Bakoon AMP-11R

I would like to mention this from the start.  I don’t officially review products as these are items that I sell.  Therefore this is more about me providing my impressions of a product.  Of course I am biased and it would be foolish of me to claim otherwise.  However I would also like to highlight that if it didn’t pass what I consider to be very strict requirements I wouldn’t be selling it in the first place.  If you have any questions about this Bakoon Amplifier we would love to hear from you.  So sit back, read and I hope you enjoy what I have written.

Sometimes an audio product comes along that changes the way you think about music so deeply that it asks a lot of questions about the shear fabric that music is constructed from.

One of these products were the WLM Gran Viola MKIII.  In my conclusion of listening notes for the Gran Violas I had written “At the end of the day, speakers and the associated electronics are electro-mechanical devices that we use to reproduce sound in the comfort of our home.  It is simply too much to expect them to sound exactly like the live event.  Afterall our room has too much influence, however I can’t help but find the GV MKIII to go beyond the simple origins that the components suggest and take me into a world where they are breaking the logical side of my thinking.  It has occurred to me to think of this in the same way a Zen student contemplates the origin of their being.  These are answers that can not be given out or written down but merely experienced.  I think I have to settle on the fact that the GV MKIII have dug up more questions about music, love, life and my own very emotional being than they do in providing answers.”

The Bakoon AMP-11R has now entered this rarefied realm.  From the first touch you enter a paradox that the Bakoon and the Gran Violas share but for different reasons.

For the Bakoon it begins with the cold steel exterior when you unpack the amplifier.  The included isolation rack to house the unit is manufactured from machined aluminium plates that has been bead blasted and very well anodized to a dark grey colour.  The casing of the amplifier and power supply is also machined from a solid block of aluminium and bead blast however you have the choice of a natural aluminium finish or a black anodized finish.  For its compact size it certainly has some heft about it that will catch you off guard.  From this mere presentation you start to paint a picture in your mind about how this amplifier is going to sound.  Cold, hard, steely and lacking in human emotion perhaps?

The industrial designer of this amplifier appears to have taken notes from Apple and kept the exterior minimalist to the core.  However what I found out when I discussed this with Soo In Chae from Bakoon was in fact quite surprising.  Bakoon had designed this shape back in 2009 before the Apple Mac Mini was released.  While finalising the design the Mac Mini came out with a difference in width and depth of just one millimeter.  It just goes to show that good design is all about getting proportions right.  Without any known external influence Soo In had chosen a size ratio that was simple and elegant and timeless.  It appears that the designers at Apple had the same idea at the same time separated by 10,000 kilometers.

From the minimalist design they have used subtle finish choices that catch you by surprise.  Both the rack and the amplifier itself has been glass bead blast so to touch, it is slightly courser than I first expected.  You certainly can’t run your hand over it like a highly polished finish would allow.  I can understand how people will question the finish at first however over time I have come to realise that it allows the product to be understated and content.  It isn’t trying to be something it isn’t.  There is nothing I dislike more than showy, over the top finishes on hifi equipment.  So from this exterior you get the chance to switch on the Bakoon with the small polished toggle on the left hand side.

After a couple of minutes of warm up it is time to turn up the volume through the unique horizontal volume wheel.  From the first notes I could tell there was something very special going on.  Not for cheap audiophile tricks or brash look at me sonics but for the complete top to bottom balance and shear transparency that begins to emerge.  The designer of the Bakoon circuit – Akira Nagai has somehow found a way to produce a piece of electronics where by he hasn’t fallen into the trap of pushing his own ego or agenda on how something should sound.  In fact one of the early disconcerting things is that the Bakoon AMP-11R seems to have no particular sonic signature that it could call its own.  How do you possibly describe the sound of nothing?

So the paradox that presents itself is that the cold steel exterior has very little in common with the sound of the amplifier.  It doesn’t sound cold or clinical, it is wonderfully refreshing, like a clear, pure mountain stream where the water is simply that.  It doesn’t try to be something it isn’t.

What it does achieve is exceptionally unique.  There is an illumination to the complete spectrum of sound that allows me to see the whole sound scape.  Every detail, every nuance can be heard.  But only if you zoom in and want to hear them.  It isn’t pronounced or over blown.  It is simply that everything that has been recorded is reproduced in the comfort of your home.  It especially makes itself apparent at low volumes when you expect to lose details due to the noise floor of the amplifier.  However with such an incredibly low noise amplifier the background in as black as a moonless night.  The silence between the notes now carries greater impact and anticipation.  This is a sound that is both impacting / exciting and relaxed / neutral / natural.

Most amplifiers I have experienced in the past, and especially tube amplifiers that I have most experience with, tend to spay the music out from the speakers.  It can be exciting and thrilling and allows the listener to sit back, relax and enjoy the performance without any effort.  The Bakoon AMP-11R has a more subtle hand to play.  It entices you in, it asks you to move forward and meet it in the performance.  So you gently push forward within your mind and the performance becomes deeper, voices hold greater impact and everything becomes very emotionally involving.  The sound stage has great depth, body and shape are of the correct proportion and imaging is exceptional.  Combined with the WLM Gran Violas performers are three dimensional and convincing.  By making a very subtle shift in effort to take a step into the performance, I am experiencing music in a more focused and enjoyable way.  It doesn’t just sound accurate and true, it allows me to feel the way I do when I experience live music.

As an outsider of Japanese and Korean culture, however having studied Zen Buddhism for the last ten years, I have come to recognize the discipline and respect that has been deeply ingrained into their traditional way of life.  I think the Bakoon shows this same respect and discipline.  Discipline by playing music so clean, so pure, so completely transparent.  Respect by putting the music first.  Not getting in the way or trying to show some sort of sound signature ideal that sounds great at times but wears on you over time to the point you move on.  It strikes me as an outstanding achievement that a circuit designer gets to the point where he has the clarity to not only produce a circuit that is very unique but to then develop it over the span of two decades without getting his ego involved with the sound signature.

And this is when it strikes me that the logo for Bakoon “For ears and years” can be interpreted in a different way.  Yes the build quality is exceptionally good so I can see it lasting a very long time.  However I also see it that this little amplifier built by some humble gentleman (circuit designer Akira Nagai but also the very humble Soo In Chae involved with production, development and sales) is a long term keeper.  It provides a sound that I never tire from.  Every recording has it’s own personality. If you want something different don’t change amplifiers, change albums.

This is the first solid state amplifier and one of very very few amplifiers ever to strike the ideal balance between transparency, timing, speed and emotional connection.  An amazing balance set just right.  Well done to the team at Bakoon, you have set a new reference for the future.