20 June, 2018

Sparkler S306 DAC, RELStrata III for Quad ESL-2812, TAD TD-3401

TAD TD-3401, Part III: with Full Wavac System
The Amazing Sparkler S306 DAC, Part III: 
Sparkler S306 vs 47 Labs Shigaraki
Subwoofer for Quad 2812
Talk CAS: Cheapo Bluetooth Device vs. Meridian Explorer
Talk CAS: Tidal, Youtube, Radio Garden

The better half of this article comprise further reports on TAD TD-3401 and Sparkler S306 DAC. However, I also tie up some loose ends here.

TAD TD-3401, Part III: with Full Wavac System
On Sunday I re-visited Sang to spend more time with the TAD-TD-3401. This is basically a brief report that is the continuation of the last report (Part II) below (or here). On this day we tested out the full Wavac system by using the Wavac PR-X2 preamp in lieu of the Verdier Control B. The sound, as expected, was crisper than using the Control B. The piano sound was just awesome.

On this day (after much begging and cajoling) my taskmaster icefox finally agreed to come to listen again to my current systems. I was just about to leave Sang's place when icefox arrived in Yuen Long earlier than expected, and I asked him to join us at Sang's place. icefox was impressed by the performance, and harbored the same opinion that the 3401 is superior to the 2401/2402.

Regarding the Wavac, icefox still wished that it could be a tad cooler and thought the piano a little too clanging. For me, it was the opposite. More than most audiophiles, I am very particular about the leading edge, and have always thought the Wavac to be better on this front. However, since the TAD TD-3401 is a faster and more precise transducer than the Tannoy Canterbury, the resultant sound could sometimes be a little sharp. It is a small price I am willing to pay (especially since we get more details with the Wavac) but I can totally understand the other camp. So we were all consistent in our preferences.

Very soon, To Sir and then Mila joined us too. To Sir has a self-assembled big TAD System (which I have never heard) and is obviously a TAD expert. Both he and Mila were delighted with the 3401.

Now we go back a day or two...

Top Shelf: Note Sparkler S306 under 47 Labs Shigaraki DAC, behind Shigaraki Transport.

This is my third write-up of the Sparkler S306 DAC. For basic info please read Part I, where the Weiss Minerva proved utterly inept in its face. In Part II, the S306 went head to head with NOS AMC without shaming itself.

Sparkler S306 DAC
As mentioned in the links, ever since I bought it, I have used my S306 (serial Number 2) exclusively in my Yamaha NS-1000 system. Just could not bear removing it. Yesterday, however, with a little extra time on my hand, I decided to implement it in my Kondo system (pic above):

Transport: 47 Labs Shigaraki (Belden 1694)
DACs: 47 Labs Shigaraki vs Sparkler S306 (Gotham DGS-1 and 2111)
Preamp: Audio Note (original; Japan) M7
Amp: Kondo Ongaku
Loudspeakers: TAD TSM-2201
Subwoofer: JBL 12" paper cone 

Just one recording for illustration shall suffice. In the EMI (Warner) Oistrakh box is a performance of Schubert's Piano Trio No. 1 (with his long-term partners Oborin and Knushsevitsky). This 1958 recording is good but not exceptional in sound. In fact, with the 47 Labs Shigaraki DAC, in this Kondo system there was some harshness in the upper midrange, particularly with the Gotham 2111.

I was dumbfounded when I swapped in the Sparkler. It is very hard to describe the tonal differences, but the bit of hardness is gone with the S306, despite its being obviously more airy in the treble and elsewhere a little leaner than the Shigaraki. What is easier to describe is the utterly sinuous quality of the Sparkler. While the 47 Labs delivered a musical performance, with the Sparkler it is at another level: there is more resolution; the leading edge is sharper; the three instruments are more separated and easier heard; Oistrakh's playing is more sinuous and the cellist more mellifluous. The whole performance sparkled (pun intended) with an utterly disarming rhythm and pace.

This is not the first time Sparkler astounded me in its grab of musical intent. I have not reported this before, but in my Yamaha system, I once played the Andris Nelsons recording of Shostakovich 10th (DG) and felt something amiss: there was a brooding and threatening atmosphere that went missing (compared to my first hearing the CD in the same system). I checked and, lo and behold, the DAC was not connected and it was the Sony Blu-ray player's analogue section I was hearing. Now, as I reported in Part I, the Sony is no slouch, but it just did not deliver the charged atmosphere the way Sparkler could.

And so, despite the use of its matching transport, the 47 Labs Shigaraki DAC was displaced by the Sparkler S306 in the Kondo system.

The 47 Labs Shigaraki continues to serve in the system below as the DAC for the Sony DVP-PR50P, and it improved upon the Arcam rDAC and Sony's own analogue output.

Time Out: World Cup
After playing the imitable Celibidache's Brahms Symphonies, it was time for some food. Once again I opted for 肥姐 蠔餅 (Fat Lady's Oyster Omelette) which I wrote about last time. This time a plain red went well too with the dish.

On this day it was Germany vs Mexico; the latter's quick and precise counter-strikes were really impressive. In a way, Germany played like a bad DAC - no finesse; whereas Mexico was like the Sparkler, microdynamically alert,with tensile strength, exceptional leading edge, PRaT.

Time Out: Subwoofer (REL Strata III) for the Quad ESL-2812
As you know, the Quad ESL crowd is a special breed. They swear by their ESL and are in general very reluctant to add a subwoofer. So, I am proud to say that after listening to my 47 Labs 4737 augmented by subwoofer (here) both Quad ESL-2812 owners WSS (whose system was last reported here) and JL were persuaded to give it a try. They lugged my down-firing REL Strata III from icefox's cavernous place (he used it to augment his Tannoy) to WSS's small den.

REL STRATA III Subwoofer, Black, Mint Condition!The REL Strata III was an old product, but one of the more expensive offerings. It was generally very well received at the time and you can find quite a bit of info on the internet (pic borrowed from canuckaudiomart).

The afternoon I was there, with the low-level input we tried crossing over from 69 Hz to 95Hz. All worked quite well. The volume is indented. We started with 3 small clicks, but eventually went down to just one click. If you touch the woofer unit, it was barely vibrating. This very small bass augmentation however had the eminently audible effect of improving upon the liveliness of the presentation. The ESL always been too polite for me. It is good for a few instruments, but when the orchestra comes in, it is always underwhelming. The subwoofer improves upon this most important aspect. The effect of the subwoofer here is a bit different from what I get with my own systems - with the ESL one picks up the gain in presence more than bass extension. I am not sure whether that is due to the ESL or this REL. The important thing is, used judiciously, it is definitely a plus for the Quad ESL-2812, though I think other subwoofers may be worth trying too.

Back to the icefox crowd.

Click pic to enlarge. The black Bluetooth Device next to the Meridian Explorer.

The Bluetooth Crowd and the Generic Cable
Back to the icefox crowd. They spent a few hours in Yuen Long, but the program didn't exactly unfold the way I had wanted it to. After two hours with 15" woofers, I am sure anything else is an anti-climax. It would have been better the other way around. :-) Nonetheless, I don't think the sound at my place disappointed them unduly.

This is also the Bluetooth Crowd. Many of them use Tidal Streaming through their Cellphones. Arranged in advance, icefox brought his el cheapo Bluetooth device (from Taobao, less than USD 50; the black thing). Despite its small size, I think it has the latest technology. We connected it to the Kondo M7 with icefox's generic RCA cable, and the sound was quite acceptable, better with some cuts than others. icefox also played some youtube, which to my ear sounds even better. We then did some brief comparisons.

Tidal (Cellphone) vs Macbook Pro My Macbook Pro is very basic, unadulterated iTunes (no "mandatory" Amarra) playing lossless AIFF files. Through Bluetooth, the Macbook has a warmer and more detailed sound.

Meridian Explorer (USB) vs Bluetooth We then played my Macbook AIFF files through Bluetooth and also through USB (my favorite Unitek) connected to the Meridian Explorer. The USB connection is again warmer and more detailed. It better be, as I actually hold the Meridian Explorer in high regard (here). Actually, from memory I also think the sound through the wireless dongle of my Arcam rDAC is better than the Bluetooth.

Image result for Radio gardenInternet Radio Through my Macbook icefox also played his favorite Italian Radio Emiglio Romagna, but not through the official site, instead using Radio Garden. I can attest it was very good and the programming of much baroque music was to my liking. I also like the fun way one navigates in Radio Garden. Give it a try!

Belden 8451 vs Generic Cable We then compared the two 1/4" to RCA cables. My go-to 1/4" to RCA cable, which I use with my Meridian Explorer and Fiio X-1, is a DIY one is made from Belden 8451 (info) with Amphenol connectors. The sound was at once more controlled and detailed, but the crowd pointed out correctly that it was also a little tighter than the generic one.

For a while, there has been a little bit of a phenomenon going on with those around icefox (that means a lot of people). People give generic cables (some from Apliu Street) serious tries and devote much time to comparison, just like, e.g., one would compare Audioquest with Kimber. In general, these are pragmatic people who rightly eschew expensive cables. Many also use cables of vintage origins (WE or not). Many of these people own expensive systems (such as the two WE systems recently featured).

I don't have any problems with this. However, from the vantage point of a professional cable user, I do think one can achieve just as much, and more, playing around with professional cables and other things. Take an example, at our WE/Altec 604 friend Vincent's home, I didn't report it, but we did compare my DGS-1 with his favorite generic cable. To me, the DGS-1 was just more nuanced and had more finesse (I gave him a pair). Similarly, while the generic cable that came with my Thorens TD-309 was surprisingly good, it was surpassed by Gotham cable. Note too these about generic cables: 1) they vary greatly in quality; the ones that come with your USB devices, TVs, TV boxes etc are usually not too good; 2) they are usually smoother, less dynamic and extended at the frequency extremes, which I'd venture is why some audiophiles use them, but imho this is more of like patch-up works on flawed systems.

Nonetheless, the exercise with the Bluetooth device was highly entertaining and downright fun! How often can you say that about audio? As CAS is just peripheral to me, I can entirely see the point of doing things on the cheap, and the quality was pretty good! BTW, like me, icefox thinks usually the expensive, complicated, technical and "serious" CAS systems sound terrible. YMMV.

12 June, 2018

TAD TD-3401 and That Certain Atmosphere Verdier Wavac Tannoy

One Glorious Day!

Review: Pioneer/Exclusive/TAD TD-3401, Part II
My TAD TD-3401 Finds a New Home

TAD TD-3401, Part I

Audio Personalities There are many types, and in my experience the personality governs the outlook on audio.

There are those who never waver in their beliefs (no matter how unfounded), like "never tube" or "never solid state" (Religious Fanatics); those who anally/constantly tweak their systems and proclaim incremental improvements every time (Sales); those who believe in A/B'ing the smallest things yet fail to look at the big picture, like the obsessive cable swapper, or those vintage gear tube rollers prevalent in HK (Anal Retentive, + Religious Fanatics); and so on. In the end, these are people who know too little about music and overly confident in their own hearing ability.

And then there are the masochists, who for some reason struggle with what they suspect are no good. My friend/taskmaster icefox has long assigned me to this category. But he is wrong - I have consistently transformed what others (even I) have lost faith in. There are no better examples than my journey with Tannoy, perhaps even TAD. I know I am seemingly drifting off but the following bits have bearings on the evaluation of the TAD at hand.

Tannoy For the longest time I was really lukewarm towards Tannoy. Having already heard some really good horn systems in NYC before I came back to HK I was not at all impressed by the HK Tannoy scene, populated by "the older the better" and "only vintage need apply" types who believe in the pecking order Silver > Red > Gold (Black is too rare; and HPD and modern stuff need not apply). Oh, I heard all of these, many times - many times too many. I heard largely execrable sound from these people's Silver's and Red's - honestly, I don't have a clue what they listen to. On the other hand, some of the Gold's were semi-decent, or at least showed potential. To test it out myself, I bought a pair of Lancaster (12" Gold") and quickly got pretty good sound out of it (with the help of Aurum Cantus super-tweeters; this is >15 years ago). Of course, it is still a little slow in transients, but much better than older Red's and Silver's. A few years later (> 10 years ago, before I started this Blog) my friend Andy L sold me his pair of Canterbury HE when he switched to the TAD TD-3401 (see below), and I sold the Lancaster's to my friend whlee, who still uses them.

Interestingly, I never have really directly written much about my own Canterbury's, rather spilling perhaps too much ink on others'. During the time Andy had it, he only got fair sound out of them (in a smaller room with DIY 300B). I took them up likely because it was a challenge, not because I really clamored after them. I was after all very happy with my Klipsch La Scala's then and, having to make room for the Tannoy's I was really sorry to see one pair of my La Scala's go. When I first got the Canterbury's, the sound was rather terrible and grey and it took quite a long time to open up (my take is that the hard edge needs a lot of running-in). Masochist triumphed in the end! In the coming year, I should write more about Tannoy's - my own experiences!

TAD As for TAD, the scenario was hardly as dramatic. However, it was true that for the longest time I was not impressed by the very expensive large TAD's I have heard in HK (mostly 2401/2402) and never thought about them, until I heard the TD-3401, as documented here. Now, that is what horns are supposed to sound like! When Andy moved on to DIY TAD systems and other stuff, I grabbed the chance to acquire the TD-3401, and it was bingo from the word go in my place (see Part I). There is also a bit more of TD-3401 listening notes here.

My TD-3401 Finds a New Home
Due to family circumstances I am letting go of quite a bit of my stuff, so on this past Sunday I officially passed the TD-3401 over to my friend Sang, whom you have encountered many times before in this Blog. Sang is a bold soul, as he has never heard them before!

Tight Corners It took a while for the two of us to maneuver each >70 kg beast down the narrow flight of stairs, and Sang's wife Carmen helped a lot too. Basically, what I did was protect the loudspeaker with carton paperboard (from large TV box) which were affixed by a Ratchet Tie Down (飛機帶). We let the loudspeaker slid down slowly the stairs as we prop it up from below. Meanwhile Carmen was pulling on the Tie Down from above, lessening the pressure on us a little. 

We also took my Wavac gears (PR-X2 preamp and MD-300B amp) along for some fun.

Equipment (click pics to enlarge):

CD Transport: Softone/ICL Model 2
DAC: Audio Note UK DAC-2 (old version; PCM-63)
Turntable: Technics SP-10/Audio Technica Arm/Denon DL-103
Preamp: JC Verdier Control B
Amp 1: JC Verdier 300B
Amp 2: Wavac MD-300B 

Click to enlarge. The right lower corner (sofa not seen) is actually the best listening position here.

Sonic Notes

  • Placement These were placed where the Verity Audio Rienzi were previously (left pic, before; top pic, now), and they blended right in with Carmen's bookcases (though partially blocking them). Mind you, this placement is not ideal for such large loudspeakers, but they will have to do for the moment.
  • Tweeter Positions At my larger old place I had the tweeters on the outside, and so we tried it out first this way. Somehow closer together in this smaller place the sound didn't quite gel and so we switched the loudspeakers. With the tweeters on the inside things became well focused.
  • Grills Though the grills were actually quite transparent, perhaps they did soften the treble a little (which can be good). However, we all agreed that these loudspeakers look stunningly beautiful without the grills, so they were left off.
  • vs Verity Audio Rienzi When placed in similar fashion, previously the sound of the Rienzi was actually very good and earned my complete approval. The Rienzi is taller and, being augmented bookshelf type, threw an airy soundstage, but the images, as is usually the wont, are on the small side. Everything is Fleshier and has More Atmosphere It took seconds to tell that Everything is more Flesh and Blood with the TAD's. With jazz, there was no contest, no matter it was Miles' Kind of Blue (Sony) or Sarah Vaughn's Live at Mister Kelly's (EmArcy). For the latter, Carmen remarked that it was like being in the (smoky) club. Mind you, this CD is also the one that got my shidi hooked on the TAD's (see previous links; I urge you to get this CD). Classicals too benefited from the added weight. The opening of Tchaikovsky's Manfred (LPO/Rostropovich, Warner) had Sang shaking his head in disbelief - mine too, the brooding atmosphere was just absolutely compelling! Tonally Similar (Neutral) Sang remarked that the small Rienzi and the large TD-3401 actually have very similar tonal quality and balance. I agree and, as the TAD is of monitor origin, this attests to the neutrality of the Verity Audio.
    Image result for michael rabin magic bow
  • Air, Soundstage and Height The TAD is shorter and has a much wider baffle and this can lead many people who are used to bookshelf types to not "visualize" well. Also, the horn midrange and large woofer produce so much energy that some may think there is not so much air on top. Yet that cannot be further from the truth. What we perceive as "atmosphere" is in fact these energies converging to make sense of the recording. I personally felt nothing much lacking but, as mentioned in Part I before, if possible I'd raise the loudspeakers to ear level. Lacking stands we tilted the front a little (employing past issues of National Geographic) and that lifted the images a little. Make no mistake, it was still excellent, not like the pitiably low images produced by the Quad ESL 57 in smaller spaces. Sang subsequently reported that he got even better results from sitting on the floor. Ha! Raise them!
  • CD vs LP Commendably, in this setup, digital and analogue have very similar balance and hence near-parity, which is what I always advocate. However, with digital replay, some passages could be just a tad (no punt intended) sharp, a character of the TAD (these monitors were used in the analogue era); whereas with analogue this was not a problem. Michael Rabin's The Magic Bow (re-issue LP) was very finely rendered; so was a favorite Musica Antiqua Koln Bach LP (Archive), which compared with before was just juicier (if such a term can be used for this ensemble). Delightful!
  • DAC-2 Comes Full Circle Sang recently bought the AN DAC-2. As this old BB PCM-63P version is very rare and I haven't seen any other unit beside the unit I used to own I took a very close look. Holy! It is my old unit (treated in detail here), re-sold to Sang! Now, that must be Audio Karma!
  • Wavac vs Verdier We briefly switched to the Wavac MD-300B (still using the Verdier Control B preamp). This combination is one I have never tried before, and it was quite winning. The result was largely similar to what had been carefully compared before (here, with no less a roster than icefox and Carmen's brother Danz!). We did not try the PR-X2 preamp this time. One thing of note: the Verdier now sports Shuguang 300B whereas the Wavac uses Russian tubes; if you ask me, swapping them might yield interesting results (as the Chinese is more ying; and the Russian more yang.) More to follow.
  • TD-3401 No question about it, A Masterpiece! Here in a relatively small enclosure and with a small horn one gets a full blown horn sound, something that very few horn loudspeakers can achieve (one exception may be the JBL L-300). The excellence in air, dispersion and presence is once again confirmed. In fact, aside from the constraint of the smaller space, in some way its performance in Sang's home is even better than at my old place, as I had never really had much time to it.
  • vs Tannoy Canterbury HE Head to head with the Tannoy it is a toss up. In use, the Canterbury is richer, more forgiving, even more efficient and, due to its larger volume, more powerful and extended in the bass. Although the Canterbury is a modernized Tannoy, the older TAD sports a house sound of even faster transient and its portrayal of the leading edge is even cleaner and superior.
  • That Precious Atmosphere One problem with most modern loudspeakers is the lack of atmosphere. No matter how good the soundstage and imaging are, no matter how balanced they sound (if that), they do not render atmosphere well. I have often pondered why. My take is you need the combination of horn drivers and large woofers to reproduce atmosphere. We have recently marveled at the atmosphere conveyed by our friend Eric's epic horn system. But in this relatively confined space I was surprised that the TAD was able to convey some of that atmosphere (with jazz, that is a given; but with classicals that is impressive) - along with high quality bass, this is the most precious thing in audio. Basically, when you have that, the system is already made. One can only further refine it. Salut!

05 June, 2018

Arcam rDAC

Brief Review: Arcam rDAC (Wireless Input with rWave Dongle)

This is the originl rDAC with Wireless Input through the rWave dongle. For the past years I have used it quite a bit, but always here and there and I never got to formally write about it.

The USB Input is 24/192 capable, though Wireless is limited to 16-bit. As I only use iTunes (AIFF files) from my Macbook wirelessly, it is just fine by me - convenience and quality are more important. I must also say I love the looks of this original rDAC, a classy industrial design.

Arcam has long been associated with dCS, and so the rDAC employs dCS technology in both asynchronous USB and Wireless Inputs, and of course employs Wolfson DAC chip (the well regarded and expensive 8471). It received in general very favorable reviews, from the likes of cnetToneHiFiNews and TechRadar.

I thank Thomas for repairing my defunct Arcam rDAC. This morning I had a little time on my hand and did an re-evaluation.

COAXIAL INPUT vs 47 Labs Shigaraki 4715 DAC First I listened to the Kondo system. Using the 47 Labs Shigaraki 4716 transport and the same Belden 1694 Digital cable and Gotham GAC-2111 interconnects I was able to directly compare the Arcam rDAC with the 4715 DAC. Although the Arcam rDAC did a very solid job, in this system it did not sparkle quite as much as the non-oversampling 47 Labs (adjusted for level), which was airier, more pacy and had a more truthful rendition of hall sound (imho common attribute of classic TDA 16-bit DAC chips). The rDAC though partly redeemed itself by its unflappable listenability.

COAXIAL INPUT vs Sony DVP-PR50P Heard in the simple Naim Nait I/47 Labs 4737 system, the sound of the Sony's Analogue Out (using DIN Gotham DGS-1) and Digital Out/rDAC (using Kimber D-60 and DIN Gotham GAC-2) are virtually indistinguishable (the Sony being also a very listenable machine) as the minor differences, mostly in bass presentation, could well be due to the somewhat different cables used.

USB INPUT I had never used it until just now, when I hooked up my Macbook with my trustedUnitek USB cable (here). Sound was surprisingly decent, just a little behind CD playback via Coaxial (above). On my current favorite Bach album, the leading edges were softened a little and harmonics were rounded out just a little, but again, the difference is small (and there are cable differences involved, not to mention the iTunes software itself). All in all, it puts out eminently listenable music, something that cannot be said about a lot of hi-end CAS I have heard, An excellent USB implementation.

WIRELESS INPUT The rWave dongle works a treat and pairing is fast. From the same Macbook, the sound is very good, not that different from USB. The rDAC was one of the earlier Wireless devices, and its performance is laudable.

  • The strengths of the Arcam rDAC are its balanced presentation and unflappable nature. Commendably, all inputs are well implemented. It plays any music with composure, refinement and with a degree of subtlety rare in its price class. However, those looking for overt excitement may want to re-consider.
Postscript: How good is the Recording, the Hall, or the Performance? A Reflection
During evaluation, I listened to this (first) recording commemorating the striking new Elbsphilharmonie Hall in Hamburg, reputed to be of excellent acoustics. While the performances of the Brahms symphonies are very good what caught my eyes were how the music reviewers (who usually are not audiophiles) tried to say something about the venue.

It depends a lot on miking. Here, the perspective is mid-hall, and the orchestra sounds luxurious amid plenty of ambience. Without much highlighting, the details are there, but integrated and not prominent. In my systems I could hear them but perhaps it'll not be so in lesser systems. I say it is a warm sounding hall with good acoustics.

Hall sound is notoriously hard to record and I say DAC chips vary considerably in how they portray it. No matter how good the 24/192 capable Wolfson chip is, it does seem in this area the 16-bit TDA 1543 (not to mention the 1541) is better.

In the end, aside from really bad venues like the Barbican or Royal Albert, a good recording can be made, and one is not certain how one can separate the recording, the hall, or the performance. Sort of like feeling the elephant. And that is exactly what recordings are - an approximation of the life event.

03 June, 2018

IKEA Kallax

IKEA Shelves (Kallax)

Yumcha Diary: June 2, 2018
The yumcha gang has been on a roll. My feeble action last week of bringing a bottle of cheap German Riesling to the table enticed our resident wine connoisseur Dave to bring this time a bottle of nice white burgundy (from recollection, Leflaive Puligny-Montrachet, like pic, but different vintage). 正是:拋磚引玉,爽呀!

The nice burgundy was finished in no time. The follow up was much less glamorous, a HKD 25 bottle of Sangria from 759, but it was surprisingly full flavored and non-acidic - even without fruits it was pleasant. Our friend k.c. particularly enjoyed it.

Thx to DIY afficionado Thomas for fixing my Arcam rDAC. I am enjoying it right now. Report to come.

IKEA Kallax: My Satisfaction vs Art Dudley's Woes
This morning I had a little time on my hand. As I listened to my systems perched upon my IKEA Kallax bookshelves I read the online Stereophile and discovered Art Dudley has written about the same shelves.

Many people, including I, use this series of bookcases to store LP's - highly effective, great looking and bargains (the larger models are even better). But I know of no one who places his equipment atop these - until now.

Art Dudley made a brief attempt to place his main equipment on these (lying down), but it didn't work for him: "...In one of those moments of questionable judgment to which we're all prey (or so I'd like to think), I considered that devoting 5.5 square feet of floor space to a piece of furniture that holds only audio equipment was a luxury I could no longer afford in so small a house. So I horizontally oriented one of the three finished Kallaxes and tried it in place of my Box Furniture D3S equipment rack, with LPs within and turntable, step-up transformer, preamp, and power amp on top. My system sounded like shit—and my gift with purchase was that the stylus jumped the groove if I so much as thought about walking through the room while playing a record. Lesson learned..."

I have been listening to my systems perched atop the Kallaxes for a long time, and it has been very satisfying, as my friends Seng, jules and WSS can readily attest. Much earlier on, for about a year I had also had these lying down, and they sounded even better. I reckon my Ongaku is even heavier than AD's equipment, and I now run a cheap turntable without trouble. Arguably, my setup is even more prone to vibrations as my loudspeakers are also on top. One major difference is that my floor is solid tile, and AD's is not and much more susceptible to footfall. Second, I had spent a some time doing just a little isolation. The loudspeakers sit on shock-absorbing grooved rubber slaps (courtesy of WSS). The 3 tips of the light turntable rest on Japanese "earthquake proof" gels (from the local ten cent store), and I have small slivers of folded egg cartons under the 47 Labs 4737's, which are not allowed to directly touch the shelf. Finally, as jules astutely remarked on a visit, one can actually use some vibrations to one's benefit (a la BBC). It is not ideal, for sure, but it is doable.

Time Out for Food (HK Yuen Long)
Today's outing is for the incomparable 添記
in Yuen Long. This is another dai pai dong style roast meat eatery 燒臘飯店. Why do people bear with 34C without air conditioning? Because the food is excellent! I have never seen a 燒臘飯店 with so many female patrons - sure sign of excellence!

添記 is most famous for its 燒肉, but actually everything is good because they use the freshest ingredients. You are not going to find many 燒肉 (腩仔,絕無下欄) made with fresh pork these days (so are the 叉燒 and 燒排骨). Just as importantly, the restaurant uses coal cooking 碳燒, very rare today.

It was just me, so a humble plate of 燒肉切雞飯. Incidentally, the chicken may be frozen, but it is choice 龍崗雞, very tasty. I just wish they would charge more for a better beer, but no complaints!

02 June, 2018

Tannoy News Arden Legacy Series

pic shows Tannoy Arden.

Tannoy News: Prestige and Legacy Products

As a long time Tannoy Canterbury user I have written quite a bit on the Tannoy Prestige series (sample this Overview) and retain interest in other large Tannoy loudspeakers.

Recently I discovered a few excellent articles in Taiwanese media that cover the current Tannoy products. The  Taiwanese magazines always have in-depth coverage and boast great pictures.

If you don't read Chinese, you may still want to browse the pictures or use a translator.

九十年老店重振旗鼓-訪Tannoy國際業務總監 (U-Audio 2017 Interview with Head of Global Sales, Lifestyle Products, Jamie O'Callaghan). This article covers Tannoy in general (including its much larger professional division) and once again dispels rumors and confirm that their Prestige and Legacy products are very much made in Scotland.

復刻經典的Legacy系列-專訪Tannoy國際業務總監 (On Tannoy's new incarnations of the Legacy Series). This article is on the new incarnations of the famous Legacy series, successors to the HPD, which now comprises 3 models (Arden, Cheviot, Eaton). This is excellent news, as these are considerably cheaper than the models in the Prestige series. The Arden is most interesting - I'd love to hear it. This topic is also covered in audionet.

27 May, 2018

Gotham GAC-2111 (10550) and DGS-1, Part II

Talk Cable: Gotham GAC-2111 (10550) and DGS-1, Part II
Parlez-vous Francais?

Background info can be found in Part I, from which I copied and mildly edited the following passages:

Gotham 10550 GAC-2111 (specs) This unusual cable is Gotham's replica of a classic EMT cable. The conductors are very small in gauge and the insulations rather stiff, making it difficult to handle. Sonically it is a winner. Superbly transparent and with an abundance of top end air, somewhat less exuberant than GAC-2 and GAC-4, this cable shoots straight to the top echelon of Gotahm cables. A great bargain.

Gotham 60001 DGS-1 (specs) This is a thin coaxial cable, the cheapest in the Gotham range. It is somewhat rolled off on top, not as detailed as GAC-2, GAC-4 or GAC-2111, but there is something very attractive (even definitive) about its midrange presence and ability to invoke the live atmosphere. Another Gotham winner, likely more suitable in brighter systems.

Lento GAC-2111 vs DGS-1
Yesterday morning, after cups of coffee I started to make some cables, two pairs of Gotham DGS-1 and one of GAC-2111. And I have been evaluating them since last night in my Kondo system. Note that previously I had not compared them rigorously, which is the reason for this article.

GAC-2111 First up was the GAC-2111 late last night, which sounded simply divine. Nah Youn Sun's Lento was the perfectly intimate album for the wee hours. And then I played The Best of Sinne Eeg (mine is the CD version). It is highly unusual for me to listen to "eurojazz", if these were "jazz" at all, but it was a fitting conclusion for the day. Both sounded magnificent.

Bach - Variations on variations | Rinaldo Alessandrini, Concerto ItalianoOn to today...This morning I continued to audition the GAC-2111. I loved the fastidiously dissected strands of Bach in Concerto Italiano's Variations on Variations (Naive), each clear as daylight. Sunshine in music, indeed.

Time Out for Food (Shenzhen) or, cover your ears...

The Freshest Beer Then I skipped out to Shenzhen for lunch. This time it was braised fish 紅燒魚塊 and pork sautéed with fine vegetable slivers and vinaigrette sauce 魚香肉絲. This joint always has the freshest beer. The so-called "Tsing Tao" (the version in Shenzhen is a Sino-Asahi venture which, though still a good light beer, bears no resemblance to its HK, Northern China and Export cousins, though they too are different from each other) has May 5th, 2018 as production date, how about that! The fresher the better, when it comes to beer! The food is, as usual, well prepared.

Would Confucius be Appalled? One caveat. Eating in China, you have to put up with certain things, and here are my pet peeves...In such eateries, some customers smoke, which is annoying. But what, to me, is equally irritating is witnessing the general public's Table Manner. Modern day (PRC) Chinese seem oblivious to their surroundings by letting out the sound of mastication without any inhibition. One hears "jap...jap...jap..." and, believe me, it is not for the faint of heart, as the sound can emanate as much from a well dressed and pretty lady as from a sweaty laborer. The lack of civic concerns/pride permeate every aspect of life. Just the other day, a few mainland visitors were nearly blocking the sidewalk in Yuen Long. I overheard a HK passerby remark to his wife: "Mandarin speakers..."; his wife asked what he meant, and he replied, "...don't you think Mandarin speakers (meaning those from PRC) think the public spaces are their private properties?" Food for thought.

I guess, you pay for what you get...but then, maybe not, as the same phenomenon can be observed even in high end restaurants, though the tables there are not usually as proximal to each other nor shared, thereby lessening the torture.

DGS-1 After I returned from lunch, I switched to the DGS-1. The richer midrange and darker hue of the DGS-1 was immediately apparent. The same Bach album I had listened to before lunch sounded surprisingly different. The DGS-1 has less details than the GAC-2111, but its presentation is fleshier and images are larger. The harpsichord's midrange is often too thin with many cables, but the DGS-1 gets it just right. This album is so good that I have listened to it several times. The arrangement for Goldberg Variations is just sublime.

Ne Me Quitte PasAlbum.jpgNe Me Quitte Pas I then listened to that most emotive of singers, Jacques Brel (Barclay/Universal). The difference between the two cables were startling.

With GAC-2111, this somewhat lean remastering is undeniably exciting, though sometimes unravelling at the edges. INe me quitte pas, Brel's iconic song,  the vehement declamations and word bending are sometimes discomforting. With the DGS-1, the delivery is more fluid. All that makes me wonder, which is the real Jacques Brel? At the bottom of the article is a youtube of this song (not the same performance).

Sonic Impressions
  • My impressions this time are in keeping with what I have observed before, but there are some additional findings.
  • The GAC-2111 is tremendously detailed, yet balanced. What surprises the most is its outstanding rhythm and pace, which loses nothing compared to the DGS-1. This cable will likely please those with an audiophile bent, but those whose systems tend to be on the bright side should use with care.
  • The DGS-1 paints with broader strokes, its presentation fleshy and dramatic. On its own, one is very satisfied, but in comparison with GAC-2111, one could clamor for just a little more resolution. Its excellent rhythm and pace is of a more subtle kind than the GAC-2111, but equally valid.
  • Since my Kondo system has quite high resolution, on the whole, and by a small margin, perhaps DGS-1 is preferred, yet I am sure I shall be rotating it with the GAC-2111. Both are wonderful!

26 May, 2018

Western Electric Altec 604

Yumcha Diary: The Longest Day, Heat Wave, 759, Mother Tongue, and more
Home Visit: Altec 604 and More Western Electric

Revised May 28, 2018. Pic of WE 130/124 added

HK is now suffering from a protracted Heat Wave, the highest temperature ever recorded in May (SCMP report). It is over 35 degrees where I live. What better way to kill some time than yumcha with friends!

Long Live 759 Yesterday was so hot that I didn't feel like drinking hot tea. So I brought a bottle of Ernst Ludwig medium-dry Riesling from the 759 store. It got better and better as it got chilled in the ice bucket, and fit perfectly with the meal. I actually don't quite understand those who insist on red wine with Chinese meal, as I find white wines much more suitable (sauvignon blanc is another favorite).

All of us are fans of 759 Store, a non-traditional food store employing an unusual business model (many stores and no warehouse), which gives the powerful supermarket chains a run for their money. 759 sells mostly imported items, otherwise unavailable, at rock bottom prices. We talked about its Spanish ham, which is certainly cheaper than in Spain. Similarly, my bottle of German Riesling cost me a mere HKD 45, likely cheaper than in most cities in Europe.

Mother Tongue Another topic concerned what recently embroiled HK, the debate on what is "Mother Tongue", which is yet another thinly disguised and distasteful onslaught on our collective Hong Kong consciousness. The whole thing is a joke - do we need other people to tell us who our mothers are? In jest, but with an element of truth, I say, whatever dialect you curse in is your mother tongue. If you say "x y z 母", your mother tongue is Cantonese; if you say "xxx xx xx xx B", yours is Mandarin (oh, excuse me, pu tong hua it should be); and if you say "xxxx you", English it is. Simple, and no politics involved.

After yumcha, I started my wandering in the desert. First stop was a home visit.

Click pics to enlarge. Behind the Altec 604's are a pair of classic Proac 5's.

Home Visit: Altec 604-D

This is my second visit to Vincent, to his "den" right atop the flower market. I forgot to take a picture of the view from his windows, a magnificent panorama with  the impressive backdrop of Lion Rock, symbol of Kowloon, even HK.

The setup here is relatively simple - CD replay only. The source is buffered through a WE transformer, then goes into a vintage Daven stereo volume pot before going into a pair of DIY Western Electric 133 employing all genuine WE parts (those interested in the WE 133 may want to read my article).

Nah Youn Sun - Memory Lane
The Magic HourThe star of the setup without doubt is the Altec 604-D. The cabinets are small but they are well nigh perfect for the relatively small space. Sonically, they are anything but small. After switching in my Gotham DGS-1, replay of jazz was well nigh perfect. This Wynton Marsalis Quartet CD is not one of Blue Note's better albums, but redeemed by the Diana Reeves cut. Even better is the enigmatic Nah Youn Sun, much better known in Europe and Asia than in North America (it seems Korean transliteration is even worse than Chinese, as there are many variations of her name on the internet; Nah is the last name; her official site). Her subdued and considered compositions on Memory Lane was intimately conveyed, with full atmosphere.

Because of it space saving coaxial design, the Altec 604 has a lot of adherents. I have heard nearly all of its iterations (plus the close kin 605), in systems ranging from the simple to the very complicated (electronic crossover), but this very simple system is likely the best sounding. The whiff of treble dryness pervasive in Altec's is not much in evidence with pop and jazz, though perhaps showing just a little in classicals, although replay of my current favorites, Esther Yoo's Tchaikovsky (DG) and Currentzis' Le Sacre (Sony) (roll down for last article, or click here) were more than passable.

Thanks to the Altec 604, which because of its efficiency and horn component is arguably more suitable for WE, in general Vincent's den sounded almost as good as his home, where he had the WE 130 preamp and 124 amps, last heard using ATC SCM-100 (pic below). For sure though, the home has just a little more WE magic. If it were me, I'd take the Altec 604 home.

Image result for 759 薯片Back to Central As I had some time to kill before my concert in evening, I returned to Central and met up with the WSS gang. First, a brief sojourn at Mr Lo's to audition yet again his current Goldmund/Rockport combo, not quite my cup of tea.

Then we headed for Pro Sound, where we audaciously opened a bottle of proprietor Mr. Chu's wine (a Chianti, not bad) while we shopped. I went to 759 again to procure my favorite potato chips (again from Spain) and we enjoyed the Happy Hour. The gang left for Kowloon, but I stayed behind a while longer and had a chat with Christine.

By now, the heat has subsided a little and I summoned the courage to sit and eat by the road side...

Dai Pai Dong 
The Dai Pai Dong is a veritable Hong Kong institution, now unfortunately threatened with extinction as the government does not issue new licenses anymore (read more here). The government, as usual, is short-sighted - this is precisely the kind of thing tourists love and what we hold dear. Perhaps, in due time, like "Mother Tongue" it will go by the way side. Sigh...

I sat down at Sing Kee (pic from Openrice), tucked into an alley in Central. This place used to have very good and cheap fish dishes but I hadn't visited it in a long time. It seems now only tourists come. I was surrounded by Mainland Chinese, all eating seafood (steamed clams and shrimps etc). Then came an Australian couple (see top pic) - the lady is stunningly beautiful, quite a sight in this environment.

I had a beer and ordered a beef dish, but the meat tasted like rubber. No matter, it was primarily a bit of nostalgia, something we people from Hong Kong indulge more and more in these days. The more we receive unsolicited and unwelcome instructions on how we should behave as adults, the more we long for our childhood. The more we are told the good old days are really "bad", the more we miss them. A person who has a memorable past to live in is a much luckier person than one who only has the politician's promise of a bright future to hold on to.

LentoI then attended an excellent concert given by the great pianist Dang Thai Son in City Hall (see my classical blog), which looks gratifyingly exactly the same as in my childhood.

Late Night Jazz After I returned home, I fired up my Kondo system and listened to Nah Youn Sun's Lento, perfectly intimate for the wee hours. And then I played The Best of Sinne Eeg (mine is the CD version). It is highly unusual for me to listen to "eurojazz", if these are jazz at all, but it was a fitting conclusion for the day.

Both beautifully recorded albums sounded significantly better than before. Perhaps it is the Gotham GAC-2111 (10550; EMT replica) I just made before going to yumcha? We'll see.