27 March, 2021

Low Fi Sansui Kyoeon H-9A


Click Pics to enlarge. This is an old pic of System 1.

Letter from Shenzhen (21-7): High on Low Fi?
Kyoeon H-9A Bluetooth: A Reckoning


Here I am. I am here. Am I here!

After almost 3 months, I feel I am beginning to "settle in". I have been trying to rebuild some routines into a schedule, meanwhile to get to know the city better than before (as I have to be here for longer). The most obvious casualty of a less rigorous routine is Writing, but it is coming back a little. Several articles are in the pipeline; aside from a long one on "HiFi Basics" (even I smirk here, as many articles in this series can really be viewed as Anti-Fi, or rather, Anti-Hi, and I am proud of that), there shall be an equally long one on my take on living in this city. I also have quite a few pieces of equipment from my soujourn in HK that demand write-up's (not least the Ruark Crusader III). All due, but in due time...

What has been disturbed the least is Listening to Music. I still use the piecemeal time snippets to stream music through NML (yes, the hunger is very much there). A piece of sad news: since a recent router change by the service provider I lost my previously easy access to Spotify. But I am reasonably up to date on new issues.

Readers are likely curious about what equipment I use here, so this report.

System 1
Long ago I appropriated the second largest bedroom as my main listening room (though it is also a storage room), and it has been reported on before (here). The Sansui F-55 (Audioquest CV-8) loudspeakers are approximately 7-8 ft apart and the listening seat is a little further away, an isosceles triangle that is close enough to equilateral, my favorite geometry. The loudspeakers are narrow in baffle but quite deep, so the front baffle is a little more than 2 ft from the front wall.

The system is simpler than before, using whatever is around. The Revox A720/A722 (French Filotex RG-58 cable) combo is still the center of the system. CDP is the trusted Sony DVP-PR50P (cheap AV MIT). Streaming is via my Laptops hooked up (HK Unitek USB cable) to Meridian Explorer I (Line out via minijack adaptor to cheap AV MIT). Occasionally, I also use the Meridian as headphone amp with my Grado SR-80E.

As reported before, the sound of the system is decent enough; I get thrilled with big orchestrals, yet still enjoy good details at low levels. There are no spec's, but the Sansui F55 Loudpseakers by ear go down at least to a solid 40-45 Hz. The woofer is 8" but I neglected before to mention it is complemented by a passive 8" radiator.

With Jazz and Vocals, the presence is quite stunning. With orchestrals, since they cannot be further in-room, the soundstage is a little shallow, but not at all flat, and still atmospheric and provides a semblance of the venue (the IKEA beehive-like shelf helps). Imaging is very good. Overall, I am quite satisfied. I don't need a sub yet, but I'll not rule out one in the future.

System 2
This is in the Living Room and here I encountered several challenges (detailed below). It currently makes use of the rest of the original Sansui AV system. The 2-way Sansui S60 bookshelves were designed to be rear speakers that complement the Front F55. These have 5" woofers and are 6 ohm 65-20k Hz. The tweeter has a broad but shallow circular waveguide. To minimize contact with the low cabinet below and to raise the image, I use a pair of disposable chopsticks to prop up the baffle front a little.

The Amp is Sansui UX-800 (here, now in its Mk II iteration). This 6.1 AV amp has Digital as well as Analog Inputs. I don't know whether the latter are first digitized. Cables are Mogami 3082. Researching, I saw a second-hand ad for CNY 350! :-( That shows the cruel depreciation of AV equipment. The ad has more pics should you be interested.

The electricity from the busy outlet on the front wall, where the router, TV Box and TV are also plugged in, is shockingly dirty, certainly the worst I have encountered. I first actually tried to setup another smaller AV setup (Changhong) but the noise proved too much. The Sansui was much better at noise suppression.

Streaming is via the Bluetooth Kyoeon H-9A (Thanks Eric again!) hooked up to the "analog" AUX input via its earphone output (built in Line-Out is too low in level) with a minijack adaptor connected to old and cheap Monster RCAs lent to me by old friend Hon Wo, who also lives nearby in Longgang.

CD is played through the Bubugao DV-997 DVD player. BBG was the Chinese arm of Oppo, and you can think of it as an equivalence of the Oppo 9xx series. This old DVP was touted by the HK DVD-A crowd in its time and was modded a little by one of them. I wanted to use its analog out, which is quite decent but, lacking in cables, I was forced to connect digitally. First, I tried my ancient XLO 0.4 Digital Coaxial but the noise proved annoying. I then dug out a generic Optical Cable and that vanquished the noise. The sound is quite acceptable, so I am thinking of purchasing another FX Audio BT device and use its Digital Out.

Having established the sound of the CD playback was quite satisfying, I returned to streaming and soon had some doubts about the sound of the orchestra.

Now, the loudspeakers are about 7ft apart, but the listening position is far away, almost double that, so a very narrow isoceles triangle. I know this does not favor a stereo spread but was still puzzled that the lower strings seemed to be in the center (some orchestras are fanned out like this, but not the majority). In fact, even the violins seemed to hover close to the center. I switched to the lower-level RCA outputs and the result was the same. I then streamed one of my test tracks, the Allegretto of Concertgebouw/Haitink's Shostakovich 5th (Decca), which has clearly delineated lower strings to the right. My worst fears were confirmed when I heard them hover near the center! I then switched to my Meridian Explorer and, voila! The stereo spread was clear. So this was not a problem with the loudspeakers or the setup.

The diagnosis is clear: the Kyoeon H-9A has poor channel separation; in fact it is almost mono in sound!!! I failed to notice this before as I had only used it sparingly, briefly in HK and on the desktop in the quarantine hotel. Eric had used it for longer but his system too seems to be almost desktop in its limited embrace. Also, my sample may not be representative. I don't recall my Dayton Audio (FX Audio) BT (or even the lowly HK008) to be like this (my NYC small speakers have a vast soundstage), but I wonder. Actually I may get another FX here to compare, as its digital output will fit my current amp. In fact, this re-ignites the mono-stereo debate - there is something musical about mono, as some insist. Mind you too, with a lot of a stuff I don't mind the mono, and could even prefer it (I thnk my friend Andy and our very discriminating mrgoosound would agree), but with large orchestrals, I need my spread.

In this system I am usually seated too far away on the sofa. If I sit on the high chairs, which are closer (I love to use my laptop here as it affords me a good view from the balcony), the sound improves despite the seat being high-up and skewed all the way to the right. Also, even with some propping up and tilting, the loudspeakers are really too low to have good dispersion. It is obvious the sound is not nearly as good as in the dedicated room (System 1 above). I have a feeling the system is not in its final state. I may try to work again with my even more humble Changhong system (or a heretic combo of the two) if I can surmount the noise problem. There shall be more on this; the challenge is to be creative and use whatever is around to deliver reasonable sound. It never surprises me when dirt-cheap stuff is made to sound good. The corollary is It never surprises me when ultra expensive stuff fail to deliver (indeed it is almost a rule, and a curse for many).

Everybody would be happier if music, not -fi, is the focus. Am I a happy audiophile and music lover? Yes. From this angle, with my horns and Western Electric inaccessible for the moment, am I happy? A resounding yes too. So, you, friends and readers, should be happy for me. More importantly, YOU should be happy! Cheers.

System 2
High Chairs 

16 February, 2021

Gizmo Speaks

A Short Gizmo Clip

Most audiophiles have heard of Harvey "Gizmo" Rosenberg, who was disciple of OTL legend Julius Futterman and went on to found New York Audio Lab.

Gizmo went to Japan in 1982 to try to sell his very heavy and expensive products but was instead shocked by the Japanese SET amps and stuff. After NYAL went bust, Gizmo went back to his commercial art profession but remained an audiophile.

The material here came from my friend and analog guru Andy, who contributes a lot to analog forums (like Lencoheaven) under various monikers. They came from the early 90's during a trip by the New York Audio Society to Gizmo's Connecticut studio. He was using the Tannoy Westminster, Wavac SET amp (and his own NYAL 400W Moscode). CDP was Rotel.

Posted by doctorjohn


11 February, 2021

Happy Year of the Ox


Happy Chinese New Year of the Ox
Letter from Shenzhen (21-6): doctorjohn on Post-Quarantine

Time flies. I crossed into China on New Year's Eve, and I started writing this article on the Eve of the Chinese New Year (based on the Lunar Calendar). Like Thanksgiving and Christmas, it is a time for Family Reunion. The Chinese New Year differs in that it is celebrated over at least 2 weeks (though in modern times most workers would not receive such a long period of leave).

China has a gargantuan number of migrant workers who came from rural areas to the big cities. Shenzhen is probably the most drastic example of an immigrant city - probably more than 90% of the population do not come from the city itself but have roots in other provinces or cities. For these workers, many of whom working 7 days a week, aside from perhaps the National Day the New Year is the only time when things shut down and they get to go home to see their parents and, often, children (they leave their children with their parents so as they could work long hours). Due to the pandemic and now-controlled small clusters of cases in Northwest China, China has been discouraging travel this year, and instituted mandatory covid test for entry into big cities, and hence perhaps population flow this year has been reduced by roughly 40-50%. That means many have opted not to see their loved ones this year. Like Thanksgiving and Christmas, the city basically shuts down for about 2 days.

Here I wish you all a Happy Year of the Ox! Above are the official stamps this year. China is not the only country that issues this kind of stamps. At the bottom is one from mostly Muslim Kyrgyzstan (superior artwork)!

Post-Quarantine
it has been a month since I got out of the hotel. On day 13, a nurse in FMJ came to swap me (again, a thorough 6 swirls orally and 2 jabs in the nostrils) and I was let go the next day.

I actually spent the last week of my hotel stay writing a lengthy article on audiophile psychology. Then, a catastrophe - I improperly "saved" it and lost it. It was not the first time I committed this elementary mistake; strangely, it only happens with lengthy articles. I have tried to reconstruct it but it has been difficult, but you shall see a variant someday.

The first week out was spent under "home observation" . Although I received my green QR Code (a wechat function that makes use of its digital payment feature), I was supposed to not go anywhere unless I had a good reason. Of course I went to the supermarket to gather the necessary beverages. Of course, mask on, as required for everyone inside the mall.

Although Shenzhen has no local cases, virtually everyone is compliant with official rules. All entrances to malls are manned, with temperature checks. QR codes are everywhere at entrances but enforcement is not universal. Some malls require scanning for entry, others don't. In smaller shops, usually everyone wears a mask. There are security breaches here and there (particularly in gateways, as in parking lot elevators). As there are no local cases, people are pretty relaxed and not worried. On the street some people don't wear masks. So it is doubly impressive that people practice mask wearing as an etiquette; they don't need to be told to wear one when entering a shop or mall. Many people in the West who shun masks, particularly those in Office, should be ashamed of themselves for not doing the part of a citizen, not to mention failure to lead.

Government agencies and banks in China are particularly strict. One is required to scan one or even 2 QR codes and fill in a digital form. It is rather inconvenient but people oblige. Cannot imagine this being practiced in the US (the security guard would be shot).

The most amazing thing to me is restaurants are functioning normally. All staff wear masks but of course the customers don't when they eat. There is no capacity limit, but it is clear there are less people inside than before, as people curb their activities. I ate out a few times, but I only picked uncrowded eateries and mostly sat outdoors when available.

Meanwhile, the vast armies of delivery workers on motorbikes are working in frenzy. On any street you can spot them and in many places they outnumber pedestrians. They not only deliver cooked food, but everything else, including grocery. China's online shopping and delivery is on a scale that vastly outstrips the west, in no small measure due to the efficiency of digital payment. It has also been credited for both coming to the aid of beseiged cities (like Wuhan initially and Shijiazhuan recently) and helping in the prevention of viral transmission. For environmental reasons, I don't use their services but I appreciate these workers.

I went on the Metro and Buses a few times and I saw no breach of safety protocol, and no homeless people. Not at all like riding the subway in NYC. Last week I made a one and a half hour trip to IKEA and the huge restaurant was packed even at 2 pm. Yes, IKEA serves the usual Western fare, with few concessions to Chinese taste, and it feels exactly the same as elsewhere.


10 February, 2021

Wattson Audio Emerson Analog Streamer by Engineered SA



Letter from Hong Kong (21-3): Eric L on his New Streamer

Wattson Audio Emerson Analog Streamer by Engineered SA

My pursuit of NAS has not been slowing down. There are some brands and models on my radar, for which I am waiting for a good deal. I'm not in a hurry. 

Somehow, this little box from Wattson Audio really caught my eyes and I was extremely interested. It fits perfectly in my setup, which comprise gears that are compact, and it can be concealed behind my TV nicely. I don't need refrigerator-sized boxes at all to fuel my ego! On the contrary, I like the elusive, and compact size which does not catch attention at all!  David against Goliath. Will the Wattson be a super PQR product that one affords a glimpse of the ultra expensive Swiss laser precision on the cheap, or will it be a bust?

There are two versions, the Analog and Digital: the Analog includes a DAC inside as well as a Streamer; the Digital is claimed to be a better streamer with a more sophisticated design and is for those who own a top-end DAC already. To me, I rather like the one-off solution with the Analog even if I may sacrifice on ultimate SQ, and I'd save major dollars (for a respectable DAC) and, most importantly, space. Mind you, once you purchase either one, you can not revert.

As you know, DJ and some others in this forum are not in favour of the Swiss sound, finding them too sterile and polite, plus lack of drive and energy. I was very curious how this little box would sound ! I also read an interview from Alpha Audio which granted it a lukewarm 3.5 star stating that opined that it sounded no better than a Lumin D2 with an LPS.  That said, the unit should drastically improved with an LPS. To me, on other gears so far I have yet to find improvement with some lower priced LPS; thus I remain skeptical yet still curious to see if a properly designed LPS can help the sound or not. 

Squarewave in HK has this little Aluminium CNC box (weighing less than a pound) bundled with an iFi PSU to replace the stock PSU in a very reasonable offer. Upon auditioning it with some exotic equipment at the store, I decided to bring it home to try, thinking if the sound is not my cup of tea, I can resell it easily!!

In fact, there's actually very little info on this Wattson Emerson Analog  DAC/Streamer on the internet , which is not an issue as I can review it in an unbiased manner. The packing is really compact and the main unit is nicely packed. Since I do not have an iPhone, I downloaded a free MConnect Lite version to control streaming though Tidal. This uPnP is not a very well designed one - I guess they want customer to  pay for their regular version. At least for me, anything that is more convenient than playing CDs and LPs is fine, including regularly restarting the apps after playing a few songs etc.

Hooking up is easy as a blowing out a whiff of air. I bought a Viard ethernet cable at half the listed price and was ready to go! I simply connected the ethernet cable to the Analog and then connect it to my icOn4 using  my Gotham GAC4 . Function of this streamer is singular and you can play NAS and CAS , and it is Tidal , Quobus as well as ROON ready (don't ask me what the latter is), but I don't think it can decode MQA. It is also able to detect music files on my laptop.

The sound coming fresh out of the box was everything that DJ has described, very analytical, airy treble, a bit nonchalant and uninvolving and we joked around that I should sell the unit first before posting a less favorable review lol. However, to give the Analog the benefit of the doubt , I would do a very detailed assessment with sufficient listening and run-in before I determine to sell it or not.

A good two weeks has passed and the Analog began to slowly evolve. Without listening for a few days, when I started to play songs through Tidal one morning, I sensed the sound has transformed and I thought it was about time to start to listen to it seriously and critically.

The Verdict

How does it actually sound? Does it justify its price tag at all or punch above its price tag? Is it musical , organic and lively enough to be able to stand on its own?

For comparison, I use my Vega Dac connected to my laptop and my Sparkler CDP. It is very obvious that within a very short period of auditioning, I have decided to stick with the Analog and thereafter my Vega DAC has seen much less playtime. Even with my Sparkler CDP, I still see a clear advantage for the Analog, which to me is a big surprise. The Analog has forced me to revisit all the songs that I used to play on Tidal and it's as if I am hearing a new recording every time. Well, the big question is: is it clean, analytical, with needle sharp focus and lacking in grace and naturalness?

Before I reveal the answer, I consider my system (47 Lab Gaincard , icOn4 AVC preamp and Dynaudio Crafft, with 47 Lab OTA and Gotham GAC4 i.c) as extremely natural and musical with no MSG added . Any coloration and unnatural sound can be picked up quite readily. BTW, I'm using duo power Humpties, which I ultimately prefer, as the soundstage and dynamics are more at ease, at the expense of only a tiny loss of vibrancy which is still acceptable.

I had also substituted my stock 47 Lab power cords for Gotham's 52025 and result is eminently worth every penny.

Overall the sound quality has improved leaps and bounds in almost every category without being over analytical and boring! Most importantly , I can still immerse in the music and enjoy much more depth and more minute information that is usually lost in transition. These qualities help shape the whole picture and makes you understand more about the performance. Yet, all this at no loss of musicality despite my thinking that it is on the slightly cooler side (Swiss Phobic attacks start!! LOL). No, I can still enjoy the music, and my urge to listen to more music has drastically increased !

Highs: Airy and full of moisture; you can feel the air surrounding the instruments and its natural decay, hence note to note continuity.

Mid: grainless, flat and free of nasality. 

Mid-bass: taut, solid, bouncy, sinewy and precise timing that make you tap your feet so easily and vigorously as the timing is dead on to laser precision accuracy. There is also lower bass as well and is not shy given my setup is definitely nott a bass-happy system! 

Imaging: very good indeed without any annoying needling; there are flesh, blood and body without congestion. Very resolving.

Soundstage: width is good, depth is quite good. It seems like my previous setup has a veiled curtain; now it's very transparent indeed.

Timbre: very accurate, portray of performer playing of instrument is amazingly authentic.

The overall sound is natural, musical, involving and with great timing across the spectrum, despite slightly on the cool side. I can communicate with the performance more than before by a big margin . 

Cons: 1) lack of verasility as there's only one configuration - Router to Analog. Analog to preamp or active speakers through RCA I.C.; only official Apps through IOS not Android. 

How do I rate it? To me, this little gem is a very small revelation and I'm definitely enjoying it tremendously and it has become indispensible to me and it has blended perfectly into my system. It's without a doubt a keeper. Price is not cheap, but it is still within reason and not too expensive by the crazy pricing of today's exotic luxury goods. PQR is extremely high IMHO.

Go audition it to see it for yourself. I think you will be pleasantly surprised by how it performs.

 

Sophie's Rocket Love is sensual

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=A2YO1DnRQBg

Silje Neagard 's voice on Det Var For Sent is so genuine.

https://tidal.com/browse/track/13982184

Niia's song Last night in Los Feiliz comes with suspense, precise drums and her myterious voice , easily my favorite!

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kGF4yE1u27s

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! 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=C0gmh_PYcwE


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

https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=ld8aaSWAnmc


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

https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=F0sdSKEafao


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

https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=oHKBE9-fypM&t=2740s


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.