Hi-Fi
August 22, 2013

Little system in little red dot

By WL Low

 

I was visiting this island, located south of Malaysia, marked as the “Little Red Dot” in the world map. I had just met SY through a mutual friend while sharing dinner, and was invited to listen to this little system that you see here. Now, many would accuse us of only featuring super hig- end systems on these pages, and I’d like to point out that there are other factors at play as well when deciding what gets featured, chief amongst which is that we must see some pride of ownership of the system, and the place must look tidy and clean. However with some systems it’s just plain very good sounding that gets our attention.

 

SY’s system you see here is neither big nor expensive, but it’s certainly very good sounding, and the mark of a proud owner can clearly be seen. It’s the little things like cable dressing, the tweaks employed and the owner taking care to explain the salient points of his own system. It not only ticks all the right audiophile boxes, but certainly tugs my musical soul too. I think perhaps many with frugal systems can learn a thing or two from this system, and hence, its featured value.

 

SY’s small dedicated room is treated(acoustic wise) sparingly, only at the first reflection points.

 

SY’s system comprised of a Michell Orbe turntable(upgraded from Gyro Dec, with QC Power Supply) with Sumiko Premier MMT tone arm (OEM by Jelco) with Shelter 901 cart for analog front end. However, I’ve been informed at the time of writing that SY has changed to Soundsmith’s re-tipped Zu DL-103 cartridge few days ago. SY opted for a passive step-up by Auditorium 23 step-up trans rather than a high-gain MC phono stage. For his digital front end, he uses a Rega Apollo-R CD Player used as a transport via a Monarchy Audio DIP (Digital Interface Processor) then into a self modded Eastern Electric MiniMax Plus DAC.

 

SY believes in tubes and a Rogers E40a 20th anniversary edition integrated amp is his choice, using 2 matched pairs of 6L6  power tubes per channel. The power supply of this amp has been beefed up by upgrading its major smoothing/storage caps. SY’s Nola Boxer S1(one of the first few pairs in Asia I am told) is an elevated version of their standard Boxer of stand mount design. According to Carl Marchisotto (the speaker designer), the key changes from standard version to S1 involved upgraded caps in the X-over, use of Nordost wires and improved cabinet structural reinforcement. As for accessories and cables that tie up the system:

 

1) Speaker cables -Auditorium 23 Cables.

 

2) Interconnects for CD- WyWire Silver.
3) Zu Tone arm cable.

 

4) Zu Variel I/C used for phono stages connection from A23 Step-up’s output to Rogers’ MM Phono input.

 

5) Pure Power 1050i power regenerator used to power whole system.

 

6) A pair of Aural-Aid Corner Bass Traps X are used for the low frequency range to be more balanced, controlled, and less rumbling.

 

The system is set up in a dedicated small room, measuring roughly 10 x 13ft, considered to be SY’s own little sanctuary in the home.

 

The Nola Boxer S1 is one of the few pairs in Asia, manufactured in New York, USA.

 

I was most impressed by the overall smoothness and top to bottom coherence across the audio range reproduced by this system. There’s a warm and fuzzy feeling that can only come from a tube-powered system. And like all tube-powered system, the midrange is at once creamy and densely filled up, just like a nugget-filled pastry, minus the fluff, of course. Now before you start getting the idea that this system is all about voices only, it turns around and plays hard-hitting music fairly well too. Orchestral crescendos are held together up to the speaker’s cone break-up point, within its realistic permissible playback volume. After all there’s only so loud a standmount will go.

 

I can go on and on about those airy highs and velvety top end – another hallmark of a great tube power system – but that is only to enforce a perpetuated stereotype. While the bass dives reasonably low for what is a small standmount design, it’s the ‘cleanness’ of articulation between the double bass, or bass guitar notes that stood out. The laidback staging is bigger than the room confines with strong imaging cues that make realistic vocal (centre fill) and instrument presence. It’s the sort of system that brings one to the event (within  its limited scale for its size) being recorded as it should be.

 

Musicality and PRAT factor are first rate, and could put many a high priced, snooty audiophile system to shame. The system gets out of way and allows the music to free flow, in a melodramatic way, spell binding the listener until time and space are lost without one realising it.  Before we know it, we had spent way too much time with this system, which caused us to be late for the remaining systems waiting to ‘host’ us.

 

For those smart folks not swayed by branding and prestige, here’s a prime and swinging example of how to play hifi for musical enjoyment. Well done SY.