W A R N I N G !

W A R N I N G !

This page is full of non-facts and bullsh!t, (just like the internet and especially forums and other blogs), please do not believe entirely without exercising your intellect. Any resemblance to real things in reality is purely coincidental. You are free to interpret/misinterpret the content however you like, most likely for entertainment, but in no case is the text written on this blog the absolute truth. The blog owner and Blogger are not responsible for any misunderstanding of ASCII characters as facts. *cough* As I was saying, you are free to interpret however you like. *cough*

Friday, August 29, 2008

My system's almost complete... yeah right

Sorry for the almost three weeks of disappearence. The past two weeks have been very busy; either fall-out late, or I was busy playing LaTale or surfing forums for an amp, or both.

LaTale, great game, rushed to level 19 on the first day as bowman. This game is about skill, there are lots of newbs who don't know how to train fast, seldom see those in JP/KR servers. But wtf they are going to do a character wipe again, what the hell are they thinking? Character wipe aftre OBT.

But enough about this game. I finally got a Yulong 2nd-hand after a guy offered one at $120.

So I fixed it up hoping for some magic. It is, after all, one of the best entry-level amps out there, capable of beating few-hundred dollars receivers. I also expected some loss in bass power since my JBLs are only 3-inch, but this amp should have enough power for the Paradigm Atoms (v1) that have been lying useless on my table all this while, and those are 5.5-inchers, so bass is no problem.

Fixed it up, well, the sound is much clearer, but,

Where's the bass?

I'd expect the bass to be a little bit greater. Although they aren't as big as monitors at least they are at least a few times bigger than multimedia speakers. Or maybe I've grown to like the Sony SRS-D4 active sub too much.

And the next thing, this amp revealed that my JBL CS100 are not just bad, they are faulty - they whine and one of them sounds different from the other; previously I blamed the SRS-D4, but looks like it's alright.

And the worst thing is:

So I fixed up the Paradigm Atoms thinking I'll get some nice stopping point in upgrade. But no, it just confirmed my Atoms are faulty with a great loss of power at the lower frequencies plus lots of distortion. Time to get rid of them.

That time somebody was talking about component synergy on VRZ, now I totally agree. The 3-inch drivers of the CS100 are not designed to be full-range, they need a subwoofer with them, and with the right one they really shine. No wonder they are labelled "surrounds". Interesting, because all this while I have been getting very good sound signature out of this $45 setup, but the moment I have them alone they sound like crap. Looks like my SRS-D4 isn't simple either - somehow in this setup, the CS100 sound totally nice and punchy and the bass feels like it's coming from there. What is happening? Perhaps one day I'll get the power button repaired also.

I also found out that "boomy bass that feels like it has a lot of space" is due to feeding too much bass into a driver that cannot handle it, NOT a good effect or strong bass. So stop it Bose owners, your speakers sux, it's not a good sound.

With nothing to lose, I also took apart the Paradigm Atoms, only to find that the foam on the cones are gone, deed, deadmeat. Probably the reason why they sounded so sux. Maybe I should get it repaired, as long as it doesn't cost over a hundred.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Zhaolu D2.5 w/LM4562 vs NeoMini USBDAC - some thoughts

Today I decided to do a direct AB test with my Zhaolu D2.5 w/LM4562 against NeoMini USBDAC.

Reason because somehow, because of my further-degrading hearing or running around with the Zhaolu and subjecting it to the physical abuse at the guardroom (I haven't blog about these yet), or some problem with the reconnection, the Zhaolu didn't sound as nice as it was yesterday night compared to morning.

Fearing there would be some actual sonic damage instead of placebo effects, I decided to fight it against the previously-defeated NeoMini in a direct AB comparison and use this as a measure.

Results are interesting.

Sound signature-wise, I can hear almost no difference. The sound so just the same that if you didn't know the two DACs beforehand or cannot hear the other minute differences you're sure to mix up the ABX test.

Or heck, if my setup doesn't let me switch sources in less than 0.2 seconds I probably wouldn't have detected any obvious difference either.

Everything that counts are the rest - the Zhaolu w/LM4562 has a bigger soundstage, the instruments are more pulled back (or the NeoMini is more forward), less muffled, bass more impactful, lower bass extension. But, with the exception of the lower bass extension, the differences are very small, way smaller than comparing on-board against NeoMini (that one was pretty bad), and should be smaller than NeoMini vs Audigy if my memories are correct. Even the bass extension, while that one is more obvious because you will hear it when the bass notes go low, most of the time they don't so it doesn't make much of a difference.

There's still one obvious difference though - highs response

The Zhaolu is still undoubtedly cleaner and the sound reverbs a bit, while for the NeoMini there's still some distortion and the hi-hats/cymbals sound "less round", or, the most abused term in audio vocabulary, "flat". But more "hissing" and less dynamics and space is a better description for it, if you ask me.

So some findings and some thoughts from this AB test:

- Since the Zhaolu w/LM4562 and NeoMini share the same sound signature, there's high chance that they're both just darn accurate. But then again, probably many other DACs do, but that's not a majority if you consider the number of warm-sounding Burr-Brown op-amps out there.
- The LM4562 is one heck of an accurate op-amp - the NeoMini has no op-amp, yet the LM4562 sounds so similar. This is probably why it's so popular in soundcards also.
- The designers of the Zhaolu also did a great job - audio equipment is all about how well your components work with each other, and with the default settings + LM4562 op-amp the sound is so neutral and accurate. With the output capacitors jumpered it was too bright even with the OPA2604. So yea guys, don't try the jumper mod unless you're a purist or an "audiophile". I'm not the only one who hates it anyway; so did the guys who found and tried out many mods for the Zhaolu.
- Using an external DAC with bad cabling and digital source is a big no-no. Reason because I could hear a significant difference between the on-board Realtek and Audigy and between the cheapo $7 cable, the supplied stock cable, and the current Belden 1694A. And if my current setup sounds only okay, then previously it has to be very bad.
- The NeoMini is a seriously good buy for the money. At $35/55 (Taiwan price/local price), plus soldering skill and time and casing, it put up a good fight against another bang-for-buck ~$200 equipment, and that's not including the additional cost of the Belden 1694A and Audigy.
But if you ask me, if I'd sell my Zhaolu and get back the money spent and use the more value-for-money NeoMini instead, I'd totally say no. Because the impact of the improvement with the Zhaolu is just too awesome, more awesome than that with the NeoMini from Audigy. Yes I can't pinpoint the differences, but all the subtle things add together to form something awesome.
Plus, you can't put a price on better sound. :D
In a sense in this case the NeoMini is a poorer buy for the money because it didn't seem that powerful worthy of an upgrade. But if you have an on-board and want something cheap and small and stick with it then it's your choice. :)
- The one thing that's been pulling back my Zhaolu - the $7 interconnect cable. Since the audio system will only sound as good as its weakest link, this guy is probably the culprit (I used the same type of cable for both DACs). A better cable will probably improve the Zhaolu's performance, as well as that of the NeoMini. Time to get the 89207.

Saturday, August 2, 2008

LM4562 - initial impressions and after some burn-in

Edit: I notice this post is still frequently visited today. This post was written by me a while ago and it does not meet the standard I require my posts to have now. I'll be frank - to the me of today (2011, but I noticed the situation in 2010, possibly even earlier), this post is full of bull. Just as non-controlled-tested subjective reviews are. More-significant uncontrolled variables swamp any potential difference from the device being tested, and differences heard are wrongly attributed to the device. And I'm not even talking about placebo yet, which many open-minded believers somehow do not believe in its effects.

But I know there are those of you who want to read this review. So I have left the original post untouched below. I just want to make clear the issues with such a review. Subjective reviews are fine, but only if the mentioned differences are tested to reliably exist. And most subjective reviews never test that.

So I got a pair of LM4562 op-amp for my Zhaolu DAC three days ago. This is the most important mod in the series of possible mods because it's like everyone on the net with a Zhaolu is saying that this is a very good upgrade, the others being OPA2107, OPA2134 (or 2132, both not as good as the rest though), LT1469, the king of op-amps (and overly expensive) OPA627, and discreet op-amp stages like the Zapfilter.
(I don't think AD was mentioned because of the nature of the sound and that of Zhaolu, both being very cold)

I chose this because it's almost on the same level as OPA2107 (and some say OPA627) and LT1469, and most importantly it costs the cheapest at $13+ for a pair. This amount can only get you at most one of the cheaper alternatives and less than half of an OPA627 set. And why people would want to spend so much on 4 OPA627s or even a Zapfilter on such a cheap DAC beats me.

Now now, while we're on this topic I might as well talk about why sometimes somebody (or rather a whole group of people) will say that certain op-amp is good while in other applications the said op-amp is crap.

Firstly, op-amps are not perfect and they change the sound signature (which some may like) i.e. different (brands of) op-amps sound different. Different brands of DAC chips sound different also. Different components/implementations sound different too. So a good balance and combination of components that can work in harmony is needed.

Furthermore, different op-amps will perform differently for different uses. In many cases we're talking about voltage buffer, or more commonly known as output/preamp stage. Then there's op-amps for headphones, and op-amps in the power circuitary.

Ok, back to the LM4562, how will this fast and "fast sounding" - what the heck is that? op-amp change the sound of my system?

Just installed:

It sounds... bad. The bass is greatly reduced, the trebles are too bright and sharp. Somebody played with the tone controls here?

However, the trebles are indeed clearer and cleaner and I can hear a bit more instruments. But this induces ear fatigue and I also don't like the loss in bass power. Dynamics is seriously lacking.

Soundstage is slightly wider as mentioned on the web, the notes are clearer but they sound more tonal and I cannot hear the rest of the instruments like impact sound and harmonics. Even my brother is saying that it sounds fake.

That's a lot of sacrifice just for that bit of more musical and "faster" details. And I can't say that it sounds more musical either, since the instruments now sound fake.

After a few days and a few hours of burn-in:

After I came back from camp I listened and was like huh, was this that LM4562 I've just installed yesterday? Or have my ears gotten used to the sound already? The fakeness and harshness is gone and now I'm listening to something that sounds much more normal. The treble has reduced in volume, but the details are still there and clear as ever. The high-frequency hitting sounds are now like free-of-charge, and the bass has more power. Not to be confused with the darker/warmer sound-signature of the Burr-Browns, this LM4562 has an interesting sound; lots of dynamics cannot explain it all - when it's supposed to be loud it's loud, when it's supposed to be soft it's soft. So in some songs the bass (and mid-bass) is just powerful as needed, while in others the amount is just right. At the same time the bass does not sound muffled at all but instead it's punchy, tight, and full of details; I can clearly hear the distortion of the guitar.

So that's the meaning of a "fast" op-amp. Responsive and detailed is a better and more accurate term to describe it.

I love this sound signature, since I'm of a "detail" and "purist", or "natural" person when it comes to frequency response. Don't give me something that's too dark all the time, I'll hate it. Although you can give me as big as soundstage as possible. This, is one part, I'll admit that I'm totally not pure. :)

This may also be the reason why the LM4562 is called "too-dark" in certain applications, for example the Zero DAC, which is said to be very warm in the first place. If the LM4562 decides to amplify that warmness, then whoops, you got a very dark sound.

However, in the case of Zhaolu, LM4562 is less warm than the OPA2604 and other Burr-Brown chips, and sounds more natural.

And still the best part about the LM4562 is the tonality, which was the only thing that was good before the burn-in. Except now it's even better. The chords are in full harmony, the usually obscured notes especially the high ones are now heard. And yet it doesn't sound any noiser but cleaner instead. It's hard to explain except for hearing it yourself.

Oh ya, and now I can hear the individual notes more clearly too. I guess some people actually hate that, especially when it makes the bass more "one-note", but as a musician I like that.

This is a very good upgrade for $13.80, which is less than 10% of the DAC's cost. I used to be a disbeliever of op-amps, now I stand by them, after knowing how big a difference they can make.