KEF Egg

This year’s birthday present is the rather nice KEF Egg active speaker. It is replacing my older M-Audio AV40 (which I took out from storage after I busted my Ruark MR1).

The KEF offer a much wider soundstage and great deal more detail. Bass is tighter too, although there is less of it.

Will give it more time to run in. Liking it very much already.

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Ruark MR1 : Awesome Speakers

Last week, I walked past an audio shop in Wanchai Computer Centre and heard an amazing pair of active speakers – the Ruark Audio MR1 Bluetooth Speakers. Another fellow and I auditioned the Ruark MR1 and Focal XS Book in the shop with some hi rez audio files and standard redbook FLACs. To my ears, the Ruark has a more expansive soundstage and more sparkling highs; the Focal sounder warmer but the bass wasn’t exactly tight and the treble didn’t sound as refined. Both of us ended purchasing the Ruark in walnut finish.

Back at home, I’ve connected the Ruark to my PC, playing FLACs and 320 MP3s via Foobar through  the FiiO E10. Likely, when I re-rip all my CDs into FLACs, I may consider getting a better DAC 🙂

The Ruark is a definite upgrade from my M-Audio AV40, especially when listening to jazz, blues and classical. The speakers are well built and packs some very neat features. I really like the high quality feel of the volume knob and it is miles better than the plasticy AV40s.

I’m really happy with these. The M-Audio AV40s are good and I enjoyed them, but the Ruark is a step up and since I listen to music mostly at most desk these days, it’s a worthwhile investment.

Ruark MR1

My new PC speakers : M-Audio AV40

3 months ago, I decided to buy a pair of speakers with decent sound quality for my PC and ended up getting the Swans HiVi D1010MKII 08. I wrote in an earlier post that I found the sound quality to be excellent – I had no complaints at all, especially since I got them at a decent price. But unfortunately, the build quality was a lot less impressive: on one fine Sunday morning, the left speaker refused to produce any sound. I called the retailer and apparently the dealer no longer represents Swans here any more. I found out the hard way that I wasn’t going to get any support for this and was not happy at all.

I couldn’t go back to my old Altec Lansing 221 speakers either – they worked alright – but treble and resolution were completely missing and after a few months of using the Swans, it was unbearable. So I ended up buying another pair of speakers, this time I opted for M-Audio’s AV40.

Right out of the box, I found the speakers’ bass overwhelming even without using the bass boost feature. I put this down to speaker placement as the AV40s have a bass port at the back of the speaker and my limited desktop space means the speakers sit close to the wall. I used some foam to stuff up the port and that really helped.

So how do they compare to the Swans? I would say that I still prefer the Swans which sound slightly better (from recollection) and are less fussy with placement (because it has no ports). The AV40s also look and feel more tacky because of the use of plastic despite costing nearly twice as much. BUT, what’s the use of preferring the Swans if they are so unreliable? On the plus side for the M-Audio is the speaker wires are just normal speaker wires, so they are replaceable and upgradable.

Don’t get me wrong, the M-Audio AV40s are nice and are definitely an upgrade on run-of-the-mill PC speakers which really aren’t cheap these days. And they are keeping me happy too.

Swans HiVi D1010MKII 08 is a major upgrade for me

My latest upgrade to my home PC, where I listen to most of my music, is the Swans HiVi D1010MKII 08 powered speakers. I am indeed very happy with my new acquisition as I managed to get them for a very reasonable price and I am now hearing details that my previous pair of Altec Lansing 221 multi-media speakers could not reproduce.

And now I finally have a reason to re-rip my CD collection to FLAC.

Samsung YP-T9 : Part 2 – Sound quality

t9-01.jpg I loaded a bunch of Lame encoded MP3s at V2 (around 192kbps) and did some listening with my Creative EP630, ATH-CM7Ti, Senn PX100 and HD595. All EQ was turned off.

Overall, I found jazz sounded best on the T9 with its crisp sound and good sense of rhythms. Music feels more open on the T9 than on the Creative ZVM or the iRivers. Subjectively, I think I can tell the difference between 160 kbps from 192 kbps MP3s on the T9. Bass is tight, not muddy and not lacking. Soundstage is expansive. Stereo imaging is good. The gap between tracks is there, not horrendously long, but definitely noticeable.

The T9 seems to be very sensitive to “defects” in MP3 files. I don’t really know how to explain this but I had the following experience. When I loaded a pop track – Carly Simon’s James Bond theme song Nobody Does It Better – there were more than a few glitches, sort of like a skip on a CD player or HD based player. The same file displayed no such problem on the other 3 DAPs I have and was also problem free upon playback in Foobar. After mucking around, I failed to locate the problem, so I re-ripped the track with EAC and reloaded it onto the T9. It seems fine now. I have noticed that a few other tracks are behaving the same way, and I suspect it has to do with clipping and high gain on the tracks. This situation is particularly bad with no EQ (i.e flat / normal mode). After I applied some EQ (I boosted 60Hz by one notch under User defined EQ), these glitches seemed to go away. Initially I thought I had a defective player and even went back to the retailer to exchange for a new one. So if you have alot of crappy sounding or badly ripped music, this player might give you a nasty ride!!

After a second night of use, I found the T9 rather unforgiving on older recordings or over-compressed CDs. I found hiss ing much more prominent on the T9 than any other DAP I’ve used.

How loud does it go?
Volume ranges from 0 to 40. With the EP630, I normally have it between 22 to 26. To achieve the same levels of volume with the EP630, on the H320 I have volume at 20-25 (max is 40), on the iFP-795 volume is at 16-22 (max is 40), and with the Creative ZVM I normally have it between 15-20 (max is 25). The iRivers’ output feels more muscular than either the ZVM or the Samsung T9.

Using my Senn PX100 on the T9, I really had to push the volume up to the 30-35 range, though sound was still clean. I feel the T9 does not have the juice to drive the 595. The CM7Ti was the easiest to drive and was damn loud even at under 20/40 volume levels. Headphone output is rated to be 20mW at 16Ω in the manual.

The T9 has some volume features I have not encountered before. Namely, the player automatically resets the volume to 20 at power up regardless of the volume during the previous session. The user can also set a volume limit if needed.

Samsung YP-T9 : Part 1 – Overview

The Samsung YP-T9 comes in a smallish cardboard box. Included accessories include 1) earphones, 2) proprietary USB to DAP cable for file transfer and charging, 3) Samsung Media Studio CD, and 4) quick start manual. The full manual can be found as a PDF file on the CD.

Appearance & Build
The T9 obviously trumps all of my other DAPs in terms of size, thickness and weight (see photo below). The T9 feels solid, well built and is a beautiful little gadget. It fits into trouser front pockets with no problems, and is light enough that it doesn’t really make shirt pockets droop. I prefer its slightly shorter and ever-so-slightly thicker body to the iPod Nano – I think it “feels” more sturdy and less likely to snap into two in my trousers. The damn thing is a magnet for finger prints on both the front and back. The screen is not recessed into the front and will probably get scratched soon. Overall, tactile feel is good.

t9-02.jpg

One of the nice features of the T9 is the eye candy Samsung has created for the menus. Samsung offers users plenty of customization options for background screen color to screensavers and visualizations during playback. The T9 has the nicest looking interface when compared to my other DAPs. Battery life is listed to be around 30 hours for audio playback.

How long does it take to load up the player?
I loaded 279 MP3 files in one folder totalling 1.81 GB onto the T9 via drag-n-drop. This took just under 10 minutes. Subjectively, it seems slower than either the H320 or the ZVM, but much much faster than the iFP-795, which takes me generally 20+ minutes to load 500MB. Transferring files through Samsung Media Center appears slightly slower.

Loading is done via a proprietary socket to USB cable included in the package. Charging is also done via this cable. I would have preferred a standard mini-USB socket.

Can you drag-n-drop music onto the T9? And do the ID3 tags work properly?
Music can be browsed and selected in 2 ways, via ID3 tags or by file directories. Many have claimed the T9 to be a drag-n-drop player. This is true with a caveat. You can load the DAP via simple transfer of files via Windows Explorer, but in this scenario, you can only browse for music under the File Browser menu and NOT using tags under the Music menu. To enable browsing via ID3 tags, you need to use the Samsung Media Studio either to transfer the files or the refresh the music library.

Another caveat is this – the T9 is erratic with regards to ID3 tags. My T9 reads some ID3v2.4 tags but not all of them – I had blanks in artist, album as well as genre tags in some but not all my files. I reloaded the songs via Samsung’s software. I also used the software to compile a playlist and use that to sync songs over to the player. BAD MISTAKE. Upon restarting Foobar, I discovered that the Samsung software screwed up all the tags on the tracks it transferred. I had to re-tag all of these 200+ tracks!! I am now convinced that one should simply avoid using the software for anything except refreshing the DAP library. The downside is one can never be sure whether the DAP will recognize tags of all the songs transferred over via simple drag-n-drop.

To be able to browse media under the Video and Photo menus of the DAP, you will also need to transfer these with the Samsung Media Studio. It is possible to just drop jpegs into the appropriate folders by drag-n-drop, if you don’t mind using the File Browser (without a preview thumbnail) to find and view them. The file structure inside the DAP is pretty self-explanatory and the folders are clearly labelled as Music, Photo, Video, Text, Playlists, Recorded, and System. The folder names are not cryptic.

Next post : how does it sound?

Cowon D2 : A real beauty

Cowon D2 – one of the most highly touted DAPs currently in the market. Apart from looking really cool, it features :

  1. 2.5 inch 16 million colours QVGA LCD touch screen
  2. Long battery life : Music playback over 50 hours / video playback around 10 hours
  3. Extendible storage with SD / MMC card slot
  4. Strong output : 76mW @ 16 ohm
  5. TV output
  6. Lyrics display
  7. Supports OGG andFLAC on top of more common file formats like MP3, WMA
  8. Clock, Alarm, Pre-Scheduled Recording, Sleep Function, Power Saving Shut down
  9. Supports ID3V2, ID3V1, FileName