Sunday, August 30, 2009

Mapleshade magic

Well, what do you is possible to get pretty high-quality music playback on simple computer speakers playing MP3 files downloaded from the Internet. As they say, you learn something new everyday...
At this very moment while I am typing this post, I am listening to In A Perfect
by the Andy McKee Quintet through small Altec Lansing computer speakers and all the things that audiophiles look out for are there - soundstage, imaging, clarity, transparency and dynamics. The saxophone is smack in the middle where the computer screen is and the double bass is somewhere to the right. Now I can hear the shimmer of the cymbals to the left.
I can hear all the microdynamics, the soul of the music...
It sounds a million times better than the stuff I downloaded from LimeWire.
I just downloaded a Kendra Shank track and am thoroughly enjoying it. Next will be This Little Light of Mine by Kenyetta and the Larry Willis Trio.
What happened was that I was browsing through the Mapleshade Records website when I clicked the "Music" section and found that I could download either samples or complete MP3 versions of some tracks.
If the Mapleshade recordings sound this good in MP3 format on the Altec Lansing computer speakers, I wonder what magical moments there would be if I could play the actual CDs on my big rig.
Now I am tempted to buy some Mapleshade CDs...gotta check if I have exceeded the credit limit of my credit card :)

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Yearning for a Yarland

Yarland FV34B integrated valve amp

It had been quite a while since I last used a valve amp and when I turned on the Yarland FV34B integrated, the glow of the tubes which got brighter as they got warmer was most seductive.
My kids had never seen such an amp before and I had to explain to them that they were commonly used many, many years ago before everything became transistorised.
In this day and age when Class D amps are widely available, the valve amp seems like a fossil from the dinosaur days.
But when I pressed the 'play' button on the CEC3300 CD player, the sound from the ATC SCM40 speakers were pretty magical.
There is that something extra in valve sound, some kind of warmth or pleasant distortion. Though there was some valve magic, the Yarland FV34B did not sound overly warm and soft.
For a 50-watter, it sounded pretty powerful considering that the ATCs are rated at 85dB.
The FV34B looks quite good with a wooden panel in front and it uses four EL34B, two 6N3 and one 12AX7 tubes, all Chinese-made, of course.
Its limitation is that it has only two inputs.
Soundwise, its midrange is nice and warmish and the highs are reasonably extended though I have gotten used to the resident Bryston 3B SST's seemingly limitless highs and anything less is noticeable.
The bass could be tighter though which suggests the FV34B may have problems controlling the cone movements of large bass drivers.
I used lots of silver cabling with the Yarland as I feel silver and valves make a great couple. The Alphacore Micropurl Silver worked well as did my homebrewed 0.2mm 99.99 silver with Eichmann copper plugs.
However, when I used a DH Labs Air Matrix, the bass suddenly became loose and flabby. So you will have to choose your interconnects with care - my advice would be to use a silver interconnect, preferably solid core.
As for speaker cables, I found that high-capacitance ones like the Goertz MI2 worked well. Others I had in my collection performed well too and the amp did not seem too fussy about speaker cables.
When I was reviewing the amp, I was reading some online comments on the Yarlands and many forumers said they were an affordable way to enjoy the magic of valves.
I totally agree with them and a Yarland would be a great entry-level component for someone who has just graduated from iPods and computer speakers. With the Yarland FV34B, you won't be likely to get the itch to upgrade for some time.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

ProAc's new top-end speakers

ProAc's new flagship speakers will feature carbon-fibre cones - but they are not the first to use this light and stiff material.
Wilson Benesch has used it in its Torus sub-woofer (or what they call an Infrasonic Generator) while Magico uses carbon nanotubes in their cone construction.
David Amey of DNA Marketing, which markets ProAc speakers worldwide, was in town to meet up with John Yew of CMY Audio, ProAc's distributor in Malaysia.
Over lunch at Shangri-la in KL today, David revealed some details about the new top-of-the-range speakers.
Called ProAc Carbon Pro Eight, it will feature two carbon-fibre bass units, the famed ATC SM75-150S dome mid-range unit and a Taiwanese-made ribbon tweeter.
David said ProAc is located near where several F1 racing teams are based and there is a specialised carbon-fibre industry in the vicinity.
"It is a light, rigid and strong material which is ideal for woofers. It is lighter than paper and plastics. The carbon-fibre cones are made by a specialist factory and the entire woofer unit is then assembled by Volt," he said. Volt, just like ATC, is a famed British maker of speaker units. Volt's woofers are widely used in the pro industry.
The carbon-fibre cone sounded great and ProAc decided to replace the plastic horn of the ATC SM75-150S mid-range dome with carbon-fibre and it worked very well too.
David said they then decided to experiment some more as the reflectivity of carbon-fibre was different. When they replaced the MDF plinth with a carbon-fibre piece, the bass sounded vastly different.
"The bass was fast, detailed and had weight," said David.
With the carbon-fibre cones, the crossovers had to be modified to suit their different character. The ProAc Carbon Pro 8 has crossovers at 680Hz and 3,200Hz.

ProAc's new flagship speakers

The bass units are paralleled and its loading is similar to the D38 - the port fires downwards into a cavity between a plinth and the bottom panel and there are openings on the sidewalls for the bass waves to flow out.
It has a frequency response of 20Hz to 30kHz, a nominal impedence of 4Ohms and sensitivity of 91.5dB. It can be powered by amps from 10 to 500 watts.
The ProAc Carbon Pro Eight measures 123cm (49.2") high with spikes and plinth, 24cm (9.6") wide and 45cm (18") deep and weighs 68kg (146.9 lbs) each.
Other than the usage of hitech carbon-fibre, the rest of the ProAc Carbon Pro Eight is very traditional and exemplifies the best of British speaker-building.
The box is still made of MDF and the panels are damped with bitumen pads. That's as traditional as it gets.
According to David, the D100 will be discontinued while the other models in the existing Response range will still be made.
There are plans to make a smaller model with carbon-fibre cones, but nothing has been finalised yet.
David said ProAc's new direction is to do what it does best - making beautiful furniture that sounds good. It will be concentrating on stereo and getting out of AV.
ProAc will rationalise its AV product range and make only one centre channel speaker and one sub-woofer.
He added that he foresees a resurgence in stereo and a decline in CD players which will be replaced by Hard Disk players. The iPod generation will realise when they graduate to Hard Disk players that they need a decent system for the hires downloads and ripped copies of CDs to sound good.
Production of the Carbon Pro Eight will start next month and the first shipment will reach Malaysia by November.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

New media

Recently, I blogged about the possibility of CD players disappearing from the scene.
A member of the Singapore hi-fi and AV website posted some comments. I forwarded his comments and queries to TK Han of Reference Audio in Singapore and I thought I should share Han's answers for the benefit of the community of audiophiles.
This is because music downloads for high-end components, using notebooks and MacBooks to play Apple Lossless and WAV music files, using Hard Disk players, ripping CDs and hooking up NAS systems are a relatively new trend which is evolving rather quickly. It is in this sector that the iPod generation will clash with the diehard purist audiophiles who still swear by tubes and turntables.
Frankly, I have a lot to learn about this new media....

I don't believe iTunes Store sells Apple Lossless or WAV files yet
Yes this is true. At KLIAV we played a number of music file formats in various resolutions including iTunes downloads, (very few), which were the low-resolution stuff. We did play "native" high-resolution music files in 24-88.2, 24-96, 24-176.4 and 24-192. And of course a series of Red-Book CD-level files as well.

But there are a number of sites, including Linn Records which does support HD audio downloads.
We did play some samples from the Linn catalog - Carol Kidd and SCO Mozart pieces. They were 24-96 and 24-88.2, respectively. We purchased these from Linn via download. Our other high-resolution music files came from Chesky-HDTracks, Reference Recordings HRx, 2L-Norway, Kent Poon of Hong Kong, High Definition Tape Transfers, etc, etc. These had resolution up to 24-192.

That said, I have read one review which claimed the HD downloads from Linn (and a few other sites) don't sound good. Something abt the DSD to hires PCM conversion apparently.
Our experience had been otherwise, actually. But the music contents were not always "universally appealing" from some record labels. But, it is also true that there are quite a bit settings on PCs and Mac that one needs to pay attention to if the bitstream is to be played at the DAC accurately. Any errors or interventions by the PC OS, will cause the sound to suffer to a very great extent. Not many audiophiles are aware of these yet. But, the pro-audio people who need to work on the music files are very conversant with the setting requirements. We don't think DSD to PCM is an issue, really. Many great CDs today were recorded in DSD. And CD is standard-resolution PCM.

FWIW, I listen to redbook primarily through my Duet streaming from my NAS/PC so I do see how CDs could be losing their relevance. I'd like to have a listen through kelso's SB3. But in the high end, I think most transports still have SB/media players beat.
This may be true when one compares the same CD, ripped and played through the PC at its native 16-44.1 and the CD on a high-end transport. It has to do with, again, how well the digital bitstream is handled till it gets to the DAC to be decoded. Don't forget that before the CD was pressed, the recording actually went onto a PC hard-disk/s for a number of post-processing - mixing, mastering, etc, etc. So, done right, PC-audio should be very good. Many highend transports and DAC have buffers, error corrections, jitter and clock accuracies, etc, etc, to ensure that the bitstream is very precise when it gets to the DAC. This is of course done at a relatively high cost compared to a PC. A basic low-end PC, redeployed for the task of music play-back, as is mostly the case today, may not handle the bitstream anywhere as well as a dedicated highend CD transport. But the PC does hold great potential, especially for high-resolution audio files - 24-96 and above.

So as a reviewer, how did the Weiss sound? Was it using the upsampling algorithm plug in as reviewed in Positive Feedback? I am more interested in how it handles regular redbook audio since that's the primary source for most of us. I know the PS Audio Perfect Wave combo didn't seem to improve redbook even with the upsampling enabled."
The Weiss Minerva we demo'ed does not upsample. it just has the capability to decode all sampling rates up to 192kHz and word-lengths up to 24bit. But, we did demo upsampled music files that were originally red-book format - 16bit 44.1kHz. They were upsampled to 24-176.4 using Weiss's software based professional sample rate converter, SRC - SARACON. Upsampling does not improve on the original recorded sound quality on the CD. It does make a number of things better/easier for the DAC and the resulting analog signal consequently may sound better than the CD played as is... it's an open debate, still. But, do bear in mind, there are good SRCs and there are bad SRCs; cheap & free SRCs and expensive SRCs... Some SRCs only do simple rate conversions, not word-clock dithering from 16 bit to 24 bits... Some SRCs are simplified for quick calculations on slow computers, etc, etc. So, a simple upsampled music bitstream does not always guarantee better sound....

Let's hope we can all learn something from this. I think it's a matter of time before hires downloads and hard disk players will become commonplace...

Friday, August 14, 2009

Dynaudio's new flagship speakers

Wilfried Ehrenholz, CEO of Dynaudio International GmbH

More than 30 audiophiles attended a presentation by Wilfried Ehrenholz, CEO of respected Danish audio company Dynaudio, at CMY Audio & Visual Sdn Bhd's Damansara Uptown showroom in Petaling Jaya on Thursday afternoon.
Wilfried took the opportunity to not only introduce CMY as the distributor of Dynaudio in Malaysia but also gave a sneak preview - unfortunately in the form of a PowerPoint presentation - of its new flagship speakers called Dynaudio Consequence Ultimate Edition.
Just launched at the Hong Kong High-End Audio Visual Show 2009 and the Taiwan Hi End Audio Show 2009 earlier this month, the Dynaudio will be in Malaysia by around October. But be prepared to dig deep into your pockets - it will be priced at about a quarter million ringgit.
Wilfried said for the market in this part of the world, the buyer can opt to have the badge in solid gold.

About 30 audiophiles attended the presentation
at the CMY showroom in Damansara Uptown

The Dynaudio Consequence Ultimate Edition is a huge speaker - it measures (W x H x L) 43 x 133 x 63 cm and weighs 114 kg.
It features a four-box design. Dynaudio's website has more to say about this:
"The subtle constructive design of the Consequence - the four-chamber enclosure - reliably avoids problems of mutual disturbance of resonances in various parts of the frequency range.
"On the one hand, the enclosure arrangement provides acoustical resonance decoupling from the floor; on the other hand, it completely prevents interaction of the systems.
"All components are the result of our own research, development, and manufacture. Not only does this include the component loudspeakers with all details but also the fine and noble enclosures, the reinforcement measures, and damping methods.
"All control processes, attack and decay response, and all interactions of the loudspeaker chassis have been considered in the whole concept.
"Our loudspeaker systems have established and confirmed Dynaudio's excellent reputation all over the world. And it is our manufacture of loudspeaker systems on our own that led to a certain independence and in many cases to new, often unusual findings. For instance, we integrated into the Consequence, apart from the high-quality tweeter and midrange systems, a woofer with a diameter of 30 cm (twelve inches) equipped with a huge and rapidly reacting 100 mm (four inches) voice coil made completely of aluminium."

Sadly, there was only a poster of Dynaudio's
new flagship speaker. Note the five speaker
units placed upside down.

The Dynaudio Consequence Ultimate Edition features an array of five speaker units placed upside down with the woofer on top and the tweeter at the bottom. Actually that is what you see, but I will explain later.
Dynaudio's website explains: "Having made extensive calculations and hearing tests, we positioned the woofer on top to compensate for the different delay times of the systems: all signals reach the listener's ear at exactly the same point of time which is of decisive influence on the sound homogeneity."
The speaker features a Vented Compound System for the bass. What it means is that inside the box is another bass driver. This internal woofer offers "compound loading" to the external woofer, and the finely-tuned performance of these two woofers in tandem enables the outstanding deep-bass performance rated to go down to 17Hz, better than the majority of active sub-woofers.
Its specifications are: sensitivity - 85 dB; frequency response - 17Hz-30kHz and power handling up to 400W.
When asked about the right amplifier to match with it, Wilfried declined to name a specific brand but cracked a joke that one would not expect the owner to use a Japanese integrated amp with it.
Twenty-five years ago, the original Dynaudio Consequence was well received, and the Ultimate Edition looks set to be just as well praised.
At the recent KL International Hi-Fi and AV Show, I was quite impressed by the sound quality of the Dynaudio Confidence C4 driven by Jeff Rowland Model 312 power amp, Criterion preamp and Copland CDA822 CD player. If that is any indication, the Dynaudio Consequence Ultimate Edition should offer the ultimate sonic experience.
Alas, we have to wait for two months...

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

The final Soulution

I just spent a very pleasant afternoon at Audio Image in Section 19, Petaling Jaya, chatting with Adrian Wong and listening to the Soulution amplifier that he brought in.
Soulution is a Swiss marque that makes high-end components. It is a relatively new company but it aimed for the sky and audiophiles are now comparing its products with the likes of Vitus Audio and FM Acoustics.
In fact I have come across one online forum where one audiophile said the only amp that he had heard which was better than the FM Acoustics was the Soulution.
The high-end manufacturer is actually a branch of Spemot AG, which makes electrotechnical devices and e-motors for the automotive industry and professional and semi-professional tools. Since the owners are music lovers and hi-fi followers, they decided to focus on their passion.
Soulution has only seven products - the 700 monoblocks, 710 power amplifier, 720 and 721 preamps, 740 CD and 745 SACD players, and the 750 phono preamp.

The Nagra CDC CD player

The Soulution 721 preamp

At Adrian's showroom, he had a Nagra CDC CD player connected to a Soulution 721 preamp and a 710 power amp driving Audio Physics Avanti V speakers.
Beside the Nagra was the huge Kuzma Stabi XL turntable with Kuzma Airline tonearm and Benz Micro LP cartridge. Speaker cables, interconnects, power cords and the phono preamp were all custom-made by Adrian and his gang of audiophiles.
I had with me the usual CDs I use for auditions - an xrcd edition of Dire Straits' Brothers In
Arms and Live At Blues Alley by Eva Cassidy.

The system at Adrian's Audio Image. Note
that the speakers were placed a long
distance from the rear wall.

The speakers were placed a few feet from me, more than 10 feet from the rear wall and about two feet from the side walls, and were toed in to face me.
Given its reputation, I was not quite sure what to expect. When I first saw the pre and power amps, I was taken aback by their sheer size. The photos on the Soulution website are misleading - these components are as big as the Vitus amps and look like huge boxes. They look just like German products - functional without flair.

The Soulution 710 power amp is
huge and looks very German in design.

And the sound? It is grainless with holographic imaging, transparent, clear and punchy.
The highs are so smooth that sometimes you are not even sure they are present. And perhaps that is its only weakness - the treble is a little bit polite, at least in the system I heard.
Vocals are neutral and the bass went real deep and tight even though the amp is rated at only 120 watts into 8 Ohms. Its maximum output current of 60 Amps must have helped and not to mention the damping factor in excess of 10,000.
On Track Six of the Dire Straits album, Ride Across The River, the Soulution produced deeper, tighter and more controlled bass than what I have heard from my resident Sugden C28 pre/Bryston 3B SST power amp driving ATC SCM40s.
Adrian remarked that the Soulution is the best amp he has ever heard and he has heard plenty.
"It is neither tube-like nor transistor-like. You can't tell," he said.
Soundstaging was huge and went beyond the speakers' edges and though the speakers were placed quite a distance from the rear wall, the soundstage seemed to reach back to the rear wall. It was cavernous especially when he took out some of his favourite albums and played them on the Kuzma.

The Kuzma Stabi XL turntable with Kuzma
Airline tonearm and Benz Micro LP cartridge.

It had been quite a while since I had heard analogue of this quality and when he played Ma from Rare Earth's album cut in 1973, things started rocking quite a bit.
Good analogue has the uncanny ability to throw images all over the place, sometimes way beyond the edges of the speakers. And the Kuzma could render good analogue sound despite some clicks and pops and I was tempted to get my ol' Rega Planar 3 to spin again.
Audiophiles in Asia consider the Soulution, Vitus and FM Acoustics as the three best amps extant and at this super high-end level, it is like comparing a Ferrari with a Porsche and a Lamborghini. They are all excellent products with minute differences and it eventually boils down to personal preferences and the other components in the hi-fi chain.
If I really want to nitpick, I would say the FM Acoustics amp sounds slightly faster and more rhythmic while the Vitus sounds more timbrally correct, especially in the treble region.
But these are minor differences and bear in mind I heard the three high-end amps in different rooms with different speakers and CD players.
The Soulution was not that hot even after driving it hard for about two hours. It was the same for the FM Acoustics, which has what they call an "enhanced Class A" circuit and the Vitus even when played in Class A mode. I honestly don't know how these high-end guys keep things cool.
I wouldn't mind buying the Soulution, but I would have to sell my apartment to pay for them.

Friday, August 7, 2009

End of the CD player?

There has been some buzz among hi-fi circles that the days of the CD player are numbered.
And what will replace it? DVD-A? SACD?
No, the most likely replacement is the hard disc player. It comes in many forms but essentially it uses music files stored in computers or the hard disc player itself which is then linked to an external DAC (the hard disc player may have a built-in DAC) and then to the usual pre/power amps and speakers.
The music files are usually in Apple Lossless or WAV format.
Some audiophiles say this is a better method as when a song is played, there is no moving part unlike a CD player which has a motor to spin the disc and another motor to drive the laser which result in data errors and jitter. (Note: no spinning parts apply only to solid state or flash memory.)
At the recent KL International AV Show, at least three dealers had such systems set up.

The MacBook (right) is the music source

The Weiss Minerva DAC

In the first booth, a MacBook with songs in Apple Lossless and WAV format was linked to a Weiss Minerva DAC with a firewire which fed the Gryphon pre/power amps and the Wilson Benesch ACT C60 Limited Edition speakers.

Weiss's website has this to say:
In high-end audio circles there is a trend towards high resolution file downloads from dedicated websites. Such downloads need a D/A Converter which can convert the high resolution files, e.g. uncompressed 96kHz / 24 Bit audio, to analog. And this in a quality which the audiophile connoisseur has come to expect from digital audio playback. The Minerva accepts digital audio in Firewire or AES/EBU and S/PDIF formats at rates of up to 192kHz at a 24 Bit wordlength.

Features of the Minerva:
Inputs: Digital Audio inputs on Firewire (two connectors), XLR, RCA and Toslink (optical). (Firewire 800 via an appropriate adapter cable).
Outputs: Stereo analog output on XLR and RCA. Digital Audio output on Firewire, XLR and RCA. (Firewire 800 via an appropriate adapter cable).
Sampling Rates, Wordlength: 44.1, 48, 88.2, 96, 176.4, 192 kHz at up to 24 Bits.
- Windows XP: 32-bit and 64-bit are supported
- Windows Vista: 32-bit and 64-bit are supported
- Mac OSX: Universal binary supports 10.4.11 and up, 10.5.2 and up on Mac Intel
and PPC platforms.
Frontpanel controls: One power switch, three input selector switches with corresponding LEDs.
Other features: Volume control via frontpanel switches, volume dim switch, insert mode for inserting any digital device (EQ etc.) in the signal path.

In the second booth, a MacBook was connected to an Ayre QB-9 USB DAC which uses Wavelength Audio's new "asynchronous" USB technology called Streamlength software.
Ayre's website has this to say:
The QB-9 is destined to convert your computer into an uncompromised digital library of your favorite music. A simple USB connection engages the Asynchronous transfer mode ensuring accurately timed music with jitter levels over a hundred times lower than previous USB solutions. Our minimum phase digital filter and single-pass 16x oversampling technology release layers of musical resolution—uncovering the emotional soul of your music.

The Ayre QB-9 USB DAC

Asynchronous transfer mode for USB input.
Minimum phase digital filter.
Single-pass 16x oversampling.
Zero feedback, fully balanced discrete circuitry.
Equilock circuitry for active gain devices.
Ayre Conditioner (patent pending) power-line RFI filter.
AyreLink communication system.

Maximum Output Level
2.05 V rms – unbalanced outputs
4.10 V rms – balanced outputs

Frequency Response
DC - 20 kHz (44.1 kHz sample rate)
DC - 22 kHz (48 kHz sample rate)
DC - 40 kHz (88.2 kHz sample rate)
DC - 44 kHz (96 kHz sample rate)

110 dB (unweighted)

1 USB, 44.1 kHz, 48 kHz, 88.2 kHz, 96 kHz (up to 24 bits)

The Ayre QB-9 USB DAC was connected to the Krell S300i integrated and Avalon Acoustics NP Evolution 2.0 speakers.

In the third booth, the Naim HDX Hard Disk player was used and linked to Naim pre/power amps with power supplies and the ProAc D28 speakers.
Naim's website has this to say:
The HDX reads audio data from CDs, stores it on a hard disk, catalogues the artist, album and track titles and, at the touch of a screen, replays it with utterly uncompromised sound quality. The HDX's ease of use defines elegant simplicity and it even offers the option of operating as a high-end CD player by directly playing a disc loaded in its drawer.
At the heart of the HDX is a fully integrated CD ripping and data storage system, engineered by Naim — both hardware and software — from the ground up to optimize audio quality. When a CD is inserted in the HDX drawer it is mounted on a specially selected audio grade transport mechanism and each of its data sectors read multiple times at varying rotational speeds to ensure that the subsequently stored data is "bit perfect". Unique Naim firmware effectively handles copy protected CDs that in most other hard disk music players are likely to be ripped with compromised audio quality. The same firmware also overcomes the track start and end errors that occur in most other hard disk players and ensures that artists' intended track lead in and out times are preserved — again, in contrast to most other players. The bit-perfect data is stored on two 400GB disk drives — one primary and one back up.
HDX playback begins with a unique Naim designed, multiple power supply PCI interface that feeds the audio data to the digital to analogue conversion stage. The HDX digital audio architecture is not limited to 16 bit and 44.1kHz but can handle bit depths up to 24 bit and sampling frequencies up to 192kHz.

Naim HDX Hard Disk player (top)

Independent and separately grounded multi-regulated power supplies for analogue and digital stages.
A Burr-Brown PCM1791A digital to analogue converter selected after exhaustive listening.
24 bit/192kHz internal architecture with support for hi-resolution audio formats.
Ultra low jitter re-clocking circuits.
A seven pole analogue output filtering using Burr Brown OPA604 op amps.
Custom designed monolithic air core transformer isolated analogue output stages.
An optional external XPS or CD555PS power supply for even greater musical performance.
In use the HDX is intuitive, satisfying and simple, and, thanks to an internet connection, automatically catalogues every ripped disc.

Observers say CD players will not fade away so soon because there are millions of them in millions of homes all over the world.
What will happen will be like the time when CD was just introduced. The popular medium then was the cassette. CD and cassette players co-existed for many years before the latter declined in popularity and faded away from the scene.
Of course, there are still lots of people out there using their cassette players, but nobody makes them anymore and cassettes are difficult to find these days and are used mostly for voice recorders.
Even the once ubiquitous Sony Walkman has faded away to be replaced with today's iPods and MP3 players. And digital voice recorders are now marketed with built-in memory and MP3 as an additional feature.
Things are a-changing....

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Successful show

Despite the recession, the hotel bombings in Jakarta and the A (H1N1) pandemic, the recent KL International AV Show was more successful that last year's edition.
According to Dick Tan of 3Dot Events Sdn Bhd, which organises the annual event, 12,000-13,000 tickets were sold.
"This came up to around 800 tickets more than last year. Also, we had eight more exhibitors than last year," he said.
There were initial worries that holding the event at J.W. Marriott hotel would discourage audiophiles from turning up for personal safety reasons as the hotels that were bombed in Jakarta were the Ritz-Carlton and J.W. Marriott.
The explosions, which killed seven people, took place on July 17, a week before the KL International AV Show opened. Since the event was held at J.W. Marriott hotel in Kuala Lumpur, security was quite tight and those who turned up were scanned with metal detectors before being allowed in.
According to Dick Tan, around 85% of the audiophiles who turned up were Malaysians while the rest were Singaporeans and some hotel guests.
Dick Tan estimates sales of around RM15 million mostly involving home theatre systems and LCD TVs.
But the hi-fi players had a strong presence too and some reported good sales, he said.

Monday, August 3, 2009

New wave

German Physiks Carbon Mk IV driven by Simaudio pre/power amps

Malaysian audiophiles were introduced to a totally different way of making sound at the recent KL International AV Show in the form of the German Physiks speakers.
Malaysians are used to normal cone-shaped woofers, dome tweeters, ribbon tweeters, horns, electrostatic and quasi ribbon/planar-magnetic speakers.
But the DDD (Dicks Dipole Driver) of the German Physiks was quite something else.
The story began in 1978 when Peter Dicks, an engineer, mathematician and sociologist, created a design using mathematical principles that he believed could sound better than the best in the market. In 1980, he had a prototype but the top European manufacturers rejected him.
It was in the 1990s that a German company called Mainhattan Acustik, run by Holger Mueller, became interested and that was because Mueller recognised the DDD as a version of the Walsh Driver invented by American engineer Lincoln Walsh who died before his speaker was launched. Mueller owned a pair of Ohm F speakers which used Walsh drivers.
According to, Walsh was a brilliant engineer who was part of the engineering team that developed radar during World War II. He later designed audio amplifiers, and his final project was a unique, one-way speaker with one driver. It was a large cone that faced down into a sealed, airtight enclosure. Rather than move back-and-forth as conventional speakers do, the cone rippled and created sound using a principle known as “transmission line”. The new speaker created a single, perfectly rendered sound wave of remarkable clarity. A new company, Ohm Acoustics, was formed to develop and market Walsh’s new speaker design.
In 1973 Ohm introduced the Ohm F speaker to critical acclaim.
Mueller agreed to license Dicks' design, and German Physiks was born. It took many more years to fine tune the design.

The Dicks Dipole Driver fires downwards

Though the DDD looks like a conventional cone driver, it operates in a totally different way.
According to the German Physiks website, the DDD driver has 4 modes of operation and in essence works as a mechanical 4-way system.
1. The lower frequency end of its operating range can be described with Small/Thiele resonant parameters.
2. In the next frequency band up to the Coincidence Frequency, it works like a pistonic driver.
3. Next an overlapping band follows where pistonic movement is progressively replaced by bending waves until all the radiation is generated purely by bending movement in the cone. Due to dispersion and the cone’s special shape, the Coincidence Frequency is spread over an extended frequency range, rather than occurring at a single frequency like the Dipole Frequency.
From the upper edge of the Coincidence Frequency band, it works like a pure bending wave converter where the velocity of the travelling waves in the cone increases with frequency.
4. The last mode of operation commences above the bending wave band at the Dipole Frequency, when the first standing wave occurs and where modal break-up begins.
it is a nearly ideal point source with an omni directional radiation pattern.
The DDD driver propagates sound in a uniform spherical pattern. The frequency and phase responses are uniform from all listening angles.
An omni directional radiator has several audible advantages:
1. The window in which stereo imaging will be perceived is considerably widened, and “head in a vice” listening constraints are much relaxed.
2. The loudspeaker’s behaviour tends to be much more predictable from room to room, because the reflected sound is timbrally matched to that of the direct sound.
3. The sound of an omni directional loudspeaker has decay characteristics more closely resembling large room reverberation than is the case with the narrowly focused output of typical monopole direct radiators. The sound has a naturalness about it that powerfully suggests the experience of a live musical performance.
Enough of the scientific stuff. What about the sound?
Driven by Simaudio amps, the German Physiks Carbon Mk IV shocked everyone with extremely fast, dynamic and lively music that was totally uncoloured.
It had a peculiar presentation in the sense that the position of the listener was not that vital. When normal cone/dome speakers are used, there is always a sweet spot where everything falls into place and once you step out of it, the soundstage and imaging collapses.
It was not so with the German Physiks. I stood near the doorway because the room was crowded and I could still hear pretty solid three-dimensional images - thanks to the omnidirectionality of the speakers.
The bass went low and was very tight. The speaker uses a 12-inch woofer coupled to a Helmholtz resonator and provides bass down to 28Hz. It sounded and felt lower than that.
Coupled with the sheer liveliness of the presentation was the resolution of details. I noticed a lot of audiophiles nodding their heads, signalling their approval of the sound quality.
In my view, it coupled the delicate resolution of Magneplanars with the bass slam, dynamics and liveliness of Naim speakers.