January 30, 2012

Excellent Music - Part 1

I'd like to follow Big E in naming a few excellent albums I discovered in 2011. These selections fulfil my two criteria – a) the music must be interesting and the performance good enough to stand up to repeated listening and b) the recording quality must be high, since this is an audiophile oriented blog.

Let me start off with a Malaysian effort:

2V1G Second Album

Well, this one is not a discovery but a re-discovery. I totally underestimated this second effort from Pop Pop Music’s 2V1G trio. I bought this CD for more than a year and hardly played it, while 2V1G’s first album remained one of my favourites and reference for female vocal, not least because of Regine Tai who, sadly, has since left the group.

My first impression of 2V1G’s second album was that it was a competently done album but did not reach the artistic height of the first one. The performance came off as a little dull and flat.

I was proved wrong entirely with the arrival of the TAD Compact Reference loudspeakers in my system. The ultra-detailed TAD finally allowed this album to be showcased in its full glory. This second 2V1G effort by Leslie Loh turned out to be a more natural and balanced recording than the first one. The TAD-CR1 showed up all the ambient cues in the recording venue and the little nuances in the performance, it was like the entire event was transported into my listening room.

All the songs on this album don’t go much faster than andante. They are mostly about sadness, lost love, nostalgia. The entire album has a melancholic mood. There is no dynamics, speed or transients to impress the listener. The whole thing hangs together, and hang together it surely does, with the craftsmanship that Winnie Ho and Jeffrey put into their singing and Roger Wang into his guitar playing.

This album is like my first encounters with Japanese food, which can be described as ‘light’, ‘bland’ and ‘flat’ when compared to our local fare (think char koay teow or nasi kandar). However, as time passed, I started to appreciate that the album, like Japanese food, is about subtleties, balance and texture.

Roger Wang ‘s guitar accompaniment complements the two voices beautifully. His arrangement can be described as sparse, even more so than the first album; but it is so appropriate for the mood of this album that any additional notes may be considered superfluous and any less the whole thing will just collapse.

Winnie Ho outdoes herself compared to her last outing. She is always dependable in her technical prowess but when it comes to emotion, she holds back just a little too much in the first 2V1G outing, in my opinion. It is no longer so here - in track 4 “Trying to understand”, which is about a couple whose love has cooled, listen to Winne at the last phrase where she asks why her man no longer wants to understands what she thinks in her heart, you can hear the wretchedness in her voice and her total surrender to the situation. In track 9 ‘Rucksack’, about a girl hanging onto a rucksack a loved one left with her for years, the memories and the longing she expressed through her voice was simply moving.

Jeffrey is a worthy addition to the trio. His style is less showy but no less effective in conveying the emotional message. I like his solo tracks most – tracks 3, 5, 7. The best is track 5 ‘Looking from Afar’, again about lost love - He beautifully conveyed the picture of a guy who can’t shake his memory of his ex and how his thoughts drift to her time and again in the depth of night.

Want to know how a good hifi system can convey emotion? Listen to this album, if you don’t feel touched by these 2 voices and a lone guitar, you still have some work to do on your system.

How does this second album compared to the first? At the end of the day, I’d still rate 2V1G’s first album higher, but just by a hair. This 2V1G Second Album now stands proudly shoulder to shoulder with its older sibling.

This post has taken up more space than I planned. I’ll do a second post on a few more excellent albums from 2011.

January 29, 2012

Room For Two? A Second HiFi Show For Malaysia?

I was roped in to a highly discreet meeting a couple of months ago. The agenda of the meeting is to ask if Hifi-Unlimited would support the idea of a second hifi show in the local market context? Our motto is if the activity can stimulate further traction for the hifi hobby, then sure!

The idea for suggesting a second hifi show is to have a more stereo focused event, organised by a group of enthusiast, for the hifi connoisseur.  That effectively means it'll be a smaller, more intimate show, attended by enthusiast who knows good sound and hopefully, brings along a newbie friend or two. The show organisers are targeting about 25-30 demo rooms(mostly stereo/2 chanel only) along with foyer areas for activities such as cash & carry, music concert, and a choice of F&B sections for show attendees to hang out. The show organisers are also hopping to stage the event in the suburban area of Petaling Jaya, sometime towards the end of the year(a November weekend is most likely).

This post serves to gather first hand feedback from hifi enthusiast, as in you, our kind readers, who are the most likely show goers about your preferences and constructive suggestion which perhaps, could be incorporated in to the event. All your thoughtful feed back on the comments section of this post are appreciated.

For the record, Hifi-Unlimited will continue to provide supporting coverage for the coming KLIAV 2012 show too, just as before.

Is the hifi market getting too crowded or a case of the more, the merrier?

January 26, 2012

Best Music 2011.

We didn't do much tweak in 2011, so I decided to skip that section, but not without a mention about the Wave Kinetics A10-U8 Component Control System, which we found to give excellent results when used under digital front ends.

With that done, we move on to the more universal purpose of this hobby, to hear musical reproduction at it's finest, which we can't do without some fine music. Here are some of the finest music I've heard in 2011!
Mojo is a brilliant 80's rock album, now available in 24/48 digital downloads.

Mojo, Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers.

I've re-discovered my rock music tendencies with hi rez digital down load files. Mojo, by Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers remained on my frequent play list through out the year. Though sampling rate is a lowly 24/48, sound quality is more than excellent compared against some 24/96 files. This A&R friendly rock album is definitely Tom Petty's best yet!

Legands Of Jazz Showcase, with Ramsey Lewis.

Legends Of Jazz Showcase, with Ramsey Lewis.

This is a multi format release, featuring a DVD and CD in a box, for audio & visual demo delight. The performers invited by host Ramsey Lewis consisting of the "who's who" of modern jazz music, all performing in one jam packed session. Musical performances showcases various styles and sub genre of jazz. Both the DVD and CD presented a different angle to the same musical performance, which I enjoyed very much so.  
Best of Roger Wang, a.k.a Milestones 2000-2009 Collection.

Milestones 2000-2009 Collection, Roger Wang.

People give more credit to Roger Wang these days, compared to his early years, not that he did not deserve any of it. Here is a Milestone to mark Malaysia's most gifted guitarist for all his work in the last ten years or so. His musical journey, and with each passing track shows his maturing talent and musical growth while maintaining his technical prowess. He's quite the showman too, as witness by his various appearances on the Pop Pop Music label events. That shows here in this Milestone set on tracks taken from the Beyond Boundaries concert, performed in his home town Kota Kinabalu, with a 22 member ensemble backing his guitar to great effect. I can't wait for Roger's next Milestone Collection!

Trittico is an Audiophile favorite demo disc.

Trittico, Frederick Fennel conducting Dallas Wind Symphony.

Odiosleuth cued me on to this, big sound and dynamic presentation CD. A Prof. Johnson Digital Master Recording, the front artwork proudly says! The compositions in this CD are mostly easy to like 3 minute plus classical tracks, great for newbies just testing the water or the seasoned audiophile too. Imaging and stage scale is big if one has the room to contain the whole ensemble of the Dallas Wind Symphony, conducted by Frederick Fennel. Otherwise, just enjoy the dynamic roller coater swings that the music presents as a stress test to your system. Just one more thing, "Play this one LOUD!"   

This ends our Best Of 2011 verdicts. 2012 is already off to a good start as there's already queue formed in the hifi equipment reviews to come.

January 25, 2012

Best Cables 2011.

Cables remain controversial within audiophile community, because many are in the opinion that moneyed monkeys spend silly money on cables, while there are many in the high end community who are convinced that cables are just as important as any other equipment in the hifi chain.

We are pretty satisfied with the cables we had in hand, except for my search to obtain the best digital cable that I could practically afford. Hence the list below reflects my personal "best" choice rather than the ultimate.
I am a big fan only the JPS Aluminata range, this co-axial digital interconnect didn't disappoint.

JPS Aluminata Digital.

This was the first cable I tested during my search for a suitable digital cable, and has since remained my benchmark for other cables to emulate. Stunning transparency and zero noise floor results in digital music coming alive and breathing in my man cave. Every little detail and harmonic texture of each musical instrument, voice and emotional content is transferred wholesale to the next equipment in the hifi chain. Staging and imaging is life like, as if "I am breathing the same air with the musicians"(borrowed this from a good, good friend) experience! Possibly one of the best sounding digital cable money can buy today.
Wireworld Starlight Platinum is a top contender in the digital cable stakes.
Wireworld Starlight Platinum Digital.

This Wireworld equals the performance of the JPS Aluminata in so many ways, that it's hard to favour one over the other. However the Starlight Platinum out does the JPS in the bass department. I found the meatier bass quality highly enjoyable, only because it was just as articulate with a propulsive nature. It's only in the highs where the JPS sounds more open and extended, compared to the darker top end of the Starlight Platinum. It's a though choice between this two alpha cables and I know more than a few people who made this digital cable their reference, but for me it's the JPS Aluminata, if only by just a hair. It's that close a call!

Entreq Discover offers well rounded sound quality without silly prices. 

Entreq Discover Power Cord.

Entreq is a new brand represented by Swedish Statement. I had the chance to try out their Absolute Reference power cord, but ended up liking this cheaper Discover model instead. The Discover offers honest build quality for the price and more importantly, balanced, if a slightly immediate sonic character to suit a vast variety of high performance systems. It's not exactly cheap, but still offers excellent value.
VooDoo Reference Digital, my current reference.
 VooDoo Digital Reference.

VooDoo cables offers excellent price to performance ratio across the range. They may not be the best, but they certainly come very close in terms of sound quality, for a fraction of the asking prices compared to those snooty alpha cables. The VooDoo Digital Reference is lightly built, but will certainly be lasting with gentle handling. It's my starter cable while aspiring to something better in the future. 

Here are a few other cables that impressed me in 2011.

1) Wireworld Platinum Eclipse 6 Interconect
2) ASI Liveline Digital Co-axial
3) Supra DAC XLR Gold Digital
4) AOR Reference For Torus Power
5) MIT Shotgun MA Speaker Cables

January 23, 2012

Best Power Line Gear 2011.

These were the few power line conditioners we managed to lay our hands on in 2011. While I had tested the Torus Power RM8A AVR sometime in 2010, I didn't felt that the improvements in sonic qualities to be tangible enough for me to up grade. However something changed in the power supply grid in my area since and the Torus made a comeback!

Torus Power RM8A AVR is the best all in one power solution for me.

Torus Power RM8A AVR.

It's the ultimate all in one box power supply solution, for people residing in areas where their power supply lines are not only soiled with EMI/RFI interference, but also huge voltage swings. While EMI/RFI interference is generally agreed by consensus to degrade sound quality of a given hifi system, voltage swings can shortened lifespan of all electronics. Personally, I do feel that it's a factor that does effect a given system's sonic signature too. Too low a supply voltage(below230V)  and the sound gets all mushy, lethargic, and a general lack of drive in the music. Too high the supply voltage(above 250V) and the sounds turns harsh, with tizzy highs and vocals sing like as if they're screaming at you! Usually accompanied with a strong, dense white hash in the quiet musical passages, which mask away low level details. I am a happy Torus Power user, enuff said.

Runimg Springs Audio Duke is design exclusively for power amps!

Running Springs Audio Duke.

This is a passive power filtration designed to restore transient and dynamics losses in a given system, by working on the power amps. With the RSA Duke in Odoislueth's system, the musical canvas achieved a jet black state of nothingness and we felt that perhaps that contributed to faster transient response and stronger dynamic swings. It just made orchestral crescendos peaked just that much higher, and rock music rendered more energetic. However, the Duke's additional qualities did not take away the suppleness, sweetness and organic qualities that were already part of Odiosleuth's system vocabulary. Here's a no compromise approach to passive power conditioning.

Shunyata Hydra V-Ray II is an improvement in passive power filtration of past versions.

Shunyata Hydra V-Ray II.

Odiosleuth has been a Shunyata fan for a few years now. With each update, we felt Shunyata is moving away from the warm, cuddly effects introduced by the use of their PLC equipment in a given system. With the latest Hydra V-Ray II, the move to neutral sonic grounds is complete. While I felt the move is in line with current high end standards, some may miss the older style Hydra sound characteristics. By the way, the new generation Shunyata Hydra Triton series is now here, and we hope to try them out pretty soon.

I can't think of any other PLC products to mention here. Next, we look at some Best Cables 2011.

January 19, 2012

Best Speakers 2011.

Speakers are most difficult to judge of all hifi equipments. Their interaction with a given room will determine the final outcome of the sound you'll hear.  They are also responding to the amplified signal from the power amp. Impedance/Sensitivity/Watt matching will also play it's role in the final sound one hears thru a pair of speakers.

For review purposes, most big speakers are just too bulky to lug around, but we really did try, with the help of some dealers. Odioslueth was in the mood for some speaker up grades and some of the candidates here were shortlisted. Did he buy any of these?

PMC IB2i with stand.


You can say that I am somewhat biased on my choice here which is the PMC IB2i. For me, this is an aspirational choice, should one day my ship comes to dock! The IB2i has won numerous awards in other publications and I can see(no, hear) why. It has an effortless sense of sheer musicality, lead by a tight, deep diving bass with propulsive qualities. The mid range is as full bodied and "kau-kau"(Malaysian speak for describing creamy, aromatic, thick coffee or tea) as only a special 3 inch mid range dome driver equipped pair of speakers can provide. The highs are refined and smooth, but is not outstanding either. Top to bottom coherence is the order here. This PMC images stably within a wide, open sound stage, some thing that only well designed stand mounts do with ease. It's surprisingly easy on the amps too, as Odioslueth's 60W Pass XA mono block never seemed to run out of steam(except during the most demanding of orchestral crescendos!) when partnered with the IB2i speakers. Some have commented that it looks a little dull, but my advise to them when listening to these babies is "Cover the face, fire the bass!" Ha! Ha!

Dynaudio C4.

Dynaudio C4.

I've always loved the Dynaudio Confidence range, especially the C1. We had to listen to this pair of C4s in CMY's listening room, due to it's long, heavy packing crate which would've being too difficult to move up to Odiosleuth's 2nd floor man cave! The Dynaudio is supremely transparent, and has some of the most refined, yet pristine high frequency reproduction. Mids are true to source without any sugar coating. Bass goes low and articulate enough, but seems just a little shy from diving in to the deepest octaves. Some may complain that the C4 can sound somewhat hifi-sh, but I think that's the speaker's transparency at play here, it's simply reflecting the characteristics of the equipment chain up front, or perhaps the recording it self. John of CMY Audio & Visual tells me that Dynaudio C4 MKII is on it's way to Malaysian shores soon.

Marten Getz.

Marten Getz.

Marten Getz holds joint honours with the C4, Odiosleuth is very fond of these speakers as he always mentions about them during our hifi tea sessions. I can understand why. This speakers has open and highly extended highs, sweet mids, and well controlled bass. It really does nothing wrong except if telling the absolute truth is a crime! That's how highly transparent it is. I still can't forget how seductive Stacy Kent sounds thru the Getz. The Marten Getz offers an open window to your music collection. Did Odiosleuth made them his permanent reference? Stay tuned to find out.
PMC Twenty.21.

PMC Twenty.21

The latest PMC Twenty.21 are my current favorite small/budget speakers. They are highly transparent, and come with the famous BBC LS3/5A kinda sonic cues, if only in broad brush. Again, female vocals are their forte' providing some of the sweetest voices for the below RM$10k budget range. They are easy to position in the room and offers wider than expect bandwidth, dynamic range and volume loudness from such a small foot print. At one point during the world wide press demo, this diminutive pair of 21 silenced a crowd of 30 or so mingling seasoned audiophiles, and captivated them to listen thru a few songs until the demo stopped. It was as if time stood still for the crowd and only the music mattered, even if only for just a while. The music wasn't loud at all, but just enough to fill and immerse that rather large demo area with pure music. If that's not phenomenal, then I don't know what is?

There are other speakers out there for sure, some of which are better, if not more suitable in your own room and preferences than others. I hereby list them here, in no particular rank or order,  that I've heard else where, but not formally reviewed or previewed.

1) Triangle Magellan
2) Wilson Audio Maxx 3
3) Sonus Faber Cremona Auditor
4) PMC Fact 3
5) Magnaplanar Mini
6) XTZ 99.36
7) YG Carmel
8) Franck Tchang's Super Tango
9) Linn Majik Isobarik
10) TAD CR-1

We rate the Best Power Line Gear 2011 next!

January 18, 2012

Best Amplifiers 2011.

In 2010 we dabbled in more than a few power amps, but the situation is outta control in 2011 as our pre amp lust took over and ran amok!

We found the latest batch of luxury audio equipment level of pre amps to be the most neutral, transparent and offer the lowest noise floor of their kind yet. Even the best pre amps made just a few years ago, will sound some what tonally rose tinted and lacked the full transparency factor that allows the lowest of harmonic and timbrel details to be fleshed out, compared to those listed here.

All that I've mentioned of course, excludes the tube based VTL 5.5 Series II Signature. This pre amp remains special to me because of it's non-conformist, i.e. more colourful sonic character. Some like it, others do not, as we have found, and will likely to split opinions.

Sorry guys, we got some what carried away and neglected to find any bargains here this time.

TAD C-2000 pre amp is our current reference!

TAD C-2000 pre amp.

We were completely stunned by how far, this pre amp moved the hifi and musical performance goal post ahead compared to the rest of the pack! It virtually disappeared from the equipment chain, with no sonic character what so ever for us to latch on. A total musical chameleon, it just reflects each and every recording as a whole, without any of the filtering effects in transmission properties when adding another equipment to the chain. Everything in a given recording, even the most subtle of details missed by others, is effortlessly portrayed by this TAD, giving every note it's due time and space to fully develop, lingers on just that bit longer, slowly evaporating in to a fine mist of "air", before the next note starts! The C-2000 is also the most natural sounding pre amp, most free from electronic artifacts that I've yet heard, period! I can't wait to hear how much more it's bigger brother the TAD C-600 has to offer?

Jeff Rowland Corus is one interesting pre amp, but one of my favorite.

Jeff Rowland Corus.

The JRDG Corus is the budget version of the Criterion flagship. The only areas where corners seemed to have been cut is the simplified switching power supply, compared to the more elaborate battery/charger based unit that comes with the Criterion. The sound quality however, does not reflect the cost cutting! It's easily the best performing pre amp that came calling to my system over the years. The sound is exciting, yet at the same time exacting. It's totally neutral when it comes to tonality and one of the most transparent pre amp available now. Perhaps there's a positive sonic synergy matching my Pass Aleph 0 power amps, while in some systems the Corus can sound a bit on the analytical side, which may lead some, if most to prefer the next candidate on the list!

Many will like the Ayre KX-R for it's highly musical and natural presentation.

Ayre KX-R.

Holding joint honours with the JRDG Corus is the Ayre KX-R flagship pre amp. In the context of my already slightly warm sounding system, the Ayre came across as just slightly less muscular. However, I know many who may prefer the more forgiving qualities of this pre amp over the earlier two candidates. Supremely musical and dead silent, jet black back ground lets images stand out in a rather laid back sound stage. The KX-R is just as transparent as the JRDG and never have these two pre amps split more opinions than before, despite their near equal sound quality assessment!

VTL 5.5 Series II Signature can be ordered with a phono stage card, which occupies nearly half the internal space!

VTL 5.5 Series II Signature.

This is the only tube based pre amp design we've tried and it stood out for daring to be different, even if it sounds a little o'skool. Unlike the latest ARC tube pre amp designs which aim to close the gap with solid state likeness in it's sonic character, the VTL should be congratulated for standing it's ground sound wise, just being on the tube side of things. It's warm, inviting tonal colours are as easy on the ears as wearing a pair of well worn jeans. Still highly transparent enough to allow music listening sessions to be enjoyable, while only a slight softening of dynamics and transient was detected, compared against the rest in this group. Full bodied imaging realism and ambiance cues are a plenty, as any proud tube design should be. Viva la difference!

Not that we've played with much power amps this year(as a matter of fact, I didn't), however I feel the following amplifiers are worthy of ones consideration should one decide to do some power shopping. Listed in no particular rank or order.

1) Pass Labs XP-20 pre amp
2) Parasound JC-1 mono block
3) FM Acoustics FM108 mono block
4) TAD M2500 power amp
5) XTZ A100 integrated amp

Next, Best Speakers 2011.

January 17, 2012

Best Digital Gear 2011.

Frankly, I am a little surprised that after 2010, CAS based high end audio products some how, just stop coming on to the market place, instead all we got was disc based players which showcased CDs at their very best! What happened?

To me it's a bit of a dejavu feeling we got during the twilight days of vinyl, when the best advancing turn table designs only started to surface when dooms day was already pronounced, back then in the late 80's. Twenty years or so later vinyl is enjoying it's second spring, while the CD is now in it's last legs, How times have changed. Ultimately, should CAS make further in roads in to the audiophile world, or just slowly fade away like SACD and DVD-A is any one's guest today. One thing is for sure, with 32/384 music files on the horizon, it's only a matter of time when new hardware will be required to keep up.

In the mean time let the CD bask in glory of it's best play back equipment yet!

TAD D-600 CD/SACD player is a master stroke.

TAD D-600 CD/SACD player.

This is likely to be the Yamato battleship of CD players. The common storyline includes being the last pride of it's kind, where the Imperial Japanese Navy built the Yamato to be the end of all battleships, while realizing naval war fare was already shifting towards more agile and aggresive carrier based strategy. TAD also adopted this view when designing the D-600 CD/SACD player. However, unlike the Imperial Japanese Navy, they did not allow the disc spinner to be redundant in the advent of CAS digital source. Instead the TAD D-600 proved to be a perfect match for the Bryston BDP-1 playing hi-rez files to form an un-matched sonic synergy that's out of this world! Playing CDs and SACDs proved to be just as spectacular an event of musical enjoyment. Digital playback don't come much better than this, as it should, fully justifying it's asking price.

Playback Designs MPS-5 CD/SACD player is unique because it's designed to be fully up grade able which will ensure that it won't be obsolete in the near future.

Playback Designs MPS-5 CD/SACD player.

This is an interesting player because of it's modular structure and software based up grade able design. It would be a shame if it didn't sound good too. However, with it's latest power supply and firmware up grades, it does live up to expectations. Like the TAD mentioned above, it also allows connection to a digital media player like my Bryston BDP-1 to play hi rez music files. In this mode, the MPS-5 actually has the pizazz to rival the TAD master class, with it's phenomenally propulsive bass quality, low noise floor and transparency. There's a tendency to lose the last bit of "air" in a given recording compared to the TAD, but in the end, I guess one should choose it's own poison here.  However, it's when playing CDs and SACDs that the D-600 proved mostly superior, perhaps due to it's sturdier built in all aluminium transport mechanism. Having said that, I must put things in context that the fact the MPS-5 is mentioned here in this distinguished list means that it's playing at the very top level of digital playback.

Ayre DX-5 AV Engine is a do it all player, but excels particularly with CDs.
Ayre DX-5 AV Engine.

This Ayre reigned supreme, if only briefly, until the arrival of the two players mentioned above. Some have said that I was perhaps, a little harsh on the Ayre DX-5 AV Engine in my original review. Again in perspective, I found the DX-5 to show it's best with CD and Blu-ray replay. It sounded just as good too, when playing hi rez music files, via it's USB input, with signal fed by a purpose built for CAS windows OS based computer. The only reservation I had with this player is SACD playback, which is a little soft, not in volume, but rather a slight lack of drive and sense of drama, which it's otherwise a rather fine and natural sounding player. I am also not being fair to the Ayre perhaps, because ultimately, it's a whole more affordable than the other two stratospheric priced players mentioned above. Actually come to think of it, which other sub RM$40k player does it all(Audio & Video) with such high levels of competency?

Krell S-350a CD player sonically out performs it's price range by a mile. At one point, it had me wondering, why bother to spend more?

Krell S-350a CD player.

If one is contemplating on buying his last CD only player, my personal advise is why spend more? This sub RM$10k CD player can sound nearly as good as CDs are ever gonna get! It's well built and operates faultlessly too. It's sonic performance is clearly in the league of players costing 3-5 times more, if bench marked just a few years ago.  My digital source bargain of the year!

Here are a few other digital source components which I believe are worthy of my mention here in no particular order or ranking, though not formally reviewed by me personally, but heard else where.

1) Wadia 571 CD Transport, 931 Digital Controller and 922 Mono Decoding Computers combo.
2) DCS Pucini CD/SACD player and U-Clock combo.
3) Linn Klimax DS with Dinamik power supply upgrade.
4) Vitus Audio SCD-010 CD player.

That rounds up my Best Digital Gear 2011. Stay tuned for Best Amplifiers 2011, next!

January 15, 2012

Best Analogue Gear 2011.

Let us start with some analogue gears! Despite my conversion to CAS as my daily fuss free music source, the black vinyl curse still wears it's spell on me, especially when I am in the mood for some seriously audiophile numbing music, mostly jazz from 50's till the 60's.

Though we did not review much analogue stuff this year, making this three candidates appear by default, they are by no means turd sounding. Not at all. In the vinyl world, this three entries are considered real world enough for the aspiring audiophile and most of all that Rega RP-1 turn table set is likely going to be some newbie's entry point in to the black arts, and still not be ashamed about it's sonic potential, well at least with a cartridge up grade!

VPI Aries 3 & Dynavector Te Kaitora Rua MC cartridge, musically dynamic, with slam dunking bass response.

VPI Aries 3 & Dynavector Te Kaitora Rua Combo.

The VPI Aries 3 is the big brother to the successful Scout model we liked last year. When partnered with the Dynavector Te Kaitora Rua MC cartridge, sonically this mighty combo has what it takes to give the more up market tables from Clearaudio and Oracle a tough run for their money. The sound is highly transparent, with a hint of top end sweetness and slam dunking bass. It is also highly refined and ticks all the right audiophile boxes, performance wise. I have only two reservations about this table, first of which is the lack of an electronic speed change/control box(which is an extra cost option!). Second is the table's oversize plinth, which is great for stability, but will find it hard to fit on to standard sized racks. In my case, I had to review it, by setting it up on the floor. Not ideal, but ............

Parasound JC-3 is the our current RM$10k phono stage choice!

Parasound JC-3.

I was much impressed by the well rounded sonic performance of the Parasound JC-3. It does nothing wrong and everything well. It's strictly neutral tonal balance will allow the table, arm and cartridge's combo up stream to truly shine. The JC-3 is not particularly sensitive to cartridge loading, yet it's gain is high enough for use even with the lowest output of MC cartridges. It is noise free and is one of the quietest phono stage that I've tested, even with full gain setting. This Parasound is made to be partnered with turn table, arm and cartridge combo's a few rungs up it's own price! It's an over achiever and giant killer phono stage all rolled in to one!

Rega RP-1, a vinyl newbie's entry point.

Rega RP-1.

The sub RM$1k priced Rega RP-1 is possibly the cheapest and most cheerful bargain in the vinyl and perhaps the hifi world! It offers people a chance to experience the wonders of vinyl, without having to sell their mother or child! Sound wise, it's truly Rega centric, with it's exciting rhythm and pace, if a little grayish in the back ground. It's band width limited but still offers very decent musical dynamics. Best of all it's mid range is still unsullied yet offers enough body to be image rather convincingly. Which ever way one looks at it, it's still proudly made in England with pride and simplicity of engineering at it's best.

Next, we rate the best digital sources in 2011!

January 14, 2012

Best Gear Of 2011!

These are certainly my best of 2011 babes!!!

As Odiosleuth put it, before we move on in to the 2012 stuff, let's recap some gears that impressed us, and we are pretty hard to please!

I have to clarify that we are not only impressed when a super duper expensive gear sounds good. It's when a budget or average priced gear punches above it's class, we especially get excited. Our list of Best Of 2011 equipment will testify to this.

2011 must've been the year Japanese high end hifi manufacturers re-focused their audiophile efforts. Perhaps by witnessing how wrong things can go when the ultra competitive mass market consumer electronics implodes, like for instance Sony was losing $$$ for every Bravia LCD screen TV it sold. Pioneer made an earlier move to shut down it's famous Koru plasma TV division, and then poured resources in to TAD, a low key pro audio outfit they had started some 35 years ago! It seems like Sony is also re-entering the high end audio market with an AR-1, an all Scanspeak driver equipped speaker design. By the way, I think Marantz should really re-evaluate their decision to abandon their Reference series products.

In the US and Japan markets, super high end Japanese brands like BAlabo and Technical Brian have made in roads in to the high end sphere of audiophile dom. The old guards of Japanese high end like Kondo, Luxman and Accuphase soldiers on in the mean time. It would be interesting to see more of these pride of eastern designs in our local market, and how it fares against the established American, British, Italian and German high end marques.

I think in some ways, TAD products took our breath away, with their sonic performance, that is way, way, ahead of the established bench marks. In the last few years of our reviewing experience, no other high end equipment took such a giant leap in performance against well established leading models. This is especially true, in my honest opinion, when it comes to the TAD D-600 CD player and C-2000 pre amp.

Perhaps, we it's time celebrate the Japanese high end audio revival with joy!

Next we start with the Best Of Analogue Gear 2011.

January 12, 2012

Perfect HiFi@Amcorp Mall Now!

Perfect HiFi has just opened an outlet, their fourth, in Amcorp Mall, kinda considered, Malaysia's very own hifi mecca. The new outlet is located on the first floor, right next to the very familiar Asia Sound Equipment show room.
The latest Perfect HiFi showroom is located at 1st floor Amcorp Mall.

In line with the product ranges represented by Perfect HiFi, loud speakers from KEF, Sonus Faber are on display and demo, along with electronics from Pass Labs, Audio Analogue, EMM Labs round up their stereo goodies. Full Linn audio systems are also available for demo.
This Audio Analogue and Sonus Faber full Italian system offers some of the fullest most comfortable sounds on demo! One can also choose to listen to the full Linn system here. 

There are also various AV systems on display/demo here.

There are also various AV systems on demo to suit different budget and decor needs. From simple LCD/plasma display, HTiB(Home Theater in Box) systems to full 7.1 surround systems and wide screen projector based systems. 
This is the flagship room, where only some of the best are demo-ed. KEF Reference series speakers, Sonus Faber, Pass Labs and Emm Labs.

More display/demo items on the side.

The show room is cozy and one can spend time just listening to music for hours on any of the demo systems, especially, the main demo rig, consisting of Emm Labs CD player, Pass Labs pre/power amps and Sonus Faber Guarneri Memento stand mounted speakers. There are also Transparent and vDH cables on retail here too. A small collection of essential audiophile CDs are available.

Hey! Does this guy look familiar? That's because he is the very friendly Jepson Teoh!

The man in charge of this show room is non other than veteran Jepson Teoh, who can be contacted at 012-3930263 to arrange for demo appointments.

January 10, 2012

Gear That Impressed in 2011

Before we embark on sharing more hifi equipment with you in 2012, it is appropriate for me to first highlight a few pieces of hifi equipment that had stood out in the year that just passed. Each one of them had lived in my system for a number of weeks, each one of them was extensively listened to. I found them to be able to stand the test of time and will provide long term listening enjoyment to the potential owner.

Digital Frontend:

1. Wadia 571 CD Transport, 931 Digital Controller, 922 Mono Decoding Computers.
List: RM174,880. CMY

The Wadia rig in the foreground of the picture

A take-no-prisoner, leave-no-stone-unturned approach to digital playback. The sound is highly detailed, very clean and refined, yet impactful and dynamic when called for.

If you love the Wadia sound, but found this quartet too stressful financially, I'd recommend the Wadia 381 CD Player, which Big E and myself listened to last year. It is the entry level in Wadia's current line-up but gives you a slice of the Wadia top dog's sound quality and sound characteristics.

2. Technical Audio Devices TAD-D600 SACD/CD Player
List: RM129,000. AV Designs

The TAD-D600 has music in its heart. It went about doing its job in an even-handed and low key manner that I did not realize just how very excellent it was, until I took it out of my system. Then, I missed it tremendously.

Flawless rendition of all musical genres, rich sound with dense sonic images.

3. Krell S350a CD Player
List: RM10,500. Hi-Way Laser.

This Krell is a surprise find for me. I wouldn't say that it comes close to the two preceding heavyweights, but the Krell S350a punches way above its price class in terms of build and of sound quality. Many will find there isn't much more they want from a CD player.

The sound is organic, robust and musical. A very good music making machine.


1. Ayre KX-R
List: RM77,700. Hi-Way Laser

Hifi jewel at its best. Impeccable build quality. The sound has an excellent vitality and an attractive, slightly golden hue.

The Ayre KX-R is both musically and technically beyond reproach. One of the best pre-amps currently available.

2. Pass Labs XP-20
List: RM31,200. Perfect Hi-Fi

This Pass Labs sounds neutral, smooth, robust, dynamic. An excellent all-rounder. My current resident pre-amp, enough said.

Power Amplifier:

1. Parasound Halo JC1 monoblocks
List: RM39,000. Centre Circle Audio

A gentle giant. When playing softer music or small scale ensemble, the Halo JC1 has the finesse of a small amplifier, like an excellent 30-50 watter. However, the 300 watts in reserve means the JC1 will stand up to any challenge. I prefer its high bias setting which gives 25 watts in class A.


1. Marten Getz
List: RM80,781. Swedish Statement

A 'High Definition' loudspeaker.

The Marten Getz was the first pair of loudspeakers in my system that challenged me to discard my old notion of high fidelity sound.

Very detailed and clean, but not clinical when matched well (my Pass Labs XA-60 was an excellent match). The high was pristine and extended, the mid was clear and open, the bass was tuneful. I called my long-term living experience with the Marten Getz a 'cultural shock'.

Power Line Conditioner

1. Running Springs Audio - Duke
List: RM9,187.50 with the Mongoose powercord. Ultimate Reference

Power line conditioner with 2 outlets, aimed at power amp or monoblocks. Takes away haziness, adds dynamics, hugely improves bass quality.

Cables - strange, I did not get myself any cables to write about the entire 2011. So there is nothing to say.

Special Mention:

Technical Audio Devices TAD-C2000 Preamp / TAD-M2500 power amp / TAD-CR1 loudspeakers
List: RM128,000 / RM115,000 / RM148,000. AV Designs

I had the TAD-C2000 and TAD-M2500 for short listening in my system (one evening) at the turn of the year. While the TAD-CR1 loudspeakers have been running in my system for a few weeks, I have not reported on them yet. So, I'd not include them in the main body of this post.

However, each and every one of the TAD gear had sounded more than impressive in the listening session and other times in the dealer's showroom. Music listening through them was deeply satisfying, and that's what our hobby is all about.

Listen to them if they cross your path, I bet you'd learn a thing or two.

That's all I have. Onwards to 2012.

January 8, 2012

Le' Super Tango, Now On Demo. Only At CMY Audio & Visual, Damansara Up Town!

The Super Tango demo system at CMY Audio & Visual Up Town.

Franck Tchang's top flight speaker design, aptly called the "Super Tango" is now on demo, only at CMY Audio & Visual, Damansara Up Town showroom. I first spotted this speaker idle at the said showroom nearly 3 month's ago, but Chan, the showroom Manager told me that it had just arrived and they needed time to break in the pair of speakers before allowing them to be demo-ed. My dear readers, demo time is now!

Frnck Tchang's Super Tango speaker design has built in resonance control cups of various precious metal hidden inside the hull shaped box, said to be heavily braced for rigidity. Only one pair of these fine speakers has been allocated for Malaysia. Priced On Application Only.

The footers, more of Franck Tchang's secret tuning to achieve good sound!
The rear firing bass port and speaker binding post. The funny thing is that this speaker can be positioned close to rear walls and yet does not seemed to excite room modes.

I had a listening session of the Super Tango speakers with the following components that maketh a system. Soured by a 2 piece T2i Signature Metronome Technologie CD player, pre amp by JRDG Criterion and 301 mono block power amps. Cables are mix of Shunyata, Siltech and Franck Tchang's Liveline range.

This is a very special speaker, marked by it's energetic performance, which clearly mimics the transient response and dynamics of a "live" musical performance. Surround cues and location ambiance mood are faithfully reproduced, especially with "live" recordings, sounding life like and "you are there" sensation. When well set up, this is a speaker for sound staging and imaging freaks.

The Super Tango is also as transparent and as wide band width as modern speaker designs come. The combination of highly extended high frequency and super tight, deep bass never gives a dull moment. I enjoyed my tango with this pair of speakers. One could learn a thing or two about Tango too!

Just call Chan at 012-2873551 for a demo appointment.

January 6, 2012

Most Significant Changes In My Hifi 2011.

For me 2011 was the year the CD format went obsolete, well not totally, only because I still use them in my car for routine drive time listening. I rated the Bryston BDP/BDA-1 combo so highly, I decided to get them for my own listening pleasure. Yes, they require a totally changed mindset in terms of handling, storing and music playback. However, once I got used to the new practices, it just became another part of my autonomous audiophile habit, taken for granted! 
The Bryston BDP/BDA-1 combo is just perfect for me and my digital music files.

Having lived the Bryston combo for nearly a whole year now, I am still in the process of finishing all the rips from my CD collection and storing them in to my hard drives. I've also downloaded plenty of hi-rez files from the likes of Linn Music, HD Tracks, 2L, Chesky, amongst many other legit pay for music sites. The coolest thing about the Bryston combo is that I can access my music via my iPhone 4 any where from my home!
Isn't she sexy? The "cool" iPhone control interface that is!

The Bryston combo can be said to have the best compromises between convenience, sound quality, and life style all in one product. I've never look back towards my CD collection with fondness, only because 16 bit AIFF or FLAC files just sounded better, compared to the original disc it self, playing in a CD player!(I must however, qualify the statement with "unless the CD player is a TAD D-600") Hi-rez music is just icing on the cake, even if some of the files are of questionable quality. 
The Torus Power RM8A twins. The AVR version below is the best for those residing in ares where voltage in-stability is a major concern.  

The next item that took my system performance a few notches up is the Torus Power RM8A AVR. This it self is a further up grade from an RM8A isolation trans, from the noisy and unstable power supply in the Subang Jaya area! While some have questioned my wisdom for spending way too much on what is, essentially a power conditioner, all I can say is this, "to each his own, as in hifi there is no wrong nor right, only what sounds right to my ears, as it should be yours too!" 
The 3 piece Pass Labs X0.2 is cumbersome for sure, but once I heard it, I no longer wanted the X1 pre amp, which was my original up grade target!

The final piece in the 2011 up grade puzzle came in the form of a Pass Labs X0.2 pre amp. If you've been reading this blog for the past year or so, you'd realised that 2011 is the time we went all out to listen to some of the best pre amps in the market today. So why did I choose what is essentially a dated, last generation product when I have tasted some of the latest and greatest? I offer you two excuses. First, all those super duper, latest and greatest high end designs are simply out of my reach financially. The JRDG Corus sounded particularly "out of this world" in my system, but I simply can't afford it. The next excuse is what some audiophiles call synergy. I simply found the older X0.2 to have such complementary synergy when mated to my Pass Labs old dog, the Aleph 0 power amp. While the latest top pre amp designs, including the XP-20 that Odiosleuth bought, have improved lower noise floor, and better low level transparency with overall neutrality, I've always thought the X0.2 brought a degree of warmer tonal palette and romanticism that is more in line with my system's sonic synergy, and audio preferences.

I still love my music in all forms and genre which I consider as most important criteria when assembling, or up grading a hifi system. While I aim to take it slow and easy this year, who knows what 2012 has in stored?