30 October, 2012

Editor's Note: A New Leaf

Editor's Note: A New Leaf
Review: TAD TSM-2201, Part II
Review: Pioneer SP-BS21-LR, Part IV

My last post was exactly one month ago, and it was just a commentary. Some readers who regularly visit the Blog have wondered about the relative calm, and perhaps secretly whether my productivity has taken a nose-dive (I assure you not). And no, a storm is not brewing here (as of this writing hurricane Sandy is threatening the East Coast, where my roots are).

Truth is, I am turning over a new leaf. Although I shall not publicly elaborate on the nature of this change, I feel obliged to show you some changes in my daily audio setups. Suffice to say I do not get much serious listening time, but I do squeeze in music whenever possible.Those only interested in the gears may skip the next admittedly rumbling section.

封面Desert Island, Gulag Archipelago or Man in the Holocene? - Questions and Facts
  • Question: We hear the term "desert island" all the time, but do we understand it?And how many people remember Alexander Solzhenitsyn's Gulag Archipelago? What about Max Frisch's novella Man in the Holocene?
  • Question: When it comes to the fabled "desert island", Is it getting stranded (involuntarily) in no man's land, or is it serendipitous arrival in unspoiled paradise? I suspect it can be both, but not necessarily always so.
  • Question: Is the latter thinking not just a defense mechanism, one employed to lessen the painful realization of the former? Or does a dramatic change in one's life provide impetus towards a philosophical change, one that turns inward in one's search for nirvana (not that we ever get there in audio)? I suspect it can be both, but again not necessarily always so.
  • Fact: I still have full possession and unrestricted access to all my hardware, and my reference setups have remained largely unchanged. But, free time is piecemeal now, and shall remain so for quite a while. It is time to forget about 15" woofers (aka my beloved Tannoy Canterbury). It is time to set up new stations that suit current needs.
  • Fact: I still have possession of all my software, but perhaps it is time to think about what I would listen to in my limited free time. Indeed, more than the one on hardware, this is the real "desert island" question. Should I gather all my Sonopress/Toshiba/Nimbus (etc) out-of-print CDs, just because they command good resale prices and are desired by Asian collectors? Or should I just get together all CDs by my favorite performers (like Richter), Or should I take everything I have when it comes to my favorite composers, like Bruckner? Or should I just take large box sets for convenience? The answer, not surprisingly, is an amalgamation of all of the above, but I can assure you, intrinsic musical value comes first.
  • Fact: Let's admit it, people like me are in conditions much better than Solzhenitsyn's, rather more benign and closer to Frisch's Man in the Holocene for sure. Nonetheless, Gulag Archipelago us a good way to describe my current approach to listening. The most difficult thing to overcome in the Gulag is not the lack of commodities, but the restriction on freedom.
  • Fact and Declaration: None of this is going to stifle my writing nor the growth of the Blog. Rather, my writing may reflect a new direction, and there for certain will be more overviews based on my experience, on materials that should be written. Less new gears, more accumulated experience that hopefully contains at least morsels of wisdom.
My Gulag(s), My Archipelago
After much thought, and some experimentation, I set up various stations in 2 areas which I term Gulag 1 and 2. For Gulag 1, indeed the term archipelago is appropriate, as the various islands are intimately linked. The system is in its initial phase. I am sure there are many changes to come.

If you look carefully, you can see all 3 islands of the archipelago, as depicted below.
Reference System A (Gulag 1/Island A):

CD Player: Sony BDP-S190
CD Transport: Sony DVP-PR50P 
DAC/Headphone amp: YBA WD-202
CAS: Logitech Squeezebox 3
Preamp: EAR 912
Amp: Western Electric 124B (original)
Speakers: Yamaha NS-1000

Prior to setting up, I tested the Yamaha, which I haven't used in quite a while. One speaker's midrange made no sound. I opened it up and, ha, the old problem (see here) - a broken off connection due to corrosion! It is a pain to restore, and I have yet to do it. But I can assure you the WE drove the NS-1000 nicely, and I look forward to when the system thrives. It should be a completely different sound as before (as the speakers can now only be placed against the front wall - no longer in-room, and ~ 6 ft apart). You will hear more of this, for sure.

The Go-To System (Gulag 1/Island B), for Quick Sessions of Radio and CD Replay:

Integrated Amp: Musical Fidelity A-1S
Speakers: Pioneer SP-21BR-LR
Tuner: (tentative) NAD 4020A

This system gets the job done quickly. The imaging is reasonably good though soundstage is not deep (speakers are only 3 ft apart). The sound is quite neutral - one hears things as they should sound like, and surprisingly little can be faulted. A bit of de-coupling (blue-tac) between the speakers and the platform upon which they are placed proved beneficial. I think I shall work further on this aspect (not much else to work on). Once again, praise to Pioneer!

The Even Quicker Go-To System (Gulag 1/Island C) - Is this hifi?

iPod Dock with built-in speakers: Gear4 StreetParty Size 0

What do you expect of something self-degradingly named Size 0? Well, not a whole lot, but it more than does the job of playing music. I picked up this "demo" item in Richer Sound (Chester, UK), for less than 10 GBP. My iPod Classic has mainly lossless classical AIFF files, and these unlike pop MP3's cannot be really played loud, but the sound is surprisingly clear and not devoid of texture - the piano is not just a tinkly thing, and violin is thankfully not a caricature either. One does not really feel the certain lack of bass, as the sound has an integral nature to it, leading one into the music. Here is a review of this gadget, and I agree with it.

Coming Projects:

  • Test out the usefulness of YBA WD-202's headphone output. I shall be borrowing some classic headphones from friends, and you shall be seeing reviews here. No, that would not make me a head-fi person who chases after the DAC du jour ! Never!
  • Tuner shall again be a part of my system(s).
  • Blue Ray capability is here. The BDP-S190P is hooked up to the TV via HDMI, but I have yet to acquire a Blue-Ray disc! 
Reference System B (Gulag 2) The alternate system:

CDP: Studer A730 (at the moment)
(Preamp) Kondo M7 Line
(Integrated) Amp: Kondo Ongaku
Speakers: TAD TSM-2201

The Ongaku can be used as an integrated amp, or as amplifier partnered with the M7 (see previous write-up's on Kondo Ongaku + M7 Part I and Part II). Each has its merits.

I actually listen to this as much as the Gulag 1 archipelago. A brief report. I am surprised, and elated, that the TAD and Kondo make good music together. Or perhaps I am not surprised, given the superb performance the TAD achieved with lower-powered Wavac MD-300B previously (report here)! The realism is first-rate, and it trumps Reference System A (Gulag 1) at this point. But of course, WE is not yet operational in Gulag 1! Gulag 2 may gain more functionality in due course - I aim for it to be a SET center. We shall see.

I am cautiously optimistic about my new setups. Challenges come big and small. Let us greet them with glee. Amen.