Explorations in Audio

Explorations in Audio

Are you ready to Explore?

In 'Explorations in Audio' I aim to share some practical insights on setting up and optimising an affordable HiFi system. Although one would think that, really, all has been said about HiFi, some surprisingly simple questions still remain, e.g.: 'Is digital superior to analogue?' 'Do cables matter?' 'Can digital cables pick up interference?' 'Should speakers be placed on spikes?' 'Has evolution in HiFi made older gear obsolete?' 'Where should I place my sub?' 'Which room correction works best?' - On the other hand: 'Are these really the right questions?' - We shall see.

What’s new in eiaudio?

While the entries in this blog are divided into the three distinct categories above, you will find a mixed listing of the most recent postings below. The most recent article is shown first. If this is not your first time visiting, the listing below is a good place to quickly check if anything is new.

Your input is more than welcome, as long as you follow the basic audiophile rule of ‘ear over mind’. This means that you do not comment based on what you think you know, but only on the basis of your own listening experience. Please feel free to suggest gear for testing as well as leave comments on the descriptions provided here.

  • Kimber Kable Timbre

    Kimber Kable Timbre

    1/9/2021

    Author: Karsten Hein

    Category: Gear & Review

    Tag: Cables

    “Are you nosy?” My grandfather asked me, seeing that I had gotten up to look outside the window to see which car’s engine sounded so full-bodied in the passing. “No,” was my reply, as I was sitting back down. But I knew it was a lie. Back in the day of former German soldiers turned factory workers, being nosy was considered a nuisance which had to be tamed, a speck of childishness on the way to being a man. And I felt guilty, of course, because I knew I was nosy way beyond my own control.

    In today’s world, a playing field of competing ideas rather than battle and obedience, nosiness is considered an asset rather than a burden. What is desired changes over time, and I am fortunate enough to have been born at a time when the doors were beginning to open, and explorations of the individual were again possible. After all, what character trait other than unruly nosiness would make me search for a cable to top the Kimber Tonik, especially at a time that I was very happy with how my system sounded. I am actually listening to the Tonik as I am writing these lines and can only marvel at its ability of getting the harmonics right. However, it is high time to change to the test candidate.

    Similar to the Tonik, the Timbre’s design features Kimber’s tri-braid field geometry and VariStrand technology. However, all features are slightly more elaborate. The braided cables comprise individual strands of seven different gauges, not just four. And, although Kimber does not directly specify, their “hyper-pure” copper is most likely OCC rather than “ultra-pure” OFC. The Timbre’s dielectric is made of low loss fluorocarbon, and the terminations are fitted in a nitrogen assisted hand soldering process. Instead of the more basic Ultratike plugs, the Timbre is fitted with the more sophisticated Ultraplate RCA-type connectors that are precision-machined from a solid piece of metal and feature a split centre prong for improved contact.

    Changing from Tonik to Timbre, some haptic differences become apparent. The Timbre feels thinner, smoother, and is generally less stubborn to manage behind the rack. The Ultraplate plugs may be better engineered, however, they are also harder and less flexible. This makes them a little too tight to be slid all the way onto our Restek V1 preamplifier with its slightly oversized sockets from the 1980s. If the Tonik resembled household installation wires, the Timbre feels more like holding jewellery in one's hands. When it comes to sound, the Timbre also sets itself apart from the Tonik, which can be seen as beneficial, but can also be a hindrance in other scenarios. It all depends how we have set up the rest of our system.

    Where the Tonik’s strength lies in maintaining tonal balance, the Timbre is far more informative. Diana Krall’s voice gets a greater sense of huskiness and realism holding more of the original timbre of her voice. The same can be said about the instruments. On “I Have Changed My Address” the cymbals simmer much longer, and the sound of metal is more realistic than on the Tonik. While the simmering is mostly about a greater width in treble, there are dark undertones that the Timbre layers in ever so subtly, while they go unnoticed with the Tonik. The next song on Diana’s album is “Love Me Like a Man” picks up the pace, and the long simmering of the cymbals slightly overlaps with the music that follows. This leads to a bit of congestion in the treble and thereby draws the listener’s attention to it, making it seem slightly off balance, which it is not. Treble congestion is something I have not experienced on the Tonik, and, depending on the rest of your setup, can become a reason for listening fatigue.

    The Timbre sets a wonderful stage which is at once wide and deep. There is ample space between the instruments and individual notes are often flung deeply into the room or beyond the left or right of the speaker position. Diana Krall who is usually the only singer on her albums and mostly positioned centre stage, appears lifelike and three-dimensional in front of me with the instruments arranged around her. Musical instruments are clearly discernible in their individual character—or timbre—and given their own space to perform. The Timbre’s ability as a performer and entertainer makes it an interesting contender in the step above entry-level range. Its revealing nature will surely raise the bar for your existing components and go a long way in helping you to optimise your system. On our smaller system—which I mostly use for nighttime listening—I might change back to the Tonik at some point, which is far less exciting to listen to. But will I be able to do it without feeling that I am missing something? It will be difficult for sure because I still am way too nosy.

    Tested on the following setup: CD player: Denon DCD 1420 (on Digital Coax HiVilux Reference); DAC: Cambridge DacMagic 100 (on Kimber Kable Timbre); Preamp: Restek V1 (on Wireworld Luna 7); Power amp: Hafler XL-280; and Tannoy XT8F (bi-wired, on Belden 9497)

    Specifications

    • Cable lengths: 100cm
    • DC loop resistance: 0.057 Ohm/m
    • Parallel capacity: 62.1 Pikofarad/m
    • Serial Inductance: 0,493 Microhenry/m
    • Characteristic impedance: N.N.
    • Handling: directional, smooth flexible
    • Termination: rhodium plated, Teflon dielectric
    • Position tested: CD player + DAC to preamplifier
    Kimber Kable Timbre
    Kimber Kable Timbre

  • Diana Krall, The Girl in the Other Room

    Diana Krall, The Girl in the Other Room

    1/9/2021

    Author: Karsten Hein

    Category: Audiophile Music

    Tag: Jazz

    “The Girl in the Other Room” was my introduction to the concept of Jazz. While I today understand that Krall’s seventh studio album is not really Jazz from a purist’s perspective, it certainly was Jazz to a novice like me. I enjoyed the fact that the songs were lyrically attractive, that the music was smooth and beautifully-crafted with lots of time and space to allow for individual notes to carry and sink in. And still, in the very beginning, the album was too disorganised for me, and I had to take long breaks and honestly only liked the more pop-like songs. My appreciation of Jazz motifs was still undeveloped at the time.

    Released in March 2004, “The Girl in the Other Room” was an experiment for Diana Krall herself, because it was the first album in which she did not only perform cover versions of established Jazz greats but wrote the songs and lyrics herself with the support of her husband Elvis Castello. About the process of songwriting she says: “I wrote the music and then Elvis and I talked about what we wanted to say. I told him stories and wrote pages and pages of reminiscences, descriptions and images, and he put them into tighter lyrical form. For 'Departure Bay,' I wrote down a list of things that I love about home, things I realised were different, even exotic, now that I've been away."

    In my opinion, the album’s lyrics are outstandingly beautiful. They were instantly familiar and relatable to me, a child of the seventies and eighties, in the sense that they mirrored the aesthetic beauty that was taught at American schools and widely accepted at the time. The song “Departure Bay” is about Diana returning to her hometown in British Columbia located on Vancouver Island and about the family spending the first Christmas following her mother’s death. The emptiness of the rooms and a sense of her mother’s lingering presence are so elegantly contrasted that the song has brought tears to my eyes many times. I even took it to one of my English classes and had my students interpret the lyrics with me.

    If you are new to Jazz and have a heart for good lyrics, then this album is accessible enough to get you started. If you already enjoy Jazz and can appreciate tighter and less experimental musical concepts, give it a go, you just might enjoy it. To my mind, “The Girl in the Other Room” is a step up from Norah Jones’ “Come Away with Me” and a real treat in terms of audiophile listening. Give this album some time, it will grow on you. And if you should go for the CD version, I would recommend not getting the SACD. Having set my system up properly by following the twenty-something rules described in the High Fidelity section of this forum, I can assure you that the benefit of the SACD is mostly the increased profit of the label. The supposedly smoother top-end due to the improved high frequency roll-off does not make up for the hassle of having to deal with failing lasers, etc.


  • Kimber Kable Tonik

    Kimber Kable Tonik

    1/7/2021

    Author: Karsten Hein

    Category: Gear & Review

    Tag: Cables

    Kimber’s entry-level interconnect was also my entry ticket to audiophile listening pleasures. With the market for stereo products in decline and a growing demand for home cinema installations in need of much longer cable runs, manufacturers of high-class audio cables had to come up with more affordable solutions to stay in business. Kimber’s Tonik interconnect was especially designed with a slippery and durable outer skin that would make it easy for it to be pulled through holes and installed in walls. While other Kimber cables use wires that consist of strands of seven different gauges, this number was reduced to just four gauges on the Tonik to bring down cost. Other concessions were made in the choice of plugs, e.g. the Tonik’s Ultratike cinch/RCA connector does not have the split centre prong that we typically find on more pricy Kimber products, such as the Timbre or PBJ.

    I was attracted to the Tonik by its braided design and affordable price. According to the excellent customer reviews that existed at the time, it offered an exceptional performance for an entry-level interconnect. The novice that I was to the subject of cables, I was absolutely blown away by the immediate improvement in sound, especially in direct comparison with the conventionally shielded cables that I had been familiar with, such as entry-level Sommer or Fadel Art interconnects. I have since been informed that the name Tonik refers to the base tone of a musical scale. But to me it sounded more like ‘Gin and Tonic’, rich in flavour and full of sparkly, bubbly joy.

    In true Kimber fashion, the Tonik plays fast, highly dynamic, and informative. Although it is capable of presenting lots of musical detail, it still retains coherence and tonal balance, more so than its in-house competition. The Ultratike’s rhodium-plated contacts seem to help a great deal in supporting the Tonik’s inner momentum. The wires themselves are of ultra-pure copper. Kimber does not specify if OFC or OCC, and it is probably not important, because the cables’ magic trick much rather rests in its tri-braid field geometry, and its construction of wires of various thickness—or VariStrand—as they call it. The PE dialectic is less flexible than that of Kimber’s Timbre or PBJ cables, which makes it a bit more stubborn to handle behind a HiFi rack. Its braided construction serves well to shield it from external interference. Connected to a DAC, CD player or streamer, it is nearly impossible to get it to hum.

    Kimber’s braiding technique has a long history. In the 1970s, Ray Kimber was working for a company that installed light and sound gear in some of the first discos. Noticing how long runs of light and sound cables rolled out side by side negatively affected the sound by injecting interference, he found that twisting and braiding these cables together in a specific way would not only protect them from interference but even enhance the sound. Based on this discovery, he founded Kimber Kable, a manufacturer specialising in using braiding techniques. At the time of writing this article, the Utah based Kimber Kable company has 12 employees and supplies audiophile interconnects and speaker cables to music lovers around the globe.

    Kimber’s Tonik allows music to flow freely, with zest and harmonic richness. Piano notes and voices sound full and instantly endearing. It sets the stage well, but in comparison with the Timbre lacks some width and depth. The tonal presentation is accurate, however—again in direct comparison with the Timbre—the top-end is not quite as open, and individual notes do not simmer for as long. On Diana Krall’s “Black Crow”, the Tonik presents the music accurately with solid foundation, but the Timbre places the cymbals further away from the speakers and much deeper into the room. The same is true for bass extension. While the Tonik plays a full and compact bass, the Timbre’s bass is lighter, nimbler, and capable of more nuance. With these characteristics in mind, the Tonik is most likely a better companion for Rock, Pop, Hip-hop, etc., whereas Jazz and Classical music lovers would probably be well advised to spend a little bit extra for the next higher level. In the end, it is a question of taste, budget, and how well it blends in with the other components, of course. The Tonik is a superb entry-level cable that allows us to experience sophisticated Kimber sound, or at least 90 percent of it, without having to break the bank. If you do not have any prior experience with braided cables, the Tonik is definitely a good starting point. And—having listened to it again today—I am certainly keeping mine.

    Tested on the following setup: CD player: Denon DCD 1420 (on Digital Coax HiVilux Reference); DAC: Cambridge DacMagic 100 (on Kimber Kable Tonik); Preamp: Restek V1 (on Wireworld Luna 7); Power amp: Hafler XL-280; and Tannoy XT8F (bi-wired, on Belden 9497)

    Specifications

    • Cable lengths: 100cm
    • DC loop resistance: 0.055 Ohm/m
    • Parallel capacity: 52 Pikofarad/m
    • Serial Inductance: 0,772 Microhenry/m
    • Characteristic impedance: N.N.
    • Handling: directional, hard flexible
    • Termination: rhodium-plated, Teflon dielectric
    • Position tested: CD Player + DAC to preamplifier
    Kimber Kable Tonik
    Kimber Kable Tonik

  • Kari Bremnes, Norwegian Mood

    Kari Bremnes, Norwegian Mood

    1/5/2021

    Author: Karsten Hein

    Category: Audiophile Music

    Tag: Jazz

    “Norwegian Mood” is Kari Bremnes’ 9th solo album and her first English language production. Released on 24 April 2000, the album’s audiophile qualities took music critics by surprise. Germany’s STEREO magazine heralded it as an ‘audiophile highlight’.

    The songs are a mixture of Jazz motifs and Norwegian Folklore. Harsh winters that cloak Norway in long nights of darkness, the roughness of the sea, and the gloom that surrounds it all, are contrasted by her gentle voice and the stories that it tells. Much of Kari’s own background shines through in the cosmopolitan air and thoughtfully composed lyrics that she creates.

    Kari Bremnes was born in 1956 in the Lofoten part of Norway and holds a BA in language, literature, history, and theatre studies. She worked as a journalist until she became a full-time musician and today lives in Oslo. Her Music career spans more than 25 years, and her audience has steadily grown with her. She has won many local and international prizes and now ranks among the most influential Scandinavian performers in the music industry. 

    From a listening perspective, I have found the album to be captivating, despite its at times melancholic mood. On the positive side, the Jazz compositions carry more weight than the Folk elements. Actually, it is this careful balance that first makes the album accessible to an international audience. On the downside, modern listening equipment will all too easily reveal a slight harshness in the highs, a subtle metallic ringing, especially around the recording of her voice, that the album would better do without. This effect is possibly more pronounced on the CD than the vinyl version. If I were to purchase this album again, I would therefore choose vinyl for sure.


  • Wireworld Luna 7

    Wireworld Luna 7

    1/4/2021

    Author: Karsten Hein

    Category: Gear & Review

    Tag: Cables

    Wireworld’s Luna 7 is a real lightweight among the entry level audiophile interconnects. However, despite its flimsy feel, it does pack some punch. It features Wireworld’s patented DNA Dual Helix design, which internally consists of two veins of flat cable with two separate and equally spread out strands of 20 OFC copper wires in each. The silver clad aluminium plugs feature low mass gold plated contacts and a hollowed gold-plated centre prong. The two channels are physically joined together in the centre with the outer plastic skin, as is more prominently found on speaker wires. As this goes against all my advice given on this website, I was tempted to pry them apart to improve channel separation, but ultimately decided against it to preserve resale value. Although moderate in price, such a re-design of my own making would be difficult to explain to a future buyer.

    I had originally bought this cable to play between our Denon CD player and preamplifier. In this position it only gave a mediocre performance and was soon replaced with more expensive braided interconnects by Kimber. Between CD player and preamplifier, the Luna 7 had sounded rather soft, producing a pleasant but unrealistic halo around the highs and lacking bass attack as well as bass control. Because of its delicate touch and feel, it had simply not occurred to me to test it in any other position. At the time, I had assumed that this was how it sounded and had placed it in my cable box with some disappointment.

    Looking at the subject of cables again for the eiaudio.de website, I came across the Luna 7 again. And although two years had passed since I had last heard it, I was surprised that I still had the sonic memory of it. My first impulse was to sell it without trying it again or discussing it here, but then I called my friend and co-audiophile Luigi to discuss some ideas on cable position with him. We both agreed that there were few general rules on how a cable will perform in a given position and that, except for a few exceptions perhaps, to be absolutely sure, each cable should be tested in as many positions as possible to reach a full understanding of its abilities in combination with the given equipment.

    Before re-connecting the Luna 7, I had been running a pair of Georg Neumann interconnects with HiCon plugs between preamplifier and power amp on our Restek-Hafler-Tannoy system. The Neumann cables are fast and punchy with a slight edge to them in the highs. They add a bit of drama, which I generally like. I replaced the Neumanns with the Wireworld Luna 7 and was surprised that the halo I remembered did not shine through this time. The Luna 7 still produced a softer sound, but in this new position, the change was not at all unpleasant nor was it unrealistic. While there was sufficient timbre on piano notes, there was also a new delicacy to cymbals. I had read somewhere that the Luna 7 produced a boomy bass, a phenomenon that I was unable to confirm in either position. Bass was not particularly nuanced, this was true. However, it blended in well with the overall picture.

    Voices were perhaps a bit on the light side and appeared to be slightly set back, but they were never unpleasant. Kari Bremnes’ song “A Lover in Berlin” is a good case in point, as the voice can all to easily sound too piercing. This was no longer the case with the Luna 7. Other aspects of the music moved forward and reached further into the room than had been the case with the Neumann interconnects. The Luna 7 would have served well to enhance electronic music, as effects were slightly more pronounced. The soundstage could have been more clearly set and perhaps also more assertive perhaps. The Neumanns had produced a lifelike stage with lots of separation between the instruments. This was not necessarily a strong point of the Luna 7 (unsurprisingly), however, the stage that it did create was rather enjoyable and laid back.

    The biggest strength next to its pleasant highs were arguably its price, at which there was little competition at the time (or even now). For those who are interested and wish to purchase new, Wireworld have released updated versions, such as the Luna 8 with a slightly improved DNA double helix design and similar sonic features. Used versions of the Luna 7 are available at very reasonable prices. Both versions have been given favourable reviews by critics and consumers alike.

    If the aim of this website is to propagate affordable HiFi solutions that deserve the term ‘fidelity’, this cable should be listed among the available options. I will keep the Luna 7 running for a few days, as I am positively surprised by its performance between preamplifier and power amplifier. Not ‘High End’ but highly enjoyable nevertheless. At this point, I am not sure if I can get over the fact that the two channels are running in parallel with that tiny space of plastic between them, and, after all, there are further cables to be explored. If you are familiar with the Luna 7 or Luna 8 interconnects, you are more than welcome to leave a comment below.

    Tested on the following setup: CD player: Denon DCD 1420 (on Digital Coax HiVilux Reference); DAC: Cambridge DacMagic 100 (on Kimber Kable Timbre); Preamp: Restek V1 (on Wireworld Luna 7); Power amp: Hafler XL-280; and Tannoy XT8F (bi-wired, on Belden 9497)

    Specifications

    • Cable lengths: 100cm
    • Longitudinal resistance: N.N.
    • Parallel capacity: 300 Pikofarad/m
    • Serial Inductance: 0,34 Microhenry/m
    • Characteristic impedance: N.N.
    • Handling: directional, soft flexible
    • Termination: Aluminum (silver & gold plated)
    • Position tested: pre to amp
    Wireworld Luna 7
    Wireworld Luna 7