Sunday, 11 February 2018

Galeri Seni Piring Hitam - Satu Pengalaman Dimensi Masa

Pi mai pi mai tak boleh nak pi,
Pi lah jugak ke Tasik Cini,
Mana nak carik LP,
Kalau tidak di Galeri Seni.

Setelah beberapa tahun berkenalan dengan Abam Mushtari Mohamad di alam maya melalui Facebook dan Whatsapp, akhirnya sampai juga niat di hati untuk melawat antara pusat khazanah yang penting di Perlis. Dengan hanya ada beberapa jam di sana disebabkan sibuk dengan urusan kekeluargaan di sana, Mushtari Mohamad sudi memberi waktu khusus untuk saya melawat galeri beliau. Tepat jam 1030 malam, 31 Januari 2018, saya tiba di galeri selepas sesi makan malam bersama saudara mara. Salam diberi dan Mush menyambut ketibaan saya dengan senyuman manih tak ingat donya. Hehehe.

Galeri ini diuruskan sepenuhnya oleh beliau. Dengan pengalaman mencari LP di pasaran tempatan dan luar negeri, beliau telah menyusun koleksi piring hitam beliau berdasarkan katalog Discog. Memang teruja dan boleh naik juling tengok koleksi yang disusun rapi.

Sebagai peminat tegar M Daud Kilau, saya tidak melepaskan peluang untuk bergambar dengan LP yang saya tidak miliki. Sayang sekali, walaupun saya telah sengih dengan penuh handsomenya, Mush tidak mahu kasi pinjam sama saya ini LP hehehe.

Selain LP, Mush juga mengumpul kaset2 lama dan juga CD. Saya tahu ada CD yang pernah saya berikan kepada beliau berada di galeri ini terutama CD2 khas dari KL International AV Show yang telah berlangsung selama beberapa tahun sudah.

Tidak melepaskan peluang untuk menandatangani buku pelawat. Dengan ingatan tulus ikhlas, majulah LP untuk negara.

Ruang tamu untuk mendengar LP berada di bahagian depan galeri ini.

Set up yang unik secara tersendiri. Ada beberapa pemain piring hitam di sini. Ada yang menunggu untuk diperbaiki dan ada yang menjadi perhiasan antik. Tapi speakers Tannoy di sini memang adalah satu model yang vintage tetapi masih bertenaga untuk mengalunkan lagu2 kegemaran saya.

Sedikit demo....

Galeri ini juga ada mempamerkan koleksi filem di atas cetakan DVD, Bluray dan juga format yang telah pupus yakni Laser Disc. Selain khazanah music, Mushtari juga ada mepamerkan koleksi unik barang mainan seperti set keretapi stim dan juga Hot Wheels.

Setelah beberapa jam melawat dan mendengar pelbagai LP, abam Mushtari kita menhajak saya minum2 di gerai di hadapan galeri ini. Terima kasih abam Mushtari. Tanpa individu seperti beliau, mungkin satu hari nanti tidak akan ada lagi galeri seperti ini. Satu pengalaman yang unik yang membawa saya ke dimensi masa yang lampau.

Saksikan video pendek ini.

Saturday, 3 February 2018

Hi Res Audio - Think Tinker Board

It seems that streaming has already being accepted as a norm in the hifi world. While physical medium still rules the market, we can no longer deny that streaming has come a long way from those days of the stigma of 'if you can't hold it, then its not real'. Streamers can be owned at various levels. In the recent months, this particular petit streamer have making waves in the local scene. It is the smallest that I have reviewed so far. The Tinker Board is based on ASUS very own minimalist PC and Volumio set up to purely play music as the primary function. This Tinker Board was made more commercially available by Simon Sung in the local scene (at least from my FB feed). After seeing a lot of the usual suspects putting in this unit into their system, I started to wonder what this Tinker Board can do. And thanks to Simon, I get to experience streaming hi res music in a different way for about 3 weeks.


The Tinker Board package by Simon comes in a 3 in 1 bundle together with the USB cable and and also iFi USB silencer. This is a plug and play unit with the following specs.
  • Minimal operating system, tailored for Bit-Perfect Audio Playback
  • Works with any USB 2.0 DAC
  • Raspberry PI and Odroid I2S DACs supported natively
  • Supports all filetypes: FLAC, Alac, Aac, Vorbis, Mp3, DSD etc
  • UPNP Playback
  • Airplay Playback
  • DSD Over PCM support, for non Direct-DSD compatible hardware
  • Integrated WebRadio directories
  • If a compatible wireless hardware is found, Volumio will create an hotspot network for first configuration
  • Mount CIFS and NFS Network Attached Storage, with an auto-discovery function
  • Custom playlist editing and creation
  • Plugin support with new functions available like Spotify and Digital Room Correction
  • Seamless update system: no need to reinstall when a new version is available
  • Multilanguage with a growing number of translations available
  • Image background support, even your favourite one
  • Alarm and sleep function
  • Item include:
    • 1 x Asus Tinkerboard
    • 1 x 8GB Micro SD card
    • 1 x Power adapter
    • 1 x Casing

You can either connect the streamer via its mini jack (you will need a a 3.5 mm jack to RCA to connect direct to an amp) or via USB cable to an external DAC. I tried with both ways and for the latter, I connect it to Oppo Sonica DAC. It can only output either one at one time. The review here is based on direct analogue connectivity.

To control the unit, you need to download Volumio app from either Apple Store or Google Play. It costs me RM4.45 about USD 1. 

I also connected an ethernet cable to ensure a more stable connectivity even though it does have wireless capability.

The Volumio app reminds me of the Bryston BDP2 I reviewed many moons ago. Need a little bit of getting used to. Although it detected both my Western Digital NAS and also Sony HAP Z1 ES, it needs to scan and load the whole entire library the first time it is set up. This is all done via the app. For Spotify playback, a plugin is required to be installed. Again, this can be done via the app. All and all, it took me about 20 mins to set everything up.

The first hour was just testing out different files from MP3 to ALAC to WAV to FLAC to DSD. All of them passed with flying colours. No issues at all. even the internet radio worked. I struggled a bit to set up the Spotify but after restarting the app and Spotify, it worked good.



Similar to my previous reviews of Oppo Sonica and Arcam rPlay, this is one of the tests that I put through a sample unit. On wired mode, the Tinker Board worked flawlessly. No audio signal drop at all even when streaming DSD files. On wireless mode however, there was some buffering at times makes it a little bit struggling. The app control however was a little bit irresponsive regardless whether its on wired or wireless. Sometimes I am not sure whether the unit have received the command from the app or not and I re-clicked just to make the player to repeat the command twice.

On wired mode, the player was put on continuous playback for about 6 hours with no issues. I just had to wait for my library to be loaded initially but then, it played on random for a good 6 hours without being disconnected.


The following tracks were used for this session similar to my review on Oppo Sonica DAC

1. Louisiana 1927 by Aaron Neville (16/44 ALAC)
2. Somewhere, Somebody by Jennifer Warmes (2.8 MHz DSD)
3. Take Five  by Dave Brubeck (2.8  MHz DSD)

Lousiana by Aaron Neville connected to Oppo Sonica DAC

Coupled with the Oppo Sonica, the Tinker Board sounded very airy and created quite a huge ambient in my hall. Its actually quite a good pairing between both of them if you like your sound to be big. Comparing the sound against direct analogue connection between the Tinker Board and amp, the Tinker Board provided a more upfront sound. Detail and clarity seems to be its virtue as the overall track sounded more controlled and focused towards Aaron's vocal.

On the Somewhere, Somebody track, the bass does not dig deep as oppose to connecting it to Oppo Sonica. However, it does provide a more solid twang on the bass line, a more natural and soothing to the ears. The percussion is more raw but quite enjoyable while Jennifer's vocal sounded  much more natural and upfront, like she is singing solely for me. Some may say that it sounded bolder than when connecting it to Oppo Sonica.

Playing Take Five reconfirms that the Tinker Board is more about details and clarity. I dont get a hard hitting bass line but a more soothing and natural bass line that can create the emotional ambient in a different level. It gives a more enveloping experience without a thudding experience in your face. The wind instrument sounded more focus and upfront, similar experience to the first 2 tracks I tested.


I highly recommend to go wired on this unit if you are connecting this to your main hifi system versus a desktop set up. The wired mode provides better stability and also sounds much more engaging compared to wireless. Even better, play your music by connecting your USB thumbdrive directly into one of the four USB ports on this unit.


Using Spotify was quite straight forward eventhough I experienced some hiccup in the beginning.  The SQ is not as per playing a real digital file but it delivers its duty to stream from online portal with great capability. 


At RM450 (unit alone) or RM 900 bundled with the above USB cable and ifi silencer, this Tinker Board unit must be the most minimalist-strictly-audio streamer in town. Now, as per what Tony says, Anyone Can Stream! If you have the following but dont know whether streaming is your thing, try this unit out.
  • Hi Res files either on USB HDD or NAS
  • Spotify account
  • Don't want to spend a fortune on streamer

Contact Simon Sung on Facebook or on Whatsapp +6012 4549923

Sunday, 21 January 2018

Oppo Sonica DAC - A Misunderstood But Must Have DAC!

Yes. To me this is the most misunderstood hifi kit for 2017. Is it a DAC? Pre amp? Streamer? Media player? What is the difference with the excellent HA-1 unit. Well, there are a lot of difference between them. Some of them that I can list down:

1. The Sonica uses ESS ES9038PRO SABRE DAC while the HA-1 uses the SABRE32Reference ES9018
2. The headphone amp section have been taken off in the Sonica
3. The network capability have been added into the Sonica. This to me is the most significant addition to the unit.
4. Off goes the remote from the Sonica and replaced with an app.

The Sonica comes in a similar width and length as the HA-1. However the heigh is lower as you can see below when I stack both of them together. It actually looks kind of cool together. One thing about Oppo, their fascia and display design is one of the best out there. The glossy finish of the chassis and also control knobs are of very high quality and classy looking. Their black design is like Mont Blanc in the fashion world.

In the rear, you will get the usual galore of inputs and outputs where the output also offer balanced XLR connection. All of the RCA sockets are of gold plated. Putting in my Audience RCA, it snuggly fits onto the sockets.

With the network capability added, you can access your digital music either from:
  1. Internet - Spotify and TIDAL supported
  2. Network Access Storage (NAS) - The unit will play directly all your files once its on the same network
  3. Hooking up a laptop or PC to its asynchronous USB input at the rear and use the Sonica impeccable DAC chip
  4. Hooking up a HDD or thumbdrive into the USB input at the rear or front
  5. Hooking up an analogue source either a tape deck or phono stage or even conventional CD player. 
  6. Via Airplay directly from your iPhone/iPod/iPad
  7. Via Bluetooth connectivity
Digital Inputs:
  • 1 x coaxial
  • 1 x optical
  • 1 x asynchronous USB
  • 1 x USB for HDD
  • 1 x USB for iPod/iPhone
Analogue Input:
  • 1 x stereo Aux In
  • 1 x stereo RCA
  • 1 x XLR Balanced


The Sonica was set up in several ways for this review:

1. Via USB input from 2 different sources - Sony HAP Z1 ES and the current craze Tinkerboard
2. Wireless via Wifi
3. Wired via ethernet
4. Via Bluetooth

The first test is of course stability. The recent streamers that I reviewed came in different level of stability. After nearly 10 years of streaming, I get quite annoyed when a streamer that claims to stream wirelessly Hi Res Audio up to DSD, but could not deliver the stability when the digital files are being played. I can understand 10 years ago, but in today's environment, I expect my wireless music to be streamed without lag or long buffers. My NAS and router is only about 2 feet away from my set up. So nothing is blocking the wireless signal.

....and the Sonica is currently the MOST STABLE streamer I have experienced at this price tag. I played various Hi Res files from my NAS for a straight 24 hours and not once it lagged nor stop playing. This is already big advantage over a lot of other players.

However, I do face an issue via USB when I change from track to track (DSD files). The Sonica gives me a loud 'pop' sound on my speakers. It happened on both Sony player and Tinkerboard. Tried different USB cables but still problem persists.


I would not really bother playing low bit MP3s when you have a sophisticated unit like this. The 3 tracks I use here are:

1. Louisiana 1927 by Aaron Neville (16/44 ALAC)
2. Somewhere, Somebody by Jennifer Warmes (2.8 MHz DSD)
3. Take Five  by Dave Brubeck (2.8  MHz DSD)

Sonica with Tinkerboard - Aaron Neville

On a basic file like this, the Sonica expanded the overall ambient of the whole track. It brought up the emotions delivered by Aaron to a new level. The simple bass line on this track sounds deeper than usual and the clarity of the snare wire dispersion somehow sounded more luscious.  Even the rim shot sounded very natural.  Aaron's vocal was full of emotion and the Sonica just governs the whole track with such a huge soundstage that I thought I was in a concert hall.

Sonica and Sony HAP Z1 ES - Jennifer Warnes

With DSD files, the Sonica could still present a different perspective of how the sound is. I have tested a few DACs that can actually outperform SONY internal DAC but somehow, the ones that can actually do that is priced at level that I am not willing to swipe my VISA card.  The Sonica however, managed to provide me with that different experience even with an already good DSD file. Again, the bass line on the intro on this track was really deep that I can hear or feel the string vibration. I just love the details that Sonica unleash. And the percussion on this track was capture and replayed by the Sonica in a very three dimensional way that again, it created a very huge ambient on my system. 

Sonica and Sony HAP Z1 ES - Dave Brubeck

What can I say, I love DSD. Some may debate whether the commercial files we purchase is truly Hi Res DSD (how can we enhance something on a track when it was not there to begin with). At this point, I cant really think about things that is out of my control. I get files, I listen to them and I feel its better than Redbook CD... then to me its better. Regardless of what the remasters or re-engineering  of the tracks entail. I cant do a review of a kit without playing this track Take Five of Dave Brubeck. Its like my Holy Grail when it comes to Jazz and bass experience. On this track, the low end notes from the percussion is very distinct and hard digs deep as well. But it does not take away the huge soundstage and luscious dispersion of the snare and ride cymbal. The Sonica somehow injects a certain musicality trait into the presentation that is quite a different experience.


I replayed all the tracks in different ways. I must nothing can still beat a direct hook from a HDD or player via USB onto the DAC. If you music is on a NAS, try to connect the Sonica via the wired ethernet method. I feel this give a meatier presentation. The wireless method eventhough stable, it does lack some emotion and liveliness.


Using Spotify and Tidal was a breeze. Only on this unit, I started to realize the the advantage of Tidal over Spotify when it comes to SQ. Tidal Masters sounds delightfully musical on this Sonica. The same tracks above sounded quite energetic with a good balance overall. It still not at par as the DSD files I have. But for Tidal and Spotify subscription rate, it is still good.


At RM4200, this streamer meets all what you need in this modern streaming era. Stability, above expectation SQ, ease of use apps, stylish design and most importantly, it offers great flexibility with regards various files that it can adapt to. For an instant upgrade to your digital files experience, the Sonica can easily give you a more in depth bass experience but at the same time balances it with a surreal soundstaging experience.

Do audition this unit in CMY if possible if you are in the market for a new fuss free streamer.

Sunday, 24 December 2017

ARCAM rPlay Music Streamer - Minimalist But Effective

........and here is my review published on

+ For its clarity, full bodied sound and minimalized design
- Signal drop on wireless mode and cluttered app

Sound: 8/10

Value: 7/10

If one to talk about streaming music about 10 years ago, it would either end up to be a laughing matter or a heated debate. Today, every other digital hifi component is equipped with technology to cater for streaming needs. From standalone DACs to portables to media players, most of the products are now able to meet the requirement. The demand is also extended towards AV products. Of course, each type of hifi kit, may it be an amp, a CD player or turn table, comes in various ranges. Same goes to streamers.

The rPlay is the latest offering from ARCAM under their rSeries family. I purchased one of their earlier rSeries product in 2010 which was a standalone DAC called rDAC and it was a sitting in my system for a few years before I got into Hi Resolution audio. The rPlay comes in the traditional mini sized (194 x 44 x 124 mm) enclosure with minimal buttons and LED indicator on the front and top panel. Weighing just slightly over 1 kilogram, this unit must be one of the smallest streamer I have ever seen.

Don’t be fooled by its size though. This unit is capable of not only streaming various digital files (WAV, MP3, AAC, FLAC etc) from your PC or NAS on your home network up to 24 bit / 192 kHz, but also incorporates major online streaming services like Spotify, TIDAL. Deezer, Amazon Music, Napster and also Internet Radio. Besides that, it also offer the Apple based fan the Airplay function to stream directly from your Apple products like iPad, iPod and iPhone.

On the circuitry side, it comes with a built in Texas Instrument PCM5102 DAC, hence it is actually a plug and play device. You can connect it directly to your amp, and once set up, you can stream music directly without the need of a separate DAC. However, ARCAM is generous enough to offer an SPDIF output if you fancy to further explore higher grades DACs. The unit also offers both variable and fixed outputs so you have a choice to use its internal digital volume control with a power amp or connect it to your integrated amp.

Although it’s a plug and play unit, user will still need to set up the communication with the home network. Once you have plugged in the power supply and RCA interconnect, download the DTS Play-Fi app from either Google Play Store or Apple App store. It is recommended that the network cable to be used at this stage as you may have to download a firmware update which can take about 10 minutes. I experienced some issues in setting up when the unit is on a wireless mode. The app will then bring you through step by step on how to link the rPlay to your network. Once you have done this, you will be able to see any PC or NAS made available on the app. For myself, my network consists of a Western Digital NAS and Sony HAP Z1ES internal HDD.

The network interface for the rPlay seems to be more stable when it is on wired mode. I experienced signal drop outs on certain occasion especially when playing higher resolution files. This is even when my wireless router is just 2 feet away and it is in a clear line of sight.


On Here We Go Again (WAV 24/192), the rPlay ability to present soulful vocals of Norah Jones and Ray Charles was the highlight of the review. Jones’s vocal sounded seductive while Charles’s sounded very deep with the typical slightly husky moments. It was one of the sessions that allow you to close your eyes and imagine that this duet is performing live in your living room. With the right level of clarity, the sound of the soft wire brush and rim shot on the snare created quite a soothing atmosphere and when the keyboard kicked in, the energy level of the track was raised nicely by the rPlay. Comparing to another streamer I owned about 5 years ago, this track can sound quite flat with no emotions can be felt from the duo. The rPlay seems to manage to deliver quite a remarkable details from good recording like this one.


The piano introduction on Strange Meadow Lark (WAV 24/96) by Dave Brubeck Quartet was very warm and the rPlay just built the tempo of the track nicely. By the time the saxophone and percussion comes in, the rPlay gave an even a more convincing performance whereby the mids and highs of this track are quite transparent and provide a substantive soundstage.

With the track For No Apparent Reason by Anouar Brahem (WAV 24/192), there was no doubt that the rPlay can belt out the deep diving bass that this track could offer. The clarity of the guitar plucking can easily mesmerize listener with no sign of fatigue that one might experience on prolong playback of digital files. The background vocals (or humming) further confirmed the level of soundstaging the rPlay can provide. It sounds huge compared to the size of the unit.

How about heavier music like Enter Sandman by Metallica on FLAC 24/192? The rPlay belted out this track with quite a bang. Again, details and clarity seems to be its forte. It brings out the various frequencies of highs, mids and lows with good level of transparency. Quite neutral I would say.  The rPlay however does not bring out the same impact when MP3 files are played. It sounds flatter and compressed. Playing the MP3 version of this track did not give out the same energized adrenalin-pumped experience.

On Spotify, in general, the sound is pretty decent but it will not be sufficient to fulfill the audio quality standard that one would expect from a high resolution audio. The DTS Play Fi app will also link the Spotify app on your phone or table to its own interface.

Music streaming has become a norm now regardless of how other formats are maintaining their share of the industry. The rPlay offers quite a bargain with most of the available online streaming service available on this unit. It also allow playback of higher resolution digital files to show its full potential. With good quality digital files, the rPlay will be able to deliver quite an honest presentation of music into your system. One drawback however is the inability to play DSD files. If there is a way to allow future upgrades to DSD, this unit would be even more attractive.

The app seems to be a bit cluttered and unorganized. It did however worked flawlessly including extracting the metadata and artwork of the files and display it on the interface.


 If you wish to have a simple and basic introduction to streaming digital files, the ARCAM rPlay might be the answer for you. It’s a frill free device that delivers good quality audio reproduction from your digital files library especially if you have high quality recordings.

Musical Fidelity M6i integrated amp
Western Digital NAS
ProAc Response D18 speakers
Blackberry KeyONE on Android

Sources: Western Digital NAS, Sony HAP-Z1ES, Blackberry KeyONE on Android / Amp: Musical Fidelity M6i integrated / Speakers; ProAc Response D18
Price: £400
Malaysian price: RM2,590
Malaysian distributor: A & L Audio Station (+603-2282 9884) / WhatsApp + 6014 8222 333)