Monday, April 26, 2010

Audio part of the Tokyo trip

Only covered Andix. Was supposed to visit Audio Professor and some others at Akiba area, and also to pick up some Takman resistors, but really... traveling with kids in tow is very difficult to slot in personal agenda... Yet, it was when searching for Lucas's Animal Kaiser game machine that led me to Andix.

Was asking a staff in the arcade where I can find an Animal Kaiser machine and I used my Google Map as a reference. He pointed the current location and from the map, Andix is just the next block!

I left San and the kids at Tully's and did a quick recce at Andix. The front of the stairs is exactly like what I saw from the street view of Google Maps, but it's actually on the 4th floor. The stairs reminds me of those at the audio shops along Hong Kong's Apliu Street. When I got to the shop, Hiro-san was on the phone answering some queries. I walked around and checked out the stuff in the shop in the meantime.

I saw the FT-10S (which fits my budget nicely) in the display. There were also some Western Electric transformers and Tangos and lots of tubes. When Hiro-san was off the phone, I asked about the FT-10S and the bigger FT-20S. The FT-10S happen to be the last pair, and he's out of FT-20S. This made the selection process much easier. I got the FT-10S and asked if he has any 6ZDH3A tubes. There's only one left, but I will need 4 tubes if I'm thinking of building Audio Professor's 2A3. Hiro-san suggested that I visit Audio Professor. Turned out that I did not have the chance to go there due to time conflicts.

While there, I chatted with Hiro-san about the audio scene in Singapore and Japan. It appears that it is very much alive in Japan. According to Hiro-san, the FT-10S were made by his friend and there is little markup on the cost price, thus, making it more affordable and comparable/better in performance to output transformers that are higher priced. I wanted to try them out because of the very nice construction. It just looks so beautiful on it's own that I'm tempted to mount them naked outside the chassis for all to see. In fact, this is how Hiro-san's amp is built. When I was paying, I noticed that he wears a Sinn - the unmistakable face was peeking out his sleeve while he was writing the receipt. Hiro-san said that he has around 4 pairs! I was wearing my PAM177H then, but my sleeves were covering it.

Hiro-san actually gave me his last piece of 6ZDH3A tube when he was packing the FT-10S. I thanked him for his gesture of goodwill.

I asked for his permission to take some pics of the shop. Maybe I should have taken one of both of us just for keep sake. I'm sure to visit Andix again. But that will be some years down the road... when Lucas is tall enough for all the rides in Disney!

On our last day in Tokyo, we went to Shibuya, where Recofan and Disc Union were located. I only went into Recofan to have a look around. Lots of LPs. Will need lots of time to check each one. There were already some guys furiously flipping thru the LPs even though it's 11am in the morning. It's like 5 times of Memory Lane on one floor. There's also a J-Pop section. For a moment, I contemplated searching for the Hikaru Utada First Love LP, but the Katagana is simply too much for my basic knowledge.

More pics here.

Tokyo Trip

Went on a 5N4D trip to Tokyo. Was drizzling on the 2 days that were meant for Disney. What a pity.

We went to hunt for a place for Animal Kaiser on the first day. Walked around Akiba and went to all those bigger arcades, but could not find it. Eventually asked around and was directed to go back towards the Akiba station at Yodobashi Camera building. Found one machine at L6. I would have thought it was all the rage in Japan, but there are many more such card based games. Such as an Ultraman, 3X3 eyes, Gundam looking ones, etc. AK was Y100 ($1.50) per play. Cheaper than $2 in Singapore. Lucas played quite a few games. We eventually came back here on Saturday night as well.

Next 2 days are for Disneyland and Disneysea. Both days were drizzling. It was cold, our socks were wet and the feeling was lousy. Still, Disneysea was better... not so much drizzle. And the Tower thingy was great. We almost flew out of our seats. Lucas managed to take the roller coaster at the Little Mermaid area. It's the only one that he is tall enough for. We will have to return some other time in the future I guess.

We spent the next two days walking around Ikebukuro, Shinjuku, Akihabara and Shibuya before heading back home. Shopping is always part and parcel of an overseas trip. I got a very nice (but pricey) dark brown Ganzo Cordovan wallet to replace my Ferragamo one and a pair of Katherine Hemnett shoes.

More pics here.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Murphy's Law strikes at Preamp Shootout

First, a big thank you to Francis for being an accommodating host for us at the shootout. He recently had his Shanling CDP modded by a local guru to have the opamps working in class A. It was wired to use this stage with XLR connections and single ended connections via RCA will rely on the CDP's in-built tube buffer stage.

When it was my turn, with the same track played, there was this nasal vocal that emerged from the speakers... something was not right. I knew that there was nothing I could do if the preamp was at fault... I did not bring any tools and was definitely not in the mood to troubleshoot even if I brought tools... I told Francis that we should move on and bring in another preamp. By the time I was finished unhooking my preamp, I was perspiring as the air conditioning by then, was not as cold... There were more than 10 people in the room.

Later, Nick and William suggested that either I have some loose part due to transporting it to the location or it could be clipping. I told them that my bias for the 5687 was at -2.1V. Nick was guessing that it could be that the CDP's tube buffer had gain in it, which is not uncommon of the chinese designs that he came across. I thought it was a possible hypothesis. I was just disappointed that the audience did not get to hear the preamp. I was most interested to know if it lacked "speed", as that was the general comment about the tube preamps... unmatched for vocals, but lacked speed. The mercury rectifier and the shunt regulated supply should satisfy any "Need For Speed" fans. A quick A/B was done at some point in time to check if the 24/96 upsampling vs the normal red book had any effect on the sound as the Shanling CDP had a remote controllable feature for this. One guy was asked of his opinion and he did not have any reply at first, when the feature was explained, he said something like the 24/96 was better or something... I phased out and did not pay much attention at this point... I disagreed quietly as I could not discern any noticeable difference... not strikingly huge anyways... and not in the few seconds of A/B switching.

I tend not to be too judgemental when it comes to music. There are always generalisation that certain stuff cause certain sound. I think the DIY guy especially, should be open when approaching different topologies and implementation. In the same vein, most commercial gear people seem to have this unspoken discrimination of folks who build their gear. It is almost always in the same breath as low cost. I wonder how many of them would know that Tamura is used by Air Tight, Sun Audio, etc. Tango is used by Wavac, etc. Lundahl is used by Manley, VAC, etc. Some parts used by the DIY guys will rival those used by the commercial companies. In fact, it may in some instances, trend into the esoteric and exotic range.

When the solid state preamp brethren were playing, I gave them lots of leeway in their sound presentation. However, I felt most of them just seemed too bright and shrill sounding in the treble regions for extended listening. I immediately want to leave the room or find refuge from the assailing soundwaves... Nick echoed similar sentiments. Saying that the tube folks will not adjust to this type of sound well. I was also surprised that the Densen preamp (which the owner said had a SGD3k price tag when new) exhibited almost the same shrillness. I used to own the Densen Beat 100 integrated and found that it was quite a nice piece of gear. But it really required warming up to sound the best though. I'm not sure if that preamp was already warming up prior to being played in the system or my ears (or age have caught up) have slowly grown used to something not as exciting in the higher frequencies.

Unfortunately, I had to leave early as I had to bring Lucas for his lessons. So I promptly packed my stuff, thanked Francis and said my good byes to people I knew. On my way back, I was thinking that my system could be too tuned to my chain of equipment. DAC was a passive I/V unit, which had lower than the normal 2v RMS output. Maybe that was the reason why it did not clip the preamp... but 2.1V bias point would mean an input swing of 4.2V, and should be sufficient for any decently built gear...

Later in the day, when I was heading to Novena with my family, I got a call from Nick, informing me that my preamp should be fine as the problem of the nasal voices is back to haunt every gear they tried! I then recalled Francis saying that the CDP was modded and was running hot into class A. I guessed it could be due to that. It exhibited thermal runaway. That was just a conjecture. Not sure what really happened... cos the opamps were biased into class A and that should only affect the XLR connection. Why would RCA connected preamps be affected as well? No idea... but the guys were playing LP instead and seemed to be having fun.

I concluded that either I should raise my bias point, or don't lug such tailored stuff over for shootouts when the possibility for mismatch would be great. Oh, and I just listened to my system... it's working... no nasal voices.

Some pics here... from my iPhone.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Packing the preamp

Took out a diaper box and turned it into a suitable packing for a preamp shootout that will take place next week.

With 10 different preamps and many participants, it will not be meant as a definitive "best preamp" knock out, but more of an excuse for some audio nuts to get together and experience the different types of preamps available at the venue. It's a mix of commercial and DIY preamps. I think the results would be interesting.