Part II: Wherein our daring voyager continues his quest in search of the meaning and madness, sincerity or cynicism behind audio's indigenous Outsider Art..

When we last parted ways, we were but beginning a journey into hi-fi's outer reaches, the products discussed in Part I being to advanced tweakery what scrubbing-up is to modern surgery - an absolute if distrusted breakthrough at first, now accepted without hesitation by all but the most Sweeny Toddish of back-alley jack-knife ghouls. Whether or not you now use; aspire to own; or would not be caught dead in the regional vicinity of either the VPI Brick or the Shakti wares - the fact remains that there is no shortage of science to support the claims of their designers. Of course, just because I know a Toyota will start every morning doesn't make me want one, so apathy and even hostility towards such devices by a significant number of audiophiles is just another feature of an endlessly diverse consumer landscape. And if appeals to logic can't always get us to start that 401k before our 60th birthday -- or floss with Dentist-approved regularity -- such arguments sure ain't going to land a Shakti Stone on our wish list at Music Direct if we damn-well don't want to go where such products take us; offending as it were the diet of our minds.

So be it. More than anything, this survey of audio's more curious curios is about this writer's own education, with you the reader -- swinging back to the medical slimily used above -- invited to watch from the 'operating theater'. Take from all of this only what you'd have, logic or the lack of it be horse-whipped. If you missed Part I, allow me to suggest you take a glance, if only to acquaint yourself with the ground rules and caveats that are an unavoidable requirement of any undertaking such as this. The rest of us will douse the fires, rake the tracks to conceal our numbers and set back out on the trail less traveled until even that spotty and unkempt path fades away into untrammeled wilderness.

"I still see things.. .I just choose not to acknowledge them. It's like a diet of the mind; I choose not to indulge in certain appetites".
[John Nash, from A Beautiful Mind ©2001 Universal Studios and DreamWorks LLC]

How do we know when we breech the gossamer membrane between creative epiphany and abject madness? Doesn't the primary tenet of true madness dictate that we cannot know? Perhaps the best one can do is to keep eyes and ears keen for portals, sudden jogs and passages that lead not from room-to-room but from our accepted reality to another genus of reality, one that may seem every bit as real but where the rules are different and familiar expec-tations best abandoned. And in the mist-layered Forest Primeval of higher tweakery, there exists just such a passage - more of a bridge, really. A bridge that navigates the yawning span between the pragmatic engineering of the
Longhufeng is a famous local dish in Guangdong, made with snake, cat and chicken [ChinaDaily]

VPI Brick and the exponentially more complex but still straight-on science of Shakti and -- way over on the opposite shore -- a conceptual netherworld evocative of opium dreams and Druidism. This is a bridge fashioned from African ebony and built to exacting standards by the Three Muses of Shun Mook. And that bridge, Monty Python fans, is well guarded.

From what I could ascertain, the people who are Shun Mook do their own thing. And if you and the entire rest of the world were to tell them why you think they shouldn't, they would nod politely and keep right on doing their own thing. Now that's freedom; sovereignty of a variety that most of us working lugs can only taste in our most fevered, Lotto jackpot dreams. And that autonomy is a luxury worth ignoring the hecklers for.

"God grants liberty only to those who love it, and are always ready to guard and defend it".
[Daniel Webster - 1782-1852]

Of all the manufacturers with whom I made inquiries over the course of developing this series, none were more tight-lipped, none more cautious or even what could simply be considered shy than my contact at Shun Mook. Yet that was not only no surprise, it made perfect sense. Because of all the creations that can be considered the holy relics of fringe-fi, the tools of Shun Mook are apparently notorious enough to be the ones best known outside audiophilia's creaky gates. And if you think other sound nerds can be brutal when confronted with views and products that strain their conception of reality, ordinary Lifestyle system-buying civilians can be downright barbaric.

Take a wincing gander at something called "The Audiophile B.S. Page". Here we have someone not in any clear way even an audiophile (this is a page of the Central Florida Ham Radio Club site, ferkrisakes) who, having somehow tripped over the Shun Mook phenomenon, is compelled to blog (and flog) his offended sense of veracity to the fundamentally disinterested world at large. Of course, when it comes to a world of disinterest, we can thank the Ham Radio guys for making us audio Anoraks appear sexy by comparison. The only reason this churlish sniggering even bears mention is the sorry fact that this page is invariably one of the first several hits to come up when googling 'Shun Mook'. And it's but one example of the small-mindedness with which this company and its goods have been greeted over the years. So I suspected from the outset that it was going to take a lot of honey to get any Shun Mook flies on me. Honey and patience. Eventually, both won me a grudging degree of trust and even a home trial of Shun Mook's cornerstone product, the Mpingo Disc.

But before we get into the listening, come with me over the aforementioned bridge into what is the most secretive sanctum, the most cloud-veiled citadel in all of Tweaksylvania, for a conversation with one William Ying, the Mooker charged with managing contact with us of the secular world.

That robust aura of mystery and mysticism, as it turns out, is something no advertising campaign could create nor any public relations firm fabricate. It appears to this greenhorn gumshoe to be an honestly unintentional byproduct of who these guys are and how they choose to do things: In their own way, and quietly. The three men habitually referred to as "the Monks of Shun Mook" by an audio press too oft' enamored of its own monotonous wit are Dr.Yu Wah Tan, Andrew Chow (himself of Cable Jackets fame, not covered here) and my handler, William Ying. Tan and Chow's efforts are now primarily focused on the exceptionally limited-quantity production of Shun Mooks' Bella Voce Loudspeaker (available by special order only; bring your own honey and patience), while Ying is involved in the acoustical design of recording studios and "larger performance spaces" in Asia.

Mystery? Inscrutability? Secrecy? Only insofar as these folks don't play much ball with the press, they seldom trot out for the Shows and not one of them does this for a living. "Shun Mook was never meant to be a full-time business, just a hobby of ours", said Bill Ying, "and making a few things to help audiophiles better utilize their systems and get the best out of them". What's foremost on Mr. Ying's mind these days is his home remodeling project. One even gets the distinct impression he might actually own a weed whacker and a cheerful Golden Labrador. So much for shaved heads bobbing in serene prayer above saffron robes in monastic seclusion. Ohhhhhmmm sweet ohhhmmm.

The 6moons 'zine was new-news to Bill & Company and I'm pleased to report that the site was found to be suitably impressive for discussions to continue. "I am pretty much out of touch with the current scene of the high end", Bill was glad to confess. "We have not exhibited at the CES show for the last three years, as we do not have any more new 'toys' for the industry. Plus there's so much hype in the hi-end today that the sound is unbearable at the show. So we'd rather do our own thing."

Now there's an unexpected, weight-shifting judo move, Cato - one of the proprietors of Shun Mook, purveyors of the hi-fi industry's most enigmatic and unapologetically costly tweaking paraphernalia, bitching about "hype in the high end". Well, you know what they say about The Best Defense. And no wonder, it's now dawning on me at this juncture, that Bill Ying is the public voice of this extraordinarily private enterprise.

In whatever the specific incarnation of Shun Mook's individual products, the runaway majority share a basic anatomy of African ebony. Mpingo ebony to be precise. "Mpingo" meaning, in one profoundly ancient African dialect or another, "tree that sings". How's that brain diet holding up, doc?

First made available outside the inner circle of friends in 1990 and debuting at the '91 CES, the Mookian line-up is today composed of about ten primary products (by my easily confused count) with a few sub-set varieties scattered within and around, mainly involving the number of discs (but hardly the disc-count) included in the Spatial Control Kits ("SCK"; is that a clue?). Starting with the elemental Mpingo disc which is actually made from a combination of Mpingo and another atypical ebony timber called Gaboon, you can move upward in the line (and downward in your kids college fund) to room-acoustic packages of 9, 32 and even 44 discs.

From there we shift from room-tuning to equipment-tuning where we may choose from a collection of mechanical grounding apparatus called the Ultra Diamond, Giant Diamond and Super Diamond Resonators, differentiated principally by their size and the weight of the equipment they can be most effectively used with. On a separate limb of this singing tree grow Shun Mook's Power Tube Resonators and Mini-Valve Resonators, all fashioned from the company's ubiquitous Mpingo and, in the case of the larger resonators, pliant legs of silver alloy that secure the device atop any power tube so adorned.