Friday, October 30, 2009

Bryston previews SP3 Surround Preamp/Processor

During the chat with Brian Russell, the president of Bryston, on Oct 21, he told us about the SP3 Surround Preamp/Processor which will be launched in about six months' time, but he did not provide details.
He said it would be a big box with space for an optional video module board and at that time we were trying to visualise how it would look like. The pictures below from avguide.com show clearly how it is constructed.
Brian told us the SP-2 would not be upgradeable to SP-3 by changing parts, but he did mention something about coming up with a way for SP2 owners to upgrade. The article from avguide.com below said that Bryston will offer a trade-in scheme, but the pricing details are not known.
However, the recommended retail prices are revealed. The SP3 will sell for US$9,500 [RM32,300] (audio-only) or US$11,950 (RM40,630) with the HDMI/video module. Bear in mind these exclude Malaysian import taxes.

Avguide.com reported: At CEDIA Expo 2009 the Canadian firm Bryston previewed its upcoming high-end SP3 A/V Controller (or Surround Preamp/Processor, as Bryston puts it), which will be offered with an optional HDMI/video pass-thru module that is both electrically and physically isolated from the audio section of the controller. In the photos that accompany this article, readers will see that the video board fits in a separate tray in the top of the SP3’s chassis, spanning its full width, while the audio circuit boards are mounted in a separate chamber in the lower part of the chassis. By design, the SP3 can be bought as an audio-only product based on the audio circuit boards only, though we think many prospective customers will also opt for the video module (since high resolution audio codecs such as Dolby True HD and DTS-HD Master Audio will presumably require the HDMI inputs provided by the HDMI/Video board).


Construed as a surround preamp/processor for audiophiles, the basic audio-only version of the SP3 provides a very high quality multichannel analog preamp based on "discrete class A op amps." The SP3’s analog preamp section, per se, is said to sound every bit as good as Bryston's dedicated BP26 stereo preamp.
The optional video module adds HDMI inputs, and provides the capability to strip off and pass through HDMI video signals while processing HDMI audio signals onboard (all the expected high res codecs are supported).
The SP3 will be released in Q1, 2010 and will sell for US$9500 [RM32,300] (in audio-only configuration) or US$11,950 (RM40,630) with the HDMI/video module installed.


In the past, Bryston has traditionally offered upgrade pricing to allow owners of earlier generation Bryston A/V controllers to convert their units into current generation models. However, the SP3 is sufficiently different from its predecessor, the Bryston SP2, that such upgrades will not be possible. Instead, Bryston plans to offer a not yet announced “tradeback” price for SP2 owners who wish to step up to the SP3.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

The magic of Magico


This is one of the best systems that I have ever heard

Whenever I use my Sennheiser HD600 headphones I hear things...lots of things that are missing when I listen to normal stereo systems. Things like echoes, reverbs, acoustics of the venue, shuffling of feet, licking of lips, clearing of throats, someone coughing in the audience...
Rarely have I come across a stereo system that can sound as detailed and transparent as the Sennheiser HD600 can.
Yesterday afternoon was one of those rare times when I heard a big rig that sounded like a giant pair of Sennheisers.
The sound was simply magical. I just sat at the sweet spot and soaked everything in for more than two hours.
The soundstage was so huge and wide that it seemed as if the entire listening room was transformed into a concert hall or recording studio.
There were times when the images stretched so out of the box horizontally that it seemed like some kind of sensurround experience.
It was one of those rare times when the speakers did a disappearing act. I closed my eyes and just moved to and was moved by the music - it seemed as if I was smack in the middle of the sea of sound. The notes flowed so naturally, so melodically and the images were so pinpoint sharp that the speakers did not seem to be there. I played rock, classical, solo cello, jazz, acoustic guitar and other tracks and they all sounded lifelike with extreme dynamics, natural bloom, right timbre, transparency and great delicacy.
By now you must be wondering what I am drooling over.
I was at Audio Image in Section 19, Petaling Jaya, listening to a pair of Magico V2s.These magical speakers were driven by some of the best components in the world - Nagra CDC CD player connected to a Soulution 721 preamp and a Soulution 710 power amplifier. Wires were inhouse makes designed by Adrian Wong including speaker cables that comprised three wires per run and I thought he had tri-wired the Magico V2s until I looked at the back of the speakers and saw that they had only one pair of connectors each.

Magico V2


The three plugs are not pieces of foam
plugging up ports; they are aluminium
screws that can be tightened to tune the cabinet.


Tightening the aluminium plug with
a metal rod that comes with the speakers.

The Magico V2s are unique in many ways: the baffle is a solid piece of black anodized aircraft-grade aluminium with curved edges to reduce diffraction; there are three aluminium plugs at the rear attached to a tension-coupling frame which can be tightened by screwing in the plugs with a supplied rod to tune the 17-ply vertically stacked Baltic Birch cabinet; and there are two sets of spikes - the normal sharp pointed type and the other with ball-like ends to ensure that marble or tiled floors would not be scratched.
The Magico V2s, which cost as much as a Proton Waja, are entry-level products and they are 2.5-way speakers measuring 42" (105 cm) tall, 12"(30 cm) deep and 10" (25 cm) wide.
Frequency response is rated at 32Hz-40KHz, sensitivity at 89 db, impedance at 4 ohms and recommended power is 50-300 Watts.
You would need a friend to help you carry them as each weighs 120lbs (55 Kg).
The drivers consist of a 1" Mr_1 Ring Radiator tweeter (which looks like the ScanSpeak unit but is a proprietary design also used in the higher-range Model 5) and two 7" Nano-Tec woofers.


The ring radiator tweeter


The Nano-Tec woofers made of carbon nanotubes.


These woofers deserve special mention because they are the first speaker units to use carbon nanotubes. The outer carbon skins are fused with Rohacell foam to create sandwich cones with the carbon material providing low mass and high tensile strength to act like perfect pistons while the foam damps cone resonances.
Elliptical Symmetry Crossovers are used and parts such as MCap, MCap-Supreme and MCap-Supreme Silver and Gold capacitors are sourced from Mundorf, the respected German company. Internal wiring uses 6N solid-core copper.
Using extremely high quality (and expensive) components plus innovative construction methods and cutting-edge technology have resulted in speakers that look and sound good.
I had gone to Audio Image with the HD Mastering CD that I had bought weeks ago and I had listed down the tracks that I wanted to listen to, but the system delivered such good sound that I played the entire CD.
I also played a few Eva Cassidy songs from her Time After Time CD and two tracks that I had downloaded from the Internet and burnt into a CD-R with MediaMonkey - one was a hires MP3 jazz number from Mapleshade and the other was a Studio Master 24-bit 88.2kHz FLAC file of Handel's Messiah from Linn Records.


Adrian Wong with the tool
box that comes with the speakers.

Needless to say everything sounded really good. Just before I left, Adrian took out the digitally remastered Beatles CD set that he bought and played Abbey Road. That sounded great too.
It was a fruitful afternoon and I felt extremely satisfied when I left because I had heard one of the best systems ever. The Soulutions had been run in and sounded much better than they did when I first auditioned them a few months ago and this time there was no politeness in the treble that I had noted in the previous encounter. I think it was a combination of the pre/power amps having being run in and the fabulous speakers that took care of that little sonic weakness.
Are the Magico V2s perfect? I spent some time looking out for weaknesses and the only thing that came to mind was that the images could seem a little larger than real-life, but they did not sound artificial; instead the larger images make it seem as if you are sitting in the front row with the music enveloping you. It makes the listening experience a bit more intimate.
Would I buy them? If I have the money, yes.



Thursday, October 22, 2009

Bryston will remain Class AB for audiophiles

Brian Russell, president of Bryston Ltd, with his
Malaysian dealer James Tan of AV Designs Sdn Bhd.

Bryston amps for audiophiles will not be digital - this assurance came from Brian Russell, the president of Bryston Ltd, who was in town to meet up with his Malaysian dealers James Tan and C.W. Low of AV Designs Sdn Bhd.
During a chat with Brian at AV Design's showroom at Rohas Perkasa building in Kuala Lumpur yesterday, Brian was quite confident that Class D amplifiers would never be able to match class AB amplifiers in terms of solid punchy bass and the capability to provide the rush of current to push a speaker unit and then stop the cone movement.
"Class D amp technology is not the new direction of Bryston," he said when replying to a question whether the recent announcement of the production of two 8-channel zone amplifiers, the D-130Z Hybrid and the D-250Z Hybrid, which use Class D amplifier modules and Bryston-designed linear power supplies, signalled a paradigm shift in the direction of the highly-respected Canadian company.
Brian said these amps are meant for a segment of the market where high quality is not essential. These include night clubs, restaurants, ice rinks, condos and bars which need music or broadcasts in several zones. These amps can also be used for piped music.
For serious audiophile listening, nothing beats the Class AB amps, he said.
When asked why Bryston, famed for offering a 20-year warranty (the best in the industry) for its products, is offering only a five-year warranty for its Class D zone amps, he said it was because they could not control the quality of the outsourced digital amp modules.
"It doesn't mean that these are lower quality products," he said.
Brian also revealed that the SP-3 sound processor, replacing the SP-2, should be out in about six months' time.
"The software is being written and the SP-3 will be modular. It will offer audio with a video option," he said.
However, the SP-2 would not be upgradeable to SP-3 specs.
Another project in the works is a new CD player which, he assured, will have a metal drawer to replace the critically-acclaimed BCD-1.


Brian Russell, president of Bryston Ltd, proving
that the 28B SST (square) power amp is
definitely not a lightweight Class D gizmo.

Brian said Bryston had a "great year" despite the global financial meltdown because of strong sales of its 28B SST (square) amps, DACs and CD players.
"The new range of SST (square) amps received rave reviews and were rated 'Best Buys' or 'Editor's Choice' by numerous magazines and websites, which helped us a lot," he said.
Sales in the United States went down, but it was up in Canada, Asia and Australia.
During the chat, I was quite surprised to find out that Bryston does not have a listening room in its factory to tune its products.
Instead two to three of its staff, including designer James Tanner, take the components home to test them with their rigs in a home environment.
"James has three stereo sets and four pairs of speakers - Thiels, PMCs, Magneplanars and Martin Logans. Whenever he comes across a new pair that sounds good, he buys them and they would replace a pair that he has in his house," Brian said.
Though much has been written about the synergy between Bryston amplifiers and PMC speakers, Brian declined to recommend the PMCs as the natural partner for Bryston amps.
"PMCs are transmission line devices and Bryston amps work well with them, but I would tell people that Bryston amps would work well with whatever speakers they like the best," he said.
On the future of the music industry, he agreed that people are veering towards music downloads from the Internet, but there will always be a CD guy with a huge collection of CDs that he would want to listen to with a CD player just like the turntable guy who is still listening to his LPs with his turntable.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Crystal-clear sound


The yellow CD that caught my attention.

There I was window-shopping in Amcorp Mall when I passed by Victoria Music and decided to pop in for a look.
I headed straight for the audiophile section and saw the usual suspects - audiophile female vocalists, some Chinese audiophile releases, a few xrcd CDs... One bright yellow CD caught my eye.
It turned out to be a HD Mastering CD which promised "Incredible and fantastic high resolution". It delivered that promise, and audiophiles in search of the highest level of clarity and detail will have to listen to this new range of CDs.


Notes and graphs explaining how the technology works.

There were some notes inside that described the technology involved in making the CD.
First the master tapes were used and tracks copied to a hard disk which was then used to make the stamper. Normally the master tapes are burnt onto CD-Rs which are used to make the stamper.
Secondly, the HD Mastering CD uses a special liquid crystal panel which is more transparent than the polycarbonate used in normal CDs.
This high transparency enables the laser to read the pits better and to reduce errors caused by vibration, the CD has a layer of high damping coating.
This new type of audiophile CD is apparently made by a Chinese company called ABC (International) Records based in Guangzhou, China.
When you buy this CD, you actually get two copies - one as a back-up copy presumably or you could have one for the home rig and the other for the car stereo system.
ABC (International) Records offers a total of 16 titles featuring English and Chinese songs. Among the artistes are popular Taiwanese songstress Tsai Chin and country singer Crystal Gayle.
The CD I bought was made in Germany for audiophile testing. It features 21 songs specially selected for testing dynamics, imaging, bass, treble, live ambiance and voices.
I must say the sound quality was pretty amazing and even my brother-in-law, who is a New York-based American music producer and composer, commented that it sounded really good.
The music was rendered with sparkling clarity and it just goes to show that the Red Book format, despite its limitations, can sound really remarkable if good recording and mixing equipment and techniques are used along with high-grade plastics, stringent quality control and some innovation.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

New Asia Sound outlet


Asia Sound manager Eddie Tan standing next to the
Paradigm Signature S6 and S8 (right) speakers

Looks like Amcorp Mall in Petaling Jaya has become the focus of hi-fi action in Malaysia.
A new hi-fi outlet has opened there, but it does not involve a totally new dealer - it is more of an expansion involving one of the top dealers in town.
Asia Sound Equipment (M) Sdn Bhd already has an outlet on the first floor which you can easily spot because of the colourful Rega P3-24 turntables on display.
Asia Sound manager Eddie Tan said business this year had been good especially with Rega turntables selling very well.
Thus the company decided to expand by having another showroom on the third floor right next to McDonald's.
The new showroom opened last Saturday (Oct 3) and the equipment has already been set up.
Eddie Tan said the new showroom features Paradigm speakers and the higher-end Rega turntables such as the Rega P5, P7 and P9 and speakers like the Rega RS7.


The Paradigm Monitor II and Rega RS7 speakers

It also has some AKG microphones and headphones and Rotel pre and power amps.
Near the entrance is a pair of Focal-JM Labs Alto Utopia Be.Since it is already a discontinued model, the pair which was previously priced at RM88,000 is on offer at RM55,000.
"We will be bringing in the JM Labs Elektra range next month. And Rega will have a new range next year including a valve amp," he said.


If you have RM55,000 to blow, this pair of
Focal-JM Labs Alto Utopia Be beauties will be yours.


The Rega Apollo CD player, Rega
Cursa 3 pre and Maia 3 power amp

Set up for auditioning is a system comprising Rega Apollo CD player, Cursa 3 pre and Maia 3 power amp connected via Rega speaker cables to Paradigm Signature S8 floorstanders.
The showroom looks classy and the black and white photos on the wall give it an arty feel. The photos, btw, are taken by Eddie Tan himself, who not only likes hi-fi but is also a talented photographer.
As for the first floor shop, it will sell low to low-mid components.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

New kid in town


SVS president Ronald Stimpson
talking about his company at the
launch of SVS products in Malaysia


SVS president Ronald Stimpson (left)
and Max Loh, owner of Maxx Audio Visual


For Max Loh it was a case of him being a customer who liked a product so much that he became a dealer for it.
Max, who runs a shop selling electrical goods in Seremban, had been posting in a local online forum www.lowyat.net when someone informed him that the best sub-woofer he had ever heard was the SVS. The forumer had sold his Velodyne to buy the SVS PC13 Ultra which prompted Max to order one online and he totally agreed with the forumer.
He was so impressed that he e-mailed SVS asking to be its dealer in Malaysia, which started a chain of events that culminated with Max hosting about 50 audiophiles in a Petaling Jaya hotel on Saturday (Oct 3) to launch the SVS range of sub-woofers, home theatre speaker sets and a sub-woofer equaliser, making him the latest hi-fi dealer in town.
SVS, a maverick American speaker company based in Ohio that made its name with an impressive range of sub-woofers, has a short but interesting story.
It began with Ronald Stimpson, a Major in the US Army who is also a hi-fi enthusiast and competent DIYer.
Since he could not afford expensive speakers, he made his own.
In the late 1990s, Dolby 5.1 was getting popular and he felt that the sub-woofers in the market had little impact.
"I wanted a powerful sub but could not afford the Sunfire, so I set out to build one," he said.
Through the Net he met Tom Vodhanel who was good in maths and could work out all the equations like the Thiele Small parameters, port tuning and cabinet size.
The two of them became partners and from being hobbyists, they moved into business in 1999.
They made a passive sub-woofer based on a cylinder and sold it on the Net.
"We thought we could sell 2-3 a day; it became 5-10 a day," he said.
Things started working out and two other partners were roped in - one with the deep pockets and other with financial managerial skills.
"We were the first Net-based direct-to-buyer company," Ronald said. As business grew, the range of products grew too.


The cylinder subwoofers


The box sub-woofer


The plate amp

The powered cylinder sub-woofer was marketed in 2001 to critical acclaim and the box sub-woofer was launched the following year. In 2006, SVS made a paradigm shift in the business strategy and moved away from making only sub-woofers and introduced the S-series speakers for home theatre and stereo listening.


SVS president Ronald Stimpson
explaining how to tune the sub-woofers

At the product launch, Max played scenes from movies like Transformers and The Hulk, and a music video by Blue Man Group.
The sound quality was quite smooth and the bass was not overpowering. The tonal balance was quite pleasant thanks to the component that got a lot of the audiophiles excited - the sub-woofer equaliser which SVS developed with technology from Audyssey Labs which is also licensed by Onkyo, Marantz and Denon.


The SVS AS-EQ1 sub-woofer equaliser with microphone

Max's shop is called Maxx Audio Visual on Jalan Temiang, Seremban. He will be opening a showroom specially for SVS products in a new shoplot at the Oakland Commercial Centre opposite Jusco Seremban 2.
"Renovations are being carried out and the showroom will be open early next month," Max said.
As for opening a showroom in Kuala Lumpur/Petaling Jaya, he said it will take place some time in the future.
He has brought in the following sub-woofers - SVS PC13-Ultra (RRP: RM7,699), PB13-Ultra, PB12-Plus (RM6,430), PC12-Plus (RM5,456), PB12-NSD (RM3,600), PC12-NSD and SB12-Plus (black, RM3,750).
Also available are the MCS-01 (RM3,390), MBS-01 (RM5,520), MTS-01 (RM8,090) and the AS-EQ1 sub-woofer equaliser (RM4,050).
Max Loh can be reached at 017-6778820 or you can surf to http://htkaki.com/kedai/ for more details.