July 30, 2012

My Favourites at KLIAV2012

I spent the Saturday of the KLIAV 2012 weekend doing my rounds there. A number of demos caught my attention more than others, and I stayed listening to music in these rooms a little longer than others, I’d like to highlight them here.

First, at the entry level.

I was quite pleasantly surprised how nice these small ActiMate Mini+ speakers sound (the red ones in the photo). This was a very simple setup, the speakers were active, and there was a iPod dock on top. So just plug the speaker into the wall, dock your iPod, and off you go.

The sound was musical and there was a general lack of nasties – ear poking highs, thin mids, woolly bass etc.. One could listen to these and enjoy the music for long hours. If one were to nitpick, the sound was just a little curtailed at the frequency extremes, that’s all. As a starter system for the youngster in the house, or a bedroom system, these ActiMate at RM 2,200 a pair were no brainers.

Well, I wish I could call the imposing KEF Blade loudspeakers entry level, but of course going into the 6-figure price range, they were not. What I want to highlight instead is the little KEF LS50 beside it. A concentric drive design, these little guys did not embarrass themselves tethered to a DCS frontend and big Pass Labs amplification. When I was in this Perfect Hifi room, the LS30 were playing with such confidence that I stayed and listened a little longer than usual. I’d credit the concentric drive design to produce such coherence in the sound, music had excellent body and articulation especially in the mids, a trait that come natural with many British loudspeakers.

Another good example of entry level component is the Triangle Color bookshelf speakers in MAXX Audio’s room, going for RM2,800 a pair. Compared to the KEF, they seemed to be more extended in the highs but sounded slightly thinner overall, though one must also keep in mind the difference in price and the disparity in partnering equipment. The Triangle Color was driven with entry level equipment from Exposure. MAXX Audio also cleverly mated the Triangle Color to a Rhythmik subwoofer and that gave it a good heft and extension down below.

Next, we come to the mid level. In this show, there were many to choose from, and there were 3 systems that I liked more than the others.

The first was the Audiolab – Mission room set up by CMY. After a period of hiatus, it was good to see them back on our shores, now with CMY as their distributors. Seen here were an Audiolab CD player, preamp and a pair of monoblocks. The speakers were a pair of Mission 76 series floorstander, in beautiful glossy piano black.

The sound was lively and extended. Again, it has the British magic of musicality and coherence. The fact that this Audiolab–Mission combination had the lowest cost among the lot compared to the next 2 systems spoke volume of its price-performance ratio advantage.

 Clearaudio – Jeff Rowland – Dynaudio setup from CMY

Creek – BAT – Epos setup from Acoustic Arts

These 2 systems couldn’t sound more different from each other.

If I were to use a food analogy to describe these two, I’d call the Clearaudio-Jeff Rowland-Dynaudio system Japanese sushi, and the Creek-Bat-Epos system good ol’ British fish n chips. Incidentally, both systems were playing LP during my visit and both sounded really good, in fact I found systems playing LP sounded generally good in this Show, must be the analogue magic at play.

I don’t expect many people to agree with my enthusiasm for the Clearaudio-Jeff-Rowland-Dynaudio system, because on first listen there were very few attention grabbing aspects for a listener to latch on to. One would need a longer listen and probably a willingness to step away from some preconception to start appreciating this system’s real strength. Like someone used to more flavourful food, first taste of sushi would be blend and boring, only after a longer acquaintance would one start to appreciate the subtleties. The sound from this system was pristine, clear and very refined. The system sounded balance and neutral, and that was what I appreciate the most.

On the other hand the Epos system sounded bold and lush. The midrange (that British thing again) sounded particularly excellent, it stood out just a mite in the mix and was very natural with beautiful body. The bass was the best I heard in the entire show, strong and very well defined. One could easily follow the bass line. The tube traps placed at the corners of the room must have helped a lot, this system did not have the bass bloat / boom that many others had.

The Epos did not sound as pristine as the Dynaudio overall, especially in the highs, the Dynaudio Esotar2 tweeter still ranked as one of the best tweeters around for me. On the other hand, the big Epos’ boldness made music listening an exciting affair.  Like I mentioned earlier, these 2 systems can’t sound more different from each other, but I found myself enjoying both and could happily live with either.

Lastly, we come to the high end.

This system I pick is from Swedish Statement and Audiomatic’s exhibit. Each component in this system was well into the high 5-figure and 6-figure Malaysian Ringgit range, yet it was not the most expensive or the biggest in the Show. It consisted of a Sperling turntable, which was making its debut in Malaysia, Vitus electronics and Marten loudspeakers.

The huge room this system was in had very bad acoustic problem. A friend jokingly said that it had very good doublebass – bass from the left and bass from the right, alluding to the bass energy bled in from the neighbouring rooms which were showcasing home theatre.

While the room was huge relative to the Marten Bird Mk2 loudspeakers, the system sounded surprisingly full at moderate listening level sitting at the sweet spot. Koo and Eugene were smart to play music that was more about tonal quality rather than hifi pyrotechnics, and the result was excellent. The sound was organic, natural and very analogue (but of course, with the Sperling turntable upfront).

Well, these are my takes of the recently concluded KLIAV2012, looking forward to 2013.

Postscript: Judging sound quality under show condition is full of perils, at different time with different music played, different people can form different opinion. In my experience, there was one more pitfall, which was about the listener. I always insisted that a system could be judged only when one was sitting at the sweet spot (this equally applies to the home environment). I had on many occasions heard different performance from the same system at different places in the same room. Some examples: seated to one side of the speakers, close to the side wall, I heard serious bass bloat, but at the sweet spot there was no such problem; Standing at the corridor leading into the room, I heard only bass boom and not much else, again no such problem at the proper seat; Listening standing up, a system sounded balanced and smooth, but seated, the highs were rough and too sharp. So I always made sure that I got the sweet spot seat at least for a few minutes. Consequently, I also take it with a pinch of salt when someone who had not sit at the sweet spot to listen for a while talk about their take of a system they just heard for the first time.

Another problem is with some of the exhibitors who play their systems too loud, presumably to attract the attendees’ attention. I could not stay long in these rooms as they were painful to listen to after a while. Hope they’ll set the volume knob at a more sensible level in the future.

1 comment:

Ken said...

My pick is as follows:

1. Orpheus electronics driving Kterm speakers

2. Theta electronics driving JBL Everest

3. Trinnov and Ayre electronics driving ATC speakers