Thursday, 25 August 2016

Grounding For The Better - J&K Audio Design 3io Blackbox



So you have a nice system (at least to your ears)... You sit back... relax... enjoying the music... and suddenly you start thinking how much is enough  when it comes to hifi hobby. I have concluded that ... it is LIMITLESS. I am not referring to new kit or new technologies. I am referring to how much more juice, excitement, enjoyment you can squeeze from your existing set up. I have always believe in the importance of clean power but due to bad experience of my set up being struck by lightning, I have been using surge protection for so many years until recently, I have revamped the power supply to my set up with several items including Frank Power Bank, Frank EM filter, Furutech US receptacle wall plugs, ECBs etc. The impact was not subtle.  And from this experience, I keep pushing for more.

Comes in this 3io Blackbox by J&K Audio. When the designer offered me to test this unit, I was at first wondering, what would this box do for me? But after further reading the product info, it intrigues me to see what it can do to my system.

WHAT IS IT?

In short, it is actually a grounding device. The Blackbox will help to draw and collect free electrons and control them from polluting the signal transfer. Too technical? In lay men's term, it takes away unwanted matters from the 'flow', allowing listener to hear more without unwanted 'noise'.

For more information, CLICKETY HERE

HOW DO YOU USE IT?

There are several ways that this box can be connected. You can plug it in to the wall socket next to where your set up is, direct to the grounding of your equipment or even onto a power distribution strip. For me, I opted to connect the Blackbox to the wall socket next to my set up is. It does require some run in time but the website does not specify for how long.

THE EQUIPMENT
  • SONY HAP Z1 ES hard disk player
  • Musical Fidelity M6i integrated amp
  • ProAc D18  speakers
  • Cabling
    • Siltech XLR Classic Anniversary 330i series for Sony to MF amp
    • Vermouth Audio Black Pearl speaker cable
  • Power tweaks
    • Frank Power Bank
    • Frank EM Filter
    • Furutech US receptacle wall plugs 
    • J&K 3io Blackbox plugged into the same 'line' of the Sony HAP Z1 ES
THE TRACK LIST
  1. Take Five - Dave Brubeck on WAV
  2. You Are Always On My Mind - Willie Nelson on WAV
  3. Enter Sandman - Metallica on FLAC
THE SESSION

The Take Five track.... literally gave me that take five meaning (relaxing). It just provided me another perspective of spatial definition when it comes to audio. During the drum 'solo', the percussion sounded very big in the overall sound stage. It gave me the visualization on how the drummer was set in the limelight on stage. The sound of the snare is very extensive that it really spreads out the details of each hit of the drumstick onto the drum skins.


When Willie took centre stage, it further expand my experience with the spatial spectrum that the Blackbox injected into the overall sound. His vocal sounded wholesome, warm and the emotional flow was recreated with a high sense clarity. Overall, the whole experience was very engaging as there was this controlled dispersion with the highs and quite sweet sounding mids. 


So far, for jazzy and folk genre, this Blackbox seems to be able to provide quite a change in the sound staging which created a different spatial experience. Next, I kicked in Enter Sandman by Metallica. Now, this was quite challenging to detect the sound difference with the Blackbox. The bigger soundstage and spatial experience was still there but there was some loss in clarity as the overall music reproduction of this track sounded a bit muffled at the beginning. However, listening to it more, it still provided this liveliness where the kick drums and shredding guitars were definitely livelier, hard hitting and somehow raw. Energized would be a good one word summary for this.




CONCLUSION

It works. Its just a matter of to what extend. It will depend on individual system, how its being set up etc.The main step up I would say is the spatial sense of the music reproduction. It gives a bigger sound stage for my set up. Subtle but enough to be noticeable. It somehow inject a new sense of liveliness, opens up the music more allowing listeners to experience a more engaging session. In my system, it might be subtle maybe because of the recent electrical upgrades I added but for those running straight from the standard wall plugs that came with the house, do try this Blackbox out. You may experience the similar benefit at a larger scale than me. Then, its just a matter of how many more of the Blackbox that you would like to install. Similar to the Frank PB, the more number of units you install, it may give you more impact. Highly recommended to be tested in your system for those who would like to squeeze more satisfaction from your system.

If you are interested, you can contact J&K Audio at jnkaudiodesign@gmail.com to place an order.

Thursday, 18 August 2016

Different Shades of Lenco L78 - Does the Mat Matters?


So, I got myself a stock Lenco again. This time around with a few different touches compared to my previous unit. Although it came in its all original parts except for the plinth and cart, there was still different in sound. This just proof that even the slightest change in parts and design, it will definitely affect the sound produced. Curiosity then got to me to see what else can affect the sound. Coincidentally, there was a buzz going around in the local Lenco scene that a new Stainless Steel (SS) plate was specially designed to further enhance the already exceptional Lenco sound.

With the power of the internet social media, I was contacted by the designer cum fabricator (known as Sph) of this SS plate to try this new revolutionary plate design. A date was set for me to try it out and the item was delivered. We played with it for a couple of hours but since I just received my new Lenco at that time, I requested for me continue testing out this SS plate for a month or so. 

FIRST IMPRESSION

At first, we actually tried the plate on my Clearaudio Concept TT. Erk! The Clearaudio could not even turn . So, we quickly took it off and start putting it on my new Lenco.

Bassy! First off test, the SS plate made the overall sound to be bassy. Not in a bad way. Its more like it injected more low end notes to the overall musical presentation.

But after a few weeks of swapping between this SS plate and the original Lenco rubber mat, I started to realize its potential. Heck, just to further challenge this new plate, I even started to spin LPs using a cork mat.

And fans..... this is my finding using a track by Zoe Deschanel duet She and Him, singing You Really Gotta Hold on Me. A few adjustments had to be made on the VTA to accommodate the thicker SS plate.

  
1. Stock Lenco Rubber Mat




With the stock Lenco, the overall sound is as per what I discovered in my previous review it produced a lighter side of of the music. Zoe's vocal sounded sharp and very open. The whole song was 'flowing' out and filling up the my hall. Huge sound stage.  Low end notes does not really emerge with the rubber mat but it then gives out a very natural overall tone to the track.

2. Stainless Steel Plate (SS Plate)




Now, this is where a significant change in the overall sound reproduction is heard. I believe it is a combination of the weight and also the design of the holes size and pattern on the plate. Both helps in dissipating unwanted vibration which is critical for LP spinning. As per my first impression, the plate injected a more defined low end notes to the music. It gives some sort of control and to the music flow by unleashing a more warm and emotional sound to this track. It uplifts the bass which made Zoe's vocal more alluring. It does give a different overall musical presentation.

3. Cork Mat




This was a big no-no for my Lenco. Although there was less fewer pops and cracks, the overall tone of the music produced just dived down with very low bass reproduction. The mids and highs just sounded less alive and just reduces the enjoyment of listening to a Lenco. And what ticks me off more was that the mat keep sticking to the LP each time I remove the LP from the platter. But, not necessarily this cork mat is bad for other TTs. I will try this on my Clearaudio after this.

SO, DOES THE MAT MATTERS?

YES! To me, it depends on how you want your system to sing and what your system needs. The stock Lenco already sounded good to my ears and fits my system for most of the musical genres that I listen to. However, the SS plate definitely provided me with a different musical perspective and enjoyment if I may add. It does control low end notes and allow a more defined reproduction of bass. Even on heavy metal tracks, it created a more wholesome energized music delivery. Want some lively and controlled bass from those double kick pedals of Metallica and double bass jazz?

Try out this SS plate which can be requested for a demo/home trial from SpH. The price of the plate is RM380 each. For those whom are interested, you can call him on 012-2188600.

Wednesday, 10 August 2016

WyWires Diamond and PMC Twenty5 Series - New and Available at AV Design




Last Saturday, 6th Aug, Tony Low and James Tan of AV Designs organized a small appreciation get together with some of the local audio-gents. The event also include the launching of the latest WyWires Diamond series interconnects and also the PMC Twenty5 loudspeaker series.

Taken from their website:

Diamond is the newest cable in our lineup, our luxury aesthetic line of cables. Diamonds have a brand new internal configuration, taking all that we have learned to create a new concept in Litz wire air dielectric design. Diamond cables contain a complex combination of different conductor and dielectric materials, optimized to provide a neutral and well-balanced tone, along with detail retrieval that goes beyond what we’ve been able to do in the past. Additionally, we have achieved a superior level of transparency and dynamics for the ultimate music enjoyment experience. Identified by a subtle sheen on black, with carbon fiber tubing on either end.  A discreet etched black medallion that moves along the cable allows the owner to slip WyWires branding out of sight.

From the chit chat we had on that fine Saturday afternoon, there are several information about this latest addition of cable to the already solid performing WyWires suite. WyWire is confident that the combination of discrete conductors, wrapped in 2 layers of cotton, single strand of enamel insulated solid core, carbon fibre tube and PTFE Teflon and air as dielectric, this cable will provide the most harmonically correct and tonally neutral sound that works equally well with any high quality components, tube and solid state.

I had the opportunity to compare between the Diamond and Silver series in the demo room. Playing Norfolk Country Line by Doug Macleod, immediately I could detect a more open and unrestricted flow of vocal once the Diamond interconnects were introduced into their resident set up of Bryston and PMC speakers.

We also had the chance to listen to PMC Twenty5.23 and 22 and compare the musicality between them. The 22 having a bigger driver than 23, gave a bigger hard hitting punch compared to the more extensive bass of 23. I personally prefer the 23 more as I am a fan of nice and extensive, dig deep bass.





The newly designed fin at the bottom of the speakers seems to further enhanced the sound from the Twenty series based on a more controlled airflow with less friction.

WyWires and PMC can be demoed and purchased from AV Design. Please contact Tony Low or James Tan at:

Audio Visual Designs Sdn Bhd
Unit M-W-1, Mezzanine Floor,
West Wing, Rohas Perkasa,
No.9, Jalan P. Ramlee,
50450 Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia


Tel: +603-2171 2828
Fax: +603-2171 2825
Email: sales@avdesigns.com.my


James Tan with PMC twenty5.23 and 22.


Twenty vs Twenty5 - Notice the difference?





Saturday, 6 August 2016

Lenco L78 Back In The System - Bare Naked This Time


Last year was a blissful year as one of my hifi highlights was to get a Lenco and experience the vintage sound.... A sound that was blasting while I was growing up....around my late parents house... Really enjoyed it. A 40 over year old refurbished unit that is not far apart from modern TT. I ended up spinning more on the Lenco versus my Clearaudio. However, due to space constraint, I sold it to a fine gentleman in Trengganu, with a heavy heart as I knew at that time that I am going to miss the sound of Lenco.

This year, after space re-adjustment, the urge to have a Lenco back in the system kicked in when I saw a picture shared by non other The Spin Doctor Mastan on Facebook. It was a Lenco L78 (note that my previous unit was a GL78) but whats unique about this new refurbished design, is the thin and open plinth that exposes the internal parts from below. Now, it is also a 3 legged design, similar to some modern TTs.

Tried to curb my desire but alas, 2 weeks before Eid, discussed with Pak Mastan about that unit. And sure enough Pak Mastan being the usual obliging Lenco xifu, explained to me about this new design. We met up in KLCC for a short discussion and confirmation of the final design. And as promised, the unit was ready before Eid. But due to the busy festivity period, the delivery of the unit was postponed to the weekend after Eid. Nevertheless, Pak Mastan sent me teaser photos of the completed unit :)

So, come 10th July 2016, Pak Mastan was back in my house with his partner in crime, Khaliz. And the installation process of a Lenco L78 into my system started. Similar to previous experience, Pak Mastan and Khaliz explained  and showed me all the parts as they installed the unit. 



Within 15 minutes, the unit was installed and the calibration process started.


Level and stability - Check


Track force - check


Ready to rumble!

A Little About The Unit

There are a few changes made here compared to my previous unit but maintains all original Lenco parts
  1. L78 vs GL78
  2. Open and thinner plinth vs thicker and closed
  3. Birchwood vs pine
  4. US plug vs UK plug
  5. Shure M44 cart vs M34 cart
  6. 3 legged plinth vs 4 legged plinth


With added Spin Doctor trademark


Shure M44 Cart



Power cable sturdily clamped on the the plinth


Naked underneath view from front



Lenco Xifu aka Spin Doctor Mastan happy with his installation.... You cannot imagine how I look when I started spinning this unit :)

So, How Does It Sound?



Coincidentally, I just received the long awaited LP of The Mambo Kings OST from Tower Records. Hence, first track to test it was of course Beautiful Maria. Maaaaannn... I realized how much I missed the big and airy sound of Lenco. The wind  instrument sounded extremely lively and the emotion of Maria can be felt flowing and filling my hall. The vocal of course was reproduced with clarity. Lenco is not the quietest TT around but the little static here and there just added a more authentic sound to this track. The guitar sounded crisp and detail, giving the track an overall killer combo.

The next track is on this newly issued LP 25 Rasul (yes its a little bit religious). Faizal Tahir is always known for his prowess vocal especially for rock music. But truth be told, he does have a very strong vocal even for a mellow song like this. The Lenco again reproduced a very lively and energized guitar strum from this track, Couple with the honest and transparent deep vocal, the Lenco produced quite an overall bigger sound stage, but maintain the mellow presentation of this track.

Conclusion

For those who somehow had past nostalgic experience listening to Lenco, owning or re-owning a unit is an experience that only you can describe it. For me, this unit represent a true meaning of withstanding the test of time with regards to the ability to still deliver the emotion from the music you are accustomed growing up with. It produces music beautifully and with full emotion. Is it the ultimate TT? Maybe not. But if you are looking for a classic analog sound with a lot of energy and detail, this is a unit that you cant go wrong with.

With respect to the new plinth design, I feel that it produces a lighter side of Lenco compared to my previous unit. Sound stage is bigger but it maintains a mellow and lighter sound. It fits into a system that is too upfront and bright and can help to inject the warm analog sound..

As I did mentioned when I purchase the first unit, I really would recommend a Lenco for someone whom is thinking to get into the cursed world of the black disc. It can easily match any modern entry level TTs but with the advantage of custom design. You can go for the natural wood colour  or get it painted to whatever colour you wish. You can ask for the previous thicker plinth or go for this new 'naked' and thin design.

And specific to The Spin Doctor Pak Mastan, it also include the experience of owning and setting up a Lenco. The Doc will help you to set it up until the unit really sing in your system. Not that it will take long as the unit that he refurbishes will go through extensive run in to ensure it is ready to plug and play in your system. The workmanship is also very detail as you can see, the unit is level indicating accuracy in the plinth design and workmanship. You would not want to have a turntable that is not level.

You can find the Spin Doctor Mastan on Facebook if you are interested to own a trouble free and good Lenco unit.

Tuesday, 2 August 2016

Roundup of KLIAV Show 2016 - El Hefe's Tour and Personal Award


It was the time of the year again where audiophiles, headfi-ers and AV nutheads locally and neighbouring countries would be in JW Marriot hotel to attend the Kuala Lumpur International AV Show, organised by 3DotEvent. Its a 3 days (22nd to 24th July) event and Yes! It was done after hari raya and fasting month. 

Due to work commitment, I could only attend on Saturday 23rd July. I arrived at 1015 am and met up with Mr. Dick Tan first, looking sharp in a suit as usual. 

Again this year, I was given the chance to be in the show as a press member. Thanks Mr. Dick Tan. I went down to the GF to kick start my visit cum exploration.


A bit disappointed that I was not allowed to enter a second time after I went out for lunch. Was stopped by an unfamiliar staff saying that Press was only allowed in on Friday 22nd July.  But at the same time, he didn't really know where and who he needs to clarify with that I was there on duty. He kept asking me to go to the registration booth. It was embarrassing and I kind of lost the mood to listen to more systems. But I kept calm and after about 5 minutes, a senior staff came out and explained to him that its OK for me to go in. A brief explanation from the senior staff indicated that there were incidents where the Press member passed their tag to others to gain free access! 

My personal objective:
  1. To demo 4K display and purchase a UHD BD player
  2. To finally get into an Dolby ATMOS and DTS-X set up and demo SVS Elevation Speakers on its debut here
  3. To demo the combo of Kronos (and its new PSU) with Absolare amps
  4. To demo Musical Fildeity ENCORE system
  5. To find bargain LPs and Bluray discs


The prizes for the lucky draw. I never win though :(


Samsung



A big disappointment for me and the FB Komuniti Blu Ray Disc of Malaysia as we have to continue to wait for the availability of a UHD BD player. Samsung had a player on demo here but still no news on the launch date in Malaysia.  

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Desa Home Theater



The usual bargain section of Desa Home Theater was also there but it looks like the discount level is not as attractive as last year. Maybe due to the weaker currency we have now.

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Asia Sound



Asia Sound displayed both static and active Rega TT systems. And what attracted me most was this Limited Edition of Queen's RP1 

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WorldKlassHifi




Klipsch (especially the 70th Anniversary Heresy speakers) and TEAC Hi Res USB TT were the main highlights presented by Kenny. 

Oppo


Oppo maintained their booth like last year, show casing their headphones, headphones amp and BD players.

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CMY Room 1 - Naim and Dynaudio



CMY One Utama big guy Steve Chua



I was a bit skeptical on this room at the beginning, knowing that the sound in last year's bigger room was not as per my expectation. But, Steve Chua has managed to set up this Naim Statement system with much improvement that made me quite impressed with Naim. Bass was taut, mids were crisp and the highs was just sweet and luscious. Steve have managed to transcend this system to a level that shows more of its potential. Congrats Steve Chua.

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The Return of Musical Fidelity by A&L





For those who follow my blog, should know by now what Musical Fidelity means to me. Year in year out, I feel slight disappointment not to see MF in its true glory in this AV show. This year, A&L presented the Nuvista top notch series of MF, coupled with Dali speakers. For a CD based system, I find this set up was quite the sound that I am very familiar with but much more meaty. However, I was looking forward to hear the latest product of MF which is the ENCORE all in one system. Unfortunately, A&L did not manage to get this on time for the show.

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Various Systems - ProAc, Naim, Roksan, Dali. Linn, KEF, Wadia, Project etc


















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ARCAM AVR Returns




Another British brand that I miss dearly in the past few years. This year they came back with a bang. The AVR can really shake one's booty with its powerful bass reproduction. I thought that they installed 2 subwoofers in the room. Turn out to be NO subwoofer at all. However, they should have gotten a bigger room to properly display its true potential.

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NAD and PSB




Another brand that needs no introduction. One of those brands that you will not mistake it for another. From its casing design to its sound signature. Clean, transparent and honest music reproduction.


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HECO, BMC, Loit and Magnat by Audio Art


Three rooms! Audio Art took three rooms to set up 2 hifi systems and 1 home theater system.

The Heco and BMC already impressed me last year. And this year, it just got better especially with Eric Suh explaining to me about of the Heco design. The first combo of Heco and BMC sounded really authoritative, good control on low and high notes with quite an upfront mids. Was also surprise that they managed to present the system with high clarity in this small room. Kudos on their effort in acoustic management. 




 HECO Concerto Grosso


With David Kestez and Eric Suh - Who is briefing who?


Behold the glory of BMC!


At this price, it can match a number of more expensive speakers!





The Heco Direkt speakers - my new obsession. I want them to be in my house.


Simple and retro design with punch and poise that can match a number of traditional shaped speakers.





I was fully impressed with the capability of these retro looking speakers. With high WAF and adaptability to a living room deco, these pair could sell itself. The sound was  mesmerizing with high clarity, sufficient bass production and sweet luscious presentation of vocal. Very much the sound you would want to listen to with no fatigue and relaxing mood.


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SVS Set up by Maxx Audio

Max Loh and Yoon Tat did it again this year. With an unorthodox approach of subwoofer+speaker+amp wiring set up.For those who managed to experience the surround sound of this SVS and Denon system, you might be wondering on how the bass was produced with such punch and impact bass kick. All I can say, the sub was not connected directly to the Denon sub out as the normal practice. Contact Max for further info on this unorthodox set up.

And of course.... the debut of SVS Elevation Speakers...which yours truly already have a pair as front upfiring speakers for my recent Dolby ATMOS and DTS-X upgrade. ..... and the sound is truly amazing. These are not just acting like presence speakers. Its actually reproduce the atmos signal as it was intended for.












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Headfi Galore by Jaben and Star Pickers Audio






The two usual headphones distributor Jaben and Star Pickers Audio made various headphones and headphones amps available for demo and testing. I had another listen of the Audeze EL8 as I was eyeing for it since last year. But again this year, I some how got put off by the 'non-responsive' staff of Star Picker for a second year in a row. Requested for the cable to the headphones and waited for 10 minutes and they just entertained some other visitor who came in after me. The same thing happened last year. Maybe I have to be active again in the headfi scene before getting some basic respond.

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LP Galore



To drown my sorrow of non existence of UHD BD player and ownership of Audeze EL8, I ended up with some retail therapy on the various LP stalls. 25 pieces.... and still listening to them.

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PMC Twenty5.24 with Bryston Electronics by AV Design



This is what I call simplicity at its best. James Tan and Tony Low have never failed to impress me with how they set things up. These newly launched speakers have definitely leaped into a higher level compared to its predecessor Twenty series. Made me thinking of upgrading my Twenty.23 to these. The slim PMC cabinet and its transmission line technology sounded big even in a decently sized room. No struggle at all to deliver substantial, rich and luscious sound.






Yes Tauke James, PMC is also in my heart.

..................And on the AV side, this is where I experienced the the true 4K experience. AV Design imported a UHD player from US and feed it into the latest JVC 4K projectors and displayed it on to a high curve projector screen. This video does not justify its true magnificent display, but you can imagine how frustrated I am that UHD player have yet to be launched in Malaysia.




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Malaysian Debut - Acoustic Platform Solutions (APS)



Happy to see the participation of the Malaysian company APS that provides engineered racks and stands for your audio needs. I reviewed one of their speaker stands a few moons back and I can say that if I ever go back to bookshelf speakers, I will get an APS.

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The Mighty KRONOS Pro, ABSOLARE 845s, SKOGRAND and Frank Powerbank - HiFi Creations Increased the Performance Bar 

This must be the new benchmark of audio set up in a show, at least for Malaysia. Not only the sound stage but the overall professional, high class, luxurious look of the room as well. With a guest reception area separated from the main listening hall, it made me feel like walking into a prestigious red carpet event.

Victor Pheh of HiFi Creation have thought through almost every aspect of the show. From having the principal of the Kronos and Absolare brands to the usherettes that woo the visitor with their charm. On the technical side, the power management was done with a series Malaysian pride Frank Powerbank.

The sound from Kronos Pro reminded me of the few months I had the Kronos Sparta in my house for a review. Only that this sound even much much more engaging. Very unfortunate that they had issues with the Absolare amp but the level of commitment from the principal was outstanding. He brought in the technician from Turkey immediately to get the unit fixed and it was up and running again on Saturday by 5 pm. I had the opportunity to listen to both set up of Kronos; with Magnet power amps  and Absolare 845. I have yet to hear any set up that can match this level of sophistication. Some might argue that the system can sing even much better with other speakers, but the Ocean Five speakers still had a unique musical expression. The overall presentation was musical, airy and excellent sound staging. And not forget to mention that this is and still is the quietest turn table I have ever experienced. I do miss having the Sparta in my house. With the new power supply for the Kronos Pro, it upped the ante to a level that is near perfect in my book.

Congrats to Victor, Louis Desjardin, Kerem Kucukaslan, Frank Voon and James Chin.












Yes....it is a hard work for the press!





Yes Victor, I had the Kronos Sparta in my house and now I am missing it!





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Seductive Frenchy - Devialet

Devialet went really big this year with a few visitors went home with this BB8-look-alike sensation. It can go loud effortlessly. filling up a big venue with pure excitement and good sound.






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Summary and Personal Award

Taken from my summary in audiofi.net:




............ And here is the list of my El Hefe's Personal Award:


  • Best Impact Debut - SVS Elevation Speakers by Maxx Audio
  • Best Bass Management for Home Theater - SVS system by Maxx Audio
  • Best Digital Based HiFi Sound - PMC twenty5.24 with Bryston by AV Design
  • Best Analogue Based HiFi Sound - Kronos, Absolare, Skogrand, Frank PB by HiFi Creations
  • Biggest Disappointment - Non-availability of UHD BD players for sale
  • Best Video Display - AV Design for its full 4K video with UHD player, JVC projector and curved screen
  • Best Surround Sound Experience - Audio Art for its ATI and Magnat THX set up
  • Best Improved System - Naim Statement and Dynaudio by CMY
  • El Hefe's Sleepless Nights - Heco Direkt speakers by Audio Art
Overall Award: Visitors to the show. Without your support, this show will never happen.