IT’S just a few days to Christmas, but still not too late to get some shopping done; surely, many stores have some great offers, even outlets dedicated to audiophiles and home theatre enthusiasts. Some of you may have already ticked off your lists, others could be still wavering. So, we offer you a round-up of what members of our reviewing/discussion team have on their hit list.
1. The Beatles – the White Album 50th anniversary reissue: You may not be able to have a white Christmas, but you can definitely get the Fab Four’s White Album and enjoy it anytime in the year. The band’s self-titled double album (its ninth) may not have enjoyed the same acclaim as the preceding Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, but that was always going to be a tough act to follow. Still, the White Album contains some of the band’s best tracks, including Back in the U.S.S.R., Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da and While My Guitar Gently Weeps (featuring Eric Clapton), as well as some of the sweetest ballads the band ever recorded such as I Will and Blackbird.
This is not just a mere reissue either, but a completely new mix of the album by Giles Martin (the son of the band’s legendary producer, George) and engineer Sam Okell, sourced from the original four-track and eight-track session tapes. Expect enhanced sonics and a whole load of extras in this new edition. It is available on CD, LP and high-resolution digital download in both regular (just the remixes, follows original track list) and super deluxe (including demos and session recordings) editions.
2. Audeze iSINE in-ear headphones: If you’re a dyed-in-the-wool “headphile”, you’ll be no stranger to the Audeze brand of planar-magnetic headphones. Considered to be among the best money can buy, even their most basic model promises plenty of detail, transparency and most importantly, fantastic musicality. The only drawback to them, however, is their size. However, by some magic (perhaps the same that Santa uses to shimmy down narrow chimneys?), Audeze has managed to adapt this planar magnetic technology into an in-ear design! There are currently four models in its iSINE range of in-ears from the most affordable LX (US$199) to its top-of-the-range iSINE20 (US$599). While the in-ear models all ship with standard 3.5mm stereo jacks, iPhone users can opt for the Cipher cable (at a US$60 premium), which features a Lightning connection for iPhones and iPads.
3. Chord Mojo: It has been on the market for a few years now, but the Chord MoJo (US$599) has swatted away all competitors and remains the benchmark for what a pocket-sized DAC/headamp should be. It’s built like the proverbial tank, has fantastic battery life, but most importantly, possesses musicality in droves. It also has the ability to drive any type of headphone in the market (even full-sized cans, not just the in-ear type) so you can be assured that you’ll have a great headamp rig wherever you may go.
4. Hana cartridges: These cartridges, made by Excel Sound in Japan, have caused more than a stir among vinyl aficionados over the past years – and with good reason too. Available in low and high output MC configurations (EH and EL variants), they can also be found fitted with Shibata profile styli (SH and SL models), enabling an ability to track the groove even deeper and better than before! Hana also recently released a mono version of this, so you can rediscover how great your records from the 1950s and 1960s can sound.
1. Cary Audio DMS600 network audio player: Ever since I listened to the DMS500, I have lusted over it. The DMS600 is the latest reiteration, offering all possible ways you can imagine to play back or stream digital music. It would be my perfect source component to reduce equipment count. I would no longer need a DAC, network streamer and even perhaps my NAS, as I can hook my hard drives directly to the two USB ports. Its multi-format digital music playback capability will outlast its lifespan.
2. FitEar MH335DW custom in-ear monitors: I have never been comfortable using in-ear monitors (IEMs) until the universal fit FitEar To-Go 334 came along. With the FitEars, I no longer get the stuffed ear echoing feel with uncomfortable in-ear pressure built-up that’s perennial with other IEMs.
The MH335DW is a natural step-up for me for the perfect custom fit. The three-unit, five-driver (two low, two mid and one high) configuration is expected to surpass the natural sounding performance of the To-Go 334.
3. Hana SL mono cartridge: I have longed to fit a mono cartridge to the SAEC WE-308SX tonearm on my Micro DDL-60 turntable to complete the two tone-arm set-up with stereo and mono playback capabilities. If you are a classical and jazz music buff like me, period-correct mono recordings are best played back with a proper mono cartridge. It’s something that you have to experience to believe.
Why Hana? Why not? I like the low 0.4mV output that matches well with most phono preamps. Moreover, I have had excellent experience with Shibata-tipped cantilevers with my existing Miyajimas and Ortofon cartridges. This is one on the list that is likely to crystallise just before this Christmas!
4. Fidelity Research FR-66S tonearm: This is my ultimate wish for a tonearm. If you have not tried a 12-inch tonearm, it’s an experience to be had. This is a solidly-constructed vintage tonearm in stainless steel with all the bells-and-whistles adjustment parameters one can wish for.
If you like using low-compliance cartridges, you will appreciate the heavy effective mass tonearm to extract the music from the groove. I must qualify that 12-inch tonearms may not cater to all tastes as they can sound a tad relaxed. But give this a shot and you may understand why I’m so smitten by it.
5. KEF LS50 wireless active speakers: There are times when I want to clear all the clutter in my living room and just adopt a minimalist lifestyle. Having spent some time listening to another reviewer’s LS50 Wireless, I find myself torn between giving up my existing set-up and adopting a fuss-free lifestyle.
When you get bespoke amplification to drive a wonderful speaker like the LS50, it can sound really good once you get over the all-in-one form factor. The convenience of streaming music or an occasional news broadcast from my phone at will is priceless.
1. Tidal HiFi subscription (US$20 per month): A library of millions of CD quality tracks, indispensable to find new music and streaming to mobile and desktop platforms.
2. Cyrus Soundkey (£99): Upgrade your computer’s sound output with this dinky yet detailed USB DAC.
3. Schitt Modi 3 (US$99): If you want a DAC to upgrade your older digital sources or for steaming from your computer – compact yet meaty sounds.
4. PS Audio Sprout 100 (US$599): An amazing do-it-all compact amp with digital, phono and analogue inputs. A great headphone output too. Puts many bigger and more expensive amps to shame!
5. Hana SL cartridge (US$750): Upgrade your LP playback with a taste of the high-end at a reasonable price point. Good detail retrieval yet meaty sound that will give your old LP collection a new lease of life!
1. A pair of decent subwoofers from REL (a pair of REL 212SEs would be nice) to give more weight and depth to music.
2. Acoustical treatment for the room along with a nice painting to hang over the hi-fi gear which will be admired during listening sessions.
3. Cable elevators to stop my Roomba eating my speaker cables.
4. McIntosh C1100 tube pre-amp: ‘Cos I haven’t got a pre-amp and am too cheap to go buy one.
5. A dedicated power supply and separate ground for my system.
1. Sennheiser Momentum True Wireless earbuds: I have gone through several earbuds from various brands but deep inside, I have been waiting for Sennheiser to come up with wireless earbuds for quite sometime. I have been going to the flagship shop in KLCC in the past year asking for these and finally, I got news that Sennheiser has come up with this model now.
2. Nuraphone wireless headphones: Well, I can tick this off my wish-list as Xmas came early for me. I was curious to test out the technology and now own a pair. I’ve been been enjoying their “custom” profiling of my ear response. I’ll be spending Xmas day with these cans, playing various high-resolution files.
3. I need a brand new 4K HDR TV. I say “need” not because my five-year-old Samsung flagship 4K TV is broken but because I have yet to fully enjoy my Oppo 205 player on HDR as my flagship TV came without HDR. The “perks” of being the first in Malaysia to own a 4K TV about five years ago! For this, I wish I can get the permission from the “home minister” to purchase the Sony X90F 85-inch 4K UHD TV.
4. It has been awhile since my last DAC upgrade. I’ve been waiting for a DSD-capable Musical Fidelity DAC for many years, and now, there’s the M6S DAC, which should be a fine upgrade to my system as I had always enjoy the previous M6 DAC. My last purchase of a Musical Fidelity product was in 2013, hence it’s high time for me to get re-acquainted, after Antony Michaelson sold off the company he founded.
5. One thing that I have been holding off upgrading to the Clearaudio TT5 tangential tonearm. This should be an easy upgrade. I know the local supplier has ready stock but somehow, I have yet to summon the courage to take that leap and fit a second tonearm onto my Clearaudio Solution AMG Wood turntable.
All the gear on my wish list is of the “plug-and-play” variety, meaning “hook it up and leave it”. That’s why my list is just a SACD player and solid-state power amplifier.
EMM Labs XDS1 v2 CD/SACD player: I own a reasonable amount of SACDs but don’t own a SACD player yet. Having a great source like this will raise the sound of my system, for sure!
Jeff Rowland Model 825 power amp: I have always used solid-state amplification since I started dabbling in hi-fi. Having owned a Jeff Rowland Model 8 in the past, I have always had soft spot for the brand. The model on my wish list now is the Model 825. A beautiful looking amp with an outboard power supply. This is sure to be one low-noise amplifier.
Sigh, hopefully my wish will come true…
Well, folks, that’s it… now go make yourselves and your favourite audio/hi-fi/headfi/AV retail outlet happy!