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

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