that's a direct translation from the chinese proverb, pak fa chai fong. which means hi-fi in HK is really like a hundred types of flowers blossoming at the same time. i am not exaggerating, i think what we have in malaysia (in terms of brands and variety) is only 10% of what you get in HK. from the established names to the totally obscure, from the very expensive esoteric stuff to the mass-market, HK has everything you can ever think of.

because hi-fi has a critical mass in HK, you find a healthy and robust primary market which in turn spins off a very vibrant secondary (secondhand) market. secondhand hi-fi shops in HK always stock high-end stuff that's barely a couple of months' old from general global release. we find the recently released audio research reference 3 preamp on sale in one of them! talking about how fickle-minded HK audiophiles are! these are the people that spur the hi-fi economy in HK!

vintage audio is big too in HK. HK is also a paradise for D.I.Yers, as witnessed from the variety of electronic shops in ap liu kai (in sham shui po). our pasar road simply pales in comparison to ap liu kai! there are also a lot of DIY cables on sale for a song in ap liu kai.

most high-end shops can be found in central district. here, you really need a local to guide you because all these shops are hidden in high-rise commercial buildings. the most interesting thing is once the elevator opens, you are already in the shop, not a chance to peer thru the glass like in most shops in kl! i find most of the sales staff very professional and friendly.

audiophile cables are also big business in HK. you can find 3 dedicated cable dealers in grandcastle (tim chi) building at the end of sai yeung choi street in mongkok. HK audiophiles actually believe that cables do make a difference and they are willing to invest in them. grandcastle houses more than 20 hi-fi shops under one roof, some of which are secondhand shops. it is a delight to visit this unassuming building.

my impression on the hi-fi scene in HK is a positive one. things here are cheaper compared to malaysia. the hi-fi population is relatively large and eventho' they have many camps, they seldom step into each other's toes. audiophiles here are definitely more mature as more people can afford the high-end stuff so very little inferiority complex exists. also, the audiophiles in HK are more online savvy. you can even find high-enders participating in online forums. there are many online hi-fi camps/clubs supporting different brands/makes and they can co-exist and live in harmony. it sounds every bit like a hi-fi utopia for me. i am envious.

unfortunately, all these are missing in the malaysian hi-fi scene. hi-fi is, and will remain, a luxury in malaysia.

acknowledgement: this blog entry is contributed by my hi-fi buddy in HK, guan, who writes better and knows much more about hi-fi than me! thanks, guan.

I rarely visit audio showrooms nowadays and didn't even attend the HK AV Show held a few weeks ago. It takes a rather special occasion to kick start me into audiophool mode. And what better reason as Les is in town! We had a fun time last Saturday visiting quite a few audio establishments in Central. The rain gods also decided to have a party and it was really pouring buckets, non-stop. But did the heavy rain dampen our zest for fine audio? Certainly not! ;)

a van carrying some high-end hi-fi stuff - a rare sight in HK

odyssey audio using a pc front-end

We first wandered into the Odyssey Audio showroom to sample a unique PC based audio system. We heard stored WAV music files direct from the hard disc of the PC, converted to analogue by either a Dack! 2.0 or the Benchmark DAC1, which in turn fed the Odyssey Tempest pre-amp/Dual Mono Stratos amp and Lorelei speakers. The sound was open, dimensional, detailed and of surprisingly high quality. I learnt that WAV files played from a computer hard disc sounds significantly better than a CD played on a PC CD-ROM. Using the PC as CD transport produced terrible results. So is PC audio and storing music in hard disc WAV format the future of high quality digital? Perhaps...the jury is still out on this one

audio space showroom in central

We then mooched into the HK Audio Space showroom nearby. These guys specialise in tube amps and we heard a KT88 stereo amp and a 300B parallel push pull amp driving Dynaudio Focus 112 and Special 25 speakers. The sound was reasonably pleasant on both amps but I much preferred the refinement and midrange body of the 300B amp. The KT88 was somewhat rough and lacking in cohesiveness although it produced tighter bass and more extended highs. Les commented that the treble sticks out too much. Audio Space seems to be going upmarket too as I spotted a pair of gigantic Reference One 845 tube monoblocks going for a princely RM75K!

audio space showroom in central

av consigment centre in central

Moving on, we popped into a new second-hand shop I've not visited before. This was HK AV Consignment Centre (a branch of the famous shop in Mongkok) and it held a veritable Aladdin's cave of hifi goodies. I was surprised to find lots of new stuff being sold second-hand such as a barely used ARC Reference 3, MF Tri-Vista sacd player, Pass Lab 150.5, MBL radial speakers, dCS stack and cables galore. I directed Les' attention to an immense 4-chassis, 800lbs, JadisJA800 tube amp that should be 'adequate' to drive his Maggies ;P He demurred saying that he prefers ARC...This man has excellent brand loyalty!

av consignment centre in central

pacific audio in central

Next up was Pacific Audio to listen to angular Talon Khorus X MkII speakers driven by a Sim Audio i5 LE integrated amp and Equinox cd player. The sound was reasonably balanced but rather dull and boring, exacerbated by a lack of high frequency detail and soggy dynamics. Hmm...Btw Les was thrilled to see that Pacific Audio is the HK dealer for his current favourite Stage III cables and he had a lengthy yawn...err...yarn with the dealer on the numerous merits of this allegedly fab cable.

Our next jaunt took us into Reference Audio, another second-hand dealer. Not much luck here as the equipment available was not up to the quality of AV Consignment apart from some big, aluminium skinned Piega and Burmester speakers. Les was more interested in the specialist CD store directly opposite. The shop mainly sells esoteric audiophile jazz recordings from Europe, US, right up to South America including whole CD sections from Argentina, Brazil and Spain. No mainstream pop in sight!

We then moved on to Duddell Street which houses many of the big name audio dealers in HK. First up was the Nagra/Golmund dealer. The lift opens and you literally walk right into the shop. No chance to peer in from outside or getting cold feet :) I invited ourselves into the listening room and we got to hear a very decent system made up of Nagra tube pre-amp and monoblocks including a Nagra DAC/ Goldmund transport driving Sonus Faber Guarneri speakers. Lovely bloom, nice layered soundstage and decent musicality although it was overall a little laid back for my taste.

Next up was Excel where we clapped our earlugs on a Meridian G08, Krell KAV 400xi driving some post modernist Vivid Audio K1 floorstanders shaped like big Zulu war shields. The system was lively, detailed with decent tonality (for an integrated Krell) but the sound stayed firmly within the speakers and refused to image properly. We also eyeballed the new 4-chassis megabuck Krell Evolution series momo amps and Meridian 808 reference cd player but unfortunately they weren't hooked up. I could see Les lusting after the Maggie 20.1 speakers on silent display. They are waaaay too large, my good chap!

sweet dreams are made of these - ARC reference 610T

impressive display at sound chamber

We popped into the next building and headed straight for the HK ARC dealer (The Sound Chamber). Upon entering the listening room...Wow! All we could do was shake our heads and exclaim at the sheer impractical size of the latest ARC Reference 610T monoblocks. They really look like big laboratory/medical equipment towers. Standing next to them was the equally imposing Wilson Alexandria X2 speakers. Unfortunately this dream system was not turned on and it would need at least half an hour to warm up from cold. Don't blame the dealer as the 610T draws 800 watts per side at idle!! So we listened to a 47Labs pit tracer and non-oversampling DAC with about 4 Power Humpty(?) supplies, Spectral pre/power (bleargh!) driving Wilson System 7 speakers. Cost aside, the sound was ok but a little cold and uninvolving to my ears. I attribute this to the Spectral gear. In the next room there were the older Reference 600 amps lying on trolleys for servicing and a big Ongaku with a sticker tag of 'only' RM400K!! By this time, most of the other dealers were shut, so we adjourned for coffee and had a chat about the crazy HK audio market.

me and guan chilling out in a cafe in the famous landmark building

Les and I went for a final (audio) fling over lunch today and covered a surprising number of hifi outlets, some of which I'd even forgotten about. But the main point of this post is that I have finally heard a digital front end that I really enjoyed. At Stereo Kingdom, we were relaxed, cosseted and cajoled by the delicious sound of the Reimyo CDP-777. Now, imagine plain-vanilla CD sounding as seamless, cohesive and grain free as vinyl yet with a negligible noise floor. Imagine CDs not even sounding 'digital' as we know it; more free from glare, etch, spiky transients, overdone sibilance and ragged edges than any other source (digital or vinyl) I have heard. Contemplate a sound that is utterly fatigue free, totally involving and wonderfully musical and you may just have some idea of the exceptional building blocks that form the basis of the Reimyo player.Unmitigated rave? Perhaps.

How to describe the sound? It does not impress with overtly 'flash-bang-I'm-your-man' kind of sonic fireworks that initially thrills but is ultimately fatiguing. The Reimyo's natural, unrushed, engagingly wholesome presentation of what's recorded on the silver disc, complete with gorgeous detail and unforced contrasts, is what won me over. Granted, it's not as incisive, stunningly dynamic and detailed as a big Wadia or dCS. Regardless, the sound of the Reimyo is so different and refreshing that it defies my rather rigid paradigm of digital sound. System was a pair of ATC SCM50 speakers driven by Gamut M200 MkIII monoblocks, a First Sound Paramount MkII linestage with Harmonix cables throughout. Les commented that the system could do with more "bloom" but admitted that it still produced a"classy" sound. For me, the Reimyo simply sets the benchmark for CD reproduction. In a sympathetic system, I cannot imagine it being bettered by much. The Meridian Reference 808 cd player may be a strong contender but I've not heard it. Thank goodness I'm getting out of the game :)

janice wai lan - good music with good looks to boot

it is quite unprecedented - i have been spinning this cd non-stop since the day i bought it in HK.

janice's (chinese name: wai lan) voice has a way to penetrate my inner soul. the kind of husky voice that seems to have a perpetual flu on it. it is so raw, so sexy and sensuous to my discerning ears. since the launch of this debut album, everyone has been talking about janice in HK.

janice, an eurasian with a chinese descent who is based in HK, is the protege of leon lai and his ace producer mark lui. janice covers all leon's hits with a new twist - the songs are penned in english lyrics and all rearranged into jazz and r&b. refreshing and invigorating. those tired of soulless audiophile singers should now listen to real singer singing real music.

the recording is nothing to shout about (tho' it is DSD) but the music is the reason you buy this cd. i saw so many chinese audiophile cds in HK selling for only RM22 each, i didn't buy any because i am seriously tired of those stale chinese audiophile singers. and yet i bought 4 copies of janice to give them to all my close friends.

you may have to wait for another few months before this arrives in malaysia (if at all). if you do have friends in s'pore, ask them to get it for you there.

for me, this is simply delicious pop.

the most high-end cd shop in HK!
i am currently holidaying in HK. i will be visiting most of the hi-fi shop in HK in the next few days.

as i was roaming in time square mall, causeway bay, i chanced upon this cd shop. not suspecting anything special, i stepped into the shop just to browse with no intention to buy. i saw plenty of audiophile cds with tags like "limited edition", "virgin press". curious, i turned the cd around to check the price tag, hold your breath - HKD2000 a piece! holy cow, i was stunned! speechless! it took me only 2 minutes to finish my browsing before i made my exit.

outside the shop, i studied some of the posters pasted on the shopfront. apparently, sam, the proprietor, has been selling virgin-pressed japanese-pressed cd since 1987. they are so bloody expensive because virgin pressing coupled with japanese pressing is supposedly the best recording ever. it offers the best sonic quality. these cds are all considered as NOS, new old stock, just like vacuum tubes. so, once they are sold, there won't be anymore left.

what an eye-opener. this is the first time i heard a cd costing more than RM200.

if you open a shop like this in kl, you are bound to close shop within months.

local gem - promitheus audio balanced power supply
i don't personally know the designer, nick chua, yet from all the brouhaha generated in the audio circles about locally-made promitheus audio products, i gather that at his age (late twenties, i guess), he must be a darn talented bloke.

basheer delivered the BPS (balanced power supply) t0 me last saturday and i had it running-in for 48 hours before serious listening.

i won't go into the technical implementation of BPS, it is not my forte. suffice to say that by splitting the voltage into two, you get common mode rejection which is supposed to eliminate noise and bring about all the resultant sonic benefits that audiophiles crave for.

the 500VA BPS looks uncannily like the richard gray 400s power delivery system. i guess nick must be inspired by it. it is built like a tank, with a single US-type female receptable (you can choose UK-type and even a duplex, i was told) and an IEC outlet for power cord.

using the BPS is a breeze. power it up and it works without any fuss or complaints. i used the BPS dedicatedly on my meridian 508.24 cdp.

if you had never used a power conditioner before, your "wow!" factor is 10 times of those who have. it is really impressive, compared to the untreated and polluted power supply from TNB. first impression is - clean, clean, clean! the sound is almost dirt-free and you could identify individual instruments and vocalists much more easily. separation is great and the sound also gathers dimensionality. the whole frequency spectrum benefits - highs are delicate and smooth; mids are made much more palpable and lows are tighter and less bloated. the background is dead silent too. it is better than upgrading to a high-end interconnect or speaker cables!

compared to the 4 times more expensive richard gray 600s power delivery system that i am using (yes, i know i am not comparing apple to apple but what the heck), BPS is easily humbled. richard gray has much more air and ambience than BPS, and music is allowed much more freedom to breathe and flow. but at 4 times the price, can you expect anything less?

suffice to say that i am positively impressed with BPS and i would recommend anyone who has yet to install a conditioner in his system to really give it a go. nick has higher models for more power hungry equipment like your power amps.
the only local product that has impressed me so far is frankie's pipit phono stage. now, i would like to add promitheus audio BPS along side.

my fantasy comes true with harmonic tech power cord

staunch supporter of d.i.y power cords and non-believers alike, i urge you to try the harmonic tech fantasy ac-10 power cord. it only took 20 seconds to trash my brandless power cord from UK! mind you, my power cord cost me RM450 from absolute-hifi in taman megah (3 years ago) and it has beaten many branded power cords including audience and JPS. this brandless power cord from absolute has plenty of "zing" and punch which makes the competitors sound too nice, too tame, too sedate and unexciting by comparison. until harmonic tech came, that is.

kc brought back the power cord from HK and it costs him only RM1,250. real bargain. if only there is an agent for harmonic tech cables in malaysia.

as it is, the highs are exquisite, the soundstage too has expanded laterally and depth-wise by a big margin. more air, too. also, important to me is - it sounds lively and exciting. i am expecting better things to come after another 100 hours of so burning-in. until then, i would not pit it against my megabuck PS audio xstream statement, which i use to power up my cdp.

power cords have really come a long way. it has now become an important conduit in the whole chain. well, its importance is still less than an interconnect but in a highend system where every little thing counts, power cord plays a paramount role.

it is quite likely i will ditch my brandless power cords in the near term ;-)

let me from the outset state that i am here NOT primarily for the money. my lilvelihood does not depend on hifi lah. this desirable audio boutique (dab, for short) concept has been on my mind for some time. i have always been wanting to know the audiophiles in my neighbourhood and form a small clique. since i get exposed to 2nd hand equipment on a daily basis and always get requests from my audiophile friends to source hi-fi components for them, why not combine these two objectives into a hobby-business? kinda cool; sort of killing two birds with one stone.

i define desirable as:

  • a piece of equipment that has a good secondhand value in the market and is constantly sought after. i don't mean marantz cd63SE KI version or musical fidelity A1 integrated, for that, please go to music matters (see the link on the right)
  • it must be of mid-end to high-end (price range, brand, pedigree as well as aspiration-wise). you won't find Greatwall or Panda power amp from MIC here. no disrespect but just to prove a point

i define boutique as:

  • a small and intimate setup which carries selected items of high-quality. i would post not more than 5 desirable items every week. so please mark this URL and come back to this blog often. I am not of guru status yet but whatever i know i will impart to you, if you ask nicely :-) I am pretty cool in speaker positioning, you know ;-)
so, all in all, desirable audio boutique is a cosy and comfortabe place to enjoy fine audio in home setting without the pressure of buying. at the moment, you have to make do with 100plus and mineral water but i may comtemplate red wine later if we can really clique and the response is good :-)

since i am using a private residence as a meeting place, i have the ultimate say on who i want to admit. people who come with the genuine intent to share and foster friendship, who know how to behave... generally educated gentlemen who are passionate about audio are most welcome. OTOH, people who come with a chip on their shoulders, with the malicious intent to bad-mouth, criticize, compare, put-down and in general make a nuisance of himself and not forgetting low-ballers, are strictly not welcome.

In my 15 years in audio journey, I have been called all sorts of names. But those who know me well can assure you that I am a nice, down-to-earth, sincere, passionate, knowleageable bloke with decent listening and tweaking skills and a generous heart to educate.

if you want to communicate via email, oh, btw, i also sell on behalf, i.e. consignment basis.

even if i don't manage to sell a single thing, i will still be happy to know you ;-)

richard gray 400s power delivery system - RM1,800 (New RM2,800)

leslie's comments:

there's a lot of misundertanding about richard gray being an active component in the circuit which invariably means adding its own sonic signature and adding compression. fact is, richard gray is a parallel device and it does no harm to the sound. i am using model 600s myself. the results are blacker black, crystalline highs, better separation, more air, more layered soundstage, tighter bass.

this unit is a mint unit with low usage.

stage III concepts baron silver interconnect 1.5m RCA - RM2,300 (New - RM3,200)

leslie's comments:

stage III cables is the biggest discovery in my last 15 years in audio. a cottage industry cable maker based in NYC, USA, stage III produces one of the best silver cables in the market. amongst its greatest virtues are shimmering highs, textured mids and a very tight and tactile lows. It is unlike any silver cables you'd listened in the past which tend to be thin and shrilly and devoid of emotions. i am using higher models of stage III i/c in my systems with great success.