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Robin Ticciati conducts Haydn Symphony No. 101 LP (45rpm Supercut) on Linn Records

February 12th, 2016|Categories: Audiophillia|

Musically, this is a tall drink of water, but because it’s a 45 rpm supercut it runs a TT of only 27 minutes. At $40, this timing may be difficult to swallow. Yet, this new LP from Linn Records is a shining gem and will work for both audiophiles and lovers of great Haydn performances.

I read about conductor Robin Ticciati on Facebook where he has many admirers who play in the very best orchestras. I first heard his work on the Linn set of Schumann Symphonies. We’ve had two very fine sets recently — Berliner Philharmoniker/Sir Simon Rattle and Chamber Orchestra of Europe/Yannick Nézet-Séguin. Both offer superlative playing with very musical interpretations. Rattle and Nézet-Séguin are two of the more thoughtful conductors with very musical ideas. Add Ticciati to the list. HIs Schumann matched both on musical grounds, better in sonics but slightly less so on execution. 

This Haydn ‘Clock’ Symphony recording is sourced from Edinburgh’s wonderful Usher Hall and like the Schumann set, is performed by the Scottish Chamber Orchestra. I guess I shouldn’t be surprised at the quality of their playing after the wonderful work provided them by the late, great Sir Charles Mackerras. Ticciati has been music director of the SCO since 2009. 

Robin Ticciati and his Scottish Chamber Orchestra

Robin Ticciati and his Scottish Chamber Orchestra

The SCO’s playing is crisp with wonderful ensemble and lovely solo work. Ticciati gets the instrumental balances of the great symphony perfectly, especially difficult in the typically slow opening common in Haydn’s symphonies. 

The vinyl is super clean, super quiet. Supercut. You play this LP on any good analogue setup (don’t forget to switch to 45 rpm), and you’ll be enthralled at what vinyl can do in comparison with digital. I heard a little midrange congestion in the first few bars, but that could be due to mould agent on virgin vinyl. After that, clear sailing. The strings, violins especially, sounded divine. Flesh and bone on strings in a wonderful ambiance. Vinyl gets the sound of violins and player separation brilliantly. If you are heavy into streaming and have a large collection of CDs, for God’s sake don’t listen to this LP.

Linn’s founder, Ivor Tiefenbrun uses his corporate ID ‘The Only Sound’ to describe his products. Well, that’s bloody nonsense. But I can imagine him listening to his company’s LPs on his perfectly tuned LP12 turntable and feeling incredibly smug. As such, this LP will be a wonderful addition to your vinyl library. 

Chord Electronics Mojo: lost & found

February 12th, 2016|Categories: DAR|Tags: , , , , , , , , |

October 2015. How to launch an audio product? Announce first and then dispatch review units once the initial hooplah begins to tail off? Or issue review units in advance of launch date and have the ensuing coverage serve as its own proof of life, hopefully piling on the praise, once the embargo lifts?

For the introduction of their Mojo DAC/headphone amplifier (US$599, £GBP, AU$899), the UK’s Chord Electronics opted for the latter approach’s bigger bang.

Ahead of its London Shard launch event, the Mojo review unit arrived with press release and a draft of the Powerpoint presentation to be given by CEO John Franks’ at the event dinner; a tidy bundle wrapped in an embargo-sealed bow.

The catch? Three days lead time – woefully insufficient for a proper review treatment. Instead, come the big day, a news announcement with fleshed out back story would stand in for reporting directly from the London event. Review notes would be added in the days that followed..

The stage was set and the cast assembled. The director? Yours truly. Plot twists and listening notes would spill in real time.

“IT’S ALL ABOUT THE PHONE!” hollered John Franks’ first Powerpoint slide.“IT’S ALL ABOUT THE SMART PHONE!” yelled another. The product name’s derivation cemented Mojo’s intent: MObile JOy.

The Powerpoint continued: “Everyone always carries a phone. Just add a Mojo to that phone and wow! The performance is breathtaking! Musically and technically it is the best mobile DAC there has ever been!”; a message driven home by a fist-pumping poster that read “POWER TO THE PEOPLE”.

power_to_the_people

The Mojo was not only the British audio company’s most affordable DAC to date but also the least expensive offering to feature Rob Watts’ FPGA-coded WTA filter, in the Mojo refined to accommodate 768kHz sample rates, to sound a shade smoother and to offer lower noise than the already mightily impressive but thrice costlier Hugo.

With smartphone device deployment cast deep and wide at the launch event and in supporting promo materials, the target market arrived fully spelled out. Reviewers would be left to judge how effectively the Mojo might meet its heavily inked promotional brief. In other words, how would newcomers, and not only your average audiophile, set about adding a Mojo to their smartphone? What might they think of its sound and ease of application? How would Mojo compare to similarly intended (and priced) products?

With the Mojo’s intent for a broader democracy – better portable sound quality for the masses – how about comparisons to a portable player (Astell&Kern’s AK120) and dongle DACs from Resonessence Labs and AudioQuest that could, with select Android devices, be deployed as an audio appendage?

The first DAR response came in the form of three videos with a post title that polished clear its intentions: “For absolute beginners: the Chord Mojo on video”. After that, initial thoughts on its SQ and how it compared to rival units spilled forth.

Hot product soon became hot potato.

An email was dispatched to Rob Watts enquiring after a technical matter. Watt’s clarification came back within hours. So too did a grumble:

“You are completely missing the point about Mojo – it is a reference class DAC with a tiny price tag. If we were to put it in a 20kg box and charge 60,000 USD reviewers would be wetting themselves over its sound quality and technical performance.

“You want to compare it? Put it up against a dcs Vivaldi and judge it honestly without preconceptions to price and size.”

Copied in, Franks piled on:

“This is no cheap simple product inside its case. Please go back to it. This is about the most important design we ever developed.”

Say what now? Mojo’s primary (and thus far only) intent had been clearly communicated as smartphone appendage. That intent would therefore serve as its first assessment axis.

Time to push the gear stick into park and grab some fresh air.

Franks would later to confess to a case of over-protective parenting but it underscores the importance of a manufacturer having its promotional angles drawn before going to market, doubly so when review commentary is likely to first follow those lines of sight out of the gate.

chord_mojo_5

Amos Barnett of Head-Fi (left) talks Mojo with John Franks (right) at Fujiya Avic Autumn ’15.

February 2016. In the intervening four months, the Mojo has me convinced that it is the most effortlessly detailed sounding DAC available right now for <US$1K. However, we can’t just leave it there. In the spirit of Franks’ earlier request for revisitation, let’s dig a little deeper:

1. The Mojo had already dismissed the in-built headphone output of the iPod Touch where, for once, the ‘night and day’ cliche applies. The Mojo’s SQ also trounces that of the Samsung Galaxy S5. Time has since shown that it also aces the headphone output of an iPhone 6+.

On Mojo vs Dragonfly, reviewed previously as a smartphone appendage (here), I’d already commented: “Mojo stitches details together in a far more intricate web than its less costly rivals; it’s altogether more talented at revealing the inner-complexities of music and therefore more immersive. It’s also more extended up top.”

2) The Mojo’s presentation is lit-up such that it takes the listener down down-to-the-bone on his/her music selections. Think: more MRI, less X-Ray. Does this make it the best DAC in its class? That depends on partnering gear. An amplifier already sonically high on caffeine will see its jump factor multiplied whilst some tubes bring a thickening agent.

3) On headphone pairings that play counterbalance to the Mojo’s caffeinated pep, the HiFiMAN HE-1000 come off better than the Sennheiser HD800. Similarly, the Master & Dynamic MH40 are preferred to the OPPO PM-3 and the Sennheiser HD650 over Beyerdynamic’s (1st Gen) T1. My cost no object preference returned an unexpected result: the Mojo sounded most balanced of all with a pair of AudioQuest NightHawk in tow.

chord_mojo_1

4) The NightHawk nicely offset the the Mojo’s only real weakness: a slightly undernourished tonal body; it’s not the meatiest player in town, but only properly noticeable when stood off against the warmer, thicker, more congealed Multibit Bifrost from Schiit. And even more so when contrasted by the comparative cornflour of the Aqua La Voce S2. Mojo lays recordings bare, deformities and all. The Schiit and Aqua are more forgiving (veiled?), particularly the latter. Then again, no D/A converter other than the Mojo packs a headphone output.

5) “Competes with DACs two or three times the price”. A largely unhelpful phrase…until we learn just how well the Mojo’s SQ stands up against its predecessor, the Hugo. The DPLL that reduces jitter and Class A output stage are the same across both Chord models and A/B-d in two different systems, I can barely pick ‘em apart. Watts’ code sees the house sound remain fully intact, so much so that only those who insist on RCA outputs, a standard RCA coax socket or a quarter inch headphone jack should consider spending the extra cash on the silver machine. IEM users should lean toward Mojo – its noise floor (hiss) with Campfire Audio’s Jupiter is markedly lower than Hugo.

6) Also putting a firm tick in the Mojo camp is the absence of a separate wall charger previously mandated by the Hugo. A 5V 1A feed – like that which spills from your average PC – can refuel the Mojo’s internal battery by way of any micro-USB terminated cable. That same cable can serve double duty as DAC leash. The Mojo’s USB ports aren’t recessed like the Hugo so there’s no need to shop around for a cable with a low profile micro-USB plug.

chord_mojo_3

7) It’s Mojo’s Toslink input that’s of use to Astell&Kern owners, especially the original AK100 and AK120 whose ample metal belly sees zero screen real estate obscured when the Mojo is rubber strapped to its back. You can’t say that about second generation units. Or AK240. Or AK380.

8) Piling on the puzzlement, we don’t see effective strap-on adoption by the majority of smartphones either. Rubber hoop the Mojo to any iPhone or Android device and its screen becomes unusable. Only those prepared to pocket/bag the Mojo as a separate device – or use it a separate device whilst stationary on train or plane – will realise full mobile joy.

9) For this user the performance/portability sweet spot is found when connecting Mojo to a tablet running a streaming service where we get bag-ability without resorting to Samsung/Asus/etc. or Apple device’s hugely inferior headphone output.

10) Can you see where this is headed? Into a two-channel system, just as the Hugo went before it, largely in spite of its manufacturer’s intentions as portable device. Isn’t that why Chord brought the Hugo TT to market?

Connect Mojo to a PC or Mac via USB at one end and have a 3.5mm-to-twin-RCA cable feed an amplifier at the other. Those with more than one USB port available on the host device can have one serve as ongoing battery trickle-charger and one as digital audio deliverer.

11) Those with a stock-standard Sonos Connect are strongly advised to lasso their streamer to Mojo using Toslink. Its coaxial output coats music with a metallic sheen that’s hard to ignore during longer listening sessions.

12) Insist on coaxial? Your standard RCA-to-RCA digital interconnect is useless here. A Chord Electronics representative confirmed at CES what many had already assumed: the Mojo case is too shallow to accommodate an RCA socket. In its place, another 3.5mm socket. You won’t find pin assignment in the Mojo manual but according to Watts: “Gnd is Gnd, the tip is digital input”. Stephanie Casey at Zu Audio supplied yours truly with a Mission S/PDIF cable terminated at one end with a 3.5mm TRS jack and RCA at the other and it works flawlessly.

chord_mojo_2

13) A question about the issue of possible double-amping is what precipitated Watts’ previous dissatisfaction. if someone were to use the Mojo as a standalone DAC are they in effect ‘double-amping’? That is, does the headphone driver inside the Mojo remain in play even when started in line level mode? (For a full 3V, power on the Mojo with both volume buttons depressed).

Watts’ reply: “It has an identical architecture to Hugo. Conventional DAC’s have two I-to-V converters, differential-to-single ended converter, followed by a headphone buffer. That’s four active gain stages plus a lot of passive components to do the filtering. All this complexity means poor transparency and a harder sound quality.”

“Mojo on the other hand has a single gain Class A stage with enough current to drive headphones directly. This design is so successful in SQ and measurements I now use it even when you do not need the large 0.5A RMS output currents. So there is no extra stage, you are not double amping.”

That makes the Mojo doubly useful as a standalone DAC in a main system where deployment runs contrary to the manufacturer’s design decisions – no RCA outputs – which assisted in realising a marketing emphasis that plays heavily on the unit’s portability.

The Mojo’s square aim at the smartphone market is (was) probably more about smartphone owner numbers than meeting mainstream standards of practicality. The Kent-headquartered company have reportedly sold 12,000 Mojos since its October launch. Them’s big numbers in the context of the audiophile niche.

Pointing us at the answers to “Why?”: the Mojo’s sonic prowess is so far ahead of 99% of the competition at its price point that sales figure success like this might well be expected. What IS impressive is that Franks and Watts have achieved this in spite of the unit’s impracticality as a smartphone addendum for all but the most hardcore of head-fiers.

DAR-KO_Award_2015

Further information: Chord Electronics

chord_mojo_4

Financial interests: DAR is funded by the banner advertising you see around you. Advertising revenue pays for the time taken to conduct the review but never the editorial commentary contained therein.

Writers published in these pages are guaranteed to have no direct (or indirect) financial affiliation with any hi-fi or audio equipment manufacturer/retailer other than those specifically disclosed.

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Retro Hi-Fi Girl Friday

February 12th, 2016|Categories: ItisHifi - Vintage|Tags: , |

Couldn’t break up the set.

Listening Evaluation of DTS:X on the Denon AVR-X7200WA Receiver

February 12th, 2016|Categories: Audioholics|Tags: |

DTS:X is finally here.  On January 28, Denon became the first manufacturer to release the long-awaited DTS:X firmware upgrade for its flagship AVR-X7200W/WA receivers.  The free download makes X7200W/WA models able to take advantage of DTS’ next generation audio.

With the Denon AVR-X7200WA review unit still on-hand, I had a chance to take a look at DTS:X.  I’ll take you hands-on with some initial impressions about the upgrade, my initial impressions about DTS:X, and set the stage for our forthcoming series on setting up immersive audio at home.  There, we’ll focus even more on DTS:X with our new Beale Street Audio in-ceiling and SVS Ultra floor standing speaker setup anchored by the Denon X7200WA.

Why is DTS:X Such a Big Deal?

Denon AVR-X7200WA ReceiverBefore diving into the upgrade itself, let’s look at why DTS:X is a big deal.  Like Dolby Atmos, DTS:X is an object-oriented audio format.  However, unlike Dolby Atmos, which has a fixed speaker layout, DTS:X claims to support any speaker layout. 

DTS:X’s flexibility has gotten the new technology lots of attention. Most of us know first-hand how difficult it can be in the real world to place speakers exactly where they need to be.  Having different layout options that still deliver an enveloping audio experience is a unique hallmark of DTS:X. 

The overwhelming majority of Blu-rays have been authored with DTS audio.  DTS:X also comes with an audio upmixer called Neural:X that promises to take any legacy DTS audio or PCM signal and up-mix it to an immersive audio experience.  The good news is that DTS:X content is backward compatible with the DTS-HD decoder.  Therefore, Neural:X can be used on DVD, Blu-ray Disc and streaming media file formats to spatially reformat stereo, 5.1 or 7.1 content to take full advantage of all speakers in a surround system.

Because of its object oriented architecture, DTS is positioning DTS:X as an interactive audio technology that will help address one of the biggest complaints of in-home movie watching: dialogue.  And here’s the really cool part: DTS:X will give you the option of adjusting dialogue no matter what speaker it comes from.  

I spoke with Jordan Miller, DTS’ Director of Global Communications, about this feature and he told me, “The Dialog Control feature is completely unique to anything ever seen in the market.  Dialog can be carried as a separate object all the way to your home. At that point, assuming the feature is enabled in the content metadata, the user can boost the dialog completely independently of the rest of the mix.  There is far more information than dialog that is mixed to the center channel.”  He’s right in this regard.  But take note that not every DTS:X track will have Dialog Control. It needs to be enabled in the source metadata.

Now, here’s why DTS:X’s approach is far better than simply boosting the center channel. He went on to explain,  “Explosions, music and effects of all kinds are mixed to the center. Raising the gain in the center raises the volume of all these things not just dialog. In addition, dialog can be mixed to any channel and move across and around the soundstage. When you treat dialog as an object and raise the gain you raise only the dialog and since it is as object it will be raised anywhere in the mix that it occurs not just the center – that level of control for the user is truly unique. Say goodbye to blindly boosting your center channel!”  We really think this is a game changing feature for next generation immersive codecs and may be reason enough for people to upgrade even if they don’t plan on employing height channels.  Imagine being able to actually boost dialogue in movies that really need it?  Heck this is especially true for TV shows like American Idol which for some reason always sound like the vocals are mixed 10 feet behind the stage. Bring on the software support for this feature.  We want it!

Taken as a whole, there’s a lot of promising technology behind the DTS:X upgrade.  Let’s see how theory and real-world practice come together.

What to Expect from AVRs and Pre-Pros Supporting DTS:X

For AVRs and pre-pros released in 2015 (and as far as we can tell this will apply to 2016 AVRs too), there are a few things to note about DTS:X support.

  • DTS:X AVRs can support up to a maximum of 11.2 speaker output channels.
  • Content created for a specific speaker layout can be remapped to a different layout supported by the AVR.
  • There is support for up to 32 speaker locations but what you’ll actually see will be subject to each manufacturer’s product capabilities.  For example, a 5.1.2-capable AVR will have more limited speaker layout options than a 7.1.4 capable AVR.
  • Metadata-based spatial mapping renders the ideal 3D sound image to actual speaker layouts. 

Installing the Upgrade: Simple and Smooth, but Long

A firmware update is like updating an operating system on a computer or smartphone.  It adds enhanced functionality and/or fixes to your device. Performing the DTS:X firmware upgrade on the Denon X7200WA was easy. 
When I turned on the Denon late in that evening, it prompted me to
download the firmware update.  A few clicks later I was ready-to-go. 

DTS:X upgrade takes 60 min

Don’t be fooled, the DTS:X takes nearly 60 minutes to complete and updates various aspects of the AVR.

Be warned, the DTS:X update takes nearly an hour to complete. You have been warned, don’t do it 10 minutes before you’re ready to watch a movie!

When the update completed, there was no immediate difference in the way things looked or worked.  There were still speaker layouts labeled Dolby Atmos and Auro-3D but none labeled DTS:X.  

DTS was there, but was hanging out behind the scenes.  The only thing that let you know that something different had happened was the appearance of DTS Neural:X as an audio option when playing a PCM or DTS audio source.  

Does DTS:X Really Allow You to Place Your Speakers Anywhere?

DTS:X will only support speaker layouts supported by your AVR manufacturer.

In its current state, DTS:X itself supports nearly any layout you can imagine,” Jordan told me. I’m happy to report that this isn’t just marketing fluff. It’s true. But there’s a big, real-world caveat to this so pay close attention.  Jordan went on to explain, “Practically speaking, there is a limitation to how many layouts each manufacturer would like to support, so it’s a case-by-case basis.”   

In other words, even though DTS:X will support pretty much any speaker layout (note the continued emphasis on the word layout), you’ll only be able to use the speaker layouts that the pre-pro and AVR manufacturer give you. 

You cannot place speakers arbitrarily wherever you want and have DTS:X figure out where they are.  That just isn’t the case and won’t be the case.  DTS:X will support only the speaker layouts supported by your AVR manufacturer.

With the Denon, that means you can choose either a traditional 5.1 or 7.1 system or a layout with width channels with different height channel options.  I could support DTS:X configurations up to a maximum of a 7.1.4.  I could select the Dolby Atmos configuration, Auro-3D configuration (assuming you have the paid upgrade), or one of the other height and width layouts specified in the Denon’s Amp Assign configuration.  I’ll get into that a bit more below.

DTS:X 9.1 Layout Options

DTS:X sits on top of your AVR’s supported speaker layouts

In testing different speaker layouts and looking at the updated Denon user manual on page 339, I did notice that there is no support Auro-3D’s top height speaker.  The top height speaker, also called the Voice of God (VOG) speaker, is unique to the Auro-3D layout.  So why wasn’t DTS:X supporting it?  In testing Auro-3D with the Beale Street Audio setup, I liked the VOG speaker and I found it to have a more realistic overhead presentation than simply the four Atmos in-ceiling speakers. Too bad.

DTS:X Speakers supported in the Denon X7200WA

Here are the individuals speakers that the Denon will allow you to use with DTS:X.  Notice that the Top Surround speaker cannot be used with DTS:X.

I asked Jordan if the lack of the top height speaker support was unique to the Denon or if this would be the case with all DTS:X-compliant AVRs.  Jordan told me, “DTS:X does support the standard Auro-3D layouts including ones with the VOG, though they are not a requirement by DTS from a product level. Each manufacturer is free to choose which additionally supported layouts to include.”  (I strongly urge Denon to support the VOG speaker in a future firmware upgrade).  

So here’s the lesson consumers need to be aware of.  Even though an AVR will say that it supports DTS:X you’ll need to explore what speaker layouts it supports and see if it’s a good match for you at home.  All in all, I thought Denon did an excellent job here with offering several different layouts, including a unified option.

A Unified Speaker Layout At Last? Denon to the Rescue

Even though this firmware update brings DTS:X to the Denon AVR-X7200WA, it raises another huge question on consumers’ minds.  Can I support DTS:X, Dolby Atmos, and Auro-3D with a single speaker layout?  Until now, the answer has been “NO.” However, Denon has now solved that problem in a major way. 

With the DTS:X firmware update, Denon has released a unified speaker layout that you can use with DTS:X, Dolby Atmos, and Auro-3D. Here’s the caveat, to support the unified speaker layout, you must choose either the 9.1 or 11.1 Amp Assign in the Denon and use one of the layouts specified. If you’re curious, I did some limited testing with other layouts, and I observed that if I did not use the 9.1 or 11.1 modes, then the X7200WA would still an immersive audio presentation but would refuse to process the rear surround channels, giving me a maximum output of 5.1.4.

Denon's Unified Speaker Layout

The new firmware also includes a unified 11.1 (7.1.4) speaker layout that you can use for DTS:X, Dolby Atmos, and Auro-3D.

Denon’s unified speaker configuration consists of seven floor-level speakers in a standard 7.1 configuration with front and rear height channels.  Conceptually and visually speaking, the unified speaker layout correspond closer to the Auro-3D layout and is going to be much easier for consumers to implement since it doesn’t necessarily call for the installation of in-ceiling speakers.  This is a very similar layout to what Yamaha has been doing for years with their DSP processing modes which we earlier deemed last year as a good solution for a unified speaker layout. 

See: 3D Immersive Surround  Formats & Loudspeaker Layouts

If you want to take advantage of a unified speaker layout then take special note of the following: 

If you have the Auro-3D upgrade and have installed a top height speaker you will need to do some manual switching.  I noticed that if I chose the 5 height speaker layout (which includes the VOG speaker) in the 11.1 Amp Assign mode, I lost use of the rear channels in Atmos and DTS:X 7.1.4 mixes.  I found my only option was to switch manually between four height speakers (for Atmos and DTS:X mixes) and five speakers (for Auro-3D mixes). I really wish that the Denon would recognize an Auro-3D mix and auto-engage the VOG speaker and then disengage that speaker and engage the rear surround speakers for a Dolby Atmos or DTS:X mix.  Once again, I hope that Denon will do this via a forthcoming firmware upgrade.  This is a great feature to have in a flagship receiver.

You should also note that you cannot use the Dolby Atmos layout in Amp Assign as a unified layout.  However, if you already have a Dolby Atmos speaker installation don’t worry.   You can apply the 11.1 Amp Assign to a textbook Dolby Atmos installation with in-ceiling speakers.  I tried it and it worked extremely well.  

Does DTS:X support Dolby Atmos Upfiring Speakers?

Another question that’s been asked is if DTS:X supports Dolby Atmos up-firing speakers.   The answer is yes. Jordan and I spoke about this and he told me the following good news. “Up-fired speakers attempt to create an audio image that sounds as if it’s originated from a height location. In cases where up-fired speakers are used, DTS:X outputs audio as if there were a physical height speakers were present. This information is directed to the up-fired speakers, which will provide an equivalent experience to any other discrete height content played through these speakers.”  While here at Audioholics we’ve continued to emphasize the superiority and priority of installing discrete height speakers instead of up firing Dolby Atmos speakers, we are sure this will be welcome news to many. 

How Does DTS:X Sound?

So, with the Denon X7200WA’s upgrade completed, how does DTS:X sound?  In a word, DTS:X is simply great.  What I love most about DTS:X encoded content (so far) is that the audio mastering uses the extra channels to convey a sense of space, ambience, and directionality as opposed to the gimmicks and bad mixing choices that haunted multi-channel audio in the early days.  

Movies: Ex Machina

Ex MachinaIn a way that’s what makes Ex Machina, the first movie to be released in DTS:X, an interesting choice. There’s hardly any blockbuster-style action in the entire movie.  There aren’t any massive explosions, spaceships, bullets flying, or other demo-worthy audio conventions.  Most of the movie takes place in the remote, mountain-situated estate of Nathan Bateman, the eccentric and brilliant CEO of an Internet company.  

DTS:X’s enveloping audio moves you in a way that the traditional mix simply can’t. The enveloping, sensory experience of the eerie score constantly grips you and puts you on edge.  The paradox here is that the DTS:X ambient mix oftentimes makes you feel the physical confinement of the space that the actors stand in.  DTS:X could give me both a sense of space or confinement.  

The ability to shape the sense of space around you transports you into the on-screen drama very effectively.  I switched between the traditional multichannel mix and the DTS:X immersive mix and the difference is noticeable.   Especially realistic is the 19:45 mark of the movie.  Computerized announcements echo all around you conveying a real, dimensional sense of space around you when the entire structure loses power.

Not everything was perfect, though.  Other scenes from Ex Machina, such as the transport by helicopter about 1:45 into the movie or the outdoor waterfall scene between Cabel Smith (the luck lottery winner who gets to meet Ava) and Nathan Bateman, seemed too reserved to me.  I didn’t get that complete sensation like I was outside and the waterfall lacked the immense dimensionality I was expecting.  I attributed scenes like this to the mix and not necessarily to the technology. 

In case you’re wondering, I never saw the Dialog Control feature active during Ex Machina and never had a chance to get back to it before press time.  I may have simply missed it, so I never got a chance to test it out. 

DTS:X 2016 Demo Disc

Because of the lack of native DTS:X material, DTS sent me their 2016 demo disc that featured multi-channel movie and audio clips mastered for DTS:X

Next, I took a peek at the DTS:X 2016 demo disc (a big thank you to Jordan and the DTS:X team for getting this disc to me quickly!). Firing up the DTS 2016 demo disc, quickly shows that DTS:X can drive it into high gear.  The airplane scene from the The Last Witch Hunter where Vin Diesel tries to separate the weather crystals as the airplane jumps in the ensuing ice and lighting storm did a great job of keeping the audio focused on-screen while also delivering a sense of the outside elements pounding the plane.  

Music: Imagine Dragons in DTS:X

Neural:X is the real deal!

My favorite experience, however, was with DTS:X put to music.  Give me DTS:X audio mixes and I’ll be the first in line to buy them.  Wow!  What DTS did made me a true believer in multichannel audio (and I’m a bit old-school when it comes to high end 2-Channel audio).  DTS:X gives mixing engineers the opportunity to throw a huge, seamless soundstage.  The Imagine Dragons song, “I Bet My Live” was my favorite showcase.  

The entire song is mixed so that the vocals and instruments are ahead of you (as it should be).  Here, DTS:X isn’t used in any gimmicky way to take away the enjoyment of the music.  It sounded like a well-tuned audiophile system; but gone was the limited soundstage frame of two-channel.  But that was just the beginning.  When the song’s chorus kicked in, it was nothing short of intense.  As the crowd joins in to sing the chorus, it’s mixed all around you like you’re standing in the middle of a club with hundreds of your best friends.  It felt natural.  It was a great showcase of the technology but also a respectful and contextual decision that made sense.  

But here’s my point and what made it for me, the energy the DTS:X mix created was palatable.  It was a radical, reimagining of the musical experience at home.  This is what multi-channel audio should have been all along!

DTS Neural:X: Upgrade Legacy Mixes to 3D Audio

With the DTS:X upgrade, all the legacy DTS processing modes, such as Neo:6 or Neo:X are gone.  They are replaced with Neural:X, which is nothing short of amazing.  Neural:X is the real-deal!  I was able to take Blu-rays with DTS audio and upmix them with ease.   Neural:X extracts dimensionality, ambient cues, and audio movement in a three-dimensional space with astonishing precision.

Neural:X on the Denon X7200WA

Neural:X is simply amazing and will upmix legacy Blu-rays with DTS audio tracks to immersive audio.

I decided to put Neural:X to the test and see how good it was using Auro-3D Blu-rays.  Auro-3D Blu-ray discs have both a traditional 5.1 or 7.1 DTS multichannel audio track as well as the metadata for a an Auro-3D 9.1 to 11.1 mix.  So here’s what I did to test Neural:X. I first played the native Auro-3D mix and then switched to the DTS 7.1 mix and up sampled it to 7.1.4 using Neural:X via the Denon’s sound menu.  This experiment meant I could jump between the two mixes easily for a near real-time A-B  comparison between Auro-3D and Neural:X just by changing the processing modes. I could first go to Auro-3D and hear how the immersive audio mix was supposed to be and then hear how Neural:X was interpreting the 7.1 signal.  To conduct this test, I used Auro-3D’s own Auro-3D demo Blu-ray disc, which features a great selection of movie clips, audio, and ambient content.

If you are asking me to describe the difference between Neural:X and the native Auro-3D mix, then I’d say it was like the difference you experience between having a phantom center and a discrete center channel or, to use the visual analogy, using a really good 1080p upscaler on DVDs vs native 1080p content.  It’s darn close, but once you kick in the real thing it’s sharper and more detailed.  Let me give you some examples.

The Auro-3D demo disc features an 11.1 clip from Rise of the Guardians. Taken from one of the movie’s climactic scenes, there’s lots of swirling action as Pitch Black and Jack Frost battle in the sky along with a host of conjured black horses.  There are ample overhead effects and cues as Santa Claus swoops in on his sleigh. Listening to the native Auro-3D mix yielded pinpoint precision and the overhead audio was superb.  

Neural:X took the base DTS 7.1 mix and worked incredible magic on it.  It created a comparable immersive soundscape that left me shaking my head constantly in disbelief.  The same kind of elevation and sense of space I heard in the native Auro-3D mix I also heard with Neural:X.  Color me impressed.

DTS Neural:X engages all channels up to 7.1.4

DTS Neural:X will take any DTS or PCM signal and create a 3D audio sensation out of it up to 7.1.4 channels.  Here I am playing a 7.1 Blu-ray and upmixing it to 7.1.4 via Neural:X.

Note: Disregard the custom AppleTV labeling in the associated images.  The source used for all DTS:X testing was a Blu-ray player.

Even ambient material from the Auro-3D demo Blu-ray, such as the 48 second track of fireworks exploding in the sky, was great.  Neural:X made it seem like my ceiling was ripped off and I had a front row seat to a firework spectacular.  This one is a no-brainer.  Neural:X is reason alone to upgrade your home
theater to DTS:X.  To be clear, the native Auro-3D mix was better, but
the Neural:X presentation was an exceptional interpretation.

As a side note, DTS Neural:X cannot be applied Dolby-encoded audio formats.  Neither can Dolby processing be applied to DTS-encoded audio.  I confirmed one hack around this. If you change your source’s audio output from bitstream (where the AVR does the decoding) to PCM (where the source decodes the signal) you can apply DTS Neural:X on the PCM signal.

Other than a tiny handful of native DTS:X content, there isn’t much else at this point.  I asked Jordan about the dearth of native content and he told me that this is quite normal at this stage of introducing a new codec and that there will be more DTS:X native content coming over time.

What’s the Verdict?

Immersive audio isn’t a gimmick; and neither is DTS:X.  DTS:X is thumbs up. The ability to use any one of multiple speaker layouts supported by your AVR is going to be a huge game changer.  And, the way that Denon has implemented DTS:X along with its universal speaker layout will give consumers lots of confidence that they aren’t going to find themselves in a speaker layout or format war. We’ll be taking a deeper look at installing immersive audio in our forthcoming article series. 

gene posts on February 11, 2016 23:50

The wait is over. DTS:X is finally here and the Denon AVR-X7200W/WA has the distinction of being the first AVR to get the DTS:X firmware update. With our Denon X7200WA on-hand, we took DTS:X for a spin, providing the real story about its supported speaker layouts, and our listening impressions of DTS’ next generation audio codec.

We also checked out DTS Neural:X, which coverts legacy content to 3D audio; & interactive dialogue control for up to 11.2 channels.

Read: Listening Evaluation of DTS:X on the Denon AVR-X7200WA Receiver

Have you upgraded to DTS:X yet? If so, please share your experiences in this thread and be sure to vote in our poll.

Nikon keeps the D-SLR faith with the D5

February 12th, 2016|Categories: AV Hub|



By Paul Burrows | Friday, 12 February 2016 13:50

Nikon D5

Having revealed it was working on a D5 model late last year, Nikon wasted no time in unveiling its next-generation pro-level D-SLR, using the giant CES exhibition in Las Vegas in early January as the launch platform.

Although the old PMA event was folded into CES a few years ago, imaging isn’t really a major part of the world’s largest consumer electronics trade show and, aside from Nikon, the only other major brands represented in the LV Convention Centre’s Central Hall were Canon, GoPro, Polaroid and Ricoh Imaging/Pentax. Of course, both Sony and Panasonic were showing cameras on their (huge) stands, but not, notably, Samsung which would seem to confirm that the company is indeed exiting this business.

Contrary to other rumours though, Nikon did not announce it was buying Samsung’s camera division, despite there being some obvious synergies.

Instead, on the day before CES opened, Nikon held a large international press conference to unveil the D5, a new ‘APS-C’ format D-SLR flagship called the D500, and its entry into the still-growing ‘action cam’ sector. While the conference was billed ‘The Dawn Of A New Era’, there is still no sign that Nikon will have a full-frame mirrorless camera system any time soon in order to counter the rise and rise of Sony’s A7 Series (of course, Canon is pretty much in the same boat too).

Nevertheless, the D5 is an impressive machine, extending all the key specs of the D4S and described at the launch as “…by far our best and most ambitious D-SLR”. Similar in size and styling to its predecessor, the D5 has a new CMOS sensor with a total pixel count of 21.33 million (20.8 MP effective) and an imaging area of 23.9×35.9 mm. It’s mated with Nikon’s latest-generation ‘Expeed 5’ processor which allows for continuous shooting at up to 12 fps with continuous AF adjustment (14 fps with AF and AE locked to the first frame) and, importantly, 4K video recording. This processor noise reduction algorithms and the sensor’s design enable a native sensitivity range equivalent to ISO 100 to 102,400 with expansion up to ISO 3,280,000 (a ‘Hi.5’ setting). Interestingly, when it comes to data storage, Nikon is offering two versions of the D5, one with dual XQD slots or one with dual CF slots (which provides UDMA-7 speed support). This overcomes the limitations of having one of each format.

The D5 gets both a new autofocusing system and a new metering system. AF is via a new ‘Multi-CAM 20K’ module which employs a total of 153 focusing points, 99 of which are cross-type arrays (55 and 35 manually selectable respectively). Fifteen points are still active with lenses as slow as f8.0, and there’s a choice of seven area modes with a ‘Quick mode’ switching function. Continuous AF operations can be extensively customised to suit the type of subject movement.

Nikon D5

A new reflex mirror mechanism using a stepping motor allows for the shooting speed of 12 fps which can be maintained for a burst of 200 frames with continuous AF/AE adjustment. Metering is based on a new RGB-sensitive sensor which has 180,000 pixels and is labelled ‘3D Colour Matrix Metering III’. There’s the option of multi-point, centre-weighted average (adjustable as on the D4S) and spot measurements, driving a standard set of ‘PASM’ exposure control modes. Auto bracketing functions are available for exposure, flash, white balance and Nikon’s ‘Active D-Lighting’ correction for dynamic range expansion. The shutter now has a sensor-based ‘first curtain” option for minimising vibration, while the physical shutter mechanism is tested to 400,000 cycles.

The D5’s bodyshell comprises magnesium alloy covers with full weather sealing. The prism-based optical viewfinder gives 100 percent coverage and has a magnification of 0.72x. The LCD monitor screen is fixed, but has a resolution of 2.359 megadots and, importantly, touch controls. Interfaces include a stereo audio input and output (both 3.5 mm terminals) and a Type C HDMI connection which delivers an ‘uncompressed’ video feed for recording 2K/4K video to an external device (albeit still only 8-bit and 4:2:2 colour). The D5 records 4K video in the UHD resolution of 3840×2160 pixels (with no pixel-binning) and 8-bit MPEG-4/H.264 compression to give MOV format files. No bit-rates are currently quoted and there are also a couple of notable limitations here, namely a cropped sensor (actually only fraction larger than the ‘DX’ format frame, at 1.45x) and a very short clip length limit of just three minutes. Full frame video recording is only available in the Full HD or HD resolutions. Additionally, the D5 doesn’t have the Cinema 4K resolution mode (i.e. 4096×2160 pixels) that’s offered on the Canon EOS-1D C and most dedicated 4K video cameras (i.e. Blackmagic, Red, Panasonic, Sony, etc). While the step up to 4K video is welcome, the D5 remains very much a stills camera first and foremost, and its video offerings don’t look quite so appealing compared to what else is on offer (especially among the higher-end mirrorless cameras).

Pricing for the D5 hasn’t been unveiled, but it looks like selling for around US$6500 in the USA or 7000 Euros in Europe which could mean in the region of $9500 locally, putting it much closer to Leica’s SL… the mirrorless camera that the Germans are touting as a pro D-SLR killer. Availability will be from March.

Master Music XRCD24: Touching Folklore Music Masterpiece 

February 12th, 2016|Categories: Dagogo|Tags: , |

In 2007, Kazuo Kiuchi, the Director of Combak Corporation, co-founded the new audiophile music label Master Music with Yoshihiko Kannari. Bringing to this record project was Kiuchi’s expertise in equipment and room tuning via his Harmonix line of products, plus the experience of Yoshihiko Kannari from his days of making recordings under the TBM audiophile label.

The first Master Music recording project was an acoustic guitar music CD, produced by Kiuchi, with regular TBM talents Kannari and Tohru Kotetsu of JVC. Presented by Kotetsu was the XRCD24 mastering system consisting of a custom designed analog console and a K2 24-bit A/D converter. A K2 Rubidium Clock was utilized in the creation of the 24-bit magneto-optical master disk.

As customary in the manufacturing of all XRCD-branded CD’s, the XRCD24 master went through a myriad of process for the utmost in playback quality. The following are paragraphs from the CD’s booklet explaining the process, slightly corrected for idiom:

“The XRCD24 process begins with the mastering.

The analog signal is taken directly from customized mastering console, then converted digitally into K2 24bit to regenerate the purest 24bit digital signal possible. The 24bit word is then stored in a magneto-optical disk. The 24bit MO disk is sent to the manufacturing.

At the JVC manufacturing plant, the 24bit MO disk is played back through Digital K2 in order to completely eliminate any jitter and distortions that may be produced during the digital playback.

The 24bit word is then converted into 16bit using K2 Super Coding to insure TRUE 16bit dynamic range. The TRUE 16bit signal is then EFM encoded and passed to a high precision DVD K2 laser, which is modified to cut “Red book” format CD glass master via the JVC Extended Pit Cutting Technology, producing more precise pit lengths before burning them onto the glass master. The entire operation is controlled by K2 Rubidium Clock that is over 10,000 times more accurate than conventional crystal clocks.

The result of this care of the mastering and manufacturing allows the listeners to enjoy the music in the same way the artist, producer and engineer intended.”

Especially noteworthy was the fact that this recording was made in a pure analog domain, using a Studer A820 reel-to-reel deck running at 30-inch-per-second on half-inch tapes to ensure the lowest saturation rate possible, thus yielding the most pristine dynamic profile.

Having auditioned a large number of CD’s from different labels, I found that every time I am treated to an XRCD, it is an occasion for fond memories. This latest XRCD24 from Master Music was no exception.

Realistic playback of individual acoustic guitar music is a world of its own. It does not require particularly powerful amplification to flush out the appropriate dynamics; but an amplifier of such refinement as to be able to recreate a guitar’s nuances and its bursts of energy is crucial. Such music also prohibits indiscreet playback levels that will make it sound like a recording of a giant guitar, but a loudspeaker capable of reproducing the complete spectrum and inherent dynamic properties of a guitar at realistically low level is a treasure.

Between the top two speakers at my household that were comparably capable of conveying convincing body and scale of the trio of guitars even at moderate volumes, namely the $26,000 Bӧsendorfer VC 7 and the $20,000 Tannoy Churchill Wideband, the Bӧsendorfer consistently disappeared in the aura of the poetic and spatial nuances of the guitars, while the Tannoy produced the most convincing dimensionality – both driven by the 55Wpc, $17,250, single-tube Wavac MD-805m monoblocks.

But amidst the most beautiful guitar rendition I’ve heard was the soft, whispery story-telling rampant throughout the disc. What the piano in its encompassing scale and majestic elegance can accomplish in sweeping the listener off his feet, the guitar of Mario Suzuki draws you into your inner-world with its intricate tone and melody. And what delicious pieces he had selected for this recording.

You won’t be faced off with rivalry guitar works between Suzuki and his two accompanists, for they were there to provide a second or third “voice”, adding layers to the already lyrical flow of the guitar sound. For someone like me, who favors orchestral pieces on most music more than solo ones, this CD made me quiet for days on end. Passage after passage, I was immersed in virtual monolog, listening to the beautifully soft, melodic, highly communicative music playing of guitars.

Among the first thirteen tracks, not counting tracks fourteen to sixteen, which are selections from a Japanese motion picture, the first ten are duo and trio guitar pieces, and the rest are solo playing by Mario Suzuki. For readers venturing into this tasteful compilation, starting at the more colorful duo and trio pieces will probably serve as a more productive familiarization process. Then, when you have also quieted own, like I did, Mario Suzuki’s solo pieces will become the timeless gems.

But if you are really like me, then you will find Mario Suzuki’s composition for the motion picture, New Snowy Village, most refreshing for a change. True, that track fourteen contained an incredibly song-like playing from Mario Suzuki and his accompanist, but once you’ve crossed over to the cello-and-flute version of the same piece in track fifteen, accompanied by a sympathetic synthesizer in the background, the cello’s riding lamentation would make you also looking for more of the occasional chiming-in of the flute and guitar, just so they would last just that little bit longer. Track sixteen, the full orchestral version, then becomes the one track that I would’ve dived into the first time I played this disc, had I known its beauty back then.

This disc is selected as one of Dagogo Editor’s Top Reference Discs.

This article was published in December, 2007 originally.

http://www.elusivedisc.com/Mario-Suzuki-Masterpiece-Of-Folklore-XRCD24/productinfo/MMSXR001/

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Truths and Lies

February 11th, 2016|Categories: Real HD-Audio|Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , |

Making sense out of all of the claims and counter claims about cables is a waste of time. The believers will continue to believe and the skeptics will continue to challenge them. The recent YouTube video was just the tip of the iceberg as far as I’m concerned. I doubt whether AQ or the rest of us will ever learn how the audio track was “fudged” resulting in “unbelievable” differences. Thus far, I haven’t heard back from the folks at AudioQuest. I sent them the link to the original video so that they could confirm what I reported back in January. But I have been in email contact with a few other players in this arena over the past couple of weeks.

First, I would like to thank those who have written comments or private notes to me in support of my reporting. As you can imagine, it’s rather unpleasant to be the target of attacks by professionals and journalists in the audiophile industry. You really discover who your friends are when circumstances like this come along (Thanks Kal!). I admit that I made some assumptions (which I believe were reasonable) with regards to AQ’s involvement with the YouTube video. Perhaps I should have contacted them for additional information…but I didn’t. The open letter that William Low, the CEO of AudioQuest, posted on the Stereophile website was a very positive step forward. And I can confirm that I’m satisfied with the emails that we’ve exchanged since then.

But why have none of the usual audiophile sites reported on this incident?

However, I was dismayed when he wrote to roughly 90 audio industry colleagues following my post of the 22nd:

– The cables are digital. To our awareness, it’s impossible for a cable to affect spectral content — though differences in the integrity of the data do very clearly affect the ultimate emotional response to the sound, and therefor to the subjective impression of amplitude.

– Yes, regardless of any questions as to the professionalism of Mark’s muckraking process, and his apparent fabrication of a quote referencing an email debate with an AudioQuest employee about the definition of High-Resolution, the only pertinent issue is that I currently believe that Mark has exposed the truth about a falsified video.

I don’t make stuff up. Although, I am guilty of having strong positions on issues relating to audio and music. But I don’t lie. Recently, I received this from Michael Lavorgna of Audiostream.com:

“I’m looking into this matter and I can tell what I have found out so far; your quote ‘the truth is bad for commerce’ which you claim is from an email exchange with an AudioQuest employee does not exist. You made that up to support your demonetization of the company.”

Claiming I fabricated the exchange or that the email from Steve Silberman (AQ employee) doesn’t exist runs contrary to the truth. Steve and I were both members of the CEA Audio Board a year ago. What began as a conversation on the monthly phone call spilled over into a series of back and forth arguments concerning high-resolution audio. Steve’s believes that “16/44.1 is high resolution (We should rethink that as part of the CEA message).”

His definition is at odds with the DEG, NARAS, CEA/CTA, and the major labels…and is way below what my own definition requires. Here’s the relevant part of our very real email exchange last January:

On 1/21/15 12:32 PM, “Steve Silberman” wrote:

you’re kidding me? Right? In terms of defining high-resolution it could also go like this:

CEA defines high-resolution audio as any format, in an uncompressed state, at a rate of 1411Kbps and above.

This would have allowed customers to realize that it would be easy to at least get back to a baseline.

Can we be done now? I’m not really interested in arguing with you any longer. Most people outside of the board disagree with the current stance on CD quality being left out. It’s bad for enterprise.

On 1/21/15, 1:16 PM, “Mark Waldrep” wrote:

Steve,

How are definitions arbitrary? In my world they mean something. In the video world they mean something.

When did I say the CDs weren’t serious? I believe that CDs can do an amazing job at reproducing high-end audio. But they haven’t got the same fidelity potential as high-resolution audio recordings.

I don’t want consumers to be fooled by marketers and spinmeisters that CDs are all of a sudden the next big thing…just because they’ve been digitized. The fidelity is the same as its always been.

Mark

I apologize for remembering “commerce” rather than “enterprise”, but in my lexicon they’re synonymous.

The quote does exist.

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PS Audio introduces its DirectStream Junior at $3,999

February 11th, 2016|Categories: Positive Feedback|Tags: , |


Robinson_on_porch_with_pipe


[Note:  All components in BOLD are loaned; all components in standard face are owned by me.]


DWR_TIDAL_speaker_view_DSC_0143


The TIDAL Agoria Speakers with a pair of TIDAL Impulse monoblock amplifiers.


001_Robinson_system_view_DSC_0286


The Evolution Acoustics MM2 Loudspeakers with a pair of Audionet MAX monoblock amplifiers and the PRE G2 preamp on the Walker Audio Prologue Rack.


LOUDSPEAKERS


TIDAL Agoria loudspeakers; Evolution Acoustics MM2 loudspeakers with Wave Kinetics isolation feet; Nova Rendition II loudspeakers outfitted with Walker Audio Reference HDLs on the upper and lower bi-wires, and Townshend Audio Super Tweeters, all contacts treated with Walker Audio Extreme SST Contact Enhancer.


004_Robinson_Audionet_Pre_G2_DSC_0293


The Audionet PRE G2 Preamp.


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The TIDAL Presencio stack with phono amp (top), line-level preamp (middle), and power supply (bottom) on the Stillpoints ESS Rack with Grid Shelves and Ultra 5 Isolation Feet (underneath the power supply).


ELECTRONICS


TIDAL Presencio phono/line/power supply stack with TIDAL Impulse monoblock amplifiers; Audionet Pre G2 reference preamplifier, Audionet Max monoblock amplifiers, Audionet Pam G2 reference phono preamplifier with EPX power supply, Blue Circle BC307 two-box reference preamp, ALO Studio Six tubed headphone amplifier with tubed Phono Stage section, new Walker Audio Procession Reference Phono Amplifier (11/14).


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The brilliant Wave Kinetics NVS Direct-Drive Turntable with Durand Telos 12″ Composite Tonearm and Ortofon Anna MC on the Wave Kinetics Isolation Stand, resting on the Stillpoints ESS Reference Rack with Grid Shelves and Ultra 5 Isolation Feet.


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Lloyd Walker’s exceptional Walker Audio Proscenium Black Diamond Level V Turntable on its Prologue Rack, with Peter Ledermann’s Soundsmith Hyperion MI Cartridge.


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The Audionet PAM G2 Reference Phono Amplifier, powered by the Audionet EPX Reference Power Supply.


005_Robinson_Audionet_MAX_DSC_0297


The Audionet MAX Monoblock Reference Amplifiers.


SOURCES


Digital: Furutech STRATOS Quad DSD DAC; Merging Technologies NADAC 8-channel Quad DSD and PCM DAC, Lampizator Golden Gate Quad tubed DSD DAC; exaSound e28 Mk. II 8-channel Quad DSD/PCM DAC; Mytek Manhattan Quad DSD DAC and Preamp; Marantz UD9004 Blu Ray/Universal Player; Merging Technologies HAPI Quad DSD ADDA with Pyramix 9.x DAW software on a dedicated Dell Precision 2800 i7 notebook with 8 GB RAM and 256GB SSD; Korg MR-2000S Double DSD-capable digital recorder.


NADAC_MC-8_Stillpoints_ESS_Rack_DSC_0160


The Merging Technologies NADAC MC-8 Ethernet-based eight-channel Quad DSD DAC on the Stillpoints ESS Reference Rack with Grid Shelves on the Stillpoints Ultra 5 Isolation Feet.


Lampizator_Golden_Gate_DSC_0155


The LampizatOr Golden Gate Directly-Heated Triode Quad DSD DAC on the Stillpoints ESS Reference Rack, resting on Stillpoints Ultra 5 Isolation Feet.


MESH_45_EML_DHT_Tube_Golden_Gate_DSC_0157


The utterly seductive MESH 45 Directly-Heated Triode Tube on the LampizatOr Golden Gate Quad DSD DAC. 


Analog: Walker Audio Proscenium Black Diamond Level V reference turntable system (upgraded to full Level V as of 06/02/14) with the Black Diamond Arm, Soundsmith Hyperion MI cartridge, and Silent Source Silver (as of 11/11/14) direct connection to the new Walker Audio Procession Reference Phono Amp (with the new Walker Audio Power Supply for the Procession, as of 06/02/14), Wave Kinetics NVS Turntable with Durand Telos Composite 12″ Tonearm and Ortofon Anna MC cartridge. KRONOS Pro Limited Edition Turntable with 12″ Black Beauty Tonearm and Airtight PC-1 Supreme MC. ATR Services Ampex ATR-102 open reel tape deck, Technics RS-1700 15ips reel-to-reel tape recorder, Revox B-77 Mk. II 15 ips half-track reel-to-reel tape recorder, Pioneer RT-707 7.5 ips quarter track reel-to-reel tape recorder, Nakamichi Dragon reference cassette deck.


Reel-Tronix_closeup_DSC_2373


Reeltronix reel on one of our reel-to-reel recorders


HEADPHONES/IN-EAR MONITORS


Stax SR-009 reference electrostatic headphones; JPS Labs Abyss AB-1266 reference headphones; Astell & Kern AKT8iE in-ear monitors; Audeze LCD-3 headphones with Audeze balanced and unbalanced cables, and cables by Double Helix (Component3 balanced and single-ended) and Nordost (Helmdall 2 balanced, single-ended, and 3.5mm),  Oppo PM-1 headphones, Sennheiser HD800 headphones (balanced) with Cardas Clear Headphone Cable (2 meter) and Cardas Sennheiser connectors, and Cardas Balanced connectors, Cardas Clear Balanced-to-1/4″ stereo jack adapter, Double Helix Cables Complement3 balanced and single-ended cables, Blue Microphones MoFi powered headphonesJH Audio JH16 Pro In-Ear Monitor System, Cardas 5813 In-Ear Monitors.


HEADPHONE AMPS/DACS


Stax SRM-007tII Vacuum reference tube headphone amplifier; Cavalli Audio Liquid Gold reference headphone amp; eXemplar audio reference headphone amp; Astell & Kern AK-380 DSD DAC/Headphone Amp with Quad DSD playback in Native mode; Astell & Kern CD-Ripper; Astell & Kern AK-240 DSD DAC/Headphone Amp; ALO Studio Six reference tubed headphone amplifier; Oppo Digital HA-1 headphone amplifier and Quad DSD DAC; ALO Audio Continental DSD DAC and headphone amp; Aurender FLOW DSD DAC and headphone amp; Teac HA-P90SD DSD DAC and headphone amp; Ray Samuels SR-71B portable headphone amplifier (balanced and unbalanced connections).


CABLES


Interconnects by Kubala-Sosna Research, TARA Labs, Skogrand Cables, Synergistic Research, Cardas, JENA Labs, Silent Source, Evolution Acoustics, Harmonic Technology, Stereovox, Black Cat, and Linn. Speaker cables by Kubala-Sosna Research, TARA Labs, Skogrand Cables, JENA Labs, Cardas, Silent Source, and Linn. Power cables by Purist Audio, Kubala-Sosna Research, TARA Labs, Skogrand, Furutech, JENA Labs, Cardas, Evolution Acoustics, First Impression Music, Silent Source, DH Labs, First Impression Music, and VansEvers.


ACCESSORIES


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The Kubala-Sosna XPander Power Distribution Unit


Synergistic Research system enhancements, including Atmosphere ATM, HFT’s, MiG 2.0 isolation feet with HFT, Grounding Block, and Black Box; two (2) Stillpoints ESS Racks with grid shelves and Ultra 5 isolation feet, Ultra 5 speaker isolation feet; Walker Audio Prologue Rack, Walker Audio Prologue Turntable Stand, Walker Audio Prologue Amplifier Stands, Walker Audio Valid Points and Valid Points tuning kits, two Walker Audio Velocitor SS Power Line Enhancers on Velocitor Stands, one Walker Audio Velocitor Power Line Enhancer on a Velocitor Stand (line conditioning for Walker Audio Proscenium turntable system), KLaudio CD-CLN-LP 200 Ultrasonic LP Cleaner with Silencer sonic enclosure, KLAudio Automatic LP Loader for their Ultrasonic LP Cleaner, with 7″ and 10″ record adapters; Furutech Demaga LP/SACD/CD/Blu Ray/DVD/cable demagnetizer; Furutech DF-2 LP flattener, Vibraplane turntable isolation platform, Black Diamond Racing “The Shelf” and cones, Dedicated Audio Cable Tower cable supports, VPI 17F LP cleaning system with the latest Walker Prelude Record Cleaning System (11/2011 edition), Walker Audio Extreme SST Contact Enhancer (2011), Walker Audio Ultra Vivid SACD/DVD/CD enhancer (improved formulation, 06/2009), Walker Audio Talisman LP/disc De-static device, Furutech DeStat II static neutralizer, Furutech RD-2 SACD/DVD/CD demagnetizer, Stein Music DE-2 CD/SACD degausser and DE-3 LP Conditioner, Furutech DeMag LP/SACD/DVD/CD degausser, Furutech SK-II Electrostatic Brush, Audioquest Anti-Static Record Cleaning Brush, Cen-Tech Analog Sound Level Meter, KAB Speed Strobe turntable strobe measurement system, hifi4music Digistrobo turntable strobe measurement system, acoustical treatments by Walker Audio, ASC and NuCore, Kubala-Sosna XPander Power Distribution Unit, PS Audio PerfectWave Power Plant P10, Walker Audio Black Diamond Room Tuning Crystals kit.


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The KLAudio KD-CLN-LP200 Ultrasonic Record Cleaner with its LP Loader option, automatically cleaning up to 5 LPs at a time.


My listening room is of irregular shape, being 12.5′ wide x 13.5′ long in the right section, and 18′ long in the left (equipment) section, with a ceiling height of 8′. It is cambered left and right, with no perpendicular edge on the sidewalls to ceiling transition. Construction was done with 2″ x 6″ studs, wall-within-a-wall on the left and right sides (media storage in a room to the left, equipment storage in a room to the right). The room is on the second floor, directly over the garage—no competing sounds. The neighborhood is quiet, being located on top of a hill some 500 feet above the valley below, the listening room faces south, away from the main access road.


Power to components in the listening room is fully dedicated. 10 gauge Romex was pulled directly from the panel, all from the same pole to avoid ground loops. Four 20 amplifier runs were done, and Tesla Flex and JENA Labs cryo-treated AC receptacles were installed. All lights and peripheral components are on separate circuits. Circuits have been tested for proper ground and polarity.


Robinson’s Home Theater System

  • Linn Kisto Controller
  • Linn 5125 5.1 channel amplifiers (x 2, 5 channel bi-amped configuration)
  • Linn Akurate 242 L/R front channel speakers
  • Linn Akurate 225 center channel speaker
  • Linn Akurate 212 L/R rear channel speakers
  • Linn Melodik subwoofer
  • Synergistic Research Atmosphere ATM, HFT’s, MiG 2.0 isolation feet with HFT, Grounding Block, and Black Box
  • Sony HAP Z1ES Double DSD Music Server with Xperia Pad remote control
  • Paradigm SUB 25 reference subwoofer
  • All HDMI cables by Furutech
  • Mitsubishi SD-HD2000U D-VHS/S-VHS digital HD VCR
  • Panasonic TH-65PX600U 65″ plasma HD TV (1080p)
  • Furutech Daytona 303 AC Line Filter (two units)
  • Furutech 20 amplifier duplex AC receptacles (x2)
  • Cables by Furutech, DH Labs, Cardas, Linn, and JENA Labs
  • Oppo BDP-105 Darbee Edition Blu Ray/Universal Player
  • Apple TV (Fourth Generation, 32 GB)
  • Logitech Revue
  • Oppo HM-31 3×1 Advanced HDMI Switch
  • Walker Audio E-SST Contact Enhancer
  • Walker Audio Ultra Vivid DVD/SACD/CD Enhancer (06/2009 formulation)


The home theater system is housed in our great room. The dimensions are 18′ wide by 24′ long, with a peaked and vaulted ceiling that’s 16′ high at the center of the lengthwise room line. The fireplace forces a “shift left” of the High Definition TV and the L/C/R playback, a necessary compromise that skews the sound somewhat, but still allows for a satisfying home theater/surround sound experience.


Robinson’s Computer/Internet-based Music System

  • Home Network has been upgraded to 300 mbps for maximum Internet performance via Comcast
  • Dell Precision T7600 workstation, Windows 7 Ultimate, Blu Ray R/W and DVD R/W optical drive, Realtek 192kHz PCM audio, dual Intel 6 Core processors, 64 GB ECC RAM, 3 TB RAID 1 hard drive array with multiple external 3, 4, and 5 TB USB 3.0 hard drives
  • Dell Precision T7400 workstation, Windows Vista Ultimate, Sound Blaster X-Fi XtremeMusic (D), Intel Xeon Quad Core, 4 GB ECC RAM, 300 GB 15K RPM SAS RAID1
  • HP Pavilion DV8t notebook computer, Windows 10, nVidia+Altec Lansing Sound, Intel i7 processor, 8 GB RAM, 480 GB Solid-State Drive (SSD), 18.4″ 16×9 display supporting 1080p (true Blu Ray), Blu Ray R/W, DVD+/-RW, and CD-RW
  • Music Server is HP EX-495 with Intel Core 2 Duo processor and 2 GB RAM, running Microsoft Home Server 2003, 1.5 TB HD, with expansion HD bays for three more HDs and up to 17 TB storage space.
  • darTZeel CTH-8550 integrated amplifier
  • MBL C51 integrated amplifier
  • Playback Designs IPS-3 integrated amplifier
  • ALO Studio Six tubed reference headphone amplifier
  • Oppo Digital HA-1 headphone amplifier and Quad DSD DAC
  • Mytek Manhattan Quad DSD DAC and Preamp
  • Oppo BDP-105 Universal Player with ModWright Tube Modification with Custom MWI Reference and Truth power cable, Power Supply 9.9 with custom large tube chassis opening and Phillips 5R4GYS rectifier tube upgrade, dual Bybee Rail mods, and Audio Magic Pulse Gen ZX.
  • Teac Esoteric DV-60 Universal Player (used mainly for SACD)
  • Astell & Kern AK380 and AK240 Portable Double DSD/PCM high resolution Player
  • Korg MR-2 portable DSD recorder
  • Furutech GT-40 USB DAC
  • Evolution Acoustics MMMicro One loudspeakers with Wave Kinetics isolation feet
  • Skogrand Cables SC Beethoven reference loudspeaker cables
  • Skogrand Cables SC Beethoven reference power cables
  • Nova Audio Ovation (two-way Scanspeak) speakers
  • Furutech Daytona 303 Line Conditioner
  • Furutech GTX-D 20A high-end Duplex AC Receptacle
  • Furutech GTX Wall Plate
  • Furutech Duplex AC Cover Plate 104-D
  • Furutech Fl-20 Power Cable
  • Kubala-Sosna Realization reference USB cable
  • PranaWire Photon USB Cable, upgraded version
  • Audioquest Diamond USB 2.0 cable
  • Nordost Blue Heaven USB 2.0 data cable
  • Cynosure USB reference cable by Locus Design
  • Furutech deStat
  • Four (4) Seagate 3 TB USB 3.0/2.0 hard disc drives, two (2) Seagate 4 TB USB 3.0/2.0 hard disk drives