29 February, 2016

NAD 3020A, Yamaha NS-1000, Micromega CD-10, Cyrus I

Cyrus I on top. Click to enlarge.

NAD 3020A Meets Yamaha NS-1000
NAD 3020A vs Cyrus I
Micromega CD-10, Part III, vs Sparkler S306
Review: NAD 3020A
Review: NAD 3020 (original version), Part III

Note: Review: NAD 3020 (original version), Part I covers 3020 driving TAD-TSM-2201; Part II covers 3020 driving Klipsch Quartet. As to me the 3020A sounds identical to the 3020, I also label this article as Part III of that series. In this article I shall describe sonic aspects in more detail than before.

See also Micromega CD-10 Part II  for basic info and more on the CD-10.

NAD 3020A (Manual available through Official Link) There are tons of info on the original 3020, but little on the A and B per se; this is because they have only minor differences (I will attest to that in my Listening Notes below). For basic info, see above links to the 3020. Both A and B versions have minor revisions and differ from the original (MM only) in having switchable MC/MM, thereby facilitating use of low-output MC's. Serious Vinyl People like me would prefer the A and B versions.

NYC Experience 1 - My First 3020A Ever since I had the 3020 experience in HK (links above) I wanted one. My first was bought almost two years ago from Ebay UK, a 220V unit. I had it mailed to NYC, intending to bring it back to HK. Somehow I had forgotten to write that up, and by now I had forgotten the details. Suffice to say, in NYC, even handicapped by the use of a step-up transformer, it went up against my expensive stuff and never batted an eye. No, it wasn't the best at this or that, but in overall terms its musicality was simply astonishing, duplicating the previous HK experience. Its phono section was also simply excellent and capable even with my very low output MC's! Somehow I procrastinated in bringing the unit back to HK. I am due soon again in NYC; maybe I will re-test it if I have time.

NYC Experience 2 - A Sour 3020 Note Bolstered by the experience, I immediately started hunting for a 110V unit, and soon got one from US Ebay. It turned out to be a lemon. The preamp section was fine, but the amp section kept blowing fuses. I returned it, but am pissed off that the shipping fee was not refunded, and I had to pay for return shipping. IMHO, if you sell a lemon, you should be fined/warned by Ebay, and you should pay the shipping fee both ways! That was almost $60 down the drain. So be careful shopping!

HK Experience - My Second 3020A I picked up my second unit from a very friendly HK seller a few days into the CNY. Previously he had blown the 1A fuses when he accidentally shorted the outputs while disconnecting the unit. That the unit functioned well attests to the soundness of protection. I had to get replacement fuses but, not knowing whether the original is a quick- or slow-blow, I opted for a quick-blow 1.5A (the schematic does not seem to tell me which one; if you know, I'd appreciate letting me know). I lost no time putting it up against my Nait 3, in my System A:

CD Transport: Sony BDP-S190 Blue Ray Player (Belden 1694A)
DAC: Sparkler S306
CDP: Micromega CD-10
Integrated Amps: Micromega IA-60; Naim Nait 3
Speakers: Yamaha NS-1000

System A Notes If you'd like to know more of what I think of my System A, please read my two previous articles: Review: Weiss Minerva vs Sparkler S306 vs Sony BDP-S190
details the strength of the Sparkler DAC; Review: Micromega IA-60 Integrated Amp; CD-10, Part II treats the Micromega CD-10, and the amps I have used in this system, including the Micromega IA-60 and Naim Nait 3. The context is important for the comparisons I am about to make.

Cyrus I I still own two of these, and it is still one of my go-to amps in a pinch; ridiculously cheap, handy, compact, workman-like and all-around competence. It was briefly treated in my Integrated Amps Overview. Given my fondness for it, I'd not mind to try the II and III someday!

Channel Classics 25 years - sampler cd Listening Notes
  • Test Discs For the A/B comparisons, my usual Channel Classics and Manger discs.
  • NAD 3020A General Notes As mentioned, its all-around excellence is perhaps unparalleled. You are just immersed, though the audiophile half may still asks questions! :-) Ease of Matching As documented, it also seems to partner every speaker I have heard well! Soft Clipping Although I listen to large scaled orchestral music, the power indicators barely flickered (the second one occasionally). Therefore, I have no use for this feature and it is always off. Power/Dynamics As expected, given my previous experience with the TAD-TSM2201 in a larger room, the 3020A has no problem handling the demanding Yamaha NS-1000, but in a rather different fashion (more description below). Soundstage/Imaging/Hall Sound This is the most interesting aspect of the amp. The airy feeling is amazingly close to tube amps: there have been many solid-state power amps, particularly Class-A designs (like Pass Aleph, old Krells and Thresholds etc), that have been said to be tube-like, and I have used quite a few of these together with excellent tube preamps (a constant for me). IMHO, even without the help of a classic tube preamp, the 3020A betters those power amps in the depth and enveloping sense of soundstage. Imaging is very good but always integrated with the soundstage and hall sound. Not a weak link. This is not to say that, compared to the best tube gears, one fails to notice that some of the bloom seem a little artificial and fuzzy, but who cares if it sounds so great?
    Image result for manger cd
  • 3020A vs 3020 The sonic signature and immersing experience are so similar that I have to conclude they are very similar, if not identical. For me, 3020 = 3020A. I suspect B is the same. Which is why I also labelled this article as 3020, Part III.
  • NAD 3020A vs Micromega IA-60 vs Naim Nait 3 Overall In many ways, the NAD 3020A is like a cross between the Naim and the Micromega. Power/Dynamics At louder volume, the 3020A is a little more at ease than the Micromega IA-60, but less composed than the Naim Nait 3. Interestingly, as TNT noted (links above; Part I), one always wants to crank it up further, a sign that the increasing decibels are compressed (understandable for the basic wattage rating). Soundstage/Imaging/Hall Sound Here the NAD hits its stride. The Naim is more upfront and less accurate about hall sound/ambience clues. The Micromega is more spread out, but on a somewhat smaller scale, with images of less substance. Also of note is that, when the going gets rough, the NAD preserves more of these spatial clues than its rivals. Transients The leading edge of the 3020A is very good, not quite as fast as the excellent Micromega IA-60, but never feels wanting; and definitely not like some of the relentless modern stuff. Rhythm and Pace Reviews such as TNT (above) have faulted this aspect, but partnered with a great CD source (either Sparkler or Micromega) this is not the case at all. The NAD perhaps is more like the Micromega IA-60 - incisive; as opposed to the Naim Nait 3's slightly slower and more sinewy way. These amps illustrates why I just love well-designed integrated amps -each is imperfect, yet an irreplaceable gem. Depending on one's associated equipment, one's preference may change.
  • NAD 3020A vs Cyrus I General As I spent little time on it, this is perhaps not a fair test. My Cyrus I had not been fired up in several years, and should benefit from some re-run-in.. Yet, the Cyrus I immediately yielded a very decent sound, clear and lucid. Power/Dynamics Clearly the Cyrus I is as powerful as the Naim Nait 3, but with a dryer sound as compared to the Naim's fuller contour. Soundstage/Imaging/Hall Sound The Cyrus I is perhaps more like the Micromega IA-60, with good spatial clues but less fleshy images. With increasing volume, control is superior. Transients The leading edge of the Cyrus I is very good, almost as fast as the excellent Micromega IA-60. Rhythm and Pace This is where the Cyrus I loses out a little. Incisive as it may be, its rhythm and pace does not quite have the subtlety of inflection that its rivals possess (I include the Micromega and Naim here). I suspect some of this is due to the long idle condition of the unit. When I have time, I'd love to re-run it to form and re-compare.
  • Micromega CD-10 vs Sparkler S306 Finally I got around to re-setup the Micromega in this system; one reason for this is to circumvent the lack of muting of the Sparkler S306 as used with the Blu-Ray Player (see links above).  Initially, the sound was more rounded and somewhat more indistinct than that of the Sparkler. Unusually, I finally substituted an old Audio Note (UK) AN-V (silver) interconnect and that did the job. Sound was clearer, bass quicker and more balanced. The Sparkler S306 (transport Sony BDP-S190) was still more incisive, but the Micromega ran it close in all parameters. I don't use silver interconnects often, but this shows the Micromega (and my setup, bass-resonance prone) benefits from some careful matching. Both are to stay: For the best material, I still prefer the Sparkler S306/Sony BDP; but for average use, the Micromega is more than satisfying!


25 February, 2016

Klipsch La Scala Mods, ALK, B&K, Crites

pic shows my hero PWK with the Klipschorn. Note the Brook Amplifier (from itishifi).

Enhancement or Denigration? On Klipsch (La Scala) Crossover Mods, ALK, B & K Sound (Crites)
Talk Horns - Klipsch, the One-Stop Solution, Part V

Note: Previous articles in Talk Horns - Klipsch, the One-Stop Solution (Part I, Part II, Part III, Part IV) treat mostly what is now called the Heritage Series; Part I is dedicated to La Scala. All the models I covered there have after-market mods available, which is why I feel I HAVE to write this article. Keep in mind I have only heard those for La Scala and Belle, as described below.

Refuting "Science"? This is a difficult article for me to write. I know simple electrical principles, and can build kits and DIY simple things, but I am not at all technically inclined. I like to read about the technical side of hifi (which is one reason why I like Stereophile more than TAS), but ultimately I use my ears to determine what is good and bad, and I trust mine. In my audio life, I have come across a huge number of audio products by DIYer's (everything from amps to speakers), also far too many after-market mods and "upgrades" - most simply sound AWFUL. This is yet another vast topic that will be treated in a subsequent HiFi Basics article. The people who are behind these mods and upgrades have better technical knowledge than I, but they make me wonder what they are hearing most of the time. Mind you, it is my firm belief that audio is not even close to an exact science, though these people would have you believe so (and them). Suffice to say, I have a huge distrust of DIY mods, especially those with extravagant claims. 

Issue Can or Should you modify the designs of the great Paul Klipsch, one of the giants of audio? My take is, NO, liter for liter (or cubic ft for cubic ft) Paul Klipsch made the best. If they don't sound good for you, look carefully at your own approach rather than modify masterpieces. Do you think all these mod people are better engineers or have more horn experiences than PWK? I bet not.

What's "Wrong" with La Scala? (Much of the following applies also to other Klipsch Heritage Series models.) For me, nothing much - it is a masterpiece, in continuous production for decades. Criticisms stem from various factors, which I shall delineate. First Time Horn Users Some people come from other non-horn designs (say electrostatic or panels) and had difficulty in comprehending, not to mention appreciating, horn virtues, instead focusing on what they perceive as shortcomings. Poor Associated Equipment If you have poor equipment, horns are the first to tell you that! Don't blame the horns! Treble and Midrange Units Some of the after-market people offer tweeters and midrange units. My experience tells me otherwise (see below). Here though, I'd have to say I think the alnico units are more refined (see Talk Horns - Klipsch, the One-Stop Solution Part I). In fact, their refinement surprised my Western Electric friend, who compared them to the WE755 (here). Bass/Room Many users voice dissatisfaction with La Scala's bass performance. I briefly covered this topic in my Talk Horns - Klipsch, the One-Stop Solution Part I. In most instances, equipment and room factors are responsible. Yes, they don't go much below 40 Hz, but if you do not hear 40 Hz, there is something wrong with your setup (or your hearing). If your room is too small, or cannot accommodate optimal placement, please do not blame the La Scala. If you peruse Part I cited above, you will notice my friends and I have all obtained clean and highly satisfying bass from the La Scala, though I'd add here that all our rooms are about 250-300 sq ft. And if you read Part III, you will know La Scala's might in a really good space. Cabinet This is another issue. Some claim the cabinets are colored, that there are resonances, etc. But, as I reported in the links above, given enough room to breathe, that is NOT the case! Impedance Some believe in solid state damping, citing impedance irregularities, but my experience tells me with certain speakers, the more your care about damping factor, the less bass you get (not just Klipsch, also ATC, for which more later in another HiFi Basics Article). Tube vs Solid State I can sympathize with those who don't want to fuss and use a simple setup of solid state amp, but not at all with those who think they need solid state to "tame" the Klipsch. For me, with big horns, not to use tubes borders on the absurd. But there are too many people who have misconceptions of tube gears, or simply have never used superior tube equipment (indeed there are a lot of poor tube gears out there). Barking Up the Wrong Tree In fact, many of the people who complain about the La Scala etc are just barking up the wrong tree. They should instead use the Quartet/Forte (see Talk Horns - Klipsch, the One-Stop Solution, Part IV), which in a smaller/suboptimal space are easier to deal with, and more tolerant of room irregularities. In fact, there are many Klipsch users who regard these as better than the Heritage Series models. To each his own.

After-Market Mods There are many out there. Crossover Mods are the most common, followed by after-market drivers and horn throats. Among these are: expensive Volti Audio, which used to do La Scala upgrades and La Scala restorations, but since they began producing their own speakers, these have been relegated to the back pages; somewhat cheaper ALK Engineering; and even cheaper B & K Enterprises (Bob Crites). It is important to mention here that all these mod people, each claiming scientific proficiency, often do NOT agree with each other. Think, why? Because there is NO exact science, claims to the contrary.

Somewhat different animals are various replica's of Type A/AA crossovers (original designs by Klipsch, though these replicas use whatever is available, from NOS caps to modern caps and of course inductors). Many claim these to work well, but people like ALK desists (of course).

My Encounters

  • First Experience at Opera Audio, Causeway Bay My first experience with a Crossover Mod was almost 20 years ago at the late Stanley Chu's shop. He had a pair of La Scala. I remember the after-market crossover was expensive (at least several hundred USD then) and huge, stuffed with new parts. If I have not remembered incorrectly, it was ALK (if I am wrong, I'd welcome correction). That La Scala never sounded right to me, not nearly as lively as my stock pair, and seemingly not nearly as efficient. BTW, every huge crossover, with huge capacitors and inductors, that I have come across (and there have been many, especially for the DIY "TAD" people) sounded inefficient to me, science notwithstanding.
  • B & K (Bob Crites) Recently, at my friend ama333's place we heard several Crites mods for the Belle Klipsch (non-alnico). ama333's Belle sounded perfectly fine to me; I am actually not sure why he wanted to play with the Crites stuff. We (I am not alone) heard both the Crites Crossover (I think basic version) and new tweeter units. In all instances, we unanimously preferred the stock units. At least the Crites were lively enough, but they were simply too shrill.
  • Type A I also heard this with ama333's Belle's. Smoother than the Crites but still lacking to me.
  • ALK ama333 also bought the ALK (I think a basic model), which he never used and passed on to his cousin Bernard. The same Bernard that I sold my alnico La Scala to, and whose huge living room (pic below) showcased La Scala in all its glory (Talk Horns - Klipsch, the One-Stop Solution, Part III). Well, recently we (me, whlee, captain, Hoi, Tony88, and several others) re-visited Bernard after yumcha, and was surprised to find the sound lifeless. We asked him what he did to it, and the answer was the crossover was changed to ALK. It was a hassle changing back, but bingo, the great sound came back with the stock crossovers! We had a professional violinist among us, and he much preferred the stock units.
My Thoughts
  • My several encounters have completely turned me off these after-market mods.
  • Most damaging of all, they often suck the life out of the Klipsch's.
  • I'd rather trust PWK than anyone else. PERIOD.

19 February, 2016

NAD 3020, 3140, Micromega CD-20, Klipsch Quartet

Note NAD3140 atop NAD3020 atop Micromega CD-20. Click pic to enlarge.

Home Visit: NAD3020 meets Klipsch Quartet
Review: NAD 3020 (original version), Part II
NAD 3140, 7020, Micromega CD-20
Talk Horns - Klipsch, the One-Stop Solution, Part IV

Note: Previous articles in Talk Horns - Klipsch, the One-Stop Solution (Part I, Part II, Part III) treat mostly what is now called the heritage Series, especially La Scala, but I'd think they make supplementary readings for this article.

Review: NAD 3020 (original version), Part I covers the same version of 3020 driving TAD-TSM-2201

During the CNY holidays I found some time to hook up with old friend Hoi, a very busy man/scientist who has scaled down his hifi from a complicated Altec horn system with electronic crossover and multiple amps to the current system you see in the pic.

Klipsch Quartet (sold 1989-1996) There is not too much info on the Quartet per se on the internet. But there is a lot more info on its slightly bigger sibling Forte II (Soundstage review; also this HiFiclassic review of its similar predecessor, Forte I), which is very similar, employing the same treble and midrange drivers/horns, the same 12" rear passive radiator, differing only in having a bigger woofer (12" vs the Quartet's 10"). The Forte's have considerable underground reputation and there are a lot of forum discussions, mostly on aftermarket mods. These are low for "floorstanders", so most users raise them so as the horns are at ear level. Also, because of the rear passive radiators, they cannot be placed against the wall. Note too these are still bona fide Paul Klipsch designs.

NAD 3020/3140 Hoi's 3020 is the original (see my review), but he is only using it is preamp, connected to the 3140's power amp section. From the looks of the knobs, the 3140 should be a contemporary of the 3020, and it puts out double the 3020's power (40 watts vs 20 watts). Hoi mentioned that the 3140's power amp section is not quite as refined sounding as the 3020's, but he preferred the higher power handling. In passing, in the pic also note the receiver version of the 3020, the 7020, essentially a 3020 + 4020A (my tuner review here).

Micromega CD-20 This is one model above my CD-10 (see my review), differing solely in having a better power supply. Hoi mentioned that he auditioned all three, and the CD-20 outperformed the CD-10 in large-scaled music; he also preferred it to the flagship, the upsampling CD-30.

Hoi's Comments
  • Bass Hoi regards the Quartet and Forte's as some of Klipsch's best designs. I agree. Hoi says, aside from a very large room, the Quartet has better bass extension and performance than the La Scala. I beg to differ (see below). Extension is one thing, impact another, as long as it is tactile, there is room for difference.
  • Tubes Hoi also uses tubes with the Quartet's (see the Unison Research Smart 845 on the floor, which is used with the McIntosh C20). He thinks now that is the minimum required for the Quartet. Maybe, but with the La Scala etc I enjoy much lower power. Well, if Hoi is totally satisfied with the performance of ss with Quartet, why would he tinker with tubes? :-)
  • 3020's Preamp Section Obviously Hoi is satisfied with the performance of the preamp section of the 3020, which he thinks impart most of the sonic signature (spacious and tubey feeling), although he also thinks the power section of the 3020 is sweeter than the 3140.
  • Tone Controls Hoi opines that tone controls, including the infamous Loudness Control, are a must to compensate for various recording deficiencies. I can allow, even sympathize, with that, and would not argue with those who regard these as necessities. But I personally don't need to have these, even at very low volumes (where the loudness control is said to cut in), because with my references of 15" woofers, bass can be physically felt even at low level. To me, this reflects that the system's bass is perhaps too lean. BUT, if you have these knobs, DO use them to equalize!
My Notes
  • Sonic Impression We were dining and chatting, but the sound was very familiar to me. You see, I have recently acquired another NAD 3020A and is now using it in my "new home" reference system with Micromega CD-10 as one of the sources, although partnering Yamaha NS-1000 (write up on this latest iteration to come). Do not forget I have also used the Klipsch La Scala and still own a Heresy I. As expected (as I know Hoi's preferences quite well), the sound is a little on the dry side, but has good balance, rhythm and pace, not to mention the kind of presence that only horns can render. But with the solid state, for me, bass is decidedly lean - I think I'd prefer tube electronics. Note online you can find a lot of Klipsch people who like solid state (including Hoi I think) - they point out the impedance curve is not so straight and ss would deal better with these. I think it is just the opposite - damping restricts bass as much as controls bass. I am sure this may be heresy to some - more on this perhaps in a later HiFi Basics article.
  • vs Cornwall and Heresy Aside from the rear passive radiator, designed to augment bass with a smaller woofer in a smaller enclosure, the Forte can be reasonably compared to these two look-alike classic Klipsch designs. As I have heard the much more expensive Cornwall (15" woofer) driven by tubes, resulting in a lot heftier bass (here), I'd prefer the Cornwall. But if you don't want to fuss, you are likely to find the Quartet (or Forte's) much easier to get quality bass from than the idiosyncratic Heresy (see here).
  • The Alnico Question Then there is this the BIG question. All Forte's and Quartet's are Ferrite. But Cornwall and Heresy can be had in earlier alnico versions. Personally, if obtainable, I'd prefer alnico. For more on alnico vs ferrite, and my experience with both ferrite and alnico La Scala, see here.
  • In Modern and Overall Terms Hoi's room and placement are not ideal, yet the sound was quite good: nothing vintage or outdated about them! I'd love to hear these further apart and more in-room, and more against the side walls; I think that will carve out a much bigger stage and generate heftier bass. I think there are a lot of room placement options for these, and they are relatively compact for what is on offer, making them suitable for smaller rooms. Apart from Klipsch, I can think of few designs that can wed horn virtues to conventional infinite baffle designs; that have good bass, yet retain high efficiency. IMHO, these are great speakers that can hold up against many much much more expensive modern speakers. They are very cheap, and Best Buys. 

12 February, 2016

HiFi Basics II: Listen to Music, Avoid Most Things Audiophile

Overlap_2R: Illustration from Logic + Emotion.

HiFi Basics II: Listen to Music, Avoid Most Things Audiophile

In HiFi Basics I I outlined my fundamental audio inclinations and beliefs, so as you can decide whether to read this series further on. With this article I start to examine each facet of sound reproduction in detail. First articles shall concern the audiophile psychology, which are, as we all know, usually unhealthy, even pathological.

In looking for a Venn Diagram to illustrate what I am going to say, I chanced upon this article from Logic + Emotion, from which I culled the diagram. I can find part of my audio self (particularly that relating to this blog) in the article too; certainly worth a read. Now, let's say:

X = Music Lover; Y = Audiophile; Z = Good Sense (Common Sense/EQ).

It follows that most of us are NOT OK.

  After his death his younger brother Gerald was left with the daunting task of disposing of his collectionL: From the net, one man's collection of 45's. Note the playback equipment; R: My congested old man cave.

Most Music Lovers are not Audiophiles
  •  Why Music? It is surely good to be a Music Lover, even one who has gone overboard (see below) - to be able to enjoy music is one of life's greatest gifts! Even the greatest philosophers agree music is mysterious and mostly essential. To me, a true Music Lover is one who loves to discover, to re-discover and to explore music. It is usually a pleasure to meet and engage in conversation with another music lover (regardless of his preferred genre). For me, foremost a classical lover, it is a thrill to hear different aspects of the same score brought out by different musicians. For a jazz lover, hearing how a basic tune can be improvised into something unrecognizable (and then brought back) is exhilarating. Vocal lovers also indulge in different covers of the same song. The intent is the same - get even more insight into music we love and thought we knew. No two coffee beans nor teas taste the same; there lies one of life's pleasures.
  • You don't need good equipment to enjoy music This is an incontrovertible fact. Today, low-res files (MP3, AAC) and simple equipment to play them back (phones or bluetooth) are what most people ever need. Do not forget too that women love music too, but few are into audio; and most musicians think nothing of audio (and are mostly rightfully contemptuous of audiophiles).
  • Many Music Lovers are NOT Sensible Piling up is not quite collecting. Like many, I struggle to find space for my LPs and CDs. I must have at least over 20,000 discs, and a portion have never been listened to. Why should anyone want 30 versions of Bruckner 9th's even if it is his favorite music? Why several sets of complete Beethoven Piano Sonatas? Why all the Miles Davis recordings? Hogging up space also compromises other family members. I also know many people who spend too much time on setting up, copying and backing up their digital files (I say, partly because they are often free).
  • No one can know or have it all We chase to "know" everything, to have a "complete" collection, but we all fail, and in the process also spend too much time on many less than worthwhile experiences. Think how much of our music collection we would never listen to again! And why do you have ten copies for "backup"?
Most Audiophiles are not Music Lovers
  • The more the Audiophile is into the "Hi-End", the more the Following Points Apply.
  • Music as Sensation only While it is true that audiophiles enjoy some music, they are often scintillated more by the sonic sensation than by the music itself ("listen to that double bass!"). The Audiophile spends an inordinate amount of time listening to various test discs, and complains that his favorite song is never right. Only this power cord and that cable together with meticulous tweaks can bring out the full flavor? They are always fiddling and never on their own explore the vast universe of music. The better ones occasionally stop to ask what music you are playing, wanting to buy it; the worst ones insist on playing their "gold standard" everywhere they go. The worst audiophile brings one cut everywhere he goes and if the system does not get it "right" it is not worth his salt. This is what I have observed, but many will argue with that. I can agree that sensation is part of the soul, but there is more, a lot more on the spiritual side. This is a bit like sex: sex as addiction vs making love with a woman you love (and who loves you).
  • Led by the Audio Industry Well, I do agree if audio gets people to listen to (and buy) more music, it is good, but I am saddened by the fact that many audiophiles listen to performers promoted by the audio industry and never strive to discover those much better. In Hong Kong, this is particularly bad, as one after another inadequate "jazz" singers, usually young Asian girls, are showcased. Hey, in your limited time, why listen to them instead of the Jazz Greats? It is inconceivable that most audiophiles in HK play Susan Wong etc but own nothing of Billy Holiday (though some may have one or two Ella)! Hong Kong also has many companies that issue and sell "audiophile" discs mostly of low musical merit. Hong Kong and Japan also shamefully promote various digital and disc material manipulations as breakthroughs (XRCD, LPCD, HQCD, AQCD, glass CD, to name a few). Audiophiles just buy their favorite discs again and again; if you ask me, most of these "special" versions sound worse than the original blue book CD. Audiophiles also fight for discs on HP's List (many of which are of dubious musical merit, even downright bad taste), driving up prices to unrealistic levels. In HK, in quite a few audiophiles' home, I have seen nothing but "famous" recordings. This is highly unhealthy, and a sign that the host is not a real music lover. Almost all Kenneth Wilkinson recordings sound superb - why just listen to a few "famous" ones?
  • No Acquired Taste Most HK audiophiles have grown up mostly with songs by pop idols. While there is nothing wrong with that, it means they are frequently over-focused on melody, often lacking in sensitivity to the background band, non-vocal musical interactions such as jamming and improvisation, not to mention orchestral music. The catholic taste also means many rougher vocalists are not accepted: Ella yes, Billy Holiday no; no Dylan, no Tom Waits; no hard rock; you get the idea). Given that Chinese music is originally written on the pentatonic scale, complexity and dissonance are also rarely tolerated: Mozart yes, Bruckner no; violin sonata yes, large orchestra no; concertos yes, no soloists no; Bebop maybe, hard bop no; you get the idea. Aside from assimilating a few classical works, usually violin works, much less piano works, basically the HK audiophile almost never comes out of his cocoon to develop any acquired taste, and the adventurous know how often acquired taste can become a passion. I did not love Dylan nor Thelonious Monk the first time I heard them, but they are my favorites now. I did not like sashimi and wasabi the first time I tasted them, but now I eat little else when I visit Japan. On the Chinese internet, there is a popular saying (likely a summarized one or precis) attributed to Warren Buffet: "...做你沒做過的事情叫成長,做你不願意做的事情叫改變,做你不敢做的事情叫突破。..." (I translate: To do what you haven't done before is Growth; to do what you have been unwilling to do is Change; to do what you haven't dared to do is Breakthrough"). If someone can point me to the original speech in English I'd be grateful. As for Mainland Chinese audiophiles, as almost all paraphernalia related to music, indeed almost anything that has to do with culture, were destroyed during the Cultural revolution, they have a lot to catch up musically. Naturally, they follow HK, but are even more conservative in taste! Lack of musical background also means Chinese recordings and hifi gears are often a bit wayward in flavor.
  • Music Collection as Display While a disheartening number of audiophiles own and listen to mostly "audiophile" discs, a small number do buy a lot of CDs, but usually on recommendation of friends, but they don't know what is what. I know this rich audiophile who has piles of classical CDs all over the place, but he doesn't know Schubert from Schumann; he asks you to play the CD yourself, because he wouldn't know the composer or the title if you make a request. Quite a few have a lot of discs, but always insist you listen to just a few. These are not music lovers. Also, most audiophile discs have a limited life span; most don't get played ever again when the next Audiophile fave comes around. Now, when was the last time you played your Carol Kidd, Rebecca Pidgeon, Mary Black, Enya, to name a few?
  • The Mercenary Aspect Most music lovers focus on what they like, and would want something even if it has no or low resale value. Most of my classical LPs are not worth much. My favorite Rossini overtures is that by LSO/Gamba. My humble London Jubilee Holland pressing costs only a few bucks even today, but gives me as much pleasure as the many times more expensive original UK Decca that my HK friends have. But many audiophiles only buy what is on HP's list, or other "famous" LPs (Belafonte at Carnegie Hall, Rossini Sonata a Quattro (Philips), UK Decca La Fille mal Gardee etc, you get the idea) that have resale value. Everyone wants as early a pressing as possible, even with CD's. With prices going up and up, there is room for business, and more and more audiophiles buy and sell things for profit. The same is true for gears and tubes, of course. The down side is, given the Chinese penchant for investment, all too often audiophiles only buy things that they can resell (hopefully for a profit) and shun excellent but not so famous gears. When the thinking is on money, music naturally loses out.
  • You don't need to be a Music Lover to Enjoy Audio Heresy? I am convinced it is true. As mentioned in the entries above, many audiophiles are only immersed in "audiophile" discs. Percussion without rhythmic vitality, weak voiced lady "jazz" singers, watered down "jazz", you name it, all in the name of hifi. In home visits, I am often served Livingston Taylor, Radka Toneff, Eva Cassidy etc, to name a few (I won't mention the really terrible ones); for me, they are OK technically, but never fail to bore me - my mind just wanders off and wonder if they would get played outside audiophile circles or if the ladies hadn't died young.
  • Conversation with Fellow Audiophile?  Is this possible? Maybe, maybe not. Unlike conversation among music lovers, audio discussion frequently go haywire; flame wars are common; if people meet, even fights are possible! Exaggeration? Well, someone once wanted to punch me! Imagine!
  • Most Audiophiles are NOT Sensible Most audiophiles try too hard and too often to up the sensation, thereby losing their senses and succumb to propaganda. They buy too many things (I count myself in) for their own good. Those with a little more space, or a tolerant partner, buy more and more machines; those without go crazy with all manners of tweaking, cabling and line conditioning, and change equipment often. Many second-hand items are not even close to run in. I know - it took me months to run in my Tannoy Canterbury! Also, sometimes in a weakened state the audiophile would "take the plunge" and buy something really expensive, to his later regret. I wonder if there are more frustrated than happy audiophiles. No wonder a lot if audiophiles give up after a while. Once, I asked one audiophile why he was always fiddling with his gears, he said ha hated doing that but the system never sounded good to his ears! I rather think it was the opposite - the more you fiddle, the worse the sound gets.
I Say
  • Lose as much of your audiophile traits as possible.
  • Learn to Love Music This way you focus less on the deficiencies of your system and more on the positive. Go to some live concerts to hear how instruments and music should sound.
  • Be Sensible Be patient. There is no hurry to buy anything. This way you end up with less things. You will also make fewer wrong decisions, and good things will eventually come your way.
  • Strive to be OK I am not - not yet, and perhaps never will be. And that is why you should listen to me.
Postlude: What My Mother Tries to Teach Me
A few years ago my mother hung a little buddhist pendant on my storage rack. On it is a saying:

需要的不多,想要的太多;需要的才要,想要的不重要;能要的才要,不能要不該要的絕對不該要。Needs are basic but Desires know no Boundary;
Acquire only Necessities, Everything else being Unimportant;

Acquire only what you have a right to, never what you could not or should not have.

Great advice for sick audiophiles, don't you think!
Note on Coming Article: But how do we know what gears to buy and what not? This is a tough question, and my next article will treat this thorny issue.

07 February, 2016

Image result for 猴年Happy Year of the Monkey

Today, February 8th, is the Chinese New Year Day of 2016. I wish my friends here and abroad, my readers and fellow audiophiles a most rewarding year.

Now, let us all get down to gleeful Monkey Business!