October 2011 - The Magic of Having Audio Gear Pimped

 

 
I learned about Martin Küng a bit more than 20 years ago. At around 1988, I bought my first CD player, a Grundig CD 8400 with Philips drive unit (I believe CDM II) and the famous TDA1541 chip set (16 bit with 4x oversampling) just to check out the hype on the musical wonder of CDs  which the audio press had started some years earlier. I found the sound of CDs OK at that time, although highly dependent on the production quality of music on this new digital medium; however, I preferred listening to vinyl instead. Honestly, most of the CDs from the era 1983 to 1989 were no joy to listen to and this is a polite description ;-).

At around 1989 to 1990, a friend of mine told me about Martin Küng, an electronics engineer, and his extraordinary talents to upgrade CD players of mainly Philips-based technology to "musical wonders comparable to the sound of our beloved turntables". My interest was awakened, and so I decided to get in contact with Martin regarding the possibility of upgrading my Grundig CD player.

Here is some background info on Martin Küng: Martin was born in Vorarlberg - one of the nine provinces of Austria - and moved to Vienna in the mid 80s to make a living out of his expertise on pimping audio equipment. Back then, Martin was specialized in CD-player modifications and started to develop his own cable designs. At first, he started to develop power cords and later on special power filters and speaker- as well as interconnect - cables. In the meantime, he has expanded his range of products and also offers his own DAC design, a class-A pre-amp and class A/B power mono bloc amps as well as various high grade power supplies for audio computers (the Squeeze Box Touch, for example, as well as other audio/studio units for which an upgrade in power supply is worthwhile).

When I contacted Martin in the end of the 1980s regarding the possible upgrade of my Grundig player, he had built quite a reputation in Austria for being an expert on CD-player tuning. What impressed me was that he offered to lend me for some days a mid-priced Philips player, which he had upgraded, so that I could compare it with my original Grundig, to see if I liked the way his upgrades sounded. I took the chance, listened for some days to both players and was deeply impressed. His upgraded player, which was cheaper than mine in list price terms, won in all musical aspects. More grip in the bass, more colorful mids, a more pleasant treble region and also improved rhythm and musical flow. I ordered the full upgrade he offered at that time - around EUR 600 worth of parts and his time - which consisted of extensive power supply upgrades including his own regulator design, his own power cable design, improved clock design as well as some other improvements around the digital section of the Grundig player. Afterwards, the player was definitely different and a lot of fun to listen to, although some of the early CD material was still not too rewarding to play.

I have to admit that I bought more CDs than LPs from that time until the mid 90s and played CDs more frequently than vinyl. Honestly, that is true ;-). To be fair, at that time my vinyl set-up was lower middle class with a Thorens TD 115 and an entry level Ortofon MC cartridge. The amplifiers used were the Yamaha C4/M4 pre-/power amp combi and excellent ESS floor standing speakers with an ESS Heil Air-Motion tweeter (forgot the speaker model, though). I couldn't afford a top notch vinyl hardware system back then, so CDs were my preference until about 15 years ago, when I had the funds to invest more in my vinyl system and also learned about the glory of tube amps. From that moment, I realized that good old vinyl will be my preferred source forever :-)

***

But back to the story about Martin Küng and his excellent electronic skills...

In the mid to end 90s, I thought it was time to upgrade my CD player to one of the much raved Naim or Meridian designs of that time. So, I took my Grundig player, asked a friend to join me, and we went to a well-known dealer in Vienna to check out the current players up to approx. EUR 2,000.

At this dealer's shop, after some time of listening and comparison between a Meridian 506 24 bit machine, a mid prized Naim CD 3.5 player and my Martin Küng modified Grundig, the dealer was honest enough to say "If I were you, I'd stay with your current player." This statement wasn't easy for him to formulate, but it confirmed what my friend and I had agreed on during this listening session. The Grundig didn't have the last bits of resolution these players had, but it won hands down in musical terms, i.e. had a better musical flow and more intense color and shading when reproducing acoustic music.

So, the topic of CD-player upgrade was finished until early 2000, when the laser of my Grundig player suddenly died. As there were no replacement parts to be found for sane money, I bought a new Philips CD Recorder, the CDR-950 and had it again modified by Martin with great success.

Around 2005, I bought Martin's modified Micromega Vario DAC - a musically very pleasing DAC by the way - and used it with the tuned Philips as drive. This was an improvement to the stand-alone Philips player and the DAC is still with me. (The Philips player went to a friend of mine and is very much appreciated.) Then in 2006, I was lucky enough to win one of that year's ETF auctions: the kit version of Guido Tent's Tentlabs CD player with tube output stage (see my story elsewhere on this site). The Tentlabs kit was fun to build and is an excellent analogue sounding player in the price range up to EUR 3,000, but I preferred it in my system as a drive together with Martin's upgraded Micromega Vario-DAC. This combination had more snap and better treble resolution than the stand-alone Tentlabs.

OK, I think you have learned by now, that I have been very pleased with the CD player and DAC upgrades Martin Küng has to offer. Price-wise these upgrades are calculated very fair; musically they transform the original products into a much higher class of performance. In the meantime, I also have had the chance to listen to some of Martin's own designs, a preamp and a DAC with USB-input (the preamp is EUR 1.400 with remote, the DAC is EUR 1.760). These are excellent products, too, and will get a more detailed review in the future - that's promised. ;-)

But the real bargains in my opinion are Martin's regulated power supplies and his power cables. The former he offers for different audio gear as well as for labtop- or netbook-computers as upgrade. The power cables are worthwhile additions, especially for source components, pre-amps or external ps. Prices are EUR 240 for a regulated ps for source components up to 10VA (eliminating the original external power supplies of these components), EUR 550 for labtops and netbooks up to 100VA and about EUR 260 for his top-of-the-line power cable.

Back to the ps. I own one for my Graham Slee Revelation phono stage (together with the Küng power cable) and use them also for my new First Watt B1 buffer preamp. David Haigner has bought one ps for his Squeeze Box Touch and loves it. These regulated Küng ps are superb and definitely an audible improvement over the stock power supplies. In the case of the Graham Slee phono stage, this means something as the stock power supply PSU-1 is also a regulated ps, is an excellent performer on its own and well made. But with Martin's ps there is better instrument placement, a bigger stage and a more refined sound with improved bass performance and a darker background. This results in increased coherence of the reproduction of the musicians playing, which I would describe as more 'analog'. Taking into account the rather small price difference between these two ps - the PSU-1 is approx. EUR 180 as a stand-alone unit - Martin's ps lifts the GSP audio line one step up in musical terms :-)

The Küng ps comes in a nice black non-magnetic metal enclosure with the color of choice for the LED diode, which indicates power on (there are various colors to choose from). The LED choice is really cool, because it doesn't have to be always a shiny blue LED ;-). By the way, a review of the Nelson Pass designed B1 buffer preamp - which is my favorite audio gear of the year together with Martin's ps - will be available on this site very soon.



Mine is a regulated 24V ps with shiny red LED, which I use for either my new First Watt B1 buffer preamp or Graham Slee's Revelation phono stage

 


Side / rear view with power switch, connection
cable and IEC mains inlet

 

Here is  a pic of the Graham Slee PSU-1,
which is about half the size of Martin's ps

 
What makes these Küng power supplies so special is the super clean voltage regulation by using his own regulator as well as filter technique, which he developed over his +25 years of experience in designing power supplies and modifying CD players. The result is a fantastic value and improves all of these source components by substituting their original external supplies - most of the time switching ones - by quite a margin.

To sum-up: I recommend Martin's products as they are great value compared to their asking prices, his regulated power supplies are  - in my opinion - the stars of the show and real bargains.

 
In case you are interested in any of Martin's products, you can contact him under martin.kueng"at"chello.at  or  freeflowaudio"at"hotmail.com      ("at"=@)

 

Musically yours,

Norbert

 

©The Audio Eagle 2005-2011• All Rights Reserved • Disclaimer