Dec 292013

Yesterday evening I wrote myself into a state of burnout, so for therapy I spent the rest of the evening listening to music for pleasure, drank a cup of good Ethiopian coffee with its ‘citrus & dark cocoa’ flavor tones to help keep my ears open, and then finally had a glass of a nice red blend Cougar Crest 2010 Dedication Seven wine that has the distinction of being a Double Gold Indy International Wine Competition winner – it worked! (Is it my imagination or are some of these red blend wines getting extremely good?)

Cougar Crest 2010 Dedication Seven

Now I’m back at the keyboard and ready to pick up from where I left off yesterday with a look behind the veil of 2014!

1 Stockholm V2

A Look Behind the Veil of 2014 – The Mhdt Labs Stockholm V2 USB DAC ($1028 USD)

On January 1st my review of the Mhdt Labs Stockholm V2 USB DAC will go live at Positive Feedback Online in Issue 71. The Stockholm V2 actually got me interested enough in digital again to set up a digital front end: iMac with Maverick OS and iTunes, Channel D’s Pure Music software, Locus Design Group Polestar USB cable, and the Mhdt Labs Stockholm V2 USB DAC sitting atop an Acoustic Revive TB-38 Quartz Under-Board.

8 stockholm back

The Stockholm V2 is the first Mhdt USB DAC that adds the ability to play high-rez files (except for DSD, which it doesn’t do). As you’ll read in the review, I listened to high-rez file downloads on the Stockholm V2, but I haven’t yet listened to the DSD files that everyone is going ape about. Yes, high-rez downloads sound better to me than Red Book CDs, but my vinyl front playing 45 rpm albums kicks digital’s fanny up between its ears – it was no contest.

10 stockholm inside

The Stockholm V2 did actually win me over in the end though, but it wasn’t for its ability to play high-rez files, rather it was for its ability to infuse low-rez files with life! Nope, I’m not talking Red Book, I’m talking lower-rez than that! I became addicted to listening to Northwest Public Radio’s new 24/7 KJEM jazz station streaming through the Stockholm V2. The Stockholm V2 made the jazz stream come alive! I don’t know how the Stockholm does it, but when playing what is assuredly a fairly low-rez stream, it made the music vibrant, colorful, and magically engaging!

11 PCM56P-J DACs

From a sonic standpoint, all those things you want to hear, like imaging, soundstaging, and a sense of space were there in spades, and it was addictive. It may be that lower resolution music streaming benefits even more from a good DAC like the Stockholm V2 than Red Book does. I was quite captivated by the possibilities!

These days music lovers can listen to lots of great music out on the web and it is worth seeking out – it is a music lover’s paradise out there! That’s where something like the Stockholm V2 becomes indispensable, because it can turn a stream of unknown music into an exotic and pleasurable listening experience.

Between listening to vinyl, the FM tuner in my vintage McIntosh MX110Z, and music streamed through the Mhdt Lab Stockholm V2  – like I am right now as I’m writing this post – I’m feeling like I’m getting the best of all music lovers worlds!


A Look Behind the Veil of 2014 – Chapter 11 of the Acoustic Revive Chronicles

Chapter 11! I can’t believe I’ve written so many articles about Acoustic Revive audio accessories! Rather than tell you about everything that will be in Chapter 11, I just want to tell you about one item: cable risers. In particular the new RCI-3H cable riser (above), or as Acoustic Revive likes to say, “cable insulator”.

RCI-3 & RCI-3H

To quote the Acoustic Revive webpage description of the new RCI-3H (above right), “A new improved version of the highly regarded RCI-3 (above left). Now, fine mahogany and hickory woods are used to encase a blend of natural ores creating natural and organic tone.”

I decided to remove the base off one of the RCI-3H cable risers to take a look at what was inside. It looks to me like it is combination of quartz and tourmaline crystals & powder. The bases on the new RCI-3H risers are screwed on. If you look at the photo below you’ll notice the base on the original RCH-3 is permanently attached, and the minerals are held in place by a piece of adhesive backed material (note the slight depression around the hole in the photo above).

RCI-3H inside (1)

Here’s a bottom view (below). The RCI-3 is on the left, and the new RCI-3H is on the right.

RCI-3H bottom view

Top view (below). The RCI-3 is on the left, and the new RCI-3H is on the right.

RCI-3H top view (1)

Cable risers are on my mind because of a recent message from audio pal Normand: “In recent weeks I have been browsing through your blog on numerous occasions and have noticed in several pictures your ubiquitous cable risers. Initially I did not pay too much attention, but they kept coming back in many pictures. I had noticed similar devices before but did not see in them much value. Maybe a tweak to control vibrations, but with little impact. A well wrapped cable like my MIT Shotgun should not need those outrageous pieces of wood, foam, or whatever material they were made of. Oh boy, was I ever wrong!

Having read nothing about them I was not prepared for the effect it had on the sound AND the music. It is one of the most shocking revelation I have had in years. It reminds me when about ten years ago I discovered the virtues of a properly designed AC cable (PS Audio Prelude). But in that case I had read numerous articles and I knew what to expect. Not this time though. And the difference with the AC cable is that the effect was immediate. I did not have to wait for the usual burn-in period. The first thing I noticed was the disappearance of a subtle, but pervasive, ringing. The next thing was the transpatrency. The lifters had lifted a veil. And the bass was so much more articulated. I could go on and on like this, but you know what I mean, for you surely have experienced a similar effect and that is why you put them underneath your cherished cables.

Not knowing from where to start I made myself a dozen risers out of very hard cardboard. The shape and size were inspired from what I could see on the Internet. After I discovered what these could do I made new ones out of wood and they look much better, and even sound better. You need to know that I have a hardwood floor. In the future I will experiment with an adaptation of various materials, like felt and rubber for example. In the meantime I enjoy the music like never before. Everything is so much more fluid!”

RCI-3H in action

Normand is right on, cable risers make more of a difference than you’d think, and like all things from Acoustic Revive, their cable risers represent a really nice combinations of materials choice and design.

RCI-3H upside down view

Here’s what Acoustic Revive says about the RCI-3H on their website:

“The purpose of a cable insulator is to prevent cables from being influenced by vibrations from the speaker. Most conventional cable insulators (or stabilizers) are made from a single material. So even if the cable is lifted from the floor, they will generate their own resonance which will inevitably induce coloration.

RCI-3H is an evolved version of RCI-3 which has been highly reputed till now. We have now adopted a combination of highest grade Hickory and Mahogany to create a natural and organic tone. In addition, inside the insulator is a blend of natural ores which absorb electromagnetic waves and radiated noise from the cable.

Because of its combination of resonance control and noise absorption abilities, the RCI-3H will dramatically improve sound in a manner never before achieved by conventional cable insulators. Noise is dramatically reduced, sound stage and imaging are more focused and three dimensional, smooth and organic tone and vivid and dynamic sound is achieved.”

RCI-3H final

A Look Behind the Veil of 2014 – The Sophia Electric 300B Level 3 SET Stereo Amplifier ($6000 and up depending on options)

Sophia Electric 91-03 300B int

As most of you know, I’ve really enjoyed the Sophia Electric 91-01 300B SET mono amplifiers that I reviewed back in Issue 53, and then bought after the review.

Art Dudley over at Stereophile also reviewed the 91-01 monos a little while back, and he liked them too – check out Art’s review here.

Sophia Electric 91-03 300B int 5

I’ve just got started on writing the review for the 91-03 so you can expect the review in due time. It’s nice.

Ok, that’s enough for now. Check back for more later, and as always, thanks for stopping by!

 Posted by at 1:57 pm

  8 Responses to “2013 in Review, Secret Insights, and a Look Behind the Veil of 2014! (part 2)”

  1. Hi Jeff,
    Thanks for the preview.
    I’ve been looking forward to the 91-03 review ever since it began to appear in your photos.
    While Art Dudley did like the sound of the 91-01s he found some quality control issues in the build.
    I’m very curious if Sophia is slipping. People noticing can quickly cause them to tighten up.
    The 91-05 has been on my short list but I’m starting to think that if I do end up springing for WRGRs the DeHavilland 30 watt monos might be the hot ticket.

    I’d like to see your take on the Soundsmith Strain Gauge.

    Than you as always,

    • Hi Mike,

      I suffered a coupling cap & resistor failure in one of my 91-01s which took out a 300B tube (which I covered here), but since that time they have been completely reliable.

      The couple of Sophia issues I have heard about from readers are comparable in frequency to what I have heard about (or experienced) with other Hi-Fi marques, so I don’t have any real concerns there.

      I haven’t inspected the internals of the 91-03s I have here yet, but the build level of the chassis is on another level compared to my 91-01 monos, which is a good sign.



  2. Thanks for the link to KJEM NPR Jazz stream, it’s 128kbps but sounds really good.

    • Hi Craig,

      You are welcome! Check out their web page here.

      There’s lots of cool coverage like the list of ’50 Great Jazz Vocals’ and ‘The Jazz 100’.

      Awesome music and website too!

      Kind regards,


  3. Hi Jeff,

    I’m a young music lover still living at home. I first got into “deep listening” about 2 years ago, and I still remember the strong emotions I felt when listening to the D-minor Violin Concerto by Sibelius (our national composer!), among other music I love. I started off with very modest equipment owned by my stepfather, and have since bought a full system of my own.

    The enjoyment I’ve been getting out of my system has gone down significantly since I started, despite having higher quality equipment. The only technical things where my current system really falls behind the old one are dynamics and low frequency extension. I’ve been reading your blog, and the comments about building a musically accurate system (as opposed to sonically accurate) really struck a chord with me. I now realize that I built my system around musically insignificant details like imaging etc, and the music fails to move me the same way it did before.

    Relating system performance to a musical performance seems to be key. A system might throw a holographic image, but if the dynamics aren’t there to convey the expressive content of the music itself, how could it be anything beyond a technological freak-show?

    Thank you for this insight Jeff! I’m now looking forward to building a truly satisfying system, one not in need of constant upgrade or tinkering.


    • Hi Miikka!

      What an awesome comment! The exact same thing happened to me when I first started listening to high-performance systems. I would buy a component that was highly praised by a reviewer for its ‘sound’, and nearly always it was accompanied by a reduction in musical enjoyment.

      At the time many reviewers only reviewed for ‘sonics’ like transparency, imaging, soundstaging, resolution, and the like (which are all non-musical artifacts of the recording process). Then it dawned on me: very few reviewed the performance of hi-fi gear with the musical content of recordings in mind, which was made up of those elements of music encoded into recordings like dynamics, melody, harmony, rhythm, tempo, timbre, tone color, and the like.

      Once I realized that, I was headed down the road of a very different hi-fi experience that wanted to get the most out of the music listening experience, and not just interesting recording artifacts.

      Thanks for your comment – you are in for a fun time!

      Kind regards,


  4. Wow Miikka, what a great story about the way you learnt to built up an nice and….emotional evolving audio listening system. In the way how you succeeded in how you have written it touched me. In a very positive way! A lot of Audiophiles could take your message as a starting point in their audio carrière. It would save them a lot of money and at the same time keep the pleasure in building up a nice music system. Also nice that you mentioned that you followed the insights and advices from Jeff. I want to give you big compliments about your post!


    From the Netherlands

    • Thanks Siedy!

      I checked out pictures of your system on here. The room looks so homey and warm, must be a joy listening to music there…

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