Sunday, April 24, 2011

Concept of pleasant sound

Just like the Rega RP1, the Clearaudio Concept turntable is meant for the beginner - it comes with a moving magnet cartridge already fixed and the VTF and anti-skating are all set in the factory.

All you have to do after buying it from CMY Sound & Vision is plug in the power cord to the wall socket, connect the phono plugs to the phono stage, choose an LP and let the stylus read the grooves.

The cutting-edge component of the Concept turntable is neither the DC motor nor the black platter made of  Polyoxymethylene (commonly called POM) - it is the magnetic-bearing tonearm which is frictionless.

The clean look of the Clearaudio Concept turntable.

The sub-platter is larger than normal.

The DC motor has its own three-point suspension.

The minimalistic headshell of the Clearaudio Concept tonearm.

However, after close examination of the technology involved, it dawned on me that it appeared to be an upside-down Schroder tonearm. Instead of the magnets pulling the tonearm downwards, the magnets on the Clearaudio tonearm pull the tonearm upwards.

The magnetic-bearing tonearm worked well though and when you place the tonearm on the lifter before lowering it on the LP, the tonearm jiggles a little somewhat like a unipivot tonearm.

But once the stylus starts gliding along the grooves, the tonearm/cartridge combo becomes stable and its good tracking ability is clearly evident.

The plinth with rounded corners is solidly-built, the motor has its own suspension while the sub-platter is on the large side, and the entire package at RM5,000 seems to be value for money.

The magnet at the top pulls the magnet attached to the tonearm.
Note the string at the bottom. It appears to be an upside-down Schroder tonearm.

Though Rega’s RP1 is cheaper, it does not look as well made and it does not offer 78 rpm speed. Also with the Clearaudio Concept, you don’t have to remove the platter and adjust the belt to change the speed - you just have to turn a knob that offers 33⅓, 45 and 78 speeds.

Unlike other Clearaudio turntables that have acrylic platters, the Concept uses a POM platter.POM is a compound that is said to be very close to vinyl in terms of resonance characteristics.
Like other Clearaudio turntables, you don’t need to use a mat.

I listened to the Clearaudio Concept turntable with the Marantz PM-KI Pearl Lite integrated 70-watter amp, which has a built-in MM phono stage, driving the ATC SCM40s with MIT Shotgun MA biwire speaker cables.

The sound was clear with stable images and a large soundstage. The character was a bit laidback and the music was pleasant to listen to for long periods - nothing seemed out of place and nothing was in your face. The sonic signature of the Clearaudio Concept suited the Marantz very well since it seemed to be related sonically to the Clearaudio ‘family’.

I have noticed that with acrylic platters without mats, the leading edges of instruments like horns, electric guitars and piano are rounded off. The POM platter also displayed similar traits.

I decided to use a carbon-fibre donut mat from sLam Audio which restored the slam of the leading edges of music and gave the sound a more neutral tonality. It’s a question of preference and personally I prefer the sound with the sLam Audio donut mat.

Playing LPs on the POM platter without mat resulted in an easy-listening and very forgiving type of sound that anybody can live with - and even enjoy.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Asia Sound (M) to distribute Rega in Singapore

Asia Sound (Malaysia), which distributes Rega products in Malaysia, has become the Rega distributor for Singapore as well.

Eddie Tan of Asia Sound (Malaysia) said he is now in charge of the Malaysian and Singaporean markets for Rega, but he will not open a shop in Singapore. Instead he will appoint a dealer.

This follows the impending closure of Asia Sound (Singapore).

Eddie said he is negotiating for Asia Sound (Malaysia) to be the Singaporean dealer for some products that Asia Sound (Singapore) carried such as Paradigm and Focal.

It is understood that the owner of Asia Sound (Singapore) intends to enjoy his retirement.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

'Ultimate' AV showroom

"Many of our customers asked us when we would be opening a shop in KL/PJ," said Fong Weng Hin, one of the partners of Audio Art in Ipoh.

That was why Fong and his partner Yoon Tuck Chee decided to move south and open a hi-fi/AV outlet at 10 Boulevard, Petaling Jaya.

Directors of Ultimate Reference AV Centre
 Yoon Tuck Chee (left) and Fong Weng Hin.

Called Ultimate Reference AV Centre, it is on B-1-23A (1st floor), Bougainvillea block, which is the row of shophouses facing the Sprint Highway just before the turn-off to Bandar Utama (if you are driving from Kuala Lumpur).

On Friday, a group of bloggers, hi-fi writers, regular customers of Audio Art and some dealers met at Ultimate Reference for some wine and food.

They were also taken on a short tour of the outlet which has two rooms specially for AV (one of which can be used for two-channel listening) and a 'living room' for hi-fi auditioning featuring Marten speakers and Vitus CD player and Audionet amp.

"The market in KL/PJ is bigger and the range of products available is wider.

"We do 60% AV and 40% hi-fi. There has been an increase in demand for AV because of high-definition programmes such as Astro B.yond," said Fong.

The range of products at Ultimate Reference is listed in an earlier post

The 'living room' where you can listen to the Vitus/Audionet/Marten system.

The owners and the store manager are friendly folks and the outlet has a nice ambiance.

The outlet is quite tastefully done and private auditions are welcome - just call store manager Boon Shim at 03-77314999 to fix an appointment.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Harman founder and Chairman Emeritus passes away

STAMFORD, CT – HARMAN, the global premium audio and infotainment group (NYSE:HAR), issued the following statement on 13 April:

On behalf of the employees and the Board of HARMAN International, it is with great sadness that we learned of the passing of HARMAN founder and Chairman Emeritus Sidney Harman.

“His legacy of leading-edge innovation and premium quality will continue to live on at HARMAN and I am grateful to Dr. Harman for the trust he placed in the company’s management to carry on his legacy” said HARMAN Chairman, President and CEO, Dinesh Paliwal.

He will be remembered for his great charm, his curiosity, his philanthropic and public service interests, and his genuine kindness to employees and customers alike.

Our employees join us in sending our deepest sympathies to his family. 

HARMAN ( designs, manufactures and markets a wide range of audio and infotainment solutions for the automotive, consumer and professional markets – supported by 15 leading brands including AKG®, Harman Kardon®, Infinity®, JBL®, Lexicon® and Mark Levinson®. The Company is admired by audiophiles across multiple generations and supports leading professional entertainers and the venues where they perform. More than 20 million automobiles on the road today are equipped with HARMAN audio and infotainment systems. HARMAN has a workforce of about 11,800 people across the Americas, Europe and Asia, and reported sales of US$3.5 billion for the twelve months ended December 31, 2010. The Company’s shares are traded on the New York Stock Exchange under the symbol NYSE:HAR.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

New hi-fi/AV outlet opens

There's a new hi-fi shop in town and it's called Ultimate Reference AV Centre.

Located at B-1-23A (1st floor), Bougainvillea Block, 10 Boulevard, beside the Sprint Highway just before the turning to Bandar Utama, the hi-fi outlet sells some high-end marques like Marten speakers and Vitus amps.

The products it is selling are:


Vitus Audio



MySonic Lab

Jorma Design
Kubala Sosna
Stage3 Concept

Acoustic Treatment


Image Screen

Power Conditioners
Running Springs Audio

AV Amplifier

For more details, call Boon Shim at 03-77314999.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Holy Grail of hi-fi

Twice in the past few weeks I have made my way to a house in Petaling Jaya where I moved to the rhythm of fantastic music from an all-FM Acoustics sound system.

An Esoteric X-01D2 SACD/CD player was linked to an FM Acoustics 255 Mk II preamp which was linked to four FM Acoustics 111 monoblock power amps which drove a pair of FM Acoustics Inspiration XS-3B floorstanding speakers. Interconnects and speaker cables are from FM Acoustics. Such a rig is called an FM Inspiration System. 

The owner loves to play loud - the way I like it - and he has an extensive collection of CDs. We played Herbie Hancock, Dire Straits, Police and lots more.

The small groups of listeners were seasoned audiophiles who have heard all sorts of high-end systems.

Many felt they had found the Holy Grail of hi-fi in FM Acoustics components.

The all-FM Acoustics sound system.

The Esoteric X-01D2 SACD/CD player
and the FM Acoustics 255 Mk II preamp.

The external crossover box of the FM Acoustics speakers.

The rear of the FM Acoustics Inspiration XS-3B speaker has
a rear-firing super-tweeter and gain controls.

Four FM Acoustics 111 monoblock 115-watter amps.

During the second session while listening to head-banging rock music real loud, it dawned on me that despite the loudness of the electric guitars, drum and bass, I could hear other instruments in the mix - they were not drowned out by the loud guitars.

And at no time did the sound harden up and my ears did not hurt even though it was so loud that the plaster ceiling vibrated audibly.

The speed? Well, it was something else. It was like a sonic roller- coaster ride - unlike the previous sonic roller-coaster that I 'rode on' in the form of the JBL Everests, the FM Acoustics system was fast and furious but exquisitely refined.

The FM Acoustics system does not sound 'audiophile' - the imaging is neither pinpoint nor holographic the way audiophiles love them to be and the sound is not warm or 'cuddly' - but the soundstage is wide and deep. The details are there, but they don't sound too etched-out in an artificial kind of way.

The leading-edge dynamics can make your heart skip a beat. Once I was chatting with the owner and was not prepared for the loud thump on the snare drum at the beginning of a song and I was actually startled.

With the FM Acoustics system, the presentation is organic, natural and realistic. After hearing it, there'll be no more arguments about valve vs solid state, SETs vs push-pull amps, horns vs bass-reflex speakers, ribbon vs soft dome tweeters, ceramic vs normal speaker units, etc. With the FM Acoustics system, music sounds like, well, music and rock sounds like, well, rock.

If you ever have the chance to listen to an FM Acoustics-based sound system, quickly get in before the door closes. I can assure you that it will be a different kind of sonic experience. The cost? Don't ask. But the rewards...

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Buzzes and beeps

A few days ago, I heard a high-frequency buzz from my stereo system. Placing my ear near the tweeter of the speaker, I could hear a buzz that was continuous for a few seconds and then turned into short beeps somewhat like Morse Code.

It was some kind of electrical interference or ground loop distortion that had entered the sound system.

I thought the cartridge or tone-arm wires of the Rega Planar 3 were acting like antennae and were picking up some radio frequency interference.

So I unplugged the phono cables from the Furutech GT40 USB DAC/Phono Stage, but the hum was still there. I turned off the GT40 but I could still hear the buzzing sound.

I checked all the interconnects and they were all tightly fitted to the inputs. I checked the speaker cables and they too were fitted tightly.

I checked the power cords and they were not loose.

I touched the components one by one thinking that my body would act like some kind of grounding connection for stray signals. The hum was still there.

Then I unplugged the Furutech USB cable from the Furutech GT40 USB DAC/Phono Stage and finally the hum stopped.

So for a while I thought perhaps the Furutech cable was picking up EMI/RFI and messing up the sound. But when I plugged the USB cable to the Benchmark DAC1 Pre, there was no hum. When I switched the Benchmark's output from 'Variable' to 'Calibrated', it started humming again.

The switching power supply of a laptop can be very noisy

Finally I unplugged the power cord to the Toshiba laptop and the humming stopped. I plugged the USB cable to the Furutech GT40 and there was no hum. I plugged the power cord to the laptop and there was a buzzing sound; I unplugged it and the buzzing stopped.

The culprit was the power supply of the laptop. I have read some articles about the noisy switching power supply sections of laptops which transmit lots of EMI/RFI, but it was the first time that I had heard buzzes and beeps in my stereo system which were caused by the noisy power supply.

So this is a good example of how EMI/RFI and noisy power supply sections of components can affect sound quality.

If you are into computer audio, I would suggest that you unplug the power cord and use the battery of the laptop. The problem is the laptop will run on battery power for about only 30 minutes or so.