February
2019

Country of Origin

Korea

AIO

Reviewer: Srajan Ebaen
Financial interests: click here
Sources: Retina 5K 27" iMac (4GHz quad-core with Turbo boost, 32GB RAM, 3TB FusionDrive, OSX Yosemite. iTunes 14.4), PureMusic 3.02, Qobuz Hifi, Tidal Hifi, Fore Audio DAISy1, COS Engineering D1, Denafrips Terminator, AURALiC Vega 
Preamplifier: Nagra Classic, Wyred4Sound STP-SE Stage II, COS Engineering D1, Vinnie Rossi LIO (AVT module)
Power & integrated amplifiers: Pass Labs XA30.8; FirstWatt SIT1 monos, F5, F6, F7; Crayon Audio CFA-1.2; Goldmund/Job 225; Aura Note Premier; Wyred4Sound mINT; Nord Acoustics NC500 monos; LinnenberG Audio Liszt monos
Loudspeakers: Audio Physic Codex; Kroma Audio Mimí; Cube Audio Nenuphar; Albedo Audio Aptica; EnigmAcoustics Mythology 1; Boenicke Audio W5se; Zu Audio Druid V, VI & Submission; German Physiks HRS-120; Eversound Essence
Cables: Loom of Allnic Audio ZL3000/5000; Zu Event; KingRex uArt, Zu and LightHarmonic LightSpeed double-header USB cables; Tombo Trøn S/PDIF; van den Hul AES/EBU; AudioQuest Diamond glass-fibre Toslink; Black Cat Cable redlevel Lupo; Ocellia OCC Silver
Power delivery: Vibex Granada/Alhambra on all source components, Vibex One 11R on amps/sub
Equipment rack: Artesania Audio Exoteryc double-wide 3-tier with optional glass shelves, Exoteryc Krion and glass amp stands
Sundry accessories: Acoustic System resonators
Room: 4 x 6m with high gabled beam ceiling opening into 4 x 8m kitchen and 5 x 8m living room, hence no wall behind the listening chairs
Review component retail: $4'500

SAG. At April Music, Simon Kwangli Lee had left a mark for high-performance value-rich product. When his and management's dreams began to polarize then diverge beyond repair, he resigned. But to continue what he started 45 years earlier, he set out to build himself a new home with SAG: Simon Audio Group.

Spottable at Munich HighEnd 2017 if one knew where to look was an early 50wpc 3-input integrated without remote.

"It's very basic but clearly reminds us of what the old sound was all about and why those days were good". A new circuit concept over his prior April Music Stello S100MkII, this would still be a simple but fully discrete 2-stage circuit with a pair of bipolar Darlington output transistors per channel.

"We lost the genuine soft power of music. I want to get it back."

At home, Simon plays it simple. He runs his small integrated off an Astell&Kern DAP or smartphone via basic Y-cable. Not in Munich but already in South Korea were samples of two Accuton speaker models with custom horn-loaded soft-dome tweeter. Both were crafted by Simon's good friend Alain in Southern France. One was a 6.5" 2-way monitor, the other an 8" 2-way transmission-line floorstander.

That one Simon called "a personal dream come true". Depending on market response, he was planning a CD transport/DAC all under his 'purity of music' concept. That had been the state of affairs in Munich 2017. By late August of the same year, Simon expected shipping domestically a first production run of "a small CD/DAC and integrated, then a full-sized preamp and power amp." To tease the concepts, he showed the renders below. A year later, actual production on the cover of a South Korean magazine looked virtually identical to the earlier mockups.

Above, AIO with Model One floorstanders and wireless source. Below, Model 3 monitor with SCDA CD player/DAC and 50wpc class A/AB SIA integrated [$2'500/ea.]

When he didn't attend Munich 2018, I asked his French friends with whom he'd exhibited before. They only knew of complications during the April Music divorce. My old email to Simon no longer worked so I didn't learn more. By early August, I Goggled on a lark to come upon his older SAL FaceBook page. It had a few updates and a new contact email. A day later I had my answer. "I'm still working on a comeback but my insufficient budget doesn't make that easy. Luckily many Korean listeners support me by buying through my pre-order program." Purely domestic crowd funding explained why I hadn't heard from Simon.

"Doing this, I've already completed 6 electronic products and 4 speakers. I will send you something so you can re-introduce me on the global stage. By mutual tuning, we developed the speakers with Alain Pratali of Rouault Acoustic. Between Marseille and Seoul, that took a long time and a lot of money. Alain doesn't focus on elaborate industrial designs so our shapes are very simple and straightforward. But I really like our speakers sonically and we get to offer complete systems. I'm also finalizing our new all-in-one temporarily named AIO which to my ears is terrific. I'm ready to go into production but at 300 pieces per batch, my upfront costs are very high.

"It includes a top-loading CD player, headfi, FM tuner, 384kHz USB DAC with Sabre 9038 Pro and DSD 256, 1 x coax, 2 x Toslink, a 100wpc class A/B amp, Bluetooth, 2 x RCA in, 1 x XLR in and 1 x RCA out in a machined aluminium chassis. I still work with my hardware engineer Thomas who's been with me for 40 years. SE Kim for chassis engineering and my secretary are still here with me as well. So we're just four members and very small." Simon's audio group.