Tuesday, June 26, 2012

KLIAVS: Limited edition CD

This year's KL International AV Show to be held from July 20 – 22 will be special as all paying visitors will get a commemorative CD for their listening pleasure.

Organiser Dick Tan said, “The commemorative CD is a long time coming. It is not that a special CD hasn’t been in our mind but the sheer logistics involved in actually acquiring one has, quite honestly, put us off, year after year.“

According to Dick Tan, that sad scenario would have remained quite unchanged had it not been for one man, Joseph Ki - architect, music lover and audiophile extraordinaire.

Jo Ki energetically handled all issues that had previously plagued any attempts to produce this Show CD and these included following up doggedly on difficult copyright issues, painstakingly assessing and writing each track’s audio synopsis and following through with the actual production of the CD.

All tracks found in the Commemorative CD are sourced from the highest possible resolution master before being downsampled to CD redbook 16 bit/44.1 khz CD standard.

Every track is carefully selected for its music content, high standard of recording and the songs are thus excellent for testing and gauging audio systems.

The Limited Edition Commemorative CD, the organizer hopes, will be the first of many and in the years to come will be a much sought-after collector’s item among audiophiles.

Dick Tan, who is organising his 19th KLIAVS, said the special CD is not for sale nor has the entry ticket price been raised. It remains at RM10 as it has been since 1994.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

An interesting night at Jo Ki's place

Last night, I had some free time and phoned Jo Ki, the renowned LS3/5A guru, to ask if I could pop by his house and listen to his system since he had with him possibly the only Playback Designs MPS-5 SACD/CD Player in Malaysia (on loan from an audiophile friend).

The Playback Designs SACD/CD player is special as it doubles as an external DAC which accepts up to 24/384 PCM or 6.1MHz DSD files with the USB Extender Box, which is an external connector for async USB that has its own master clock.

Since Jo Ki is the LS3/5A guru, his system is built around the famed BBC mini-monitors with AB1 bass extenders driven by FM Acoustics pre/power amps with the source being the Bryston media player/DAC.

Jo Ki and his highly-tweaked system.

His Bryston/FM Acoustics/LS3/5A system.

First of all, I must state that Jo Ki has tweaked his system to such an extent that the LS3/5As don't sound like LS3/5As anymore - they sound like large floorstanders. If you opine that the LS3/5A has rolled-off treble and poor, lumpy bass, wait till you hear Jo Ki's system - the high notes are as clear and clean as the sound coming from ceramic tweeters and the bass went surprisingly low that in some tracks, I felt the bass in my stomach.

And the transparency was almost 'see-through' and the soundstage was deep and wide with dense and stable images.

I have always felt that the LS3/5As had recessed mids and the tendency to push vocals backwards and singers were rendered to appear to be a few feet behind the speakers. Not so with Jo Ki's system - the singer was perhaps at the same plane as the speakers or even pushed forward a bit on some tracks.

"I don't know what you did, but your LS3/5As don't sound like LS3/5As," I told him. He chuckled.

The Playback Designs SACD/CD player was used as an external DAC.
The USB Extender Box.

But that was not the most interesting part of the night.

The climax was the comparison of DSD with DXD (24/352.8) and 32/384 PCM files using the Playback Designs SACD/CD player (used as external DAC with the USB Extender Box) and a Mac laptop using the Audirvana music player.

He played a selection of hi-res songs from 2L - DSD files and DXD PCM versions of the same songs.

I felt that the DSD files sounded more natural with better timbres while the PCM files sounded more dynamic and brighter. Also the DSD songs sounded more 'rounded', which was a pleasant quality.

Then he told me about the experiments he had been conducting with Mark, the owner of the Playback Designs SACD/CD player, and Vince, another audiophile.

They used a DSD track as master and with the Weiss Saracon digital music processing software converted it into a 24/192 and a 32/384 PCM file.

The interesting conclusion of this experiment was that I - and many others who had listened to the tracks - preferred the 32/384 PCM file as it married the dynamics of the 24/192 PCM file with the 'rounded' sound of DSD.

Jo Ki's experiments reveal that it is possible to have very good sound from digital sources and the future of digital music looks bright.

Friday, June 15, 2012

Exciting online music store

My curiosity was piqued when I read this recent announcement in hifi4sale.net: "Just want to inform you guys that Hard Graft Records' online store is now open. We welcome you to point your browser our way: http://hardgraftrecords.com/"

I just had to find out more about this set-up especially since I surfed to its web store and saw some obscure titles. I sent an e-mail to the administrator and got back some answers from Nick, the enterprising music lover who started this online music store.

When did u start this online store?

The online store was set up about a month ago. Hard Graft Records, however, started about a month before that.

Do u hv a brick-and-mortar store or is this a pure Internet store?

Not at the moment, though it was considered when I first started. That said, Hard Graft Records isn’t purely an Internet store either. The online store is used as a means of communicating what’s available. I’d say Hard Graft Records is more of a direct-to-customer model.

Much like independent record stores in the West for example, there’s a fair bit of interaction between the buyer and I. But this takes place over the Internet, via e-mail or social media for instance. Browsing is, of course, crucial to buying records and arrangements can be made to do so, especially when a shipment arrives.

What music genres do u have in stock?

Mainly indie, punk and metal. But I do find genres restrictive. I believe the main consideration is that it has to be remarkable. By remarkable I mean music that creates a buzz, that gets fans talking. I think when one looks at it this way, the genres that emerge can be quite eclectic. Here are some of the recent/upcoming releases that Hard Graft Records carries that would illustrate this.

Bobby Womack’s Bravest Man In The Universe is his first album of original material after 18 years. The album you could say happened when Richard Russell (of XL Recordings) got Womack and Damon Albarn into the studio to see what would happen. This wouldn’t be significant if the end result isn’t great, and it is.

Public Image Ltd’s This Is PiL is another example. It’s John Lydon’s first album after a break of two decades and it’s a great sounding one as well.

And then we have D.O.A.’s first single (7”) from their upcoming album We Come In Peace. It’s called We Occupy and is completely relevant to what’s happening all around us today. It features Jello Biafra and is surprisingly a ska-based tune. 

I also have one particular customer whose tastes I think best reflects what Hard Graft Records is about. His order list ranges from John Coltrane and Muddy Waters right through to Paradise Lost and Hellhammer.

I notice u hv some obscure titles. Is there a market for these?

Obscure titles will always be a bit more challenging to sell. I try not to shy away from these because there’s so much to discover and enjoy both as a music lover and record store owner. My customers clue me into stuff I’m not aware of when they ask me to order it for them. And that is great because a record store is a place where people share and discover music, and a store can’t be that if it only stocked well-known (mainstream) titles or acts. There must be an element of the unknown for discovery to happen.

Where do u source the vinyl and cds from?

I get them from various sources but get the most of my stock from a supplier from Hong Kong.

Why buy from yr store and not other websites?

I won’t say why someone should buy from Hard Graft Records and not somewhere else. All I can and should say is that Hard Graft’s strength lies in the fact that it’s owned and run by a music lover and everything is approached from that standpoint (of a music lover). So it’s a fundamental aspect of the business to stock and/or obtain titles for customers; titles they may have found difficult to get from other sources and to act secondarily as a platform for exchange of good music. Hard Graft can quite quickly tell a customer whether a title is in stock or has to be back ordered.

Besides that, Hard Graft also does pre-orders for upcoming releases. Pre-ordering ensures availability of a title when it is released. This is crucial when it comes to buying vinyl because it’s sometimes difficult to say when is the next pressing, if there is going to be one in the first place.

How many people r involved in this store. only you?

Yes, only me.

Where is it based? from yr home? where is yr home?

Currently, from home. But come July, I will be working from an office in Mid Valley.

How has response been?

The response has been very encouraging.

Customers mostly Malaysian or from other countries?

Hard Graft is meant for and targeted at Malaysians. This is deliberate. As a music lover, I’ve often found it difficult to obtain (for whatever reasons) the stuff that I like. In a way, Hard Graft Records is a solution to my problem and hopefully that of other music lovers as well.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

A tale of three USB cables

After I had taken a Kimber Ag USB cable from Hi-Way Laser in SS2, Petaling Jaya, for review, I decided to get a few more for a shoot-out with my resident Furutech USB cable.

That was how I ended up with USB cables made by Voodoo (from Absolute AV Gallery) and  DH Labs Silver Sonic (from Acoustique Systems from Amcorp Mall).

Those who still claim that USB cables should not sound different should just test two USB cables - a Cardas and a Furutech.

They do sound different. Just don't ask me why. Of course there are lots of theories, but nobody has quite come up with the best answer as to why the transfer medium of digital signals can change sound quality.

I tested the three USB cables using an old Toshiba laptop running Windows 7 64-bit and J Rivers V17 to the resident Wyred4Sound DAC-2, Bryston 4B SST and the ATC SCM40s.

Kimber Ag USB cable

This is the follow-up to Kimber's successful copper USB cable, which was the first audiophile USB cable to be marketed.

Initially Kimber's USB cables had ferrite beads, but following comments that the beads attenuated high frequencies, the later batches were marketed without the beads.

Kimber's Ag USB cable uses pure silver conductors for the signal (the first cables used silver-plated copper for the signal).

It also uses a dual connection system - crimped and soldered.

The Kimber turned out to be the most natural sounding of the lot with the best rendition of voices.

The voices of K.D. Lang and Frank Sinatra sounded most natural without any sibilance and with the right body and register.

The Kimber also produced a wider soundstage and on some tracks I could hear voices or music 'emerging' from way beyond the speaker boxes.

DH Labs Silver Sonic USB cable

The new DH Labs USB cable uses silver-coated OFHC copper conductors insulated in a low-density gas-injected dielectric. "The combination of these two materials provides a more uniform attenuation vs frequency curve, which helps to preserve waveform shapes at the Megahertz frequencies where digital cables operate," the DH Labs website said.

"At these frequencies, it is very important to maintain the very tight control over the insulation thickness, and we also cable (twist) the conductors on a machine that runs slowly and with uniform (constant) tension. These techniques combine to maintain a highly uniform characteristic impedance, which minimize signal reflections (and thus cable induced jitter). At Megahertz (and Gigahertz) frequencies, cables behave as wave guides. Dimensional discontinuities - such as inconsistencies in insulation thickness or non-uniform spacing between the conductors - are a major reason for poor digital cable performance.

"Finally, we use 100% shield coverage (the shield is also wrapped at constant tension, to avoid "VSWR spikes") and top quality connectors."

While the DH Labs D-75 coax cable is an excellent performer, the same cannot be said of its USB cable.

This turned out to be lean sounding with an edgy presentation and a small soundstage.

I would gladly recommend the D-75 coax, but the USB cable was quite a disappointment.

Voodoo Magic Bus USB 2.0 Cable

"The Magic Bus USB 2.0 Cable is built with a 99.999% pure silver positive conductor with high bandwidth Mylar shielding to boost the signal gain, while controlling cross-talk and noise along the induction field in the standard twisted pair geometry of a USB cable. The Magic Bus USB 2.0 Cable is the same conductor geometry and conductor materials design as our Reference Digital AES-EBU cable," the Voodoo website said. 

The conductors have also been cryogenically treated.

The Voodoo sounded slightly brighter than the rest and actually was most like the Furutech in character.

However, voices - especially male - sounded a bit lean with a slight lack of body.

The slightly bright nature would suit dull-sounding systems.

It has to be noted that the USB cables were also system-dependent. With the review system, the Kimber sounded just right but when I switched the speakers to the PMC Twenty24 floorstanders, which are inherently smoother sounding, the sonics became somewhat duller and the Voodoo actually was a better match with the slight brightness counteracting the speakers' mildly dark tonal balance.

Monday, June 4, 2012

New M2Tech distributor

Finally there is a more established distributor of M2Tech products in Malaysia.

Brooklyn Sonar/Trident Entertainment announced that it has completed the transition from the former distributor of M2Tech products in Malaysia to emerge as the Exclusive Distributor for All M2Tech components in Malaysia and India.

The M2Tech Young DAC.

The M2Tech HiFace

Look out for the Young DAC which is 32bit/384 KHz capable. Other components to test are the HiFace EVO line and the HiFace 2 which is Linux compatible and needs no driver for Mac OS.

Soon to come is the Vaughan Flagship Super DAC 32 bit 384 kHz Asynchronous with eight Quantum Filters per Channel with Preamplifier Function and Headphone Amp.

Currently one can audition M2Tech components at:

Selangor/Kuala LumpurAcoustique Systems Amcorp Mall (Contact C.N.Lim - 012-3393738)

Ken Hi FI (Ken 012-3652673)