Sunday, May 18, 2014

Top drawer cables - some observations

I spent a week with two bagfuls of top drawer cables. OK, some may argue that there are far more expensive and better cables out there, but not every audiophile is comfortable with cables priced with a whole string of zeros in all the wrong places.

The ever enthusiastic Ivan Cheng of Norman Audio wanted me to try these cables as an alternative to my usual cabling, which is a mix of Acoustic Revive and Acrolink. Well, being the typical audiophile, I absolutely hate to try new things (with absolutely no strings attached I may add), or to tinker about in my system. If you believe the preceding statement, you obviously are not an audiophile. Maybe you believe in Unicorns and Leprechauns too ?

I left Norman Audio with two plastic bags full of cables. The original plan was to outfit me with enough cables to wire up my whole system. Unfortunately, we had to omit the MIT speaker cables as there simply was not enough space in the two very full plastic bags.

After ensuring that no suspicious characters were following me, I promptly left the shop and deposited the cables directly into the safety of my office. I did not ask about the price of the cables, which both Ivan and I thought would be a good way of ensuring that I was free from price tag bias. I eventually checked the prices online to do up this post - I should have asked for a large aluminum flightcase and handcuffs to transport these cables home.

The two inconspicuous plastic bags contained a variety of cables from Siltech, Crystal Cable, and MIT.

From top clockwise - MIT SL Matrix 36, CrystalSpeak Reference Diamond speaker cables, CrystalConnect Reference Diamond interconnects, Crystal Dreamline interconnects

My power amplifier is located a distance away from the preamp, necessitating a 1.5 m cable. Ivan had thoughtfully provided a Siltech Classic Anniversary 770i, as well as an MIT SL Matrix 36 and 50 in long lengths.

The MIT has adjustable impedance switching which should be selected according to the input impedance of the upstream component

This is by no means meant to be a review, but is instead an article of the general characteristics of the cables tested, and how they sounded in my system.

Inventory List

Here is a list of the cables that I was provided,

Crystal Cable

1 pair of CrystalConnect Reference Diamond RCA interconnects
1 pair of CrystalConnect Dreamline RCA interconnects
2 sets of CrystalPower Reference Diamond power cords
1 pair of CrystalSpeak Reference Diamond speaker cables


1 pair of Classic Anniversary 770i RCA interconnects
2 sets of Classic Anniversary SPX-800 power cords
1 pair of Classic Anniversary 770L speaker cables


1 pair of MIT SL Matrix 36 RCA interconnects
1 pair of MIT SL Matrix 50 RCA interconnects

Crystal Cable

I left the Siltech Classic Anniversary 770i in my system between my preamp and poweramp for most of these tests. Then, I tried the interconnects first, followed by the power cord (only for my poweramp as the 1m set was too short to reach my preamp or source), and finally the speaker cables.

I liked the Dreamline interconnects very much. Like most of the other Crystal Cables tried, the Dreamline had ruler flat neutrality. Both the bass and treble were very extended and detailed, with excellent articulation exhibited in double bass and low piano notes, as well as percussion work. Soundstaging was excellent, with impressive width and depth.

Crystal Dreamline Interconnect - This was one of my favourite interconnects

CrystalPower Reference Diamond power cable. Despite its two core appearance, the cable is grounded, presumably via the shield  

The Reference Diamond in comparison had less bass extension, with a slightly fuller and warmer midband. Overall resolution was not as good as the Dreamline and nowwhere near as enjoyable. I suspected the cables were not run-in, as there was substantial improvement and change to the sound as I ran in the cables over a duration of 100 hours.

The power cords and speaker cables had a similar house sound with a very open soundstage, exemplary neutrality and control at both frequency extremes. The cables had a very low noise floor, were free from grain and displayed outstanding low level resolving power.

The Crystal Cables did not impart any bloom of their own, nor spotlight any particular part of the frequency spectrum.

Listening to the cables in isolation, I felt that all of the cables (except the Reference Diamond interconnect) were equally strong. Whether it was inserting either the Dreamline interconnect or the Reference Diamond speaker cables into my main system, or using the Reference Diamond power cord on my Job 225 amplifier - the effect was similar, with the opening up of the soundstage, and a major step forward in speed, control and resolution.


The Siltech cables have similarities sonic qualities to the Crystal Cables which is not surprising given their common heritage. I felt that the Siltech cables had slightly more mid-bass bloom and midrange warmth. This made their cables sound meatier and more organic sounding. Cymbals had more of a golden glow to it, with a more solid sound from the initial strike. I think preference for either Siltech or Crystal would depend on your taste.

Siltech Classic Anniversary SPX-800 power cord and 770L speaker cables

Siltech Classic Anniversary 770i interconnects


The SL Matrix 50 was a clear step above the SL Matrix 36, and I decided to spend some time with the Matrix 50 instead. This cable had one of the deepest and most impactful basslines compared to the other cables I had on hand. The bass was not as wet or articulated as the Crystal though. I found the overall sound slightly less lively compared to the Crystal and Siltech, with an overall more austere presentation.

Soundstaging was very wide and deep, with good detail retrieval. I found the overall image sizes smaller compared to the Crystal and Siltech, with very precise placement of instruments and voices. There was a slight and quite subtle difference switching the impedance selector from 40-100 Kohms to >90 Kohms, although it would be difficult to distinguish the two (my Conrad Johnson preamp does not specify input impedance - but it is likely to be high, being a tube based circuit).

Saturday, May 17, 2014

Essence of Music - Two Step CD Cleaner and Treatment Kit

How do you look after your CDs ? I usually wash them once in a while in a basin of tap water with a drop of dish washing liquid added. It is effective to get rid of any fingerprints, dust, and fungus.

I've not used an professional cleaning kit before, although I do admit to resorting to brasso and toothpaste in an attempt to remove deep scratches from damaged discs (neither worked by the way).

The Essence of Music Kit comes in a simple cardboard box. Open the box, and you will find two spray bottles of 20ml each, which look dangerously similar to some of my wife's cosmetic products. Two microfiber cleaning cloths are provided too, as well as finger cots to protect your precious digits from the overall nastiness of the liquid solutions. The manufacturer claims that the kit can treat up to 400 discs.

Application is straightforward. Spray on the first liquid and rub the disc surface for one minute with your cot protected finger. Then apply the second liquid and rub again for one minute. Wipe off the milky emulsion that forms with the small microfiber cloth. Spray on the second liquid again and wipe off the liquid using the large microfiber cloth. Leave it to air dry and you are done. That's all folks. OK, it seems a bit complicated, but the procedure  will probably become ingrained in your memory after the third or fourth disc.

The milky emulsion forms after application of the second liquid spray

Wipe off with the small microfiber cloth

Spray the second liquid again and wipe off with the large microfiber cloth
The instructions omit this, but it would be best to ensure that your disc is meticulously clean before you apply the liquid as you want to avoid rubbing surface contaminants all over your disc when you rub the liquid in.

The product claims to improve the optical quality of discs by increasing disc transparency, as well as reducing static build-up. According to Essence of Music, the two step coating uses nano coating technology which combines to form a self-assembling monolayer to create an ultra smooth disc surface.

I tried this on a few of my favourite discs. This product has a significant effect on sonics. In summary, there is an increase in clarity, low level resolution, and improvement in body and tonal density. Music ends up being delivered with a musical fluidity that is at the same time effortless and resolving. I greatly preferred my discs post treatment.

Like some of my other posts, some readers would have stopped reading at this point, deciding never to read anything else from this foolish audiophile who obviously has no listening skills and is too easily taken in by snake oil. Others may invite me to rip the disc to ensure that the tracks are digitally identical prior and post treatment. After all, we all know that this is digital, and as long as the tracks are bit identical, they cannot sound different ?

Optical discs are a tricky bunch. I keep two identical files on my computer, one ripped normally, and one ripped from a disc that was treated by an Acoustic Revive RD-3 CD demagnetizer, followed by the SK-CD electrostatic excluder immediately prior to ripping. All of my visitors have commented on the obvious sonic differences between both tracks, despite both files being digitally identical.

If you believe that such treatments do make a difference, then the Essence of Music kit is worth checking out.

As a matter of disclosure, I was given the Essence of Music kit gratis by the local distributor for my evaluation.

The Essence of Music cleaner and treatment kit is available in Singapore from Horizon Acoustics, 144 Upper Bukit Timah Road, #03-15, Beauty World Centre.

Sunday, May 11, 2014

Happy Mother's Day !

A Happy Mother's Day to all mothers out there.

I took the opportunity to cook a nice Mother's Day meal for the mother of my child.

These farmed oysters from New Zealand had just arrived in the shop and the staff member was quite enthusiastic about them. They were quite unique tasting with a slight briny attack, and luscious creaminess.

The next course was French onion soup and duck leg confit. All washed down with a nice bottle of champagne.

Thursday, May 8, 2014

Hagerman Audio Labs Frybaby


Audiophiles are an impatient lot. The problem with our hobby is that burn-in is a necessary evil to hear almost any audio component at it's best.

One of my dealer friends once reminded me not to make any hasty judgement of any Focal Utopia speaker before it had at least 500 to 1000 hours on it. "These impatient guys never hear the Beryllium tweeter open up, and think that the problem lies with the speaker and sell it off.", he advised in his usual sagely way.

I am now on to my second Utopia speaker, and his words could not have been truer. The Teflon capacitors in my Conrad Johnson also require punishing burn-in, with most users reporting significant changes at the 300 hour mark, with further changes happening all the way up to the 1000 hour mark.

You could use one of the many burn-in CDs on the market and put your CD player on repeat, but I hate reducing the life of my laser pick-up just for this purpose.

I've been using the Frybaby for a few years already, but somehow forgot to do a write-up on this wonderful device.


Jim Hagerman runs a small company, Hagerman Audio Labs ("HAL"), which is based in Hawaii. HAL is quite well known for it's low cost but high performance designs that have been offered to the DIY crowd. HAL also makes a number of innovative devices such as burn-in devices and even a vacuum tube tracer !

The subject of this post is the Frybaby, a compact burn-in device that can either be powered off a 9V dry cell battery, or off it's supplied AC adapter.

The Frybaby could not be simpler. It's housing opens to accept the 9V battery, which should power the device for approximately 33 hours for a single Alkaline cell. A single knob on top of the device selects the output level, with a setting for moving magnet and moving coil phono stages, and a setting for normal line level output. A pair of RCA jacks are located on one end of the unit, together with a jack for the AC adapter. An LED indicates power as well as operation, blinking at the rate of modulation.

Adapters are also supplied to convert the RCA jack to a pair of twin binding posts, for the purpose of running in speaker cables.

The line level burn-in signal is 1V, with 10 mV output for MM and 1 mV output for MC. The bandwith of the signal is from 200 Hz to 20 kHz, with a sweep tone from 2 Hz to 200 Hz. A CD with a burn-in track is also provided in case you need to run-in your CD player.


Application of the Frybaby is limited only by your imagination. Here is what I use my Frybaby for :-

1. RCA interconnect cable burn-in

HAL recommends burn-in in what they describe as "voltage mode". The interconnects are connected as per normal, with the other end not connected to anything. After 48 hours, "current mode" burn-in is done by looping the interconnects back to the other RCA terminal. You can do as many cables as you want, by connecting the cables together in series using the supplied RCA female to female adapters.

"Voltage mode" burn-in

"Current mode" burn-in

2. Speaker cable burn-in

The same method is employed as for RCA interconnects, except using the supplied RCA to speaker binding post adapters.

3. Running-in your amplifier

Hook up the Frybaby to one of the RCA inputs. You can burn-in each input that you will be using for best results. In the case of pre / power setups, only the preamp needs to be switched on unless you need to burn-in your power amp too.

4. Running-in your tonearm cables and phono interconnects

This is a highly recommended tweak. When running-in tonearm cables and phono interconnects, this is best done at high level output, as the low voltages typically seen by your cables are really too small to achieve effective burn-in. You will need to disconect your tonearm wires from your cartridge and find a way to hook up your Frybaby to the cartridge clips. You could find a cheap stock interconnect, cut off the plugs on one end, and solder small alligator clips on to the wires to facilitate hook-up.

5. Running-in your phono stage

Select the appropriate output for your phono stage and plug it into your phono stage.

6. Running-in speakers

Most of my amplifiers are tube based and are not practical for running-in speakers for long durations. I hook up the Frybaby to a small T-amp I keep around for this purpose. For powered subwoofers, the Frybaby is plugged straight into the subwoofer RCA input.

The burn-in tone is quite bearable, sounding more like a table fan on steroids. I've even managed to burn-in my bedroom speakers while I sleep, albeit at low levels.


The benefits of burn-in are quite audible to my ear, even for setups with thousands of hours under their belt. The effect varies from cable to cable. Some cables start off being bright, harsh and lacking in bass, while some sound dull and shut-in.

Even old and well used cables seem to benefit from periodic burn-in every 6 months of so. I cannot offer any explanation for this, but do give it a shot.


Does every audiophile need a Frybaby ? Perhaps not. But if you change equipment often, or own equipment that need length burn-in, the Frybaby quickly pays for itself.

Need to do powercords ? Have a look at the Frycorder instead.

The Frybaby costs USD 249 (worldwide shipping included), and can be ordered directly from HAL at