March 1, 2013

We Have Moved On To

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It's official! Time for us to bid farewell at HiFi-Unlimited here. Like every journey, there must be a destination. We believe we have come to a point where the destination is here and now. It's been almost 5 roaring fun years of blogging about hifi with my partner in crime Odiosleuth. We have both grown so much richer in our musical and hifi experience, yet left some what poorer in finances(hey! it's about having fun while you're at it right?)!

For all those who followed and accompanied us along the way, fret not! Your lunch/tea/coffee break reading will remain just as interesting, if you choose to follow us over to for a new chapter in our hifi and AV journey. In , you will also see Lam Seng Fatt's musical and hifi journey continue from his days at HiFi-Avenue blog. Dick Tan will be our AV guiding light in the fast moving world of home theater.

Last but not least, we sincerely wish to thank all our dear readers and all the dealers who supported us with loaner equipments all these while. We hope that all who have supported us in the past will continue to do so in the future on , a new chapter in the Malaysian hifi and AV scene.

See ya there!

February 26, 2013

Best Of 2012!

Odiosleuth did his countdown of the best gears of 2012 last month. Here's my belated list, due to high work load, poor health and the need to finish all the reviews before I write this. Un-like the previous years, we didn't quite get an optimum mix of equipments in all categories to list a top 3 followed by other notable mentions in each particular class, be it digital or analog source, amplifiers, or speakers. We did, however got an overload or cables to write about. You know what they say about the hifi industry, when the going gets though, sell 'em more cables!

So this year, I'd just list down 10 of my most memorable hifi experiences, followed with a few notable mentions, which though some not officially reviewed or previewed in this pages, we have strong reasons to believe that they are of notable sound quality and product of substance, worthy of your time to further investigate, should you be shopping in those categories.

Here goes, THE BEST OF 2012!
Eggleston Works Ivy Signature.

The Eggleston Works Ivy Signature speakers are now on demo in Centre Circle Audio. To me these are almost the perfect big boy speakers that can be had in an imperfect world. Beauty, brain and brawn, the Ivy Signature has it all. Bass, bass, bass, the Ivy's got plenty of it, tight, accurate, and with no overhang. The highs have the best of silk dome smooth qualities in the air too. The mid range fully fleshed out vocals, with plenty of presence and bite. It's got some of the best bang slamming dynamics in the business, yet able to handle the small things, such as truth of timbre, harmonic texture, tonal colour with aplomb. The Ivy is also one of the most transparent speakers out there today, exposing recording flaws and imperfect musical performances as they are only meant to be, yet the Ivy take no hostages, and you never have to pay the price of exposed imperfections. It just gives the whole essence of listening to music that much more value. It's a do it all speaker with potential stunning performance, but they do demand the best front end components and all else connected before it to give their all. Priced On Application only. Consider this as the preview that qualifies it being here too.
dCS Puccini CD/SACD player

The dCS Puccini charmed it's way in to our hearts and mind, not quite the way we remembered it to be. I always thought dCS had a house sound that is full of details and resolution, but can be musically underwhelming. That is until the kind folks at A&L Audio Station had us putting the Puccini thru it's paces right in the comfort of our own homes. The dCS had details in spades for sure, but within those details, also lie the musical intent and emotional content of the playback performance. One can put the "entry" level dCS with the SOTA likes of TAD-D600 or the Wadia 9 Series stack of components we rated so highly last year, in the same ring on a three corner fight, and the Puccini won't disgrace it self, even if the odds of winning are stacked against it. It kinda reminds me of the Jaguar automobile motto not too long ago, it's got Pace, Grace and Space!
Skogrand SC Air Markarian 421 cables

Another memorable product experienced recently is the Skogrand SC Air Markarian 421 cables. It's a SOTA cable that not only lives up to it's name by price, but actually matched by performance too. Some say they heard god speak to them when listening to their hifi with this cable, others that have not experienced the connection, but still nothing short of audio nirvana if such a place existed?

Can't afford the Skogrand but want a taste of today's SOTA cable performance? For a smaller outlay, one can consider the Wywires Gold range, which gives a Skogrand like musical experience, but the only difference being, the Wywires does not quite have the fully developed mid range density of the more expensive cable, all other performance parameters being near equal.

Wywires till too expensive? Fret not, the latest Taralabs range of budget cable, namely TL-2/14 speaker cable. The sound is very much in mould of Skogrand and Wywires, except that it lacks the bandwidth and transparency of the two, but not the bass slam! Highly recommended!

All the above three cables share the same sonic DNA's and in some way or another, they might as well be cousins from the same family tree just a few generations ago. The only difference is rich relative, middle class uncle, or poor cousin just starting out in life.
SVS PC12-NSD vs PB12-NSD sub woofers

When it come to low, low bass, can't go wrong with SVS Sound. Be it the trouser flapping experience of the top woof PB13-Ultra, or the entry level PB12-NSD. For the budget conscious AV enthusiast who still cares about the slamming "low down" experience, there's not much in the market that can compete with the PB12-NSD.
Aesthetix Calypso pre amp

I love tube pre amps for their beauty in tonal colour. The Aesthetix Calypso comes as fine as tube pre-amps do. They play in the same sonic levels of ARC LS-26(now 27!), yet beats the LS-26 with much more pronounced dynamic contrast and burst of musical transients. For those who love the convenience of having phono stage and pre amp all in one box, there's the Janus(twin of the Calypso) to consider. And finally, Aesthetix offers greater value for performance ratio too, brand power aside. Odiosleuth highlighted why he was impressed with the Aesthetix Atlas 200W hybrid power amp, and I share his enthusiasm, plus what a fine pre/power combo the Calypso/Atlas would make.
Rega Apollo R CD player and Brio R integrated amp

It's hard to ignore the shoe box sized Rega R series components, as musical reproduction, NOT hifi goes! They're god sent to those starting their journey on hifi, or some one coming down to earth from the orbit of upgrade stars. Also perfect as a second system that doesn't take up much space. However, it's the Rega Apollo R that deserves most of the accolades as it will not make a fool of it self, even when inserted in to a system costing many times it's own price! If you believe in the almighty, the Rega R series component's only sins are of the omission kind.
KE blade speakers

The KEF Blade is a technological tour de force show case for the company's 50th Anniversary in business. It's a speaker with designer elements and high WAF(Wife Acceptance Factor), yet sounds like an audiophile's pair of dream speakers. By today's crazy high end speaker prices, the KEF actually seems like a pretty realistic buy too. It's only weakness? Bass doesn't quite go as low, nor as hard as some American speakers.
IsoTek EVO3 Polaris PLC

I think this IsoTek EVO3 Polaris is the finest effort ever by the company, yet it's asking price is not astronomical either. It's honest to goodness British way of doing business which will endear them to the market for a long, long time to come! I am still thinking about it, now that it's gone, if that's any indicator of how good it was. Most times, you'll only miss a good thing after it's long gone.
YG Carmel speakers

The YG Carmel is perhaps the company's most captivating speaker in it's line up. I would consider it to be a serious rival to Magico's V3 speakers in every way. It's the exquisite small speaker for modern quarters(i.e. small rooms) given today's sky rocketing real estate prices, many well heeled folks have less space for hifi. I thoroughly enjoyed my time with them and may some day aspire to have them as my permanent daily reference too!
TAD CR-1 speakers

The TAD CR-1 is certainly one the best, if not THE BEST, small high end mini monitor ever. Need I say more? I congratulate Odiosleuth for his fine speaker choice, but now, herein lies the problem, the CR-1s are so revealing, that it's exposing all the short comings fo the poor guy's front end components, be it, even if they are already mighty good to start with. Here's to another round of up grade orbit, buddy. Ha! Ha!

Pioneer BDP-450 Blu-Ray player

The Pioneer BDP-450 is an excellent Blu-ray player, especially in 3D mode, no doubt about it. What surprised me however, is that it makes a mighty impressive CD/SACD transport too, accessed via it's co-axial audio output, for connection to an external DAC. It's built like a high end audiophile CD player too, with rigid all aluminium and steel casing, equipped with weighty proper metal feet, not make believe plastic feet. The transport drawer action is smooth like a high end CD player too! Sound is detailed, smooth, coherent, noise/jitter free, and most of all, musical rhythmic flow, accompanied by big-big sound stage, deep and wide.
Wilson Audio XLF speakers

No, I didn't hear Wilson Audio XLF speakers yet, there's only one pair in Malaysia now. My sources are based upon people(whose ears I trust) who have heard them in action, and they rated the mighty Wilson  as the BEST speakers they've ever heard(and these are true blood high enders who have listened to nearly all the top hifi systems in the region), period! I wish to congratulate the proud owner fo the Wilson Audio XLF, you know who you are!
New B&W 802D speakers

I was never in love with any of the previous incarnations of the B&W 800 D series speakers, despite their high tech diamond tweeter and kevlar mid bass driver calling card with 1st order x-over topology for the smoothest hand over frequency point. They were very good on the hifi performance parameter, but they always struck me as being rather business like in their musical presentation. If diamonds are a girls best friend, then some degree of musical beauty is to be expected, and in it's latest form, the B&W 802D actually delivers them in spades. Looks like they'll be around for a little while more!
ASI Super Tango speakers

These Frank Tchang designed Super Tango speakers are nothing like you've ever heard in high end dom! They will never be another pair of speakers that sound like the Super Tango. They are definitely not shy and rockers will love their explosive dynamics with gutsy and big hearted musical delivery. Viva la de France! They an enigma, if they ever was one.
Marten Design Django speakers

Marten Design Django XL is a scaled down version of the Getz, but with beefier bass, tuned for American taste. All the sonic goodies offered by the Getz are there with little down side, at only half the price! Marten Design just launched the Django L, which is a smaller brother, trickle down technology have never meant better than this!

Well folks, that's the end of our adventures in HiFi-Unlimited. Stay tune for some last words before we call it a day.

February 22, 2013

dCS Puccini CD/SACD Player

The dCS Puccini SACD/CD player made it to my "Gear that Impressed in 2012" list (see my post of the same title on 14 Jan 2013). In that post, I said that "In one stroke, the dCS Puccini vanquished my past impression of the dCS house sound... The dCS Puccini continues the dCS tradition of being technically excellent, but it also sounded excellently organic, with music flowing naturally."

This dCS is now one of a couple of digital players that I'd aspire to own.

If I were to look at it in terms of features on offer, the Puccini is the most complete and most versatile digital player that i have ever come across. In addition to its ability to play SACD and CD, the Puccini has 2 digital inputs, both RCA, that accept 24 bit PCM at 32, 44.1, 48, 88.2, 96, 176.4 & 192kS/s, so you can be certain that your investment is future proof if you decide to include CAS into your playback system (nowadays, this no longer seems to be an 'if' question though, but a 'when' one). The Puccini also has a word clock input, and therein lies an upgrade path. When the upgrade itch gets too strong, the owner can add the Puccini U-Clock, which incidentally also has an USB input, allowing you to stream music from your PC and notebook.

Another attraction to investing your digital future with dCS is that the company is committed to updating the technology in its customers' gear on a continuing basis. dCS provides periodic firmware upgrade for their players mostly for free.

Before I go on to talk about my listening experience with the dCS Puccini, let's get a couple of its features that affect setup out of the way. The first is the matter with the upsampling schemes and the multitude of digital filters that it offers, you can select to convert the PCM signal from your CDs or your rips to DSD and run it through one of the 4 digital filters on board; or you can keep the PCM signal and choose one of the 3 filters on offer (classic, long and asymmetrical, the last one seems to be similar to Meridian's apodizing filter and Ayre's 'minimum phase', labelled as MP, offerings). In the week I had the Puccini, I found that I always preferred the PCM upsampled to DSD option, so throughout the evaluation period, the setting of the player was maintained that way. DSD sounded more continuous and more analogue to my ears. After that, the choice of which filter to use did not matter much, their differences were subtle to me at best.

Next is the setting the dCS Puccini's maximum output level, which is either 2V or 6V (applicable to both its balanced and unbalanced analogue outputs), and whether to connect the dCS Puccini directly to my monoblocks or to a pre-amp. It has a volume control onboard that allows direct connection to a power amplifier, bypassing the need for a preamp and also the use of a few cables. dCS advises that if you connect directly to the power amp the output level should be set to 6V (and you'll use the Puccini's volume control to set the listening level). If you use a preamp, whether you choose 2V or 6V, the volume control should be set to maximum.

So, I had to decide whether to leave my Pass Labs XP20 preamp in the chain. I found that generally without the preamp, the sound was slightly purer and more rounded; with the preamp in, the music's dynamic expression was better. The XP20 was transparent and neutral enough to ensure that the differences were minor if they were there at all. In the end I decided to leave the preamp in as I enjoyed the slightly freer dynamics (however I know of a Puccini owner who swears by the sound without a preamp). On the choice of  either 2V or 6V output level, I couldn't say that I did a scientific comparison by making sure that the sound pressure level for both settings was the same when listening, but at the end I thought the 6V setting gave better transient and control with no loss of refinement and delicacy, so 6V it was.

Thus set up, I was extremely impressed by the dCS Puccini's portrayal of my favourite music. There was an inherent rightness to the sound that was instantly recognisable, a trait seems to come naturally with much of British hifi equipment - which many credit to the school's midrange naturalness. It was a sound that one will instinctively feel at ease with, not requiring much processing in our brain to believe that there was actually a singer and some musical instruments playing in front of us.

The expression of timbre and tonal colours from the Puccini was top notch. The solo violin in Sarah Chang's Debut album positively shimmered, with beautifully rendered harmonics. The violin was floating in mid air, and the notes were wrapped in a rich silvery brilliance. The playing was lyrical. I never heard this CD with so much technical sure-footedness and yet full of expressions of emotional beauty.

The solo piano on Danny Wright's Black and White album was another high point. From the pings on the right hand to the bangs on the left, every note was excellently reproduced, and again done with full harmonic beauty. I could almost get the illusion that the Steinway was playing in the room right in front of me. I could hear the hammer striking the string. I could hear Wright's workings on the keys and the pedals. The amount of information reproduced were impressive.

With vocal music, the dCS Puccini laid bare all the details in the singer's performance, such as the little breathes, the little nuances in the voice, the little vibrations and turns in his/her elocution. Some may dismiss these audiophile artefacts as unimportant in musical enjoyment, however the dCS Puccini showed that all these were not just sound but an integral part of the performance, and they came across clearly as part of the performer's artistry. I had much more enjoyment with the Puccini's take on the recordings that listening to music that I thought I was already familiar with became a journey of new discoveries.

The Puccini's highs were pristine and rich. The mids sounded naturally correct. The bass might lose out a little on slam but it was well defined, agile and tuneful. The Puccini's music rendition had a natural flow, an ease and a density that is very rare in digital reproduction.

I just wanted to listen on and on. It was hard to let go when the time came. I bet the dCS Puccini will do the same to you too.

The dCS Puccini lists for RM73,625. dCS is carried by A&L Audio Station, Ph: 03-7958 2884

February 18, 2013

Frank PB-15000Ws Power Bank Storage

The Frank PB-15000Ws Power Bank Storage has been making waves in the Malaysian audiophile community for a while now. What is remarkable is that the raves for the Power Bank are not limited to a certain group, everyone, from the ultra high End to the entry level, is not immune to the Power Bank's efficacy. Among them are users of flagship systems such as Wilson WAMM, Wilson Alexandria XLF, Wilson Alexandria 2, and EgglestonWorks Ivy Signature. You can't get stronger endorsements than these.

It is apt to call the Frank PB-15000Ws Power Bank Storage a rare phenomenon in hifi. I myself have never come across any hifi component that could so unite the opinion of such a wide spectrum of audiophiles, who not only praise it but also put their money where their mouth is by installing at least one unit of the Power Bank in their system. Many are so enamoured that they do not stop at just one, but have gone on to their second and even third units. The Power Bank's effect apparently is cumulative, and its creator Frankie Voon mentioned that in his experience 3 units seems to be the magic number for optimum performance.

The demand for the Power Bank has been outstripping supply, so it was certainly my good luck that Frankie agreed to send me a completed unit temporarily for this writeup.

The Power Bank is built into a very sturdy chassis that is suitable for a power amplifier. It had to be, as the finished product is as heavy as or heavier than many power amplifiers. Weighing in at a substantial 38.5kg, moving it is a 2-person job. The side fins on the chassis are purely decorative as the Power Bank remains absolutely cool to the touch even after many days of being left on continuously. The Power Bank is installed parallel to the electrical circuit feeding your system (meaning none of your hifi components is plugged into the PB). There are 2 versions, one that is directly connected into your house's power supply board, to one of the MCBs; and another version that can be plugged into a wall outlet near your system. Frank told me that the former is better, the latter version is only about 70% as effective. I got the latter version as it involved less work to install for the purpose of this writeup.

I was advised to let the Power Bank plugged in for a few hours to a few days to bring out the Power Bank's full effect. There is a switch at the back panel that switches the Power Bank on/off and for selecting different electrical phases.

As to the Power Bank's operating principle, honestly I do not have the required technical / engineering knowledge to explain it properly, so I quote Frankie directly, "The Frank Power Bank works like a fuel surge tank. The design of the Frank Power bank is a modified Autoformer, meaning that the Autoformer is connected parallel to the incoming mains power. The electrical current for the equipment does not run through the Power Bank itself. It is not current limiting, and it lowers the impedance."

After leaving the Power Bank on overnight, I sat down for my first listen. Normally, at my place, the sound quality between night and day, while not 'night and day', shows quite a bit of difference. At day time, the sound is cleaner and showed better coherence. With the Power Bank, the first listening, which was done at night, showed that the sound quality difference had diminished a lot. The second effect that caught my attention was the black and silent background, which allowed the sonic images to stand out and proffered much better dimensionality and focus for the soundstage and images.  These effects held true in every one of my listening session. The Power Bank was acting very much like an excellent mains treatment products in this regard.

A longer acquaintance with the Power Bank also showed its other effects on the sound quality – bass was slightly stronger and better defined, the little nuances in the music became more pronounced and easier to hear, the sound became just that little more articulate. Musicality was the main beneficiary.

The Power Bank also softens the sound (as opposed to ‘hardening’ it), giving the music a more flowing quality. The treble especially, became tame, and had an almost languid quality, which I believe will benefit tremendously systems that sound aggressive, hardened or bright in that region. Your system will not be fatiguing during long listening sessions.

With so many audiophiles adding the Power Bank into their system, I’d think that the Power Bank's effect is rather universal, it is not system dependent or location dependent. Will the Power Bank also capture your audiophile heart like it has done to the others? Well, try to listen to it yourself. Call up Frankie, discuss with him and see what arrangement you can strike up.

But be forewarned, as many are waiting for their unit, patience is a required virtue before you get to savour the charm of the Frank Power Bank PB-15000Ws.

The price for the Frank Power Bank PB-15000Ws is USD2,600/unit. Call Frankie Voon at +6012-2981011 to discuss or visit

February 14, 2013

No Silly Wire! Wywires Gold AES/EBU Digital Cable.

Wywires Gold AES/EBU digital cable, close up of the Xhadow plugs.

Those of you who knew me back then, I mean way..... back then, when I was still enthusiastic about the automobile and the daily driving experience, would probably have called me by my nick, Silly Willy! How did that nick came about? you asked.

At a time when every one else was spending money making their cars go faster, I was the only silly fella spending money on bigger brakes, suspension strut bars and numerous other stuff that just didn't make the car go faster. Hence, the nick as I had spent the most money on my car, and it's never the fastest in the drag. Silly right? Not to me, I didn't see it that way, I never wanted the fastest car off the line anyway. My aim to modifying cars is to achieve the most well balanced behaviour all round, so most things are never really about being the fastest, it's more about the over riding confidence of knowing that the very powerful car will not turn around and bite me around the corner or when the going gets though. It's more about having refined control and predictability of measured performance over raw speed. So what has the automobile story has to do with this Wywires Gold  AES/EBU digital cable review?

Well, how about the silly audiophile who spends loadsa moolah on cables? Some already consider me being one, as my JPS Aluminata AES/EBU digital cable cost nearly as much as the Bryston BDP/BDA-1 combo individually! However, as per my car modifying motives, I see cables as an equipment offering improved transmission and refinement, as an accessory that allows the main equipment that's linked up, to perform at it's best potential.

Wywires calls it's digital cables LITESPD for Lite Speed?

I am sorry for the long winded introduction, but let's get back to the subject that matters here, is the Wywires Gold AES/EBU digital cable under review. I was pretty impressed by the value to performance ratio of the Wywires Silver AES/EBU digital cable when I reviewed it the last time. The Gold series cable seen here looks pretty much the same, light weight in build and neat if non-extravagant dressing, plus those lovely Xhadow plugs attached at both ends. This cable is very bend able too, compared to my super stiff JPS Aluminata.

I found this cable to offer pretty much the same kinda of sonic characteristics of the Silver tested earlier, but only with more of everything that matters, More bandwidth, more dynamics, super fast(Lite Speed!) transients, deepest bass extension, higher highs and the blackest of black back grounds, and most importantly noise free too.  All these hifi performance parameters bring the Wywires Gold AES/EBU digital cable right up to par with my JPS Aluminanta reference.

The Wywires Gold is tonally neutral, with just enough laid back-ness to take it away from being clinical. There are enough areas of performance that should see the Wywires Gold standing head over shoulders against what I think are some of the best digital cables(one being the JPS Aluminata, the other being the Wireworld Platinum Starlight) available in the market today. What the Wywires does really well over the other cables is it's ability to project a huge walk thru sound stage, with solidly anchored imaging properties, yet do it all with the correct scale as intended in the recordings. The Wywires are really great for re-producing big orchestras, with highly realistic mid hall vantage point of view from my listening position. All that with more than enough reflected and deflected ambiance as sonic cues in the atmosphere of the recording hall. Even re-playing smaller ensembles and other small system friendly music, such as girl/guitar and piano, especially with hi-rez music files, the music is always captivating and enchanting. I keep hearing little details usually buried deep in the mix, in an organic and naturally presented fashion, as opposed to that rather "obviously highlighted" fashion that the JPS does so. Despite the fact, the JPS was actually considered pretty natural sounding previously, which was why I made it my reference for the longest time.

If musical PRAT is your thing, then the Wywires also have 'em in spades. There's also an effortlessness in the way the Wywires present music, as opposed to the tensed and ready to spring manner of the JPS. Neither character is bad, just what your system needs? Horses for courses, really.  While the Wywires was in my system over a two month period, I've never found myself returning to my Linn LP12 turn table. My Linn just sat idle for 2 full months, which has never happened before. I think there's something in the performance of the Wywires gold that makes digital music sound complete and satisfying, that I no longer yearn to take refuge from digital in vinyl.

That's all ye' get for ye' money! The said cable, a certificate of authenticity and an invoice in a plastic zip bag.

Just as I was about to embark on this review, I called James(of AV Designs) to enquire about the retail price of this Wywires Gold AES/EBU digital cable, and was surprised to hear him saying RM$3,199.00/piece for the 1.5 meter length review sample. I thought I heard wrong, because I was expecting the Wireworld, or JPS like pricing(which is nearly double!) due to the impeccable sonic performance of the Wywires, which stands head over shoulders against the other two!

Now, sonic considerations aside, I'd like to keep this Wywires Gold AES/EBU digital cable, just to look less silly in front of other audiophools.

Wywires are sold by AV Designs, contact Tony or James at 03-21712828.

February 9, 2013

Evolutionary Power! IsoTek EVO3 Polaris PLC.

The Isotek EVO3 Polaris power strip, next to an iPhone 4 for size comparison.

Having previously owned, reviewed, and lived with various Isotek power line conditioning products of the three generations over the last couple of years, I've witness steady improvements, sometimes subtle, other times immediate with each new generation of Isotek PLCs. With the latest EVO3 Polaris power strip, with built in PLC function, I was very much impressed with the big leap in the areas subjective sound quality parameters.

Before we get start talking about sound, how about brief description of the item in question? The Isotek EVO3 Polaris is a 6-way power strip with some rudimentary built in power conditioning capabilities. It's quite heavily built for a power strip, with it's polished aluminium casing for a bit of audiophile glam. There's a fashionably bright blue LED status indicator(which lights up once power supply is connected) right in the middle of a Isotek logo soft touch decal(which is rather classy rather then chessy!). The review sample came with  US standard Nema style sockets(BS standard sockets are available on request, do check with the good guys at Centre Circle Audio if you prefer that). The sockets are rather generously spaced out which is good, as most audiophile quality power cords come with over sized plugs too.
Isotek EVO3 Polaris in action.

I substituted the Isotek EVO3 Polaris in place of my usual Sine SA-6 ME power strip, which is non-conditioning on it's own. The power strip is placed as such that it draws clean, regulated power from my Torus RM8A AVR, then splits to supply power to all my front end audio components, such as my digital media player, DAC, pre amp, turn table, and phono stage(as seen on picture above).

Almost immediately, I noticed that my system back ground noise became jet black, and musical notes just burst out from that nothingness, holds it's timbre and harmonic textural as the artist or performance intended, and then fading just as required, back in to the jet black of nothingness back ground. The experience of that is just nothing short of amazing! No grunge, hiss, white hash or hum made it's way in to my system's power supply via the Torus and more importantly Isotek EVO3 Polaris combo. My past experience with previous Isotek products, just never reach this kind of convincing equilibrium.

And then there's Isotek signature bass, with voluminous fill and dynamic woofer control which can make many amps sound like they've just acquired a few more juicy watts or speakers with an added woofer or so! I say bass first in tonal balance this time because it was the most impressive aspect of the whole spectrum. Having a little more bass doesn't mean it has to be bloated or over riped, at least not where the Isotek EVO3 Polaris is concerned. Bass have that tight, propulsive, start-stop with snappiness and note to note transfer quality that I seldom experience in mine or many other systems for example. It's kinda like the woofer has become a well trained guard dog, after under going obedience school training. The woofers do bark louder, yet maintained it's discipline on all times, with the musical notes as it's instructor.

Enough bass talk, the un-coloured, open and clear mid range deserves a mention in continuation of Isotek's signature sound. Perhaps that's why I thought the images within the wide open sound stage are very solidly defined? Who knows, but I know Isotek improved on another area too, if it's the highs! I found the highs now very refined, like hearing thru the sonic signature of a Shunyata Hydra 4 power line conditioner! Previous Isoteks always struck me as a bit business like in the highs, not that they're particularly noisy or show signs of hardening when the musical going gets tough. The highs are just previously characterless and not particularly shinny either. With the soft(texturally speaking), refined and gentle high frequencies, we audiophiles can now have our power bass cake and eat it with the gentle highs too!
The soft touch Isotek brand decal is a classy, quality touch! 

I would never accuse the EVO3 Polaris of being unbalanced due to the above observation of a soft, gentle highs, un-coloured mid range and strong gutsy bass. In fact the whole she bang still had that overall coherence if somewhat managed sound signature of the previous Isoteks. It's just that the top end is somewhat tweaked to sound freer-er, and the already tidy bottom end further tightened(Ouch!, much like the G-string in between my bum cheeks, chicks dig guys with red coloured G-strings too, ssshhh..... I didn't tell you that, Ha! Ha!).

The Isotek EVO3 Polaris cost RM$1,500.00 a piece and would've been my reference power strip with PLC, if not for my AV binge lately, and as with any blue collar Malaysian worker with an shrinking income, there are certainly limits to my vitamin M resources, plus it's that time of the year to give away those little red packets of joy that everybody loves to be on the receiving end too!

Wishing all our Chinese readers GONG XI FA CAI!

Isotek products are sold by Centre Circle Audio, contact Sky or Nelson at 03-77282686.

February 4, 2013

Marten Competition, Win A Pair Of Django L Loudspeakers!

A pair of Marten Django L Loudspeakers can be yours!

Missed out on the competition pair of Marten Django XL last year? I know, some lucky guy in Brazil or is it Mexico won it?

Despair not, for here's hope to win the Django XL's baby brother instead. It's called the Django L due to it's smaller size, but does it mean Marten would soon come out with an M and an S Django model? Who knows.

Waste no time, log on to  for rules and regulations plus find out how to submit your entry.

And may good fortune smile upon you!

January 31, 2013

Mid Range Excellence! Pioneer BDP-450 Blu-ray/SACD Player.

The Pioneer BDP-450 Blu-ray/SACD player.

Pioneer has built an enviable reputation with the success of it's range of Blu-ray players. I have being using the starter 3D Pioneer BDP-140 as a reference my self. While it's audio/video performance is very accomplished for the price, I've always wondered, what if I spend a little more $$$ for a step up in performance?

Along the way, came the new BDP-X50 series range of latest Pioneer Blu-ray player revamp, and the model in question here is the BDP-450, which is the middle child, sitting in between the entry level BDP-150 and the exclusive LX-55 top model. The Pioneer BDP-450 retails for RM$1,899.00/unit, so it's really a big step up from the entry level model(price wise). So if the BDP-140 or BDP-150 already offers such good performance levels(assuming the newer BDP-150 is as good, if not better performing), for a mere RM$699.00/unit, what more can the BDP-450 offer?
The Pioneer BDP-450 residing in my HT system.

First up, the Pioneer BDP-450 offers superior build quality, with it's heavier gauge steel chassis(which houses beefier power supplies), all satin black brushed aluminium face panel, chunky audiophile style feet(not the fake plastic ones for sure), and definitely smoother disc loading drawer action. At the back panel, the goodies galore continues with dual HDMI output(for those who want their video signal to flow direct to screen, by passing the surround receiver's video board) for superior picture quality, while the other HDMI output sends audio signals to the said receiver. Is there really a performance upgrade by going the twin HDMI output route? I don't know, I didn't test, but I bet someone would do. I connected the BDP-450 as I would with my resident  BDP-140 for a fair comparison, which means one HDMI cable, sending audio and video signal to my Denon receiver and the second HDMI cable from receiver to my Plasma display.

The only same old, same old part as shared with the BDP-140 and BDP-150 is the hand remote wand, which I can understand Pioneer's decision to keep it as it works pretty well actually. The whole unit looks well put together with nicely aligned panels and centered disc drawer on top of the clearly legible display, which is dim able(the entry level model does that too). Like all 2012 refreshed Blu-ray player models onwards, the BDP-450 also comes equipped with Cinavia anti piracy software pre-installed.
The back panel, 2 HDMI outputs is the main selling point here.

Now we get to the nitty gritty of the Pioneer BDP-450 in terms of video performance, which the colour and picture dynamic qualities are cut from the same fabric as the cheaper Pioneers. There seems to be finer pixels in the darker scenes leading to improved black detailing. I see smoother fast motion scenes, with richer and more saturated colours. Depth of field in panoramic land scape scenes are definitely more convincing. I watched Kingdom Of Heaven Blu-ray disc and came away suitably impressed. I think a more highly regulated power supply section of the player contributed to the performance gains. Still, I thought for so much more outlay, the picture quality improvement ratio did not seemed catch up enough.

However, it is when playing 3D Blu-ray disc that I felt all the extra outlay for the BDP-450 over the lesser models became worth while. Comparing the BDP-140 to the BDP-450 in 3D mode, made the cheaper player's 3D qualities look like card board cut outs, and on certain scenes, more like a cut & paste job! I was using the Monster Vs Aliens 3D Blu-ray animation movie for comparison. With the BDP-450, the 3D effects were smoother and more organic looking, while still maintaining the pop-up effect and excellent layers within a field of depth within the confines of my 64 inch Plasma display. The BDP-450 made watching 3D movies less fatigue and more enjoyable, due to less cross talk, and less noise within the video signal. I used to find 3D fascinating for a 25 minutes only(I start to feel giddy after that) of viewing period with the BDP-140, but I could finish the whole movie on 3D mode with the BDP-450 without much fatigue setting in. I know my kids certainly look forward to more 3D animated movies from here onwards.
It is with 3D movies like Monsters Vs Aliens that the Pioneer show it's capabilities to the fore. The disc loading drawer opens and closes with smooth action.
The Grudge is a scary Hollywood take on Japanese horror, much like The Ring, but only more effective in the script build up and make up & graphics. Sarah Michelle Gellar(Buffy The Vampire Slayer) stars.

Now we get to the audio part, which the first aspect that impressed me easily was the bass, which certainly dived deeper and rumbles more solidly. The stronger bass foundation gives the center chanel a more anchored, less floaty conversation, especially with male dialogue, which feels more manly, with a bit more of that chest. Surround panning effect is more seamless and more easily located, especially the rear surround chanels, which sometimes makes me look back over my shoulder, because I actually thought some one behind was breathing down on me, it's that real! It happened when I was watching The Grudge, an American perspective on Japanese horror, like The Ring, only scarier!

Just for kicks, I played a few music SACDs and found the sound to be highly detailed, musical, rhythmically assured, smooth, and with liquid top end. The sound staging is stretches across my living lounge with good depth. I was of course, playing music thru my Denon/Bose HT system.  The Pioneer BDP-450 would certainly make a great audiophile SACD spinner or transport, if one has a huge collection of SACD disc.
My Denon AVR-1612 AV receiver(top) and Pioneer BDP-450 Blu-ray/SACD player(bottom).

It was during this time that I have to experience Cinavia anti piracy effects on my system. After playing an offending Blu-ray disc for about 20 minutes or so, the player will mute audio output and a message would appear on screen to suggest that you're playing an illegal disc, advising you not to adjust your system set up menu. Apparently, most Hollywood movies released after March 2012 is Cinavia encoded. Otherwise, the Pioneer played each and every legitimate disc or otherwise with no problems what so ever.

Another area I liked about the BDP-450 is the quick start up feature and fast disc loading times. It took less than 20 seconds to start up each time from sleep mode, and each time a new disc is loaded, the smooth closing tray would then take no more than 45 seconds to recognise and load the top menu of the said disc. Older players can sometimes take more than 2 minutes to load a Blu-ray disc top menu upon closing of disc drawer.

I think the Pioneer BDP-450 will do well in a 3D capable HT system, where the said feature is used often enough. It's a player that truly offers a step up in terms of audio and video performance from the entry level units with higher build quality to spare. Audiophiles looking for a reliable CD/SACD transport would not be disappointed with it either. For those with budget AV systems however, the entry level BDP-150 should still offer more efficient cost to performance ratio.

Pioneer products are available at all appointed dealers nation wide.

January 28, 2013

Event Report. JVC Launches New 3D HT Projectors For 2013.

The new 2013 range of JVC 3D projectors are now on sale.

JVC launched it's new range for 2013 3D projectors, mostly(except the entry level model DLA-RS46) featuring 4k up scaling, with the use of their upgraded e-shift technology, now called e-shift2. The event was held at the excellent AV Designs showroom in Rohas Perkasa, where members of the lifestyle and AV Press showed up in full force.

The whole JVC marketing team was seen there, including Mr Steven Woo of JVC Kenwood Malaysia Sdn Bhd. & Mr Takehide Sakamoto, who is MD of of the company in Malaysia.
Mr Takehide Sakamoto, MD of JVC Kenwood Malaysia Sdn Bhd. launching the new 2013 range of projectors.

Mr Steven Woo wasted no time by briefing us the salient points that makes JVC 2013 projectors worthy of one's considerations, by presenting a long feature list and finally very attractive retail prices, by 4k projector standards that is!

We were soon ushered in to AV Designs demo room 2, where the more real world priced JVC DLA-RS48 were demo-ed in normal full HD and 4k up scaling modes, plus the immersive 3D qualities that only a big projection screen can provide. Despite being the entry level 3D 4k model, the DLA-RS48 projected rich and vivid colours, truly high resolution pictures, with good depth and dense black quality, despite offering only 50,000:1 native contrast ratio! Sometimes technical specifications can be deceiving indeed.
Mr Steven Woo presenting the technical briefing and specifications session.

All smiles for the photo session.

A closer look at the JVC DLA-RS66 projector, priced at RM$39,999.00 each.

A closer took at the accompanying 3D active glass, which is said to reduce cross talk, resulting in less flickering sensation when viewing movies, causing less fatigue in the long term.

We were than moved to the big boy AV designs demo room 1, where all the best AV gear your $$$ can buy is on demo. Here, we are treated to the state of the art JVC DLA-RS66(with 130,000:1 native contrast ratio!) projector partnered with state of the art Bryston amps and PMC speakers. Every time I come in to this room, I never wanna leave!

In true Malaysian style, the event ended with a Q&A session, followed by a healthy serving of F&B!

To see for yourself is to be impressed by the latest range of JVC 3D projectors.

Do contact James or Tony at AV Designs at 03-21712828 for enquiries or demo appointment.

January 26, 2013

So Grand! Skogrand SC Air Markarian 421 Speaker Cable & Interconnects.

Skogrand SC Markarian 421 speaker cables. All Skogrand cables are hand made to order.

To the few of us in the know, these cables have come to be known as "So Grand"! Skogrand Cables aren't exactly new, but on these shores, we're practically about the first people to have heard them, thanks to my buddy Jo Ki, of LS3/5A fame. He bought the best interconnects & speaker cables that Skogrand had to offer, called the SC Air Markarian 421. For now, available direct only from Skogrand's web site. Jo told us recently that he heard god speak to him, while he was listening to music. He wanted me to confirm if I heard what he heard too, and that's how the Skogrand cables ended up in my place  for a good few weeks.

First let's examine the cable's physical attributes. The Skogrand SC Markarian 421 range of solid core copper cables are stiff. They can be quite a handful, and it seemed like I was wrestling with a pair of Anacondas in the palm of my hands. The hand build quality is solid of course, and very well finished too. The outer jacket deserves a special mention as this is not your normal clear heat shrink, rather it contains a knot every 2 inches of so intervals and it seems some air is trapped inside so that the actual cable conductors never rest directly on the floor. Inside, there is further insulation with the use of silk and cotton fibres. The solid core conductors are thick gauge and hollow in the core, to trap air for dielectric purposes. All these layers makes the cable thick and stiff, so not advisable to bending aggressively when routing the cables(gentle curves are best suited in this case), or you may weakened the core and eventually break the cable altogether. I have another minor complain about the use of extremely thick electro gold plated spades, due to their chunkiness and smooth gold plated surfaces, the speaker terminals on the amp and speakers find it difficult to lock them down, because of the resistance to bending on the cables it self. Like I said, they're a handful to handle.
Note the knots on the outer transparent heat shrink tube, not your normal cable dressing!

The first Skogrand that went in to my system are the speaker cables. Listening to music through them was like as if you are just re-discovering your first kiss all over again. Everything you've remembered from that first experience is still there, the moist lips, gritty teeth, exchange of fluids and that juicy twirling tongue, but only more intense that you last remembered it to be. So it was with my familiar music, and I mean all music genre, was like as if I was re-living that first time I listened to all those music, but only with so much more insight, and the way the artist expressed so that we can hear the way it was intended to convey, the mood, the feelings and truly be touched, establishing an emotional connection to the music being played back right in front of us.

However, this is an audiophile blog, so hifi artifice must be presented nevertheless. The Skogrand possesses a rather warmish tonal balanced, which at first listen, I though the highs were slightly rolled off on the extreme top end. On further listening, I change my perception that the highs were NOT actually rolled off, but rather presented in a more laid back fashion that I am used to. The highs were of the velvety smooth with nano particle like finest and most fluid I've heard. There is also real bite and attack when the drum kit cymbals come crashing too. The mids have dense volume, yet sounds clear and articulate at the same time. Like the few modern cable I tested recently, the Skogrands are also bass champs. The bouncy and tuneful bass, which underlies the whole musical spectrum, providing a solid foundation for the mids and top end to work their magic. The bass has slamming and dynamic qualities too, when the music calls for.        
The extremely thickly gold plated spades, which are a bitch to work with. However, once you hear the way the Skogrands sound, all is forgiven and forgotten!

I am often reminded how natural, musical instruments sounded thru the Skogrand, re-producing all it's harmonic textures and truthful timbres(we are talking about non amplified instruments here of course!). This I put squarely to the darkest of background, indicating a truly noise free and transparency factor of the highest levels, never before heard like this in my system. If you've been following my audio adventures(or mis adventures!) long enough, you'd know I am a sucker for these hifi artifacts.  Despite my initial feeling that the highs may be rolled off, I eventually came to the conclusion that the Skogrands actually played within the widest bandwidth which my system allowed. Dynamic contrast and shadings in musical scores are often not easy to achieve is a music reproduction via hifi system, which only the most high of ends will do, but that, the Skogrands did very well. All this tiny hifi artifacts adds up to a whole lot of realistic musical performance facsimile.

Sound staging and imaging are further proof in the pudding that if you can afford it, you can eat it too! My room walls and what ever boundaries, be they real or imagined, are banished, replaced with acoustics of the place in which the recording was done, be it studio on a studio album, or hall acoustic, if it's a concert recording. It gives real meaning to the term "breathing the same air as the recorded musicians" or "swimming in the same water as the fishes"! The Skogrand acts like a teleportation device, beaming one to the event, not the event in to one's hifi room. Sound stage scale versus imaging size is spot on in "live" recordings, but some things can appear somewhat bloated, or out of proportion with some studio album recordings(that's probably some multi tracking recording artifact). If you heard that via the Skogrand, don't go messing with ye hifi, go blame the recording and mastering engineers instead!
Another look at the spade termination of the speaker cables.

While all the above hifi attributes maketh a good cable, the best cables are the ones that just transmit the signal, and never imposes it's sonic signature on the music. For all it's sonic prowess, by the fourth song, I was listening to Hitman, by David Foster & Friends, I got my first of the many goosebumps experience while the Skogrand remained in my system. Not many equipment, let alone hifi cables gave me this much goose bump experience, with familiar, or new music materials. There were also times when the music moved me till I moist my eyes a little, yeah I know, what that means I am a SNAG(Sensitive New Age Guy), in contemporary terms! Hey, these guys don't only appear on Sex & The City you know?

It is for all these emotional touchy feelly elements that earns the Skogrand Markarian 421 speaker cable the kodus that it deserves. And it is in these elements, the way the Skogrand makes the rest of the system hardware disappear, and only the music remains, that makes it priceless.
Top: Skogrand SC Markarian 421 uses Xhadow RCA plugs. Bottom: My reference Audioquest Sky XLR interconnects. 

All the above observed was only while the Skogrand speaker cables were in my system, I next plug in the RCA interconnects from the same Skoprand range in to my system, between the Bryston BDA-1 DAC and Pass Labs X0.2 pre-amp, replacing my long term reference Audioquest Sky XLR pair. I know, there's at least 6db of noise reduction advantage to be had from the balanced cable configuration, but I heard no peeps, hiss, hum, hash or any kind of noise floor for the matter, via the Skogrand Markarian 421 RCA interconnects. Only dark silence emerge from the sound stage back ground. I thought the Skogrand interconnect shared all the hifi attributes and sonic signature with the speaker cables. The interconnects got out of the way just as well as the speaker cables.

In fact sometimes I thought the all Skogrand combo shared too much of a good thing? While the combo pushed the au natural organic qualities to the max, I find the whole musical canvas just a tad too soft for my taste, compared to when the AQ Sky's were still in play. I could not be sure at this stage if it's the RCA's single ended topology disadvantage at play here? I can't be unless I could have a pair of Skogrand Markarian 421 XLR interconnect on hand to confirm. Since these are Jo's cables, they are made to suit his system's operating topology, not mine. In his room Jo did not heard that over boiled softness(as per when cooking Maggi 2 minute instant noodles!). So it most likely a system compatibility issue more than anything else.
Another look at the beautiful hand termination of the Skogrand SC Markarian 421 interconnects.

Despite having brought out the above concerns for the RCA vs XLR issue, I heard very densely filled imaging properties, but I did wished for firmer imaging outlines as heard thru the AQ Sky. No bad thing here, I think, just a matter of preference and system compatibility issues, perhaps. I also found the triangle in the orchestral performance rings with more conviction and it's post attack harmonics hanging around just a little longer, before fading in to the darkness of nothingness. The all Skogrand combo further put more layers between the sound stage front imaging and back instruments, making the whole staging and imaging presentation more 3D believe able.

Adding the Skogrand interconnect in to the mix pushes the performance envelope of the system further, but at this stage, the point of diminishing returns has long been breached, as so often happens in the world of high end audio. The Skogrand Markarian 421 speaker cables cost more than 8k, and adding the interconnects will set you back a further 7k, all in cold, hard American Dollars! No small change indeed, but if one has the system of high enough stature, and is committed to the singular objective to extracting the best musical enjoyment out of the system, $$$ not with standing, the Skogrand can actually take one's musical journey to audio nirvana, at least, that is until the Divine one himself decides to speak to you.
The plastic flight case in which the Skogrand came packed with.

And there I was, on the eve of what was supposed to be the end of the world(see, even the Mayans get it wrong sometimes), I sat there on my throne, listening to god speak to me, thinking that my life as an audiophile would've come full circle, and complete if you will, if the Skogrands are the last piece of equipment I'll ever listened to again. There's this quality of completeness which the Markarian 421 exhibited each and every time I listened to music through it that makes all the right sonic cues to the discerning audiophile, yet all is not lost because in the end, and the only thing that matters, is that the Skogrand cables put music on the altar. Not many equipment, let alone cable can do that to such accomplished levels, that puts it so far ahead of the exotic cable pack race today. If that's not "So Grand!", then what is?

It's one of those hifi gears that even if any self respecting audiophile doesn't wish to buy, should at least aim to audition, once in his/her life time. At the moment in Malaysia at least, there is only one place you can hear em' Skogrands, and I think most of you would know where to go by now. Start making that orderly beeline queue!

For more infomation and purchase enquiries, please visit

January 23, 2013

More Malaysian AV On The Web! Checkout

There is another Malaysian web page dedicated to AV on the net! It features industry veterans such as Dick Tan(AV Today Mag & currently Organising Chairman Of KLIAV Show ), Lam Seng Fatt(The Star daily's Audiofile & Hifi-Avenue blog), and not so newbie WL Low(a.k.a. Big E in these pages). The three amigos will be supported by more guest contributors, including the supreme high end guy TE Tan(a.k.a. Odioslueth in these pages).

There shall be more of everything, from movies, music, as well as HT and stereo topics to read about. More products previews, reviews, factory tours & industry news among other relevant stories. is named as such in the honour of AV Today magazine, started by Dick Tan many, many years ago as the foremost pioneering hifi rag in Malaysian shores, way back in the 1970's(which by the way, I still have acouple of copies)! That very same pioneering spirit will drive the web page to higher and loftier goals, delivering quality infotainment for the Malaysian audio/video enthusiast, who seek to keep abreast on the latest in the scene products. is also the only KLIAV officially sanctioned media partner, though that does not mean exclusive coverage. We hope to bring more KLIAV insights and demo to those who could not make the yearly show pilgrimage, due to a variety of reasons.

A new voice for the Malaysian AV Industry.

Go check out and tell us if you like what see here, on the comments section with thanks.