i am getting ahead of myself actually, but i intend to change the USA-A4 size of av xpress into a tabloid format like the edge (financial) magazine.

i am waiting for quotation from my printer on this new format, and i have a positive feeling that it is going to be slightly cheaper than USA-A4 size due to less pagination.

it is going to be cool to have a tabloid like format for an audio publication, at least no one has done it. i am not talking about pullout like the sun's perfect pitch or the star's audiofile.

another great thing about making it a free magazine is that we would have no pressure on the contents, or even on the standards of english. one of my writers hates to write in journalistic english because he thinks it is too boring!

but my only concern is distribution, as i have to distribute them manually like what i did for first issue, which can be very tiring. vishal, the largest magazine distributor in malaysia, has done a great job with this issue. most dealers told me that they can find the magazine in many indian newsagents nationwide.

i may appoint a runner to do the distribution for me.

anyway, i have spoken to a couple of dealers and they are quite open about my change of format, as long as the magazine can influence the market and people want to read it, that's their biggest concern.

i am going to announce it to the rest of the dealers once i am firm on this.

too much pressure, too little help forthcoming, too niche market, too little appreciation, the need to survive..... these are the many reasons for the revamp of av xpress.

i initially conceived av xpress to be nothing more than a free adzine, then i got ambitious and decided to turn it into a commercial magazine, which turned out to be such a burden on my shoulder. truth is, working solo, part-time mode no less, i just can't handle a magazine!

first, there are just not enough good writers around. soliciting for articles is as good as begging. bear in mind that all my contributors have full-time jobs and writing to them is just a hobby - they write only when they have time. for me, i need commitment! i can't afford to have contributors who write for fun. i have a certain quota of pages to fill every issue.

second, the hifi market is not great. soliciting for ads is not easy, especially when you have a conscience that you can't guarantee that by placing an ad, sales would come. i don't like BS. i want to give value to my advertisers. many dealers are still sitting on the fence due to the fact that we are a new magazine and we have no track record. it's ok, we can understand that.

third, printing cost for a magazine is exorbitant! almost 80% of my ad revenue goes to printing. it just does not make sense to me that i work so hard so 3 months and all my earnings go to paying the printer. what kind of warped logic is that?

fourth, many of you are not even willing to pay RM3! i don't know what to say about this except to shake my head and sigh.

so, i have decided to change it to a "express news" format, which means:
1) free for all, available at all the usual record and hifi outlets nationwide
2) limited pages ( < 20 pages) with limited ads, which focuses heavily on new product info and industry update - everything about malaysian hifi scene. still no reviews, no BS
3) monthly publication, so no more complaints about the long wait

truth be told, when i first thought of the name "av xpress", i wanted it to be an express news bulletin that brings the latest news on a frequent basis. at least the new format does justice to the name. just look at it as the "media focus" (popular adzine circulated in damansara and kepong area) for hifi, only much more classy in presentation and printing quality.

the next issue is to be launched end of july, before the KLIAV show!

the last dcs 3-piece-combo (can't remember the name, i think it was verdi+elgar+purcell) i heard strikes me as being overwhelming detailed to the extent of being analytical, has great soundstaging and ambience. but the down side of it is it comes across slightly cold and lean, and the looks of the combo is very pro studio, which is not to everyone's liking.

things are going to change with the new scarlatti combo. not only does it look great, it is fuller sounding and definitely more musical, that's what we heard.

let's see who's the first lucky (and rich) malaysian to own it!

to coincide with roger's visit to kl next week, we have planned a rehearsal among the trio on friday next week, mainly to allow roger to a have feel of the songs and have a first-hand experience playing guitar along with the two singers.

at the same time, i have compiled a cd for everyone involved in the project, comprising of all the songs we have selected. as i played back the cd on my car stereo, some songs touch me more than the others, with some really tug my heartstrings and let me sink deeply into the sweet melodies. truly, it is going to be an once-in-a-lifetime experience listening to how these two talented singers breathe new life into these classic songs.

i have told roger to be particular about maintaining the sweet melodies, while introducing some clever improvisations into the arrangement. the beauty of chinese pop music is in the beguiling melody and melody is the essence of every good chinese song.

we have code-named the project "2V1G". it doesn't take a genius to decode it :-)

two suprises are in store for double take's gig next week:
1) jamie wilson may be jamming with roger on one of these nights, you just have to find out which night!
2) and you get to meet me and my two singers, winnie and regine!

Date : 27th, 28th, 29th and 30th June 2007
Venue : Flo Lobby Lounge, Hotel Equatorial KL
Time : 9.30pm
Cover : RM50nett (inclusive of 1st drink)
For reservations, please call 03-2161 7777 ext 8224

tonight we begin the process of songs selection. this is important because we want to get the clearance/licence from respective recording labels. royalty fee can vary from very affordable to very expensive depending on the popularity of a song. we are keeping our fingers crossed because most of the songs we choose are classics of the classics. to be fair to the singers, we formed a panel of six people, including regine and winnie and we vote for the songs we like most. it turned out that more than 70% of the songs i pre-selected for the two singers 2 months ago got the highest votes! well, ahem, my tastes are indisputable :-)

we then proceed to do a simple demo of the songs. this is the first time i hear winnie and regine sing in unplugged mode and my goodness, they voices are heavenly! especially winnie, i am so used to hear her sing with less-than-stellar amplification system in the cafe. hearing her in unplugged, unadulterated mode is a worth a million dollar. her tone is so gorgeous and her expressive voice comes thru like a nightingale. huh, i was darn impressed with these two ladies. i could feel that my goose bumps were all raised....i am moved by their voices! while winnie has the depth, the texture and expressiveness, regine has in her a very sweet and demure voice, the kind that melts hearts. the amazing thing is these two different voices have very good contrast when doing duets with each one shining on her own without over-shadowing the other. i really can't wait to hear them sing in the studio during the recording!

once the cleareance/licence is obtained, we would then send the songs to roger wang for arrangement. it will be a real challenge for roger to re-arrrange these chinese classics into the trademark roger wang style. everyone is excited to see how roger can weave some magic into the arrangement.

things are getting really exciting!

venue: my house in BU
date: 9th june 2007, saturday
time: 2:00-4:30pm
attendees: kam leong (jin liang) the chief producer, roger wang the guitarist cum music arrannger, winnie ho the singer and me the executive producer

main agenda:
(1) how are we going to record the album (techniques and approach)
(2) how is the music arrangement going to be handled
(3) schedule and logistics

How long have I been not writing? 3 months? I am not sure as I was living a soulless life like a walking zombie! My audiophile friends know this, and noticed my lack of enthusiast towards life. How far can a fallen audiophile try to get good sound? Those who know can just say, PATHETIC! Anyway, that would be part of a series which I would share later, the insights to how I come to the decision of having this new combo in SG.

Eugene is a genuine dealer, never pushy and imposing. Gee, Eugene and genuine does rhyme! I came to know him because of Stealth Audio Cables, and I ended up being one of the first, if not the first, to buy Stealth in MY. Since the start of his business, he has been carrying Bladelius and Marten Design, 2 of the 5 brands in what better known as Swedish Statement now.

I do drop by the shop on and off to “blow water”. I would sometimes listen to stuff represented by Eugene, but he was never insisting in promoting his stuff. I guess he would rather let you discover for yourself than to tell you what to buy. Hence, I was never aware of the gem I ended up getting in front of me all this while. I could only briefly remember asking Leslie to go listen to Thor as I found it to be full of potential. Since I was not looking for a second love back then, it passed me by. It was an early sign, nonetheless.

I admit, I am anal about ARC tube sound, proudly claiming my fixation over them to anyone. I have to stress ARC over here as people could relate to tube sound, but they were lost when I stress about the wide extensions and high resolution traits I wanted. Am I lost or confused, as tube sound is euphonic and mid centric? Not that after I put ARC in the picture. They are the different tube company, exploiting the full potential of tube’s organic and grainless presentation, while giving you the resolution and extensions of solid state. I am not saying the traits are exclusive to the said implementations, but certain traits are easier to attain in the respective tube or solid state implementations.

Hey, have I just wrapped up the traits of Thor? It is indeed organic, grainless, hi resolution and it gives great extensions! But NO, it is more than that! It is a shame I could only relate what I heard 2 years back now. You know what my feeling and shock were the moment I heard this babe in an unassuming whitish (sorry for my over fixation over ARC) grey outfit?


A solid state amp that could sweep the feet off the floor, feet of tube lovers, mind you!

I have heard serious stuff, serious stuff that were seriously setup, representing the best in their own rights! But you need that moment, that blink moment that tells you “this is it!” You know it when you hear it! And I got it with a few brands and ended up buying them, of course only if my wallet allows.

For something over the price tag of SGD 6400, it should be high resolution and giving great extensions. For something this price, it better be, coz forking out 6K is not anyone would do on a daily basis. But what is so special about this when any other 6K stuff is able to give high resolution and great extensions? I found part of the answers the moment Cindy unpacked and put the Thor to play. Organic and grainless, for something that is fresh out of box!

Fast forward to 2 weeks later, I discovered even more on the better run-in Thor! Has it ever occurred to you that a great performer, a great teacher, or a great component for our context, would silent the audiences when they started doing their stuff?! The moment I hit play, I was floored; it has the magic of silencing my doubt, shutting down all my auxiliary senses, heightening my mental awareness by letting me taking in the best of what is playing at the moment! This is the BLINK moment; the moment you know THIS IS IT!

This amp is special, although it is a solid state amp, I could have mistaken it for tube if it wasn’t for its ample power and clean, taut and defined bass. The highs really captivated me, they were substantial and rich. They shimmer with silky smooth delicacy and slowly dithered in thin air in an elegant manner. It is a trait easier to attain from Maggies driven by ARC Classic series power amp, my ProAc and lower powered ARC Classic 60 can do so albeit at lesser weight. Yes, I heard you regress yours is smooth also, but I don’t think yours is vivacious and colorful! Muahahaha, call me proud!

I ain’t no bass freak and having been living with bookshelves for so long, I would not be the person to turn to if you want to know better about bass. Nonetheless, I have heard how this little gem handled huge Charios and JM Labs. Hold on, there is something that makes this gem standing out against the rest! The way this amp handled power is in such composed and gentlemanly manner. Many people argued with loud voices at virtually shouting level, this gem is likened to a well learnt gentleman, putting forth good sense of wisdom and rationale, sending the rest to shame! In other words, power is put to good use only when asked for, in kung fu, we call this “yin” power!

Wait wait wait, do you think it’s easy to impress tube heads without the mid being put to test?! To fork out 6K for a tube amp make perfect sense for tube heads, but for a tube head to fork out 6K on a solid state make a solid case on how good this gem is! Many solid state amps worth its salt are able to give that refined, smooth, delicate and grainless vocals. But Thor tops them up with the right amount of bloom, moist and liquidity that makes vocal so emotional and full of expressions! Top flight MBL coupled with flying as high YG Acoustics is able to do so also, but they play at the state of the art league!

I am getting mine coming July, when are you getting yours?!

this one is the UMS (university malaysia sabah) studio, costing multi of millions, with state-of-art analogue console and pro studio facility....

the studio has a SSL 4056G8 series mixing console. its a custom hand build console from UK. its huge and cost RM1.3 million. SSL is a very popular analogue console and at one time in the 80s and 90s it was said that the majority of hits in the chart were recorded on an SSL. they also have a very good collection of microphones and a Pro Tools HD system. the studio was completed about 3 years ago and unfortunately, like most government projects, it has been under utilized. Its is meant for education and internal use...

the handsome chap in the picture is none other than our guitarist, mr. roger wang.

local LS3/5a guru joseph ki, like me, is full of admiration for american bernie grundman as a mastering guru. in fact, jo thinks that bernie is the best of the lot, besting even doug sax of the mastering lab.

i called bernie grundman just now to ask about his rate. and he told me that it is going to cost USD2,600 (RM9,100) for 10 songs. expensive, but not exorbitant. our budget is already bursting at the seams, just how could we afford a mastering project that costs RM10,000, more than double of that asked by hong kong mastering guru, keith yip? we seriously need to crunch some numbers. i am very game cos bernie grundman is both a brand name and a credibility pull. i want to look for more investors.

budget constraint also prevents us from making two albums at one go (one for regine, one for winnie). jin liang suggested to have both the singers in one album, sharing half of the 12 songs. after some serious thinking, i don't think it is a good idea. first, it might lose focus and blur the image of both the singers. it also invites unhealthy comparison and competition. second, the singers themselves may not like it (we haven't consulted regine and winnie yet). we really have to think carefully about our strategy.

roger wang will be coming to town this weekend to perform at bangkok jazz and we are riding on the opportunity to call our first meeting among the producers, musicians and singers this saturday afternoon. apart from saying hi to each other, we would brainstorm on all aspects of the project.

also to set expectations, the whole team is coming to my house to listen to some recordings played thru my system. in particular, we want roger to compare his own recordings (double take albums) with some outstanding recordings in my collection, to identify weaknesses and shortcomings.

to add more spice to my weekend, i am entering the studio to witness guitar supremo jamie wilson (another guitarist we engage for our project) doing his guitar recording for an unrelated album.


Eh, a giant killer?

apologies for my constant fixation on chinese-language albums, instead of english-language ones. you are welcome to recommend to us good english-language cds that you have come across lately, especially those with interesting music and good recording. readers should know by now that i am foremost a music lover who happens to be an audiophile. i seldom listen to audiophile-approved cds like those from labels like stockfishe (spelling), FIM, premium etc etc. and i absolutely hate test cds :-)

if you have read my recommended cd in av xpress inaugural issue, you would have known who cheer chen is by now.

i have said it many times in this blog - that taiwanese recording engineers are world-class and many albums i bought in the last two years boast of first-class recording. it is clear to me that many taiwanese musicians and recording engineers are definitely audiophiles and they are willing to engage the best people in the industry to do recording and mastering for them. cheer's album in my review last time was mastered by the mastering legend doug sax from the mastering lab. for this live album, they have now engaged bernie grundman, the grammy award-winning mastering guru from USA. and he has done a wonderful job.

i tell you, this live concert is gorgeously captured. plenty of air, deep and wide stage, excellent ambience and crystal clear voice from cheer chen. i would even rate it higher than live recordings from james blunt and jacky cheung's charity concert (2005), two of my favourite live recordings in recent years.

if you love cheer's music like i do, then you can't afford to miss this album. if you like chinese music and haven't listened to cheer chen yet, then this is the perfect way to get into her music. her live performance is flawless. what's more, the recording is sumptuous as well.

what a bliss.