04 March, 2010

The Yumcha Diaries: 20/02/10 and 27/02/10

The Yumcha Diaries: 20/02/10 and 27/02/10

Since the last entry, we were very happy to have met up with many old friends, sometimes boosting attendance to a baker's dozen, which is a lucky number in Chinese indeed, particularly for the New Year.

20/02/10 House-warming for tubediyer
Last week we even had a newcomer, Alex, to yumcha. Since quite a few at the table are Tannoy users, we're delighted that he too is one. After yumcha, most of us proceeded to tubediyer's place for a "house warming party". His rebuilt country house is spacious, yet feels cozy. With all his stuff, the brand new place already feels lived-in. Most interesting is an adjacent semi-detached room stuffed with LPs and parts, all covered with dust from construction.. A lovely place to hang out. I'm sure we shall return often.

(L/R: now/before; click on pics to enlarge)

To my chagrin, I found I had not replaced the card in my camera. Fortunately I had taken some pics in an earlier visit. For those who do not know, tubediyer, true to his moniker, not only DIYs but also designs and manufactures cheap and excellent parts, particularly transformers. Cheaptubeaudio indeed. Gears (due to DIY nature, changes all the time) used on this occasion:

Turntable: Technics 1200 MkV with Audio Technica AT33 (Shure V15Vx before)
Phonoamp: EAR 834P (on loan from me)
Digital source: Sony DVP-PR50P as CD player and transport
DAC: DIY DAC with 8x Wolfson chip
Preamp: On this day a DIY "Jadis 200" (NOT tubediyer's job) and a repaired Audio Note UK M3 with much upgrades
Amp: DIY "Ongaku" (silver secondary for the output transformer)
Speakers: Onkyo Scepter 5001 flagship with diamond tweeter and midrange!!!
Cables" cheap Gotham, Sommer etc

The "Ongaku"
We had listened to the previous incarnations of the "Ongaku" before. There is little question it is a very fine amp made even better, tonally balanced and powerful for its rating (<20 style="font-weight: bold;">I prefer using a preamp (especially with the low power on hand for such a large speaker), even a modest one, lest music gets stripped of dynamics and rhythm.

Diamond drivers

The Onkyo Septer 5001 was Onkyo's flagship. The finish is very beautiful and the speakers are quite neutral sounding, filling up the large room. Unlike some of their modern counterparts, the diamond drivers in no way call attention to themselves (Ditto the Beryllium tweeter of the Yamaha NS-1000, which is not colored like Focal's more recent effort). Whether beryllium or diamond, the Japanese had done it long ago. So much for the current hype on their (re-)use by some hi-end speaker manufacturers as innovation. One cannot help feel whereas past designers used breakthroughs primarily for improvements in technical matters, their modern counterparts use exotic material as gimmicks.

Some caveats: despite its rated 90 db efficiency and proclaimed extension down to 20 Hz (no +/- db given), perhaps due to the new woofer surrounds, but even more likely due to the limited power on hand, bass was on the lean side and extension not impressive. I suspect voicing with more powerful solid state amps (such as Onkyo's own Integra) . Next time we shall bring a beefy ss amp, perhaps Bryston?

pic: innards of the AN M3

DIY preamp vs Audio Note M3 (with upgrade options)
One of the greatest problems with DIY lies with balance. I'd say the majority of DIY gears I have heard (and I have heard many) are not neutral sounding, and much is way off in tonal balance. As I always said, the most important thing in DIY is emphatically not material building blocks, but the human ears. Great designers are also good listeners.

The DIY preamp on hand (the 2 small aluminum boxes in one of the above pics) is based on the Jadis JP-200. While it is well built and one of the better efforts I have heard, it too did not escape the common fault of mid-range leaness. Certainly, the sound bore NO resemblance to the real thing, and I am quite familiar with this preamp as an old colleague at work used it. I have to say here that I'm not overly fond of Jadis. I always thought that, maybe with the exception of the early JA-30 (KT88), cheap Jadis (like the Orchestra) is frequently a lot more cheerful than their expensive siblings.

It's funny, if you google pics for the Jaids JP-200, what you get overwhelmingly is DIY kits and not the real thing! :-) It's a veritable industry. A circuit board can usually be had for <<$100. When we switched to the Audio Note M3, there was just no comparison. With dual power supply trans, dual chokes and transformer outputs, it had an effortless ease and midrange splendor that the DIY preamp could not hope to match. As for what broke down before, I cannot tell. Just say it was quite alarming and costly.

Digital playback
The venerable Sony DVP-PR50P, nick-named "Sony-Studer" for its resemblance to a miniaturized Studer 730, served well as a transport for tubediyer's parallel dual-differential Wolfson 24/96 DAC. The sound of the DAC is crystalline and solid. However, overall some of us preferred the less solid sounding but more rhythmically involving analogue output of this humble player, no slouch! More on the player later.

Analogue Playback
During the last visit I set up the turntable for tubediyer for the Shure V15Vx. He hadn't used his Shure for 10 years, and the sound at first was sluggish. After a few play it started to slowly come to life. By the end of a few hours it emphatically outperformed the digital playback. This time at the request of tubediyer for a MC, whlee very quickly swapped in the Audio Technica AT33. Kudos to him, even without the help of alignment tools it tracked perfectly. It's a second-hand model and sound was just a little too sluggish for me at this moment. I prefer the Shure. oozz suggested that removal of the shell would improve the sound drastically.

Afterwards we had a wonderful BBQ, pics of which you must surely have seen.

27/02/10 yumcha saw 2 new friends, Wai and Patrick. The two came to my place to dig in some CDs. davwong also came and we shared some LPs together. A nice change from focusing on hardware.

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