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Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Recording/Live Gear Review!
SHURE KSM8 Dualdyne
Dynamic Vocal Microphone

Shure KSM8: More Impact, Less Punch

Brevis...
Price: $499
Likes: big sweet spot, smooth
Dislikes:  more money than a '58
Wow Factor: a "more honest" dynamic
More Info: Shure KSM8

 by John Gatski
 Shure has been a leader in studio and live performance microphones for more than 50 years. The ubiquitous SM57 and SM58 are likely the two most popular dynamic microphones in the industry. But just when you think that dynamic transducer technology has fully matured, Shure comes along with a new dynamic twist: the Dualdyne KSM8 vocal microphone.

Features
  The KSM8 is a dual-diaphragm, cardioid handheld dynamic microphone with two-diaphragms implemented — offering a bigger sweet spot and a flatter frequency response than your typical handheld dynamic. The new design also helps to greatly reduce proximity effect, which unbalances the bass response versus the rest of the spectrum because you have to get so close to the element. The KSM8 also maintains Shure’s noted cardioid, off-axis rejection of unwanted sound and bleed from other sources from the front  and sides.
  To increase its durability and lower handling noise Shure uses aerospace SoftMag technology, a patent-pending Diaphragm Stabilization System, and pneumatic internal shock mounting.

  On vocals, the first sonic impression of the KSM8 was the lack of sizzle, a warm, smooth tone without the hype. Dare I say, almost like tube-like. And a huge sweet spot that extends further back

  Besides the bigger sweet spot, the Dualdyne design achieves what I really like about the Shure KSM8: a flatter frequency response, which reveals a more accurate sonic persona versus most dynamic microphones made today. Over the last 20 years, it seems that mics have moved to the “hotter” side in the mid/presence range of 2 kHz to 6 kHz, in order to punch vocals through the high-decibel haze of modern live performances. However, if you like to record with a dynamic, which has often has a more direct, natural character than a condenser, the presence peak (crispness) has to be EQ'd to flatten the tone.
  The KSM8 has a much flatter curve than the say a SM58. If You look at the factory graphs, the SM58 is flat from 100 Hz to 1 kHz, but the response gradually rises from 1 kHz to 3 kHz (+ 3.5 dB), and then sharply rises to 5 dB by 4.5 kHz and stays around + 5 dB until 6 kHz, where it starts to flatten again, down to +1.5 by 8 kHz. The response spikes again — to +4.5 dB by 10 kHz, where it then eventually starts to fall as most dynamics do; the useable response to 15 kHz.

Inside KSM8

  In contrast, the KSM8 is relatively flat all the way to 2 kHz, and exhibits a series of gentle 2.5 dB and lower bumps in the presence range response before a fall off just before 10 kHz. It is -5 dB at 12 kHz. Overall, though the response confirms a less-punchy, more accurate response to 10 kHz that I was hearing in my testing.
  On voice and instruments, the KSM8 sounds flatter, by comparison, to mics that I had on hand, including a SM58. The sound has less sizzle, and in my book that can be a good thing. Vocals without extra focus in the midrange and upper midrange/low treble sound more natural with this mic.   



The KSM8 is collecting its share of award nods


  On the minus side, bass-hewn voices may not get the lift in the upper band of the mic’s range as they do  with standard dynamics, but, overall, I like the path Shure has chosen. Natural and accurate are audio characteristics I appreciate in all areas of the audio chain. If you start with a flat mic, all the better.
  The mic comes in brushed nickel or black, and is housed in a nice zippered case. A mic clip is included. Retail price is $499.

The audition
  I set up the KSM8, the black version, in my home recording studio. I mated it with one of the cleanest, accurate mic preamps — the True Engineering P2. The mic was linked to the preamp with a 12 ft. Wireworld Professional XLR cable. Another cable fed the preamp outputs to a TASCAM DA-3000 master recorder.
  I recorded solo vocals first with a SM58, then the KSM8, and finally a Mojave MA-300 tube condenser microphone to get a reference point on where this Shure mic is in the mic spectrum.

Comes in nickel or black

  A later recorded vocal was made with accompaniment with my custom Martin OO-28 fingerstyle guitar to see how the KSM8 picks up two instruments from the one mic. Just for comparison purposes, I also tracked a Yamaha U1 professional upright piano with a mic stand bar extended above the open lid. I also laid down two tracks of my Gibson L5 CES Custom jazz guitar, played through an original Fender Deluxe Reverb, circa 1965.
  On vocals, the first sonic impression of the KSM8 was the lack of sizzle, a warm smooth tone without the hype. Dare I say, almost like tube-like. And a huge sweet spot that extends further back than normal dynamic cardioids. Accompanying myself with the Martin acoustic, the vocals and guitar were picked up nicely even at two feet away. A singer/guitarist should really like this mic if you just want a simple relay of the two sources with one transducer; it works great.

  Couple the great tone with Shure’s exemplary build and packaging, you got yourself an Everything Audio Network Stellar Award winner. Its superb quality also bumps the KSM8 onto our 2016 Microphone Of The Year list.

  Yet the off-axis rejection is excellent; sounds coming from back and sides of the mic are firmly suppressed to enhance the clarity of the up-front source. But you still have that bigger, on-axis sweet spot, thanks to the Dualdyne design.
  I liked the smooth body so much that I also tracked the Gibson jazz guitar with the KSM8. For a dynamic, I liked the way it picks up the humbucker/tube amp tone — the natural attack of the tone without any extra mid emphasis. It obviously does not have the extended top end of a condenser, but it sounds pretty darn good. Way smoother than a ‘57.
  And yes, it captured the essential tone of the U1 piano— a lean bass, sparkly sounding, upright without exacerbating the low-treble register. My recorded 24/192 tracks were good enough to use in a mix, mic quality wise.

The verdict
  All in all, the Shure KSM8 is a welcome change for the dynamic microphone niche. A smooth accurate response to 10 kHz, which means less exaggerated punch when you don’t need it, which also means less EQ needed. The Dualdyne cartridge also creates a bigger sweet spot in the on-axis field to the point you don’t have to eat the mic. That attribute also results in less proximity effect.
  I think that over time, the KSM8‘s atypical dynamic accuracy will push it into a variety of uses including instrument recording and studio vocals. Couple the great tone with Shure’s exemplary build and packaging, you got yourself an Everything Audio Network Stellar Sound Award winner. Its superb quality also bumps the KSM8 onto our 2016 Microphone Of The Year list. Because of its audio quality and unique design, the KSM8 also been nominated for a National Association of Music Merchants (NAMM) TEC Award in the microphone category.


  John Gatski has been evaluating consumer, audiophile, home cinema and professional audio gear since 1988. In 1995, he created Pro Audio Review, and he has written for Audio, Laserviews, Enjoy The Music, The Audiophile Voice, High Performance Review, Radio World and TV Technology. Everything Audio Network is based in Kensington, Md. Articles on this site are the copyright of the ©Everything Audio Network. Any unauthorized use, via print or Internet, without written permission is prohibited. John Gatski can be reached via everything.audio@verizon.net



Tuesday, August 9, 2016

EAN Audiophile Review!
CODA Technologies CSiB
Integrated Stereo Amplifier


©Everything Audio Network

Brevis...
Price: $6,000
Likes: accuracy, speed, precision
Dislikes:  $6,000 ain’t pocket change
Wow Factor: The “have-it-all” integrated
More Info: CODA CSiB

 by John Gatski
 CODA Technologies is one the best kept secret in Hi-Fi. With designers Doug Dale and Eric Lauchli at the helm, the company has been manufacturing pristine-sounding, transparent amplifiers and preamplifiers for more than 20 years. CODA has OEM’d for such prestigious companies as Legacy Audio and under their own CODA moniker. Based on my experience with CODA, including the two mid 1990’s-era high-current preamps and 200 watt amplifier I owned, I know how good these made-in-California hi-fi products are.
  The $6,000 CSiB audiophile-caliber, integrated amplifier reviewed here has advanced my impression of CODA even further.

Features
  The CODA CSiB is a 400-wpc Class A/B amp (8 ohms) combined with the preamp section out of the CODA 05X, which utilizes the PGA2310 digitally controlled analog attenuator. The C1SB incorporates the company’s CSX Precision Bias Class A/AB amplifier design, with discrete JFET differential input stage, VMOSFET voltage gain DC coupled to an ultra wide-band bipolar output stage.
  The fully discrete amplifier FET differential input stage is DC-coupled to an ultra wide-band bipolar output stage with no overall feedbacks. The amp section operates in Class A to five watts.
  If you like a no-compromise amp and preamp in one unit, and you like your power, clarity and dynamic bass impression on the real side. The CODA CSiB is definitely a high-end, integrated amplifier for your short list.

  The preamplifier section is derived from the CODA 05X design, utilizing the PGA2310 digitally-controlled precision analog attenuator. Component upgrades include PRP audio resistors, Multicap capacitors, and high speed rectifiers for the preamp power supply. The design and parts list are impressive, and it shows in the integrated’s ultimate sonic presentation.
  The front panel is unusual, among hi-fi integrated, in that it does not have any rotary potentiometers. All controls are push button, including the attenuator. The controls include level adjust, subwoofer output, tape monitor, input, and mode, which selects either both channels, or routing the right or left through the preamp output.
  The main power switch is on the back, but the standby power on the front panel mutes the audio, via a bias interrupt, useful for making cable swaps without turning off the power supply. The volume output level is indicated via an LED that goes from 0 to 99 dB.

Plenty of I/O and a clean layout

  The CSiB contains three pairs of unbalanced line inputs (Aux 1, Aux 2, Video), one pair of balanced inputs, a processor loop, stereo subwoofer output and a pair of RCA preamp outputs. Speakers inputs are single-wire binding posts for the left and right channels.
  As I have come to expect from CODA, the specs are exemplary: up to 800 watts per channel into 4 ohms, signal to noise of at least -110 dB and distortion under .04 percent. Also, CODA really knows how to build a power supply. The CSiB features 80,000 uF of filter capacitance and a 3,000 vA transformer rating.

The CSiB has one horse of a power supply

 The 3U high CSiB is compact for such a powerful integrated, but it is hefty in its weight: 55 pounds; the weight comes from the sturdy chassis, cover faceplate, the massive power supply and rear heatsink.
  The CODA CSiB includes a really nice accessory remote control, but I never used it. With the amp’s location in my test rack and the integrated’s ease of use I never felt the need to use it. I just set the level manually. Other customers I am sure will make full use of the remote.

The set up
  I installed the CSiB in my tester audiophile rig, which consisted of numerous components: an Oppo BDP-105 universal player, Oppo HA-1 D/A, Benchmark DAC 2 D/A, Mytek Manhattan D/A, a Teac UD-503 D/A, a Clear Audio Emotion turntable, a Rogue Audio RP-5 tube preamp, a 20-year old CODA preamp and a Pass Labs C10 preamp. For ultra-hi-res PCM playback through the system, I also used my home brew/budget-priced, high-performance music server — simply a Dell Venue 8 Android tablet, the USB Audio Player Pro Android player program, a USB hub and a few cables.
   I had numerous amps on hand for comparison with the CSiB including: Bryston 14B SST-II bipolar output, Pass Labs X350.8 MOSFET output. Most of my eval listening was done through my MartinLogan Montis electrostatics, but I also monitored via a pair of Legacy Studio HDs, stand speakers, Pass Labs SR-1 tower speakers, and a par of TAD Compact Reference 1 (TAD-CRMK2).
  I connected the components with Wireworld Eclipse interconnects and speaker cables,  as well as Essential Sound Products Essence II Reference power cables and passive power strip. I let the CSiB burn in for a few days before doing any serious listening.

The audition
 With the ML Montis electrostatic wired to the CSiB I began a series of critical lis3ting sessions using hi-res jazz and classical music. First up was my reference Warren BernhardtSo Real SACD, engineered by Tom Jung at the DMP label in early 2000. It did not take long for the CODA’s integrated-design qualities to shine through. The open sound stage, quick, taut powerful bass lines, the 3-D like transient cues from the piano and drum cymbals, immediately put this amp in the forefront of  the best amplifiers out there on the market. 
  CODA amps have always trended toward the transparency side of the music. In fact, I owned a 200-wpc stereo amp that was Legacy labeled about 20 years ago that showed off its musical realism sonic properties back in the CD days. The newer generation of CODA amps, however, are even more transparent with tighter bass, less noise and impressive dynamics. Perfect for today’s best examples of hi-res recordings.
  Although integrated are often seen as a compromise of two critical audio components, The CODA CSiB sound does not sound compromised to my ears. The open sound stage and the dynamic textures of jazz piano, and cymbals of the signature Warren Bernhardt cut, “So Real,” was up there with the best bipolar output amps I have ever heard.

  Although integrated are often seen as a compromise of two critical audio components, The CODA CSiB sound does not sound compromised to my ears. The open sound stage and the dynamic textures of jazz piano, cymbals, of the signature Warren Bernhardt cut, “So Real,” was up there with the best bipolar output amps I have ever heard.
  Compared to the Bryston 14B-SST2 (using Bryston BHA-1 HP amp's line output stage), the CSiB and the Bryston tandem were close in their signature transient speed and tight bass, but I thought the CSiB was a bit more spacious in the dynamic space impression. However, when I routed the CSiB preamp output signals through the 14B-SST2, the sonic difference gap closed. 
  Switching to Classical music, I sampled several cuts from the Ludwig Van Beethoven  — “Complete Sonata for Piano and Violin,” Isabelle Van Kuelen and Hannes Minnaar (Challenge Classics). This very live and dynamic SACD is slightly warm, yet openly dynamic with lots of range. The violin tone with with all of its bow-to-string overtones is simply a joy to listen to as is the strong piano performance. I have heard it on a number of review set ups and my own reference system numerous times.

Everything Audio Network CODA CSiB Angle
The CODA CSiB will look great in your rack

  The presentation through the CSiB was simply gorgeous — with just the right amount of warmness — yet the violin has this life-like sonic persona with out any stridency that often afflicts violin performances with lesser amps. And the CODA amp did not impart any slowness to the bass spectrum. The Steinway piano’s low end was very natural.
  Versus some MOSFET and tube amps I have reviewed over the last two decades, the CODA  audio signature is less veiled. The Beethoven’s recording’s piano room reverb is clearly audible through this amp  — without being smothered. This caliber of amp begs you to listen deeper in to the mix. Versus the Pass X350.8 (one of the best stereo MOSFET amps on the market), the CODA met its match (and slightly exceeded) in the stereo image department. Yet the MOSFET design imparts a warmness tinge that the CODA does not. The CSiB exudes a dynamic character that is very honest.
  I switched off to the Andrew Jones-designed TAD Compact Reference 1 (TAD-CRMK2) stand speakers that I had in for an upcoming review. These extraordinarily accurate speakers were a perfect match for the CODA. The speaker is very linear with its specially designed cabinet that minimizes any enclosure effects to give you a nearly perfect balance within its frequency response range. Couple the dynamics of such an open amp with a pair of high-end, equally dynamic speakers, and you have quite a combination.
  In listening to the Frank SinatraNo One Cares SACD, the lush orchestration and Sinatra‘s emotionally nuanced vocal were presented through the TAD/CODA tandem as good as I ever have heard the recording. It is impressive that this late 1950’s recording captured so much nuance of Mr. Sinatra vocal inflections and the understated power of the supporting orchestra. For those who like the sound of “thicker-sounding” tube amps, you owe it to yourself to hear the honesty of an amp like the CODA CSiB
  Switching back to the ML’ electrostatics, I  played some dense Pop hi-res music including the Jason Mraz — Love Is A Four Letter Word album, courtesy of an HD Tracks’ 24/96 download. The track “I Won’t Give Up” is very acoustic, but the chorus gets very loud. With some components, the loudness sounds hard, but the CODA has the dynamic power to handle the  track level with out any strain.
  In fact, this integrated is unlikely to ever run out of gas in most home listening rooms. 400 watts per channel at 8 ohms (or 800 watts into 4 ohms) is quite a lot of room-filling power. I connected the CODA integrated to the Pass Labs SR-2 three-way tower speakers and cranked up the level for Rock and Classical orchestral recordings, including the discrete two-track PCM soundtrack from The WhoLive At the Isle of Wight 1970 Blue Ray and Telarc’s 30th Anniversary re-recording of the Tchaikovsky1812 Overture with real cannon shots (more controlled than the original 1978 version) and choral accompaniment.
  The presentation through the CSiB was simply gorgeous — with just the right amount of warmness — yet the violin has this life-like sonic persona with out any stridency that often afflicts violin performances with lesser amps.

  Although these two pieces of music were quite different, the CODA showcased each track with an open, clean delineation of the instruments at a loud level— without premature blurring that happens when amps can’t handle the demand. Even at 96 dB, the 1812 Overture tympani and percussion were clean and well articulated. (I could not stand it any louder).
  The CODA cleanly beamed out the The Who concert mix, which showcased John Entwistle’s signature bass lines, Keith Moon’s tireless, relentless drum beat and Pete Townsend’s powerful P90 pickup Gibson SG guitar/ Hi-Watt amp system. My favorite live Who recording got the royal treatment with the CODA integrated.
  Operationally, the CODA CSiB was easy to use. Those who like to turn knobs may initially be put off by effortless button pushing of the digital attenuator volume control, but you get use to it. The other buttons work the same way.
  The amp only gets warm, when playing the system loud. Otherwise, it does not generate a lot of heat. It is biased at 5 watts Class A. CODA’s Doug Dale says that the company can customize the bias output for more power in Class A (less in Class A/B) — if the customer demands it.
  Overall, I had no complaint about the CSiB. It is built like a tank, and I doubt they break very often. My original CODA amp only failed when it got took out by a lightning strike. My two CODA manufactured-for-Legacy preamps are still going strong after 22 years.

The verdict
  As you have likely noted from this review, I really am impressed by CODA audio components, and the CSiB is just about as good an integrated amp as you can find on the market. it ain't’ cheap at $6,000, but many top-notch USA-made components are now north of $5,000.
  Based on my experiences with this integrated and my own preamps, I plan on doing more reviews so that the CODA line is no longer a secret in the world of quality high-end audio. More people deserve to hear them.
  If you like a no-compromise amp and preamp in one unit, and you like your power, clarity and dynamic bass impression on the real side. The CODA CSiB is definitely a high-end, integrated amplifier for your short list. We also have bestowed an Everything Audio Network Stellar Sound Award and put it on our 2016 Amp Of The Year nominee list.

  John Gatski has been evaluating consumer, audiophile, home cinema and professional audio gear since 1988. In 1995, he created Pro Audio Review, and he has written for Audio, Laserviews, Enjoy The Music, The Audiophile Voice, High Performance Review, Radio World and TV Technology. Everything Audio Network is based in Kensington, Md. Articles on this site are the copyright of the ©Everything Audio Network. Any unauthorized use, via print or Internet, without written permission is prohibited. John Gatski can be reached via everything.audio@verizon.net