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a short diary of some part of my life.

Posts from the audio Category

The almighty amp.

Pros:

  • Small, Light, Dense
  • 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.

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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.

Wyred 4 Sound DAC-2 digital board

Wyred 4 Sound have built their reputation solely based on their superb products. I have had nothing but superb experiences with EJ Sarmento (the man behind Wyred 4 Sound). Unlike many others who run established brands, EJ is almost a complete opposite of those mostly arrogant personalities. He is very helpful, listen and interact directly to his customers on various forums and countless emails. I honestly do not know who else does this except Paul McGowan (CEO of PS Audio) and Jason Stoddard (Schiit). Speaking of PS Audio, Wyred 4 Sound had a direct connection with PS Audio. EJ, together with Rick Cullen of Cullen Circuits who was a manufacturer for PS Audio started Wyred 4 Sound.

Complete Solutions

Wyred 4 Sound now offer complete solutions to your hi-fi needs. They have two DACs, arguably the best preamps at any price, and various option of amps. They also offer good quality cables. They do not sell speakers, I do not think they will ever build speakers. Just FYI, EJ uses a pair of AV123 LS6 as his reference speakers at his home.

Now, let’s get to the main event.

The Usual Setup

  • I’m pairing the DAC-2 with the marvelously good W4S’s very own STI-500. The pair allows the flexibility to swap one of them with any amp or DAC with or without volume control. In essence, both of them are designed to be flexible.
  • The sources are MacBook Air – via USB, Apple TV – via optical, Squeezebox Touch – via coax, and Wyred 4 Sound uLINK – via BNC.

In this short review, I will not name the top-tier DACs that I pitted against the W4S DAC-2, they are some of the best performing DACs in the market today.

The Results:

  • immediate improvements in transparency, speed, and clarity. Especially if compared with non-discrete output DACs and over-built DACs. The DAC-2 simply throws everything that the song has. Some people suggest a hi-fi DAC tend to sound bright. A lot of them think bright means details, it’s not. As Tyll Hertsens of InnerFidelity.com put this, “Good parts have black backgrounds and sound smooth with depth but still not missing any of the details that are actually there.” There are plenty of characteristics, but there are very few DACs that have black backgrounds, sound smooth and at the same time, not missing any of the details. This is the traits of a great DAC.
  • superior soundstage. Some DACs are claimed to produce huge soundstage. I have auditioned many of them and all I can say about the DAC-2 is that the DAC-2 produces soundstage just ‘right’. It does not go over the top. One DAC that I auditioned produces rather boomy soundstage, it doesn’t sound right.

Any other improvements? Yes, those two are the major differentiators, the rest is probably too small to be mentioned one by one.

There is no point comparing well-engineered DACs because they almost sound pretty much the same. Inferior DACs may sound good for some people. I’m not going to argue with that as we all prefer many different things. My goal is to create the most enjoyable musical experience. And I believe I have achieved it with my current setup. So, thank you for EJ for making this superb sounding affordable gear. 🙂 😉

As a Pre-Amplifier

One of the main differences between DAC-1 and DAC-2 is the preamp feature in the DAC-2. It can also be operated via an IR remote which is pretty handy for lazy people like me, people who prefer to enjoy his or her music from a couch.

As a preamp, it performs great. When I had ModWright KWA 100, I used a preamp in between the DAC and the power amp. The level of grunge introduced from the preamp, versus driving the KWA 100 directly from DAC-2 is at astonishing level. The DAC-2 does the job better than a superb dedicated preamp. The digital volume control allows me to fine tune the volume level. And it’s always well balanced and linear.

Design & Build Quality

Don’t expect the level of spanking shiny precision chassis like amps from D’Agostino, formerly of Krell. W4S offerings are designed to be utilitarian. It probably does not look pretty for some people but to me, it looks sensible and no-frills. EJ could have designed it around beautifully milled chassis, but he didn’t, to keep the price reasonable.

Once the top cover is opened, the innards are assembled neatly. There is no excess solder, no cold solder, no resin mark anywhere on the boards. The PCBs are also well secured onto the chassis. All cables are tied and shielded safely, you won’t complain there will be safety risk. Connectors used are all high quality. It is a very well built electronic. Perhaps, the best I’ve seen.

Wyred 4 Sound DAC-2 discrete output stage analog board

Cons

There are weaknesses, right? Yes, there are two.

  • The top chassis is somewhat cumbersome to remove and reinstall. There are a few misaligned screw threads.
  • The USB input does not represent the true potential performance of the DAC. Luckily, W4S offer a dedicated USB to S/PDIF converter that is worlds better than DAC-2’s built-in USB input.

Customizations

You’ll probably wondering why I tape the gills on the side of the DAC-2. It’s to prevent dust from entering the unit. The unit barely gets warm, even in the summer.

The digital inputs on the backside is also a bit different than a regular DAC-2. On standard unit, there is no BNC jack and shutter type TOSLINK jack. BNC will allow true 75-ohm S/PDIF connection and shutter type TOSLINK will allow me to get away without the easily misplaced plug on the plug type TOSLINK jack.

This issue probably an afterthought for most buyers and most manufacturers tend to dismiss requests from customers to make these little changes. EJ was very accommodating. He’s open to little customization and he did not charge extra for them. I would imagine he had to pick one unit and opened it up. That changes although small would at least used his valuable time that he could use to do something else, like designing the new excellent mPRE. EJ Sarmento’s willingness to do it is a real testament how much he cares about his customers.

75-ohm BNC Jack

Shutter Type TOSLINK Jack

Plug Type TOSLINK Jack

Hi-Fi is NOT expensive and often times, HYPED!

Most audiophiles tend to think if a hi-fi product is priced at extraorbitant price or if the chassis is precisely milled from unobtainium materials, the sound must be good. The truth is there is little correlation between price and real world performance. It saddens me when I read the first thing a person wrote on a forum is a performance of a product based on its price. A famous local headphone site specifically make performance categories based on price. IMHO, that is just wrong. When I came by to their brick & mortar store, it turns out that they have little knowledge about hi-fi in general. Surprising, huh? I’m not saying I know more about hi-fi than them, I came to this hobby, not knowing anything, but I want to be a smart buyer, I want to play safe so I learnt and I am still learning. Just like when researching modification parts for my car and actually installing them by myself, I learnt a lot from those processes.