Thursday, April 26, 2012

Sound of mixed metals

Master of metals Franck Tchang.

After I spoke to Franck Tchang about his ASI Liveline cables during last year's KL International AV Show, I just had to test them. So I went to CMY at Damansara Utama and took home first a pair of XLR interconnects and later a power cord.

Franck Tchang's cables are unique as they are the only ones in the market made of several types of precious metals - we are not talking about plain old silver-plated copper wire - 'soldered' together with pure silver.

He uses five metals - copper, silver, gold, red gold and platinum connected in series. The sequence is different depending on the type of cable and he is the only one in the world who knows the right way to make them.

XLR Interconnects

These are supposed to be able to function as AES/EBU digital cables as well, but I tested them only as balanced analogue interconnects.

I switched between a pair of Audioquest Panther dbs and the ASI Liveline linking the (then) resident Benchmark DAC1 Pre to the resident Bryston 4B SST power amp.

The ASI Liveline XLR interconnects can also be used as AES/EBU digital cables.

Tonally the ASI Liveline interconnects sounded quite neutral with a well-defined sound stage, good separation of instruments and very stable images.

The Audioquest sounded fuller and deeper in the bass region, but was slightly less transparent, but bear in mind these are minor differences.

One thing I noted was that with the ASI Liveline interconnects, the singer was always thrust upfront as if he or she had taken a few steps forward from the band.

Power cord

When I got hold of the ASI Liveline power cord, I felt it was a bit thin for a power cable while the jacket was somewhat loose. It was also quite stiff.

While the build quality was not as good as a top-dollar power cord, the plugs were of audiophile standard sourced from Yarbo of Germany and the US plug had bare copper prongs.

I plugged the ASI Liveline power cord to the power amp and compared it with my DIY quad-braided power cord featuring silver-plated copper conductors, Teflon dielectric and Furutech gold-plated plugs. Then I used it on the DAC and compared it with the Siltech Classic Anniversary SPX 20 power cord and on the Melos SHA-1 headphone amp/preamp and compared it with the Kimber PK10 power cord.

The ASI Liveline power cord comes with Yarbo plugs.

After much plugging and unplugging, I reached the following conclusions:

It did not work well with the power amp and sounded very lean and edgy with slightly hard highs. It also restricted dynamics.

With the DAC, it sounded better than it did with the power amp but lost out to the Siltech in terms of smoothness while it was ahead in terms of detail.

With the preamp, the Kimber had a bassier and fuller sound while the ASI Liveline power cord sounded more detailed but leaner in comparison.

I felt Franck Tchang's interconnects performed better than his power cord and if you want to buy the power cord, my advice is to use it with either the DAC or preamp which are components that draw less current.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Demo systems at CMY 1-Utama

The CMY outlet on the second floor of 1-Utama shopping mall.

The CMY outlet in the 1-Utama shopping mall, Petaling Jaya, has shifted to the new wing for quite some time, but many people are still looking for it in the old wing, which has been extensively renovated.

CMY is now located on the second floor of the new wing just next to the popular Shogun restaurant and is manned by Senior Product Adviser Steve Chua.

At the CMY 1-Utama outlet, there are two systems on demo - the main one comprises the Dynaudio Confidence C4 speakers driven by the Jeff Rowland Chorus pre and Jeff Rowland 312 power amp with the source being the Wadia 571 CD transport and the Wadia 521 DAC.

The Wadia-Jeff Rowland-Dynaudio main demo system.
The second demo system has Naim components and Dynaudio speakers.
Other components on display.
Headphones and cables are also available at the CMY outlet.

The second system is Naim-based driving a pair of Dynaudio speakers.

The outlet is also well-stocked with Siltech and QED cables, Usher components and other products.

So the next time you have a meal at Shogun, you should visit CMY to listen to its demo systems.

Monday, April 9, 2012

Jade-2 DAC does not sound jaded

There are some pretty interesting DACs in the market now as manufacturers have learnt how to tune them to sound more ‘analogue’.

Orb Audio’s Jade-2 DAC/headphone amp from Japan is one good example and its sonic signature definitely falls within the Ayre QB-9, Bladelius and Rega DAC category.

The Orb Jade 2 - distributed in Malaysia by Nova Hi-Fi - uses the much-praised AKM AK4396 24/192 chip and it accepts 24/192 via its coax and Toslink inputs while the USB port accepts up to 24/96.

The USB input accepts up to 24/96.

The front controls of the Orb Jade-2 DAC.

While it operates primarily as a DAC, it is also a headphone amp and you can connect an analogue source for headphone listening. The volume control only works for the headphones which is a pity because with the quality of the sound produced by the DAC, Orb Audio’s designers should have just included a preamp function. Such one-box solutions are getting quite popular these days - just look at the Wyred 4 Sound DAC2, the Berkeley Alpha and the Weiss DAC202.

On the front panel of the Jade-2 DAC is another USB port which accepts thumbdrives with WMA/AAC/MP3 files.

Shaped like a Cyrus-style shoe-box component, the Orb Jade-2 DAC runs quite hot as its analogue output stage is in Class A.

While I did spend some time listening to MP3 files on a thumbdrive, most of the listening sessions involved streaming hi-res music from my laptop using J. River V16. Since I also received the Pro-Ject CD Box SE (see at about the same time that I got hold of the Orb Jade-2 DAC, I spent many hours spinning silver disks and the two proved to be a great match.

After using a few coax cables, I settled on the DH Labs D-75, which proved to be a giant-killer, to connect the Pro-Ject CD player to the Orb DAC.

The Orb Jade-2 DAC’s sonic signature is smooth, analogue-like and on the warm side of neutral. The music also sounded quite dynamic, full and rich though not as full and rich as the Ayre. And these qualities did not change even when I switched to the USB port from the coax input.

I noted that the Jade-2 DAC seemed to emphasise smoothness rather than details and this was evident when I compared it with the resident Wyred 4 Sound DAC2.

The details were there, but they did not stand out from the mix of sounds. The details seemed somewhat subdued; but the smoothness of the sound was quite beguiling and after a while I did not miss the details.

Playing songs from a thumbdrive.

You can connect an analogue source to the Jade-2 for headphone listening.

However, I was quite disappointed to find out that the Jade-2 could not accept 24/88.2KHz files and I had to change the DSP settings of J River to upsample these to 24/96. I prefer to play digital files at their native sampling rates.

I also spent some time testing the Jade-2 as a headphone amp with my Sennheiser HD600 headphones.

The sound quality was quite rich, full and smooth. In comparison with the resident Melos SHA-1 tubed headphone amp/preamp, the Jade-2 did not sound as warm as the Melos. It’s not apple to apple; it is Class A solid state vs tubes. The Melos also sounded fuller and smoother.

One unusual feature is a 'direct' and 'comfort' button on the front panel. After much pressing of the buttons, I ended up preferring the 'direct' function which sounded more dynamic and exciting. The 'comfort' function was too smooth for my liking.

Priced at about RM6,000 (rrp), the Orb Jade-2 DAC/headphone amp is targeted at the advanced CAS fan.

Its rather ‘analogue’ sonic signature is a great selling point, but I would have loved a preamp function. That would have made it a complete package.

Saturday, April 7, 2012

US$5 for another DSD download

If you missed the 10 US cents download offer (see Blue Coast Records is offering another discount on downloads of DSD files.

However, this time it will cost US$5 (normal price is US$50) for the While She Sleeps Piano Lullabies by Art Lande.

This offer is valid till April 9.

If you are interested, click

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

KEF Blade: The cutting edge of sound

The KEF Blade sounds and looks stunning.

One of the most exciting speakers in recent times in terms of sonic quality and, especially, of design has reached Malaysia.

I am talking about the KEF Blade, which was designed to commemorate KEF's 50 years in the hi-fi business.

It is one of the most visually exciting speakers I have ever seen with the most sensuous curves.

Seen from the side, the speaker looks like, well, a blade.

The high-end speakers, which cost RM120,000 (rrp) a pair, are at Perfect Hi-Fi's outlet in IOI Mall, Puchong and have been set up for demo purposes.

Andy Tan and his latest expensive toy.

Andy Tan, owner of Perfect Hi-Fi, said he brought in two pairs - one in glossy white and the other in glossy black. The white pair has been sold while the black pair will be his company's star attraction at the coming Kuala Lumpur International AV Show.

Andy said there is a three to six-month waiting list for the KEF Blade and the waiting time depends on the colour (there are 12 custom colours).

The KEF Blade is like no other speaker that I have seen as it is designed to be a 'single apparent source' with a Uni-Q driver in the front and four woofers mounted symmetrically equidistant from it in order for their acoustic centres to be exactly in the same point in space.

The four woofers are connected back to back in a rigid manner to cancel out vibrations. They are also housed in separate chambers that are port loaded.

The Uni-Q driver.

There are two side-firing woofers on each side of the cabinet.

The KEF Blades are hooked up to an all Audio Research system.

The cabinet is made of moulded glass-reinforced composite and braced internally extensively.

I spent more than an hour this afternoon listening to the KEF Blade in a system comprising an Audio Research CD5, an Audio Research LS27 preamp, Audio Research VS115 100 watt power amp and all Transparent cables.

The first thing I noticed was the pin-point imaging, then I noted the transparency and the large and deep soundstage. Then I noted the impressive dynamics and the clarity.

The way the images 'hovered' in mid-air reminded me of Maggies and I dare say the transparency of the KEF Blade's sound comes quite close to - and possibly even equals - the standard set by the Maggies.

The bass was adequately deep if slightly lean, but the bass quality is highly dependent on speaker placement. The Blade needs to be away from side and rear walls.

Overall the sound quality was excellent and would have been perfect if not for that lack of last bit of bass oomph - perhaps in the 20-25Hz region. Still, the Blade sounds and looks very good and is a match for many other top-end speakers.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Colourful Triangles

Maxx AV has decided to add a dash of colour to your homes.

Max said he has brought in a shipment of Triangle Color speakers which come in glossy black, red and white.

These speakers have very high WAF (Wife Acceptance Factor) and should fit in very well with the interior decor of most Malaysian homes. And being from the Triangle range, the sonic qualities should be exemplary.

Max said there will be  special discounts for early birds.

Triangle Color floorstanders: RM5,900 per pair.

Triangle Color center speaker: RM2,500 per unit

Triangle Color bookshelf speakers: RM2,800 per pair

Monday, April 2, 2012

Download 12 DSD songs for US10 cents

This must be the bargain of the year!

You can download the Blue Coast Records Collection - The ESE Sessions in DSD format for only 10 US cents (32 sen).

I spotted this offer last night and was worried that it would have expired by now, but I suddenly realised that Malaysia is one day ahead of the United States.

This offer ends on April 2, 11:59pm PST. So Malaysians and Asians and others in this part of the world still have time to download the 12 DSD tracks (available also as 24/96 WAV PCM files).

This well-recorded album has been used by many audiophiles for demo purposes.
What are you waiting for? Click