it is true, apogee is coming back but this time, it is a different company.

let me tell you my apogee story.

actually, it is apogee that got me enchanted in the world of planars, not magnepan. my first and only apogee was the magical apogee centour minor, a ribbon hybrid that was sold for only SGD2,500 in 1991. i bought it from raymond of ultralinear in adelphi.

the apogee minor gave me countless hours of good music. i was awed by the delicacy of the ribbons and the sounstaging prowess of the small apogee. i knew i couldn't go back to box speakers since then.

but sadly, jason bloom was sued by magnepan for infringing one of the patents on ribbon design and the company went into all sort of troubles before it went bust somewhere in the mid 90s. jason bloom died in the late 90s but the world over is still worshipping apogees.

someone in brisbane australia by the name of graz was so inspired by apogee that he mastered the art of duplicating the apogee ribbon tweeter and he gave apogee owners a glimmer of hope in resurrecting their old beloved apogees. graz provides ribbon parts to apogee owners all over the world.

i visited graz in 1990 in brisbane and listened to his own creation, called the perigee, a ribbon hyrbid speaker. i wasn't impressed. subsequently graz launched the perigee worldwide but the reception from audiophiles were lukewarm. it was simply way too expensive and the sound wasn't great.

fast forward to today. graz has decided to resurrect the apogee acoustics marque. this is a totally different company from the one that jason bloom started. rumours has it that he is going to launch a new model called synergy 1.5

graz emphasized that what he does is repairing, remanufacture and developing new products; it is not about the corporate growth and high profits, but about advancing planar speaker development, and turning out a small number of products especially for people that like the sort of work. whilst he has absolutely no material ties to the original apogee acoustics company, the goals and enthusiasm of the original team are certainly present in what he does with his team in brisbane.

i can't wait to hear the new syngery 1.5!

After a year of being bombarded with advises to replace that multi-plug and adaptor, I finally did that! I guess when you are not plagued by imperfect music, you would not get your ass off that couch and do something about it!

Damn, the last 2 months have witnessed one of the major revamp of my setup since 3 years ago. Back then, it was from nil to something reputable, this time, it was a step up from what I have. I don’t believe in changing brands altogether when the stuff you are using are serving you well. Unless, of course a certain brand performs flawlessly and thrashed what you have when playing them side by side. So, the upgrade is upward from what I have now, same brands, but just better models.

The arrivals of AQ DBS Cheetah and ProAc Ref 8 Signature have elevated the fussiness of my setup to unbearable state. Man, if a setup ever resembles a PMS-induced woman, you can’t get any worse than mine! You can’t just dim the lights and whisper “honey, do you think we could…” or just start caressing her. The window for me to enjoy music is so narrow and limited due to the electrical condition in the area I live.

Anyway, the best I could do is to have the best connection in place, switch on my setup, keep the fingers crossed and hope that God would be generous enough to bless me with good electricity! So, there goes my RM400 on just a wall outlet!

Fixing the outlet wasn’t too hard actually, remove your current outlet, fix the cables and voila, your spanking new sparkling in gold wall outlet is ready to take action! You don’t have to worry where the earth, neutral and live should go to as the accompanied illustration and labels on the unit itself are very much self explanatory.

The only thing to worry is to get your polarity right! Is this a great challenge? YES, if you live in Malaysia! Before removing the stock unit, I had to use a polarity checker to make sure the polarity is correct first. Then remove the stock outlet and make sure I mark the cables. WHY? Because Malaysian contractors never use proper color coded cables!

OK, you really get your money’s worth as the unit comes in 24K gold plated all out, even the screws are spanking-ly glowing in gold! The outlet itself is from National, however, IsoClean claimed to have them polished and treated to better the contact. The unit is just heavy and most importantly, TIGHT!

When I plugged in my HT Fantasy powercord, darn, I thought I got it wrong. It was really TIGHT! When I tried to remove the cord, I was so afraid that I could remove the whole outlet out while the cord was still attached to the outlet!

Upon powering up, fingers crossed and I prayed real hard that no smoke came out from anything! I heard a click and my pre amp was ready to go! Do I really have to do this all over again, stating the improvements and all? Well, guess I have to, or else, no one would be even considering buying a unit!

What greeted me was higher volume than I normally heard. With the same previous volume setting, the setup played louder. I had to lower down the volume. Then there’s lesser background noise. This is really background noise when the setup is idling, tube setups have always got this background hiss. With IsoClean outlet, there is a major cut down on this hissing noise.

With trumpet and saxophone pieces, there is more bite to the vibrating mouth piece. Bass tightens up with no overhang and the highs seems more extended with delicacy. There is less opacity between the music and the listener. Understandably, there’s just more information being presented when there’s less masking due to higher noise floor.

The outlet is there to cut down on noises suffered from poor contacts and provide the best transfer of power. However, it would not and won’t be able to change the tonal characteristics of your setup. To lesser extend maybe, but I perceive no change in this area. But it surely helps in the transparency area where noise masking is concerned.

I could only tell the difference before and after, please DO NOT tell me to A/B between the stock and IsoClean as this is just too dangerous! Oh, if I were to do it, I would have forgotten the sound after the hassle of replacing the outlets.

RM400 is not a small sum, but knowing that you have the best connection available, I guess that’s the first thing every serious audiophile should do! Although I did it 3 years late.

Preview Pete Teo’s Television
note: click to preview tracks from "television"

local troubadour and singer-songwriter pete teo has released his latest album, his second, entitled television.

we had a listen and came out really impressed. sombre, mellow and thought-provoking, with recording that is rich, crisp and palpable. pete told me that, like his debut album rustic living, it is mastered by his mentor, hong kong audiophile guru mr. leo fung.

more to this space!

harvey mason's shocking drumworks
the best hifi system on earth is... fourplay's performance in dewan filharmonik petronas on wednesday night.

which is to say, live performance is still, by far, the best reference system on earth bar none.

fourplay's performance defined all aspects of high-fidelity to a 't'. if you ever want to know what intensity, immediacy, drive, pace and rhythm, tonality, air, bloom, ambience, soundstaging, thunderous and tactile bass etc. etc. - in fact, all those technical jargons the hifi reviewers regularly dish out (much to the confusion of newbies) - go for this kind of performance.

being a non-fan, i don't really dig fourplay but i know their live performance is something else. as a discerning audiophile and music lover, one just can't afford to miss a live performance by these jazz fusion maestroes, performing in one of the best halls in the world.

coming back just from esplanade in singapore, i have to say that DFP, tho' being a much smaller concert hall, has top-notch acoustics, one that is warm and rich at the same time. it is a national treasure.

throughtout the performance, be it bob james' tinkering on the piano, or nathan east's rhythmic basslines, or larry carlton's masterful plucking on the guitar, or the superb and commanding presence of harvey mason's drum works, fourplay played together tightly as a quartet without outshining each other. but i must say harvey mason is the star of the show. he stole the thunder from his teammates. without his drums, fourplay would lose much of its commanding flavour. i also think that larry carlton is not as fitting as lee riteneur as lee's style is more fusion in nature whereas larry's style is more acoustic and mellow.

while many megabuck hifi systems may be able to reproduce the tonality, imaging, soundstaging, highs, mids, lows and other crucial elements in a live performance to a believable degree, there is no way that the intensity, immediacy, rawness, tactility, presence could be reproduced in any convincing manner. the most amazing thing about this live performance is that eventho' the SPL (sound pressure level) is very high (above 100db, for sure) yet it retains all the musical nuances and details without piercing and deafening to your ears.

who ever said that a live performance cannot be refined and delicate? the highs and mids in fourplay's performance were both very very refined but they are not the kind of 'fake' refinement that SET amps or silver cables produce, if you know what i mean. for example, the highs in my ARC-based system, although very very extended and sweet, are simply too beautified, too glorified to be anywhere as close to the Real McCoy. It does upset me to know that my system does not sound real afterall.

kc and i were totally speechless at the end of the performance. all our preconceived notions of how a true high end system should sound were squashed to pieces. there is simply no way that a hifi system can sound this good.

we have decided not to switch on our supposedly high-fidelity systems for at least a week, in an attempt to normalize our listening. the withdrawal symptoms would be too great if we don't.

saw this cd in singapore. price tag was sgd23. didn't buy it because i was quite broke after spending sgd800 on 16 pieces of svetlana 6550 winged-c from well audio lab.

anyone going to buy this?

my goodness, that was good. so good that i am even feeling the exhilaration two days after the concert.

sheila majid's legenda concert at the esplanade on saturday night must go down in my personal record as one of the most entertaining concerts i have ever attended. it was so good that the audience, 40% of which were sheila's fans, gave her a standing ovation right after she exited the stage, before coming back for the 30-minute encore. yes, you hear it right, a 30-minute encore!

to start a concert at 10:15pm and ended it on such a high note at the unearthy hour of 1:30am, it must be some kind of record for our jazz diva as well. from the fabulous venue, to the fantastic acoustic, to the creative lighting, to sheila's commanding performance, everything is so stupendously awesome! i was already in awe even in the first 10 minutes. the ambience in esplanade is just superb. a note to audiophile, the esplanade's acoustic is very good but i think our dewan filharmonik petronas is even better and warmer.

a true fan will be orgasmic to know that sheila covered more than 40 of her hits; some are put into medleys and some are in abrigded versions; simply, no stone is left unturned, no song is left unsung. and what moved me almost to tears are those killer ballads like "gerimis semalam", "kepergian mu", "mengapa kasih", "dia", "antara anyir dan jakarta" which sheila delivered with such tenderness and sublime emotions. there is something about good malay ballads that immediately tug my heartstrings. in certain quiet passages of these ballads, one could almost hear nothing but sheila's dulcet vocals caressing your deepest soul... those moments were truly magical. my goose bumps were raised throughout this superlative performance.

there are superstar singers who could sing but dead boring on stage (e.g. faye wong)but sheila, sheila was such a charismatic performer. she lightened up the stage with constant banters (e.g. "i am so flattered that you welcome me with fireworks... thank you singapore!") and anecdotes; she is such a complete performer; she is born for the stage.

i could notice many non-fans among the audience. during the interval, that was a long queue building up from those who wanted to purchase sheila's latest album, legenda 15-20, from the sales counter. i think they could have easily sold 200 copies on that night alone!

and i thought i was crazy coming from kl just to attend this concert, there were even indonesians coming all the way from jakarta!

pop singers come and go but few are as memorable as sheila majid. many years down the road, i would still remember this concert as one of my most enjoyable concerts of all time.

a quibble - no disrespect for sheila's husband, acis, who was the musical director for that night, i would have preferred mac chew and jenny chin cos they were the ones who created the legenda sound for sheila.

How I wish this could be an easy job! Easy to just say ‘Highly Recommended!’ and everyone in town would just flock on to buy it. But no, many things come to play when you are trying to share something good in audio, worse still, to convince!

It is really funny in this hobby where more people share the same understanding in what bad sound is than what good sound is. Everyone seems to understand what rough and bright highs is; what flabby and sluggish bass is; and what coarse and hard mid is.

It’s easy to understand lucid and airy highs; tight and taut bass; grain-less and smooth mid. But that don’t make a component any good! We want great music making components, not splendid sound making machines!

Many components can reproduce sound perfectly in any technical sense, but that does not warrant great musical pleasure. Some excel in audio technicalities with superb extensions, huge dynamic range and neutrality to a T; while others musically engaging, non fatiguing and mellow. Technical superiority and musical supremacy seem never so mutually exclusive when everyone nowadays is chasing paper spec and ultimate industrial precision!

Just walk around any demo room during a show and you would realize most, if not all, of them would have certain ‘edge’ to the sound. Very impressive and highly attractive, a magnet to lure you into the room, they draw great crowds. But when you pass by the Meridian room, I assure you would not even take a peek, not even the slightest one!

The sound is mellow, smooth and not the slightest ‘edge’ to excite you. It’s like the hotel PA system, playing comforting background music, blending greatly with the environment, not even the slightest sign of intrusion! If it’s not for those of us who are greatly exposed to Meridian’s musical prowess, I guess the room would be the least visited. Well, not that many are charmed, as the room was, still, quite empty.

Months ago, I raved about the G08, months after, I sing praise to Meridian to enchant the financially less privileged with a lesser priced G06. Offering 80% of what G08 could provide and going at RM10K, it’s a godsend for those who could not afford the G08. Oh, the tech spec too, is 80% of G08’s, in a disguise without balanced out, triple buffering and upsampling.

Now, triple buffering and upsampling has been Meridian’s kungfu in all their top flight players like 508.24, 588.24, G08 and the behemoth 808! The DSP implementation on these has lended a hand in making music with great presence and liveliness! Would a lack of this make G06 any inferior to them?

Positioned lower than G08, of course the G06 must definitely sound a little inferior. But that does not rule it out when you are considering a CDP. In fact, in a sub 40K setup, you’ll hardly notice the difference. It’s only in those behemoth setups that you realize the 20% shortage in performance.

Still, the G06 gives you the Meridian sound that is so balanced, precisely proportioned, with not a single band protruding to haunt you from musical bliss. Some might attribute the lack of ‘edge’ dark and mellow, listen carefully and you would notice that music (not just sound) flows with emotion and grace. You’ll realize that you are listening to the soul of the singers, every single nuance of emotion is captured vividly and presented in such elegant manner!

508.24, though superior, does not provide a musical presentation as cohesive as the G08. Musical instruments were encapsulated in their own space, as if they were spotlighted from top individually, there is this darkness that stood in between them. With the G08, that sense of darkness seems gone! The stage just opens up and emerges up as a cohesive performance! The presence factor is second to none!

Take the above and cut by 20%, and you have what the G06 is capable of providing! In mid level setups, you would still be awed by G06’s effortlessness, grace and delicacy! Making music is still the forte of Meridian, even more so with their CD players!

Great blend of technical superiority and musical supremacy. Highly recommended!

Audio Research LS15 Pre
This is the pre amp to get if you can't get enough of ARC's house sound of yore and the current higher resolution sound. To me, this would be the converge of ARC's old and new sound, pleasing both to ARC's long loyal fans and to new supports.

You do not know how much I wanted this babe, if they wanna sell it seperately, I would have snatched it already!

Audio Research Classic 60 Power
Ultimate in tonal brilliance, the best series in ARC's line of power amps! This still hold even after almost 10 years their inception! Powerful, yet retaining the delicate touch on music. A work horse to drive any hard-to-please bookshelves, even some floorstanders.

I know I won't sell mine, now, are you passionate enough to get one yourself?!

This excellent combi will treat you with musical bliss for years and you won't even have to worry about what's available out there. Why? Coz' they'll definitely be darn more expensive and won't even eat this combi easily!

Do I sound like a salesman? I don't think so, I am just excited to share this beaut for those seeking entry into a wonderful musical journey. Since everyone is going gaga over the S'pore audio show, snatch them before they come back!

Head on to Audiomatic in Amcorp Mall!

fusion of old-school canto pop and jazz
i have been spinning this non-stop for the last 3 weeks since i got it from the KLIAV show. something must be right about this recording.

ok, a bit of intro on TIS recording. it is a small recording label in hk, helmed by vili and chang, that specializes in niche audiophile recordings. TIS recording is known for its completely over-the-top highs, overwhelming details and ambience. instruments like cymbals, brushes, triangles, chimes and other percussive stuff are always emphasized and highlighted. TIS recordings would make any dull systems come alive! notable TIS artistes include le mon 如梦 and pui pui 贝贝. le mon in particular, is well-loved by malaysian audiophiles due to her tender vocals and coy presentation. i personally have the whole collection of le mon and i play it once in a while to showcase my system's strenghts to my friends. two years ago, TIS moved its studio to china in an attempt to reduce operating costs but unfortunately, recording standards also suffer/drop. so the current batch of china-pressed TIS recordings are rather inferior to the hk pressed ones. another problem with TIS is they always engage below-the-par lounge singers. detractors always view TIS recordings as having 1st grade recording but b-grade singers.

this one is a gem, however. fang xin 方心 is a canto singer of the old school type, which we call 粤曲 (yuet cook in cantonese). my audiophile friends call her the "redifusion" singer, meaning she reminds us of the era of the private radio station redifusion in malaysia in the 70s. you either love or hate her style of singing. but to me she has the substance. the fusion of old-school canto pop with lounge jazz arrangement is totally refreshing to me, at least. and the recording, my oh my, is sumptuously rich and layered.

it has got depth, for a start. fang xin's mouth is pinpointly focused. the presence factor and palpability is very high. tonal quality and midrange density are first class. the highs belong to the stratosphere, completely mesmerizing and intoxicating (in my system, that is). in fact, the highs alone are worth the RM20 i spent on this cd. try track #7 and be thrilled with the tonal richness and presence. granted, transparency is still not as good as some of le mon's finest cds.

trust me, you may not love the singing but the recording is guaranteed to please!

looks like this is the season to be jolly and attend concerts... i have just booked 2 tickets for the fourplay concert at DFP yesterday and now i want more...

guys, i am planning to go down south to watch sheila majid perform live in durian (esplanade) next saturday!

i always have a soft spot for sheila. if you remember my earlier post, sheila's legenda album is one of the best audiophile-quality cds in the last decade by a malaysian, which remains my fave cd for many years now. her latest release, a digitally remastered version of legenda, is even better in terms of recording. the legenda album reflects sheila's career at her prime; it also brought back memories of sheila fantastic colloboration with her then producer-husband, roslan aziz who started the label RAP, short for roslan aziz production.

also coinciding with the show, the annual hifi show will be held in the le meridian hotel from friday to sunday next week, so i am actually killing two birds with one stone.

life is short, people, enjoy while you can!