20 May, 2023

Elekit TU-875

Review: Elekit TU-875, Part II
Letter from Hong Kong (23-6): Terrence Lau on Elekit TU-875

Editor: Reader Terrence Lau submitted this as a comment, but it's substantial enough that I took the liberty of additionally publishing it as an article, to keep the flame burning, so to speak. Many thanks for the detailed write-up!

The Elekit TU-875 is by now legendary. Many in the West look for it but finding it is very hard for them. HK people are lucky in that we could easily buy Japanese second-hand. The coverage on TU-875 is piecemeal in this blog, but I urge you to read them!

My early Elekit Overview (here) can be viewed as Review, Part I. For the sake of simplicity, I shall call this current one Part II, even if it comes after many of ELO's more recent articles on the subject, which likely triggered TL's interests.

ELO's articles are harder to classify. They were written in a Diary-like Systems Context. It pays to read
them carefully. The first one documents his Search (here); the second the full evaluation (here).

I got one in mid May 2023 in Hong Kong from a fellow on the review33 site. He was a very polite and nice guy who is similar in age as I, so we had a good chat at his home when dealing. 

It was an original Japanese domestic kit, unopened, and the seller said he had bought it in Japan himself. It had Jan Philips 5963, contrary to what I had seen previously on some YouTube videos where the kit was shown for assembly process with 12AU7EH. What a treat.

At home, it took me the best part of a day to assemble the thing. I made several mistakes in soldering one diode and several D170 triodes, rendering the unit inoperable upon “completion”. During checking I found the upstream PSU and tube boards were OK and concentrated on the lower main board. There I found my mistakes, having reversed the polarity of those parts that I mentioned. After repeated checks, it got to work finally.

It wasn’t difficult to note the “faster” sound of the TU-875 compared to my other preamps, both tubed and SS. Compared with my McIntosh C11 and C20, it sounds so airy and the background is so hiss-less that I had to turn up the volume up to max to confirm this performance. Really, Kudos to the designer of this kit working on a meagre but applaudable 7 volts 1.7 ampères little power supply case (the wall wart doesn’t even qualify to be called a box).

In stark contrast to my McIntosh and my Conrad Johnson PV-8, both the MM and the Line Sections.sound clear and quiet, without being too analytical, but giving huge level of detail and certain warmth in sound.
Harmonics are good therefore, and I found it easily to live with, especially for tube rolling. The front single tube is for the line amp with average amplification, while the two tubes near the taller cover on the back are for MM stage with really huge gain as I found out with my trusted OM-3 pickup. I haven’t had the chance to test out the MC stage yet but opinions have it that it should sound just as sweet as does the MM stage as it is built with two J-FET ICs. I’m not doubting.

In pairing this preamp I noted it relatively prefers a power amp with lower damping, for the sound to gravitate towards the bassier side of the spectrum. So, it should be paired with a tube amp such as McIntosh MC240, or even an EL84 one. The TU-875 works spectacularly well with my Ampex 15-watt mono tube amps with 6973, often referred to as the Ampex 6973 mono amplifier. Not to be confused with the stereo version from Ampex, this mono amp was built for 16 ohm loads, the stereo version being for 8 ohm. Alternatively, I will try it with my Nakamichi PA-700.

So my take is that, nowadays, while it's difficult to source as NOS un-assembled, the TU-875 is holding up well in its performance and even at the price I paid, for US$400 in sum, it is a great value on the whole. A bargain I should say. Just the fun of assembling the kit alone is worth everything and every minute. And alas this fun is probably only for those few who will travel the extra mile to first of all get one set to begin with.

Editor's Comments:
1) It's incredible that TL can assemble the thing in 1 day; it's not an easy kit! 2) the original tubes are JAN 5693! Very nice, but of course even older old-stock 12AU7s are even nicer; 3) Ampex 6973 monoblocks, man, these are gems (pic below borrowed from reverb)! Just that 6973's are hard to find! These are fast, fluid amps that outperform even EL84s. 

07 May, 2023

Nobsound E6 III Douk Phase Microphonics

Click all pics to enlarge. Top, doctorjohn's naked E6 with Audiophiler Caps. Black Rubber O-Rings sandwiching the white Silicone ones. Kinda monochrome Saturn? Actually, they are not needed, but just for show.

Nobsound E6, Part III: Shawn P Reports on his Experience.
Doctorjohn and his NYC friends on Microphonics; Phase Reversal...etc

Editor: The Nobsound E6 wildfire is ablaze on two continents (at least), and I see no sign of ablation. I surmise there are several reasons for this: 1) Now entering cheaptubeaudio preservation stage (i know we are very small compared to the UN...), the E6 is already endangered species (no more large tube stash for continual production; how that increases its allure!); 2) although the tube in question is “flawed”, its great sound potential is worth all the wrangling (I repeat: I discourage most people who are not tinkerers or tweakers to get this thing; also not for measurement and “scientific” people - not at all); 3) a truly dedicated audiophile is a masochist who somehow perseveres, or even enjoys obstacles. In case you are in doubt, if you are someone who buys things from Amazon or Ebay or Aliexpress and compare and return most of them, you are not one! Just do the world a favor, don’t get it and then return! Try not to be a Polluter!; 4) I expect this E6 thread to go on for quite a bit longer! Gauging what my NYC friends are doing, I wouldn’t be surprised if it reaches beyond Part V...

Part I, Basic information on the Preamp and Essential Info on the Tubes.
Part II, Caps Mods and Reception by our friends in NYC.

Part IV should come soon too, on cap mods etc.

In this Part III first we’ll first hear from our HK author Shawn P. His mentioning of Schiit Vali I is extremely interesting to me. Then I’ll show you some of the things my friends in NYC and I have been discussing, and they are of import.

Shawn P
To echo with doctojohn’s Part 1, quite a while ago, we discussed the E6. I thought that was interesting as the only DHT I knew of were the 300B and 845 (and its closely related ones). Let alone, DHT preamps.

Since I like the 300B and 845 so much, I thought a DHT preamp would be nice and likely be my cup of tea. I did a bit more research and eventually I realised that I already had experience with DHT preamp with Schitt Vali (1st generation) which utilised 6088 for the preamp section and I had been quite happy with the sound of it. The realisation further reinforced my belief that I would enjoy a DHT preamp. [Editor: The 6088 is a tiny nuvistor-like Direct-Heated Pentode wired as triode in the Vali I. Like the 2J27, it's also prone to microphonics. I also have the Vali II, which did away with this tube but is not inspiring.]

I spent a bit more time on TB and found that there were not that many DHT preamps and I thought perhaps it was due to the fact that small DHT tubes had microphonic issues.

Nevertheless, the Douk E6 caught my eyes as it was nicely priced and did not seem to be a fake tube preamp with opamp. The E6 page on TB has a warning that HV rail runs at 100V and that sounded like a real tube preamp to me.

Contacted doctorjohn and told him about my new find, and he told me that he also had his eyes on this little guy for a while and perhaps my mentioning finally got him to pull the trigger and the rest was history.

Ok, how does it sound?

I had the E6 connected to my APPL 845 initially. When I first turned everything on, the E6 had serious microphonic issues and merely touching the volume would cause ringing. Needless to say, the music would cause ringing as well and I had to turn down the volume in order to mitigate the issues. Eventually, I connected the E6 to the APPL 300B which had less power and did better with the microphonics. In fact, the APPL 300B was a better match with the E6 in the sense that E6 could contribute more to the APPL 300B. The APPL 845 was doing quite ok without a preamp.

Rubber bands were introduced to the tubes and the microphonic issues were further reduced to a point that it was not too much of a problem. At least not materially disturbing my listening.

The first CD I tried out with this new setup was one of my Jazzclub CDs, “Jazz for Lovers”. on the song “Dream a Little Dream of Me” by Laura Fygi, the problematic area was usually the high E String guitar plugging towards the end of the song. With some amplifiers, the plugging could die down prematurely, and it could also sound a bit rough. With the E6, the plugging extended nicely and it was nothing edgy/rough at all. Smooth but not muffled.

Another song from “Jazz for Lovers”, “Do It Again” by Shirley Horn. I am of the view that this song is the most challenging song of this CD, not that it did not sound good but I have always felt that the music and Shirley’s singing did not match. The music reminded me of some Hong Kong black and white movies from the 60’s (粵語長片) in which, goofy guys would do some goofy acts with similar music at the background. Whereas Shirley was asking you to “Do It Again”. Kind of odd. No worries, the E6 had the ability of making sure Shirley was the “leading actress” and the music was only in a supporting role. With E6 in the chain, Shirley was speaking to me and asking me to “Do It Again” and the goofiness was gone! Shirley's singing became “3D” if you want a modern term with visual elements to relate to.

My general impressions (initial) with the E6 were very good. APPL 300B was musical but with the E6 it became more enjoyable. Music had more extension with E6 and it became more musical. Perhaps additional even order harmonic distortions or some may simply refer to it as “even order harmonics”.

Well, I still need to plug in the Russian tubes. I heard they sound even better."

Doctorjohn and Fellow NYC Friends
Now, these are very experienced people, as I have mentioned in Part II. Their actions regarding the E6 truly astonished me. But before we get to these crazies, a fact.

Phase Being an extremely simple single-stage triode (albeit strapped) amplifier, the E6 is PHASE REVERSED by nature of the design. This is a complicated question. Theoretically, with a phase reversed component in the playback chain, provided none of your other components reverses phase (the usual scenario), you should compensate by having your + and - loudspeaker cables reversed (either on amp or loudspeaker side, but not both) in both channels. Simple, right? Yes, and no. The younger among us, such as ELO and Shawn P, and mrgoodsound, likely listen to mostly recent recordings, which are mostly phase-correct. In their case, it’s advisable to do the reversal. But for older folks like Andy and friends in NYC, who hold and play tons of old vinyls, it’s not so simple. Many (say, half) of the older recordings are phase-reversed to start with (which is why many insist that a phase switch is mandatory on phonoamps and DACs). In this case, reversing the loudspeaker + and - will not be desirable in half the situations. Such may be the case with Andy who, as mentioned in Part II, uses the Citation I phono stage for RIAA. The Citation I has a Phase Switch (so no need to do adjustment with loudspeaker cables), and Andy reports no significant difference with the majority of material.

Not so for those who play mostly newer stuff. In a private communication, Shawn P reported that the image snapped into focus when compensated for phase reversal. And then there is my case. Although I love old recordings I listen mostly to newer stuff and I find compensating for the reverse phase desirable, but perhaps not absolutely mandatory. SO! You must try for yourself to see if it matters with you. It’s free!

And then there is the issue of some of the loudspeaker systems, particularly some of the older ad-hoc horn systems, where DIY (or even stock) crossover designs etc may have some of the drivers out of phase. The effect can be unpredictable. BUT, aside from a little diffusion, I maintain it’s not night and day usually. Us horn users are not pin-point imaging people, and prefer presence, and it can be a different story. YMMV.

Microphonics continue to be an issue. In Part I I have shown how the tube originally comes in a Full Metal Jacket (FMJ) for a good reason - the metal covering, and inner cardboard rings are there to damp the microphonics. In removing the FMJ for the sake of looks, Nobsound has made the E6 more prone to microphonics. Here’s the breakdown:
  • Stock Chinese tubes are naked, without FMJ. Some have very mild microphonics; others more severely affected. You can temper the microphonics by applying Tube Dampers (like one for similar sized 6SN7, which could be cheap or expensive). But I suggest you get Industrial O-Ring’s, which are dirt cheap. For those who can buy from Chinese TB, there are ones made from rubber and others made from silicone. You can use any that’s the right size, and you may find them locally too. Important to know: the diameter of the 2J27 glass tube is 29 mm. So, you need rings with inner diameter of 29mm or less. See one of the bottom pics for how to calculate. It’s likely the smaller and tighter the better the effect. Or, to start cheap, you can use some Thick Rubber Bands and wind them around the tubes (both my NYC friends and Shawn P have employed them with success). beside these more conventional approaches, you shall find many innovative tactics in the attachments at the bottom. Madtubeaudio!
  • As detailed in Part I, you can buy Russian tubes from TB here or from Ebay. The Russian ones come in FMJ. As mentioned, the diameter of the FMJ tube is slightly too large to be inserted into the E6. So, you can do as I did, and remove the FMJ. This of course makes it more prone to microphonics, but the Russian tube is inherently superior in this respect and quite manageable so far even without O-Ring dampers
  • Or, if you want to use it as is, which is definitely better for microphonics, and it saves you the hassle of removing the FMJ, you alternatively have to remove the E6 chassis (L pic: Andy's with Russian Tubes). You would need a regular Philips screwdriver for the 2 RCA socket screws and, perhaps a little trouble for some people, a small hex bit (likely from a jewelry hardware set) to unscrew the 8 chassis screws. I stick 4 small 3M sticker feet to the bottom of the circuit board and place it on a rubber slab, but any insulating material would do. Voltage is low and unlikely to cause anyone trouble. You can also choose to re-attach the front and rear (gold) plates by the RCA socket screws, but then they would be wobbling a bit and I think that’s not so good for isolation.
  • Any Downside to Damping Rings? I haven’t really done any A/B. Andy mentioned: “...two of these stop the ringing entirely but they also take away some upper harmonics in music...” This is true in my experience as well. I have used many Audio Research stuff, and in many of their later stuff they used damping rings. Invariably, I’d prefer to have a little microphonics than to have them totally damped out. The effect is just as Andy mentioned. So, use judiciously, only when necessary (which certainly varies with individuals).
  • Advice: With microphonic tubes, when changing cables etc, just turning down the E6 volume is not enough. If your amp has a volume knob, turn it all the way down, or turn it off. Give the preamp some seconds to settle down before turning the amp volume back on, and then gradually. One time, with the Chinese tubes, I was in haste and only turned down the amp volume a little. Well, I heard a loud ringing through my loudspeaker tweeters and I moved quickly to turn the amp off. After that, I have been more careful.
Kevin's Rubber Wrapped Tubes and Modified Caps, just one of many iterations
Andy's Ultra-Zen Tea Cups! Yes, they work!
Yes, Andy's Fluted Glasses Work Too!

20 April, 2023

Nobsound E6 Part II Douk

Click Pics to enlarge. Top, Andy's JBL Station. From L (top) to R (bottom), Technics SP10 w/ Dynavector DV505; Garrard 401 w/Odyssey RP1; E6 on plinth; Dared 2A3 amp.

Nobsound E6, Part II: Cap Mods, Feedback from NYC
Letter from NYC (23-1): Update on Andy’s System

Update 4/22/23: Empty circuit board photo added. Shows which cap is which. 

Note: Part I is the Main Review. For those who first encounter the E6 here in this page, please read it for main info - this is a follow up, but it’s full of useful info. Part III, on Phase Reversal and more on Microphonics, has also been published. 

The Miracle Continues 
As I mentioned in Part I, the Nobsound E6 is that miraculous product. Here we strive to make it even better!

Capacitor Mods As I mentioned in Part I, given the tiny size of the PCB that is studded with surface mount components, the only mods possible (within the ultra-compact chassis) are the 4 coupling caps. The stock is pretty standard generic MKP2. As you can see from the pics, on the side that has only one, there is no concern. BUT, on the side that has 3 jammed close together real estate is a real problem. Make sure you scale with the tube socket in mind and you shall see how little space there is.

Which Cap is What They 4 grey caps are Input and Output Coupling Caps. Value is unusually high at 1.0 uF (5% tolerance, 250V). After I un-soldered them, I noticed they are numbered C1, C2, C3, C15 on the PCB. This is highly unusual. In the usual circuits, the left and right are named with some symmetry, like 12 for R and 22 for L; 13 for R and 23 for L. Not here! The PCB tracks are sophisticated, double sided, sandwiched and copper traces are not visible except for slightly raised outlines. I could only trace C2 to the volume pot, and so it’s an input cap. I inquired and fortunately got an answer after I did my mod: C2 and C3 are Input Caps; C1 and C15 are Output Caps. Now, that is helpful for planning.

https://m.tb.cn/h.UsNmXVa?tk=bpX3dlUIHxn Capacitor Choice I cannot emphasize enough the importance of this. I don’t mean (preconceived) sonic merits, I mean size!!!! 250V caps are smaller than 400V ones, but they can still be pretty big. There is very little room. I ordered 4 types (dirt cheap), and the most “expensive” ones, so-called “Solen” that I used with success to mod my ETA Preamp (here), were just a little too big, and I finally resorted to the Audiophiler ones. I replaced all 4 with same. For US (Parts Express) and Europe readers, perhaps check out the cheap and good “German” Audyn caps which I used to modify my Dynaco PAS3 (here). The smaller the better! Dispel the thoughts of using PIO Jensen, or Beewax or whatever! Won’t fit! You have been warned.

While we are on boutique caps, most of them cost as much as, or more than this device itself. It’s your choice, but I think dollar caps today sound very good, as per my Dynaco and ETA efforts linked above. And, most of them, French Solen or German Audyn, to name just 2 mentioned here, are for sure made in China. The rest of the deduction you do yourself.
Well, here’s actually a thought. For one of the caps on the crowded menage a trois side, you can solder wires and move the cap to the other side (affix it with blu-tac or glue), which has more space. So, perhaps it’s possible to have somewhat larger caps after all...

Sound The Audiophiler Caps cost RMB 3 (for 4). One can extrapolate how much the stock one's cost. BUT, the effect is mightily impressive! Everything got significantly better. It’s not a question of better high’s or better mid’s or low’s (though it is better in all of these, but nothing predominates). No, it’s a much more organic kind of better everything, including control, integration, dynamics, noise level and, ultimately and very simply, how much one is at ease without noticing this or another deficiency. After the bar is raised, I really think this tube can do no harm whatsoever. Proceed with confidence! A rough estimate, the magnitude of improvement by cap mods is as much as moving from the Chinese tubes to the Russian ones mentioned in Part I.

Ultimate Mod Fantasies Well, one solution is to move the PCB outside its straitjacket of a chassis! Mount the PCB in a larger box, use rubber washers to isolate it and for shock absorption. Use whatever caps (even huge vintage oil caps) you like. And, yes, solder wires to the PCB and use a “better” pot is a possibility. Personally, I look down on expensive resistor ladder pots. Many of us prefer the more natural sound of carbon pots (yes, even Shindo). It’s your move. Why are we talking about this? Well! This little thing is worth it!

E6 fever in New York City
I’m really shocked how the E6 has taken my NYC friends by storm.

Lenco TT with STAX (and SME).

Andy How come I know so many Andy’s? Well, for regular readers, this Andy is not the HK one I mentioned in my recent Guangzhou Show reports. He is my NYC analog guru and leader of the gang there (we have a wechat group). Regular readers need only to search this blog and find my numerous NYC articles (here for one). Well! Andy and I know each other’s taste very, very well (yes, we have small differences, but they are highly consistent and reproducible, and we know what the other will feel). As reported before, he spends his daytime downstairs with his 2 horn systems. As purveyors of DHTs, of course we are all interested in the unusual E6. And so, Andy bought one - and really liked it:
  • He mostly uses Analog. In his Dining Room JBL Station (pics in this article, previously reported in detail here, but it is very different now), he employs three turntables with 4 tonearms: 1) Garrard 401 w/Odyssey RP1; 2) Technics SP10 w/ Dynavector DV505; 3) Lenco Double Decker w/ Stax and SME 3012 Series One. Except for the Stax Cartridge, the TT output goes into Citation I, then via Tape Out connects with E6 which then drives the Dared 2A3 amp. He hasn’t done much comparison, but his gut feeling is the E6 sounds as good as most much of his preamps.
  • The Stax setup deserves a special mention. Andy found out that the E6 almost miraculously can serve as the 10 db Booster amp (the E6 is around 16 db, with a volume knob) for his Stax ESL cartridge (reported in detail here; this cartridge is highly unusual, amplitude device, no RIAA needed; the output goes into a decoder, which must be used, and then into a Booster amp. The original Booster was FET, but Andy said the E6 is simply better!
  • In his Altec Station, he has also briefly tried out the E6 to good effect. With CD, his Sony SCD-777ES benefits from the warmth of the E6.
  • In his main mega system upstairs (reported in detail here), Andy has tried the E6 to good effect as a booster for phono going into the ARC Reference 2 Line Stage. As the noise level is low, he finds it very useful wherever signal boosting is needed. The latest is this: Quote: “...I’m testing one between the equalizer of the DS E1 optical cartridge and ARC Reference II line stage. It’s doing a good job toning down the solid-state characteristics of the IC op-amp equalizer...” Here though Andy finally detected some microphonics, which he said were largely absent downstairs.
  • Andy bought a few more to use in all his systems. And our friends have followed suit! The cohort so far has bought >10 and have depleted Ebay! I hope more reports to follow.
Mark Now, this is yet another insane friend whose big systems I have reported in detail before. Well, he bought one and then 3 more! See right screenshot for his comments.

There are more to come later from the other fellows...

2J27 Supply Woes For us, and for the foreseeable future, buying a few tubes is not a problem. But for a popular manufacturer, which likely buys 10K tubes at a time, it’s a big problem. There’s no great stash in China, nor Russia. So, in my estimation in a few months E6 shall not be available. If you are interested, now is the time to act.

  • A great product Our NYC friends have all experienced very high-end before and together we are still stunned by the performance of this little thing!
  • Serving as Booster Amp (or buffer) To sum Andy's experience, the E6 is worth trying out wherever you want a little buffering warm sound, or extra gain of up to 10+ db. It can serve well in many circumstances, particularly for analog fans, all thanks to the excellent engineering and the LOW NOISE (when the tube is good). My thinking: actually, all these fellows own several preamps and others could possibly fill the same shoes (but many of their vintage ones are noisier). But the difference with the E6 is that it's tiny and one is much more inclined to use it rather than pile up another big box into the system. A connected E6 looks smaller than the junction boxes on some interconnects (think MIT, Oracle etc).
  • Microphonics is an issue that still looms on the horizon. So far, the NYC crowd did not have much microphonics, and they haven’t even switched to the Russian tube yet. For me here, as detailed in Part I. I use Russian tubes and don’t have the problem anymore. But we're on the watch for it.
  • This is the kind of product Cheaptubeaudio exists for, and we are proud of really exploring it in depth. We have our author Shawn P to thank for it. It was after talking to him that I decided to try it out (chronicled in Part I, link on top of page). Incidentally, Shawn P has also gotten one and in due time we shall have his experience too!
Andy's Decca Cartridge through Citation I and the E6 (see setup above)!

13 April, 2023

Sham Shui Po Apliu Street

Pic from the net.
Letter from Hong Kong (23-5): Shawn P on Sham Shui Po, Apliu Street

Doctorjohn and I were chatting about 80s Sham Shui Po (“SSP”) a few weeks ago and he suggested that perhaps I can write an article on that. For those of you who are not familiar with SSP, it is one of the 18 districts in Hong Kong and what makes SSP special (at least for me and likely for doctorjohn as well) is that it includes Ap Liu Street (“ALS”), and Golden Computer Arcade (黃金電腦商場) (“GCA”) and Golden Computer Centre (高登電腦中心) (“GCC”).

The significance of these locations will be discussed further below but suffice to say for now SSP was the brewing ground for my geekiness and certainly paved the way for my engineering study.

My encounter with SSP began with ALS back in the early 80s when I was in Primary 4 (Grade 4 for the US). My dad first brought me there a couple of times and I would then go there by myself on a regular basis.

ALS is a straight road (must be at least a mile long) and a pedestrian zone for most of the day. The sidewalks are lined by dinky old walk-up buildings with ground floor electronic stores (many up those old stairs too). However, the street is also lined by stalls (which also sell electronic accessories) which usually block views of the ground-level shops. If you want to shop at the stalls; you need to walk/stand on the street (cars with permits do occasionally pass through the street and get really close to the stall shoppers). If you want to shop at the ground-level shops, you need to go behind the stalls. Luckily, there are gaps in between stalls which allow you to go behind the stalls in the middle of the street. Essentially, we have mile-long stalls and shops on both sides (a total of 4 miles of shops) which sell electronic components/equipment, audio equipment (including things we discussed here), second-hand articles, mobile phones, plus more.

As you can imagine, ALS would be quite interesting for a 10 year old kid; everything was new to me; I would discover new items every step I took. In fact, I did not know what most items were but they were all interesting to me nevertheless.

The category that interested me the most was PCBs with different functions. These PCBs would be placed inside transparent folded plastic boxes either with components soldered or loose components. Brand names and contacts would be printed on these boxes in golden letterings. I purchased these PCBs with no intention of integrating the same into any system, I simply brought them because their respective functions were Interesting. For example, a PCB with a photodiode which turned on an LED when I shined a flashlight on the photodiode. Why the purchase? Nothing specific but these aimless PCB purchases did get me familiar with electronic components at an early age.

I switched my focus to GCA and GCC (mainly GCC) not long after my discovery of ALS. GCA and GCC are both 5-minute walks away from ALS and these places mainly sell computer related items. The reason for my switch of focus was that me and my brother spent our entire life savings (at that moment) for a second hand and unofficial Apple II.

Why unofficial? Well, my understanding was that it was not an Apple made in the USA; perhaps it was made in Taiwan or Hong Kong. It was not nicely done and I could not completely close the back cover.

Needless to say, the most powerful tool/function of Apple II was computer gaming and GCC was the place to go for computer games.

Computer games were stored on cassette tapes and I had to type the command “LOAD” and then press the “Play” button on the cassette player in order to load the game onto the computer. It would take around 10 to 15 minutes to load; if I was lucky, it would only take one try, but usually it would take at least 2 tries; meaning, 30 minutes in total just to load the game.

These computer games were interesting, much better than those of Atari (IMHO). At least, the joystick was moveable unlike the Atari joystick which I barely had enough strength to operate.

I would spend more and more time in GCC and eventually I started exploring GCA (which mainly sold computer hardwares) and started noticing all sorts of computer upgrades. The upgrade that interested me most was the floppy disc drive. I was window shopping one day at GCA and noticed one shopkeeper typed the command “PR#6” and the LED on the floppy drive lit up. In less than a minute, the loading of a computer game was completed. I was not sure what it was but I was sure the loading only took less than a minute as it would not be possible for the shopkeeper to type any command during a cassette tape loading.

That was amazing! I had to have one - imagine how much time I could save with it! I asked how much and I was told HKD1800 (around USD230). I thought I would not be able to afford one during my lifetime.

What more did I discover while walking around GCA and GCC? I discovered that, in addition to gaming, I could also do BASIC programming with Apple II. Initially I could do no more than the “Hello World” but one guy told me that I could buy some cheap programing books at a Mong Kok “upstairs” bookstore near “Gala Shopping Centre” (I believe). The programming books were affordable and I decided to get the one with the most colourful cover. Even though I was already in Primary 6 by then, the contents were too difficult for me to understand. Nevertheless, I did some trial and error and mainly just copied the program examples and see if I could produce the same results.

Eventually I was able to duplicate the results after pressing the “Enter”. Those were the triumphant moments, as if I actually knew how to program in BASIC when it was nothing more than copying. That said, I did eventually learn the BASIC syntax by reading and copying these programs.

That led to something I mentioned in my first article, the 31-band equalizer and all the myths and misconceptions in the 80s. These were my secondary school years, when yutes like me would very much like to get their hands on boomboxes and hifi rack systems. Naturally, I would go to SSP, in particular ALS, to find out all the latest information and products. Thanks to the time I spent in SSP earlier, I knew my way around and would navigate ALS with ease.

I personally think the 80s was the age of exaggeration. It had all the elements to nurture the same, the competitions were getting more serious, the information was not yet widely available, and people had more money to spend. As a result, exaggerations/misconceptions flew around and I learned that each boombox would crack out at least 100W, an amplifier with more dials would sound better than one with less, a speaker should at least have 6 drivers, the best arrangement for the 31-band equalizer was one with “W” formation etc...

These were misconceptions, but the craziness did get my interest going. I actually believed these numbers/information and hence genuinely felt amazed. Now, I can rarely get the same eye-opening feeling from reading an article on the internet. Perhaps it is even more so when information is so widely available as it is difficult to get a learned person (relatively speaking, not absolutely) to feel eye-opening again.

If you do have a chance, go have a walk at ALU, GCA or GCC. It is unlikely that you would find the amusement I experienced but it will certainly be different from merely reading information on the internet. Perhaps, you may discover something special.

Postscript by Doctorjohn
I was in NYC in the 80’s and so missed the SSP Shawn described, and I’m almost envious. But, ALS was one of the first places I got to know after I repatriated to HK in ‘92 (my audiophile student took me there first). I frequented the place, less so the GCC and GCA. In fact, around the mid 90’s I lived for more than 2 years on Shun Ning Road,,a stone throw from ALS. Those were Golden Years for Audio, and Apliu Street had many high end second-hand stores piled high with stuff. Nested inside those old buildings were also many very quirky sifu’s (“artisans”) who DIY and do repairs and sell vintage too. I bought my first solder kit there, and then loose cables for self-termination, various adaptors and then caps for mods and supertweeters. The scene is a little different now, as the high end is gone, but the stores selling retro vintage, mostly Japanese solid state stuff (like Sansui), are still there. One always found things there. Imagine a pair of beat up but fully functional Yamaha NS-10 for HKD 1k! I still have it! Of course, it’s still the place for accessories, adaptors, components etc. 

麻甩佬吃饭 The area also has many hole-in-the-wall eateries that are legendary. No comfort, no nonsense, but great food. Kweilin Street 桂林街 is the best. Starting from Apliu Street, one can have, in rapid order, the best Hong Kong style rice roll 肠粉 (opposite the public toilet, store in an alley, next to electronic store), good noodles and congees at 新香園 - 堅記, and a cup of the iconic Milk Tea 奶茶 with “pineapple bread” 菠萝包 at 华南冰室。BTW, across the street from 华南冰室 is the government wet market. On the second floor daipaidong, food is good and cheap. I had recommended 大利!  BUT a friend told me THEY ARE CLOSED NOW. So it has become memory. Slippery floors. Surprisingly good roast goose 烧鹅. I had only eaten there at lunch time. Not everything was good, but portions were HUGE. I favored the Singapore Noodles 星洲炒米 and egg foo young rice 芙蓉旦饭 (shredded pork fried noodle 肉丝炒面 pretty good too). Portions were so big that it would kill you and you didn't have to eat dinner!

I miss SSP! Next time I'm in HK, I shall go there!

BTW, the best Yunnan rice noodle 云南米线 in HK is this store close to where I used to live, 云南风味. 谭仔 is garbage. Better than all stores in Shenzhen too.

12 April, 2023

Guangzhou Show 2023 Part V Video

Click pics to enlarge. Lorenzo loudspeakers on silent display (maybe just as well?). Wadax electronics (ugly to many people; I'm neutral). And those garbage Goldmund towers (yes, I've heard them in HK). This lady to me looks a little like my favorite Michelle Yeo.

Guangzhou Hi End Show (AV Fair), Part V (of V), Overview, Summary and Postscript (with bonus Video)

Editor: 1) As the show was big, this is a multi-part effort2) If you first come to this page, I'd urge you to first read Part I for Basic Info.

Note: This Report has many parts, I have given it a new tag, Show report - Guangzhou 2023. Click to view Parts I, II and III, IV.

Some of the equipment have featured in the Shenzhen Audio Show that I reported on. This is relevant here: Although I did not do the China Hotel segment of this GZ show and missed some big rooms, many of the brands can be found in my coverage of the SZ show (e.g., Raido, CH Precision, Analog Source, Line Magnetic, Hanowa, Eizz, Pilium, Simaudio, Scansonic, rossofiorentino, Hegel, Gold Note, Franco Serblin, Prima Luna, Audes, Audio Analogue, Quested, Mymei, Ologe, Triangle, and more).

Overview, Summary and Postscript (with bonus Video)
After my “coverage” of the show, for this Final Part, I shall tie up loose ends, provide a video, and give you some of my very personal Thoughts and Reflections.

Attendees According to the show’s official Weixin page, it’s the world’s second-largest Audio Show (after Munich), with more than 20,000 visitors per day (I think on Saturday; usually less on Firday and Sunday). This is likely not counting in the significant number of “VIPs” brought in without charge by exhibitors. Nonetheless, crowded as it was, given the generous real estate, it was less so than in HK Shows, and more often than not one could still sit down and listen a little. In HK, in many rooms I had to raise my arm all the way over the crowd to even get a shot. The crowd is fairly young (especially for personal audio), good sign for the industry.

Official Video Here’s a just-issued official video which cannot be downloaded over Weixin, so I just pirated by video recording on my cell. It shows the crowds and the China Hotel section that I dropped. You can see flashes of brands that I did not cover, like (just to name some) Albedo, Avantgarde, Line Magnetic Foshan (Analog Source) with large Horns driven by 212 amps, Duevel, Bayz, Vivid, Bergman, Dartzeel, etc. I particularly like the comparably extensive coverage of personal audio, some with aerial view! I just wish they had devoted less time to irrelevant models (both ladies and equipment).
Seen and Heard Being a one-man band and limited by my car-ride hosts’ timetable, I only had about 6 hours inside. I wrote about most of the “real” smaller audio rooms, which are more interesting usually, but there were many rooms that I popped my head into briefly but did not mention (like companies majoring in AV stuff, power conditioning and cables).

Not Seen, Not Heard As mentioned, I deliberately sacrificed the smaller adjacent China Hotel location, as some of the players there I had explored in full at the SZ show (like Hanowa, Eizz, Line Magnetic Foshan and Zhuhai). Some others there also had an additional small room or have partnered with smaller exhibitors (at Eastern Hotel) to demo some of their products, which I heard. There were also large exhibitors that I was not interested in (like HK Radar). Talking about the very high end, I think the HK Shows still have even more that could be heard, not silent display (especially Swiss stuff, like Soulution, CH Precision, Steinheim, Nagra, etc). Notice I did not count Goldmund (with silent presence at this show) among them, as I personally think of Goldmund as expensive mediocrity now (some of the Swiss companies I did mention above were founded by people who left Goldmund, and they are better). I also skipped all rooms and sections devoted to CD and LP resale (a LOT). As in shows anywhere, lots of inferior music sold at high prices.

Pics and Research Honestly, the way I popped in and out of rooms, I just prioritized my gut feeling toward the sounds. There is no way that I’d recognize all supporting equipment. When writing the articles, I scrutinized the pics I took with my old Samsung Galaxy S7 (which, though not good, is still much better than my even older iPhone 5S which I use for Weixin). Often, I saw something I did not notice before, and I’d look at the other photos too to try to identify it (this is also because the official booklet is well-nigh useless). And on dozens of occasions, I used Google Image Search, mostly with success (that was how I identified lifestyle product Geneva and even that awful-looking Unison Research loudspeaker, to name just two)! Amazing tool! In previous HK shows I’d not care to provide more details, but this (and the SZ) show intrigued me in many ways, and I put in my best effort. Remember, just 6 hours with yours truly, solo! I don’t think any Western magazine man, even team (who mostly have somewhat narrow knowledge of the highest end) can do much better. In this show, it was made more difficult by the large number of not-yet prominent (but excellent) Chinese products that interest me - there is a considerable language barrier, even for someone like me who is fluent in Chinese, as it takes a different mindset to grasp all the names in Chinese. AND most representatives didn’t know English and can only tell you the Chinese names of the Western products, or worse, the transliterated vernacular/nickname, like Nagra is 南瓜 (Pumpkin in Chinese)! :-(

Trends Observed

Personal Audio I don’t need to emphasize this obvious worldwide trend, and it is not my beat at all. Still, the sheer scale of the product offerings here is truly astonishing (watch the video). For headphones, the big names (Sennheiser, Beyer dynamics, AT, less so niche Stax etc) still have a strong presence, but many Chinese companies (beside the well-known HiFi Man) unknown to me are in the game too, and it’s a big and competitive world out there. When it comes to Headphone Amps and DAPs, the future for Chinese Personal Audio is even brighter. Chinese products simply offer more bang for the buck. Would anyone around here buy Schiit? No. Is there any reason to? No (aside from a few unique models, like Valhalla and the Saga series). I shall soon be briefly reviewing a few very low-end Douk/Nobsound devices. The only earphones I have here in China is the excellent Grado SR-80e; I have no high impedance cans but that hardly matters for the budget sector.

Streamers/Digital Transports It used to be just a few players, like Korean Aurender, Chinese Auralic, HK Lumin etc, but now there are many considerably cheaper players, like the excellent and ubiquitous Matrix Sound, and also Soundaware, Puresound, AVMei, etc. The future for Chinese streamers imho is very bright. In many ways, this is a low-tech cosmos. Basic computer knowledge packaged with a little electronics knowledge and audio know-how to “upgrade” and sell for ridiculous sums. The reckoning is here. Judging from what’s used in a large number of rooms, the cheaper stuff (still not cheap enough for me) are just as good as the expensive and overpriced stuff. The best examples were served in the ultra-reliable (and pro) Genelec demo rooms, where the compact Matrix Audio really shone. HOWEVER, since I have not operated them hands on, I don't know how good the interfaces are. My friend Andy told me they are not very user friendly, and need improvement. Unless I’m mistaken, most, like Matrix Sound, are all-in-one, with the DAC built into the Streamer. When it comes to redbook disc spinners, Chinese CD Transports are also all over the place (most top loading; popular with DIY too), all very reasonably priced.

DACs Unlike the low end, it seems this is an area where the Chinese higher end dwell less in. It’s not that China lacks talented digital engineers (the reverse is true) it's just that very few companies achieve international repute like Auralic and Holo Spring. But many are moving up, like SMSL. Looking at the many digital companies on the horizon, I am confident many more names shall emerge.

MQA At the show, I was shocked to find many Chinese brands jumping on the bandwagon. I asked the Puresound people (they make an MQA decoder), why? It’s on its deathbed in the West! And he said, well, everything is a bit delayed in China. WELL! You know what, a few days later, while I was writing this article, I read that MQA had filed for bankruptcy (good article)!!!! As the article said, Tidal (which likely is the main reason for the companies to offer MQA) is unlikely to withdraw their MQA offerings any time soon.
  • The Show MQA CD The SACD/CD/LPCD etc. of HK shows are bad enough, this is worse. I mean content. Just plain boring. It is supposed to be an MQA CD. When we popped it into my friend’s dCS Rossini, it didn’t display MQA. I guess the CD transport cannot extract the code. So, later we ripped it into a Lossless File (since it was a Macbook, AIFF was used) stored on an USB stick which was then played on the Rossini, and sure it displayed MQA!
  • MQA vs Redbook And, so, on my friend’s reference system of dCS, ML, Hegel, JBL 66000 (which I shall feature in this blog soon), three of us compared the MQA encoded lossless files with CD playback on the Rossini. The differences were very real. To cite just one track, Teresa Tang imitator Chen Jia 陈佳. With the CD playback, the voice at the top was a little grainy, and MQA smoothed it out, becoming “richer”. With the CD playback, although the voice was more forward, the backing instruments still retained their own details and dynamic envelopes. Switching to the MQA was a shock to me: First Impression was that sound level was lower, but this was likely due to a lower “energy level”, with loss of space and separation - now it was harder to distinguish the positions of the performers, as the singer seemed less forward and the backing instruments less distinct. There is no doubt in my mind that with the MQA, dynamics were definitely compromised, especially microdynamics. My friends are more vocal-centric people and don’t at all listen into the mix (like I do) and they seemed to like the MQA. Not me, for sure! It is also possible the AIFF file format may not be the best, but previously, when I had a desktop, I had compared it studiously with Wav on my own Macbook. While I preferred WAV by a hair, the difference was not night and day, and I used AIFF exclusively as it is friendlier to metadata, very important to this classical listener. There is also the factor that CD playback on a good CDP, which dCS certainly is, to many of us still sound better than Files (at least 44.1 ones). Personally, I have zero interest in MQA, but I have to report on it. Also, my friend has J River, but not Roon, so perhaps we shall have a re-match using the former. Don't hold your breadth.
Turntables The vinyl renaissance is ablaze in China. Like in the West, not just among audiophiles, young people too! At the lowest end, the market is driven by young people and flooded with Chinese all-in-one’s. A bit up, belt-drive Audio Technica (like the 60) still has a hold, but its position is steadily eroded by Chinese makes. Higher up, AT direct drives (like the classic 120) have many Chinese imitators (as well as Chinese belt-drives too). At this point and up, we have serious TT makers like Amari entering into high end. At the top, megabuck Chinese TTs are beginning to emerge (like Shenzhen’s EIZZ).

Preamps and Amps Aside from the Digitally based segment of the industry (usually from very low price, like Aiyima and Douk etc, to somewhat higher priced ones, like Tecsun, to even higher priced ones like SMSL), there are not so many higher end makers, especially in solid state. There is a plethora of (interesting) cottage industries on Taobao, but few at the show. When it comes to tubes, it’s completely different. Chinese products have considerable strengths here. Take transformers, there are many people wounding transformers in China but, in the West, this is not at all true. There are many high-end Western brands that use Chinese trannies, but due to contractual and legal limitations on disclosure, it cannot be revealed. It’s very simple really, if a brand (even “hi-end” one) does not tell you the trannies are made in-house (or Magnequest in the US and Lundahl in Europe) and you can find nothing on that, they source it from elsewhere, mostly China. And that goes for a large number of so-called Western (or Japanese) tube product manufacturers.

The Chinese Low-end Tube stuff (very competitive) are all happening on Taobao. Boyuurange (Reisong) is one of the very few that had an exhibit at the show. Some erstwhile low-priced manufacturers have moved up (imho necessary for any manufacturer). Raphaelite (even Opera Audio at its start) is a good example. Moving on into the middle range, companies like Line Magnetic have established themselves in the West. But, for me, particularly interesting is LM Foshan division Analog Source 安歌. They have seized my imagination with their Retro and WE-like offerings (challenging WE replica specialists Xinshe 新时 etc on their turf). But I’m not so sure of the huge fad of using SE transmitter tubes to drive less efficient loudspeakers. Imho, this is not the way to go. Perhaps it’s a market thing. But, as I have said before, I find most of the stuff from traditional big tube manufacturers very boring (say, CJ, ARC, VAC, VTL etc) and it’s time for a new narrative. Believe me, it’s happening...

Loudspeakers Well, not yet so many commercially successful Chinese offerings! The scene is incoherent. The exception is, of course: LS3/5A clones! These are all over the place. On TB and even in this show. Well, most of these are not “faithful replicas”, just loosely adhering to the basic sound. How successful are they? Variable, but not bad imho. As regular readers know, even before the show, I’ve had experiences with a couple, and harbor high regards for the Beydas “Stirling” (which is a faithful replica, with bespoke wound autoformers/inductors). I shall probably try to contact some of these other people (like 乐霸,江工)for review samples, but, given my pickiness, I’m by no means certain that they will entertain me. Of course, I’d like to review the upmarket “blue-blood” Rogers version too...don't hold your breath. Nonetheless, anyone who recognizes the merits of the BBC LS3/5A (plenty in HK and China) can be regarded as a pure-at-heart, and the resulting product should not be too bad - this is what I think and depend upon (at least the reference is a solid one). It particularly fits the Chinese penchant for vocal performance. What about other hi-end loudspeakers? China has some really incredible horn stuff, but they are not at this very commercial show (aside from Xinshi, and the LM room at the China Hotel - see video). One can probably safely say a small but significant part of the future for Chinese audiophiles would be tubes and 3/5As and horns. Of course, the middle is wide open, and the void will not be filled by Chinese companies any time soon, imho.

Who is Buying What?
This is very interesting. In the past, most Chinese regard Imports as superior, but that is changing fast. Chinese are more and more willing to look into their own brands. This shall only accelerate if the West decouples from China even more. It’s a fact that Japanese and Korean cars (not to mention lousy American counterparts) have steadily lost ground vs Chinese made ones. Slowly, that will happen in audio too.

What do Chinese in China Buy? When it comes to watches, there will always be people who buy Rolex and Patek Phillipe; people who buy Seiko Citizen Casio; people who buy Swatch; and people who just buy whatever affordable things they like and encounter. Same in audio, no matter Gringos or Chinese. There will always be the high end regardless of price and country boundaries, some thriving just on being status symbols. There will be the hotly contested middle ground, and special pockets. Chinese are no exceptions, but I’m certain they have more interest in their own products now, because the quality is more commensurate with the price. And that’s the way it should be. There are just too many absurdly over-priced “hi-end” garbage out there, mostly emanating from the West.

US vs Europe It’s obvious Europe has overtaken US in China (Taiwan and Hong Kong too). In fact, while the Chinese look to sell to the West, the West, especially the highest end, sell to Asia. Recently, I asked my friend Andy Shum, importer of niche luxurious European brands in HK, who in HK would buy his stuff? He said not many, most are sold to China. There you go! The American presence is steadily dwindling (think of ARC, CJ, etc).

What would I the cheapskate buy? 
Were I starting from scratch, and were I to stay much longer in China (unlikely), here are my choices (loosely based on TB experience, what’s available at the show, and some extrapolations):

Low End Cheap Taobao Offerings remain a fertile ground on which to explore new frontiers. Say, u are interested in a “1969” Class A ss amp, well, get one for around RMB 1K and see if u think it has potential (I almost bought one from ETA, during the winter, but it’s almost summer now, and the heat...). The TB/Amazon/Ebay low end is not present at Hi-end shows, but it poses a formidable challenge to even higher price brackets. Say, you want an amp made of Purfify IET400A and Hypex modules, well for several hundred USD you can find quite a few offerings on TB.
  • One Box I’ll buy the Showfeel in an instant! It’s beautiful, classy and great sounding. Yes, I prefer it to Naim, Meridian, B&W etc for the sound, not to mention the ridiculous price advantage. Not yet available in the West, I think.
  • Separates - Super Budget I’d choose a pair of Chinese 3/5A clones. Even the worst of them (like the Anubis) are still relatively OK if one is not critical, but the best of them, like the Beydas (with wound autoformers/inductors), shall give even UK replicas a run for their money. A Chinese USB DAC for source. And from TB, a Chinese Preamp (like Nobsound E6, or Eastern Transmission 6N3 SRPP), and an amp (SE amp if room is not large).
  • Separates - Budget to B+ Still, a Chinese 3/5A clone, USB DAC. A somewhat more expensive Chinese Preamp and Amp (say, Raphaelite). Add a cheap Amari belt drive TT and Chinese phonoamp.
  • Separates - Mid Price Loudspeaker of your choice (3/5A or whatever; maybe a smaller Fyne?). I’d also seriously consider Active Genelec. Chinese Matrix Sound (or the others mentioned in report) for Streamer. Analog Source (Line Magnetic Foshan) 2A3 Preamp and 211/805/845 Amp. Add an Amari Magnetic Suspension TT. And Chinese phonoamp. Another wildcard and fantasy. German Duevel, which I didn’t cover at the China Hotel (likely just Silent display) is the cheapest of all the German Omni loudspeakers (MBL, German Physiks). I have heard them before to good effect. Their cheapest Planets and a couple of models above should belong in this category (though I have not heard them). I say this because, although I’m not exactly an omni fan, I like the fact that I am not tied to a so-called “sweet” spot. And, paradoxically, omini’s sometimes have a little bit of the horn factor and flavor.
  • Separates - Hi-End Soundlab ESL, perhaps with Atmasphere Amp (the ss was very good; should check out the OTLs). For Preamp, consider the Atmasphere too but I shall likely prefer the Analog Source 2A3 mentioned above. Or perhaps the KR Audio 45 preamp? If more power is needed, I’d consider the Canor tube monoblocks. For speakers, perhaps a pair of bigger Fyne’s? Lowther could be a fun choice too (not suitable for humid locations though, due to ultra narrow gap and paper cone).. For Streamers, I’d still stick to the Chinese ones like Matrix Sound. For TT, I’d still choose the Amari magnetic suspension and Chinese phonoamp. Just because one can afford price no object doesn’t mean one has to spend more. For my taste, only nut-heads buy things like Clearaudio Statement TT (and I know a few of them).
There, I have given you my “all” but, although I am eager to conclude this series, things may yet pop into my head in days to come, so there may be revisions. I hope you have enjoyed it, as I surely had. In fact, come August, I think I may not attend the HK show (haven’t for quite a while). the gargantuan GZ and petit SZ shows are just more fun!

08 April, 2023

Guangzhou Show IV Headphones Accesories Cayin Aavik Borresen Raidho Engstrom Synaestec Tannoy JBL

Click pics to enlarge.

Guangzhou Hi End Show (AV Fair), Part IV (of V)

Editor: 1) As the show was big, this shall be a multi-part effort2) If you first come to this page, I'd urge you to first read Part I for Basic Info.

Note: Since this is going to have many parts, I have given it a new tag, Show report - Guangzhou 2023. Click to view Parts I, II and III, and V (this last one is a very personal Overview, Summary and Postscript).

Some of the equipment have featured in the Shenzhen Audio Show that I reported on. This is relevant here: Although I did not do the China Hotel segment of this GZ show and missed some big rooms, many of the brands can be found in my coverage of the SZ show (e.g., Raido, CH Precision, Analog Source, Line Magnetic, Hanowa, Eizz, Pilium, Simaudio, Scansonic, rossofiorentino, Hegel, Gold Note, Franco Serblin, Prima Luna, Audes, Audio Analogue, Quested, Mymei, Ologe, Triangle, and more).

Coverage of the show follows no particular logic. As before, I’m going to grade the sound. Best is simply Bold Black, in a category by themselves. Others are shaded: Very good is GreenGood is Yellow; and Average is Red. Believe me, I'm very lenient! More so towards others than myself!
Cancan! Earphones, Amps and DAPs Galore These photos do not do justice to the HUGE amount of space allotted to headphones, headphone amps and DAPs of all kinds and makes. Unlike in HK, here you could really sit down in relative comfort and audition hundreds of them! And many young people are doing just that. Although I don't use personal audio much I still applaud the dedication. As one who has used desktop in the past (I used Audioengine. Micromega etc, among many others) I still have an interest, even if I don't now have a proper desktop. Boy, that pair of Genelec are real cute! The last pic shows the crazily over-built Cayin 300B headphone amp (using 4x obscure 22V filament half-wave rectifiers, 2 for the 6SN7s and 2 for the 300Bs) next to a stack of their own Streamer and DAC. I think the can was HiFi Man. This is the only setup I sat down and listened to briefly, because it's my friend Andy's brainchild. Sound was good but I was in hit and run mode.
German Physiks In this larger room, the pair used was actually smaller than the pair in the SZ show. Sound was less big and more controlled with the full GP electronics.
Wilson Benesch Hyperion OK, but I think WB can sound better (even if it's not my fav).
Unison Research Acoustic Signature Unison Research always delivers warm musical sound, but I'm not so sure about their own "horn" loudspeaker that looks like a glorified garbage can. German Acoustic Signature makes nice looking (and sounding) but very expensive TTs, though I tend to confuse the name with somewhat "cheaper" compatriot Acoustic Solid (also fine sounding). I heard the TT, mercifully, as I detest Accustic Arts products (CDP in this case), to me epitome of why German Fi can often be so bad. This blog chronicled an instance where my iPod and Wadia iTransport just killed an expensive AA Transport (yes, owner sold the set). Too bad the mini Olympus was not in play.
Burmester Tidal Well, Burmester is another of my pet peeves. A very pretentious company. I hate that owner, guitar musician thing. Oh ya? Artifical sound and ridiculous price. Top pic shows Burmester within its own toxic ecosystem (with artificial Siltech cables). Lower pic in another room, better sound with Tidal (and Inakustik cables) though I ain't crazy about that brand either.
KR Playback Design ATC These are on stage in the (not so) mini-theater. The KR preamp is the same one in the SZ show (last row, using 2x 45 tubes). The Kronzilla was just on display. Large ATC speakers were used. Given the environment, sound was credible.
D'Agostino Raidho Transrotor Major polluters! I just wish companies would not just carve a huge piece of aluminum for "beauty"!
Borresen Aavik The Danish Duo always in tandem (previously also when Borresen was with Raidho). Note the "cross" on top of Aavik is like a rotated monochrome Norwegian flag, no? I talked to the Aavik Norwegian fellow. We both approve of the large LED, visible from pretty far away. I took a pic of the track playing, pop stuff that I kinda like. Try it! 
Lansche Engstrom Synaestec This was a huge room. Gigantic Lansche was bi-amped with Swedish Engstrom tube monsters and German Synaestec (the 2 black cubes). Upgraded from yellow due to effort.
Cabinet Manufacturer DIY your own Vivid or whatever!
Soundtraps Not entirely sure what it was. Some kind of engineering to eliminate unwanted sound and interference. I wanted to ask questions but just could not get the chance. Many interested people!
Tannoy Esoteric Finally, after so many years of waiting for Dah Cheong to come up with some more competent sound than the misery they delivered year after year in HK shows (where they often used mediocre Chario instead), the Tannoy Canterbury was not bad at all! Important to note that they represent Esoteric now rather than Accuphase, and that made all the difference (yes, I shall take the former over the latter any day). Mind you, if you search Google, my Canterbury entries in this blog would come up as often as others. They have finally done Tannoy justice. Upgraded from green. What a surprise!
Alcons I'd have loved to seriously audition these. Many Chinese equivalents at the show.
JBL Harman Mark Levinson As usual, as in HK, they delivered atrocious sound. I've no confidence at all in current Harman controlled Mark Levinson. I know the Everest 6x000 very well, and it could sound very good. Not here. Trash electronics. The smaller room was better but affected by adjacent home cinema.

This is ending the Report on a Sour Note! Next, in Part V, a Postscript of sort, I shall give you my thoughts on state of the audio in China and the World, from my perspective. Stay on!