23 September, 2009

The Yumcha Diaries: 19-09-09

The Yumcha Diaries: 19-09-09
大而有當 系则成统

Part I: 大而有當--HiFi 精 A--First Encounter with Goto Drivers
Last week, we were glad to see two more surprise guests at yumcha and the pentagon promptly forgot about the terrorists and had a good time bonding. Afterward, three of us went to re-audition the famous setup of Alansoo (aka HiFi 精 A), which needs little introduction. It's been a while since I last visited, and now much has changed. I forgot to bring my camera, but despite some lapses I still hope my report is richer in details than what pass for hifi reports out there (almost only pics). Briefly, the gigantic setup uses 5 amps (some details may be erroneous; forgive me, given the complexity) :

Horn system: TAD 2401 + (18"?) JBL woofer + 1x GOTO (super) tweeter + 2x Pioneer (super) tweeters. No electronic crossover is used.
Digital: ARC CD-7
LP: EMT 950
Preamp: Bruce Moore tube preamp driving
(Super) tweeter amps: Russell (according to Alan precursor of Final) and something else I am blocking.
Midrange amp: A very nicely made 300B amp using 5U4 rectifier and 6SN7 drivers and Tamura trannies.
Bass amp: Parasound
(Sub) woofer amp:Professional Class-D amp; forgot name

First, let's not mince words. This is a heck of a system, as you ALWAYS expect from this man. It was so good I almost didn't go upstairs to check out his museum (listening to the top-of-the-line Kuzma shall have to wait till next time). From a whisper to a full orchestral cry, sound was much more effortless than previously, when Alan didn't use so much power. From Kogan's violin to jazz, everything has the proper scale.

I just got my Shura Cherkassky Liszt Hungarian Fantasia CD (LP heard so effectively at 珠寶梁's place; The LP may be hard to find, but the CD is not freely available either. This performance by the great pianist is buried in a 2-CD Liszt album. Click for full info).

Yes, this is not the LP, but the piano sound is rich and full-bodied, and appropriately big in size! Wonderful! I urge you to get this one.

My attention was particularly focused on the rare and VERY expensive Goto drivers, of legendary status and the dream of many horn buffs. I do not care whether they are Titanium or Beryllium, and no matter since the sound was very beautiful and smooth and I was not aware of an edge or any grain, rare in my experience with supertweeters. Info is very hard to come by on these drivers; try the following links:

6moons article on Goto
Goto USA/check out Flash pics
Great Goto horn systems; Note the metallic tweetrs
Alan told me he suspects the $300K Magico Ultimate II uses a Goto tweeter.

If you know of any good Goto websites, please let me know!

Sound was remarkably coherent given 5 amps were being driven. Each amp has its own volume, and I am sure Alan had spent a hugh amount of time adjusting the knobs! If a slight dryness remains, I shall attribute it to the speakers themselves. If there is any loss compared to previously, when I heard just the 2401 driven fullrange by a single amp (and different components) sound might have been just a tad (not punt intended) more coherent then. But given the enormous gain in dynamics I'd say the gargantuan effort has been worth it. How many times have you visited million-dollar big setups that are 大而不當? Alan's setup is not THAT expensive, but it sure is 大而有當 and Goto is surely Ichiban!

After that I went to visit yet another smaller but meritorious setup...

Part II. 系则成统--When Amati meets SME

Photo of the setup borrowed from here. Go to link for more pics. Note TT is now different.

After Alansoo I was joined by 2 more friends in a visit to simcity. This was my first visit to his beautiful new home, the interior of which was all designed by himself.

I have known simcity for quite a while. To me, he has a good ear and can instantly tell you what he thinks. One evening long ago, when he and some other friends came to my place, we were switching components and I found myself in agreement with most of his comments, all instant and on the fly. Previously, he had a rather small LR yet the sound was reasonably balanced. The current setup is as follows:

LP: SME 20/2A with SME V arm/Benz Micro Ebony
Phono preamp: Pass lab XP-15
Digital: Mark Levinson transport into Orpheus DAC
Preamp: Conrad Johnson Act2
Amp: CJ Premier 350 ss amp
Speakers: Sonus Faber Amati

Much of the setup has changed over time, but his loyalty to Conrad Johnson remains. In fact you can go to his thread in R33 (打做我的影音天地) to see detailed description of his CJ love story and previous gears.

We warmed up by listening to his digital setup. From the first instance, and unlike some of my previous encounters with Orpheus, sound was warmly musical, with good rhythmic and dynamic integrity and fine tonal balance.

Sonus Faber is a brand I have always admired and I miss the Concertino and Signum that I have sold previously. Luckily I still have a pair of Elector Amator II in NYC, still the best transducer for massed strings that I have heard. The Amati, much like Cremona, is not an easy speaker to get right. This pair of Amati is likely the most balanced higher-model SF floorstanders that I have heard. Its seamless balance and musicality is taken for granted, but what was really surprising was the deep bass, tight and qualitatively right even if the listening diatnce is quite on the short side. simcity told me he went through much trial and error, and that the sound was dreadful at first. If you have trouble with SF, you might want to chat with him, for it sounds great now! The balance was such that we enjoyed all kinds of CDs without encountering even a wink of discomfort.

Althought the SF Amati seemed to be the star of the setup, and much as I admire these speakers, for me the show was stolen by the SME turntable, which we listened to only after one hour.

In a world of rampant re-packaging, boring sameness, overkill and much ugly acrylics (your esthetics may vary), the understated SME Turntable 20/2A is a breath of fresh air and rather uniquely designed by the legendary Alistair Robertson (click for details in damping and the use of an elaborate set if industrial O-rings as suspension). For me, the no-nonsense industrial look and sensible footprint strike just the right chords. All of this would not matter if the sound were not so fine!

Against a very quiet background, from the first time the stylus touched down on the LP surface, we were served analogue playback of the highest quality. Clean, fine tonal balance and refinement, and excellent PRAT (rhythm and pace). The last is particularly of note, as SME V arm (even the SME TTs) has an undeserving reputation of being rather lacking in life. In my experience, this is true in the case of the Oracle's that I have heard, but I have also heard SME Vs work very well with Michell Orbe, Garrad 301 and, now, SME TT itself. The sound also held fast impressively; no matter how loud we played sound never broke up and there was a sense of supreme confidence. And all this with Benz-Micro, likely not the most dynamic cartridge out there! This is an impressive job.

simcity even took pride in the replay of the trains in Hugh Masekela's famous Hope album, now on Thorens LP. The myriad details were rendered with utter clarity; the trains were as breathtaking as they could be, lacking in heft only if compared to that rendered by a 15" woofer.

A great turntable! And much thanks to simcity.

13 September, 2009

The Yumcha Diaries: 12/09/09

The Yumcha Diaries: 12/09/09

是日茶聚又見稀客, 很是歡喜。六人喝茶期間,談的居然以 CAS 為主; 那麼多的方法,便宜的可以是免費,貴的也有限,還各有千秋,所以現代人真的很幸福。 我這類中年人,擁有許多CD, LP, 電腦不過是輔助音源, 還是玩得不亦樂乎!比一天到晚換這個那個來得有樂趣, C/P 值更是沒話說。

喝完茶五人就直奔沙田,過西遂后走了一條新路, 更穿過了一條新隧道, 開了眼界,要謝謝司機

這裡 先謝主人 沙田麥 的熱情招待;一行人中,祗有二人在 麥Sir 裝修前去過一次, 主人卻沒有半點的見外。再謝主人 的開放,隨意讓我們點牒,也播了一些異常珍貴的唱片,如圖中的《李陵答蘇武書》。 中間還有個插曲:麥 Sir 的友好 Ken少 也來了。 認識 Ken少 的人都欣賞他的幽默,在他的搞作下,氣氛更是上揚。這次器材如下:

主喇叭:Magnepan 3.5, 由 Conrad Johnson Premier 8 推動。
輔助低音:兩對陳年 Magnepan Tympani 4, 祗用低音屏, 共 8 塊,由 Goldmund 推動
前級:Audio Note M10,共三大塊
唱盤:: Micro Seiki 5000/Triplanar/VdH Colibri Platinum
唱頭放大級:Ensemble Fonobrio

麥 Sir 的屏風口碑載道,不用任何人大書特書,已是街知巷聞。

麥Sir 說我們很幸運,P8 剛換了靚膽,聲音更進步。 這裡什麼音響十二要都不用談,是一套一坐下來(站著也一樣)就能投入欣賞的系統。 動態凌厲,播 Ken 少的私人碟和 Sinopoli 指揮的 Cavalleira Rusticana <鄉村騎士> 現場感尤佳,弄得每個人都想要擁有。兩個鐘頭一下就過去了,告別時 k.c. 最能代表我們依依不舍的心情:有人要早點折回港島,k.c. 卻想舍棄便風車留下來聽久點!


值得提提的是喇叭的擺位。前后低音塊俱靠側牆,而減了負擔的主喇叭則離側牆較遠。 有沒聽過類似這樣玩的 3/5A (后面的祗用 bi-wire 版本的低音)?

Then two of us went to Ken 少 's place in his Land Rover, which he calls "truck". Ken is amongst the most gentlemanly and gracious hosts I have ever come across. How he serves his guests is just as meticulous as how he makes his cables (of underground repute) and tweaks his system. First, water is served, and usually in 2 varieties - still and sparkling. Then it's coffee time, and the expresso I had was wonderful (I thought of JC at the moment). Then the three of us had a nice bottle of red wine while listening to his system:

-Room: Wonderfully large and well proportioned.
-Speakers: Wilson Grand Slamm (I believe Series II), placed unusually in the center of room, close to side walls.
-Amp: CJ LP275's have replaced the previous Premier 8's.
-Preamp: CJ Art 3, also upgraded (from Art2 ? memory may be faulty) since my last visit.
-Digital: ARC CD7
(LP system not used on the day)

How good we think the sound is is exemplified by the behavior of our friend (let's call him "The Third Man", TTM), a usually reserved and soft-spoken man. Enamored of the sound, at one point he suddenly burst out in praise, and I assure you he was not under the influence of alcohol. TTM also impressed Ken 少 by his many perceptive questions, a couple recorded here:

TTM: It's an unusual position for big Wilson's. What were your goals?
K: It's my speaker and it's up to me to get what I want. The thing I care the most about is the lateral spread, stable and focused images of instruments from the left to the right (indeed Ken has achieved his goals; the three instruments of the Beaux Arts Trio were as focused in their respective spaces as I've ever heard).

TTM: Before, did you have them in other positions?
K: Yes, at first it was firing in the other direction. It took some time to arrive at the present position. Also, I never had help; I move these things all by myself (wow, Ken is not a big man!)

Thus placed, there's indeed something a little bi-polar to the sound of the Wilson's
(it should be noted the Wilson's also have back-firing units). You can sit far behind the speakers, indeed freely walk around and still enjoy the music, yet when you sit in the hot seat things have pinpoint focus, much like planars. Marvelous!

A Chiuchow dinner rounded off the prefect evening. Many thanks to Ken 少 for his hospitality and I'd not forget his kind words earlier on.

08 September, 2009

Home Visit: Quad ESL63

Home Visit: Quad ESL63 Now we're talking!

A spontaneous gathering took place at the home of dkyyu on Monday. I was the first to arrive, followed by Alan, pcs100, mda, Gingers, relax173, and lastly, feikeung. I was pleasantly surprised by the presence of mda, whom I haven't seen in years!

Thanks Dennis for his generous reception, which included Kobe beefsteaks and smoked salmon! Dennis turns out to be quite proficient in the kitchen, dishing out the delicious steaks (with good sauce) before we could even finish one side! The only thing missing was perhaps pu-er?

pic: What we listened to (click to enlarge)

-Linn LP12/Ekos/Linn cartridge into Linto
-Cyrus CDP as transport into MF X-DAC v8
-Music First TVC passive preamp (capable of 6 db gain) and Nagra PLP (courtesy feikeung)
-Graaf 20 OTL amp
-Original mint pair of Quad ESL63, with only minor repair done by pcs100

Dennis' home has quite a new and softer look since my last visit (ESL 57, and no CDP). Even with the gears just turned on it was clear from the first beat this was the best sound dkyyu has achieved in his place. Compared to the ESL57, the ESL 63 undoubtedly has superior bandwidth and dispersion and can play louder. As importantly, the 63 does not really require you to sit still in the center, and that's much more consistent with my audio preference.

The speakers were likely not quite run-in (allegedly early returns stuffed away in the warehouse), so the treble does not have quite the openess I heard from the restored 63 at pcs100's place (the first time, when they were just fixed; not the second time, when they sounded highly abnormal). But the bass is already something to be proud of, clean and agile midbass - what a delight!

With only 20 OTL watts, the 63 was surprisingly dynamic and played surprisingly loud, even surviving feikeung's acid test, EMI's Falla La Vida Breve, though vocals just clip a bit on fortissimos. Importantly, right to the moment of clipping composure was maintained and separation remained very good.

We also compared the passive TVC with the active Nagra. There is little doubt an active preamp brings about greater control and oomph, necessary for playback of large-scale music. For jazz and smaller combos I can see why some may like the TVC. For myself, an active preamp is a must for playing back symphonic music.

With digital playback especially, the system achieved a very commendable degree of neutrality. In fact on many of the new issues (like 童麗) we preferred the CD to LP. It has been my opinion that most of the new HK LPs based on CD material are inferior to the CD. Save your money!

Congratulations to Dennis!

06 September, 2009

HiFi 天碟 Golden Discs (2): Pop I

HiFi 天碟: POP

Lauryn Hill MTV Unplugged
An astonishing live album by the prodigiously talented Lauryn Hill, who soon dropped off the map in equally grandiose fashion. She sings here a capella,with only her acoustic guitar. Click here for more info.

Chieftains: The Long Black Veil

An astonishing album by the Chieftains. The guest stars blend in totally. My favorites are the first 3 tracks. The recording is life-like. If the fellows are not standing right in front of you, your system needs improvement. Click here for full album details.

Flight of the Condor (BBC)
The original BBC Radio program Soundtrack. Excellent pan pipe and band. Sadly out of print. LP 和 CD 均已断版,为 BBC 纪录片 Flight of the Condor 配乐,节奏明快,令人起舞。 可惜现在价值不菲。

05 September, 2009

The Yumcha Diaries: 05/09/09

The Yumcha Diaries: 05/09/09
又一個 HiFi 精!

Friends who know me know that my cell phone is not often on. Yet on Saturday, between the hours of 11:00 am and 1:00 pm, it rang more than it had the whole week. A total of 13 buddies turned up for yumcha. I rather think this is mostly due to Captain's charm! It's wonderful to see so many old friends, and quite a few of us date back to usenet newsgroup years. Before R33, there was TKL's Audioboard; before that, hk.rec.audio-visual. Myself, Captain, seamonster, jules, icefox, Edwin (aka oozz) all date from those early years! Hanging out with some of these personalities make me remember the good old days.

pic (click to enlarge): icefox's setup.

After lunch, five of us went to HiFi 精 E (icefox)'s loft, my second visit this week! In case you wonder, I originally coined the term HiFi to describe the 柴灣 gang, who all have a large collection of hifi gears in industrial builings: first comprising A (alansoo) and B (wher, aka wadia); later expanded to C (Charles); D (drwkng). That group is even larger now with the addition of Ringo. But actually there is also a large 葵涌 HiFi 精 cohort, like icefox and welborne. What a wonderful place that puts one immediately at ease. Perfect place for seduction! Setup roughly:

-CAS: As pictured; Mac mini + HD. iTunes/AIFF/USB out into Behringer; long XLR to Prometheus TVC for conversion to RCA. Also sifu fai's XLR/RCA conversion box.
-CDP, Preamp, Amp: Symphonic Line
-Additional amp: Parasound
-Speakers: Magnepan 3.5; Spendor SP100

How icefox acquired his Maggie is another happy story. After he bought it from oozz, they became 襟兄弟 and soon found out that both are old friends of mine! :-)

icefox is a practical man and I can understand why he chooses for the moment to place his Maggies along the long wall. He is still experimenting with positioning and we have all put in our 2 cents. For the duration of the last visit we fooled around but used the Parasound amp all the way. Sound was already good. But before this visit icefox has built 2 false "walls" with his various speaker cabinets (vintage Tannoy York; Japanese Audio King etc). The bass did flesh out further though still lean without side-wall reinforcement. This time we also auditioned the Symphonic Line amp, which showcased the weakness of the Parasound. Even fully warmed up, the Parasound was too lean in the treble and had a brute, even slightly "plasticky" quality, rather unsuitable for classical music. Even cold, we all preferred the SL for its more musical manner, better microdynamics and superior rhythm and pace. This came at the price of a slower speed, less bass oomph and a little less excitement in jazz playback. Otherwise sound was quite decent and even Mahler 5th was rendered well. It should be noted that we actually listened to the computer more than the CDP!

Last time I also listened briefly to the Spendor SP100 (which I also own), room filling even at a distant position and close together. Geat stuff.

Q: How many people do you know have played with both Tannoy and Magnepan?
A: jules (1.6), icefox and, do not forget, me (MMG; SMG, and feikeung's 12).

pic: Click to enlarge and note the delightful room treatment

After that we went to oozz's little den. Setup roughly:

-Digital: Ensemble Dichrono set
-Preamp: Music First TVC passive
-Amp: Ben and David
-Speakers: German Physiks speakers

A digression is necessary. I hope this is oozz' temporary abode. Quite a few of us have listened to oozz' previous setup of Maggie 3.5 at his Fanling home, which won unanimous acclaim. Captain and I both regard that as the most refined and musical Maggie we have heard. Due to work reason oozz has moved quite a bit and now this is the smallest of his abodes, also the reason why he has become a 环境斗士 and had to sell his Maggies. The German Physiks is an unusually designed full-range, and omnidirectional, and one can understand why oozz chooses it to replace the bi-polar Maggie. oozz is one of the most fastidious of audiophiles that I know. Needless to say, sound was very good and refined, and the speakers are not even yet fully burnt in. I hope he gets a real preamp soon so we can hear his vinyl playback, also amongst the finest I have heard. And thanks for the wonderful cookbook; the pics are great!

p.s. A note to 梁家泰, if you read this: It's good to see an old friend! I hope you can come again and chat more with us, about Lowther or anything else; there're many photo fans amongst those present!

02 September, 2009

The Yumcha Diaries: 29/08/09

pics. Seamonster's setup. Click on pics to enlarge. What a long "belt"!

The Yumcha Diaries: 29/08/09
姜是老的辣, or, if everything is there, why is it different? Is it really different, and is it significant?

The week before last there were six fellows, last week three. I thank jules for dropping by and lending me the Chesky Barbirolli Sibelius, which I have misplaced.

After yumcha I went to Captain's place and had a long chat with him. Almost impromptu, we called up seamonster and paid him a quick visit. I am amazed at this man, he keeps finding real treasures to buy, despite his punishing schedule of travel. The system is MUCH changed from not so long ago. Thanks Captain for the pics

The JMR speakers and the Verdier TT (with Ikeda and Morch) have remained. Digital source is now a Sony X-5000 into a Remiyo DAC. Most worthwhile, a mint ARC SP-10 has ousted the previous Aussie Supratek. Power amp is an over-kill now, the monstrous McIntosh 2102!

Sound is as usual decent. We only listened to digital while chatting away. Seamonster showed us the difference between the 2 versions of Nils Lofgren Acoustic Live. the difference was enormous. We all preferred the one without his face, more dynamically coherent.

I had my work cut out for me after I got home. I compared the recent TESTAMENT (from the library) and the old (1986) CHESKY versions of Barbirolli's Sibelius Second with the Royal PO (not to be confused with his Halle version). This of course is the famed Kenneth Wilkinson recording for American Reader's Digest. jules believes the Chesky was from the master tape. It's not clear what Testament used as source, though the respected Paul Bailey (Re:Sound) is credited with the re-mastering. It is sometimes believed the Chesky is out-of-print. I believe not so, as it's still being sold on Chesky's own website!

The comparison turned out to be more difficult than I thought. Contrary to its fame, and much as I adore the performance I have never found the sonic perspective of this recording to be the most natural. At first, it was gut feeling. To be sure, I repeatedly listened to the entire first movement and and about 5 minutes of the 3rd movement, via 2 amp/speaker systems:

Source and preamp: (1) Theta Data (ATT) into Genesis Digital Lens into Audio Note DAC 2 (old PCM-63 version), or (2) ICL/Softone transport and DAC. All fed into EAR 912.

Amp and speakers: (1) ICL 300B into Tannoy Canterbury, or (2) Bryston 4B old version (balanced connection) into JBL 4312A.

My conclusions are:

-As far as I can tell, both versions contain nearly identical information, but render somewhat different dynamic and spatial clues.

-The Testament at first seems a little more detailed, but close listening on 2 systems revealed this to be due to (1) a slightly more agressive presentation; (2) slightly etched quality to the upper strings and less sweetness in massed strings; and (3) a leaner bass.

-The Chesky IMHO has the better hall sound and enshrines the orchestra (notably massed strings and tutti) and each instrument (most notably bass and tympani) in a space that breathes better. The testament is more "shut-in" and homogeneous. Hence, in crescendoes and climaxes, the Chesky has more of an unforced and natural presentation that is more refelctive of Sibelius' music. Simply put, the Chesky conveys just that little bit more of the grandeur of the music.

I believe the better the system the more the Chesky shall be preferred. But the Testament is no slouch. This is no nth-generation source, but a modern re-mastering. The Chesky has the hall sound of maybe an older top-of-the-line 16 to 20-bit DAC, the Testament more like a more recent Delta-Sigma with perhaps sampling rate manipulation. Although you can tell my preference, I'd say that if you do not have the Chesky you shall be more than happy with just the Testament, which is still an excellent job, with also a substantial coupling of the Fifth Symphony.

What a great performance! I listened so much sometimes I forgot to compare!