Sunday, November 18, 2018

International Sound & Sight Exhibition 2018

Our very own annual International Sound & Sight Exhibition (ISSE) just ended. The show was held between 16th to 18th November 2018 at Parkroyal Hotel. Here is a brief report on the show.

Big rooms first :-

High End Research

The all-new Wilson Audio DAW
Streaming was carried out by an Aurender streamer hooked up to an Orpheus Lab SACD player / DAC and integrated amplifier

Ong Radio

Drool-worthy McIntosh gear

The Mac equipment paired with Opera Grand Callas speakers

Horizon Acoustics

Full Grandinote system. Playback was switched by a Totaldac D1-Seven / streamer and a Grandinote digital source

Close-up of the Mach 4 speakers

When I dropped in, the Grandinote Demone monoblock amplifiers were in play. Cabling was a mixture of Luna Cables and Verastarr. Great system - One of my favourites of the show !


Live demonstration of different CD pressings. How about a $2,000 glass disc or a much cheaper Ultimate HQCD press ? Very nice demonstration which really showcased how much difference a pressing could make. 
Really impressive sound from Accuphase electronics and Diapason Dynamis speakers. I adored the various models from Diapason. Boring boxes ? Certainly not here.

TGI Technology

The biggest surprise had to come from these cute speakers. Take a plastic sphere and mount a full range driver with accompanying electronics and battery pack, and you get the Eupho E3 speaker. Connection can be done via Bluetooth, USB, 3.5mm minijack or Toslink optical. 

Weighing just 1.6 kg, these speakers sounded remarkably good for their price tag. At $399 for a single speaker (including tripod stand, leather carrying strap and table-top mount), there is no excuse not to get one. Who said lifestyle speakers had to sound bad or break the bank ? And yes, two of these can communicate wirelessly to form a stereo pair. 

On to the 7th floor rooms :-

Advanced Audio Acoustics

The second surprise of the day had to come from these LS3/5A inspired speakers (the JM 3/5A SE. At $750, they sounded really good. Some mention was made of a special deal for the show, and I ran as fast I could before I succumbed to temptation. 

Tritone AV

I sat at front row and predicted a bass boom and poor driver integration given the near-field position and small room. Guess what ? They sounded great - very precise, transparent and dynamic. Makes me wonder why Legacy speakers aren't more popular locally. They certainly deserve to be. I had to check with Mervyn Loh, MD of Tritone to ensure that they were not running any form of room correction software. This gets my vote for best sound of the 7th floor.

Telos Asia Pacific

Project Perfection

Raindrop Audio

Ray Ng of Raindrop has always assembled good sounding setups, and this year is no different. The setup was a mix of SoTM and Ayon equipment and sounded very good. I liked this setup very much. 

Audionote Singapore

Audio 88

To be continued ...

Sunday, November 4, 2018

SB Acoustics Ara Speaker Kit


SB Acoustics is not a familiar name to many Audiophiles although they are one the largest OEM speaker suppliers in the world. A collaboration between Danesian Audio of Denmark and Sinar Bajar Electric in Indonesia, SB Acoustics brings affordable and technologically advanced speaker drivers to the market by marrying the considerable design experience of Danesian and Sinar Bajar's 27 years of transducer manufacturing.

Manufacturing in Surabaya, Indonesia would result in certain cost efficiencies, and the lucky beneficiaries are cash-strapped audiophiles like you and I ! It's well worth to have a look at the factory visit done by AudioXpress to find out more about their manufacturing quality (Link here).


The Ara is sold overseas as a kit, but available in Singapore in fully assembled form. My review sample came in Gloss White, and has a visually interesting cabinet, with a chamfered corner (mirror-imaged for each pair), and a backward tilt of about 7 degrees which time aligns the drive units. The cabinet  is very well made (18mm thick MDF panels), with a single pair of sturdy binding posts and magnetically attached protective grills - no DIY or homemade looking kit here. 

The Ara is a bass-reflex design with a rear port with a flared opening. The standard Ara kit comes with the Ring Dome Satori TW29R tweeter and Satori MW16P-4 woofer. An option is also available to swap out the tweeter for the top-of-the-range Satori Beryllium tweeter. The crossover circuits are slightly different though, so it would be best that you make your selection at the outset. 

The speaker crossover is a 12 element design and comes fully assembled on a PCB that fits at the bottom of the cabinet. Crossover parts are decent, with all capacitors being Jantzen cross cap metallized polypropylene capacitors, save for a single electrolytic capacitor. The large inductors are air-core, while sand-cast resistors are used throughout. Those handy with a soldering iron are free to swap components, but limited space will necessitate some creative mounting for some over-sized aftermarket capacitors. 

The crossover board - picture taken from SB Acoustic's web-site.

The Ara's specifications are as follows :-

Nominal Impedance : 4 ohms
Sensitivity : 87 dB
Frequency Response : 45 - 25000 Hz +/- 3 db
Crossover point : 3000 Hz
Recommended power : 40 - 150 watts


My own experience suggests that you need a fairly powerful amplifier to drive these speakers. The best amplifier match for these speakers in my room was the Mivera Audio Purepower-Icepower 1200AS2-2 amplifier, which delivers 700 watts per channel into 4 ohms.I preferred this match compared to my usual Conrad Johnson ART monoblock amplifiers. The Mivera was driven directly from my Totaldac DAC using digital volume control. 

The Ara was set-up on 24 inch Partington Dreadnought Broadside stands, and placed in open space with minimal toe-in. The fairly long footprint (388 x 190 mm) of the Ara would probably require you to have a customised top plate for maximum stability.

Sound Quality

Any worries that the Ara kit would sound anything less than a finished commercial product were quickly put to rest after my initial listening sessions. The Ara is a very pleasing and easy going speaker, that combines a smooth tone with a detailed sound. You get a seamless presentation with very good integration between the two drive units. The Ara resists a common trend in bookshelf speaker voicing - a mid-bass hump and tipped up treble. Instead, you get very civilised and even behaviour throughout the frequency range. 

The Satori drivers used in the Ara are from SB Acoustic's flagship range and offer remarkable performance for the money, even exceeding the performance of some other more expensive drive units I have used previously. No surprise then that the Satori has also been used by a number of leading audiophile speaker manufacturers.  

The Ara has decent low frequency grunt for a bookshelf speaker, albeit a fairly large volume one. Tight, tuneful and agile, bass notes are fast enough to avoid being lumpy or one-note. Double-bass is reproduced with good articulation and detail. However, you cannot avoid using a subwoofer if you want to enjoy large orchestral works in their full glory. In any event, you are probably better off going for the floorstanding version of these speakers if you are pursuing that route. 

Midrange is smooth, with a subtle warm tone. Presentation is laidback, with vocal presentation further back in the soundstage. While sounding distant, this also creates an illusion of depth. 

Treble quality is very good, with a silky quality, that is very fluid yet detailed. Some listeners may prefer a bit more bite, but if you like a pleasant and easy-going tone, you will love this. If you don’t, SB Acoustics still has you covered, just read on !

Where the Ara wipes the floor with it's competition is soundstaging ability. Both width and depth are class-leading, with excellent dimensionality. While the competition is able accurately place voices and instruments in the soundfield, they do so in a flat manner, unable to flesh out sonic images with the palpability of the Ara.

I also had a quick listen to the Beryllium tweeter equipped version of the Ara in another setup. There is a significant improvement in low-level detail, clarity and air. The tweeter sounds subjectively "hotter" than the fabric dome tweeter, so some may actually prefer the stock version, especially if you favour listenability over details and precision. While I found driver integration to be still very good, the two drive units do not speak with the exact same voice, and the tweeter does call a bit of attention to itself. I found this effect to be subtle, and not disconcerting in practice. 

The choice of tweeter will ultimately depend on what you value more. A more forgiving and easy-going sound, or a high resolution warts-and-all approach ? If you are interested in the Beryllium version, stay tuned - I bought the kit and will be assembling it once I have all the crossover parts on hand. The assembly process will of course be covered in a separate blog post.

How does the Ara stack up against the competition ? Very well indeed I must say. It ran rings around my KEF LS50 speakers in terms of resolution, detail and dimensionality. The only area where the LS50 was able to trumph the Ara was in terms of imaging specificity, which is not surprising given the coaxial driver used. 


The Ara is an excellent buy at it's price range. You get very high quality sound for your money and a speaker that is able to withstand a fair amount of upgrading in the rest of your system chain. 

Buying the kit is probably the highest level of endorsement I could give it, so enough said there - Best Buy.

I would like to thank Artisan Acoustics for arranging this review. 

SB Acoustics Ara Kit

Price - POA

Artisan Acoustics


Monday, September 24, 2018

Creative SXFI Amp

After months on anticipation, it's finally here - Creative's Super X-Fi technology that promises to recreate a multi-speaker experience through your headphones. The SXFI Amp is a small finger sized dongle that plugs in your USB port and lets you use any conventional headphone / IEM to experience their technology.

For once (great job Creative !), we in Singapore actually get this before the rest of the world. Buyers can go down to Creative's headquarters for a customised ear microphone mapping session, or rely on their mobile app that maps your ear shape by taking pictures of your ears and your head. 

Would you like $20 off ? Click on my referral link,

Visit for more information.

Friday, April 27, 2018

HiFiMAN Shangri-la jr Headphones


HiFiMAN's Shangri-la electrostatic headphones offered really nice performance, albeit at a price that almost no audiophile could afford (Click here for my article on the Shangri-la). Well, HiFiMAN took pity on us - here comes junior !

Now, USD 8,000 gets both the headphone and tube based headamp. Compare this with the USD 50,000 price tag of the senior model and this looks "affordable". This is still a lot of money and likely more than what most audiophiles would want to spend. Then again, ultra high-end components do not really look at affordability as a consideration -  the target market is the audiophile who demands the very best and is willing to pay for it. 

AV One (HiFiMAN's official dealer in Singapore) invited me for a private listening session recently. The Shangri-la jr system was paired with the Chord Blu Mk 2 transport and Dave DAC, while cabling was from Chord Co and Isotek. Power conditioning accessories were also courtesy of Isotek.


The system had been happily warmed up for an hour before my arrival, and the extruded aluminium casing of the headamp was noticeably warm. I don't know whether a tube cage is provided, so those with children or pets may want to confirm this with HiFiMAN.

The headamp uses a quartet of 6SN7 tubes - standing tall and proud on the top of the case. Operating the volume knob sets the level at one of the 24 discrete steps, with the LEDs lighting up to indicate the volume level. At the rear, both RCA and XLR inputs are provided. Build quality on the amp was impressive, everything felt good and solid. I do think the top glass is a fingerprint magnet though - get ready for lots of cleaning. 

Moving on to the headphones, these are quite light and comfortable. The strap at the top provides for even pressure and support, while there is moderate clamping force across the ears - these fit me better than the Susvara I reviewed previously. 

Swivelling the headphone cups made some squeaking noises, however in use I could not hear anything despite moving about.

According to official specifications, the headphones weigh 374 grams and have a frequency response of 7 Hz to 120 kHz (no limits stated). The weight is the same as the senior model, but lighter than the Susvara (450 grams) and punishingly heavy headphones like the Audeze LCD2 (490 grams).

Sound Quality

Tonally, these headphones share more similarities than differences compared to the Susvara,(click here for my review on HiFiMAN's Susvara) and would best be described as fairly neutral with a subtly sweet and creamy quality to it's midrange. One noticeable difference though is how soundstage is projected - more on that later on in this post.

Bass quality is excellent, with a tight and tuneful quality. HiFiMAN resisted the urge to boost the bass to give it that hard-hitting overblown quality that some people seem to like. I prefer my bass response to be accurate, so additional marks for HiFiMAN here. 

Vocals are silky smooth with noticeable warmth. Going through my usual test tracks, I did notice that some detail is traded-off for a "nicer" and more easy going presentation. Despite this, the midrange remains quite detailed so a good balance is struck between listenability and information retrieval in my view. 

High frequency reproduction is clean and extended, while sounding natural. The leading edge of instruments are a little bit soft, so if you like your treble to be projected and incisive, the Juniors may not be pleasing to you.

In typical electrostatic fashion, transient speed is great, with the appropriate pacing and attack on fast tracks. Soundstage width is not as expansive as the Susvara, although the Juniors still are able to sound wide with the right recordings.


Susvara or the Juniors ? My vote goes for the Susvara. I did enjoy my limited time with the Juniors though. They have a musical balance which is very easy to listen to, while retaining plenty of detail. Similar to the Susvara, the Juniors are not tuned to grab your attention and impress with sonic fireworks. Instead, it creeps up on you and slowly begin to appreciate their strengths. Overall, I think the Juniors are able to play with the best headphones out there, notwithstanding its junior label.  

HiFiMAN Shangri-la jr HeadphonesUSD 8,000 (Local pricing TBD) with matching headphone amplifier

AV One∫
The Adelphi
1 Coleman Street
Tel : +65 6337 0080
Website :

Press Release - Black Cat Announces Silverstar! 75 Mk. II

Black Cat Announces Silverstar! 75 Mk. II

Yugawara-machi, Japan - April 18, 2018 - One of the most popular and revered digital cables is getting an “Mk. II” upgrade after almost seven years sinxe its introduction!

A true-75 Ohm design from the originator of the precision-impedance digital cable, Chris Sommovigo, the Mk. II update to this long-lived design incorporates a “lite” variant of the RF rejection materials employed in both the Digit-75 and, to a greater degree, the TRĂ˜N Super-Reference SPDIF cable.

“I’ve been planning this improvement for awhile and have recently gotten down to the brass tacks of it,” said Mr. Sommovigo. “The inclusion of the RF rejection materials, plus an additional pure-copper shield - all braided under a multifilament nylon yarn jacket - elevate the Silverstar! 75 without breaking the $300/m threshold.”

Available with 75 Ohm BNCs or the new Lovecraft MINI RCA (or a combination), the new Silverstar! 75 Mk. II is now in production and is available directly from Black Cat Cable's fine retail partners .

High Fidelity Partners Co., LTD. is a Japanese corporation specializing in the development and artisanal manufacture of high-performance audio cables using unique processes and techniques to achieve extraordinary musical experiences.

Sunday, April 15, 2018

Innovative amplifier LittleZoe launches in HIGH END Munich

15 April 2008

The long awaited amplifier LittleZoe launches in world renowned Hi Fi Expo HIGH END Munich 2018. The amp will be presented at the Newcomers area of the exhibition from 10 to 13th of May.

Apart from its ultra modern design, this distinctive amp stands out in the crowd thanks to two innovations it brings to the high fi world.

  • Unconventional chassis architecture for ultimate performance
  • Solid body form produced by new age material resin using revolutionary technologies

Based on an original concept, LittleZoe shapes the sound character of a state of the art amplifier.

For more information visit the website and the social media.

Friday, March 9, 2018

Press Release - Black Cat Releases Lupino

Yugawara-machi, Japan - March 8, 2018 - Black Cat Cable introduces LUPINO - a word which means “Little Wolf” in Italian - as a trickled-down and more affordable version of their immensely popular “Lupo” interconnect.

“Mama” Lupo is made from 2 x 99.999% pure, annealed silver conductors in a ca: 0.25” dia air-teflon tube, and is terminated with Lovecraft Reference RCAs - but “LUPINO” is surely a mama’s boy, using a single 99.999% pure, annealed silver conductor in a ca: 0.15” dia air-teflon tube, and is terminated to Lovecraft MINI RCAs. 

While both sets of conductors - Lupo and Lupino - are “nami” (wave) processed, the Lupino conductor has a much shallower wave form owing to the fact that it has to fit inside a smaller diameter tube.

Despite the differences in build, Lupino retains much of Mama Lupo’s family performance characteristics at just around 1/2 of Lupo’s price: 1.0mpr of Lupino retails for only $399.95 (and is also available in 0.5m sets for just $274.95/set).

High Fidelity Partners Co., LTD. is a Japanese corporation specializing in product development and marketing of products and services for the Audiophile segment of the Consumer Electronics market. Located in the Yoshihama section of Yugawara city, Kanagawa prefecture, Japan, the company is engaged in the artisanal manufacture of goods and is known for its amazing awesomeness and peerless coolosity. 

Thursday, March 1, 2018

Press Release - Black Cat Releases Banana-To-Spade Adapters

Yugawara-machi, Japan - February 28, 2018 - Under their connector sub-brand "XOX", Black Cat Cable has released two levels of Banana-to-Spade adapters in order to convert banana-terminated loudspeaker cables for use with a variety of binding posts that do not otherwise allow for use with banana terminations.

The XOX REFERENCE Precision Adapter is precision machined from pure copper, high-polished, and Rhodium plated. A set of four pieces retails for $224.95

The XOX STUDIO Precision Adapter is precision machined from nonmagnetic brass, high polished, and Gold plated. A set of four pieces retails for $79.95

These are immediately available directly from select Black Cat Cable partners and also through the website.

High Fidelity Partners Co., LTD. is a Japanese corporation specializing in product development and marketing of products and services for the Audiophile segment of the Consumer Electronics market. Located in the Yoshihama section of Yugawara city, Kanagawa prefecture, Japan, the company is engaged in the artisanal manufacture of goods and is known for its amazing awesomeness and peerless coolosity.