The Man, the Legend: Who is Allnic’s Kang Su Park?
Kang Su Park, audio engineer extraordinaire, founder and principal of Allnic Audio, has been building tube amps since he was a young boy, under his older brother’s watchful eye. After having initially cut his teeth designing and manufacturing innovative, high quality vacuum tube amplification for Silvaweld, a company he founded, Kang Su, KS as he is affectionately known, established Allnic in 1994. Twenty-five years on and the company is going stronger than ever, with a product range including every aspect of music reproduction for the home, from phono cartridges, to step-up transformers and tube phono stages, to tube pre and power amps, to cables, and to speakers and custom crossovers for vintage ones, featuring a number of world’s first innovations.
Recently, Richard Morris, owner of Lotus HiFi, Allnic’s UK distributor, visited KS at the Allnic factory in Seoul, South Korea. Richard’s very readable and informative account of his trip is reproduced below, but can be found also on the Lotus HiFi website blog and on Mono & Stereo on-line audio magazine, both very much worth a visit:
Enjoy Richard’s article and photos, and get to know Allnic’s amazing founder, designer and builder of some of the best audio equipment in the world, and the best, as far as we are concerned, on a quality/cost measure!
“Here at Lotus we take on a new brand only very rarely and only after exhaustive research and scrutiny. We drop a brand though even less frequently, something we hate doing and something that there really shouldn’t ever be a need to do if you select properly in the first place. Occasionally of course, the political landscape or business approach of a company can alter which means it’s suitability wanes but thankfully this is a very rare event and to date in 9 years of trading we have only had to let go of a very small handful of manufacturers.
Our core manufacturers we started with, the products that were indeed the inspiration for Lotus Hifi, remain. Still to this day they represent the cornerstone foundation of our shop front. Avalon, Vitus, Stillpoints, Brinkmann and of course Allnic Audio from South Korea. These were the products that affected me so much back in the day and motivated me to evangelize to a wider audience. “Why don’t more people know about this type of Hifi” I used to say to myself and this inspired me to be the very person to carry the torch and educate so many people on our small Island, who grew up with really quite mediocre systems, believing though that they were so great.
Allnic was in fact the very first brand that we sold new as Lotus Hifi transitioned out of a secondhand buiness into a fully fledged Highend retailer. A chance encounter with an H3000 LCR phonostage, one of the first ever “super phono preamps” to hit the marketplace, changed what I thought was possible from Vinyl. It’s mighty performance had a huge effect on me.
October 2012 we had a chance meeting with Allnic’s owner and founder Mr Kang Su Park who was then unhappy with the current UK distribution. Said meeting was full of good feeling and intent and history then followed. Extensive advertising campaigns, many UK reviews, years of strong brand building and almost a decade growing a new generation of Allnic owners through Lotus Hifi.
Allnic to this day still remains one of my personal favourite brands. It looks fantastic, is completely unique, is wonderfully built, always sounds so so special and with a very simple and modest manufacturing process and supply chain, represents wonderful value for money. Whilst the modest entry gems like the H1201 phono and T2000 Integrated have giant slaying ability, it’s flagship products, it’s top of the line amps, linestages, phono preamps stand shoulder to shoulder with the very best there is.
I also still maintain that Kang Su remains quite comfortably, one of the world’s finest and most pioneering tube designers. We are talking the top 2 or 3 people here. His know how, creativity and capacity for brilliance and ingenuity is unsurpassed. One only need glance at the specification of many of his designs, LCR phonostages, Direct heated Tube phonostages, transformer-less and capacitor-less linestages, DHT T1610 parallel single ended 100 Watt Triode mono amps. This is special alchemy that most designers simply would not build, but also, COULD not build. Like Hans Ole Vitus or Jörn Janczak from Tidal, after you understand the brilliance, the creativity and inexhaustable technical ability you are left with love and passion. NOT the love of money, but love for music and love for being the very best in your field.
The Allnic factory lies around 20 minutes car ride from Gangnam in Seoul in the industrial section of a district called Seongnam. The ultra clean block is purpose built for small businesses and after conveniently parking in the lower lot, a short lift ride brings us to the double doors of the entrance. Stepping inside you are met with something which feels more like the home of a creative. People’s spaces are so often an external manifestation of their inner world and whilst the lobby of the Allnic factory scores modestly for tidyness, it is a veritable treasure trove of curiosities, discarded prototypes and flotsam and jetsam that focuses one’s interest. Kang Su is clearly a man who is comfortable with the natural rest pose of life and the space here is very real and very human and also replete with ingenuity and creativity. If you will excuse my French, there is a distinct lack of bullshit in the air and this is a workplace that immediately exudes honesty, hard work and true passion.
It’s time for myself and the big man to sit and chew the fat so off we trot to his office located at the back of the factory. Flying 5500 miles across the world to a country as alien and historically dissociated from the UK as South Korea one might be forgiven for expecting awkwardness, over formality and rather more unharmonious relations but this couldn’t be further from the truth. Kang Su is first and foremost a man with great humor and of course with this humour, an easy capacity for warmth and connection. Combine that with his sharp intellect and knowing and the conversation flows along sweetly. It is a pleasure to discuss his operation with him, his immediate plans for the future and also describe to him at some length, the current climate here in the UK, what customers are buying, what they want and what they don’t want.
It’s clear that the home market and the factory’s retail outlet “Audio Mentors” located just next door, has become a very important part of the Allnic business and their recent new line of cables, an important source of revenue and stability. What is also very obvious, is just how excited Kang Su is over his new range of OTL/OCL preamplifiers and this is what is taking up much of his time right now. More on this further on in this article.
Next year we will see an updated DAC pitched at a higher level than the outgoing D5000. We always did rather well with the D5000 DHT DAC but there was room for greater purity and accuracy and tube life on that unit was never the best. Kang Su has pulled out all the stops on this new design though so we look forward to that in due course. Also due for an overhaul is the venerable H1500 phonostage. This is one of the older models and historically one of the most popular pieces but late 2020 or early 2021 we anticipate an updated version.
Next up it’s off to the Allnic listening room. Here we have a Technics SP10 as source shod with the heavy Fidelity Research Tonearm and Allnic Puritas cartridge. Kang Su is keen to show me his latest linestage and a new set of mono amps as well.
The L8500 is the third unit in his series of OTL/OCL linestages. This new range began of course with the new flagship L10000. The L10000 superceedes the old flagship L8000 DHT linestage by some considerable margin and the L8000 was always a pre we used to happily pitch against any uber-cost preamp from any other corner of the globe. Back in the Autumn of this year when the L10 was first released I had several very excited calls from the German Allnic distributor and David Beetles of Hammertone Audio in Canada waxing lyrical about this new magical creation. “Gamechanger” they said, “the L8000 was fabulous but this is another world”.
Quite simply, the L10 has no transformers or capacitors in its single-ended signal path. It also uses the 300B direct-heated, single-ended triode as its directly coupled output power tubes. It talks directly to your power amp in a way no other linestage can do, so in theory and by design, no linestage can be as pure, as uncoloured or as fast. OTL/OCL designs are very rare in the marketplace and notoriously difficult to make reliable but we know the factory have supplied over x40 L10000 to date with no faults. We have heard this unit briefly and were immediately aware that we were in the presence of something truly special but it will be early 2020 before we take delivery of our demo unit and when we will listen in utter fascination to how it compares to the best preamp that we know of in existence, the £51,000 Tidal Precensio and also the forthcoming Tidal Prisma balanced linestage.
Kang Su has been so enamoured with this new design and it’s received such a positive reaction that he decided to spawn a full new series of OTL/OCL designs with the L9000 and L8500, both offering L10000 style performance in a cheaper package. Here in the listening room we sampled the L8500 which is set to be very cost effective, around the £6000-£7000 mark, and very good did it sound too. The neutrality was immediately obvious as was the inherent dynamic ability. We like the new chassis design for this range as well.
Another new product we witnessed here is the Allnic M2500 monoblocks. Like the L8500 and L9000 these have been created as a result of demand in the home and Asian markets for greater performance at lower cost. The M2500 cleverly do away with the M3000 monoblock chassis and opt for a far more cost effective folded sheet metal casework. This reduces the chassis cost significantly (the biggest cost by far in the manufacturing process) and it means you get a set of very high performing amps for even greater value.
The M2500 retail for £12,000 and are another very interesting design. With a 5AU4 tube rectifier these can be Triode or Pentode with 3 available configurations. PX25 for 20 watts, 300B for 30 watts or 100 watts from x2 KT150. Both the 300b and KT150 will drive many many speaker designs so you get to have your cake and eat it too. Allnic life, bass response/precision and dynamics married with intimacy, microdetail and wonderful timbres and textures.
Casting my eyes around the listening room, and prodding my smartphone’s camera around the lobby area I am intrigued to spy various unique creations. These are prototypes, discarded designs or one off Frankensteins that look both familiar and distinctly Allnic but also unexpected and slightly freakish at the same time. It was enjoyable seeing these peculiar aberrations and slightly startling because of their strangeness or apparent genetic hybridisation from various other known products. The H262E was a phonostage with an electronic step up set in a D5000 DAC style chassis. The Allnic T5000 a single ended Integrated, one more powerful than the T1500. The huge gargatuan M5000 Titan of course are a current product. Popular in the USA they have a massive footprint matched by their enormous 400 Watts or 125W of Class A.
Moving into the assembly area you really appreciate just how bespoke and handmade Allnic really is. There are only two stations in operation as I wander through although this can ramp up to 3. Away from the main workbench are various other rooms where transformers get hand wound and another space where chassis components are stored. Out at the back towards the windows is a bigger room where the “Zero Loss” cables are produced and this is dominated by a large powerful 1,000°C hot melt welding machine.
Whilst in the production line area it struck me just how peaceful and simplistic this Allnic space is. It must be a pleasure to come here and work everyday, free from the pressure cooker stresses of your more typical workplace environments. The Allnic factory in Seongnam is a happy place and aside the obvious genius of what’s going on here, that is the sentiment that perhaps stays with you the most. For me it’s a comforting validation after 7 years of being in partnership with these people, the knowledge that I am in business with a group of individuals who are warm hearted, balanced and with high integrity. Long may our association continue.
After my tour it’s then all about the food. Kang Su and his family hosted me at a wonderful restaurant in the centre of Gangnam and we enjoyed course after course of some very fine Korean food. The trip had been well worth my time and will surely lead to an even greater bond in the coming years. There is much activity at Allnic and plenty of new goodies to look forward to over the next 12 months or so. In particular, the OTL/OCL preamps and the new cost effective M2500 amplifiers are both products that we will be showcasing at Lotus very soon. After saying goodbyes and promising to return soon it was time to explore the energy and dynamism of nighttime Seoul.”