HiEnd Asia 2023, Part 2 | Singapore 2023

HiEnd Asia 2023
(ESD Acoustics – Munich 2023)

(For HiEnd Asia 2023 Part 1 show coverage from Richard Mak, click here.)

The Biggest Room at the Show – ESD Acoustics

ESD Audio garnered much attention at the 2023 Munich Show with a $3 million, all-out-assault horn system. They were there to impress, and impress they did.    

As I couldn’t attend the Munich show this year, I called a few of my fellow reviewer buddies to see what they had to say. The insider scope is usually better than printed show reports, and the general feedback is overwhelmingly positive. Still, few were willing to pen it on paper or to give any sort of endorsement. Most do not know what to make of the “Chinese system” and do not want their names attached until they have been proven right. Almost everyone agreed that the ESD rig is no longer the stereotyped “Chi-Fi” of the past; they are gunning for a top position in the upper echelon of high fidelity, as proven at HiEnd Asia 2023.

Words and Photos by Richard H. Mak

The economic rivalry between the world’s two biggest economies, the US and China, arouse a sense of déjà vu. China’s rise mirrored the rise of Japan in the last half of the 20th century. Many Japanese brands, such as Toyota, Honda and Sony, experienced the same mistrust and skepticism when they first made inroads into North America, as evidenced by this 1980s interview where Akio Morita, co-founder of Sony, had to go on American television to address anti-Japanese sentiment. We now see the same anti-Chinese sentiment. 

The constant bombardment of the Western media, which overwhelmingly portrays China as “the rival” or even “the enemy,” further bemuses many on how to react or accept China’s place at the table. After all, the Chinese are no longer just manufacturers of cheap Walmart products; they are making inroads into high-tech and luxury goods, and they will not stop until they fully penetrate and occupy a permanent spot in every market segment. But for many, including Chinese consumers, the skepticism is not easily shaken off. 

esd acoustic
(ESD Acoustics – HiEnd Asia, Singapore 2023)

The US-Japan economic tension of the ’80s started in the ’50s over textiles, synthetic fibers, and steel and escalated in the ’70s to cars, electronics, and semiconductors. Japan earned their trust with their high quality and reliability. But Japan, with its tiny land mass and population, had no way to really rival the US. Subsequently, Japan’s real estate and stock market price bubble burst in the ’90s, coupled with a sharp rise of the Japanese Yen and US trade tariffs. This led to a severe recession, and Japan’s growth turned into a 30-year stagnant economy. Many economists have labeled this as Japan’s “Lost Decade” or “The Lost Generation.”

China, however, is a much larger country than Japan, with more than ten times the population and a land mass filled with natural resources and a skilled labor force. From the 1990s onward, China eroded the Japanese dominance in low-tech manufacturing, and South Korea took its place in consumer tech. With worsening demographics and low birth rates, Japan, in essence, is no longer a threat to anyone.  America is now portraying Japan as a much-needed ally so they can stem or even halt the rise of China. Lately, Japan has been making a comeback with a number of old names, such as Luxman, or Accuphase. Still, their consumer products have lost out to Samsung and LG. 

The world has yet to fathom what would happen when China inevitably becomes the No. 1 economy.  By Purchasing Power Parity, China has already overtaken the US in the number one spot. The world also witnessed the most incredible economic growth story that history has ever seen. What took the US/UK 150 years and Japan 70 years to accomplish took China a mere 30 years to achieve the same economic and social development. It is the only country to have experienced an agricultural, industrial, and information revolution at the very same time. Four hundred million people were pulled out of extreme poverty. China now houses a middle-class population of over 400 million people, which is more than the entire population of Europe and North America. By 2035, this number could be at 650 million, meaning the size of China’s middle class will equal the population of Europe and the USA combined – and that’s just the middle class. The US and the rest of the world are still trying to cope with the new elephant in the room. Like it or not, they are here to stay, and they are too big to be bullied into submission.

From Huawei Phones to automobiles to infrastructure building, China has been firing on all cylinders, so it was just a matter of time before serious competition emerged from China on the audio front–at HiEnd Asia 2023. ESD Acoustics appears to be the first to make a huge entry on the red carpet, and they are gunning for the No. 1 spot, Top of the Food chain, “destination” type of product. 

ESD already has celebrity customers, such as Jack Ma of Alibaba, so they were well prepared before going to Munich and HiEnd Asia 2023 in Singapore.   

HiEnd Asia 2023

Obviously, they were hoping to make the same splash at HiEnd Asia 2023 in Singapore, but unfortunately that did not happen. According to Jacky Dai, ESD’s CEO, they ran into shipping issues and the Munich system couldn’t arrive on time. They had to bring in a smaller rig at the last minute to fill the biggest room at the Sofitel.

The room at HiEnd Asia 2023 was big, but the system wasn’t. I had to take a shot from the back of the system to give you a sense of the room’s size, which is even bigger than the one in Munich. I was disappointed to miss seeing the highly anticipated Munich setup. As a consolation, I sat down with Jackie Dai, CEO of ESD Acoustics, and Simon Chen of “Simplicity Control” (ESD dealer and distributor) for a long interview. Together, they gave me a rundown of the ESD’s history and the system.

Jackie Dai explained that ESD was started by his father, who has been an audiophile all his life.    David Dai, Jackie’s father, envisioned a day when China could have its own high-end brand China because 70% of the world’s speakers are already manufactured in China. In 2016, he made it happen and started ESD Acoustics. The name ESD comes from the three initials of the co-founder: the E comes from Dr. Bruce Edgar, a scientist involved in numerous aerospace projects. He made his mark in high-end audio as he is well known for having been involved in the Lowther full-range speaker.  He also founded Edgarhorn in 1994. The S comes from Sam Saye, who was a NASA scientist involved in ultrasonic weapons, he also has extensive experience in the development of tractrix horns, field coil drivers, and beryllium tweeters. He is also a lifetime member of the AES and Society of Motion Picture and Development. The D comes from David Dai, the financier and founder of the company.

The HiEnd Asia 2023 show system consists of the ESD Crane Speaker ($120,000 SGD) – a 4-way speaker with the J500 horn-loaded compression driver and a J8000 super tweeter with a Beryllium diaphragm. The two T40 bass drivers utilize titanium sandwich composite diaphragm cones, a field coil unit requiring an input current of 0.8A. The cabinet is made of CNC aluminum and weighs in at over 550kg!

The speakers were powered by a pair of Takatsuki TA-S01 8W 300B amplifiers ($28,000 SGD). The digital front end is the Taiko Extreme Server (€28,000.00 EURO), connected to an EMM Labs DAC2 digital DAC ($25,000 USD). The preamp was a passive unit by Bespoke Audio.

The turntable at HiEnd Asia 2023 is named “Yuki AP-01”, made by Yukiseimitsu Audio ($40,000 SGD), the only unit in Singapore. Like the JC Verdier, the Yuki AP-01’s platter is suspended in mid-air with magnets and driven by a Kevlar string. The most unique element of the turntable is the tonearm, which features a straight headshell with no offset angle. This throws away the need for any alignment tractor or setup alignment, as the designer is obviously not concerned about tracking errors.   

The cartridge system is the very excellent DS Audio Master Reference cartridge and phono stage.   How did the system sound? Judge for yourself!

Except for the speakers, none of the other equipment are ESD’s. If you sit up close to the speakers, you can tell they have the sonic characteristics and tonality of something great in the making. But in the far away listening positions, the size of the room was too ambitious for these speakers to shine.  After HiEnd Asia 2023 we have yet to hear the full potential of ESD Sound in a proper room with ESD’s front-end equipment. 

Just listen to the ESDs system at the Shanghai Audio show just last week. It was a magnificent display of dynamics, aesthetics, and high fidelity in all its grandiosity – except I didn’t get to see or hear it. That is what I call a “Foretaste to the Millennium,” a prequel to the real thing, for now, on YouTube.      

We hope that ESD returns to show us the real shock and awe at the 2024 Hi-End Asia show.

ESD Audio at the Shanghai Audio Show

The judges are still out, and I await with high expectations!

peak consult
(Peak Loudspeaker: El Diablo)

The Most Natural and Organic Sounding Speaker at HiEnd Asia 2023: Peak Consult Sinfonia

As an owner of the Peak Consult Dragon Legends and a pair of the Sinfonia in my listening room, it is a legitimate assumption that I am preaching my personal preference. Subjectively, I liked the sound of both of them so much that I bought both review samples before I finished writing the reviews. 

However, a recommendation does not have to be based on subjective preference. One can describe the objective sonic characteristics of sound and allow the reader to decide for themselves based on those descriptions alone, without being influenced by my subjective preference. Hence, the added quantifier “The Most Natural and Organic” at HiEnd Asia 2023 sounds rather than just “The Best” speaker, which is rather meaningless.

Peak Consult is now known as Peak Loudspeaker after the company was bought out by Wilfried Ehrenholz, former CEO and co-founder of Dynaudio, now the CEO of Peak Loudspeakers. He is also joined by Lennart Asbjørn, also the CEO, who manages the production and administration. Former CEO and founder Per Kristoffersen remains as the designer and production manager.

hiend asia 2023

At the previous show’s debut, the Sinfonia sounded muffled and rolled off. I warned the listener that no judgment should be made at HiEnd Asia 2023 until it had been adequately run in for a minimum of 100 hours. The run-in period was all too familiar, as I had the same experience with the much larger Dragon Legend. And now, the same is happening with the Sinfonia, which is now in my listening room pending review.

Voila, the same pair of Sinfonia we heard in Audioline’s room last year played magnificently at Hi-End Asia. This time with different electronics. Gone is the muffled top end and flabby bass, the real authentic sound of the Peak Consult Sinfonia came to the fore. The house sound remained intact: natural and organic.  

By “natural,” I mean the presentation of musical instruments is closest to the sound you will hear at a live venue. You will not hear the “extension” or “air,” which you often hear with horns or ribbons tweeters. You will not bass drums that pound your chest with vibrations. Why? You will not hear that in a real concert with a quartet or a symphony orchestra.  

By “organic,” I mean the presentation of human voices is closest to the sound you will hear from a person singing in front of you. You will not hear minute details of saliva, breathing, or exaggerated vibratos because unless you are six inches from a person’s mouth, you will not hear such things in a lounge or recording studio. The tonality of the human voices will be earthy, organic, and resemble living things, not artificial, metallic, rigid, or exaggerated. 

So, if you are looking for artificial “Hi-Fi” sounds or sonic effects to impress your friends with “The Best of Audiophile CDs,” look elsewhere. Those who are looking for special effects will find these speakers boring.

The price? Ouch, very expensive in my book, at €66,000.

sower audio

The Best New Discovery & the Biggest Surprise at HiEnd Asia 2023:  Sower Audio Inc.

Priced at $40,000 SGD, the Sower amplifiers drove the Peak Loudspeakers at HiEnd Asia 2023. When I first heard the name, I thought I heard “Sawyer” amps, which is the last name of the Sawyer family of the Texas Chainsaw Massacre. Pretty bold undertaking, I thought! Thankfully, it is Sower and not Sawyer.

But the Sower amps at HiEnd Asia 2023 really made the system sing. I have heard the Peak Loudspeaker with many different amplifiers, from vintage McIntosh MC240s to Nagra Reference amps, allowing me better to gauge the sound of the amp and preamp. 

hiend asia 2023

The Sower amps look like class D amps with a slim chassis and relatively small footprint. They are, in fact, an unconventional class A/AB design that utilizes toroidal transformers and 20 MOSFETs to produce 90W per channel. They sounded much more potent than 90Ws and didn’t carry any harsh sibilance, which I was expecting. After all, their looks remind me of the first-generation class D amps from Nuforce; they sound nothing like the Nuforce. In fact, they sound quite the opposite. They sound like muscular, solid stage amps with reasonable bass control but without any artificial hardness and edginess, which I am sensitive to.  


These little amps with a big sound pleasantly surprised me; they deserve a place at the table with the big boys. 

The Best Playlist at HiEnd Asia 2023: Børresen & Ansuz Acoustics

Last year, I gave the Børresen the best sound of the show at the International Sight and Sound exhibition in Singapore.  Issac Ho, General Manager at Audio Maestro Singapore (as well as Audio Perfectionist in  Malaysia), has maintained their usual high standards for show operations: proper signage, visible price tags, a detailed list of equipment displayed, and a proper presentation for their products, these should be the minimal requirement for a professional show exhibit. 

hiend asia 2023

Lars Kristensen, owner and founder of Børresen Acoustics, was once again on site at HiEnd Asia 2023 to fully demonstrate the system and explain the technology and construction of the all-new Børresen X2 loudspeaker. After repeated visits to Børresen Acoustics’ various show exhibits, I am beginning to notice that Lars’ playlist is carefully choreographed to demonstrate the strength of his speaker fully.

Hence, the much-deserved “The Best Playlist at the Show,” which includes:

The system consists of (in SGD):

Børresen X2 ($15,500)

Axxess Forte 2 Integrated Amplifier 100 watts, with Streamer ($13,000)

Ansuz A3 PowerSwitch – An Ethernet switch with PSU f/active Digital Cable ($5,390)

Ansuz A3 Mainz8 Power Distributor ($5,698)

Ansuz A2 Speakz speaker cable 3m ($7,276)

Ansuz A2 Digitalz Ethernet Cable 1.5m ($1,489)

Ansuz Mainz Power Cord 1m ($2772)


The X2 is an entry-level speaker employing technologies trickled down from the X series. The company calls it the gateway to Børresen’s universe. The tweeter weighs 1/100th of a gram, ¼ of the thickness of a piece of paper, giving it a superfast transient response. The X2 also features the same materials used in the M, O, and Z series, including the spread-low carbon membrane, which is the same material used in Formula One cars. If it weren’t for the $400 dollar 3/5a Rogers replica speakers, the X2 would have been the Best Buy of the Show at HiEnd Asia 2023.

Also on display was the more expensive X3, priced at $19,500, which is a slightly taller speaker with a similar footprint.

Next door, they were playing the smaller Z1 Cryo-treated speaker, which Marc Philips reviewed HERE. They may be smaller, but they actually cost more money, at $19,200 SGD, and the stand cost $3,840 SGD.

hiend asia 2023

The rest of the system consists of the following:

Borresen Z1 Cryo Speaker ($19,200)

Borresen Monitor Z stand ($3,840) 

Aavik S-280 Streamer ($16,000) 

Aavik D-280 DAC ($16,000 )

Aavik C0280 Control Amplifier ($19,200) 

Aavik P-280 Power Amplifier 300watts x 2 at 8ohm ($19,200)

Ansuz D3 PowerSwitch – Ethernet switch with PSU f/active Dig Cable ($8,932)

Ansuz D3 Mainz8 Power Distributor ($13,000)

Ansuz Darkz, Resonance Control Isolation feet &

Ansuz Sortz High frequency noise reduction &

Solidsteel Racks HY3 ($3,000)

hiend asia 2023
(Steve Sai of Skyaudio, Singapore)

The Person with the Same Taste as Me: Steve Sai of Skyaudio, Singapore

Steve and I shared many things in common, from our taste in sonic characteristics to our love of product that uses “wood,” to the choice of music to play to shows, all of which can be summarized in two words: Natural Sound.

You may call it subjective bias or personal preference. Both of us tend to be drawn into a sound that is more natural, warm, tube-like, rounded, and relaxed as opposed to accurate, vivid, analytical, fast, sharp-focused, and “solid-state” type of sound. This year at HiEnd Asia 2023, Steve brought in a pair of Coherent Audio’s “The Eighteen” speakers from Canada, made by my friend Frank Fazzalari, CEO of Coherent Audio. Frank once made an audio rack for my system, which I greatly appreciated.

coherent audio
(Coherent Audio, “The Eighteen”)

“The Eighteen” is a two-way, single-driver full-range coaxial speaker with a horn-loaded tweeter at the center of the driver. It is two-way because the tiny hole, which sits on top of the 18” driver, houses a small super tweeter. The key word here is “coherency,” with an emphasis on a single-point source for the sound so the listener will not hear the “gaps” in the frequency spectrum which multi-driver speaker cannot deliver.

Priced at $22,000 SGD, the Coherent “The Eighteen” delivers as promised in a sense that it does project sound from a single point source, making the sound “coherent.” As with all single-point source coaxial speakers, you either like it or you don’t. These remind me of the Tannoy Canterbury I had for a few years, and they share a similar trait, a sound I enjoy most with vocals or simple instruments such as saxophones. They don’t do as well on grand orchestral pieces; I find most full-range coaxial single drivers to sound a little boxy and confined, which is why I play human voices with my Tannoy Canterbury and orchestral performances on my Peak Consult Dragon Legends.

Will I buy the Coherent “The Eighteen”? Absolutely without reservations whatsoever. What they do well, they do exceedingly well. Just don’t ask a 4×4 to do cornering or track racing. They are made for a particular purpose. 

aurorasound vida

I was also drawn to the Aurorasound VIDA Mk II Phono Stage at HiEnd Asia 2023. This $5,000 USD LCR-type solid-state phono stage has 65 dB of gain for MC cartridges and is a two-box unit with an outboard power supply.

The Aurorasound HSFA-01 is equally seductive at just $3,680 USD. It is an integrated hybrid EL-34-based tube amplifier with 14W per channel. It even comes with a built-in MM phono stage. Only a few amplifiers are $3,680 USD these days, translating into approx. $5,000 SGD.

Steven also brought in a stash of Divini Audio’s beautifully constructed cables to HiEnd Asia 2023. The workmanship is on par with or better than that of cables that cost many times more. The Trans-S ZN-OCC speaker cables are priced at $2,400 SGD, and the PT-Z 7N OCC Ultra power cord is priced at $1,200 SGD.

hiend asia

Many cable manufacturers fudge the country of origin, claiming to be made in Europe, USA, or whatever, but nearly all of them are only “assembled” in that country. Not a single high-end cable manufacturer has any cable extrusion machines, and most of them buy cables from two countries that make up nearly 90% of the world’s high-end audio cables: Taiwan, or China. One can easily look at the numerous factory visits online, which will show cable assembly stations, but none of them will show any cable extrusion machines that are the size of steam engines. Nearly all of the world’s high-end cable’s actual conductors can be traced back to a handful of manufacturers from China, and many of them OEM for actual cable companies such as Belden, Thermax, Prysmian, Sumitomo or Furukawa Electric, all of which are the “real” cable manufacturers. Most high-end audio cable manufacturers are, in reality, OEM cable assemblers.


That is to say, just because Divini Audio’s made-in-Taiwan cables may not be asking for $24,000 per meter does not mean the company that’s asking $24,000 per meter does not come from the same OEM factory.  

Deep down, nearly all cable manufacturers know the Asian market is particularly fond of high-priced vanity, to the point where it is the customers, not the manufacturer, that are demanding higher prices. Few regions on earth house as many setups with cables costing over a million dollars as in Asia. They want gold-plated cryo-crowned alpha beta-carotene A-B-C that has been through the holy grain Virgin Mary process using quantum tunneling bio-genetic nano skin effect, costing $55,000 per meter to impress their friends. Even the manufacturers are aware of the pseudo-science behind it, but if there is a demand for it, they will develop “innovations” to fill it.    

hiend asia 2023

I’m not saying they don’t make a difference in sound, they do, sometimes dramatically.  But I have also been to many houses where the owner swore that he could hear the difference between his $35,000 speaker cables vs. the $20,000 dollar ones, yet he cannot hear that his L and R channels have been reversed. You get the idea. 

Thankfully, the Divinis are much more sticker-friendly than most big names. 15 years these would have been very expensive cables, but in today’s terms, no, they are not!


Part 3 of HiEnd Asia 2023 is coming soon.

About Richard Mak 39 Articles
Richard Mak is the Analog Editor and Vinyl Guru for Part-Time Audiophile. He is also the creator of AnalogMagik, the premier audiophile solution for all cartridge alignment needs. Check out Rick's complete system here.