I knew Joe Lee through a mutual friend when I was living in Woodlands back in 1998. At that time, Hi Fi Corner had already folded and he was then running 1388.com Technology Ltd. I was very much a rookie audiophile then and meeting this Hi Fi guru, master tweaker with such a big reputation was most humbling to say the least. For those who do not already know, Joe Lee sadly passed away on 5 December 2012 at only 56 years young. Although I was never his disciple (he never coached me), I gained much in observing him at work (tweaking), listening to his stories and using his creations. Here are some lasting Joe Lee contributions:
Classified Ads Section 64
Before audiophile blogging and forums of today, Section 64 of The Straits Times Classified Ads was a first-read and a must-read for any audiophile every Saturday morning. Joe’s writing was witty, refreshing, informative and entertaining. He shifted loads of CDs through this channel and I remembered him sharing with us that he would receive complaints from his readers when his column was found missing.
One Cent Coin Tweak
Back in 2000, in my personal blog, I wrote these:
“The Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) could be puzzling why the sudden interests in the disposable 1 cent and 5 cent coins in recent times. I gathered many of us have violated some regulations by not using the coins in its original purpose. I am sure sticking coins on your false ceiling and using them as part of fixtures and fittings (support speaker spikes) isn’t one of the sanctioned intentions. Well, these cost no issue elements did give me a physics and material science lesson and deserve to bag this award.”
This was one ingenious, original tweak of Joe Lee.
Beyond The Walls
Much has been written to getting your speakers to sound as boxless as you possibly could and to get them “disappear”. Joe stepped it up and pushed to have the walls disappear as well. By that, the sound would come from a free, dark deep space with absolutely no boundaries. Beyond wall of sound? Some fantasy talk? Not at all, we experienced that once in an elderly gentleman’s 3m by 4m HDB room more than 10 years ago. He was called Teo, Joe’s friend. The experience was spooky and unreal.
At the end of 2001, I blogged:
“Best Tweak of the Year – I think I have talked too much about amber tweak. Not giving this award to Joe Lee would raise doubt to my credibility (or risk friendship?). For those who are new to the scene, you may refer to my articles Romancing the Stones I, II and III (Editor: Sadly none of these articles were archived). Joe Lee of 1388.com has hailed this discovery and invention to rival the likes of Shun Mook, Unicone and Combak as best of breed tweaking devices! Just proving my sanity or rather spreading the insanity, a seasoned Exposure fan that I have known for many years have this to say about Joe’s latest trick and I quote:
This is getting even more weird! It will be challenging to keep all the components (Editor: amber beads) from rolling off. Already the Pavane is difficult enough to place due to space constraint. Maybe Joe should also sell a black cover to hide all the bracelets for those of us too embarrassed to admit that such tweaks work”.
Big System Small Sound
Here is the first of his three quotes that I picked up – A small system could have a big sound and a big system should not have a small sound.
Way back then, we had respectable hi-fi budget but our system’s performance was rather ordinary. We were quite clueless in helping Martin to place his ambitious 2-way, flabby bass, floorstander in his 3m by 3m music room. In came Joe and he worked his magic. He literally transformed the relatively big system (budget wise) in a small, challenging room to actually play like a big system. I could still remember the intro violin of Scheherazade, the blackness, depth, tonal accuracy, palatability of the orchestra was nothing short of breath-taking even by today’s standard.
Sansui Beat Your Jeff R——–
Joe uttered these tongue in cheek (in Cantonese) after listening to a big system not sounding like it should. He was incredibly sharp witted but regrettably, we would never ever know how he would have done it. That aside, the lesson was, an inexpensive system could humble a big one if you have the know-how. The know-how would include buying the right component, applying the right tweaks and system matching.
Listen With Your Heart
Of all that Joe had said and done, I valued ‘listen with your heart” the most. Joe being abstract at times, never cared to explain too much to mere mortals. Obvious enough, I could not understand what he meant till years later.
Clearly, I had benefited from knowing this colourful character and this writing brought back some good ol’ days. I believed many readers out there whose system had been tweaked by him one way or another would feel the same. Through the once vibrant, exciting Hi Fi Corner at The Adelphi to the C16 tuning cubes that he last marketed, Joe Lee had left deep imprints in the audiophile community in Singapore and would be fondly remembered by many of us.