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No. 128 January 2015

3 x YOUTH

hen on May the 1st 2004 the first issue of „High Fidelity” was released (does anybody remember that?) I was a kid living in the world of video games, who didn't give a single thought to an audio equipment, and surely didn't care at all about all that „high end stuff”.
10 years passed which, considering my age, has been a whole era in my life, maybe even more then one. A lot has changed for „High Fidelity”, too. It's not an unknown audio blog anymore, it is a renown and respected audio magazine that is read every month by tens of thousands of audio enthusiasts. Also it's graphic form evolved – it was very simple and not particularly attractive at the beginning, but today it is very nice, „polished”, sophisticated even.

Another key element of „High Fidelity” also had to change over time. In fact this is the most important one – these are people who co-create this magazine. At the very beginning, when future of this whole endeavor was uncertain, it was actually a one-man show. Today there are nine people in our team. Anybody who read our collectible issue printed especially for Audio Show 2014 could find the names of all of them in it. It is a group of selected people that are meant to complement each other rather than stand in others' way. Nobody is supposed to be an expert on everything we do (and it's not even about the well known truism, that those who claim to be experts on everything are no experts at all – the audio industry is so big, so complex that no one person should even try to cover all of it).

I am not going to describe a function of every person in our team – it wouldn't make much sense, as some of these people are with us for a long time and most Readers already know what each of them does. In this particular editorial, that I'm honored to write, I'd like to focus on… myself. It might seem a bit selfish (after all I could find some more profound topic of my first editorial), but it so happens that I am responsible for a lot of changes that you, our dear Readers, will witness, hopefully, very soon. In fact I do hope for some support and maybe even some participation from your side. Let's start with something that actually has been already (in the printed edition of „High Fidelity”) announced – with the „News” section of our magazine.

INFORMATION AS A XXI CENTURY COMMODITY

As James Gleick, an author of the Information bestseller, said: „Every age has its particular feature. We live in the ‘information’ age, our ancestors lived in „steam age”, „iron age”, or „stone age””. It is a simple truth and it is hard to debate it. And yet, if I (and most likely also any of our Readers) was to point out a single column of our magazine, that obviously didn't keep up with others it would surely be the „News”. New information appeared in it once a month, which totally did not fit into: „here and now” era, when everything has to be delivered directly to the receiver at once, or at least as soon as possible.
It does not apply to the reviews – it takes a lot of time to conduct them and to describe the results, so this is not really the race of who gets the review online first (although some audio blogs, not to be mistaken with web magazines, seem to think otherwise). But news, interesting information from audio industry – these should be delivered promptly, while they are still up-to-date, or before they change their meaning, or get lost in the depths of the Internet.

I was painfully aware of that issue so I decided to visit chief editor, next room actually, to tell him that this had to change. I didn't do it because I saw an opportunity for myself, I just saw a problem that needed to be fixed. It came as a surprise but it also made me proud when he suggested I took this responsibility on myself – I was to be responsible for the „News” part of the Magazine. I participated in re-designing of this column from the very beginning as a person who would be responsible for it in the very near future. Right now, with this last 2014 issue of „High Fidelity”, it is my great honor and pleasure to present to you a renewed „News” column of „HighFidelity”.

First thing you will surely notice is a new layout – elegant, eye-catching, lavish, but with emphasis on what is really important – TEXT and INFORMATION. The big change is not limited only to layout re-designing. The key change concerns the way this section will work from now on. It will be updated daily, filled with new content right after some news or information concerning audio get to us. The rest of the Magazine will remain unchanged, of course – new reviews will be published on the 1st and 16th on monthly basis. It will allow „High Fidelity” to benefit from both sources, printed and web-based, combining them in the most effective way. The reviews, and other „large” texts will be prepared the way they have (successfully) been for a long time – without unnecessary rush, while news should appear in the proper section as soon as possible to satisfy Readers curiosity and need to stay up-to-date.

We hope that constantly updated information in the “News” column will allow Readers to stay up-to-date with trends, novelties, premieres of audio products and audio magazines, new technologies and solutions. You will find there classic news sent to us by our partners, but also those interesting ones we will dig out from the depths of the Internet ourselves. I do realize that I won't be able to cover everything that is happening in hi-fi and hi-end world – that is not possible even for a large group of people, let alone one person. So the plan is to keep you informed about as many interesting novelties and stories as possible, but we can't promise we will cover them all.

What I can promise is this: commitment, entering news from all sources available to us, and also accepting help from our Readers – whenever any of you find something interesting, worth sharing with others, that has not been entered already to our “News” column, please send it to news@highfidelity.pl. Your input will be highly appreciated.

Information that will create content of News part of „High Fidelity” I would divide into few sub-categories. Despite the fact that such a categorization done at the very beginning might create some dangers (as it might create some artificial boundaries/frameworks), I'd still do it to clearly show you what can you expect from us. News about new audio products will probably create a majority of content. There are so many hi-fi/high-end manufacturers around the globe that almost every day new or updated/upgraded models are released, new technologies emerge and so on – and we plan to keep you well informed about all of them.

The idea is to keep our Readers informed not only about new products, but also about many other audio-related subjects that are not audio devices. This part will cover information about audio press – new issues, new titles and so on. We will share news about both, foreign and domestic press. We will publish information about all important audio events, shows, presentations, meetings and so on. Our goal is to create on place on the web any Reader could visit to be sure that he/she knows everything important that there is to know about audio world. That is exactly what I plan to achieve – to keep you informed.

HI-FI: FIRST STEP

News, although very important, won't be the only thing I will manage in the future for “HighFidelity”. Sooner or later I will also start to write reviews of budget hi-fi products; that means components priced within 2000 PLN range. Most likely some “advanced” Readers who already elevated their systems to much higher levels won't be interested in these reviews, but there are a lot of others who carefully plan spending each 1000 or 2000 PLN for their new audio product. Not only do they want to buy a good sounding item, but I'm sure as hell they want to avoid buying some crappy one of poor quality and/or performance that might persuade them to quit audio once and for all instead of becoming an encouragement for future upgrades. For these Readers I shall in yet undefined, but hopefully close, future review some products in hope of helping them to enter interesting, yet complicated hi-fi world smoothly.

My reviews won't offer elaborated technical information about the reviewed items, that in fact are usually useless for most people just entering audio world as these tell them nothing, or almost nothing about the most important thing, about the sound. To be honest I simply don't have enough knowledge and experience to tell you that using particular type of transformer combined with a specific internal wiring would result in certain sound characteristic. I will keep Magazine's standards and offer some description of internal design of each product but the most important parts of my reviews will be the ones focusing on sound, looks and functions.

System I

One of necessary tools for a reviewer who wants to assess audio products (not necessarily devices, as we do, for example, compare different editions of the same recordings) is a reference system. Readers can find out detailed information about systems used by our Chief Editor and Marek Dyba below any of their reviews.
My system is a mystery as for now, since I've just announced that I would also start reviewing products for “HighFidelity”. This editorial is a great opportunity to tell you what system do I use for my personal pleasure and will use as a reference system for my future reviews.

Sources

I'd like to start with a source, or sources to be exact as I use two of them, each from a different world. The first is black Pro-Ject 1 Xpression Carbon Classic turntable, signed by Pro-Ject's owner (although that probably does not affect its performance).

I am a great fan of analogue, of all its aspects – sound, its philosophy, and “collectible” approach associated with it. I simply love to take large vinyl cover into my hands, I enjoy the whole ritual of playing vinyl record, I love this magical experience that listening to the music played from analogue record gives me. In short – vinyl offers me more fun and pleasure than a CD (although it comes close in these aspects) or music files. And I love the “analogue” sound – rich, dense even, warm, detailed, presented in a unoffensive, easy to listen way.
The ultimate experience with vinyl was the one provided by TechDAS Air Force One. It is the top of the top, absolutely remarkable device, that, at least in my opinion, is unmatched in terms of sound quality by any other source, analogue or digital.

1 Xpression Carbon Classic, a turntable of the renown Austrian manufacturer, plays, obviously, in a different league. It is a perfect way to enter an analogue world though, but not an ultimate source some search for their entire life. It is, however, a very good product with one of the best price/quality ratios in this price range. It is elegant, with a very good fit&finish. It offers a dynamic, clear sound, that is also warm and somehow colored, but in a good way. This purchase solves one more problem of an (usually) analogue beginner – there is no need to search for a matching cartridge as it is included in the price of the device. For roughly 3500 PLN one gets a turntable with a very nice Ortofon M Silver. This is surely not a cheap addition that comes with turntable for a single purpose of calling it complete. This Pro-Ject with this Ortofon actually is a complete deck that delivers very good performance.

The other source I mentioned is a files and CD Player coctailAudio X10. It is a small, inexpensive product that surprises with its many functions. It is a streamer, it can play files stored on internal or external hard drive, it plays CDs, and if you're a fan of internet radios X10 is an answer for that need too. It is very easy to use as, despite its small dimensions, coctailAudio sports quite large display that presents all important information including covers of played CDs ripped to files. Using it is a pure pleasure.

coctailAudio X10 is not just a cool, lifestyle gadget, it also delivers a pretty good performance. It is surely not one of those products that costs a few zloty to make but are sold for a thousand just because there is some “huge” logo or celebrity's name on the front. It is an inexpensive product and one can't expect some mind blowing performance, but surely a very decent one. It should be a very good benchmark for many other inexpensive sound sources.

Electronics

Electronics, that amplifies the signal from sources and drives my speakers is of a more expensive sort. I use a Japanese masterpiece – a tube integrated amplifier Leben CS-300 X (SP) [Custom Version]. This unit was a part of “HighFidelity's” reference system for years. It's a brilliant device that makes its user a very happy man.
What catches an eye is its looks. The Japanese put extra effort to every little, tiny detail in most things they do, but in audio industry this drive for perfection reaches a new, highest level, and CS-300 X (SP) [Custom Version] is a best proof of that. A wonderful, gold-ish front panel, smoothly operating knobs, beautiful wooden side panels, very handsome silver feet – it is really hard not to fall in love with this amplifier.

What's also important is a fact that Leben is not some huge device, one doesn't need a crane to move it around. This amp is surprisingly slick and relatively light. Light, in a very positive meaning of this word, is also the sound Leben delivers. Music is presented in a well balanced way, without trying to impress listener with some sort of “special effects”. Yes, it does sound like a tube amplifier, in a warm, nice to listen way, but it combines these qualities with a very good dynamics and the sound is also highly detailed.

Leben is also a high quality headphone amplifier, that allows its user to still enjoy his favorite music while other members of the family require a bit of silence. The unit that I use is a very particular one, one of the kind actually, as it was personally made by Mr Taku Hyodo, Leben's owner, for „High Fidelity”, which is confirmed by a writing on amplifier's back.

The other amplifying device in my system is a Linear Audio Research phonostage. LPS-1 is a small, two-box device (with total weight of just 1,5 kg) – one aluminum box holds a power supply inside, the other is the main unit (or in other words a box with knobs). This phonostage works with both, MC and MM cartridges, which allows its user to find his favorite cart regardless of its type. It's a great looking and even better sounding device, that is a perfect fit (with both, its looks and its sound) for my system.

Loudspeakers

And last but not least - speakers. The main pair used in this system is Graham Audio monitors from BBC school, placed on dedicated stands. LS5/9 is, at least for the moment, the first and only model made by this British manufacturer. And a very good one, I have to add.

Despite the fact that these particular speakers, at least compared to some others from BBS school including the mighty Harbeth 40.1, are not particularly big, they do deliver large scale, lush sound. They also do impress with dynamics and most of all with this unbelievably natural and thus... believable presentation. Surely some audiophiles don't like the fact that LS5/9 sport “voiced” cabinets. Some believe that this type of cabinets is “pure evil”, that it can't deliver proper sonic results. But they are wrong and Graham Audio speakers prove that delivering a damn good performance that everybody should at least give a try to.

Graham Audio's only child is also really beautiful: a natural veneer, visible screw heads that also attribute to a particular looks of these speakers, this wonderful tweeter lever adjustment facility – all that allows user not only to enjoy the great sound but also feed ones eyes with a truly amazing view. It's a beautiful product of British audio industry and I fell in love with it at the very moment I saw it for the first time.

The second pair of speakers at my disposal are Castle Richmond Anniversary Limited Edition shelf-speakers together with Sonus faber stands. These are really small speakers but with a great heart for music. Castle is a well known manufacturer, and these boxes offer surprisingly large, natural sound and a very nice, eye-catching design. Plus there is a designer's signature on the back baffle (I guess it also does not improve the sound). I used these speakers for many years and all this time they were the most precious element of my system, the gate to higher performance. Even now, when they play only a secondary role I still like to come back to them and they still do offer me a wonderful musical experience.

Cables and accessories

Audio system is not only about “big boxes” – it includes also cables and accessories, which, if properly chosen, become important elements of quite a complex system, almost as important as speakers or turntable. There is no need for elaborated description here. Among cables I use in my system there are products of three manufacturers representing three different countries and three different philosophies. There is one Oyaide power cable, two KBL Sound power cables from their top line Red Eye (fantastic Polish cables delivering warm, rich, full sound) and a set of Siltech Anniversary 550 cables: a power cord, an interconnect and speaker cables.

I chose this set of cables to combine a very nice, warm sound of Oyaide + KBL with amazingly detailed sound of Siltech. Power cables are plugged into KBL Reference Power Distributor, and my external HDD (that delivers data to X10) is plugged into a separate, cheap (10 PLN) power strip from Castorama. As for accessories I am a happy user of two anti-vibration platforms (one made by Troks, and the other by Waldemar Skrzypczak of Pro Audio Bono, whom I met this year during Audio Show), a set (three pieces) of Franz Audio Accessories discs under my turntable, and two racks made by a renown Swedish company IKEA. Yup, that's not a joke. IKEA makes ridiculously cheap racks and shelves that are good enough to place audio system on it. They might not improve the sound of the system, but for now, until I get something better, they will do just fine.

System II

I have also another system, that I need to mention – it's a desktop system. It's key element is… just my PC. Yes, I've mentioned before that I am a great fan of vinyl, but I also like to use audio files as music medium, simply because of their convenience, availability and, in some cases, also for sound quality. Original Compact Discs are ripped to files using dBpoweramp software and then played using foobar2000 software player.

My desktop speakers are near field Studio Oslo monitors made by a Cracow manufacturer Ancient Audio. To be honest I use mostly headphones though, that allow me to listen to the music as loud as I want any time of day or night. I use flagship planar-magnetic cans of American company Audeze, LCD-3, that are driven by a tiny tube integrated amplifier Synergy Hi-Fi 6F3  with an APPJ adapter that allows me to use it as a headphone amp.

This beautiful tube amplifier (I love night sessions for this magical glow) with Audeze's flagship cans sounds exactly as I like it – powerful, dynamic, rich and warm. It might not be the most natural sounding set as Audeze tend to deviate a bit from “high fidelity”, but they do it to achieve certain, absolutely wonderful result, and they do it in style. I also use much less expensive HiFiMAN HE-500 headphones, and I keep both of them on wonderful, modern Klutz Design headphone stands.

AUDIO SALONS

There is one more section of “HighFidelity” I will be, or in fact I already am, responsible for. I will write texts about audio salons. I think that every audiophile who already found such a place with hi-fi/high-end products, staffed with people who also are audio fans, will confirm that it is an important part of his audiophile life. He spends there some, usually very pleasant, time, and a lot of his money, which in this particular case seems to give him a lot of satisfaction. Despite the fact that today audio shows seem to play a greater role (here, in Poland there is only one show worth mentioning – AudioShow in Warsaw, but in Western Europe, USA and in the Far East there is a lot of them), I still believe that audio salons can not be replaced in audiophile's life by anything else. That's where we can audition new products, compare products of interest, it is there where we meet other audio enthusiasts. So I believe these places are worth writing about them to make sure they won't be forgotten.

Obviously each audio salon has its own philosophy, its approach to the business and to the customers which is reflected in the interior and exterior design of the salon, and in people that work there. Each such place is different and tries to offer something special, something that distinguishes it from competitors. That is why writing about them (and in case of „High Fidelity's” readers getting to know them through reading about them) doesn't have to be boring, it doesn't have to mean writing the same things about every salon. Each place has its own atmosphere, its own spirit, and I will always try to describe it in the best possible way. Until today there where two such visits in audio salons described in “HighFidelity” - mu debut coverage of a visit in Cracow's Chillout Studio and the second one about Nautilus. At the moment you're reading this, we have already attended an official opening of a new RCM salon in Katowice, and a coverage of that event together with a description of the place is now prepared and will be published soon.

There is only one thing left to do here – I would like to wish myself good luck, and to all „High Fidelity” Readers – may reading of the new Magazine's issue and my own columns be a pure pleasure.

Bartosz Pacuła
„NEWS”

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Our reviewers regularly contribute to “Audio”“Enjoy the Music.com”, “Positive-Feedback.com”“HiFiStatement.net”  and “Hi-Fi Choice & Home Cinema. Edycja Polska” .

"High Fidelity" is a monthly magazine dedicated to high quality sound. It has been published since May 1st, 2004. Up until October 2008, the magazine was called "High Fidelity OnLine", but since November 2008 it has been registered under the new title.

"High Fidelity" is an online magazine, i.e. it is only published on the web. For the last few years it has been published both in Polish and in English. Thanks to our English section, the magazine has now a worldwide reach - statistics show that we have readers from almost every country in the world.

Once a year, we prepare a printed edition of one of reviews published online. This unique, limited collector's edition is given to the visitors of the Audio Show in Warsaw, Poland, held in November of each year.

For years, "High Fidelity" has been cooperating with other audio magazines, including “Enjoy the Music.com” and “Positive-Feedback.com” in the U.S. and “HiFiStatement.net”  in Germany. Our reviews have also been published by “6moons.com”.

You can contact any of our contributors by clicking his email address on our CONTACT  page.

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