Info

a short diary of some part of my life.

Posts from the audio Category

There is no optical audio output at the back of the new Apple TV. It’s a big bummer for an audio enthusiast like me. I’m aware that there is a way around this but I need to have an AirPort Express, next to the Apple TV, connected to my DAC via its’ optical input or a powered speakers via its’ analog input. By having an AirPort Express in the audio chain, it’s going to add another complexity to my audio setup. What if the AirPort Expess goes bananas and I would have to fiddle with resetting or re-routing the audio output setting on the Apple TV to HDMI. I prefer not to use my TV’s HDMI to optical output. The sound quality is going to suffer.

I consider myself to be a minority user who likes to have the least hassle but also to have the best sound quality out of an Apple TV. But regular users will still face a major issue; with the older Apple TV, they can easily connect a separate analog audio line  to a powered speaker. Now, they cannot do it anymore with the new Apple TV. They need to have a TV with audio output jack(s). Usually, if the TV is not turned on, you won’t be able to pass an audio signal thru it. I have seen a lot of TVs without any kind of audio output.

you won’t be able to AirPlay audio directly to your speakers

I’m going to buy the new Apple TV but if I don’t like it, I’m going to return it. I don’t care about tvOS App Store. The UI looks awful. Now, there is a compelling reason to get myself a PlayStation 4. My Android-TV-equipped-Sony-TV might become my permanent Plex client.

I might buy the 3rd gen Apple TV just to keep it around for AirPlay.

Here are the scenarios that I’m considering:

  • new Apple TV -HDMI- Sony TV -optical- DAC -analog- powered speakers
  • new Apple TV -AirPlay- AirPort Express -optical- DAC -analog- powered speakers
  • 3rd gen Apple TV -optical- DAC -analog- powered speakers
  • PlayStation 4 -optical- DAC -analog- powered speakers
  • Sony TV -optical- DAC -analog- powered speakers

I’m seriously leaning towards the last setup. Perhaps, I should add, I will be installing a Wyred 4 Sound Reclocker before the DAC to whatever setup I end up with to improve sound quality.

The almighty amp.

Pros:

  • Small, Light
  • All in one box: DAC, preamp, & amp; no more messy cabling
  • Easy to use
  • Simple remote control
  • Lots of input: digital & analog + USB driverless input
  • 100 watts per channel
  • User selectable voltage setting
  • IMO, pretty good looking box and very well made

Cons:

  • Not very musical
  • No phase inversion
  • Requires warm-up time before it reaches its full potential
  • Probably not upgradable

I really like the mINT. I will pick another unit for my second system.

Davone Audio Mojo powered by Wyred 4 Sound mINT

The photo above is one of Raindrop Audio’s customers set up. It’ll be my inspiration on how a high-end audio set up blends seamlessly into becoming a part of the room design. The Mojo actually makes the room looks (and feels) even better.

If Heed Enigma 5 is a non-directional loudspeaker, Davone’s Mojo is an omni-directional speaker. They barely sound alike. It seems Davone of Denmark positions the Mojo not as the best performing speakers in spec sheets but as speakers that you can easily love and enjoy and still have all the traits of a hi-fi grade speakers.

It’s like a pair of beautiful B&O speakers but without the sky-high price tag. It’s like a well sculptured piece of furniture that you can’t simply ignore.

The best part of this speaker is not the unusual shape of it but the sound that is always filling the room. I must admit, I was not expecting the kind of performance I was getting from this ‘smallish’ bookshelf-sized loudspeaker. Its’ single downward firing 5 ¼” long excursion woofer is surprisingly clean and a wonderful sounding one.

This will be my 2nd next batch. I’m falling in love with these new form of speakers. And I can easily see why, they sound so good and they really are that easy to love.

I’ve been trying to build a second system for the living room. I scouted many local audio stores. I didn’t particularly find anything interesting at any of them so I went to Singapore. Singapore is famous for its’ vast selections of high-end shops, including hi-fi audio.

Initial Plan

Initially, I was quite certain that I was going to buy Schiit Gungnir (DAC), Wyred 4 Sound mPRE (DAC + preamp), and ModWright KWA 100 (power amp). I’m already familiar with the latter and the former. The mPRE was what I wanted to audition. I was not going to buy them online or had them shipped to Jakarta without knowing how they perform. I didn’t plan on acquiring speakers other than Selah‘s. Dislaimer: I have never heard of how a decent pair of non-directional speakers sound like. The only way to do this is to audition them in person. This is why we need to support audio dealers. They help us make definite decisions.

Raindrop Audio

I visited Raindrop Audio in 16 Waringin Park. The store is located right in the middle of a suburban area. It’s a bit difficult to find, but it’s actually a good thing as it is far enough from city noise. They are the sole distributor of W4S in Singapore, Malaysia, and Indonesia. Once I called them, informing I would be coming, they set up a listening session with exactly what I was looking for.

The setup: W4S Music Server – W4S mPRE – W4S mAMP (mono amp x 2) – Heed Audio Enigma 5 speakers

Heed Audio Enigma 5

Wyred 4 Sound Music Server & mINT

A Huge Surprise

I was already familiar with a few Wyred 4 Sound products as I’m currently using the DAC-2 and STI-500. This setup is different from any setup I have auditioned. It eliminates the need of a complete room acoustic treatments. Most of the time, with directional speakers, you need to set up the sound to be right in the middle of where the seating position is going to be. Even after the room acoustics are adjusted, you still can’t go around the room and expect the sound to sound just as good as at the seating position. The Heed Enigma speakers solve this issue. The sound is always full bodied and the resolution stays pretty much the same at different listening positions. There may be a slight degradation at extreme angle but I’m sure I will be more satisfied with them than with any directional speakers.

At Heed Audio, we have found that loudspeakers with a non-directional radiation pattern are best able to simply let the music into the room. At the same time, other things begin to happen. Rather than feeling compelled to sit rigidly in the “sweet spot”, it is possible to move to the right and left, forward or backward, up or down, and the music follows.

I came to Raindrop to audition Wyred 4 Sound and now, I think I’m going to buy a pair of Heed speakers. They just got a potentially long-term customer.

Heed Enigma 5

The Enigmas was not only excelling with little room acoustic treatment, they actually sounded pretty good. Ray, the owner of Raindrop played a few classical, they all sounded superb. As stated above, the sound was always full bodied. They did not sound thin or overly thick or heavy, they sounded just right. Usually, with complex passages and vocal, inferior speakers will definitely struggle, they are not inferior speakers, they are superb speakers. The Enigmas produced complex passages effortlessly. Vocal was also produced gracefully without any sign of glares and spikes. This sounds like to good to be true. Then, I looked at the speakers, the drivers are custom-made for them by Morel, one of my favorite brands. Heed does not skimp on build quality and it shows. After looking at the speakers, I went back to more listening sessions. The sound was never constraint. They sounded detailed, a bit on the warm side, full bodied, and never fatiguing. With opera, they sounded big. The soundstage was huge but still believable. The sound placement was great. It’s almost like I was being served by live music, with the performers performing in the room. Or better yet, it’s like listening in a jazz club. They sounded absolutely satisfying.

Wyred 4 Sound minis

No great speakers will sound good if not driven by equally great DAC, preamp, and amp. The digital front consists of W4S Music Server and the DAC section in the mPRE. I suspect, the W4S mPRE preamp section is a great one. Looking at the specs alone, it’s possible that it is equal or better than the marvelously good W4S STP-SE. The power amps are the W4S mAMP, two monos, powered by the newest ICEpower modules inside.

Unfortunately, I don’t think I will be buying them. I want to combine all those functions into one box, that can be found in a mINT. Hopefully the Heed speakers will sound just as glorious. If not, I can always purchase them.

The music server can be controlled via an iOS app. Ray was standing behind me during the audition and he did not even touch any of the minis in front of me. Everything seemed to run seamlessly. There was an ethernet cable connected on the back of the music server, thus no wi-fi signal interference.

As I said above, the sound produced by the speakers never felt constraint. The two mono amps never ran out of breath. Even during steep up and down, the amps easily drove the Enigma.

I like EJ’s approach in making the minis. They are pretty small compared to today’s huge hi-fi gears. I also like the shape of the box. It does not look like a radical new design, it is still utilitarian with more rounded shapes. The buttons are all well thought out. It’s easy to memorize what those buttons are for. There is a LED on every function. The remote is a cute and functional. Everything on the W4S minis scream quality.

Purchase Decision

I will be buying a pair of Heed Enigma 5 when I travel to Singapore in December. I suspect, most people will also be very satisfied with them as the sound is also a huge change compared to the usual directional speakers and you don’t need to invest heavily on room acoustic treatments. The only room acoustic treatment that Ray had in the room during the audition was a panel behind the speakers. Perhaps, that was a way to show that they only need a little treatment.

How to Choose the Right Speakers

The way to find good speakers requires a little legwork and you can’t do it online.

  1. Take your iPod/iPhone, (portable) DAC, or favorite good sounding CDs to an audio store
  2. Chase the salesman away and pull out a yellow pad or whatever note-taking app you have in your phone
  3. Play the first song on every speaker in the store, regardless of price and write down notes on how they sound
  4. Repeat the process with all of your reference songs
  5. Figure out which speakers sounded the best with the largest number of songs
  6. Now look at the prices and see what the bargain is
  7. Buy the speakers and take them home and set them up, paying attention to room acoustics
  8. Get a good prograde equalizer and balance the response
  9. Now, enjoy your music

Nowadays, my music reference is set and won’t be changed anytime soon. I usually bring HeadAmp Pico DAC or Wyred 4 Sound mINT if the audio store allows me to drive their speakers with it. When I chose my speakers, I also brought along with me, speakers that I bought online but I personally know the owner of the audio store. This is a unique case. It’s not like I didn’t buy anything from the store, I bought a lot of stuff from the store.

As usual, rules of thumb: spend less on amp and DAC, more on the speakers, and a bit more on room acoustics.