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Reviewer: Marja & Henk
Financial Interests: click here
Sources: PS Audio PWT; PS Audio PWD; Dr. Feickert Blackbird/Zu DL-103
Streaming sources: Foobar2000; XXHighEnd
Preamp/integrated/power: Tri TRV EQ3SE phonostage;  Audio Note Meishu with WE 300B (or AVVT, JJ, KR Audio 300B output tubes); Yarland FV 34 CIIISA; Qables iQube V1; Devialet D-Premier; Acoustic System International LiveLine Preamplifier; Acoustic System International Grand Stereo power amplifier [in for review]
Speakers: Avantgarde Acoustic Duo Omega; Arcadian Audio Pnoe; Vaessen Aquarius;
Cables: complete loom of ASI LiveLine cables; full loom of Crystal Cable cables; Nanotec Golden Strada #79 nano 3; Nanotec Golden Strada #79; Nanotec Golden Strada #201
Power line conditioning: Omtec Power Controllers; PS Audio Powerplant Premier; PS Audio Humbuster III;
Equipment racks: ASI amplifier and TT shelf
Sundry accessories: Furutech DeMag; Nanotec Nespa #1; Exact Audio Copy software; iPod; wood, brass, ceramic and aluminum cones and pyramids; Shakti Stones; Manley Skipjack
Room treatment: Acoustic System International resonators, sugar cubes, diffusers
Room size: ca 5 x 7m with a ceiling height of 3.50m, brick walls and concrete floor downstairs,
ca. 14.50 x 7.50m with a ceiling height of 3.50m, brick walls, wooden flooring upstairs.
Price of review item: €24.000 for the preamp, €30.000 for the Grand Stereo

Pick up an electric guitar. Plug it into a modest combo. Set the volume at any position. Strike a chord. What do you get? Plenty of dynamics. Yes! There’s acoustic impact, speed and above all, tone. Now move over to your stereo system. Select an electric guitar album. Play it at about the same volume. Now what’s missing? No doubt a whole lot. Isn’t the sound miniaturized? Isn’t the sound stripped of its dynamic impact, smoothed over into something ‘nice’?

Franck Tchang at Munich High End 2011
  If you don’t have access to an electric guitar, pay a visit to your local music shop. No, not the one you visit regularly to pick up new CDs or old vinyl. No, the one with the guitars, the Marshalls, Mesa Boogies, other axe amps and keyboards and drums. They surely will have a coffee corner or bar to hang out. Have a coffee and chat with the visitors or owner. Explain what you want to hear. There is always someone willing to give a demo and show off his or her skills on the 6-string. And if you walk around the musicians’ candy store already, why not pick up a drumstick and whack a cymbal while you’re at it? It’s not hard to remember the result for a long time. Wasn’t that loud and instantaneous? Back home try to get the same result from any of your recordings over your hifi. Fat chance you’ll come close. This is the dilemma of many music lovers and audiophiles alike. Somewhere in the chain of recording, mastering and replay things get lost that are so readily available live, prior to all the hifi efforts.

An avid guitarist himself and gifted with an incredible musical ear, Franck Tchang too encountered these limitations of reproducing music at home. First he tried to make the physical space which the reproduction takes place in more cooperative to the music being played. Though by now less and less controversial as many ‘inspired by’ copies of his small acoustic resonator cups made of precious metals have hit the scene, they are still a mystery in how exactly they work though they very clearly do. Work. Mounting the resonators in the designated spots improves the collaboration between room and musical signal such that the responsiveness and thus in-room dynamics come very much closer to the ‘real thing’. A next step were the much discussed (and doubted) Sugar Cubes which can alter and tune a room’s acoustic balance—or what Franck calls tonality—to a much more realistic level.

To assess the workings of these acoustic tuning products and improve them further, Franck needed a good reference system for his Parisian studio. His search steered him in two directions. One led towards Novi Sad in the northern Serbian province of Vojvodina, the home town of Milan Karan, an engineer who started out as manufacturer of fine electronics for the medical sector.

Milan loves music so much that he switched from the high-tech medical world to the quirky world of audio to start Karan Acoustics. Though his Karan amplifiers are not a household name, Milan has a steady group of dedicated followers, more so now that his friendship with Franck bore the fruits of enhancements of original Karan products. Franck Tchang’s keen ears are very sensitive to two factors - compression and tonality.

In every audio related conversation with Franck, these qualities return. Over the years Karan products improved as stimulated by Franck’s push to rid them of remaining compression whilst enhancing  the tonality of the resultant sound. The Paris studio of ASI saw many variations of Karan amplifiers come and be replaced by subsequent iterations.

Milan Karan & Darren Censullo