The Audio Geek!

Another new cable...

To round out my connectivity options on the Kronos, Lee Suter of Kyron Audio kindly offered to make me an AES / EBU digital cable to try and it duly arrived this week.

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Nice - 2015

Initial impressions are very positive. It is crisp but smooth and I know that sounds weird. But after three hours listening that is my initial impression. And it has much more volume than the Kimber Select XLR analog copper cable and a little less than the Red Rose Music Silver Litz analog cable. Interesting. I do however need to re-check the DIP switches inside the Wadia just to make sure the gain settings are consistent across all of the analog & digital outputs.

I will do that and listen more and report additional findings in due course.

Customer service Kyron Audio style

The Control Unit for our Kyron Audio system went off site for a couple of days for a quick bench / health check and a power supply calibration / upgrade and was personally delivered and re-installed by none other than Leon Suter, Founder and Director of Kyron Audio.

In addition to re-calibrating the DEQX room correction settings, Leon measured the electrical response of the speaker drivers for future comparison and reference purposes then set about playing his selection of demo tracks before confirming the system to be in rude health. Sure sounded great to me! Afterwards Robin and I had the pleasure of Leon's company and conversation over dinner.

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The master at work - 2015

One of the reasons for the health check related to concerns about dust levels in our listening room and the ingestion of said dust through the top plate of the Control Unit. The longer term solution is a simple (but of course Kyron Audio custom designed) cover for the Control Unit when not in use, but in the short term we have re-configured the equipment rack to now have the Control Unit living underneath the top shelf. Air flow for cooling is fine and in fact the whole set-up looks a lot neater as well.

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More functional, secure AND neater - 2015

So all things Kronos just keep getting better. Thanks for the awesome customer support Leon & Lee and we look forward to seeing you both again when you are next in town.

Acoustic Revive USB & AudioQuest JitterBug

Some new accessories have landed here recently. As main system duties are now totally covered off by the Kyron Audio Kronos system and Wadia / Apple front ends, there are no near term 'big boxes' or additions to be made to the system. Perhaps a dedicated music server / streamer if you believe in the improvements over a 'normal' computer front end. Otherwise there is just tinkering around the edges.

Fantastic! For not much money one can go wild with all sorts of weird and wonderful tweaks and in the interest of full disclosure that is exactly what I intend to do! The new additions this quarter are an Acoustic Revive USB cable and a pair of AudioQuest JitterBugs.

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The Acoustic Revive USB-1.0SP (to use it's full name) cable is an interesting beast. Separate A-connectors for power and signal from the computer (source) end, into one USB-B connection at the DAC / amp end. This cable is beautifully made, of sensible thickness (if a little stiff) with aircraft-grade aluminium plugs at all three connection points. From the Acoustic Revive website, the internal construction is stated as:

'USB-1.0SP and USB-1.0PL USB cables are equipped with a very thick 0.8Φ Solid single-core PCOCC-A conductor (the highest diameter USB cable currently available on the market) to achieve an overwhelming Dynamic range and Frequency range that was previously impossible to create by conventional USB cables.
The purity of PCOCC-A (annealed PCOCC which does not have crystal grain) exceeds the high purity copper such as 6N when it is made into a cable, and its overwhelming conductivity is far superior.
We also applied PCOCC-A as a solid single-core to avoid stray current(Strand jump phenomenon) and to achieve an accurate digital transmission, resulting in a clear and blur-less sound image, wide and deep sound field with an accurate phase and a full three-dimensional acoustic field.'

Additional materials include PE shielding and cotton internal damping. Later versions (the SPS) changed the shield and damping materials.

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So what do I hear compared to my previous Kimber reference? The first trait that hit me was speed. After my years with the Zu Audio speakers, I became 'hooked' on my music having a pace that sets feet tapping and head nodding. I easily walk away from high quality reference systems if they in any way start to linger, plod along or just hold the full rhythm back in any way. Not an issue with the Acoustic Revive I am pleased to report. This also renders 'ordinary recordings / sample rates (I am looking at you MP3s)' adequately listenable as rock songs in particular can be entertaining without reaching any audiophile heights. I figured this out listening to (and enjoying) 'Bow River' by Cold Chisel off the 'Barking Spiders Live' album even as a 192 kbps MP3.

The next trick on decent recordings is, added to the speed, is detail and the starting and stopping of notes and or instruments where you hear the leading edge, the content, and the trail off. Pretty cool.

I enjoyed the tonal balance, with the emphasis on 'balance'. Probably not the weightiest bottom end I have heard but it is especially tuneful across the spectrum. Those looking for words like 'tipped up', 'euphonic', 'Stygian' are probably looking at the wrong cable with the AR. I didn't get a sense that it was in any way acting as a de facto tone control.

The logistics of the implementation of this cable can be difficult given it's relative lack of flexibility depending on where the two USB connectors are placed on your server or computer. On my mid 2013 Apple MacBook Pro, the USB ports are on either side of the keyboard base so the main issue is having enough length of cable to stretch side to side then to connect back to DAC.

Even when using headphones, soundstage and imaging are to the fore. As a lover of old Australian rock and blues I cued up '32/20 Blues' by Chain from a 30th Anniversary edition of 'Towards the Blues'. The position of guitar and harmonica in the intro can be easily heard and the separation continued throughout the track.

These impressions have been gained from my headphone system (Apple MBP, Audirvana Plus (V2.2.3), Benchmark DAC 1 USB, audiophilleo 2, Grado GS 1000, AKG 702) with the USB cable having about 50 hours burn in to date.

Now sadly as I write this the JitterBugs are still on back order with a revised shipping date of September 28. If there is any synergy and improvement with the AR USB cable then I am expecting nice things. Roll on next week!

More new music

Unbeknown to me to me, there is a great music / hifi dealer in suburban Burwood selling all manner of digital and analog quality recordings. An exceptional range and knowledgeable staff. Get on down to Audiophile Reference Recordings and have some fun!

So what did we pick up? Well, I say we because Robin joined in and is an absolute terrier in a decent music store, grabbing all manner of recordings so if you turn your back for a moment she will have an armful heading for the checkout. I didn't endear myself with the store owner by regularly returning some of her selections to the shelves…

The real reason we were there was because Robin disliked our RedBook CD version of The Doors ' Morrison's Hotel' a long time favourite album of hers that the new Kronos system shows up warts and all. So:

- The Doors 'Morrison's Hotel' (LE #4800/?)
- Phil Collins 'Face Value' (LE #2432/?)
- Box set Deep Purple 4 studio albums (LE #882/5000)
- Boz Scaggs 'Boz Scaggs' (LE #2884/?)

All the above are Audio Fidelity 24K+ Gold remastered editions by Steve Hoffman

Then there are a couple of Japanese pressing K2HD Mastering Sony discs:

- Sarah McLachlan 'Surfacing' (LE #0532/?)
- Mark Knopfler and Chet Atkins 'Neck to Neck'.

The haul was completed with the Ray Brown Trio supporting a collaboration of favoured vocalists on the FIM label and a Patsy Cline Greatest Hits by Analogue Productions.

If you read my treatise on the 'Sticky Fingers' album, then I cannot make the same claims of quality investigations of the albums above. But the labels are very credible and the products are of a decent standard I am sure.

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Locked in and ready to load - 2015

Looking forward to many hours of enjoyment from these discs.

A great music day

An old friend and a new one came over for lunch on Thursday to talk music and enjoy the system and swap stories over lunch. Unfortunately they had to leave far too early, but Robin and I continued well into the night. Joyous!

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Kronos & Friends - 2015

Real Sticky Fingers gold!

In recent weeks there has been a re-mastered, re-issued version of the classic 1971 Rolling Stones album, 'Sticky Fingers'. I don't own a CD of this album in my collection, so I thought I should take this opportunity to rectify that situation.

According to my count, this new release comes in 10 (yes 10) different formats, packages and content. I thought I would do some internet research to guide me as to which version was the best value and of most interest to a middling Stones fan like myself. What I thought I read was the new album (on CD at least), while better than the original and recent re-releases, was re-mastered 'hot' with not a great amount of dynamic range. On such a broad album of Rolling Stones work, rockers, ballads, country and other styles I thought that this prospect sounded pretty dismal. There was 'talk' that the 'best' CD version to get was the remastered Virgin Records pressing from 1994 overseen by Bob Ludwig in California. And it came with the 'original' Andy Warhol real zipper on the CD cover / insert. But you could probably guess that this version is not available at every corner record shop. So I started digging…

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My delivered copy of 'Sticky Fingers' was indeed in mint condition

Thanks goodness for Google (or in this case Amazon) as I found a 'mint' copy for sale in Portugal at a not-totally outrageous price. When shipping was including and with the exchange rate factored in it started to get up there, but hey, it had a real zipper! So I paid my money and took my chances. I received a Portugal Post shipping tracking number and duly waited. After two weeks, nothing, I logged on to the tracking site and found that it had been 'shipped' from Lisbon but no onward info. I was starting to become very nervous when mid week a package from Europe arrived on my doorstop, some two and a half weeks after ordering.

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Did I mention the zipper?

With appropriate levels of enthusiasm, I opened the DigiKase, admired the zipper (!) and album-like sleeve insert and duly copied the album in Apple Lossless format to my iTunes library. I then fired up my new preferred digital player, Audirvana Plus 2.2 and sat back to listen. By chance I was speaking to Lee from Kyron Audio earlier in the week about how badly Rolling Stones CDs are normally recorded, produced and mastered.

I am here to tell you that this one is different, very different. I certainly wouldn't call it 'audiophile quality' but it sounded relatively open, spacious, detailed and an absolute joy to listen to from 'Brown Sugar' to 'Moonlight Mile'. I had this album on vinyl back in the day and don't recall the actual music being that good. But, in my opinion, there is not a bad track on the 10 song album.

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All is not perfect however. Some of Mick's vocals are a touch harsh and / or strained. Could be the recording or it could be my laptop / USB cable front end.

One last step, for fun, is to re-rip the disc, using XLD and 'Paranoid Mode' into uncompressed AIFF format. It 'should' make no difference at all, but on a recording this good and through the transparent Kronos, even if there is a marginal improvement it will be audible. Update, I did the comparison rip and test and I heard absolutely NO DIFFERENCE between the XLD / Paranoid uncompressed AIFF and iTunes-ripped ALAC. Looks like I will be saving space and going Apple Lossless all the way from now on…

My 'Sticky Fingers' purchase has gone from just being an artist collection filler, to being a reference disc for both outstanding 1970s rock and a high quality rock recording. I couldn't be happier with the outcome.

Acoustic Revive RR-888

I have been fascinated by devices developed and sold by the Japanese company, Acoustic Revive, for quite some time. You can get a sense of the range, breadth and general weirdness of their products please check the website. Interestingly, when I was researching options for Australian purchase, there were warnings about counterfeit items being in the market at discounted prices. If true, then someone seems to feel that the RR-888 (and / or it's predecessors the RR-77 and RR-777) are worth trying to scam people with. A strangely positive situation me thinks…

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Packaging is typically complete in Japanese fashion - 2015

Recent hype has been around a device that purports to aid human auditory responses by 'pulsing' the listening room with a Schumann Frequency (7.83 Hz), the same frequency as the resonance of the earth. Spooky stuff.

From the Acoustic Revive website:

'RR-888 changes your listening room to the sound field without muddiness and fills it with a feeling of air, reproducing a realistic sound stage where all the musical instruments are set free.'

But does it work? The answer is a definite 'maybe'.

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The Acoustic Revive RR-888 in situ - 2015

The box itself is a plastic / polycarbonate case with a simple circuit board generating the frequency. The recommendation for installation is to place the device at a height of 5 feet or more. Unfortunately, I don't have such a spot available at this time so it is currently sitting at a little over 3 feet. Forum reports are fairly consistent that this is NOT the correct position. Might need to get creative…

The second limiting factor regarding performance is the size of my room. Perhaps the pulse is not strong enough to 'charge' or neutralise the room adequately to alter the listener's perceptions. Again, forum feedback recommends a second box (of any series) to be a significant (and some say, mandatory) upgrade.

The third limiting factor appears to be the included switch-mode wall wart power supply. Dedicated after market power supplies by companies such as KingRex or Channel Islands Audio are the preferred method of maximising the performance of the frequency generators.

I suspect I will go down these paths in the order of 1, 3 and 2. Option 1 should be implementable for 'free'. Option 3 is a few hundred dollar investment new, less if I can find a used box. The 1-3 combo should be enough to definitively determine whether there is a tangible change or not. If there is an improvement, then the incremental investment in a second Acoustic Revive RR unit will be worthwhile.

This brief journey has been fun so far and the results might be profound.

Kronos - Why so quiet?

With the Kronos now in place for a month, it is interesting to evaluate our impressions, activities and actions as owners, compared to the 'frenzy' when we had the Kronos on evaluation six months or so ago.

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The build quality & fit and finish is spectacular - 2015

Those of you that have watched this Hi Fi Journal will know that I am very happy to talk in enthusiastic terms about the systems that I have been exposed to. The first aspect that strikes me about the Kyron Audio Kronos is the overall QUALITY. When you have something short term on evaluation, perhaps you focus on what is important and in that case it was sound so you focus on that. For long term ownership, sure sonics are critical but other elements come into play. Ease of use, pride of ownership, configuration / input options etc and this is where the Kronos clearly shines.

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The new north/south hifi orientation in our lounge room - 2015

From the simple controls on the delightfully weighted remote, to the various analog and digital input options, to the configurable profiles for specific output variations the Kronos is at once complex, but simple to operate. Music is simply only one or two clicks away.

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Kronos by night - 2015

The Kronos have landed!

The moment has come, and the Kyron Audio Kronos System has finally been built, tested and now delivered to the (empty) Humphries audio salon.

The call came late last week that it would be possible to deliver the new equipment on the coming Sunday morning. Almost enough time to bundle out the old gear, shuffle furniture into the corners, vacuum the cobwebs and wait…

As usual (well for the second time at least) Leon and Lee unloaded, unpacked, installed and configured the entire Kronos package in around an hour or so. This time, the set up was aided by a computer-generated installation map developed from very detailed room measurements Lee took some four or so weeks ago. The final magic comes of course with the included microphone connected and the DEQX software enabled and tone sweeps calibrating the room. A few mouse clicks (and a bunch of applied knowledge later) Leon gave the signal we were good to go. As a double check Lee cues up tunes on the Kyron Audio laptop he is familiar with and almost fanatically focuses on the reproduction to ensure that this system, OUR system, is giving what it should. Not surprisingly the verdict was extremely positive, due in part to the acoustic qualities of my room when properly managed by the DEQX.

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Leon Suter dialling the Kronos to the room via DEQX - 2015

There was a significant change this time around from last. The system is now firing up the lounge room from the glass windows towards the front door rather than across. So there are now three 'bounded' sides firing at the listening chair with a void or open space behind. Also the configuration has the sweet spot in a very near field listening position with the speakers <3 metres apart and >2 metres from the central chair. Significantly different from the more distant, across room position of my 'normal system and the Kronos in our earlier trial. Interesting.

Then it was my turn to swap laptops and try my tracks. Pure music followed and all confirmed that the system was duly delivered as expected and operating superbly!

The Kyron Audio guys had other demands on a Sunday afternoon (as they should) so couldn't hang around so I was left with the opportunity to while away more of the day (until Robin came home) listening to the Kronos solo.

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I have developed some detailed notes on the Kyron Audio purchase experience, demo, communications, engagement etc and I may or may not publish it, but the short answer is the customer care, service and engagement throughout our entire buying process has been first class. Thank you Leon and Lee, and the support team and suppliers behind you. And to think that this is just the start of the rest of our lifetime of musical pleasure.