Friday, November 27, 2015

International Sound & Sight Exhibition (ISSE) 2015

Day 1

It's that time of the year again !

ISSE is back at it's usual venue - the Parkroyal hotel on Kitchener Road.

Starting off on with the function rooms, the first stop for the day was X Audio Pte Ltd. Upgrading to a larger room meant that they were able to showcase a much larger system than their usual setup.

Vivid Giya G2.It's smaller siblings, the G3 and B1d are behind.

Aurender W20 and AMG Viella V12 turntable. Wadax Pre One Ultimate Trio and Hermes Server. Mola Mola Makua preamplifier and four Kaluga monoblocks wired for bi-amping.

A close-up of the delectable AMG V12. The brush-like device is the SFC SK-Filter which dispels electrostatic charge. The brush is suspended a few millimeters above the record surface.

Wadax Pre-one Ultimate Trio and Hermes Server.

Mola Mola goodness ! Very unique textured surface - try stroking one.

Swee and Ryan chose to showcase the Vivid Giya G2 speaker this year. Vivid's special 10th anniversary model, the B1d and the G3 were also on display. Partnering equipment included the Aurender W20 music streamer and AMG Viella V12 turntable, Wadax DAC / Preamplifier (used as a DAC and phono stage), Mola Mola Makua preamplifier and Kaluga monoblocks. The Wadax was capable of doing room correction, but this was not used for the show. 

While the sound on the first day was quite good, I felt that it was not up to the full potential of the system. The system made a remarkable leap in performance the following day (see my comments at the end).

Power conditioning was handled by Torus, and a wide variety of accessories and cabling from Acoustic Revive, Acrolink and Entreq were in use.

Entreq Poseidon ground conditioner.

MSB Technology Signature DAC V.

Octave integrated tube amplifier.

Mono phono amps from Phasemation.

Mizik electronics. Wadax trickle-down technology at affordable pricing.

Beautiful headphone stands from Codia

Philip Guttentag, CEO of Vivid Audio and Javier Guandalajara of Wadax attended the show. I had very interesting talks with both, and Javier revealed that Mizik should have something very exciting soon.

Moving on to Audio Line's room, music was flowing beautifully from the Technics Reel-to-Reel deck. A staggering array of Pure Audio electronics were visible, paired with  Von Schweikert VR-55 speakers. 

Perfect if gold is your favourite colour.

Von Schweikert VR-55 speakers

You could not help but notice the massive amounts of chrome and gold from the Triangle ART turntables on display also. My timing was perfect, as Tom Vu, principal of Triangle ART stepped forward to showcase his babies.

KR Audio Kronzilla SX - Perfect for those who like them tubes big !

Rogers EHF-200 Mk 2.

High End Research had the all-new Audio Research Ref 6 on display. An EMM Labs XDS-1 was spinning optical discs, with a Goldmund Mimesis 32.5 Processor and Logos Anatta active speakers. 

Goldmund Logos Anatta active speaker.

It's robot-like looks actually grow on you.

Fresh from the oven - Audio Research Ref 6 preamp.

A view of all those goodies inside.

The stunning Sonus Faber il Cremonese speakers were also on display, together with electronics from Wadia.

Sonus Faber il Cremonese speaker - these also double up as fine furniture for the discerning.

AudioSound Pte Ltd are a new player in the industry. They were exhibiting some very interesting equipment, including Lampizator's Big 7 DAC, Audionet electronics and the Guissani Research Delta 4 R10 speakers. The Guissani speakers are a hybrid design with twin 12 inch woofers, and a long vertical array of planar magnetic panels covering three different frequency ranges. A Melco N-1A (on loan from Sound Affairs Pte Ltd) was streaming music via USB to the Lampizator.

Guissani Research Delta 4 R10 speakers.

A closer look at the Lampizator Big 7.

I also encountered some interesting devices from a Taiwanese audio company, Acuslik Labor. Mr. Lin showed me some of his tweaks that tackled equipment resonance, and room acoustic issues, as well as some of his cables. The products were very reasonably priced. 

Mr. Lin of Acuslik Labor. The room and equipment were treated with his products.

A close-up of his resonator tweak - at prices that most audiophiles can afford.

Sound Decisions Pte Ltd were showcasing a stunning new Sony 4K projector - this distracted me momentarily from the audio setup. The MERGING+NADAC DAC immediately caught my eye. Sammy Low walked me through the rest of the setup, with a VTL TL7.5 Series III Reference Preamplifier and MB-450 Series II Monoblocks. paired with German Physiks HRS-130 speakers. For vinyl lovers, the analog included an Avid Acutus Reference turntable, SME V arm and Ikeda cartridge. An Avid Pulsare phono stage completed the picture. Cabling and accessories were from Synergistic Research.

This system had good potential but careful evaluation was difficult with the nearby home theater demonstration rooms blasting away.

AVP Sound Vision had on display a rather imposing looking speaker from Sigma Acoustics. The front end was an Atoll CD player, paired with a Synthesis integrated amplifier. Cabling and accessories were courtesy of Nordost.

Alpha Audio were pairing Music Fidelity Nuvista electronics with a Tannoy DC10T. Straightwire cables were being used. Cambridge Audio electronics were also on display.

Yamaha Music (Asia) Private Limited had a very big display this year. However, I spent most of my time in one of their small listening rooms, with the R-N602 network receiver (S$ 899) and NS-B951 speakers ($2,599 excluding stands). I quite liked the sound from this setup - good performance for a modest price tag.

AV Intelligence were exhibiting the Devialet Phantom speaker (just one) and their amplifier in the main hallway.

Not forgetting the portable crowd - in fact, quite a significant part of the show was dedicated towards portable gear and head-fi.

Chord Dave. If you have to ask how much it costs, you can't afford it.

Time to move to the hotel rooms upstairs.

First stop was to visit Audio Basic. Steven Cheah had plenty of goodies from Telos of Taiwan. Acoustic Energy was also back in the market with a big bang.

The petite Acoustic Energy 301 and the Reference 3 floorstanders.

The Telos GNR or Grounding Noise Reducer - this is one of the most innovative products I've come across this year. I attended an earlier demonstration by Jeff Lin of Telos this year - keep an eye on this product.

Telos Quantum caps and stickers. A separate review of the stickers will be out shortly.
A very special product from Telos designed for the China market - all those Duelund caps are guaranteed to bump up the price tag to dizzying levels.

The Kubrick DCX turntable from Soulines of Serbia was definitely a talking point.

I love the styling and performance so much that I bought one earlier in the year.

Also on display were electronics from Aurender and Mizik.

Over to Audio Note's room. The digital source was an Audio Note CD 3.1X/II, while the analog rig was a Dr. Feickert Analogue Woodpecker deck (with Ortofon Cadenza Blue cartrdige) and Audio Note phono stage. The Audio Note Oto SE amplifier was hooked up to AN/J SPe Hemp speakers.

Audionote were showing off a pair of Devialet Phantoms in the next room. They placed a bottle of water on top and cranked it up very loud, to demonstrate how little vibration the cabinet had.

Horizon Acoustics always put up a good show, and this year was no different. I felt right at home with the Total DAC Dual with reclocker front-end, and Nola Studio Grand Reference Gold speakers. Great control, dynamics and a very balanced sound. This was in part helped by the massively powerful Grandinote Shinai amplifier with the astonishing power output of ...... 37 watts ! Power conditioning was handled by a Plixir Balanced AC transformer and High Fidelity's Ultimate Reference Wave Guide. Cables were a mix of High Fidelity and Verastarr.

Nola Studio Grand Reference Gold speakers. Check out that gloss !

Grandinote Shinai amplifier. A big sound that belies its low power output (37 watts).

High Fidelity cabling. Their power conditioner was hiding behind the rack.

Verastarr cables.

E-Mu Systems Pte Ltd had a wide variety of desk-fi and head-fi equipment on display. The most interesting products were two new headphones with gorgeous wood cups. The larger model sported teak cups, and the other model, walnut. Suggested retail price of the teak model was S$ 1,280, and $199 for the walnut model. The project team director, Mr. Chan explained the development of these two models and beamed with pride like any new father would. I took a brief listen and they do sound quite good. The walnut model seemed like particularly good value. 

Each cup is carved from a solid block of wood and hand matched for grain appearance.

A close-up of the E-Mu walnut headphones.

Audio-Technica had a wide range of head-fi gear and turntable cartridges on display. I noticed their tiny tube head-amp. I love tubes !

SKM Technology were similarly exhibiting portable and desk-fi centric equipment. However, the very elusive Sony HAP-Z1ES was on display (with pricing and actual availability) - many months after discussion and rumours that Sony Singapore were going to make the product locally available. I had already seen the HAP-Z1ES in flesh at earlier Sony events this year - what a tease ! Let's not forget the TA-A1ES amplifier hiding below.

AVP Soundcraft LLP had two rooms, the first room being dedicated to a wide range of Nagra electronics, paired with Verity Audio Sarastra II speakers. When I was there, the massive Nagra HD amp was being used, paired with the Jazz preamp and CDP disk player. Nagra's marketing director, Matthieu Latour talked about the technical design of the HD amp, such as it's massive 1600 VA transformer and capacitor banks, as well as the fact that the amp is biased into class A up to 30 watts (which handles most listening volumes), and A/B up to 250 watts. The sound in this room would be best described as refined, highly resolving yet powerful and controlled. I liked this room very much.

I have a weakness for Nagra styling and build quality. Needless to say, performance is top class.

Nagra HD amp - I love the idea of vertical standing amplifiers. They really don't take up much real estate on the floor.

Day 2

It seemed fitting to start off the day with AVP Soundcraft - this time their second room. They were displaying Canton speakers there, and a smaller Verity Audio model - Finn. Paired with the Simaudio Moon Neo 260D CD player and 250i amplifier, the trio cost a shade above S$12,000 (at the special ISSE show price). Yes, it sounded smaller and less resolving or refined than it's big brother with the Nagra setup. But no, you don't need to rob a bank to afford it. Not only did I love this setup, I could recommend it to almost anyone without having to make excuses about the price of audio equipment. I doubt I could assemble a nicer system for that budget.

I quickly popped back in to the E-Mu room. Mr. Chan had kindly promised to bring his solid wood block to show me the quality of the wood used.

The E-Mu Teak headphone.

Another pair of the E-Mu Teak, with very different wood grain.

Unicorn Sound & Vision were doing a live demonstration on the beneficial effects of the Audioquest Jitterbug. A notebook PC was being used to play a music video (the PC was hooked up to a larger TV screen) with two Jitterbugs. The first bug was used in series with the Dragonfly 1.2 DAC, and the other was plugged into a spare port. There were obvious improvements in the lowering of the noise floor, as well as the addition of a sweetness to the sound and smoothness of the video (I kid you not). I bought a pair on the spot.

Eighteen 77 Pte Ltd had Roksan electronics on show, with the B&W 685 S2 and all-new 805 D3.

AV Intelligence ("AVI") had a number of rooms. The more interesting room was the Raidho Acoustics room. Michael Borresen was doing a demonstration of the XT-2 loudspeaker, paired with the Aavik U-300 amplifier. Ansuz's new Diamond DTC cables were also being used in the system.

Raidho XT-2 speakers.

The cobra like cables are the new Ansuz DTC cables.

AVI's second room had the Linn Magik 140 system which comprises of the all-in-one Magik DSM and Magik 140 speakers. A small pair of Penaudio speakers were also available for comparison.

AV One had PMC speakers paired with the Arcam Solo Movie. The latter is an all singing and dancing wonder - Bluray, CD, SACD playback, network play support via UPnP, Bluetooth play and 6x50 watts via Class G technology. I sat through both a movie (with full surround sound) and music demonstration. The Solo Movie proves that you can have your cake and eat it too. My dashed home theater ambitions could have turned out a lot differently if the Solo Movie had been around then.

CDA Professional Audio Asia Pte Ltd had a simple yet very effective set-up. A pair of ATC SCM40A speakers were paired with a Prism Lyra DAC. A notebook PC was feeding the Prism with volume control in the digital domain.

Power, control, resolution and precision - this setup had it all. Think of how good this setup could be given more ambitious equipment.

Raindrop Audio carries a lot of interesting products and is quite effective at showcasing the strengths of their systems. This year was no different - with the SPEC Corp ampliifer driving the Boenicke Audio W5, and the Son of Ampzilla II amplifier powering the Soltanus ESL speakers. The source was an Ayon streamer, while power conditioning was handled by Gigawatt. Also on display were SOtM products.

You could hear the gasp from the audience when the W5 was in play - could you really get such big sound from such a small speaker ? Unfortunately the gentleman next to me looked shocked and dismayed when he found out the price of the W5.

Boenicke Audio W5.
H&R Home & Professional Audio deserve special mention for strangest room. From what little I could understand, the tweaks were addressed at resonance control, acoustic and ground treatment.

The wood blocks and cones were decently finished, while the other products looked "interesting". The gathering crowd gave out loud exclamations of astonishment in Cantonese as the designer demonstrated and explained the tweaks. My Cantonese fluency unfortunately is non-existent (I probably know less than five swear words), so the explanations were lost on me.

Visitors with itchy fingers kept on knocking over these tweaks. 

Audio 88 had plenty of eye candy on display. The Lumin streamers and Gato electronics were really beautiful in the flesh. The very glossy Enigma Acoustics speakers were eye-catching too. 

Gato Amp 150 - Love those meters !

Leo Research AV Pte Ltd is an old player in the industry. They exhibited a number of tube amps and speakers. The products were affordably priced and the sound of the setup was quite decent.

Sky Audio had a number of new things this year, including a new turntable from Taiwan, turntable cartridges from Japan and speakers from Germany.

Steve Sai demonstrated both analog (Tien turntable with a Hana SL cartridge) and digital (Sky Audio's tuned Mac Mini, connected via Astin Trew's powered concord USB cable system to the Concord USB). Amplification was the DA&T A38, and power conditioning was handled by multiple DA&T mains filter units. The DynamiKKs! Monitor 8.12 completed the setup.

Both the digital and analog rigs were closely matched, and those drivers really moved lots of air. The visitors to the room certainly had a lot fun with the entertaining and dynamic choice of tracks and records played.

CD Acoustic and Horizon Acoustics - Jimmy Goh was manning this room with the Harbeth SHL5+ on demonstration. A Modwright modified Oppo 105 served as the source, while amplification was handled by the Zestos Leto preamplifier and BIA 120 power amplifier. Cabling was from High Fidelity Cables. 

AV One had another room with a Hegel and PMC setup. A representative from Isotek was demonstrating the difference between a stock system, and with power conditioning handled via the Isotek Polaris, followed by the Aquarius. Cabling changes were done at lightning fast speed (he should consider an alternative career as Formula One pitcrew), and there was a noticeable improvement in background quietness, bass tightness and reduction of high frequency glare with both products. 

The gentleman with the lightning fingers. These products really work.

Modular Audio was my last stop on the seventh floor. Raymond and Chee were enthusiastically demonstrating the effects of tweaks from IPC. 

Their choice of analog equipment was a Thales rig. This was my first encounter with their unique tonearm that adjusted the headshell angle (to reduce tracking error) as the tonearm moves across the record.

Digital was taken care of by the Lindemann Audio Musicbook 25 CD player / streamer and preamp, and Musicbook 55 monoblocks. Speakers were the Audes Excellence 5. I would not have guessed that the Musicbook 55 used class D technology - they sounded great. This was also a very enjoyable setup with very good performance from both analog and digital playback.

Returning back downstairs, High End Research had swapped out the Goldmund speakers for the Sonus Fabers. Amplification had also been switched to the Audio Research Ref 6 and Ref 250 monoblocks. 

I stopped by X Audio's room to see how the Vivid setup was coming along. It was now performing very well (much better than Day 1), and comfortably familiar to my ears as a Vivid speaker owner. Wonderful sound and a very nice way to finish the show.

Big thanks to Mr. Tham of Sound & Sight Journal for inviting me, and all participants for the hard work put in.

See you all next year.