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PYP

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    PYP reacted to The Computer Audiophile for an article, Review | Boulder 866 Integrated Amp   
    As many Audiophile Style readers know, I fell in love with the RAAL-requisite SR1a headphones this year (link). They are the first true ribbon headphones and have very unique power requirements. Other than using one of only two direct drive amplifiers made specifically for these headphones, from Schiit and RAAL-requisite, the SR1a must be driven by a traditional power amplifier. In other words, these headphones connect to a power amplifier's speaker output terminals, with an interface box between the speaker cables and the headphone cable. It's a configuration that I absolutely love because it opens up these headphones to the world of high end amplifiers. Why wouldn't I want to power the most sensational audio product I've ever heard with an amplifier from one of the best companies in high end audio?

    With this in mind, I set out to acquire review samples from Parasound, Constellation Audio, and Boulder Amplifiers. Each company offers something unique that really scratched my itch to take the SR1a to the next level. My evaluations of the Parasound HINT 6 and Constellation Audio Inspiration Integrated are ongoing, but I'm finished putting the Boulder 866 Integrated through every test imaginable and listening through it for countless hours. OK, not quite finished listening because I have my headphones on as I type this review. Someone pinch me, the world is close to coming out of a global health pandemic and I'm bathing in sound quality, build quality, and enjoyable musical experiences on an incredibly high level. 
     

    A Little Background
     
    A few quick notes on my requirements and why I selected the Boulder 866 Integrated for this review. The SR1a headphones and interface box present a 5.6 ohm load to the connected amplifier. This configuration requires an amp with at least 100 watts and in my experience the amp must be fantastic and without flaws, to make these headphone shine. Think about it this way, have you ever placed your ear right next to a tweeter and listened to the grunge and noise that some amplifiers emit? While that's an experiment done only for kick and giggles, listening to the SR1a headphones is a serious endeavor that places even more extreme requirements on the audio system. Wearing these headphones is like placing one's head less than one inch away from two full range, incredibly transparent speakers, and listening for hours on end. If there's a sonic issue with an amplifier, I will find it using the RAAL-requisite SR1a. Conversely, if an amp is among the best, these headphones will reproduce music on a level that's second to none. 
     
    I must also clearly state that using the SR1a headphones with an amplifier like the Boulder 866 Integrated is completely different from connecting other headphones to the quarter inch jack of an integrated amp and letting 99% of the power remain unused. The SR1a are demanding and will push amplifiers as far or farther than a pair of loudspeakers. I know it sounds strange for those who haven't experienced the SR1a, but it's really a special headphone on many levels. 

    I specifically reached out to Boulder Amplifiers for its 866 Integrated because the unit checked all the boxes I needed for my integrated amp research. I needed a one box solution that isn't too large, offers plenty of power, is designed by extremely competent engineers, supported by a great company, has digital inputs, and looks great sitting next to me on my desk, where I wear my headphones most frequently. I purposely selected other amps for my research that offer different features, that I'll go further into during those reviews. 
     

    Boulder 866 Integrated
     
    The Boulder 866 Integrated amp is offered in two configurations, all analog ($12,250) or analog and digital ($14,450). I selected the analog and digital version because I wanted this to be a one box, elegant solution for my headphone system. Visibly, both versions are identical except for the digital inputs on the rear of my review unit. The metal work on the 866 chassis is classic Boulder. It's unique, built like a brick outhouse, and oozes class and quality. Even the buttons on the front panel have a very solid feel to them when pressed. The weight of the 54 lbs chassis also means the unit doesn't budge an inch when pressing the buttons, unlike some components that slide back on a rack or desk when the front panel is touched. 
     
    The front panel also features a full color touch screen that displays album art large enough to be seen from across a room. This touch screen also enables one to configure the unit in a limited way if needed. I recommend using Boulder's iOS app for configuration and adjusting this front panel display because it provides options unavailable directly on the display. For example, using the iOS app I added custom icons for the analog inputs, that displayed logos for Berkeley Audio Design, dCS, and EMM Labs. All companies whose DACs I connected to these inputs during this review. One thing that shouldn't be overlooked is the simplicity of the touch screen and iOS app interface. This is an incredibly easy device to use and setup. 
     
    Prior to writing this review I interviewed the Boulder team about the 866 Integrated and gleaned a bunch of information that I know is of interest to the Audiophile Style Community. First and foremost is the Raspberry Pi 3 B+, single board computer that handles some of the 866's digital duties. Previous Boulder components have used the Beaglebone platform, but the 866 has additional requirements that made the Beaglebone too underpowered for this application. Like all Boulder digital components, in the 866 the company opts to digitally oversample the audio prior to delivery to the DAC chips. All audio that enters the 866 via Ethernet or via USB hard drive (PCM and DSD) is oversampled by the Raspberry Pi 3 B+ to 24 bit / 352.8 kHz using Boulder's proprietary algorithms. Thus, the need for a more powerful single board computer than the Beaglebone. Audio that enters the 866 via AES or Toslink is oversampled via FPGA rather than routing this signal back through the Raspberry Pi. 

    The Raspberry Pi based Ethernet input is Roon Ready (certified) and can accept DLNA streams from any DLNA compliant server. Attaching a hard drive to a USB port of the built-in Raspberry Pi enables one to browse the music stored on the drive, via the iOS app, but the experience leaves a lot to be desired. I use the 866 Integrated as a Roon Ready endpoint for 99% of this review period. 
     
    The Ethernet interface of the 866, handled by the Raspberry Pi, had no problems accepting audio up through 24 bit / 352.8 kHz. I experience zero pauses or stuttering during playback. I also tested the built-in wireless capability and had surprisingly great results. The 866 has no visible WiFi antenna, leading me to believe it would be somewhat limited to lower sample rates. I successfully played DSD64 and up through 24 / 352.8 without a single hiccup via wireless. Technically the unit can accept up through 384 kHz, but I couldn't find any of my 384 content to test. Also of note, the unit's maximum DSD rate is DSD64. All DSD content above this is resampled by Roon to DSD64. 
     

    Like all Boulder products, the 866's volume control is purely analog. It's controlled digitally, but at no time is digital attenuation used. Along similar lines, the analog signal, from the three XLR inputs, remains in the analog domain the entire time. The volume control is a design developed by Boulder and improved over many years. The main difference between the 866 volume control and that of the 2000 series products is that the 866 doesn't have fully differential attenuation. The reason for this is  because good analog volume controls cost a lot of money and Boulder needed to decrease the cost of the 866 relative to its higher end products. 
     
    One aspect I found interested, when talking to the Boulder team, was that they learned quite a bit designing this product. Most Boulder products are cost-no-object type of designs that have a completely different set of engineering decisions to make. The 866 Integrated forced the team to get creative and try new things that in the end turned out to be great for the 866 and possibly other Boulder products. Dare I say there could be a trickle-up effect. 
     

    Enjoying the Sound
     
    Listening to my RAAL-requisite SR1a headphones through the Boulder 866 Integrated was a tough job, but somebody had to do it. Only joking of course. This is the part of my job that causes me to thank my lucky stars. I had to listen to the best headphones in the world being driven by a fantastic amplifier, for hours on end. Oh the horror. 
     
    Getting right to the point and throwing the 866 Integrated right into the fire, I played Passacaglia from the Kansas City Symphony, recorded by Reference Recordings' Keith Johnson. I encourage everyone to play this track on their systems. Turn the volume up all the way and have a listen. People may not like what they hear on many systems. Through the Boulder 866 Integrated, I heard nothing but incredible detail, noises that were captured on the recording but not part of the performance, and a fantastic string section. This isn't the style of music I usually listen to for pleasure, but I often use it as a laboratory tool to put a components performance on display. Some components wilt on this album and can't handle the incredible dynamic range and detail. The Boulder 866 Integrated sailed through the test, reproducing absolutely everything on this recording without adding anything, even with the volume set to 100 for some passages.
     
    Switching to music that really moves me, I put on Blow Up from the Isao Suzuki Trio recorded for the Three Blind Mice record label. Track one, Aqua Marine, is a delight for the ears with both high and low frequencies that have texture crystal clear qualities. The Boulder 866 Integrated reproduced this tracks on entire album wonderfully. One sonic difference between the 866 and some other amplifiers I've heard in my room is that the 866 sounds a skosh darker on this album, especially when the cymbals are hit fairly hard as opposed to tapped politely. I'm unsure if these specific cymbals are supposed to sound darker or brighter, but the tiny sonic difference is one way to differentiate between the 866 and other components. I can say for certain that the sound is truly terrific, never harsh, and extremely controlled like all other Boulder amplifiers I've heard in the past. No speakers or headphones are going to control a Boulder amplifier, that's for sure. 
     
    In October 2020, Jewel released a deluxe version of her debut album Pieces of You. My favorite track on the album is the radio edit of Foolish Games. I usually hate radio edits because they remove the good parts in an effort to make a track more palatable for a wider audience, but this version of the Foolish Games is really good. The opening piano and strings on this track are night and day better than the original, and all of it can be heard through the Boulder 866 Integrated / RAAL-requisite SR1a combination. Listening to this version through the Boulder 866 is like listening to a completely different version of Jewel. Her vocals are better and several more instruments can be heard in the background, with air around them. The listener is also able to pinpoint the location of the instruments in the soundstage, while listening through headphones. It's quite an enjoyable experience and an incredible way to listen to old tracks again for the first time. 
     
    I recently listened to Rick Rubin describe his experience producing Tom Petty's Wildflowers album, and was inspired to listen to the new version fo the album called Wildflowers & All The Rest 9Deluxe Edition). I'd forgotten how much I liked this album, especially the track named Honey Bee. It's an album track for sure, but it's one to which I can't stop listening. Through the Boulder 866 / SR1a combination the electric guitar sounds appropriately dirty, grungy and full of fantastic distortion. As both Tom petty and Mike Campbell start and stop / re-enter the track, the little noises before hitting the strings are all audible and bring the listen that much closer to being in the studio. For a recording that I never considered HiFI, I sure enjoyed all that's captured on it and reproduced through this Boulder amp. In fact, Petty's voice at the very start of the track, "All right here we go ..." Sounds so real it's like my headphones are plugged into the soundboard of the recording studio rather than the outputs of the Boulder 866 Integrated. This is what high end audio is all about to me. Bringing me one step, or two steps closer to the real thing. 
     
     
     

     
    Conclusion 
     
    My quest to take the RAAL-requisite SR1a headphones to the next level is off to a fantastic start with the Boulder 866 Integrated amplifier. I selected this unit because it has all the features I need and it's manufacturers and supported by one of the best blue chip companies in all of high end audio. The analog and digital version certainly isn't inexpensive at $14,450, but it's a game-set-match component, just add speakers. The 866 Integrated looks really nice on my desk sitting next to my iMac and my headphone stand. The metal chassis is 100% Boulder, making it impossible to misidentify this amp as that from another company. The fit and finish are second to none. When it comes to sound quality, the main reason we are all into this wonderful hobby, the 866 Integrated is fantastic. 
     
    I wrote at the start of this review that an amp must be fantastic or else I'd hear its flaws through the SR1a headphones. The Boulder 866 delivers the goods flawlessly at all volume levels. I played everything from test tracks (not really fun, but necessary for evaluation) to tracks that grip me emotionally, and the 866 handle them all with ease. Reproducing incredibly wide dynamic range on bombastic symphonic pieces and the very fine details in Jewel Kilcher's voice that bring out the emotion of an 18 year old busker from Homer, Alaska, the Boulder 866 is an all-in-one that can do it all.
     
     
     
     
     
     
    Community Star Ratings and Reviews
     
    I encourage those who have experience with the Boulder 866 Integrated to leave a star rating and quick review on our new Polestar platform.
     
     
     
     
     
    Product Information:
     
    Boulder Amps 866 Integrated Analog + Digital ($14,450) ($12,250 Analog only version) Boulder 866 Integrated Product Page Boulder 866 Owner's Manual (Analog Only) Boulder 866 Integrated Owner's Manual (Analog + Digital) Boulder 866 Integrated Literature Boulder 866 Integrated Quick Start Guide Boulder 866 Integrated Dimensions Boulder 866 Integrated Remote Guide  
     
    Associated Music:
     
    Audiophile Style 50 (Qobuz) Computer Audiophile PJ4CA Playlist (Tidal)  
     
    Associated Equipment:
     
    Source: QNAP TVS-872XT, Aurender W20SE, CAPS 20 DAC: EMM Labs DV2, Berkeley Audio Design Alpha DAC RS3, Schiit Audio Yggdrasil D-to-D Converter: Sonore Signature Rendu SE (optical), APL HiFi DNP-SR, CAPS 20.1, Berkeley Audio Design Alpha USB Amplifiers: Constellation Audio Mono 1.0 / Monoblock Power Amplifiers, Constellation Audio Inspiration Integrated, Parasound HINT 6 Preamplifier: Constellation Audio PreAmp 1.0 Loudspeakers: Wilson Audio Alexia Series 2 Digital Signal Processing: Accurate Sound, HQPlayer Remote Control Software: Roon Remote, JRemote, Aurender Conductor Remote Control Hardware: iPad Pro Playback Software: Roon, JRiver,  Network Attached Storage (NAS): QNAP TVS-872XT Audio Cables: Transparent Audio Reference Interconnects (XLR & RCA), Transparent Audio Reference 110-Ohm AES/EBU Digital Link, Transparent Audio Reference Speaker Cables, Gotham GAC-4/1 ultraPro Balanced XLR Audio Cable (40') USB Cables: Transparent Audio Premium USB Cable Power Cables: Transparent Audio Reference Power Cables Power Isolation: one 4kVA and one 5 kVA 512 Engineering Symmetrical Power Source Ethernet Cables: Transparent Audio High Performance Ethernet Cables Fiber optic Cables: Single Mode OS1-9/125um (LC to LC) Acoustic Room Treatments: Vicoustic Diffusion and Absorption,  ATS Acoustics Bass Traps Network: Ubiquiti UniFi Switch 24, Ubiquiti UniFi Switch 8-150W x2, Ubiquiti UniFi Switch 16 XG, Ubiquiti UniFi Security Gateway Pro 4, Ubiquiti UniFi AP HD x2, UniFi FlexHD AP, Ubiquiti FC-SM-300 Fiber Optic Cable x2, UF-SM-1G-S Fiber Optic Modules x6, Commercial Grade Fiber Optic Patch Cables, Calix 716GE-I Optical Network Terminal, CenturyLink 1 Gbps download / upload  
     
     
    Listening Room:
     
    This graph shows the frequency response of my room before (top) and after (bottom) tuning by Mitch Barnett of Accurate Sound. The standard used for this curve is EBU 3276. This tuning can be used with Roon, JRiver, and other apps that accept convolution filters. When evaluating equipment I use my system with and without this tuning engaged. The signal processing takes place in the digital domain before the audio reaches the DAC, thus enabling me to evaluate the components under review without anything changing the signal further downstream. 
     

     
     
     
     
  2. Upvote
    PYP reacted to The Computer Audiophile for an article, Meet The Audiophile Style Community | Volume 13   
    Welcome to the thirteenth installment of our Meet the Audiophile Style Community series. All previous installments can be found here, in the series index.
     
    Please send me a message, email, or telegram if you'd like to participate. The response so far has been wonderful. It ranges from hardcore audiophiles to those who are more interested in numbers and graphs, and even people in the industry are eager to participate. This series is all about getting to know everyone and sharing a bit about yourself that others will find interesting. 
     
    Thanks for participating. I look forward to publishing more of these in the coming weeks and months. 
     
    Thanks to Audiophile Style community member @StephenJK for participating in volume thirteen of this series. As always, I love reading this stuff even more than publishing it. I say to myself after reading each one of these, you guys are so much more interesting than me. If I had half the talent of Stephen at home renovations, I'd be a happy guy. I also love his listening to Jazz stations from Boston and Chicago on the console stereo. Great stuff. 
     
     
     
     
     
    1. General area of the world in which you live?
     
    North Bay, Ontario
     
     
    2. General description of what you do or did for a living?

    R&D for development of automation schemes for mining machinery and support systems for field projects.
     
     
    3. What are your hobbies?

    Home renovations.  I do everything from framing, drywall, wiring, plumbing to ceramic tile and fine woodwork. 
     
     
    4. When did you start this wonderful journey into music listening?

    As a kid growing up in northern Quebec.  On cold winter nights the console stereo could pick up jazz stations in Boston and blues stations in Chicago.  Went to bed most nights with the bedroom door open and listening to music playing.
     
     
    5. What was your first “album?”
     
    Long time ago!  I remember by older brother had Elvis’ Golden Hits and my sister had Best of the Animals.  I remember my father bringing home Bob Dylan and explaining that he had something interesting to say. 
     
     
    6. What does your music collection look like, number of physical records, CDs, etc... and number of “favorited” albums streamed?
     
    We have around 1,000 CDs and 1,500 LPs.  All have been ripped or recorded and stored away.  All of that music is stored on a USB drive (many backup copies in other locations!) and played back from a laptop to the stereo system.  Just started looking into streaming from outside sources such as Tidal – it’s early days but so far most are poor quality and hard to listen to.
     
     
    7. What was your first audio component / stereo?
     
    First real stereo that I bought new was in 1978.  A Sony PS-X6 turntable, Koss CM-1020 speakers, Soundcraftsmen PE2217 preamp/equalizer and a Crown PS-400 amplifier.
     
     
    8. Is there one component that you no longer have that you wish you wouldn’t have sold or that you wish you still had?
     
    Yes – a pair of Klipschorn speakers that I completely rebuilt a few years ago with updated crossovers, new diaphragms for the squawkers, new tweeters and a full cabinet rebuild and refinish.  We downsized our house and those monsters just don’t fit into many homes.  Reluctantly they were sold to a willing buyer.  The speakers I have now are better, but those Klipschorns have a unique sound.
     
    Second would be a Revox B77 reel to reel (1/4 track, 3-3/4 and 7” ips) that I bought new in the early 80’s.  It had the optional remote control, digital real time indicator, aluminum editing hubs and dust cover.  I don’t know that I would use it if I still had it, but suspect that I would.  I do remember what a pain recording, splicing and editing was like but maybe these days I could find pre-recorded stereo tapes that I never could before due to living in smaller communities.
     
     
    9. Is there one current component that you wish you had in your system?
     
    No, I’m happy with the system I have now.  It’s been a long development path of upgrading for my wife and I and we’re happy with the system we have now.  The goal has been twofold, to improve the stereo and at the same time get ready for downsizing and retirement in the next four to five years. 
     
     
    10. How much time do you spend listening to music each week and on which systems does this listening take place (main system, car system, mobile system, office system, etc...)?
     
    We listen to music every day, but often as a background to our evening meal and conversation about our day.  The TV is in the basement, the stereo is in the living room. 
     
     
    11. What’s the first concert you ever attended, best concert you’ve ever attended, most interesting concert venue you’ve ever attended?
     
    First was Bachmann Turner Overdrive, in Winnipeg in 1975.  Coming from a small northern town I expected a rock concert to be something magical.  It wasn’t – it was awful.  Somebody named Bob Seeger opened for them, nobody had heard of him but I thought he had a great sound.  BTO came on and I think maybe played for a bit over an hour with a couple of encores.  It was a “going through the motions” type of thing and a disappointment for many in the home town crowd.
     
    Best concert?  That’s a hard one.  Certainly David Gilmour’s concert for Rattle That Lock in Toronto in 2016 would be up there.  There were only a few dates in North America and the skill, passion and musicianship of that concert was stunning.  Wilco in Toronto last fall for their Ode to Joy tour were everything you would want from a live concert.  No chit chat, just music.  We have all of their catalog on CD, but the energy and passion they pour into their live performances makes it so much more enjoyable. 
     
    Other memorable concerts would be the first time my wife and I attended the Opera in Toronto.  We had season tickets for a number of years but the very first was the Canadian Opera Companies rendition of Lucia di Lammermoor sometime in the late 90’s.  The soprano (Sumi Jo) made it absolutely clear why people say the best instrument is the human voice.  It was the first time I actually thought someone with that type of range, power and musicality to break a glass as in that Aretha Franklin commercials for Memorex tape.
     
    Most interesting venue?  Without a doubt the Winter Garden Theatre in Toronto with Daniel Lanois in 2005.  The Elgin and Winter Garden Theatres are the last Edwardian stacked theaters built in the vaudeville era of 1913. 
     
    https://www.seetorontonow.com/listings/elgin-winter-garden-theatre-centre/
     
     
    12. What components are in your current audio systems and can you provide a photo?
     
    The last and big change was trading in a Musical Fidelity Nu-Vista Phono, Musical Fidelity Nu-Vista 800 integrated amp and a PS Audio Directstream Jr. for a pair of Devialet Expert Pro 440 DSP monoblocks.  There were a few minor technical issues as in how to still be able to record LP’s but the sound is wonderful and continues to adapt to our needs. 
     
     

     
     
     
    13. Anything else you’d like to say?
     
    I appreciate the opportunity to share my thoughts with fellow enthusiasts!  Growing up in northern mining towns where even TV was a single channel that went off the air at 11:00 PM meant that other entertainment options were needed.  Music has, and always be an important and enjoyable part of life for my wife and I.
     
     
     
  3. Thanks
    PYP reacted to gmgraves for an article, Review | DenaFrips Pontus DAC   
    DenaFrips Pontus Digital to Analog Converter. The Best DAC This Reviewer Has Ever Heard; Bar None!
    George Graves
     
     
    My last review, as you might remember, was the latest iteration of the very successful Schiit Yggdrasil DAC. It is a very nice DAC, and it sounds extremely good and is quite an improvement over the earlier Yggy models. But, since receiving this unit, I have also received the Pontus DAC from the Singapore based company DenaFrips (a division of Vinshine Audio PTE. LTD.), and this has changed everything. The Pontus, is a (lower) middle offering from this company, located above the entry-level Ares II but below the Venus, the Terminator and the Terminator+ in price and in performance. I’ll say it up front: this is without a doubt, the best sounding DAC this reviewer has ever heard, and the difference is far from subtle. With the Pontus, there is simply more THERE there! In every way, the realism and analog-like presence is miles ahead of anything (other than the higher priced models in the DenaFrips line-up of DACS such as the Venus, Terminator and Terminator+) currently available under $10 grand and including some DACs costing 10X and more than the modest $1670 U.S. price of the Pontus (yes, that’s correct, Sixteen Hundred and Seventy US Dollars!
     
     

     
     
     
     
    Description
     
    The Pontus is a 24-bit R2R (sometimes called a ladder DAC) that supports all sampling rates from 44.1 to 192 KHz on all inputs and will support up to 1536 KHz on both USB and i2S. It has both RCA single-ended (2.2 volts RMS) or balanced XLR (4.4 volts RMS) outputs. Frequency response is 20 to 70KHz +0, -3dB and a THD + N spec of 0.0025%. The dynamic range is greater than 121 dB with a signal to noise ratio of >120 dB. 
     
    Physically, the unit is 320 mm (12.6”) X 330 mm (13”) X 110 mm (4.3”) and weighs 8.5 KG (18 pounds) The unit will work on 100 - 240 VAC and either 50/60 Hz. It comes with neither an IEC AC cord or a manual (the manual is available on the website – and increasingly common trend these days, but the buyer is on his or her own when it comes to a mains cable). The complement of inputs are 2- SPDIF Coax (one RCA, one BNC) one Toslink SPDIF, 2 AES/EBU inputs, one USB, and one i2S via HDMI (about which, more later).
     
    The build quality is very high and, as you can tell from above, it is quite heavy for it’s size being not quite standard rack-mount width. 
     
     
     Interface and Layout
     
    The front panel of the Pontus is fairly simple. To the extreme left you will find a power switch button with a red LED light above it. To the right and slightly above the centerline, are a series of tiny, red LEDs. These muted lights represent which input is selected. These are coaxial input 1 (RCA Jack), coaxial input 2 (BNC Jack) optical (Toslink), AES1, AES2 (both XLR) USB (USB “B” connector) and i2S (HDMI). Continuing across the front panel are a series of lights indicating basic sample rate (44.1K, 48K) and the sample rate multiplier (1X, 2X, 4X, 8X) and DSD.
     
    Below the row of indicator lights is a series of pushbuttons which control various DAC functions. Again from left to right are: input-, input+ (these step up and down through the available inputs), absolute phase, Oversampling/No Oversampling, Mute, and Mode (this latter selector allows the user to match his i2S pinout in the connected HDMI plug to which ever non-standard i2S pinout the connected device uses. There is a table in the downloadable user manual to help with this configuration). 

    To the extreme left is a mains switch which works rather unusually. The indicator, another tiny, red LED is above the push operate/standby switch is normally on when the unit is in the “standby” mode  and goes out when the unit is switched to “operate”. When in standby, push the button once to switch to operate, and push again to re-enter standby. The unit is technically powered up whenever plugged-in as it should be for optimum performance. 

    A characteristic that the Pontus shares with the Yggdrasil DAC from Schiit is that from more than a few inches away from the front panel, all of the legends indicating selected input, sampling rate and other operational modes are unreadable and are, for all intents and purposes, downright invisible from most user’s listening position.  Also noted is that for changing modes of operation such as selected input, oversampling, etc., a simple hand-held remote control would have been helpful. 
     
     

     
     
    Sound 
     
    Now, we get to the nitty gritty of this review. As stated above, This is the Best DAC that this reviewer has ever heard! I was able to A/B the Pontus against some formidable competition, but I have also listened at great length to such DACs as the MSB Diamond 4 with outboard clock, the dCS Vivaldi, and the Pontus blows the all out of the water. Of course the MSB and Vivaldi DACs are being evaluated here from memory, as I do not have access to them for direct comparison. Sonic memory is not very reliable (so take these recollections with a grain of salt), but I do clearly recall my impressions of these very pricy DACs. Neither of them caused the jaw-dropping reaction to their sound as did the Pontus even before I compared it to some of of its contemporary competition!

    As to that competition, I was able to directly compare this modestly priced DAC to the latest $2500 Schiit “B” spec Yggdrasil, the Chord Hugo2 (formerly a favorite of mine) and a Benchmark DAC3. Comparing these three competition DACs, from best to poorest sound were the Hugo2, the latest Yggy, and the Benchmark. Compared to the Pontus, all three were left wanting by a huge margin. 
     
    As most readers here know, I have a rather large collection of my own master recordings. I made these recordings using my own equipment and they are comprised of a surprisingly eclectic range of musical genres. I have recordings of major symphony orchestras, string ensembles, jazz and swing bands, small jazz ensembles recorded in a variety of venues from symphony halls to intimate nightclubs to winery tasting rooms to private homes. Two of my favorites are the Stanford University “big band” recorded at the famous Dinkelspiel Auditorium on the Stanford Campus and the Larry Douglas All-tet recorded at a nightclub in Menlo Park CA. These, along with the many recordings I made as the recording engineer for the San Jose (CA) Symphony under the late Maestro Georg Cleve, and all being true stereo (XY, or MS) recordings, offer some fascinating insights into all aspects of DAC performance.
     
    Let’s use my Larry Douglas All-tet recording to explain what this DAC does better than any of the others. This group, consisting from right to left, with a trumpet, an electronic synthesizing xylophone/marimba, a full drum set, and a stand-up acoustic bass viol, a hollow body amplified guitar, and a Yamaha electronic keyboard was set up in the front of the restaurant/night club. The microphone used, in all but the symphony recordings, was a single-point Avantone CK40 large capsule stereo mike (link) and sounds superb.
     
    I might also mention that this recording was recorded in DSD using a Korg MR-2000S 5.6MHz  DSD recorder. In post production, the DSD file was converted to 24-bit/96 KHz LPCM.  On the other DACs, the bass on this recording was somewhat thin. On the Pontus it was deep, well defined and had a lot more punch than with any of the other DACS. The other DACs also exhibited a slight “veiling” effect that was totally absent with the Pontus. I suspect that this is some kind of ailising noise modulation, but whatever it is, it’s not noticeable when listening to any of these DACs by themselves and only shows up when compared to a DAC that has less (or none) of this type of noise. With regard to this characteristic, the Yggy was second to the DenaFrips. 
     
    Another characteristic of the Pontus compared to the rest is a smoothness and lack of grain in the high frequencies. The overtones from the xylophone exhibit a purity and a sense of high frequency “air” that is totally missing in the other DACs! This makes instruments show a palpability that is startling when you first hear it. When the trumpet plays he steps, literally, out of the speaker and emerges into the room. I have heard this phenomenon before with several other good DACs such as the newest Yggy and the Chord Hugo2, but never to this extent. It is so unexpected that it is actually more than a little spooky. While on the subject of the trumpet, in many places while it’s playing one is aware that on the left side of the ensemble, the Yamaha keyboard is playing a piano counterpoint to the trumpet. The problem is that with every other DAC I’ve heard, with the trumpet playing, you can’t hear what the piano is playing. You can hear it, but you can’t make out the individual notes! Now, when the trumpeter takes a breath, one can hear the piano plainly and can hear what the pianist is playing, but it gets submerged again when the trumpet resumes! With the Pontus, one can plainly hear what the piano is doing even while the trumpeter is holding forth!
     
    A similar thing is happening with the stand-up bass. With the rest of the ensemble playing, one can tell that there is a bass “continuum” playing from within the ensemble, but with all of the other DACs, you can’t parse what the bass player is playing. One is merely aware that the there is a strummed bass in the mix someplace. With the DenaFrips, the bass line is clearly audible and very easy to follow. I was there at the recording session, and clearly heard the string bass while I was recording the session, but, and here’s the amazing thing, I’ve never before heard it on playback, but I never thought about it until I heard it for the first time with the Pontus!
     
    Finally, there’s the soundstage. It is wider and deeper than with any of the DACs with which I compared the Pontus. A true stereo presentation is what can be attained with any of the coincident miking schemes. XY and MS can present as accurate a picture of the soundstage of a performance on speakers as one can get from a binaural recording, or actually being there (except for sounds that arrive from other directions than that from which the performance emanates, of course). The efficacy with which one’s stereo can presents this information is determined by the quality of one’s playback gear. With digital, it is largely down to the D to A conversion. All DACs do a credible job (mostly due to the inherent extreme channel separation of the digital recording process) of this. But there is sound-staging and there is sound-staging, and the Pontus just does it better than the others in this test. Having been there, I have a vivid mental picture of how the musicians were deployed, and I can close my eyes and pinpoint every instrument, not just to their relative area within the sound-field, but specifically to the exact spot occupied by each musician! 
     
    Needless to say that the other recordings exhibit these same characteristics, both on my own recordings and on commercial recordings in my collection. Right now, as I type this, I’m listening to the film music of Ralph Vaughan Williams as played by Rumon Gamba with the BBC Philharmonic on Chandos via Tidal. Vaughan Williams score for the wartime film “The 49th Parallel” is a gorgeous, colorful score and is beautifully recorded. I’m listening to it for the first time through the Pontus, and it’s like I’m hearing this familiar recording (to me) for the first time. Certain characteristics of the orchestration have made me stop typing a number of times because I hear, (for the first time) things in the music that I never even knew were there! 
     
     
    Conclusion
     
    If you are in the market for new DAC and have been shopping around, (and even if you aren’t in the market) stop looking. Do not pass go and do not collect $200, add another $1500 to that and go to the DenaFrips web page and order a Pontus pronto!

    This DAC is transparent in ways that you won’t believe a piece of electronics could be transparent. The soundstage is holographic, the bass is punchy and deep, the midrange is unbelievably creamy and rich yet incredibly detailed at the same time. When playing music, the electronics simply disappear letting all the music out into the room. I rate this DAC an 11 out of 10 and I can’t recommend it highly enough. In fact, I’m going to buy the review sample! 
     
    Keep an eye-out for a follow-up article on how to play actual SACDs (not just DSD files) through the DenaFrips Pontus’ i2S HDMI input. The relatively inexpensive hardware needed to do this is only available from China, and although I’ve ordered it, it could be January before I get it. Patience, my friends, all will be revealed in good time!

     
     
     
    Product Information
     
    Manufacturer: DenaFrips Model: Pontus Price: $1,670 Product Page: DenaFrips User Guide: PDF Configuration Guide: Videos Where to Buy: Vinshine Audio  
     
     
  4. Upvote
    PYP reacted to The Computer Audiophile for an article, Review | AURALiC ARIES G2.1   
    Over the last couple days tech writers have released their initial reviews for Apple's new Mac products containing the M1 system on a chip (SoC). The opinions and measurements are nearly unanimous, the new platform's performance is objectively and subjectively better than all but the highest powered Intel based Macs. The battery life is lightyears better than everything that came before the M1. Following the glowing prose, the conversation usually turns to the reasons why Apple continues to succeed in this and other areas. The technical reasons are twofold. First, Apple has the engineering expertise and second, Apple controls both the software and the hardware. It's this tight integration between software and hardware that enables the best engineers to go beyond the capabilities of split systems and enables consumers to realize the benefits with respect to performance, usability, customization, and product support. 
     
    What does this have to do with the AURALiC ARIES G2.1? The answer is simple. AURALiC is a next generation HiFi company that controls both the hardware and the software in all of its products, and the ARIES G2.1 is the newest iteration of a digital centerpiece that's clearly the result of this complete control. The ARIES G2.1 is the best ARIES AURALiC has ever developed and hosts its class leading Lightning DS software platform that is also currently the best version the company has created to date. Let's take a look at why the ARIES G2.1 is a digital source component around which to build an entire HiFi system.
     
     
    From Zero to Point One
     
    The new G2.1 series is the culmination of AURALiC's research into hardware design that squeezes every ounce of sonic performance from its original G2 platform. The G2.1's unity chassis II is a serious upgrade over the original. G2.1 features a chassis within a chassis design. The external visible casework is made of high grade aluminum. Fans of AURALiC have come to know and love the look and feel of this outer shell. It exudes quality visually and to the touch. The new internal enclosure is made of audiophile favorite, and for good reason, copper. This new chassis design enhances EMI shielding and is extremely solid when given a knock with one's knuckles. Doesn't everyone do that with a product that looks bulletproof? 
     
    Helping take the G2.1 literally to new heights is what AURALiC calls a sculpted metal base, heavyweight foundation. Visually it's a slice of luxury that serves equal parts form and function. The base adds mass to the G2.1 that wasn't possible with the original chassis. This base also provides the simplest visual distinction between the original G2 and G2.1 products. 
     
    Tying the exterior to the interior is a new suspension spike system created to help isolate vibrations. According to AURALiC, "Potentially harmful vibrations are absorbed within the six-coiled-spring, acoustically-calibrated core of each foot, with each spring tuned to a different tension point..." Isolation has always been important to high fidelity, but recently more companies have released separate vibration control products such as Wilson Audio's Pedestal. The beauty of the ARIES G2.1 is that this type of engineering is built into the product. 
     
     

     
    Internally the G2.1 series received a USB upgrade to better support more USB DACs and the separate HDD USB port received a slight power boost due to more power hungry external USB drives. 
     
    Looking at the hardware upgrades in and of themselves, the G2.1 isn't a revolutionary upgrade. This is why AURALiC wisely elected to call it a point one upgrade rather than trick consumers into thinking the update was massive by calling it G3. The upgrade is easily worth it for those of us who must have the best, for those of us who like to have the newest version, and for those who have ARIES versions prior to G2. Without an original G2 here for comparison, I can't easily quantify the sonic difference between G2 and G2.1. Given the engineering that went into this upgrade, it's certainly an audition I'd undertake if I owned a G2 and was considering moving to the G2.1. 
     

    ARIES G2.1 As A Centerpiece
     
    The AURALiC ARIES G2.1 is a component that should be considered the centerpiece of one's high end audio system. Its feature set is fantastic, sound and build quality are fantastic, and AURALiC is a company I frequently recommend to friends. The team is principled, honest, and full of people who are fun to talk with over a pot of tea (Young mountain's Organic Nepali Golden Black if I'm hosting). I can't stress enough how important the people at HiFI companies are when it comes to product selection. Yes, the actual product must perform and be priced in one's range, but I always recommend purchasing from companies like AURALiC, who provide much more than a box.
     
    Many DACs have somewhat similar capabilities, as the ARIES G2.1, built-in, but a separation of powers usually equates to more powers in each device, greater flexibility, better performance, better features, and more options. I'm a big supporter of splitting my digital interface / source from the rest of my system because it enables me to have the best of both worlds. The best digital interface and the best DAC. 
     
    Speaking of interface, AURALiC's custom developed Lightning DS software interface / platform is both an indicator of this company's technical chops and a huge differentiator between it and much of the competition. With the exception of desktop systems, most of us only use a graphical user interface (GUI) to operate our HiFi systems and peruse our music collections. Thus, the importance of such software can't be underestimated. 
     
    I recently reviewed the Bryston BDA-3.14. A product that features Bryston's Manic Moose software and works with a few third party applications. To be 100% honest and fair, that system isn't even in the same league as AURALiC's Lightning DS. Lightning DS is unequivocally better in every way. The problems I had with Manic Moose were major and showstoppers for many people. The problems I have with Lightning DS are usually items on AURALiC's list of coming improvements or have been resolved quickly by its capable technical team. With a great foundation, that's developed in-house, it's easier to expand upon the features and resolve small issues that pop up. Lightning DS is a solid foundation and one that alleviates any anxiety about the platform's future. 
     
    When I received the ARIES G2.1, I also made sure to obtain a third party optical CD drive (model: ODPS1203-SU3). This is because the Lightning DS platform also supports CD playback and ripping. The process of playback or ripping is extremely simple and it's a great way to easily add new music to one's collection. There are better ways to rip an entire collection of hundreds of albums, but I think LIghtning's CD functionality is more than adequate for new library additions. One item to consider is the esoteric number of new CDs to be added via this method. If most new CDs ripped by Lighting are very rare imports without much distribution, the metadata may need to be added manually after the disc is ripped, using a third party application. On the other hand, if new CDs are fairly popular releases, Lightning will have no trouble ripping and tagging them. 
     
    In my tests, it took 15 minutes to rip Little Girl Blue (TBM-33), 8 tracks, and 40 minute total running time. Lightning isn't the fastest ripper, but that's by design. Accuracy of one's data is paramount. Ripping a little slower enables Lightning to ensure the CDs are ripped perfectly. Similarly, if a CD is used for playback, it is read multiple times and buffered into memory prior to playback. In essence, playback is the same as playing from a USB drive or NAS because the data is sent to memory using any one of these methods. 
     
    When it comes to features, sonic performance, and nearly any other measure, the ARIES G2.1 more than qualifies to be the digital centerpiece of a HiFi system. 
     
     

     
     

    In My System
     
    I've used almost every AURALiC product made to date, yes this includes the very underrated and little known GEMINI 2000, and I've used them in every way imaginable. This includes numerous different combinations of NAS, Roon, internal storage, etc... AURALiC's platform and products are so flexible that the options are endless. Reviewing the ARIES G2.1 I decided to use only a USB connected hard drive to store my music. The option is there, and I'm sure it's a great one for many people without gigantic music collections, so I thought I'd give it a try. I tried both a large USB flash drive and my recently discovered Yottamaster HC1-C3 SSD drive with built-in cloning for backup. 
     
    I initially copied my music to the USB drive while it was connected to my computer, then connected it to the ARIES G2.1. When new releases arrived I attempted to copy them to the USB drive while it was connected to the ARIES G2.1. Doing this I discovered a bug in the platform. This was reproduced by the AURALiC team and fixed in an update to the Lightning platform. One beautiful thing about controlling everything from hardware to software, is that support is much simpler for the manufacturer and the customer benefits greatly. Since the fix was applied, I've been copying new Three Blind Mice albums to the ARIES G2.1 over the network without any issues. 
     
    Using the Lightning DS iOS app to scan my USB stored library and stream from Qobuz was very nice. The app was blazing fast when it came to browsing, searching and playback. The more I use Lightning DS, the more I like it. I can very easily see people using only this app and the ARIES G2.1 as the Lightning server, and calling it a day. There's no need for a third party application to get the most from the ARIES G2.1. That said, I know a few people who absolutely must have Roon. Fortunately, the ARIES G2.1 is a certified Roon Ready endpoint and works flawlessly in this configuration. 
     
    Note: One benefit to using Lightning DS as opposed to Roon is that Lightning DS will show the user all the new releases from Qobuz/Tidal as soon as they are available. Roon requires a cloud database update to even see these releases. This can take a day to accomplish and leave the newest releases unavailable through its interface. I played the new Taylor Swift via Lightning DS while Roon couldn't even see the album. This is nice to have for those of us who love music and have no patience. 
     
    One thing I'd like to see in the Lightning DS iOS app is the ability to identify high resolution and explicit releases in Qobuz search results, without tapping into each album. I want the highest resolution releases available and I absolutely must have the most explicit version available. Radio edits without swearing didn't work for me in grade school and nothing has changed with respect to my desire for the original work of uncensored art. The reason I really want this feature in Lighting DS can be shown in the following example. Taylor Swift's new album has four versions available on Qobuz. I want the high resolution explicit version. Yet, I have no way to determine which version is the one I want, without listening for explicit lyrics. I can tap into each album to see the resolution, but even that could be displayed on the album cover in search results. Anyway, not a showstopper by any means. Just a nice to have feature.
     
     
     
     

    I listened extensively to the ARIES G2.1 in several systems I have running in my room. One great thing about this digital centerpiece is that it works with so many other components. I connected it to a Berkeley Audio Design Alpha DAC Reference Series 3 via AES, an EMM Labs DV2 via USB, and a Denafrips Terminator via USB. All three of these require different things from the ARIES G2.1 and it succeeded without issue at all tasks. 
     
    Listening via AES and the flagship Berkeley DAC, the ARIES G2.1 delivered a pristine digital stream void of any noise or any possible sonic degradation. I know many of my friends are big fans of the Berkeley Alpha USB to clean up audio signals prior to the Berkeley DACs, but I'm not certain such a device is necessary when using the flagship ARIES G2.1. Given the RS3 only accepts PCM signals, the ARIES G2.1 easily converted all DSD signals to PCM at sample rates accepted on the RS3's input. Extensive listening reveals the G2.1's AES output is very good to say the least. 
     
    Connected via USB to the flagship EMM Labs DAC, I used the ARIES G2.1 mainly to send DSD over PCM / DoP data as a test. Yes, this should work and sound fantastic given the system, but testing is always required. It was no surprise that the G2.1 is a stellar source when paired with an EMM DAC. As a recent example, I listened to the new Taylor Swift album Folklore: The Long Pond Sessions, several times through this system and my RAAL-requisite SR1a headphones. These are the best headphones I've ever heard and most transparent audio device I've ever used. If there's a problem with the ARIES G2.1, I would've heard it easily (as I have with other components). This new album sounds great from the ARIES G2.1 to the EMM to a Constellation Audio amp to the SR1a. 
     
    I recently took delivery of a Denafrips Terminator, and just had to use its USB input for native DSD at ultra high sample rates. I configured the ARIES G2.1 to resample all DSD content to DSD512 before outputting via USB to the Terminator. This not only worked flawlessly, it sounded flawless. AURALiC's resampler is very good at outputting these ultra high DSD sample rates. I actually expected to find an issue with this, using native DSD, but there was nothing to be found. Listening to my beloved Three Blind Mice Supreme Collection 1500 from 44.1 to DSD512 through the ARIES G2.1 was fabulous. I have no doubt the G2.1 is a reference level component on par with the best digital source components available. For example, playing the Isao Suzuki Trio's album Blow Up through the ARIES G2.1 and the Terminator revealed everything from the micro details at the heist frequencies to delivering the heft and texture of the lowest cello frequencies. BY the time I passed one minute into the first track, I didn't need to listen any longer to render my unequivocal opinion about the ARIES G2.1, but why mess up a good thing. I listened to the entire album uninterrupted, transported to Aoi Studio in Tokyo, Japan in 1977. It's hard to believe how much information is on old recordings. After using the ARIES G2.1 for several weeks, it's not hard to believe that this information is there for the taking, or should I say listening. As long as one's components are in the same class as the G2.1, it's all possible. 
     

    Conclusion
     
    As a company, AURALiC represents the next generation of HiFi, of HiFi progress and innovation, and limitless capability. It has in-house talent on a level about which 99% of manufacturers can only dream. Full control over both hardware and software, and the engineering prowess to actually do something about it, is standard for Apple but is rare in HiFi. The end product from all of this is the flagship AURALiC G2.1 series. The ARIES G2.1 is the best all digital  Streaming Transporter the company has ever built. The difference between the original ARIES products is large in every category while the delta between the G2 and G2.1 is likely appreciable for the most avid HiFI enthusiasts. 
     
    I've been a fan and user of the AURALiC ARIES series products since day one. I know them inside and out and know just how good the hardware and software are compared to the competition. The ARIES G2.1 is without a doubt a perfect component to have as the centerpiece of one's digital universe. It has features for days, sound quality on par with the best, future upgradability via software, great support, and is designed and manufactured by a company I proudly recommend to my closest friends. Recommended with enthusiasm.

     
     
     
     
     
     
     
    Community Star Ratings and Reviews
     
    I encourage those who have experience with the AURALiC ARIES G2.1 to leave a star rating and quick review on our new Polestar platform.
     
     
     
     
    Product Information:
     
    AURALiC ARIES G2.1 ($4,799 or $5,199 with 2TB Internal Storage) AURALiC ARIES G2.1 Product Page AURALiC ARIES G2.1 User's Guide (1.2MB PDF)  AURALiC ARIES G2.1 CD Playback & Ripping Guide (1.1MB PDF)   
     
    Associated Music:
     
    Audiophile Style 50 (Qobuz) Computer Audiophile PJ4CA Playlist (Tidal)  
     
    Associated Equipment:
     
    Source: QNAP TVS-872XT, Aurender W20SE, CAPS 20 DAC: EMM Labs DV2, Berkeley Audio Design Alpha DAC RS3, Schiit Audio Yggdrasil D-to-D Converter: Sonore Signature Rendu SE (optical), APL HiFi DNP-SR, CAPS 20.1, Berkeley Audio Design Alpha USB Amplifiers: Constellation Audio Mono 1.0 / Monoblock Power Amplifiers Preamplifier: Constellation Audio PreAmp 1.0 Loudspeakers: Wilson Audio Alexia Series 2 Digital Signal Processing: Accurate Sound, HQPlayer Remote Control Software: Roon Remote, JRemote, Aurender Conductor Remote Control Hardware: iPad Pro Playback Software: Roon, JRiver,  Network Attached Storage (NAS): QNAP TVS-872XT Audio Cables: Transparent Audio Reference Interconnects (XLR & RCA), Transparent Audio Reference 110-Ohm AES/EBU Digital Link, Transparent Audio Reference Speaker Cables, Gotham GAC-4/1 ultraPro Balanced XLR Audio Cable (40') USB Cables: Transparent Audio Premium USB Cable Power Cables: Transparent Audio Reference Power Cables Power Isolation: one 4kVA and one 5 kVA 512 Engineering Symmetrical Power Source Ethernet Cables: Transparent Audio High Performance Ethernet Cables Fiber optic Cables: Single Mode OS1-9/125um (LC to LC) Acoustic Room Treatments: Vicoustic Diffusion and Absorption,  ATS Acoustics Bass Traps Network: Ubiquiti UniFi Switch 24, Ubiquiti UniFi Switch 8-150W x2, Ubiquiti UniFi Switch 16 XG, Ubiquiti UniFi Security Gateway Pro 4, Ubiquiti UniFi AP HD x2, UniFi FlexHD AP, Ubiquiti FC-SM-300 Fiber Optic Cable x2, UF-SM-1G-S Fiber Optic Modules x6, Commercial Grade Fiber Optic Patch Cables, Calix 716GE-I Optical Network Terminal, CenturyLink 1 Gbps download / upload  
     
     
    Listening Room:
     
    This graph shows the frequency response of my room before (top) and after (bottom) tuning by Mitch Barnett of Accurate Sound. The standard used for this curve is EBU 3276. This tuning can be used with Roon, JRiver, and other apps that accept convolution filters. When evaluating equipment I use my system with and without this tuning engaged. The signal processing takes place in the digital domain before the audio reaches the DAC, thus enabling me to evaluate the components under review without anything changing the signal further downstream. 
     

     
     
     
  5. Thanks
    PYP reacted to bobfa for an article, Review | Buchardt Audio A500 Speaker System   
    Buchardt Audio A500 Speaker System
    45 days and counting...
     
     
     
    September 25th, 2020

    #FutureFi
     
    I have been on a multi-year quest for simplicity in audio systems around my home.  Recently I have mostly been listening to the Kii Three speakers with the BXT modules.  The Kii speakers are an incredible system, but they are out of most "normal budgets." I have been looking for something simpler and more in-line with personal finances.  Unexpectedly I also still have my Dutch and Dutch 8C system, and I tried the Elac Navis ARB-51 system, which falls on either side of the Buchardt A500's budget-wise.  But I am getting ahead of myself.  
     
    Denmark based Buchardt Audio uses a direct to consumer sales model for its equipment.  They pay the import taxes and fees.  You purchase the system, and you have 45 days to evaluate and possibly return the gear.  There is a modest return fee. For the A500, it is $50.  
     
    The A500 is a nicely sized self-powered bookshelf speaker from Denmark available in three finishes, White, Black, and Walnut.  The cabinet has an unusual shape that slopes backward from bottom to top.   There are three drivers; a forward-facing tweeter is in a large waveguide. There is a second 6in forward-facing driver and a third rear-facing 6in driver.  The drivers have individual 150-watt class D amplifiers.  Also, the speakers contain a multi-core DSP system that manages the crossovers and a bit more. The primary input is via a WiSA standard RF interface operating at 24bit 96kb PCM. There is a second analog input via balanced XLR. There is a USB port on the rear of the speaker for loading DSP configurations called Mastertunings.
     
    As I write this, there are multiple Mastertunings profiles available for download on the Buchardt Audio website. Each of these tunings changes the performance/operations of the DSP crossover. They are easy to test by installing the tuning on a USB stick and booting each speaker up with the USB stick inserted in the speaker.
     
    Just one more thing that the A500 provides. The DSP implements an equal-loudness contour called the Fletcher-Munson Curve (ISO 226:2003) that compensates for human hearing at lower volumes.  The Buchardt monicker is Low-Level Enhancement (LLE).
     
     
    The second part of the system is the Hansong Stereo Hub that Buchardt sells along with the speakers. The Hub is an optional purchase, but it is a primary tool for using the speakers.  The stereo hub is the WiSA transmitter and provides multiple inputs along with Wi-Fi streaming.  It comes with a nice wireless remote for controlling volume, input selection, and more.  
     
    The stereo hub has some smart tricks up its sleeve.  
    - It is a Chromecast and Airplay receiver and has Spotify Connect.  
    - There is also Bluetooth and UPnP.   
    - There are multiple physical inputs, Line, three optical, one digital, USB, 3.5mm, and HDMI ARC.
     
    There is one other feature; Room Correction, for frequencies below 300hz. Using an iPhone app to sweep the room with the speakers emitting an audio pattern, the software calculates the needed adjustments.  It sends the info to the Hansong Stereo Hub for operation.
     
     
     
     
    The above is a short intro video we shot for The Three Techs!
     
     
    September 30th, 2020
     
    I have the speakers connected to AC power using Puritan Audio Laboratories power cables and the PSM-156 Mains Purifier.  An HDPLEX-200 LPS powers the Stereo Hub.  
     
    The speakers are on Elac single post filled stands using Isoacoustics Gaia-1 isolators.  The speakers do not have mounting inserts, so I use Sound Anchor Blue Dots to hold them on the speaker stands safely.
     
    NOTE: I already had the ancillary devices listed above available for use on the system.  While they are "upgrades" and optional, they add significant value!
     
    My everyday listening tool has been my Ryzen 7300 based Roon Server.  With the Hansong Stereo Hub, I have many other options.  The Hansong hub and the AURALiC Altair G1 are both Roon endpoints.  The Hub only through Google Cast. 
     
    I am also listening with Spotify Connect, Tidal app, Qobuz app, Audirvana, SoundCloud, Bandcamp, etc.
     
    I have played with MConnect, Bubble UPnP, and a couple more control point apps on iOS and Android.  I am going to leave this for later.  There is just too much to do.
     
    According to Buchardt Audio, the speakers need around 100 hours to break-in.  I found that after about 20 hours or so, things started to relax a lot!  The "piston-rings" seem to have gotten their Groove-On!  As time goes on they continue to improve.  
     
     
    October 3rd, 2020
     
    Room Correction and listening paths
     
    In my room, there is a 30-40Hz bump at about 5db. There are also a couple of dips above that. I have a lot of carpet, fabric, and the room's rear is mostly open to the home's entryway.  No listening room is perfect!  In this case, the Living Room has to function as a Listening Room, and I really cannot embellish it with acoustic add-ons.  Some DSP software helps things out.

    I have two paths to the speakers that I want to outline.  The first path is the Buchardt supplied WISA Hub.  I do not know precisely where the magic is in the WISA system, but I have not heard anything in its price range that comes close to the sound quality I am getting.  The flexibility that the Hub provides to this system is an almost perfect intersection of services for streaming music playback.  I also connected my Rega Planar 8 turntable and pre-amp to the line-in.  What more could I ask of the Hub?  At least one more thing, I can tell Google Assistant to play music on it!  
     
    The second path for my music is through my AURALiC Altair G1 directly to the A500 speakers via their balanced analog inputs.
     
    There are a couple of advantages to the G1, from the lovely display on the front of the device to the Lightning DS application that ties everything together, high-res Local Music, Tidal, Qobuz, Internet Radio.  
     
    So, the G1 and the Hansong Stereo Hub pair give me access to virtually every streaming and local music source I can think of.  I get to play with Room Correction, listen to LP's, talk to my stereo; WOW!
     
     
    I have been putting off writing about the sound for a long time now.  It takes quite a while to accumulate hours on speakers located in the core of the home during the ordinary course of family life!  
     
    The other part of the problem is what audio path do I evaluate?  I really do not want to decide what the "best test path is."
     
    I am trying to promote the use of the system, so I have been testing multiple approaches.  While Sound Quality is essential in our home, the simplicity of operation may override sometimes. Having the Virtual assistant play something on demand is very compelling. Does Apple Music over Airplay sound better than Spotify Connect? Do I really care? I am not sure.
     
    During this process, I have found many hiccoughs in multiple systems, software and hardware. I may note them in a separate thread here on Audiophile Style to not confuse this report.
     
    The Primary Paths that I have chosen are as follows:
     
    I am streaming via Google-Cast and Apple AirPlay from apps on my iOS and Android devices. 
     
    Altair G1 via Analog XLR, the A500 Speakers using the Lightning DS app on iPad.

    The other issue here is the data path.  Using all of these services and streaming protocols, I do not always know what the sampling is.   Some of the testings are about functionality and not Sound Quality.
     
    Did I cover my tracks well enough here?  Or is the light at the end of the tunnel a Freight Train headed my way?
     
     
    October 10th, 2020  
     
    Short-cut to a sound quality test? I am not sure.

    I used the Hub and the G1 as two Roon Zones in my testing, comparing the WiSA path vs. the Analog XLR path into the A500 speakers.  
     
    For a few days, I used both sighted and blind to expose the difference between the two paths.  The Altair G1 has a better presentation than the Hansong Hub. The G1 has a tighter presence and more clarity. The overall feeling of the music with the G1 is striking. I have had two friends visits, masks on windows open.  Both were really surprised by the A500's.  One vote for G1 being a lot better.  The other was an abstain as we did not have enough time. For me the Buchardt A500 is the clear winner here.   I can enhance them with my Altair G1 and that has been three steps forward for me.   
     
    NOTE: I conducted the same test with the ELAC Discovery Connect and the Altair G1.  The Discovery Connect and its wireless protocol have pronounced performance degradation to the ELAC NAVIS ARB-51 Speakers I was testing last month.   It was not an acceptable solution for me.  The Elac's have been returned.
     
    I told you that this was hard!  Simplifying my system design has gotten more complicated to evaluate than expected.

    The A500's stated frequency specifications are 25hz to 40,000khz +-1.5db. I will not pretend to be able to measure this or hear it for that matter.  I can talk about what I hear, and that has been full of surprise and delight. 
     
    Out of the box, the A500's did something new for me.  The treble did not sound harsh.  The bass response was jaw-dropping.  How did the Buchardt Audio team make this happen?  As I have been auditioning them, I have not once felt something was off.  I am repeatedly amazed at the depth and breadth of the sound stage. Vocal and small ensemble performances feel almost alive.  The A500 speakers have exceeded my expectations in several areas, apparent sound stage, bass response, and WiSA sound quality.  They have responded well to the sound quality enhancements I have used, and their system flexibility fits right in with my desire to play with things.
     
    In communicating with Mads Buchardt, who seems to answer everyone's email, he suggested a couple of things from my initial setup.  He indicated that I should keep them further apart because of the way that the tweeter waveguides work.  He also outlined the procedure for measuring the room with my iPhone, as they have not done a video yet! 
     
     
    Oh, back to my listening report.  
     
    I consistently find vocals to be very pleasing with these speakers.  A couple, in particular, are Dominique Fils-Aimé and the lead singer from Blues company.  It has been wonderful to sample Annie Lennox across the years.  In Eva Cassidy's Live at Blues Alley I can hear more of the human sounds in the recordings, breathing, mic distance changes, etc. They seem more present.
     
    I enjoy piano music.  Getting a piano recorded well, and playing that back in a home environment is challenging.  I have found that many piano recordings sound harsh or odd to me. Many times the faults were with my reproduction equipment! With the A500's the number of recordings that exhibit that problem seems to be shrinking one by one as I listen to them.  I have a lot of listening to go before I get to zero, and there is always the internet with more!
     
    In my discussions with Mads Buchardt, he suggested I try the "new default master tuning." You have to format a USB stick and put the master tuning file on it.  Then power down the A500 speaker, insert the USB stick, and power it up.  The LED's will do a little circle dance to indicate success.  You have to do this for each speaker.
     
    I have only played a little bit to see if it worked.  I re-loaded the original MasterTuning so that I could finish these listening tests without any change.  Time is running short.
     
     
     21 Days in -- Small changes-- October 15th, 2020
     
    I have decided to keep both of my streamers in the system.  I am using the Hansong Hub to do the "casting stuff" and have the analog input for my turntable.  When there are some software updates, I will look into other uses.  
     
    I have proven to myself that the Hansong Hub and WiSA streaming sounds excellent and provides a lot of functionality I want.
     

    Streaming Week -- Friday, October 16th, 2020
     
    Things are progressing rather well here.
     
     
    This feels like Cake Week on The Great British Baking Show.  So many flavors to taste! I have been listening to Apple Music.  The User Interface of Apple Music is excellent.  Playing back Apple's streams of AAC  audio is a pleasure on the A500's.  It is a great way to discover music.  Apple has an extensive selection of music, and its curated playlists are great.   I am also trialing Spotify Premium to test Spotify Connect and understand their systems better.  
     
    On the Altair G1, I have my local music with Tidal and Qobuz.  I have been playing a lot streaming from both Tidal and Qobuz.  
     
    At some point I have to make up my mind and pick ONE streaming service.  Simplifying is not just the hardware side of things!
     
     
     
    October 24th, 2020  -- 30 days and counting
     
    The Battles on Stage — 8c vs. A500
     
    It has been a month! I have done too much work to get here.  Messing about with different streaming systems, control point apps, speaker stands, and locations, WHEW!   
     
     I have settled into a routine of just listening to the system when I want no heavy planned sessions.  The only requirement I am still observing is to make sure I listen through both the Altair G1 and the Hansong Hub in the same session. Nothing fancy, just keeping both in mind.
     
    I am still finding the soundstage's overall presentation to be one of the outstanding features of the A500's.   As I noted before, vocals stand out on these speakers.  Singers like Eva Cassidy are some of my favorites.
     
    I have also completed a SHORT comparison of the Buchardt A500's to the Dutch and Dutch 8C speakers this weekend. I am using the Analog XLR interface from the Altair G1 for my listening. The differences are smaller than the similarities. Diminishing returns?  Both systems have lovely imaging; they both have extended bass range.  8c's sonic presentation has more midrange detail, and they have a lot of weight.  They are a bit more forward. The 8c's let you know that they are in the room both physically and sonically.  I realized that I had been using a loaner set of XLR cables in the system before this test, and that has changed the Analog character of things. That will be remedied shortly when my AudioQuest Water cables arrive.
    As I mentioned early in this process, this is not a fair comparison.  The  8c's are around triple the price of the A500's.  This review is not about the Dutch and Dutch speakers, but they influence my thinking, as do the Kii Threes!  
     
    Finally, I have been put in contact with the engineering team at Hansong.  I have sent them the list of issues I have found so far.  They have helped me with a couple of cases where I was doing the wrong thing.
     
     
    October 28th, 2020
     
    My Playlist
     
    I took some time today to start building a playlist to highlight some of the music I have been listening to during my trial.  You will find the Qobuz playlist down at the bottom of the article.  I am also linking to a couple of other playlists that have been fun!
     
    https://open.qobuz.com/playlist/4833309
     
    AustinPop
    https://open.qobuz.com/playlist/2469971
     
    Kii Audio Spring 2019 — Updated
    https://open.qobuz.com/playlist/2236115
     
    Audio Consultants Playlist
    https://open.qobuz.com/playlist/2316959

    And the icing on the cake: We also figured out one of my problems—the A500's need a bit higher volume from the Altair G1 to wake up from sleep.  I thought I had a problem.  It was user error.
     
     
    November 9th, 2020
     
    This is the last day of my trial.  Let me level set my decision here.  I am comparing the A500's and the Hansong Hub against the Dutch and Dutch 8C and the Kii Three with BXT.  Being able to directly compare these three systems is a very unique opportunity.
     
    The A500 has a split personality.  The first is their analog side.  The audiophile in me almost giggles to see that.  I can hook just about anything up to that input.  It allows me to dig in and play around.  The second side is the Hub.  This little Swiss Army Knife has so many possibilities for digital, wireless, and analog my head spins.  So I am a kid on a merry-go-round, dizzy and laughing!
     
    I am fascinated by the Hub. I mostly use it for AirPlay, background listening, research, discovery, etc..  I am also playing with Spotify Connect to see if I can tell the difference between it and Apple Music.
     
    In my testing, I have exposed several software issues with the Hub, mostly with Google Cast.  All of my problems have been reported.  Since I mainly use AirPlay and Spotify Connect, this has not been a significant issue for me. 
     
    I am looking forward to proper Roon Certification although I have mostly abandoned Roon due to multiple interactions issues and reduced sound quality.
     
    As noted above, the Altair G1 is my Server/Streamer/DAC to feed Balanced XLR analog to various systems.  

    So, Bob, are you keeping them???   The answer is YES!  
     
    I have never experienced a pair of speakers that present this level of musical reproduction experience at this price point.  The A500’s show you when you have all of the pieces linked up to produce amazing sound in your own living room. When something is not right they show it to you.  When something soars to great heights, the shine a light on it.  These are truly what I consider “Performance Listening” speakers.   Mads Buchardt should be very pleased to put his name on these speakers.  The teams that built them should be celebrated.
     

    There is more to be done!
     
    I really want to see some software updates for the Hansong Hub.  I want to try different mastertunings.  I would like to see Roon Ready on both the 8Cs and the A500 hub.  I am breaking in my AudioQuest Water cables, and  I am waiting for some Herbies Audio Labs, Cone/Spike Decoupling Gliders.  I want to see if I can use them in place of the Gaia-1’s
     
    I hope that this journey through my evaluation has been enjoyable and encourages others to try out other system components.

    Thanks to Mads Buchardt for spending so much time responding to my emails and connecting me to the right folks directly for reporting my issues.  His support has been very encouraging.
     
     
    So "Enjoy the Music"
     
    ** I am closing this report here to satisfy my goal of getting this review done in the allotted time.  There is another chapter going on as I type this.  Keep a watch on Audiophile Style for more.  We will also do another video when I am “Finally Done”

    ----------------
     
     
    Product Information:
     
    Buchardt Audio A500 Speakers — Walnut W/ Hansong Hub.    4,350.00 Euros (LINK) User Manual (13MB PDF) (LINK) Stereo Hub Quick Start Guide (6MB PDF) (LINK)  
     
     
    AURALiC Altair G1
    Melco N1-ZH60 
     
    IsoACOUSTICS Mini-Pucks for the Altair G1 and Melco
    Rega Planar 8 Turntable with Ania cartridge
    Musical Fidelity MZ-VYNL phono stage
    Audioquest Evergreen RCA cables for Phono to Hub
    Mogami Gold XLR Cables
    AudioQuest Water XLR cables
     
    Elac Single post stands.
     
    Sound Anchor Blue Dots to stick the speakers to the stands 
    IsoACOUSTICS Gaia 1 isolators
    IKEA Cutting boards as platforms
     
    Puritan Audio Laboratories 
    PSM-156 Power Line Filter
    PAL power cords as needed to equipment 
     
    Apple iPad Pro 12.9 (first generation) as a control point
     
    Misc
     
    DIY RYZEN 7300 based Roon Server 
    2014 Mac Mini for Audirvana
    Pixel 3a control point
    iPhone 11Pro MAX Camera and control point
     
    Other Items
     
    Dutch and Dutch 8C speakers
     on Sound Anchor adjustable stands
    Kii Three+BXT Speaker System
     
    VIP
     With speakers spread all over the living space for the last six months, it is great to have a very patient spouse! 
     
     
     
  6. Thanks
    PYP reacted to The Computer Audiophile for an article, Review | McIntosh RS200 Wireless Speaker   
    The McIntosh RS200 wireless loudspeaker system has been in my house for a few months, getting a full workout from me, my wife, and eight year old daughter. Each of us has a completely different routine for playing music through this all-in-one device and each of us have thoroughly enjoyed and appreciated this speaker. The RS200 checks many boxes on my list of what makes a great all-in-one unit, although it has its share of possible downsides depending on one's use case. Overall I love the speaker, my family loves the speaker, and our limited number of pandemic house guests have loved the speaker. Here's my complete take on the McIntosh RS200 wireless loudspeaker system.
     

    The Tangibles 
     
    The RS200 is one of those products that must be seen and touched in person. When I first saw the photos on the day it launched, I thought the device looked a little dated. I thought to myself, nice try McIntosh, maybe next time. Fortunately, after I unboxed the unit, a warm fuzzy wave of reality washed over me as I saw and touched it for the first time. This thing is classic McIntosh, with substantial heft, a gloss finish that no photograph does justice, LED buttons that illuminate green, unmistakable McIntosh blue meters, real volume and input selection dials, and a base platform that present the RS200 as if it's floating above one's table. 
     
    I can't stress enough how impressed I was by the RS200's physical characteristics. I've reviewed hundreds of high end audio products, used thousands more, and even experienced the ultimate in luxury car audio systems at the Pebble Beach Concours d'Elegance. I understand impressive products when I see them. The McIntosh RS200 is a truly impressive product. 
     
     

     
     
    Under the hood the RS200 is loaded with 650 watts of amplification driving eight speakers ((2) 4” x 6” woofers, (4) 2” midranges and (2) ¾” tweeters). That's all well and good as physics plays an important role in sound reproduction, but nothing is more important with all-in-one speakers than digital signal processing (DSP). Audiophiles shouldn't kid themselves into thinking there's a mythical straight wire with gain version somewhere. EVERY all-in-one needs DSP or it will sound terrible. Fortunately, the R200 features good DSP that's adjusted by the listener with a single three position switch. 
     
    Around back, the McIntosh absolutely nailed what needed to be nailed (figuratively). There's no plastic WiFi antenna! Integrating a WiFi antenna into a product isn't a trivial task. This is why most niche audio manufacturers are stuck with the same one from a Linksys router circa 1998. Hats off to the McIntosh design team for getting this done. 
     
    Touching on DSP one more time, the user selectable EQ setting mentioned above is on the back of the RS200. The setting requires zero knowledge of what's going on inside the box as it lists the options as Wall, Free, or Table. It's pretty self explanatory that the setting should be dictated by the placement of the speaker. There are no hard and fast rules though. Whatever setting sounds best to the listener, is the best setting. 
     
    The RS200 is a WiFi only speaker as shipped. I was initially surprised by this as McIntosh as a company is all about delivering solid products that work, extremely thorough user manuals, etc... and I just figured this product would have an ultra reliable wired Ethernet connection. Fortunately, after months of use, I never experienced a single issue with the RS200's 802.11n wireless capabilities. Sure, 802.11ac or now even WiFi 6, would be nice, but one could also say, don't fix what's not broken. 
     
    After sending this review to McIntosh for fact checking prior to publication, I was informed by the Mc team that an Ethernet adapter can be added to the RS200. That jogged my memory. I forgot I'd previously purchase a USB to Ethernet adapter for, if I remember correctly, a different McIntosh, from Monoprice. I searched my box of adapters and other items, and found the $14.99 adapter! I connected it to the RS200's service port and it worked perfectly. So yes, the McIntosh RS200 works great as either a WiFi or wired Ethernet device. Here's a link to the adapter I used (LINK). 
     
    Other inputs include HDMI ARC, USB, optical and an auxiliary connection. If I had the space for the RS200 below my Samsung Frame TV, I'd have it connected via HDMI ARC in a heartbeat. It would be a fantastic way to bring one's television experience to another level in many ways. I played around with the RS200's USB input when I first received the unit. It works as it should, connected to Windows, macOS, and even Linux audio endpoints. The thing is though, these devices all require more cables, for power and audio, that aren't necessary to get maximum performance from the RS200. 
     
    The last tangible goody included with the RS200 is a real remote control. It isn't a typical solid block of aluminum style of high end remote, but it gets the job done when needed. Over 99% of the time the RS200 was controlled by a phone or tablet in my house. The physical remote came in handy one time and I can see why many people may want this slim remote available should the need arise. 
     
     

     

     
    The Intangibles 
     
    The McIntosh RS200 is packed with tons of logo'd technologies and capabilities such as Bluetooth 5.0, aptX HD, DTS, Alexa, AirPlay and more. It's certainly nice to have these as options. I love options even though I don't use them. I can see why others prefer to use Bluetooth while I wouldn't be caught dead using the technology. Live and let listen as I like to say. 
     
    The elephant in the room, and my largest issue with the McIntosh RS200 is its use of the DTS Play-Fi platform. Most people who don't eat, sleep, and breathe this stuff don't realize that most high end audio companies select technology platforms from a small number of manufacturers such as Phorus (DTS Play-Fi), StreamUnlimited, ConversDigital, and a couple others. Purchasing modules that support Spotify, Alexa, Qobuz, Tidal, DLNA, etc... is far more cost effective than for an audio company to attempt to reinvent the wheel. These platforms require a serious technical staff with skills far different from those required at an audio company. 
     
    DTS Play-Fi has serious issues to say the least. Before readers write the RS200 off, please note that all is far from lost due to the RS200's support of all the aforementioned options. I'll get further into how I took the RS200 to the next level a bit later in this review. I've previously written about my distaste for Play-Fi and detailed extensively why I think it's a technology from the early 2000s that hasn't advanced with the home audio world. After my previous article I was contacted by the Play-Fi product manager to discuss my findings and listen to the company plead its case. Several years later, Play-Fi has added one sorely needed feature, but its implementation is lacking. 
     
    Rather than make this review a referendum on Play-Fi, I'll just go over a couple examples of how it works with the RS200. This should help readers come to their own conclusions. Using the Play-Fi app on iOS one can login to many music services such as Amazon Music HD, Qobuz, Tidal, and two very tough services for a manufacturer to work with, SiriusXM and Pandora. In fact, it's often those two services that sway manufacturers to use a specific technology platform. Anyway, once logged in, it's possible to stream music from those services to the RS200. 
     
    Here's the rub. Music from services Qobuz, Tidal, and Amazon streams through one's mobile device before hitting the RS200, with a couple exceptions I'll discuss in a bit. Think about this. If Netflix sent movies through your television remote control and then on to your TV, the whole time using the remote's battery, the company would be out of business. This is essentially how Play-Fi works. Select a track from Qobuz, it's sent from Qobuz to your phone, then from your phone to the RS200. This is identical to how AirPlay works as well, but AirPlay isn't a platform, it's a technology that streams music and video from iOS devices. Fortunately, Spotify doesn't work this way and neither to the RS200's one touch buttons. Spotify requires more control over the user experience, with all hardware integrations, and requires use of its own app. This streams directly from the Spotify cloud to the RS200. 
     
    Play-Fi's answer to its dated way of routing music is its Transfer Playback feature. At first blush it sounds perfect, but in reality it's a half-baked attempt to support what most other platforms support. Here's how it works. Select an album from a streaming service such as Qobuz and press play. Then, select the icon with an arrow inside a square to transfer playback, in other words, direct the audio stream to go from Qobuz right to the RS200.
     
    The problems arise if the listener wants to add another track to the queue. I received an error message saying "This file is unsupported" when I attempted to do this. More problems arise when switching to a different album or track on another album. Each new item must be transferred to the RS200 through the Transfer Playback process in order to use the direct cloud to device path. The process within the Play-Fi app isn't a one touch and it's done type of thing. Transferring playback puts the app into a mode that makes the listener use it in ways nobody would naturally use it. If transferring playback sent all subsequent tracks directly to the RS200, it would be golden. However, an album by album or track by track music traffic cop type of experience is unacceptable in 2020. 
     
    An additional way to stream content directly from cloud services such as Tidal, Amazon, and SiriusXM is actually pretty cool for some use cases. It's possible to set four presets for the sleek buttons on top of the RS200 (or the remote control), so one touch starts the audio streaming regardless of one's iOS or Android device. A mobile or tablet isn't required at all for the presets to function. Fans of SiriusXM can easily configure a preset to stream a favorite channel and get access to that channel with a tap of the button. I tested this feature by setting preset 1 to my Computer Audiophile 100 playlist in Tidal. I then shut off my iPad Pro with the Play-Fi app (just as a test), tapped the number 1 button, and all was right in the world as music flowed directly to the RS200 from Tidal. If one's musical habits involve playlists or directly accessed content such as specific albums or internet radio stations (iHeart, SiriusXM), these one touch buttons are fantastic. 
     
    Enough about Play-Fi because the RS200 shouldn't be defined by this technology. 
     
    Note: Play-Fi sends information to Google Analytics. It isn't possible to disable this. Using other playback methods outside of Play-Fi (AirPlay) keeps one's information from being collected. 
     
     
    Taking The RS200 To Another Level 
     
    Given the RS200's support for DLNA and AirPlay, listeners have a whole host of options for getting music to the device. Sure, AirPlay streams music through the iOS device just like Play-Fi, however Roon fully supports AirPlay audio devices. Thus, one way to take the RS200 to the next level, while keeping it wireless without added devices attached to the unit, is to use Roon. Within Roon, the RS200 appears as an AirPlay audio device and accepts 16 bit / 44.1 music. Roon converts all other sample rates to 44.1 prior to sending them on to the RS200. 
     
    In my dining room I placed an iPad Pro running Roon near the RS200. My family and house guests easily browsed, selected, and listened to music through the RS200 without a single issue. Everything just worked. AirPlay handles lossless audio streams but doesn't allow an app like Roon to control the audio clock. Because of this, Roon considers the audio path High Quality rather than giving it the Lossless label. If anyone thinks the high quality of AirPlay was an issue in my house, they'd be sorely mistaken. Everyone who heard the RS200 absolutely loved the sound. 
     
    Using Roon and AirPlay is how I listened to the RS200 for much of the time. When my daughter goes to school and my wife goes to work, I have many opportunities to site down and just listen. I listened to probably 100 albums through the R200 on my own time. I know the sonic signature of this device extremely well. Crystal clear high frequencies, solid midrange that's most important to me as a listener, and really good bass. I mean really good bass compared to the competitors in this all-in-one space. If I had to select just one device in this category to live with for the rest of my life, it would be the McIntosh RS200 because of its sound quality. No, it doesn't beat the $10,000+ Mytek and Sonus Faber system I previously setup in this space, but this is a different animal for less than half price. It sounds better than anything from Naim, Dynaudio, Bluesound, Sonos etc... This is a category of device that I absolutely love and of which I consider myself a connoisseur. The McIntosh Rs200 is the new class leader.
     
    In addition to sending streams to the RS200 via AirPlay, I used DLNA a little bit. I suppose one could say the sound quality of the RS200 via DLNA is a touch better, but that's only if one is sitting down and trying to hear differences. In 99% of the use cases for the RS200, DLNA or AirPlay won't matter for sonics. Where it does matter is volume control. 
     
    Via AirPlay Roon can control the volume on the RS200. However, the communication isn't two-way. After adjusting the volume with the RS200's physical dial, Roon doesn't update the level of the actual volume. It still thinks it's at the level that it set. Subsequently changing the volume in Roon causes the RS200's volume to jump immediately to the level set within Roon. This may be a big deal if the level was set for soft playback on the local device and Roon was at high volume. 
     
    Via DLNA the volume control is a two-way street. Adjusting the volume in either an app or with the physical dial works perfect. For example, I used Audirvana to send some high resolution audio to the RS200. I adjusted the volume using the physical dial and this was updated very quickly in Audirvana. It's a really nice feature to have, especially if others in the household or guests use the system. Nobody can be expected to just know how all volume controls work. With DLNA and the RS200, nobody has to know.
     
    While listening to the RS200 critically, I tested the three EQ settings on the rear of the unit. My personal favorite setting, given that the RS200 was placed near a wall and on a table without any reflections, was the wall setting. I thought the bass was a bit much with the Free setting and absolutely right with the wall setting. Readers shouldn't be under any illusions that the RS200 is as transparent as something like the McIntosh XRT2.1K loudspeakers. It certainly isn't, but the sound quality from the device is better than what one can get from any other device I've heard in this class. We all have limitations with respect to areas in our homes we'd like to play music. If one has a huge listening room, then look at the XRT2.1K. If one wants to share music and create some experiences with friends and family in a "normal" room of the house, then the RS200 is absolutely up to the task. It has a fun sound, high end sound, punchy sound, and an easy sound to listen to for hours on end. 
     
    When considering the RS200, the most important question each potential customer must ask is, where is my music located? This may sound strange at first, but the answer dictates how one can use the RS200. If one's music is "in" Spotify, the RS200 will stream straight from the cloud to the device and enable all the usual controls. If one has music "in" Roon or on a DLNA server at home, the experience will be immensely enjoyable and the sound quality will be second to none. I encourage readers to take the RS200 to the next level and unleash its full potential. 
     

    Conclusions 
     
    The McIntosh RS200 wireless speaker system must be seen and heard in person to fully realize its class leading sonic performance and its exquisite build quality. Looking at the RS200 in photos or videos tells as much about the device as does looking at the Van Gogh museum through VR goggles. Sure it's neat, but the texture of Van Gogh's paintings must be seen in person to be believed and to implant unforgettable memories. The same goes for the RS200. As soon as I unboxed it, I realized it was a special component. As soon as I started listening, I knew it was a memory maker.
     
     
    Product Information:
    Manufacturer: McIntosh Labs
    Model: RS200 Wireless Speaker System
    Price: $3,000
    Product Page: LINK
    User Manual: LINK
    Quick Start Guide: LINK
    Brochure: LINK
     
     
     

     
  7. Like
    PYP reacted to JoeWhip for an article, Sound Liaison One Mic + Recording   
    Back in June 2019, I penned an article extolling the virtues of the superb One Mic Recordings released by Dutch audiophile label Sound Liaison. For those not familiar with that article, the link is here. The special nature of these recordings was made possible by the Josephson C700S microphone and the skillful use and placement of that mic by the recording engineer, Frans De Rond. In the piece, I discussed the four albums that were recorded using the one mic technique, noting that with each successive recording the sound improved as Frans continued to experiment with the placement of the mic in front of the musicians. All four of the recordings sounded superb with natural tone, spaciousness and pin point placement of the musicians in the sound field. All of the recordings featured a sensational sense of space from left to right as well as front to back depth. However, I did note an issue with using this technique with a vocalist and a drummer on the Carmen Gomes, Inc. recording Don’t You Cry. The issue was the fact that the drummer had to play a bit more reserved than with a multi miked recording so as to not drown out the vocalist. That was not an issue with the double bass or guitar as those musicians can just move up closer for their solos. That, however, is not possible with a drum kit. While the recording still sounded wonderful, it did lack a bit of dynamics. As the other three recordings did not involve a vocalist, this was not an issue. After my article appeared, Sound Liaison continued to release more one mic recordings which continued to improve with each release. Again, those recordings did not involve a vocalist. The question was how to improve the one mic recordings with a vocalist. This brings us to the latest one mic recording featuring Carmen Gomes, Up Jump the Devil, being released November 13th in high resolution, where this issue was resolved, completely.

    You will no doubt infer from the title of this article that the solution was to add some mic reenforcement to the drums and even the bass. I will let Frans describe what has been done and why he calls this a one mic plus recording.
     
    "There are several reasons at play why this is a One Mic plus recording.

    Maybe the most important is that I realized that when we had Carmen so close to the one mic she was creating an acoustic baffle that covered up certain frequencies.

    The same was true for Peter Bjørnild's double bass.

    For this recording the role of drummer Bert Kampsteeg was very important. We wanted him to be able to play as freely and dynamic as possible. By moving Carmen and Peter further away the drum sound got much more present.

    You could argue that this is a return to old fashioned multi mic recording but I don't think that is true, drums and guitar and a big part of the double bass sound is still coming from the Josephson 700s. The microphone is absolutely central to the sound stage we have created.

    I recorded Carmen and supported Peter's bass with two Josephson C700A microphones. The C700A is identical to the C700S except that it has only one figure of 8 capsule.

    But the beauty of these mic's are that spill colorization is much less of a problem. So they are perfect as spot mic's.
    We wanted the small 'sound scape' compositions to have a very dark atmosphere, (Peter said he wanted them sounding as dark as the Mississippi night) so I decided to add a spaced pair of Josephson C617 microphones up very high in the studio and let them be our main source of ambience. I think that worked very well. And also the deep drop tuned low 'A' of 27.5 Hz from the double bass got picked up very well by that pair. Such a low note is almost impossible to hear close up, somehow you only hear the upper harmonics generated, so that was an extra benefit of the ambient pair. And it made me fall even more in love with the sound of studio 2.

    Another funny thing....I keep learning things about the 700s. I have to keep forcing my self to keep experimenting with distance, closer or further away from the mic, it is absolutely crucial to get the best possible sound. I don't think I have ever captured Folker Tettero's guitar better than on this album and it was a question of moving the right leg of the table with the amp on, 2 cm. (0,787 inch) backwards and there the sound was! Unbelievable." 
     
    I have had the opportunity to discuss the recording process with several recording engineers like Frans and always learn something. My biggest takeaway is that the recording process is as much art as it is science. It is the types of microphones used, their placement, room acoustics and the like that are important rather than whether you record digitally or analog, PCM or DSD. Spectacular results can be had in many different ways. And yes, the sound of this latest recording from Sound Liaison is spectacular.
     
    The album is a blues jazz tinged affair featuring some Robert Johnson songs. Rather than having clean breaks between tracks, the spaces normally between tracks are filled with what I can best describe as atmospherics, featuring drummer Bert Kampsteeg using his brushes on the snare and the bowing and plucking of the bass along with the clanging of the guitar. As a result the songs almost blend together all having a similar vibe and tempo, with the exception of the penultimate track, Stop Breaking Down, which is much more upbeat. The specialness of the sound of this recording is evident from the first few notes which feature the drums. The metallic sound of the cymbals and high hat is strikingly real as is the natural decaying of the notes. The kick drum is rock solid. This is some of the best sounding drum sound I have ever heard on a recording. Very dynamic and not reserved. The sound of the double bass is full, rich and powerful where needed but with no hint of bloat. And the guitar.....It is clear and reverberant. Naturally, not with added reverb. Of course, the vocals are captured beautifully. Carmen is right there in front of you. This recording doesn’t take you to the recording studio. Even better, it brings the recording studio to your listening room. Very few studio recordings do this. The drums to the left, Carmen in the middle in front of the instruments and the bass just to the right of her and the guitar to the right side of the soundstage. The sound is totally three dimensional. You almost feel like you can reach out and touch everyone. The sound is totally open with natural decay and depth. It is stunning. It really is. No hyperbole. 
     
    One more word about the drums. Far too many recording engineers pan the drums across the soundstage, giving an unnatural size to the drums. Not here. The drums are focused in the sound field and sound like a drum kit does live. I wish this was the case in more jazz recordings.
     
    In addition to finding the sound of this recording to be superb, I also found the music to be really satisfying as well. That, of course, is always a matter of individual taste. I can state without question, that if you have enjoyed the other Carmen Gomes, Inc. releases by Sound Liaison, you will enjoy this release as well. Sonically, I believe this to be the best ever released by Sound Liaison. Well done, very well done.
     
     
     
     
     
    Sound Laison Album Page - LINK
     
    Total time: 45:19
    Catalog Number: SL-1043A
    Original recording format DXD 352,8 kHz - Premium
    All other formats are converted versions of the original.
    This is a One Mic + recording; 
    Main central microphone: Josephson C700S
    Support microphone Carmen: Josephson C700A
    Support microphone  Peter's bass:  Josephson C700A
    Ambience microphones spaced pair of 2 Josephson C617

    Recording, mixing and mastering by Frans de Rond.
    Recorded at MCO, Studio 2, Hilversum, The Netherlands, on the 16th and the 17th of July 2020.
    Produced by Peter Bjørnild.
    Music arranged by Peter Bjørnild with lots of help from Carmen, Folker and Bert.
    Used equipment:
    Micpre's: Merging Horus
    Microphone cables by AudioQuest
    Speakers: TAD Compact Evolution
    Poweramp: Moon 760A
    Mixing headphones: Sennheiser HD800S / AKG 702
    All power cables and power conditioners by AudioQuest.
    Cover photo and video by Milan Bjørnild
    2 Meter Sessions photo's by Michael Boersma
     
     

  8. Thanks
    PYP reacted to gmgraves for an article, Review | Schiit’s latest Yggdrasil Incarnation   
    Schiit’s latest Yggdrasil Incarnation
    By George Graves
     
     
    Schiit’s premier Digital to Analog Converter (DAC), the Yggdrasil (Yggy), has been in their lineup since 2017. In that time, it has undergone a number of revisions, but has not had a facelift. In fact without a serial number reference, it is simply not possible to tell which revision you have by looking at the unit. This latest model is no exception. 
     
    This latest Yggy includes several upgrades which purports to improve performance significantly over earlier incarnations of this DAC.
     
    Concurrent with these improvements is a slight price increase of US$50 over the former $2399 price, and is now $2449.
     
    The two biggest improvements to the latest Yggdrasil, are the new class “A” audio section and the new USB input circuitry. This latest USB interface, dubbed “Unison USB” by it’s designer, Mike Moffat, is based on the PIC32 µprocessor which uses precision local clocks which for the first time, provide complete electromagnetic and electrostatic isolation. This new UAC2-compliant input provides the highest performance, lowest power consumption USB of any USB input that the company has ever offered. 
     
    The only way to tell whether you have the latest Yggy with both the new Class “A” analog board and the UAC2-compliant USB input is that the presence of the new Analog 2 board is designated by a serial number which starts with the letter “B”. The new Unison USB circuit is denoted with a sticker applied to the case near the USB input jack. 
     
     
    UAC2 USB Compatibility
     
    Newer Windows 10 operating systems should automatically install the correct UAC2 drivers, but not always. The best procedure is to simply connect the Yggy to your PC and see if the computer recognizes it. This might take a few minutes. If the computer sees the DAC, you’re good to go. If not, you can download the proper driver from the Schiit website under Yggdrasil/Downloads and install the download manually. Be advised that the latest Yggdrasil does not support any Windows release below Windows 10. The Windows drivers on Schiit’s website are for pre-UAC2 Schiit DACs (such as the older Yggdrasils). Recent Distributions of Linux such as Ubuntu 18 and later should also be UAC2 compliant But be advised that Schiit does not directly support Linux.
     
    Any Mac computer running MacOS 10.10.X (Yosemite or above) should be also compliant with UAC2. Unfortunately, however, if you are using and older OS (Mavericks or lower) and cannot upgrade your Mac to a higher OS, USB on the latest  Yggdrasil cannot be used. (there are hacks available that will allow Macs made from 2008 through 2011 to be upgraded all the way to the current OS, 10.15.X, Catalina. The newest OS, Big Sur, has not been released as of this writing and therefore cannot be guaranteed. For information about Mac OS upgrade “hacks” please go to: 
     
    http://www.http://dosdude1.com/catalina/
     
    ...for more info and instructions. Otherwise these older Mac OS’s are not compatible with the new, UAC2 compliant Yggdrasil (Bad Apple for not having a solution, and bad Schiit for not having any “workaround” other than “Perhaps it’s time for a new computer...”.
     
     
    Physical Layout and Description.
     
    Since the layout and form factor of the Yggy hasn’t changed since its introduction, we are going to skip going over the physical dimensions, weight, front and rear apron layout of this unit. If you aren’t familiar with what a Schiit Yggdrasil looks like, there are plenty of descriptions to be found from a myriad of online sites and magazine articles.
     
    What I will say, is that the latest models suffer from the same shortcomings, feature-wise  as do previous iterations of this fine performing DAC. Chief among these is Schiit Co-Founder Jason Stoddard’s somewhat inexplicable personal disdain for legible, readable labels. The Yggy still has tiny icons on the front panel to indicate which input is being selected (by the large round button near the center of the front panel). To the right of the large selector bottom, and from left to right, these are a tiny rectangle to indicate a type “A” USB connector (but the actual connector on the rear of the unit is a type “B” connector), a square with a Toslink-shaped connector inside of it to designate that the optical S/PDIF input has been selected, two concentric circles to designate that the coax 75Ω S/PDIF input is selected, two concentric circles with two “ears” on the outer circle to indicate the 75Ω BNC input has been chosen, and finally, three dots forming a triangle to indicate an XLR connector for the AES/EBU interface is being used. To the extreme right of the selector button, find an incomprehensible (to this writer, anyway) icon to indicate that the Yggy’s clock regenerator has switched into the VCO mode indicating that one’s source either has excessive jitter, or has too vague a center frequency for the VCXO mode to lock-in. Schiit humorously calls this the “Buy Better Gear” indicator. When the associated LED is lit, the Yggy is not operating at it’s optimum from the chosen source. All of these cryptic icons have a white LED associated with them.
     
    To the left of the selector button, the Yggy has a series of six more white LEDs to indicate (again from left to right) 44.1 KHz, 48KHz, and then a series of multipliers indicating one (1), two (2), four (4) or eight (8) times the two primary sample rates. You can’t read those legends from more than a couple of inches away, either (and that’s with the help of a magnifying glass!) 
     
    The final flaw in the Schiit Yggdrasil, is the lack of a remote control. The remote needs controls to switch digital inputs, and change the phase polarity. It would be nice if the remote also had LEDs on it to to repeat the input selected, +/- phase and the sample rate at which the unit is operating. This writer uses a walking cane as a “remote control” wand to change inputs from across the room. I have also applied a strip of white plastic tape across the front panel, with the inputs and sample rates written on it so that they can be read from my listening chair without my resorting to a pair 10 X 50 binoculars! 
     
     
    Performance Compared to My Personal (Older) Yggdrasil
     
    Since I use an older Mac (MacBook Pro, 2008 with a 2.3 GHz Core 2 Duo Processor running El Kapitan) as a music server for Tidal and Qobuz (via Audirvana), I cannot use the latest Yggy USB in my main system without going through a Terminal (line code) hack to disable the Mac “App Nap” power saving feature. To accomplish this, open the Terminal app and, at the Unix prompt, enter:
     
    ‘defaults write NSGlobalDomain NSAppSleep Disabled – bool YES’(without the quotes, though) and hit enter.
     
    You will have to either restart the computer (a good idea anyway) or quit and restart any running applications. 
     
    Once done, the Schiit Unison USB works perfectly and, in fact, this is the first time that I have found USB audio to actually sound good! It is much better than my older Yggy, but we must take into account that the audio stage in the new DAC is also improved over my personal Yggy, and there is really no way to judge the improvement of the USB performance without also gaining the improvement of the other.
    In fact, this brings us to the point that it is extremely difficult to compare the two Yggy’s directly. We are, after all, comparing more than one difference between the two DACs. Everything must be exactly the same between the two Yggdrasils for a direct comparison, and that’s essentially impossible, especially with regard to USB.
     
    What I ended-up doing was to listen to each DAC separately with each connected in parallel through two line-level inputs of the same amplifier. I would swap the same 1.5m AudioQuest Diamond USB A-B cable coming from the laptop between the two DACs 
     
    What I found was that the newest Yggy had an overall much smoother sound with less grain, especially in the upper midrange and treble region. A bit more surprising was the bottom end, which seemed to exhibit more punch and bass which seemed to go deeper and have much less hangover than did the earlier unit. Imaging was also improved using the proprietary USB interface but seemed a wash when Toslink or coax S/PDIF was used as a source input. 
     
    One of the most natural, and realistic recordings that I have is our own Mario Martinez’ recording on his PlayClassics label “Angel Cabrera Plays Debussy”. This album is a perfectly recorded solo grand piano. I’ve always thought that this recording sounded more like an actual grand piano playing in my living room than any other that I have ever heard. But the new Yggy breaks through that wall of recording artificiality and actually, uncannily, brings already great sounding piano right into the room. All sense of listening to a recording is gone. It’s quite incredible!
     
    My own recording of a local jazz quintet playing in a restaurant (sort of a mini “Jazz at the Pawnshop”) with my single-point stereo Avantone CK-40 (modern FET “copy” of the legendary (and very valuable) Telefunken  ELA-M-270 (the CK-40 is better!)from the 1950’s has the most incredible imaging. I thought that my older Yggy was the epitome of this kind of presentation. Boy was I wrong. With the new Yggy, the image specificity is such, that every instrument is pinpointed in space exactly where it was physically located in relation to the microphone! This recording also has more delineated upper midrange detail than the older DAC as well. The trumpet is really up close and personal. I imagined that if you get too close to the speaker, the player’s spittle will spray from bell of the horn and get all over you! Very impressive.
     
     
    Conclusion
     
    Since the Schiit Yggdrasil was first introduced, Jason Stoddard and Mike Moffat have worked tirelessly to improve the performance of this reasonably priced high-performance DAC. With constant filter, power supply and analog-stage improvements, the Yggdrasil has kept it’s place as the go-to DAC for those who demand first rate digital to analog conversion without having to pay a king’s ransom for the opportunity.
     
    The only Way to tell whether you have the latest Yggdrasil in by the Serial Number. The latest analog section units are so designated by a SN that starts with the letter “B”. The presence of the latest USB upgrade is indicated by the above sticker over the USB input port.
     
    The recording setup for the true stereo jazz recording referred to in the text. The microphone to the right is for the vocalist and is not used in the recording.
     

     
     
    Product Information:
    Schiit Audio Yggdrasil - $2,499
    Product Page - link
    User Manual - yggdrasil_manual_2_2.pdf
     
  9. Upvote
    PYP reacted to The Computer Audiophile for an article, Meet The Audiophile Style Community | Volume 12   
    Welcome to the twelfth installment of our Meet the Audiophile Style Community series. All previous installments can be found here, in the series index.
     
    Please send me a message, email, or telegram if you'd like to participate. The response so far has been wonderful. It ranges from hardcore audiophiles to those who are more interested in numbers and graphs, and even people in the industry are eager to participate. This series is all about getting to know everyone and sharing a bit about yourself that others will find interesting. 
     
    Thanks for participating. I look forward to publishing more of these in the coming weeks and months. 
     
    Thanks to Audiophile Style community member @kirkmc for participating in volume twelve of this series. I've been a guest on Kirk & @DougAdams podcast The Next Track several times and enjoy it very much. It's one of the only podcasts that respects the listener's time by getting straight to the point and skipping the discussion of what the dog had for dinner last night. 
     
    As always, I love reading this stuff even more than publishing it. I say to myself after reading each one of these, you guys are so much more interesting than me.
     
     
    1. General area of the world in which you live?
     
    I live a few miles from Stratford-Upon-Avon in the UK. I live in an early-19th century house next to a farm, on the edge of a village of about 100 people. My landlord farms about 200 acres, and rents holiday cottages. I'm a lapsed New Yorker, and have lived in Europe since 1984.
     
     
    2. General description of what you do or did for a living?
     
    I'm a freelance tech journalist; I've been working from home for 25 years. I write about Apple products, computer security, music, and more. I am also a podcaster, co-host of several podcasts including The Next Track.
     
     
    3. What are your hobbies?
     
    I don't particularly like the word "hobby," but my interests include learning to play the shakuhachi (a Japanese flute), photography, reading, cooking, and I'm a student of Zen Buddhism. Over the years, I've played a number of instruments (at varying skill levels), including the guitar (rock, blues, and classical), viola da gamba, and (digital) piano.
     
     
    4. When did you start this wonderful journey into music listening?
     
    Probably when I got my first AM transistor radio back in the late 1960s.
     
     
    5. What was your first “album?”
     
    I seem to recall that one of the earliest albums I owned was Abbey Road, but at the time I remember having albums by Three Dog Night,  The Guess Who, and others. But the first album that really stood out for me was the first Chicago album, Chicago Transit Authority. I bought the album for the hits, but I was particularly blown away by the range of music on the record.
     
     
    6. What does your music collection look like, number of physical records, CDs, etc... and number of “favorited” albums streamed?
     
    About 70,000 tracks in my digital library (in the Apple Music app), and another 50,000 in a second library that I rarely listen to. I long wrote reviews of classical CDs, and ripped hundreds of them, but no longer listen to most of them. I've sold all but a few hundred CDs, though I don't count the Big Classical Box Sets in that number (such as the recent Bach, Mozart, and Beethoven sets, with together include a few hundred discs). I also have hundreds of official live Grateful Dead releases, in various guises; the Dick's Picks collection, Dave's Picks, Road Trips, and many box sets the band has released.
     
     
    7. What was your first audio component / stereo?
     
    When I was about 12, I got an after school job in a Carvel in my neighborhood in New York City. Next door was a Radio Shack, and I put money aside every week on a layaway plan to get a record player and speakers. It was probably pretty crappy, but it certainly sounded great at the tame.
     
     
    8. Is there one component that you no longer have that you wish you wouldn’t have sold or that you wish you still had?
     
     Nah, they're all just vehicles for me; music is much more important to me than sound.
     
    This said, there was a time when I had a job in a Sansui warehouse in Queens, New York, for about six months in the late 1970s. I regret not buying a receiver back then. I love that vintage look with lots of knobs and dials, and, of course, VU meters. :-)
     
     
    9. Is there one current component that you wish you had in your system?
     
     Not really.
     
     
    10. How much time do you spend listening to music each week and on which systems does this listening take place (main system, car system, mobile system, office system, etc...)?
     
    I mainly listen in my home office, where I have two pairs of speakers (see below). I also listen in the bedroom, in the kitchen when cooking, and sometimes in the living room, but my main listening area is my home office. I don't listen to music every day, but some days I listen for many hours; a lot depends on the work I have to do. If I'm recording or editing podcasts, I obviously can't listen to music.
     
     
    11. What’s the first concert you ever attended, best concert you’ve ever attended, most interesting concert venue you’ve ever attended?
     
    I won't say the first concert, since it's often a security question for online accounts. :-) Some of the best concerts include Yes in the round in 1978, at Madison Square Garden; Genesis, July 1978, MSG; Pink Floyd, The Wall, at Nassau Coliseum; Dire Straits, at the Bottom Line in NYC on their first tour; Lou Reed at the Bottom Line; the Grateful Dead at Radio City Music Hall, 1980. Steven Reich and Ensemble, at the Guggenheim Museum, in the early 1980s. Philip Glass, Einstein on the Beach, Brooklyn Academy of Music, 1984. Murray Perahia, playing Beethoven's Hammerklavier sonata in Birmingham, UK, 2016. Andres Schiff, Bach, Goldberg Variations, Birmingham, 2016. Anner Bylsma, Bach Cello Suites, Sablé-sur-Sarthe, late 1980s. Sigiswald Kuijken, Bach, Sonatas and Partitas for Solo Violin, in a church in Tours, France, mid 1990s. And many, many others.
     
     
    12. What components are in your current audio systems and can you provide a photo?
     
    Sonos Amp, with a splitter to two pairs of speakers in my home office: Kef Q350 (facing a comfy chair; this is my relaxed listening area) and Q Acoustics 3020i (on my desk; this is how I listen when working), with a Warfedale subwoofer. A pair of Sonos Ones in the bedroom. And Apple HomePods in the kitchen and living room.
     
     
     
     
     
     
    13. Anything else you’d like to say?
     
    I love music, but unlike most people here I'm not searching for perfect sound; music is more important to me than sound. I've spent far more money on the many different types of music I enjoy than on gear. I do have fairly high standards, with the equipment that I buy, but I don't have the cash to go much further. I'm particularly interested in minimizing my systems these days, which is why I opted for a Sonos Amp, and use the Sonos Ones and HomePods.
     
  10. Like
    PYP reacted to The Computer Audiophile for an article, I Finally Got It!   
    As longtime Audiophile Style readers know, I'm a huge Pearl Jam fan. What many don't know is that I collect Pearl Jam vinyl releases. It's an obsession of mine that's had me searching not only the country, but the world for versions of albums I "need"in my collection. Before I discuss the album I finally got, as the title to this article indicates, let me take you through some high and low points on this fun journey. 
     
    In August 1991, the summer before my sophomore year of high school, I discovered Pearl Jam's debut album Ten. After listening to the entire album from start to finish, I knew my cherished hair metal albums from Motley Crue, Poison, and Ratt were immediately irrelevant to me. Ten changed my life and spoke to me like truly powerful music has done for people since the beginning of human history. 
     
    I quickly discovered the album tracks that didn't receive radio airplay and latched on to the song Black because it blew my mind. To this day I love the fact that the band never officially released the song as a single because of its personal nature. Sure radio stations began spinning the track well after us "cool kids" had spread the word and put it on endless mix tapes, but that's OK. Perhaps it was time to share this gem with the world. 
     
    How does this related to vinyl? Hang on, I'll link it up, as Johnnie Cochran used to say while weaving a story about O.J.'s innocence. In the liner notes for Ten there was a spot that said Ten Club P.O. Box 470, Seattle, WA 98104.  Also in the liner notes was several sentences of names followed by a large THANK YOU. One of the names on the first line was Michele Anthony (hold that thought, I'll link it up later). 
     
    Anyway, I sent a letter to the Ten Club asking to join. I had no clue what it entailed, but I wanted in. If I remember correctly, I even put my first name and my best friend's last name on the return address. I spent so much time over at his house that I wanted to make sure whatever mail was returned, made it in his mailbox and I receive dit ASAP. Postal workers won't always deliver mail if the name on an envelope isn't for the people living at the residence. 
     
    Many weeks later, I received an envelope from the Ten Club, with my first name circled and a question mark next to it, handwritten by the postal worker. As if to say, there's no Chris living at this address, but I'll let this one through. Inside the large envelope, among other things, was a piece of paper detailing how to join the Ten Club. I believe it said $10 or $15 was required and that membership was for one year. As a 15 year old, I was devastated. There was no way I could save up that much money and send it off to a fan club. In my mind I was doing them a favor by joining! Plus, my next $15 was already earmarked for the Temple of the Dog album. 
     
    I set the Ten Club letter down and went outside for a wiffle ball tournament in my friend's backyard. At the end of the day, with a baseball diamond base path worn in the lawn, I'd forgotten about the Ten Club and was back to listening to music. With this forgotten letter went a very low Ten Club membership number and a Pearl Jam vinyl single for Christmas mailed to every fan club member. I had no idea what I was missing, but I do have Hi8 videotape from the wiffle ball tournament and it's priceless. 
     
    Smash cut to October 12, 1993. The Autumn of my senior year in high school. I had nothing to do and all day to do it. That day Pearl Jam's second album Vs. was released on vinyl, one week before the compact disc was released. I went to Down in the Valley, my local record shop, just to look at the album art and get all the track names. There was no way I could afford to purchase the vinyl, I also had no way of playing it, and have enough money to purchase the CD a week later. I went home empty handed, but with a seed planted in my head. Eddie Vedder had talked about how much he liked vinyl, the smell of vinyl, and the feel of the large format. Perhaps he was on to something. 
     
    The following Monday, myself and my two best friends drove to Cheapo Records in Minneapolis at midnight to purchase the Vs. CD. It was a school night, but that matter not. We listened to the album the whole way home and postulated about stories behind each song. Before going to bed that evening/early morning, I put the orange disc in my Sony Walkman and hit repeat as I drifted off to sleep. To this day, Vs. is unequivocally my favorite Pearl Jam album.
     
    Fast forward many years, through the rest of high school, through college and into early Spring 2000. I was two years out of college, living on my own, with a decent tech job, when I heard Pearl Jam's new single titled Nothing As it Seems on the radio and it hit me. I needed to signup for the Ten Club so I could get great seats to Pearl Jam's concerts. Heck, I was free to drive wherever I wanted to see them as long as I had the vacation days left at work. I thought to myself, what took me so long to do this!
     
    With my Ten Club tickets reserved and a Case Logic case holding 224 CDs, I drove my 1999 Volkswagen Beetle with incredible Alpine stereo from Minneapolis to Chicago on October 9, 2000. I saw Peal Jam play Allstate Arena in one of my most memorable concerts. Before the final encore of the night, the band came on stage and Eddie Vedder said the following, "Alright we gonna do one more, and ah, if you sing it, as best you can sing it, I think it might end up on a record." As you can imagine, the crowd was ready to sing/scream its lungs off. The floor started shaking and my ears hurting as Eddie gave Kille Knobel the cue to turn all the arena light on, by saying her first name (pronounced like Key-Lee).  Here's a link to a VHS recording of the show. Scroll to the 2:17:15 mark for the spot about which I'm writing.
     
    What about vinyl? I know, I'll get there, but the meaning of my vinyl collection is more important than the physical albums. They all mean something to me because of my love for Pearl Jam music and my experiences over the years. 
     
    OK, cut to the spring of 2001. I was living in the Uptown area of Minneapolis when the Pearl Jam Christmas vinyl single arrive in my mailbox. Christmas in the Spring? Yes. Anyone in the Ten Club knows the band is notoriously late delivering fan club singles. Anyway, I received the Crown of Thorns vinyl single and it was game on. I had a newly installed 640 Kbps DSL internet connection from Qwest and I was well on my way to catching up on the Christmas singles I'd missed and discovering that there more Pearl Jam vinyl releases than I could imagine. 
     
    I started browsing eBay for the Christmas singles and winning auctions left and right. An obsession and no real financial responsibilities as a young adult can lead to interesting times. I soon had almost all of the Pearl Jam vinyl releases to date, including the Vs. albums available in several different countries. The South Korean release even says, Registration No. 22 To The Ministry Of Culture. Passed Censorship By K.P.P.E.C. This was the former Korean Public Performance Ethics Committee (KPPEC) that censored obscene language, body exposure, and extreme violence. However, there was one version of Vs, that I couldn't find and I absolutely needed to find it, especially because Vs. is my favorite album. This was the Columbian release in blue vinyl. I setup eBay notifications and searched everywhere, but couldn't find the Columbian version. 
     
    During the ensuing years I've collected some awesome Pearl Jam vinyl including the basketball version of Ten, the clear version of Jeremy, the four album red vinyl version of the Benaroya Hall acoustic show, the yellow and black Live At Third Man Records album, and many more. I always open each album by ripping he plastic off and enjoying the large format and unmistakable smell. Sure, some people leave them in the plastic, but if one is looking to make money down the road, there are far better investments and returns to be had than crossing one's fingers and hoping a rare Pearl Jam album skyrockets in value. 
     
    I enjoy collection these albums, but I don't own a turntable. I know this sounds crazy for an audiophile, but it's the truth. I've brought some of these albums to friends' places or HiFi ships to listen, but that has never been important to me. I have the digital versions from which most of these albums were sourced and that's what I've grown to know and love. The vinyl is a tangible artifact that brings me enjoyment even if I don't listen to the records directly. 
     
    Now for the holy grail. Earlier this fall, I was talking to people who work at my daughter's Waldorf school about how I can help the school during these difficult pandemic times. Everyone has their skillset, so I offered to help with the school's external web presence. After the conversation one of the people on the call looked up Audiophile Style, probably to make sure I wasn't making up the fact that I knew how to do what they wanted to do. She read the "About Us" page and the following sentence from the last full paragraph, "The record he has been searching for since 1993 is the ultra-rare Colombian translucent blue vinyl LP for the Vs. album (91-474649)." A day later I received an email from her with a link to someone selling the album on Discogs. 
     
    I thought it had to be a slightly different version. It couldn't be the album for which I've been looking all these years. Keep in ind that I'd given up on finding it several times since 1993 and I wasn't actively on the hunt all the time. Nonetheless, it turned out to be the real deal. It was the exact album, number 91-474649 in blue translucent vinyl! I ordered it immediately without looking at how Discogs works or how much it would cost me for shipping the the Netherlands etc... No matter the cost, as Tripper (Bill Murray) from the classic 1979 movie Meatballs said in his motivational speech to the campers, "It Just Doesn't Matter!"
     
    A couples weeks ago the blue Columbian version of Vs. arrived at my doorstep. I finally held the holy grail in my hands. Blue translucent vinyl with the orange sticker at the center, the same  color my friend's and I named Vs. Orange back in 1993. Of course this doesn't complete my collection as there are some albums I still need to pickup, but the remaining ones are fairly easy. I just need to spend the time to find them. The satisfaction of finally obtaining the blue Vs. album is really something. What a fun hobby, what a cool band, and what fantastic music. 
     
    - Chris
     
     
     
     
    P.S. I said I'd link up the Michelle Anthony reference earlier, so here it goes. First, Michelle Anthony is the Executive Vice President of Universal Music Group and someone Pearl Jam has mentioned countless times as being very helpful to the band and one of the only people at the record label who understood and fought for them. With this in mind, I was visiting friends in Los Angeles in February 2013. At dinner, a friend of mine says, "do you want to go to the Bjork concert tonight at the Hollywood Palladium, Michelle Anthony asked me to go with her and has tickets." I nearly fell off my chair. I like Bjork, but this was THE Michelle Anthony I read about in the Ten liner notes, heard Pearl Jam thank on the live album from Las Vegas for its 10th anniversary, etc... Of course I went to the show and soaked up the business conversation like a sponge. I probably said hi to Michelle as we waited for Bjork backstage, but that's was it. More interesting to me was her talking about going to a show in New York City with Pearl Jam bassist Jeff Ament. I was like a groupie for the night, listening for her to say anything about Pearl Jam. That's my brush with Pearl Jam, as adjacent as it could be :~)
     
     
     

  11. Like
    PYP reacted to JoshM for an article, Review | Crane Song Solaris & Forssell MDAC-2a   
    There’s a chasm in the audio market. On one side stand pro users. On the other stand audiophiles. Some companies straddle this line. But even then it’s common for such companies to clearly demarcate their equipment as “professional” or “hi-fi.” 
     
    Some types of equipment are more likely to see products straddle this chasm. Certain speaker and, especially, headphone models appeal to pros and enthusiasts alike. DACs, however, are not such a category. Sure, companies like RME and Mytek have had some success bridging the professional/consumer divide, but they’re the exception that proves the rule.
     
    Browse Sound on Sound, Gearslutz, Tape Op, or Mix, and it quickly becomes clear that, for better or worse, few people are talking about consumer favorites like Schiit, but lots are talking about pro-oriented companies like Forssell and Crane Song that audiophiles are mostly unfamiliar with. 
     
    As an audiophile with an eye towards the world of professional engineering, it’s that last name, Crane Song, that first caught my attention. When I picked up Audio Mastering: The Artists, Discussions from Pre-Production to Mastering, Russ Hepworth-Sawyer and Jay Hodgson’s excellent collection of interviews with mastering engineers, I noticed that Dave Hill, the mind behind Crane Song, was one of the few tech people interviewed for the book. That’s because Hill has been making groundbreaking studio hardware and plugins for decades. Few people have thought more about how digital can sound its best than Hill, who’s dedicated part of his site to educating listeners about jitter with a tutorial on how to listen for jitter, complete with anonymized sound files.  
     
    In researching Hill’s DACs, another name that kept coming up was Fred Forssell. In the ‘70 and ‘80s, Forsell built equipment for artists like Fleetwood Mac, the Eagles, and Jackson Browne. Commercially, his designs have appeared in products from Manley and AEA, among other companies. Forssell’s products produced under his own name include mic preamps, DACs, and ADCs.
     
    In a level-matched, seven-DAC shootout that included the pro version of the previously reviewed RME ADI-2, mastering engineer Matthew Gray placed the Crane Song Solaris and Forssell MADA-2 (the MDAC-2a combined with an ADC) on top. 
     
    Combined with the praise for both DACs on GearSlutz and elsewhere, I decided I wanted to hear both DACs. (Like much pro equipment, there’s a robust used market for pro DACs, which is where I picked up my review samples.)
     
    Physically, the Solaris (U.S. MSRP $1,949) and the MDAC-2a (U.S. MSRP $2,500) are unassuming compared to the likes of the aforementioned ADI-2. 
     
    Both are meant to be rack mounted, with 19-inch wide, approximately 2-inch tall faceplates. Behind the faceplate, both units are 17 inches wide. The Forssell is 11 inches deep, and the Crane Song is 9 inches deep. Both units are all-metal affairs designed to take a beating in the studio. However, each weighs less than 10 pounds. 
     
    In contrast to many consumer DACs — think the hulking Denafrips Terminator and its rows of capacitors — the internals of both the Solaris and MDAC-2 are marked by clean layouts with plenty of room. The Solaris is based around AKM’s 4490 chip, while the Forssell uses Texas Instrument’s PCM1794. However, as with all DACs, sound is about implementation more than chips. 
     
    Both Hill and Forssell stressed the role of listening in their design philosophies. 
     
    “I think it is important for people to actually listen audio designs without preconceived ideas of how such designs will sound,” Forssell told me. “Talking about the details of designs often biases the reader about how the circuit will sound (good or bad), prior to them actually listening to the circuit and then forming their own opinion about how it sounds.  At the end of the day it’s all about how it sounds, not what I did or why I did it when I was designing the circuit.”
     
    Keeping with his reputation as one of the premier experts on jitter, Hill explained that the Solaris uses “an ASRC for jitter reduction [and] this reclocking allows the use of an ultra-low jitter reference for the DAC.” “There is a lot of listening involved in doing this,” he continued. 
     
    I set up a switch that I do not know which version I am listening to and over several weeks (testing every day) I will select the different versions of hardware and software and see what I like and do not like and if there is consistency in the selection.  this is also done with different source material and needs to be level matched very carefully. Very few people get how import low jitter is, and you cannot get there by buying a commodity clock device…. Everything needs to be measured…. It take specialized gear to measure ultra-low jitter and AP or Stanford box will not get you there
     
    Both DACs support PCM data up to 24/192. No DSD, MQA, or any other off-the-beaten-path formats welcome. 
     
    Of the two units, the Solaris is the more involved device, though no one will mistake either unit for the Swiss Army knife of the RME. From left to right, the Solaris’s face features a power switch, mute button, source selection knob, small LCD screen, gain knob, headphone level knob, and ¼-inch headphone jack. Both the gain knob and the headphone knob are, in fact, stepped attenuators, making for perfect channel matching. And, while I didn’t do an in-depth comparison of the headphone amplifier with stand-alone units, my casual listening found it to be the equal of such well-regarded amps as the Schiit Magni 3+ and the various entry-level THX amps.
     
     

     
     
     
    The rear of the Solaris has four inputs (USB, AES XLR, S/PDIF RCA, and Toslink) and two outputs (fixed XLR and adjustable XLR). The USB input doesn’t require a driver on Mac, and Windows drivers are available on Crane Song’s website. The fixed XLR outputs operate at +18dBu, while the variable outputs max out at either +18dbu or +24dBu. (A 6dB pad can be activated by power cycling the Solaris while pressing the mute button, bringing up the unit’s setup menu.) 
     
    When the Solaris is powered on, all outputs are automatically muted. The Solaris’s LCD screen displays the input source, the source file’s sample rate, the mute status, the variable XLRs’ level, and the headphone output’s level. It also features a handy L/R level meter.
     
    Comparatively, the Forssell is sparse. Its front panel features only one button (an input selector), one switch (power), and five LED lights (one for the unit’s power status, one for each of the unit’s two inputs, one showing input fault, and one for the SCR lock status). On the rear, the standard MDAC-2a features AES XLR and S/PDIF RCA inputs. However, it can also be configured with additional inputs. The standard MDAC-2a has two XLR outputs, though the unit I have also includes optional RCA outputs. The XLR outputs can be adjusted by an internal trim to produce either a +18dBu “pro” or +14dBu “hi-fi” level.
     
    As might be expected from designers with Forssell and Hill’s pedigrees, both the Solaris and the MDAC-2a measure well. 
     
    How do they sound, though? In a word, superb. (Those looking for a clear-cut winner in this pro DAC matchup will have to look elsewhere.) They do, however, sound different.
     
    But before getting into a detailed head-to-head sonic comparison between the Crane Song and the Forssell, I can say a few things definitively with regard to how both DACs stack up against some notable competitors. 
     
    Neither the Solaris nor the DAC-2a has the myriad features of the RME ADI-2, but both soundly best the RME in the aural department. As I wrote in the review of the RME, the Solaris did detail, imaging, and depth better than the RME. Given that the Forssell is the sonic equal of the Solaris, the same judgment vis a vis the RME applies, even if the specifics are slightly different. 
     
    The other notable DAC that I put the Solaris and the DAC-2a up against was the Schiit Yggdrasil A2. As a multibit DAC aimed at the consumer, the Yggy is quite a bit different than its pro delta-sigma brethren. However, multibit enthusiasts skeptical of delta-sigma converters need to hear the Solaris and the DAC-2a. While neither dispensed with the Yggy as handily as they topped the RME, both were at least the equal of the Yggdrasil. The Solaris wrung more detail out of the recordings than the Yggy but lacked its slam. The Forssell was even smoother than the Yggy but didn’t have its front-to-back depth. And so on. The pros and cons of each DAC were apparent, but none was the clear all-around winner. 
     
    When it comes to comparing the Solaris and the DAC-2a against each other, the unmistakable fact is that both the Crane Song and the Forssell are world-class DACs, and I’d easily be happy with either as my main converter. Nonetheless, both excel in different areas and likely will appeal to listeners with slightly different tastes. 
     
    As with all excellent DACs, these differences are subtle — the kind only apparent on close listening. For this review, I fed both from the same USB to PDF converter, matched levels, and used a Kramer XLR input selector to compare them in real-time with the same music.*
     
    That said, consistent differences appeared. 
     
    The Forssell has relatively more mid-bass, whereas Solaris leans toward the mid-treble. The former is comparatively meatier, while the latter is somewhat leaner. The Crane Song seems to have more square-edged transients, while the Forssell has slightly rounder presentation. 
     
    As might be expected from the above combination of characteristics, the Forssell slightly edges out the Solaris on macrodynamics, while Solaris edges out the Forssell on macrodetail. Both DACs, however, deliver excellent microdynamics and microdetail, meaning that they recreate the realism of instruments and vocals with aplomb. 
     
    Compared to the sometimes-understated distinctions above, the DACs display relatively easy-to-spot differences in soundstage. The Solaris delivers more front-to-back depth than the MDAC-2a. That said, while the Forssell stages all sounds more “up front” than the Solaris, I found that individual instruments sounded more a little more three-dimensional on the MDAC-2a. The Crane Song, on the other hand, delivers a greater sense of space than the Forssell, presenting more reverb and room sound in recordings. In terms of width, the Forssell edge out the Crane Song, if only by a modest margin. 
     
    The above observations are best illustrated with references to specific tracks, because not all songs reveal these differences equally well. 
     
    Putting on “Orphan Girl” from Gilliam Welch’s 1996 classic, Revival, both the Solaris and MDAC-2a do justice to Welch’s ethereal voice and T Bone Burnett’s unfussy production. However, the Crane Song provides a greater sense of space than the Forssell. The backing vocals are pushed deeper into the soundstage on the Solaris. Likewise, the Solaris evinces more reverb on Welch’s acoustic guitar than the MDAC-2a. That same guitar, however, reveals key differences in tonality between the two DACs. Welch’s acoustic sounds somewhat thinner (like it’s mic’d higher up the neck) through the Solaris, while it has more body through the Forssell. 
     
    Turning to “This Is the Night,” from Dusk, the 1992 masterpiece from criminally underrated The The, some of the same broad differences between the Crane Song and the Forssell emerge again. The Crane Song emphasizes the individual wires of the upright piano that anchors the song. The Forssell presents a slightly boxier, more wholistic piano sound. The MDAC-2a also hits harder than the Solaris, from the piano hammer impacts to the thump of the kick drum. 
     
    Next up is “Almost Independence Day,” the transcendent 10-minute closing track to Van Morrison’s 1972 album, Saint Dominic’s Preview. Like much of Morrison’s work, it was recorded primarily live in the studio. Especially on Tim Young’s hi-res remaster, it’s a remarkably clean and dynamic recording. Like the piano on “This Is the Night,” Lee Charlton’s snare on “Independence Day” leans towards the wires on the Crane Song and the skin on the Forssell. And, once again, the Forrsell presents an ever-so-slightly more dynamic listen. 
     
    Sticking with hi-res remasters of early-‘70s classics, the title cut on Ike & Tina Turner’s Working’ Together showcases the DACs’ different front-to-back staging and reverb presentation. Tina’s voice has unmistakably more echo on Solaris and sits deeper in the mix. However, both do an excellent job of rendering the subtle percussion in the left channel and presenting the horns in the right channel with bite and tonal accuracy. Those horns also sound slightly deeper (yet flatter) on the Crane Song and slightly closer (yet more 3D) on the Forssell. 
     
    Pulling up Joe Gastwirt’s mastering of the Grateful Dead’s Workingman’s Dead, soundstage width differences become as apparent as depth differences. On the opening track, “Uncle John’s Band,” Jerry’s voice on the left and the backing vocals on the right both sound wider on the Forssell. But, keeping with the previously discussed tracks, both sets of vocals have more reverb and sit deeper in the soundstage on the Crane Song. 
     
    The width differences between the DACs is even more apparent on “Streets of Paradise” from Richard and Linda Thompson’s 1975 release, Pour Down Like Silver. Richard’s guitar on the left and John Kirkpatrick’s accordion on the right each sound like their panned about 75 percent in their respective directions on the Solaris and more like 90 percent on the Forssell. 
     
    Such left-to-right staging differences extend to individual instruments, too. Rick Wilson’s drum kit on the 24/96 remaster of Heart’s “Magic Man” sound solidly in the center on the Solaris and more spread out on the Forssell. The effect is fine, but undeniable. 
     
    Interestingly, as the above examples might illustrate, the soundstage width difference is often more apparent on sounds that are not hard-panned right or left. It’s mostly a 50/50 phenomenon. Nonetheless, some hard-panned tracks, like “Driving Along” from Harry Nilsson’s Nilsson Schmilsson still sound wider on the Forssell. 
     
    Finally, while it’s difficult to pick illustrate this with a particular song, the MDAC-2a is the smoother sounding DAC, with the Solaris coming across as comparatively unforgiving. 
     
    All told, my time with the Crane Song Solaris and Forssell MDAC-2a was enjoyable and eye-opening. For one, it prompted me to sell my beloved Yggdrasil. Yes, it was hard to choose between the three DACs. But ultimately I found that the Solaris met my “left-brained” moods and the MDAC-2a my “right-brained” ones better than the Yggy. It was a big realization for a one-time multibit partisan.
     
    For everyone else, the Solaris and MDAC-2a need to be added to person lists of “must hear” DACs, particularly for hi-fi audiophiles who’ve eschewed professional DACs. 
     
     
     
     
     
    *  The specific USB to SPDIF converter varied between a Matrix X-SPDIF2 and a Mutec MC-1.2. Both DACs fed a Schiit Ragnarok integrated amplifier and a Monoprice Monolith THX 887 headphone amplifier. Most speaker listening was done on KEF Reference 1 speakers with an SVS SB-13 Ultra subwoofer. Headphone listening included  Focal Utopia, Sennheiser HD800S, and ZMF Verité closed.
     
     
     
     
     
    About The Author

    Josh Mound has been an audiophile since age 14, when his father played Spirit's "Natures Way" through his Boston Acoustics floorstanders and told Josh to listen closely. Since then, Josh has listened to lots of music, owned lots of gear, and done lots of book learnin'. He's written about music for publications like Filter and Under the Radar and about politics for publications like New Republic, Jacobin, and Dissent. Josh is currently a postdoctoral fellow at the University of Virginia, where he teaches classes on modern U.S. politics and the history of popular music. He lives in Charlottesville, Virginia, with his wife and two cats.
  12. Like
    PYP reacted to JoeWhip for an article, SMc Audio McCormack DNA 1 Upgrade Experience   
    I am sure that any audiophile who knows me will confirm that if most audiophiles changed their equipment as often as I do, there would be a lot less audio manufacturers around. My audio philosophy has really not changed since I entered this hobby upon graduation from law school in the 1980’s. I have always looked for what I consider the most natural sounding components that also give the best value for the money. With loans to pay off, a mortgage and then kids, I was not in a position to spend tons of money on audio components. I would never stretch our family finances just to buy audio equipment. There is no doubt that many people would consider a set of speakers that cost $3,500.00 in the 1990’s to be extravagant. In fact, I once had a neighbor who lived in a McMansion on top of a hill across the street a bit who thought I was nuts when he saw my system and record collection. He didn’t see the need for anything more than the $500.00 rack system he bought from that long gone department store chain, Bambergers. He didn’t even seem to mind that the tweeters on his speakers were blown. Mind you, this guy had 7 cars, one for each day of the week. To each his own I guess. But by audiophile standards, what I have spent to get what I consider exceptional sound, is modest. Thankfully there are plenty of companies out there that have products that appeal to the value oriented audiophile. Sonically, I have always gravitated to a handful of designers whose sound signature corresponds to mine. They are Richard Vandersteen, Mike Moffat first of Theta Digital and now Schiit Audio as well as the subject of this piece, Steve McCormack.
     
    I first became aware of Steve McCormack with his first company, The Mod Squad, that would modify certain CD players to improve sound quality. While I never bought one or had a CD player modded by him, I liked the ones I heard. Steve was also known for his Tip Toes designed to be placed under pieces of kit to reduce vibrations and improve the subjective sound experience. Needless to say, that has turned into quite a business in audiophile land. One day, during lunch, I headed down to Chestnut Hill Audio in Center City Philadelphia to check out what was new. It was there that I heard the new DNA-1 amp that Steve brought to market with his new Company aptly named McCormack Audio. The amp was hooked up to a pair of Vandersteen 2Ci’s and I was impressed with what I heard. The sound was open, rhythmic, and had real bass impact. As a jazz fan and one who spent some time in jazz clubs, bass response is real high on my list as far as sound quality goes and the DNA-1 really excelled there for me. The proprietor of Chestnut Hill Audio, Jack Rubinson, let me come back at close of business on a Saturday, and take the amp home to listen in my system until the following Tuesday morning. At the time, my amp was the Aragon 2004. I found that the DNA-1 bettered it in all respects, so I bought it. It wasn’t exactly cheap for the times, at $1,750.00, and it took a bit of negotiating with the finance committee to get it but ultimately, it was mine. This was in 1992. I still have the receipt a copy of which I have attached.
     

     
     
     

    By way of a little background, the monicker DNA standards for Distributed Node Amplifier. Instead of a small number of large storage capacitors, the design of this amp, including the upgrades that are the subject herein, call for a larger number of smaller capacitors with one placed adjacent to each output device. This is claimed to distribute the current and establish an individual power reservoir for each of the sixteen transistors. The specs for the original amp are as follows:
     

     
     

    The DNA-1 gave me many years of enjoyment, without a lick of trouble. The only issue I had was in the early 2000’s when the fuse holder cracked and popped out of the back of the unit. By that time, McCormack Audio had been sold to Conrad Johnson who continued to manufacture the expanded line of DNA amps under the McCormack brand.  The sent me a couple of new fuse holders for free and I was back in business in a few days.
     
    However, in July of 2019, the amp developed a fault and wouldn’t drop out of protect mode. I was pretty sure that one of the rail fuses has blown, which I could fix myself. Mind you, the amp was 27 years old at the time. I had been reading up before this on Steve’s new company, SMc Audio, that was in the business, in part, of rebuilding older McCormack amps, including my DNA-1. Basically, they would take back the amp, remove all of the old parts, clean off the old boards, and replace everything else with upgraded parts, a better transformer, better caps, Cardas binding posts, Furutech power inlet, etc. Given that we were in the middle of the summer, which due to the heat in my room and frequent thunderstorms, drastically reduced the amount of time I spent listening to the system, I called SMc Audio, spoke to the tech Pat, and sent the amp in for the upgrade. Even better was the price. The Gold upgrade cost me less than the amp new 27 years prior, namely $1,700.00.
     
    As part of the rebuilding process Steve wanted to know what the rest of my system consisted of as well as the dimensions and layout of my listening room. I am not sure exactly why, but I assumed it was to make sure that the amp impedance and the like we’re a good match for the pre amp and speakers I was using. Fortunately, Steve was very familiar with my speakers, the Vandersteen 3A Signatures, as he had a pair and used to demo his products at shows with them. I have always kept the original boxes for all my equipment, so boxing the amp up was a breeze and I dropped it off at Fed Ex for the long trip to Vista, California where SMc Audio is located. It took a week to get there. Rebuilding the amp took about a week, which included a couple of days of burn in time. During the process, Pat provided me with a couple of pictures of the process, one showing the empty box with all of the innards removed and a side by side picture of the old and rebuilt amp. Copies of these pictures are below.
     
     

     

     

    While I had read reviews on line of others who had the had their amps upgraded by Steve, you really never know what you are getting until you get it. It took another week for the amp to return to Chez Whip. When it did, I unboxed it and hooked it back into the system. The first thing I noticed was how quiet the amp was. The old amp had a transformer built by Counterpoint that had a bit of a buzz that was faintly audible at the seating position, but importantly, not when music was playing. When I turned the amp on, that buzz was gone. I thought, OK, that’s good and then left the amp running for a few hours before doing any serious listening. When I returned later in the evening, I played a couple of tracks that I was familiar with and use to evaluate rooms at shows. All three are live tracks with room ambiance and deep bass. The tracks are Renewal from the Monty Alexander release Uplift, CC Rider from the Monty Alexander, Herb Ellis and Ray Brown release Overseas Special and Starbuck’s Blues from the Ray Brown release Live at Starbucks. All three are on CD. When I listened to these tracks I loved what I was hearing. The bass was deeper and fuller, tight and fast but with no bloat. The tonal balance was similar to the old amp, but the treble was clearer. Cymbals had more of the metallic sound of the real thing. Oh, and the sound of pianos. Wonderful. I also noticed a lower noise floor. I could hear deeper into the soundfield with more lower level detail, things like toe tapping and the like. I am sure the upgraded transformer helped here. The soundstage was wider as well as deeper. They instruments had more of a rounded and three dimensional sound. Every aspect of the old amp I loved was improved with this upgrade. I fully expected that I was  done with the upgrade game, at least as far as the amp was concerned. I was a happy camper. Then came Covid.
     
    Interestingly, while the sound was greatly improved, the specs noted above really didn’t change all that much. The only real significant difference was the power output which went from 150 watts into 8 ohms to 185 and likewise double into 4 ohms. The specs did not change after the installation of the gravity base system noted below.
     
    With everything shut down, I had way more time to listen to the system and, cruise the web. For no reason really, I headed over to the SMc Audio site. Truth be told, the website is rather sparse, one page really and could use some work. At the bottom, I noticed that it said coming in 2020, the gravity bass system available for all of their upgrades. So...... I sent an email and asked what this was. In a couple of hours Pat called me and briefly explained what it was, what it did and more importantly, what it would cost me. Pat explained that it was a brass plinth that they had developed for use in David  Berning tube amps that cost a fortune. Pat explained that they were shocked at what it did when sized and placed into the chassis of their amps, pre amp and CD players. Whatever they upgrade can be fitted with some form of the gravity base system. It was one of those you have to hear it type of things. He explained that it was not yet available when my upgrade was performed but that they would give me credit for what I paid already towards the total cost of the full upgrade which was $3,000.00. However, with Covid, I was not in a position to go without my amp so I politely declined and said I would revisit this later.
     
    I know that I have not provided a ton of information about what the gravity bass system totally entails, but the guys at SMc Audio have been a bit tight lipped about the gravity bass is and how it works. The best I could get out of them is that, "The Gravity Base System is a permanent modification to the chassis utilizing a custom brass base.  The modification is irreversible and we don't disclose much more about it including our method of attachment and adhesion."
     
    As months passed and and as summer approached, I was back in the same place as I was the year before, a room that was too hot for much listening and a system turned off due to daily boomers. I called Pat and asked when they could do it. He said they had the base they would use for my amp in the shop so they could do it right away. Also, because I am such a nice guy, they would throw in some new caps they really liked as well as a new rectifier, transformer and a Panzerholz fuse cap. I am not sold on the efficacy of the latter thing but since it was free, it was for me. I then went though the same process described previously. Back went the amp, the innards were stripped out. The gravity base was attached to the chassis and the electronics reinstalled along with the select upgrades. I have attached below a picture of the bottom of the amp with the base attached. A similar structure was placed inside the chassis with the electronics attached to that. Frankly, I am too lazy to open the amp up to take a picture of the new insides. Too many screws.
     
     

     
     

    When the amp returned, I was not really prepared for what I heard. The gravity base transformed the amp and took it to a whole other level. The sound was smoother, with no sense of fatigue at all. Bass was rock solid. There was a fullness to the sound across the board. More meat on the bones to use a phrase. Besides the bass, this was very obvious on a drum kit.  The bass drum thwack and the sound of the snare drum was much more lifelike. Much more like the sound of a real set of drums in your room. Instruments such as a tenor sax had a more three dimensional sound, warmer, more like the real thing. The same was true for vocals. On great recordings, it is almost like the vocalist is right in the room with you. Depth, width and clarity are all significantly improved with the gravity base system. Listening to a great recording such as Waltz for Debby at 24/192, I can now follow some of the conversations in the crowd rather clearly, much more so than before. By the way, what is wrong with the crowd, tacking during such a great musical performance?  But I digress. The addition of this upgrade also took away a slight edginess to the sound that I didn’t even know was there. Listening at high volume levels is a true joy, although my wife wouldn’t agree!
     
    So, the point of this article is that if there are any owners of any of the series of DNA amps that SMc Audio can upgrade out there, or any of the other McCormack products, please consider doing so and by all means, get the full gravity base upgrade. I have heard quite a few mega expensive amps over the years and can’t really believe that they would sound much better than this amp, in my system, in my room. This amp is that good. At $3,000.00 plus shipping, I am thrilled with the sound. I really struggled writing this piece as I didn’t want it to sound like ad copy. Nonetheless, I can without hesitation, recommend this upgrade path. It has been a true audio bargain for me.
     
     
     

     
     
  13. Upvote
    PYP reacted to The Computer Audiophile for an article, KEF's New LS50 Collection   
    A week and a half ago I published a review of a system that I use in my dining room. This system had to meet many requirements including aesthetic considerations, size limitations, great sound quality, limited cabling, Roon Ready, etc... The final price of the system is over $10,000 and it is fabulous. 
     
    (To be read in a Walter Cronkite voice) Hold on, I'm being told KEF has just announced something for a quarter of the price that may meet all my requirements, as of 2:00 AM Central Daylight Time. 
     
     
    The KEF LS50 series has been a game changer of sorts for KEF. I'm not basing this on any official numbers, but I'm going on my own experience. Everyone talks about the LS50. Everyone recommends the LS50. Everyone has looked at getting a pair at least once. I could go on, but that's history. What's new are the LS50 Meta and LS50 Wireless II. 
     
    The LS50 Meta is certainly a nice passive loudspeaker using Metamaterial Absorption Technology (MAT) and what I assume will be that great KEF sound for $1,499. However, the LS50 Wireless II is what has the wheels in my head turning. This looks like a king of the hill type of speaker, with all of its features, for $2,499. I can't wait to get my hands and ears on these. 
     
    The LS50 Wireless II is an active speaker with a new wireless platform engineered fro the ground up. I'm working on an interview with KEF to go over this new digital platform that includes new DSP and the new KEF Connect app. If I had to guess, I'd guess KEF is using a StreamUnlimited module inside the LS50 Wireless II.
     
    Have a look at these features.
     
     
    LS50 Wireless II gives you direct access to your favourite music services, including Spotify (via Spotify Connect), Tidal, Amazon Music, Qobuz and Deezer. You can even tune in to Internet Radio Stations and catch up on the latest podcasts through the KEF Connect app. AirPlay 2 and Google Chromecast seamlessly connects your compatible Apple or Android device, whilst Bluetooth expands the options even further. There are also wired connections for your TV, turntable, CD player and games console, via the HDMI, analogue, optical and coaxial inputs. 
     
    And 
     
    Support for streaming music files up to 24bit/384kHz, as well as MQA Decoding, DSD256, and Roon Ready (RR coming soon) (UPnP working out of the box).
     

    On first blush the LS50 Wireless II seems too good to be true. Support of extremely high PCM and DSD sample rates, UPnP, Chromecast, and Roon Ready, for this price and this size etc... is crazy. I won't say it's too good to be true, but readers should know that there is a limiting factor, the interspeaker connection. The KEF LS50 Wireless II will accept up through 384 kHz and DSD256, but this material will be resampled to 192 kHz if using the wired speaker-to-speaker connection or to 96 kHz if the speakers are connected to each other via wireless. 
     
    To me, this limitation isn't a major issue in this scenario, but purists should be aware of this digital signal processing. Speaking of DSP, it's probably crazy to assume high rate DSD and 384 kHz PCM would stay I their native rates anyway because speakers like this use DSP that doesn't operate at such high rates. In other words, even if the interspeaker connection was native (384/DSD256), the music would go through resampling for digital signal processing anyway. Thus, it's a non-issue and I'm happy to read KEF released this information publicly. I love transparency. 
     
    Another nice feature of the LS50 Wireless II is support for 802.11 a/b/g/n/ac and both 2.4 and 5 GHz (LS50 Wireless version 1 supports 5 GHz but not 802.11ac). This has nothing to do with sound quality, but everything to do with moving HiFi forward and supporting technologies that high end brands should support. I have a few devices at home that require a crowded 2.4 GHz network and only support older 802.11 standards. These devices get annoying when I make network changes or try to improve my network performance, then realize I need to keep a certain configuration just so these devices can connect. Nice move supporting 802.11ac and 5 GHz. I really don't care about WiFi 6 yet and neither should you :~)
     
    Anyway, I'm very excited about the new LS50 Wireless II and I'm working on a pair for review as soon as possible. Here are accompanying details straight from KEF.
     
     
    20-KEF-LS50-Meta-Product-Info-Sheet.pdf 
     
    20-KEF-LS50-Wireless-II-Product-Info-Sheet.pdf

  14. Upvote
    PYP reacted to The Computer Audiophile for an article, Sonus Faber Il Cremonese ex3me   
    OK, call me a sucker for fine Italian craftsmanship and fine loudspeakers. Guilty as charged. I remember walking into a local HiFi shop here in Minneapolis and seeing the Sonus Faber Amati Homage in person for the first time. As a un-jaded 22 year old without much HiFi experience, my mind was blown in every way. The look, the feel, and the sound created an impression that I haven't forgotten to this day. I was reminded of that experience when I first saw the press release a few days ago for the new special edition Sonus Faber Il Cremonese ex3me in the classic “Red Violin” finish.
     
    I can't wait to hear these speakers in person. I really hope Sonus Faber keeps a traveling pair or at least a pair in the McIntosh Townhouse, for those of us who can't afford one of the 50 pairs to be produced. Here's the full story straight from Sonus Faber.
     
     
     
     
     
     
     
    Press Release:
     

     
    SONUS FABER LAUNCHES THE NEW EXCLUSIVE LIMITED-EDITION II CREMONESE EX3ME INSPIRED BY THE 30TH ANNIVERSARY PROJECT EX3MA
     
    INTRODUCING THE II CREMONESE EX3ME
     
    (September 22nd, 2020) – Sonus faber is proud to introduce the new special edition Il Cremonese ex3me. Introduced in 2015 with the intention of completing the Sonus faber Homage Collection, the speaker was named after a traditional Italian violin, the Il Cremonese. This violin is the most famous among the master Antonio Stradivari’s creations. Due to its superb sound capability, the new Il Cremonese speaker immediately placed among the ranks of Sonus faber’s Reference Collection catalogue, becoming a favorite among the Sonus faber R&D team members.
     
    This predilection turned the Il Cremonese into a crucial internal Sonus faber work instrument, serving as an effective test bench for the development of various technical solutions due to the innate versatility of its electroacoustic configuration.
     
    This concept led to the idea of using Il Cremonese as the foundation for a unique loudspeaker system characterized by new technical features with a precise performance target: absolute neutrality working around the behavior of both the top and bottom ends of the audio spectrum.
     
    Il Cremonese ex3me embodies a loudspeaker system coming to life by combining elements from the original project, such as midrange and woofers, with iconic solutions derived from Sonus faber’s 30th Anniversary Celebration concept speaker model, Ex3ma.
     
    Several new design solutions contribute to a precious electro-acoustic jewel available in a special, limited run of 50 pairs embellished by the return of a traditional Sonus faber finish, the classic “Red Violin”.
     
     
    THE ELECTROACOUSTIC PROJECT
     

    • High frequencies
     
    From Ex3ma, Il Cremonese ex3me inherits its most iconic component, the Beryllium DLC tweeter.
     
    Exclusively for these 50 pairs, Sonus faber approaches this transducer construction with a material well known in the high-fidelity industry since the 70’s. Thanks to its formidable physical characteristics, Beryllium has unique and beneficial characteristics in terms of transparency and micro dynamics. The typical sound presentation of its “metallic flavor”, due to the material’s resonant frequency above 20 kHz, is mitigated by the treatment of ‘D.L.C. (Diamond Like Carbon),’ which essentially changes the mechanical nature of the beryllium while leaving its mass relatively unaltered.
     
    With a treatment called “Chemical Vapor Deposition" a layer of D.L.C. is deposited on the diaphragm surface, turning it black and giving the Beryllium the amorphous nature and the strength of the diamond. As a result, the new diaphragm is increasingly rigid with a nearly unperceivable resonant frequency (above 35 kHz), making it capable of extremely fast sound, very detailed and airy and free of coloration.
    The powerful Neodymium magnetic system and the rear decompression chamber made of Ergal (Aluminum alloy) CNC machined from solid billets, guarantee extreme dynamic linearity and maximum resolution in reproduction.
     
     
    • Middle frequencies
     
    The mid-frequency dedicated transducer remains similar to the original model in order to preserve the iconic “Voice of Sonus faber”. This 180mm midrange features a cone manufactured according to the classic Sonus faber recipe: an air-dried, non-pressed blend of cellulose pulp, Kapok, Kenaf, and other natural. This treatment guarantees a natural sound with increased transparency and greater detail.
    The Neodymium magnetic motor system is completely “Eddy Current Free” thanks to a copper Faraday ring strategically placed in the gap. The final touch a 1.5’’ voice coil made in Copper Clad Aluminum Winding (CCAW).
     
     
    • Low frequencies
     
    The two 180mm woofers of Il Cremonese ex3me are implemented in an independent acoustic chamber, acoustically amorphous and fitted with down firing ‘Stealth Reflex’ ducts. Their cones feature the ‘sandwich’ membrane made of two sheets of our cellulose pulp recipe with a layer of hi-tech rigid syntactic foam in between them. This construction technique provides maximum coherence with the mid-high units and ensures, speed, rigidity and low mass in the driver. These woofers cones are mounted on the Sonus faber die-cast Aluminum baskets designed for structural rigidity and maximum ventilation to the moving parts.
     
     
    • Ultra-low frequencies
     
    The 2 side-firing infrawoofers featured in each loudspeaker are designed ad hoc for this project. Their diaphragm is made from nanocarbon fiber, used not only for its incredible structural rigidity, but also as a call back to the mid-woofer of Ex3ma-- the project that gave the name and inspiration for Il Cremonese ex3me. This Tri-laminated sandwich cone diaphragm features Nomex honeycomb core and manages the driver’s excursion and resistance to flexing, even at extreme amplitudes.
    Like the woofer, the infra-woofers are implemented in independent acoustic chambers, acoustically amorphous and each fitted with their own ‘Stealth Reflex’ duct.
     
     
    • The Crossover network
     
    The blend between the Beryllium DLC tweeter and the midrange is obtained courtesy of a totally redesigned mid-high crossover network, using non-inductive resistors and air core inductors. Capacitors are Mundorf Evo Silver Oil and Evo Gold Oil designs, known for their supreme performance in audiocircuitry.The entire crossover network implements Paracross TopologyTM, a special circuit making the crossover less sensitive to radio-frequency interference, lowering noise floor.
     
     
    The Design
     
    The overall aesthetic design of Il Cremonese ex3me does not stray from the original model, except for the detail of the tweeter- which diverges from the iconic "arch" of the D.A.D. system in favor of the protection grille applied in front of the Beryllium D.L.C. dome.
     
    The design maintains the "Romboidal Diamond Design.” The 5-sided cabinet breaks the classic rules of Lute or Lyre shape. Taking inspiration from the shape of Sonus faber’s Lilium Collection, Il Cremonese has cleaner lines with a more edgy design aesthetic. Maintaining the absence of parallel walls ensures that the acoustic characteristics are not compromised by standing waves or internal reflections.
     
    This solid cabinet is further strengthened by two "Dampshelves" machined from solid billet aluminum forming the top and bottom of the cabinet. These structural elements increase rigidity and lower resonance that contributes to the attenuation of spurious noise that contaminates the purity of the musical message.
     
    Spurious micro-vibration is grounded to the Zero Vibration TransmissionTM system that mechanically decouples the entire loudspeaker from the floor using a combination of metal and elastomer isolation components inside of a multi-part coaxial spike assembly, called “Silent Spikes”. The result is an audible improvement in transparency and dynamics.
     
     
    Retail Price
     
    Il Cremonese ex3me has a suggested manufacturer retail price of 58,000 USD.
     
     
    Market Availability
     
    Il Cremonese ex3me will be available worldwide from September 2020.
     
    Il Cremonese ex3me - Press Release - USD.pdf
     
  15. Like
    PYP reacted to The Computer Audiophile for an article, Putting Together An Audio System With Mytek, Sonus Faber, and AudioQuest   
    There's nothing like a fine tuned high end audio system playing one's favorite music. Great artistry, great music, and great sound can lead to unforgettable experiences.  The problem for many audiophiles is that sharing these experiences is very impractical. We can't bring 300 pound speakers and 150 pound amplifiers to a friend's place. Heck, we can't even bring this stuff to other areas of our own residences. Sure, headphones are a great way to experience high end sound, but they are incredibly isolating and don't lead to memorable shared experiences. For these reasons I'm a huge fan and proponent of all-in-one devices such as the Dynaudio Music series, Naim Mu-so series, and the Bluesound Pulse 2i among many others. These devices enable one to bring the music to others rather than attempt to get others to enter our listening rooms. 
     
    Several months ago I set out to create a better system than that offered by all-in-one units, keeping in mind that such a system had to meet several requirements. During the process of testing components, I decided to replace my bedroom headphone system as well because I was so impressed by a one component brought in for the aforementioned project. What follows is my story of identifying the problem, finding a solution, and enjoying the fruits of my labor through memorable shared experiences. 
     

    Challenges and Solutions
     
    In my house, it's critical that I offer my family excellent sound quality wherever they want to listen. It's how I introduce my wife and eight year old daughter to good music and high end sound. Don't get me wrong, the pressure to offer quality sound is self-imposed. When we first met, my wife was happy listening to music through the built-in speakers of her 25" tube television. I won't let my daughter go down that path of settling for subpar sonics as long as I'm in charge of the audio systems. 
     
    The challenge for me was to find a better audio system than any of the previous all-in-one units my family has used over the years. The requirements for this system were many given that this new system would sit in our dining room. The dining room location is next to a table where we sit often and the first thing guests see when entering our house. With this in mind, here are the requirements I set out to satisfy.
     
    All parts of the system have to look good. The entire system must be small. The sound quality must be excellent. Cabling must be hidden. The system must offer features including WiFi and Ethernet connectivity, Roon Ready, iOS device connectivity, and remote control options.  The system must be simple to use. The system has to be placed close to the rear wall, on a 16" x 44" table. The price must be reasonable.   
     

     
     
     
     
    Speakers
     
    Given these requirements, I started researching my options. I looked at loudspeakers first because it was entirely possible I'd find a powered speaker solution and not need components, and I needed to find speaker requirements before I could select amplification if the speakers were passive. I looked hard for powered speakers because these can be a simple and sleek solution, but the more I looked the more frustrated I became. The speakers were either separate versions of the all-in-one units I was trying to replace or they were ugly or they were gigantic or they were way more money that I thought reasonable. 
     
    The first passive speakers I considered were the Wilson Audio TuneTot. I absolutely love the sound of my Wilson Alexia Series 2 and wanted to bring that to the rest of my house. Unfortunately the TuneTot is just too large for my requirements. At two feet tall I just couldn't place them on the required table without the speakers becoming a focal point and covering the bottom of the pictures hanging on the wall. Remember, if this system was going to survive, it had to fit right in and not require that I change the environment to suit my audio needs. 
     
    After looking around at many speaker manufacturer's offerings I settled on the Sonus Faber Minima Amator II. This is the absolute perfect speaker for my location and I'm guessing many other peoples' locations. The Minima Amator II is pure Italian design and craftsmanship that looks fabulous in my dining room. If they didn't pass this test, there was no reason to even move forward and go down the "but they sound so good" path. The speakers are made from 20 slats of solid 25mm thick walnut with leather front and rear baffles. The speakers fit perfectly into the Sonus Faber Heritage Collection with larger sibling the Electa Amator III. 
     
    The Minima Amator II speakers are only 12.8" tall, 7.8" wide, and 10.8" deep. This is the perfect size for my folded gateleg table. Optional speaker stands are available, and were included with this review sample, but they weren't needed for my installation. Featuring a 28mm silk dome tweeter and 150mm midwoofer, these 16 lbs speakers not only fit into many environments but can also be moved out of the way, should the need arise, without a team from Manny's Piano Movers. 
     
    At $4,000 per pair, the Sonus Faber Minima Amator II is more expensive than all-in-one solutions, but it checks all the right boxes and puts me on the right path to creating memorable shared experiences. 
     

    Electronics
     
    After selecting the Minima Amator II speakers, it was necessary to select electronics to both power the speakers and to convert my digital audio into enjoyable analog for my family's listening pleasure. Given that my table is only 16" x 44" I was hesitant to place on full size component or two between the speakers. It just wouldn't have worked very well without dominating the space and squeezing the lamp and speakers tighter together. If this was my college apartment I would've done without the illumination of a lamp if that meant a better amp. But, that won't fly at this point in my life. 
     
    The best solution for my needs, given the above requirements, was a two-piece system from Mytek. I'd heard that the company recently updated its Brooklyn Amp to the Amp+ version and its Brooklyn Bridge component features everything I need for this system. In addition, I could stack the components into a footprint of 9" long, 8.5" wide, and 4" tall. 
     
    The Brooklyn Bridge has been on my mind since it was first announced because of its feature set and the talent of designer Michal Jurewicz. The Bridge looks great, is small, sounds excellent, and offers features that make it simple to use. After the initial setup, scrolling through the menus on the device's display, the only thing my family needed to know was that its volume could be controlled via the front knob, Roon app, or the included physical remote control. On the rare occasions my daughter wanted to listen to audio books through the system, she connected my iPhone to the USB port of the Bridge using the camera connection kit, and all was good. 
     
    I was initially skeptical about WiFi support because some products really struggle playing high resolution audio via WiFi. Sure, I could have Roon resample everything, but I just wanted anyone to be able to press play on any tracks and have it play as it should. Given my family would likely only be laying 44.1 - 192 kHz or DSD64, the wireless worked perfectly.
     
    The Brooklyn Amp+ has the same great looking front panel as the Brooklyn Bridge and also supports changing the color of the Mytek logo. This feature thrilled my daughter who selected Aqua as the color we had to have on both units. The Amp+'s dual mono 300 watts into 4 ohms was plenty of power for the 87 dB efficient, 50Hz-35kHz, Minima Amator II.
     
    One other aspect of selecting the Mytek components that's very underrated, is the fact that I split the often-changing digital section from the much more stable analog amplifier section, but keep the chassis size very small. If I would've selected an all-in-one component with digital and amp in a single chassis, I would've had to swap the entire component to change just one aspect such as the DAC. Using a split architecture of the Brooklyn Bridge and Amp+, I can change either component independently. 
     
    To get much more into the Brooklyn Bridge, Brooklyn Amp+, and even a bit about the new Mytek Empire, here's a video interview I conducted of Mytek's Michal Jurewicz a couple days ago. I originally planned on a short and sweet interview, but Michal and I got talking and he kept offering up great information about his products and why he designs them the way he does.
     
     
     
     
     

    Cables
     
    Lest we forget that cables are a requirement, even though my family members would rather do without them. This system's presence in a very visible and often used part of our house meant that cables had to be a bit different from my normal garden hose audiophile fare. This requirement seems like it should be pretty easy to meet, but the reality is a bit different. Most audiophile companies just offer cables as thick as garden hoses and/or cables that are so difficult to bend they might as well be solid pipes. Neither trait was compelling to me, so I called up AudioQuest's Stephen Mejias to discuss my options. AudioQuest is a pretty large company compared to most HiFi cable companies and offers a huge range of products. I figured AQ had something that was both flexible and fairly skinny. 
     
    Stephen knew exactly what I was looking for and understood the requirements very well. A week or so later I received one pair of Rocket 11 speaker cables and a pair of Robin Hood SILVER (ZERO) speaker cables. The Rocket 11 cables satisfy my requirements, especially the reasonable price requirement at less than $300 per pair. The Rocket 11 cables are what I used most of the time and in the photos for this review. The Robin Hood SILVER (ZERO) cables are in a different league with respect to everything, and I plan on using these cables for my review of some high end integrated amps from Parasound, Boulder, and Constellation. 
     

    Creating Memorable Shared Experiences
     
    It's time to get down to business and discuss the end results, my success with the Mytek / Sonus Faber / AudioQuest system. This system enabled me to bring a much higher quality sound to my family, where they are, not where I am, in my listening room. Bringing music to others doesn't necessarily mean portable. It means placing music in one's dining room, living room, or wherever and creating music memories together. 
     
    I set the Brooklyn Bridge into Roon Ready mode, placed an iPad Pro on top of the Bridge, and opened the system for business. By business I mean every kind of music imaginable from Itzhak Perlman to the Frozen soundtrack to Rage Against The Machine. The Mytek / Sonus Faber / AudioQuest system had to be capable of playing everything or I would've failed. Based on the past several weeks, I can unequivocally say this system is a success. My family and I have listened to more music together than ever before and it sounds better than ever. In fact, while eating breakfast this morning, my daughter asked me to put some music on. Not only are we sharing more memorable experiences together, my family is asking for music! What's better than that.
     
    My wife and daughter have their short list of favorites that get played through the Mytek / Sonus Faber / AudioQuest system. This list includes Beyonce's Homecoming live album, a couple spins of Beyonce's Run The World (Girls), Taylor Swift's 1989, and many other pop classics. I call them guilty pleasures as I listen, while they dance and sing. There are few things better than watching my family enjoy music and enjoy music that sounds good through a proper HiFi system. It brings the things I love into one place. 
     
    The Sonus Faber Minima Amator II go down to 50 Hz. That's pretty low considering the small size of these speakers. They certainly won't shake the walls like some of the cars that drive through the neighborhood, but the bass they reproduce is tight and accurate. Beyonce and Taylor Swift sound great on this system. Much better than any all-in-one system, by a long shot.
     
    When I'm at the controls of the system, I like to expose my daughter to what I call real music. Given that Sonny Rollins turned 90 years old on Monday of this week, I played my favorite album of his for my daughter, Way Out West. I have the Analogue Productions version of this one and it sounds spectacular. It's hard to believe this album was recorded in 1957. Through the Mytek / Sonus Faber / AudioQuest system both Rollins' sax and Ray Brown's double bass sound wonderful. I've never had music this good in my dining room. This system blows away the all-in-one speakers.  
     
    This year my daughter is in 3rd grade at a Waldorf school and this means she's required to learn a violin, viola, or cello. I remember what I thought of those instruments when I was 8 years old, so I do my best to make them cool. Through the Mytek / Sonus Faber / AudioQuest system I play both new and old music showcasing the stringed instruments she can learn at school.
     
    Violinists I play for her range from David Oistrakh to Itzhak Perlman to Hilary Hahn. These are the classics that sound fantastic through the system. Oistrakh's violin on Bruch's Scottish Fantasy sounds like sweet nectar of the musical gods through the Minima Amator II speakers. However, my daughter can only take so much of this "sleepy" music. 
     
    My challenge, to play interesting violin music that also sounds good, was actually fun. I found music from Julien Ando and Eduard Freixa that's very relatable. Ando's cover of Dance Monkey from Tones and I, is a great way to show kids that stringed instruments can be cool. Along the same lines is Freixa's cover of Sia's Chandelier. This track has some bass from the original and it comes through the Minima Amator II speakers very nicely. Mixing pop bass with violin is a great combination and it holds the interest of kids very well. 
     
    Playing some of my favorite cello based tracks for my daughter on this system was enjoyable as well. I'm a huge fan of Yo-Yo Ma, especially this album Solo. I have the DSD version of this with a dynamic range score of 17. Of course I'm the only one in my house who truly cares about dynamic range scores, but I enjoy playing music with wide dynamic range for my family. If they don't hear it, they'll never know what they're missing. 
     
    Anyway, Yo-Yo Ma's Solo album has been played through a number of breakfasts at our house. It's a relaxing album that also sounds wonderful through the Mytek / Sonus Faber / AudioQuest system. Just like the Oistrakh and Perlman music, it isn't the most exiting for a 3rd grader, but it's good to plant the seed of what's possible both musically and sonically. 
     
    Making the cello fun, I turn to the Portland Cello Project and the Brooklyn Duo. The Portland Cello Project has covers of Jay-Z and Radiohead that I really like. But, it's the Brooklyn Duo's cover of Pearl Jam's Better Man that I really love. The album was recorded in the Duo's home studio at 24/96 and sounds really great. Better Man on Cello and piano is ethereal in ways that the original just can't match because it's a song that rocks. Through the Mytek / Sonus Faber / AudioQuest system Patrick Laird's cello has texture and sweetness that a typical dining room system can't hold a candle to because this system is a true high fidelity system. 
     
    Based on my experience with this system as a whole, I'd use use it as is, and I'd also use each piece individually with other components or speakers. Each piece is terrific in its own right. 
     

    Bedroom System
     
    The more I used the Mytek Brooklyns Bridge, the more I liked it and realized it's very stable. I thought that It'd be the perfect system to use next to my bed as I listen to headphones every night while falling asleep. Two things totally sold me on the Bridge for my bedroom. It's analog volume control and its front panel configuration capabilities. Don't get me wrong, the sound quality had to be excellent before I even considered anything else, but it's these two items that put the Bridge over the top.
     
    The Bridge offers both analog and digital volume control. Users select which one to use on the front panel. The difference between the analog and digital volume controls on the Bridge is so large that I don't bother with the digital control anymore. The analog is far superior. 
     
    The headphones I use are Alclair Electro custom IEMS. These are electrostatic in ear monitors that are very sensitive to upstream components. When switching between the analog and digital volume control on the Bridge, without any music playing, the noise floor of the analog control is so far below the digital control it's incredible. Switching between them makes the digital control sound like white noise. Yes, this is an exaggeration for illustrative purposed but it helps make my point that the analog control sounds like silence compared to the digital control. Nice work Michal. 
     
    The other aspect of the Bridge that's fantastic is its front panel configurability. What I mean by this is the granularity given to the end user over its lights. My bedroom has to be dark, else I'll wake up my wife and be "that guy" with the bright lights. The Bridge enables me to disable all front panel lighting, so the unit is 100% dark while both sitting idle or playing music. In addition, I can set the illumination to almost off when I adjust the volume and I can set it to shut off after only a couple seconds, once I'm done with volume changes. All around it's a perfect system for darkness. 
     
    I mustn't forget to mention that the Bridge enabled me to remove a Sonore MicroRendu that I had connected to the Mytek Brooklyn DAC I previously used. The Rendu was required so I could stream Roon to the system. Now, the Bridge is Roon Ready so I can remove one component and power supply from my bedroom system. This isn't much of an issue in a dedicated listening room, but a bedroom is another story. 
     
    Listening to my Electros and the Bridge every night is really nice. The headphone amp in the Bridge is the same as the Brooklyn DAC series and it drives these custom IEMs very well. 
     

    Conclusion
     
    Putting together a real HiFi system, given several difficult requirements, to raise the level of playback for my family and create some amazing shared experiences was a fun project that will keep giving in the future. The Mytek / Sonus Faber / AudioQuest combination worked perfectly in all aspects. Size, aesthetics, and sonic performance were all top notch, and I have the data to prove it. This morning while driving my daughter to school, she told me the audio quality of the podcast we were listening to was a little off. She said something wasn't right about it. She was right! Something was up with my car stereo and she noticed. She now has a new respect for high quality audio, and we both have a system with which to crate lasting memories at home. Mission accomplished. 
     
     
     
     
                
    All images shot with Hasselblad 503CW / 50mm CFi and Fujichrome Velvia film

     
     
     
    Product Information:
     
    Sonus Faber Minima Amator II ($4,000 /pair) Sonus Faber Minima Amator II Product Page Sonus Faber Minima Amator II Owner's Manual (1.3MB PDF) Sonus Faber Minima Amator II Leaflet (2.7MB PDF)  
    Mytek Brooklyn Bridge ($2,995) Mytek Brooklyn Bridge Product Page Mytek Brooklyn Bridge Manual (3.7MB PDF) Mytek Brooklyn Bridge Quick Setup Guide (481KB PDF)  
    Mytek Brooklyn Amp+ ($2,495) Mytek Brooklyn Amp+ Product Page Mytek Brooklyn Amp+ Manual (4MB PDF)  
     
    AudioQuest Rocket 11 Speaker Cables ($284) AudioQuest Rocket 11 Product Page  
     
    Associated Music:
     
    Audiophile Style 50 (Qobuz) Computer Audiophile PJ4CA Playlist (Tidal)  
     
    Associated Equipment:
     
    Source: QNAP TVS-872XT, Aurender W20SE, CAPS 20 DAC: EMM Labs DV2, Berkeley Audio Design Alpha DAC RS3, Schiit Audio Yggdrasil D-to-D Converter: Sonore Signature Rendu SE (optical), APL HiFi DNP-SR, CAPS 20.1, Berkeley Audio Design Alpha USB Amplifiers: Constellation Audio Mono 1.0 / Monoblock Power Amplifiers Preamplifier: Constellation Audio PreAmp 1.0 Loudspeakers: Wilson Audio Alexia Series 2 Digital Signal Processing: Accurate Sound, HQPlayer Remote Control Software: Roon Remote, JRemote, Aurender Conductor Remote Control Hardware: iPad Pro Playback Software: Roon, JRiver,  Network Attached Storage (NAS): QNAP TVS-872XT Audio Cables: Transparent Audio Reference Interconnects (XLR & RCA), Transparent Audio Reference 110-Ohm AES/EBU Digital Link, Transparent Audio Reference Speaker Cables, Gotham GAC-4/1 ultraPro Balanced XLR Audio Cable (40') USB Cables: Transparent Audio Premium USB Cable Power Cables: Transparent Audio Reference Power Cables Power Isolation: one 4kVA and one 5 kVA 512 Engineering Symmetrical Power Source Ethernet Cables: Transparent Audio High Performance Ethernet Cables Fiber optic Cables: Single Mode OS1-9/125um (LC to LC) Acoustic Room Treatments: Vicoustic Diffusion and Absorption,  ATS Acoustics Bass Traps Network: Ubiquiti UniFi Switch 24, Ubiquiti UniFi Switch 8-150W x2, Ubiquiti UniFi Switch 16 XG, Ubiquiti UniFi Security Gateway Pro 4, Ubiquiti UniFi AP HD x2, UniFi FlexHD AP, Ubiquiti FC-SM-300 Fiber Optic Cable x2, UF-SM-1G-S Fiber Optic Modules x6, Commercial Grade Fiber Optic Patch Cables, Calix 716GE-I Optical Network Terminal, CenturyLink 1 Gbps download / upload  
     
    Listening Room:
     
    This graph shows the frequency response of my room before (top) and after (bottom) tuning by Mitch Barnett of Accurate Sound. The standard used for this curve is EBU 3276. This tuning can be used with Roon, JRiver, and other apps that accept convolution filters. When evaluating equipment I use my system with and without this tuning engaged. The signal processing takes place in the digital domain before the audio reaches the DAC, thus enabling me to evaluate the components under review without anything changing the signal further downstream. 
     

  16. Thanks
    PYP reacted to The Computer Audiophile for an article, Review | Bryston BDA-3.14 DAC / Streamer / Digital Preamp   
    I have a love / hate relationship with the Bryston BDA-3.14. There is much to love about this DAC, streamer, digital preamplifier, and there is much to love about Bryston as a company and its employees. Unfortunately, there is also much to hate about the BDA-3.14. I've had the 3.14 in my system for a few months and in that time I've gone from writing this product off as a flop to my current position that it's a great component as long as it's used in a specific way and one sets expectations before jumping in head first. What follows is my honest take on the BDA-3.14 and its features. 

    Digital playback has become more complex over the years, with seemingly endless options. While I like the options and can get into the complexity as much as anyone, I realize it isn't for everyone. When I first heard about the BDA-3.14 I thought it could be a fabulous all-in-one type of digital component that's simple to understand and use. Sure it's a DAC, streamer, and preamp, but it also has Bryston's Manic Moose digital audio platform installed on a Raspberry Pi 3 inside the unit. I thought it could be one's complete digital system, just add a hard drive full of music to the USB port or point the unit at a NAS and call it a day. That's the idea anyway. The reality is a bit different.
     
    The BDA-3.14 has all the inputs one could want and a robust analog output. I used this unit connected directly to my Constellation Audio Inspiration amplifiers and really enjoyed what I heard. Some DACs have trouble driving these amps directly and require a preamp or require one to turn the volume to its maximum level for some tracks. Not so with the BDA-3.14. Even when using convolution filters for room correction, that reduce the output by several dB, the BDA-3.14 had plenty of headroom and power to spare. The BDA-3.14's 4 volt output certainly isn't more than the average DAC but it's performance in this area is very strong and better than many of its competitors. 
     
    I must also note that the BDA-3.14 is very quiet. Listening to some Reference Recordings' albums with extremely large dynamic range, I couldn't hear any noise coming from the DAC. On some components it's possible to hear what I'll call grunge on the quietest passages of these albums. The BDA-3.14 is typical of a Bryston component, designed to a very high standard using only the best engineering methods and zero voodoo. 
     
    The sound quality of the BDA-3.14 through my Constellation, Wilson Audio Alexia Series 2, Transparent system was excellent. I put every type of music through this DAC and couldn't find a fault. I even connected the BDA-3.14 to my headphone based system using the RAAL-requisite SR1a true ribbon headphones. If there is anything wrong with a component's design, it will be revealed by these headphones. Listening through these headphones is equivalent to putting one's ear less 1/4 inch away from a loudspeaker's tweeter. We've all heard the noise that emanates from loudspeakers when our ear is next to the tweeter, fortunately our listening positions are much farther away. Not so with the SR1a headphones. The BDA-3.14's performance on this headphone system was stellar. 
     
    Whether playing my new Three Blind Mice album Touch from Isao Suzuki or Bill Frisell's latest Valentine, the BDA-3.14 delivers the goods in typical Bryston fashion. The DAC and analog output stage are competitive with components featuring the most exotic and expensive designs. 
     
    I also used HQPlayer to send DSD256 (poly-sing-ext2, ASDM7EC) to the BDA-3.14's dual AK4490 DAC chips via USB with great success. If that's too in the weeds, don't worry because the unit is also a Roon endpoint (still awaiting official certification). As a Roon endpoint, Roon can control the digital volume just like the physical remote that ships with the BDA-3.14. It was really nice to have both options during the review period. 
     
    Readers should note the differences between inputs with respect to sample rate support. The USB input is most versatile, supporting PCM up through 32/384 and DSD up through DSD256. According to Bryston, "Source audio greater than 192kHz PCM or all DSD is automatically downsampled to 192kHz / 24 bit when played through internal streamer." In my testing I found this downsampling works on content played through the built-in streamer as well as Roon audio sent to the BDA-3.14 because it's routed through the internal streamer / Raspberry Pi. However, DSD audio played from Roon is converted to a multiple of the original sample rate, 24/176.4 rather than 24/192 kHz. 
     
     

     
     

    Manic Moose Interface
     
    If the BDA-3.14's feature set stopped here, with Roon, USB input, high sample rate support, great analog output, etc... it would be on the CASH List without hesitation. This is an excellent DAC. However, the BDA-3.14's raison d'être is that it features Bryston's own Manic Moose platform built into the unit on a Raspberry Pi. This is where I get off the fanboy bandwagon. I love Bryston as a company and the people with who I've interfaced over the years. All salt of the Earth, honest people, who manufacturer great components and support those components very well. But, I have a duty to the Audiophile Style community, and to all manufacturers, to be honest and give a 100% fair assessment of each component under review and must say the BDA-3.14 falls far short of of nearly any bar set by competing products in 2020. 
     
    I'll start with the user interface and functionality of the Manic Moose platform. If this product were released in 2005, it would be a little bit behind Logitech's Squeezebox interface of that same year. I completely understand that building this stuff from scratch isn't a trivial task for a HiFi company and I applaud Bryston for the effort. But, other companies such as Auralic, Lumin, and Aurender have all done it unequivocally better by a huge margin. 
     
    The interface certainly looks like it's from the early 2000's but I can get over that. It's everything else that's so underwhelming. At the bottom of the Dash hard screen are several buttons for either configuration or displaying statistics. This is like a mixture of a laboratory tool and end user area that shouldn't be necessary unless something goes wrong. I can't imagine telling a customer who just purchased a $4,195 component to pull up the Dashboard and take a look at what you just purchased. 
     
    The system tab is decent, as it provides information about the library and the version of Manic Moose. It goes off the rails on the next tab titled Disk Information. Selecting my USB flash drive on the left and clicking the Get Info button reveals the Linux command sent to the operating system and a message that no end user can decipher - "sudo /usr/sbin/smartctl -H /dev/sda 2>&1 sudo: no tty present and no askpass program specified." Clicking the Get S.M.A.R.T. button should reveal smart info about the disk, but has a nearly identical outcome to think button. 
     
    Note: I had issues mounting my USB flash drive after first inserting it into the BDA-3.14. Bryston support was able to manually mount it remotely, showing the company's great support.
     
    I don't want to methodically go through the Dashboard and cover all my dislikes. I will just say that it's a confusing Dashboard, where some of the services are beta and may not work, and many items are the opposite of intuitive. I found an outdated Manic Moose manual somewhere online and it was somewhat helpful in deciphering this Dashboard, but by no means was it a definite guide. 
     
    The Media Player section of the BDA-3.14's web interface is confusing, sparse, and strange at best. For example, searching for Canadian band Cowboy Junkies, reveals all Cowboy Junkies tracks in my library, in one long list. I'm sure someone can use such a list, but it just doesn't work for me. Searching Qobuz for Cowboy Junkies took so long it was unusable. When the results appeared, I clicked on the band's name and again waited for its albums to show up. Unfortunately it brought up the same screen listing the band name. I clicked the name one more time and was presented a gray screen for several minutes before giving up. This wasn't a one time occurrence that I could ignore. This was just how the app worked. 
     
    Browsing Qobuz favorites was another exercise in frustration. After clicking on Albums, the little browse window often turned gray and never changed. Once in a while it would display my favorited albums. Switching to Tidal and browsing my collection of albums revealed a single very long list of albums I've favorited over the years. The albums were in alphabetical order by album name. The list had 741 albums to scroll through without the ability to sort by another data point such as date added or even artist name. Clicking into an album and then using the back button resulted in a long delay while the interface populated the long list of 741 albums once again. 
     
    I couldn't find any redeeming qualities in this interface but highly recommend readers use it at a local Bryston dealer before making up their minds. Perhaps it will be OK for some and for others they can see first hand what I experienced. 
     
    Another way to use the BDA-3.14 is with a third party app such as Rigelian. I used this for a while and believe it's much better than the Bryston interface, but still sorely lacking compared to the competition. For example, there is no support for Tidal or Qobuz through Rigelian and I couldn't get volume control through the app to raise or lower the BDA-3.14's volume. These are things that apps from Aurender, Lumin, Auralic, and Roon do without breaking a sweat. 
     
    During the review period, the BDA-3.14 was sitting with the rest of my audio components along the same wall as my desk. I can look over and see the side of these components. Upon looking at the BDA-3.14, all I saw was the gap between the chassis and the faceplate, and a bright green light. This is certainly not an issue for sound quality or functionality, but seems like a cut corner in manufacturing. I have 25 audio components within my field of view as I write this review. The only one with this or a similar issue is the BDA-3.14. Certainly not a longitudinal study, but I also don't remember seeing this on anything I've had in house in the past. 
     

    Conclusion
     
    The BDA-3.14 is a CASH List component based on its audio performance. However, it comes with a host of other features that don't live up to the Bryston name. As a Roon endpoint the DAC is excellent. Buyers should beware about all of the other features based on the Manic Moose digital platform built into the onboard Raspberry Pi. If a family member asked me about the BDA-3.14, I'd likely tell them to steer clear and purchase the BDA-3 in a heartbeat. The BDA-3 is the DAC, digital preamp version without the Raspberry Pi. On the other hand, if one wants the BDA-3 sound quality with Roon, the BDA-3.14 is a good way to get this functionality. One should just zero-out expectations for the other Manic Moose features. 
     
    The competition in this area is stiff. Products from Auralic, Lumin, and Aurender have far better interfaces and usability, for less money. With respect to sound quality, the BDA-3.14 is second to none of the products from those companies. I recommend the BDA-3.14 as a Roon endpoint, but can't recommend any of the included Manic Moose features. 
     
     
     
     
    Manufacturer's Comment
     
    Chris, thanks for taking some time to review the BDA-3.14. Like you, we are really pleased with the way the BDA-3.14 sounds but wish you had enjoyed the Manic Moose (MM) user interface more. 
     
    Bryston is a company focused predominately on making equipment that performs exceptionally and lasts a very long time—and we have been doing this successfully for decades. We firmly believe that nothing else matters unless the product delivers its promise of making music sound as good and true as possible. But with components that require a complex, multifaceted user interface, the design and engineering goals are very different and often present a host of moving targets.   
     
    We are always looking for ways to improve our user experience, including how we manage search results in the local library. When we initially built the framework for MM, high-resolution streaming didn't exist. Since its initial release, we have offered over 40 firmware revisions and added services like Qobuz, Tidal, Roon, internet radio, CD ripping, metadata management, library aggregation with streaming services and so much more. We are the first to acknowledge that our digital players have outgrown what MM can support. That said, I am perplexed that you ran into some operational problems during your evaluation. Unlike many other companies in the space, we have several methods of addressing client issues including screen sharing and a service mode with which we can diagnose errors by wire. 
     
    The engineers at Bryston are deep into the creation of a brand user interface that first and foremost, is intuitive and stable. Our new UI will provide a way for us to keep customers current with new services and features that come along in the future. The goal is for everything except perhaps the BDP-1 (our oldest player, released over 10 years ago) to receive this upgrade at no cost to the consumer. I think Bryston is unusual if not unique in that we continue to offer firmware updates, new features, and bug fixes many years into the life of a product, and often well beyond the extent of our warranty. 
     
    I am happy that you recognized the superb sound quality of the BDA-3.14 and reported that those consumers utilizing the Roon user experience will find it most satisfying. I am also hopeful that those without Roon will engage with our nationwide network of dealers and all of us here at Bryston in order to explore the BDA-3.14 in greater depth. For music enthusiasts who value sound above all else, the Bryston BDA-3.14 offers outstanding performance and build quality, and once unleashed, our new user experience will provide a fun and intuitive means to access content.
     
    All the best,
    Gary
     
    Gary Dayton
    Vice President / US Sales
     
     
     
     
     
     
    Community Star Ratings and Reviews
     
    I encourage those who have experience with the Bryston BDA-3.14 to leave a star rating and quick review on our new Polestar platform.
     
     
     
    Product Information:
     
    Bryston BDA-3.14 DAC / Streamer / Digital Preamp ($4,195) Bryston BDA-3.14 Product Page Bryston BDA-3.14 Manual (2.2MB PDF) Bryston BDA-3.14 Brochure (900 KB PDF) Bryston Manic Moose Manual (5.6 MB PDF)  
     
    Where to Buy
    Bryston Dealer Locator  
     
    Associated Music:
     
    Audiophile Style 50 (Qobuz) Computer Audiophile PJ4CA Playlist (Tidal)  
     
    Associated Equipment:
     
    Source: QNAP TVS-872XT, Aurender W20SE, CAPS 20 DAC: EMM Labs DV2, Berkeley Audio Design Alpha DAC RS3, Schiit Audio Yggdrasil D-to-D Converter: Sonore Signature Rendu SE (optical), APL HiFi DNP-SR, CAPS 20.1, Berkeley Audio Design Alpha USB Amplifiers: Constellation Audio Mono 1.0 / Monoblock Power Amplifiers Preamplifier: Constellation Audio PreAmp 1.0 Loudspeakers: Wilson Audio Alexia Series 2 Digital Signal Processing: Accurate Sound, HQPlayer Remote Control Software: Roon Remote, JRemote, Aurender Conductor Remote Control Hardware: iPad Pro Playback Software: Roon, JRiver,  Network Attached Storage (NAS): QNAP TVS-872XT Audio Cables: Transparent Audio Reference Interconnects (XLR & RCA), Transparent Audio Reference 110-Ohm AES/EBU Digital Link, Transparent Audio Reference Speaker Cables, Gotham GAC-4/1 ultraPro Balanced XLR Audio Cable (40') USB Cables: Transparent Audio Premium USB Cable Power Cables: Transparent Audio Reference Power Cables Power Isolation: one 4kVA and one 5 kVA 512 Engineering Symmetrical Power Source Ethernet Cables: Transparent Audio High Performance Ethernet Cables Fiber optic Cables: Single Mode OS1-9/125um (LC to LC) Acoustic Room Treatments: Vicoustic Diffusion and Absorption,  ATS Acoustics Bass Traps Network: Ubiquiti UniFi Switch 24, Ubiquiti UniFi Switch 8-150W x2, Ubiquiti UniFi Switch 16 XG, Ubiquiti UniFi Security Gateway Pro 4, Ubiquiti UniFi AP HD x2, UniFi FlexHD AP, Ubiquiti FC-SM-300 Fiber Optic Cable x2, UF-SM-1G-S Fiber Optic Modules x6, Commercial Grade Fiber Optic Patch Cables, Calix 716GE-I Optical Network Terminal, CenturyLink 1 Gbps download / upload  
     
    Listening Room:
     
    This graph shows the frequency response of my room before (top) and after (bottom) tuning by Mitch Barnett of Accurate Sound. The standard used for this curve is EBU 3276. This tuning can be used with Roon, JRiver, and other apps that accept convolution filters. When evaluating equipment I use my system with and without this tuning engaged. The signal processing takes place in the digital domain before the audio reaches the DAC, thus enabling me to evaluate the components under review without anything changing the signal further downstream. 
     

     
     
  17. Like
    PYP reacted to The Computer Audiophile for an article, Meet The Audiophile Style Community | Volume 9   
    Welcome to the ninth installment of our Meet the Audiophile Style Community series. All previous installments can be found here, in the series index.
     
    Please send me a message or email if you'd like to participate. The response so far has been wonderful. It ranges from hardcore audiophiles to those who are more interested in numbers and graphs, and even people in the industry are eager to participate. This series is all about getting to know everyone and sharing a bit about yourself that others will find interesting. 
     
    Thanks for participating. I look forward to publishing more of these in the coming weeks. 
     
    Thanks to Audiophile Style community member and site contributor @JoeWhip for participating in volume nine of this series. I love reading this stuff even more than publishing it. As I say to myself after reading each one of these, you guys are so much more interesting than me. I also have to thank Joe for all the music recommendations over the years and for the fantastic articles he has written for us!
     
     
     
    1. General area of the world in which you live?

    I was born and raised in the suburban Philadelphia area and have lived here my entire life. Married with two sons, one a brilliant chemist and the other a fine singer, songwriter and keyboardist now based in LA.
     
     
    2. General description of what you do or did for a living?
     
    I am a retired civil trial lawyer.
     
     
    3. What are your hobbies?
     
    Other than listening to music and attending as many musical performances as I can, my hobbies are golf, gardening and traveling. My wife and I have traveled the world and have visited all 7 continents, adding Antarctica to the list in December. We love traveling and that has all come to an abrupt halt. Can’t even golf now so have to chip and pitch in the yard. (This was written a few months ago. I believe Joe is back on the course now - CC)
     
     
    4. When did you start this wonderful journey into music listening?

    Music listening is part of my DNA. My dad had a rather successful band in the Philadelphia area for about 40 years. I guess I came out of the womb listening to music. One of my dad’s uncle was a well known tenor in the early 20th century, so music runs in that side of the family. My son John seems to have inherited that talent. It passed over me entirely.
     
     
    5. What was your first “album?”
     
    I have no recollection as to what my first album was. It was probably a Duke Ellington or Mel Torme album that I grabbed from my dad.
     
     
    6. What does your music collection look like, number of physical records, CDs, etc... and number of “favorited” albums streamed?
     
    Right now I have about 1000 CDs and roughly 500 LPs. The music I listen to is on a hard drive consisting of ripped CDs and downloads, of both PCM and DSD. Have a few terabytes of music for my primary listening.
     
     
    7. What was your first audio component / stereo?
     
    My first piece of audio equipment was one of those small box record players, a toy really, but it played albums and 45’s. I have a nice collection of all 45’s from the late 60’s through the 80)s, as my dad used to buy them to transcribe the music into a fakebook for the band. He wrote them all out in the key of C and transposed them on the fly. I wish I could do that. My first stereo that I purchased was a Lafayette receiver and Advent speakers and an Ariston turntable. I think.
     
     
    8. Is there one component that you no longer have that you wish you wouldn’t have sold or that you wish you still had?
     
    I tend to keep the stuff I buy for along time. So the short answer is no.
     
     
    9. Is there one current component that you wish you had in your system?
     
    If I could add one component, it would be a fancy blingy reel to reel tape deck. In all seriousness, I would like to add a nice streamer to supplement my laptop. I have had two in my system on loan but I was not impressed, especially for the money. I have my eye on the Sonore system as a buddy has the older one with AES and the new USB system and they both sound great. Maybe later this year.
     
     
    10. How much time do you spend listening to music each week and on which systems does this listening take place (main system, car system, mobile system, office system, etc...)?
     
    As a general rule, I usually listen in the dedicated audio space from two to four hours a day. I have done a good bit of listening on my iPad via YouTube with my headphones and occasionally in my Model 3 which has a very nice sound system. WRTI HD in Philly has very nice sound.
     
     
    11. What’s the first concert you ever attended, best concert you’ve ever attended, most interesting concert venue you’ve ever attended?
     
    The first concert I attended was probably watching my dad’s band. The first real concert was the Duke Ellington Big Band before the Duke passed away. There is nothing like the sound of a big band. Wow. I was lucky enough to see Joe Williams fronting the Count Basie Band at the Academy of Music in Philly. We sat in the peanut gallery and the sound was sublimed. The opening act? Herbie Hancock and Buster Williams. As for my favorite concert, I would have to say Stevie Wonder at the late, great Devon Music Fair in the mid 80’s. Stevie was alone on the turntable stage with the band on the floor around the stage. That concert was like a religious revival and was Stevie at his best. Three hours I think. As for concert venues, the Village Vanguard in New York is incredible, drip ping with history and great sound. The two most interesting venues, the Sydney Opera House and the Grand Opera House in Vienna. The Opera House in Vienna has sublime sound, at least where we were sitting.
     
     
    12. What components are in your current audio systems and can you provide a photo?
     
    My system consists of a Spectral DMC 5 pre amp, a McCormack DNA1 amp that was rebuilt by Steve McCormack to the gold signature package in 2019, a Schiit Yggy 2 with the Unison USB card, Vandersteen 3A Signature speakers. I use an Oyaide USB cable from their DJ line and Audioquest interconnects and speaker cables I bought in the 90’s. I have two 20 amp dedicated circuits into the room from a nearby pony panel. The amp is plugged into wall and the rest of the kit into an isolation transformer. The Macbook laptop is plugged into a separate circuit completely. Power cords are also from the 90’s. I guess they were spiffy back in the day but were gifts from friends in the business. I have tried others in the interim but didn’t hear any obvious improvement.
     
    VPI Mark III table with. Kuzma Stogi arm and a clear audio gamma s cartridge.
     
     
    13. Anything else you’d like to say?
     
    My philosophy is buy good equipment and make sure you put it in a good space that is optimized for sound. You don’t need fancy traps and the like, I use regular furniture, rugs and the like. Listening to music should be fun. Fix your room to avoid chasing your tail. Sure, there is plenty of BS in this hobby, but please buy what you like and enjoy it.
     
  18. Upvote
    PYP reacted to DuckToller for an article, Review | KANTO TUK vs. AIRPULSE A100, Part 2   
    Editor’s Note: Ducktoller finally received a pair of the Kanto TUK speakers at his home in the Loire Valley region of France. Part Two, below, was slated to be published along with the original review comparing the TUK with the Airpulse A100, but do to issues noted in Part One, this wasn’t possible. Here is the rest of his promised review. 
     
     
    Kanto TUK
     
    The Kanto TUK active speakers have shared my music with me now for several weeks. I wholeheartedly like them a lot for all the reasons I had taken into account before having them in front of me, namely their versatility, their designs and the hyper nice remote control. All these factors count in real life, but for audiophiles, in my personal experience,  these functions are nice to have but sometimes not of greatest importance.

    Sound wise the TUK are in a different class than the Airpulse A100, which were tested and described in part one of this article.  They appeared to be more zealous on our first rendezvous, although I couldn't find the clarity and the pleasant deep & wide soundstage I've attributed to the A100's AMT tweeter design. 

    I conducted several comparable listening sessions with my critical review playlist, which were in clear support of my measurements that I conducted early June.

    I used the SPL measurement of Room EQ Wizard, conducted through a UMIK 1 with 90deg calibration, top axis in line with the tweeters, 80cm distance, 1m between the speakers. The speakers had a minimum toe-in. Their setup was in the middle of the room, 1,05m away from the sidewalls and 1,50m from the rear wall. Measuring using 4 256k log sweeps 20Hz to 22khz  at -12db. Exactly the same configuration was used to measure the Airpulse A100. Using the exact SPL as before  (67,8dB) was achieved but proved to be difficult for reasons you may interpret from the graph. 

    As usual, I do not feel that my expertise on measurements are anyway close to the professionalism my dear colleagues here at Audiophile Style have shown in the past, however, I feel confident to have set up a proper test scenario which would see any flaws (if present)  adjusted to both speakers in exactly the same way. Results appeared to be consistent for several sessions.
     
     
    A100 vs TUK 80cm Nearfield min toe in SPL 1-12 smooth A100 vs TUK 80cm Nearfield min toe in SPL 4khz 69,3db AIRPULSE A100 - 80cm NF, min toe in. Both, left right channels, Kanto TUK  80 cm NF min toe in Both left right 4 khz 68,2 db 1-12 smooth Waterfall Airpulse A100 Waterfall Kanto TUK

     
     

    The results, in my interpretation,  shown by the measurement at 67,8dB:

    The TUK shows an amplified frequency range above  between 800Hz and 6500Hz peaking at almost 75dB around 4kHz. From there they dig as deep as 53dB around 9,5kHz returning back to 67dB around  16kHz. I'd assign that result to what I have heard as a strong pushing low end & mids with perceived lack of clarity in the upper mids and the high end.
     
    I personally feel that the characteristics of the A100 may be described as a mix of studio monitor qualities with added soundstage and depth of presentation by virtue of their AMT implementation. Whereas the Kanto audibly and visibly present a heavy boom from the deep end to mids,  although they lack a comparable quality like their competitor in the upper mids up to the high end.  As long as I am capable of hearing beyond 12 KHz, I would always prefer the straight A100 to the fervent TUK. When the time comes that I can no longer hear above 12 kHz,  I can imagine that the TUK may win the game due to added comfort vs. audible superiority of the A100 (in my recent perception).

    Please don't get me wrong, I do regard the Kanto TUK as an exciting product, from which I've received a pair of B-stock models in excellent condition. These are just not down my personal audiophile route. I had mentioned earlier in the review my son loving the A100s, however, as long as he doesn't long for the extra mile in sq, I'd give him the TUK without hesitation, if they would cost less than half a grand. These TUK ticks so many boxes for daily life, they are just short of the audiophile extra quality which in my opinion would vindicate their list price.

    Upon reflection, I need to admit that the conclusion suits well with my personal experience that, with some minor exceptions, a certain quality, especially in audio, usually comes at a particular price level, and even less often with a hat full of life style surprises and a sweet design. Obviously the AMT technology used with the TUK can't match the A100 trickled down studio wisdom. I do not blame them for that, because the Kanto TUK are just a perfect companion outside the "audiophile" world. In reference to part one of this review, I need to point out the thought, that with any additional feature for your active speaker you may increase the chances reducing the level of what we call audiophile experience:  exciting extras like the Phono (MM) connection, SUB out with active X-over the and headphone socket are a way of increasing the risk of not performing fully up to the speaker’s maximum level.  Using AMT technology, in my view, demands quite a bit from the upstream components, which is usually recognizable through the high price levels we have seen in the market.

    Imho, it needs world class designers combined with experiences from the industry's top performers like the team from PuRiFi - to achieve industry leading performance with added benefits at some reasonable pricing. I honestly can't see exactly that  happening at Kanto. Neither by measurements nor by critical listening. This is not aimed as a bad mouthed critic of the company: brilliance is very difficult to achieve and the Kanto TUK does offer some extremely well assembled features in an accomplished product for a given market. I awarded the product a special kind of early morning photo shoot to give them my kudos.
     
     

    Extras:
     
    When I pushed in the connector of the Focal Elegia into the headphone socket I was not up for too much excitement, however I felt that this HP amp isn't a slouch, and it presented the music clearer and more accentuated than the Kanto TUK themselves, thus using headphones at the price of the speaker itself. The phono input in my opinion is "gadget only" when using an upgraded REGA PLANAR P3 with REGA Super Bias cartridge. Imho a reason to stay with digital content for that output. If you use a 99$ AT turntable, you may have different expectations and find a better fit in the use case. An interesting point had been the active X-over solution at 80hz, which gives you about 10 db less in the first audible 100 hz, declining then from 80 to 200 hz to the initial sound curve. While I liked it in the near field for reducing the direct punch, in the mid field it unexpectedly did not add, neither to clarity nor to soundstage. My ears, YMMV The cabling isn’t quite TRANSPARENT but at an excitingly high standard, I put a compare pic in the sliders to show that even the banana plugs are the same quality as my Dynavox speaker cables. Everything else is spotless. Overall, my subjective examination is clearly in favor of the A100, as the audible attributes I related to them can't be matched by the TUK. These have, as already indicated, a lot to offer apart from their just better than mediocre sq. People that have different taste in sound reproduction than I do, may find them satisfying due to their brisk low and mid range, I did personally feel they were too unbalanced and lacking transparency for AMT driven tweeters.   
     
    Here is a run through the major part of my critical playlist.
     
     
     

     
     

    THE LISTENING SPACE II
     
    Listening impressions from the KANTO TUK

    1. Mid-Field - MOON ACE - ESS9018 DAC - MIND 2 - ROON
    Narciso Yepes - Irish March - Arr. For Guitar By Narciso Yepes (Guitar Music - Grammophon (DG) - Qobuz - 16/44)

    The Yepes guitar does have an energizing push in the low mids though lacking the resonating moments that define the quality of the track.

    2. MOON ACE - ESS9018 DAC - MIND 2 - ROON
    Deep Purple - When A Blind Man Cries (Machine Head -  Non Album B-Side - Remaster - Parlophone 2012 - Qobuz - 16/44)

    Listened in the nearfield. The overexposed organ of Jon Lord is killing the song presented by the Kanto TUK.

    3. Nearfield - Khadas - Roon
    Youn Sun Nah - Hurt (Lento , ACT - 2013 - Qobuz,  24/96)
    The guitar plucking sounds way too forward and the voice, which carries that track usually, remains unexpectedly unclear

    4.  Nearfield - Bluetooth - USB direct from PC
    Dan Auerbach - Street Walkin' (Keep it Hid - V2 2009 - Qobuz - 16/44)
    Too much muscle on steroid  (low DR a possible reason) via USB direct from the source PC compared to the A100.

    5. Mid-Field - MOON ACE - ESS9018 DAC - MIND 2 - ROON
    TOOL - Invincible (Fear Inoculum - RCA Records 2019 -  Qobuz - 24/96 )
    A special encounter was had with Tool's "Invincible" on midfield: Their music in general acknowledges an extra punch, however I got the impression that their careful balanced arrangements lost their magic with the TUK, lacking transparency and cleanliness in sound and space.

    6. Nearfield / Midfield - iFi micro iDSD BL
    Shudder to Think  - X-French Tee Shirt (Pony Express Record -  EPIC 1994 - Qobuz - 16/44)
    7. Nearfield / Midfield - USB - Roon
    Jacques Brel - Le Moribond (Infinitement - DRG Records 2004 - Qobuz - 16/44)

    The nearfield exercise did not went to well at all for the TUK, but there were 3 songs that had profited from their sound (design) and were doing better in midfield: Jacques Brel and Shudder to Think, whose overexposed timbre in the near field did not matter that much in the midfield.

    8. Nearfield / Midfield
    Bob Dylan - Murder Most Foul (Columbia 2020, Qobuz DL - FLAC 24/96)

    While voices sounding from more forward up to be overboard,  especially with Monsieur Brel and Jack Wedren as noted, Bob Dylan's track "Murder Most Foul" - to the contrary - harmonized well with the TUK's sound design in my opinion. So did the somehow hidden arrangements within that track which were distinctively more present than with the A100, while at the same moment they occurred to me not as balanced into the tune. The arrangement of "Murder Most Foul" shows its very forgiving side here.
     

    My personal verdict:

    Predominantly the TUK sounds way more attacking than the A100, however the clear defined upper mids and highs of the A100 are missing at large with the TUK. The speakers sound less detailed and unbalanced than the A100 and the there is an evident lack of brilliance from the notes produced by them.  If higher resolutions about +12 kHz are not any longer the center of your interest, the Kanto may serve you well with their punch, and you could save money on the extra bits 😉
     
    To sum it up, listening to that playlist which made me enjoy the A100 a lot, the TUK did not match the quality reproduction I got used to. Neither in soundstage nor in balanced & transparent sound. They are definitely more vigorous than the Airpulse A100, although I'd rather let them support the thin TV sound than use them for critical listening due to their more upbeat personality.
     
     
     
  19. Like
    PYP reacted to The Computer Audiophile for an article, Wilson Audio Alexia Series 2 | One Year On   
    Wilson Audio recently announced its forthcoming model the SabrinaX. This announcement got me thinking about my own Wilson speakers, the Alexia Series 2. It's been one year since Wilson's Director of Marketing John Giolas was here to properly setup the Alexias and put me in a position to hear my favorite music again for the first time. Over the last year I've played more music than ever before and spent well over one thousand hours listening through these loudspeakers. Here's my take on the Alexia, one year on. 

    Prior to purchasing the Wilson Audio Alexia Series 2, I spent many months researching and talking to friends about speakers and the companies that manufacturer speakers. The only speakers worth considering, for me, were those from blue chip audio companies. Life is short, I choose to do business with good companies who stand behind their products and deliver world class support. Everyone reading this article understands that stuff happens. When it does, it's great to have a blue chip company in one's corner. Wilson Audio is that blue chip company.
     
    There are few things, in this wonderful hobby of ours, as enjoyable as getting new speakers dialed in and putting on one's music of choice. Hearing new details in old music is incredibly fun and the stuff of which audio memories are made. Since the Alexia Series 2 speakers were installed and dialed in, I've had some fabulous listening sessions. Sessions that not only revealed new details, but also transported me to another place and time. In addition, the Alexia speakers enable me to do my job, evaluating audio components, at a higher level than any other speaker I've heard in my system. 
     
    My previous pair of speakers were the TAD Compact Reference One. I happily used them for several years. The TADs, designed by Andrew Jones, are terrific speakers. I absolutely loved the beryllium tweeter and midrange drivers in a concentric configuration. When the time came to make a change, I was very hesitant to purchase speakers without at least beryllium tweeters. It's what I'd come to know and love, and it's what so many people consider the best material from which to make a driver. 
     
    The Alexia Series 2 loudspeakers, like all current Wilson Audio speakers, contain a silk dome tweeter. Moving from stiff beryllium (TAD) to soft silk (Wilson) was a major concern of mine. I had all the armchair engineer unfounded illusions of silk reproducing mushy music that lacked detail. Even though I'd heard this exact tweeter many times, and it sounded spectacular, I still had a little anxiety. The only way to alleviate my worries was to get the speakers in my own room and spend some serious time listening. 
     
    I've now spent serious time listening and can unequivocally say that this silk dome tweeter is fantastic. Listening to all types of music, I hear nothing but what I consider to be a human sound. The Wilson silk dome sounds real, organic, and natural whereas the beryllium assault in the TAD speakers now sounds a bit over the top and mechanical. My worries about losing details with a silk dome were also unfounded. I've played Reference Recordings' HRx albums at 24/176.4 and heard incredible detail. The delicacy of soft violin strings, on a recording with a dynamic range score of 25+, is truly something to behold through the Wilson silk dome tweeter. 
     
    I've seen photos of Dave and Daryl Wilson comparing different tweeter materials in their speakers, and I now understand why they selected the silk dome. 
     
    I'm a fan of music. All music. In fact I don't know anyone who likes music more than I do and I don't know anyone who likes more types of music than I do. I'm not boasting, rather just laying some groundwork. I need speakers that can play any of the 30,000,000 tracks available from streaming services or my 10 terabyte local collection. I want Taylor Swift to sounds like Taylor Swift just as I want Tool to sound like Tool and Tsuyoshi Yamamoto to sound like Tsuyoshi Yamamoto. Notice I didn't say I want all those artists to sound great, even though they absolutely sound great through the Alexia Series 2. I want speakers capable of delivering exactly what's on the recorded album, no matter if that album is classical, classic rock, jazz, or heavy metal. 
     
    The Alexia Series 2 has delivered spectacular sound in my listening room, no matter the genre. I've had an entire year to find music that doesn't work on these speakers, but I've come up short on that mission. I like electrostatic speakers as much as anyone, in fact I used to own MartinLogan ReQuests, but the shortcomings of them now scare me away from spending hard earned money on something that can't do it all at the highest level. There are also plenty of more traditional speakers that only work for certain types of music. Look through our Audiophile Style forum and one can read about it first hand from people around the world. The Alexia Series 2, and most other Wilson speakers except the smallest frequency limited models, can handle anything thrown at them and keep their composure.
     
    As many readers know, I'm into Japanese jazz, especially that from the Three Blind Mice label. Playing albums from the new Three Blind Mice Supreme 1500 collection, through the Alexias, has been like planting myself in a Tokyo jazz club. Sure the Alexia delivers tone, delicacy, and superb double bass, but it also delivers the most critical aspect of a live event, dynamics. I urge readers to find a copy of the Terumasa Hino Quintet's album Live! (TBM-17) and listen to all three tracks. This recording should put one in Yubin-Chokin Hall in Tokyo on June 2, 1973 and the trumpet should nearly assault your ears if played at a high level. Through the Alexia speakers, the realness and dynamics of this recording are legendary. The only thing left for Wilson to make this more realistic is to offer a smoke machine that fits into the rear port of the speaker. I can imagine there were a few cigarettes lit up in jazz clubs of the 1970s.  
     
    The speed and dynamics of the Alexia speakers make me think about Dave Wilson using Spectral amplifiers over the years and Spectral's Rick Fryer using and recommending Wilson speakers as well. This combination must be truly special. I wish I would've kept my Spectral DMA 260 stereo amp because I'm sure it would've made the Alexias sing. That said, my Constellation Audio Inspiration mono amplifiers drive the Alexias incredibly well. I've thought about upgrading the amps to Constellation's Revelation or even Performance series, but I'm honestly so happy with what I have now that I'm in no hurry to make a change. I've put the Inspiration mono amps up against serious competition and they've never disappointed. 
     
    Currently I also have integrated amps from Boulder (866), Constellation (Inspiration), and Parasound (HINT 6) in my listening room. Each of these amps has so far driven the Alexa Series 2 very well. While not the final word in amplification, these integrated units are great matches for Wilson speakers in general. In fact, I'd love to hear any of them on the new SabrinaX. 
     
    I mentioned earlier that stuff happens. Yes, master of the obvious I know. But, people often put on rose colored glasses when purchasing goods and tell themselves that stuff only happens to other people. Sadly, this isn't the case in the real world. For example, my Alexia Series 2 speakers arrived with a blown driver. The speakers measured perfectly before leaving the Wilson factory, so something happened during their journey from Utah to Minnesota. 
     
    I didn't want to be "that guy" who demands special treatment, so I contact my friend and Wilson dealer Maier Shadi of The Audio Salon in Santa Monica. Sure I could've contacted Wilson directly or even my local Wilson dealer, Audio Perfection, but Maier is who've I've dealt with for my audio purchases over the years. I called Maier in the early afternoon on a Friday, to report my issue. The next morning I had a replacement driver in my hands directly from the Wilson factory. That's the kind of service both Wilson Audio and its hand picked dealers provide. There was zero talk about what caused the blown driver and nary a finger was pointed in any direction. 
     
    Note: In real world circumstances the Wilson dealer handles all aspects of all issues, from procurement to replacement. Given my unique situation I asked if Maier could talk me through the driver replacement over the phone on that Saturday morning. He virtually held my hand through the process and we had my system up and running in no time. 
     
    In addition to stuff happening, I must also mention that Wilson builds its speakers so stuff usually doesn't happen. What I mean by that is these speakers are nearly bullet proof. I know this from experience. I frequently test many crazy configurations of digital gear in my system. On several occasions this has lead to loud buzzes, screeches, pops, booms, and white noise bursts from all four drivers in each Alexia. Every time this happens I think about a friend who has blown several TAD beryllium drivers in similar circumstances, as I jump up from my chair to hit mute on my amps. My Alexias haven't blinked in the face of several potentially disastrous sonic assaults. Another reason I'm satisfied with the Alexia and Wilson Audio. 
     
    After a solid year with the Wilson Audio Alexia Series 2 loudspeakers, I couldn't be happier with my purchase. The speakers sound as spectacular as I hoped they would, the pur sang rouge color looks as amazing today as it did one year ago, and I can sleep well knowing that Wilson and its network of dealers has me covered in the event that something happens. 
     
    I honestly have no desire or itch to upgrade or switch speakers. The Alexias are so satisfying in every way, that I wonder what took me so long to finally get into the Wilson ecosystem. Now excuse me while I put on The Raconteurs' Consolers of the Lonely. If the kick drum on this album doesn't hit one in the chest and the guitar doesn't get one going, then it may be time for a pair of Wilson speakers :~)
     
     
     

     
     
     
    Current System:
     
    Source: QNAP TVS-872XT, Aurender W20SE, CAPS 20 DAC: dCS Rossini, EMM Labs DV2, Berkeley Audio Design Alpha DAC RS3, Schiit Audio Yggdrasil D-to-D Converter: Sonore Signature Rendu SE (optical), APL HiFi DNP-SR, CAPS 20.1, Berkeley Audio Design Alpha USB Amplifiers: Constellation Audio Mono 1.0 / Monoblock Power Amplifiers Preamplifier: Constellation Audio PreAmp 1.0 Loudspeakers: Wilson Audio Alexia Series 2 Digital Signal Processing: Accurate Sound, HQPlayer Remote Control Software: Roon Remote, JRemote, Aurender Conductor Remote Control Hardware: iPad Pro Playback Software: Roon, JRiver,  Network Attached Storage (NAS): QNAP TVS-872XT Audio Cables: Transparent Audio Reference Interconnects (XLR & RCA), Transparent Audio Reference 110-Ohm AES/EBU Digital Link, Transparent Audio Reference Speaker Cables, Gotham GAC-4/1 ultraPro Balanced XLR Audio Cable (40') USB Cables: Transparent Audio Premium USB Cable Power Cables: Transparent Audio Reference Power Cables Power Isolation: one 4kVA and one 5 kVA 512 Engineering Symmetrical Power Source Ethernet Cables: Transparent Audio High Performance Ethernet Cables Fiber optic Cables: Single Mode OS1-9/125um (LC to LC) Acoustic Room Treatments: Vicoustic Diffusion and Absorption,  ATS Acoustics Bass Traps Network: Ubiquiti UniFi Switch 24, Ubiquiti UniFi Switch 8-150W x2, Ubiquiti UniFi Switch 16 XG, Ubiquiti UniFi Security Gateway Pro 4, Ubiquiti UniFi AP HD x2, UniFi FlexHD AP, Ubiquiti FC-SM-300 Fiber Optic Cable x2, UF-SM-1G-S Fiber Optic Modules x6, Commercial Grade Fiber Optic Patch Cables, Calix 716GE-I Optical Network Terminal, CenturyLink 1 Gbps download / upload
  20. Like
    PYP reacted to JoshM for an article, The Interview Series | Ken Scott   
    On a sweltering Saturday in June three years ago, I trudged across the University of Michigan’s North Campus for a conference celebrating the 50th anniversary of The Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. My wife and I were in the middle of packing up our life in Ann Arbor to move to Charlottesville, Virginia, and every bone in my body wanted to collapse on the couch that afternoon. But I wasn’t about to miss engineer and producer Ken Scott’s keynote address. 
     
    Few engineers and producers have been behind the board for so many pivotal albums or worked with such a diverse array of artists. Even the partial list of Scott’s credits is astounding: The Beatles’ A Hard Day’s Night (assistant engineer), Rubber Soul (assistant engineer), Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band (assistant engineer), and The Beatles (a.k.a. “The White Album”) (engineer); George Harrison’s All Things Must Pass (engineer); Elton John’s Madman Across the Water (mixing) and Honky Château (engineer); David Bowie’s The Man Who Sold The World (engineer), Hunky Dory, and The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars (all as co-producer with Bowie); Mahavishnu Orchestra’s Birds of Fire (engineer); Bill Cobham’s Spectrum (engineer and mixing); Supertramp’s Crime of the Century (producer and engineer); and Stanley Clarke’s School Days (producer and engineer).
     
    More than ten years before Scott’s visit to Ann Arbor, I’d missed a talk by Scott when I was an undergraduate at Ohio University. Afterwards, when I read an interview with Scott conducted by an OU audio production professor, I kicked myself. Scott was witty, informative, self-deprecating and unflinchingly honest. After that, I promised myself that I’d see Scott speak if I ever got the change again. 
     
    When Scott released his autobiography, Abbey Road to Ziggy Stardust: Off the Record with The Beatles, Bowie, Elton & So Much More (Amazon, Powells, Barnes & Noble) in 2012, I picked it up immediate. It’s no exaggeration to say that Scott’s is perhaps the best of the many memoirs released by famed pop and rock producers and engineers. With a scrupulousness missing from many autobiographies, Scott peppers his own recollections with long quotes from the artists, producers, and engineers he worked with throughout his career. For the audio geeks, Abbey Road to Ziggy Stardust includes meticulously detailed sidebars on the technical details of key recordings from Scott’s career. It is, in short, a must-read for anyone in the history of 20th century pop music, record production, or both.
     
    That Saturday in Ann Arbor, Scott didn’t disappoint. 
     
    His talk, by then perfected from presentations around the world, interwove personal anecdotes with exclusive clips from various recordings, released and unreleased, including a stunning isolated track of David Bowie’s vocal on “Five Years.” In the lobby of the lecture hall, Scott chatted amiably with all the various Beatles nerds, including me, eager to pick his brain, providing his thoughts on everything from the then-new Giles Martin remix of Pepper to the state of the recording industry.  
     
    When I began planning "The Interview Series" — Audiophile Style’s new series of interviews with artists, engineers, producers, and more —  Scott was near the top of list of interviewees. I was delighted when he agreed to talk with me. 
     
    What follows is a lightly edited transcript of our conversation.*
     
    JM: I want to start out with some broader questions and then maybe dig into some specific albums. But I also want to encourage people to read your book, which is one of my favorites. So I’m going to try to avoid having you recount things in depth that you already cover really well in your book.... 
     
    I thought I’d start with some general questions, then ask about specific albums. 
     
    One of the first things I wanted to ask you is about the character of different studios in terms of their sound. Obviously, you famously worked at Abbey Road then at Trident. I love Norman Sheffield’s book on Trident, and I think there are so many great sounds albums recorded there. You also worked at Electric Ladyland at the Château in France —  lots of historically significant studios. What do you think of as some of the essential differences in sound between those studios? What made them special?
     
    KS: In all honesty, because of the way I tend to close mic, so much stuff, it doesn’t make that much difference. Obviously, you’ll have a difference between say, number two studio at Abbey Road and a very dead studio. Like where I teach Leeds Beckett University, our main studio is very, very dead. So you could never get a massive drum sound from there for heavy metal or something like that. But for pop rock, its fine. Whereas you could get a much bigger sound in Abbey Road. But for what I do, the way I record doesn’t make that much difference. 
     
    The only time it has caused a problem [was when] I started work on the Mahavishnu Orchestra album Birds of Fire. And we started that at Trident, which was somewhat live room. And then we tried to continue at Criteria in Miami. Now Criteria was a ridiculously dead studio, which suited all of the disco stuff — the Bee Gees stuff that was being done there. It didn’t suit bands like Mahavishnu, and so we just had to pull out from there. Because I would mic up Billy Cobham’s drums and bass drums, have him hit them, and I was telling him, ‘Bill, there’s too much damping in there,’ and he told me there wasn’t any damping [in his drums]. It was the studio was so dead. It was just making the bass drum sound flat.
     
    JM: Obviously, by the ‘70s, that really dead studio sound was coming into vogue. Was that the first time you encountered that?
     
    KS: No, I think we started it over here in England, with the glam rock sound. The drum booth in Trident was very small and very dead. So in there, if you had the drums in the drum booth, you were going to get a very dead drum sound, and that’s what we got. That was the Bowie drum sound generally. That was the Elton John sound on the early stuff. For me, the change to an open drum sound came with Birds of Fire. Recording [Mahavishnu Orchestra] at Trident, Cobham’s kit was too big to fit in the drum booth. So I had to set him up in the main studio along with everyone else. That was that was a more live drum sound, and I loved it. And for certain things I kept doing it like that with that with the live drum sound. 
     
    What I found was when I started to do more work over in the States, we in England had starting to move to the more live drum sound, whereas L.A. especially was still going through the dead drum sound. I was doing an album at A&M Studio D, and Jeffrey Porcaro was the drummer. He came in with a very, very damped down drum kit to suit the L.A. dead drum sound. And I told him to take off all the damping. For a brief instant he objected, because he said, ‘It’s taken me ages to get this right.’ But he was a true professional, and he did what I asked. He took out the damping, and we got a great drum sound out of him, and he loved it. I was told by others — I have no idea if it’s true or not — but I was told by others that he went around to other studios saying, ‘You’ve got to use these mics in these positions, you’ve got to do this,’ which was exactly telling them to record his drums the way I had. But it’s all personal taste...and what you want for the music.
     
    JM: That’s an interesting story about how sounds were going in different directions in the ‘70s. Because that’s true if you think of Eagles records or things in the late ‘70s in the U.S., and then the Townhouse [Studio] drum sound, which was the total opposite by that time in the late-‘70s in England. I hadn’t really thought of it that way before.
     
    KS: Yeah, I think, up to a point, for a change, the U.S. was behind England. They caught on to the dead drum sound later, and they moved into the live drum sound later than we did over in England.
     
    JM: In your book you mentioned about “Woody” [Woodmansey], David Bowie’s drummer, complaining about his drum sound being too dead on Hunky Dory. Corn Flakes, was that the joke?
     
    KS: Yeah, he said they sounded like Corn Flakes packets. So when we started Ziggy, before he came in, I had my assistant engineer go out to a grocers and get as many different sized packets of Kellogg’s Corn Flakes as he could find. And then we set up an entire drum kit just of Corn Flakes packets.
     
    JM: Was there a transition in the Beatles recordings to when the close mic’ing became more prevalent? Because obviously with the White Album, at least to me, a signature sound of that album is that very dry sound compared to some of their previous albums.
     
    KS: Well, they transitioned so much over the over their albums. Norman Smith was a great one for changing the sound, as much as he was allowed to, each album. And he I think he was the one that started them on that route of, “We want things to be different every time.” 
     
    The first album, he wanted them to sound the way they did in a live performance. So he set them up as they would be onstage and recorded them straight like that. And it slowly changed. 
     
    The close mic’ing, you know... I’ve been looking into Ringo’s drum mic’ing over time just recently for something, and there are certain aspects of it which [were] close mic’d right from day one. This the whole big thing about the close mic’ing of the bass drum. There are pictures of Norman’s sessions where his bass drum mic is right on top — it’s so close to the bass drum. So from that aspect, he was always close mic’ing Ringo’s kit, or at least the bass drum. What did happen was we started to use more mics. Originally, Norman was just using them with the one overhead mic. Then he put in a second one, I believe, on the snare. Geoff [Emerick] then took over. He did the same thing, but then added a couple more mics for the toms. Then I came in and probably did more. 
     
    The Beatles always wanted something different every single time. So we moved from their live drum sound to Ringo having tea towels on all of the drum aids to give it a really dead sound, with a four-neck sweater and his bass drum. It was just constantly changing with them.
     
    JM: You’ve mentioned how listening to The Beatles prior to the White Album should really be done in mono. Then [there’s] the transition to stereo with them being involved in the stereo mix for the White Album. I was wondering if you could talk a little more about that? Obviously later you were involved in mixing some pretty notable albums into quad, and then even later on you remixed Bowie into surround sound. How do you think the evolution over time from mono to these multi-channel formats has changed the way you think about music and the way people listen to music?
     
    KS: Unfortunately, the way people listen to music...I’d say it’s gone down the hill, but it probably just hasn’t changed that much. We used to listen to mono records on a record player that had this small built-in speaker. And so for most people, it was adequate, let’s put it that way. I can’t say it sounded shitty, but it wasn’t great. And these days, people seem to listen to music on MP3s through earbuds, and I think that’s even a worse way of listening to it. We’re used to it, but that’s what is being mixed for these days — or computer speakers. 
    There are very few people who seem to have good stereo systems these days. And I don’t think much is actually mixed for good stereo systems because of that. 
     
    The change from mono to stereo… with regard to The Beatles, over here in England, mostly we listened to it on a small record player with one small speaker. So no one was really interested in stereo except for jazzers and the classical people. They tended to be the ones with the money, so they would splurge to get a stereo system. We were making pop records. It was for the people that didn’t have the stereo system. So we were only interested in mono, and that was the Beatles: They were only interested in mono. The stereo [releases] that came out in the States were done specifically for the States. The Beatles had absolutely nothing whatsoever to do with them. And because we’re recording to four track, the ability to do decent stereo mixes — we couldn’t.... If you record the way we were recording pop music back then, you can’t make a decent stereo mix out of four tracks. 
     
    The move to stereo came about with The Beatles more so than anything because they’d started to receive letters from fans telling them that there were differences between the monos and the stereos. A classic example of that was with “She’s Leaving Home,” where Paul always liked his vocal to be sped up a fraction. He felt it made it airier. It was slightly higher. He just he just liked that vibe. So when they mixed “She’s Leaving Home,” they sped the tape up slightly. That was the mono mix. When they came to do the stereo mix some time later, no one kept notes, so George Martin and Geoff Emerick, they forgot that they’d sped it up, and they mixed it at normal speed for stereo. So there is a big difference in pitch and tempo on “She’s Leaving Home” between the mono and the stereo. The Beatles were told about those kinds of things by the fans. And Paul said that they were interested in the stereo for the White Album because they thought they might sell twice as many records because of people wanting to find the differences. 
     
    I only ever did one I did one album in quad, and that was Stanley Clarke’s School Days. It was at a time when quad seem to be the happening thing and record companies, of course, wanted to jump on the bandwagon. They were having quick quad mixes done of some of the better selling albums. As an example, I was approached by A&M to do the quad mix of [Supertramp’s] Crime of the Century. They asked me how long it would take. I said, “Probably a couple of weeks,” and they said, “Oh, we can’t do that. We’ve got a guy here that would do it in an afternoon.” So that was the standard of quad that the record companies were going for at that point. So when it came time to do School Days, Stan and I said to Atlantic Records, “Look, all of this quad stuff is happening, but it’s all taking old stuff and mixing it again for quad. How about if we go in and we record the album’s specifically for quad? That way we can make a much better quad album, and it would be good promotion.” Atlantic jumped on board. They thought it was great. So we did everything for quad. Like with with Cobham’s drum kit — with his god knows how many tom toms he had — I’d set it up (because it was still crazy days) so whenever he played a tom fill they’d go all the way around the room. Just that that kind of thing. We were thinking ahead specifically for quad. The day we were going to master it, I got a phone call from Atlantic saying that they had changed their minds; they wanted to go in stereo. Now we’d never mixed the stereo for it. So they just say, “Oh, I’m sure you can deal with it.” So what we did, we just put the back and the front of the quad together. And that was the stereo mix. And unfortunately, no one has ever decided to put the what was the proper mix out in quad, which could easily these days be changed to surround. 
     
    JM: When I read that story in the book, I was kind of amazed, because I consider that album to be an audiophile-quality album. I never would have guessed that it was mixed in quad and then essentially folded down to stereo.
     
    KS: It works very well, didn’t it! [Laughs] It’s amazing. It astounds me as well how well it worked. Now as another example — you mentioned about surround sound — the only surround sound mix I’ve done was for Ziggy. That came about because CBS were trying their SACDs or whatever they were called back then. They were pushing it, and they were willing to spend some money. Even though it’s not an artist on their label, they could release it under this new heading. Deals were being done across the board with other labels and all that to do it. And they wanted some of Bowie’s stuff. And David was great in as much as he insisted that...if the mixing was going to be done, it had to be done by the people who did it originally. So I got to do Ziggy. Tony [Visconti] did whatever it was [he originally mixed in stereo] in surround sound. We got to work on them, which was great. It didn’t sell. 5.1 music hasn’t sold.... People are more interested in 5.1 for movies than they are for music for whatever reason. But it came time for a reissue of the Ziggy album, and of course every time they want to somehow make it different. So for this this one remaster, whatever you want to call it, reissue, they took the 5.1 that I had done, and they folded that down to stereo and said I’d done a new mix. It was awful! It didn’t work in the slightest in my estimation. I wanted my name taken off it completely. It was terrible. So in that occasion, the folding down didn’t work. School Days it certainly did.
     
    JM: I didn’t know that that, quote unquote, “new Ken Scott stereo mix” was just a fold down of your surround mix.
     
    KS: Oh, yeah, it was awful.
     
    JM: I know this is a touchy question, but do you have any thoughts that you’d want to share about the recent stereo remixes of The Beatles and where you are in terms of think thinking about the pros and cons of that project?
     
    KS: Personally, I can’t see the reason for doing it. But assuming it’s going to be done — and I have no problem with it being done if people think it’s worthwhile spending the money and doing it, let them do it, that’s fine — my one big thing is the originals always have to be available. The trouble is that on Spotify and all of these [streaming services], it’s very difficult to now go back and find the originals or know which is a [remix]. There are so many different versions of every album, not just the Beatles — of Elton’s stuff, of Bowie’s stuff, of Supertramp’s stuff.... I just want to hear how it was the day it was released, [but] it’s very difficult to get back to that.
     
    JM: No, I agree. I was kind of disappointed that on some of the recent Beatles remix reissues there weren’t just flat transfers the original stereo [mix]. I don’t know you know if you followed this, but some prog artists have had remixes where there’s a flat transfer of the original stereo mix included as part of the reissue. I was hoping the Beatles would go that way too, and it’s been kind of disappointing that they haven’t.
     
    KS: As far as they’re concerned, they’d already done that.
     
    JM: Yeah, those masters that came out [in 2009]. Digital technology, in terms of analog to digital converters, had obviously improved dramatically since the ‘80s [when the original Beatles CDs came out]. But [in 2009] they edited some little things, like John’s pickup switch click out of “I Want You” for some reason.... [Because of] things like that, I just wish they’d do a nice high dynamic range stereo remaster now that we’re another 10 plus years on with better analog to digital conversion technology, and include those as part of the [new] reissues. That’s my complaint as a fan.
     
    KS: I guess what I would say is if you’re going for vinyl, then just keep it all analog. Why do you have to go to digital to try and improve it? You should be able to do it all analog. If you’re going for CDs, or downloads, or any of that — if you’re going for digital technology — then keep that different one, the digitized one, separate from the analog one so that people can find the two and decide which one they prefer. 
     
    I’ve always said about the mono and the stereo with the Beatles that if you want to hear them the way The Beatles okayed them, then you should hear the mono. The problem was for many, many years the only things that were available were the stereo, especially in the states, which is totally wrong. So finally when the monos came out, people are blown away because...on the whole, they’re so much better. They should have been available the entire time. But record companies will do what record companies will do.
     
    JM: Well, I’m curious, in your personal listening, are you a vinyl person, a digital person, or a mix of both? What’s stereo at home look like?
     
    KS: [Laughs] I don’t have one.
     
    JM: You don’t have a stereo at home! You’re kidding?!
     
    KS: I’m not. I listened to very little.
     
    JM: Really? Why is that? Is that sort of a separation between home life and professional life? 
     
    KS: No, it’s [that] I’ve heard it all before. So much of it is that. I’ve listened to so much music in my life. It’s almost, “Okay. I’ve had enough.”
     
    JM: You don’t even have a pair of headphones and an iPod or something?
     
    KS: When I have to listen to stuff, I’ll listen to it on headphones on my computer.... Most of the time in the car, I’m just listening to a local radio station up here in Yorkshire. And they’ll play music sometimes. Sometimes it’s talk. And, yeah, I have a lot of a lot of music on my iPhone which at times I will play in the car, but I don’t listen to that much.
     
    JM: I’m curious as to which, if any, of the artists you worked with were really interested in the sound of albums in a deep way. Because I’ve heard a range of things, from artists who really couldn’t care less about how the albums sound — they themselves might not have had a stereo at home or didn’t really have any critical evaluation of how things sounded once they were done recording — to, on the other end of things, some artists who have multi-hundred thousand dollar stereo systems at home and are audiophiles themselves.
     
    KS: Going back to my heyday, I would say most of the people that I worked with didn’t have big stereo systems at home. Because if you think about it, so many of the people I worked with, it was right at the beginning of their careers. You take Bowie, he had one hit record and one hit single before I started to work with him, and we built up through four albums to the start of an incredible career. But he was seeing very little money at that point. Supertramp, they had very little money in the beginning. Elton, I guess, did. But like all of them, they had faith in who they weren’t worked with. Like, with Elton, it would be that Gus would get what was needed. If they didn’t like the final product, they’d moved to someone else for the next project. So I think that’s the way to gauge it. If they worked with someone a couple of times, they liked what they were doing. They were into the sound that that person got.
     
    JM: You worked on the TG solid state board right at the end of your time [at Abbey Road]. Then both the Sound Techniques and A Range [consoles] at Trident were solid state, too, correct?
     
    KS: Yes. 
     
    JM: How do you think that change from tube to solid state boards affected the sound of albums? You talk a little bit about it in your book, but I’d love to hear more. There are lots of stories about The Beatles being disappointed at first with how Abbey Road [the album] sounded with the new board. But in the long run, obviously, it opened up a lot of possibilities for multitrack recording, going to 16 and 24 tracks. But it’s definitely a different sound [from tube boards].
     
    KS: Yeah, the comments that we made back then [about solid state] were the same as the comments we made when we started to move over to digital [from analog]. It was that analog was much warmer — it  felt more musical, whereas digital was cold and harsh. Same [comments]. Slowly but surely, digital has improved. The quality of digital has improved. Plus, we’ve gotten more used to how to work with it. And it was much the same with tubes versus solid state. It was that the tube [gear] was definitely much warmer, and more musical, whatever that means. And so solid state, it felt harsh, it felt cold. But we got used to how to work with it and proceeded from there. It’s just a question of getting used to what you’re dealing with.... 
     
    I always say that the most important thing in the studio are the monitors. You can have the crappiest gear in the world and still come out with great sounds if you know what you’re listening to. But if the monitors are bad, everything else can be the best gear in the world, and you’ll still come out with something sounding shitty.
     
    JM: That relates to the “Hey Jude” story you tell [in the book] about how the early monitors at Trident exaggerated how things sounded on the top end.
     
    KS: Yes. That’s exactly that. That was the whole thing. The studio monitors were hyped so that they sounded fucking amazing in the control room, but they didn’t sound that good when you got them out. Whereas at Abbey Road, it was the complete opposite. The monitors that we had there were shitty, but we knew them, because they were all over...and we knew that once we got a good sound out of those speakers, the Altecs...it would sound amazing everywhere else.
     
    JM: If it’s okay, I’d like to ask about some specific albums.
     
    KS: Go ahead.
     
    JM: You didn’t write very much about The Jeff Beck Group’s Truth album in your book, but it’s an album I love. I remember my dad gave me a CD of it when I was, like, 13 or so for Christmas, and I wore it out. I just think it’s a great sounding album, even now. I wonder if you have any more thoughts about the experience of recording it, particularly with the people in that group (right) before they became famous, like Rod Stewart?
    KS: We had fun. It was great. It was a young band that were all really good at what they did. We worked, we had fun, and we it was done very quickly. 
     
    The interesting thing for me is that the producer was supposedly Mickie Most. But Mickey was never there during any of the recording. He was only there for the mixing, and the person that was there for the entire recording was his assistant, a gentleman by the name of Peter Grant that went on to manage, and helped form, Led Zeppelin. A lot of people have said that...Led Zeppelin was just the next step [in sound] from the Truth album.
     
    JM: Honestly, I can hear that. The sound of that album is so huge, and it has that feel that I think the early Led Zeppelin albums seemed to be trying to recapture or emulate. 
     
    KS: Yeah. There’s not much more to say other than it was fun. None of them had egos at that point, because they weren’t known. So it was fun. It was after the album had been released, and they played the States, where they believed all of the hype that followed them around in the States. And they came back in to do the next album, and the egos were through the roof. So we ended up not working together for very long.
     
    JM: But then, of course, you got to work with Jeff Beck at different points later in his career.
     
    KS: Oh, yeah. I’ve seen him as the normal guy, the tremendous ego, back to the normal guy, to no ego whatsoever, in fact, the complete opposite — not thinking he’s good enough to play with the musicians he’s playing with — back to being a normal guy. And being brilliant the entire time through all of those phases.
     
    JM: Honestly, he’s probably my favorite of all of the guitarists from The Yardbirds. He’s so unique sounding. You never will mistake a Jeff Beck guitar line for someone else or vice versa.
     
    KS: Yeah, and there’s also the thing that he’s experimented. He’s moved through different styles of music. Where you take Clapton, and he has tended to stay very straightforward in style. So you always know it’s Clapton. Jimmy Page, I don’t know much of what he’s done other than Zeppelin. I know he’s done other things, but I haven’t heard them. So I don’t know how much he experimented. But I know that Jeff has done an awful lot of different things. I love him for that.
     
    JM: Well, of course, I want to ask about All Things Must Pass. What was it like going quickly from interacting with Peter Grant to interacting with Phil Spector? And [can you tell me about] also working with George later on the reissue and the discussion of potentially de-“Spectorizing” All Things Must Pass at some point?
     
    KS: Phil Spector, I had very little dealings with, luckily, because the basic tracks which he was around for were done at EMI by Phil McDonald. Then, because they were still only eight track at Abbey Road, they came to Trident, which was 16 track, and I did a lot of overdubs and mixing. So for the overdubs and all of that. Phil wasn’t around at all. It was [just] George and I, basically. 
     
    Then when it came time to mix, George and I would start at maybe two o’clock in the afternoon. Phil [Spector] would come by 7:30, eight o’clock — round about dinnertime — listen to what we’d got [and] make some comments. If we agreed with them, we’d put them into the mix. If we didn’t, we wouldn’t. He would go, then we’d finish the mix. George would go. I’d set up for the next day. He’d come in [the next day], and we’d started again at 2:00. The same thing [again]. Phil would come in at about dinnertime, pass his comments, we’d do the next one. So the interaction with Phil wasn’t that much for me with All Things Must Pass. 
     
    With regard to getting back to working with George again later, it was just...that was such a blessing. Because he was such an amazing guy. He was a sweetheart. He was one of the funniest people I’ve ever met. And it was great. 
     
    When we were going to deal with the reissue of All Things Must Pass — I believe was the first CD version of it — the first thing we did was we sit down in his studio at Friar Park, at his desk, listening to the original album. Within a very short period of time, we just looked at each other and burst out laughing. And that was for two reasons: One, we couldn’t believe that we were both sitting there in exactly the same positions, listening to the same album that we’d done god knows how many years before. And the other thing was just how much reverb there was. We’d both moved away a lot from reverb. George more than me. George hated reverb at that point. And just there was so much of it was it was hysterical. 
     
    So we discussed the possibility of remixing it all without all of that reverb and that kind of thing. Unfortunately, the record company said, “No. We’re reissuing it in exactly the same way as it was before. It’s a great idea. But that on down the road.” Of course, George dies, and we never get to do it. My hope is that it won’t be done without George’s participations, which means it will never be done. 
     
    I have a feeling that pulling off all of the reverb is going to show some things that... It would be better they’re not heard.... We spoke about the mono and the stereo... [and] when you record something for mono — even the White Album, which we knew they were going to be part of the stereo mixes — we only ever monitored in mono. So we heard everything [in mono]. And there are errors that don’t show up when you’re listening to it all coming out from one speaker, mostly timing things. When it’s all together, you don’t notice timing things quite so much. When things are split, so you have drums on one side and the tambourine or claps on the other side, you hear where those claps or tambourine go slightly out with the drums. But when they’re together you don’t. I have a feeling that all of the reverb is going there, not specifically to hide those kinds of differences, but it certainly does make it so they’re not as noticeable. I think if you take that reverb off, those kinds of problems will be more noticeable, and I don’t know that it would be a good thing.
     
    JM: I also love the Procol Harum album you worked on [A Salty Dog]. You talk about it briefly in the book, but I was wondering if you could talk a little bit more about that? I like that album partly because it sounds so much better than some of the previous Procol Harum albums. I’m wondering how you got that sound, what your experience was on that album, and what you think of it today?
     
    KS: How I got that sound? The way I always get sounds. My mic technique, the whole thing, hasn’t changed in decades. And the mics I used back then, I still tend to use most of them today. 
     
    One of the problems is [that the album was] done so long ago there aren’t many specific memories of a lot of it, because it was so much a day in the office. It sounds terrible. And I hate saying that. But that’s the way it is. You’re in the studio every single day. Sessions tend to roll into the other sessions. So...we had a lot of fun. It was great doing it. 
     
    Actually, the title track, “A Salty Dog,” I think is one of the best things I’ve ever recorded. I love the sound of it, I love the music of it, [and] the whole thing about it. It works so amazingly well. And that was on the TG desk. That was a very short time after moving from the REDD tube desks to the solid state TG. And it worked! 
     
    That’s the strange thing for me. We bitched like mad about the solid state desks. “They’re not as good as the tube,” or that kind of thing. But then you look back at what was made on that TG desk very shortly after it was put in: There’s that [A Salty Dog], which to me is one of my best record recordings ever. You’ve got Abbey Road, which sounds amazing. You’ve got Dark Side of the Moon, which was amazing. How much better they would have been through a REDD desk? I can’t see how much better they could have been. So it’s just that at that time we hated it. We thought it sounded terrible..
     
    JM: As you said, it seems like that’s kind of an allegory for technological progress in general and immediate reactions to it. 
     
    KS: Yeah. 
     
    JM: I’d like to ask you more in-depth about Ziggy Stardust. It seems like you have a lot more memories of that. I remember when I saw you give your talk in Ann Arbor, you had the amazing isolated vocal from “Five Years,” which is probably my favorite Bowie song in his whole catalogue. That that was really astounding hearing that isolated vocal, and I think one thing that stood out reading your book is that I always have thought of Bowie as someone who really crafts things in the studio. But finding out [from your book] that most of his vocal takes are first takes with a few exceptions...that was that was pretty astounding. Really, the whole sound of that Ziggy Stardust album I think holds up today. So I’d love to hear your memories of recoding that. I’d also like to hear more about your thoughts on Mick Ronson, who I think is underrated. He did such great stuff with Bowie and then on [other artists’] subsequent albums.
     
    KS: Ronno was great. I don’t think David would have had that initial success without Ronno being a part of it all. 
     
    David was very good at picking teams, is the way I look at it. The team that he put together for the Ziggy era worked perfectly — between Ronno, Trevor Boulder, Woody, and myself. We were all in the same headspace. He changed the team slightly between Hunky Dory and Aladdin Sane by the different keyboard players. Bringing in the different keyboard players affected us as a team, and we all sort of went in the same direction. Then when he wanted to change his sound, he very briefly tried it with, not quite that team, but almost that team, and it wasn’t working. So he knew that the way to get what he was after was to use American musicians, because that’s what he wanted — that more American sound. He just kept on putting teams together for groups of albums. 
     
    Whilst he was, if you want to call them characters, personas, whatever it was, whatever style he was in at any given time, he would find the right team to put that across. And he trusted everyone implicitly, because he put them together so well. He knew.... “I’ll teach them the basics of the song and everyone can do what they want,” knowing that they would want to do it in the way he wanted it.... He was completely open to whatever we wanted to do 92% of the time. So that that was amazing working with him. 
     
    His vocal performances were astounding. I’ve never come across anyone quite as good as him for that. 
     
    We made records really fast back then. So there’s very few stories to tell because we were working. We were having fun working, but it was it was working. We’d go in at midday — two o’clock, whatever — and go until we finished any given day. Ziggy took maximum two weeks recording, and then I took a week to mix it.
     
    JM: You were pretty much delegated, with both Hunky Dory and Ziggy, with mixing on your own?
     
    KS: All four that I did with him, yeah.
     
    JM: Did you ever get much feedback from Bowie? Or you had his trust...and you just went ahead and mixed it while he was already off to the next thing? 
     
    KS: Basically, yes. We never discussed any of it. I figured at the time, if he liked what I did, then I’d be doing the next one. So I guess after Pin Ups, he didn’t like what I did [laughs]. So he moved on. Now we  did try it a little bit more — that’s what I saying [earlier] about the American thing. We recorded something that was for the next album, Diamond Dogs. It was a track called “1984/Dodo.” It was two songs put together. We recorded that and that was one of the only two mixes [Bowie attended]. He came to “Lady Grinning Soul,” off of Aladdin Sane, and he came to the mix of “1984/Dodo.” One of the things was, while we were mixing that track, he kept on wanting it to sound more Barry White [and] Philadelphia. He wanted that American sound. So it was obvious at that point that he was already heading in that direction. And I couldn’t give it to him. So he moved on. Now Diamond Dogs, he tried to do himself. It didn’t work. He couldn’t mix it. So he called Tony [Visconti] in to mix it, and then he did the American thing. But, yeah, we never discussed anything.
     
    JM: With Elton John, you first were brought on to mix the Madman Across the Water album. What was it like coming in to mix this album that you weren’t involved with — obviously, an album that was kind of a breakthrough album for him?
     
    KS: It was tough because [of] everything surrounding it. Because Robin [Geoffrey Cable], who was a good friend, we didn’t know if he was going to live or not and what he’d be like if he did live. [Cable was in a serious car accident that hospitalized him during the making of Madman.] So on top of suddenly coming into something you haven’t worked on, it was recorded by a friend of yours who you don’t know if he’s gonna live or die or whatever. There you are trying to mix it. It was it was rough. It was it was rough. For both Gus and I — and the assistants that we had. It was tough for all of us. But it had to be done. Commerce always wins out. So we had to do it, and we got through it.
     
    JM: Do you have any memories of mixing the album? Were you left pretty much on your own mixing that one?
     
    KS: That was all done... before I ever worked with Bowie. So... for me, it was it was back in the all-hands-on-deck time. Gus, I think, always used to look after the bass and drums and maybe a guitar or two. I’d look after the vocals, the orchestra, piano, [and] maybe some guitars and other things. And then every now and again the assistant engineer would lean over, and he’d turned some knobs and everything. It was a performance. Every mix was a performance, and it was just finding the best performance from all of us.
     
    JM: What was it like working with Gus on the albums going forward with Elton John? I think those early-to-mid-’70s albums of his sound so great. You talk a little bit in the book about working really hard to keep a consistent piano sound from Trident to the Château, and I think those albums all stand up as, for lack of a better word, audiophile albums and some of the best sounding albums from that era.
     
    KS: Well, that’s nice. Thank you. We were just doing what we what we did. Gus and I had worked together at Abbey Road, and it was it was Gus that suggested that I go to work at Trident. The person that he worked with as an engineer, Barry Sheffield, was one of the owners of the studio, and he wanted to move out of engineering and get more into the managerial side. So Gus thought it would be a good idea [for me to come to Trident]. We already worked together and gon on well together. “Get Ken down to Trident, and I’ve already got someone I can work with straight off.”…
     
    One of the one of the things back then [is that] there was no second guessing anywhere along the line.... I never saw someone from a record company — an A&R guy or anything like that — come along to a session until the mid-’80s. Then they’d come along, and they’d start to nitpick and [say] “Change this. Do that.” Suddenly it all started to fall apart a little. Back then [in the 1970s] the record company had total faith in the talent that they had signed. So we didn’t see anyone from the record company. 
     
    The artists had complete faith in the producer and engineer that they were working with. Elton never came along to any of the mixes. He’d come along eventually, so we could play him a bunch of them. But he didn’t come along to any of the mixes. 
     
    When we were recording, he would be there for the basic track, playing the piano as he had to, then he’d disappear. We wouldn’t see him until we need him for the vocals. Everything else was done with Gus, the members of the band, and myself. There was that complete faith that was there. No second guessing. Everyone knew and trusted that everyone would do the best they could and make it a great album. 
     
    And do it quickly! We had to work quickly back then. So there was no time to second guess [or] look up the whole time and [say], “Oh, you know, what? Can we have the hi hat, half a dB louder in the third verse?” It makes fuck all the difference! I’m sorry. We did a mix. That’s it. Move on. Boom. I think that there’s a spontaneity to what we used to do that isn’t there today. And it’s what makes [the older recordings] feel human. That’s why they’re still so popular today.
     
    JM: Yeah, you mentioned in your book that in some ways you think that the limits of four tracks and trying to put out two albums a year forced a lot of creativity that got lost as technology allowed for more tracks and as budgets allowed for taking years and years between albums.
     
    KS: It’s not so much that technology has changed anything. It’s the effect that technology has had on us. We used to control technology. We controlled it because we had to find the things. It wasn’t there at the push of a button. We had to find out. Ken Townsend had to invent automatic double tracking (ADT), flanging, and phasing. We had to find things. So we were, as such, in control of the situation. 
     
    Nowadays, technology is in control of us. It starts in everyday life with just a cell phone.... When I was growing up, we didn’t have a phone. If I wanted to make a phone call to my girlfriend, I’d have to go a couple of blocks away to the phone box to do it. Now we’re linked them. Soon, they’re just going be implanted in our fucking heads. We can’t get away from them. It’s 24/7, and it’s having an effect on life in general. And, for me personally, definitely within music production. 
     
    You can change everything [now in music], and what that’s leading to is no one wants to make a decision. It’s along the lines of...there was one band that I did a little work with — I can’t remember who it was — but I remember that each member of the band brought their own home speakers in to listen to a mix. And obviously, on every fucking set of speakers, it sounded different. “On that one, it needs a little more bass.” “On that one, we need more high end.” Just like that. No one could make a decision. You listen to it on one source that you know, make the decision, that’s how it should sound. And from then on, you know it’s going to [sound] different everywhere else. So you just have to accept that you can’t get it right for everyone.
     
    JM: What are the pros and cons of technology allowing for home recording and that becoming the way that a lot of chart-topping albums are being recorded? Not to make the question leading, but I think on the one hand, you can see that technology allowing for more spontaneity. On the other hand, the role of producers and engineers and people who can be outside, objective sounding boards or who know how to get albums to sound like they weren’t recorded in a living room has declined. Obviously, that shift has gone along with streaming and how that’s upended the economics of the industry. Do you see this increase in home recording as a good thing that could lead to more spontaneity? Or do you think that —  because it’s reducing the role of producers and because it’s a reflection of the changing economics of the industry — it’s a net negative?
     
    KS: As far as I’m concerned, the technology that’s allowed people to record at home has produced some talents that would never ever have got heard the old way. It’s also produced a lot of people that should never have been heard in the first place. So, there’s always pros and cons to everything. 
     
    I don’t think that there are many people on this planet that can produce themselves. I think that everyone needs the outside ear. Singers always think they can do better. And maybe they can. But at some point in time, you have to say, “Enough is enough! It’s perfect for now.” When I did Crime of the Century, the Supertramp album, I thought it was the best I could ever do. I had achieved my perfection. But eventually I heard it, and [I thought], “Why did I have that drum sound there? It could have been much better if it was [different].”  And as soon as I started to find one fault with it, I found lots of faults with it. They weren’t faults, they were just changes in my mind of things that I liked. And it’s always going to be like that. A singer, no matter if they do a performance, and they think, “Oh, that’s perfect!” Four days later, four weeks later, they’re gonna listen to it [and say], “Oh, God, I could have done that bit so much better.” There is no such thing as perfection. You’ve just gotta know when to say enough is enough. And that’s what the outside ear will quite often do. It’s there to say, “You’re not going to you’re not going to get it any better now. It’s perfect for everyone out there. Let’s call it quits on that and let’s move on.” 
     
    Without that, people just keep on going back and changing this and changing that. And I know from the students that I lecture and listen to what they do. So often, the first mix that they come with...is the best one. They’ll go back home, and they’ll change a little here, a little there. And they’ll start to lose some of the best parts of it. Until eventually after they’ve gone back and revisited it 15 times, it sounds like crap. Being able to go back and change things isn’t necessarily for the best.
     
    JM: I have one last question. I love the Mahavishnu Orchestra, Bill Cobham, and Stanley Clark albums that you worked on, particularly Birds of Fire, Spectrum, and the self-titled Stanley Clarke album. You mentioned School Days a little bit earlier, but I was wondering if you could reflect on how recording that type of [jazz fusion] music was different from recording some of the pop albums? Thinking in terms of audiophile or audio nerd albums — stereo audition albums — those albums that you recorded are the ones that I think a lot of people use to see how good a piece of equipment sounds, because they’re such fantastically recorded albums.
     
    KS: Yeah, I’ve had an interesting career, haven’t I? [Laughts] And, you know what the interesting thing is? Everything I’ve recorded, I did exactly the same way, from a technical aspect.  I used exactly the same mics on Cobham as I used on “Woody” Woodmansey. I just used more of them, because [Cobham’s] kit was bigger. 
     
    Having come from working with The Beatles on four track, we had to get the sound in the studio, because the REDD desk [gave us] so little control over the sound. Everything had to start in the studio. The performance had to come from the studio. The sound had to come from the studio. That’s where it all happened. And I’m still very much a firm believer in that. 
     
    To me, the person in the control room is there to add the icing on the cake. Everything else starts and ends in the studio. That’s the way it was being able to move from Ziggy Stardust to Birds of Fire to Devo. I did exactly the same [things]. What did change were the musicians, what they played, their instruments, and how their instrument sounded. That’s what made the difference everything else was exactly the same for me.
     
    JM: Is it strange when nerds like me — people who analyze these recordings in depth — ask you about minute things that you did years and years later? Are you sometimes baffled? I don’t know if you’ve that Simpsons episode where there’s the [Itchy and Scratchy] convention and all the nerds are asking [the show’s creators] about minute things in the episodes [and the creators get frustrated]. Do you ever think, “Why are people analyzing this thing I did 40 years ago very quickly?”
     
    KS: It’s cyclical for me. Sometimes it’s amazing, it blows me away, [and] it makes me so proud. There are other days of, “Oh, fuck off please. Enough is enough.” It’s it depends on my mood at any given time. 
     
    I used to hate to talk about records I’d done in the past. I was always very much on to the next project, onto the next project. It wasn’t ‘til getting back together with George and also doing the surround sound of Ziggy that suddenly my past was my present again. Also someone that I used to work with at Abbey Road said, “Do you remember all of the stories that we used to hear when we first started from the old timers?” I said, “Yeah, they were amazing. It was incredible!” And he then said, “Well, we’ve now become them. The kids want to hear our stories.” And that...started me thinking more about what I done, and that people were interested in it. So that started me on this whole talk thing [and] teaching thing. 
     
    I’ve had an amazing life more than I could ever, ever have imagined it to be. And a lot of that is thanks to EMI recording studios...taking me on as a naïve 16 year old, the training that I got there, and the people I worked with allowing me the freedom to experiment to find what worked for me — and ultimately what worked for them. It’s just been amazing. 
     
    So at times, [the questions] can get a little bit too much for me. But most of the time, I’m pleased to pass on as much as I can [about] what it used to be like [and] how we did things, because we are losing so much of it these days. 
     
    One of the things I always try and pass on to the students these days is, “Don’t do a mix looking at the computer monitor. Listen to the mix. Cover up the computer monitor.” Because no one buys a record because of the way it looks [on a screen]. They buy it because of the way it sounds. That’s what you should be going with. And there was a student who came up to me next semester saying, “You know, when I was your lecture last year, you said about covering up the computer monitor. I started to do it, and my mixes are so much better now.” And it’s that kind of thing. Anything I can impart to take it back to what it should be — listening, not watching, the entire time. Don’t just push a button to get something to happen. Work at it. Get a fucking good singer. Don’t get some lame artists that you have to Auto-Tune the whole thing. It’s trying to push what it used to be like. We can still keep a lot of what used to be like with modern technology, and I think it would be even better, I think. 
     
    That’s why I do what I do these days and why most of the time I’m okay with it.
     
     
     
     
    * Mostly, I removed verbal tics (especially my newly discovered predilection for “you know”) and repetition. In a few instances, questions and responses were rearranged to provide for greater flow, provided that doing so didn’t interfere with the original meaning.  
     
     
     
     
     
    About The Author

    Josh Mound has been an audiophile since age 14, when his father played Spirit's "Natures Way" through his Boston Acoustics floorstanders and told Josh to listen closely. Since then, Josh has listened to lots of music, owned lots of gear, and done lots of book learnin'. He's written about music for publications like Filter and Under the Radar and about politics for publications like New Republic, Jacobin, and Dissent. Josh is currently a postdoctoral fellow at the University of Virginia, where he teaches classes on modern U.S. politics and the history of popular music. He lives in Charlottesville, Virginia, with his wife and two cats.
  21. Thanks
    PYP reacted to The Computer Audiophile for an article, Meet The Audiophile Style Community | Volume 8   
    Welcome to the eighth installment of our Meet the Audiophile Style Community series. All previous installments can be found here, in the series index.
     
    Please send me a message or email if you'd like to participate. The response so far has been wonderful. It ranges from hardcore audiophiles to those who are more interested in numbers and graphs, and even people in the industry are eager to participate. This series is all about getting to know everyone and sharing a bit about yourself that others will find interesting. 
     
    Thanks for participating. I look forward to publishing more of these in the coming weeks. 
     
    Thanks to Audiophile Style community member @barrows for participating in volume eight of this series. I love reading this stuff even more than publishing it. As I say to myself after reading each one of these, you guys are so much more interesting than me :~)
     
     
     
    1. General area of the world in which you live?

    At 9,300 feet, above Boulder, CO
     
     
    2. General description of what you do or did for a living?
     
    Currently, Product Development/Build Consultant with Sonore.  Last actual "employee" position was as Customer Service Manager at PS Audio.  Most experience prior to that was in small businesses which produced specialized products in other areas of my interest.
     
     
    3. What are your hobbies?
     
    Besides audio...  I was a dedicated climber, including rock, ice, and alpine mountaineering (mostly retired from these activities) and I am still a dedicated (formerly sponsored) snowboarder, specializing in backcountry split boarding and snowboard mountaineering.  I also love Mountain Biking (formerly MTB racing).  Due to an impending surgery (now delayed due to Corona) these activities are on hold and I have been attempting to play bass a bit (NS Omni Bass), but I suck at music, still a fun challenge though.  I find through all of these activities I am seeking a similar experience, a heightened state of awareness and a connection with the unknown/unknowable.  Love drinking Etoile with my girlfriend and listening to music as well.
     
     
    4. When did you start this wonderful journey into music listening?

    Been an audiophile/or music lover since High School, my Father and Uncle were both audiophiles, so I was kind of raised into it.  Names like Dynaco, Quad, AR, Dahlquist, and glowing tubes were common to me from pretty far back.
     
     
    5. What was your first “album?”
     
    Led Zeppelin III, given to me for my birthday by my best friend at the time, I suspect this was near to its release date, I was kid.
     
     
    6. What does your music collection look like, number of physical records, CDs, etc... and number of “favorited” albums streamed?
     
    I probably have around 700-800 CDs, and lots more downloads.  My collection is not huge, as I prefer to get in deep to the music I like, but I am always looking for new things which might peak my interest, especially world music hybrids, and interesting Prog Rock and Jazz.  I try to get hi res and DSD when I can.
     
    I ditched my LPs many years ago, as I was living a nomadic life for years after college, and the LPs got too hard to keep in my car.  I have started occasionally purchasing LPs now for collecting (I have no turntable), and I romanticize about having a turntable set up when I have more time in "retirement", if that is ever going to be a thing...
     
     
    7. What was your first audio component / stereo?
     
    My fourth form year at prep school, I received a stereo set up for Christmas.  Both my Dad and Uncle were audiophiles, so I got a handed down Dynaco SS amp and preamp from my father, and a Technics direct drive turntable (unknown cartridge, but likely decent) from my Uncle.  These were paired with small Braun bookshelf speakers.  The following year I went to the HiFi store with my DAD and listened to bunch of speakers.  I ended up with Cizek speakers were quite good for the time, two ways, with a 10" woofer and a ~1" soft dome tweeter.
     
     
    8. Is there one component that you no longer have that you wish you wouldn’t have sold or that you wish you still had?
     
    Nah, not really.
     
     
    9. Is there one current component that you wish you had in your system?
     
    That's easy: Vivid Audio G 2s, wish i could afford them, but I work in high end audio...
     
     
    10. How much time do you spend listening to music each week and on which systems does this listening take place (main system, car system, mobile system, office system, etc...)?
     
    I work from home, and listen to music from the main system a lot of that time, but I try to reserve at least an hour every day for close listening to at least a single full album with no distractions, that would be pleasure listening rather than for evaluating the system or testing stuff...  I have a separate moderate system in my bedroom with the TV, but that gets a lot less use-movies, concert films, etc.
     
     
    11. What’s the first concert you ever attended, best concert you’ve ever attended, most interesting concert venue you’ve ever attended?
     
    Wow, big question...
     
    First: Emerson, Lake & Palmer, @ Princeton University, front row center!
     
    Best: I need to list a few:  Yes @ Madison Square Garden ~77, King Crimson somewhere in LA, ~81, Pat Metheny Group, Radio City Music Hall (NYC), Travels tour with Nano Vasconceles, Yes, on the "Masterworks" tour, Denver (had an out of body experience at this one, no drugs or alcohol involved), almost anytime I saw John McLaughlin, acoustic or electric, with his recent retirement tour being specially memorable.  Peter Gabriel, Secret World tour, Denver, King Crimson, Denver, 2019.
     
    Talking Heads, Speaking in Tongues Tour, somewhere in LA with an open floor-this was notable as it was just before the movie was made at the Pantages Theater, compared to the restrained performance in the film, it was clear the Heads were kicking out the cobwebs from a long bout of touring, this turned into a massive funk dance party, with the band doing tons of extended soloing and jamming...
    There are many more good ones...
     
    Venues: Boulder Theater, CO, Red Rocks (if you get close enough to avoid the massive reflection problem), Greek Theater, LA, The Roxy, LA
     
     
    12. What components are in your current audio systems and can you provide a photo?


     
    Loudspeakers: Focus Audio FS-888 Signatures, with slight capacitor mods Amp: DIY Hypex NC-400, currently building a Purifi based amp DACs: Bricasti M3, DIY ESS 9038 based, DIY DSC-2 (balanced), Topping D-90 Source: Sonore Signature Rendu SEoptical Rack: DIY with bamboo shelving on a maple frame, shelves damped by sobothane Cables: Iconoclast 4x4 OCC XLR cables, Iconoclast SPTPC speaker cables, Nordost Tyr USB- DIY power cabling Power Conditioning: DIY passive parallel line conditioner with Dark Matter and Oiyade R1 outlets Accessories: Synergistic Orange fuses, Hi Fi tuning Supreme Cu fuses (amp), Stillpoints minis (Rendu) Subwoofer: JL Audio E-112
       
     
     
     
     
    13. Anything else you’d like to say?
     
    Hey folks, can we all forget about all the nonsense and division caused by the so-called objective/subjective debate?  Can we at least try?  Are we not all looking for a similar thing, to enjoy recorded music playback in our homes?  Indeed this is a subjective experience, and indeed the development of audio components requires an objective element to design together with both objective and subjective evaluation.  it is all comes together for me, I want to be transported into the music, and I find the labelling and dichotomy counter to that experience, seeking connection. 
     
     
     
  22. Upvote
    PYP reacted to The Computer Audiophile for an article, CAPS Twenty | Part Two   
    The CAPS Twenty project is finally complete! In Part One I covered the lower powered audio endpoint called CAPS Twenty.One. Now, the high power music server, called CAPS Twenty is ready for its public debut. This has been quite the journey, working with people from all over the world, just as I did on CAPS Twenty.One. It was the most challenging build I've ever completed, by a long shot. There are zero step by steps guides on how to create something like this. One just has to dig in, call on friends for help when stuck, and find creative solutions to the challenges that pop up. Building CAPS Twenty was nerve wracking, but in the end it was totally worth it. I love doing this stuff and hope the Audiophile Style Community gets as much enjoyment out of reading about the project as I did putting it together. 
     
    Just like in Part One, CAPS Twenty information will be in both written and video form. The written articles will cover much more ground than the videos and will be open for discussions. There may be a tidbit or two from off the cuff comments in the videos that don't make the written text, but I will do my best to include it all right here. 
     
    I would love nothing more than for readers to sit back, adjust the volume on their stereos or headphones, tune out the world for a few minutes, and enjoy this article. 
     
    And away we go
     
     
    First A Note of Thanks
     
    This CAPS project is like no previous CAPS project in that it has been a global effort. Individuals and companies from around the world have provided expertise, hardware, software, and monetary contributions to support the project. Without this global support CAPS Twenty wouldn't exist. 
     
    When I contacted each of these companies, they completely got it. What I mean is that they understood the CAPS project, saw how they could help, realized that this project is something quite different from the norm, and jumped at the chance. I'm immensely grateful for their support.
     
    Please consider each of these supporters / sponsors as you think about your next purchases. 
     
     
      
      
      

     
     
     
     
    CAPS Twenty Full Video
     
     
     
     
     

    What's in a Name - CAPS
     
    In late 2009 / early 2010 I developed a "tiny" music server. I showed the original design to an industry friend and he responded by saying it was so small it could fit in one's pocket. "It's a pocket server." He said. Thus, the name Computer Audiophile Pocket Server (CAPS) was born. We are no longer Computer Audiophile and the sever isn't pocket sized, but the name isn't going anywhere.
     
     
    Why Build It?
     
    Understanding why I came up with a new CAPS design may help some members of this community either avoid the project or jump in with both feet. It all started with me dipping my toes back into the world of Jussi Laako's HQPlayer, the incredibly advanced digital signal processing (DSP) application. I was evaluating a couple DACs that could handle very high rates of native DSD content, but I couldn't get any of my existing audio endpoints to work perfectly with the DACs. I often heard loud noises, pops, and much of the time the DACs were just not recognized by the audio devices. I also needed a server powerful enough to run whichever HQPlayer filters and modulators I wanted to use at the time. I needed a solution to these issues, so I decided it was time for a new CAPS, two PC design. 
     
    This is the crux of CAPS designs. Filling a void in the marketplace. The original CAPS servers were built because we had very few options from HiFi manufacturers at the time. I'm 100% uninterested in producing a CAPS design that competes with existing products from HiFi manufacturers. Those guys do this day-in/day-out and build amazing products that we could've only dreamt of back in the day. 
     
    As you will see in this CAPS design, buying an off the shelf product from a HiFi manufacturer will be much easier and may sound much better to your ears. I make no claims that CAPS Twenty is the best sounding system. In fact, if there was more Linux support for native DSD playback with HiFi DACs, and more very high power music server options, I would've never gone down this path.  
     
    The other factor that pushed me to do another CAPS design was the thriving community of people who like to put music servers together from scratch. This group of people knows more than I ever will about chipsets, processors, PCIe lanes, and much more. There are also less savvy members of the community who want a little more direction and help selecting which parts to use in such a server. Both of these groups will enjoy the CAPS Twenty project.

    A couple last notes. 
     
    One - Over the years I've discovered that CAPS designs push people in two directions. One group of people reads about it and enjoys putting the server together. The other group reads about it and solidifies their belief that this is the farthest thing from having fun or enjoying music. Either way, I completely understand the points of view and enjoy seeing both groups of people around here daily. Heck, I fall into both camps from time to time. I use everything from ground up PC builds to turnkey music servers. It's all good and there are many roads leading to Rome. 
     
    Two - The CAPS Twenty system will work exactly as described as long as it's built exactly as described. One of the things I want to do with CAPS is show a proven design that can guarantee a specific outcome. HQPlayer can require a powerful PC for some of its DSP options. I know many people want to know if filter ABC works with modulator XYZ, before they purchase new hardware, etc... There are tons of options that could be used and I'm sure most are wonderful. I just can't give a thumbs up or down to design changes because I haven't tested them. Feel free to copy this design word for word or chart your own course. Just make sure to have fun doing it and share the outcome with everyone else who may learn from your experience or trial and error.
     

    CAPS Twenty, What is it?
     
    CAPS Twenty is a two PC system. One PC is the server and the other is the audio endpoint. The official names are as follows.
     
    CAPS Twenty - The high horsepower server covered int his article.
     
    CAPS Twenty.One - Pronounced twenty point one like a 5.1 multi-channel audio system, this is the audio endpoint covered in Part One.
     
     

    Hardware
     
    Case - The foundation of the CAPS Twenty build is the limited edition XFORMA MBX MKII computer case. It's a case like nothing else on the market, designed by master craftsmen with incredible attention to detail. This case is truly in a class with the highest of high end audio components for which Audiophile Style readers are familiar. I wanted to build a PC using this case since I first heard about it in 2014. Unfortunately life got in the way and I'd forgotten about the MBX MKII until something sparked my memory while researching which case to use for the CAPS Twenty build. 
     
    The MBX MKII features an all aluminum design with custom everything. Yes, I mean custom everything, like HiFi components from Nagra, Constellation Audio, or EMM Labs among many others. I'm not sure how many readers have investigated PC cases over the years, but trust me when I say that almost all are made from fairly cheap plastic or contain many plastic parts. The MBX MKII case by itself weighs 37.5 lbs and the 134 page owners guide "weighs" 55MB! Also in true audiophile style, the MBX MKII ships with three pairs of white gloves, to be worn during installation, to avoid finger prints. 
     
    Everything about the MBX MKII is over the top, but in a good way. It's all about form meeting function as opposed to a design that looks stunning but is unusable in the real world. The designers of this case thought through everything. During the build process I found holes, slots, and ports in perfect places for routing cables and for eliminating cables entirely. The 8mm solid aluminum sliding motherboard tray made the initial setup a breeze. This tray has machined out areas for the limited edition logo plate (mine is number 124), and vertically adjustable floating reservoir holder mounts. That may not mean much to people right now, but those who proceed with this build will understand just how handy and cool this is, as soon as they start working on it. 
     
    The modular internal front structure of the MBX MKII is pure genius. Printed circuit boards enable one to connect six hard drives without cables and the optical drive with hidden cabling. Connecting these drives to the motherboard is done with a direct path from the printed boards to the MB ports in an absolutely beautiful design for cable management. As you can see in the CAPS Twenty build, there are two SATA cables, one for optical and one for a spinning drive, that are nearly invisible. Once spotted, the cables look like a work of art rather than a rats nest. I must also mention the solid aluminum HDD and SSD drive sleds. These things are heavy and feel like they come from an M4 Sherman Tank. 
     
    The optical drive. There isn't a cooler drive setup anywhere. Once mounted inside the modular front structure, it's never seen again. Discs are fed through what looks like illuminated aesthetic slots on the top of the case, but they also function as the disc slot. Discs just disappear into the case when loaded. This feature is so cool that I ordered an optical drive even though I don't really need one. I just had to have it and I'm glad I got it. 
     
    The rest of this case almost needs to be experienced in person to fully grasp the fine details. The water cooling radiator mount features rails on which radiators slide and lock into place. I opted for the laser cut 4mm acrylic serpentine top grill as well. It mounts flush with the top of the case and looks amazing. The other aesthetic option I added is the luminous panel with 12mm pre-drilled hole for the liquid cooling tube (which lines up perfectly with a liquid pump that mounts below the panel). When this thing lights up, the inside of CAPS Twenty looks just beautiful. 
     
    I could seriously go on and on for pages about this limited edition case. It's that impressive. If you can afford it, buy it. Even if you aren't going to build a CAPS Twenty, get the limited edition MBX MKII and build something. 
     
     
    Motherboard - Starting with the motherboard, I considered longevity, availability, and support as important factors when deciding which board to select. Longevity in this instance means the length of time this board will be available for purchase. There are many board from several years ago that are great, but given the pace of obsolescence in technology I didn't want to select a board that may receive its end of life pink slip shortly after publication. Availability is important to me because the Audiophile Style Community is truly global, with 50% of our readers in the US and 50% spread amongst the other great countries of the world (see our latest Meet The Audiophile Style Community article as an example. I had to select a motherboard that will be available throughout the world without jumping through crazy import/export hoops. Support is also very important to me. I like companies that support their products in numerous ways and make it easy for consumers to reach out for help when needed. 
     
    With these factors in mind, I worked with ASUS to select the ProArt Z490-CREATOR 10G motherboard. This is a newly released motherboard with support for the newest LGA1200 CPUs, and will be around for quite a while. ASUS products are available in almost every country in which Audiophile Style is read. The company also has really good support. For example, in 2004, a few years before I started Audiophile Style (named computer Audiophile back then), I built a silent PC based on the Zalman TNN 500AF chassis, with an ASUS motherboard and GPU. I had an issue with the BIOS on the motherboard that made the PC un-bootable. I called ASUS, spoke to a knowledgable person who sent me a new BIOS chip, and all was right in a couple days. It was a painless process and long before personally met a couple guys from the ASUS team who attended the Computer Audiophile Symposium at Fantasy Studios. 
     
    A couple technical features were very important to me for the CAPS Twenty build, and the ProArt Z490-CREATOR 10G motherboard meet the requirements with ease. The LGA1200 CPU socket support, M.2 slots with PCIe 3 x4 mode for NVMe, solid support for a PCIe x16 GPU (not ubiquitous now, but close), great build quality, and an aesthetically pleasing design were all important to me. In order to use the latest 10th generation Intel CPUs, I needed LGA1200 support. M.2 slots with PCIe 3 x4 mode for NVMe are incredibly fast and absolutely required for running a 22GB Roon database with 300,000 local tracks (stored on a spinning drive) in the library. The ProArt Z490's PCIe slots are fully capable of running the single x16 GPU needed for the CAPS Twenty build. 
     
    The ASUS ProArt Z490-CREATOR 10G also ships with a 10Gb Ethernet card that's optional. I used it when transferring 10TB of data to CAPS Twenty, through my Ubiquiti 10Gb network, and found it to be fast than 1Gb speeds. Here's the thing though, the limitation was the speed at which my hard drive could write data coming in on the wire. Also note that the onboard NIC is a model that can operate at 1Gb or 2.5Gb. The only issue is that my switched work at 1 Gb or 10Gb, not 2.5Gb. I assume many peoples' switches are the same way, so be careful when thinking about network speeds and realize the issues that can arise in a real world system.
     
    When it comes to build quality and aesthetics, ASUS is right up there at the top of the list. The company build very high quality products and manages to make geeky products look really good at the same time. If you haven't looked at motherboards for custom PCs, you may be unaware that they aren't all up to the high standards ASUS has set. I've used ASUS boards forever and tried many other brands over the years. I didn't even think twice about who I would contact for a CAPS Twenty custom build. It was ASUS all the way, hands down.
     
     
    CPU - The CPU is absolutely critical in a PC designed to run high end digital signal processing (DSP). HQPlayer features filters and modulators that range from easy to run on fairly weak processors to impossible to run in realtime on any processor currently made. Thus, I wanted to give CAPS Twenty the best chance at running the most configurations and give myself freedom to run as many different combinations within HQPlayer as possible. The thought about using an AMD processor because the benchmark scores for those have been really outstanding lately. However, based on personal experience and research, I don't believe an AMD processor can equal the performance and stability of those from Intel, when it comes to the CAPS Twenty server. 
     
    Intel's latest processors are its 10th Generation Intel Core CPUs. This includes i3, i5, i7, and i9 variants. I selected the Intel Core i9-10900K processor for the CAPS Twenty build because it's the best 10th gen CPU available and it isn't outrageously priced. Processor speed is critical to the performance of HQPlayer, and the i9-10900K's 3.7 GHz base frequency / 5.3 GHz max turbo frequency are fantastic for this purpose. The i9-10900K can be throttled down to 3.3 GHz and a to a TDP of 95 watts, from 125 watts, if heat dissipation is an issue for those passively cooling this CPU. Given that CAPS Twenty is a liquid cooled design, I had no need to reduce the i9-10900K's performance. 
     
    In addition to the i9-10900K, Intel kindly sent me the i5-10600K processor. I haven't had time to test this CPU with HQPlayer's DSP, but the specs look very promising. A slightly higher base frequency of 4.1 GHz, but a lower max turbo frequency and fewer number of cores. Given that HQPlayer doesn't require many cores, this CPU could be a great option. The TDP of this processor is identical to that of the i9-10900K, but the price is nearly half. 
     
     
    GPU - In addition to a powerful CPU, the GPU can also be critical for running convolution and the offloading of filter processing HQPlayer. For the CAPS Twenty build I went with what I consider the best of both worlds in a GPU. A GeForce 2080 Ti and one that's built for liquid cooling. When researching manufacturers for this graphics card I noticed that a representative from EVGA had recently posted in an Audiophile Style forum thread about the EVGA  NU audio card. I knew EVGA made great components for computer, so I reach out to them. The response from EVGA was wonderful, with the caveat that stock was very low due to the global health pandemic. I asked for the EVGA GeForce RTX 2080 Ti XC HYDRO COPPER GAMING, 11G-P4-2389-KR GPU and the team at EVGA made it happen. The guys at EVGA made my day because the GPU was the last piece of the CAPS twenty puzzle and global stock was, and is currently, extremely constricted. 
     
    This GPU features a boost clock speed of 1545 MHz, 11GB of GDDR6 memory, NVIDIA Touring architecture, and 4352 coda cores for HQPlayer's CUDA offloading. The "funny" thing about high end graphics cards for music servers is that monitors aren't even required. In fact, I have no monitor connected to CAPS twenty. All the GPU horsepower is used for digital signal processing. 
     
    EVGA also manufactures a HYDRO liquid cooling kit that can be retrofitted to its existing graphics cards, however I highly recommend selecting the card I use in CAPS Twenty because it just works without leaks, anxiety, and the hassle of installing the hydro kit. 
     
     

     
     
     
     
    Memory - Memory in CAPS Twenty isn't as critical as the aforementioned components, but it certainly needs to be good. HQPlayer doesn't require a lot of RAM, but its developer Jussi Laako recommends RAM with low CAS Latency (CL). I'm also running Roon Server on CAPS Twenty and JRiver Media Center (although not simultaneously, I just like to have options). Roon can use a hefty amount of memory with my family large library. On my QNAP NAS it can consumer 6GB. With these requirements, I communicated with the team at Kingston Technology. These guys have manufactured memory since John Tu designed a new single in-line memory module (SIMM) in 1987! The memory available to me at the time from Kingston was its standard 8Gb modules with a latency of CL19 (KVR26N19S8/8). I received two of these for a total of 16GB for CAPS Twenty. 
     
    As I put together the server and wondered what kind of performance boost I'd get with lower latency RAM and the fact that four RAM modules would look really nice in CAPS Twenty as well , opted for the Kingston HyperX Predator Black CL13 RAM (HX426C13PB3K4/32). I went for 32GB just because I could and filling all four RAM slots looked really nice. I haven't used that much RAM on CAPS Twenty, but I was up to 14GB utilized earlier this afternoon. I think 32Gb was a good move. 
     
    The question I had to answer though was if the lower latency speed of the HyperX (CL13) RAM made a difference in CAPS Twenty over the CL13 modules I originally received. Based on using CAPS Twenty for its stated design of DSP and serving music files via Roon or JRiver, I can say I noticed zero difference between the two types of memory. I'm guessing I'd see a difference if I used the PC for other purposes or ran some benchmarking, but that's neither here nor there. I use the PC for DSP and music, and latency didn't seem to matter for my every day use. 
     
    The Kingston KVR26N19S8/8 ValueRAM costs roughly $38 for each 8GB module, while the HyperX I used costs $174 for four 8GB modules. 
     
     

     
     
     
    Storage - As previously noted, fast M.2 storage is very important for running a Roon database but not that critical for HQPlayer. I worked again with Kingston for the M.2 storage requirements. I told them that I didn't need a lot of storage for jus the operating system and the Roon database. However, Kingston said it's 1TB M.2 NVMe drive perform better than the lower capacity drives and highly recommend I use the 1TB version. I happily accepted the recommendation. I could probably get by with a 256GB M.2 drive if needed. A nice part of the ASUS motherboard is that it supports two M.2 slots that could be configured as a RAID0 array. This would increase drive performance quite a bit but also increase the chances of drive failure. I opted for a single Kingston KC2000 NVMe PCIe SSD M.2 drive. 
     

     
     
    I also decided to try storing my 10TB music library on CAPS Twenty. I've used NAS units for many years and always recommend them, but I wanted to try something different. In my experience with a large library, Roon runs best on Windows. It runs good on Linux as well, but it runs best on Windows. So, I installed a single Western Digital 14TB Ultrastar DC HC530 (WUH721414ALE6L4) spinning hard drive. I did a fair amount of research, looked at the current prices, and made a disk decision without laboring over it too much. There are surely drives that will last longer, are faster, are cheaper, etc... but this drive was a solid choice that's no slouch for performance and only cost me $350. Even that I have all my music also stored on a QNAP NAS and Aurender ACS10, I have no need for a RAID array or backup drive inside CAPS Twenty. 
     
     
    Power - A good power supply is always critical to good performance. In CAPS Twenty.One I used linear supplies but that's out of the question for CAPS Twenty because of much higher power requirements. Another factor that I had to consider was that the XFORMA MBX MKII case ships with a couple cables created specifically for certain power supplies. There are a good number of them for which cables can be made, but once I started looking at the options I realized I was in trouble. Obtaining a power supply during the middle of a global health pandemic was extremely difficult. I finally found a Corsair HX1200 1200W 80 PLUS PLATINUM Certified Full Modular Power Supply (CP-9020140-NA) and purchased it within seconds. There are many other options for PSUs with less power, or even more if one wants it for some reason, and I'm sure they work very well. But, the HX1200 is the PSU I could obtain and it has worked very well. 
     
    The HX1200 has a fan, but I've never seen or heard the fan turn on. It's very well constructed, just like the previous Corsair PSUs I've used over the years. Corsair makes really good products for PCs like CAPS twenty and I'd likely get the same one or something slightly less powerful if I were to do it over again. 
     
     
    Cooling - I've built many passively cooled PCs over the years, but had never dipped my toes into custom liquid cooling. The CAPS Twenty project seemed like the perfect opportunity for me to bend some tubes and get the coolant flowing. 
     
    There are different methods of liquid cooling available. One is a pre-built, closed loop design that's plug and play. These closed loops are dead simple and only require the PC builder to understand how to operate a screw driver. The downside of these contained systems is rigidity. There are many options available, but there's no straying from these designs. Some people will love instruction based designs because there's little chance of messing up the build. However, I wanted more creative freedom for the CAPS Twenty build and went with the blank sheet of paper method, a custom cooling loop. This method has almost no rules and certainly no step by step instructions. One can create a custom liquid cooling loop any way s/he wishes. Some work better than others and there are recommendations, but these loops are really up to the builder's imagination. That's the part I loved. 
     
    The pieces of my custom liquid cooling loop puzzle are, a reservoir, CPU water block, liquid pump, radiator, fans, fittings, coolant, and tubing. These are just the pieces one sees in the final build, but creating a custom loop requires items such as a hacksaw, heat gun, sandpaper, tube reamer, silicon cords, hard tube bending tool, and a 24 pin ATX bridging plug among others. As readers can see, this isn't for the novice, first time PC builder. It's also not the only way to create a custom liquid cooling loop. Methods using soft tubing are easier and less stressful to build, but I'm not a fan of the look of soft tube builds compared to hard tube builds. 
     
    There are endless options for custom loop builders, making the research somewhat paralyzing. Readers who'd like to skip to the front of the line, saving endless hours of time, should select components from EKWB. Edvard König Water Blocks, called EKWB, creates what I consider to be the best and highest quality liquid cooling components on the market. EKWB has several different levels of components along a wide continuum of prices. 
     
    CAPS Twenty contains EK-Quantum Magnitude - 115x Full Nickel CPU water block. Fortunately the new LGA1200 CPUs, such as the Intel Core i9-10900K, use the same mounting holes as previous LGA115X components. This water block is a true work of art and fine craftsmanship. Made by hand in Slovenia, every piece of this block is CNC machined separately, out of a solid block. The EK-Quantum Magnitude water block features a nickel-plated copper cold plate with a nickel-plated top, CNC machined out of hard-wearing brass. EK offers a few versions of this water block, including one with RGB lighting and one that's anodized black. 
     
    I selected the EKWB EK-CoolStream XE 480 Radiator for this build because the MBX MKII has room for it and both the CPU and GPU can require serious heat dissipation. Other radiator options use less fans and have less surface area for removing heat from the liquid cooling loop. If one is using two GPUs, a second radiator can be added to the MBX MKII. 
     
    Fans are a requirement for CAPS Twenty in order to remove push air through the radiator. I started with the EK-Meltemi 120ER extreme high-static pressure computer cooling fans, designed for liquid cooling PCs like CAPS Twenty. These fans have a noise level of 31.3dBA and feature excellent build quality. However, I didn't notice that these fans are 38mm thick until I installed them and tried to put the side panel on the MBX MKII case. I switched from a push to a pull method, by placing the fans on the inside side of the radiator, but this made the rest of the installation extremely difficult and impractical.
     
    After admitting defeat with these fans, I purchased the EK-Vardar EVO 120ER Black BB fans with a 33.5 dBA noise level and similar build quality. The EK-Vardar and the EK-Meltemi fans are very similar, but the 25mm width of the Vardar made the CAPS Twenty build possible. 
     
    The last liquid cooling topic I'll touch on is tubing. There are several different tube options for liquid cooling. Soft tubes, hard tubes, acrylic tubes, PETG tubes, and even steel or copper tubes. Within these categories there are also different sizes of tubing. It's all very confusing for first-timers. I selected PETG tubing because it's fairly easy to bend at somewhat low temperature with a heat gun and in general is easier to work with than the other options. I ruled out using metal tubes because I don't have the tools to do it and I don't have the patience or skill required to craft a custom loop from these materials. 
     
    The PETG tubing in CAPS Twenty has a 10mm inner diameter and 12mm outer diameter. These numbers are critical when selecting fittings and bending tools. Also important is the fact that the luminous panel in the MBX MKII case has a 12mm pre-drilled hole for tubing with an outer diameter of 12mm. Luminous panels without hols are also available, but a panel with larger 18mm hole has been out of stock for some time. 
    I'll list specific fittings, coolant, etc... below this article for those interested in the fine details. 
     
     
     
     

    ANALOG GAUGES!
     
    As I was putting together CAPS Twenty I had an idea that was inspired by Dan D'Agostino's products. I thought, what if I could use analog gauges to display items such as CPU and network utilization and make it look cool? I looked into creating it myself, then quickly realized it was way beyond my skill set. 
     
    Fortunately I found Toronto based engineer Sasa Karanovic who had done this exact thing in late 2019. Sasa created analog gauges for CPU, RAM, network, and GPU utilization. The exact four resources I wanted to monitor in CAPS Twenty. He even provided all the information needed for someone with the requisite skills to recreate on his/her own. I spent about 30 minutes looking at Sasa's design and soon realized it was over my head, even with all the instructions. 
     
    I sent an email to Sasa asking if I could hire him to create the gauges for me, so I could use them in CAPS twenty. The response I received was over the top terrific. Sasa said that he would use two sets of gauges he already had on hand, build two PCB boards, wire and test the gauges, and help me get the small bit of software running on my computer. All for the price of .... FREE. Sasa was so helpful during this process. I couldn't have done it without him. 
     
    For all the details about how he turned galvanometers into analog PC resources gauges, have a look at his website and videos. Much of it is over my head, but I'm sure many readers will enjoy seeing the details even without an understanding of what's going on. 
    I must thank Sasa for connecting to CAPS Twenty to last week, to troubleshoot the GPU gauge. He found they issue and had it working in no time.
     
    Thanks Sasa!
     
    Mounting the gauges for CAPS Twenty was much more difficult than the CAPS Twenty.One audio endpoint. On CAPS Twenty.One I had plenty of space and easy materials with which to work. A custom wood cutout for the top and a few holes in it and it's done. CAPS Twenty was a different animal. I originally sealed on mounting the gauges through a mesh wire panel on the top of the MBX MKII. I figured it would look al little funny, but it was doable and I had the XFORMA serpentine top grill I could put in place of this mesh, if I totally screwed it up. The risk was low and the reward was high. So, I purchased a hole saw and cut some holes. I hated the outcome. I let the guy at the hardware store talk me into using a 2 inch hole saw rather than a 1 3/4 unit that matched the outer diameter of the gauges. The 2 inch hole was just too big and the gauges looked bad with a 1/4 inch gap around them. 
     

     
     
     
    I removed the mesh panel and replaced it with the nice looking serpentine top grill. The build looked great again, but I had no gauges. I stared at the MBX MKII for a long time, trying to figure out where I could mount the gauges. With the side panels on the case, I noticed a nice visual gap between the GPU and the top of one side panel's window. I measured three or four times and determined  the gauges would fit in that spot. However, there are no replacement side panels on a limited edition case if I royally screwed this up. I'd never cut acrylic before and I had no clue if the window would crack or break into pieces when pressure was applied. The unknowns were plentiful and my confidence was shaky, but I had no choice. The gauges had to go in the side panel's window and there was no second chance to get it right. I purchased a 1 3/4 hole saw, penciled-in my center points for each gauge, and let it rip. 
     
    I love the way the gauges turned out.
     
     
     
     
     

    Software
     
    Operating System - CAPS Twenty runs on Windows 10 Pro. I selected Windows 10 Pro because I wanted to give myself as many options as possible with respect to hardware and applications. Linux is wonderful for many purposes, but not for CAPS Twenty. I also thought about running HQPlayer Embedded. That's a Linux OS with HQPlayer configured to run without any user intervention on the physical machine it's installed. This is a double edged sword though because it's great for people who want it to work like an appliance, but not so great for CAPS Twenty when I want to instal Roon, JRiver, or anything else. 
     
    Windows 10 Pro is annoying though. Microsoft has made it very difficult or impossible to remove unwanted items such as Xbox functionality and links, and Cortana. I talked to Phil, developer of Audiophile Optimizer, about removing all the junk. He said it's entirely possible with his software. This is something I would like to test, but I just don't have time at the moment. Perfection can be the enemy of progress, meaning I'll never complete this build if I keep perfecting it. 
     
    Audio Apps - CAPS Twenty is built mainly to run HQPlayer, and it also runs Roon and JRiver very well. As I have it configured now, it's a Roon server that outputs audio to HQPlayer and. JRiver DLNA server. 
     

    Performance
     
    The main reason for building CAPS Twenty as an HQPlayer server is performance. I want to give myself the most options for filters, modulators, and sample rates, and some options require quite a bit of processing power. Here are some example of resource utilization when using different options in HQPlayer, with Roon as a front end. Keep in mind that no current PC is capable of regular playback while running the ASDM7EC modulator at DSD512 or above. 
     
    The first screenshot below is a baseline with CAPS Twenty sitting idle. The other screenshots show the filters and modulators in the HQPlayer window.
     

     

     
     

    Roon performance on CAPS Twenty is better than I've ever experienced. Navigating my 300,000 track library from my iPad Pro is faster on CAPS Twenty than any other hardware and I have no issues that require weekly or daily reboots. Roon runs fantastic on Windows. 
     
    JRiver performance is also stellar. I've used JRiver on numerous PCs over the years and never had performance issues. CAPS Twenty isn't required for JRiver, but I can say it runs wonderfully. 
     
    JRiver Benchmark Scores:
    Running 'Math' benchmark... Score: 3420
    Running 'Image' benchmark... Score: 12539
    Running 'Database' benchmark... Score: 8436
    JRMark (version 26.0.100 64 bit): 8131
     

    Conclusions

    That's CAPS Twenty, a high power HQPlayer, Roon, and JRiver server. I had a blast putting this together and welcome any and all comments, concerns, and questions about the design. There are fine details for each of the items mentioned in the article above. I had to leave some on the editing room floor, but I'll happily go into as much detail as readers wish in the comments below. Just keep asking questions :~)
     
    Below I've included links to purchase many of the items discussed in this article. 
     
    I also want to thank all the sponsors and contributors who helped make CAPS Twenty happen. Without them, this would still be a bunch of ideas jotted down on a virtual piece of paper.
     
     
      
      
      

     
     
     
     
     
     
     
    Photo Gallery
     


     
     
     
     
     
     
     
     
     
     
    Components and Where To Purchase 
     
    Case: XFORMA MBX MKII $1,299
    Motherboard: ASUS ProArt Z490-CREATOR 10G $299
    CPU: Intel Core i9-10900K $500
    GPU: EVGA GeForce RTX 2080 Ti XC HYDRO COPPER GAMING, 11G-P4-2389-KR $1,299
    RAM: HyperX Predator Black 32GB (HX426C13PB3K4/32) $174
    SSD: Kingston KC2000 NVMe PCIe SSD $200
    HDD: Western Digital 14TB Ultrastar (WUH721414ALE6L4) $320
    Power Supply: Corsair HX1200 (CP-9020140-NA) $240
    Optical Drive: XForma Slot-Load Optical Disc Drive (ODD) - CD/DVD $30
    Luminous Panel: XForma Luminous Panel, 12mm Pre-Drilled Hole, White $140
    Reservoir: XForma EK-X3 EVO.2 250mm Reservoir $60
    Reservoir Holder: XForma EVO.2 Floating Reservoir Holder $53
    Radiator Mount: XForma Quad Radiator Mount $90
    Top Grill: XForma Serpentine Topgrill $47
    Cables: Micro Connectors Premium Sleeved PSU Cable Extension Kit $30
     
    Liquid Cooling Components: https://www.titanrig.com/
    EKWB EK-CoolStream XE 480 Radiator $140 
    EKWB EK-XTOP DDC 3.2 PWM Elite Pump $ 125 
    EKWB EK-Quantum Magnitude CPU Water Block $270 
    EKWB EK-Torque HTC-12 Compression Fitting $5 (x14)
    EKWB EK-AF G1/4" 2x45° Angled Fitting $8
    EKWB EK-AF G1/4" Female to Female 90° Angled Fitting $6
    EKWB EK-AF G1/4" 90° Angled Fitting $9 (x7)
    EKWB EK-CSQ G1/4" Plug $5
    EKWB G 1/4" EK-AF Ball Valve $17
    EKWB EK-HD PETG Tube, 10/12mm, 1000mm $11
    EKWB EK-CryoFuel Solid Premix Coolant, 1000mL $20 (x2)
    EKWB EK-ATX Bridging Plug (24 pin) $2
    EKWB EK-Cable Splitter 4-Fan PWM Extended $6
    EKWB EK-HD Tube D.I.Y. Kit $20
    EKWB EK-Vardar EVO 120ER Black BB 120mm Fan $20 (x4)
    EKWB Modulus Hard Tube Bending Tool - 12mm $40

     
    * Using some of our links gives us a tiny kickback and doesn't cost you anything. We're experimenting with this, so please no phone calls, letters, or telegrams just yet. 
     
     
  23. Thanks
    PYP reacted to The Computer Audiophile for an article, Meet The Audiophile Style Community | Volume 7   
    Welcome to the seventh installment of our Meet the Audiophile Style Community series. All previous installments can be found here, in the series index.
     
    Please send me a message or email if you'd like to participate. The response so far has been wonderful. It ranges from hardcore audiophiles to those who are more interested in numbers and graphs, and as you see today, this is a global community (50% of Audiophile Style site traffic is from within the US and 50% is from other great parts of this world). This series is all about getting to know everyone and sharing a bit about yourself that others will find interesting. 
     
    Thanks for participating. I look forward to publishing more of these in the coming weeks. 
     
    Thanks to Audiophile Style community member @Nikhil for participating in volume seven of this series. I love reading this stuff even more than publishing it. As I say to myself after reading each one of these, you guys are so much more interesting than me :~)
     
     
    1. General area of the world in which you live?

    I am from Hyderabad, India, a 400 year old city that was fabled for its diamonds in the ancient world.  Today we are a city of about 11.5 million people with a presence in Information Technology and Pharmaceuticals among other things. The city has a rich cultural heritage in the arts and music.  I would like to invite Audiophile Style members to look up info on Hyderabad when they have the time.  
     
     
    2. General description of what you do or did for a living?
     
    Engineer by profession working in the Machine Tool Industry.  My company is the distributor for mostly German and American companies in India. The majority of my work is in the Automobile and Aerospace industries but we also spend a fair amount of time in the Defense, Medical, Energy and Heavy Engineering Industries.   
     
     
    3. What are your hobbies?
     
    My interests include Music and Audio where I am also a moderator on an Indian audio forum called HiFiVision.  I invite AS members to drop by to get a feel for the budding audio interest in India.  I am a regular golfer playing to a 12 handicap at the moment. I read mostly non-fiction with a current interest in Greco Roman philosophy. My wife and I share an interest in food and travel.  We also like to take in the occasional music performance whenever possible.
     
     
    4. When did you start this wonderful journey into music listening?
     
    My parents had a strong interest in music so in a sense I have been into music all my life.  Apart from Indian classical and Bollywood we always had a collection of music from around the world which has given me a very broad taste in music.  My personal journey started when I was about 12 years old with my first Sony Walkman and I had a chance to build a personal collection of music of my own.
     
     
    5. What was your first “album?”
     
    Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” – must have played that cassette for about a year nonstop.
     
     
    6. What does your music collection look like, number of physical records, CDs, etc... and number of “favorited” albums streamed?
     
    My music collection is varied with a large amount of jazz music mostly from the 60s and 70s.  As Chris discovered recently, I am into Japanese Jazz and also European jazz thanks largely to the wonderful Piano Trio thread on AS curated by Musicophile.  I have an avid interest in Latino music and am building a small collection of music that suits my ear from that genre.  My music library has a quite a few pop and rock albums including recent music thanks to TIDAL.  I tend to favor singer songwriters. Mark Knopfler and Elton John are my all time favorites.
     
    I moved to a completely digital audio setup in 2013 as in no more CDs or vinyl.  I used to have about 400 CDs and about 60 vinyl records (mostly my father’s collection), all of which is now in storage.  I use JRiver to manage all my music and I have about 1,000 albums consisting of about 12,500 files on HDD storage.  I use TIDAL for streaming and my library consists of about 35 favorite albums and 10 playlists which are in a constant state of flux.
     
     
    7. What was your first audio component / stereo?
     
    My first personal audio component was a Sony Walkman.  My first stereo system was an Onkyo Integrated which I had paired with Polk Audio floorstanders back in college. Fun days.
     
     
    8. Is there one component that you no longer have that you wish you wouldn’t have sold or that you wish you still had?
     
    None.
     
     
    9. Is there one current component that you wish you had in your system?
     
    Almost too many to mention but at the top of the list would be the Gryphon Diablo 300.
     
     
    10. How much time do you spend listening to music each week and on which systems does this listening take place (main system, car system, mobile system, office system, etc...)?
     
    My listening time is after dinner when I spend time reading or browsing. I listen to music for about 3-4 hours which translates to about 15-20 hours per week.  My primary listening is on my main system at home.  My second most listened to setup is my mobile phone + headphones which I use when I travel.
     
     
    11. What’s the first concert you ever attended, best concert you’ve ever attended, most interesting concert venue you’ve ever attended?
     
    My first concert was of the (now defunct) pioneer Indian rock band Rock Machine.  The best concert I’ve attended was the Mark Knopfler Concert at the Bangalore Palace Grounds which was part of his 2005 Shangri-La Tour. I don’t really care for large concert venues and prefer small intimate spaces where we are up close with the musicians.  BLUE CHICAGO on N Clarke St. in Downtown Chicago is one my favorite venues.  Outstanding music, great vibe and up close with the band. $5 cover fee.
     
     
    12. What components are in your current audio systems and can you provide a photo?
     

    Windows 10 based Server with Fidelizer + Process Lasso JRiver Media Center for Media Management and Playback + HQPlayer Lampizator Amber DAC Job INT Integrated Amplifier Acoustic Portrait Thiyaga Pre + CPA3 Stereo Amplifier Green Mountain Audio Eos HX stand mount speakers Belden 8402 + Custom Tinned Copper based Interconnects and USB cable Belden 8411 Speaker Cable / Western Electric 12 GA Teakwood DIY Rack  
     
     
     
    13. Anything else you’d like to say?
     
    I would like to thank Audiophile Style for this outreach to its members.  The AS forum has been a great addition to my audio journey especially when I set out to move to computer based audio several years ago.   The information gathered on the forum has been extremely useful in gathering insights into what can be a very difficult area to navigate. 

    The information shared by members has been cutting edge at times and at the forefront of what is available out there.  There has been a fair amount of tumult in the past few months over which direction the forum has taken in terms of membership behavior and participation.  I would like to stand with Chris on the general principle of being cordial and respectful to fellow members.  

    During these surreal times I am very grateful for the AS community and I am very happy to be a part of it. I would like to wish everyone the very best in dealing with the challenges that we are going to face. Stay home and stay safe!
     
  24. Thanks
    PYP reacted to The Computer Audiophile for an article, New McIntosh Podcast | For the Love of Music   
    Hey Guys, this just in from McIntosh, I'm listening now. If you're a music lover, this series seems pretty cool.
     
    "In this special series, we've teamed up with Talkhouse, a leading producer of podcasts about music and film, to explore music history through conversations with renowned musicians and audio professionals. McIntosh has been hand-building the very best audio equipment in Binghamton, NY for over 70 years -- not only did they help create the hi-fi industry, they have forever changed how we listen to music, powering some of history’s greatest moments."
     
    Episode 1: Janet Furman
    In the inaugural episode, Talkhouse’s Elia Einhorn caught up with former Grateful Dead electronics outfitter, and renowned music gear creator, Janet Furman. Janet grew up in New York City, graduating from Columbia University in the late 1960s with an engineering degree before moving to San Francisco and finding work with Alembic, the Grateful Dead’s preferred recording studio and sound crew. Janet recorded the Dead’s live sets on multiple tours, as well as engineering sessions for other rock stars like Steve Miller. She went on to found her own pro audio equipment manufacturing company, Furman, whose products are used in almost every studio and live venue around the world, and which we here at Talkhouse work with every day. Janet shared some amazing stories about working for Owsley Stanley, touring Europe with the Dead and recording some of their most famous work, and even commandeering a helicopter in order to save a massive rock festival… with McIntosh amplifiers.
     
     

     
     
     
    Links to listen:
    ·       Apple Podcasts:  https://podcasts.apple.com/us/podcast/mcintosh-for-the-love-of-music/id1517896702
    ·       Spotify: https://open.spotify.com/show/3ObEipctcIHaL9U9tXXNaV?si=lstgsThiQ7yENVAw8Y3AJQ
    ·       Stitcher: https://www.stitcher.com/podcast/the-talkhouse/mcintosh-for-the-love-of-music
  25. Thanks
    PYP reacted to JoeWhip for an article, Music and Sonic Favorites: Jazz Piano   
    After a hiatus from pieces on jazz piano, and with all this time on my hands, I thought it time to return to my favorite recordings, both musically and sonically, from a few of my favorite jazz pianists. As I have already covered those of Monty Alexander and Benny Green, I will cover a few more here. Some are no longer with us and can no longer be experienced live and others, very much so. There are quite a few here that are very well known and others, not such much. It is my hope that you check out those that you were not previously aware of as they have produced some very compelling recordings.
     
    1.    Oscar Peterson
     
    In my estimation, Oscar Peterson is one of the top, if not the top jazz pianist of all time. It would be impossible to cover all of his numerous recordings here so I would like to focus on his series of trio recordings with Ray Brown on bass and Ed Thigpen on drums. While there are numerous ones to consider here, my two favorites are Night Train and We Get Requests as I find the musicianship and sound to be top notch. I find the 24/96 file from Verve to be the best sounding reissue of Night Train. Silky smooth, detailed and dynamic. As for We Get Requests, my pick is the DSD release from Superhighrez. The DSD64 file was created from a 24/192 file and converted to DSD, which I convert back to PCM, albeit at 24/176.4, for playback through my Schiit Yggy DAC with Unison USB. The resulting sound is superb and very dynamic. While we are on the topic of this incredible trio, I have to mention the trio’s recording with my favorite tenor player, Ben Webster. The trio backs Ben on Ben Webster Meets Oscar Peterson. I love the sound of this album. It is very spacious and fills the room with Ben’s breathy sound taking center stage with the trio spaced behind him, left to right. A truly beautiful recording. Speaking of beautiful recordings, also check out Coleman Hawkins Encounters Ben Webster. Here the two tenor giants are backed by Oscar on piano, Ray Brown on bass with Alvin Stoller on drums and Herb Ellis on guitar. This is IMHO, one of the finest sounding jazz recordings from this time period. It is fantastic to be able to follow the two tenors when they are blowing at the same time, with their distinctive tones and styles, clearly separated and yet mixing together perfectly. This is the perfect 1 am recording with the lights on low or even better yet, not on at all.
     
    Oscar Peterson at HDtracks, Qobuz
     
     
    2.     Bill Evans
     
    What is there left to say about Bill Evans that hasn’t already been said? His early trio with the phenomenal Scott LaFaro on bass and Paul Motian on drums are not to be missed. Scott LaFaro was tragically killed in a motor vehicle accident a few short weeks after a engagement at The Village Vanguard in New York which, fortunately was recorded by Riverside. Two recordings were released from these sets, Sunday At The Village Vanguard and Waltz for Debby. These recordings both put you right back in the club that night. One can even decipher the conversations at tables in the audience. It is actually amazing how many people at these shows seemed to be too engrossed in banal conversation rather than listening to the last sets that this magnificent set of musicians would ever play together. Another great studio set featuring this trio recorded before the Vanguard dates is Portraits in Jazz. This is another fine recording. While Bill Evans is clearly the leader of the set, he gives tons of space to both LaFaro and Motian to do their thing. While I prefer the Vanguard sessions, this set is superb as well. No doubt there are tons of other superb Bill Evans recordings that I could have picked to include here. These happen to be the three that get the most play on my system. The rest will just have to be the subjects of another pieced focused exclusively on Bill Evans. However, for those unfamiliar with him or jazz in general, these are a good place to start exploring his vast discography.
     
    Bill Evans at HDtracks, Qobuz
     
     
    3.     Dave Brubeck
     
    I was inspired to include Dave Brubeck on this list as a result of a comment in a thread here on AS that argued or strongly inferred that Time Out was not really jazz or was some sort of lesser jazz, even though the album Time Out is one of the best selling jazz albums of all time. Oh well! In any event, I don’t think that Mr. Brubeck always gets the due he deserves as a keyboardist. He is a phenomenal player. His work on Time Out really speaks for itself. However, I direct you to two live recordings where he really struts his stuff as a versatile pianist, The Dave Brubeck Quartet Live at Carnegie Hall recorded in 1963 and The Dave Brubeck Trio and Gerry Mulligan-Live At The Berlin Philharmonie that was recorded in 1972. I just love live jazz recordings for their overall energy and spontaneity and these two releases have them in spades. Just listen to Brubeck’s playing throughout these recordings, especially the straight blues piano he plays on the Berlin set. Both recordings sound fantastic as well.
     
    Dave Brubeck at HDtracks, Qobuz
     
     
    4.     Gene Harris
     
    Of the first four on this list, Gene Harris is probably the least known but very worthy of your consideration. The person who I can best compare him to in terms of style and tone is my personal favorite, Monty Alexander. Like Monty, he has a joyful, soulful sound, with plenty of dynamics and inventiveness but a tad more on the blues side than Monty. Gene Harris first came on the scene with The Three Sounds which he formed in the 1950’s with Andrew Simpkins on bass and Bill Dowdy on drums. They recorded quite a few worthy albums on Blue Note beginning with Introducing The Three Sounds in 1958. This release is very representative of the other Blue Note releases and is a great one to start out with. It sounds mighty fine as well. It seems that Mr. Harris retired from the music scene in 1977. He was brought out of retirement by Ray Brown in the early ‘80’s after Ray found him living in Boise, Idaho. Ray convinced Gene to join his new trio and along with Jeff Hamilton on drums, recorded a string of excellent albums on Concord, including that audiophile classic, Soular Energy as well as Summer Wind (Live at Loa), Bam Bam Bam, 3 Dimensional as well as The Red Hot Ray Brown Trio, featuring Mickey Roker on drums. They are all worth a listen. In the late ‘80’s, Gene formed his own band and headlined a number of recordings on the Concord label. My favorite of these recordings, both musically and sonically, is the 1994 release Funky Gene’s with Luther Hughes on bass, Paul Humphrey on drums and Ron Eschete on guitar. Unfortunately, Gene passed away in 2000 while waiting for a kidney transplant. However, his estate, through Resonance Records, released Live in London in 2008 with Martin Drew on drums, Andrew Cleyndert on bass and the great Scottish guitarist Jim Mullen.  The album was recorded live at The Pizza Express jazz club in London in 1996. It is said that the band was hired shortly before the gig but you wouldn’t be able to tell as the performance is tight as well as sensational.
     
    Gene Harris at HDtracks, Qobuz
     
     
    5.     Fred Hersch
     
    I first became aware of Fred Hersch in the 1990’s with releases as a leader as well as an accompanist on Chesky Records. Those releases include the superb Dancing In The Dark, Live At Maybeck Recital Hall, Vol. 31 and The Fred Hersch Trio Plays. I have been fortunate a few times to see Fred Hersch perform live. The only word I can use to describe him is a genius. His music can be very complex and abstract and yet he plays some of the most beautiful piano I have ever heard. The last time I saw him live was at The Village Vanguard a year or so ago. I sat at the table just below his piano stool. He never opened his eyes the entire time he played. It was like he was in another world, all his own. It was a riveting performance. Fred is best seen live but if you can’t there are two live recordings on Palmetto Records which capture him perfectly, namely 2012’s 2 CD set Alive At The Vanguard and the follow up Sunday At The Vanguard, released in 2016. Superb sound and performances. Another superb sounding recording is 2018’s Live In Europe, which is a sonic tour du force.
     
    Fred Hersch at HDtracks, Qobuz
     
     
    6.     Bill Charlap
     
    When you take a look at Bill Charlap, you would never guess that he is a top jazz pianist. He looks more like an accountant. But he sure can play. He forms the basis of a very tight trio, that has been playing together for years, with Kenny Washington on drums and Peter Washington on bass. This trio has released a string of fantastic recordings that are well engineered. The best of these recordings are Live At The Village Vanguard (gee, there are a ton of great albums that have been recorded at The Village Vanguard, which has the best sound of all the New York jazz clubs, by far, IMHO) released in 2007, the sensational and my favorite Bill Charlap Trio album, Notes From New York released in 2016 as well as their latest studio album, Uptown, Downtown released in 2017. Another excellent album featuring the trio is Tony Bennett and Bill Charlap, The Silver Lining: The Songs of Jerome Kern released in 2015. This album also features an appearance by Bill Charlap’s wife, Renee Rosnes on piano. I guess the Charlaps are the dynamic duo of jazz piano.
     
    Bill Charlap at HDtracks, Qobuz
     
     
    7.     Thelonious Monk
     
    Thelonious Monk without a doubt has the most distinctive style of all the great piano icons of jazz. All it takes is two or three notes and you know exactly who you are listening to. Monk has that almost disjointed phrasing that acts to pull you right into the performance. He was also a wonderful composer, penning such classic tunes as Round Midnight, Epistrophy, Crepuscule With Nellie, Bye-Ya, Bright Mississippi, Rhythm-a-ning, Straight No Chaser and Bemsha Swing, just to name but a few. As I have noted, I love live albums, and Monk has a beauty, The Complete Thelonious Monk At The It Club, featuring Charlie Rouse on tenor, Ben Riley on bass and Larry Gales on bass. These sets were recorded at the It Club  in San Francisco in 1964 and features arguably his best quartet playing his best known compositions. This band is tight and it is a thrill to be able to be transported back in time to hear this group at its best. Fine sounding too. Another great release is Monk’s Dream released in 1963. It also features Charlie Rouse on tenor along with John Ore on bass and Frankie Dunlop on drums. This release was Monk’s first on Columbia and features many of the tunes from Live At The It Club. Another interesting release is Les Liaisons Dangereuses released in 2017. I find it to be most interesting for the last track which shows the making of Light Blue. It starts with Monk playing some notes. The drummer chimes in with a beat, Monk likes it but the drummer stops. It takes awhile for Monk to coax the drummer to play the beat the way he wants until the tune is born. Also of interest is the fact that this long piece does not have the same mastering as the finished track on the album and sounds more dynamic and frankly more real. I wish the rest of the tracks on the album sounded as good. Another fine album is Thelonious Himself released by Riverside in 1957. This is a solo piano album where you can really focus in on his distinctive style. Finally, another favorite of mine is Thelonious Monk Meets Gerry Mulligan. Yes, it seems like an odd pairing but it works.
     
    Thelonious Monk at HDtracks, Qobuz
     
     
    8.    Patricia Barber
     
    Yeah, I know. I will get some blowback on this one.  Yeah, audiophile slop, tired of hearing her at shows, she is a singer, yada yada yada. But guess what? She is a phenomenal pianist. I have seen her a few times at The Blue Note and The Jazz Standard in New York and was blown away listening to her play the piano. Her technique is perfect. She was playing traditional standards that you don’t usually hear on her records that had me gobsmacked. Listen to her playing on my favorite of her recordings, Nightclub, to get a glimpse of what I have been able to hear live. The same is true of her self released live recordings Monday Night Live At The Green Mill, especially a Volume 2. Go on, don’t be scared. Give her another listen.
     
    Patricia Barber at HDtracks, Qobuz
     
     
    9.    Ben Paterson
     
    Ben Paterson is one of the upcoming younger jazz pianists, a young jazz buck if you will, who has a very bright future ahead of him. Born in Philadelphia in 1982, Ben moved to Chicago for college. It was in the Windy City where Ben developed his jazz chops. Ben was the winner of the 2018 Ellis Marsalis International Jazz Piano Competition, so you know he can play.  Ben has a straight ahead jazz style who can really swing. He can even sing and plays a killer Hammond organ. While he does not yet have an extensive discography, it is a fine one nonetheless. There are two recordings of his which are on heavy rotation in my room, the 2007 trio release, Breathing Space on OA2 Records and That Old Feeling released by Cellar Live in 2016. Breathing Space features Jon Deitemyer on drums and Jake Vinsel on bass. The set features  jazz standards played beautifully and features excellent sonics. That Old Feeling has the vibe of an early Nat King Cole album with Ben on piano and vocals, Chris Flory on guitar and George Delaney on bass. This recording is very spacious, with a three dimensional sound field, superb instrument separation and a killer piano sound. A simply wonderful recording. Ben’s latest release is a Christmas album, I’ll Be Thanking Santa. Released in 2019 it is rapidly becoming one of my favorite Christmas albums. It features excellent sound and wonderful creative arrangements, which is actually suitable for year round listening.
     
    Ben Paterson at Qobuz
     
     
    10.     Emmet Cohen
     
    I had not really heard any of Emmet Cohen’s recordings until very recently. I was aware of him as he accompanies vocalist Veronica Swift on her wonderful debut album. However, a gentleman in Philly who operates a unique jazz “parlor” called Exuberance (check it out. It is his living room!) informed me that Emmet and the rest of his trio, Russell Hall and Kyle Poole, would be live streaming concerts from their flat in Harlem on Facebook and Instagram on Monday evenings while we are all locked down during this pandemic. I turned ito the first one (and every one since) and immediately became a fan. Joyous, swing, bopping and eclectic jazz of the highest order. The concerts are still up on Facebook. Check them out by all means. I enjoyed the first show so much that I downloaded this trios only recording, Dirty In Detroit live At The Dirty Dog Jazz Cafe. I am sure glad I did. Fine sound and even greater playing. Please, check out this trio. They are spectacular.
     
    Emmet Cohen at HDtracks, Qobuz
     
     
    11.      Mike Bond
     
    Mike Bond is another newcomer to the jazz scene at the ripe old age of 30 and is clearly someone to keep an eye, or maybe an ear on. Mike is a very talented pianist and composer from New Jersey with a wonderful debut album, The Honorable Ones, that was released in February 2020. Mike composed and/or arranged 10 of the 12 tunes on the album. In addition to being a fine pianist, Mike is showing some real compositional chops on this release. The album features quite a group, with Ben Wolfe on bass, Anwar Marshall on drums, Josh Evans on trumpet and Steve Wilson on saxophone. Also featured on the album are beat boxer Gene Shinozaki and vocalists Claudia Acuna and Maya Holliday. The album is well recorded as well. I had the pleasure to attend Mike’s album release party at Exuberance in Philly in February and was blown away by Mike’s prowess on the piano. This is a wonderful debut release and Mike, no doubt, had quite the future. This release is well worth your time.
     
    Mike Bond at Qobuz
     
     
    Well, that is all for now folks. This list was not intended to be all inclusive, either in terms of artists or their respective discographies. These are just some of my favorites that are in heavy rotation here at Chez Whip. There in much more to come in regards to my favorite jazz pianists. I hope you give these fine artists a listen and enjoy and above all, stay safe and be well.
     
     
     

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