Saturday, February 16, 2013

Quick First Impression of the xDuoo XP-01

Yesterday, I had some time before my valentines day date so I headed down to Jaben Singapore to audition the xduoo xp-1 as they have a demo unit. I was quite excited to learn about the XP-1 as I had long since given up hope that I'll be able to bypass the dac and amp units in my phone and ipod (what i use as my portable music players) without paying an arm and leg for it.

Form factor: The XP-1 has a pretty small footprint, and is very slim, so when paired to my S3, it doesn't add a whole lot bulk, the slimness being the main factor. The case is very slim, and I was a little disappointed because I thought the dotted surface of the XP-1 is ACTUALLY dotted and raised, but it's just a printing. On the other hand, an actual dotted surface may be more scratch-inducing on whatever you place on it so I can't fault that design.

Sound: It paired pretty well with my FXZ200 and although it couldn't hold a candle to my O2 amp, it came pretty close. The bass boost switch works quite well, adding a small but noticeable amount of bass that doesn't muddied up the earphone's entire sound signature. I won't go into much more details until I have more time to play with it. The pairing with the FXT90 was much worse, the reason being that FXT90, just paired to a 100% neutral set up (ODAC+O2), has just the right amount of warmth. When paired with any setup that is even slightly warm, the final sound will become too warm to my liking. Hence, I will conclude that the XP-1 is at least slightly warm and not 100% neutral, but again, I didn't spend alot of time with it.

Functions: This is where the XP-1 shines. For its price, it has ALOT of functions; USB in from android phones (I assume this to mean bypassing the phone's internal dac and amp, so someone corrects me if i'm wrong), AUX in and out, bass boost, and phone charging. The battery is slated to last for 10 to 12 hours on normal use, no idea how long it will use if it acts like a phone charger. It should also comes with a lot of cables, the most important to me being the short right-angled OTG cable, as it reduced the footprint dealt by the connection. There is a quirk in which sometimes, your phone won't recognize the XP-1 and will play the music through its speakers instead of through the device. All you have to do is restart your phone. I will have to investigate what sets this quirk off as yesterday, after getting the XP-1 to work once, I have to restart my phone for a 2nd time. Oh and make sure your android version is above 3.0.

Value: It (should) cost me S$320 (US$259). I say should because I bought it at a 10% promo discount, and instead of receiving the XP-1, I got the XD-1 instead. I believe the XP-1 and the XD-1 are the same price, but I can't confirm that for now. I'll have to make a trip down to Jaben to exchange it.

Even though the amp is slightly warm, and does not pair well with the FXT90, I still bought it (or at least I wanted to buy it ><) because it offered alot of additional functions in a small portable package, at a relatively low price. Plus it pairs pretty well with my FXZ200, which is what I mainly use nowadays. If you're sitting on the fence, and deciding to get the XP-1, I will advise you to get it, especially if you have an android phone. Hope this is somewhat useful to those who are thinking of getting it.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Offering ODAC now!

After a long wait, I finally got my package from JDS Labs which contains 2 sets of ODAC. It turns out that my package was missent to Thailand, hence the long wait ><. Anyway, I manage to combine my O2 amp to the ODAC (after several trials and errors, forgot to solder the jumpers, then forgot to cut the traces....) in the following 3 configurations:

1) The first is using the combo solely as a DAC+AMP; The only input is the USB in, and the only output is the AMP out. This means that you can't use your combo as a ODAC only (no analog out) or as a O2 only (no AMP in).

2) The second is using the combo as a DAC+AMP, or as a AMP only. You can choose to use your combo as an amp, but not as a DAC solely.

3) This is the option that I did yesterday: Using the combo as a DAC+AMP, or as a AMP only, or as a DAC only. This way, I get the choice to use the ODAC solely, or the O2 solely, or both.

The following are the lists of additional parts and labor costs that you need (some are optional) to pay if you want to get the ODAC+O2 from me, or want me to fix the ODAC to an O2 for you:

  • Labor (if you provide the O2 amp and/or the ODAC amp): $30
  • Labor (if I provide the O2 amp): FREE
  • Pure copper wire for wiring: FREE
  • Silverplated copper wire for wiring: $10
  • ODAC: US$99
  •  Nylon screw kit: US$1.25
  • 3.5mm ODAC jack (for configuration 3 only): 
  • Backplate in BLACK with USB and 3.5mm: US$8
  • Backplate in SILVER with USB only: US$12
  • International Shipping (From JDS Labs to Singapore): Several options, and depend if you want to share shipping.
Note: The backplates in Black with USB only, and in Silver with USB and 3.5mm should be available upon request from JDS Labs. They are pretty flexible even with small orders. Also, all USD prices will be converted to SGD upon purchase with currency conversion rate to be taken from Paypal.

For more information, you can either email me at, or check out the O2 and ODAC sales page here.

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Yuin PK1 coming soon.....

Well.... In order not to fall asleep at work, I need music (there's only so much coffee you can drink). I need something that doesn't leak sound, yet allows me to hear what's going on around me (in case my phone rings, or my boss calls me). Closed headphones and IEMs might not leak sound but they block out ambient noise pretty well too, leaving me in search of a good pair of earbuds.

There aren't really alot of audiophile grade earbuds, as earbuds are seen to be a much cheaper alternative to IEMs. The only choices left to me is the Japanese 9Wave, and the Yuin series. I couldn't achieve a close and tight fitting with the 9Wave, which is a pity, because I can tell it's good when i press the 9Wave tight into my ears with my fingers. Jaben didn't have a demo unit for the PK1 but I was able to listen to the PK2, and it totally blew my mind. Not only could I get a good fit with it, it sounds so good to my ears that I almost paid for it on the spot. However, I was told that the PK1 is a step up from the PK2 although it requires an amp to drive. That isn't a problem for me as I can use my O2 amp to drive it while at work.

I bought my PK1 online and it's en route to me right now, so expect to see a quick review on it when after it arrived.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Selling a LaRocco PRII!

Check out my sales section, selling a LaRocco PRII in great condition!

Saturday, August 25, 2012

What I heard at the Jaben roadshow.

My main purpose at the Jaben roadshow is to audition all the top end headphones which you normally can't get to listen to, and I must say, I sure achieved my goal! I'll share some of my thoughts on what I tried but don't expect much details. I stop listening once I feel that the headphone is not to my liking. Additionally, note that I used the O2 amp to power all the headphones, so there's no additional coloration added to the sound signature, and that all headphones are properly powered.

Beyerdynamics T1 and Sennheiser HD800
These 2 flagships are 2 of the more well known flagships there and I skip them over because I've listened to them quite often in the past and didn't want to waste my time on them again. The T1 headphones are my current top choice flagship that I'm getting as it has what I mostly want: Great clarity, tame highs, and amazing details. I would have like more bass but you can't always get what you want. The T1 is also pretty uncomfortable for a full-size headphones. The HD800 is actually very similar in sound signature to the T1 with even better detail resolution, and it's really really comfortable on the head. Unfortunately, there's a lot of sibilance in the highs and that killed the deal for me.

Sennheiser HD700
After reading Headphonia's review, I bought the HD700 might be able to displace the T1 as my all time favorite headphones. Note that it's brand new and not burned in, though the sound shouldn't change much. My final verdict is that it is a better version of the AKG 550; It's muddy, and not to my liking. It may be cheaper than the HD800 but given a chance between the 2, I'll choose the HD800.

Denon D7100
This is a very surprising headphones for me. When my first song starts, I was pretty impressed by how the melody sounds but when the singer starts singing, I was shocked. The singing is so..... echoey! It sounded like the singer was singing in a cave, it just sounded weird. Definitely not what I'm looking for.

Grado PS1000
This headphone is pretty old, but I've never had the chance to audition it because everytime it's in stock, it will be sold out in the blink of an eye. So I manage to lay my hands on it at the show but I was pretty underwhelmed by what I heard. Nothing about it stood out, and I actually prefer the PS500 to iit.

Fostex TH900
I saved this for last because it is the headphones that I'm most impressed by. It's also the most pricey out of the headphones that I've tried. However, part of the price is due to the beautifully done urushi cups. By itself, those cups will cost close to 1K so you're buying an art piece in addition to a pair of headphones. The sound signature is similar to the T1, but the sound is more forward. I'll be doing a more detailed audition together with the T1 when I'm ready to put down my money for a headphones.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

My Stand On Objective Vs Subjective Reviews

As I'll be posting up reviews and quick impressions of audio equipment from time to time, I feel that it's important to let you know my stand on objective and subjective reviews.

As a recent chemical engineering graduate, data and measurements are pretty much everything to me. If the measurements don't make sense, you analysed it and find out where the problem is. The same can be applied to the audio industry. The audio industry has been around for years and sound engineers have been making measurements and graphs for an equally long time. I'm fairly confident that the techniques and measurement equipment used today are able to paint a more accurate picture of what our audio equipment sound like than our ears (There are exceptions that I'll get to and elaborate later on.). Below I get started on my the objective vs. subjective section, I'll like to touch on and clarify these topics of interests: snake oil, expectation bias, neutrality, and double blind tests.

Snake Oils
Snake oils I will define snake oils as such: advertisement of a product that is either false and exaggerated, or misleading (there is a difference btw). As a quick note, I should probably point out that just because a product is based on snake oil will definitely have a subpar performance, or its price will be ridiculously expensive; It just is the case most of the time, and you'll be hard pressed to find the exception to the rule, but they are out there. A product with false advertising will not perform feats that it is claimed capable of (for example, it having a 24 bits DAC when it has only a 20 bits DAC). Fortunately this is blatant fraud and regardless of which camp you belong to, you won't stand for it. So such products aren't that common.

 A product with misleading advertisement is more tricky. This is simply down to whether you believe the snake oil to be true, or you believe it to be false. I will give 2 examples. It is common now to see many products advertising the use of boutique opoamps or DAC chips in their circuits, hence leading you to think that the products I are well designed, will sound good and hence worth paying what they are worth. However, I will like to point out that just because a good chip is used, the performance will be good; a chip is just one part of the circuit,just like a chain's strength is not dependent on one link, and a V12 engine will not guarantee that a car will be fast; you have to consider the material, suspensions, aerodynamics, tires etc... My point is that the presence of good components does not immediately equate outstanding performance; you need to see how they're placed together. My 2nd example is much more controversial: Audio cables. Most audiophiles (including the old me) believe that the "sound" of a cable depends on the material, purity and whether it has been cryo treated (I had never believed this....). Afterall, different materials have different resitivity,which will affect the electrical signal running through it in a way. Right? While that is true, the issue lies in the fact that such differences are really really small, and thus not audible, even to the most sensitive of ears, or when the cables you're using is really really long. In a typical desktop headphone setup, you can't hear the difference.Any differences that you may hear are mostly due to expectation bias. A simple way to determine if there are indeed any audible differences is to do a double blind test. These will be further elaborated in the next section.

Expectation Bias
If you've been reading NwAvGuy's blog, you'll know that one of the main, HUGE reasons why subjective reviews aren't very reliable (especially those done without ABX and double blind tests, again it will be elaborated on later) is due to expectation bias. We humans are EXTREMELY susceptible to bias of all kinds. For those of you who watch Mythbusters, in the Battle Of The Sexes Episode, there was a myth that said that women were worse drivers than men. In order to prove/disprove this myth, they had 10 men and women covered from head to toes in clothes. They wore helmets with reflective screens so that the test examiner couldn't look in, and the men even had to wear padded bras so that the test examiner will not be able to tell the men from the women by the lack of a chest. Obviously, if the test examiner was able to tell the gender of the driver, the preconception (that women are worse drivers than men) will come into play, and affect his grading. This gives a simple example of expectation bias and the steps taken to remove it. The same can be applied to audio. When comparing two different equipment, if you know that one is alot more expensive than the other, you will naturally EXPECT the former to sound better than the latter, even though that may not be the case. For more information on expectation bias, I recommend that you head over to NwAvGuy's blog. He did a fantastic article on this topic.

Besides expectation bias, there are other form of bias that can come into play and affect the result of the test. In terms of online reviews, the most common bias is $$. Normally when you read any review, there will be a disclaimer stating if the product reviewed is bought by the review, or given to him by the manufacturer. If you are given a product, you will UNCONSCIOUSLY feel the need to give a good review to repay the goodwill you just received. For some review sites, they contain advertisements by manufacturers. Headfonia is the most well-known example in the audio world. Looking at their website, I can immediately spot 7 advertisements on the top right hand corner. Putting yourself in their shoes, will you be able to give a negative review of a product, knowing that the manufacturer is paying you for advertisements, and that they can easily pull out all advertisements? I've read alot of their reviews and generally, they are happy with the products reviewed, and that the performances are well worth the money you would spend on it (for eg, the FiiO XX might not perform as well as a Benchmark DAC, but for it's price, you're getting performance twice of it). The only exception to this is NwAvGuy's Objective 2 amp. It is unique in the sense that the design is open source (meaning everyone can become the manufacturer of the amp) and that NwAvGuy does not earn a single cent from any amount of Objective 2 amps sold. The Objective 2 amp is a serious threat to many manufacturers' products, it having been measured to be completely neutral, but at a fraction of the cost of most amps with similar performances. When Headfonia reviewed the O2 amp, they faced two possible scenarios: a) They give the O2 amp a good review, consumers start to buy O2 amps instead of manufacturers, resulting in the manufacturers losing profits. The natural thing for them to do is to pull advertisements from Headfonia. b) They give the O2 amp a bad review, it makes the manufacturers' products look good, naturally, manufacturers will continue to advertise on their website. If I'm the owner of Headfonia, I will give the O2 amp a bad review to ensure a steady stream of income from advertisements. Of course, it's possible that the O2 amp is in fact, an inferior amp that sounds as bad as what Headfonia had made it out to be. I will like to point out though, that the O2 amp has been measured to be audibly identical to the Violectric V100, so why is the Violectric V100 given a glowing review, while the O2 amp given a bad review? (I will explain later on why when two equipment have the same measurement, they sound the same.) Hence, you WILL NOT find a single advertisement on this blog, and that every equipment reviewed will contain a disclaimer at the beginning, so you can judge for yourself, the bias present in my review.

I will define neutrality to be the same as transparency: Audio equipment that are 100% neutral will present the music to you exactly the same as how it was mixed or mastered by the sound engineer. A simple analogy is if you think of your audio equipment as windows; If your windows are transparent, what you see through your windows will be the same as when the windows are not there. Of course, everyone has different tastes in music (just like how everyone has their own sense of beauty, one man's poison is another man's meat etc...) so not everyone will like the way the music is originally presented. For instance, I like my music to be very clear, with tamed highs, and a strong bass which doesn't spill over to the mids. Hence, I might find the original mix to have highs that are too shrill, and bass that is not strong enough. So I won't look for a 100% neutral audio setup, but one that will give me the sound that I want. There is no right and wrong in your music preference. It isn't wrong to prefer music that is not "neutral", it's just a matter of preference.

With regards to amps and DACs, NwAvGuy recommends that you get the most neutral setups you can find. His logic is actually very simple and doesn't go against my "doctrine" of " Getting the sound that you like". There are a few ways of achieving that:

1) Go around testing different combinations of headphones, amps, and DACs till you hit upon the right combination and synergy that will give you your holy grail sound. The first downside to this method is that it is very time-consuming and can be expensive. Afterall, if the amps are designed by ear, it is very likely that you will hit upon 2 amps that sounds the same. So it's very likely that you will not be able to find a cheaper alternative. The other downside is that if you ever change any one piece in your setup, you will have to change your entire setup (very expensive) or look for a piece with similar sonic performances (very limited choices).

2) Get the most transparent amp and DAC, and choose the headphones/iems/speakers that sound the best to your ears. After that, play with EQ till you've achieved your holy grail sound. The upside to this is that there is no point in changing/upgrading your amp and DAC because, while it's possible to design more and more transparent equipment, there is a limitation to what your ears can perceive, and in today's market, you can already find equipments that are audibly transparent. So mostly, the only upgrade you'll have to do is your headphones.

Both methods can ultimately give you the best (in your opinion) sound but NwAvGuy heavily argues for the 2nd method because it is just so much cheaper.

ABX and Double Blind Tests
I'll like to state upfront that I'm no expert on ABX and double blind tests so I may state several wrong facts. For a more informative read on this subject, I will suggest that you check out NwAvGuy's blog. From my limited understanding, and from a logical and scientific point of view, I believe that ABX and double blind tests are extremely useful when done correctly. Mythbusters use them all the time on the time on their show and I can't begin the backlash they'll get if they haven't done so.

Let me just list the following experiement: Comparing 2 cables, whether it's between 2 cables of different materials or of different makes. As mentioned before, expectation bias will wreck havoc on how you perceive the cables to sound like. You will expect the silver to sound bright and analytical (probably because of how shiny silver is) and copper to be warm (because of the orangey color of copper). However, in a double blind test, where 2 cables are connected to the same headphones, like 2 DT880, plugged into the same headphone amp, like a Violectric V100, and the cables are wrapped in the same black covering, the expectation bias are removed. You are not able to tell which cable is which, both cables are powered by the same amp, and you're listening to the same headphones. To make the test fair, the cables should be swapped with each headphones because it is likely that while the headphones are the same model, they might sound slightly different from each other.

There are many AES paper done on this subject and the following link is one of the easier reads:

Subjective Reviews
Subjective reviews are most of the reviews that you see online. Most, if not all, of my reviews will be subjective reviews too. I will define it as a review that is based mostly or solely on the thoughts and opinions of the reviewer, without any hard unbiased results or measurements. Straightaway, you can see a few pros and cons with such reviews:

The big pro is that anyone can write a subjective review. This means that one can easily find many reviews of the same equipment, and compare and contrast among the different reviews.

The big con is that bias will ever be present, since such reviews only contain the thoughts and opinions of the reviewer. Some reviews will be more biased than others: As mentioned before, blog sites like Headfonia which accepts advertisements has a incentive not to write bad reviews. For that reason, my blog will not contain any advertisements, I am not making any money off of my blog, and any equipment that I review will contain a disclaimer or information on whether I bought the product, just quickly audition it and etc.

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder and the same applies to sound too. What I like may not be what you like and vice versus hence it is common to find opposing reviews. This also means that every subjective reviews should be taken with a grain of salt and where all possible, you should try the product out for yourself first before making a decision on whether to buy it or not.

Objective Reviews
Reviews that consist of mostly data measurements, data analysis and ABX/Double blind tests are objective reviews. Some comments or conclusions are usually made based on the data collected.

The big pro here is that data measurements are easily reproducible. Anyone else with a similar or accurate measuring device should be able to obtain similar results. Human bias is not present, except maybe in the final comments or conclusions. However, someone with enough knowledge can easily draw his own conclusions based on the data and charts collected.

The big con here is that you need the technical knowledge, and equipment to collect sufficient data to write an objective review. Furthermore, most readers do not have the knowledge to be able to understand the data presented. Hence, objective reviews are very rare and hard to find and more often than not, you might not be able to find an objective review of the product you're interested in.

On a side note, ABX and double blind tests are the exception here. You do not need to be a sound engineer to conduct your own ABX/double blind tests or to understand the results of one. I believe that anyone with a high school education will be able to follow the article that is linked above under the ABX section of this article. However, you do need to take an extraordinary amount of time, and be particularly meticulous to conduct a proper test and I understand that can be off-putting to most, since 1 small misstep can render your entire experiment meaningless.

Saturday, July 21, 2012

First Impression of the Aurisonics Generic AS-1

On Friday, a friend and I decided to go all the way down to 112 Katong and audition the Aurisonics Generic AS-1. I read up on it beforehand, and I was pretty impressed by the specs (15mm dynamic driver!!), the design and the reviews that I found on Head-Fi. Similarly, my hard-to-impress friend was interested in trying out too.

I first tried it without an amp, straight out from my iPod Nano. Instantly, I was baffled by the sound I was hearing. It was so.... muffled that I couldn't believe it was coming from a S$350 earphones. My Soundmagic PL30, priced below S$50, sounds better than this! I then tried it with the O2 amp and although the sound cleared up a little, it was still really really muffled. I passed it over to my friend without a comment (no expectation bias) and after he tried it, he kinda agreed with me that the AS-1 was really really bad. There were no good points at all: The highs, mids, bass, soundstage... Nothing was good. (Btw, I was using the JVC FXT90, and my friend was using the Futuresonics Atrios, so our ears were pretty used to low to mid tier earphones. The AS-1 is about twice the price of the JVC FXT90.)

So... all in all, a vastly disappointing audition. Generally, with a bigger driver, you will come to expect a better sound, and in this case, the sound is much worse than other dynamic drivers earphones with smaller drivers. Incidently, my FXT90 has 2 dynamic drivers and the Atrios has a dynamic driver too. In this short dynamic earphones shootout, size really doesn't matters.