Thursday 22 February 2024

The World of Fiio - The K9 and R9 Eargasm

 Fiio K9, R7 and R9



THIS IS NOT A SHOOT OUT!

When Stars Pickers offered me to review these 2 products, I could not resist it and said yes. Having the R7 unit which I purchased last year during the KLIAV show, I was really keen to know what R9 can offer. As both the R9 and K9 are 2 different designs, the review is more about what each of the model can offer, its signature sound and also which headphones are best matched with.

I will not bore you with a detailed specifications as that can easily be accessible on the Fiio website but one thing I will mention here is that both units are well equipped with various connectivity and features.

THE HEADPHONES

For this review, the following are the headphones used for this review. I only used 1 reference track frm Qobuz - Soolaiman by Neil Diamond on Hi-Res 24/192
  1. Beyerdynamic T1
  2. Sennheiser HD700S
  3. Audeze EL8
  4. Grado HEMP

HOW WAS R9?




Beyerdynamic T1 - On the R9, the percussion on this track sounded very tight and punchy but still retain the 'hollowness' sound. With the R9, the listening ambient was very holographic where again the multi-instrument on this track created a very enveloping experience. The R9 also presneted a very natural mids and highs where Neil's vocal sounded very dynamic and at the same time highly filled with natural expressions by him.

Sennheiser HD700S - This is quite the opposite of the T1. The track sounded thin but neutral with no dominance of any particular audio spectrum. It is also highly transparent with a clear and crisp vocal by Neil. Some background noise was also very audible making it sound a bit sharp on the highs. 

Audeze EL8 - As opposed to a punchy bass, the EL8 had a deep extensive bass that goes really low on this track. I personally prefer this kind of bass response instead hard hitting and punchy.  Really good mids as well, making the Neil's vocal sounded really good and full of emotion. However, it would be more enjoyable with sweeter highs. At times, it can sound a bit flat with the mids and lows dominating the presentation.

Grado HEMP - Surprisingly, I enjoyed the R9 most with the Grado HEMP. The best clarity that I can experience is with the Grado and R9. Although the background noise is highly audible, it was actually helping to make the overall presentation to sound more natural in all aspect. Natural bass, vocal and instruments. Sufficient to make the song sound really alive, in sync with the sound of that era.

HOW WAS K9?



Beyerdynamic T1 - This to me is the best combo presentation of the Soolaiman track. Overall punchier, solid and extensive bass but maintained a balanced presentation across the audio spectrum. Neil's vocal sounded expressive and melodious throughout.  The percussion maintains the hollowness tune but with great precision and sound accuracy.  Very engaging experience that led me towards tapping my feet and moving my body to the tune.
 
Sennheiser HD700S - The K9 matches better with the Senns compared to R9.  A better control of highs and smoother with the mids can be experienced with this combo. However, still thin sounding but with a slightly deeper dive in bass. Still maintains a high level of transparency where Neil's vocal as the main highlight of this pairing. 

Audeze EL8 - Even a bigger sound with an enveloping ambient can be heard when paired with the K9. Maintains the extensive bass with deeper dive with sufficient mids. The percussion sound was really engaging to me, and it just continue to draw me in to the enveloping sound ambient. The highs were slightly sweeter than the pairing with R9 but to me, it still lacks that magic sparkle.

Grado HEMP - Again, somehow the Grado HEMP can really shine with Fiio amps and DAC. With this pairing, even a better clarity and liveliness were experienced. Each instrument placement and precision can be heard with this pairing. Bass is sufficient and does not overwhelm the HEMP. It maintains its natural presentation. The drums really got me going with this pairing. Neil's vocal was best presented here.

THE CONCLUSION

So, which one is better? As I mentioned earlier, this is not a shootout. Both K9 and R9 have its own value proposition and very much dependent on the following:
  • The headphones you want to pair them with and sound signature you like - both the K9 and R9 are capable to drive the 4 headphones I have with their own unique sound delivery.
    • I find the best pairing is between Grado and K9 and R9. If you prefer clarity, natural and neutral sound, you will not go wrong with both amps.
    • If bass dominance is your preference, both K9 and R9 can give your Audeze a good low frequency works.
    • Somehow, I do not feel Sennheiser will match well with both amps. Both the Senns and K9/R9 are great products but somehow, it does not gel well together.
    • For best musicality, I must say the Beyerdynamic matches well with either K9 or R9. The best overall musical enjoyment came from this pairing.
  • Your utilization plan - if you plan to have a separate music source from your amplification, then K9 is the way to go. It is purely a headphone amplifier with a built in DAC. However, if you require an All-In-One music source and amplification, the R9 is the way to go.
As a conclusion, similar to my hifi approach, I do believe that having a separate source and amplifier yields more musicality. Hence, my preference would be the K9 if musicality is the objective. The R9 is feature packed and that's the way to go if an All-In-One unit is required.

Both units are available at Star Pickers Audio Library retailed at RM2499 for K9 and RM6999 for R9.

Contact them on 012-3392040 to arrange for a demo with your headphones.



Monday 22 January 2024

Chord Electronics Day with John Franks and Rob Watts at Starpickers

 

Star Pickers Audio Library organised a Chord Electronics Day where special guests John Franks and Rob Watts shared to the attendees the latest updates on Chord products.
















Friday 29 December 2023

SVS PRIME Wireless Pro and 3000 Micro Sub - Simplified But Capable





For local audiophiles and AV enthusiasts, the name SVS is no stranger to them including yours truly. In my previous home theater set up, my rear and ATMOS speakers were from the PRIME series and also the main subwoofer as well. They were very capable speakers to complement my LCR which were the PMCs. Nevertheless, I never really had the chance to test or use them as a pair stereo set up or even a lifestyle set up.

When AJ of The Experts Group Malaysia mentioned about the Wireless Pro and 3000 Micro Sub set up, it intrigued me to review them. I had them for 3 weeks (about 2 weeks of serious listening) and I must say, they continue to live up to their name even for a 2 channel set up. Read on to know why!


THE SPECIFICATIONS



First of all, the Wireless Pro speakers are sold separately from the subwoofer i.e. it is actually a stand alone unit. It can belt out music without the connection to the subwoofer. 

The term wireless can sometimes be misleading. As far as I remember, my first 'wireless' set up was a SONY home theater system for my apartment in Abu Dhabi when I was stationed there between 2005 to 2007. At that time, the term wireless was mainly referring to my rear speakers as I did not need to run cables to the main unit at the front. However, there was a need to have 2 additional eletrical plugs to power up both rear speakers. Hence, it was one of those 'wireless' but not truly 'wireless' if you get my drift.

Not with the PRIME Wireless Pro! Even the power cable to the main unit with the front display is equipped with attached cable to connect to the other speakers. Hence,  you just need one eletrical power supply point to power both speakers. 

The subwoofer however, needed a mono RCA subwoofer cable to connect from the Wireless Pro.

As a wireless powered speakers, the Pro is equipped with a dual Class-D power amps for discrete Bi-Amplification at 200 watts RMS power with a digitally controlled tweeter to woofer Xover at 2kHz.

The pair is relatively sized decently as a bookshelf speakers at 295 mm x 180 mm x 228 mm (HxWXD) and weighs about 5.6 kg each. It is recommended as well to either place them on a decent speakers stands or an isolation platforms such as the IsoAcoustics Aperta.

The pair also comes with a neat little remote that does all the basic function.




INS AND OUTS

Inputs
  • 1 x RCA
  • 1 x optical
  • 1 x 3.5mm Line In
  • 1 x HDMI (ARC)
  • 1 x Ethernet
Ouputs
  • 1 x sub out
  • Bluetooth 5.0 with AAC and aptX
  • 1 x Ethernet
Wireless Connectivity
  • Bluetooth 5.0 with AAC and aptX
  • DTS Play-Fi - Losslee 192 kHz/24 bit via critical listening mode over WiFi
  • Apple Airplay 2 and Chromecast - CD Quality
  • Spotify Connect
For a complete specification details, click here.



The 3000 Micro Subwoofer is a fully active unit, designed with a dual opposing 8 inches drivers. Measuring at 278 x 297 x 271 mm (HxWxD), this sub is not to be underestimated. Weighing at about 10 kg, this unit complemented the Wireless Pro speakers seamlessly; providing sufficient grunt and low frequency envelope to make the sound reproduction very musical indeed.

It comes with a pair or RCA ouput and input in which I only connected the sub via a single RCA mono interconnect to the Prime Wireless Pro. The volume and phasing of this sub can either be done manually through the soft touch buttons at the rear panel or also via their app. (However, I believe you need to purchase a wireless audio adapter for this to work via Bluetooth)

The subwoofer amplification comes from an 800 watt RMS, 2,500 watt peak Sledge STA-800DM built in amp with a fully discrete MOSFET output high-effiiciency Class D switching topology. Fully packed into this tiny in size but muscular in sound. For the full specs and features, click here.







THE SESSION

I tested out this set up in stages below:

1. Without the subwoofer
2. With the subwoofer

My review below however will only be with the subwoofer with some comparison context to listening without the subwoofer.

Before describing the listening session, the first test that I always do is the CONNECTION STABILITY. In this modern era, this is essential for any wireless system. First of all, setting up the speakers into my home network.

The SVS Prime Wireless Pro Bookshelf speakers was fully set up physically and gained connectivity within 20 minutes. That is how simple it is. Using the DTS play-Fi app on Android, connectivity to my home network was a breeze. Music services to Spotify, Tidal, Qobuz and Roon were seamlessly connected within seconds of logging in.

The system was put into a looping streaming for 1 hour and it passed El Hefe's HiFi Reviews stability test ✅️✅️. ZERO signal dropouts over wifi.




I listened to the following tracks with and without the subwoofer. My reference will only be on QOBUZ but TIDAL and Spotify were tested too.

  1. Take Five by The Kenichi Big Band
  2. Take Five by Dave Brubeck
  3. Turn Me On by Norah Jones
  4. Enter Sandman by Metallica
  5. The Sound of Silence by The Ghost of Johnny Cash


Take Five by Big Band Kenichi

On this track, the speakers were able to deliver a very lively ambient with layers and layers of multi instruments being tightly played. This is not a particularly easy track to be played as it involves a complex arrangement that needs a good reproduction to really get the music going. The subwoofer added that additional kick to the song in which without it, it can sound a little bit laid back with all the highs playing frm the multi instrument band. The sound stage also sounded big compared to the size of the speakers. At one point, my kids thought I was playing the song from my main hifi set up. It was one of the more entertaining session I had with this set up. 


Japanese Roots by Takadake

I must say that this track was the track that really made me say that this is one capable wireless speaker set up. The wind instrument sound really lush yet chilling with enough energy to get listener excited. I was fully engaged and mesmerized with the level of clarity and how deep it can go with the bass. Yes, the subwoofer added some juice to it but on this track, even without the sub, it can really belt out an energetic performance. The percussion on this track sounded tight with the sufficient amount of dispersion that I like. It maintained the similar huge soundstaging that gave me an immersive experience.



Turn Me On by Norah Jones

I then had to test the speakers with some vocals. Norah's vocal really stand out with this wireless speakers. It manages reproduce the build up from a relaxing intro in which there was a good blend of her vocal, piano and percussion into an emotional roller coaster. As soon as she hits some high notes, it sounded even more engaging.  As it goes into the bridge, the set up created that cyclic emotion to build towards the emotional finale of that track.


Enter Sandman by Metallica

Now, this is where it got a bit tricky. With the stellar performance thus far, I was expecting a kick ass, energetic and andrenalin pumping session with this track.  While the guitar riffs of Kirk Hammer sounded really ferocious, I find that Lar's drumming lacked a bit of punch even with the subwoofer on. James's vocal still came out clearly and upfront as there was no overwhelming dominance from the high and low spectrum. It was just the drumming didn't come out as I expected especially the intro of floor tom and other tom toms. It was still a very decent performance for metal music but I could do with a little bit more dive in the low end spectrum of frequencies.


The Sound of Silence by The Ghost of Johnny Cash

The highlight of the session came from this track. It sent me chills and emotional engagement. The Wireless Pro just reeled me into a deep unawareness of my surrounding. My mind just floated away with the huge sound stage and the reproduction of that vibrating vocal. It filled up my dining area with such ease and without comprimising any essence of the song. Truly an enjoyable  listening experience.

THE CONCLUSION

Of many all in one wireless systems that I have owned and reviewed in the past in the likes of BOSE, Bluesound, SONY, Samsung, KEF etc, this SVS Prime Wireless Pro is the most comprehensive yet simple to set up and use. It has a stable connectivity to all major online streaming services and able to stream uncompressed Hi Res files with no signal dropouts even on wireles mode. A big plus point here.

The sound quality that it can provide actually warrants it to be paired with a decent speaker stands if one intends to use this as a main stereo set up as oppose to easy listening set up for in the likes of dining area, bedroom or small living room. For desktop use, it is recommended to have a pair of isolation platforms such as the IsoAcoustics Apetra.

Without the subwoofer, the Wireless Pro is still able to deliver a very engaging musical presentation. Clarity, huge sound stage and luscious vocal are the 3 main strength based on my listening sessions. With the subwoofer, it elevates the Wireless Pro to be more emotionally engaging as it made the music wraps over me plus, it gives out that extra low frequencies thumping effect as well.

To summarise, if you are looking at getting into a true all in one wireless set up while maintaining a more 2 channel hifi looks, this Prime Wireless Pro should be on your audition list. At RRP of RM4,900 a pair (and RM 5,210 for the 3000 Micro sub for that extra kick), this can be at par or even better sounding than certain entry level hifi set up. You will also eliminate the headache of figuring out a match between amplifier, streamer unit and a pair of passive speakers, let alone the interconnects and speaker cables.

Oh! Did I mention that The Experts Group is having a promotional offer? Better grab them while you can.

For audition, make your way to The Experts Group Malaysia outlet, located at The Gardens Mall, Lot S-207, 2nd Floor, Mid Valley City, Lingkaran Syed Putra, 59200 Kuala Lumpur. They can be contacted on 012-6462738 to book for a demo session. 











 


























Sunday 26 November 2023

The Sound & Sight Exhibition 2023 - Simple and No Hassle Show


The International Sound & Sight Exhibition 2023 was held in The Holiday Inn Orchard City Centre, Singapore on 24th till 26th Nov. Better known as The ISSE show, it is actually a regular annual event for the audiophiles in Singapore and nearby countries. Initially, I intended to to spend the weekend here similar to the Hi End show last month but looking at the list of rooms, I believe I could cover the whole event in 1 day.... and I sure did :)

There were 21 rooms and 3 tables spreaded over 1 and half floors with the bigger halls located at the level below the hotel lobby.

Overall, it was quite a simple and no hassle show. Smaller than I expected but it gave me more time to enjoy each room. There were few rooms that were exceptionally good sounding. I noticed that most rooms were with minimal acoustic treatment. Not sure whether it was hotel policy not to put up any acoustic treatment board or panels. Nevertheless, kudos to all exhibitors as they made the best of what they have in the rooms.

I must say that each show that I attend, I like to look for something extraordinary, thought provoking and innovative products. This time around, I experienced the Voodoo Labs Witchcraft. This is a patent pending grid providing the musical signal with the lowest possible capactiance and  a ΓΈ for the magnetic field much, much bigger than speaker cables with shielding.

There were a few 'first time' moments for me as well. Particularly, listening to FinkTeam speakers and also the pairing of  Sonus Faber speakers with TEAC electronics and also Gryphon EOS2 speakers with Jadis I70 integrated tube amp.

Here are some samplers from a few systems.


Visitors also had the choice to purchase a single day entrance or 2 days entrance in which with the latter, you get a higher quality pressed Audio CD.





Audio Maestro

The home of everything Audio Group Denmark, this room showcased the Borressen X6, Aavik I580 integrated amp with its matching streamer S280 and DAC D280. There was also the Axxess Forte 3 available with this main system for those who wish to listen to all in one system. All cabling and network and power switch is by Ansuz and racks by Solid Steel.

The X3 and X2 speakers were also available on the side on demo.











Element5 Laser Laboratories 

The only room for home theater. Didn't get much info about the set up though.



Simplicity Control 

The home of Magico, J Sikora, Taiko Audio, Tombo Audio, EMM Labs, Pilius, DS Audio and KECES Audio. The musical presentation here was different from the KLIAV show last month. With this set up, it was more refined, luscious and sweet sounding especially the highs. 














AV One

The FOCAL Stella Utopia EM Evo Speakers stand tall iin this room paired with a full Naim 300 Series electronics.




Ong Radio

The land of eveything McIntosh and B&W. The room that needs no introduction for the majestic set up. Great looks and sound reproduction here. Hard hitting bass and detailed musical experience.




Audio Sound

I first met William Whey in the Hi End show a few months ago where I enjoyed the Audionet system he was showcasing. This time around, I was gobsmacked by the Voodoo Labs Witchcraft grid system, delivering musical signals to a pair of SB Acoustics speakers. The most thought provoking innovation in this show IMHO.








Lawrence Audio

This is a second time I get to listen to a Lawrence Audio speakers, first being in KLIAV show a few years ago. Quite an exquisite sound pairing them with Luxman electronics.








Horizon Acoustics

Horizon Acoustics set up evolves around the Qualio open baffle speakers paired with Audion, COS Engineering and ModWright Instrument electronics.



CD Acoustics

The Harbeth experience was available in this room. They were paired with ModWright LS99 tube pre and Modwirght KWA99 monoblocks.


The Experts Group

TEG had 2 rooms featuring brands such as SV, Monitor Audio, Rotel, Paradigm and many more.






Absolute Sound

This is the first time I get to listen to a Sonus Faber speakers paired with TEAC electronics. Surprisingly, it was actually quite a good match. The pre power TEAC amps can drive this speaker without any sign of stress. Very fluid sound.

There was also the Duetto active stereo speakers available.










Wow Acoustics

Everything MoFi can be found in this room and also LA Audio.






The Reference Audio

Gryphon Audio Designs EOS 2 speakers paired with Jadis I70 is quite a remarkable pairing for both digital and analog. The Wand Tonearm analog source was mesmerizing as well. Quite a wholesome experience here. CH Precision and Melco digital source were performing extremely good too.











Raindrop Audio

This room set up the Revival Audio speakers paired with Cen.Grand DSDAC and SOtM products.




YAMAHA

The all Yamaha set up was equally impressive as well. Not to mention the upcoming new model of headphone amplifier, due to release next month.




Project Perfection

This is where I get to listen for the first time Fink Team speakers paired with Dan D'Agostino amp and Weiss DAC and Roon server. 









Infinite Sound

The epos ES14N speakers sang beautifully with Moonriver Audio ampa nd New Horizon turntable.









Tritone AV

Another first experience for me to see the MAG-LEV elevated and floating turntable. I didnt get a chance to listen to it as the demo was on digital source at the time I was there. Apart from the Lumin streamer, the rest of the electronics were from Parasound . The Piega speakers matches well in this set up.