Hi-Fi Show Report - October, 1995

By Daniel Long


HEX 5 1995 (held in September)

The Singapore Hi-Fi Show was held this year at the same place it was held last year: at the Orchard Parade Hotel right smack in the middle of Orchard Road, the main shopping artery in Singapore.

If I recall correctly from last year, my main complaint was that some exhibit rooms were much too small for the speakers used in the systems. For example, the very first one I visited had the ProAc Response (drum roll, please) 4s playing in them. The 4s were placed about 6' apart but were only about 18" from the sides of the room (they were about 4' from the back so that was OK). It's to the large 4s' credit that they still managed to sound smooth with good bass extension, and that is genuine extension, not a bass boom.

Well, this year was no different. Some rooms were wonderfully big and spacious, some were just too small.

First, you have to know that most of the dealers who took part were all retailers (except maybe one or two) and had only arrived the night before to set up their rooms. Now that THE DAY arrived, most didn't come in till after 11am (show was scheduled to start 10am). One of the highlights of HEX was the presence of Stereophile Consulting Technical Editor, Robert Harley. He, too, arrived at 10am, and waited.

Luckily for me (being new to this, I knew next to no one except maybe John Soh from MusicBox and Andrew Wee from Absolute Sound. I chatted with them to while away some time. Yong from Wo Kee Hong (S) Pte Ltd saw me lurking around outside their two rooms and pulled me in to listen to my first music of the show on the little Rogers LS3/5a with their accompanying subwoofer/stands, the AB-1. The sound benefited from the small room and was wonderfully airy with surprisingly taut and fairly deep lows. Highs were light and sweet. A selection of string music, jazz etc. was used well to show off the tiny (about 33" in all) combination, but when they put on Eric Clapton's Unplugged CD, it also displayed some character. Besides the LS3/5a and their larger siblings, in the room were also new electronics from Rogers: the RS-2 Stereo Pre-Amp, the RS-4 Stereo Integrated Amp and the RS-6 Stereo Power Amplifier. These and the new Rogers' Studio 9 floorstanders were so new that price wasn't available yet. They also weren't actively doing anything either; electronics used with the LS3/5a, AB-1 were a Spectral Pre/Power combination driven by a Marantz CD-10 player.

When I went back on day 3 (3 September 1995), the Rogers RS-2/RS-6 combo were driving the Rogers LS5/9; CD material was spun on the Marantz CD-63SE. Good things were happening.

Ah, there was some stirring now. Next up was the MusicBox room where a pair of Merlins' VSM were being fed with all kinds of weird music. They could play loud, that was sure. Front-end duty was performed by a Wadia 16 integrated, while the pre-amp was a NEW P-3 SE triode; power amp was a Ayre V-3. What was also interesting was a new line of resonance control bases called the Titan Foundation System, used primarily for components but especially for front-end equipment. The basic structure of a TFS base is that of a sandwich; two heavy granite slabs sit above and below a layer of damping material. What's picked up by the component sitting on top or the granite slabs is transmitted to the piece of "ham" and it just sucks all kinds of resonant mechanical energy and converts it to heat. It's made in Singapore by Isobar Technologies and distributed by MusicBox as well as Elpa.

On with the show. Next up was the room by Music by Design. The Cary 300SEI (all 11 w/ch) was driving a pair of Sonus Faber Guinnerri limited edition loudspeakers and making some wonderful music with a CD of Chinese instrumentals. Front-end equipment were the CEC TL-0 transport driving the flagship Resolution Audio Quantum DAC (S$4990) with HDCD. Other models include the Reference 20 (S$2800 with HDCD), the Chronos and the Cesium. Nice names!

Probably the most exciting appearance at the show, judging by the number of people I had to fight to get into the huge room, was the new Wilson Audio Transducer Technology or WITT (S$12,800) in the High-End Research room. These look like smaller Grand SLAMMS and stand about 43" high x 16" W x 17" D, each speaker weighing 236 pounds. Some small brother! They were playing all kinds of amplifier clipping, cone burning (on other transducers, of course; not here) stuff and the WITT's just took it. Fantastic dynamics, incredible resolution and balance from top to bottom. Another one in the dream book.

Next door was another dream-booker; the Sonus Faber Extrema, in High-End Research's other room, driven by a pair of Goldmunds 9.4 monoblocs. Again, some large-scaled music used here, to great effect; I sat and listened. The Extremas just went on and on, even when the 9.4's clipped momentarily. Power extreme!

CD Acoustic Equipment Pte Ltd were featuring the Axis line of loudspeakers (from Australia). Taking center stage was a pair of LS-88 floorstanders (S$3600) driven by Plinius electronics. These are 3-way, five speaker systems, with 2 bass drivers and 2 mid-range drivers with the tweeter in the middle and the bass driver on the top and bottom. Playing a drum piece from the Totem (XXX) CD, the LS-88s showed they could go loud easily. Although standing about 48", they are slim and pleasing to look at, with a somewhat modern look.

And from France: Triangle loudspeakers. This was in the Music Frontier room where the large Octant was playing, driven by a Gamma tube amp with CD material playing on Timbre electronics. The Octants are 94dB/W/M and were sounding smooth and rather laid back. For S$8000, you also get a lifetime warrantee, which means as long as you use the speakers, Music Frontier will replace anything if it's broke!

The striking pre/power Forsell Alchemist duo, shiny chrome with gold trim, were wrestling the floorstanding TDL RTL3s in Music Founders' room. In another, the TDL reference series 'm' (Studio Monitor 'm' and Reference Monitor 'm') speakers were also playing, driven by this->CEC TL-1 (CEC transports were everywhere) into a Vimak DAC, into a Mark Levinson pre/power combo. Whatever you pay for them, you get a lot of speaker.

It was planar galore at the Absolute Sound room. I didn't see the MG-20s, but all the other Magnepan's (3.5/R, 2.7, 1.6, 0.6) were there. In the main room, the 3.5/R's were rocking to a selection from Sheffield Lab. I have absolutely no comments from this room; I simply didn't take time off from enjoying the music. My vote for best sound of HEX 5. Of course, they were getting good watts from a Classe 200.

In Absolute's other room, featuring Naim and Epos equipment, I heard the ES-25's. What a letdown. Setup was careless. They were already in a small room, and the speakers were placed about 4' apart! Mid-bass was overblown and there wasn't any soundstage to speak of. What a pity when interest in the ES-11's (they were themselves selling very well for the past 3 years) big brother was tremendous.

Margil (Hi-Fi) Pte Ltd featured the LFD line of amps in their room, driving a pair of Castle Howards (Margil also carry the entire Castle line as well as Kenwood). The LFD amps have a face-plate made of wood but pasted over to look like a granite slab. I liked it, though I'm not sure it will appeal to everyone. They sounded very refined and polite, even when played loud with the Castle Howards; I was told this was due more to the Howards' very non-fatiguing character. They were also unusual in having an extra bass driver, in their Quarter wave bass loading technique, pointing upwards.

I must also mention Kenwood's new THX system (not the THX processor/amp that's been around for some time now) in Margil's Home Theater room, which includes a THX integrated processor/amp, a THX stereo amp, and a full range of THX speakers. These were set up in a fairly large room and Return of the Jedi (the new, though not re-remastered, THX single movie version) was playing. The system could play loud; there was no distortion, and the audio in no way intruded into the movie (like some setups do). In fact, I didn't even look to see the equipment till after the lights came on. But sorry, I don't have other details other than it's new, but at the show, everything (minus screen and projector) was going for S$7,500. This is for 1 THX integrated processor/amp for LCR and rears, 1 bridged (420w) THX stereo amp for sub, 3 THX LCR speakers, 2 THX dipoles, 1 THX sub. They also throw in a Kenwood laserdisc player. Good value!

State of Art had 3 rooms that were using tube-only amplification. The first had Micrex (R1, S$2700) amps driving the minute Julia (S$1,595) loudspeakers in an all-Australia room. These, as usual, were astounding with their prodigious low-end wallop coming from a cabinet no taller than 8 - 10". Next, Impulse horn loaded speakers (Ta'us) were feeding off watts from Unison Research tubes. The Simply Two and Simply Four integrateds and Smart 845 monoblocs. The last room had Avalon Ascents' driven by an 11 watt/ch integrated that has to be the most expensive single item at the show, the Ongaku (S$120,000+). According to Cecil Tan, manager at State of Art, he's sold four this year already. The Gaku-on (S$300,000+) was nowhere to be seen. In any case, there are Audio Note amps priced for the rest of us. These were in big rectangular chassis and ranged from S$3,000 up.

Other events at the show included talks from experts in the audio world. Robert Harley had two sessions per day except day 1, when he just answered questions from an audience. Two representatives from System Audio, Denmark, also showed keen local audiophiles how to get the most out of their systems.

That's it for HEX 5, '95
See you next year.

Daniel Long

Copyright 1995, 1996, 1997 Secrets of Home Theater & High Fidelity
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