It’s not often that we romanticize events. But this was different. We were on a date. A date with audio.
When people say high end audio, the first thing that comes to mind is a swanky house with wooden polished floors, high ceiling and maybe even a butler. Well this was a tad different. There was a polished wooden floor, there was no ceiling, and there was sadly no butler.
There were however a bunch of people dressed casually lugging around some audio equipment towards the 3rd floor of Majestic City. This was where we too were headed.
Organized by Redline Technologies and Digital Ear, a company known for their high end audio solutions, our date was Audio Therapy with Digital Ear.
Throughout the day, audiophiles and general consumers alike were treated to some world class audio equipment that had them drooling over the floor.
So what made this so special?
Well, for starters it was the equipment itself.
Starting it all off was the Focal XS 2.1 Speaker system. Focal Audio which is French brand has been in the audio business for more than 30 years. They have a passion for designing, developing and manufacturing high fidelity loudspeakers and drivers. Trust me, these ain’t yo grandma’s speakers. The Focal XS 2.1 is a USB powered sound solution consisting of two speakers and one subwoofer. The device plugs into an available USB port in a PC or laptop and is good to go. Volume and power controls are located on the base of the right speaker and there is also a remote control included for you to sit back and listen to your music. And that is exactly what we did. We loaded up a few of our favorite tracks ranging from pop to hip-hop to metal to rock to classics and everything in between. The conclusion: we were impressed. How much are a pair of these you ask? Well they are priced at Rs. 75,000/-. A tad on the expensive side, yes. But if you are a true audiophile, then this is a must have for your home entertainment.
Right next to the Focal XS 2.1 there lay two much larger speakers. At first glance they look like ordinary studio monitors, till you listen to them. At Rs. 75,000/- a speaker (meaning that a pair is Rs. 150,000/-), these were the Focal Alpha 65 Active 2-way Studio Reference Monitors. Each speaker was capable of outputting 105W and comprised of a 6.5″ Woofer (hence the name”), a 1″ Tweeter and offered connectivity via XLR and RCA Inputs. In addition, these speakers also offer an Automatic Standby Mode where they actually turn off after 30 minutes of inactivity. To turn them on again, simply play something. The Alpha 65s certainly had a thing going for them. Not only were they mind-blowingly loud, but they offered virtually no distortion at high volumes and reproduced sound almost effortlessly.
To make them sound even better, they were each resting atop three MiGs. A MiG or Mechanical Interface Grounding is a new state-of-the-art component isolation footer. Created by Synergistic Research, the device is essentially a spherical metal ball. It essentially tunes a component’s mechanical resonance while eliminating high frequency noise. They can be placed in either of two ways. Pin-Point configuration (two bowls facing up and one down) and Ambient configuration (two bowls facing down and one up).
We initially had our doubts about how such a simple device can make a difference so we tested them out for ourselves and we can indeed confirm that these devices jokingly referred to as “balls of steel” indeed do make a difference.
The price you ask? A cool Rs. 35,000/- for a set of three MiGs.
Cables are probably the most overlooked component in any setup. Contrary to popular belief, the quality of a cable significantly impacts the quality of the output of any device. The same holds true for audio. Upon closer inspection of the audio devices, we noted that there seemed to be large black cables powering these devices. We assumed that they were there for show and offered the usual EMI blocking. We were right, partly.
Again products of Synergistic Research, were the 20th Anniversary Master Reference AC cable and the Core AC cable. These cables are both magnetically shielded and consist of pure OFC copper conductors suspended in Actively Shielded Air Dielectrics, so there is virtually no interference caused to the audio signal. The cables also feature gold plated schuko plug to offer that extra touch of quality and also class. Again being the inquisitive folks that we are, we tested the speakers with regular cable and these seemingly high tech cables. We seemed to be proven wrong again as the SR cable proved to provide a much cleaner and crisper audio output when compared to the regular cable. Maybe this guy was on to something after all.
The Core AC cable was powering the Focal XS 2.1 whilst the 20th Anniversary Master Reference cable powered the Focal Alpha 65.
Moving along to the latter area of the store, we found more goodies to ogle over. An AudioLab 8200A amplifier connected to a Sennheiser HD700. Those who know Sennheiser know the HD700 as one of the best headphones that money can buy. Retailing for around $1000, these headphones offer quite a sturdy exterior and a level of finesse that audiophiles have come to know and love. Powering the Amplifier was yet another Core AC cable. Connecting the HD700 to the Amplifier was a HT Carbon Headphone Transducer by Synergistic Research. This device attempts to clean up the audio signal in order to provide a smoother listening experience.
We had a listen to the HD700s and we were indeed blown away by the level of clarity these headphones had to offer. It should be noted that in order to experience the full blown awesomeness of these cans, you need to have high quality tracks. We’re talking M4A at a minimum whereas we recommend FLAC format. We loaded the tracks on to a FiiO X1 which is a portable high resolution 24-bit music player. The results were indeed impressive. Audio was clear and loud, but not loud enough to cause distortion. Rather, it was more of a sit back, relax and enjoy your music kind of experience.
In addition, you could take your pick from an AKG Q701 Quincy Jones Edition, a Focal Spirit One, a Sennheiser HD558 and even an AKG K99.
On a table right behind the HD700 stood an unusual device. It was something that looked less like a speaker and more a ceramic ornament or even an egg. Some even referred to it as some futuristic device. In reality, this was the Devialet Phantom.
A Rs. 400,000/- wireless speaker capable of an output of 3000 Watts. If that doesn’t get your inner audio freak all woozy, then what if we told you that this is touted to be the best wireless speaker in the world?
Since it is a wireless speaker, there is an ever present threat of signal or packet loss of audio files over the wireless channel. This threat intensifies with Bluetooth. The Phantom opts rather to use WiFi and stream bit-to-bit perfect audio. This means that what you hear is what was meant to be heard the way it was meant to be heard by the original artist. The bass is tight and precise. Mids and highs are distinctly clear with no sign of distortion whatsoever.
Wired magazine said that “This is the Wi-Fi music system you’ve been waiting for”. Was it? Well, we were about to find out. Digging up a bit more about the Phantom, we also were told that you can pair another Phantom and by doing so, the audio stream is split into two separate channels, one each for each Phantom. In addition, if you really really have the cash to splash, you can connect upto 40 of these speakers together and they will all play audio in perfect sync. A few tracks later, we were sold. The Phantom was indeed by far something out of the ordinary.
For the rest of the day, we proceeded to play around with all of the audio equipment and savored the brownies and coffee that were promised to those who attended. Later in the day, we were even joined by renowned artist and singer Bathiya Jayakody of BnS who also seemed amazed by the level of quality these audio products offered.
All in all, it was indeed a memorable date with audio. Hats off to the organizing team at Redline Technologies and Digital Ear.
Twas indeed a therapeutic day indeed.