Friday, January 30, 2009

Random Thoughts

It is now the first month of both International and Lunar calendars; I hereby wish everybody a very Happy New Year. I celebrated this Lunar New Year with my family at my parents' new home in JB after being host for the immediate past 3 years. The festive season enabled my siblings and I to get together as many of us are already settled down with growing kids and work/reside in different states. We hardly meet on other normal days.

A great reunion time which also meant no music listening to my main hifi system for the entire week I was away. Music playback was only limited to a system made up of Denon DCD-690 cdp, Celestion 7 standmount loudspeakers, my 2nd T-amp, Monster interconnects and cables. Overall impression: a modest system which sounds pretty good and very enjoyable although all components (my T-amp exempted) are more than 15 years' old now and have thus aged significantly. The first thought to hit me was if a modest and simple system could sound this good, do I really need my more expensive equipments? Further listening to my room system of Sansui CD-X310 cdp, Q-Acoustics 1010 bookshelf loudspeakers, my main T-amp (with full discrete parts and 24-steps attenuator) and el-cheapo cables at home further reinforced such a thought. Could I live with a pair of NOS Epos m12.2 of which the local agent is clearing at attractive low price instead of my Sonus Faber Concerto Home loudspeakers which require amplifiers capable of churning out substantial wattages in order to drive them well and as such my Simaudio Moon i3 integrated amp too? Perhaps I should just dispose off them and park the proceeds in return-yielding investments for my post retirement use. If only life could be simpler than this!

I like possessing minimal personal belongings both at home and in my office, being less crowded by things and having more free space around me. We really need very little possessions to live decently – a case in point is when we are away from home, having only a suitcase with few items therein. Most of time, a fair portion of our belongings are either redundant or purely decorative in nature, ie. having more forms over their functions.

Back to the subject of high fidelity. Coincidentally, a forumer at LYN rightly pointed out that the Sonus Fabers are capable of producing real thick tones of instruments just like how the real things should sound and that not many transducers are capable of this feat. What a timely reminder! I have almost forgotten that I had earlier vowed myself to keep the Concertino/Concerto Homes (these are at the entry level into the realms of Sonus Fabers) for good although they might turn out to be only average sounding after the excitement of new acquisition has simmered down for they are a pair of handsome-looking furniture with solid Walnuts. So, the Sonus Faber Concerto Homes stay put and so is the Simaudio Moon i3 integrated amp for together as a pair they produce one of the most refined, smooth sound with organic warmth and texture, great rhythmic flow and possessing excellent bass weight that many system could only envy. They suit the genres of music that I enjoy most and usually play. I would like to try out Kimberkable 8TC cables again and if found to be suitable, to eventually replace the vdH CS-122 hybrid cables in my main system. I have previously owned the older 8TC in blue and black colours which I did not like as much I should have and price of the newer series has increased many folds. The vdH First interconnects may also be replaced for they are a tad too laidback, one-noted and lacked absolute airiness although I find music through them sounding extremely natural. In hifi setups, it is all about the "best compromise for the least trade-off". I had wanted to tame the harsh high frequencies of my digital playback with vdH First but in the process, I find subtle details, bass blooms and grunts may have also been removed. Apparently the trade-off now is not the least or so it seems.

Many folks are curious as to how good the class T amplifiers really are in comparison to commercial ones. My take on this subject after the excitement of my experience with TA2024 chip based T-amp has mellowed down is it is very good and dependent upon the other parts used within the circuit inclusive of the volume potentiometer. It lacks absolute bass weight unless loudspeakers of 95dB and above are being deployed and many DIYers have got around this shortcoming by tweaking with bigger capacitance' electrolytic capacitors in its PSU section. In my opinion, doing so changes the characteristics of the T-amp with some detrimental effect to other areas such as its macro dynamics and details. It wins hands down if its use in within confine of small listening area and absolute wattage is not required upon.

I have always fancy owning a valve power amplifier with simple circuit design yet having good sounding and durable parts again and thought that I may one day build or commission a DIY sifu to hand build such an amplifier for me but I doubt it would have the ability to really drive my SF Concerto Homes decently without much strain. I have found my former Audio Note Kit 1 with 300B valves to be too slow sounding and lack the power to drive even a pair of Mordaunt-Short 10i Pearls. The only valve amplifier which has managed to excite me thus far is the Conrad Johnson Premier 11a, a stereo power amplifier with 4 units of 6550 valves in push-pull configuration. My DIYed passive preamplifier has been built for such purpose or dream in advance. I have yet to seriously test-drive and perfect it.

At present moment, I enjoy listening to the records with my Rega P5 turntable with Denon DL-160 high output MC cartridge after replacing the RB700 tonearm's stainless steel counterweight and glass platter plus its felt mat with the Michell Tecnoweight and Acrylteller acrylic platter respectively. I bet Roy Gandy would disapprove of such tweaks although they are reversible but the benefiting effects are very pronounced to my own ears. I, however, concur with his view that VTA on a Rega turntable only need to be in ballpark figures and need not be exact as rigidity of mounting the tonearm to the table is certainly more important. I have only fitted a 2mm thick alloy spacer although I am in need of 3.6mm height to the pivot point of the tonearm but hear no adverse effect as I did with my former ProJect turntables.

I could not attest as to how good the modified ProJect Mk1 phonobox I am having now really is but based on my gut feel, it is only decent sounding and my vinyl playback could definitely be improved further with a better phono stage. My quest for simplicity in life and hifi design has brought to my attention the 47 Laboratory Model 4712 PhonoCube phono stage which further led me to RJM’s PhonoClone, a design which mirrors/clones the PhonoCube. However, these phono stages are meant for the low output MC cartridges with their 75/90dB gain from its only 2 stages in circuit design. From there it led me to VSPS, a non-inverting single stage phono box capable of 40/50dB for MMs and high output MCs. I already bought a VSPS PCB and received my free Burr Brown OPA2111 stereo opamp meant for evaluation from T.I. Inc, USA to start off yet another DIY project by using either the 1,000pF Cornell Dubilier 1% silver mica or Wima FKP2 5% polypropylene capacitors and the rare 732K and 105K 0.1% ceramic resistors in the RIAA section of the phono stage. The trick here would be to opt for pair matched capacitors and resistors. VSPS uses a toroidal transformer capable of at least 35A and with 2 secondary windings of 12V AC each to be bridged to attain output current of 15V DC. The problem with DIY, is certain parts have to be bought in minimum quantities which would result in us having some extra pieces and the risk of having to replace certain parts later should the sound not be up to our expectations. Alternatively, with the Pound Sterling exchange rate favouring me currently, perhaps I might be better off by buying in London, UK the Creek OBH-15 phono stages which Martin Colloms awarded 35 marks to its 37dB gain MM section. It uses a 24V AC wall wart and I wonder whether I could further improve upon its sound and build a common PSU for both my Rega P5 turntable and the said phono stage.

On the software front, I picked up a couple more of LPs and CDs which are worth mentioning here:
(1) Sonny Rollins's Way Out West, a new LP by Fantasy Inc, USA for RM56 (S$23) – fabulous sounding although this is clearly a reissue of which its sonics has been 'watered down' from its first pressings.

(2) Tchaikovsky Piano Concerto No. 1 performed by Lazar Berman / Herbert von Karajan / Berliner Philharmoniker. This used but mint copy of 1976 original Deutsche Grammophon LP puts my original 1994 CD of the same piano concerto performed by Martha Argerich / Claudio Abbado / Berliner Philharmoniker to shame especially in LP's superb resolving capability, tone and timbre of instruments and sound staging.

(3) Cai Qin's No Regrets (蔡琴-不悔) new album which comes in CD+DVD. She renders 6 new songs since joining Universal Music plus 4 presumely oldies live from her recent concert performances in Mainland China. Till now I could only confirmed 2 of the songs she performed live as oldies. My personal rating: good but not excellent.

(4) Lily Come Face to Face with Chris (鮑比達與陳潔麗) CD. This is my first Lily Chen's CD and my first impression of it was only so so, however after more listening sessions, I thought the album is very good.

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