"the edge of our pants were a-flapping by the thunderous bass; our hearts pounding in unison with the pulsating drum beats; our faces were red; our bodies sweating profusely; we were gasping for breath ... the whole 1812 climaxes with orgasmic delights!"

such is the exhilarating experience of listening to ben tan's super-duper system - arguably malaysia's most high-end setup - comprising of the HUMONGOUS and GARGANTUAN krell MRA monoblock driving the jm lab grande utopia....

I never really liked listening thru headphones. I always got sweaty ears with those cupped types. And the force they exerted on the sides just made my jaw line sore. With open type, it’s so easy to get thin sound as the tiny diaphragms would need to move more air to ooze out that wee bit more of lower registers. With closed type, I always got the bloaty sound with much of the higher registers rounded off inherent to common design for not hurting the ears.

Disregard of designs, it was quite uneasy for me to swallow the fact that the soundstage would get trapped within that small area between my ears. Where’s the space and freedom of movement so paramount in making music enjoyable? Where’s the correct ingredient in making the sound full, tonally rich and balanced across the frequency response?

It happened so many times when my cousin would go overly excited to share his discoveries on the AKG K1000 while I just kept on mumbling about the importance of cables. But if he could keep on doing that for that many times we met, I am sure this was something worth checking out. I was lucky this time as he was back home during CNY and was able to show this baby to me!

Prior to this, I never even bothered checking the cans out in the web due to my resistance towards them. What I saw was beyond me as I never really expected it to look and function as intended by its designers. The diaphragms were housed in two huge metal meshed square-ish boxes which got me into thinking that they were electrostatics. Nope, they looked exactly like conventional speaker drivers on close scrutiny.

With the headband bearing the head, the earpieces were held in position by just a pair of leather-looking sponge-y bars on each side. They stayed above the ears on the temples and kept a clear 2 cm air space between the earpieces and the ears. That was the first shock!

The earpieces were actually attached to the unit by a vertical pivot which enabled them to be rotated to desired angles. Didn’t that sound like having a pair of dedicated speakers hanging by the side of your ears with the correct toe-in all the time disregard of your whereabouts?! Second shock!

The demo were done using modded Marantz CD67SE and TS Lim custom made headphone amp, linked by what I presumed to be cables from TS Lim as well. Upon firing up, I was shocked at its cohesive presentation and balanced frequency response. Can you believe such performance with such huge gaps between the earpieces and the ears? The extensions were wide, smooth and evenly distributed.

I tried some old Bob Dylan and was shocked at how it could render the drums to lifelike veracity. It told you what’s going on in the highs yet without sounding gritty, dry nor glassy. The highs were extended, airy and smooth, yet retaining the correct weight.

Although I perceived a certain dryness in the lower registers and mids, even with tube headphone amp, it was not to the extend of robbing that tonal richness from the lower registers. Kick drums were fast, lively and tangible.

The mids, though not as moist and blossom as desired, still shined thru with its honesty in delineating the lines. It has got vivid presence which carved out the vocal from being masked by complex musical passages. It was as much alike as a properly positioned setup with well projected center imaging.

Since the unit was relatively new, I dared not angle it any farther than 10 degrees away as it was still tight like a virgin. However, that was enough to enable me a glimpse of air, space and freedom of sound being projected behind my head. Weird it was, but nonetheless miles ahead of what I have heard. The details even thrashed most of the home setups I heard, but that is just being unfair!

I was sure that I placed the earpieces to their intended side and the pivots were in front, enabling the earpieces to be fired exactly like speakers towards the ears from front. Maybe further angling and orientation might get the soundstage to my liking. But long dinner prevented me from getting too indulged and opened opportunities for longer future sessions.

I am a believer now.

Just in case you didn't know.

I was shocked at the same time excited as this might be a nice stand to go with my ProAc R8S.

The bottom plates very much resemble those in Fremont's stands.

Cannot afford the real deal Fremont, buy the stand also can gua?!

I think my R8S should look nice with that added confidence in the bottom end!

Nothing HODOH (bad looking in Malay) as the name implies.

having been away from home for the last 7 days (to celebrate CNY in hometown), the first thing i did when i returned home tonight is to power on my system to check that it is still working!

after chalking a healthy 250 hours of burning in, the ARC LS26 preamp sounds like a magician with a deft wand, that has simply transformed my already-decent system into something quite beyond reproach. one friend describes it as "a system that can cause teary eyes". yet another regards it as his long-term reference system. thank you all for your compliments.

for the newbies, seasoned audiophiles or sceptics alike, i would like to offer my advice - your hardware (and its synergy with the rest of the system) merely contributes 40% to the overall sonics you can derive from your system; your cables another 20%; your electricity/power another 20% and finally, the last frontier is room acoustics (which includes speaker positioning), which contributes another 20%. which is to say, even if you have the best hardware money can buy, without good cables, good electricity and good acoustics, your highest possible sonic score is only 40%. those who disagree, check with others who have seen the light.

as i am playing in my 13' X 24' living hall, i haven't quite achieved my last frontier yet. to have a dedicated room is my next goal/dream. i can either start buying lottery now or work extremely hard for the next 10 years. i will do both!

this is a new milestone, one that is very significant in my hifi journey. i have travelled so long, so far in search of this kind of sound, my kind of sound and i have got it now with flying colours.

my kind of sound is only to play my kind of music, which is delicate acoustic ballads (simple female vocals with an acoustic guitar), classical (both large and small scale), jazz and pop/rock but not sheffield lab drum, kondo drum or sister drum, or anything that requires the equivalent of a 12" woofer driven by a 400w solid-state monster amp. my kind of sound has to have very extended highs, very liquid and emotive mids, with a certain moisture, wetness, warmth, texture and tonal colour that only a top-notch tube amp can give, and lows that is not too slammy but tactile and elastic all the same. i don't need my system to frighten small children and harmless pets. i don't need my system to play loud rock music at 100db and above with pounding bass and lightning transients. i need my system to touch my heart and soothe my frailed nerves. i need my system to be airy, palpable and superbly transparent. i want my system to be extremely lively, vivacious and communicative. as i have compromised acoustics, i don't need my system to have first-class depth and width, soundstage layering and separation, tho' these are important attributes to me nonetheless. one can't have perfection when one doesn't have a dedicated room.

and my friend, achieving all your set targets within your set budget, that is the ultimate in high fidelity.

i now welcome myself to audio nirvana!

Officially discontinued in January 2006, this is a true benchmark in headphones sound!

Heck, I do call them ear speakers if you have seen one!

If you can find one, BUY!

More to come... stay tuned!

whether you are an audiophile planning for an upgrade to your hifi, or a dealer who wishes to expand his business and bring in big names/brands to malaysia, you can't deny that you need more money!

let's hope all of us 发大财 in the year of the golden pig! 2007 promises to be a better year for audiophiles and hifi dealers alike!

wishing all readers a prosperous and healthy year ahead!

I came back home from office today and guess what greeted me?! When I saw the PS Audio envelope, I was so excited! This must definitely be it, the DVD that Paul always mentioned in the newsletter!

Oh gee, what have I done to deserve this?! I have only bought a PS Audio xStream Prelude about 3 years ago. And I told people how Paul was so sales oriented and how badly he bashed others on their products.

I got the Coal to Coltrane DVD, a products brochure and a short letter. All these straight from USA, yippie! Let me smell the air of freedom before they're gone!

I am so happy now as I am going to unwrap the DVD when I am finish with this post. Many thanks, Paul! You made my Chinese New Year!

To say I was shocked was an understatement! It was not like I was the first time being exposed to exotic cables, but this has taken me by surprise from an altogether different angle. How many times when you have changed cables, you are awed by their quietness? Every time!

But not for this cable, Honey Bee from NBS to be exact. It is totally not quiet, and that is what totally bowled me over! This is indeed the first cable that enabled me to listen into space and dimensionality, to listen into the black “quietness”. I know I sounded silly and berserk, maybe I sounded like I don't know what I am talking about. But seriously, Honey Bee lets you listen into that “quietness” that constitutes space and dimensionality.

Many cables kill noise and interference, at the same time, killing part of the music, if not all. Over quiet passages, you get nothing but total silence with other cables. Honey Bee has got the uncanny ability to convey that space in front of you. That sense of dimension, that sense of eerie quietness, like walking into a room and hearing that quiet reverberation of air.

When listening to Fang Xin Lei (芳心淚), I was able to fully appreciate this persuasive cable. The fore to aft layering was spot on with instruments taking a solid stand in their acoustical space. No matter fast or slow, there was just no confusion in the imaging quality. The presentation was of the grain-less and lifelike one. They have got the reach-out-to-touch quality and solidness!

Remember the last NBS Junior write up, that was really a super fast cable. And I thought I would still be greeted with that same killing speed. Hell no! Honey Bee was full of poise and unwavering composure. Music tracks were able to grip on the intended pace and rhythms rather than on killing speed. It has got so much control that you would not mistaken it for any lesser cable, not anything below 5K!

At this playing ground (10K), I doubt any cable would come with recessed frequency extensions. But Honey Bee really awed me with their ability to convey the full top to bottom with no hesitation, they were just magically direct and pure. Nothing resembling that bright golden yellow coloration that they came in. This does make me wonder, was the overly rich and colorful presentation from some silver cables that I liked so much the correct presentation? I cannot decide which was supposing the correct one, but Honey Bee was able to give you that "correctness" in their presentation!

When I played The Drums of Jiangzhou, I confess, I have never heard such detailed, rich, defined, visceral and vivacious bass from my setup! Microdynamic was superb as you could depict the variance in strength of hitting and the varying tightness of the drum skins. Whether fast or slow, Honey Bee's rock solid and superbly defined bass just got me so hooked! Please do not mistakenly think that the highs was lame, they were in the same league as the lower registers. With hi hats, the highs were sparkling yet un-intrusive, and cohesively formed a believable drum kit within the sound stage! Tangible and vivid!

Another quality that shocked me was how Honey Bee could depict size and height. For each and every track I played, I would not fail to spot those changes in the vocal and instrument sizes! When playing pop CDs from Janice and Fish, the changes clearly tell you that the tracks were not mixed and recorded all at the same place/mic distance/equalization. Not only this, the height of instruments was never so clearly delineated in my setup! Hey, it was not that I have not obtained proper height in my sound stage, it was just that the top to bottom horizon was never so clearly separated as the left to right pane. In short, separation was never so great!

This cable is about portraying the space and dimensionality with rock solid imaging, and the "correctness" that got me tearing within. It is all about Nothing But Signal and no nonsense filtration, and I can assure you that once hooked, you will make a beeline to get one yourself!

follow little kc's audiophilia expedition into the study of exotic insects.... watch this space!

the flying cable

the extent crazy audiophile goes to have clean and direct electricity

if there is one word to describe my progress in the last 5 days, i can choose from either one of these cliches - stupendous (again!), exhilarating, astounding, earth-shattering, OMG (oh my god), shocking, out-of-this-world, jaw-dropping and many other such superlatives. or, maybe even with all these adjectives combined, it can't come close to what i experienced tonight with little john as a guest listener. (it is 3am in the morning; little john has just left reluctantly).

getting the LS26 is only half of the story told; the tip of the iceberg if you will. what escalated the performance of my system to gargantuan proportion is the installation of a dedicated 3-phase electricity in my house.

readers of this blog would have remembered many moons ago, i bitched, complained, whined, practically made a big fuss about the constant poor quality of the electricity in my house. not even the respectable richard gray 600S can rescue this calamity. my house being located at the last chain of the terrace row, is the recipient of the most polluted electricity. as a result, my system performs erratically, especially during 7pm-10pm, the time when everyone comes back from work and utilises all sorts of electrical appliances. i have borne with this frustrating problem for as long as i could remember. many a times, i switched on the system, listened to it for 5 minutes, feel disgusted and switched it off immediately. i finally stopped sitting on my butt and actioned on it last year to rectify it once and for all. and the super efficient TNB took bloody 7 months to process my application and get it done finally, only today. and by the way, if you see the photos above, you will know that my 3-phase is done differently. i practically "fly" the cables from the pole (which TNB planted) infront of my house, directly into my switch board. it takes the word "dedicated supply" to a new level!

big deal, i hear you say. many houses have 3-phase what. hey, you haven't heard my system tonight. little john was practically sitting still all night long (all 3 hours) listening to the inhaling and exhaling and superb vocal gymnastics of le mon (HK audiophile singer) and the exquisite cai qin signing her lao ge. he was completely speechless and mesmerised, lost for words. for a moment, i thought he was exorcised, or demonised. it was a magical night/morning.

the sound has acquired an eerie sense of quietness (far beyond what the richard gray can do); the soundstage goes deep, deep, deep; the highs get to a stratospheric level never before attained; the midband becomes pristine, crystalline and spooky; the black becomes blacker; the air and ambience become thicker....give me all the superlatives please, please, please.

if ever there was a milestone achievement in my 20 years in hifi, this is it.

i fucking can't sleep now :-)

postscript: the morning after
i woke up at 9am and played my system again. the sound is still great! i suppose for last night's stupendous performance to repeat, i will have to play after midnight where the electricity is the purest/cleanest, 3-phase notwithstanding. i am bracing myself for many night of aural orgasms to follow. oohh...aahh....ooh...ahh... stay tuned :-)