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Tell us about the history of April Music from original conception to the present, and also mention how the company is positioned within the Korean audiophile scene and how you see it positioned globally. Give us an idea of the 'corporate culture' at April Music. Also, how did you arrive at the name April Music?

I was raised within music because my father was a guitar player and my mother a soprano singing various operatic arias when I was a boy (she passed away four years ago). Entering high school, I joined the school choir as well as sang at the church. 40 years later, I am still singing at a church choir. I love music just like all the other audiophiles and music lovers. And I was a crazy audiophile who bought and sold components very frequently and spent a fortune for nothing.

About two decades ago, the price of high-end audio began to escalate and go out of control. It became hellaciously expensive. Many music lovers can't afford such components and worse, the musicality—what I call the nature of music—is gone. Nothing makes me as happy as it did when I was 20 or 30 years old. I worked for the government for 10 years and afterwards formed a company associated with ‘intelligent systems building’ for another 10 years. One division of my previous company imported NHT, Cello and other audio brands and we worked as a distributor. I then decided to create an audio manufacturing company to make high-quality gear with reasonable price tags. That was July 4th, 1998. I got the brand name from a friend who is famous in Korea. She recommended I name the company April Music because April is the time when the trees begin to blossom.

Tell us about the main focus of April Music products and what you feel distinguishes them from others. Who are your main competitors? What is your particular niche? What distinguishes the different product groupings within the April Music catalogue? By way of example, what does more money buy as one steps up from one April Music model to the next?

Reasonably priced high-end solutions is out motto. While Aura is a stylish but still high-quality audio product, Stello is a reasonably priced high-end solution and Eximus simply as good as it gets. The new Stello 500 Series will flesh out the line and a phono stage & DAC, preamp and power amp will follow before March 2010. Eximus is comprised of 3 pieces, the CD5 CD player, the P5 preamp and the M5 mono amps. The CD5 will come to market before Christmas this year followed by the P5 & M5 next March. All April Music products use only quality components to make the sound better than similarly priced competitors. When they think about how to cut manufacturing costs back, we think about how we can upgrade the quality by adding better components. Tuning is very important in audio. But without the foundation of quality parts, tuning quickly encounters limitations. We do not sacrifice quality because of budget.

Tell us about your reference system, what you listen for and what sonic qualities you pursue as the ones most important to you.

My reference consists mainly of two systems. One is a very personal custom system with a speaker combining a treble horn with 10" midrange and 18" woofer, four mono amps to drive the speaker, a Stello DA100 Signature DAC and a PC loaded with the Burwen Bobcat plug-in running Windows Media Player's volume control. The sound of this system is highly dynamic and very neutral and this system is used by me alone safe for Mark Levinson himself.

The other reference system is a dCS Elgar+ with Manley Labs Reference preamp or Pass X20, Burmester 911MK2+ amps and Magnepan MG20.1 but we have five power amps, four preamps and five speakers including Wilson Watt Puppy and B&W 802D so we can switch to make the right combination. I have met many so-called audio gurus in my life. But to me, there were only two real ones - Mark Levinson and David Manley. They were professional recording engineers as well as musician and high-end audio manufacturers.

We share the same idea for sonic quality. Music is just music. If the reproduced sound is not musically correct, this is bad and untrue. Natural music has everything - musicality, dynamics, details and the nuances of emotion. I am trying to revive the musicality so that I can return it to the audiophiles. Musicality is the main target for April Music’s sonic quality. Musicality means everything.

How do you view the PC convergence and what do you regard as the future of traditional high-end audio? Do your engineers listen to streaming music? If at full resolution, what is your favored delivery means - MacBook, server, other? What interface - USB, Firewire, other? What file codec?

High-end audio will definitely try to find a solution for better quality reproduction of the recordings. But the most important thing is whether the big record companies with their huge libraries will join this HQ format or not. They had bad experiences with SACD already. Even though we have a small HQ library with 96/24 or 192/24 material, it is limited to a very small selection of music.

I am listening to PC with normally ripped CD 44.1 to WAV played by Foobar upsampled to 24/96 over the Stello U2—a 24/96 USB-to-coax interface for $350—into our DA100 Signature DAC to be upsampled to 192kHz. From there I go into the new Ai500 and MG20.1 speakers. This is fantastic! You can even compare it with dCS. You will see very soon. We are optimistic about PC or streaming media playback but we have to see what Sony/BMG, Warner etc. will do for HQ music. For the time being, we will concentrate on standard CD playback (CD or ripped) at 24/96 played via 192kHz upsampling.

Tell us about the music listening culture in Korea. How does it differ from the West and in Asia, China and Japan?

Mostly classical with some Jazz, similar to Japan and everywhere else in the world. This is why music and audio are so important. We can talk the same language through music only. Normal people do not even think about this common communication.

How do you view brick & mortar distribution vs. factory-direct online?

I have no intention to go factory direct. Why I did was because the market was so slow. Now I am trying to build out normal distribution channels and am almost done.

Specific to our 6moons reviews on the new Aura Note Premiere, 500-Series Ai and CDA, what were the project briefs the engineers were presented with? How did Kenneth Grange enter the picture? Why did you prefer a Western designer over a Korean equivalent?

Most of the projects evolve from personal ideas except Aura. If I have something in mind, I make a simple sketch with outlined features to talk over with my engineers. If it is feasible, I contact Korean designers to get the design done. Kenneth Grange got involved through Aura Japan who bought the Aura brand from the UK about 11 years ago. They are a small distribution company who had no intention to enter manufacturing. They wanted me to beef up the insides of Aura Note designs and handle the distribution except for Japan.

I know many local Korean designers but have to admit that they are very limited in the field of audio design. Audio design in some ways is more difficult than car design. The customers in audio are very demanding so we let the specialists do the proper work. Design should be done by the best designers. Electronic design should be done by the best electronic engineers. What I am doing is manage the projects, tune the systems and then handle marketing.

Re: the Aura Note, is the Amphion speaker collaboration still on the books? If so, explain your choice of Amphion.

We tried to but it did not work out. But I will keep working with anyone who agrees on our price/performance target.

This concludes our interview with Mr. Lee, president of April Music. For a pictorial factory tour compliments of Christine Han who took the photos, continue with this 6-page SideBar. It shows April Music's listening room, offices and production facilities. It then continues with trade show photos from CES 2002 - 2009 as well as Home Entertainment show shots. This provides a time line into April Music's product development over the years. It documents strategic alliances with well-known speaker houses like Eggleston Works and Thiel Audio and reminds us just how far back the beginnings for the ambitious Eximus project really date. This company and its leader are no spring chickens. They are wily old foxes who took their time, grew slowly but strategically and seem at a juncture now where we'll see even more of them in the international markets.