If you sometimes look in our music reviews in the section Music, you probably noticed, that we review from time to time discs from the American company First Impression Music. This is the company we went over 10 points in the sound quality scale, what was not logical, but needed to set a coherent reference in sound quality for all reviewed discs, regardless of the time point they were reviewed. For those discs we changed the score, so that all discs surpassing the 10/10 points would be marked as ‘reference’. Because it happened, that FIM discs, taken tender care and fine tuned by Winston Ma, the owner of that company, are usually a happening. Since the time we can buy re-editions of the classic Decca recordings (and in short time also jazz from Verve), the sonic and artistic values were combined. FIM was always in the head of the companies that use the newest, but already proven and worked out coding and pressing methods. One of the newest hobby-horses of Winston Ma is the newest work from the JVC studios – K2 HD (K2 High Definition). Being an evolution of the K2 coding it offers much something more, something that in further perspective would be an equivalent of the vinyl disc. Of course FIM was not the first company that uses this way of treating sound, as since some time JVC discs are on the market – first with a golden side, now with a red one. The latter is on all discs with the re-editions of the Bethlehem catalog (review HERE).
However FIM created art from discs of that type – both in the editorial sphere and in the sound sphere – in my opinion. Key is here the statement “in my opinion”. Just after receipt of the first K2 HD discs from FIM I tried to infect my friends and acquaintances with them. And I was responded with silence. Later some murmurs and statements that those are maybe good discs, but worse than XRCD… I could not believe that. After listening to all the recordings I had (about fifteen of them) I was convinced that this is a big step forward, that we get loose from some aspects of hi-fi and enter in terrains not related to reproduction of the sound of music, but music by way of sound. Characteristics like absolute smoothness of the midrange, slightly warm, “analog” presentation, higher dynamics and the lack of digital residue predestined this format for that role. This was not a simple passage of the material through a warming tube device, because despite those characteristics, the resolution on those discs is much better than in the classic K2, HDCD and XRCD. As it turned out the devil of disagreement was in the expectations.
To clear at least some of the doubts, or make a step in that direction, I prepared a special meeting of the Krakow Sonic Society devoted only to this topic. And the occasion was splendid: Poland was visited in the Great Week by our good friend; I am a fan of since years, Andrew Harrison. I wrote about him a few times, but this time the occasion was special. “Harry” was editor in chief of the oldest British audio magazine “Hi-Fi News” for years, and from a few years deputy editor in chief. I liked his shrewd tests and honesty in how he wanted to say the truth about them. And probably this led to him being fired. As Harry does no longer work for HFN. I wrote about the problems of this magazine in the last two years, when it was bought by another editor’s house, in my lead articles many times. First they got rid of the editor in chief, then a man from a completely other tale was put in that place, that had nothing to do with audio, and then the test laboratory head was promoted for that position. This would be nothing bad, if not for the issue with Ken Kessler, that was fired first, and then returned with fanfares, and then the clear will to get rid of everybody that had something to say in HFN. This is of course my subjective view of the conflict, but I based it on my discussions with the people involved and lecture of the magazine itself for many years. I knew for long that Harry was not easy. But if anyone trashes (literally, he wrote in the conclusion of the test to go wide around those speakers) loudspeakers of a known company (JMLab, Diva Utopia) and is not afraid to write that, then we do not deal here with a submissive person. One can argue that we in HFOL write only good things about the tested equipment (thinking – just like HFN now) but this is a result from the politics I adopted: we test only the things we like. And that’s it. I don’t have the time and will to write about the others. And HFN says they test everything they order and publish only the truth – the good and the bad one. And lately they only complement everything they receive – the good and the bad things. Harry visibly did not fit in that model. So he does not work there anymore. But he was immediately snatched by another magazine – “Hi-Fi World”. I will have to switch to that title – in the end the strength of a title is made by the authors that write there. Actually, HFW is the biggest, after “What Hi-Fi?” http://whathifi.com/ specialist magazine on the Islands. And this man comes to Poland. Why? To meet the parents of his girlfriend, Agnieszka. As you can quickly realize, she is a Pole that lives in UK.
So the meeting nr 53 of the KSS we devoted to K2 HD discs. To change the environment a bit, the session took place at my acquaintances place. A new system, a new room. This meant that the session in itself was not fully meaningful, because there were many variables. But there is no other way to test it; we have to listen in many places. After the meeting a few people, including me, listened to the same recordings in their systems. Anyway the system and the room were super-interesting. I asked the host, Marcin, to say a few words about it:
“In a very short way and simplifying, as all the things that were done were very work and time consuming, I will tell how I tried (and I am still trying) to convert the room (let me be clear – my favorite room) in a way, that the passion I devote myself to would give the best acoustic pleasure. The answer to the question “Why this way?” is very simple (and I think I am not the only person that thinks that way): I don’t like “dead”, purely to listening devoted, rooms, many times without windows and depressive. Of course I value their assets! I would be a hypocrite if I would claim that this is a bad way. But this is not the way for me. In my vision of sound and music there must be life, full life around me. For me the creation of a completely separate room, only for listening to music, separated from the home life, although absolutely real, would be the beginning of the end (of me and the music) and would close me in an unreal, introverted world, from which, I presume, I would only stick out my head from time to time, like the spy from the Rainland from the stories about Balthazar Sponge. But enough stories, let’s go back to the main topic. It will not be in order, but just like it was.
With that assumption described above, I tried to reconcile the many times non reconcilable aspects: without the change of the character of the room, hide as much from the eyes as can be hidden, and still get the sound that would be at least satisfactory in my personal opinion. Because the floor and the ceiling are joist constructions with over 25cm air cushions I needed to liquidate or minimize all kinds of parasitic and harmful from the acoustic point of view influences of that kind of building structure; most of all the resonance of the wooden surfaces. In case of the floor concrete pedestals were made (being a part of the foundation) on which slabs from dense marble Crème Marfil were placed. The slabs are temporarily placed on construction foam – after all works will be finished those will be placed on 1cm silicon sheet to eliminate vibration. The pedestals were made to isolate the room completely from the environment. The pedestals have dimensions of 1.5 to 1.5 meters, what allows choosing the loudspeakers freely. The floor has 5.2 to 5.1 meters and the height of the room is 3.2 meters. Calculating the cubature is now fairly simple. The ceiling is separated from the next floor by another 25cm air cushion (this is just how buildings in 1882 were constructed, and this building is from that year). This is also a fully wooden construction placed on joists. So to avoid the ceiling to behave like a giant diaphragm, after the calculations pertaining to its capacity were done, the ceiling was fully stuffed with Rockwool Super Rock (having one of the best coefficients in damping low frequencies) and on thick, 10cm rubbers on every 5 square meters a cut-to-size slab weighting 60kg is placed. This gives over 30kg of working dampening material, that efficiently blocks all the vigor of the construction to play together with the music. Oh, I almost forgot – both the ceiling and the floor (actually their corners) are tied together with metal cords to stone blocs placed perfectly in the middle, what splits the “diaphragm” into four smaller ones. So now a few words about the walls. Walls… (While you are reading, the room does not resemble that what was during the session of the KSS – everything is now refurbished). So the walls are and will be from three materials: limestone, wood and special structural plaster, applied directly on the wood. This plaster is based on dynamic working dynamically acrylic masses and cardboard. The assumption is that the amount of those three elements will be equal. How it turns out – we will see when finished. According to my assumptions the effect will be … as it should be. After all the refurbishment the final acoustic correction will be done with materials from companies dealing with adaptation of listening rooms. The amount and aesthetics of the materials will be adjusted without loosing the atmosphere of the room.”
Now you should have an idea of what and why. So now the system. The basis of it is the player Mark Levinson No 390S with variable output. The latter is connected to the monoblocs from Cayina 9084D. Those are big SET amplifiers with a 845 tube on the output and 300B triode in the control stage. The input is handled by two octal tubes 6N8P and 6N9P. This gives 28W in class A. All tubes were equipped with vibration dampening rings. And the loudspeakers – this is the top model and newest product of the Krakow company Sound&Line, still under fine tuning. This is the reason the cross-overs were outside (that will also be the case in the final product) in “prototype” boxes. Before the comparisons we listened to some of our discs to warm up. The sound had splendid dynamics and scale. The piano, a concert Steinway, sounded phenomenal, with realistic volume and size of the instrument. I was especially impressed by the left hand – very saturated and strong, like in real life. There were voices that the piano is too big, but as I remember it sounds like that from close range, so in the place the microphones were probably placed. The midrange was a bit warmed. Maybe not in absolute terms, but due to the quite gently led treble. This gave a very vivid sound with the instruments placed quite deep in the room. I like everything cleaner, also saturated and without squeaky treble, but more here and now. We had a never ending discussion on this topic – I tell about that later.
And, like the listening session showed, this is not just small talk. I think that the K2 HD discs propose that, what lacks Marcin in the classical music discs and what he is searching for modeling the sound of his system. Before I wrap up the meeting (and the journalists like to have the last word) let us give word to the listeners. I asked all of them to send me emails, but only those I publish arrived. Unfortunately – the people not present do not have the saying.
We used the following recordings in our listening tests:
|© Copyright HIGH Fidelity 2007, Created by B|