26 August, 2012

Review: TAD TSM-2201, Sony BDP-S190

Review: TAD TSM-2201, Part I
Review: Sony BDP-S190, Part I
Review: Pioneer SP-21BS-LR, Part II

Sometimes the system achieves synergy without much effort. Here I am reporting on some unusual combos that effortlessly gelled. But first, introduction of some new players.

TAD TSM-2201-LR (official info)
The TAD is relatively new and there hasn't been any report in the major audiophile press. But in a short time it has acquired quite an underground reputation. This Taiwan review has great pics of the drivers and crossover.

The 86 db, 4 ohm TAD is not small, quite bulky in fact, as it has to house an 8" woofer. Its unusual shape reminds me of Darth Vader. There is rumor that there is soon to be a bass module, a TAD "puppy"! I find that difficult to believe, but let's see.

TAD, made in China In HK, it caused a frenzy because of the affordable price, and the first lot sold out in no time. You don't often find affordable loudspeakers bearing the name TAD. Last time it was more than a decade ago, when the TAD TSM-300 sold like hotcakes here. The TSM-300 achieved legendary status and its second-hand price remains very high today. Ten years later, the TSM-2201 sells for roughly the same sum as the TSM-300, so how do they do it? The answer is, these are now made in China instead of Japan.

A Cautionary Tale I briefly auditioned them before buying at Audio Unison 阿二 in Mong Kok. The salesman 阿志 was very nice. I asked for a tube amp, and they used a Manley PP EL34. The sound was quite uncolored and not bad. I quickly decided and had a pair delivered a few days later. As soon as I hooked them up, I heard a buzzing sound on a piano cut in one of the tweeters.Switching the left for the right confirmed my worst fears, a defect for sure. Two days later, I took them back and exchanged for another pair. I have to commend the shop for their service. But I am a bit alarmed that this should happen to TAD!

Sony BDP-S190

Regular readers of these pages know my devotion to Sony products extends to the bargain category. Previously, the over-achieving DVP-PR50P and DVP-SR200P won my Best Buy 2010 award. Those made me watch closely Sony's next moves.

Enter the Blue-Ray era. Sony's entry level BDP-S190 (I think model name may be different depending on your country) caught my eyes. I don't yet have any Blue Ray discs, but shall be getting some. Finally I took the plunge and got this player - to first try out its audio quality. I have posted pictures of the internals in my Preview.

Over this period, I have the speakers upright and tried several combos. The TAD TSM-2201 effortlessly reflected all changes, but remained highly musical. If you associate "monitor sound" with "coldness", you are mistaken (or using the wrong gear) in this case. Gears used:

Digital 1: Sony CDP-553ESD as transport/Sonic Frontier SFD-2 Mk II
Digital 2: Studer A730
Digital 3: Sony BDP-S190 Blue Ray player
Digital 4: Sony Play Station 1 (after small mods)
Analogue: Lenco GL-75/SME 3009S2i/Denon DL-103R
Preamp: Leben RS-28-CX
Amp 1: Rotel RB-870BX
Amp 2: Wavac MD-300B
Amp 3: Kondo Ongaku
Integrated Amp: NAD 3020

Round 1 Leben + Rotel Brand new, the speakers tended to sound just a trifle lean (so is the Rotel when not warmed up), but there was nothing grating at all. The combo drove it effortlessly. I was immediately impressed by the the TAD's sense of scale. This ain't no puny bookshelf sound! It is a big sound, room-filling and substantial. Its vertical dispersion is better than anything in its class. Bass was not particularly deep, but quick and authoritative. I quickly settled into playing with all kinds of toys and enjoyed telling the differences. The clean sound responded well to the tubed SFD-2 and the 16-bit A730. The brand new Sony BDP-S190 however performed beyond my expectation. A very clean but musical sound. The TAD reflected every minute difference in the source.

Round 2 NAD 3020 In many ways, this simple setup yielded nothing to the previous combo, and it made me have great respect for the NAD! Read my report here. The warm sound of the NAD suited the TAD to a T. So there, you can drive TAD on the cheap!

Round 3 Leben + Wavac This came as a great surprise. I have read that the TAD is power-hungry, so contrary to my usual practice I was not in a hurry to try out my SET amps. When I hooked up the Wavac MD-300B, I expected gross distortion. But no! The 300B amp drove the TAD surprisingly well; there was no sign of the sort of irregularities (like muffles treble) that one associates with inadequate power. In fact, the TAD gained from the increased microdynamics on offer (a matter of fact with SET amplification).

On the Signum recording, which is NOT particularly outstanding, I heard an incredible amount of extraneous sound (like pages turning, baton hitting the stand etc), attesting to the outstanding resolution of the TAD. I relished the ending to the Cinderella, a cornucopia of colors delivered in the inimitable St Petersburg fashion. Yes the TAD reproduced all that with ease!

With most material, I actually prefer the TAD driven by 300B. Recently, this is my daily staple. I don't hear many trade-offs. The bass may lose just a little control but it is still fulsome and powerful. Even Mahler played quite well, with only occasional audible soft-clipping. Yes, there is a bit of compression here and there, but the overall scale is surprisingly intact. And yes, I can easily tell the Zurich orchestra does not have the colors of the St Petersburg!

I think I'd not casually advise people to go the SET route with TAD, unless you have a really high quality preamp as well as a well built SET amp with good transformers. However, it should be said that my previous experience with the TSM-300 was highly positive. That model could be even more easily driven by SET amps. However, the TSM-300, even if placed horizontal, suffered from bass control when so driven. In this important respect, the TSM-2201 is better - the bass remains controlled even with less power. I am sure a good PP tube amp shall also drive the speakers well. As a matter of fact I don't think they are a particularly difficult load.

TAD TSM-2201 vs Pioneer SP-21BS-LR
Despite the gargantuan price difference, these are made in the same factory and likely employ the same tooling. You can even see the mesh used are of the same type. If you look at the pics in my Part I Review of the SP-21BS-LR, you shall see even the crossover components look similar. Of course, the TSM-2201 has better drivers and cabinet, and it bears the name TAD rather than Pioneer, but this makes the Pioneer appear even more of a bargain. The Pioneer we know was designed by Andrew Jones, who as TAD head engineer I presume also designed the TSM-2201. Sonically, the difference between the two is big. The TSM-2201 can play much louder and has more details and micro- and macrodynamics, but comparison also shows the cheap Pioneer to bear quite a bit of sonic resemblance (essentially superb neutrality) and to be a great value.

  • The TAD TSM-2201-LR immediately catapults to the top of my "small" loudspeaker list. It shall for sure be a "Best Buy 2012" component. In its class, I think its transparency and dynamic prowess would be unsurpassed for quite a while.
  • The Sony BDP-S190 is a marvelous CD player! You shall notice that during this period I have been playing with a few different digital sources. There shall be a slug-fest report later. Rest assured that even in this august company the Sony is not shamed!
Next, I shall have the TSM-2201 horizontal. I am sure, as in the TSM-300, the sound would scale new heights.

25 August, 2012

The Day We Forgot About HiFi

pics courtesy JCR33
The Yumcha Diaries 飲茶後記 : 25-08-2012
The Day We Forgot About HiFi and concentrated on Geishas 大圈仔巧遇藝妓

It was all arranged. Our old chief JCR33 was once again in town. We were also delighted by the appearance of our dear friend feikeung, aka on9keung, aka bigcircleson. After yumcha, a few of us went to agentsmittie's place for some upshot coffee.

JC brought over several specialty coffees, the names of which I can hardly remember, but the name Geisha did stick. agent toiled hard in the kitchen, supervised by master JC and observer mahi and leben. I had three shots, all very nice: the very unusual Geisha came first (I must say the taste complies with the name), then a somewhat acidic Brazilian, followed by my favorite, an Ethiopian.

It would not be an afternoon with feikeung without some booze. I bought some cheap (but decent) Bordeaux from the supermarket. feikeung, k.c. and I finished two bottles and another sparkling. I hope we made feikeung happy!

When Vitus meets 47 Lab
I am sorry to say that I was so involved in the coffee-going and feikeung's exposition on the universe that I completely neglected the audio setup:

Source: CAS (Macbook iTunes/Pure Music/built-in hidden LAN lines to Mac Mini)
DAC: dCS Debussy (USB connection to CAS)
Amp1: Vitus Audio Signature SS-010
Amp2: 47 Lab 4706 Gaincard and 4700 Power Humpty (on loan from mahi)
Loudspeakers: Living Voice OBX-R2 (speaker cable Kondo KSL-SPc)
The setup was a bit different from my last visit, but the sound was definitely bigger and better. The Vitus was warm sounding (its first watts in pure class A) but personally I preferred the more direct and lithe sound of 47 Lab.

21 August, 2012

The Yumcha Diaries: Tannoy Canterbury, YS Audio

The Yumcha Diaries 飲茶後記 : 18-08-2012
Tannoy Canterbury, YS Audio

On this day, our friend Charles brought over three friends. I was happy to recognize 2 friends from the PRC, 喜見稀客,三水的黎先生和錢先生。

I hardly write about home auditions these days. The main reason is because I am severely backlogged; the other is, frankly, not much interest me these days. But when a fellow Canterbury user extends an invitation, it would be impolite not to pay a visit!

You may remember SG, whom we visited last year. He has just moved to a beautiful new home. His equipment also underwent significant changes. He is now bi-amping Tannoy with two tube amps, and he has added another tonearm and upgraded his phono amp too:

Digital: Cary 306
Analogue 1 (stereo): SME 20/12A with SMEV-12 arm-Kondo IoM to Kondo KSL SF-Z
Analogue 2 (2 arms): TW Acustic Raven One-SME M2-12-Audio Technica AT33 mono; SME M2-12R-Ortofon 2M Black
Phono preamp: YS Audio The Real 4-piece flagship
Preamp: Audio Note M8 (phono  no longer used)
Amps: YS Audio 300B SE and KT120 PP bi-amp
Speakers: Tannoy Canterbury SE (spikes used)
Rack: Symposium

When we got there, the sound was kind of "phasey", and the image was weighted down by rather slow bass. Puzzled, I surmised that the volume of the KT120 amp used to drive the bass should be trimmed a bit. After a bit of experimentation, turning down the volume by 3 notches, sound regained some speed and clarity. The bass too, was cleaned up and no longer one-note. This illustrates that for bi-amping it is very critical to arrive at the correct volume. Personally I am not a fan of bi-amping - no amp is completely linear at all volumes and all frequencies.

Overall, the sound was still somewhat subdued for my taste. I noticed his main rack is Symposium, which I am weary of. IMHO, Symposium subdues and limits dynamics, and is usually not too suitable for tube users. Still, the sound was better than before (using Goldmund).

The apartment is new and the audiophile power supply rail may not be run-in yet. I also think the speakers would benefit from being further apart. As before, I don't think the supplied spikes should be used at all - it damps the sound.

20 August, 2012

Preview: Sony BDP-S190, Part I

Preview: Sony BDP-S190,Part I

This machine looks good. The chassis is plastic though it can fool you into thinking it's aluminum. When I set out to remove the top, I was shocked to find out that the "chassis" is not bolted on, rather snapped into the metal bottom! Not a screw! You should take care bending the fragile plastic!

此機外形漂亮,但看似鋁的機殼是塑膠,且容易花。最離譜的是,機殼與金屬機身是扣上的 (用右方的母扣和左方的公扣),沒用一顆螺絲。拆除的時候要小心。

Half the internal space is occupied by the mechanism. The rest is divided between the ubiquitous switch-mode power supply and the small main board stuffed with surface mount components.

機内光頭佔了 1/2 的位置;簡單的 Switch Mode 電源 1/4;主綫路板 1/4,全 SM 零件。

The main board had a metal piece silicon-glued to the main IC. I guess this facilitates heat dissipation and perhaps also performs shielding duties. I did not remove it to look under.

主綫路板上鎖了個金屬片,中心陷下去的地方是用來散熱的,粘在 IC 上,故此沒法拆除,不能看清楚下面。

The sound is crystal clear. report later.

聲音初步印象比較高清,但絕對不差,稍后會和 DVP-PR50P 比較。

19 August, 2012

Showroom Audition: KEF LS50 and Blade!

pic courtesy of Andrew's iPhone.

Showroom Audition: KEF LS50 and Blade!
Brief Overview: KEF

Sunday was a hot day. I was just languishing and certainly wasn't thinking of venturing far when I made a casual call to my 師弟 Andrew, that man of indomitable spirit. Needless to say, one hour later I found myself joining him and another old classmate Philip in the Kowloon Cricket Club where we just chilled out for a couple of hours.

Andrew had some time before hosting his "back to school" dinner (he has no kids, but plenty of excuses!). I suggested visiting the KEF showroom in Star House to listen to the new and rave-reviewed LS50. A call revealed that the room was being used for a surround system audition. That was the second time I was not able to gain access, as the day before I went to the place before yumcha but someone else was auditioning the LS50.  So it's best to call beforehand.

We then called the Causeway Bay store and within an hour found ourselves auditioning in their really comfortable show room. We were joined there by our friend oozz and his girlfriend.

I must say the service was absolutely impeccable. Staff Mr. Ko was courteous, knowledgeable and very helpful, and he made the experience very pleasant.

Brief KEF Overview
There is no need for me to write much on the background of KEF, certainly one of the most influential companies. In the excellent official website, you can find great coverage of its background and, most commendably, a comprehensive library and photo gallery on older models (something most other manufacturers should do better at). Obviously KEF takes pride in its heritage!

Over the years I have heard quite a few KEF speakers, but have owned few. I think I must have encountered most of the 103-107 Reference series, but there was always something wrong with what I heard (with one exception, see below). Most of the time they seemed rather muffled and overly polite. The bass just dragged and the treble sounded shut-in. I think they probably needed a lot of power to come alive. On the other hand, I had favorable impressions of the later Uni-Q's, usually found in entry level and modest setups. No wonder there, as I am a fan of concentric drivers and a Tannoy user! In the 90's I also helped some non-audiophile friends set up simple systems using their best-buy and decent Coda loudspeakers. Nonetheless, my own interest in KEF was largely for their BBC-related work.

T27 and B110 KEF virtually completely re-wrote history with these two driver units. Of course, these were made famous by the BBC, which used them in the immortal LS3/5A. But they were ubiquitous and could be found in many loudspeakers of the era, including KEF's own kits and the excellent Cresta MkII (sounds uncannily like a LS3/5A, and not to be confused with the Mk I, nor the later Cresta's, which are completely different animals). Of course, the wonderful Linn Kan I also used the B110 but a different tweeter. IMHO, the Kan and Cresta Mk II sound just as good as the LS3/5A. A good pair of the latter is still missing in my arsenal. If you have a pair for sale, contact me! Of course, in the 90's KEF also made several versions of their own LS3/5A's. In general, these have more extended treble, tighter bass and could play louder than the usual ones. Some LS3/5A loyalists like the difference, some don't. I do and I won a rosewood pair.

Reference 104 I used to own a pair of these rather awkward but wonderful speakers (later exchanged for the Yamaha NS-1000). Mine was the later aB version (official link). While it sports the T27 tweeter, the bass unit is a larger version of the B110 called the B200. In addition there is the famous BD139 Radiator, yet another KEF innovation! The sound of the 104 is majestic and, yes, it sounds like a bigger LS3/5A, capable of playing Mahler and Bruckner! I have heard these driven magnificently by a pair of powerful Conrad Johnson Premiere 4 monoblocks. But if you, like me, use only a medium powered tube amp, the sound is just slightly slow and the bass a little ripe. I suspect it will take to a solid state amp, but I never tried it during my time with it. Incidentally, the BD139 is featured in earlier versions of that other magnificent beast, the Sonus faber Extrema (changed to TDL later).

More recently Truth is, KEF in the recent past has lost much ground in the competitive high-end. Many two-channel audiophiles only thought of KEF mainly when it came to multi-channel AV needs. But things started to change for the better after KEF was acquired by Asian Gold Peak, which to its credit has injected new life into the company. Their recent efforts in their Flagship series were bold to say the least.

This 50th anniversary product is the latest in the Flagship series, sold only directly by KEF in their showrooms. It has garnered rave reviews (HiFi News) and just collected the 2012-2013 EISA award. The first shipment sold out in HK, but a second one is imminent I was told. The cabinet proper has a nice black piano wood finish. The curved front baffle is more unusual, being made of glass composite, which worries me, as it is susceptible to scratches and probably difficult to clean. There is no grill.

At KEF's huge listening room we heard it with the following electronics:

System 1 Marantz KI Pearl Lite SACDP/amp (description here) Mr. Ko explained that this modest combo was used because it is likely more in the price range of potential customers (although someone is using Soulution to drive them!). Despite the size of the room, and although I am not a fan of the Marantz sound, KI or not, the LS50 turned in a decent performance. The soundstage was well spread and imaging was very good - one could sit anywhere and still enjoy it. The sound was just a little too laid back (like too much feedback, probably at least partly due to the Marantz combo) and the bass was truncated and not the cleanest at loud level, though this is a huge room.

System 2 Krell (?Phantom+Evolution) After demonstrating the Blade, Mr. Ko offered to connect the LS50 to the much more expensive Krell system and of course we were delighted. No doubt about it, the LS50 got much better, but too bad we couldn't stay for long!

KEF Blade
The two top models in the Flasghip series are Muon and Blade. Previously I have only seen them in shows and have always wanted to audition them. Both sport fabulous industrial designs. One cannot find many reviews on the net; there is one by HiFi Choice and an informal audition by Stereophile. The point-source driver in the Blade is likely similar to the one in LS50 but not identical. The two pairs of woofers are mounted back-to-back, in quasi isobaric fashion. Mr. Ko kindly offered to let us audition it after we listened to the Marantz combo driving the LS50. Using the Krell electronics, the Blade gave a command performance even of large works. Everything you could possibly want is there: a large soundstage, solidly fleshed out images and tuneful deep bass. And yes, it made the LS50 look and sound like a kid! :-)

Considering we were listening to unfamiliar material, the demonstrations convinced me of the merits of KEF's renewed assault on state-of-the-art. If I can bring a pair of these home, I think it will sound even better! Since the Blade is out of the question, the LS50 it shall be then?

After the audition, we were treated to a fabulous dinner at trendy 浙江軒, complete with several bottles of excellent white wine, including Corton-Charlemagne! It was also nice to be able to dine with several other old friends. Thank you Andrew and Jane!

Review: NAD 3020 (original version)

Review: NAD 3020 (original version), Part I
Preview: TAD TSM-2201

Last Revised Feb 29, 2016 (More recent experience of 3020 + Klipsch added)

Review: NAD 3020 (original version), Part II describes
NAD 3020 Driving Klipsch Forte

Recently, I helped a Macau friend pick up his NAD 3020 amp from repair. Back home, I tested it briefly and was quite impressed, even astounded.

NAD 3020 (Official Info has Data Sheet and Manual)(Service Manual pdf file)
This one is the original icon, without any suffix, probably the most famous integrated amplifier of all time. There is a huge amount of info on the internet, and I shall provide only few links. There are some interesting latter-day reviews. It's worthwhile to read these:

--wikipedia entry
--TAS review (Chris Martens)
--tnt review
--Page 25-26 of TONEAudio article  (large pdf file; takes a moment to download), where the beneficial "benign error" was mentioned.
--NAD vs NuForce

Later 3020 Iterations The much emulated 3020 series had a long life. The original 3020 morphed into the versions with alphabetical suffixes, A and then B, and there are only small differences between them. BUT, starting with the 3020E, significant revision was made. This then became the 3020i and there was also 3120. There may be even more but I am far from being a NAD historian. It seems the general opinion is that only the 3020's up to the B version have that je ne sais quoi quality. Certainly my previous encounter with the lackluster 3020i is in keeping with this sentiment.

Phono The 3020 has only MM phono; whereas the 3020A/B have MC/MM, selected by a switch. Therefore low-output MC users are likely to prefer the A/B versions.

Sound I hooked this up to my rig of the day:

Analogue: Lenco GL-75/SME 3009S2i/Denon DL-103R into Denon AU-3000LC SUT
Digital: YBA WD202 or Sony CDP/DAS R1
Loudspeakers: TAD TSM-2201-LR

Brief Note on TAD TSM-2201-LR This recent addition to the TAD line (info) is a killer, selling like hotcakes here in HK. Its modest price (manufactured in China) belies its quality. It has a bona fide monitor sound, needless to say highly revealing, yet it is also musical. There shall be a detailed review here later.

NAD 3020 drove the 86db 4-ohm TAD with no signs of stress Despite its 20 wpc (into 8 ohm; therefore 40 into 4 ohms) rating, at my normal listening level, only the first two lights flickered occasionally. It was almost a perfect match, the warm (but not overly so) and musical 3020 together with the highly detailed TAD with extended treble. Only in the largest orchestral pieces did I sense a bit of compression. The TAD is brand new and not yet run-in, yet the results was comparable to what I tried just before, with my Leben RS-28CX and the trusty 100 wpc Rotel 870BX amp. The latter combo surely yielded more details and power, yet the NAD was musically their equal - now, that says something! The phono was also surprisingly good, and quiet.

NAD 3020 Driving Klipsch Forte This is written at a later date. See Review: NAD 3020 (original version), Part II

With the stellar performance, now I have to revise something I wrote before.

My previous NAD experience I owned an 3020i before, and was not too impressed. I wrote in my Integrated Amplifier Overview: "...For once I agree with Ken Kessler that the "venerable" 3020 is flaccid-sounding and hopelessly over-rated. I got a 3020i as a close-out from Ming Fat and till I sold it some years later I never realized what the hell was it all about!. I much prefer the current remote-equipped 315BEE, which garnered rave reviews everywhere. After reading the detailed review by Ken Kessler in Hi-Fi News I bought one, and that's a first for me with this reviewer! Now it's the 316BEE. I also have a 325BEE in NYC. Buy any of their BEE series with confidence..." OK, now I have to eat my own words. I know why. The original 3020 and the 3020i are very different animals. The original 3020 is now one of my favorites, and that article shall be duly modified.

The 3020 is a classic that absolutely deserves its fame!

14 August, 2012

Taiwan International Hi-End Audio Show 2012 TAA臺灣第22屆國際Hi-End Hi-Fi音響大展

Photo: 2012 TAA 22屆台灣國際Hi-End音響展完整報導


http://www.audionet.com.tw/a/forum.php?mod=viewthread&tid=1655Girls (I mean pic) borrowed from 普洛影音網

Taiwan International Hi-End Audio Show 2012
TAA臺灣第22屆國際Hi-End Hi-Fi音響大展

After reading about the 2012 HK AV Show, I think you may be interested to read about Taiwan's, held just a little earlier.

No, unfortunately I did not personally attend this show, but I shall refer you to this Taiwanese website for unbelievably extensive coverage. Even if you don't read Chinese you shall recognize many of the brands and model names. Each floor (7 and 8) receives separate coverage; Click on the Chinese company name under each room number for coverage of that room.

Just click here and enjoy!


TAA臺灣第22屆國際Hi-End Hi-Fi音響大展於2012年8月2-5日展開。

TAA臺灣第22屆國際Hi-End Hi-Fi音響大展

10 August, 2012

Show Report: 2012 Hong Kong High End Audio Visual Show

I know the price of the Range Rover and the Meridian, but the girl?

Revised August 12, 2012

Show Report: 2012 Hong Kong High End Audio Visual Show 香港高級視
聽展 (August 10, 2012)

Attention: -click all pics to enlarge 點擊照片就會放大

General Observations As usual, I could almost reprint last year's show report (click here for my 2009-2011 show reports) for this year's. Year after year, the show is much as usual, with the exhibitors occupying their usual rooms on the upper floors. As a matter of fact, I have written this article using last year's template.

That said, this being the 10th anniversary, the presenter AUDIOTECHNIQUE obviously had put in even more than before. If you ask me, it is not at all a good magazine for those who want a critical and independent viewpoint (that would be me!), but it is a good source of information. The magazine has done good work in presenting the show, which is a must for many audiophiles. Admission had been raised from HK$50 to HK$80, but it's still much lower than in the West. For this, you get a SACD too (they offer LPCD in a package too, but those are known to deteriorate fast). Some people had complained about the price increase, but I think it is more than fair, as they have held the line for all these years.

As usual, more interesting were the smaller rooms in the foyer, where there were more new stuff than usual. Overall, sound was better than last year (I think I see LESS CAS, which was responsible for the generally poor sound last year).
As usual, the best sounds came from LP sources, followed by CD replay. Despite use of expensive stuff, CAS had the poorest sound overall. BTW, do you believe all the hype about CAS? Not me.

The coverage below is in no particular order, divided into categories and by merit only. But I shall start with a spectacular failure:


Spectacular Failure (Large Room)

The dubious award this year goes to Eventus Audio's flagship Neo, driven by equally expensive Soulution. Sound was absolutely awful, not just unbalanced but, worse, completely artificial. Eventus has long been the subject of much hyperbole by this most hyperbolic of magazines, but it has never impressed me. To be fair, Eventus has done a little better (but not by much) in past shows, and I'd say the same about Kharma, Marten etc. Still, absolutely no excuse for this kind of execrable performance, and at stratospheric cost! Perhaps they have tweaked too much? Some of the magazine's writers write all kinds of 嘩衆取寵 absurd things on the importance of tweaking, and this is what you get!

This setup illustrates the sins of modern hifi: the more you spend, the more you do not get what you are paying for.

Good Try (Large Room) 

I have heard big Wisdom loudspeakers (Musical Fidelity HK) before to good effect at the loft of our friend 沙田麥, but nothing prepared me for the monstrosity that is this flagship LS-4. In the cavernous room, it was driven by little known electronics, including professional equipment. The fellow here was explaining that over 15,000 watts were used! Sound (泰迪羅賓) was decent, considering how difficult these monsters are to drive. The brochure listed STS subwoofer - I don't know whether it was used. My last row spot had obvious room mode, but you're excused. Good try, but this is the kind of thing I'd avoid. You can get sound just as good from something much simpler (like Tannoy).

As usual, Ernest Audio (Tara Labs Far East), under Ah Ming's skilled leadership, got good sound out of their large Rockport. This year, for a change, they showcased a new smaller model, Avior, to good effect. Here finally was a room that breathed naturally. Electronics were the usual VTL.

I missed the Avantgarde Trio with bass horn this year. What we got instead was the YG Anat III Signature Professional. I have heard this previously in their showroom. I must say Tony did a good job. Partnered with CAT, AMR and Dr Feickert.

Over the years in HK I have known many French JMR loudspeaker lovers, and they have always sounded musical. The new dealer Audio Extreme did a nice showcase of the flagship Concorde Supreme, driven by little-known (French?) 3D-Lab electronics and North Star digitals. I was glad to run into my friend Carl, who was helping out.

Excel always get good sound out of Vivid, and this year even a small pair Giya G3 driven by D'Agostino Momentum monoblocks was musical. In another room, the Crystal Cable loudspeaker was driven by mouth-watering Dartzeel monoblocks.

Naim has always gotten reasonable sound from CAS in this show, and this year was no exception. While we are on Radar, I see they have just acquired Constellation Audio, which I did not get to hear. Note their setup is really quite near-field, and used only part of a large room. Not Large room, strictly speaking.

Could have been Better (Large Room) 

(Distributor Jadis Electronics) usually did reasonably by show standards. But, in their big room, this year's Wilson Alexandria X2, partnered with Wadia and Boulder did not sound as good as last year. Zellaton did better but not as well as it should with Ayre electronics. Another medium sized room also showed an all T&A system, to reasonable effect.

Distributor Dah Cheong year after year mostly played their lackluster Chario in their big room and their Cabasse efforts too were not a complete success. But they really ought to be playing their Tannoys a lot more. This time, I did not get to hear Tannoy's. But I was surprised to find an announcement on a Tannoy Canterbury Gold Edition! New material, cryogenic treatment, and additional "refinements", to be delivered early 2013. News indeed!

It was exciting to see the huge PMC BB5XBDA flagship, but sound was coarse. What do you expect! They were driven by Audionet, not one of my favorites. Metronome and Acoustic Signature were the sources. Richcoln needs to get a handle on the show; remember the poor demo of Devialet last year?


Good Try (Medium and Small Room)

HK-based Volent has been making a name for itself in the high-end. I missed an audition arranged previously by my CAS friend Momei. The sound was decent in the small room, where I ran into two of my friends, who were apparently listening intently, and totally smitten!

Also from HK was FM Acoustics look-alike YS Sound solid state amplification, not to be confused with HK's other YS Audio (tube products). Sound driving Kharma was surprisingly acceptable, better than Kharma's own room by far, though that is not saying much!

I have never taken to Matisse Asia, but this year's demo of Verity Audio Lohengrin was better, thanks to the analogue source, the beautiful Artemis Lab turntable! Artemis' tubed products were used, including the newest models.

(Distributor Hit Audio) did not use Zu speakers this year. Instead they featured the MOST intriguing Violin loudspeaker, from China (CES report here; curiously, its own site is unstable). Sound with the Line Magnetic tube amp was OK, but not as good as last year.

KEF LS50 is all the rage. This demo was not bad but I am sure it has more to give.

has always done well by Elac at the show, and this year was no exception, despite being partnered with over-priced and over-rated Acuustic Arts.


Driven by Linn electronics, Danish Raidho delivered a very clean and smooth sound, enough to stand out amongst the huge number of European me-too speakers on offer.


Good Display

Usually, the center of the large entry hall is occupied by earphones and lifestyle products. This year is no exception, but it is unusually good for once. I particularly enjoyed the display of DMA. The Tascam's look good, but what really caught my eyes was the hilariously named Schiit Audio!

Serendipity! I re-discovered my friend Richard Cheong, formerly of Dah Cheong. Thanks to him I learned that Mike Moffat of Theta fame is behind all the Schiit! No pun intended!

I will be watching all the Schiit intently!


Not too Good

(Distributor First Impesssion) continued to disappoint. What happened to the tried-and-true combination of Avalon + Rowland? Is there nothing certain in this world anymore? It seems Italian Audia electronics is not a good match. Watch the first impression you give!

Kharma's own room was quite terrible. Coarse!

TAD Reference series should have done better too!

The same German Physiks loudspeaker that I heard to good effect at my friend oozz' small abode did not perform well in the show.

Estelon belongs to a growing and increasingly boring group of loudspeakers that feature ceramic drivers. Sound was not optimal. I took a pic as an example of modern blandness.

Sound in the Square Wave room was not good but I took a pic because of the alarming name - that would be the last thing you want in your system.


Photo Gallery 

From top to bottom:

  • My old friend/foe andyshum is now dealer for Swiss high-end Holborne turntables and Anheim loudspeakers; Sonus faber Aida on display.
  • I wish I could get to hear the new Micromega digitals.
  • Neumann now makes home theater stuff!
  • I am dying to hear Soundsmith's strain guage cartridges! But not Focal's frightening crossovers.
  • The small Pathos look beautiful.
  • Through a Focal cabinet darkly.
  • My friend JC would love the Davone. Still silent.
  • New Tannoy's look sleek!
  • Ah! I'd love to hear the Transrotor's and the EAT!!


Hong Kong Convention Center is expanding, as is literally the "land" surrounding it. A huge landfill project shall transform the waterfront.



HKTDC Our Trade Development Council has a nice shop in the Convention Center. I spotted this so-called "tube" device! Light bulbs! And a nice radio.


Star Ferry The ferry is dear to our hearts and is one of HK's greatest heritage. As a child, I grew up riding it between Tsim Sha Tsui, where we live, and the City Hall in Central, where father often took us to watch Chinese Opera. The TST and Wanchai piers and the boats themselves have luckily remained unchanged all these years.

After the show, I took the ferry to TST to attend the concert by the Asian Youth Orchestra. The waiting area of the Wanchai pier is like prison, but it smacks of nostalgia! It is always calm on the ferry, where everyone enjoys a moment of repose, hard to come by in this most hectic of cities.