The Audio Geek!

Latest music purchases

With the Kronos now only a month or so away, I have started to get really enthusiastic about freshening up the music collection. Having heard what the MacBook Pro running the Fidelia Advanced player can sound like with Redbook audio 'ripped' discs replayed on the Kronos, I have not bothered seeking out any more 'hi-res' digital versions of new music. Plain old CDs will do me fine!

So I have recently purchased:
- Led Zeppelin 'IV' and 'Houses of the Holy', both 2014 'Deluxe' remasters with Jimmy Page
- Tom Waits 'Bad as Me'
- Robert Plant 'The Lullaby and… The Ceaseless Roar'
- Gary Clark Junior 'Live
- Johnny Winter 'Step Back'

Unknown-5 Unknown-6

If the new Led Zeppelin releases are as good as the 1/2/3 remastered albums, they will be pretty special.

Unknown-3

I do have a soft spot for Tom Wait's lyrics and musical styling, and his singing is very well suited to very, very late night listening with a beverage. Usually makes my life seem a whole lot better after an hour or so with Tom!

Unknown

Robert Plant's solo work and collaborations have been very interesting in his post LZ days. This new album, 'Lullaby and … The Ceaseless Roar' has reviewed well and I look forward to hearing it.

Unknown-2

As a blues lover I was saddened by the recent passing of Johnny Winter. His final album, 'Step Back' is a collaboration with friends, admirers and peers and is a fitting farewell to a legend of the blues.

Unknown-4

The final purchase was a younger bluesman, Gary Clark Jnr and his 'Live' album. GC Jnr is famous for his high energy, intense live performances and this 2CD set exemplifies this in fine style. From covers to original compositions, his singing and passionate playing are well worth the price of admission.

DC Blocker

Headphone System 1
I finally met Bryan Fletcher from Audio Note Australia / Finn Technology for the first time at the recent Melbourne Audio Show, although I have enjoyed the AN sound at several previous shows. The AN sonic signature for me is always holistic, engaging and pure. Even with a more cost-effective set of products, this year was no exception and we got talking about music, audio, wine and food in general and then more specially about the impact of noise on the power line on audio systems Well, to be honest, Bryan did most of the talking!

Bryan has done much analysis and testing and determined that the residual DC on the incoming AC line was responsible for an audible degradation of the sound outputs of audio systems, and visual outputs of LCD screens and panels. According to Bryan - 'D C on the A C line comes from solar inverters, switch mode power supplies, electronic transformers for halogen lights, anything using a half power switch like hair dryers and the great thing is it doesn’t have to be in your house, could be the neighbour 2 houses away or the transformer up the pole or buried in the ground.'

I am in no way technical nor do I have any electrical engineering expertise, but we do have 26 solar panels on the roof and an inverter to feed the juice back into the grid, plus electric fences for the horses (to keep us out or them in, not sure which) and various other technologies and machinery that co-habit our semi-rural environment. So if the DC Blocker was going work anywhere it should be here.

After some further discussion, and an unnecessarily long reference check on my character, Bryan kindly decided to loan me a sample of his DC Blocker to try at home. He seemed very confident of the outcome.

IMG_4258IMG_4256IMG_4251

The unit contains two AC receptacles as outputs, with one IEC input from the wall. The chassis is surrounded with a pleasantly machined aluminium case and rests on four rubber feet. I placed mine on an old, spare amplifier stand just to protect the loaner product and get it up off the floor. All downstream devices should be plugged into the unit so that no stray DC can infiltrate from other connected components. The only system I have that would fit this requirement is my headphone system, and upon further thought, would be an excellent test to determine if any undesirable DC impact was removed from the output.

With several other competing priorities here at Humphries HQ, I have only just got around to installing the DC Blocker into the power supply chain for my headphone system, replacing a well-regarded Gary Cawsey 'PowerBox' filter.

IMG_4268 (1)

Probably worth mentioning the rest of the headphone rig at this point. I have a Benchmark Media Systems DAC1 USB, which does double duty as a DAC (!) and a solid state headphone amplifier; a Yamamoto HA-02 tube headphone amplifier with RCA input from the Benchmark DAC; Sennheiser HD 600 headphones with a Stefan Art Audio 'Equinox' single ended after market cable. Front end is a mid 2012 Apple MacBook Pro (using only battery power for listening tests) running OS X Yosemite, the Fidelia Digital Player, with the Advanced module enabled. Output is via USB to an Audiophilleo 2 USB transport passing the reclocked signal via a S/PDIF connection to the Benchmark.

I sat down to listen with some enthusiasm but with a totally open mind. Probably best to start with some well known tracks (ripped and stored with the Apple Lossless CODEC) and I cued up various tracks to sample and, hopefully, enjoy. It took only a few songs to realise that I really was enjoying the iTunes-sourced material. A clear, clean and extended musical presentation from top to bottom at moderate gain levels producing a most acceptable sound to my ears.

Then I started to think about what I was hearing. Previously, my system sounded good from mid-range upwards, although requiring the volume control of the Benchmark to be wound around to the 1 or 2 o'clock position. Or more… Here I was listening at less than 12 o'cock levels, hearing excellent dynamics, instrument / vocal separation and tonal balance with minimal blurring or 'sonic confusion' in the music. Just clean, clear, smooth and balanced across the frequency range.

I deliberately did not reference Bryan's website before I sampled the product. But here now is his take on the sonic impact -'The surprise however was the substantial improvement in sound. It was like the system had a layer of grunge removed from the frequency range in the bottom end that you never even knew was there. We are not talking subtle here, faster dynamics and real bass'.

Perhaps due the headphones and related equipment I didn't necessarily hear DEEPER bass but I certainly heard clearer and more spacious bass. I absolutely agree that there is a benefit and change in the lower mid range down, but I also heard some smoothness or reduced 'flare' in the very upper register as well. These two improvements made the overall sound more musical, balanced and listenable. At no stage during a three hour listening session was I fatigued or tempted to listen to my library of high resolution music. I was simply enjoying 44/16 source material too much!

This result is frankly quite shocking. That a relatively small and simple (but well built) 'box' could produce such a sonic improvement was indeed a revelation. I would highly recommend a listen to the DC Blocker if you suspect DC contamination is a problem in your system / environment.

I will beg to retain the DC Blocker for a few more weeks of listening, comparing and testing, but I suspect that it will not be making the long road trip back to SinCity! Many thanks to Bryan Fletcher for the opportunity to sample the DC Blocker and hear it's benefits in my system and my congratulations to him on the development and delivery of such a well realised component.

Kyron Audio & Stonier, oh yes!

I thought I would toast Kyron Audio's success at the weekend's Australian Audio & AV Show 2014 with some local produce. Here's to Kronos with a 'little' 2010 Stonier Reserve Chardonnay. Congratulations to all at KA for a superb achievement!

Kyron & Stonier

2014 Australian AV and Audio Show

I wrote this post for our Australian hifi forum StereoNet Australia (SNA).

"My wife and I attended the show Saturday afternoon. Being a closed-minded sort of person, I attended the rooms that I hoped / expected would maximise my enjoyment. The following are my observations in no particular order.
 
Congratulations to Addicted to Audio for laying on much of their product range and almost all their high end gear on demonstration. I didn't get a listen to the Abyss thru the outrageous Woo Monos, but Audeze LCD X and a Cypher Labs tube monolith amp fed by an Anstel Kern hi-res player was a mighty fine combination. Spacious, energetic but smooth. A lot of interest around the demo table(s) with attentive support from the AtA folks.
 
Year on year, the Pure Music Group put on a great display of gear, sonics and engaging music. This year was no exception. Alternating between an Air Force One turntable (stunning even to digital ears) and an Antipodes Audio music server, Elektra pre-amp, and Gauder speakers (sorry missed the power amps), the sound was very fine indeed with sensible and considered musical selections. 
 
Although I didn't stay a long time, I still liked what I heard in the Audio Note room. A late entrant this year, driven by more cost effective products compared to last year, the sound was engaging and just enveloped and drew you in. My sense is that headbangers need not apply, but folks with room placement speaker issues maybe interested in the way the AN speakers are able to be 'stuffed' into room corners. It should be a big plus for some.
 
This is the third year that I have heard the Kyron Audio gear under show conditions and they continue to shine. The Kronos this year sounded expansive, detailed and pretty balanced in the room. One of the benefits of the dipoles appear to be a presentation that transcends the sweet spot (although it was a cool listening chair!) and delivers a pleasing image and sonics to those in off-centre seating positions. 
 
I wanted to hear the Brodman room (too busy sadly) and the Telos Audio room (switching technologies when I stuck my head in, but still no empty seats!). 
 
Overall, I enjoyed the afternoon. We met some new people, caught up with old friends and generally felt comfortable walking the halls and enjoying high quality audio equipment and music in the one location."

Michael Fremer of Stereophile magazine fame attended the show and was most impressed by the Kyron Audio Kronos. Check out his comments
here.

Glad my order is already in!

The Kronos are on their way!

After a suitable period of 'mourning', and a detailed evaluation of alternatives and our existing options, we have decided to proceed with the purchase of the Kyron Audio Kronos System, as evaluated in-house a couple of months ago.

064A5854
Kyron Audio Kronos Control Unit - 2014

Now our order has been signed and deposit paid, we are 'in the queue' with some other lucky purchasers for delivery early in 2015.

Somehow we need to survive until then. One way to pass the time might be to buy some new music. From my experience with the Kronos, they seem to make most music sound better, and on some selections, spectacularly so. Therefore one can make new purchases with a degree of confidence that they will sound as good as possible via the Kronos.

2Y9A3135 - Version 3
Red wine, Fidelia remote and Kronos. Sheer joy! Roll on 2015!

Robin and I are looking forward to exciting musical times ahead!

Recent music purchase highlights

I have purchased various CDs recently, but the highlights are:

- The remastered Led Zeppelin albums 1, 2 and 3 (or whatever their 'real' names are). A quick listen on the laptop via the DragonFly & HD800s showed the new discs to be very listenable, open and engaging, clearly sonically superior to the compressed-sounding originals.

LZ 1.lz_ii.lz_iii

- Either planned or in response to the original lead singer, Doc Neeson's sad recent passing, there are two 3-CD sets of Australian pub rock band, The Angels, one of studio recordings and one of their plentiful live material. I haven't had the chance to listen yet, but I am sure that I will have several hours of musical nostalgia and reminiscing ahead of me!

urlAngels Live

Kyron Audio Kronos System Review

The Opportunity

I had the good fortune to attend the Melbourne Hi-Fi show in the late summer of 2012. The star of the show was an outrageously engineered (and looking) dipole speaker system from a ] Melbourne based audio design company, Kyron Audio. Again, as luck would have it I must have been in the room at one of the quiet times of the day and was able to get a decent listen to their flagship (and then only) product, the Gaia. The professionalism of the set-up of the room, the engaging team members led by co-founder Lee Gray and the superb quality of the system were all most impressive. I subsequently stayed in touch with Lee and was able to briefly catch up again at this year’s show and see and hear their new product release, the Kronos. The room was packed as the word was well and truly out about Kyron Audio and I didn’t get the chance to have as good a listen as I would have liked. Welcome to the world of hi-fi shows. Some months passed and I made a mental note to contact Lee to see if I could arrange to have a listen to the Kronos in a more relaxed environment. Coincidently, within a week and totally out-of-the-blue, Lee contacted me to see if I would like them to bring the Kronos to my place for a weeks audition. It didn’t take long for me to say yes please!

The Kronos System

Kronos Speaker
Kronos is Kyron Audio's smaller room friendly system. Where the much larger Gaia needs some room to breath to show it's best, the Kronos is happy in small to medium sized (i.e. normal) sized listening / lounge / family rooms. In terms of number of pieces, the Kronos is dead simple. Two speakers and a Control Unit joined by speaker cable. That is it. Add source and stir. Done. While that is all true, it does not do justice to the system components that you see and some that you can't.

Starting with the speakers themselves, they consist of two 1" tweeters (one forward one rear firing), one 7" mid-range driver, and two 12" bass drivers per side. Designed in a dipole array, with sound emanating both froward and rearward, with no surrounding box or enclosure to resonate or 'drive' the sound. The Control Unit contains amplification which runs to in excess of 1.6kW of Hypex digital amplifiers. This staggering power is required to produce the SPL's required of the dipole arrangement. These are tied together with a DEQX preamp, room correction, active speaker calibration unit all enclosed in a hefty but impressive black metal and chrome chassis that sits on it's own (optional) stand or on a sturdy shelf or rack..

I am technically challenged at this level, so for much more detail on the Kronos components and specifications, please click here.







Arrival & Set-Up

Kronos
The set-up of the Kronos in my existing lounge / listening room was a smooth and structured affair. From the outrageously over-engineered flight case that each speaker unit was cradled in, to the cute lime green ‘booties’ to protect the base and to facilitate sliding into the best position before out-rigger spiking. The central 45 kg Control Unit is then placed on a (sturdy) shelf or on an optional spiked stand. Connecting the speakers to the Control Unit is via custom built speaker cables of considerable heft, and I am sure commensurate engineering to take the DEQX signal and allocate it to the appropriate driver. Connectors on each speaker end are custom, self locking alloy blocks.

Once the principal pieces are roughly in place, co-founder Leon Suter gets to work with the DEQX software and laptop to measure the room. The supplied microphone and stand is placed at the preferred listening position, then the DEQX software does it’s thing to identify the baseline room attributes. From there Leon is able to ‘tune’ the response to play with the room rather than fight it. I should also add that the set up process was a customer inclusive effort. No ‘go away and leave us alone’ attitude from the Kyron Audio team. Chatting easily as they went through each step of the process, the only silence required was for the DEQX to do it’s sweeps of the room.

Installation and configuration is included in the purchase of the Kronos to ensure that the system performs to it's maximum immediately.

Finally swapping from Leon’s laptop to mine and connecting my CD player was a straight forward plug and play job.

Listening

Listening tests were conducted via the trusty Wadia 861SE CD transport/DAC (over S/PDIF), and a mid 2012 Apple MacBook Pro (with SSD) running OSX Mavericks 10.9.4 with Bit Perfect V2.0.1 and Fidelia V1.5.3 as digital music players via USB. In addition to RedBook CDs, a combination of 44/16 and higher resolution FLAC and AIFF files were driven from the Mac.

It should not be a surprise that from the very first track it was obvious that something special was going on with the Kronos system.

OK, let’s start the listening impressions discussion with the foundation, the noise floor. The Kronos is for all intents and purposes silent. The music rises from and falls back into the blackest of backgrounds. Compared to my valve amps and high efficiency speakers, it is indeed a revelation. Also immediately I noticed a taller and wider centre image giving the impression that a real-life sized performer was in front of you, not a smaller replica in a rectangular 'visual' envelope.

Bass - The dual 12” bass drivers driven via the DEQX to work with the room deliver the deepest and most nuanced bass I have ever heard in my room. No artificial thump, no added boost to insert depth where it doesn’t exist on the recoding. I have two ‘go to’ tracks for bass. One is Harry Connick Jnr ‘Follow the Music’ from the 1994 ‘She’ album. I am not an HC Jnr fan normally but I was introduced to this track by the Asia Pacific distributor for Wadia many years ago and it gives the drivers a real work out. The second is ‘Rubberband Man’ by Yello from their ‘Baby’ album. Both sounded spectacular.

Mid Range / Male - Female vocals - A few examples to sample here. ‘Fields of Gold’ by Eva Cassidy’s ‘Live at Blues Alley’, Leon and Eric Bibb’s ‘Praising Peace’ from the 2006 album of the same name, and ‘Cherokee River’ by Walela from their self-titled 1997 debut album. I particularly enjoyed the harmonies of Walela underpinned by the hypnotic synth & percussion.

Highs - The Kronos speaker has two 1” tweeters per side one forward and one rear firing. I found the highs to be well controlled, by no means ‘hot’ or over-emphasised. I am big fan of acoustic blues and in addition to the mid range tone of steel string acoustic guitars I look for ringing and sustained decay of the strings particularly finger picking styles. I enjoyed listening to local acoustic blues artists Phil Manning, Jeff Lang and Geoff Achison doing their stuff through the Kronos. Very lifelike, live sounding and most satisfying.

2Y9A3129
Your humble correspondent with the Kronos in situ - 2014

So, to my ears in my room, the individual components of the sound are excellent in isolation. In terms of detail retrieval and presentation, yes, you can get your jollies from hearing a stool knocked over in the back corner of the studio at the 4.55 mark of your favourite track. But what really impresses is the way every track comes together as a whole. You can hear the individual instruments in detail laid out across the sound field, but if you just pull back your attention more broadly the entire presentation morphs into focus as a gloriously reproduced seamless piece of music.

I have heard some high end systems which 'blow you away' with their sonic fireworks and you start to consider 'could anything be better?' Then by track three or five or some period of time, you find yourself needing a rest, to get away from that alleged greatness. Too much of a good thing? I didn't have this problem with the Kronos. The sound was simply brilliant and enjoyable at any volume level, and totally non-fatiguing. You will need to sleep, fill your glass or have to eat before the sound will force you to leave your favourite listening chair.

Dynamics are excellent. Notes start and stop. Musical signatures are preserved. In my preferred genres of rock and blues, the rhythm section in particular is extremely well served by the bass reproduction and the ability and speed of the Kronos to sound rhythmically correct giving energy to the performance.

The resolution of the Kronos reproduction chain is particularly evident when listening at lower than concert levels. Instrument separation, imaging, detail and dynamics are all present at near background levels and above.

One attribute we find critically important for a home system is that of engagement. It needs to draw the listener into the music and make you want to continue listening. And here is the clincher. With the Kronos, the quality set-up and reproduction transcends the sweet-spot. Sitting well off-axis in one of the sofas either side of 'the chair', you are still involved with the entire presentation, not just parts of it. Furthermore, if you can engage with your music from another room at modest listening levels, you have a winning system. The Kronos did that for us. Partaking in a lovely Sunday morning breakfast some distance away from the listening room, the music just flowed through the house and I caught myself nodding along and following the bass line of some track that I was barely familiar with. Apart from being fun, this extends the utility of the system as you can be doing other things and still be getting enjoyment and value from your ‘investment’ in the system and your music.

064A5732 - Version 2064A5750
064A5896
Quality abounds - 2014

There is often an assumption that with high-end equipment everything sounds good, as if somehow by magic. That is of course a myth. After a couple of days and 50 or so discs of various genres and ages, I can confidently state that poorly recorded and mastered discs are spectacularly and accurately reproduced as poorly recorded and mastered discs!

As for the Wadia as a transport using S/PDIF and the Mac using ALAC rips of Redbook CDs via USB, the victory was a pretty clear win to the computer based files. To my ears the entire presentation was enhanced to the point where I stopped playing discs and copied all of my listening material to the laptop for the week.

For all of the reasons discussed above, it would come as no surprise that the Kyron Audio Kronos delivers the best sound I have ever heard in my room by a very, very large margin. Given the complexities of my room, I would never have thought the level of reproduction attained by the Kronos would be possible. Not even close. I am staggered with the sonics the Kronos achieved.

So how does the Kronos System differ from my current Supratek / Zu Audio Definition setup? The Kronos was clearly superior in the quality of the noise floor, the top-to-bottom balance, deeper and more tuneful bass, right-sized imaging and it simply made more music, more enjoyable, more easily, more often. On the flip side, when dialled in, the Supratek pre-power combination delivers superb mid-range tone and engagement (inaccuracies according to Leon!) and the 101dB efficient Zus are the ‘fastest’ speaker that I have heard and anything played through them seriously hustles along.

064A5924
This is how the Kronos speaker looks on arrival, and sadly, just before departure... - 2014

Ease of Use

Once set up, the simplicity of the plug and play / add a source approach completely disguises the depth of acoustic and technical engineering of the delivered solution. Just wake the system from sleep, cue up a track and hit 'Play'. No intricate turn-on procedures, no extended warm-up period required. Almost too easy!

Three listening profiles can be setup at installation time to present different flavours of sound although I forgot to sample the other two in the week I had the Kronos. I didn't feel the need. Or I forgot... Although I connected my laptop with a decent Kimber USB cable, I don't think the Kronos is cable fussy. I know that Kyron Audio's usual go-to USB cable is a very basic, three of four metre run of Belkin wire with standard USB Type A and B connectors at each end, and the system still sounds superb.

My listening room has either plenty of glass or heavy curtains and my current system sounds overly bright (reflective) with the curtains open, and controlled (or a little over-damped) with the curtains shut. With the Kronos and it's active electronics, there was minimal difference in sound signature and balance with the curtains open or closed. A clever trick and a very big tick for the DEQX I would say.

Like all elements of Kyron Audio products, the remote control is a beautifully crafted all metal affair controlling on/off, source, volume and muting functions and is simplicity itself.

Conclusion & Summary

I cannot overstate the stunning level of detail and quality of the Kronos. From the heavy dust covers, to the build quality of the footers and integrated spikes on the speakers and control unit, the fit and finish of the speakers (almost impossible to capture the details with my photographic skills) and of the supplied USB stick, microphone and stand and accessories hard case made me feel proud to have the Kronos in my home for a week. The fact that it is Australian designed and built makes it even more special.

The Kronos System is undoubtedly a destination product. It is one that will get you off the treadmill of upgrades and tweaks and into your existing, and I would hasten to bet, ever expanding music collection. It is a significant investment suited to individuals and families who are committed to the pleasure and joy that their preferred musical choices give them and to those who are able to exercise those choices often.

Sonically the Kronos System is world class, aesthetically it is off the charts, and operationally is barely more complicated that an iDevice. And as a destination product, you may find that the ultimate destination is the listening room in your home.

If you can, you must. We can't but we still might!

064A5916 - Version 2
Thanks to Lee Gray (left) and Leon Suter (right) of Kyron Audio for the unique opportunity to enjoy the stunning Kronos System in house


Postscript: I knew that Edgar Kramer of Esoteric Audio had reviewed the Kronos system, and in fact the Kyron guys left me with a copy of his review. However I intentionally didn't read Ed's comments until after I had conducted my own listening sessions and formed my views. Edgar's words and commentary are certainly much more eloquent than mine but it is interesting that our listening and visual impressions are pretty similar, which perhaps says less about us, and more about the consistency, quality and fidelity of Kyron Audio's Kronos system.

5 CD Sets

I was in a local record store recently browsing for a copy of Donald Fagen's 'Sunken Condos' album (found, purchased and enjoyed) and stumbled across a bunch of 5CD sets of some artists that I know and love.

These sets published variously by Sony, EMI and Warner Music seemed a great way to get into the back catalog of these artists, specifically Bonnie Raitt, Roxy Music, Chris Rea, The Allman Brothers and The Monkees. I had previously purchased the 5 CD set of the original Peter Green era Fleetwood Mac so I sort of knew was I was getting into.

IMG_3239

I am not expecting these discs to be high quality transfers and you can't expect miracle pressings for $A4 per disc. But if there are one or two musical gems hidden in these sets, then I can reach out and buy those albums in some hi-res format from Mobile Fidelity, HD Tracks etc to enjoy further. Or not, as these artists are part of my musical heritage and I enjoy them as much for the memories they invoke as for the music itself.

All in all, a most enjoyable 'transaction'!