i read that visitors to this year's CES were all stricken by one stark realization - that today's high-end is losing its perspective with regard to pricing. when you call an item with a price tag of USD10,000 as "mid-priced", you know the manufacturer has completely lost touch with reality. i mean, RM40,000 can almost get you a MyVi and for some mid-level executives, it is equivalent to their annual salary.

while there are enough budget gear to entice the newbies, it’s the gear in the middle, the gear that those budding audiophiles will aspire to move up to when they’ve outgrown the entry-level stuff that got them hooked to begin with, that’s sadly in short supply. incidentally, mr. ling's of tong lee has echoed this sentiment to me last week, that's why he is bringing in more mid-fi stuff to his shop.

back to the subject, with rising material and labour costs in the US and other european countries, which manufacturer really has the know-how, capacity and ability to cater to this critical segment of the market? china? not really. you will be shocked at how they price shanling these days. not all MIC stuff are cheap!

i feel that to do mid-fi stuff successfully, you need a radical approach that is going to change the paradigm of how mid-fi is being engineered and manufactured. i think you know what i am thinking, you smart readers.

who's in better position than steve job and co? who has better credentials and capacity to revolutionize this (mid-fi) other than apple computers?

if apple were to take up this challenge then we audiophiles are promised a bright future. i could envision music servers that have superb UI (user interface) much like iPhone - one could flip the virtual album covers when selecting songs; one could, by using fingers' movement, enlarge and reduce the album cover, rotate the viewing angle , and many other cool features that's unheard of in traditional two-channel audio.

the price would be less than RM5K. executives or fresh graduates aged 22 and above could save up two months' salaries and afford it. they may not even need to buy expensive interconnects or speaker cables, or power conditioners. and what's most importantly is - the sound is truly mid-fi!

all these are not make-belief or fantasy. with apple's track record and its "mover and shaker" reputation, this vision is palpably real.

the only question left is, of course, whether apple sees money in the hifi industry.

I always feel like somebody's watching me
And I have no privacy, whoa-oa-oa
I always feel like somebody's watching me
Tell me, is it just a dream
I always feel like somebody's watching me
And I have no privacy, whoa-oa-oa
I always feel like somebody's watching me
Who's playing tricks on me?

hands up those who remember this song, "somebody watching me" by 80s' singer rockwell? it was such a hit, wasn't it?

seriously, somebody is watching me.

i am not sure whether to feel flattered or worried, as some of the dealers who shunned me in the past, have started taking a look at my blog. some of their customers are also checking if i write defamatory remarks about the dealers.

i am so scared.

now they are reading ;-)

CRL's Audition Policy

Listen before you buy. We'll gladly send you demo cables in our standard length to experience with your home audio system.

* Audition for up to 14 days
* Return cables by the return due date
* You pay a 10% deposit of the product's price
* Deposit charged to your credit card
* Returning borrowers pay a 5% deposit

It's your choice. We'll either refund your deposit or deduct the full amount of your deposit from your future purchase. Borrower pays for all UPS shipping expenses. Sorry, we can only make this offer to U.S. residents. Contact us to order demo cables.

CRL's Upgrade Policy

You may exchange your interconnects or speaker cables within 12 months and upgrade to the next level. Copper Series owners can trade-up to the Silver Series or Gold Series. Silver Series owners can trade-up to the Gold Series. Simply contact us to arrange for an upgrade.

Once we receive your returned cables, in their original condition, we'll apply 100% of your previous purchase price towards your choice of higher priced cables of equal length or longer. Buyer pays for all UPS shipping expenses. Policy excludes power cords.

CRL (cable research lab), a cable manufacturer from US, is offering audiophiles the ability to audition their products and upgrade their existing CRL cables through the above mentioned two new policies.

tell me if i am hallucinating. is this a marketing gimmick (to hard-sell the products and outdo the competitors) or a sincere gesture on the part of the manufacturer? also tell me if these policies can work in the malaysian context.

and i will use all my charm to persuade my dealers to offer the same service to you all ;-)

[click to enlarge]

when it comes to mini monitors that can kick ass, there are only a couple of names in my mind - acoustic energy, totem and platinum (by phil jones, who is now with AAD or has he left too?). sadly, all these happened in the 80-90s, today's mini monitors are more homogenized (and character-less, so to speak) as they have to be a complete offering - beguiling midrange, stratospheric highs and kick-ass bass.

but some manufacturers like AE believes that an old formula given a new treatment would still be relevant and be able to entice the new generation of audiophiles. when the AE1 stopped its production in the late 90s, many mourned its demise. time may move on but the classic principles that made AE1 such a hot property in the 1990s don't change overnight. here comes AE1 classic!

the original AE1 was revolutionary in that it was the first professional monitor to use a ceramic sandwich aluminium cone, the first to increase power handling by using the cone as a heat-sink, the first to incorporate a metal dome tweeter, and the first to demonstrate to the world that even a mini monitor can seriously kick-ass.

AE1 driver is known to offer generous power handling and suffers minimal compression. AE1 is also famous for its composite-lined cabinet rigidity. have your had the experience to carry the AE1 by hands? ;-)

all these and more are retained in the new AE1 classic.

AE has decided to bring back its long-time classic, are you ready to bring back your memories of the most powerful nearfield monitor in the 90s?

to find out, visit hi-way laser in ss2:

11A, JALAN SS2/75,
+6019.281.3399 (kenny sin)
http://www.hiwaylaser.com (map inside)

master ken suggested to use double dosage of mpingo disc on my curtain - by sticking one on top of the edge of the other using bluetak and the result is very drastic - even more concentrated vocalist's mouth, a warmer and more analogue sound but at the expense of some airiness in the highs.

while i like the fact that i get much more focus on the mouth, i am not quite sure if i like a slight loss of air in the high-end.

this SM thing is dangerous, don't pray pray ;-)

marten bird - a star performer that can fly high

issue 229 of taiwan's audio art magazine gives a resounding rave to marten bird, rewarding it with a sonic score of 99/100. trust me, the is definitely not reviewer's hyperbole.

indeed, i could share the excitement with the reviewer, having listened to martin miles twice during the CNY.

enjoying great success worldwide, even in malaysia and singapore, marten, now without the word "design" (i.e. no longer called marten design) builds the bird by building upon experience directly derived from the award winning coltrane and coltrane supreme. the materials and components employed in the bird stretch from traditional high gloss veneer on bird’s 26mm MDF cabinet, to the newly developed ceramic midrange, the ceramic woofer drivers and the ultra modern diamond tweeter.

to me, marten's signature sound is unmistakable - lively, explosive, ultra faithful and plenty of details, details and details. if you are looking for the warmth and thickness of ATC, please look elsewhere. marten's sound is modern and shockingly direct.

of particular interest to me is how the reviewer mentioned the details in the backstage of the soundstage where a lot of speakers fail to reveal but in the case of marten bird, there are just so much more sonic cues and finer details in backstage that lend realism to the whole musical soundscape. i fully concur with the reviewer as this is my experience with the lower-ranked marten miles as well.

the coolest statement from the review is in the ending segment where the reviewer coined the phrase - "heaven is in the details".

[local dealers]
KL - audiomatic (012-3222698)
IPOH - audio art (012-5201066)

note: the only pair of marten bird in malaysia is sold to an audiophile in kampar, perak.

balanced neutrality (BN), a revered name in the cut-throat hifi business, is going to launch their GE2008 reference mono power tube amp next month, said to be the most controversial product in the history of the company as it uses a specially made output transformer that would eliminate corrupted power supply as in the past.

2007 has not been a good year for BN. two of their premier products, the ATAN MONGOL Reference 3 preamp (designed and engineered by its deputy designer, najee) and the LINGAM stereo power amp both didn't fair very well with the reviewers, with some calling it a "total disgrace" to such a reputable brand. worldwide sales tumbled and chief designer and founder, andrew andy bladedius (AAB) is said to have been instructed by the shareholders to "make or break" with the new GE2008 reference mono. obviously, AAB's head is on the chopping board if GE2008 fails to bring in the sales.

traditionally, the strength of BN products has always been its balanced power supply , allowing a fair and just distribution of power through what AAB called the NEP (New Equal Power) technology first initiated by its predecessor. but poor and substandard materials used in the output transformer has resulted in badly corrupted power supply that has resulted in mediocre sound that subsequently tarnished BN's reputation as a premier manufacturer of hi-end hifi.

connecting the 50kg behemoth GE2008 is not straight-forward as you may need to use some grease to lubricate the amp's output taps which is very tight to unscrew - 4 ohm, 8 ohm, 16 ohm depending on your speaker's impedance. once the grease is applied, eveything is smooth as a breeze, which is typical of BN's gear in the past.

sound-wise the 200-watter GE2008 is loud but ultimately lacking true power and finesse. it is like an empty vessel that makes the most noise. the noise floor is not clean and imaging is blur, blur and blur. but soundstaging is impressive, indicating the kind of investment BN dumped into the GE2008 to create a 3-Dimensional stage that is truly panaromic and breath-taking. but detractors could argue that this kind of gigantic soundstage can be a tad artificial and larger-than-life.

in short, i am far from impressed as the GE2008's sound is, at best, compromised due to the uneven mixture of gold, silver and copper wirings inside the amp. the 60% gold is said to create a dense but very lazy sound, while the 25% silver gives agile bass and great highs but just not enough of percentage, whereas the 15% copper composition is robust-sounding but insignificant to give its own signature sound.

as i write this review, fierce competitor, dynamic active power (DAP), is also planning to release it own version of GE2008 ref mono, giving BN a run of its money. DAP's implementation is vastly different from BN's in terms of transformer topology. DAP's advocates regenerative power supply (ROCKET) to give a clean and corruption-free supply to the 8 units of 2020 power tubes. pundits think it is the best time for DAP to snatch back the pie from BN.

in conclusion, BN's GE2008 is only an empty promise. it is glamorous but ultimately unfulfilling sonically. we at desirable audio predict the downfall of AAB as the chief designer.

opera consonance cyber-211 mono amp

opera consonance cyber-100s signature 300b amp

mr. ling of tong lee, located at plaze low yat, is one who believes that hifi shouldn't be an expensive hobby. he feels that the market lacks mid-end products, or mid-hi as we call it, the kind with price below RM5K.

to fill the vacuum, ling brings in many affordable brands that are high in value but low in cost and great in sound. brands like ASL (antique sound lab, the one whose "hurricane" model that sold like hotcakes after HP's endorsed it), project turntable, soundstage tube amp (starting from RM999!), opera consonance, CEC cdp are gear that won't dig a hole into your pocket. as a result, tong lee is supported by many frugal but discerning audiophiles. of course, ling's and jenny's (ling's wife) down-to-earth approach to the business has a lot to do with tong lee's success and longevity in the business.

ling is particular proud of the opera consonance range of amplication and cd player. (remember the droplet cd player that looks so sexy and desirable?) opera audio from china has been manufacturing tube amplifiers for 14 years now. opera's philosophy for hifi is "simple, human", which refers to the revelation of the original spirit and artistic content of music.

featured here are two of tong lee's bestsellers - the cyber-211 single-ended class A mono power amplifier and the cyber-100S signature 300B power amp. the cyber 211 in particular has won the 2007 Blue Moon Award in 6moons.com.

it is true that when it comes to tube amps from china, audiophiles are spoilt for choice but judging from the worldwide recognition for the brand, opera consonance is definitely no pushover.

if you were looking for a single-ended amp, or for that matter, any mid-range product, a visit to tong lee is called for.

also, i can't tell you enough just how nice and friendly jenny is. she is the kind who can remember your name forever once you step into her shop.

oh, tong lee is also the dealer for shun mook, conrad johhson and transparent cables and power conditioners.

Manager: Ling Wen Ang (012-5202988)
G19 &21, Ground Floor,
Plaza Low Yat
Off jalan Bukit Bintang
55100 KL
Tel: 03-21414366

hifi+, a truly "honest" magazine

i can't remember when but i have stopped reading hifi reviews altogether, except for the occasional reference check where i need to do research on my upgrade. even then, i only read from reputable reviewers, and i can count all of them within my 5 fingers.

i still buy hifi magazines, namely taiwan's audio art (for their audio pornography, i mean the sensuous photography) and america's TAS (for RH and HP, and to a small extent, jonathan valin) but my interest is mainly on their think pieces, i mean those intellectually simulating articles on topics like market trends, new technology, breakthru state-of-the-art products etc etc.

i frown everytime i read cliche statements or raves like "a reference product if ever there was one", "the best for under USDX grand", "standard by which audio components must be judged". i am not doubting the reviewer's honesty but i just feel that they are seriously short of vocabulary. i remember those days of harry pearson (reminiscing again, we old folks), he who single-handedly created new vocab for hifi reviewing. words like "chocolatety", "whitish grain", "gestalt", "yin and yang" are irresistably sexy, fun and accurate at the same time to describe sonics attributes.

i think it is very hard for new-generation reviewers to gain the fame like HP, RH, JA (john atkinson), MC (martin colloms), RG (roy gregory) and KK (ken kesslers) in the past. there is just too much BS going on in the hifi publication biz that reviews are no longer trustworhty and reliable.

more importantly, once an audiophile reaches a certain maturity, he doesn't need reviews to decide or validate his next purchase. a great review serves merely to reaffirm his wise decision.

roger wang - the outstanding young person of sabah award

first of all, belated congrats to our guitar man, roger wang. the junior chamber international kota kinabalu named roger wang "the outstanding young person of sabah" (TOYPS) for the cultural & artistic achievement category at a grand gala dinner on September 9, 2007.

TOYPS is a prestigious award organised by the JCI to recognise young Sabahan and Malaysian individuals in Sabah who have dedicated themselves to the progress or welfare of the community at large. These individuals have excelled in their field of profession, practice and endeavour and while some are known by the public, others have worked in obscurity making them unsung heroes of their field.

2V1G recording resumes today, after many intermittent breaks. there were times when i felt my passion for this project has dwindled somewhat due to the long delay (it was expected to be out this month, even roger's official website has made that announcement!).

but it isn't the case when i stepped into the recording studio again to lend support to winnie ho, who is doing her solo today. singing her signature and award-winning song, coming home (hui jia), the highly emotive tune, coupled with winnie's great voice and roger's excellent guitar, manage once again to induce some goose bumps in me. yes, it is the same passion that got us started on this project. it is always there; it would never diminish. the project has started well and it must end well.

the grapevine is already abuzz with news that there is a new album coming out from regine tai and winnie ho. well, it won't move the earth but for those who really care about good music, this album is definitely worth waiting for.

one of the best selling cantopop albums in the history - "the origins of love" - being remade, re-arranged and re-recorded by the original singer no less. bulging tummy notwithstanding, is alan tam as good as 20 years ago? is the recording worth shouting about?

as usual, you will be the first lucky one in malaysia to find out in this blog in two weeks' time ;-)

a reader left the following comment on the post on shun mook:

How can one be sure how big a vocalist's mouth should be? It cannot be that it always has to be 50sen big right? Because I would think it would depend on how the recording was made. If a system always portray a vocalist mouth as 50sen size, is that not colouration/distortion already?

i guess by now a lot of our caucasian readers would be puzzled as to why we asian audiophiles are fixated on the vocalist's mouth.

asian audiophiles place a lot of emphasis in the palpability department - they want to "see" the singer. the vocalist's mouth, is therefore a manifestation of palpability and presence. we are no longer arguing on whether it is true to source, because asian audiophiles believe that hifi should have the illusionary artifact that fools the listeners into believing the singer is really there, standing and singing for them, never mind if in the first place the singer is singing in the studio. asian audiophiles derive plenty of fun in tweaking the vocalist's mouth!

you are right, not all the time you can get a 50 sen's size. in fact, sometimes, the vocalist can be slightly in front or slight in the back, depending on the recording. the 50 sen is only a general guideline that applies in 80% of the cases.

some asian audiophiles (including some "sifu" that i know) can go to the extreme in tweaking the vocalist's mouth until it becomes so pin-point that it protrudes in a 3-dimensional sense. this normally requires the application of cones (underneath the cd player, preamp). i personally don't go to this extreme as i don't like cones as they will thin the tone and upset my tonal balance.

my preferred vocalist's mouth is slightly natural/fuzzy in outline but still, it is very palpable and no bigger than a 50 sen coin in size.

here's the final verdict... let's make this a teaser :-)

for more details, please read this issue's av xpress ;-) the article will delve on the strengths and weaknesses of richard gray, shunyata hrdra and the ppp.

coming in 2 weeks' time, i am bracing myself for another stormy and sweat-inducing shoot-out....

is kubala-sosna worth the accolades?

i have been thinking long and hard on how to install a very effective spotlighting system in my hifi hall, one that can spotlight the stage and enhance the vocalist's presence. after seeing how some of my friends implemented their own spotlighting system, i wasn't quite impressed. instead, i came up with my own implementation and i have ikea to thank for providing a wonderful range of spotlights.

look at my centre stage! with the standing wall light, it mimics the microphone stand and it illuminates the all-important vocalist's mouth with a halo effect.

the other two spotlights are meant to lit up the left and right spots just behind my maggie.

the overall effect is stunning, especially at night time. spooky realism!

this is psychoacoustics at its best :-)

roger wang is anxious about our out-of-this-world (gross exaggeration, actually) audiophile album. i told him that it has been delayed for 3 months due to some complex circumstances but we should be ready in may 2008. so readers who are interested, thanks for your patience.

at the same time, our guitar man recommends me to listen to gina panizales' debut album "finally" which is recorded, mixed and mastered by him. owners of double take's debut album should know how great an engineer roger is. roger is impressed with gina's voice. "very powerful", he asserted.

i am asking him to send me a complimentary copy so that i could review it.

extract from all dat jazz (www.alldatjazz.com)

Gina Panizales, Born and raised in Iloilo City, Philippines, her parents suggested a career for her far removed from singing that of an accountant. Gina took a degree in Commerce major in Accounting, took an administrative job in an office, but eventually found her naturally gifted voice leading her to do part time singing. It didn't take long before she knew it was her calling and joined a band leaving for Malaysia. Then there was no turning back.

She first performed in Kuala Lumpur, then Hong Kong, Singapore, Jakarta and has traveled to South America, Australia, UK, Turkey both to perform and watch other concerts/performances. One of her cherished moments was performing live at the Cotton Club in New York (a famous Jazz club since the 1930s that still exists in Harlem) with a 16-piece swing band.

[click to enlarge]

the last few posts have been heavy going, let's chill and grin to our cartoonist's latest poke on audiophiles....

presenting the very sexy black-fascia ppp.... finally making its debut in this blog after so much NATO (no action, talk only).

i may be the first one in malaysia who knows how to use the ppp correctly. why i say so? not many users know that ppp is catered to 230v and to set it to an output voltage of 240v, you need to adjust the trimpot hidden underneath the ppp! (note: it is not documented in the manual!) even the local dealer (A&L) is not aware of that! i found out this after a speedy email communication with paul mcgowan. the difference between feeding 230v VS 240v to your equipment is day and night. 230v sounds lethargic whereas 240v is full of life! i wonder how many users in malaysia have been eluded by this. another good deed from me! i am going to ask atven (A&L's boss) to buy me lunch tomorrow ;-)

first impression - after 5 hours of breaking-in, the ppp has the edge in energy, boldness (in the typical american fashion), scale, quietness and cleanness but on the down side, it is tonally bland, a bit too sober, less sexy and rather anti-septic in presentation, compared to the tonally rich, sexy and colorful shunyata hydra. i will let it cook for 50 hours before any serious listening...

in the next 2 weeks, i am going to try the following permutations:

[1] stand-alone ppp
[2] shunyata hydra front-end; ppp back-end
[3] ppp front-end; shunyata hydra back-end

this promises to be the battle of the century! this kind of earth-shattering, life-altering battle is what makes hifi so fun and addictive!

stay closely tuned!

previously, i have my reasons not to loan the premier power plant (ppp) from the dealer. please forgive my reluctance to try on the ppp and for owing you a review on it.

the electricity was bad for the whole day yesterday. even at 1 am in the morning, i couldn't get back my sound. with much deliberation and frustration, i have no choice but to bite the bullet and bring back one ppp to see if it can solve my power problem once and for all.

ladies and gentlemen, please await the finale of my power struggle. we will settle once and for all the issue of whether ps audio audio can solve the perennial problem of bad electricity in malaysia, an area where richard gray and shunyata hydra have no answer to.

the great mystery is soon to be unveiled.

guan tan, kk, me and master ken

today was a gloomy day for master ken and i. we are the hosts for two returning malaysian audiophiles from HK.

four of us met up for CNY lunch in 1-utama, followed by two separate listening sessions. what was expected to be a great aural session turned out to be grossly disappointing one as TNB (local power company) was acting up again. murphy's law strikes at the most inappropriate time. the electricity was awful this afternoon.

as a host, i normally don't pay much attention to the music as i handle the job of selecting which cds to play. but facial expressions from my guests from HK told me that they were not impressed at all. in fact, i started to sense something amiss when my guest played the "jazz at the pawnshop" cd. as you know, this is a very analogue sounding cd. but in my system today, it sounded awfully digital. my two guests were too polite to comment on my system so they chose to remain silent. i took over the listening spot, moments before they started to leave, and my god! the sound was thin and shrilly. it happens to me again and again, every time i conduct demo to my guests. the vagaries of electricity, sigh!

so there you go, demo blues that dent the ego of the host. i was baffled as to why TNB's supply was bad this afternoon. perhaps a lot of people have not started work and stayed at home?

we left for master ken's house. lightning strikes twice on the same day. his sound was equally pathetic - thin and hollow. i was too embarrassed to even hint to ken. i switched to reading the newspapers. ken looked apologetic but didn't know what happen to his system except that TNB did some electrical work to his apartment earlier in the morning.

at roughly one hour after he switched on his system, the sound came alive, much to our surprise. apparently, the locally-made powertrans was off the whole morning and it needed some time to warm up. can any demo be worse-timed than this?

but master ken was raving non-stop on teddy robin's audiophile CD as it kicks plenty of ass with his ATC. he blasted the volume way past 11 o'clock on his ARC LS5 preamp and i could see him reaching instant orgasm aurally. i have told you readers that this cd needs to be played on a 300-watter solid state system with dynamic cone speaker and ken's system is exactly what the doctor ordered. the midbass of the ATC has plenty of torque and swing; it was so fun to play at excessively loud volume.

we then discussed about different kind of bass and the importance of having good bass. ken likes my maggie's bass cos he thinks the bass is very tactile, tuneful and goes very low, the only shortfall being the midbass, which is traditionally never the maggie's strenghts. on the other hand, the ATC's has plenty of midbass torque but it is not as tuneful nor tactile as the maggie's bass. it is amazing that we could agree on something so politically conflicting. great minds think alike or fools seldom differ? ;-)

i lamented to ken that my HK guests didn't manage to listen to my system in its normal condition and instead they ended up getting a negative impression. ken consoled me in his typical no-nonsense style, "at least, i knew how good your system can sound cos i have heard it just 2 weeks ago", he said matter-of-factly.

that statement from ken is enough to made my otherwise gloomy day into a day full of renewed hopes.

one day, i am going to document the do's and dont's of conducting demo to your friends and you all better heed my advice ;-)

marten miles, ARC, audionet, richard gray, stage III concepts

marten miles standing tall and elegant

the ubiquitous ARC ref 3 preamp

audionet ART G2 cdp with rowland 302 power amp at the back

top-of-the-line stage III concepts cables running amok

i have written about the lifestyle of ipoh audiophiles in av xpress and in this blog. ipoh is a sedate town/city with not much nightlife or entertainment. a lot of middle-aged businessmen or retirees have plenty of disposable income hence they dabble in hifi or home theatre as favorite pastimes.

thanks to a couple of influential dealers, ipoh is the land of audio research, marten design, audionet and richard gray. for the record, perak state has the most marten design speakers in the entire malaysia. in the last count, there is a pair of marten bird and 4 pairs of marten miles, and easily 6 units of audionet ART G2 cd players, and many many audio research gear.

featured here are two of the rather low-profile high-enders in ipoh. mind you, they are not the super high-enders that the local chinese magazine often features. super high-enders in ipoh don't normally buy from local dealers. they either buy from s'pore or import themselves.

[high-ender #1 - mr. tan]
mr. tan is a quiet and unassuming man who owns a beautiful 3-storey townhouse in the fringe of ipoh city. his dedicated listening room (see picture) serves his two-channel audio as well as his home theatre system. his hifi journey is one of astronomical progress. today he is the proud owner of a plethora of esoteric gear, ranging from jeff rowland 302 power amp, ARC ref 3 preamp, audionet ART G2 cdp, marten design miles speakers, with everything almost entirely cabled by top-of-the-line stage III concepts.

first impression - large, spacious soundstage. i instinctively knew the ARC Ref 3 is responsible for that. ARC gear has been holding the soundstage champ title for years (note: the last time i auditioned the VT200 power amp, i was gobsmacked by its expansive and wonderfully panaromic soundstage). the Ref 3 is gorgeously refined and has a dynamic scale that will put many high-end preamps to shame. In fact, Ref 3 eats LS26 (my preamp) for lunch. those LS26 owners (and hifi reviewers) who claim that LS26 is 90% of Ref 3 are kidding themselves. no way, jose! the Ref 3 is at a different league altogether, in terms of scale.

the marten miles is a very neutral and accurate transducer that is adept in handling a variety of music genres. it has a very lively and vivacious character that is positively likable. the accuton ceramic tweeters give out ethereal highs that are crispy and have a "bell-like" quality, very unlike ribbon tweeters but impressive nonetheless. the miles is a very detailed (but never analytical) speaker; nothing seems to escape from it.

the pairing with jeff rowland 302 is ideal. (but later i found out that marten sounds better with ARC tube amp - see next section) overall, it is a well-rounded system that has potential for another 10-20% of improvement. mr. tan, ever eager to listen for opinions, asked me about the possible areas of improvement. i pointed out that slightly over-damped room could suck out some life from the music. mr. tan has velvet curtains covering 1/3 of the (front portion) of the room, mainly for his AV system, and double-layer carpet covering the entire floor. personally, i detest velvet (suede) materials cos i have never heard anything good from it when it is being used as curtains. with my pointers, i am sure mr. tan would commission his dealer to start work soon. good luck, mr.tan, and i look forward to listening to your system again in another few months' time!

[high-ender #2 - ah cheong]
ah cheung is fondly known as the canteen man, as he operates a canteen in a well-known school in ipoh. ah cheung is one of the most famous and revered audiophiles in ipoh. in person, he is rather low-profile and publicity shy and he doesn't want his system to be photographed. what a pity, cos it is an eye-opener as his room is a miniscule 7' X 10' treasure trove that contains some of the most desirable gear in this planet. here's the partial list - ARC VT200 power amp, ARC ref 3 preamp, marten miles speakers, meridian 808 cdp, stage III concepts vacuum gold reference interconnect (2 pairs) and audioquest everest speaker cable.

this is the fourth time i listened to ah cheung's system, every time with some new gear installed. this time, he has the piano-finished marten miles to replace his aging proac future 1 speakers. the miles is barely 1 week's old! i feel claustrophobic every time i sit in his listening room cos it is just so tiny!

we started with the joss stone's debut album, one with potent bass. i was astounded! the bass, the bass, the bass! it goes very low; very clean and taut; very bouncy and tuneful! the miles seem totally at ease in such tiny space. what did ah cheung do to his room since the last time i came here? i couldn't believe my ears. there is no flutter echoes, no pregnant notes, no interferences - heck, this is a very good room! we proceeded to play another drum demo cd - the sheffield lab drum track. again, the transients are lightning quick, the skin of the drum could be felt... my instinct was to quickly extend my hands and shook ah cheung's hands to congratulate him, "well done, cheung gor (brother cheung), you have conquered your room acoustics!", i said to him. ah cheung was grinning smugly as he knows i appreciate his system very much.

the marten miles really come alive here. this is a truly modern sound - fast, accurate and detailed. a lot of people in the past have criticized ah cheung's system of not having any decent soundstage, due to the small room. these people should come to listen to his system now. i think they would be embarrassed.

while many of his peers are busy upgrading, ah cheung is one audiophile who has worked hard to make his tiny room disappear and free of any acoustics nasties. this is a shining example that any audiophile worth his salt must work hard on his room acoustics before anything else. i am so proud of ah cheung. i think with this sound, he must have won many new followers and stamped his foot as one of the best sounds in ipoh.

it is even scarier when you think of the fact that the marten miles is barely one week's old!

this is by no means an exhaustive coverage of ipoh's high end, but it does give me more than a glimpse of it. audiophiles in ipoh are reasonably rich and the dealers there are enjoying good biz too. what's more, the houses and lands there are cheap. i am considering the possibility of retiring in ipoh!

i would like to thank mr. tan and ah cheung for being the most gracious host.

as i sit here in my kampung's internet cafe catching up with your comments, i feel an overwhelming sense of satisfaction. what started as a hobby has grown into a sizeable force. not since the days of perfect pitch (the sun newspaper's hifi pullout) has malaysian english-speaking audiophile readers (and readers from abroad) been so united towards the media, in this case, an alternative media (blog) that is gaining momentum worldwide.

and yesterday, i bumped twice into a regular reader, lim, in audio art and dong fong ipoh. he told me that because of reading this blog, his passion for hifi is re-ignited and he is now shopping for a preamp. he said before reading my mag and the blog he didn't know that ipoh has so many good hifi shops! he ended up buying the pass labs x2.5 preamp from dong fong. i felt a deep sense of achievement. hey, this blog is influential, ok? ;-) thanks, lim, for your support and encouragement.

on the eve of chinese new year 2008, i would like to express my heartfelt thanks to you readers who have been supporting this humble blog for the past few months/years and take this opportunity to share with you my plan and wishes for the blog, my magazine av xpress and the hifi community in malaysia.

[the blog - desirable audio boutique]
we would like to become the carrie bradshaw of audio journalism. carrie bradshaw of sex and the city, acted by sarah jessica parker, is a thirtysomething single woman journalist in manhattan, who has a very popular column in the local tabloid called "sex and the city". in person, carrie is witty, sexy, sassy, neurotic, humourous, articulate, intelligent, sophisticated and liberal-thinking. her entertaining column is a mirror of carrie's sparkling personality. carrie dares to make mockery of the desperation and pathetic situation of single women in manhattan and she adopts a cool attitude towards sex and relationships.

hifi has been considered by many as a niche hobby for the geeks. general perception is that it is expensive, boring and strictly for the reclusive and anti-social geeks. and hifi mags and other online hifi resources, are equally boring and technical. we want to change all that stereotyped perceptions. we want to be fun and enjoyable to read! we don't want to take ourselves too seriously. it is a hobby after all and hobby should be fun!

our vision is to become the fave online site for audiophiles and music lovers, and the "defacto" and chosen media for all hifi dealers and distributors in malaysia and singapore. we want this blog to become a place for product announcement, industry update, advertorials, mini reviews, sale/discount announcement, latest news, manufacturer's visit, customer's home visit, classifieds, music reviews... anything and everything that's related to hifi. of course, along the way, we will share our personal experiences with you readers and that's where the personal touches come from. even when we do industry update or advertorial, we would never cut and paste from internet except for technical specs; we would give our personal views or hands-on experiences on that product, that's our added value to the dealers and the readers.

to the readers of this blog, our hope is that you keep giving us your valuable comments and at the same time, learn to appreciate others who give diametrically opposing views from you. it is all the more exciting now that that we have readers from singapore, US, japan and UK - their views are so exciting and different, their experiences so unique; we can learn so much from them. hifi is always subjective; a man's meat is another's poison; different courses for different horses. let's learn to be accomodating and open-minded. we believe we can thrive in diversity!

[the magazine - av xpress]
we would re-print some of the blog posts here in the magazine. the reasons is because many readers of av xpress have not gone online and slowly we would like to drive them to the blog. secondly, we are seriously lack of contributors. so we hope that you don't mind us repeating some of the blog posts in the magazine.

having said that, we would intensify the music contents in av xpress so regular readers of the blog will still get to enjoy some fresh contents on music. to this end, we have engaged a couple of heavyweight music reviewers to write on music. you can expect some interesting music articles/reviews starting this issue.

remember this - without music, hifi is meaningless and life is a mistake ;-)

[the hifi community in malaysia]
we hope that the audiophiles in malaysia would put aside their egos, politics, differences, beliefs, religions and opinions, and come forward to embrace this wonderful hobby with no personal agenda. hifi is a communal hobby; it is just no fun playing alone in the closet. audiophiles should come out from their closets and share. audiophiles should influence more people to this hobby. we want many more people to play hifi.

we welcome you to give us tips, heads-up or even harmless gossips on the industry. we want you to act like little birds to feed information to this blog for the benefit of the community. to extend it further, you can even recommend to us your audiophile friends who would like their systems to be featured in this blog. i know this is far-fetched (for malaysian audiophiles are generally publicity shy) but if you are generous enough to share, we would give your the space and exposure!

we know many of you are well read, especially from internet sources where not all info is true and reliable. learn how to sieve the good info from the bad info. put that good knowledge to practical use and get more hands-on experience, instead of becoming an "academic" audiophile. an academic audiophile is one who is full of paper knowledge and theory (and full of himself!) but whose own hifi system and listening skills are falling short. please don't hop from forum to forum, using many nicks, and rattle out opinions irresponsibly. learn to be a refined, magnanimous and educated audiophile, in short.

we have so much more to write. ultimately we want you to have lotsa fun with hifi. let's usher in the year of the rat with the hope that our hifi will sound even better in the next 12 months!

gong xi fa cai to all of you!

a little bird told me that there's going to be a new distributor for b&w speakers and classe line of electronics....

frankly, both brands have lost a fair bit of grounds in the malaysian market. classe, especially with its new curvaceous design hasn't really gained much support. remember what i said earlier about the dealer/distributor must know how to position their products in the market?

the high-end speaker brand that really does well in the last couple of years is marten design fro sweden.

here's hoping that the new distributor can resuscitate both brands!

asian audiophiles, hong kong's, in particular, are famous for their tweaks. and shun mook is the epitome of hifi tweaks.

this post is by no means a dummies' guide to shun mook and i am far from an expert on this subject, but rather a personal experience on shun mook and how magically it enhances my system. there are many documentations (old hifi mags, journals) on the magic of shun mook but they are quite hard to find since the peak of shun mook fever was in the 80s to early 90s. i am fortunate to have a couple of old HK mags on this subject.

shun mook was the proud creation of the HK twin terror called bill ying and master tham more than two decades ago. together they terrorised and impressed all and sundry. in their heyday, they toured the region extensively to educate and demonstrate the power of shun mook to the audiophiles. and their reputation went beyond asia. audiophiles from US were also impressed and the hifi media there gave lengthy coverage on it.

my friend, ken, can write you a book on the various applications of shun mook since he has dabbled in almost all variations of shun mook, from the mpingpo disc to the "mooncake" (resonator). here, i am going to share with you on how shun mook acts as a "concentrator" for the all-important vocalist's mouth, a criteria which is important to asian audiophiles. a good vocalist's mouth has presence, is pinpoint, sharp and no larger than a 50 sen coin. the perfect vocalist's mouth can even show the "movement" of the mouth. yes, this is no BS, no snake oil, no voodoo.

when you are reasonably happy with your speaker placement, you will invariably achieve a "vague" vocalist's mouth of height varying from 4ft to 5ft from the floor, right smack in the middle of the wall facing you. if you fail to get a semblance of a mouth emanating from the wall, chances is, your speaker placement is not there yet.

listen attentively, you will find a point source where the voice emanates. place the mpingpo disc (retaling for RM150) on that point source, experiment with upward/downward movement of 2mm at most to find the exact point where the vocals get "focused" and "concentrated" the most. it is akin to putting the magnifier under the hot sun and get a focused heat source. the mpingpo disc has a magical way to focus all the sound energy into one small spot, and voila! you get your vocalist's mouth defined!

in my case, i needed two mpingpo discs (see picture) to achieve maximum effect, ie. the give me the best vocalist's mouth. once you achieved this, listening is made pleasurable as you can visualize the singer better. some argue that it is mere psychoacoustics at play but it is more that that.

the above is only scrathing (5% maybe) the surface of shun mook. it has many other applications and usage to change/alter the tonal balance, soundstage height, separation and other important aspects of your sound. my purpose is just to re-ignite the magic of shun mook, you have to do your own research ;-)

perhaps, master ken can give us a low-down on shun mook. ken, over to you ;-)

after the astounding success of their TVC (transformer volume control) passive pre, local brand promitheus audio, is now venturing into true romance of the audio kind. no, we are not talking about its young designer, nicholas chua, falling in love with a fellow female audiophile, we are talking about its new 300B SE amp.

traditionally, 300B is famous for its lush and romantic sound with little dynamics to boot. nick chua thinks it needs not be so. so his main design goal is to create a 300B that can kick ass - small ass, maybe ;-) - and a 300B amp that you don't need to apologize to those PRaT folks when you play your dire straits or santana.

he uses an interstage transformer to couple the D3A to the 300B. he claims that the interstage transformer, more commonly found in expensive audio note 300B amp, gives a very lively, energetic and rhythmic character to the 300B sound. in place of electrolytic caps, he uses mainly mundorf, the well-acclaimed german caps.

some of the specs....

- Zero Negative feedback
- First and foremost Single Ended Triode
- No-Electrolytic Capacitors used in the amp
- Interstage Transformer
- A high quality Promitheus Audio interstage transformer is used to couple the D3A to the 300B
- Oversize output transformers made with M6 core·
- Oversize power transformers made with M6 core
- Choke Supply made with M6 core
- Tube rectifier
- Mundoft Tube Capacitor (polypropylene capacitors) for Power supply, making the amp fast and lively.
- Mundoft Polyester for Tube Bypass
- Ceramic Tube sockets
- Promitheus Audio output transformers
- point-to-point wiring
- Allen Bradley resistors
- Wiring is 7N copper wires
- Tubes used are JJ300b, Siemens D3A, JJ 5ar4
- The amps can be used with the following 300b tubes for extra power 52B,32B,320B,520B. (inquire within for more information)

so by looking at the specs, promitheus audio 300B looks like a tube romance with a twist. to check out this spiced-up romance, visit http://www.promitheusaudio.com
or call nicholas chua 012-2210706.

[click to enlarge]

good acoustics are the pre-requisite of good hifi, and here's an area that you must not take it lightly. the common problem that frustrates most audiophiles is the inability to create a truly 3-dimensional soundstage, the kind that you can wander around and jam with the musicians! tell you why, most likely that's because your acoustics are screwed up in one way or another.... time to wake up and address your problem now!

the kind folks at hi-way laser have agreed to offer readers here a-never-before discount on diffuser panels. normal price for each 2' X 2' panel is RM180, it is now on offer to you readers at RM100. the condition? as long as you mention to them that you read this blog! cool, ain't it? the audio ambassador in me will try to bring you more fabulous discounts with other dealers in the future ;-)

a bit of technical info on diffuser...

absorbers and diffusers are two of the main design tools for altering the acoustic conditions of a room and semi-enclosed spaces.

the shaped surface of diffuser panels break up the direct sound reflections and direct them evenly throughout the listening space. random disbursement of sound greatly improves sound quality in acoustic spaces.

your room will benefit with the use of diffusers on the side and rear walls. diffusers are often used in conjunction with standard acoustical wall panels. a combination of both greatly improves overall room acoustics.

those who are having acoustic problems in their rooms, the diffuser may just be your best chinese new year's gift!

11A, JALAN SS2/75,
+6019.281.3399 (kenny sin)
http://www.hiwaylaser.com (map inside)

in the good old days of hifi, the master-pupil relationship was very prevalent amongst asian audiophiles, notably in hongkong. aspiring audiophiles actually learn the art of hifi from their "sifu" (cantonese for master or mentor). it is a common practice for veteran, established and respectable audiophiles to adopt pupil(s) who believe in their school of thoughts and "specialization", and want to learn the skills from these masters. by "specialization", i mean there would be a sifu for planar speaker (there is such a person in real life! in fact, he is still very much alive in the hongkong hifi circle today), a sifu for 300B, a sifu for LS3/5a, the list goes on. each of this specialization is not unlike your chinese kungfu clans, i.e. you get the shaolin, wu tang, er mei etc etc. or course, there are also sifu who are not specialists but generalists who are just as willing to impart their skills to their pupils.

in any hifi demos or home visits where the sifu brings his entourage, he is always given the privilege to sit in the sweet spot before anyone else. and everyone in the room will be waiting anxiously for the sifu's comments as his words are sacred and have far-reaching impact to the ego of the system's owner. i remember being in such scene many years ago. it can get very tense. and the sifu in particular is a very critical audiophile, who more often than not, dishes out harsh criticism rather than praises.

a sifu is someone authoritative and influential. whatever hifi gear he buys, his pupils would follow suit. if he says MIT cables give the best separation of images then his pupils would take his words as bible and stick to MIT. if he says AQ cables are crap, none of his pupils would argue with him. whatever LP or CD titles that the sifu says is good, his pupils have to get it. a sifu has to be a generous person as he would foot the bills after lunches and dinners with his pupils. failing to do so and you would not be deemed as a generous leader.

the sifu is also respected by hifi dealers. he is often offered new high-end gear to try out. once he says something is good, the word will spread and chances are, the thing will sell by itself. on the other hand, if he gives thumbs-down, that piece of gear would have difficulty getting sold. as a result, some mischievous dealers would try to butter him up in the hope of getting some good reviews.

interestingly, the characteristics of his pupils' hifi systems always have some shadow of resemblance to the master's system, since they are using almost the same brands of amplifier, cable and tweaks.

when the pupils mature and build their own following, they can in turn adopt pupils. the master-pupil relationship is a sacred one and the hierarchy can go many levels much like in a shaolin clan.

i have come across cases where the pupil fell out with his master and they turned nasty and became enemies ever after. normally it is caused by the deviation of their beliefs and when there is no longer a meeting of minds.

sadly, this interesting master-pupil culture has largely vanished among today's audiophiles in malaysia. i am not sure what's the main reason.

audiophiles from the west or other parts of the world, would you like to enlighten us if such culture exists in the west?

if my little bird is reliable then in all likelihood malaysian audiophiles are going to see its debut soon....