Monday, 24 April 2017

Fenomena Music Is Here To Rock!


While thousands around Malaysia celebrating Record Store Day, there was one venue that took this special day to launch a new music shop. Its not just another music shop but it comes with a theme...a theme known by all rock kapak fans.. Its called Fenomena Music. Located in Plaza Damas, right beside the existing Dream Studio. It is under the same management of Dato Zaharul Anuar.



It was also not just a launch as there were several special events planned on that day:
  • Launching of the reissue of Fenomena Double LP which was opened for pre-order for the first numbered 100 copies at a discounted price of RM275. Expected to be released by June 2017.
  • Listening session of the double LP Test Pressing
  • Special RSD issued 2 tracks Fenomena EP and the full album signed by the cover design artist Tapa Otai
  • Meet and Greet session with Search
  • Wings Belenggu Irama green vinyl that comes with a T-Shirt.


I arrived slightly early at 1120 am instead of the start time of 12 pm. Mainly to get a good parking! So it was still a quiet affair at that time. The crew were still busy doing lats minute preparation. It didn't really look like an RSD day but more of a Search day which I am ok with that. The main reason I was here is because of Search.






Music is fun but when I see Datuk and his crew breaking their back preparing the venue, I realise that it is hard work to ensure things are in order for the artist and fans. Most people think it is a walk in the park for those working behind the scenes to get the music to the fan base.


By 1245 pm, the Vespa team arrived lead by the one and only, Amy Search.



Amy came in a full coveralls, maybe oil and gas companies can take him as a resident artist for the offshore operations (joking). Soon after, the rest of the band members arrived but of course still without Yazit the drummer.


By 2 pm, the Fenomena Music shop was officially launched by Search. ... and soon after that the door was open for fans to start shopping and pre order the Fenomena double LP.

All and all, it was  a different RSD atmosphere here where the guests were mainly here for Search.  Thank you to Fenomena Music for bringing new opportunities for local music fans to meet their favourite artist and also to have the chance to own the Fenomena LP at a more practical price compared to the ones online.

Saturday, 15 April 2017

To SLAT or Not To SLAT?


In hifi world, Lenco turntables are legendary for its idle wheel design and also among the most tweaked or custom made turntable that I have seen over the last few years. Its interesting to see how this notion created different school of thoughts on the capability of a Lenco. While I have owned 2 Lenco (GL78 and L78) with different plinths, I have only listened to a custom made Lenco in other people's system.

I first was introduced to a simple tweak of the SSS mat (Sien's Stainless Steel) which I have reviewed here. While it did provide a different sound perspective, I wanted to hear a full custom made Lenco in my system. The obliging Captain Sien (SpH) offered to loan his own personal unit to me for a week so that I can experience what the buzz is all about. My personal big thanks to Capt Sien for this opportunity.


It does look really grand and at first glance, it does not look like a Lenco at all. At least if it is compared to mine. But when you see underneath the hood, then the famous idle wheel mechanism can be recognized immediately.

THE DESIGN

There are a few parts that are completely different from my Lenco.
  • SLAT - Sien's Lenco Alternative Top Plate
  • SLAB - Sien's Lenco Alternative Bearing
  • SSS - Sien's Stainless Steel Mat
  • Golf ball Tonearm 
  • Plinth - wood base and Corian material top
  • Knob and screw in to lock speed adjuster
  • IEC socket to allow your choice of power cable
  • Denon D103 cartridge
  • The base unit is a Lenco L75 as oppose to mine an L78 unit
It is a heavily custom made unit which SpH aims at getting his preferred sound signature. The built is relatively solid and sturdy. The critically acclaimed golf ball tonearm is however is a bit of a personal concern. Mainly because I have shaky hands. I was expecting a heavier tonearm but it is not much different in weight compared to the stock Lenco tonearm. I particularly concern on the lift mechanism where you have to hold it for a few seconds at the lift position. If not, the tonearm will drop on its own slowly. I was informed that this lift mechanism design is being looked at to be improved. Even the full golf ball design is going through an enhancement towards half ball design. 








FIRST IMPRESSION

Quiet. Quieter background. Thus revealing more. Dispersed bass but goes down deep as opposed to hard hitting. On this Dire Strait So Far Away, the sound stage seems to be elevated and airier. The vocal's breadth was also quite forwarding. It is a completely different sound from my L78. It does give listeners a different perspective. As this was a 45 RPM LP, I had to use the unscrew, slide to adjust speed and re-screw knob to get the right speed. A bit cumbersome as oppose to the stock Lenco which was at a flick of the speed adjuster. I am quite fascinated by the 'big picture' of the sound reproduced from this SLAT design as it had a touch of revealing more details of the music.


So Far Away

COMPLIMENTING EQUIPMENT
  • Musical Fidelity M1 ViNL phono amp
  • Musical Fidelity M6i integrated amp as pre
  • Musical Fidelity KW550 superchargers/monoblock
  • ProAc Response D18
  • Vermouth Audio Black Pearl speaker cable

TEST TRACKS

  • Dire Straits - So Far Away
  • XPDC - Kau Bukan Milik
  • Andrea Bocelli - Era Gia Tutto Previsto
  • Diana Krall - Temptation
  • Metallica - Atlas Rise
THE SESSION

This reissue LP of XPDC is one of my favourite local LPs. On this track, the guitar sounded melodic and energetic. Wider soundstage with enough airiness to have that analogue feeling. Vocals again is very upfront with high clarity. Bass is a bit shy, hiding behind the guitar strength. Given this is a melodic rock song, the heavy presentation of guitars and vocal might just do the trick for most but I could do with a little bit more bass punch.



Kau Bukan Milikku

With the track Era Gia Tutto Previsto, the warm vibrato vocal of Andrea was brought to another level. Very forwarding and wholesome at the same time. You can sense the energy in the vocal enveloping the listening session. At certain peak, the highs can be a bit dominant but I tribute this to the cartridge rather than the SLAT itself. Another evidence here how the SLAT package reveals a bigger soundstage.


Era Gia Tutto Previsto

I really want to hear this SLAT to blow me away with some shocking vibes. So, opening of this track Temptation in which I usually experience a sensation zing when that snare is hit. On the SLAT is sounded dispersed and not energised, echoing my experience in the first 3 tracks for this review. In trying to get most of the energy to go to the vocals, it somehow miss out on some key roles on percussion. Diana's vocal of course became the spotlight. The strength can be felt to be dominant again with some genius strokes on the double bass. It is still not earth shattering but it blends in nicely for a jazz tune like this.

Temptation

Now that I have established a good reference for vocals and soundstage, I wanted to push the limit with some heavy music and see how this model holds up especially in the bass. For metal music, the SLAT definitely can rock it out as well. The bass is not what I expect but the high tonality and separation on the vocal and ferocious guitar works makes up for the lack of bass reproduction. It still managed to move my feet and follow the beat to Lars's drumming. The overall sound seems to be heavy on the highs but quite adrenalin heavy as well. It did manage to create that heavy metal sound that moves you. 
Atlas Rise

THE CONCLUSION

Its a tough one here. The design itself brings out a different sound character from Lenco. This SLAT unit should be seen on its own glorious self as it does provide its key characters - revealing details, quieter background, forward vocals and clarity and airy and bigger soundstage. The bass which is a more dispersed presentation may be preferred by non bass heads and definitely it helps in creating that live jazz feeling. I cant really pin point which part that created the bigger impact so I believe its the combination of SLAT, SLAB and golf ball tonearm. Alternatively, you can also try different cartridges.

For someone whom is looking for a Lenco Turntable, may want to demo this unit at Capt Sien's place. It may provide you with a different perspective on Lenco like what I experienced. I would still recommend for Capt Sien to look into the tonearm lift issue to ensure the built is sturdier. This SLAT unit is custom made by Capt Sien, so do contact him to demo and discuss the design that you fancy. Capt usually will require for audiophiles to bring in their own stock Lenco L75/78 for him to work on. Have fun Lenco-ing!


POST REVIEW INFO
The ball in the bearing originally was a tungsten carbide ball which was replaced by a ceramic ball in this review. The tungsten carbide ball sounded more dynamic as reported by a few customers who had theirs changed. The golf ball is now changed to a 1/2 ball-1/2 aluminum top which is easier to align and adjust.


Friday, 7 April 2017

Pengeluaran Semula Piring Hitam Belenggu Irama - Rawk Habis!



Dalam beberapa minggu lepas, gelombang penerbitan semula album2 lama muzik tempatan telah dikejutkan oleh beberapa perbincangan alam maya mengenai kualiti penerbitan semula itu. Walaupun banyak yang memberi pendapat yang membangun tetapi ada juga yang berbaur menghina dan tohmahan. Pada pendapat saya, ini tidak seharusnya berlarutan di dalam industri muzik kita yang tidaklah sebesar mana. Apa yang merisaukan saya ialah pihak2 yang bertungkus lumus untuk membawa semula nostalgia muzik2 80-an dan 90-an dalam bentuk piring hitam mahupun juga cakera padat ini berpatah hati dan menghentikan perancangan untuk menerbitkan lebih banyak album2 lain. Secara peribadi, saya amat bersyukur kerana di zaman 80-an dan 90-an, saya tidaklah mampu untuk membeli CD atau LP. Kaset pun, terpaksa betul memilih kerana dalam setahun, saya hanya mampu menyimpan duit saku untuk membeli dua kaset sahaja. Saya lebih banyak berharap kepada Pilihan Bersama FM Stereo untuk memutarkan lagu2 kegemaran saya di mana saya akan merakamkannya ke dalam kaset kosong.

Namun, tahniah diucapkan kepada syarikat seperti Dream Studio yang terus berkhidmat untuk memberi peluang kepada peminat2 muzik tanahair untuk memiliki album2 kegemaran mereka dalam bentuk piring hitam atau CD. Yang terbaru dan hangat diperkatakan sekarang ialah penerbitan semula album Belenggu Irama oleh kumpulan Wings dalam bentuk piring hitam (LP). Bermula dari semalam 6 April hinggalah Ahad ini 9 April, keluaran terhad piring hitam album ini ada dijual di Istana Budaya bersempena Konsert Wings and Super Friends di sana.


Seperti juga album Hijau Zainal Abidin, saya telah diberi peluang untuk menilai Test Pressing album Belenggu Irama ini sebelum penerbitan semula secara keseluruhan. Keluaran semula kali ini telah dilakukan di negara Jerman. 
Inspirasi Taming Sari Edisi Pertama


Inspirasi Taming Sari Test Pressing

Semasa memutarkan lagu Inspirasi Taming Sari, terus saya dapat rasakan impak dari adunan semula album ini. Ianya lebih bertenaga daripada edisi pertama. Nada rendah atau bass lebih padu di mana pukulan deram Black jelas lebih jitu dan keras, menepati genre rock yang dibawa oleh Wings. Petikan gitar Sham juga sangat bertenaga dan berat. Vokal Awie walaupun tidak sebesar vokalnya sekarang, boleh dikatakan lebih jelas daripada edisi pertama. Bergantung juga kepada kartrij yang digunakan, edisi ini juga memberi peluang kepada pendengar untuk menikmati pementasan audio yang lebih luas berbanding dengan edisi pertama di mana bunyi agak tertutup tetapi fokus.


Biarkan Berlalu TP

Pengalaman yang sama saya alami apabila memutarkan lagu Biarkan Berlalu. Pementasan audio yang luas memberikan kepuasan seperti menonton Wings secara live. Ia berjaya menyampaikan suasana audio yang lebih menyeluruh dan emosi genre rock balada ini dapat saya menjiwainya dengan lebih kepuasan. Dapat saya rasakan semula perasaan saya pertama kali mendengar kaset Belenggu Irama di era 80-an. Setiap alat muzik dan vokal sememangnya timbul secara seimbang dan tiada satu elemen yang ditenggelami oleh elemen lain. 

Secara keseluruhannya, agak puas hati saya mendengar Test Pressing ini. Ianya mngkin masih belum mencapai tahap audiophile tetapi sememangnya ada elemen peningkatan dapat didengar pada keluaran semula ini berbanding dengan edisi pertama. Kekuatan lebih kepada nada audio seimbang dan bass yang lebih padu. Mungkin juga ada pendengar yang akan mengatakan nada tinggi atau treble nya agak tinggi tapi ini mungkin lebih bergantung kepada sistem masing-masing. Untuk peminat Wings, melainkan anda mahukan edisi pertama yang boleh mencecah RM1,000 di pasaran online, LP keluaran semula ini harus menjadi sebahagian daripada koleksi anda. Kualiti bunyinya walaupun subjektif kepada setiap pendengar, ianya masih jauh lebih menghiburkan berbanding dengan kaset rakaman saya daripada Pilihan Bersama FM Stereo. 

LP ini boleh dibeli di Istana Budaya sehingga 9 April ini pada harga RM175. Sebahagian dari harga jualan akan disalurkan kepada badan2 kebajikan.






Monday, 13 March 2017

Bumi Yang Tiada Rimba - Khazanah Malaysia Yang Harus Dijaga





Sejak tahun lepas, peminat lagu2 tempatan 80an dan 90an telah disajikan dengan pengeluaran semula piring2 hitam artis tempatan dan negara jiran yang terkenal seperti Wings, XPDC, Ella dan Rusty Blade. Ternyata peminat2 rock tanahair agak teruja dengan peluang untuk mengimbas kembali nostalgia rock mereka dengan memiliki edisi terhad piring2 hitam ini. Walaupun terdapat beberapa kelemahan dalam pengeluaran LP tempatan ini, pihak terbabit seperti Dream Studio, Warner Music, Life Records masih tetap terus mencuba untuk menghasilkan LP yang lebih mantap untuk memberi peluang kepada peminat muzik tanahair mengimbau kembali bagaimana muzik dinikmati di era 80-an dan 90-an.

Sekarang, pengeluaran LP diperkembangkan lagi ke genre muzik tempatan yang lain. Pemilihan album Hijau oleh Zainal Abidin, antara penghibur tersohor negara, sebagai LP pertama untuk keluaran semula bagi genre selain rock memang dialu-alukan oleh peminat muzik tanahair. Tidak dapat disangkalkan, lagu-lagu dalam album ini telah membentuk satu ikutan genre yang baru sekitar 90-an. Bahkan lagu Hijau tersebut masih lagi dimainkan pada hari ini di peringkat sekolah dan tadika bagi memupuk perasaan cintakan alam sekitar ke dalam kanak-kanak. Usaha untuk menerbitkan semula album ini diterajui oleh Dream Studio di bawah kelolaan Dato Zaharul Anuar sejak tahun lepas lagi dan akhirnya, hasilnya akan dapat dimiliki oleh peminat Zainal Abidin bermula daripada 17 haribulan Mac ini.

Dengan izin Dream Studio, saya berkesempatan untuk membuat sedikit ulasan ke atas Test Pressing album ini beberapa minggu yang lalu. Album ini telah diadun semula di Australia di mana Test Pressing ini dihantar ke Kuala Lumpur untuk pemeriksaan akhir sebelum proses pengeluaran 500 keping LP dijalankan. Mujurlah saya juga memiliki LP album ini dari keluaran pertama pada tahun 1991. Maka bolehlah saya bandingkan serba sedikit mutu audio yang akan disajikan kepada peminat Zainal pada 17 Mac ini. 




Kali pertama saya memainkan Test Pressing ini menggunakan pemain piring hitam Lenco L78 dengan kartrij MM, soundstage  atau pementasan audio nya agak luas berbanding dengan keluaran pertama. Adunan semula jelas menekankan clarity atau tahap kejelasan audio di mana vokal Zainal jelas diketengahkan. Dari sudut treble atau spektrum frekuensi tinggi, sekali lagi jelas diperdengarkan. Walaubagaimanapun, ini telah mebuatkan bass atau spektrum frekuensi rendah agak kurang ditekankan. Ini mungkin berdasarkan genre muzik nusantara yang lebih santai dan kurang 'dentuman' bass.  Secara keseluruhannya, pementasan audio yang dipersembahkan dari pengeluaran semula LP in sememangnya menghala ke arah tahap kejelasan vokal dan lapisan instrumen etnik yang digunakan. Bahagian bass tidaklah begitu menonjol dan ini membantu untuk melahirkan pementasan audio yang lebih luas.


Hijau Test Press on Lenco L78

Ada juga beberapa ketika di mana bunyinya agak nyaring apabila dimainkan di atas pemain Lenco L78. Maka, saya mainkan semula Test Pressing ini menggunakan kartrij MC dengan pemain ClearAudio. Ciri2 audio yang agak serupa dapat didengarkan tetapi dengan pementasan audio yang sedikit lebih kecil berbanding dengan Lenco tadi. Tetapi sekali lagi, clarity atau tahap kejelasan audio terutama vokal memang jelas diutamakan. Kenyaringan bunyi lebih terkawal apabila dimainkan di atas ClearAudio. Lebih santai dan gemalai. Tahap bass masih sama, lebih kepada audio latar belakang. 


Hijau Test Press on ClearAudio

Setelah mendengar beberapa kali Test Pressing ini, dapatlah saya simpulkan di sini yang adunan semula album ini telah menekankan kepada meluaskan spektrum pementasan audio dan tahap kejelasan vokal dan treble. Ianya boleh lah dikatakan sebagai satu usaha unutk memberi peminat Zainal satu kelainan berbanding ning dengan keluaran pertama LP ini pada tahun 1991.

Sedikit kegusaran yang telah saya utarakan kepada pihak Dream Studio ialah mengenai bilangan lagu pada keluaran LP ini. Setelah melihat senarai lagu, barulah saya perasan yang keluaran kali ini akan terkurang satu lagu berbanding dengan keluaran pertama. Agak terkejut juga melihat yang lagu tersebut yang digugurkan ialah Ikhlas Tapi Jauh, satu lagi killer song Zainal. Setelah mendengar penjelasan dari pihak Dream Studio, ia sememangnya tidak dapat dielakkan demi mengutamakan mutu audi yang inigin disampaikan kepada peminat. Di bawah adalah penjelasan rasmi dari mereka.








Kesimpulannya, pengeluaran semula LP Hijau ini merupakan satu sejarah buat peminat Zainal Abidin. Proses pengeluaran semula LP tempatan terus diperbaiki dari masa ke semasa dan LP Hijau ini boleh dikategorikan sebagai 'Mesti Milik' untuk mengabadikan satu lagi khazanah tempatan. Untuk menempah LP ini, bolehlah hubungi Dream Studio melalui Facebook.




Sunday, 12 March 2017

Oppo HA-2 SE DAC Headphone Amp - Portable SQ Is Possible


Oppo...a name that has been building up in the past 5 to 10 years. Not only on mobile phones but in the AV and HiFi sector. Along the way, Oppo has started to offer its high quality SQ to the portable market. As an owner of their excellent HA-1 dedicated DAC/pre amp/headphone amp, I am quite familiar with its sound signature. Thanks to Adrian Lee of OppoDigital Malaysia, I landed myself with the latest offering -  The HA2 SE. I now have the opportunity to experience Oppo sound quality wherever I go.

BUILT AND SPECS
As usual, Oppo does not compromise on packaging and built. Neatly packed and well laid out makes the luxury feeling even better. The leather wrapped unit is ultra slim makes it to be a truly portable design. 7 years ago I was very into portable music with using separate DACs and Amp beside the source itself. But after several years of struggle to understand why a bulky DAC amp is considered to be portable, I decided to restrict the on-the-go listening to directly from the source. This is due to my frequent travel that I actually need a separate pouch to carry the bulky DAC amp and the source. Not with this HA2SE unit. It is so slim and light that it even fit my jeans. 

Under the leather wrapped unit, you can find the Hi-res USB DAC ESS Sabre32 Reference ES9028-K2M chip for Apple/Android/PC/Mac usage. It also supports 384 kHz / 32 bit PCM and DSD 256. Coupled with a hybrid class AB amplification, this unit should deliver high quality sound. Big expectation.

The HA2SE comes equipped with:
  • All the necessary cables - Lighting Apple, Android micro USB for digital connection and 3.5 mm to 3.5 mm analogue connection
  • VOOC Rapid charger - charges the unit up to 70% in 30 mins
  • 2 rubber bands to pack the unit and your source together.

On the side, you can see the power indicator, button to chose high or low gain and also a button put the unit into a power bank mode to charge your phone. There is also a bass booster button. The on and off button is incorporated in the volume know on the top. Turn it until it clicks to turn off or on. At the top and bottom is where the connections are:
  • One USB A connection for Apple (bottom)
  • One micro USB for Android/MAC/PC (bottom)
  • Input selector button (bottom)
  • Analogue Audio in/Analogue Audio out
  • Headphone out

Click here for Full Specification.







FIRST IMPRESSION

Quick connection to my newly purchased Sony XPERIA XZ mobile phone to this unit via 3.5 mm connection, the sound can be described as airy and open. Not much bass response when using my IEM RHA MA750 and MF EB50. But clarity and detail are the main strength at this stage.



THE TRACKS


  • Take Five - Dave Brubeck (DSD)
  • Lelaki Teragung - Dayang Nurfaizah (DSD)
  • Atlas Rise - Metallica (WAV 16/44.1)
  • Lompat Si Katak Lompat - Kombo RTM (LP Ripped WAV 16/44.1)
  • Planetarium  - Justin Hurwitz (WAV 16/44.1)


THE SESSION

For analogue, I use the unit with my Sony XPERIA XZ as a source and for digital, I connect my Mac via micro USB connection to the unit.

The headphone I used is Beyerdynamic T1 and IEMs are RHA MA750 and MF EB50.

Analogue Connection

I can't seem to get the Sony Xperia XZ to detect the HA2SE as an external DAC, hence had to connect it via analogue 3.5 - 3.5 mm input.  With DSD files like Take Five and Lelaki Teragung, I noticed that the Xperia benefit from having an external amplification immediately. Given that DSD tracks are mastered with a lower output, the HA2SE injected some energy to the music regardless I was using my IEMs or the Beyer T1. Low end notes digs deeper especially with my T1. On Take Five, the percussion is sound dispersed which creates quite an airy atmosphere which I like. It frees up my IEMs and T1 further and feel less constrained. With vocal like Dayang Nurfaizah, it really brings out the energy and strong vocals of hers. For this kind of ballad, the HA2SE provide quite an impressive drive to really belt out that emotion from this track.

With heavy metal music like Atlas Rise, it gives out quite an authoritative presentation especially on the T1. James's vocal sound upfront and quite dominating. The shredding guitars of Kirk can be a bit shrilling but it creates that metal sound that you would want. Lars's drums took a back seat as the kick drums were not really upfront compared to the snare.

I recently went into the practice of ripping some of my favourite LPs. One of them is not-in-the-market Kombo RTM lead by Alfonso Soliano. It was ripped to WAV files using a Sony Hi Res recorder via analogue connection. No clean ups were done hence it was a direct rip. Playing this through the HA2SE made me hear parts that was not really evident when I played this track via my my main system. And of course, the LP 'white noise' was also very evident.  Nevertheless, putting aside the noise, the HA2SE gave quite a bold sound signature on this track. The saxophone sounded big and the sound of the reed vibrating can sometimes be heard. I like the liveliness that the HA2SE injects.

Believe it or not, the last movie I watched at the cinema was La La Land. But it gave me quite an impact especially Justin Hurwitz genius stroke on the soundtrack of this movie. Planetarium consists of a mixture of wind instruments, piano, percussion and strings works. Through my T1, the HA2SE presented quite a fusion within all the instruments. The simplicity of the repeated tunes but with different instrument intensity was well presented by the HA2SE as it recreates the feeling I experienced while watching the movie. Splendid.

Digital Connection

After few weeks of meddling around with Sony Xperia - HA2SE digital connection via micro USB, I still could not get the OTG function to work. So to really test out the DAC inside the HA2SE, I had to connect it to my Mac. For this, it was straight forward. No drivers to download. My Mac recognized the HA2SE immediately and within seconds, I was already listening to my T1 via the HA2SE DAC.






DSD files being fed into the HA2SE breathed to a new height. It sounded even airier than just using the amplification of the unit. I gained more depth this time around. It might not be a fair comparison to challenge the DAC in the Sony Xperia but the ESS Sabre chip in this HA2SE unit definitely gave a different sound to this track. The percussion dispersion is even wider and the depth it goes to when hitting on the drums, push my T1 to a different level. I am quite used to an Oppo sound signature as I have been driving the T1 using the HA-1 headphone amp for a few years now. It reminds me a lot of the long sessions I have with the big brother amp. With Lelaki Teragung as well, the track becomes livelier with strong emotions of that track was delivered through this unit. DSD tracks were definitely the highlight of this review.


The LP ripped file didn't sound impressive as I believe that the DAC in the HA2SE really brings out the natural sound of the file. Being it is a 'dirty' file, the HA2SE presented it as it is but in an even higher clarity. At times it sounded quite pitchy and shrilling. Lessons learnt - feed good files to this unit.

For heavy metal test, it became more balanced between vocals, guitars, drums and bass. Feeding the track to the internal DAC of HA2SE definitely levels things up and it produced a more neutral sound. The bass and highs were still sufficient but it does not emphasise on one over another. 

The Planetarium also sounded very decent with good delivery of various level of intensity of the instrument. But this time around, it comes out to be even more in depth presentation. The details and clarity of each instrument seems to be one of the HA2SE strength here. It goes all out to push for detail delivery of the music.

CONCLUSIONS

With all these promising features, it seems that the HA2SE is really a bargain piece of portable DAC headphone at the retail price of RM1599. If there was one gripe that I have to highlight is that I still need to turn the volume up to about 4 on the knob to really do justice to my T1. For the IEMs, at level 2 and maximum 3, was sufficient to give me goosebumps with its neutrality but quite an authoritative presentation. The amp also does not really run that hot that it is quite pleasant to carry it around. Although I had to crank it up to level 4, but it did not make my T1 sound strained.

One plain advice is to feed this unit with good files. Do not feed heavily compressed files to this unit as it it highlight the very worst of those kind of files. Feed it with good lossless and uncompressed files especially DSD, you will be in for a surprise and fun listening sessions.
Now I wonder how will it sound connected to my main hifi as a dedicated DAC?

Sunday, 26 February 2017

Kuala Lumpur International AV Show 2017 - New But Old Venue





On 22nd Feb recently, the media press conference was held in The Sunway Putra hotel. Who's who in the local AV industry were present. Excited with the new but old venue, pictures of the AV show from 16 years ago where the show was held in this hotel, previously known as Hotel Legend. It was a really big affair back then as there was a picture where Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yasin was seen to be gracing the event together with the still young looking Mr. Dick Tan. 

There will be the 6th Edition of the KLIAV show CD with every entry ticket purchased at the show. 

The show will be held here from 28th to 30th July 2017. There is ample parking within the hotel and mall. Also surrounding areas have lots of parking option. 

Hi Res audio is among the theme mentioned for this year. Hope to see Oppo 205 launched there and also maybe QLED and Dolby Vision as well. 

Hope to see you guys there. 

Saturday, 25 February 2017

KOGA Is Back With Snygg - A Refinement of d'Bomb


.....and when I thought KOGA was disappearing....the designer sent me two new designs.... The first in review is the KOGA Snygg; with the aspiration to further refine the its predecessor D'Bomb. The second is a mini Class D amp called Mykro-D.

BUILT AND SPECIFICATION

The Snygg came in the usual black casing that KOGA Labs always use for it full size design. Very simplified front fascia with just a power button. As this is the prototype, the labels are still handwritten. Kind of heavy for its sized. I reckon weighs about 5 kg unpacked.

The rear house the connections which are standard RCA inputs to be connected to your choice of pre amp. Also, the amp is equipped with speaker terminals for stereo set up. Standard banana plugs can be used here. The power socket is of standard IEC in which you can use your choice of power cable.

The topography of the amp follows a dual mono design with the following specs.

Output Power : 50Wrms + 50Wrms into 4 or 8Ohms.
Total Harmonic Distortion : 0.02%
Frequency Response : 10hz-100KHz
Input Sensitivity : 1Vrms
Input Impedance : 15KOhm


THE SET UP

I connected the Snygg to the following:
  • Musical Fidelity M6i integrated but in a pre amp mode (most of the time)
  • Oppo HA-1 pre amp
  • Source is mainly from SONY HAP Z1 ES Hi Res audio player
  • Siltech Classic Anniversary 330L speaker cable
  • MatYeoX interconnects between the pre amp and Snygg
  • ProAc Response D18
  • DIY bookshelf speaker
THE TRACKS

  • Lelaki Teragung by Dayang Nurfaizah (DSD)
  • Atlas Rise by Metallica (WAV 16//44.1)
  • Get Lucky by Daft Punk (WAV 16/44.1)


THE SESSION

Lelaki Teragung on D18

With vocal like Dayang Nurfaizah, it benefits from the sonic sound the Snygg provides. Even at high pitch, the Snygg sounds energetic with minimal sibilance. I could do with more bass on this track but refine sound is what I believe Snygg is going for. Her vocal sounds deep and I can even feel the vibrato coming through. The rim shots on the snare was also very natural and the guitar riffs sounds melodic. It gives full justification to this track.



Atlas Rise on D18

It can go loud. Really loud. With Metallica's latest masterpiece Atlas Rise, the impact delivered by Snygg is quite remarkable. It belts out metal tunes with such energetic angst and authority. Again, it does not emphasise on any particular frequency, hence its quite natural sounding.  Its definitely not shy when it comes provide sufficient power to create that head banging atmosphere. 


Daft Punk on D18

This is one of Louis Desjardin of Kronos favourite track. With a less 'noisy' music, the Snygg gave me a different perspective of bass. As oppose to KOGA's previous d'Bomb, the Snygg is actually a more refined design where the low end frequency tend to be warmer rather than a hard thumping bass. For track like this, it definitely delievered a more relaxed atmosphere without leaving out the details and clarity of the track. Listen to the guitar works on this track. Very crisp and refined as well.


THE CONCLUSIONS

KOGA keeps reminding me about amp efficiency. I do believe higher wattage provides you with enough head room and better control but that is not all. An efficient amp can provide a similar attribute at a lower wattage. Nevertheless, the Snygg came to me as a more neutral amp. It refines the music with sufficient highs and lows without taking away the wow factor. It has enough energy to pump out metal tracks effectively and at the same time melodic enough for ballads. Another fine product of KOGA, worth a demo for those looking for a budget power amp. 

Next up...KOGA Mykro-D



Thursday, 9 February 2017

A Collection of Malaysia Underground Music Volume 2 - Vinyl Passion Did It Again




I have a confession to make. I am quite ashamed that I have lost touch with the development of the local underground scene. I still follow the scene but mostly the bands that was in my era of growing up and when I was still patronising the local gigs. Names like SilKhannaz, Brain Dead, Nebiras,  Silent Death, Carburetor Dung, The Pilgrims, The Bollocks, The Splatters are among the bands that I still spin their music. Coming back to this LP, I was intrigued to see The Pilgrims was in the line up. So, that was my first driver to quickly get a hold of this LP. Second reason was that the Volume 1 was so good as well.



What is the best time to listen to this LP? Of course early in the morning, with a cup of coffee and roti bakar. I started to spin this LP as early as 630 am. Ten bands contributed towards this compilation. All with different genres which made this compilation a very interesting mix. Although it titled as Malaysia underground, this did not stop for the label to include a Singaporean band called Ammarah to join in the fun. 





Achtung Riders

Now, as The Pilgrims was the only band on this LP that I am really familiar with, I immediately cued my stylus to the last track on Side A to listen to Achtung Riders. Very refreshing indeed. Its not really the Perfume Garden type of punk rock where Sua Sue Good Morning will make you jump for joy. But its more energetic and heavier than the normal punk rock tune they play. Just listen to the thunderous double pedal throughout the song. The vocal was also clearly presented with a very growly pitch that fits the track nicely. It was not lost in the music mayhem of heavy guitars and drums. It reminded me of Pennywise as I can feel the angst.


Sengsara

Ammarah caught me by surprise as their track was equally superb. The vocal was quite melodic and suits well with the guitar tune. Very impressive lyrics in Malay. Super impressed with how the vocalist pull off this track. Will need to find out more about this band.

It goes the same for the other tracks. Very impressive for a local production. They have improved from the Volume 1 which I already thought was quite good. They must have done quite a lot of work to master/remaster the tracks as it sounded very wholesome with big soundstage but still maintains its rawness. Clarity of vocals, punchy double pedals, roaring guitar leads, shredding rhythm and a hint of bass strings made this LP production one of the better one in the local scene. Seriously, this LP can easily put shame to the recently reissued 'super warped' Ella LP by Warner Music. I guess it pays to remain underground and not controlled by the super capitalist of the local music scene.

Congrats to Vinyl Passion....Beattle Blakk, Shufian and their gang. 

Saturday, 4 February 2017

LP Hukum Karma - Satu Lagi Khazanah Tempatan



Peminat rock kapak tanahair sekali lagi disajikan dengan hidangan LP yang ganaih.  Keluar dengan versi tiga warna yakni merah, hitam dan biru, LP Wings berjudul Hukum Karma ini merupakan LP tempatan terbaru yang telah mula diedarkan oleh Zan Din di bulan Disember 2016 untuk versi merah dan hitam. Ini disusuli dengan versi biru yang diedarkan oleh Dream Studio di bawah kelolaan Dato Zaharul Anuar pada penghujung Januari 2017.

Apa bezanya antara ketiga2 versi ini? Semuanya agak sama kecuali versi biru dikeluarkan dengan pakej T-Shirt dan bandana. Di masa yang sama, CD Edisi Emas dengan dua lagu tambahan juga diedarkan pada waktu yang sama (jualan asing).

Taman Rashidah Utama

Saya telah membeli kesemua versi LP ini semata-mata kerana nostalgia membesar dengan alunan muzik Wings. Lebih2 lagi, album ini diperkenalkan kepada saya dalam bentuk kaset oleh abang saya, agak2 sekitar 1988 atau 1989. 

Dari segi pengeluaran, kualiti kulit luar dan poster amat memuaskan. Kualiti kulit dalam diperbuat oleh kertas putih. Agak biasa. Untuk versi biru, pengeluaran 100 yang pertama telah di cap dengan nombor bersiri 1 ke 100.

Yang lebih penting sekarang adalah mutu bunyi yang dikeluarkan. Seperti yang kita semua maklum, pengeluaran LP mesti menitiberatkan penjagaan kualiti pada setiap tahap pengeluaran. Setiap tahap akan mempengaruhi mutu audio yang dihasilkan. Apabila lagu Taman Rashidah Utama diputarkan, jelas dapat didengar mutu audio yang agak bertenaga dan pementasan bunyi yang agak luas. Ini dapat didengar dari bunyi hujan semasa pembukaan lagu ini. Satu kelebihan LP ini ialah fokusnya terhadap vokal Dato Awie yang diketengahkan. Selain itu, bunyi paluan deram oleh Black amat padu bunyinya dan tidak berkecamuk atau dalam istilah Inggeris muffled sound. Setiap paluan tom2 dan pedal kaki amat bertenaga. Gorengan gitar Joe pula walapun nyaring, ia adalah di tahap yang sesuai untuk menonjolkan konsep rock kumpulan Wings. 

  
Hikayat Penuh Ranjau

Terus terang saya nyatakan, lagu kegemaran saya dalam album ini bukanlah Taman Rashidah Utama atau Misteri Mimpi Syakila. Lagu kegemaran saya adalah Hikayat Penuh Ranjau. Melodi yang rock tapi indah ini berserta dengan lirik yang mudah, serba sedikit mempunyai kesan peribadi buat saya. Di sini juga, mutu audio yang dilahirkan memperketengahkan vokal Dato Awie yang garau dan rock dengan amat baik. Petikan bass oleh Eddie juga agak melodik di dalam lagu ini. 

Secara keseluruhannya, pengeluaran LP agak bagus. Ada sedikit kelemahan dari segi bahagian nada tinggi tetapi ia tidaklah mencacatkan pengalaman mendengar lagu-lagu di dalam LP ini.

Kepada peminat rock tanah air, LP ini haruslah menjadi sebahagian dari koleksi LP anda. Belilah jikalau anda memang pengguna LP sebagai sumber musik anda. Untuk membeli LP ini, bolehlah hubungi Dream Studio atau melalui Raja2 LP Malaysia di Facebook seperti Sezali Zakaria, Jpari Din, Zan Din dan ramai lagi.

Frasa kunci di sini adalah - Edisi Terhad! Apabila kesemua stok telah dijual, tiada lagi pengeluaran akan dibuat. Jikalau tidak silap, hanya 1000 keping dihasilkan untuk semua versi digabungkan.

Terima kasih khas buat Dato Zaharul dari Dream Studio dan juga Zan Din kerana berusaha untuk mengeluarkan LP keramat ini.


Tuesday, 31 January 2017

Oppo UDP203 - 4K UHD Just Got Better


When it comes to BluRay player, the name Oppo is on the top of the pedestal. Most people in the HT realm wants to own one. I always believe in Sony to be the best in BluRay; having to own the flagship BDP1SE but I too have succumbed to the mighty Oppo many years back with the purchase of BDP 95EU. I refuse to upgrade to the 105 as I was already satisfied with the 95EU.... and was not sure of what else can be better since it is still a Full HD BluRay format. At the same time, 4K UHD was already in the near horizon. So, I waited. Unfortunately, once the 4K UHD format was launched, Oppo did not follow the foot step of Samsung and Panasonic to immediate launch a player. They waited. But I could not so I purchased the Samsung a few months back. But this did not stop me to still purchase the Oppo when it came out in Malaysia end of Dec. Special thanks to Steve Chuah of CMY One Utama and Adrian Lee of Oppo Digital Malaysia. I basically received the unit as soon as it was available in Malaysia.

Given Oppo's stellar performance in BDP, it cannot be denied that the UDP 203 was the most anticipated 4K UHD piece of hardware, well at least on Facebook. I must admit that I was excited too. So, I had to do an Unboxing Video. Click here ---> Unboxing Video


I was advised to immediately update its firmware before even playing any movies. So I did. It went flawlessly on the first attempt wirelessly....downloaded via tethering to mobile phone as my Unifi was down that night!

FIRST IMPRESSION




As I have already seen what this model can do in AV Designs during the JVC Z1 projector launch, I immediately put on the Batman Vs Superman 4k disc to test the on/off HDR function. Voila! There is a distinct difference in the picture. I wanted to test this because:

  1. My TV is a 4K non HDR model but still wanted to see what HDR can do on my TV
  2. My Samsung 4K player could not activate HDR once a non HDR TV is detected.

So folks, HDR makes a different.  No longer one needs to be puzzled whether HDR is important or not since 4K UHD is already better than Full HD on Blu Ray. It is more about re-calibration once you get into HDR display.

Prefer Dolby Vision? Oppo said that the required hardware is already built in and the firmware for Dolby Vision will be released sometime in Q1 2017.

SPECIFICATION

What disc does this unit cannot play should be the question. The answer is VCD. Spin any latest disc format including DVDs, and this player will just read along.

It can decode the following:
  • Analog Audio: 7.1ch, 5.1ch, stereo.
  • Coaxial/Optical Audio: up to 2ch/192kHz PCM, Dolby Digital, DTS.
  • HDMI Audio: up to 7.1ch/192kHz PCM, up to 5.1ch DSD, Bitstream.
  • HDMI Video: UHD/1080p24/1080p/1080i/720p/576p/576i/480p/480i, 3D frame-packing 720p/1080p24.

The full specs can be found here

Now, if you look at the back panel, what is interesting is the HDMI IN. This unit is equipped with the state of the art 4K UHD Bluray decoder SoC OP8591. Connecting another player like your ASTRO BYond or Apple TV or even your Android TV, may benefit from the image decoder of this unit.

On audio side, the unit is equipped with a premium 32 bit DAC from AKM which is the AK4458VN. It is an 8 channel DAC with support for formats such as 24/192 PCM and multichannel DSD62/128.

Please take note on region coding and DSD playback:
  • 4K UHD - No region. You can buy and spin any 4K UHD disc from anywhere in the world.
  • BluRay - This unit is coded as Region A. So any locally purchased Region A blu ray disc (stand alone), will be compatible. HOWEVER, the coded Blu Ray that comes with the 4K UHD pack, can still be played on this player even though its coded B or C. Correction dated 9th Feb 2017 - I tried with Bluray region B, cannot be played. But C from Australia, still ok to be played.
  • DVD - This unit is coded to Region 1 (USA), so locally purchased DVD coded 3, cannot be played on this player.
  • At the time of review, although it could detect all my DSD files on my SONY player over the network, the Oppo could not play it. Still trying to figure out this one.
  • Playing DSD files on a 2 TB external hard disk via the front USB have no issues. Worked like a charm
Very unfortunate that this is not a multiregion player for BD and DVD. It looks like I have to still keep my Samsung 4K player.




The unit comes with an exceptionally good remote with backlight auto activated as you pick it up. Nice touch there. Very unfortunate this unit does not come with a remote app at the moment.



The overall built of the player is of high standard material. Beautifully finished with well laid out front fascia and control buttons. LCD display is bright and clear which made it easy to be read from the sofa.

SETTING UP

It was straight forward just like any other player. Connect a HDMI cable (preferably the latest and highest spec if you have an HDR capable display) from the Oppo main HDMI out to your TV or AVR and the main display should appear on your telly. Settings are quite similar to my previous Samsung 4K player with the addition of setting the HDR to Auto, Off or On.

I let my Denon do all the processing for the audio side which it can do both Dolby ATMOS or DTS:X

I did not really change any settings from the default and let the player runs as it is.


THE PERFORMANCE

Here where the fun begins. First of all, reading a 4K disc seems to take sliiiigghtly longer than Samsung. Just a mere 4 to 5 seconds more. Not as long as the first Sony BD player back in 2007. That took ages. But the very first image that came out was already jaw dropping.

Having to play Batman Vs Superman again, I can appreciate darker and richer blacks on this Oppo compared to Samsung. For me, dark scenes are the one to test as it is vital that the player does not just give out a one smacked black background. Even though black is a dull colour but a good player needs to ensure that the black can still bounce out to give the audience a sense richness in the scene. This Oppo managed to show me how the dark scenes can shine and provided me with a richer appreciation towards it. Just look at Wonder Woman above. With HDR off, the skin colour tone appear 'energised' and layered with a pretty heavy dark sides and background. It is something that this model is much stronger compared to Samsung.

On bright scenes like in the movie The Angry Birds, the Oppo gives out quite a vivid display on the various colours of the birds (or pigs). You can argue that it was a CGI based movie but even with a movie like Everest, the snowy peaks of Everest still showed a good definition of colour tones. It does give a colour balance and make you put everything in perspective.

Bright whites and dark blacks are the tow things that this player can really define and relay to audience.

The fun does not apply to 4K BDs only. Popped in standard BD or DVD, the player will upscale and process the images to give quite a stunning upscaled pictures. The upscaling of my DVD movies is much better processed compared to my Samsung TV upscaling processing.

Another key performance is also with speed. I didnt experience any frame delays or glitches on high speed scenes like when Superman flies.Very smooth and engaging. I did hear that some people experience this but I did not.

On the audio side, it streams through ATMOS or DTS:X signal to my Denon AVR flawlessly. No lagging nor audio drop in any of the movie I played (5 all together to write this review).

CONCLUSIONS

Simplified - no nonsense performance is how I would summarise this unit. Oppo's decision to drop all the streaming apps was wise since most modern TVs already have them. Focus was given on what matters - video processing. Heck, it even provide a HDMI input to extend its supremacy in video processing to other players. For the price sold here in Malaysia RM3099, I can say that it truly provide the best 4K display currently in the market (well at least for Malaysia). I dont recommend this if streaming videos or music is your thing. This player is for the purist of AV-phile. Pop in a 4K disc, press play and enjoy. 

Oppo UDP 203 can be purchased in outlets like CMY, Actsessory and other AV shops.

Gear

Samsung UA65HU9000 65-inch Curve TV, Denon X6200W AVR, PMC Twenty.23 and C front and centre speakers, SVS Prime Satellite rear speakers SVS Prime Elevation height speakers, SVS subwoofer