30 October, 2009

The Yumcha Diaries: 24-10-09

(click on pics to enlarge)

The Yumcha Diaries: 24-10-09
How small or how big can you get?

Part I. No matter how you do it, small is not quite big
After yumcha, four of us hit the road for North Point, where we had an appointment pre-arranged. We managed to sneak in a last-minute extra, visiting our old friend Philip, whose smallish diamond-shaped LR was rather packed with some hifi stuff. System we heard:

Digital: Cyrus + PSX
Preamp: CJ Premiere 10
Amp: Sun Audio 2A3 (much modified)
Speakers: LS3/5a (Rogers 11 ohm) and Pioneer Pure Malt

Sound of the LS3/5A was surprisingly robust given the flea power on hand. With vocals, the 2 watts certainly did not feel lacking, and once again this demonstarted that a strong preamp must be used with SET amps. And the 3/5As trumped the Pioneer in this setting. Philip is a tweaker in the vein of his friend Wesley (recognize the birdhouse-like thing on top of the 3/5A?), and he showed us this single Ringmat thing under the CDP (see pic), the procedure pioneered by Frankie of Elite (if I remember what I'm told). It certainly worked well in this situation!

Part II. Big IS big!

Compared to the previous location, the second place was positively palatial. And it had to be, to be able to accomodate this wonderful pair of Altec A5, which we heard previously so effectively at Alansoo's loft. Rest of system:

Digital: Sony "Studer" DVD player analogue out.
Preamp: Canary 4-piece
Amp: DIY PSE 2A3 (see pic)

Host is a vinyl person and had 2 old decks. I forgot the combinations for now. Suffice to say, with cheap cartridges he managed to get quite a lovely sound through both! And the Sony DVD player was a real surprise given the price, sounding finely balanced and neutral. The Altec's were driven full-range and the DIY amp (by DIY champ AuYeung) is definitely a winner. Besides some vintage quality trannies it looks like it may be employing an interstage, but I cannot be sure without opening it up. Anyway, a marvelous and righteous amp, not necessarily so common in the DIY world. The A5's played everything we threw at it with ease and had very good bass. Good stuff! We all hope that the host can play us his other toys next time. See if you can identify some from the pics (click to enlarge).

Yes, there was a Part III. We all went to the HKPO/Rozhdestvensky concert, and afterwards we had a Part IV, midnight snack! What a full day!

15 October, 2009

The Yumcha Diaries: 10-10-09

(Click on pics to enlarge)

The Yumcha Diaries: 10-10-2009

Part I. Pondering the evolution of the Republic took second place to music.
LKT, a famous photographer of HK, is an old friend whom I haven't kept in contact much. Recently we met again because of certain hifi matter. 10.10 双十 is a day that should not be forgotten, not because it's Taiwan's National Day, but because it's significance dates back to the old Republic, a day in history. After yumcha, three of us went uphill to LKT's beautiful flat, where we were later joined by mutual friends the Robin couple. LKT is a frugal audiophile who dabbles in DIY stuff. System:

Digital: Eastern Electric (1 tube)
Preamp: Much modified Ming Da tube preamp (5Z3, 2x 12AX7; 2x 6DJ8)
Amp: Bryston 4B SST
Speakers: Proac D28 (jumpers)
Cables: Lots of DIY silver stuff

From the start the system showed a preference to jazz, which had good presence. However, with violin and classical material, midrange was a bit sucked in and sound a little thinned out, though never unpleasant. We were very happy with the various esoteric CDs he played for us (highly recommended; see pics; click to enlarge). After a while, I noticed that he had both the +/- of the speaker cable into the woofer input, and therefore asked him to try having the + going into the tweeter input. Much to our surprise, the sound transformed, much more than usually, into a much fleshier whole. The midrange was no longer reticent, the presence even stronger, and the whole was organic sounding. Not bad at all for a little work! Decent sound! After this, we just spent our time sipping tea, eating the excellent 绿豆糕 from Taiwan, and listening to interesting music. How refreshing not having to listen to yet more "audiophile" albums!

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Part II. From Beryllium to Beryllium

Then everyone went to Robin's place to audition his Yamaha NS1000. I reported a visit in January (click here; check out the equipment list there too) and much has changed since then. The first thing that happened was when Robin (unusually) picked up a Garrard 301 in Taiwan for a good price. he is using it with Audio Technica's evergreen OC-9. The next big change came about when he visited me some months ago. He expressed his reservation about Beryllium and I demonstrated my Yamaha NS1000 to him. He had long been interested in this legendary speaker due to reports in the UK hifi press, like HiFi World. Robin was immediately smitten by its sound and got a pair soon after. recently we have been playing with these and I loaned him a pair of Foundation.

The sound of the turntable was positively one of the best phono setups I have heard (using ARC Sp-11's phonostage, which seems to have more than enough gain for the OC-9). Fully fleshed out sound with beautiful dynamics and a fast leading edge that is just right. I was mightily impressed by the OC-9, which seems to possess the usual AT virtue of clarity and speed but habor not even one whit of AT's somewhat hot treble. It makes me want to take out my ART2000 and install it! Compared to the JM Lab Micro Utopia Be, the Yamaha just seemed so right, and so Beryllium tweeters need not be hot-sounding. Compared to my in-room placement, it suffers little from placement against the wall, sacrificing just a little depth and with a mild boost in bass.

Compared to the LP, the Stello setup seemed rather anemic. Even the host was not too interested. Work is in progress to bring the digital chain up to par with the phono, no easy task.

What a bargain, the Yamaha. For more info, read my observations on my own pair (click here).

10 October, 2009

Home Visit: La Scala redux

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Home Visit: La Scala redux

I should have done this much earlier, but fortunately it's never too late. Quite a long time ago I met conrad2002 and learned that he, like me, is a Klipsch La Scala user. Recently I called him up and he said his setup does not sound good. A few days ago, before a group visit to Andy L and Simon in 錦繡花園, Andy L and I paid him a visit and instantly proved that he was far too humble. Setup:

Digital: Metronome
Preamp: Pass Lab
Amp: Sun Audio 2A3 using Full Music 2A3 and GT 6SN7
Speakers: Klipsch La Scala (later non-alnico) with midrange horn replaced by EV; Tannoy "supertweeter"
Cables: All very cheap

Once again, it proves that the La Scala benefits from corner placement. The corner is part of the folded horn we should remember. The bass is excellent, full and agile. Many years ago, Leo Fung in 音响之路 advocated the use of 10 tricks to augment the "insufficient bass"of La Scala, but that was only because he had the speakers way into the room to get more "soundstaging".

The simple but effective setup has stunning clarity and presence factor. With full-bodied sound that sounds like the musicians are in the room one does not even think about artificial soundstaging. I am convinced that the Electrovoice horn contributes a lot to this great sound. The horn is unusual in that in addition to the direct front-firing central small horn, the back-firing sound is directed into the larger outer horn. driver (I should mention the same La Scala midrange compression driver is used). The "percussion" Carmen was sonorous and crystalline in clarity. The midrange is very slightly lean on vocals, possibly due to the ss preamp, but no mistake about it, the setup is marvelous and what a horn setup should sound like! With an efficiency of 104 db, I doubt the lower-efficency Tannoy tweeter is making much sound at all.

A humble system that puts many hi-end setups to shame. The Persian is just as lovely!

03 October, 2009

The Yumcha Diaries: 03-10-09

The Yumcha Diary: 03-10-09
A question mark on digital amplification; and is the newer the better?

I. Digital Amplifiaction: it's efficient, but is it better than conventional methods?
First, a brief note on last week. After yumcha, three of us went to audition a new arrival in an old system. I have covered this system previously. Since the last visit, the short stand has been replaced by a single-pole Foundation 20", to good effect. The new arrival is the B&W N805 Signature, on loan from a friend, though without the matching stands. Everything else stays the same.

This is yet another instance when a change produces excitement at first, but puzzle on closer scrutiny. It was completely expected that the treble of the B&W would have a lot more sparkle than the resident large Chario bookshelves. With the 805S on the Foundations, there seemed to be a lot more air and a larger stage that generated excitement at first. However, closer attention reveals, despite the evident refinement, a certain lack of body that trivialized the difference between the upper and lower strings, and more seriously a relative flatness in the sound. Dynamics were not as they should be. We tried various placements (within reason) and experimented with toeing-in. Moving the speakers around did not help too much. Re-installing the Chario's brought back a fuller sound, better dynamics and balance overall.

I have always been a fan of B&W, and have listened to quite a few B&W Nautilus speakers including the popular N805 quite a few times. Every time, I heard an open sound and excellent treble, and this signature version is no exception. However, most of the time with the Nautilus series, the sound veers towards the polite and lean side of neutral, though never annoyingly so. Dynamically speaking, they seem to like being driven harder and played louder, seemingly to lose flesh at lower volume. Here I recall my experience with relax173's N804 driven by Graaf 20: the sound was relatively lean and flat driven by various preamps but came to life instantly after a Graaf preamp was used. So, the preamp and front-end is tremendously important (as always) if you want to move these cones. This time I begin to wonder about the dynamics of digital amplification, in this case TACT. The sound is beautifully smooth and not at all "digital" as some may assume, but I suspect they are not quite suitable for harder to drive speakers. We find we have to crank the volume up all the time to get a better swing. I cannot find much spec's on the S version, but the regular N805's impedance does not dip much below 4.8 ohms I read. I presume the impedance should not present much of a problem. Perhaps the large coils inside the corssover just consumes power. Chario's are likely not easy to drive either but I think they do better in this system. I hope one day I can borrow a digital amp and test it out in my system to answer the question. In researching this topic I note that there're actually few reviews of digital amps. Here is a TAS review on Lyngdorf's RoomPerfect digital correction/amp. BTW, we repeatedly found defeating the correction to be more natural in this system, though the difference is marginal (the host has a good room!). Here is a Soundstage review on the original TACT Millenium, which you may find interesting as it hints at dynamics, matching and impedance issues near the end of the article.

pic (click to enlarge) : sowk's setup. ARC galore. From top to bottom, LS5 MkI; LS5 MkIII, LS26; V70

II. The newer the better?
This Saturday is 中秋節, and a fine day indeed. After yumcha, three of us cramped into Captain's highly modified Subaru and sped in no time to his colleague Captain So's place in Sheung Shui, where we were joined by com-buddy, who lives in the same building.

Captain So is a really nice fellow and, like me, a fan of Audio Research ARC. Pictured is his balanced connected set of (silver colored) LS5 MkI + V70 amp, which he has owned for more than 10 years. The black one is his newly acquired LS5 MkIII and beneath is the LS26. For details of all these models, consult the ARC database. As sowk has graciously lent me his LS5 MkI I shall cover these preamps in more details in a future article. Here, I'd just like to add that the V70 is basically a Classic 60 with balanced input.

Source: Meridian 508-24
Speakers: Focus Audio 78

It would it be fair to say I have never heard a full set of ARC that I have not liked. I have known the LS5 + V70 setup for a long time. A close colleague bought a new set when they first came out and until he got married we had a lot of beer in his place, with this combo playing music! He is still using them winningly with his Sonus Faber Electa Amator I today, how's that for longevity? Needless to say, the combo here also brought out the best in the FA speakers, which is voiced a little too far from neutral for my usual taste, though always pleasant to listen to. Sweet vocals and no lack of power no matter how we cramped it up (we listen at much higher volume than sowk). Once again it proves the quality of a full ARC set. A smallish LR, but big sound!

The highlight was when we replaced the Mk I with the Mk III. Despite fewer tubes and less components the sound seemed to be a little more open and sweeter. sowk said the Mk III is very close to the Reference I in sound.

After that we paid a brief visit to com-buddy but had to leave soon. I also got the Meridian 800 transport from him to play with. Thanks Captain for taking me and my 2 new toys home. I understand on his way home he scared the shit out of a Lamborghini.

Watch for my detailed listening report on the ARC LS5 Mk I and Meridian 800.