Wednesday, November 14, 2018

Exit Leben, Enter Accuphase





I've been using Leben CS600 (RM25k retail price) for nearly 5 years and I love the sound very much. Tubes amplifier that doesn't sound slow, mellow but it was fast with dynamic and slam.  well, I must say it matches very well with my Zu Druids MK4/08 and Zu Soul Supreme speakers.

All this while since I enjoying 2 channels audio for 28 years, I always been tempted to own a very good design solid state amplifier. Mark Levinson, McIntosh, Accuphase, Gryphon and few others are always in my wishlist and for tubes that I've used in the past are diy tubes amplifier to high powered VTL MB250 monoblock. Lush midrange, seductive vocal are the forte for almost all tubes amplifier and believe me many audiophile will listen to only what their system can deliver. With 15wpc diy tubes amp, it can drive my druids very well and was not bad at all. The VTL with 22 tubes in total gives more power and scale, but it was a headache to maintain those tubes. The Leben with 32wpc on 6L6GC was the best tubes amplifier I have ever owned. It was fast, dynamic, best vocal/midrange and can go with any music..my music diet are quite diverse.

Back in 2002 while I was in Fukuoka, I managed to listen to a few of Japanese brand product like Luxman, Accuphase etc. I don't have any friends that use those brand back home and I have no idea how is the sound like and my expectation was high, the price tag should justify its performance. To my surprise, those brands are boring to listen to, the sound was flat and nothing to excite me. It doesn't have the quality that I used to listen in my system and my perception towards Japanese audio products are sterile and boring since then.

In the past few years, I have been reviewed/listen and home visits to many high end systems, none of them are on tubes. The experience of listening to a great solid state design with variety of music that delivery everything with ease really make me thinking, this is "the sound" for music should be heard. Yes, I do listen to high end tubes base system but the music selection are not really into my liking. Most of them using the same slow mellow vocal oriented track for a demo...no rock, pop, progressive jazz etc.

I know that tubes are full of distortions, it is not accurate for sure and the bass while some consider it as big and deep, but it is actually flabby and wobbly not tight. It is like a sugar-coated candy that attracts children who doesn't know the ingredients but only the taste. Well, taste that matters almost to everybody, that's fine. 

Earlier this year, I went for a home visit of my friend who is using Accuphase monoblock in his system and I liked it very much. In June, I purchased Accuphase E600 (RM37k retail price) while maintaining my Leben just to ensure that I don't make any mistake by selling off Leben if the Accuphase E600 is not up to my expectation. For 3 months I've been listening to both amplifiers, swapping back and forth to find the short coming, the extras on each of them. The Leben is no slouch and I can live happily with, but the Accuphase gives the extras that I didn't notice all this while. Some are subtle but if it was there in the recording, I want it to be heard. The scale of sound staging is bigger, the ambience is nicely layered and the background is darker. 


Being a 30wpc in Class A, Accuphase rendered vocal as good as tubes amplifier but I have to give an extra notch to Leben on this, not by much. Most tubes amp just like Leben are emphasize on midrange and that's the nature of many tubes amplifiers...not the flattest response, perfectly imperfect. Accuphase gives me as accurate as playback sound can be achieved in my system. All elements of music are presented in mature manner, elegent full of grace. Accuphase does not emphasize midrange and it has coherent sound throughout the range, from the very bottom to the upper treble unlike the Leben or most tubes amplifier. Rich, open, fast, dynamic performance with a lot of drive and there is no emphasis on an attack phase, there is no exaggeration, just the way it is.

After all, it is one of highly respected Japanese product standing for 46 years and still going strong. Something special must be in their philosophy when designing their products and they have received lots of accolades from respected magazines and reviewers.

The longer you listen in high fidelity audio, you will find that accuracy in audio reproduction is essential. So many fake news in this world today, so let the music flows truthfully :)





Accuphase = Accurate Phase

Your boring is my accurate, so it certainly floats the odd vessel for me. Of course your interesting is my horribly colored, so I think we're even.







Friday, June 8, 2018

what's the frequency kenneth...here is the missing frequency






Using a subwoofer for two channel audio is a not an option to the most of the audiophiles. Not arguing with that but rather to state the fact that we have been missing the essence of full music all this while. A popular belief, on paper at least that there is nothing much of music below 60hz of frequency but why many high-end speakers were designed to go down to 30hz or even 20hz?...because there is so much more than music down below. 


The sub bass provides the first usable low frequencies on most recordings. The deep bass produced in this range is usually felt more than heard, providing a sense of power. Many instruments struggle to enter this frequency range, with the exception of a few bass heavy instruments, such as the bass guitar which has the lowest achievable pitch of 41hz. Depending on music you listen to, if you listen to big band or orchestra there is more low frequencies instruments can enter the sub bass range. Thus, sub woofer is essential.



It is hard to explain why by adding a subwoofer the overall presentation became fuller, image density much bolder, the air of the venue much more presence and the body of instruments are more prominent, especially the piano as there is more bite on the keystrokes and in some best recording you can feel the body of the piano breathe!.


In one my home visit listening to Magico M project which the frequency specs down to 20hz, the owner still add on a magico Q-Sub which go down to 15hz. The integration of the system is seamless and smooth. A 20hz speakers by right is enough to render full musical spectrum but why still a subwoofer?



Most of the speakers being set up for best stereo imaging and sound staging, but not necessary at that position is the best for the low frequency to deliver and you may find that certain speakers designed came with a separate box of woofer cabinets to be positioned according to room acoustic. There are also speakers with multiple small drivers at the main box with separate woofers being positioned accordingly.




For Instance, these three albums are hardly being listened to or always been skipped to the best tracks. It is not because of the recording but something that I am not really into it, something is lacking for live recordings. The CDs being neglected for quite some time, and I pick up the cd again just to listen casually. To my surprise I have listened to the entire CDs non-stop without skipping any track, it is so much to enjoy. Yes, I'm a picky music listener.



I have added subwoofer in my system and tuned to the closest possible best integration to the main speakers. It doesn't exaggerate nor adds unnecessary bass to the system and sometimes you feel the bass a little too much on the certain recording, but that is what you have been missing all these while. It's in the recording, they just resurface for justice of music. Detail seem to emerge better from the mix that left unnoticed  before subs were added.



What subwoofer?, it is GoldenEar FF4, from a company which has won many accolades firing down to 14hz. Did I mention I am using two subwoofers?, Yes, a stereo pair is even better than just one. Didn’t Confucius say, good things come in pairs? :)





Saturday, March 17, 2018

Home visit..some music



System 1


This photo was sent to me via whatsapp by the owner, long time friend of mine way back in year 2000. I forgot to shoot some as I was so "into the music" with this setup.

At first spin of Dire Sraits (why worry), there is nothing "special" in first 60sec. Then the sound slowly draws you into the whole mix of the song. This system doesn't "grab" your attention immediately but it let you fall in love slowly and you'll hook not to let go (first time I forgot to take some photo).

Nils Lofgren live acoustic solo guitar sounded never edgy as in many digital playback. Piano instrumental on evita soundtrack was like real life presentation...piano infront of you. The low key rumble...the harmonic of the hammer struck the strings was so distinct. Lyncoln Mayorga and friends was so real live studio jamming.

Carol Kidd (when I dream) was so soothing. She's got very special voice and the delivery in this system makes her performance even better..it really connects with you.

The soundstage created is great..the depth and ambience of recorded music is truly makes you thinking..this is the most natural sound reproduction you ever heard.



System 2





One of the best digital playback I have listen to.  Ed Sheeran (the shape of you) on Tidal MQA was delivered with tremendous clarity. MJ (dangerous) Evita (dont cry for me argentina) Adele (live in royal albert hall) was on cd and this system throw excellent image of sound...breathtaking!.

Saturday, October 14, 2017

Lounge and Copla phono stage combo...






I got the opportunity to audition budget phono stage that base on LCR schematic, It is Lounge Audio together with Copla step up. My expectation was high as I always wanted to have LCR base phono stage even better with tubes.


A friend lend me the units for few days at home for me to evaluate with my system which currently running on Puresound P10 tube phono with Cinemag 3440AH step up. 

This is not the only audition for Lounge phono as I did 2 more sessions with friend's system. I will summerise the outcome and as brief as possible.

I power up the units for about 1 hour before the analysis and while doing that I listen to P10 for A B comparison. The music used was Kenny G live, YES 90125 and Halie Loren. 

The bass is the most prominent for you to notice. It goes deep with grunt and the midrange a little forward. After few minutes of listening I start to find the weakness of Lounge and it was obvious. 

The tonal balance is not well proportioned, the kick bass is detail though but the energy was not distributed well as what I used to listen to many systems. The hump on bass is actually covers it weakness. The mid range is just cluttered in heavy mix music. The separation?...almost nowhere to be found especially with lots of musical instruments. It just a chunk of sound in the centre and I tried hard to do the "separation" mentally as it is on my very familiar tracks. Please bear in mind this evaluation is between lounge and puresound. The perfomance ratio between them.

The vocal a little coarse when Halie Loren track been played. The feel of live recording stage were missing, the stand up bass lost its organic pluck and body resonance. It just plain bass. 

The Lounge induced higher gain noise too and that mistakenly heard as excitement in sound by many. This is not for me and I got a little frustrated as it doesn't do well in my system especially when its blue LED glow in the dark.

Maybe Puresound and cinemag combo a little tough for Lounge and the following second audition was done at friend's place. He is using Thorens TD166mk2 with Nagaoka MP110, NVA amplification and Schiit Mani phono.

I have seen and read about Schiit phono review in the web and I guess this is a fair head to head fight with Lounge phono. Lets begin...

Lounge phono sounded bass heavy as usual but it was not as refine as schiit. The sound staging schiit delivered was way better...it was big but believable with fine detail. The Lounge suffered of being trying too hard to impress. The important part of music being truncated along the session. With Schiit Mani the music sounded easy with greater sense of flow. It will let you listen to music without being nitpicking.

The depth in presentation of Schiit is nowhere to be found in Lounge. Schiit is a great little phono and value for money too at usd129. I must add that the Schiit Mani power supply has been upgraded using Swagman Linear power unit, a definite gain in its performance. The dynamics and transients are great, the bass is not deep but very articulated and controlled and there is no graininess or obvious rolloff.


The third session was between Lounge and cambridge phono. Bass?..I"ll skip that.

Noise a little higher than the cambridge. The vocal of Adele was very good on cambridge and laid back while Lounge shows smearing, forward and not refine as cambridge. 2 pairs of ears during the demo, so trust me...😂.

post script: Imagine if you looking at two design of houses. The first one with solid foundation direct to the ground, bricks wall and tiles roofing. Looking robust with windows and front door with solid wood.

The second one is elevated wooden floor, wooden walls with glass windows and wooden front door with glass panel. Not as robust as the first one but looking good and you can still see what is inside the house through the glass windows and door.

That is the analogy between the Lounge and Schiit comparison that I could gives. It's the matter what you looking or listening in sound reproduction.



Saturday, September 2, 2017

What you rather listening to in your audio system..


...Is it a nice sounding from a system or what intended by the singer/recording engineer wanted to be.

Some of you  will ask how we gonna know what is intended to be as we are not in the studio. 

My post in 2009 stereotype audiophiles, I have wrote about few issues of being so called "music lover". Not many of us really love music since young, some of us attracted to music through system that they have heard from friend's setup or a hifi show. Being limited reference in music playback, or listen to almost same setup or level will not give you any idea how the music should sound. In this case experience does helps into finding what is right to suits what you are looking for in sound reproduction. If you have knowledge about music/instruments always an added advantage.

I have friend that asked me how did I know to mix n match the components that I have use. Again, this is due to long years in listening music through a various system, setup and to many places. I don't have high end system, I can't afford but I matched carefully at my level.

Back to the issue, playback is always a playback and you can never re-create the actual recording or event in your room. Having said that, the least you can do is to try to re-create the closest possible within your system capability. How?...have you heard of components has a character?...being natural, revealing, warm, sweet high, laid back, mellow mid and whatnot.

These are all the preferences that many looking for a playback, but in my case I'm looking  for a natural sounding system. You need a good source as I always believe in analogy of garbage in, garbage out. You need an amplifier that capable to deliver what has been pass through it and amplify at flat bandwidth as close as possible. Speakers are the most obvious sound change in a system than a components. If you got all things right but not at the speakers end, it's a waste. So how do I make my choice of component?. For the last 26years, I have listen a lot, to many systems and many places. This is how I learn about system interaction between components.



Next, the demonstration disc that has inlay notes or recorded voice telling how the sound should be heard is actually a great help for setup analysis and how your system perform. For example, Chesky The Ultimate Demonstration Disc. There is lots of audiophile jargon, terms in the disc, Depth, Atmosphere, Midrange purity, Transient, Holographic, Naturalness etc (some has used these jargon and know nuts). If you system can deliver 70-80% of the disc content, it already great and your system is enough as reference standard at your level (or my level). This is not your everyday listening disc or demo for a friends visit..😜.

It will be a great help and a must (for me) to listen this cd in high end system so that you get an idea how those jargon should sound. Although it is not 100% accurate (playback is still a playback) but at least a point of reference, if not your analysis is baseless.

A "natural reference" system will depend mostly on what has been feed at source level. If the recording is good or bad it will show accordingly and that is natural reference system. The bad side is, you'll be picky on recording but that is fine as I appreciate good work than mediocre. If your system sound equally the same on most recording, then it's your system character/quality.

You don't need to be in the studio. Preference to listen to what singer/recording engineer intended to is not 100% from the studio to your room, a sensible thinking would understand this. 

Experience is the most invaluable and thanks for reading this.