Wadia 861SE CD player
Supratek Sauvignon Pre Amplifier
First Watt Aleph J Power Amplifier
The two stars of the show (no not THEM), but the Rowans Creek at left and the Lagavulin
Comfortably seated outdoors, conversations abounded regarding the big issues in life, regularly interspersed with semi-serious sipping and listening to some 'cool' music. At various times 'The Kamado Joe' was fired up producing lamb chaps, chorizo sausage and corn all grilled to perfection. As always.
All this as we waited for the sun to go down so that the serious part of the GtG could commence.That, of course, was the whisky tasting and education, most capably led by our gracious host. As the photo indicates, available bottles outnumbered guests about 10 to 1, a most satisfactory ratio IMHO.
The winner for me was the 2011 Lagavulin 12YO Special Release. Special by name and special by nature. Just fabulous. As a counter-point, I took along a Rowans Creek Bourbon of some repute and a mighty fine drop it turned out to be. Not that I got a lot of it with a certain person (whose initials are Moondog) consuming the 'dog's share' of the bottle. Said he wouldn't spoil the bourbon with food so he abstained from eating… For a long while…
Eventually the 'big rig' was fired up and was sounding as good as ever. A range of mellow music was played (Ray Lamontagne and Bat for Lashes were prominent) which suited the now very relaxed group perfectly. A cleansing coffee and a final wee dram rounded out the evening perfectly.
SM, TonyC and at rear, a very relaxed Moondog
On behalf of all of the guests, I would like to thank Super Mustud for again welcoming us into his humble palace and providing an outstanding afternoon and evening of refreshment and entertainment! And a big thank you to TonyC for admirably filling the role of my designated driver. Again…
Drinking is not doing me any good… Cheers!
I had not previously had the pleasure of listening to Field's system comprising Raysonic CD player / transport, North Star DAC (I think),Supratek Sauvignon two-box pre-amp (same model as mine but finished in gorgeous piano black & chrome) and ADAM Gamma fully active speakers. A 5.1 surround sound video system (Marantz Pre & Power Processor, ADAM Center) with an Epson projector and turntable round of 'most' of the visible technology. Sorry if I missed anything! And it is all housed in a tastefully decorated, acoustically treated, dedicated listening room.
If all that wash't enough, Field has SUPERB taste in music with a serious collection of blues, jazz and 'cool' music (think male / female vocals, bass groove,, sax etc) in CD, vinyl and DVD/BD formats.
Also in attendance were LuckyDog, Norpus and Spearmint. So the five of us settled in for a cleansing beverage and pizza and did a little catching up as I hadn't seen a couple of these guys in recent times. Then it was time to fire up the system.
And spectacular it was. Detailed and punchy as needed, soft and delicate when called for. I took a few of my favourite discs along and Shelby Lynne and Geoff Achison sounded as a good as I have ever heard them.
Unfortunately I had to call time on the evening just as the turntable and surround DVDs were firing up. I did catch one DVD, the 2010 Crossroads Blues Festival and the sound and vision of a Gary Clark Jnr track was stunning. I am sure the neighbours enjoyed it as well!
Thanks again for the invite and your generous hospitality Field. I had a ball!
When I say music downloads, I really mean high resolution versions where the recording quality / mastering is at a level (or more) above CD quality, and not a lossy MP3 version of CD quality. Therefore, the Apple iTunes Store is not on my purchasing radar.
The reasons for going to high-res digital downloads are pretty clear to me and not limited to the fact that my CD rack is now full!
Whist I have a very good CD player, the mighty Wadia 861SE, the recording quality of the discs are almost not up to quality of the player. Highly compressed music, recorded 'hot' with little dynamic range makes the listening experience not as pleasurable as it could be.
The second reason is portability. Obviously the discs are portable but the Wadia isn't, weighing in at some 22 kilograms. Digital downloads can be played on an iPhone, iPad, iPod, laptop iMac etc, in fact anywhere and on anything that has a headphone socket.
Thirdly, the flip side of point one above, is that much (not all, buyer beware) of the high resolution download material is re-mastered up from 44/16 format found on CDs to 96/24 or higher. The sound has more air, instruments have more separation, and the music tends to flow much more easily. Labels such as Linn Records have outstanding quality recordings even at the 44/24 level, the 'Cover my Blues' album by Pete Alderton is one such fine example. I don't count iTunes downloads as high resolution, even if Apple (and others) tell you that the differences are minimal. Phooey.
And finally, as it seems by my analysis that music downloads are 'better', they are no more expensive and in some cases much cheaper than CDs so that just seals the deal.
So, it sounds perfect right? Well, no so fast. There are plenty of potential gotchas and downsides.
The first is the one that affects all things digital, the lack of tactility. Vinyl records are superb, not just for the sound, but for the feel of the rice paper inner sleeve, the look and feel of the album cover with print you could actually read and as an overall 'thing' it looked and felt substantial. All of the preceding points got dumbed down when the world moved to CD but you still had a tangible 'asset' you could hold after your purchase. Forget all of that with music downloads. Yes, you can download most of the artwork, and some of the liner notes, but depending on your software player, you might not be able to see the cover or read the notes while you are listening.
Music downloads are a bit of a copyright minefield when it comes to lending and sharing your music around. Taking CDs to parties or music get togethers was easy, the portability / format is more tricky with downloads and given some formats it is too easy for 'illegal' copies to be made. So be careful.
As mentioned above, with downloads you don't have anything to hold in your hand as it all resides on your hard drive. And we know what happens to hard drives every now and then don't we? Once downloaded, securing your tracks with adequate backups, offsite storage copies etc is vital or else your growing music download collection can disappear literally in an instant. Most if not all download sites won't replace lost music files. Owner onus applies.
Also, you need to be a bit computer savvy to leverage high resolution downloads effectively. Bit rates, word lengths, DACs, jitter, AES/EBU, gapless playback, hog mode, Toslink, USB, integer mode, up sampling, oversampling, WAV, AIFF, FLAC, ALAC etc all need to be understood at some level to know what you are buying into and to maximise the listening experience.
The final limitation of music downloads is lack of variety or range. Various labels are releasing more and more material as high resolution downloads, the back catalog is pretty limited so one needs to search diligently and be prepared to wait until your preferred artists are available. The flip side of this one is, if you are desperate for some new music, you are tempted to try something new and different, often with joyous results. Again, I am discounting iTunes as a source for quality high resolution music downloads.
There you have it. My music buying patterns, pros and cons in a nutshell.
Here is an interesting and useful resource page for high resolution music downloads courtesy of Weiss High End.
As for the music, I do like the emotion in Bettye LaVette's voice, the Nina Simone album is a 'classic' and I thought I would try The Hoff Ensemble, 'Quiet Winter Night' based on a review from the Audiostream webzine. I don't have a lot of church-recorded folk-influenced Nordic jazz in my collection, so if nothing else it filled a gap! In all seriousness, it is a very nice recording on the 2L label, very spacious with hauntingly sweet, delicate vocals.
Plus I purchased an Audioquest DragonFly USB DAC for mid-fi listening while surfing the web, doing emails etc. The thing is tiny, but weighty withe solid build quality and it is really cool how the dragonfly emblem on top changes colour depending on the bit rate being played. Set up was a breeze on the
My review of the Audirvana / DragonFly combo will come once the USB device has been fully run in, allegedly 200 hours according to reports on Head-Fi. Update: Still running in (slowly), only up to around 150 hours so far and had a quick listen to ALAC tracks with the Alessandros and was quite impressed… More soon.
In the interim, the Audioquest DragonFly product page is here and a short review from 'What Hi Fi?' can be found here.
Via Acoustic Sounds in the US, I recently found The Beatles Remastered stereo boxed set at approx 50% off Australian RRP, so I took the plunge. Now I know I have most of the original CDs, plus The Beatles Mono Boxed Set plus the hi-resolution Apple USB stick but I can't resist a Beatles bargain. And the sound quality of the 13 studio albums, plus Past Masters is what you would expect. There is bonus 40 minute DVD containing mini-documentaries of the recording of the 13 albums. Excellent!
Then this week, an audio buddy calls me to advise that the new Pink Floyd 'Discovery' boxed set, some 14 albums all remastered is available (locally) for half price. While I am not a card-carrying 'Floydy', I do like a couple of their albums and again it is a bargain. The sound quality is reputedly the best so far on CD but I will have a decent listen and share my views later. Also included is a colour 60 page book as well. Done!
These are on top of last years Bob Dylan Mono Collection and this Christmas's Paul Kelly A-Z recordings. Phew.
All Paul Kelly originals plus collaborations, the music is sparse, consisting usually just Paul and guitar / harmonica with other band members sitting from time to time but Paul's songs and his voice are the main event here not lush productions or stage pyrotechnics.
I am enjoying the older / mature Paul Kelly playing much of his back catalog. The sense of history and place, social justice, and humour shine thru most clearly. Perhaps, a Paul Kelly Greatest Hits might suit listeners new to this artist, but for long term fans, this collection is a gem.
This is a jazz guitar led set of covers of John Lennon-penned material. Frisell has been an active jazz / session guitarist for many years with a great sense of phrasing and timing. Frisell has been named 'The Most Influential Guitarist of the Last 25 Years' by the Wall Street Journal so he has some serious credibility and chops.
On this disc, Frisell sets to work diligently on respectful interpretations of 16 Lennon songs from the Beatles, Plastic Ono Band and John Lennon solo catalogs.
While I enjoy the recording quality and individual playing on this disc, it feels a little 'studio-session' like to me. A touch sterile on a set of songs that I always felt were meant to be a little grungier and earthier. One exception is a fine version of 'Mother' where emotion pours out in somewhat stark contrast to the other tracks. As a Beatles addict, this album was a must have, and it is worth it for the recording quality alone.
In fact, despite their portability, I am thinking about buying another couple of these just to have them where I 'might' listen to my headphone rig.
I had a sneaky feeling that the DacMagic was a weak link and that I might also like solid state point of comparison to the tube-based Yammy. So, enter the Benchmark DAC1 USB, acquired second hand (but in mint condition) via the classifieds of my local audio forum.
My software of choice is Fidelia which handles the interface with the Apple Midi Setup environment seamlessly, swapping bit rates and word lengths on the fly while playing hi-res FLAC files (up to 192/24) and Apple iTunes ALAC tracks at 44/16, via an attractive interface which kills the more expensive Pure Music and Amarra products IMHO.
The Headphone Rig - 2011
The setup process in my headphone system was a breeze once I found the correct adapter to insert the audiophilleo2 into the S/PDIF input. If you can get a product going without reading the manual it is a bonus in my view, and I am a guy so the manual is an A4 paperweight anyway. My secondary uneducated challenge was cycling through the inputs to select my preferred input option. A second or so of patience as you cycle through is rewarded. Too speedy and the signal is never locked on.
And speaking of the unboxing, while it doesn't affect the sonics, the quality of the Benchmark DAC chassis & controls, the packaging materials, supplied accessories and manual all ooze quality and class.
Initial listening was done using my AKG K702, with an aftermarket AudioMinor silver cable. After listening to three different tracks, all at different bit rates it was easy to understand that the Benchmark products were originally designed as a pro audio monitoring tool. The truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth flowed through the AKGs. No romance, no bloom, no thumping bass, no take your ears off highs. Just the accurate rendering of what was recorded. I was initially disappointed with the lack of fireworks, but I quickly settled into listening to the music rather than the audiophile artefacts and really started to enjoy the presentation, and forgot about the technologies in play. This is not a product for those who like to use their DAC as a form of tone control.
Benchmark DAC1 USB - 2011
Without an A/B test to fully evaluate, my sense is that the Benchmark is more balanced and more composed than the DacMagic. The Cambridge Audio DAC is a great budget value-for-money performer but with multiple filters and a presentation that swings between slightly veiled and strident it is unable to match the Benchmark's confident, consistent if slightly clinical output.
I have not yet used the DAC1 USB as pre-amp, but plan to ASAP as I can run the Benchmark's RCA output into my Yamamoto amplifier to get the tube-amp headphone experience and be able to compare the two amplifiers with a standardised DAC front end.
Another use for the Benchmark is for headphone comparisons. Two separate 1/4" plugs enable two different headphones to share the same input / tracks and enable genuine evaluations on the fly. Should help remove the 'memory effect' of swapping / unplugging 'phones when comparing.
US v Japanese craftsmanship - Benchmark & Yamamoto - 2011
Is there anything not to like about the Benchmark? After a few hours, frankly, not yet. I have read quibbles about the texture of the volume control knob (are you kidding me?), the input selector is slow to lock on (get over it) and the obvious flaw that the product delivers output that is 'uncoloured' (unforgivable...).
There is much to learn about the many features and options built into this compact device. More details and listening impressions to come.
A formal (if a little quirky) Benchmark DAC1 USB review by Home Theatre Hi Fi can be found here.
Disclaimer: I have no financial interest in any of the companies / products mentioned. Also my findings and thoughts are based on my ears, my music, in my room, with my BAC level and mental state. YMMV.
An imposing product, weighing over 10 kilos, sporting two serious side mounted heat sinks and simply purposeful to behold, it contains some 25 Class A watts per channel (30 watts at clipping) this beast runs very warm and sounds, not surprisingly, very much different to my Red Rose Music and Supratek EL34 push / pull amps. But not in the ways you might imagine. And I should add that this is the first solid state amplifier I have had in my system for over a decade.
Simple front plate - 2011
My current system configuration is the Wadia 861SE, balanced into a Supratek Sauvignon (tube) pre-amplifier running single-ended into the First Watt Aleph J. Cables are Kimber Select interconnects, Kimber Monocle X speaker cables with a Furman providing the power conditioning.
So what is good about the Aleph J? The Aleph J is extremely quiet with a very low noise floor allowing it to dredge the very last ounce of detail out of my recordings. A big plus. This transparency also seems to assist in rendering the intonation of voices extremely nuanced, with even well known discs giving something a little extra with greater vocal articulation. There is no sign of any solid state grain or top end harshness at all. The mid-range is almost tube-like (didn't want to really use that cliche) rendering an overall sound that is extremely smooth and musical. In comparison to my valve amps which can leave the listener with the job of re-creating the musical event in their head (I had previously blamed this sonic trait on the Zu's, my apologies), the Aleph brings the detailed and disparate parts of the recording back to a whole engaging presentation leaving the listener with the simple task of enjoying the music.
Anything not so good? While vocals are extremely detailed, Phil Manning 'Two Roads' sounds a little more hi fi-ish and less like Phil sounds 'live'. Some timbre & richness is missing. Update 1: This has been partially resolved today by increasing the pre-amp gain on the Supratek and the vocals are now slightly warmer with greater timbre and just a bit less articulation. No detail has been lost and the net result is a significant step forward. Surprisingly the Aleph also lacks the PRAT of my previous valve amps. The finger snaps on Patricia Barber 'Ode to Billie Joe' lack sparkle, the guitar and drum attack on SRV's 'Tin Pan Alley' is more reserved. I was expecting more top end clarity and extension lending the feeling of greater dynamics. Maybe this may be improved by some system synergy tweaks as well. Update 2: A change of the Wadia decoding algorithm (from B to A for those in the know 'wink') has improved this area of performance tangibly as well.
Imaging is excellent with plenty of space around the instruments while I would say that the soundstage is only marginally smaller in both width and depth than previously experienced.
Bass response is similar to what I am used to, probably no surprise given the powered drivers on the Zu's.
Serious heatsinks - 2011
All in all, a very nice, inexpensive, 'collectible' solid state amplifier. It does somethings better and some things worse, and some things different to what I have been used to. My wife Robin sat down with me for a few tracks last night and immediately heard the same differences as I did. We agreed that the overall sound was probably less flattering to good recordings but gave a fairer presentation of lesser ones.
In summary, the overall sound is (now) extremely good, but clearly different to what we had become used to over the last twelve years. What I can say with certainty is that it is a very engaging and listenable amplifier which connects you to the music and doesn't rely on any audiophile pyrotechnics to deliver the goods.
Follow Up - Interestingly, the Aleph J reviews that I have read indicate that speed and top end are strengths of the amplifier. There must be something in the synergy of my rig limiting this. I look forward to fixing it. Time for some serious tuning methinks. Some options include:
- Supratek Sauvignon Pre-amplifier changes
- Replace SE connectors to Balanced from the pre-amp to Aleph;
- Add caps/plugs to the unused RCA points;
- Wadia CD player changes
- Increase the output voltage on the Wadia to lessen the load on the pre-amp;
- Add caps/plugs to the unused RCA points;
- Environmental changes
- Run the Wadia direct to the Aleph;
- Add some vibration control / cones under the Aleph;
- Add some vibration control / cones under the Supratek;
- Add some speaker spike cups under the Zu's to stabilise the speakers further;
An early serial number - 2011
A formal review of the First Watt Aleph J by Michael Lavorgna of SixMoons can be found here.
Disclaimer: I have no financial interest in any of the companies / products mentioned. Also my findings and thoughts are based on my ears, my music, in my room, with my BAC level and mental state. YMMV.
Forget all that fluff, was there anything good?
Well, let me say, without any exaggeration at all, I saw and heard the most impressive piece of audio technology that I have ever seen. The start up company is from the outer suburbs of Melbourne, Kyron Audio, and it was their first product, Gaia Speaker System. Recommend you take a tour of their website. A Dipole design, over five feet tall, twelve bass drivers, four mids and four dome tweeters. Five thousand watts of DEQX DSP managed amplification. Price? About $A160,000. The sound was spectacular, not so much what it did, but what it didn't do. The sound stage and imaging was so vivid, placing the voices and instruments on such a completely black background with seemingly unlimited space and air around. Like nothing I have ever heard before. Music was played via hi-res files from a server.
Kyron Audio jewellery, poorly represented by an iPhone pic - 2011
Like many of these shows, the music is often played too loud, and tends to be too strident and / or too bass boomy. So the second best room was by Audio Note. Playing some vinyl-based jazz, through big tube mono blocks and their latest Alnico monitors the sound was so cool and smooth, like an oasis in the desert.
I very much enjoyed the Vivid Audio room, with their little B1 I think. Strange, oval looking stand mount thingys, driven by an Esoteric integrated amp and CD player. Very smooth, effortless and engaging.
Cute and ccol Vivid Audio speakers - 2011
Best of the rest? One of my favourite local dealers is selling Japanese spec JBL horns, with Ypsilon electronics and a pretty impressive Kuzma Stabi XL2 turntable. A very rich and immersive sound.
Unfortunately I missed a demo of the Wilson Sashas driven by those D'Agostino amps. Shucks.
All in all an enjoyable three hours spent wandering and listening and chatting. Rumour has it that if successful, the show will alternate annually between Melbourne and Sydney. Sounds like a good reason to take a trip to Sin City every second year.
Enter products from companies like JKenny and Audiophilleo. I decided to buy an audiophileo2 low jitter USB S/PDIF transport / converter.
The audiophilleo2 package (Image source - audiophilleo Website)
Very easy to install, literally plug & play, it effectively mates with the software (in my case Fidelia), the computer (Apple MacBook Pro) and DAC (Cambridge DacMagic) to ensure each track's native bit / sample rate is transferred to your amp then either speakers or in my case, headphones.
The manufacturer / designer who takes a personal interest in his customer's installations, recommends some 200 hours burn-in before the device hits full stride. So I will follow his instructions and delay my thoughts until around that rolls around.
Early listening impressions are promising, with the digital sound presented in a very natural and smooth fashion, making my Grado GS-1000 sound very mellow indeed. Stay tuned!
My first stop was to try some high resolution music download sites. Easier said than done from Australia I found. The major site, HDTracks unfortunately does not allow purchases outside the US, but I may have found a workaround and tried a download a 96/24 version of SRV / Albert King 'In Session'... BTW, it is 96/24 AIFF file weighing in at 2.24 GB! Then I tried Linn Records. I had more immediate success and downloaded Pete Alderton's 'Cover My Blues', still only a 44/20 bit recording but outstanding sound quality and a nice acoustic blues set.
I have discovered SecondSpin.com and CDwow.com as suppliers of discount used and new CDs respectively. Second Spin is US-based but offers really cheap shipping ($6.99 to Oz), while CDWow have keen pricing and free shipping. After several orders from both companies I have not had a single ordering / purchasing / shipping problem. A happy customer!
Because both suppliers have a wide range of products, you can indulge some of your wider musical tastes and come up with just about anything. Here is a sample of my recent purchases by genre:
- Pop / Rock - Squirrel Nut Zippers, The New Pornographers, Walter Becker, Drive-By Truckers
- Blues - Walter Trout, Michael Hill's Blues Mob, Delbert McClinton, Bettye Lavette, Chris Whitley
- Jazz - Ginger Baker Trio, Melody Gardot
My rack is still the three shelf Spider Rack, using just two shelves which have granite blocks resting on the rubber 'feet'. The top shelf has three VibraPods supporting the laptop, with the Yamamoto and DacMagic side by side on the second granite shelf below, again resting on rubber 'feet'.
A late 2009 Apple MacBook Pro (Intel Core2Duo) is my source for ALAC files (stored in iTunes) and for higher resolution music stored in a separate library, accessible by other programs. As reported a week ago, my preferred music player for the Mac is Fidelia. It handles both iTunes and other hi-res file types and is very simple to use.
Kimber Silver USB (left) and Red Rose Music Silver RCA (right)
I connect the MBP to a Cambridge DacMagic via USB. This has been another change in as much as I used to use a 'vanilla' (meaning cheap) computer USB cable. Thought I would experiment with a 'better' one so bought a Belkin 'Gold' USB cable for less than $A20 and it probably sounded better but not much. Fortunately I was speaking to a Kimber Cable distributor buddy who gave me Kimber 'Silver' USB cable to try. For a reasonable cost ($A150-ish from memory) it sounds much better, especially in the bass. It is a keeper.
I had reasonable after-market RCA connectors between the DacMagic and the Yamamoto power amp, but I was able to free up my 'old' Red Rose Music Silver Litz cables and they added a degree of speed and clarity over the previous copper RCAs. Another worthwhile change.
All the listening up to this point was with the new AKG K 702 headphones as I am trying to understand their strengths and weaknesses in my system, to my ears. Also I have only been using the stock cable, which according to the seller, had only about 10 hours on it before it arrived here, but must be getting closer to 25 hours now I am guessing. Observations over at Head-Fi suggest the K701/702s need 300 hours to sound their best...
So I think there is more to come with the Kimber USB cable to burn in a little and the stock cable also to get a little better with more hours on it. Then I can plug in the AudioMinor silver AKG cable to see where that leaves me with the overall sound.
So far the sound is pretty good. The K 702s strength is one overall competence. Good balance from top to bottom, they are an easy 62 ohm load to drive (although they supposedly sound even better when fed by more powerful amps) and are very comfortable to wear for extended sessions. My major gripes with the AKGs are that they can be a bit 'bland' (the flip side of broad competence, no highlights) and they don't seem to project a large image so far. Once I believe there is nothing more to come from the AKGs, I look forward to comparing them with my Sennheiser 600s and Grado GS-1000, both of whose sound I am much more familiar with.
Future changes? I have some work to do to get the hi-res files playing via USB out of the MBP. So I have ordered an Audiophilleo 2 USB/S/PDIF converter which will give me up to 192/24 from my DAC. Should sound pretty good. Another obvious upgrade would be to try some improved power supply / conditioning / isolation for the Yamamoto & DacMagic. A very 'easy' tweak to test would be to remove the power cord from the laptop to assess if running on battery power alone does anything to the computer's output signal. Finally to be honest, the DacMagic is probably the weakest link in my headphone system chain, but what to replace it with is the $A1500 to $6500 question. Sensible upgrades could start with a Benchmark, DAC1 then you could step up to a battery powered Red Wine Audio Isabella or go the whole hog and get a Weiss DAC 202 with firewire connection and an inbuilt solid state headphone amplifier. How deep are my pockets...
I see lots of enjoyable headphone listening in my future!
After a little more listening and much more guesswork, I dropped a lazy $A20 on the program 'Fidelia' by Audiofile Engineering. Why I hear you ask?
- Fidelia is tangibly cheaper than all of the other 'paid' applications (Amarra, Pure Music)
- A far simpler licensing scheme than the complexity / upgrade limitations of Amarra
- Fidelia is actively developed and far better supported than all of the 'free' applications (Decibel, Play, AyreWave etc)
- Overall, the SQ is clearly superior to iTunes and very similar to the major competitors to my ears
- Native FLAC support means simple 'Click and Play' for FLAC & other hi-res formats
- Built on OS X foundations and integration and delivers a very simple and intuitive interface with adequate iTunes integration
- The Fidelia architecture allows Apple (AU) & VST plug-ins to be used as and when required
Having tried many alternatives over the last six months or more, I find Fidelia clearly the best option for me.
I loaded and tested the trial versions of the other products and had great trouble in the trial window period, understanding the interface, finding my tracks, ensuring the Apple MIDI interface switched correctly etc. To be honest, my objective listening tests of Amarra and Pure Music were impacted by my subjective assessments of their usability.
I have not optioned up to the Advanced version of Fidelia as I manage the environment on my laptop (HOG mode less important) and as I listen via headphones, many or most of the plug ins are less relevant (e.g, room correction) to me.
One of my longer term headphone ambitions is to explore a balanced audio solution from source to DAC to amplifier to headphone. I can support the source / DAC side with my Wadia 861SE, the amp today is an unknown and from a 'phones POV, my Sennheiser 600 have a removable cable which can be replaced with a balanced version. But I wanted more options!
A pair of AKG K 702 came up for bid with an after market (single ended) silver cable from AudioMinor. Short answer, I made a bid and I won. Early days but my observations are 'interesting'.
Straight out of the MacBook Pro, the sound was extremely fine. Smooth, balanced, punchy a real treat. Not what I was expecting frankly. The comfort of these 'phones is a delight also. Firm enough to feel like they wouldn't flap around, but loose enough to make extended listening sessions pleasant indeed. Some AKG fans don't like the black finish of the 702, but I find them attractive and the quality materials I am sure will be long wearing.
With my expectations re SQ now through the roof, I plugged the MBP/Fidelia combo into the DacMagic and the Yamamoto, and... what happened? The whole sound was 'flatter', slower and less engaging. More work to evaluate and understand I'm afraid. I did try the 702s with my HeadRoom Cosmic portable solid state amp out of the MBP as well. No better. Hmmmm.
I haven't tried the aftermarket cable yet. I would rather get my hands and head around the basic AKG K 702 signature first.
So what is this entry doing here?
Well, my major use of the iPad at the moment is as an eBook reader. Several car magazine subscriptions have found their way onto the device and so have three hi fi mags: Hi Fi+, The Absolute Sound and now Stereophile. Here in Australia, international magazines and postage drives the cost up significantly and with little volume to be had, the individual news stand prices are pretty steep. $A12 an issue or more. This does not compare too favourably with the recent download subscription for Stereophile which cost $A9.60 for 12 issues via Zinio. This is my first Zinio subscription and there is some internet chatter about the quality of their reader / app and reliability of their service but for less than $10 how bad can it be!
I have enjoyed browsing and reading the other two magazines (really just PDF downloads) and only occasionally miss the feel and smell of the printed item.
So what is it? Well, it is a very small black box (controlled via a neat brushed metal remote control), which acts as a wireless transmitter / internet connection streaming data from your computer to the TV. Some external movie and other services are available via the internet, as are You Tube videos.
Relatively straight forward to setup (thanks Tony!), it was up and running in 30 minutes and has been a pleasure to use. From streaming You Tube videos, just having a random slide show (from an Aperture or iPhoto library) displaying on the plasma screen, to replaying the in-car videos of my GT3 antics to simply playing music by artists, albums or playlists.
I know there are many people out there who will say that different solutions, probably cheaper, can do what the Apple TV does. I don't doubt that. I do doubt that any other options would be neater, cleaner and more integrated with my existing computer technologies. And look as cool! Count me as a fan!
Over the summer, I finally finished copying all of my CDs in ALAC format to iTunes on my iMac. The library is getting quite large. Some of the old tracks were also missing artwork, release dates and various other pieces of meta data which I have had fun tracking down and updating. I know that there are apps you can buy to do that, but sometimes they don't get it right and often it can be just downright wrong as they over-write some information that was perfectly good in the first place. Also there is some mindless fun to be had in searching and chasing some of this data yourself, especially for old Aussie bands and artists. Ah, the memories.
My serious listening system lately has been via headphones and I am ready to start loading all my iDevices with fresh, decent resolution portable tunes again.
Sometimes it is easy to gloss over the contribution to musical history of some of the legends of recorded music. Bob Dylan might meet that criteria. Heard all his stuff before, don't like his voice, has he done anything lately etc etc.
Nothing could be further from the truth.
Listen to these discs. And I mean, really, really listen. From the early days of the early 60s, to his later work on 'John Wesley Harding' you will hear a singer / guitarist grow to a musician to a poet for the people. It is a very identifiable trail of musical and social commentary growth.
A superbly packaged offering, it is well worth the price of admission. Enjoy!
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.
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;
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'.
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
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.
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
Nicholas' products have been enthusiastically received by audiophiles around the world for a few years, and as the principal designer, he is continually upgrading the specifications of his products based on personal listening and customer feedback. A few words about Nicholas and his business can be found here.
The Reference TVC4 is a dual mono design, with one Neutrik XLR and three silver RCA In and Out, housed in a bespoke stainless steel and merbau wooden 'box' with ebony knobs. The cosmetics are fine for the modest asking price but the design and finish won't cause Rowland or Krell any sleepless nights on the aesthetic front! I am new to the world of passive pre-amps so I am sure some tweaking of cables, cable lengths and footers will reveal benefits for experimentation and patience.
I have only just started to burn-in the TVC4 and it is recommended to sound it's best after about 100 hours. 95 to go then. I need to set up an iPod or tuner to continuously drive the TVC for a few days to hasten the process. It does however sound quieter than my Supratek tube pre-amplifier even at first listen.
Interestingly, using Kimber Select (copper) balanced connections from the Wadia to the TVC4 then silver RCA to the 35 watt Supratek mono block power amplifiers requires the 24 step solid-feeling dual volume controls to be wound around to about 3 o'clock to obtain enough gain and drive for the Zu Audio Definition Mk 1.5s. The specification for gain is -54db of attenuation. But given the silent operation of this unit, should I care?
More thoughts soon.
I have only had a brief listen so far, but the true mono sound is much different to what I had expected or imagined. The image is 'smaller' but has a real dense sound. The overall presentation has more weight and a sense of lots of things going on but with plenty of detail and a lot more emotion, particularly in the vocals. OK, so now to an album by album analysis as I progressively listen.
Please, Please Me (1963)
The original stereo mix seemed more like mono than stereo to my ears, with not so much of the hard left/right panning that exists on the later stereo albums. Anyway, comparing the stereo & mono versions, I heard the biggest differences on 'There a Place' where the rhythm guitars, drums and bass have a richness and drive that was nowhere near as obvious on the original stereo copy. Unlike some I didn't hear or feel much more emotion in 'Twist and Shout' (which I always felt had a pretty big 'jump factor' anyway) and heard only slightly (and I mean s-l-i-g-h-t-l-y) more detail in the ending.
With The Beatles (1963)
Now we are cooking! The separation of the instruments on 'All I Want To Do' really brings this track to life. 'Till There Was You' has wonderfully layered acoustic guitars and the guitar riff on 'Hold Me Tight' sounds vibrant and fresh. I enjoyed this album much more than 'Please Please Me', it felt more engaging.
A Hard Day's Night (1964)
Beatles For Sale (1964)
My 'The Beatles in Mono' Summary
No question, the deeper & the harder you listen, additional details (and on some tracks, more layers) are revealed. If however you need $250 to feed yourself, make car payments or you are a 'casual' Beatles listener, I might suggest that this product is better suited to the diehards fans only. The key selling point of the Mono Set is that they were the recordings that The Beatles made and wanted to issue, rather than the re-mixed original stereo versions.
Other enthusiastic reviewers seem to focus more on the quality of the re-issued recordings (either stereo or mono) which are absolutely stunning given their age, rather than the benefits of mono over stereo.
In & Out Of The Box
What of the ownership / un-boxing experience? Initially underwhelming, given Grado's preference for shipping high end audio jewellery in cardboard pizza boxes, albeit securely packed. Once you lift the lid, all disappointment disappears. Resolutely packed in foam are a 1/4 to 1/8" adapter, a 10' extension cable (sorry for the imperial measurements but it is an American company) and the best looking pair of 'phones I have ever seen, or touched!
From the leather headband to the mahogany driver outer / ear cups, they look and feel the business. But that is not all. Even before you play the music, slip them over your ears and they are the absolute most comfortable cans ever to grace my head. The AKG701s are OK, my Senn 600s are terrible (IMHO), the Grado SR-60s are just OK, and with similar comfort to my Jecklins Floats but more secure. I think it is due to the circumaural design of the bowl ear pads which sit over and around your ears, not on top. While warmish, they are definitely cooler than most others I have tried for extended listening.
OK, so much for the cosmetic / wardrobe appeal, how do they sound?
First, I should set the scene with the associated equipment. My system comprises an Apple 160GB iPod using Apple LossLess CODEC, Wadia 170 iTransport, Cambridge DacMagic and Yamamoto HA-02 amplifier hung together with mid-fi cables and no power treatment. Most of the comparative references are against my Senn 600s and Grado SR-60s with this hardware / software mix.
Either in 2 channel mode or in my headphone system I run a pretty standard set of tracks which I know intimately to monitor changes or new pieces of kit. The GS1000s initially impress with a combination of detail and smoothness which immediately engages you, while enabling the listener to hone in on various instruments or musical passages if that is where your interests lie. Using these test tracks I can confidently report that the Grado combo delivers a realism to the timbre of voices and acoustic instruments and small ensembles which is most splendid. I have had the pleasure of hearing Phil Manning and Paul Kelly play live and their voices and guitars on 'Two Roads' and 'Foggy Highway' respectively are rendered with absolute clarity and accuracy by the Grados with a degree of air and spaciousness which previously I may have thought impossible for a headphone to reproduce. Johnny Winter And 'Live' is a fantastic blues guitar album from the early 70s and Johnny's lead and Rick Derringer's rhythm guitar really shine. For a bit more depth, Yello's 'Rubber Band Man', Harry Connick Jnr 'Follow the Music' (yes really) and Gordon Goodwin's Big Phat Band 'Sing Sang Sung' are believably reproduced with at least a sense of what would be available with infinite watts, open space and sub woofers. Old favourites become 'new again' Patricia Barber 'Ode to Billie Jo' and Sarah McLachlan 'Angel' just make you want to melt into the melody & the lyric. The MFSL CD version of 'Gaucho' Steely Dan can be a bit sharp and harsh (a little too 'crisp') and this impression carries through on the Grados.
So detailed, engaging and non-fatiguing would be keywords that I would used in describing their sound. And the size of the bowl ear pads I suspect contribute significantly to the huge soundstage that these headphones manage to throw by positioning the drivers well out and away from the ear allowing the sound to 'swirl' or project into a bigger space than usual.
So, what is not to like? Of course, we all know that no audio product is perfect. The Yamamoto / Grado GS1000 combination is not overly extended at the frequency extremes, so those wishing to summon the dogs with the high frequencies or have your chest cave in with the bass might wish to look elsewhere. Interestingly, the GS1000s have been voiced with the frequency extremes tipped up slightly to deliver a more coherent presentation at moderate listening volumes. Therefore, probably not strikingly accurate, so perhaps not a perfect monitoring tool. Although the slightly reduced extension that I hear might be more due to the performance of the Yamamoto amplifier.
Grado GS1000 Test Results (Source: Headroom)
I did swap out the Yamamoto and inserted a Headroom Cosmic solid state headphone amplifier to discern any changes. In a brief listening session, I would say there was the predictable (but modest) increase in speed and punch in the bass but the highs were not as sweet and barely if at all 'higher'. Interesting and engaging in a different way, but overall, I would not say 'better'. Perhaps a matching switching power supply might drive the 'Class A' electronics module a little harder than the battery pack. I would however like to hear the Grados with a top flight solid state amp for comparison. Also, just for fun, I would like to swap out the iPod front end and insert the full-blown Wadia 861SE transport/DAC. That might be a real step up.
The GS1000s are sensationally comfortable by usual headphone standards, are really engaging and draw me easily into the music. While we all know music is built on the bass, most of the music actually 'lives' in the mid range and it is here that the Grados excel. They do enough with the highs and lows to satisfy but it is the tunefulness of the mids and the air around notes / performers that make the result really sing. The comfort and musical presentation just make the headphone disappear and let you focus on the music, not fall into analysing the 'sound'. The look and feel of the mahogany and leather ooze quality and inspire a real pride of ownership every time you pick them up. The real proof and the highest praise I can bestow is that I have been listening to more music, through my headphone system and the Grado GS1000s than any other system combo in recent months. I am delighted to own them!
If you haven't already guessed, I am a Grado guy and YMMV but the GS1000 really do make a Grado Statement!
A couple of GS1000 links & reviews, including Grado, 6Moons.
Well, I fixed a couple of those tonight. With my wife out at a riding competition, I had the house to myself. And I didn't waste it. Fixed myself a tasty BBQ with a glass or three of fine white wine and followed that up with an extended listening session which I planned hours in advance, allowing plenty of time for the equipment to warm-up etc. Not surprisingly, the results were most enjoyable. I even got the Audio Desk CD Trimmer out and 'shaved' a few edges. As usual, a couple of the discs responded well, while others didn't show much change at all.
Incredibly, I got the volume cranked around to '3 O'Clock' on the pre-amp (which starts around 6.30 if that makes any sense!), and the sound was duly lively. Perhaps not so articulate up top, but mid and low range drive was excellent, making most music I tried highly entertaining for me, if not the neighbours. It was actually surprising how little room resonance / distortion there was at such high volumes. I look forward to the next session to see if I can reproduce the magic.
But frankly the jury is still out. The lack of audible / emotional repeatability of my listening sessions in particular, and the system in general, is frustrating me........
Red Rose Silver One is the ultimate interconnect, outperforming all others in terms of accuracy and faithfulness to the original signal."
With the recently purchased Cambridge Audio DAC, and the relatively new Yamamoto amplifier and under-used after-market Sennheiser 600 cable, 'Equinox' from Stefan AudioArt, the headphone system is certainly still not at it's absolute best yet. But again, good enough to see if the RRM sounds like it does in the main system. Won't spoil the answer too soon!
First up, how does the 'Silverlink'. My first impression of the sonic signature of these cables is one of 'weight'. They impart a sense of 'seriousness' to the sound and a feeling of gravitas, like you are listening to something important. Detail retrieval is good, the hi fi artefacts on my test discs were laid out to hear. At this stage, they don't sound like the fastest cables I have heard in my system, but the pace is OK. I found the imaging to be very good with musicians placed clearly across the soundstage, but the overall size seems to be a bit smaller and a little closed-in / smaller compared to what I was previously used to. Despite this, there is good 'air' around the instruments & vocals. The mid-range presentation is excellent imparting a pleasing tone on some Phil Manning acoustic guitar on 'Two Roads' and the Sarah McLachlan piano on 'Angel'. I did notice a slight fizz on the trailing edge of the treble at times as well. Not perfectly smooth to my ears yet, as evidenced by some edginess in a sample spoken passage in the Chesky 'Ultimate Demonstration Disc'. In summary however, the 'Silverlink' is a very appealing cable in my system and I would expect it's strengths to consolidate over time and the fizz to disappear and image size to open up also. They are certainly not the same as the Red Rose Silver One, and may I say Viva La Difference'.
OK, now what about the Red Rose Music Silver One in the headphone system? The openness, previously evident in the main system, is easily recreated by the Wadia/Cambridge Audio/Yamamoto combo. And I think the speed of the Silver One is really a good match to drive the Sennheisers which can, to my ears, sound a little slow and 'plodding' at times. Mind you the 'Silver Ones' are only replacing 15 year old Monster Cable ICs so I would hope that they would impress a bit! Highs are clean and not brittle at all, and of course the mid range is excellent. Overall, the sound is OK, but I would have hoped it was more engaging. The combo seems bass-shy giving the music insufficient substance & impact. 'Stormy Monday' off the Allman Brothers ' Live at the Fillmore' just didn't jump out and grab me. Damning with faint praise, all I can do at the stage is to say that it sounds 'nice'. It may be my lack of experience of benchmarks of headphone sound. Or I could just blame the Senns........ And like all my systems, it hums from I suspect a ground loop problem as this system does not go through the Furman power conditioner. Aarrgghh.
More evaluation to be done on this combo. Will swap back to the 'cheap' Grado SR-60 and see if the above still holds.
I will post additional details to be added after longer listening sessions. Stay tuned!
I did some listening at a city dealer between the new Musical Fidelity V-DAC and the CA DacMagic. They are at the lower end of the price scale, with the DacMagic a couple of hundred Aussie bucks the more expensive. In my test / demo I much preferred the sound of the DacMagic unit. It was more extended at both frequency extremes and a bit 'faster' (I hope it wasn't just perceived brightness), The MF V-DAC in comparison had a lovely mid-range but was rolled-off at the top and fairly weak in bass delivery. I was concerned those characteristics would have been, pardon the pun, amplified by the Yamamoto headphone amplifier. So the DacMagic won the day.
The Cambridge Audio DAC has an extensive range of input and output options from balanced to single-ended, to S/PDIF, to Coax and even USB.
With the Wadia iTransport feeding the DacMagic, then into the Yamamoto HA-02 tube headphone amplifier the initial sound through the Grado SR-60s was very tight, revealing and engaging. With only 50 hours on the gear, I will let it run in for another 50 hours before strapping on the Sennheiser 600s for a full review and evaluation. Cables are Digital (Coax) from the Wadia and some Monster Cable RCAs (!) from the DacMagic to the Yamamoto. I have a new pair of silver RCA cables coming from a local manufacturer (Osborn Speakers) which will be used either in main system or slipped straight into the headphone system. And the whole lot sits on granite shelving on an E&T rack.
So far I am very pleased with the synergy and the sound. Highly recommended.
"Thought it was about time I posted a review of my experience with the Wadia 170iTransport so far. The device has about 50+ hours on it now and is giving a much better account of itself than when I first tried it.
For the test, I had the iTransport plugged in to my Wadia 861SE DAC section via the supplied Coax cable. It enabled easy comparison between the 170 and the 861 as transports. The output / gain of the iTransport was virtually identical (by ear) to the CD transport. I have only used the 170 as an audio device, and have not tried any of the video options.
Music on the iPod was ripped via an Apple iMac using the Apple Lossless Codec. For this review, the tracks I focused on were:
Monty Alexander, 'Sweet Georgia Brown', ‘The Ultimate Demonstration Disc’, Chesky
Santana, 'Black Magic Woman', ‘Abraxas’, MFSL
Patricia Barber, 'Ode to Billie Joe', ‘Cafe Blue’, Premonition HDCD
Set Up is a snap. Attach the wall wart (direct to the wall in this case, not via the power conditioner), and the supplied Coax cable and you are away. To tailor the dock connection to your iPod version, a number of inserts are supplied to provide a tighter fit.
One possible word of caution. If the iPod is left in the dock, the 170 is effectively 'On', and when I then powered up my tube pre / power amps I got some squeaks and squawks as the electronics came up. Simple solution is not to dock until all components are up & running. Might just be related to my system, not sure.
How does it sound. In a phrase, very good indeed.
On the Monty Alexander track, an instrumental jazz ensemble including two drummers and brass, the 170 sounded a bit thinner in it's overall presentation than the CD with a smaller stereo image. In isolation it sounds fine, only in direct comparison do these differences become obvious. But interestingly, the differences between the two transports were highlighted most clearly on nearly all tracks of this Chesky disc. Not sure why.
As for 'Black Magic Woman', it was a much closer comparison. The only differences I heard were a marginally smaller image this time, with a bit of bloom on the bass at times and some 'blurring' or overhang during large dynamic swings. The lead guitar sounded crisp and the bass line was very easy to follow and the lively percussion was well rendered.
On 'Ode to Billy Joe', the two transports were the most similar. The fingers snaps sounded 'real' and natural on both the 170 and 861, the upright bass clear and upfront and Barber's voice rock solid. Impressive!
- Easy to use
- Very musical (good PRaT)
- Maintains good detail resolution
- Very good extension of tone top to bottom
- Slightly smaller (Left/Right) stereo image
- Occasional loss of bass control (bloat /blurring) on dynamic transients
- Shallower image depth (Front/Back) presentation on some tracks/discs
- Slightly higher noise floor (perhaps it was the lack of conditioned power in my test)
Overall, I am very happy with my 170iTransport. It does what it promises to do and performs well above it's price point in my opinion. I would be most interested in other owners views.
I am now taking the iTransport from the 'Big Rig' and setting it up as the front end to my headphone system. Looking forward to listening to it further".
What have I learned that changed or re-inforced what I had?
- Place your listening chair 350 - 700 mm from the rear wall as a starting point for system set up. That is a good metre further rearward than I had the seat previously;
- Don't go for the equilateral triangle of speakers to the listening seat, instead separate the speakers some 83% (!) of the distance of the tweeter to the listeners ear;
- Toe out speakers slightly rather than point them directly at the listener;
- The author supports some of my preferred 'tweaks' like a dedicated AC circuit, an AC generating conditioner, a CD 'sweep tone' disc and cable elevators properly used and implemented;
What were the results?
The sound became more stereo centred, less mono 'beamy' from left & fight speakers and the sound stage & imaging have been enhanced with a more holistic presentation. Overall, the sound became much more musical while still retaining the detail I expect from the Wadia and the Zus.
Independently, when moving things around, I removed the discs from under the spikes of the speakers and much of the harsh treble I was hearing diminished, replaced by some added timbre, body and a little warmth, which I always expected from the Supratek tube pre/power combo.
- Cleaning all contact points to ensure proper and tight connections;
- Experimenting with pre/power amp gain controls to better match speaker / amplifier loads and manage output compression;
- Finish reading the book!
What I have found enjoyable is learning more about the behaviours of my components, understanding how they integrate together and how the complete system interacts with the room. Jim's mantra is you have to get your system to 'Play the Room'.
Additionally, we have moved the furniture around the listening (lounge) room, re-stacked the hi fi cabinet (again) to give the room a fresher and airier feel and take advantage of the rural views. Just need to ensure that all this doesn't impact the sound.
A fun journey and all in all, the book was a great help and a super $A75 investment. Highly recommended!
For the uninitiated, the 170i is a 'transport' or iPod dock which bypasses the Digital-to-Analog conversion (DAC) and analog output stage of the iPod and offers pure digital audio output from an iPod (or iTouch or Nano). It is designed to feed a bit-perfect audio stream to an external DAC. The performance of the 170iTransport is therefore only limited by the resolution of the content stored on your iPod. First impressions? Having never listened to an iPod without headphones I have no real point of reference for an iPod driving a two channel audio system. But so far, so good and none of the RFI / EMI noise issues from the power supply that have been reported by some users overseas.
Wadia i170 Transport sitting on the Wadia 861 SE - 2008
I will be testing the 170i as an audio source versus the Wadia 861 SE transport, and sharing the 861's DAC. The usability factor of the iTransport is high, delivering convenience (custom playlists etc with playing time only limited by hard disk size) and decent sound quality in the one small package. Video output is also available, but I won't be testing this functionality as its use as a video streaming device is not in my plans.
However my primary use for the iTransport will be as a front-end to my headphone system. So I require another DAC to enable separation of the 170i and Yamamoto HA-02 / Headroom Cosmic amplifiers from the current audio system.
From my readings on the internet, there is a great 'buzz' around this product and a cottage industry has sprung up for board modifications, clock enhancements, integrated DACS, upgraded power supplies, 'off the grid' battery power supplies and probably more that I haven't seen. As a long time Wadia customer and fan, I am pleased to see the brand now more in the mainstream. Also rumour has it that Wadia themselves will be releasing complimentary product(s) at CES in early 2009. Can't say any more .........
I will post a detailed review after the i170 has run-in and I take a bit more time to analyse.
PS - For all you eagle-eyed viewers who spotted the 860 on the front of the Wadia CD Player and all of my references to the 861SE.......... I had the 860 upgraded to full 861SE specification by the local Wadia agent in 2007!
No system changes to report. However, a small directional cable change appears to have a reduced the ground loop hum problem that has bothered me over the last few months and the sound is back to being acceptably good again.
I had the pleasure to visit an audio buddy last weekend who has recently added a new Acoustic Signature ‘Mambo’ turntable to his already impressive system (Moon/Rowland/Dynaudio C4). Wow, what a sound. It was full, coherent, convincing and really, really musical. And free enough of surface noise, & pops & clicks for it not to be a problem or get in the way of the glorious sound. Another guest bought some anniversary Cary CAD 211 AE mono-blocks to try. The group agreed that, on balance, the overall tone of the valves was generally favoured over the greater dynamics of the Rowland solid state.
Thanks for a great night Phil!
Some surprise with sound quality, some generate great memories and others, well, are just a bit CD-ish. But overall, all discs played at sensible levels sound better than they ever have before in my system, in my room.
What has sounded surprisingly good? Gerry Rafferty 'City to City', Nick Drake 'Bryter Layter' and the Beatles ' Let is Be - Naked' to name just three.
What generated memories? Boz Scaggs 'Silk Degrees'. An absolute classic! Being a fan, I just wish that his early, pre-Silk Degrees 'Philly sound' albums would get re-released on CD.
And I am continuing to work my way through the collection, looking for that next forgotten 'gem'.
Will list 'em when I find 'em. Great days indeed!
So I set about re-measuring the room, placing the listening position and speakers according to the 'Rule of Thirds' within the boundaries of the room then positioned the speaker drivers and listening chair in an equilateral triangle. I am happy to report that the sound has significantly improved. One further change was to toe-in the speakers so they crosses just in front of the listener's head. In such a 'cubed' space it looks a little strange & cluttered but the image is now pretty solid and emanates from a plane just behind the fast-disappearing speakers. All albums played, both good and bad recordings, showed clear improvements. Good progress.
I have also installed a combination of Black Diamond Racing cones under the CD & BDR cones & pucks under pre-amp, and VIBRAPODS cones under the pre-amp power supply. Not sure which made the most difference but the combination improved the speed & crispness of the mids & highs. especially noticeable on the finger snaps on Patricia Barber's 'Ode to Billy Joe' from the Cafe Blue album.
And finally, the biggest change of all, which amounts to no more than 3/4 of an inch! Who says size doesn't matter!
In an attempt to height-align the tweeter to the listener's ear level, I placed a disk under the front spikes of each speaker, hoping to improve something, not sure what! Well, I am a genius! The increased air under the speakers unleashed hitherto never heard bass from the rear firing passive radiators. Nothing I have read in reviews or manuals advised this set-up tweak for the Definitions. The sound now is much more coherent top to bottom, with the added air or bass fill making the mids blossom and taking some of the apparent harshness off the treble. I reported earlier that the previous round of changes made most recordings listenable, well now all discs sound full and revealing enabling the listener to focus on the music and not on the quality or otherwise of the recording or reproduction system.
The transformation has turned the system into something special. IMHO.
I may not have fessed up in this column that early after the Suprateks arrived, I was doing some re-positioning of the kit and (gulp) managed to drop (!) one of the Malbec mono block power amps. This resulted in an intermittent fault which together with a persistent hum and the occasional power down of my power conditioner, all has not been well in the Humphries audio salon.
Good news is at hand. The Malbec has been repaired and is winging it's way back to Melbourne as we speak.
New music has arrived in the shape of 10 MFSL and DCC discs. Looking forward to some vintage Santana, Little Feat, Natalie Merchant, Allman Brothers and Miles Davis amongst others.
A Wadia iTransport iPod dock is also on order. Should give me joyous, continuous music via my 160GB Gen5 iPod, through the Wadia dock, using digital into the Wadia 861SE DAC, then through the Suprateks etc. Fun times ahead!
Still work to do to sort out the ground-loop hum and control the room resonance issues after the long-awaited installation of the curtains but I am sure great sound is not too far away!
The store has a great feel, memorabilia on the walls, well arranged stock and regular in house live promotions. The range of discs they stock is an impressive collection of Australian artists, interesting new rock & pop releases, a great selection of folk, blues & jazz as well. Not sure about classical however.
Their website is: http://www.basementdiscs.com.au But it is much more fun to soak in the atmosphere, ask a couple of questions and just peruse the shelves looking for that disc you always wanted but couldn't ever find.
My recent purchases include:
- Bettye Lavette - 'The Scene of the Crime'
- Mark Knopfler - 'Kill To Get Crimson'
- Robert Plant & Allison Krauss - ' Raising Sand'
- Mary Gauthier - 'Between Daylight and Dark'
- Ronnie Earl - 'Hope Radio'
- Colin Hay - 'Man at Work'
- Ian Moss - 'Let's All Get Together'
- Kelly Auty - 'Wild Women'
Sauvignon & Malbecs in place - 2007
The Sauvignon is a two box line stage, offering balanced and single ended inputs, remote volume control, home theatre bypass, high/medium/low input sensitivity control and a mute function. One box is for a separate power supply which connects to the other by a supplied umbilical cord. The Malbecs are 40 wpc EL34 push / pull mono blocks. They contain variable gain control, adjustable negative feedback circuitry, tunable damping factors and 4/8 ohm speaker taps. Unpacking and initial configuration was relatively straight forward once the manual appropriately consulted. My pieces have Jarrah wood chassis with matt black tops. Hand made in Margaret River, Western Australia, the Sauvignon and Malbec certainly look the business!
(Supratek Sauvignon Pre-Amplifier)
I have been without tunes for a few weeks, and all supporting components had been off power for a number of days. Plus, I thought I would experiment with balanced connections from the Wadia to the Sauvignon, so new Kimber SilverStreak XLR cable was installed. The cold components, new pre/power combo and a new cable meant the system was never going to sound at it's best from the get go.
(Supratek Malbec Mono Block)
And it didn't. Initial listening impressions were both positive and negative. The positives included increased clarity and detail with a couple of discs revealing some content I don't previously remember hearing. Vocals were more forward rather than slightly recessed as previously making them more engaging. Excellent progress! The downsides so far revolve around a slight thickening of the overall image and the sound is lacking in pace and attack.
Post Installation photo of 'The Big Rig' - 2007
There is no doubt that the new components will develop over the near term when they get a few hundred hours on them. I have some time on my hands over the coming weeks to sit back, relax and fine tune the new system. As previously mentioned, the Malbecs offer a significant amount of user configuration, with speaker damping and negative feedback user definable to adapt specific parameters to my sources, speakers and room. And I have a number of questions ready to fire off to Mick Maloney at Supratek to further increase my understanding (and subsequent enjoyment) of these splendid components.
The reality of being part of 'Club Supratek' is exciting and I will post further listening comments shortly.
As reported a couple of posts ago, my system should really move into full bloom with a decent pre-amplifier and now I need some new power amplification as well. The hunt was on.
Also, in anticipation, I arranged for a dedicated 20 amp power line to be run from the main switch box to the listening room ready for some new kit.
After some deliberation, research and exuberance, an order was placed for a tube pre / power mono block combo, with the power amps featuring my favourite tube, the EL34. Without giving too much away, I can say that the new equipment is Australian made.
That was three weeks ago and the units are still in transit. The wait is killing me.........
The amplifier is superbly finished in a rosewood veneer, with a solid wooden volume knob. Shiny metal tube protectors and robust RCA connectors and a spring loaded headphone jack round out the other external niceties.
Well how does it sound? I tried it first, relatively new out of the box with my iPod. I must say it sounded just OK. After 40 or so hours running in, I tried with my old Rotel CD player. It sounded much better but still not anything special. After about 80 hours I plugged it in to the Wadia and had a serious listen with a colleague (see TonyC in full evaluation mode below!) through a collection of headphones and the magic really started to kick in.
The sound is particularly friendly to female jazz and vocals especially when using my Jecklin Float Model 2 'phones. They don't go really low (or really high for that matter) but demonstrate great rhythm and pace and tone in the mid range. And very non-fatiguing from a sound and comfort point of view. We also enjoyed the sound from the AKG 701s, which delivered a fuller and richer presentation, if not as 'pure' perhaps as the Floats. Slightly disappointing were the Sennheiser 600s. With an upgraded cable, these are supposed to be the best/most expensive headphones I own. They sounded good but nothing flash and were uncomfortable after some 10 or 15 minutes. I sense they could have a 'For Sale' sign on them soon........
Once underway, the first impression was one of weight and realistic scale. The VTLs drove my Zus far more realistically than the existing Red Rose Music 35 w.p.c. valve amp, usually used in ultra-linear (or pentode-equivalent) mode. Bass was reproduced with speed and precision and the top end was extended and crisp. The sound stage was wide and deep and imaging as detailed as you would expect.
Over an extended listening period however, I found the sound missing a little in the mid-range, not as 'tubular sweet' as the Red Rose. The dealer was slightly disappointed with that and after some investigation of related products, it appears that there is a voltage mismatch between my Wadia 861SE CD player/pre-amp and the VTLs. For amplifiers of the VTLs power or greater, the internals of the pre-amp throttle back the output, with impact being at the expense of the mid-range. The theory is yet to be proven but the source of the information has historically been reliable.
Even so I was sorry to see these amps go back, being shipped off to a lucky customer further up the coast. Once I listen to a few pre-amps, I am sure another demo of VTL gear will be in my future. My thanks to Tony Collins at Home Theatre Solutions in Melbourne for this opportunity.
There have been several changes in the listening room lately.
The major change has been the installation of three-layer curtains, with velvet fabric, some sound reducing mid-layer and a heavy backing. They look good and have done a great job in dampening much of the reflections in the room, but without 'killing' the feel of the room totally. Excellent!
A new audio cabinet is now in place. A recycled Columbian oak two shelf cabinet, with three lower draws for bits & pieces. The room is now much tidier. I can't tell if the sound is improved but aesthetically it is more in keeping with the room and more practical to boot.
Also purchased were some cable lifts. While some ceramic and fancy jobs can cost upwards of $A60 each, I managed to pick up twelve lifts today for a grand total of $A3.60! Made of none too exotic plastic, they at least lift the Zus power and speaker cables up off the floor. Absolutely no improvement to the sound that I can determine (not even a placebo effect!) but again they look just fine, and suitably hi fi 'tweaky'.......
Finally, not a tweak, but my wife and I relocated the CD rack and contents, from the family room to the music room, making access to the CD collection and spinning the tunes much easier.
Some guys on the StereoNet forum are excited by a range of tube gear made by Sound Craft in Japan. Apart from an absolutely gorgeous looking 2 (yes two) watts per channel SET power amp, they also have a similar-looking tube headphone amplifier. These units are handmade by one Yamamoto-san in Tokyo. An order for five (I think) has been placed and the forecast delivery is another month or so.
I intend to use an iPod (with music encoded with Apple Lossless codec) with a powered dock (and line out) and Cardas mini to RCA connectors as my source until I can save for a dedicated front end, preferably including SACD. I have a growing number of SACD/Hybrid discs wih nothing to play them on, so this seems like a great opportunity.
Interesting to see if the amp mates well with Sennheiser 600s, or if another pair of cans are required. Hence the discussions at audiophile last week regarding the Grados (RS1 or 2, or the new GS-1000) which may be a better match to the impedence of the little Yamamoto.
An exciting time indeed.
A quick visit to the city to pick up a car being serviced turned into a full on assault on the available discs at Focus Audio & Vision (thanks for the suggestions Tommy) and audiophile (thanks to the guys there for some great info on vintage Oz music and the Grado headphone range (that's another story)).
This was course after a couple discs were purchased at J&B during the week and after an international order was shipped to Acoustic Sounds in the US (still awaiting delivery).
Extravagant? Absolutely. Worth it? Every cent. It is one thing to enjoy the hi fi hobby and all the upgraditis and tweaking that goes with it, but one shouldn't lose sight of the music.
After an initial listening session, I have a couple of recommendations from the recent purchases:
Billy Thorpe and the Aztecs - 'Live at Sunbury'. An absolute Aussie classic. Forget the recording quality just rejoice in the fresh air, open space and out-there folks at a Sunbury paddock in 1973.
Patti Austin - 'Avant Gershwin' Had not heard of this lady before. Great recording of show tunes, powerfully but at times, intimately sung. Great orchestral dynamics as well. Entertaining and engaging stuff.
The Audiophile Voices range (Volumes 1 - 4). Just a chill out collection of fine tracks, drop-dead gorgeous vocals and sweetly recorded to boot. One(s) for sitting in front of the fire on a wet & wintry day.
Marc Cohn - 'Marc Cohn'. Marc's first (and best) effort. Re-issued as a numbered / limited edition by Mobile Fidelity Sound Labs Ultradisc II. Worth it just for the chrystalline version of 'Walking in Memphis'.
Will post more observations when the Acoustic Sounds order comes in and I have a deeper listen to the rest.
Update: The US Acoustic Sounds order has arrived. A good selection of XRCD24 discs including three by the Asian songstress Jheena Lodwick and 'The Look of Love' by Diana Krall. Looking forward to the big band dynamics of Gordon Goodwin's Big Phat Band as well.
- Zu Cable & Loudspeaker Definition Mk1.5
- Black Diamond Racing Cones (MK 3 & 4) under the RRM amplifier & Wadia CD player
- Bell'O Equipment rack
- Furman IT-Reference 16 E Discrete Symmetrical Power
- 'CD Sound Improver' Audio Desk System Disk Lathe
- CAIG De-Oxit & Pro Gold contact conditioner
- Various driver and output tubes
- Wadia output voltage change
- Red Rose Music RoseBuds & various stands
- REL Stadium III Sub woofer
- E&T Spider equipment rack
- Furman FP E Power Conditioner
- Various driver & output tubes
Why so many changes? No simple answer, but here are some 'justifications'.
The biggest change this year has been the swapping out of the Red Rose stand-mounts and REL sub woofer for the Zu Definitions full range, active bass floor standers. Plenty of detail about the Zus a couple of blogs post ago.
As for power, the opportunity came up to get a new (but almost superseded) Furman Reference at a decent price. In my slightly rural location I was keen to get the 'best' power into my components as I could, especially now with the Zu Definition bass amps pulling more power from the wall / conditioner. After just 36 hours, my initial listening impressions are of increased richness (or gravitas) and a slightly lower noise floor.
The BDR cones were tried and I sensed improved speed and some sharpened imaging.
A return to the Bell'O rack is just temporary as I continue the search for a suitable platform. The Spider rack will see service in a yet to be finalised headphone system in the bedroom so no harm done by the acquisition.
The Audio Desk 'CD Sound Improver' device was discussed in the previous blog post.
The Wadia's digital output works best in a range greater than 70 (out of a maximum of 100). I have recently been averaging about 60 with the new Zus. So sensing I was losing something, the Wadia guru Tony whipped the top off the box and following some instructions from Wadia Central, changed the output voltage to move the output to the 70+ plus range. No real listening tests done yet, but it can't be worse...........
I have not cleaned the connectors and cables in the seven years I have owned my key system components, so the time has come. No feedback as yet.
Tube rolling can be an interesting and exciting pastime for those of us with valve amplification. My amp developed an annoying crackling noise under load when it warmed up and the original output tubes were thought to be the culprits. So we swapped the original Electro-Harmonix for some Telefunkens. To no avail. As it happened, subsequent investigations showed the fault to be poor ground switching on the amp, and a flick of a switch fixed everything! A tube-guru colleague (hi Moondog!) responded to my request for more bass and provided a couple of matched driver tubes guaranteed to provide more depth. Wow, was he right! Then I changed speakers from the stand mounts to the full range floor standers with stereo inbuilt bass driver amplifiers so the two channel power amplifier bass output was now overkill. Oh well...... Back to the originals again!
Now for some keen listening, but more importantly, just having some fun.
PS - I am sorry if this seems indulgent as it is not meant to be. When you all get to my age you will appreciate a permanent record of things that happened in the recent past! Short term memory isn't what is used to be!
PPS - Are there more changes to come? Oh yeah!!!!!!!!!!!
I had previously heard the benefits of this device at a local listening session. Undeniably increased volume and detail resolution were delivered to 'treated' discs. Strange but true, even to a couple of skeptics who were immediately concerned that one of these was a must have, with the resultant financial impact.
The system is relatively easy to use although I won't try it on my rare MFSL discs until I get REALLY confident. A clamp is removed from the spindle, the disc placed on the turntable label side down, the puck and clamp re-engaged, then the device can be turned on and the cutting arm applied to the disc edge until the rough surfaces are 'trimmed' and the discs spins relatively evenly. A marking pen is then applied to the newly cut edge to further minimise refractions. And there is a hole in the rear (!) for the insertion (!!) of a vacuum cleaner nozzle (!!!) to clear away the nasty off-cuts. Those funky Germans, they think of everything. No, I am not making any of this this up!
Being brave (!), I initially tested the device on a computer-burnt copy of the excellent Aaron Neville disc 'Bring it on Home'. When the cutting arm was applied to the (admittedly) commodity disc, the amount of detritus flowing off the edge of the disc (remember it was my first test!) was downright scary. How did it sound? Well, again when I listened to the 'A' sample, I thought the burnt copy was not nearly as good as the original. Flatter and lacking in emotion were my instincts. After the application of the CD Sound Improver there were noticeable improvements. More volume / gain sure, but greater depth and separation and a lot closer to the 'original' or real disc. My confidence is still not up enough to try it on a commercial disc. Yet.
Replacement cutting blades are available and the box is extremely sturdy and heavy so I will refrain from putting it on cones or plugging it in to a conditioned outlet........... But perhaps a power cord upgrade. Hmmmmm.
Ain't life grand!
Zu Cable are a Utah, US speaker and cable manufacturing company churning out interesting products at sensible price points. In Australia, the Pure Music Group are my local distributors. The Definitions are a three way, high efficiency (101 db) design, with two 10" full range transducers and a super tweeter crossing over at 12kHz up front mounted in an MTM array. At the rear there are four 10" low frequency drivers (crossing over at 40 Hz) powered by a 100 watt internal amp per side. A single pair of Cardas pure copper (unplated) binding posts and an attenuator control for in-room bass tuning make up the rear. At 1.25m tall and 50 kgs each and resting on adjustable spikes, they feel substantial for the investment
Once hooked up to my Red Rose Music amplifier, they sounded pretty good straight out of the box. I have tried the RRM 35 watt EL34 amp in Ultra Linear or 18 watt Triode mode with no discernible preference for one sound over the other. Ultra Linear probably gets the nod for a little extra drive. No surprise there. As a dealer demo pair they had some hours on them already but all my research seems to indicate that a long run-in period should be expected for best results. Either I am getting used to them or they are getting better, in particular smoother, hour by hour.
Set up is not difficult, but for best results careful positioning delivers best results. On axis response seemed a bit sharp, and a few degrees of 'toe-out' seems to provide the better sound to my ears, and still well inside the recommended Zu set-up instructions according to the (slightly modest) manual.
What is the Zu sound? Very articulate, extremely quick with excellent mid range tonality are the highlights. Some room driven bass bloom (muddying the vocals on some tracks) will (should?) be resolved with some impending bass traps, and a high level sharpness on some discs is still evident. The Zus (or the Wadia front end) are not particularly tolerant of poor recordings.
In my strange room (roughly 7 metre cube (yes cubed, I have a high wooden domed ceiling), with three sides, the Zu's fill the room easily without any hint of driver strain or amplifier load. Imaging is a strong suit (helped by the inner detail rendered) while the sound-stage is a little smaller and 'centred' than I would prefer, rarely extending out past the speakers with current placement. Bass response and tone is very good on those discs where the bass is recorded well, helping to expand the sound to a much more satisfying (and engaging) level than my previous stand-mount speakers. You would hope so! But I would never have dared to listen to Chinese drum tracks in the past...........
Am I pleased with my purchase at this point? The answer is a definite 'Yes'. I estimate that there is a good 15 - 20% improvement left with placement fine tuning, room tweaks, component adjustments, cables, power etc synergised with the new kit.
Resulting from excellent sound, the Zu's have me reaching into my catalog of CDs again, and experiencing old discs anew, with newfound joy and pleasure.
Will share more thoughts in the coming months as a couple of further component / ancillary changes are being considered.
For sonic enjoyment, and audio education I would recommend getting out and listening to as many good systems as you can find. It is not only extremely good fun, but you can learn so much from those who got it right. And also learn a little from those who messed it up too!
The first system belongs to Mr C, who is in the AV game for business, and I can tell you, for pleasure. His home system wins the title of having the most high-end gear in one lounge room title, hands down! The guy is seriously into high end - Wadia separates, Mark Levinson, Jeff Rowland Design Group, Marantz, Parasound, Furman, DBA, Kimber, ATC, Mirage and his latest addition, Magico Minis. Wow. The Magicos through a Wadia front end sound absolutely incredible. Full and warm, crystal clear and engaging. Full range, we never felt the need to ask 'why isn't the sub connected?'. No room treatments at all, but I guess the rack of DVDs filling one wall, the rack of CDs covering another and, literally, a wall of electronics at one end probably does enough damping. Mr C takes total care in system integration, tuning and set up. Speaker placement and alignment is to measured to the millimetre left and right to maximise the stereo image.
The second system belongs to Mr G, a highly Skilled individual. Not content to plonk his gear in the lounge room like Mr C and myself, Mr G went the 'Let's build a new room' route. More of a journey of sonic discovery than a building project, he has gone to some extraordinary lengths to manage the acoustics in his new space. Words can't do it justice, pictures shortly! As for the sound now, it is fantastic. Again Wadia / Levinson front end, Moon pre, Rowland power and VAF I-93 towers, with a Velo DD sub. The sound is big, crystal clear, not a hint of solid state grain, very detailed, excellent soundstage and imaging with good pace. And I have never heard a bad disc on it. It seems very 'dodgy disc friendly'.
I will try to a couple of pictures of these rooms shortly if for no other reason than to give me a visual reminder of what my ears will never forget. Thanks for the opportunity to listen guys.
Firstly, new CD rack has arrived from Wilkins & Kent. A fine piece of furniture it is too. Capacity for 1140 discs, current utlisation is about 770. So, let's get out and buy!
The Furman power conditioner and Kimber Monocle X speaker cables are now part of the system. A speculative purchase, that of a 'Spider' equipment rack has proved visually beneficial and at least sonically neutral.
The big change this week has been the addition of a REL Stadium III sub-bass system. Still in the early days of set-up and fine tuning but so far so good, with much greater ambient 'fill' and greater depth to the bass giving more air to the mid and hi-mid levels (surprisingly) giving the sound greater breadth. Good stuff.
An acoustic consultant visited recently to advise on the room performance and the feedback was pretty negative. Brick, glass and a three-sided room makes for an uncomfortable acoustic space. For cosmetic reasons we can't do all of his recommendations but some bass traps in the diagonal corners will assist. Also recommended and desired by Robin, new curtains are to be ordered this weekend to further tame the acoustically-wild room.
As each improvement occurs, I am getting more and more excited by the sound. Stay tuned!
Another power conditioner is in for a trial, a Furman Elite. Still running it in, but sounds OK so far. Impressive stand eh!
(Furman Elite 16-PF E)
Also made some serious speaker upgrades today. Back to the metal stands, then four cone-points per speaker, then the wooden base plates from the 'old' wooden speaker stands then the speaker on top of that. Seems to have the bass of the metal stands with the warmth of the wood. Can't wait to try this setup with the Kimber Monocle X's (or better)!
Sadly a repair to the Wadia remote appears to have failed so it may be the end for this particular piece. A new one beckons......
(Wadia Remote Control - RIP)
On the music front, while flashing through a few discs to get a feel for the changes, the famous Phil Collins album, 'Face Value' got a run. Fantastic sound quality, as well as great music. If you have it, spin it!