22 January, 2021

Kyoeon You Sheng Heng H-9A Meridian Explorer Waveguide for Laptop

Letter from Shenzhen (21-5): doctorjohn muses on Internet and Data Usage
Kyoeon 友昂 (You Sheng Heng 友聲恆) H-9A Bluetooth vs Meridian Explorer
Talk Tweak: Waveguide for the Laptop

First, I have to thank Eric L for gifting his fabled el-cheapo Bluetooth (BT) device to me. I took it along with the Meridian Explorer to use on the Laptop and in China.

During the Quarantine, I employed the Hotel's WiFi and my 2 bargain basement laptops, an HP with Windows 10 Home (Edge and Firefox), and an Acer Chromebook. For general purpose, Edge is easier to use as its bing search engine works here. Firefox and Chrome work but their default search engine Google obviously doesn't and I have to remember to open a bing window (or the local baidu.com) for search. bing is not as good as Google, but I use it mainly for low-level purposes (such as dictionary) and it's OK.

My daily routine is less drawn out than before. Using the local network, ALL the HK news sources that I usually read, Apple Daily, SCMP (even if it's now Chinese owned) and even hk01 are blocked out. Through my email I get a NY Times capsular newsfeed everyday and it's highly informative (you can too by just registering). Then I read msn, which, with Hotmail, is available here. Finally, I peruse Yahoo, which I didn't before. The real surprise is, I can sometimes get through to World Journal, the US Chinese newspaper with Taiwanese background (actually not, given its opposition stance).

My US (T-Mobile) and HK (China Mobile) phones are on roaming, and they both work here. If one doesn't use the phone and forego voicemail, there is no charge, and one can still receive free SMS/texts, important for carrying out banking and government transactions. Wechat of course works here. Even Whatsapp does, at least for the text, though not pics nor video.

When it comes to cell phone, most android phones are tethered to a Google account, as are mine. As much as I use some Google features, and know how to use a few apps etc, I am not a fan of the closed-in system, just as I am not a fan of the Apple ecosystem (my US iphone is an ancient 5s). I have a Samsung Galaxy S7 and a Redmi Note 5, but I avoid their proprietary apps and systems entirely. I never use any Cloud nor any sync, instead just keeping as few files and pics as possible. I use Apps minimally. Wechat is unavoidable in China. My HK friends use Whatsapp, so I have it, but I dislike its basic premise of enabling anyone in the Contacts access. Just because someone is in my or someone else's contacts doesn't at all mean I want to chat with him on social media.

Pics are important. I usually take pics with my HK phone, and the gallery is linked to my Google pics. But I don't access Google all time, so I downloaded the Your Phone App (Microsoft) on my Laptop. It mirrors the gallery of my Android phone very well, and I can download whatever I need (easier than Bluetooth, which doesn't necessarily work well across all devices), BUT it doesn't work here!

Reducing dependence on any ecosystem and minimal app usage comprise my modus operandi. Today, various OS interfaces have improved greatly. In the past, though not dependent on it, I like the Apple way (my US iphone 5s and my lamented 2012 Macbook Pro, which I ruined). Now, for my admittedly limited ways, my humble Redmi is just as good as my iPhone. And I can use my current laptop and chromebook with ease. Even Samsung got better - anyone who has used their earlier phones surely would not miss their "logic".

Which brings up the question of backing up and syncing everything. I have never lost a phone or wallet, so restoring data is a moot point for me. I understand its value, just in case, and it may be a good way for someone locked into a single system, say an Apple user, but not for a cheapskate who uses all makes. I hate to change cards or even switch cards so I keep separate phones. The great thing about syncing is supposedly to be able to access everything on any device. I can see the point for someone using Google for work or learning, but not for the casual user. People spend so much time tending to their backup, talking care of notifications! And have you asked yourself what have you backed up over the years? I can assure you most of it is just baggage. I have moved many times in my life. Every time I move, I find a few boxes that have not been opened since the last move, yet I still find it difficult to dump the box. Crazy, right? We keep so much junk, and the Cloud is full of them. Mind you, one of these days the Cloud is going to break and rain on everyone. You have been warned. Thanks, I'll keep using my little paper notebook, where I have noted down all numbers and important info. Not a few friends have called me over the years for numbers when their devices crashed.

And passwords and security questions? You are bound to forget a few and they cause you trouble, so either have a good personal system or have as few accounts as possible. A big news recently concerns Stefan Thomas, someone with 2 password guesses (out of 10) left before he loses FOREVER 220 millions worth of bitcoin. It is estimated 20% of bitcoin holders are locked out of their moneys because they cannot remember the password. Thank you, I'll hold on to my somewhat outdated ways.

Of course, I need to surmount the blockade sometimes. To this end, my HK roaming data card's portable hotspot works well. By tethering it to my laptop I can access anything Google, including this blog, and all the HK news. To keep data usage to a minimum, I use it only briefly every day. For writing, I basically draft the article on WordPad and then, with the help of my HK card, load it onto the blog and make adjustments. At the same time, I briefly check the HK news.

It all comes down to time. Rationing data has the advantage of focusing oneself. Instead of checking things umpteenth times a day and responding to things fed by others I'd rather use the time to face an empty sheet (or doc) or mull over what I have written. Constant and Instant Access more often than not numb, even stupefy, people more than enlighten them.

Bluetooth vs Streamer

I actually tested Eric's el-cheapo BT from Taobao in HK (using its RCA out). I tested it against the diminutive HK008 (using a minijack to RCA adaptor) I had reported on before. Through my main setup (to be reported later) the sound level of both, even if maxed out, were just too low to really work. The Meridian Explorer, with adaptor in the line output, was much more satisfactory.

I took Eric's BT (Kyoeon or You Seng Heng H-9A) with me to Shenzhen. I tested it against the Meridian using my laptop and Grado S-80e Headphones. With the BT, I plugged the earphone directly into it and was shocked by the very loud volume. There is a huge discrepancy between the minijack and RCA outputs. I am puzzled, but that is the case. With the Meridian Explorer (connected with my favorite HK Unitek USB to Micro USB cable), the headphone and line outputs are more evenly matched.

The Hotel WiFi was fairly good. After all, the TV ran on it. The performance of the BT, however, left much to be desired. Unlike the HK008, which can be charged, the H-9A needs to be plugged into the outlet to work and, in the hotel, there was a constant background noise that is likely interference. Also, it seemed rather demanding of internet quality. In the wee hours, when most people were sleeping, it worked well, but it basically stopped working after 9 am and would break off more than connect.

I did get to test the BT against the Meridian Explorer (1st gen). Through the earphone, the differences are quite obvious. Sound of the BT is fuller, with a richer but slightly less defined bass. The most important difference will likely elude a lot of people, but it is an area where I am sensitive to: The BT is rhythmically a little more savvy, with better articulation and phrasing of strings.

There's BT and then there's BT. AND, more expensive may not at all equal better. Remember Eric L sold his iFi Zen and preferred the el-cheap H-9A? icefox told me the H-9A also worked well for our friend Mila (the barber featured in one of the Virtual Home Visits). Another anecdote, my NYC friend Andy preferred the diminutive HK008 (not much bigger than 3 stacked US Quarters) to the Dayton/FX BT-01 which I had also extensively reported on before. icefox once postulated to me that the el-cheapo Chinese BT's sound good because of the simple Chinese chip (unlike iFi). If I am not mistaken, the chip itself can output analog sound (but at low level). One can augment the output and add all kinds of refinement around it for sure, but circumstantial evidence indicates that, perhaps again, less is more. An analogy may be found in NOS DACs.

Waveguide for the Laptop

Given the poor BT Connectivity in the Hotel Room, sometimes I just listened to music through the laptop's built-in loudspeakers. Now, these are much maligned and people would automatically defer to headphones but, limited as they are, like TV, they are not that bad because they are basically small "full range" loudspeakers. These may lack ultimate extension and certainly dynamics, but they are timbrally correct. Your hifi setup is more likely to be timbrally wrong than these. If you don't believe me, play a familiar voice (say the President's) through the hifi and see if you think the voice is correct. In HK, everyone knows the voice of opera singer Leung (梁醒波) but every time I hear his voice at a HiFi show it is wrong, often very wrong (particularly with those ultra-expensive Scandinavian and German loudspeakers and electronics), when he simply sounds correct on any TV.

The sound of my HP PC laptop emanates from fenestrations close to the hinges that span almost the entire width of the device. I simply inserted a width of thin cardboard or paper into the crevice and anchor the "Waveguide" towards my head. Voila! The sound (especially the piano) is much more focused! And for simpler music, such as baroque or chamber music, it is quite decent. As I write, I am listening to Schubert's Trout Quintet.

Every device has a different location for loudspeaker and some may be less amenable to tweaking. My Acer Chromebook's sound emanates from underneath, on both sides (the curved chassis is a waveguide itself, a smart design), and my paper "Waveguides" had a small effect that is much more subtle than that for my PC. You have to experiment with your device to see if the result is worth it to you.

21 January, 2021

Follow up on WE Amp , JBL L300, Rayaudio's Class A mono amp, Philips LHH2000 and the humble K-16 BT device

Letter from Hong Kong (21-2): Eric L on WE, JBL L300 and More

Now that the WE Amp has been revamped by Ray and soon shall be back to the owner, I would definitely not let go of a chance to hear it with the JBL L300 and Philips LHH2000. Both classic gears (though not quite in the class of WE IMO).

Last time, I felt that I only got a glimpse of what the WE can achieve, not its full potential. This time, I was able to hear different types of music, from classical music with demanding and complicated passages to vocal oriented stuff.

At the same time, Ray brought his Pure Class A Mono Amps for comparison, and it was nice to have a benchmark to compare, to see if Ray's amps are really of high quality.

WE finally showed its true colours, handling complicated passages with ease. The sound extended beyond the walls and filled the space all the way up to the ceiling - tons of air! Dynamics were respectable and it fully recreated the huge soundstage without strain and grain. Just loved what I heard as the tubes added magic to the music. The whole system produced a complete sound which was a joy to hear. At ease, yet dynamic! 

Substituting the Ray Amps, the sound took a different path: more impactful, upfront and extremely fast transients! 

I brought the K16 cheapo BT device and tried it out. Since K16 has very low gain, sound from WE was lifeless. But with Ray's amp, sound came to life and was respectable, dynamic, musical and enjoyable. Though the owner said its SQ was poor,  I would slightly disagree with him as I thought it to be very listenable. For this price, no complain at all~

My music selection:

Introducing a budding new star from China: Curley Gao, aka Curley, Xilin or Curley G. She has got a husky and smoky voice that is very charismatic and somehow addictive, if you dig this kind of voice. In this video, she's singing along with some classic legendary singers. Although Joey trumped her in just sheer presence and voice control (as well as Zhang's usual "killing you softly" love song) Curley did not shy away at all and sang her heart out! I believe in time, she can transform into a superstar! 


This one shocks and wows the judges with her own sweetest take on the song from Kit Chan


Her take on Lucas' Someone you loved is of US recording artist's standard! Belt it out Xilin! 


Misha & Martha combo playing live, equals a great treat!! 


To wrap up, some food photos FYEO

18 January, 2021

Intro from Jaylat and Letter from So Cal

Thanks very much to doctorjohn for inviting me to write on this blog! I feel a great affinity to this blog, as in addition to sharing an interest in audio, my Chinese wife and I also lived for many years in NYC and Hong Kong. And of course we love Chinese food!

My music preferences are rather specific: Baroque Classical (Telemann, CPE Bach, Boccherini, etc.), and East Coast Bebop Jazz (Miles, Monk, etc.). Both genres combine musical improvisation with melodic creativity. I love hard rock and techno as well, but will usually only listen to them on earphones in deference to wife and neighbors. 


Despite having been into audio for decades, I’m a relatively recent convert to “high end” audio, having had only a “mid-fi” system for most of my listening career. My best components previously were the great Kirksaeter Monitor 100 speakers, which finally gave up the ghost after many years of listening. This provided an excuse to put together two systems in the last few years:


Office System: 

My journey started with the wonderful Harbeth P3ESR speakers. I was very pleased to see doctorjohn has recently gotten these, as they are to my ears some of the best speakers for near field listening available. They have a wonderful way with the human voice, with a rich sound that compliments most music, especially small jazz and classical ensembles. When working I might listen to this system 8+ hours a day. 


Sources include the Chromecast Audio, an Apple iMac, and recently a Rega Apollo CD player was added to the mix. The DAC is the great Sparkler Audio S504 “Unison” which I bought after reading doctorjohn’s glowing recommendations. All are driven by the very underappreciated Belles Aria Integrated, a solid-state amp which puts out 70 watts per channel. 


Living Room (Main System)

Have fallen in love with the P3ESRs, I was curious to try Harbeth’s larger 30.1 monitors. Continuing the journey down the slippery slope of high-end audio, these speakers needed a good amp. In an uncharacteristic splurge, I acquired the Luxman MQ-88 and CL-38 amp and preamp, two great tube components that look as good as they sound. Here the DAC is a much more hi-tech model, the RME ADI-2 from Germany. Music comes from a Bluesound Node 2i. (The Luxmans are temporarily swapped to my office system, as they provide an extra bit of heat in the winter)


I’ll go into more detail on the choices and how each system sounds in future updates, especially the two DACs. Suffice it to say I’m extremely pleased with both systems, which each have their unique virtues. Visual aesthetics are important too, as they both blend in with our modest collection of antique Chinese furniture. 


My Chinese wife and I are foodies, having developed very high standards after living in NYC, Beijing and Hong Kong for most of our lives. We now reside in Southern California, unfortunately too far away from LA to take advantage of the great scene there. Luckily, my wife is a great cook. Here’s a recent dinner of shrimp with garlic and hot peppers, with a colorful stir fry of asparagus and sweet peppers. 

My favorite CD (this week) is 52ndStreet by Ron Affif, who I frankly never heard of before. A great, full speed ahead jazz guitarist, with an amazing rhythm section. Very fun!


13 January, 2021

Terminal Block Spring Clip Adaptors


Talk Tweak : Use of Terminal Block as Adaptors
Letter from Shenzhen (21-4): doctorjohn on a Tweak

Some readers may not know what a Terminal Block is. As pictured, it is a plastic sleeve with enclosed copper tube with screw terminals at both ends. It comes in various sizes and in a row (about 8-10), You can cut the plastic between the sleeves for use in singles, two's or whatever.

These are typically used in electric installations, behind light switches to connect the switch with the inlaid electrical network. The screw terminals are robust as the installation electrc cables are usually thick solid-core, which are harder to screw down than stranded. In HK, one can get this at a Hardware or Lighting supply store, In the US, as mom and pop hardware stores are rare as hen's teeth, you may have to go to Home Depot or online to get it.

I only occasionally see these in audio DIY use, but I have what I think is a good tweak for you, and it's solder-less.

For those who use certain Vintage Amps (like NAD 3020) and Loudspeakers with Spring Clip Loudspeaker Terminals (like my beloved Yamaha NS-1000 and NS-10, and old TAD's like TAD-3401) and who want to use loudspeaker cables with banana's, this is a good tweak.

Just insert your favorite short strip of loudspeaker cable at one end and screw on tight (make sure the strip is centered and with good contact). At the other end, adjust the screw so your banana can glide in easily (do it gently to minimize scratching) but would not slip out. Don't over-tighten as the screw will scratch and deform your banana. Done.

It costs cents and, believe me, the copper is of good quality, better than in many audio connectors. Some may object to no-solder, but my own experience with screw-on terminals is positive. If you use spades, you're out of luck, but personally I hate spades, cumbersome and dangerous.

Of course, the block can used in other ways, to connect 2 wires or serve as an extension in a pinch (which we all have experienced). I'd think power supply would be a good place for its use.

12 January, 2021

Quarantine in China 2

Letter from China (21-3): doctorjohn on Quarantine 2

So far I am impressed by the Level of Execution and the Hotel Service.

Level of Protection for Staff From my observation, there are several staff teams with well delineated duties. The front desk people (no operator) I don't see as they don't come up to the floors but they relate my requests well. The garbage collection and food delivery people wear protective clothing, masks and gogles. My desk lamp had no light; upon examination the bulb needed replacement. I was shocked when the staff rang my bell, in Full Metal Jacket (addition of Face Shield). He wanted to come in and do it in case it is more complicated but I made him wait as it was a simple job. I screwed on the bulb and told him it was OK for him to leave. The Level of Protection for Staff is much higher than in HK.

Personalization We have no choice aside from the set meals, but individual demands are met in case of special diet requirement. I normally almost never do take-out's and disdain eating out of pastic containers, but I have no choice here. I have been taught not to leave a single morsel on the plate (or bowl) but, though the food is generally OK, occasionally I'd be faced with something that I'd just have to pass. Service is OK. e.g. I asked for some soy sauce and hot sauce and they were duly delivered. Everyday they deliver 2 bottles of water, which is too much for me as throughout the morning I only drink hot coffee and tea. As I am a green person and know they throw away everything that has entered the room even if unconsumed, I requested no delivery until further notice (I still have 6 bottles).

Health and Safety Concerns The operator who handled the request reminded me that the condiments should not be kept long at room temperature to avoid food poisoning (actually that wouldn't happen for quite a while with these). Now I understand why they only allow 5 fast-food chains to deliver, for their higher (and uniform) standard of cleanliness for sure. As relatives and friends can drop off things at the front desk, I learned that there are restrictions. A quota on cigarettes but, listen to this, absolutely no alcohol allowed. I asked the hotel staff why and they told me it's by order of the Police Department. No doubt to prevent unruly behavior during isolation (this would never work in at least the US and Russia). Fortunately, I had with me two 1-liter bottles of Scotch which I am rationing. Also, I asked for a disposable shaver but that too is banned for its blade. Here security is taken as seriously as a prison! Is that going too far? Yes, I think so, but I don't blame the authorities for doing that. More, all cups, glasses, dishes etc have been stowed away and replaced with disposables. I am fully aware that the environmental cost of this pandemic is immense, but I'd still like at least a foam cup for my coffee and tea rather than the flimsy paper cup I am struggling with...

Helping Each Other The difficulties for seniors continue. The first night, I received a call from the front desk. The staff who go up to the floors have gone home; would I be willing to help my next door neighbor with his Wifi as he wanted to talk to his family in HK via wechat. This is understandable. This is more a short-term stay or love hotel (albeit a nice one) than a regular one, and the elderly are not the usual guests. To Log on the Wifi we are asked to scan a QR code which will ask you to register by sending a confirmation code to your cellphone, but that assumes you have a China number. I had the problem earlier myself as I didn't have a China number (not yet). I called the operator and they told me to use a proxy number and code. So the staff knew I knew how to do it. So I put on my mask and knocked on his door, and the problem was solved in no time. Two hours later, a knock on my door, there he was, my neighbor, barefoot but with mask on. He said he didn't know how to operate the TV Remote. This is undertsandable too. The modern remote is full of buttons and has small prints. The seniors just want to use 1 button to cycle through the channels. So I put on my mask and went to his room and helped him.

Damsel in Distress For the first 2 nights in a row, my next-door neighbor on the other side had the TV on pretty loud, so I complained after 10 or 11 pm. One day the problem was solved immediately after I made the complaint; the next day it didn't work so I knocked on the wall and she lowered the level. Two days later I had to make another complaint. The TV noise diminished but I heard her talking on the phone for a long time and sobbing. After that, I called back the front desk and had a chat with the staff. I was concerned about the sobbing and mentioned that I am a retired medic and she told me that the guest was a little stressed. and has been under psychological consultation. Here I'd like to tell you that on the day we checked in we received several calls from health-care professionals regarding our state of being. One from a regular doctor to inquire about chronic illness (which enables one to apply for partial exemption from the Quarantine - from 14 days to 7 days + 7 at home); the other to ask us whether we felt anxious. The staff mentioned they are thinking about transfering her to a new room. I felt bad about the lady and told the staff that for my part, in this case, I'd not complain again, to aide everyone. Afterall, I don't sleep that well anyway. Well, she's still there and no problem since that day! I applaud the staff for doing good work and showing genuine customer care, much superior to the hotel I stayed in HK.

A Stark Contrast Of course I watched a lot of TV to kill time. My stay coincides with a small outbreak in Shijiazhuang, Hubei Province and it's astonishing to watch how the city of 11 million people was locked down and how everyone gets tested in a few days. Yesterday was the second round of testing. This is for sure draconian measure but the people seem to take comfort in the response.

I do too. In terms of the virus, I feel a lot safer in HK and China, where the sense of civics is much stronger. Everyone I have talked to, fellow travelers or workers, emanates a sense of "we are in this together". In contrast, witness America (and elsewhere), where ugly politicians invoke National Security and try to shift attention from their dismal records on protecting the people to other countries, even apps. The greatest threat to America comes from within, not outside, and I am sorry for that. America is the laughing stock of the world, and I feel sorry about that. I am also very angry that health care workers have to bear brunt of the catastrophic failure of leadership.

Chinese New Year, the equivalence of Thanksgiving in America, is looming on the horizon. With the prospect of billions of people on the move (many migrant workers from the countryside returning home for the holidays), the government is already promoting staying put for the holidays and corporations are rolling out incentives for that. We shall see the efficacy of the calling. The Government, from the top to the local level, is united in its health response and has the complete support of the people, whereas the United States is obviously not so.

In Lockdown, the market comes to the community

Everyone gets tested

11 January, 2021

Wrap up for year 2020 and looking ahead to 2021

Letter from Hong Kong (21-1): Eric Lo Sums Up 2020 and Looks Forward to 2021

A lot has happened in Year 2020. Especially in HK , we are still under the Fourth Wave of COVID attack while my sisters remarked that The US still has not recovered from the First Wave!

Due the nature of my profession, there is never a case of WFH to me; whether this is a blessing in disguise or not, who knows!

I appreciate this space where I can scribble down some of my music and audio thoughts and discuss my experience and take on music appreciation. I hate to use the term Hifi listening since Hifi is the means and not the most important aspect. Music enjoyment is the end product and is paramount. The priorities must not be reversed.

I seldom read Hifi mags and reviews, unless I am interested in acquiring a certain piece of equipment. I will then google it and find some relevant info online. Much like the restaurant guide website Openrice in HK,  I get the necessary ifno but largely ignore the reviews by members. I will at times read the reviews lightheartedly and take them with a grain of salt and not be too serious about them!

I trust my ears: years of listening to music and my deep love for it are my most important tools for critique. They have never failed me so far. One thing very important is to know your setup's limitation and to tailored it to shine on what you really treasure most. Of coz, those who look for full orchestra playing Wagner in large music hall will definitely need to spend a whole lot more , or go with horns to achieve the outcome!

To me, what I treasure most is the music connection to my soul through the setup. What I would like to feel holistically from the musicians are the feelings, the excitement, the mood and the technique that brings these virtues to the audience. I love to feel the interaction between the musicians, the combativeness, even antagonism, the melding and blending. Timing is extremely important as well, whether they play in perfect sync or deliberately play off beat to create the effect they want us to hear, these are the things that I would look for in particular; also the dynamic contrasts, microdynamics, and the vocal signature of each singer. Last but not least, foot-tapping factor is of utmost importance! The more feverishly I tap, the better the performance coming from the setup ! Without it, it would be meaningless; with even the most revealing equipment with fathomless soundstage and accuracy, if I cannot feel the emotions and heat from the performer, it would mean nothing to me. Of coz, my ultimate goal is embrace all hifi and musical aspects, all in one for truthful playback - no more, no less, no coloration, yet sounding natural more than neutral.

Here were my own important acquisition of the year 2020 in Hifi (5 stars being most important)
  1. iCon4 AVC preamp  *****
  2. Steaming of Tidal *****
  3. Cheapo Taobao Bluetooth device  H-10U *****
  4. Auralic Vega DAC ***1/2
  5. Micromega MyDac - surprise of the year which I will write a follow up on it separately ****
  6. Gotham cables , RCA, power cord and Digital cable****
  7. Office setup (NAIM SBL, Musical Fidelity A1s , Project 1.3 T.T. and Phono/Line amp by Rayaudio which is covered already in my recent post. ***
  8. Youtube streaming with Premium version sans the annoying ADs ****
iCon4  allows me to connect my 47 Lab Gaincard to different sources without altering the sound character. And this year I have tried different sources and am extremely fascinated., like a kid in a candy store!

Tidal is absolutely a great invention which allows me to connect to a sea of music at home or on mobile! And sound quality is respectable as well!

Bluetooth H-10U is definitely a bargain product of year 2020. I in turn poisoned many friend after being poisoned by my friend Kwong, much like in the zombie movies, haha! Sound coming out is coherent and has all the virtues that I am looking for, foot-tapping, exciting and musical, yet not sterile at all! Especially playing music from Youtube!

Auralic Vega allows me to explore different types of digital sources and use of CAS through my laptop and is quite a versatile unit indeed! Sound is quite good but is a bit polite in ultimate terms.

Micromega MyDac is definitely a steal with the musicality, soundstage and full, round, tuneful and ripe bass. It can even play through my laptop!

Gotham cables as raved by Doctor is definitely no slouch and all their cables are great, in particular GAC4 interconnect! Must-have for budget minded folks like mine!!

Office has become a experimental ground for exploring different setup under a limited environment. The system sounds decent but surely a lot of improvement can be obtained. But I am already extremely happy with the Sony Discman fed to MF A1s and Naim SBL!!

Upgrading membership of  Tidal and Youtube allows me to stream Youtube without the annoying Ads which  is definitely big big plus for me!

Looking ahead , I am still looking for the best way to online streaming of Tidal music. I have acquired a Emerson Wattson Streamer/DAC recently and will see how it fares!

Also, I would love to have more home visits to broaden up my horizon ! There are so many aficionados with different paths and beliefs in Hifi and it'd be nice to learn from them!
A lot has happened in Year 2020. Especially in HK, we are still under the fourth wave of COVID attack while my sisters said that US still has not recovered from first wave!
Looking ahead to 2021, I am still looking for the best way for online streaming of Tidal music. I have acquired a Emerson Wattson Streamer/DAC recently and will see how it fares!

Also, I would love to have more home visits to broaden up my horizon ! There are so many aficionados  of different paths and beliefs in Hifi and be nice to learn from them!

Here are some music recommendations from Youtube and they can be also found in Tidal in studio versions as well.

Sparks all over in this live recording

Stephen playing bass in guitar style and Gardot's soulful voice makes it a perfect one!

Mysterious yet sensual voice !

Inger Marie's soulful voice

Rodrigo y Gabriela's take on this all time favorite song of mine

Lars bass is soulful

04 January, 2021

Audio Journalism and the Vernacular

Letter from China (21-2) from doctorjohn: Corruption, Malignant Growth, Gimmicks and the Vernacular

Although I grew up in Hong Kong, I am a native Mandarin speaker who grew up, mainly in the sixties, in Mandarin and Shanghaiese speaking communities, then small (much bigger now) but influential minorities . School was the only place where I spoke Cantonese. In a way, it was when I expatriated to HK in the 90's that I started to really learn the local Cantonese ways and their colorful vernacular.

Audio Writing on Autopilot With few exceptions, audio writing, and the jargons used, are the most monochromatic. The more I read them, the less I want to read. Audio journalism basically originated in America, increasingly affluent and influential (and interventionist) after the War. After the basic template was invented, it was copied by every magazine, no matter the language. If you read a French (I can read a bit) or German magazine, the template and vocabulary are the same. Ditto Chinese and Japanese magazines. However, this is understandable and credit is due to many of the early writers who strived to describe what we hear and establish terms for journalism.

Stagnation and Corruption However, with time, the articles became progressively whitewashed, and the pioneering spirit was lost. The glossier the magazine, the more worthless it is (heading the list is Taiwan's worthless Audio Art). Writers and the many reviews they churn out become indistinguishable from each other. And many writers got increasingly bland and boring, and corrupted by industrial glitz in my opinion, as they became "elder statesmen" (like JV and RGH, I cannot bear to read their big reviews). Take TAS, the Editorial Pages are boring as hell. Stereophile is better. Jim Austin is actually a good writer and sounds sincere, but he as yet still can't think out of the box (I am waiting though).

Malignant Growth It is unfortunate that audio journalism, including many netzines and head-fi sites, has been really successful in "promoting" the hobby. Instead of giving guidance on sorting out the basic problems, we are relentlessly urged to "upgrade". "...Mk II is much better than Mk I...You must try these ground breaking cans and you will never go back to the others (no wonder so many headphone users have so many pairs)...If you can afford it, you must audition X...Is Y really expensive? Considering that it performs so many functions, it is actually a bargain..." Good salesmanship in a hobby that encourages constant tinkering rather than concentrating on music. For us here, who don't generally believe in audio progress (indeed often the opposite), that means the audiophile has been egged on by decades of lies, or at least placid journalism combined with increasingly inappropriately and publicly displayed wooing for a small circle of "trusted reporters".

Resurgence of Vintage? While there has always been a substantial market for vintage audio, even when there was no promotion at all, have you noticed that in recent years it has become fashionable for even trade magazines and webzines to occasionally feature some vintage articles? The Real Ones While the first half of HiFi News is like other audio magazines, with autopilot writers like Ken Kessler, its backpages have a fair amount of info on vintage stuff, particularly Tim Jarman's lengthy review (with measurement) of a select vintage gear in each issue. Aside from famous vintage stuff like Sony direct-drives and CD players, other lowly early solid state stuff, like Leak ss amps are reappraised and assigned a score just like modern gears. I love reading these. There is no market value to these, a labor of love, just for the fun of it, so salut! On this side of the Atlantic, in Stereophile we had AD, and still have HR, who writes about even a broader range of vintage stuff. Gimmicks Surely to entice older readers, many zines pay lip service to vintage gear. TAS has things like "The 10 most iconic..." and even netzines such as monoandstereo have an occasional blip (mostly useless words).

Audio Discussion in Hong Kong HK's audio journalism is the same, and I don't read the magazines. In fact, I don't browse the forums either (they are even more toxic than the zines). These days I only keep up with a small group of friends. With the advent of social media, there are of course innumerable small groups. Even I, who normally shun these apps, keep in contact with a few this way. The person I "talk to" the most often is icefox, who not only has an encyclopedic knowledge of unusual gear, but is a valuable source of newsfeed, particularly when it comes to Western Electric. Like my closer audiophile friends, we speak plain language, mixed with some Cantonese vernaculars. I'd like to introduce a few to you. The Cantonese Vernacular employs many archaic Chinese words that are diffcult to write, so it is common place to use a mixture of similar sounding words, English alphabets and even numerals.

兇險 = Highly Hazardous Unlikely to succeed; a mistake. This is the expression used by icefox. And quite often! Me too, after his example. As in: "...I cannot believe our friend X got this thing!..." Want examples? FM Acoustics is one, Burmester another. For more, see entry below...

WBT = Anglicized Short for Cantonese 揾笨柒 = Taking Someone for a Ride I believe icefox coined this term. Of course, this is also our opinion on everything over-priced and unworthy. You want examples? They are everywhere. Starts with its namesake WBT, and Shunmook, Most overpriced US, German and Swiss gear, Expensive Cables (like Siltech), Most Tweaks, TAOC, Finite Element, Boutique Tubes...the list goes on forever.

正經 = Proper Well behaved, well mannered, usually used to describe a person. This is what a system should achieve foremost (meaning balanced and musical) before one gets ambitious. Surprisingly, or not surprisingly, most systems fail to be so when a simple and proven integrated (say MF A1, Nait, Cyrus) combined with a good and resonably easy-to-drive loudspeaker (say LS3/5A) will effortlessly pass. Like mrgoodsound said, keep something familiar and simple around for reality test (and be honest to yourself).

I coined a few too:

撩撩吓 = A Kind of Sinuous Action Compelling, but not overtly insistent nor forceful, light and purposeful manouvers for extraction or enticement. Perhaps the start of Salome's Dance? This is a high accolade, e.g., used to describe the ephemeral qualities of WE. For me, early Nait, good and simple NOS DAC (like Sparkler) and Gotham DGS-1 have a little of this.

(Victims of) German Gang = 德國幫 Used to describe a subgroup who are into modern German gear. Despite the fact that I am completely indifferent to the German hi-end (and by extension, Swiss stuff like FM Acoustics and Scandanavian stuff like Dynaudio), I used to know many of them, users of brands like Burmester, Audionet, Clearaudio, Acuustic Arts, ASR, MBL, Manger etc. The various gears are always overly expensive for the sound delivered. The Systems Approach The more "hi-end", the more a manufacturer makes whole systems (most prevalent in Germany), the more so, but this is not confined to these countries of course. As an example, I can just accept MBL's flagship loudspeakers, even though ribbon + dynamic woofers will always have their Archilles' Heels; however their electronics are totally overbuilt and overpriced. And the 6010 preamp is a scam. The whole system thing is dubious. A manufacturer originally manufactures one thing reasonably well. But why let other people profit from the rest of the chain? Just hire some other deisigners and make a complete system and make more money. Of course, these designers also work for other brands! In contrast to what other people think (like Shindo people, dealers and users), this kind of in-house design are just as much patch-up jobs. Who knows the weaknesses of the design better than the designer? There is nothing wrong with patch-up, but please don't claim the in-house effort is free from this and completely holistic (as Shindo dealers claim and Osawaldmills now emulate). I can agree one-brand systems can yield reasonable sound, but at unusually high cost, AND the best systems I have heard have been, with the exception of WE, mixture of things, including new and old, NEVER one-brand.

Three Noter = People who listen to snippets for A/B I am not kidding you. I used to know a bunch of vintage tube people whose passion is not listening to music, but to the tube. So they would have A/B shootouts for a bunch of tubes. A few notes and they would switch to the next one. In my experience, people who are too lopsidedly immersed in one aspect of hifi, say, obssesive tube rollers and cable fanatics, generally do not achieve good sound. HiFi hell. Also known as 是誰?= The first 2 words in one of these idiots' favorite cuts, a song I don't ever want to hear again.

Mid-Life Crisis = 中年危機 This is used to describe a sudden shift in audio perspective, e,g, a card-carrying tube person suddenly getting into solid state, or a person who suddenly buys a lot of toys. A friend of mine may sort of be going through this, whereas I have gone through countless years of this. Beware.

Here are some dramatic Cantonese terms used in daily conversation, including audio:

死梗 = Sure to Die (akin to icefox's 兇險); 即死 = Instant Death (say, in A/B, the loser); 死下死下 = hanging on by a thread, slowly dying, as in the lackluster sound when there is not enough driving power; 死唔去 = Somehow hanged on and survived; 死過返生 = Resurrected; 死咕咕 = Deadly immotile Little Sign of Life...See, audio is a life and death matter...

(印印)脚 = Light on the Feet Agile, good pace, rhythm and timing.

濕滯 = Humid and Slow Moving A Challenge, likely Doomed to Failure, as when you acquired something WBT or Improper.

騎呢 = Odd, Weird, or Hard to Predict Used to describe a person, not equipment. Many such characters in audio. Are you one?

天都光哂 = The Sun Came Out Of course, after considerable effort - like after you got on your knees for an hour, plugged and unplugged, changed gear after gear (and found you forgot to turn back on one of the components).

曬 = Sunbath Show Off.

攞去填海 = Dump in the Landfill What one should do with all those worthless, overbuilt and overpriced stuff out there. Come to think of it, better to be green, recycle that heavy aluminum block and take the innards to Best Buy.

你老友 = Your Old Friend Rather, often taken to mean the opposite, Your Enemy. This is a reflection on how often “friends” in audio turn into enemies. I'd rather make enemies than superficial friends (but I regret that my enemies, mostly in oblivion, have not proven to be worthwhile opponents).

Chinese Audiophiles are Thin Skinned and you better 畀面 = Give Face and not say anything critical (actually I think this is likely not confined to our ethnicity but universal). A Situation You Must Avoid is Having to Choose Sides = 勢不兩立; I myself always choose sides and say what I think, but that means I have instigated some such situations and put some of my friends in jeopardy. I am kind of proud of it, but don't you emulate me!

Audio Lore: In many Home Visits, any honest opinion can cause a rupture in relationship. I have suffered this myself. What is perhaps the most sensitive, the most untoucheable? Well, this incidence may cast a light: Years ago, a straightforward fellow living in New Jersey would return to HK every year. His nickname was 花旗判官 (American Judge) and he was welcome by quite a few "prominent" audiophiles. One year, he went to visit 大X, and he commented on the system's Lack of Bass (冇低音). Guess what? He was forever cast away!

Why so overwhelmingly negative? Because much of the interaction between audiophiles is foolery. And, most systems sound bad, certainly not proper. You have been warned.

I have talked to audiophiles in both Cantonese and English. The difference is very obvious. English speakers are much more analytical and sound like the official script (magazines). In contrast, in Chinese, at least with those whose preferences are closer to mine, the language is much more animated and vernacular. What is the significance? I think in Chinese I hear more the emotional reaction, which I think is a good thing. So, if your audio English tends to be the Queen's English, maybe it's time to loosen the upper lip and speak more cockney, perhaps Liverpool? And if you speak audio German, maybe shorten the sentences, make some grammatical mistakes and try your best to move forward the verb? We should speak like horns! Loosen Up!

02 January, 2021

My Second Quarantine

Click pics to enlarge. R: Quarantine Camp from a 2018 TV drama that treats the themes of SARS and the rise of Mail Order and Express Delivery. More TV pics at bottom.

Letter from China (21-1) from doctorjohn: My Second Quarantine and The Odyssey and The Strictness of it 

Happy 2021 Greetings from China, a first for this Blog and me. This is certainly the first post that originates from China. Due to restrictions for Google and lack of English literacy in the general populace, if you look at the flag counter, there are so far 394 visits, approximately 30 only per year! Of course, there may be some hidden ones from expats (and others) here using VPN.

Network I started using my hotel's WiFi. As expected, I cannot access anything Google here, including our own blog. But I have a HK roaming data card (鴨聊佳 recommended by icefox), which works when I tether it to my laptops. I am also happy that both NML and Spotify work here with WiFi. Incidentally, when I play Spotify in HK and China, unlike in NYC gratifyingly there are few ads. Bluetooth Somehow the devices, including H-9 (a gift from Eric L), are not working very well, maybe too much interference. So I listen headphone direct or through the Meridian Explorer.

The Odyssey Here I shall give you some ideas on traveling to China. The organization is very different from Hong Kong, and in many ways shows up the inadequacy of the HK response:

  • Test On the 30th I received my negative test (mouth swab) report at 4 pm. As the border checkpoint closes at 8 pm and I knew it'd take forever to get through, I planned to get across the next day. On the morning of the 31st, I suddenly recalled that the time of issue of report was 1:30 pm, which means, to satisfy Chinese rule (for HK residents, within 24 hours of issue of report), I'd have to get to the Chinese side before 1:30. I scrambled and called a taxi and got to the checkpoint at 10:30. It was a beautiful day and the view from the very long bridge that links HK and SZ was spectacular.
  • The Madding Crowd Getting through HK custom was a breeze using the HKID card. But when I got to the buffer zone I was shell shocked by the sheer number of people. The entire area was packed to the rafters with people zig-zagging through closely spaced lanes. At the end of the line every 5-10 minutes about 10 people would be let through to cue up on the Chinese side. One reason for the large crowd is that starting on Jan 5, travelers would have to book hotels on their own and many older people are not computer savvy. We all had tired feet dragging our luggage up and down the lanes but those with young kids and the elderly had it the worst. Many people, including semi-digital literate I, tried to help other fellow clueless travelers. QR Code Before reaching the Chinese side, it is mandated to have a a personal Health QR code generated by filling an online form using wechat (this code is of singular importance after the quarantine, as many places demand it for entry (including public transit). There is one-hour free hi-fi (from HK Smartone) available, which I used for mine as my HK phone plan has no data usage. Some older folks had some trouble with the form, which has a peculiarity/bug or two, which trapped me for a while, and I helped a couple of them. Around 12, I was getting antsy. I was about 2/3 in but the lines now moved very slowly (perhaps lunch time). Close to 1 pm I became desperate and, scratching my head, emulated what a few desperate ones did before me: "jump" the long queue by inching up the line and asking people to let me overtake them by explaining time is running out. I did this on the HK side and also the Chinese side, which only has 1 worker in full metal jacket  manning the bottleneck entry point (from this point on, everyone is FMJ). He would scrutinize the test report and check our entry documents. Here we had to fill in another form, this time by hand. The old lady ahead of me is illiterate and I filled in some of her information but could not understand her dialect well enough to put down the address. The gentleman behind me pitched in and with considerable effort got it done. And so I got in with a few minutes to spare. Next was another worker making sure everyone has the QR code. A lot of the elderly folks did not have it, so in the adjacent area there were 2 workers helping them do it. That desk was mopped. I sympathize with these senior citizens - such a hard time for them in this digitized age (China much more so than HK and the West). 
  • Hiccup Next 2 workers scanned and scrutinized in detail the info inside our QR Codes. The lady smiled at me and said your report is negative, no? I said yes, and she said you made a wrong entry of "yes". I knew what happened, the simplified Chinese of ying and yang (阴 and 阳, negative and positive) are very similar and I misread it on the small phone screen. There'd not have been a problem with traditional Chinese (陰 and 陽). Normally, a simple edit would have done it, but my HK cell has no data. My US T-Mobile phone has maybe 2G usage in China, too slow for the form. The ladies told me there is Wifi there and gave me the code, which somehow still would not work. Finally, the other lady tethered her own cell to mine and I just filled in another form on my US phone and got a new QR code. All that took me almost 40 minutes. Remember my hiccup at the New York airport due to leaving out the middle name, saved by luck and a lady airline staff? Here is a sad scene to witness: in L.A. a family returning to China (crazy expensive tickets) was refused boarding due to a botched QR code (14 days for high risk countries), crying, begging and kowtowing to no avail. I count myself as lucky. I wonder if I didn't get through, upon return to HK would I have to be quarantined for 14 days again?
  • Arrangement for Quarantine Hotel and Transportation After passing through security (I think you can take any luxury item through as they don't even want to touch your luggage). We had to stop by the appropriate transport desk where we again filled in some information. There are desks for about a dozen districts (SZ is a very big city), as well as the adjacent districts of Huizhou and Shanwei. One could not choose which hotel to stay in; they are assigned. IDs are confiscated at this point. After registration, we were directed to wait outdoors for transportation (unlike ridiculous HK, where travelers are free to go to the hotel by themselves and go about before entering the room). Finally, after 4 hours (add 1-2 more if I had not jumped the queue) I was out in the open. Here the situation is more chaotic. The area is not large enough for the crowd and too few chairs are available. I gave up my seat twice to an elderly and a mother with 2 kids. It was a little windy and the temperature was plunging. Workers here are from the Police Department and they are all FMJ too. They work very hard to round up people for the right bus while holding their IDs, take attendance and find the missing passengers. For our bus, they did a headcount at least 10 times. There are several contributory reasons for the chaos: 1) audio related, as the announcement horns are awful and muffled, so people crowd to get close to hear better; 2) many people in SZ, including the police, speak poor mandarin and even poorer Cantonese. The bus was about 2/3 full, with a partition screen between us and the driver and workers, who came along. After waiting for more than 2 hours, finally we were on the way, not to reach the hotel for almost 2 hours (traffic always heavy in SZ, and it was New Year's Eve). It was nighttime when we arrived.
  • Testing and the Hotel After we disembarked, we had to wait outside in the frigid weather for testing. I studied the various ID cards in the hands of the workers as they called out the names and returned the cards. I think the travelers were 2/3 HK residents and 1/3 with Chinese ID Cards. It was quite the most serious testing I had undergone. The collection staff were skilled. TWO swabs, one in the oral cavity and one in the nose, both somewhat uncomfortable. My own feeling is this outdoor testing outside the hotel expedites things and is better than testing everyone at the entry point, though this may not be practical for more congested HK. Contactless Check-In There is no traditional check-in, no front counter. We again had to scan another QR code and fill in the form. The form is almost the same as the one at the customs, but is for the hotel. As my phones again failed to work, a young man that I chatted with on the bus tethered his to mine to finish the task. A room had already been assigned. We were given our card keys; each person was given a hot meal and led to the room.
  • Room As hotel rooms are assigned it's a roll of the dice when it comes to price and quality. Our group landed in a branch of a large chain (橫崗維亞納). The room is a little old but spacious and comfortable enough. For around the same price, it is way superior to the one of my HK quarantine. For a reasonable price we are served 3 meals a day and the food quality is acceptable. Rules Each room has a stool placed outside, where meals would be put upon. Garbage are put outside the door too. I entered the room and it was freezing cold as the window was open. IMHO that is a good idea after cleaning. The front door handles are wrapped in cellophane. All containers, dish tray cups etc had been removed and replaced by disposables. Relatives and friends can deliver needed items, including food, to the front desk, but cannot go up (unlike ridiculous HK). Ordering delivery is limited to 5 fast-food chains, and delivery to the front desk is limited to certain periods. Also, as I had things that I have to give to others, I found out we are not allowed to leave things for others to pick up. This is perhaps wise, if inconvenient; the basic premise is our stuff also have to be quarantined. Divertissement Importantly, WiFi is stronger here than in the HK Hotel I stayed in (generally data is stronger in China). As for TV, if you are Chinese, there are numerous channels to choose from. But for me, I am only interested in the TV dramas and I am hooked on a couple now that make me stay way past midnight, including the one that I am showing the pics of. This 2018 drama series treated in depth the SARS period, mask wearing, death and recovery, relevant for a re-run during our pandemic. An Incident I received a call from the front desk, asking me if I could help the older man in an adjacent room get on the Wifi. I said yes, donned my mask and went to his door, and the problem was solved. He was happy he could call his family via wechat. But, an hour later, he knocked on my door asking me to teach him how to cycle through the Smart TV channels, and that was done too. Anyway, I think more help and instructions should be provided to the many elderly people who are not so technically minded. Quite a day for them to get through all these hurdles!

Comparison with HK As detailed above, I think SZ does it better, safer and in a more expedient manner. Also, I feel the workers are fully protected, and surprisingly courteous under pressure.

My Fellow Travelers I have to say, I really appreciate the camaraderie and the understanding shown by the folks for those in need or whose time were running out. With the workers overwhelmed and digital demands hard to fulfill by the elderlies, the help provided by fellow travelers was heart-warming. Overall, a well behaved and civically minded crowd. Also, the hotel staff also are significantly more courteous than those in my HK hotel. Is there anything HK does better? Yes, providing sandwiches while we were waiting, and better crowd control, little else.

29 December, 2020

Micromega MyDac


Letter from Hong Kong (20-19): Eric L examines Micromega MyDac

Always wanted to pick one up since it was first released for the sake of the cheap price; what the heck, if it doesn't work out, $400USD is not a big sum and I figure I could sell it easily. Somehow, it just didn't happen, as often in life.

Read a few articles on Micromega in this blog lately, as I have always wanted to get a product from them but somehow didn't get the chance. My most impressive audition of MM was their Trio CD/DAC combo played through a complete Ensemble setup at an High End Show years ago - I was sent to heaven while playing the Piano from the Three Blind Mice label.

Scrolling through Review33, a local internet dicussion forum with 2nd hand items for sale as well, one day I spotted a MyDac for sale at less than $100USD. I immediately sent the request to buy, two PMs to be sure and finally got this unit in hand.

Hooking up is easy as a piece of cake , well... except to get my laptop with Windows 10 to upsample to 24/192 using USB II was a pain in the butt. I never figured out the complicated procedure and finally gave up and just switched it back to USB1.0 and 24/96.

How does it sound? How does it compare to my Sparkler CDP using NOS and my Vega DAC through laptop? I' was all excited to find out!

Sparkler CDP vs Sparkler CDP as transport through Micromega MyDac

First of all, the attack ,openness and musicality of the CDP is no slouch and at times surpasses the Vega DAC. As soon as the MyDac was connected  I felt an immediacy, which is a good sign. The bass has more definition, tunefulness , tenacity and bounciness. Midrange has fleshed out (but not blurred) and soundstage and depth have stretched out a bit. Musicality is there and it is involving and exciting. The additon of the DAC has actually bested the internal DAC. Although I'm happy with both, I slightly prefer the MyDac

Vega vs MyDac streaming Tidal music via my Laptop

Without missing a beat, MyDac replaced the Vega and I played many tunes through it for at least four days. I then switched back to my Vega.

MyDac, despite running at 24/96, is indeed an excellent DAC. With Melody Gardot's latest CD, somehow I prefer the Tidal version to the CD disc played on my Sparkler, with or with MyDac! I knew immediately I struck gold - the plugging of guitar strings, the playfulness of her voice, the tuneful bass and musicality makes one want to listen and listen yet again.

Overall, sound of MyDac is involving. Gain is slightly higher; the immediacy and involving nature are noticeable right away. The tuneful bass is well defined and provides a good foundation, whick makes my feet tap like I have Parkinson's when I played Fantasy by Earth, Wind and Fire as well as Good Times by Chic! The DAC allows me to dwell inside the music more than ever. All the virtues when connected to CDP is here and sometimes even more so. Wider and deeper soundstage; though not the ultimate, there is no point anyway? Fleshy, lush yet smooth midrange, free of grain  and natural. Highs are as good as Vega.

Hooking back the Vega, lines immediately thinned out, and there's slighlty loss of the overall magic and liveliness. Yet Vega's strong point is still there: the representation of slow passages is better, compared with which the Sparkler and MyDac seem a bit restless and unrestrained. 


I did not take into account of the price factor, all are value products on their own, but I ultimately prefer the MyDac!! 

Kudos to an 8 year-old product that represents superb value and has withstood the test of time!

Highly recommended!! Surprise of the year 2020!

2020 in Review

2020 in Review

This has been a tough year for most people, and it almost seems frivolous to write about audio. Nonetheless, this is a tradition for this blog and me. In past years, I basically re-capped the audio adventures of the year, but this year is quite different, for good as well as unfortunate reasons. mrgoodsound's brilliant expose (the previous article) also renders many things moot.

People of the Year I completely agree with those critical of Time magazine, which chose Joe Biden and Kamala Harris as People of the Year. I completely agree that Health Care Workers are People of the Year. The heroics, particularly during the initial phase of the pandemic, are just staggering. Being in NYC, I was really moved to tears by the health professionals who rallied from all over America to aid NYC. Indeed, all over this earth, including China, many did the same for their countries. The altruism and bravery represents the best of America, and of humanity. Incidentally, one of my classmates, a neurosurgeon at Mount Sinai, died, and one of my relatives (a hospital sanitation worker) in the UK is convalescing from an infection. Such are their sacrifices. In contrast, ugly politics and the election maneuvers represent the worst. And a chance to promote health consciousness was lost. Shame.

Thanks to Our Writers When it comes to audio, the greatest joy this year has nothing to do with any piece of equipment, but everything to do with human beings. I cannot thank our writers enough for contributing - the blog is the better for it. Diversity, isn't that a key word? BUT, while diverse, we have many things in common - as mrgoodsound put forth so eloquently in his latest article, a love for music, a healthy distrust of the "high end", a return to basics, all holistic. Mind you, this blog shuns ads, almost never receives solicitation for reviews, and no one is paid. We all do it out of our own pocket, for fun, and perhaps some release. I actually would like to reward our writers with small gifts, be they cables or tubes, which I have in abundance, should they have need. I have noticed readers' participation and comments have increased quite significantly since my fellow authors joined in. It is encouraging. mrgoodosund joined at the very end of last year, and Eric L and Dexler Poppe followed suit (I still regret the passing of audiopro). Many thanks - we are all the richer for it. And then you, the readers, when you voice out, it is a pleasure. I actually think our highly individualistic (even cantankerous, but not without humor) Russian friend, omnipresent here and instantly identifiable, should not be anonymous in 2021 and have a name. Maybe Sputnik?? Incidentally, if you generally agree with our generally less-is-more philosophy, have commented before and feel you can contribute an article or two, email me to discuss.

Streaming and Bluetooth Streaming, by which I mean using simple means, not the ridiculously complicated paths advocated by so many mags, forums, and headless-fi's, is immensely pleasurable and opens one to new musical vista (as it does for me here). When simply done, it decouples one from chasing "the holy grail" and focuses one on the music. I think all our writers stream using rather direct methods and enjoy the music. You should too.

New Lease on Life For someone like me, in an extreme state of flux for the last 2 years, there are 2 sides to this. I am happy that some of my treasured gears, like the Tannoy Canterbury and TAD 3401, are living new lives in my friends' homes. I plan to write about them in due time. Also, during these 2 months in HK, I have been firing up my "remnants", like the B and W Matrix 801, Ruark Crusader III, various Micromega's and 16-bit players and Sun Audio SET amps, etc, to great and surprising results. Shall write about these too. There are many paths to audio and, importantly, musical, nirvana. No need to fret about.

Most Awesome Sound I heard Early on, before the Fourth Wave here, thanks to WSS' arrangement, I managed to hear Mr Chevalier Blanc's crazy and awesome WE setup in a cavernous space. I have enlisted my friend icefox's help to write this up:

I guess I have to mention some equipment. I am glad to have acquired a Yamamoto CA-04 (here) and a Micromega Stage 2 and a 71A amp. Bargains of the year go to various Bluetooth devices, FX Audio TUBE-01 (here) and Arcam rPhono (here).

And, yes, my Album of the Year is this one.

This Round's Classical Pick: Dido and Aeneazz

Have a good 2021. Stay safe.

26 December, 2020

mrgoodsound's Alternative Audio Wisdom for 2021

By mrgoodsound

I am not sure if I am old enough yet to be considered wise but if we treat years spent towards the pursuit of good sound as dog years then I should be about 35 in audiophile years - married with children and chipping away at a mortgage.

My Christmas night was spent listening to spiritual jazz from the greats - Sun Ra, Mingus, Coleman, Don Cherry and of course Coltrane. Having just shaved my head (I avoid the barber due to COVID), I was feeling especially monk-like and engaged in a year-end reflection. I know this has not been a great year for many people, I am very fortunate to say it has not been that bad for me, but in terms of audio and music it was in many ways a great one.

Here are just a few audio milestones for 2020, in no particular order:

1. Acquisition of Klipsch La Scala loudspeakers

I acquired a 1970s pair of La Scala's early in the year, by chance not so long after this home visit where I heard them for the first time. I love these speakers, to do better I would have to DIY a horn system using higher quality drivers at great expense - and even then I am not sure I could match the greatness of the folded bass horn in a DIY endeavor. 

A turnkey, fully horn-loaded speaker system, available at used prices well below the retail cost of modern bookshelf speakers. If you have the space to support these speakers you will be rewarded with high-efficiency (in the true sense of the term) sound, where amplifier choice becomes a matter of taste, not requirement.

2. Converting 1s and 0s using NOS (non-oversampling) multibit DACs

Technically, I had already started becoming interested in NOS DACs in 2019, but it was not until this year that I realized their full potential. Having spent the better part of the last 3 years churning through over 20 digital audio converters priced from $100 to $2500, I actively avoided NOS DACs due to sonic descriptions from others indicating these DACs were overly warm, rolled-off, soft, etc. The irony was that these same people were recommending the 20 or so other DACs I tried and found unsatisfactory. 

After some encouraging experiments with NOS, I went out on a limb and purchased the DAC2.2SE from Ukranian manufacturer abbasaudio. I have not done a formal review of this DAC anywhere and don't plan to. I will just say this is the DAC that has made me stop thinking about DACs. It's renders music from digital sources well enough to make me cry. That's good enough for me.

3. Mono mia! (Telefunken Opus 6 Röhrenradio)

This year I gained an exponential interest in monophonic (single channel) playback, spurred on by an ever-involving interest in historical monophonic recordings. Articles such as "Mono Mia" by Vincent Gallo (pub. Sound Practices Issue #1, 1992) and "Стерео или моно" by Anatoly Likhnitsky (pub. 2001) got me thinking about home sound reproduction in a completely different way. 

I began experimenting with listening to a single speaker (for appropriate recordings), and eventually purchased a Telefunken Opus 6 radio receiver. This fine mono radio from 1956 has 6 speaker units and was carefully engineered to completely fill a room with glowing, glorious music like I have never experienced before. 

There is nothing quite like listening to a late-night classical or jazz FM broadcast on a set like this - it has opened my eyes and inspired me to attempt to achieve the same quality of sound in a full-range high-fidelity system, though I believe I am still quite a ways off from accomplishing that.

4. An expanded musical consciousness

Victories in other audio departments such as the 3 listed above have afforded me the ability to expand my musical consciousness and taste at an exponential rate. In 2019, I listened mainly to rock music, with only a cursory and surface level interest in jazz and classical. Just a year later, I can truly say I am 'into' jazz, classical, oldies, folk and even foreign artists. The discovery of new music has become something as natural and effortless as breathing, enabled by an audio system that not only satisfies but allows me to relish the aesthetics of different genres, recording eras and musical consciousnesses. 

Most of my digital listening is done now on YouTube, where Google's extremely powerful algorithm has a never-ending hole of increasingly obscure recommendations to make. I have subscriptions to many small-time channels whose owners take time to upload rare recordings and performances, including the delicate digitization's of LP and shellac records. The ability to sample a lifetimes worth of music before purchasing a physical copy is a true modern-day blessing.

5. Letting go of audio pretenses & pretentiousness

I use the term 'pretense' here as a polite way of saying bullsh**. 

Bullsh** like:

  • caring what anyone else thinks about your system
  • the audio tribalism and groupthink present consciously and unconsciously in so many aspects of this hobby
  • the meandering and meaningless arguments that take place in so many audio discussion groups and forums
  • what dogmas the 'audio scientists' have to proclaim as false shepherds about what is and is not possible in sound reproduction
  • most of all what those who do not even understand or appreciate music (though they are often the loudest to proclaim that they do) have to say about anything audio-related.

Forget them all. The ability to see through such noise and remained focus with acute perception on what matters most to you will be the most useful tool in achieving aural nirvana and good sound. I say this as someone who is now achieving one audio success after another, only after completely discarding such pretenses and pretentiousness. 

I suggest to ignore anyone who provides you advice without asking and understanding first: what music do you enjoy? what sounds do you like to hear? what sacrifices are you willing to make? These questions form the basis of your aural matrix, and let you pick and choose system components that fit inside of it.

I suggest to not ask even a wise master for advice if you do not have the answers to these questions. It will only lead to disappointment and a sure path to audio hell. 

I suggest to keep around some form of inexpensive system which is capable of providing musical satisfaction: equipment which allows you to enjoy the music you have while finding more, equipment in which your engagement with it remains utterly non-cerebral. It may be a cheap receiver you inherited from a family member, a $20 CD player you found at a thrift store, and speakers you rescued from a dumpster. The less pretentious, the better. 

Assembled, these components will become your sanity control, something to fall back on if you take too many steps on the wrong path in the pursuit of aural nirvana. The one time this pursuit becomes truly dangerous is if the soul & spirit are denied the nourishment of music for an extended period of time, generally from having an expensive system you don't feel like listening to. This is what causes burn-out and audio depression. You have been warned!

Sources of alternative audio wisdom

If you are ready to or are already in the process of rejecting mainstream audio ideology, here are some sites which may provide nice reading material during the holiday break.

The Triode Guild - this website contains articles and publications of the late Dr. Harvey 'Gizmo' Rosenberg. As the name suggests, most of the articles are about vacuum tube amplification, but Rosenberg was a truly hilarious and entertaining writer regarding any subject. I burst out laughing more than once reading articles such as Sex, Music, and Pentodes.

Arthur Salvatore's Audio Critique - this website contains articles and essays of Arthur Salvatore, a lifelong audiophile who shares information on audio philosophy, audio components and the high-end audio industry. I do not expressly agree with all of the opinions on this website, but I would especially implore readers to carefully review the sections of the website detailing the escapades of the audio press and review magazines. The insight is invaluable.

Sound Practices - a magazine published in the 1990s as part of the underground American audio scene, consider it a sort of counter-culture to Stereophile and TAS. Many articles have been republished online though I recommend paying for the entire archive here. The fact that information in articles which are nearly three decades old are still so relevant today show how little forwards progress there is in the audio industry.

Nutshell High Fidelity - the home page of Lynn Olson, containing many well-written and insightful articles on tube amplifiers, loudspeaker design and DIY. Especially recommended is A Tiny History of High Fidelity.

AML - the home page of the late Russian audio engineer Anatoly Likhnitsky. Only a few articles were translated to English but the site can be easily understood using Google Translate. Likhnitsky thinks more deeply and clearly about audio reproduction than anyone else I have ever encountered. He has a cult following of sorts in the East, and some Western admirers as well, including Peter Qvortup of Audio Note UK. Especially recommended to read his article on the death of high-end audio.

With all that said, I leave you with a beautiful tune to relax to as we close out this year. I wish all readers a happy holiday break and much audio success in 2021!