February 27, 2012

Business As Usual?

This looks like business hours with some of our hifi dealers!

The Star daily's Audiofile section makes it's last appearance today after 22 years of publication. A whole generation of audiophiles grew up(and grew old) with Audiofile. Similarly, the NST's AV Today also had it's plug pulled(for now at least) sometime earlier this month. It's a sad loss, no make that double tragedy for the English reading Malaysian audiophile. What does this mean for local hifi market?

Keen eyed readers would've also noticed the lost of high end audio and AV dealer, Ultimate Reference advert panel on these pages. They too have shuttered sometime in January(if not mistaken). Audio Impressions also suffered the same fate some time last year.

It looks like the bad times are here. New vehicle sales are down, more people are losing their jobs, and even more companies have implemented hiring freeze. As expected, post Chinese New Year blues is the season people usually tighten their belts, after lavish spending from a series of festivities and holidays starting from the end of last year. It's the time to catch up on those credit card payments and make up for those house hold budget deficits.

What can we expect from all this? Expect less new brands and models coming to our shores, as our dealers struggle to clear their existing stocks. Expect more "SALES" and discounts. Expect some lesser brands to eventually disappear from the market place, as dealers streamline their product ranges. Expect less overall marketing activities.

I suspect this is all just the beginning! Expect things to get worst before it gets better. Perhaps this is a time for our local hifi dealers to conserve and emerge stronger out of this down season? Business as usual? Absolutely, as they say, hifi business is highly cyclical.

Still, it'll be hard to imaging both me and Odiosleuth to continue these pages for 22 years. That's a mighty long time! Kudos to all the guys who contributed to Audiofile for that long a time. You guys deserve a break and lastly, my Monday mornings will never be the same again.

February 25, 2012

Launch Event: When Liu Jia Chang Meets Lee Zong Sheng.

Pop Pop Music is puling all stops to make sure the concert of, When Liu Jia Chang Meets Lee Zong Sheng, the final part of their Chinese Oldies Revival trilogy a wild success. I was invited to the launch party just 2 days ago and was impressed by the enthusiastic Chinese press response, unlike before. This round, lead vocal Winnie Ho and highly accomplished music director Tey Cher Siang, will be joined by Ah Fei(Jeffrey Lim, part of 2V1G fame) and Worm Lee, the latest artist to join Pop Pop Music umbrella.

Leslie(ML, a.k.a. big boss of Pop Pop Music) believes the new mix and match of talents will bring new sensation to the up and coming concert, due to be held at the Bentley Music Auditorium, Mutiara Damansara, from 8pm - 10pm, on the 10th of March 2012.

Each artist were given a chance to express their new take on the classics by Liu Jia Chang & Lee Zong Sheng, once considered the godfathers of Chinese pop music, to be re-freshed with a twist of Jazz, Bossa and perhaps other Latin inspired improvisations even?

The core members of the team, from left, music director Tey Cher Siang, anchor vocal Winnie Ho, Worm Lee and Pop Pop Music boss Leslie.

Concerts are now a succesful revenue generating model for Pop Pop Music and the other local industry players are watching closely. Leslie expects new competition to follow suit, but he's confident about his "daring" business concept and superior talent pool under his management.

Regardless if one has experienced any of the previous Pop Pop Music concert series before or not, one thing is for sure, audiophiles(and music loving Malaysians in general!) need to attend more "live" concerts to enjoy music. I am sure we will all be better audiophiles and music lovers with more concert experiences. Remember the time 8pm, date 10th March 2012, and the place at Bentley Music Audiotorium.

It's less than 2 weeks away and I've been told that ticket sales are brisk. So act fast for a new concert sensation. See ya all!

Amendment 27th Febuary 2012: Kindly note that the above concert has been postponed! Please refer to Pop Pop Music blog link on the right panel for further info.

February 22, 2012

Wow! Wow! ASI AES/EBU XLR Digital Cable & Power Cord.

Guess how this posting's title came about? John(CMY Audio & Visual boss) was telling me if I liked the 75ohm RCA ASI digital cable(which I wrote about sometime ago), wait till I plug in the XLR version, "you'd go Wow!" he said. He continued that if I proceeded by adding ASI's power cord, that I'd go Wow! again. He further added that for one to completely benefit from ASI cables, the full cable loom is the way to go.

I brought the 110 ohm XLR digital cable and a pair of ASI power cords home to power my Bryston BDP/BDA-1 combo for this review. the ASI cables dressed in blue/black breaded sleeve are rather thin and feels some what stiff, but nevertheless, well built. I've been told not to bend them too tightly, for they might snap! The XLR digital cable are terminated with standard Neutrik male/female connectors on both ends, while the power cord is terminated with male/female Yarbo IEC sockets.
110 ohm AES/EBU XLR digital cable, in it's wooden box and certificate.

I first plug the XLR digital cable in between the Bryston BDP-1 media player and BDA-1 DAC. I recalled it had all the same qualities of co-axial version version but takes them a few notches up. I reported a very fast transient response and dynamic sounding cable, accompanied by a warm, rich and smooth top end with quiet back grounds, in my original encounter with RCA version. The XLR version of the ASI digital cable was even faster, harder and deeper in bass and dynamic penetration(does this sound a bit like porno promo here? Ha! Ha!)  The XLR version is quieter too in the musical back grounds, which allowed for easier to discern of finer details within the musical mix. I found the highs retained their warm, rich, smoothness, yet added a bit of sparkly sheen and crispness to sizzling high hats and cymbals. This cable starts and stops like a speedy Gonzales. It's exciting and "live like" as in concert energy wise. Wow! indeed.
ASI power cord, in it's box and certificate.

A few days later, I proceeded to add the pair of ASI power cords in to the mix, replacing my usual AOR Reference 003 to power my Bryston digital combo. Here, the power cords added a dimensional aspect of time and space to the equation. The ASI combo reminded me again of the JPS Aluminata digital cable, which is my reference to date. The staging and imaging factor now feels more complete and realistic with elbow room for each musician and "air" around the instrument, while maintaining the tight, exciting rhytmic flow.  One of the most highly entertaining cable combos I've tried to date. Wow! Again.

Prices for the ASI cables are as follows:

1 meter AES/EBU XLR digital cable = RM$2,350/pc.
1.8 meter power cord                        = RM$4,230/pc.

ASI is sold by CMY Audio & Viusal, contact John Yew at 03-21439206.

February 20, 2012

Technical Audio Devices Compact Reference Loudspeakers TAD-CR1 - Part 1

Let’s first get one thing out of the way – at RM148,000 a pair, the Technical Audio Devices Compact Reference (TAD-CR1) loudspeakers are very expensive.

This matter with their price is further exacerbated if an audiophile insists that there must be a direct correlation between price and size, i.e., the higher the price the bigger the speaker should be. The TAD-CR1 being a standmount defies this expectation. It is, as far as I know, the most expensive non-floorstanding hifi loudspeakers at this point in time.

However, if anyone were to judge the TAD-CR1 based on its size and price without hearing how they actually sound, that would be a great pity.

AV Designs, TAD’s exclusive dealer in Malaysia, told me that at this price the TAD-ST1 speaker stands dedicated to the TAD-CR1 are included, they are not an optional item like in some other countries.

While the TAD-CR1 is not a floorstander, calling it a bookshelf loudspeaker will be a total misnomer. Anyone taking a first look at the TAD-CR1 will know there is nowhere for it to go (definitely not on a bookshelf) except on its dedicated stand, in account of its bulk and its weight. The two of them are so one-piece that I can’t imagine using the TAD-CR1 without the TAD-ST1 stands. Set up in this way, this loudspeaker system occupies a footprint not smaller than a mid-size floorstander (think Wilson Sophia or Magico Q3 for example), though visually they don’t look quite big.

Technical Audio Devices Laboratories Inc. or TADL is a subsidiary of Pioneer. Incorporated on October 1st 2007, this Pioneer subsidiary aims “to elevate the standard of performance for high fidelity audio equipment. This new company will represent the highest expression of Pioneer technology in all categories evolving what TAD™ has meant in the professional recording studio for over 30 years to the world of high-end home”.

TAD is not exactly new, Pioneer said that “TAD has been a department within Pioneer for the past thirty years, dedicated to providing the highest-expression of audio technology. Pioneer is leveraging its 70-year history in speaker production with the official incorporation of TAD as a subsidiary designed to introduce studio quality loudspeakers for high definition home entertainment. TAD Labs Inc. will undertake the development, manufacturing and commercialization of new high-end speakers and electronics.” For more on TAD Laboratories’s corporatization, refer to Pioneer’s press release here.

TAD is Pioneer’s entry vehicle to the high-end. Pioneer needs to differentiate its high-end offerings from its mass market products, and just like its compatriots in the automobile industry, where Honda set up Acura, Nissan has Infiniti and Toyota has Lexus, Pioneer brought out its TAD brand. TAD is Pioneer’s ‘Lexus’ entry into the high-end marketplace.

However, as mentioned earlier, TAD is not a new set up, the TAD name has been in existence for 30 years but unknown to the audiophile consumers like us. Why? It is because TAD was active only in the professional arena. TAD’s speaker units and studio monitors are widely used in recording studios, concert halls and movie theatres. If you go to TAD’s website (http://tad-labs.com/en/index.html), it has a ‘Professional’ section that lists its studio monitor model (the TSM-2201-LR which Big E wrote about a few months ago) and a range of their raw speaker units.

With this pedigree in pro-audio, TAD is now bringing its technical excellence to consumer audio. For us at Hifi-Unlimited, it has been a fantastic journey with TAD. If you are a regular here, you would know that we had been time and again impressed with what TAD had brought out over the last couple of years.

TAD’s entry to the high-end is spearheaded by Andrew Jones, Director and Chief Engineer for TAD Laboratories. Andrew Jones is a familiar name to many audiophiles, he is previously the Chief Engineering at KEF, the venerable hifi loudspeaker manufacturer from the UK. The two TAD loudspeakers, the big brother Reference One (TAD-R1) and the Compact Reference (TAD-CR1) are Jones’ designs.

Talking about TAD and Andrew Jones, there are 2 wonderful interview articles on Ultra Audio’s website, these are must-reads for insights into TAD the company and Andrew Jones the Designer:

Searching for the Extreme: Andrew Jones of Technical Audio Devices -- Part One

Searching for the Extreme: Andrew Jones of Technical Audio Devices -- Part Two

Next, I'll talk on the design of the TAD-CR1.
(to be continued…)

Contact James Tan of AV Designs at 03-21712828 to listen to TAD

February 15, 2012

Live At The Royal Albert Hall, Adele.

The Blu-ray/DVD plus CD package.

As the world mourns at the loss of "The Voice" diva Whitney Houston, let us dissect a little more in to the music of Adele. The top two female artist today includes of Lady Gaga and Adele of course. Both equally talented, but decides to "package" themselves to their fans differently. Lady Gaga goes for broke on the commercial front, hiding her enormous talent behind lots of fashion misrepresentation(if wearing next to nothing at all is considered fashion, that is) and hideous mask. I only wish she was more confident and step out of her "package", and let the world hear her true voice, which I find holds a lot of potential for greatness.

We then come to Adele, who sells her music as soulful pop for the thinking man with impeccable taste! In most ways, she succeeds. Her talent is bared for all to listen and her sucess is no small feat, considering that she is not as "packaged" to market as Lady Gaga. Adele remains pretty much true to herself on this concert, Live At The Royal Albert Hall, which is much like her music videos, pretty static, with minimal movement. While her great voice accompanied by a band of high standards should ensure a successful concert somewhat, I did find the lack of movement, or audience interaction to be a flat, i.e. dull affair.

However, if you care to believe me, the real value of the Blu-ray or DVD plus CD package is in the 16 bit CD recording of the concert! I had the CD ripped in to my PC for playback on the Bryston BDP-1 and found it high rewarding. The first couple of songs were rather dull, as with most concerts do take time to build up, but by the fifth song, tittled Set Fire To The Rain, one of Adele's chart hits, something had happened. Perhaps I had warmed up to the concert by now? I don't know, but Adele was smoking hot and her backing band was on fire! The seventh track, Take It All, a piano accompanied solo is rather touching, as I could feel the emotion in her voice reaching out to me. Adele's re-make of George Micheal's hit, I Can't Make You Love Me had me all mushy and feeling like a softie all over. It's music I could emotional relate to and re-live with a different kinda hurt, that's so pure. I felt like this was the peak of the CD performance, before she moved on to her top hits like Someone Like You and Rolling In The Deep to round up the concert. Adele eventually warmed up to the crowd enough to interact with them in the last two songs. However, I found that she shined the brightest when just singing strip downed, I mean just accompanied by a piano. Ha! Ha! What else did you think?

As this is a hifi blog, sound quality of the recording is a concern, which I found it to suffer from the "Loudness War" syndrome. As the name say's it all, it's LOUD! I found the volume too loud at my usual listening volume setting at the pre amp. With the loudness comes the compression effects as well. Adele's vocals were project up front, in between the plain of two speakers, not much space or "Albert Hall's" royal ambiance was capture here either. Kick drums lack the dynamic edge or definition as per expected with "Live" recordings. Only the occasional double bass, and piano is well captured slightly behind Adele, which is perhaps why, I like the piano only accompanied tracks most.

Despite the clearly digital, compressed recording qualities, I still find the CD performance to be like able enough to recommend here on these pages. Adele had just announced her intention to take a long rest from the music business after a near clean sweep at this year's Grammys. Like her or not, I think she is here to stay.

February 12, 2012

Sony Launches New Range Of Balanced Armature Headphones.

Sony launched a new range of Balanced Armature headphones recently due to be available sometime next week at all Sony Stores and retail showrooms. The latest batch of headphones are clearly aimed at the iPod generation, with a discerning taste for good sound. I believe this is a good starting point to draw the youngsters in to our high end audio hobby.

The XBA-3 model of the Balanced Armature headphones is the best sounding one of all. Clearly the crowd's favorite too, judging from the many people who agree to it's sound. 

An illustration showing the incredibly small sized BA driver(left) comparing to a regular dynamic driver(middle) and a Malaysian 10 sen coin(right).

A water test for the sport model XBA-S65. The headphone still played like it did before. Impressive! 

On hand to present the technical details of the new range of Sony XBA headphones is Negano san, who worked in the headphone division of Sony for the past 30 years or so. He spent the last 3 years developing the Balance Armature technology, and professes to using past top models, competitor's product and live music to benchmark his development. He also uses a variety of music, including classical symphonies to test for the live like sound staging properties as heard in the concert hall on the XBA-3 model, which is a three way design! He also said he used disco, or club music to test the XBA-4 model, a four way design which comes with a built in super woofer.

All the Balanced Armature driver assembly are first made in Sony's Japan factory, then sent to their Malaysian factory for final complete product assembly and packaging to ensure high build standards and reliability.

The range from left,  XB-1, XB-2, XB-3 and XB-4. Note the bigger body size as we higher up the range.

The other XBA models available includes the XBA-BT75 wireless blue tooth enables headsets, and the XBA-N85D digital noise canceling headsets, targeted for the highly mobile people who like to travel with their music on the go.

The XBA series headphone prices start from RM$199.00/set of XBA-1 to RM$1399.00 for the XBA-N85D.
The large group of bloggers and press at the launch.
The Sony Representatives and model parading their latest ware. Negano san is third from left.

I had a great time trying out the various models in the range, all powered by a portable Sony player with dedicated headphone amp. The model that I felt sounded most balance and certainly very audiophile transparent sounding is the XBA-3 model, which is a 3 way design. The more expensive XBA-4 which come with a built in super woofer is just tad over boosted in the bass, which mask the detailed musicality of the XBA-3 somewhat.

The new Sony XBA series is bound to give Monster's Dr Dre series headphones a strong challenge in the local market place.

February 10, 2012

No Glases Required! Sutherland 20/20 MM/MC Phono Stage.

How times changed. I remembered that not too long ago, one would have to pay more than RM$10k for a very decent sounding phono stage. Those who craved for high end vinyl sound without the accompanying cost like me, can only look at the pre-owned classifieds. The arrival of the Ayre P-5xe and the recently voted best phono stage for 2010 here in Hifi-Unlimited, Parasound JC3 had proven beyond doubt, the vinyl revival and it's trickle down effect changed all that.

Today, we have another contender, the Sutherland 20/20 MM/MC phono stage, supplied on courtesy of The Audio Store, who had just opened their doors two months back. Retailing for RM$7,200.00, the Sutherland 20/20 is clearly in the budget of high end gears. Can it really deliver the sonic goods like the Parasound or the Ayre?

The Sutherland 20/20 MM/MC phono stage with it's top open for setting up, my Linn LP12 spinning in the back ground. 

For the price, there are bound to be areas of compromise, namely a lack of balance signal input or output. Gain is limited to 64db max for MC cartridges. There are other lower gain settings available. There are only 5 loading option for MC cartridges, at 100 Ohms, 200 Ohms, 475 Ohms, 1k Ohms and lastly the wide open 47.5k Ohms. What you do get for the money is a well built, dual mono design(right down to the wall wart power supply modules) phono stage. the circuit boards are of high quality and looks well laid out with decent enough quality parts. One area I am extremely fond of is the earth terminal knob. It's just the right sized, and comfortably knurled texture to be grabbed by the thumb and index finger, resulting in assuring grip and feel. Perhaps some may think I am making too much out of this, but my resident Pass Labs X-Ono, came with a slippery, cheap, feeling plastic earth terminal, which made me curse each time I had to use it!

I set up the Sutherland to mate with my low output Benz Micro LP cartridge of 0.34V, with maximum gain of 64db, and loaded at 475 Ohms. I proceeded to hook up the two(one for each mono chanel) wall wart power supply, closed the top casing, and was ready to play in 15 minutes or so.

A closer look at one chanel of the audio board. Note the 11 smoothing/storage power supply e-caps taking up most of the internal real estate. The audio section only takes up a small portion of board in the rear for most direct signal routing between input and output. 

The other area that Sutherland did not compromise is the sound quality. From the very first LP playback, it was apparent that the 20/20 had a neutral tonality, with a naturally warm enough quality. There was no harshness or graininess in the highs and mids are as naturally weighty and "honeyed"(remember that Strepsills advertisement with the cartoon guy and a chain saw gear in his throat, and the post Strepsills treatment?)  as they come, and the bass is articulate, bouncy and once hard hitting if the music demands so. I played Nat King Cole's recently re-issued on 4 side 45rpm LP, Love is The Thing, featuring the opening track, When I Fall In Love, I heard sweet soaring violins in the backing orchestra and Nat's flexing vocal cord, breathing techniques all golden honeyed yet retained his voice's complex texture, transferring all his emotions, in to song. It felt like as if good ol' Nat pop a honey lemon flavoured Strepsills lozenges before he started crooning! Another area that impressed me the most is the dead silent back ground and LP surface noise. My older Pass Labs sounds whitish in the back ground accompanied by LP surface noise a plenty. See/hear how much has technology come along in the past decade or so?

The 20/20 is transparent enough but not in an apparent way, much unlike the Parasound JC3 was. In terms of macro dynamics, the Parasound with it's balance analogue outputs has the clear advantage, but the 20/20 makes up for it in the transient response department. One more area the more expensive Parasound has an advantage is bandwidth. Just like it's name 20/20 suggest, the Sutherland offers a generous see thru wall to wall sound stage with excellent stereo separation qualities. Creating a perfect vision of sound staging without the aid of visceral sonic glasses, indeed, must be the true dual mono circuit design at work here!

The Sutherland however, is not about technical prowess, but natural musicality. Despite it's slightly short coming in the above mentioned two areas, I think many listeners will find it to sound more right musically without an A/B comparison against any of the more expensive competitors. In the end I guess a lot of it depends on the music genre being played, with the Sutherland sounding more excellent with intimate jazz, vocal, chamber and most acoustically powered music. That doesn't mean the Sutherland don't do rock or symphonies well either, it's just that the Parasound is the more balanced musical all rounder here, but lacking the natural warmth of the Sutherland, which I am sure many will find comfort with. It's tough being an audiophile because there are always choices and preferences to factor when shopping for upgrades.

Note the dual mono power supply wall warts(the two black plastic boxes) for the Sutherland 20/20 phono stage.

I think the Sutherland is the perfect fit for those who are just knocking at the door step of high end vinyl dom, but does not necessarily want to chase the up grade merry go round further. The Parasound on the other hand, is perfect for those more ambitious souls, who may wish to go further with their turn table and cartridge up grades in the near future. Then again, Sutherland has the more expensive, battery powered Hubble for that very kind of people. In the mean time, I know it's early days, yet I believe the Sutherland 20/20 is a strong contender for Best of 2012!

Sutherland is sold by The Audio Store, contact Mr Aw or Antiq Low at 03-78872233

February 8, 2012

Centre Circle Audio Redecorated

Centre Circle Audio's showroom has long remained as one of the better decorated in the local scene. It has a homely feel and is a comfortable place to while away a few hours while auditioning their Hifi or home theatre setup.

Their showroom was re-decorated recently continuing on with the original theme. Their design ideas will translate pretty well into a domestic setting, in fact Centre Circle Audio also provides hifi / AV room design consultancy.

The reception area...

...which also incorporates a display of equipment...

...and a small selection of music and movie sofeware

Behind the reception area is the room for hifi auditioning, its acoustic treatment serves as tasteful and classy interior design too (Auralex diffusors on the ceiling and absorbers on the side walls, and custom designed wooden diffusor on the front and back walls)

The main hifi system on display

Custom hifi rack and amplifier stand from Centre Circle Audio, the veneer matches that on the Raidho loudspeakers on the right

The custom racks also come in wood and white veneer

Auralex acoustic treatment products displayed along a corridor

The main AV room

AV and Hifi equipment on the rack in the main AV room

Call Centre Circle Audio 03-77282686 to arrange a visit.

February 6, 2012

Kudos To Asia Sound Equipment.

Hot on the heels of Zu speakers, comes another brand called Kudos, sourced from the British side of the Atlantic pond. According to Eddie Tan, the Zu speakers attracted many enthusiastic enquiries, however the more affordable Kudos offers a lower priced entry point for music lovers just starting out on his/her hifi journey.

The full range of Kudos speakers are on demo in the Asia Sound Equipment showroom, located on Amcorp Mall's first floor.

The Kudos X2
The Kudos C2(middle) and C20(right) models, compared to the Rega speakers on the extreme left!
 For music lover on a budget, do check out these soulful sounding beauties!

For enquiries, do call Eddie Tan at 03-79552091.

February 5, 2012

Room For Harmony! Stein Music H2 Harmoniser, Magic Stones & Magic Diamonds.

Let's start the year with something rather controversial! I would normally consider the items in this review as mere tweaks, however, I've just learnt that more than a few people have professed not being able to listen to music without them anymore. The items in question?

Stein Music H2 Harmoniser, Magic Stones and Magic Diamonds. Now, let me put my usual "suspicion" across audio products(especially tweaks) with names containing the word "Magic", "Voodoo", or any other connotation hinting of mystical phenomenal. It just simply shouts "snake oil" to many that I know too. Many who came to my "bat cave" in the last three weeks had noticed the extra Harmoniser cubes, plus the Magic Diamonds and eventually discovers the more subtle Magic Stones too! Their first reaction was "I didn't know you're in to this sort of a thing?" What are they?

I therefore had to explain that as far as I know, based on Stein Music's web page, it would explain in layman's term, that our speakers convert incoming electrical signals from the amplifier to sound waves by moving air via controlled driver excursions. The Harmoniser is supposed to do something to the air in the environment where the speakers resides, and apparently sound waves travels much more effectively within "harmonised" air. This reminds me that a few years ago, some audiophiles felt more appreciative of the music being played, after installing a Medklinn air ioniser, in fact some claim that a pair of the said ioniser is even better! Was the music sounding better because they were more attentive with the ionised air, or does the positively charged air really allows sound waves emitting from the pair of speakers to travel "more effectively"? Hard questions with no simple answers, really.

Stein Music H2 Harmoniser is a smallish cube that has an "ON/OFF" switch and an "Intensity" adjustment knob at the back panel. There's also an input for wall wart power supply, but all the units brought in by AV Business are battery powered, which Vincent says will surely last more than a year at least(even if left powered up 24/7), before requiring any replacements.

A buddy introduced me to the very friendly Vincent, of AV Business System, who is the local distributor of Stein Music, a German hifi company which also manufactures speakers, besides innovative tweaks. Vincent brought me the whole she bang of the stuff you see in this review and helped with setting up. Yes, there are some product knowledge required to use these item, all made clearly known in Stein Music's web pages. However nothing beats having an experience sifu to show you the ropes.

The first(and most important according to Vincent) thing that went in to my bat cave was the H2 Harmoniser cubes, attached on their dedicated stands. Vincent says that for my small cave, only a pair of H2s are required, and bigger rooms will require two pairs. The Harmonisers are set up in the space just behind the speakers, and the front stage each corner wall(as seen below). The Harmonisers are then powered up, with a blue LED as indicator of their "ON" status. The back panel of each H2 contains a 3 step "ON/OFF" toggle switch, which allows one to switch "ON" with indicators LED or without, and "OFF". There's also and "Intensity" knob which allows you to tailor the effect of the Harmonisers to suit. We set the intensity knob at half way to start. After showing me how to use the Magic Stone and Diamonds, Vincent left me to my own devices.

One of the H2 Harmoniser on it's dedicated stand placed behind the speaker at one corner in my room. I left them powered up all the time in my room in the past few weeks, and yet the blue LED never flickered or dimmed. 

I started listening after Vincent left me on my own. I didn't hear much sonic change if at all. So I left the system running for about two hours, while I had a shower and dinner. However, once I returned from dinner for another listen, I noticed this time that my sound stage had skewed one sided and the vocal image also drifted nearly two feet towards the right corner of the front staging wall! I wondered if my speakers were moved, but a quick check confirms that they are not, and stayed where they should be. My next suspect was the H2 Harmoniser cubes, as they seemed a little out of symmetry when viewed from the throne(sweet spot). A quick telephone call to Vincent and he reminded me to toe them(Harmonisers) in directly towards the sweet spot and everything should be O.K. I then work on the positioning of the Harmoniser cubes. I found out that placing a pair of these babies requires just as much care and attention as one would do when placing a pair of speakers. I'd work with locking the vocals in the center as my guide, and once centered, I made small degrees of toe in adjustments to the Harmonisers to make sure the an orange sized mouth is achieved(this is also a known fetish of some audiophiles that I know!). I then made small adjustments to the intensity knob to ensure the vocalist mouth is well formed and not skewed or singing with cleft lips. All that effort took nearly 3 days to complete, but once done, I found that not only the vocalist mouth, benefited from the Harmoniser, the rest of the sound staging also opened up and stage depth layering was more noticeable too, with each instrument placed within is own "hallo-ed" space of air. I also noticed tighter bass, with cleaner transient lines, especially bass guitar. I played Marcus Miller's gutsy and hard hitting Silver Rain CD rip Intro track followed with Bruce Lee and experienced the sharp, agile transient yet crisp bass guitar attack notes with fulfillment.

The Stein Music Magic Diamond on my front wall, stuck on with blue tack, or other similarly sticky material.

A closer look of the Magic Stone on my back wall.

Another Magic Stone placed on the floor corner of the room. There should be one Magic Stone used for every room corner.

I next embarked on the use of Magic Stones, said to provide further tweaking enhancement to the Harmonisers. The Stones are triangle shaped made of polycarbonate material. To be frank, these Stones reminded me of the Shun Mook phenomenon when in used! Vincent supplied me a box of 6 magic Stones, in which 4 are used to placed on the floor each room corner. Another two is used to align the front and back wall of the room, by carefully pacing them on the same height, right in the middle of both walls. I found these two Stones to be of most demanding to place properly, as again, they will effect the imaging with pin point effect. Failure to align these two Stones properly will result in ghosting of center image. They also effect imaging height too. It took me a further 2 days to complete fiddling with the Stones, especially the two on the front and back wall mostly.

I found using the Stones can help to further enhance the out lines of imaging property, making each image seemingly etched out from the back ground. Some may like this, others don't. However, there's the third and final step to the Stein Music tweak story.

Stain music Magic Diamond on top of my speaker, just above the tweeter.

It comes in the form of 3 pieces Magic Diamonds. It's a diamond shape polycarbonate, meant to be placed on top of speakers, just above the tweeters. Again, there's some experimentory elements when it came to finding the exact placing of the Diamonds, but this was relatively easy compared to the earlier two. It took me a mere 2 hours to find the sweet spot on both the tweeters. I find that using the Diamonds as a final step completes the whole Stein Music tweak game plan as it's effects fills in to the etched out lines of the images, giving them more rounded body and resulting a more 3D element in imaging and sound staging quality. I did not use the third Magic Diamond as it requires me to climb up and stick it on to the middle of the ceiling. Big E is too Humpty Dumpty for this task and all the king's horses and all the king's men................(you know the story).

Stein Music calls this a "Room Conditioning" system which is rather innovative, a 3 step audio tweak that's very complete. All it requires is some experimentation effort for best results.
An illustration showing how all the Stein Music tweaks are applied in an AV room.

After reading all the above, some may accuse me of hallucinating as result of using banned substances, other's will surely ridicule me as a "psycho acoustic". If there's anything, I am probably more guilty of the second charge, but that's O.K. as long as I can live with my hifi system, sans the Stein Music Harmoniser H2, Magic Stones and Magic Diamonds later. I don't know yet as they are still in my room this very moment. D-Day reckons and that's a scary thought!

Lastly for the most scary thought of them all, the price tag! AV Business has priced  RM$6,436.00 for the complete Stein Music tweak package as tested here, consisting of one pair of H2 Harmoniser, 6pcs of Magic Stones and 3pcs of Magic Diamonds. And this is a time limited/while stocks last introductory offer!

Stein Music products are carried by AV Business System, contact Vincent at 012-2949933. 

February 3, 2012

Excellent Music - Part 2

Let’s continue on with a few more albums that I came to love in the past year.

1. Marcus Miller – Silver Rain

Marcus Miller is a jazz musician and composer. He played as a bassist on Miles Davis' jazz band. Now he has a prolific solo career as well as working with other artists.

I clued onto Marcus Miller from his bass guitar performance with Lee Ritenour in the ‘Legends of Jazz Showcase with Ramsey Lewis’ bluray disc.

‘Silver Rain’ is from the jazz-rock genre. Many tracks on this album indeed rock pretty hard. If your system is not well sorted out (e.g., bass boom, poor separation), this album will easily degenerate into a mess.

I finally ‘got’ this album when I played it through the PMC IB2i loudspeakers which were at my place for a few weeks for a write-up. With the PMC, my room was pulsating with tight, well defined, deep bass notes from Miller’s playing. His two very short solo bass guitar tracks (tracks 1 ‘Intro Duction’ and 14 ‘Outro Duction’ alone were worth the price of the album.

A fun track is track 2 ‘Bruce Lee’, which uses melodies we easily associate with Bruce Lee’s movies. Miller also showed his ingenuity in re-arranging Beethoven’s serene ‘Moonlight Sonata’ into a harder-edged composition played with modern instruments.

2. Nils Lofgren – Acoustic Live

Nils Lofgren is most noted as a guitarist on Bruce Springsteen’s band. He also has a solo recording career with many recordings under his belt.

This particular recording is of one of his live performances, in which he is the lead vocal and plays the acoustic guitar and piano.

This recording captures the live atmosphere vividly. The listener’s involvement is enhanced by the interaction of Lofgren with the audience and the people's spontaneous response. The track that best demonstrates this is track 5 ‘Keith Don’t Go’, Lofgren showed his guitar playing prowess to great success, the pyrotechnics elicited shouts of excitement and applause from the audience. It is quite an immersive listening experience.

3. Dean Peer – Ucross

This album has long been regarded as an audiophile classic.

It consists entirely of Dean Peer’s own compositions and solo playing on his bass guitar. I have been looking for this album for some time after hearing his ‘Lord’s Tundra’ on Stereophile’s Test CD 3, but could not find it in local music stores. Finally I found it on Dean Peer’s own website.

The music, playing and recording quality of this album is superb. The sound fills the entire front portion of my listening room, not just with the music notes, but also oodles of atmosphere and air. The decay of the notes and the silence in-between complete the sonic picture and left the listener with a fulfilling listening experience.

You not only get startlingly transients, slam, speed, and deep bass but you also get beautiful ambience and texture.

4. Reference Recordings – Dallas Wind Symphony Sampler

All audiophiles know Prof. Keith Johnson’s classical music recordings on his Reference Recordings label.

This album consists of selections from his works with the Dallas Wind Symphony with the customary high recording quality.

Puchong Wong showed me a quote about this album from an issue of the Taiwanese hifi mag Audio Art – “Don’t buy this CD if your amplifier is not powerful enough, your loudspeakers are not big enough and your room is not huge enough.” Now, that should give you an idea of the kind of orchestral music on this album.

Indeed, on the opening track, the timpani whacks will startle first time listeners, and the bigger your system and your room are, the bigger the sound you’ll get.

Enjoy your music in 2012!