meridian g08 - a thorough bred and a true gem

it was a no-contest. sorry that the results have broken kc's heart, who is bent on buying the benchmark, after such positive results in his system.
true, the benchmark have pretty good highs, plenty of resolution and definition but compared against a super-duper like g08, it pales in most areas.

first, where is the bass from benchmark? in g08, the basslines were rhythmic, tuneful, voluptuous and almost enveloping the whole soundstage, though slightly "fat" due to it not being fully run-in. in contrast, benchmark's bass is way too anaemic and not well-defined.

benchmark's sound is a bit "disintegrated" from top-to-bottom, compared to g08 evenness across the spectrum. this could be attributed to benchmark's lack of mids and bass foundation, hence the feeling of lightness and hollowness. compared to g08's colourful tonal palette, benchmark's tonality is simply two-dimensional. another trump card of the g08 is the rich harmonic textures and density, which put it high there in the high-end league, way surpassing the ageing 508.24.

of course, everything is taken relatively. on its own, at RM4K, benchmark is good for its clean and pure sound, but giant-killer it is not.
on my score card, if g08 was to score 100 marks, then my previously-owned 508.24 (which i sold to a lucky audiophile in sibu) would score 75%, and the benchmark 60%.

harsh contest indeed but A/B-ing in a highly revealing system like mine is alawys a risky business. having said that, i must add that in kc's system which is slightly bottom-heavy, benchmark may be a revelation hence the good results observed by him.
kc reached home and tried the benchmark in his system again. he wasn't wrong, the benchmark sounds excellent and perfectly balanced in his system. i guess it must be system synergy at work here. now, kc, feel good and go ahead and set benchmark your benchmark!

note: this review is contributed by my audiophile buddy, kc

Sometimes, in fact, most of the time, reviewing/raving about a particular product is a risky business. The product is reviewed in the context of your setup and unless the components are of known characteristics, the review is very much as useful as rubbish.And a lot of time, it's always easier to criticise a product than to praise it.

This Benchmark DAC1, which made me swallow my own words after 4 hours of playing. The first call to Leslie sounded like this, "this DAC is dead cold, whatever you feed to the recording console/mics, it spits them all out! It's good as an operation tool where you will get all the info on the CDs, but dead cold!"The first track I listened was Cheer Chen's track 4 with rainy drops, it's as if the drizzles were of smaller size and pouring at denser drops, they are crystaline clear! But the edges were rough and coarse on the vocal, as if it's wrap under sand paper. On track 11, speed is fast and snappy, but lacks the delicacy. Dead cold!

So the first sms sounded like this, "for another 1k on top of the DAC1's 4k, I would rather get the Stage III Magnus, which reaps more improvements!" I kept on playing the DAC1. There more CDs I played, the more detached I was from the music. So the second sms sounded like this, "Sometimes I doubt do we really need more details to enjoy the music more when more details does not actually bring you any deeper into the music!"And the third sms sounded like this, "I don't feel the urge of upgrading sometimes as it was not like last time when I go up to AQ and Stealth, DAC1 brings more hifi than music!" Then Leslie called and we chatted about the DAC1, which was nothing encouraging from me. So another sms later sounded like this, "DAC1 lacks Meridian's delicacy and refinement!"

Before I know it, I was slapped hard in the face and everything I said now was working against me, I have to swallow them all! I sms-ed Leslie again, "f***, I guess I have to swallow my words, the Benchmark is opening up, more fluid and liquid! After almost 4 hours of playing!"So I played Le Mon's Tin Man Mong Yau track 3, 6 and 10, omigod, another sms sounded like this, "s***, the highs is like angels sprinkling flowers, I was smitten! I have to say this, very similar to Meridian!" The highs is so delicate and articulate! Les called and asked about the bass, since I was not aware of that yet, I said not sure yet.So I spinned White Snow track 1 and was awed again! Another sms sounded like this, "Omigod! Talk about dynamism, impact, liquidity, speed, delicacy, fluidity and wutever hifi crap, this DAC has abundant, it's its uncanny ability to recreate life like performance and honest realism! From highs to lows, I could not find fault!" The thunderous drums towards the end was rolling in distinctive presence! Never heard of in my setup!

Yesterday nite, I spinned Damien Rice and the DAC1 did nothing but digging deepest to the CD, delivering top notch resolution and definition. What it does not do is add any harmonics to sweeten the music and impose itself unto the music. With stone cold setup, the sound might be thin, but never thin in truncating the decay and harmonic palates; on transparent tube setup, it's a godsend!

To me, it's really good!

babysitting the burning-in process of new tubes, especially tubes you are trying for the first time, is an arduous and nightmarish process. it requires tons of patience and good faith. at many points in the first 70 hours, the sound was so bad that i couldn't bear to listen to it. if you are paranoid (like me), you may even think that your amp has got problems!

therefore, it makes sense for a lot of tube dealers (in USA especially) to pre-burn-in the tubes for 70 hours before they sell them to the public to avoid all these growing pains.

here's a blow-by-blow account of the first 70 hours...

first 5 hours - sounded promising. strong presence. highs are slightly strident. bass is muffled. everything is a bit taut and tense. but overall a good preamble to what is to come. 75% on my score card.

5-20 hours - horrible. shitty sounding. no energy. soft. sissy. closed-in. no definition. blur. totally unlistenable. extremly low gain. these are the worst stage of the tubes.

20-30 hours - highs started to come out but the overall presentation is still soft and recessed. still no definition. very soft gain (volume) . very very unbearable.

30-40 hours - somewhat improved. highs become better. definition becomes better. still inconsistent gain - sometimes loud, sometimes soft. mids and bass are still not well defined.

40-50 hours - getting much better. still lacking of energy and gain. 75% on my score card.

50-70 hours - bass still hasn't come out. anaemic presentation due to lack of bass. highs are 80% defined. still low gain. separation is no good. lacking oomph.

70-80 hours - voila! bass came out though still puffy but strong and tuneful bass! the sound gains energy! 85% on my score card. highs are still not the best yet. but overall quite satisfying.

80-90 hours - highs started to develop. mids also gain definition. 95% on my score card. this tube really needs more than 100 hours to sound its best!

characteristics of re-issue tungsol 6550

the tungsol sound is characterised by two things - robustness and the voluptuous bass. the mids, after 90 hours, still lack a wee bit of resolution and details. the bass is fat, taut, clean and tuneful, in fact, the bass is the best thing about this tube. the highs on the other hand, is not the most refined/pristine, compared to NOS 6550s. but we are hopeful that all these will further improve after 100 hours.

overall, it should partner well with systems which are not too "fat" or "tubey". considering that it is a current production tube and it is only 90 hours burned-in, it has far exceeded my expecations. i would give it a provisional score of 95%.

i would further update this after 100 hours.

technology of yore - ultimate in cool

i happen to pick up a copy of this month's stuff magazine (the local version of the international gadget magazine) and was in awe by the advances of technology. blinding speed, is how i describe the progress of technology these days. the explosion or convergence, whatchamaycallit, in audio, video, voice and data are phenomenal.

i couldn't understand more than 80% of the terminology/jargon/tech talk in the mag, tho' i enjoy reading it very much. and to think that i am supposed to be tech/IT savvy. absolutely horrendous explosion of information and entertainment gadgets. i could spill out some terms to you off hand - ipod-on-video, PS3, wiresless digicam, gigaphone, K-Jam, digital music servers... the list goes on.

several questions spring to my mind immediately:

1) just how fast can malaysians adopt technology? we can't even adopt ipod as speedily or as pervasively as s'pore, furchristsake.

2) will you wait for something for months to arrive at our shore, only to know that it is already outdated by the time they have it on sale in low yatt plaza or imbi plaza?

3) what about the quality of service and repair of these gadgets? malaysian suppliers are notorious for "sell first, service later" mentality

i am not a technology follower, as you can judge by the handphone i use and the hi-fi system i listen to. i want my phone to be just, err, a phone and nothing else. if i need to take photos, i can use my digicam, thank you very much. and furchristsake, who would pay RM100K on a two-channel audio system in today's age and time? i certainly belong to those technology dinosaur category. no wonder i can't impress young chicks these days :-)

also, i have no interest in HT/AV (home theatre/audio video) until they sort out whether 7.1 channel is better than 5.1 channel and the endless and tiring format wars. even those who are supposed to regulate the standards are in total disagreement among themselves. what's the point?

at the end of the day, i still go back to what i am familiar with. two-channel hifi playing on compact discs or maybe SACD at a later time. of course, turntable playing LPs (long-playing/ records) is still the ultimate in cool. all this technology is not necessary a boon. it makes people like me wanting more to go back to embrace the technology of old.

but then again, i am a dinosaur so take my views with a pinch of garam.

a little bird told me the following...

that a certain high-profile audiophile in kl has bought a goldmund eidos reference cd player costing a cool USD140K. in the process, he dumped all his reference-grade barang-barang mahal including naim CDX2, burmester 001 (both cd players) and sonus faber stradivari speakers... if you want to buy them secondhand, contact me, i want a cut too

that one audiophile is also contemplating of upgrading to the top model of avantgarde horn speakers costing over Rm1 million.... *sweating profusely*

that a new retail outlet will be surfacing in mont kiara carrying distinguished brands like goldmund, karma, electrocompaniet, NBS (cables)...

that a certain hi-fi retailer is opening up new branches because the existing branches didn't fare too well with business falling below their targets...

that a certain dealer is going to lose the dealership for a famous solid-state amplifier... hint, hint, the designer of which is a legend in d.i.y

a word of caution: the above are merely hearsay, don't hold me responsible...

maggielurva: can i trouble you?
cheekeemm: am reading your exploits on the Pass
maggielurva: i need someone to carry my conrad-johnson into my car!
maggielurva: bloody heavy!
cheekeemm: how heavy is it?
maggielurva: about 40kg. but the box is big
maggielurva: can you come either today or 2moro?
maggielurva: at the same time you can listen to pass labs......
cheekeemm: 2morow maybe ~5pm?
maggielurva: ok
cheekeemm: on the pass sound
cheekeemm: it is not tubey
cheekeemm: the original aleph series does not sound like traditional sstate nor tube but possess a blend of both
maggielurva: it is a unique sound
cheekeemm: most likely this is due to the fact that it is a single ended design
cheekeemm: something like those single ended tubes
cheekeemm: but with more power, reliability
maggielurva: i am quite shocked that solid state can sound like that
cheekeemm: well i think there is only one std of sound
cheekeemm: both sstate and tubes are just difeerent paths
cheekeemm: eventually they should both converge
cheekeemm: on the one std of sound
maggielurva: no way!
cheekeemm: that's why i bought the aleph though i could only afford the cheapest
maggielurva: there is still a big gap b/w ss and tube
cheekeemm: i guess both have not found the ultimate sound qlty
maggielurva: ss still fails in the areas of lucid highs, intimacy, delicacy, wetness, and warmth, mids
maggielurva: you should come and listen to my ARC with the tungsol tubes
cheekeemm: well i think this is no place for such discussion- anyway we have been down this path many time
cheekeemm: and i think we both agree that we both hav different aspiration
maggielurva: so you are a ss guy?
cheekeemm: no
maggielurva: then
cheekeemm: i am open to any path as long as it gives me the result that i am seeking
cheekeemm: this is where we are different
maggielurva: i think you are the SET kind
cheekeemm: so far i find SET have qualities that i look for
cheekeemm: but the tube camp is too low powered
cheekeemm: or rather the high power ones i cannot afford
maggielurva: you can get horns what
cheekeemm: again horns have certain strengths i like but most have defficiencies that are only addressed in very expensive models like the avante grade
maggielurva: i think you would like this website and his ideologies
cheekeemm: i like the trio
cheekeemm: well i tend to be a follower of peter qvoutrop of the early ANote fame
maggielurva: i totally disagree with this chap
cheekeemm: that's why i say we have different aspiration
maggielurva: no, i mean arthur salvotore
cheekeemm: i am for recreating the original sound
cheekeemm: well don't know about salvatore
maggielurva: read the website; it is rather lenghty
cheekeemm: ok
cheekeemm: my problem is looking for speakers that can shiine with my aleph
cheekeemm: its low power (could not afford the more expensive-powerful alephs) means limited pairing - 30W only
maggielurva: you would be happy to read that arthur salvatore doesn't think highly of ARC and maggie
maggielurva: he said ARC is lean and solid-state sounding and maggie "incohesive"
cheekeemm: i think your US ARC guru is right
cheekeemm: ARC made some great amps
cheekeemm: then a period of not-so-great amps and now back to greeat amps
cheekeemm: i find the maggies extremely transparent and liquid but needs high power & quality too: most expensive combination in an amp
maggielurva: afrer playing with c-j and pass, i now understand why there are so many camps in hi-fi
maggielurva: and why solid-state suppporter love ss sound
maggielurva: the mystery in my maggie power requirements is solved once and for all.
cheekeemm: ???
cheekeemm: huh?
maggielurva: yes, it does need huge power but TUBE power!!!
maggielurva: my CL120 satisfies 70% of the requirements. it would be perfect if i can get 200watter. that's why i am audiotining the VT200 this weekend
maggielurva: sure, i can't play loud and hard-rocking music but for intimate, small-scale work my CL120 is enough for me
cheekeemm: huge and QUALITY power. If tube is the one that delivers that quality you crave for, then you know your direction
cheekeemm: well how loud do you want?
maggielurva: as loud as the c-j plays!
cheekeemm: in a small space, even low wattage amp can sound loud
maggielurva: you should listen to c-j playing the diana krall live in paris!
cheekeemm: if you want huge reserves for control - that's not loud. it is about control
cheekeemm: well if u r trying to recreate concert environment
maggielurva: reserves, control, know what my CL120 is lacking
cheekeemm: then good luck with maggies - lots of power and $$$
cheekeemm: well only lacking because u compared with a power house like CJ
maggielurva: fortunately, my musical tastes is towards the sedate kind, soft and simple
cheekeemm: ok
cheekeemm: at least u know that
maggielurva: you don't drive a bentley to race with ferrari
maggielurva: maggie is like a bentley, elegant and refined......
cheekeemm: then stick to CL120
cheekeemm: or other ARC amp designs
maggielurva: listening to these ss behemoth, makes me understand and appreciate my CL120 more
cheekeemm: wonder how would maggie-pass combination be with a CD player that has a SETube output stage?
maggielurva: c-j thrashes my CL120 when playing dianal krall and eric clapton unplugged!cheekeemm: i wonder if the Meridian output stage is single ended? hhmmmmm
maggielurva: no lah
cheekeemm: wouldn't know unless you have the literature.
cheekeemm: single ended circuits are not uncommon especially in low power application as in CD/preamp output stages.
maggielurva: everyone's tastes is different. at least i know and get what i like!
cheekeemm: ok

excellent coke bottles!

to think that i actually deliberated for more than a month before getting it, the tungsol 6550 reissue from new sensor corp turned out to be super!

right out from the box, it is already achieving 85% on my score card. and it looks like a sexy coke bottle!

simply, tungsol 6550 reissue is the best current-production 6550 i have ever tried! forget about sevtlana-S 6550 and EH 6550 from new sensor. get the tungsol.

octave electronics is selling them at RM140 per piece.

handsome monoblock that is very tube-like

this new pass labs is the new single-ended Class A amp combining the very best of the original pass labs “aleph” series with the present “x” series characteristics. as far as i can remember, the previous "x" series has left me very cold. i have listened to x250 & x350, none impressed me.

suprise, suprise, suprise. in terms of detail, intimacy, lushness, detailed midrange, sweet and silky smooth top end (by solid state standards), transparency, the pass labs is actually a tad better than the c-j premier 350!

in fact, it actually sound tubey! the class A must be doing something right.

in terms of power matching, the 100-watt class A matches my maggie 3.6R perfectly, better than my 120watt class AB ARC classic 120. whereas the c-j, on the other hand, overpowers and overwhelms my maggie totally with its 600W (4 ohm). on extended listening, c-j's bass is too prominent for my tastes. it needs more room to breathe.

the pass lab xa100 actually have more refinement than the c-j premier 350. overall, a positive 1st impression.

ARC classic 120 - still great after 15 years

with my euphoria over the conrad johnson premier 350, i thought i am going to say goodbye to my ARC days. in fact, i am making some financial calculations as to how am i going to afford the c-j amp, which costs a cool RM32K.

but last night, i had a complete change of mind. i played some of my most intimate cds, eg. jacintha's here's to ben and stacey kent's best collections. to my utter shock, the c-j totally flopped at giving me the much-needed intimacy, delicacy and goose-bumps. what could be wrong? is this the solid-state factor at play? even with the aid of the over-achieving stage III magnus silver interconnects, the tonality is dull and lifeless, the highs lack the sparkles, sheen and airiness of my ARC. the high definition is also missing. where is the emotional involvement, romance and goose-bump factors that my ARC could provide in spades?

i thought long and hard on this perplexing turn of event. i can only summarize as this: the c-j may be the more honest amplifier compared to my ageing 15 year-old ARC classic 120, but the later provides a euphony that is positively intoxicationg to the ears. yes, the highs of my ARC (coupled with the stage III cables) may be over-beautified, the mids have again an over-beautified bloom and "wetness" and warmth... all these excessive beautifications, albeit veering away from truth, are very very pleasant to the ears, that's why i call it euphony. who cares about accuracy when it sounds this good? in contrast, the c-j sounded too matter-of-factly, too powerful (600W at 4 ohm, seriously my maggie does not need this sort of power!), too bassy, too sensible and too dry, lacking the tonal beauty, emotions and delicacy that my type of audiophile yearn for.

true, i am mighty impressed with the c-j when i played diana krall's live in paris and eric clapton's mtv unplugged at 90db on my maggie. it simply kicks ass and sounded like a live concert in my hall. the extra power and headroom are exhilarating, or so it seems. but life is not about live and loud rock/jazz concerts every day. you need intimate stuff to soothe your jaded soul; you need ethereal female vocals with bare accompaniment; you don't need behemoth solid-state power amp for music that doesn't demand power!

in the end, regardless of how impressed i am with the c-j as a world-class solid-state amp, i still think solid-state amps don't do it for me. i have tried hard to accept it as a practical alternative to finicky tube amps but i still can't accept its obvious shortcomings.

so, i am gonna be stuck with tubes for a while yet. tu-bey or not tu-bey, that's already not the question. the question is how much i enjoy the music from my ARC classic 120. immensely, is the answer!