In the Trenches: The High-End Audio Scene in Singapore

by Karl Sigman on August 11, 2014 · 3 comments

in Audiophilia Visits/Show Reports

A hop, skip, and a jump from the luxurious Raffles Hotel in downtown Singapore (named after Sir Thomas Stamford Raffles, the British founding father of the modern city-state of Singapore in 1819) famous for claiming to have invented the pink, gin-based ‘Singapore Sling’ cocktail, served at its Long Bar since 1915, sits a high-end audio enclave called ‘The Adelphi’ Lifestyle Mall. It is four-stories high and contains a concentration of high-end audio and AV shops. For historical reasons, this is the center of the high-end audio action in Singapore. Forming a small audio show unto itself, these shops in The Adelphi typically have listening rooms with expensive high-end equipment set up. Having landed in Singapore—the wealthy financial hub of Southeast Asia—for a ten-day visit concerning other business matters, I decided to take advantage during spare time to see for myself what The Adelphi had to offer.

But first a little more about the Singapore Sling cocktail is in order. If you happen to be in Singapore with your wife (as I was) or friends and need to bribe them so as to visit The Adelphi, then first take them to the Long Bar of the Raffles for one of these drinks. I did so after a lunch at a nice Vietnamese restaurant, and drank one, too. Here is the Long Bar’s ‘Original Singapore Sling’ recipe (as written on their menu):

30ml Gin
15ml Cherry Heering
7.5ml Dom Benedictine
7.5ml Cointreau
120ml Sarawak Pineapple Juice [I wonder how the taste changes if you use New York Pineapple Juice? - Ed]
15ml Lime Juice
10ml Grenadine
A dash of Angostura Bitters
Garnish with a slice of Pineapple and Cherry

When I arrived at The Adelphi shortly after my Singapore Sling, for better or for worse my wits were still with me: the Sling as served at the Long Bar, however tasty and thirst-quenching, was so low in alcohol that you would have to drink about six of them just to get a buzz! (Perhaps mine was unslung? Is there really any alcohol in these? And at about US$24 plus tax per drink, I do not suggest going for seconds.) But the bartender was a real pro, the wooden bar — even with its tradition of peanuts in-their-shell scattered all over the floor — was gorgeous, and the glass was served in an elegant and beautiful fashion.

If I may meander a bit further: Singapore offers a truly outstanding array of Asian cuisines (in all price ranges, from dirt cheap to a fortune), Chinese being a central one (Peranakan in particular), but including many of its neighboring Southeast Asian countries in the mix such as Malaysia, Vietnam, Indonesia, Thailand, and the Philippines; and also from India and Japan. Highly recommended. One of Singapore’s ‘Signature Dishes’ which I have become addicted to is ‘Black Pepper Crab’, which at its best is made from large and expensive Sri Lankan crabs (you pay by the weight of the crab). It is deep/pan fried in a wok, and then sauced with lots of black pepper corns, some ginger, chile and other spices; it goes very well with beer!

Buzzed or not, I ascertained that one should not even think about causing a ruckus at The Adelphi: It is right next to the Supreme Court of Singapore, linked and connected to it as one huge unit; and to the right of that across the street is the Parliament House. Can you imagine a situation like that in Washington D.C.? ‘Hey, let’s check out the new DACs, then stop by next door afterwards and pay a friendly impromptu visit to Chief Justice John Roberts to give him an overview!’. That is an example of the entertaining confusion one confronts when traveling outside their own country: Things are done differently and seem quite odd at first.

Just about everything in high-end audio could be found within the various shops of The Adelphi, displayed with a nice Asian charm and decorum, from speakers and amps to headphones and cables; from turntables to DACs and music servers. New and used items were visible everywhere. The audio shops in The Adelphi typically do not open until about 12 noon or even later, and stay open until about 8PM; the other shops within (mainly hair/beauty salons) open at an earlier time. Some of the shops have more than one space, a main one and one or two showroom spaces on different floors. In general, the audio shops were reminiscent of how all the high-end audio business used to operate in the USA years ago: The clientele are treated to an attentive one-on-one with the manager or owner who patiently allows them listening time and comparisons and tries to understand and fit their needs—perhaps even making friends; a slow process involving perhaps multiple visits by the client and which may or may not lead to a sale. And then, of course, here in Singapore there is that special gentle Southeast Asian politeness and respect throughout the process.

Here is are a few of the shops I came across:

Norman Audio: The sole distributor for Avalon Acoustics speakers, Ayre Acoustics, and VPI turntables among others.

Eighteen 77: a Bowers & Wilkins dealer and sole distributor for Dali speakers, Roksan, and others (the shop is named after Thomas Edison’s invention of the phonograph in 1877).

Dynaudio: Sole distributor for Dynaudio Technology speakers. The small space was filled with a huge display of speakers, stacked next to each other or placed on shelves.

To me, the most visually enticing audio store in The Adelphi by far was that of Coherence Audio on the 4th Floor, owned by a very friendly and gracious brother and sister team (Ron Ong and his sister). Each of its four connected show rooms had a fully running system set up with a comfy leather sofa to sit on and was decorated with fascinating/exotic ornaments, cloth and art work. It was reminiscent of a cozy peaceful museum/house. There were even a pair of genuine Mexican sombrero hats on the wall of one of the listening rooms; apparently picked up by Mr. Ong on one of his travels. Audio-wise, there were MBL loudspeakers and amps of various sizes, Cardas and Wireworld cables, and Jeff Rowland Design amps, in use and on display throughout. Coherence Audio is the sole Singapore distributor for these companies.

One setup featured the exotic Asian-looking MBL Radialstrahler 101E Mk.II speakers (about US$75,000/pair), which to me looked like a variation of Aladdin’s lamp—or at least the kind of speakers that Aladdin would have used for entertaining his wife and friends in his palace! Except for the name, Radialstrahler, I would not have guessed they were German. The speaker cables were Wireworld Platinum, and the preamp was the MBL Der Vorverstarker 6010 D. Extraordinary and beautiful stuff.

The other room setups featured the two lower series of MBL speakers in use, for those with a smaller space — and/or smaller budget. Given the 12-hour time change with NYC, however, and the inevitable jet-lag that follows, my first reaction to this shop—besides amazement—was based on wishful thinking: to listen to some new-age music in the comfiest room and take a nice two hour snooze! (They probably would have accommodated me, but I dared not ask….)

Another high point of visiting The Adelphi was paying a visit to Audio Note and meeting its manager Cecil Tan. (This shop is the sole Singapore distributor for Audio Note products.) Mr Tan was a knowledgeable, fun and engaging guy who had wonderful and tasteful equipment on display and with two different rooms for listening in his main shop on the 3rd Floor and a very special listening room on the 2nd Floor that he gave me a private tour of inside of which was currently a setup in excess of a half a million dollars made up of Audio Note equipment:

AN-E/SEC Signature speakers with external crossovers
2 Gaku-On mono-block amps
M10 Signature preamplifier powered by 2 Galahad Signature Power Units (This is the top-of-the-line version of the M10.)

M8 RIAA Phono Stage, and with the top-of-the-line AN-S9 step-up transformer in between the turntable and the phono stage. The relatively small speakers, as with all Audio Note speakers, have only 2 drivers, yet these can go down to remarkable lows in bass frequency—but they like to sit in corners to get that full bass effect; ‘an effective bandwidth from 18 Hz to 23 kHz at -6 dB, efficiency better than 95 dB/m and a dynamic headroom above 108 dB’, as stated on the Audio Note Website.

In addition to showcasing Audio Note products, other companies were represented, too. Mr. Tan played an elegant sounding system for me with large Avantgarde Acoustic Duo Omega horn speakers (with 27” horn tweeters—my wife would never allow these in our apartment!) in which the new ‘The Beast’ music server, a profoundly expensive (US$38,000), heavy and impressive-looking unit made by the Swiss company ReQuest Audio, was at center stage.

It has a built-in DAC (custom made for them by MSB Technology) so there is no need for a cable from player to a DAC, and it has an internal 1.92TB SSD drive to store your music files, as well as a front monitor display and disk ripper. And it worked flawlessly. Mr Tan played digital files of Shelby Lynne, Holly Cole, Jennifer Warnes and others; but he also played some vinyl (unbeknownst to The Beast which impatiently sat idly by) and just as I myself find on rare occasions, he expressed the thought that there are times when the vinyl of a particular recording can sound better on a fine system than all that high tech digital stuff. He really enjoys listening to music and experimenting, not just selling. And he is optimistic that the head-phone MP3 culture is saturated; the younger listeners will soon begin to explore higher end systems. I hope he is right.

Cheers to The Adelphi—with a Singapore Sling.

{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

admin 08.10.14 at 1:52 pm

I’ve never heard an MBL system sound bad. Fantastic kit.

Looks like you had a wonderful time. Thx for the great article.

Cheers, a

Karl Sigman 08.11.14 at 9:12 am

You are welcome Anthony. Indeed the MBL systems sounded great.
And that amazing set of `Aladdin-looking’ speakers would even pass the Wife Acceptance Factor!

Dmitry Gokhman 08.11.14 at 3:22 pm

Where do I find Badroulbadour? I want to make her an offer. :)

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