over the last 12 months, i have been helping a friend to assemble a high-end system. it takes longer than necessary because my friend is a decent listener himself and he doesn't take all my recommendations and advice wholesale. because of this half-hearted approach, he has been going in circles.

finally, with the recent purchase of a 2nd hand ARC classic 120 monoblock and the imminent purchase of a 2nd hand CAT SL-1 preamp, both with my endorsement, he completes his audio milestone and sees the merits behind all my advice in the past.

eventho' he bought mostly the same components as me, the sound is slightly different due to the speakers we use. he is using maggie 1.6/QR with quasi ribbons whereas i am using the larger maggie 3.6R with true ribbons. the quasi ribbons give softer highs thus rendering softer attack of instruments, lacking of presence and a general tamer presentation. overall, a "yin" sound rather than a "yang'" sound. due to this, i have asked him many times to get equipment (encompassing amp, preamp, cdp) or ancillaries (encompassing cables, power cords, conditioner) that are bolder, livelier and has more grunt to balance off the softness.

he finally sold away his ARC VT100MkII power amp last week and replaced it with the older-but-definitely-better ARC classic 120 monoblock and what a step in the right direction! the classic 120s exert a tight grip and control on the maggie that the VT100 failed to do. besides, the sound is more alive and has more kicks and presence. and finally, CAT SL-1 preamp is the last missing link to all his concerns. though it is not the most refined of preamp (by today's standards) and it does lack details but it packs a lot of grunt and rawness and the most crucial of all is the presence factor, which it egdes over my much more expensive and modern preamp, ARC LS25MkII. in his system, that is.

the moral of the story is - the proverbial system matching and synergy is paramount in hi-fi. use a yang to balance a yin. hi-fi is all about balance.

i am happy that he is a happy man now and i am happy that he has finally seen the light.

making stage III concepts affordable

you don't need an insider to tell you that the hi-fi market conditions in kl now are bad. yet, in difficult times like these, i came across courageous dealers who dare to move the market and bring back some life into this seemingly declining market.

i am talking about the people behind mobile audio technology (mat). mat has one foot in car audio business and another in hi-fi business. they are the importer of the very expensive but fabulously sounding stage III concepts cables www.stage3concepts.com in malaysia. mat appointed ipoh's audio art as the national dealer for stage III products. due to the agressiveness of audio art's promotional efforts, stage III is an overnight success in ipoh and now the success has spilled over to over places in malaysia. mat's director, liew, sees the potential in this brand and started thinking outside the box. true, stage III are marvellous products but the entry price is way too high for typical audiophiles in malaysia. we are talking about RM2K for an entry level silver interconnect and with that kind of money, you are not short of choices.

so, liew decided to restructure the lower end of stage III products in an attempt to make it more affordable. he then commissions stage III concepts to produce the cables based on his own specs. "fair", the manufacturer said to liew, "i can do it for you provided you give me a large order quantity". liew is not the kind of dealer who suffers stage fright (pun intended) so he agreed to give a big order to the stage III manufacturer and lucky audiophiles (you, you & you) in malaysia will soon be exposed to more affordable and down-to-earth stage III products.

just imagine having silver interconnects at the price of the equivalent copper ones? this is going to change the audiophile cable market in malaysia for sure.

i really want to applaud far-sighted dealers like liew. we need more dealers like him to move and revitalize this lifeless hi-fi market in malaysia. bravo to liew!

scratching your head as to why the sound has deteriorated for no reasons?
When your have worked so hard to make your system sounding tip-top, occasionally you can hear the slightest deterioration in sound. An audiophile with sensitive hearing is always wondering why his system sounds poorer than before..... here's the quick checklist:

1] Check the DBS battery (if you are using Audioquest DBS cables)

If it falls below 10V (max 12V), time to replace batteries

2] Check bias (if you are using tube amp)

If the bias has drifted, normally the highs become unnatural

3] Check cable arrangement

Don’t lift up cables. Don’t let it cross with power cords. Don’t put it near power conditioner. Reorganize cables if need be.

4] Check channel identification using XLO disc

This is especially important when you don’t get pinpoint imaging. You can still identify the channels (albeit faintly) when the polarity is reversed! So the check on polarity is also important

5] Check polarity of UK/US plug

This is especially important when you don’t get pinpoint imaging

6] Check TNB supply

This normally results in bad sound for the whole night. Nothing you can do about it. Switch off the system and go to sleep! Switch it on the next morning and listen again.

7] Check for loose connection

This is especially important after system re-organization

8] Re-terminate IEC plugs every few years

This is to prevent corrosion and oxidation which may affect the sound especially in sensitive systems. Use the best plugs you can afford.

9] Check preamp especially those with memory

The preamp could have been jolted by a surge. Switch off the mains supply to preamp for 10 minutes. Restart again.

10] If all else fails, time to upgrade!

the ultimate - erecting TNB pole right infront of your house!

a lot of audiophiles think the ultimate frontier in hi-fi is room acoustics. i would like to add another, that's power supply.

as my hearing improves and my system getting more and more revealing, i find that the electricity supplied to my house practically makes or breaks the system. on some nights, it sounded fabulous whereas on other nights it just sounded awful. never mind that i have richard gray power delivery system, never mind that the voltage doesn't actually fluctuate much (it is pretty stable at 230V after midnight, when i do most of my listening), what actually matters is the quality of your electricity. my house being the end of the distribution block in a row of terrace houses, this technically means i get the worst or leftover of electricity.

some veteran sifu had advised me moons ago to do up my power supply but i didn't heed the advice. now i am the one suffering. i tell you, the worst night in the week is sunday night, when everyone is at home with their aircond on... that's when i get the worst sound, not suprisingly.

so, the solution, which is going to cost me RM4K, is to get TNB to build a pole right infront of my house so that they could "fly" the mains direct into my house. that would make sure that i get dedicated and clean supply of electricity. i guess this is the ultimate next to getting a 3-phase direct connection.

but i dont have RM4K to spare now so i have to persevere and subject myself to the vagaries of TNB supply. if i feel that the sound is shitty, i just switch the system off and go to bed!