Thursday, March 26, 2020

Vivid Kaya S12 Speakers

Introduction

News of a new bookshelf model from Vivid Audio surfaced sometime last year, and a pre-production model made it's appearance in a number of Hi-Fi shows. The Kaya S12 is Vivid's smallest speaker yet - a two way bookshelf speaker in a compact and cute form factor. 

X-Audio recently received the S12, which is currently making it's rounds to selected dealers worldwide. I took the opportunity to see how the S12 would stack-up against it's larger siblings.  

Description

It's small size means that certain signature Vivid designs cannot be employed - no twin-opposed firing woofers, nor tapered tube for the midrange / woofer driver. However, they  managed to fit in a tapered tube for the tweeter, as well as the flowing curved cabinets seen in their Giya and Kaya range. To manage the back-force from the single midrange / woofer, a curved shell directly behind the driver absorbs and helps dissipate the energy. X-Audio informed me that this helps to reduce cabinet resonance in both the vertical and horizontal planes.


The S12's cabinet is finished in British racing green, although it looks almost black under normal lighting
A port is situated on the rear of the S12, with a single pair of binding posts placed below the port. As the binding posts are all the way at the bottom of the cabinet, stiff speaker cables and / or spade terminals could prove to be tricky as well as dangerous. 



Pricing has not yet been finalised, and there is also some talk about matching speaker stands. Given how small the S12 is, a dedicated stand with the ability to securely bolt down the speaker would be mandatory to avoid accidents. X-Audio hopes that the speaker with matching stands will be able to reach our shores with a price tag below S$ 10,000 (keep your fingers crossed).

Admittedly, the S12 will in all likelihood be priced dangerously close to the Kaya 25, but still significantly more affordable than the rest of Vivid's line-up. I did have some reservations - could it handle dynamic swings as well ? The small cabinet volume also meant limited low frequency response. The two-way design required the midrange / woofer to cover a wider frequency range and work much harder compared to Vivid's more sophisticated and complex multi-way designs.

Impressions   

My apprehensions turned out to be unnecessary Audiophile fussing - hearing the S12 proved to be satisfying and appealing to both my analytical and emotional demands. 

The S12 delivered a solid kick in the bass and sounds much larger than it's diminutive size. It makes full use of it's midrange / bass driver to sound full and deliver impact and weight when required. This is helped by unflappable composure at very high playback volumes, which is testament to the outstanding engineering of both the drive units and enclosure. 

Vivid speakers have many strengths, including excellent integration between drive units, super imaging and soundstaging, lightning fast transients, extremely high resolution and dynamic range. Most of these qualities are thankfully possessed by the S12. However, I felt that the S12 compromised on the scale and size of the soundstage - sounding smaller and less grand than Vivid's larger models. As brilliant as Laurence Dickie is, he is not able to re-write the laws of physics, and the S12 has limited low frequency output. This compromise is most noticeable on large-scale orchestral works and rock. 

On the positive side, the S12 really shines in near-field listening and would be my first choice as a near-field monitor. Given how prevalent small apartments are in Singapore, the S12 is a more suitable choice compared to Vivid's larger models. 

Conclusion

As a long time Giya G4 owner, it was very easy and comfortable to listen to the S12 over the duration of my listening session. I ended the session walking away very impressed that the S12 was able to deliver a performance as satisfying as the rest of Vivid's range, with some sensible and acceptable compromises. I eagerly await the S12 to make it into full production.

Price : TBD

X-Audio Pte Ltd

Bukit Timah Plaza
1 Jalan Anak Bukit #01-01S
Singapore 588996
Tel : 6466 4624



   
  

Monday, January 27, 2020

Mont Audio Cable and Accessories

Introduction

Mont Audio was founded in Auckland, New Zealand. It follows a familiar story - a group of Audiophiles set out to create their own products, after being dissatisfied with off-the-shelf components. 

Their products are named after famous landmarks in New Zealand. Their tagline ? Pure, Natural, Simple, Elegance - a magnificent piece of New Zealand in every creation. 

I found their products to be reflective of their tagline - natural materials are used where possible, and the packaging is thoughtful to the environment while providing adequate shipping protection - no over-the-top aluminium flight cases or massive wood boxes here. 

A quick look through their website shows a variety of products centered around cabling and accessories, with an amplifier reported to be in the pipeline.


Arapuni PC-1 Audiophile Grade Power Cable





The Arapuni PC-1 is a very natural looking power cord, with laser-engraved Walnut sleeves, and a braided cotton outer cover. Arapuni is the oldest running renewable hydroelectric power station on the Waikato River in the North Island of New Zealand. Mont Audio hopes that the PC-1 will deliver power to your rig as cleanly as it was sourced from the Waikato River.

Both the Live and Neutral cores are made out of 3.298 square mm of 5N purity LC-OFC copper, while the Earth core is made out of 3.463 square mm of the same type of copper. The inner cores are insulated by polyethylene and natural cotton filler. The cable is fully shielded with both Aluminium foil and OFC braid. The conductor size of the PC-1 is close to AWG 12 based on my calculations.

Flexibility is good, and pricing is modest for a cable of this level of construction. Predictably, the PC-1 is all about wholesome goodness, and the sonics are precisely that, coupled with a coherent and balanced presentation. 

The PC-1 avoids giving undue emphasis to any part of the frequency range. As a result, Audiophiles looking for sonic fireworks or tone controls are unlikely to be pleased. Tonally, you could say that the PC-1 is neutral with a slight tilt towards warmth. Compared to the best of breed, the PC-1 trades off some bass power, high-frequency extension and fine resolution. In view of it's price range, this is to be expected. 

Notwithstanding the shortcomings mentioned, this is a cable that has has a beguiling sense of flow and naturalness. You could listen for hours on end without feeling fatigued nor bored. As an interesting counterpoint to this presentation, the PH-1 is a very different kettle of fish. 

Arapuni PH-1 Premium Ultra Silver Hybrid Audiophile Grade Power Cable




To be continued ...

Arapuni SH-1 Chatham Premium Silver Hybrid Speaker Cables




The SH-1 is similar to the hybrid PH-1 powercord, with a blend of 5N purity LC-OFC conductors, and the same conductors plated in silver. These conductors are insulated in polyethylene, with natural cotton filler used in the main cable body. The overall wire gauge is 13 AWG. 

The banana plugs are made from pure red copper with nickel-free gold plating applied. A drawback of using pure copper is the softness of the metal, and the plugs did feel a bit loose after a while. Their very simple design does allow you to re-tension the plugs easily, so this is not really a big problem in the long run. 


The SH-1 did not really like my Harbeth M30.1 speakers, sounding a little bit too dull and full. It fared a lot better with a pair of SB Acoustics Ara BE speakers. True to the family sonic signature, the SH-1 presented a weighty mid-bass with a smooth yet detailed midrange and top-end. Low frequencies have a wet presentation, with full impact and decay. I noticed that the SH-1 presented the soundstage forward, with a more intimate feel. Similar to the PH-1, this cable also had a tendency to spotlight detail, with a edge and texture to instruments and voices. Some listeners like this presentation, while others prefer a more natural approach.  

Rangitoto R1 Hifi Anti-Vibration / Isolation Feet




Named after a volcanic island in New Zealand, the Rangitoto footer is a deceptively heavy device, with each footer weighing 115 grams. Three dampening rubber rings fit into an indentation on the top and bottom of the footer. A machined indent on the top of the volcano (oops, footer) allows easy use with spikes and cones. 

The rubber rings do not fit tightly, and some superhuman effort is required to keep the rings on the bottom in place as you position the footer. Alternatively, you could cheat and apply a dab of glue, but where is the fun in that ? My partner has always remarked that audiophiles like pain and suffering. As luck would have it, one of the rings dropped off in my very tight listening room, and promptly rolled under my impossible to move amplifier placed on the floor. 

The Rangitoto must share honourable mention together with the Arapuni PC-1 power cord. Both are high performing products that offer great value for money. Most footers involve a trade off - falling into the sharp and edgy camp, or the smooth and tubby. The Rangitoto manages to clean up the sound, without losing musicality or impairing the natural flow of music. 

A set of three footers under my Devialet Expert 140 Pro did wonders ! Apart from tightening up the bass, the Rangitoto improved detail across the board, improving inner detail and intelligibility in complex mixes. It does not alter the tonality of your setup too much, so this would be perfect if you have your system nicely dialed-in and would like to extract the last ounce of information.  
  

Sunday, January 12, 2020

X-quisite - World Premiere

11 January 2020

Micha Huber was in town to launch X-quisite as the third product line after Thales and EMT. 
Hosted at Modular Audio Singapore, Micha presented a short history of Thales before unveiling two new cartridges, the X-quisite CA and X-quisite ST using patented technology. The cartridges use a monobloc ceramic cantilever which is aimed at overcoming the weaknesses in conventional cantilevers. Micha explained that conventional aluminium cantilevers exhibit deformation and strong resonance during playback, which results in slight loss of mechanical information. Even use of advanced materials such as Boron, Sapphire or Diamond still result in a weak point further up the cantilever, at the connection point with the coil body. The monobloc design was three years in the making in order to overcome the difficulties in design and manufacture. 






Micha passed around samples of the cantilever and the cartridge body. The body has fine grooves to route the cartridge leads and reduce vibration. A sandwich of wood and metal alloy are used to achieve a tonal balance which is highly resolving, yet natural and life-like. The "entry-level" model CA, utilises copper wiring with an aluminium and ebony wood body. The ST, uses silver wiring, Titanium and a wood body. Both cartidges output 0.35 mv, and a compliance of 12 um/mN. List price was quoted to be in excess of CHF 9,000 for the CA and CHF 11,700 for the ST.


Note the tiny grooves on the side for routing of the cartridge wires.

The monobloc cantilever and coil body.

Modular Audio then played back a wide variety of discs using a full Thales deck fitted with a ST cartridge. An EMT preamp cum phono stage completed the family lineup. An Audes Excellence 5 AMT speaker and Rogue Apollo tube monoblock amplifiers were used for the demonstration. 

The absolutely gorgeous EMT JPA 66 Mk II preamp cum phono stage.
The demonstration was a real treat - with very good inner detail, dynamics and slam. The system was obviously very high bandwith, with good bass articulation and plenty of air / shimmer in the high frequencies. I especially liked how the front-end combined both high resolution with tone density. 

I asked Micha whether he had any issues with high frequency resonance from using a rigid material like ceramic. He reply was that the resonant frequency was high and beyond the audible range, and also very low in amplitude compared to existing cantilever materials. Hence, he decided not to use any additional damping. I also asked whether we could look forward to more affordable cartridges from X-quisite using the cantilever monobloc ? Unfortunately Micha could only comment that the difficulties in manufacturing meant that the cost was also very high. Well, we can all keep our fingers crossed ! In the meantime, we can keep this in our audiophile dreams and fantasies.