January 14, 2013

Gear That Impressed in 2012

It is customary for us to start a new year with highlights on the hifi equipment that had impressed us in the past year. Fewer items coming through my place last year, due to a rather busy work schedule, nonetheless a few of them stood out and I am glad to put them up here.

The first 3 items are hifi gear that conceivably could be put together as a high end music system – a digital source with volume control, a stereo power amplifier and a pair of loudspeakers.

 1. dCS Puccini SACD/CD player.  RM 73,625. A&L Audio Station


This is the one and only source component that I auditioned in 2012, but oh boy, what an experience it was.

The dCS Puccini came to my place 3 days before the end of the year. I have not written extensively about it on Hifi Unlimited, that I’ll do in the days to come. However, for the performance the dCS Puccini conjured up , I must have it included here.

In one stroke, the dCS Puccini vanquished my past impression of the dCS house sound (I though the earlier generations of dCS gear sounded technically very accomplished, but just somewhat detached in communicating musical emotion).

The dCS Puccini continues the dCS tradition of being technically excellent, but it also sounded excellently organic, with music flowing naturally. I listened, and listened, and listened some more, all the time with not just my head but also my heart.

The dCS Puccini has user selectable variable output level – either 2V or 6V max. The latter setting is good enough to drive a power amplifier directly, so you can save on a preamp, a pair of interconnects and a powercord.

2.    Aesthetix Atlas Power Amplifier. RM28,000. The Audio Store

The Aesthetix Atlas has a hybrid topology and puts out 200w per channel into 8ohms. The sound was refined, composed and pristine. Very communicative musically, you will spend a lot of your time listening to your favourite music through this amp. 

The power in reserve came into play when called for, pretty much like a ‘steel fist in a velvet glove’.

The Aesthetix Atlas is excellent value for money. Highly recommended.

3.    TAD Compact Reference Loudspeakers. RM148,000 with matching stands. AV Designs

I own a pair of TAD CR-1. This is more raving of the TAD-CR1 from me. If you think it is unbecoming behaviour for an owner to rave about his own stuff, then just take it from me that the TAD-CR1 are one of the great loudspeakers out there currently and skip to the next section. :-)

The TAD-CR1 has been with me for one whole year now. I count myself a very happy and satisfied owner. After experiencing firsthand what they can do, they will stay with me for a long long time if not forever. You may think that after paying for something as costly as this, the owner will always say such a thing. Who would want to think that he has made a mistake, right? However, we know how us audiophiles could have the little devil in us giving us second thought, some time after the deal is done. We would get that niggling thought whether we had made the right choice, may be brand XXX or YYY would have been a better decision, may be I should have gone for the other model, may be….

I came across and listened to a number of great loudspeakers throughout the past year. Fortunately, that niggling thought never surfaced in me. I am not saying that the TAD-CR1 sounds better. No, every one of those great loudspeakers has its strengths. However, for me the TAD-CR1 comes across as a more balanced and complete package. The TAD-CR1 is worthy to be ranked as one of the best loudspeakers available today, regardless of size and price.

It may be futile for me to describe the character of the TAD-CR1. Probably I should just fall back to the statement made by Alan Sircom in his HiFi+ review of the TAD-CR1 – “This is actually one of the hardest loudspeakers to describe in sonic terms, because you end up thinking about things in terms of what other loudspeakers do wrong. When it comes to describing what this does right, it pretty much does all of it right”. (You can read the full review article here -> http://www.avdesigns.com.my/Reviews.html?cat_id=7, the second article down)

One thing that the TAD-CR1 does exceptionally right is its accuracy of timbre. Listening to vocals and piano through them was educational – I’d play some simple vocal recordings (such as Rickie Lee Jones’ ‘Pop Pop’ or the second 2V1G album) while having a few friends in my listening room. Striking up a conversation, it was uncanny for me how the timbre of the reproduced vocal sounded so similar to the live conversation. Solo piano music too was conveyed with the full harmonic richness of that instrument, it sounded similar in timbre compared to the live one my children played in the living room (just that the quality of playing on the recording was much better, but of course).

The TAD-CR1 is a transparent and honest instrument, it faithfully conveys what the other components in the system feed to them. They could sound lean / voluptuous, laid back / dynamic, aggressive / refined, exquisite / bold, boring / exciting , as I played around with equipment combination, cabling, tweaks, acoustic treatments, etc.. When I thought I caught some characteristics of the TAD-CR1, something came along, and the sonic character changed.

Usually, the loudspeaker is the bottleneck of a system, it is the most uneven and most coloured component. With the TAD-CR1, the reverse is true. I’ll honestly say that the TAD-CR1 outclassed every thing else in my current system. I have not explored the TAD-CR1’s full capability. From now onwards, my upgrade path will focus on allowing the TAD-CR1 to convey the following – An even bigger scale (they are already sounding as big as a pair of midsize floorstanders now), better control at loud passages, even greater resolution, greater soundscape density, more refinement, while retaining speed, impact and balance. I know the TAD-CR1 can do all these, because I have heard them doing these with different equipment that came through my place throughout the year.

The better the equipment you partner them with, the better the TAD-CR1 will sound. They are amazing. 

4. SVS PB12-NSD Powered Subwoofer. RM 3,499. Maxx Audio

Recommending the SVS PB12-NSD is a no brainer. At the asking price, you get a lot of subwoofer, in terms of material and of performance.

If you are looking for a subwoofer for your home theatre and have the required space to house one, the SVS PB12-NSD is a must-audition at this price point. This SVS is equally adept at conveying the rumbles and the subtleties.

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