• Computer Audiophile Travels: Day One

    Over the last few days I've been to Seattle and the San Francisco Bay Area. I went to meet with some audio legends and very respected people in the high-end audio industry. The trip started in Seattle at the home of Winston Ma, Founder of First Impression Music. The next stop was in San Francisco at Paul Stubblebine Mastering & DVD. Across the Bay in Berkeley I visited Alon Wolf at Magico to listen to his new loudspeaker I predict will receive the Best of Show at CES in January. Following my visit to Magico I had lunch with some true legends in high-end audio and a private listening session with one of the smartest audio minds in the business, Keith O. Johnson of Reference Recordings. How does this all tie into computer based audio? Well, there wasn't a single conversation that did not include high-end computer audio and almost every system I listened to over the course of the trip used a computer source. Here are some notes and a video from day one of the trip.


    I flew to Seattle, WA to meet with the Founder of First Impression Music, Winston Ma. FIM is a fabulous label home to some tremendous albums like Jazz at the Pawnshop and Patricia Barber's Cafe Blue as well as many XRCD, XRCD24, SACD, HDCD and K2HD titles. Winston dots every I and crosses every T before releasing an album to the public. Once he has the sonic quality he demands from an album he then meticulously designs the album booklet to a higher standard than every other album currently in production by any label. For those who've purchased an FIM album you know exactly what I'm talking about. FIM albums are the complete package from music to CD booklet materials the quality is unsurpassed.


    Winston Ma is one of the nicest people I've met in the industry. Winston graciously invited me to his home and into his amazing listening room. Even though he has an incredible stereo system Winston was all about the music. He played some unreleased music soon to be available on the FIM label. After each track Winston asked for an honest opinion about sound quality and the musical content. Winston is researching a very effective way to improve the sound of physical CDs which may translate to an improvement in ripping CDs. Since this product is still under wraps I can't mention any more about it. Based on what I heard this product will be a welcome sonic improvement. We did a lot of A/B'ing of different disc formats. Winston's listening room and complete audio system provide a great environment and tool to for evaluating differences between technologies and components. Life would be very good for audio writers if we were setup like Winston Ma.


    Winston's listening room is by far the best listening room I have ever seen in person or on paper. He did everything right when building this room. Winston directed me to Positive Feedback for a brief description of his room in his words.


    The foundation of my listening room was so designed to achieve the following:
    The listening room must be coupled to mother earth to diffuse acoustical energy. At the same time, the room must also be isolated from mother earth to avoid the rumbles and noises arising from various ambient sources, such as traffic and heavy machinery. The construction of the structure must be very rigid. It must be "dead" in that it will not resonate with sound energy, and thus allow us to minimize boomy and uncontrolled bass. However (and this is the tricky thing), it must at the same time be live enough, but not exhibit "ringing," so that it will not absorb low bass sound energy. The purpose is therefore to enhance clean, solid and very low bass reproduction to match the "golden ratio" design, i.e., construction of a room with a length longer than 25 feet in order to produce 20 Hz or lower bass, since the wave length of 20 Hz is 25’.


    The foundation for the music room was constructed to try to achieve the above perimeters in the following way:
    A 6" thickness of reinforced concrete walls 4 feet high was built for the foundation of the site. The ground inside the foundation wall was compressed by machine. The first sub-slab layer was filled to a depth of 1 foot with rough gravels, then machine compressed. This was followed with a second layer of fine gravels, and was again machine compressed. Thereafter came a third layer of rough sand, which was also subsequently machined compressed. We followed this with a fourth layer of fine sand, which was machined compressed. By now the ground was very solid and acoustically "dead." A special kind of 2" thick rigid polyfoam was then laid to cover all the exposed site area with its four layers. The ground level had to be flat for us to install the polyfoam. This kind of rigid foam is meant to stand against deterioration and weathering for at least 25 years. The 2" thick special polyfoam has an added value: to prevent humidity from going through the concrete platform into the room. The sides of the inner foundation walls were padded with a special wood-based soft board as a kind of insulation from the concrete wall. A 6" reinforced concrete was poured into the trough, i.e., over the polyfoam inside the insulated wall. The result was that this piece of concrete slab, in principle, was "floating" on the foam, was also inside the soft wood-based material as a form of isolation from the outside world, and was at the same time staying there very rigidly. Resonance, rumble, or noise from outside the wall or under the ground is therefore reduced to a minimum due to this acoustically insulating effect. A "room-within-a-room" was built on this floating concrete slab. Great care was taken that the foundation, the studs, and walls of the outside room were affixed to the concrete wall of the foundation, while the studs and walls of the inside room was built on the floating slab, so that the ouside room did not touch the inside room to avoid transmission of vibration energy from outside. As a final note, the studs used were 6" x 4" instead of the standard "4 x 4". Special insulation material was also used within the room walls.



    As an example of how well this room was designed Winston played a recording of a group of children singing for a small audience of VIPs at the UN(?). During the performance the children encircled the VIPs while singing. Incredibly Winston's two channel system and well designed listening room reproduced this song as if the children surrounded the listening position. Pulling this off with a two channel system is very hard to accomplish. After one of our listening sessions we headed out to dinner. On the way there Winston asked me what color the walls of the listening were painted. My honest answer was, "I have no idea." That's how well the room was designed. The listener has no idea the room even exists. It's quite the experience, to say the least. Here is a little video I shot on my new MinoHD pocket 720p video camera that I'll be using at CES this year.




    Higher resolution download (52 MB)


    Comments 6 Comments
    1. jeroen020's Avatar
      jeroen020 -
      Hi Chris,<br />
      <br />
      In an article I read Mr. Winston Ma is also working on computer audio. <br />
      <br />
      Can you tell anything on his system, or what he is working on ?<br />
      <br />
      Jeroen<br />
      <br />
    1. The Computer Audiophile's Avatar
      The Computer Audiophile -
      Yes, Winston is very interested in computer based audio and everything that goes with it. He had a music server built for him last year for CES, but that system has been put on the shelf. This year he will have a hospitality suite at T.H.E. Show. I can guarantee he will be using computer based audio at the show. I know this because I setup the computer on my trip! I can't let anything else out of the bag just yet. In the future computer audiophiles can expect some very nice things from Winston and FIM.
    1. Chuck.M's Avatar
      Chuck.M -
      Chris,<br />
      I was very intrigued by your comments regarding a new product by<br />
      Winston Ma related to improving the sound of physical CDs.<br />
      What time frame are we looking at for completion of this product?<br />
      Should I begin ripping my CD collection now or would it be worth while<br />
      to wait until this product is available?<br />
      Thank you for your comments.<br />
      <br />
      Chuck<br />
    1. The Computer Audiophile's Avatar
      The Computer Audiophile -
      Hi Chuck - I had another chance to listen to this product at Winston's hospitality suite in Las Vegas earlier this month and it's still as neat as I thought it was a few months ago. Everyone in the room could easily identify the sonic differences. I'm really unsure what effects, if any, the product will have on ripping. I have my guesses but would like to try it out myself before commenting.<br />
      <br />
      I'm not sure when Winston plans on releasing this product. I'll shoot him an email to see if I can get an answer for you.
    1. davegs's Avatar
      davegs -
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    1. janets's Avatar
      janets -
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