History. If your school learning was as nil on Chinese history as mine, our sort could do much worse than watch Michael Wood's BBC series. Covering 4'000 years across many dynasties, recurring invasions by Mongols, Manchu and later the Japanese, rebellions, civil wars, outside land grabs by colonial powers, governing experiments in Daoism, Confucianism, Communism and now Social Capitalism, the show fills many gaps in how the average Westerner tends to see the world based on our grasp of its global history. For just two of the most obvious marvels of Chinese civil engineering, compare ancient Rome's 73-mile long Hadrian's Wall in the UK to the 21'196km long Great Wall of China; or the 120km long Suez Canal currently blocked by a sideways container ship to China's 1'776km long Grand Canal whose construction started back in the Sui Dynasty of 600AC.

As Michael Wood puts it in the end, none of China's many rulers and emperors—including the last one remembered in Bernardo Bertolucci's movie of the same name— could have foreseen that insular China which for millennia saw itself as the world would in the 21st century actually be the world's dominant economic power. Having watched his presentation, it's impossible not to appreciate that modern China has examples of superior engineering in all walks of life. Why wouldn't that include hifi? It's shocking in fact just how fast certain Chinese firms have caught up with Western precedents whose time line in what we call high-end audio had a half a century's lead on theirs. Viewing this vast country today as just a source of cheap labor for cheap consumer goods is a rather narrow if still popular view on China. Brands like Kinki Studio work very hard to prove it wrong. It's why, unlike Western brands who routinely prefer to hide their Far-Eastern outsourcing or assembly, Kinki Studio on their back panels proudly declare "we come from China".

If one shops China's 'big three', one can build a very fine system. I didn't strategically set out to turn mine into ambassadors for Denafrips, Kinki Studio and Soundaware. Over time and years of reviewing, it's simply how that cookie crumbled. Even the music-serving iMac is made in China. At the time of writing, my only Western holdout in the main system was actually the Vinnie Rossi preamp. And even that was sideways bound for our 2.0 video system because the combination of 900kHz direct-coupled/heated power triodes and 2.5MHz direct-coupled amps creates subliminal noise artifacts. Without traditional output transformers, there's no low-pass filter against ultra-high frequency tube noise and its intermodulation effects on the audible bandwidth. So I bypass the tubes to operate the Vinnie Rossi as an actively buffered passive. Over the long haul, I'll of course reactivate the triodes. They're that design's entire raison d'être. It'll simply have to be in a system whose amps are of far narrower bandwidth.

To complete this brief chapter, even in my smaller upstairs system Soundaware and Denafrips have taken over digital source duties. Meanwhile my wife's rooms use Simon Audio electronics from South Korea. Our views on performance hifi no longer fixate on the West. Like any global web-based publication should, we consider and choose from the big picture where the entire world is our oyster. Origins are immaterial. What matters are performance, looks, build quality and competitive costs. Now we're back in the studio of Kinki where these aspects come together in a solid four square. That's a firm foundation one can build on. Today is about an active solid-state preamplifier. How can that seemingly archaic system juncture influence the sonic results beyond basic functionality of volume control and source switching?