Country of Origin


System N°6

Reviewer: Srajan Ebaen
Financial interests: click here
Sources: iSoundaware D300Ref, JAVS X7-DAC MQA + Clean Power
Integrated amplifier: Simon Audio i5
Loudspeakers: Acelec Model One with Zu Submission subwoofer and Avantages Audio magnesium-dome super tweeter
Cables: Crystal Cable
Power delivery: Puritan Audio Labs PSM156
Sundry accessories: HifiStay Stella60 footers, Audio Physic magnetic footers, Avantages Audio static cable, LessLoss Firewall for Loudspeakers

Room: 5 x 6m 
Review component retail: refer to individual linked reviews

Systematically. It's how we'd like to assemble a satisfying hifi. The actual route to it is often more haphazard. Even reviewers can chance upon an unexpectedly winning combination well after a review first published. So these short features grouped under the same constellation logo are about the grace of hindsight, occasionally from sheer dumb luck when certain items just so happened to be on hand and produced unexpected sparks. In all cases, our archives will already have published feature reviews on the main components. But those reviews are about parts. Today's report is about proven combinations. Often the key players will be the amp+speaker pairing. After the room, that's the biggest variable. Adding a particular digital source (I don't do vinyl) won't markedly tip the balance or wipe out the winning bits. Neither will cables past a base level of competence. So don't expect complete itineraries. This is about locking in a particular sonic flavor or presentation with the most important determinants. Sorting out the secondary and tertiary players remains at your own discretion.

Danger, Will Robinson. For a change, today's all about the secondaries, tertiaries and even lower bottom feedersThey're the things your hifi plays on just fine without. Take all of it out and your sound keeps ticking; just far from as good. With a lot of 'tweaks' on hand and nothing else on the day's docket, I decided to throw it all at my smaller upstairs system to see what would stick.

I wanted to map a sequence of magnitude. Which thing did the most, which the least and how did the rest line up?

The primaries were a source of Soundaware D300Ref SD card reader easily substituted by a smartphone if we did that, an affordable DAC, a small integrated amplifier (those two functions could combine in one machine à la Vinnie Rossi Lio) and a pair of compact monitor speakers. Secondaries in the signal path were a Zu subwoofer, omni super tweeters from Franck Tchang, the mysterious Firewall for Loudspeakers aka Fifolo from LessLoss. Secondaries out of the signal path were a battery/super-cap power supply for the JVAS X7-DAC MQA, an AC/DC cleaner from Puritan for all components, static cables from Franck Tchang, Hifistay Stella60 anti-vibration footers beneath the speaker stands, Audio Physic magnetic footers underneath the amp. In short—or rather, far from short—I had eight non-essentials to four essentials. Bling out the joint just to spend money? Or see the promised land of superior sound?

♦ 1/ The undoubtedly biggest makeover of all came from the big subwoofer in the left front corner. Adding one octave of bandwidth at the very bottom and the option to use built-in EQ of up to +6d/20Hz wasn't just about more raw bass. It deepened the black values of the color palette, the overall sense of gravitas and the perception of audible space. Everything got a lot bigger and more serious. Once heard, you'd not want to go back to the smaller scale of it all. The low-pass was set to 40Hz so truly non-directional.
♦ 2/ Replacing the switching brick of the DAC with its optional battery supply significantly improved tone density and ambient recovery just as described in its review.
♦ 3/ The AC/DC conditioner increased calmness and micro resolution over using a generic outlet multiplier just to generate the four necessary power sockets where the room provides none. If we didn't live remote in the country but in a big ol' apartment complex in a crowded inner city, this item could move one up in importance and impact.
♦ 4/ A personal surprise was the efficacy of cleaning up the mechanical impact which truly full-range bass has on these speakers by way of the Korean decoupling footers. Their improved definition down low and reduced bass overlay onto thus superior openness of the midband were most obvious. Without the sub this item would drop down the line and the LessLoss replace it.

♦ 5/ The Lithuanian inline speaker-cable 'conditioner/filter' didn't win its award for nothing. Read its review for the skinny. Not understanding how it works takes nothing away from that it does.
♦ 6/ Franck Tchang's open-ended 'antenna' cables connected to just the RCA collar not pin of an input pair on the integrated amplifier are supposed to siphon off micro resonances on the circuit-board level. I have no idea whether that's what's going on or something else but whatever it is, it has a small impact on transient accuracy and tone.
♦ 7/ Because the Mundorf air-motion transformer tweeters in these speakers are extended and very dynamic already; and because these particular super tweeters can't be brought in below 15kHz; their contributions to more airiness and tonal gloss were very subtle. If the main tweeters were 1" silk domes and the super tweeters started at 8kHz, their impact quotient would rise. Regardless, building out the opposite octave of the infrabass would still weigh far heavier.
♦  8/ Putting the magnetic footers under the amp just because I had a spare set of four did nothing I could hear.

Items 6 & 7 were similar in potency. They could arguably interchange.

Items 3, 4 & 5 could reshuffle among their group if circumstances changed.

Regardless, the first two items kicked hardest, literally so with the tall sub. But except for the dead weight of #8, all of them conspired to make the whole system sing on a far higher plateau. Whilst staggered potency maps a clear upgrade path, they all mattered, some just more so than others. Better still, some should be handled first because their effects create the opening wherein others can then do their job. Here it's intuitive that a down-firing powerful subwoofer acts like a jackhammer on a suspended floor. Virtually floating your speakers above said floor with very effective two-stage ball-bearing spike shoes cleans up bigger perturbations to make room for smaller improvements to matter. And you could take all of it out again and still have sound. Musically however, it'd be rather less convincing. That's performance hifi. If we pay sufficient attention, it educates us on the interconnectedness of things. That can feel quite magical. Like magic, it can also elude easy explanations. Trusting our ears is the only right and necessary response. If we can't hear it, it doesn't matter. To us. If we can hear it but can't afford it or can but still won't go for it, it matters but just not enough. Perhaps now only one or two items on this list which each represent a particular category are all you should consider. As for me, whole hog minus eight or perhaps even seven would be the ticket. Which leaves me with six. Go figure.