• PS Audio DirectStream DAC and Network Bridge, Part 3

    Correction to the DS DAC’s output from my Part 2 posting. On the low setting, the output is 1.4Vrms when 20db attenuation is applied to its high output setting which is 2.1Vrms. Therefore both the Oppo 105D and the DS DAC have identical (on paper) output. Although I’ve noticed more and more that the DS DAC seems louder at the same volume level than before, it is still somewhat lower than the Oppo.

    April 22-25, 2015
    Total Burn-In Time: 264 hours
    Uploaded Pikes Peak Firmware/OS on April 22

    Previously I had been using the 1.2.1 OS (unnamed) which was the firmware version loaded onto the DS DAC at the time of purchase. After loading Pikes Peak (PP), the sound was more dynamic with a wider if not deeper sound stage. Instruments are easier to pick out of the mix. Details are extremely clear and frequency extremes are extended but it still maintains the SACD-like smoothness with no evident glare.

    For an unknown reason (but a result which has been reported in the PS Audio DirectStream Forum), as the new firmware "settles in" the overall sound changes. Specifically, there's greater sound stage depth and in general, it's more dynamic than when PP was initially loaded. Please remember that at this point the DS DAC was left on continuously so this isn't an effect of the equipment warming-up.

    April 26-May 21, 2015
    Total Burn-In Time: 864 hours
    Replaced Oyaide 7NP4030II power cord with P-/C-004 connectors on the DS DAC with Bybee Golden Goddess with Acrolink CF connectors
    Put Black Discus over the DAC's power transformer
    Placed a trio of Black Diamond Racing #4 cones under the DAC
    Finally figured out how to get JRiver Media Center 20 to work in conjunction with the DAC's USB connection
    Changed JR20 output encoding setting from DoP to none so that the DAC now sees the USB input in its native format
    Replaced stock USB 3 cable on the EHD with WireWorld Starlight 7 USB 3
    Added three #4 BDR pucks to the cones already under the DAC

    Obviously quite a few system changes/tweaks occurring during this time period plus the DAC has passed the 750 hour burn-in period after which I didn't detect any changes in sound due to that factor alone. For whatever reason the 500 hour burn-in time estimation didn't hold for this unit/system.

    Bass became more punchy and the sound stage more dimensional after putting the Bybee/Acrolink CF on the DS DAC. Certain sound effects (running water, birds, etc.) are more realistic.

    Placement of the BDR #4 cones has little or no effect versus the stock feet.

    The JR20/USB input may show the DAC at it's best although when the Bridge is working without hiccoughs, that comes darn close.

    Photo of Bridge connection after switching JR20 to no output encoding. Note that the DAC now sees .DSF files in their proper format and not as PCM.

    Adding the #4 pucks to the #4 cones yields a slightly rounder, richer sound but still with excellent upper treble response.

    May 22-July 2, 2015
    No longer reporting burn-in time
    Replaced Bybee/Acrolink CF on DS DAC with Bybee/Oyaide M1/F1
    Replaced the Acoustic Reveive RCA-PA connecting the DAC to the c-j CA200 with XLO Signature 3.1
    Replaced Kimber D-60 with XLO Signature 1.1 as coax connector from Oppo 105D to DS DAC
    Replaced BDR #4 cones and pucks with Mapleshade Triplepoints under DAC
    Replaced XLO S1.1 with Nordost Red dawn (original ribbon version not current Leif series)

    After switching to the Bybee/M1/F1 the bass is tight and taught but the transients are still not as sharp as either the Olive O3HD or Oppo 105D when they are used solo. Piano is very realistic and low levels details are more apparent. Decay is at reference level as the background is even darker than before. Sound stage is dense, complex and dimensional.

    The switch to the XLO S3.1 is ever so slightly more dynamic but in most other respects not a change over the Acoustic Revive. This is a surprising, to me, result.

    A consistent difference between the 105D solo and having the DS DAC in the chain is the previously noted drop in "air" and transient edge but more inner detail/truth of timbre.

    Switching to the XLO S1.1 as coax connection yields a slightly more forward sound stage.

    Replacing the BDR cones and pucks with the Triplepoints results in clearer upper treble and transients. This was a needed, beneficial change.

    Inserting the original version Nordost Red Dawn in as the coax cable results in an apparent volume level increase with a more prominent if also slightly more thuddy bass response.

    July 3-30, 2015
    Updated OS/firmware from Pikes Peak to Yale Beta
    Plugged DS DAC into the CA200's External Processor Loop 2 which sets the CA200 to unity gain and volume is now controlled via the DS DAC

    Yale Beta yields a well centered sound stage with reference level lateral spread. Listening to some solo cello suites the cello seems more solid, more there in the room.

    Switching to the EPL2 input has piano sounding more tinkly with smaller, denser images. More air, more snappy sounding, and dialogue is more intelligible. Makes the DAC sound more like the 105D but in a good way.

    General Comment: When listening to music I prefer having the DAC in the loop but for Netflix and Cable I prefer the 105D solo. However as time goes on even for movies and TV, having the DS DAC in the chain is becoming more and more the new normal.

    July 31-August 4, 2015
    Upgraded from Yale Beta to Yale Final
    Switched the DAC from EPL2 to regular line level connection

    With every OS firmware upgrade the noise level has been dropped approximately 3dB and the already extremely low jitter level has been reduced. The noise floor now stands at about -130dB. Also, with every change the apparent volume difference between the DS DAC and the 105D has been reduced to the point where although still present it has become relatively minor. Sound stage is even more three dimensional than Yale Beta.

    After switching input connection there is an increase in inner detail/truth of timbre and the overall sound seems a little softer.

    That's pretty much all she wrote folks. I may come back to this topic again but for the moment, I'm very pleased.

  • Context Is Important: Update

    It's been over a year since the June 7, 2014 posting on my system configuration and there have been a number of changes and additions.

    Starting from the Oyaide R-1 wall outlets, we have the following.

    Power Distribution:
    • Audio Excellence AZ Power Wing II power line conditioner with PranaWire Vajra power cord (Oyaide M1/F1 connectors, built-in Linebacker and Super Enhanced Ground Plane).  Supported by bamboo cutting board.
    • PS Audio Juice Bar with Shunyata Taipan Helix Alpha power cord.

    • Samsung 46” LCD TV with HiFi-Tuning C7 power cord and Mapleshade Vivilink Plus HDMI cable.

    Front-End Components
    • Oppo 105D with PranaWire Satori power cord (Oyaide M1/F1 connectors) supported by Acoustic Revive RAF-48 air floatation board. Acoustic Revive RCA-1.0PA interconnects and LAN-1.5PA Ethernet cable. Prana Wire Photon USB cable. Mapleshade Vivilink Plus HDMI cable.
    • Olive O3HD Media Server with Bybee Golden Goddess power cord (Acrolink CF connectors) supported by Ebony discs. Acoustic Revive LINE1 interconnects and generic Ethernet cable.
    • PS Audio Direct Stream DAC with Bybee Golden Goddess power cord (Oyaide M1/F1 connectors) supported by Mapleshade Triple Points.  XLO Signature 3.1 RCA interconnects, Acoustic Revive Lan 1.5PA Ethernet cable, Cabledyne Reference Silver USB cable, connected to 105D on its coax input via Nordost Red Dawn (original) RCA interconnect.  HRS Damping Plate.

    Integrated Amplifier
    • conrad-johnson CA200 Control Amplifier with PranaWire Satori power cord (M1/F1 connectors) supported by Mad Scientist Audio Black Pod (original model) footers.  All fuses are  HiFi-Tuning Silver Star.

    • Martin Logan ElectroMotion ESL.  Acoustic Revive SPC-PA speaker cables with RBN-1 banana plugs. Acoustic Revive RWL-3 Acoustic Conditioners placed behind each speaker.

    • Acoustic Revive RR-777 Ultra Low Frequency Pulse Generator with KingRex MK2 PSU.
    • Black Discus and Black Sticks Devices by Mad Scientist Audio.
    • Western Digital My Passport Slim 2TB external hard drive
    • Two PNY 128GB Classic flash drive
    • Transcend 64GB flash drive
    • Macally Mini 7-Port USB 2.0 Hub with AC Adapter

  • PS Audio DirectStream DAC and Network Bridge, Part 2

    A Long Time Coming

    PS Audio, the reviews I've read and users comments all suggest that the DirectStream DAC (hereon after the DS DAC) takes 500 hours of use before it comes into its own. I can attest to the fact this is true.  At least 500 hours and I believe maybe longer.

    I'm going to depart from my usual Listening Impressions format and instead  describe the changes in sound that the DS DAC exhibited as time went by and the changes I made to fine-tune its performance.

    April 14-15, 2015
    Total Burn-In Time:  24 hours
    Although purchased from two different parties, both the DS DAC and Network Bridge arrive the same day and are connected to my system.  The first recording I listened to is Kitaro's Best of Silk Road.  This is a 96/24 DVD-A that has been copied onto an external hard drive (EHD) that was connected to my personal computer (PC) via its stock USB 3 cable and pushed to the Bridge/DAC via JRiver Media Center 20.  The first thing I noticed was that it sounded lower than what I'd been used to when listening to it via the Oppo 105D.  Both the 105D and the DAC were connected to my conrad-johnson CA200 integrated amp via identical 1M lengths of Acoustic Revive's RCA-PA interconnects so it wasn't a cabling difference.  A little research revealed that while the DAC outputs a 1.4Vrms signal, the 105D has a 2.1Vrms output.  This represents a 50% higher signal going from the DAC to the Oppo.  I then adjusted the volume level as best I could by ear since I do not an SPL meter.  My initial impression was that the DAC seemed more extended on top and perhaps a bit more airy.  At the same time, the recording played through the DAC sounded a little more relaxed and for lack of a better way of putting it, more lyrical as well.  Leading edge transients were sharper, more pronounced when the Oppo 105D was playing solo in an otherwise identical setup.

    I believe that differences I was hearing has much, if not all, to do with how SACDs (and therefore DSD recordings) sound to me versus LPCM recordings.  The latter would include Red Book CDs and DVD-A recordings.  Since the DAC initially converts all incoming signals, regardless of their original format, to 10X DSD and then downsamples to 2X DSD, this is what I was hearing.  These differences between the two formats continued, in varying degree, throughout my time with the DAC.

    On the second day the system started to experience skips and pauses during playback which was very annoying.  In the past, these sometimes plagued playback with the 105D but not to the same degree.  I suspected the culprit may have been the Bridge's outdated firmware.  Nevertheless, percussion instruments were more real and natural although also a bit softer through the DAC.  It seemed to me that there was more of a "feel" for the skin/drumhead with the DAC playing.

    April 16-21, 2015
    Total Burn-In Time:  168 hours
    Used a single XLO Signature 3.1 RCA interconnect to port the 105D's output directly into the DAC even though the cable was not specifically designed for this purpose.  The 105D's coaxial output is user selectable LPCM to 48/96/192 resolution or Bitstream.  I used the LPCM 192 and Bitstream settings and had a small preference for the latter but would be hard-pressed to consistently tell one from the other in a (shudder) blind test.  The coax connection was at least as good, if not better, when listening to the same material and there were no sonic hiccoughs (skips and pauses) when doing so.

    A big negative:  when listening to my set top box (STB) that's connected to the 105D with a Mapleshade HDMI cable and in turn via coax to the DAC, voices had a very unnatural echo quality to them when played at higher volume levels that was absent when the DAC was out of the chain.

    Playback of 44/16 FLAC files may be the DAC's forte with an almost reference level presentation.  The 105D solo, in comparison, is more edgy and digital sounding.  Images are larger with the 105D.  The DAC, on the other hand, presents smaller, denser images which are more easily distinguishable from each other as a result.


    The next installment will include the download of the Pikes Peak firmware, changing the DAC's power cord, and the introduction of footers (feet?) into the mix.

  • PS Audio DirectStream DAC and Network Bridge, Part 1


    These installments will cover the PS Audio Perfect Wave DirectStream DAC and the Network Bridge.    Interested readers are directed to the PS Audio website for additional information regarding these components.

    Additionally, there are a number of online reviews such as those in Stereophile and 6 Moons.

    Some of the features for the DS DAC include:

    • Pure 100% DSD based D to A Converter
    • Fully upgradable through software releases
    • Resolution perfect volume and balance controls built in
    • Upsamples PCM and DSD to 10x DSD rate
    • Purely passive transformer coupled output
    • Simple, direct signal path with one master clock
    • Hand written filters, processors and upsamplers
    • Immune to incoming jitter problems from different sources
    • Increased digital headroom
    • No off-the-shelf IC DAC chips used
    • 7 digital inputs
    • Fully balanced from input to output
    • Color touch screen

    The DS DAC was purchased from an online vendor, The Music Room, Broomfield, Colorado.  The purchase price was $3,399  which is a considerable discount from the unit’s list price of $5,995.  As a matter of fact, the unit is also available at its list price but also including the PS Audio Perfect Wave Memory Transport from online vendors.

    In conjunction with the DS DAC, I also purchased a used Network Bridge which allows for Ethernet connection to an owner’s home local network so that a network attached server (NAS) or home computer (PC or Mac) may be used as source devices.  The Bridge may be controlled with any UPnP device.  The Bridge lists for $799, new.

    DirectStream and the Bridge Shipping Cartons

    DirectStream and the Bridge Shipping Cartons


    Nested Boxes

    Nested Boxes


    Initial Opening

    Initial Opening


    Full Name

    Full Name


    DS DAC Unboxed

    DS DAC Unboxed


    Power Cord and Remote

    Power Cord and Remote


    DS DAC Top View with Protective Film

    DS DAC Top View with Protective Film


    DS DAC Bottom View

    DS DAC Bottom View


    DS DAC Front View

    DS DAC Front View


    DS DAC Rear View

    DS DAC Rear View

    From top left we see the on/off/reboot switch; IEC inlet; plate that covers the Bridge connection; SD card slot used for firmware updates; digital inputs: XLR (does not make a difference whether pins 2 or 3 are hot), optical, USB, I2S-1 and S-2 HDMI; analog outputs: right XLR, right and left RCA, left XLR.


    Touch Screen

    Touch Screen

    This view shows what is displayed when the Bridge is operating. From the top upper left it displays the access point to the Tools menu (sprocket shaped icon); track title, artist, and album title; the pause, home and bridge set-up icons; to the far right is the PerfectWave symbol which would show album art if the DS DAC were connected to a PerfectWave Transport; the input indicator with bitrate; the phase indicator; elapsed track time together with fast reverse and forward; and finally the volume indicator together with decrease/increase capability.
    Correction: The DS DAC requires an SD card be inserted into the Bridge in order to display album art. Once this is done, the Bridge will (fairly reliably) display the correct album art for the track being played.


    According to PS Audio and owners, the DS DAC requires 500 hours to fully break-in.  Some have reported as many as 650 hours.  Subsequent posts will cover my initial impressions of the DAC and Bridge used in various configurations along the way.



  • MartinLogan ElectroMotion ESL, Part 2

    It's been a little over three weeks since I replaced my Quad 989 speakers with the ML EM-ESL.  During that time I've clocked over 200 hours on the new speakers and I can tell you that ML's recommendation to allow 72 hours for break-in should be taken seriously. There have been a couple of changes to my system over this time, one of them unintentional and I'll cover both near the end of this review.

    Unless otherwise noted, my listening impressions are based on the EM-ESL's sound post break-in. This includes the removal of the rubber spike protectors and placing them on MDF plinths.  The former increased apparent detail while increasing tonal colors and the latter tightened the bass.  As was the case with the 989s, Acoustic Revive RWL-3 diffusor panels were used, although their placement was farther from the speakers.  Comparisons will also be drawn to the predecessor Quad 989s.

    Listening Impressions

    • The new speakers, because of their increased efficiency (real world 87dB versus 83dB for the Quads) are louder and depending upon the source, required a decrease in the volume setting of my c-j CA200 of between three to eight clicks to reach comparable loudness levels.  This corresponds to about 2dB to 5dB.  Decreasing the volume control on my Oppo BDP-105D from 100 to 92 (4dB) allowed me to play music at the previous volume setting on the CA200.
    • Regardless of the source, bass depth and impact are, respectively, lower and more potent than the 989.  Watching the Bu-ray version of Prometheus, was almost as if I were seeing it for the first time.  The quality of the bass was excellent, never one-note, if not quite as seamlessly integrated with upper frequencies as is the 989.  This is not unexpected when comparing an ESL hybrid with a full range electrostatic speaker.  Listening to Jesse Cook's album The Blue Guitar Sessions, I initially thought there was a large truck idling outside my living room window when it was in fact the music.
    • Listening to the Øystein Sevåg album Bridge, for example, revealed that the sound stage didn't have quite the same height as I'd previously heard.  This was a consistent characteristic when comparing the two speakers.
    • Piano rendition is, if anything, superior to the Quads which were excellent to begin with.  The ML's seem to have more presence with a greater illusion that the piano is in the room with you.
    • Dialogue in the film Oblivion via my STB is clearer and more nuanced.
    • Treble response is more extended .  When listening to a playlist of Hearts of Space and Narada albums on an SSD via the PranaWire Photon USB cable hooked up to the 105D, I heard details and subtleties previously buried in the mix.  This seems to be an almost track by track difference, however.  In some cases the treble presentation of the 989's is superior.  While listening to the track Buffalo Trail on the album Red Sky Beat by The Blue Chip Orchestra, the portrayal of bird sounds is more crude/less realistic.  Via the Quads, it was difficult to distinguish whether there were actual birds chirping outside or if they were coming from the recording.  Not so with the EM-ESL's.
    • Listening to the same playlist as above except this time with an EHD via JRiver20, there is a bit of leanness not heard with the Quads.  This is also a consistent result regardless of source and method of playback.
    • The Quad 989's are masters of coherence, sound staging and refinement.  Although an excellent speaker in its own right, the ML EM-ESL's never quite measure up in these regards.  When one remembers that the 989's are 3X to 4X the list price of the hybrids, it brings the comparison into more realistic focus.
    •   The midrange is another quirky area.  Generally leaner with the ML's, there were also times that the leanness lent a heightened sense of realism.  This may be a case of you pays your money and you takes your choice.

    At this point I'd like to discuss the two system changes previously mentioned and their consequences in revealing some of the ML's attributes.

    Dead Fuse
    My conrad-johnson CA200 is prone to eating alive the T6.3A fuse utilized in the mains connection.  This happens on initial power-up from standby mostly very early in the morning and especially at that time during the weekend when the electrical draw is at its lowest (not counting in the dead of night when the system is inactive anyway).  Evidently the transformer's power-up inrush swamps the mains fuse causing it to blow.  This happens almost exclusively with expensive, aftermarket fuses that are built to tighter tolerances than the stock glass fuses that come with the integrated although I've lost one or two of those, as well.  The second scenario causing fuse failure occurs when power cords are swapped out.  As a result, I had taken to leaving the integrated on 24/7 and now having come to a power cord that I'm totally satisfied with, the PranaWire Satori, my troubles seemed to be at an end.

    In anticipation of fuse failures, I'd purchased one each of the HiFi-Tuning Supreme, Silver and Gold XT (an extra slow blow model formulated to withstand transformer power inrush).  See picture below.

    HiFi-Tuning Fuses All Three Flavors


    The Supreme had already bitten the dust during a power cord change and I was now using the Silver which I, in fact, preferred in this particular application.  The Supreme is supposed to combine the smoothness of the Gold with the detail and airiness of the Silver.  As I discovered, it borrowed more from the Gold than the Silver -- again, in this application.  One day, feeling suicidal, I decided to place the CA200 into standby in the vain hope that after having settled in for weeks in its new home it'd somehow become impervious to past problems.

    Sadly, this was not the case on power-up.  And so the Gold XT now resides in the CA200.  The whole point of this lengthy introduction is the fact that the difference in sound was immediately and very clearly conveyed by the new speakers.  In comparison, the Gold XT is less detailed with rounder transients, less low level detail, and a generally more midrange-centric sound.  Macrodynamics suffered and the superior startle factor of the ML speakers versus the Quads almost entirely disappeared.  I've placed an order for two more Silver fuses.  NB:  This was with the Gold XT in the same orientation as the Silver had previously been.

    Mad Scientist Black Pods

    The second system change was the introduction of the Black Pod footers purchased from Mad Scientist Audio based out of New Zealand.  See pictures below.

    The Set of Three
    Black Pod Set


    Black Pod Profile Close-Up


    The Reverse Side

    Black Pod - Reverse Side


    Again, the difference was immediately clear: I didn't like them under the BDP-105D. Although bass was a tad stronger, the overall effect was similar to that of the Gold XT in that apparent detail was lessened and it seemed to just suck out some of the air from the presentation, especially in the treble. This may have been due to the fact that the 105D was already residing on an original model Acoustic Revive RAF-48 air floating board and maybe it was just too much of a good thing. I'm not sure.

    Although not my original intention, I removed them from the 105D and tried them in place of Mapleshade's original model Triple Points on my Olive O3HD media server.  Ah, this was more like it:  detail was just as good as before, and inner detail/timbre superior.  The song Sailing to Byzantium from Lisa Gerrard's Immortal Memory sounded beautifully ethereal with a solid bottom end.  The sound stage was more dimensional than I ever remember hearing on this track.  Coyote Oldman's track Shape of Time from his album In Beauty I Walk projected into my living room right up to my listening seat.


    I apologize for going on to such length but the MartinLogan ElectroMotion ESL have made a great impact on me.  Are they the be-all and end-all of audiodom?  Obviously not and I'm sure there are other speakers in its price range equally deserving of praise.  But I can tell you this, I haven't had this much fun and enjoyment listening to my system since...never, maybe.  If you're looking for new speakers anywhere near their price range, you'll be doing your self a disservice not putting them on your short list.  Enthusiastically recommended.

  • MartinLogan ElectroMotion ESL, Part 1

    Some History

    I have owned a pair of Quad ESL-989 speakers since November, 2003.  As far as I am able to determine, these are some of the original speakers of this model produced (serial #41 and #42) and were most likely still manufactured in the UK.

    They succeeded in time a pair of MartinLogan original model, single wire Aerius speakers purchased c.1995 that I treasured for both their sound and aesthetic appeal.   The Aerius speakers suffered an untimely demise due to the dread disease named UPSitis.  Having moved from New Jersey to sunny Southern California I prevailed upon my dutiful daughter to ship the speakers to my new abode.  I’d left the speakers for my ex-wife to use but upon learning that the Aerius’ were lying dormant and unused, my daughter suggested sending them to me and she used UPS to do so.

    Unfortunately, only one of the speakers survived the cross-country trek while its partner was either MIA or KIA.  The analogy to my marriage is almost too obvious and pertinent to mention.  I’d been using a pair of Magnepan MMG speakers and continued on with them until purchasing the pair of used ESL-989s mentioned above.

    Recently, however, one of the pair (detecting a trend here yet?) fell victim to another dread disease, baconitis/radioitis.  While listening to some music I heard a muffled pop and the left channel speaker began making a rather loud series of noises that cycled between the hissing/sizzling sound of frying bacon and the warbling tones heard from a badly tuned shortwave radio.

    I was now faced with the choice of having the speaker professionally crated, shipped, and then repaired, or, replacing the Quads.  The uncertainty as to how much it would cost, whether this was a prelude to additional panels in that speaker going south and therefore having them all replaced at once, or sending in both speakers at twice the cost for diagnosis and possible additional panel transplants on the second speaker lead to my decision to replace the speakers altogether.

    This was not an easy decision as the 989s had been a source of joy for years and I’d been planning on being buried next to them when the time came.  Insert another uxorial analogy here.


    Enter the ElectroMotion

    Once the decision was made to abandon the Quads, it left the further one of what speakers to purchase?  Having read a few quite positive reviews regarding the ElectroMotion ESL (EM-ESL), its position in the MartinLogan (ML) product line as the modern day reincarnation of the Aerius, and its price-point, the decision was actually straightforward.

    After reviewing a number of online vendors carrying the ML EM-ESL, I chose Audio Advisor.  They advertised a pair of “factory refreshed” EM-ESLs for $799 each including shipping.  I’ve dealt with Audio Advisor for many years and have found them to be reputable so I gave them a call and spoke to a sales rep.  He said that “factory refreshed” meant that the speakers had been most likely returned by a customer who decided post-purchase that s/he did not want them for whatever reason and that ML had agreed to take them back.  At that point, ML tests the speakers and performs whatever maintenance, if any, that needs to be done and then puts them back onto the market at a reduced price but with the full manufacturer’s warranty.

    This sounded good to me, so I bought them then and there on the call.  Three days later, they arrived via FedEx.

    If you are interested in all of the technical details, I recommend you visit the ML web site and read to your heart’s content.  Here are some points of difference between the EM-ESL and its ancestral Aerius:

    1. The EM-ESL has about 40% more stator radiating area but a smaller footprint
    2. It has a downward firing bass port while the Aerius was a sealed box design
    3. Although rated at 91dB efficiency, the EM-ESL is actually about 87dB but that is still greater than the Aerius’ 85dB
    4. The EM-ESL at 35 lbs. is 20 lbs. lighter than the Aerius
    5. When first introduced, the EM-ESL had a list price of $2,195 and now costs $2,500.  The Plain Jane (single wire and no wooden trim) Aerius cost $1,995 back in 1995.  Adjusted for inflation, that’d be $3,100 in 2014 and so the newer model actually costs less.

    So, What Does it look Like?

    Packing box for a single speaker. Although a little awkward, one person can extricate the speaker without damage to himself or the EM-ESL.
    ML EM-ESL Shipping Box


    The EM-ESL comes with an outer clear plastic covering.

    Plastic Protective Wrapper

    Plastic Protective Wrapper

    MartinLogan recommends wrapping the EM-ESL in its dustcover when there will be an extended period of inactivity.

    Dust Cover

    Dust Cover

    Rear connection plate showing the negative terminal with its Eurozone rubber covering. The positive terminal has its red covering removed. This opening is where a banana connector would go. The speaker terminals themselves are spring-loaded and will accept bare wire up to 4mm. The grip on the bare wire would be firm although the terminals themselves are one of the places where you can tell that ML scrimped in order to come in at the speaker's price point. Above the terminals is a soft blue light which is lit when the speaker is active. It automatically powers-up within two seconds of detecting a signal.

    Rear View

    Rear View

    The hallmark ML microperf stator seen from the rear.

    Rear Stator Panel

    Rear Stator Panel

    The EM-ESL comes with four rubber spike protectors. They recommend leaving them in place until a final speaker position is determined. And to protect hard surfaces from being scratched when moving the speakers. The speakers should be walked and not dragged both to protect the spikes from breaking and from damaging both carpeted and non-carpeted surfaces. I would recommend gripping the speakers firmly from the bottom of the stator panel in order to not undly stress the panel.

    Rubber Spike Protectors

    Rubber Spike Protectors

    The supplied power supply obviates the need and expense of aftermarket power cords. But where's the fun in that? The power supply should be attached to the speaker first and then plug the opposite end to your outlet or power conditioner.

    Electrical Connector and B-Stock Disclaimer

    Electrical Connector and B-Stock Disclaimer


    Wall Side Electrical Connector

    Wall Side Electrical Connector

    Acoustic Revive SPC-PA speaker cables with their RBN-1 banana plugs firmly ensconced into the EM-ESL.

    Banana Connections

    Banana Connections

    Just like all of ML's ESL and ESL-hybrids, you really can see through them. This makes their presence in the listening area less obtrusive than similarly sized box or planar speakers.

    Rear View

    Rear View


    I placed the speakers on some spare Sanus MDF shelves and that seems to have tightened up and extended the bass response. I've been told that using a harder surface platform such as stone or steel would be even more beneficial. I have not tried that as yet. Behind the speakers are Acoustic Revive's RWL-3 diffusor panels. They do help with bass control, imaging and low level details are less likely to be smeared due to back wave reflections. Although the system as a whole is far from aesthetically pleasing, one of the few advantages of my living alone is that if i don't care, then that's all that matters.

    Current System Configuration

    Current System Configuration


    The next installment will cover some additional details and, hopefully, my listening impressions.

  • Tale of Two Bybees, Part 2

    One point I should have mentioned during Part 1 concerns metallurgy and the resulting compatibilities or incompatibilities that result between power cords and the rest of the electrical reproduction chain.

    The electrical wall outlets that I use in my apartment for my stereo system are the Oyaide R-1 model. These electrical outlets start with a twice-polished copper beryllium substrate to which is added a 0.5 micron layer of platinum and then a final layer of 0.3 micron thick palladium. Each layer, the same as the substrate, is twice-polished. Three of these same outlets are used in my Power Wing II.

    The Oyaide M1/F1 connectors use exactly the same metallurgy and therefore, in this sense, should be a perfect electrical match for both the wall and Power Wing II outlets. The Acrolink Carbon Fiber connectors, on the other hand, have a 3,500 micron (3.5mm) layer of rhodium plating. I do not know the substrate material but assume that on these older plugs it is most likely phosphor bronze or copper.

    Some believe (including both manufacturers and audiophiles that I greatly respect) that metallurgical mismatches result in tonal and/or spatial discontinuities in the reproduced sound that aren’t present when all the metals match.

    Bybee Golden Goddess M1/F1
    The first application for this power cord was on the Oppo 105D replacing a Shunyata Taipan Helix Alpha. Bear in mind that the retail price of this Bybee is about three times more than the Shunyata.

    Listening Impressions
    • A playlist of Hearts of Space tracks on my personal computer via Foobar2000 showed an immediate improvement in low level detail and image placement
    • Bass is more impactful
    • Very even and extended tonality with a more delicate treble
    • Timbre/inner detail is better, as well
    • Music seems to be just hanging there against a dead black background

    Bybee Golden Goddess Prototype Acrolink CF
    Replaced the Tel Wire power cord on my Olive O3HD music server with the Bybee Prototype Acrolink CF.

    Listening Impressions
    • Very low level details are more easily heard
    • Sound stage is more three-dimensional extending from farther behind the plane of the speakers right up to the listening seat
    • A bit smoother with echoes seeming to go on forever
    • Details such as the intake of a singer’s breath more easily discernable
    • Initial transients are a little rounder
    • Dynamic changes can be startling at times

    There were later changes using these two cords including switching between the 105D and the O3HD. One thing I did notice, as had been pointed out to me by an audio buddy, was that the M1/F1 cord cast a higher sound stage. In general, however, the two differently terminated cords sounded more alike than different and both were capable of producing reference level sound at times.

  • Tale of Two Bybees, Part 1

    This installment will cover two versions of the “Bybee” Nano Reference Golden Goddess power cord. The reason for the quote marks around Bybee is due to the fact that the provenance of these two cords is not certain.

    The Bybee cord terminated with Oyaide M1/F1 connectors was purchased first in February, 2014. After some conversations with the seller post-purchase I learned that in fact the cord had been assembled from parts purchased from Bybee and put together by an audio salon that carried Bybee products. The cord terminated with Acrolink Carbon Fiber connectors was purchased in August, 2014. This cord was purported to be a prototype model subsequently purchased by the original owner who also happened to be an audio reviewer.

    Fit and finish of the M1 power cord is what would be expected of an upper echelon product. The CF terminated prototype model, on the other hand, looks like a prototype.

    The cords employs quantum physicist Jack Bybee's Golden Goddess filtering technology embedded in a carbon fiber tube selected to reduce noise and the impact of vibrations.

    The photographs below depict various aspects of the two cords.

    Oyaide M1/F1 Connectors

    Oyaide M1/F1 Connectors

    Close-Up of Carbon Fiber Barrel

    Close-Up of Carbon Fiber Barrel

    Close-Up of Cord

    Close-Up of Cord

    Bybee Nano Reference Golden Goddess CF

    Bybee Nano Reference Golden Goddess CF

    Close-Up of Acrolink Female Connector

    Close-Up of Acrolink Female Connector

    Close-Up of Acrolink Male Connector

    Close-Up of Acrolink Male Connector

    Carbon Fiber Barrel

    Carbon Fiber Barrel

    The cords were originally purchased with the thought in mind that they would hopefully augment the efficacy of the Bybee Large Gold filter housed in my Audio Excellence AZ Power Wing II. In addition, the contemplation was that the filtering technology of the Bybee cords would be a natural match with noise prone/producing digital source components. Thus, the two cords were utilized on my Oppo BDP-105D universal player and Olive O3HD media server.

    I was also curious as to what, if any, differences could be attributed to the Oyaide M1/F1 connectors versus the Acrolink CF.

    So, how did the sound? That will be covered in the next installment.

  • WireWorld Starlight 7 USB 3 & Western Digital 2TB EHD, Part 2

    Fifteen days have passed since I installed the Starlight 7 USB 3 cable into my system and during that time in excess of 100 hours of burn-in have occurred. This was accomplished while leaving the Oppo 105D running overnight on multiple occasions reading files from the Western Digital EHD and also actual listening during the day. I haven’t noticed any changes in sound for the last week, so now would be an appropriate time to report my findings.

    The music files I’ve listened to include PCM (FLAC and WAV) and DSD64 (DSF and DFF). Sampling rates were a broad spectrum such as 44/16, 88/24, 192/24, and 2.82MHz. During my listening sessions the Starlight 7 connected the EHD directly into the 105D and also, through an adapter, the WireWorld USB cable fed a PranaWire Photon USB cable as well. The latter was done to hear what effects might occur when introducing the Photon into the equation. Not surprisingly, chaining the two USB cables did alter the sound.

    Late in the listening sessions a Bybee Golden Goddess prototype power cord with Acrolink CF plugs was introduced into the mix replacing the excellent Acrolink 7N-P4030II with Oyaide P-/C-004 plugs I’d previously been using on my conrad-johnson CA200 integrated amp. The changes for the positive that occurred with the Bybee carried through regardless of the source.

    The section immediately below is a comparison of the Starlight 7 versus the stock USB 3 cable that came with the Western Digital external hard drive.

    Listening Impressions
    • Immediately noticeable was a drop in volume which lessened over time as burn-in occurred. At present, there is still a need to raise the volume level on my CA200 one or two clicks to get comparable loudness. I don’t have an SPL meter so this is totally subjective on my part but has been consistent.
    • This cable, in my opinion, needs at least 25 hours of burn-in and no decisions should be made as to its sound right out of the box. Initial impressions listening to The Avison Ensemble performing Handel’s Concerti Grossi Opus 6 were of a grainy, muddy, closed-in, less detailed sound. Even cold, however, sound stage depth was excellent.
    • After only 10 hours or so of burn-in, the grainy quality had almost entirely disappeared as was evidenced listening to Daft Punk’s Random Access Memories. Eventually, it would entirely go away.
    • Listening to a playlist of tracks from the Narada and Hearts of Space labels, it was easy to hear improvements in detail with a more open treble and longer decay times.
    • Massed vocals are clearer and individual voices are easier to distinguish than with the stock cable.
    • Low level detail is superior to the stock cable.
    • The skin sound of percussion instruments is especially realistic as are chimes with noticeable air surrounding the images.

    Apples and Oranges
    I then did a comparison of the EHD + Starlight 7 versus the EHD + stock cable feeding the Photon USB cable. This is totally unfair in that 0.6M length of the Photon costs $995 while a 1M Stralight 7 has an MSRP of $120.

    What I found was quite surprising. With the stock cable at one end of the continuum and the Photon at the other, the Starlight 7 fell considerably closer to the Photon than I’d ever expected. The Photon had better low level detail, more clearly defined/denser images, a bit more extension at the frequency extremes and refinement.

    The WireWorld Starlight 7 USB 3 cable is a head and shoulders improvement over the stock cable that came with my EHD. In my opinion, it’s well worth its relatively modest cost.
    Continue reading

  • WireWorld Starlight 7 USB 3 & Western Digital 2TB EHD, Part 1

    This initial installment will cover two audio-related products: WireWorld's Starlight 7 USB 3 cable and the Western Digital My Passport Slim 2TB external hard drive.

    The Starlight 7 is the first audio-level quality USB 3 cable that I am aware of and was purchased from Ivan Messer of Legend Audio & Video located in Parkland, Florida. The 1 meter cable has a list price of $120 and was shipped directly to me from WireWorld.

    Front of Box
    WireWorld Starlight 7 USB 3

    Rear of Box
    WireWorld Starlight 7 USB 3 Rear View

    The Starlight 7 USB 3 cable uses WireWorld's Symmetricon construction technique and is based on the same formulation as its HDMI cables. As such, it is much wider than the standard USB 3 cable that accompanied my WD Passport Slim EHD.

    Open Clamshell Container
    WW S7 USB 3 Open Clamshell

    The Starlight 7 is comprised of 12 signal conductors of silver clad 24 average gauge oxygen free copper plus seven 20 average gauge oxygen free copper conductors that are physically separated from the signal conductors used to carry the 5V power portion of the transmission.

    Conductor Description
    Conductor Description

    The Western Digital EHD requires a Micro-B connection (the A-side is standard) and so the STZ version of the Starlight 7 was ordered.

    Micro-B Connector
    USB 3 Micro-B Connector

    The Western Digital My Passport Slim is a 2 terabyte (2TB) external hard drive. I have purchased two of these hard drives (one functions as a back-up to the primary drive) from Amazon. One reason I chose this particular model is because it has a metal casing which I thought would help with heat dissipation. I use this EHD to store some of my music files that have been created from ripping a portion of my CD collection using either dBPoweramp or JRiver Media Center 19. Each of these software packages has its own advantages and may be covered in another, possibly future, installment. The WD EHD may be plugged directly into my Oppo 105D BD/Universal Player through one of the latter's three USB A slots or if I choose, I can have the EHD plugged into my laptop PC and stream the music files wirelessly to the Oppo.

    Western Digital EHD
    Western Digital 2TB External Hard Drive

    The next installment will describe the sound of the Starlight 7 versus the stock cable that came with the WD EHD. A hint regarding my findings so far: Patience is rewarded.