CLONES Audio 25i: The Pursuit Of A Dream

CLONES Audio is a one man company. And that “one man” is Funjoe, an incredibly bright, talented, and disciplined individual based in Hong Kong, seven thousand miles away from where I live in Southern California. I travelled to Hong Kong in 2009 and I was dazzled beyond my wildest dreams at the sheer electricity and the exotic setting of the locale. I can’t wait to go back.

Hong Kong is like New York, San Francisco, or London, it is packed with people, including the very, very rich, a small number of middle class, and the working folks. Ferrari dealers and luxury hotels abound. There are also street vendors serving up tasty snack foods, souvenirs, and shmata. There are also public parks with tennis courts, soccer fields, and lots of bicycles. Summer time brings stifling heat and humidity, winters are mild.

Even more interesting, there are several streets packed with HiFi shops. Every brand you can think of, from the most exotic to well known American and European brands, Magico speakers? Siltech cables? Plinius amplifiers? No problem! There is also a lot of locally made, great sounding gear from Melody, Shanling, and a host of others.

That brings us back to Funjoe. He founded CLONES Audio on 12/12/12. I am not sure if that has any significance, but for a year and a few months he has been offering a line of products that have surprised more than a few folks, and amazingly he has established an international distribution chain, as well as a web store. Some companies in business for decades have yet to get that far.

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Funjoe has a high school degree and ten years of high level graphic design experience in the private sector. CLONES Audio was a leap of faith, and now is his full time gig. This is no vanity or weekend business, but a full time endeavor, with products built in his shop, by hand, one by one.

A deep of love of music is at the origin of this endeavour, with Funjoe playing various instruments in his school orchestra. He professes a love for jazz, and became an audiophile at the tender young age of fourteen. As he recalls, “when I was about 10 I became a member of the Orchestra playing the Trumpet and Trombone. But I loved jazz more than the classical. Especially after becoming an audiophile as a teenager.”

According to Funjoe, “since day one of becoming an audiophile I dreamed to have my own product with the name of my father, and I. He is quite the audiophile too. We started together but he didn’t know much about electronic things. He supported me to learn and explore. But I never went to school for this. The first year I went to one of the factories that produce many of the amplifier kits selling locally. went there and said I really want to learn and work here during summer holiday. I am willing to learn and I am not concerned about money. Then they let me work there and I got my own set of gear consisting of a solid state Class A preamp and power amp. Nice guys really! Then I kept up my study and spent money to experience. Of course I invested in some Hi-end stuff for reference.”

“For the amps. I was a fan of Jeff Rowland. I owned a few of their amps before. I love First Watt by Nelson Pass, Nagra… I like something that is not so super powered.. I love something small and tiny. I was in love with bigger amps when I was young. Speakers… I love the bookshelf type. I don’t know why. I owned many speakers before but most of them are bookshelf. My latest reference is the Volent Paragon VL-2. Source certainly LP, but I can’t play them much because of my of my infant son. I think computer based music systems are great, especially MAC.”

So we see a bit of a pattern here. Funjoe admiring folks like Nelson Pass and Jeff Rowland, designers who followed a unque vision and broke off on their own, and who later created deeply loyal followings. Funjoe eventually heard the 47lab amp designed around a unique circuit called gain clones. One thing led to another. Again, Funjoe in his own words, “my first gain clone was built about 10 years ago. I had a demo of a full set 47lab gear before that but I was really quite shocked after I knew the price. I tried to build my own version with a lot of the “audio grade” components. Finally I found that it was not as good as I thought. Then I was took a break from audio interests for few years to concentrate on other hobbies. Three years ago I wanted to have a small stereo set simply for listening music.”

“I remembered the 47lab gear and tried to study the concept again. I found that it might be something I want. Then I was going to buy a set of the 47 Treasure kit. I suddenly realised some of the design principles I had forgotten a long time ago. Then I bought their speaker and was happy with them for few months. One day my father visited me to have a listen. He loved it so much, (he plays blues and jazz guitar). He asked me to get a set for him. Then I went looking for them 2nd hand but it is quite rare and expensive in Hong Kong. So I suddenly thought why don’t I just try to build a set to him for his birthday present. Then I built the first prototype of CLONES for him. He said it was great, but a mono might be even better!”

He continued, “then I began to think about the mono block and put my own concept of the chassis design in this. I always think that the chassis is one of the important tuning areas of the performance. It is the first CLONES audio product, called 25pm. People have thought that the 25i is CLONES Audio’s first baby. The reason for developing the 25i is that my father wanted me to make one version with volume and selector as a gift for his best friend.”

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I had Funjoe’s 25i integrated amp in my system for several months. Let me state unequivocally, that in five years of writing about gear, this little amp was was one of the most enjoyable products I have had the pleasure to live with, bar none. The 25i, as its name suggests, offers up 25 watts per channel, three inputs, and high quality speaker binding posts. There is no remote control, but that is in the works for 2014. The build quality is exceptional for an audio product costing around $900 (prices are in Euros on the CLONES website.)

The 25i offers absolutely remarkable dimension and texture. This amp has heart and soul. Regardless of what type of music you listen to. Matched up with speakers that cost many times as much, including KEF R700’s, Thiel CS2.4’s, and Harbeth Compact 7ES3’s, there was simply no weakness or obvious faults exposed. The 25i is a music connecting machine…a device to let you sit back and just forget about circuit topology, bragging rights, or trophy components. Now, I want to listen to every CLONES component. There is a preamplifier, a 25 watt stereo amp, a 25 watt mono block, and a forthcoming 55 watt mono block.

CLONES Audio products are available from the CLONES Audio website for North American customers, with all prices in Euros. Delivery time is as fast as Funjoe can build and ship the units. He has many satisfied customers worldwide, and in Europe he has an importer and distributor of record. The website is well laid out, and purchasing is hassle free with Paypal.

We are only in the first few chapters of CLONES Audio and Funjoe’s story. There are exciting things to come from the fledgling company. Funjoe with great excitement told me “CLONES will announce the higher level series called SHEVA. The first product in the SHEVA series is the SHEVA DAC. The ES9018 based DAC plays DSD and DXD. Then we will announce the SHEVA amplifiers and preamp.”

It seems the story of CLONES Audio fits right in with many of the great companies in high performance audio. The majority were started by entrepreneurs who had a unconquerable drive and a feeling that they had something better to offer than the establishment. In our world today, virtual borders no longer exist between continents, and Funjoe, out of Hong Kong, is enjoying excellent reviews from respected publications and consumers alike.

I for one am going to tell every audiophile and music lover I know about the CLONES Audio 25i. It has completely invaded my world and crystallized in my mind what I have long suspected. That is, that topology, price, and specifications cloud most consumers minds in high end audio, and nothing trumps listening.

 

www.clonesaudio.com

 

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