31 August, 2015

Review: Micromega IA-60 Integrated Amp; CD-10, Part II

Click pic to enlarge.

Review: Micromega IA-60 Integrated Amp; Micromega CD-10, Part II
Review: Naim Nait 3
Yin vs Yang

Note (3/3/16): Micromega CD-10, Part III, vs Sparkler S306 has been published.

After acquiring the ridiculously good Micromega CD-10, it took some time to hunt down its companion IA-60. The result was so surprisingly satisfying that I decided (for my limited purpose and time) to further simplify my reference system in my "new" home, eliminating tubes (Western Electric 124, which shall go back to my old house). Also, just by chance and impulse I got a Naim Nait 3 (I have used the Nait 2 before).

My review of Micromega CD-10, Part I was brief, so I copied it below so you don't have to go back.

Micromega CD-10 (official link; you should read the technical details). Here I welcome yet another member of Micromega into my family. Launched quite a long time ago (I commend Micromega for not changing models often), it has been well reviewed (I particularly like HiFi World and the ever-reliable Alvin Gold in techradar; for comparison of the whole CD line, read HiFi+ or in Chinese only u-audio).

The CD-10 (as do the CD-20, 30) uses the ever-reliable AD1853 chip, in contrast to the Cirrus Logic chip used in products meant for CAS (see my reviews of the fantastic MyDAC, Part I, Part II). The amazing thing is, the sound is like deja-vu: very much alike! And that is all to the good.

The CD-10 runs surprisingly warm for a CD player, even in standby.

Sound Just like the MyDAC, the CD-10 delivered all the important things in music, the venue, the tactile quality, the timing. See further Sonic Comments below.

Micromega IA-60 (official link of comprehensive technical details)
Micromega's amplification has never gotten as much attention as their digital products, and that is a shame. Many years ago, I owned a Tempo 1 and it was an excellent sounding thing (my friend icefox thinks so too). Unlike the CD-10, the IA-60 was only reviewed in tandem with the CD-10 (witchdoctor, and in Chinese only u-audio).

The IA-60 is rather warm even in standby. In operation it can can get pretty hot. While your hand can stay on, it is still definitely warmer than usual. Adequate ventilation is a must.

Sound As you would expect from Micromega, just like the CD-10, the IA-60 delivered all the important things in music, the venue, the tactile quality, the timing. The reviewers cited above are pretty spot on when they noted its reasonable driving power and somewhat light bass quality. My Yamaha NS-1000 is demanding but the IA-60 delivered just enough control and drive to let the musical finesse come through. If my memory does not fail me, this generation of amplifiers is better than previous ones (like my Tempo 1), more airy, more shimmer on top, and more grunt. See further Sonic Comments below.

Naim Nait 3
Naim's earliest integrated amps, the Nait 1 and Nait 2, are arguably their most iconic products, and with good reasons. For my assessment of Nait 2, read my Integrated Amp Guide (incidentally one of the most-read articles in my Blog). For the Nait 3, surprisingly one can still find a few reviews on the internet: TONEaudio (the 3R is essentially the 3 with remote) and soundstage (reviewed in tandem with the CD3.5).

Among vintage afficionados and even many Naim old-timers, it is often the older the better. Many, including myself, like the old shoe box look; but I also like the look of the 3 series (so much better than current Naim). The Nait 3 commands a lower second-hand price than its predecessors. This is partly also due to the absence of a phono section (though many buyers now don't use it). The Nait 3 has more power than the 1 and 2, and beside the DIN inputs sports a single RCA input as a concession to modern conveniences (Nait 1 and 2 are DIN only). Since I previously had the 2, I was more than curious about the 3.

Sound Using the Micromega CD-10 as source, via the RCA input, the Nait 3 immediately took control of the Yamaha and never let go. While its control was superior to the Micromega, for a while I was not at all sure which I preferred. The story is intriguing. See further Sonic Comments below.

CD: Micromega CD-10
Amp: Micromega IA-60 or Naim Nait 3
Loudspeakers: Yamaha NS-1000
RCA Interconnects: Canare L-3C2VS and Mogami 2549
RCA to DIN Interconnects: Mogami 2534 and Gotham GAC-4/1 and Gotham GAC-2

Mahler: Symphony No.6Sonic Comments
  • Micromega CD-10 This is a beauty. Whether driving my Brook 7/WE124, the Micromega IA-60 or Naim Nait 3, it delivered prisitine digital, with SOUL. Use with confidence in any system (even a Naim one).
  • Micromega CD-10 + IA-60 Given the sterling quality of the CD-10, I'd not just put the performance of the CD-10 + IA-60 down to "synergy" only. The IA-60 is outstanding on its own - its agility and finesse serves up all types of music with great panache, and is class-leading. Miraculously, initially, its rhythm and pace trounces that of the Nait 3 (but see below)! Soundstage is deep and there is plenty of air. When it comes to driving power, I am satisfied by its performance with my Yamaha NS-1000, by no means the easiest speaker to deal with and an unlikely partner. Even in the big Mahler, when one wishes for a bit more power, a good sense of scale is preserved and the music has inexorable momentum. The IA-60's speed and accurate leading edge portrayal more than compensates for its limited power. Those with smaller or more efficient speakers will get even more out of the IA-60, but given the extended treble bright speakers should be avoided.
  • Micromega CD-10 + Naim Nait 3 RCA Input For convenience, this is what I used at first. Although the sound was more forward, it had more composure than the Micromega IA-60; on the other hand, the perspective seemed flatter and not as lively; the Mahler did not have a sense of threat, of struggle. DIN Input I borrowed a Naim RCA to DIN interconnect (old style; Chord made) and was immediately served a more dramatic sound. However, like before (when I had the Nait 2) I did not like this cable's roughness and lack of refinement. I decided to DIY some RCA to DIN interconnects with Mogami 2534, Gotham GAC-2 and GAC-4. It took some time to source the archaic DIN connectors, not something the usual electronic store has. My efforts were amply rewarded: the sound through the DIN inputs was superior to the RCA input - better dynamics, leading edge and scale; and Naim's inimitable rhythm and pace is back. Finally I had recaptured the unique feeling I had with my old Nait 2 (previous description). This puts the Nait 3 just a little ahead of the Micromega IA-60 in overall terms, though the latter still has a faster transient and more overt excitement.
  • Yamaha NS-1000  They continue to amaze me. Even in totally unfavorable arrangement, against the wall they deliver very good depth, and a properly scaled soundstage, without which the spirit of a Mahler symphony cannot be rendered. This very good recording was totally satisfying.
  • Yin vs Yang In a way, this is yin vs yang. The Naim is a little more masculine, more in reserve, in control, but the Micromega beguiles with its mellifluousness.
  • Micromega CD-10 As with most Micromega digital products, this is a winner.
  • Micromega IA-60 or Naim Nait 3 Despite so many years apart, both serve the music very well. Best buy's.
  • Yamaha NS-1000 What can I say! You don't get better speakers than these even at 10 to 100 times the price. Yes, you heard me.

08 August, 2015

Hong Kong High End Audio visual Show 2015 Part II

Hong Kong High End Audio visual Show 2015 Part II

Part I here.

Although it is a reflection of my own station in life, my continuing declining interest in audio shows is a sad commentary on state of the industry.

When things are priced so unrealistically, they invite ridicule when they perform less than satisfactorily, which is more often than not. Below are some general thoughts.

Worst Sound of Show
This dubious honor goes to Luxman electronics driving YG loudspeaker. For years on end, Luxman has been lousy, driving whatever loudspeakers, so I'll acquit YG here. Shocking to me was the completely unrecognizable voice of the Cantonese opera singer 任劍煇.

  • "Lifestyle" products, which include earphones and headphone amps, continue to proliferate. I don't investigate these, as they are not my preferred lifestyle.
  • LP is king. No true hi-end showing will do without a turntable, even as display. In the 80's people said LP is dead, but many things have come and go and the LP is still around. Even old LPs in lousy condition, especially worthless later "mono" LPs, fetch good prices at the show.
  • CD is not dead (and I don't think it ever will be), but the same catalogue is being milked again and again and new gimmicks are everywhere. After K2, XR etc, there have been various "_Q" CD's. I believe the terrible CD played at Luxman was an "Ultimate" HQ CD sampler. Priced at over HKD200 (more overseas), it is a farce. Avoid it like the plague.
  • CAS/Hi-Res is not doing as well as you think. Although ubiquitous, it is no longer fresh and I fail to see emphasis in this area. Also see below.
What I missed
  • Meridian MQA If it is what it is said to be, I believe all other audio file formats and hardware shall perish. I'll love to see it succeed and all the CAS idiots do their CAS all over again!
  • Analog Tape  This niche market is not covered. 
Basically, there is nothing much to write about.

07 August, 2015

Hong Kong High End Audio visual Show 2015 Part I

Top pic: Best of Show.
Hong Kong High End Audio visual Show 2015 Part I

Part II here.

This year my reporting shall maintain the form adopted last year. In Part I, I am posting the pics and brief comments.

Click pics to enlarge. In order, comments above the pics. To save your time, they are color-coded for sonic merit (Above Average (keep in mind I'm being VERY lenient), good to ok, bad to dreadful):

1. Devialet finally gets good sound from the mighty B&W Nautilus, no doubt SAM'ed. Even their lower end Phantom (with speakers) performed admirably in the vast free space outside the doll's house.

2. French and Swiss don't mix. Focal did not jell with Goldmund. The background lousy pic shows perfectly how the Focal felt, drooping and collapsing

3. Candidate for ugliest room of the show. Sound lackluster too. I was neither impressed by MSB nor Rosso Fiorentino. The TT is hideous looking too.

4. What do you expect from these people? But this year's Harbeth 40.1 and Sugden was a trifle better. Still...

5. Finally, reasonable sound from the revamped Audio Alchemy electronics driving PMC Twenty.26.

6. Lackluster showing from Karan electronics. I didn't even want to find out whether they were  driving ASI or the vintage AR's.

7. Kharma never did well at the show, not by YS Sound.

8. Vienna Acoustics was not well served by EMM Labs and Meitner.

9. Lumin could do better, but the B&W and Trigon did not jell.

10. Tidal was anything but in impression.

11. Zu sounds like Zu, not my favorite, but passable with Line Magnetic, which work better with others.

12. Silent display of Audio Valve, but my interest was on the new EAR products.

13. Surprisingly respectable showing from Taiwanese Lawrence loudspeakers driven by German AVM.

14. Silent display of small Swiss Boenicke; small but intricately horn loaded!

15. Vivid is always good, here partnered with Mark Levinson.

16. Better than last year's bigger sibling, but JBL still fails to show off its K2S9900. Again, no decent electronics.

17. Reasonable showing from Electrocompaniet's full system.

18. Hegel fails with Legacy.

19. Full set of Audio Note did not appeal.

20. This has always been one of the better sounding rooms (it is rectangular), and this year is no exception. Elac + Accustic Arts, neither my favorite, but...

21. Terrible looking Acoustic Signature TT. Peak Consult was lackluster with Burmester (what do you expect?)

22. Not as good as last year, but passable Dynaudio driven by Musical Fidelity.

23. Horrid sound from Luxman, as ALWAYS. From the YG, 任劍煇 was UNRECOGNIZABLE.

24. CH electronics barely managed passable result with Ocean Way loudspeakers.

25. Zellaton should sound better than driven by Convergent.

26. Crystal Cable/Siltech must be big money makers to continue to occupy a large room. Only passable performance.

27. With D'Agostino, it is the same, only passable.

28. MBL returns to form this year. Best sound of show.

29. Raidho finally sounds reasonable with Linn.

30. Rockport always managed a good showing.