Tuesday, September 28, 2010

MIT sounds better in 'cable loom'

MIT and Transparent Audio are two companies that I know which have filter networks in their speaker cables and interconnects.

What is inside those boxes is anybody's guess. Some claim they contain nothing more than ferrite rings, but some brave souls have cracked open MIT's network boxes to find passive circuitry comprising capacitors, inductors and resistors.

For the past few months I have been using the MIT CVT Terminator 2 Speaker Cables and CVT Terminator 2 RCA Interconnects which cost RM4,800 and RM2,299 respectively.

MIT's technology is controversial because I'm not sure if anyone can measure it.

According to its website: "Every audio cable, no matter the manufacturer, has a point along the audio bandwidth where the relationship of capacitance and inductance is most efficient at storing energy. We refer to this point of efficiency as an Articulation Pole. 

"Electrically, articulation is a measure of the efficiency of a cable or network to store energy and transport power. This transportable power is used to move the speaker and produce sound. The more efficiently the energy is stored and then transported, the more natural the sound will be.

"A cable that has its Articulation Pole tuned to a high frequency is described by audiophiles as 'bright' or 'fast.' Conversely, a cable that has its Articulation Pole tuned to a lower frequency would be described by audiophiles as 'muddy' or 'veiled.' MIT Cables’ interfaces are engineered to have multiple Articulation Poles.

"Theoretically, if you could use three different cables at the same time, each with a different Articulation Pole, to interconnect two audio components together, you would have an interface with three Articulation Poles; one for the highs, one for the mids, and one for the lows. Together, they would work to transport the audio signal from component to component with more articulation.

"This is what MIT Cables accomplishes with its patented technology, to a much greater extent, within each engineered interface. We call this Multipole Technology. The benefit is more lifelike vocals and instruments, mid and high frequencies become less bright or tiring, voices are clear and understandable, and bass frequencies become tight and deep."

Well, that explains the boxes in MIT's cables.

On top of the Multipole Technology, the speaker cables include another technology enclosed in a smaller box - a CVT Coupler which "deals with a very common problem for any interface: reflecting energy back at the source component."

The MIT CVT Terminator 2 speaker cable.
Note the smaller CVT Coupler.

I used the single-ended CVT Terminator 2 interconnects with eight Articulation Poles to connect the Benchmark DAC1 Pre to the Bryston 4BSST power amp and compared it (unfairly, it has to be noted) to the Audioquest dbs Panther balanced interconnects.

While the Audioquest benefitted from the balanced connections by sounding more dynamic, cleaner and more spacious, the MIT somehow etched each image more clearly resulting in the singer and musicians portrayed in a more defined manner with more space between them.

The MIT also revealed clarity rather evenly throughout the frequency range - from strong bass right up to shimmering highs. No spectrum was highlighted. This, I came to realise, is MIT's sonic signature.

The MIT CVT Terminator 2 interconnects.

This etched-out wide-band clarity sounded excellent on simple music featuring few instruments, but with more complex music like thickly-layered rock songs, the extra clarity seemed to be a bit jarring.

Furthermore, the slightly lean (or you could call it 'neutral') sound of the Bryston did not quite suit MIT's sonic signature.

Adding the MIT CVT Terminator 2 speaker cables, which have 15 Articulation Poles, to create a 'cable loom' fortified the MIT sonic signature. Strangely, I found the MIT cables to work best in a cable loom. Perhaps this could be due to its Multipole Technology and network filters.

Partnering the Audioquest Panther dbs interconnect with the MIT speaker cables made the sound 'fat' with fatter images while partnering the MIT interconnects with the Mapleshade Double Helix speaker cables resulted in good sound, but without MIT's sonic signature.

Later when I had a Mark Levinson No 532 power amp for a week, it turned out that the MITs matched beautifully with the high-end American amp. The slightly warm and fuller sound of the Mark Levinson negated the slightly jarring quality of the MIT (when used with the Bryston) and the sound became smooth.

As usual, it's a question of matching - when nicely matched the MITs can really sing. In fact, the MITs sounded so good with the Mark Levinson that I telephoned Ling, owner of Tong Lee in Low Yat Plaza in Kuala Lumpur, and asked if I could borrow a pair of balanced interconnects, but he said he had no more stock of MIT cables and was waiting for a new shipment to arrive.

MIT has this 2/2 rule whereby you will get 75% of the performance in two days and 100% in two weeks. I felt that the MITs needed longer than that to burn in - in my experience it took about a month before the sound quality become more consistent, but I did not play music continuously.

The MIT iconn connectors.

The speaker cables came with MIT's iconn connectors which comprise two sets of well-made gold-plated banana plugs and spades which you screw onto the cable ends.

MIT's higher-end cables are extremely expensive. For e.g. the Oracle MA-X Rev. 2 HD speaker cable costs US$37,999 per pair.

Comparatively, the CVT Terminator 2 series offer an affordable taste of the really unaffordable (for most of us, anyway).

Friday, September 17, 2010

Linn offers best of analogue and digital

Linn's managing director Gilad Tiefenbrun
 explaining how the Klimax DS player
works at Perfect Hi-Fi.
Today the music and hi-fi industries are at a turning point.

CD sales are down while music downloads are up. Millions of people are paying to download music from iTunes and Amazon.com, but the singers and musicians are getting a mere pittance while Apple and Amazon are minting money.

At Linn Records, more downloads were sold than hard copies (CDs and LPs).

Linn's managing director Gilad Tiefenbrun, who was at his Malaysian distributor Perfect Hi-Fi in Bangsar, Kuala Lumpur, yesterday, said since last November Linn sold more downloads than hard copies.

"And 80 per cent of the downloads were studio masters," he said.

The old world is falling apart and leading the change is Linn, he added.

Thus the hi-fi industry is facing a peculiar situation - people want higher quality digital recordings while at the same time the vinyl revolution is still gaining strength.

And Linn is making its presence felt in both fronts. "We are offering the best of analogue and the best of digital," Gilad said.

The Linn Digital Streaming players were introduced in 2007 at the Tokyo hi-fi show.

"First we played a CD on our CD12 CD player. Then we played a ripped version of the CD on the DS player and the audience comprising hi-fi critics agreed that it sounded better.

"Then we played a studio master version on the DS and they all agreed that it sounded even better," he said.

Gilad pointing at the Linn Klimax DS player
and saying it is the digital version of the LP12.
Gilad said the Linn Klimax DS player is the digital version of the Linn LP12 turntable that his father, Ivor,  launched decades ago.

However, while Linn is investing heavily in digital streaming players and also the recording equipment at its music division, they have not forgotten about turntables - after all it was the LP12 turntable that launched the company in the first place.

Linn is still working on improvements for its venerable Linn Sondek LP12 turntable - it recently launched the Linn Radikal DC motor, motor control unit and power supply; the Linn Urika internal moving coil phono stage; and the Uphorik mm/mc phono stage. All these take the LP12 to a higher level of performance.

Gilad said his father felt the Radikal is the best upgrade ever for the LP12.

But Gilad was in town not to promote the LP12, but the Linn DS players.

Using a system comprising the Linn Klimax DS, Klimax Kontrol preamp, Klimax 500 Solo power amp and Klimax 350 speakers with Nordost cabling, he demonstrated the differences between CD quality recordings and studio master 24/88.2 and 24/192 music files.

First he played the studio master version of the Scottish Chamber Orchestra's rendition of Beethoven's Piano Concerto No 5.

Then he played the CD version of Maeve O'Boyle singing Pray It Never Happens followed by the studio master version and finally, the studio master of Alfie Boe singing Love Unspoken from The Merry Widow.

Alfie Boe is a fine example of how Linn Record is helping out down and out singers. Alfie had cut an album for EMI, but it did not do well which, of course, affected him financially and emotionally as the failure had him wondering if he had the talent to sing operatta in the first place.

One day Gilad received a call from an ex-EMI executive asking if Linn could make a recording with Alfie. And when the recording was actually made, Alfie was grinning away.
At least through Linn Record's downloads, Alfie would get some royalties.

On the technical side of the DS players, Gilad said Linn deliberately separated the digital music player itself from the hard disk storage.

"We wanted to separate the music player from mass market electronic components. Hard disk storage changes frequently and is getting cheaper and cheaper.

"The player itself can be linked to any external hard disk and it can play all types of file formats," he said.

Linn wanted the DS player itself to last for a long time while the hard disk could be changed whenever necessary.

Linn also deliberately did not include a CD player with the DS player as lasers get hot and wear out.

Also Linn chose the ethernet-based TCP/IP protocol because it is a "pull" system compared with the S/PDIF protocol "push" system employed by its competitors.

The TCP/IP implementation cuts off clock jitter, he said.

To round off the demo, a remastered 24-bit 44.1kHz version of Yesterday by the Beatles was played and a senior audiophile who has been spinning vinyl on his beloved LP12 for the past 30 years said he heard things on the 24-bit music file that he never heard before when playing the same song on his turntable.

Well, as Gilad said, the old world is falling apart.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

New NAD amp launched

NAD Electronics has launched a new 80-watter integrated amp - the C 356BEE.

Director of Advanced Development, Bjorn Erik Edvardsen (the "BEE" in the model name), has implemented knowledge gained from the company's flagship Masters Series M3 Integrated Amplifier into the C 356BEE design, the company's press release stated.

With the very high dynamic power and low impedance drive capability of NAD's patented PowerDrive circuit, the C 356BEE offers musical, detailed, coherent and relaxed sound while accurately controlling difficult to drive loudspeakers.

The C 356BEE expands NAD's Modular Design Construction (MDC) offerings in its venerable Classic Series. MDC greatly improves the C 356BEE's functionality and ease-of-use, while offering expansion and customisation possibilities as future MDC Modules are introduced. By equipping the C 356BEE with MDC, NAD has given users the option of adding the PP 375 Phono Stage Module.

NAD is also including green technology in its products - the C 356BEE has a redesigned power supply which ensures that its standby power is less than 0.5W.

NAD's PowerDrive amplifier circuit provides the C 356BEE with the dynamic capability of an amplifier twice as powerful, while using only half the power. Another thoughtful energy-saving touch is the convenient fully off 'vacation' switch.

The C 356BEE is properly regulated with a high-current power supply, resulting in a continuous 4-ohm load and the lowest levels of distortion and noise in its price class. The C 356BEE's continuous power measures 80W x two channels, Full Disclosure Power (FDP). NAD uses the strict FDP performance criterion to measure amplifiers with all channels driven simultaneously over the full frequency bandwidth (20Hz - 20kHz), and at rated distortion.

Other high value features include Preamp Out; new improved speaker binding posts; sonically transparent sealed reed relay switches for all inputs; front panel mini-jack for iPod or Mp3 player; tone controls for any necessary correction of music without adding colouration or distortion; and a remote control compatible with other select NAD products for complete system control.

Monday, September 6, 2010

British sound with 'unBritish' bass

British brothers: ATC SCM40 (left) and PMC OB1i

When I wanted to upgrade my speakers I was choosing between the PMC OB1 floorstanding speakers and the ATC SCM40. I opted for the ATCs because the bass of the PMC seemed a bit loose and uncontrolled.

So when James Tan of AV Designs asked me if I would like to review the new version - the PMC OB1i - I thought it would be a great chance to compare them with the ATCs again.

The OB1i and the ATC SCM40 floorstanding speakers are like brothers - both are three-way speakers; both have 75mm soft dome midrange units; both are made by companies famed for professional studio monitors and both come from the BBC school of sound.

Even the crossover frequencies are almost the same - the PMC OB1i has crossovers at 380Hz and 3.8kHz while the ATC is at 380Hz and 3.5kHz. This is deliberately done so that the vital mid frequencies emerge from only one speaker unit - the dome mid - without crossover circuits causing phase shifts and distortions.

The PMC OB1i is a three-way speaker.
Note the dome mid.
The only difference is the bass loading - the PMC OB1i uses what PMC calls 'Advanced Transmission Line (ATL)' while the ATC SCM40 is a sealed box design.

There are differences in its frequency response and sensitivity too - the PMC OB1i is rated to go from 28Hz to 25kHz compared to the ATC SCM40's response from 48Hz to 22kHz and the PMC is more sensitive at 87dB, 2dB more than the ATCs.

The ATC SCM40 uses a so-called 'studio' version of its famed SM150s dome mid which has a sticky surface while the PMC's dome mid has a soft outer layer, possibly made of silk, and a hard hemispherical inner layer. The soft dome material is not sticky.

Proprietary to PMC is its ATL enclosure which is touted to be superior to sealed or ported designs. According to PMC's website, the main driver is placed at one end of a long tunnel (i.e. the transmission line) which is heavily damped with absorbent acoustic material specified to absorb upper bass and higher frequencies.

"Low frequencies, which remain in phase, emerge from the vent which essentially acts as a second driver. The advantage of this approach is that the air pressure loading the main driver is maintained which controls the driver over a wide frequency range and reduces distortion.

"The ATL also produces higher SPL and lower bass extension than ported or sealed box of similar size."

The vent of the ATL acts like a second driver.
One thing I have noticed about transmission line designs is that they create a rather big soundstage and seem to handle crescendoes with ease.

The PMC OB1i is not different - its sonic signature is that of a huge soundstage with agile swings in music dynamics. Transparency is also a strong point.

Using the resident system comprising a CEC 3300 CD player used as transport, the Benchmark DAC1 Pre and the Bryston 4B SST power amp with an assortment of cables, the PMC OB1i joyfully created some good music in my home.

Upon close scrutiny with a wide range of music, some differences between the PMC and ATC could be discerned.

The ATC SCM40 seemed to have a bassier tonal balance with a thicker mid and upper bass while the PMC OB1i had a lighter tonal balance with more transparency in the mid to upper bass region.

Paradoxically, the PMC OB1i had a stronger low-bass that went deep and had punch.
I played Lauryn Hill's The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill and it was one of the rare times that hip-hop was delivered with sufficient grunt on a pair of British speakers.

Unlike the older version, the OB1i's bass was not loose or uncontrolled. Its bass was tight and dynamic.

The mids, to be expected of a well-designed British speaker, were natural and voices were rendered well while the highs emerging from the new PMC/SEAS developed Sonolex tweeter were smooth and extended.

The soundstage created by the PMC was also bigger vertically than that created by the ATC. With the PMC, the band and singer seemed to be performing on an elevated stage a couple of feet above my ear level while with the ATC, they were 'grounded' and they seemed to be on the same plane as I was.

Strangely while the PMCs handled crescendoes well, its delivery of fortissimo passages was softer compared with the ATC. Since the ATCs are less sensitive than the PMC, I had to adjust the volume knob to compensate whenever I switched speakers and I noticed that based on more or less the same volume setting, the loud passages sounded louder on the ATCs.

I checked the ATC's specs and found out that the maximum SPL is 112db max but I could not find the corresponding figure for the PMCs. 

The PMC OB1i are pretty large speakers measuring H 102.5cm (40.4"), W 20cm (7.9") and D 32.5cm (12.8"), and weighing 21.5kg. So you would need a pretty large room to house them.

If you are looking for speakers offering a British sound with an 'unBritish' bass, then the PMC OB1i fits the bill. With the weakening of the British pound against the ringgit, the new retail price of the OB1i is RM21,700.

PMC speakers are distributed in Malaysia by AV Designs which is on the mezzanine floor, West Wing of Rohas Perkasa building, Jalan P. Ramlee, Kuala Lumpur. Call them at 03-21712828 or 03-21712825.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Linn Audio 'Open House'

Gilad Tiefenbrun, MD of Linn.

Linn's managing director Gilad Tiefenbrun will be in town on Sept 16 and he will be at Perfect Hi-fi in Bangsar.

Linn fans can meet Gilad, the son of Linn founder Ivor, from 2pm to 8pm and ask him anything about Linn's products.

Gilad is on his first trip to the East and after Kuala Lumpur, he will visit Linn distributors in Bangkok and Hong Kong.

Perfect Hi-Fi, the Malaysian distributor of Linn, is at No. 140 Jalan Maarof, Bangsar.