There is in the worst of fortune the best of chances for a happy change.
- Euripides [480-406 B.C.] - Iphigenia in Tauris -

Joe Lee is a Hong Konger who migrated to Singapore in 1990. "After struggling in this hot country for more than 13 years, I wish I could be located somewhere else. Making a living here is not easy at all". When I asked him if he was in this to make that living or, like the Shun Mook boys, just did it as a sort of benevolent hobby, he leapt right in. "There is no such thing as a 'hobby' in the audio industry - this includes the Shun Mook people. Since the first day my living has entirely relied on the audio businesses that I run."

That first day was back in 1984 when Joe opened a retail/manufacturing business called Sound Audio that specialized in high end components and the in-house design of their own line of amps. ("I had three electronic crazies working for me. They were good".) By 1986, the brand had became known not only in Hong Kong but also Taiwan, Malaysia and Singapore. Joe had two models selling particularly well in these countries; one of his power amplifiers was ranked 'Best Amplifier of the Year' for two consecutive years by Audiophiles, the most influential audio magazine in Hong Kong, which has at least as many audiophiles as Cleveland has guys who watch football on TV. "Ken Kessler was fond of our amplifiers as well and wrote a very positive review in Hi-Fi News & Record Review." Heady times to be sure.

By 1990, Sound Audio products were selling in 13 countries including France and England but alas, the business was soon on the ropes due to most if not all of the standard reasons businesses end up on the ropes. By 1992, a freshly underemployed Joe scared up enough scratch to found Hi-Fi Corner in bustling Singapore. "We specialized in import and retail of the highest-quality, audiophile-grade music software and represented many up-market tweak systems from such brands as Shun Mook, Combak and Unicone. This is where my interest in audio tweaking was generated."

Cesar has more in common with an 18th-Century tavern puzzle than most assembly jobs, and it's equally if not more crazy-making. With the Brilliant Pebbles, one has all those slippery, irregular shapes contained in handy glass vials. With Cesar, it all rolls free like fruit salad in the back seat when you use "that bargain plastic wrap". And there was an added challenge. The various models of the GEM Tweak are meant to be centered on top of the preamp or amplifier. This requirement was untenable at least in my 2-channel room because the open architecture of my tube integrated does not provide a large enough flat surface. "Not to worry (too much)," Joe counseled, "people also use them on their phono amps." Well, that would have to be it then, with perhaps a side trip to my solid-state multichannel amp at some later point - if I could ever face having to rebuild the blasted thing.

As our discussions continued, I reconnected with the original reason for why I simply had to include Joe and his invention in this seemingly endless expedition. Ben Piazza of Shakti is a forward-thinking but still fully earthed scientist. Harry W. of VPI is an engineer's engineer possessed of all the sobriety of technique that implies. Joe Lee of 1833 Technology is one way-gone daddy. I mean the cat is out there. And people like that are just so darn much fun to talk to.

"I guess the most important requirement for being an audio or sonic expert is that you must know how to distinguish between what is good and what is bad and how to provide a solution when there is a problem," Joe explained one day. "I became very famous after I invented the 'coin tweak' back in 1993. By using the Singapore one-cent and five-cent coins, I could improve the sonic behavior of any system by at least 30-50%. I released many articles about this tweak and nowadays almost any audiophile I visit will have those coins scattered here and there. Funny thing is, I tried coins from many other countries but none work as beautifully as the Singapore coins. I have believers all over the world... some who couldn't get hold of the coins wrote asking me to send some." See what I mean? And Mr. Lee? Man, he's just getting warmed up (and I'm just starting to rifle through my kid's foreign coin collections).

Experience is the child of Thought, and Thought is the child of Action.
Benjamin, Earl of Beaconsfield Disraeli [1804-1881] -

Joe continued, "I learnt hundreds of different techniques in audio tweaking through self-teaching and my coin tweak is the most basic. In fact, many tweaking methods were discovered during 1992-95 in a 10' x 12' small listening room as I struggled inside.. .it was a bare room with no acoustic treatment. During that time I told myself that every week I must try to improve the performance of my humble system by at least one step. Therefore whatever material you can imagine that could be used for sound tweaking, I tried them: Coins, woods, harmonica plates, marbles, silver and gold jewelry, glass, jade, crystal, whatever..."

Dawg, Bosh has himself been trapped in that very room. Stay outa that room.

"Very soon I discovered some basic formulas that one could follow. I discovered that besides the material itself, its shape governed the sonic characteristics to a great extent. I discovered that for material tweaking, no direct contact is required. I discovered that very often, small pieces are more efficient or powerful than big pieces. I discovered I could do whatever I wanted to increase the width and depth of the soundstage, to enhance sub-bass, to improve tonal body, whatever, all without changing any equipment." This sounds something like the time I discovered, while chewing on some especially sinewy fungus, that I could effect the rotation of the earth by raising or lowering my left arm. But unlike Joe, I never managed to make a business of it. "I started tweaking other people's systems. I have tweaked a few hundred different systems, big and small, valued in the multi-millions or costing just a few thousand dollars. I gained a huge amount of experience from all the systems that I have worked on."

So here is the essence of Joe Lee, creator of the Amber Tweaks. He has placed himself in the rarefied ranks of audio's answer to the horse whisperer; the system tuner. "I have a very strong music background through many years of playing piano, guitar and harmonica, composing and performing," replied Joe when pressed for anything like traditional technical qualifications. "However, I think my strong listening power is a gift" that, like any such accident of birth, can be refined but never fully "taught" in the conventional sense. Lance Armstrong never got a diploma in bike racing. Or a glowing review from Ken Kessler for that matter.

Cesar's approximate price is $300US at this moment's boiling exchange rate. And while half the audience is holding their breath looking at that figure, the other half would never dream of letting something so economical touch their systems. For those in that latter group who may be intrigued with the concept of resonating gems as a sonic enhancement, more precious versions of such an apparatus can be custom-assembled by other, specialist companies. I'd suggest grabbing something small for the spouse while you're there just to keep things smooth.