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Before it bursts, it swells up. We've seen enough of that in 2008. In the Audio Neverland however, the law of expansion and contraction somehow proves to not be applicable. As the years go by, things have stood the test of time. From tubes and vinyl to super glass CDs and Blu-Ray audio discs, the dead are not dead but stronger than ever while the newborns keep on being born and bred. What separates Audio Neverland from Wall Street is that one is based on passion, the other on greed. If audioland had its own S&P Sound & Passion index, it must have reached its all-time high in 2008 judging from the flourishing audio shows around the world. Here's my tribute to all the men and women in the audio and music industries in the past and present who have passionately enriched -- or continue to enrich -- our lives.

On that note, a special thanks to two designers I've come to know so well, James Lee of KingRex and Jay Hennigan of Winsome Labs. The KingRex T20/T20U and the Winsome Labs Mouse have been providing me with faultless service for more than a year now. The KingRex is the most musical and tube-sounding Tripath amp and the Mouse is still the most affordable high-power Tripath amp that can drive my giant killer Mark & Daniel speakers. But my gratitude towards these two gentlemen goes beyond that. James and Jay have been my technical advisors behind the screen and tirelessly responded to my chain emails through the year even when I was not working on their products. From them I have learned a lot. Without their selfless sharing of expertise, my reviews would have been unbearably hollow and meatless. Thank you, gentlemen.

James Lee of KingRex
Jay Hennigan of Winsome Labs

This year, I had the good fortune of getting to know two more great audio designers who will be the focus of this year-end piece. They are Mr. Yoshitsugu Fujita of Elekit and Mr. Tommy Wu of JohnBlue Audio Art. Though I did not directly converse with Mr. Fujita but through Ms. Emi Tamura whose excellent command of English is most impressive, it is my understanding that Mr. Fujita is a very modest person who insists that he's only a team player and any credit should go to the entire design department. This commendation is therefore to the design team of Elekit, the Japanese pioneer of science projects and the tube-amp-kit cult movement.

With their TU-879S SEP kit (you can also order it fully asembled), I had my first taste of building my own tube amp. As fun as coloring by numbers, this kit amp took me only 12 hours to complete (I stretched it over two days). For only $575, this 6L6-based tube amp has achieved audiophile-grade sonic quality without the use of boutique name parts. Its low output (7wpc)) does not present a serious hurdle to its adaptability for a wide choice of speakers. You don't have to have highly efficient speakers to enjoy intoxicatingly warm tube sound even though partnership with my 95dB/8ohm Klipsch Synergy F2 is undeniably compelling.

Tube rolling does not confine itself to the 6L6 family but extends to EL34, KT66 and KT88. Together with my earlier Elekit acquisition of their TU-875 preamp ($375 with MC/MM phono stage!), I am convinced that the Elekit tube gear line-up proves to be the most attractive there is. Can you imagine that their entry-level TU-870R 6BM8 kit amp is sold for only $335? While my solder gun is still warm, I can't wait to try out their $390 TU-884 tube CD player and $890 TU-873LEII 300B amplifier in the near future.