I believe every audiophile has a few stories to tell about events that have left indelible marks in their hifi journey. I remember the first few hifi shows we had in KL (that must be 10-15 years ago), where I had a number of memorable encounters with exotic audiophilia. I'd like to relate two that are at the top of my list.

The first was the Malaysian debut of Wilson Audio's X-1/Grand SLAMM at KL's first hifi show, driven by a full set of Krell electronics. The dynamic freedom it displayed has firmly etched in my mind since.

The second happened with some diminutive speakers in a rather sizeable room in another show. After a few minutes of listening, a thought kept flashing through my mind, "this is music, this is music!". The room was an oasis of calm in the hustle and bustle of a hifi show, and everyone in there was just enjoying the magic of pure music. This system had great hifi attributes too, I remembered particularly one demo track where a ringing bell was moving around the soundstage, tracing a perfectly round circle, front to back, right to left, just behind the loudspeakers' plane. I never heard soundstaging like that before or since. I overheard a man with shoulder-length hair explaining to a visitor that when a system was set up properly, one would hear a round circle from this track, otherwise you would just get an elliptical one (!). Another exhibitor at the show was in the same room, he said that when the going was getting tough outside, he would sneak in here to listen to some 'music'!

The diminutive speakers were a pair of LS3/5a, the room was the "LS3/5a Club" and the man was, of course, JoKi. In every show since, I made a point to visit the LS3/5a room whenever JoKi was exhibiting. It was fair to say that I knew him much earlier than he knew me. :-)

A system centred on LS3/5a created an equally impactful impression as Wilson+Krell, though both were presenting different aspects of the musical truth. I am still amazed about this experience.

JoKi's hallmark was of course always the LS3/5a, I gathered that everything else in his system could change but never the speakers (or I should say speaker model, as he owns 10-20 pairs, displayed in a cabinet in his home). Last Friday night, I got to visit Mr. LS3/5a's lair for the first time.

Honestly, I approach this write-up with some trepidation. I can't help but think that for me to write about JoKi's system is like asking a primary school pupil to write about a Nobel prize winner's life long work. Could I do justice to JoKi's system? You readers be the judge. :-)


This is the bird's eye view of JoKi's system. The room had modest sonic treatment and you can see that the system was very elaborately set up. It had an eclectic mix of the modern and the classic.

If you go through the system with a fine tooth comb with JoKi (such as why certain thing was used, why it was positioned that way etc.), I think you can write a book. For example, he told me that every glass platform on the mana racks was marked with the positions where it was to be placed on the spikes. Thus, each piece of glass was finely balanced on each rack, nary a hair width of mis-alignment would cause the sound quality to go way off.

Every piece of his equipment was also carefully isolated, again the isolation device to use would have been carefully and extensively researched and evaluated. His experience with cone/spike/footer etc was encyclopedic. Don't get him start talking on this, you would be overwhelmed (but at the same time be entertained and educated) by the deluge of information he could flood you with.

This was the kind of fanatical devotion that JoKi has in hifi that very very few of us, if any, can match.

The equipment that we listened to was as follows:
JoKi was using a 47Lab cd transport (not shown) feeding an Audio Note DAC2.
The preamp used was a Bryston BP26.

Feeding the juice to the loudspeakers was a pair of Leak monoblocks and the loudspeakers were, need I say it, the LS3/5a plus the Rogers AB1 subwoofer column.


They were augmented further by a REL Stentor subwoofer hidden out of sight. Let me add that the integration between the sub and the main speakers was absolutely seamless, and can you guess where the subwoofer was placed? Behind (!) the listeners' seat instead of in front.

A Torus plc was also in use, shown below under the Linn LP12. There were also a couple of Bryston BCD-1 cdp which were under evaluation.


The system was much more than just the main equipment listed above. The matching of each equipment to the isolation device and the cable choice also has its own story behind, I believe . Pardon me for not being able to trace you through every item in the entire hifi chain. Like I said, I would be writing a book. :-)

A few minutes into the listening session, that old thought in my mind surfaced again, "this is music, this is music!". The system presented pure, unadulterated notes that the mind simply translated into beautiful music. The most critical success factor for me of a system was fulfilled just like that with disarming ease and charm.

The system has excellent resolution, to know what it can resolve (and what JoKi's ears can resolve :-) ), there is no better description than reading what JoKi wrote about music, go and download the first publication of MTX (you can find the link at the right side panel) and read the "Listen Critically" column by him, you would be surprised by the details he described about those recordings. A case in point, he said that in the "Famous Blue Raincoat 20th Anniversary Edition" cd, first track "First We Take Manhattan", Jennifer Warnes cleared her throat at the 15th and 16th seconds into the recording. I listened to this track a few times on my system trying to catch that, but I heard zilch! Ouch!

Soundstaging remained as this system's very strong strength. The soundstage I heard in this session was 3-dimensional, easily the best I have heard in all my home and dealer visits.

Some would think that the kind of music that JoKi played would be the delicate, quiet, simple kind. That would be a wrongly placed prejudice. He played us fast, rather complex music which also came with demanding dynamic contrasts. I was startled on a couple of occasions by the transient speed. The sound was not exceptionally large scale or gut-churning, but it had the required excitement factor for true musical enjoyment. And the presentations were always musically coherent.

Let me relate a couple more significant musical moments that night. On 'The Banquet OST' CD, there were a couple of tracks of solo male and female vocal, apparently singing about unrequited love, the rendition was so heart wrenching that I had goosebumps all over and chills in my body. I never heard emotion so sad and so hopeless. Equally, on life recordings, like Sara K's 'Don't I know you from somewhere', the sonic purity and palpable ambience was simply first rate.

I could go on, but let me say again - I would be writing a book. :-)

This is MUSIC, in the truest sense.

26 comments:

Panzer said...

hifikaki,

Great write up! I heard the fella clearing his throat of phlam during the duet on the Banquet OST CD! Did you? Ha! Ha!

I am never a fan of Sara K, but it sounded great that night! One thing about Jo's system is that it glorifies the music like few other systems can.

Many a times, I heard great music in his liar, go out and buy the same CD, only to be dissapointed when heard thru my own system.

harry said...

good system will bring you closer to the joy of musics

GCK said...

JoKi, no wonder their time management went haywire. I must say if I were there, it would have happen to me as well.
Congrats on attaining such high level in music reproduction.

Hifikaki, great write up.

kiarch said...

Hifikaki, thank you most sincerely for your good write-up of my humble system; almost could not believe its about my system! Upon recollection, it brings smile to my face. I am very honored and touched to receive such high praise from you.

I am so surprised that you can remember my first KLIAV show in 2003! Yes indeed, I said that exactly on a track by Talking Head under EMI label; it was prompted by EMI engineer; he talked at length about the mastering of this track, thereafter, it becomes one of my standard proceedural test-tracks for sculpting of soundstaging in my system. You have excellent memory. I am sorry that I didn't remember you as well as you do because there were just too many people in the show.

You are very observant and you understand my efforts and care in my set-up. This is simply stems from my believe that the soul of Art lies in its fine details.

Panzer, every system has its strength and weakness, what your system could do is what my system could not. The only underlying common persuit we have is Music. We shall come to meet some days and that is always the assuring comfort we can hold in hifi journey; we walk different paths but they all leads to the same goal.

Hi Harry, well said, Music is joyful, sorrowful, painful, cheerful, grateful, peaceful, etc... of all emotional myriads. All hifi system meant to serve Music.

Dear GCK, Thank you for your complement, I am still learning and hoping that I can get deeper into music's underlying hidden meaning. TIME and PLACE holds the keys, if we can do away with these 2 keys, we are THERE. The only good thing is both can be 'fooled' aurally. And this is what make hifi unique.

clarke said...

mr kiarch,

wow,you are so humble...in the US ,the system owner would probably brag till no end...

hope you could share further your hi-fi philosophies with us..

Felix said...

Jo's system is certainly the worse to listen to....it will be sleepless nights for me for DAYS after that! :-)

Jo, your system's performance that night has to be the most precisely tuned technically and pristinely delivered musically!

For the lack of a better word, breathtaking!

Felix said...

Jo's system is certainly the worse to listen to....it will be sleepless nights for me for DAYS after that! :-)

Jo, your system's performance that night has to be the most precisely tuned technically and pristinely delivered musically!

For the lack of a better word, breathtaking!

Anonymous said...

Can I ask which LS3/5A and also why the tweeters on the columns behind or where they not hooked up?

built62 said...

hifikaki,
did jo explain "the dog" to you?

hifikaki said...

JoKi,
No, you would not have noticed me at the Shows, I was the quiet one just sitting there listening to music. :-) I had never gone up to introduce myself to you anyway as you were usually so busy answering questions from visitors and friends.

It was memorable for me to visit your system's real 'habitat' instead of just listening at the shows.

Panzer,
You could hear what!? Darn, I got to get that cd!

Built62,
The 'dog' has meaning? I did not know, care to reveal? :-)

Anonymous,
I believe the pair JoKi used that night was KEF's version. The super tweeters up at the columns were not hooked up.
Jo, please clarify if I have not been correct.

recardo said...

felix,

i know exactly what you have just describe.especially if you spend megabucks on your system only to be humbled by an antique.....happened to me many times

razaque said...

hifikaki,

I really think you and the other contributors of this blogs should write a book.there are so much wisdom I find here that I wish some of the tips are compile into proper book....donT say no yet ; you and the gang think it over and let us know;I would be more than happy to be your first buyer

Anonymous said...

So what is everyone waiting for? You should have a pair of LS3/5a in your arsenal. Prices have risen for used as well as for new ones. Get them while they are still available.

kiarch said...

Hi Clarke,

If I were younger and shallower, I would probably brag about it. Not at the age I am now. I have learned much from others too and I realised that I learned the most when I am being humble; never under-rate any system I have the chance to meet and any meeting with any given system is an opportunity for me to learn, for better (to pick-up) or for worse (to avoid).

My philosophy of Music is very simple; Music is emotional by-products from the physical accomplishment of an individual. Listening to music is trying to reverse that process.

However, there are many 'music' out there are emotionally inclined; some are just pure physical attributes. For those physical elements, if the musician are skillful enough in their instrument or voice, they can be great too. Our appreciation level reach to the physical appreciation and recognition much like the Olympic medalists.

I hope I speak clear enough.

kiarch said...

Hi Felix,

Thank you for your compliment, I did gone through many stages of precision checks of my set-up before you and James come visit me.

Since your visit, I have done more works and my system has evolved yet again.

By far this is the best I can achieve for the time being. Please do feel free to come and give me your valuable opinion anytime.

kiarch said...

Anonymous,

I am currently using Chartwell LS3/5A Rosewood. The tweeters sitting on the columns traps are Decca Ribbon Supertweeters; they are not hooked up aas I have sufficient high frequency extension.

hifikaki said...

razaque,

Thanks for your confidence in us.

Maggielurva is the publisher among us, I think he should take up on your suggestion.

kiarch said...

Built62,

The 'dog' sitting on Audio Note DAC-2 is porcelaine "Nipper" Dog, probably the world famous dog. Its made by RCA in Japan in 1962. It stands about 6-7" tall.

I have another 3 miniature ones at 3" tall.

kiarch said...

Hi Recardo,

I was not into vintage initially until someone introduced me to Quad II and fed it with a passive preamp. It was a knock-out experience and revolutionised my entire thinking and belief!

The impedance matching between speakers and amplifer has dramatic good effects, meaning that either versions of LS3/5A (15ohm and 11ohm) would work better with vintage amplifiers. Almost entire of modern amplifers are design in either 4ohm or 8ohm impedance rules out this synergestic matching game.

Particular mentioned goes to Partridge transformer that is found in some vintage amps, this is one of few reasons why some vintage amps are so good sounding.

kiarch said...

Hi Anonymous, the price of LS3/5A has already inflated well over what I would consider to be 'reasonable' few years ago. Unless one is totally bowled over by not just its sound but also contrapted by its leanage and of its historical background, it would be rather insane to pay more than double (some more than 10x like my Chartwell) of its original selling price now.

Its already too late if not for some rare opportunity like yesterday, I bought my 27th pair Spendor 15ohm of early 1980s production for RM1,500 via a friend, which is too good to miss.

Anonymous said...

Hi kiarch,

Yes they are pricey now aren't they. We cannot compare to what they cost initially due to inflation etc. A new pair cost ard RM7-8k from Sterling and that's not the V2. Everything new nowadays cost too much anyway so used is a better route.

People who paid RM1500 for a new pair many years ago is willing to sell RM1500 and that is actually good for the seller and also for the buyer. Both are getting good deals.

BTW, you make us proud in this hobby.....so keep collecting.

Anonymous said...

It's too late for those that haven't got a pair yet. For those who has, they must be grinning from ear to ear.

Whether from a new or vintage perspective, they sound really good for what they are intended to do.

built62 said...

jo,
the dog is a beautiful piece of antique. just curious here... is the sound affected when it is repositioned or removed? i should have asked you sometime back - when you just strated to use the gotham ic. "the music" must be much better now.

"every system has it strength and weakness"
what further improvement would you like in yours?

kiarch said...

Dear Anonymous,

I am more or less done with my collection of LS3/5A, I have enough with a fleet of 27; enough for me to wire a system all the way from garden to rooftop!

However, during the time when it all started and over a period of times, its not so bad. I must say that most of the pairs were literally 'dumped' on me and it takes many years to creat such a heap.

Thank you for not branding me a mad fellow.

kiarch said...

Hi Built62,

Thank you for your question.

The Nipper dog sits there because it gives me something to look at. It has no effect on sound, not very much the last time I checked. In fact, my system would sound slightly better, freer and open without it weighing down on my DAC.

Like every owner in hifi, we always find our system never good enough! I have the same level of weakness like everyone else. The particular weakness worth mentioning in my system is the dynamism. I have been pushing this elements for the last 5-6 years continuously. I have achieve quite a lot comparing to what the general perception is, which is much lower.

built62 said...

hi jo,
thanks for the reply. btw, you were a great host... teh tarik and all!