Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Modwright KWI 200 + Vivid Audio B1 = Music

Every once in awhile you find audio components that simply work well together. Their sonic characteristics compliment one another to such a degree that together, their sum is greater than their individual contributions. It's called synergy, and I am writing today to share with you my discovery of (at least two) components that have this synergy.

Vivid B1
Vivid Audio B1
The Vivid Audio B1 loudspeaker is the first step up from the entry level in Vivid Audio's speaker lineup. It is by no means entry level priced, but I am of the belief that a large part of one's audio system budget should go to loudspeakers. After all, they are the end of the signal chain, and should have the capability to reveal everything being fed to them from the components upstream. Everything about the Vivid B1 is designed for a purpose. One look at the loudspeaker will tell you that it should be different from anything else in its class, and it is. Vivid loudspeakers have their heritage with the B&W Nautilus speakers. Their designer, Laurence Dickie, played a critical role in the design of the Nautilus. As the designer for Vivid Audio, he now has the freedom to take his ideas to their ultimate expression. The bottom line is, this speaker will give you everything it is fed. Good, bad, and ugly. When paired with the right components, It will reward you with dynamics, soundstaging, imaging and a tonal "rightness" that simply states "this is music". You will hear things that your current loudspeakers have veiled, but hear them in a most musical, pleasant and unfatiguing way. But be warned, if the upstream components are "sonic scalpels", then you will have an audiophile dissection of your music like nothing you have ever heard before.

Modwright KWI 200
The Modwright KWI 200 integrated amplifier is a bit of a conundrum. It is made in the USA, yet is very competitive in its price and sonically a mind blower. It has received rave reviews from professionals and users across the board. It is a MOSFET design rated at 200 watts into 8 ohms and 400 into 4. One look inside the chassis from the top and you can plainly see a massive transformer (1.5 KVA) and several large capacitors (234,000 microfarads), which clues you in to its massive power reserves. You have 3 RCA inputs, 1 XLR input, a home theater bypass, and an RCA preamp output. There are options for a phono stage or USB DAC as well. They do add to the price.  The sound of the KWI 200 is musical. It's one of those components that makes everything sound good. It has incredible dynamic drive and punch, even at low volumes. The bass is full and tuneful at any volume level, and if you are a vocal person (meaning accurate, musical reproduction of the human voice through your audio system is essential), you are in for a superb musical experience. Heck, even if you're not a vocal person you might become one after listening to the KWI 200. The sense of control in the low frequencies I believe has a lot to do with how well the midrange and high frequencies are reproduced with the Modwright. The dual woofers on the Vivid B1's are capable of delivering every subtle nuance of bass that the Modwright reproduces. The same goes for the midrange and highs, the B1's are so revealing, and yet non-fatiguing, you really get the best of both worlds when you put these two audio components together. The Modwright needs a neutral to cool sounding loudspeaker to achieve the right balance. If you own a speaker on the warm side of neutral, it may be too much of a good thing.

Modwright KWI 200, Vivid B1, Stillpoints rack, Bybee Stealth
The Combination: music and detail
The Vivid B1's with the Modwright KWI 200 produced a sound that was in my opinion, the best of both worlds. There were musical nuances, and details revealed that I had not heard before. Even at low volumes, I found myself thinking "Wow, I didn't know that was in the recording." The next thing that captured my attention were the dynamics. Again, even at low listening levels, the dynamics were there. Then there were the vocals. Listening to male singers offered a rich, textured, simply real vocal presentation without chestiness or artificial boominess. It was captivating. Female vocals were equally captivating and real as well. They
 were filled with emotion and realism that allowed me to connect to the music on a very deep level. The soundstage from this combo was wide, tall and deep. It was placed slightly forward of the speakers and went wayyy back. Imaging was very accurate, rendering instruments in an exact location when mixed as such, with clarity of location and a really nice sense of space around the musician. The electrostat-like speed detail and dynamics of the Vivids mated perfectly with the dynamics, silky smooth mid-high frequencies and warm, tight and tuneful bass of the Modwright. These two components simply make music together without sacrificing detail and nuance.

Other Reviews

Modwright KWI 200
Vivid Audio B1

Other Recommendations

Synergistic Research cables worked very well with the Modwright/vivid setup. I really like the new Element series. The Element Tungsten interconnects and speaker cables, the Tungsten and Copper Tungsten power cables offered HF/LF extension, dynamics and a holographic soundstage. To add to that, the Bybee Stealth power conditioner allowed these components to perform at their absolute best. It lowered the noise floor to quite a degree. So much so that a great deal of low level information became easily audible.

Friday, March 22, 2013

USB Cable Comparison 1:

USB cable comparisons, and a tweek

Wireworld Platinum Starlight
Recently, I had my annual Tweek Geek open house. Unfortunately the weather didn’t cooperate very well, dumping a large amount of snow the day of the event. Only the hardcore audiophiles with 4 wheel drive managed to show, but the smaller gathering afforded us the opportunity to do some USB cable comparisons, as well as test a a tweak that I had resurrected.

I have used the Wireworld Platinum Starlight USB cable as my reference standard for some time now, and was using it in the system we had set up. We were streaming some DSD master files (the original digital files used to make SACD’s) through the new Luxman DA-06 DAC. This was an extremely resolving and musical system, running through a Luxman M-600A Class A amplifier and the Vivid Audio G3 loudspeakers. One could hear small changes made to the system without having to strain. Luxman is manufacturing a USB cable to ship along with the new DAC, and Philip O’ Hanlon, the distributor for Luxman and Vivid, was curious as to how it might stack up against some other USB cables. Using the Platinum Starlight as the baseline, we inserted the Luxman USB Cable into the system for a listen. One thing is for sure, there is a significant difference between some USB cables. This was obvious. The Platinum starlight had far more resolution and was more neutral in it’s presentation. It went lower, and higher than the Luxman. The presentation was more forward than the Luxman as well. I thought the Luxman was a bit too recessed in it's presentation. I then reached in to my bag o’ tweeks and pulled out an old Belkin USB cable that I had wrapped in Stillpoints ERS Tape. Surprisingly this was a very good performer over the stock Belkin. It had a quietness to it that made it more resolving. It still however didn’t stack up to the Wireworld Platinum Eclipse, but was nonetheless a very nice cable for cheap. Our last comparison for the day was the Wireworld Platinum Starlight USB. It proved better than the Luxman and the ERS’ed Belkin by a small but significant margin. At the end of the day the Platinum Starlight proved the clear winner. It was simply more revealing, created a wider soundstage, better dynamics, and more extension at both ends of the sonic spectrum. This is no surprise, considering the price of the cable. The Starlight was a great second place finisher. Not quite as resolving, not quite as much low end, but for the money it was an excellent value.
Stillpoints ERS Tape

TWEEK: Adding Stillpoints ERS Tape to your USB Cable
Depending on the shape of your cable, you can wrap your cable in ERS, or in the case of a flat cable, run a strip of tape lengthwise down either side of the cable. Either way, you will still want to "dress" the cable after applying the ERS. I did this by wrapping Teflon tape over the ERS. That will keep the fabric that is the ERS tape from fraying or snagging, and unraveling. You could even go further and add tech flex sleeving over the Teflon tape for a really snazzy look.

Next Blog: The Platinum Eclipse USB with and without ERS
With the benefits of the ERS tape on a USB cable revealed, my curiosity had been awakened. I had 2 Platinum Starlight USB Cables, and decided to cover one in ERS Tape, then compare it to a stock Platinum Starlight Cable. The results? That will be my next blog post...