Saturday, January 28, 2012

Tune in to Aune


Looks like there will be more media players in the market this year. The Chinese-made Aune S1 digital music player is now in town.


The 32-bit player can be used as a DAC or a digital transport or a headphone amp.

It runs on Linux and comes with the AKM 4390 DAC chip. The Aune supports APE, FLAC, TTA, WAV, MP3 and CUE formats.

It has an attractive aluminium casing with an external power supply.

Inputs include e-SATA, USB 2.0, SD card and ethernet.

The price? Around RM1,800. For more info, contact Vince at 012-3321812.


Saturday, January 21, 2012

Wyred for good sound

From the outset, I must say that the latest 24/192 capable async USB DACs sound very good. And the Wyred 4 Sound DAC-2 is among the best of this new generation of DACs.

They are both affordable and good and the W4S DAC-2 has been said to be able to match the performance of the previous- generation's top-end DACs.

The W4S DAC-2 comes with a digital volume control that operates in the 32-bit domain and a discrete output stage. Thus it can be connected directly to a power amp and it was in this configuration that I compared it with the resident Benchmark DAC1 Pre.

The W4S DAC-2 is asynchronous, but the technology is its own and it uses the ESS Sabre 9018 DAC chip which can process data up to 32-bit 200kHz. The eight-channel Sabre 9018 chip is used in quad-differential mode to achieve excellent Signal to Noise ratio and output drive capability.

Compared with the Benchmark, the W4S DAC-2 is mellower, richer and fuller. The Benchmark sounds very detailed, a bit lean and clinical with lots of slam while the W4S sounds not as rich and full as the Ayre QB-9 (see http://hi-fi-avenue.blogspot.com/2011/06/go-for-ayre-y-sound.html) but has more bass slam than the Ayre and just a shade less than the Benchmark. In terms of detail, the W4S is just as detailed as the Benchmark, but is less edgy. However, the W4S conjures more depth than the Benchmark. - the soundstage is definitely deeper. In a way, the W4S has the best attributes of the Benchmark and the Ayre - at an affordable price (around RM6,500 rrp).

It has more inputs and features than the Ayre - which has only a USB input - but lacks the headphone jacks and 'analogue in' of the Benchmark DAC1 Pre.

Another advantage that the W4S DAC-2 has is that it has upgradeable digital, output and USB boards. Given the speed at which DAC technology is evolving, future-proofing is quite welcome.

Operating the W4S DAC-2 takes some getting used to. There are three buttons on the front facade - 'power' and 'up' and 'down' - and to enter the Set-up Menu, you have to press all three buttons simultaneously. It took me a while to get it right and reminded me of a Motorola handphone that I had some years ago - if I recall correctly, I had to press two buttons simultaneously to unlock the keypad.

The Set-up Menu has a wide range of functions such as adjusting IIR Bandwidth (I set it to '60kHz') and Roll-off Slope (I set it to 'fast'). These two settings are important as I felt they affected treble extension and transparency.

Through the Set-up Menu, the volume of the various inputs can be set to fixed or variable. 'Fixed' is when you use a preamp and 'variable' is when you connect the DAC-2 directly to the power amp.

I found the volume control a bit confusing as there was no sound till the level was around 20-23. In the Set-up Menu, you can set the minimum and maximum volume level in steps from 0-70. Essentially what happens is that when you set the minimum to, say, 20, it just means that the first 20 steps are skipped when you use the volume control. The maximum can be reduced if there is the danger of overdriving an amp.

Press the three buttons at the same time to enter the Set-up Menu.

Press the 'power' button on and you will enter the selection mode. With the 'cursor' on the top row, pressing the 'up' and 'down' buttons will change the input selection. Press the 'power' button again and the 'cursor' moves to the bottom row and pressing the 'up' and 'down' buttons will change the volume.

The rear panel is crowded as the W4S DAC-2 has lots of inputs - HT Bypass inputs (selectable via DC trigger), two coax, two Toslink, one AES/EBU, one USB and one balanced I2S input via non-standard HDMI. The last input is interesting as it is wired the same way as the the PS Audio Perfect Wave Transport and matching DAC. In fact, the PS Audio Perfect Wave Transport is the only component that can be used with the W4S DAC-2 via HDMI currently. Wyred 4 Sound has just launched its media server which has various outputs including a HDMI. The link between the two companies is that the folks behind W4S used to contractually make PS Audio components.



The rear panel is a bit crowded.

Before you can stream music files to the W4S DAC-2, you need to download the proprietary driver either from the W4S website or the CD-R that came with the unit. The driver is compatible with Windows XP, Vista and 7 and Mac OS 10.4-10.6 in both 32-bit and 64-bit formats.

In my system comprising an old Toshiba laptop with Windows 7 64-bit running J River V16, I had to set output to 'WASAPI - event style' before the songs could be played.

But once the songs started playing, I was in no hurry to click 'stop' - the music sounded really good. Now I am waiting with bated breath for the W4S music server.

For more information, contact Vince at 012-3321812.

Gong Xi Fa Cai to all Chinese audiophiles.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

MIT cable loom: From the outside in

When I was at Tong Lee in Plaza Low Yat, Kuala Lumpur, I managed to obtain various MIT cables and a power distributor for an experiment in setting up an MIT cable loom.


The results were quite interesting as just by plugging all the power cords to the MIT Z Strip, I could already hear the benefits of the MIT sonic signature.


So instead of changing interconnects and speaker cables, using just one MIT power distributor would be enough to improve the sound. It is a case of upgrading the sound system from the outside in.

With the MIT Z Strip in the power supply chain, the immediate effect will be an improvement in the bass and you will be able to follow the bass better, especially the bass guitar which will be heard as a separate entity instead of being fused with the bass drum. The sound will also be cleaner and more detailed.


Plugging a Shotgun Z Trap to the power cord connected to the power amp makes things smoother and removes some sharpness and hardness in the treble.


After that, using the Shotgun MA interconnects and the Shotgun MA biwire speaker cables will result in incremental steps to sonic bliss.


Strangely, if I use the interconnects and speaker cables without the Z Strip power distributor in the sound system, the improvements are more pronounced.


Since the Shotgun Z Trap is a unique universal IEC in and IEC out design, I tried plugging it to a normal power distributor so that every component connected to it would benefit from its power supply cleaning capability. It worked - the sound improved somewhat. But the Z Strip was in another class and outperformed the Z Trap/normal distributor combination.

MIT Shotgun Z Trap.
The MIT Z Strip. The orange sockets are for digital components.


The sound system - with the complete MIT cable loom - performed at a much higher level, but it's a question of whether the MIT sonic signature is what you desire.


The best way to describe the MIT sonic signature would be greater wide-band clarity from the bottom octaves to the highest notes, a more detailed presentation of the music, more stable but etched out imaging, greater transparency and a deeper soundstage. Compared with some other branded cables, the images rendered by MIT cables are somewhat leaner and more etched-out with more defined edges. For want of a better word, the MIT cable loom sounds 'audiophile'.


MIT's power products use parallel filters to filter out mains noise so that dynamics are not restricted. The Shotgun Z Trap uses the American company's parallel filter technology with three 'Filterpoles' while the Z Strip has multiple parallel tuned filters operating over a wide frequency range. The Z Strip will not limit current although there is a 10-Amp fuse.

Of interest is that the MIT Z Strip is one of the few power distributors that has Power Factor correction to reduce transmission losses and improve voltage regulation. It also features surge and spike protection.


It has six hospital-grade US outlets and two digital isolated outlets for the CD/DVD player and DAC.

MIT's interconnects and speaker cables are based on what the company calls 'poles of articulation'. The theory is that one wire can function well only for a limited range of frequencies or what MIT calls 'a single pole of articulation'. Thus the wires are tuned to function in as many 'poles of articulation' as possible, which explains why there are boxes connected to MIT cables.


Indeed, some curious folks have prised open the boxes to find capacitors and inductors inside them.


The MIT Shotgun MA biwire speaker cable. Note the network box.
These 'pigtails' are to connect the network box to the speaker.
The MIT Shotgun MA interconnect.
MIT's impedance matching system is featured in the Shotgun interconnects.

The Shotgun MA interconnects have 22 poles of articulation plus selectable impedance matching networks - technology filtered down from the ultra-expensive Oracle Series. You can select Low, Mid or High input on the selector switch which will make the sound either too bright, too bassy or just right.
The Shotgun MA biwire speaker cables have 32 poles of articulation and use other technologies like the CVT Coupler which is supposed to reduce signal reflections.

The cable loom that I set up costs about RM20,000 which is about the price of a very good DAC or turntable. So it's a question of what your needs are. In a very high-end and expensive sound system, an MIT cable loom may just be the thing to take its performance to a higher level.




Thursday, January 12, 2012

Mini Maggies sound like maxi system

A Maggie computer speaker system? Well, the Mini Maggie System functions both as computer speakers and as hi-fi speakers for a small room.


Two small panels and a larger woofer panel make up the Mini Maggie system which essentially is a 3.7 in miniature.


According to the Maggie website, it is the world's first full-range dipole speaker system that will sit on (and under) your desk. 


"The Mini Maggie is essentially a miniaturized version of the 3.7 midrange and tweeter. The Maggie Woofer (DWM) is a small section out of the 20.1 bass driver that sits under your desk in the foot well. Together, it is very much like a 3.7 - up close and personal.


"The Mini Maggie System was originally designed to be a miniature 3.7 on your desk. But, we were pleasantly surprised how well it works in a small room (especially when used with two Maggie Woofers)," the website states.




Manager Ong Liang Heng seems very pleased with
the Mini Maggie System. The small panel on top
of the floorstander (right) is the satellite Maggie
speaker while the bass panel is on the floor to Ong's right.


The satellite Maggie speaker.

The rear of the dipole speaker.

Look closely and you will see the midrange and
tweeter panels of the Mini Maggie.


At Absolute AV Gallery in Amcorp Mall, a Mini Maggie System is on demo and manager Ong Liang Heng said it should cost below RM6,000.


I spent some time listening to it before we adjourned for a cup of tea.


The three-way true ribbon planar-magnetic speaker system sounded surprisingly good in the showroom though the lowest bass octave was not that apparent, but it was enjoyable nevertheless. It is rated to go down to 40Hz and the treble soars to 40kHz.


The sound is very transparent - like all Maggies - and detailed with images that sort of hover in mid-air.


I feel it would be wasted if used as a computer speaker system - it certainly is suitable for a small room. A second system for the bedroom perhaps? Or a main system for a small condo?



Saturday, January 7, 2012

Revival of Acoustique Systems


While things involving hi-fi had been evolving around his outlet in Amcorp Mall, Petaling Jaya, for quite a while, C.N. Lim of Acoustisque Systems had been left out in the cold.


Not any more - his 'revival' began when he was appointed the master dealer of Rythmik sub-woofers for Klang Valley late last year.


Rythmik sub-woofers are available at Acoustique systems.

The Rythmik range had been brought in by Maxx Audio Visual in Seremban and the owner Max Loh roped in Lim to expand his dealership.


Next to knock on Lim's door was Monitor Audio. The popular British speakers are now on demo at Acoustique Systems.



C.N. Lim is now the Klang Valley dealer for Monitor Audio speakers.


Lim was also appointed a dealer for Audiolab products and this popular brand has also been attracting many audiophiles to his outlet.


Recently, Lim became the dealer for DH Labs Silver Sonic cables. Previously, DH Labs cables were sold in The Hi-Fi Shop in 1Utama shopping mall and eversince it closed in late 2010, many Malaysian audiophiles were asking where they could buy the affordable and good DH Labs cables.


DH Labs interconnects, HDMI and co-ax cables on sale at Acoustique Systems.


Power cords from DH Labs with Sine plugs.



Now Lim's outlet is very jampacked as there are lots of boxes of Monitor Audio speakers, Audiolab CD players, Rythmik sub-woofers and DH Labs cables.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

LG launches world's biggest OLED TV

LG seems to be the new leader in the TV industry.


If you thought the new-gen 3D TV technology which does away with powered glasses is the final product, you are wrong. LG has upped the ante by coming out with the world's largest Organic Light-Emitting Diode (OLED) TV which offers a refresh rate that is 1,000 times faster than its rivals.



OLED screens are already used by some smartphones, but it will be the first time that it has been expanded to a 55-inch screen. Not only that, but the LG OLED TV is only 4mm thick and weighs only 7.5kg.

LG claims that “OLED TV generates the most natural colours of any TV set at a much lower price point than could have been achieved using the standard manufacturing process”.

Havis Kwon, President and CEO of LG Electronics Home Entertainment Company told The Daily Telegraph that “OLED is clearly the future of home TV entertainment and LG is very focused on making this exciting technology as easy as possible for consumers to embrace.”

LG's set offers four color technology - red, green, blue, and white - instead of the standard three color RGB used in other manufacturers' OLED. LG has added white pixels to OLED panels to create a brighter image. The company says four colors allow for "more accurate color depiction."

LG describes the new set as having "infinite" contrast ratios, and said its manufacturing techniques now allow for less expensive large-screen sets than previously, www.sci-tech-today.com reported.

LG will launch the 55-inch OLED TV at the CES in Las Vegas soon, and it should be on sale by the end of this year.


Tuesday, January 3, 2012

ATC launches CD player/preamp


Will CDs and CD players become extinct? Just when the CD market is collapsing, Linn has stopped making CD players, and audiophiles are emotionally discussing the possibility of major labels ending the release of CDs by December 2012, another company has launched a CD player.


Just a few months ago, turntable specialist Pro-Ject entered the CD market with the release of two CD players (See http://www.hi-fi-avenue.blogspot.com/2011/12/impressive-pro-ject.html). Now, British speaker specialist ATC has just launched its CDA2 CD player-cum-preamp.


ATC CDA2 CD player/preamp

This news is so fresh that a shipment of 10 ATC CDA2 is still on its way to its Singapore distributor. It should be priced at around RM8,000 - RM9,000.


Strangely, you will not find any mention of the CD player/preamp in the ATC website, but if you google ATC CDA2 you will find quite a few hits.


It uses a Wolfson DAC which can handle up to 24/192 music files. The CDA2 can be used with your turntable since it has two line level RCA inputs. It can also be used as an external DAC as it has four digital inputs (two coaxial, two Optical).


It is also quite versatile as you can plug your Ipod/MP3 Player to it via a 3.5mm jack input. It also features XLR (true balanced) and RCA outputs, and a high quality headphone jack.


The pre-amp is based on the CA2 pre-amplifier. 


I found these details in a British website:


Features


●  Hand built in the UK
●  Low noise discrete design Integrated CD/Preamplifier
●  Precision Analogue Volume Control
●  2 x RCA Coax 75 Ohm SPDIF Inputs
●  2 x Toslink Optical SPDIF Inputs
●  2 x Line level RCA Phono Inputs
●  1 x Line level 3.5mm Jack Input
●  True balanced (XLR) and line level RCA Phono Outputs
●  Headphone Output
●  6 year warranty (excluding transport)
   
Specifications


PREAMPLIFIER


Frequency response (-3dB) : < 2 Hz – > 280 kHz 
Distortion : 0.001% (-100 dB) 
Input sensitivity : 640mV for 2V out
Input impedance : 13k 8 Ohms
S+N/N Ratio : <110dB


CD PLAYER


Frequency response (-3dB) : 20Hz – 20kHz
Distortion : 0.002% (-94dB)
Dimensions (HxWxD) : 90x445x330mm
Weight : 7kg / 15.4lbs