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AE Sheung Wan - JMF Audio redefines “The Study Room of Emperor Qian Long”



  • edited November 2020
    星期六的demo 我係期待已久,主要由於Dartzeel 這個品牌與及整個Wagner silver signature 系統終於大功告成,(雙項羽+Airblade),就係抱著這個既興奮又期待的心情去參加這次試聽會。

    整體歌曲pt 選擇了canton pop 及 rock & roll music 為主去展示給我們看到Dartzeel 真正的實力,再加上古典canon D 去展示Airblade 的威力及功能。

    當天我聽到的系統是一個融合的結果,再分不淸是什麼器材的功勞,只能説是將所有名貴器材巧妙地互補所產生的協同效應(包括Active bass trap竟也是變成調聲工具,開幾多台及開多少強度,實在令人佩服。)

    Dartzeel 的聲音在我們印象中是在凌智代理時聽過,很優雅及斯文淡定,不過當天所聽完全是另外一個故事。它推動Wagner silver sig horn system 簡直如魚得水,速度是我聽過最快,控制力則剛剛好,不鬆不緊,可能我是 die Hard horn guy,(原來Dartzeel 老闆也是)加上當天播的是my best favourite rock n pop song。我覺得Dartzeel推動horn speaker 確是夢幻組合。


    現時AE 上環是我最愛的組合!

  • edited November 2020

    Be careful what you wish for !

    (Part 2)
    Came Sunday, Chris WhatsApp me to update a few things and asked me to write a few lines on my impression of Saturday's demo. As I always treat Chris as my closest audiophile buddy, I feel obliged to express my subjective impression but also my "honest feedback" after the audition. Everyone who knows me well enough knows, over the years, whenever they invite me to audition their system, I will only make constructive criticisms if I can overcome them, otherwise, I would simply keep my big month shut (Marvel bro will attest to this claim).
    It is very difficult for me to criticise what I heard on Saturday after the show is over as I would be rightly or wrongly accused of acting like some old farts in the audio world to tell others what they don't like about the system they have just listened to and offer no action or suggestion how to overcome them (perhaps you have come across this type of person before too).
    I have to be equally careful on what to write after everyone who had attended the many demos there recently gave only praise and not one negative feedback. Hope you understand what I am getting at. However, I didn't get where I am today (in terms of my system's sound) by agreeing with and following the crowd.
    So let me reiterate because of my special and close relationship with Chris, I will try to write as objectively as I can on what was not right to me ears on Saturday as I am confident he will continue to invite me to more auditions of his super systems in the future. 
    Let me begin by stating the main criteria I use to evaluate my system as well as others. The first and foremost is TONALITY - the system should give you an illusion as if you are hearing the real thing...this is a very high bar to achieve.
    In order to make qualifications here, tonality is the least understood subject to many audiophiles. They simply are unable to discern whether the pitch and key of a particular sound is correct or not - if you are a musician, you are an expert in this field (I play guitar, so it is like tuning the 6 strings and you can hear if the top and bottom E strings are out of tune etc. In my experience, hi-fi equipment and cables and obviously speakers are the determinants in tonality, may solid state as well as valve amps have their own so-called house sound (this means INCORRECT), so they can never reproduce recorded sound faithfully, period. 
    To make matter worse, the listening environment also affects the tonality of your hi-fi system. To cut to the chase, we should all demolish our windows, glass tables/cabinets as well as marble/tiled flooring in order to retain the integrity of the recorded music..........but 99.9% of us can't. So we need to tweak our room (home) acoustic. Correct me if I am wrong, I think the system in AE's Central championed by Marvel bro and Mr Dynamic is very similar and I hasten to add both will sound very different in tonality as their environment and room acoustic are very different (I would put my money in the former will sound better in every respect, period). Mr Dynamic, please accept my sincere apologies for making comparisons, it's done for ease of explanation to users, however, the flip side is you have ample options to improve your system's sound by simply tweaking your room acoustics correctly.
    Secondly, the hi-fi sound must possess natural Harmonic Decay... this is the sound of music. All good sounding valve amps have this characteristic. Just play Oscar Petersons' You've got request track 6, then listen to the lovely decaying sound of the triangle in the beginning, the extension of the bow in violin playing or the emotions and slight extension of singing in the vocals. Or use a very stringent yardstick, listen to unplugged recording of acoustic guitar. Play Nils Lofgren's Keith don't go, the superlative guitar playing in the middle sounds absolutely mesmerizing in my system or could be very harsh sounding with truncated guitar sound decay in a lousy system.
    Thirdly, the sound must have Solid Imaging, I don't mean you can see the mouth of the singer, I mean you could literally feel the presence of the musicians in front of you. no other systems I have heard other than from my own could reproduce this solidity of image. Track 5 of Aron Neville has a much more solid imaging than my track 2 reference. Finally, play The Weavers' Reunion, track 9 Guantanamera, it's like they are singing in your room ! - ask Marvel, Roman and Mr Dynamic if they concur. 
    Last but not the least, Good Bass Response. We need (correct, relatively rich) mid-bass to beef up the sound, this is just like adding salt in food, without correct bass or lack of it, the system will sound lean and harsh. Then we need lower mid-bass n low bass to give us the tempo in music. I have attended many live classical concerts regularly since year 2000 and listened to live music every Sunday for last 5 years (except this year for obviously reasons), so I know what live amplified and unamplified sound sounds like (pun intended). The Eagles Live 'Hotel California" is a good benchmark (I wonder why Yamada-san asked me to play this track before leaving when one time I forgot to).

    (End of part 2)

  • Mister Zanden, that is great to see you writing here.  I like to read contrasting experiences too. In short, you think valve has better decaying characteristics than solid state. The system needs more lower mid bass to your preference. Hence the tonality does not sound right to your ears.  Dartzeel is not your cup of tea is the conclusion.  Long live Mr Zanden! I like loyalty and your hardcore mentality. 
  • edited November 2020
    Guys, it is good to have Mr Zanden expressing a different view point. Michael IM also commented they would like to have more mid bass beef. He is using Robert Koda pre/power. 

    The lower mid bass can easily be changed by modifying crossover frequency. Solid state can’t reproduce natural decay of tube.  Imaging can always be improved by adjusting speaker position. 

    To be fair, Dartzeel comes from another school of thought, vastly different from Zanden electronics. I know Dartzeel well, it is very fast, rhythmic and dynamic. But they don’t have the Japanese type of lower mid range warmth. Yes.

    The precision school is more difficult to capture the hearts of Chinese population, always. 
  • edited November 2020
    What a crowd here!  We all listen differently. I am a solid state guy. The endless debate of tube versus solid state needs not to be repeated here. We all reference the sound to our home system to make judgment. Deviation from our acquired preferences signals issues. 

    As far as I understand PT nowadays, his philosophy is like a chef.  He tries to design a cuisine given the characteristics of the ingredients.  The end result must be different from our home references. And it can’t please all people. But I enjoy seeing his effort and new ideas to approach this hobby. 

    I don’t claim to be a very experienced listener. The integration of a two way horn with a pair of subwoofer and a second pair of air blade to augment the TAD tweeter is excellent, agreed by all here. You couldn’t tell which component is contributing to what. But the final taste may not be everyone’s ultimate preference. 

    I am not a fan of horn speakers. They always disintegrate especially listening in short distance, a physical property. The mid range always overpowers the rest of the range.  In AE SW, however, I didn’t feel listening to horn speakers, like kahw wrote.  

    I recognise the effort and skills of integration very much even though I am not a horn speaker lover. 
  • edited November 2020

    Final Part 3

    " One man's meat is another man's poison "
    So if you can follow what I have said in previous discussion, I will now elaborate on my listening impression last Saturday. The system's sound failed to pass my abovementioned criteria. The vital midrange and lower midrange were lacking (thin) to my ears (I will make further qualification on this later). Mid-bass was slightly deficient but lower bass was there (if I remember correctly, the crossover level was set at 60 hz). Despite the lean mid-bass which is needed for reproduction of essential bass slam especially on rock music, I could discern the occasional low bass extension but not the tempo. Wild dynamics, the main characteristics in rock music, were lacking. In the end, when rock music was played loudly, it lacked authority and the umph (whacking) feel  of the bass (bass slam in hi-fi) and drums were not quite there, treble was a tad harsh.
    Although I echoed other folks' impression of the sound is fast especially on rock music, there is insufficient harmonic decay in the overall sound, in the end, the sound is little analytical rather than musical to my ears. I was a rock freak in my early days and played my favourite Dire Straits on my Linn/Naim/Isobariks system famed for delivering rhythm and dynamics (I still remember with fond memories when I listened to Romeo and Juliet and Private Investigation especially the parts with explosive drums).
    I believe a musical system should have a well-balanced sound. If one strives for extreme transparency and recording details, the mid and upper midrange will become thin and sound is harsh at loud passage. In the very obscure realm of excellent transient response and sounding fast, the former to me is like the sound you hear in live music, the drums, bass are fast and human voice has a wide dynamic range together with extension (this I call emotion) and they are NEVER harsh to your ears but in certain fast sounding systems especially transistor design, you fail to hear the soul of music.
    To sum up, after learning Chris had spent several sleepless nights in tuning the system, he has gained everyone's as well as my 'utmost' respect for this extraordinary sound reproduction which I have never experienced before. What I am dead certain is after the first 15 seconds of listening to my Aron Neville's 2nd track, the midrange needs to be beefed up as the sound of the drum skin at the beginning was not what I hear from a balanced system since I started using it as my reference in hi-fi evaluation from 1991 to now. Perhaps another strenuous effort is to integrate the crossover point of the subs (maybe raising the x-over level above 60 hz and don't be too bothered by a slight loss in transparency as you will gain palpable sound) may improve this area.  The imaging as well as soundstage can be improved in my opinion by adjusting the speakers' positioning (a tad more toe in perhaps).
    Several AE comrades have used the analogy of cooking to describe the tuning bias of Chris. Over the years, I have noticed he has strived to gain extreme transparency and recording details as his goals, too much of such endeavour often leads to the overall sound sounding on the lean side from the real thing, hence, loss of musicality. Saturday's cooking could be described as his latest 2021 cuisine, the classic sweet and sour pork but with the sourness very much elevated. However, somehow the majority of the diners were thrilled by this special taste as it gave real excitement to their taste buds because they had never tasted this classic Cantonese dish cooked this way before. 
    Also, I have no intention of stirring up any pointless debate on transistor vs tube designs, it's not a matter of taste, why... the goal of hi-fi (high fidelity) is the faithful reproduction of recorded music . If what you hear sounds closest to the real thing to you should therefore be your ultimate choice.
    Well, what can I say..... the road to hi-fi nirvana is never a plug and play state of affairs irrespective of how much money you have invested. It takes months to really fine tune one's system. But ultimately, it is my genuine belief all fine sounding systems should sound very similar especially in tonality. For instance, you guys have written the Strad used by Mutter in Shindler's List (please also play the same piece by Perlman), it should sound very similar in AE's different systems as well as in your own - right. However, since different systems have different power outputs and designs, some will sound more powerful (dynamic) than others but the tonality should not differ. In a nutshell, when you play 'Everybody plays the fool, the sound of the drum skin in the beginning should sound the same (the skin of a drum) in every balanced system, large or small. In reality, this is NOT the case when I went to the Munich show in 2011. I requested the show exhibitors to play this track. everyone there felt this is a very pleasant sounding track but I could immediately discern whether the system's midrange is lean or thick (bass heavy) after 15 seconds and further listening to rest of the track will confirm my immediate impression.
    Notwithstanding what I have written above on the system's sound Saturday, I am 'confident' Chris can elevate the performance in no time by beefing up the mid-bass and speaker positioning (Jeff bro, your comments earlier are right in the money, plese come over to my home to help me tune my room acoustics).  
    P.S. less is better (PSI !)
    I am sure some of you will disagree with what I have written and some may be offended, however, in the end, I am simply giving a very detailed and HONEST account of my listening impression based on my "listening bias". So as long as your system pleases you (perhaps ignorance is really bliss), then why worry about what others say unless you can discern some anomalies too and want to rectify them.

    Happy listening

    Mr Z 
  • edited November 2020
    Mr Zanden, I just went there and listened for 2 hours this morning. I requested Chris to play the same set of tracks he played on Saturday.  I asked him to keep all settings the same. 

    Contrasting my listening experiences with your notes, I respectfully disagree most of your ear-observations. Because I have been using Tidal Sunray ceramic drivers for over a decade. My listening bias in your language is thin and lean.  Your listening bias is clearly in favour of Zanden which I also like very much. Then I told Chris to raise the crossover from 60hz to 65hz, I think this setting is what you prefer.  

    I found several pieces of music really touched me. Some didn’t. 

  • edited November 2020
    I don’t live in HK anymore. I can’t ear-witness the claim and the counter claim. But the discussion is fruitful. Mr Zanden is authoritative in his voice given his experiences. Beefing up the mid range is easy, just change of a power cable or ramp up the crossover. But the tonality argument, I beg to differ Mr.Zanden’s claim. I am arguing from a general perspective irrespective of AE SW’s system performance. 

    Tonality is a function of energy.  How do you know your tonality at home is the most authentic?  I don’t know what system Mr Zanden is using now.  Going to live concert does not mean you understand as I go very often too around the world.  I never claim I understand because of frequent attendance of live concert.  Natural decaying characteristic is too general of a statement. Tube has longer decay does not make it sound like the real thing. The decaying should be different from each string. Can you verify the decay of the high frequency chord is shorter than the mid chord? Tube has a tendency to lengthen the decaying tail.  This is a fact engineers label it as 2nd order distortion. We like it.  But you can’t claim this is real.  Once your ears get used to homogenous decaying tails, there is a tendency to generalise.  The reference of Aaron is a good example of one’s universal reference.  But I also urge to feel and understand other people’s reference music. 

    Striving for excellence has many ways. It is good to remind going too extreme in one direction is not good. But technology also progresses, or else Yamada will not give birth to Chouku and Kaun, with much higher resolution than standard models.  As far as cuisine is concerned, I rather see advances to uncharted area, even though I respect tradition. 

    I don’t think any system can reproduce the real thing. Maybe perception of the reality is a better description.  

    What a great damn forum! Thanks for the sparkle!  I would like to see PT’s own responses to Mr Zanden. He is sophisticated enough to argue back.   That will be the real deal.  I want to read. 
  • I echo Mr.Zanden’s comments on mid-bass, also feel it is a bit lacking to my liking. In my previous post I said: “I’d like a bit more mid-bass” while the “extension on both end is excellent”. Also that’s why I said the tonality of DartZeel is, surprisingly, pure and clean which reminds me of CH precision. Obviously Swiss-like sound. I’m sure adjust the cross-over of Xiangyu helps. 
  • edited November 2020
    Dear all,

    Mr Zanden is a very good audio buddy of mine for almost 2 decades.  I appreciate his honesty and frankness. There are very few people who speak up like him.  I understand all of this constructive comments, and fully agree his points with respect to his listening bias.  

    My goal was to illustrate the genuine character of Dartzeel, which is very clear to everyone.  It is fast and transparent. It is very easy to calibrate the system to Mr Zanden’s suggestion. 

    I am happy to adjust the crossover upward to the vicinity of 65hz, up from 60hz, which I had done today for Uncle Ray, but he preferred crossing at 60hz, for those music he knows well.  

    The presence of the subwoofer allows easy adjustment. I can cater for different tastes.  

  • Kahw installed this master switch from Germany for me tonight at AE SW. I am very thankful of his enthusiasm in assisting me to keep pushing the envelope. He left after installation without listening. I will report tomorrow. 

  • AE SW is single phase. The picture shown here is three phase. 

  • PT, your maturity earns my respect. 
  • edited November 2020

    我星期五早上去了AE上環,聽了90分鐘。我和Chris研究項羽超低音time delay function。他原本設定是0.02 feet,聽了Canon D數次後,我建議它加delay至0.04 feet,原因是中提琴組的位置不清析。我亦把air blade toe in 了 大約 1 degree,因為我想兩個喇叭中間的密度提升少許。此曲弦樂重播得非常幼細,而且場面的層次分明,拍子的空間感充足。
    然後我再聽Jeff Beck,極度爆炸,超級高速。起初我以為Dartzeel是聽古典音樂為主,可能Dartzeel和Cessaro特別夾。短短的聆聽印象,我最欣賞是中低音的解象力和控制力,中音質感非常之強,想不到全頻速度快得驚人。

  • Upon using Ikigai Kangai interconnect from Zanden 1200S phono to Dartzeel NHB18 2020 preamp, I could turn on the volume of air blade from -6db to 0db now so as to restore the balance. This is a significant change implying much lower noise level. 

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