Speaking of a newly revived “Old” Japanese brand name that has been gathering momentum and generating a lot of buzz in the past few years, the all-new Luxman collection made a huge impression at the International Sound & Sight Exhibition in Singapore. The system made exceptionally nice sounds in the Simplicity Control room, which is the Singapore distributor for Luxman.
The name Luxman brings back childhood memories, as my first high-end system, an all Luxman system, dates back to 1981. Recently, my 17-year-old daughter asked me to assemble a beginner’s high-end system for her, and instead of buying her a new Luxman system, I revived my old Luxman L430 amplifier from 1981 by changing all the capacitors and some resistors for $150 dollars. Adding a vintage Luxman PD-284 Turntable into the mix, the whole thing cost less than $1,000 dollars. These amplifiers were, and still are, built like tanks. The restored amplifier sounded just as good as it did in 1981, and it will hold its own versus the newest Luxmans. No kidding. I’m not afraid of an A/B shootout!
Words and Photos by Richard H. Mak
In 1981, the Luxman L430 had an MSRP of $539. Factoring in Inflation, the Luxman L430 would cost $1,591 in 2022. Fast forward to 2022, the current Luxman 507Z with similar specs as the L430 cost $8,955. Let’s just say it is slightly ahead of inflation. And the dead horse returns.
The two Luxman systems shown by Simplicity Control at the International Sound & Sight Exhibition are in an entirely different league, at least in terms of pricing. Something tells me my 17-year-old daughter should not have a S$97,635 system, much less a S$226,245 one – at least not yet.
Yes, you read that correctly. $226,245 and $97,635.
I can tell you this much: I liked the $226,245 dollar system a lot more than the $97,635 system. Between the Magico M2 versus the Magico A3, there was simply no contest, anyone who tells you they sounded similar is either lying or smoking some seriously good weed…but we know that ain’t happening in Singapore.
If you haven’t heard the expensive system at the International Sound & Sight Exhibition, the Magico A3 system held its own and I could have lived with that combo happily. It was resolute, snappy and fast-sounding. But as soon as the Magico M2 system came on, suddenly it made the A3 combo sound grainy, analytical and edgy by comparison. Don’t shoot the messenger – you don’t put two systems side by side, and expect the listener not to do a direct comparison. There was no ambiguity – the $262,245 dollar system sounded much better, as it should.
If you strip away the cables, and use some Home Depot Lamp cord instead, the system still costs nearly $200,000 dollars. I told my daughter to keep using my 1981 Luxman L430 and PD284, because after paying off college tuition and graduate school, it will still be a very long way before she can afford the Magico and Luxman hi-fi, or until such time when the gods have mercy on her soul, or mine.
Debuted for the very first time, the all new Luxman D-07X CD player has yet to appear on the North American Luxman website, but it has made its way to the Japanese one. This unit was flown in from Japan just in time for the show. The price has not been confirmed, but it will be close to S$11,000.
The D-07X is a trickled down version of the flagship D-10X player. The D-07X utilizes ROHM’s top tier DAC chip (BD34301EKV) in a dual mono configuration, supporting formats up to 768 kHz/32 bit PCM and 22.4Mhz DSD. It even supports the much debated MQA format. I can’t help but to press the LOAD button to see about the CD tray, thankfully it is made of die-cast aluminum and not plastic because that would break the deal.
I sat down and listened to the tunes of “Thunder in Drought” by Wong Ching. It became obvious to me that the D-07X CD player carried a bit more resolution than my beloved Luxman D-380U Tube CD player, it is another league up in terms of clarity and extension. Chantal Chamberland’s “Love Never Felt So Good” acted as further confirmation that the D-07X ought to be a serious contender amongst the list of single box high end CD Players, because it sounds pretty darn close to the D10X, and much better than my D-380U. Duh!
International Sound & Sight Exhibition: Element 5 Projector & Audio
Element 5 Projector & Audio is a local home theater and projector specialist, and because of that I initially showed zero interest in their room at the International Sound & Sight Exhibition. I simply walked out of the room as soon as I saw the large screen and two protruding speakers (Barefoot MM26 speakers, S$22,100). Thankfully, I went back near the end of the show and made one of the best discoveries ever.
As I looked around the room, I realized there was no projector hanging on the ceiling. Instead, the image was projected by a tiny VAVA 4K Short throw project, which only needs to be placed a few inches in front of the screen. For only S$4,800, the VAVA projected a crystal-clear image with enough brightness even with the lights turned on. You can actually have enough contrast to watch a move during the day time.
The next amazing piece I discovered was the S$2,000 dollar Vividstorm S Pro floor rising screen. Instead of hanging from the ceiling, the screen can be retracted and tucked away inside its enclosure which looks slightly bigger than the center channel speaker.
As I left I was kicking myself because my 80” LCD TV cost me much more than this ingenious combo! Why did I buy the big TV screen when I could have bought this VAVA and Vividstorm combo? It goes without saying, one should start paying attention to the Home Theatre rooms at hi-fi shows. (OK I lied, my TV is just 55”, but you get the point.)
Sound Precision Ltd.
By now, I must have heard “Hotel California” 2.3 million times, and I hoping I would never hear the song again at an audio show. And you can add these to that list: Rebecca Pidgeon’s “Spanish Harlem,” Stevie Ray Vaughan’s “Tin Pan Alley” and Dave Brubeck’s “Take Five.” Why? Because as the Bible says, “If you find honey, eat just enough. Too much of it, and you will vomit.” (Prov 25:16.) Sure, that Hotel California guitar sounded nice on this Sound Precision Ltd system at the International Sound & Sight Exhibition, but that guitar also sounds nice in almost any system.
Just when I thought the audiophile world would finally move onto real music, the next track Sound Precision Ltd played was a bass & drum track from an audiophile demo CD. Good grief, exhibitors, please take my advice and work on a new playlist. You don’t use your music to listen to your hi-fi, you use your hi-fi to listen to your music.
The sound, however, was to my liking. The Dutch and Dutch 8C speakers (S$19,500) are medium-sized, but they were making huge sounds with that demo drum track. The 8C are active speakers with a 500W amplifier driving two high excursion subwoofers at the rear of the cabinet. The front tweeter and mid-bass driver is powered by a 250W amp, and the speaker houses XLR sockets accepting both analog and digital signals. This somewhat justifies the hefty price tag because you can drive the speakers with just a digital streamer, bypassing both the pre and power amplifier. But caveat emptor – the streamer must be able to control volume in the digital domain, because the speaker has no volume control.
The Perreaux 300iX integrated amplifier also caught my attention. How could it not be with its cool yellow faceplate? The New Zealand-based company is not a new name, in fact, their history dates back to 1974, which is all detailed on the company’s webpage. At S$12,600, the Perreaux is competing directly against the Luxman amplifiers, but the former has taken on a funky post modern industrial look while Luxman is doing everything it can to maintain the same conservative vintage look. If green teal tickles your fancy, you can order the color in all its vibrancy. I do like this look, and wouldn’t mind owning this amp at all.
I went back into the room on the next day of the International Sound & Sight Exhibition, and I heard a completely different sound, one which I preferred much more than the first. They were still playing the same boring audiophile demo music, but the sound coming out of this system (Perreaux + Amphion Helium 410) was more natural, and organic. Best of all these products do not cost an arm and a leg.
You can also order the Amphion speaker with funky colors to match with your Perreaux integrated amplifier. Amphion is a 20-year-old name from Finland, truly fantastic sound for a reasonable price.
International Sound & Sight Exhibition: Atlas Sound & Vision
Here comes my favorite item of the entire International Sound & Sight Exhibition. Behold, the NAD 3050LE Special Anniversary integrated amplifier, limited to only 1972 units worldwide to commemorate the year in which NAD was founded.
Listed at (just) S$2,972, the NAD 3050LEs were simply flying off the shelves. One day after the show, I was told by the dealer that he only has one unit left, so by the time when this gets published they are likely all sold out in Singapore.
The 3050LE mirrors the original 3030LE of the 1970s, with the same “New Acoustic Dimension” script logo. It is also doing the McIntosh blue meter thing, and perhaps that’s why I liked it so much.
The C 3050 LE is a full function Integrated amplifier that puts out 100W per channel. It has a Texas Instrument PCM5242 DAC which lets you connect digital source inputs, supporting Apple AirPlay 2, Spotify and Tidal Connect. There’s an MM analog input for turntables. It even has voice control via Amazon Alexa, Google or Apple Siri, which makes it a retro looking unit with all the new high-tech functions.
Apparently the unit has not reached American soil yet, so call your dealer early if you want to get your hands on one! Perhaps my daughter doesn’t need to use my 1981 Luxman L430 after all. S$2,792 is a lot more price friendly.
Worthy of note is the 2019 news that NAD is the first company to implement PURIFI Audio’s Eigentakt Class D technology into some of its amplifiers, such as the C298 and Masters M28. The PURIFI Class D circuit is generating a lot of buzz in the industry as well as in my own audiophile group. Even some of the die hard tube fans are ditching their tube amps for the PURIFI based amps, and they are saying the PURIFI has shaken off that “grainy and analytical” Class D sound, and that it is a revolutionary product. I’m excited and I am lining up to be convinced. Can it truly make me ditch my McIntosh MC240?
Project Perfection Pte Ltd
Over at the Project Perfection room, a local distributor of Furutech and AperturA speakers, they were playing great tunes and the sound actually caught my attention. AperturA is a brand which I was unfamiliar with, so after I left the International Sound & Sight Exhibition it took me half hour to find the name of the speaker using Google Lens. (I forgot to write down the brand name!) If the exhibitor would simply put up an equipment list, model name, price, or even a brochure in the room, my job would have been so much easier. In this regard, the Munich or AXPONA exhibitors are better equipped as many provide press kits to magazine writers.
AperturA, however, is not a new name. In fact, the French company has been around for 35 years. The model on display was the Armonia Evolution in piano black – stunningly finished by the way. Listed at S$8,280, the Armonia Evolution is a two-way bass-reflex speaker utilizing an off centered ribbon tweeter. Sensitivity is at 87db, and it comes in different types of finishes, from natural wood to that piano black. You can custom order any metallic color of your choosing.
Despite the alluring fancy Furutech power cords and connectors dispersed throughout the room, I actually pulled myself together and listened carefully to the sound. The AperturA delivered clarity and resolution without sounding bright or abrasive, and the ribbon also cohered with the bass drivers without any apparent noticeable gap, which sometimes happens when you combine ribbons with cone woofers. Well done, AperturA.
A “shiny silver box” did catch my attention, as I thought it must be some sort of external crossover for the speaker. The silver box turned out to be the Furutech Pure Power NCF 6 distribution power bar. It looked super well-made and heavy duty, so I asked the gentleman sitting at the corner of the room about the unit. “Which one are you asking about,” he asked, “the black one or the silver one?” I looked again, and he was right. There were two. The black unit sat in front, but the silver one stole all the attention from the rather modest looking black unit. “S$980, and $11,000”, the gentleman replied.
“Come again?” I asked. “$980 vs $1,100?” “No,” he replied, “$11,000!” I thought to myself, this must be the world’s most expensive power bar. So I asked the gentleman the difference between the $11,000 one vs the $980 one, to which he answered, “Well, I don’t know. For that you have to ask Furutech.” I find it rather amusing that if someone is selling an $11,000 dollar power bar and a $980 one, he ought to at least know the differences between what he is selling.
“Ask Furutech?” That I did. The unit is called the Pure Power NCF 6, and is not just a fancy “power bar” but a power distribution system which includes a mechanism to absorb and eliminate high frequency and electromagnetic noise – albeit not that noticeable to the eye when you peek under the hood.
Through a proprietary method which is not fully explained, the NCF 6 does not seem to have any circuitry or filtering elements inside its super well-made extruded aluminum box. According to Information from Furutech’s website, laboratory tests suggest the device can clean things up above 300 kHz, and a complete elimination of noise at 100MHz, proving the effectiveness of the Pure Power NCF 6 induction and absorption method.
There is also more than meets the eye, as the NCF 6 is said to be infused with “Nano Crystal² Formula (Nano Crystalline, Ceramic and Carbon Powder). NCF is comprised of a special crystalline material that has active properties which generates negative ions, and converts thermal energy into far-infrared.
If price is not an object, I’d be buying one already not because of any negative ions or thermal energy far-infrared conversion, but the tank-like build quality of that aluminum box. It just looked damn fancy to me, and it made me feel good. $11k good.
And speaking of fancy, Furutech has really stepped up the game on their cable offerings. They are absolutely gorgeous and are well-made. Furutech has certainly demoted nearly every other name to occupy the top spot in high tech cable connectivity, outselling WBTs by many folds.
My own system at home uses strictly Furutech power cords, nearly 120m of the FP-Alpha 3, to be specific. With nearly 30+ power cords and a combined length of over 400 feet, my choice to use the FP-Alpha 3 is partially one of necessity and preference. If I was to use the Nordost Odin 2, it would cost me over $1 million just on power cords, but something tells me I ought to be buying real estate rather than power cords, so the FP-Alpha 3 would suffice, at least for now.
I couldn’t compute what the new NCF series of power cords would cost me because there simply wasn’t a sign, a brochure or a price tag in the International Sound & Sight Exhibition room – a sigh of relief for my wallet, I’m sure.
The absolutely stunning NCF power cords, with jewelry like connectors are mouth watering for any audiophile. With their near monopoly position in the connector market, many cable manufacturers offer Furutech connectors with their higher priced models, and they ought to be, because there simply aren’t that many competitors which can come close to Furutech’s quality.
International Sound & Sight Exhibition: Tien Audio Ltd
Another one of my favorite sounding rooms on the 8th floor of the International Sound & Sight Exhibition was Taiwanese manufacturer Tien Audio. The culprit is likely the Falcon Audio’s rendition of the LS35/a, because after 47 years, the BBC LS3/5a design still impresses me every time. The Falcon LS3/5a Gold Badge is listed at approx. S$4,000+ (converted from USD as there was no price tag in the room), and features Falcon’s own upgraded “Gold Badge” crossover, an upgraded design inspired by the limited edition Kingswood Warren speakers. I absolutely want a pair, because I regret so badly selling my Rogers 15 ohm LS35/as for just US$2,400. Why did do something that stupid?
Tien Audio also spinning great tunes from their TT1 turntable (S$5500 MSRP, but offered at S$4,188 at the show, which comes to approx. US$3,000). The table offers three speeds, 33, 45 and 78, but if one was to play 78s a different cartridge will be needed. It features a lightweight acrylic platter, DC tri-motor system with micro chip speed controller, ceramic bearing, and the option to install three tonearms. The table comes with a 9” gimbal pivoted tonearm, which is not sold separately.
The tonearm looks almost like a Breuer Dynamic Type 5A tonearm, and it may very well be the juice of the whole package. If it can deliver the performance of the Breuer Dynamic, then you are literally buying a Breuer Dynamic (almost) with a free turntable thrown into the mix!
Ong Radio – McIntosh
Now onto the big rigs at the International Sound & Sight Exhibition. All of them are located in the basement level of the Holiday Inn. McIntosh, as usual, showcased one of the biggest setups at the show, occupying one of the largest rooms in full McIntosh style.
Ong Radio is one of the oldest audio shops in Singapore, with a history that dates back to the 1930s, long before McIntosh was even founded. They are now in their third generation of running the same business, which was started by their grandfather 90 years ago.
The Ong family has been representing McIntosh for three generations, and they started in the very first days of McIntosh, back in 1949.
I finally got my chance to listen to the MC3500 Mk II reissue, as COVID has hampered this opportunity for months. The MC3500 was introduced in 1968 and made until 1971, and the amp is still revered today as one of the most important amplifiers in the history of high end audio. The MC3500 was made famous as the amp that powered Woodstock, as well as the Grateful Dead Wall of Sound.
I’m a big fan of the MC3500, and am likely the only person in the world who owns six completely restored units of the original MC3500, actively running four of them in mono as my main amplifiers driving the 850 lb. Peak Consult Dragons.
Other than the model name and the silver face plate, the new MC3500 Mk II shares little with the original MC3500. The original MC3500 is conservatively rated at 350W, powered by eight 6LQ6 tubes. But on the bench, my completely rebuilt original MC3500 puts out nearly 550W at 0.05% distortion, much higher than the stated output. The MC3500 Mk II has a completely redesigned circuit, powered by eight EL509S high power output vacuum tubes, and it is also fitted with McIntosh’s Power Guard Screen Grid Sensor to prevent clipping and blowups. Again, it’s conservatively rated at 350W.
How did it sound at the International Sound & Sight Exhibition? Nothing like the old ones, and not by a long shot. The MC3500 Mk II sound is much closer to modern day McIntosh tube amp sound. The new MC3500 Mk II has a top end clarity which is more transparent than the original, giving sharper focus and cleaner lines, yet the original has more body and weight in the mid-range and the bottom end. The original MC3500 also has an oomph and power which makes it sound bigger and weightier than the new. The sonic difference is not a case of “good vs bad”, but two different presentations for different personal tastes.
Compared with the MC2301, the MC3500 Mk II is more “tube sounding”, and has a stout bottom end by comparison. I have owned all of McIntosh tube amps since year 2000, and if you put a gun to my head and force me to choose one, I’ll go with the original MC3500, then the MC3500 Mk II, followed by the MC2301, and further down the list, the MC2102 which I always find to be a bit weak in the knees.
It is important to note that none of the originals actually work after 50 years. They all have to be rebuilt, otherwise they are simply museum pieces or make shift coffee tables. Good to look at, but they cannot be turned on.
So how big did the Ong’s Mac Big Rig sound? I saw a copy of Proprius’ famed Cantate Dominos CD sitting near the CD player so I asked the gentleman to play the first track, “Cantate Dominos,” which has everything needed to put a big rig to the test. With the deep organ pipes in full blast combined with a choir, it is the true ultimate test for any system. I asked the gentleman to crank up the volume to 85%, which nearly pushed the XRT1.1k speakers to the max. I could see the sweat coming down the exhibitor’s eyebrow, as if something was going to blow up in his face, but the Macs just sailed through the track. He’s probably never pushed the amps this much and this loud, but I have. Frequently, too.
No, the MC3500 Mk II doesn’t have the oomph and power of the McIntosh MC2KWs, nor the four MC3500 originals which I use to drive the Peak Consult Dragons, but surely it is as good as it gets with 2x 350W tube amplifiers. I would have preferred to see four amplifiers in action, but no complaints even with just two. (But if money is not the object, buy four instead of two if the speakers allow biamping. The XRT1.1k speakers are rated at 1200W, they can be tri-amped. That means you can buy six MC3500 Mk IIs. Now that would be the ultimate system I’d want to hear so badly!
For music, I prefer the XRT1.1k than the older XRT2K – they seem to be less dramatic and more polite. But for home theatre, I’d go with the old XRT2K. McIntosh speakers are all measured and tested properly at their in-house anechoic chamber (which a lot speaker manufacturers don’t have). Not many speakers can handle the power of the MC2KWs 2000W amplifiers, but the XRT2K and XRT2.1K can truly handle the load, meaning you can’t blow them up, the amp or the speaker!
Click here for more of Richard Mak’s coverage of the 2022 International Sound & Sight Exhibition!