after a very tough and rough week of decision-making, yes, the av xpress 影音快遞 is on! i just had my first meeting with my media partner, margaret, on how i want the magazine/tabloid to look.

i must thank margaret for pushing me to commit on this project. she has no patience for my indecisiveness. she blatantly told me "to try it else i will regret for the rest of my life". she continued with "what's the point of you consulting so many friends, many of whom are not even familiar with the industry?".

my dealer friend, wong, who vouched to support me with his advertisement, warned me that the road ahead is long and winding, with many obstacles and i have to peservere. since i am only doing it part-time, juggling my time with my day-job is gonna be extremely difficult. i have to visit dealers, solicit ad, do listening/audition, write reviews....the list is endless but i am glad to have margeret to take care of my artwork/design and printing and circulation.

i also have to thank yodee for his trust and faith in me. again, it is yodee who gave me the scolding that "if i don't try, i will regret", "you are better than what you think you are", "business will evolve; get it up first, and improvise/improve as it goes along". thanks yodee, you are a pillar of support.

the only competitor in town, a chinese hi-fi mag that has existed for more than a decade had a rough beginning. i don't have a decade to invest my time and money on, so i am gonna to learn a few short-cuts and hopefully achieve the same level of success.

it has been quite an emotional turmoil for me coming up with this decision. but once the decision is made, there is no turning back.

p/s we target the inaugural issue on 18th jan 2007. it is going to be quarterly.

i have been comtemplating over a career in audio journalism for more than a year. not that i am the greatest writer on earth but my passion could last me a lifetime. imagine indulging in the most esoteric gear day in day out, and walking in and out of the dealer's showroom. but would i want a hobby to become a career? i am not so sure afterall.

the market for hifi has been declining globally year after year due to a multitude of factors. nobody seems to have the solution to the problem, least of all the manufacturers themselves. hifi is gettin more and more expensive. and it is alienating the younger generation. ask a young chap - will he spend more than 5 minutes sitting in the sweet spot analyzing the imaging of jacintha? or, will he be patient enough to warm up the monoblock tube amps? ask yourself - when was the last time you visited city square (or adelphi for the singaporeans), the once mecca of hifi? do you still read hifi mags?

in the light of this, why would someone still want to consider making a career out of a passing hobby?

i have a noble idea to let the local dealers to promote their stuff economically
in my publication, and at the same time giving the end-users a simple, no BS, reporting on the latest gears that hit the town. my publication would be like a marketplace activity report, once glance and you will know what's happening in the scene and industry. there won't be lengthy discourse or review on a particular piece of gear. any review will be short and snappy. there will be a lot of product information to help the consumers. there will be discounts; there will be promotions. there will be trading post. happening, vibrant and action-packed.

i am not sure it will even make money but that's how i want my publication to be. i want to play a role to push this industry out of the doldrums.

it is noble but it is quite silly as well.

it is a tough job but someone has to do it. could it be me?

Much to my surprise, most of my setup expenditures are on cables rather than the equipments. Many do not believe in such approach, and would rather part the dough on much substantial equipments, substantial in size and substantial in weight. Time after time, it has been substantially proven to me that the same dough might not reap the same rewards, depending on either you choose to get more the substantially sized up equipments, or the less substantial in physical sense cables.

I am glad that I have limited technical know-how in fully understanding the technical aspect of conductors, hence, the less likelihood of me getting a hard nite's sleep over the money parted on cables. And time after time, it is proven to me that with cable upgrades, the improvements are much greater!

There are a few camps on cable designs, one of the brands which I always wanted to own, Synergistic Research, believes in the interaction between the inductance, capacitance and resistance of the conductors. Brands like Siltech, Stealth Audio Cable, AudioQuest and Stage III put high priority on the quality of the conductors and take great effort in putting the best insulation methods. While Synergistic Research and AudioQuest employ ahead-of-the-rest shielding implementations, Siltech, Stealth Audio Cable and Stage III took extra step in designing ingenious cable geometries.

All these contributed in great cable technology advancements never witnessed before for the past decades ever since the discovery of better “lamp cords”! While the results seem debatable to many, let’s not get bogged down by this matter as I wish to share with you some cables, 2 power cords actually, that I tested recently and strongly believe in its effects.

Incidentally, both Stealth and Stage III employ similar geometry in their cables, only differing in the scale of their implementations. While both use flat twisted high purity silver conductors fitted in insulating tubes and spirally winding all the tubes to form the bigger cables, Stealth chose a bigger width for the ribbons while Stage III went on having more smaller ribbons.

Silver is potent and very intoxicating. However, one must realize that unless they are designed for hi-powered purposes, DO NOT use them on power hungry equipments. This brings us to the first power cord, the Stage III FE power cord. I have to apologize for not being able to take picture of it as somehow it just slipped my mind.

Stage III has never failed in amazing me with their persistency and consistency in maintaining the house sound. When I was first exposed to their Magnus interconnects, I was awed with the beauty in their presentation in tonal colors, harmonic textures and velvety smooth tops.

They have the uncanny ability to reproduce the rich harmonic textures of pianos, violins and saxophones. When dealing with percussion instruments, it is very important to vividly see the “action” from the impact of string/skin/metal to the vibration of string/skin/metal to the resonance of air and to the excitement of instrument body if there is.

Stage III is not only able to follow the action from the initial hit of keys to the vibrating strings within the piano, but also the resonating air interacting with body of the piano. This is very important in rendering the complete harmonic structure of the scale of a piano. Not only this, Stage III is also excellent in portraying the bite of bow on the violin strings. You could simply see the “jumping” action of violin when the bow changes direction.

Although Stage III and Stealth employ similar cable geometry, unlike Stealth, Stage III is less sparkling. With more bloom in the mids, there is certain darkness towards the musical presentation. This does not mean that Stage III is overly warm and mellow. It is just that when comparing the highs of Stealth and Stage III, Stealth is just lighter and go slightly farther; whereas with Stage III, the bloom in upper mids helps in giving more weights to Stage III’s velvety sweet highs.

From power cord to interconnect to speaker jumpers, Stage III is so consistent in this.

Without the mumbo jumbo technicalities, Richard Gray’s approach in power is direct, simple and does not involve any black magic. Amongst the companies above, Richard Gray is the last to venture into power cord business. Very little technical info can be found in their power cords.

When I first grabbed this cable, it feels dull and unsophisticated. The cable is wrapped in black cloth just like those found in electric kettle, iron and rice cooker, except that those are more colorful than RG’s boring black. And unlike other cables, the High Tension Wire, as it is named, does not induce tension on you to wrestle them around. They remain in whatever angle you twist them in. DULL!

Inside the cable itself are many more solid core coppers with no particular geometry I could feel when caressing the cables. Hmmm, is there a better word? With such simple build, would this bring miracles to the setup? Read on.

As suggested by Richard Gray, I put the cord from wall to my RGPC, replacing my Harmonic Tech Fantasy. Unlike popular beliefs, RG suggest to put the cords closer to wall first, then on higher powered equipments, subsequently to pre/processors. Surprisingly, source equipments are placed last.

Upon firing up, the imaging just tightens up! Everything seems to be better defined and get a more significant body. The instruments and singers have got a better contrast from the acoustic canvas that they are portrayed in. With images better carved out from the recording space, the sense of hearing the actual instruments/singers is even more stunning!

When listening to Susan Wong’s A Night at the Movies, you can sense her voice traveling and hitting the wall, then embracing you with rich reverbs. However, the echo does not overlap upon the acoustical space where Susan is occupying, can you imagine that?! The other eerie effect is to witness how the sound emancipates from the xylophone bars. When the bars were hit, you could sense how the bars vibrate the surrounding air, and sound expanding dynamically around the bars! Wah lau!

With my Harmonic Tech Fantasy cord, which is half the price of High Tension Wire, everything seems bigger and less defined. There is so much less “action” in the musical presentation!

OK, you might think I am a sound sucker rather than music lover. You have read me many times describing the sound rather than music. Taking the prowess of the cables in reproducing sound might not mean anything significant, but elevating yourself to a higher perspective, wouldn’t you get all the micro details and “action” from live performances?!

Under the holistic music reproduction context, you need great sound reproduction to reward yourself with great musical enjoyment! This is what I called the essence of HI-END!

When you know what you wanted and tried most, if not all, the brands you drooled over previously, there’s just no stopping of you progressing. Man, only months after getting my AQ Cheetah and I’m already wondering what AQ Sky could achieve. Looking at how far AQ Panther falls behind AQ Cheetah, I get all hot boiled just by wishing I could get a pair of AQ Sky the fastest I could.

Anyway, after trying the Siltech G6 entry level Forbes Lake, retailing at RM19K, I started to wonder what the G6 lower siblings could give. Forbes Lake and the higher siblings used to be from the G5 family, before moving up the G6 line with more gold filing up the gaps within silver. Awed by the performance of Forbes Lake, I eagerly replaced my AQ DBS Panther and AQ DBS Cheetah duo with the G5 SQ-28 Classic MKII and G5 SQ-88 Classic MKII siblings.

First impression? They are like morning breeze, cool, un-imposing and easy to listen to. Not the descriptions that you are expecting? Certainly less uhh and ahh, but that does not mean they are any less than stellar. In fact, at sub 10K, they performed admirably to demand such asking price. Indeed, they stand shoulder to shoulder with my AQ duo. And only personal taste would dictate your choice over to either AQ or Siltech.

Just like all the good silver cables out there, there’s a sparkling quality to the music played thru the Siltechs. Live concert recordings like Justin’s One Good Show were rendered in good sense of layering. Indeed, layering is still one of silver’s many fortes. The Siltechs are open, spacious and airy.

There’s this fine grain within the presentation and delicate tops that make them good in pub like recordings. With Bianca Sings Timeless, where the musicians are recorded live and performing together, there’s this ambiance that’s so like smoky jazz pub with music flowing fluidly. And like G6, they could really resolve minute details thru out the frequency range, very much so in the mids.

Good silver could give you great speed minus the brightness that many mistakenly likened to cheap silver plated cables. The Siltechs are indeed very fast, with lower registers emerging taut, defined and tactile. Unlike AQ with a much macho presentation, the Siltechs provide just enough bass, providing a solid foundation for the rhythm of music to build upon. This is not to say that the Siltechs are thin, on contrary, the Siltechs are more than capable in portraying the action of kick drum impact. A ‘thud’, air turbulence building within and the subsequent portrayal of drum body is vividly ‘happening’ in front of you.

To me, with a pair of resolving minis like R8S, I find the Siltechs veering towards the top. Might this give me the impression that they are slightly faster than my hot-like-tropical-sun AQ? Maybe!

What makes me wonder is that unlike its higher G6 siblings, the grainy presentation is very much unlike most of the silvers out there; and with gold within, the presentation does not carry as much density as desired like its G6 siblings with more GOLD within! The lack of extra bloom also severed the ability of the Siltechs to render a more solid snapped-in imaging.

They don’t “bite” as deeply as AQ with violin, trumpet, sax, piano materials. I guess this might be due to AQ’s excessively concentrated “qi” within the mids area that makes everything “bite” so hard. The overly energized presentation might make things ruthless at times, making Siltech’s less intrusive presentation preferable.

Clearly, at 10K, you can’t ask for everything! Depending on your system’s sound temperature, both the AQ pair and Siltech duo could bring just the right balance. Further criticism is just asking too much from 10K!

last month saw the end of my music empire called musicexchange. the coolest 2nd hand cd shop in malaysia finally bite the dust and closed its door after more than 7 years in business.

i started musicexchange in march 1999 when i was really down and out. jobless and seriously in need of cash, i thought of this brilliant idea of emulating those overseas 2nd hand cd stores which i frequented a lot while i was an overseas student in sydney.

i posted an ad in the newspaper and i got 2 partners immediately. with mere rm10K, we got the ball rolling and after weeks of meetings, planning and pre-stocking, we opened a tiny shop (120 sq ft!) in the seedy lane behind lot 10, called jalan walter grenier. it wasn't too far fetched to say that it was music exchange that turned walter grenier into a happening place for music lovers.

the media simply adored us and gave us lots of coverage. we were instant success. cash registers were ringing and all of us were esctatic. i lost count the number of times musicexchange was featured in print media. i was in cloud nine. it was instant fame.

good times didn't last long. disputes among the partners creep in and i was not at all happy with the way the store was managed. we made a lot of money in the first two years but that was it before piracy, downloads, dwindling sales and all sorts of problems came in.

in its dying breath during the last 2 years, music exchange has changed direction to focus on vinyls (LPs). cd sales have practically stopped; LPs sales is the only way to survive.


looking back, i made several mistakes. i shouldn't have gotten partners who are just music fanatics but have no interest in managing a business. also, being the founder and majority shareholder, i should have a black and white agreement to stipulate my terms and conditions. we were all too naive. we thought we could live, eat and die in music.

but let's not cry over spilt milk. i truly enjoy the experience of turning a dream into reality. and in the process, met lots of like-minded friends and customers. there were also many hilarious anecdotes during the course of our business which we will all remember till the day we die.

since relinquishing my control over the business, i have thought hard over the years on other businesses that's related to music but looking at the global scene for music, i better don't harbour such thoughts.

apogee stage (1990)- beauty is in the eyes of the beholder

two weeks ago, i felt nostalgic and expressed my longings for apogee here.

just yesterday, browsing at echoloft buy/sell section, i found a pair of apogee stage being sold at an affordable sgd1,300 a pair (with original stands) and all of my sudden, my passion is reignited again.

i called the seller frantically for the rest of the day, trying to find out all the facts, at the same time, arranging my trip down to s'pore.

i consulted ooi, who is an apogee fanatic (ooi owns the apogee duetta signature) but he expressed that the apogee stage is not likely to surpass my maggie 3.6, given the gap in technology advancement. but i was adamant of getting it because it was the apogee stage that got me hooked in the world of planars 15 years ago. it was love at first sight. it was selling at sgd4,500 in 1991. being a fresh graduate who earned a meagre sgd1,300 a month, the apogee stage was a distant dream but i was so enchanted by its sound that i saved up enough to get myself the lower model, the centaurus minor at sgd2,500.

in the back of my mind, i am fearful that the stages wouldn't have stood the test of time and starting to show its wear and tear. and i am not entirely convinced that the spare ribbon parts in australia are as good as the stock parts.

anyway, the seller is an extremely eccentric fella and i felt kinda of confused at the end of the multiple conversations i had with him. i decided to tell him the following conditions: i will personally come back on the 1st week of october to inspect the speakers. if they are as perfect as he claims, i would buy them on the spot and carry them back in my car. in the meantime, he is free to sell them to the first interested buyer on a first-come-first-served basis.

i have been digging up all the related articles on net and prepare for its possible arrival in october.... do you think i will get the apogee stage? do you think it is worth all the trouble? is first love that unforgettable?

i am waiting with bated breath.

NOS magic thrills maggielurva

i am never one who spends on exotic NOS tubes but that was then and this is now. playing with ARC monoblocks, which requires 20 tubes in total (16 pieces of 6550c power tubes and 4 pieces of 6FQ7 driver tubes) simply forbids me to invest in expensive NOS tubes.

the last week had me scratching my head as to why my system's sound has acquired a slight thinness in the mids. it was not very obvious but it does bother me cos i am ever the perfectionist. suspecting that it is due to the bad electricity, i monitored the situation over the last 5 days. it persisted. bad electricity wouldn't last for more than 2 days. which led me to suspect some of the tubes in my power/pre might be acting up.

my ARC LS25MKII pre uses 2 russian super tubes 6H30 which some say can last up to 10,000 hours and mine have just scratched the 3,000 hours mark. but i am not the kind who believes in statistics or hearsay; i trust my ears more. my ipoh dealer even said none of his customers have ever replaced their 6H30 tubes yet.

6 months ago i bought from my friend, a set of NOS 6H23n-EB which is supposedly compatible to 6H30 and 6922. at RM300 each, they cost me a bomb; it is almost 5 times of sovtek 6H30! i bought them more for future replacement but i have to use it now to test whether the stock sovtek 6H30 have aged.

omigod! the russian NOS 6H23n-EB beats the hell out of the stock sovtek 6H30 even in its fresh state! it is simply fuller, richer and more robust. can you imagine putting another 100 hours to the tubes? this is the BEST sound i have ever acquired since my system stablizes early this year. i am ecstatic.

it has made me a believer in NOS, especially for preamp and driver application.

i was mighty glad because my hearing ability allows me to detect even the slightest degradation in sound, may it be due to electricity or tube ageing or other factors. this is a skill that takes year to acquire. one important lesson i learn is - good tubes, even when not properly burned-in, would sound good from the very start. bad tubes, would sound bad, no matter how many hours your burn them.

remember, if your amp uses current-production sovtek 6H30, give NOS 6H23n-EB a try and you will be in cloud nine.

not everyone can identify with ang lee's multi-award-winning movie, brokeback mountain, but do you know that it has a beautiful soundtrack with excellent recording? even if the touching story of 2 gay cowboys doesn't interest you, you are bound to be moved by the haunting and poignant guitar interludes throughout the movie. listening to the score music, it does make me want to cry.

argentina-born, california-based gustovo santaolalla is the producer and composer for this soundtrack. his instrumental contributions to ang lee's tale of two cowboys in love are acoustic guitar-based and are very evocative, thought-provoking, romantic and sad at the same time.the tracks from santaolalla's score no doubt capture the essence & emotion of the film. with the music, one can even visualize the scenic alps that formed most of the background in the movie.

80% of the material here are original compositions by santaolalla and he roped in popular artistes like emmylou harris, mary mcBride, teddy thompson & willie nelson, who all deliver fantastic performances here.

my fave is willie nelson's "he was a friend of mine", a cover of bob dylan's classic. this song is tremendously desolate and moving and it captures the mood very well. it was sung after the death of the leading actor.

almost every song and instrumental cues on this album are spot-on in conveying the emotional themes of the film: love, loss & longing. these aren't just country & western songs - they're love songs. there is so much pathos in the music that you can't help but to feel moved.

needless to say, this cd is fantastic for late-night listening.

if country ballads is your cup of tea, pick this up without a doubt. even if it isn't, give this a try. you may just fall in love with it, much like yours truly.

and the recording more than justifies the quality of music in it. make sure you get the american pressing (or at least an EU pressing), if you can.

highly recommended.

Me: doctor, doctor! Help my wife!
Doctor: what’s wrong with her?
Me: she’s not well, could you help me?
Doctor: can she walk? Can she talk? Can she eat?
Me: yeah, all the above!
Doctor: then what’s wrong?!
Me: I don’t know, but I know the sex is not as great anymore!
Doctor: …
Me: 醫生,唔論洗幾多錢,你都要醫返好我老婆啊!Doctor! No matter how much it costs, you have to bring back the great sex again!

Man, I have never thought music could affect me so much! Every nite, I can hardly wait to pack up and go back. But recent nites, just when I started packing up eagerly, it dawned on me that my Classic 60 is sick!

It’s like part of your life has left you and you feel so incomplete. It’s like you walk into your bedroom, and realized that your wife has left you and you are left with the other half empty bed. It’s like when you thought of something funny and turn over only to be greeted by hollow space with no one to share with!

The problem was not that my Classic 60 was not singing anymore, she was still singing, but the sound was just not right! It’s like you having sex, but only the mundane and routine like procedures! There’s just no chemistry and explosiveness anymore!

Many things changed in recent months and that make it so much more difficult to identify the culprit. Initially I blamed it on my electricity condition, took blocks of Richard Gray back home, though it helped, still I could sense that the sex, ops, sound was not as great!

Changed many cryo-treated fuses, still the same. Blamed it on my newly acquired speakers, but NO! The problem sort of manifested since my last pair of speakers, though nearing to the replacement of it. Might it be AQ DBS Cheetah? Coz I started noticing issues after its arrival.

Many things tried and tested, still I could sense things amiss. No way man, I ain’t going to give in and accept the fate that I have to live with this sound for the rest of my life! Fast forward to now, almost 2 months later, I brought home the whole shebang of Siltech G5 series and replaced my resident AudioQuest.

No way man! The problem persisted! One by one, I eliminated the possible candidates of culprit. Not the speakers, not the cables, not the CDP and certainly not Richard Gray as I did bring home other products. Since the off the shelf products did not manage to help, I was thinking of giving some DIY products a try. Unfortunately, I did not get much of help there as I could not manage to get any.

OK, I’m just going to get the simplest way of getting sound to cut down on the candidates to eliminate! So there goes the pre, I bypassed the pre to connect the variable outputs of my CDP straight to my power. Dang! Still there! Yeehaw, it’s the power amp then! That makes it easy as the only thing could go wrong would be the tubes then!

Replaced the RCA clear top driver tubes with Ei, the same! Reverted the change and replaced the EH power tubes with Svetlana C wing and WTF, the problem persisted! OMG, now I am really freaked out!

Called Oh to reserve a ward number and lugged her to Leslie’s place for final confirmation. Damn, with Ei and Svetlana C wing in place, we still could not get the glorious Classic sound! Called Oh again to prepare for emergency warding!

There it was, my Classic 60 under ICU with Oh. She’s sick and that greatly affected me emotionally!