Thursday, June 30, 2011

Naim DBL speakers on offer

If you're looking for a pair of huge Naim DBLs, just head to the CMY Audio & Visual showroom in Damansara Utama, Petaling Jaya.

The Naim DBL speakers.

CMY senior product adviser W.M. Chua said they are clearing stocks at the moment and there is a pair of Naim DBLs on offer.

If you have RM50,000, the speakers are yours. It may sound expensive, but they used to cost more than RM90,000.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

B & W showroom to shift

The B & W showroom is moving to a larger place also located at Jaya One, Petaling Jaya.
Its new showroom will be on the ground floor of Block J. It is situated opposite IACT College along the same row as Wendy’s.

The showroom will be closed for renovations in the middle of July and the new showroom will feature a larger range of components including AV equipment.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Tapping power from the grid

After my recent visit to Nova Hi-Fi at Jaya One (see ) I went home with an ORB 4GG Power Tap.

The ORB Power Tap from Japan looks like any other power distributor even though it is more solidly-made than others.

The ORB Power Tap looks small but is quite heavy.

ORB Power Taps are made of a special 7mm thick steel case and 5mm thick aluminum front panel which are supposed to cut off noise and create "transparent and speedy sound".

ORB’s seamless bass bars are gold plated of 99.9% pureness and they achieve direct and fast transmission, the manufacturer claims.

The 4GG Power Tap on review measures 75mm wide by 100mm high and 386mm long. It weighs 3.2kg which is not surprising given the amount of steel and copper used.

It is a passive unit - there is nothing inside but thick gold-plated copper bars instead of wires to link up all the plug outlets. And the box is made of thick steel and aluminium . That's all to it. There are no circuitry, no EMI/RFI absorbing compound, no isolation transformers. Nothing.

The gold-plated copper bars inside the ORB Power Tap.

Yet when you plug your system into it, there is a difference in sound.

How does it work? I really don't know.

What I do know is that it changes the tonal balance of your sound system - it brightens up everything. Which is a good thing if your system sounds dull and boring, but if it is already a bright-sounding system, then it could be a case of too much of a good thing making the situation worse.

It so happened that I still had the Ayre QB-9 USB DAC and I could easily use it to compare with the resident Benchmark DAC1 Pre. Doing this revealed the effect of the ORB Power Tap on my sound system with the rich, full and smooth-sounding Ayre QB-9 USB DAC and the lean, edgy and analytical-sounding Benchmark DAC1 Pre.

I removed all the plugs from the resident Furutech e-TP60/20 power distributor (passive with a layer of EMI/RFI absorbing compound) and connected them to the ORB Power Tap.

With the Ayre USB DAC in the system, the sound became brighter, clearer and more transparent throughout the frequency range. More details could be heard and micro-details in the treble region were highlighted. In comparison, the Furutech was quite dark sounding.

However, with the Benchmark DAC1 Pre replacing the Ayre QB-9, the sound became even edgier and a few Fleetwood Mac songs from the Rumours album featuring female vocalists singing background 'hardened up' and cymbals were quite jarring.

Initially I used a normal power cord to connect it to the wall plug, but when I switched to a Supra LoRad, the treble was less harsh.

Thus the ORB Power Tap, which retails at RM4,400, is system-dependent. It is fantastic for dull and overly-warm and slow-sounding systems as it will bring out the details and clarity missing from such rigs. You can also 'tune' it with power cords.

So it is advisable to audition carefully before buying.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

KLIAVS: Watch out for Bladelius USB DAC

Eugene Ngoh of Audiomatic with the petite Bladelius USB DAC.

This cool product looks set to be this year's must-have 'hot' component. Soon after it was launched in Europe recently, audiophiles in Taiwan and Hong Kong were already placing bulk orders for it without even auditioning it.

The component is from high-end Swedish manufacturer Bladelius and it is a USB DAC.

It is not just another USB DAC as it is one of the models from the new generation of Class Two Audio USB DACs which accept up to 24/192. Going above 96 kHz requires the use of a protocol called ‘Class Two Audio’, which operates with USB 2.0. Class Two Audio uses a transmission rate of 480 MHz, which is 40 times faster than Class One USB computer audio.

Not only that but it is also asynchronous and the little DAC which looks like a brick-shaped large remote control does re-clocking with its own low jitter crystal clock.

And there is no need to plug it to a power distributor - it is USB powered.

Bladelius has chosen to use a digital filter with minimum phase to cut off pre-ringing and the analogue output stage is of high quality. Proprietary driver software is included in a thumb drive.

The Bladelius USB DAC is on demo at Audiomatic in Amcorp Mall, Petaling Jaya, and it is retailing at about RM2,600.

It will also be showcased at the coming KL International AV Show.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

KLIAVS: Triangle's flagship speakers

Maxx AV from Seremban will just be exhibiting simple two-channel systems for music lovers at this year's KL International AV Show.

Last year, Max Loh, owner of Maxx AV, had a tough time trying to control the poor acoustics of the room he was in to showcase his SVS sub-woofers.

Since he has become the distributor for Triangle speakers, he will be bringing in a model from the Triangle flagship Magellan range for his first system.

Triangle Magellan Cello speakers.
First system:
Speakers: Triangle Magellan Cello speakers (retail price RM60,000).
Cables: XLO
Amp and source: Not confirmed yet.

Second system:

Exposure 3010s2 CDP
Exposure 3010s2 int amp
Triangle Genese Trio bookshelf speakers on original TS400 stands.
Cables by Kimber Kable

A sealed SVS sub-woofer will also be on demo.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Warehouse sale: Paradigm speakers

Paradigm Atom Monitor

Asia Sound in Amcorp Mall, Petaling Jaya, is having a warehouse sale to clear its stocks of Paradigm speakers.

Eddie Tan of Asia Sound said the speakers will be sold at "cost" and numerous models are available.

"For example, a pair of Paradigm Atom Monitor bookshelf speakers will be priced at around RM999," he said.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Go for the Ayre-y sound

Ayre QB-9 USB DAC (right) vs Benchmark DAC1 Pre

After you buy an Ayre QB-9 USB DAC from Hi-Way Laser in SS2, Petaling Jaya, the first thing you must do is to set it to accept 24/192.

The manual tells you to try 24/96 and get used to operating the DAC first before moving to the higher resolution. My advice is to ignore that and set the QB-9 to accept 24/192 from the outset as the DAC will sound much better when set to accept that level of quality even when lower resolution files like MP3 and ripped CD 16/44.1 files are played.

The difficult part is to set it to accept 24/192.

Firstly, you have to check if your Ayre QB-9 was made after the summer of 2010. Ayre’s website says: “Look at the serial number on the rear panel. - if  the serial number is 18Fxxxx or beyond (e.g., 18Gxxxx), then the unit was manufactured at the factory with the high-speed USB input PCB required to go beyond 96 kHz.” Older models can be updated.

Then you will have to check the OS of your computer - Mac or Windows-based - to find out if it is compatible with the QB-9. More information on this can be found at

To receive the 24/192 files, the USB input has to be reconfigured. Ayre’s website says: “Standard computer audio with files up to 96 kHz typically operate under what is called ‘Class One Audio"’ which is a subset of USB 1.1. The transmission rate for Class One Audio is 12 MHz. To go beyond 96 kHz requires the use of a protocol called ‘Class Two Audio’, which operates in conjunction with USB 2.0. Class Two Audio uses a transmission rate of 480 MHz, or forty times faster than standard USB computer audio.

“Therefore to use a Windows-based computer beyond 96 kHz with a USB D/A converter, it is mandatory to install a special device driver. Ayre has chosen to use a driver made by Thesycon, a German company that specializes in audio drivers and software for the pro audio industry.”

Configuring for a Mac computer is different and there is a section in the Ayre website for Mac users.

After that, you will need to look at the back panel and search for the dip switches. Ayre’s website continues: “The default that works well for most users is that all switches will be in the ‘up’ position.

"The switch labeled ‘Rsrv A’ (up) and ‘Rsrv B’ (down) selects the operating class of the unit. Rsrv A puts the unit into Class One Audio mode, and will work without any special drivers as outlined on the main setup pages. Use a toothpick or ball-point pen to flip the switch down to Rsrv B and now the unit will operate in Class Two Audio mode.”

You will have to follow the procedure posted in the Ayre’s website, but bear in mind that laptops with different versions of Windows will have slightly different steps.

In my case, it took about 45 minutes to download the Thesycon software and get the QB-9 all geared up to go.

Oh yes, one more thing - make sure that the digital filter (the dip switch at left) is turned from ‘Listen’ to ‘Measure’.

Make sure the Ayre QB-9's digital filter is set to 'Measure' and
configure the USB to accept 24/192 and switch it to 'Rsrv B'.

Ayre’s website states: “One algorithm produces greater accuracy in the time domain and is labeled ‘Listen’. The other algorithm produces greater accuracy in the frequency domain and is labeled ‘Measure’

“Normally the selector switch is set to the ‘Listen’ position when listening to music. However some listeners may prefer the additional high-frequency energy provided by the ‘Measure’ position.”

I spent some time listening to both algorithms in Class One Audio (24/96) and I found the ‘Listen’ mode to sound too smooth. The treble and bass were rolled off while the mids became creamy. Also the images were ‘fattened’.

Upon switching to ‘Measure’ mode, the treble brightened up and the bass became stronger. Images slimmed down, transparency improved very much and the sound was more exciting and upbeat.

After setting up the Ayre QB-9 USB DAC to perform at its optimum, I did what I had wanted to do for a very long time - compare it with the resident Benchmark DAC1 Pre.

What I wanted to find out was whether there was any clear winner in the competing technologies - Ayre QB-9 uses asynchronous mode USB data transfer while Benchmark uses the adaptive mode.

In layman’s terms, asynchronous mode results in the DAC being the ‘master clock’ while adaptive mode means the clock in the laptop is the ‘master’.

The rear panel of the Ayre-QB-9 is not as crowded as that of the Benchmark.

Ayre's website has this say: “Connected via the ubiquitous USB port and using the Streamlength asynchronous USB transfer mode software licensed from Wavelength Audio, an Ayre USB D/A converter generates a fixed-frequency master audio clock and requests the audio data from the computer at the correct time for jitter-free playback of your music. Now the D/A converter is in control and provides the critical master audio clock; the computer simply stores the music files and is completely out of the picture when it comes to jitter.”

From various reviews that I have read, both technologies have their unique sonic signatures. I found out that all the other reviewers out there were correct.

Using a Furutech USB cable (which is rich-sounding) connected to the Toshiba laptop with Media Monkey as player, I tested both DACs in the resident system comprising Bryston 4B SST power amp,  MIT Shotgun MA Biwire speaker cables and ATC SCM40s. I used a pair of Alphacore Micro Purl Silver to connect the Ayre DAC to the analogue inputs of the Benchmark DAC1 Pre and a pair of Audioquest Panther dbs XLR interconnects to link the pre to the Bryston.

I played various files from MP3s to ripped CDs (16/44.1) to 24/88.2 Linn Studio Master FLAC files to 24/96 files (Alison Krauss and Robert Plant’s Raising Sand) to 24/176.4 HRx to 24/192 HDTT files.

The difference in sound between the Ayre and Benchmark was night and day - the Ayre had a fuller, richer and smoother sound while the Benchmark had a leaner, edgier and more analytical sound. The Benchmark’s bass had more slam while the Ayre’s bass was fuller, but a tad softer in the grunt department. Also the Benchmark's highs sounded more extended.

I felt that the Benchmark was better suited for hard rock songs while Ayre was fabulous for classical, jazz and ballads.

Vocals - both male and female - were rendered smoother, warmer and richer by the Ayre while the Benchmark could not shake off its characteristic lean quality even though the Furutech USB cable had already made the sound fuller and richer. If I had used the stock USB cable the Benchmark would have sounded even leaner.

In terms of sound quality, I believe most people would go for the Ayre, but in terms of value for money, the Benchmark wins - it offers USB (only up to 24/96) plus coax, Toslink and analogue inputs, a headphone amp and preamp for RM6,500 while the Ayre has only one USB input  and retails at RM10,500.

In terms of looks, the Ayre is a sure winner with its thick matt aluminium casing and clean lines.

If good sound is what you want and you don’t mind just one USB input, then go to Hi-Way Laser and audition the QB-9.

Monday, June 6, 2011

Much more than just a USB DAC

The Furutech/Alpha Design Labs GT40 USB DAC with phono stage was a product that I had wanted to audition for quite some time since I read about it being praised by several hi-fi magazines after its launch last year as I was shopping around for a phono preamp then.

Eugene Ngoh of Audiomatic at Amcorp Mall, Petaling Jaya, told me he had ordered the GT40, but since I could not wait any longer I bought a Creek OBH-15 MM/MC phono preamp late last year.

Recently I found out that the GT40 had arrived and I managed to obtain one for review from Eugene.
Retailing at RM1,990, it is a pretty good buy as it has numerous functions.

The GT40 has so many functions that
its owner will be kept busy for quite a while.

First of all, it is a USB2 DAC. Plug your laptop to it and it will process the streamed music at up to 24/96 resolution and send it through analogue outputs to your preamp/integrated amp.

Secondly, it has an MM/MC phono stage and you may end up spinning more vinyl than listening to hi-res files.

Thirdly, it is also an ADC (Analogue-Digital Converter) which you can use to convert your LP collection into digital files at up to 24/96 resolution and store them in your hard drive.

Fourthly, it is also a headphone amp.

It also offers a line input and a volume control that is smooth to operate.
All these functions are featured in a little aluminium box measuring 15cm (W) x 11.1cm (D) x 5.7 cm (H)  and weighing 785 gms.

The phono stage is quite basic and offers maximum input levels for MM cartridges at 5mV and MC cartridges at 0.4mV (input impedance for both MC and MM is fixed at 47K ohm) while gain is fixed at 62.5dB for MC and 48.5dB for MM.

The headphone amp is also quite basic and headphones of 6 ohm to 300 ohm impedance are recommended.

Its literature adds: “A first for this class, the GT40 features a phono equalizer for recording your precious LPs. Switch between Moving Magnet (MM) and Moving Coil (MC) or Line input
Highest Quality Parts: The GT40 features a high quality amplifier and condenser supporting its high performance analog circuit.

“The GT40 is equipped with gold-plated Teflon-insulated RCA jacks with an extremely high quality aluminum chassis and machined volume knob.”

To ensure that it is not noisy, the power supply is external.

The GT40 does not come with any recording software, but it recommends Audacity which is a freeware.

I started off testing the Furutech/Alpha Design Labs GT40  as a USB DAC and compared it with my Benchmark DAC1 Pre using a Furutech USB cable. 

I must say that the GT40 is a colourful component - when it is powered on, the switch glows brightly in blue and when you press the source selection switch for phono, it glows in red and when you press it again for the USB function, it glows in yellow.

The Furutech/ADL GT40 is very bright and colourful when powered on.

The sonic signature of the GT40 is best described as slightly edgy, upfront and ‘brightish’ which made it very suitable for rock songs. It was also less spacious and transparent - even though it sounded quite detailed - than the Benchmark. but the Benchmark retails at about RM6,500 and lacks the ADC and phono preamp functions.

This sonic signature of the GT40 was prevalent in all its functions - the headphone amp, the phono preamp, the DAC and ADC.

I used my pair of Sennheiser 600 headphones and compared the headphone amp in the GT40 with that in the Benchmark and the GT40’s characteristic sound was evident. It had no problem driving the Sennheisers which have impedance of 300 ohms.

Then I plugged my much-modded Rega Planar 3 with RB250 tonearm to the GT40. Initially I started off using a Rega Exact MM cartridge and later switched to a Benz Micro Glider SL MC cartridge. I must say that the MM/MC switch is rather tiny and I had to use a ballpen to flick the switch.

Note the tiny MM/MC phono switch at the top-right corner.

Regardless of whether an MM or MC cartridge was in use, the sonic signature of the GT40 prevailed. When spinning vinyl, the edgy sound complemented the neutrality of the Benz Glider. The GT40 sounded less transparent and spacious than the Creek OBH-15 phono preamp.

Finally, I decided to test the GT40’s ADC function.

After googling for the Audacity website, I downloaded the software to the Toshiba laptop and I had to google around for instructions on how to use it. After spending a few hours familiarizing myself with the basic commands, I made my first attempt to convert an LP to a digital file.

Using Ry Cooder’s Jazz LP, I managed to record two songs on Audacity. Then I had to perform functions like removing the clicks and noise and normalising the volume of the two channels.

Upon playback of the digital files, I found out that sampling at 96Khz sounded better than at 44.1Khz, the default setting.

I also found out that the removal of clicks, pops and noise also resulted in the loss of some music data. Bear in mind that I had just picked up some rudimentary skills in digitising analogue songs and Audacity is not pro software to begin with.

Also the LP was rather dirty and there were a lot of clicks and pops - and they were quite loud too. So if you are serious about digitising your record collection, you will have to give the LPs  a good scrub - the less noisy they are, the less harm the removal of noise and clicks will do to the digitised file.

Of course, you ought to pick up more skills than I did. Someone with more experience and knowledge of recording software should do a better job than I did.

But it all goes to show that with the GT40 in your system, you will be kept busy for quite some time checking out all its functions.

It is indeed a unique component and if you are looking around for something that does everything, well the GT40 is it.