I am well aware these following parts of Adventures in High Fidelity Audio’s coverage of the September 2012 National Audio Show are very late and I debated the relevance of publishing them now, as well over 8 months has passed since this event took place but I felt on balance that there are quite a few interesting products to write about, quite a few photos to share and thus I am publishing these next four parts of the Whittelbury show in full as I normally would have and I am grateful for the extensive notes I took then that allows me to do this now.
So sit back and let me transport you back to last years, late summer NAS show at Whittelbuy Hall.
Becketts – The Right Note
As per usual – I have yet to be disappointed with a Right Note room – Jeremy Baldwin was in his element chatting with those in the room as he demonstrated the products and the quality of music reproduction was very high as per usual – I have yet to hear a bad sound in a Right Note room at any show I have attended in the past and this show was no exception.
The system Jeremy was demonstrating consisted of the following products: VTL S200 power-amplifier £9800, Spiral Groove SG2 turntable with Centroid tonearm £5000 and there was also a Spiral Groove SG 1.1 turntable on show £2150, VTL7.5 pre-amplifier £19500, VTL 6.5 phonostage £8350 and the speakers were Kawero Vivace £22360. All the equipment was hooked up by Vertex cabling and housed on Leading Edge equipment tables £1015.
The spiral groove turntables are something I have wanted to see and hear for years after reading about the brand in the pages of Stereophile and The Absolute Sound and the sound was lovely and just as good as I had read described.
Various bits of VTL and other interesting kit dotted the back of the room on static display.
One interesting new comer but not in use – while I was in the room – was the new Kaiser Acoustics Kawero Chiaro £13, 295 to £15, 115 (depending on finish)monitor speaker with integral speaker stand to which the speaker cables are connected – its a shame they were not being demoed but I suspect they may have been to small to drive this very large room well, but yet again maybe they might.
‘The Chiara high performance stereo loudspeaker features sophisticated engineering, state-of-the-art materials and high tech manufacturing processes to minimize structural vibration, offering uncolored tonal coherence and a robust sound previously unattainable in a compact loudspeaker of this size.
It is the smallest loudspeaker in the Kaiser Kawero speaker range, all manufactured from Panzerholz, a high tech natural wood-based laminate engineered in Germany. Panzerholz is incredibly dense: it sinks in water, offers the rigidity of steel, and also boasts some of the best vibration damping characteristics in the world. In fact, as a side-effect of this performance, it turns out that this loudspeaker is bulletproof.
Hardships in working this extremely hard material are overcome by careful tooling and handling techniques.
Tankwood / rubber / glass fibre high pressure sandwich cabinet without parallel surfaces
• Bass and midrange 4th order alignment design through rear-firing passive radiator (custom made
Scan Speak Illuminator unit) Custom paper and carbon sandwich cone driver
from Scan-Speak Denmark • Extremely fast custom made Mundorf AMT tweeter • Duelund CAST Cu capacitor and inductor • Crossover components individually pressure-mated to Panzerholz
• Point-to-point wiring; no Printed Circuit Boards throughout • Advanced microvibration control throughout State-of-the-art Computerized Numerical Control machining and assembly to the tightest tolerances achievable today
Bandwidth 40Hz – 30kHz ±3dB, Sensitivity 87dB@2.83V, Impedance 4 Ohm, Crossover Point 3100Hz, Recommended Power 150 Watts, Connections Single-wired, Height 1160mm, Width 295mm, Depth 470mm, Weight 34kg ea.
As usual I enjoyed my time in the Right Note room and once again this room is a model lesson on how to achieve a high level of sound quality within a challenging hotel room – well done The Right Note.
Right Note http://www.rightnote.co.uk/
Chapel – Russ Andrews
Unlike previous years Russ had an interesting set up in his room and a brave premise to try and prove – that high end cables can improve the sound of a budget set up. Sadly as these were timed demos I was unable to attend them but I would very much have liked to have. Why not? you may ask. Well being frank there are only so many hours in the day and to cover the shows the way I do – unlike many websites and printed magazines – which is to visit every room rather than only cover a few I just don’t have time to attend timed demos/lectures and being honest I find doing what I try to do a real stretch and even sometimes I feel I don’t entirely succeed – rapidly running out of time on the last day.
Anyway I was able to get a good look round this very busy room and I hope those who could attend the lecture/demo found it very interesting.
Russ Andrews http://www.russandrews.com/
Stowe – Light Harmonics
New to the UK and fairly new as a company was Light Harmonics’s with their digital to analogue converter The Da Vinci which is a 384K USB DAC retailing at £20000
The system on demo in this room in my view didn’t really work that well – room issues I feel – so it was hard to get a really good idea of what the Light Harmonic DAC was doing but it was a very interesting design both visually and technically with great potential re its specifications. Overall sound in the room was good but being honest something was letting things down as I had expected better and I left the room disappointed and feeling rather cheated, as I would really have liked to hear this DAC in better conditions.
The system comprised of the aforementioned DAC, Anthem Statement M1 amplifiers, Plinius pre-amplifier. MAC Book Pro running bit perfect from Itunes, and the speakers were Martin Logan Summit’s
Light Harmonic have this to say about themselves…..
‘Light Harmonic was founded in Sacramento, California, in 2010, after Larry Ho’s audiophile friends first auditioned his new creation and were tremendously impressed. Larry had thrown everything into it, everything he knew, holding nothing in reserve. He had spent all his time and energy on the project, and enlisted engineers in the U.S. and Europe to assist.
In a kind of inventor’s intervention, friends of Larry convinced him he should share his new DAC with the world. In their minds, it was too good not to. In short order, he launched Light Harmonic. Its mission: to make the world’s best digital audio products, starting with Da Vinci DAC as its initial offering. Since 2010, the company has built a manufacturing facility just outside Sacramento, California.’
‘The Da Vinci is the world’s first true bit-perfect 384K asynchronous DAC using USB 2.0 technology. Its rich with patent-pending technologies, Da Vinci boasts 40 ultra-low-noise power regulators, dedicated digital power, a three-layer buffer, triple clocking, and a proprietary audio processing unit. Additional characteristics include a lifelike soundstage, musical coherence, transparency, and a best-in-class noise floor.’
Rather unusually this company based their development reference on analogue not digital …..
‘To test our progress, Light Harmonic engineers assembled a stellar analog (not digital) audio reference system to serve as a good representation of true high-end sound. The system included a Clearaudio turntable, an SME tonearm, a Koetsu Rosewood cartridge, and an Aesthetix tube phono amplifier. We compared Da Vinci’s performance to this set-up throughout our research and development process.’
The Da Vinci combines the following concepts and specs…..
‘Light Harmonic designed Da Vinci from the ground up, incorporating the latest thinking, developing new technologies, and addressing a multitude of issues, including the following:
Automatic LSB Correction
As research advanced, we confronted the Least Significant Bit (LSB) extension error, a problem that plagues every currently available DAC. LSB is a mathematical error affecting 16- and 24-bit digital files that causes a mismatch of up to three percent in every note. Da Vinci solves this with new and proprietary technology that automatically corrects each music sample.
In digital signal conversion, timing is everything! To ensure computer speed fluctuations would not influence Da Vinci, and that it would run at a constant speed, Light Harmonic developed a proprietary (and patent-pending) Three-Layer Buffer similar to the buffering technology many of today’s high-speed computers employ. This is the first time such a design has been applied to audio.
At the same time, our Triple (3X) Clock architecture divides the tasks usually handled by one clock among three clocks — one for 44.1K audio, a second for 48K audio, and a third for USB signal transmission. Da Vinci also uses the best non-phase-locked loop (PLL) clocks, which are set very near the analog conversion module. Advanced computer simulations and PCB modeling ensures that the transmission length of each digital audio signal is identical, with a maximum possible error of one one-thousandth of an inch.
No Up or Over-sampling
Light Harmonic’s analysis suggests that 99 percent of audio DAC manufacturers upsample and over-sample. This makes measured numbers appear impressive, but the DACs doing this never sound quite right to our ears. We even tried, during Da Vinci’s gestation, to make the industry’s best upsampler using top-level delta sigma conversion technology and a finely tuned digital filter. But the results couldn’t compete with our analog reference system, and we scrapped them. In the end, we stuck to our guns: bit-perfection all the way!’
‘Technical Specifications: Type Digital-to-Analog Converter, Finish Options Standard: Black
Upgrade: Silver, Dimensions 18.5″ (L) x 18.5″(W) X 7.87″ (H), Weight 61 lbs/28.0 kg
Converter Type Bit-perfect R2R architecture with patent pending 3-layer buffer. Analog Outputs Output Levels: 2.05V rms unbalanced / 4.1V rms balanced. Balanced Outputs – 1 stereo pair on 3-pin male XLR connector (pin 2 hot). Unbalanced Outputs – 1 stereo pair on RCA Phono connector.
Digital Inputs 1x Asynchronous USB 2.0 interface on standard USB-B connectors. Will accept up to 32 bit PCM at 44.1, 48, 88.2, 96, 176.4, 192, 352.8, 384K S/s, 1x Asynchronous AES/EBU on 3-pin female XLR connectors. Will accept up to 24 bit PCM at 44.1, 48, 88.2, 96, 176.4, 192K S/s. 1x Asynchronous SPDIF on one RCA Phono connectors. Will accept up to 24 bit PCM at 44.1, 48, 88.2, 96, 176.4, 192K S/s, Clock Frequencies 3X Clock architecture without PLL. TCXO with -166 dBc/Hz @ 10MHz. 45.1584M Hz for 44.1, 88.2, 176.4, 352.8K Mode. 49.152M Hz for 48, 96,192,384K Mode. 13M Hz for USB interface. THD+N (unweighted) Better than 0.0018%, Frequency range: 20Hz – 20kHz, LSB Auto-Correction Always enabled
Residual Noise, (unweighted) Better than –115dB @ 20Hz – 20kHz Residual Noise (A-weighted) Better than –125dB @ 20Hz – 20kHz, Channel Separation (Crosstalk) -142dBFS @ 10kHz, Filters Digital Filters: None. User selectable Analog Filter: -3dB @ 100K Hz. Power Supply Factory set for 115~120 , 220~230 V AC, 49 – 62Hz. Power Consumption 2 Watts in Standby mode/ 58 Watts operational maximum’
Da Vinci refrains from using common delta-sigma integrated circuits (ICs) for the digital-to-analog conversion modules at its core. Instead, we use precision resistor-ladder architecture with low noise, a complex programmable logic device, parallel mechanisms for core conversion, and eight of the finest shunt local regulators we could build. The result: precise signal conversion.
Proprietary Duet Engine
Our patent-pending Duet Engine effectively doubles low sampling rates without digitally up- or over-sampling signals or using digital filters. Instead, sophisticated aligned analog interpolation does the trick. The result: Duet Engine technology delivers smoother highs and eliminates any need for a so-called brick-wall filter to cut off audio signals above or below a selected frequency. The improvement is especially apparent when listening to CDs.
Pristine Analog Output
Instead of opting for negative feedback, off-the-shelf integrated circuits or operational amplifiers, we created a unique, proprietary analog stage to achieve the output needed to meet Da Vinci’s demanding goals.
The stage consists of a dual mono, discrete, balanced, single-ended Junction Field Effect Transistor (JFET) with an output buffer and non-negative feedback. It uses no operational amplifiers, and the buffer has far fewer high-order harmonic distortions than other designs. We’ve found this offers a more natural sound, especially in the high frequency range, even if at the expense of what we consider to be synthetically impressive measurements.
Six-Piece Aluminum Chassis
Solid as a brick, Da Vinci possesses the best-designed chassis in the industry. It is constructed of CNC-milled aerospace-grade, 6061-T6 aluminum blocks, which provide exceptional thermal stability, resonance control, and shielding from radio and electromagnetic signal interference. Special damping materials between the chassis’s several layers minimize internal vibrations, and Da Vinci’s 61-lb. weight and unique shape effectively eliminate vibrations from outside sources.
Multistage Isolated Power
Da Vinci’s unique design enhances its appearance while also isolating the power supplies and preventing overheating. Set in the lower half of the two-piece chassis, the power supplies handle all AC to DC conversions, the display and controls, and the clocks. The lower half also houses a uniquely shaped heat sink that ensures Da Vinci runs within specific temperature tolerances.
To minimize AC and inter-modulation noises, Da Vinci employs more than 40 high-quality regulators, including 8 discrete shunt regulators in the primary digital conversion module, 3 nano-volt noise regulators in the clock power circuit, 5 high-precision regulators in the USB module, and 8 high-current discrete shunt regulators for each channel of the analog output and buffer. An R-Core transformer ruthlessly minimizes electro-magnetic signal interference.’
All exciting stuff, but as I said above I was very disappointed not to be able to hear this DAC in a more synergistic system (my opinion) and room (I am pretty sure the room was affecting things too) – such is audio show life – maybe next time.
Light Harmonic http://www.lightharmonic.com/
Vale – Studio Av
There was quite an aura of having achieved something special amongst the exhibitors in this room and as I walked round the room I twigged what it was no Focal speakers (being honest I am not a big fan of their sound) being demoed instead the speakers were the Avalon Compas £35.000 and in my opinion what a change this made to the way music was being made with equipment that in the past has always been on the end of JM Lab/Focal speakers.
The system comprised a DCS Scarlatti front end transport, DAC, Master Clock, Upsampler about £47000 worth in total, VTL TL 7.5 pre-amplifier £19500, MB450 mono block power amplifiers £17500 with various cables.
The sound of music in this room was open, detailed, effortless and organic and hearing the Avalon’s in this setting was very educational as it helped point to the past success of Audio Freaks in their demos at shows that the Avalon speakers were on the face of it a huge part of the sound in their rooms.
I spoke to a Kog Audio distribution staff member who told me that Kog had taken over distribution of Avalon. I must confess to being shocked by this news as I can’t imagine Audio Freaks without Avalon, indeed an image of a legless man entered my mind as losing such a foundational brand must have left Audio Freaks feeling like they had lost a couple of limbs.
Around the room various other items were on show from the likes of Vitus Audio, Focal, Avalon, Densen and VTL.
Studio Av http://www.studioav.co.uk/
Kog Audio http://www.kogaudio.com/
Priory – DCS, VTL, Vivid
Within this room there were more goodies from Kog Audio on show and the new DCS Vivaldi set up.
DCS equipment has always impressed me with its looks, build quality and obvious technical prowess but for whatever reason, and I suspect in part system choices, I have never really warmed to the sound that DCS digital front ends have made in the past, however this show was a real turning point in that I really enjoyed the way music was being made in this room.
The Vivaldi set up comprises the following items:
The Vivaldi Transport £24500
‘Vivaldi Transport is designed to extract revelatory levels of detail from both CD and SACD and is the ultimate machine for silver disc replay. All signal processing in Vivaldi Transport is controlled by electronics designed by dCS. It uses the TEAC Esoteric VRDS Neo™ mechanism which provides a brushless motor with heavy flywheel for stable disc rotation and super rigid construction.
The powerful digital processing platform of Vivaldi Transport is based around Field Programmable Gate Array (FPGA) chips, Digital Signal Processing (DSP) chips and a microcontroller system. All of these use code developed and maintained in-house by dCS.
Vivaldi Transport represents true state-of-the-art in digital audio by offering twice the logic capacity of previous generations, delivering unmatched sonic and measured performance.
In order to enhance the cleanness of the power supply and isolate the mechanism from the electronics Vivaldi Transport features a completely new chassis design that has separate power circuits for the digital processing and CD/SACD mechanism sections. This has resulted in near silent operation.
Vivaldi Transport features a Dual AES output that supports dCS-encrypted DSD (1 bit data at 2.822MS/s) to a dCS DAC from SACD. Vivaldi Transport also offers the option of upsampling CD data to DXD (24 bit data at 352.8kS/s) and transmitting this data over the same Dual AES interface.
SACDs are played in their native DSD format, again using the Dual AES interface. Native CD data is available from 4 PCM outputs (1x AES/EBU and 2x SPDIF, 1x SDIF-2), as is down-sampled SACD data.
Vivaldi Transport is intended to be used with the matching Vivaldi DAC or with any suitable industry standard DAC. The unit may be run either in Master mode or with the DAC as the system clock. Performance will be enhanced further by adding Vivaldi Clock to the system.
The Vivaldi Upsampler £12500
‘Vivaldi Upsampler is designed to act as the hub of a digital audio system and will transform your listening experience, taking your music collection to levels you have not heard before.’
‘Operating as a digital-to-digital converter Vivaldi Upsampler accesses music from any digital source and converts the audio from its native sample rate to either high resolution DXD (24 bit data at 352.8 or 384 kS/s), DSD (1 bit data at 2.822 or 3.07MS/s) or standard high resolution PCM (24 bit data up to 192kS/s). The results gained from Vivaldi Upsampler are extraordinary – a more vibrant, 3-dimensional, transparent and effortless performance.
Vivaldi Upsampler features a wired network connection and can stream high resolution audio files stored on a computer or on network storage via UPnP™. The additional asynchronous USB input on Vivaldi Upsampler also allows direct connection of a PC and supports high resolution audio up to and including 192kS/s or DSD over PCM (DOP). The USB interfaces runs in Asynchronous USB mode, which makes Vivaldi Upsampler immune to jitter from the typical computer’s noisy clock. Vivaldi Upsampler is Apple Authenticated and supports playback of iPod/iPhone-stored digital media, bypassing the iPod/iPhone internal DAC to ensure optimal performance. USB memory hardware is also supported.’
‘An array of independently selectable digital inputs (RJ45, USB, AES, SPDIF, SDIF-2, Toslink) completes the versatility of this powerful machine and elevates the performance of Red Book CD from CD Players or high resolution audio from digital streamers to a previously unsurpassed level.
Vivaldi Master Clock £9700
DCS were pioneers in the use of external clocks in digital audio systems and the redesigned multi-stage Phase-Locked-Loop (PLL) system used in Vivaldi Upsampler sets world-beating standards for accuracy and control of troublesome jitter from the incoming audio stream.
Control of such a versatile product is extremely simple with the user having the choice of using the full colour front panel menu, Vivaldi Controller App or the premium dCS remote control. The Vivaldi Controller App also allows users to change DAC inputs and volume, simplifying the control experience further.
‘Vivaldi Master Clock is a powerful yet simple to use Grade 1 master clock based on our pioneering developments in studio and home audio. Featuring two banks of clock outputs capable of outputting different frequencies, Vivaldi Master Clock uses the latest groundbreaking technology from dCS.
In a digital audio system samples must be accurate in level and time. Jitter, which exists in all digital systems, can result in timing errors in these samples causing the analogue signal to be reconstructed inaccurately. In a dCS system our DACs can act as the system master clock, but listening tests have shown that there is no substitute for a high-quality, dedicated master clock.
DCS were pioneers in the use of external clocks in digital audio systems and our clocking technology has been continually refined so that our latest multi-stage Phase-Locked-Loop (PLL) system sets world-beating standards for accuracy and control of troublesome jitter from the incoming audio stream.
All dCS Master Clocks are subjected to rigorous in-house testing. The crystal oscillators are pre-aged, selected for long term stability and then individually calibrated over a wide temperature range to ensure consistent optimal performance. Vivaldi Master Clock uses a sophisticated microcontroller system to ensure smooth correction as the temperature changes and this approach gives a more stable result than either oven controlled crystal oscillators or even atomic clocks and dCS master clocks are designed to generate industry standard Word Clock on 75 ohm co-axial cable. Other manufacturers’ equipment that has been designed to accept standard Word Clock can be used with our clocks.
Vivaldi Master Clock may be slaved to an external reference (such as an atomic clock or GPS reference) if increased accuracy is desired. Our sophisticated multi-mode Phase-Locked-Loop (PLL) significantly reduces jitter from the reference source.’
‘Vivaldi DAC uses the latest groundbreaking technology from dCS including ‘next generation versions of the dCS Ring DACTM, Digital Processing Platform and Clocking System so that, as the hub of a digital audio system, an array of features guarantee amazing performance from any digital source.
The unique design of the legendary dCS Ring DACTM combines exceptional linearity with very high speed operation enabling it to deliver true 24 bit performance even at low signal levels. The latest generation of our Ring DACTM incorporates a number of important technical advances that have resulted in enhanced dynamic range, reduced jitter, improved channel separation and greatly improved musical realism.
The powerful digital processing platform of Vivaldi DAC is based around Field Programmable Gate Array (FPGA) chips, Digital Signal Processing (DSP) chips and microcontroller system. All of these use code developed and maintained in the UK by dCS.
Vivaldi DAC represents true state-of-the-art in digital audio by offering twice the logic capacity of previous generations, emphasised by its unmatched sonic and measured performance.
DCS were pioneers in the use of external clocks in digital audio systems and the redesigned multi-stage Phase-Locked-Loop (PLL) system used in Vivaldi DAC sets worldbeating standards for accuracy and control of troublesome jitter from the incoming audio stream.
Vivaldi DAC features standard AES3, Dual AES, SDIF-2 and SPDIF inputs in addition to an asynchronous USB 2.0 interface. The enhanced digital volume control allows direct connection to a power amplifier so that in the majority of systems there is no need for a separate preamplifier. Maximum output can be set at either two or six volts to suit different amplifier and speaker combinations.
Featuring a completely new interface designed to handle all high resolution musical formats up to DXD (24 bit data at 352.8 and 384kS/s) plus DSD, the optimised DSP filters available to Vivaldi DAC owners will ensure you can extract every last nuance of musical detail and emotion by tuning the system to suit your personal preference.’
Build quality was stunning and these components make a hell of a visual statement being the top of DCS’s range of digital disc spinners, DACs, Master Clocks and Upsamplers.’
The sound of the system was open, detailed, spacious and airy with great detail and despite my preferring the Avalon speakers next door which gave the sound a little more musicality – in my opinion this system worked very well and filled the room with lovely music.
Vivid Audio http://www.vividaudio.co.uk/
Vacuum Tube Logic http://www.vtl.com/
Woodcote – T+A Audio
T+A had a lovely system assembled and playing comprising of a P10 pre-amplifier £7990, M10 mono block amplifiers £10490 each, CD10 SACD player £7990, G10 truntable £6790, DAC8 £1890 and Citerion TCD 210 speakers at £5980. Cabling was the excellent Atlas Mavros.
Visually striking and sonically delicious this set up was a feast for the eyes and ears and looked every bit as good as it sounded.
Set up was well executed and while there were a few room related issues overall soundquality was very good. A few other bits of T + A was on static display around the room.
Corpse – Classic Albums Sundays
I like the idea behind this endeavour, but truthfully now its becoming a franchise and thus appears to be an expanding business, I am a bit less supportive simply because one can’t in my view licence and sell the concept of music enthusiasts sitting down and listening to albums on good systems as I and many others the world over have been doing this for many many years albeit maybe not in public venues like pubs etc, but Colleen ‘Cosmo’ Murphy has, and I guess fair dos to her for coming up with a new way of making money from listening to music in this way. Am I being unfair? maybe but its how I feel about the way CAS has been developing of late.
Don’t get me wrong venues cost and the involvement of audio companies may also involve expenses and covering costs by ticketed admission is fair enough but the word franchise now associated with CAS suggests licences and there is usually a cost attached to that and it is that which to an extent bothers me. Certainly if CAS want to clarify the situation I am happy to publish it.
I managed to sneak in for a look round between albums and the system supplied by Loud and Clear was very impressive: VP! Classic 3 £6000, VPI Motor Drive £12000, Lyra Altas cartridge £7500, Moon 810 LP £8450, Moon 850 pre-amplifier £18900, Moon 880m power-amplifier £29000 and Pro Ac Carbon Pro8 speakers £25,550. Cabling was by Abbey Studio Cables and plenty of Black Ravioli isolation cushions were in evidence.
There was music playing while I was in the room, but not the album to be listened to, and the sound was very nice, though playing far too low for me to say much about it other than tonally it sounded spot on.
Classic Album Sundays http://classicalbumsundays.com/
Loud and Clear http://www.loud-clear.co.uk/
The next part of NAS 2012 will follow very soon, with more coverage of the upstairs rooms.
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