Hey guys sorry to keep you in the dark. Here’s my review of my custom PC Digital system featuring Empirical Audio mods to Monarchy DIP upsampler and Panasonic XR45. I’ve been using the two as a system and can’t comment on them individually. I’ve been playing WAV files ripped via EAC exclusively; either off of an external drive or off of the internal drive on my laptop, I’ve noticed no difference between the two. I haven’t done any comparisons between any lossless codecs and WAV files yet but that will be an important test since it will increase capacity by 100% based on average file sizes after compression.
IBM T40 w / Windows XP Pro / Foobar2000 / ASIO4ALL
Seagate 200gb HD in Vantec External HD case
Generic USB Cables
Empirical Audio Monarchy DIP Upsampler w/ BNC, USB, Power Supply and Superclock Mods
Zu Cable Bok PC 6’
Stereovox HDXV BNC – BNC cable
Empirical Audio Panasonic XR45 w / BNC, Jensen Cap and custom hand wound inductors
PS Audio xStream Plus PC 3’
Zu Cable Wax 10’ Banana to Spade
Triangle Titus 202
24” Lovan Ballet Stands
Rutledge Audio Custom 10” powered sub
Wireworld Atlantis II for sub cable
Reiner Chicago Symphony Rimsky-Korsakov “Scheherezade”
Dave Brubeck Quartet – Time Out
Zero 7 – Simple Things
Fila Brazillia – Brazillification
Jon Kennedy – Take My Drum to England
My system started out with the same components, except I had an M-Audio Transit USB / Toslink interface going to the Monarchy via Glass Optical cable. Things sounded pretty well like that; nice mids, good bass but a pretty flat and narrow soundstage. Also, the midbass and midrange weren’t the very integrated. I thought that it was due to the 5” mids on the Tirangles not being able to hit hard or play low. After the mods, the Transit was mounted in the Monarchy and significant upgrades were made to the Monarchy itself. The mods cut out a Toslink cable and allowed me to use the Stereovox without the supplied BNC – RCA adapters. Everything was a true 75 ohm BNC interface now. The XR45 received PS upgrade, custom hand wound output inductors and some digital circuit mods.
I have around 130 hours of break on both the EA USB Monarchy and EA XR45. They sounded great out of the box, but after around 100 hours things really changed for the better. At this point, I believe that all of the major changes have occurred and only incremental changes will be happening moving forward. If I’m wrong about this, I’ll post an update after I pick my jaw up from the floor.
Things are extremely coherent from top to bottom with no frequency range being highlighted over any others. The midrange is probably the most detailed and textured I’ve heard in my room. I’m finally beginning to understand the concepts of texture and body. Other components I’ve had in my system may have been smooth or warm, but having added detail is different from both of those situations. You can just hear more instruments. Music sounds more whole and complete now than it ever did. The previous lower midrange suckout is gone now. At the end of the second movement on Scheherezade, the buildup culminates in a sudden attack of strings playing in a lower octave. It seemed as if the Triangles weren’t capable of playing all full range, but after hearing it now I know they are. So much more midrange texture is coming through that the piece takes on a different level of intensity. I’m much more drawn into the music.
Bass is also excellent. Acoustic and electronic bass are done equally well. On “Destiny” by Zero 7, the bass works with the mids to create a sense of space. Yet within this space, there is an electronic bassline that rolls slowly with the music. This bassline is well defined and doesn’t muddy the vocals or guitar on the track. On each track on Time Out, you can hear the plucking and detail from the upright bass.
Soundstage has also improved dramatically. The image used to be only slightly 3 dimensional and parabolic. The center was just slightly behind the speakers and the outsides of the image were a little forward which is neither realistic or pleasing. Although it’s not super deep, the image now begins 2 feet behind the speakers and is coherent all the way across. Also, the soundstage extends outside beyond the speakers. Imaging is slightly diffuse, but musical and proportioned in size. You can tell where everything is, but its not as if they originate from a tiny point in space. On “Strange Meadowlark” from Dave Brubeck’s Time Out, you can hear the relative location of each instrument, but the sound they produce goes across the whole soundstage as well instead of just staying on their side of the stage. The piano sounds a lot bigger too. I used to think it stayed on the right side exclusively, but now it extends across the soundstage with distinct locations for the left and right hand keys.
What probably makes all of this possible is the incredibly quiet nature of both components. There is absolutely no noise coming from either of them. During silences there is no hiss, rush or buzz just dead black silence. I think this really allows all of the details to come through unimpeded. Silence = transparency in this case.
I’m thoroughly impressed by everything these components do. I have a modest system at best, but I don’t feel as if I’m missing out on much. I think system synergy could lead to improvements in image depth and overall sound. I’m looking to upgrade speakers and cable. Also, I’m considering a mod that will enable the XR45 to run 4 channels outside of party mode. This would keep gain characteristics the same and allow bi-amping with a 24/96 input.