Sunday, 21 January 2018

Oppo Sonica DAC - A Misunderstood But Must Have DAC!




Yes. To me this is the most misunderstood hifi kit for 2017. Is it a DAC? Pre amp? Streamer? Media player? What is the difference with the excellent HA-1 unit. Well, there are a lot of difference between them. Some of them that I can list down:

1. The Sonica uses ESS ES9038PRO SABRE DAC while the HA-1 uses the SABRE32Reference ES9018
2. The headphone amp section have been taken off in the Sonica
3. The network capability have been added into the Sonica. This to me is the most significant addition to the unit.
4. Off goes the remote from the Sonica and replaced with an app.

THE BUILT AND SPECS
The Sonica comes in a similar width and length as the HA-1. However the heigh is lower as you can see below when I stack both of them together. It actually looks kind of cool together. One thing about Oppo, their fascia and display design is one of the best out there. The glossy finish of the chassis and also control knobs are of very high quality and classy looking. Their black design is like Mont Blanc in the fashion world.





In the rear, you will get the usual galore of inputs and outputs where the output also offer balanced XLR connection. All of the RCA sockets are of gold plated. Putting in my Audience RCA, it snuggly fits onto the sockets.

With the network capability added, you can access your digital music either from:
  1. Internet - Spotify and TIDAL supported
  2. Network Access Storage (NAS) - The unit will play directly all your files once its on the same network
  3. Hooking up a laptop or PC to its asynchronous USB input at the rear and use the Sonica impeccable DAC chip
  4. Hooking up a HDD or thumbdrive into the USB input at the rear
  5. Connecting an iPod/iPhone to the USB port at the front of the unit
  6. Hooking up an analogue source either a tape deck or phono stage or even conventional CD player. 
  7. Via Airplay directly from your iPhone/iPod/iPad
  8. Via Bluetooth connectivity
Digital Inputs:
  • 1 x coaxial
  • 1 x optical
  • 1 x asynchronous USB
  • 1 x USB for HDD
  • 1 x USB for iPod/iPhone
Analogue Input:
  • 1 x stereo Aux In
Output:
  • 1 x stereo RCA
  • 1 x XLR Balanced





THE SET UP

The Sonica was set up in several ways for this review:

1. Via USB input from 2 different sources - Sony HAP Z1 ES and the current craze Tinkerboard
2. Wireless via Wifi
3. Wired via ethernet
4. Via Bluetooth

The first test is of course stability. The recent streamers that I reviewed came in different level of stability. After nearly 10 years of streaming, I get quite annoyed when a streamer that claims to stream wirelessly Hi Res Audio up to DSD, but could not deliver the stability when the digital files are being played. I can understand 10 years ago, but in today's environment, I expect my wireless music to be streamed without lag or long buffers. My NAS and router is only about 2 feet away from my set up. So nothing is blocking the wireless signal.

....and the Sonica is currently the MOST STABLE streamer I have experienced at this price tag. I played various Hi Res files from my NAS for a straight 24 hours and not once it lagged nor stop playing. This is already big advantage over a lot of other players.

However, I do face an issue via USB when I change from track to track (DSD files). The Sonica gives me a loud 'pop' sound on my speakers. It happened on both Sony player and Tinkerboard. Tried different USB cables but still problem persists.

THE SESSION

I would not really bother playing low bit MP3s when you have a sophisticated unit like this. The 3 tracks I use here are:

1. Louisiana 1927 by Aaron Neville (16/44 ALAC)
2. Somewhere, Somebody by Jennifer Warmes (2.8 MHz DSD)
3. Take Five  by Dave Brubeck (2.8  MHz DSD)



Sonica with Tinkerboard - Aaron Neville

On a basic file like this, the Sonica expanded the overall ambient of the whole track. It brought up the emotions delivered by Aaron to a new level. The simple bass line on this track sounds deeper than usual and the clarity of the snare wire dispersion somehow sounded more luscious.  Even the rim shot sounded very natural.  Aaron's vocal was full of emotion and the Sonica just governs the whole track with such a huge soundstage that I thought I was in a concert hall.


Sonica and Sony HAP Z1 ES - Jennifer Warnes

With DSD files, the Sonica could still present a different perspective of how the sound is. I have tested a few DACs that can actually outperform SONY internal DAC but somehow, the ones that can actually do that is priced at level that I am not willing to swipe my VISA card.  The Sonica however, managed to provide me with that different experience even with an already good DSD file. Again, the bass line on the intro on this track was really deep that I can hear or feel the string vibration. I just love the details that Sonica unleash. And the percussion on this track was capture and replayed by the Sonica in a very three dimensional way that again, it created a very huge ambient on my system. 



Sonica and Sony HAP Z1 ES - Dave Brubeck

What can I say, I love DSD. Some may debate whether the commercial files we purchase is truly Hi Res DSD (how can we enhance something on a track when it was not there to begin with). At this point, I cant really think about things that is out of my control. I get files, I listen to them and I feel its better than Redbook CD... then to me its better. Regardless of what the remasters or re-engineering  of the tracks entail. I cant do a review of a kit without playing this track Take Five of Dave Brubeck. Its like my Holy Grail when it comes to Jazz and bass experience. On this track, the low end notes from the percussion is very distinct and hard digs deep as well. But it does not take away the huge soundstage and luscious dispersion of the snare and ride cymbal. The Sonica somehow injects a certain musicality trait into the presentation that is quite a different experience.

SO...DO I GO WIRELESS OR WIRED OR DIRECT USB?

I replayed all the tracks in different ways. I must nothing can still beat a direct hook from a HDD or player via USB onto the DAC. If you music is on a NAS, try to connect the Sonica via the wired ethernet method. I feel this give a meatier presentation. The wireless method eventhough stable, it does lack some emotion and liveliness.

OTHER PERFORMANCE

Using Spotify and Tidal was a breeze. Only on this unit, I started to realize the the advantage of Tidal over Spotify when it comes to SQ. Tidal Masters sounds delightfully musical on this Sonica. The same tracks above sounded quite energetic with a good balance overall. It still not at par as the DSD files I have. But for Tidal and Spotify subscription rate, it is still good.

CONCLUSIONS

At RM4200, this streamer meets all what you need in this modern streaming era. Stability, above expectation SQ, ease of use apps, stylish design and most importantly, it offers great flexibility with regards various files that it can adapt to. For an instant upgrade to your digital files experience, the Sonica can easily give you a more in depth bass experience but at the same time balances it with a surreal soundstaging experience.

Do audition this unit in CMY if possible if you are in the market for a new fuss free streamer.





Sunday, 24 December 2017

ARCAM rPlay Music Streamer - Minimalist But Effective


........and here is my review published on audiofi.net




+ For its clarity, full bodied sound and minimalized design
- Signal drop on wireless mode and cluttered app


Sound: 8/10

Value: 7/10

If one to talk about streaming music about 10 years ago, it would either end up to be a laughing matter or a heated debate. Today, every other digital hifi component is equipped with technology to cater for streaming needs. From standalone DACs to portables to media players, most of the products are now able to meet the requirement. The demand is also extended towards AV products. Of course, each type of hifi kit, may it be an amp, a CD player or turn table, comes in various ranges. Same goes to streamers.

The rPlay is the latest offering from ARCAM under their rSeries family. I purchased one of their earlier rSeries product in 2010 which was a standalone DAC called rDAC and it was a sitting in my system for a few years before I got into Hi Resolution audio. The rPlay comes in the traditional mini sized (194 x 44 x 124 mm) enclosure with minimal buttons and LED indicator on the front and top panel. Weighing just slightly over 1 kilogram, this unit must be one of the smallest streamer I have ever seen.

Don’t be fooled by its size though. This unit is capable of not only streaming various digital files (WAV, MP3, AAC, FLAC etc) from your PC or NAS on your home network up to 24 bit / 192 kHz, but also incorporates major online streaming services like Spotify, TIDAL. Deezer, Amazon Music, Napster and also Internet Radio. Besides that, it also offer the Apple based fan the Airplay function to stream directly from your Apple products like iPad, iPod and iPhone.


On the circuitry side, it comes with a built in Texas Instrument PCM5102 DAC, hence it is actually a plug and play device. You can connect it directly to your amp, and once set up, you can stream music directly without the need of a separate DAC. However, ARCAM is generous enough to offer an SPDIF output if you fancy to further explore higher grades DACs. The unit also offers both variable and fixed outputs so you have a choice to use its internal digital volume control with a power amp or connect it to your integrated amp.

SETTING UP
Although it’s a plug and play unit, user will still need to set up the communication with the home network. Once you have plugged in the power supply and RCA interconnect, download the DTS Play-Fi app from either Google Play Store or Apple App store. It is recommended that the network cable to be used at this stage as you may have to download a firmware update which can take about 10 minutes. I experienced some issues in setting up when the unit is on a wireless mode. The app will then bring you through step by step on how to link the rPlay to your network. Once you have done this, you will be able to see any PC or NAS made available on the app. For myself, my network consists of a Western Digital NAS and Sony HAP Z1ES internal HDD.


The network interface for the rPlay seems to be more stable when it is on wired mode. I experienced signal drop outs on certain occasion especially when playing higher resolution files. This is even when my wireless router is just 2 feet away and it is in a clear line of sight.

THE LISTENING SESSION

On Here We Go Again (WAV 24/192), the rPlay ability to present soulful vocals of Norah Jones and Ray Charles was the highlight of the review. Jones’s vocal sounded seductive while Charles’s sounded very deep with the typical slightly husky moments. It was one of the sessions that allow you to close your eyes and imagine that this duet is performing live in your living room. With the right level of clarity, the sound of the soft wire brush and rim shot on the snare created quite a soothing atmosphere and when the keyboard kicked in, the energy level of the track was raised nicely by the rPlay. Comparing to another streamer I owned about 5 years ago, this track can sound quite flat with no emotions can be felt from the duo. The rPlay seems to manage to deliver quite a remarkable details from good recording like this one.


 

The piano introduction on Strange Meadow Lark (WAV 24/96) by Dave Brubeck Quartet was very warm and the rPlay just built the tempo of the track nicely. By the time the saxophone and percussion comes in, the rPlay gave an even a more convincing performance whereby the mids and highs of this track are quite transparent and provide a substantive soundstage.


With the track For No Apparent Reason by Anouar Brahem (WAV 24/192), there was no doubt that the rPlay can belt out the deep diving bass that this track could offer. The clarity of the guitar plucking can easily mesmerize listener with no sign of fatigue that one might experience on prolong playback of digital files. The background vocals (or humming) further confirmed the level of soundstaging the rPlay can provide. It sounds huge compared to the size of the unit.


How about heavier music like Enter Sandman by Metallica on FLAC 24/192? The rPlay belted out this track with quite a bang. Again, details and clarity seems to be its forte. It brings out the various frequencies of highs, mids and lows with good level of transparency. Quite neutral I would say.  The rPlay however does not bring out the same impact when MP3 files are played. It sounds flatter and compressed. Playing the MP3 version of this track did not give out the same energized adrenalin-pumped experience.

On Spotify, in general, the sound is pretty decent but it will not be sufficient to fulfill the audio quality standard that one would expect from a high resolution audio. The DTS Play Fi app will also link the Spotify app on your phone or table to its own interface.



THE LAST WORD
Music streaming has become a norm now regardless of how other formats are maintaining their share of the industry. The rPlay offers quite a bargain with most of the available online streaming service available on this unit. It also allow playback of higher resolution digital files to show its full potential. With good quality digital files, the rPlay will be able to deliver quite an honest presentation of music into your system. One drawback however is the inability to play DSD files. If there is a way to allow future upgrades to DSD, this unit would be even more attractive.

The app seems to be a bit cluttered and unorganized. It did however worked flawlessly including extracting the metadata and artwork of the files and display it on the interface.

  



 If you wish to have a simple and basic introduction to streaming digital files, the ARCAM rPlay might be the answer for you. It’s a frill free device that delivers good quality audio reproduction from your digital files library especially if you have high quality recordings.

GEAR
Musical Fidelity M6i integrated amp
Western Digital NAS
Sony HAP Z1 ES NAS
ProAc Response D18 speakers
Blackberry KeyONE on Android







Gear
Sources: Western Digital NAS, Sony HAP-Z1ES, Blackberry KeyONE on Android / Amp: Musical Fidelity M6i integrated / Speakers; ProAc Response D18
Price: £400
Malaysian price: RM2,590
Malaysian distributor: A & L Audio Station (+603-2282 9884) / WhatsApp + 6014 8222 333)



Wednesday, 20 December 2017

4K Projector Made Affordable by BenQ


BenQ recently launched a more affordable 4K projector in Malaysia. At RM 7,999, this might be the best time to ditch the conventional TV and go for a bigger screen size for your HT enjoyment.

With 4K players have dropped to sub RM 1000 on the older model like the Samsung, HT enthusiasts can now push their HT limit to have the full 4K chain with this affordable projector. It also comes with the HDR 10 capability which is essential to have the best performance from a 4K source. This will definitely offer greater brightness and contrast range to the viewers.




If your home has the space, why not check this unit out.
For further  details contact:
BenQ  Service & Marketing (M) Sdn Bhd.
Tel: 03 79547800
Terrie Wong: 0123841220
Alex: 012 3681288



Thursday, 30 November 2017

Solid 1 - True To Its Name



In the recent months, the local DIY scene have been somehow very active with many new experimental products surfacing over Facebook.  This particular 2 piece headphone amplifier hails from a state all the way from north of Malaysia, Kedah Darul Aman. The DIY-er named Azirul passed the unit to another fellow headphone enthusiast, Shaiful here in KL. After Shaiful had his fun, Azirul and Shaiful offered me to have a review on this unit. While I have been taking a back seat on the commercial hifi scene due to work and personal commitment and also slandering from self proclaimed 'gurus', I just cant say no to a local brew. Its good to know there are still people who appreciate this free of charge hifi community effort and send their stuff for reviews.

THE SPECIFICATION and BUILT

The unit offers the following:
  • Impedance - 8 to 600 ohms
  • Output power - 2.2 W (32 ohm)
  • Frequency response - 10 Hz to 30 kHz
  • Preamp stage - LM49720
It comes in a 2 box package, one being  the power supply unit. The PSU is equipped with standard IEC plug pin which is a preference of mine over the typical 12 V plugs. The PSU is connected to the volume pot box via an XLR pin. The main unit offers only a pair of RCA stereo input.

Happy to report that the volume pot does not carry any noise when being operated. There is also no humming in the back ground at all even at zero volume.

The fascia is simple with cool green LED to indicate power is on. The On/Off switch is very industrial and the overall chassis, I believe is made of light wood. 

Both of the unit are quite light and and does not run hot, hence why I decided to just place it on my phono stage and Oppo headphone amp. Cute little units they are. Reminded me of Tivoli Audio designs.

The headphone out however only comes in the mini jack size in whic I had to use an adaptor to connect my Beyerdynamic T1 headphones.

THE TRACK LISTS

  1. Somewhere Only We Know - Keane (LP)
  2. Embun - Seach (WAV 44.1)
  3. Sujud - Ella (WAV 44.1)
  4. Take Five - Dave Brubeck (DSD 2.8 MHz)
  5. Way Down Deep - Jennifer Wearnes (DSD 2.8 MHz)
THE SESSION


With Keane's Somewhere Only We Know, those micro details in the vinyl playback can be heard quite distinctly. It gives out quite an honest and clean sound. No emphasis on particular frequency. At times, I do feel that it could benefit with a little bit more of bass. The overall mellowness of the track was delivered with high emotions involved. One of the more engaging experience with the Solid 1.


This track by Search latest album, Embun is my favourite track of the album. So I thought of testing this track with the Solid 1 to see whether I get more enjoyment with the sound quality. The Solid 1 did exactly what it does best.... Deliver an honest sound. It just further confirmed that somehow, the production of this album emphasis more on the lower frequency. Amy's vocal remained to drown into the ferocious play of guitar and drums. Pae's drum is quite dominant and the ferocious guitar of Kid and Din sounds very raw. This defines the album identity which the Solid 1 embraces it.


Another new album by the local was by Ella, Ratu Rock of Malaysia. entitled Peace.Love.Rindu. The track Sujud gave me another perspective how beautiful a rock song can sound. Through the Solid 1, Ella's vocal was clear and the clarity of each of the instrument was quite engaging. Again, I could do with a little bit more bass kick for that additional rock adrenalin. But I must say this was definitely the highlight of my session.


I still yearn to get a little bit more bass from the Solid 1, so I put on Dave Brubeck's Take Five with the hope to experience that slamming double bass. While the wind instrument was delivered with lots of liveliness, the bass somehow is still a little bit tame. The percussion sounded quite sharp on the snare with not much slamming on the tom toms. Its not easy I guess to deliver the this Hi-Res track with the dynamics that is expected.


I had no choice but to bring out the big gun.... Way Down Deep by Jennifer Wearnes. Now this is what we are talking about. The bass that I want is there. The Solid 1 delivered this track to almost perfection to my ears. Even the little background voices sounded deep with emotion and still maintain the clarity that I adore from the is unit. No sign of bloating nor fatigue. I LIKE.

THE CONCLUSION

The term Solid in Solid 1 is more referring to how solid the sound quality can be, given the right headphones and the right source. Its not really referring to the physical built of the unit. Its strength lies in delivering an honest, no frill, high clarity sound. Good source, good headphones and you will be set. Having more bass is just a personal preference of mine but as shown with the last track above, given the right source, voila I still get to enjoy the bass. All and all, it is quite an all rounder performer. It can belt out rock, jazz and vocal with no sign of struggle on my Beyerdynamic T1.

However, while its constructed neatly, there could be some improvement. I do not know the plan for the Azrul whether this is for personal use only or to be commercialised, but if its for the latter, the Solid 1 is recommended to include a 635 mm output jack. I also not very fond of these mini footers to only be on the front side of the unit.I prefer it to be levelled on all four footers.

All the best to Azrul and thanks for sending me the unit via Shaiful.





Sunday, 15 October 2017

SLAB It And You Shall Be Suprised


Most of the local hifi enthusiasts know how much I adore the stock and unmodified Lenco L78. The two units that I have owned from the renown Spic Doctor Mastan, as far as I know was rebuilt to its original state apart from the plinth. I have been using the unit for a few years and is very satisfied with it. Simple and accurate design it is.  I have also gotten the opportunity to review a modified Lenco based on the touch of SpH (or fondly known as Captain). The full fledged unit gave me a totally different impression on what modifications can do the a Lenco design and while it is different, I still decided to to stick to my stock Lenco. The unit I reviewed involves the the following changes:

  • SLAT - Sien's Lenco Alternative Top Plate
  • SLAB - Sien's Lenco Alternative Bearing
  • SSS - Sien's Stainless Steel Mat
  • Golf ball Tonearm 
  • Plinth - wood base and Corian material top

Since then, Captain was also blessed with the opportunity to showcase that unit at the recent KLIAV show and it was a hit. There are already a few hifi enthusiasts locally and abroad whom have taken the step to acquire his full design. For me personally, Lenco L78 is still a keeper mainly because of my liking towards its simplicity and also the nostalgic factor of which my late father used to own one as well.

Now, I am given the chance to test out the SLAB mod as a stand alone mod to my unit.  One fine evening, Captain came over and installed the new bearing design to my unit.




A quick comparison between the original Lenco bearing and SLAB:

  • Size: His design comes in a few sizes depending on the height of your plinth but all of them are larger than the original bearing. This include the OD of the housing itself and also the spindle size.
  • Material: SLAB is machined from aluminium material while the original bearing is made of steel and brass.
  • Lubricant: Grease versus oil
FIRST IMPRESSION
It was not even difficult to spot the change because it was not subtle. On Tracy Chapman's Baby Can I Hold You tonight, the introduction was presented with elevated and extended bass line and quite unique sounding of the rim shot and opening-closing hi hat.  Tracy's vocal was also upfront and the overall presentation of the track provided me with a slightly bigger envelope. The highs at times can be a bit sharp but not to a point of exaggeration. When the full instrument cue in at 1 min 14 sec, it was definitely a mind blowing change.


Baby Can I Hold You Tonight

A MONTH OBSERVATION


When You're Gone

I do have a soft spot for this Canadian female rock star. I really wanted to hear how the SLAB sound on an LP that I have not played before. Very timely as I just received the Avril LPs. This particular track is my favourite of hers. With this new LP, the Lenco sounded a bit muffled but still with enough energy to belt out the teenage angst of Avril. I particularly like what the SLAB is doing to Avril's vocal and also the sound of the piano. It builds up the momentum of the song nicely. With the sharp highs I experienced in the first impression, I was a bit concern that it may be unbearable when Avril does her screeching highs at the end of the song (cue at 3.00 minutes) but I was wrong. The SLAB allows Avril's screamer to flow nicely and it gave me goose bumps. The overall track however suffer from muffling sound but it may just be due to the quality of the pressing.


Whiskey In The Jar

One of my favourite cover by Metallica, Whiskey In The Jar was also used when I reviewed the mighty Kronos Sparta. And sure enough it is my reference when it comes to metal music. Playing this with the SLAB mod, it gave me a more wholesome balanced presentation. Energetic drumming of Lars can easily make listener get into adrenalin mode. The guitar riffs of Kirk sounded ferocious but also melodious to deliver that Irish folk song feeling. Very satisfying. Overall sound staging feels bigger and the envelope of being wrapped in music feel more realistic without loosing details such as the hi-hat manipulation (minute 1:28)


CONCLUSION

While the full modded TT of Captain Sph provides a complete alternative to Lenco stock unit, this SLAB bearing mod did not take away that 'Lenco' sound signature. It in fact delivers a new level of what Lenco L78 can do or provide you with. It has, some how deliver a more extensive bass and airy elevated sound stage. Huge! If there is one gripe I have is that the fact it now takes a a few seconds longer for the platter to come to a complete stop each time I turn the unit off. The lubricant used in this bearing is different from the stock Lenco. But if music performance is what you are going after for or just want to hear what else your Lenco can do, give this simple mod a try. Contact Captain Sph for further details.

Saturday, 9 September 2017

Sony HT-MT500 soundbar – better for music


Here is my review featured in Audiofi.net

+ Engaging subwoofer, flawless wireless connectivity and Hi-Res audio. Minimalist design.
– Lack of HDMI input, fiddly remote, uninvolving surround.
Sound: 7/10
Value: 7/10

OWNING a home theatre system has become more affordable, but the challenge of space is still the main issue faced by most AV enthusiasts. The soundbar, an alternative to the conventional surround set-up, was introduced to the market back in 1998. Today, the soundbar has come a long way, with updated features to complement ever-growing digital technologies.
Earlier this year, Sony launched a new series of audio products which included the soundbar featured here, the HT-MT500. It is a 2.1 channel compact soundbar that is intended for the minimalist. At just 50cm in length x 6.4cm in base and height, it is easily comparable to the size of any decent centre channel speaker.
The system includes a separate wireless subwoofer designed to operate horizontally or vertically. It is slim enough to be placed under a sofa and has a special feature called Sofa Mode to optimise the bass response and avoid bloat.
However, the compact housing does not mean Sony has slimmed down on the features. The MT-500 offers three inputs – optical, 3.5mm aux in and a USB port, on top of wireless LDACTM Bluetooth and WiFi connectivity. However, there is only one ARC equipped HDMI output to connect to your TV to aid in controlling and setting up the sound bar.
With no HDMI input, note that there is no video signal pass through.
On top of these, this soundbar is also touted as meeting Hi-Res Audio specifications. One unique feature, to me, is the proprietary LDAC Bluetooth connectivity which allows three times higher data transmission over conventional Bluetooth. LDAC can maintain maximum bit depth and frequency range of 24-bit/96kHz during transmission. Big difference compared with a near-CD quality down-converting transmission.
Although this is a 2.1 channel system, the soundbar comes with an S-Force PRO Front Surround to virtually recreate the surround sound, for HT enthusiasts who want a more immersive movie experience.

SETTING UP
Unpacking was an easy, one-man affair. You will need two AC points, one for the soundbar and one for the subwoofer. Connect a HDMI cable from the soundbar to your TV, turn the soundbar and subwoofer on, and voila, the system connects wirelessly.
The same with Bluetooth and online music streaming services such as Spotify and Chromecast. Using your mobile phone or tablet, just follow the step-by-step instructions and you will be enjoying wireless music within a few minutes. The NFC feature allowed me to connect my Sony Xperia XZ by just tapping the unit with my phone.
Connecting to my home network was also easy and quite similar to any commercially available audio player. Once connected, the soundbar will be able to scan through any NAS (or in my case, my 1TB built-in Sony HAP-Z1ES high-resolution audio player) for all available digital files.
Not much calibration needs to be done except for the subwoofer volume, which is actually a handy feature to get the right amount LFE, not only for the movies but also stereo audio playback.
LISTENING
As Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales was showing at the cinemas at this point review, I decided to re-watch the first installation, The Curse of the Black Pearl.
I had to connect the Oppo UDP 203 4K BD player via optical in order to enjoy a Dolby Digital or DTS MA sound. With the subwoofer volume set at “8”, the LFE was sufficient to feel the grunt of canon shots from the pirate ships. I placed the subwoofer at the rear part of my hall and I must say, the wireless connectivity was flawless. There was no delay between the sound and the bass impact.
The soundbar reproduced a high clarity dialogue channel. Even during a noisy action scene where canons were shot, the dialogue channel remained clear with the voices of Captain Jack Sparrow, Barbosa, Will Turner and Elizabeth Swan. Long gone are the days where soundbars suffered from compressed dialogue.
Although the system delivers quite a fulsome frontal sound, the surround effects somehow did not create the immersive, cinematic ambience that I experience from dedicated surround speakers. The overall sound can be heard to be coming from the front including the surround sound itself.
Moving to two-channel audio for music gave me a better perspective of the offerings of this system. I can’t compliment enough on Sony’s connectivity effectiveness. I could easily browse through my high-resolution music collection on the 1TB HAP-Z1ES located downstairs. Within seconds, I got to hear the playback of DSD files via this soundbar.
Having played wireless streamers for nearly 10 years, I find that this soundbar streams big DSD files effortlessly over the home network compared with some other hi-fi brands. No drop in signal, so more fun to listen to.

Playing Dave Brubeck’s Time Out, I found that the soundbar system dug quite deep when it came to bass extension. As two-channel music reproduction does not need surround effects, the delivery of the hi-res content was quite impressive. The soundbar easily filled my hall with good audio quality. To further confirm what I heard, I then switched to LDAC Bluetooth connectivity via my Xperia. Playback of the same DSD track from my phone was more in-depth and alive.
With the DSEE HX upscaling features, playback of some 320kbps MP3 files on a thumb drive also benefited from quality restoration. I Just Can’t Stop Loving You by Michael Jackson sounded more refreshing with the compression taken away. Even the low volume intro of the song can be heard with better ambience. I believe that even Spotify playback benefits from this DSEE HX engine.
THE LAST WORD
If you are looking for a simplified, music-first-movie-second solution for your home, give this soundbar a shot. Although dialogue clarity is exceptionally good coming from a small box, I must say that I am leaning more towards stereo audio as the strength of the HT-MT500. Given it is equipped with DSD playback capability and the DSEE HX engine, I can happily do some easy listening of my audio collection for a few hours. I do believe this system works better in a moderately sized room and not in larger living rooms.
Based on the manual, there is an option to add a pair of wireless dedicated surround speakers. Maybe with this, the HT-MT500 soundbar will become a more complete alternative package to a full blown home theatre set-ups.
Gear
Oppo UDP 203 4K UHD Blu-ray player. SONY HAP-Z1ES HDD audio player, SONY Xperia XZ mobile phone, Samsung UA65HU9000 65-inch Curve TV
Price: £549
Malaysian price: RM2,699
Review unit courtesy of Sony Malaysia (+603 77251101).

Saturday, 19 August 2017

Kuala Lumpur International AV Show 2017 - Change (Or Return) Is Good!


Mr. Dick Tan officiating the show on Friday 28th July 2017

The KLIAV show this year marked a significant change in the local industry. First, the usual venue of JW Marriot was not available this year due to a major refurbishment works. The show returned to its original venue located in Sunway Putra Hotel (used to be known as Legend Hotel) near PWTC. The venue change brought along a host of changes to this year show:
  • 2 floors instead 5 floors in JW Marriot
  • Various shapes of room offered to exhibitors (more challenges in room acoustics)
  • Brands that have been upgraded to a stand alone dedicated rooms for example Beyerdynamic
  • For muslims, surau now is on the lobby level in between some of this audio room (more convenient as oppose to have to go down to ground and then go all the way up to all the 5 floors again
  • A more spacious environment especially with coffee lounge in between exhibitors. We get to chill and rest, chit chat with friends in between our demos 
  • Ample parking space with cheap valet option
  • Easily accessible by public transport
  • The layout of the rooms however, need some getting used to if you are already familiar to JW Marriot.
  • For exhibitors, apparently the loading procedure seems to be easier than JW Marriot
  • For me personally, this is the first time that I actually attended the show 2 times over the period of 3 days
  • More show case of local products- FV Euroaudio Power bank, Capt Sph SLAT, Rudd Rudy Speaker Stands, Lee BS Speed Controller, YF Fong Headphone amp


A friendly smile awaits you there...



Crowd started to grow in the very first 30 minutes of the show


I am honoured that Mr. Dick Tan actually invited me for a coffee...that lasted an hour. He shared his views on the local industry, how things are changing and in return he asked the question on how the show can help the local DIYers and products. In return, I can only share my views on where is the oil price is heading :) ! If everything goes well, I might be able to visit PMC HQ in UK if I ever get to Munich High End show next year.


The fun actually begin a week before as I received the pre show limited edition CD. Another masterpiece from our resident sifu, Jo Ki have again delivered the 'goods'. But this will be a separate review of course.

....and the work begins... This is my 3rd year on duty as an official press... and it may be the last as well...


THE SET UPS

HiFi Creations by Victor Pheh

Now, the juicy parts. 







The debut of Yamaha NS5000 monitor speakers in Malaysia. This model was launched in this show by HiFi Creations. It quickly garnered the attention of the audiophiles around as it is claimed that the performance of this Yammies can easily match more expensive speakers. Retailed at about RM65K including stands, these speakers definitely performed beautifully in the show. Blended well with the electronics behind it:

  • Kronos PRO turntable with the new power supply
  • Mark Levinson power amps
  • Absolare Pre and Phono
  • Skogrand cables
  • Frank Power Banks

Fluid, transparent and with extensive bass are just some of the traits that this Yammies have. Simply stunning in looks and sound. From the non stop traffic flow of audiophiles to this room, it was clearly among the top contenders for top sound.

The rest of the gear needs no introduction as it has been the benchmark of the show for the last couple of years. Kronos continue to mesmerise me with its shear clarity, slamming and articulate bass and top notch engineering.


AV Designs by James Tan, Tony Low and Jo Ki



You can see here how El Hefe explaining to Jo Ki how Bryston electronics work :) :). Its alwasy a pleasure to meet the humble Jo Ki and share a few laugh before getting to experience the slamming PMC monitors. Seen with me here is Mr. Foo Marn Hing. Another fellow reviewer with Audiofi.net.

AV Designs had two rooms for this show.
  • Emerald Room:-
    • Home Theatre & stereo demo.
    • PMC MB3 XBD-A Active studio monitors (latest model) Left, Right and Centre channels.
    • JVC DLA-Z1, Top-of-the-range Native 4K projector, laser light source. HDR-ready.
    • Screen Research 150" wide, 2.40 widescreen format, curved screen.
    • For stereo source:-
    • Bryston BDP-3 digital player + BDA-3 DAC
  • Quartz Room:
    • JVC DLA-X5500 projector
    • Screen Research 110" wide, 2.40 widescreen format screen.
    • Pioneer AV Receiver
    • Bryston speakers
  • Headphone demo (outside the room)
    • Bryston BHA-1 headphone amp
    • Bryston BDP-Pi player and DACs.





On 2 channel, this huge monitors presented a very authoritative bass that says - 'Hey You, Listen Up!'
They are musical even though looks industrial. The most extensive bass I have heard so far. But still delivers  a quite balanced tone when playing 2 channel music. If you have the dough, the space, a must have monitor this is. Especially at this price point.










This is one of the rare moments where we get to see the whole AV Designs workforce. A highly dedicated team that delivers year after year of excellent home theater experience and digital based music.

Maxx Audio by Max Loh, Yoon Tat and Wong KN

Dubbed as the Malaysia King of Subs, Maxx Audio have touched the heart of many HT enthusiasts with their SVS products for the past 3 to 4 years. I personally am using SVS subs, rear and elevation speakers for my 5.1.2 ATMOS set up. So, can vouch for the excellent experience each time I watch a movie.  But whats new this year is the Emotiva new line of electronics, from power amps, to digital transports, MAxx Audio presented a very tight HT experience here. This room must be the busiest room at that show where I had trouble getting in the second round of visit. Jam packed with people trying to experience Emotiva. Definitely a room for those with strong heart to manage the bass experience. 









LP GALORE BY VARIOUS SELLERS

There were quite a good selection of LPs at this show. High quality ones and some mediocre. But it is with great sadness that this time around, I am quite upset with the price of these LPs being sold here. I must say that a portion of the visitors to this show comes here to have a bargain on LPs and Bluray. Sad to see when there are companies at this show whom actually is taking advantage on the consumers by marking up the LPs pricing by up to RM70 compared to the normal price outside of the shop. Even sadder that it was even applied to the recently local reissues of Zainal Abidin's Hijau album, Search's Fenomena and Wings's Hukum Karam and Belenggu Irama. This actually drove me mad. If consumers right in Malaysia has a strong backing up of the authority, I would have complaint this to KPDNKK.

Because of this, I had to limit my purchase to those LPs that I really wanted.




Had the honour to finally meet and chat with MA Recordings owner, a Mr. Todd Garfinkle. I did a review of his album a few years back and he was well pleased with it.

CMY BY JOHN YEW, STEVE CHUA, DICKY NG, ASHLEY ETC

CMY opted for a more passive presentation this year by showcasing their entire product line. Most of the items are on static display but it gives the visitors the opportunity to physically see each and every product they have. I particularly like the TT podium where almost all type of TT they carry was on display.


It has been 10 years of hifi and HT journey with Steve Chua. Always supportive and always accommodate my requirements.

A&L Audio


I can't go by an AV show without listening to Musical Fidelity. I am now into my 20th year of using Musical Fidelity product. At any time, one of the components in my set up will consist of an MF item. Currently, my amp M6i, M6 DAC, M1 ViNL phono and the superchargers 550K monoblocks are residing in my set up.  And here, A&L have showcased its M6SI amp and M6SCD with a pair of Dali. Built like a tank, they also had on static display the new ENCORE network players. Not sure why these were not on active mode.


 The NuVista is somehow on my wishlist growing old. If funds allow, she will be mine one day.


My HiFi Shop by Isaac Ho, Rizwan and Desmond Poon

My HiFi Shop surprised me with something unexpected. Simplicity in presenting a truthful system. Usually, dealers tend to present the whole she-bang of pre and power or monoblock amps but Isaac et al went for a simple integrated amp with the unique Dohmann Helix 1 TT and Audio Note CD 3.1 as source. With a classy presentation....Musical... hard hitting bass.. Very capable speakers... simple set up with much thought on sound delivery. Nice looking system too.
  • Dohmann Helix 1
  • Lyra Etna cartridge
  • Raidho D2.1
  • Aavik U300
  • Ansuz DTC cabling
  • Audio Note CD 3.1 
  • HRS isolation system














THE MALAYSIA BOLEH GALORE

The 4 main Malaysian design that I was privileged to experience in this show was Capt SpH Lenco based SLAT turntable supported by Lee Beng Swee's Speed Controller, Rudd Rudy's speaker stands, YF Fong's tube pre amp/headphone amp on top of the HiFi show benchmark of FV Euroaudio Powerbanks. One more returning product is also Acoustic Platform Solutions (APS) racks.
 




Capt SpH is very passionate about his SLAT design turntable which a few of the local audiophiles are using it as their resident turntable. Yours truly have also reviewed this unit a few moons back. Capt gave a short summary of his design and all ears on him during the session. His turntable design was supported by Redgum electronics.


YF Fong's cute little product was previously launched at a headphone store in Jaya One. I missed that launch and this time around, I also could not get the chance to test it out. But looking at the built and design, it might outperform some other international brands.



Rudd Rudy's speaker stands was supported by Artisan Acoustics. Rudd's speaker stands and also other AV racks have also been around the market where custom designed can be purchased at a very reasonable price. The performance however is not short of some of the major brands out there.

Returning this year was also APS racks.



Centre Circle Audio by Nelson and Team

I was actually in the market to get a new turntable and was eyeing either the VPI or Clearaudio.  I have resorted to the fact that Kronos will be out of my reach unless I hit a lottery somewhere. 

VPI Prime was indeed a muscular unit. The looks itself made me drooling. The sound was also exceptionally good but I would pair it up with a set of floorstanders.







On the digital side, CentreCircle featured the Kii active speakers which is very eye catching design.  Featured here is also the Chord products which is another industry breaking design with its out of the planet design.



Zu Audio



Perfect Hifi

Perfect Hifi was another retailer that went all out displaying their range of products. The Sonus and Audio Research line of speakers and electronics, dominated their show. Not to forget the classic Linn LP12 turntable as well.








Line Magnetic



JH Labs













The Wrap Up


It was indeed a different experience this year. Different venue gives different challenges but at the same time, it creates its own merit. Happy to see new products to be launched here. To me, KLIAV show have brought back some of the memories of where it all started. But at the same time delivered another stunning shows this year. Kudos to Mr. Dick Tan and 3DotEvent.

Now, for the Annual El Hefe's KLIAV Show Awards:
  1. The Best New Product - Yamaha NS5000 speakers - HiFi Creations
  2. The Best Digital Playback - Audio Note CD 3.1 with Aavik U300 and Raidho D2.1 by My HiFi Shop
  3. The Best Analogue Playback - Tie between Kronos PRO by HiFi Creations and Dohmann Helix 1 by My HiFi Shop
  4. The Best 4K Experience - JVC DLA-Z1 Projector by AV Designs
  5. The Best ATMOS and Sub Management - SVS and Emotiva by Maxx Audio
  6. The Most Promising Award - Capt SpH SLAT Turntable
  7. The Spoiled For Choice Award - Tie between CMY and Perfect HiFi
  8. The I Want More Award - VPI Prime matched with a decent floorstander
  9. The Post Show Must Listen Award -  YF Fong headphone amp
  10. The Most Missed Product Award - HECO Direkt Speakers
  11. The Ultimate Winner - Every single one of you who attended the show
I have to single out this negative award as it really upsets me that this happened to the show this year:

  1. The Biggest Let Down - LP Sellers who marked up the price insanely