Friday, October 16, 2009

Yet another afternoon of messing around

Last weekend, I had one of my hi-fi mates over for some listening. He was interested to see how my Thiel CS 1.6 was faring in my system, as well as how it matched with the various amplifiers I had on hand.

For those of you know who are not familiar with the Thiel CS 1.6, it is the smallest floorstanding model in Thiel's range. As a matter of line up, it is actually the replacement of the CS 1.5. Ultra compact models like the 0.5 do not have a direct successor model.

A typical Thiel design, it is designed to be phase coherent as well as time aligned (provided you sit at least 8 feet from the speaker). It is a two way speaker, sporting all metal drive units. Unlike older Thiel models, the CS 1.6 uses in-house produced drivers. Instead of using a conventional rouind port, the CS 1.6 utilises a long thin slotted port in front.

Here are our observations of the day :-

1. Matched with Diva M7 preamp and Cayin A-88T

Sound is quite full with a very nice tube bloom. Bass is weighty but slightly rounded. Transparency is quite good and this combination can entertain for hours, especially if you are into vocal and jazz discs

2. Matched with Diva M7 preamp and Hypex UCD400

Extremely fast sound with much tighter grip over the bottom end. Extremely detailed top end and the resolution is just incredible. The tube bloom is still there with just a hint of sweetness. Hi-fi mate declared this at the end of the session as the best sound of the day.

3. Matched with Copland CTA-401 integrated tube amp

My ageing Copland is one of the first few quality kit that I could afford. Taking me almost a year to save up for, I keep my Copland more for sentimental reasons than anything else.

Paired with the excellent Electro Harmonix 6CA7 tubes, the Copland puts out about 35 watts per channel in ultralinear mode. This is slightly less than the 45-50 watts put out by the Cayin A-88T which is based on KT88 tubes.

The Copland is noticeably slower and rounder than the Cayin. The Copland is an old school type of tube amp in that it provides a very liquid and luscious presentation. The Cayin is much faster and neutral in its midrange and top end in comparison.

Matched with the Thiel, I felt that the overall combination was a little bit too slow and did not highlight the strengths of the CS 1.6 well. Some may like its very romantic and rose tinted view of the world, but its sweetness does not match well with faster paced music.

4. Matched with Kingrex T-20U integrated T-amp

Hi-fi mate had to suspend dis-belief for a moment. Absolutely shocked at the volume that was achievable with the limited power on tap, he though the sound was overall quite good, especially considering the price. Overall, the combination is quite pleasant to listen to but is obviously not as resolving or controlled as the other two combinations above.

Combination 2 was heard with both my new Acoustic Zen Hologram II speaker cables and my existing Goertz AG-1 pure silver speaker cables. It was almost like a night and day difference in presentation. He found the Goertz forward and quite forceful in the way it "projected sound" (in his words), compared to the very gentle and refined presentation of the Acoustic Zen. He prepared the Acoustic Zen's presentation.

For some entertainment, we also hooked up the Kingrex to an old pair of Proac Tablette 50s. Obviously not quite as detailed as the Thiel, the combination was quite very enjoyable. Always musical, the Proac entertained well with its PRAT and sharp imaging ability.

Sadly, the session was so much fun that it ended far too soon. You can be sure that another session will be arranged soon.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Acoustic Zen Hologram II Speaker Cables

(Picture from official web site of Acoustic Zen)

Bought pre-owned from Audiogon, my new set of snakes arrived last month. After going through a overland trip from Florida to Oregon before being shipped by air to Singapore, these snakes are more well traveled than I am.

The AZ Hologram is a big thick cable finished in a handsome purple cover with light reflective mesh (so that it can remind me of its presence in my fairly dark listening room ?). My pair is finished in PCOCC gold plated copper spades on both ends with the speaker end split for bi-wiring.

The AZ is fairly flexible and despite its bulk, is quite tame and refrains from trying to pull equipment or speakers down from their perches. Wish I could say the same for the horrendously heavy PAD cables I have lying around somewhere.

Given its very heavy gauge, I was expecting the AZ to have a thick and heavy sound with bone crushing bass …… not. After a brief run-in, listening tests show that this cable is actually quite balanced but with a few strange characteristics that took me by surprise.

The first thing you notice is a perceived “drop” in loudness. The second is the rather distant presentation, almost as if you have been moved back from the front row to the mid section of the concert hall.

After some adjustment of the ears, you realize that the cable is extremely quiet. The apparent reduction in volume is a result of the bass which is tight but not particularly extended, and the high frequencies that are all there, but do not jump out at you. Extended listening reveals that the cable is very detailed with excellent low level resolution and microdetail. This is all very apparent due to a lack of grunge, sibilance and glare in the high frequencies. This enables the cable to sound smooth and non-fatiguing without throwing away detail.

Bass lines are neither thunderous nor weighty. In fact, the bass is extremely tight, but does not appear to go down deep. Coupled with the very refined high frequencies, this makes for an extremely refined and civilized cable that is well balanced from the bottom end to the top end.

Maybe as a result of its distant presentation, soundstage depth is incredible and deeper than anything else I have ever tried.

In comparison to the Goertz AG-1 cable that preceded the AZ, the AZ has very defined and clearly delineated image spaces. The Goertz has what local audiophiles term as “big-mouth” sound … ask a Cai Qin fan and he will know exactly how this sounds like. The Goertz has an extremely detailed feel to it, and much like the Acrolink cables I covered in an earlier post, the Goertz takes a health dose of artistic licence to texture the tone of instruments and the human voice. In contrast, the AZ is truthful and reflects the picture as it is.

The AZ is such a clean and balanced cable, that you wonder what the fuss is about. After taking the time to know it better, you realize that it communicates loads of detail in a coherent and balanced manner, without sounding harsh or introducing glare. All in all, this is a worth contender for systems that can showcase this cable (price wise, its definitely destined for entry level high end systems at the minimum).