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Reviewer: Srajan Ebaen
Financial Interests: click here

Review Component Retail: Irrelevant

"The name is Ivan. Ivan Lai."
He doesn't drive Aston Martin. Nor Lada though his name seems Russian enough to suggest it. No, Ivan is Chinese, his gear not priced to cater to the man with the stirred martini and bespoke Saville Row suits. As my previous review on his 503 desktop amplifier and 805 speakers reported, "Miu-Tech Systems (HK) Co is a hifi manufacturer established since 2003 in Hong Kong. We provide electronic solutions for audio products, control electronics and sound modules for toys. Our audio components are branded Miu Audio. Other products like sound modules, RS232 control boxes etc. fall under the Miu Control branch. That is mainly OEM. Our factory resides in Dong Gung in the PRC. In the early years, we concentrated on OEM vacuum tube amplifiers for Sansui. Recently, we launched the Miu-Audio brand. To date, its products include vacuum tube amplifiers, loudspeakers, CD players and desktop integrated amplifiers."

The 503 had turned out to need further work and distorted at moderate volumes. The 805 speakers had been fine monitor specimens gorgeously finished in high-gloss black. Alas, they were priced a bit higher than expected and eclipsed by my Era Design 5 Sats in performance. Marketed by the Peachtree Audio folks, those speakers are also built in China but designed by Michael Kelly of Aerial (including their drivers). So... Sino entrepreneurs today are facing the joy-joys of having to compete against Westerners who also produce in China. This dilutes—or in some cases eliminates—the pricing advantage China at first had claimed for itself. All depends of course on just how heavily Western competitors who assemble offshore inflate their profit margins. Do they implement Gordon Gecko's 'greed is good' maxim? If not, what's often left in the end is sheer chop suky on design chops. Think Prima Luna and Mystère for example. I'm disregarding brand recognition, resale value, reputation and distribution infrastructure for a moment which arguably all are vital factors in this equation.

When it comes to ringside experience, the West has pursued high-end audio for decades longer than China. They have the advantage unless a gifted (and not just high-profile name) engineer from Europe or the US settles down in Taiwan or Hong Kong. Joe d'Appolito's work for Usher is one example. Expat Brian Cherry running DIYHIFI in Hong Kong is another. This perhaps turns the tables once more in favor of the PRC. No matter the final form of kung fu however, it's one tough crowded market. Combat is fierce, resourcefulness mandatory. Shall we blow the whistle and commence this bout?

On resourcefulness, Ivan showed cojones. My lackluster conclusion on his first review would have prevented many from trying again. But not only did Ivan thank me for my efforts, he promised to work hard to improve. "I will make sure the equipment is good and final before sending out." Such fighting spirit was admirable. After a few months, Ivan was to send me "our 301 tube amplifier and 602 CD player. However, I want to know the voltage of your country because we are not using a switchable transformer for the amplifier." This should have been my first warning. Surely an electronics maker of any repute can look up a global AC listing for himself? Alas, I confirmed 230V as the Swiss standard and crossed two left thumbs.

Miu's purportedly best-selling tube model is the EL34 push/pull integrated Ivan shipped. Clad in high-gloss black and running 6922 inputs and 5670 drivers, it offers two source inputs but no remote. The matching 602 CD player is the economy version of the company's costlier 601 but still a gloss black aluminum affair with 'turntable-type' cover for the top loader. It runs a 2 x 5670 tube buffer behind a 16/44.1 DAC, op-amp based I/V conversion, one pair of RCA analog outs and one RCA digital out. Alas, the entire assignment turned out to be a complete non-starter.

It began with a disturbing rattle in the amp box. Something compact and heavy was freely sloshing about inside. Opening up the thin card board showed an inner Medite enclosure with unattached bottom and top. The amp covered in layers of authentic People's Republic factory dust and not a thread of plastic protection—I kid you not— had broken loose from being feebly bolted to the bottom. It now sported chipped paint, four massively bent bolts sticking out of the bottom, at least one screw rattling around inside, two of the three wooden footers shorn off and the power mains push button broken to be permanently on. Just poor shipping fortunes? Not. The volume pot cover rotated endlessly and unattached to the actual pot stump below (I fixed that and the wooden footers with super glue). The industrial tube cage was bolted down to the top, requiring insertion of a long screw driver through four top holes to undo the otherwise inaccessible mounting screws (how to re-attach said cage being one of many questions). Inspecting the 301 up close, it smacked, sorry to put it bluntly, of bad Chinese QC and sub-par working conditions. As a sealed box unopened by customs, there was simply no excuse for the serious amount of foreign dust covering this machine on all surfaces. Under what conditions was it packed and put together? Clearly Ivan was out to lunch when this—somewhat important for international biz—shipment was being readied for transit.

The CD player was packed using the same scheme of bolting the nude machine to the bottom of the inner Medite box but its lighter weight had saved it from breaking free. Never mind, any paying customer discovering another new toy likewise covered in thick dust would feel betrayed and not reassured in the least by yet another loose bolt rattling inside the enclosure. The acrylic CD cover was chipped on the edge in one spot, its manual fixture wobbly. Its mickey-mouse assembly tilts on axis and requires hand trimming to fit the cover cleanly atop the CD each time. The smaller non-removable tube cover may look cute but didn't allow for dusting its lens from beneath and tube removal without opening the enclosure from beneath is impossible. (All shots were doctored in Photoshop, chipped paint redrawn etc. to not embarrass the shipper further.) In fact, the entire implementation of the 'Acrylic concept' reeks of cutenesss for cuteness' sake. The remote's long protruding command buttons wiggle noisily and pressing them feels cheap and clunky. One of the three slip-on metal footers seemed scratched but some heavy scrubbing with soap managed to remove it. Yet lifting up the machine would have those footers fall off by design. Finally firing up the 601 elicited an 'open' on its blue display despite the cover being in place and a CD loaded. Pressing any command via the four top controls or the remote accomplished nada. The control logic was stuck. Powering the unit down and back up again still showed a frozen 'open'. Two out of two pieces DOA? License to kill had been applied with 200% effectiveness. C movie over.

License to ill
Miu Audio would get eaten alive by home-turf competitors Melody, Spark Cayin, Opera and Dared. Is comrade Ivan perhaps driving a badly hiccupping ancient Lada that spews black fumes after all? It's impossible to be in a forgiving mood after such an inspection. Any paying customer would be outraged and rightly so. As shouldn't surprise anyone, this assignment became a non-review and utter anti recommendation. This kit clearly is not ready for prime time and does not deserve formal coverage in any reputable mag. Don't make the mistake of buying anything electronic from Miu Audio. You'll be very sorry if you do. If this was Ivan's idea of improvement, things over there are hopelessly mismatched with Western expectations on quality and QC.

My previous review had ended with "...experience suggests that Miu Audio is still too new a comer to fly under its own banner until they find a better balance between cuteness and usability, price and the competition." Ivan's assurances to the contrary, nothing has altered my assessment. In fact, it's turned worse. Far worse...

Miu Audio website