14 August, 2010

The Yumcha Diaries 飲茶後記: 14-08-10

The Yumcha Diaries 飲茶後記: 14-08-10

A good breakfast is a good start
Danz and his brother-in-law Sang picked me up early, to return some things to me and to loan me the little known Airtight MSM-1 Bonsai full-range speakers, of which I shall write a review later (it's magnificent! But does it give the Kiso a run for its money? Stay tuned) . Then we went to Sang's place nearby in Yuen Long for breakfast.

Perhaps we all should go audition or buy gears only when we had started our day with a good breakfast. This was what I got (and would not expect less) from Sang. Home (machine) -made bread! It's not the breakfast I'm sure, but Sang's setup has rather dramatically improved to a quite musical degree. The only significant difference from the last visit was the CD transport (visits 1, 2, and 3). He has abandoned his expensive Acuustic Arts CDP for the Sonic Frontier SFD-2 a long time ago, but now he is not even using it as a transport! Now, the old California Audio Lab Delta served very well, much more musical to my ears!

We sampled quite a few CDs over breakfast. I particularly enjoy early music in the morning, and Anne Sophie von Otter's "Lamenti" (DG111) and Musica Antiqua Koln's Bach Brandenburg's (DG) were refined and fluent.

After the great start, we took a ride out to Mongkok. It marked the first time I travelled on the newest bridge in HK, between Tsing Yi and Kwai Chung. The panoramic view of HK is spectacular, but hard to capture in a car, better in a helicopter!.

Old friends, incl Feikeung the Butterfly
The yumcha was full of surprises. As if the pleasant surprise of having Thomson and ilovesonata was not enough, feikeung, aka On9, appeared out of nowhere. As usual, we were totally upstaged by him. He and I talked about the Nagra PLP as headphone amp, but his monster Sennheiser would be a real challenge!

After yumcha only two of the nine people (aside from the inseparable twin Thomson + Frankie) made it to Thomson's place, and that's definitely their lost!

How could I have forgotten the coffee!
Thomson's setup I have visited I think twice before, and it has always been a good-sounding setup, aided by a wonderfully proportioned room. But this time, within the first few CDs played, I knew the sound has been upped a whole notch, and notable for its excellent balance. The setup is "simple" and more or less as before:

Digital: Studer 730
Vinyl: Linn LP12 (full updates I believe), Ekos-Archiva on Andante-Largo stands
Phonoamp: Linn Linto
Preamp +Amp: Cello Suite + Palette + Performance
Speakers; Dynaudio Evidence Master

First came a long CD session, and sound was immediately appealing, balanced across the full spectrum, equally adept at portrayal of intimate chamber music as well as symphonic scores. To name a couple: early Accardo playing small concert pieces was quite a treat, the sound full of rosin and lively; 鬼太鼓 full of special effects. But the CD I enjoyed the most was a track from "Star Wars: Return of the Jedi"; the low brass music was surely a challenge for any system, and this system rendered it with complete tonal accuracy and not a trace of excess.

The LP session that followed was even more delightful. Every strand in Saint Saens' Organ Symphony (EdW/Philips) could be heard, though perhaps the full organ was just a little lean. Michaelangili's Mozart concerto was delightful, the piano sound full and realistic. I asked for a Mercury, and got Dorati's Firebird (original pressing). Not a hair out of place.

We talked about the Cello Performance driving the big Dyna's so successfully. This pair cannot be easier to drive than Wilson speakers, say. I wonder why some people over-kill and use 2 pairs. It's all in the implementation. More is often less.

Thomson has always been a great host. The Italian red was wonderful, a little spicy and with good finish, complimenting the system to a T. We spent almost 3 hours there and I forgot completely about the coffee, and my umbrella left years ago!

As is sometimes the case, feikeung bestowed a gift for me, the Spanish film Alas de mariposa, which I watched in fascination later that evening. The complicated relationship in the family was really touching, and it is a beautiful and sensitive film indeed, from 1991. That's a long time ago! Thank you, feikeung!

06 August, 2010

Show Report: 2010 Hong Kong High End Audio Visual Show 香港高級視聽展

Show Report: 2010 Hong Kong High End Audio Visual Show 香港高級視聽展

(video clips added August 11, 2010)
(last revised August 8, 2010, revision in brown)
click pics to enlarge 點擊照片就會放大

August 11, 2010
I just loaded 3 video clips of the Friday concert for your perusal. Enjoy!

August 7, 2010
I went again after yumcha, in the hope of somehow catching the Cabasse, kin of a holy grail. The sound in quite a few rooms have improved quite a bit, but the weakest rooms and the "pecking order" remained quite the same. New material shall be in Brown.

August 6, 2010
The show this year is much as usual, with the exhibitors occupying their usual rooms. Overall, sound was reasonable, perhaps better than before due to apparently lower attendance. Many attendees turned up early to buy the two-ticket package, which includes 1x LPCD and 1x SACD/CD. After these were sold out, only the hybrid SACD discs were available. However, inside the venue there seemed a lot less people than before. Same was true of August 7th.

As usual, for me and my friends, we hit the software counters first. Much to our dismay, this year there were no bargains CDs. In the past years, we were able to get discontinued Everest, Vanguard, Pope, Chesky, Harmonia Mundi etc for a good price. For the regular stuff, discount was small, the most generous being Silk Road, where I got my Lola Bobesco Brahms CD (talent) and Ida Haendel CDs (Hanssler) for whlee. Not so this year. In disappointment, I went to Encore and saw the 活動布景版 LeeHC and gang. Under his bad influence, even I bought 2 LPs, rare for me in HK (I buy my LPs in NYC). There I was also surprised to see jules hitting the CD bin. The coverage below is in no particular order, divided into categories by merit only:

Good Try

I give Dah Chong credit for even exhibiting not one, but two legendary Cabasse speakers. On Friday as in the past I only got to hear the dull Chario.

But on Saturday Dah Chong finally gave airtime to the Tannoy Kingdom (which I never got to hear previously at these shows) . The Kingdom sounded powerful and rich, but even placing the two close together could not eliminate some bloating of the bass. Nonetheless, a 15 inch-er plays better than anything less at a big show, period. I thought I was not going to hear the The flagship La Sphere, but I checked one last time and my efforts were rewarded. There they were! This is the latest incarnation of the legendary Cabasse sphere, a breakthrough in engineering and art in its heydays, The eyeball in this model looks more like a globe. It comes with active crossovers and own amplifiers. Although the music played sounded like "Euro-trash" electronic music, the layered mid-bass and extended bass have a fluidity missing in many larger brethren. These I'd have to hear again with better material. I have little doubt of their true excellence. Thanks to CKL2 (phcklee) we have a youtube clip. Also, don't miss the smaller but ravishingly beautiful iO2 on silent display!At the entrance, there's a neat rack packed with Cyrus. I always ran into the dapper Richard Cheong when I exited the show. This time he has a gweilo kneeling for mercy!

The sound of the Trio, with basshorn, as always remained good in the room of Avantgarde HK. On Friday I did not dwell on them too much as I have only recently visited the showroom and gave a detailed report. I like their silent display of a lot of Ortofon, wonderful commitment to vinyl!

On Saturday though, accompanying Robin the Hairy Scot, we attended not one but two of the Trio sessions, and there he was, Masaki san!! Both featured the Trio + basshorn. It should be noted this pair of Trio is brand new, just out of the box! Click on the pic to enlarge. You shall note on the floor the limited edition Ginga turntable. On top of the right rack is the (sit tight) new Kondo Overture EL34 integrated amplifier, which Masaki introduced together with a new Kondo preamp G-70 (below the integrated). Both sessions utilized the AMR CD777 + Kondo G-70 preamp + M7 phono. The first featured some US ss monster mono-blocks. Sorry, I never would get to like the bland Livingston Taylor, no matter what it's played on. But a Paul McCartney 1991 unplugged CD perked up our ears. The voice didn't seem familiar but the rhythm and pace, as well as the varied hues were richly conveyed. Finally, Mr Chuong played an African percussion LP on the Kondo TT. Now we were talking. Tight rich bass, true timbre. The best vinyl playback of the past used to be HiFi Duck, but this year, this was the best sound of the show easily! Then came a switch to Gaku-Oh 300B monoblocks. Richer sound, but the Carmina Burana LP did not quite have all the requisite weight, though it did convey like no other playback the huge mass of choral forces singing and whispering. Robin asked the salesperson for the price and said to me these were at least worth the money (compared to much modern trash) . I agree.

(left) The large Adam loudspeaker (active woofers) sounded quite nice for a change (I don't usually like this company). I wish I had heard a high-res file on the Bladelius rather than analogue on the EAT. Notice that EMT preamp? Mouth-watering with 2 meters!

(right) It's common knowledge by now that Sonus Faber is now not what it was. At the show, SF Asia has a tiny deserted room with SF and ARC. Perhaps everyone prefers the old designer, Franco Serblin, whose Ktema speakers were well admired. Sound was fluent and comforting. Now, what are those large beautiful panels in the back?? They are treatment panels, and are they beautiful!

German Physiks can be very good, as we have heard at oozz' place. This flagship at the show sounded quite realistic with Cantonese opera and drew a huge crowd. Good job.

Wellwick always managed a clear and engaing sound at this show, with Elac, Densen etc. Both Harbeth + Manley and NAD + PSB = normal music.

Could have been Better

Vivid Audio Giya did not sound as good as before in Excel's room. No wonder, Krell was doing service, ah, dis-service. What happened to darTZeel? That would be a better match!

Traditionally, HiFi 德 always managed good sound at the show. But this year, sound was too soft. The new Rockport to my eyes do not look too good. The brightest thing in the room was 阿明's hair! Sound was noticeably better on Saturday.

This year's MBL was a smaller variant, not enough to fill up the room. For some reason, the Wilson Sophia 3 + Boulder combination, despite a deep soundstage, was not as crystalline sounding as before.

Radar was too ambitious for dividing their large room into 3 sections. I only heard the Proac driven by flagship BAT, playing 24/96 files (that lousy Livingston Taylor again) through dCS. Not bad, but should have been even better. I wish I had caught up with Naim, though the cheaper one-box Uniti is what I'd like to hear.

(right and middle) Meridian Sooloos was played, but at small volume. Those active speakers look nice! I wish they had played the 808.

(left) For anyone who remembers Elephant shows of the past, this is just a ghost of the past.

Swiss Soulution had been heard to better advantage before, and should sound refined. Partnered with Eventus it was reduced to nothing special. These speakers in the past gave OK sound but are not worth the price (if one wants Italian, Franco Serblin's new Ktema line trump them in both sound and looks, see above).

TAD had their new heavy non-monitor speakers, but sound was not too good. I suspect their own electronics are not as good as claimed.

Could have been Worse

Traditionally, Audio Space sounds none too good, but this year they have a pair of Tannoy around and sound was better, though still quite sluggish. I noticed their "LS3/5A" sells for $13800. No wonder second-hand market is thriving!

For me, Matisse Asia always produced highly artificial sound with their Verity. This year, things were just a little better on Friday with a Nagra hard-disc player around! Blue! But I recognized it for the red strip in the control. I wonder who brought it? My vote for most desirable item of the show. On Saturday this Nagra was gone.


What happened to the trusty combination of Avalon + Rowland? Sound was pale and not worth describing. Wake up! The thing that salvaged the room for me is the display of the Project line. Cute boxes! Of the turntables, the one I like the most is the cheapest red and round Genie.

Also dozing was the Dynaudio Consequence SE, though I suspect here the Musical Fidelity Primo line was not up to the task of driving them properly.

Not sleeping but should be are Lansche Audio speakers, terribly coarse driven by Sim electronics.

Burmester, as usual, expensive non-music. “...you can choose to not believe, but you have to know..."

More pics

I always take a pic of EAR. Don't you forget this brand! Who's going to sell me an Acute CDP to complete my line (I have the 912 +509)? This time around, the Bauer DPS look a lot better with a simple arm.

More people

I followed our friend from Tsingyi inadverdently. Here's another one.

And this blurred picture, well...(you have to click on pic to see the frightening details)... 我最喜歡這一張,doctorjohn 的照妖鏡 (一向以來揭了不少妖精的假面具) 照到了一些 HiFi 精正在蠶食一個年青人。 問題是,此人正卻在享受著呢!

The Concert that was too long
I went to the 1:30 concert on Friday to hear 阿陶, but I got more than what I bargained for. First up were the 香港鼓藝團, youngsters led by 銭國偉. I hate to be a spoiler, but in absolute terms the performances were too long, reasonably tidy but lacking in real flair.

The same can be said of The HK Police band , which though accomplished somehow cannot quite shake their serious (and morbid) demeanor (too many anthems and sessions at 浩園). The jazzy Summertime arrangement definitely did not suit them. The trumpet solo of the main theme sounded not languid, but funereal, though they got livelier later. The pipe band (click on pic, standing on the floor) was a lot more energizing, waking up my neighbor from stupor. Yes, hifi shows can be tiring!

Finally, 阿陶 appeared. How nice he was. He sang three songs and his voice was a little lighter than the closely miked recordings. We sat in the last row and the effect was a little muted. The incessant clicking of cameras spoiled the tranquility. Did anyone really tried to listen rather than take pics?

A concert then only for those who never went to concerts, which unfortunately comprise the majority of audiophiles. For serious concertgoers, it was not satisfactory, distracting, and too long.

Video Clips of Friday 1:30 Concert

今年場外買票的人多,但場内卻是空前地少人,證明主辦人的 CD 是賣得滿堂紅的, 可是秀就不太受歡迎。這不變得有點掛羊頭賣狗肉, 長久下來,會行嗎?不過,這樣也好,好久沒有逛得那麽舒服了, 大部分房間居然可以坐下來聼聼,這是前所沒有的。

反正就那麽一回事, 當然沒什麽驚喜。

記得先前那被 HiFi 精蠶食的年青人嗎?他已在 HiFi 的七彩漩渦裏消失了!

Here is another good write-up of the show, from computeraudiophile.

04 August, 2010

Site Visits: Kondo

Site Visits: Kondo

No, I didn't visit Kondo myself. Matthew C posted these links from this Taiwan magazine (which like Audio Art has a lot of site visits, something sorely missing in our own mags here in HK) on R33. As it is of interest to me, and likely to get buried over time I'd like to cite them here.

Kondo Factory Visit 1

Kondo Factory Visit 2
Kondo Factory Visit 3


02 August, 2010

Talk Vinyl: Ortofon Kontrapunkt C + H (Clearaudio Concept Part II )(Review)

Talk Vinyl: Ortofon Kontrapunkt C + H Part I (Clearaudio Concept Part II) (Review)
The world of MC cartridges is a vast one, where all kinds of personal taste and beliefs, many pseudo-scientific, even irrational, come into play. From my experience, as in most facets of audio reproduction, it is also where the law of diminishing return applies greatly. In my view (aside from rare exceptions of boutique cartridges that I am interested in) I'd prefer offerings from manufacturers who actually make their own cartridges (few), and not companies that have products OEM'ed to their spec's (many).
In view of that, it arguably makes sense to stay with something like Denon 103 for life. If you are a tweaker, more power to you, and I have heard great things about tweaked Denon 103. Caution though, not all tweaks necessarily wear well on the ears over time; tweakers by nature of their curiosity often tend to push themselves overboard one way and then the other, rarely content to stay in the hard-won (usually more accurate overall) comfort-zone. In other words, the biggest challenge to a tweaker is not technical, but knowing when to call it quits.
Is Ortofon difficult?
For my journey into MC, read my previous article.
You will note my uncomfortable start with Ortofon (MC15 Super II). But I do think highly of Ortofon the company. Frankly, I don't understand why their cartridges are not more popular. They are better made and value than much more expensive rivals that are the fad now. Perhaps this is because, more often than not, their cartridges require great patience in setup, especially experiments with loading options. My MC15 takes to low loading value like a fish to water, in fact the lower the better. Buying an old Ortofon "headamp", like the MCA-76 I recently acquired, is a relatively easy way to surmount the problem (I haven't tried their step-up transformers). Somehow, it just sounds right with the Ortofon cartridge . As I have grown to appreciate the clarity of my MC15 Super II, I have long wanted to try more Ortofon's. My recent visit to Avantgarde HK sealed my fate.
Bachian Counterpoint
Ortofon's discontinued Kontrapunkt series (replaced by the Cadenza) has garnered praise for over a decade. How could you not like the class of a company willing to pay tribute to BACH in this way? Indeed there is a counterpoint relationship between the four members of the family if you read the link. By chance I found out that the last two additions to this family, the Kontrapunkt C and Kontrapunkt H, are still available, at a very good price. Partly due to market positioning, these two were perhaps not as popular as the B and A in their days, but they both sport Ortofon's "Field Stabilizing Element (FSE)" as well as neodynium magnets, and hence are precursors to the Winfield and even the current A90. The H is the most anonymous of the lot, and there are few reviews on the net. The Kontrapunkt C on the other hand received many accolades, including TAS' 2008 Golden Ear (here is a TAS review).

When Kontrapunkt meets Concept
After I got the cartridges I could not wait to install them on the Concept.
The Verify arm has a very easy VTA adjustment and mounting was a breeze. It would be a royal pain on my other Rega arms. Please note that the bodies of these Ortofon's are very TALL, and some arms would not match.

I first swapped the Kontrapunkt H for the Concept MM.
In fact, I was very surprised to find that the contours of the top-plates and positions of the screw-holes uncannily similar. In fact, aside from adjusting the VTA, the Kontrapunkt H was a straight drop-in. After adjusting the counterweight, I found the cartridge to be already in 2-point alignment, no adjustments necessary. I really wonder if the Concept MM cartridge is made by Ortofon! After this, I could not resist to drop in the Kontrapunkt C, which, aside from a small variation in body-weight, required no further adjustments whatsoever. However, the Kontrapunkts are sensitive to tracking weight and alignment. Small adjustments are amply audible.

One caveat, the pins of the Ortofon's are recessed into a small compartment. If your cartridge pins have thick heat-thrink protective tubings around them (as on my arm), the fit can be very tight and care needs to be taken not to damage the wirings and pins while maneuvering in the tight space. Be careful.

Sonically, suffice to say while both Kontrapunkts are excellent in detail retrieval and liveliness, the C is simply more resolving, and I chose to re-install the H and run it in first. So far, the H did not seem particularly "composed" or "calm", as the literature would have it. While it lays out excellent recordings superbly, it is not so tolerant (yet) of lesser recordings, and so it is a little more ruthless than I'd like. The outputs of these Kontrapunkts are a healthy 0.47, while the internal impedances are a low 5 ohm. Whether these low compliance cartridges really suit this "unipivot" arm remains to be determined. As for loading, I am experimenting (including doing without); it is a piece of cake on my EAR 912, but more work, and less precise, on my Nagra PL-P (I have not yet tried the MCA-76). They do not seem unduly fussy, as some of their stablemates can be. Although I don't have that many hours on them, I am convinced of the excellent sound of these cartridges. At current clearance prices, they are value for money (compared to expensive cartridges, not to Denon), and I think the C is much more than that. Should you be interested, please contact sales Jeff Yip of Avantgarde HK.

Although the materials used in the Concept are quite acoustically dead (vertically knocking on the plinth creates no disturbance), the TT proves to be very sensitive though to what it's placed upon. While it is rhythmically savvy, and sounds mightily fine on simpler music and vocals, on large-scaled works I did notice loss of composure when the going gets rough. I suspected this was partly due to the glass surface on which it is placed. I sandwiched in-between a piece of cheap composite wood board (from PriceRite) I happen to have around. I am sure that's not the last word, but
the improvement was substantial.

A few more things about the Concept. Surface noise, regardless of the cartridge used, seemed a little higher than what I am used to; perhaps some more fine adjustments are in order, despite the apparent alignment. Also, the anti-skating adjustment is beneath the arm board and not calibrated, which makes adjustment a harzardous affair. This shall be disconcerting to some and of no consequence to others.

When Concept meets Champion
I briefly compared the two. There is little question they sound very different. The Concept, with any cartridge on it, has innately better rhythm and pace. But the Champion, equipped with Rega RB250 (Origin-Live basic structural mod) and Ortofon MC 15 Super II, remained quite a bit more composed on large-scaled material. How much of this is due to the TT or the arm remains to be determined. One of the projects would be to swap the armboards and the arms, but that requires quite a bit of work, and won't materialize until I finish running-in the Kontrapunkts and tweaking the Concept. The goal is to improve the drive of the Concept and the rhythm of the Champion.

01 August, 2010

Talk Vinyl: Clearaudio Concept Part I (Review)

Talk Vinyl: Clearaudio Concept Part I (Review)

Toys admittedly
Audiophiles search for all kinds of excuses to rationalize their purchases. In truth, most of the purchases are "unnecessary". Why do we buy new clothes when the old ones are not even worn in? Why do people change cars? All that is understood. Adults, like kids who we admonish, scold, even threaten, actually buy MORE toys than their children, though the toys are now termed "luxury goods", "food for the soul" etc. But it takes double, even triple justification to buy something that you or others suspect may be a lesser product than what you already have. Such is the case here.

Living with the "Best" Forever?
As you may well know from my previous "Vinyl Talk" articles, I personally regard the idler-wheel Garrad 401 as the Non Plus Ultra of turntables (sorry, Statement owners). In HK, I have two and used to run one, but I don't right now (for what I use now, click here). Why, because sometimes one may not want the best around, since that would prevent one from having fun with alternatives. It is enough to know what is the best; one does not necessarily have to live with it everyday. It's more important to have fun. Enough rationalization?

If Looks can Kill, but is it a "Must-Buy"?
After I read the rave reviews (What HiFi, more), in particular in a recent issue of HiFi News (not available on the net), of the Clearaudio Concept (the pdf manual has a ton of technical specifications, worth a look) I became smitten by its looks. Generally speaking, I am quite allergic to the looks of modern high-end turntables, massive acrylic in particular. Nor am I quite enamored of the sound of much modern material (too much acrylic again). As I believe a truly competent design needs not be too big, my turntable cannot have too large a footprint, period.

Two visits to the authorized dealer Hi-Fi 德 (Ernest Audio) followed. The Concept is even better looking than in the pictures. I must also praise the dealer for the fabulous price they offer for the package. For $8xxx, the package comes with the originally designated Concept MM cartridge (basically a no-frills Aurum, not to be confused with the older and more expensive Concept MC) , and is easily cheaper than in the USA and Europe. The magnetic bearing "unipivot" arm is impressive to look at, and is almost certainly a poor man's Schroeder, except the suspension is from below rather than above. Concerning the last point, this is why Daiwok said "Clearaudio Concept is a "must-buy"...because you may not be able to buy it later...". Why? Because there is a copyright lawsuit pending! :-) Last, the captured tonearm cable looks to be of good quality and is wired all the way to the cartridge.

The last straw that triggered my decision to buy was the armboard. This model uses a metal round plate that looks identical in size to the Clearaudio Champion acrylic armboard. I happen to have a Champion which I bought from HiFi Duck when it first came out (its price has tripled since then; I have to say HiFi Duck again sold it for a very good price then). Although the two boards look to be of the same diameter, I was not sure, and I asked the salesperson 阿明. He was not sure either. Then he did something which I HIGHLY appreciate. He without thinking took off the Concept board and tried it on the Champion, a perfect fit. Thank you 阿明, for some of the best service I have ever come across for an inexpensive product. I wish all salesmen would be so knowledgeable and helpful.

First Impressions
The turntable is basically plug-and-play. Unpack, a few drops of oil down the shaft, place the platter and play. Right off the bat, without any run-in, I can tell you this is a superb turntable. Most importantly, it has a lively rhythm and pace, something unusual for this company. In this aspect, without A/B comparison, I instantly know it is superior to my Champion, and many of this company's expensive offerings. The cartridge is superb sounding too. Once again, this confirms Clearaudio's value in the low-end of their offerings, where they remain competitive.

According to my Shure stylus force gauge, which I trust, the factory-set tracking weight was slightly off and I re-calibrated. It was rather disconcerting to twist the tight counterweight on this magnetic bearing arm, which rocked and swayed during the adjustment. The alignment seemed to be quite good according my humble Rek-O-Kut 2-point protractor.

I see all kinds of CAS people (many have vested interest) promoting expensive "high-resolution" files and DACs. Very few of these people have experience with vinyl. I'd reckon an LP played on this reasonably priced turntable will slaughter a $100k CAS system. So what many of these CAS people should do is to buy a turntable (doesn't have to be this one) before they make all kinds of fantastic pronouncements about perfect sound.

There's a lot more to come in Part II.