Published: 1. February 2013, No. 105
Our audition that took place in mid-December 2012 brought us one step closer to the 100th anniversary of the first meeting in this formula. We still have about two years to go (14 meetings) but on the other hand eight years are already behind us. It might therefore seem that we got bored, that we know everything about ourselves and audio equipment. That we have already heard and seen everything. KSS RULEZ and all. Any thinking and refined person would not find it difficult, however, to respond to such statements with a shrug. Every peak, every top, every “wall” we face eventually gives way to something even stronger, bigger, better.
Yet these stops are necessary. Being an ‘audiophile’ is for me one of the synonyms of being ‘human’, one of the emanations of the human need for something higher, in this case expressed by desire to reproduce music with all the associating beauty, emotions and attributes making us, if only for a moment, suspend our disbelief that this is not a true artist but only a mechanical reproduction of something long gone, finally and definitively. And being human, after all, means continuous change, often for the better (development). We mature fastest and most fully when we face border experiences. With all that in mind we can’t of course pretend that this type of situations in audio are equally important as those in our daily, family or career life. Together they add up, however, to something that makes us who we are.
Keeping the right proportions it is easy to identify such border experiences and situations in the audiophile’s life. One of them is usually the first contact with genuine, quality sound; sound with the capital ‘S’. The initiation usually occurs on the occasion of listening to an inexpensive system – a well set up NAD, Music Hall with speakers such as Castle and we have an epiphany. It is important that our new experience is something completely different from our previous experiences; something we were not aware of and did not expect.
Krakow Sonic Society is a bunch of rather jaded customers. No matter how hard I try to toss them something new, there will always be some nose turning and distancing themselves from what we do. Don’t take me wrong, I’m not complaining; I know I can always count on them but it becomes increasingly difficult to surprise them. I continue to see interest in their eyes only on two occasions (except for opening another bottle of wine…): when we have a chance to listen to something from the absolute top and when we have an interesting guest. It just so happened that our meeting No. 86 was a kind of rollover jackpot – we had an ultra-interesting guest and incredibly expensive (each in its own category), top products. And somehow it seems that the guest will stay with us for longer as will the products in question. Or at least part of them.
Human being – priceless
Man always comes first. Here’s what our guest writes about himself:
I love music played preferably in tube technology, especially on the 300B triode. I like Vintage style as a symbol of good and long-lasting products with a soul. I love radio, not just old tube radio sets but radio as an institution which can be a great way of public communication and a theater of imagination.
I worked in radio for many years ago as a music presenter and later as a reporter. My interests as a journalist focused on social problems and challenges but I also used to show in my reportages unique characters and their interests and fascinations, especially with culture, art and science. My reportages received numerous national and international awards. My tribute to the legendary Polish radio presenter Tomasz Beksiński titled Romantics of rock music was voted "Reportage of the Year 2001" by the listeners of Polish Radio Three. This reportage now lives another life on the Internet and inspires Tomasz’s fans to develop their fascination and explore new, noteworthy music.
Remaining faithful to many bands I came to know during my years of working in radio, I still discover new trends in music and currently turn more to classical music, especially chamber violin and piano music, helped by my 300B tube in its best possible reproduction.
I continue to develop my interest in social issues and multiculturalism. At my alma mater, Jagiellonian University, I am Disability Coordinator, heading a unit supporting students with various disabilities in university education.
However, Mr. Ireneusz Białek, for that’s the name of our guest, is not writing something that needs to be said – he is a blind person. He is heading a university department that has pioneer achievements in teaching students with disabilities; people excluded by most other universities from a circle of interest. Just imagine, how difficult it is to teach a deaf person a foreign language? After all, it would be his or her THIRD language, after sign language and Polish! And Irek and his team are not limited to doing such things. It is important that more people get to know about it, not just experts interested in this type of teaching methods. Let us appreciate it.
Ireneusz is also, as he wrote, a music lover and an audiophile. He has been reading “High Fidelity” for years, using capabilities offered by computer software. He is also a journalist. How has he found us? As usual, there has been some coincidence involved but also an element of mutual attraction of the right kind of people – after all he found his way through “High Fidelity”, wine and friends. What really matters is that he did find us…
A 7,000 PLN album
If it were not for my mistake, the album in question would have probably not found its way to Poland. A release costing 136,500 yen (in Japan) would cost about 7,000 PLN in Poland (including customs duty, VAT and shipping costs). And we are talking about a single Compact Disc.
However, this is no ordinary disc. An ultra-limited edition of 200 copies (the one that ended up in Janusz’s hands bears the number of 028, as far as I recall), the discs are not made of plastic but of quartz glass – hence the name of the series: Crystal Glass CD. A special remaster for it was made separately by a different team, straight from the digital CBS master tape numbered DC-113. The tape is digital because the album is Bach’s Goldberg Variations performed by Glenn Gould in 1981, and this particular recording was made in the digital domain (SGCD02 / TDCD91228). The founder and patron of the series is the prestigious Japanese magazine “Stereo Sound”. The magazine collaborated with Sony, the owner of the master tape. In the opinion of people who dealt with other Crystal Glass discs – there is no better digital medium.
However, it was not “Stereo Sound” all this began from. Already back in 2008, Victor Entertainment, a division of JVC, announced the development of a completely new way of Compact Disc manufacturing, called "Super Excellent Glass". Two patents were involved: K2HD audio encoding belonging to JVC and an extremely precise way of disc manufacturing, made not of polycarbonate but of and glass crystal, with a layer of gold in place of aluminum. The latter patent is owned by another Japanese company, Memory-Tech. The first three released titles were:
- Kaori Osamu Village, Aranjuez Concerto
- Ingrid Fuzjko V. Georgii-Hemming, Campanella Miracle
- Ikuko Kawai, New World
Each cost 180,000 yen and appeared on the market in April 2009. The astronomical price was due to a completely different way of creating pits and lands – this is done by laser, as if it were glass "stamper" to press regular discs.
Sony CD is made differently although it is also based on ultra-pure quartz glass. In this version, the glass is treated with special resin, in which pits and lands are burned (actually, it is the pits but let it be…). The prepared film is irradiated with UV to cure it. The burning process is carried out on machines designed to manufacture Blu-ray discs in a process called Phase Transition Mastering. The end result is a perfect shape of pits and lands. Blu-spec CDs are manufactured exactly the same way, now in version BSCD2.
A where’s the mentioned mistake? Well – I asked my friend, Yoshi Hontai, to buy me a Gould CD. The only problem was that I misread the price, making a mistake by the order of magnitude – even 700 PLN per CD seemed to me madness. When the CD arrived and when I saw the invoice I nearly fainted. Fortunately, it all ended well; I leaned against the wall keeping upright and the disc has already found its home. It may be the only such album in Poland and probably even in Europe. For more information see HERE
. Especially the second article, written by Robert Harley, chief editor of "The Absolute Sound" explains many of the surprising sonic differences between CDs made in different techniques.
Set of cables for 400,000 PLN
While both Irek and Gould came to us by a somewhat convoluted route, the main subject of the 86th KSS meeting was a natural extension of my review I’d done for the American magazine "Enjoy The Music.com", scheduled to appear in the January edition (see HERE). I’m talking about the top-class Siltech cabling system from the Royal Signature Double Crown series. The subject matter is the following 400,000 PLN set: Siltech Royal Signature Series Double Crown Empress interconnect, Siltech Royal Signature Series Double Crown Emperor speaker cable and a couple of Siltech Royal Signature Series Double Crown Ruby power cords.
An audition in a different system than my own, together with other people, was very important to me. Such delving deeper into a topic always make sense but becomes essential in case of top products. Even though I listened to the Siltech on both my own reference system and another one consisting of the Accuphase A-200 monoblocks, the Amphion Krypton3 speakers and others, it is the Janusz’s system that has become the reference point for us all. Based on the 18 W Ancient Audio monoblocks with Takatsuki TA-300B tubes (see HERE http://highfidelity.pl/@kts-1076&lang= a>), the top Ancient Audio CD player and the Sonus faber Amator Electa (I) standmount speakers it is in many ways beyond competition. Naturally, a small size of speakers and a low power output of the amplifier do not allow for conveying a full momentum and power of sound, as can be achieved in my system, but there is something for something – I do not have the kind of resolution, selectivity and naturalness Janusz does.
Reference testing audio system
- CD player: Ancient Audio Lektor Grand SE, see HERE
- Power amplifier: Ancient Audio Silver Grand Mono, see HERE
- Standmount speakers: Sonus faber Electa Amator (I), see HERE
- Interconnects: Acrolink Mexcel 7N-DA6300, see HERE
- Speaker cable: Tara Labs Omega, see HERE
- Power cords: Acrolink 7N-PC9100, see HERE
- Power conditioner: Ancient Audio First Generator
- Accessories: Acoustic Revive, see HERE and HERE
The audition had a character of an A/B comparison with known A and B. The comparison was between two complete cable systems consisting of: interconnects between the CD player/preamp and the power amplifiers, speaker cables, and two power cords powering DACs. It means we had two cable systems to compare, almost complete; there’re six power cords in Janusz’s system and we changed two, but let it be… Normally, the first (the ‘A’) is Janusz’s own system we all know and the ‘B’ is the system we want to evaluate. In this case, we changed the order and the first to audition was the system from Siltech. We decided on that modification due to a unique design of the Dutch cables requiring their longer playing time while positioned the same way. Before our audition they had been laid out and playing for three days. As usual, I collected comments from the audience after the whole audition, trying hard as I might with coughing noises and raising my eyebrows to limit their conversations and sharing of initial impressions along the way.
Albums used during the audition
- Missa Criola, Lasting Impression Music, LIM K2HD 040, UDC Collector's Edition, gold CD.
- Stan Getz & Joao Gilberto, Getz/Gilberto, Lasting Impression Music, LIM K2HD 036, UDC Collector's Edition, gold CD.
- Peggy Lee, Mink Jazz, Toshiba-EMI, TOCJ-9327, CD.
- Miles Davis, Kind of Blue, Sony Records Japan, SRCS 9104, CD.
- J. S. Bach, The Goldberg Variations, CBS/Sony Records Japan/Stereo Sound, Glen Gould (piano), "Limited Edition No. 28/200", SGCD02 /TDCD91228, Crystal Glass CD.
I asked each listener the following three questions:
1. Do you hear any difference?
2. Which system was better at them?
3. Is it worth it to pay the difference in price between the systems?
I also asked for their comments.
3. Surprisingly, for me, but yes.
The biggest surprise for me was something that could be called an extension of frequency response. Janusz’s system seemed to offer more bass that extended deeper. I heard more treble with the Siltech. It struck me, as if someone had hit me on the head; had some kind of “cognitive dissonance” (ha, ha!) – the Siltech had a lot more information about everything: air, recording atmosphere, playing and recording technique, instruments. There were more details but rather of discrete, unimposing kind. I was struck by magic and realism. Although at first Janusz’s system seemed to be more impressive, it was some sort of “show off”. The Siltech equals incredible calm but it is a “crouching, hidden” calm.
3. Unfortunately, yes.
The system with the Acrolinks and the Tara sounded audibly louder, louder physically. It also seems to me that this system sounds warmer. The Siltech seemed to me to be more detailed and resolving. But in the best possible manner. On the Gould’s album his “humming” was clearer with the Siltech but at the same time it also more naturally “fell in” with everything else. With the Janusz’s system it did not make one sound with the piano but was something separate, as if added on or as if recording microphones had picked it up from a different plane than the instrument. The Siltech sounded as if I heard it all in front of me, live. With the Janusz’s system it sounded as if it had been overdubbed separately.
Bass – I’m not sure if I’d fully agree with Tomek, perhaps to some degree. My impression was that if some bass did rumble with Siltech, it was meatier, stronger. Cymbals on the Getz album sounded somewhat harder but it was a more natural, live sound. The whole drum set seemed properly set up and ready to drum away with these cables. On the other hand, I liked the sound of the saxophone better with the Acrolinks and the Tara; its attack sounded finer on track number 5, the instrument sounded tighter. At least in this one respect Janusz’s system equaled the Siltech. Still, I choose the Siltech with no second thoughts because overall everything sounds more genuine, more natural with it.
3. Yes, definitely worth it.
The Acrolink and Tara system sounds very well. I mean, one could get an impression that there is something wrong with it; no, it’s an outstanding, top cable system. Yet with the Siltech we got something like with Piglet: the effect of “pink ears”. I do not really like to listen to this particular recording (speaking about the Variations…) as I experience discomfort due to Gould’s murmuring. Somehow I feel that I face a brilliant artist and an underdeveloped music lover at the same time.
But the Siltech ... This time I got a wonderful emanation of the whole piano body, large and “black”. It didn’t happen before; everything was kind of artificial, the way I’d remembered it. I loved the track from Kind of Blue with the Siltech. Refinement – as if someone managed to catch all sonic sub-ranges in a natural and balanced way. I heard slightly more sibilants on Getz’s album with the Siltech. As a contrast, the Acrolinks and Tara made everything seem a bit blurred and hence a little warmer. Peggy Lee with the Siltech sounded proper, accurate, albeit a tad dry. I used to experience that album in a more tangible way; now both presentations were more distant and to be honest I don’t know what happened. In this one case, with female voice, sound from the Siltech lacked some “chemistry” for me. Somehow like the volume of sound. The Acrolinks and Tara system with the same album is much more “Mr. Lusty”(from “lust”…).
I was afraid of this audition. After all, we’re talking about huge amount of money and my opinion is usually different from everyone else’s… Well, I don’t really remember the last time our opinions would be so unanimous. Including mine. Ryszard S. complained about the lack of big sound with the Siltech and when he said that I thought he was being picky. Only after we swapped the system back to Janusz’s I heard it: indeed, the Siltech shows everything a bit smaller. It’s just that it’s apparently more sensible, more natural, as if the other system puffed everything up. The Acrolinks had shorter sound release; sound faded longer with the Siltech. Similarly, color differentiation was better with the latter. It is a silky sound with a wide frequency range. After that, it is difficult to listen to the Acrolink and Tara.
I do not feel qualified to evaluate the sound since I don’t really have experience with sound systems of that quality. I have a wonderful JAG 300B amp, bought actually on Wojtek’s tip, but what you have here is from another planet altogether. It's a superb system, be that with the Acrolinks or the Siltech. To rate it is impossible – I agree with what Tomek said.
However, let me try to summarize my impressions. I don’t know if that’s perhaps a psychological effect but I only started to listen seriously the second time around. Then I really liked everything I heard. I don’t know this audio system nor do I know these cables and it’s hard for me to get my head around it all. It’s audible that the Siltech sounds a tad drier but I preferred it nevertheless.
1. Absolutely yes!
2. Only Siltech.
3. Surely – I’m buying the interconnect…
This is amazing! With the Siltech, I mean – the saturation of sound, its fullness and directness. Beautiful vocals. Compared to that my current system is pointless, as if it were broken. And I know that only a week ago it seemed to me, but to you as well, brilliant, fantastic, phenomenal. That’s what happens when you get to hear something better than “genius”… The Acrolink interconnect is outstanding on its own yet against the Siltech it seems less saturated, tonally shallower. Until recently, this cable for me was the “wall” I reached and didn’t know what else could be improved. I can hear it now. It will surely be the same with the Siltech one day but before then… I can’t imagine things can be better than with the system from Siltech. The price is of course absurd but if I had the money, I wouldn’t hesitate for a second. For now I’ll just buy the interconnect and that’ll also make me happy. Ridiculously happy…
Summary – my own opinion
This section could be simply called, “And now, what I think about it all”. ‘Summary’ however implies my impartiality and that “sells” better :) So let it be…
Since this is not a regular review but rather a sort of a hybrid of an essay and reportage, I can express my opinions in a looser form. In this case it is particularly important because comparing the systems from Acrolink and Tara and Siltech was one of my most important experiences in recent years.
The sound with the Siltech system was mystical. Especially with the Gould’s album. I listened to a real performance. Despite obvious sound engineering and production weaknesses of that material! As if things related to the emotional aspect of the presentation were more important. Yet not by denial of technology but rather in spite of it, through it. Nor do I mean a kind of emotions – mind dualism; that game is at another level altogether. When Gould struck the piano keys for the first time and there followed silence (pause), I froze with him. The sound was deep, normal – in the sense of “natural”. I have never heard anything like that on an audio system before. Going back to Janusz’s system deformed all that. The sound seemed louder, more spectacular; bass was bigger and treble quieter. But it was a “made” sound. The Siltech sounded differently: incredibly natural. I did not expect that Jarek Waszczyszyn’s electronics and Franco Serblin’s speakers are at all able to show that much of a difference; I thought we’d already reached the “wall”.
Going back to the old cable system was painful. Interestingly, after coming back home I quickly got used back to it (my cables are almost exactly the same as Janusz’s). But I still have in my head what I experienced with the Siltech. I never expected such smoothness from the CD. I know there’s much more music in its pits and lands but I never thought it’s SO MUCH. That kind of hypnotic presentation happened not only with the Crystal Disc but also with other albums. Both the special release of the album by Getz/Gilberto and Gould on glass offered simply outstanding sound. Let me say this: if I had that sound quality from all the CDs I wouldn’t need high definition files or a turntable.
The already mentioned Robert Harley comparing the sound of Crystal Disc to traditional CDs wrote something that perfectly characterizes the differences between the cables from Siltech and Janusz’s system:
I hate to repeat the well-worn cliché that describes progress in digital sound but the glass CD sounded more “analog”. It was smoother, had more breath, was more open and deeper, sounded more freely. In comparison, the polycarbonate disk was flatter with less air between sound sources; the texture of instruments was less natural, sounding – compared to CD-Glass – somewhat artificial.
Could he have anticipated our meeting? Or maybe he had a supernatural epiphany, writing exactly what all those present at Janusz’s, in general terms, think about the Siltech? I would not rule out anything in advance…
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