Monthly Archives: December 2012

LAMM LP1

Lamm Industries has just announced the release of their all new LP1 Signature phono stage.  This new dual monaural phono preamplifier model is Lamm Industries ultimate statement of high end audio.  Just like the ML3 Signature and LL1 Signature, the LP1 Signature is one of the best creations of its designer’s professional career.

The LP1 Signature has been designed to complement the ML3 amplifier and the LL1 preamplifier. It completes the Signature Series triad and, in combination with the other two Signature components, represents a “match made in heaven”. However, the LP1 Signature will perform its magic in any system provided it is of sufficient quality.

The LP1 Signature features a topology that brings out the most natural sound performance in the audio path. The main distinction of the LP1 Signature is its almost inaudible sonic signature. When connected to the appropriate type of electronics, and especially LAMM amplifiers and preamplifiers, it assures the extraordinary transparency of perceived sound and recreation of a three dimensional soundstage in the home, recording studio, etc. 

The LP1 Signature is a vacuum tube preamplifier that employs a high current pure class A operation from input to output. No loop feedback is employed. Other features include:

• Audibly neutral power supplies (one for each channel) featuring full-wave vacuum rectifiers, choke contained filters, vacuum tube high-voltage regulators, and solid- state low-voltage analogue non-switching regulators used as the heater supplies
• Three separate inputs for MM and MC (two inputs) cartridges
• All amplification stages utilize high transconductance super low noise high-current vacuum triodes
• Very accurate RIAA EQ network

Each preamplifier is carefully handcrafted of the finest materials and hand selected top quality parts like military-grade DALE metal-film resistors, RCD wire-wound resistors, BOURNS multi-turn potentiometers; ELECTROCUBE, CORNELL DUBILIER and ROEDERSTEIN film capacitors; high frequency switching grade CORNELL DUBILIER electrolytic capacitors; HAMMOND chokes; gold-plated NEUTRIC connectors; and military- grade low-noise long-life vacuum tubes.

A custom-designed massive damping panel installed in the preamplifier unit significantly reduces all types of mechanical vibrations which, in turn, leads to a more extended, coherent and natural bass reproduction.

The LP1 Signature features a custom-designed super-low noise power transformer and works with all world AC line voltages (100/120/220/230/240V) - adjusted internally without elaborate modification.

The LP1 Signature carries a retail price of $33,000 U.S. and will debut at CES 2013 in Las Vegas in January 2012.  Look for more details on the LP1 Signature phonostage at: www.lammindustries.com.

 

 mit_usb

MIT Cables has just announced two new USB cables that will be debuted at the upcoming 2013 Consumer Electronics Show (CES), taking place in Las Vegas from January 8-11, 2013.

Designed with the computer audiophile in mind, these new cables feature premium materials for the highest error-free data transmission of your digital media ?les. Featuring 24-gauge Oxygen-Free Copper (OFC) center conductors that are triple shielded to eliminate extraneous noise for excellent RFI and EMI noise rejection. Both products support data transmission up to the USB maximum of 480 Mbps, providing dependable, error-free, high-speed performance.

StyleLink Digital
• 24 gauge Oxygen-Free Copper (OFC) center conductors
• Triple shielded to eliminate extraneous noise
• Meets or exceeds all USB 2.0 speci?cations
MSRP: $79.00 U.S. 1m/each

StyleLink Digital Plus
• Silver-plated 24 gauge Oxygen-Free Copper (OFC) center conductors
• Rugged braided outer jacket
• Triple shielded to eliminate extraneous noise
• Meets or exceeds all USB 2.0 speci?cations
MSRP: $149 U.S. 1m/each

Look for more details at: www.mitcables.com

 

Monitor Audio Gold GX 5

If you have an exceptional memory, you might recall reading about the Monitor Audio Gold GX series speakers in these pages before.  I reviewed the GX200 floor standing loudspeakers ($4,995/pair) from this series back in the October/November 2011 issue.  The GX200 proved itself as a very capable speaker in my two channel system and offered many of the sonic characteristics that I was fond of.  In fact I took enough liking to these speakers that I ended up buying them after the review.  Since I wasn’t looking to make any changes in my two channel system, the GX200s became a part of the upgrade path for my basement home theatre system.  Of course a pair of loudspeakers at the front of the room hardly makes a home theatre system, so I asked Canadian distributor Kevro International to send us the remaining speakers to make a full 5.1 system.  The complete system to be evaluated in this review includes the GXC150 centre channel ($1,195), a pair of the GX-FX surround speakers ($2,390/pair) and the GXW15 subwoofer ($3,195).  The total price of this 5.1 system rings in at $11,775.  At this price my expectations were set pretty high, as they should be.

The Gold GX series sits just below Monitor Audio’s flagship Platinum series.  As you might expect, much of the technology in the Gold GX series is derived from lessons learned during the development of the Platinum series.  Aside from all the technology, the surround speakers and the subwoofer offer some features rarely found in speakers.  Visually, each of the models in the Gold GX series is quite attractive and a good selection of finishes means that they’ll integrate comfortably with just about any room décor.  Available finishes include Bubinga, Dark Walnut, as well as glossy Piano Ebony, White and Black.  There really is a lot to get excited about here.  Let’s examine each of the models in this review a little closer and you’ll see what I mean.

The GX200 floorstanding speaker is the little brother to the GX300.  Its three-way design sports a C-CAM (Ceramic-Coated Aluminium/Magnesium) high frequency ribbon transducer, a 4 inch RST mid-range driver and two 5.5 inch RST bass drivers.  All of the drivers in this speaker use Monitor Audio’s C-CAM technology, a material originally developed by the aerospace industry for jet engine components.  The C-CAM manufacturing process combines the various materials through a series of specific steps which result in an alloy cone that is very light, yet extremely rigid.  This makes the C-CAM drivers much less susceptible to flexing or twisting during operation compared to other cone designs and results in a significantly reduced distortion.

The proprietary ribbon transducer is an ultra-thin sandwich of the C-CAM alloy suspended in a transverse magnetic field of high energy rare earth magnets.  Thanks to its mass of just 18 mg, its diaphragm is extremely quick at starting and stopping and hence is capable of reproducing the leading edges of notes and musical details unlike the more typical tweeter dome designs.  The ribbon transducer is capable of achieving frequencies above 60 kHz and while this is beyond the threshold of human hearing, it means that you’ll be able to hear all the musical nuances and harmonics found in high resolution audio content.

What makes the 4 inch RST (Rigid Surface Technology) mid-bass driver special are a series of radial ribs which significantly increase cone rigidity compared to other cone designs.  Increased rigidity translates into a lower distortion, while the use of the light weight C-CAM cone means higher speed and accuracy.  The 5.5 inch RST bass drivers use the same technology as the 4 inch RST driver but offer a larger driver size and heavier construction with bigger magnets.

The GX200 has a frequency response rated from 35 Hz to 60 kHz, a sensitivity of 89 dB and an impedance of 8 ohms. The GXC150 centre channel offers a 2.5-way, sealed cabinet design, housing two of the same 5.5 inch RST drivers as the GX200, with the same ribbon transducer in between them.  Its frequency response is rated from 55 Hz to 60 kHz, while its sensitivity and impedance matches the floorstanding model.

The GX-FX is far from an ordinary surround speaker.  It can provide either direct (monopole) or ambient surround (dipole) sound with just a flick of a switch on the speaker itself or with a 12 volt trigger from the AV receiver.   This makes it one of the most versatile surround speakers on the market today suitable for use in just about any room environment.  In the monopole mode, the GX-FX uses its front-firing 6.5 inch RST driver and a ribbon transducer to produce sound.  In the dipole mode, it uses two pairs of side-firing 4 inch C-CAM drivers and 1 inch C-CAM gold-dome tweeters, together with the front-firing 6.5 inch RST driver.  The dipole arrangement produces a more diffuse, enveloping sound.  The GX-FX speakers are designed to be stand mounted (a matching stand retails for $595) or can be installed flat on the wall with the included brackets.  Specifications of the GX-FX include a frequency response of 60 Hz to 60 kHz, a sensitivity of 87 dB and an impedance of 8 ohms.

All of the GX series cabinets are constructed out of 20 mm MDF, while each offers its own bracing to improve rigidity and minimize cabinet colouration.  Each speaker in this series offers bi-wire terminals with factory installed spade jumper cables.
Rounding out the GX series is just a single subwoofer called the GXW-15, and like the GX-FX surround speakers this is not just another run of the mill subwoofer.  Its sealed enclosure is equipped with an ultra-long throw 15 inch C-CAM bass driver, capable of a whopping 1.5 inches of excursion.  For a 15 inch subwoofer it has an attractively small enclosure, measuring roughly 16 inches in each of the three dimensions.  Its power comes from a 650 watt (1,200 watt peak) D2AudioTM DSP controlled, Class-D amplifier.  The rear connection panel offers both RCA and LFE inputs and outputs.  What makes the GXW-15 stand apart from the crowd is an on-board advanced automatic room correction system called LEO (Listening Environment Optimizer) by D2Audio.  The GXW-15 has a frequency response rated down to an earth shattering 18 Hz.  Unlike the typical subwoofer the GXW-15 has a small display at the top of its baffle as well as a knob/button just above it, which in theory you never have to use because all functions can be controlled from the supplied remote controller.  ‘nuff said.

The subwoofer manual says to run the LEO system before running that AV receiver auto calibration so that’s exactly what I did.  Running LEO is a minimalist affair – plug in the supplied microphone, place it where you would normally sit and let the system run its course of test tones.  The whole thing took only a couple of minutes in total.  Following this, I ran the auto calibration of my Pioneer Elite SC-07 AV receiver.  And now it was time for the fun stuff!  I should mention that part way through this review process I switched to a much higher performance Arcam FMJ AVR600 AV receiver.

Armed with a stack of Blu-ray discs, both music and movies, and SACDs I fired up my recently purchased Cambridge Audio Azur 751BD universal blu-ray player and grabbed a seat on the couch.  Yes, a reviewer’s life can be a tough gig sometimes.

First up was the Rolling Stones Shine a Light concert Blu-ray, Martin Scorsese’s take on what a Stones concert disc should look like.  The track “As Tears Go By” opens with Keith Richards playing an amazing 12 string acoustic guitar lick and I’ve honestly never heard it sound this good on any home theatre system.  The Monitor Audio speakers delivered the richness of the doubled-up guitar strings with fullness in the mid frequencies and an amazing bell-like quality in the higher octaves.  The depth and texture of this presentation was as close as I’ve heard from a real 12 string guitar.  When Richards strummed full chords, the strings rang in a perfect union, yet at the same time I could hear the distinct sound of each string.  The ribbon tweeters reproduced the high frequencies of both instruments and voices with an amazing sizzle and a high level of detail.  The tweeter presentation was airy, super clean and smoothly integrated with the mid frequencies, not once did I detect any harshness in the upper registers.  I also never got tired even during long listening sessions.  Ribbon tweeters offer a wider horizontal dispersion compared to dome tweeters and hence offer a larger horizontal sweet spot.  It should however be noted that ribbon tweeters have a limited vertical dispersion and as a result sound best when your ears are at their level.  Further enhancing the performance of this song, the surround speakers did a great job of providing the ambience as the crowd sang along during the chorus.  The Monitor Audio speakers provided me with plenty of listening pleasure as I enjoyed the rest of the tracks on this disc.

Next I switched to the Dire Straits: Brothers In Arms SACD, a fantastic album (on many different levels) that gets plenty of play time in both my two and multi-channel systems.  The Gold GX series served up a perfectly balanced frequency range and one of the cleanest, luscious sounding mid-ranges I’ve had the pleasure of listening to in my home theatre.  The ribbon tweeters extracted the finest musical details with the outmost delicacy.   Tracks like “So Far Away” and “Money For Nothing” presented me with a holographic soundstage – which reached well beyond the walls of my listening room as drums played all around my listening seat.    Meanwhile, the GXW-15 subwoofer blended smoothly with the rest of the speakers and provided perfectly resolved and well articulated bottom frequencies.

Flute Mystery (by Fred Jonny Berg) on Blu-ray gave me the chance to listen to a wide variety of string and air instruments.  The reproduction of this DTS-HD Master soundtrack was superb, every instrument sounded rich and tonally accurate.  I decided to take this opportunity to investigate the difference with the GX-FX surround speakers operating in monopole mode versus the dipole mode.  The monopole mode, recommended when the GX-FX is used as a rear speaker in a 5.1 system, produced a direct yet incredibly smooth sound and reproduced all of the fine intricacies of the music.  Not surprisingly the dipole mode, recommended when the GX-FX is used as a side or rear speaker in a 7.1 system, produced a much subtler surround effect.  Rather than sending the sound directly to my ears most of it was sent to the side drivers.  As a result the surround channels produced a much gentler sound – I was hearing more of an ambient sound rather than the full character of the instruments as in the monopole mode.  Both modes worked wonderfully well but I stuck to the recommended monopole setting for most of my listening.

While there was nothing wrong with having the Pioneer Elite SC-07 AV receiver driving these speakers, I knew that a higher level AV receiver, like the Arcam FMJ AVR600, should bring a further improvement to what I was hearing.  After all, the Gold GX isn’t just another speaker series – this is Monitor Audio’s second series from the top and should be capable of more than the Pioneer receiver can send its way.  It didn’t take very long to realize that with the Arcam in place the sonic improvement was remarkable.  The audio became more organic and further refined, particularly noticeable with voices and instruments.  There was also a noticeable improvement in clarity and detail extraction.  Yes, this was a greater pairing for certain.  Hence, I conducted the remainder of the review with the Arcam.

If you’d like to read my impressions about the sound of the GX 200 floor standing speakers in a 2-channel system, I invite you to read my review in the October/November 2011 issue (now available on www.canadahifi.com/).

Having established the excellent music performance of the Gold GX speaker, in both two and multichannel tests, I set out to evaluate their sound as a companion for movies.  I began with Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country on Blu-ray.  The Dolby TrueHD soundtrack sounded great from the outset.  The mesmerizing orchestral performance during the opening credits started off softly and gradually built in intensity and dynamics.  The Gold GX speakers did a very good job of reproducing all of the various sections of the orchestra.  I was enveloped by sound emitted from all around me, from a perfectly blended surround mix.  The crisp, highly detailed presentation of the Gold GX speakers offered much of the character that one would expect from a good hifi speaker.  The subwoofer had its first chance to strut its stuff at the very beginning of the first scene as a large cosmic explosion swept across the soundstage from the front to the back of the room.  The bass was presented with great depth and tightness, not just by the subwoofer but also by the surround speakers.  During the first few minutes of the film I noticed that the Gold GX had a slight advantage over other speaker designs thanks to their ribbon tweeters.  This advantage was the clarity of the dialogue.  Unlike with some of the other speakers I’ve listened to in the past, the GX centre channel never failed to deliver a clean rendition of the character voices – regardless of how many other layers of sound were in the mix.  Another advantage was that the dialogue was clearly audible even at very low volume levels.

While watching Thor on Blu-ray, what I got was a decidedly cinematic experience.  The Gold GX speakers handled this incredibly dynamic soundtrack with the outmost control.  Sound during quieter scenes was delivered with delicacy and precision.  Low frequencies during loud scenes were capable of delivering seismic thumps but always sounded tight and controlled.  The LEO automatic room correction system built into GXW15 subwoofer did a phenomenal job of smoothing out the bass frequencies in my room, and provided a better bass response in all the seats on my couch.  Dialogue was always super clean, even when layered with other sounds and effects.  Again I noticed that voices were very clear even at lower volume levels.  In one of the scenes, as Thor snuck into the Shield agency site set up to investigate the “satellite” crash site, all of the speakers worked in unison to create fantastically realistic rainfall and thunderstorm.

The Monitor Audio Gold GX series offered a stellar performance in my home theatre and for a total price of just under $12,000 for a 5.1 system you would certainly expect them to.  Whether I listened to music or watched movies, they never failed to engage me at the highest level.  Voices and instruments sounded true-to-life and hence music was always full of emotion, regardless of genre.  On many occasions I felt like the performers were right in my room.  During movies with good soundtracks (and visuals) the Gold GX series were capable of creating a total suspension of disbelief, making me feel like I was part of the action.  Yes it is possible to assemble a home theatre speaker system for a much smaller amount but you’ll miss out on all the dynamics, details and realism that only a higher-end speaker system like the Monitor Audio Gold GX can deliver.

Monitor Audio
www.monitoraudio.ca

Distributed in Canada by Kevro International, www.kevro.com
(800) 667-6065 / (905) 428-2800

Monitor Audio Gold GX 5.1 Speaker System
Price (CAD):
GX200 floor standing ($4,995/pair)
GXC150 centre channel ($1,195)
GX-FX surrounds ($2,390/pair)
GXW15 subwoofer ($3,195)
5.1 system as tested: $11,775

Philips Hue Connected Bulb

It should be pretty obvious by now that the home of the near future will rely on smartphones and tablets.  At the Guydster studio, we love to use our mobile devices to control various audio and video components.  And now thanks to the Philips Hue connected bulbs you can also control lighting in your home from an iPhone or iPad.  The dimmable, LED-based Hue light bulb outputs 600 lumens and can be dialed in using the control app to all shades of white (from warm to cold) and a variety of colors.  $199.95 (Philips Hue Connected Bulb Starter Pack – includes 3 bulbs + bridge).  You can even set timers to help you wake up.  Up to 50 Hue light bulbs can be used in a single system.  Available at www.apple.com.  News via www.guydster.com

ModWright LS 100KWA 100SE

Earlier this year, in the April/May 2012 issue of CANADA HiFi, Phil Gold reviewed the ModWright Instruments KWA 150 Signature Edition Amplifier.  He was so impressed by this amplifier that it ended up finding a permanent spot in his audio system.  His high praise of the amplifier also inspired us to bring in a couple of the more affordable pieces from ModWright, the KWA 100SE Amplifier and LS 100 Tube Preamplifier.  If you’re not familiar with the ModWright Instruments brand I invite you to read Phil’s review as it does a great job of introducing the company.  All ModWright Instruments components are designed and hand-made in the USA.

So how did these two entry-level ModWright components fair?  Let’s start at the very beginning.  Both components were double-boxed for shipping.  But I was surprised that the inner box of the LS 100 preamp was significantly larger than the preamp itself.  Inside, the styrofoam inserts were smaller than the box and hence could not fully prevent the LS 100 from moving inside the box during shipping.  The five tubes included in the box were scattered loosely inside the box, three of them had fallen completely out of their paper boxes.  Luckily none of the tubes were broken.  I contacted the manufacturer to make them aware of these issues and was told that as long as the tubes worked when I first power on the LS 100, then I shouldn’t have any problems.  There were no issues with the packaging of the KWA 100SE amp on the other hand.  Let’s look at each component in detail.

The LS 100 preamp has a single-ended tube design and strives to improve many of the qualities offered by the 9.0SE model, designed some seven years earlier.  The brushed aluminium enclosure gives it an attractive industrial appearance, if you’re into this sort of thing.  The front panel features two large dials (balance, volume), a series of sunken-in buttons for power and input selection (with corresponding LEDs above each) and 1/4 inch headphone jack.  It is topped off by a large, blue backlit ModWright logo that’s flanked by large ModWright Instruments lettering on the top and the LS 100 designation on the bottom.  Its design features include a single gain/buffer stage, phase inverting and an upgrade slot for an optional in-board DAC or phono stage.  The base LS 100 preamp retails for $3,700, or $4,500 with the built-in phono stage or DAC.  My review unit was equipped with the phono stage.  The LS 100 offers a bank of five inputs (4 RCA, 1 XLR), three outputs (2 RCA, 1 XLR), one monitor input and tape out, as well as a home theatre bypass input.  Two remote trigger outputs and an IEC socket, for a removable power cord, round out the rear panel.  The supplied remote has a compact form factor, similar to remotes supplied with mini stereo systems, but offers nearly all the same functionality as the front panel buttons.  Frankly, the remote looks and feels a bit cheap.

Like some of the other tube-based components on the market, the LS 100 preamp requires some assembly – namely placing the tubes inside the sockets.  It’s a fun, engaging process that gave me the opportunity to get to know the component a little better.  To get the tubes into place, the top cover of the LS 100 needs to be completely removed, which means undoing 20 hex screws with the provided long-handled hex key.  The LS 100 uses three tubes: two 6SN7 driver tubes and a single 5AR4/GZ34 rectifier tube.  The optional phono stage board requires two additional tubes – a 12AU7 and a 12AX7.  If you get the LS 100 model with the phono stage, you’ll want to configure the phono stage to have the correct loading impedance (to match your turntable) while the cover is off.  This is accomplished by setting up two banks of board-mounted dip switches which provide loading impedances of 50, 100, 500, 1000 or 47 kOhm, with the option of 100 pf of capacitance.  My Clearaudio Concept turntable has a loading impedance of 47 kOhms so I set the dip switches accordingly.  Fitting the tubes into the sockets is very simple but setting the loading impedances may leave novice users scratching their heads since it’s not explained in the manual as well as it could be (a diagram would be nice).

The KWA 100SE amp ($4,500) has the same brushed aluminium enclosure, with rounded edges and corners.  Its front panel is completely free of buttons, with only the blue backlit ModWright logo sandwiched by the ModWright Instruments lettering on the top and KWA 100SE on the bottom.  The power switch is tucked away, out of view, on the left side, on the underside of the chassis.  The SE designation at the end of the model number stands for Signature Edition and demands $800 more, over the base model.  The KWA 100SE features a solid stage design but promises to combine the advantages of both tube and solid state designs.  The SE edition of this amp offers a little more power and less distortion than the base model.  Its power is rated at 120 watts per channel (at 8 ohms, 0.07 % THD) or 210 watts per channel (at 4 ohms, 0.07 % THD).  The SE edition offers higher grade resistors and ModWright’s proprietary capacitors (also found in the preamp), as well as five pairs of Mosfet output devices per channel, compared to the three pairs in the base model.  Total capacitance is rated at 180,000 uf, compared to 90,000 uf of the base model.  At the core of the KWA 100SE lies a single voltage gain stage called the “Solid State Music Stage”, a circuit designed by Alan Kimmel, creator of the vacuum tube “Mu” stage.  Highlights of this amp’s design include a high-low bias switch and true balanced floating inputs.  Its rear panel accepts both XLR balanced and RCA unbalanced inputs.  A master power switch, silver multi-way speaker binding posts and a power IEC port round out the rear panel.

Powering on this ModWright Instruments pair has to be done in the right order – the preamp first and then the amp.  Otherwise, the protection circuitry in the amp might be tripped up and in the worst case, you might damage your speakers.  The preamp takes about 20 seconds to start up, while the amp takes closer to 55 seconds.  I had the ModWright Instruments pair hooked up to my trusty Focal Electra 1008 Be II speakers and used the Bryston BDP-1 Digital Player / BDA-1 DAC and the Clearaudio Concept turntable as my sources.

During the first two months this duo spent at my house, I listened to plenty of different types of music and gave the components ample time to burn-in.  Unfortunately when I was about to sit down and begin my critical listening for this review, an issue surfaced with the LS 100 preamp.  Suddenly it began introducing a noticeable noise into the signal chain and also became ultra sensitive to any kinds of vibrations – the smallest tap on the case got amplified right to the speakers (even walking in front of my system caused this to happen).  It turned out that one or more of the tubes had become microphonic, something that can happen with tubes.  However ModWright quickly rectified the problem by sending me a new set.  After going through the burn-in process again, I was finally ready to give this pair a proper listen.

I have to admit that I was pretty excited about the combination of a tube preamp and a solid state amp working together to produce sound – I figured that if they worked well together I could potentially have the best of both worlds.  It’s become somewhat of a tradition now, that every time I test a new component I go on a new album shopping spree.  Among the new artists, now loaded on my SSD drive and played by the Bryston digital player, were Sonoio, Alabama Shakes, City and Colour, The Lumineers and Alex Clare.  As part of my tests I of course included numerous albums that I’ve listened to before on many other components.

I began my listening session with Rebecca Pidgeon’s “Spanish Harlem” from the Best Audiophile Voices Collection.  I was immediately captivated by the realness of the sound produced by this duo.  Rebecca’s voice was silky smooth and echoed gently in the originally recorded environment.  The strings of the double bass were well articulated and produced rich bass notes.  Similarly piano keys and the violin played with rich overtones.  Everything about this presentation had a lifelike quality, as if I was listening to a live show.  The highs had just the right amount of sparkle, while the bass line played tunefully and never lacked in depth.  The midrange offered great clarity and rhythm.

Tracks from AIR’s Moon Safari disc presented an expansive soundstage that I’ve come to appreciate from this album when played through capable audio equipment.  The ModWright duo resolved the numerous, often complex sonic layers of this music with ease, while delivering all of the fine details of each and every layer.  The dynamics of the presentation never disappointed.

Next I jumped to the Jagged Little Pill Acoustic disc from Alanis Morissette.  All of the tracks on this album offered rich, full-bodied acoustic guitar notes, with remarkable harmonics that one would expect from a real guitar.  Different guitars offered clearly distinct sound characteristics.  I could also easily determine the strumming pattern of each guitar on most tracks.  Alanis’ quirky voice was reproduced with all the veracity of a live performance.  The ModWright components presented me with a properly laid out, three dimensional soundstage where the vocals and every instrument had a precise position and a good amount of air around it.  Tracks from City and Colour’s “Little Hell” once again reconfirmed all of my conclusions about the imaging and soundstaging.

Having a tube design, the LS 100 does not offer as low of a noise floor as a non-tube preamp design.  If you’re close enough to the speakers you will hear a little bit of a constant noise.  This however is completely expected and in my opinion does not take anything away from the listening experience.

As mentioned earlier, the LS 100 preamp provided for this review included the optional on-board phono stage and this is what I turned my attention to next.  The LS 100 offers a gain of 70dB and is capable of handling both MC and MM turntable cartridges even though it doesn’t have the typical switch for this selection.  That’s because it offers plenty of headroom for both cartridge designs.  Once again I listened to a large variety of recordings, ranging from rock to classical.  Regardless of the musical selection, I was consistently presented with amazing resolution and precise imaging within a vast soundstage.   The LS 100 allowed my Clearaudio Concept turntable to deliver delicacy and smoothness from classical recordings and great dynamics from hard rock recordings like I’ve never experienced before from my turntable.  Thanks to its tube design, this phono stage added yet another level of realism and fluidity to each song that I listened to.

During its stay on my audio rack, the ModWright Instruments KWA 100SE amp and LS 100 tube preamp provided me with many hours of enjoyment.  What started as tapping my hands on my knees often ended in air guitar or air conducting.  There is no question that there is a great synergy between these components – what I was listening to was truly a fantastic combination of both tube and solid state designs.  Despite the issue that I experienced with the LS 100 preamp at the start, my overall experience with the ModWright duo was very positive thanks to the excellent sonic presentation achieved by them.  I communicated the packaging issue to both the manufacturer and the Canadian distributor and I’m certain that both will address this accordingly for future shipments.  The LS 100 is a flexible pre-amp that offers plenty of inputs, both balanced and unbalanced, and thanks to its tube stage is capable of breathing the textures and realism that exist in real voices and instruments.  The KWA 100SE is an amp that offers the control and dynamics that one would expect from a high quality amp, while offering a great depth of details.  Together there is a sense of musical magic between these two components, that’s for sure.  Bravo ModWright Instruments!

ModWright Instruments
www.modwright.com

Distributed in Canada by Tri-Cell Enterprises, www.tri-cell.ca
1-800-263-8151

ModWright Instruments KWA 100SE Amplifier
Price: $4,500 CAD

ModWright Instruments LS 100 Tube Preamplifier
Price: $4,500 CAD (with phono stage)

The new Cinénova Grande 7BR incorporates seven independent amplifiers for lower distortion, greater power and enhanced channel separation.  Each independent amplifier block uses a variable filter from 20Hz to 5kHz; the filter can be set in high-pass, low-pass, or by-pass mode via a 3-way selector. Both RCA low level & XLR inputs are accomodated.  A substantial 70Lbs toroidal transformer is utilized to ensure sufficient power for high performance operation.

Driving high power speakers (such as big tower speakers) is made easy by bridging 2 channels. The master/slave switch sets each individual block to be used independently (as a master), or in conjunction (as a slave) with another block when in bridged mode (1400 watts in 8-Ohm).

The Cinénova Grande 7BR exceeds the technical performance standards set by THX, DTS, and Dolby and is rack-mountable for convenience and utility.  The Cinénova Grande 7BR provides solid / low distortion amplification for home theatre, multi-channel music rooms and commerical applications.

Specifications:
360 Watts@ 8-Ohm, all channels driven Height 9 ¼” (235mm)
610 Watts@ 4-Ohm, all channels driven Width 18” (457mm)
810 watts@ 2-Ohm all channels driven Depth 21” (533mm)(457mm)

Features
Built-in line conditioner and surge protector
Balanced XLR & Low Level inputs for each channel
12V trigger
Integrated 20Hz – 5kHz variable filters with Low-Pass & High-Pass selector
Fused operation indicators
Thermal protection against overheating
Speaker protection against DC & Frequency below 10Hz

The new  Cinénova Grande 7BR has a MSRP of $5,999 U.S. and is currently available.  For more information, visit www.earthquakesound.com

It gives me the outmost pleasure to introduce all readers of the CANADA HiFi magazine to a new project I’ve been working on for the last few months called Guydster – the guy’s guide to everything.  The Guydster website is portal where guys can learn about some of the hottest and most unique new products designed just for guys.  Within the Guydster website you’ll find news about cars, motorcycles, bikes, gear, gadgets, tools, style, home products, food&drink and wait for it… audio and video of course!  As the name suggests, Guydster will also entertain readers with Buyer Guides that offer concise information and promote educated buying decisions about various product categories designed for guys.

So check out the new site at www.guydster.com and all you Facebookers please ‘Like’ Guydster at www.facebook.com/guydster

- Suave Kajko, Publisher of the CANADA HiFi Magazine

YG Acoustics has just announced their new flagship member of its family of loudspeakers, namely, the Sonja.  YG Acoustics approach to development of the Sonja reflects the notion that form follows function in excellent design.

The Sonja has pure and flowing lines, which complement the acoustics of the speaker.  YG Acoutics claims that the Sonja’s form actually provides a profound acoustical advantage, while also being aesthetically pleasing.  The enclosure design of the Sonja was arrived at based on conclusions made about key aspects of air flow and its effect on sonic behavior.  Supposedly, the Sonja’s enclosure design ensures that  wave propagation has improved uniformity and ease, resulting in superior dispersion and reduced diffraction effects.  In addition, YG Acoustics states that this new enclosure design for the Sonja is the quietest that they have created, ever.  Sonically, Sonja offers further refinement of the highly regarded YG Acoustics attributes, in no small part due to an expanded no?compromise DualCoherent network.  The celebrated DualCoherent technology ensures propper amplitude response coupled with a pristine integration of phase into the critical bass frequencies, which means coherency from top to bottom.

The Sonja utilizes BilletCore drivers machined from solid blocks of aircraft?grade aluminum; ForgeCore tweeters with vanishingly low distortion; ultra?quiet ToroAir toroidal crossover inductors; FocusedElimination resonance control without loss, and a new benchmark in inert cabinet construction.  Sonja is said to be an unrestrained embodiment of YG Acoustics’ research.

The Sonja will be made available in three configurations, given it’s modular design.  The 1.1 is essentially a bookshelf sized monitor; the 1.2 adds a bass module enclosure, making the Sonja a floorstander and; the 1.3 adds a third module for greater extended bass response, turning the Sonja into a super floorstander.

Official price and availability of the new YG Acoustics Sonja is yet to be announced; however, the Sonja will make it’s world debut at the upcoming CES 2013 and some unofficial pricing on the various configurations are as follows:

1.1 – 46,000 U.S.
1.2 – 90,000 U.S.
1.3 – 150,000 U.S.

Watch for more details to be released at: www.ygacoustics.com.

Back in the April/May 2012 edition of the CANADA HiFi magazine, within the article “Bits & Bytes – Digital Music Demystified: An Introduction to Digital Music Playback”, we explored the basics of digital music playback.  This consisted of a conversation about digital music formats, sample rates and various source options.  Hopefully, you found that information enlightening and perhaps, since reading it, you’ve started exploring the realms of digital music further – if so, kudos to you!  On that note, I decided to take the plunge myself by assembling a mid-priced digital music playback system.  In this article, I’ll share with you my experience which should provide some good insight to those looking to set up their own digital music playback system.

Though I’ve spent many years listening to both optical disc (CD and DVD) and vinyl sources, much of the latest in digital music playback is relatively new to me.  I don’t own a laptop or an iPad and therefore, was interested in a device that could leverage the digital music files I already have on my Windows Vista based PC – a conglomeration of CD rips and downloads organized within iTunes.  I knew that the new device would need to be compatible with the various formats in my music library.  With a little research and a few inquires, the device that caught my attention was the Logitech Squeezebox Touch.  Why?  A few reasons – the Squeezebox Touch is modestly priced at $329.99, compatible with all common file formats, Wi-Fi and Ethernet enabled, hi-rez file friendly (it will read files up to 24-bit/192 kHz and pass files up to 24-bit/96 kHz) and has an integrated colour touch screen.  Though the Squeezebox Touch has an internal digital-to-analog converter (DAC), I thought it would make things just a bit more interesting to try out a stand-alone DAC, along with the Squeezebox Touch, just to see if any performance gains could be had.  Giovanni Militano had written a positive review of the Musical Fidelity V-DAC II in the December/January 2011/2012 edition of the CANADA HiFi magazine, so I thought moving to the next model up in the Musical Fidelity family – the M1DAC, priced at $749, should fit the bill. Editor’s note: as this issue was going to print, unconfirmed rumours surfaced online that Logitech ceased the production of the Squeezebox line of products.  However George’s experience below offers the same value to anyone thinking about setting up a digital music playback system in their home, since a number of similar devices exist.  One similar device called the Connect comes from a company called Sonos.

The Squeezebox Touch is a compact device sporting a 4.3 inch integrated colour touch screen.  It is a digital music player/receiver that can access any network-connected computer or network-attached storage (NAS) device through a wired Ethernet or Wi-Fi connection.  A software installation is required on the computer for this to work and the computer must be running during music playback.  The Squeezebox Touch’s integrated USB input and SD card slot, also allow it to access digital music files from a connected USB thumb/hard-drive or SD card.  A distinctive feature of the Squeezebox Touch is its ability to read and play just about any format of digital music file, including MP3, FLAC, WAV, AIFF, WMA, Ogg Vorbis, AAC and ALAC – with sample rates of up to 24-bit/192 kHz.  Using its internal DAC, the Squeezebox Touch can output analog audio by way of its RCA stereo jacks or alternatively, a digital signal of up to 24-bit/96 kHz using its coaxial (S/PDIF) or optical (Toslink) jacks.  Interestingly enough, I found that it outputs simultaneously through all its outputs, making it possible to feed multiple receiving devices (preamplifiers, receivers, stand-alone DACs) at the same time.  The Squeezebox Touch also sports an internal headphone amplifier, accessible via a standard 3.5mm jack on its back.  The Squeezebox Touch came packaged in a shoebox sized box containing the Squeezebox Touch itself, IR remote control, 2 x AAA batteries, wall-wart power supply, RCA stereo cable, screen cleaning cloth and a quick-start manual.  I was very impressed by the build quality of the Squeezebox Touch given its price.  It felt solid in hand, having considerable weight given its modest size and it had an appearance that I would describe as purposeful with a “touch” of playfulness – pardon the pun.

The Musical Fidelity M1DAC (A) is a stand-alone up-sampling DAC.  This is the latest version which includes an asynchronous USB DAC section, hence the (A) designation in the model name.  It features four digital inputs: balanced XLR, USB, optical and coaxial.  These digital inputs accept incoming signals at up to 24-bit/192 kHz, with the USB input limited to 24-bit/96 kHz.  The optical input has potential of up to 24-bit/192 kHz; however, is recommended only up to 96 kHz due to intrinsic jitter with the optical format, according to John Quick of Tempo High Fidelity, the North American distributor.  Output of the Squeezebox Touch is offered via balanced XLR and RCA connections.  The M1DAC uses a proprietary in-board power supply that employs choke filtration to regulate and condition the incoming power in order to increase overall performance.  At the core lies a pair of Texas Instruments Burr-Brown DSD1796 DAC chips in dual-differential mode, tied to a Texas Instruments SRC4392 sample-rate converter chip that up-samples all digital sources to 24-bit/192 kHz.  In addition, all incoming signals are re-clocked to ensure low-jitter, which is claimed to be less than 12 picoseconds peak to peak.  Specifications indicate an impressive total harmonic distortion of less than 0.0025 percent with a signal-to-noise ratio greater than 119db A-weighted.  The M1DAC is relatively compact in size, with a width of just 8.6 inches – about half the width of a traditional audio component but at 3.4 kg (7.5 lbs), it’s no lightweight.  A chrome inset moniker plate, simple lines and gentle contours provided a sense of refinement, while the many inset LEDs indicating power, incoming sample rate, active input and upsampling, added both utility and flair.  Build quality as well as fit and finish is high and the optional silver finish (black is standard) of the review sample was very attractive.  Overall, the M1DAC portrayed a serious yet sophisticated demeanour.

So first up for evaluation was the Squeezebox Touch device.  After unpacking, I followed the four step quick start guide that led me to the Squeezebox Touch’s on-screen setup.  After completing the setup, I downloaded and installed the free Squeezebox software on my PC, from the website cited in the guide.  This process was relatively straight forward and in no time the Squeezebox Touch was accessing all the music files on my PC.  Using the Logitech Media Server Control Panel, by way of the convenient shortcut placed on my desktop, I was able to restrict the access to the folders where my music files reside.  Overall, I found the menus to be intuitive and easy to use, even for a computer illiterate, like me.  Next, I hooked up the Squeezebox Touch to my Bryston BP6 preamplifier via its analog RCA output.  There I had it – music streaming from my PC to my audio system.  Thankfully, Goerner Communication, the North American distributor for Audio Physic, had kindly left me with the Sitara 25 loudspeakers (reviewed in the June/July 2012 issue) for an extended period, as their resolution proved to be an invaluable tool.

I started with a little Internet radio.  What impressed me is that the Squeezebox Touch provided a selection of local radio stations as a menu option, so I could tune into some of my favourites with a couple strokes.  Internet radio sounded quite pleasant for casual background listening, though noticeably limited in resolution, dynamics and soundstage size, as expected, given the MP3-like, low-bit rate, ranging from 48 kbps to 128 kbps.  Quality did vary station to station, sometimes independent of the bit rate, so users should be prepared to explore.  I moved on, to a couple of albums that I ripped to my PC from CD in Apple’s Lossless format (ALAC) – Herbie Hancok’s, River: the joni letters album and Paul Simon’s, So Beautiful or So What.  This allowed me to put my Rega Apollo CD player up against the Squeezebox Touch directly.  I was surprised to discover how small the difference in sound quality was.  With the Squeezebox Touch playing the title track River, from Herbie’s album, Corinne Bailey Ray’s girlish delicate intonations came through with clarity and smoothness.  The gentle pluck of guitar strings was portrayed accurately and the light cymbals had crispness and delicacy.  Flowing piano keys had accurate tone and revealed a good portion of resonance.  There was also warmth to the sound.  Going back and forth, between the Apollo CDP and the Squeezebox Touch, demonstrated how competitive the sound of the Squeezebox Touch was in direct comparison with a $1000+ CD player.  The Apollo expressed more impact on piano keys and had more presence in the midrange, however the Squeezebox Touch provided a slightly more relaxed presentation, carrying with it an additional sense of ease and a shade larger soundstage.  One could easily prefer one presentation over the other.  Given the reasonable cost of the Squeezebox Touch, I felt its performance was admirable.

Next, I hooked up the Squeezebox Touch to the M1DAC with coaxial and optical cables. Then I connected the M1DAC to my preamp via RCA interconnect cables.  I could now compare the sound of the Squeezebox Touch’s internal DAC with the M1DAC with a simple switch of the source selector on my preamp.  I knew the Squeezebox Touch could meet my streaming needs with ease, but how would its internal DAC stand-up against the Musical Fidelity M1DAC?  To make this comparison, even more interesting, I purchased and downloaded high resolution versions (24-bit/96 kHz) of the aforementioned Herbie Hancock and Paul Simon albums, from the HDtracks website.  Playing the title track River from Herbie’s album, I found the high-rez version to be superior, regardless of which DAC it was played through.  It was not a night-and-day difference but the hi-rez file provided a more spacious presentation, more air between instruments with Corinne’s voice sounding more lifelike and open.  Piano keys were less hard sounding, possessing additional delicacy, while bringing along more definition.  In simple terms, everything sounded more lifelike.  Comparing some other tracks (hi-rez vs. CD rip in ALAC) from both the Herbie Hancock and Paul Simon albums, I came to the conclusion that the degree of difference was more pronounced on the River album vs. So Beautiful or So What.  This suggested that the quality of CD masters in comparison to hi-rez masters can vary and in turn, result in smaller or greater differences in sound quality.  Hence, it may not always be consistent how much improvement can be obtained by moving to a specific hi-rez version versus a CD rip.  I also ripped a copy of the River title track to a USB thumb drive in low resolution MP3 at 160kbps.  Conveniently, the Squeezebox Touch allowed me to plug the USB drive directly into it and play music from it via its touch screen.  This allowed me to compare an MP3 (160kbps) version to the CD rip (16-bit/44.1 kHz) as well as the hi-rez (24-bit/96 kHz).  From the first few notes it was clear that the low-res MP3 file sounded flat in comparison with both the CD rip and hi-rez versions.  The MP3 had less definition, a reduced soundstage and less verve to the degree that I considered it to be, at best, suitable for background music.  I compared the coaxial and optical connections between the Squeezebox Touch and the M1DAC, before I settled on the coaxial, due to its slightly smoother and more organic presentation, though the leanness that the optical connection delivered had merits of its own.

It was finally time to see how the Squeezebox Touch would compare when used together with the M1DAC.  Queuing up the Hancock and Simon albums, I focused on a few tracks.  With the aforementioned River track, the M1DAC produced a slightly larger soundstage, primarily in the areas of depth with some height.  Also, Corinne’s voice came across a little more pristine.  There was more air and openness that the M1DAC delivered, while the Squeezebox sounded a touch constrained in comparison.  The Squeezebox Touch also gave up some delicacy in its handling of music, in comparison to the M1DAC.  Moving to Tea Leaf Prophecy, from the same album, I found the M1DAC preserved more sustain on piano notes, while also delivering the gentle patting of brushes on drums with a tad more resolution.  Going over to the Paul Simon album and listening to Dazzling Blue, as well as the title track, So Beautiful or So What, my impressions were reinforced.  The M1DAC exceeded the Squeezebox Touch in the areas of soundstage size, resolution, sustain and low bass-note definition.  Moving to another album in the ALAC format, from the CD, The Essential Sonny Rollins: The RCA Years, I went to God Bless the Child, as I find the track to be a surreal recording.  Here, the M1DAC once again stepped ahead of the Squeezebox Touch in soundstaging.  The electric guitar had a wonderful bloom which the M1DAC expressed to a greater degree than the Squeezebox Touch and the lowest digs of the upright bass were also more defined with the M1DAC.  I came to the conclusion that the M1DAC was clearly the higher performer, providing a more convincing and lifelike rendition of digital music, the likes of which I had not heard before in my system; however, the Squeezebox Touch was a solid performer in its own right.  I would say that both the M1DAC and the Squeezebox Touch are well worth their prices; however, the Squeezebox Touch would have the edge from an overall value perspective.  In the end, I could have easily lived with the Squeezebox Touch itself. But upon experiencing what the M1DAC could do, it would be difficult to live without it.

Hopefully, this little jaunt has been as interesting and informative to you, as it was to me.  I think it underscores the fact that there are sonic gains to be attained in the digital realms, given the latest in products and technologies.  It’s clear that there are still a number of things to consider but if you do a little homework, you could find yourself on the path to an aural revelation.

Editor’s note: Since the Squeezebox Touch may no longer be available, we encourage you to take a look at the Sonos Connect device and the company’s other related products.  The Connect offers virtually the same functionality, although it does not have its own touch screen.  Instead music playback can be controlled via compatible smartphones and tablets.

Part 1 of this article can be found here: Bits & Bytes – Digital Music Demystified. An Introduction to Digital Music Playback

Sharp is joining the 4K Ultra High-Definition television race with their recent launch of a new flagship television - the ICC Purios LC-60HP10.   The new 60-inch features consumer 4K (Ultra HD) resolution – for a total of 3,840 x 2,160 pixels, as well as, Sharp’s ICC (integrated cognitive creation) image processor.

In addition to being a 4K panel with region-specific TV tuner, the new flagship ICC Purios LC-60HP10, features THX4K and DLNA compliances, USB 3.0 ports for connecting hard-drives to record and playback content, and wired LAN.

Although the 60-inch display doesn’t match its 80+ inch competitor Ultra HD displays, Sharp does boast it to be the first 4K TV to be released with a THX-certification.  Its speaker system is rated at 35 Watts, and also has a headphone jack, while the multiple tuners allow the display to support simultaneous recording of two programs when used with an external USB hard drive.

Availability of the ICC Purios LC-60HP10, in Japan, is expected in February 2013, at a price of 2.62 million Yen (US $31,400).  A global release is currently unknown, but more details may become available during CES in January.

Look for more details on this and other Sharp products at: www.sharp.ca.

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