Shortest Way 51 Amp Impressions (Only)

Discussion in 'Headphone Amplifiers and Combo (DAC/Amp) Units' started by Koth Ganesh, Sep 28, 2019.

  1. rlow

    rlow A happy woofer

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    Thanks man! I’m basically trying to get more dynamics and less veil with my HD650s than the Vali 2 is giving me with the stock tube - I assume a tube upgrade in the Vali would help, but I feel not likely enough of an uptick. Seems like SW51+ may be an answer.
     
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  2. YMO

    YMO Chewbacca's hairy brother

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    I may not be the best person to ask about the Vali 2, but I just do not believe a tube swap will get you close to SW51+ with HD6XX. SW51+ is just on a different level, and it almost kills the veil on HD6XX, while keeping the pluses of the SW51+ (SS type sound without the standard SS stereotypical faults).
     
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  3. robot zombie

    robot zombie Friend

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    I can say for me it did help. I swapped in a Phillips PCC88, which is a bit more forward and punchy, with a bit more of that upper shimmer. Just a little expansion on both ends of the spectrum. Vali 2 can actually have some of that layering of fine upper-mid/treble information with the right tube matched for those headphones. Definitely. I wouldn't ask for miracles. It won't breathe new life into your HD650's, but it can help. I wouldn't spend too much. I think I got mine for ~$20 and wouldn't have spent more, knowing what I know now.

    It was enough for me to get a few years of enjoyment out... I say as I wait on my SW51+ to be completed :p
     
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  4. Stride

    Stride Facebook Friend

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    I have enjoyed listening to the SW51+ so much in the last few weeks that I felt compelled to post impressions. This is one amp worth considering for best value amp for the budget conscious audiophile*.

    Listening chain - Tidal > Pi2AES (Volumio) > BF2 > SW51+, Jot (Balanced), Liquid Carbon (Balanced) > HD800 (SDR Mod), HD6XX, TH-X00 (Purpleheart)**

    To my ears, amp sounded U-shaped. Bass is meaty with more emphasis on sub-bass over mid-bass. Mids sounded distant , slightly grainy and affected by a bit of bass-bleed. Treble is quite smooth, detailed and non-fatiguing. Despite a narrow soundstage, positional cues are easy to pick out across a 3D-like stage. Overall sound had great detail, dynamics and timbre and totally excels in these areas when compared to the other amps below. Being a soundstagehead, I thought this would be too claustrophobic for my taste but I quite enjoyed it. To me it sounded like being dead center in a snow globe and is a good contrast for the wide speaker/out of head experience I am usually chasing.

    vs Schiit Jotunheim (balanced)

    The amount of bass I heard from SW51+ on the HD6XX and TH-X00 made me think this was similar sounding to the Jot but with more microdetail. In comparison, Jot is more prominent in the mid bass and felt like it had more slam. Mids sounds quite clear and present but offset by bright and glare-y treble. Sounded quite one dimensional. I would choose SW51+ over Jot to pair the HD6XX. Although the treble still sounds a bit veiled, I prefer the laid-back presentation whilst softening the mid-bass emphasis.

    vs Cavalli Audio Liquid Carbon 1st edition (balanced)

    The LC has more treble detail but poorer low bass extension and a variable yet underwhelming mid-range response (either too soft and distant on low z output and too up front and grainy at high z output). However, I was hoping that the SW51+ would be a better pairing with HD800 but unfortunately the pairing sounded quite cool with anemic bass and slightly harsh treble still prominent.

    Conclusion

    It is not the perfect amp (small bass bleed in the mids, small soundstage) but provides a very addictive and musical listening experience. It is significantly better than similar-priced amps I own.

    * Assuming high-Z Sennheiser headphones where matching is important rather than the next flavor of the month items.
    ** Listening was on low-Z output and without any extra anti-vibration pads. With pads it helped alleviate bass bleed in mids (made male and female vocals sound more natural and clear) and lessen HD6XX veil. High-Z output also performed similarly but to a much lesser effect. But YMMV and not recommending buying peripherals over better headphones/amps/dacs/source etc.
     
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  5. JackFruit

    JackFruit Rando

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    Hi guys

    I'm rather new to the audiophile world and started learning it about 6 months ago. I've been using SoundBlaster G6 as an Amp + Dac combo for the last 18 months and finally decided to upgrade because i was tired of harsh artificial sound, booming leaking bass, and piercing treble that G6 produces

    I've decided to use G6 as a Dac and started amp shopping. I've read a lot of raving reviews about SW51 and Asgard 3 so i purchased both to see if i'll hear any significant improvement. I had to purchase 2nd handed A3, because it's impossible to get a new one right now

    I unboxed both amps at the same time 3 days ago and started listening with all of my headphones. Based on multiple reviews i've set some expectations. For A3 i expected 150% of emotional joy from my G6 experience and i expected around 200% for SW51, but i never heard tube sound before so i didn't really know what to expect. I've read on reddit that A3 fixes all my problems for G6, so i was particularly curious. I also heard from multiple great reviewers that it sounds very natural and musical

    A3 fixed booming bass, made sound softer and clearer, reduced the noise a little bit, significantly improved separation, soundstage, imaging and added great impact for dynamic music, but at the same time bass became thin and everything sounded even more unnatural and sterile than G6 and that was very surprising. It was even more obvious that i was listening to recording instead of music. My joymeter showed only 125% from G6, so i was a bit disappointed. My brain loved A3, but my body didn't register any noticeable improvement

    Then i grabbed my favorite orchestral recordings, put my Tin T2 IEMs and turned SW51 on... this little scary box made me cry in less then 20 minutes, joymeter showed 1000% and i was speechless... i felt the same emotions i feel after listening to live orchestral music. Separation and soundstage wasn't as good compared to A3, but everything else was way way better, sound just came alive... i was seating for a while, trying to figure out why these two units are selling at the similar price. Needless to say, the next time i hear someone talking about tube amps sounding inferior to SS based on "objective" measurements, i'll just kindly smile

    After i switched back to A3 my body screamed at me "Sell this Schiit right now!", but i was afraid of the new toy syndrome and me being unable to think straight after hearing to the sound SW51 produces, so i've decided to postpone any decisions like that. And i'm glad i did

    Next day i've found that A3's impact is much better on dynamic tracks, so i've decided to keep it, and just in case i'll get my hand on a planar

    I was curious about SW51's preamp functionality, so i bought a proper cable and connected it between G6 and A3, using max volume on low gain on SW51. It sounded awful, like covering gold with dirt... i was very disappointed with the sound

    The next day i've decided to compare soundstage of A3 and A3+SW51 and i discovered that some instrument, flying to the left on A3 actually is located to the right from the center of the stage on A3+SW51 combo. So i switched left and right rca-s between SW51 and A3 and channel mismatch was fixed... OMG, it's the best of both worlds - big immersive 3D soundstage with excellent separation and slam, and at the same time that powerful natural sound with insane body and micro dynamics of SW51! I'm done amp shopping for like 10 yrs+

    I've ordered HD 650 and will order DT 880 premium 600 ohm version next month and will experiment with different tubes. My plan to save money for high end planars changed drastically. Now i want to save for BF2 (or BF3) and some high end ZMFs or Focal Clear ) . SW51 is the best piece of audio gear that i ever purchased, it is too good to be true
     
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    Last edited: Aug 31, 2021
  6. Lyander

    Lyander Too sensitive for SBAF

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    New toy syndrome is definitely a thing but it's worth holding on to some gear at least when you're startingout to develop something of a baseline-- kinda wish I did the same years back but either way, good luck with the explorative part of the hobby! It gets a little bit less fun once you've sorta identified what you're going for

    The Senns and Beyers are a good next step IMO, they offer noticeably different presentations and are good for training. Just going by the HD600 + ZDTJr. combo you're in for something of a treat with the SW51+ (not that you need any more confirmation bias ;)).

    We also have something of an introductions thread if you'd like to chime in there, just to establish something of a baseline so people can have a better idea of your impressions etc. Welcome to the forum!
     
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  7. JackFruit

    JackFruit Rando

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    Thank you, will do exactly that
     
  8. JackFruit

    JackFruit Rando

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    Hi, guys. I have a big update about my journey with SW51
    I hope some of you will find it useful or at least entertaining. And, just in case, don't shoot me. After all, it's just my personal honest opinion

    So, after reading threads about SW51 here, my impression was that the general consensus is that different tubes don't change the sound much and that EF184 Mullard and Tungsram tubes are the additional tubes to get for this amp. I also expected different headphones to benefit from different tubes. Well... my experience with tubes was vastly different from what i've read here

    [Just in case, if you are wondering how the testing was conducted: all tubes i used were NOS or with no trace of use and all tubes got at least 5 days of burn in, unless they offended me too much from the start. Dacs i used: Soundblasterx G6 (Direct mode, fastest filter), Zen Dac v2 (GTO firmware). Headphones used: HD Zeus, ATH AD900, Tin T2, Koss Kph30i. All headphones EQ-d to my preference. I also tested this amp with my cheap sensitive 2.1 stereo speakers. I listened to various music in various quality using foobar at wasapi exclusive mode with no processing, except EasyQ equalizer. I also played some first person shooters with EQ APO applied system wide]

    Results surprised me, because there was a night and day difference between different tubes and that difference was consistent. My impression of any selected tube was the same with any gear. Burn-in made very little to no difference to the sound with most of the tubes. I have quads of some tubes and i directly compared the sound of NOS tubes and similar tubes with a week of burn-in time
    • Stock 6J51P tubes [7.5/10]. These have best midrange microdetails and perfect timbre, which is very important for me. Bass is not textured or controlled well compared to EF 184 tubes, but better than all of my other amps anyway. These tubes are mid-forward with average level of detail. Detail delivery is organic and non-fatiguing. But although i'm a basshead, my biggest grudge with these is actually not bass performance, but average sound stage size (yes, i'm a sound stage whore as well) and their high distortion. These tubes are also unnaturally punchy for my taste. These tubes are fine with regular dynamic drivers, because of their own high distortion, but these tubes start to audibly distort before my berylium boy Zeus does, and i don't listen to music on very loud volumes (to be perfectly clear: i don't care about fancy charts and inaudible distortion, i only seak about stuff i hear personally). I think these tubes would work great with any regular DD cans with calm midrange-forward presentation and good timbre, and poor subbass extention preferrably. I get it why people love these with HD 6** and 5** series. I use stock tubes with T2s for classical music like piano or violin
    • EF184 tubes in general. All of these have bigger sound stage than stock ones, but not by a lot. They also have a lot less distortion and a lot better bass control. For my taste they produce perfect sound stage size-wise, it's not small, nor bloated
    • EF184 Tungsram [2.5/10]. These trashed my expectations, because these are actually quite horrible. They are treble forward. They have the most transparency, but i can't comfortably listen to them for more than 10 minutes. These give you a wow effect at first, they lure you in with their incredible amount of detail and then they punish you. With these tubes, for the first time in my life i could hear distinct difference between MP3 320 and MP3 192 and also distinct difference between 384khz and 192khz playback of a 384khz track. These helped me realise how shitty most recordings in my collection are. These also don't sound like music in terms of presentation. These are too fast for music, subbass sounds quite bad on these tubes, it's grainy and has no texture. At first i thought that something was wrong with my setup, so i tried different solutions: i changed my tubes to a different pair - no difference, i purchased the softest dac i could find - Zen Dac v2 - that didn't help much. Will something like modi 3+ have much softer treble? Please tell me if you know the solution. I obviously tried EQ-ing the treble away and that didn't help at all. Oversmpling helped a little bit, but it isn't an adequate solution anyway, you lose all timbre and immersion with oversampling. I tried different players then foobar, but with no success. I have no clue what kind of dac or headphones could pair well with tubes like these. These are pain and needles in your brain
    • EF184 Mullard [8/10]. If you have SW51 or you are going to get one i strongly recommend getting these tubes and headphones that extend well below 40hz to appreciate what this amp is really capable of in terms of bass. These tubes give insane amount of texture and control to both subbass and midbass. These have the slowest roll-off and are bass-forward. Because of such a slow roll-off, you can safely listen to MP3 128 with these, but you won't hear much difference with hi-res as well. These sound like cocaine (no, i never used cocaine, but you get the idea). I was drugged by these straight for three weeks and didn't want to swap them for anything else. These are not very detailed, but they have quite an enjoyable detail delivery. They cut off details at some point and put black background behind, so that sound jumps at you from the darkness. Biggest downside of these tubes is that these are not for hi-res and everything from upper-midrange sounds very off. Piano and female vocals sound especially bad. These tubes have perfect amount of punch for my taste. These also give unnatural amount of 3D to the sound. Subbass distorts a bit at higher volumes. I generally enjoy these tubes a lot with any action movies or cello music or bassy male vocals or bassy soundtracks where you need bass slam more than anything else
    • EF184 Philips [3.5?/10]. These are weird ones. At first i quile liked their natural midrange, but the more burn-in they got, the worse the sound became. Sound stage eventually lost precision and sound became too warm, like listening in the bathroom. Their sound reminded me of HD 650, which i returned immediately, because these cans completely missed my preferences... Maybe something is wrong with my pair of Philips tubes, so i'm not sure about these
    • EF184 Tesla [1/10]. These are the worst. These are upper-midrange forward. They sound like a bad solid state amp, these are piercing, sterile, artificial and you can almost hear the solid-state glare with these
    • EF184 RFT [9/10]. These tubes were kindly provided by Zampotech and what can i say... the master knows his tubes well. These blew my mind, they make me smile with any music. These have relaxing, euphonic, immersive, organic and mid-forward sound. These have great bass control and these don't know what a distortion is, i was able to crank subbase 8.5db higher than the rest of the frequencies and didn't hear any significant distortion on my Zeus. These give you the most natural amount of detail and 3D effect to immerse you into music. In terms of transparency, i don't go lower than mp3 320 with these tubes. These have 1 db higher treble, compared to stock tubes. These tubes lack only little punch and little transparency, perfect otherwise
    • EF184 Amperex [?/10]. Unfortunately i was yet unable to get these tubes locally and getting them from ebay for $25 per tube + shipping seems like a huge overkill for me, i got all my NOS tubes for 4-7 dollars per tube in Russia. If you have some spare EF184 tubes that i don't and are willing to trade or exchange, please PM me
    • EF183 RCA [5/10]. Actually i quite liked these tubes. These sound like a good neutral solid state, but these don't sound boring and have no SS glare. These are transparent, but unfortunately quite fatiguing. I don't recommend getting any EF183 or EF85 tubes, because they are inferior to any EF184 design-wise. But EF184 RCA will probably suit some treble-heads. These EF183 tubes have lower gain and are noisier than any EF184 tubes
    • EF85 RFT [3/10]. These sound like a vintage radio, with bad timbre and distortion all over the place
    Chains that i use with SW51:
    • Zen Dac > SW51 > Zeus or T2s. Main chain for music and video with different tubes
    • G6 > SW51 (EF184 RFT) > Zeus. This is my chain for immersive single player FPS games. This chain is actually insane in terms of immersion per dollar, it's just scary to play some games with this setup. SW51 has great organic sound stage for gaming. For example, Asgard 3 tears the stage ant tightens it's pieces, so it's nowhere near as good for immersive gaming. You also need EF184 tubes for gaming, stock tubes don't give enough sound stage size
    Overall impression of SW51 after two months of usage:
    • This amp is insanely good, i sold my Asgard 3, because i just can't go back to it after SW51, it's an entirely different tier of sound
    • The only thing it lacks is ability to deliver both transparent and non-fatiguing sound at the same time, or i'm just doing something wrong or don't have proper gear to match
     
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  9. Biodegraded

    Biodegraded Friend

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    @JackFruit , disclaimer: I haven't heard the SW51; but from what you write, you might want to try something like a Modi Multibit, or perhaps a vintage multibit dac, to give you the polite highs and midrange technicalities & timbre you're after.
     
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  10. Cooper32

    Cooper32 Facebook Friend

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    Or alternatively a more mid range focused headphone, i. e. 6XX, Aeolus
     
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  11. bilboda

    bilboda Florida boomer

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    I have several pairs of tubes I have yet to try. Every time I ran into some sound issues with this amp, not matter the cans, the cure was the same. I turned the volume knob to the left. I had a tendency to have higher volume than I needed, something about the amp makes me go there. Turning it down, with 30 seconds or so for ears to adjust and the magic dust was revealed and I was back with non fatiguing enjoyable sound. Give it a try, it can't hurt and may work for you too. Don't turn it down just a little, maybe turn it down a lot, let your ears settle in and adjust it from there.
     
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  12. JackFruit

    JackFruit Rando

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    Thank you for your replies

    That's interesting. I've read and watched some reviews and one guy indeed said that this dac has smooth treble. I've haulted my epensive audiophile purchases for now and am currently saving money for some endgame dac like pontus II or better. Buying modi multibit just to get marginal improvement and maybe fix the treble is a bit pricey for me

    Yeah, ZMF cans are very interesting to explore, and sooner or later i'll get them, but they are well over my budget for now. As for 6XX, well... I know that these headphones are considered a benchmark at their price point and i respect that, but i've tried HD 650, and they are absolutely not for me because of a list of reasons. I love mid-forward headphones as well and i would love to upgrade from Tin T2s and ATH AD900 for a reasonable amount of money, but unfortunately i've read all over the internet and didn't find a solid answer to that

    I was pretty sure that that's not the case with me, but i've recorded sound from the same track and same headphones with different amps at maximum comfortable volume for me, and you were right. I'm indeed listening to louder volume on SW51, but the difference is 2db at max. Nevertheless, i was surprised. I still don't think that lowering the volume is the answer, but thanks for your input
     
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    Last edited: Oct 24, 2021
  13. Emojiless

    Emojiless Rando

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    This is very interesting to me. I've been using Modius > SW51+ > HD800S for games (with Redscape sometimes) and haven't been as immersed. The potential is there though with the 3d stage, just need to make it larger. Is the EF184 RFT ones you're using for games?

    Do you use G6 for VSS or some other reason?


    I've been considering upgrading from Modius to Bifrost 2 since I don't like Modius bass and am hoping the Bifrost 2 might help with the stage as well, for games and music. Perhaps any members here tried that and would care to comment?
     
  14. JackFruit

    JackFruit Rando

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    Well, both 6J51P and EF 184 tubes have super precise sound stage, selecting the right tubes will probably depend on your setup and sound density and punchyness that you want to get. I heard that HD 800s has a bit bloated stage, so EF184 might make it too bloated for you, which might break immersion for you, but if that's the most importaint thing for you, go for it. Actually i'm curious about your results as well, so go for it anyway and post your impressions here ). I game on RFT, yes, but that's because i can crank the volume to the sky and get no fatigue. If you're not as treble sensitive, try RCA as well, they sound probably a bit more linear and transparent and bit better for gaming, not as laid back as RFT. Mullards are too unrealistic and break immersion quite fast. Stock tubes are punchiest

    No, i tried VSS, it sounds like shit, for me direct mode and stereo is the way to go. I don't get it why there are so many people on reddit recommending this weird VSS stuff. With SBX Surround or virtual 5.1/7.1 you are losing the most importaint characteristic - precison of the sound stage and everything will sound artificially 3D

    I can't comment on Schiit dacs, cus i've never had any of them, but i'm sure a lot of people here used them for gaming and will help you decide

    Why G6 instead of Zen Dac...
    The aswer is sound presentation and detail delivery. After getting Zen Dac i can't listen to music on sound blaster anymore, because it's harsh, flat and fatiguing in comparison, but in immersive gaming the experience of going from Zen Dac to G6 i can describe like this:
    Imagine that you are running through a forest in any FPS
    Zen Dac: "Oh, there is somebody running behind me somewhere to the left, i wonder where he is". You turn and start searching
    G6: "Oh, fuck, someone is behind me! No, wait, it's fine, it's in the game, because i'm sitting on a couch and there's a window behind me, so it has to be in a game". And you start shooting before you see your target, because you know EXACTLY where sound comes from
     
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    Last edited: Oct 24, 2021
  15. BrokeSkoolBoi

    BrokeSkoolBoi Acquaintance

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    @JackFruit, can you take a picture of the EF184 RFT tubes? I would like to tube roll them but I have no idea if I can buy them stateside.

    I completely agree with your impression of the Tungsram, I wish I could get that $50 back :D
     
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  16. Stride

    Stride Facebook Friend

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    I had used the Modius and Bifrost 2 with the amp but from memory Bifrost 2 has a little bit better depth and placement of instruments on the stage but it does not increase the width and height of the soundstage. Playing Overwatch, I feel like the improvement from the better DAC is probably 1-3% if this helps.

    In terms of Modius bass, have you tried using the balanced outputs using a XLR-RCA cable? This was my preferred setup with SW51+ being more neutral in the bass as per other member's experiences.
     
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  17. JackFruit

    JackFruit Rando

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    Wow, it's so difficult to upload pictures here. I believe they all look the same like here
    https://www.ebay.com/itm/313586235127
    I also know a guy in russia that had 4 NOS tubes in his posession and was selling those for $5 per tube a week ago, so if it's the last resort, PM me and i will probably secure some tubes for you. Actually that listing on ebay is probably his, so you don't need my help )
     
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  18. Emojiless

    Emojiless Rando

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    Which XLR-RCA cable did you use? I think I read on the Modius thread that balanced to single ended conversion is tricky and expensive.
     
  19. Stride

    Stride Facebook Friend

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  20. loadexfa

    loadexfa Friend

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    FYI you should use a converter box, not just an XLR to RCA cable. That can cause "magic smoke" from the amp. The XLR > RCA thread linked has more details about either building one or purchase options. The Jenson ISO MAX PI-2XR is a popular option.
     
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