Bryston 4BSST2, a hunk of power amp, rated 2 x 300W @ 8ohms load and 2 x 500W @ 4ohms load.

I was sipping tea with hifikaki, he asked a hyperbolic question. What if the day came when we could no longer buy another Pass Labs gear, for what ever the reason?

I had no answer then, but it turns out that James of AV Designs was thinking along similar lines. He certainly knows our boundless love and passion for Pass Labs!

Another hifi friend made a comment recently that he did not quite agree with my review of Esoteric X-03 SACD/CD player. He is of the view that my euphonious and sympathetic sounding Alephs were beautifying the final result of the Esoteric, sort of giving it a musical hand so to speak.

James than proposed that I try to live with a full Bryston system for an infinite period of time. I agreed, and suggested we slot in the Bryston gear piece by piece starting with gorgeously new 4BSST2(squared, not 2) power amp which just arrived his showroom. I will experience what a new Bryston owner would do so first hand.

We will be slotting in a Bryston BP26 pre amp sometime later, to be followed by the multi award winning Bryston BCD1 CD player. This way, I can, tell our readers my experience on each component's sound on their own merits. All these will finally accumulate in a final, full Bryston system review, and my experience of living with an alternative to the Pass Labs.

In the meantime starting today, all reviews of other hifi auxiliary components will be done with the Bryston 4BSST2 power amp in my system, and all results will reflect the capabilities and sonic signature of the said amp.

A full review of the Bryston 4BSST2 will be coming up soon. Stay tuned.

Bryston is sold by AV Designs, contact James Tan, tel: 016-3280237

Audio Magic Pulse Gen ZX.

The Pulse Gen ZX as shown, meant to be installed inside your audio equipment.

I picked up 2 of this plastic little box, very light weight have a few holes drilled out around the sides and two wires, coloured black and green sticking out. I asked Mike about the cost of each, he quoted RM$1,500 each plus RM$100 if you want Audio Creations to install it for you. Other wise, you may opt to save yourself a hundred little ones to DIY install yourself, which is a perfectly simple option, if you're used to holding the soldering iron like me. A word of caution though, installing the Pulse Gen ZX voids your equipment warranty. So if you have recently purchased equipment, do spare a thought on the matter.

The Pulse Gen ZX is meant to be installed in to your equipment's IEC power cord input, on the inside of the box. That usually means opening the top cover and accessing to the IEC terminal from the inside of the box. The black wire from the Pulse Gen ZX is to be soldered on to the "Live" pin and the green wire is for the "Neutral" pin. Be very careful not to mix it up as the Pulse Gen ZX doesn't work, if soldered in reverse. The Pulse Gen ZX only works as per specified polarity connection. A sticky velcro is provided for you to mount the unit anywhere suitable inside your equipment's box.

You can also hook up to a plug top and use it for anywhere in your system's power supply. You're encouraged to be cretive in placing anywhere and using as many as you wish!

You may also hook up the Pulse Gen ZX to a plug top, like I did in this case a BS rated 13amp plug. Wiring instructions are exactly the same as above. This is actually the easiest way to enjoy the Pulse Gen ZX. Now if you can't even wire up a plug top, I suggest you get Mike to do it for you safely! You can then mix and match the Pulse Gen ZX in any variety of location(i.e., from PLCs, any unused wall socket on the same line with your hifi, and any unused distributor sockets) with multiples, and try till you get the best sound! The manual warns of a certain "addictive effect", as you add more and more units of Pulse Gen ZX. As I only have 2 units, my addiction is very much limited!

A closer look at the polarity, black wire for "Live" and green wire for "Neutral".

What's inside the little black box? you ask. From my limited measuring abilities using a multimeter, indicates the presence of a diode or two, resistors and capacitors. It's very likely to include a small regulation chip of some sort, as the unit gets pretty hot when functioning, prove of active circuitry at work inside the lill' black box. If after 10 minutes or so of plugging unit in to power supply or IEC socket, and unit stays cool, means you've got the polarity connection wrong!

Marantz CD7 outboard, temporary install.

First, I tried wiring a Pulse Gen ZX to my Marantz CD7 player. For this case, as it was meant to be a temporary installation, I used crocodile clips to hook up the IEC instead of opening up the who player. I made sure I did not "short" the "Live" and the "Neutral" pin together, other wise there would be no review possible! As I fired up the CD player, everything worked as per normal, then I load up a disc to play some music. The first thing I noticed was a quieter back ground and lower noise floor. The highs have a little bit more "air" and the mids have room to bloom a little more than usual, and the bass seemed to went a notch lower too. When playing vocal music the voice seems to have more density to the body. So far so good.

Crocodile clips "temp" install at CD player IEC terminal.

I then removed the Pulse Gen ZX from my CD player and used them to tweak my Torus Power RM8A and Wireworld Electrifier distributor block. I plug one Pulse Gen ZX on to an unused outlet at the Torus Power RM8A, listen for a short while, not really impressive, but you could more or less sense the same as described improvements as in the case of the CD player, if only to a lesser degree. I then add the second Pulse Gen ZX in to an unused outlet at the Wireworld Electrifier and felt like the result was better than before.

I tried another configuration, which is to leave the Pulse Gen ZX in the Wireworld Electrifier, un hook the distributor block from the Torus Power and plug it straight from wall, meaning all my sources and pre amps are now essentially only filtered by the Pulse Gen ZX. The results were again similar to above. But then I took out the final remaining Pulse Gen ZX from the Wireworld distributor, meaning there's now no power filter what so ever for my source and pre amps. The sound took a turn for the worse. Noise was clearly audible from the speaker tweeters(a high frequency hiss), vocals, now took on a rather sibilant high note and the density observed earlier is no more! This proves the Pulse Gen ZX really does work very well on it's own.

I then re-plug the Pulse Gen ZX in to the Wireworld distributor and added the other remaining Pulse Gen ZX in to an unused wall plug, however the Torus Power is still off line at this point, ahh..... musical bliss again. Based on my experience with the Pulse Gen ZX in the context of my system, it certainly works best when hooked up directly inside the hifi equipment. And should you not already splurged on a dedicated power line conditioner like I have, I am sure that you'll find the Pulse Gen ZX to provide your system with a very high performance lift!

With a PLC already in the system, I believe the results from the Pulse Gen ZX would be diminished, due to the PLC already doing it's work. Adding the Pulse Gen ZX in this case may not help very much further. Should you buy a few Audio Magic Pulse Gen ZX, or just a full power line conditioner with the same money? That's something only you can decide for yourself.

Audio Magic Quantum Physic Noise Disruptor.

Big Disruptor and small Disruptor.

Here is a simple black plastic box, seemed to contained some loose bits inside. All four sides of the box is tightly seal to prevent tampering. The user manual clearly states that "Opening up of the box will result in permanent and irreversible damage" to unit. I do not know, and unable to find out, what is the "magic" ingredient in the box. So much for curiosity!

Quantum Physic Noise Disruptor placed on top the big, big tranny in the Torus Power.

The product is supposed to be placed on top the your equipment where the power supply transformer resides. When the Quantum Physic Noise Disruptor is placed, on the top panel where the transformer is, it should result in lower noise floor. I started by placing on the biggest transformer in the system which is the Torus Power, but resulted in no audible difference. I proceeded to place the Quantum Physic on my CD player and my Pass Labs X2.5 pre amp. Again, I heard no audible difference! I felt perturbed, and decided to bring the Quantum Physics to hifikaki's system for a try.

Again, when placed on top of his Shunyata Hydra 8 PLC, again we both heard no difference! When put on top of his Copland CD player, again nada, zilch, no difference heard! We proceed to place on his Pass Labs X-2.5 pre amp, I heard no difference, but hifikaki thought there was a small improvement in terms of noise floor and a fuller mid range. However, at this point, even himself became doubtful.

Placed on top of the Pass Labs X-2.5 pre amp tranny, did not hear a diference, if at all!

I then sent the Quantum Physic Noise Disruptor to a friend to play with for 3 days. His system consist of Torus Power, Marantz CD17 KI, Audio Analog Pucini integrated amplifier and Rogers LS 5/9 speakers. When I met up with him 3 days later, he ask where can he buy this Quantum Physic from? He reported when the Quantum Physic is placed on top of various equipment in his hifi chain, he heard improved focus in sound staging. Music became more precise and easy to follow. Transparency at low volumes improved too. He also noted better bass impact, transient and definition. He also reported a slight compromise in the fact that when he played music loud, he did detect some hardness setting in, and mild saturation in the musical presentation. I am in no position to prove him wrong or otherwise, as I did not get the opportunity to listen to his system at the time, but I have a lot of faith in his ears. He certainly knows what he heard.

I told Mike of Audio Creations about our perplexing findings, he reply was that, he's "not amused!". He said that he'd been warned by the manufacturer, i.e Audio Magic that "the Quantum Physic doesn't quite work with Pass Labs gear!"

But it does seem to work with other manufacturer's equipment as proven in my friend's system. I would suggest you try before you buy. There are two sizes available for the Quantum Physic Noise Disruptor. A smaller unit cost RM$285/unit and the larger unit I tried cost RM$800/unit.

Audio Magic is sold by Audio Creations. Contact Mike, tel: 012-3315669

Let me tell you a story of this little box from MIT.

Panzer collected the MIT Z-Strip AC Power Conditioner from Hi-Way Laser and it ended up in my system a week ago.

After the initial 2 day run-in period, the Z-Strip's characteristics came out to play. It painted a dark and quiet background for music to emerge from. The transparency it helped to create was rather amazing, coupled to its soundstaging capability, the images of vocalists and instruments were well defined and very clearly placed on the soundstage, so clearly placed that I'd swear I could almost 'see' them. The soundstage size was not exceptionally large, but it was well formed and adequately sized (or, rather, I'd say realistically sized). It felt intimate, the performers were placed in the space in front of the listener and gave quite a bit of that 'they are in the room' sensation. This was borne out pretty well, for example, on A-Tao's Hakka cd (阿陶的歌-離開台灣八百米) track 4 "What am I to do?" where the multiple back-and-fore-ground voices were spread on the front stage, nicely layered and each distinct in its acoustic space.

The Z-Strip's soundscape was seamless from top to bottom. The highs were clean, polished, and a little shinier that what I got in my system previously, a positive trait. There was no brightness and glare anywhere to be found. The highs also had a measure of (but did not equal to, of course) that silvery tone I heard from the Torus RM8A which so impressed me a while ago, and not the rose-tinted-but-can-be-oh-so-seductive view of my Shunyata Hydra 8. Both versions were attractive, but I dare say that the former is more neutral and accurate.

The mids showed good body. Slightly rounded, it stood just a mite proud of the rest of the spectrum but not forward in any sense. Its definition and articulation made every sung note, female or male, easy to follow. The articulation heard in the voices also attested to the transparency of the Z-Strip. I really could not stop listening to well recorded vocals. Instead of playing selected tracks, which was my normal audiophile habit, I found myself listening through the entire cd - Rickie Lee Jones' 'Pop Pop', 2v1g, Damien Rice's 'O' and, of course, the A-Tao cd I mentioned earlier.

Bass had speed and solidity, it was slightly leaner and more compact than what I was used to. This could be a good thing for my system, as there were fewer of those incidents of overblown bass throughout my listening sessions. It was also tuneful and quite bouncy - a good example comes from the drum beats at the end of track 1 'Spring Water' on A-Tao's cd again, they indeed came off galloping (good pace) and much better defined (good resolution). Though if I nit pick I'd ask for just a little more slam.

The Z-Strip must be pretty adapt at 'Z'apping away the nasties in the power supply given the results I got out of it.

I have an ergonomics complaint though. Due to the size of the box, all the power outlets are placed on top, which means that using American plugs and thicker powercords, you need to allow some clearance above. I found the bottom shelf of my finite elemente rack a bit tight vertical-wise, I believe MIT meant for the Z-Strip to be placed on the floor.

This little box is smaller than a loaf of bread. Take a look at the photo below which contrasts it to the size of a CD.

It employs multiple parallel filters and provides protection against voltage spike and surge. It also does power factor correction which MIT says reduces transmission loss and improves voltage regulation - if you are more technically inclined and want to know more about power factor correction, I suggest you google for it.

The Z-Strip is rated for 1800w, and comes with 8 outlets - 2 of them dedicated to digital equipment. MIT claims that the Z-Strip is not current-limiting, and during my listening session I did not hear anything that would prove otherwise. I used the Z-Strip to power my entire rig, including my Pass Labs monoblocks, the biggest power consumers in my system. It all added up to about 800w power consumption. But then again I may not require transient power draw from the MIT, as my amplifiers are class A which draw a constant current.

The Z-Strip responded to powercord changes. I used my Shunyata Python Helix 15Amp to hook it to the wall. I did a double take hearing the sound quality coming out of the Z-Strip, and this performance was repeated for 3 nights in a row - so it was no fluke. I did wonder whether it was the Python or the Z-Strip, so I swapped the Python out with a generic powercord. What I got was a more sibilant and slightly less focused sound, the background also gotten a little noisier, but amazingly, it did not veer far way from the qualities that I noted earlier, I was enjoying the music regardless. You'd probably be rewarded by using as best a powercord as you can find, MIT recommends its own Z-cord, Z-Cord II or Oracle Z-Cord III.

Contrasting the sound between the Z-Strip and my Shunyata Hydra 8 (I emphasize that this is a contrast, not a good-bad comparison), I found that the Z-Strip has a little less air and bloom, but on the other hand, it was also less diffused, with the imaging more tightly focused and more solidly placed. The Z-Strip sounded neutral, while the Hydra was slightly more colourful. You pick your own poison.
Let me tell you what the Z-Strip made me do with its wonderful performance - I was scratching my head, as my Hydra 8, at twice the price when it was available, did not eclipse the Z-Strip (nor was it the other way round). This prompted me to go borrow a Shunyata Anaconda 20A powercord to test out, just to see whether I can put more distance between it and the Z-Strip. Panzer was no help at all, he mentioned to me a few times that the Z-Strip has a bigger brother - the Z-Powerbar, now he wanted to get his hands on that one to try out too.

This little guy from MIT has given me audiophile nervosa! I am impressed.

The MIT Z Strip AC Powerline Conditioner is listed at RM5,545.
MIT is available from Hi-Way Laser 03-7873.8325; 019-281.3399 .

I apologise for the lack of activities here in the last few days. I was busy at work and busy transporting my self to various concert venues and recording studios since my last post. I now know why Maggielurva doesn't write here of late, he's busy enjoying himself with his hifi system!

Simon says: What a beauty! Panzer replies: I am absolutely in love!

Over the last couple of months since I started blogging here, some of our readers and friends may have formed an opinion, or two about me, my music, my sonic preferences and my hifi. Simon, whom is a rather famous name in it self is used to represent all these opinions, and where possible, I wish to set the record straight should they be contradictory to my believes and practices.

1) Simon says: These days, anyone with a half decent hifi system and access to Internet via the computer can call them selves an audio reviewer. Panzer is one such example!

Panzer replies: Agreed! and why not?

2) Simon says: Panzer's not a "Golden Ear"

Panzer replies: Agreed, and what a blessing it is!, that I am not a "Golden Ear". I personally know a few "Golden Ear"s whom can never enjoy their music, because every single piece of equipment(even those costing 5 or 6 figures!) is never good enough for them. I am in the opinion that these tormented souls are cursed.

3) Simon says: Panzer's equipment is not good enough!

Panzer replies: Agreed! If my system is so good, and I am so satisfied, would I still go around looking for better things to try? It's all in the up grading process. And this blog has caught me on the up ward move. Coming from a lower level, most equipment more expensive than my own can often sound very good indeed!

4) Simon says: Everything Panzer review also sound nice! This guy has no standards?

Panzer replies: Our readers only see the things we write about. There are those that we played with and decided not to. Are they bad equipment? No. In this day and age of CAD(computer aided design)/CAM(computer aided manufacturing) processes, there are really very few bad apples on sale in the market(discounting certain China made products). Some of the big brands we played with, just could not synergistically match our system on sonic character, i.e. non-complementary, that is. Hence we feel it's not fair to the equipment with respect to the manufacturers. That's all.

5) Simon says: Panzer only listen's to Tsai Chin's Lou Ge!

Panzer replies: Tsai Chin's Lou Ge is indeed one of my favourite CD, and until recently LP! But I am genre blind. I listen to all good music, and willing to explore out of my comfort zone from time to time. I just used Tsai Chin's Lou Ge as an example more often because it's musical and sonic performance quality is well known amongst all audiophiles in Asia, and probably the world.

6) Simon says: Panzer doesn't like DIYers!

Panzer replies: I love to DIY. I just dislike people whom make claims like, "my RM$2K DIY amp killed the Krell and left it for dust!" I've heard many making this type of claims before, and often, when the pudding is heard, it's not proof of the eating! Many a times too, even the pudding you cannot see or smell! That's really disappointing. I really respect DIYers, whom can bench test and benchmark their "pride and joy", against the high end establishment, and can show proof of their work. I have so far only met 2 such individuals. These are truly rare gems in the DIY world.

7) Simon says: What kind of sound does Panzer likes?

Panzer replies: I love the sound that glorifies music! The kind of sound that puts hifi in a position to represent the musical source's artistic expressions. I must be touched/moved by the music I hear. I want to feel all the emotional intent of the song. In short, I love beautiful sound as opposed to neutral sound, or some would say the truth! Audiophile aspirations can come second. A system may have some flaws from an audiophile perspective, I am o.k. with that.

8) Simon says: Panzer everything also want to review!

Panzer replies: Well, pretty much most things! Guilty as charged!

9) Simon says: Panzer is salesman for Torus Power! Got commission?

Panzer replies: I do not accept commissions from any individual or dealers. I do get some discount for the stuff that I buy. However, I think nobody ever pays sticker prices for hi fi any way, right? Especially in Malaysia, where if you don't haggle over price, you've probably not lived here long enough! I do accept invitations for "healthy" drinks and sumptious meals though.

10) Simon says: Every home visit Panzer writes about sounds like this and like that! Does Panzer actually likes what he heard?

Panzer replies: Every system, I think, is a work in progress. Audiophiles are a breed that is never satisfied with what they have, so their system as in their musical journey is ever evolving. My home visits are a snapshot of that system and the owner's hifi ideals at that very moment. Many a times, the very next day, new equipment comes in too. It really doesn't matter if I liked what I heard, what's more important, is that the system owner featured, likes what he hears. This way, we may share each other's system here with pride and joy! You can also think of our features here are a sort of time/progress marker for your system(if featured) with various follow up threads, every now and then.

With this I hope to debunk some of the myths or opinions formed.

This was happening in my room last night. Cool!

I thought I'd take a break from hifi last night. I also wondered if, after all my hifi improvements, does my system, just ticks all the right audiophile boxes? or does it still have the pizzas to rock?

One of my all time favorite bands, Queen is always a good test! So I sat down and put in the Queen Greatest Hits CD in to my Marantz CD7 player. I have bought this CD 20 years ago and have listened to it more than a millionth times by now. I know all the songs by heart.

Queen Greatest Hits CD.

But last night, something magical took place, I was transported back in to the studios when the songs were recorded, for the very first time in a few years, no leap of faith was required. I finished the CD in no time, I reach for Queen Greatest Hits II, plonk it in to the CDP press play, and returned to the studio with Queen.

Queen Greatest Hits II.

The older Greatest Hits was more convincing in the illusion, despite the louder tape hiss! The rather cleaner sounding Greatest Hits II was clearer and had more definition, i.e. more hiss free, but proved just as fun. In the end the music took over, I played at near concert loud levels! yet my system never sounded noisy, staging and imaging was stable and it was never strained. Many a times when a system is pushed to the limits, harshness, staging and imaging disintegration sets in.

By the end of 2 hours, I was pretty tired, not from listening to music, but participating in music. Like I said, I knew all these songs by heart. I sang along side Freddie Mercury, played air guitar with Brian May, plucked bass lines with John Deacon , and jammed drums with Roger Taylor! I did a four things in rotation, as and when, what came naturally. No wonder I was tired.

It is rare days like this, when all the effort, money and time spent on improving the hifi pays off handsomely. For 2 hours, I was transported in to a musical event, and away from reality.

Bottom line is "My system still rocks!" and that, is a good feeling.

Now if only they were more days like this? Perhaps I am just in a good mood as weekend comes around again.

Audio Magic Pulse Gen ZX.

Audio Magic cables are my first exposure to high end silver cables back then in 1998. I remembered they sounded magical in a friend's place. I could not afford them then. But now they've included PLCs and other power treatment products as well.

Mike of Audio Creations has asked me to test drive their latest Audio Magic products, namely Pulse Gen ZX and Quantum Physics Noise Disrupter.

Audio Magic Quantum Physics.

A review to come soon. I know it's gonna be a very hot topic!

Audio Magic is sold by Audio Creations, contact Mike, tel: 012-3315669

Esoteric X-03 Special Edition SACD/CD player.

My very good friend ask me what I thought of the Esoteric X-03 SACD/CD player? I answered just as above captioned title. He was amused and said "it can't be! Esoteric players tend to tick all the right audiophile boxes, but can come out sounding rather mechanical or analytical".
Top panel detailing, the gold "Special Edition" plague didn't show up on the photo too well.

In this review, I especially looked out hard for that effect but found none of the mechanical, analytical attributes during the term of this review. I played all types of music through it, classical, jazz, pop and rock, but always found the Esoteric to be very musically satisfying, in the context of my system. Maybe my system is bias towards beautifying music, hence could be more forgiving in nature compared to other similar level set ups. What ever the reason, the Esoteric X-03 just fit in to my system sonically like hand in glove. In the past 3 years of comparing high end CD players against my Marantz CD7, I have never found another CD player to sonically advanced over the CD7 convincingly. It's always 2 steps forward and 1 step back type results. With the Esoteric X-03, I have finally found it!
The back panel, note the WBT Next Gen style RCA plugs?

The Esoteric's build quality is of battle ship quality, that was something once my Marantz could claim, but by comparison, it has now being demoted to battle cruiser quality instead!The player weights a few kgs more than my 23kgs Marantz, but the trump card has to be the all aluminium tray! It slides in and out like as if riding on a layer of air! It's that smooth. The review unit has Special Edition logo pasted on to it and the shipping carton, I wonder if it's all those gold plated WBT Next Gen RCA plugs that makes it "special"? Otherwise, from the outside, I can't tell the difference from a regular X-03.
The "Special Edition" packaging.

Let's dissect the sound a little more. From the very first silent notes on a classical track, I could tell this player's noise floor is frighteningly quiet! No hiss what so ever, just an eeri, airy silence, like as if you can hear a pin drop in a large space kinda silence. From the very start the Esoteric's smoothness is very apparent. Some may even accuse it of being too smooth, without character! I beg to differ though. I find this player's tonal balance to be very even and neutral. No added mid range warmth here to seek comfort. The highs have a very special quality that is at once airy and realistic. Playing some jazz music with some elaborate drum work, I find my self playing my imaginary drum kit, I was once a drummer boy many, many years ago. The Esoteric reminded me of the Zildian cymbals and high hats, I used to hit. The snare drums had that special quality too, that is many CD player's weak point, most do snare drums without the initial energy of the stick hitting the skin patch, the Esoteric came closest again to reminding me about my old snare drum kit! The low frequency, if at first did not sound outstanding, is actually the most realistic that I've came along. When the kick drums play, it just sounds so much like my drum kit that I used to play. The Esoteric just makes me wanna stop listening to music and look for my drum kit and jamming partners all over again! It's that realistic! from a musical instrument sound point of reference.

It does vocals very convincingly too, they are always singing in your room with solid density. Bass lines does not have that exaggerated tightness that we're used to with many CD players. The bass lines flow from note to note very organically, without calling for attention to it self, yet, if you decide to look for it audibly, it's all there in full glory. In fact the overall staging and imaging presentation is very organic, and as close as CD players gets to vinyl reproduction in that respect. The images are never card boardy, and never have very strong out lines, just very smooth and organically fade to black back ground kinda effect.
The solid aluminium tray, that glides like on a cushion of "air"!

The Esoteric X-03 also digs deep in to the CD format and retrieves as much information that's possible. And quite like the JPS Aluminata I played with last week, I've never heard so many details in my music like this before. However, the details are all very organically integrated in to the over musical presentation, that whilst you hear it's there you do not find it annoyingly so. Micro and macro dynamic swings are amongst the best that I have tested too.
The Esoteric X-03 even matches like part of the avant garde package, together with the Pass Lab X2.5 and the FE Spider like rack. Beautiful!

All the above I was describing was it's performance in CD mode. I did try the player in SACD mode with the very few SACD titles that I have. I thought unlike the norm, which SACD players tend to short change CD performance to justify it self, the Esoteric never resorted to that game. In fact, I felt it did all it could within the CD format's limitations. Playing SACD just does all the above sonic magic plus a little more. Staging is deeper and wider, imaging just a little more palpable. With the right classical recordings, hall effect is more apparent. Overall, the SACD side of performance is just a little bit closer to the analog vinyl source.

To sum up the final arbiter of this review in the parallel car world universe, my Marantz CD7 feels like the previous generation of BMW 740i series(Ken Ishiwata drives mostly BMWs), whilst the Esoteric X-03 feels like driving the very latest Lexus LS430. If you're familiar with both cars, I know I am.

Just a little quibble to note, when changing format(the player auto detects) from SACD to CD, the next disc takes about 30-45secs to load the TOC and vice versa. However, if you're changing from disc to disc without format change, then loading of TOC is no longer than a standard CD player.

All in all, if I had RM$32K today, I'd tell Nelson of Centre Circle Audio that I won't be sending back this CD player to him. But I don't have the $$$, so my lost is now any one's gain! If you're looking for a high end CD player at the price level, do check it out! I have already included the Esoteric to be one of the finest CD player on the lower side of RM$50k, along with the Audio Research CD7 and Meridian G808.2. It's that good, if not better!

Esoteric is sold by Centre Circle Audio, tel: 03-77282686

The system over view, note the Pipe Dreams speakers, just barely visible next to the Harbeths.

I met Mr.A at the time I was covering the CMY dealer focus through a group of senior hifi gurus. We struck up a conversation and next thing you know, resulted in this home visit which Hifikaki tagged along. Mr. A(whom wishes to remain anonymous for this posting) is a vinyl man first, CD man next. I flipped through his LP and CD collection and discovered many gems I have never heard or encountered before. Mr.A has also developed a taste for percusion jazz/rock or fusion music. As they say, your musical taste dictates your system's sound, how true in this case!

Scheu Analog turn table, note the squash balls for damping/isolation? Harmonix record clamp.

Shelter phono MC transformer. Qi cones at the bottom for isolation.

Let us start with introducing his system's cast members, a.k.a. "the equipment list". It starts with a Clearaudio Concerto cartridge equipped turn table, made by German firm Scheu Analog on the vinyl front. The low level signal extracted by the Clearaudio cartridge is sent to a Shelter MC transformer for the first 30db of amplification, followed by Audio Image's potent in house solid state phono stage doing the work of the remaining 40db or so.

Phono stage(on top) with separate power supply at bottom and various other spare TS Lim's Diva pre amps.

On the CD side of things, a Marantz CD67SE, treated to a full mod job by TS Lim( Diva master tweaker in Singapore). All source signals are then sent to a Jadis Gloria tube pre amp. Power amp is TS Lim's Diva Blue Sky, which uses NOS EL34 Mullard tubes(these babies are sweet!) to output 50W per chanel.

Delicate balancing act! Note the TS Lim "full mod" Marantz CD67 SE sitting on wooden Qi cones and the brass Walker cones on Tong Lee supplied Mana clone shelf.

The amplified signal this converted to sound energy by a pair of Harbeth M30 monitors sitting a top it's dedicated stands. Inter connects are FM cable(CD to pre amp), Diva Tocatta and Fugue(phono stage to pre amp and pre to power amp). A pair of lovely Yamamura Churchill speaker cables takes care of the final transmission duty. Power cords are from various sources including TS Lim's Diva Mongoose. A pair of Tice PLC and a unit of RGPC 400Pro cleans power from wall before supplying to system. Mr.A loves to balance his components on Qi Cones and Walker cones of various sizes on top of Tong Lee supplied Mana cloned racks, for every single component's isolation.

Jadis Gloria pre amp (top) and dedicated power supply unit (bottom).

See the Yamamura Churchill speaker cable resting on the Jadis power supply.

The system is set up in the lounge/hall area of his house, with the minimal use of room treatment products. I counted a pair of Tong Lee supplied bass traps at the corners of the speaker back wall and some Micheal Green look alike corner and front wall treatment patches. The speakers are placed well in to the listening area, almost near field like arrangement with no toe in.

Proudly TS Lim's fan club member, Mr.A!

We started the listening session by playing the soundtrack "Warriors of Heaven and Earth", scored by the really talented AR Rahman on CD. The sound of the system shocks me, at first with it's macro and micro dynamics's capabilities, then the overall drive, bass weight and slam really sounds like more than the 50 tubed watts powering a pair of 85db sensitivity speakers had any right to. This full tubed system has pace and speed that can rival any solid state based system with ease. Despite what all that has happened so far, this system also has a mellower side when the music calls for. Female voices(Rickie Lee Jones) breath beautifully, and the lively percussive quality(when playing the CD "Shakti" by John Mclachlan and gang) of this system is top notch! As we proceeded to play some LPs, namely Hugh Masekala's Hope 45 rpm LP and the "Stimela" track, (Hifikaki's fav this!) The low level resolution retrival quality from this LP playback is jaw droping on the very familiar track which both me and Hifikaki always listens to on CD.

Diva Blue Sky EL34 power amp, note the Diva inter connect cable?

While the CD player was spinning, I kept thinking this doesn't sound like a humble Marantz CD63 at all(which I had used for close to 10 years!). And I was right, Mr.A said it's a CD67SE(the CD67 does look exactly like the CD63!, except the model no. print), and a TS Lim full mod version at that! Ahh.... that's why people pay lots a $$$ for an old humble Marantz to be moded by TS Lim. It really is a giant killer!, in the context of this system.

Harbeth M30 speaker on dedicated stand.

TICE PLC and RGPC400 Pro. Note the Tong Lee suppiled corner tube trap?

Time certainly flies when we are having fun. Before we knew it, the time was past midnight and we had to make our way home. I ask Mr. A about his near future plans for the system?

For those wondering how a pair of Pipe Dreams look like, it's a 4 pc speaker design, with the towers taking care of the highs and mids in line array formation coupled to a pair of subs! Hifikaki counted 30pcs of tweeters on each side! The pair in the picture taken from website is the newer model but very much the same.

He replied that he can't wait for the up graded cross overs to come back for his Pipe Dreams speakers(Mr.A's main speakers, the Harbeths are just his spare back up speakers) , and a TS Lim Diva tubed phono stage to come for his vinyl source. Yummy! A follow up visit is due once these up grades are completed.

The always immaculately stylish "Sifu"!

One of my favourite audio gurus, Ken Ishiwata is celebrating his 30th Anniversary working with Marantz. To commemorate this event, Marantz will launch the SA-KI Pearl SACD player and PM-KI Pearl amplifier combo. The British audio press has leaked that these special products are due to be launched by end of this month!

There are only 500 pairs of these interesting one off products on offer world wide, and they will be truly special indeed, especially to Marantz fans and collectors worldwide. I bet the Europeans are already lining up in front of Marantz showrooms by now to snap up the units.

The "Black Pearl" finishing is special to touch. The internals of these babies are going to look and will probably sound great!

Technical specs are sketchy at this stage other than what is let known on Marantz European website at

Will we get to see this special pair in the metal at the Woo Kee Hong room during our July KLIAV show?

Would you like collect a pair?

First up, confession, I do not use a lot of tweak accessories with my hifi. The current items in my system that can be seen as tweaks are generic caps on the rca inputs of my monoblocks, my pre-amp (4 pieces), my cd player's digital output and a trio of finite elemente ceraballs under my pre-amp. If you want to count my finite elemente pagode signature rack as a big tweak, then you are welcome too. :-) My cdp, monoblocks, and speakers sit on the feet and spikes that they come with. All my cables either just dangle there or snake on the floor.

I like to equate audio tweaks to spices in cooking. Spices can't turn a fish dish into beef, but they are instrumental in supplementing and bringing out the true flavours of the main ingredients, and also to help the chef achieve the flavour that he/she aims for. The key, I think, is to use the right kind and the right amount.

I had a ball with Telos' products when Lil'KC and Ken visited me some time ago (see "Talking Torque again..." on April 13). The experience prompted me to call John Sin of C&O Audiophile Enterprise (012-5269313) to request for a complete set of Telos caps for evaluation.

Telos Caps Galore
John is a good sport. He supplied me with all I wanted, including Telos' rca caps, xlr caps (both male and female) and the speaker caps - they are of both the Gold and Platinum varieties, so that I could also do a comparison between the two.

The number of permutations possible for evaluation is limitless of course. One can mix Gold with Platinum, go the whole 9 yards by covering up every speaker, rca, xlr terminal, or cover up some but leave open others.

I got different results with my 2 cd players. Though experience with both was positive, there was a difference in the number of Telos caps I needed to achieve the sound quality I think has best balance of virtues. So I suspect they will be system dependent - you may need more of fewer than me to achieve the final result. Horses for courses.

To start, I took off all the generic caps I was using, and listened to the sound. It was not unlistenable, just that there was some hash in the highs and a slight confusion in the sound.
Telos RCA caps (Platinum above, Gold below)
Then, I proceed to put on the Telos Gold caps on each piece of equipment in sequence, listening for a while at each step, starting with the speaker terminals of my EgglestonWorks The Nine and going upstream. I started to hear discernible difference when I got to the rca inputs on my Pass Labs XA60 monoblocks. Yes, the background got quieter, the sound became a little smoother. This feeling is reinforced more and more as I ventured further up the chain. By the time I finished, the final transformation in sound was really quite pronounced - My system was operating on a velvety dark canvas. The images became more focused, their edges were better defined. The sound was smooth. Decay could be followed easier, take any well recorded vocal music, I used 2v1 and Rickie Lee Jones' 'Pop Pop' albums, and follow each phrase, you can track it until it vanishes into the darkness.

It was an impressive start. The words that easily came to mind to describe the improvements were 'clean', 'clear', 'transparent'.

A day more of listening, I was itching to 'tweak' the sound again. The sound now was controlled, to my ears just a little tight probably. I wanted to add a little liveliness and organic feel in the music, more flow. I pulled out some of the caps and tried out different configurations (well, this sounds easier on paper, like I said, there were a lot of permutations). At the end, I left the speaker caps and a few pairs of caps on my pre-amp out, and achieved what I wanted. In the process, I just need to sacrifice a bit of that background quietness.
Telos XLR caps (female version left, male version right)
Before I could go on to make comparison with the Platinum version, my Meridian developed a fault and had to go back to the dealer. I pressed my Copland CDA822 cd player into service. After a 3-day acclimatization period, I started evaluating the caps again. Suspecting that the Copland's relatively looser sound (the new Meridian has comparatively more defined and denser images) would benefit with more caps (which turned out to be true), I threw all cautions to the wind and put all the speaker, rca and xlr caps on again, where I did not have enough Gold rca caps, I used the Platinum ones.

The transformation was again pronounced - quieter, clearer, cleaner, more defined, tightened and focused images and soundstage.

A couple of days later, while enjoying the sound quality improvement, I felt the music did not involve me as much as before. It was a very polished performance no doubt but probably missed a bit of that something to pull me into the music fully.

I just have to find the right balance point like my previous experience. Rolling things back, I stopped with 3 more pairs of rca caps compared to the equilibrium point with the Meridian. This combination gave me listening bliss thereafter. It made me wondered far and wide into my CD collection, as it made many CDs so listenable.
Telos Speaker Caps
This experience told me that while the Telos caps gave good results, the users might have to experiment for the right number and the right combination for their system. As I said earlier - horses for courses. I also suspect the finite elemente pagode signature rack, which has greatly cleaned up my system's sound, probably warranted fewer caps to be used.

I was not done yet, I went on to compare the Gold to the Platinum version. I replaced all the Gold caps on my pre-amp to the Platinum ones. My goodness, the Platinum version was even more potent. All the earlier improvements were there and made more pronounced. In addition, they added more body and solidity to the sound. Transparency improved further, image edges were so well defined and everything was so easy to 'see'.

The old feeling did resurface though, I enjoyed the hifi attributes, but was not enjoying the music so much. The reason was found in the controlled and slightly sculpted highs. It could be heard on old recordings that have tape hiss (I used Billie Holiday's "Holiday for Lovers" Verve 314 589 932-2) and tracks that have a lot of cymbal works (such as the "Drum Improvisation Track" by Ron Tutt on The Sheffield Lab's Drum & Track Disc, at about 01:00 - 03:00), where the initial strike was heard cleaner and clearer, but the subsequent spread-in-the-air quality was curtailed a tad.

No problem, I was familiar with the routine already, I replaced the Platinum caps with Gold pair by pair. And found the best combination again with 2 pairs of caps reverted back to Gold.

Now, my system can be played louder without harshness, emotion and musical enjoyment was retained as before, even greater improvement in noise level and soundstage definition.

That was fun. These caps are going to stay in my system.

You should go out and get some, their quality is excellent, their price attractive (downright cheap with the Gold rca caps, I paid RM10 each for the generic caps, Telos' cost RM13 each list price, the quality between the two is a wide gulf). Experiment a little, I am quite certain that they will do something positive for you.

Let me leave you with this little cheeky tale - I was chit-chatting with a friend and told him how impressed I was with the caps. He then threw me this - "if an equipment's sound is badly affected by the 'holes' at the back, such that they have to be covered up, the manufacturer should give us as few 'holes' as possible, right? If, rather, the caps could improve the sound by virtue of them being added to the equipment, then the manufacturer should give us many many 'holes', so we can use a lot of caps to improve the sound, right? So, which is which?" I went gaga for a while.

Then I thought, the heck with it, I like the Telos caps, I am enjoying my system, should I care? :-)

List prices of Telos caps:
RCA caps - Gold --------------- RM130/10pcs
RCA caps - Platinum --------- RM250/10pcs
XLR male caps - Gold -------- RM130 /pair
XLR male caps - Platinum -- RM250/pair
XLR female caps - Gold ----- RM130/pair
XLR female caps - Platinum - RM250/pair
Speaker caps - Gold ---------- RM200/4pcs
Speaker caps - Platinum ---- RM350/4pcs

Telos is carried by C&O Audiophile Enterprise 05-5456477 / 012-5269313 (Mr. John Sin)

How can any hifi buff miss this place?

Folks, our good ol' familiar hifi store, or as CMY likes to call it "The Naim Centre", managed by the ever helpful Chan in Damansara Up Town, Petaling Jaya, has just got a make over!

The store front display.

The make over is done to accommodate some new range of products recently secured by CMY, namely, Dynaudio speakers, Acoustic System Resonators(our friend CK would be thrilled!) and the in coming Jeff Rowland Design Group electronics. Yummy, Yummy, indeed!

The very affordable quality QED cables and power accessories corner.

Eye fi candy store! Audio equipment display galore.

CMY has always been regarded by many as a hifi supermarket of sorts because they carry a wide range of hifi and AV brands to suit every needs, aspirations and budget. Amongst their brands excluding the 2 mentioned above are Goldring, QED, Siltech, PrimaLuna, Brightstar Audio, Rel Acoustics, RGPC, Naim, Primare, Copland, Usher, Audio Pro, Blue Horizon, Proac, Boston Acoustics Horizon, Denon and Onkyo. I hope I didn't leave brands any out.

CMY also sells various accessories like the Milty Static gun, WBT connector parts, nickel coated RCA caps(these are really good stuff, if you've not tried), Cardas RCA caps, various tubes and an extended range of audiophile CDs, especially from the Naim label.

Primare CDP & integrated amp powering Proac Response D28. Note PrimaLuna tube CDP and integrated amp. RGPC power line conditioner and Siltech power cords in the back ground.

As you walk in to the familiar part of the store greets you with some entry level demo systems followed by rows of AV and hifi equipment on display shelf. Really makes me feel like a kid in a candy store!

More equipment display, spot the lone Goldring turntable?

Then there are the big Usher speakers in the familiar demo room with the full range of Usher electronics. This room also doubles as an AV demo area with projector screens and cinema theme decor adorning it's walls.

The flagship Usher Beryllium and electronics. AV demoed here too!

Siltech corner in dedicated glass display. You'll need assistance to get a feel of their superb quality.

Boston Acoustics for quality table radio fans. Chan did not serve me the wine? I should've asked.

However, once past the cashier counter looking at your left, you'll find the Siltech corner by the side of the Boston Acoustic Horizon Solo display shelves. As you walk thru the walk way, You'll be greeted by the full range of Dynaudio speakers, accompanied by Naim, Usher and the soon to arrive JRDG electronics. This new area, just completed recently and fitted with soft lighting with light ceiling deflector treatment also has Acoustic System Resonators and other tweaks fitted to improve the room acoustics.

More Ushers on static display.

The ceiling treatment. Nice and effective!
Acoustic System Resonator and other range of room tune tweak applied in this area.

The full line of Dynaudio Confidence on display, awaiting their Jeff Rowland mates.

Dynaudio 30th Aniversary Saphire speakers(inner pair in special Rose wood finish), and Naim electronics with RGPC PLC.

I was listening to the demo system consisting of Naim CDX2 CDP, Naim pre-power combo with their dedicated Hi Cap/Flat Cap power supply boxes in tow, powering a pair of smallish Dynaudio C1 Confidence on dedicated stands. This system rocks surprisingly hard. We were spinning some Queen music and the track, Another one bites the dust, really nailed me to the wall, with its big, bold tuneful bass whilst maintaining the tracks simplistic clarity and drive so wonderfully coherent!

The rocking system! Note how small the Dyanaudio Confidence C1 is, compared to the giant Naim DBL speakers(outer pair). But sound is certainly big and confident. You're looking at a RM$100k or so worth of equipment here!(excluding the Naim speakers)

I love the way the Naim rack complements the look of their electronics.

RGPC with UK style 13 amps rated outlets, especially just for Naim systems.

Bespoke British style 13 amps rated plugs designed by Naim for Naim equipment!

I then went on to audition the "new" Usher Tiny Dancer speakers powered by Usher electronics and Copland CD823 CDP. The sound was warm and very forgiving in nature. It made for very easy listening. It did not do the Queen or rock music particularly well, but I am sure many will like it's easy listening nature. Having said that, the speakers are new as they just arrived and have not broken in yet. So there's certainly much room for more performance.

If only this sexy "tiny?" Dancer can dance in to my audio cave. Just makes me wanna caress the dancer!

I spent half a Saturday there with some of my hifi buddies, and we all had a great time there, until we all got a little hungry and went on to feast our selves with some of the most sumptuous tasting nasi lemak in KL, just a few blocks away! Excellent hifi, glorious music, great company of like minded fellas and sumptuous food, it was a lovely day out in CMY Damansara Uptown!

And finally, congrats to CMY Audio & Visual for securing some of the most successful brands in the hifi business!