Ackcheng and Tai Po

Ackcheng and Tai Po comment on their experience with V-Caps:

The quest continues... It all started a few years ago when I had an opportunity to own my audio system with Onkyo AV intergrated amp and a pair of KEF. Just like anyone interested in audio equipment, I went to many friends’ homes and listened to their systems. It didn’t take long before I fell in love with tubed equipment. However, the price was out of my reach! It didn’t take long before I realized that there are tube amps available from our motherland, China at a much lower cost. Buying my first integrated tube amp with 6L6 has quenched my thirst – but not for long… there are just so many areas that can be improved. Listening in the audio shops will give you an idea of what good sound should be. However, even with the Chinese tube amp, those that can give good sound still cost a lot. This is why I ended up in the road of DIY.

One of the advantages in living in a big city like Hong Kong is that it is so crowded, but this also means that you can easily find someone with your interests. After knowing a company called TranscendentSound on the internet and the open circuit, I began to build my first ever tube preamp – the Grounded Grind (GG). The circuit is designed with the idea of "simple = best". The sonic character is fast and well controlled even at the base region. This gives you the best of both tube and SS world! The author of the circuit believes that good circuit design is far more important than using expensive components. One day, in a friend’s home, I had a chance to hear a scratch built preamp with crap $2 components and the one with Solen, RMG etc……. The verdict was simple. Good components do make a difference………. a big difference. Period.

So I went on to modify my GG with Black gates and RMG with Jensen copper as the coupling caps. The sound was really good. Good dynamics, good details, and resolution…… But being an anal-retentive person like me, I never stop. I started to play with cables, and this is how I came across Chris from VH Audio about his cryo cables which are really great. They further enhance the transparency of my system. Like the veil has been taken off, as some of my friends said. After buying a few times from Chris, I had a feeling that we both have the same quest for the same type of sound - transparency, speed, good control, accurate tonal balance, wide and deep soundstaging. One day, I received an email from Chris about his new cap – the V-Cap. Well, the price was a bit high, but since they were at a reduced price because of promotional offer, I thought I may give it a try after the positive experience with the cryo cables and the cotton silver interconnect. Actually, after the Jensen copper, I have also tried Dynamic cap, Russian Teflon caps, Jupiter caps and MCap Silver oil. Each cap has its own characteristics, with the MCap Silver giving the best highs and most balance, but perhaps the bass was a bit dim.

The V-Cap took a few days to arrive in a securely packed box, and each pair of caps was wrapped in paper towels and an air tight plastic bag. The pair I ordered was 1uF, which is an exact replacement for the coupling cap in GG.

Once I received the V-Cap, it was immediately installed in the system composed of DIY GG as preamp, 2 DIY TranscendentSound T8 OTL as power amp. The T8 is actually bi-amped to control the 2 way speakers after a DIY active crossover. The source is a Marantz SA14a ver 1 with modified clock and most capacitors changed to Blackgates.

When the V-Cap was first installed, the sound was already as good as the MCap Silver, with a very good treble and good extension to the high end. However, even though the extension was good, the treble in this fresh new cap was a bit "digital", not as smooth as the well-burnt MCap. There are no loss to details, but the sound stage was a bit contracted, the bass was also restricted and loose. But this is just for the first one hour of the caps life. When compared to Dynamic cap, the V-Cap in this first hour is less dynamic. After the first 10 hours, the V-Caps had settled down, and the "digital" sound had virtually disappeared.

After this, the V-Cap was burnt-in for another 100 hours. I tried not to listen during these 100 hours to see if there was any real change. At about 100 hours, we had a gathering with a couple GG DIY group members, to see the half burnt-in V-Cap. We had Jensen, Dynamic cap, Jupiter cap, Russian teflon and MCap Silver all connected via a dip switch so we could do an A/B comparison. All are of 1uF in value which is the exact value specified in the circuit. At 100 hours, the V-Cap is more relaxed, and we can now listen for a long time without causing fatigue. The high is already silky smooth and the bass extension is also very good. The mid range is getting more refined and smooth. The Paper in oil army grade cap, Dynamic and Jupiter all have different characteristics. The Dynamic cap is really "dynamic", Jupiter gives a lot of details but the V-Cap wins them all, and by a good margin. The V-Cap is both detailed and dynamic. Listening to live recordings gives you an impression of being there. Focusing is particularly good, especially when listening to symphony type of music- you can tell the location for each piece of instrument!

However, none of these have prepared us for the phenomenal impact on the system when we listen to the V-Cap again at 400 hours of burn in a few weeks later…

At 400 hours of burn-in, the shoot out continued. Good extension to both high and bass with good control and silky smooth trebles was already present at about 200 hours of burn-in. What else can this cap improve on with this few hundred hours of burnt in? Alot. If you haven’t listened to it, you wouldn’t believe me.

Using the same setting, we played a variety of music this time, and compared the different caps. First up was David Roth’s Pearl River from Stockfish records, the sound of the guitar was really, really good. You could hear the details of change of the sound when he slid his fingers along the strings when he changed chords. He voice was very relaxing and comfortable, but accurate. To determine whether equipment can differentiate the different characteristics of an instrument, The Miracle Makers by Bein & Fushi is the acid test. This CD is composed of music by many different violins, each with its special character, and all worth more than a fortune. The total cost of the violins cost over $100 million. It was an enormous effort to produce these recordings. This is a MUST BUY CD for the violin lover. With the V-Cap, the characteristics and tonality of each violin are very well presented. When using the MCap, the sound of the violin is very smooth too, but the character is not as distinct. The features are not as accurate. What about other caps? Well, forget them.

What about vocals, for female vocals, we chose Carol Kidd – All my tomorrows SACD, LINN records. Her sexy, sweet voice is already well known to many. The V-Cap not only further enhanced her presentation of smoothness, but also let you hear the music coming from the base of her throat. You can feel the power and strength of her voice, yet was very smooth and relaxing. These characteristics are particularly evident with Louis Armstrong – What a wonderful world. The vibration of the vocal cords is so clear. Perhaps too clear for some!

What about live music? We tried Vivaldi’s four seasons. The version we listened was Gala Stradivarius Concert by the English chamber orchestra, Start Records. This is a live recording ….. The sensation of space and air is so strong that we had a feeling our listening area of about 150ft had extended to the whole hall. Even using stereo speakers, it felt as if we were using a multichannel amp! However, despite this feeling of space, there is no loss of sound stage- it is wide and deep, not contracted in the middle of the empty space. The resolution is clear and the positions of different equipment are also very accurate. You can "see" the whole orchestra in front of you.

To test the speed and dynamics, we used SACD version of Living Stereo – Offenbach: Gaite Parisienne. The V-Cap is fast… very fast. There is no muffling of the sound and the sound of each instrument is distinctly heard, even though this recording has many instruments and is very fast with so many things going on at the same time. The dynamics are also excellent, with no compromise in detail or big swing to either end of the listening frequency.

Our last test was positioning, and we used Musik wie von einem anderen stern, Manger. When listerning to Der Himmel deckt alles mit Stille zu, the position of the door and the ticking clock etc… are accurately placed with both horizontal and vertical dimensions giving a real 3D experience.

Overall, the V-Cap is an outstanding cap that we are all very happy with. It belongs to the fast, accurate type with a good balance of musicality. We are extremely happy with the effect it has on the system. Will I stop here? Well, there are always areas to improve, the resistors, the power caps………, but at least I have found THE CAP for the coupling position in my preamp, and for this position, this will be the end…

The quest continues……..

Ackcheng & Tai Po

 

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