Review: The Abyss AB-1266 Planar Magnetic Headphones

The Abyss AB 1266.

Some call it the Medieval Torture Device. I call it audio heaven.

I shall not mince my words: Abyss is butt ugly. On first impression, I doubt anyone will even figure how the heck to put it on to your head. Followed by its weight, its one of the heaviest in the 640g range. It is on first sight highly unadjustable and uncomfortable. How can something like this sound good? Add on the initial price tag of more then 5K, maybe JPS Labs went mad or something.

But the truth is actually far from it. Price has fallen to 4k + (Abyss Lite Edition. Same thing just less accessories). I got mine cheaper then a LCD4 in my area. Its actually highly adjustable, and quite comfortable once you are done with it. Infact due to its design, you wont be as affected by the ears and its surrounding area heating up like most other headphones. The sound can also be describe in one word: Sublime.

First lets look into the design. The Abyss is made of out of solid aluminium pieces bent and merge together. I have a feeling that if you throw it at someone, concussion ensures. Its probably the most solid built headphone I touched, even beating those of Beyerdynamics. The frame will probably last you a lifetime unless you get a car to run over it. The elastic bend is where the headphone rest on. The headphone was designed to actually rest on your head, with the ear cups lightly touching around your ears.  This will put bulk of the weight on top and thus making it rather comfortable. And since there is little clamping force, its more comfortable then many headphones out there, lets not forget it also reduces the chance your ears heating up and sweating! The next question in most people mind now is how do you actually adjust it to there.

First we take a look at the top, the joint there can be extended by about an inch and slightly bent forward or back. So depending on your head size, just pull or bend accordingly. Next is the ear cups. Its of a asymmetric design. Attached with a magnet, it can rotated up to 18 positions. So just rotate them till you feel comfortable and the entire cup is resting on the side of your head. This adjustment takes around 20-30 min in my experience and its the most important phase of using this headphone. Infact, it will determine if you ever enjoy the headphone, both comfort and sonically.

The issue of this headphone and why many cant understand it when they do auditions is this: The adjustments of the entire headphone determines the sound. Clamp down too much and you lose bass impact and make the overall signature warm. Pull it too far apart and you will get a relatively bright signature. If the earpad fully sits on the side of your head, you get a full sound. But if you want alittle more dynamic, leaving a gap in the seal will give you a better experience. The thing is this headphone is finicky until you get it right. Once you obtain the fitting and sound you want, its onward to audio bliss, SUBLIME!

The Abyss is quite the monster to drive. With 85db/mw, its just slightly better then HE6 which is 83. On the Hugo TT, that will equate to violet or light blue for volume and even white if your track is soft. Its power requirements are also quite high, many amps will not have the grunt to fully power it to its fullest. Best to get something that can do 1w on output. When I first audition it with the Hugo, its rather flat and boomy. The TT did a much much better job as it had the current to swing. For me I use the Cayin IHA6 pictured on top. The IHA6 amp outputs 7w per channel, its a monster in power in a relatively small package. The abyss never needed more then 12 position to be too loud for me.

Sound:

Equipment:

Laptop -> Hugo TT -> Cayin IHA6 ->Abyss

HD800S

HE500

Tracks used:

Powder Snow by Suara (Female Vocals)

Musouka by Suara (Female Vocals)

Liberi Fatali by Distant Worlds(Orchestra/Chant)

Send my Love by Adele (Female Vocals)

Hotel California

 

This section is based on a properly fitted Abyss.

This headphone is fast. Faster then my HE500 and HD800S. This gives it a more dynamic feel with nicer blacks as instruments tend to not decay longer then they should. In Liberi Fatali, the bass and the treble will never mix. I can hear the xylophone in the background clearly even with all the other instruments and chants. In Hotel California, you can clearly hear the guitar pluckings as the bass pounds away.  Instrument separation is just fantastic as everything could be easily identified and heard.

Soundstaging and placement is fantastic. Its soundstage is wide and huge, comparable to the HD800S in size. However its Z Axis doesnt feel as great the HD800S, I will say HD800S feels a little more holographic then the Abyss.This also lead to a slightly better separation in the HD800S. In Liberi Fatali, instruments could be heard clearly but on the Abyss, you cant exactly pin point its position all the time unlike the HD800S. There is also a slightly different feel to the soundstage. HD800S felt like a concert hall with mid row seat while the Abyss is a more closer to the front. This is very apparent in Hotel California, where everything felt closer with the sound radiating out far.

The Abyss is transparent and detailed. To me its more transparent then HD800S and the HE500. Other then my KSE1500 which sounds about the same, everything else felt like there is a veil over them muddles things a little. In the tracks for the female vocals, the voice is just crystal clear with all the instrument sounding right.  In Musouku, you can hear the little guitar plucks that is usually lost. It does mean that many modern recorded song for the masses will sound bad. You can probably pick up every crackle which can be downright irritating.

Vocals and mids are great, natural but a little recessed.The Abyss is just so much more relaxed and natural in the mids then the HD800S. In Send My Love, there are those claps. The Abyss just renders them like exactly how you would expect, a slap like impact followed by quick decay. The HD800S however sounded like just a mass of sound that feels like a clap. You cant tell the exact point of impact.  The mids are slightly recessed on the mids for the Abyss. This gives them a feeling of being slightly further away. Due to the way the Abyss is voiced, it sounds perfectly fine, but put it next to the HD800S and it becomes apparent. In Powder Snow, Abyss felt like the vocals were aligned with the instruments while on the HD800S, the instruments played a more supporting role. That said, even though its slightly behind, the Abyss felt more natural. The HD800S vocals felt a little constricted when compared. However there is an issue at times. In Hotel California, the bass can at times feel like it overpowered the vocals due to the slight change in placement. Though if you are a basshead then this is totally up your alley.

Cause Abyss is King for bass. I tried many headphones before I purchased the Abyss. He1000, LCD4, HD800S, LCD3, TH900. When I tried the Abyss properly, I just could not forget how it sounded. I told a friend of mine who ran one of the shop that sells everything but the Abyss: “Sorry but I will probably purchase the Abyss. It is deep… deep like its name stake, The Abyss” The thing is the Abyss bass goes not only deep, it sounded like a sub woofer. It impacts the side of your head and ear. You can feel that rumbling vibration that was lost in almost all headphones. Most headphones just had a tight, deep and impactful bass. The Abyss had all that plus a bass that can be felt just like a Sub. Its controlled, you can pinpoint the point of impact, then its decay, rumble and vibration there after. That was not the only thing great, with all the rumble, definitely the mids will get affected, but it isnt. It really felt like a properly integrated sub woofer, clearly separated but part of the total audio landscape.

The last part is the treble. Here, I will say the HD800S had a more distinct treble that sparkles a little more but never confusing. It also means the Abyss due to its treble being a little more tamed to me, sounded much more pleasant with almost no sibilant. The treble also sounded more natural. The little bells in Powder Snow just felt like the small bells you would hear. It was reported in complex treble tracks, the Abyss may sound confusing in the treble region. I did not personally heard it in the tracks I used. Maybe it needs a full orchestra with lots of instrument in that region which I did not have access to.

There is something I noted of the Abyss when I tried it out with my friend. I usually listen on the Hugo TT at around Dark Blue while he does it at Light Blue. This translates to around 85db peak at 90+ vs 97db peak at 100+. We noticed at my levels, everything is in control, but at his preferred level, the bass had this weird vibration which we believe is distortion. We therefore believe that at higher volumes, the Abyss may have big and powerful bass but it will distort and therefore if you are sensitive to such things, do audition it at those level before purchase.

The Abyss is a medieval torture device that sound as deep as the Abyss. As a TOTL, I believe it deserves its place in todays context. You will be called nuts 3 years ago at 5.5k when it first debutted but now with pricing reaching similar levels of LCD4 (and maybe even the Focus Utopia), it is definitely a must try if you are in that market. Especially if you like quality sound with bass sounding like a sub woofer that is clearly missed in almost all headphones. Lets not forget its one of  kind look which is actually quite comfortable.

Behind the Scene: Tatsumaki One Punch Man!

Tatsumaki-3
Nikon DF 20mm F1.8 @ 1/200, F2.5, ISO400, Flash Fired

Its time for another behind the scene article! Today it will be Tatsumaki from the series One Punch Man!

Tatsumaki is pretty much a haughty girl with the ability to manipulate objects via psychic. Shes perpetually floating in the series due to her powers and will not hesitate to rain terror on her opponents!

The key points of this shoot:

  • 4 lights were used with 2 for lighting up the alley
  • A portable smoke machine was used to create airflow like effects
  • The floating was done via a chair and some muscle training by the subject
  • The floating parts of her skirt was done using fishing lines and holding them

Bye tatsumaki

The Light Setup:

A total of 4 lights are used in 3groups:

2 lights consisting of 1 speed light and a B1 with a zoom reflector gelled with blue to light up the alley. The B1 was facing towards the camera to give a glow to the subject and light up the alley/smoke.

1 B2 on boom stand using OCF Octa Softbox+grid with green gell for the highlights and some green in the smoke. Grid is to ensure the green light is just over her as that is her signature color effect when using abilities.

1 B2 with a OCF 2’x3′ Softbox+grid to light the subject and prevent spilling of the light. The grid also minimizes reflected light form the boom green light.

BTS Tatsumaki

The Scene:

The subject sits on a chair. The various parts of her skirt are pinned and then held with fishing lines which are easy to remove in post. On ready for the shot, the subject will curl up on the chair and a shot will be taken.

This is followed up by the removal of the chair in post processing and some of the fishing line in the frame. Then some touch up with the smoke to give a denser fill.

Tatsumaki-5
Nikon DF 20mm F1.8 @ 1/200, F4, ISO800, Flash Fired

Notable Points:

The shot is done at high ISO. Some may ask why were higher ISO used when the whole scenery is litted by flash. The answer is simply cause the flash did not have enough power to light up the scene to the lighting I desire. As such the ISO is lifted to the extend that the background is barely visible then the lights will go in. High ISO also facilitate multi-shots done in certain part of the shoot where you desire to capture a relatively fast moment.

Thanks for reading my behind the scenes! Will write more the next time I have something interesting! Do remember to visit ZerartulPeaktures for more photos!

Tatsumaki-1
Nikon DF 28mm F1.8 @ 1/200, F2.5, ISO200, Flash Fired

Equipment used:

  • Nikon Df with 20/28/50mm lense
  • 1 Profoto B1
  • 1 Profoto B2 with 2 Heads
  • 1 Yong Nuo 560 Mk4 Speedlight
  • Lee Filter gells
  • 1 Jinbei m1 Boom Stand
  • 1 Antari M1 Mobile Fogger

Shures KSE1500 Review

DSC04721

The KSE1500 is world first In Ear Isolated Electrostat. Its not the first portable or earphone electrostat but definitely the first isolated one. Coming in at USD$2999, it cost a lot for in-ear monitor. The biggest question is: IS IT WORTH IT? 

Packaging:

The KSE1500 comes with everything and the kitchen sink.  The main unit and earphones, 5 Cables, wall charger, cleaning cloth, case  for both the amp/dac unit and the earphones. Theres really nothing to complain about what is given except Shures should have just design a special pelican case that can hold both the amp and earphone together with a custom partitioned foam.

Quality:

The amp/dac is really well built. Comes with its very own LCD screen that’s clear and bright even in the day. The amp is solidly built. The connectors used for the Shures are LEMO 0B connectors. This are dust proof connectors that can survive quite some abuse and cost a good amount too. The earphones themselves have non replaceable cables. At first I thought it may be a problem but looking at the connectors, the kevlar cables, the thickness of them, I think its not going to give way anytime. Which brings to the final buds themselves. I wonder what Shures was thinking cause sadly the buds looks and feels cheap. The left and right buds moldings are actually slightly different, with one side have fine lines on it while the other can be seen with the driver touching the outer shell. To summarise, the buds don’t look like they are worthy of a 1k IEM and this is a $2999 system. The buds are fully sealed and very light so I doubt they will get damage but definitely the premium feel could have been achieved just to pamper the buyer.

Usage and Comfort:

The connection is straight forward as the connectors are grooved. The connector is well secured and cannot be pulled apart without releasing the catch. The amp operation initially can be awkward and requires some help or the manual to understand the basic usage.  Once you get pass that stage, its straight forward. The LCD shows the input volumes and aim is to keep them from clipping. The screen also shows the volume which can be changed by the knob on the top left of the amp.  The knob is nice but the steps are quite sad. Shures actually thought 25 steps are enough for volume.

The amp has some additional function. It has a build in equalizer that actually works with minimum distortion to the sound. I use it quite often to get the music taste I want which I will touch on in the later sound quality section. The equalizer is a 4 point parametric with various choices and +-6DB setting. It has 5 build in presets and 4 additional user defined ones. Sadly you cant rename them so memorisation of which setting you did up will be needed.

The other options are setting of input volume reduction especially for high output dacs like the chord or AK players. The last item in the menu is the utilities to set things such as charge while using, battery report, lcd brightness.

The earbuds are easy to fit and comfortable. Being a 1 driver earbud, its small, light and can fit into most ears. The recommended were the foam tips and base on my personal usage its true. It also removes the most ambient noise. Shures claim 37 db reduction and I don’t think its that far off, definitely a better fit then my Lyras with complys.

The amp unit comes with a leather pouch and like every other amp you can choose to strap it to your player. The pouch has the ability to hook the amp through a belt or bag which is a nice touch but that will need a long interconnect cable which Shures actually provided (there is a shot 20cm and a long 1m long one)

DSC04726

Sound quality:

For 3k USD it should sound like the best ever thing right? The answer to this: Subjective.

To start off I need a disclaimer, I never tried Layla. I tried most things below 2k USD, anywhere from the Shures SE215 to the UM Legend and JH Roxxane. So where do the Shures stand?

Compared to most earphones below the 1k USD, there is no fight. From the 1-2k USD mark, preference and genre of music plays a very large part to where the Shures stand. So lets start with the basic parameters of treble, vocals, bass, and sound stage followed by the characteristic of the sound which will cover the rest.

Track origin:

Liberi Fatali: Distance World from Final Fantasy

Hello: Adele 25

Powder Snow: Suara

Sometime When we Touch: Susan Wong

Hotel California: Eagles, Hell Freezes Over

Gate: Kisada Kyodan and The Rockets

Treble: Very good extension and smooth. The bells in Powder Snow can be heard very clearly with the “Ting” that’s extremely realistic. This is one of the greatest magic in KSE1500, guitars, bells, violins, all sound extremely realistic with almost no coloration. Its like hearing the real instruments themselves with great realism. Theres no harshness in the treble though some may find it bright as its reproduces everything. Also due to the treble extension and prominence, it adds a effect of airyiness in the sound which I will elaborate in the later section.

Vocals: Vocals are very strong. Both for female and male, they sound just right with a lot of air and smoothness. I especially love female vocals by Susan Wong and Suara on the KSE1500. Adele sounds magical too especially on the track Hello. The vocals are a little laid back by default compared to say my Lyra or UM Mage.  They have a smoothness that’s unmatched on any IEM I tried so far.

Bass: This is where the KSE1500 is both good and bad. The bass is tight, fast  and punchy when needed. However it lacks the slam and the boom. You will not get the shake in the ear feeling that some of the BA or Dynamic can give you. You also cant get the boom and decay like those of the Dynamic similar to the Lyra. What you get is extremely tight bass with no delay. This does mean it comes and go really fast, does not affect any other sound in the spectrum and respond very well to tracks that have a lot of fast beat. The KSE1500 do go deep, but you wont get the rumble like a dynamic  IEM. If you want the impact, rumble and the boom, get something else.  Else the KSE1500 is just right.

Soundstage: The KSE1500 has a soundstage that’s wide but not the widest of IEM. I couldn’t put a finger on the exact size but it’s a IEM scale sound stage so don’t expect open can stax like stage. It does have very good separation and depth.  The requirement though is you must get the best sealing else things start getting muddle up which is the case with silicon tips I tried initially.

Characteristic: The KSE1500 is extremely neutral. High clarity, High details, everything just feels right, nothing feels overly emphasized as a whole. This lead to a sound that’s soo clean that sterile maybe the word to use. Its transient response is fast, nothing gets muddle up even in the most complex track with bass and guitar all mixed together. I quote a friend: “Listening to the KSE1500 feels like listening to the pure music in a sound proof room”. There is no distortion, no coloration, just pure music that feels like how it originally is.  Which lead to the biggest issue of the KSE1500: ITS BORING! In a recent gathering of 8 of my friends, some audiophile and some casual listeners, those that did not like it biggest complain was its just boring after a while. The sound feels in your face,:clear and correct with no wow or spectacular factor.  This can be rectified in EQ, my favourtie being the vocal boost, to bring the qualities that you prefer up front. The KSE1500 equalizer is very good,  almost no distortion and the earphones respond very well to them. Somethings can never be rectified such as a warmness of sound and increasing the bass impact, at least not with the build in EQ or those on most devices.

Value:

How can we be talking about value for the world most expensive IEM? Or is it really? $2999 you are getting a earphone AND a amp/dac. Now lets look at top of the range IEM such as the Siren series on Nobel K10, couple them with a decent amp and you will probably break the $2999 mark easily. Lets not forget the KSE1500 is working at 100% potential due to a whole system design while for most IEM, you will probably need to hunt for the most synergy amp which can cost anywhere from few hundreds to thousands. You also get a DAC which may not be the greatest but definitely a step up from your mobile phones and entry DAPS.

DSC04724

Conclusion:

So where does all this leave the KSE1500. Is it the GREATEST? The answer for me is YES, a true TOTL, flaghip of flagships. But to many others it will be no. Its probably 1-2k good but 3k probably not unless you are into its sound signature. The KSE1500 excels in clarity, detail, transcient response, and seperation. Bass is good but probably not the quantity some wants them to be. Nethier is its soundstage the widest ever. So before you make a purchase on the KSE1500 or any othe TOTL iem, make sure you can audition it or comes with a return policy.

 

And for me, Im loving it everyday more then the previous. It has reached a point that my HE500 no longer sounds right and my Lyra is actually muddy even through a Chord Mojo.

Behind the scenes: Rune Knight Ragnarok Online

RO-1
ISO 100, 35mm F2, 1/320s, Flash Fired

Another entry of behind the scenes. This is not a weekly thing, it just so happen that the shoots I been doing on consecutive weeks are great for article writing.

Brief summary of today shoot:

  • Shot with a leaf shutter camera
  • 3 light setup
  • 1 2′ octa for fill
  • 1 2’x3′ soft box for highlight and rim light
  • 1 reflector mounted light for back glow
  • Mist used for effects
backsword
ISO 100, 35mm F2, 1/320s, Flash Fired

Ragnarok online is a Korean MMORPG with the Rune Knight taking on a classic warrior class. Donning armor wielding a sword, a class that specialised in balanced defence and offence.

The way this shoot was lighted is very similar to the last post for Yuuki Konno. The key differences were that this shoot minimises the overall effects of ambient light. As such almost all light seen in the picture was generated artificially. The shoot was done from 830am to 1030am, how the ambient was killed to get the maximum amount of light produce was via a leaf shutter camera: the RX1.

ROBTS-1
Rim light fired only to see how it falls on the subject

Leaf shutter cameras are great as there are no limit to their sync rate. The limitation is the sync rate of the transmitter, in this case the Profoto Nikon TTL trigger, which goes up to 1/1200s. This kills the ambient light a whole lot as shown in the image above where only the rim light was firing. Notice how dark the ambient is even though it’s around 840am in the morning when it was shot.

ROBTS-2
Light Test before Effects
Photo 17-1-16, 12 08 33 AM
3 Light setup. B1 on the back, B2 above subject, B2 infront

Light setup:

1 B1 mounted with a zoom reflector behind the half closed fort door. This is to simulate the light leak out from a semi opened door, the door themselves acting as a large light shaping tool and adding to the mood.

1 B2 mounted with a 2’x3′ soft box with grid on a boom positioned top back of the subject. This was the rim light for the subject and gives a highlight on the hair. The additional function it has was to light the mist produced in the air for the glow and colours. The grid prevents unnecessary spill to the background doors and shadows.

1 B2 mounted with a 2′ octa soft box with grid. A Key light for the subject. The grid prevents reflection of the light from the back B! and controls the spill to retain the shadows.

With this shoot, every shot was done with the same shutter speed of 1/320 and lights at approximately 8 for the B1 and 6-7 for the B2 heads. The B1 and the top B2 2’x3′ soft box was gelled for the orange glow.

One note: Asians have a warmer skin complexion, as such orange gel for fill and key light is not needed unless you want a cool tone background.

ROBTS-3
Application of mist with lights fired. The top will light the mist to give it the glowing droplet effects.

Effects:

Misting was done by the 2 assistants. As we do not have the third, shots with flipping was done by the same person that was misting.

The edits were done similarly to my last shoot of Yuuki Konno so do refer to it for more information.

kneel
ISO 100, 35mm F2, 1/320s, Flash Fired
pray
ISO 100, 35mm F2, 1/320s, Flash Fired

Additional thoughts:

Shaping light with available structures are interesting ways to create effect and mood, in this case the fort doors. However as much as this photos look cool, with every shoot, some thoughts must be done prior so that the right setup can be used and execution can be done smoothly to produce the shots at acceptable timing. Try not to think and experiment only on the shoot itself with the lights as this will tire the subject and consume a large amount of time. With that, thanks for reading! I hope you enjoy this article and do visit my FB page at ZerartulPeaktures!

Equipment used:

  • Sony RX1 35mm F2
  • Profoto B1
  • Profoto B2 with 2 heads
  • Profoto Nikon TTL transmitter
  • Profoto OCF 2′ octa box
  • Prfoto OCF 2’x3′ softbox
  • Profoto zoom reflector
  • Jinbei M1 mini boom
  • 2 water mist spray

 

 

 

 

 

Behind the Scenes: Yuuki Sword Art Online

Yuuki-3
ISO 400, 20mm, F1.8, 1/1000, Flash Fired HSS

This weekend I did a shoot for Chloe Miriee’s Yuuki Konno cosplay. The results are rather stunning even by my standards. This article will talk about how the effects were achieved which is quite standard throughout the entire photo set.

Yuuki is a character from sword art online, a MMORPG like game in the medieval times. A combat class that uses a sword, with quite a good amount of scene in forest and dungeons. A top notch swordsman with a ill fate at the end. I wanted to give her a more magical game like feeling with dramatic motion and emotions. More pics will be posted at my main site and FB page: ZerartulPeaktures

As said most pictures were shot and edited the same way. Summary of how this shoot was done and processed:

  • 1 Boomed Grided light for rim and highlight
  • 1 Grided light for fill
  • 1 Reflector on Light for simulated sun (optional)
  • 2 assistants for misting
  • 1 assistant for wig throwing
  • Color process with Lightroom
  • Effects process with Photoshop

Light Setup:

Yuuki Light Diag

BTS Yuuki 1
2 Lights used for this shot. Top light highlights the sword and gives more contrast.

In a forest, normally with the canopy cover, you get streams of light coming in but on general its not really bright. I wanted it to look sunny even in a forest, like a canopy with a big opening.

1 B2 head boomed fitted with 60cm x 90cm Gridded Softbox on the top. slightly back of the subject. This creates a nice rim from the head to the shoulders and a burnt out effect on the hair to simulate light from the top. Outdoor shoots are suspected to winds so a light head such as B2 and modifiers from the OCF series are great. Make sure to always weigh down the boom and counter balance it well.

1 B2 head on the floor right side with a 60cm Gridded Octa. This is mainly a fill light for the face placed above the camera level. In the shot above, its above the subjects eye level. The purpose of the grid is to fill only the face with minimum spill to the surroundings.

Additional notes:

Yuuki-2
This shot had a additional B1 at the back for the simulated sun..

1 B1 with reflector are used in some shots such as the one above. This is to simulate the sun. Shots that did not used it were due to good openings in the canopy with strong sunlight streaming in.

The light on the boom and the B1 with reflector both are meant to be back light to simulate flare or highlights generated by a low sun. In this shoot, they are fitted with 3/4 CTO gels to add extra warmth to the light. This was part of the reason why the front fill light must be gridded: it will other wise be reflecting the warm light from the front baffle onto the subject face which will be undesirable.

Effects and Color:

Sometime misting do not go well due to wind
Sometime misting do not go well due to wind

To obtain get the slightly magical effects of sparkles and mistiness, 2 assistants were tasked to spray mist into the air just slightly behind the subject. Mist however were easily affected by wind so the assistants need to constantly move.

Freezing the droplets of mist in the air rather then smeared, a faster shutter of 1/1000 was used. The lights were then fired with HSS. As this was a morning shoot, the flash itself could not freeze the motion of the droplets due to background lighting and a much faster shutter was needed. This is one of the situation where Profoto B1/B2 really works well with HSS.

The sense of motion was obtained by flicking the wig base on the direction of the motion that was to be achieved. The subject will also execute the movement and hold the point where the shot will be done to get a more natural posing.

YuukiBTW-2
Out of camera shot

Post processing was the final step. First with Lightroom, the greens were hued to the yellow for a more autumn look. Colors were corrected to get a soothing slightly dulled down look while exposure contrast was increased for the dramatic feel.

Lastly photoshop, to get the hazy feeling with the effects of brighter sun ray streaming down, a combination of Motion blur, Gaussian blur and masking was used. I wont cover on how to achieve them here as you can find video tutorials of them.

Photos and Final words:

Yuuki-3
ISO 400, 20mm, F1.8, 1/1000, Flash Fired HSS
Yuuki-1
ISO 400, 20mm, F1.8, 1/1000, Flash Fired HSS
Yuuki-2
ISO 200, 50mm, F1.4, 1/500, Flash Fired HSS

As above, this are the outcomes of the shoot.  I hope you enjoy my behind the scene on how the shots are done and do visit my FB page at ZerartulPeaktures to view my latest work or contact me.

Equipment used:

  • Nikon DF
  • Nikon 20mm F1.8
  • Sigma Art 50mm F1.8
  • Profoto B1
  • Profoto B2 with 2 heads
  • Profoto 2′ X 3′ OCF Softbox with Grid
  • Profoto 2′ OCF Octa with Grid
  • Profoto Zoom Reflector
  • Jinbei M1 Mini Boom
  • 2 Water spray with misting nozzle (those for watering plants)

Behind the Scene: Akatsuki no Yona

Yona-1
Yona: Nikon DF 85mm F1.8, 1/200, iso250, flash triggered

Akatsuki no Yona was one of the more planned out shoot I had for sometime. Thanks to Sumi for this shoot together with all those that helped out. For the full album visit my page ZerartulPeaktures

Todays article will talk about the creation of the above image at the start of this post.  The image is done using 3 lights. With a combination of 2 images for the spread of leaves.

File 4-1-16, 11 21 02 PM_NIK2292

A B2 head mounted on a boom acts as the simulated sun on the back. It’s mounted with a zoom reflector for a more controlled spill onto the back of the subject.

The light on the left acts as the key light for the subject. A B1 mounted with 2’x3′ box with a grid, it’s purpose is to light the subject like a hole in the forest. The grid prevents unnecessary spill.

The final light on the left as a fill. A B2 head mounted with a 2′ octa, it’s powered at around 2 stops lower then the key light. This is to soften the shadow on the dark side of the subject.

Photo 2-1-16, 10 31 42 AM

The helpers gather the dry leaves around the area and throws them in succession. Multiple shots are done with each throw to maximise the amount of leaves and their arrangement caught on the camera. This is a situation where a better light like the B1/B2 has an advantage. With a lot more capacity, they can be fired in rapid succession while still retaining the Color and exposure.

YonaBTS-1 YonaBTS-2

The images are combined together using photoshop. The images above are two shots straight out of Lightroom with the exact same setting. If you notice there’s almost no shift in Color and exposure which makes combining a Breeze.

Once the images are combined, all that’s left is touching up of image, removing the b2 generator from the image and final touches for the subject.

Yona-1

I will probably be posting more behind the scene shots in the future. Do follow them and my Facebook page @ ZerartulPeaktures

Equipment used:

  • Nikon DF
  • Nikon 85mm F1.8
  • Profoto B1
  • Profoto B2 with 2 Heads
  • Profoto 2’Octa Softbox
  • Profoto Zoom Reflector
  • Jinbei 2’x3′ Softbox with grid
  • Jinbei M1 Boom

 

 

Review: Chord Mojo Portable Dac – The Magical Black Box

Mojo-1

The Chord Mojo is the newest product launch just this Mid October by Chord Electronics. Mojo, the short form of Mobile Joy, is the 3rd battery powered DAC by Chord and also the smallest and most affordable of the series at just S$899. Hugo(S$2800) and the Hugo TT(S$6500) before it are many times the size and price yet provide the performance that almost any audiophile will rave about. Will Mojo rise up to the standards of its predecessors?  In short, totally!

Design

Mojo-2The Mojo is the size of a park of card and maybe a little thicker. Made of solid aluminium coated black with 3 round balls as buttons with various sockets. The words and icons are laser etched to the surface and the black matt coat is relatively scratch resistance.

A total of 3 digital inputs and 2 3.5mm stereo outputs are found on the Mojo. There is no analogue in or balance ports, the whole design purely focusing on its DAC and output to portable headphones. The digital inputs are Optical, Coax and USB, covering most input types that a DAC could consume.

The 3 balls work as buttons, with 1 as power and 2 as volume. Each of them will light up in a series of rainbow color to represent the bit rate and volume. The colors are honestly hard to remember but are really useful and will be described in the next section. The balls spins about in their socket but so far I do not really think they are better then buttons except being fancy.

In totality, the Mojo is a solid design that is relatively small and solid. Balanced out would have been nice in the form of AK 2.5mm but I’m not really complaining at this price point.

In Use

The Mojo in use is rather interesting.

First the the size: Yes it is rather small but it makes stacking with everything touch screen troublesome. The straps will have to go over the screen as most touch devices are rather long and big (16:9 ratio). Considering the market that Mojo is targeting, making a long and thin device would have been better. Other then that, it  is really small for its capability and if you have a AK100/120 or DX50/90, this guy would be right at home as a stack though a little thick. Using a velcro will probably solve the issue, though it will leave a mess when you want to remove it.Mojo-3

Secondly is the ports: They are good but for a portable, I wonder if it would have been better if all the ports are on one side. The issue is wires going in and out of both sides means stacking and putting it into the pocket is rather impossible without hitting the cables on either end. Infact I lost a few connections via USB with my ZX 2 when my digital cable was leaning onto something in my bag. If everything was one side, it would have been a more optimal layout for portable usage.

Thirdly buttons (or balls): Its a love hate relationship with those balls and where they are. I quite love to just fiddle with them and roll them about, but the way they are positioned makes them either really hard to press when stacked, or really prone to being pressed by anything. If you faced the words “mojo” inwards, the balls will need your finger to reach in to toggle them, if you face the words out, anything just touching the device from an angle probably will mess with your volume.

Forth the rainbow colors: This is actually one design I actually love. You can dim or brighten them by pressing the volume buttons together. Knowing the device is on or off is simple with those big balls of glowing lights. The colors initially were confusing but after a while you just need to know red is the lower, green is middle and violet/white is up top. In-fact what I love most is based on the headphones I use and the color I listen them at, I can set the volume before playing easily. There is also a small colored led under the power port. It works rather well to tell how much power is left.

Some other stuff: Line out is achieved by pressing the two volume buttons at start up. This result in two violet lights and if its too high voltage for your amp (3v), just press the volume buttons to reduce it. 3v was too high for my CDM but perfectly fine for the WA22. The device runs for about 8hrs via USB and high res songs, gets quite warm and even hot when its charging. However no worries as there are internal circuitry which will shut itself off at 65c. This prevents damages to itself or accidental burns to your skin.

Sound Quality

Mojo-5

The most important part for any audio device especially a DAC/AMP. Mojo in one word: Superb.

Headphones: Lyra, H6, ESW10, RS1

Transport: ZX2

Songs: Orchestra from FF:Distant Worlds, Gate, Hotel California, Songs by Susan Wong, Songs by Suara

Amps: WooAudio WA22, ALO CDM

Firstly to start of, its a relatively neutral sounding amp, leaning towards energetic and musicality. Hearing it through the many song, I find it has no true preference to any genra, making good work of anything thrown at it without any emphasis or harshness.

The greatest value of Mojo to me compared to any DAPs and DACs till 5k SGD is the energy in the song. No matter which song I played, it always has this energy that no other device I heard could match. The moment I switched to my ZX2, iPhone or my CDM in built DAC, they immediately felt for a lack of words: tired. It is like the vocals and instrument lack that little shim and power. Mojo felt like the performer who just arrived on stage full of energy while the other devices felt like the energy has all been used up and winding down.

Then there is the effortless of the sound. No matter what you throw at it, no sound in the spectrum will feel like its catching up or lacking in energy. This also makes the sound more realistic to me, similar to a live performance.

The other really notable sound quality which I would point out is how realistic the highs are yet never feeling harsh. The cymbals, bells and strings all felt really natural, especially in this tracks of distant worlds, no matter how much the bass or number of instruments, the highs will always be notable yet never distorted in any form.

Lastly the bass of this device is quick, punchy but without the feeling of emphasis. If the songs have little bass, like those from Suara, they felt well balanced in the background as support elements. But in Gate, a mid bass heavy track, its quick, punchy yet never bleeds into the vocals or mask the highs.

The only complain if I really want to squeeze one out about the sound is it sounds “Matter of Fact”. The output of the device just sound right, but sometimes this can get boring and this is where amping comes in. By default, Mojo vocals in most track felt well centered with good mass, running it through the WA22, the vocals spread out a little more and in general more soothing. Between raw or amped in this case is more of a preference. The CDM however shows some interesting improvement which I will cover in the next section.

Drive and Matching

On its own, the Mojo is really powerful. I do not think any headphone will have insufficient volume or authority. Everything I thrown at it sounds great. It may not be the absolute best of each headphone, but definitely no complains and enjoyable. Even with the harder ones like LCD2, it sounds perfectly fine.

Mojo-4

However to put it at its best, to me a ALO CDM acting as its amp, sublime. It actually adds even more energy to the sound, providing a touch more air especially in the vocals and highs. Euphoric sounding, it may just be the best stack that can fit into a bag.

Value

Of all the audio gear I purchased, I rate this the best value product. It sounds great, small enough and could be used by itself perfectly fine. At a sub S$1000 price, it beats DAC/DAPS twice or even triple its price. I really can’t think of a source device that provides more value based on the performance it provides.

In conclusion, Mojo to me is Magic in the pocket. A worthwhile purchase for any audiophile who wants the best without paying a king’s ransom.

ALO Continental Dual Mono: Preview

CDM-2

Recently I went back to my audio hobby which started way before even my photography days. Did a few new purchases and recently got my hand on a ALO Continental Dual Mono.

CDM-1

 

Pictured here with my Sony ZX2, this amp is both a looker and sounds really great. Makes the headphones I have for the last 8 years sound greater then they ever had. Gives a warm, smooth sound with great clarity but nice bass slam.

CDM-3

The glowing tubes make for great photography subject. Will probably go around doing a review for it together with my recent audio gears and even more pictures.