Kuala Lumpur International AV Show (KLIAV) 2017 Impressions Thread

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  1. ezekiel77
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    "Music expresses that which cannot be said and on which it is impossible to be silent."
    -Victor Hugo.

    "He who would search for pearls must dive below."
    -John Dryden.

    "You can go."
    -My wife.

    Disclaimer. This is not a comprehensive show report of the KL International AV Show 2017. The full show has speaker-fi, projector-fi, TV-fi, and some really really hot booth girls. I didn't cover any of those. Naw man we must focus! I had only 5 hours, so most of my time was spent in hotel rooms 1239 and 1240, the dedicated HeadFi sanctuary run by Stars Picker, Malaysia's coolest premium headphone shop.

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    Gear used:

    -QP1R (medium gain)
    -Norne Therium 3.5mm SE
    -AAW W900
    -Rhapsodio Galaxy V2
    -AudioGD Master 7 > AudioGD HE-9 (the exhibitors' setup)
    For headphone and IEM testing, stock cables were used unless otherwise mentioned.

    Albums used:
    -Michael Jackson "Thriller"
    -The Eagles "Hell Freezes Over"
    -Amber Rubarth "Sessions from the 17th Ward"
    -Fleetwood Mac "Rumors"
    -Dire Straits "Brothers in Arms"

    The good thing about audio shows, these albums almost always show up in any enthusiast's setup (unless you're into some weird shat). I didn't have to use my own SD card throughout. Also,

    -Taylor Swift "1989"
    I have a soft spot for her.

    The show promised some top, top gear, and probably the first time Jomo Audio, Effect Audio, Rhapsodio and QDC products are featured in a local show. Plus the main attractions: Blue Hawaii SE > Stax SR009, and HiFiMan Susvara. Without further ado here are the impressions!

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    Sonoma Acoustics Model One

    I kick off my listening with a screamer. A complete electrostatic headphone rig and Inner Fidelity Wall of Famer! Having not heard an estat setup in 2 years, this rekindled the flame of a sound I was so fond of but couldn't afford lol. As with estats, speed and detail levels are unquestionably high. From upper mids to treble, the detail, decay and texture are very satisfying. A quick switch back to my portable setup showed how much I was missing, from note attack to decay, and what went on between the notes! This is groovy stuff. The bass is neutral, lightning fast, and hits with great impact, but perhaps missing the decay I'm used to in dynamics and planars. For mids, the vocals are clean and dry, lacking a bit of warmth and intimacy. Instrument timbre and tone is a touch brighter than I'm used to, but the detail retrieval is amazing. Soundstage is adequately wide and deep, but one of the stars of the show is the imaging. You're in the centre of the action, surrounded with beautiful music. The overall signature is balanced, dynamic, and excellent for critical listening. Other than the dry mids I'm in love with this. I'm also in love with keeping $5000, so thanks for a great session.

    At 10am, I was one of the first dudes to attend the show, so while the boss was busy preparing the flagship desktop setup, he directed me to the portables. I'm back in familiar ground.



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    Jomo Flamenco

    Jomo's great reviews have always intrigued me. I was glad to finally try the Flamenco, and it turned out to be a show favourite. The Flamenco is an 11-driver billed as the "Ultimate Flagship" (their words, not mine). Like the Prophile 8, it has bass and treble switches so you could switch signatures with a flick. Effect Audio Ares II was the cable I used with Flamenco.

    Both switches down
    The bass has excellent detail and texture, and breathtaking speed. Only problem is, the speed is sometimes too quick, and slam and decay are light for my tastes. The mids are very detailed and dryish, but upper mids onwards, the magic happens. Extension and resolution up the wazoo! The treble has a good amount of sparkle too, whilst sounding just smooth enough not to bother sensitive ears, or mine anyway. The soundstage is adequately wide and deep, but the trump (bad word?) card is the excellent separation and imaging, and very airy feel. It's immersive and addictive, this signature.

    Treble switch up
    When decorated fighter Brock Lesnar returned to Wrestlemania after a long stint at UFC, he pummeled Roman Reigns left, right and centre, triumphantly proclaiming "Suplex City, bish!" So with the treble switch up, replace the word "suplex" with "treble". Horrible analogy, but I love that quote lol. Uh, the treble boost is a bit strong for me, but super airy. If your ears can take a beating, by all means.

    Bass switch up
    My favourite setting. This brought out the most natural timbre, and increases the bass impact. It's more visceral now. The best part is the bass weight lends some authority to the lower mids as well, so now they sound more natural and less dry. The overall signature is less airy, but the added note weight is a great compromise between tone and staging.

    Both switches up
    More fun than the default, fuller bass and mids, but the treble is still too Brock Lesnar for me. I should mention that I'm sensitive to 7KHz elevations. The 6KHz spike in HD800 and 5KHz spike in Rhapsodio IEMs got nothin' on me, but at 7Hz I'm on my knees. Still, Flamenco with bass switch up is one of the best things I've heard all year.

    Bonus comparison with AAW W900
    I couldn't resist doing a battle of the best of Singapore, so I whipped my unit out. Yes. Compared to Flamenco with bass switch up (my favourite setting), the W900 sounds more natural and euphonic. The bass has more authority but less detail, the mids more intimate, and the treble smoother with less sparkle. W900 has noticeably more note thickness than the Flamenco. Stage-wise, the W900 is much wider, but shallower and less airy. I would describe W900 as "speaker-like" while Flamenco is "resolute". Both are in the same tier, providing different flavours of a top-end sound.



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    Jomo Samba

    Thirsting for some more Jomo (that sounded wrong) I tested the Samba next. The EA Ares II was the cable used. Immediately I noticed a more intimate stage size compared to Flamenco, and less airy too. However, it's a good balance of fun and detail. The midbass is pronounced, with a good thump and natural decay. Not DD level, but good for a BA. The mids are clean and clear, sounds like a good all-rounder. The highlight again are the upper mids and treble. Like the Flamenco, they have very good extension, sparkle, and decay. Crispy! But in some tracks, the treble notes are thinner than I prefer, and I do hear a hint of splashiness. The overall signature of Samba is fun, immediate, and very energetic. It gets your feet tapping, like you're transported to a Brazilian party of one. The W900 is smoother and more laid back compared to Samba. It also has thicker notes and a more satisfying bass, yet sounds more expansive, thanks to its ultra-wide soundstage. Too different to really state a winner.



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    HiFiMan RE2000

    HFM has taken a lotta flack this year for its pricing policies. But since I'm just testing their gear, it'll be the sound quality that matters most. A lot of reviewers have taken a stab at this new flagship IEM. In the flesh it might look great or tacky depending on your stand on black/gold, but it definitely felt lighter than the pictures suggest. The fit was a big issue at first. The shell was not ergonomic, and they had small triple flange tips on, which gave me such a horrible seal I nearly gave up. Only after switching to Spinfits did I get a good seal. First off, it's a hungry little fella. It took nearly double the volume of Jomo's IEMs to properly juice it. The first thing I noticed was it had amazing separation and depth for a single DD. Normally they pursue a more uniform, coherent sound, but here the layering and imaging is more akin to multi-BA IEMs. Impressive! I do like the bass, the subbass is bumped up slightly more than the midbass, painting a clean picture. It can slam with the best of DDs, with nice smooth decay. So far so good. The mids are special, something about HiFiMan mids that I like a lot. It's definitely coloured, but it sounds sweet and natural, with excellent timbre and a gentle reverb... heavenly for vocals. The treble is where it stumbles a little. It can get splashy and a touch grainy. The signature is more fun and coloured than reference. Compared to my Rhapsodio Galaxy V2, The V2 has a bigger midbass hump, and smoother upper mids/treble. Its separation and imaging is a tier below, and detail levels are a hair less. I do think however, that they are the same tier. All things considered the RE2000 sounds very good for the most part, save for the treble. So, is it worth $2000? Only if I win the lottery.



    HiFiMan RE800

    "Psst! Hey, look over here!" a voice beckoned. "Remember your old RE400? You used it as your reference way back when? You had some great times yeah? Well now I'm twice the IEM she was!"

    Wary I was, but still, "Ok let's see what you got, 800."

    I loved my RE400. It had a flat, detailed bass, mesmerising mids, and a smooth, rolled-off treble that's gentle to the ears. So in comes this little lady who looks like my old flame, but all decked in gold, and she went straight for my ears, no foreplay. The fit and comfort was extremely pleasing, like the best part about the ol' 400. I pushed play. The mids are there all right, slightly warm, a gentle tone and timbre... just right. Again, great for vocals and mids. The bass, with the RE2000 as a reference point, is thinner and less fun and involving. The texture is good though, with a gentle decay. At this point it was like the RE400 on steroids. The imaging and air was very good too. The honeymoon stopped at treble though. It's like the RE2000 treble's evil twin! At times sparkly and nice, at times splashy and tizzy, and not weighed down by the bass amount like the RE2000 was... that was the dealbreaker for me. I called the date off.

    "Didn't you have fun?"

    "You come with all this bling, all these "enhancements", you prey on my memories, attack my ears, and expect me to take you home? Well touché! But I have a new love now. In fact, I've had a few great loves, better than you can provide."

    I've been told not to get too attached to IEMs.



    Beyerdynamic Xelento

    "Hey you! The Astell & Kern T8iE MKII was your ex, right? What a rotten name huh? Well my name is Xelento and I come with upgrades!"

    Oh God, here we go again.

    The T8iE MKII was one of the most fun IEMs I had, with awe-inspiring imaging and great bass. And I can brag about having Tesla tech in my ears. Its Achilles' heel was the elevated upper mids which sounded too aggressive at times. Beyerdynamic took back their flagship IEM, gave it a better name, and retuned it, I assume. The fit and seal is tip-dependent, so it's important you get it right. As explained by Twister6 who did a full review of the Xelento, you can use any eartips with them despite the oval-shaped nozzles. I used XL-sized tips for a good seal, and with that the weight of the Xelento just disappeared. It's ultra comfortable, more so than the equally small RE800. As for the sound, it's immersive, fast and fun. Subbass and midbass are elevated with a good punch and quick decay. Mids are clear and airy, but from memory it's smoother and less pushed forward than the AK. The upper mids have been addressed, it's now smoother and more pleasing than the T8iE MKII, making it a better all-rounder. I smiled. The smile broke the seal, and I had to listen again with a serious face. Damn. The treble is again, detailed and fast, with no sibilance. The soundstage might not be big, but the imaging is stellar, top-class stuff. Instruments and voices surround your head like a helmet, and the positioning is well-delineated. It's a winner. My Galaxy V2 has more subbass and midbass quantity, more detailed but thinner mids, and a more exciting treble. It has a wider soundstage but it's not as airy. The imaging is also not as sharp. I won't replace my Galaxy V2 with this, but potential buyers do take note of the MMCX connector and getting the fit and seal right.



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    QDC Gemini

    QDC might have escaped the radar in HF but made a big splash in Chinese forums and among Eastern artists. I've heard great things about them, and was thankful for the audition. Their Gemini is an 8-driver flagship, with a hefty price tag to go with it. It has a bass switch too, like the Lime Ears Aether, sort of a "fun on" switch I guess. The stock cable is silver-plated copper.

    Bass switch off
    Here's the thing, I've been missing out! The Gemini is phenomenal! I've been trying to get off the grid, spend some quality time with my IEMs, but once in awhile some good poison comes along and I'll be like, how did I miss that? (Easy answer. I'm broke-ass broke lol) The signature is balanced, sweet and euphonic, with just a hint of warmth and excellent extension on both ends. It's coloured but in a good way. The bass is clean and not too quick, with a delicate bloom and natural, buttery decay. Sometimes I'd like more punch, but this bass keeps the stage clean. The mids are lovely. The timbre is dead-on accurate and vocals are brought forward just a bit. It's very immersive stuff. I imagine myself swimming in a pool of dense female vocals in my private time with this. The treble manages to sound very detailed and velvety smooth at the same time. It's a bit shimmery as well, so you won't be gasping for air. Soundstage is on par with most flagships, not particularly big, with more width than depth, and imaging is also quite good. Note thickness is just right, not too thin to be called analytical, not too warm and congested either. I would say yes, they nailed the tuning. They. Frigging. Nailed. It. Gemini has one of the most pleasing signatures I've heard this year. I threw every genre at it and the Gemini's rendering seemed effortless, like dust off its sassy shoulders. Reminds me a bit of my Oriolus actually, with better mids and less air.

    Bass switch on
    Remember when I said I could use more midbass punch? It's there now, but a shade too much. It's fun, but the midbass is now too boomy. I can only think of the words "Thank you Sam, thank you Otis, thank you Mudddyyyy" when the bass switch is on. So... let's turn it back off.

    Bass switch off
    Ahh, that's the stuff.

    Bonus comparison to W900
    A short shootout revealed the W900 to be bassier and woolier than stock Gemini, with slightly smoother mids (Gemini's mids are more prominent and detailed), and a more detailed treble. W900 takes the treble decay and soundstage width too, but the Gemini tuning overall, is stellar. I'm running out of superlatives and left with expletives. Seriously, holy crapola, the Gemini is shaping up to be one of my favourites of the year, and along with Flamenco, a joint show favourite.



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    QDC 8SH

    I'm not well-versed in their product line, but besides their flagship Gemini, they have 3-, 5- and 8-driver IEMs, both available in Studio and Hifi tuning options. One of the most welcomed IEMs of the show is their 8-driver Hifi, or 8SH. Like the Samba is to Flamenco, the 8SH is less airy and more intimate than Gemini, but makes up for it in immersion and overall enjoyment. This is another good example of getting the tuning and tonal balance right before anything else. The signature is again balanced, with a thick tonal body and just a hair brighter than Gemini. It's also very dynamic, making for a head-bopping good time. The subbass is ramped up, with excellent rumble. It's bass you can feel! And since the subbass is more prominent than the midbass, there's hardly any bleed into the mids. For mids, like in Gemini, the vocals are placed slightly forward, and has brilliant detail despite being thicker. It sounds very natural and speaker-like, probably why it got the Hifi monicker. The treble sounds very similar to Gemini, shimmery and toes a fine line between detail and smoothness. It's a bit more forward and aggressive than Gemini, and not afraid to have a good time. I love the tuning as well, but Gemini with the more laid-back and airy approach gets my vote. And would you check out those faceplates? I'd like a skull motif too while listening to female Cantopop ballads. I'm hard!



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    Elysian Audio 6-driver "Hades"

    Up next is an IEM close to my heart, literally. Elysian Audio is the first-ever CIEM company in Malaysia, headed by an enthusiast, Mr. Lee. He was at the show enthusiastically showing his babies off. He cut his teeth modding and reshelling IEMs in a local forum and one fine day, decided to tune his own IEMs. His flagship 6-driver is a reflection of his beliefs, of what great sound should be like. It should be natural, with accurate timbre, and most of all, realistic. He said the Hades was superbly hard to tune, as he wanted to capture the live sound as if you were in the centre of the performance. On first listen, the Hades has a warmer tonality than most of the flagships here, with thick notes and a very organic sound, within the same ballpark as Rhapsodio Solar and CustomArt Harmony 8.2. The subbass is dynamic like, with a good rumbly impact. The midbass elevation is a bit too much for me, and this lends to the overall warmth of the tuning. Lee suggested a switch to silver cables to attenuate the midbass. It has helped somewhat. Mids are lush and dreamy, with excellent timbre and vocals. The treble is extended and smoooooth as silk. I'd like a bit more sparkle, but this easygoing and musical signature will have many fans. It's extremely likeable. The soundstage is on the intimate side, but the depth is very impressive. The layering and imaging is indeed brilliant, with sounds coming from all angles to form a realistic soundstage with you at the centre. I'd like a bit less midbass, and a gush of air and sparkle into the music, but overall, a good first attempt by Lee. I'll be reviewing his entire lineup later this year, so this is a taster of what he's capable of.



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    Sennheiser IE800

    To round up my IEM er, round-up, is an oldie but goodie. So deep into the HeadFi game but this is the first time I've actually heard this knockout from Sennheiser. I should spank myself. Done. The IE800 is one of the three cornerstone kilobuck flagship IEMs in the old days (along with Shure SE846 and AKG K3003) when people complained about overpriced kilobuck IEMs. Look what the complaining has done, now they are midfi compared to new flagships lol. The IE800 can be had for $600 now, and it's a nasty habit, but I should never dismiss the sound quality based on price. It wowed me. Actually, it kicked me in the ass. While it has a few questionable design cues (proprietary eartips with built-in mesh, replaceable cable only from the Y-split down, beefy Y-split, stiff cable), once you put that aside and focus on the music, it's very capable. First things first, subbass overload! What a vibraty, rumbly good time to be had with the subbass, it's out of this world and uber-fun. The last time I've heard such a prominent subbass was from the MusicMaker Shockwave III, which by its epic name you already know is bassy. The midbass sounds recessed compared to the subbass but it's definitely there. And even though I've read reports that the IE800 is V-shaped and mids recessed, this doesn't seem to be the case at all. The mids are thin compared to the massive subbass, but uncoloured and natural. The treble is fairly extended with a nice sparkle, but not sibilant. The soundstage is super wide with fairly good imaging, which can be drowned out by the pulsating subbass. Frankly speaking, based on SQ alone, I feel it's on par with RE2000, with the HFM focusing on euphony and immersion, and the IE800 primarily giving you a rocking good time. If you can tolerate the design quirks, and find one less than $500, it's a no-brainer! Surprise of the day.

    Stay tuned for more impressions later on, when I dive head-first into more TOTL headphone setups. Have a great day everyone!
     
    Last edited: Aug 2, 2017
    fnkcow, HuoYuanJia, Kerouac and 12 others like this.
  2. ezekiel77
    Part II

    After being drugged up by some seriously good IEMs, it was intermission time. There was a special showcase on the same day, at the same hotel, although not officially part of KLIAV 2017. E1 (another prominent local headfi-focused store) organised a listening party for their flagship Stax setup. This was the first unveiling of the brand-new T8000 amp in Malaysia, and boy was I excited. I booked a 1pm appointment with E1 boss Uncle David, and he took me up to the hotel room of the event.

    "There's too much noise in the show floor, you won't be able to appreciate the Stax setup there," he reasoned. That was largely true. What happened last year was the Focal booth was right next to a speaker setup blaring away, and nobody got a good listen to the Utopia when it debuted. Pity. E1 be like "screw this, I'm having my own party" and the rest was history. We entered the hotel room and I was prepared to bathe in Stax glory.

    The Stax glory bath had to wait a few more minutes. A few guys with professional recording equipment were conducting an interview with Douglas (the Stax rep) and Uncle David about the mega-expensive setup. They're still pretty mainstream ("mention good sound, I think of Bose"). Steady there lad, don't fall into the rabbit hole! So while waiting for my turn, Uncle David lent me his A&K SP1000.



    Astell & Kern A&Ultima SP1000

    Boy, that's a mouthful. I joked that this is the DAP where they finally kicked Kern out and employed a dude called Ultima for a new sound. Ok I'll be frank. I've dismissed the brand as money-grabbers due to their exorbitant prices while using off-the-shelf DAC chips. The only thing they had were good UI and nice casings in weird shapes. I was ready to let loose on this guy as well. My trusty QP1R and W900 was on hand for a live comparison. Let's do some Taylor Swift, for kicks.

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    Holy heck, I was dumbfounded. The SP1000 is amazeballs good! It has a very clean note attack, and I heard details I didn't know existed. At the same time the sound is punchy and dynamic, two attributes that made me get the QP1R long ago. And by gawd the resolution and speed is unreal. This thing made my W900 sing. The treble decay and texture, dare I say it, gave me an estat-like feel. The detail was almost too much for me to handle. The bass hits with Cartman-like authoritah, even viscerally, but attacks and decays very cleanly. All this is aided by a wide open staging, with class-leading separation and air. Uncle David was gushing about it as well. He went on about the tone, timbre, realism and most of all the decay which was unlike any DAP he's ever heard, and believe me he's heard them all.

    This is the king of detail as far as DAPs are concerned. They packed all this detail in, and still manage to give an immersive and utterly engaging experience. Mind (or rather ears) blown. Compared with QP1R, the Questyle is slightly smoother, less detailed, and the soundstage is smaller. QP1R can compete with SP1000 in dynamics, but the rest was all A&Ultima. Endgame DAP, probably the best I've ever heard. Let's get back down to earth for a moment. I'll never afford the SP1000, and in no way can I justify its price. The Sony WM1Z at least, had a solid copper case and enough R&D to back up the price. But you ignore all that, and focus on sound quality alone, the SP1000 is right up there. Only you can decide if it's worth the $3500. The kicker is, I've only tested single-ended. I haven't even tested it via balanced out. Ooooh.



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    Chord Hugo 2

    The press team were still doodling about with the Staxes, so Uncle David brought out another toy for me. Expectations figure a lot in sound impressions, I'll tell you that. The SP1000 shocked and awed me because I didn't give it a chance. Now the Hugo sequel will be something I expect to perform. Chord needs no introduction. Having once owned the Mojo, I enjoyed its detailed and musical signature. It was on par with some of the best DAPs at the time. Hooking up the Hugo2 via optical to my QP1R as transport, I gave it a go and came out impressed. The details and staging are definitely a tier above Mojo, at least what I remembered. The microdetail rendering is superbly intricate, without any hint of the digital glare that plague some detail monsters. The separation and imaging are again, top-tier material, with a more expansive soundstage than the Mojo. The timbre and decay are nothing short of excellent. I think the timbre is a bit more spot-on than SP1000, as it is more organic. So, coming off the high of SP1000, the Hugo 2 sounds slightly warmer, with a bit more bloom in each note, and a more musical signature than the AK. Am I trying hard not to pick a winner? Yes. Am I not as wowed by the Hugo 2? Yes again, but that's because I expected it to perform well anyway. The only real difference between the AK and Hugo 2 might be their driving power, the ability to maintain its signature even under high loads. This is Chord's specialty and AK's Achilles' heel. Alas I couldn't prove this, as there weren't any cans around. The testing with Hugo 2 wasn't complete as I didn't play around with the filter settings either. So take my brief impressions for what they are... very limited testing of a premier product. My words don't do it justice.



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    STAX TIME, TRALALA!!

    You always remember your wow moments. Like the first date with your girlfriend, graduation day, or last Tuesday when the tacos tasted out of this world; they are imprinted at the recesses of your mind, and act as a reference for future comparisons, even if the memory is altered by time and emotion. You want that high. For HeadFi, my wow moments were few, but special. The first time I demoed JH13, the first time I heard HD800 out of a TOTL stack, Canjam Singapore 2016 with Orpheus, and of course, Stax SR009 in the flesh. They change you, redefine your perception of what is the best of the best, and is always linked with strong emotions. You remember them forever. When I sat down with SR-009 and SRM-T8000 in front of me, finally alone, I was ready to be blown away.



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    Stax SRM-T800 > Stax SR-009


    What in the blue hell is this?! My ears wanted to recoil from what I was hearing. Yes, it was hyper-detailed, to be sure. But it sounded overly dry, edgy to the point of aggression, and it seriously lacked bass. Was my memory of the 009 so wrong? Even the Sonoma Model One impressed me more in terms of bass impact and musicality. After just one song, I called it as it was to Uncle David. He explained, "The amp is brand new, just played music from last night for 8 hours. It's not properly run-in yet." He agreed with my findings, and said that the sound could only change for the better with more run-in time. So, I guess that's what happens when you attend the first day of a three-day show, and so early in the day. People who attended day 3 of the listening session should report back when the amp is at least 50 hours old, maybe then it'd be listenable. Don't take my impressions to heart yet, guys.



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    HeadAmp Blue Hawaii Special Edition > Stax SR-009

    Ok, that was a false start. THIS was what I came here for. It's worth mentioning that Uncle David has a distractingly large library of songs and albums. A lot of classics spanning all genres, some very relatable material from my college days, some so new it's still on radio. So picking the first song to listen was quite the task. I was a kid in candy store.


    Dire Straits - Brothers In Arms


    I was in the mood for some blistering impact... this hit the spot. The thunder was visceral, hits you deep down to the throat... me likey. And then the opening riff comes in. Clear, opulent, magnificent. Finally Mark Knopfler sings. His voice, you hear and feel his tremble, his might and fragility all rolled into one... it was awe-inspiring, and very moving. My hairs stood on end. It was invigorating. This was what I lined up for. The BHSE amp injected some warmth and sweetness to the SR-009, taking the edge off, but remaining as fast, detailed and fluid as ever. I sat back awestruck until the song finished. Next song...


    Michael Jackson - Billie Jean


    You can't run away from this song. This is the go-to if you want something with a beat, and the versatile vocals of MJ. What I like about estat setups is that, while it can be unforgiving, and the soundstage might not be the largest, the immersion factor is second to none. I've heard that in Orpheus, Shangri-La, KSE1500, and of course here. You get pulled into the music while marveling at its technical proficiency. The separation and imaging for this song is as good as ever. The combo made good use of what headstage it has, and provided a holographic experience. Height, width, depth... they were all used to good advantage. MJ sounds lifelike. I wanted to be alone with the music, and put aside my notes because what else can you say about one of the best combos ever made?


    Amber Rubarth - A Kiss to Build a Dream On

    My jaw dropped. Playing a binaural record which pushes the boundaries of how good a recording can sound, I was awestruck. If Billie Jean drew me into MJ's studio, this song handed me a banjo and told me to start playing because Ms. Rubarth is waiting. Every guitar pluck, every breath drawn, the directional and spatial cues, the exact moment the bow hit the strings, all captured in hyper-realistic detail. The timbre and tone of the instruments sounded natural as hell, note detail, texture and decay dialed to 11. And when the vocals hit, I couldn't take it anymore. I closed my eyes and let myself be swept away by the music.


    Fleetwood Mac - Dreams

    "Thundah only happens when iz rainingggg..." De muzic kams alive, dat trebble sparklez!


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    The Next Few Songs

    Seriously, leave me alone.


    Eminem - Lose Yourself

    My hour almost up, I thought of trying a personal favourite that's not so audiophile-friendly. Eminem made himself a movie star on the back of this Grammy and Oscar-winning song. The opening hissy piano was intentional, and I was soon bopping my head to the guitar riffs and Eminem's gruff vocals. When the bass hits, I held my fists up and swung my upper body around like a boxer warming up. Yup, the immersion factor at work again. There's no question the song is super enjoyable through this headlining system, the only distraction was, I heard quite a number of recording artifacts in the song (pops and hisses) which revealed the unforgiving nature of the Stax. Feed it amazing recordings and you'll be rewarded richly, otherwise you'll be playing sound engineer hunting down recording artifacts.

    At the end of the session, what more hasn't been said? The SR-009 driven by BHSE is truly the King (capital K) of detail, texture, timbre and decay. The treble extension, detail and sparkle is head and shoulders above anything I've listened to, coupled by its sweet and realistic mids. The bass manages a fine balancing act between detail and slam. The sense of air and black space between the elements of the music is wispy, and superbly defined. Best of all, the imaging and sense of realism transports you to wherever the track was recorded. If I was nitpicking, I'd like a bit more bass slam, but who am I to complain? I don't know Hi-Fi. :p Was I this touched by the Orpheus? Granted I only had one track to listen to at the time, but I feel the BHSE/SR-009 combo operates at the same level. I cannot lavish higher praise than that. I felt like a tiny speck in the universe, insignificant and floating without aim. The Stax combo came and gave me joy, and purpose. It was damn near religious!

    I thanked Uncle David for the opportunity, and made my way back to the Stars Picker rooms for more time with cans, and to get back to the awful thud of reality.



    IMG_20170728_141218.jpg

    HiFiMan Susvara

    A wise man once said, to get off a high, you have to get another high. Therefore... "High"FiMan. The Susvara was touted as HiFiMan's spiritual successor to the legendary HE-6, a classic planar by reputation. Previously known as Edition 6 before uh, I'll let you do the HeadFi search for that one. The $6k pricetag stays though, and here it is driven by the mighty AudioGD Master 7 > HE-9 stack, a combo known for its detail retrieval and raw power. Build quality, well, it's in the HE1000 range, but nothing suggesting that it should be priced double. So you sort of get why they received so much hate. But I'm here for the sound, so off we go. For bass and treble, detail, texture and layering is excellent, they made sure every detail of the recording is eked out. Bass has some good punch and dynamism too. Mids, they do vocals nicely, but the instrument timbre is brighter than I'm used to, and there's a slight reedy hollowness to the instruments. The stage is adequately wide and deep, and super airy. It's also very speedy, the fastest planar I've listened to, almost like they're aiming for an electrostatic sound. Here's what I didn't like. The treble, in its quest for detail and resolution, can end up sounding dry and edgy at times, even aggressive. Also not helping is the general lightness of the sound signature, there is hardly any body to it. Just speed, texture and air. I sound like a beginner but this is one case where I feel moar bassss (midbass body at least) is needed. Frankly I felt underwhelmed after all the press. Could it be synergy? Show conditions? Post-Stax depression? I'm not entirely sure, but I won't be in a hurry to re-listen to this. If I had $6k lying around it'd go in the Stax pot lol. Full disclosure!



    IMG_20170728_141826_HHT.jpg

    HiFiMan HE1000 V2

    I went back to a known reference point just to be sure of my Susvara impressions. I own the HEK V1 and am still very fond of it. V2 uses the same drivers, but comes in an improved housing, pads and cables.... and there it is. The signature I so love. A sweeter take of a reference sound, everything from bass to treble is just right, and those wonderful mids and their dead-accurate timbre. The vocals are simply captivating, and the reason why I like HiFiMan mids so much. They're noticeably less detailed and slower than Susvara, but this is the signature I much prefer. I can't discern any differences from my V1 from this short listen, but they are definitely in the same ballpark. So if you want the best of HiFiMan, I'd still say get this.



    Focal Utopia

    I've already had a lengthy session with the Utopia. A pal sold all his cans to get one, while I couldn't get around the tiny soundstage. So this is its shot at redemption, ding ding. The sound hits me like a bolt of lightning. Super detailed and uber fast, with excellent dynamics. It went from very loud to a whisper in a heartbeat. The tuning shows incredible balance, with a seamless transition from bass to mids to treble, all in unison to give you a good time (and happy ending). The closed-in feel makes it very engaging and energetic. The imaging and tonality is top-tier stuff as well. You feel like you're on-stage with the musicians with no veil at all. And because it's a dynamic driver, you don't hear the note thinness like in some fast planars. But alas, its small soundstage creeps up to me again and says boo. No matter how hard I try I cannot get over the intimate staging, which sounds more like closed cans. One more thing, because of the high energy, tempo and immersive signature, this is a can you cannot fall back and relax with. You take the Utopia for what it is, and it will surprise and wow you in spades. For me though, the small soundstage size is a deal-breaker. The perfect dynamic headphone for me, would be Utopia tuning, with Utopia build quality, and HD800 soundstage. Endgame city!



    IMG_20170728_143118.jpg

    Audeze LCD-4

    Another show attraction beckoned me. As the proud owner of the LCD-X (X for Xtreme, baby), I was genuinely curious how Audeze would tune this one. Mild LCD-3 butter, or exciting LCD-X pepper. Turns out you get the best of both worlds. It's also a sharp looker, with the full carbon fibre headband and the chrome/wood housing. Very handsome, but Audeze is not particularly known for their comfort. Same like my X, this guy is hefty! But I'm prepared to wear a neck brace for really good sound, so here goes. Audeze has always been near the top in terms of their bass and mids tuning. LCD-2 practically defined "smooth" and "liquid". The 4, shows off the bass in its full glory. A full and authoritative subbass with real rumble, and a slightly raised midbass for added warmth. Not a trace of bleed detected, this is quality bass tuning, and most satisfying. I love the rush of warmth washing over when the bass drops, and this guy does it effortlessly. The mids are amazing as well. Smooth, liquid (yeah), breathtakingly natural. Instruments excel, particularly guitars and piano, a faultless balancing act between sweetness and detail. The upper mids and treble are as exciting as the X, but I hear a bit more extension and detail. In some tracks there is a bit of treble grain, but overall the rich, natural and thick tonality of the 4, is unparalleled at this level. The soundstage is surprisingly deep, even cavernous, with meticulous and precise layering. It's seriously addictive stuff. One thing of note, they are easier to drive than most flagship cans, and they sound just as good from the Hugo 2 and the AudioGD stack. The AudioGD stack manages more detail and bigger headroom, but Hugo 2 does a fine job. The takeaway words are natural, detailed, and richly satisfying. Remember the hubbub and kerfuffle at Inner Fidelity about LCD-4, Utopia and the Wall of Fame? Bah humbug man, preferences matter at this level. To me, there's no contest between this and Utopia. I'm firmly in camp Audeze.



    IMG_20170728_145029.jpg

    MrSpeakers Ether Flow

    From their humble modded Fostex T50rp beginnings to TOTL contenders today, MrSpeakers has come a long way. The Flow is a culmination of what Mr. Dan Clark thinks is the perfect sound, and sort of a save point before they embark on their first electrostat setup. I haven't heard a MrSpeakers before, so this is the cherry-popper. The Flow is driven by the Schiit Mjolnir 2 tube amp, a departure from the above setups. Straight away, I hear a clean and energetic take on a neutral tuning. Nothing in the sound spectrum stands out in particular, rather the bass/mids/treble work in tangent to create a unified, complementary soundscape. The subbass is soft and polite, whereas the midbass punch and decay is pleasing. The mids sound even, uncoloured and flat. Note thickness is average, avoiding the lushness of the Audezes and quickness and dynamics of the Utopia. The upper mids and treble, while able to retrieve much detail, tend to be slightly grainy. The soundstage is smaller than expected for open cans (not as claustrophobic as Utopia), but the separation and layering is par for the course. I have to admit I'm not as sucked into the signature as I would have liked. This is the first can I would describe as "digital"-sounding (as opposed to organic). It lacks the intimacy or bite that I like, like a generic good guy character whose motivations and personality are not fleshed out enough. Granted the Flow is an excellent all-rounder and have many fans, but after a few songs, and reviewing my notes, nothing in particular makes the Flow a strong pull for me. I'm filing this under "competent" keeping in view a re-visit. Excellent comfort, though.

    Time and tide waits for no man, all good things come to an end, and time flies when you're having fun. Had enough cliches? Haha. My time was up and I had to make the 2-hour drive back home. The biggest bummer was the Audeze LCDi4 being a no-show, but I've had my share of good audio nonetheless. Compared to practically nothing to audition back home, it's been a pretty wild day. New poison, new loves, and once again, once home I had to assess my own collection and see what I can add or subtract. I had quick selfies with the guys in Stars Picker who made this showcase possible, and made a retreat. If next year's KLIAV is anything like today's, I'll be sure to visit, come hell or high water (one more cliche).


    IMG_20170728_152816.jpg
    Hai Wei, Stars Picker head honcho.


    Show favourites

    1) Jomo Flamenco
    2) QDC Gemini
    3) LCD-4


    Biggest surprise

    Astell & Kern A&Ultima SP1000


    Biggest disappointment

    HiFiMan Susvara


    Goes without saying

    The life-defining Stax experience, I mean pilgrimage.


    IMG_20170728_153826.jpg
    Willy, Stars Picker co-head honcho.

    See you again, folks! Thanks for reading!
     
    Last edited: Aug 17, 2017
    alota, marhol, fnkcow and 10 others like this.
  3. crinacle
    Is Elysian willing to send review loaners overseas? I'd like to support my ASEAN brethren.
     
  4. ezekiel77
    I'll try to ask him on your behalf dude.
     
    crinacle likes this.
  5. ranfan
    Wonderful write-up @ezekiel77. Thanks for sharing! :)
     
    ezekiel77 likes this.
  6. noplsestar
    Great impressions and very enjoyable to read, thanks!
    You mentioned the Prophile8, how do they compare to the Flamenco?
     
    ezekiel77 likes this.
  7. ezekiel77
    My pleasure!

    Unfortunately I haven't heard the Prophile 8. I just know they both have the 2-switch system.
     
    echineko and noplsestar like this.
  8. echineko
    Post more, come down to KL more while you're at it :p

    EDIT: The only thing I'll add is other than the usual suspects of TOTL IEMs and headphones that are acclaimed by many, I was primarily impressed by these fairly recent arrivals to the scene, the Acoustune HS1551 CU earphones (pictured below).

    2017-07-29-PHOTO-00018798.jpg

    Despite their relatively affordable (compared to the crazy prices thrown around by some unscrupulous manufacturers these days) nature, they surprised me with their clarity, and for this model in particular, the enjoyable and full presentation. Were I not very happy with what I currently own, these would make a good pair of daily drivers.

    If you come across these in your neck of the woods, do yourself a favour and give them a listen.
     
    Last edited: Aug 2, 2017
    ezekiel77 likes this.
  9. twister6 Contributor
    Oh, not true at all, bud. It fits ANY eartip. Nozzle is oval shaped and comes with custom eartips, but it also comes bundled with a regular Comply eartips that have a "normal" round bore opening. I got multiple dozens of tips, and it fits them all. The stem of eartip just stretches around it :wink:
     
    Last edited: Aug 2, 2017
    ezekiel77 likes this.
  10. ezekiel77
    Thanks for clearing that up, Alex. I'll edit the main post. :smile:
     
    twister6 likes this.
  11. tikue666
    NIce write-up bro! Can't wait for your impressions on the cans and other stuffs like the LCD4, Stax and Hugo 2! :)
     
    ezekiel77 likes this.
  12. ahmadfaizadnan
    This is exciting! Never knew that Malaysia have any audio exhibition.
     
    ezekiel77 likes this.
  13. roddin
    damn, wished i had gone to the exhibition. will definitely go next year
     
    ezekiel77 likes this.
  14. ezekiel77
    Soon soon! Lazy liao haha. That's why I'm always an entry-level reviewer haha.

    I think this is the only one yearly, but the focus is wayyyy more on hifi and speaker setups.

    If Stars Picker is there next year, you'll definitely have a good time!
     
  15. ahmadfaizadnan
    Is this an annual exhibition?
     
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