Before I get into my awards for the best products I have reviewed this year I would like to let you know about a beautiful and informative article I read the other day in Surround Professional magazine, by Tomlinson Holman of THX, SkyWalker Ranch, and Apt-Holman fame. The article titled Digital Chamber of Horrors discusses the problems associated with digital recording and playback.
Do I hear the old refrain "Perfect Sound Forever"? Well listen to this. Tomlinson states that "CD's don't sound like the masters that made them." By using a Prism Sound DAS90 Confidence Checker, which compares bits from different stages of digital recording and playback, he found that the "only step in the chain that was bit transparent was disc replication", where everyone up till now was looking. Every other step of the process changed bits to one extent or another, probably related to error correction circuits which fill in information... apparently not properly.
CD-R recorders that use sample rate converters, digital audio workstations that use DC filters, and motherboard problems in some way electrically changed bits. Interestingly, he list the Meridian Lossless Packing system (MLP) as being bit perfect once information gets into it as it does a self check for bits at every level, but the remainder of the production processes change them. DSD has a problem with idle tones in the noise floor while DVD-A A/D converters have even been shown to possibly produce non-monotonic performance (i. e. may actually reverse ascending or descending steps of conversion). An interesting article to say the least.
Now I must be fair and say that he also wrote an article last month discussing the problems associated with analog recording and playback, but interestingly they sounded less problematic for high-end reproduction. Anyway, when someone of his stature comes out and states that the "Bits are Bits" crowd are dead wrong, it brings a feeling of satisfaction. High enders have been saying this for years and recording engineers have been calling us all sorts of negative names. Well, guess what Engineers? We were right. Now instead of telling us that digital reproduction is perfect, do me a favor and spend some time perfecting it.
Well enough of the tirade. On to the topic of the month. The following is a list of those products that I either evaluated at the two trade shows I attended, the 2001 CES and the EMAP Home Entertainment Show, or did full reviews on over the past year:
1. Jeff Korniff Type 45 SET amplifier
I was surprised at the number and quality of equipment I had the chance to review and found many could qualify for Product of the Year, such as the Walker Turntable, Kondo Interconnect and Cartridge from the high end, and the Quantum Products QRT unit from the less expensive side. Each of these units could have easily been the pick in previous years, but two products stood out for me as true advancements of the audio arts. I wil discuss each briefly, and then let their inventors rave about their babies.
Sound Application CF-XE AC Noice
Poor electricity has been a pain in my butt for years... and I have experimented with just about every conceivable type of AC noise suppressor. From wood blocks and Red Rollers, Shakti Stones, super expensive cords, multiple high KVA isolation transformers with massive capacitor banks to AC-DC-AC pure sine wave producers, and nothing has come close to this product at improving the juice coming into my system.
My review in AA Chapter 25 and a previous review by Dick Olsher both agreed that this unit worked as claimed by James Weil, the developer, and a recent article by Srajan Ebaen also mentioned it as being superb. Srajan also compared it to the Audio Magic Stealth Power Purifier, which he preferred because of price (listing for only $1,699) as being equally good, and thus more price effective. But it only has six outlets compared to the CF-XE's twelve at $4,200 has only a 15 amp breaker compared to the CF-XE's 20 or 30. Both need their producer's power cords which are comparable in price.
While I can understand the price effectiveness of the other unit if one uses only six pieces of equipment, most high enders have many more than this and would require at least two of them, with two power cords, which makes them comparable in price. While I have not heard the Audio Magic unit, and cannot thus compare the two, Lloyd Walker who was mentioned in the article has two of the best ears in the business judging from the superb equipment he has designed, has told me he prefers the CF-XE unit. Either way, if you have not heard your system with this unit, you have not heard it at its best... except once maybe at 2 a.m. on July 23, 2000. What this unit does is to give you the best sound possible from your system 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. While expensive at $4,200, just think of the money you will save on other expensive high-end AC products. None will be needed with this unit.
To top that, I have just heard that Mr. Weil has improved his product both in style and function, and renamed the update the CF-XE-12. I certainly look forward to a review sample, because I honestly do not hear what possibly could be further cleaned up. But again, quite often one can not tell that something can be improved until it is.
James Weil's Discussion
Over the past decade we have researched every aspect of construction and materials to find the absolute optimal combination of components and topology. Through this we have achieved the first and only completely and totally neutral, silent power line conditioner, enabling you to reveal the true nature of your finest components for the first time completely free of the coloration induced by impure AC power.
Each Sound Application power line conditioner is a work of art. Meticulously hand crafted by skilled technicians, the wiring is 100% point-to-point and each component is made of the finest materials available anywhere in the world. No other power line conditioner provides this combination of superior quality components and uncompromising craftsmanship. This has culminated in our current production model, the XE-12.The XE-12 is the finest power line conditioner ever made.
Providing excellent spike and surge protection as well as the extremely powerful broadband RFI/EMI filtration, Sound Application power line conditioners have been chosen by reference recording, remastering and listening studios for the quality of sound produced. consider the endorsement of these professional musicians to be of considerable importance."
Electraprint Audio DRD SET
Imagine five watts from a 2A3 and thirteen watts from a 300B, with low distortion and long life for the tube. With the proper associated equipment, being transported into the concert hall, feeling the air not just in front of, but all around you. That is the sound of Jack's baby. Nothing in the signal path of the amplifier except the driver tube, output tube and output transformer. All other parts running in parallel to the signal while the power supply isolated. That is the magic of this circuit. I will stop here or you will think me a loony, or overstating my case. At about $4,000 for a pair of monoblocks, definitely a true bargain compared to other amplifiers I have heard at multiples of the price.
Jack Eliano's Discussion
While involved in measurement of such an item the need to
Having a thing about conventional circuits, it was natural to want something different so the driver plate resistor was replaced with a reactor (inductor). This doubled the output power, bandwidth increased and distortion decreased. It appeared that this was a genuine, original combination of things that worked exceptionally well together.
Having something now quite interesting, it then demands attention. The normal measurements measured correctly but at extremely low signal levels it appeared to respond with usable output. There are no amplitude linearity measuring devices available to my knowledge so we conjured up our own and saw that its sensitivity and linearity are both working together to offer what seemed was missing with standard coupled amplifiers: low level information is appearing on the output as usable power.
Harmonic information into the high numbers is now hearable. A/B tests are done quite frequently and in all cases more information and instrument definition can be heard with the Direct Reactance Drive amplifiers.
These amps were tried with speakers such as 105dB Edgar Horns and 92db D'Appolito types. Each arrangement offered a, "no longer do I need to seek, for I have heard the word", kind of Biblical description, which could be seen inscribed upon the faces of those involved in the listening.
In conclusion here is an interesting poem I wrote: (Sing to the tune of "The Monster Mash")
Direct coupled the plate right to the grid, with nothing to change and to get rid, of tiny little signals you're anxious to hear, the results are harmonics that tickle your ear. The bias was set, volts measured and so, how nicely it worked, distortion quite low.
The output was loaded, the power was there, six watts seemed quite normal then up from my chair, I thought of a choke to insert in the plate, I pondered this point, was it something I ate?
The output was doubled, the power was there, simplicity has merit so I'll try to be fair, to others with parts costing much more for less, the circuit performed better than best.
Still partly common, the output stage was, so we coupled the transformer tighter because, when power supplies deal with what tubes have to do, the low frequency can move the supplies voltage too.
How about that?
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