Saturday, 28 February 2015

KOGA Audio Pentha: Luscious Pre





After the exhilarating experience with KOGA Aimez , I wanted to hear the capability of a full KOGA amplification. Hence, KOGA Audio have came up with a single input Pre-Amp named Pentha. And I received it in a timely manner..... on the first day of a 4 days long weekend of CNY. Had so much fun over the 4 days weekend with this unit.

PRODUCT INFO/SPECS


The Pentha is a 2 box pre amp; consists of the main unit and PSU. This reference prototype comes with a single RCA input, specifically for CDP/DAC input located at the rear side. The fascia is simple on the main unit, just a volume knob. Minimalist is the designer's philosophy.


It also comes with a pre out to connect to KOGA Aimez or any other power amp.

Its a mini sized pre amp, frill free design with the following specs.

Full Class A amplification using only discrete semiconductors, ie no opamps
Input sensitivity : 150 mV-2V (adjustable)
Input impedance : 47 kOhm
Load impedance : 10 kOhm (min)
Supply Voltage : 24 Vac
Finishing : Anodized Grey or Matte Black

THE SETUP

After the session with KOGA Aimez Hybrid Power Amp, I have decided to go for a similar set up of my own system:
  • Musical Fidelity M1 CDT - CD Player
  • SONY MDS JA20ES - MD player
  • Dell laptop - CAS
  • Musical Fidelity M6 DAC
  • KOGA Aimez Hybrid Power Amp
  • Speaker Cable - Siltech Classic Anniversary 330L
  • Interconnects - Siltech AES/EBU digital cable, Siltech RCA 

FIRST IMPRESSION



I played the track Always On My Mind by Willie Nelson from the KOGA Sampler CD (excuse the voice of my kids in the background). I could not believe my ears how big the sound stage is.  The Pentha was definitely designed perfectly to pair with the Aimez.

THE SETLIST

In order to have a more apple to apple comparison with my previous review of the KOGA Aimez hybrid power amp, I used the same track list for this combo.
  • Time To Blow - Del Paxton (CD)
  • Metallica - Enter Sandman (Hi Res FLAC - 24/96)
  • Era Gia Tutto Previsto - Andrea Bocelli (MP3 256 kbps)
  • Mustika - M. Nasir (MP3 192 kbps)
  • Viopipe - Butterfingers (MP3 320 kbps)
  • Hotel California - Eagles (Hi Res FLAC - 24/192)
  • Bamboleo - Gypsy Kings (MP3 320 kbps)
  • KOGA Sampler - Various test music (CD)

THE SESSION

I had the opportunity to 'use and abuse' this combo for a good 4 days over the long CNY weekend. And continued listening to it for another week for about 2 hours a day.

Time To Blow sounded more lean this time. The double bass was still the highlight, but the Pentha just injected another element of tonal balance where all the instrument  blended in even better than when the Aimez power amp was reviewed previously. The sound of the crown on the ride cymbal sounded very crisp and the piano sound was delivered with a little bit of warmth injected to it. Very enjoyable when coupled with the big soundstage the Aimez is delivering

Enter Sandman sounded more controlled and tight compared to the airy experience I had in my previous review. The Pentha just smoothen things up when paired with the KOGA Aimez. The bass sounded fuller and tight but with a bigger soundstage, The shredding guitar of Kirk was highly pitched but it did not sound irritating at all as the Pentha just balance it out with a pinch of low end  envelope. Metallica sounded fierce and authoritative, And I like it.


Era Gia Tutto Previsto was presented in a more uplifting experience where Andrea's vocal sounded more toned and bold with a pinch of low end signature. The Pentha injected a bit more life compared to my  previous review. I particularly like how the deep vocal of Andrea was delivered in a manner as if you can feel that its coming out deep from his vocal cords. Exhilarating. The instrument used on this track was also placed and conveyed in a very layered presentation. I felt like the various instrument coherently blended in with the vocals.

The bass in the track Mustika suddenly appears which balances out the high frequency that was really evident in my previous review.It created a new sound field  where M. Nasir's vocals filled up the room more with real life strength. Big and bold but melodious and full of soul. The angklung sounded very traditional as it should be  and the classical guitar solo had the right amount of reverb to create a lively solo part.

Viopipe however gave me a totally different presentation. I lost the grunge rawness of this track. The violin still had good delivery but the extra bass that came with this track made it sound warm and pop-ish. It was un-grunged.. The drums on this track sounded more full instead of hollow as I believe it was intended to be.Still very enjoyable but I prefer the raw sound of the previous review.

The swooshing sound at the beginning of the Hotel California track was more evident this time around. The guitar works sounded bigger and the upstroke was definitely detail and crisp as per previous review.  However, the overall track sounded livelier and opened up. The high pinch sound from the guitar was less evident most probably balanced out by a cleaner and solid bass delivery. Vocal and drums were the highlight to me. Very emotional delivery for the vocals and clean and timely delivery by the percussion sound.

In Bamboleo is where it truly shined. Even at a lower volume, the different layers of guitar sound can be easily identified. Not only the guitar, even the castanets sounded very clear and crisp.The separation between instrument was very unique where as if the sound was being released one after another.  The vocals sounded very energetic and it had a sense of authority which I didn't experienced this before.


CONCLUSIONS

So, what did Pentha do to the Aimez? It basically balances out the high frequency delivery of the Aimez, in a nutshell. Its a neat simplified pre amp for a simple set up with just one source to handle. It matches perfectly with the Aimez.

Who will enjoy this combo? I believe....

  • Someone looking for a small and simple system
  • Someone looking for a high quality sound but with limited budget. I believe this combo will only cost less than RM1,000 ~ USD280
  • Jazz, vocals, metal and complex arrangement music lover

Saturday, 21 February 2015

Tour De HiFi by Steve R. Rochlin



Had the chance to join in the local hifi group during Steve's visit. Thanks to Frank Voon for setting it all up. Read all about it here....

Tour De HiFi by Steve R. Rochlin

Thursday, 19 February 2015

Sunday, 15 February 2015

Hi Res Can Be Musical Too

It has been a while since the last time I played some serious hi res music. Felt like some easy listening and easy manoeuvring around my music selection. Hence, here I go with some great selection.  All on FLAC 24/96.

Sunday, 8 February 2015

KOGA Pentha Is Coming Your Way

After the debut of Aimez hybrid power amp, KOGA Audio is ready to launch the Pentha pre amp.

Cant wait for the demo unit.

Tuesday, 3 February 2015

TAD/Passlabs System

Had a chance to listen to this beautiful set up today. Kudos to the owner who has done a fantastic job in room acoustic for this system to fully shine.

Monday, 2 February 2015

KOGA Aimez - Handcrafted Hybrid Power Amp





After the long agony of waiting, I was presented with the reference (prototype) unit with the serial number : 00001 by KOGA Audio. In fact, I could not wait till Friday evening, hence I went and collected the unit from the maker on Thursday evening. After putting the kids to sleep, I decided to hook up this hybrid power amp and by the time I have done that, it was already past midnight. Nevertheless, it was a worthwhile the hard work.

PRODUCT INFO/SPECS

The unit is decently sized to fit nicely into a simple small set up. Came in black ash but the maker may be able to accommodate special request of other colours.

It is a class A/B hybrid power amp, hand built by the maker. So, what is a hybrid amp? In short, it is a mixture of tube and solid state amp. 

  • Power Output - 30W RMS/channel
  • THD - 0.02%
  • Frequency Response - 20Hz - 50kHz +0, -3 dB
  • Input Impedance - 55kOhms
It is a simple design with an on/off switch on the front. Red/amber when on and blue when it is off. Decent gold plated speaker terminals for use with standard banana plugs and also gold plated RCA input to connect the pre amp. There is also fail safe fuse.


THE SETUP

  • Musical Fidelity M1 CLiC - DAC/Streamer pre amp
  • Musical Fidelity M1 CDT - CD Player
  • SONY MDS JA20ES - MD player
  • Dell laptop - CAS
  • KOGA Aimez Hybrid Power Amp
  • Speaker Cable - Ixos 604
  • Interconnects - Cambridge Audio



FIRST IMPRESSION



I have never heard a hybrid before. Although some people say the NAD Amp I reviewed before was a hybrid as well. Nevertheless, it was quite an eye opener (or is it ear opener?) first impression for me. Huge sound stage, sound was dispersed widely and fills up my hall. A bit shy on the bass but not soft. Vocals feel alive and bold. Even with an MP3 320 kbps file streamed over wifi sounded very much lively and have some natural prowess in the delivery.


THE SETLIST

  • Time To Blow - Del Paxton (CD)
  • Metallica - Enter Sandman (Hi Res FLAC - 24/96)
  • Era Gia Tutto Previsto - Andrea Bocelli (MP3 256 kbps)
  • Mustika - M. Nasir (MP3 192 kbps)
  • Viopipe - Butterfingers (MP3 320 kbps)
  • Hotel California - Eagles (Hi Res FLAC - 24/192)
  • Bamboleo - Gypsy Kings (MP3 320 kbps)
  • KOGA Sampler - Various test music (CD)
THE SESSION

Since the unit was a reference/prototype unit, it was already fully run in. However, since I had the time, by the time I reviewed it, it has already gone through about 30 hours of listening with of 50 songs.

Del Paxton's Time To Blow was...mind-blowing. The double bass on this was a killer. The Aimez delivered such a powerful  bass that was clean, defined and refined. At the same time, it fill up my hall with such enjoyment. The piano was entertaining and blended well with the blues guitar. The Aimez delivered a very clear description of what jazz is all about. Percussion was another high point where the drumming was also very hard hitting where the tom toms sounded hollow as it should be.


Enter the Enter Sandman and the bass was just extraordinary. The dispersion of the drums intro was room filling experience. I usually like my drums to sound tight and punchy, but the Aimez elevated sound just give a different sound to my ProAc D18. I ask myself, how my D18 can do this? I mean, I have tried my D18 with various Musical Fidelity amps, Magnet, NAD, Marantz etc, and although these amps have their own character, the D18 character was still there. I was struggling to find that D18 character with this Aimez. At times, it sounded like PMC which is another favorite of mine. James's vocal was not as upfront as how I used to notice with this track but was still nicely delivered. Guitar riffs was timely and the solo sharp and timely. 

Andrea's rendition of Era Gia Tutto Previsto was the highlight of my session. I usually only listen to this song on my audiophile quality LP as oppose to the MP3 version, but the Aimez delivered this track flawlessly to me. Layer and layer of different instrumentation can be heard without compromising the Andrea's powerful vocal. The whole track was presented in a more elevated signature as if there was a presence speakers above my D18s. His vocal was bold and and energetic but at the same time was very melodramatic.

Closer to the local scene, M. Nasir's Mustika is one of the local songs that combined traditional and modern instruments in one fusion track. The sound of gamelan, angklung etc was very evidently detail and layered across the whole track. The classical guitar solo was clean and crisp in its delivery. The vocal was also very melodious but at certain point, the high frequency was also quite prominent. 

Butterfingers... Malaysian's very own grunge band from the mid 90's... has  this particular track called Viopipe which has always been on my percussion tracklist but never been used in a hifi review before. But given this Aimez is Malaysian made.... and it is in its raw style... I thought it is time that Viopipe is tested. And it was good. Kalai's drumming on this track was a typical old skool grunge/school band drumming. Raw. The bass drum on this was very punchy and the snare was sharp and hard hitting and yet still you can hear the dispersion of the wire below the snare. Emmet's violin was presented in a very melodious but grungy way which hit my emotional side. Emotions that brought me back to the times where I used to be active in the underground scene... either as a drummer or a gig-going, pogo-loving nut head. 

Hotel California swirling intro was very airy and the guitar works was crisp. Each upstroke of the guitar was very detail and clear. The low end frequency was also abundant but very tonally balanced. At certain part, the screeching lead guitar solo was a bit pinching but not excessive. Vocal was not really upfront but was still a good balance. But the strength was definitely how it deliver the drums on this track. Perfect. Very seldom I can hear such detail on drums where each strike on different type of cymbals was really crystal clear.

One thing I noticed about the Aimez, it can deliver layer and layer of music that is quite unique. Hence, I have to try the track Bamboleo from Gypsy Kings purely for its multiple guitar performance. And of course, the strumming and solo of the classical/acoustic guitar was so lively and clean that it reminded me of the time I was at their show in Spain. Definitely another emotional experience listening to this. And the percussion behind the guitars was also very lively and similar to the other tracks tested, the overall performance was just airy and elevated to a new height through my system.

Now, I was also provided with KOGA Sampler CD (which every buyer of KOGA products will be provided with as well). Its a mixture of various musical genre and language for that matter. Is a must have compilation. It really tested the limit of my speakers with very complex musical arrangement.

SO, WHO OR WHAT IS KOGA?

KOGA is actually will be Malaysian first built-to-your-spec hifi designer. The designer will take into account the musical genre you listen to, your speakers and your source and most importantly, your budget to suit the sound characteristics that you want. Wattage? High current? SS? tube? Hybrid? Monoblocks? You name it.... give your budget... and the designer will recommend the most suitable product for you.

Even the casing can be custom made to your desire. Colour, material, display etc can be made to suit the deco of the rest of your hifi set up.

CONCLUSION

A definitely fine product as a debut for KOGA Audio. Big sound from small wattage, with such warm but bold presentation. Enhances the low end frequency for any system and injects certain liveliness to anyone's system that needs a little bit of excitement. The high frequencies can be a little too much for some but at the same time, it can really give you that satisfying metal feeling for the metalheads.

If you are looking for a simplistic, custom made hybrid amp, I would recommend you to demo KOGA Aimez. Don't be fooled by the 30 wattage, it can definitely deliver much more than that musically.

For hifi beginners or head-fi-ers, this is the best way to get into this hobby.  Just get a QED u-Play bluetooth kit or even AE, a pair of speakers...and voila... you got yourself a neat little hifi system.

KOGA Audio amps can be purchased starting from RM 400 (~USD120). KOGA Audio can be contacted via email koga.audio@gmail.com