Tuesday, 31 March 2020

EPSON EF-100 - Petit In Size, Grande In Picture


When it comes to enjoying a good movie at home, nothing beats the feeling to watch it on a huge screen which most of the time is only achievable using a projector. One of the main challenges that a common household face is to have a dedicated room or area big enough to set up a projector. Not only you need a decent size screen but also ample space to install those bulky projector.

The EPSON EF-100 might just be the answer to this issue. Launched on 27th August 2019 in Malaysia, this projectors weighs at just 2.7 KG and at 23 cm on its longest edge, this projector is ideal for any space constraint home. Don't be fooled by its petit size though. It can easily project up to 150" screen size on Wide mode (111" on Tele mode).

This model is equipped with 3LCD technology that displays 100% of the RGB color signal of every frame. What does this mean? It basically provides better color accuracy without compromising on brightness (2000 lumens of colour/white brightness). With this, the projected image is detailed, vibrant, lively and definitely minimizes any jittery images.

THE BUILT

For a small unit like this, I was expecting the built to be cheap and flimsy. I was wrong indeed. EPSON did not deprive its consumers of any substandard materials. The ergonomics of the chassis was well thought off with the option to lay it flat to project forward or to project upwards to the ceiling though its 360 deg projection technology. All the connection ports are well hidden under a fabric mesh like cover which can be sturdily locked in. The front fascia is simple with just the lens and ventilation fins. The connectivity ports are also well fitted although I would prefer an option to extend the USB cable out. This is truly a non intrusive projector and with the choice of 2 colours, Classy White or Tailored Black, it can easily blend in any modern home deco nowadays.

It comes with small remote with a simple lay out to ease the usage. It is adequately sized for consumers to easily browse through the settings of the projector and also control the built in 5W monaurel speakers volume.




THE CONNECTIVITY

The unit offers simple connectivity options:
  1. HDMI x 1
  2. Stereo mini out x 1
  3. USB Type A x 1 (for 2A power supply, firmware update and Copy OSD settings)
  4. USB Type B x 1 (for firmware update and copy OSD settings)
  5. There is also Bluetooth connection that supports external speakers
  6. There is also an option for wireless connectivity to stream movies with its built in Android TV function




THE SESSION

Most reviewers will choose movies that are known to be good in projecting the vibrant colours and also the ones that were highly mastered and processed to meet the highest quality of image projection. Very rare that these movies will fail to mesmerize viewers once played on a decent projector. Now, for me I used 2 different movies that are not known to be as a masterpiece production.

First up is The Brothers Grimsby.  This movie was on 1080P BluRay quality. I chose this movie because of its bright settings throughout the movie. I wanted to see how it fairs in a dark and bright room settings.

 

In a brighter setting, I find that the image was natural with a decent projection of colour definition. However, compared to a darker viewing environment, I find that the image is more defined and engaging. Livelier and more vibrant images with a well defined colour tones. In this scene, I could see that the skin colour of Sacha is more defined in the darker setting. Even the hair colour of the surrounding people look were projected in a more variable tones compare to the brighter setting. 



In another scene, the blood stream has more colour intensity when the projector is running in a darker room. The red colour of the blood stream looks more convincing compared to when used in a brighter room.

Another example here is how the face and hair colour of Penelope Cruz looks more natural, lively and convincing in the darker setting. This is where I believe the 3LCD technology really plays its part. The colour vibrancy can be easily experience without loosing any brightness intensity even though you watch this in a dark environment.



The second movie I watched was The Woman in Black. This movie is a very dark movie where most of the settings on this movie was filmed in a dark settings.





The scene at the beach here looks livelier and natural thanks to the 3LCD technology that the EPSON EF-100 has. The sand contour also looks more defined when watched in a darker setting. It does not loose the brightness even though this is a dark scene. I have experienced with other projectors that fails to project a dark scene with the right colour variation of the objects in that scene. With this projector, somehow I can still sense some variation in this dark scene.

THE CONCLUSION

At RM 3,999, this is actually a steal for those movie buffs that are looking into a more cinematic experience at home. Provided you have an empty wall area or ceiling, this is a much more worthwhile investment compare to a normal LCD/LED TV. It is small enough not to be intrusive to your living area but at the same time provide a very vivid and vibrant images straight out of the box (I did not do any calibration). With the wireless streaming connectivity, its an added bonus as you can also stream online platforms like Netflix, Youtube etc. The EPSON EF-100 would be a great add on to your existing home theater without creating a big hole in our pocket. If there was a one downside of this unit is mainly on the audio side. The 5W speakers is nothing to shout about. In fact, it can sometime sound very highly distorted. Best to connect the sound to an external speakers either via BT or wired.
This unit is also suitable for the less techy consumers as it is so easy to set it up. No messing around with jargons or features that you are not familiar with. Its close enough to be defined as Plug N Play.

For a more detail info on specs, click here

Saturday, 21 March 2020

Oopiib Sings Impression 2 - Live Recording in Bangkok










When Auu of Impression Sound Studio posted on FB that this album will be on sale, I immediately pre ordered one. As Kusuma and her were heading this way, I managed to get a hold of this CD sometime in February.

Based on my previous experience buying LPs or CDs from Aau during KLIAV, the sound quality of the recordings is something that you look forward too. I dont speak Thai apart from Khub khun karb but listening to ISS production is a must. 

There are 10 tracks on this album and all of them were recorded live in Studio 28, Bangkok.  I have been listening to CD for over a month now and I must say, it does not matter that I dont understand Thai. What matters is that I felt really engaged and entertained. My favourite track on this album is track 7. You might want to guess why? I particularly like the sound of the percussion on this track. The snare, brush stick, toms sounded full eventhough it was played at a lower volume. Besides the drum, the piano also sounded really melodic . Oopiib vocal really mesmerizing. The recording really focused on ensuring her vocal comes out clearly but at the same time full of energy to deliver  that emotion across. 

String instrument is a bit on a mellow side but wind instrument makes up for it. It really sounded huge and airy but at the same time it is mesmerizing. Never once Oopibb vocal fail to surface despite of the multiple musical instrument used for this recording.

On the highs, her vocal can sound pinchy at times but still sweet enough to forget about that. With the multiple layers of instrument properly staged during my session, even at low volume, the presentation from this album was still lively. The energy dispersion just envelopes me. It is so engaging that I didnt even realise  that its already on the 10th track.


Listening to this CD made me realised that there are a lot to learn to properly record a live session. But doing it right will give listener a full satisfaction. I wonder how it will sound if this was recorded in a high resolution format or LP.

I would like to say thank you to Auu and Kusuma for bringing the CD to KL. Now I await for an LP version of this live recording.

Monday, 16 March 2020

XTARK IA10 - Solid, Bold and Huge Sounding










More and more local products started to surface in the past few years. As far as I can recall, I have reviewed speakers, cables, pre amps, power amps, streamer, and headphone amps. This will be the first integrated amp with a Malaysian touch that I had the pleasure to review. First of all, a big thanks to Matthew Ong of AFC Top HiFi for sending this unit over.

THE BUILT, INS AND OUTS, SPECIFICATION

Sturdily built and beautifully finished aluminium chassis with a simple front fascia. The front is equipped with a small screen to show the volume step. There are 2 knobs, one for input selector and one for digital volume. The volume knob also act as a mute knob by pressing it in. The power button is also located here.

The unit is relatively heavy compared for its size. I would say about 6 to 7 kg.

On the rear, the unit offers 4 RCA inputs and a 2 sets of RCA outputs (I believe there is a plan for XTARK to introduce power amps as well). The speaker terminals accepts standard banana plugs. 

The remote is something special. Reminds me of a Bryston remote. Metal remote with minimal buttons for volume, input selector and mute. Even battery compartment is locked in with screws.

The IA10 amp is a 100 watter per channel amp at 8 ohms, 200 watts at 4 ohms and 300 watts at 2 ohms. THD (Total Harmonic Distortion) is at 0.005% and the response frequency goes from 20 Hz to 35 kHz (-0.5dB)


THE SETUP

The amp is hooked up to SONY HAP Z1ES, Kronos Sparta via Absolare Phono stage and the PMC Twenty5.24 speakers.

THE SESSION




On the digital side, playing Tak Seindah Wajah by the late Dato S.M. Salim from my SONY HAP Z1 ES, I was extremely surprised by how huge the sound stage have transformed in my set up. Clarity of vocal seems to be the main strength in this first impression session. Its not just clear but the amp injects the energy to reproduce his sweet and emotional vocal.  With regards to the low frequency, the amp does not fall short in providing very well defined bass. The PMC Twenty5.24 was giving out an immersive bass experience driven by this amp. The highs can be of a concern as at times, it can sound a little bit harsh. The huge sound stage is also one the amp's strong point. I initially thought that this was a hybrid amp i.e. having both tube and solid state characteristics.  But nope. This huge sound stage was coming from an AB amp.





On the analog side of things, this track Samba de Menino by Michael Blicher, Dan Hemmer, Steve Gadd is a testament of what this amp can deliver . The percussion on this track was presented in a very engaging manner. The bass drum was hard hitting and so were the toms. The snare was dispersed and hi hat was splashy to give that huge staging impact. This one really got me going as my feet was moving to the beat of this track. The part that impressed me most was the fact that the amp can still produced such a controlled and grip on the bass but at the same time maintained that huge sound stage that painted a real lively listening ambiance.  

THE VERDICT


At RM4680, I would place this amp as a very decent start up hifi category. Minimalist but with a very high grade build and also a decent specs. In this price range, consumers are spoiled with various options from Marantz, Arcam, Musical Fidelity, Rega etc. However, this XTARK IA10 can give you the spacious sound if that is what you prefer in your listening session. It does  give a little bit harshness in the highs but given the overall presentation, the clarity from the vocals and controlled bass delivery compensate a lot to this minor setback. Give it a go and demo it. AFC Top HiFi is located at Bandar Kinrara 5.


Saturday, 15 February 2020

Malacca's Hidden Gem Just Got Better







Its been awhile since I visited this Malacca's hidden gem. The last visit must be about 2 years ago where the set up was in the living room and the foundation of the man cave was just about to be laid down.  There were also 2 sets of speakers; the Harbeth and Audio Note. Both driven by the the pre and monoblocks by our locally  bred  talent, Ben.

While the Ben's power amplification and source are maintained, Faisal@CB have recently upgraded his speakers to a pair of Avantgarde Acoustic Uno Nano horn speakers. The man cave have also been completed albeit the interior is still work in progress. For this session, Faisal used Ben's passive pre amp as well together with Tricord Dino phono stage.

I spent about 3 hours listening to this newly acquired speakers. To be honest, I had a concern on this speakers will sound a bit sharp and shrill based on my previous listening experience of a similar speakers. The session started off with Eric Clapton unplugged. This first spin clearly shows the strength of this speakers which is clarity. The guitar works on this LP really shine through. There was some signs of restricted  highs but we were just warming up. Bass was controlled and not overwhelming but my concern was immediately diminished. The highs although sligghtly restricted was actually sweet and luscious sounding. 




Second track was one of my favourite; Fly Me To The Moon by Diana Krall frlmo her Live in Paris album. My my my....the vocal on this was so energised that it truely presented the live ambient (but without the Eiffel Tower behind it :). The piano sounded melodic and the percussion, especially the snare sounded dispersed in a good way. A good blend of bass subtlety from the tom toms and sweet highs from the ride and hihat.



 

So, was it just enjoyable with unplugged, strings and live music? We then put on Up and Adam by Lee Ritenour. Now, this was a different level. My excitement just elevated a notch. The level emotion intimacy on this track was very revealing. This is where I started to shake my head and stamp my feet to the beat of the drums. And when I get emotionally engaged to certain performance like this, I basically stop 'evaluating' a set up. There is  no point anymore as that is the objective of listening to music; to be emotinally connected and just drown yourself in enjoyment.



There were other tracks that we played but as I mentioned, I stopped my critical listening after this track above. I was just enjoying the music and chit chat with Faisal and another friend Samad. At the end of the session however, Faisal wanted to see what Siltech speaker cable can do. So I brought my 330L Siltech Anniversary cable for him to try it out. Another joy of this hobby iswhen we get to share different accessories etc. The key to this is to put aside any prejudgement and also be open to whatever the comments that comes with it.

I would like to thank Faisal and also Samad for the session and also post session of makan2.  This is a fine example of how passion towards music and patience in setting up a hifi system really bears the fruit. It was not an easy journey for Faisal with several different speakers have landed in his set up. But once you get to a certain level, the satisfaction can be clearly seen from his expression that night. He still wants to see what else can be extracted from his set up, so I would say.... carry on. 




Saturday, 1 February 2020

Stoner Acoustics UD130 - The Peak of All UDs


Every time I get a hold of a Made in Malaysia hifi product, I have this sense of pride and it comes with a responsibility to give it my utmost attention in the review. For this particular product by Stoner Acoustics, it's even more special as I have been using their USB DAC since July 2012 for my office set up. The first model was UD100 which I used to call it 'The Naked DAC'.

When the owner and designer, Mr. Ooi Tze Yang contacted me just before Christmas, I quickly agreed to give a review on this as I have in the past reviewed their UD100, UD 110 and UD120.


THE SPECIFICATION

As opposed to the previous models, this unit came with an amplifier as well. Complete in a small casing and volume control, the UD130 is lightweight which makes it portable enough to carry around. When you purchase the UD130, it comes with a USB cable to connect to your laptop and a carrying case as well. If you want it to be music on the go, it also support Android OTG. For me, this unit works well with my Samsung Fold, running Onkyo HF player, Google Music TIDAL and Spotify.

The unit is equipped with an AKM AK4493 high performance DAC, TI TPA6120A Dual Channel High Power Amplifier and a switchable USB Audio Class 1 (24 Bit/96KhZ) and Class 2 (32 Bit/384 KHz, DSD 64/12/8/256, DoP-64/128). You can read the full specs here.

THE SET UP

Source: Macbook and Samsung FOLD playing iTunes, Google Music, TIDAL and Spotify
Headphones: Beyerdynamic T1, Sennheiser HD800S
Earphones: RHA MA750

Compatibility: Literally plug and play for both Mac and Samsung FOLD OTG. 

WAV, DSD, MP3, AAC... no issues

 

THE SESSION

Take Five by Dave Brubeck on DSD

My usual first track for me to experience how deep can the UD130 deliver its bass. First of all I am happy to report that the UD130 is sooooo quiet. No hissing sound, no hums. Dead quiet. And yes, the bass extension on this track was exceptionally good. It juices up the cans sufficiently. It takes a bit more to drive the Senns and Beyer but the RHA, no issues at all. Effortless to deliver the bass that I like. On the high notes, the snare dispersion sounded extended as well.

At Last by Etta James on TIDAL HiFi

Love it Love it. The intro was mellow all in the right places. Send shivers to my spine. Etta's vocal was sharp and lively. I can experience the emotions through this track. The violin sounded very sweet too. At times, the vocal can sound a bit too sharp especially when she stretches her high notes but still tolerable.

Sweet luscious sounding Etta this UD130 allows her to sound like. Still cant believe it can deliver such sweet vocals through both HD800S and T1.

Return to Love - Andrea Bocelli and Ellie Goulding on MASTER Tidal


Ellie's vocal sounded sweet and luscious on this track. In contrast to Andrea's vocal, it made the duet sounded well balanced between Andrea's deep voice and Ellie's more high pitched voice. The piano notes also sounded very lively yet subtle. The bass and electronic effects were vibrant enough to make this track to sound old but new.

Enter Sandman by Metallica on TIDAL HiFi

Is UD130 all about vocal? Enter Sandman was a test for  heavier sound for UD130. The UD130 presented this track with such control yet still deliver that metal adrenalin that this track offers. Bass was abundant from Lars's double pedal and the overall drum tom toms. Kirk's guitar riffs were energetic but maintains its rawness.  This track shows that the UD130 is capable to cope with a fast paced and heavy metal tracks.

Sweet Child O Mine by Guns N Roses on 16/44

What can I say? I was in the mood of 90s metal and rock. I was expecting a similar experience like Metallica but for this track, it sounded a bit on a mellow side. It started off quite energetic with the guitar intro but the overall sound was a bit on the thin side. This was true for all 3 headphones/earphones that I used. It was still entertaining but I could use with a little bit of liveliness and essence behind this iconic track.

Sand of Time by Slumber Sonic on WAV 24/44

This soon to be released track by Slumber Sonic was experimental test for UD130. The bass intro sounded plucky but with still enough extension. The bass drums sounded full and well rounded but the snare dispersion sounded a bit uncontrolled. Clarity was evident here as I can hear each instrument separation clearly. The guitar solo sounded huge too. The vocal was mellow which suits the genre of this track.

THE CONCLUSION

Stoner Acoustics has once again produced an affordable, locally made USB DAC amp that does not compromise on sound quality. At RM300, this is a no brainer for anyone who is interested to improve their digital source without burning a big hole in their pocket. If I was to sum up the performance, I would say this DAC amp is the quietest portable model I have encountered at this price range. Its good for quite a range of musical genre including metal. It is also quite transparent. Playing high quality files is fun to listen to. Bass is exceptionally good and mids are sweet. High notes however may struggle a bit no to sound on the shrilling side. Have no issues driving headphones like T1 and HD800S although I had to play it at nearly maxed out on the volume pot. The unit is also powered directly from your source, so do check with Stoner Acoustics on compatibility. For me, no issue for Samsung FOLD and Macbook. It did not power up with Sony TPA Walkman. 

The sound characteristics described here is quite consistent across Beyer T1, Senns HD800S and RHA. It was just a matter of volume level, how is it for UD130 to drive and overall ambience. 

If interested to purchase, do head towards their website at STONER ACOUSTICS or email them at stoneracoustics@gmail.com























Saturday, 25 January 2020

XDuoo TA03S - Entertaining But Needs Careful Matching









This tube amp comes with just single RCA input. Suitable for the minimalist. The built is solid  and quite heavy for a small sized amp. Equipped with tubes.

EQUIPMENT

I tested this headphone amp using SONY HAP Z1 ES hi res player and paired it with Sennheiser HD800S.

TRACKS

  1. Message In A Bottle by Machine Head in WAV 16/44
  2. Revocate The Agitator by Deicide in WAV 16/44
  3. New York New York by Andrea Bocelli and Tony Bennett in 24/96
  4. Billie Jean by Michael Jackson on DSD 2.8 MHz
  5. The Last Goodbye by Billly Boyd in WAV 16/44

Machine Head's rendition of The Police's Message In A Bottle sounded a bit tame in the beginning but once the drums kicked in, surprisingly it sounded very energised. The snare sounded very hard hitting with a solid thud rather than souding dispersed. The vocal on this track was heavily growling. I am quite suprised that this tube amp can deliver such powerful delivery on a metal song.

I gave the TA03S another scare by playing Revocate The Agitator by Deicide. No issues... no issues seriously. It made me asking how a tube ampncan really score high on metal music. Benton's growling vocal was clear and very energetic. The heavy guitar and double pedal on the drums didnt sound muddled up at all. Each hit by the drumstick can heard clearly. The guitar riffs were very clean sounding  as well.

Andrea Bocelli live duet with Tony Bennett on New York New York was very entertaining. When it comes to a well recorded live performance, the TA03S can really simulate and deliver the sound in a live ambience. I felt that I was really listening to a live show, sitting smack in the middle. 

Billie Jean by the King of Pop sound quite sharp on the highs. Had to lower down the volume for this track. But the clarity of vocal and bass eere evident in this track. The TA03S didnt hold back anything. Michael's vocal forceful and the bass was just insane. Very unfortunate that the highs were a little bit pushing on the fatiguing level.

Playing The Last Goodbye was the highlight of the review. Boyd's vocal goes deep and the overall presentation was huge and energised with strong emphasis on clarity with sweet highs and bold mids. I could do with a little bit more of bass but the way TA03S deliver the luscious sound on this track made up for the lack of bass.

THE CONCLUSION

Pair this amp with the right headphone and it will sing. Pair it wrongly like with an Audeze EL8, it will not give it its best. I would say this TA03S is best for vocal and live performance. Why I say this? Even in the metal music example,the vocal was still super clear. The highs can be a little bit sharp and I could do with more bass.

Try to demo this amp with your headphone. Contact TechX for a demo.