Douglas Brown

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Bryston BDA-3 DAC (Digital-to-Analog Converter) Review 01

More Canadian than Darryl Sittler sipping a double-double from Tim Hortons while handing Terry Fox an autographed #27 Maple Leaf Jersey at the Toronto City Hall, Bryston has been manufacturing consumer electronics out of Peterborough Ontario since the early 1970s. Today, Bryston sells a vast array of audio products including amps, preamps, digital products, speakers and even a turntable.

In this review, we look at the BDA-3 ($3,495), Bryston’s current flagship Digital to Analog Converter (DAC). What’s a DAC you ask? You may not know it, but if you listen to music then you use a DAC all the time. The DAC is a device that’s responsible for converting digital audio to an analog signal that’s audible by the human ear (and played by speakers or headphones). The DAC sits between the music source (CD player, your smartphone, laptop, etc) and your amplifier and is critically important in the overall quality of the music we hear. A high quality DAC can make all the difference in the sound of your home or headphone music system.

The BDA-3 is Bryston’s first DAC to include DSD conversion. The unit can convert PCM, DSD, and DoP (DSD over PCM) encoded digital signals. The BDA-3’s front panel has three vertical rows of LEDs. The first two rows indicate what the incoming PCM digital signal sampling rate is. The third row shows which DSD sampling rate is being fed into the unit.

There’s one ‘On/Off’ button located to the far right side and one ‘Upsample’ button. There are also individual buttons for all of its inputs. An optional remote control (the BR-2) costs $250 extra.

Users can upsample PCM streams by multiples of 44.1 KHz or 48KHz through the S/PDiF inputs. It’s not possible to upsample either native DSD or DoP signals.

The BDA-3 features two AKM decoding chips which can convert binary PCM-encoded signals up to 32-bit / 384 KHz resolution and DSD code up to 4 x natively. The unit offers an immense number of audio source inputs – a whopping total of 10. These include 4 x HDMI; 2 x Asynchronous USB; S/PDiF over BNC, RCA, or Toslink (i.e. optical) connectors; and 1 x balanced (AES/EBU).

Computer based music players and servers, SACD players, Blu-ray transports, TVs, and digital media players can all pass hi-res digital code up to the DSD-512 or 32/384 PCM level through the BDA-3’s USB inputs; or up to 24/192 PCM signals through its HDMI inputs.

The unit also has one HDMI digital output, one pair of single-ended RCA analog outputs, and one pair of balanced XLR analog outputs. For control applications, the BDA-3 comes with an RS-232 interface port, a USB control port, and an Ethernet jack.

Chipsets alone do not guarantee good sonics. Achieving true high-end sound also depends on the quality of the power supply, the way in which the D-to-A conversion is done, and the quality of the output stage.

The power supply in the BDA-3 is linear, not switched. And it uses a fully balanced dual-differential DAC. This means that there are no phase-splitters anywhere in the signal path.

Bryston claims that integrated circuits (ICs) “…limit the bandwidth and dynamic range of so many other DACs.” Accordingly, there are no ICs anywhere in the BDA-3’s proprietary solid state analog output section. To learn more technical details about the BDA-3, I encourage you to visit www.bryston.com.

Kicking off my listening sessions, I conducted a number of comparison tests between Bryston’s BDA-1 DAC and their latest BDA-3 model, using PCM music files. The BDA-3 consistently created better resolution, a much wider and deeper soundstage and smoother pace, rhythm and timing (PRaT). It also offered superior low-level detail retrieval compared to Bryston’s first DAC- the PCM-only model BDA-1.

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Skogrand Vivaldi Interconnects

During 2016, my editor Suave Kajko at NOVO magazine let me audition a pair of Skogrand’s Tchaikovsky interconnect cables ($6,950 US) for about 8 months. Within a very short time, I concluded that these were (indeed… are) the quietest and most accurate pair of interconnects that I’d ever heard. As a reviewer, I wanted—perhaps even needed—to have those awesome cables in my arsenal of reviewing tools. Sadly, I had to return them.

At the TAVES Consumer Electronics Show in 2016, Suave asked if I’d like to review Skogrand’s new Vivaldi interconnects ($750 US/2m length) and a matching pair of Vivaldi speaker cables ($850 US/3m length).

Word spread like a virus through my local grapevine of audiophile friends that I’d be getting Skogrand’s new interconnects and speaker cables in for review. All of my audio-buds were drooling in anticipation at hearing the new ‘entry level’ cords. Up until now, the biggest issue with Skogrand’s wires has been their cost. You want the best…? Well… the best costs money: a LOT of money. Not any more though. The new Vivaldi cable line has price points that are far more accessible.

The excitement which Skogrand has created by releasing their entry-level (read: affordable) Vivaldi line of cables has been utterly remarkable.

Since 2011, Skogrand has been proudly making ultra-high end reference calibre audio cables in Norway. Whereas many of the bigger cable companies who established themselves in the 1990s and 2000s seem to be resting on their laurels and are still selling the same wires that they designed 15 or 20 years ago, Skogrand’s newer cable technologies are pushing the boundaries of what is, sonically speaking, possible.

The Vivaldi Interconnects (ICs) which I reviewed were about 3/4-inch in diameter. The have a striking ox-blood red colored, stitched fabric cover which sits underneath a heavy-gauge clear polymer outer jacket. The conductors are 24 AWG OCC (Ohno Continuous Cast) solid core copper wires. My review pair was terminated with locking Skogrand RCA plugs.

The primary sonic goal for all of Skogrand’s cables is to “…liberate the true sound of every system connected with [them].” Instead of adding or subtracting any sort of sonic coloration, all of Skogrand’s cords have been designed with the penultimate goal of letting audiophiles hear exactly how their components sound.

Skogrand uses balsa wood, OCC copper, Poly-tetra-fluoro-ethylene (PTFE) cotton, cross linked poly-olefin, Per-fluoro-alkoxy fluoro-carbon (PFA), silver, gold, silk, and rhodium in different configurations to achieve an exceptional clarity and accuracy from all their cables. The ends of the Vivaldi ICs are fairly stiff. As such, an end user will need at least 12 inches of clearance behind the components.

Skogrand Vivaldi Speaker Cables

The 3m pair of Vivaldi speaker cables (SCs) I reviewed came with a white tech-flex jacket and was terminated with Swiss-made CMC Euro-style Copper banana plugs.
Much like the ICs, the Vivaldi speaker cables also need at least 12 inches of clearance on both ends to hook-up an amplifier to most speakers.

Both the ICs and SCs come with air tight and water-proof Pelican hard shell flight cases. The build quality is exceptionally high for ICs and SCs in this price range.
Released in 1993, Junkhouse’s debut album Strays is a phenomenally well recorded rock record that contains a wide variety of toe-tapping songs with catchy guitar riffs and, in places, a strong acoustic edge that gives some of the tracks a small-town country feel.

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Gold Note Giglio Turntable + B7 Tonearm + Dynavector 10X5 M/C Cartridge Review

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With nearly 25 years of experience in manufacturing 2-channel components, today Gold Note of Florence, Italy makes a range of turntables, cartridges, phono stages, amplifiers, speakers, and other music products.

Having recently reviewed Gold Note’s value-packed Valore Plus 425 turntable (now online at www.novo.press), when the opportunity to audition their higher-end Giglio (pronounced Gee-Leo) ‘table arrived, I dove on it like Oprah on a baked ham.

The Giglio turntable ($5,200 US, equipped with the B5.1 tonearm) sits in the middle of Gold Note’s turntable range and features a plinth that’s comprised of three separate layers: real wood; stainless steel; and acrylic. The Italian walnut or Tuscan olive woods used in the base are aged in hardwood slats for 8 years and then cooked in an autoclave to ensure structural integrity.
Once the wood’s cured and hand carved into its unique vibration-deadening shape, it’s finished with a natural lacquer. The wood base is attached to a 3mm thick stainless steel middle plate and then bolted via 16 strategic points to a 2cm thick polished black acrylic top plate.

This tri-layer sandwich construction adds noticeable mass and ensures superior resistance to air born and mechanical vibrations. Plinths can also be ordered with a black or white lacquered MDF base. The walnut plinth of my review ‘table added a formidable class and sexiness that reminded me of a smouldering 1960’s era Gina Lollobrigida. Like the lady, this ‘table has curves in all the right places.

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All elements of the drive mechanism are designed to minimize vibration. The Giglio comes standard with a polished bronze bearing and an 8cm long spindle that’s made out of carbon-rectified hardened steel. The 2.3cm thick platter is formed out of a PTE polymer-based material called black Sustarin.

The ‘table features a 12 volt synchronous motor that converts voltage in an A/C to D/C and then back again to A/C fashion. Users can make precision adjustments to the platter’s 33⅓ RPM and 45 RPM rotational speeds via the electronic speed control buttons on the top left side of the plinth.

Manufactured by Gold Note, the B7 is a 9” long pivoting tonearm and retails for $1,700 US.  The B7 is an upgrade to the B5.1 tonearm which comes standard with the Giglio turntable.

To reduce vibration, the B7’s arm wand is made out of 6 different diameter titanium sections and uses four custom-fabricated ceramic micro ball bearings: two for the vertical plain and two for the horizontal axis. The counterweight is machined out of aluminum and can handle cartridges up to 20 grams.

The internal wiring is an AWG 36 Hyper Litz shielded 99.9999% Oxygen Free Copper (OFC) cable. The Vertical Tracking Angle (VTA) can be adjusted via 2 set screws on the arm’s base and the cartridge’s azimuth can also be fine-tuned by a micro-sized screw.

Overall, the B7 is a superbly engineered tonearm with an impressive level of micro adjustability.

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The very first 10X cartridge was released in 1978. The 10X5 is the fifth incarnation and retails for $660 US. It weighs 7.3 grams, has an elliptical stylus, and an aluminum cantilever.

Offering a high output of 2.5mV, this Moving Coil (M/C) cartridge can be used with the 47k Ohm load setting that most Moving Magnet (M/M) phono stages use.

With the Giglio rig, the 10X5 created a beautifully full, warm, and natural sound. The soundstage was deep and wide, and yet also focused and palpable. It never sounded harsh or thin. Germane to its incisive low-level detail retrieval and profound ability at capturing micro dynamic shifts, the 10X5 consistently made music sound coherent, powerful, and involving. Amazingly, this is Dynavector’s lowest priced M/C cartridge.

Flaws…? The 10X5 has some extra weight in the lower mid-range and upper bass. To get even better sound, try Dynavector’s higher echelon Te Kaitora Rua or DRT XV-1T M/C cartridges. To my ears, a Sumiko Pearwood Celebration Mk2 M/C cartridge created the best sonics.

Overall, if you’re looking for a High Output Moving Coil (HOMC) cartridge that makes beautiful music at a reasonable price, Dynavector’s 10X5 should be at the top of your list.

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Editor’s note: Last week, we posted TAVES 2016 show coverage PART 1 and PART 2 from George de Sa.  Today we invite you to read about some of the high-end hifi exhibitors explored in detail on the show floor by NOVO magazine’s Douglas Brown.

Audio by Mark Jones

CH Precision is an ultra high-end audio company that’s based out of Lausanne Switzerland (CH). While a number of different exhibitors at TAVES 2016 used CH’s components, only Audio by Mark Jones had a design engineer from CH Precision on hand to answer technical questions about their gear. Raphael Pasche travelled all the way from Switzerland and was generous enough to sit down with me for about 20 minutes to chat about CH’s gear at this year’s TAVES.

In a breathtaking 2-channel system, Mark Jones used a Kronos Pro turntable ($38,000 USD), with a matching Kronos Black Beauty tonearm ($8,500 USD), and an Ortofon A95 M/C cartridge ($7,000 USD) as their vinyl source.

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Along with a CH Precision solid state P1 phono stage ($31,000 USD), a CH L1 dual mon-aural pre-amplifier ($35,000 USD), CH’s pair of M1 mono-block amplifiers ($95,000 USD), a pair of Nordost Valhalla 2 interconnects ($9,000 USD), and an 8 foot pair of Valhalla 2 speaker cables ($16,000 USD), these components drove a pair of Magico S5 Mk#2 full-range loudspeakers (pair in use came with the upgraded M-Coat finish $42,000 USD). Across the entire frequency spectrum, the sound of this system was as cohesive and 3-dimensional as any that I heard during the entire weekend.

CH Precision also brought their D1 SACD / CD drive ($38,000 USD) and their C1 DAC ($33,000 USD) as a 2-channel digital reference system.

All of CH Precision’s components are based on modular designs and can be “tailor made” to the needs and demands of any 2-channel system. The C1 DAC, for example, can have an asynchronous USB-input board ($3,000 USD) and/or an Ethernet streaming board ($5,000 USD) installed for use with digital streams and/or Ethernet-based sources.

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DVL Audio:

DVL Audio’s ultra high-end 2-channel system featured a Kronos turntable ($36,000 USD), a matching Kronos Black Beauty tonearm ($8,500 USD), and a Haniwa low inductance M/C cartridge ($8,000 USD). DVL also brought Swiss CH Precision’s D1 SACD / CD transport + player ($38,000 USD) and a CH Precision C1 Reference DAC ($33,000 USD) as their digital source.

For its Canadian premiere, DVL debuted CH Precision’s P1 dual mono phono pre-amplifier ($31,250 USD) and X1 external power supply ($15,000 USD). A Viola Labs Bravo 2-channel stereo power amplifier ($59,000 USD) rounded out their components. The gorgeous equipment racks were from Spanish Artesania Audio (prices range from $2,600 USD to $3,690 USD). They used a full loom of CH Precision’s own in-house brand cables.

DVL showcased a floorstanding pair of Magico S7 full-range 3-way loudspeakers in a stunning ‘Lamborghini Orange’ [my words… not theirs] colour ($64,000 USD).

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When I first walked into DVL Audio’s room and spotted the Kronos ‘table, I assumed (incorrectly) that they’d chosen vinyl as their source. I was wrong. This was the only room at the entire TAVES 2016 extravaganza where I mistook a digital source for an analog one. So… kudos to DVL for getting such a warm and natural sound out of their digital gear.

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EXA Sound

With a history of releasing ‘cutting edge’ digital products, EXA Sound of Toronto gave TAVES 2016 the world premier of two new DACs: 1), their brand new flagship e32 two-channel DAC ($3,499 USD); and 2), their new e38 multi-channel DAC ($3,849 USD). Both DACs are based on the 4th-generation Sabre ES-9028 digital chip. All of EXA Sound’s components are designed and built entirely in Canada.

Set-up in a 2-channel system with EXA Sound’s PlayPoint Network Audio Player ($1,999 USD), the e32 DAC, a Pass Labs X350.8 solid state power amplifier ($19,900 CDN), and a pair of Magnepan 3.7i loudspeakers ($5,995 USD / pair), the sound was clean, dynamic, and, to my ears, decidedly non-digital.

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Focus Audio

Focus Audio has been based locally out of Markham Ontario for 20+ years. Focus brought a Metronome Technologie Kalista Signature CD transport + DAC ($85,000 USD) as their digital source in a 2-channel system which proudly showcased their Liszt Concert integrated mono amplifier ($25,000 USD). Combined with a full loom of French Absolue Créations cables (approx. value $10,000 USD), Focus Audio’s massive 6 foot tall Master Two BE speakers ($45,000 USD) that weigh-in at 220 Lbs each(!) provided a HUGE soundstage with an equally impressive placement of individual instruments within a 3-dimensional sphere of sound.

In my notes, I wrote: “Fast transients, ultra-clean detail, with superb PRaT, massive soundstaging, and impressive dynamics.” The Focus Audio room easily made my list of ‘Top 5’ two-channel systems at this year’s TAVES.

Gerr Audio

Providing custom acoustical measurement services to both the pro-audio and consumer electronics markets, Gerr Audio of Toronto promoted their Smaart V8 software packages to bench techs, professional audio engineers, and audiophiles alike.

The V8 version of their Smaart (System Measurement Acoustic Analysis Real-time Tool) offers multi-channel real-time measurement for both Windows and Mac O/S operating systems (both 32-bit and 64-bit versions). Priced at $1,900 CDN for the full software, microphone, and interface kit, Smaart V8 can run multiple / simultaneous spectrum and transfer function measurements.

Also carrying a full line of Audio Precision’s APx Series audio analyzers, APx digital I/O interface options, and Classic Series audio analyzers, Gerr Audio is the one-stop shop for professional audio engineers and home audio enthusiasts alike in the broadcast, communications, bench-tech, and production environments.

HiFi Man

With a proud tradition of manufacturing ultra high-end headphones, headphone amplifiers, and ancillary headphone related audiophile products, HiFi Man brought their flagship HE-1000 V2 headphones ($4,000 CDN) to Toronto for the Canadian premiere of these reference-calibre ‘phones. The new asymmetrical planar-ribbon drivers used in the V2 version feature what HiFi Man calls “…the world’s 1st diaphragm [with a] nano-meter thickness.”

The thinner outer-casing has decreased the HE-1000 V2’s weight from 480 grams (16.9 ounces) in the V1 version, down to 420 grams (14.8 ounces) in the V2.

The CNC-machined fit and finish of the HE-1000 V2s truly places them in the “reference calibre” category. After a good listen, I concluded that these are one of the best sounding headphones which currently exist on this or any other planet.

I also auditioned several of HiFi Man’s more reasonably priced headphone models which start around the $300 CDN level. All of them produced impressive sonics with a smooth and musical sound.

With a high sensitivity of 103dB, HiFi Man’s Edition-X v2 headphones were designed to be used with smart-phones, portable Digital Media Players, and high-end portable audio devices. Listening to Hi-Rez digital files from an Astell & Kern AK240, the sound quality of the Edition-X v2 open back planar-ribbon headphones ($1,799 CDN) was stunning. If you’re an audiophile who uses portable devices a lot, do yourself a favour and audition a pair of HiFi Man headphones.

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Kennedy HiFi

For TAVES 2016, local Markham Ontario based purveyors of high-end audio/video systems Kennedy Hifi had a multi-channel home theatre set-up.

Using a BlueSound Vault-Two 2TB hard-drive + CD-Ripper ($1,400 CDN) as a source, Kennedy brought Toronto the Canadian premiere of Paradigm’s new Anthem 2-channel S.T.R. solid state integrated amplifier + DAC ($4,995 CDN). Providing a healthy 2 x 225 watts into 8 Ohms, the clean, detailed, and surprisingly warm sound of this solid state integrated amp was a pleasure to listen to. They used AudioQuest cables throughout their multi-channel system.

Driving Paradigm’s just-introduced, reference Persona 9H hybrid loudspeakers ($38,000 CDN), the synergy between the S.T.R. amplifier and the Persona 9H speakers brought a tactile realism to movie soundtracks that was simply remarkable to hear; and feel.

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Krell + Oracle + Reference 3A

The Krell / Oracle / Reference 3A / Gutwire room was a tale of four superb ultra high-end 2-channel audio companies combining their individual areas of expertise to bring a sonic synergy that was a pleasure to hear.

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Jacques Riendeau and Stephane Maddau own Oracle Audio. Oracle has their own machine shop in Sherbrooke Quebec and every one of their exquisite turntables and phono stages is designed and built entirely in Canada. For TAVES 2016, Oracle brought their flagship Delphi Mk#6 – 2nd generation turntable ($9,000 CDN) that was outfitted with an SME-345 tonearm ($3,750 CDN) and a Cardas wiring harness.

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Monsieur Riendeau was particularly excited to tell me about Oracle’s new “entry levelOrigine turntable, which comes equipped with a uni-pivot arm for the modest asking price of $2,000 CDN. Oracle also debuted their PH-100 ($900 CDN) and PH-200 ($1,800 CDN) solid state phono stages to the Canadian market.

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Since TAVES started in 2011 six shows ago, this was Krell’s first visit to Toronto. Rondi D’Agostino (yes… that D’Agostino) bought Krell back and, as their current Managing Director, it’s clear that Krell’s commitment to ultra high-end 2-channel sound is stronger than ever.

Designed and built entirely in the USA, Krell proudly showcased their new solid state Illusion pre-amp ($20,300 CDN) and Solo 575 mono block amplifiers ($30,800 CDN per pair). Krell also brought their Vanguard DAC ($8,300 CDN) and Digital Vanguard Streamer ($6,800 CDN) to Toronto.

Venerable owner Tosh Goka of Reference 3A took the time to explain, at length, all of the advanced engineering work—in fact… two full years of research and design work—that went into Reference 3A’s new Reflector stand-mount monitors ($12,000 USD / pair).

Featuring adjustable tension rods to control the Reflector’s internal anti-vibration bracing and constrained layers fabricated out of real glass which have been laminated to the top and sides of the speakers over High Density Fibre-board (HDF), to my ears, the Reflector was the best sounding bookshelf / stand-mount monitor at this year’s TAVES.

It was a privilege to see (and hear) Krell partnered-up with Oracle and Reference 3A. From my notes, the sound I experienced in their room was utterly mesmerizing. The smooth, organic, and captivating quality of Oracle’s vinyl rig mated particularly well with the rich, deep, and powerful sound of Krell’s solid state pre/power components. Reference 3A’s new Reflector monitors allowed me to hear all of the subtle micro & macro sonic details, harmonic richness, and hip-swinging PRaT that this system produced. A full loom of cabling was supplied by Gutwire.

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Muraudio

Based out of Ottawa Ontario, Muraudio brought their flagship Domain Omni PX-2 electrostatic floorstanding speakers ($79,500 USD) which feature a “…360 degree array of continuous curve ESL panels” to Toronto. These amazing speakers offer listeners all of the sonic benefits of lightning-fast transients and the breathtaking PRaT which traditional ESL panel speakers do, but with a vastly increased “sweet spot”.

Combined in a 2-channel system with Sim Audio’s Moon 750 CD / DAC transport ($14,000 USD), Moon 820S A/C power supply ($8,000 USD), Moon 850P stereo pre-amp ($30,000 USD), and Moon 870 mono-block amplifiers ($44,000 USD for a pair of amps), and a full loom of Shunyata’s eTron cables ($21,000 USD), the Muraudio room had an amazingly full, warm, and cohesive sound. Given my 35+ year long love affair with Quad ESL-57s and ESL-63s electrostatic loudspeakers, it was a delight to hear a new take on electro-static panel speakers.

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Imagine this:

It’s mid-morning at Bryston’s HQ in Peterborough Ontario. James Tanner, VP of Sales, sits at his desk answering emails. He’s surrounded by boxes filled with cash- CDN dollars, US dollars, and Euros. There’s so much money piled up that his office is—literally—buried in cash.

A bouncy secretary bounds into his office and, in a bored voice—as if it’s become expected and normal—calmly says: “More money Mister Tanner.”

A Fed-Ex delivery guy wheels a 6 foot high stack of boxes brimming with cash into the office.

In a panic-stricken voice, J.T. yelps back: “Jumpin’ Jesus on a Kawasaki… get it outta here!!

His secretary yawns and then asks: “What would you like us to do with it Sir?

Rising up with his arms waving frantically, an adrenalized J.T. barks back: “Burn it! Smoke it! Throw it out the window of a car onto the 401!! I don’t care. Just get rid of it! The storage costs of all this money are gonna bankrupt us!”

Ok… back to reality. Contrary to what some people might think, James Tanner isn’t hoarding money. Gold Bullion… maybe(?). But not cash currency. The fact is this: Bryston are a very successful consumer audio company. And this success means they can invest their profits into new products and attempt things which smaller companies simply can’t. Examples…? Bryston have released a new turntable called the BLP-1.

This is Bryston’s first turntable. As such, they’ve relied upon the expertise of more experienced TT manufacturers to bring their ‘table to life. Built to Bryston’s specifications, the plinth, drive mechanism, motor, and platter are all sourced from Gold Note in Italy. GRW of Germany supplies the B7 titanium tonearm.

The 3cm thick plinth is made from non-resonant MDF and comes in one colour: black. The BLP-1 combines a belt-drive mechanism with a 3.5cm thick Delrin platter, a 5mm diameter polished-bronze main bearing, and an 8cm long carbon-rectified hardened steel spindle.

The ‘table uses a 12 volt synchronous low speed / high torque motor. It features Pulse Width Modulation (PWM) power conversion that changes voltage in an A/C to D/C and then back again to A/C fashion. 33⅓ RPM and 45 RPM rotational speeds are both supported and can be fine-tuned using the power supply’s speed buttons.

The stock BLP-1 comes with a 4-pin DIN female output plug, an entry-level OFC phono IC, a platter weight, and basic cylindrical feet. On a TT of this caliber, all of these items need to be upgraded. Fortunately, they can be.

The BTP-1 is the turntable’s power supply. It’s linear; not switching. Bryston designed and built the one-third sized outboard unit entirely in Canada. I had a professional bench-tech measure it. He said it’s the second best power supply for a TT that he’s seen in over 20 years. The quietest and most accurate one came with a ‘table sporting a $25K price tag. In practice, the BPT-1 runs silent and delivers ultra-clean power to the motor.

Gold Note B7 Tonearm

The BTP-1 comes equipped with a Gold Note B7 9-inch long, pivoting tonearm.  To reduce vibration, the B7’s wand is made out of 7 different diameter titanium sections. The arm uses four sealed tungsten micro ball-bearings: two for the vertical plain and two for the horizontal axis. The counterweight is machined out of 303-grade aluminum and can handle cartridges up to 15 grams.

The internal wiring is an AWG 36 Hyper Litz shielded 99.9999% Oxygen Free Copper (OFC) cable. The Vertical Tracking Angle (VTA) can be adjusted via 2 set screws on the arm’s base and the cartridge’s azimuth can also be fine-tuned by a micro-sized screw.

Overall, the B7 is a superbly engineered tonearm with an impressive level of micro adjustability.

Cambridge Audio CXN Upsampling Network Player and CXA80 Integrated Amplifier Review 01

One of the greatest fears that a modern audiophile secretly harbours is that if death arrives prematurely, his wife will sell-off his audio gear and cabling for the amount that he claimed to have paid for it. Instead of his grieving widow doing the sensible thing and investing in a double-wide coffin to house his cherished turntable rig, tube pre/power combo, and associated cabling to be buried with his cremated remains, the gear and cables will, tragically, be sold off for a song. One shivers in terror at the very thought(!).

Cambridge Audio’s “value for money” philosophy has always produced high-end audio gear at, by audiophile standards, bargain prices. So much so, that you can (probably) tell your significant other the truth about what you actually spent without needing to retain legal council for the predictable upcoming divorce proceedings.

There are six units in Cambridge’s new CX-Series line. The two I’ll be reviewing in this article are the CXN Upsampling Network Player and the CXA80 Solid State Integrated Amplifier.
To quote from their website:  “Since 1968 Cambridge Audio has been driven by a simple belief: that music should always sound amazing. Our mission is to delight people who really love music, so that you experience all of the emotion and passion that your favourite composers, songwriters and performers intended. British-designed for an unparalleled sound, our products are beautiful, innovative and sublimely engineered. Everything we build offers incredible value, bettering products costing many times more.”

At essence, this paragraph succinctly defines exactly what Cambridge Audio seeks to deliver in all of their products: goose-bump inducing sound offered at affordable prices.

Cambridge CXN

CXN Upsampling Network Player
Cambridge has taken the hardware and software platforms from their Stream Magic 6 v2.0 network streamer, upgraded them, and incorporated their latest efforts into the newly redesigned CXN streamer.
My review unit came with a black, brushed aluminum face plate and a full colour 4.3” (11cm) LCD screen with a symmetrical left/right layout for the eight front panel control buttons.
Positioned to the right, the unit’s rotary control dial lets users navigate through the menu options. Pressing this dial accepts the item / function as displayed on the LCD screen. While the jog wheel may have been inspired by a car radio, in practice, the rotary dial offered precise control.

There’s also a USB-B input just to the left of the LCD screen.

The rear panel of the CXN has the following connections: two USB inputs (one of which is intended for Cambridge’s BT-100 Bluetooth dongle); one Ethernet input; two digital inputs (one S/PDiF RCA & one Toslink optical input); two digital outputs (one S/PDiF RCA & one Toslink optical output); and one USB audio input for PC & Mac computers. It also has one pair of balanced (XLR) analogue outputs, one pair of single-ended (RCA) analogue outputs, and a detachable 15 Amp A/C inlet for the power cord.

The CXN includes one Infra-Red (IR) emitter input and two control bus (one input & one output) female RCA plugs for syncing with Cambridge’s other CX-Series components.

Available in black or silver, the unit has a posh style that will comfortably blend into any modern household’s design décor. Cambridge applied what I like to refer to as the “cool” factor to the CXN. One look at the front panel and you’ll say: “Damn… that looks cool!”

The operating system has more than enough processing power to ensure quick response times while searching through the menus.

Digital files can be sent into the CXN from a low quality MP3-level 8 bit/32 KHz digital code, up to a FLAC or WAV file at 24/192 KHz. Twin Wolfson WM8740 DACs set-up in a dual differential configuration convert digital data to an analogue signal.

“Dual differential configuration” means that the left and right channels are independently split within the digital domain to create balanced signals. These signals are then converted to analog with two DACs per channel (one for each phase of the balanced signal). This method of digital to analogue (D to A) conversion reduces DAC-induced distortion and lowers the noise floor considerably. Why…? Simply because digital noise found in both halves of the balanced signal is cancelled out via common-mode rejection.

This “dual differential” method requires double the number of DACs and analog output stages. Which, logically, costs more money to implement.

The biggest sonic benefit that differential DACs create is a balanced signal without using phase splitters in the analog domain. Employing dual differential DACs into a sub-$5,000 converter is commendable; installing them in a $1,399 network streamer is downright amazing.

At essence, the CXN is the ‘Swiss Army Knife’ of upsampling network streamers. As of July 2015 and as evidenced by its specifications, it’s compatible with everything that currently exists in digital files, digital audio formats, and/or wireless systems.

Whether you’re using a wired input or a wireless connection, the CXN can stream music from Internet Radio, Spotify Connect, Airplay, NAS drives, UPnP servers, and the aptX Bluetooth system.
Cambridge offers a beautiful system remote that can control various units in the CX series. Or, alternatively, the CXN can also be controlled via the free Cambridge Connect App for Apple and Android devices. I tried the Connect App with an iPhone. It was a breeze to install and provided more of the ‘cool’ factor that I mentioned earlier.

So… how does the CXN sound?

The CXN’s upsampling capability and Wolfson DACs take some of the edge, glare, and harshness off of digital material coming from Internet Radio and streamed sources. Like most digital devices, the quality of the sound depends entirely on the quality (or lack thereof) of the digital signal being sent into it.

Vinyl enthusiasts associate low-quality digital music files and streaming with low bit-rates and horrible sounding MP3 or AAC downloads. MP3 and AAC are “lossy” compression file formats that permanently discard as much as 90% of the original data. Just imagine buying a Ferrari and being told that the best fuel which you can get for the beast will only deliver 10% of the car’s potential performance.

If water is irreparably polluted at the source, no amount of filtration is going to fix it. Digital audio is no different. If you’re using compressed or “lossy” digital files, no upsampler, DAC, or network player can purify the toxic waste quality of the digital files.

Bit-rates from streamed music sources typically range from 128Kbps to 320 Kbps. Compared to CD’s 1,411 Kbps and HDTracks’ hi-rez 9,216 Kbps bit-rates, even at 320 Kbps, streamed music sounded unnatural. In my listening tests, streamed music quickly caused listening fatigue.

This is not to fault the CXN. While it has the chipsets to deliver stunning sound quality, it won’t do so if the digital signal it’s fed is rubbish. When I sent hi-rez digital signals into the CXN, it produced beautiful music.

I compared a ripped “CD quality” FLAC file cut at 1,411 Kbps to a hi-rez DSD 24/192 download of U2’s 1983 War [MFSL UDCD 571] album.

In the middle of the track “Seconds”, producer Steve Lilywhite layered two short vocal pieces: one in the left channel; the other in the right channel. I’ve heard a fair number of digital sources turn these speeches into a muddy mess of indistinguishable vocals. Listening to the hi-rez download, the CXN reproduced the sonic characteristics of these subtle speeches with superior separation, delineation, and harmonic accuracy than with the ripped FLAC file version.

The track “Two Hearts Beat as One” opens with a simple but unforgettable bass line. As the Edge’s percussive guitar chords and Bono’s impassioned vocals come in, the unstoppable groove of this song should have you instinctively bopping your head and tapping your toes in syncopated time to the song’s rhythm.

With the hi-rez version, I clearly heard better low-level detail retrieval, superior instrument separation, and an increased soundstage in this wonderfully vainglorious song.

With the DSD download, Bono’s soaring vocals had increased weight, fuller texture, and a more natural presentation. On the album’s final track “40”, for example, Bono’s voice is clearly hoarse from pouring his heart and soul into the other songs on this landmark album. With the DSD version, the CXN clearly reproduced the stress in his throat. His voice must have been damn near exhausted from hitting the high notes on War’s songs. And, as strange as it may sound, it’s beautiful—yes… beautiful—to be able to hear this exhaustion in his vocals.

Overall, the CXN competes with network streamers in the $3,000 to $4,000 retail price bracket. In my listening tests, using the balanced (XLR) outputs and its dual differential DACs produced the best sound quality.

2

UNITED KINGDOM - DECEMBER 01: Photo of LED ZEPPELIN posed on a Jaguar car in London in December 1968. Left to right: John Paul Jones, Jimmy Page, Robert Plant and John Bonham.(Photo by Dick Barnatt/Redferns)

In Part 1 of my review of late 1960s and early 1970s era albums which were fundamental to the development of hard rock and heavy metal, I explored some of the greatest albums from Jimi Hendrix, The Who and The MC5.  You can now find this article in the “Features / Audio” section on novo.press.   In Part 2, I’ll examine several bands whose records redefined what could be done with hard music.  The goal here is to provide some direction as to which albums you might want to add to your music collection in the on-going search for cool music which you may not have heard of.

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Cream – The Very Best of Cream
Formed in July 1966 and considered by many to be the first rock ‘super group’ to ever exist, Cream consisted of Eric Clapton (guitars), Ginger Baker (drums and percussion), and Jack Bruce (bass and vocals).

Following tenures with The Yardbirds and John Mayall & the Bluesbreakers, in early 1966, Eric Clapton was looking for a new band to pour his restless and relentless musical ideas and guitar virtuosity into. While all three members of Cream were well-known in the UK blues-rock music scene, when they formed in the summer of 1966, Clapton was widely regarded as the best blues-rock guitarist in the entire British Isles.

Despite only existing for 3½ years, Cream’s influence on modern hard rock music is out of all proportion to the 4 studio albums which they released.

The compilation album The Very Best of Cream [Polydor 314 523 752-2] contains a diverse cross-section of Cream’s songs from all four of their studio releases. Classic tracks from Fresh Cream (1966), Disraeli Gears (1967), Wheels of Fire (1968), and Goodbye (1969) present their uniquely heavy and technically challenging sound in all of its overdriven glory.

While songs like ‘Spoonful’, ‘Born Under a Bad Sign’, ‘NSU’, ‘We’re Going Wrong’, and ‘Sitting on Top of the World’ all display Cream’s penchant for digging deep into monstrous electric-blues grooves, it’s some of their faster and heavier tracks like ‘Sunshine of Your Love’, ‘Tales of Brave Ulysses’, ‘White Room’, ‘Those Were the Days’, and ‘Crossroads’ that clearly influenced hard rock and heavy metal down through the next 5 decades. Fortunately for listeners, this compilation contains all of these amazing songs.

Regardless of whether you were lucky enough to have seen them play live in their halcyon days in the late 1960s, or are just discovering them today, The Very Best of Cream is a superb CD.

Cream’s sound mixed elements of the blues, swing, psychedelic, and late-1960’s nascent heavy-metal rock into a hybrid form of limitless music which predated, foreshadowed, and influenced Led Zeppelin, Deep Purple, and Black Sabbath.

While the constant stress of touring took its toll on all 3 members, the musical synergy that Cream had—especially live—is simply remarkable. Just listen to the unstoppable groove that they have going on the live version of ‘Crossroads’.

Anchored by Clapton’s virtuoso lead-guitar and Bruce’s powerful vocals, Cream played live like they were on some sort of religious mission to bring their vision of electric-blues to the masses.
If I ever figure out how to build a time machine out of a Delorean, the first place in recent history that I’m going to visit is London England to see Cream’s Farewell Concert at the Royal Albert Hall in November 1968. Why…? Listen to the music on this compilation and you’ll know why.

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Deep Purple – In Rock and Machine Head
An album that’s essential to understanding the history of hard rock and heavy metal is Deep Purple’s 1970 Deep Purple In Rock [Warner Bros CD 1877].

While In Rock is Deep Purple’s fourth album, it was their 1st release to feature vocalist Ian Gillan’s dynamic singing and Roger Glover’s powerful and melodic bass. Combined with Jon Lord’s virtuoso keyboard and Hammond organ work, drummer Ian Paice’s cerebral percussion, and Ritchie Blackmore’s frenetic guitar wizardry, today, In Rock is considered to be one of the cornerstones in the foundation of all forms of modern-day hard rock and heavy metal.

As rock musicians went, in the early 1970s Deep Purple’s individual members could out-play just about everyone else who was around at that time. As a collective whole, Deep Purple’s musical synergy was simply unmatched.

While the first three Deep Purple albums had drawn influences from psyche, blues, folk, and even classical music, In Rock took all of these influences further; in fact, much further. They collectively combined the despairing sound of the blues, the panoramic sound of psychedelic music, and the light-hearted meanderings of folk music, and then played them far faster and heavier. At the same time, they also added a darker edge to the music. What emerged was a prototype collection of classic hard rock songs which all future genres of metal classify as an influence.

The first track on In Rock titled ‘Speed King’ roars forth with a fast-breaking lead guitar riff. Combined with solid percussion, great rhythm, and a curious organ solo, this song drives listeners headlong into a barrage of intricate lead guitar solos. Gillian’s knife-edged feral screams set the vocal tone for the entire album.

The tracks ‘Bloodsucker’, ‘Flight of the Rat’, ‘Into the Fire’, and ‘Living Wreck’ are all musically structured around the same heavy bass-laden rhythms, fast guitar lines, and screaming vocals. Numerous swift and atmospheric guitar, drum, organ, and bass solos punctuate all of these songs with creative and unexpected musical complexity.

With its progressive time signatures and meandering organ interludes, the song ‘Child in Time’ clocks in at 10:15. Musically speaking, it redefined what could be done with an epic-length hard rock track. Part of this song was even used to great effect in the Hollywood blockbuster movie Twister.

In Rock is one of my ‘Desert Island Discs’. This album delivered the speed, power, and technical virtuosity which would become the tenets of the New Wave of British Heavy Metal [NWoBHM] movement, of Heavy Metal in the 1980s and beyond, and of all modern rock music being played fast and loud. If you’re curious to know where this style of music started, it should be on your ‘short list’ of albums to buy.

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This past Oct. 30th to Nov. 1st, the TAVES Consumer Electronics Show was moved to a new home in Richmond, Ontario and witnessed a dramatic growth in the number of both exhibitors and show attendees. Just as importantly, the show also graduated from being “just another” audio show to a full-blown consumer electronics event thanks to a vast number of technology and innovation exhibits. Senior Editor George de Sa has already covered many of the audio exhibits at the show on the CANADA HiFi website and inside this article, I offer my perspective on some of the standout audio exhibits at this year’s show. Be sure to come back later this week and check out Jeremy Phan’s take on the technology and innovation portion of the show.

Skogrand Cables

Larger-than-life owner Knut Skogrand showcased the world premiere of the ACA Seraphim Skogrand Edition 3-way floorstanding loudspeaker system (MSRP $58,000 CDN / $45,000 USD). To quote from the brochure:

“The ACA Seraphim Skogrand Edition reference loudspeaker is the first found worthy of using Skogrand SCIW Beethoven internal wiring. This is a 1.00 air Dielectric Ultra Pure Ohno Continuous Cast (UPOCC) solid core wire and it is the only one of its kind in the global market preserving the signal most effectively, completely, and undisturbed.”

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The Skogrand Cables room 2-channel system featured an Esoteric SACD player (MSRP $22,000 USD), a VAC Statement vacuum tube pre-amp (MSRP $46,000 USD), and a Venture V120S solid state power amplifier (MSRP $60,000 USD). Combined with Skogrand’s SCI Beethoven interconnects (MSRP $19,000 USD – $25,000 USD per each pair of ICs), Skogrand’s SC Beethoven speaker cables (MSRP $25,000 USD per pair), and Skogrand’s SCAC Beethoven power cords (MSRP $18,000 USD – $21,000 USD per each AC cord), the Skogrand room had one of the fullest sounds at the entire TAVES 2015 lollapalooza.

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As I wandered the hallways and overheard conversations about the various exhibitors, what they had set-up, and which– in the opinions of the public visiting the show– sounded the best, the one name I kept hearing positive comments about over and over was “the Skogrand room”. In what I like to classify as the “cost-no-object” category, Skogrand’s 2-channel system delivered (arguably) the best sound at the entire 2015 TAVES.  Look out for a review of the ACA Seraphim Skogrand Edition loudspeakers from Malcolm Gomes in the next several weeks on the CANADA HiFi website.

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Crown Mountain Imports

Crown Mountain Imports proudly ran a 2-channel system using a pair of Kudos Audio Super 20 loudspeakers (MSRP $10,000 CDN). Combined with a Norma Audio DS-1 one box CD player + DAC (MSRP $6,000 CDN) as the source, a Norma Audio SC-2 solid state pre-amp (MSRP $8,900 CDN), and a Norma Audio PA-150 solid state power amp (MSRP $8,900 CDN), Crown also debuted a complete loom of Albedo’s pure silver (Ag) mono-crystal interconnects, speaker cables, and power cords.

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Woo Audio

Woo Audio had a number of their gorgeous vacuum tube headphone amplifiers set-up for TAVES 2015 visitors to audition. Woo’s flagship 300B based WA5-LE (MSRP $3,700 USD) features an all tube design with 6SN7 driver tubes, 274B rectifier tubes, and 300B power tubes.

To quote from Woo’s website: “The marquee feature of the WA5 / WA5-LE is the user selectable Hi/Lo power, Hi/Lo impedance, and Hi/Lo level output switches located on the front panel. When used in conjunction, a listener can optimize the synergy between amplifier and headphones to achieve the ideal pairing.”

I listened to the WA5-LE matched with Audeze LCD-3 headphones (MSRP $1,945 USD) and got goosebumps from the sound I heard.

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Woo also brought their WA-8 battery powered one-box tube amp + DAC (MSRP $1,800 USD), a WA-22 fully-balanced tube headphone amp (MSRP $2,000 USD), and their WA6-SE tube headphone amp (MSRP $1,200 USD).

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Plurison

For TAVES 2015, Plurison Audio set-up the funky looking Devialet Phantom wireless speaker (MSRP $2,795 CDN per each unit). Plurison had Cambridge Audio’s CXN upsampling network player (MSRP $1,399 CDN / $999 USD) and Cambridge’s CXA-80 solid state 80w/ch integrated amplifier (MSRP $1,399 CDN / $999 USD) on hand in a static display.

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Plurison also brought Naim’s MUSO audiophile soundbar (MSRP $1,700 CDN) and Focal’s Sopra No. 2 (MSRP $14,000 CDN) floorstanding loudspeakers for show goers to drool over.

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How Bryston Got Into the Loudspeaker Business 01

Earlier this year, I had the pleasure to met face-to-face with James Tanner, the VP of Sales & Marketing at Bryston, to discuss the history behind the company’s loudspeaker business.

DSB: “Why did Bryston decide to enter the highly competitive consumer loudspeaker market?
JT: “Over the 40 years I’ve been in audio, I’ve owned every speaker that would be considered a high quality loudspeaker: Klipsch horns, Apogees, all the Magnepans, and most of the dynamic speakers. I decided I wanted to build a reference loudspeaker for my own purposes – and I wanted it to be fully active. I’d had experience at the professional level and I recognized that there are technical advantages to using an active setup.”

DSB: “And that led you to Axiom?”
JT: “I knew two engineers at Axiom from back-in-the-day at the Research Council in Ottawa. So I called them and said: ‘I’d like to build a reference speaker. Would you be willing to help me?’ They said ‘Sure’. And the reason I called them was two fold: one, I’d called around to a few other companies and discovered that the cost was going to be prohibitive; and two, they (Axiom) were one of the few companies who actually had an anechoic chamber that was as large as the one in Ottawa at the NRC (the National Research Council).” [Sips his coffee].
JT: “So we put together a model that was fully active. We ultimately ended up with what’s now called the Model T. I had it at home and, from time to time, dealers and distributors would drop in. They’d say: ‘Those are really good speakers James… you should be doing something about it.’

DSB: “About what… manufacturing them for the retail market?”
JT: “Yes. And I said: ‘The problem is… they’re too complicated. You’re talking about 6 channels of amplification and an outboard electronic crossover. Most people are just overwhelmed with something as complicated at that.’ So I called Axiom and asked: ‘Could you do a passive version of these?’ And Ian answered: ‘Sure. We can get about 90% of the sound quality of what the active system does from a passive model.’ And that was the start of what we called the Model T passive.”

DSB: “So releasing a passive version for the public was driven by the need for less complexity?”
JT: “Yes. But I also knew that different speakers sound totally different in different rooms. I’d owned di-poles, mono-poles, and I’d had direct radiators. So I started doing research into understanding what sounded best in average homes. And that meant a forward firing, wide dispersion, dynamic loudspeaker. [Pauses]. I always remember my Klipsch horns. They were incredibly dynamic. When you heard a gunshot, the sound of it – of the gunshot – was incredibly lifelike; because it’s huge dynamics in real life. Right?”

DSB: “Yeah… sure.”
JT: “So, after extensive research, my criteria for custom loudspeakers became: a), a forward direct-radiating model; b), the ability to handle huge dynamics; c), a front-firing wide dispersion speaker; and d), they’d have to be affordable. And I wanted to have all four of these characteristics in one speaker.”

DSB: “That’s a lofty goal.”
JT: “Yes it is. But I’d found that most people prefer a speaker that has good on and off axis response – as flat as possible. So that was my number one criteria.”

DSB: “You mean… you wanted to build speakers which create sound waves in a wide dispersion pattern?”
JT: “Yes… exactly. So that negated horns, because they usually beam sound at a listener in a tightly focused dispersion pattern. And it also negated di-poles, to a degree, because they have a tendency to… well… if you move off axis, the sound quality decreases; considerably.” [Sips his coffee].
JT: “It forced me to go in the direction of dynamic speakers where the dispersion characteristics and wave launch were all like that of a dynamic, forward firing, wide dispersion loudspeaker.”

DSB: “Did you get so tired of trying everything else that was available, that you thought: ‘Okay… I want to build my own custom made, one-off, reference calibre speakers.’ ”
JT: “In retrospect, I think it was. I was getting older and dragging speakers up and down the stairs was becoming a bit much. [JT laughs]. So I thought: ‘I’m gonna build something that I can leave in the basement; and that will be a reference point for me for years to come.’ The way to look at Bryston’s speakers is: they’re 70% science; and 30% me.”

DSB: “Me…?”
JT: “MY experience.”

DSB: “What specifically do you mean by ‘MY experience’?”
JT: “The way that all of Bryston’s speakers developed and the way they exist today is 70% based on engineering science and 30% based on my experience in listening to loudspeakers over a 40 year time frame.”

DSB: “So the 30% ‘ME’ side is your personal experience—and knowledge—in listening to a wide variety of reference quality loudspeakers?”
JT: “Yes… precisely. ‘Cause it’s not all science. At some point, you have to sit down and actually listen to products. Right?”

DSB: “You’d hope so. [Both laugh]. But what about those who only think a speaker can be assessed through anechoic chamber measurements?
JT: “The room is going to influence the sound. You cannot ignore the fact that the ceilings, walls, and floors affect the sound. During the first 30 milli-seconds, your brain and ears are sorting out all of the sonic information and determining directionality; where exactly specific sounds are coming from. In the past, we were taught: ‘Ohhh no… you’ve got to get rid of first and second reflections, because your brain gets confused as to where the image is coming from.’ That’s simply not true.”

DSB: “Try telling that to some loudspeaker manufacturers.”
JT: [Laughs]. “With our speakers, we recommend that you not treat the room. You want a normal room with rugs and drapes and furniture, because your ear-brain will perceive that as a far more natural environment. And the energy that is striking all of those surfaces will have the same tonal balance as what you’re listening to on your system. You perceive it as a sense of openness and spaciousness, rather than as a direct sound coming from one location only.”

Sennheiser RS 175 01

I’ve been listening to higher-end 2-channel headphone audio for more than 30 years. And while I own a number of exotic headphone amps and obscenely expensive sets of headphones, I do not have ‘phones for my home theatre. So when CANADA HiFi asked if I’d like to review a pair of Sennheiser’s RS 175 wireless digital headphones, I jumped at the chance to do so.

Originally founded by Dr. Fritz Sennheiser in Wennbostel, Germany (near Hamburg) in 1945 under the name Laboratorium Wennebostel (Lab W), today in 2015 Sennheiser is a multi-billion dollar consumer electronics company.

Sennheiser Canada was founded in 1991. That same year, they unleashed their flagship $11,000 USD tube-amp driven Orpheus electrostatic headphone system. Consider yourself very lucky if you’ve ever heard this set-up.

In 1995, Sennheiser unleashed their first wireless radio frequency headphone system named the RS 5.

The RS 175 system was launched at the 2015 Consumer Electronics Show [CES] held annually in Las Vegas, Nevada.

According to Sennheiser’s Global Design Manager Oliver Berger:

“Combining state-of-the-art wireless technology with our expertise in high performance wireless audio, the headphones deliver authentic sound at the highest ranges. The RS 175 offers even greater involvement in the home entertainment experience, with its choice of virtual surround sound modes and switchable dynamic bass.”

Operating on the 2.5GHz band, the RS 175s offer users a 100 meter (328 ft) line-of-sight reception range from the transmitter.

The RS 175 system arrived in a display box which housed: a), the headphones; b), the transmitter base; c), the wall-wart power supply; d), a 1.0m Toslink optical cable for digital use; e), a 1.0m 1/8”-to-1/8” interconnect; f), a software CD; and g), 1 pair of NiCad batteries which fit inside and power the left and right headphone housings.

Designed in collaboration with Brennwald Design in Kiel, Germany, the RS 175 is a closed, circumaural, wireless headphone model that has both analog and digital inputs. The RS 175 system allows a user to switch between these two inputs on-the-fly. The transmitter can even send incoming signals to two pairs of headphones at the same time.

After letting the NiCad batteries charge for about 24 hours, the RS 175s were ready for use. When not active, the headphones sit on top of the charging station / transmitting tower. The rig has a quiet aesthetic and a small footprint that doesn’t call much attention to itself.

To turn the headphones on, a user must press a small circular button on the right headphone’s housing. After holding the button down for 2 seconds, the headphones come alive. Green LEDs light up on both the transmitter and the headphone’s power button to indicate that the system is ‘on’

The RS 175s have a ‘Bass Boost’ feature and two ‘Surround Sound’ modes [Lo and Hi]. Both of these features can be controlled from buttons on the transmitter and/or on the headphones.

The bass boost feature is either ‘on’ or ‘off’. While using either of the surround sound modes, I found the RS 175s sounded best with the bass boost turned on. The bass foundation was fuller; and mid-bass and lower frequency details were far more impactful (read: more relevant and meaningful).

The RS 175 system offers two optional ‘Surround Sound’ modes. Running them flat with no equalization, a lot of the sonic information which a user would expect to hear from a properly set-up multi-channel home theatre system is (deliberately) pushed into the background.

The Lo level surround sound mode widens and deepens the soundstaging considerably. To my ears, the Lo mode sounded most like a properly dialed-in multi-channel home theatre system.

While the Hi level surround sound mode widened the soundstage even farther, it reduced the depth and compressed the three-dimensionality of the soundstage.

I primarily used the Lo surround sound mode while watching Blu-ray discs, cable TV programs, and sports broadcasts. Even after wearing the RS 175s for 4 or 5 hours, I had far less listening fatigue when I’d used the Lo setting.

The RS 175 headphones can be customized to provide whatever kind of sound a listener is searching for. If my ears start ringing after 10 minutes of listening to any pair of headphones, I’ll avoid them like the Ebola virus. I’m happy to report that the RS 175s did not cause the usual type of listening fatigue which I associate with headphones in this price bracket.