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 Stereopal Visits Mr. Song Kim of Song Audio                                                                                Oct 19, 2011

 

  by Ron Cheung                                                                                        

 

 

 

   

 

Through passion and determination, this is the story of one man who turned his lifelong dream into the viable business of Song Audio.    

 

 

 

 

 

I first met Mr. Kim at the 2004 Festival Son & Image audio show.   Having lingered too long in some of the show rooms, I was running short on time trying to sample each of the remaining ones.     While going from room to room in search of systems with a distinctive sound, I stumbled upon Song Audio's room where the flagship 300B amplifier was on display.   The  first  thing  to  catch  my  eye  was the uniquely placed speakers,  aimed diagonally across the room.  The second was of course the 2  tiny  little  amps  driving  the  5  ft.  tall  single  driver speakers (Loth-X Polaris).  Had  someone missed the memo, everyone else had figured out which way to aim their speakers?  

After  having  finished  listening  to  Mr.  Kim's  set up, I realized two  things. The  first  being  that  I  was now short an hours time, and the second  that  I  didn't mind a bit.  The man had something unique going on there,  I  was  impressed. The sound was definitely different from other setups. The  sound  was  pleasantly  euphoric,  and had a coherency and  musicality which were missing from other systems I'd heard.         

When  I got back to Toronto, I started doing some research (yes I was that  impressed)  and found out Mr. Kim actually lives a mere 10 mins from me so I  did  what  any  true  blooded  audiophile stalker would do and took the  liberty  of calling him up. I must admit, I'm no Stereophile or Absolute sound. Nor  am  I  a  fancy  magazine  reviewer  nor  do I work for the  industry. I'm  just  an  ordinary  audiophile with a not so well known audiophile  website,  so I've had my share of less than positive responses when I've called some companies up. Those who welcome me are usually the true  audiophiles  who still remember what it is to take pleasure in music and  have wonder in this hobby, and aren't immediately concerned about how  they're going to benefit from my call, or how I may affect their brand image politically.

"Come on in, Richard, you and your friends are always welcomed here.",  said Mr. Kim.

I  was  delighted. What  a  gentleman  he is (even knowing my speakers probably  weren't  suited  to 8 watts 300B Amplifiers). He and his wife were extremely courteous and welcomed me with beers and Korean snacks.       

 

 I  asked  him  if I could listen to the flagship 300B Monoblocs and the SA-1 Preamp which he had on display at Montreal.   
                                                                           
 I've   had  experience  listening  to  plenty  of  300B  amplifiers. My  impression  was  that  most of them are very open at the top and extremely seductive  on vocals or single/quartet instrument pieces. However I felt  that  in  general  they  lack  power  and  dynamics  for grand orchestral music.  


 I was soundly disabused of my notions in listening to Mr. Kim's amplifiers that day. While playing Cantate Dominos on the (in)famous Proprius CD,  the  pipe organs runs deep and wide. The back loaded horn design of the Polaris  probably  contributed  to  the "pipe" sounds which were needed to emote  the  essence  of  proper organ music.  The female vocal on track number  nine was silky, smooth, seductive and emotionally moving.  But it was  when  the  chorus  played, that  the

 

amplifier first showed it could satisfy my needs for dynamics and the sense of scale inherent to this type of  church music.  The voices were not hard nor fragmented, and it was easy for me to distinguish between individual voices.    

 

 

After  the  initial  visit,  we  became  friends  and I've since gone back several times to listen to his various new designs.                       
                                                                           
 One of the hallmarks of Song Audio's design is that their amplifiers share the  same philosophy of sound  in their presentation, and sound remarkably similar from one model to another. There is a Song Audio philosophy of  "sound" to his amplifiers.
                                                                           
 I  was  recently  invited to listen to Mr. Kim's newest design, 'the Vasant'.  It  is  a solid state design with complete isolation between L/R channels, including separate transformers. The amplifier sounds very warm and "tube like",  it  has a laid back presentation and a sense of "roundness" to the  sound which is quite unusual  for a solid state design.                   
 

 

 

 

 

 

  Aside  from  having  unique,  and wonderfully sounding, audio designs, Mr. Kim's story and passion for music is perhaps just as inspiring.

 

Mr. Kim's Audiophile Journey

 

 

 "My  journey  began at around 1950-60, when I first heard Pat Boone's song  'I'll Be Home' through a GE tube tuner, and I thought to myself, boy that  sounded really good ! I instantly fell in love with tube audio." said Mr. Kim.     

 "Back  then  audio  equipment was very expensive, a few hundred dollars in  those  days  was equal to thousands of dollars in today's terms. I had a  job  at  the second infantry division as an interpreter with the U.S army,  the  pay  was  not  bad  and I was not able to buy a lot of equipment. I still remember RCA coming out with transistor gear in 1961 and it was very expensive back then. Zenith was the king of radio." 

"I  got  married  in 1962 and my second son was born in 1965. There was a  lot of expense in supporting my family, but I managed to buy a good amount  of second hand equipment from army servicemen."            

       

 

 

"$  600  USD a month in 1966 was a lot of money.   I was told by somebody that you could probably buy a new Chevy  every  month with that kind of money ! With my new salary, I was able to afford  all  kinds  of  equipment. Ampex tape recorders, Fischer amps, Scott's, Sansui amps, you name it. Later on, I bought the McIntosh MC-60 and it remained as one of my favorites." 

 

"In 1971, I had the opportunity to emigrate to the U.S, but somehow I ended up in Brazil. To make a long story short, I eventually came to Canada. I undertook many different businesses, I had operated convenience store and coffee shops, and I was also a mechanic for many years. But my passion has always been audio."  

 

 "I told myself that I have lived half of my life trying to earn a living,  raising my children.  My eldest has earned a PHD from Cambridge university and I am very proud of that. But now that they have all grown up, it is time to spend the rest of my life doing what I really love.  In 2001, I took my retirement savings and invested them into my audio business and Song Audio was born."

 

 

 Everyone  who knows me is well aware that I am a big McIntosh fan. Most of my  gear is McIntosh and will probably remain so. Mr. Kim was well aware of my preferences even before he opened his house to me.  But to my surprise........

 

"I'm a big fan of McIntosh too" said Mr. Kim, "In fact, I was inspired by  McIntosh. There  are  many  brands out there, but not every one of them have  their  own  distinctive  sound,  but  McIntosh  does  have their own sound. I  find  them  to  be  very  warm and tubish. Their solid state amplifiers  sounds very much like their tube gear. Having a distinctive  sound  to  Song  Audio has always been a clear vision for me. I want to have a distinctive Song Audio sound." 


"In  this  business,  you  can  choose  to cut corners or take short cuts.  There  are  many  different  ways  to  design  a  piece  of equipment, and depending  on  the  method you choose, you can probably approach it from a cost  savings  perspective  or  you  can  approach  it  from  goal  driven perspective. I  chose  the  latter.   Rather than churning out a new design  every  year,  we  take our time to come up with the proper design.  It  normally  takes  2-3 years before a new design can hit the market.  We
strive  to  achieve  a  distinctive sound with every design, and I believe that  if  I maintain my vision, people will eventually come to realize and appreciate our unique and distinctive sounds."     

 

        

 

Scott Robinson's EL34 Integrated Amp which was left on for 2 months straight !

    

 

 

Single Ended Designs

 

According to Mr. Kim, his goal is  to  present  music  in the cleanest original form. He believes single ended  designs have the shortest signal path and can therefore deliver the purest sound.  Most of Mr. Kim's design are single ended, in fact they are the first company to produce a single-ended triode zero feedback design using the EL34 tube.

                                                       
 "Very  often,  audiophiles  judge  the  sound  of  equipment  by their own personal  preference. Very  few  of  them judges the sound by real live performances. I  believe  a  piece  of  good equipment should be able to deliver  a  sound  that is closest to real performances. This is what we strive to achieve", said Mr. Kim.                                              
                                                                           
 About  a  year  ago,  Steve and I had the opportunity to test out Song Audio's EL34 amplifier  (SA-34  SB)  at  fellow  member Shawn Robertson's house. Back then,  Shawn had a pair of Piega P10s and they weren't particularly easy to drive  at  4  ohms (Shawn is not using a pair of Piega C8 LTDs).  To  give  you an idea, I normally use a 200W per channel  mono amps to drive my pair of Piega C10s.  It was a total mismatch, but we  wanted to see what a 4W amplifier will do to a big speaker.   Well Shawn seemed a bit nervous, but everyone else wanted to see the results.   To our surprise, it was pretty impressive sounding !  It had a nice sweet open top end and beautiful  tonality in the midrange.  I have to admit the bass was a touch on  the.......  umm flabby side, but it sounded a lot more like it had 40Ws  instead of 4Ws.                                                             
                                                                           
 "We run 450Vs on the plates of the EL34 design. With the right speakers, you can crank up our EL34 integrated amp to the highest volume and it will be  without  clipping  or distortions.  It was designed that way. There are  very few singled ended amp using EL34 tubes on the market.  Our design also requires no biasing, and it is very conservatively rated." said Mr. Kim.
                                                                           
Our  fellow  member Scott Robinson is also an owner of the El34 amp. He once told me he accidentally left the amp on for over two months straight, but nothing happened to it. I think you don't get a better burn-in test than leaving in on for two months straight!Scott said:   

    

 

 "Yes, it was left on for two months.  Funny thing was this amp and speaker combination (Loth-X Amaze) break-in period is much longer.  It sounds incredible out of the box and continues to improve even to this day.  I can also agree on how loud this amp can play, even at full power with a clean recording.  Try Metallica the black album, Enter Sandman, full blast for one hour and its clean with no distortion.  My friend who like metal said "This amp rocks!", I guess that's good? "

 

 Mr.  Kim  has  informed  me  that a new version of the EL34 amp called the  "Cecilia"  will be launched very soon. I am sure I will be back to visit him very shortly to test out his new design.       

 

 

 

                                                                                                                                                                 .........Richard H. Mak, Stereopal.com

 

      

        

       

        Mr. Kim at the Denver Audio Show, 2005.

 

 

 

         

          Montreal Audio Show

 

 

 

         

          Rocky Mountain Audio Fest 2005

 

 

 

        

         Rocky Mountain Audio Fest 2005

 

 

 

     

      Flagship dual chassis Preamp

 

 

 

       

        Audio room at Mr. Kim's house.

 

 

 

       

        Here's that cool picture again.

 

   

 

 

 

 

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