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!

OTHER NOTABLE MENTIONS:
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.

6 comments:

alamdamai1 said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
alamdamai1 said...

thought of sharing with everyone on my personal opinion for the Pioneer BDP450 after using it for 3 days as a cd transport...

in summary, this unit audio DSP is designed for movies where upon spinning a cd and compared to my marantz na7004, the sound is very open which indicates its surround sound effect capability is very good...it feels as though i'm watching a movie when listening to a cd...

however, it is not as dynamic as the 7004 as its open stage quality (ie. stereo widening effect) causes it to lose its musical ability...eg, not 'warm' and 'tight' enough..

similarly, the 7004 performs much better in audio streaming compared to the 450 with better details and dynamics..

but overall, i would say the 450 is way much better compared to my cambridge audio dvd99 in the audio dept...

as for video, the visuals are a bit better than the 99 as i only have dvd's to play with and not bd's...its Qdeo processor helps out a bit but i would say its performance is oklah when upscaling sq video..

finally, many forummers have complained about the 450 noisy tray but for me, there is no such issue when playing cd's and dvd's...mebbe it is encountered when playing bd's...

to sum up, for those whom are looking for a good cd transport, i think the marantz ud7007 or the denon 3313ud could be a better bet...

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