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Reviewer: Srajan Ebaen
Source: Opera Audio Reference 2.2 Linear; Raysonic CD128; Raysonic CD168 [on review]; Abbingdon Music Research CD-77 [on review]
Preamp/Integrated: Melody HiFi I2A3; Eastern Electric M520; Onix SP3

EQ: Rane PEQ55 active merely below 40Hz
Amp: Anthony Gallo SA Reference for Zu Definition Pro bass array
Speakers: Zu Cable Definition Pro in custom lacquer; Anthony Gallo Acoustics Ref 3.1; Mark & Daniel Ruby; WLM Diva Monitor with Duo 12 passive subwoofer, Alto bass amp, Pre/Passive and Bass Controls; Micropure Kotaro [on review]

Cables: Crystal Cable Ultra loom; Zanden Audio proprietary I²S cable; Crystal Cable Reference power cords; double cryo'd Acrolink with Furutech UK plug between wall and transformer
Stands: 2 x Grand Prix Audio Monaco Modular 4-tier
Powerline conditioning: 2 x Walker Audio Velocitor S fed from custom AudioSector 1.5KV Plitron step-down transformer with balanced power output option
Sundry accessories: GPA Formula Carbon/Kevlar shelf for transport; GPA Apex footers underneath stand, DAC and amp; Walker Audio Extreme SST on all connections; Walker Audio Vivid CD cleaner; Walker Audio Reference HDLs; Furutech RD-2 CD demagnetizer
Room size: 16' w x 21' d x 9' h in short-wall setup, with openly adjoining 15' x 35' living room

Review Component Retail: €2,500, €1,200and €1,680 for CD-M10, CD-M20 and SP9 respectively

Mr. Allen S.H. Wang's Melody Valve HiFi Pty. operated originally out of Bayswater. That's a suburb of Melbourne/Australia where he lived at the time. Since then, he has shifted manufacturing to mainland China where he eventually built a state-of-the-art factory in Shenzhen. This development paralleled getting targeted by OEM head hunters from Genesis to PrimaLuna for whom he now builds valve electronics under the Genesis and Mystère brands. Mark Schifter's popular online store marketed Wang's 38wpc SP3 push/pull 5881-based integrated under the Onix name and my unit purchased after its review continues to serve us faithfully and trouble-free in a modest bedroom system. Ditto for the newer Melody I2A3 I reviewed for the US importer and which got me so excited as to bestow an award on it and acquire it for personal use afterwards.

Mystère IA21 - 50wpc, 4 x KT88, 4 x 6SN7, €2500
Of course OEM manufacturing, while splendid for the bottom line -- it's raw manufacturing by the container load without the need for one's own marketing and sales organizations, all orders prepaid by wire transfer -- ends up in direct competition with a company's own products and brand perception. Nobody feels this more than Melody-Europe. These folks based out of Lyons/France have worked hard and long to establish the Melody brand in the West. They had to do so in the obstinate face of cyber outlaws whose on-line sales tactics always undermine Chinese brands from setting up dealer representation to properly support the end user with demonstration and service facilities. Melody-Europe has financed and performed all the necessary publicity work for the requisite brand and cred building for years. Now they see it bite back - well, if like me you view these things as a cantankerous old marketing hound would. They now must compete against their own supplier who is flying multiple flags. Still, Mr. Wang's substantial investment in the new Melody factory must get amortized. Volume sales through brand diversification seem to be the expected way to do so.

As a brand, Melody is a bit confused because of it. Customers mirror this confusion when they try to ascertain how various models of various valve integrateds sold under different brand names but clearly coming from the same maker differ. Make no mistake though, product with the Melody badge is anything but confused. Au contraire. This is some of the very best valve gear to come out of China yet. To consumers, that's all that matters in the end. That and proper service. Which is where the people behind the product come in. In Europe and for Melody, that's Melody-Europe plain and simple. It's the nexus whereby the products, on the slow boat from China, enter Europe and get supported under warranty with a full-time service tech on staff.

Melody's core competency thus far has been valve amps, preamps and integrateds. In Japan and France, their massively transformer'd and paper-in-oil cap'd SHW 1688-II preamp has garnered accolades as one of the three best such devices ever made. To assemble a complete Melody system front to back thus far depended on an off-brand source. No mas. The 75lbs bank vault CD-M10 in either gun-metal silver grey or gloss black to match the SP and Astro Black components respectively makes a bold statement to that effect. Tube-rectified with one 5AR4, driven by two 6SN7s, all three valves mounted horizontally in a circle underneath a glass lid, with dual Burr Brown PCM1792s feeding balanced and single-ended analog outputs, Melody's first CD player is loaded with hand-wound custom iron as one is used to already from their point-to-point wired electronics.

Upscale Danish Jensen capacitors taking over for the previous silver/gold German M-Caps pictured above are just one example of the finesse whereby Melody continues to pursue high-class implementation and execution despite the affordability of its wares. And yes, that massive player with its colossal weight sells for all of €2,500. Talk about perceived value before even making the first sound rounds. This should be scary stuff for the flimsy sheet metal competition.

My Melody-Europe contact Lela -- German native, long-time resident of France, easily shifting between three languages over the phone -- volunteered that the color-coordinated SP9 KT88 amplifier is their most popular product and best-selling integrated. At €1,680, the SP9 veritably screams high value even louder than the CD-M10 if that's possible. It also looks significantly better than the lower-powered, transistor-rectified PrimaLuna Dialogue 2 with its strange roll-top styling. The SP9 is an amp with sufficient real-world power to drive most speakers liable to be owned by anyone considering a 50-watt tube integrated. It uses the octal tone masters called 6SN7s for drivers; a single 5AR4 for rectification; and the linear, dynamic and extended pentodes called KT88. All of 'em are readily available in current production for non-designer coin to keep your sanity. Yet the truly committed can leave the reservation as the Americans call wayward spooks and track down expensive NOS variants. A Mullard Blackburn GZ34 for example could be a plug-in adrenaline injection for the 5AR4. KT88s from JJ or Western Electric beckon and the list of possible 6SN7 candidates is the longest here to open the doors for extensive tube rolling if you feel the urge. And you may not.
Run at 0.5V from the external bias trim pots, our kinky tetrodes operate in conservatively run Class AB push/pull for 50wpc, fronting three canned transformers, power tranny in the middle, flanking output iron on either side. A slotted banana-terminated tube cage is easily removable. Actuated by the massive central control, a custom 24-step resistor ladder attenuator adjusts volume. The left switch is the power mains, the right a 4-input selector. The rear panel houses the single-ended input pairs, 4/8-ohm 5-way binding posts and an IEC power inlet. Input impedance is 250k, input sensitivity 480mV and S/N ratio 90dB. Weight is a substantial 45lbs or 20.5kg.

With apologies to our friends in the American colonies, the SP9 model is currently not available there. Your closest Melody equivalents would be the older H88 with two extra ECC82s but no 5AR4 or the newer I880 with a 101D instead of the 5AR4. Both these models offer the same power tube arrangement and output specs as the SP9 but are gloss black, not the gun metal silver of the SP3II, SP9 and CD-M10 (though the latter is available in black to match the piano lacquer models). Got that? I did say things were a bit confusing. It's part of Melody's revamped lineup intended to reclaim control of distribution and starve out the illegal transshippers with discontinued non-warrantied models. To show just how serious Melody can get, consider the rarely seen 2 x 845 monos not currently in the official lineup. Perhaps that's because Mr. Wang is trying to position his brand in a particular price sector first and these beasts wold exceed that ceiling. But can you say transformers? Regarding affordable and presently available seriousness, consider reader Malcolm Born. He reported recently that his new I2A3, the one I recommended to him, is dead quiet on his 116dB compression horns. "Amazing" as he called it isn't the word. That's positively extremist engineering for a 'modest' $3,000 tube component.