Letter from Hong Kong (20-9): Eric L experiences a setback
Virtual Home Visit (15): Realistic Loudspeakers!
Auralic Aries Mini, Laptop, Naim SBL and Home Visit
Contrary to mrgoodsound's recent post on his HP Laptop's performance, I couldn't have been happier with my current setup with my HP Laptop streaming Tidal and Youtube, which comprise now my main source!
Auralic Aries Mini Recently I acquired an Auralic Aries Mini with a local LPS from 2nd hand market and I immediately hooked it up to my system. Got an old iPhone from my wife for song selection; hooked up the Wifi and I was all set to go!
To my disappointment, at once I observed that the soundstage had collapsed, the airiness had completely disappeared and the overall sound had become uninteresting. I had no choice but to put it aside and go back to my Laptop (with the Auralic Vega DAC) and everything became normal again! Later, based on my poor experience, I suspected the cheap LPS did more evil than good. I switched to the unused cheap stock SMPS. The sound improved but was still inferior to my Laptop!
I was very miserable since I had high hopes that the little streamer can be a giant killer. It turned out it was being killed by another David!! I emailed to Auralic and asked them why the sound though my Laptop was way way better than the Aries Mini, but it seemed they did not grasp what I was trying to get at. You see, the Auralic Driver for the Vega that I had downloaded from their website and use on my laptop, I think it automatically upsamples the music files to 384kps from 44.2 or 48 (you can choose different sampling rate through the pull down menu) and it has sounded extremely well and musical. I suspect this free driver software makes all the magic happen!
My Aries Mini is still here, and I have not given up hope yet (it does register 88.2kHz on some Tidal music files). I will pair it with a proper LPS to see if that really helps. Also I will be receiving an Innuous Zen Mini MkII for trial. My search for streamer has not ended yet, just that progress is slow...
Lite DAC-AH To report on the Lite DAC-AH, which my friend had snatched from me (I poisoned him in fact by lending it to him for trial). He said, once hooked up, it sounded way way better than the internal DAC of his Audionet ART II (Not V2). This little workhorse runs hot but, like my friend said, it does wonders, and costs only HKD 1200! It seemed all the upgrades he made (Audionet bi-amped, top speaker wires from Audioplan and Gotham cables) only served to strengthen the Lite DAC-AH! Well, can't wait to hear the setup, but he lives just too far away. From what he said, the whole system is very musical, smooth and with solid foundation - very promising indeed. [Ed: see Footnote 1]
Home Visit Went to another friend's place to pay a visit to his setup built around some very unusual equipment. All his equipment is housed in his study room. In the picture is the famous TAD TSM-300, but he chose to showcase his cheapo tiny Realistic desktop speakers (8" tall) made in Canada, BUT the crossover is an aftermarket one that cost a whopping USD 1,000!! DIY silver cables, NAS with hard drives and laptop fed through an unnamed (again) DAC to his multi-TVC passive line amp (cover sealed with special screws to prevent being opened up by customers...) then to Monarch Audio Monoblocks. Routers and DAC also had dedicated LPS (Monarach Audio is designed and built by the former owner of a Hifi shop in HK, selling first generation Audion Silver night). [Ed: see Footnote 2]
To describe the sound: it has an intensity and density that is rarely found in many setups. I am not saying that my setup in comparison is thin or pointy in imaging, which it is not. But his is remarkably dense and quite neutral and musical. However, it gets a bit congested when playing complicated passages and can only give you limited bass, which is already very impressive, though limited by its physical size. It is always nice to hear different setups to learn from it.
What's Next While I'm still in the midst of looking for a Streamer, the drive is less since the music streamed through Tidal from my Laptop directly connected to my Vega DAC is so involving. Despite not being be the most hifi, the system is extremely musical, natural sounding with no colorations and highly listenable and enjoyable. I can listen 90% of the time to Tidal's random choice of songs and enjoy the music coming out of the system for hours without the urge to adjust or change. Same for playing You Tube videos, which are also very engaging and analog sounding too~. By the way, I have just upgraded to You Tube Premium and happily bade farewell to the annoying ads!!!! It's so satisfyingly and convenient that I seldom play CDs through my Sparkler S503 CDP. I have to say, sometimes the CD sounds a bit more engaging but the convenience of music streaming is so handy that I can comfortably live with the little trade off!
That said, out of impulse, I fetched a pair of the once well regarded NAIM SBL on the cheap and will be used in my office for music during lunchtime or after office hour!! My friend will lend me his MF A1s, and another friend Audioplan speaker cables; add to it my Bluetooth H10U, I'm all set!! I'm still open to shopping for a cheap used amp like NuForce ST120 (for 250USD) or a Cambridge A75 (Duo Transformer mode; was told it's a poor man's Naim).
Stay tuned for more update.
Editor's Footnotes: 1) Lite makes a vast range of products, from circuit boards (e.g. of famous preamps), DIY and semi-DIY stuff. They are good value, though often clones (which I try not to promote). They make several DACs. The cheap and popular DAC-AH has been around for a long long time (see this enjoythemusic review). It was suggested to Eric L by Dexler Poppe. I am not surprised at all that it was much more musical than German Audionet, not one of my favorites (here is an episode where cheap iPod/Wadia iTransport was preferred to expensive German Acuustic Arts CDP); 2) This Home Visit illustrates the lack of space of a lot of HK audiophiles. The texture should be pretty good as there is not that much distance between the loudspeakers! European and Asian readers may not know about Realistic. It is the brand of the now defunct Radio Shack, which sold drivers and DIY stuff. Certain of their loudspeakers have an underground following. This model looks like the well regarded Minimus 7. Incidentally, the TAD TSM-300 will sound much better if placed horizontally, though he may not have the space.