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Reviewer: Srajan Ebaen
Source: Eastern Electric MiniMax
Preamp/Integrated: Onix SP3 Melody [on review]
Speakers: Onix Reference 1 MkII [on review]
Cables: Crystal Cable Reference speaker cables and power cords; Crystal Micro Piccolo and Stereovox hdse interconnects
Stands: Grand Prix Audio Monaco four-tier
Powerline conditioning: Walker Audio Velocitors
Sundry accessories: GPA Formula Carbon/Kevlar shelf for tube amps; GPA Apex footers underneath stand and speakers; 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 and significant 'active' cubic air volume of essentially the entire (small) house
Review component retail: $999 for integrated amp; $1,200/pr for speakers; $1,199 for combo
"Hell and damnation!" The flustered reviewer mutters quietly to himself. He glances nervously over his shoulder lest somebody is listening. Wasn't his kind supposed to be jaded from years of toiling in the champagne vineyards of audio? How dare Mark Schifter of av123.com defy all gentlemanly etiquette and dispatch this - this beastly thing? It is a 38wpc push-pull integrated with 5881s from China, designed and styled by Melody Valve Hifi Pty Ltd. of Australia. It weighs a substantial though compact 43 lbs. It boasts luxurious fit'n'finish the likes no $1,000 piece should carry like a massive chip on its shoulder. What about the bloody parts quality? That was simply a sodding effrontery to the hallowed phrase of "cheap & cheerful" and proper hard-working chaps like himself. The existence of this beast could really sour one's mood in a raging hurry. His boss was gonna be furious. How could he not have foreseen this threat to their ongoing existence? He was sacked sure as shit. Gloom and doom. But wait - he was no longer in manufacturing. No need to contemplate conniption fits. Let other guys worry about going out of business. His business was on the other side, in consumer land. Ahh. The impending heart attack retreated. Reason to celebrate instead. Pop a cork. "Hell and damnation!" He reiterates his private mantra solemnly one more time as though for good luck. Gotta keep one's fingers crossed and priorities intact.

This 2-input integrated with the duos of 12 AX7s, 12AU7s and 6922s tucked away in tube dampers -- and the quartet of 5881s hidden beneath a substantial perforated cage which can easily be lifted off its banana sockets -- really is a shock to the system when you consider what Santa Schifter sells it for. Sharing his time between family in Vail/Colorado and business in China where he operates Sound Art China together with his partner Mr. Pu, this industry veteran of Audio Alchemy and Perpetual Technologies fame nowadays plays a wicked game of hard ball with escalating audio pricing. Like Klaus Bunge of Odyssey Audio, Bill O'Connell of MiniMax and Kevin Deal with his Prima Luna offering at Upscale Audio, Mark Schifter takes devious delight in brokering and packaging apparently impossible deals. When he comes across the Melody SP3 unit, he commits to substantial inventories and has the branding changed to Onix. That's the umbrella for his Rocket loudspeaker line and certain Shanling-based electronics sold on av123.com.


Most favored nation status has conferred on China also the parallel status of land of golden opportunities, not necessarily for factory drones but certainly for design-in-the-West, build-in-the-East entrepreneurs. However, many a would-be beneficiary of the current global imbalance has additionally found out that China can mean one might also get rather thoroughly - well, buggered. Between the language and cultural barriers on one hand and discrepancies of expectations for acceptable finish, consistency and reliability on the other, the unweary, ill-advised or poorly prepared can get rather tangled up in a messy web only half of their own doing.


Enter Mark Schifter. Like Phil Jones of AAD and now Phil Jones Bass, he decided a long time ago that to do things properly equated to living on-site. With a house in China and another in Khabarovsk/Russia, Schifter has made the necessary sacrifices, learned the language and created the ideal infrastructure. He's not Sting's Englishman in New York but rather, Onix' American in China. He oversees procedures, installs safe guards and training and assures that Western-style quality control is successfully implemented. He partakes in the various design process stages from the very beginning and stays on the lookout for discoveries and opportunities. He also OEMs for other manufacturers and leverages his own brand against his growing scale of operations. The outcome of all of these actions are regular container loads of Onix/Rocket goods entering the US only to be unloaded consumer-direct via Mark's on-line store. Solid customer support and active user forums combine to make this approach friendly and non-threatening. More importantly, it becomes a grass-roots ground swell to draw music lovers into the folds who couldn't -- or wouldn't -- justify the usual HighEnd prices. As our own Jeff Day would put it, it's audio for audio everymen and women everywhere.


One look at the guts above will convey my excitement over unwrapping the integrated and feeling like finally being served champagne in the sleeves-up fields of hops. Finding a discrete resistor-ladder attenuator in an integrated of the SP3's price range is simply unheard of. The thick metallic lacquer is something one expects from Cary Audio gear or Kharma speakers. The thoughtful power mains within easy reach on the left side's front -- and the opposing input switcher on the right -- display out-of-the-box thinking next to their respective channel's bias access points [below]. The massive tripod footer array spells audiophilia. The curvaceous fascia with just one central control and the overall industrial design scream hi-tech chic. The anthracite color scheme deliberately tempers the somewhat garish multi-tone solutions embraced by other goods with similar origins. The substantial double boxing proves that Onix correctly anticipates American-style road kill abuse at the hand of careless shippers while the included white gloves are frosting on the cake. The fact that Jean Hiraga of La Revue du Son regards Melody's massive SHW-1688II as one of his three favorite preamps ever made? Well, that merely adds the kind of unnecessary cachet the target buyer of this amp could likely care less about.


Accompanying materials by way of the owner's manual are sparse. We only learn that input impedance is 250kOhm, input sensitivity a high 380mV, S/N better than 90dB and THD 1%.


Dimensions are 16" D x 12" w x 7" H which includes the shrouded 5-way binding posts, volume knob and footers.


Part two of today's package are Mark Schifter's Rosewood-clad Onix two-ways called Reference 1 MkII. As a single-wire rear-ported 4-ohm design of 29" D x 20" W x 37" and 20 lbs, it uses the well-regarded Viva XT25TG-30 ring radiator. That is mated via a 4th-order network to a 5.25" Atohm LD130 CR04 mid/woofer with an unusual rubber bridge over the dust cap. The edge seams of the veneer are flawlessly executed and the speaker's general size and appearance suggest my old Soliloquy Model 5 which I once helped market - except that the Ref 1s' tweeter clearly plays in a higher league.

Priced at $2,200 when purchased separately, av123.com currently has a special combo price of $1,199 and recommends adding the $299 X-CD88 for a hi-value, hi-performance minimalist 2-channel system. I've got a few
prior commitments before I can begin to report further on today's champs. Alas, merely inspecting these goods (especially the SP3) has me so excited that I had to alert readers to their existence now.
Too good to be true occasionally isn't. With their implied price-to-performance quotient, today's challengers have all the earmarkings of being one such rare exception. And that ball-bustin' combo price? It's for real. In fact, I called Steve Ozmai in Colorado just to make sure. I was certain it had to be a verkackte typo. It's not. Now you can appreciate my excitement? Hell and damnation!