Sunday, 5 July 2020

Mark Levinson, Revel, Lexicon and JBL Are Coming To AV Designs

Yes. Its coming. In fact, its already here somewhere in Malaysia. Just waiting to be transferred to AV Designs showroom. They will then need a couple of weeks to set things up and hopefully before July ends, I will be able to listen to these new products at the showroom.

In this first shipment, these are some of the items that will be made available to the audiophiles and HT enthusiasts in Malaysia:
  • JBL L100 Classic speakers
  • JBL L82 Classic speakers
  • Mark Levinson No 5805 integrated amp
  • JBL Synthesis SDR 35 AVR
  • JBL Synthesis SDP 55 surround processor
Wait for the official announcement of when we can start demo-ing these babies at the AV Designs show room.

JBL L100 Classic

Mark Levinson No 5805

JBL L82 Classic

JBL Synthesis SDP-55 surround sound processor

JBL Synthesis SDR-35 AVR

Pictures courtesy of JBL, Mark Levinson

Saturday, 4 July 2020

Absolare Integrated Amp - A Peak of Luxury?

Leather and hifi gears - apart from my headphones, I rarely see leather being used as part of a hifi equipment design. This is the main eye catcher for anyone who have seen Absolare luxurious suite of hifi components.  My first experience listening to them was in KLIAV show a few years back.  Little that I know that after I purchased my Kronos Sparta turntable, an Absolare amplifier and phono stage willl  land into my set up. But of course, only for a review. For this, I have to YL Audio to thank for giving me this opportunity to really listen to these masterpiece.

In this review, I will share my experience on the Integrated Amplifier. No fancy name, no model name. Straight off, this unit is called Absolare Integrated Amplifier. I had it for a good 3 months or so.


The overall design is derived from their Linestage Preamplifier and Power Amplifier design and housed in a single chassis. The PSU and signal sections however are internally separated by a thick aluminium wall to avoid any magnetic influence of AC noise onto the signal path. Beautifully finished with hard leather option colour of your choice. 

All signal collectors are made of gold/silver plated tellurium copper and its binding posts are made of silver plated copper with PE outer barrels. For the tubes sockets, it is of pure teflon with gold plated copper contacts.

Four inputs are available on the rear section (2 Balanced XLR and 2 RCA). The power switch is also located at the rear panel. The front section has a simple fascia with just 2 knobs; one for volume and one for input selection. The volume pot is of a 48 step motorized attenuator.

On the top lies the tubes. Every unit comes with selected NOS tubes of 2 x 12AU7/ECC82 or other compatible tubes. 

Now, here is the unique part. It is a hybrid architecture amp where the preamp is based on SET tube and the power amp is of a dual mono solid state, churning out 200 WPC at 4 ohms or 150 WPC at 8 ohms. Another unique design of it is the internal cabling are all using Echole cables. 

The unit weighs 33 kg and the dimension is not of a typical hifi equipment. Measuring 38.2 x 67.4 x 20 cm, the unit is protruding out of my TAOC rack. Absolare provides a hard case for delivery with a special cloth to carry this unit to place it onto your rack. You need 2 people to install this. 

It also comes with 3 footers that you need to 'land' the unit onto them in a triangular configuration.


It takes about 40 seconds before the 'clean' sound will come out from my system but its true sound will need about 15 to 30 mins on the tubes to be at its optimum temperature.


  • Kronos Sparta with ZYX Omega cart
  • Musical Fidelity M1 ViNL phono
  • PMC Twenty5.24 speakers
  • Vermouth Audio Black Pearl speaker cable


  • Talking About Revolution on LP

    As the title suggest, that is what the Absolare did to the session. Tracy's vocal was just amazing being churned out by this amp. Energetic sound not only from her vocal but the overall music. The vocal still took center stage and sounded elevated and layering of various musical instrument was very evident. The drums sounded detail with dispersion of the snare can be heard clearly as well. Loving the huge sound stage and to me, this was the highlight of this amp.

    Descreate on WAV 16/44

    At the point I was reviewing this amp, Singapore local heroes Desecrate just released their new album Toxic Relations. So I took the opportunity to test the limits of this Absolare amp. Can it deliver the metal rawness? Short answer - Yes. Long answer? While it can push through such genre through my system, it lacks that punchiness I need for this kind of music. Especially on the double pedals. The guitar riffs still sounded energetic even though the sound stage was huge and dispersed. 

    Take Five on LP

    Of course, my favourite track to test a hifi equipment. The wind instrument sounded very melodious indeed. Yes, given that my set up has been with a solid state amplification for quote sometime, this has injected a whole new experience. The sound stage of my set up went up few notches. The slam from the percussion still had a similar slam like before but with added warm and bigger sound, thanks to the tube pre amp section of the Absolare I suppose. It was amazing to hear this track at a different level of excitement. It provided me a different perspective of what else my set up can have.

    Pet Sematary on LP

    With a classic punk tune like this Pet Sematary by The Ramones, the amp delivered quite an impressive rawness to the track. It is not as punchy as I would like it to be when it comes to this genre, but the Absolare is not shy to churn out that huge sound, giving this punk tune a livelier ambient. The drums was quite hard hitting but with the combination of the tube-y sound, it does loose out some punch to it. Still a very decent effort to deliver that 'punk' essence to this song.


    With this 16/44 WAV file of Perfidia by Linda Ronstadt, the amp delivered a very warm sound to this digital presentation.  Linda's vocal came out crystal clear with in depth emotion delivery. I find it is more engaging than usual. The wind instrument also sounded more refined and even at high pitched section, the amp injected a warmer sound to it, giving it a more somber ambient to the tragic behind this track.  Even the Latin percussion sounded huge with a very extensive highs that made the track sounded wholesome, complimenting the wind instruments. I must say that the Absolare Integrated Amplifier can really make my digital collection sounds more engaging than usual.


    Having this amplifier in my set up even though for a few months made me realise how fortunate I am to have the trust that hifi dealers are giving me the opportunity not only to review but to experience equipment that I may not be able to afford it. The Absolare Integrated amplifier (or all their product) is indeed one of the luxury symbol in hifi world. The looks alone with the various leather colour option is already a winner. Coupled with its simplicity, one just cannot stop thinking, will the sound match its luxury look?

    Overall, the amp did give me a total different experience with my set up. The hybrid design provided a huge sound stage with a hint of warm to the overall musical presentation. Digital presentation benefited it most in my set up. Is it a picky amplifier? I dont think it has any issues to match any decent speakers but it may not be for all genres of music. Vocals - check. Guitar works - check. Ballad - check. Jazz - check. Metal is the one that I find it lacks that punchiness. 

    I must say that the Absolare demands a higher standard piece of equipment to be matched with. My speakers might not be a well matched pair to the Absolare but it did do well in most of the tracks I played during the review.

    The Absolare Integrated Amplifier can be demo-ed and purchased from YL Audio.

    Retailed at USD 26,500, the Youtube videos I shared in this review cannot provide full justice to the capability of this amp. It is best for you to request a demo from YL Audio to really showcase what it can do.

    Friday, 3 July 2020

    Technical Audio Devices (TAD) - A Full Set Up Private Experience at AV Designs

    The MCO made me realised how much I miss visiting HiFi shops. So as soon as I received a message from AV Designs, I arranged for a visit on 3rd July. This was mainly just to meet up and hear some updates on their future plan with the incoming products from Revel, Lexicon, JBL and Mark Levinson.

    But first, I was in for a treat as this was quite a private session to sit down and listen to a full Technical Audio Devices (TAD) set up. The last time I heard them was many years ago in Rohas Perkasa. Surreal experience from this set up. It has somehow being shadowed by other makes of hifi in this showroom in the past few years. Glad I had time to listen to them.
    The set up consists of:
    1. D600 CD/SACD player (and we also used the Bryston BDP2 and feed it into the DAC section)
    2. C2000 preamp
    3. M2500 power amp
    4. CR1 Mk2 speakers
    5. Cables by WyWire



    This is not so much of a review but I must say that I am pretty amazed with this set up. Not sure whether I should call the CR1 Mk2 as bookshelf as the sound coming out from these pair can be mistook coming from huge floorstanders.  It is no way a bass shy speakers and the high level of clarity is one of the highlights. The whole set up has such a low background noise even at low volume you can actually enjoy a sweet musical presentation.

    AV Designs played it loud. I mean really loud. Level that my Audiologist wife will not approve of :). But I didn't feel any listening fatigue for that 2.5 hours session. The highs.... instead of sharp, it was actually very sweet and tender to the ears. The bass was extensive but not punchy. The attack is there but its not hard hitting.

    The overall set up is indeed a well matched and engineered set up. From source to speakers, TAD have fully thought through the musical chain. Granted, it is not a cheap set up to own (speakers is in excess of RM200K, CD player in excess of RM100K retail price) but one who has the dough should not miss the chance to listen to this set up before more new stuff comes in. Who knows, AV Designs may be able to come up with a suitable price for you. Hint2!

    Give them a shout should you feel like experiencing a full TAD system. 

    Highlights info row image
    H-2-6, Block H, Boulevard Business Park, No. 115, Jalan Kepayang
    51200 Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
    Highlights info row image
    03-6241 1237

    Sunday, 21 June 2020

    Xavian Madre Perla - Sweet Highs and Expressive Speakers

    I first saw and heard this speakers through an FB posting by AFC Top HiFi. I believe it was paired with XTARK amp. Sounded huge for its size. Initially I thought it was a Rega speakers as it is quite small for a floorstander. But then they clarified that this a Xavian speakers from Czechoslovakia. This particular model is named as Madre Perla under the Natura series.

    Soon after that, the speakers landed at my house for a review. A good time as MCO have started to be relaxed a bit by the authority. Thank you to AFC Top HiFi for this opportunity to review this speakers. Spent about a month with these babies.


    At 18 kg per unit, I consider this as relatively heavy speakers given its size compared to my PMC at 23 kg. Matthew helped to set it up which was relatively straight forward apart from aligning the spike with its shoe. It needs 2 people to properly align it as the landing on the shoe is very precisely machined to fit the thin sharp point of the spike. 

    The cabinet is of a 'mosaic' oak which was rested for 3 weeks before the milling process is done. The end product is a beautifully finished cabinet that has a high WAF in it.

    The mid bass unit is a custom made XAVIAN 150 mm driver made of special PP membrane and the tweeter is an Audiobarletta 26 mm soft dome type. 

    Now, another interesting about the design is it front firing slot bassreflex similar to my PMC but this is not Transmission Line design. I have had conventional rear firing and bottom firing speakers before but for front firing without TL, this is the first experience.

    For sensitivity, it has a relatively common design at 88 dB with 8 ohm impedance.

    The speaker terminals allows single connection so no bi amping option. The terminals are located about 1/3 from the top of the cabinet. So for those with heavy speaker cables, I recommend to use spades instead of banana plugs.


    1. Kronos Sparta
    2. SPL Audio Phonos
    3. SPL Audio Director Mk2 pre amp
    4. SPL Audio S800 Performer power amp
    5. SONY HAP Z1 ES

    • Istana Impian - Saloma (WAV 16/44)
    • Dancing In The Dark - Diana Krall (DSD)
    • Lets Face The Music and Dance - Nat KIng Cole (WAV 16/44)
    • Snegurochka (The Snow Maiden): Dance of the Tumblers (WAV 16/44)
    • Gone Too Soon - Michael Jackson (DSD)
    • No Me Ames - J.Lo and Marc Anthony (WAV 16/44)
    • Pengungkapan Hatimu -Candra Darusman feat. Andien (LP)


    Now, I purposely played this old track which was not remastered nicely just to see whether the Perla will show this track full character. The Perla indeed deliver the track as it is. A bit of a 'dirty' sound just as it was back in Saloma's time. The Perla however did not deliver any harshness and this track was still listenable.

    Going to a nicely mastered DSD file of Diana Krall Dancing in The Dark, this is where I really start to understand the character of the Perla. It brings out the various layers of music with vocal to be highlight. Diana;s vocal was brought forward while the rest of the music is giving the overarching ambient. 

    This was further confirmed with the track by Nat King Cole. The vocal was just mesmerizing. And these are singers from different generation but the emotion delivered through the Perla was indeed sweet and suitable for those who are going for musicality and relaxing ambience.

    I then tested the Perla with a more complex music. I chose this track for its complexity in it various tempo and instruments behind it and of course, no vocal as all the tracks I tested the Perla with seems to highlight vocals. Maaaaann..... this was even more exciting as the Perla managed to bring up the energy and various tempo of this masterpiece with such energy, liveliness and at the same time maintain the warm overall presentation. Layer and layer of musical instruments seems to pop out left right and center and I am liking it.

    Back to something more common, a slow tune by the King of Pop. This one is mainly to see how the Perla in delivering a simple straight forward piece. No worries for the Perla. Again, the strength of vocal is the main highlight. Perla can really make you enjoy superb vocals from great singers at a different level. No harshness on highs and it really reveals the vocal strength of any singer  of their true potential. i.e. crap singers...take note including myself! 

    No Me Ames

    This was actually the first track played once the speakers were all set up. I kind of know how this speaker will sound when it comes to vocal and instrumental. I was really curious how it sounds when it comes to a common ballad/pop track. I purposely chose this track as it is not in English nor Malay. If this track could give me the emotional vibes, it can only mean on thing - this speakers can deliver the musicality and emotion of the song. First impression, yes it did!. The vocals are clear and energetic, full of emotion. The guitar plucking during the solo also sounded clean and crystal clear. Percussion especially the high (snare, hi hats, cymbals) sounds splashy and wide. The bass however is not heart pounding nor aggressive. It is sufficient on its own but once compared to an ATL bass from the PMC, one will find that is rather on the soft side.

    Pengungkapan Hatimu 

    Playing good quality mastered LP like this one will only make you fall in love with the Perla. Sweet and sweet throughout. The bass that I feel was much less compared to my PMC is instead replaced by a very warm and subtle bass that makes music like this sounds deep and emotional. Wind instrument sounds alive and spacious, giving me the pleasure listening to rather a huge sound stage. Vocals again, super wow with its clarity and while delivering a nice tone variation between Andien and Candra.


    This is in fact a very unique experience for a few reasons. While the Perla is not a power hungry speakers with quite a high sensitivity, depending on the music, I can get the impact at lower than usual volume, but for some music, I had to crank it up a bit more.  Secondly, is one of those speakers that the more I listen to it, the more I feel that it does have a special place for those who really focus on vocal. While the bass is not for those who are into metal nor hip hop, it substitute that with an overall warm and also refined bass. And lastly, I am still very surprised with its ability to deliver that complex music with such boldness and energy.

    It is worthwhile to check the speakers out at AFC Top HiFi if you are into vocal, orchestral music and refined bass. The Perla MSRP is RM 13,980. You can contact Min Ping Ong for an audition and maybe you can request to bring your own amp as well to test the speakers with.