In audio, it’s good to start early and get oneself exposed to house sounds of different brands. This is hard I know, it took me a while before I realize that there are certain characteristics associated with brands out there.

With knowledge in house sound, you don’t get lost easily as you have a set of criteria as checklist when you upgrade or purchase. Of course, it used to be easier to spot what I called house sound in earlier audio history due to the designers strong belief and non-compromising principle. Still, it’s not hard to notice this in today’s converging sound standard and quality.

Brands come and brands go, those which are still going strong are those with deeply rooted belief and ideology. We have many one hit wonders out there whereby the company just went into puff after a wonderful product. Why is that so?

I guess that would mainly be the vague concept of house sound, or the lack of knowledge in building better sounding equipments on top of fundamental sound characteristics that the company started off with. I stayed a while with ARC LS2B MKII, SP9 MKII and finally LS8. Though I can’t say these are expensive hi-end by today’s standard, but the point is, along the way, I learn the evolution of ARC sound.

From heavily colored and fleshy sound, till today’s thinner and tauter sound, there is a fundamental tone that’s so ARC. Chronologically, resolution and definition improved, yet the ARC spirit lies within. I too, followed 2 generations of AQ cables and still never fail to spot AQ’s house sound which has mid emphasis and metallic highs.

Many failed to realize this and started upgrading frantically without finding the house sound they liked. There’s a synergy between house sound and not all brands would go hand in hand by simply mating them together! There must be a constant in one’s setup for it to grow and evolve.

Be it speakers, amps or sources; try to get started by knowing which brand rubs you best. I was lucky enough to be enchanted by ProAc Response 1SC. Subsequent listen to Studio 125 and Future Point 5 strengthen my love in ProAc and there I was starting off with a pair of Tablette Reference 8. If there is no such thing as house sound, there won’t be followers and believers.

And the magic with house sound is, the better you pay, the more you get! Would you think people are stupid enough to pay more and more without getting what they like more? Would I be stupid enough to part more dough from Reference 8 to R8 Signature and from AQ Panther to AQ Cheetah? Man, a hike in model means 1.5 to 2 times in cost!

Many still argue with me that changing tubes can change the sound totally, I say to certain extend! Please change the tires of your cars and see if they change altogether or not? Better handling and grip, yes! From Proton to Merc? No way, the fundamental characteristics are still there!

Let me give more examples, when I was using Harmonic Tech Magic for my source, there’s a softening of transient. It imposed a sense of ease that made the sound so enjoyable. But when I switch to AQ Cheetah, the metallic highs and mid emphasis just make the presentation so much more live-like. But the ARC’s airy and expansive stage remains intact.

Now, if you know what house sound you like, wouldn’t it be easier for you to buy and have lesser regrets?

Japanese, never tired of technical jargons, filled this player with a mouthful in the tech spec section. So many custom made parts, so many hand picked parts, so many new tech jargons, so many mouthful of abbreviations.

If you really want to feel what you paid for, I guess you FEEL it the moment you pick it up. This player weighted 14kg and exuded top notch build quality with no loose parts felt when carried. Indeed, with no screw heads protruding in front, top and sides, I can say much efforts have been put in making this player.

If that is not enough, rays of blue lighted up the sides of the front section where the front loading mechanism was located. Overshadowing 3 buttons on each side of the front fascia. With such massive and tastefully done build quality, pay 10K also worth lar!

What greeted me was nothing short of massiveness. In fact, the imaging is much larger than what my XA5ES projected. At least 2 times larger to be exact. However, that size also took up the sonic space where airiness and spacial info took place as in my XA5ES's presentation.

This player seemed to take prime in projecting the instruments rather than the air and space encapsulating them, making the soundstage direct and a bit forward. The instruments and voices were densed and solidly positioned. Though forward, they were not in-your-face kind of projection, instruments were still vividly seperated.

Although the presentation was direct, the rhythm was a bit too polite. Music was rendered in such non-colored way, it was neutrality nearing blandness. Pace just lost bite to the music! This, to me was more suitable for dissecting rather than making music.

A Toyota or a Honda, they are still Japanese cars. Japanese is good in making things without characters but compliant to high build quality. Highly recommended if you treasure sophistication, build wise.

Me and Goldmund's Michel Reverchon. A talk with him furnished me with better understanding of Goldmund's philosophy and underlying belief. Goldmund is still one of the better sounding setups in the show disregard of my experience with its SACD player, EIDOS 18CD.

Leif Olofsson of Marten Design opened my eyes on what 4-piece desgin could achieve! Coltrane showed how pristine the highs and mids could be, but the Coltrane Supreme showed what possibilities one could achieve with no-hold-barrel 4-piece design! 1.2mil sure buys you dreams!

Jorma Koski of Jorma Design, designer of Jorma cables. I love cables! I believe in cables! I respect him for his effort in putting in the best to produce Jorma cables. The range is not complete yet, but still, RM280K on an incomplete range!

Saw him 2 days straight in Hi End Research room, friendly guy. Forgot to ask if he's got anything to do with them, or is he an audiophile?!

i chanced upon this eardoctor's blog yesterday, it turns out to be a fantastic audio blog from taiwan!

the blogger, an ENT specialist, i believe, dabbles in all the super duper hi-end stuff and shares all this adventures with the readers. from reading, you can find out that he was once a maggie lover too but now he owns a watt/puppy 7. we were so envious of him cos he gets to audition the very best of hi-end today, which we malaysians can't possibly afford...

also, it gives you a feel of the vibrancy of the hi-fi circle in taiwan. most of the taiwanese hi-end audiophiles have dedicated rooms, play turntables, have massive collection of LPs and are true perfectionists.

we are trying to do a RSS (really simple syndication) with this blog so that you readers can read his latest blog entries in my blog as well.

english readers may be disappointed to know that eardoctor blogs in chinese but still, you can ogle at the pictures!

jazz fusion quartet, fourplay, will be performing at dewan philharmonik petronas (DFP) this coming august! (15th and 16th august 2006)

the cool team comprising of nathan east, bob james &, harvey mason promises to thrill the malaysian jazz enthusiasts in this once-in-a-blue-moon performance in our acoustically sound and prestigious venue.

i will be making my booking come 1st august, those of you who want to join us, please drop me a comment with your contact here.

it will be a treat to malaysian audiophiles!

emil chou's 29th studio album, 雨人 rain man

chinese language is a beautiful and complex language. i mean, how do you translate, 情怀(qing huai), in english? is it mood or state of mind?

last night, i bought emil chou 周华建 latest cd (china pressed for SGD7 only!) and was quickly immersed in the sweet melodies which were reminiscent of his good old heydays of early 90s. emil has been trying different things in the last 5 years, none of which pleased his fans and expectedly they were commercial flops. now he has come to his senses that he doesn't need to change; all his fans, now mostly in their late 30s or early 40s, basically still want him to sing the same old lovey-dovey romantic tunes that he is famous for. so, he is finally back to his old form again with his latest release.

to me, it is too much of a deja wu. it is a case of same songs, different mood. now, listening back to those songs again gives me goose bumps. my mood is different now because i am much older and mellower. it is also helped by the excellent recording quality which is near-audiophile in my system. songs #4, #5, #6 are all very good with palpable vocals, presence and airy guitars. in fact, my audiophile buddy, kc, was utterly shocked and impressed once when i played to him this cd on a day when the electricity supply in my house was stable.

pop cd with good recording, what a rarity!

cd buying crowd lured by cheap china-pressed cds

pv liew - the brain behind high end research

muscle amp - goldmund telos 600 monoblock

high-end research's setup - goldmund+kharma+nbs

close-up of kharma exquisite reference

the audio art duo of ah chee (l) and ah heng (r)

eugene ngoh of audiomatic

swedish delight - bladelius beowulf monoblock

standing tall and mighty - marten design coltrane supreme

audio research's happy family in perfect hifi room

super dealer wong tatt yew of audionote

audio note dac and preamp + avantgarde integrated amp (far right)

audio note's showroom with avantgarde duo horn speakers

cmy's manager, chan

naim's foray into av - cmy's showroom

mr. nice guy, kwan of av synergy

av synergy's room - meridian combo with hyperion speakers

hyperion speakers making music in av synergy's room

a&l's showroom - mbl+wilson sophia+audioquest

proac with naim rocks the house - cmy's showroom

fast and furious is my name - a&l's showroom

my fave dealer - john sin of cmy

audio research driving sf amati anniversario

audio research gear with sonus faber amp

looking elegant - sonus faber amati

5 swedish designers joined hands to create swedish statement

hi-fi shows come and hi-fi shows go. generally we have become quite blase about hi-fi shows, especially the one in KL which is declining in standards with each passing year. still, we treat this as our annual pilgrimage to meet up with some long-lost audiophile friends to TCSS (talk cock sing song). some of these audiophiles travel from as far as s'pore and other states like penang and ipoh. it is an annual big party where everyone would gossip, compare notes and talk all things hifi.

the most talked-about display in this year's KLIAV show is the multi-million setup by swedish statement, the local importer of swedish delights such as marten design, bladelius, nordic concept (turntable) and jorma cables. i find the sound pretty ordinary even under show's conditions. it lacks openness in the highs and even dynamics are not as impactful as befitting a multi-million dollar system. however, it is great to catch up with eugene from audiomatic, ah chee and ah heng from audio art ipoh. the latter duo is my favourite dealer at the moment cos they are such savvy and nice dealers!

another show stopper is the 1.5mil setup courtesy of high-end research. (no relation to s'porean anthony koh) here, we witnessed the debut of goldmund telos, kharma exquisite reference and top-line NBS cables called the black label. the sound fares much better here but the NBS signature sound of fast, furious but rather dry and steely doesn't really do it for me. it somehow doesn't gel with goldmund and kharma. again, i was happy to meet up with pv liew and wong tatt yew, the super duo behind high-end research.

other notable setups include A&L's, who displayed a very formidable MBL power amp driving wilson sophia speakers using AQ cables. the bass was lighthing quick and transient is impressive. this is one of the best setups, in terms of playinig demo drum music. the CMY's setup of full naim driving the big proacs (including naim's latest top-loading cd player CD555) also makes good drum music. but readers of this blog would know that i am no lover of kick-ass drum music! maggie lovers are refined and cultured, thank you very much.

the room of perfect hifi displayed the full suite of audio research latest line-up which included the ref 3 peamp and ref 210 monoblock. the speakers used are the sonus faber amati anniversary and guarneri homage. the sound is not very ARC, lacking the airy highs and definition. i blamed it on show's conditions lah. i have been eyeing on the new ARC LS26 preamp... hope i can get it by end of this year :-)

the CDs are relatively cheap but we all know that it is a scam. china-made audiophile cds are sold at RM20 a piece in HK but here greedy importers upped the price to RM45. due to bad sales over the 2 years, china-made audiophile cds are no longer selling well hence the dumping of them in this show. i bought 4 pieces of TIS recordings (now manufactured in china instead of HK) and only 1 is tolerable. the rest are sung by b-grade singers. really pathetic.

i spoke to ah chee (audio art) after the show and he lamented that audiophiles who have deep pockets and are willing to splurge is truly a thing of the past. 2 channel hifi is going downhill all the way. the relatively poor attendance is also alarming.

i don't know how many more years KLIAV show will survive but i will still go without fail every year for the simple reason to look-see and talk cock sing song!

This month alone, I have seen my harmonious family being torn apart with members leaving me one by one.

Harmonic Tech Magic spent the least time with me, holding herself only 6 months within the family. I would classify her as an interim flirt to see if silver is good for me or not. She came with extra surprise as she struck the middle between full copper and silver. With such blend, the soundstage is between copper's forwardness and silver's laidback presentation. This is just the placement of soundstage with no regards to any other attributes.

She's fluid, with soft top(鬆脆) and delicate(細緻) bottom. Nothing is bold, very cultured and natural. Like it or not, it solely depends on the nature of your setup. If you feel the straining(緊繃) in the mids/presentation, try this and you may like the balance it brings. Overall, I find that cables reaching the RM2.8K/USD700 range has got no problem across the frequency spectrum. Balanced and even.

阿妹係o甘,家姐都係o甘,細媽還得了?If there's a family with voluptuous and luscious ladies, I guess I have tasted the most from AQ. How on earth could they have come up with such transparent(通透) and engaging(活生感) cables for such long time and persistency?

Python and Anaconda(候禽兩姐妹), cables that could make you hot blooded(熱血沸騰) and wanted to get boogie. The highs is airy, extended and immediate; the lows is bold, forceful and deep. Can you imagine a young audiophile(血氣方剛) being exposed to such intense sexiness so early in the journey? I was all over AQ!

With the new DBS(nothing relating to 低B Sexiness), the successors to Python and Anaconda(候禽兩姐妹) are none other than Panther and Cheetah(鉤魂雙妹). While Python and Anaconda reach out for you, Panther and Cheetah has got that more delicacy, culture(韻味) and refinement added. You just want more of them as they grow inside you.

Being copper, Panther is nothing like Python nor Anaconda. Panther has got better refinement(細膩) and delicacy(細緻). She sounds much cultured than her 2 sisters. Cheetah, on the other hand, is nothing like typical silver. But I am saving more on this later as my hands are all over her for now.

Since the Sky(鉤魂細媽) won't be here in the short foreseeable future, I have Cheetah(鉤魂大妹) to gap the source while Panther(鉤魂細妹) between the pre and power. The other Panther was replaced by Cheetah. 3 years is a long relationship in audio me think.

對唔住,有‘需要’,下期再來! Will be back for more!

john sin (not john yew) of CMY passed me this cryo'ed fuse (20A, slow-blow) which is supposed to do a lot of good to my richard gray 600s.

i put in on and immediately heard a slight increase in micro details - instruments like brushes, cymbals and chimes seems to have more extensions and even the bass tightens up with better outline and delineation.

it is akin to "hand-stretching" the tonal spectrum apart, giving the extra extension in highs and lows. initially i detected a slight hardening of mids, but after a night's run-in the problem is gone. in fact, the mids are crispy, airy and lips movement of the vocalist become even more apparent. there is also some slight improvement in focus. my only gripe is that it is less "organic" compared to the one without the cryo treatment.

at RM90 a piece, i don't need to think. the cryo'ed fuse has all the hifi qualities that you dream of at a fraction of the price of interconnects/speaker cables. in terms of percentage, i would say it brings about another 3% of improvement to my system.

owners of richard grays, do yourself a favour. try this fuse and report your findings here.

Before I proceed in revealing the whole story on my eventful yet painful whole week, I guess I ought to tell you about this first! Thru out my 3 years of compact and express audio journey in hi-end, I have come across so many times of too-much-of-the-good-stuff incidents. A power cable might bring magic to the setup, add another one, the balance just collapses.

But this time round, it ain't bad at all! Things come and go, but things that you see in my setup have stand the test of time and qualify themselves to remain in my setup. Richard Gray Power Company, being one heck of a product, has never failed me even once. Heck, you owe it to yourself to add one if you have not done so!

After 2 years having an RGPC 400MKII, I still have not come across any product which could take its place. Well, except the bigger 600 or 1200. Or maybe, better still, another 400? Guys, with Richard Gray, there is just no too-much-of-the-good-stuff!

After spending hours with another RGPC 400 Pro, I strongly urge you guys to look into this! Of all the hi-end setups, there remain some fundamentals which they share similarly. Composure, compactness and effertlessness.

These traits DO NOT come easily if the foundation of good sound is not even there yet. I know many do not get what we are trying to say, and I do not mean to belittle anyone, you just have to keep on listening to get the basic right! For someone who is still struggling on extensions and thin sound, it's even harder to grasp these.

Composure(氣度/氣勢), only with ample of juice reserve are you able to give such tranquility. If you have followed Krell or Mark Levinson, they come in huge and massive irons. The work they put in getting the power right from start earns nothing but respect! With just my 400MKII working, you'll notice the agility in music performance, snappy and tuneful. However, with another 400 Pro on tap, things just calm down.

With only one RGPC, it's like a young kungfu monk, although equipped with speed and flexibility, lacks the inner strength in bringing more 'explosiveness' to the moves. Unlike a well learnt kungfu master, although you might perceive as if he's moving slower, it is actually carrying more 'strength'(力度) and 'weight'(勁). With 2 RGPC, this is exactly what I observed.

With this foundation, the setup is able to focus the sound energy more precisely, making the presentation compact and focused. Now, my Classic 60 is not new nor current production, hence, the compactness does not come from new and more precise components. With ample power reserves, the amp has got more juice to control the speakers better.

I perceived a cut in lower mid boom when running both the RGPC together. Due to this, imaging tends to focus up with better delineation of body and tangibility. Now, hi-end is not just about giving precise outline, but also what fills within the outline in giving the substantial weight and body. This is what we called compactness (結實/飽滿).

When the setup is able to focus such immense energy, it is impossible for it not to sound effortless. Experienced singers are able to push immense energy from their abdomen to push their voice across the stage, it is only lesser singers who sing in strain yet unable to convey the emotions.

From time to time, I notice such effortlessness(從容) in the musical presentation. There seems to be less hash, less harshness and less straining, letting the emotional conveyance as natural as can be. Musicality just sway gracefully in front of you, GRACE is the word!

I ain't no making all these up, but I consider myself lucky to have gain much opportunities in learning these early on. Once you get the basic right, it's so much easier for you to find your sound and just head on to audio nirvana. Stop challenging the impossbile, things DO NOT come free!

As for me, I am just going to miss it when it's time to return the RGPC 400 Pro!

hong kong indie king, chet lam's pillow songs

a question to chinese pop music lovers - do you know who composed stefanie sun's hit yu jian 遇见? it is hong kong indie singer chet lam.

chet lam 林一峰 is some sort like a crossover between aubert au 區瑞強 and danny chan 陳百強, in terms of voice and music inclination. his brand of folk songs is simple, has sweet melodies and is mostly accompanied by just a guitar.

but what is common among all chet lam's releases is - it has very good recording. the case in point is his earlier album, pillow songs 床頭歌. to me, if you are not familiar with chet lam and would like to buy only one album to try out, pillow songs is the only one you need.

the recording is superb throughout. both chet lam's voice and the guitar's plucking shine through with pristine vividness and sparkles. if your system does not have good highs, you would missed out on the guitar playing. tonal quality is excellent with chet's voice sounding palpable and full of body. on a good system, his voice can sound eeriely palpable.

i have bought several chet lam albums, all from hong kong, and pillow songs ranks as the best chet lam album todate, both for performance and recording.

you can get it online from yes! asia.

Hey, cannot tell how good it is yet wor although many have asked me about it.

You see ar, this is the pair I bought brand new and still breaking in. Yes, you got it right, no test, straight buy! That shows how confident I am with AQ!!!

It arrived virgin in my doorstep, I was so excited!

Very good, but still unfair to make any judgement as the sound keeps on changing over the hours I put on them. Wait for a while lar, should be ready in no time.

Let me smell it again, wah, virgin smell leh!!!

after the love is gone - no eye see!
this always happens after the day i returned all the goodies to the dealer. a sense of loss, a sense of withdrawal and a constant question that beckons "why my system sounds so terrible?".

indeed, all of a sudden, your system sounds so fat and bloated, the bass is so mushy and ill-defined too, and imaging becomes fuzzy and blur.... what's happened to your once-beloved system that you cherish so much? is it time for upgrade?

fact is, after weeks of accustoming to the so called modern hi-end attributes that i mentioned in my previous post, your aural sensory would have gotten used to all these image compaction, high-res definition, super delineation and layering, bass tautness etc etc and returning to your own system simply means stripping away all these modern "enhancements".

but you overlook one thing. over the months/years, your system has been tuned to achieve a perfect balance - tonally and musically. by introducing a foreign component, the balance is often upset, despite the fact that the foreign component does indeed bring out obvious enhancement here and there. if you listen long enough, you will realize that your system is indeed more musically balanced, eventho' it does not excel in certain departments that the foreign component is good at. to be able to fully appreciate the new component, you need to rebalance the whole equation again, which may take months/years!

yes, it does take a while to get used to your system all over again. my advice would be to stop listening for a week and gradually come back and start to appreciate your system's virtues all over again.

it is hard but who ask you to "flirt" in the first place?

Let’s be fair, not every brand would suit anyone and be the only one solution available. I started of with Transparent’s power treatment solution, PowerBank 8, and was happy with it for a while.

Transparent, as many would put it, has a vivid hue leaning towards the romantically gold-ish sound. It ain’t a bad thing when you strike the right balance and it could be your all time solution. What’s respectable is that Transparent is able to retain such house-sound in all the products family.

My PowerBank 8 was replaced by Richard Gray RGPC 400MKII, what about PowerIsolator 4 that I am going to present to you today? Placed at higher range than PB8, PI4 employs noise isolation technology rather than filtration as in PB8.

One such difference that I could notice is when PI4 powered the whole of my setup, there seems to be lesser degree of current impeding nature of PB8. There seems to be no lack of power and no congestion what so ever.

The background is pitch black with minimal static noise while not compromising the musical information. It did not bring ail effects like harsh highs nor compromised speed. Indeed, the unit was spot on in rhythm and I would say visceral at times.

The mids came across openly, with no hint of veil. In fact, the mids was very detailed and quite focused, albeit the slight thinness when compared to RGPC. To say the least, the mids was one of the purer ones I have heard so far.

The soundstage was expansive, open and carried admirable width and depth. Imaging, though with slightly thinner and flatter nature, was rock solid. I was not too sure of whether the thinness was the effect of noise isolation, but definitely, it lagged behind RGPC in presence and tonal richness departments.

The highs, as usual, carried Tranparent’s goldish signature. However, it did not go as far extended as I wished and slightly lacked sparkles as associated with copper hi-hats. This made the hi-hats slightly plastic-y. The lows, though fast and taut, was a bit lean. I wish it could go just a bit lower to lend a more substantial body to the overall presentation.

If your setup suffers from overly bright upper regions or obese lower registers, I can’t see why Transparent PI4 isn’t the solution for you!

in all likelihood, the new VTL MB450 signature monoblock (450W tetrode, 225W triode) may be the ultimate amp to tame my maggie 3.6R, and even my next upgrade - the awe-inspiring maggie 20.1R

at USD13,500 (RM49,000) a pair, i have every reason to start buying the weekly magnum, toto or damacai lottery!

sweet dreams are made of this, who am i to disagree? (eurythmic)