The Audio Geek!

The Mercury is rising!

The moment we (well, me, mainly) have been waiting for has now come. On Wednesday August 9, the Mercury sub-woofers arrived and were fastidiously installed by Lee Gray and Leon Suter founders and technical designers behind Kyron Audio.

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Lee begins the delivery / installation process - 2017

After a wonderful BBQ dinner and lively conversation, we settled in for a LONG listening session via the Antipodes Audio DX SSD music server with ROON for music management.

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Measure & adjust, measure & adjust. Leon on the laptop - 2017

All I will say at this point is that the sound delivered by integrating the Mercury sub-woofers into the existing Kronos system exceeded my expectations. I will reserve technical and detailed sonic reviews until I have had a longer listen with a clear head!

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The happy customers! - 2017

Thanks to Lee and Leon for sharing their knowledge, dedicated support and friendship over what has been an unparalleled sonic journey.

A headphone night

The Antipodes Audio DX Music Server had been off power for a couple of days and thought I should warm it up again before my new sub woofers arrive. It was a good opportunity to try some headphone listening.

So I dug out the 'old' Benchmark DAC1 from the den and the Grado GS-1000 phones, fired up ROON and had a decent session for an hour or so.

Headphone Rig
DAC1, DX and GS-1000 - 2107

The sound to my ears was a little flat (veiled) via the USB connection and I thought the overall combination was shaded by my Audioquest DragonFly 1.2 DAC/amp kit. Probably a good example of later technology over-shadowing previous generations even in a smaller form factor. It was great to be able to surf my entire library (over 1300 albums) from the iPad quickly and intuitively.

My Take on MQA

Late tonight I sat down to try and get some value from my TIDAL HiFI subscription and make some sort of evaluation of the SQ of the 'Master' presentations encoded with the MQA technology. To date, I was only able to stream the CD-quality products but the continuity of the (slightly) larger stream was problematic at best on my flakey ADSL2+ internet connection. I had more success today.

The environment for this test is TIDAL Masters, played by Audirvana 3.0.7, with an AudioQuest DragonFly 1.2 upgraded to the latest firmware release listening through Grado RS-2E headphones.

As for the quality and improvements in sound many have reported, frankly I didn't feel it.

My impression of the 'Masters MQA versions was somewhat reminiscent of the worst of digital, only slightly enhanced with a bigger image and wider soundstage or presentation. Neither of which remove the 'take your ears off' piercing treble on albums like Prince 'Purple Rain' (deluxe remastered) and a long time favourite Donald Fagen 'The Nightly'. Slightly better was Rumer 'This Girl's In Love', where the inherent 'softness' of the recording took a couple of notches forward but nothing to get too excited about sonically.

I cannot test on the full-sized system as my preferred music player and DAC don't support the hardware and software components required to unpack the MQA stream.

So as a happy TIDAL HiFi subscriber I will continue to search out CD-quality music to my tastes rather than wait for 'higher-res' versions provided by the 'Master' MQA recordings.

YMMV.

Sgt Peppers Lonely Hearts Club Band 50th Anniversary Edition

I am now listening to my Super Deluxe 4CD, 2 DVD/Blu-Ray version of the 50th anniversary version of The Beatles Sgt Peppers Lonely Hearts Club Band re-issue. The packing of this expensive box set is commensurate with the price, but sonically, it requires just one word - WOW!

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It gives you goosebumps when timeless music gets ‘refreshed’. Which in this instance means a thorough re-mixing and re-mastering. Which simplified means an improved source product meets 21st century recording techniques. And it doesn’t lose a thing and gains plenty!

To my ears, I agree with the initial reviews that both Ringo’s drums and Paul’s bass have a greater presence than the originals, but as an owner of the original MONO vinyl recording, the detail and subtleties of the arrangements of that recording have been preserved and enhanced to the benefit of this ‘new’ stereo reproduction.

I can only assume that the absolute last note of detail has been retrieved from the multiple original four-track tapes as the clarity, separation and depth of the studio ‘performance’ from 50 years ago is totally stunning. The ‘freshness’ of the sound is truly startling.

Antipodes Audio DX Reference Music Server

The Antipodes Audio DX Reference Music Server has now arrived. Purchased from the Australian distributor, Pure Music Group (now Sonic Purity), Warwick and Rom delivered the DX and helped me get the configuration set up just right. The only difficult piece for my installation is the requirement for ethernet connectivity. My router is some forty feet away behind double brick walls and around doors. So some tailoring of a wireless repeater with an ethernet port was deployed and now all is well.

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The DX in place - 2017

My configuration is obviously black finish, with 2 TB of solid state disc (SSD) and all new DXs come with USB, S/PDIF and AES/EBU digital outputs as well as a USB port for connecting NAS storage or for backups of your precious digital music library. I am still loading music and the unit is settling in well. A review and listening impressions to come shortly.

The upgrades are coming...

After some lengthy inactivity followed by some soul searching, researching, listening and bank account calculating, a couple of significant audio upgrade decisions have been taken.

Firstly, I have ordered a pair of Mercury sub-woofers from Kyron Audio to complement my floor standing speakers currently in place. This will free up the existing Kronos speakers to do a bigger and better job of frequencies maybe above 40 Hz and leave everything below to the subs, especially the bottom octave that the existing dipole bass drivers didn't reach down to. This babies are custom made and will take some three months to arrive. Can't wait!

Secondly, as I am an all-digital listener, I need a 'front end' that supports more formats and internet-based technologies like music streaming.

Having auditioned the Antipodes Audio DX Reference music server in August last year at home, it was always near the top of my list when I wanted to move. And in mid April I placed an order for a black DX with 2TB of SSD storage. Delivery should only take about two weeks.

Reports to follow.

Five Tier Listening Solutions

I think about my listening experiences, what works, what doesn't, and especially where and when.

Without wanting to go TOO far overboard, I came up with my FIVE TIER solutions. And, in the end, it came down to 'where' you listen rather than 'when' and 'what' or 'why'. Confused? Let me explain.

Tier 1 - The Home System

Tier 2 - Dedicated Headphone System

Tier 3 - Laptop listening

Tier 4 - Mobile (iDevice)

Tier 5 - Mobile (Car)

I know this seems like a lot of technology, but once you get to Tier 3 and below it gets a bit repetitive or facilitates re-use. They all have their benefits, their discrete technologies, and their strengths and weaknesses.



I am in love... well nearly!

It is not often that I get truly excited… But today was almost one such day.

Let's start with the good news.

After some due consideration I decided that I should complement my ROON subscription with one from TIDAL HiFi as well in order to get the full benefit of CD-quality music streaming, library organisation and new music discovery. Reports were generally most favourable but I was not ready for the ease of setup and the total fun of chasing new material. I thought it would be a chore and take away the 'the thrill of the chase' of finding new artists and albums the 'old fashioned way'. Nothing could be further from the truth.

I have spent a couple of hours today just searching for music and albums that I didn't have in my collection but wanted to listen to. I have added at least 60 albums to 'My Music' tab in TIDAL HiFi so far. And this is all before TIDAL starts to make recommendations about what other related stuff I might like.

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So much music, so little time - 2017

Did I mention that some titles are 'Masters' versions which I believe means MQA encoded. Whether my software and hardware can decode MQA-encoded files is to be determined but it is still (potentially) exciting. The file / data integration with ROON appears seamless.

I have heard TIDAL HiFi on similar equipment to mine and have been impressed so I will settle back tonight and listen via my MacBook Pro w/Retina display (mid 2012, 16GB memory, 512GB SSD), AudioQuest DragonFly Red DAC/amplifier, Jitterbugs and Grado RS 2e headphones, then follow up with the 'big rig' evaluation later in the week. I am on the 30 day trial but it would to have to suck big time from here for me to cancel my subscription.

Now for the challenges.

Update 1: The headphone session is now underway running TIDAL HiFi 'inside' ROON and the results are mixed I am sorry to say. CD-quality albums (44kHz/16bit) appear to play fine but the larger files generated by the 'Master' MQA process (48kHz/24bit) only seem to last a bit less than 30 seconds before causing an unrecoverable network error and drop out requiring a track restart. But the same track will fail again at or around the same spot. I have logged out of all other applications, no strange processes seem to be taking up disk, memory or network traffic according to Activity Monitor so it might just be a function of my poor internet connection. I will do more investigation on 'stripping back' my operating system and user account to see if that is possible and if so if it makes any differences. Perhaps a full shutdown and clean restart might help.

Update 2: After a full shutdown and clean restart, TIDAL Masters play successfully in the TIDAL desktop app. That is some good news, but from what I could tell from the 30 second samples previously with ROON, the latter's sound quality was clearly better. Cleaner and more vibrant (top and bottom) with a bigger image. Interestingly, the TIDAL app takes a lot longer to load a track than ROON, making me think it loads more into cache / buffers before playing therefore buying itself more time to refill the cache to keep continuous playback happening. Maybe… OK, now tried ROON again, and the chosen track gets to the 2 minute mark before failing. And no question, ROON was a significant step up. CD-quality played mostly OK but had one drop out. All this is going on at around midnight my time. That is the end of testing for tonight!

Update 3: A few options to consider to solve my problems came to mind after sleeping on it. NBN is at least nine months away so an immediate internet performance fix is not imminent. I could always use my iPhone as a modem to access the streams via a 3/4G cellular internet connection. I had heard that ROON is CPU-intensive and this may be impacting performance. This led me to consider 'lightweight' options. I have always enjoyed the sound of Audirvana Plus which has TIDAL integration and from V3 also MQA software decoding. My sense is that code is pretty lean with not much feature bloat so it might be a chance. Worth the approx. $A50 investment to try (I know, I know there is a trial available). Lo and behold the software ran perfectly and is way superior to the TIDAL app and hard to say if it is better or worse than ROON from a sound quality point of view. One nice feature is that in the playback window there is an embedded progress bar indicating the status of the stream giving some prior warning of 'connectivity' loss, but I did not experience any. I am sure that I can fine tune the sound a little more with the A+ preferences options but I am very happy so far. Negatives? I have over 200 albums in my TIDAL 'My Music' list and all album art has not loaded fully in the Album List window and metadata is not available for TIDAL albums or tracks. The 'normal' TIDAL album text and info windows are present.

Klapp AV - Kyron Audio Demonstration Evening

I was fortunate to be invited to a customer demonstration evening for the Kyron Audio Kronos system, complete with dual Mercury sub-woofers at Klapp AV in Windsor last week.

The event was very well organised with pre-listening canapes and beverages served upstairs allowing hosts and guests to mingle in a very pleasant atmosphere before we were ushered into Klapp's dedicated Kyron Audio Lounge for several hours of musical bliss.

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The delightful Kyron Audio Lounge at Klapp AV - 2017

While it was a social and relaxed evening, Klapp & Kyron Audio arranged for a recorded music guru, Josh (sorry I missed his surname) to bring along a curated set of his prized personal (and expensive) vinyl recordings which were intermixed with TIDAL HiFi streaming digital selections. In addition, audience requests were not just tolerated but were actively encouraged.

Readers of this blog will know that I am an owner of a Kronos system, sans Mercurys. It is always a delight to hear the depth, breadth and extension that the Mercurys add to the already spectacular Kronos. On the night, vinyl probably won the sonic battle (thanks to Josh's fine taste and rare pressings) but all selections either analog or digital, without exception sounded superb. There were a couple of folks new to Kyron Audio in the audience and their stunned silence, usually followed by barely constrained expletives, indicated that they felt that they were experiencing the presence of world class music reproduction.

One aspect of the experience was telling for me. The music was played at 'robust' volume levels and after three solid hours with only a couple of short breaks for 'refreshments' my ears and brain felt comfortable without a hint of music or loudness fatigue.

Apart from the opportunity to hear stunning audio, the other benefit of these events is meeting new like-minded people, renewing old relationships and discovering interesting music. I jotted down the set list on my phone as the night went on and have now invested in a couple of new artists and albums and developed a renewed interest in the sonic benefits of TIDAL HiFi streaming.

Many thanks to Hamish Kirkpatrick from Klapp AV and Lee Gray, Co-Founder of Kyron Audio, for the fantastic evening.

My Grado RS 2e Listening impressions

I was looking around for some new 'phones for casual / late-night laptop listening via the MacBook Pro, Roon and Audioquest DragonFly Red (with JitterBugs) and late last year I purchased a lightly used pair of Grado RS 2e headphones.

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Apple MacBook Pro, AQ DragonFly Red & Jitterbugs and Grado RS 2e - 2017

Before I talk about them, I should disclose that I am partial to the Grado 'house' sound and already own (and enjoy for different reasons) their RS-60, Alessandro MS-2 and GS-1000 products. So my heritage might cloud my objectivity somewhat. FWIW, I also use AKG-702 and Sennheiser HD600 via a Benchmark DAC1 USB and a Yamamoto HA-02 amplifier.

The Grado RS 2e is an open-back design with 44 mm dynamic drivers (matched to within 0.05 dB) and a nominal impedance of 32 ohms making them easily drivable by a smart device. But the output quality improves noticeably when driven by dedicated headphone amplification. My RS 2e also have the new light brown leather headband that matches and complements the mahogany ear cups and gives an even more luxurious look to the combo. The latest 'e' models come with a sturdier shielded proprietary copper braided 'Y' cable with the RS 2e terminated with a 3.5 mm mini plug. Also included in the box is a 3.5 mm to 6.5 mm (1/4") adaptor if required.

So, how are they comfort-wise? Grados have a solid reputation as being pretty uncomfortable if you believe all of the internet / blog reports. Actually I find them quite satisfactory. Although relatively light, the clamping force is tight enough that they don't move off your ears (they are an on-ear or supra-aural design) but 'gentle' enough to wear for 60 minutes at a sitting which is the maximum I listen for before giving my hearing and senses a rest.

As for the sound, taking note of the relative price and intended purpose via my associated equipment listed above, I am extremely satisfied.

Sonics / Colour
Warm side of neutral, imparting a slight (but extremely pleasing glow) to the sound. With a warmer amplifier than the DragonFly, I would imagine that 'lush' might be word that could describe the tone. Note to self, must try them with my Yamamoto!

Speed / Dynamics
Always a Grado strength and the 2e doesn't disappoint. They fairly gallop along with music imparting a toe-tapping, head-nodding rhythm that is particularly engaging.

Accuracy / Range
Top to bottom accuracy and range is not the strength of the RS 2e. The high end can lose definition and be a bit sharp, while the bass, although tuneful, doesn't go particularly low if your tastes (or musical selections) demand it. The overall balance is tuned to the mid range (think female vocals) so it is not the most accurate of reproduction devices.

Imaging / Detail
No issues here. The soundstage and instrument separation is clearly discernible and the size of the image is about what you might expect given the size of the drivers, resonance area (on ear) and frankly, the price. For example, the image commensurately increases when I plug in the GS-1000s with their larger drivers and circum-aural bowl pads. Within the presentation described in the preceding sentences, the RS 2es give a decent window into the music delivering very good and believable detail retrieval.

Engagement
This is probably the sum of the parts above and the number one reason people would consider buying Grado headphones. They are just great fun! They draw you in to the performance and make you want to listen.

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Love the wood - 2017

Again, I do love Grado and am probably biased, but the proof for me is that I ALWAYS look forward to strapping these headphones on and listening through the DragonFly on my laptop and feel that I am missing very little to the 'big boys' is size, quality and price.