Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Visit to Dynaudio Showroom today

Went to the Dynaudio showroom at Adelphi after some shopping. Saw that they were having a 27% disocount on all Dynaudio speakers. I am quite happy with my BM6 currently LOL.

The Dynaudio Contour bookshelf was being played via the chord CD player and powered by Chord/Plinus amplifier.

Hmmm... key things i note: the sound is choked when vocals are being played- the pitch is higher, like at a different key, the singer sounds like she is "forced" to sing beyond her comfort zone; sound is grainy and noisy blackground (not crisp) when percussion is being played.

To think that this was the sound i was so impressed a year back.

So much has changed- my perception of quality audio has differed. I used to be impressed with an equipment when it reveals an obsure instrument that i have not realised was there with other equipment. That was the reason i changed my CDP from a Marantz CD6000 OSE LE to a CEC TL51XZ.

I have learnt to listen to the music as a whole and to look at the full picture first. It is like looking at a painting- do i like what i see?

Of course, whether i like the painting or not boils down to one's preference and reference.
Indeed, we should listen more to look for that reference.

Question is how do we identify a good sound that can serve as our reference?

I believe that one must be open minded and humble and learn from people who have been there. Their honest opinion and guidance is crucial.

In case you are wondering, i am still learning :P

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Portable Rig

In my last post, i shared about the tweaks that i have applied in my system.

The idea is that the tweaks can allow the equipment to reach a higher level of performance, when applied correctly lol. For many of these tweaks, after i have applied them to my system, i have simply left them there to work their magic. Sometimes, i get curious and want to listen again to the differences the tweaks make, thus i do some A/B on my own with and without the particular tweak.

Some tweaks that i cannot do without: the TAOC SBL-13MT used under the speakers; TITE-46P under the CDP; Acoustic Revive RR-77 Pulse Generator and RD-3 Demagnetizer.

My first post was in September 07. My main rig since then is still the same with the Korsun v8i as my amplifier and the Dynaudio Acoustics BM6 Passive as my speakers. I have many times contemplated changing my amp and speakers as the music was sometimes not to my liking, mainly because i have heard better and that is how i know the shortcomings of my rig. So the alternative would be to just shut the doors and live life as a hermit? That has been the advocate of people around me who are not into audio- just listen to your own rig and appreciate the fact that you have a separates at home. Audio can be expensive and the constant upgrading would mean the outflow of funds that could have been used otherwise. I can see the wisdom in that and throughout the year, after i have gotten my Acrolink/ Oyaide cables, i decide to stop purchasing any hardware and to just focus on buying music CDs.

The story would have ended here and this blog would not have been updated for some time...

What has happened?!

OK, need to backtrack a little. I am also into head-fi with the headphones/ earphones stuff. I carry a Sennheiser HD25 when i am outdoors and need some music to add some colour to the monotony of daily public communting. I used the Sound Deviced HX-3 portable headphone amplifier then together with my Panasonic SL-CT720 or iRiver H10 which i have rockboxed.
Better quality audio is the main reason for me to carry so much stuff around.

Rockbox is a free-Operating System for the H10. It adds features to the player that were not originally there, eg. support to playback FLAC files (loseless music), playback video, games etc. Amazing! It is like having a upgrade and modification done to your old player to give it more features and keep it up-to-date with the current players at no cost!

Anyway, i disgress.

OK, it was around in August/ September 2008 that i decide to overhaul my portable rig. The equipment that i have mentioned are just too bulky for me, especially the HX-3. It is in essence a piece of block wrapped in black colored-aluminium as shown below, on the CDP.

I would need a huge bag to house the portable rig and my other items. In fact, sometimes i will just carry my iPod Shuffle (1st generation) together with the earbuds for use on the go. However, the buds will fall off my ears when i am walking quickly! They just can't seem to fit in. Also, i will want to be able to listen to music while i am jogging and the earbuds just cannot stay in my ears. It was also around then that there were pictures, on the local forums, of portable rigs (including amp and player) that were of the size of my discman but twice as thick- this is still much smaller than the HX-3!

The portable rig has reached a new level in terms of being compact.

I started off slow. I first got myself a used Westone UM2 in-ear-monitors. These are different from the earbuds in that they have a tip that can be inserted slightly into the ear canal, thus preventing them from falling off in active use. I got them for S$280. Two years ago, when they were 1st out in Singapore, they were selling for above S$500 new! It was a monopoly then as only one shop brings them in. Now, the price for a new UM2 is S$399 with more shops selling them.

I use the UM2 out of my H10. The sound was much better than my earbuds but the bass was a little weak. Bass boost on my player did not help- it simply added more midbass which was boomy and drowns out all the other parts of the music. I want real bass where you can listen to the bass notes with the "flesh" / overtones. I know that i will need an amplifier to pump out more power than the headphones-out of the H10 can provide. I went shopping and bought a Graham Slee Voyager. It sounds much more enjoyable than my HX-3. However, there were times that it sounds a bit hard on the treble. The sound is also quite colored with little bass quantity (contour switch off). Switching on the contour switch gives a boost at both ends of the freqency spectrum. This gives back the bass weight but the treble is artificially boosted as a result.

Anyway, i was also looking for a new mini-mini interconnect from my amp to my player. I was initially using both the Jaben Cryo Copper and Silver. However, after a few weeks, the stranded conductor of both interconnect starts to get a little black. a sign of oxidation- the cables were not properly treated or sealed. I knew that they could not last long and decided to get new ones but not from Jaben anymore.

The other store would be Stereo Electronics. They have their in-house brand of interconnects known as the Ultimate-Link. I went to try their Silver reference. The sound is indeed much cleaner than those from Jaben with more details. It was then that i also tried the iQubes headphones amplifier. The 1st thing that struck me was the bass. It was full and natural sounding. It was what i was looking for! I did not purchase it then as i first needed to do some homework on my part about the iQubes.

So i went back to the forums and saw some threads on the Valgrind Caps and interconnects.

I was quite intrigued as there was many rave reviews regarding them. I was also new to the use of caps in the audio signal chain. I contacted the maker and it turns out that he lives quite near me! That was how i got to know Victor. He explained to me that the caps, which are to be placed between the player and the amp, act like a battery to boost the signal from the player before it is fed to the amp. To my ears, the improvement the caps brought was a sound that is more refined and the harshness disappears. The music just sounds more natural and inviting. The sound is rhythmic and no longer aggressive. I can listen to the music for longer periods. I bought the caps/ interconnects from Victor. After about 200 hours of run-in, the sound stage widens and opens up tremendously.

Victor also came by to my place to listen to my home-setup.

I will leave that to my next post :D

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Taoc and Acoustic Revive Tweaks

The interval between my blogging has increased. My previous post was in May and the one before was in January. Based on this interval in my last 2 posts and following a Arthmetic Progression (hee) , after this post, my next one should be in November 09!

Nah...it will not be that long. I will next post when i have some thoughts and also free time to type away.

I stopped off at the imaging of the music being rather hazy and also the music is a little muffled. I even contemplated upgrading my equipment lol. I must say that a lot has changed since then- both in hardware and accessories...but i will leave that for future posts haha...

I was introduced to the above tweak TAOC SBL-13MT. This tweak is really interesting. Its surface is rather smooth but it has an anti-slip property. When I lay it flat on a surface and try to push it at its curved side, it requires some effort before it will budge. Technically speaking, it has a high coefficient of static friction.
How is this useful?
I place it between my speaker and the base plate of my speaker stand. Even though the 13MT comes in pack of 4, i choose to use 3 under each speaker so that the speaker will rest firmly on every 13MT. I space the 13MT as far from each one as possible- in my case, they form an isosceles triangle. one beneath the centre front of the speaker and one beneath each corner at the back of the speaker. I have tried them close together also but the tightness of the bass disappears.
I will disgress for a moment. The purpose of a speaker stand is to transfer the vibrational energy away from the speaker cabinet. As a result, when one places his/her hand on the speaker stand when the speaker is on, one can feel the vibation on the stand. In my case, the 13MT is doing a fine job of tranfering this vibraration from the speaker cabinet to the stand. This can be verified by placing one's hand at the bottom of the stand and feel the vibration there. Prior to the 13MT, the vibration does not reach all the way downwards- it gets dissipated by the material of the stand about mid-way.
I must say that for my case this is an effective tweak that i cannot do without. The base tightens up. Finally i can hear the plucking of the strings at the lower registers of the frequency. As a consequence, the image firms up and individual sound becomes more focussed.

I was using blu-tack before this. Yes, the price difference is in excess of 50 times! However, to me, this is a tweak i cannot do without once it is in my system.
I also have other tweaks like the Acoustic revive: RR-77 Ultra Low-Frequency Pulse Generator, RD-3 Disc Demagnetizer, Quartz Resonator QR-8, RCA plugs SIP-8F and IP-2F; Taoc: footers TITE-46PIN and TITE-35S for my Cd player and amplifier respectively. All of these have played a role in fine-tuning my system.

I will start off with the TAOC footers first.

This is the TITE-46P that i placed under my CD Player. Again, i used the same principle of placing them as far apart as possible under my player in a triangular formation. The image gains in height, depth and width. Without these footers, the music sounds lifeless and lethargic and the soundstage just collapses.
As to how the tweak works, there are a few explanations that i have gathered.
One is that the footer allows the equipment to be stablised properly- i also used 3 footers under
my player. Thus, the moving parts in the equipment can work more efficiently and effectively.
Another is that the acoustic energy of the speakers will result in the vibration of the chasis of the equipments. This will degrade the performance of the equipment which chasis is vibrating. The footer thus works to transfer the vibrational energy away from the chasis.
As an extension of the above explanation, since the 46P is dense and heavy, it might also work to dissipate some of the vibrational energy from the chasis itself.
Whatever the explanation behind how footers work, they do improve the sound in my system. As they say: "Trust your ears!"
As for the TITE-35S under my amplifier its effect is quite subtle as compared to that for my CD player. Maybe it is because my amplifier is heavy that it is not affected by the vibration energy from the speakers or simply because there is no moving parts in the amplifier.

The above is the Acoustic Revive RR-77 Ultra Low-Frequency Pulse Generator. It has gathered hugely favorable reviews online. Just google "rr77+reviews" and you will have a whlole lot of articles on it.

From the manufacturer's website at http://www.acoustic-revive.com/, it generates the Schumann Frequency of approximately 7.83Hz. This is a naturally occurring pulse. However, due to the radio waves and electromagnetic waves that exist ariound us due to wireless technology, this frequency of 7.83Hz has been disrupted. Hence, the need to artificially generate this Schumann Frequency.

The explanations from the manufacturer's site is twofold: it affects both the equipment and the listener.

First, the Schuman Frequency produced by the RR77 neutralizes electromagnetic waves generated from an audio equipment and external harmful radio waves, thus enabling clearer music reproduction since the S/N ratio is improved higher and the distortion is reduced.
Second, the Schumann resonance activates the cellular immunity and allows one to feel relaxed and more at ease, thus raising the acuity of our senses. Thus, the listener can hear the details of the sounds that could not be heard before.
For me, the RR77 improves the imaging and also the density and details of the music throughout the frequency spectrum. The music just sounds more natural.
This effect does not only apply to me. Few months back, I got to meet Victor. He is a seasoned audiophile who has changed my perception of audio altogether. I will blog more about him next time :D
I invited Victor to my place twice. The first time was when the RR77 was in the room and switched on. He did not know about this tweak. I do not think he even paid attention to it as it was tucked in one corner lol. In his second visit, he commented that my system was flat compared to the previous. I figured that it was because my RR77 was not in the room. It was only when the RR77 was placed in the room and switched on that he commented the sound was back to before!
I bought the RR77 for two reasons: as an accessory in my music system and also in my bedroom when i sleep at night. I cannot claim that it has worked wonders for me. Sometimes when i have many stuff bothering me that i was restless at night, the RR77 could not lull me to sleep.
However, i do feel good that i have a Schumann Pulse generator next to me when i sleep lol ;)
Another thing i have to mention is that the RR77 does improve the image of a television. The black-white contrast becomes more obvious and the colour gradient appear more natural and smooth.

The next tweak that i will discuss is the Acoustic Revive RD-3 as pictured above.

The CDs that we have contain magnetic impurities both in the printing ink of the label side and also the film on the CD that stores the data. Thus, the stray magnetic field inherent in the disc will cause errors in the reading of the CD and thus degrading the sound quality.

For me, the effect of the RD-3 is a cleaner sound with more focussed imaging in all three dimensions.

The last tweak will be the SIP-8F/ IP-2F RCA caps.
These are applied on unused RCA jacks to keep out the dust and also to shield the equipment from stray Electro-Magnetic Interferences as the exposed surface of the caps are grounded.
There are two types of unused RCA jacks- signal input and signal output. The SIP-8F can be used on both types of jacks while the IP-2F can only be used on the former; if it is used on the latter, it might damage the equipment!
The IP-2F has an extra function as they are shorting plugs. This means that the positive centre pin and the grounded shield (area that forms a cylinder around the centre pin) are connected.
Thus the signal travelling through the centre pin will be transferred to the grounded shield. The
effect of this is to ground the stray noise that is within the equipment, thus improving the spund quality.
Personally, i use the IP-2F on all my unused input jacks (input of the amp) while i use the SIP-8F on my unused output jacks (Digital out of the CDP/ line output of the amp). I find the sound to be less harsh and gives a sense of darker background.
Wow! I think this is a very long post. In fact i started at 5pm and now it is already 1230 past midnight. Of course, i did some stuff in between. This post took about 2 hours to type in all :D
In my next post, i will reveal more about this mysterious character, Victor, who plays a pivotal role in my audio journey. I did quite a few changes to my system- the sound improved by leaps and bounds and best of all, financially, the nett output was almost nothing!
Until next time... :)