W A R N I N G !

W A R N I N G !

This page is full of non-facts and bullsh!t, (just like the internet and especially forums and other blogs), please do not believe entirely without exercising your intellect. Any resemblance to real things in reality is purely coincidental. You are free to interpret/misinterpret the content however you like, most likely for entertainment, but in no case is the text written on this blog the absolute truth. The blog owner and Blogger are not responsible for any misunderstanding of ASCII characters as facts. *cough* As I was saying, you are free to interpret however you like. *cough*

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Random quote of the day:

(*Blogging spree*)

"Please do not purchase my amp if your source has no line out. Using the headphone jack out of your source to any amp defeats the purpose of using an external amplifier. Many posts we read where the person claims that there is no difference in sound quality between the source headphone jack & the amp that he or she purchased using the headphone jack as the input to the amp."

--taken from somebody from somewhere, better not to reveal the name. Leave your email and I'll send you a *totally unrelated link*

Well, it's wierd that with my PSP, Zen Stone, my friends Cowon D2, my brother's Nokia 5310, my computer, and the living room computer that is connected to the TV, I (and a few other) can clearly hear the difference when used with an amp. And out of the six, only the last two had true line-out... so...

It's true that the performance of a seperate amp would only be maximised when used with line-out, but that doesn't mean you cannot hear a difference in the sound. Unless the amp is totally transparent... what are the odds of that?

Not being able to hear a difference can easily be due to lack of sharp hearing (so it's a user problem), but attributing that to headphone out is...

What does that make you think about this person's understanding of headphone amps?

Ultimate Ears metro.fi series: something to dethrone Crossroads Mylarones?

Truth be told, despite all the new earphone brands coming out, plus all the cheap China phones available on the internet, plus my developed hate towards J****, I still think the Crossroad series are rather value-for-money. To be specific, only the X3i now, because I haven't found anything else that looks like it on the net, and because of its sound signature and looks. Fragile it may be, these earphones look very classy. The small round footprint and the smooth finish with specks of sparkle in it are counter-evidence that it is just some generic phone from China. It would still be from China nonetheless, but not as generic.

The sound signature. Far from being flat, the X3i has a very noticable boost in the slightly lower bass region and some highs roll-off. And that is why these phones "sound so good", especially to the untrained ears; even trained/"trained" ears will find it good. The X3i series is indeed the king of equalisation - with this kind of sound signature, the midrange where all the noise affiliated with cheap drivers and players lie is gone. So what you get is a very clean sound, which may be recognised as clear.

But clear is not what the X3i is, and this equalisation can backfire. The deep bass is too boomy and uncontrolled and spills over to the mids where I cannot hear much, the highs are rolled-off. And the worst part - because of the recessed midrange, where lots of the stuff in music like secondary instruments and reverb actually lie, a whole lot of details are lost. I found out this sad fact when I listened to the EP-630 after being accustomed to the X3i, despite being more noisy and sounding more cheap, I can hear more stuff in the music. No wonder a friend of mine says the X3i is a piece of crap - he's using the triple.fi, which has a similar sound signature as the X3i, but with all the details still there.

*In this context, mids and midrange are two different things - mids refer to the 250Hz spectrum plus-minus one octave (each octave = doubling of frequency), while midrange refers to the 1kHz spectrum, again plus-minus one octave. These two ranges are for entirely different parts of the sound, but I'm using the terms that people tend to call them.

Other names for ~250Hz spectrum include mid-bass and lower-midrange. However these two terms can be confusing for the technically less-inclined, because mid-bass may suggest only the lower bass notes of the music, while lower-midrange may suggests that it's still part of midrange, or the treble part of the music (around 500Hz base frequency, plus its resonances at 1 to 2kHz). For the record, middle-C is 261.626Hz. But the reason you hear it more when you up the 500Hz, perhaps the 1kHz ranges is because of its resonances. So basically you have to take note that notes will "sound one octave frequency higher" because of its resonances, and this is especially true for the secondary instruments and the feeling of "space".

Therefore, the "mid"-bass and the lower-midrange would be one octave lower than the middle-C, where the majority of the bass notes seem to lie. It's different from the deep bass easily known by the bass drum, but it is still bass to musical notation. Probably the reason why it's called mid-bass, but I'd rather call it instrumental bass, or higher bass. Or just what lots of people call it, the mids.

--end of technical blabbering

Furthermore, the deep bass is so boomy that this thing is not recommended for listening at home or in other quiet places.

So despite all the problems with the sound signature, why am I still using them?

It's exactly this sound signature that makes it EXTREMELY good for outside usage. The rumbling of the trains and buses, the cars and commotion, are all low-frequency in character, and masks the bass in your music. To compensate, you up your bass, which is what the X3i does nicely. Alternatively you can up the volume, but that's bad for the ears, and X3i provides enough bass at lower volumes.

Also, the seal of the X3i is awesome, at least for me. Better than EP-630, better than triple.fi (which is designed to leak a bit, those tips), much better than half-open-back PL30. Much much better than the SA* quad-flange earplugs that didn't seal at all hence leaving me with this ear damage, lots of agony and zero compensation.

And when you're outside, what matters most is the seal, isn't it? Without enough seal, the outside noise leaks in, making your earphone sound cheap. You lose lots of bass, too.

I had tried the PL30, and, despite it having a much better sound quality, it cannot be used outdoors at all, because the seal is almost as bad as earbuds. I didn't even bother writing a review for it, because they (PL30 and X3i) are for different purposes.

With my X3i dying (it survived much longer than I thought), I needed a replacement, and chanced upon the metro.fi 150. How will this fare against the X3i?

First impressions

It sounded cheap. I was hit in the face by the rush of the midrange. Yes, being accustomed to the X3i's lack of midrange means everything else sound cheap or mediocre, and that includes Audio Technica ATH-ESW9.

However, the cheapness went away after a while and I was reminded of what the X3i had sacrificed for its excellent sound signature; the metro.fi 150 has a lot of treble and vocal "in your face", and crisp cymbals with lots of space in comparison.

The fit is good. Very comfortable. It does not feel too tight, yet just enough to get a good seal. I can listen to it for longer hours before getting fatigued.

Bass is not as much as X3i, but not too lacking either.

These opinions are formed when I was listening to it on the bus, with my PSP.

Also, it felt as if it was harder to drive than the X3i as I had to up my volume more.

Further testing - direct comparison against X3i

The amp used this time is the built-in amp of Zhaolu D2.5A. I kicked-started the testing with one of the newer songs that I have, so that I would not hold any prejudice due to being used to the sound.

The metro.fi went first. It was ok, if not quite good actually. Treble reproduction wasn't very clear and midbass was lacking, but that may be due to me being pampered by my Paradigm Atoms. There was definitely a lot of feeling of space, like someone turned on the SRS WOW effect by a bit.

Bass, this time, wasn't lacking. It wasn't powerful, but that can be expected from such an earphone. However, it was controlled and decent.

Now comes the defender, X3i.

I plugged it in, listened for a bit,

And plugged it out.

It sounded muffled. This time, it's the X3i that sounded cheap.

The metro.fi 150 just has a much clearer treble. Also, the bass of the X3i was boomy and muddy.

Strangely, this time both IEMs have a similar amount of apparent bass.

Seal-wise, the X3i has a better seal, though not by much. Perhaps that gave the metro.fi the better soundstage. Also, the metro.fi is more comfortable. And at least it doesn't exhibit the one-side-louder-than-the-other problem that the X3i has.

So I thought the metro.fi is harder to driver than the X3i hence the weakened bass and louder volumes with the PSP, so I tested them on the PSP again to be sure.

I was suprised by the findings. As this time, both have the same amount of bass again.

After listening to the X3i for a while, I realised the reason. Because X3i's bass is boomy and spills over to the mids, I'm guessing it has more of the deep bass than the metro.fi, and over a wider frequency range. In a noisy environment, one would be able to hear this bass louder, hence the perception of more bass and overall louder volume.

Also, X3i has a better seal and that helps.

I'll probably be listening at higher volume levels with the metro.fi due to that, but strangely, I'm not getting ear fatigued as easily. This shows that the sound is good, and X3i's bass is too overpowering. (The sounds that hurt your ear are those you cannot hear)


With better sound quality across almost all aspects (the X3i only "sounds cleaner" and "more warm"), and good performance during outdoor use losing just slightly to the X3i (but the metro.fi still has better overall experience), much better build quality and a similar price tag of $80 (extra $10 for saving the trip to Jaben every 6 months to replace your broken Mylar), the UE metro.fi 150 is total OWNAGE over the previous performance-value champion, the Mylarone series.

(*hack splutter cough cough*)

Good job UE.

Add: I let my brother listen to the two. He used the background music of Patapon as test track, and easily he said the metro.fi is better. And at first he thought the one looking cheap would sound better because I told him both are at the same price lol.

Wonder why these babies aren't popular yet. Perhaps the world is already full of preset opinions. Sometimes people have to open up more or lose out.

The irony of knowledge - Choosing the right PSU

In the past, a small group of people knew the actual power consumption of computers; while people are mad-buying 500W PSUs just for that Pentium 4 and power-hungry (at that time) Radeon 9800Pro I ran it smoothly on a 300W FSP PSU.

At that time, there were PSU calculators that showed much higher wattage numbers (probably dropped from the sky) and encouraged people to buy oversized PSUs.

Now, the blatant lying in PSU wattage ratings has been exposed, thanks to sites (notably SPCR) that stress-test the PSUs to their rated limit and measure actual system and component power consumption. The truth is clear: a decent PSU of modest ratings can handle lots of medium-to-high-power systems. A system with a mid-end graphics card + cpu never takes more than 200W.

The move was good; previously manufacturors could overrate their products because the user would believe that the product failed due to their systems indeed drawing too much power, now they are forced to produce PSUs that do withstand the torture.

So all is well and cheery? Well not to everyone.

I have seen a few cases of people buying underpowered PSUs and then selling them due to being unable to sustain their rigs. And more cases of people thinking that an underpowered PSU would be able to support a system on forums.

Why the reverse?

When people read somewhere that the system only measure 300W, then they recommend a 300W PSU. Or maybe 400W. But it will never be adequate.

1) The more problematic mistake would be not looking at the seperate power ratings on the different voltage rails, most importantly, +12V. Because bulk of high-power draw comes from here. The +3.3V and +5V, I can never imagine more than 50W coming from it.

So lets take 50W from +3.3V and +5V rails combined. That leaves 250W from the +12V. Now, find me a 300W PSU that has 250W from the +12V rail.

Manufacturors knew they were getting busted on the false ratings, so they needed to have real ratings, yet have a nice big number on the packaging. So they have lots of wattage on the +3.3V and +5V (which, btw, is most usually true), and very little on the +12V. Any failure due to an underpowered PSU will be blamed on the user not reading the fine print carefully.

2) So now we have PSUs that are both solid and have lots of amperage on the +12V, and I have a 400W PSU that has 300W on +12V. So now what's the problem here?

Well, firstly, you would not want to run anything at or near its limits for long, not especially for a product that is known to deteriorate over time. Plus, any sudden huge power draw (like spinning up a harddisk - this eats a lot of power - while gaming) is going to force a shutdown.

Running a PSU near its limit has another side effect - your system is going to have a tornado inside. The fan is going to spin at near its limit, too.

Secondly, though less importantly, is cross-loading. Cross-loading is about having too much load on one rail while not having much on the rest (quite strangely for the name of the term). The result is voltage going out of spec, either more or less. Most PSUs today can handle this quite well in normal circumstances, but not all can do it perfect at the max rating of any rail. I myself have seen a PSU that die and got replaced multiple times due to too little power draw on the +12V.

It may be a small problem, but everything adds up.

My guideline is to have the system draw around half of the PSU's max rating, personally I prefer less but some may like more due to the better efficiency it gives on certain lines of PSU. (However, I have noticed that more and more higher-power PSUs are having their optimal efficiency at loads much less than half of maximum rating, suggesting that they are building a PSU that is optimized to lower power loads, but it is also solid enough to withstand more power. This is a good move for most people with low-power-draw system, but bad for the hardcores and does not reflect good on the product)

Hence, for a system that draws 300W, I'd give it around 600W on +12V, which gives us...

A 700W-800W PSU.

Aren't we back to where we first started off?

Only except this time, we can be darn sure that our PSU is not going to blow up anytime soon.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Random quote of the day... plus when people don't have specific knowledge

"A switched-mode power supply (SMPS) is the most convenient but susceptible to high-frequency switching noise and distortion. Linear power supplies use a more sophisticated rectification process during AC-to-DC conversion"

This guy obviously never looked at schematics before.

Well, first thing, I always thought there is always only one type of rectification process commonly found in consumer PSUs. (Or is there even another?) Diodes, in full-bridge or half-bridge, or perhaps vacuum tube, which is a form of diode when used in this way. Rectification is converting AC to DC anyway, nothing to do with regulating, or fixing the DC output voltage.

Switched-mode and linear power supplies differ in their voltage regulation method. I won't go into details... but google for PWM and it's easy to understand.

And, since when is the small, efficient SMPS less sophisticated than the big, bulky, inefficient, hot, linear-regulated power supply? It's possible to build a linear power supply from scratch, try that with a SMPS. Nobody use SMPS with audio stuff anyway due to the switching noise issue mentioned above, but the good part of SMPS is that you can build a PSU that supplies 500W and weighs less than just the transformer of a linear PSU that supplies 50. But I digress.

This quote is found on the website of a "respectable reviewer". No serious audio person find that reviewer serious anyway, so I'm not here to find faults with it. The not so serious people who believe whatever this website says, well, they belong to an entirely different market group (like iPod vs iRiver), and we need this kind of people to keep the industry making big buc... I mean barely sustain.

Add: I'm amazed that the second page of the review actually has a part titled "Why SLA (sealed lead-acid) battery". His (the reviewer's) experience with a UPS has somewhat left him ho-hum about SLA batteries in general. Even market leaders like APC and Belkin, their SLA batteries last about 3 years at best, under 2 years on average.

He didn't ask why even the market leaders use SLA batteries in their UPSes. He should have.

And so after some research, he found that, under the strengths of SLA:

(5) ability to maintain potential voltage under load
(amazingly he put it under the 5th point out of 6)

Duh! That's the reason why they're still being used today. In more commonly-heard phrases, it is "able to supply large amounts of current" due to "low internal resistence". I mean, it can start your car. Try starting a car with NiMH batteries. If they don't explode before that.

He also forgot about the weaknesses that it's fucking huge and heavy and hence inconvenient, low energy density (low amount of stored charge for its size), kill themselves over time (as the electrolyte evaporate), liquid corrosive and gas toxic plus causes acid rain, environmently unfriendly. Then why are we still using this piece-o'-crap which is like the first rechargable battery invented in 1859? Reason above. And a strong enough one - to date, no other battery type can come close to the 100A that they can produce. You can get 100A by connecting lots of batteries in parallel, but that would be too expensive and too hot.

And he stilled asked another company representative to confirm that SLA is the best choice for this application.

Maybe his brain has been damaged by music. Or maybe his ears are thinking for him. "Trust your ears", it is.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Random find of the day:

A casual search on the net returns this:


Asus Xonar

Creative X-Fi Elite Pro

Now when people say that the Xonar is much better-sounding for music I can totally understand.

Somebody should join Creative and produce a card good for both gaming and music. Onkyo X-Fi, maybe?

Or maybe hi-fi really isn't part of Creative's market. Seeing how their own $5,000 system is so close to their T3. T3 is worth close to $5,000/The $5,000 system is worth $5,000, one of them has to be lying. Or both.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Giving up on Zhaolu D3

ADD: After hearing the D3 for just that few moments I'm feeling that the D2.5A is too laid back and devoid of details, again.

Looks like I won't be giving up on the D3 just yet.

I realized my review of the D2.5A vs D3 wasn't ever finished. But that's not stopping me from writing this post.

For a few times I AB-ed between the D2.5A and D3 and the D2.5A constantly won. I decided to do it again today, with the same result, but with one more important observation:

There are people saying that the CS4398 chip is warmer. And then there are people saying that the AD1852 chip is warmer. They are both correct. So are the people saying that CS/AD has better bass and highs.

The conflicting accounts is due to different perception of warmth, good bass, and good highs.

With the AD1852 of the D2.5A, the sound is more mellow, laid-back. Some may refer to this as warm. With the CS4398 of the D3, the sound is more forward, there are more mids, and it sounds fuller also. Hence also warm.

And hence "warm" is an excuse of an answer to hide the fact that one doesn't have good enough hearing to listen out for specific qualities in audio, or to convince oneself that his system is good. ("Warm" is usually associated with good sound, as opposed to "cold")

Back to AD vs CS, this time the highs. The AD chip seems to have more a higher-reaching highs and more space compared to the CS chip which is more crowded. After a few listenings and some thinking I realized that it's the CS chip that has better highs instead. The AD, because of the more laid-back character, has some of the highs not able to be heard, and hence the feeling of a lower noise-floor, separation, greater extension, and more space. Up the 4-8khz spectrum on the AD chip a bit, and it sounds uncanningly similar to the CS, but still rather constipated. The CS just has too much detail compared to the AD. And this cannot be gotten back via equalization.

And so you realize that certain simlar reasoning can be used to explain the bass performance. Yup, because the AD chip has less mids, the bass sounds more and cleaner and extends more, but the CS chip has more impactful bass. Reason? The hitting (or tight) part of the bass spreads out over a range of frequencies in the mids, reaching above 125hz which would be crossover point for bass in a decent system (or 300hz for the not-so-decent, but never mind it reaches past that too).

Ignoring the sonic differences, the CS4398 is undoubtly the better of the two. But I'm guessing more people (including me) would prefer the AD's more musical character. The CS chip would be good for producing and monitoring though.

Onto the performance in the DACs and setup, taking into consideration the difference between the two DACs. The AD, having the OPA-Earth HDAM, has a big advantage. Else it wouldn't have been able to compete with the CS chip on the highs. So for a while I was hoping that with the OPA-Earth I might get the best of both worlds with the D3 - musical sound that is full of detail.

But one thing suggests that to be impossible. Because of the mids, the CS4398 sounds very constipated especially with a poor recording. It sounds muffled, the rusty-grainy-loud-high-frequency kind. The AD is also muffled, but the laid-back-gagged-in-the-mouth kind. The latter is definitely more pleasing. This is the CS4398's natural sound, because I didn't have any op-amp at the output this time round, and the OPA627 is fairly transparent. I remember what happened when I replaced my LM4562 with the OPA-Earth: sound is brought more forward, soundstage is flatter, not good in terms of space. And I'm not the only person with this observation. The ones that do not are the fanboys.

Hmm... maybe I should try back the LM4562s.

That means, if I try the OPA-Earth with the CS4398 D3, I'm going to get even more constipated sound. Since they will definitely amplify this weakness of each other.

That may explain why the modded (Zapfilter, OMZ) Zhaolus are better with the AD chip. Or sound better. Since they are all using discrete op-amp output.

So the modded chips "sound" good because of reasons stated above. Whether that is good or bad, you make the decision.

But I'll never be going to spend USD$599 on the OMZ.

The Zhaolu D3 is definitely a good DAC. At stock it's definitely worth the money ($299 in MO). It has a lot of performance, performing even somewhat close to the next-higher-class DACs. But it is sunk by the fact that it uses the CS4398 chip that sacrifices too much musical qualities for the details. What we need the next level is musical qualities + details, hence the Citypulse 2.03E using discrete output. In the meantime, look for an op-amp that will make the D3 sound more musical yet not remove it of its details (sorry no OPA-Moon here, if you're reading this. You know who I'm talking to).

Maybe LM4562 will make its reappearance.

Chibi dancers on Windows Media Player!


The full name is Musume Dancing Visualizer. Comes with the eroge むすめ~か~'s opening single むすめいく! -musumake- by MOSAIC.WAV

Pictures below are from the trial version, it doesn't have Karin and Ichigo.

You can download the trial version from here. For those that do not understand Japanese and hence are saved from the Anime realm's evil, don't worry here is the direct link.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

When people don't even have common-sense... let alone specific knowledge part II

From diyparadise:

"If you look at Charlize's competitors, they are mostly built using thru hole components rather than surface mounted components. What's the big deal you may ask? It's not a big deal if you love a higher noise floor. You see, we build using the more difficult-to-handle surface mounted components for sonic reasons and not for ease of manufacturing."

...except that no part of your product is surface-mounted. Even the amp chip is thru hole.

Good job marketing department, for criticizing your own product.


Lets pay for wood!

(Pictures courtesy of 6moons.com, used without permission. If I told them what I was going to do with the photos they'd have stopped me. They're a (quote) "respectable reviewer" *wink wink*)

Original article here

So this thing costs ~USD$1000. Lets take a loog at what's inside.

This still looks uite okay, because of the transformers. But there's still some space that can be shaved.

There's a good reason why they want a close-up of the amplifier module. To make it look cool, well yea. With something so small if you don't zoom in there won't be anything left.

And what's with the Tripath logo on the chip?

Yes, this thing is using a Class-T amp! Class-T is a variant of Class-D, or switching amp.

If you are the high-class owner of this amp, I can understand why you're feeling this pain in your chest now and reaching for the heart-attack medicine.

But relax, according to 6moons here, the $39 Sonic Impact T-Amp using a Tripath chip sounds like a $3200 integrated would be unparalleled even for $390. Hey wait, the Charlize amplifier costs $340. And it uses the same or better chip. So who's lying?

BTW most China T-Amps can sound better than the Sonic Impact just from the looks of the internals alone. (You guys believe in looks, right?) But I'm not talking about this today.

So you've look at the inards. Now I'll mention their pricing again. It's $300 for the DAC, $430 for the volume control, and $340 for the amp.

Minus off the actual working components inside, how much does the wood cost?

The seller (DIY Paradise) is also willing to sell the modules separately, at $135, $260 and $110 respectively. So you can roughly calculate the cost of the wood, plus assembly. I am positive that the PCB module comes with all the components; I wouldn't spend $135 on an empty PCB.

This is not the first. The more famous one would have to be the Grado RA-1 headphone amplifier. This product is famous, good-branded, and well-known for the performance and quality and has received lots of positive reviews.

(Picture taken from diyaudioprojects.com)

Here is a totally unrelated link to nowhere

So, still got any consumer confidence left? I know Singaporeans have high consumer confidence compared to the rest of the world and even during the global recession, but you still shouldn't waste your money.

Also, making wood expensive is a good move to save trees and reduce global warming. You have to admit that the makers are eco-conscious. But then they shouldn't have even used wood in the first place. Oh wait, it's classy, so it makes it sound good, right?

One year anniversary

Actually I was supposed to post this yesterday but I forgot.

Amazing, my blog actually lasted that long. And I got IMHO quite a good number of total clicks. Not a lot compared to most blogs out there, but pretty good enough for such a blog.

Thanks and have another good year ahead.

It also became apparent that I spent too much on audio in the last year since I became an audiophile not too long ago lol.

ADD: Forgot to mention this is the 101th post too! That is, including all the drafts that were supposed to be up but haven't make it.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

It's clipping time

I already know my NeoMini DAC (strangely) clips when connected to the television. While cygig did mention that the NeoMini clips when driving his Triple-Fi, I never expected it to clip when driving a receiver.

And so I totally agree with his conclusion in his review of the NeoMini, because no matter how good the sound may be, if it clips it's gotta be a bad sound.

And that's what I'm experiencing with my new test set-up: Zhaolu D3, OPA627 op-amp with the following output stage bypassed, connected to Alessandro MS-1.

It clips obviously when volume is near the max. Even with the volume reduced to less than half, although it sounds much better, there are still traces of it clipping when the movement gets tough.

So that's what clipping (a bit of) sounds like. So that's what's been contributing to the noise in my Zhaolu D3, NeoMini, PSP, soundcard etc. So that's what's making the Cowon D2 sound so good. It's all about voltage and current swing. More correctly it's voltage swing and transient current supply, but they're related.

Lets see what happens in a few paint jobs:This is a wave, yea you know it.This is what happens with slew rate (voltage swing) is not enough, with the original wave in black and the alterations in blue.

On a square wave, it would make it look like a trapezium. Somebody once told me that it makes a sine wave look more like sawtooth, which suggests a faster drop than a rise, else it would look like a triangle if both are equal. But I'm no engineer and don't know how op-amps perform in real-life situations and the explanation for that.

How about some problem with current this time -It clips. Yes, insufficient current output causes clipping. This is because while the amp increases the voltage, it also increases current drawn by the circuit (V=RI), and when the current supplied cannot keep up, it causes a voltage drop, like in an unregulated or underpowered power supply, until the voltage drops to the point where the current can keep up. Which means the voltage cannot increase past that when the maximum current is reached.

While I know some people would not be able to understand this right away, it's basics to the pros. Right yan?Although in real life it'd be a bit like this, with rounded edges. There's no exact in everything, especially when it comes to electrical specs and overdriving. The above picture shows soft-clipping when it the corners are rounded, but depending on how much voltage swing or how early it clips, you'll still get a pretty hard clip most of the time when it happens. Or actually, when you actually notice the clipping it's a pretty hard clip already; soft-clipping gets passed off as distortion. I'm not confident enough to say what exactly it sounds like, maybe next time after I decide to hear more of it.

BTW the soft-clipping function on some amps/AVRs make the soft-clipping happens early when a certain voltage is reached so that it can round the corners more.

So if an amp cannot handle enough current or voltage swing (when the volume is too high), get another amp to do it. So now I totally understand the use of a preamp, other than to change the sound.

And now I totally understand the use of a second op-amp stage in the Zhaolu too (as well as many high-end products). Because the OPA627 alone feels a little grainy and not enough bass punch when connected to the Yulong. And connected to the MS-1, the above flaws are greater.

But still, it sounds much nicer than with the LT1028 or the JRC4556 pre-amp.

One thing still puzzles me though - why are clipping problems happening with the NeoMini when driving a receiver in a TV instead of headphones? And why is it happening to the OPA627 too when driving the Yulong? Aren't receivers supposed to have high resistance along the path?

Or perhaps, even with these good figures, one still cannot get the best sound. Audio is scary.

Really, one cannot base his beliefs on his limited knowledge. Because the real thing is different from whatever "facts" that he might know. Now that this kind of thing has happened to me I'll believe more in the EXPLAINABLE audio stuff. I'll still not believe that putting extra caps along the signal path will "improve" the sound, because it's explanable that it CHANGES the sound, but not IMPROVE, and definitely not make the source into any higher-current one.

BTW I might as well talk about the myth of speakers being killed by clipping, since I now have a picture that shows clipping and the original waveform.

The explanation is that clipping kills speaker by providing too much "DC" current, thereby transforming the speaker from a reactive load into a resistive load, heating up the coils and killing the speaker in the process.

But if you look at the graph, you can tell that the one-direction current over time is actually smaller.

Basically, even when there's clipping, the voltage still fluctuates between positive and negative, so the AC (as well as its frequency) is still the same.

What about the reactive load explanation, that energy is returned to the source in AC? If you look at where the clipping takes place, the green line shows the DC component while the black line shows the AC part. Yea, the AC is returned to the source, but the DC part is still the same.

Logically speaking, the amp isn't powerful enough to magnetize the coil properly, let alone kill it.

BTW I've had my Zhaolu clip TOTALLY before, hence it shows that clipping does not kill, if the power isn't great enough. But if the power IS great enough, it's the power that kills anyway.

So under what kind of situation will clipping really kill speakers? (I think most of the time it's the amp that die first isn't it? And in the process take-out the speakers too.) The DC reasoning is acceptable to me, but I'll need to find a way to generate a long enough DC current to kill. It's known that pure tones of 10Hz can damage your speakers, so it supports the above reasoning and shows that it's possible.

Now, how about if we add slew rate into the picture? This is just a noob guess but please bear with me, I'm sure it would be interesting even if it's wrong.

Imagine a wave that's clipping. It needs to go down to the negative voltage but somehow the slew rate isn't fast enough so the voltage is still positive when the next rise occurs. So the DC is there for an ultimately long duration. The voice coil heats up and "boom".

However, in order to do that, your DC component still has to be relatively great. I know my subwoofer has a DC offset because when I switch on the power, the cone gets sucked in and it starts whining. But it isn't dead yet, so I can safely say that before the DC component gets high enough to kill your ears are killed first, because the sound is going to be f-king distorted.

What about those YouTube videos of people blowing up their speakers by connecting 5V or 12V to them? Do the maths, to a 4 ohm driver, applying 5V is V^2/R = 5^2/4 = 6W. With 12V it's 36W. 6W will kill over time, but imagine your CPU or gfx card's 36W, without a heatsink, in a sealed container. I cannot think of anything that would't blow up. BTW 6W in AC is already very loud, that's the maximum low-distortion volume of a Tripath TA2024 T-Amp. As well as many PC speakers at full-blast without clipping (full-blast meaning with a loud enough input source).

So DC kills. But power kills also.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Don't feel like upgrading com anymore...

There was a time when I was constantly dissatisfied with my com for being too slow and unable to run many of the games that I wanted.

But now, after a few years, I've always been using my same computer without thinking of an upgrade.

Because, there just isn't anything to upgrade to.

Because, I seldom play new, hardcore 3D games anymore. (save for the time when I bought a second-hand x1950pro, but I only had it for a short while before selling)

Because, my com is fast enough for my needs.

Have I... become more matured? I seldom see the older generation upgrading their coms, as long as it's usable it's good enough. My friends who don't play games (well, the demanding ones) do not upgrade their coms either.

And now, without the crave to play newer, graphics-demanding games, I have no crave to upgrade my com either.

I'm spending much more in audio now though.

And regarding the maturing part, I'm still watching Anime, so I still got some ways to go. But at least they're better than the soap operas that our dear country is constantly producing "lately" (since at least a few years ago or since time existed).

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

How wrong information spreads on the internet:

(you can replace internet with forums, works the same way)

Initially, nobody knows about a product to comment on it.

And then...

1) Noob somehow gets some info and comments on it. He may own the product, used it for a split second, seen somebody use it for a split second, or heard info about it from some obscure source, excluding the internet, including his brain or some voice from the sky. (Note: Noob will always give the wrong info, a pro knows how to review and judge a product as well as know a lot of and analyze information)

2) Nobody believes or cares a hoot about the noob or what he says. Except for other noobs, and noobs who like to act pro.

3) Other noobs ask about same or related topic, Act-pro answers using information gotten from First-noob.

4) More people believe in it, because most people cannot differentiate between Act-pros and pros, in fact Act-pros appear more pro and pros usually don't bother with noob questions.

5) When this topic is brought up again, people respond with what they know i.e. information originally gotten from First-noob, but this time everybody says the same thing, and it eventually becomes a fact.

The beauty of this is when you ask for hard evidence, people either divert, ignore, give useless answers (noob answers, because they only know that much), and/or turn aggressive.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Audio... from a non-audiophile perspective

Check this out:

(Posts from a thread on Omega Claro Halo on a certain forum)

"All soundcards have amplifers, or else the volume would be so low you couldn't hear anything. It's marketing."

"btw- a strong sound card (x-fi, audigy, some nicer cmedia cards) puts out as about as much power as a portable amp. an x-fi does for sure. keep that in mind b4 buying an a cmoy/go-vibe/ppav2 to 'complement' your x-fi. instead save up and get a nicer amp."

"it has op-amps... big deal"

I wouldn't say they are noobs, just not at that stage (of audio) yet. I was once like them too. The difference between a beginner and a noob is that a noob is one who does not listen to others and/or imparts their wrong knowledge as facts to others, both due to huge ego, often resulting in them spending extra for inferior products (due to marketing), misguiding others, and starting flame wars.

I wouldn't say that I'm not a beginner or a noob to some extent too. Well, I do hold some of my own beliefs and impart them, but at least I listen to opinions and learn. :P

They are at most commenting their opinions or some facts that are, in fact, correct and rational (for their stage), and not challenging the knowledge of the more experienced ones.

It's only when you get to the later stages, when you fully understand the stages of audio reproduction, then you'll understand where and why op-amps are used, and that sound cards may not provide enough power for your headphones. Those without a seperate amp chip at least. Then there's also quality of sound.

Well, when you get to the point where cables matter, all these things will be easily acceptable, at least they are explainable and measurable. Cables too are, but much harder.

Ironically, the last guy has Auzen X-Fi Prelude > Soloz Audio Reference IC > TCA Gizmo > Onix Reference 1 MKII speakers for his setup. The Prelude itself has OPA2134 and LM4562, both decent op-amps. For him to make that kind of statement with his setup is enough to call him a noob, don't cha think?

Friday, November 14, 2008

Random noob find of the day:

"So, back to audio... I'm very happy with 16 bits of resolution, although the sampling at 44.1 K lacks... Really that's only about 3 samples at 15k Hertz. It amazes me that cymbals actually sound like cymbals at all. They did an amazing job with the technology they had at the time.

Now the problem is the audio sampling will be so fast and so high a resolution, it will pick up everything, and that also means allot of noise too.

Controlling all that noise that these new formats will be capable of hearing / recording will be VERY challenging!

I myself will step up to the 24 Bit, 192K soon, as that seems to be very popular, but really it is obsolete already.

With computers anyone can pretty much come up with any sampling rate and resolution, as long as you can record the data.

Video recorders for instance, go super fast compared to audio, why not use a digital video recorder to record music ???

Maybe 4 Million samples at 64 bits is too high, LOL."

This guy has no understanding of how audio reproduction and our ears work.

44.1k sampling rate actually translates into 20.5khz maximum frequency, because you need 2 samples, up and down, to create a wave.

Which is not a problem, since we can only hear that high anyway.

"3 samples at 15k Hertz", what the hell is he talking about? That we can have three 15khz sounds at 44.1khz?

When you have 2 1khz sound sources, what you get isn't a 2khz waveform, but it could be 1khz, 2khz, or requiring even higher depending on the phase.

Fortunately, all this sound will combine into a single complex waveform, which is all we need to hear and record.

However, however complex the resultant waveform is, we will still only hear frequencies that are below 20khz. Even if the waveform has e.g. 40khz waves, those will be inaudible.

So there's nothing wrong with the 44.1 sampling rate, at all, except perhaps a few of us with musician ears can hear past 20.5khz, but few humans will ever reach 24khz (for 48khz sampling frequency). The extra hertz at 96/192khz will be useful in more carefully reproducing the complex waveform which is the result of interactions between instruments, but you would be able to sense less distortion at most instead of actually hearing something missing or extra.

Next, video and audio recording are two different things. The most major difference - sampling rate. With video, 600fps is possible with high-speed cameras. Compare it to the 44.1khz sampling rate, or 44100 samples per second.

If you can find any video sensor that can handle 44100khz let me know, you should patent it.

And the saddest part is that this guy is the owner of an audio forum.

Random fact of the day: The sound quality of the DAC/soundcard isn't solely decided by the DAC chip used

The DAC chip is only a few bucks expensive at most, versus the few times more you'd be spending on capacitors and such other components, the op-amp can easily out-cost the DAC by a few times alone.

So why didn't the manufacturors just plug in a better chip, since it's so cheap? Reason because a better DAC chip also requires better implementation to bring out its performance, and not all chips will work in all circuits. For example, with a LM4562 in the CS4398 Zhaolu D2.5C, users have complained of a wierd treble that's somewhat harsh. Even though both the LM4562 and CS4398 are good chips themselves. And with the LM4562 in the Zero, a fellow forum member feels that the sound is too dark, way contrary to the bright and dynamic sound I experienced with the Zhaolu as well as Mini3. (I have some possible reasons to explain this, that may turn-off Zero owners)

Anyway, the bottom line is that the DAC chip doesn't solely decide the sound quality. Hence it irks me when I see advertisements or supporters basing their facts solely on the DAC chip used. For example, "something uses the something chip, which is the upgraded version of a something something used in a something hi-end CDP". C'mon, like I said, it's only a few bucks at most, how would spending a few bucks more make something high-end? If that few bucks can make your something match up against a hi-end something, then I'd rather make my own something which will even be higher end, since it would cost only another few bucks extra.

If you're still not convinced, Creative's sound cards use the CS4398 which is also used in the hi-end somethings. Yet they sound like... Creative sound cards. (Please come up with the conclusion yourself)

Sunday, November 9, 2008

When people don't even have common-sense... let alone specific knowledge

ADD: It would be better if you see the TOTALLY UNRELATED ad linked below first

From a gaming speaker* ad (edited):

- Downward firing design creates an omnidirectional effect
- Sound waves originate from the same source
- Omnidirectional sound stage - by deliver sound in all directions, sweet spot is enlarged
- Special amplifier matches input power with power demand

Ok, here goes:

- The argument against normal, forward-firing speakers is that sound bounces off the wall and reaches the listening in different paths and time, also known in the normal world as echo
- By using a speaker that fires in all directions, wouldn't the sound bounce off in much more directions before reaching the listener?
- Then how is it supposed to help with the situation? It actually worsens it don't you think?

Didn't even think of using general knowledge before writing this one.

Now, onto the more technical ones:

- It actually sounds better because of the reflected sound. Or more technically it's called off-axis sound (as opposed to on-axis sound/coming straight from the driver), but I don't like to use technical jargons that make the writer seem more knowledgable to hide his lack of knowledge while confusing newcomers, when an easy layman term can mean the same thing and is much understood my everyone. Reflected sound tends to have more feeling of space as well as sound more natural and less harsh, with the downside of less accuracy and dependency on room acoustics.
- Reflected sound is so useful because the effects are nice sounding, that many speakers, more notably karaoke systems, and especially Bose systems, have drivers dedicated to firing sideways or even backwards. As mentioned, accuracy is compromised, but the benefits outweigh the costs.

Onto the next point:

- The "sweet spot" is greater because , ironically, of the refracted sound also. Think of two beams of light that are slightly spreading out. You have to stand in the middle to get both beams. Now think of two light bulbs. You can stand anywhere to get light from both sources. However, it'd be harder to ensure that the amount and distance from both light bulbs are equal when you factor in the reflection, that you won't even know where is the best spot, if any.

And the one after:

- Special amplifier matches input power with power demand

That's just a fuking class-H amp. It's nothing special, and no they (the company owning the ad) didn't invent it.

Is it good? Not sure, it's good if you need a huge amount of power and still stay efficient at low loads, but with a class-D amp typically found in these kind of speakers without a huge heatsink at the back, why would you even care about efficiency and insufficient power? And with another switched-mode power supply for the tracking rails that's basically useless at low volumes, *cough*.

BTW, Razor has a TOTALLY UNRELATED product here:

*Gaming speaker suggests a system that's only good for gaming and nothing else - music, movies, serious sound production of any form

I for one don't believe in speakers being designed for anything, like 25% gaming, 50% movies, 30% music, and -5% Windows error messages. Good speakers faithfully reproduce anything that's thrown at them. If speakers are said to be "designed for something", more often than not it means the following:

Gaming - Huge amount of bass, nothing else
Movies - Huge amount of bass, huge amount of highs, nothing else
Music - Warmth and space, usually reflects a boost in the midrange, some boost in the mid-bass and usually insufficient deep-bass, reduced highs for less harsh
Strings - midtones and overwhelming bass (for the double-bass), some harshness in the highs for the violin's sonic character
Guitar (acoustic) - very good highs response (for the plucking of strings), very linear mid-bass response - so far I see that, on good systems, guitars really shine
Rock - Good dynamics, good bass, good highs, no detail required
Jazz - Good deep-bass, linear bass, good mids, good highs - an upgrade from guitar

And my favourite:

Vocals - Lots of mids without anything at the ends of the frequency spectrum (as you can see, that's the same sound signature as a cheapo speaker, apart from being clearer)

So, what kind of speakers do you have, and what do you like?

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Ignorance isn't always bliss: Part 2

Talk about real noobness, this one transcends audio.

Because of the severity of the case I'm going to quote it in full:

"Selling the above. The Zero DAC was purchased from an MO around May this year, so no local warranty. 100% functionality, no cosmetic flaws. Will also include the USB to Optical converter (you will need this for PC use as there is no USB input on the Zero).

The OPA627 (OPA627APG4, to be exact) op-amp was purchased from Farnell on 5 Sep 08, so be assured that this is the real thing. I will pass you the actual receipt of the purchase. Comes together with the 8-pin adaptor that was purchased separately, so just plug into the DAC and enjoy the sweet music. Try buying the op-amp and the adaptor separately - it will definitely cost you more than $70."

Erm, yea, did anybody tell you that Farnell likes to chop carrot on certain products? Especially when it comes to higher-end audio products, which they do not have a big selection of.

He should've gotten the Zero+ DAC which adds the same thing for only an extra $50 more at Ja**n. But that's still giving $$$ to Ja**n, because in China, the upgrade can be had for 100rmb or less. That's less than 20 dollars. Cos electronics are cheap there, and things are priced at what they are worth, unlike in other areas of the world especially SG, US, Europe, Japan, Australia blah blah, where you can spend lots of money to buy a cheap product, just because of marketing and hype.

And, if I'm going to spend $70 upgrading IC op-amps, I'd rather spend ~$30 to get a discreet op-amp from audio-gd. And that's for two channels. And that's gonna pwn your ass because on the surface (or to audio noobs), discreet op-amps MUST be better than integrated circuit ones.

BTW, if anyone wants the op-amp-upgraded Zero, he's selling at $220. Or you can camp at echoloft for much better deals. Zhaolu D3... hmm... tempting... but I got my D2.5A already and it uses the AD chip which has more space feeling, and I might need the headamp. But the D3 uses the more expensive CS4398 and is priced two times as much, but the 2nd-hand price isn't two times as much...

Random observations of the day:

I can actually still hear some vocals from my sub, just the sub alone, no satellites.

And it feels kind of cool.

So my subwoofer has a high x-over. That makes it a lousy sub.

And it rumbles a lot. Not a good sub.

And it whines a lot from the DC component that's somehow in my AC mains.

Fk good quality SG power. And fk the noobs that say we don't need a power conditioner in SG.

Random thought of the day...

"If only they can make a plastic that has the same sonic properties as wood. Then we wouldn't have to bother about the wood rotting and coming apart. And it looks cooler, too."

This is the first random thought of the day to make it onto the blog.

Because whenever I have random thoughts I'm usually outside. Then when I reach home I'll forget about it totally. And why I seldom have random thoughts at home is because I'm seldom bored at home. Just shows how interesting my life is.

This thought came about while I'm fixing up my re-fused sub.

Saturday, November 1, 2008

More audio noob-dity, and audio myths/antimyths

This should go into my upcoming, extra long post on audio myths and antimyths, but decided to make it on its own since it is relatively rare, high-level (in terms on how much money/hearing you need to spend to reach this stage), and significant.

Some guy from a certain forum (pls don't be offended) said this:


I forgot whether he had caps. But I can't access the forum at home to verify.

There is no need for a power conditioner in Singapore, because why? The usual answer, because our power supply is clean enough?

Well, firstly, clean is not equal to stable. Our power supply is relatively stable, but not clean. Actually, with all the modern equipment dumping EFI into the mains lines, a city's power is gonna be more noisy than the countryside.

If your transformer or speakers whine, and if it's not due to a faulty equipment, high chances that it's the power.

If in my house, I had 3 sets of amp/speakers that whine, whine more in the night, and whine more when the light in my brother's room is on, there is no way a power conditioner of some sort wouldn't help.

And, is this significant? If your speakers, no matter how good, are constantly buzzing you would want to do something about it isn't it? Like a totally stupid and irritating thing called tinnitus that doesn't affect daily functionality but degrades the listening experiance, not to mention it is totally loud when everything else is quiet.

(To be continued...?)

Friday, October 31, 2008


No, not my PES status, but my audio setup. I'd luv a PES downgrade though. I deserve that, plus full compensation, after what the a**y did to me.

I'm seriously reconsidering the concept of d.i.y. Because my skill just isn't there and if I fail it makes more sense to have just bought a ready-made product in the first place. My Belden 89207 just gave way (again) after I decided to plug them out to connect my PSP to the amp to play DJ Max Portable Clazziquai Edition.

And the killer part, I tried to solder it to make the connector more secure, but in the process melted the plastic insulator between signal and ground on the connector, rendering the connector useless.

Plus, after the fiddling, the other cable of the L/R pair seems to have bad connection, as I was hearing some roll-off and distortion at the highs.

With no extra RCA cable pair available, not only was I forced to use a cheap cable, I was forced to use the 3.5mm out from my Audigy instead of the RCA of the Zhaolu.

And the difference? Not so obvious in terms of sound signature, as the OPA-Earth op-amp in the Zhaolu DAC's I/V stage is rather neutral. But the highs have the distortion that I missed, vocals sound muffled yet thin at the same time, bass is muddy. Space is... what space? Dynamics are just lost.

This temporary change just proved one thing, that there really is an upgrade from Audigy to an external DAC. And a $150 difference in the money I spent between them, or 7.5 times. Note that these figures are not based on RRP.

Now the question is, is this worth it?

It really depends on the rest of your system, like cables. If your amp/speakers are worth less than $200 combined, you wouldn't hear much of a difference, because your speakers will be more muffled than that to start with. Even between $200 to $400 it still depends, depending on what speakers you bought. My safe bet for obvious audible difference on an average ear would be $400-500 onwards.

But after that point, it is definitely worth it. Else spending $1.2k on speakers and extra $$$ on a good amp will still give you the same muffled sound.

Plus, this is a sure way to objectively improve the sound without changing the sound signature too much.

I know my system is probably unbalanced; too low budget for the speakers. But without extra money to spend, I'll leave it as it is.

I also tried out the Zhaolu's preamp when playing with the PSP. For the Zhaolu's own DAC, with the preamp, it sounds lifeless, flat (not the frequency response), full of distortion, bass heavy but bad bass. But with the PSP, compared to without, it sounds more dynamic and has better strike.

So there can be two conclusions:

1) The preamp sucks
2) The DAC is a much better, cleaner source than my PSP

But I remember with the Mini3 I didn't get that much performance out of my PSP, and I know that by design such a built-in DAC will still beat Mini3, so another conclusion can be drawn:

A good portable source, like the Cowan D2, is still no fight against a non-portable standalone.

And for good reason. It costs as much, is n times as big, and runs on AC power.

So when you're at home in your room free of noise, it pays to spend on a good home system, just to hear that extra quality out of your music once in a while.

And another sad thing, more highs roll-off for me. Twice within two weeks. Guess I'm really losing my hearing, I think I cannot hear anything above 17.8khz now.

And I also fried the Sony sub's fuse while playing with the power switch. Who would've thought that shorting the switch will cause such a great spark. Unless the power switch didn't use a relay, which would be stupid and dangerous, but explains why the power switch has bad contact now.

Monday, October 27, 2008

More funny phrases off the net: Computer-grade capacitor

Normally this should look alright, but know the context and u'll be shocked:

- from the description of a high-end* audio amplifier sales ad

*High-end, for me, is anything that costs over a few hundred dollars original price.

Because we know current-day audio-grade capacitors can cost over a dollar each, for the modest capacity ones. And capacitors in computers? $0.02. For a pack of twenty.

Plus, we have seen how the power capacitors in PSUs and on motherboards leak and blow up and die.

So is computer-grade capacitor any good? I don't think so.

And a high-end* amp that actually takes computer-grade capacitors as an advertising point, I'm so gonna stay clear of that and let the true hardcore "audiophiles" waste their money so that we lazy engineers can earn 5-digit salaries while doing nothing.

Since I'm on this topic, might as well take the chance to talk about things being compared to each other.

Like hospital-grade, army precision, and built with the precision of a spacecraft.

So the Ferrari is built with the precision of a spacecraft. Big deal. The first spacecraft is built in the age when people listened to what we now call "retro" music. This is fifty years later, we managed to invent and build things that are a hunred times smaller. So the precision of a spacecraft isn't precise anymore. And this thing isn't very precise to start with either, many of them explode during take-off or disintegrate during re-entry. Like that one which had one piece of its heat shield come off during take-off. Maybe they should start building spacecrafts with the precision of a Ferrari instead.

Hospital-grade power socket/cable/supply, by hospital, which one do you mean? They still use normal wall sockets and wiring, and the supply is loaded with EMI coming from all the funky devices. I wouldn't say it's better than the power coming from your conditioner, nor is anything better than your one-inch thick, 24K gold plated, fully shielded, funky crystals whatever, powercord.

And the best term is army "precision". Or the lack thereof.

I cannot mention any specific organization due to the recent threat looming around, so I'm going to use a fictitious entity. Any resemblance to any real-life organization is purely coincidental.

This is what actually happens at the fictitious entity:

Mechanic A: Pass me that size 17
Mechanic B: Can't find one, how about this size 18?
Mechanic A: Will do. Thanks.

Mechanic B: It says we need to torque to 300Nm
Mechanic A: Come, let me show you. (uses hand)
Mechanic A: There, it's tight enough.

Mechanic A: The voltage shows 26V (when it's supposed to be 28V).
Mechanic B: As long as it's above 24V (battery voltage) it's fine.

Note: Although 26V is above 24V, depending on battery design it may or may not result in charging. Which is important if you do not want your tank to be unable to start.

Mechanic A: Mix 17L of coolant to 33L of water
Mechanic B: Just dump the whole bucket (20L, of coolant) in followed by a bucket of water.

Mechanic B: We need to leave 2mm of gap.
Mechanic A: (Jams the pieces together) As long as can fit it's okay.

And many more.

So much for "army precision". This is what you get when you get untrained people that are paid less than cheap foreign labour to do things. Or people who cannot get a better job outside.

So, next time if you want a metaphor to describe your product, choose the object wisely.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

FiiO E3 Headphone Amplifier - the SGD$12 amp - review

I wonder why reviews are called re-views when most of the time the reviewer has only seen it once, so where did the "re" come about? And for many readers who have not seen the item in real-life yet it should be called a pre-view.

Enough with the misnomers, lets get on with the, um, view.

I bought a FiiO E3 headphone amp for a few reasons. It's cheap, I wanted a portable amp for my PSP, it's cheap and small so it wouldn't hurt, it's said to have sound quality that rivals or even beats the Go-Vibe Petite, and it's cheap so it's very good value. Did I mention it's cheap?

Want to know the price? Google or search the forums for it. I bought it online so it's even cheaper.

First Impressions

It's much smaller than I thought. I though it was the size of a Creative MuVo, but it was even smaller, like AA battery versus AAA battery.

One thing I can tell you, the build quality sucks. While it looks very nice when new, this is how it looks like after a day of my normal use outside:

Pretty bad eh? It looks like it's gone through outfield, more than once.

The words here are already gone.

And the bundled interconnect, it has bad contact since day one. Talk about QC.

The "View"

Now this is the part that's the most important and you're interested in. I'll be testing the FiiO amp against the built-in amp of the Zhaolu D2.5, my DIY 6SN7 tube preamp/headphone amp, and an AMB Mini3.

All of the above is false. I'm not going to test it against any of those because 1) The built-in amp of the Zhaolu has been disabled by me to reduce noise to the DAC 2) My 6SN7 preamp production is under frozen animation and 3) I don't own a Mini3.

But the real reason is, there's just no reason to compare against any of those because they're all of a much higher class than the FiiO, and because of an additional reason which will be stated below. I did manage to hear it and the Mini3 side-by-side but the gap is too obvious. I don't have a Go-Vibe Petite to test though.

Take a look at this graph. Bass boost is an understatement. Ear fatigue is almost as free of charge as the parade I was forced to attend recently.

With such a frequency response, the FiiO cannot be directly compared against anything that respects audio. So I'll look into how I use it and enjoy it.

"Normal" usage - as in in the house or outside, just not on the bus or train

Bass is too powerful, ear is too pain. Bass is uncontrolled and boomy, and spills over to the mids and some trebles. Feeling of space is greatly reduced as with the details. Basically, this thing is total crap. It's good for one thing though, hearing your player through it for 1/4 of a song then removing it will make you realize how good your player actually is.

It's amazing how people can claim getting much improvement in SQ with it; getting even any improvement is just plain impossible. But, as mentioned by a friend of mine, you don't need to use the product in order to write a review. It is in the same league as the Go-Vibe Petite though, in the sense that your earphones actually sounds worse through it. But how worse is hard to decide due to the bass boost by the FiiO, although I might think the FiiO is better.

One thing: The bass boost will help if your earphones is bass-wimpy, or if you think having more bass is good. Usually the two will come together (for beginners), and buying a $12 amp says it all. THAT might account for the "more dynamics" and better bass part, although I still don't see how it helps the soundstage. Perhaps having reduced highs have the feeling of the instruments being further away.

Usage on the train/bus

I usually listen at a low volume. Rather, I can only listen at a low volume to prevent further damage to my already-damaged ears. Sidetrack a bit, my guide is to listen at home at a comfortably loud and clear but not too loud level, and use up to the same volume to listen while on the go. Reason because being outside will make your music seem softer, but it's still there. Ever adjusted your player to a nice and clear level outside to realize it's deafeningly loud when you're in your room? Imagine the amount of damage it will do to your ears under extended periods, even though you're not hearing it that loud.

The problem with sound reproduction devices is that the bass sounds more when the volume is louder. And the problem with vehicles is that most of the noise is of a lower frequency, hence masking the bass. In short, bass is in short supply when I'm outside. I'm using the more bassy X3i and it's just barely enough when I'm on the train.

The FiiO amp changes the situation with the bass boost. With it, the sound is much better, and strangely it really does sound as though the soundstage is wider. Probably from the reduced highs. Loss of details isn't important when everything is so noisy and you just want a more correct sound signature.

However, after a while ear fatigue kicks in (please deduce the reason from 3 paragraphs above), after a few days, I decided to remove it.

As a preamp/bass-boost

Note: You should never, never add or need a bass-boost if your speakers are anywhere near being accurate. A pair of 5-inch's, placed correctly, can produce a lot of bass.

But my 3-inchers that are supposed to work (and works very well) with a subwoofer do not produce enough bass alone. So comes the FiiO.

Bass is improved in amount, but still does not hit low enough.

Guess you can't get a dead horse to run faster.

Details are reduced. But we already know that.


I dunno if this thing will be useful to you, but to me it seems more like a bass-booster than a headamp. It will be useful if you really need the bass boost, or if you're those audio noobs who just want an amp for the sake of having one thinking it improves sound quality instead of trusting your ears.

But for $12, can't complain much. I even think it's still worth the money. I mean, bass-boost, small size, cheap, it's a good thing to keep by your side. :)

Saturday, October 11, 2008

China quality... is it in the genes?

No this post doesn't have anything to do with the recent milk saga. Might as well take this opportunity to share my $0.02: Although the milk products are from China, most of the brands are from overseas, and with a brand from New Zealand being caught in the act too only proved my suspicion:

It's not just the Chinese that put in the Melamine, but the ang mohs (Westerners) that ordered them to do so. I mean, come'on, it's the boss that decides what ingredients to put in their food product, and they selected China because of her not-so-stringent checks. So now who's at fault? You decide.

Back on topic, I've recently realized that while Chinese products are usually worth the money with a lot of quality for the price, they do not perform the maximum that they should, plagued by design problems. Kinda wasted. It's not that they do not put in effort or quality; their products show a lot of quality and effort, but somehow, there will be something wrong and it just wouldn't perform.

For example, the Zhaolu 2.5A DAC that I own, there are problems with the circuitary design - using the thermal viaducts as ground path, haveing 25.5V across a 25V capacitor etc. The Yulong T-Amp, which I current have two, have a whining problem from either improper grounding (again) or shielding, I'm going to check that out.

And the thing that led me to think this way is the Chinese Anime fansubs. They can be bigger in filesize compared to their English counterparts, but still be of worse quality.

(To people who believe filesize equates quality, I'll tell you that, no it does not. Not to the full extent. Encoding is an art and requires skill, especially video. A properly-encoded video can have more than 2x the compression ratio than a poorly-encoded one i.e. for the same quality, the properly-encoded video is less than half the size of the poorly encoded one. I believe myself to be reasonably good at choosing the right encoders and settings, more so than the "professionals" out there. Needless to say, those all-in-one simple encoders all suck.)

However, I can't say that they never put in the effort. They used higher bitrates knowing it will give better quality, and have a RealMedia version for those who need smaller filesizes too. Also, this is a fan job, by fans for fans, it'd only be natural if they put in their best efforts. In fact, effort-wise they have a lot, as they do a lot of series that the English do not.

So it's just their skills?


So, good quality, good effort, but poor skills, outcome is less-than-perfect.

A bit wasted don't u think?

How to repair your Mylar earphones and make them last longer

Apologies to those that have been following my blog, the reason for me not updating this blog for so long is because LaTale is so addicting, for many days it is LaTale as long as I'm at home. No Anime, little forums, research and repairs have been stalled, it is LaTale the first thing I get home.

(You should try it, really, it's this fun)

During this time, I had many things to post about, but left undone because of the game. Actually I'm only blogging now because the server is lagging now.

Unlike ZOMBiE who combines multiple blog posts into one, I'm still going to seperate them. Reason for this is categorization through tags, and so that I keep the blog posts shorter so that people can read them more easily and more importantly, it takes me less time to reach a stopping point and resume on the game. :P

The topic with the honour to be posted first, is as per the title.

As many users (and non-users but simply hearsayers, also known as sheeps, or audio-noobs) of the Crossroad Mylar series of products know, their build quality just isn't on-par with the rest out there. Physically coming apart within half a year is possible and achived by many that are under active use. The two most common problems are the cable connection at the earphones becoming loose and snap thereafter and the earphone itself breaking into two at the joint.

This blog post will teach you how to perform Basic Diagnosis And Repair, short-form BDAR, on your favourite earphones.

The friend here, as one of DIY-ers' favourite friends (another being the blu-tack), is the super-glue.

My second pair of X3i was having one of its connections coming apart. So I bought a small tube of super-glue (Note: Don't buy too big a tube, because if you don't finish it fast enough it'll dry up) and applied a drop at that point (with the bare wire exposed), and jammed it back in. Wait for a few minutes.

And viola! The X3i is alive again! No need to waste time and spend another trip to the Adelphi. In fact, the connection is now even studier than before, thx to the properties of super-glue, forming a hard crystalline structure, as a layer of coat on the external surface of the connecting area.

It's actually very easy to stop the Mylar from breaking apart in the first place, by proper design and better glue. Wonder why they didn't do that.

And note, if you accidentally let your hand contact super-glue, do not force it apart, soak it in soapy water and rub sideways. It will come off eventually.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Reminiscing the past... when we spent little

Looking at Altec Lansing's catalogue, I suddenly remembered the days when MX5021 = the best in my mind. After reading lots of good comments on MX5021 I went down to Carrefour Suntec to have a listen, and wow, it was the closest to a fairly accurate sound signature I've ever heard with nice mids and lots of air.

Then before that, I was at Creative warehouse sale looking at Creative's new product, i-Trigue 2200, and was amazed by the clarity and the relatively ok amount of bass (as I thought at that time) for its price. All other 2.1 for the same price had puny satellites that sounded tinnish compared to this, and those that featured the same drivers as 2200 were much more expensive. (T20 wasn't out yet, but Vivid 60 was, and it was crap for the price)
And a short while later I was at Challenger Funan comparing it against VS4121, which didn't have as nice clarity but won a bit overall due to bass. (although recently I've found out that the 2200 can still have sufficient bass provided it is boosted high enough in the source signal)

Then after all this, I picked up a Sony subwoofer cheap at Cash Converters to supplement my i-Trigues, and realized that it has outputs for passive speakers. I placed an old bookshelf from an old Sharp hi-fi to boost the mids and to provide more "air". Soon, I found a pair of JBLs selling cheap and I bought them too. They ran alongside the i-Trigues for a while (with the i-Trigues providing the highs) until I decided that the i-Trigues are adding high-harsh and removed them.

And so, I entered the world of bookshelves, with a system that cost me $45 but can beat the crap out of MX5021

After that, all hell broke loose, and I didn't spend little anymore :p

Also, have you ever realized that, the higher we go in audio, the less improvement we get per upgrade?

Monday, September 8, 2008

More funny phrases off the net: Burn-in

This time we look at the term "Burn-in"

Actual phrases from a Jaben sales forum thread:

"It has already been fully burn in by me, more than 1200 hours."

"1200 hours of burn-in is priceless"

Capacitors only have a rated lifetime of the lower few-thousands in hours, the better ones getting 2000-3000 at their rated voltage. Now that may seem very little for something we use everyday for years, but fortunately for audio we are always using high-quality caps rated at overkill voltages (for our applications) so cap degradation doesn't occur within 5-10 years. Same goes for computers, and for both the only ones that actually die off are the power caps that are rated relatively close to their limit. I say relatively because most of the time the limit is still at least 1.5 times that of the applied voltage.

The Predator has a gigantic capacitor rated at 6.3V. While this should be quite all right for battery usage, USB 5V seems too close to the rated spec. Plus, that capacitor (same as the one in Tomahawk, featured in a previous post) doesn't look high-quality to me. This isn't gonna do it good in the long run.

So, now it's up to you to decide whether this is "burned-in" or "burned-out".

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Define original...

Actual phrase from an Echo Loft ad:

"original BMB tweeter marantz made"

If Marantz made the tweeter, then is this originally BMB or Marantz?

If BMB did not produce this tweeter, will the same tweeter by Marantz be fake? Or does this original BMB product even exist?

And of course the most obvious point:

Buy speakers from brands that make their own drivers

Who uses BMB stuff anyway except in karaoke lounges and pubs, they're just Boom-Am-Boom

RSA Tomahawk Portable Headamp

After getting to see a picture of the innards in real life up close, I knew I just had to get the picture off the net.

And get it I did:

Source: http://hobbyroom.blog.so-net.ne.jp/2007-06-05

Erm, that's it? And this thing costs >$500? WTF?

Friday, August 29, 2008

My system's almost complete... yeah right

Sorry for the almost three weeks of disappearence. The past two weeks have been very busy; either fall-out late, or I was busy playing LaTale or surfing forums for an amp, or both.

LaTale, great game, rushed to level 19 on the first day as bowman. This game is about skill, there are lots of newbs who don't know how to train fast, seldom see those in JP/KR servers. But wtf they are going to do a character wipe again, what the hell are they thinking? Character wipe aftre OBT.

But enough about this game. I finally got a Yulong 2nd-hand after a guy offered one at $120.

So I fixed it up hoping for some magic. It is, after all, one of the best entry-level amps out there, capable of beating few-hundred dollars receivers. I also expected some loss in bass power since my JBLs are only 3-inch, but this amp should have enough power for the Paradigm Atoms (v1) that have been lying useless on my table all this while, and those are 5.5-inchers, so bass is no problem.

Fixed it up, well, the sound is much clearer, but,

Where's the bass?

I'd expect the bass to be a little bit greater. Although they aren't as big as monitors at least they are at least a few times bigger than multimedia speakers. Or maybe I've grown to like the Sony SRS-D4 active sub too much.

And the next thing, this amp revealed that my JBL CS100 are not just bad, they are faulty - they whine and one of them sounds different from the other; previously I blamed the SRS-D4, but looks like it's alright.

And the worst thing is:

So I fixed up the Paradigm Atoms thinking I'll get some nice stopping point in upgrade. But no, it just confirmed my Atoms are faulty with a great loss of power at the lower frequencies plus lots of distortion. Time to get rid of them.

That time somebody was talking about component synergy on VRZ, now I totally agree. The 3-inch drivers of the CS100 are not designed to be full-range, they need a subwoofer with them, and with the right one they really shine. No wonder they are labelled "surrounds". Interesting, because all this while I have been getting very good sound signature out of this $45 setup, but the moment I have them alone they sound like crap. Looks like my SRS-D4 isn't simple either - somehow in this setup, the CS100 sound totally nice and punchy and the bass feels like it's coming from there. What is happening? Perhaps one day I'll get the power button repaired also.

I also found out that "boomy bass that feels like it has a lot of space" is due to feeding too much bass into a driver that cannot handle it, NOT a good effect or strong bass. So stop it Bose owners, your speakers sux, it's not a good sound.

With nothing to lose, I also took apart the Paradigm Atoms, only to find that the foam on the cones are gone, deed, deadmeat. Probably the reason why they sounded so sux. Maybe I should get it repaired, as long as it doesn't cost over a hundred.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Zhaolu D2.5 w/LM4562 vs NeoMini USBDAC - some thoughts

Today I decided to do a direct AB test with my Zhaolu D2.5 w/LM4562 against NeoMini USBDAC.

Reason because somehow, because of my further-degrading hearing or running around with the Zhaolu and subjecting it to the physical abuse at the guardroom (I haven't blog about these yet), or some problem with the reconnection, the Zhaolu didn't sound as nice as it was yesterday night compared to morning.

Fearing there would be some actual sonic damage instead of placebo effects, I decided to fight it against the previously-defeated NeoMini in a direct AB comparison and use this as a measure.

Results are interesting.

Sound signature-wise, I can hear almost no difference. The sound so just the same that if you didn't know the two DACs beforehand or cannot hear the other minute differences you're sure to mix up the ABX test.

Or heck, if my setup doesn't let me switch sources in less than 0.2 seconds I probably wouldn't have detected any obvious difference either.

Everything that counts are the rest - the Zhaolu w/LM4562 has a bigger soundstage, the instruments are more pulled back (or the NeoMini is more forward), less muffled, bass more impactful, lower bass extension. But, with the exception of the lower bass extension, the differences are very small, way smaller than comparing on-board against NeoMini (that one was pretty bad), and should be smaller than NeoMini vs Audigy if my memories are correct. Even the bass extension, while that one is more obvious because you will hear it when the bass notes go low, most of the time they don't so it doesn't make much of a difference.

There's still one obvious difference though - highs response

The Zhaolu is still undoubtedly cleaner and the sound reverbs a bit, while for the NeoMini there's still some distortion and the hi-hats/cymbals sound "less round", or, the most abused term in audio vocabulary, "flat". But more "hissing" and less dynamics and space is a better description for it, if you ask me.

So some findings and some thoughts from this AB test:

- Since the Zhaolu w/LM4562 and NeoMini share the same sound signature, there's high chance that they're both just darn accurate. But then again, probably many other DACs do, but that's not a majority if you consider the number of warm-sounding Burr-Brown op-amps out there.
- The LM4562 is one heck of an accurate op-amp - the NeoMini has no op-amp, yet the LM4562 sounds so similar. This is probably why it's so popular in soundcards also.
- The designers of the Zhaolu also did a great job - audio equipment is all about how well your components work with each other, and with the default settings + LM4562 op-amp the sound is so neutral and accurate. With the output capacitors jumpered it was too bright even with the OPA2604. So yea guys, don't try the jumper mod unless you're a purist or an "audiophile". I'm not the only one who hates it anyway; so did the guys who found and tried out many mods for the Zhaolu.
- Using an external DAC with bad cabling and digital source is a big no-no. Reason because I could hear a significant difference between the on-board Realtek and Audigy and between the cheapo $7 cable, the supplied stock cable, and the current Belden 1694A. And if my current setup sounds only okay, then previously it has to be very bad.
- The NeoMini is a seriously good buy for the money. At $35/55 (Taiwan price/local price), plus soldering skill and time and casing, it put up a good fight against another bang-for-buck ~$200 equipment, and that's not including the additional cost of the Belden 1694A and Audigy.
But if you ask me, if I'd sell my Zhaolu and get back the money spent and use the more value-for-money NeoMini instead, I'd totally say no. Because the impact of the improvement with the Zhaolu is just too awesome, more awesome than that with the NeoMini from Audigy. Yes I can't pinpoint the differences, but all the subtle things add together to form something awesome.
Plus, you can't put a price on better sound. :D
In a sense in this case the NeoMini is a poorer buy for the money because it didn't seem that powerful worthy of an upgrade. But if you have an on-board and want something cheap and small and stick with it then it's your choice. :)
- The one thing that's been pulling back my Zhaolu - the $7 interconnect cable. Since the audio system will only sound as good as its weakest link, this guy is probably the culprit (I used the same type of cable for both DACs). A better cable will probably improve the Zhaolu's performance, as well as that of the NeoMini. Time to get the 89207.

Saturday, August 2, 2008

LM4562 - initial impressions and after some burn-in

Edit: I notice this post is still frequently visited today. This post was written by me a while ago and it does not meet the standard I require my posts to have now. I'll be frank - to the me of today (2011, but I noticed the situation in 2010, possibly even earlier), this post is full of bull. Just as non-controlled-tested subjective reviews are. More-significant uncontrolled variables swamp any potential difference from the device being tested, and differences heard are wrongly attributed to the device. And I'm not even talking about placebo yet, which many open-minded believers somehow do not believe in its effects.

But I know there are those of you who want to read this review. So I have left the original post untouched below. I just want to make clear the issues with such a review. Subjective reviews are fine, but only if the mentioned differences are tested to reliably exist. And most subjective reviews never test that.

So I got a pair of LM4562 op-amp for my Zhaolu DAC three days ago. This is the most important mod in the series of possible mods because it's like everyone on the net with a Zhaolu is saying that this is a very good upgrade, the others being OPA2107, OPA2134 (or 2132, both not as good as the rest though), LT1469, the king of op-amps (and overly expensive) OPA627, and discreet op-amp stages like the Zapfilter.
(I don't think AD was mentioned because of the nature of the sound and that of Zhaolu, both being very cold)

I chose this because it's almost on the same level as OPA2107 (and some say OPA627) and LT1469, and most importantly it costs the cheapest at $13+ for a pair. This amount can only get you at most one of the cheaper alternatives and less than half of an OPA627 set. And why people would want to spend so much on 4 OPA627s or even a Zapfilter on such a cheap DAC beats me.

Now now, while we're on this topic I might as well talk about why sometimes somebody (or rather a whole group of people) will say that certain op-amp is good while in other applications the said op-amp is crap.

Firstly, op-amps are not perfect and they change the sound signature (which some may like) i.e. different (brands of) op-amps sound different. Different brands of DAC chips sound different also. Different components/implementations sound different too. So a good balance and combination of components that can work in harmony is needed.

Furthermore, different op-amps will perform differently for different uses. In many cases we're talking about voltage buffer, or more commonly known as output/preamp stage. Then there's op-amps for headphones, and op-amps in the power circuitary.

Ok, back to the LM4562, how will this fast and "fast sounding" - what the heck is that? op-amp change the sound of my system?

Just installed:

It sounds... bad. The bass is greatly reduced, the trebles are too bright and sharp. Somebody played with the tone controls here?

However, the trebles are indeed clearer and cleaner and I can hear a bit more instruments. But this induces ear fatigue and I also don't like the loss in bass power. Dynamics is seriously lacking.

Soundstage is slightly wider as mentioned on the web, the notes are clearer but they sound more tonal and I cannot hear the rest of the instruments like impact sound and harmonics. Even my brother is saying that it sounds fake.

That's a lot of sacrifice just for that bit of more musical and "faster" details. And I can't say that it sounds more musical either, since the instruments now sound fake.

After a few days and a few hours of burn-in:

After I came back from camp I listened and was like huh, was this that LM4562 I've just installed yesterday? Or have my ears gotten used to the sound already? The fakeness and harshness is gone and now I'm listening to something that sounds much more normal. The treble has reduced in volume, but the details are still there and clear as ever. The high-frequency hitting sounds are now like free-of-charge, and the bass has more power. Not to be confused with the darker/warmer sound-signature of the Burr-Browns, this LM4562 has an interesting sound; lots of dynamics cannot explain it all - when it's supposed to be loud it's loud, when it's supposed to be soft it's soft. So in some songs the bass (and mid-bass) is just powerful as needed, while in others the amount is just right. At the same time the bass does not sound muffled at all but instead it's punchy, tight, and full of details; I can clearly hear the distortion of the guitar.

So that's the meaning of a "fast" op-amp. Responsive and detailed is a better and more accurate term to describe it.

I love this sound signature, since I'm of a "detail" and "purist", or "natural" person when it comes to frequency response. Don't give me something that's too dark all the time, I'll hate it. Although you can give me as big as soundstage as possible. This, is one part, I'll admit that I'm totally not pure. :)

This may also be the reason why the LM4562 is called "too-dark" in certain applications, for example the Zero DAC, which is said to be very warm in the first place. If the LM4562 decides to amplify that warmness, then whoops, you got a very dark sound.

However, in the case of Zhaolu, LM4562 is less warm than the OPA2604 and other Burr-Brown chips, and sounds more natural.

And still the best part about the LM4562 is the tonality, which was the only thing that was good before the burn-in. Except now it's even better. The chords are in full harmony, the usually obscured notes especially the high ones are now heard. And yet it doesn't sound any noiser but cleaner instead. It's hard to explain except for hearing it yourself.

Oh ya, and now I can hear the individual notes more clearly too. I guess some people actually hate that, especially when it makes the bass more "one-note", but as a musician I like that.

This is a very good upgrade for $13.80, which is less than 10% of the DAC's cost. I used to be a disbeliever of op-amps, now I stand by them, after knowing how big a difference they can make.