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 Tuning a New World of Computer Audio Playback

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PostSubject: Re: Tuning a New World of Computer Audio Playback   Fri Mar 24, 2017 11:50 am

Hello Michael and Zonees

This week, a Test, a Realisation and a Tune.

A Test
Sonic is testing one more computer audio device from iFi Audio to deal with dirty USB earths. This is the iDefender 3.0. It is claimed on their product webpage to:

“To be used directly at the Source such as the PC usb port, it breaks ground loops and cuts the noisy USB power line. From computer audiophiles, musicians, home studio artists to pro audio customers, it improves audio playback quality at home and on-the-go.

Break the noisy USB power, but in the correct way
There are more than a few products that break the USB power connection, but of the ones known to us, they do very little because the noisy ground connection remains.

For DACs that do not use USB power (except for handshake) the iDefender3.0® breaks the ground connection eliminating earth loops, while allowing normal handshake operation to continue. So in terms of cutting out the noise, it does it in the most comprehensive way possible while at the same time, in an electrically correct way.”

This way is how iFi Audio recommends it can work with an iSilencer 3.0:

The red USB stick is the iDefender 3.0, the black USB stick is the iSilencer 3.0 which has proven beneficial.

On early listening, it gives a more even and perhaps deeper bass, yet something in the life and vitality of the musick is reduced.  However, since it lifts earths and cuts voltages this means the whole electrical balance in the system has changed and settling has to take place.  Sonic has 7 days in which I can decide to keep the device or return it.

After three hours of musick play, the sound appears to be regaining some vitality.  Let’s see what we get after 20 hours of musick play time.

A Realisation
As Sonic explored the Tune with its use of inexpensive equipment like the Samsung and the Magnevox DVD players, integrated amps and such to create wonderful music, what Sonic has learned along the way is that audio equipment – source equipment, amps, speakers and things like cables – can be generally classified four ways:

a.     Too Cheap to be Good – this is stuff made for the lowest possible price, to function and not fail in a way that breaks laws are attracts lawsuits. An example might the $10 DVD players available in supermarkets whose video and audio output is just recognizable and skips if you sneeze on the device when it is running.  

b.     Too Cheap to be Bad – this is where the Tuneable stuff is.  Here is gear designed to a price point and done to conventional and solid engineering principles. There is no budget for exotic materials or pseudo-technology.  This where good honest sound resides. With Tuning, this type of gear can see off the mega-buck stuff.  

c.     Too Expensive to be Good – here we go to the world of the audiophile high-end where things cost a lot, with prices justified by use of exotic materials, often fringe technologies and solutions created for problems that may not exist. Examples? Go look in any audiophile magazine.

d.     Expensive Recreations  -- this would be things like field coil loudspeakers, Western Electric horns recreated, amplifiers from yesteryear.  There is some good sound here (yes, has Sonic heard a WE horn replica) though the prices of these recreations can be insane.

In the case of Too Expensive to be Good what you get are sounds that are different.  I have attended tests where cables costing $100 per stereo run were swapped for some costing $2000 per stereo run.  In these non-blind tests there were noticeable differences consistently described by the test participants.  

Does different = better?

Different might be pleasing or more in line with our expectations of what we want our systems to sound like but  Accurate it won’t necessarily.

A Tune
Sonic has known that my lower table that carries the Aune x1s and the Quicksilver preamp has a small rock due to an unevenness in the floor.  I got down to fixing it with a thin shim of wood from Michael some time ago. Got confusing results – which table leg Sonic put the shim under affected the sound -- one emphasized the midbass at lot. Those who know what certain Apogee ribbon speakers sound like will recognize the sound. The other leg shimmed made for a clearer and punchy sound that could sound exciting but was an unaccustomed sound from the Magneplanar MG1.5QRs.

The table legs that need shimming is the Right front or Left rear.  The amount of shimming needed is something like 1/32” or less and both ways a spirit-level will show the table to be as good as level. Surprising how much difference in sound results from which table leg is shimmed!

This will be revisited once Sonic completes testing the iDefender 3.0.


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PostSubject: Re: Tuning a New World of Computer Audio Playback   Sun Mar 26, 2017 8:53 am

Progress with the iDefender 3.0 and Learnings about Magneplanars

After about 25 hours of music play time, the iDefender 3.0 is beginning to sound like it has a place in Sonic’s system. I can think of a way how to Tune the assembly of the computer audio gadgets from iFi Audio. If the iDefender 3.0 is retained, which should become clear in 50 hours of music play time, Sonic will attempt that Tune.

As Sonic was helping a new Magneplanar owner position speakers, I noticed that the manufacturer Magnepan recommends different placements for different models of their products even though all Magneplanars are essentially the same speaker just scaled up or down in size, except the MG20 series where the bass section are push-pull (that has magnet panels on both sides of the mylar diaphragm, making it hard to repair should delamination occur – Sonic was told there are owners have had to bin their delaminated MG20 bass sections in this town and buy new ones. I don’t know the circumstances around this and why the Magneplanar representative could not provide repair.)

Some examples from the various Owners Manuals on the Magnepan website:

MG1.5QR – tweeters inboard, centre of speaker panel to be on axis with listener’s ears

MG1.6QR – tweeters outboard, centre of speaker panel to be on axis with listener’s ears

MG1.7QR – owners to experiment with tweeter inboard or outboard, the edge nearest the tweeters should be angled such that it is angled to be on axis with the listener’s ears. Do not place speakers parallel to the wall behind them.

MG12 -- tweeters outboard, centre of speaker panel to be on axis with listener’s ears

MMG – no guidance

Mini Maggies – tweeter outboard, centre of speaker panel to be on axis with the listener’s ears

MG3.6/R – owners to experiment with tweeter panels inboard or outboard, the listener’s ears to be off axis of the tweeters by 5 to 10 degrees

MG3.7 -- owners to experiment with tweeter panels inboard or outboard, inboard preferred. The edge nearest the tweeters should be angled such that it is on axis with the listener’s ears (as with the MG1.7)

MG20.1 – owners to experiment with tweeter panels inboard or outboard. Tweeters to be on axis with the listener’s ears

MG20.7 – tweeters inboard, centre of speaker panel on axis with listener’s ears. Do not place speakers parallel to the wall behind them.

Curious isn’t it Question

Interesting that Magnepan says in their website FAQs that “A new type of amplifier (Class D) has become more popular because it is a "green" design and uses less power plus it is smaller in size compared to conventional amplifier designs. We have heard reports of Class D amplifiers shutting down when driving 4 ohm loads or sound quality that is less-than-desirable. Quite frankly, some sound very poor on Maggies. However, more recent designs of high-end models are much better. Because we do not have the time to determine which models of Class D designs are compatible with Maggies, we must take a conservative approach. Direct-coupled, Class A/B designs with high current capability have proven a good choice for many decades.”

In relation to the Mini Maggies, Magnepan says “We have been disappointed in the little, inexpensive Class D amplifiers.”

For all the hand-wringing, in the end the best sounding placement of these Magneplanars was to forget about the instructions and place the panels with a tiny toe-in, effectively no toe-in.

Now the owner is planning to damp the back wave with blankets. Sonic advises caution....


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PostSubject: Re: Tuning a New World of Computer Audio Playback   Fri Mar 31, 2017 11:33 am

Greetings Zonees

This week a few things were done in terms of Tuning by Sonic.
The table was shimmed – I used a very thin sliver of wood from Michael and placed under the front right leg of the table carrying the Quicksilver preamp and the Aune x1s.  This was in an earlier test showing the sound to become warmer than if Sonic had shimmed the diagonally opposite table let, which made the sound more analytical. The difference in the end between appears small.

Recently, Sonic had improved the device to hang the DecoTune that is over the listening chair.  I had this made out of coated wood.

Sonic tried this to Tune the assembly of the iDefender 3.0, iSilencer 3.0 and USB cable:

This combination of Low Tone Redwood, Resitone rod and MW from Michael works well giving improved imaging, a sweeter treble and a stronger Tonal Centre of Gravity.  However, I am beginning to hear that after a week of lots of settling, the introduction of the iDefender 3.0 may have introduced a degree of what Michael calls “fixed sound” into the system.  To Sonic’s ears this means recordings are beginning to sound the same way which did not happen up to the introduction of the iSilencer 3.0.  This needs to be tested next week.

As Sonic continues to read of the great span of things from Jean Hiraga, I found these two pictures on 6Moons –
http://www.6moons.com/industryfeatures/hiraga/hiraga.html  -- showing him with a system using his JH MS 15 Coaxial High Efficiency Monitor Systems loudspeaker (that is a story in itself – read on)  study

The set up is rather curious – look at how the speakers are placed, what's behind them and the use of what looks like heavy damping behind the listening chair where Hiraga is seated.

There is some logic in putting damping behind the listener like that – it can be argued that in a filled concert hall, the area around and behind a listener will be damped by all the bodies of the audience, while the stage area and proscenium will be acoustically live.  The point and perhaps flaw in the logic might be that a home listening room and a concert hall are very different things.

Sonic is now finding that my system is now very musically satisfying. I just keep spinning records (mostly) and playing FLAC files for serious listening. The only thing else I can think of doing in respect of more tuning my system is to replace the capacitors in the Magneplanar MG1.5QRs’ crossover – using the same values but improved devices from Mundorf, the MCap SUPREME – and maybe the inductors too.

If that turns out as good as what other Magneplanar owners say about crossover upgrades, then Sonic might have reached the point that I can make the considered claim that the “Tune is Done”  cheers

Then there is always the next level….. Very Happy

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PostSubject: Re: Tuning a New World of Computer Audio Playback   Sun Apr 02, 2017 8:07 am

The Next Step Considered

Sonic thinks the Next Step to take before any thoughts on further steps about Tuning, improvements to my system or calling everything to a Halt after which Sonic becomes just a collector of music/poetry is this: to first refresh/upgrade the capacitors in the Magneplanar MG1.5QRs.

Sonic recalls how the underpowered and likely degraded performance of the Rega Maia amp (a competent device when properly matched to the speakers it is called upon to drive) sent me in tuning circles for a couple of years. I only broke out of the circle with the Parasound A21 which instantly fixed all the artifacts that came from the improperly matched amp. This has shown Sonic something never to be forgotten. See my posts from the end of December 2016 and the start of January on this thread.

There is a colouration in the midrange which Sonic cannot tune out. What if the cause is degraded capacitors?

My Magneplanar MG1.5QRs are at the most about 20 years old, no younger than 15 years. By now the Solen capacitors must have gone off-spec which means everything from the crossover point to who knows what else has drifted. When a Magneplanar owner Sonic knows changed his aging capacitors in his Magneplanar MG1.6QRs to Hovland capacitors (same values), the soundstage became more specific, treble extension restored, midrange opened up and the bass was subjectively up in level.

It is logical that this step of refreshing the capacitors should be done before taken before anything else is decided.

Sonic will start sourcing the Mundorf MCap capacitors and whatever else may be needed and the work will probably be carried out in the week after Easter.

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PostSubject: Re: Tuning a New World of Computer Audio Playback   Thu Apr 06, 2017 12:15 pm

Hi Sonic,

Regarding the caps in your Magneplanars, I would think that replacing them would be a good idea. I replaced the stock coupling caps in my Elekit TU-879S with VCaps and the results were nothing but positive. That being said, that is my only experience so far with cap replacements so you should take my opinion with a little bit of salt.

Since it sounds like you're already going ahead with it, I'll be interested to hear how it turns out. Smile
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PostSubject: Re: Tuning a New World of Computer Audio Playback   Fri Apr 07, 2017 10:14 am

Greetings Bill333

Thanks for visiting and the comment. My capacitor project has hit a snag....see what happened.  We persevere nevertheless

Putting an Idea from Michael to Work

Michael said recently that the Pressure Zone we should prioritise on tuning is the one round our head at the listening position over the ones at the front wall behind the loudspeakers.  Mr Green remarked that it is natural though for us to focus on the front wall because it is what we see ahead of us.

Putting this idea into practice, Sonic found this setting changed my system. Got a nicely expanded soundstage (sometimes surround).

To do this, Sonic moved the pair of FS-DTs from the side walls (see my post of February 24 on this thread) and placed one to each side of my listening chair parallel to the side walls.  

Zonees might ask Sonic “Did you not try this before and reported failure?”

Yes, Sonic did try Michael’s products near the BookCase Wall and true, every attempt failed TILL NOW.

What I did back then was to follow the example of other Zonees who placed FS-DRTs at the wall behind their listening chairs – in every case where I tried and failed, the FS-DRTs/FS-DTs were set angled outwards and they were always set touching the BookCase Wall in an effort to trap Pressure Zones – that means they were behind my head.

This time, they are set a bit more than a foot out from the BookCase Wall making the vertical centre lines of the FS-DTs ahead of my ears when seated at the listening chair.

With this placement an audible Pressure Zone is now building round me, the bass is huge, punchier and (I think) goes lower than I ever got from my Magneplanar MG1.5QRs without compromising anything else.

By compromising Sonic means the Magneplanars can, like any speaker, can be made to sound bassy by pushing them towards the corners but the soundstage is gone, there is a recessed middle, the midrange is muddy and the bass is boomy and disconnected from the music.

With the FS-DTs placed like so, this is good  Very Happy

It is very good!

In the meantime, as for the change of Magneplanar MG1.5QR crossover capacitors Sonic has hit two snags which mean a delay in installation.

a.          the Mundorf MCap Supremes of the same values (10 uF and 15 uF) as those in the stock crossover are available but they are the size of toilet rolls.  They are not going to fit in the same position as the old caps which sit in a cutout in the panel.  If Sonic were to use the Mundorfs, extension cables will have to be soldered and the caps sit on some sort of outboard assembly which is something I want to avoid.

b.          the standard caps are Solens.  If I kept to the same values, the caps are a drop-in fit but while 10uF is available, 15 uF is not available at the store. Sonic is not going to parallel the caps using 10uF + 4.7 uF to get near 15 uF.  To me this is a bad idea.  So it is more sourcing or special ordering.  Maybe I can order the Solen Fast Capacitor Film and Foil Silvers which reportedly sound better than the Mundorfs.

Installation in the next two weeks is out of the question.


Last edited by Michael Green on Fri Apr 07, 2017 5:32 pm; edited 2 times in total (Reason for editing : added details, correct typos)
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PostSubject: Re: Tuning a New World of Computer Audio Playback   Sun Apr 09, 2017 7:45 am

Greetings Zones!

Nice video of Japanese audio – see the loudspeaker lifting sling!


And see how the speakers have been wrapped for shipping. Japanese attention to detail at its best!

Sonic also saw this video of this Japanese audiofan who has some illness that requires him to walk tethered to a breathing apparatus.


Is it not telling that in our love and quest for audio perfection we are at the same time walking into the fading light?

Sonic been spinning LPs – Vincent Persichetti, Concerto for Piano Four Hands op. 56 (Vincent and Dorothea Persichetti – Colombia Masterworks), Paul Creston, Sonata for Saxophone and Piano Op 19 (V Abato and P Creston, Colombia Masterworks), Ikuma Dan, Symphony No. 3/Teizo Matsumura, Crytogame (King Record Co, Japan) and Delalande, Symphonies/Mouret, Fanfares and Symphonies (A Scherbaum, trumpet/Orch de Chambre Paul Keuntz, P Kuentz cond. – Archiv Produktion).

Also heard Copland’s Appalachian Spring performed by St Luke’s Chamber Ensemble, David Russell Davies cond.

All great musick all this!

It appears that the Magneplanar MG1.5QR capacitor project has a chance to go ahead on schedule. Sonic found a source of Jantzen Z-Superior capacitors in the values needed for the crossover. On Monday, Sonic will connect up with them and check the sizes. If they are the right dimensions, we got a “Go”.

A DIY audio fan Sonic heard from said that degraded caps can mess up the balance of a speaker seriously. One effect is odd effects and emphasis in the midrange. Sonic, learning from my experience with from the Rega Maia/Parasound A21 experience, will take as many steps within reason to get this refresh done because otherwise I will never be sure Sonic has tuned out or in or against a sound that had started out wrong. We persevere.

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PostSubject: Re: Tuning a New World of Computer Audio Playback   Tue Apr 11, 2017 11:04 am

Greetings Zonees

Sonic finds that the Jantzen Z-Superior capacitors are available in 15uF but not 10uF.

Now this does indeed halt Sonic’s recapping project for now…

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PostSubject: Re: Tuning a New World of Computer Audio Playback   Sun Apr 16, 2017 8:53 am

Easter Greetings!

Tuning the Parasound A21 - Day 1

With the capacitor project delayed, Sonic got down to removing the lid of the Parasound A21, cracking screws and cutting cable ties.

The cover was interestingly not bolted down as tightly as some amps I have encountered.

The innards look like this:

This is after the cable ties, numbering some 11, have been cut by Sonic and where possible bunched wires were separated from each other. Observing the complexity of the amp, cracking of internal screws related to the circuit boards will not be attempted.

On powering up and giving a few hours of warm up Sonic noticed the bass character has changed – the low end was somewhat louder and while not appearing more extended, the sound appears to now have a slightly better foundation. Let’s see what happens with settling.

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PostSubject: Re: Tuning a New World of Computer Audio Playback   Tue Apr 18, 2017 9:04 am

Tuning the Parasound A21 – Day 3

On Day 2 the system had some 15 hours settling in addition to the seven hours or so of Day 1, and the bass is enlarging, maybe there is now some extra reach downwards and improvement in impact.

I next started cracking all the external bolts that I could access without having to upend the amp.

Then on Day 3 another 20 hours of settling and Sonic found the bass fuller and more articulate – meaning the musical line being played by the low tone instruments is more evident. When playing a FLAC file of Zakir Hussein and the Rhythm Machine, the drums are now larger and projecting. Much better!

Sonic, as a next step, powered the amp down at the end of today’s listening, loosened the screws and bolts on the back panel then upended the amp and cracked/loosened all the bottom screws. The only bolt that is still tight is the one relating to the toroidal transformer. Let’s see where this freeing up takes the sound in a couple of days.

Yes, that transformer – the single item that gives the amp so much of its 60 lbs weight….


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PostSubject: Re: Tuning a New World of Computer Audio Playback   Fri Apr 21, 2017 12:35 pm

Tuning the Parasound A21 – Day 6

At Day 6, the Parasound A21 is sounding great – lots of power in reserve giving startling transients and slam with excellent bass control. Mr Green strikes again – the cutting of cable ties and loosening of bolts has freed up the sound so Sonic is getting more of what the Parasound A21 is already good at.

Research been done by Sonic into the Parasound A21’s transformer and I think tuning that object is to be avoided. The transformer appears to be set in epoxy inside a metal can (see the pix in my post of April 18). This is a 1,200VA encapsulated toroidal transformer and likely cannot be separated from the can. Looking at comparable encapsulated toroids, on the underside there is a “fitting” which allows a central bolt to thread through the amplifier bottom plate to lock the transformer assembly to the chassis.

If any Zonees have removed a Parasound amp’s encapsulated transformer of any comparable model and found it to be different from what Sonic has inferred, please let me know.

In addition to the central bolt, the metal can (which acts as a electromagnetic interference shield) is also screwed down at the circumference to the chassis and there is a grounding wire attached to one of the screws. Given the function of the metal can, loosening the screws at the circumference is likely to produce effects unanticipated and possibly retrogressive.

The other thing that can be tuned is to slightly loosen the clamps holding the power supply caps which are Rubycons.

That’s about as far as Sonic would go. Attempting more tuning than this will be unwise.

In case someone is wondering, while Sonic is still working on refreshing the Magneplanar MG.5QRs’ crossover capacitors but I am not thinking of changing the capacitors in the Parasound A21.

Sonic has had to temporarily return the FS-DTs from their new placement on both sides of my listening chair (see my post of April 7) back to their previous positions at the side walls (see my post of February 24). This is because with the FS-DTs near me, I can hear some hardness coming off the walls just ahead of the Magneplanar MG1.5QRs which is where the FS-DTs were. This means the speakers are now becoming locatable as sources of the sound. Sonic found this outweighed the improvement in dimensionality from the FS-DTs at the two sides of the listening chair.

Tuning on (“there is always the next level” sayeth Michael), Sonic is planning a revamp of my mains supply system next week. I’ll post more on the idea and the results in the next week.


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PostSubject: Re: Tuning a New World of Computer Audio Playback   Yesterday at 9:35 am

Cartridges, cartridges….

At the rate Sonic is playing LPs with the Ortofon 2M Blue I would be due for a stylus change in the next two months or so. That will be a time to make some changes if Sonic wants to. There are 4 Ideas:

Idea 1: The lowest cost and easiest option: get a new Ortofon 2M Blue replacement stylus, fit it and keep on spinnin’ the LPs. All things being equal, this will come with a guarantee of a 100% success though no improvement though no possibility of failure either.

Idea 2: Sonic could change the Ortofon 2M Blue for an Ortofon 2M Black. Apart from the expense, this is almost certain to be successful with the promise of improvement of better tonality and tracing. It will have the Ortofon 2M family sound while doing everything the Blue does well but better.

The thing is that while the Ortofon 2Ms are lovely sounding, Sonic is starting to hear what people mean when calling them “polite sounding”. Yet on many LPs, the Ortofon 2M Blue is capable of presenting music beautifully as this moment when I am listening to ballads, motets, rondeaus and virelais by Guilliame de Machault (Capella Lipsiensis – Dietrich Knothe cond. Philips 6580 026).

One thing that Sonic won’t do is to get the Ortofon 2M Bronze. This is the Next Level Ortofon 2M engine with the Bronze stylus assembly. I have heard comments of the Bronze that makes me conclude that it sits in a limbo between the Blue and Black. It appears to be not as good as the Black and not that much better than the Blue.

The other thing that somewhat worries Sonic is that the Black’s Shibata stylus needs to have it setting spot-on and it can be unforgiving of vinyl noise.

Idea 3: There is the Dynavector 20x2 Low o/p MC which my phono stage will accommodate with the flick of a few DIP switches for phonostage gain and input impedance. This MC is known for its lively presentation, punch, PRAT while retaining good tonality. I won’t go for any high output MCs, thinking Sonic does that they are compromised designs.

Idea 4: Then there is which is what Bill333 (thanks Bill333 cheers) pointed out to Sonic -- the Well Tempered TLC which is a MM cartridge, actually a Nagaoka MP150 modified by Dynavector to specs/requirements set by Well Tempered Labs. It is priced around the Ortofon 2M Black.

To Sonic, Idea 1 would be the most effortless choice and if I really wanted a change then its Idea 4. Even if for some reason Sonic went for the Ortofon 2M Black, the idea of replacement styli is good which is less expensive than buying a whole new cartridge every year or more (after about 1,000 hours of use) which Sonic will then have to be set up again in the arm from scratch.

After the Guilliame de Machault LP, Sonic is listening to Sonatas for Cello and Piano – Rachmaninov Cello Sonata in G minor Op 19 and Shostakovich Cello Sonata Op 40 – George/Portugheis Duo (Unicorn LP UNS 342).


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