Seoul International Audio Show 2024

Seoul International Audio Show 2024


Prices listed in CA$ unless otherwise noted.

I can tell you from firsthand experience that until relatively recently, South Korea was never a country you would consider a big marketplace for anything, let alone high-end audio. According to my dad who was a war child, the poverty level there after the Korean War was extreme for a couple of decades.

Today, South Korea boasts the 13th largest economy in the world, with thriving medical, AI, and entertainment sectors. Add to that its vibrant audio scene, and South Korea is not the same place it used to be, having gone from a low-income economy to a high income one in a relatively short time.

You can see the changes in South Korea’s economic fortunes reflected in an event like the 2024 Seoul International Audio Show, which was held from February 23 to 25 on the 3rd floor of the gigantic COEX building in Seoul. For an idea of how big this show was, you can watch the first few minutes of this video.

The Seoul audio show has been growing ever since it was founded in 2011. It reflects not only Koreans’ healthy appetite for audio but also the spectrum of their diverse tastes. Like English-speaking audio buyers in the west, Koreans crave those big-name international brands such as Focal, Bowers and Wilkins, Sonus Faber, McIntosh, and AudioQuest. But they also buy established local brands such as Aurender, April Music, Hi-Fi Rose, and Hemingway Cables.

Music selection at the Seoul show also carried local flavours. The exhibitors played many songs by Korean artists, which is no surprise. What might surprise you was the omnipresence of classical music. Almost no exhibitors played good ol’ rock’n’roll, although I heard that one room played “Hotel California”! But aside from that seemingly-inescapable audio show chestnut, if you plan to check out the Seoul show, don’t expect to hear the usual suspects such as Fleetwood Mac, Steve Miller or Steely Dan.

Another thing that differentiated the Seoul show from those in North America was the phenomenon of exhibitors offering educational presentations (i.e. classes) about audio and… classical music! Four celebrity audio reviewers and one classical pianist (and a popular YouTuber) named An Inmo were presenters for such events.

Okay, so how about the rooms? How was the sound? We all know that an audio show is a challenge for exhibitors who have a day or two to set up a great-sounding system in an unfamiliar environment that wasn’t designed for acoustics. But many of the presenters at the Seoul show pulled through. Here are some examples:

Royco room

Royco was the biggest player at the show, occupying no less than four rooms. One of them consisted of a pair of 3.5-way Sonus Faber Il Cremonese EX3ME speakers ($87,500) and a pair of 800W Dan D’Agostino Relentless Epic 800 monoblock amplifiers ($265,000/pair). Thus equipped, the Royco folks helming this room had the audacity to play Mahler’s second symphony, one of the most difficult pieces of music to reproduce faithfully because of its scale and complexity. Well, the Royco team more than met the challenge by delivering seemingly limitless dynamic force, a huge but well-sorted soundstage, and rich, full sound. The rest of the system included a Dan D’Agostino 3-chassis Relentless preamplifier (starting at $201,900.00), a Linn Klimax DSM streaming DAC/preamplifier ($57,750), a Linn Klimax LP12 turntable equipped with a built-in Urika MC phonostage, an Ekos SE tonearm and Kandid MC cartridge ($41,450 total). AudioQuest cabling ($various) and an AudioQuest Niagara 7000 power conditioner ($14,000) completed the system.

Also a winner was the Saem Energy room with its all-MBL system, where a pair of omnidirectional MBL 101E MKII speakers (US$ 91,000/pair) were being driven by a pair of mono/stereo, class-A / class-AB 9008A monoblock amplifiers (US$ 35,100/pair), a 6010D preamplifier (US$ 32,400), and an MBL 1611F DAC with Roon Core built in (US$ 34,200). A popular exclamation heard from visitors: “I thought the singer was right here in the room”. Other qualities attributed to the system’s sound were effortless, musical, and full of detail. Oh, and also how attractively uniform the all-MBL system looked.

The honour of Most Popular room goes to retailer Sang Woon Audio, whose room was frequently packed with visitors. One reason for this might be the vintage Western Electric speakers (US$ 300,000/pair), which were the biggest speakers at the show. Each speaker’s driver array included a 22A horn, 555W driver, 597A tweeter, TA4181A woofer, and TA7375 crossover. Feeding the speakers was more vintage Western Electric equipment, including a 500A(91b) power amplifier (US$ 150,000), a Western Electric 1126A preamp (US$ 80,000), and a Western Electric EMT 927ST turntable (US$ 28,000).

Sang Woon Audio room

On the track “Tulipani” by Fausto Mesolella, the presentation’s scale and sonic realism had visitors breaking out in excited chatter about what they’d just heard. If you ever visit Korea and want to hear this system yourself—and I urge you to do so—you can contact Sang Woon Audio’s Han Jae-Kook (wornrgks@outlook.kr) to arrange for a listening session.

On a related note, Korean audio consumers’ appetite for US-made vintage audio gear is legendary. I read a comment by someone in an audio forum who said that, “Over decades, Koreans have almost completely stripped the US of old Western Electric gear, along with rare Altec, JBL, RCA gear”. The crowdedness in the Sang Woon room was more proof of Koreans’ affection for vintage US gear.

A lot of audiophiles love “warm” sound and some of the warmest tones at the show originated from the system in the room hosted by retailer 21 Sound / Cube Corporation / Apollon Audio. The system was anchored by electronics from Apollon Audio, including the brand’s class-D Daphne monoblock amplifiers ($TBD) and Noble 3 preamplifier with its dual-chassis power supply ($TBD). Apollon’s founder/designer greeted visitors with the personal anecdote of how he got hooked on audio design at age 27, spent so much time confined to his attic trying to design the “perfect” amplifier it cost him his marriage, finally released his amp 11 years later, and, with that behind him, got remarried to a lovely woman. So there you go—a happy ending, along with happy visitors who not only got to hear his life story, but his system. Sourced by an Accuphase DP-570 SACD/CD player (US$ 13,975) and fronted by a pair of EgglestonWorks Andra Viginti Anniversary Edition speakers (CA$ 65,360/pair), the sound was big, warm, and dynamic, with excellent soundstage depth.

One room often mentioned as having Best Sound of Show: the GLV one. It included the YG Acoustics Sonja 3.3 speakers ($102,760 each), a pair of 500W MSB Technology M500 monoblock amplifiers ($165,900/pair), an MSB Technology Select DAC ($161,000), an Aurender W20SE music server ($31,050), an Aurender MC10 master clock ($21,347), and a MSB Technology Select Digital Director (US$ 27,500). The latter, according to the company’s website, is said to “enhance essential DAC functions, externally managing digital audio sources, noise isolation and processing.” On the Jennifer Warnes track “And so it goes” and a Korean song by Sim Gyu Seon, a favourite in many rooms, the sound was silky smooth and utterly captivating, with its most breathtaking attribute being its reproduction of timbre—it was, for many, unmatched by that of any other system at the show.

GLV room

What can I say? The 2024 Seoul International Audio Show impressed with its scale, diversity of offerings, and the enthusiasm of its exhibitors and attendees. It was heartwarming on so many levels to see such a vibrant audio scene in South Korea. Bravo to the industry people and audiophiles who continue to help make it thrive.

2024 PMA Magazine. All rights reserved.


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