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Reviewer: David Kan
Digital Source: Restek Radiant CD player, Assemblage D2D-1/DAC-3.1 Platinum, Deltec PDM Two DAC, Marantz SA6820, Philips DVP9000S
Preamp: Dared MC-7P, Symphonic Line RG3 Mk3, Audio Zone Pre-T1
Power Amp/integrated Amp: Dared VP-20, Symphonic Line RG4 Mk3
Speakers: Dynaudio Facette, Klipsch Synergy F2, Apogee Centaur Minor, Apogee Stage, Mark & Daniel Maximus-Monitor w. Omni-Harmonizer, Maximus-Ruby, Maximus-Topaz, Maximus-Sapphire
Cables: Symphonic Line Reference interconnect, Clearaudio Silver Line interconnect, Deltec Black Slink interconnect, Luscombe LBR-35 interconnect, Unity Audio Solid Link interconnect [on loan], Symphonic Line The Fast speaker cables, OCOS speaker cables by Dynaudio, Unity Audio Solid Link single-wire/Shotgun bi-wire speaker cables [on loan], Orphee Audio digital cable, Aural Symphonic Digital Standard digital cable
Power Cords: Aural Symphonic Missing Link, Ensemble Powerflux, Unity Audio Link Precision Link [on loan]
Power Line Conditioning: Tice Power Block IIIC, Monster Power HTS-3500 Mk II (modified by NuForce), Monster Power HTS-1000 Mk II
Room Size: 15' x 13.5' x 8 diagonal setup / 12' x 24' x 9' opens to 12' x 17' x 9' L-shape, short wall setup / 13' x 28' 8" x 9' with openings on one side to hallway and staircase, short wall setup / 15' x 15' x 8' home theatre
Review component retail: US$2,890/CND$2,999 (Pre-2) | US$3,290/CND$3,599 (Nova M-34)

You probably have seen Martin Scorsese's The Departed. But most likely you have not seen the original Hong Kong Chinese blockbuster Infernal Affairs which the Oscar-winning American feature was based on. Should Mr. Scorsese's screenplay have tracked the original plot more closely, you probably would have come across a scene early in the movie in which Leonardo DiCaprio's Billy Costigan stands in for his audio store salesman friend (actually the bullied one who paid protection money to his boss) as Matt Damon's Colin Sullivan walks in seeking a recommendation for an audio rig. DiCaprio suggests one particular system that will yield "sweet highs, accurate mids and powerful bass". That system proudly was Hong Kong's own Audio Space. This trivia became as popular as the movie itself, hammering home the brand name with force. Of course, there's no such scene in The Departed and Matt Damon's rig was McIntosh. Anyhow, I just wanted to explain to our non-Chinese speaking audience the backdrop for the many Audio Space adverts associated with the movie, now archived on their website.

With the recent accolade of The Absolute Sound's 2007 Golden Ear Award for its Reference Two flagship preamplifier (which employs four 300B tubes in the second stage - right), Audio Space is primed towards becoming the McIntosh of Hong Kong. If you think that an exaggeration, ask the Japanese.

In the land of the rising sun where home-brew high-end tube amps proliferate and Marantz and McIntosh are upheld as the Holy Grail, Audio Space is highly regarded by audiophiles and reviewers alike, having won 17 awards for various products in the past seven years - including the Audio Excellence Award 2005 for the top-line Reference One power amplifier.

In a recent survey in Japan, Audio Space maestro Peter Lau was proud to be voted as one of the 10 most influential living tube amp designers. His creations have been featured on Japanese magazine front pages 6 times, including the celebrated Vacuum Tube Kingdom.

Come to think of it, no other Chinese-made amplifiers have ever been showered with such laurels
from Japanese critics. Back home, Audio Space had attracted a group of followers long before Infernal Affairs hit the box office and well before Chinese tube amps raided American shores. Peter Lau, founder and chief designer of Audio Space, has been making high-value/low-priced tube amps that win the hearts of the most unforgiving hair-splitting DIYers for a long time now...

The icon store of Audio Space was in Ap Liu Street, an unofficial tourist attraction so famous that it has secured an entry in Wikipedia. Once the Mecca of audio DIYers, Ap Liu Street now is basically a 2,000-some feet stretch of shops and street stalls best known for electronic audio bargains and AV accessories that are fast giving way to cellular phones and gadgets. Not a particularly prestigious location, somehow Ap Liu Street has attracted other players like Volent Audio and Hit Audio (importer of Zu, Rogue, Melody and Almarro). When I was in Hong Kong last summer, I took the opportunity to meet with Peter in his Ap Liu Street showroom, the very location where the famous scene of "sweet highs, accurate mids and powerful bass" was filmed.
For a mini pictorial tour of the Audio Space production facility, view SideBar I.

I caught up with Peter one afternoon while he stopped over for one night before flying to America. The first thing I noticed when I walked into his showroom was the Infernal Affairs banner. As soon as I introduced myself, Peter started to chat candidly as if he'd known me for years. Peter's background was electronic engineering and telecommunication (transmitter) by training, music inclination by choice. His first audio manufacturing venture began in the early eighties with a company in Guangdong province doing final stage assembly for Philips consumer electronics like cassette radios and mini combos. The factory had to
close in 1982 when the balance sheet was constantly in the red and Peter sold his residence to pay off debts. Thanks to UK Prime Minister Margaret Thacher who initiated the Sino-British talk on the future of Hong Kong, the real estate market then took a plunge. Peter made the right move and bought low. When the political dust settled and the real estate market regained momentum, Peter netted a sizable gain. He then started Top Video, a video rental chain which soon grew into 15 stores. The Tiananmen Square Protest of 1989 prompted Peter to sell the stores to the branch managers and plan for immigration to Australia. The plan was aborted due to a serious illness however and Peter remained in Hong Kong. As they say, music really was the best medicine and Peter found consolation in Mark Levinson solid state amps until one day he walked into a showroom and discovered McIntosh.

"That sounded so different", Peter recalled, eyes sparkling. Before he could reach for his wallet, his passion was chilled off by a snotty salesman. (Hey, Peter, you're not alone.) He turned to secondhand resellers then and purchased a McIntosh 275 for HK$30,000+. He dismantled the amp and studied the circuitry. By now, you'll probably have guessed how the story ends. Since that time, Peter has never returned to solid state. He rented a factory unit to produce his own tube amps. The first models were the Houston 7 and 9 (also known as AS-7 and AS-9), obviously based on the legendary Marantz 7 and 9 but selling for HK$2,000 and 3,000.
The Houston 9 mono amp was capable of 38/75wpc in triode or ultralinear. Peter was especially proud that the original Marantz 9 could perform the mode switching only when the amp was powered off
but his amp was the first to migrate freely between triode and ultralinear on the fly.

Two models that firmly established the Audio Space name on the glass globe were the AS-9023 single-ended 300B pure Class A (1992-1995) amp and the Model 97 Limited Edition (limited to 500 units), an EL-84 push-pull design delivering 12wpc. As of today, Audio Space has produced more than 100 different models. A modernized production line has been established in a 1,600 square meter factory in the Southern province and over 100 skilled workers hired, putting Audio Space into second or third place among the top Chinese audio manufacturers while exporting to the major audiophile cities in France, Germany, the United Kingdom, Russia, Japan and the United States. The wholly owned factory Corilex Technology Development (Zhuhai) Company is also manufacturing finished OEM products to over ten brand names in Japan, Taiwan, Singapore and even the Western world.

According to Peter, Audio Space was the first amplifier manufacturer to use mirror-finished non-magnetic stainless-steel chassis, which not only makes them rigid and strong enough to support as many as three to four heavy-duty transformers but also non-inductive to magnetic leakage from transformers that might cause hum in the circuitry. Proprietary transformers and point-to-point soldering have always been two core characteristics of Audio Space amps. In the newer models, limited use of printed circuit boards is found in power supply,
regulatory and input relay circuits. Like all tube gurus, Peter holds firmly to some beliefs in doing what he's good at doing. I picked two topics to get him talking.

Auto-bias. Except for a few models (the Mini Series), Peter stays away from auto-bias. He believes that applying resistors to the cathode bias compromises a power tube's optimal performance. Some Audio Space power amps thus have built-in meters to facilitate owner bias adjustment.

Negative feedback. As a basic rule, single-ended triodes (300Bs for instance) don't absolutely require negative feedback because they have low output impedance. Although negative feedback improves damping factor, resolution, soundstage width and depth, harmonics tend to weaken. Still, most Audio Space amps are equipped with negative feedback selectors (some even with 6-step adjustments). Peter's i
ntention is to give customers a choice. Without negative feedback, vocals might be too forward; with negative feedback, you'll get the illusion of a more relaxed and laid-back presentation. It also gives audiophiles flexibility in speaker partnering. Minimum negative feedback helps to kick up more bass from small speakers. Maximum negative feedback attains better clarity from large speakers.

For a miniature stroll down Ap Liu street and into the Audio Space show room, see SideBar 2.
From Peter's archives

Peter does not believe in the perfect amplifier or absolute fidelity. His analogy of hifi is a constant challenge to cover a 6-foot person with a 4-foot blanket. There's no 100% coverage and compromises have to be made according to personal preference. He believes that tube amplifiers offer more room for fostering personality. For that, technical specifications only take you to a certain point. The rest depends on the musical tastes of the designer. Peter has perfect pitch and can play the harmonica upside down. He was the bass guitarist in his school band and could play eighty instruments, from erhu (Chinese two-string fiddle), qin (Chinese zither), xiao (vertical bamboo flute) to jazz keyboard, trumpet and harmonica. He's particularly proud of the days when he participated in a jazz group as the keyboardist and with the group could improvise on any songs picked by the audience with his self-taught improvisation techniques. (Archive photos show him entertaining friends). This was prior to the karaoke boom. No wonder Peter was so popular among the ladies. His other inventions include machinery that assists and controls the consistency of point-to-point soldering by determining the optimal routing of internal wirings; and manually operated conveyor trolleys that allow full maneuverability of the heavy amplifiers during assembly without scratching the baked coating of the transformer covers.

On the topic of components and topography, Peter cautioned of the DIY mentality that expensive components equal sonic superiority. To him, what capacitors to use, when to select silver or aluminum wires is all a matter of topographic harmony. His criterion for choosing a part is that it be neutral, stable and complementary to the circuitry. He joked: "What's the point of having Mullard tubes while all you're listening to are actually MIT, Solen or Jenson capacitors?"