This review page is supported in part by the sponsor whose ad is displayed above

Reviewer: Srajan Ebaen
Source: Zanden Audio Model 2000P/5000S
Preamp/Integrated: ModWright SWL 9.0SE; Music First Audio Passive Magnetic; Hyperion Sound BEC-P25T
Amp: 2 x Audiosector Patek SE; Yamamoto A-08S; Canary Audio CA-308; Genesis M60 [for review]
Speakers: Zu Cable Definition Mk 1.5
Cables: Zanden Audio proprietary I²S cable, Stealth Audio Indra (x2), Zu Cable Ibis, Zu Cable Birth on Definitions; Crystal Cable Reference power cords; ZCable Hurricane power cords on both conditioners
Stands: 1 x Grand Prix Audio Monaco four-tier
Powerline conditioning: 2 x Walker Audio Velocitor S
Sundry accessories: GPA Formula Carbon/Kevlar shelf for transport; GPA Apex footers underneath stand, DAC and amp; Walker Audio SST on all connections; Walker Audio Vivid CD cleaner; Furutech RD-2 CD demagnetizer; WorldPower cryo'd Hubbell wall sockets
Room size: 30' w x 18' d x 10' h [sloping ceiling] in long-wall setup in one half, with open adjoining living room for a total of ca.1000 squ.ft floor plan
Review Component Retail: contingent on reseller (2,480 Euros from Melody-Europe)
In Kevin Costner's vehicle Message in a Bottle, there's a hilarious micro moment. It suggests bravura ad-lib inspiration by Paul Newman who plays Kevin's crusty old dad. Costner is on his way to Chicago to visit a woman. Newman drops him off a bus station to get to the airport. Costner reads dad the riot act about the beer bottle count in the fridge, then leaves the pickup truck with his travel bag. A few yards gone, Newman calls out from the car. Costner has forgotten his ticket. When he comes to fetch it from dad, Newman gets even with one laconic comment: "Good dog."

Anyone first laying eyes on the Melody SWH1688II could be forgiven for barking "good integrated". However, your dog smell's off. It's not an integrated amplifier. If my initials were S.H., I'd feel compelled to call it the mother of all preamps. As S.E., I call it one hammer of a valve pre, replete with output transformers that would make most amps proud, plus absolutely massive paper-in-oil Aerovox and Jensen pure copper-foil coupling capacitors.
The surprises don't stop there. High and low gains outputs -- two pairs each -- and a custom resistor-ladder attenuator of luxurious silken action are merely the beginning. Once you remove the high-gloss perforated tube cage off its integral bananas, say hello to the globes.
They're current production, oxide-coated filamentary triodes called Full Music 101D mesh plates from the Tianjin province of China. With four pins just like 300Bs, they bracket 6SL7s and 6SN7s and a central 5AR4 rectifier for 3Hz to 100kHz response and a max gain/output of 20dB/28V. The 101Ds have an amplification factor of 6.2 and an average plate voltage of 160. Aydn sells them for $195/pr.

At 50 lbs and lavishly dripping in flawlessly applied black lacquer, this preamp from Chinese manufacturer Melody Valve Hifi Ltd. is marching to a different drummer. Owner/designer Mr. Wang is an Australian citizen so his company is registered there. Since he doesn't speak English, successful international dealings with Melody require either translation or Chinese skills, something Gary Koh -- CEO of Genesis Advanced Technologies -- is fluent in. When leading Chinese reviewers responded to his inquiries about the best domestic tube designer with "Melody and Mr. Wang", Mr. Koh began a 2-year collaboration that culminated in the Genesis M60 and I60 amplifiers which are based on Melody platforms, then manufactured by Melody but incorporate significant refinements from Arnie Nudell and Bascom King.

No formal US distribution has been available for Melody, safe for the Onix-branded -- and completely overachieving -- SP3 integrated sold through Mark Schifter's AV123 online store for $699. With grey-market product entering China-direct via questionable channels and the language barrier involved interfacing with company management, it's intuitive why nobody thus far has signed up for American importation. Explained Gary who owns a few 1688s and volunteered to forward one to Taos, "this preamp is a very low-noise zero-feedback amplifier. It is actually designed like a power amplifier. However, it has far too high an output impedance to directly drive a loudspeaker properly. With the very flat impedance curve of the Zus, you might just want to try it though. [Realistically speaking, it's probably best to keep this theoretical so as to not unintentionally stress the 1688's output stage with bad results - Ed.] I have to admit that I have not been very interested in representing the 1688. It's not my core business. This preamp is one more step away from my loudspeakers."

Documentation on Melody gear, both on their website and as per the included owner's manual, is extremely marginal. Except for the usual self-congratulatory comments, the only further specs on the 1688II in the manual are input impedance (100Kohm), THD (0.02%) , channel balance (<0.5dBfrom 20Hz - 100kHz) and S/N (>90dB).

'philes interested to learn more might want to contact Melody-Europe who keep a technical staff with a Melody-specialized designer at their disposal. Their website also offers the following tantalizing tidbit: "In Japan, this preamplifier, straight off, has been classified as one of the 2 to 3 best preamplifiers in the world, despite the large range of competitors in that country." There. Now you know about as much as I do - except that I'm listening to this beast while you're not.

For now, we'll let the pictures do the talking until listening impressions are formulated.