Thursday, October 30, 2014

Sony MAP-S1 Multi Audio Player System and SS-HW1 Speakers


The Sony MAP-S1 is a compact all-singing and dancing micro component system. 

As tiny as they come - the MAP-S1 is nevertheless functionally fully loaded.

The MAP-S1 consists of a 50 watt per channel (into 4 ohms loads) receiver integrated with a front loading CD slot. The built in DAC is capable of decoding high resolution audio files of up to 24 bit resolution and a sampling rate of 192 kHz. 

Input flexibility is excellent with a front panel high current (2.1 A) type A USB port for thumb drives / hard drives and a rear type B USB port for connection to a computer. DLNA support is provided via Wi-Fi or ethernet. All major file formats are supported, including DSD. Airplay and Bluetooth are also supported. On the analogue front, a pair of line level input and output jacks are also provided. 

The lacquer finish on the SS-HW1 is good enough to pass off as fine furniture.

A close-up shot of the top-mounted super tweeter.

Rear facing port and 5 way binding posts.
The SS-HW1 is a small bookshelf speaker, sporting 4 drive units, in a 3-way reflex loaded design. The drive complement consists of a 13 cm mica loaded woofer, a 25 mm soft dome tweeter, and a pair of 19 mm super tweeters. One of the super tweeters is forward firing, and the other unit fires upward.

Specifications wise, the SS-HW1 has a rated frequency response of 50 Hz - 50 kHz (no limits stated), 4 ohm nominal impedance and 83db sensitivity. Compared to it's peers, the SS-HW1 could be considered to be an inefficient and difficult to drive load. 

A detachable grill is provided, although in a rather daring move, the top mounter super tweeter is left fully exposed. I certainly hope Sony has a large stock of super tweeters on hand - itchy fingers are bound to result in a lot of dented units.

The reflex port is located on the rear of the speaker, together with a single pair of 5-way binding posts. The circular shape of the terminal block may present a bit of difficulty if your speaker cables are terminated with large spades.

The SS-HW1 is 171mm wide, 273 mm deep and 309 mm tall. A single speaker weighs in at 5.1 kg. 


Using the MAP-S1 out of the box was not too difficult. In fact, most of my time was spent removing the plastic inserts out of the speaker binding posts in order to use my banana plug terminated speaker cables.

Accessing the unit's functions via the various buttons and knobs on the front panel was a bit fiddly. It was far more efficient to download the recommended Sony app, "SongPal". Once I had the app running on my iPhone, I connected my phone to the MAP-S1 via Bluetooth. The app then prompted exporting the wireless settings of my home network to the MAP-S1, and established a connection within seconds. SongPal supports Deezer, and internet radio via TuneIn. SongPal definitely gets top marks from me for ease-of-use and stability. 

For purposes of this review, I set up the SS-HW1 on 24 inch tall Partington Dreadnought Broadside stands, with the speakers placed about 6 feet apart, and well away from the side and back walls. The speakers were toed-in with the speakers firing to a point a few feet behind me.

Although speaker cable was supplied, I used a 2.5 m pair of Acrolink 7N-S14000III speaker cables terminated with Oyaide SRBN banana plugs.

I tried the various inputs, but for most of this review, I settled for playback via CD, or feeding the MAP-S1 via USB from my Macmini running Pure Music software.

Sound Quality

Paired with the SS-HW1, the MAP-S1 exceeded my expectations given the high feature count and modest price tag.

The SS-HW1 produced a full mid-bass, smooth midrange and an airy top end. Mid to high frequencies showed a bit of restraint, with a slight emphasis on very highest frequencies. On classical music, this translates to sweeter and fuller than usual violin tone, with an increased sense of ambience of the recording venue. 

The Sony speakers also had no issues casting a wide and moderately deep soundstage with a good sense of image height (courtesy of the top mounted super tweeter ?). Image sizes were slightly larger than usual. The listening sweet spot was also generously large, and you probably won't need to fight with other family members for the best seat in the house. 

Resolving power is above average, although the SS-HW1 can be best described as a speaker with a "big-picture" perspective. There is some smoothing over of detail, but this can be quite useful in taming "hot" and poor quality recordings.

Any other downsides ? I noticed a bit of mid-bass colouration especially at louder levels (cabinet resonance perhaps ?). I also found that the SS-HW1 sounded better on smaller scale music like acoustic jazz, female vocals, chamber music, etc. The bass response on the SS-HW1 showed some signs of congestion on louder and fast types of music.   

Although I had some reservations about the ability of the MAP-S1 to drive a difficult load such as the SS-HW1, the combination seemed fine, with sufficient power and control at typical domestic listening levels. 

To further evaluate the quality of the SS-HW1, I hooked them up to my personal equipment, a Gryphon Diablo integrated amp paired with an Antelope Audio Zodiac Gold DAC. 

The generous power on tap (the Gryphon is rated for 500 watts per channel into 4 ohm loads) and grip really helped to keep the bass performance of the SS-HW1 under control. The Antelope / Gryphon lifted the performance of the SS-HW1, with a healthy increase in bass grip, speed, dynamics, staging confidence and overall resolution. 


I really think that Sony got it right with the MAP-S1. It sounds good, and it's internet / network play capabilities offer great flexibility. Performance wise, it punches well above its weight, especially for its asking price. I would highly recommend the MAP-S1 for the budding audiophile, or anyone who is looking for a compact and good sounding all-in-one component.

The SS-HW1 sounds good with the MAP-S1, and it is nice to know that these tiny speakers can grow together with any system upgrades. They are more expensive that I would have liked, but are otherwise a competent performer in a superbly finished package. I found it easy to overlook it's shortcomings and enjoyed it's rich and pleasing reproduction of music.

The recommended consumer price for the MAP-S1 is S$ 1,199, and S$ 999 for the SS-HW1.

I would like to thank Sony Singapore for supplying the review unit, and it's media partner Waggener Edstrom for making all the necessary arrangements.  

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

AVM (Audio Video Manufaktur) - Udo Besser visits Singapore


I confess to having little knowledge about AVM prior to attending this event. A quick flurry of research unearthed some interesting facts about AVM. It has quite a long history, and it's present owner, Mr. Udo Besser has an established track record in the audio industry, being formerly CEO of the well known German high end audio company, Burmester.

Browsing through AVM's website, the impression conveyed was that of elegantly designed products catering to a wide range of customers - from the beginner to the very serious enthusiast.


AVM's exclusive dealer in Singapore, Sound Decisions had arranged for Udo to meet some of it's customers and members of the hi-fi press at it's cosy showroom.

A number of products had been set-up for demonstration including the SD 5.2 Streaming DAC from AVM's Evolution line of products, and the PA8 modular preamp and MA8.2 monoblock amplifiers from it's top range - the Ovation line.

Also on display was a line-up of all-in-one solutions (CD, DAC, tuner, and amplifier - just add speakers !).

The mighty Ovation MA8.2 mono power amplifier.

From top to bottom :- Inspiration C8 CD-Receiver, Evolution SD5.2 Streaming DAC, Evolution C9 CD Receiver. 

Attendees were shown how the SD5.2 could be operated, both using the supplied radio frequency remote control, and with an iPhone running AVM's iOS app (under development). The remote control and the iPhone were able to simultaneously control the SD5.2 seamlessly - selecting tracks from the connected NAS, or from music files stored on the iPhone. It was even possible to power up and power down the system. 

Udo then made a short presentation on AVM, with a description of the different product lines. 

Some points of interest :-

1. AVM manufactures it's products in Malsch, Germany.

2. The vacuum tubes used in it's products are custom designed and manufactured specifically for AVM and then screened and tested for quality by the tube manufacturer.

3. The mono output boards in the Ovation series power amplifier are fed separately by a small dedicated toroidal transformer for each individual board, instead of the common industry practice of using a single massive transformer with multiple voltage taps. 

4. AVM uses UcD Hypex amplifier modules specially customised for AVM in its entry and mid level product lines.

5. Custom finishes are available at extra cost including a stunningly beautiful mirrored chrome finish (I couldn't help but mention this to whet the appetite of all you Burmester fans out there).

I was impressed by the build quality of the products on display, coupled with reasonable pricing. I especially liked the tactile feel in operation of the knobs and switches, and the elegant designs that exuded class.

A close-up of the tube output board, with the custom specified and manufactured tubes.

You can definitely put my name down for the optional chrome finish.

Udo in Conversation

I asked Udo whether he designed his products with a certain philosophy in mind. His answer was that sound quality is his most important objective. Any particular technical design choice would be made based on this. As an example, he cited amplifier power - the end objective was not to make the most powerful amplifier available, but high power output (e.g. in the Ovation series amplifiers) was a by-product of pursuing that objective.

We also discussed the choice of a switched mode power supply in the PA8 preamplifier, which is generally frown upon by audiophiles.  Again, Udo stressed that the best power supply design was chosen for the task, and in this case, a switched mode power supply best achieved his objectives, and  was critical to ensuring low noise in the optional phono stage card.

I was interested to know more about the modularity offered by the PA8 (e.g. choices available include a DAC card, phono stage, tuner card, and a tubed output stage) - did he feel that this would cause interference or somehow degrade performance ? Udo explained how these issues were overcome in the design (the cards are shut down if not required, and powered up again when necessary) , and that simply, he would not launch any product unless it met his exacting standards. Much thought also seems to have been made on the software front, with the PA8's firmware checking each individually installed board. A newer version board installed would automatically update the unit's firmware - very smart indeed.

Sound Quality

Crowds make it quite hard to evaluate sound quality. I cheated somewhat and had a quick audition of the PA8 and the MA8.2 a day prior to the event. I was not familiar with the German Physik paired with the PA8 and MA8.2, but the tone of the system was on the fuller and sweet side. The system at all times sounded natural and effortless (600 watts per channel (into 8 ohms) - power does corrupt !), with excellent bass depth and definition, and spades of detail across the frequency spectrum. I am pretty sure these could hold their own against the rest of the premium names out there.


Looking at the clean design lines, excellent finish, and ease of operation, you have on hand a product that has purposeful objectives achieved by solid engineering. In that vein, AVM is the epitome of Teutonic values.    
AVM may be a relatively new kid on the block internationally, but I would give them serious consideration - whether you are looking for a good-looking all-in-one system, or top drawer electronics.

I would like to thank Sammy and Eugene of Sound Decisions for inviting me for this event.

Sound Decisions

1 Coleman Street
#04-49/62 The Adelphi

Singapore 179803

Tel: (65)6733 8227
Fax: (65)6733 8229 

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Sony's "Feel the Air" - High-Res Audio Event


I remember seeing my schoolmate's Sony Walkman many years ago. There was a hushed silence - a mix of awe and respect when he took it out. The small circle that formed around him handled it carefully. It was heavy, generous with its use of metals and obviously meant business.

Fast forward through the years - I never did manage to own one. But in those days, Sony was associated with top quality, albeit expensive products.

Sony used to make serious high quality audio products, notably, it's CD and SACD players launched under its ES range.

I felt a mix of nostalgia and curiosity when I received the invitation to attend Sony's "Feel the Air" event on the 2nd of October, 2014. Was Sony making a comeback to high-end audio ?

Feel the Air

A variety of products were exhibited, many of which were setup for demonstration purposes. Some of the products were unusual to say the least (do we really need vibrating headphones ?).

Based on the lineup of products on display, it was clear that the market trend was headed towards portable devices (portable music players, earphones / headphones and bluetooth speakers etc).

A variety of short presentations were also made to explain the technology behind the NWZ-A15 digital music player, and the MDR-Z7 headphone.

Home Audio

One of the rooms was set up with the UDA-1 USB DAC Amplifier and the MAP-S1 Multi Audio Player System. The latter was paired with it's recommended matching speaker, the gorgeous gloss finished SS-HW1. 

The MAP-S1 is equipped with a front loading slot for CDs, and plays a variety of file formats too ( as a DLNA renderer), or through NFC / Bluetooth. A built-in 50 watt per channel amplifier completes the picture. The only thing missing is built-in storage.

The MAP-S1 / SS-HW1 impressed me with it's sound quality and clarity. This is well worth taking a second look at. The MAP-S1 retails for S$ 1,199, while the SS-HW1 retails for S$ 999.

I did not get an opportunity to listen to the UDA-1 as it was hooked up to the MDR-Z7.


A large sized listening room displayed two speaker models from the "ES" series. An earlier presentation provided a brief background into the design and manufacture of these models - the SS-NA5ES and SS-NA2ES.

These beauties are made out of Scandinavian BIrch Wood and handmade in Japan. The tweeter units are what Sony terms, "I-Array", a triple driver vertical array arranged with a central 25 mm soft-dome tweeter, flanked by smaller 19 mm drive units.

The bookshelf model, the NA5ES, is a 2 way design. The floorstanding model, the NA2ES is a 6 driver, 3 way model. Basic specifications for both models are as follows :-


2-way, 4 drivers, Bass reflex
130 mm aluminum cone woofer
25 mm soft dome tweeter
2 x 19 mm soft dome supertweeter
4 Ohm impedance
86 db sensitivity
45 Hz - 45 kHz frequency response (no limits stated)
10 kg weight


3-way, 6 drivers, Bass reflex
2 x 165 mm aluminum cone woofer
130 mm paper cone midrange
25 mm soft dome tweeter
2 x 19 mm soft dome supertweeter
4 Ohm impedance
90 db sensitivity
45 Hz - 45 kHz frequency response (no limits stated)
32 kg weight

A closer look at the I-Array drive units

I came away very impressed with the short demonstration (3 tracks were played for each model). The most impressive audition for the day was actually the smaller model, the NA5ES. It had incredibly bass extension for its cabinet size, and a spacious natural top end. Despite being driven by an AV receiver, and matched to a very large acoustic environment, this petite overachiever really delivered the goods. It's larger sibling, the NA2ES had deeper bass extension and a grander scale. 

I noticed some listener height sensitivity, with quite a marked difference when changing my listening position in the vertical plane.

In both cases, the systems were fronted by the HAP-Z1ES. Sony is well aware of the local grumblings about the non-availability of the Z1 in Singapore and they mentioned that they are carefully evaluating the situation. 

Personal Audio and Headphones

When news of the MDR-Z7 first leaked out, internet forums went into overdrive with the rumour mill making all kinds of stories, including the Z7 being the successor to the infamous MDR-R10.

The Z7 is a closed phone featuring a massive 70mm aluminum coated liquid crystal polymer diaphragm. With a bat-pleasing frequency response stated to extend from 4 Hz to 100 kHz, this pair of cans will have high-res audio suitably covered.

A sample of the massive drivers, with a mock-up ear for size comparison.

Impedance is specified as 70 ohms, and sensitivity at 102db/mW. Detachable headphone cables allow an easy swap to optionally available balanced connection cables. The cables are made by Kimber Kable, which gives it instant audiophile credibility.

Construction is top rate and this has to be one of the most comfortable phones I've tried.

This is not intended to be a successor to the R10, and priced much more modestly (based on overseas pricing - Singapore prices were yet to be fixed at the time of the event).

Why not relaunch the R10 ? Speaking to several Sony executives, as well as Nageno-san, the answer is simple - it can't be done. Many of the components used in the R10 are simply no longer available.

The PHA-3 portable DAC / headphone player is the natural match for the Z7, and both were displayed together for testing purposes. The PHA-3 sports balanced connections, and a claimed output power of 320 mW into a 32 ohm load (balanced), or 100 mW (unbalanced).

I heard the Z7 quite briefly in balanced drive. It has good bass, but probably not enough for bass heads. I found the overall balanced to be slightly on the dark side, with good pleasing midrange, and a slightly laidback treble. Subjectively, it's tone sits between the Audeze LCD 2.2 and the Sennheiser HD600. 

It's top end is more open than the LCD 2.2, but the Audeze has the Sony licked in the area of bass slam and extension. 

It leaks sound a bit (probably through the bottom vents), but at lower and moderate volumes, this is unlikely to disturb nearby people.

Fit and finish was excellent, and top marks were awarded for comfort. Headband pressure was not excessive, and the curvature of the band did not interfere with my spectacles. 

I can't comment on how they heat up in our tropical weather, as the display booth was strategically placed directly beneath the air-con vent. True to Singapore fashion, the thermostat in the venue was set at an ideal temperature for penguins.   

Interview with Koji Nageno and Hideyuki Uemura

I was also given the opportunity to speak to Mr. Koji Nageno (chief engineer for headphones) and Mr. Hideyuki Uemura (engineering team lead for the A15 digital music player). 

Nageno-san shared his thoughts on the challenges of designing headphones and in-ear-monitors (IEMs), the constraints being the distance of the driver from the ear, and the size of the driver.

I asked Nageno-san about the size of the driver vs frequency range, in particular whether there were difficulties in having a large diaphragm reproduce very high frequencies.  He shared some insights into driver design, the materials used for the diaphragm, and the careful shaping of the diaphragm to overcome this. 

Nageno-san seemed to favour closed designs and explained that a typical household has at least 40 dB of ambient noise. He felt that a closed design is better, allowing better clarity in such circumstances. He also explained that a headphone design is not a choice of fully open or fully closed, and a design is always a mixture of open / closed. In respect of the Z7, he described it as being approximately 80 % closed and 20 % open.

I broached the topic of balanced headphone drive. Nageno-san shared that from a technical point of view, the increased voltage swing and non-shared ground are well worth having in a headphone setup.

With respect to choice of driver design, I asked Nageno-san what he thought of other technologies, especially electrostatic driver designs. He replied that he has a lot of respect for his competitor companies, and some of their headphones. He felt that good results could be obtained, regardless of choice of the type of drivers used.

Given Sony's long association with DSD, I mentioned that it would be good if future portable players could decode DSD - especially with it's current popularity. Both Nageno-san and Uemura-san replied that this is currently under consideration. 


Looks like Sony is back on track to make some waves in the audiophile market. Let's hope to see more goodies from Sony. On behalf of all audiophiles in Singapore, I can only say this - "Don't forget about us here in Singapore."

I would like to thank Sony Singapore and it's media partner, Waggener Edstrom for inviting me to this event.