Sunday, November 29, 2009

Linn stops making CD players

Linn Products, famed both for its Linn Sondek LP12 turntable as well as the state-of-the-art CD player, the CD12, has become the first major hi-fi manufacturer to pull out of the CD player market.
It has announced that it will stop making CD players at the end of this year.

The famed Linn Sondek LP12 turntable

Gilad Tiefenbrun, managing director of Linn Products, told BBC news: "Our customers have fast recognised the limitations of CD players and in the age of home networking, people now want better control of their music and the ability to enjoy it in any room of their home.
"CD players no longer belong in the specialist domain."
Compact discs began commercial music sales in 1982, replacing the cassette tape as well as vinyl records. The shift from compact discs to digital downloading is again changing the music market.

Linn's CD12 was among the best CD players in the market

In its website, Linn said: "After 20 years designing and manufacturing world-class CD players, Linn will stop production of CD players at the end of 2009.
"At Linn we have always been wholly committed to making systems that push the boundaries and deliver the highest possible audio performance. When we launched our first digital stream player, the flagship Klimax DS, we did so only once we had proven comprehensively that it outperformed the iconic Sondek CD12, our former reference digital source, in every way.

Linn's Klimax DS digital streaming player

"This development saw Linn DS far exceed what was possible with traditional CD playing technology, both in terms of its audio performance and the convenience. Linn DS is now firmly established as the future of music and the only way to get the very best from your CD collection and enjoy downloads of the highest possible quality.
"Today, we have a wide range of Linn DS players designed to meet the needs of every music lover, from Klimax DS - the pinnacle of audio perfection - to the recently launched no-compromise one-box Majik DS-I."
Sales of computer audio players outperformed that of CD players in 2009. It was also this year that music downloads set a new record.
According to BBC News,BPI, representing the British recorded music industry, announced last month that 2009 had already broken last year's record number of legally downloaded single and individual track sales. Of 117 million sales, nearly 99% were digital downloads.
But there is a different market for album sales. CD sales continue to dominate, but their share of the market is sliding.
In 2006, there were 154 million album sales, of which CDs accounted for 151 million, and digital for 2.7 million.
In 2007, with 138 million sales, 131 million were CDs and 6.2 million were digital.
In 2008, there were 137 million album sales, with 123 million CDs and 10.3 million digital downloads. Vinyl records, cassettes and other formats accounted for around 300,000.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Dynaudio's Ultimate statement

The huge speakers need a lot of space to 'breathe'.

Ah, rich folks live different lives; they also hear different things.
How about music coming from a pair of speakers that cost RM300,000 (the same amount needed to buy the condos that many of us live in) which have gold-plated speaker mounting rings? Even the feet (not spikes, given the weight of the speakers) are gold-plated.

Note the gold-plated mounting rings.


Even the feet are gold-plated

The speaker has only one set of speaker terminals.
Cable used is the RM150k Siltech Emperor Crown.

There is a gap between the front module
housing the mid and tweeter units and the 
rear bass chamber where the second woofer
is mounted in the vented compound loading system.

Jeff Rowland pre/power amps

From France - the Metronome
Technologie CD5 CD player.

There I was listening to a system comprising the much-anticipated Dynaudio Consequence Ultimate Edition at CMY in Damansara Uptown, Petaling Jaya.
The huge speakers were driven by Jeff Rowland Criterion preamp (RM75k), Jeff Rowland Power 312 (500-watters retailing at RM60k) and the French high-end CD 5 player from Metronome Technologie (RM60k).
The speaker cables alone cost more than the pre and power amps - the Siltech Emperor Crowns are priced at RM150k. From CD player to pre, the interconnects were the Acoustic System LiveLine while from pre to power the Siltech SQ110 was used. Power cords were Siltech Ruby Hill and the power supply was connected to an IsoGray system.
As you can see (or calculate), I was listening to a system that costs about three quarters of a million bucks.
Yes, the rich live different lives.
I had with me the same three CDs that I used to audition the EgglestonWorks Andra III a few days earlier (I will post on that later) - the xrcd version of Dire Straits' Brothers In Arms, Eva Cassidy's Time After Time and A Tribute To Jack Johnson by Miles Davis.
The Dynaudio Consequence Ultimate Edition are huge speakers measuring (W x H x D) 43 x 133 x 63 cm, and require a large listening room for it to "breathe". If your room is small, look for another pair even if you have the cash.
The room at CMY measured 4.2 metres wide and around 17 metres long and I felt it was big enough for the speakers. A shorter room, at around 10 metres, would presumably be spacious enough too.
The speakers were placed about 0.75 metres from the side walls and about 2.5 metres from the rear wall. Listening space that is too cramped would prevent these speakers from performing at their optimum level. Weighing 114kg each, you would need a buddy to help you position them correctly.
When I heard them, they were only a week old at the showroom and were still breaking in, but they immediately stamped their mark as extremely refined and polished performers.
The soundstage was large and deep while the sound was extremely natural, smooth, civilised and refined. Its rated frequency response is 17Hz to 30khZ and nothing seems to be missing or emphasised in the music spectrum.
Tonally it was neutral and the bass was rich and full, thanks to its vented compound bass loading.
Despite it being a five-way system with crossovers at the critical midrange frequency of 1,400Hz to the mid dome and a quite low 2,700Hz to the tweeter unit, the sound was seamless without any noticeable crossover anomalies.
Although it was the first time I heard a speaker with huge bass units firing at me at ear level (the arrangement of speaker units is upside down with the super tweeter at the bottom and the bass at the top) the bass somehow emerged sounding like normal i.e. the bass drum sounded like it was perhaps half a meter from the floor while the cymbals sounded like they were maybe two meters from the floor even though the tweeters and super-tweeters were firing at me from the bottom of the speakers.
At this super high-end level, you do not expect to hear sonic weaknesses like rolled-off highs or lack of bass. Instead, you would look out for tone, air, timbre and presentation. After more than an hour of listening to good music, I found nothing to complain about.
However, since its sensitivity is low at 85dB, it needs a lot of power to push it.
In the system that I heard, the 500-watter Jeff Rowland did a commendable job, but I had this feeling that these speakers could soar even higher if a more powerful amp or perhaps a pair of Jeff Rowland's Model 301 monoblocks are used.
To be expected, only components of the highest quality must be used with speakers of such pedigree. Having said that, I do not mean that it is compulsory for you to use RM150k speaker cables - top-end cabling from your favourite firm should suffice - but if you have the dosh, why not?
Dynaudio has certainly made a statement with its Consequence Ultimate Edition and it is a very refined one at that.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Absolute AV Gallery in Amcorp Mall

The simple set-up at Absolute AV Gallery

One more showroom has opened in Amcorp Mall, Petaling Jaya.
The latest is called Absolute AV Gallery and is located on the first floor opposite Acoustique Systems and has been open since the beginning of this month.
It is a simple set-up and since the shoplot is too small, a complete home theatre system cannot be put in place.
Instead you can go there to listen to the Meridian G08.2 CD player, priced at around RM14k, and the Meridian G61R preamp-surround controller driving the Meridian DSP 5200 active speakers which cost RM43k per pair.

   Ong holding the Meridian F80

The Meridian DSP 5200 active speakers

Manager of Absolute AV Gallery Ong Liang Heng said he has also set up an alternative system comprising the Roksan Kandy K2 CD player and K2 125-watt integrated amp.
The Roksan K2 TR-5 speakers will be coming soon, but for the time being a pair of Audionote AX-Two bookshelves are connected to the Roksans.
Also on display are the Meridian Ferrari-designed "mini-compo" the F80 which is priced at 10 grand and a smaller pair of Meridian active speakers, the DSP3100 priced at RM21k.
"We will be bringing in Isoclean power conditioners soon," Ong said.

Ong can be contacted at 012-3210488.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Classy CECs

CEC's famed TL-51XR belt-driven CD player

When I read in the hifi-unlimited blog that CEC is now distributed by Music by Design at Jaya One, Petaling Jaya, I quickly made an appolintment to visit the outlet.

This is because I am a CEC user - my CD player is a CEC 3300 which is mostly used as a transport. Of course, the belt-driven CEC would work better as a transport, but - as usual - lack of funds was a major factor that influenced the decision to buy it.

The other factor was the fabulous headphone jack that the 3300 has which the belt-driven TL-51XR lacks.

CEC uses the so-called LEF (Load-Effect Free) Class A amp modules for almost all its amplification needs from the analogue outputs to the headphone jack to its standalone amplifiers.

The headphone amp (left) and the TL-53Z CD player.

At Music by Design, AV consultant Simon Choy showed me around. On display are the CEC TL-51XR belt-driven CD player which retails at RM5,200, and the TL-53Z CD player, also belt-driven, which is priced at RM7,300. This shoe box-sized CD player, which reminded me a lot of Cyrus components, has a matching integrated amp - the AMP-53 which pumps out 120 watts per channel of pure Class A power. This retails at RM6,800.

Also available is the HR 53R Version 8 headphone amplifier priced at RM2,200. Simon said they will be bringing in the DAC soon.

The CEC AMP-53

I sat down for a quick session with a system comprising the CEC TL-53Z CD player and the AMP-53 integrated amplifier feeding a pair of Vienna Acoustics Beethoven Concert Grand floorstanders.

I was rather surprised by the dynamism of the sound - the bass had punch and bite and went down quite deep, the music was taut, transparent and quite musical. It was a quality I had not expected a pure class A amp to deliver - most manufacturers would use class A for the first few watts and then switch to class AB for that extra oomph when needed.

According to Simon,the AMP-53 works well with sensitive speakers - the Beethoven Concert Grand is rated at 91dB.

I didn't have time for a longer listening session and made arrangements with Simon for home auditions of some of the components.

Friday, November 20, 2009

B&W - up to 25% off

Wanna go shopping this weekend?
Bowers & Wilkins is offering special discounts in conjunction with its launch in Malaysia.
  • 25% discount - B&W 800 series (803D, 804S and 805S) and Signature Diamond.
  • 20% discount - B&W 600 and CM series.
  • For the Signature Diamond, you can opt for the alternative offer which is to pay RM80,000 (normal price is RM100k) and you will get a Classe CA2200 200-watt power amp, which costs RM23,000, free.
The showroom at Jaya One, Jalan Universiti, Petaling Jaya, will open from 11am till 8pm during this special sale period which ends this Sunday (Nov 22).
Contact Steve Chan, the showroom supervisor, at 03-79568989

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

New Bowers & Wilkins showroom in PJ

The high-end gear

Bowers & Wilkins, more commonly known as B&W, has opened its showroom at Jaya One, Jalan Universiti, Petaling Jaya. It had its soft launch at the end of last month.

Located a floor above Cold Storage supermarket, the showroom - which still looks a bit like a WIP - has two listening areas.

To the right of the door is an open area with a Samsung LCD TV, lower-range B&W speakers and Arcam FMJ components.
The other listening room is an enclosed area and that is where the serious gear is - the piece de resistance is the limited edition B&W Signature Diamond in white, which costs RM100,000 a pair.

Steve Chan, supervisor of the showroom, explained that it comes in two colours - the other being wakame or seaweed green. Only 500 pairs of each colour are available worldwide.

The B&W Signature Diamond speaker

The B&W Signature Diamond and the 803D

Beside the B&W Signature Diamond is a pair of 803D ('D' is for 'diamond' which is the material used to make the tweeter).

These speakers are driven by Classe components and connected with Audioquest and Abbey Road cables. The Classe components in the room are the CDP502 DVD/CD player, CP500 integrated, SSP-600 surround sound processor and CA5200 five-channel home theatre amplifier.

The Classe components

Steve said the full range of the B&W 600 and CM series speakers are in the showroom, while from the B&W 800 series, only the 803D, 804S and 805S are available.
From Arcam are the FMJ CD37 CD player, the A38 integrated 100-watter, the AVR 600 receiver and Solo Movie 5.1 home cinema system.

Steve Chan adjusting the Arcam-based HT system

The Arcam components

Also on display are the B&W XT home theatre system, the Zeppelin (RM3,000) and the Zeppelin Mini iPod docking stations-cum-music systems. A range of B&W sub-woofers and Abbey Road cables complete the line-up of products at the showroom.

The Zeppelin (right) and Zeppelin Mini

B&W Malaysia is actually the Malaysian branch of Singapore's The Experts Group Pte Ltd, which is the Sole Distributor for B&W, Classe, Arcam and Xantech in Singapore, Malaysia and Brunei. It is also the Sole Distributor for Audioquest in Singapore and master reseller for Abbey Road cables.

Steve Chan said that this weekend, B&W Malaysia will have a special offer for audiophiles.

"The B&W Signature Diamond, which costs RM100,000, will be sold at RM80,000 and the buyer will get a Classe CA2200 200-watter amp, which costs RM23,000, free. Therefore the buyer will save RM43,000," he said.

Other offers will be announced later.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

LCD TV refresh rates: More marketing hype

These days consumers are dazed and confused by the increasing number of LCD television manufacturers claiming to have the fastest refresh rates to stop motion blur so that you can see exactly how the ball was kicked by Steven Gerrard, the number of pieces of grass and mud that flew into the air and how the ball curved its way into the corner of the goalpost just past the fingers of the Man U goalkeeper - all in super clarity.

So what is the best advice to give consumers when they want to buy a new LCD TV? Sony, Toshiba and Samsung have 200Hz LCD TVs in the market while LG has upped the ante and gone to TruMotion 480Hz.

And LG claims their technology is different - "LG's full HD TruMotion 200Hz technology is different from other 200Hz technologies. Others use an interpolation system which creates 'new frames' between each true frame. These interpolated frames are the TV's best guess as to what should appear. In contrast, LG's TruMotion 200Hz employs a different approach involving frame insertions plus scanning backlight technologies. By flashing on and off, the backlight produces actual black frames between true and inserted frames therefore reducing motion blur, increasing sharpness and improving contrast levels in dark scenes."
Another website said: "Right now, 120Hz TVs are just creeping in people's homes. The point of having more 'Hz' or 'Images per seconds' is to attempt to make the motion smoother, mainly by 'injecting' frames that are created by a video-processor. A movie is typically shot at 24 frames per second, even in the theater, you will notice that fast motion is not always smooth. A processor can analyze the original movie content and literally create new frames that will make the motion look smoother."

The best advice for the confused consumer comes from DisplayMate Technologies Corporation, one of the leading makers of video calibration, evaluation, and diagnostic products, said: "LCDs have their own 800 pound gorilla: limited Response Time, which causes motion blur. Just like Plasmas, this was a significant problem for LCDs many years ago, and we’ll demonstrate that it too is no longer an issue now.

"But unlike Plasmas, the LCD manufacturers have turned this into a brilliant marketing strategy, offering ever more sophisticated and enhanced motion processing and ever higher 120 Hz and 240 Hz screen refresh rates to repeatedly over-sell a solution to a problem… that is no longer a problem.

"Consumers (especially the technically savvy) have become enthralled with the Response Time specifications and the various proprietary motion enhancement technologies offered by each manufacturer, which all spiral in a vicious cycle of one-upmanship.

"After extensive side-by-side objective testing with moving test patterns, moving photographs and live video we found that there was no visually detectable difference in motion blur performance for current mid to top-of-the-line LCD HDTVs, regardless of their Response Time, 60 or 120 Hz refresh rates, strobed LED backlighting, or motion enhancement processing.

"While there was considerable motion blur in the moving test patterns, motion blur was simply not visually detectable in real live video content during our extensive side-by-side testing. With only a handful of minor exceptions, whenever blur was seen in live video we always found it to be in the source content or a temporary visual illusion that disappeared when the segments in question were reviewed. This is undoubtedly due to the way the brain processes and extracts essential information from dynamic and complex moving images.
Sony KDL52Z4500 Full HD 1080p 200Hz LCD TV with Freeview and 3 Year Warranty
"These results and conclusions will surprise many technically savvy consumers and videophiles because there has been so much talk about Response Time and motion blur.

"Like Plasma 'burn-in' some of this is just old information and memories. A lot of the current knowledge base on this topic are simply the echoes from all of the marketing brouhaha. It’s also very easy to think that you see blur when you’re looking at lots of fast action on a single TV, and a lot of it undoubtedly has its origins in the human visual system. It just doesn’t stand up to extensive scientific side-by-side testing.

"Our most important and significant result is that the LCD manufacturers have finally beaten the motion blur problem. So it's time for both consumers and manufacturers to forget about this tamed 800 pound Response Time gorilla and focus on much more productive and fascinating display technology and marketing issues, such as the upcoming generations of 3D displays.

"As a result our bottom line recommendations are… If you stick with the mid to top tier models from the reputable brands, you should ignore Response Time specifications, not worry about LCD motion blur, and don’t spend extra for 120 Hz or higher refresh rates, strobed LED backlighting, or advanced motion blur processing."

For the comprehensive tests, DisplayMate used three flagship top-of-the line LCD models from Samsung (LN-T5281F), Sharp (LC-52D92U) and Sony (KDL-52XBR4). The consumer mid-line models included LG (42LG50), Samsung (LN40A550P3F), and Sony (KDL-40V3000). The remaining two LCD units were consumer HDTVs but not commercially available models.

The methodology employed and the complete test results can be read at

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Furutech cleans up the act

The Furutech e-TP609 Power
Distributor looks quite elegant

The Furutech e-TP609 Power Distributor is one of those fit-and-forget components.
Therefore I conveniently forgot all about it until Eugene Ngoh of Audiomatic phoned to remind me to return it.
It is one of those components that will make a vast difference when you plug it in and when you remove it from the system.
Before I had the e-TP609 to review, I was using an Eichmann power strip which is actually a rebadged Wonpro unit that, realistically, is only slightly better than the extension cord from the hypermarket.

The Eichmann power strip

With the Furutech plugged in, using a Supra LoRad with MK UK plug to connect it to the wall socket, the difference in sound quality was immediately noticeable - the first thing I noted was the much lower noise floor. The second thing was that I could hear more low-level details - the so-called microdynamics - of the music.
It goes to show the amount of low-level information that goes missing when the noise floor is high. Cut the noise and the details will emerge - it's like wiping your camera lens clean so that the photograph will be much sharper.
The sound became smoother and the harshness in the treble region was gone. Music became more "fluid".
Unlike power regenerators and line conditioners/voltage stabilisers, the Furutech e-TP609 is passive and its only "active" component is a layer of GC-303 EMI-absorbent coating on the inner surface of its bottom plate.
It features the Axial Locking System which is supposed to solidly anchor the outlets to cut resonance and has mounting spikes to give the box stability and vibration control.
The box itself is shaped like a longish brick with a half-inch thick top plate which has its sides tapered inwards giving it a rather elegant look.
The chassis is machined from a solid block of aluminium and has six FP-20A(R) High Performance Rhodium-Plated phosphor bronze receptacles - for American plugs - which are starwired to the FI-09(R) IEC input.Inside the box, the receptacles are dampened with a special compound.
The power distributor, which is rated at 15A/125V, measures 266mm (W) x 130mm (D) x 56mm (H) and weighs a relatively hefty 2.85Kg which is very welcome as I have found that thick and stiff power cords can fling light components around. I used to own a Rega Apollo CD player that was tilted rather awkwardly whenever I used a stiff power cord.
Internal wiring uses the Furutech Alpha-22 3.8 sq. mm (about 12AWG)conductors to lower resistance.
Priced at RM3,900, the Furutech is not exactly cheap, but its build quality is excellent and it does work since the sound quality improves with it plugged in.
I was rather surprised to find that a pair of white gloves came with it and there were silicon covers for the unused plug receptacles.

The pair of white gloves - great for an MJ lookalike contest

The silicon covers to protect the unused sockets

The power distributor stands on spikes

Soon after Eugene's phone call, I reluctantly unplugged the Furutech e-TP609 from the system and plugged everything back into the Eichmann power strip and heard all the harshness again.
The problem with reviewing this kind of component is that you will end up missing it.
So I ended up purchasing the cheaper e-TP60/20 Power Distributor from Eugene, who was smiling broadly when I signed the credit card slip...

Thursday, November 5, 2009

B & O in Bangsar

Bang & Olufsen, often called simply B & O, is a prestigious audio company that somehow is not mentioned in the same breath as high-end firms like, say, Krell or Mark Levinson, despite the astronomical prices of its products.
Diehard audiophiles would scoff, roll their eyes, and say sarcastically, "Oh, that designer stuff."
But if one were to take a neutral stance and examine the situation carefully, Bang & Olufsen does deserve to be taken more seriously by audiophiles.
After all, isn't its Ice Power Class D amplifier module used by such esteemed high-end amp manufacturers like Bel Canto, Jeff Rowland and PS Audio? Didn't respected speaker company Martin Logan use B & O's Ice Power for its Purity, the world's first fully active hybrid electrostatic loudspeaker? Didn't B & W use the Ice Power for its sub-woofer?
Ice Power has also been used in Pioneer's Elite A/V receiver, Rotel amps, Elac sub-woofers and the Danish high-end Acoustic Reality triangular amps.
Danny Cheong, Director of Retail Operations of Ideal Lifestyles and Living Sdn Bhd (the B & O distributor in Malaysia), agrees that there is a stigma regarding Bang & Olufsen products despite the technology used in the components.
"Audiophiles don't take Bang & Olufsen seriously. They feel B & O is more of a lifestyle product. Yes, B & O products are expensive, but look at the quality. Aluminium of the highest grade and Ice Power are used. B & O is always ahead of its time and emphasises design," he said.
"Yes, it's design driven, but you must look at the technology too. It's not just a pretty product. It's technology designed to sit pretty in rooms," chipped in Mae Chan, the distributor's assistant marketing and communications manager.
"But B & O products deserve to taken more seriously by audiophiles. I invite audiophiles to our showroom to hear for themselves," said Danny Cheong.
Bang & Olufsen has opened its new showroom on the ground floor of Bangsar Village (New Wing) in the posh part of Kuala Lumpur. Its showroom in Starhill Gallery closed in March and it has been in Bangsar since July.

Danny Cheong explaining how the Acoustic
Lens on the BeoLab 5 speaker works.

At the showroom, you get to hear a half-million ringgit home theatre system comprising a pair of BeoLab 5 speakers, two pairs of BeoLab 3 and the BeoLab 7-2 used as centre speaker. All these are active and, of course, Ice Powered.
These speakers are connected to a BeoSystem 3, which is the control hub. Playing the CDs and DVDs is the BeoCenter 2.
The listening room has lights dimmed by the Lutron system which can be controlled by the B & O remote control and the 50-inch full HD plasma TV is also made by B & O.
The system can be configured into a two-channel system for serious listening.
The top-of-the-range BeoLab 5 speakers, which cost RM120,000 a pair, are styled like cones with the sharp ends chopped off for the bass units, and above the bass chamber are two disc-like contraptions for the mid and treble. These discs are the so-called Acoustic Lens which are supposed to spread the sound horizontally from the up-firing midrange unit and tweeter so that the sweet spot is widened significantly.
While not omni-directional, the Acoustic Lens does create a large soundstage and listening position is not so critical.
The BeoLab 5 has 2,500 watts of Ice Power - 1,000 watts for lower bass, 1,000 watts for upper bass, 250 watts for the midrange and another 250 watts for the treble.
Danny Cheong said most people buy the the BeoLab 9 which has 700 watts of Ice Power and the iconic BeoLab 8000 which look like pencils standing on their sharp points.
The BeoLab 8000 is normally paired with the BeoSound 9000 which is a CD player that can house six CDs. It can be fastened to a wall vertically or horizontally or you can fix it to its own stand vertically.

The slender objects that look like pencils standing
on their sharp ends are the BeoLab 8000 speakers.

The BeoSound 9000

The BeoLab 2 sub-woofer

Mae Chan demonstrating the BeoLab 4
computer speakers (the red pyramidal objects).

The BeoLab 9 active speaker

BeoLab 9 speakers, BeoLab 2 sub-woofer and the
BeoVision 9 50-inch plasma TV with motorised stand.

There is also a BeoLab 4 for computers, but you will have to fork out RM5,000 for them.
In terms of design, Bang & Olufsen from Denmark is up there with the best that Scandinavian designers can offer. In terms of technology, Jeff Rowland and Bel Canto couldn't have made a mistake selecting the Ice Power for their Class D amps.
In terms of pricing, well, these are upmarket components for (as Mae put it) those who appreciate the finer things in life.
In terms of sound quality...well, audiophiles should stop rolling their eyes and head to Bangsar Village and find out for themselves.