Sunday, 15 October 2017

SLAB It And You Shall Be Suprised


Most of the local hifi enthusiasts know how much I adore the stock and unmodified Lenco L78. The two units that I have owned from the renown Spic Doctor Mastan, as far as I know was rebuilt to its original state apart from the plinth. I have been using the unit for a few years and is very satisfied with it. Simple and accurate design it is.  I have also gotten the opportunity to review a modified Lenco based on the touch of SpH (or fondly known as Captain). The full fledged unit gave a me a totally different impression on what modifications can do the a Lenco design and while it is different, I still decided to to stick to my stock Lenco. The unit I reviewed involves the the following changes:

  • SLAT - Sien's Lenco Alternative Top Plate
  • SLAB - Sien's Lenco Alternative Bearing
  • SSS - Sien's Stainless Steel Mat
  • Golf ball Tonearm 
  • Plinth - wood base and Corian material top

Since then, Captain was also blessed with the opportunity to showcase that unit at the recent KLIAV show and it was a hit. There are already a few hifi enthusiasts locally and abroad whom have taken the step to acquire his full design. For me personally, Lenco L78 is still a keeper mainly because of my liking towards its simplicity and also the nostalgic factor of which my late father used to own one as well.

Now, I am given the chance to test out the SLAB mod as a stand alone mod to my unit.  One fine evening, Captain came over and installed the new bearing design to my unit.




A quick comparison between the original Lenco bearing and SLAB:

  • Size: His design comes in a few sizes depending on the height of your plinth but all of them are larger than the original bearing. This include the OD of the housing itself and also the spindle size.
  • Material: SLAB is machined from aluminium material while the original bearing is made of steel and brass.
  • Lubricant: Grease versus oil
FIRST IMPRESSION
It was not even difficult to spot the change because it was not subtle. On Tracy Chapman's Baby Can I Hold You tonight, the introduction was presented with elevated and extended bass line and quite unique sounding of the rim shot and opening-closing hi hat.  Tracy's vocal was also upfront and the overall presentation of the track provided me with a slightly bigger envelope. The highs at times can be a bit sharp but not to a point of exaggeration. When the full instrument cue in at 1 min 14 sec, it was definitely a mind blowing change.


Baby Can I Hold You Tonight

A MONTH OBSERVATION


When You're Gone

I do have a soft spot for this Canadian female rock star. I really wanted to hear how the SLAB sound on an LP that I have not played before. Very timely as I just received the Avril LPs. This particular track is my favourite of hers. With this new LP, the Lenco sounded a bit muffled but still with enough energy to belt out the teenage angst of Avril. I particularly like what the SLAB is doing to Avril's vocal and also the sound of the piano. It builds up the momentum of the song nicely. With the sharp highs I experienced in the first impression, I was a bit concern that it may be unbearable when Avril does her screeching highs at the end of the song (cue at 3.00 minutes) but I was wrong. The SLAB allows Avril's screamer to flow nicely and it gave me goose bumps. The overall track however suffer from muffling sound but it may just be due to the quality of the pressing.


Whiskey In The Jar

One of my favourite cover by Metallica, Whiskey In The Jar was also used when I reviewed the mighty Kronos Sparta. And sure enough it is my reference when it comes to metal music. Playing this with the SLAB mod, it gave me a more wholesome balanced presentation. Energetic drumming of Lars can easily make listener get into adrenalin mode. The guitar riffs of Kirk sounded ferocious but also melodious to deliver that Irish folk song feeling. Very satisfying. Overall sound staging feels bigger and the envelope of being wrapped in music feel more realistic without loosing details such as the hi-hat manipulation (minute 1:28)


CONCLUSION

While the full modded TT of Captain Sph provides a complete alternative to Lenco stock unit, this SLAB bearing mod did not take away that 'Lenco' sound signature. It in fact delivers a new level of what Lenco L78 can do or provide you with. It has, some how deliver a more extensive bass and airy elevated sound stage. Huge! If there is one gripe I have is that the fact it now takes a a few seconds longer for the platter to come to a complete stop each time I turn the unit off. The lubricant used in this bearing is different from the stock Lenco. But if music performance is what you are going after for or just want to hear what else your Lenco can do, give this simple mod a try. Contact Captain Sph for further details.

Saturday, 9 September 2017

Sony HT-MT500 soundbar – better for music


Here is my review featured in Audiofi.net

+ Engaging subwoofer, flawless wireless connectivity and Hi-Res audio. Minimalist design.
– Lack of HDMI input, fiddly remote, uninvolving surround.
Sound: 7/10
Value: 7/10

OWNING a home theatre system has become more affordable, but the challenge of space is still the main issue faced by most AV enthusiasts. The soundbar, an alternative to the conventional surround set-up, was introduced to the market back in 1998. Today, the soundbar has come a long way, with updated features to complement ever-growing digital technologies.
Earlier this year, Sony launched a new series of audio products which included the soundbar featured here, the HT-MT500. It is a 2.1 channel compact soundbar that is intended for the minimalist. At just 50cm in length x 6.4cm in base and height, it is easily comparable to the size of any decent centre channel speaker.
The system includes a separate wireless subwoofer designed to operate horizontally or vertically. It is slim enough to be placed under a sofa and has a special feature called Sofa Mode to optimise the bass response and avoid bloat.
However, the compact housing does not mean Sony has slimmed down on the features. The MT-500 offers three inputs – optical, 3.5mm aux in and a USB port, on top of wireless LDACTM Bluetooth and WiFi connectivity. However, there is only one ARC equipped HDMI output to connect to your TV to aid in controlling and setting up the sound bar.
With no HDMI input, note that there is no video signal pass through.
On top of these, this soundbar is also touted as meeting Hi-Res Audio specifications. One unique feature, to me, is the proprietary LDAC Bluetooth connectivity which allows three times higher data transmission over conventional Bluetooth. LDAC can maintain maximum bit depth and frequency range of 24-bit/96kHz during transmission. Big difference compared with a near-CD quality down-converting transmission.
Although this is a 2.1 channel system, the soundbar comes with an S-Force PRO Front Surround to virtually recreate the surround sound, for HT enthusiasts who want a more immersive movie experience.

SETTING UP
Unpacking was an easy, one-man affair. You will need two AC points, one for the soundbar and one for the subwoofer. Connect a HDMI cable from the soundbar to your TV, turn the soundbar and subwoofer on, and voila, the system connects wirelessly.
The same with Bluetooth and online music streaming services such as Spotify and Chromecast. Using your mobile phone or tablet, just follow the step-by-step instructions and you will be enjoying wireless music within a few minutes. The NFC feature allowed me to connect my Sony Xperia XZ by just tapping the unit with my phone.
Connecting to my home network was also easy and quite similar to any commercially available audio player. Once connected, the soundbar will be able to scan through any NAS (or in my case, my 1TB built-in Sony HAP-Z1ES high-resolution audio player) for all available digital files.
Not much calibration needs to be done except for the subwoofer volume, which is actually a handy feature to get the right amount LFE, not only for the movies but also stereo audio playback.
LISTENING
As Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales was showing at the cinemas at this point review, I decided to re-watch the first installation, The Curse of the Black Pearl.
I had to connect the Oppo UDP 203 4K BD player via optical in order to enjoy a Dolby Digital or DTS MA sound. With the subwoofer volume set at “8”, the LFE was sufficient to feel the grunt of canon shots from the pirate ships. I placed the subwoofer at the rear part of my hall and I must say, the wireless connectivity was flawless. There was no delay between the sound and the bass impact.
The soundbar reproduced a high clarity dialogue channel. Even during a noisy action scene where canons were shot, the dialogue channel remained clear with the voices of Captain Jack Sparrow, Barbosa, Will Turner and Elizabeth Swan. Long gone are the days where soundbars suffered from compressed dialogue.
Although the system delivers quite a fulsome frontal sound, the surround effects somehow did not create the immersive, cinematic ambience that I experience from dedicated surround speakers. The overall sound can be heard to be coming from the front including the surround sound itself.
Moving to two-channel audio for music gave me a better perspective of the offerings of this system. I can’t compliment enough on Sony’s connectivity effectiveness. I could easily browse through my high-resolution music collection on the 1TB HAP-Z1ES located downstairs. Within seconds, I got to hear the playback of DSD files via this soundbar.
Having played wireless streamers for nearly 10 years, I find that this soundbar streams big DSD files effortlessly over the home network compared with some other hi-fi brands. No drop in signal, so more fun to listen to.

Playing Dave Brubeck’s Time Out, I found that the soundbar system dug quite deep when it came to bass extension. As two-channel music reproduction does not need surround effects, the delivery of the hi-res content was quite impressive. The soundbar easily filled my hall with good audio quality. To further confirm what I heard, I then switched to LDAC Bluetooth connectivity via my Xperia. Playback of the same DSD track from my phone was more in-depth and alive.
With the DSEE HX upscaling features, playback of some 320kbps MP3 files on a thumb drive also benefited from quality restoration. I Just Can’t Stop Loving You by Michael Jackson sounded more refreshing with the compression taken away. Even the low volume intro of the song can be heard with better ambience. I believe that even Spotify playback benefits from this DSEE HX engine.
THE LAST WORD
If you are looking for a simplified, music-first-movie-second solution for your home, give this soundbar a shot. Although dialogue clarity is exceptionally good coming from a small box, I must say that I am leaning more towards stereo audio as the strength of the HT-MT500. Given it is equipped with DSD playback capability and the DSEE HX engine, I can happily do some easy listening of my audio collection for a few hours. I do believe this system works better in a moderately sized room and not in larger living rooms.
Based on the manual, there is an option to add a pair of wireless dedicated surround speakers. Maybe with this, the HT-MT500 soundbar will become a more complete alternative package to a full blown home theatre set-ups.
Gear
Oppo UDP 203 4K UHD Blu-ray player. SONY HAP-Z1ES HDD audio player, SONY Xperia XZ mobile phone, Samsung UA65HU9000 65-inch Curve TV
Price: £549
Malaysian price: RM2,699
Review unit courtesy of Sony Malaysia (+603 77251101).

Saturday, 19 August 2017

Kuala Lumpur International AV Show 2017 - Change (Or Return) Is Good!


Mr. Dick Tan officiating the show on Friday 28th July 2017

The KLIAV show this year marked a significant change in the local industry. First, the usual venue of JW Marriot was not available this year due to a major refurbishment works. The show returned to its original venue located in Sunway Putra Hotel (used to be known as Legend Hotel) near PWTC. The venue change brought along a host of changes to this year show:
  • 2 floors instead 5 floors in JW Marriot
  • Various shapes of room offered to exhibitors (more challenges in room acoustics)
  • Brands that have been upgraded to a stand alone dedicated rooms for example Beyerdynamic
  • For muslims, surau now is on the lobby level in between some of this audio room (more convenient as oppose to have to go down to ground and then go all the way up to all the 5 floors again
  • A more spacious environment especially with coffee lounge in between exhibitors. We get to chill and rest, chit chat with friends in between our demos 
  • Ample parking space with cheap valet option
  • Easily accessible by public transport
  • The layout of the rooms however, need some getting used to if you are already familiar to JW Marriot.
  • For exhibitors, apparently the loading procedure seems to be easier than JW Marriot
  • For me personally, this is the first time that I actually attended the show 2 times over the period of 3 days
  • More show case of local products- FV Euroaudio Power bank, Capt Sph SLAT, Rudd Rudy Speaker Stands, Lee BS Speed Controller, YF Fong Headphone amp


A friendly smile awaits you there...



Crowd started to grow in the very first 30 minutes of the show


I am honoured that Mr. Dick Tan actually invited me for a coffee...that lasted an hour. He shared his views on the local industry, how things are changing and in return he asked the question on how the show can help the local DIYers and products. In return, I can only share my views on where is the oil price is heading :) ! If everything goes well, I might be able to visit PMC HQ in UK if I ever get to Munich High End show next year.


The fun actually begin a week before as I received the pre show limited edition CD. Another masterpiece from our resident sifu, Jo Ki have again delivered the 'goods'. But this will be a separate review of course.

....and the work begins... This is my 3rd year on duty as an official press... and it may be the last as well...


THE SET UPS

HiFi Creations by Victor Pheh

Now, the juicy parts. 







The debut of Yamaha NS5000 monitor speakers in Malaysia. This model was launched in this show by HiFi Creations. It quickly garnered the attention of the audiophiles around as it is claimed that the performance of this Yammies can easily match more expensive speakers. Retailed at about RM65K including stands, these speakers definitely performed beautifully in the show. Blended well with the electronics behind it:

  • Kronos PRO turntable with the new power supply
  • Mark Levinson power amps
  • Absolare Pre and Phono
  • Skogrand cables
  • Frank Power Banks

Fluid, transparent and with extensive bass are just some of the traits that this Yammies have. Simply stunning in looks and sound. From the non stop traffic flow of audiophiles to this room, it was clearly among the top contenders for top sound.

The rest of the gear needs no introduction as it has been the benchmark of the show for the last couple of years. Kronos continue to mesmerise me with its shear clarity, slamming and articulate bass and top notch engineering.


AV Designs by James Tan, Tony Low and Jo Ki



You can see here how El Hefe explaining to Jo Ki how Bryston electronics work :) :). Its alwasy a pleasure to meet the humble Jo Ki and share a few laugh before getting to experience the slamming PMC monitors. Seen with me here is Mr. Foo Marn Hing. Another fellow reviewer with Audiofi.net.

AV Designs had two rooms for this show.
  • Emerald Room:-
    • Home Theatre & stereo demo.
    • PMC MB3 XBD-A Active studio monitors (latest model) Left, Right and Centre channels.
    • JVC DLA-Z1, Top-of-the-range Native 4K projector, laser light source. HDR-ready.
    • Screen Research 150" wide, 2.40 widescreen format, curved screen.
    • For stereo source:-
    • Bryston BDP-3 digital player + BDA-3 DAC
  • Quartz Room:
    • JVC DLA-X5500 projector
    • Screen Research 110" wide, 2.40 widescreen format screen.
    • Pioneer AV Receiver
    • Bryston speakers
  • Headphone demo (outside the room)
    • Bryston BHA-1 headphone amp
    • Bryston BDP-Pi player and DACs.





On 2 channel, this huge monitors presented a very authoritative bass that says - 'Hey You, Listen Up!'
They are musical even though looks industrial. The most extensive bass I have heard so far. But still delivers  a quite balanced tone when playing 2 channel music. If you have the dough, the space, a must have monitor this is. Especially at this price point.










This is one of the rare moments where we get to see the whole AV Designs workforce. A highly dedicated team that delivers year after year of excellent home theater experience and digital based music.

Maxx Audio by Max Loh, Yoon Tat and Wong KN

Dubbed as the Malaysia King of Subs, Maxx Audio have touched the heart of many HT enthusiasts with their SVS products for the past 3 to 4 years. I personally am using SVS subs, rear and elevation speakers for my 5.1.2 ATMOS set up. So, can vouch for the excellent experience each time I watch a movie.  But whats new this year is the Emotiva new line of electronics, from power amps, to digital transports, MAxx Audio presented a very tight HT experience here. This room must be the busiest room at that show where I had trouble getting in the second round of visit. Jam packed with people trying to experience Emotiva. Definitely a room for those with strong heart to manage the bass experience. 









LP GALORE BY VARIOUS SELLERS

There were quite a good selection of LPs at this show. High quality ones and some mediocre. But it is with great sadness that this time around, I am quite upset with the price of these LPs being sold here. I must say that a portion of the visitors to this show comes here to have a bargain on LPs and Bluray. Sad to see when there are companies at this show whom actually is taking advantage on the consumers by marking up the LPs pricing by up to RM70 compared to the normal price outside of the shop. Even sadder that it was even applied to the recently local reissues of Zainal Abidin's Hijau album, Search's Fenomena and Wings's Hukum Karam and Belenggu Irama. This actually drove me mad. If consumers right in Malaysia has a strong backing up of the authority, I would have complaint this to KPDNKK.

Because of this, I had to limit my purchase to those LPs that I really wanted.




Had the honour to finally meet and chat with MA Recordings owner, a Mr. Todd Garfinkle. I did a review of his album a few years back and he was well pleased with it.

CMY BY JOHN YEW, STEVE CHUA, DICKY NG, ASHLEY ETC

CMY opted for a more passive presentation this year by showcasing their entire product line. Most of the items are on static display but it gives the visitors the opportunity to physically see each and every product they have. I particularly like the TT podium where almost all type of TT they carry was on display.


It has been 10 years of hifi and HT journey with Steve Chua. Always supportive and always accommodate my requirements.

A&L Audio


I can't go by an AV show without listening to Musical Fidelity. I am now into my 20th year of using Musical Fidelity product. At any time, one of the components in my set up will consist of an MF item. Currently, my amp M6i, M6 DAC, M1 ViNL phono and the superchargers 550K monoblocks are residing in my set up.  And here, A&L have showcased its M6SI amp and M6SCD with a pair of Dali. Built like a tank, they also had on static display the new ENCORE network players. Not sure why these were not on active mode.


 The NuVista is somehow on my wishlist growing old. If funds allow, she will be mine one day.


My HiFi Shop by Isaac Ho, Rizwan and Desmond Poon

My HiFi Shop surprised me with something unexpected. Simplicity in presenting a truthful system. Usually, dealers tend to present the whole she-bang of pre and power or monoblock amps but Isaac et al went for a simple integrated amp with the unique Dohmann Helix 1 TT and Audio Note CD 3.1 as source. With a classy presentation....Musical... hard hitting bass.. Very capable speakers... simple set up with much thought on sound delivery. Nice looking system too.
  • Dohmann Helix 1
  • Lyra Etna cartridge
  • Raidho D2.1
  • Aavik U300
  • Ansuz DTC cabling
  • Audio Note CD 3.1 
  • HRS isolation system














THE MALAYSIA BOLEH GALORE

The 4 main Malaysian design that I was privileged to experience in this show was Capt SpH Lenco based SLAT turntable supported by Lee Beng Swee's Speed Controller, Rudd Rudy's speaker stands, YF Fong's tube pre amp/headphone amp on top of the HiFi show benchmark of FV Euroaudio Powerbanks. One more returning product is also Acoustic Platform Solutions (APS) racks.
 




Capt SpH is very passionate about his SLAT design turntable which a few of the local audiophiles are using it as their resident turntable. Yours truly have also reviewed this unit a few moons back. Capt gave a short summary of his design and all ears on him during the session. His turntable design was supported by Redgum electronics.


YF Fong's cute little product was previously launched at a headphone store in Jaya One. I missed that launch and this time around, I also could not get the chance to test it out. But looking at the built and design, it might outperform some other international brands.



Rudd Rudy's speaker stands was supported by Artisan Acoustics. Rudd's speaker stands and also other AV racks have also been around the market where custom designed can be purchased at a very reasonable price. The performance however is not short of some of the major brands out there.

Returning this year was also APS racks.



Centre Circle Audio by Nelson and Team

I was actually in the market to get a new turntable and was eyeing either the VPI or Clearaudio.  I have resorted to the fact that Kronos will be out of my reach unless I hit a lottery somewhere. 

VPI Prime was indeed a muscular unit. The looks itself made me drooling. The sound was also exceptionally good but I would pair it up with a set of floorstanders.







On the digital side, CentreCircle featured the Kii active speakers which is very eye catching design.  Featured here is also the Chord products which is another industry breaking design with its out of the planet design.



Zu Audio



Perfect Hifi

Perfect Hifi was another retailer that went all out displaying their range of products. The Sonus and Audio Research line of speakers and electronics, dominated their show. Not to forget the classic Linn LP12 turntable as well.








Line Magnetic



JH Labs













The Wrap Up


It was indeed a different experience this year. Different venue gives different challenges but at the same time, it creates its own merit. Happy to see new products to be launched here. To me, KLIAV show have brought back some of the memories of where it all started. But at the same time delivered another stunning shows this year. Kudos to Mr. Dick Tan and 3DotEvent.

Now, for the Annual El Hefe's KLIAV Show Awards:
  1. The Best New Product - Yamaha NS5000 speakers - HiFi Creations
  2. The Best Digital Playback - Audio Note CD 3.1 with Aavik U300 and Raidho D2.1 by My HiFi Shop
  3. The Best Analogue Playback - Tie between Kronos PRO by HiFi Creations and Dohmann Helix 1 by My HiFi Shop
  4. The Best 4K Experience - JVC DLA-Z1 Projector by AV Designs
  5. The Best ATMOS and Sub Management - SVS and Emotiva by Maxx Audio
  6. The Most Promising Award - Capt SpH SLAT Turntable
  7. The Spoiled For Choice Award - Tie between CMY and Perfect HiFi
  8. The I Want More Award - VPI Prime matched with a decent floorstander
  9. The Post Show Must Listen Award -  YF Fong headphone amp
  10. The Most Missed Product Award - HECO Direkt Speakers
  11. The Ultimate Winner - Every single one of you who attended the show
I have to single out this negative award as it really upsets me that this happened to the show this year:

  1. The Biggest Let Down - LP Sellers who marked up the price insanely