Thursday, March 29, 2012

Tulip in full bloom

In some ways, the BFA (Beyond Frontiers Audio) Tulip is like the Devialet D-Premier - both are high-end integrated amplifiers, both have built-in DACs, both cost about the same and both sound very good.



I spent more than an hour listening to the Tulip this afternoon at Acoustic Alchemy, the newest hi-fi outlet in town, which has set up a home-environment listening room in a single-storey bungalow on Jalan 11/16, Petaling Jaya. Driving a pair of Triangle Genese Quartets, the amp sounded on the warmish side of neutral with a full and rich sound.


Since I had reviewed the Triangle Esprit Altea Ex earlier (see http://hi-fi-avenue.blogspot.com/2011/05/french-connection.html), I knew that Triangle speakers need an amp with plenty of power to control the bass. Lesser amps would produce loose and flabby bass. But the Tulip was in full control of the proceedings and the bass was full, deep and tight.


The Tulip is a hybrid integrated amp/DAC with a tubed gain stage and a current output stage using Sanken bipolar transistors. Its power output is rated at 180 watts into 8 Ohms, 360 into 4 Ohms and the amp is able to drive 2 Ohm loads.




Owner of Acoustic Alchemy Danny Lim.

The Triangle Genese Quartet speakers and BFA Tulip integrated amp/DAC
and Acoustic Alchemy media streamer system.

The black version of the BFA Tulip integrated amp/DAC in the showroom.

The silver version of the BFA Tulip integrated amp/DAC.

It has a USB, four line level and two coax inputs. Its DAC section uses 24bit/192kHz resampling Cirrus Logic and Burr-Brown chips and all audio data is converted to 24/192.


BFA is a new company based in Serbia which was founded in 2009 by Zdenko Zivkovic, who formerly worked with Canadian high-end firm Sonic Frontiers (hence the name Beyond Frontiers). BFA products are designed in Canada and assembled in Serbia.


Danny Lim, owner of Acoustic Alchemy, revealed that he has been appointed the BFA distributor for Asia-Pacific and the Tulip integrated amp, which is priced at about RM60,000, will be on demo at the KL International AV Show.


"For the KLIAVS, BFA will also be launching its balanced tube DAC which is designed to sound better than the Clearaudio Statement turntable," he said.


That bit about sounding better than Clearaudio's best turntable may sound too ambitious, but we will find out soon enough.


At the KLIAVS, BFA will debut three products for the Asian market - the hybrid integrated amp SE version, the Tube DAC SE version and a solid state balanced amplifier.


Danny said he will have another showroom on the mezzanine floor of Crown Regency in Kuala Lumpur which should be open by April 9.


That showroom will be open from 10am to 6pm and will have two rooms.


"One room will be for home theatre featuring the JTR Captivator sub-woofer (he is also the distributor), Triangle speakers, Onkyo AV amp, a JVC projector and a 110-inch screen. The other room will be for stereo demos featuring the BFA Tulip integrated amp driving Triangle Antal speakers.




Danny is also the distributor of JTR Captivator sub-woofers.


Danny, who has an IT background, also designs and manufactures media streamers according to customer's requirements.


He will maintain the showroom in Section 11, Petaling Jaya, for by-appointment-only auditions so that audiophiles can listen to the Tulip-Triangle combo in a home environment.


Acoustic Alchemy has a third showroom in Penang which will also sell Rythmik sub-woofers.


* Petaling Jaya:
18, Jalan 11/6, Section 11, 46200 PJ.
Danny Lim : 016-2187398


* Penang:
B16-05, Grand View Condo, Tanjung Tokong (Opposite Gurney Drive)
Calvin Fong : 017-2235599


Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Triangle speakers at Acoustic Alchemy


Now, hi-fi lovers in the Klang Valley need not drive all the way to Seremban to check out the Triangle speakers from France at Maxx Audio's showroom.


Max said he has appointed Acoustic Alchemy Sdn Bhd as the official Triangle Electroacoustique dealer for Petaling Jaya, Klang Valley and Penang. 


Set up last year, the company is also the Asian distributor for Beyond Frontiers Audio, a new high-end European company famed for its Tulip amplifier (Euro 12,000).


Currently, the Triangle Genese Quartets are being driven by Tulip at the PJ outlet. However, there is a plan to move its office to Crown Regency Hotel in Kuala Lumpur for a bigger demo area. As for Penang, only the Triangle Esprit range is being offered currently. 


Address:


18, Jalan 11/6, Section 11, 46200 Petaling Jaya.
Danny Lim : 016-2187398      


B16-05, Grand View Condo, Tanjung Tokong (Opposite Gurney Drive)
Calvin Fong : 017-2235599      





Thursday, March 22, 2012

KLIAVS 2012: Big screens galore!

Big screens will be the big thing for this year's edition of the Kuala Lumpur International Audio-Video Show (KLIAVS) which will be held from July 20-22 at the JW Marriott hotel.

The TV manufacturers will be launching their 70" and 80" LED-backlit TVs at affordable prices - a 70" TV should be priced at slightly more than RM16,000.

Look out for Sharp's 70" and 80" LED-backlit LCD TVs and Panasonic's 85" plasma TV.

Dick Tan, organiser of the KLIAVS, said another highlight of the show will be the display of 4K resolution (4096 X 2160 pixels) projectors and digital display systems.

As for the hi-fi side of the show, expect the big boys to display their latest products.

CMY has booked five rooms, Perfect Hi-Fi will have four while A & L will have three. This year will also have Centre Circle (who missed the boat last year) taking part.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Dynaudio launches wi-fi hi-fi


Finally, audiophiles can forget about spending thousands of ringgit on speaker cables and biwiring because the next big development in hi-fi is wireless systems.


Dynaudio has become the first hi-fi manufacturer to launch a high-end wireless sound system. Its Xeo system is now available in the market (John Yew of CMY said he has ordered one shipment which will be arriving in Malaysia by early May). Its dedicated website http://www.dynaudio.com/int/xeo/Xeo_is_wireless.html said: "Because Xeo is the very first wireless and remote controlled High End loudspeaker system. Say goodbye to speaker cables, D/A converters, amplifiers and special software. Unplug them all. And simply plug in the Xeo loudspeakers and the Xeo Transmitter.


"Here you go. Everything else can be easily done via the smart, slim remote control. Powering the speakers on and off. Setting the volume level. Selecting an audio source, or muting the sound. And for those old-school components you just got rid of - there’s always an e-bay. Unplug and play.


"The Xeo speakers receive the music digitally, process the music digitally, and amplify the music digitally. Sent from the Xeo Transmitter, the Xeo loudspeakers receive the most pure, unchanged music signal."


Here's the Q and A section:


1. What is Dynaudio Xeo?


Dynaudio Xeo is the world’s first true wireless high end loudspeaker system.


2. What do I need to use Dynaudio Xeo?


Dynaudio Xeo is un-plug and play. No loudspeaker cables, no D/A converters, no amplifiers, no set-up software, no plug-in or IP address are needed. 


3. What is the Xeo Transmitter?


The Xeo Transmitter is an electronic device that receives music from a connected sound source and wirelessly transmits it, uncompressed, to the Xeo loudspeakers.


4. Can I connect any audio source to the Xeo transmitter?


Yes, the transmitter  may be connected to multiple sources, as it features both an optical (Toslink) digital input as well as a mini USB digital input, allowing connection to the digital output of myriad audio devices, while two analogue inputs - a stereo mini jack for connecting a Smartphone, Tablet or other personal media devices, as well as a set of RCA stereo inputs allowing connection to an existing hi-fi system are on offer.


5. Is the Xeo system also ready for multi-room/multi-zone installations?


Yes, one single Xeo transmitter can also supply wireless sound to a second pair of Xeo loudspeakers in a second room, and to a third pair of Xeo speakers in a third room.


6. What is the maximum distance between the Xeo transmitter and the Xeo speakers?


Depending on room shapes and wall construction, one Transmitter can send the signal up to 50 meters, or up to 100 meters in spaces without any boundaries.


Looks like this is the start of another chapter in hi-fi. Many other manufacturers are heading the wireless route.


I know for sure that PSB is one of them as I spoke to Founder and Chief Designer of PSB Speakers International Paul Barton (see http://hi-fi-avenue.blogspot.com/2010/08/future-is-wireless.htmlduring the KL International AV Show in 2010 and he told me the future of hi-fi and home theatre will be wireless.


He said PSB's visionary designers are already working on a 5.1 system that will receive signals wirelessly from a control box that will be linked via HDMI cable to a BluRay player.


The control box will transmit the 5.1 channels to the speakers which will be 'intelligent' enough to sense the listener's position via a command on the remote control and communicate with each other to calibrate the individual speaker's volume so that the listener will get the full 5.1 effects in a balanced way. It will also be possible to include the Audyssey MultEQ room correction feature in the wireless system.



Wednesday, March 14, 2012

First Malaysian hi-res download (free)


For the first time ever, a Malaysian music producer is offering a free hi-res download.


Poppopmusic is offering a 24/96 download of one song from their latest album Winnie Ho 'The Jazzy Sounds of Teresa Teng'. 


Leslie Loh of poppopmusic said the offer is for the benefit of all audiophiles in Malaysia and other parts of the world.






Here are the download instructions:


Click:  


http://www.poppop-music.com/forgethim9624.wav

Once the file is downloaded, you will see a music player. Right click on the horizontal bar and click 'Save As' to save the source (WAV file) onto your PC hard drive.

Depending on your browser, this service may be chargeable. For example, if you use Apple QuickTime, you need QuickTime Pro, which is chargeable. If you use Google Chrome, then this service is totally free.


Then sit back and enjoy...

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

A final push for DSD


The sonic battle between PCM and DSD is an old one - it started when SACDs were launched in 1999.


SACDs which contained DSD files were pitted against DVD-A which had hi-res PCM files.
It is not really clear which format won the war, but according to http://www.sa-cd.net/ there has been an increase in SACD releases in recent times while not much has been heard about DVD-A.


However, the new battle erupting between PCM and DSD is not between SACD and DVD-A. It involves downloads of DSD and hi-res PCM files. The optical disk still has a role to play in the current war since it is possible to rip DSD files from SACDs and also to burn DSD Disks with DVD-R to be played on some Sony SACD players and Play Station 3.


While DSD recording and playback has been used by professionals in the studios for decades, the music available to the consumer market has been PCM files converted to CDs for sale in record shops. It was only in the past few years that hi-res PCM files have been available for download.


The latest charge by the proponents of DSD has been led jointly by software and hardware merchants.


On the software side, the most active is perhaps Blue Coast Records which has been offering free DSD downloads to get you hooked to the fabulous sonic quality of DSD files before selling them to you.


On the hardware side, Playback Designs has been playing an active role. In fact, Andreas Koch of Playback Designs rounded up Andy McHarg of dCS and Rob Robinson of Channel D to come up with an open standard for DSD streaming via USB.


To read the complete announcement, click http://www.audiostream.com/content/usb-link-dsd-audio-pcm-frames-andres-koch


To emphasise the seriousness of the latest move to push DSD, Andreas managed to convince a list of hi-fi luminaries to support his open standard and they include Jim White  (Aesthetix), Damien Plisson (Audirvana ), Rob Robinson (Channel D), Andy McHarg and David J Steven (dCS ), Matt Ashland (J River, Inc), Dominique Brulhart (Merging Technologies), Jon Reichbach (Sonic Solutions), Gordon Rankin (Wavelength Audio) and Ali Dixon (XMOS).


Already there are several DACs that can decode DSD -
* Playback Designs (http://www.playbackdesigns.com/). Supports DSD, double rate DSD and PCM up to 384kHz via USB.
* dCS: http://www.dcsltd.co.uk/. Support for DSD and PCM up to 192kHz via USB.
* Mytek Digital: http://www.mytekdigital.com/. for DSD and PCM up to 192kHz via USB and Firewire
* Fostex: http://www.fostex.jp/hifi/products/HP-A8 Its DAC/headphone amp HP-A8 decodes DSD from the SD card. Available only in Japan.
* Meitner: http://www.meitner.com/preview/ma-1.html Meitner's MA-1 DAC will soon have a DSD over USB upgrade.


Some music players are offering playback software supporting native playback of DSD files:


* AudioGate (freeware) by Korg  http://www.korguser.net/audiogate/en/download.html#
* ChannelD Puremusic: http://www.channld.com/. Supports DSD and double rate DSD on Apple Mac.
* Audirvana: http://www.audirvana.com/. Supports DSD on Apple Mac.
* J. River Media Center V. 17: http://www.jriver.com/. Supports DSD and double rate DSD on Windows PC.
* Merging Technologies Emotion: http://www.merging.com/. Supports DSD and double rate DSD on Windows PC. Release planned for early 2012. 
* Signalyst - HQ Player http://www.signalyst.com/consumer.html


DSD files can be downloaded from: 
* Blue Coast Records: http://www.bluecoastrecords.com/
* Japan: http://ototoy.jp/feature/index.php/sound_and_recording
* 2L: http://www.2l.no/hires/index.html
* Wheatus: http://wheatus.com/
* David Elias: http://www.davidelias.com/
* E-Onkyo-music: http://music.e-onkyo.com/artist/m101210_R.asp


Two more labels have joined the DSD-download bandwagon - German classical music label Cybele Records (http://www.cybele.de/downloads) and Channel Classics http://www.channelclassics.com/dsd.html.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Audiogate: Gateway to good sound

Professional musicians and studio technicians should be familiar with the brand 'KORG'. It makes digital pianos, keyboards, wavedrums, monitor amps, DSD/PCM recorders and other stuff for the pros.


I think almost every CD you have heard would have featured some KORG component in its making.


So when it releases a music player for free download and especially since the music player is bundled software with every purchase of KORG digital recorders, you have to take note.


Called Audiogate, the freeware player (V 2.2.1) can be downloaded from http://www.korguser.net/audiogate/en/download.html#

Along with J River V17, it is one of the few music players that can handle DSD files (both DSD64 and DSD128) and PCM files up to 24/192.


It has downloads for Windows and Mac OS. So Mac users need not rely only on iTunes to play their hi-res files.




Audiogate music player user interface.
It can convert any file to DSF format.

It can convert any file to DSD 1bit 5.6448MHz.


The highlight of Audiogate is its ability to convert any format into any format. Audiogate supports WAV, BWF (Broadcast Wav Format), AIFF, DSDIFF, DSF, WSD and FLAC. It also supports WMA, WMA Professional, WMA Lossless, AAC, Apple Lossless and MP3 (some of these formats require add-ons like QuickTime7, Flip4Mac or Windows Media Player 10). Unlike J River which has video functions, Audiogate is a pure music player.


From KORG's website: "Repeated updates to AudioGate have continued to expand the list of supported formats; currently thirteen file formats, and twenty different combinations of sample rate and bit depth. Regardless of the format of your master, AudioGate will take care of your conversion needs. A high-resolution master recorded on the MR series (of recorders) as 1-bit DSD or 24/192 PCM can be used to create a compressed file for network distribution, a PCM file edited and mixed on your DAW can be used to generate a DSDIFF file for use as an SACD master, or an SACD DSDIFF master can be converted to the native DSF file format of a DSD disc.


"KORG's products are developed by world-class audio engineers with an exhaustive knowledge of digital audio. The design of the sample rate conversion filter built into AudioGate takes into account the tonal character heard via the final playback from the hardware, including the characteristics of the A/D and D/A converters themselves. For each combination of sampling rates, filter coefficients have been carefully designed with optimal values, and have already earned a high degree of respect in the professional mastering workplace.


"In many cases, dither processing is an important factor in determining the quality of digital audio. In addition to the 'TPDF dithering' commonly used to minimize distortion components, AudioGate also provides the proprietary 'KORG AQUA' dithering algorithm developed by KORG to match the response characteristics of human hearing. The perceptual result far surpasses the theoretical S/N ratio based on the quantization bit depth, and has the potential to capture the spatial character of a high-quality master and preserve it even in the down-converted file."


Another exciting feature of Audiogate is its ability to create DSD Disks which can be played on some Sony SACD players and the PS3.



"AudioGate is one of the most innovative software applications that support the creation of DSD discs, a topic of interest among audiophiles. When used in conjunction with an MR series recorder, AudioGate lets you transfer your recording to media without impairing the pure audio quality that is distinctive of DSD, allowing you to not only create reference discs but also providing the ideal solution for archiving.


"AudioGate's powerful functionality also comes into play when creating conventional audio CDs. AudioGate contains a decimation filter that is far superior to those built into a typical AD converter for PCM, as well as a proprietary dithering algorithm developed by KORG to match the characteristics of human auditory perception. This functionality ensures that regardless of the source you're using, you'll be able to create even higher-quality audio CDs," KORG's website stated.



I spent some time last night and this morning comparing J River V17 with Audiogate using files ranging from MP3 to FLAC to DSD.


I had to set output to Direct Sound before music could be played in my system.


Then I set 'Sampling' to 'Auto'.


Strangely in my system using a Wyred 4 Sound DAC2 and a Toshiba laptop with Windows 7 64bit, I had to use 'Direct Sound' output before things worked even though Windows 7 would normally handle 'WASAPI' output.


Then I had to set 'Sampling' to 'Auto' and strangely, the sampling rate shown on the W4S DAC2 display was stuck at 192 no matter what file was fed to it. But the Audiogate showed the sampling rate of the file it was playing.


With Audiogate, DSD files were converted to 24/192 PCM when playing while J River V17 converted them to 24/96.


There were differences in sound quality - the Audiogate sounded cleaner, clearer and more transparent with greater depth in the soundstage whereas J River sounded more amorphous but a tad more pleasant. Well-recorded files featuring lots of musicians like Jazz At The Pawnshop sounded very good with lots of space and air with Audiogate, but MP3 files were revealed to be what they are - stripped-bare music. Audiogate can be quite merciless while J River is more forgiving.


Audiogate emphasised clarity and the images were slightly leaner while J River was easier to listen to. I could not pick a winner and it would depend on the system and mood. I could live with either one and indeed I have both Audiogate and J River V 17 in my laptop.


If you love details and clarity, go for the Audiogate and if you love smoothness and don't mind amorphous images, go for the J River.


Since it's freeware, it's a no brainer to download Audiogate.



Sunday, March 4, 2012

Double Take: The Reunion




Double Take is back for a reunion concert at Bentley auditorium on April 21 and it is hosted by pop pop music.


This will be Double Take’s first public performance since their sold-out 2009 concert at the prestigious Petronas Philharmonic Hall in Kuala Lumpur and it will most likely be their only concert this year.


Double Take - which comprises guitarist Roger Wang and singer Mia Palencia - will also be releasing an EP featuring 4 new recordings exclusively for this concert.


The duo who have been together for 12 years did not officially split - Roger stayed in Kota Kinabalu while Mia left for Tasmania for further studies. 


Tickets start selling on March 5 at all Airasia Redtix appointed ticketing outlets. Log on to http://www.airasiaredtix.com.


There will be a special incentive offered by pop pop music - those who own a copy of Roger Wang's 'Milestones' are entitled to a 10% rebate (RM5 and RM8 respectively). Remember to bring that CD to claim your rebate and get Roger's autograph as well. The rebate counter will be set up outside the auditorium. 


Those who buy the "Milestones" album at the venue will also be entitled to a 10% rebate.   

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Mixing to DSD from analogue is best


After reading all about DSD and listening to the three DSD downloads from http://www.audiogate.bluecoastrecords.com/, I realised that all three songs featured acoustic instruments and in the website (http://dsd-guide.com/) it was mentioned that "DSD audio is a one bit, 2.8mHz audio format and in our opinion the closest digital representation of acoustic sounds." Note the word 'acoustic'.






That got me wondering if DSD would be a good format for electronic/rock music. So I e-mailed the question to dsd-guide.com and Cookie Marenco, founder of Blue Coast Records, replied.


This is Cookie's reply:


DSD can only be as good as its source.  If the source is PCM, then it will sound like a great PCM recording.  The most benefit comes with the source recording at DSD of which there are few.  


It is my opinion that Mixing to DSD from analog tape is the best sounding for both acoustic and electronic/rock recordings because the playback after recording sounds more like the original sound with both the fast dynamic response and the representation of the high and low frequencies.  It is most noticeable in the sound of the drums (cymbals) and in the bass.  DSD represents the bass lower and more accurately than any PCM recording I've heard.


Dave Grohl of the Foo Fighters just recorded his last album to tape and won a Grammy.  He stood up to thank everyone and announced to the world how much more he enjoyed the analog sound.  That recording would be a great candidate for DSD.


With electronic music the benefit is less noticeable because of the instruments, but the benefit is still there.  The challenge for not using PCM in the recording stage is that there are fewer ways to manipulate the sounds for effect or correction.


The real benefit of DSD for the home user will come when more music is recorded to DSD.  Another benefit of DSD is that it can travel much faster through the Internet than 192/24 for downloading."


Cookie recommended some sample tracks - you can try some here that are certified as non-PCM recordings (Analog to DSD to DSD).  Remember that the sample is MP3.
http://houstonjones.downloadsnow.net/queen-of-yesterday
http://bluecoastrecords.downloadsnow.net/special-event-9-october-2010
There is more music at http://www.downloadsnow.net/


Cookie also suggested that audiophiles should download the three free samples (which I have already listened to; click http://www.hi-fi-avenue.blogspot.com/2012/02/dsd-sounds-most-natural-and-lifelike.html ). You can find the samples at http://www.audiogate.bluecoastrecords.com/ 


Cookie seems confident that there will be more DSD DACs in the market soon.