Thursday, December 31, 2009

The Eggle(ston) has landed


The Eggleston Works Andra III


Commenting on the Eggleston Works Andra III floorstanders has been rather difficult and has taken a lot of time simply because I found it hard to form an opinion.


When hifi-unlimited blogged that the Eggleston speakers had arrived, I was very eager to hear them because in some American forums, a few audiophiles had said the Eggleston Andra III had outperformed the Magico V3, which is in the same price range.


I had just listened to the Magico V2 then and was most impressed by them. So if any speakers could outperform the V3, the elder sibling of the V2, I just had to listen to them. I waited a few days for the Egglestons to burn in before making the trip to Centre Circle Audio in Taman Tun Dr Ismail, Kuala Lumpur, late last month.


I was armed with three CDs, the xrcd version of Dire Straits' Brothers In Arms, Eva Cassidy's Time After Time and A Tribute To Jack Johnson by Miles Davis.


After listening for a couple of hours, I initially formed the opinion that they were rock speakers - they sure could play rock and roll. 


A hi-fi dealer, who is known for being opinionated, told me later all the Egglestons that he had heard had reminded him of Cerwin Vegas. That really jolted me and suddenly I was not sure if my initial opinion was right. I mean, how could anyone compare speakers said  to be better than Magico V3s with Cerwin Vegas?


Another audiophile told me that perhaps the Eggleston Andra III had not been broken in yet. This made me even more unsure of my opinion.


But after listening to two super high-end and very refined speakers - the Dynaudio Consequence Ultimate Edition and the ProAc Carbon Pro 8 - which were also being burnt in when I heard them, I concluded that my initial view was correct.


I had also wanted to compare the bass of the Dynaudio Consequence Ultimate Edition with that of the Eggleston Andra 3 because both models used the same type of loading - isobaric. And both went below 20Hz.


After listening to the highly-civilised and classy sound of the Dynaudio and ProAc, it quickly dawned on me that the Eggleston's bass went deeper and had more grunt. The Andra IIIs seemed like a rottweiler on a leash and they appeared ever ready to burst out to be free to play rock 'n' roll with all the thundering deep bass, wild drumming and sizzling guitar solos.


To digress a bit, back in the old days there were two 'schools of sound' in the United States. There was the so-called West Coast sound that was championed by JBL, Altec Lansing (when they were still making speakers for home sets) and Klipschorn. Those speakers could really rock. In fact till today I maintain that hard rock songs sound best when played with JBLs.


Across the continent was the so-called East Coast Sound (or Polite Boston Sound) exemplified by AR (Acoustic Research, not Audio Research) and KLH.


The Eggleston Works Andra III is definitely a product in the West Coast Sound tradition.



Bridged Modwright KWA 150 power amps


At Centre Circle, the Egglestons were driven by a pair of bridged Modwright KWA150 power amps, the Modwright LS36.5 tube pre and the Esoteric X-03 CD player.


The Eggleston Andra 3 benefits from carbon fibre technology - it uses two carbon fibre midrange drivers sourced from Morel. Its 1-inch dome tweeter is also from Morel. Pumping out the bass are two 12-inch woofers which are isobaric loaded and goes down to 18Hz. While the shape of the speaker has not changed, the finishing has improved tremendously.



The shape has not changed.



Carbon fibre mid drivers from Morel.


While the sound was impressive, after a while I realised that it was rather bassy and often the bass was a bit too strong for my liking. This was great for rock songs like those by Dire Straits, but when I played Eva Cassidy, the bass notes of her guitar overshadowed the higher notes.


With the Miles Davis CD, I heard details on the bass guitar that I had seldom heard before, and the drum and bass chugged along with such gusto that my feet were tapping with the beat.


I realised then that they were rock speakers and I decided to try out some classical music. Using one of Centre Circle's demo CDs, I confirmed that the Eggleston Andra III were just too energetic for classical.


They were fantastic for rock songs - in fact I would rate them as one of the best speakers around for rockers. But they lacked the finesse for classical music.


Are they better than the Magico V3s?


Since I have heard only the Magico V2s, I can only compare the Andra IIIs with the entry-level Magico speakers. The Magico V2s have a bigger soundstage, but the Eggleston Andra III's bass goes lower and has more grunt. The Magico is more of an all-rounder while the Eggleston is particularly well suited for rock and roll.


BTW, Centre Circle Audio is selling the components at heavily-discounted prices till further notice. The Eggleston Works Andra IIIs which are normally priced at RM92,500 are being sold at RM69,999 while the Modwright KWA150 is priced at RM26,000 and the LS 36.5 preamp at RM22,000. The Esoteric X-03 CD player is priced at RM35,000. Centre Circle has also brought in the Eggleston Works Dianne which normally retails at RM12,000 and is now priced at RM9,000.


Blessed new year to all and thanks for your support.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

ProAc's best act

The ProAc Carbon Pro 8 speakers at CMY DU

The ProAc Carbon Pro 8 speakers are peculiar speakers - they are a mix of old and new, East and West.


It is a mix of technology that has withstood the test of time and technology that is cutting-edge and innovative. It is also a mix of of the best of British and the best of the Chinese.


The old technology is in the form of the legendary ATC SM 75-150s soft dome midrange driver which was introduced in 1976 and has become famed as the best midrange unit extant.


The new technology comes in the form of the carbon fibre horn for the ATC midrange driver, the carbon-fibre cones of the two bass drivers and the carbon fibre composite plinth.


Note the carbon fibre horn of
 the ATC soft dome mid unit.

From the best of the British are the ATC, Volt (a bass driver specialist) that assembled ProAc's carbon fibre bass drivers and the great traditional English way of making speaker boxes using HDF for density and bitumen sheets for damping. Add to the list the great British BBC-inspired tradition of natural-sounding vocals.


Doing the Chinese proud is the ribbon tweeter which is made in Taiwan. Who would have thought that a Chinese-made tweeter would one day be used by a respected high-end British speaker manufacturer? Business has gone global, after all, and the rise of China as an economic powerhouse has also resulted in a wide range of Chinese-made audiophile products flooding the market.


The made-in-Taiwan ribbon  tweeter


For the record, ProAc is not the only speaker maker to use carbon fibre - Wilson Benesch, Magico and Eggleston have already used the hitech material.



The carbon fibre bass cones


But ProAc maintains that theirs is unique. In its website, ProAc states: "Loudspeaker companies have toyed with the use of carbon fibre in loudspeakers, mainly for the use in cabinets. Carbon fibre coned drive units are rarely seen and used, we believe the type of carbon fibre and its preparation that we are  using is unique.


"Its incredible stiffness makes it ideal for a drive unit cone, and its piston like  qualities are perfect for moving air at low frequencies without distortion.


"The carbon cone is unique with a pure polymer impregnated carbon weave and polished diaphragm, the back of the cone is then specially lacquered and finally it is concentrically weighted to add appropriate mass."


The ProAc Carbon Pro Eight has a down-firing port aimed at the carbon composite plinth with slits at the side panels similar to the ProAc models from the D28 to the D100. Cones instead of spikes are supplied with the Pro 8 speakers.


The speakers come with an attractive glossy finish

At the CMY showroom in Damansara Utama, the flagship ProAc speakers were driven by the Jeff Rowland Criterion preamp, Jeff Rowland Power 312, and the French-made Metronome Technologie CD 5 player. The speaker cables were Siltech Emperor Crowns, which cost as much as the ProAcs, while interconnects were Acoustic System LiveLine and Siltech SQ110. Power cords were Siltech Ruby Hill and the power supply was connected to an IsoGray system.


Measuring 49.2” (123 cm) high with spikes and plinths, 9.6” (24 cm) wide and 18” (45 cm) deep, the speakers are not as large as, say, the D100 and would not require a huge listening room. Sensitivity at 91.5dB would mean they are not too difficult to drive and ProAc claims a minimum 10-watt amp is sufficient. The Jeff Rowland Power 312 is a 500-watter and it was certainly more than enough - my guess is that a 100-watter would be sufficient.


I had with me two CDs - Dire Straits' Brothers In Arms (xrcd version) and Susan Boyle's debut album I Dreamed A Dream.


Susan Boyle's CD was the first to be played. I had been listening to this CD quite a lot in the past week or so in my home rig and I was quite familiar with it.


The sound quality was seamless, clear, transparent and the highs were sweet and detailed, thanks to the ribbon tweeter that goes up to 30kHz. It wasn't overly sweet or too delicate like some other ribbon tweeters I have heard; it was robust enough to reproduce the crash of hi-hats hit at the rim, yet it was detailed enough to form images with some body.


The ATC dome mid had a sparklingly clear quality which did not seem too etched out or artificial while the carbon fibre woofers were fast and tight. Making a ribbon tweeter to work seamlessly with a dome or cone driver has always been problematic, but in ProAc's case the problem did not seem to arise at all.
The carbon composite plinth

While playing Silent Night on Susan Boyle's CD, the bass went quite low and I felt some vibrations - the Carbon Pro Eights are rated to go down to 20Hz.


After listening for an hour or so, one word popped into my mind: purity. There was a purity of tone and timbre. Piano, saxophone, strings, vocals, everything sounded pure.


Crescendoes were reproduced with great ease. I would rate this as one of the strong points of the speakers. Another would be their ability to recreate the scale of an orchestra and a chorus. The soundstaging was deeper and more vertical than it was wide and I feel the Pro Carbon Eights are best suited for classical music, but that does not mean it cannot rock.


When I played Dire Straits, there was a kind of finesse to the sound. There was pace and punch, but there was also a silk-like feel to the music quality. The ProAc Carbon Pro 8s were not rock powerhouses like the Eggleston Works Andra III - they did deliver the slam but the ProAcs felt a little out of place in such rough company.


In a way, the ProAcs were the reverse of the Eggleston Andra III - the latter were great when playing rock songs but lacked finesse to play classical while the ProAcs had the finesse for classical music, but lacked just that extra bit of growl and snarl for the grit and grime of rock and roll.


This is where the Pro Carbon Eights, which cost RM150k, are similar to the Magico V2 that I heard recently - the Magicos also lacked that bit of low-end growl.


Nevertheless, the ProAc Carbon Eights are with the Magicos in the list of best speakers I have heard this year.


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Saturday, December 19, 2009

ProAc Carbon Pro Eight speakers have arrived



The much-awaited ProAc Carbon Pro 8 speakers have arrived.
They were sent to CMY Damansara Utama two days ago and are now being run in.
According to CMY senior product adviser W.M. Chua, the ProAc Carbon Pro Eight speakers are being driven by the same components that were used for the Dynaudio Consequence Ultimate Edition - the Jeff Rowland Criterion preamp, Jeff Rowland Power 312, and the French CD 5 player from Metronome Technologie.
The speaker cables are Siltech Emperor Crowns while interconnects are Acoustic System LiveLine and Siltech SQ110. Power cords are Siltech Ruby Hill and the power supply is connected to an IsoGray system.
Chua said the ProAc speakers should be ready for auditioning by audiophiles from next week.
He added that the exact price has not been worked out yet, but it should be in the region of RM150,000.
Meanwhile, the Dynaudio Consequence Ultimate Edition speakers have been sold. Those who did not have the chance to hear them missed out on something great and they should ensure that they don't miss out on auditioning the new flagship ProAcs too.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Tapestry of love


Leslie Loh sitting in front of his beloved
Maggies elaborating on his mission.



Leslie Loh (centre) chatting with
some of the reporters in his house.


Leslie Loh, aka maggielurva in hi-fi circles, is a young man in a hurry. He wants to prove a point - that a Malaysian producer can come up with a world-class audiophile CD.
He has done an audiophile CD before - 2V1G - which was quite well received.
His second effort, Love's Tapestry, is more ambitious - he roped in renowned and versatile guitarist Roger Wang and Malaysia-based Filipino singer Gina Panizales who is no stranger to the cool crowd in KL/PJ.
The songs are love tracks from the 1970s and 1980s - Just Tell Me You Love Me, Just Once, Still, I Won't Last A Day Without You,  I Will Never Love This Way Again, I Honestly Love You and others.
It took him three months in the studio to finish recording the album with the help of another audiophile, Joseph Ki.
Aiming for high standards, they settled on top-end equipment like the Neve analogue mixing console and AKG microphones, and to ensure that he could get the type of sound he loved, Leslie brought along his top-notch Stage III silver/pallladium interconnects.from his home rig.
And he flew in Doug Sax from The Mastering Lab to do the mastering.
On Wednesday (Dec 16) he invited some journalists and music dealers to his Bandar Utama home for an informal launch.
A few days earlier, he had held another launch at CMY Damansara Utama for audiophiles and music lovers.
In his cosy house, Leslie talked about his dream to have a world-class audiophile CD for the global market and his aim to reach out to younger music lovers through well-recorded pop songs.
"Next year, we plan to have four CDs out," he said. Work on a jazz CD has already begun.
Released under his poppopmusic label, Love's Tapestry is pressed in Hong Kong and will be distributed in Malaysia and Singapore by Interglobal Music (Malaysia) Sdn Bhd.



Leslie Loh (left) with Cheah Mun Kit,  managing
director of Interglobal Music (M) Sdn Bhd.


Some 2,000 copies, including 1,000 limited editions, will be available in record shops soon.
The limited editions, which will have more elaborate packaging and serial numbers, will be priced at RM62.90 each while the normal CDs will retail at RM42.90 each.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Love indeed is the answer




Most audiophiles would have heard of Diana Krall - after all her well-recorded 'light and jazzy' CDs are just right for testing for vocals, separation and soundstage, and late-night listening with  only the glow of the tubes lighting things up. In fact I wouldn't be surprised if all audiophiles have at least one Diana Krall CD in their collection.
Just the other day, I was at Amcorp Mall, PJ, and I popped into Victoria Music just to have a look with no intention at all to buy anything.
Suddenly I saw a Barbra Streisand CD titled Love Is The Answer. That seemed interesting since it has been quite some time since Barbra had cut an album.
What made it even more interesting was when I read the sticker on the cover which stated that the producer of the album was Diana Krall. My first thought was: "Diana Krall produced this?"
I just had to listen to it. After hearing a few tracks, I just had to buy it.
What happened was that some years ago, Barbra had attended Diana's concert in Monterey and they met and discussed Barbra's next album. In 2006, Diana attended Barbra's concert in Madison Square Garden and during the post-concert party in Barbra's suite, they discussed songs for the album.
One thing led to another and Diana ended up producing Love Is The Answer, which I believe has the potential to be another audiophile must-have just like Norah Jones' debut album. Diana also plays solo piano on some of the tracks.

Diana Krall (left) and Barbra Streisand


It is well produced with quite clear recordings and Barbra's voice is in fine form. Singing slow, jazzy ballads, Barbra shows why she is one of the best singers in the world who does not need auto-tuning to fix things.
You actually get two CDs for the price of one - one features only the quartet backing her while the other has orchestration subtly slipped in. My preference is the CD featuring only the quartet as it showcases Barbra's voice in its full beauty.
Barbra's rendition of In The Small Wee Hours Of The Morning is fabulous, but I prefer Frank Sinatra's version. But Barbra's versions of If You Go Away and Smoke Gets In Your Eyes are extremely moving and are some of the most emotionally-charged songs I have ever heard.
During this Christmas season, in the small wee hours of the morning, I have been listening to Love Is The Answer and have been uplifted by it.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Bryston's synergy

The Bryston BP 6 preamp


Much has been said about the synergy between Bryston pre and power amps - many people have noted that Bryston power amps sound the best with Bryston preamps.

I have been using a Sugden C28 preamp with my Bryston 3B SST power amp for a while. So I thought it would be a good idea to find out if indeed the synergy between Bryston pre and power amps does exist.

I borrowed a Bryston BP 6 preamp, which retails at RM10,100, and a 3B SST2 power amp (I will post on that later) from AV Designs.

My first task was to compare the BP 6 preamp with the made-in-England Sugden preamp.
The small British hi-fi firm needs some introduction - it is well known for its Class A designs and its legendary A21a integrated amp released in 1987 is still being made today. The C28/P28 pre-power amps are essentially the A48 Mk III, another classic amp released in 1974, split into two components.

Sugden has a very rich sweet, sound that suits the Bryston 3B SST which is a bit on the lean side and I have found this combination quite satisfactory thus far.

With the BP 6 preamp linked to the 3B SST, the sound took on a different hue - the bass was immediately stronger, the pace was quicker and the soundstage became bigger vertically.

The most obvious difference would be the richness of the Sugden versus a less-rich sounding BP 6 despite using the rich-sounding Oyaide Tunami power cord with it. This is not so noticeable on songs with lots of electronic instruments, but when playing Eva Cassidy's acoustic numbers, it became apparent that the Sugden added a bit too much richness to the acoustic guitar - there was too much bloom, too rich decay and too much body. The Bryston BP 6 gave a leaner but perhaps more realistic reproduction of acoustic instruments.

On rock songs, the Bryston preamp had ample drive and pace with a prominently strong bass leading the rhythm. Dynamics also improved as lead guitar and other instrumental solos leapt out of the soundscape.



The rear of the preamp. There are no balanced inputs.


However, voices also became leaner with the Bryston and the Sugden's inherent sweetness and richness made female voices more 'seductive'.

Next I compared the headphone jack of the Bryston BP 6 with that of the CEC 3300 CD player using a pair of Sennheiser HD600. The Bryston's headphone jack turned out to be even leaner sounding than its preamp section.

Initially I was using a pair of Alphacore Silver Micropurl interconnects to link the CD player to the preamp and I thought it was the silver that made the sound lean, and when I changed the interconnects to a pair of DH Labs Air Matrix the music became a bit fuller, but still lost out to the CEC in terms of richness.

The CEC headphone jack which uses its Load Effect Free (LEF) Class A amp sounded richer and fuller without losing out on details and timbre. When I played a Charlotte Church Christmas CD, the choir sounded closer to me while the Bryston placed the singers further away and provided a middle-of-the-hall performance.

So it turned out to be a rich-versus-lean-sound kind of contest. Which preamp is more accurate is highly debatable.

The Sugden preamp provided perhaps a shade too much richness and suffered from some loss of detail and pace while the Bryston BP 6 gave the power amp a firm grip on pace and power while offering good transparency and detail.

Should you buy a Bryston preamp to match your Bryston power amp? As usual, the advice is to hear for yourself. 

The BP 6 also has the advantage of having the option to be fitted with an MM phono stage and a DAC. With a max output of 15V, it can drive very long interconnects and, of course, there is the 20-year warranty.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Xindak's golden sound


The Xindak FS-Gold speaker cables. Note the
 high-quality WBT terminations. Whether the cylinders 
have any function other than cosmetic
 purposes is not known.

When I saw the Xindak FS-Gold speaker cables at the KL International AV show on static display, I thought it would be a good idea to compare them with the Goertz MI 2 speaker cables that I own.
This is because both of them are made the same way - two ribbon conductors separated by a thin dielectric.
This technique has been advocated by none other than Allen Wright, author of the Super Cables Cook Book, who sells a silver ribbon version of this design on http://www.vacuumstate.com/
This way of making flat ribbon speaker cables and interconnects results in high capacitance and low inductance and some amps or output stages of CD players cannot cope with such loads.
However, it is supposed to negate the skin effect and solve the phase anomalies caused by it. In other words, signals of all frequencies are supposed to reach the amp or speaker at the same time.
This design is also supposed to produce good bass and unrestrained highs.



The Xindak FS-Gold speaker
cables are flat ribbon designs.


The Goertz MI 2 speaker cables use copper foils.

When Eddie Tan of Asia Sound Equipment Sdn Bhd in Amcorp Mall, PJ, offered the Xindak FS-Gold to me for review, I quickly accepted.
Using the resident system, I connected the made-in-China Xindak to the Bryston 3B SST and the ATC SCM40s.
The Xindak FS-Gold uses electrum foil about 3cm wide. The thickness is difficult to measure because it has an outer jacket, presumably Techflex, with silver and gold stripes. I reckon the foil would be around 1mm thick.
The cables are very well made and are fitted with WBT 0644 plugs for the amp connection and WBT pure copper spades for the speaker side.
Asia Sound is now selling them at a special price of RM3,350 for an eight-feet pair and they are not exactly cheap.
The conductor material is electrum, which is a naturally-occuring alloy of silver and gold and the composition varies according to where it is mined.
So the exact composition of the electrum that Xindak uses is not known. Also not known is the function of the 9cm long by 3.5cm diameter brass-like cylinder attached to both ends of each cable.
The Goertz uses high-purity 10 AWG copper foils and pure silver spades.
Since the designs are similar, the listening tests would focus on the sonic signatures of the metals used.
The first thing I noted when I used the Goertz with the Bryston was that the images were not "fattened" as was the case when I used the Audiolab 8000S. With the Bryston, the size of the images was natural which suggests that the Audiolab could not cope with the high-capacitance design very well.
Both the Xindak and Goertz revealed the advantages of this flat ribbon design - the soundstage was big, wide and spacious. There was great transparency and a lot of detail but I felt the Xindak had a slightly lower noise floor.
Bass was rendered in a strong manner and the highs were unrestrained.
The main differences were in the tonal balance and rendition of leading edges of music.
With the Xindak, the tonal balance was warmer (which some audiophiles have said is the sound of gold) and slightly valve-like. The leading edges of metallic instruments like horns, cymbals and electric guitar were rounded off and rendered smoother. Thus the metallic overtones of, say, Miles Davis' trumpet are less sharp and have less bite.
With the Goertz, it is the sound of copper that we are all familiar with - the sound can be cold and analytical with leading edges that sound sharp and with the right amount of dynamics.
In my view, the sound of copper is more realistic while the sound of gold (or electrum in Xindak's case) is more relaxing.
Which is better? It depends on what you want.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

It's good - that's a Fact


Audiophiles listening to the PMC Fact8 speakers.
OdioSleuth from hifi-unlimited is in the middle.


James Tan adjusting the volume with the remote control

Good coffee goes well with good music - a lot of audiophiles have discovered that including
James Tan and C.W. Low of AV Designs.
These guys are smart marketing blokes - they invited some audiophile friends, bloggers and reviewers over to their outlet on Saturday (Nov 28) for the soft launch of PMC's new speakers and at the same time 'lubricated' their guests with excellent coffee - latte, cappuccino or espresso.
That's simply because they are also selling the Swiss-made Jura coffee maker retailing at RM6k plus.
So while we were sipping the great coffee and munching some finger food, we did what we were supposed to be there for - that is to admire and listen to the PMC Fact 8 floorstanders.
These are surprisingly slim speakers - the box is just slightly wider than a CD and looks strikingly good especially with the veneer wrapped around the box. They are the best looking speakers from PMC so far.



The slim speaker is only
 slightly wider than a CD.



Note the tiny switches above the
binding posts which control the
frequency response of the bass and treble.

In the PMC tradition these are transmission line designs and they measure 103cm tall, 15.5cm wide and 38cm deep. Since they are so slim, they come with outrigger feet made of metal with polished chrome finishing.
The PMC Fact 8 uses two mid-woofers and a soft dome tweeter crossed over at 2kHz. Due to the transmission line loading, the bass goes quite low to 28Hz considering the mid-woofers are modest 5.5-inch units.
What is really interesting about the Fact8 is that it has two switches at the back which can control the frequency response of the highs and lows on the fly. 
The tweeter control switch has three positions - +2dB, flat and -2dB while the bass switch offers flat response, -3dB and -6dB. It has been a long time since speakers' frequency response could be tuned and I recall using a pair of JBLs a long time ago that had tweeters that could be tuned.
The speaker also has silver-plated binding posts and spikes that can be reversed with ball tips on the other end. And its grille snaps into place when you hold it near the speaker thanks to hidden magnets. That was a nice touch.
James said the Fact products are from PMC's lifestyle range and a bookshelf speaker is being planned.
Low added that the Fact8 may be a lifestyle product, but sound quality is not compromised and it will still appeal to the audiophile.
For such slim speakers, they sound real big - looks really can be deceiving. They look rather slender and fragile, but the sound can be punchy when required. When slower-paced songs were played that evening like traditional Chinese music, light jazz and solo female singers, they sounded pretty refined.
Of course, the 'supporting cast' was good and came in the form of the Bryston BCD-1 CD player, BDA-1 DAC, BP-26 preamp, 4B SST (square) power amp and Wireworld cables and interconnects.
More coffee was brewed and the rich fragrance of the cappuccino, good company and soothing music made the evening quite a pleasant experience - it wasn't a typical hard-sell kind of event. Well, I did say James and Low are smart marketing fellas...