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Monday, September 29, 2014

Recording Review!
Mojave Audio MA-100 Small Diaphragm
Omni/Cardioid Vacuum Tube Microphone
"A New Look at Royer's First Tube Mic"

©Everything Audio Network

Price: $795; $1,500 (stereo-pair kit)
Likes: exquisite sound, omni included
Dislikes: why did I not try this mic years ago?
Wow Factor: classic Euro-flavor small mic

by Dr. Frederick J. Bashour

  My previous experience with David Royer’s Mojave Audio microphone line has been with his solid-state models, the MA-301fet and the MA-101fet. — both reviewed on EAN. But before Mojave released those solid-state FET models, the company first produced his vacuum tube originals—the large-diaphragm MA-300 (and MA-200) and the medium-diaphragm MA-100 reviewed in this article. In fact, according to David Royer, the miniature JAN 5840 tube-based MA-100 is his oldest microphone design, dating back to the mid 1980s.
  Since I own so many vintage vacuum tube mics already (and practically no solid state models), I had frankly been more interested in auditioning Royer’s solid state models. Having now heard (and favorably reviewed) those two models previously in EAN, I finally gave in and told my editor, “OK, now you can request a pair of MA-100s, and we’ll see how they compare to the usual Neumann, AKG and Schoeps suspects from my collection of vintage mics from the fifties and sixties.”
  So let’s answer that question first. Just as vintage Neumann KM 53/54s, AKG C60s, and Schoeps M-221Bs sound nothing like each other—to engineers familiar with all of them—the Mojave MA-100 sounds similarly dissimilar to the AKG and Schoeps models. However, I was pleasantly surprised that my pair of MA-100s did sound “in the same family” as my prized pair of (1-micron. Stephen Paul-modified) Neumann KM-54s and original nickel diaphragm KM-253s. I say “surprised” because, first, all the vintage “pencil-type” mics have approximately the same size diaphragms—around ½-inch, while the MA-100s have larger ¾-inch diaphragms.
With the MA-100, Dave Royer designed the quintessential, modern, pencil-type,  vacuum tube microphone for instrument recording. I only regret that I waited so long to try it!

  As I wrote in my earlier article—concerning the Mojave MA-101fets, which share the same capsule with the MA-100s—there are several ¾”-diaphragm mics available today, but “back in the day,” there were only the Sony models (C-37, C-500, etc.), and they were thought of as (or, at least, looked like) the large diaphragm models. Today, such mics are regarded as “in-between” small and large diaphragms—which makes perfect sense—but in the case of the MA-100/101fet’s capsules, they’re set up to act like smaller diaphragm mics, as will soon be explained. 

  Spec-wise the Mojave contains a .8-inch wide, 3-micron thick diaphragm. The mic comes with cardioid or omnidirectional capsules. The frequency response is 20 Hz - 20 kHz, +/-3dB. Sensitivity is listed at -37 dB, re 1V/pa. Maximum SPL is 130 dB. The self noise is 16 dB. Impedance is 450 ohms. As mentioned, the MA100 is a bit longer than typical, small diaphragm “pencil” mics, 5.5-inches long.
  Each MA100 comes in its own carrying case with the power supply, shock mount and the connecting cables. Retail price is $795. You can also buy the mics in a $1,500 “stereo kit” — the MA100SP — with both microphones, a single power supply, the two mounts and a stereo bar, with all the hardware placed in a single case.
  Physically, the size of the parts used in the MA-100 preamp section produced a cylindrical tubular enclosure with the same diameter as the capsule, whereas the large transformer used in the MA-101fet necessitated a larger diameter for the preamp’s enclosure than the capsule’s diameter—almost a seeming contradiction for a solid-state mic.
On a warm-sounding room, the Mojave MA100 omni, again, is one of the very few small mics that can be used to close-mic a classical violinist, without EQ, and it sounds really good, “just like a record.”

  Nonetheless, the vacuum tube MA-100 (containing the same miniature JAN 5840 vacuum tube Royer uses in all his mics) “looks like” a standard small diaphragm mic, only a tiny bit thicker. But appearances can be deceiving, for the MA-100 makes use of an output transformer which might even be larger than the one which forced Mojave to increase the diameter of the MA-101fet’s cylindrical metal enclosure beyond what is usually considered “normal” for a pencil-type microphone. “But where is the MA-100‘s transformer?,” you ask?"
  When I reviewed Mojave’s large diaphragm MA-301fet, I wrote from the point of view that, if I were to build a high-end solid-state microphone (in my head) from scratch, I might end up with one very similar to the MA-301fet. I made that rather strong statement based on my personal experience, over many years, with myriad microphones, and my long relationships with the best of today’s artisan microphone designers, especially the late Stephen Paul.
  Well, I’m about to go out on a similar limb and support a view, in the present article, that Dave Royer — the guiding force behind both Royer Laboratories and Mojave Audio — has combined the best of vintage and modern microphone design philosophies. With the MA-100, Mojave has produced the quintessential modern, pencil-type vacuum tube microphone. I only regret that I waited so long to try it!
  Just as in that previous article, a little bit of history is also in order here. Only this time — thanks to my trusty iPhone — I have a few supplementary photos as illustrations. First, let’s return to the question of that elusive output transformer. From the 1970s onward, engineers who thought “small diaphragm microphone” would suggest the AKG C-451 or the Neumann KM 84. Although they sounded quite different from each other, one thing they had in common was the presence of a little “peanut” output transformer, right behind the XLR connection, opposite the end with the capsule.

AKG C 60, Neumann KM 53 and 54, MA-100
An inside peek: C 60,  KM 53 and MA-100

  However, to the previous generation of engineers, working in the late Fifties and throughout the Sixties (before the days of the 451) AKG sold a markedly smaller small-diaphragm microphone, the C 60 — and that mic even had a vacuum tube in it! In fact, I own six of them; there are several angles of one of mine visible in the pictures below. If you examine my photo carefully, you’ll notice the tiny AC701k vacuum tube, a few passive parts, but not much else. No transformer! Now, please examine the Mojave MA-100. Its innards are even more spartan than my C 60’s; all one can see is the 5840 tube—no resistors, nada, that’s it; just the miniature tube!
  I did not photograph one of my C 60 power supplies, but please take a look at the Mojave power supply, with its cover conveniently removed. The two large cylindrical Jensen JT-MB-C mic output transformers sort of jump out at you, don’t they? Besides the multi-voltage AC transformer, they are the largest parts in the box!
  Thus, the answer to the question is: just as AKG did with its C 60 mic (from the 1960s), Mojave also “separated” the connection between the output from the vacuum tube and the mic’s output transformer by the microphone cable! Yes, there are vacuum tube circuits that can easily drive a 10-meter microphone cable without noticeable degradation, and the various flavors of the cathode-follower circuit are some of them.
You can also buy the mics in a $1,500 “stereo kit” — the MA100SP — with both microphones, a single power supply, the two mounts and a stereo bar, with all the hardware placed in a single case.

  One also shouldn’t forget that Mojave supplies two capsules per mic—cardioid and omnidirectional. And, yes, one can swap capsules between the MA-100 and MA-101fet! The colors don’t match on a normal MA-100, but it’s a cool look, reminiscent of a vintage AKG C 60, with its shiny capsule and matte body! (See photo.) Swapping the MA-100’s capsules with the MA-101’s gives you a completely black mic, if you ever need that on stage. I noticed no obvious difference (besides the color) between the MA-100’s silvery capsules, and the black ones that came with my MA-101fets.

The audition
  So now, let’s talk about the sound of the Mojave MA-100, and the reason why it didn’t stay long in the closet with my vintage mics; these modern small condensers spent most of their time on a pair of mic stands, out in the large room at Studio Dufay — ready for numerous recording projects that might come along.
  One “advantage” of modern digital recording practice is that—with today’s interfaces and DAWs—it’s really easy to add extra recording channels/tracks. Accordingly, many classical music engineers, yours truly included, often record extra mics (or mic pairs), “just in case — tracks which usually don’t end up in the final mix or, if they do, are sometimes mixed so far down that they just add a little “atmosphere” to the mix.
  And if that engineer happens to be auditioning new microphones, such a scenario is perfectly conducive to extended listening — simply put up the new mics, bus to a pair of extra tracks, and record the session normally. Later on, when everyone has left, the engineer now has an entire session’s worth of “examples” of how the new mics sound, recorded in sync with all the “normal” mics. Even better in my own case — recording classical music for CD release — all the tracks stay together during the editing process (using the Pyramix DAW), right up to the absolute final mixdown. So, at any time, it would be possible to put together a “finished edit” using only the mics I just happened to be auditioning while I was originally recording the session(s).

MA-100 power supply

  As I mentioned, I’ve concluded that the Mojave MA-100s sound “in the same family” as my vintage Neumann KM 54s. By that, I mean, first, that they sound much closer to my KM 54s than they do to any of my comparable Schoeps, or to any of my comparable AKG pencil mics.
  Second, compared to other members of the Neumann KM 53/54 family (I own multiple examples of each) here at the studio, it sounds close enough to them (capsule for capsule, etc.) to actually be considered sounding more like one of those actual vintage German mics, than any other model of mic I’ve heard.
  I’m not theorizing about how Dave Royer accomplished this sound quality with a ¾-inch capsule design; I’m just guessing that it’s a whole combination of factors; the sum total has contributed to this happy serendipity. Or maybe, we should just call it good engineering! Certainly, remoting a high-quality, large mic output transformer to the power supply was a smart move.
  The capsule, itself, sounds wonderful to my ears, with good off-axis sound pickup — maybe 80% as smooth as that of a true ½-inch diaphragm. And by choosing to use 3-micron Mylar film, as in the MA-101fet and MA-301fet models I previously reviewed, Dave Royer has, again, made a sensible compromise between “peakiness/smoothness” and diaphragm stability and longevity.


  My own 1-micron pair of KM 54s, which I’ve owned for about twenty years, are still OK, but I treat them with kid gloves. However, their upper midrange peak is a bit lower in amplitude, and farther up the frequency spectrum, with the end result that they have a bit less of the typical Neumann “brash” sound quality than do the Mojaves. But we’re talking very subtle here — the difference in sound between 3-micron and 1-micron diaphragms!
  When I compared the Mojave MA-100 with its omnidirectional capsules to a matched pair of my Neumann KM 53s, the difference went in the opposite direction. That is to say that, since my vintage Neumanns still have the original nickel diaphragms, they sounded a little more aggressive, a little more “Neumann-like,” than did the 3-micron Mylar diaphragms of the Mojaves. And this is a good thing, for I feel that the omni diaphragms are the unsung heroes of this mic. In a good room, used close-up, or even medium-distance from just about any acoustic source, it doesn’t get any better, any more faithful to the original sound, than a small diaphragm omni.
In a good room, used close-up, or even medium-distance from just about any acoustic source, it doesn’t get any better, any more faithful to the original sound, than a small diaphragm omni.

  And with the Mojave MA-100’s extremely wide frequency response — coupled to the outside world by that awesome large Jensen transformer and elegantly simple cathode-follower circuit featuring the tiny 5840 tube, a few premium passive parts, and not much else — it can reproduce any source’s low end with just the right weight and authority.
  Just try a pair of the omnis: about three directly over a 9-foot grand piano, lid removed — one centered over the treble strings, one over the lower strings — and be amazed! On the other end of the spectrum, in a warm-sounding room, the Mojave omni, again, is one of the very few small mics that can be used to close-mic a classical violinist, without EQ, and it sounds really good, “just like a record.”
  And either of the cardioids or the omnidirectional capsules work beautifully, in pairs, on acoustic guitar. I know that sometimes I’ll use two large diaphragm mics on acoustic, but for those situations where that approach simply produces too “large” a sound, switching down to omni MA-100s first, and then down to the cardioids, if necessary, will reduce the “size” of the sound without ever making any of the “sizes” sound thin or gutless.

The verdict
  I wish I could illustrate this article with some of those tracks I’ve recorded over the past year or so with the MA-100, but copyright restrictions (both in the pop and the classical repertoire it was used on) preclude my doing so. All I know is that, having this pair of Mojave MA-100 mics at Studio Dufay for the past year has brought smiles to the faces of just about everyone I’ve tracked and, as a new addition to the “small diaphragm tube Neumann” category in my mic locker, it has made my life a whole lot easier.
  Thank you, Dave Royer. You’ve done it again! Now how about a small-diaphragm stereo mic—on the line of the Neumann SM 2 or 23, but like the MA-100, with the transformers down in the power supply? You’ve got all the ingredients, and I’ve already built it, in my head, for you...

  Dr. Fred Bashour has been a classical recording engineer for the past 45 years, with recordings released on over twenty labels, including Musical Heritage Society, Naxos and Dorian. His studio, Dufay Digital Music, is located in Western Massachusetts. He holds a Yale Ph.D. in Music Theory and is also an gigging keyboardist. He can be reached via the Everything Audio Network,

  Articles on this site are the copyright of the ©Everything Audio NetworkAny unauthorized use, via print or Internet, without written permission is prohibited.

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Home Theater Review!
AudioControl AVR-6
7.1 Channel Receiver:
"The Audiophile A/V Combo"

Price: $3,950
Likes: audiophile 7.1 sound
Dislikes: no DSD decoding
Wow Factor: "the summit for HT receivers"
More info: AudioControl AVR-6

by John Gatski
  This is my third AudioControl home theater A/V product review. And as with the Maestro 3 pre/pro and AVR-4 receiver I tested a few years ago, the new AVR-6 receiver maintains the audiophile-caliber, multi-channel signal path design that I have come to expect from this longtime audio test and component manufacturer. In fact, their AVRs may be the best-sounding receivers out there. Where other companies hype receivers with Internet and a jillion other apps, AudioControl quietly pushes its emphasis on audio quality.

  Priced at $3,950 through specialty AV installers, the AVR-6 is 100-wpc with all channels driven into 8 ohm loads. The Class-H output receiver has just the right amount of features — including new UltraHD 4k scaling/pass-through, enhanced zone control/routing and Internet radio input. The AC AVR line also includes a second receiver, the $6,000 AVR-8, the successor to the AVR-4, which was formerly top of the AC line. The AVR-8 sports 20 additional watts per each channel, a beefier power supply and output configuration to handle 4 ohms loads (up to 200 wpc).  The AC A/V products have much of their assembly done in the USA, though many components are, of course, made offshore
  The AVR-6 contains seven HDMI inputs, two HDMI output paths, six analog stereo inputs, three component and four composite video inputs. There are also two zone output sections with composite video and stereo analog output. The AVR-6 includes optical and digital audio inputs, but has no digital audio output. Other ports include USB 2.0, Ethernet, trigger input and RS-232 for enhanced control of the receiver. It even has an 1/8th-inch headphone jack, though it is inconveniently located on the back. (AC defends the HP jack location, stating that a front-panel jack clutters up the unit clean appearance.)
  The inputs can be assigned to a specific video and audio input and they can be labeled via the software. The inputs already have preset names, but those can be changed via the set up. I usually name them for that particular component, i.e. Pioneer, Sony etc.

Plenty of I/O for the AVR-6

  The AudioControl AVR receivers also have 7.1 channel multichannel analog preamp outputs for those who want more power from a separate amp, or you could feed another room with the multichannel output while listening to the built-in channels in the main room. The AVR-6 has a single subwoofer output, instead of two that I normally see in receivers. Alas, the AudioControl receivers no longer have multichannel analog inputs. According to AC's Chris Kane, there are fewer multichannel output Blu-ray players that necessitate multichannel inputs on the preamp and receivers. And, he noted, the converters are so good in the AVR-6 that you are not likely to hear an improvement by using on-board BD player converters. Still, I miss the analog multichannel-in feature; I often use my reference Pioneer BDP-09FD Elite's analog output.
  As with the acclaimed AVR-4 that was on the market for about a year in 2012-2013, the AVR-6 and AVR-8 receivers are for quality-obsessed fanatics who want the same kind of audio that audiophiles here from esoteric two-channel systems. The heart of the system its 32-bit DSP engine with Cirrus D/A converters and Class H power supply, bi-polar output amp section.
  The AVR-6‘s specs are impressive; AC says it can deliver 100-wpc into 8 ohms into all seven channels. In fact, you can tell by the power consumption rating at full power (1,500 watts), this baby can crank out the watts. The noise spec also is impressive — 100 dB in the input and output stages. The AVR-8 has a bit more oomph in its output; it is similar to the AVR-4, which I had on hand during the review. Sonic-wise, the AVR-4 and AVR-6 were about equal at normal listening levels in my A/V room.
  The AVR-6 on-screen set up menus and features are vast, but fairly intuitive. The menus are broken down into several sub menus including Input Configuration, General Setup, Auto Setup, Speaker Type, Speaker Distance, Video Inputs/Outputs, Audio Output Mode Zone Settings and Network. I like the fact that AVR-6 also can be operated via buttons on the front panel — as well as the included remote. If you lose the remote (or run out of batteries), you can still operate this receiver.
The AVR-6 delivered the 5.1 channels with audiophile precision. The sounds were clearly separated and with significant width and depth. This expansiveness is similar to what an audiophile playback system delivers — that extra space and depth that let's you hear more of the detail.

  The on-screen display is easy enough to understand to activate the various setup and functions. The black lettering on white screen is not easy to see in a brightly-lit room, so I dimmed the lights a bit to make the words more legible. The system setup for level matching, delay and EQ can be manually set up, my preferred method, or by use of an onboard auto setup mode.
  There are numerous parameters for adjusting audio and video, including bypassing the scaler for source-direct video connection. The scaler quality is excellent, and I did not visibly see any degradation when switching between bypass and the scaler with 1080P-source Blu-ray players. I did not have a 4K LCD on hand to check out the highest-res conversion. But I am confident it is exemplary, based on the 1090P performance.
  Besides the excellent decoding of lossless hi-res music formats (Dolby TruHD, DTS Master HD, linear PCM) and multi-channel digital, you also can engage additional processing for two-channel audio including Dolby Pro-Logic II and DTS Neo. The USB networking feature allows various options, including hi-res stereo playback from a sources such as Windows Media Player, and HD video distribution. The AVR-6 is also equipped with an Internet radio input.
  The large analog volume control is substantial in its appearance, just like the previous AVR-4, but its mechanical action is no longer continuous rotation. You click the knob to the right to raise the volume — one dB at a time. The display indicates the gain from 0 to 99 in 1 dB steps.
  Speaking of volume level, the AVR-6’s onscreen display, as well as other system info, is turned off when the video bypass is enabled. Additional volume options are available in the setup, including switchable Dolby Volume and Dolby Leveler to provide consistent level when the gain is changed.
  The AVR-6 is am impressive-looking receiver — with its large black chassis, blue LED display lighting and that big volume knob. The specs say it weighs only 35 pounds, but it feels heavier than that. My AVR-4 weighs a whopping 60 pounds with its huge power transformer; I guess the AVR-6's weight savings comes from a smaller, more-efficient power supply.

The set up
  I installed the AVR-6 in my primary home cinema room. The system is based around a 2011 Sony LX-929 full-array backlight LED TV. This HT system consists of Westlake loudspeakers comprised of  two LC8.1 (L+R), LC2.65 (center) and a pair of the NHT Ones for the rear surrounds. A Paradigm Sub 15 subwoofer handles the low/LFE duties. Sources included an Oppo BDP-105, Pioneer BDP-09FD and Sony BD-1570 Blu-ray players, as well  Verizon Fios digital cable receiver with HDMI 1080Pi and Dolby Digital 5.1 output.
  I had my reference AudioControl AVR-4 receiver on hand for comparison and last year’s Pioneer SC-79 7.1 receiver — with onboard ESS Sabre DAC decoding. The entire system was wired up with Wireworld's premium speaker cables, HDMI cables and analog and digital conduits. Essential Sound Products' Essence II power cords and power strip provided the power connections.
  I did an auto setup with the internal software and included measurement microphone and found that it did a pretty good job, but it EQ’d in bit more midbass then I liked for my room. My tile-over-concrete floor solid pine panel panel with some acoustic treatment for reflections is actually fairly flat in its measurement, and does not need any bass boost. Thus, I ultimately chose a manual set up, which was rather easy. I keyed in the same distances and speaker settings that were used with the AVR-4.
Die-hard audiophiles may cover their eyes when they read this, but I put the AVR-6 in my main audiophile system — with a pair of high-end $13,000 MartinLogan Montis electrostatic loudspeakers.

  On manual set up, I found the AVR-6 to be intuitive, but when using the remote, setting the distance (delay) takes a bit longer than I am used to with other A/V receivers and preamps. You start at "O" and have to push the button 1-inch at a time to get to the requisite distance. The numbers advance 1 inch at a time — even if you hold the button.
  There is an iPad app that allows setup and calibration; maybe that is faster, but the included remote takes a bit longer to reach the correct distance. The Maestro M3 preamp and AVR-4 distance settings operate in the same fashion.
  The rest of the setup was as smooth as silk, and easy to master. As stated previously, the white background with black lettering was a little hard to read at 10 feet with lights up; a little dimming of the master lighting fixed that. Of note, the AVR-6 gives wide flexibility in customizing the input to the source — including name, lip sync, room EQ, input Trim, Dolby Volume and Leveler and decoding mode for analog stereo or multichannel. I love the individual input lip sync adjustment option because different players often have differing amounts needed to sync the video and audio.
  During the evaluation, I tried out most of the sonic features, such as the Dolby Volume and Leveler as well as the digital inputs. Although there is a USB2.0 input, the AVR-6 does not have an on-board digital player. And the unit will only decode 24/96 USB digital input from players, such as Windows Media Player.
  The AVR-6 does decode up to 24/192 via HDMI and SPDIF inputs. I played a number of HD Tracks downloads from the BDP-105 via the HDMI and SPDIF. The AVR-6 will not pass hi-res audio from its digital output beyond 48 kHz.

The audition

  I started the subjective testing with a batch of Blu-rays. To ascertain its ability to squeeze out quality HT multitrack detail, I popped in the animated Bolt movie. The first ten minutes contains a very dynamic cascade of chase scenes — with missile shots, explosions and constantly panned effects. Couple those sounds with an aggressive soundtrack, a receiver has its work cut out to delineate those spatial cues and relay the music — without creating sonic mush.

Click here to enter Giveaway!

  As with the older AVR-4, the AVR-6 delivered the 5.1 channels with audiophile precision. The sounds were clearly separated and with significant width and depth. This expansiveness is similar to what an audiophile playback system delivers — that extra space and depth that let's you hear more of the detail.
  With all this abundant energy being delivered, the AVR-6 does not get harsh. The output is smooth at even loud levels with never a hint of clipping at 94 dB+ levels. Lesser receivers get harsh real fast with this Bolt Blu-ray.
  The first Thor Blu-ray also gives an AV system a work out, yet the AVR-6 receiver never flinched. From the pounding of the subwoofer to the multitudes of steered effects and high-energy score, the AVR-6 kicked butt! Ditto, for the John Carter and Monsters vs. Aliens BD discs.
  Turning to Blu-ray music, my Woodstock and Who — Live at the Isle of White 1970 concert movies showcased the raw liveness of those1960s-70s music styles, while more modern music, such as the AIX's 24/96 live performance of country star Mark Chestnut, revealed the AVR-6’s ability to handle the intricate transients of drum cymbals, fiddle and steel guitar and piano. Plus, the mini-concert was filmed in 1080P so it looks great as well.
  On two channel hi-res music, the AVR-6 did not flinch. Though it does not decode DSD from SACD, it did justice to numerous SACDs via the Oppo BDP-105’s analog output. And I played numerous HD Tracks selections up to 24/192. The Phil Collins - Face Value and James Taylor - Sweet Baby James got the royal treatment from the AVR-6, via its internal Cirrus DAC, preamp and amplifier sections. Even versus separates, the quality holds up.
  The Cirrus DAC’s neutral top-end presence timbre and tight bass open up a mix to reveal those subtle layers of detailed audio, such as cymbal reverb and piano reverb decay. In comparing the AVR-6‘s internal DAC versus a Benchmark DAC2-D, with ESS Sabre DAC chip, the separate DAC had a tinge more smoothing on the high-frequencies, but for an all in-one decoder/preamp/amplifier, the AVR-6 is firmly on the audiophile side of the spectrum.
As other receiver manufacturers load up their products with spiffy control and Internet features, AudioControl continues to invest in its audiophile-caliber, multichannel signal path across its home theater pre/pro and receiver lines.

  Die-hard audiophiles may cover their eyes when they read this, but I put the AVR-6 in my main audiophile system — with a pair of $13,000 MartinLogan Montis electrostatic loudspeakers and numerous player/high-end DACs through the analog input. The AVR-6 sounded terrific through the Montis; much of the detail that I hear with my expensive preamp/amps came through with a spacious sound stage. Versus my Pass Labs MOSFET amps, the AVR-6 was a tad more shimmer in the treble — whereas the Pass was smoother. Still, the AVR-6 did not leave me wanting.
  The negatives? A few complaints — no DSD decoding via the HDMI input, and the headphone jack on the rear panel is not too handy. Every once in a while, I would get software freeze from the AVR; mostly when I switched it to standby and back to on. I had to unplug and re-plug the AC cord to reactivate. But that happens with other A/V and audio components as well. Almost all of my BD players have experienced operational freeze on occasion. They are, after all, computers.
  As for price, yes, it is expensive — “$3,950 for a receiver,” one home theater buff said to me. In this world of $300 7.1 channel (or higher), nearly $4,000 is a lot of money, but what you get from the AVR-6 is audio quality that is way above any cheap receiver. In the $3,000 range, there are receivers that get close, such as the Pioneer SC-79 and the Onkyo TX-NR3030, but in the end, the AudioControl AVR-6’s power amp section wins out.

The verdict

  As other receiver manufacturers load up their products with spiffy control and Internet features, AudioControl continues to invest in its audiophile-caliber multichannel signal path across its home theater pre/pro and receiver line. The new AVR-6 exemplifies that trait with exquisite audio performance and plenty of power for all but the largest listening/viewing rooms.
  Throw in some new bells and whistles, such as 4K scaling/pass-through and enhanced zone-routing, and you got yourself one of the top-performing receivers on the home cinema market (the AVR-8 is sure to be the other one). Sure, it costs more than 99 percent of the receivers out there, but it is worth it. I did not want to give it back; at least I still have my AVR-4. As with all other AudioControl receivers and preamps I have reviewed, the AVR-6 receives a very enthusiastic Everything Audio Network Stellar Sound Award.
John Gatski is publisher/owner of the Everything Audio NetworkArticles on this site are the copyright of the ©Everything Audio NetworkAny unauthorized use, via print or Internet, without written permission is prohibited.


Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Audiophile Headphone Review!
Shure SRH1540 Closed-Back HP:
“More Bass, Maximum Comfort”

Price: $499
Likes: comfy fit, controlled bass boost
Dislikes: not much noise isolation
Wow Factor: "good bass-boost HP"
More info: Shure SRH1540

by John Gatski
  Since 2009, Shure has been making really good headphones for the hi-fi and professional recording niches. In fact, I use the SRH1840 as one of my reference headphones for accuracy and detail. The ‘1840‘s bass response rolls off naturally below 60 Hz, but it has a gorgeous top end. Recently, Shure sent me its new closed-back headphone that sits just under the $699 SRH1840 in price, the SRH1540. This new headphone offers a nice, open, detailed top end and a bit of mid-bass boost for those who like a slightly fatter tone.

  Priced at $499, the SRH1540 features 40-mm neodymium drivers and uses an APTIV™ film diaphragm and a steel driver frame — with vented center pole piece — said to improve linearity and lessen internal resonance for consistent performance at all listening levels with lower THD (total harmonic distortion).
  The closed-back drivers are rated for 10 Hz to 25 kHz frequency response, with no tolerances listed. (Although you need special mics and a dummy head to precisely measure headphone frequency response, I did run some bass tones and measured through an AudioControl RTA to see how the headphone performed in the low end. I measured ample bass down to 60 Hz, with reference to a 1 kHz tone).

  I enjoyed the SRH1540‘s sonics, listening to several pop recordings such as the HD Tracks-delivered, hi-res versions of Chicago Transit Authority and Linda Ronstadt - Heart Like a Wheel. The extra oomph in the bass filled out the golden oldies just fine. On jazz music, the enhanced mid/upper bass added weight to numerous recordings. 

  Though closed back, the circumaural design is comfortable and lightweight (10.1 ounces), thanks to its design elements, such as aircraft-grade aluminum-alloy yoke, dual-frame, padded headband and carbon fiber cap. The closed-back ear cups help to reinforce the bass response, and they isolate, to a moderate degree, the sound from outside noise. However, the isolation is not as good as pro headphones designed for that task. The SRH1540 should be used where noise is at a minimum.
  The SRH1540 comes with a 12-ft. OFC cable with a kevlar-reinforced strain relief jacket. And it’s all housed in a hard, zippered case and includes a pair of replacement ear pads and a 1/8th-to-1/4th inch adapter.
  The headphones are lightweight and cushy — very comfortable on my ears, as I wear glasses. The light weight contributes to that comfy feel. Versus its big brother, the SRH1840, the ‘1540 was slightly more comfortable; the same ear pads seem softer.
  As opposed to the SRH1840's extended top end and naturally rolled-off bass response, the ‘1540 gives you a generous portion of the more-expensive Shure HP’s upper-end response, but has more mid and upper bass energy (50 Hz to 200 Hz). Few headphones have significant under 40-Hz bass because of the limited driver size and lack of a larger enclosure. Thus, most HP bass response is mid bass. and headphones are often tuned to pump up the bass in those frequencies. The SRH1540 is no exception.

The setup
  I listened to the Shure SRH1540 through several headphone amp/DACs, as well as two portable players. The various devices included a Benchmark DAC2 D, Mytek Stereo192-DSD and the new Oppo HA-1 — all hi-res headphone DACS. The Sony PCM-D100 and TASCAM DR100 Mk II portable player/recorders also got their turn with the ‘1540. Non-DAC headphone amps included the classy Bryston BHA-1, one of the best solo headphone amps on the market. Rack players included Oppo BDP-105 and the TASCAM DA-3000.
  After listening to numerous bits of hi-res music from all genres, the SRH1540 has a similar midrange and top end of the SRH1840, but as previously mentioned, there was more mid and upper bass. Those who find the natural roll-off of the ‘1840 to be bass shy will like the ‘1540. It’s a plumper bass that is not overly exaggerated.
as long as the recorded bass tones were not too hot. The Grant GreenGreen Streets SACD, and Flim and The BB’sTricycle SACD were relayed with much of the precision of other high-end headphones - but with that added bass boost.

SRH1540 is a fine mate for the TASCAM DR-100 Mk II 

  On bass heavy, Hip-Hop, the extra bass could be a bit over the top to my ears. But some younger listeners, who tried the SRH1540, said they liked the extra low-end. Everyone has an opinion. With an iPod, I just used the bass reduce EQ mode, if I found the bass too hot — usually with pop music.
  From a sensitivity and efficiency standpoint, I found the SRH1540 easy to drive. All of my portables had no problem driving the headphones. Speaking of portables, the SRH1540 is a great match with the TASCAM DR100 Mk II and the Sony PCM-D100 recorder/players. Musician and home recordists can use the Shure as a reasonably-priced monitor headphone that delivers quite a bit of accuracy along with bass assist.
  Although I have talked a lot about its bass delivery, the SRH1540‘s high-end is also quite good with an airiness and detailed separation in the layers of instruments — as long as bass is balanced in the recording. I still like the top end of the flagship SRH1840, but I do like the balance of the ‘1540. Overall, though, the balance is reasonable for a bass-emphasized headphone.
  I give the SRH1540 high marks for comfort. They could be worn for extended periods of listening — without any discomfort. As an eyeglass wearer, the ‘1540 did not apply any painful force against the glasses ear pieces. And there was no clamping pressure on my head during long listening sessions. This is an easy-to-wear headphone.

The verdict 
  As with the other Shure headphones I recently reviewed, the SRH1540 is a quality, closed-back headphone that is real comfy and gives audible bass additional weight. The high-end is reasonably detailed, smooth and the midrange clearly delineated. As much as I like the SRH1840’s sonics; there are times some extra headphone bass can come in handy. The Shure SRH1540 nicely fills that niche. It most certainly gets the EAN Stellar Sound Award

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