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Reviewer: Joël Chevassus
Financial Interests: Click here
Source: Audio Analogue Grand Maestro CD, Asus Eee-pc, Imac, Trends UD-10.1
Preamp: Wyred 4 Sound STP-SE, SPL Volume2
Power amplifier: Orpheus Lab Three Monos, Trends TA-10.2
Speakers: JLA Acoustique Perspective 2 Signature & Stand 80, McIntosh LS360, Triangle Magellan Duetto [on loan], Magellan Duetto SW2 [on loan], Meteor 0.5 subwoofer [on loan]
: Naturelle Audio XLR interconnects Live 8 and Live 4, Audio Art SC-5 SE speaker cables.
Power Cords: Audio Art Power 1 SE
Stands: Triangle SP-400, DIY stuff.
Review Component Retail: ca. €10.490 in Europe (varies with country due to VAT), optional stand €950

South Korea is certainly not a sitting member of the international high-end council. But, some significant players are arising from the Land of the Morning Calm. Allnic Audio, April Music and Emillé Labs definitely belong to this new Asian audio task force. A major player in the South Korean audio market for already going on 15 years, Emillé Labs clearly has great ambitions to expand its still newer position in the international realm of tube amplification into a dominant presence. In case you missed previous Emillé reviews in these pages, I should point out the illustrious origins of their name.

It refers to a Korean historical icon, the Divine Bell of King Seongdeok more commonly called the Emillé bell. It measures 3.3 meters in height, 2.7 meters in diameter and weighs 18.9 tons (the latter spec should properly convey its mass). Considered by the South Korean people as a national treasure, the Emillé bell is renowned not only for its imposing nature but also for its deep and exceptionally long reverberant sound.

Contrary to those audio protagonists who look for the deepest catalogue across all component categories to flood the market over the broadest width, Emillé Labs has preferred to specialize in valve amplification. Instead of becoming a jack of all trades with the high probability of being master of none, Emillé became wickedly proficient at one skill. For those looking for a high level of valve audio performance, this already seems a solid brand and choice.

Despite such a clear focus—the new Ara integrated actually includes a D/A converter with USB/coax inputs to signal expansion into new sectors—Emillé's catalogue is already quite substantial, with five integrated amplifier models alone including spectacular realizations like the unusual KI-120 integrated monos. Furthermore, the company has taken time to create a truly distinctive cosmetic identity with extremely coherent external designs which seem to illustrate the diversity of the Korean countryside, with cold mineral surfaces reflecting the often harsh winters of the north whilst the tube emissions and yellow meters represent the hot and tropical climate of the south. Emillé runs a high-quality manufacturing process as well. Its products are handcrafted with boutique-grade parts, gold-plated military-level PCBs for optimum signal transfer and transformers designed, wound and matched in house. All products are also deeply bench tested before departing the factory.

One of the newest integrated Emillé solutions is an imposing machine called Cha'am, the subject of today's review. This nearly hundred pounder was loaned out and delivered by French importer Sound Art Network who specializes in prestigious Asian brands such as Emillé, Luxman, Wavac and Zanden. During my time with the Korean, I was unfortunately not able to change the setup as often as I would have under normal conditions. In fact, this review was my first audio assignment suffering the physical handicap of a broken left wrist. No, I was not injured taking out the Cha'am from its solid wooden crate. That happened elsewhere. But there was a fringe benefit to my physical mishap. I was having more time at home than usual to listen quite extensively over a shorter period. I simply couldn't move around speakers as I ordinarily would.

Cha'am is an undoubtedly unusual name for a valve amplifier at least to Westerners. Before asking marketing manager Vital Gbezo for an explanation, I googled and came up with two cues, the first a beautiful sandy beach in Thailand. Yet the famous big white buddha of the seaside resort of Cha'am seems to use two of his numerous hands for covering his ears. Was he waiting for relief from Emillé's amplifier? The second clue was the first-ever German male to become a naturalized Korean citizen, one Lee Cham. Since 1986, he's been a prominent figure in the Korean media and of their political scene. Did this mean the Emillé integrated would be particularly rigorous?

Thailand. Germany. My Google session had obviously strayed too far off course from the Switzerland of Asia and the Emillé Cha'am's true origins of name - the Korean word cham which, as Vital explained, signifies honest, genuine and authentic. Was this a warning to expect exceptional neutrality from this Korean tube amplifier?