|August 9, 2005
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Mark Levinson, established in 1972, is a world-renowned manufacturer of the finest stereo and multi-channel electronics. Products range from awe-inspiring monaural power amplifiers to the industry benchmark CD processor. For more information on all Mark Levinson products, please visit www.marklevinson.com.
From Wes Phillips
Old-school audio at the Karelian State Museum: oldradio.onego.ru/foy.htm
Make your own techno record at The Automachine: www.zanorg.com/prodperso/automachine.htm
Simaudio Ltd., celebrating 25 years of excellence, manufactures state-of-the-art components for both 2-channel and home-theater systems. Maintaining a world-class reputation, we continually push the performance envelope to the next level with each new product. Visit us at www.simaudio.com.
Some Freakin' Expert, by Wes Phillips
I was walking down Canal Street in Manhattan one day back in 1988 when I spotted a tiny storefront operation advertising auto burglar alarms and used audio gear. That may seem a bizarre combination nowit was pretty odd back thenbut in the '80s, Canal still had a lot of the mom'n'pop salvage stores and electronics-parts shops that had been displaced when the city razed Radio Row to construct the World Trade Center. There were closets that sold nothing but plastic goods, lab equipment, industrial fanseven whole walls of cool-looking but outdated computer gear, ready to be rented as set-dressing for films and Broadway shows.
I was working then at New York's biggest used-audio store, and I'd probably walked into the shop to assure myself that it wasn't serious. What I do remember is that behind the glass counter that divided the store into its two improbable parts, I spotted VPI turntables, Mark Levinson No.2 power amplifiers, MIT cables, an assortment of hand-built Japanese phono cartridges, and other ultra-high-end gear.
Who the heck was this guy?
"My name is Sze."
"Z as in zed?"
"Let me write it down for you."
I dropped in from time to time, and Sze always had some interesting new products on displayand he was always over the moon about them. The store never had a huge inventory, but what it had, Sze knew intimately. One day it occurred to me that the store was Sze's hobby. It was his way of subsidizing his hi-fi addiction.
I asked him, "Why do you do this?"
"Because I love music. And hi-fi! Mainly music, but also stereo."
Sometime later I moved to Santa Fe to work for Stereophile and lost touch with Sze. Sort of. I saw him at the Waldorf=Astoria during HI-FI '96, enraptured by violinist Arturo Delmoni's recital. I saw him next at the Hilton at Home Entertainment 2001listening to pianist Robert Silverman, if I recall correctly. I met him at another concert at HE2002. I noticed that each time I saw him at an audio show, he was listening to live music, which went a long way toward convincing me that he was that rare audiophile who really was a music lover first. (I claim that, toobut know myself too well to be taken in by it.)
As we chatted at HE2002, I learned that Sze no longer had a store9/11 changed downtown Manhattan in a lot of little ways as well as the big onesand he discovered that I'd moved back to New York. "We should get together and listen to some music," he suggested animatedly.
Yeah, sure, I thought. It's not that I'm antisocial, it's just that "listening" with most audiophiles is exhausting. We gab, we change stuff around, we suspend cables from dental-floss cradles, we change records constantly. What we audiophiles generally don't do is listen.
But when Sze called and then came over, we listened. Oh, he made me do all that other stuff, but he was also capable of just sitting still and listening to music. Which we dida lot. He proved fanatical about RCA "shaded dogs" and that entire era of musical performersespecially Jascha Heifetz.
One day last summer, Sze called and offered to take me to dinner. "Just you and me," he said. "I want to talk to you about business." Hmmmm.
We sat in a giant banquet hall on Eighth Avenue in Brooklyn's Chinatown, munched on salt-and-pepper crabs, and talked. "You know how much I love audio," he said. "I want to be a part of the industry. What would be a good company for me to get involved with?"
That was a stumper. I knew lots of companies looking for a sugar daddy, but I didn't necessarily know of any I would tell a friend to invest in. And I knew a lot of small designers and manufacturers who probably needed some venture capital but who weren't really looking for a partner. I didn't know what to tell Sze, except an old joke that John Atkinson and Larry Archibald used to tell me.
How do you make a small fortune in high-end audio? Start with a large one.
Actually, it's not that funny.
A few months ago, Sze proposed another dinner, this time at a Shanghai dim sum restaurant near Canal Street (how circular). We sat down, and I let him order in the language of the Celestials. "I really don't know what to tell you about investing in audio," I hastened to explain.
"That's okay," he said, explaining that he had started a company called VAS Audio. "I found a factory in Guang Dong that makes really good stuffyou've seen stuff they've made under other names. They're called Spark, and I went there while you were in Shenzen. I'll be getting my first products soon."
We ate dumplings and pored over his catalogs. Marketed as Cayin, the components looked very impressive. Spark/Cayin did a lot of aerospace work and built products to that level of qualitythe company even built its own toroidal transformers, about which Sze waxed rhapsodic. Even better, he seemed to think he could make money on them.
"I need to find dealers."
I agreed. "That's really important. You need to find people who will pay their bills and who treat their customers well. It's harder than it sounds."
"I have some ideas," Sze said.
God love you, I thought. You have no idea how hard this part is going to be.
Last Tuesday, Sze called to tell me he'd gotten his first shipment of products. "I'll bring you an integrated amp for you to look at," he said. "We'll have lunch."
As you may have gathered, I don't turn down a chance to eat with Sze. He's what my friend David calls a "heavy fork." The man's as serious about chow as he is about hi-fi.
He brought by a Cayin A-50T integrated tube amplifier, which he's retailing for $1195 It's an awfully nice looking amp, with a thick faceplate and a tube cage packed with four EL34s, two 12AU7s, and two 12AX7EHs (Russian Electro Harmonix). It has a remote control. It's switchable between ultralinear and triode operation. All of the tube sockets, RCA jacks, and binding posts look topnotch. The three transformers are potted and silent. "It sounds like a Dynaco Stereo 70," he said.
Better than the one I owned, certainly.
At lunch, Sze told me he'd found a dealer.
"Really? Anybody I've ever heard of?"
"Probably. It's Chad!"
Chad, as in Chad Kassem of Acoustic Sounds and Analogue Productions?
That is the big leagues. What does Sze need with an "expert" like me if he can do all of this on his own?
I called Chad later that afternoon. "I have a Cayin A-50T here for a Stereophile review and I was wonderinghow did you get together with Sze?"
"I never heard of anybody called Sze," Chad said. "I'm dealing with a guy named Steve. Steven Leung."
What a coincidenceSze's last name is Leung. ("Steve is my American name," Sze explained. "My mother calls me Sze.")
"We just bought an 18,000-square-foot building," Chad continued, "and we've put in two state-of-the-art sound roomsso you know we're serious about selling audio these days. We'll be the exclusive retailer for the new Avalon Sentinels and we have a lot of other brands as well. I hired two guys who have been doing this for the last 20 yearsClark Williams and Chad Stelly.
"The Cayin components were a no-brainer for us to add to the mix. We've known Steven for years because he's been a good Analogue Productions customer, and when he sent us these products, we couldn't believe how good they were. Some of our American suppliers might be unhappy with us for stocking the two integrated amps, the CD player, and the SACD player, but they are so well built and so affordable that we couldn't not take 'em on. In fact, I'll probably take the $1895, KT88-driven integrated home, so I can listen to it when I'm just relaxing and don't want to go down to my dedicated listening room. It's that doggone good."
Not only did Sze get Chad to stock the Cayin amps, Chad's taking one home. Dude!
I won't be able to review Sze's stuff myselfhe's a friend. But Stereophile will be reviewing the Cayin amplifier because it seems to offer great build quality at a pretty good price. Or, I suppose, you could take advantage of Chad Kassem's 30-day, satisfaction-or-your-money-back guarantee.
See, you don't really need me either. But don't tell Szehe's told me that my favorite Mongolian hot-pot restaurant from Shenzen has a branch in Queens. If I play my cards right, maybe we'll go there the next time he wants to tell me that he doesn't need any advice from me.
Can something look good but sound fantastic ?
The answer is Profile. Beginning this month, you`ll see the first part of this grand performance. Profile blends together cutting edge technology, improved sound and fashionable looks. Learn about Profile www.audioplusservices.com/profile
SLEEK - MODERN - STYLISH
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