are we audiophiles so eager to disguise our hobby in to something else? What's the shame in being some one who adores good sounding equipment, just like the boys who adores the fast cars and perhaps, even faster women?

In a world of six billion human beings and counting, some statistics point to the figure of 2% or so, that can be considered as audiophiles. My buddy ML would even call the said statistic as highly optimistic!  No wonder the hifi market is slumping due to a lack of fresh young blood. If we, the music loving audiophile can't even be proud enough and admit to being one, who else will be convinced enough to follow our foot steps?

As ML pointed out, audiophiles seldom attends "live musical concert" as they prefer to stay at home to listen to music through their hifi systems. I see nothing wrong with that. What one chooses to do with his/her time is of nobody else's business. I personally know many music lovers who do not own any audio equipment that we could in any way considered capable of hifi! My little girls loves music for the music it self, only because they can enjoy music via their iPods, the radio station or even the crappy OEM Honda car stereo. They still move and respond to the beat of the music, despite all the lesser than average audio fidelity. The maestro,Tey Cher Siang and many other musicians I know, do not own any audio equipment that we, the snooty audiophile community will ever consider as hifi, yet they enjoy listening to music any way(to be frank, I know the maestro is trying to get to hifi kingdom, someday)! For me, it's these particular group of people, if any one else, who deserves the title of "music lover".

If one craves for hifi equipment, only because he/she wants more bass, or clearer sound, while listening to music than they are most likely to be considered an audiophile, perhaps in the future if not now. Me? To be honest, I do not know exactly which group I should consider my self to be, an audiophile or music lover?

Here's my story so far. At six of seven years old, I discovered the addictive quality of music, when I listened to stuff, from The Saturday Night Fever soundtrack, and bands like Kajagoogoo, Yazoo, Depeche Mode, Culture Club, Duran-Duran and Men At Work. It wasn't really about hifi or sound quality until I was about 15 years old, when I'd tweak the tape capstan(these were the compact cassette days!) tension to get better bass and improved speed stability. The hifi streak took over as a dorm dwelling student as I started to upgrade my stereo system, what ever it was back then. Strangely, the routine of ritual called work, plus the need to save up for a nice car and home put an end to my hifi days, but I never stop buying, listening and enjoying music, which at this point is almost always the latest chart topping hits. Some where along the line, I started appreciating female vocals and some guitar(I first heard about Roger Wang about this time) music too. It wasn't until 10 years or so ago, that the car audio bug bite and soon, I was building formidable mobile systems. I moved on from the car audio only a few years back to build my current hifi system today. While doing so, I managed to revisit and appreciate much of the music that I once discounted. It wasn't until too long ago, that I started exploring musical genre like jazz, classical, or just plain audiophile music.

So one can easily see, that in my short lifetime, I have drifted in and out between music lover and audiophile with various degree of intensity. At this point in time I'd consider myself more audiophile than music lover, only because I write in these pages and the current hifi system helps me to expand my musical horizon. If you're reading this now, surely you're more of an audiophile than anything else! Otherwise, you should be spending more time on Pop Pop Music blog as linked on the right side panel or go to http://www.thediapason.com/ amongst other worth while music journals.

However, my question now(again?) is this, music lover or audiophile? Why make the distinction?  How does it matter if you've got a hifi system and love good sound with the aim to better music enjoyment? Why does one need to feel so ashamed to be called an audiophile, that he/she has to disguised as "music lover"? After all it's not like we're doing anything bad and harmful such as paedophile? Oppss......... perhaps something is better left unspoken? Your thoughts on the subject matter?

October 12, 2011

Boom, Boom, Room. Rythmik Audio F12 Powered Sub-Woofer.

Some of you may remember a place in KL called The Boom, Boom, Room, where risque jokes and can-can dancing goes on until the fat lady sings! Many may recall the fat lady as the men eating, lady spitting Joanne Kam Po Po. At it's peak of popularity, I was at the Boom, Boom, Room practically every weekend! Time to get a bit of that Boom, Boom, Room feeling in my man cave too, that is with the arrival of the Rythmik Audio F12 sub woofer.

Rythmik Audio F12 in black. There's an awful lot of technology inside the 12 inch aluminium, high excursion driver, controlled with Direct Servo Technology, all inside a big, rigid, sealed box.

Sub woofers are mainly avoided by audiophiles who deemed themselves as purist of the two chanel bunch. Sub woofer based (otherwise popularly referred to as 2.1)systems are often controversial, as witnessed by the late Unker Vic, who was a champion of the cause(he went as far as 6.10, meaning six stacked speakers and 10 sub woofers, I think). I've also seen that there is no middle ground when it comes to 2.1 systems, one either loves it or hate it!

Let's come back to the product at hand, the Rythmik Audio F12, which made quite a bit of a splash amongst the hifi forum circles and has just arrived at Malaysian shores, courtesy of Maxx Audio, a popular Seremban based Hifi and AV retailer. The black veneered reviewed sample looks very solid, and is certainly very heavily built. It took the muscle flexing of both Maxx and Big E to lift it up to my first floor man cave. There wasn't much to marvel at, other than the various controls and knobs on the plate amp, mounted on the rear panel of the sub woofer. I did not try to lift the cloth grill covering the 12 inch driver, as it seemed pretty tightly locked in place. I didn't want to ruin Hifi-Unlimited's perfect record for non damaging of review equipment on our hands.

The supplied spike feet c/w coasters(not shown).

There was only three things to do with this sub. First, screw in the spike feet provided for all four corners, coasters are provided should one does not wanna damage their nice floor finishing. Being the manly commando that I am, the coasters are not used due to it's positioning on top of carpet. I thought long and hard about finding the best optimal sub positioning, but ended up sitting it right smack in the middle of the room. There's only so much floor space available in my 10 x 12ft room. Lastly a pair of interconnects signal(Belden, if you must know) cable and power cord(drawing juices from the Torus Power PLC) was connected.

I know the positioning is less than perfect, but since it's just a short two weeks stay, let's see what I can do to integrate a sub to mate with my PMC Fact 8 main stereo speakers. I've some known limitations that will ultimately dictate the setting adjustments of the F12, such as the Fact 8s roll off sharply after below 28Hz, and with consideration of my room mode peaking at 48Hz, I'd do well to keep the F12 working way low, frequency wise. There's six main knobs to manipulate so that the sub mate well to one's main speakers. There are Gain, Bandwidth and Frequency on the top row, followed by Delay/Phase, Crossover and Level on the row below. The rest are set and forget toggle switches. Also included is a rumble filter which I did find useful when playing LPs. It's use will filter out most of the sub sonic noise once the cartridge hits the groove. The 12 inch driver would flap wildly, as I discovered when I did not switch on the rumble filter. It remain on during the whole review period.

The plate amp became too hot to touch after my Metallica session, just like my Pass Aleph 0 mono block heat sinks. I observed that the plate amp drew as much as 1.7 ampere of peak current. I used the generic power cord provided. 

I played around with the settings using mainly kick drums, double bass and bass guitar tracks and do a final once over with male vocal(as advised by Jim Smith's Get Better Sound book). The reasoning is simple, while we'd like to get maximum bass impact out of the bass musical instruments, there must be a balance where the bass tuning is not over done to the point of smearing the male(and some deeply voiced female too) vocal range, which could reach quite low.  There's a fine line to balance between too much and too little. However, thanks to my years of helping out at IASCA Auto Sound Challenges, dialing in the F12 was not too hard a task if one knows what to look for. By the end of my second day's listening session, I had more or less settled with the sub optimization and just enjoyed the sonic bounties the F12 brought to my music. Having said that, I think with some familiar music, add some time and effort, one should not find it too big a challenge to do the same.

With this review, I think it'll probably sound more like what happens when a sub is properly integrated in to a stereo system more than about the F12. However, I must add that if the Rythmik sub did not possess the talents, it would not have being at all possible. Some years ago, most audiophile's issue of contention in regards to sub woofers are:
1) Sub are slow and usually off pace when compared to the main speakers.
2) The bass notes re-produced by sub woofers are one note, normally the HT flavoured BOOM, BOOM type.
3) There's always a phasy kind of bass, which can sound poorly integrated.
4) The main speakers do not sing in sync with the sub.

I am happy to report that all the four concerns above have been addressed by Rythmik Audio, despite my quickie dial in and set up time, I managed to get the sub to sound as one with my main PMC Fact 8 speakers, helped no doubt, by the versatile adjust ability and speed of the F12 sub. All I heard was the slightly extended lower bass notes, more articulate and confident bass note to note transfer, especially the double bass, which can sometimes have long overhang time. Bass guitar had more realistic tonal texture and definition. Kick drums kick harder and more distinctly too. However, there's more to gain than just on the bass spectrum only. I heard my system sounding more confident and at ease during the musical peaks, especially the orchestral works and metal music. I played Metallica's self tittled album, or more popularly known as "The Black Album", now available on HD tracks as 24/96 hi-rez download file. The first track called Enter The Sandman is one highly challenging tune to sustain on rock concert volumes but with the F12 sub woofer as part of my system, I managed to sustained musical peaks at 105dbs according to my iPhone's SPL meter app. While it's easy to play loud at ear straining levels, it's not everyday one can play at the same loudness, with an effortless clean sounding twist! That's the main difference that the F12 brought to the plate, it's called head room, and lot's of it. As expected too, the musical dynamic range of the system was brought up by a few notches.

Another un-expected bonus that came with a well integrated 2.1 system is the sound stage, which seems to open up and present music with more elbow room between the musicians. This is especially true with high quality church choir recordings, like the Rutter:Requiem-Pie Jesu, track 5 on the Arabesque by Crystal Cable CD. The big choir ensemble in the back row of the sound stage seemingly open up with more elbow room between each member, each with a distinctive voice, rather than a tightly bunched up group of voices as I am used to hearing them. The air organ's rumble is now more pronounced not by what I heard, but what I felt! That 20Hz rumble is un mistake able once experienced. By the third day, I was totally immersed in each listening session, looking for the most challenging tracks that I have in my music collection to impress the audiophile in me while full filling my musical cravings. I did not felt compelled to look out for the bass impact anymore, and by the end of two weeks I started to take the effects of the F12 sub woofer for granted. The music did not seem faster or slower, the tonal quality of my audio system never changed, but my musical enjoyment was improved. I am glad that I had to do some travelling and be away from my system for a while after the review period, which otherwise I might be face with another period of withdrawal symptoms, once the F12 was picked up by Maxx.

Boom, Boom, Room! The F12 sits in the middle of my cave. Place as such, it made a decent vibrating foot message too. OSIM and Ogawa, back to the drawing board please! 

A friend of mine asked me why I choose to return the Rythmik Audio F12 if I liked it so much? My first reason being I am in no financial position to make another hifi purchase at this point in time. The next being in the form of an Audio Physic Rhea remote controlled sub woofer, which I've had the good fortune to hear at a friend's place. I must however, point out that I am being very cruel to the Rythmik Audio F12, which only retails for RM$3,299.00 each , to even compare it against a high end reference sub, costing many times more. The flip side of the argument is that given the price disparity between the two products, and the very much cheaper(and should I say exceptionally good value too?) F12 can be mentioned within the same page is already a great testament to the accomplishment of Rythmik Audio.

Rythmik Audio is sold by Acoustic System, contact CN Lim at 012-3393738.

Rythmik Audio also sold by Maxx Audio, contact Maxx Loh at 017-6778820.

October 9, 2011

EgglestonWorks Signature Models at Centre Circle Audio

With its Andra III revision, EgglestonWorks has substantially improved on the Andra's aesthetics and its driver technology. For the former, EgglestonWorks did it by adding an aluminium front baffle; for the latter, EgglestonWorks used carbon fibre as the material for the midrange drivers.

Now, the improvements in the Andra III are trickling down to the other models. EgglestonWorks recently announced Signature version of its Rosa and Fontaine models. Both Signature models have the same carbon fibre drivers first seen in the Andra III. They have arrived at Centre Circle Audio and are available for audition.

A close-up of the new carbon fibre midrange driver from Morel. The famous Dynaudio Esotar tweeter is retained

EgglestonWorks Rosa Signature front and back. List Price: RM48,000

The Rosa Signature sounded impressive during my short listen at Centre Circle Audio. Despite its relatively petite frame, the Rosa Signature could conjure up a big sound with a sizeable stage. It was also fast and impactful.

EgglestonWorks Fontaine Signature front and back. List Price: RM28,500

Contact Centre Circle Audio at 03-77282686 for an audition.

October 7, 2011

Steve Jobs 1955-2011.

It's been a while since I've done a Mind Over Hifi post. I am sure most would be made aware by now, the tragic passing of Steve Jobs, Apple Inc's iconic boss. He has not only impacted the IT world as in the past, but in the last decade or so, he has practically re-shaped the music retail industry, and how we are all interfacing with our hifi equipments today, no thanks to products like iPod, iPhone and iPad. That's why I feel compelled to make this post, sitting here in my music cave listen to my hi-rez music files interfaced via my iPhone controlling the Bryston BDP-1 digital media player, and reading the online news on my iPad!

To be honest, I was never much of an Apple fan boy, although many of my buddies in the graphic arts industry worshiped the man from the days of the very first Mac PC. I vaguely remembered that a buddy had to save many years of his working wages, surviving on a strict diet of teh tarik and roti canai(Malaysia's ultimate low cost fast food combo!) and possibly a pack of Maggie noodles or so each day, just to afford an Apple Macintosh PC, back then in the 1980's. Fast forward to the recent past, in year 2006, I had offered my little darling princess a cool looking silver iPod Shuffle as a carrot for her to excel in her exams. She was motivated but failed to hit the mark required for the carrot. She tried again the next time a few months later, and this time the shinny iPod was hers! She would've naturally learned how to download songs on to her iPod by the time she got it, while I was still struggling to comprehend how to operate the single LED and 3 button(one on the iPod and the volume/track up/down control on the white headphones supplied) music device. That was my very first experience with an Apple product. My young family have since embraced music via the iPod. Coming from the Sony Walkman generation, I can always see, that if only 10% of those iPod youngsters someday would venture in to the realms of hifi, how rich the industry would be in the not too distant future? Another un-intended consequence of Steve Jobs and Apple's success.

When I stepped in to the world of CAS, it just made so much sense that the iPhone would be used as the hifi system interface to my music library. Of course, that cheapie in Big E would have to wait for the telcos to bundle the iPhone 4 in to an affordable "plan" before I jumped on the band wagon. Needless to say, the iPhone was the coolest gadget I've ever had. It excelled in everything that I wanted to do with it, like taking nice decent quality pictures on the go(some of which have being used in this blog posting before), playing games to amuse my self while patiently waiting for an appointment that was running late, catching up on my e-mails and surfing the www while on the go and a host of other features(not to mention all the free and paid apps available!) that never fails to amaze me at all, except..... for the bloody lousy phone signal reception quality! 

Then came the iPad 2, courtesy of my big, strong and friendly credit card a/c(which I had built up buying all those damn hifi gears!). Again, the iPad charmed it's way in to my family's daily life. Personally, for my own use as the interface between my music library and hifi equipment, the palm sized iPhone still trumps over the iPad, despite it's smaller screen size. I just find it less distracting to appreciate the music that is being played.

And by the way, many would also regard the recent and current Mac Mini is a great platform for CAS and iTunes as one of the best music library interface ever presented.

That's how the late Steve Jobs impacted the cultural and hifi lifestyle of a hair shirt audiophile like me, which I am sure many would have similar experiences to share.  Heck, I just remembered that even Linn(the hi-tech hifi/music company) has apps for the iPhone/iPad devices! It looks like the cultural/lifestyle impact that Steve Jobs have on the audiophile and hifi industry will likely continue for sometime in to the future.

Please excuse me, while I go back to reading the many interesting stories of the man on the www.

May he rest in peace.

October 6, 2011

The Singles 1969-1981, Carpenters.

The best hi-rez musical experience yet!

For many years, I've never understood the phenomenal success of the Carpenters, America's best selling Adult Contemporary brother and sister duo during the 1970's. Karen and Richard Carpenter formed many musical groups prior to settling on their formula of pure and simple melodies with warm, basic harmonies. I've previously dismissed their work as another blast from the past. Their tunes were sweet but somewhat teeny poppy, based on my previous purchase of their 2 CD compilation set. Perhaps the CD format just did not do the Carpenters artistic craft any favours?

It wasn't until this 24/96 download, available from HD Tracks, that I finally "get it" the Carpenters phenomenon, that is. This delicately re-mastered hi-rez download has been restored with great care, much of the studio ambiance and the critical harmonic texture and timbre of the accompanying instruments(mostly classical and of acoustic in nature, which were cleverly arranged by Richard) is preserved. Karen's voice has a soothing, calming quality that makes me wanna listen over and over. She reads the songs like as if she has live thru the lyrics in the fullest of experience. There's a certain honesty in the way she interprets the songs, that makes them believable. Every note and phrase she teases the listener with emotions of hurt, love lost, guilt, happiness and sometimes just the plain gift of joy. In an extremely revealing hi-rez capable system, all is revealed to result as a musical and hifi experience of goose bumps inducing proportions. I think some simply call the experience a "high"!

The first five tracks on this hi-rez file are all killers, but that does not mean the remaining of the tracks are fillers! My favorite tracks includes all the hits like, Yesterday Once More, We've Only Just Begun, Superstar, Rainy Days And Mondays, Touch Me When We're Dancing, (They long To Be) Close To You and Please, Mr Postman.

My verdict? The most musically and sonically accomplished hi-rez file I've yet experienced. It's like technical perfection and artistry of craft coming as one in a complete package. 

October 2, 2011

The Amazing Marten Getz Loudspeakers

I do not know how to relate the aural impact these Marten Getz loudspeakers had on me. So I thought of using an old experience of mine, a visual one, as an analogy.

A couple of decades ago, I was transiting at Tokyo’s Narita airport. In the transit lounge, there were a few TVs playing to keep the weary travellers occupied. However, it being Japan, these TVs were unlike anything I saw before. They were slim, there was practically very little depth to the box, the screens were rectangular in shape, rather than the squarish ones on the ubiquitous CRT TVs of that era.

What hit me, and left me staring at the screen for a good part of an hour though, was the picture. The program was some interview on NHK I think, I could not understand any of it as it was in Japanese. But oh, the picture was so clear that I could see the wrinkles on the faces and the creases on the clothes of the people. The picture was so smooth that I could not see the pixels at all. The colour was oh so pristine and natural. The studio was brightly lit but it was not the kind of brightness that assaulted ones’ eyes, rather, the whole scene glowed. HDTV was in its nascent stage then, but its superiority over SD was already very obvious.

That experience was like a left hook that came out of nowhere and knocked me for six. After that, my expectation of visual enjoyment totally changed, it took a great leap. This expectation is satiated only now, with the availability of bluray and HD satellite broadcast.

My listening experience with Marten similarly knocked me over, and my expectation of aural enjoyment totally changed too. My description about the HDTV visual could be changed to mean my aural experience with Marten and that would be pretty accurate.

I realized that I just experienced some sort of a cultural shock, the audiophile type, at the end of the three weeks living with a pair of Marten Getz loudspeakers. The effect they had on my audiophile sensibilities greatly shifted my expectation of what I can and want to get out of my music.

But let’s talk about the loudspeaker itself first. Marten is from Sweden. Their distinguishing design feature is the white drivers seen in all their models. These are ceramic drivers. The ceramic membrane employed has the hardness of sapphire, so the cone is very rigid, it does not flex, thus capable of producing a sound with little or no distortion. The ceramic membrane is also very thin, thinner than the human hair, and it is also very light, making the driver very responsive to electrical signal. However, the thinness also means it is fragile. A light poke may just break it like an eggshell. So every driver is protected with a metal mesh.

As we go up Marten’s model hierarchy, diamond tweeter and diamond midrange are also added into the mix.

Marten has 3 speaker ranges – Coltrane, Heritage, and Form. The Coltrane range adds carbon fibre as the construction material for their cabinets. The other ranges use the good old MDF.

The Martern Getz comes from the 4-model strong Heritage range, second from the top. Like the other models in the range, the Marten Getz is named after a jazz musician, in this case Stan Getz.

The specifications are:
  • Frequency range: 30-40000 Hz +-3dB
  • Power rating : 250 W
  • Sensitivity: 87 dB / 2.83V
  • Impedance: 6 ohm (4.0 Ohm min)
  • Type: 3-way with passive radiator
  • Drive units: 9" ceramic , 9" aluminium (passive), 7" ceramic, 1" ceramic
  • Crossover frequency: Second order: 400 & 2900 Hz
  • Terminals : WBT, Bi-wiring
  • Internal wiring : Jorma Design
  • Cabinet: 23 mm veneered MDF
  • Stands: Steel stands with Clearlight Audio cones
  • Dimensions WxHxD: 250 x 1160 x 350 mm (9.8 x 45.7 x 13.8")
  • Net weight: 35 Kg (73 lbs)
The Marten Getz comes standard with metal outriggers and wooden cones. The points of the cones are blunt, but because of the weight of the loudspeaker, they could still leave marks on wooden flooring. Put something under the cones if you need to protect the finishing of your flooring

The construction of the loudspeakers is impeccable. The walnut veneer on the pair I listened to looks absolutely exquisite. Its glossy finish also lends the Getz a luxurious look.

Marten definitely does not skimp on quality. The Marten Getz lists at RM80,781. Well, high quality does have its price tag.

The ceramic tweeter and ceramic midrange driver

Now, let’s talk about how the Marten Getz fared in my room and with my equipment.

First, let me say that the Marten Getz is an absolutely transparent pair of loudspeakers. I had 3 digital frontends at my disposal during the time the Getz was with me. The Getz readily showed up their differences. Two of them were at the stratospheric price range (circa RM80k), through the Getz they sounded significantly on the opposing end of each other; the one from an European brand was refined, organic and excellently musical, whereas the American one was bold, impactful and detailed.

The transparency of the Marten also showed up minute things I did further upstream, such as the number of FE ceraballs I used under my pre-amp (the sound was rich but a little dark with 4 pieces, more open and lighter with 3), and the support under the speaker cables (the sound is freer if the cables were lifted from the floor with FE ceraballs).

Due to the very light weight ceramic drivers, the Marten Getz had lightning fast transient and excellent dynamics, the best I heard in my room so far. There was nothing better than Dean Peer’s ‘Ucross’ CD in my arsenal to showcase this. When the playing called for it, the plucks on the electronic guitar ‘exploded’ in the air, sited in-between the speakers. There was no lag, no holding back, just a fast, clean ‘twang’ that came with all the requisite harmonic richness.

The ceramic bass driver (top) and the aluminium passive radiator (bottom)

The Marten Getz’s highs were very smooth, pure, and very extended. There was no shyness in them at all. In fact I’d call its highs explicit, but they never showed any aggressiveness or over-brightness. The Marten Getz also sounded ethereal and luxurious, having oodles of what Chinese audiophiles like to call ‘gui chi’. The mid, like the highs, was very open and grain-less too. Vocals were rendered clearly and naturally, it was colouration-free. The Marten’s bass was not the big impact type which could also sound ponderous if not done right; instead it was of the kind that was agile, tight and, most importantly, tuneful.

On Jazz such as Sonny Rollins’ ‘Way Out West’, all these elements came into play perfectly. The double bass plucking away at the bottom end keeping rhythm, each pluck was distinctive and the timing was impeccable; Sonny Rollins’ saxophone had a burnish and attractive tone, the playing alternating between being jagged and flowing. Further up, I could hear the stick striking the cymbal and the subsequently airy spread of the splash.

The Marten Getz allows biwiring / bi-amping. The terminals are WBTs

The soundstaging capability of the Marten was excellent, with the stage clearly defined behind the speakers. The images were portrayed out of the box. Focus was steady and the outlines were clearly delineated. The only reservation I have was the sense of scale which I knew I could get a bigger rendition for my room’s size. Well, I think that was what the Getz’s bigger brother, the Bird was there for. However, in a middle size room, the Getz’s staging prowess would be well nigh unbeatable.

I found that the Marten Getz was the very rare one whose performance could satisfy me at both the visceral and cerebral levels. My heart was captured by the musicality while my head was satiated by the details that the Marten Getz portrayed. To achieve this, matching was important. The Marten Getz’s cleanness, openness and focus were balanced beautifully with my Pass Labs’ slight midrange warmth, its presence and its hearty presentation. I think the Martens could sound a little too cool and plain tonally if they were matched with electronics pulling at that direction. Not the Martens’ fault though, they were just presenting what was fed to them, that is how transparent these loudspeakers are.

Listening to the Marten Getz also made me realize that I had been missing out on a lot of musical details in the past. There was much masking of details in the speakers I heard before, albeit they were at half the price or less of the Marten. However, I could not escape the fact that there were so much more details and nuances that I could still get out of my music collection.

Having said all this, I like to put in a caution. Not everyone will like Marten, and some will like it only after a lengthy listening period. People who cling onto certain notions of sound, like sweetness, romanticism, or euphony will not accept Marten, as Marten will not give you those things by itself, unless they are in the music program or in the equipment upstream. Those who like it after a lengthy listening period would be like me. I liken my time with Marten as a detoxification program for my aural senses. All the grunge and the colouration in sound that were imprinted in my head over the years need time to be purged in order for me to start listening anew.

The first week I had the Marten Getz, I was neutral about them. The second week, I liked them. The third week, I was in love!

Marten is carried by Swedish Statement. Please contact Koo at 012-2891682 or email info@swedishstatement.com.my