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No. 96 May 2012

CONVERSATIONS VIII

I don’t know how and when, yet three months have passed without our Conversations. It just so happened that I dedicated my last few editorials to topics that preoccupied me and that were, I believe, so important that it wouldn’t be right to try adding something more. In the meantime a lot of things piled up, usually minor but still interesting. It also happened that Conversations turned into some kind of blog – not really regularly updated, but still. Their main topic is my sound system. It needs to be said that the reviewer’s sound system, everything that relates to his professional life, that is all that shapes his work, becomes a part of every review and often decides about given reviewed product to be or not to be. I am no different. If you are told different, i.e. someone tells you that either nothing influences his/her decisions (work) or totally leaves out this aspect of review, its methodology, be assured that they are lying – either to themselves or to you.

Ayon Audio Polaris III – Custom Version
For quite some time now a part of my reference system has been this Ayon Audio linear preamplifier. I reviewed its version II (HERE). Actually, I got it not with a regular power supply but with a dedicated mains conditioner. Initially, both versions were to be offered for sale but very soon Gerhard Hirt decided that the version with the conditioner is so good that it is the only one that makes sense – and so came Polaris III. And it was very good – I had maybe two other preamplifiers that were somewhat better (one of them was CAT SL1 Legend), but I didn’t see any need to change my Polaris. That is, until I heard the Spheris II, also from Ayon. That model was clearly better than my Solaris. I asked Gerhard to swap passive components in my preamp for those used in the more expensive model, like for example very expensive, tantalum resistors. Full upgrade is not possible as they are two different designs, but I was still hoping for a much better sound. And it was better, definition and dynamics improved, yet the change was not enough to leave me satisfied. While sending my preamp to Austria, I packed together brilliant, huge, custom made for me V-Cap capacitors. However, Gerhard refused to solder them in claiming that they do not fit on the print board (right now the preamp sports tall Jantzens). Well – he is right but I’ll still have a go at a bit of DIY, maybe THAT will give the sound a nice push forward.

And there will be a good opportunity to verify that change for we have planned the July issue of HF to be fully dedicated to linear preamplifiers, those expensive and very expensive first of all. Here is what’s already confirmed:
∙ Accuphase C-3800,
∙ Avantgarde Acoustic XA PRE,
∙ Octave HP 500 SE,
∙ Soulution 720.
I plan to review eight preamps so we’ve already got half. Each one of them will be placed on the new, wooden shelves of my new stand.

Base IV [Custom Version] – wooden shelves
My Polaris III sits on the Base IV three-shelf equipment rack. Some time ago I additionally put under the preamp the Acoustic Revive Hickory Board RHB-20 which slightly improved sound focus and saturation. Normally, the preamplifier, just like my power amplifier, used to sit directly on the granite shelves that the rack came with. Unfortunately, granite is not ideal in such combination, i.e. with metal, and generally speaking I prefer the sound of components placed on wood. That is why my Ancient Audio Lektor AIR V-edition CD player sits on the Acoustic Revive RAF-48 air floating board, and my Leben CS-300 XS [Custom Version] amplifier is placed on the Pro Audio Bono board. Both of them are wooden.

Some time ago I had a plan to remedy all this in one bold move and to buy the loaded finite elemente Reference Pagode Edition equipment rack. It has been a preferred choice of top audio reviewers as well as of Ken Ishiguro, the so much admired by me Acoustic Revive owner. You can read about his own sound system and its history in a very good reportage by Clement Perry, “Stereo Times” editor, HERE. In the meantime, however, Polish zloty took a dive against Western currencies and finite raised their prices at the same time so the idea lost its appeal to me. All the more so as the Base racks manufacturer contacted me with an offer to swap my granite shelves for wood. The wooden shelves are made of layers of HDF and plywood glued together, separated by a layer of special paper, imported from Japan. Since the shelves looked great I decided to swap my top and bottom shelves for wood and I left the middle granite. It is all good, really good! As you can see, Polish companies get better and offer more and more mature products, also from the sales point of view.

Pro Audio Bono – rolling bearings instead of slide bearings
Before I tell you about my recent purchase from Acoustic Revive, let me first say a few words about a newest upgrade to the Pro Audio Bono anti-vibration platforms. As you probably know, their platforms are designed around a concept also known elsewhere, but especially well executed by this Polish company (test review of wooden platform models HERE, and acrylic ones HERE). The PAB platforms proved so well that one of them became part of my headphone system with my beloved Leben and the other one was given our rare Red Fingerprint award.
Mr. Skrzypczak, PAB owner and R&D engineer is the kind of person that cannot sit still and constantly works on improving this or that. Most of his improvements can be applied to their older models. Some time ago he sent me information about his two new component designs that might prove worthy in my system – heavy brass muffs that carry platform feet and a completely new system of mounting cables supporting the upper board.

The brass sleeves simply work and that’s it. However, changing a slide bearing used for mounting the support cables around a steel pin for a rolling bearing brought a significant change. Please, compare both designs and you will learn something – the sound with the rolling bearing is deeper, darker but also better defined; it is more velvety, as if there was less background noise. The difference is enough to quickly pick up which support board you prefer. It seems that mechanical vibrations are an equivalent of jitter in the digital signal, as far as their influence on sound is concerned. Proper damping, absorbing or draining off the vibrations has a direct influence on sound.
It is important with electronics but plays key role in case of loudspeakers. That is why for quite some time I have been test reviewing all speakers on the Acoustic Revive RST-38 platforms. Which leads us to the next topic.

Acoustic Revive Custom Series Loudspeaker Stands –Harbeth M40.1 stands (contribution to a topic)
I express my love towards the Harbeth M40.1 over and over again, not minding anything. The speakers simply “landed well” with me and my sound system. As I said in my test review, their weak point seems to be the fact that they are stand mount speakers and stands are their Achilles’ heel, at least in theory. Despite that, the simple MDF-made Skyline stands that I had during my review didn’t bother me at all and I took them as they were, without making fuss.
I knew though that it can be done better. Good stands are made for example by a Polish company Rogoz Audio. But the best stands for the Harbeths, at least in theory, have been made in Japan, designed by the already mentioned Mr. Ken Ishiguro (Acoustic Revive). He only made a few pairs, maybe two or three; the first one for Jeff Day, editor for „Positive Feedback OnLine”. Jeff reviewed many AR products and expressed his positive attitude to this company as well as – or maybe even first of all – to Leben on his personal website „Jeff’s Place”. And it was him to come up with an idea that Mr. Ishiguro would design custom stands for his Harbeths that he then used to have. It took a while, it was a custom design after all, but all went well. You can see the result of Mr. Ishiguro and AR work and read the review HERE.

Given how much I value the company, appreciating their knowledge and attitude, I decided to order something similar for myself. It turned out not so easy – such custom order requires a long preparation, individual work, etc. I made it, however, thanks to help in negotiations from Mr. Yoshi Hontai, CEO of MuSon Project, Inc., and representative of such companies as jak Leben, Acoustic Revive, Acrolink, Oyaide, SPEC, SAEC, Musica and others, that we will come back to, outside Japan. The stands are astronomically expensive (their list price in the USA is $10,495!) but – oh well, for my dear Harbeths – everything!
The manufacturing took about two months and shipping was through Eter Audio, Polish distributor for Acoustic Revive. And finally they arrived – 120 kilos of live weight, sixteen large boxes. Two people from the distributor (Robert and Maciek) were assembling them for three hours. They look absolutely gorgeous and the theory behind them is very convincing. The result? Fail… To be honest with you, I haven’t had such disappointment in a long time. I don’t even remember how long. The sound with the new stands became much more selective; I don’t think I ever had such low bass with any other speakers, including huge floorstanders. But the Harbeths magic was gone, which I was so enchanted with, the depth of the midrange that I could not find anywhere else also disappeared. I was really down and could not pull myself together for the next two weeks.

Since the stands are mechanical components, I started thinking what I could change to improve the sound. The first step was to pull out the underlying beautiful, large, Mr. Ishiguro signed anti-vibration platforms, custom made RST-38H. It was better. Next step was to pull out the four RIQ-5010 quartz insulators and using three wooden blocks instead. Better still. And finally out went the screwed-in support feet and I placed the stands on three Ceramic Discs from Franc Audio Accessories. Better again. By then I got back almost everything I’d had before with the Skyline stands, with much better selectivity and bass control. The Harbeths do not sound a little dim any more. Actually, that hadn’t bothered me until I heard them on AR stands.

But I’m still troubled by all this – Acoustic Revive is an experienced company, Mr. Ken Ishiguro knows what he’s doing. Maybe it was me who made a mistake somewhere?



Maybe I f…ed up something? It may be so. I’ll try to come back to my former setup and change only one component. I know that I’ll change the stock feet, most likely for anti-vibration Ceramic Disc Slim Foot from Franc Audio, but I’ll need to think of the best low cones for them. And I will also see what’s the deal with the quartz insulators and why wood “sounds” better. Maybe I needed to glue together the speakers with the quartz and the quartz with the stands with something like Blu-Tack?

Maybe… Anyway, until I’m ready, until I get what I’ve hoped for (and the stands do have incredible potential) I will not put labels with the Acoustic Revive logo on them. I will surely let you know of any further advances.

Made in Japan – the coming May issue of „High Fidelity” and MuSon Project’s role in this endeavor
As you can see the Japanese have something that makes most of (but not all) what they propose in audio something unique. I talked with many people about it and they all, while pointing out various possible reasons for that, like Japanese diligence, perfectionism, patience, etc., agreed that even when sometimes given esthetics is different and we don’t “get it” here, in Europe, it is not because it is bad or flawed, but rather simply refuses to conform to our habits. For when the Japanese put their hearts into something, the do it well. And usually, after some time we come to the same conclusion. When we mature enough.
And Japan is full of audio companies, often micro-size, most of which is totally unknown outside the country. Mr. Yoshi Hontai, together with his son Elia, tries to change that and promote as many brands as he can. I think he’s quite successful.

There’s no denying the fact that I fell under the Japanese charm. I’m not the first and not the last one, and audio is just one of many examples of the connection between Poland and Japan on some level. I know something about it – I live on the same side of the Vistula river as the Manggha Centre of Japanese Art and Technology… Maybe that is why the only continued special “High Fidelity” issues are the “Polish” September issue and the “Japanese” May issue (have a look for yourself in the archive).
This year I asked Mr. Hontai and his son for help in preparing the May issue. And in addition to the latest amplifier from Triode (which company I discovered on my own and was the first reviewer in Europe to test review their products; in case of Musica I was their first reviewer outside JAPAN) and to Accuphase E-360 which will be reviewed by Marek Dyba, and also for 90 percent to the super-new Leben CS-1000P power amplifier (sporting the KT120 tubes), I will be able to present to you several completely unknown Japanese companies:
SAEC cables,
Audio Replas anti-vibration accessories,
Air Cable (Okutsu Denko Co.) mains cables,
fo.Q anti-vibration accessories,
∙ for 60 percent SPEC RSA-V1 amplifier.

This Mortal Coil – newest box, Japanese pressing
Audio equipment aside, Japan is highly regarded among audiophiles also, or maybe even more, because of their quality CD pressing, including classic mini-LP editions as well as SHM-CD, HQCD or Blu-spec.

It is therefore worth noticing the new TMCBOX1 boxset with the albums of This Mortal Coil project (as it is difficult to speak of a “band”) that was issued on 26 October 2011. It contains four records, three “regular” albums and a fourth album compiling all the singles and other unreleased “bits and pieces”; the boxset is beautiful. The records are based on the 2010 re-master. What’s more important, they were HDCD encoded and the discs were pressed in Japan. I think the actual box is also Japanese made (I have some other similar boxsets – e.g. with mini-LP King Crimson albums – and they look very similar) although there is no information about that. The whole is rather expensive but if you enjoy this kind of music you will not find a better edition.

Fidelio Musique MasterFlash FACD912 - We capture the feeling
Very good music can be also found on the newest product (as it is no longer just an “album”) by the Canadian Fidelio Musique that I already mentioned in one of my editorials. Here, the company’s director and owner, Mr. René Laflamme prepared a kind of sampler. But it is not another gadget, boring and useless – this one sounds really well. And what the recording quality! Answering my question about the goal of this product, Mr. Laflamme said the following:
“Dear Wojtek,
The idea behind this project is to prepare an album for audiophiles and music lovers alike. I have chosen recordings that I did over the last ten years and described with details the positioning of the musicians on the scene in each recording, which should help with speaker positioning. We also have a few binaural recordings – mostly various sound effects. I hope you will like it. Let me also point out that I started selling MasterFlash material copied straight from the mother disc, with no down-conversion whatsoever, both DSD and DXD files. Have a look at the information on our recording artists and the last Hi-Fi show in Montreal HERE, HERE, and HERE.”

Besides jazz and classical tracks what we also get on the MasterFlash are non-musical tracks that we can use to test the quality of space reproduction in our systems. The material is available on CD, but the basic medium that can show the whole René’s mastery is MasterFlash, a kind of flash memory stick, a flat metal plate with flash memory and USB connector, holding 24/96 WAV files. I encourage you to get one, if only to see what the people from Fidelio Musique can do.

ACT and Pirouet – new albums from Munich
There is more interesting music that has recently appeared. I cannot mention every new album, but would like to turn your attention to the artists whose albums we at “High Fidelity” follow closely:
∙ e.s.t. Esbjörn Svenson Trio, 301, ACT Music + Vision, ACT 9029-2, CD – posthumous edition of new material,
∙ Michael Wollny’s [em], Wasted & Wanted, ACT Music + Vision, ACT 9515-2, CD – double album, with additional CD Live JazzFest Berlin,
∙ Nils Landgren, The Moon, The Stars And You, ACT Music + Vision, ACT 9505-2, CD,
∙ Lars Danielsson, Liberetto, ACT Music + Vision, ACT 9520-2, CD,
∙ Tingwall Trio, Vägen, Skip records, SKP 9107-2, CD.
If you like these artists you can buy the records blind.

But they alone are not even what’s most interesting. For me even more exciting is the fact that ACT released vinyls. Together with CD versions I also bought vinyl records with the above mentioned albums by Landgren, Wollny, and Danielsson. I haven’t had time so far to listen to them so I don’t know how ACT recording engineers’ mastery sounds on vinyl. As you might know, ACT recording process is high res digital. It’s a shame that they don’t offer so far for sale any “Master” quality files. Tingvall Trio also issue their albums on vinyl but in their case it’s not the best transfer (pressing?) and I definitely prefer their albums on CD.

But it’s not the only interesting recording company from Munich. In addition to the essential ECM I have recently reached some albums from Pirouet Records. Great music indeed! Unlike ACT or ECM the recording quality is not exemplary. But the music itself – go ahead and have a listen, it’s really worth it.

High End, Munich – the show is coming very soon
Speaking of Munich I need to mention the soon coming High-End 2012 Show in Munich (my report from the last year HERE). I will be there this year on 3rd of May.


A few details:

Organizer:
High End Society e. V.

Place:
M,O,C, Munich
Lilienthalallee 40
80939 Munich, Germany

Date:
3-6 may 2012

Opening hours:
Thursday – 10.00-18.00
Friday – 10.00-18.00
Saturday – 10.00-18.00
Sunday – 10.00-18.00

Wojciech Pacuła
Editor in Chief



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Our reviewers regularly contribute to  “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”.

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