for those who are more music-inclined, i have started my music blog for my label, musictoxin. musictoxin's blog will talk about music that appeals to us, music with substance and quality. it will also chronicle the making of all future 2v1g and jz8 albums, and other acts under the musictoxin stable. click here.
however, i will still feature audiophile album reviews in this blog.
happy new year to everyone! may 2009 be the year where your hifi sings like a nightingale and each and every of your hifi upgrade plan approved by your other half!
i personally am very excited about 2009, despite the gloomy economy. beside the establishment of our own recording studio, we will be releasing a couple of albums and our own magazine. on the hifi front, i wll be upgrading my cdp and maybe my preamp.... it is going to be another blast of a year for us!
my standard of a good audiophile cd is very simple - it must be musical and not too audiophile sounding. which means it must not sound boring, too clean, too anti-septic, too sterile and the same applies to the singer and her singing as well. my perfect audiophile cd is one which is able to cross-over to pop and appeal to those genuine music lovers who don't give two hoods about audiophile recording. if it can achieve that then it is a good audiophile album.
very few know that actress-singer chiu hock-e (赵学而, bondy) can sing; even fewer know that she sings darn well. bondy is 36 and at this age, she knows she can't do pop anymore. and she knows for her first audiophile album, she can't do original compositions. just for your info, bondy has a modest hifi system which is made up of epos speakers and arcam electronics.
this is a special project funded by bondy herself and she is very critical in the kind of music that she wants to do in her first audiophile album. her producer, tommy ho, sees the opportunity in audiophile music business and they have got some of the best musicians and recording/mastering engineers in the biz to be involved in this project.
this is not your ordinary audiophile cd in the following aspects: (1) it is not boring and sterile sounding (2) it has plenty of pop sensibility (3) the arrangement is generally good (4) the recording is superb (5) the singer and musicians are good (6) the songs are well chosen
audiophiles believe the quality of replicated CD will make a difference in sound quality. the production team is also beware of it. this album is made in UK by docdata. the cost for each replicate disc is enough to create triple amount of CD in HK. the mastering guru, kent poon provided a super low BLER CD-MASTER. the industry standard BLER (block error rate) is C1 220. this album has a C1 rating of just 0.8 on the CD-Master. if you read from other places, the FIM Ultimate CD is within BLER C1 5.
my fave song in the cd - alex toh's [杜德伟] "be your love" (a hit in the early 90s) has been rearranged into a cool and breezy bossa number that is totally engaging. we may want to produce this song for 2v1g! bondy also covers songs by leon lai, danny chan, jacky cheung and chi-lam. most of the songs have a jazzy, chill-out feel, which hock-e carries with conviction.
hock-e's voice is not the powerful kind but her diction, pitching and phrasing are solid. she is not the technical kind of singer and yet she can sound immensely musical.
what's so precious about this album is that it crosses well between pop and audiophile, just like the kind of albums that musictoxin aims to produce. i have passed a copy of the cd to my jz8 singer, lydia, for reference and she likes it too.
this is the kind of album that the more you listen the more you like it. my personal fave audiophile album of 2008.
you can read about the mastering engineer, kent poon's account of the mastering process here.
I like Abbey Road Cable's product philosophy, "We don't just sell cable - we sell authentic sounding music".
The Abbey Road Reference speaker cables came in relatively plain packaging that does the job of protecting it's content and some product leaflets inside. Like the packaging, the cables are well built with high quality bananas terminated at both ends. Everything is business like and has that very British understated feel to it. So no fancy cables shields or shinny metal/wooden collars and over built connectors.
The moment I plug the subject speaker cables in to my system, in place of my usual Straightwires Maestro II, I noticed two very distinct advantages. The clarity of sound and sheer transparency of the cables totally caught me off guard. The tonal quality exhibited is very even with no highlighting or spotlighting of any particular area. Sound staging and imaging is comparable to my defacto cables. So far, so good, but over the next two weeks of regular playing time, the sonic results are exactly the same as the first time! This is a hard cable to run in, I thought.
So I built a cable cooker(that will be another story for another day) to do just that, cook the cables for 24 hours. After the cooking session, the cables sounded a little more musical in the way music flowed thru it and presented from the loud speakers. However, another event took place and made me realised something else. I had a change of power cords, which for now shall remain mysterious (at the request of the manufacturer) for my CD player and phono stage.
With this change, the sound suddenly took a quantum leap forward, like as if the system took on a new lease of liveliness. Macro and micro dynamics are now more fleshed out than ever while the overall clarity and transparency mentioned earlier is still present. The highs, mids and lows are all presented truthfully, no sweetening, no blooming and no extra "air" to beautify the sound. I would have to say that I do find the cable's bandwidth to be rather ordinary for what is seemingly a product carrying the "Reference" tittle. Perhaps I expected more?
Just to confirm what I heard, I swap the Starightwires back in to the system, and it was clear to me, that the Straightwires do add a little mid range bloom and "air" in the highs to colour the sound a bit! Also coming back to my thoughts on the earlier paragraph about the power cords change, The Abbey Road Reference speaker cables were clearly doing their job, and very well too, by highlighting the short comings of the previous power cords and the advantages of the new ones. This means poor front end equipment matching, auxiliary or otherwise will be exposed ruthlessly.
True to it's studio/pro audio genes, the Abbey Road Reference speaker cables are like an instrument in the path of a precision sound monitoring system.
James of AV Designs, told me that the "truth" sometimes can hurt, but as I found out the latter, the "truth" if hurts initially, is a good thing. Because once you know something is amiss, take the necessary steps to identify and rectify the issue, then finally, you'll find that "truth" can indeed be beautiful too! The final question is, can you or your system, handle the "truth"?
The Abbey Road range of cables are sold by AV Designs, tel:03-2171 2828
The first deflection point deflector/absorption panels
He has since made some pretty drastic changes and further refinement to the concept. And now that he's reasonably satisfied, 80% he says! He has allowed me to share with our readers, the pictures after much persuasion.
A more detailed look at the panels
The final results were all in the listening as they say, the proof of the pudding is in the eating! The room treatment had allowed Wong to house the Wilsons in a smaller room than otherwise recommended. With it's big, bold gutsy, bad ass bass response, the Wilsons had been giving Wong a "hard" time(as commented by ML in his earlier visit). The room treatment had more or less taken care of the area. Wong wanted his bass solid, no overhang and most importantly, cleanly distinguishing the cello and contra bass play note for note.
Ceiling diffuser panels, note the varying height arrangement!
Room treatment is a funny thing, because if you take small baby steps approach like me, you can pretty much know what you're gonna get. But if you make major changes like Wong does, the results can be down right unpredictable. He started out room treatment to fix his "hard" bass issue, but once done he realised there's some over hang in the mids at certain frequencies.
The basic first reflection point absorption/deflector panels at both sides of the room helped somewhat but could not cure all. The ceiling was lowered twice, to satisfy Wong. First time, the ceiling was lowered by 24 inches, but this then caused some problems with the highs, which made high hats sound somewhat brittle, for the lack of a better word, and lack of air and decay. Then it was decided that the ceiling would instead be raised back upwards by 6 inches, then the results were pretty good(final results had ceiling lowered by 18 inches). Ceiling diffuser panels were then added to free up the highs. The high hat's attack, sustain and naturally extended decay were all there!
The throne, with rear wall "treatment"
With the completetion of the room treatment, I noticed the staging depth and layering improved too! I could place each instrument in an orchestra in their place. Solo piano works, a favourite of Wong's, I could easily perceived the whole grand piano sitting in mid hall of the recording. Stage width is as wide as the room. The overall sonic presentation is one of lushness, refinement, coherence and power on demand. Who says you can't have your cake and eat it too?
And finally, you can say he's a happy man on the throne!
Ken & KM Ng, in their comments to my earlier posts, asked how the performance of the 'Quantum Tuning' little black box would be if it was plugged into my Hydra 8 instead of into the wall outlet or if different powercords were used.
I spent the last few days checking these out, and here are my conclusions:
1. Plugged directly to a wall outlet vs. Hydra 8
Conclusion - Plugging it directly to a Wall Outlet is way better
I used generic powercords for this test. Plugging the little black box into my Hydra 8 seem to negate its effect altogehter. All the postive qualities that I noted earlier were gone. The music did not hold my attention so much anymore.
In fact, I felt something extra was added - on first listen, the leading edges of transients seem to have been improved upon (faster and better defined), but in less than an hour, I felt that it was not natural, and in addition there was an edginess to the sound. I concluded that listening with the little black box plugged into the Hydra 8 was worse than using the Hydra 8 alone.
Plugging it into a spare power outlet brought all its positive effects back.
(This spare outlet is beside and linked to the one powering my Hydra (and thus all equipment). It is wired directly back to the distribution box.)
2. Changing powercord
Conclusion - this device responds to powercord changes so you have to experiment
The only 'audiophile-approved' powercord I could spare was an old Transparent Audio Powerline Super powercord (the one with 3 network boxes). I used it to compare with the generic powercord I have been using on the little black box (the picture above shows the Transparent powercord and the generic cord used in this comparison).
The Transparent powercord improved on many areas - quieter background and blacker spaces between instruments, even clearer sound and better resolution, and a sligtly more energetic presentation.
However, there was one anomaly that showed up on slower and 'atmospheric' music like 'Tempting Hearts' from 2V1G's album and 'Where are you?' from Sonny Rollins' 'The Bridge'. With the generic cord, taking 'Tempting Heart' as example, the little vibrations in Regine's singing and the way she controlled her voice to 'close out' each sung phrase were resolved more clearly and those were what gave me the 'goosebump' moments. The entire presentation was more ethereal and the emotional factor more pronounced.
With the audiophile cord and these tracks, it was like the sound was cleaned up just a tad too much and some subtleties were lost - akin to when the contrast of a tv set was set just a mite too high, shapes and colours were clearer but some shading in the colour was lost.
The positive effect wrought by the Transparent powercord was greater than what it lost, of course. Ovrerall, the Transparent powercord won out, especially with music that emphasized more on rhythm, speed and impact. However, I was not totally sold, honestly.
I could only conclude that this device responds to powercord changes, you would have to experiment.
Ok, I think this is as much as you'd hear from me on this little black box for the time being. :-)
Happy New Year To All - and wishing everyone's hifi dreams come true in the new year.