Monday, 29 June 2015

Interconnect Galore: Gotham & Micron Acoustic

Another local DIY-er have just sent me samples of various interconnects he built based around different models of Gotham and Micron Acoustic cables.

Watch out for the review soon.

Saturday, 27 June 2015

The New Bryston BHA-1 Headphone Amp / Pre Amp: A Class of Its Own



Bryston, a hifi name that I have listened to over and over again and it just continue to impress me. From its bold character amps to its versatile digital sources to its range of 'hi-end sound but affordable' speakers and to the last but not least, headphone amplifier. The BHA-1 fully balanced headphone amp have been my resident and reference headphone amp since 2012. I have yet to find another headphone amp in this price bracket that can topple my BHA-1 from my hifi rack, in terms of performance of course. And now, Bryston have introduced an upgrade to this model which strangely to me, the name of the model has not changed. Unfortunately, it is not one of their digital equipment where firmware/software upgrade is an option. So, I was given a fresh out of the box unit to test and review.

So, whats new? Its the same sturdy industrial but stylish casing and same model name. This new BHA-1 model now comes with a balanced pre out as shown in the picture below. So, this unit can now also integrate into your existing pre and power set up.







THE SPECIFICATIONS

The unit is built around six fully discrete Class A operational amplifiers with 14 dB to 20 dB gain and 10k input impedance. It can drive any high impedance headphones with ease.

INPUTS AND OUTPUTS

There are 3 inputs available:
1. Single ended RCA
2. 3.5 mm stereo jack
3. XLR Balanced
The unit can drive 3 headphones at one time but with different output connection:
1. 1/4 stereo jack
2. Stereo Balanced headphone output (4 pin XLR)
3. 3 pin balanced Headphone Output (XLR)
4. 3 pin balanced Pre Amp output (XLR) - NEW! 

NOTE: there is also high and low gain switch to match your headphones and also to fine tune the match with your chosen power amp.

THE SET UP
  1. Pre amp - Bryston BHA-1
  2. Power amp - Musical Fidelity M1 PWR
  3. DAC - Musical Fidelity M6 DAC (M1 CDT and Dell CAS fed into this)
  4. Phono stage - Musical Fidelity M1 ViNL
  5. Turntable - Lenco L75
  6. Speakers - ProAc D18
  7. Cabling
    • M1 CDT to DAC - Siltech Classic Anniversary AES/EBU
    • Dell CAS to DAC - el cheapo USB cable
    • DAC to BHA-1 - Siltech Classic Anniversary RCA
    • M1 ViNL to BHA-1 - Siltech Classic Anniversary XLR Balanced
    • BHA-1 to M1 PWR - Siltech Classic RCA (with an XLR - RCA adaptor)
    • M1 PWR to ProAc D18 - Siltech 330L Classic Anniversary speaker cable


FIRST IMPRESSION

When it comes to mix and match between a pre/integrated amp and a power amp, my greatest initial concern is compatibility. Will it produce hum? Will it give a hard thud on my speakers when turned on? Will it match my power amp musically particularly with my Class D power amp?

I am very happy to report...at least with Musical Fidelity, there was no hums or hiss coming through the speakers when volume pot on BHA-1 is at zero. Also, no thud effect when the BHA-1 is turned on, even though it was turned on after the power amp was on.

The balanced input connection to the phono stage also produces a clean sound. However, when the Lenco is on an auto stop mode, it does give a relatively loud thud when the power is cut off and the tonearm levered up. But I pretty like how the BHA-1 picks up every single detail even those mild surface noise. 

Sound wise, I am very surprised how a Class A pre amp matches quite well with a Class D power amp. It balances out the bright character of my power amp. Detail and crispiness of tracks delivered was very evident. It also adds some warmth and balances out the brightness.

I also don't really have to drive hard volume wise. The volume knob just need to be set just below 9 o' clock to deliver the same volume level to which I usually listen to.

THE TRACKS
  1. It Had To Be You - Harry Connick Jr. (LP)
  2. Suara Binasa - Hattan (MP3 256 kbps 48 KHz)
  3. Last Caress  - Metallica ( CD)
  4. Gabriel's Oboe and Nouvo Cinema Paradiso - Ennio Morricone (CD)


THE SESSION

Harry's rendition of It Had To Be You was very pleasant with a big soundstage, delivered by the BHA-1. The BHA-1 provided more clarity to each of the instrument used on the music arrangement. It also improve the focus on Harry's vocal and centralizes it more.  Very impressive in a sense as the song was delivered in different layers of presentation. Its like listening in auditorium where the music builds up on you with your ears focusing on the vocals.




Hattan's Suara Binasa is a favourite of mine from the 90's. A track from the movie Selubung which its OST I believe have never been released before. I finally managed to get this track from Hattan's last concert to raise money for Palestine. With the BHA-1 , the acoustic guitar strums sounded so detail even the sliding of fingers can be easily heard. The mellow bass line was distinctively delivered that you hear note by note. Now, the prowess vocal of Hattan was not short changed as well. Very energetic and emotional. Prior to BHA-1, this track was more mellow and not hard hitting.


Metallica's rendition of Last Caress is quite a fast paced and up tempo tune to me. Always get my adrenaline pumping each time I listen to it. The BHA-1 delivered quite a stunning rawness of the overall music. However, James's vocal was a little too subdued and buried behind the music. This causes the song to lack some essence of metal growling. The music was still full of energy and I must say, the drums on this track was quite punchy and every stroke of the drumstick on the tom toms and snare were very detail and crisp. I tried with another newer track Until It Sleeps. A similar result where the vocals is a little buried behind the scene. It might be how the tracks was recorded but it seems a little be restricted.



Ennio's master piece Gabriel's Oboe and Nouvo Cinema Paradiso were absolutely stunning played through the BHA-1. Such emotional and fluid presentation. An uplifting experience with wider soundstage was evident and this was a at a moderate volume of 9 o' clock on the knob. The wind instruments played on these tracks was so melodic that the vibration at the end of each note can be easily heard. The best of what the BHA-1 delivered was the building up musical anticipation throughout each track. It as if was narrating a full story with a beginning, the drama and an ending.... Its not just the music, but BHA-1 injected life into the music.


THE VERDICT

Another gem from Bryston. I really like their philosophy of maintaining one model and upgrade its performance rather than having multiple models. As a pre amp, the BHA-1 really excel in delivering detail and crispiness of wind and string instruments with good layering of musical arrangement. Vocals much depends on the musical genre. It also reproduce a more centralised focus on vocals while presenting a 'big' overall sound and particular to a Class D power amp, it adds some warmth to it.  But the level of music detailing is its strongest point. Similar to its performance as a headphone amp.

The drawbacks are mainly on the pre amp functionality. Only 3 inputs, no remote and only balanced pre out. For a simple set up with TT, CDP (or DAC) and maybe an iPod/Bluetooth dock, this would be perfect. But for those with nostalgic cassette deck might not be able to include it to the set up list above.

Looking for a classy pre amp...sound wise and looks? Do consider to demo this BHA-1 headphone amp/ pre amp. This unit is retailed at RM 7000 including GST (~ USD 1900)

I believe this unit will be on active demo in next weekend Kuala Lumpur International AV Show in JW Marriott. Do drop by AV Designs spot there or contact Tony Low (+60122330771) or James Tan (+60163280237) for a demo in their shop in Bangunan Rohas Perkasa.

My plea to Bryston: Please include an onboard USB or coaxial DAC... pleaassseee...




  

Friday, 26 June 2015

Revival of TDL RTL3SE: Part Two


A few moons ago, I did a revival on my beloved TDL RTL3SE speakers by replacing one of its tweeters. Not a very good DIY-er I am, I just wrapped the bare wires to the new tweeter. But now that this speakers have a new owner.... whom has a passion in electronics, did a wonderful job of rewiring and properly soldering the new tweeters. And also replace the other tweeter with a new one which I have given him as part of the sale of the speakers.

So, friends.... if you want some DIY for rewiring of drivers, feast you eyes on these pictures. Don't follow my practice of wrapping bare wires over the terminals heheheh :)

Oh! And watch out.... this wonderful DIY-er has also come up with his own cabling series. Will be receiving a sample for review soon.












END PRODUCT

Monday, 22 June 2015

Todd Garfinkle's Prayers Wishes Illusions - A Hidden Masterpiece


Try Googling for Todd Garfinkle...  a small spelling mistake in the surname, will bring you a famous dentist in the USA. But to those who knows the name, will know who he is in a musical aspect. Yours truly however, didn't really know about his musical masterpiece. I have always read about his recording techniques and how he founded MA Recordings in Japan. But nothing on his musical works until.... I received an email and phone call from the illustrious Mr. Dick Tan of 3DotEvent, regarding this unique album of Todd.

Given the opportunity to listen to some good jazz music, I did not hesitate to have a listen to the tracks on this album entitled Prayers Wishes Illusions.. 

Taken off the MA Recordings website, this album is described as -  This catalyst for the label presents a collection of lushly exotic, but simple piano and bass chamber jazz duets by MA producer and founder Todd Garfinkle with bassist Shigeo Sugiyama. Much of the music was composed for a documentary about the survival of the Japanese crane on the northern most island of Hokkaido, known for its beauty and grace. The piano used was the B√∂sendorfer Imperial at the Harmony Hall in Matusmoto, Japan. The startling cover photo is of a Buddhist temple in Sri Lanka.

Now, thats a catalogue description...

What do I think of the album? As a layman, and as a music lover... I can describe it in 3 words - Therapeutic, Fluid, Masterpiece

A duet arrangement between a piano and bass chamber by Shigeo Sugiyama, which provides different level of tempo and mood, all within the same track. I have listened to 7 tracks given to me (I was however told that the CD has 8 tracks), and I was amazed of the emotional aspect that was delivered by these tracks. Never before have I experienced this coming from just 2 pieces of musical instrument. And especially it being instrumental. Emotions usually relates to lyrics and vocal delivery of an artist. Well, at least for me. But the tracks on this album just gives me the right vibes especially when I really need to wind down.

Children's Prayer and Sweet Illusion are the two tracks I like most. But all of them are just sheer genius piece of work. These tracks are not only currently residing in my main system to accompany those lovely dinners I have with my wife, but also on my trusted mobile phone and also In Car Entertainment system. Listening to the tracks make me forget about the heavy traffic that I endure each day.

How about the sound quality? This is mainly my observation based on the files given. For a live recording, this was indeed a very good quality of recording. No background noise and such detail of each instrument can be heard. Enough energy delivered by the piano and such a low extension of the bass from Shigeo. However, I do find that the volume level is a bit on a low side. I have to crank up the volume a bit more than the usual on my system, mobile phone and in car system. If I do get my hands on the physical CD, it may be different. But until then, I will have to make do with the samples that I was given.

Now, I am dying to listen to other works done by Todd.






Saturday, 20 June 2015

Solution to Long Cable: Wireless Connectivity for Subwoofer


I have been toying with the idea of relocating my SVS subwoofer or adding another subwoofer for over a year now. This was mainly due to the space I have in between the two built in cabinets on each side of my TV and rack. Relocating the sub to the side or rear of my seating position will requires running a long custom made cable from the AVR to the new position. And to do that, it require for some small modification to the existing small rear speaker cable ducting that was made together with the built in cabinets.

To remedy the situation, I purchased a wireless audio transmitter model sublink XR 2.4 GHz by Dayton Audio as recommended by SVS website. Specially imported by Maxx Audio, I have tried setting up a 7.2 system. However, I just could not get a good synchronisation (lagging) for the second sub using this wireless transmitter....... hence I decided to go back to 7.1 system.

Contemplation after contemplation and after over a year, I decided to move my main SVS sub to the side of my seating position, near to the right rear speaker.

After YPAO recalibration, the SVS was providing a similar performance when the sub was positioned at the front of the seating position. Not sure why I could not get a good calibration before. Maybe because I was running two subs.

I


The wireless transmitter is a neat little device that comes with:

1. One transmitter unit
2. One receiver unit
3. Two mini USB power cable for both units above
4. Two USB power adaptor 110V to 240V (US plug so need an adaptor)
5. Two mono RCA to mini jack
6. Two stereo RCA to mini jack

Setting up is easy. From AVR sub out put, connect the RCA to mini jack cable and connect that to the transmitter. And on the sub, connect the same cable to the input socket. Connect the power supply to both transmitter and receiver and they will pair themself. Both units will emit a blue LED light showing that its connected. Been using it through about 10 movies now withoutany signal lost.

This is indeed a good solution to long cable runs for subwoofer placement in the rear or side of the seating position.

The only issue is that you will require additional power points for the transmitter and receiver units.

Thursday, 11 June 2015

Sil Khannaz's Gerbang Kayangan: Another Local LP Gem




Sil Khannaz, a local metal outfit have just released (finally) a 300 pieces limited edition LP of their past album Gerbang Kayangan.

This LP was supposed to be released a couple of months back but due to some pressing issues in Germany, there was a delay in the production.

I actually ppre-ordered a coloured vinyl version but only the black coloured disc arrived first two weeks back. I opted for a black first and it arrived last Monday 8th June.

The LP comes with a mini poster and an inner sleeve with various pictures of the band performing in gigs. The quality of the sleeve is quite basic compared to their previous release LP but still acceptable. In fact, it feels like a recycle material which if its true, then its much better as I do support such effort.

The LP itself is not as heavy as the previous album so I was a bit skeptical about the sound quality. But as soon as I started spinning... voila.. superb sound. Very clear yet full of body on all the tracks. Drums are punchy, vocal has clarity, bass is soulful and the guitars were just sharp and grinding. The LP is slightly warped but did not effect the SQ too much. The production company is willing to do an exchange to a new one. So will be sending it back for exchange soon but before doing that, I am listening to this LP everyday.

Another true masterpiece from Sil Khannaz.... kudos to them on their first Malay metal album.


Saturday, 6 June 2015

KOGA Onycs Power Amp - The Right Highs (Part Trois)



For the third and final review, the Onycs was connected directly to Musical Fidelity M6 DAC and M1 ViNL phono stage. With the attenuate knob is set at about 10 o' clock, the Onycs can already drive the ProAc with some brute force.

THE SESSION

Girl from Ipanema kicked off with a bang on this. The vocals and piano and double bass emerged very coherent in the intro. And when the female vocal came in, it was very evident how luscious this amp can be. The saxophone was also very fluid and with right amount zing to its overall highs for the music.The separation between the various layer of music on this track can be experienced with a clear stereo imaging as well. The overall presentation was more straight forward with no character crossing with Musical Fidelity.

Jaie's vocal on Legion of The Damned was very detail and the level of clarity and coherent towards the overall music was an exhilarating experience. However, the kick drum loss a little bit detail as it sounded a bit muffled up. Still on the forgiving side but it could improve on a little bit more of bass control. Guitar riffs were still authoritative and one can be very please when it comes to the control on highs. It delivers quite an impact to the overall music with the lead guitar sounded very melodic yet full of metal character.

Hotel California was painted with quite a a colourful presentation. The solo intro was very mesmerizing, bringing back memories of my trip to Madrid and Barcelona where I caught the Gipsy Kings show. I am still quite surprise that the Onycs can also provide quite sufficient bass to compliment the luscious highs it provides. I am particularly impressed with the imaging it delivers. The various musical layers of this track was not only presented and detailed vertically but also horizontally. With the vocals were centralised, the remaining musical instruments were evenly spread from left to right, giving quite  wholesome presentation. This is on top the large soundstage vertically.

Andrea's vocal on Because We Believe started off with a touch warmth but energetic enough to quickly build that 'Olympic' spirit. When the music kicked in, it blended well with the vocals with maintaining that balance between the bass and treble. Again, vocal was centralised whilst the music just seems to wrap around the energy that Andrea deliver via this Onycs. Another fantastic balance delivery by Onycs.

Ode to My Family sounded more on the warm side which is surprising given Onycs is a Class D amp, heavily associated to bright sound.  Dolores's high pitched voice was subdued by Onyc's bass dynamics, giving a more balanced sound to the song. The natural folk song can be summarized to be a very well balanced delivery by the Onycs. In fact, I believe this is the best experience I have with Onycs. Natural,,balanced ... and yet still fluid and melodic.



THE CONCLUSIONS (PART TROIS)

From the 3 modes tested, it it very clear that Onycs has its own character. The best performance delivery is when it is connected directly to the source. Using the attenuate knob is no different from controlling a volume knob on an integrated amp. But of course, at a fraction of the size and cost.

Onycs excels best with vocals, guitar works, acoustic and jazz. For rock and metal, it still deliver an acceptable performance but if double pedal details that you are looking for, Onycs might not be it. But if natural, balanced, fluid and melodic are your taste, give Onycs a go. It does not have the typical Class D character as I believe the design is such to balance the luscious highs with a good delivery of the low ends as well. Kudos to the designer on achieving this.

Onycs can be demo-ed by contacting KOGA Audio via email koga.audio@gmail.com 




Something New In Da House From Bryston



The new BHA-1 has landed in my resident.... so, how?

KLIAV Show 2015 - AV Designs Delicacies & Other Bits




AV Design in Kuala Lumpur have just received quite a few new items from Bryston. Some will be show cased in the upcoming KLIAV show in JW Marriot in July.

I managed to experience some of these items recently in their show room in Bangunan Rohas Perkasa in 2 channel stereo, 5.1 HFPA audio and 7.1.2 Dolby ATMOS movie.

1. Bryston Model AC-1 centre
2. Bryston Model A2 front
3. Bryston Model A subwoofer
4. Bryston BHA-1 newly updated headphone amp (now comes with a balanced pre out)



They are also waiting for the following and hopefully it will arrive on time before the KLIAV show:

1. Bryston BDP-2 updated with new firmware to rip directly from CD
2. Bryston new CD ROM to couple with new BDP-2

Demo Session

On stereo, the A2 could go quite low with a heart thumping bass. Quite refine and detail. But given it was driven by an AVR, the essence of music imaging was a bit lacking and the highs are also a bit sharp. If it was paired with a decent stereo amp, I believe it will perform better. Do note that these speakers are fresh from the box.

On 5.1 HFPA, the A2 and AC-1 performed superbly. Very well distribution of various sounds from the sample track. Trumpet was melodic through the centre speaker and the whole experience was very uplifting. Punchy and extended bass with quite a refined mids and highs.




On Dolby ATMOS 7.1.2 duty, the Bryston just keep on smiling delivering a very convincing performance to cater for home theatre duties as well.  Another excellent demo room. 




For the ATMOS set up, AV Designs uses PMC Wafer for the celing speakers and 2 pairs of PMC 21s for rear duties.


Do drop by at their exhibition rooms during the KLIAV show or pop in their KL show room for a demo.

Thursday, 4 June 2015

TDL RTL3SE - Goodbye Note


My purchase of the TDL RTL3SE in 1997 was not a planned one. This speaker have just arrived the Richer Sounds store on London Road in Brighton, UK and on that particular day, I was returning a pair of Gale floorstanders on a 14 days trial. The look of it alone made me fell in love with it. I didn't even audition it. Paid the difference in price of the Gale which totalled up to GBP 450.

My student days was then filled up with music and movies. 

This speaker have been in perfect harmony with the following amplifiers for many years:
  • Marantz PM57
  • Musical Fidelity XA1/XA50
  • Yamaha RXV795RDS
  • Musical Fidelity M6i/M1 PWR


This speaker have also moved from Brighton to Kent to TTDI to Bangi to Valencia over the period of 18 years.

It did suffer a tweeter blow in 2007 and went into hiding till 2014 before it was revived and replaced my ProAc D18 for a good month. Then it did a rear speaker duties in my home theater set up to compliment a pair of PMC 23s front.

But, on 3rd June 2015, after a long thought, I decided to let this speaker go as I feel it was underutilized as a rear speaker. I was lucky enough to find someone who looks like he can and will take care and appreciate this old gem.

So.... farewell TDL RTL3SE... and thanks for all the shoes...