The Audio Geek!

Hi Res Audio Test

I am just starting to dabble in computer-based high resolution audio. The setup I tried used my MacBook Pro with iTunes, via USB to Cambridge Audio DacMagic, then single-ended RCA into the Yamamoto headphone amplifier. I have downloaded demo copies of Amarra Mini, Pure Music and the free AyreWave players to add functionality to the native iTunes playback.

Playing Apple Lossless tracks, my initial thoughts are positive, however I need the next version of Pure Music to test my hi-res Beatles tracks from my 'green Apple' USB stick. AyreWave plays FLAC files seamlessly and well in my system in isolation. Next step is how the 44/24 FLAC tracks compare to the Apple Lossless versions. Looking forward to opening my eyes and ears for that challenge!

On price it is easy to compare the three. AyreWave is free, Amarra (full version) is $A695 and Pure Music is about $A150. However, there is MUCH, MUCH heavy lifting to do to figure out the sonic strengths and weaknesses of each of these exciting technologies. Stay tuned.

Latest hi fi configuration & modifications

My latest hi fi configuration is shown below. Nothing really new, just some 'recycled' components connected a little differently. It has all added up to a changed, but improved, overall sound.

So what's changed?

  • The Supratek Pre / Power are currently out of the system, and back with manufacturer in WA for a refresh;
  • The Promitheus TVC has been run in now for over 250 hours and is doing good things. It is not adding much but not removing anything either, just transparent and silent;
  • The Red Rose Music Model 2 Silver Signature power amplifier is back! Currently operating in triode mode (~18 watts / channel), it is providing a degree of delicacy and engagement previously missing. Also it is operating relatively noiselessly;
  • The Zu Audio Definition Mk 1.5 speakers have been pushed further back towards the front wall, positioned a little closer together and 'squared up' to reduce toe in. The result has reduced the depth of the musical window a little but helped the overall musicality. Listening off axis now, the highs don't 'take your ears off' anymore;
  • The Furman power conditioner has come back from a warranty repair to deliver clean power to the components. And placed on a dedicated stand to aid cooling and access;
  • Kimber Select (Copper) RCA and XLR connectors throughout the 2 channel system, with the Red Rose Silver RCA added to the Yamamoto;
  • Various combinations of Black Diamond Racing cones & pucks, and Vibrapod cones & bases sprinkled throughout the system;
  • Better headphone integration as I am now using the Wadia DAC for iPod / iTransport listening as well as CD spinning & de-coding for the 2 channel system;

Alessandro Music Series Two headphones

Via the 'For Sale' section of SNA recently, I picked up a mint pair of Alessandro Music Series Two headphones. The Alessandro Music Series models (Music Series One, Music Series Two and Music Series Pro) are (seemingly) based on 'similar' products of the Grado Labs line. And they are manufactured alongside their Grado counterparts in the Grado factory in Brooklyn, NY.

The MS-2 is 'cloned' from the Grado SR-325i, and is distinguished from the lower (and higher) models in the Grado / Alessandro range by the metal backing (outer) of the earcups. To quote from the Alessandro website:

All Music Series headphones have a vented diaphragm design that incorporates a large air chamber. This design lowers the frequency resonance (distortion) of the diaphragm and extends bass response. A unique process to de-stress the diaphragm results in enhanced inner detail. The diaphragm is made of a low mass polymer, carefully formed to broaden resonant modes to reduce their amplitude. The diaphragm's total mass is calculated to provide a full 20 KHZ bandwidth while avoiding breakup at lower frequencies.

Whilst feeling 'weighty' in the hand, once on the head, they feel nicely balanced and comfortable for longer listening sessions. Along with the aluminium accents, they are neatly finished with a leather headband and a 1/4" connecting plug.

So how do they sound? With an iPod, Wadia iTransport and HeadRoom Cosmic portable SS headphone amp, the MS-2 was a bit boomy on the bottom and somewhat unrefined up top. These listening traits were probably more representative of the upstream combo than the Alessandro however, as when they were hooked up to the Wadia 861SE playing little silver discs and the Yamamoto tube headphone amp, the MS-2 delivered a very dynamic presentation. Strong bass, vibrant highs and a solid mid range were evident and just slightly bright would be my estimation of their overall tonal balance. You wouldn't call these 'phones delicate and they don't have the air, space & delicacy of the GS-1000 for example. Albeit at a very different price point.

With the right expectations and upstream equipment, I believe the MS-2 is a great value rock & roll headphone and a positive addition to my headphone 'collection'.


The local hi fi forum, Stereo Net Australia (SNA) has a very active membership, and is very strong in Melbourne. In addition to the useful online information exchanges there is also a concept called Get-to-Gethers (GtGs)where members invite fellow SNA'ers for a bite to eat, a drink and a listen to music and equipment in convivial surroundings.

Events vary in size from 3 or 4 to a maximum of around 25, obviously depending on room and / or house size. And if you think this is just an excuse for a beer and sausage sizzle, ah,no. See some of the pictures below to get a sense of the planning and execution effort that goes into these things. Drinks are usually BYO, with all wine put on show in the middle of the table(s) for all to share. If what you bring is not up to snuff, then you have the pain of watching the bottle you brought remain untouched while hoping that nobody saw you put it down.

Guests are invited to also bring a selection of music to demo. This does two things. It providers the guests with some reference tracks to help evaluate & get a handle on the differences of the hots's system, compared to one's own. Also it is a rich source of 'new' music as it exposes a wide range of artists, genres and periods.

With that preamble, I am happy to report that I have attended two such events over the last month or so.

Details on Mustud52's event, coming soon.

Details on Keith_W's event, coming soon. But in the meantime, here is the official Keith's SNA GtG Thread.

The Acapellas, just gorgeous! - Photo by JohnA 2010

Wadiaman spends an afternoon with a LuckyDog

I am a member of the hi fi forum StereoNet Australia, and through the forum I have met a number of wonderful people and heard some world-class systems. One such individual and system is owned by forum-nickname LuckyDog, who luckily (sorry for the awful pun) lives only 10 minutes from me. In his spare time, LD is also a representative of the Australian hi-fi distributor / dealer puremusicgroup who sell an interesting, eclectic and great sounding selection of gear sourced from most continents of the world.

Along with two other forum members, Spearmint and Mustud52 I was fortunate to be invited to LD's place recently for a listen to his latest system additions.

LuckyDog, Wadiaman and Spearmint

The Kuzma / Lyra combo was the star of the show while Wadiaman graces the stunning, fully active ADAM Tensor Beta

The purpose of the day was to spend some time comparing SACDs with vinyl. LuckyDog has a new US made Playback Designs MPS-5 CD/SACD player to spin the little silver discs and the Kuzma XL2 turntable, with a Kuzma '4 Point' arm and Lyra Titan i cartridge, with a Kuzma phono stage to play the big black platters. These fed an interesting pre-amp option, a Lightspeed Attenuator hand made by, and avialable directly from, an Australian hi fi designer, George Stantscheff. No moving parts just an LED-based resistor to control the gain. One pair of RCAs in and one pair of RCAs out meant some swapping of interconnects as we compared the two technologies. But that 'delay' was a window for the group to discuss the pros / cons of what we had just immediately heard. It actually worked very well. The speakers were the ADAM Audio Tensor Beta fully active floor standers, that are stunning to look at and powerful to listen to. It promised to be an interesting and fun afternoon and that is how it turned out.


Playback Designs MPS-5 & The Lightspeed Pre

The quality of the two source devices certainly accurately portrayed the sound quality of each of the software titles we played. I had never heard SACDs seriously before and I was mightily impressed by many but disappointed (as in no great benefit over CD) with the quality of some titles as well. Not all SACDs are created equal I can safely report, and unbeknown to me, this is the same for vinyl releases. Some sounded absolutely glorious while others just sounded OK.

We all wanted to believe that the vinyl rig would be superior to the SACD system on the same titles. And so it proved. Typically, we enjoyed improved vocal / instrument separation and heightened harmonic enjoyment and sonic realism from the analog playback. Without over analysing the outcome, it was just more enjoyable. Seriously, addictively enjoyable in fact. But with a 2x cost differential, was the vinyl twice as good? Almost certainly not, but the heights to which 'quality' vinyl can reach is simply unattainable from SACD (or CD) playback. As is often the case, 'Ya get what you pay for'.

Being a tube guy I always try to focus on the mid range where most of the music lives, and it was indeed here where I felt the vinyl was superior. A full mid range with a superior rhythm and engagement, the records simply drew me into the music more. Interestingly Spearmint, a CD/SACD and active speaker guy, tended to focus more on dynamics and also scored the vinyl rig most favourably on this aspect also.

The music we listened to ran the gamut of female vocals (Natalie Merchant), Celtic (Mary Black), blues (John Lee Hooker), a cappella Gospel (T Minus 5), pop/rock (Steely Dan), jazz (Dave Brubeck), rock (Dire Straits), African (Hugh Masekela) amongst many others and LuckyDog (using the host card) managed to squeeze in some vinyl rap-ish stuff of indeterminate provenance at one point!

Not only did we sample great tunes reproduced superbly, but the side-bar conversations were most enlightening (these guys are really knowledgeable audiophiles with 'golden' ears) and the hospitality was first class. Thanks for a great day of music and fellowship LuckyDog.

Spearmint (again), the rarely standing Mustud52 and the Comfy Chairs