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This review first appeared in the December 2012 issue of hi-end hifi magazine High Fidelity of Poland. You can also read it in its original Polish version here. We publish its English translation in a mutual syndication arrangement with publisher Wojciech Pacula. As is customary for our own articles, the writer's signature at review's end shows an e-mail address should you have questions or wish to send feedback. All images contained in this review are the property of High Fidelity or Bakoon. - Ed

Reviewer: Wojciech Pacula
CD player: Ancient Audio Lektor Air V-edition
Phono preamplifier: RCM Audio Sensor Prelude IC
Cartridges: Miyajima Laboratory Shilabe & Kansui
Preamplifier: Ayon Audio Polaris III Signature with Regenerator power supply
Power amplifier: Soulution 710
Integrated amplifier/headphone amplifier: Leben CS300 XS Custom
Loudspeakers: Harbeth M40.1 Domestic + Acoustic Revive custom speaker stand
Headphones: Sennheiser HD800, AKG K701, Beyerdynamic DT-990 Pro 600Ω vintage, HifiMan HE6
Interconnects: CD/preamp Acrolink Mexcel 7N-DA6300, preamp/power amp Acrolink 8N-A2080III Evo
Speaker cable: Tara Labs Omega Onyx
Power cables (all equipment): Acrolink Mexcel 7N-PC9300
Power strip: Acoustic Revive RTP-4eu Ultimate
Stand: Base IV custom under all components
Resonance control: Finite Elemente Ceraball under CD player, Audio Revive RAF-48 platform under CD player and preamplifier, Pro Audio Bono PAB SE platform under Leben CS300 XS
Review component retail in Poland: $4.995 with matching rack

Publisher's foreword: This is a companion piece to my earlier review of the Bakoon AMP-11R. Whilst publishing a second review by necessity overlaps particularly on technical and company history elements, the sheer quality of this product merited any such double trouble - Ed.

The design goal of the AMP-11R is to be the world's best high-end compact amplifier. That's a bold statement to be sure but ultimately you gotta play to win. This quote begins the description of the AMP-11R integrated amplifier on the Bakoon International website. This amplifier is different from almost any other I've dealt with thus far. Its enclosure is made from a single aluminium block with milled-out chambers housing various circuit sections or parts. We've seen such constructions in Ayre's top R series or —from my very own Polish backyard—with the unique nowe audio mono 3.5. Perhaps it’s coincidence but both amplifier and dedicated RCK-11 platform equipped with metal cones ended up on the Ceraball feet from German manufacturer finite elemente during my review. On the other hand there are no coincidences. Even this brief intro shows how we are dealing here with a very special product. Coming from Korea which is developing into a strong player in the high-end audio sector, it features an outboard power supply. Both can be placed on a specially designed dedicated anti-vibration mini rack. Each tier consists of two beautifully anodized aluminium panels separated by ceramic balls as also used in the aerospace industry. Extending this notion to the feet (Ceraballs also sport a ceramic ball between two surfaces) seemed to me like a logical conclusion.

However that's not all. The most important feature of this machine is a special electronic circuit called Satri-IC, a discrete current-mode operational amplifier circuit first developed during the 80s. Its core idea is to process the input signal for gain in the current not voltage domain. Such a system is best fed with a current signal for which special BNC inputs are provided. Other big audio names have promoted a similar idea and I'll just mention Krell's CAST current audio signal transmission and darTZeel's Zell which comes equally on BNC connectors though with a different nominal impedance. Here it’s not only about such inputs and associated method of signal transmission but the specially designed surface-mount circuit in the latest Satri-IC-EX version. The unit received for review sported the more powerful 15wpc output modules which differ from the original 10wpc version.

It did not immediately dawn on me—which only shows my temporary obtuseness—but Bakoon Products International registered in Korea is affiliated with parent company Bakoon Products Co. Ltd., a strictly Japanese company. All design solutions found in the AMP-11R including Satri were previously 'rehearsed' by the parent company. Soo In Chae from Korea informed us just prior to publication that they'd soon have new products which previously were available only in Japan.

From an interview on the BPI website we learn that the owner and designer of Bakoon Products is Akira Nagai who already 25 years ago developed his exclusive Satri system. He was also one of the first to design a D/A converter where special attention was paid to reduce distortion from uneven timing now known as jitter. That DAC was the first to employ the Satri circuit without negative feedback or adverse side effects like increased distortion, narrowed response or noise. How did the name derive? It isn't the usual acronym but rather a slightly transformed rendering of the Japanese word satori meaning enlightenment. It's worth noting that Mr. Nagai began his audio adventure with tubes which he adored. His personal collection consisted of over 2000 valves at the time.

Japanese designer Akira Nagai

For review I received not only the AMP-11R with dedicated RCK-11 anti-vibration platform but also the EQA-11R phonostage with Satri outputs and the battery-operated BPS-02 power supply designed for 5V/6V components like Arcam's rDAC. Initially I intended to review all 1 Series components together and the 0 Series power supply separately. As it turned out each of these components deserves more attention than a single review could provide. I thus ended up writing up the amplifier first, with two further articles planned on the phono preamplifier and power supply. Even so I already took a few combo photos to show the 1 Series components together.

Sound –
a selection of recordings used during auditions: The TBM Sounds!, Lasting Impression Music, LIM UHD 048LE, "Limited Edition", CD (2010); Bob Dylan, The Freewheelin', Columbia/Mobile Fidelity, UDSACD 2081, Special Limited Edition No. 3085, SACD/CD (1963/2012); Dead Can Dance, Anastasis, [PIAS] Entertainment Group, PIASR311CDX, Special Edition Hardbound Box Set, CD+USB drive 24/44,1 WAV (2012); Depeche Mode, Enjoy The Music....04, Mute, XLCDBONG34, maxi-SP (2004); Diary of Dreams, The Anatomy of Silence, Accession Records, A 132, CD (2012); Elgar Delius, Cello Concertos, Jacqueline Du Pré, EMI Classic, 9559052, 2 x SACD/CD (1965/2012); Eva & Manu, Eva & Manu, Warner Music Finland, 5389629, CD (2012); Manuel Göttsching, E2-E4. 30th Anniversary, MG ART, 404, CD (1981/2012); Max Roach & Clifford Brown, The Best of Max Roach & Clifford Brown in Concert! - Full version, GNP Crescendo/King Records (Japan), KICJ 246, CD (1956/1995); Pieter Nooten, Here is why, Rocket Girl, rgirl71, CD (2010); This Mortal Coil, HD-CD Box SET: It’ll End In Tears, Filigree & Shadow, Blood, Dust & Guitars, 4AD [Japan], TMCBOX1, 4 x HDCD, (2011).

You see one thing but hear another is a common theme in all manner of audio/visual arts. The element of surprise which catches the viewer or listener off-guard to push beyond comfort zones is a basic tactic of contemporary performers and stand-up comedians. It's no different for various designers including industrial designers. For them surprise is nothing but a way out of a dark shadow or dead end. In audio it simply does not seem to work very often.

When we think of speakers or amplifiers, bigger seems better. The reason is that the speaker needs a large woofer or two to produce believable bass whilst an amplifier needs a powerful power supply which except for switching variants implies a colossal mains transformer. When we see an amplifier as small as the Bakoon, we subconsciously expect a suitably tiny sound. Despite my best efforts to not sound like a cheesy commercial, I must confess that the AMP-11R amplifier is a prime example for just how deceptive appearances can be.