20 December, 2008

Brief Audition: Vienna Acoustics "Music"

Vienna Acoustics "Music" (Jadis)

Yesterday, after yumcha, we auditioned the flagship Vienna Acoustics "Music" at the new dealer, Jadis. Thanks to sokps for the arrangement.

Vienna Acoustics has had an intermittent presence in Hong Kong. I have always liked their musical sound, but the way they voice their speaker is anathema to a whole generation of HK audiophiles brainwashed for those most dubious of hifi values, "pinpoint imaging". "small mouth" etc (not that they are bad in those departments). Size for size, (like Usher I may add) Vienna speakers sound bigger and fuller than most other brands, and not over-etched in treble, and that is plainly not what HK people like. Nor do the average HK audiophile, a stressed-out crowd who need only to drink from Choi Kam's saliva, know how to appreciate dynamics. Nor do these "audiophiles" know what is "presence", as most of them have never attended a live concert of any kind. I'd rather not go on. Suffice to say, Vienna Acoustics has not met with success in HK, and their old models were sold at bargain basement clearance prices (Apliu St for example). Second-hand prices are pitiable.

Stereophile reviewed some of the older models back a decade ago, and that possibly accounted for VA's presence in HK then. After some lean years, the much more recent praise lavished on the more recent models by Stereophile and latecomer TAS may be pivotal in its revival in our sector.

I totally forgot about VA until a recent review of the Haydn Grand by TAS. I was thoroughly intrigued by the tweeter mounting in the port; at first I thought it was an unusual tweeter horn! So in NYC my picky WE friend and I went to Harvey's and auditioned it. Even driven by a cheap NAD amp, sound was really "Grand"! I was thoroughly impressed by its presence and delightfully full and dynamic sound. I also thought this current generation of VA seems more detailed and cleaner than older models.

I have never liked the sound of the Jadis showroom, but even then, driven by top-of-the-line MBL digitals and preamp, and paired with Boulder monoblocks, the sound of "Music" was indeed very "musical", and I am using this term in the only way it should be used. Most importantly, there is an alluring aura, an atmosphere that is hard to describe. You have to hear it yourself. It made the Weavers (Analogue Productions) sound, well, "woven"! Alive, and you can feel the live atmosphere. I didn't take too much notice of the BIS 4 seasons and Telarc Strauss that followed, but when we put on the Biber I just borrowed from the library, I was transfixed. It was exactly the atmosphere that Biber's music demands. It was so good even the salesman investigated the cover. I regret to say my Yamaha NS-1000M, excellent though it is, failed to deliver the same atmosphere when I played it at home later (but the Tannoy did). By all means go hear the beauty that is "Music"!

When we finished a young couple was auditioning the Haydn Grand. sokps said, "Surprising bass!", but I already knew that. If you're in the market for a pair of bookshelves that can do almost everything well, you should go hear these!

Note: If you are interested in any VA product, go to the US importer Sumiko site for FULL reviews by many magazines. Must have cost Sumiko dearly but it's very entertaining!

07 December, 2008



Last Saturday after yumcha I had an appointment with an art/music lover whose "study" (in an industrial building) I had long wanted to visit. His place was close to whlee's place, where we had to be in the evening, and that was why the appointment was made that day.

The host is a person in need of privacy, and so no photos for now. I thank him for allowing sokps and jules to come too. My primary aim that afternoon was to look at the art collection, but then things went quickly the hifi way, and I was surprised by the host's hi-end gear and fever history. That was unexpected as he neve gave me the impression that he was like that!

The loft is hugh and open, but decorated in "retro" fashion and used mostly for displaying the art collection; you can feel the care behind the various installations. Although a museum unto itself, there is still a casual, homey feel, and I like that. I felt intruding when we arrived, as the host's charming wife was playing on the guqing and his mother practising calligraphy! I instantly thought of 风鸣—康格尔,our guqing-playing bookworm friend!

Instead of giving us a quick survey of his art collection, the host eagerly introduced us to his hifi, confined to one corner roughly 20 x 10 ft! As he is an accomplished amateur cellist, he has several celli stowed away in the corners to help with the sound. The system is hi-end but deceptively simple:

--KRELL KPS 25 SC CD player/Preamplifier (the host had tried Rowland preamp before but preferred the Krell's preamp out)
--Rowland 8 Battery powered monoblocks (4 pcs, like Cello Performance)
--DUNTECH Sovereign (website)
--all hooked up with thin "Au" cables unknown to me.

The host told us that after the speakers were unloaded he then realized he could not move them, and so they stayed a few ft from the front wall, about 6 ft apart, surely not ideal placement. BUT, although the system had not warmed up, I was immediately taken by the sound of the monstrous Duntech, at > 6ft taller than any of us. There was at once a richness in layering that only big speakers can (yet often fail to) deliver. Ben Webster, Nat King Cole and Sarah Vaughn were all mellifluous. Belafonte's chorus souded so textured that it shamed reproduction by big Magnepans (owner used Magiies before too).

Most enticing was the stunning reproduction of the piano playing of Pludermacher in this out-of-print Milstein Last Recital.

To cap it off, we requested a big piece, and the fearless host played us Solti's Mahler 8th. Although the Rowland 8 was clearly panting and I heard clipping, this was definitely the piece de resistance of the afternoon. I have never heard such richly layered Mahler 8th anywhere.

The DUNTECH Sovereign is a magnificent achievement. I hope one day I shall have the chance to own this speaker. make sure you click the website provided and also click the reviews (you'll find a blip by HP of TAS).

21 November, 2008

Home Visit: Western Electric


Western Electric
106 preamp
124 amp
755A loudspeaker

My friend M (in NYC) is a really crazy guy. His entire basement is stuffed with vintage audio and parts. For regular listening he uses the WE 106 preamp, paired with the 124 amp. Please note the more desirable silver version.

For speakers M used all sorts of things. Recently he bought from his friend a pair of Vandersteen 2CE (with Sound Anchor stands) that performed admirably. These are interesting speakers in having kind of a bi-polar character and open baffle for the tweeter and midrange. They are really even handed speakers suitable for all kinds of music, fullrange, at a very cheap price, a veritable bargain. The 124 had surprisingly good power to drive these to concert hall level.

While most people know the 124 amp, the 106 preamp is the real gem/rarity here. The dual mono and very high gain nature means it is a pain in the ass to use, but the sound! Even without the best tubes, 106/124 goes directly to the heart of music, missing almost nothing in nuance.

While I was there, M took out his single silver WE 755A (alnico) and we dismantled the AR-1 and took out the grey Altec 755A (alnico). A mismatched pair (the WE stronger on nuance) but sound was still really beautiful. It's debatable whether you should enclose the 755A. Many real experts use the original cabinets that house them (the ugly square grey boxes) to good effect. Open baffle is another choice. You might have seen Art Dudley's large baffle (in Stereophile) he used for the Altec 755C (not A, non-alnico). here on the floor and "time-aligned" the image was tall and there was enough bass and Salena jones was ravishing.

More later on this rig; and a surprise appearance of HMV speakers. have you heard of that?

29 October, 2008

New Reviews: Martin Logan, Linn, AES, Sonus Faber

New Reviews: Martin Logan, Linn, AES, Sonus Faber

For these reviews, please go to my reviews page, link to the right.

08 October, 2008

Brief REVIEWS on MMG and Heresy

For reviews of the MAGNEPAN MMG and KLIPSCH Heresy, please go the the Reviews Blog, link to the right.

07 September, 2008

Home Visit: My Long-Lost cousin

Tannoy Canterbury

(Note: this system is changing fast, and a re-visit sometime soon shall be reported)

About a week ago, r33 member Danz, whom I have neither met in person nor on the net, sent me a PM to discuss amp-matching, and I almost jumped up when I read he is using the Tannoy Canterbury, MY reference loudpeaker! :-)

Very soon we were having long discussions on the phone. Danz recently got this pair from his father-in-law when the latter went for the Tannoy Kingdom!!! Some people are just so lucky! Well, this is an earlier generation Canterbury, with identical cabinet, but with foam surrounds rather than the current hard edge (HE). Aside from this, it also differs from mine (HE) in that it has a dust cover and I think the metal horn part is wider and perhaps a little shorter. The back is similar in being bi-wired and VdH internal wiring is used. Danz says this is alnico but I am not 100% sure (the HE is alcomax). There is very little info on the net regarding this generation of Tannoy (mostly Japan/Far-Eastern sale).

Before this Danz was using JM Lab Mezzo Utopia, driven by Ayre combo. Danz said he thought he knew what's bass until he got the Tannoy! :-) Hence he's still using the gears for JM Lab. One problem he faced was that the Tannoy at 9x db was just too sensitive (unlile the 9x rating of JBL, TAD etc) for the Ayre combo and he had trouble at night with the volume setting.

Danz wanted to explore tube driving Tannoy for tonal gain too. As he stated that one of the main goals he wanted to achieve was late night low-level listening, I suggested Single-ended Triode, to me the most perfect tube reproduction possible.

Saturday morning Danz's gang of three, including his Yuen Long sister (a VERY knowledgeable audiophile) and brother-in-law Sang88 (using Verity Rienzi driven by ASR) showed up to listen to my Tannoy Canterbury. With the Revox C221 fed into Counterpoint SA-3000 I demonstrated two 300B amps to them:

1. Fixed-bias Antique Electronic Supply (AES, subsidiary of Cary) SE-1 (kit, no longer in production). This is ss rectified and 1x 6SL7 driving 1x 300B per channel. EH 300B is used on this one.

2. "Auto-biased", tube (5U4) rectified, 1x 6SN7 driven Sun Audio "300B". This is "mis-matched" as I built it upon the VT-25 kit, using the 5k output instead of the 3.5k output if one were to use the proper 300B kit. This effectively significantly reduces the output. I'd estimate around 4 watts. It also has a even more controlled bottom end. DC filament supply. Note that Mr Chan, the dealer, sold a lot of this type to the USA before. I have previously compared this to the Sun 300BTE I built from the 2A3 kit (3.5k), and to me there is less difference than you think, Cetron 300B is used on this one.

After the "demo", I see that Danz preferred the Sun Audio, so I lent it to him. I went to yumcha and returned after lunch with rcwy, tubediyer and sokps to his nice and big flat (300 ft LR) on top of Kwun Tong.

The gears:

--Musical Fidelity X-Ray as transport.
--Computer Hard Disc drive, installed by sang88, in use even more than MF (I think its performance here is impressive and better than the MF).
--Benchmark DAC
re K1xe/V5xe pre/power

--AQ interconnects; Gotham 50040 speaker cable and jumper.

Except at Da Cheong (and also that time with JC in Sai Kung; boy, I miss those days!) , it is not often we get to hear Tannoy driven by high powered ss amps! I know the Ayre combo very very well from previous experience.
Sound was decent but missing a little the easeful character of Tannoy. Danz was really very kind to let us tweak the system, by experimenting, within permissable limits, with placement, toeing in, roll-off and energy settings etc, sometimes with a little benefit, sometimes to no obvious avail.

Then we just hooked up the DAC with the Sun amp. With volume knob barely reaching 9 o'clock the speakers were thundering. Ehhh, are we listening to my speakers??? No, but mightily similar. In this even larger space the bass is a little loose, but a lot of the graceful and easeful sound is back. Mind you, the built in volume knob means altering the loading impedance and hence frequency response.

Then we hooked up the Ayre preamp. Much better control and, in many ways, better linearity, but personally I feel that the "live" character suffers a loss. Of course, for me a TUBE preamp is the soul of the system. Nonetheless, sound was really promising!

After this, we went to rcwy's place to listen to his Tannoy 15" Lancaster. That needs no introduction. All in all, a really fun and revealing day!

P.S. Remember to click on pic to enlarge!!!

31 August, 2008

Hone Visit: LaScala, Tannoy, JMLab

Home Visits

(I) 不狂野的 La Scala
昨天一清早赫然看到 R33 上寫著 sktung 會在 7:30 拜訪 LaScalawong, 而后者說會准備早餐, 遂去電自邀。謝謝 sktung 在 MTR 接我,8:00 已在聽音樂了!

打通了的村屋廳很大, 器材簡單, Klipsch La Scala (后期,粉磁
)大約按(我個人不推崇)的 Leo/音響之路 的玩法:

  • 擺在廳中間
  • 上面壓著 Corian 板, 沒用超高。
  • 下面用釘,木架及 Corian 承著, 高了一尺左右。
  • SONY SCD-1 for SACD
  • SONY CDP for CD playback
  • QUAD QC24 (6111 nuvistor) + II-40 monoblocks (\"re-issue GEC\" KT88 PP)
聲音正統, 干淨, 幼細, 定位精確, 倒是規矩得不太像號角。 因離后牆遠,低音少點, 但打鼓還是有板有眼。 唯一可以挑剔的是播某些音樂時中低有那麼一點點的轟轟聲。 整體不像 BenYC 和我的 La Scala, 但我絕對同樣欣賞。

Lascalawong 兄是好客的性情中人, 故太座亦是,非常感激她從老遠買早餐回來。 我早吃完了美味的白粥, 炸兩及咸餅, sktung 還在拼命地照像, 好一個廢寢忘食的發燒友!

這次才發現 lascalawong 是超級軟件發燒友, 珍藏甚多!

(II) 一点都不好玩的 Tannoy

跟著, sktung 回家報到,lascalawong 經不起我施壓就硬把鄰居鄧先生叫起來,而我倆就去了他家聽剛買的 Tannoy Edinburgh.

喇叭漂亮得要命, 舊款,“水虫“面,12 寸, “蓮花”, “布”邊單元。店說是鋼磁,但我想不是。用的器材再簡單不過,全國產, Spark 膽 CD 機 + Music Angel KT88 PP 合並 (換了一些舊膽)。

一首歌,已知非凡, 肯定好過我聽過 90% 的 Red/Silver。再試 AV Show CD, 沒有一曲播得不好。很少聽到那麼通透誘人的 Tannoy。

太棒了!沒得玩, 乖乖聽音樂。

(III)可收可放的 JM Lab Mezzo Utopia

三人午饭过后,意犹未尽, LaScalawong 遂致电 kyu888, 20 分钟后又开始了第三场。在 JC Letterbox 饮茶认识 kyu888 时已留意到他上过杂志二三次, 器材里有我喜欢的 MFA Luminescence 胆前级。其他:

  • VPI 19 唱盘,Denon 103R 唱头
  • 专业 MC 唱头放大
  • CEC TL-51/ DX71
  • Accuphase P-800 后级

kyu888 是个仔细的人, 对相位,增益等都一丝不苟,所以第一张唱片放出来我就吃了一惊。一点不像听过(不少)的 JM Lab, 竟然像号角般能量充沛,结像饱满, 现场气氛浓烈。 对一个用号角的人来说,这是最高的赞美。中低频的密度足以令 JBL 用家汗颜!至于低频的延伸稍逊, 我想是喇叭的关系。

唱片一张又一张, 都是天碟, 不亦乐乎! Opus3, M&K sampler, Mobile Fidleity, Living Stereo, Mercury, 没有播得不好的。

走前才听 CD, 很不一样,瘦一点, 但还是非常好, 前后感和阔度都优越。两个多钟头,一下就过去了, 还望下次去听更多的天碟。

kyu888 深信胆前级是必需的;我再赞成不过!

22 August, 2008

Review: NAD 315BEE integrated amplifier

Review: NAD 315BEE integrated amplifier
(Last revised, 26/08/08)

PART 1: Background info

NAD has always been a good budget brand that delivers good driving power per dollar. Its very long history means it had both wildly successful products as well as many lemons. While NAD have always designed their amplifiers, many of their other products, like tuners and turntables, were simply re-badged products and varying in quality.

I once had a 3020i and did not like its bland and flaccid sound. On the other hand, the 412 tuner (OEM) was really excellent (but not the model that followed it, a Japanese one). They also have traditionally put out good sounding CD players, though I have never owned one.

Now based in Canada, in recent years, NAD have been expanding into the higher end a bit, with questionable success. However, recently their more humble products with the designation BEE (initials of chief designer, like Marantz's KI) have been garnering quite a bit of critical success, by even magazines like TAS and Stereophile. This has helped them regain footage (and dealership, like in Taiwan). On occasion I have heard them to usually good effect. I actually think the company has improved a lot and now walk a fine balance between hifi parameters and musicality.

This is a brand new design. Although I have read reviews of this amplifier in 6moons and Soundstage, I never paid much attention to this product as those magazines are frequently questionable.

A few weeks ago I checked out a stack of old HiFi News from the library to read in Shenzhen. And Ken Kessler's review of the amplifier (November 2007) caught my attention for the following reasons:

1. Although I don't at all like Ken Kessler's review of "high-end" stuff, nor his overpraise of current tube products, this is an unusual review of a very cheap entry level integrated, which he bought. Note that KK does have perspective in the "cheap-end" and an interest in vintage and audio history. Hence he compared this amp to the "classic" 3020.

2. I totally agree with him that the 3020 is nothing special.

3. Unlike other net reviews, he used really good source (Marantz CD12/DA12, tweaked by Ken Ishiwata) and serious loudspeakers in his testing. Both the Ls3/5A and Sonus Faber Guarneri pose serious challenge to any integrated amplifiers, especially the latter.

4. Although I am no technocrat, usually I do believe in simplicity and am skeptical of too much control circuitry. NAD's "soft-clipping" I know is useless from my experience with the 3020i, and all serious users switch it off. NAD's amps also have controlling "Power Drive" circuitry, which I am somewhat skeptical of too. But here The excellent Paul Miller provided really useful technical information that made this entry-level amp much more attractive to me. The simpler "Power Drive-S" is not even electronic! I like that. The quartz-halogen bulbs referred to are the 2 silver-colored tube shield-like cans next to the (good-sized) power transformer ( for better reading, remember you can click on the pics to emlarge).

And I was really quite attracted by the measurements, particularly the healthy peak level figures for even 2 ohms and that is comforting if I have to use it to drive speakers like ATC.

After reading the comprehensive review I was already tempted to buy one. Contributing to the final decision were:

  • Good looks (I prefer black/olive to the more popular silver/titanium).
  • Small size (only 2/3 as tall or deep as standard).
  • Remote control that is simple and effective (pictured in HFN).
  • Very reasonable price of $2xxx. As water goods is only a little cheaper, and no black color, I'd advise buying hong hoods.
  • My fetish with integrateds.
Part 2: My own listening experience

What started out as fun ultimately turned into a big "shootout" feast. But before the comparative listening (next part and future articles) the basic run-in and listening first.

From the start, it was apparent that this belongs to the "big" sounding camp. None of the usual over-emphasis on treble/imaging (=tiny and not live) stuff for this amp. This one majors on "presence".

At first sound is a little unruly and slightly coarse at high levels, but after several days of run-in this has disappeared.

In order to run it in I had it almost constantly on, by running it both in the living room and in the study. This thing generates a fair amount of heat, and that created a problem in my study during the first really hot days. That boiling hot day I used a fan on myself, no room air-conditioning. With the windows closed and the amp place high up on the (deep) bookshelf (its slim size enables this to be done), ONE time the amp muted itself, and I found the fins too hot to touch. After opening the windows, I could place it even higher up (now <1.5' from the ceiling) and do not have any issue even driving tougher speakers like ATC A7. The amp partnered all speakers very well, including Usher S-520/X-708 and KEF LS3/5A.

My main concern was classical replay. You shall note that KK did not even use one classic track and the German expressed reserve (with his weird speakers). Initially I was a little bothered by the coarseness. But not to worry, after running in, the amp turns out quite neutral in classical reproduction, be it solo intsruments or orchestral works.

Its overall neutrality can be glimpsed from one fact: It effortlessly reflects the effect of gear change. It can reveal the astonishing difference between the three TDA1541 16-bit CD players I used during the evaluation (Naim CD2, Sony R1/D1 and Esoteric P500/D500); and between all the speakers used.

Its capability can only be appreciated by partnering it with gears much oustside its price range. The better the gears, the better the sound with this little amp. It's a big mistake to base a review of this amp on partnering it with cheap speakers and CD players. It deserves better, like what KK had done.

During all this, it never put a foot wrong, and was always emotionally generous. It cuts to the core of music and is never boring. Do be patient with run-in.

And yes the remote is a pleasure. It now sits high up on my shelf, controlled from my desk-top. For this convenience, it has replaced the Cyrus I in my study. It is now playing through ATC SCM7 (placed on top of my bookshelves), fed by a Cambridge Audio DV87 player. Sound is great while I type! Oh, I just got myself a dirt-cheap and somewhat beat-up NAD 4020A tuner and it works wonders here too! The remote can control the matching NAD 515BEE CD player too; anyone wants to sell me one???

Next up would be comparisons with Cyrus I and Naim Nait II. This shall be followed in due course by comparisons of the small speakers and CD players mentioned in this review. Using this little amp? Why not?

Stay tuned...

19 August, 2008

BEST BUY: Integrated Amplifier and Receivers

BEST BUY: Integrated Amplifier and Receivers

Last revised August 20, 2012

This is the first in a series of "Buying Guides", which shall cover all components in replay. Of course, these do not aim at total coverage as they largely reflect my own experience of gears that I have used myself.

BEST BUY Integrated amplifi
No matter my ultimate preference, the budget integrated is an area I have always retained an interest in. These days in HK and NYC I listen to my second systems more than my main systems! While an integrated amplifier, especially a budget one, is ostensibly a compromise, it takes real judgment and art to achieve a good design, something surprisingly few manufacturers (especially non-UK ones) have managed to do. Provided your speakers are not too difficult for the limited power on hand, a good design can even outperform the same companies' separates in coherence and musicality, if not in power.

I have observed that a lot of audiophiles, including many who think of themselves as old-hands, really cannot handle the variables in matching, and do not even know when the system veers alarmingly from the norm. I'd say even if you don't "need" one, it is essential to have one on hand for testing of musical balance, a sort of reality test for audiophiles who love to delude themselves. This article covers mostly old models. As mentioned, few makers achieve a good design, not to say one that is a bargain (an abused term these days). Many manufacturers today, especially non-UK European ones, make rather expensive integrated and promote the notion that the short signal path brings benefits. While that is not false, with few exceptions, their implementation is usually quite bland, compared to their UK counterparts.

The older integrate
d's all have surprisingly strong phono sections that surpass many outboard phono amps that you can buy these days. That's good news for the TT user!
The best integrateds are overwhelmingly British, and mostly older ones. One really miss the stereotype of the old UK/European audiophile: stingy, cheap, calculating every penny AND very demanding! UK gears are not quite the same now. I miss the old days, don't you?
The mod
ern and updated versions of these classics may have a "little" more power but they are largely the same (or inferior). They all claim continual refinement but looking at the circuit board makes you realize many are largely the same; sometimes the good is even refined out with the bad! So even evaluation of an old model can serve to illuminate newer ones.

Musical Fidelity A1 and A100-X and variantsFrom a pure sonic viewpoint, personally I think the A1 (and its closely related siblings A1-x, A1-S, A2 etc) as well as the higher powered A-100-X are the best integrated amps ever. Their unique look is entrancing. But they run alarmingly hot. One must have adequate ventilation. They are musically so wholesome that one wonders why a tube amp is needed. They even have better bass! Power is limited but if your space is not too big it's enough. In this respect the A-100-X is superior, with enough power to drive a good speaker even in a larger LR (info here). If the A1 were not so good, they would not be introducing a new version so many years later (though its power rating is closer to the A-100-X)! I haven't heard the new one. I am using an A1-S in my bedroom, which is air-conditioned in the summer, but it's in winter that the amp is comforting!!! It's a great match with my Audio Physic Step. Here is a must-read site. MF is NOT a brand that I like too much but, hey, the A1 was designed by none other than the great Tim Paravicini, now founder of EAR. If you know the excellence of EAR gears, you'd like this one. The MC/MM phonostage is excellent.

Linn Majik
(2010) Finally I got hold of one and this jumps now to head of the queue.
It is superbly bold sounding, with outstanding PRAT. It merits a separate review!

Cyrus I, II (III)
The II adds the option of adding a separate power supply (which now commands a higher price than the amp itself). Even at the current inflated second-hand price, thes
e are bargains. It sounds without grain, quite neutral (even a little hifi-ish) and has surprisingly enough power to drive the best of the cheap to moderately priced speakers (people have even used it to drive Magneplans, not that I advise that!). The organic whole, the integrity of the sound simply is first-class, and it outperforms in coherence many gears a hundred time its price. It drives the B&W M805 and LS3/5A very very well, and that's no mean achievement. Its MC/MM stage is even better than most "class A or B" components, and it works via the TAPE OUT with just the power cord plugged in (and the power switch NOT turned on; that is, in the long British tradiiton of "standby" mode). Even used just as a phono stage it is a sure bargain, and some say it comes close to a ML phonostage. Click for further Info.

Nait Nait I, II, III
The III is completely different cosmetically. These are excellent but not as neutral as the Cyrus. The sound is bolder and Naim's famed "Rhythm and Pace" is very much in evidence (more than its modern counterparts),
but there are things to watch out for: (1) the vital vocal midrange is a little recessed; (2) Lower midrange to upper bass is a little emphasized; (3) Treble is just that little bit reticent. Its primary strength is in its portrayal of the leading edge, an area I have not heard its equal. It is best partnered with its own CD players, which shall yield a sound that is uniquely rhythmic and pacey, not neutral but a paradigm in what it excels in. In a complete set, it can lay claim to a unique sound not heard with other brands, and here I tip my hat. An example is my Nait I and CD2 (TDA1541A) combo. With it, the ATTACK of a single plugged string (like guitar), or drumming, are phenomenally live. Even more surprisingly, the "rhythm and pace" benefits tremendously a slow instrument like the organ. With Bach's organ work, you can literally feel the different degree of attack that the organists applied on the keyboard, and it's a revelation. Click for a good read. Note that the phostage are either MM or MC, and they are excellent.

NAD (revised Aug 20, 2012)I originally wrote: "...For once I agree with Ken Kessler that the "venerable" 3020 is flaccid-sounding and hopelessly over-rated. I got a 3020i as a close-out from Ming Fat and till I sold it some years later I never realized what the hell was it all about!. I much prefer the current remote-equipped 315BEE, which garnered rave reviews everywhere. After reading the detailed review by Ken Kessler in Hi-Fi News I bought one, and that's a first for me with this reviewer! Now it's the 316BEE. I also have a 325BEE in NYC. Buy any of their BEE series with confidence..." Now, while the BEE's are great buys, I have to make a revision here: (revised Aug 20, 2012) I finally got to hear the original NAD 3020, which was a revelation (review here). It deserves the term "legendary", and was certainly much better than the underwhelming 3020i I had before. Its all-rounded nature and musicality puts it into the top eschelon of integrated amplifiers.

LFD My experience with the Zero Mk III was enlightening. The phono section is superb, and driving power is awesome. The internals look very much like the much earlier Mistral, which if available is probably even more of a bargain. 

Quad 77 was the first and only integrated
amp Quad made. It is a much under-rated amp with sound distinct from the old Quads of 303, 405, 306, edging very very close to the sound of the current 99 series, which curiously has no integrated amp (as it has volume built into its CDP). This is a crisper sound than Cyrus/Naim and it can drive even ATC very well. A classic. The only problem is that most of the remotes have broken down, so use the front buttons. At its current price (likely less than a Nait), grab one if you see one. No phonostage. I am keeping mine.
Arcam, Meridian, Exposure, Audiolab, AVI, Rega, Creek, Rotel 
Unless otherwise noted, phono is an option with these, which means the units in HK are largely without. The Arcam 290 (excellent optional phono) was the only Arcam integrated that I liked very much. A little dim, grainy and earthy, but powerful and able to drive the LS3/5A. The Meridian 501 looked great and sounded fine but was seriously underpowered, and that stupid remote! If you can find it, the old 100 series is a lot more fun. Yawn, the famed Exposure XX is very powerful but tonally shut-in and not attractive. Audiolab 8000B (line only) is better than the dull 8000A (MM/MC) and the lean 8000S (line only), but with this brand you have to go to the 8000C(MC,MM)/8000P to get better sound. AVI is an even performer but rare in HK. The old Rega Brio (MM phono) is too light sounding; I reckon you have to go to higher models to get more. But the old look is fabulous, much better than the new ones. I have never owned a Creek but have always liked the sound of the old black boxes with green letters (which have phono); the new aluminum fascia of the Destiny and Evo series look hideous. Rotels are always good value for money, and the old models (MM/MC phono) can be had for very little money, though one may wish to investigate their separates instead (like the 870BX amp I have).

Linn Classik (old version)This is a very good complete system. The integrated is fine, the tuner is outrageously excellent and the CD player is competent (but a far cry from their excellent CDPs. I am not familiar with the newer version. The integrated amp part is good but not as good as the older Majik.

SOLID STATE (non-UK):The problem with many non-UK integrateds is that they are just too bulky or expensive for me. Why not go separates for the size! So my experience is limited, but there are some gems.

Revox/StuderImpeccably built and neutral sounding, a good one will shame most modern "high-end" solid state gears! I was very surprised by the performance of BOTH the preamp and the amp sections of my B-750 MkII. The former is as good as a solid state preamp can get, and the latter has enough real world power to drive my ATC20 to very satisfying level! If you can handle the bulk, try one!

Ever since I saw and heard the CSA-14 driving LS3/5A at Golden String I wanted o
ne. This is a bulky but very well built 120 wpc integrated amp with 2x 6DJ8 in the input stage, and therefore it has a warm sound and fluidity. In contrast to the next incarnation CSA-28, which is almost exactly the same inside and out, this model even has an ss MM phonostage!!! That makes it a ridiculous bargain at current second-hand price, which is not much more than a Nait! Copland also makes good tube amplifiers (superior output transformers).

I have never owned any Pathos, but my good friends did. It was many years ago that I encountered the fascinating, mammoth and now classic Twin Towers, which established
Pathos' name. However, although the sound was excellent, its driving power left something to be desired with speakers like Sonus Faber Electa Amator or even LS3/5A. It was not until another friend used the smaller but more powerful Classic One (pictured) with his B&W Nautilus 804 that I took note of the very fine all rounded performance. Yes, the preamp tubes helped greatly in delivering the mellifluous sound!

The Beat B-100 is a fabulous chunk of aluminum. I think it really is just an amp with a volume pot, but it is highly resolving, surprisingly dynamic and rhythmically enticing. This brand never caught on in HK. I sold it because it's just too chunky but sometimes I regret it. If this were available in a UK shoebox I'd get one...

Big but excellent products. Mine was an E-204 I think. It ran pretty hot but gave excellent sound with hard-to-drive speakers like ATC
20. The MC/MM phono is also exceptional. Mine was black, and I was told that meant hong goods for the old models. I miss mine.

More than an integrated amp, this is a receiver. Now, this is a curiosity. The integrated amp portion is solid state, and an excellent one at that, more powerful than the UK stuff, and it looks fabulous too. What makes it unique is the tuner, a fully tubed section!!! IMHO, the tuner section rivals that of the finest McIntosh tuners! And so it is a great bargain. My review has more details. If interested in its siblings and other priceless gears from this company, click here for a great site.

Early USA Marantz are excellent, and surprisingly powerful too. In an era where horrid sounding ss amps were being made, it was a comfort to many. I picked up the 1040 for US$10 by the sidewalk, though I spent $70 fixing it up later! It's worth it, as it can even drive my Magnepan MMG to excellent level. I am using this in my bedroom in the USA. Visit this excellent Marantz site.

There is too much to cover, but so much for now. Note that I do not really include true tube integrated amps (not amp with volume knob) for the reason that they are cumbersome and the vintage ones are difficult to service.

Perhaps I shall add to this article in the future
---to be continued.

08 August, 2008

AV Show 2008 札记 之 3

图9 VIVID G-1

全场最令人触目的, 也是声音最好的, 是 Vivid Audio G-1, 在 Dartzeel 地推动下, 非常悦耳, 有真正的“贵价声“, 好一个英武的山羊!不知那“号角”有什用?有没有 Nautilus 的感觉?

个人认为,Excel 在被挖空后,已爬了起来,更成为一家冷门点,但更好的公司。 Vivid 的小弟弟们都很好。 Mimetism 也很好。Dartzeel 就不用说了。

图10 老朋友

这些年去音展,为的不是听东西, 更不是买东西, 而是看运气, 碰碰应该见面更多的朋友。 不该像牛郎织班,一年一次。很高兴见到 Richard,simcity 等人,却不能尽录...

图11 好喇叭(圆的那个)

好的声音不用听得久。该去代理好好听。 坏的太多,不如听图中的好喇叭。 回家途中发觉西铁的广播系统挺好的。

写这篇文章时,听了LPCD 几遍, 过得去。

忘了,Bel Canto 广告里的喇叭是 Usher S-520.

AV Show 2008 札记 之2

图6 被冷落的 VERDIER

其实一楼一虽然简陋, 还有些好东西看,听就难说了。 Kondo, Audio Note, Micromega 没听到,有点可惜。

可惜 Avantgarde 推行的不是 Avantgarde 而是其它,而 Verdier 的代理却在用 Viva。 问他 Verdier 前后级去了那里, 答道正在改头换面。 可惜, 一套多好呀!

图7 Tannoy Kingdom


诺大的房间, 却不在放 Kingdom, 莫非 Accuphase Room Correction 不行? 看来要去阿二那里叫梁先生放来听听。

图8 VTL 遥控 Phonoamp

大概因为是音乐人的关系,Tara Lab/HiFi 德 从来都是大房典范, 而今年的 Rockport 配 VTL 顶班前级及Siegfried 后级也不在例外。留意:1 因 Siegfried 的关系这房间特热。 2 抓着 phonoamp 遥控的手是玩音乐的!

插曲:不认识的官仔骨骨的老板 “长毛” Ernest 突然转过来说时常在 R33 看到我的照片!我有点尴尬,说不提也罢,现在我已沦为 R33”镬捞“, 心里更想他说的照片到底是指狗呢,还是赖蛤蟆?

提及改头换面,不能不提 Thorens, 可是为甚麽每一个兄弟都长得那麽难看?Cyrus 恢复了黑色好了,但Audiolab 呢?

顺便一提,Wilson Sophia 在 Boulder 的驱动下表现少有的一流, 而在大大的房间 PMC BB5i 配 Audionet 也不俗。 看来一众用 Wilson 或 PMC 而怪里怪气的朋友们要留意了。

AV Show 2008 札记 之1

图1 像我们一样排着队的 VIVID, 包括山羊老大哥 G1


约了已退了烧的 Captain 一块去,在大堂就即刻碰到 ESL 双娇,57/63 oversampling
的 cpsjj + pcs100. 久违的 cpsjj 居然留了山羊胡,挺可爱的。胡扯了几句后,华哥就到了。 一众人就上去买票。

电梯没到,远远就来了拐着友人的 rcwy. 我依稀听到他提及”北京道“但他看到我了就收了口。:-)

果然 11 点已经是人山人海, 比新股认购还厉害。在排队时,大家打招呼好像是结婚迎客送客般热闹。碰到了 jules, 他想要 LPCD, 我就把他硬配了给 cpsjj。 阵里还见到 fomhk, 1966, blanka 等人,提醒他们要离我远点;这一阵子被人疯狂攻击,不想泱及池鱼。
十几分钟一下就 过了, 大家也就各走东西。

先是五楼。卖 CD 的少了很多,真减价的少,值得买的更没有。骗人的 “新技术”,“甚麽
甚麽“ CD 却多了很多。 无聊的公司也不少:王菲 SACD "天空" 街价 $50 卖 $100; “买一送一“ 没说明送的是自制的精选, 不是五折。去你的! CD 末路, LP 却还相对地站得住脚。那是应该的。

图2 EAR 一套

5 楼展览区的中心我基本上是不看的。 但有些无言的好东西。MUSICAL FIDELITY 的 A1 复刻版加 CDP 应不错吧? A1

EAR更是吸引。我有 509, 834P, 但心里总想着 912 及 CD 机。中性胆的极范。

环绕着场地的是一间间的“板间房“, 简陋得像庙街的地方。 一楼一里各自兢艳。

图3 47 Lab 一套

这一套很熟识。在”大代“(不是你想的那个),也是“敌我不分“,”大小通杀“, “甜酸苦辣” 大状的那个 Jonathan Midgley 家听过。

可惜 LP 没出声。This picture is for you, JC.


图4 Lyngdorf CD + DPA-1 + amp

这房间的声音不错。用 DALI 喇叭平衡度高。

把 Salesman 叫来, 没错,有用 Room Correction.

trazom, 你在看吗?

图5 “大代”,aka "andyshum" 的 Brinkmann 刚从 Lyngdorf 一楼一 走了出来,猛地肩膀被人从后拍了一下, 原来是隔壁的 andy。

andy EQ 甚高,阅人无数,无 论如何,是一个人物, 某方面我挺留意他。作兴的还有德国帮的中坚分子 honeybee + joe。 声音大致正统。甚谢谢 andy 的热情。

呀!样子最可怕的是 Jungson. 谢谢,免了吧!

03 August, 2008

Review: MERIDIAN F80

The Meridian F80 is a "table top" radio that does a lot more than that. As I think it's eminently suitable for an old couple I know, a friend and I went investigating after Saturday yum cha.

The EXCEL Central showroom was rather dour looking, but the young salesman was polite enough to turn on the thing for us. Placed on a shelf, the sound was surprisingly good, but a little bass heavy initially. We soon found out there is ample DSP sound-contouring provision. Facing the thing directly, one does get some sense of the recording venue, enveloping space and a some imaging.

Moving to the sides dimmed the sound a little, but the salesman then said the "soundstage" can be widened! A minor adjustment and voila! Sound became more laterally dispersed and the feeling of treble roll-off vanished.

The thing can be played reasonably loud. Beethoven's 9th did well without signs of stress from the speakers. The narrow slot at the bottom just swallows your CD and it plays automatically.

The radio fared even better. With just a small antenna reception was more than strong, and the sound from RTHK4 was even better than the CD playback. Mind you, this tuner is DAB ready!

A remote is a convenience, and an optional iPod dock can be purchased. It plays DVDs too, and there is a video out.

Its footprint is smaller than a Linn Classik + speakers combo, and it offers a upscale challenge to Tivoli.

Not a bad toy at all and enough for a lot of people. My friend said, "better violin sound than the setups of many audiophiles. They should listen to this for a reference..."

27 July, 2008

Home Visit: pigdog's den

Fig: Altec 604 in large DIY cabinet
Courtesy rcwy, I recently met pigdog, who is such a nice guy. I believe he is the only gentleman I have met since hifienthusiast. The rest of you need not apply.

He occupies two large flats on the same level of an old building, part of which used for studio. His hifi is placed in an irregular L-shaped room. The Altec 604 is a late verion, with Mantaray horns. He uses this in conjuction with Altec 288C/woodhorn and a Fostex supertweeter that resembles JBL 077, all connected with ultra-thin DIY 47 Lab cables. The speakers are too close together for my taste, but he does get out of them the fast Altec sound with horny presence.

Fig: 47 Lab Shigaraki, Lite DAC, DIY preamp/300B amp

Unlike me, pigdog was not enamored of the non-oversampling 47 Lab DAC, so he partnered the transport with Lite tubed DAC. However I find the delivery of CDs just a little matter-of-fact and miss the mellifluous quality of the flimsy Shigaraki.

The DIY preamp employs tube rectification and, unusually, was designed around the ECC32 tube. The DIY amp uses 6SN7 and 6J7 to drive 300B. Here Full Music "Mesh-plate" 300B is used (I don't personally like this tube). The amp gave a reasonable performance overall but failed in power with our Water Lily Shostakovich CD. Last time I visited, pigdog was using the Leak 12.1, which would have given more power.

Fig: Nordic Concept turntable

pigdog plays mostly LP and has a really nice collection. We found Muddy Waters, Divox 4 seasons etc. The Garrad 301 with what looks like a Clearaudio arm seems to be collecting dust. He played first the EMT 930 and the sound was really upfront. Most of us preffered the more mellow character of the Nordic Concept. This is the first time I met this turntable, unusal looking to say the least! Its arm is also unusual, OEM'ed by Schroeder I believe. Catridge is the 47 Lab MC Bee and the DIY phonoamp uses 3x 6922.

Fig: Mystery Fullrange

Then we switched to his fullrange speakers, housed in a DIY Lancaster cabinet. It's not clear whether the drivers are Tannoy or Vitavox or what.

Sound is very decent and many present preferred them to the more neutral 604. The replay of the rare Radka Toneff LP earned all of our admirations. Sound is a little soft and constricted, maybe supertweeter or a larger cabinet and higher powered amps would help. The venue is certainly not small!

Fig: A nicer dog than what we have seen recently!

pigdog is an animal lover and has 4 dogs adopted from the ASPCA. One of them is blind! This one is funny looking and really affectionate.

The phtography books are also magnificent!

"Everybody is talking about it!" (from the "Citizen Kane" poster in the back.

25 July, 2008

Review: SHINDO Claret preamplifier

The CLARET is a RARE preamp, an older model of Shindo that helped put Shindo on the map. Its circuit is simple but regarded as extremely well implemented by a very large following in the DIY circle. The popular Thorsten Loesch has always championed it. The good Thorsten also left a whole folder of Shindo pics in a Shindo file in the FILES section of my Yahoo group. In this link you shall find the circuit as well as a DIY project:


Years ago, my friend Ringo bought it from Ebay and he generously let me listen for a long time. I was really impressed and almost bought it from him when he sold it, eventually to yet another friend Simon hing, who is now using it together with Shindo 300B monoblocks (not at all enough power to drive his TAD 2402). During its time with me, I knew its rarity and took some pics, so I can share them with you now.

The preamp is exceptionally well-built, using mostly hard wiring in conjunction with a little circuit board and compartmentalization to reduce noise. See the shielded phono amplification.

The 12Ax7's in the phonostage have damper rings around them, the 12AT7/12AY7 in the line stage doesn't. Selected vintage components are used, as you can see. Does this not remind you of the Marantz and other vintage preamps of yore?

It's difficult to characterize the sound. I would say it is neutral, fast and quiet. All that despite the presence of many vintage parts in the preamp! That goes to show you implementation is the most important and forget about pre-conceived notions. The phonostage, though just MM, is supremely clean, effortless and powerful, surprisingly better with MCs than many a weaker MC stage! The linestage is a little on the "yang" side, but I'd not like to give the wrong impression that there is anything harsh sounding here. It's a super preamp for those who like tube gears that veer a little towards the neutral side. Its performance in just about every aspect of sound reproduction, including dynamics and rhythm-and-pace, is exceptional. It gives you music with a good measure of presence and is a good re-producer of live music if you partner it well.

Although Shindo shall never sound like many clinical sounding modern tube gears, still, it is not for those "vintage sound" lovers that we see so often here, for all the wrong reasons.

24 July, 2008

Overview: SPENDOR loudspeakers

pic: the current iterations of the Classic series.

Overview: Spendor Classics

SPENDOR is the speaker for tube addicts. They boast uniformly
beautiful treble and mid-range, perhaps at the expense of ultimate bass, but throughout the mid-band they are ALWAYS just RIGHT. Compared to the smooth integration of Spendor, most modern transducers are exercises in tonal mismatch and discontinuity. The crossover of Spendor is always seamless, almost like a full range. Many models are best buys. I am a die-hard Spendor fan who speaks from experience. To date I have personally used the following Spendors: SP1, SP1/2, SP2/2, S20, SP100, and LS3/5A (old 11 ohm and modern bi-wirable 11 ohm), and I have listened to the BC1, Prelude/2, 7/1 and 9/1, and S3/5.
SP1 (and BC1)
Basically these are very closely related 3-ways sealed speakers and they sound that way. They share the same tweeter and midrange units, and hence have much the same open and light, but refined treble and midrange, with VERY good details, and surprising speed. The SP1 has improved bass which sounds a bit tighter and not as lugubrious as BC1. But overall they are indeed similar, though I prefer the crisper sound of SP1. It's really unfortunate that HK people use BC1 in their small rooms and many suffer booming. If any complaint can be lodged at these speakers, it is that they are less textured than speakers like ATC. So, while nice for Teresa Tang and Aaron Neville, chamber music, jazz, or plucked strings, one sometimes wishes for a bit more weight for baritones and rock and roll.

are those people who regard these as larger LS3/5A's. That's NONSENSE. These are much superior to the LS3/5A in ALL ways, including vocals. Of course some people listen to these in a room of 70 ft, suffer from booming, yet speak with "authority"! Put them in a large room, do the bass right and they walk all over the LS3/5A. Another virtue of these speakers is that they work well with SE amps if the room is not overly large. The SP1 is less often seen. The BC1, often, but usually in questionable conditions, so buy with care.

Beware there is a so-called anniversary edition, "updated", BC1-69, which sounds much inferior and should be avoided.
SP1/2 ---This date from relatively recent times. The SP1/2 is a 3-way ( 2 top front ports) but design and ALL units are different from the SP1. The only similarity is the dimension. Sound is notably different, indeed not similar at all. The SP1/2 has greater texture, but lacks a bit the open, airy nature of the original. The greatest problem with these refined and textured speakers is the speed. They sound slow with almost all tube amps and indeed much livelier with ss amps, leading one to suspect voicing with ss amp. So though they are efficient and can be used with 300B amp, the original is preferred. But it is highly recommended for ss amp users. These speakers are RARELY seen.SP2
---I have used the SP2/2. The SP2/3 has the front port in a different location. These are closely related to the SP1/2 in drivers but are 2-way and have a different sound. The SP2/2 I used is fast, open and quite well-controlled in the bass (but not that much; quality rather than quantity). Tonally it is leaner than the SP1, so partner accordingly. These are excellent even with relatively low powered amps like the Dynaco ST70. One caveat. I listened to the SP2/3 once and it seemed duller. So my recommendation is based upon the SP2/2. They are best buys, though not at current prices.
S100/SP100---These evergreens are forever on Stereophile's Recommended List, reference-grade 3-way speakers (2 front ports; similar to SP1/2) that give the B&W 801 a run for their money. IMHO these are possibly preferable in all but the deep bass, with beautifully clear treble and mid-band that bear more than a bit of resemblance to the BC1/SP1. That's accolade indeed. BUT it has the considerable advantage of much better texture. The bass goes REAL low and is tuneful, though a bit fruity when not handled right. No one-note bass here! For its size (12" woofer), it is surprisingly agile, much more musical than most of our monstrous speakers these days. It's also surprisingly easy to drive. A vintage Marantz 8B drives it to thumping levels. Even a good 300B SE amp (like AN kit one) will drive it in my 200 ft room, though of course with the inevitable flattening. But the stronger UR Smart 845 amp (~20 watts) did nicely. These are true references and, at current price, truly best buy. (click for reviews in HiFi+ and Stereophile)(click here for a recent experience)
S20 --- This is an unsung hero. It is a small 2-way (about 2x size of 3/5A) featuring the treble and mid-range units of the SP100. It shares the same characteristic of the SP100. Excellent weight, density and speed, and easy to drive. A modern small classic, sadly neglected. Should be REAL cheap if found (I guess ~$3-3.5k). A professional sound technician friend snatched my pair. He loves them. Truly best buy.


The Prelude is probably an ancestor of the SP2, sounding airy, light and similar but cannot play as loud. The 9/1 is SP100 in a floor-stander and sounds good and is worth investigating, though I hate its look. The 7/1 is derived from that and is a lesser consideration.
LS3/5A---- Old Spendor Ls3/5A, whether 15 ohm or 11 ohm, sound as good as any rival brands. Newer bi-wirable LS3/5As sound quite different, more analytical, a bit like KEF. I like my birdseye pair, but I did not at all like the rosewood versions, including the awful "Cardas" version. Avoid the bur-maple version too.

----This is a failure in my experience. Bass is way too lean and so it has to be placed closer to the wall for augmentation. Don't have it out in the middle of the room

Go to the Spendor site, click History and investigate the family tree and read about the speaker that started them all, the BC1:

(Note: this article is the first of the OVERVIEW series, which examines a particular brand. This is revised from an article originally published in my Yahoo group)