March 31, 2012

Hi-Way Laser Renovation Sale!

To make space for renovation at their SS2, PJ showroom, Hi-Way Laser is offering the sale of all ex-demo items with up to 50% discount. They include a range of branded AV receivers from Onkyo, Pioneer and Marantz. AV surround speaker packages from KEF and MK are also on offer.

Some ex-demo stereo items are also on sale. There are too many items to list in detail. Anyone shopping for hifi and AV bargains now should visit Hi-Way Laser's website at linked on the left panel on this blog page, or contact Kenny at 019-2813399 for more infomation.

March 29, 2012

Usher Audio Technology Factory Tour, Part III.

Now, we come to the final part of the Usher Audio Technology factory tour. Here, we take a more detailed look in to one of Usher's less visible product, audio electronics. Usher have a range of very capable, but not necessarily expensive products like CD players, pre/power amps and AV receivers too.

I've grown particularly fond of Usher's power amps, which I found to offer high standards of sound quality, balanced with high power output and keen pricing. They kinda remind me a lot of the ol'skool Krell muscle amps of the 80's, minus the treble harshness and being today's product, offering very neutral and transparent sound.

Lastly, we also take a tour to Usher's auditorium, where all final products R&D stage goes thru the last hurdle of the listening test!
This is a new DAC and output stage PCB board section of Usher's soon to be released new CD player, now under final stages of R&D.

A further look of the near complete CD player, with toroidal power supply transformer on the back of the CD transport and the DAC and output PCB board, as seen above, occupying the left side of the chassis.

The front panel of the above CD player.

Usher Audio technology's AV receiver, coming soon! Remember, you saw it here first on Hifi-Unlimited.

The electronics production line was not working when we visited.

A trial batch of the AV receiver undergoing assembly 

One of the Usher Audio Technology's listening auditoriums. Note the much acoustically treated walls. 

Usher CP-8871 Diamond DMD speakers undergoing listening test, powered by Usher Audio's electronics.

This auditorium also caters for AV and home theater products testing.

A more detailed look of the elaborate acoustic treatment.

Further close up reveals stuffed foam like material beneath angled tile fittings.

Another auditorium to cater for larger speakers and bigger audience groups.

From left: Usher D3 Reference Horn, CP-8871 and BE-718

A close up of the Usher D3 Reference Horn speaker offers tri-amping.tri-wiring.

The larger auditorium has wooden diffusers built in to the rear wall.

And also angled side walls with tile treatments.

With these pictures, we concluded our visit to Usher Audio Technology and came away mighty impressed with their facility size, R&D driven corporate culture, and lastly a growing brand name with world wide recognition and awards.

March 27, 2012

Pathos Flagships at Centre Circle Audio

Pathos' new top-of-the line pre-amp / monoblock pair, the Synapse and the Adrenalin, have arrived at Centre Circle Audio and are available for audition now.

The Pathos Synapse pre-amp:

The Pathos Synapse. I can't decide whether to call its line classic or modern minimalist.
The Synapse is ostensibly a 2-chassis pre-amp,
however the two chassis can't be separated.
The top chassis contains the pre-amp circuitry, the bottom one contains the power supply and the control circuitry.

Another look at the Synapse. At this angle it looks more like a stealth airplane.
Underneath it you get a glimpse of the Pathos Endorphin CD player.

The quartet of tubes are flanked by flower petal-like chimneys, a beautiful feature that can only come from an Italian designer.

The back of the Synapse, consisting of single-ended and balanced inputs, and 2 pairs of balanced outputs.

The Synapse's specifications:
Inputs : 3 balanced XLR / 3 single ended RCA
Outputs: 2 main balanced XLR
Frequency Response: 1Hz - 100KHz (200KHz @ -3dB)
THD: 0.04% @ 4 Vrms
Volume Control: 0.5dB - 168 steps
Tubes: 4x 6H30
Weight: 23 kg

List Price: RM80,000

The Pathos Adrenalin monoblocks:

The Pathos Adrenalin is one big amplifier, which these photos don't convey due to its upright design. Go see it in person.

The heat sinks are formed from the word 'PATHOS', another Pathos design hallmark

Another creative design, the tubes on the Adrenalin are protected by claw-like protrusions (think Wolverine :-) )

The Pathos Adrenalin's specifications:

Type: Entirely balanced, Double INPOL® power amplifier in pure class A
Feedback: Absent
Input: 1 balanced XLR / 1 unbalanced RCA
Input Impedance: 100k ohm
Output Power: 200 W @ 8 ohm
Frequency Response: 5Hz - 60kHz ± 0.3 dB
Signal / Noise Ratio: 98 dB
THD: 0.01% @ 1W / 0.2% @ 50W
Power Consumption at Rest: 475 W
Tubes: 1 x 6H30 / 2 x 12AX7 ECC83
Damping Factor: 25
Rise Time: 6µs
Fall Time: 6µs
Slew Rate: 11V/µs
Weight: 70 kg

List Price: RM140,000 per pair

During my visit, the Pathos Adrenalin was driving a pair of EgglestonWorks Andra III. The monoblocks had no problem controlling these big loudspeakers. The Andra III were delivering arguably their best bass performance I ever heard in Centre Circle Audio's showroom. The sound was also impactful and dynamic without sounding coarse, from both LP and CD. If you are looking for an exciting listening experience, you must not miss this.

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

March 25, 2012

KEF R Series Arrives! Now At Perfect Hi-Fi.

KEF's latest premium offering, the R series speakers have arrived and are now on demo in Perfect Hi-Fi. I spotted the interesting looking R 700, a pair of floor standing speaker in high gloss piano black finish on demo at perfect Hi-Fi's Amcorp Mall showroom.
Complete KEF R series on demo, including the center/surround packages.

This is one mean looking, high tech speaker employing the latest driver technologies, such as KEF newest re-designed Uni-Q integrated tweeter-mid range co-axial driver and two light weight, flat woofer cone, made from aluminium bass drivers.
The R 700 on demo is a sleek and high tech looking design. 

Please contact Jepson at 012-3930263 for more information, or demo appointment.

March 23, 2012

Usher Audio Technology Factory Tour, Part II.

As we continue our second part of the Usher Audio Technology factory tour, let's visit some of their impresive in house R&D, plus QC laboratory facilities, which seems to take up a very big part of their premises. You know Usher Audio Technology is very serious about achieving quality thru R&D.
Assembled speakers are tested in Usher Audio Technology's own in house anachoic chamber. An anachoic chamber is like a room without sound reflections, i.e. an acoustically dead room. It's used to measure the real sound quality produced by a speaker, without room induced acoustic effects.

Very few speaker manufacturers have this facility in house. I think only SIRIM has such a facility in Malaysia, which cost thousands of Ringgit/hour rental rates!

A section of the raw materials and in coming parts warehouse.

Some finished products awaiting shipment to their target makets.

Now we enter Usher's  R&D and QC laboratory. Note the human acoustical dummy with ear sensors, for psycho acoustic analysis!

Speaker driver pressure tester.

Just place the speaker driver in to the egg shaped chamber and close the lid.

Passive x-over assembly and testing.

More test equipment, scopes and test tone generators.

Not many speaker manufacturers can boast in house driver R&D plus manufacturing, as seen earlier in part 1 of the factory visit.

Stacks and stacks of test equipment!

Looks like a jitter analyser unit to test digital outputs.

Stereo Power Analyzer!

More scopes!

Various Audio Presicion speaker analyzer units.

Speaker driver impedance analyzer.

Eagle CAD(Computer Aided Design) circuit board design software, popularly used for R&D and simulation testing of PCB boards. Only very commited audio equipment manufacturers have this facility.  

Next we take a look at Usher Audio Technology's electronics and digital R&D, plus assembly line areas. And last but not least, their two very impressive audition theaters with full acoustic treatments. Don't go away!

March 21, 2012

24bit/96KHz version is here!

Latest: ML has solved the hosting problem. Please try again!

ML just called me to inform that he has uploaded the latest high-res version of Winnie Ho's "Forgetting Him" into his own host server....

1) Please paste this link onto your browser
2) Let the download begin. Then right click to download the source into your pc drive.


March 20, 2012

The Jazzy Sounds Of Teresa Teng CD Launch At CD - Rama Music Carnival 2012.

Watch out for this stage at the 1 Utama, New Wing, LG Oval if you're going to the CR - Rama Music Carnival, held from the 14th - 25th March 2012.

I was attending the launching of Pop Pop Music's latest effort, tittled The Jazzy Sounds Of Teresa Teng which was staged as part of a series of events, covered under the on going CD - Rama Music Carnival 2012, which will be running from 10am - 10pm daily, 14th - 25th March 2012, at 1 Utama, New Wing, LG Oval. There are lots of music on sale at discounted prices and plenty of other music events, sporting many local celebrities and artist(You can visit for more details of the event). Music lovers rejoice!
Launching of The Jazzy Sounds of Teresa Teng. 

The Jazzy Sounds Of Teresa Teng is probably going to be Winnie Ho's most successful album to date, both artistically and commercially, going by the 16bit(CD standard) sample track download track tittled Forget Him, available from Pop Pop Music blog. A visually excited Winnie was there to give her two sens about the recording project, supported by the talented Tay Cher Siang as the music director. Based on what I heard in the downloaded sampler track, the recording quality is likely to be excellent, as promised by Leslie Loh, the Pop Pop Man.
From left: Leslie, Winnie, Joanne(Merchandising Manager, CD - Rama), Tey Cher Siang and MC of the day.

Remember, The Jazzy Sounds Of Teresa Teng is available exclusively only from CD - Rama, which must be commended, that for a time when most major book stores are abandoning music retail, they have gone on the offensive to create a stronger presence, via their 70 branches of Popular Book stores.

March 18, 2012

Technical Audio Devices Compact Reference Loudspeakers TAD-CR1 - Part 3

I am not going to write a ‘review’ of the TAD-CR1 loudspeakers. For that, you can find more professionally done articles on the web:

From Stereophile:

From TAS:

What I’d like to do instead is to share with you my experience living with the TAD-CR1 for the long(er) term, and also what prompted me to fork out a handsome sum of money to keep them in my system, since it is no secret that I am now the owner of a pair of TAD-CR1.

What I am going to write about is my own preferences and prejudices in hifi, they are pretty much personal and subjective (and you’ll see the word ‘I’ used many times). However, I can’t claim to be the first nor the only one who hold these sentiments, as the same are expressed by fellow audiophiles I know. You can also read similar thoughts articulated through discussion forums and the many dozens of comments posted in the first of this TAD-CR1 series.

Since the time I remember myself dabbling in hifi, I have been seeking a ‘sound’. It was my notion of my audio nirvana, so to speak. This ‘sound’ was not a constant, it changed over time. For example, I would yearn for the warm beautiful seductive vocals produced from, say, a classic valve based system driving some British loudspeakers and thought that was it; then I would change and lusted after lightning transient, big sound, hefty bass instead from some American offerings; and yet I would change again after some time and look for airiness, refinement etc.. It was never-ending.

Since the last few years, I started to realize that this chase was futile. Of the hifi gear that came through HiFi Unlimited, many had a sound, or flavours, if you like, that I found very enjoyable, yet if I were to ‘upgrade’ every time, I knew I’d not be satisfied with it for too long, because something that sounded ‘better’ would invariably come along.

Then a ‘hifi sage’ (he knows who he is ;-) ) started brandishing a simple term – ‘balance’. He would not be the first one who came up with it, but he was dogmatic in applying it, either in his own system or when listening to other systems or gear.

My understanding of ‘balance’ simply means that the sound we hear is even, there is nothing jutting out and nothing that is recessed, there isn’t one characteristic of the sound that attracts attention particularly, everything is treated equally.

If I were to walk away after listening to a variety of recordings in a listening session and impressed with one particular aspect of the performance, such as, “Wow, the bass sounded so powerful” or “The mid was so rich and seductive” or “The sound was so warm” or “The high was so sweet”, I’d say they are all signs of a unbalanced system, in various degrees. If you think about it, they are signs of some sort of colouration.

I am not saying that this kind of systems do not sound good. Many audiophiles enjoy tremendously certain type of sound and they tune and set up their systems towards a certain direction. There is nothing wrong with this kind of liking. It is a personal preference for the music they listen to. That was how the owners like it. Indeed, I found this type of sound impressive and attention grabbing on first listen. I have experienced systems that always sounded beautiful with vocals and some others that were always fast, dynamic, impactful, no matter what kind of recordings you played through it.

However, for myself, over time, I found that once I could detect a ‘sound’ in a system, I started to lose interest in it, the pleasure of listening to music via that system diminished. The more prominent the character was, the faster my interest was lost. I found listening this way boring, as every piece of music and every album was portrayed similarly, you could detect the same sound, the same signature.

A balanced system does not mean that the response is flat on all recordings (like, all recordings have the same amount of low, mid, high). It is recording dependent, an electronic guitar or a drum heavy recording will have more bass energy on a balanced system, and likewise a bright recording should have more treble. If the recording is dynamic then it should sound dynamic, if the music is slow, then it should sound slow. The equipment itself does not impose its character; it just reflects the character in the recordings. In short, the recordings should sound very distinctly different from one another, as different recording labels, different bands, different venues, different recording engineers will come up with different sound.

(Some would call this ‘transparent’, ‘neutral’ or ‘honest’. I prefer the term ‘balanced’ as I think it is more encompassing. If I were to ask a bunch of audiophiles, vast majority would say that balance in sound is a good thing to have. However, it is also my experience that a balanced system usually doesn’t impress, especially on a short listen. I speculate that this is because we are conditioned to a certain extent by some characteristics or some emphases in our system’s sound that we like and we unconsciously go look for the same, and it will take some time to unlearn).

I am not sure how much a flat frequency response is correlated with a balanced sound, though I think it is one of the very important pre-requisites. Most modern electronics are pretty even sounding (though there is some designer or brand signature to some extent), the biggest variation usually is in the loudspeaker and its interaction with the room.

Enters the TAD-CR1.The first few short listening sessions I had with them I was not very impressed. There was no character to the sound, I thought. Though, deep down there was something tugging at me that I could not let them out of my mind completely. They must have been doing something right. Anyway, I asked James to allow me to have them at my place for an extended listen, in an environment and with recordings that I am familiar with.

In the first few listening sessions, it was apparent that a bunch of colouration in my system’s sound went out the window or greatly diminished. With the TAD-CR1, the sound from various instruments sounded so much more accurate and realistic. I believe I was subconsciously compensating for the colourations and imbalances mentally in the past, especially after living with them long term.

By saying the insterments sounded accurate, I mean it sounds like the real instrument in live, the timbre or the harmonic structure of the instrument is intact. A piano sounds like a piano, a guitar sounds like a guitar. (I don’t mean it sounds like the actual performance that was recorded or the actual piece of instrument that was recorded, because we have no way to know it ourselves except perhaps the performers who made the recording).

Piano is one of the instruments I use to do this ‘balance’ test. As my children play the piano, I have a real life reference on how one should sound. Solo piano is considered by many as difficult to reproduce correctly, an imbalance system will make certain range jutting out, the sound character change as we go up and down the scale, the notes don’t sound like coming from the same piano. Worse, a bass heavy system for example may blur the piano bass notes making a mess out of it. You don’t have to be a piano player to know instinctively that the sound is wrong.

My favourite solo piano recording is ‘Black & White’ by Danny Wright. One track is particularly useful in this regard – ‘Don’t cry for me, Argentina’. The TAD-CR1 got this timbre thingy correct such that the piano sounded seamless and coherent. The instrument was positioned right in front of me and as the notes traversed the left hand and the right, the character did not change, it sounded like the same piano. It was not just the timbre accuracy, but the percussive and transient nature of the piano sound was conveyed accurately too. When Wright got heavy on the left hand, the bang of the notes was dynamic, and it was accompanied by all the harmonic complexity produced from the piano soundboard. When a note was sustained, I could hear the subtle changes and variation in the harmonic structure as the note progressed, just like in real life. The right hand pings instead sounded sharp and metallic with excellent attack, again just like real life. Now, that is a pretty damn ‘balanced’ portrayal to me. My experience listening to this on the TAD-CR1 was uncannily realistic.

Another album I like to use is Sonny Rollins’ ‘Way Out West’, the XRCD version. On the title track, the saxophone, drum, and double bass are portrayed with equal weight in the mix. Through the TAD-CR1 again, this was beautifully done. Rollins’ sax on the left channel balanced nicely with Brown’s double bass and Manne’s cymbal and high hat splashes on the right, each occupying the mid, bass, treble parts of the frequency spectrum. No one was stealing the limelight, each one took turn to shine in their solo part, and when they played together, my attention could shift from one to another and followed that thread with ease.

I love it. Once I heard this kind of portrayal and gotten used to it, even expected it, I could not go back to my previous experience. I got closer to the real thing.

Let me talk a bit about bass through the TAD-CR1 in my system. I like bass, my preference and expectation about bass was shaped by an occasion many years ago and re-affirmed recently through another listening experience.

More than 10 years ago, I heard a pair of Wilson X-1/Grand SLAMM at the first KLIAV Show. Their bass performance set my mouth agape. It was not the impact, scale, dynamics of the bass performance that floored me, though that was indeed impressive too, other big loudspeakers could do the same. What I remembered more was the ease with which these behemoths produced very high quality bass notes. The best way I can put this is that the Grand SLAMM showed clearly there were many bass note ‘varieties’ in every recording. The notes had great resolution, they sounded different from one other (rather than the more commonly heard ‘blob of bass energy’), there were subtleties that I could listen into, each note gently churned and changed until they dissipated into thin air, attesting to the very high bass resolution it had.

Recently, I heard the same kind of bass performance from a pair of Wilson MAXX3, similarly the ease with which they resolved bass impressed tremendously.

The TAD-CR1 on the other hand, had extension down to about 30Hz in-room, according to JA’s measurement in his listening room, published in Stereophile, which I believe is sufficient for acoustic instruments. The TAD-CR1 does not do low bass, that is a sin of omission rather than commission, and probably you won’t miss it much unless you listen to a lot of pipe organ or electronic music. The TAD-CR1 though could not match the big bass impact and loudness from those big Wilsons given the physical size difference.

I accept these bass limitations of the TAD-CR1, those Wilsons are at the pinnacle of bass performance. I instead want to focus on getting excellent bass resolution. The TAD-CR1 is definitely up to it in my experience, provided the upstream equipment is up to it too. I heard beautifully articulated bass notes from them via the TAD-D600 digital player, and having the TAD-M2500 power amp in the chain helped too. Bass notes were nicely defined and had excellent details, it was again an addictive experience.

The first few weeks the TAD-CR1 was at my place, the bass was a little thin. Some friends who came to listen commented just as much. A while later I realized that it was some equipment support and room treatment that I did to cater for the bass of my previous speakers that leaned out the TAD-CR1’s bass too much. The room was overdamped for TAD-CR1. I started to pare back the treatment, and the bass body started to come back. However that excited a bit too much bass resonance from wall reflection that muddied the TAD-CR1s bass texture. I have also treated that with some success over time.

As I was experimenting, the bass performance vacillated between being still slightly thin to slightly too much such that the system balance and bass resolution were affected. It was not until recently that I hit on a combination that I am ok with that gave a good balance between bass and the rest of the frequency, yet still preserved the bass resolution that I looked for. In ‘Way Out West’, how the double bass carried the tune, especially in the solo part, was the best defined rendition that I have heard from my system. Each double bass note sounded distinctive from the last, and it also carried the boxy resonance and the fat bass note we hear in real life.

My experiment with bass performance will continue, with balance and resolution as the 2 main guiding principles.

Moving on - if we were to talk about overall resolution, the TAD-CR1 must be placed as one of the top among loudspeakers today. Even with upstream equipment that cost no much more than half of the TAD-CR1 at my place, there is already a great wealth of music details from CD material that are resolved and let through by the TAD-CR1. Of the people who heard them, the resolution of the TAD-CR1 impressed many and probably shocked a few. A visitor even commented that there was too much detail in the music for him to process.

The thing TAD-CR1 does with all its resolving power is that it does not purposely go and highlight the minute details. It always packages the details as part of the musical whole. The TAD-CR1 presents them when the details are present, it does not throw them at you, it is up to you to go pick it up and listen and enjoy for yourself.

Again, once I heard this kind of resolution I could not turn back. There was so much in my music that I was missing out. I didn’t want to miss it anymore.

Now, the music and the performance, rather than the hardware in my system, are doing most of the talking. I found little urge to want to go dissect the sound. I remember the music more than certain performance aspects of the sound, and that is saying a lot about my music enjoyment.

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

P.S., I want to thank many friends who have given me their feedback and suggestions. I especially want to thank JoKi who had helped with the placement of the TAD-CR1, the result was simply amazing.