tube magic at the end of its life - glorious, sublime and stunning sound

solid state supporters would never experience what i call "the last hurrah" of tubes.

just moments before any tube dies/degrades, if will emanate the most glorious of sound, the best ever you can get in your system!

let me describe the dying moments - all of a sudden the sound acquires extreme liquidity; everything just floats in a thick cloud of ambience; the rhythm and pace improves tremendously and the soundstage opens up like there is no tomorrow. it was like nirvana right infront of you.

this is the 2nd time i experience this right infront of my eyes. this time it happened around 2am on monday morning, after yee re-terminated my power cord.

i sat there speechless, stunned, at the same time, getting excited that i could experience this amazing phenomenon for the 2nd time. i sms-ed everyone.

but sadly, it didn't last for long. from that moment onwards, it was downhill all the way!

but, god, it was glorious and sublime while it lasted!

hamonic tech fanstasy ac-10 - perfect cord to power up richard gray

maybe i am the only one who dabbles so much on the power cord for richard gray. not happy with the stock cord, i replaced it with 2nd hand harmonic tech ac-11 and wow! the improvement is worth the RM500 i spent on. look, this is an example where cheap cables DO stand out more than costly ones.

being greedy, i tried powering up the richard gray with my ps audio xstream statement. no good at all! the ps audio "drags" down the sound. very sluggish. the thick 6-gauge power cord does not mean it will carry current more efficiently. hypothesis failed. back to the drawing board.

my ARC LS25MKII preamp also hates the ps audio, again resulting in a sluggish and draggy sound. looks like ps audio only works for digital source. so that's where i keep it now, hooked onto my meridian cdp.

i tried some other cables like fadel art, audience and JPS. none suits the richard gray as well as the harmonic tech ac-11. so owners of richard gray, please take heed of my advice.

then kc brought his harmonic tech fantasy AC-10, a step higher than my AC-11, to my house to pit against my brandless cord i bought from absolute hi-fi for RM450(another point to prove that, budget cord DOES work for me). yes, the fantasy is so refined, with exquisite highs and good lows but the mids are too soft for my liking. it takes away the BIG SPOTLIGHTING effect from my centre image/vocalist's mouth spot. in this respect, the brandless cord is better. though rougher and less refined, the brandless cord has presence and ruggedness that NO cord can touch or come close. so, it has to remain.

then we pitted the fantasy against ps audio xstream statement for my meridian. suprising results! the refinement of fantasy does not work here. my system prefers the weightier and rougher but solidier foundation of ps audio. so, it goes to show that ps audio is a great cord in the right place.

bouyed by kc's experiment with his harmonic tech fantasy ac-10 plugged to richard gray, i took a gamble to upgrade to fantasy (RM1,400) and lo and behold, the performance jumps by 3-5 percentage points (note. that's a lot to me, mind you). the mids are still soft but they are not so obvious now, compared to powering up the preamp.

so my final power cord combi:

richard gray - harmonic tech fantasy ac-10 (RM1,400)
meridian cdp - ps audio xstream statemen (RM2,400)
ARC LS25 preamp - absolute hi-fi brandless cord (RM450)

this gives me the best sound (all-time-high score, like what martin colloms like to say) i can ever muster out of my humble system.

high-end cables - a boon or a bane?

despite my self-imposed zen status (snigger, snigger), i feel compelled to debate on the merits of high-end cables cos it is fun to debate on this issue.

people who value the contribution of cables (hence people who pay top bucks for expensive cables) are normally fussy-pots PERFECTIONISTS who value top-quality, exquisite tonal colour and tonal quality. (i think the word 'tonality' is often misused here. tonality is a musical term, it describes the use of a particular key, especially as the basis of a melody or composition)

tonal colour, or timbre, is YUM SIK in cantonese. whereas tonal quality is YUM CHAT in cantonese.both are different but overlapping.

a good cable can let you manipulate both the tonal colour and tonal quality. normally system which use cheap cables have poor tonal colour and tonal quality. i said "normally". i find it funny when people call cables as "tone controls" or "seasoning". they are not. they are part of the ingredients to make a great system. good cable is integral to any great system.

to me, like some highly regarded audiophile sifu i know (wong tat yew and lau eng teik are but two), these two qualities ranks top of my list. much more than soundstaging, imaging etc. etc. the reason why ongaku commands such astronomical price is because it has the most exquisite YUM SIK in the world. you can be drown in that kind of YUM SIK forever.

sadly, most audiophiles don't even come close to understand what YUM SIK and YUM CHAT really means. when my young friend kc said his stealth cloude 9 power cords improves the midrange density, that means in cantonese, MUT DOU, it also implies that it improves the YUM CHAT of the system. i recently listend to a RM400K system using 3 runs of top-of-the-line stage III vacuum gold reference interconnect and was astounded by the midrange density of the system. the vocals are rounded, almost spherical in 3-d space and the density is very very high. it is to die for. there is NO WAY you can get this level of YUM CHAT with cheap cables.

when you have the hang of playing (mix and match) with cables, you are not unlike the master chef, being able to cook any AURAL dishes of your liking. it is so fun because everything is under your control. people who don't play cables will never understand or appreciate the fun.

true, it is not always that top-notch cables are suitable for top-notch system but show me a high-end system with DIY cables that sings like nightingale and i will show you a man who doesn't like sex.

mixing and matching of cables is a skill that requires highly discerning listening skills. and highly discerning listening skills is as rare as a man who doesn't like sex. so what if you buy the top models of transparent, audioquest and nordost, it still does not guarantee good sound. for example, siltech is known to be not suitable for SS gear. nordost sound is clean and a tad cool. cardas is coloured and woolly and thick. transparent is thick of the mids but no lows nor highs. why i am so thrilled with stage III is because stage III gives me both exquisite YUM SIK and YUM CHAT that i can't find in other cables.

generally, malaysian audiophiles don't believe in cables. if you want to segregate, i find that ipoh audiophiles invest the most on cables because (1) the dealers there promote high-end cables aggressively hence education is important (2) ipoh audiophiles are older retirees who have plenty of money and time to play hifi (3) ipoh audiophiles who listen to more vocals value YUM SIK and YUM CHAT more than anything else. you also find audiophiles that emphasize on bang-wham-thank-you-mam kind of sound don't play cables as much as those who listen to vocals.

seriously, not until you understand what is truly meant by YUM SIK (tonal color) and YUM CHAT (tonal quality), you will never understand why people are ever so willing to spend top dollars on good cables.

isn't hi-fi about sharing with like-minded people?

are you a genuine audiophile? don't you share your hobby with only like-minded people?

for whatever reasons, i always argue with my friend chee kee. not the kind of fierce arguments that involves temper-flaring but gentlemanly and educated arguments. maybe we are born with the opposite star signs, we always argue.

both of us are passionately into this very subjective hobby called hi-fi. hi-fi is very subjective because human being's hearing ability differs from individual to individual. i am blessed because my hearing ability (hence listening skills) are better than average. i can tell whether a voice sounds like a voice, a cymbal sounds like a cymbal or put in another way, i am sensitive to tonal accuracy. most people aren't.

besides being highly subjective, hi-fi is also a very political hobby in malaysia. political in the sense that there are camps and cult groups supporting different brands/makes and often they accuse each other of being poor listeners (e.g. "this guy has cotton ears!". "this chap is blur like sotong"), cheapskates and other unpleasant terms. i used to be guilty of both the giving and receiving end.

to cut a long story short, nowadays i have distanced myself away from all these politics simply because i feel that i belong to the different echelon of hi-fi and i need not waste my time mingling or arguing with people who don't share my views. chee kee, however, feels that, hi-fi can only flourish if there is a diverse group of people sharing and exchanging views and learn from each other as they progress. and learned people like me should lead in the education of hi-fi to the masses. he is just being idealistic. what he has in mind is a hi-fi utopia that i too dream of. i told him that's not possible in malaysia because the malaysian hi-fi enthusiasts in general are poor listeners, highly bigoted and a bunch of sour-grapes. chee kee then argued that i should not just befriend like-minded people - i should broaden my scope and share with people with opposing views. I was exasperated! Isn't a hobby about sharing with like-minded people? This is not dewan rakyat where I need to have a verbal battle with the opposition all the time! If you think spending only RM2,000 can get better sound than spending RM200,000 then let it be (and congratulations) but we are not like-minded, that's all. and i doubt i will have time to educate you.

i have acquired a zen-like belief in my hobby. yes, it is lonely when you are up there. but it is also so peaceful and tranquil. if you are like-minded, do join me in the club, no matter how small it is. you will find many joys and treasures in sharing with people of the same interest, zest and intellect.

james blunt - familiar tunes but still worth a listen

i didn't bother to google james blunt but i heard he is an ex-army.

his music, tho' not totally original and fresh, has plenty of infectious hooks. simply and effective. it doesn't have the melancholia and darkness of damien rice; it is sunnier and more poppish.

the highlight of the cd is the hit single you're beautiful. the 1st five songs are gems but the rest of the secondhalf are fillers.

oh, don't ask me about the recording. with music this good, i don't normally care about the recording :-)

stealth cloude nine power cord - sending you to cloud nine literally!

i have always been lamenting about the scarcity of true hi-fi enthusiasts in malaysia. i mean, those who have good ears, adventurous spirits and have a healthy bank account to keep spending on hi-fi. let's face it - too few people are spending on hi-fi in malaysia. i am not sure if it is because hi-fi is too expensive here or simply the average malaysians don't earn enough to afford hi-fi. whatever the case, you can't deny that hi-fi (two channel hifi, that is) is seriously on the decline in malaysia. (and globally, i suppose)

but i know someone close to me who proves to be the opposite of the trend, and it is heartening and inspiring to know that there are still people like him in malaysia.

my young friend is only 26 year-old and holds a demanding but well-paying job in an IT firm. a true believer in the adage "you pay peanuts you get monkey" when it comes to hi-fi, he has bought some very serious gear over the last 2 years. and the last i visted him, the sound of his system is very very good. no other 26 year-old i know spent Rm20K on a hi-fi system. he must enter into the guinness record of malaysia.

and the latest i heard is, he wants to buy stealth power cords. if you haven't heard of the brand stealth, go google and read about it. simply put, stealth is one of the lowest profile high-end cable manufacturer in USA. local importer is audiomatic, located at the 1st floor in amcorp mall.

i am very encouraged to see such passion from such a young enthusiast. if only the local hi-fi dealers can incubate this young group of enthusiasts, then hi-fi has a future in malaysia.