Friday, December 22, 2017

Oyaide Armored Series IEC / AC Plugs

Introduction

Oyaide has just released a new line of AC and IEC plugs. It's been more than a decade since they launched their original lineup of premium AC and IEC plugs, so it is nice to see that they are not resting on their laurels.

The three model lineup consists of the AP/C-004, 037 and the 029. Sharp eyed readers will notice that two models models has been omitted, the 046 and 079. So, that leaves you with the two choices of plating, silver / rhodium, and platinum / palladium.

Here is a quick comparison table :-

Model  Blade Material       Plating

029      Brass                     None
037      Phosphor Bronze  Silver / Rhodium
004      Beryllium Copper  Platinum / Palladium

Oyaide and their local dealer X-Audio were kind enough to supply me with their new plugs, as well as the original versions for comparison purposes, and enough bulk cable (Oyaide Black Mamba V2) to hook everything up. Me old fingers will take a while to strip and terminate everything, so please be patient in the meantime.


Comparison of the armored AP-004 (top) with it's predecessor, the P-004
Teardown of the AP-004

A close-up view of the front housing

The new "floating" cable clamp
Cable clamp of the P-004

Rear housing




AP-004 (left) vs P-004 

Initial Impressions

Readers expecting the new plugs to be massive machined pieces like some of the competition out there will be sorely disappointed. Weight wise, there isn't any noticeable difference. The AP-004 weighed in at 65 grams vs 60 grams for the P-004.

Visually, the star-shaped terminal clamp is much thicker. The three piece body also feels more sturdy, with the pressure exerted by the screws more evenly distributed. Both the front and rear screws are secured through the metal insert in the midsection. A quick test with a multi-meter confirms that the plugs when assembled, the screws are fully conductive from rear to front screw. The next surprise is that the plastic body is conductive too. A quick check on Oyaide's website confirms that the polycarbonate is actually metal film deposit infused. It is not connected to protective earth though.  

A big thumbs-up goes to the "floating" cable clamp. The previous design had an annoying habit of pushing the cable off-center, and putting unnecessary pressure on the cable and weakening the mechanical connection between the star-shaped terminal clamp and the bare wires. I never really tightened down the cable clamp on the old design for that reason. The new cable clamp "floats" and is therefore self-centering.

You may also notice that the cut-outs for accessing the terminal clamp are larger now, and the clearly labelled as Earth, Live and Neutral. Hardcore DIYers have such information etched into their brain and can recite this in their sleep, but it is a nice touch nonetheless. Even nicer is the supplied instruction manual that is so detailed that it lists maximum torque for tightening each screw, and even recommended screwdriver sizes and brands. You really can't get more detailed than that !

004

Luckily for users, the double "0" does not refer to a licence to kill - we all want to enjoy our hobby for many years to come. The original 004 was a bit polarising, you either loved it or hated it, thanks to an extremely unforgiving level of resolution coupled with a slightly cool / analytical tone.

The AP/C-004 on the other hand is a much more likable plug. It does not sound drastically different from the P/C-004 but improves on it's resolving and focussed character. The Armoured plugs go deeper and tighter in bass notes, while mid-bass has a subtle sweetness and fullness. This was very obvious on the Oyaide Black Mamba V2, but not so obvious on the Acrolink 4030 Anniversario power cord. Midrange has a softer and gentler character, while high frequencies are both neater and more refined. I always considered the P/C-004 to be a poster child for neatness - very tidy imaging and soundstaging - everything being neat and stable. However, the Armoured plugs just go that extra mile and bring noticeable improvements in those areas !

It's difficult going back to the P/C-004 after hearing the benefits of the Armoured plugs. Well worth the extra expense in my opinion.

M1 / F1 dethroned ?

Does this mean that the M1 / F1 is no longer the king of the Oyaide castle ? Surely, Oyaide will have a new and improved version of the M1 / F1 soon ? Curiosity never did kill this cat, so I decided to terminate some Mamba cable with my personal set of M1 / F1 plugs.        

To be continued ...

Friday, November 10, 2017

USB Cable Length Test

Have you ever wondered what are the effects of your USB cable length on sonics ? Let's find out.



I assembled three audiophile USB cables in different lengths.

1. Curious Cable (1.2m and 0.2m)
2. Wireworld Platinum Starlight Series 6 (2m and 5m)
3. Blackcat Cable Indigo Prototype (1m and 0.5m)

Since my Melco NAS is placed a distance away from my DAC, I tested the Curious Cable and Blackcat Cable Indigo Prototype by hooking up my Melco NAS via a 2m WIreworld Platinum Starlight Series 2m cable to a SOtM tx-USBultra USB hub / regenerator, and then the cable in question to my Totaldac DAC.

For the Wireworld, both cables were long enough to reach my DAC, and I ran the cables directly from the NAS to DAC (the Melco has a USB port).

Listening to the various cables on test, it was hard to believe that length had such a great effect - not quite the results I was expecting.

In the case of the Curious Cable, the 0.2m cable had drier and smaller images, while the 1.2m had a fuller sound with the dimensionality that I liked so much from this cable. Coming to the Blackcat, the short tailed cat had a leaner tonality with a sharper leading edge, while the long tailed cat had a more relaxed sound and a subtly sweeter tone. Both cats were highly detailed and were equally resolving.The Wireworld had the most stark difference - the 5 m Wireworld could be described better as "Waterworld", with a rather vague and watery tone. The 2m Wireworld had it's feet planted firmly on solid ground, with a solid and punchy tone. In all cases, the shorter cables had a closer soundstage presentation compared to their longer twin.

These kind of tests are by no means scientific, but I felt that the shorter cables had a greater sense of immediacy and edge, while the longer cables tended to emphasize the characteristic of the cable itself. In the case of extremely long USB cables, I did not like the effect at all, with the sound becoming too distant and vague. So folks, we have been getting wrong all along - length matters !






Monday, October 9, 2017

Press Release - Nagra HD Preamp

Audio Technology Switzerland is proud to announce it is releasing its most ambitious preamplifier ever: the new NAGRA HD PREAMP.

Rocky Mountain Audio Fest, Denver, USA - Friday the 6th October 2017. The Swiss company announces it is releasing a new preamplifier to compliment the HD range, that will be simply called the HD PREAMP.  

Nagra is demonstrating the new HD PREAMP at the RMAF in room 1030.
_________________________________________________________________________

World announcement of the NAGRA HD PREAMP, almost twenty years after the NAGRA PL-P preamplifier was released on the high-end market.

In 1998, NAGRA Audio division introduced its very first high-end consumer product after more than 40 years of continuous success in the professional recording market. The PL-P preamplifier was a class A triode-based line and phono preamplifier that immediately set new standards in sound reproduction.

In many ways, the HD PREAMP’s design started from a white page. Every aspect and step in the design process involved research to find the most elegant solution to accurately and faithfully convey the music from your sources to the amplifier. As a result, the HD PREAMP includes several patent pending technologies that are taking the music listening experience to new height.

Nagra unique approach to designing audio products takes advantage of 65 years of experience in the field, a large and skilled R&D group as well as extensive listening sessions; the result is often very organic and natural sounding. In order for the final product to be faithful to the theoretical work, custom made high-end components are carefully selected. The unit includes in-house custom-made components like audio transformers.

The volume control is a patent pending technology that allows perfect level matching with a much more transparent sound compared to potentiometers and switch resistor technology, because there is no attenuation of the input signal, just an automatic selection of a tap on the Nagra custom output transformers.

As expected with such high quality electronics, the sophisticated power supply will be located in a separate chassis. Like the audio circuit, it uses utmost quality components that are specified for extreme applications. Very much like the PL-P made use of batteries to isolate the unit from external interferences, the HD PREAMP’s power supply uses a unique virtual battery technology that offer superior result to a conventional battery, without the inconvenience of dealing with charging time and battery life. Consequently, the noise floor level at the preamplifier reaches uncharted territories; it is the lowest ever measured with a NAGRA product (See attached).

The construction of the chassis of the HD PREAMP and its power supply gets rid of the influence of external disturbances (vibration and electrical) and drastically reduces proper resonances. As a result, the HD PREAMP promises to set new standards for preamplification as did the PL-P twenty years ago.
First units will be delivered by the end of November. The suggested retail price list in the USA is 59’500 US$.


Contact
Matthieu Latour, Marketing Director, matthieu.latour@nagraaudio.com

About ATS - Audio Technology Switzerland
Founded in 1951 by Stefan Kudelski, NAGRA has been designing some of the most influencing equipment in the audio industry. From the Oscar ® Awards winning NAGRA professional tape recorders to the rewarded NAGRA HD electronics, the company has continuously perpetuated the utmost excellence in electronics design and manufacturing. In 2012, Audio Technology Switzerland S.A. formerly Nagra Audio division is created. Still largely owned by the Kudelski family, Audio Technology Switzerland designs, manufactures and market NAGRA professional, high-end audio and security products. It is continuing the tradition of sophistication and originality that has established the prestige of the NAGRA brand all around the world for over 60 years.








By the way guys, if that didn't get you all excited, you should get professional help from your nearest audio clinic or dare I say, Nagra dealer.

Acuhorn - New products from Poland


Acuhorn RATE class-D amplifier  2500 EUR
www.acuhorn.pl/rate.htm

Features


Monolithic class-d stereo amplifier chip by texas instruments
total harmonic distortion + noise 0.005%
signal to noise ratio 111dB
dynamic range 115dB
protection of both amplifier and speakers
the audiophile selection of each component is a listening session
stepped attenuators are the most preferred solution in high end audio
high quality precision 0.1% thin film Nichrome chip resistors
the amplifier input is isolated high impedance input Lundahl transformers
extreme audio path high quality and transparent sounding
power supply is the best Vicorpower modules
DC-DC converters high frequency Mhz switching
autoranging 90-264Vac network voltage, for worldwide use

Acuhorn R2R hi-tech streamer 3600 EUR
www.acuhorn.pl/r2r.htm

Features


R2R ladder 28 bit resolution 384Khz dac
loaded FPGA Spartan 6 technology oversampling up to 3.072Mhz
signal to noise ratio 127dB
automatic input selection I2S or SPDIF
R-2R direct output and buffered output for headphones
server runs on Raspberry Pi for I2S interface
compatible with all formats music: MP3, FLAC, WAV, AAC, ALAC, DSD
UPNP\DLNA, Airplay, Spotify and Web-Radios, etc
controlled wifi from remote running on smartphones, tablets, notebooks
MoOde web interface to control playback and settings
power supply is the best Vicorpower modules
DC-DC converters high frequency Mhz switching
autoranging 90-264Vac network voltage, for worldwide use









For more information, please contact :-

Acuhorn
Krtuska 243A
Gdansk 80-125
Poland
phone 0048 737476346
www.acuhorn.pl
email: info@acuhorn.pl

Sunday, September 24, 2017

Denafrips Pontus R2R DAC

Introduction

You just can't stop the onslaught of discrete R2R DACs. The Denafrips Pontus is a R2R DAC with separate resistor networks for both PCM and DSD. Really solid build, a lot of nice ideas and a price tag that will not break the bank - S$2,200. 

Denafrips is a China manufacturer with a line-up of 4 DAC models, ranging from the very budget friendly base model, Ares (retailing for the very auspicious sum of S$ 888) to the top of the range model, Terminator (no Arnold jokes please ! This retails for S$ 5,860). At the time of writing, the exchange rate was about S$ 1.35 for US$ 1.

The model on review here is second from the bottom.

Description

Pontus was a sea god in Greek mythology. This Pontus is a rather petite landlubber. Measuring just 320 x 330 x 80 mm, the Pontus weighs 8.5 kg. It is very well equipped with a total of 7 digital inputs (coaxial RCA, coaxial BNC, twin AES / EBU inputs, Toslink, I2S (my sample uses HDMI, but RJ45 can be specified), and USB.

The output stage is fully balanced, and both XLR and RCA outputs are provided. 

The front panel buttons from left to right are for the power switch, inputs, phase (called Reserval (sic)), oversampling, mute and the digital filter mode. A plethora of pin-prick indicators show the active input, sampling rate and DSD mode. In my bat-cave, the wording was so small that I couldn't really see anything.

Denafrips may want to have a re-think on its ergonomics and the quality of it's user manual. I found it very odd that the Reserval (spell-check guys !) light indicated normal phase, while the OS/NOS light indicated that no over-sampling was selected. The manual simply explains that the mode button toggles between slow / sharp filters and advises that, "You are fine with either selection should you hear no difference."

Otherwise, the Pontus is all good. The build quality is outstanding, especially considering its price tag. I liked the cut-outs at the rear of the top panel. They look artistic and bring some variety to the otherwise monotonous box. Practically, the cut-outs were probably necessary to avoid blocking the push tabs of the XLR sockets.

Looking at the pictures on Denafrips web-site, parts quality is outstanding, with a Furutech AC inlet and other premium parts from manufacturers like Nichicon, Neutrik, etc. 







The Pontus uses double toroidal transformers for its power supply and dual mono FPGA decoders. The R2R ladder network uses 0.01 % precision resistors and is capable of 24 bit resolution. DSD is decoded natively by a separate resistor network. 

Looking at the comparison chart on Denafrips website, Pontus is separated from its elder siblings by a number of features. The Terminator sports a far larger power transformer, while both the Terminator and Venus get higher precision R2R resistors (0.005 % tolerance), Femto clocks and a 26 bit resolution R2R ladder network.   

All inputs are capable of DSD64, while DSD 128 and 256 are only available via USB and I2S. PCM sampling rates up to 352.8 kHz and 24 bit resolution can be decoded.

I tested most of the inputs including the I2S and USB inputs on both PCM and DSD 64 - no issues were encountered. The I2S output from my Singxer SU-1 did require a bit of leg work to get the settings right though. No surprises there, since there is no real industry standard for I2S pin outs. I did not use the I2S input much. I only had a stock HDMI cable on hand, and this probably curtailed performance.

I spent most of my time listening through the AES input with a Viard Audio Silver HD Digital cable. This had the best balance amongst the cables at my disposal. To ensure a fair comparison to my Totaldac D1-six, I set up the Pontus the same way, using the balanced outputs of the Pontus, converted to single ended using my Totaldac XLR to RCA transformer based adapters. 

Sound Quality

I will go right out and say this - the Pontus offers outstanding sound quality for the money. I would be hard pressed to suggest another unit with competitive performance at the price bracket. 

The Pontus would best be described as sounding very cohesive. It has a very composed sonic presentation with a good even balance. Resolution is very good, with commendable retrieval of micro-detail.

Tonally, I would put it as sitting somewhere to the subtly warm side of neutral. In comparison, the Vinshine DAC or the Holo Audio Spring DAC (Level 3) have a warmer balance.

Bass notes are reproduced in a tight, clean and rhythmic fashion. There is no bloat, fullness, or overhang here, and some may find the low frequencies to be somewhat dry and lightweight. This tended to give the Pontus a reduced sense of scale and dynamic restraint.

Initially, I found the midrange to be overly laidback. Out went the excellent Blackcat Tron coaxial cable, and in went the Viard Audio Silver HD Digital AES cable. The Viard has a very neutral tone and a drier balance than the Tron. While the midrange remained on the laidback side, it was nicely detailed and expressive. 

High frequencies are great with the Pontus, with good extension, refinement and nice reproduction of acoustic space in recordings.  

Soundstaging and imaging are also a strong point, with very precise placement of instruments both laterally, and depth wise. Sonic images were always kept tightly in focus, without any wavering even when things got busy.

Suggestions though that the Pontus is the one DAC to rule them all are misplaced (why do all audiophiles get all excited by these possible David vs Goliath stories ?). You can get much higher performance than the Pontus, but by spending at least three or four times more money. My Totaldac D1-Six has superior dynamics, more powerful bass, and a dimensionality to the sound that makes the Pontus seem flat in comparison. However, I could buy a Pontus for each of my three bedrooms, my two toilets, kitchen, dining room and still have a fair amount left over.

Conclusion

Great performance at the asking price. Probably not the best choice for bass heads, but otherwise, the Pontus has very little flaws. Makes you wonder how good Denafrips top model is ? It's never been better for audiophiles on a tight budget - Highly Recommended.

A big thank you goes to Alvin Chee of Vinshine Audio for arranging this review. Vinshine Audio is the global dealer for Denafrips.

Denafrips Pontus DAC
Price - S$ 2,200

Denafrips
http://www.denafrips.com

Vinshine Audio
http://www.vinshineaudio.com


Friday, September 22, 2017

Acrolink Mexcel 7N-PC-6700 and 7N-PC9700 Mexcel Power Cords

Introduction

Acrolink's new Mexcel range of power cords landed in Singapore last month. Is it time to break the piggy bank ? Readers may want to take a moment to read my previous review of the Mexcel 9500 and 7500 power cords here

For the unfamiliar, the Mexcel series is the flagship range of cables for Acrolink. Mexcel cables are particularly popular in Asia where they enjoy considerable popularity amongst audiophiles that demand the highest levels of performance. 

Description

The Mexcel power cord range was originally made up of three models, the PC6100, 7100 and 9100. The second generation introduced a fourth member, the PC5100 as an entry level model. At the moment, only the two power cords on review here have been released in the fourth generation lineup of Mexcel power cables.

Mexcel power cords have a mind of their own. They do not take kindly to manipulation or threatening instructions. Their girth and stiffness are not the worst in class, but a little bit of effort and gentle persuasion are required to route them into your desired position.  

I liked the new colour scheme introduced for the PC6700, a very nice hue of green that reminds me of Emerald. A nice change from the boring white jacket used in the PC6500 and 6100. The PC9700 on the other hands looks just like it's predecessor, the PC9500.

Both cables are of similar diameter (16mm) and stiffness. My imagination suggested that the 6700 was a touch more flexible, but I doubt anybody would notice any practical difference.

The neutral and live conductors of the 6700 are made up of 50 strands of 0.37mm diameter 7N DUCC copper, while the earth conductor is made up of 50 strands of 0.37mm diameter 4.5N soft copper. The 9700 on the other hand uses finer strands of 0.32 mm diameter 7N DUCC copper. Strand count is the same at 50 strands per conductor. 

DUCC (Dia Ultra Crystallized Copper) is a proprietary annealing technology used by Mitsubishi Electric, Acrolink's parent company. It is described as stress-free (do you give the conductors a single malt before annealing ?) and results in an ideal orientation of the wire's copper crystals.

Both cables are armoured (shielded) to the hilt, with full braid shielding. The 6700 adds a mylar foil shield to that, while the 9700 uses semi-conductive carbon tape. A electromagnetic wave absorber thread and a silk thread run through the centre of both cables. The filler material in between the conductors and the outer jacket consist of a compound designed to reduced vibration and electrical noise. The 6700 uses a combination of polyolefin, tungsten and amorphous powder, while the 9700 adds carbon into the mix. 

In my listening experience, Mexcel power cords have astonishingly low noise-floor - all that magic powder certainly works !






Sound Quality


PC-6700

I will admit that I was not really a fan of the Mexcel 6000 series based on my brief ownership of the PC-6100. Nothing really wrong with that cable, but I did not find it to be as outstanding as it's illustrious siblings. I willingly retract that statement for the 6700. At half the price of the 9700, it delivers exceedingly high performance for the price. It's nice to think that this power cord is not unattainable for the typical audiophile.

The 6700 is a quiet, precise cable that plays it close to the path of neutrality. It is not dead-centre neutral, and could be said to have a soft expressive tone.

Timing is spot-on and no issues should be encountered keeping up with faster types of music. Bass is punchy and tight. It avoids the fuller mid-bass of the Acrolink 6N-4030 II and 7N-4030 III, which is likely to be a contributing factor to it's timing supremacy.

Midrange is presented in a natural fashion, with a subtly laidback character. Despite a total absence of cable-added grain, the 6700 is very expressive, with various levels of shading and nuances that escape lesser cables. 

High frequencies have always been an Acrolink strength. It is no different here, with very extended and refined highs. In this respect, I have always considered Mexcel cables to a class leader.

Soundstaging is also excellent, with precision placement of instruments and voices in the mix. This comes with both excellent width, depth, and dimensionality - each voice and instrument subtly expands in its individual acoustic space. 

PC-9700

Leapfrogging to the top dog gets you the 6700 on steroids, with significant improvement in a number of areas.

The most noticeable improvement is the driving force in bass lines. The 9700 goes deeper, and with more intensity and articulation.

This intensity is applied in more gentle strokes to the rest of the frequency spectrum, although for the midrange, it is enough to result in a subtly more forward staging of vocalists. You also get an improvement in quietness, expressiveness, retrieval of micro-detail, and more dimensionality. 

Comparisons with the 9500 prove interesting. The 9500 has more raw energy and exuberance, while the 9700 reflects a more matured and cultured approach. It was as if the 9500 spent some time on self-reflection and decided to channel its excessive energy into cultured and genteel activities. If you felt that the 9500 was a little bit too much in terms of tonal intensity and drive, the 9700 would be a lot more palatable. 

Assuming that the 9700 does not push your system over the edge, it is certainly the better cable. Audiophiles love power, drama and refinement, especially when it comes all in one package. I've heard cables that cost even more than the 9700, but none have captivated me me to this degree. Consider me sold on the 9700 !

If you currently own the 9500 and love it's energy levels and intensity, consider your wallet safe. If you were not convinced by the 9500 and preferred the gentler approach of the 7500, consider an audition of the 9700 to be mandatory.

Conclusion

Acrolink has outdone itself once again. It is impressive that they continue to raise the bar of performance and I look forward to seeing the rest of the fourth generation line-up. The 6700 proved to be a surprise. I did not try the rather short-lived 6500, so I can only speculate on the improvements made. In any event, I love both cables on review here - Highly Recommended. The 6700 in addition gets my stamp of approval for Best Buy.

I would like to thank X-Audio, the local dealer for Acrolink for arranging for this review.

Acrolink 7N-PC6700 Anniversario Power Cord
Price : S$ 2,500 - 1.5 m

Acrolink 7N-PC9700 Mexcel Power Cord
Price : S$ 4,500 - 1.5 m

X Audio Pte Ltd
Bukit Timah Plaza. 
1 Jalan Anak Bukit, #01-01S
Singapore 588996
6466 2642 

Acrolink 7N-PC4030 Anniversario

Introduction

Here is a special edition of the ever popular Acrolink 7N-4030 power cable. This has been one of my favourite cables over the years. You may want to have a look at my earlier posts on the 6N-4030 and the 7N-4030II.


Description

The Anniversario is available both in factory terminated version (the Anniversario CB) and off-the-reel. A smaller gauge version is also available in the form of the 7N-PC4020 Anniversario.

The Anniversario continues to use 7N DUCC copper conductors. However,  this model uses larger diameter copper strands but with less strand count compared to the it's predecessor (50 strands of 0.37 mm diameter copper vs. 100 strands of 0.26 mm diameter). The outer copper foil shield gets a drain wire which permits you to ground the shield if desired. 

The black jacket of the 7N-4030II had a rubbery feel to it, and the very fragile wording reminded me of some of my NOS vacuum tubes - a touch and that was the end of the print ! I much prefer the new jacket that looks better and should be trouble free. According to Acrolink's website, the Anniversario uses a UV resistant urethane jacket.  




I purchased my Anniversario off-the-reel and terminated it with Oyaide P/C 004 plugs, which use Platinum and Palladium plate over Beryllium Copper alloy blades. I consider these plugs to be extremely resolving and very neutral. I left my handiwork to burn-in over a couple of weeks before doing any serious listening.

Sound Quality

Owners of the 6N-4030 would be in for a rude shock while 7N-4030II owners would probably consider the Anniversario to be an evolution rather than revolution. Tonally, the Anniversario is close to neutral, stripping the excess fat of the 6N-4030. Those hoping for the mid-bass bloom and the extended decay of the previous generation models will be disappointed. This is a lean mean fighting machine - think of those sinewy lightning fast mixed martial arts exponents and you get the idea.

In no way though is the Anniversario hard sounding or harsh. Midrange remains grain-free and slightly laidback, while both low and high frequencies are well controlled and extended. However, the bass quality of the Anniversario is quite different, with a drier, tauter character. Thankfully, extension and articulation still remains top-notch. I found the midrange to have a subtly softer quality with more expressiveness (very much like a lesser form of the Mexcel 6700 power cord). Similarly, high frequencies have less "push" compared to the previous model, with less of a leading edge, and shorter decays. 

The eagle-eyed may have noticed from Acrolink's website that the Anniversario and the Mexcel 6700 use similar conductors. The differentiating qualities between the two are added precision and a lower noise floor in favour of the Mexcel. The Anniversario places instruments and voices around the soundstage in a slightly more diffuse manner. 

The Mexcel remains by far the better cable, but with a much higher price tag. I appreciate that Acrolink has offered a really nice alternative to audiophiles who may not have the ability to afford the Mexcel range, or the desire to spend that much money on cabling. 

Conclusion

We have another winner here (the only loser being your wallet) ! The Anniversario gets an easy recommendation and in view of it's modest price - a Best Buy


I would like to thank X-Audio, the local dealer for Acrolink for arranging for this review.

Acrolink 7N-PC4030 Anniversario Power Cord
Price : S$ 600 - 1.5 m (Factory terminated)
Price : S$ 175 / m (off-the-reel)
X Audio Pte Ltd
Bukit Timah Plaza. 
1 Jalan Anak Bukit, #01-01S
Singapore 588996
6466 2642 


Sunday, September 17, 2017

Black Cat Cable Indigo XLR interconnects

PURE ART

INDIGO XLR Interconnects

  • Zolt├ín Matrix Conductor
  • InterPole Matrix shield
  • Low Density Microporous ePTFE Insulator
  • Nylon Multifilament Jacket
  • OYAIDE “FOCUS 1” XLRs
Handcrafted by Chris Sommovigo in his Yoshihama workshop in Yugawara, JAPAN
http://www.blackcatcable.com


Indigo RCA Cables:

1.0mpr : $11,499.95 (+ $2,000 per additional 1/2m pair)

Indigo XLR Cables:

1.0mpr : $12,499.95 (+2,000 per additional 1/2m pair)

Indigo Speaker Cables: 

1.5mpr / Standard : $11,499.95 (+ $2,000 per additional 1/2m pair)
1.5mpr / Shotgun : $17,499.95 (+ $2,000 per additional 1/2m pair)
1.5mpr / Shotgun BiWire : $17,499.95 (+ $2,000 per additional 1/2m pair)

Nothing like some tantalizing pictures to get your heart pumping and blood flowing right ? Here are some really nice pictures from Chris Sommovigo of Black Cat Cable.









Sunday, August 13, 2017

HIFIMAN Susvara Headphones

Introduction

HIFIMAN's Susvara headphones have been creating a lot of chatter on the internet - this is definitely a product that polarizes users - Firstly, is it a statement product that lives up to expectations ? Secondly, is the price tag justified ?

Description

Susvara means the world's melodious sounds in Sanskrit. I suppose naming your products after Greek, Norse or Celtic mythology is somewhat passe in audio, so some brownie points to HIFIMAN for being different here.

The Susvara is HIFIMAN's statement magnetic planar headphone, although it is not the company's most expensive (see my earlier coverage on the Shangri-la electrostatic headphone). Sporting stealth magnets and a gold-coated nanometer grade diaphragm, the Susvara was designed as the successor to the HE-6. Similar to the HE-6, the Susvara does not even attempt to be amplifier friendly. A punishingly low sensitivity requires a very powerful headamp to bring out it's best. HIFIMAN does sell a matching headamp (the EF1000), as well as an adapter box to allow you to use your loudspeaker amplifier to drive their headphones.

The product comes in a very large black box, with a hardcover owner's guide (which would be right at home on a coffee table in some luxurious city penthouse). Two cables are provided, one terminated with a 6.3 mm plug, and another with a 4 pin XLR plug. The cable conductors consists of mono-crystal copper and silver. 




Let's have a look at the technical specifications :-

Frequency Response : 6 Hz - 75 kHz
Impedance : 60 ohms
Sensitivity : 83 db (no typo here, although HIFIMAN users would just nod knowingly)
Weight : 450 g

While the Susvara has substantial mass, they proved to be very comfortable in use. I could wear them for hours on end without any issue. As an eyeglass wearer, I did not have any problems with the headband exerting any pressure on my spectacles. Head clamping force is best described as light, perhaps a touch too light - bending forward results in the headphones slipping off.

Build quality is quite good subjectively with everything working as it is, and finished quite nicely. However, as a statement-fi product, it has to be held up against absolute standards. In that respect, build quality could be said to be not good enough for its price tag. My main criticism would be against the headband and the supplied cables. The headband is unlikely to hold up to long term ownership, while the cables have a subtly sticky feel to them and embarrassingly, a plastic Y-joint. Nothing out of place on a USD 600 product, except this one has an extra zero at the end.

Another point to note is that these cans offer almost zero isolation. Yes, they are open backed headphones. However, these are in a class of their own. Not only can you hear environment noise perfectly, you also get to share your music tastes with the whole room. My wife repeatedly criticised my track selection when I was listening to these in her presence. Moral of the story ? You need to enjoy these alone, and in a quiet environment.

My set was brand new and I ran them in for approximately 150 hours before doing any serious evaluation. I did sneak in some listening in between - out of the box, the Susvara is actually quite palatable, they simply improve and open up as they clock-in the hours.  








Sound Quality

Practically speaking, the Susvara needs as much power as you can throw at it. My Antelope Zodiac Platinum DAC was running near flat out. In the end, I used my Audio-Gd C2 class A headphone amp (2.3 W power output into 40 ohms) and my Violectric HPA V281 DAC / headphone amp (4.2 W power output into 50 ohms) for most of my evaluation. Tonally, I preferred the Violectric which sounded more neutral while the Audio-Gd was warmer than I would have preferred. One thing for sure is that the Susvara is transparent to upstream components - each DAC / headamp sounded distinctly different. I preferred these cans connected via balanced cables and used these throughout the review period.

In terms of listening level, both amps ended up with the volume knob around the 12 to 2 o'clock mark. I noticed that I tended to listen to the Susvara louder than my normal levels. Firstly, they sounded very clean, tempting you to pump up the volume. Secondly, they really start coming to life at loud levels. 

Tonally, the Susvara is illuminated in a subtly soft way. It would never be described as bright, nor dark for that matter. My Audeze LCD 2.2 and Sennheiser HD6xx (a Massdrop labelled HD650) are darker, while my Beyer DT880 (250 ohm version) is brighter. 

Bass notes are tight and very well controlled. No bloat or overhang here. The Susvara does not have the bone-crushing qualities of the Audeze - maybe bassheads will find the low frequencies lacking. This is also highly dependent on your headamp. A lack of power will result in loose and weak bass. When I returned the Susvara after my evaluation period, AV One asked me to try the Woo Audio WA33 which was on display. Paired with the Chord Dave DAC, these really packed some wallop into the Susvara. One thing I really liked about the bass quality was its texture - plenty of articulation and not too dry nor wet, just perfect !

Midrange is a bit laidback with a subtly sweet and creamy quality. Voices are very natural sounding and non-fatiguing. It has a very pleasant tone that trades a small amount of detail for smoothness and warmth. There is still plenty going on, and you are unlikely to find the midrange veiled or obviously coloured.

High frequencies on the Susvara were definitely a strong point for me. There is an extended and open quality to the treble, which is both highly detailed and fast. Despite all that detail and speed, it all comes together as naturally airy, light and natural. While transients were crisp, the Susvara avoided that edge and push employed by some of it's competitors - the sort of drive that makes you marvel at the level of "detail" for 2-3 minutes before you get a splitting headache.

I believe in reserving the best for last - soundstaging. The Susvara casts such a wide and open soundstage that you almost forget that you are listening to headphones. The width and spaciousness is really something that needs to be personally experienced. I never thought I would say these for headphones, but they have a degree of separation and dimensionality that you generally associate more with loudspeakers - high praise indeed !

I did not find the Susvara to be biased towards any of my usual genre of music (female vocals, jazz and classical music). That being said, I do not think that it is the natural choice for metal and EDM, or anything else that favours heavy bass and aggressive treble.

Conclusion

I thoroughly enjoyed my time with the Susvara. They were comfortable to use, were tonally very balanced and sounded really good. The real issue though is the cost of these headphones. A number of visitors to my home had the opportunity to listen to the Susvara and were mostly underwhelmed, especially after finding out the price tag. It would be safe to assume that they expected to be blown away by the sonic experience. Ironically, the Susvara is like that very nice and wholesome girl that is graceful yet understated. She may not be the life of the party, but after getting to know her better, you will understand and appreciate her virtues. Now that she has left my life, I feel quite sad and a little bit empty. Then again, I could not afford to upkeep her and to give her the life she truly deserves (sniff sniff).

Is the Susvara worth it's asking price ? Tough call here. I already get grief from other audiophiles over four digit price tag cables. A pair of headphones that are a sliver away from a five digit price tag (in Singapore dollars) ? The Susvara does offer world class performance. However, only you can decide whether it is worth the cost of ownership. Personally, I think they are definitely worth an audition if you are aiming for the very best headphones bar none.

I would like to thank HIFIMAN and it's Singapore distributor, AV One for arranging this review.

HIFIMAN Susvara
Recommended Retail Price : USD 6,000 or SGD 9,600

AV One
The Adelphi
1, Coleman Street #01-10
Tel : 6337 0080
Website :  http://av1group.com.sg/