To all the equipment that I have loved before


Amplifiers

Pioneer A-400

My very first amplifier which cost me what I considered a princely sum in my schooling days. The British magazines would have you believe that it was the best thing since sliced bread. It's moment of pride was a trip to the dealer where it took the place of a Mark Levinson No. 23. The salesman shook his head in amazement that the humble Pioneer was not steam-rolled over. Unfortunately this went to hi-fi heaven when its outputs were accidentally shorted and the protection relays failed to kick-in. Hi-fi mate took its carcass promising to send it to the service center for me. He never did.

Copland CTA-401

Visually, it reminded of an old fashioned safe, with it's beautiful solid aluminum dials. Still in working order more than 20+ years later, its had a power transformer replaced and number of smaller repair jobs. Warm and cuddly with sublime liquidity - classic old school charm. Unfortunately, the PCB is in woeful condition given the heat generated within its chassis. Can't bear to part it with it due to sentimental reasons.

Sugden A-25B

Low powered but otherwise delightful hand crafted British amp. I gave it to my elder brother who was studying overseas. He sold it when he finished his studies. Why oh why ?


Audiolab 8000A

A true British classic that had a tendency to sound a bit dry and sterile in the upper midrange and high frequencies when matched with unsympathetic equipment. After many years of faithful service, it was decomissioned to spend a year on two on my floor. It was sold to hopefully someone that made better use of it.

Copland CSA-28

Hybrid solid state beauty with a refined yet powerful sound. Insufferably high gain that required the use of an in-line attenuator to get usable volume control and range. Sold to hopefully a good home.

Cayin A-50T 

An eye opener to the quality of equipment available from Mainland China. Its mostly point to point wiring was a work of art. A wide and open sound that would never be mistaken for a vintage amp of the past. Required a bit of modding to get the sound I wanted. Never skipped a beat and was eventually sold in perfect working order.

Cayin A-88T

A substantial upgrade over the A-50T, the A-88T was similarly trouble free in my time of ownership. Biasing was a real pain though, requiring you to balance the 28 kg amplifier on its side, while you measured directly at the tube pin and ground bar. Never try to do this when you are intoxicated.

Flying Mole DAD-M100HT

Tiny little amps that were at the forefront of PWM amplification. Sounded decent with lots of power. Did not like 4 ohm loads and ran quite hot. Sold to a home theater enthusiast that was looking for 5 units to power his 5.1 setup.

Diva M7 

Very nice sounding locally made preamp. Point to point wired and lots of goodies inside include a vintage military choke loaded power supply. Upgraded over the years to a fairly high specification by its designer, but still not a match for my Sun Audio preamp.

Hypex UCD-400 

Locally assembled by the then local agent using dual mono power supplies. Was quite fussy about matching but sublime with my Thiel speakers. The Hypex has a nice rounded bass and smooth midrange. Many criticise Class D amplification as sounding sterile and brittle - this is definitely not one of them.

Diva Classic 1H (ECC31 version)

The Classic 1 series was touted by its designer to offer a performance close to his M7 at a fraction of the price. Interesting circuit design that included the use of LED cathode biasing and a choice of the fairly rare ECC31 tube. Matched with the Mullard ECC31, the 1H was like a chocolate milkshake, thick, rich and creamy. But no, in terms of transparency and dynamics, the M7 was streets ahead of the Classic 1.

Cary SLI-80 Signature Special Edition 

Finished in Jaguar blue, this was visually perfect. Given the price of cars in Singapore, I will probably never own a Jaguar, so I'll just settle for the paint finish.Not strictly neutral, the Cary is lots of fun to listen to. Its cluster of tubes doubles as a heater for cool nights. Very unkind to rectifier tubes, and ate through the factory supplied EH 5U4 tubes at an alarming rate. A substitute for the Cetron 5R4 potato masher fixed that. The Cetron is good enough for B-52 bombers and certainly good enough for the Cary. I've heard that some guys just use this as a headphone amp (there is a switch).

Virtue Audio M5001 ICEBlocks

The proverbial iron fist in the velvet glove. Take a B&O ASP500 module and pair it with a Dodd Audio tube buffer, voila - Virtue Audio M5001. I absolutely love this amp. Great sound and with ample power reserve to drive most speakers on this planet. It is definitely not tubey sounding though, and still benefits from having a nice tube preamp paired with it.Watch out for the wood veneer top, mine is separating at the edges.

Almarro A318B

Still fondly missed by my daughter todate. The Almarro was a beautiful amp, that sounded musical and engaging. This amplifier runs alarmingly hot and the metal knobs are quite hot to the touch after an hour of operation. As a nice counterfoil to my Cary, the Almarro is equipped with 6C33 tubes that saw service in MIG Foxbat fighter planes, and K42Y Soviet era paper in oil coupling caps.

Sun Audio SVC-500 II

Very nice sounding preamp that uses Tamura transformers for its power transformer and choke, as well as interstage transformers used for balanced to single ended conversion and vice versa. Utilising a pair of 12AU7 tubes in a cathode follower design, this preamp sounds a lot better than its industrial like design would suggest. Between the Diva M7 and the Sun Audio, I think the latter is a much better preamp.

Conrad Johnson ET-3SE

My current preamp which offers a lot of bang for the buck. Volume is handled by a discrete resistor network operated by relays. The clicking of the relays when adjusting volume is like music to my ears. A hybrid tube and FET design, the ET-3SE pushes all my audiophile buttons, except for its rather flimsy construction and its critical tube taste - most of my tube stash exhibit moderate to alarming levels of noise.

Conrad Johnson Classic 60 SE

Performs its job without any fuss or muss. Paired with the ET-3SE, it has excellent tonal density and three dimensionality. You couldn't ask for more. Well you could - how about binding terminals that are spaced horizontally instead of vertically ? My spades have slipped out and shorted the outputs more than once. I now use banana plugs instead.

Bel Canto Ref 500M

Uses third generation B&O ICEPower modules. Unlike some of their initial offerings, this module has been highly tweaked by the Bel Canto design team, including a custom input stage, and power supply. It is less romantic sounding than the Virtue Audio ICEBlocks.

Job 225

Overachieving amp that has no business sounding as good as it does at its price range. Slightly warm balance with a detailed three dimensionality that could just make a tube-o-phile fall in love with it.
Speakers

Mission 760i

Years of pleasure - I can remember its wonderful staging and imaging like it was yesterday. My younger sister's itchy fingers dented a woofer dustcap, but its enthusiasm was not in the least bit dampened. I sold this to a university hostel mate in a moment of extreme stupidity.

Thiel CS 1.2

Beautiful speaker that had a wide open soundstage and transparency that belied its asking price. Does not go very deep and can sound a bit clinical, but otherwise wonderful. I had a love hate relationship with its binding posts that were positioned underneath the speaker. The lovely veneer behind was left unblemished, but fixing speaker cables would usually leave you with more colourful language than a sailor's pet parrot.


Dunlavy SC-I

The late John Dunlavy (R.I.P.) showed that you could do a trick or two with good design engineering despite cheap drivers. It had a transparency that reminded me of listening to giant headphones. If I thought the Thiel CS 1.2 had bass restrictions, the sealed SC-I would teach me to reconsider the notions of restricted low frequencies. Placed correctly, this speaker had frighteningly real imaging and staging.

Tannoy Mercury M2

A large budget bookshelf that had a very smooth balance, and a trace of cabinet colouration. Good bass and inoffensive sound, but not for the details spotter. Did not last long in my setup, and sold quite quickly to a friend.

Proac Tablette 50

Sold to me by a friend that desperately wanted to make way for new equipment. He came crawling back 5 years later to convince me to sell these back to him.
Monitor Audio Bronze B2

Really packed quite a wallop for a budget speaker. Classic two way design in a fairly large bookshelf speaker enclosure. Warmish mid-bass with very clean and extended high frequencies. This really was a great speaker for the money. Sadly, I had to sell it when a house move forced me to cut-down on my equipment.

DIY TQWT Fostex FE-103EN
The first of my two DIY projects, the Fostex had an immediacy that was addictive albeit coloured and a tad shouty. I still enjoy the coherency of its full range driver up till today. I had to replace the drivers once when my well meaning mother-in-law decided to give my drivers a nice wipe with a wet cloth to clean the dust build-up. When Fostex said that the drivers were made of pulp, they weren't joking - that was all I was left with after the cleaning accident.


DIY Cloneac 2.5
This wonderful project inspired by the Proac Response 2.5 taught me more about loudspeakers than a whole lifetime of reading hi-fi rags would. Its warm and musical balance was very forgiving to less than perfect recordings. Coming from a long line of bass light speakers, this pair was a terror. However, watch out for its Scanspeak woofers, they had a tendency to fail after a few years in our humid weather, with the internal leads detaching from the voice coil.


Usher S-520

This Taiwanese mini wonder left me with some head scratching. Launched at a time when piano gloss finish was unheard of at lower price ranges, this speaker is superb value. Very good imaging and coherency, but with a dry and too bright treble. I ended up modifying the crossover to increase attenuation for the tweeter circuit.

Thiel CS 1.6

Crystal clear sounding but handicapped by limited bass. Can be a bit fussy with partnering equipment. Sounded great when well matched, but can otherwise sting with a cool and uninvolving sound.

Focal Micro Utopia BE

The first Focal speaker I could warm up to. My experiences with the old JM Lab speakers that used inverted dome kevlar tweeters two decades ago left me running off in fear. Stunning resolution and speed in a bookshelf format that I thought could not be bettered ... until I heard the Diablo.

Pioneer Pure Malt S-A4SPT-PM
Baffles me why the owner decided to sell these babies. May not be the last word in transparency, but a fun and musical speaker. I stroke it regularly and utter tender loving words to it while enjoying single malt whisky. I am slightly embarrassed to say though that I don't drink Japanese whiskeys. Maybe the Suntory oak barrels used in the cabinets would turn on me in the middle of the night ? It sits in my dining room, nestled amongst bottles of scotch to provide dinner guests entertainment.

Focal Diablo Utopia

The best way to describe the Diablo is Micro++. Does everything better with a significant hike in price tag to match. Only fly in the ointment is its closed-in balance at low level volumes and what I consider to be an unjustified high price tag. This speaker sounds great at average to way above average volumes.

Thiel CS 2.7

Stunning floorstander. The star of the show is definitely the coaxial midrage / tweeter. Has the pin point accuracy of a bookshelf, with deep and low bass (by my feeble standards). It helps that the composite ebony finish looks like a million bucks. Matches well with ICE Power and Hypex equipment, which brings down overall cost of ownership.

KEF LS50

There is a lot of buzz about this speaker. Believe it, it's all true. A pocket rocket with driver quality that is unbelievable for the price. Sounds bigger and goes far deeper than suggested by its dimunitive size. Incredible staging and imaging. Balance is on the slightly warm and rich side. Listeners who like lifted high frequencies may not understand the fuss about this speaker. Treble is by no means rolled-off, but not as prominent as a lot of the competition out there. It is quite critical to get this on the right stands. It pairs with the Partington Dreadnought Broadside quite nicely, with a quieter and more refined presentation compared to the Atacama SE24. Prior to the SE24, I used the Nexus 6i - don't, the LS50 will not thank you to say the least.

Monitor Audio GX100

This is an interesting counterfoil to the KEF LS50. Has slightly more bottom extension, and a lighter and more expressive midrange and top-end. It has a leaner and faster sound than the KEF, but the KEF still has the GX100 licked when it comes to staging and all-round coherence.

You get a lot of speaker for the money, and listeners with small listening rooms and modest budgets may find the GX100 their perfect soulmate.

Headphones

Sennheiser HD-540 Reference

Paired with my Marantz CD60SE, this was part of my first real serious system. It's 600 ohm output meant that it never got driven properly with the built in headphone stage of the Marantz. Crystal clear and highly resolving, but absolutely no bass to speak of. My pair has a flattened headphone strap, and the foam has disintegrated to bits. The driver has some problems, but I can't bear to throw them away.

Beyer DT-880 250 Ohm version

I liked this so much that I bought two ! One is now with my brother-in-law. Lovely detailed sound but with a tonal balance on the bright side of things. This remains my favourite all-rounder headphone up till today.

Audeze LCD 2.1

This is the first pair of cans that I have listened to, that has any real sense of staging outside of your head. Creamy midrange and bass to die for. It's hooded high frequencies take some getting use to though. I eventually sold these.

Shure SRH-840

Comfortable and relatively lightweight closed back phones. Plenty of cans for the money. Would be a sin to complain given its price tag.

Audeze LCD 2.2

These are everything the LCD 2.1 should have been. OK, maybe not. Give me back the old headphone cable and wooden display box. Has a far better approach to high frequencies than its predecessor. Eyeglass wearers need to watch the pressure exerted by these. It's also a bit heavy and not so comfortable for extended use.

Audio Technica ATH-W5000

You could love this alone just for the beautiful ebony wood cups. This is a coloured but highly enjoyable pair of cans. It has a nasal and really weird midrange that disappears (well almost) after plenty of run-in (>200 hours). I almost gave up on this one but patience has it's virtues. A touch of that nasality still rears its ugly head from time to time depending on the source material.

Source Equipment
Marantz CD60SE

My first CD player and funded by a school academic prize. In the era where a single CD took a month or two to save up pocket money, mistakes in software were costly and catastrophic. Sounded nice and its CDM4 mechanism was as tough as nails, unlike some of the rubbish mechanisms made today. Eventually, it got sidelined after nearly ten years of faithful service with a weak laser and broken gear wheel.

Pioneer PD-77 

Equipped with its pulse flow DACs and Legato Link digital filter, the Pioneer used a turntable like mechanism titled, "Stable Platter Mechanism". Friends always mentioned that the CDs went in the wrong way around. Built like a tank, this still spins today after more than 20 years of service. Its optical lens dropped out a few years ago (a victim of gravity and a known occurrence). A trip to the Pioneer service center sparked off minor panic for the staff when they realised that they had less than 30 lasers left in the world and were not sure whether any of their staff were capable of aligning the laser focus. After successful repair though, it developed problems with its servo mechanism. It still plays CDs fine when it is in the mood, and subject to planetary alignment being perfect. 

Pioneer PD-S904

Bought at a clearance sale, I thought this would bring me the magic of the PD-77. It was no match, but otherwise sounded quite decent.

Cambridge Audio Dacmagic 3i

An old John Westlake designed product, with triple power transformers - not bad for a budget product. This is a far better product than its modest price tag suggests. I chose this over a home loan of a trio of DACs from Orelle that cost far more at that point of time.

Micromega Stage 2

Beautiful styling but otherwise shoddy construction quality. Thankfully, it sounds quite good. Was a traiblazer at the point of its release with its modular upgrades. I would use it more if not for its temperament and dislike for CD-Rs.

Marantz CD-17 MkIII

This was a shock after being used to the warm and cuddly balance of Marantz CD players of the past. Very sturdy construction with a choice of selectable digital filters. I removed the muting transistors and replaced the Elna coupling caps with Rubycon Black Gate non polarised caps. I sold this to make way for my CEC which turned out to be a mistake.

Xindak DAC3

Not too bad sounding, with upsampling too. Doubtful construction quality and eventually failed on me. Sold for a song to an engineering guy who felt confident of fixing it. Hopefully he managed to revive it.

Lite DAC-AH

A pleasant introduction to the world of non oversampling DACs. This one uses 8x paralleled TDA1543 DAC chips. Some modifications were done to its power supply, coupling caps and output stage. Still gives me listening pleasure todate. It's organic sound seems to be somewhat track specific. It  works very well on most program material, but sometimes not.

Lite DAC-50

Almost worth its price for its Burr Brown PCM63K DAC chips alone. Not very inspiring in stock form, this required a cathode capacitor bypass and a nice choke to its power supply to get it to where I wanted. Soldiers on faithfully todate, but its 20 bit chip limits options with my ever growing collection of high resolution music.

CEC TL-51XR

Nice analogue sounding belt-drive CD player. Unfortunately, a failed servo board and no parts in sight ended its stint in my system. Thankfully for me, the local dealer made good and gave me a trade in for the Cary CD-500 which he assured me was better in every way. Luckily for him, he wasn't talking through his hat.

Marantz CD6003

Does duty in my office. Quite engaging for the price, and even more so when lightly modded. Budget CD players have really come a long way.

Audio-Gd DAC-19 DSP

I love Burr Brown DAC chips - this one is based on the PCM1704UK. Despite claims by its designer to be strongly resistant to jitter, this DAC is sensitive to transport quality. Has a cool and slightly analytical presentation, but is otherwise a highly resolving decoder.

Cary CD-500

I have doubts about the mechanical integrity of its rather noisy DVD-ROM based transport. But otherwise, the CD-500 sounds great and selectable upsampling actually sounds better when engaged. As an act of evil, Cary did not provide for a digital input unlike its more expensive siblings. Its a crying shame given the quality of its DAC and analogue output stage.

Calyx 24/192

An eye-opener to the world of computer audio. The Calyx sounds better through its USB input and is natural at all times. The first Sabre ESS9018 DAC I owned, the 24/192 was for keeps until I made the mistake of listening to its big brother, the Femto DAC.

Eastern Electric Minimax DAC Plus

Highly versatile DAC with a choice of solid state and tube output stage. Much to the dismay of my tube loving side of me, the sand based output is distinctly superior to my ears. Friendly to opamp rolling thanks to thoughtfully installed DIP8 sockets, the tuning options are limited only by imagination. A very competent performer at its asking price, but I ultimately preferred the more natural presentation of the Calyx 24/192. This was bought preowned as an experiment, so it was let go when my testing was over.

Calyx Femto DAC

This is not cut from the same cloth as the 24/192 - this totally crushes it. It has a He-man construction that will satisfy the solid and thick aluminium panel fetish in all male audiophiles, yet is as delicate as the perfectly baked souffle. Detractors have told me that I should have considered other big names (with even more frightening price tags), but who cares when this sounds so good ? With the current craze for DSD capable players, it is a pity that some will give this a miss.

Antelope Zodiac Gold

Cute shoebox like dimensions with very good sound to boot. The Femto still sounds better, but the Antelope gets about 65-75 % there for a lower price tag. The Zodiac has a richer and more incisive sound that will appeal to people who find ESS Sabre DAC based convertors a bit laidback and soft. Other goodies are its headphone stage and relay controlled resistor network that allows it to function as a high quality preamp. Driving some of my power amps directly, I can assure you that its volume control is not an afterthought.

B.M.C. Audio PureDAC

This had a short tour of duty in the household. I bought this preowned to try out DSD. Have a look at my detailed review, this is a very good DAC for the money. You really can't find fault with it's performance at this price range.

Antelope Zodiac Platinum

Think of this as the Zodiac Gold +++ and so much more. This will be the subject of a future review.

3 comments:

Gert said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Raphael Tan said...

Hi Eric,

I enjoyed reading your blog on past and present equipment. I too had the Pioneer A400 and the Mission 760 many many years ago and thoroughly enjoyed them. I later sold them to fund new equipment and in hindsight, also believe this to be a mistake.

5 years ago, I stopped listening to music as other life events took precedence but I am glad that I now am having some time to get back into listening again.

Thanks for sharing your journey and I hope that you continue to rock on.

Eric Teh said...

Hi Raphael,

Thanks for dropping by my blog and am glad you are back into hi-fi !

Regards

Eric