i hope master ken's wife is not reading this. sometimes, wifey has a natural habit to peek into hubby's favourite bookmarks in his laptop to see if he is up to something naughty. oh, btw, malaysia's ISPs have banned youporn and moantube - two most popular and highly accessible porn sites in the net - so many of us naughty adults would be deprived of some excitement other than hifi during their free times.

anyway, i was talking about ken's wife. if she does read this blog, then in all likelihood, she won't allow her hubby to befriend me anymore because i am such a bad influence. master ken is totally sold on the pass labs x350.5 and he is thinking hard on how to cook up a story to spend that RM38K on a piece of heavy metal, nice piece of metal that is, that makes sweet sound.

i had the good fortune to listen to the pass labs in ken's setup today and witnessed the way it drives the insatiable ATC SCM100. god, the x350.5 tames the beast with an iron-fist and sure-footedness that the juice-sucking ATC is finally satiated like a lustful nympho that has finally met her most capable lover. it makes his beloved jeff rowland 8 looks like a puny little amp. the highs, the upper-mids, the bass, they all shine through brilliantly - this is the hallmark of a thoroughly modern and high-end sound. in comparison, the rowland 8 sounds dated and under-defined.

"it is time to upgrade", i told master ken mercilessly. he nodded but his face is expressionless. i guess it is the money. it is no small sum of money yeah.

well, readers, can you help master ken to cook up stories to spend the RM38K?

bugger, i am still thinking of the well-fed nympho ;-)

can you sell a product just by word of mouth and existing fame, without the actual stock on display in the showroom?

yes, of course. that's exactly what absolute hi-fi (03-78048788) is doing with its latest wadia 581se - place your order if you want it.

said to trounce everything in sight (the same meridian G08 they are selling does not hold a candle next to the wadia 581!), the wadia 581se is some sort of a classic wadia reborn, except with better technology and features. remember a time in the 90s where wadia ruled the digital arena? there are still tons of audiophiles in malaysia that use yesteryear's wadia as a transport machines. looks like they are back with a vengeance.

if i have RM30K loose change, i would either consider the wadia 581se or the audionet art g2, the latter hifi kaki is bringing back for review from ipoh this weekend.

lucky chap, he.

well, this is an experimental worth doing.

i have just installed a 3-phase switch that allows me to switch phase whenever the current phase dedicated to my hifi is not ideal. of course, that's based on the assumption that each phase has different AC loading and stability.

at least now i have an option when the AC is bad, but the AC for the past weeks has been stable and good.

i shall report on the usability of the salzer switch in due course.

I just completed the review of the Esoteric SA-60 for the upcoming AVXpress. It took longer than expected because of the machine’s flexibility, it was like having to review 3 players in one go. Ok, a bit of exaggeration here, but the 3 up-conversion settings in this Esoteric produce differences that are, although not very pronounced, easily discernable, provided your have a transparent system.

So this one is a tinkerer’s delight, I can imagine some finicky audiophile choosing a preferred setting for each CD, or even one for each TRACK on the same CD. It took me one week of nightly listening to decide which setting I like – you can get my rundown of the sound performance of each setting in the full review. I think Maggielurva should pay me an extra allowance for having to run between my listening chair and the machine to make the changes, because you can’t select the up-conversion scheme from the remote, which is a major pain in the you-know-where.

Anyhow, the SA-60 turns out to be a refined and detailed machine on CD. I can’t fault its performance, nothing is missing and everything is done in an even handed manner. Its soundstaging capability and bass performance bettered my resident Copland, but the Copland did not concede easily too and replied with better musical flow.

On SACD though, all bets are off. SACD on the Esoteric is way better than CD, whether on the same machine or on the Copland. It is a pity I don’t have a big collection of SACDs and the format is also not in danger of becoming wildly popular in the market place. I played Telarc’s Tchaikovsky 1812 Overture by Erich Kunzel and the Cincinnati Pops on SACD, even my 8 year old son was impressed - by the cannon shots, and he asked for encores. Hehe, this boy has potential.

Anyway, it was a delightful experience getting acquainted with the Esoteric SA-60. Check it out in the upcoming AVXpress.

last weekend was one pregnant with expectancy for the arrival of our 2nd mastered CDR from keith yip, hong kong. we had earlier asked keith to re-do his first master cos we were not completely convinced that it was the best.

i went to collect the parcel from poslaju, glenmarie hicom, with my heart palpitating... our launch date keeps falling behind and it is getting closer to our press conference date already which is 19th of june, 2008. we simply can't afford any more delay.

the first master has rolled off highs and hence duller sounding, less airiness/ambience. it also has less microdynamics. we gave our honest feedback to keith and he did exactly what the doctor ordered in the 2nd master. the 2nd master compromises very little on the highs and it is tonally very balanced. the gain is also very nicely leveled. the nuances and details of the original mix are still maintained. most importantly, the spirits and musicality of the whole album is still kept alive in the 2nd master.

the great thing about both masters is that it both sound "analogue" and "meaty", exactly what i wanted all along.

the 2nd master convinced me that mastering is indeed better (more pros than cons) if done right. the original mix is like zhang ziyi without the makeup and wardrobe makeover; the mastering is like zhang ziyi ready for the hollywood assault. listening to the original mix now sounds raw, thin and uneven, though the ambience and details are a tad better than the mastered version. you get some, you lose some.

on the sonic score card, i would give the 2nd master (hence our final version) a 75-80% (a solid B+). though it doesn't cross the A-grade mark yet by my own high standards, i am more than satisfied already as this is our first attempt.

sorry guys for testing your patience. with the master now approved by me, we are ready to duplicate the CD in hk and we should be ready to launch the album online in 2 weeks' time.

my fingers are fully crossed ;-)

2 new audiophile CDs worth checking out in yes asia.

[1] lowell lo [盧冠廷] - 08 suddenly a magic moment

lowell, like teddy robin, is a veteran cantopop singer-songwriter who had his prime in the 80s. here, in simple one-voice-one-guitar acoustic format, lowell still manages to touch our hearts.

you can order here

[2] joanna wang [start from here] SACD

the sultry-voiced is a hot property in taiwan and hk now, with the expected success of her debut album [start from here].

pressed in japan, this SACD version has two extra songs added - paul simon's [50 ways to leave your lover] and the carpenters' [we've only just begun]。

you can order here

many systems i listened to in the past (including megabuck systems) committed this common and major sin - that their music seems strangled and canned, not being able to let loose and flow freely especially when playing dynamic passages.

while there are many reasons for this phenomenon but the most likely possibility in my experience is the over-treatment of AC. simply put, there is too much filtering and conditioning taking place that result in dynamics being curtailed or compressed.

many owners like to feed the AC with some sort of isolation transformer, balanced transformer or AC regulator (computer-grade regulator is the worse!), and that's not the end, it is then followed by another (or more) PLC(s) and many more tweaks such are ferrite rings, cable jackets or ENACOM filters. i shake my head every time i see this sort of over-treatment. do you know how much damage you do to the music? true, you might get a crystal clean and ultra-pure AC but the music is often sterile and lifeless.

how do i know? been there, done that. because i have tried that with daisy-chaining or clustering several RGPCs with some powertrans and other PLCS and the results were horrendous, to say the least. the music seems caged, strangled and not able to come out freely.

if you don't believe, listen to some of your friends' systems which are dynamically uncompressed and use it as a reference. a good system should play dynamic music that goes out its way, with no restriction whatsoever, to shake your aural senses and make you tap your feet and shake your body.

as a purist in hifi, i believe in the most direct and shortest path, whether in AC or in cable connection. don't introduce too many "devils" in between the path. simplicity is always the best.

hi-fi is not about listening to oh-so-gentle and come-caress-my-soul female vocals only. only if your system can handle dynamic music expressively then it is considered an all-rounder system. an all-rounder system is invariably the most entertaining system.

before visiting ck, we (me and hifi kaki)already had some expectations that ck's system is going to be a tweaker's delight since he uses resonators and shun mook throughout and his speaker is audio physics so expectation of a good soundstage is naturally there.

the V.A.L 211 mono

ck's system is based on a marantz sa11 cdp, connected via stage III concepts vacuum gold interconnect, powered by two V.A.L 211 monoblock, which is then connected via a TVC preamp, driving the audio physics scorpio speakers via luminous cables.

his listening room is not big (a bit squarish, in fact) but he has obviously spent considerable time with the room acoustics to come out with a clean and rather conducive listening area.

the first thing that strikes us is how spacious the soundstage is. is is deeper than it is wide; the depth gives a good sense of layering, which is always the forte of audio physics. the initial tone is rather recessed and lacking of highs but ck performed some magic by adjusting his resonator (see pictures below) just millimeter higher up and the system is transformed instantly. we were baffled how this could be so!

soundstage champ - the audio physics scorpio

playing some really dynamic music sees the system coping well with very good rhythm and pace; the details are aplenty and the bass is really tactile and bouncy with no boominess at all. we guess the roomful of resonators has to do with the good bass. it is hard to imagine a SET giving out this sort of bass. however, i felt a sense of restraint when it comes to ultimate dynamic expression - it is as if the system is strangled by some bottlenecks somewhere. with the permission of the kind host, i passed this constructive comment to him in order for him to enhance further in this aspect of freedom of expression of music.

french made resonators - acoustic system

amazing resonators

but you haven't read the best part about the vocal presentation. this is where the magic of SET comes shining through in ck's system. we are absolutely honest about it and we don't mean to butter up the owner to make him happy. using 2v1g's original master cd, the outcome is shocking to say the least. because the recording is minimalist and high-resolution (192KHz downsampled to 44.1Khz), ck's system seems to produce all its glory in the most delicate, detailed and naked manner. it is as if my two singers are singing naked, emotionally speaking of course, in front of us. we could hear every nuance, breath, vocal chord movements of the two singers and roger's delicate fingers' movement on the fret. the level of transparency and details is simply astounding, it even surpasses my own ARC push-pull with maggie 3.6R in the areas of transparency and details. i caught hifi kaki talking, or rather uttering, to himself repeatedly about how great the SET handles vocals. in addition to the transparency, the emotional involvement and the musicality are also worth mentioning. we were pulled into the music uncontrollably but willingly. something is very right about this presentation on vocals. it is amazing. it is the best part about ck's system. i seldom experience this.

ck's system is one that would convince SET detractors that something must be right about SET amplifications. granted, it has its limitations and we shall wait to see how ck can address the weaknesses in the ensuing months. but its forte in communication, transparency and detail rendition is almost in a class of its own.

this is sweet surrender of this most willing kind. i love how my 2v1g sound in ck's system and i am sure ck would buy more than one copy of my cd for his listening pleasure ;-)

This is a wild thought to stimulate discussion. I was listening to a podcast from extremetech.com and one of the PC Mag editors was talking about installing solar panels in his home for domestic use. This got me thinking about power supply and whether alternative power sources such as solar will be able to give us the purest form of power supply and not having to rely on the local electricity grid and its related problems on our hifi.

So if we install solar panels at home, is it feasible to drive a modestly powered system e.g. less than 500w in total power requirements? I found this on the website for a 700w solar power supply system. I do not have experience in this but I presume one can always add more panels to increase the power supply.

Will this give us the best and cleanest power to our audiophile components? Can MaggieLurva finally be freed from looking for the ultimate power conditioner?

What do you think? Do you have experiences in this that you can share with us?

full ayre suite driving atc scm-50psl

ayre mx-r monoblock

ayre cx-7e cd player

ayre kx-r preamp

the internals of ayre kx-r preamp

i am not sure why today's audiophiles don't visit hifi shops anymore, even for the casual chat with the dealer or the rare opportunities to listen to some stunning products on display. most hifi shops are deserted these days, save for some random visitors on weekends. has hifi been reduced to a closet hobby?

seriously, guys, you should come out from your cocoon and pay a visit to our nice host at hi-way laser. just how often do you get to listen to a high-end system the calibre of ayre acoustics? boasting a stellar line-up comprising of its latest flagship preamp, KX-R (RM73K), matched with its award-winning MX-R monoblock (RM73K) and cabled via MIT oracle MA speaker cables, this is an invitation extended to you readers that is not to be missed. with kenny sin, the boss at hi-way, you don't need to have a fat bank account, to be entitled to this opportunity. every audiophile, like the chinese proverb says, "within the four seas, is treated equal".

for the last two years charles hansen and his design team have been exhaustively working on a matching preamp to accompany the famed MX-R monoblock and the result comes in the form of KX-R preamp - a stunning piece of music machinery that appeals to both the eyes and the heart.

KX-R has the same fully-balanced, zero-feedback design as the world renown K-1xe (1996). cutting edge technology sees the KX-R featuring the world's first transconductance volume control which operates with four silver-to-silver contact switches providing the purest signal path for the variable gain stage. coupled that with ayre's equilock circuitry, you have a preamp with unparalleled clarity and resolution.

for those who have never tasted ayre's house sound. it is a sound that is superbly clean, neutral and slightly on the "yin" side of the tonal balance. it has great dimensionality and exquisite refinement. if you don't listen to the bass (which is as good as any SS gear can get), it actually does not sound very solid-state at all.

driving the ATC SCM-50PSL tower, i blasted the KX-R way pass normal listening level to enjoy the full glory of teddy robin CD. like any ATC, the SCM50 is like a masochistic animal who demanded to be driven hard. listening to teddy robin at such a deafening level is an new aural experience to me!

i am all out of love; i am so lost without you - ayre supply is currently holding its mega concert at hi-way laser, ss2. be there or be square.

call kenny sin to make an appointment 019-2813399.

make sure you have your speakers on. the sound quality, even from pc speakers, is commendable. but on notebooks, it sounds terribly thin and emotionless.

note: the loading of the songs is rather slow - please be patient.

[1] coming home - this is winnie ho's award-winning song; it is also the song which many people associate her with. unlike previous versions sung by winnie, this version has a slower build-up and milder climaxes. winnie has purposely lightened up the song with less emotional intensity. she has grown up as a singer and she wants the audience to appreciate a more mature version of this classic song. roger's guitar is light and simple, fully letting the vocalist to take the center stage.

[2] snowy love - this is a tracy huang's classic, made popular by faye wong. regine's rendition is appropriately sweet without overdoing it. this is one of the most accessible love songs in the album. nothing complicated, just pure sweet music.

[3] endless love - this is the boldest interpretation in the whole album! a passionate love song being transformed into a bossa nova, roger's creativity is most evident on the guitar solo where he infuses a decidedly latin feel to the song. the two singers also ad-libbed a lot in the last part (not in the edited version here), making the whole rendition rather adventurous and fun.

[4] airport at 10:30 - a david tao's r&b classic, this song will make most guitarists frown in frustration on working out a groove/rhythm in the guitar solo. i suppose only roger wang can do it. winnie ho is having a hell of good time in singing this song; she doesn't seem like she wants to stop.

[5] tempting hearts - my fave in this album. there is so much outpouring emotions in this song that makes it memorable. regine's rendition made me weep the first time i heard it (she also broke down after singing this song in the studio) and roger's guitar solo is so heartbreakingly gorgeous. try to listen to this song alone at night with your hifi on, a glass of red wine, lights dimmed, and you will understand.

[6] march - my producer, chow's original work, march is not easy to sing at all. roger has attempted many arrangements for this song. at the end, we settled for one with a bit of "swing" feel. there is a certain sadness of helplessness in this song, if only you know the meaning behind the lyrics.

Now for something different - remote controls. For true audiophiles, they are probably not interested in remote controls other than to control their CDP from the comfort of their favourite listening sofas. But for videophiles, a remote is almost essential.

In fact if you are into AV, you probably have at least 3 remotes as a minimum for controlling your video source, AV amp and TV/projector. Universal remotes are god-send for us to manage all our toys with just one remote control. I have 10 devices to manage - so remotes have always been one of my favourite gadgets since more than ten years ago when I bought a Marantz RC2000.

And to me, a remote must give me tactile feedback, lights up discreetly when watching my movies in the dark and easy to program. Tactile feedback is critical so that I can at least control the main functions without having to look at the remote each time. So the Philips Pronto that I had a while back just doesn't work well for me because it is touchscreen only.

Programming a remote can be as easy as entering the device code, provided it is in the universal remote's built-in database. Otherwise you need to learn the IR codes from the orginal remotes that you are replacing.

Logitech's Harmony ONE is their latest universal remote control (this is not their top model - the Harmony 1000 is but that is a touchsreen operated device). I have been using the Harmony 885 for a while now and while I am fine with it, I don't like the smallish buttons that are packed too close together. The Harmony ONE however has well spaced out buttons and also a decent small touchscreen to access special functions such as selecting activities.

This is an activity based remote i.e. it stores command macros to, say, watch a movie or listen to music. Once you let the software (which runs on an internet connected computer with access to >200,000 devices (as claimed by Logitech) online) knows what devices you have, which ones you use for a certain activity and it will program itself. So by just pressing the 'Watch Movie' icon on the touchscreen, it will switch on my projector, video source, AV amp, scaler and set them to the correct inputs. And when the movie has finished, press the 'Off' button and the remote will switch everything off. Sweet.

It is actually a joy to use and if you are looking for a new universal remote control, do check out the Harmony ONE.

those who say that shunyata hydra and RGPC require expensive power cords - this is something to defy conventional wisdom - an affordable power cord that does wonder to PLCs!

i have extolled many times in the blog the many virtues of harmonic technology PRO-AC11 power cord as one of the best power cords to power up your PLC and a couple of readers like dr. chan, have heeded my advice and have never been happier ever since.

you can order HT PRO-AC11 from tweekgeek for USD200 (less than RM700).

oh, yes, this is my choice power cord for PLC for the last 5 years. I have compared it with RGPC's high tension wire and hifi kaki's shunyata python alpha and HT edged them easily.

so please dont complain about expensive power cords for PLCs, and you can no longer accuse maggielurva for recommending only high-priced hifi ;-)

it is not everyday that one gets to audition a RM20K cable and in the case of siltech's SATT forbes lake, i could only sum it in one word - superlative!

note: in future, i would reveal my own impressions in the blog and let my two anchorman - hifi kaki and master ken - to write on a full-review in av xpress. so, my impressions are merely a third-person's viewpoints and they serve to tease or whet the appetite of the readers so that they would want to read the full review in av xpress.

the addition of gold to cables has always been a tricky balance. too much and you would dull the music; too little you would not have the heft or density. in the case of siltech, the music is full-bodied, shockingly natural and extremely organic. instruments now acquire "meat" and density, which make them feel like the real thing. it has three-dimensionality which gives them the body (a certain roundness), presence and palpability. trust me, you would NEVER get these attributes in cheap cables as most cables (including mine) can only give a flat and "cardboardy" image of the instrument.non-cable-believers would definitely find it hard to digest what i am trying to convey here!

granted the siltech's silver-gold does not have the pellucid highs and sparkling brilliance of the pure silver like my stage III concepts but what it does have is the ability to make the whole presentation sound real, natural and close to live music. and gentlemen, this is what separate men from boys, or men from wannabes.

to sum it up - the siltech forbes lake is musically addictive. i would like to see how it compares with stage III concepts ASP gryphon, which is coming my way.

the prospect is simply salivating, wouldn't you say?

almarro - music like there's no tomorrow! (a cool tagline thought out by maggielurva, copyrights reserved)

don't you think it looks like a work of art?

SET lovers sit up! finally you could have your cake and eat it too. power, delicacy and lushness of SET and the ability to drive a wide range of speakers. dream comes true?

almarro (www.almarro.com) is a japanese manufacturer of tube amplifiers and oudspeakers under the direction of owner and chief designer yoshihiro muramatsu. the a318b was created for SET lovers who have been limited in the past by speaker choice. the a318b is a muscle SET amp with enormous power swings and extraordinary dynamics, it can produce bass that was quite extraordinary considering its size and power rating. many SET lovers have been shocked by a318b's delivery in the bass! the a318b with its "nippled tube" 6C33C is reminiscent of the push-pull design in terms of dynamic and bass ability.

well, there is no point when you have muscle for muscle's sake, a318b also possesses the trademark burnished midrange, lushness and warmth that is the purview of SET designs. with this added prowess in bass, the a318B allows its owner to choose from a much wider range of loudspeakers while maintaining the rich midrange reproduction of an SET design.

top that with a reasonable price - less than RM7K - no wonder dong fong audio of ipoh is smiling confidently.

call ken sin (012-4678788) now and experience the muscled SET sound!

sorry that it has taken so long. this audio magic thingy needs an awful long time to burn in and to date, i have fed more than 500 hours. potential buyers beware - don't make any judgement until you burn-in for more than 500 hours.

so i am going ahead of master ken's review in av xpress and give you a first-hand, no-holds-barred shoot-out between these two PLCs, two of the best of the lot in the market today.

let's cut to the chase as we are not stereophile nor TAS which go on and on about technical specs and motherhood stories.

the main difference between the audio magic and shunyata is in the tonality, and my god, in this regard, they are day and night apart. the audio magic is decidedly more neutral; the midband is more natural and also blander. and it does not intoxicate the listeners the way the shunyata does. vocals presentation with the audio magic is very matter-of-fact; it is not that the singer has not enough emotions, it is more accurate to say that the singer under audio magic is more sober and more aware of herself and her singing. whereas with shunyata, the singer just immerses herself totally and couldn't care less about the surrounding and the audience - she just sings her heart out. this major difference is very stark.

now the interesting part. the audio magic is more effective in cleansing the AC than the shunyata, as apparent in the midbass and overall dynamic. planar speaker needs the cleanest AC to sound good and under the influence of audio magic, my maggie is transformed dynamically - the midbass kicks ass and the overall P.R.a.T also improves dramatically. more importantly, the audio magic manages to cure my AC problem better than the shunyata. i tested this on a night where the AC is not exactly great and the audio magic comes unscathed and unperturbed while the shunyata just collapsed. so confidently, i could claim that the audio magic has better cleansing power (against bad AC) than the shunyata.

in terms of making music, the shunyata has a little edge in my system and in this regard, i would declare the shunyata as the most seductive and tonally sexy PLC i have ever auditioned to date. the audio magic, meanwhile, is the most dynamic and cleanest PLC. also, if you are into rock music with plenty of dynamic headroom, the audio magic is simply the best PLC for you - it is a rocker's PLC, if ever there was such a term.

whether you choose the shunyata or audio magic is really a matter of taste, musical inclination and even listening mood.

p/s btw, i am comparing two similarly priced PLCs - shunyata hydra 4 and audio magic stealth mini reference, both a shade under RM4K

please welcome new kid in the block - audio creations.

audio creations is set up by two energetic young men - victor and mikey. they would like to concentrate on power-related products for audiophiles and the first product they brought in to malaysia is none other than audio magic PLCs (power line conditioners) which gained favorable reviews in this blog. also, master ken would be writing a review on audio magic stealth mini reference PLC in the coming issue of av xpress, with sidebar comments from maggielurva and hifi kaki.

the audio creations boys are going to move into a new office in NZX commercial area in kelana jaya/ara damansara by july 2008. they would like to invite audiophiles to audition the audio magic stealth mini reference which they are selling at competitive price vis-a-vis US pricing. they believe the audio magic stealth is going to give the richard gray and shunyata hydra a run for the money!

apart from audio magic products, audio creations also sell high-end dueland and mundorf caps for their inhouse-made car audio passive crossovers.

at the moment, audio creations is based in damansara intan, PJ.

give them a call if you need to audition the audio magic. they are very friendly and pro-business!

victor (012-2962799), mikey (012-3315669)

monster amp on transit

thanks to nelson chia of centre circle, we get to review the super-heavy, hernia-inducing pass labs x350.5 stereo power amp.

it took 3 of us - hifi kaki, master ken and myself - to lug this behemoth from centre circle onto ken's car. i am just of average build, but ken and hifi kaki are big fellas! i think the x350.5 bugger weighs at least 50kgs.

i told ken that the x350.5 is gonna whack his aging jeff rowland 8 in terms of resolution & bass. ken argued that the improvements are not going to be drastic, which i beg to differ.

i hope ken is going to give you his initial listening impressions.

when a country is progressing at such a phenomenal speed, there are bound to be many greedy and unethical businessmen whose sole intention is to make some quick bucks. it is happening in hifi business too; in china, no less. i think china has the most "overnight-millionaires" in the world.

foreign hifi manufacturers who intend to set up factories or plants in china must first enlist the help of a "runner" or an "agent", someone (a foreigner also) who has been stationed long enough in china to know the contacts and geography of all those local plants. because logistics are such nightmare in china (some factories don't even have proper roads), coupled with the fact that factories relocate frequently, first-time manufacturers who want to make inroads into china are always daunted by the complexity of the whole exercise. these agents have full knowledge of the modus operandi of setting up a business in china and they make good money by providing consultancy and introducing the manufacturers to the right chinese contacs.

chinese businessmen are known to be unscrupulous. they can promise you one thing and break the promise the next day - it all boils down to money and who has more money to offer to them. many chinese manufacturers can manufacture/copy/duplicate any product you want, make some false claims about the product, give them a new badge and market them as a entirely new product. a case in point - if the product is cryogenically treated at -196 degree, they are willing to claim it as "-300 degree" just to fool the gullible audiophiles into believing that it is better. or, they can repackage some really cheap product by giving it better aesthetics (e.g better chassis) and sell it as a more upmarket product.

in short, in the name of making more money, they can leave their scruples at home. it does not help that hifi is such a subjective hobby that leaves a lot of room for exploitation and that many audiophiles are not discerning enough to differentiate a genuine product from a bogus one. or in certain cases, the audiophile may be aware but he has limited budget for US or european or japanese stuff. well, it is really a economics 101's demand-and-supply issue.

it is true that china-made products have improved by leaps and bounds and are getting competitive vis-a-vis the rest of the world. but the chinese businessmen's poor ethics, lack of conscience and professionalism leave much to be desired. in these regards, they are still lagging behind their western counterparts.

This is the 3rd write up in a series about my hifi system.

I am now working very hard :-) on the review of the Siltech Forbes Lake interconnects for AVXpress. Having the Forbes Lake in the system gave me some new appreciation of my system’s capability, especially the loudspeakers –The EgglestonWorks NINE.

EgglestonWorks is quite a low profile company, you don’t see their products or adverts in the hifi magazines a lot, this is further exacerbated by their products’ long life span and rare new product introduction (well, if there is nothing new, there is no ‘news’ to report, is there?). But I believe that is actually good for us audiophiles. If a long-life-span product can stay competitive with those that change every 2-3 years, that means the product is done right at the beginning, so there is no need to incorporate ‘upgrades’ to the design on an ongoing basis, right?

If you look at the ingredients that EgglestonWorks uses, you will see the same drivers and cabinet design used in the entire product line. The difference is in the scale - the same Dynaudio tweeter and Morel mid-woofer are used in every model, the difference is in the number used; all the cabinets have the familiar ‘darth vader’ shape at the top, the difference is in their sizes. This similarity actually also translates into the speakers’ performance – they have remarkably consistent sound quality from one model to another (I have heard Fontaine II, Rosa, Nine and Andra II in demos), again the difference is in the scale of the sound (bigger soundstage, deeper bass, denser images etc.)

What attracted me to EgglestonWorks is the organic way they produce my kind of music – classical, jazz and vocals. The sound is seamless – the top to bottom integration, to my ears, is excellent, no one spectrum stands out in particular. They also present good body and tonality to the sound. When I listen to jazz for example, I’d think to myself that the double bass sounds so good, it has rhythm, is taut and goes low; when the saxophone comes on, I’d then go, ‘wow, what sexy tone this thing has’; and then the cymbal work has my attention, and I’d be impressed, ‘hmmm… this is rich and smooth…’.

(The Siltech Forbes Lake brought this quality out even more – bass, mid, treble all gain in stature, music flows from one note to another like liquid. But that is the story for the Siltech review)

The other attraction is that they are not afraid to be played loud. One can almost sense as if the loudspeakers are gleefully lapping up every orchestra crescendo or every thwack on a drum track for lunch, with no hint of breakup or distortion at all.

But they are no brute. Matched to my Pass Labs XA60, the NINEs have a slightly warmish tonality, which makes music sound natural. Not that they are totally forgiving, but this quality together with the amps make some badly recorded CDs more bearable.

One thing I do not treat the Egglestons right currently is the space I provide them with. They need bigger space than my current room. The soundstage’s dimensions are restricted and the images are slightly congested.

Looking at the bright side, what this means is that I can get even more performance out of them once I get a bigger room – so I foresee they will stay with me for many more years to come, and I have no complaint about that.

the review panel comprising of hifi kaki (left), master ken (middle, the fattest) and maggielurva (right, the most handsome)

for the next issue of av xpress (to coincide with KLIAV 2008), i am going to do hardware reviews in a very different and entertaining way. the review team will comprise of myself, hifi kaki and master ken. each of us will give our opinions - as usual, keeping to our short and sweet style (and no BS)- despite our individual biases, inclinations, aspirations, tastes, philosophies and beliefs in hifi. i remember perfect pitch (the sun's pull-out in the late 90s) used to do it this way, with jeffrey tan (the no-BS editor) making sidebar remarks for every review that his staff did.

and we are gonna have a 3-way dialogue a la stereo sound of japan. it is gonna be fun! maybe i can post the dialogue online here!

it is gonna be fair too since each of us is vastly different in the kind of things we look for in hifi. and for your readers, you can rest assured that you get to read a balanced review.

so far, items lined-up for the next issue: (there may be more coming)
[1] audio magic stealth mini reference power line conditioner (audio creations)
[2] siltech S.A.T.T. forbes lake interconnect (CMY audio and visual)
[3] esoteric sa60 universal player (dong fong audio)
[4] crytal cones (audio art)

we hope you like this new direction!

now, this is going to send hifi kaki to seventh heaven!

delicate, classy, silky-smooth, the esoteric sa60 universal player makes my meridian g08 sound like a rough machine. it is not recommended for prolonged listening because you may risk taking out your fixed deposit and invest on this gorgeous player.

over to you, my lucky reviewer ;-)

knowing how few of you are interested in chinese audiophile stuff, i will make my future reviews even shorter and sweeter. but i insist of recommending good chinese albums when i hear one.

i previewed dennis nieh's can't help falling in love last month. the cd came last week from hk, and true to taiwan's audio art review about the excellent quality of bass, the is an audiophile's delight if you love really low and bassy tone. of course, your system has to have good definition in the lows to appreciate dennis' fantastic baritone. it is exactly because of this low notes, i discovered my maggie's mylar has actually gotten loosened - need my technician to apply the 3M glue for the first time. this is the perennial problem with magneplanar. their glue doesn't seem to last for more than 5 years.

please don't waste your time playing this cd in car stereo or mp3 portable, you won't be able to appreciate the bass.

dennis' quirky rendition apart (he chose really low keys to sing), the recording alone is worth your money. btw, the label is "better music", the same label that produced can qin's jin pian zhe #1 and #2.

this is a qualified recommendation, only if you can take dennis' way of singing jazz and take a liking of his magnetic voice.

music: 7/10
sonics: 9/10

Today, an amazing thing happened in my household....

Well, I think many married audiophiles have the experience where their better halves tell them that they listen to their music too loudly, or where they feel the music played on your system is ear-pokingly bad that they will leave the room once the system comes on, right? (many say the fairer sex have better or more sensitive hearing, I agree)

But today, my lovely wife sat beside me and we listened to more than one hour of music on my hifi system, she told me she enjoyed the music and she even commented on how good the sound quality was. Nothing had changed actually - I played the same CDs at the same volume level as before, we sat in the same place, I had the same system components - except one thing: I inserted the Siltech Signature Series G6 Forbes Lake SATT interconnects into my system.

Their 1m length did not allow me to put them between my CD player and preamp without having to rearrange my equipment, so I put them between my preamp and monoblocks, just to get an initial impression. When the music started, we could not stop! I played one track after another and we had a very enjoyable time. We played a variety of music – jazz vocals, some virtuoso violin music and some drum tracks (my wife never ever sat through a dynamic drum track with me, this is a first).

I’ll comment more on the Forbes Lake’s sound quality in the full review for AVXpress after my extended listening sessions later. It is suffice to say now that my initial impression is that they improved my system’s musicality, heightened its resolution, made the bottom more articulate, and smoothened the highs without slowing the music down or dulling it. There are many other sound aspects I would like to comment on, but I should not let the cat out of the bag too early, especially not before I have a full handle on their performance, so I beg your patience. :-)

I’ll do some run-in on them for the next few days, and start some serious listening, I expect to hear more improvement. I’ll also compare their performance between pre-power and between CD-pre.

I absolutely look forward to this ‘chore’.

Lucky me! Maggielurva delivered to my place the most expensive pair of interconnects that I have ever had my hands on, at RM20k a pair. They are to be my first review assignment for AVXpress.

The interconnects are Siltech’s Forbes Lake. They are from Siltech’s Signature Series G6 with S.A.T.T. (Siltech Advanced Thermal Treatment), the top most cable range in Siltech’s stable.

I have not started the listening sessions with the Siltechs yet, that pleasure can be left to the coming weekend. However, the first impression of these cables has been very good. Reading about them revealed that they are made from solid silver strands with gold injection (no wonder they cost so much!). The construction is impeccable, they look and feel solid, a testament to the engineering and care that have gone into their manufacture.

I’ll update my progress with the Siltech in the coming days here, stay tuned.

humility is a rare attribute among audiophiles. in my 20 years of playing hifi, i can count by 5 fingers audiophiles who qualify in this criteria. a lot of audiohiles cannot go far because their egos are stopping them from improving. god has been especially kind to me this year. he granted me a reviewer and a friend who is not only humble, earnest and magnanimous but knows his stuff as well. for someone who owns a setup that cost over RM100K (about the same investment as mine) and admits that he has a lot to learn from me, says a lot about this person's depth of character, discerning power and humility. i have great honor to present his system in my blog

i reviewed the pass labs xa100 2 years back and the memory is still vividly stuck in my head. the tone, i remember, was uniquely attractive - it was neither solid-state nor tube-like.

2 years later - today, to be specific - i reunited with this class-a beauty (well, a smaller cousin, xa60, actually) in hifi kaki's house. before the visit, hifi kaki pre-empted me by saying that his system is "nowhere near mine" so "don't come with high expectations". don't even trust him on that. i was actually fooled into believing that his system is really not great! when the first note of his copland cdp was struck, i am suitably impressed and i don't mean to be nice to him just because his is my reviewer. (i told him that as a reviewer one should call a spade a spade). yes, i love the tone of his sound. it is, well, unique and a class on its own. this tonal aspect alone places him well above many systems i have listened in the past. sorry that i wasn't completely blunt and honest to those i visited in the past because some of you just don't have the humility and graciousness of hifi kaki.

his room is on the smallish side but it doesn't matter as he will be moving to a 3-storey house in 3 months' time and he will then be having a 15'X 22' almost-golden-ratio room to play with. i promise to help him to tune up the room. in fact, i am so nice to him that i have promised to bring him to ooi's house next week to show him ooi's room, cos ooi has the best hifi room i have ever seen and heard.

it is true that hifi kaki's system doesn't stage spectacularly, but that's because of his room limitations and to a lesser extent, his speaker placement. (wait till he gets his 15' X 22' room, aha) his system has all the high-end attributes of good highs, mids and lows. playing ricky lee jones' "pop pop" brings a familiar sense of air, density and palpability that can elude lesser/poorer systems. the highs are great but a tad short of the decay and that linger-forever-in-the-air quality of my maggie's ribbons. altho' equally elegant, ricky lee jones in hifi kaki's system sounded more rush than in mine; it is almost as if ricky lee jones has no patience to sing. still, it is a very likeable sound.

teddy robin's ferocious drums also sounded believable in his system, showing that the eggleston and the xa60 can indeed flex muscles together. i told hifi kaki that i would want more definition in the mids and midbass and less cluttering when i setup his system in his new house next time.

generally, the soundstage does not spread out as wide as the system is capable of, with instruments and voices cluttering around the center triangular plane. also the vocalist's mouth can be higher if tweaked properly. hifi kaki is fully aware of these shortcomings but he is being patient at the mo since the new house is almost ready.

if the above sound like criticism then you have misunderstood me. i have high standard for myself and those around me. his system is already several notches above many run-of-the-mills systems i came across all these years.

because i love and i care for my friends, i would like him to improve and i promise to present and revisit his system once his moves in to his new abode.

but, what gorgeous tone the pass labs xa60 gives!

i also passed him the RM20K siltech S.A.T.T signature series forbes lake interconnect for review, who says i don't treat my reviewers well? ;-)