it has been more than a decade since i last acquianted with norwegian hifi marque, electrocompaniet. if my memory served me right, it was one of those good-value-for-money high-end gear in the late 80s/early 90s. i myself had owned an EC power amp before, the model of which i have well forgotten but it was a very warm and musical amp, sans all the solid-state nasties of those era.

fast forward to the new millennium, electrocompaniet ran into financial crises that culminated in autumn 2004 with new owners and new management. the new owners want to expand electrocompaniet into a major performer in the international high-end Hi-Fi market, specializing in amplifiers, CD-players, and equipment, both for 2 channel and multi-channel system. looking at the two impressive products today (the ECI-3 integrated amp and EMC-1 CD player) i have no doubt that they have come a long way in achieveing these goals. black is still EC's perennial fave colour!

the build quality of both the EC amp and cd player are absolutely top-notch. the black coloured chasis makes it all the more sexier and mysterious. i especially like the top-loading mechanism of the EMC-1 CD player - so classy and precise, like a piece of audio jewelry.

the essence of the modern EC sound is just like what i remembered of yesteryear - warm, sweet and tube-like. the overriding keyword here is sweetness. the tonal quality is so sweet that i swear that i was listening to a tube amp. partnered with RM60K rockport mira speakers, the resultant sound is classy, detailed and very un-solid-state-like.

oh, do check out their website if a manufacturer is serious about its products, it is shown in their website. EC's website is so classy and cool.

dear partner in crime,

it has been fun having you around.

it pains me to see you leaving me alone in this hobby, in search of your greener pastures in the tiny dot. i know it is for your own good but malaysia's loss is definitely singapore's gain.

when i first knew you, you were so young and brash (well, you are still brash at times but that's because you love hifi so much and you can't stand people rubbishing it) but over the years your progress in hifi has been absolutely phenomenal, so much so that i have to rely on your judgements sometimes.

in hifi, you have the natural talent that a lot of folks twice your age don't. your ability to suss out a system's strengths and weaknesses accurately belies your tender age. what makes it more satisfying is, we both love the same kind of sound; we belong to the same hifi camp. there is so much intellectual sharing and meeting of minds between us. even when we argue, we are never far from a common point.

you are not popular in the local scene because you speak your mind and a lot of people take offence at it. but you have wised up considerably now that you have stopped mixing with those people who don't mean anything to you. i hope in years to come, you will become more diplomatic and is more tolerant of people's shortcomings. you have to understand that not everyone is a grade A student like you.

we shared the past 2 years investigating high-end cables and we had so much fun and knowledge along the way. but sadly, malaysian audiophiles, by and large, don't quite believe in cables.

we shared a lot of happy times together. we always lament about the sorry state of hifi in malaysia. you had always wanted to move to a place like SG or HK where hifi is more happening and where audiophiles are more mature, discerning and educated. now you wish has come true and i am truly happy for you.

prior to your arrival into my audio life, i had master kenny yong as my partner in crime. we used to spend hours talking on the phone about hifi everyday. but ever since master yong came to kl, he has gone into total oblivion, reasons of which are still unknown to me.

it hurts to lose like-minded partners one after another. as i speak, little john is also leaving kl to open his own hifi shop in kampar. so altogether i have "lost" 3 hifi kakis within a short span of time.

it is lonely out there. i hope you will enrich your hifi experience in the tiny dot and share with us here your future escapades.

i have no doubt that you will reach super high-end one day, with your earning capacity, talents and listening skills but do enjoy the journey and learn to widen your circle along the way.

all the best and god bless.

once in a while, an audiophile experiences things which are so mind-blowing and life-changing that he is lost for words, and audio research LS26 to me, is such a colossal experience.

fresh from the box, the LS26 already kills the LS25MKII in refinement and delicacy, soundstaging and layering, image specificity and image depth, control and effortlessness. the LS25MKII was ruthlessly murdered and left bleeding in the alley, waiting to be sent to the morgue. such is the harsh reality of high-end audio. such is the advancement of pre-amp technology in a short span of 5 years.

i can't even begin to describe to you how astounding the improvements are. if LS26 is rated A+ (and REF3 A++), then LS25MKII can at most secure a B or B-. by contrast, the LS25MKII is rough, grainy, shallow, floaty, light-weight, flat and loose.

LS26 takes neutrality to a different level. this is truly the modern high-end sound. the midrange is very natural and it neutralizes the slightly golden yellowish and fruity tonal colour of my power amp's 6550 triode sound. the sense of palpability is eerie. the 3D imaging is awe-inspiring. image compaction takes place, as with all upgrading, and the vocalist's mouth is as sharp as a tiny dot.

granted, the extreme highs and lows are still not extended due to it not being burned-in. but after 300 hours' play, i can guarantee to myself that, like what belinda carlisle sings in her song (with minor apologies for altering its title) - heaven is THE ONLY PLACE on earth.

i digress. we audiophiles spend our life's savings repeatedly chasing the elusive audio nirvana, and cynics and lesser audiophiles often mock and sneer at us for being silly and non-sensical. and a lot of times, we can't even be bothered to explain to them why we spend a fortune on our system, because unless you own such a system and have the necessary listening skills, you would never understand the stupendous joy and immense satisfaction of indulging in this hobby.

these people have obviously not listened to the audio research LS26.

stranger: what amps are you using?
me: audio research
stranger: wah, so many people playing audio research these days....
me: because they are the best tube amp, simply
stranger: no lah, i don't agree
me: why don't you agree?
stranger: audio research gives big mouth....
me: what do you mean?
stranger: audio research amps always project a huge vocalist's mouth, i mean
me: (speechless then burst out laughing) wan lan eh, bro, you better don't tell it to the world! people will laugh at you!
stranger: why?
me: the size of the vocalist's mouth has nothing to do with the amp lah. it is about speaker positioning, isolation devices and how you tweak it.
stranger: hmmm....

i would admit - if a system's tonal colour is not up to my liking, i will lose interest very fast. which is why i am keeping my aged ARC in spite of the lure of newer models like the reference 210 (which can do better hi-fi stunts such as soundstaging and bass) because, frankly, my classic 120 has the best tonal colour amongst all the generations of ARC amps, despite its obvious shortcomings as an old tube amp with old parts. there is something intricately enchanting about the triode sound which is very hard to describe unless you play triode yourself.

getting to appreciate tonal colour, or timbre, takes years. many audiophiles still don't get it after years in the hobby. i don't want to sound elitist but if you are after tonal colour, then you have to play tubes. push-pull triode or single-ended triode. period.

being a 100% tonal guy, i didn't get to listen to an ongaku until now. paiseh. never mind that it is an older gen of ongaku.

never a audio note proponent, i find the ongaku totally refreshing. it doesn't sound like a typical SET! driving avantgarde duo horn speakers, the sound is vibrant, vivacious and totally engaging. there is so much beauty in the tonal aspects. gorgeous tone. in fact, in terms of purity, it beats my classic 120. i hear you laughing. comparing a RM20K amp with a RM200K amp. look, beauty is in the eyes of the beholder, ok.

i have been invited to listen to the latest ongaku driving the humougous avantgarde trio with basshorn. until then, i can't quite forget my first encounter with ongaku.

statistics in malaysia hifi circle show that there are more REF3 owners than LS26 owners. which goes to show that there are a lot of high-end fellas that are loaded with moolah. it also shows that ARC is the undisputed king of preamps.

i absolutely can't find fault with my LS25MKII, yet i have this sinking feeling that it doesn't stand a chance besides LS26, supposedly the baby REF3.

hifi is the never-ending pursuit of perfection. if you are not a perfectionist then you shouldn't play hifi.

with that, i made up my mind to place an order for ARC LS26.

the local indie music crusade continues...

couple is the quartet comprising of 3 malay chaps and one malay gal and they have been making waves with this debut release entitled "top of the pop". couple plays power pop so infectious that you want to cry. influences vary from the beatles to teenage fanclub to the ramones. using simple chords and catchy melodies, couple manages to create many memorable hooks worthy of sing-along.

if you need to be convinced, start with track #3, the best track of the album, a malay number by the name of "tentang kita". starting with an irresistible jangly guitar hook, it then grows into a real sweet tune filled with bittersweet melodies and vibes. it has teenage fanclub written all over it and i simply adore this song!

despite the overall brilliance, the album is full of inconsistencies and a lack of genuine identity. one moment they are like the beatles, the next moment unashamedly plagiarizing teenage fanclub. whatever their shortcomings, you can't say couple is not a fun band.

what is heartening to know is, couple is actually signed to US indie label sizzleteen records. i am sure this will encourage more local indie bands to do likewise.

from OAG to nice stupid playground and now to couple, the power pop genre may have been exploited to the max but it is still fun to listen to what a creative young band like the couple can do.

oh, the recording is great!

sonics: 4 out of 5
music: 3.5 out of 5

it has been a week since its launch and the overall (verbal) feedback we have got is that av xpress shows great promise. let me summarize some of the points raised. let's start with the negative ones:

[it's too thin]
well, it is the 1st issue, and we have got a deadline to meet, plus the fact that for stitch binding (as opposed to perfect binding), you can't go more than 50 pages. having said that, we promise that the next issue (in april) will be substantially thicker.

[so many ads]
we don't call it an adzine for no reasons! av xpress is primarily an advertisement magazine but we are going to gauge - if most readers prefer articles more than ads then we would beef up the contents in due course. it is a tricky balance. bear in mind that we can't be a full-fledged magazine if we were to keep it FREE forever. it would be too costly to produce a full-fledged magazine.

[questionable english]
this is definitely nit-picking as we believe our english is good, although our editing is not the best. c'mon, we are not editors by training and profession - we write because we are passionate about this hobby, not that we want to win any literary awards or nobel prize. if you think your english is better, we would gladly welcome you to be our contributor or even editor.

[too commercialized]
again, we don't call it an adzine for no reasons. this is a commercial publication and a free one, no less. we need advertisements to survive!

[cd review too sonic-centric]
no apologies here. we recommended the cds because they sound good and the music is good. because we are an audio publication, naturally the focus will be on the recording and sonic attributes.

and now, the positive ones....

[top-notch printing]
thank you very much. we pay so much attention to our printing so much so that we monitored the printing process throughout the 5 days that av xpress was being printed. there are still blemishes here and there but we are going to improve, that's our promise to you readers.

[very interesting advertorials]
to me, that's the main draw of av xpress. the advertorials are informative and affordable to most dealers. we hope to have many more of these advertorials in future issues.

some suggestions by dealers...

[to go bilingual]
yes, it is being considered at the moment. we realize that many audiophiles, especially those in ipoh and penang are chinese literate. we may start with some chinese article next issue.

[don't make it a free magazine!]
no, that's not the spirits by which av xpress is founded. we want more people to explore hifi. but asking readers to pay, we may restrict a large population of readers who are borderline audiophiles/music lovers. so we will make av xpress a free publicaton as long as our costs allow us to do so.

[don't need such quality paper]
again, we don't skimp on quality. audiophiles are a fussy lot. they demand quality. a free magazine doesn't mean it has to be substandard in printing and paper quality. we would insist on good quality paper for av xpress.

do you know that when it comes to secondhand hi-fi gear in malaysia, audio art and dong fong in ipoh are the market barometers? they practically dictate the market value of secondhand high-end gear based on market demand and supply.

undoubtedly two of the biggest and most successful secondhand dealers in malaysia, audio art and dong fong respectively garner a big following beyond perak state itself. they have customers from jb, penang & kl as well. and the amazing thing is, the two competing proprietors - ah chee from audio art and ah lin from dong fong - are the nicest people around, completely likeable and business savvy.

a case in point. when the ARC ref 3 preamp came out in late 2005, owners of Ref2MkII and LS25MkII were quick to dump their preamp and went for the upgrade. there are now three Ref3 owners in ipoh alone! over the last 12 months, the ref2MkII is still able to maintain its secondhand value in the market (which hovers around RM22-23K) but my beloved LS25MkII has plummeted to a all-time-low of RM8K in the audio art and dong fong barometer for 2nd hand gear! the simple reason being that almost 90% of the LS25MKII (except mine lah) have been dumped into the market with the owners upgraded to the supposedly vastly superior LS26.

maybe someone should devise a secondhand hign-end gear price index a la KLCI and this index should be published weekly by audio art and dong fong.

today marks the birth of av xpress, the first audio/hifi adzine in malaysia.

let's toast to boldness, creativity, self-belief and most of all, boredom, all factors responsible for its creation!

those who can't get a copy (i think rock corner will most probably have them on friday), call me at 012-2083790... if you are around PJ, i can deliver to you. how's that for passion? :-)

way to go!

av xpress' inaugural issue will hit the stores (i mean, cd stores) on thursday!

apologies for the slight delay! it is partly due to the new year break and partly our perfectionist attitude to ensure you will see only the finest print quality.

our first print is 10,000 copies and it will be delivered in stages to rock corner to cover the 3-month duration (remember that av xpress is a quarterly adzine).

i will personally deliver to all the hifi dealers. for those in singapore, i will mail them a copy followed by a personal visit in february.

thanks for the moral support!

just as i was oohing and aahing about malaysian local indie band ferns' "on botany" album, here comes another sleeper gem from the tiny dot. s'pore's leslie low has been in the indie circle for so long that he is revered as an indie god in s'pore. please google on leslie low and find out his background and his band, observatory.

this folk singer-songwriter's latest solo album, entitled "worm" is a return to his folksy roots. the music is starkly naked and comtemplative, even sad and melancholic at times but oh-so-sumptuous all the same. it is a cross between nick drake and damien rice, with more the former's influence. it is best for late-night and rainy days consumption.

this album is not for thrill-seekers or people who crave too much variety; it can be monotonous if you are impatient. don't dismiss it on first listen; it will grow on you gradually. the beauty of "worm" lies in its simplicity and the low’s ability to speak volumes with his quiet, contemplative songs.

and what's more - the recording. oh, the recording. palpable imaging and crispy finger-style guitaring makes this an audiophile's heaven. low must have invested quite a fair bit in recording and mastering. this is a beautiful recording indeed.

it has got substance and is worthy of award nominations.
sonics: 5 out of 5
music: 4 out of 5

i could never imagine malaysian indie band can play like this.

i have stopped following the indie scene for some time now. listening to ferns, it makes me excited again. you mean malaysian indie acts have progressed so much?

ferns play light-weight dream pop (or some call it space rock) with some influences from mogwai and sigur ros. brilliant arrangement to relatively complex music, ferns cooks up a thick concoction of sweet noise nicely peppered with great melodies and sunny optimism. i can't quite comprehend what the vocalist sings most of the times and whether he conveys sadness or happiness in his lyrics but ferns makes happy music to my ears.
truly, this is a great album by local standards. still, i won't say ferns have a sound of its own yet. perhaps, it may take a few albums to create a signature sound.
however if you are the old-school type of audiophile whose regular diet is emi fujita, jacintha and the like, you may approach this sort of avantgarde stuff with caution! icing on the cake is the recording is equally cool. very clean and spacious sounding. i am very impressed with the studio production of standingwave, which i heard is a studio in indonesia.
i have little doubt that this is the best local album in 2006.
sonics: 4 out of 5
music: 5 out of 5

here's my personal wish list for 2007...

  • audio research LS26 preamp
i must and i will get this by the end of 2007! it is gonna elevate my system's performance to a high that is never before imaginable! imagine having a system which already performs up to your very high expectations and elevate it further.... simply orgasmic!

  • a super-duper speaker cable to replace my still-good audioquest dbs volcano

i will still stick to copper cables [i] to maintain the silver-copper balance with my wonderful (and seriously out-of-this-world) stage III magnus silver interconnects and [ii] to maintain the robustness of my system.

  • a much more vibrant audio market in malaysia

2006 is a bad year for hifi dealers in malaysia. here is wishing more genuine buyers instead of low-ballers in 2007!

  • av xpress to have a great following and positive impact on the audio market

audio publications shouldn't be niche and alienating. everybody should be able to enjoy hifi and music!

  • desirable audio boutique to have more guest bloggers to add spice to this blog
more spicy, thought-provoking posts by different bloggers. i will start searching for new bloggers today!

As source is the soul and core of a setup, the amp to me is like the frame carrying the soul. I have came across some good ones in 2006 and anyone looking for amps owe it to yourself to audition the 2 prime examples below. Spanning from the economical 3K to the hi price 18K, these 2 amps cater to huge audiences. Who knows, you might get both, one for the main setup, and the other one for the second.

6C33CB, a tube with 3 nipples. I was made known the existence of this tube when I went to listen to a friend's full BAT a couple of years ago. My second encounter with this tube was 2 years ago when I flew HK very frequently. Back then, it was still the A incarnation and seriously, I almost bought it.

I was waiting and waiting for someone to bring it in but was faced with disappointment, and soon, the enthusiasm died. Fast forward to today, I saw it again in Aural Designs, and it is in B version now with improved extensions and increased power.

Upon first listen, it was not the SET richness and euphony that greeted me. Instead, I was blown away by its power driving a pair of Hyperion floorstanders! Playing Pink Floyd The Wall posed no issue to this little devil! Alrite, let's not get me wrong that it could rock like Naim. But being a tube guy, I know it is a milestone for SET to do such wonders!

While rocking, one would not fail to notice the amp's fluid mids and bodily presentation. No etch, no forwardness, the amp carries the natural tones of SET while not sacrificing a bit on extensions on both extreme.

Listen to the 318B, please!

OH MY GOD! This amp is a gem in today's crowded MIC tube scene. With so many MIC products at affordable prices, some might think NAF is taking a suicidal move to even make such expensive products. But hell no, MIC stuff will not be able to touch it, not even close!

I was listening happily to the 318B when Victor insisted to switch to the 845SE. With my preconception set on SET drive-ability, I was in doubt to see it drive the humongous Escalante Fremont. But since the boss is kind enough to show me the 6 times more expensive product, how could I resist?

My oh my, the 318B was like a mini compo when compared to the 845SE! Taking a more composed presentation from 318B's groovy nature, I was taken aback by the 845SE's ability to present a more bodily presentation with just a few watt more. Is this the rightness that everyone was raving about SET? I am not sure but this is surely the first that captured my heart!

The mids was so sweet and liquid. The highs had got such elegance airiness that might be the best I have heard. The bass was enough to make foundation for the rest to build upon. With such balanced frequency response, musical instruments were presented in their complete postures with fundamentals encapsulated in rich harmonics. There was this golden honey coating on the musical textures that made this amp heavenly to listen to.

Some might think tonal guy is anal, who knows, you might turn anal after listening to one!

I didn't listen much to the EDGE, but just in case you are wondering, you can listen to one in Aural Designs.