Monday, November 21, 2011

Diary of a newcomer to the dark side

Day 1

Toying with the idea of buying a new turntable to complement my existing one (Bluenote Piccolo / Rega RB300 / Ortofon MC15II). The present turntable sits in my bedroom system and it would be nice to be able to spin my records in my main setup. The present setup is decent but not awe inspiring.

A frantic search on the internet ensues. A list of suspects is formed, Rega, Pro-ject, etc.

Day 4

A visit to the Pro-ject dealer, House of Turntables is made during lunch. The friendly duo at the House of Turntables  let me listen to the Pro-ject RPM 5.1 with Denon DL-160, as well as the Pro-ject 2 xperience Acryl with the Sumiko Blackbird. Both setups are mindblowing and definitely better than my Bluenote (I believe the MC15II is on its last legs). Payment is made for the 2 xperience as well as the Pro-ject Phono Box SE II and Speed Box II, and following that, is 5 excruciating days of waiting.

Day 8

An evening trip is made to Ikea to buy a chopping board to use as a base. The rack in the main room is full and the turntable will need to make do with a platform resting on the floor. I put some spare DH Cones and pads underneath the board. A small desk lamp is purchased too as the room is quite dark, and my eyesight is not the best.

Day 9

Kevin of House of Turntables shows up at my doorstep in the evening to deliver the deck and to help set it up. We spin a Jacintha record and we both proceed to pick up our jaws off the floor. Spent most of the night listening to records. 

Day 10

Bought some new records. Bought some record cleaning fluid and new LP sleeves. Spent most of the night listening to records.

Day 11

Bought some more records. Spent most of the night listening to records.

Day 12

Spent most of my waking hours (OK, I'm exaggerating a bit here) wondering whether I should have bought a better phono stage, and whether my loading is correct. Experimented with loading and left the Sumiko at MM settings (47 kOhm). The gain is a bit lower than usual, but the MC stage has a maximum resistance loading of 220 Ohms which is a bit too low for the Sumiko.

Day 15

Cleaned some of my dirty records. They sound great. I was almost ready to check them out.

Day 16

I start pondering on the benefits of upgrading my phono stage again.

I finally realised what the whole fuss was about. Good vinyl is good.... very good. It just needs a bit of work and effort to get it right.

Next step is to replace that ageing Ortofon cartridge for the Bluenote. I decided on the Dynavector 10x5. Unfortunately it was out of stock, so I have to wait until next month.

Never mind, good things come to those who wait.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

TAOC Tite-13GS

The TAOC Tite-13GS is tiny, especially compared to its much larger and heavier siblings in the TAOC range.

Picture from TAOC's official website

Measuring just 25 mm in diameter and 10 mm in thickness, each piece weights 30 grams. Sold in a set of 8, their primary use is to act as an isolation disc in between the base of bookshelf speakers and speaker stands.

Apart from that, their use is limited only by your imagination. The local dealer suggests that you can also use them as equipment footers to support very small equipment (like USB/SPDIF converters, power supply boxes etc), or on top of equipment to damp chassis resonance.

I tried a single piece each on top of my Audio-Gd DAC-19 and Kingrex PSU-MkII. Initial results were not encouraging, with the tonal balance simply feeling a bit unnatural. After some experimentation, they ended up close to the transformers. Interestingly, they sounded better off center, rather than directly over the transformer.

In typical TAOC fashion, there is a slight improve in focus, and noticeable improvement in midrange and bass texture and weight.

Used in their intended application, I had mixed results. The reduction in bass boom results in a tighter and leaner presentation. There is an improvement in separation and high frequency extension. However, the midrange becomes more forward and the overall soundstage becomes a few rows closer. The midrange had a lack of ease which I found quite unnatural over time. I ended up re-deploying them on top of equipment, where I had better results.

They cost about SGD 140-180 for a set (depending on promotions offered by the local dealer). Best to try before you buy.

Proac Response D1


The Proac Response D1 is the successor to the Response 1SC. The 1SC was quite popular in this part of the world. Given that our listening rooms are typically quite small (3x4m being about the average size of a bedroom here), there is a big market for high performance speakers that can perform well in smaller acoustic spaces.

Physically, the D1 is a compact (30.5 cm high, 16.8 cm wide, 26 cm deep), but heavy (9 kg) bookshelf speaker.

Available in a wide variety of real wood veneers, the D1 has exemplary finishing and would not be out of place in a picture spread of a home interior magazine.

The D1 in Cherry veneer - Pretty as a picture !

The D1 is a larger speaker than its predecessor, especially in terms of depth. The tweeter drive unit seems similar (a custom Scanspeak silk dome model), while the bass / midrange unit has been changed. The 1SC woofer has a transparent cone with cooper phase plug model, while the D1 has a black glass fiber cone with acrylic phase plug. 

Custom manufacturer Scanspeak silk dome tweeter  

Note the acrylic phase plug

Rhodium plated bi-wiring terminals

On paper, the D1 has slightly better efficiency (87.5 db / 1W / 1m) than the 1SC (86 db / 1W / 1m). Both speakers are rated at a nominal 8 Ohm impedance.

The D1 also is claimed to have improved cabinet damping and crossover parts over the 1SC.

Bi-wiring terminals are provided.

Partnering Equipment

The D1 was placed on Atacama SE24 stands (1/3 filled with sand) in my 3 x 3.5 meter listening room. They were pulled out approximately 70 cm from the rear wall.

Partnering equipment is as follows :-


Squeezebox Touch as transport (powered by Kingrex PSU-Mk II power supply)
Pioneer PD-77 CD player as transport
Audio Gd DAC-19 DSP


Cary SLI-80 Signature Special Edition integrated tube amplifier (Shuguang Black Treasure KT-88 power tubes, Mullard 6922 preamp tubes and Tungsol re-issue 6SN7 driver tubes, Cetron 5R4 rectifier tubes)


Oyaide DR-510 digital cable
Canare L5-CFB digital cable
Acrolink 7N-A2070 interconnect
Oyaide Tunami power cord (Cary)
Acrolink 6N-P4030 power cord (wall to distributor)
Acrolink 6N-P4030 power cord (Kingrex PSU)
Acrolink 7N-P4030 power cord (Audio-Gd)
Acrolink 7N-S1000 speaker cable


I have never heard the 1SC and therefore can only make direct comparisons with the Tablette 50, which I owned for a number of years.

I experimented with speaker positioning and listened to the speaker for about a week before settling down to make some detailed notes. My speaker cables on hand are terminated for single wiring, so I used some high quality jumper cables to facilitate single wiring.

Pairing was only attempted with tube amplification, as my past experience with Proac speakers is that they work exceptionally well with glowing tubes.The D1 liked my Cary more. Although it had excellent tone with my Almarro A-318B, there was a lack of grip and extension. Given its average sensitivity, I would not try the D1 with single digit watt tube amps or other flea powered amps.

Giving the speakers a quick spin, the first thing that strikes you is the excellent integration between both drive units. The second thing is the pin-point imaging and soundstaging.

Coming from my usual speakers, the Focal Micro Utopia Be, my mind had to adjust for the lack of scale and bass weight. But once this is done, you get used to the somewhat lightweight but high quality tight and tuneful bass on offer. It lacks the slam needed for heavy metal and orchestral pieces, and is more suited for the listener with a music diet of jazz, chamber music and vocal works.

The Tablette 50 in comparison has significantly more colouration in the upper bass, with a noticeable chestiness. The D1 sounds a lot more open and avoids the more technicolour presentation of the Tablette 50. I believe that the far better constructed cabinet of the D1 has a part to play in this, with better damping, bracing, and less resonance.

I noticed also that the D1 became more comfortable as the volume knob was advanced. It is quite unflappable even at rather anti-social volumes. The bass comes alive and the initial impressions of a lightweight bass go out the window at higher than moderate volumes. Of course, the law of physics cannot be changed, and low frequency output is limited. However, the bass does belie the physically small dimensions and is tuneful and fast. From a PRAT perspective, the D1 scores top marks. Looks like the D1 is not really for those late night, low volume listeners then.

The D1 has all the hallmark strengths of the Proac brand, like a communicative midband, and a high level of transparency. From a presentation viewpoint, it avoids the hyper detailed and analytical approach, preferring to present musical information in a coherent, and musical manner.

The midband in particular is to be praised for striking the right balance between being open and smooth. Cai Qin sounds suitably rich and weighty, but without obscuring detail. Eva Cassidy still sounds clear and at times piercing (this is inherent in many of her recordings).

High frequencies are quite well extended and clean. The tweeter unit is not the most resolving, but is always well behaved.

On the D1’s weaknesses, a small amount of spatial information and microdetail are lost. Although imaging and soundstaging are precise, they tend to be flatter in perspective compared to class leaders. Listening to familiar materials like Eva Cassidy’s Live at the Blues Alley, and various Patricia Barber albums, I noticed a lack of perception of image depth and height. Instruments and voices are conveyed accurately, but the timbre and texture, as well as the air around the instruments and the singer are not resolved as well.

Violin pieces sound sweeter than usual and there is a slight lack of bite and feel for the resonance from the instrument’s body. This cuts both ways, since it also flatters poor recordings. Thankfully, Piano has the correct timbre and tone, with good attack, weight and feel for both the hammer strike and frame / soundboard.


The D1 is a nice bookshelf speaker. Well suited to bedroom and small listening setups, it is a very competent performer and is engaging and entertaining.

However, price wise, at more than S$ 3,000 per pair, it is expensive for its performance, and faces very stiff competition. It does not suit all musical taste, and will not satisfy the detail spotters. The lack of low frequency extension rules out heavy rockers and metal lovers.

Monday, May 30, 2011

Acrolink Power Cords - A relook into conductor purity

Quick Comparison Table

Model               Price     Gauge        Conductors       Shielding        EMI absorbing cord

7N-P4020III    $90/m    Medium     0.26mm x 37    Copper tape  Yes

6N-P4030        $160/m  Large        0.26mm x 100   None            Yes

7N-P4030II     $200/m   Large       0.26mm x 100   Copper tape  Yes

For purposes of a fair comparison, all cords mentioned were terminated with Oyaide P-004/C-004 connectors, which are the matching plugs for the Oyaide R-1 AC outlet used.


The smallest cable of the lot (by gauge), the 7N-P4020III is supremely flexible and a cinch to strip and terminate.

It is considerably more detailed than the 6N-P4030 with better “look-through” and high frequency extension. Both transient and ambience definition is improved.

In the lower frequencies, it appears to be less weighty than the 6N-P4030. Closer comparisons actually reveal that the 7N-P4020III has deeper and tighter bass. However, the 6N-P4030 has a fuller mid-bass. Overall, the 7N-P4020III sounds tight and grippy, but with little bass bloom. It low frequency reproduction reminds me of the a Class-D amplifier, as opposed to a tube amplifier.

This cable fares well on background “blackness”, dynamics and separation. I would consider it to be a worthy upgrade in most systems and given its affordable cost, it is excellent value compared to the rest of the cables here.

Well after this comparison was done, I swapped the AC plugs for the Oyaide P/C-046 which in my view is a much better match for this cable, with a slighter fuller and more forgiving balance.


The 6N-P4030 is moderately easy to strip but tricky to terminate due to the large gauge of its conductors. To prevent undue strain on the clamping terminals of the Oyaide plugs, it would be best to strip a bit more of the cables than recommended and divide the raw copper strands into two equal bundles, i.e. resembling a two prong fork.

Formerly, my favourite cable (for source equipment), the 6N-P4030 has always impressed me with its refined midrange and high frequencies and its delicate reproduction of ambience and air. It has several weaknesses though. One is that the sheer amount of high frequency information makes the cable sound subjectively bright. Secondly, the equal emphasis on both the transient of the note and the decay may make some systems sound a bit slow. Lastly, it sounds very natural and gentle, and sometimes the force and dynamics of a recording are somewhat diminished.

Comparisons to the 7N siblings illustrate these shortcomings. The 7N cables sound more dynamic with deep extended bass and seemingly faster transients. Lengthy comparisons show that the 6N cable has less control and separation under heavy mixes with a slight loss of refinement.


The 7N-P4030III handles exactly like the 6N-P4030 in terms of flexibility and ease of termination.

Sonically, it combines the best of the two preceding cables. It has the mid-bass bloom lacking in the 7N-4020III while retaining its dynamics, separation, detail and speed. Subjectively the 7N cables have more background “blackness”, perhaps due to the copper tape shield. Overall, this cable sounds focused, while maintaining composure and refinement.

In terms of music, notes on the 6N-P4030 are always soft, gentle and very natural. The 7N-P4030II could be said to be more hi-fi like with a more defined and projected leading edge. The difference in presentation is unlikely to polarize fans of Acrolink cables and the basic DNA and house sound is still there.

To use a food analogy, the 7N-P4030II is like Cantonese soup from a top restaurant, flavoursome, yet crisp, clear and clean. The 6N-P4030 is more like good consommé. Always refined, flavoursome and clear, but with slightly less contrast.

Moving up the pyramid

How do these cables compare with higher end models such as the 6N-PC6100, 7N-PC7100 Mexcel, or heaven forbid the 7N-PC7500 and 7N-PC9500 ? My separate review on the PC7500 and PC9500 may be worth a look.

The PC-6100 has a quieter background and more solid bass. Otherwise, I think the 7N-P4030II has an edge over it in terms of staging, high frequency extension and detail. The PC-7100 is a clear step above these cables, combining the strengths of both, and with added detail and refinement. However, unless you are getting a good price on the PC7100, it is well worth the extra cost to go for the latest PC7500 or PC9500.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Furutech FP-1363 UK AC Outlet

Singapore Audiophiles do not really have much choice in installing audio grade UK wall outlets. Most make do by buying special US outlet faceplates that fit on our existing UK back boxes. This is of course in violation of local electrical codes.

Furutech is one of the few manufacturers to offer a solution - at a price. They make a single or dual outlet UK receptacle, with a choice of gold or rhodium plating. The base metal of the contact points is pure copper and treated with Furutech's proprietary alpha process, which involves both cryogenic and demagnetization treatment.

Featured here is the gold plated duplex model, FP-1363-D(G)

Plain cardboard box (with a bit of sticker shock, according to Mrs. Audiophile)

The plate is rigid and far less resonant than the stock outlet commonly used
A close up of the terminals. No problem with the beefiest of cables

A few pointers when installing these outlets. The faceplate is slightly longer than a standard socket. Measure carefully if installing them in tight corners, or adjacent to other sockets. Secondly, each outlet has an independent terminal, so make sure you have extra cable to jumper both outlets together in case your existing receptacle only has one set of wires. Lastly, the screws supplied are a bit on the short side. Probably fine if your backbox is not deeply recessed, but woefully short for my house installation.

If you do not know how to switch off your mains supply, test your circuit for live current, or to do the installation, please pay a qualified electrician to do it for you. This is not really a situation where you should be cheap.

First impressions after a 24 hour run-in of the outlet were positive. They gripped my matching Furutech FI-UK-1363(G) mains plug tightly and firmly. Apart from a refined smoothness, micro-detail was a step up compared to the stock outlet (a two year old Legrand). High frequencies were a touch cleaner and more extended. It was a subtle improvement but not of the earth shattering nature.

After a week of run in (my source equipment are left powered up permanently), the Furutech opened up slightly. The positive initial impressions remained but the refined smoothness gave way to openness without any hint of harshness. I generally find gold plated connectors a bit soft sounding, so it was a pleasant surprise that the Furutech did not dull transients or obscure detail. There is a possibility that this boils down to the mating of similar metals between the outlet and the matching Furutech UK plug used in my system.

To put things in perspective, I found greater differences in replacing power cords, or receptacles on my power distributor. The improvement brought about by changing the wall socket probably counted for a subtle but noticeable improvement in the 5-10 % region. In a top notch setup, this little bit of difference is enough to bring the system to a higher level. I would tweak elsewhere first, but for the audiophile that has done the whole works except the wall socket, this is well worth the effort.

Monday, May 2, 2011

DIY your own balanced interconnect

DIY your own balanced interconnects with Mogami Neglex 2534 !

Neutrik XLR plugs, Mogami 2534 cable, paper cutter, Kester 44 solder and Teflon plumbers tape

The Mogami Neglex 2534 is a flexible shielded star quad cable, i.e. separate shield and four individually insulated conductors. I have used this cable in both single ended and balanced applications, and this cable really shines in balanced form. Singapore readers can get this cable from Team 108 in Macpherson. You can have a look at their website for contact details and opening hours,

Once you have cut your cable to length, slide the rear plug housings on to the cable. I have lost count of the number of times I have soldered cables happily only to realise that I forgot the backshell !

Strip the cable and conductors, and twist the same coloured conductors together, i.e. form two conductors by twisting the clear cables together, and repeat with the blue cables. Bundle the shield wires together too.

I would suggest tinning the cable ends once you are done.

For plugs, general convention is male on one end, and female on the other. Check your equipment to be sure - I've seen some funky equipment that do not follow this.

Solder the shield to pin 1. Then solder the two conductors to pin 2 and 3. It doesn't matter whether you solder the clear cable or blue cable to pin 2 or 3, just make sure you are consistent on both ends.

Once you are done, it would make sense to wrap the exposed parts with a bit of plumbers tape. Other good practices would be to clean all parts, including the stripped wire with a bit of isopropyl or denatured alcohol, before soldering.

The 2534 may just surprise you. To my ears, it sounds as good as  many other expensive balanced cables that shall remain nameless.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

12AX7 tube comparisons

Here is a quick comparison of new 12AX7 tubes tried recently. All new tubes had at least 20 hours of burn in time on them.

From left, RCA 5751, Sovtek LPS, Tungsol re-issue, Psvane, GE Triple Mica Black Plate 5751. My morning cup of coffee just happened to be there. 

Tungsol re-issue (steel pin)

Following from my review of Tungsol's 6SN7, a quick audition of its 12AX7 brother suggests that New Sensor is going for a particular house sound with Tungsol re-issues. Predictably, the 12AX7 sounds smoother, richer, with more bass emphasis compared to its EH cousins.

The Tungsol has a creamy smooth midrange with a weighty and slightly rounded bass. The trade-off is comparatively less open highs. Brass instruments and the shimmer from ride cymbals have noticeably less rasp and decay. This also affects the retrieval of fine acoustic space. The lower register weight helps Piano notes though which have impact and good timbre.Resolution and dynamics are mediocre.

BTW, like the Sovtek LPS, don't chuck them out if they "fail" to light up. The filaments are so deeply recessed that the tubes do not glow when switched on.

Sovtek LPS

If the Tungsol is "night", then the Sovtek LPS is certainly "day". Not to be confused with the standard Sovtek offerings, the LPS is a Long Plate Spiralled filament version.

The Sovtek has a very tight and focussed sound, against a deathly quiet background. This is far from being a dark sounding tube. Bass is tight although not particularly extended. The midrange is forward and almost solid state like, but grain free. Highs are clear and extended. Dynamics are first class. On the downside, the Sovtek tends to emphasize voice sibilance. When the mix gets really heavy, separation of instruments also tends to fall apart.

Put into perspective its low price, this is an excellent tube that is actually better than a lot of the ho-hum NOS tubes out there. It is not the best available, but could be just the ticket to opening up a dark and slow sounding system.


A premier offering from Shuguang, the Psvane (as well as Shuguang's power tubes sold under the Black Treasure series), is sold with eye-popping prices (for a Sino tube) and rather fanciful (but ultimately useless) foam lined cardboard box with individual test results and serial numbers.

Psvane signal tubes (I had a roll with its 12AU7 brother too) seem to have one thing in common - tonal density. These are not insipid or wispy sounding tubes. They have a strong and full flavour. Bass and midrange are full and smooth. Coupled with good high frequency extension and good separation, they are well balanced and good overall performers. They are also quiet and refined sounding. Top marks for composure - they never lose their cool, even under complex and messy mixes.

In terms of ultimate high frequency extension and speed, the Sovtek LPS have an edge over the Psvane. The Psvane also tends to deliver larger than life images - perfect for the SET / full range speaker crowd.

If its tonal balance suits you, this is a very nice tube. Objectively, it is head and shoulders above most current production tubes (and it should be - with a matching price tag). However, I could think of a few NOS tubes that could blow it out of the water, or at least give it a serious run for the money.

RCA 5751 double mica black plate / GE triple mica black plate

OK. The 5751 is not a 12AX7 tube. They have slightly lower gain, but other than that can generally be used as a substitute for 12AX7 tubes in buffer and line level applications. My tubes were bought NOS from a well known local dealer and have at least a few hundred hours on them. They are featured here as a comparison between new tubes and NOS. Price wise, the Psvanes are almost as expensive as the RCAs.

The RCA has a nice big and wet bass. It has a rich and creamy midrange which controls sibilants well. On the  downside, brass lacks bite and dynamically, this tube sounds a little bit slow. In comparison, the GE triple mica 5751 grey plate or the Sylvania triple mica gold pins are significantly faster and more open. Rather unfortunately, the tubes mentioned have become horrendously expensive as of late. For the money, I would pick the Psvane over the RCA.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Kingrex PSU Mk II - DIY DC Cable

Here is a nice project for a lazy Sunday afternoon. Frustrated with your stock DC cable that comes with your Kingrex PSU ? Come on guys, the cable is far too short !

Parts List

1x Neutrik Male XLR socket
2x 1m 18 AWG Neotech 7N Teflon insulated PCOCC copper cable or silver cable
1x Switchcraft 760 DC jack (fits my Squeezebox Touch just fine)


Step by step instructions are probably unnecessary for this simple project.

I twisted the cables together lightly to provide a bit of RF rejection. It is worthwhile to also consider using shielded cable for this purpose.


Initial impressions were that of a more detaled midrange and larger image size. Unfortunately, the high frequencies also sounded a bit hashy and the overall sound is quite grainy. In comparison, the stock cable is smooth, with a relatively laidback soundstage. The stock cable also sounds a little bit vague and the tonal contrast is lacking.

After 10 hours of burn in, things got better. The hash and grain are still there but are less prominent. The soundstage is a lot deeper and front to back layering is more distinct. Midrange is more forward which may not be to everyone's taste.

At the 30 hour mark, the cable is well settled and refined. Instruments are firm and transients are solid and distinct.   In guitar solos, you can clearly hear the pluck and reverbation of each string, together with the resonance of the guitar body. The midrange although more forward compared to the stock cable is both more full bodied and detailed.Soundstaging gets a boost too with good gains in stage width, height and depth.

With about 100 hours of burn in, the cable feels quite well settled. It is not a dramatic change compared to the 30 hour mark, but the improvements are nevertheless still significant. The cable still remains more forward compared to the stock cable, and although the treble is grain free, sibilance on female vocals is more noticeable. Piano notes in particular are solid, firm with a distinct separation between the strike of the hammer against the strings, and the resonance of the body of the piano.

In terms of sonic gains, this is at least the equivalent of an interconnect or power cable upgrade.All in all, this is an impressive upgrade for about S$ 30 in parts and less than 30 minutes of time.

If you are interested in a cost no object version, you could try using higher grade Neutrik XLR jacks (there are several different grades depending on the choice of plating of the metal pins), and Neotech's solid silver wire.

Solid Silver Wire Version

Over the last weekend, I decided to try out an improved version as suggested above. Utilising the same twisted wire construction, this cable is made out of 18 gauge Neotech solid silver cable. The cable was additionally cryo treated by the local distributor for a small premium.

Isn’t silver wire bright ? In my experience, silver is seldom bright. Silver plated copper can sound bright, but none of the solid silver cables I have handled or owned sound bright or edgy, which are common adjectives used to describe silver cables.

There were good sonic gains compared to my copper cable. The sound is similarly laidback, but imaging is more focused, and the level of fine detail is significantly better. Although the cable had only chalked up about 20 hours of burn in, it was able to outperform the copper cable by a comfortable margin.

Authority and extension on both frequency ends were enhanced, and the “atmospheric” feel of live records made it feel like you were almost there. The experience was just simply more holographic. You add about S$100 of cost, but this is money wisely spent. Given the overall low cost of making this cable, I would advise all readers to simply plump out for the silver cable version.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Brief audition of the Usher BE-718 DMD with Calyx DAC and integrated amplifier

I am quite familiar with the original Usher BE-718 which uses a Beryllium alloy tweeter. The BE-718 and the X-718 that preceded it stirred up quite a lot of controversy, from its close resemblance to a certain other renowned manufacturer, to the Beryllium content (or lack thereof) of its tweeter dome.

Controversy notwithstanding, the BE-718 sounded great and I would have walked home with a pair if my amplifier had the power to drive it. Audio Basic had no issues driving it with their solid state amplifiers, but a quick hook up to a 30 watt per channel EL-34 push pull amplifier proved that these speakers really thrive on power.

Fast forwarding to the BE-718 DMD, I believe that the speaker is internally identical to the BE-718, with identical crossover points etc. Worldwide, dealers are offering the DMD tweeters to BE-718 owners as a drop-in upgrade. Local users should be aware that the domestic version is not the same as the U.S. version which sports a tweaked crossover with upgraded capacitors and internal wiring.

Driven by the Calyx DAC and integrated amplifier (100 watts per channel into 8 ohms), the BE-718 DMD sounds quite different from its Beryllium predecessor, primarily in the resolution of air and detail. The Beryllium tweeter is already quite extended and resolving, and the DMD tweeter is a further step in this direction.

Are either tweeters bright ? That depends on what you are coming from. I think they are fine and subjectively sound less bright than the Beryllium tweeters on my Focal Micro Utopia BE. Of course, a tweeter does not maketh the speaker.

On the low frequency front, the Usher has a fair amount of grunt and good low bass given its cabinet size. Bass lines are agile enough and the amount of bass should be just right for a standard Singapore sized HDB bedroom (3x4 meters).

Going up to the midrange, vocals are smooth although slightly dry. The upper midrange has a slight hardness to it and brass instruments seem more prominent compared to other speakers.

The high frequencies are the true star of this speaker, with speed, resolution and air that are truly impressive for the asking price of these speakers.

Subjectively, the Focal is a better speaker. It has more bass authority, a better midrange, and more resolving high frequencies. It also throws a bigger soundstage and can resolve front to back layering better than the Usher. The Focal also happens to be much more expensive than the Usher.

At its present promotion price, I think the Usher is an excellent buy (contact X-audio or Audio Basic directly for prices). Is it worth it for original BE-718 owners to upgrade to the DMD tweeter ? I think that it is a far more difficult proposition. The cost of the DMD tweeters as sold locally is substantial. Although the DMD tweeters sound better to my ears, I would not put that much a premium to it to justify the cost.

Last but not least, credit also goes to the Calyx duo. The Calyx DAC (24/192) offers world class resolution at affordable prices, while the Calyx integrated amp never ran out of steam, even at rather uncomfortable volume levels. The Calyx integrated amp also has a built-in DAC and USB input (24/96 only). Add a Mac Mini, Calyx integrated amp and the Usher, and you have a very nice system for around S$ 6,000. Now where were systems like this when I started out in hi-fi 20 years ago ?

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Shuguang KT-88Z Black Treasure Tubes

Shuguang's Black Treasure KT-88 tubes are being run-in on my Cary amp at the moment.

Visually striking, these tubes are classy. Launched to commemorate the 50th anniversary of Shuguang, the Black Treasure tubes are said to have 60 differences compared to their normal line. The most obvious is the black high polymer compound carbon coating inside.

Initial testing upon power up resulted in a loud crackling distortion that lasted about 2 seconds before disappearing one one channel. It never happened again, so I would not put too much into that.

Trawling the internet revealed user accounts of long tedious burn in (200-600 hours), with an accompanying roller coaster ride in quality in the process. It kinds of reminds me of my Mundorf Silver-in-oil burn-in experience.

Thankfully, the Black Treasure sounded quite good from the outset. With about 10 hours under their belt,  initial impressions are that of exquisite refinement and quietness. Compared to the Genalex re-issues that preceded them, the Black Treasures had less bass bloom, but a more refined midrange and treble. The Genalex has more prominent bass, with a fatter upper bass that gives music solidity and heft. The Black Treasure is arguably tighter and more controlled.

The Back Treasure really differentiates itself on the midrange and treble. Apart from its inky black background, the dynamic contrast, and low level resolution were world class. Holographic presentation of instruments and voices, and the accompanying acoustic space were superb. The only fly in the ointment was the extension and air of high frequencies. Compared to the Genalex, the Black Treasures sounded restrained, and simply unable to let go. The local dealer and another hi-fi friend assures me that this would disappear upon extended run-in.

The highs eventually opened up. There was no "ah-ha" moment where the dark clouds parted, and the sun shone down on my humble abode. Rather, there was a slow and progressive opening up of the sound, with everything coming together quite well at about the 50 hour mark.

I checked the tubes every few weeks, and bias remained spot on. Sadly, one tube died on me after about a year of use (approximately 300 hours of usage).

Oh yes, please peel of the stickers affixed to the base of the tubes. They will drop off at the most inconvenient moment possible, and if you are really unlucky, fall inside your amp, or on some hot component. Across the six Treasure Tubes I used (from two different batches), I can guarantee you that this will happen as a matter of certainty.

Black Treasure tubes are available in Singapore from Live Acoustics,

Highly recommended.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

DIY Power Distributor

No money for fancy power distributors ? Why not make your own ?

I saw a very nice solid aluminum power distributor casing in one of our local electronics surplus stores. It certainly could not be considered as refined, but was made from solid 5 mm thick sheets and had nice cut out holes for US sockets and an IEC inlet.

Choose your favourite sockets and your internal cabling of choice, and you are ready to go.

In my case, I used the following :-

1 x Oyaide SWO-XXX AC outlet

1 x Hubbell 8300 Hospital Grade AC outlet

1 x Hubbell 5362i AC outlet

1 x IEGO gold plated IEC inlet

Neotech 12 AWG PC-OCC teflon insulated solid core copper wire

Raw materials before assembly. 

Fit and finish is a bit rough

Close-up of the Iego IEC gold plated inlet. Silver plated o-ring terminals are provided.

You can also put in your choice of damping material, e.g. Fo.q, bitumen sheets. Feel free to put in other stuff like AC line filters (X-rated capacitors only please and make sure that your leads are well insulated !). For the new age guys, put in your crystals of choice.

There you have it – a nice and high quality distributor for not too much money.

Ground wires all terminate on the earth screw of the first AC receptacle

The bent Neotech cables. A good work out ! Getting the right length is absolute critical.

Dry fit

Finished product !

Any practical tips ? If I had another go at this, I would use either multi-stranded copper wire or multiple runs of a smaller gauge wire. The 12 AWG is stiff as hell. Needless to say, please check your wiring for continuity and shorts using a multimeter before connecting it to the mains.

Based on my daisy chain wiring, the first set of receptacles would sound the best. Wiring the receptacles in parallel would have been difficult and probably require me to change to thinner cables to terminate properly at the IEC inlet.

Also, the screws provided on this casing are absolutely useless and deform at the slightest pressure. All screws and hex nuts were changed to stainless steel type.

The outlets of the Hubbell are connected together via a thin metal bridge (to facilitate snap off in case of split voltage wiring needs). I suppose breaking off the metal bridge and using a copper wire would improve the sound a bit.

Total cost if you used Hubbell outlets  and Neotech copper wire would be about USD 160. If you were feeling rich, you could use the Oyaide R-1 (which I use in an Oyaide MTB-6 used in my main system) and solid silver wiring.

Where should you spend your money ?

I compared this to my Oyaide MTS-6, which is a basic model distributor, with unplated Oyaide AC receptacles, and copper wiring, as well as my Oyaide MTB-6 which is made from thicker metal and has solid silver wiring. Both my MTS-6 and MTB-6 have identical receptacles, the R-1 and SWO-XXX.

The MTS-6 was noticeable inferior to my DIY distributor, while the MTB-6 has no difficulty surpassing it.

Given a budget, I would spend most of the money on a quality and heavy chassis, followed by the choice of receptacles, and lastly the internal wiring. Despite the high performance of the R1, it was simply unable to perform in the MTS-6.

Happy DIYing ! An important disclaimer, if you have no idea what you are doing, please buy a commercial product. We are dealing with lethal voltages here.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

6SN7 Comparisons

Here are some listening notes from experimenting with a variety of 6SN7 tubes in my Cary SLI-80 integrated amp (used as a driver).

Tungsol GTB re-issue

These tubes are really quite good. After chalking some hours under their belt, these tubes have good handling on both bass and treble extension and have a smooth and liquid midrange. I find the Tungsol to be a wee bit less transparent than the EH, but the Tungsol has the heft and liquidity that could be said to be more musical. Dynamics in particular are superior on the Tungsol. Instruments and voices also tend to have more tonal density and bigger image size compared to the EH.


Visually, the internals of the EH tube are almost identical to the Tungsol re-issue. The plates are of a slightly different colour, and the halo getter is larger and  the bottom part of the ring is attached to  the support rods, compared to the Tungsol where the top part of the ring is attached to the support rods.

Sound wise, both tubes have quite a lot in common but also enough differences to justify choosing one over the other.

Overall, the EH is a little bit lightweight in comparison to the Tungsol. The Tungsol has a firmer and meatier bass and a thicker midrange. The EH has a good shimmery top end. Instruments are well separated but are a bit lacking in height and depth.
To sum it up, the Tungsol has a more romantic balance, while the EH has a more modern and analytical feel to it.

General Electric  GTA D getter

This tube has the strongest feeling of “being there”. The sense of acoustic space and the 3D soundstage projected are its strong points. Its weakest point is an overall lack of bass weight, and an energetic top end that seems to emphasize sibilance and get lost in complex mixes. Its strong points warrant it serious consideration but in the end I preferred the more even handed presentation from the RCA and Tungsol.

RCA GTB Black Plate

The RCAs project good acoustic space and strike me as being a better behaved version of the GE. Its bass is not as impactful as the Tungsol but has better weight and extension compared to the GE. It has a denser and creamier midrange than the GE and more organized and controlled highs. It is not quite as holographic or transparent as the GE but is more balanced in its approach.

Cary labeled 6SN7

These tubes came as stock in my Cary. I am not too sure who manufactured them but looking at their construction, they look quite similar to Shuguang tubes.

This is a very soft and gentle sounding tube, with a rounded bass that tends to diminish the impact and dynamics of the music. It has a very smooth midrange that is thick and creamy. It is not really a bad sounding tube, but tends to convey music in a warm and syrupy kind of way. It has a reasonably open top end that is well behaved. Well suited for taming a bright system, but it’s a bit too heavy handed for my taste.


My two favourites of this test group are the RCA Black Plates and the Tungsol Re-issue. The Tungsol in particular is affordable, widely available and a decent alternative to NOS / used vintage tubes that are becoming increasingly difficult to obtain cheaply, especially in Asia. The Electro Harmonix should not be written off and should be considered if a leaner and brighter presentation is preferred.