Up to 37% in savings when you subscribe to hi-fi+
hifi-logo-footer

Begin typing your search above and press return to search. Press Esc to cancel.

Thrax Audio Ares Mk II

I went on holiday in Bulgaria a few years ago and stayed in a small resort on the coast not far from Burgas, among other things I found a bicycle repair shop there that had the best collection of vintage Italian racing bike frames I’ve ever seen; Bianchi, Colnago, De Rosa etc, all hanging from the ceiling. If I’d had a bigger suitcase and any grasp of the language one would be hanging on my wall today. Bulgaria is not a wealthy country but there is money there and there is a hi-fi manufacturer for whom budget appears to be unlimited, Thrax Audio makes a wide range of contemporary audio components many of which combine tubes and transistors. Thrax also uses an awful lot of precision machined aluminium to build its products, they must have a good metalworker because the finishes are superb. Their amplifiers can be seen at pretty well every high end show but they also makes a direct drive turntable and several loudspeaker models.

The Ares MkII is the least expensive solid state amplifier in the Thrax catalogue yet it’s inconveniently heavy at 27kg and plenty powerful at 120 Watts a side into eight Ohms. It’s not entirely clear why the Ares is so hard to extract from its flight case and put on the rack, it’s not particularly large at just under four inches thick, the feet add another inch, and 17 inches wide so either the machined aluminium casework is particularly thick or there’s a small black hole somewhere inside, or maybe a huge transformer. The website shows two transformers of fairly average scale, however, so it must be the metalwork… or a black hole. Thrax’s explanation is that the chassis is “carved like a sculpture from 45kg of aluminium alloy”, which explains the space age styling to some extent but not the capacitive buttons, something I thought had disappeared about the same time as CRT televisions.

One box solution

Thrax calls this a modular integrated amp because the option exists to add a DAC to the already strong input selection, one which includes a phono stage that can accommodate both MC and MM cartridges, line inputs on balanced and single ended connections and, perhaps most surprising, a Bluetooth antenna. The latter is in fact part of the DAC board module which is not your run of the mill add on by any means, it’s a discrete converter built ladder style with switched resistors that can accommodate data rates up to 32-bit/768kHz and DSD256 via the USB input. Other inputs are the usual range of S/PDIF and AES/EBU and the aforementioned wireless option. This module also includes a streaming input for direct connection to the network via ethernet, which means that those with a subscription to Qobuz or similar can run a system with just the Ares and a pair of speakers, controlling it with Roon or Mconnect.

Thrax

To do so would not allow them to appreciate the full potential of this amplifier however, it is built for high resolution and the quality of input makes a significant difference to the output. The amplifier itself is fully balanced with transformer isolation on the single ended inputs, ground switching on RCA inputs to prevent interaction between sources and separate power supplies for the digital and analogue sections of the preamplifier. The phono stage offers alternative cartridge loading options for moving coils. The power amplifier consists of two independent solid state monoblocks that operate a sliding bias system with the aim of producing Class A qualities from a Class A/B circuit with no global feedback, heatsinking is achieved by the entire chassis, which gets fairly warm but not enough to put off a cat.

The buttons provide input selection and volume control as well as access to a menu that offers balance, phase inversion and choice of cartridge type and loading. There’s a sub menu for time and date (although it’s not clear when these would be displayed), display dimming/time and remote programming. Thrax supply an Apple remote handset which is a lovely thing with a strong IR beam; it may not be made in Bulgaria, but it is machined aluminium.

Solid yet nimble

Getting the Ares MkII onto the rack proved to be a worthwhile exercise, very worthwhile in fact. From the first few minutes it was clear that this is an excellent amplifier. The sound it produces being solid yet nimble and full of spatial information. Everything you play has a strong sense of depth, this may be artificial reverb or actual instrumental or vocal acoustic, but it’s there on a lot more recordigns that often seems to be the case with this Thrax amp. I hooked up PMC twenty5.26i loudspeakers in the first instance and the pairing worked so well that this is the way things stayed for the majority of the listening. I spent a fairly long evening in the company of music loving and sound quality conscious friends playing a wide range of material at pretty serious playback levels, the results were impressive to say the least. These are not the most ambitious loudspeakers that this bunch of connoisseurs have enjoyed in the studio but the general feeling was that this was second only to the experience encountered with PMC’s largest domestic loudspeaker the mighty Fenestria, for which much of the credit should go to the Ares.

Thrax

It is an unusually transparent amplifier regardless of whether the signal goes into the line inputs or the USB, or for that matter the AES input. It delivers a degree of resolution that many pre/power combos at this price point have difficulty matching. A big power amp can produce a more grounded, solid result but not many have this ability to open a window onto the music. The result had me pondering the notion of diminishing returns that’s often bandied around when it comes to high end audio. I appreciate that the Ares isn’t silly expensive but it’s more than most integrateds yet the returns provided by the extra few grand over the last ‘big’ integrated I tried seemed to be anything but diminished. The small sounds that this amplifier unveils in every recording contribute to creating a clearly more complete and compelling musical picture that makes a very good case for spending the asking price.

I had a DAC on hand that cost more than the Ares as a whole and it could not compete when it came to timing nor finesse in the high frequencies. The Thrax DAC delivered more convincing voices on Crosby, Stills and Nash’s ‘Helplessly Hoping’ and differentiated the singers more effectivley too. The depth of acoustic on this is pretty stunning too, this recording probably sounds better on good vintage vinyl but the streamed result can be totally inspiring when it’s done this well. The streamer onboard the Ares is good and capable of delivering good scale, detail and timing in an easy fashion but it’s not in the same league as the DAC. Using a very capable but relatively affordable external streamer (Lumin U2 Mini with a Network Acoustics Volt DC ground filter) connected over USB brought greater rewards in terms of clarity, low level resolution and thus fine detail. Using this streamer with an AES connection enhanced fluidity, which makes for a more musical experience but this came at the expense of detail. It’s more relaxed though.

Haunting

Using a turntable and external phono stage delivered superb results too. The extra openness and unbeatable timing of the format made for more emotionally impactful results that inspired many hours of sifting through the collection. I tried the onboard phono stage but couldn’t eliminate background hum, this may be because the Rega Planar 10 doesn’t have a separate earth wire although this isn’t generally a problem. With the external stage Joni Mitchell’s ‘The Fiddle and the Drum’ from Clouds had a crystaline clarity which gave the haunted solo voice extra emotional power, it proved that when it comes to the heart of matters a voice like hers is hard to beat.

Having heard ‘50 Ways to Leave your Lover’ on the radio I gave that a spin just to revel in Steve Gadd’s lovely drumming, the song’s pretty good too albeit a little over-polished in production terms. It too has plenty of depth as does Bella White’s ‘Flowers by my Bedside,’ which is relatively new and very clean in the Ares’ company, here the voice is projected over a bass line that is as solid as the amplifier reproducing it and almost as silkily finished.

Conclusion

This was my first experience of a Thrax product* and it has left me eager to hear more of their creations, fortunately there’s an Enyo Mk II tube integrated waiting for me to summon the energy to get it out of the box for the next review. In the meantime I have thoroughly enjoyed the Ares MkII, which will appeal to lovers of filligree detail everywhere. Its build quality is serious but the power to engage the musical senses considerably greater, in my experience there aren’t many amplifier/DACs near its price that come close, regardless of how many boxes they are in.

*Editor’s note: we ran the review of the Ares Mk II before the Enyo Mk II in print but ran them the other way around online. And the reason we did this is shrouded in mystery. And by ‘mystery’ I mean ‘stupidity’.

Technical specifications

  • Type: Solid-state, two-channel integrated amplifier with phono stage and optional DAC
  • Analogue inputs: One MM/MC phono input (via RCA jacks), three single-ended line-level inputs (via RCA jacks), one balanced input (via XLR connectors)
  • Digital inputs: Two S/PDIF (one coaxial, one optical), one USB port, one AES/EBU (via XLR), one streaming (via RJ45)
  • Analogue outputs: loudspeaker binding posts
  • Supported sample rates: Coaxial and optical S/PDIF not specified, USB up to 32-bit–768kHz, DSD256
  • Input impedance: High-level 40kOhms, Phono variable, Power amp N/A
  • Power Output: 120Wpc @ 8 Ohms, 200Wpc @ 4 Ohms
  • Signal to Noise Ratio: 112dB
  • Dimensions (H×W×D): 120 × 430 × 450mm
  • Weight: 27kg
  • Price: £12,900, DAC £2,900

Manufacturer

Thrax Audio

www.thraxaudio.com

UK distributor

Lotus Hi-Fi

www.lotushifi.co.uk

+44 (0)7887 852513

Børresen Acoustics X3

Take a look at this speaker, consider its Danish origin, and have a go at guessing the price. Børresen Acoustics makes a wide range of loudspeakers with the most ambitious coming in at half a million euros. The X3 is from the other end of the scale. It’s the least expensive floorstander in the catalogue and costs £11,000. This is not a small amount, but put this speaker next to competitors with similarly high end ambitions and it looks like remarkably good value. You probably can’t tell how big it is from the pictures but at nearly 1.3m (4’ 3”) it’s taller than a lot of similarly priced products from major players, which, combined with superb build quality and finish add to the strong first impression.

The Børresen X3 is one of two X series models introduced this year both of which feature distinctive ‘spread-tow’ carbon fibre mid and bass drivers. These are also seen in the brand’s flagship M-series models, which would suggest that this technology represents the future for Børresen loudspeakers. The exact nature of these drivers differs between the two ranges but this feature is clearly a significant factor. I reviewed some Perlisten floorstanders recently that use the same material. The distinctive chequerboard weave allows the use of thin weave carbon fibre that’s lighter and thus theoretically easier to control than typical woven cones. There’s more to these drivers than the weave however, they have sandwich cones with an aramid honeycomb filler between two carbon fibre skins so are both light and stiff.

Børresen Acoustics X3 tweeter

The X3 is a three-way, the topmost 4.5 inch woofer is a midrange and the pair below the tweeter produce bass. These drivers have double copper caps on the pole pieces in an effort to increase flux and reduce inductance, I’ve seen single copper caps in a variety of drivers but not two. The benefit of lower inductance is a smoother impedance which makes the amplifier’s life easier and should result in a smoother acoustic response. The distinctive ribbon tweeter is a high efficiency design derived from the examples found on Børresen’s eye wateringly expensive M-series range. This one has a lower magnet and iron mass to keep costs down but claims 90dB sensitivity which is very high for a ribbon. It operates from 2.5kHz to 50kHz which is an impressive range for any driver. The ribbon itself has an unfeasibly low 0.01 gram mass yet can handle “very high transients”. It’s aided in this respect by a wave guide that acts like a shallow horn and helps with power handling but doesn’t seem to undermine dispersion.

Resonance control

The crossover is apparently built with the same components found in Børresen’s Z series, which is the next range up. They are said to be mechanically stable with minimal “self resonance”. Børresen is part of Audio Group Denmark, a group which includes Aavik and Axxess electronics, and Ansuz who make cables and resonance control devices. It therefore follows that Børresen products take vibration very seriously; a speaker wouldn’t make sound without it but likewise it’s very easy to colour that sound with unwanted vibration. The X3 cabinet is made of a heavily braced wood composite material and shaped so that there are no parallel surfaces. It is reinforced with carbon fibre on the top and front of the baffle and finished in high gloss black or white.

In profile, the cabinet is wedge shaped with quite an extreme curved taper from a 22cm wide front baffle to 6cm at its spine, and even that is curved. The latter features no fewer than six metal reflex ports. A cutaway image shows that the small one connects directly to the enclosure for the tweeter and the top two are tuned for the midrange, the remaining four cater to the bass system.

Børresen Acoustics X3 base

The base is wider than the cabinet in order to provide stability and consists of a sandwich of metal plates with a wood composite middle that is supported by Ansuz feet. The latter look a bit like draughts pieces underneath because they are designed to be used with Ansuz Darkz resonance control feet which come in a wide variety of types and materials including some very exotic (read: pricey) examples. You don’t have to use Darkz as the X3s sit happily on the ground as they are, but it’s an upgrade option that warrants consideration.

Room to breathe

The Børresen X3s may be svelte in appearance and this clearly helps in terms of imaging and resolution but what really struck me was the power of bass that they can reproduce. As a rule I put loudspeakers fairly close to the wall behind them, around a foot (30cm), with these I had to keep inching them into the room in order to remove the bloom associated with too much boundary reinforcement. It took several goes before there was a gap of 45cm between the slender spine of the X3s and the wall. My room is fairly bass light so this is further out than usual but it worked a treat, this distance is likely a result of the four bass ports at the back of the rear baffle and their close proximity to the floor. When I visited AGD last year I noted that there was around a couple of metres behind the speakers in their dem rooms, so space is probably a necessity for best results.

I used the Moor Amps Angel 6 power amplifier to drive them, which does have a warmer balance than the Class D amplifiers that sister brand Aavik make so this might also be a factor. It proved a winning combination, the low noise floor of the speakers allowing oodles of detail to flow through in a coherent and engaging fashion. The better the recording the better the results and for that matter the better the ancillaries. The X3s made it very easy to hear what various filters and cables were doing in the streaming system, but they also made The God in Hackney’s The World in Air Quotes sounds magnificent. Room filling scale, powerful dynamics and subtle timing cues were all in evidence alongside the majesty of tracks like ‘Bardo!’.

Wind it up

That slimline baffle allows these Børresens to disappear into the soundscape, close your eyes and you can’t pinpoint where the speakers are, yet the power behind the open, precise imaging suggests that they are certainly doing what’s needed. Like some other designs the X3s sound their best at higher levels, the dynamics really come alive with the volume wound up to ‘entertaining’. The absence of perceived colorations encourages high level listening so this is not exactly a problem unless you have neighbours nearby. I got a bit carried away with Keith Jarrett’s Carnegie Hall Concert (ECM) which is an excellent recording and thus can be played at levels approaching the realistic without discomfort when the speakers are of this calibre. ‘Part V’ of this performance is a beauty that really shone through these speakers, the playing is positively radiant and Jarrett’s timing could not be better.

Børresen Acoustics X3 rear port array

With more complex pieces you get a real sense of being able to hear through the mix, this was apparent with Patricia Barber’s ‘Post Modern Blues’ which can seem slightly thick and opaque with some loudspeakers, as if it has been mixed to sound plush on brighter systems. Here you get solid precise double bass and drums alongside the vitality and power of the piano, the whole unit is as sharp as a knife but there is depth of tone and body to the sound. It’s a thrilling combination especially when the bass goes so far down, the double bass in particular being extremely articulate and fast.

Peel away

Someone once coined the term inky black to describe quiet backgrounds and it seems particularly apt here. The design and construction of the cabinet and drivers on this loudspeaker combine to remove any sense of overhang or ringing, pretty well all you get is clean sound. The bigger Børresens peel away more veils to reveal finer details no doubt but you get a pretty good insight into any recording with the X3. And that’s before you add Darkz feet, I did that with the S2T Darkz and got a very worthwhile uplift in bass tightness and low level resolution, eight S2Ts will set you back a pretty penny (€5,120) but a lot less than the price of a better loudspeaker. Standing on their own four feet the Børresen X3s represent excellent value both in terms of sound and build quality, which given where they are made is quite an achievement.

Technical specifications

  • Type 3-way, four-driver, floorstanding speaker with reflex loaded enclosure
  • Driver complement One 70 × 28mm ribbon tweeter; one 4.5inch carbon fibre cone midrange; two 4.5inch carbon fibre cone bass drivers
  • Crossover frequencies Not specified
  • Frequency response 35Hz–50kHz
  • Impedance 4 Ohms
  • Sensitivity 88dB/W/m
  • Dimensions (H×W×D) 1290 × 345 × 607mm including base
  • Weight 55kg/each
  • Finishes High gloss black, high gloss white.
  • Price £11,000/pair

Manufacturer

Børresen Acoustics ApS

www.audiogroupdenmark.com

UK distributor

Auditorium HiFi

www.auditoriumhifi.co.uk

+44 (0)7960 423194

Back to Reviews

Sonus faber Guarneri G5

If any audio company was to ever make use of the phrase ‘not just a pretty face’ for serious marketing purposes, it would realistically be Sonus faber. The acoustic engineering that I’ve seen in various products from the company over the years would, in almost any other case, have been the main story. With Sonus faber though, that brilliance often subsumed itself by aesthetic discussions. It is taken as a given that anything that the company makes should be beautiful and sonically talented and the more you think about that, the more you realise what a significant burden that is. By the time, you reach the point in the range where the Guarneri G5 sits, you can argue that the budget exists to nail both elements but our expectations of just how visually lovely it should be are incredibly high too.

Happily, as we shall cover, this fifth generation of Sonus faber’s long-running stand-mount is very attractive. Still, the engineering that has gone into it is extremely impressive at the same time. The ‘G5’ reflects that this latest version is the fifth generation Guarneri and the basic layout remains unchanged. It is still a two-way rear ported stand-mount speaker, but the mechanics of how these elements have been implemented is significantly different.

DAD rock

The tweeter is a 28mm soft dome device that makes use of the trademark Sonus faber ‘DAD’ (Damped Apex Dome) structure over the north south axis of the dome. Designed to delay any anti phase behaviour from the dome itself, it has a worthwhile secondary function of providing a degree of protection to the dome itself from fingers and other stray objects that isn’t really provided by the supplied grilles. This crosses over a 2.2kHz to a 150mm mid bass driver that is made of cellulose pulp which gives many of the same qualities as treated paper but with greater stiffness than would be the case from the more traditional material.

Sonus faber Guarneri G5

Where the G5 differs most significantly from its predecessors is what is happening behind this cone. A purpose-built neodymium motor system combined with a new tuning frequency allows for deeper extension without distortion. Sonus faber says that resonances are quelled down to 15Hz (that is to say, with Sonus faber quoting a low-end roll-off of 40Hz, lower than anything that the Guarneri G5 itself can generate). As well as beefing up the motor, Sonus faber has worked to reduce the mass of the entire driver assembly to improve responsiveness.

The crossover between the two drivers follows standard Sonus faber design practice. Designed via a combination of listening tests and computer simulation, it features a shopping list of high-quality components that are hand soldered on custom PCBs. As is tradition, the Guarneri G5 supports bi-wiring thanks to having two sets of terminals. The measurements quoted by Sonus faber are not radically different to the proceeding models. The sensitivity of 86dB/w and 4-ohm impedance point to the Guarneri G5 needing a reasonable amount of power to do its best work.

Significant revision

The cabinet that contains all of this has also seen significant revisions. Sonus faber brought their cabinet manufacture in-house by buying the De Santi woodworking facility in 2021. Not explicitly spelt out in the blurb with the Guarneri G5 but certainly signposted is that certain developments in the design of the G5 are possible thanks to this. The cabinet keeps the lute shape profile when viewed from above, but the internal section is now more heavily braced than before. These are joined by aluminium sections as the top and bottom of the cabinet, slightly unfortunately termed Dampshelves, which further quell resonance and increase the overall rigidity considerably.

More metalwork can be found at the back of the cabinet. The Guarneri G5 is rear ported, but rather than terminating in a visible hole, it uses the (rather more inspiringly named) Stealth Ultraflex system of aluminium fins that run the entire length of the rear of the cabinet. These direct the air that leaves the cabinet and increases rigidity simultaneously. All the visible metalwork is finished in a dark anodized colour that makes a neat judgement between avoiding drawing too much attention to its presence and not seeking to hide it entirely.

The speaker does an excellent job of meeting the expectation of beauty heaped upon it. The Guarneri G5 is well-proportioned and packed with pleasing details. I love the metal sections joining the more traditional wood and leather. The Guarneri G5 has to be designed at least partly on the understanding that if you want the more trad finish of the Guarneris of old, you will avail yourself of a well-looked-after used pair so there is no sense attempting to make no changes. This latest model is still incontestably a Sonus faber but entirely contemporary in its design and execution. The review samples were in ‘Wenge’ finish and look and feel worth their £13,000 asking price. I am to aesthetics discourse what John Candy was to hang gliding, but this is still my favourite Sonus faber speaker to look at.

Standing tall

Of course, for most would-be owners, the Guarneri G5 will not set them back £13,000. While Sonus faber makes at least a token attempt on their website to show the speakers in use on a shelf, the vast majority will go on stands, and the bulk of those stands will be the dedicated unit at a brisk £3,200. Even allowing for the premium that dedicated stands tend to carry over the generic competition, the Guarneri G5 stand is pricey. However, the two units’ visual result is hard to argue with. Something more utilitarian would offer equally satisfactory performance, but the effect would be akin to complementing your Armani suit with a pair of steel toe-capped boots.

Sonus faber Guarneri G5

Regarding equipment review, I tend to regard myself as a ‘glass half full’ person. It’s not my position to set myself as the final arbiter of sonic quality, it’s to listen and determine who might be keen to look at such a product. I mention this because I struggled to gel with the Guarneri G5 for a few intriguing days and was resigned to writing a review that endeavoured to cover this off to whom they might appeal.

This wasn’t to say that positive traits failed to manifest themselves in that time, far from it. The effort expended on the drivers has resulted in a speaker that does many positive things we associate with Sonus faber while banishing some less satisfactory aspects. The 24/96 Qobuz stream of Larkin Poe’s Blood Harmony is opened by the slow build of ‘Deep Stays Down’, and the Sonus faber does a fine job of anchoring the Lovell sisters as the focus of your attention. Vocals are delivered with a richness and body that ensures that they grab and hold your attention without the effect tipping over into sounding enhanced and cartoonish. The simple guitar riff behind them is vibrant and real, combining detail, decay and tonal realism to produce something more than a mere reproduction but never tips over into out-and-out impressionism.

Heft beyond its ancestors

And then, when the bass does appear midway through the track, the newest Guarneri has a heft that would have seemed downright improbable to those familiar with its ancestors. This isn’t ‘plenty of bass for a stand-mount’, it’s a decent helping of low-end shove… full stop. Moreover, the Sonus faber wields it with control and agility, allowing it to process the dense complexity of Penguin Café’s Handfuls of Night [Erased Tapes] without any sense of congestion or overhang. All the effort coaxing more speed and responsiveness out of that mid-bass driver has resulted in a genuinely agile loudspeaker that can deliver its commendable heft with genuine vigour.

I’m still not done with the positives, either. The Penguin Café recording, created in cooperation with Greenpeace to highlight the fragility of the Antarctic wilderness, seeks to capture the vastness of that space and, so long as the most cursory of attention has been paid to where you have placed the Sonus faber, it delivers a soundstage that is both expansive and free of almost any suggestion of where the cabinets themselves are in the space they create. This is a noticeably more inert speaker than Sonus fabers of old. Combined with the air management around that rear port, it results in a potent speaker that is usefully free of coloration. Jam the Guarneri G5 against a wall, and you will get some boundary interaction, but more than 30 centimetres seems to be fine.

So why my reticence? Amongst all the positive qualities on offer was the hard-to-shake feeling that the performance was slightly constrained. For all the low-end weight and commendable airiness, there wasn’t the engagement I was hoping for from a Sonus faber, particularly at this price point. This was especially puzzling as I had attended a launch event for the new Homage line earlier in the year and been impressed at the energy of the Guarneri G5 even when it played music I’d consider a little sedate.

The right level

The answer lay mainly in listening levels. Almost all my early listening to the Guarneri G5 occurred at points where levels were, by necessity, on the lower side. At the same time, the launch event had been conducted at a relatively higher volume. When I finally had the chance to open the taps a little, the results were altogether more compelling. Preparing to go and see Peter Gabriel perform live by revisiting his Live in Athens 1987 album [Real World Music] and the Sonus faber tore into ‘San Jacinto’ with all the energy and sheer joy that had been slightly absent beforehand. The raw passion in Gabriel’s vocals and the palpable joy in the audience are readily apparent in what you hear. Revisiting the earlier test program at higher listening levels saw this increase in joy repeated across the board.

Sonus faber Guarneri G5

At this point, a degree of context is needed. The magic number above which I found the Guarneri G5 came alive is in the region of 75dB sustained at my listening position. For many of you reading this, that figure won’t remotely qualify as ‘loud’, but equally, there will be some of you reading this who won’t be listening at anything like that level. It’s also worth noting that the resident Kudos Titan 505 retains its ability to deliver the desired emotional quotient at relatively lower levels. This is indisputably a speaker who does their best work with the volume opened up.

Like a Lancia

Treat the Guarneri G5 like a stolen Lancia Delta Integrale, though, and it’s a delight. Over the time it was on test here, a Philadelphia band with the rather unprepossessing name of Sweat released their debut album Who Do They Think They Are? [TeePee Records]. With a sound that could easily have broken cover in 1976, the way the Sonus faber rose to the challenge was genuinely joyous. The pipe and slipper perception of the brand has always been overstated, but this latest generation is startlingly dynamic and genuinely exciting.

The result of this mid-testing discovery is that I can summarise the Guarneri G5, having personally enjoyed it rather than sitting here postulating who might in my stead. If you have the means to use the Sonus faber at relatively healthy listening levels, this is a truly exceptional speaker where the physical beauty of its appearance is less of a discussion point than the sheer capability it demonstrates across a vast breadth of music. Everything the brand has done so well for decades is here but joined by a space, scale and genuine engagement resulting in a truly fabulous listening experience.

Technical specifications

Type: Two-way Vented box “Stealth Ultraflex” stand-mount loudspeaker

Drive Units: DAD Arrow Point tweeter, Ø 28 mm, Neodymium Magnet System mid-woofer, Ø 150 mm

Crossover: 2,200Hz

Frequency Response: 40 Hz–35.000 Hz

Sensitivity: 86dB SPL (2.83V/1 m)

Nominal Impedance: 4 ohm

Suggested amplifier power output: 30W–125W

Finishes: Graphite, Red, Wenge

Dimensions: 377 × 239 × 375 mm (loudspeakers), 758 × 300 × 390 mm (stands)

Weight: 4.6 kg ea, stands 13 kg ea 

Price: £13,000/pr, Stands £3,200/pr

Manufacturer

Sonus faber

www.sonusfaber.com

UK distributor

Fine Sounds UK

www.finesounds.uk

+44(0)7714 232033

Back to Reviews

Stack Audio AUVA 100

There is an ancient philosophical paradox known as ‘sorites’ or ‘the paradox of the heap’. Imagine a heap of sand, now keep removing grains of sand. At one point, it ceases to become a ‘heap’. Logically taking away that last grain of sand didn’t solely cause the cessation of ‘heapiness’; adding a few grains of sand once more will not restore it to being a heap. The sorites paradox hangs on the vagueness of its predicates.

The heap paradox doesn’t count in audio because we’re an obsessive lot. To us, a heap is precisely eleventy million grains of sand, no more, no less. And it is against that obsessiveness that companies like Stack Audio set out their store. The Stack Audio AUVA are made to replace the spikes of loudspeakers, with the AUVA 50 for the more svelte speaker, the AUVA 70 designed for most models and the AUVA 100 a perfect choice for the huskier transducer up to 275kg. I used the latter with my pair of Wilson Audio Duette II.

Into the AUVA

If you upend a pair of loudspeakers, you’ll find one of the myriad combinations of spike diameter, thread, weight loadings and even number. Theo Stack recognised that although the same basic properties apply throughout, making three sizes of AUVA (and a wealth of different thread sizes and diameters) means almost every floorstander, stand-mount stand and even spiked bookshelf speakers can be accommodated.

Why replace the spikes? First, think about what spikes try to do. There is a lot of stray vibration energy in a loudspeaker that is best removed. A spike is a hard coupler, effectively ramming the points of several into the floor, and letting the sheer mass of the house absorb any vibration. It’s proved popular, but it’s not that effective. There are other ways of absorbing or dissipating that vibration, perhaps the best-known of which are the Townshend platforms.

Stack Audio AUVA 100

The clue is in the name for Stack Audio; AUVA stands for ‘Audio Vibration Absorber). This is a very different way of removing that pesky vibration. The pod is a hollow vessel filled with loose particles of different materials, including tungsten powder. Vibrational energy transmitted through the spike thread hits this chamber of particles and is dispersed as heat energy. Think of this a little like the Styrofoam ‘peanuts’ that act as packing protection. Their job is to collide against one another in the box, thereby absorbing any external impact forces. The energy generated by cabinet resonance (in AUVA’s case) or the back of a courier’s van (in the Styrofoam setting) is dissipated as heat.

What’s more, just as if you shake a box with a product protected by Styrofoam peanuts you can hear them gently rattling around, if you put your ear to the AUVA and give it a little shake, you can hear the loose particles rustling. This is deliberate.

This isn’t the only thing going on inside the AUVA foot, but the rest is hidden behind pending patents and protected by ninja death squads.

With one end of the AUVA neatly screwed into the vibration-making loudspeaker, the other side of the pod can be fitted with a pad or three tiny carpet-piercing spikes. These are not for vibration dissipation, but to root the speaker in place.

Not my first rodeo

I expected the AUVA 100 to do something, but this is not my first anti-vibration rodeo. I’ve long since gone away from spikes and adopted the Townshend Seismic Isolation Podium to keep vibration at bay. Also, although the choice of cabinet and stand materials in my trusty, now discontinued Wilson Duette II meant a lot of internal resonance and vibration was already dealt with in camera. So, while the AUVA 100 will do something, it will be an at best a nuanced difference given the setting.

Or so I thought. The Stack Audio AUVA 100 profoundly impacted the loudspeaker’s performance. The music was more energised, more engaging and had considerably better separation and space around the instruments. But that was just the start.

It didn’t matter what recording I played through the AUVA-equipped loudspeakers. In all cases, the same thing happened. The midrange sprung out at you, almost like a two-way loudspeaker suddenly became a three-way. Vocal clarity, articulation and projection improved considerably. This is extremely impressive when listening to someone already praised for their diction and projection (the tactical nuclear vocal cords of Joyce DiDonato, for example). Similarly, treble kinks – however mild – are ironed out, allowing a smoother race through the upper registers.

Stack Audio AUVA 100

You might expect the biggest change to the bottom end and would not be disappointed. The AUVA 100 feet tidy up the definition and precision of bass notes, even in a loudspeaker that traditionally gives good bass for its size. The improvement is more about ‘control’ than ‘depth’, but it makes the un-AUVAed loudspeaker’s bottom end sound almost ‘one-note’ by comparison.

In essence, the AUVA 100 does everything the Townshend Seismic Isolation Podium does for the sound but often does it better. I found the deep bass notes of Trentemøller’s Chameleon, the subtle interplay of cello and mandolin in Yo Yo Ma’s Bach Trios and the fast, twitchy electro of Orbital to have greater snap and precision on the AUVA 100. The Townshend had the edge in scale and depth, the two were neck-and-neck in the tonality sweepstakes, but the Stack edged it in bass definition. That’s a first!

Feet don’t fail me now!

They might look like big Oreos or hockey pucks, but a lot is going on inside the Stack Audio AUVA 100. I’ve been trying to resist saying this, but they don’t put a foot wrong.

Those of us used to other methods of vibration control systems in loudspeakers might be surprised just how much more can be removed from the loudspeaker by using the AUVA isolators, and just how much better the results can get. And as for those who have never tried anything apart from the spikes that come with the loudspeaker… are you in for a treat!

Price and Contact Details

  • Stack Audio AUVA 100 Isolator £1,240 (for 2× four isolators, as tested)

Manufacturer

Stack Audio

www.stackaudio.co.uk

+44(0)1626 249005

Back to Reviews

Gary Burton: The New Quartet

 The latest in ECM’s Luminessence series of vinyl repressings, The New Quartet was Gary Burton’s second album for the label and as the title alludes featured a different quartet to the one he made his name with in the late sixties. Burton released his first LP in 1961 and has played with a who’s who of great names in jazz including Keith Jarrett, Pat Metheny, Herbie Hancock and Stan Getz, he made a number of duet albums with Chick Corea and developed the four mallet technique that has come to define the best vibraphonists in the business.

Burton formed his first quartet in 1967 with Larry Coryell, Roy Haynes and Steve Swallow. The New Quartet features the less famous names of Michael ‘Mick’ Goodrick on guitar, Abraham Laboriel on bass and Harry Blazer on drums. Mick Goodrick later played with Pat Metheny, and session musician Abraham Laboriel has contributed to over 4,000 albums. Given the way he plays on The New Quartet, it’s surprise that he’s not better known.

The album opener is also its high point, ‘Open Your Eyes, You Can Fly’ is a Chick Corea composition for piano that this Quartet turn into a storming blast of an anthem. Burton was a pioneer of jazz rock fusion in his earlier quartet and that’s the general style of this album and very much the mode on the first track with all four musicians playing with and around one another with a speed and dexterity that is reinforced by the bright melodic sound of the vibes. The sound is more jazz than rock for this reason but it’s not by any means challenging, there’s just plenty going on, the underlying beat may not be in 4/4 but it’s very easy to enjoy the rhythmic patterns that are created by what is a highly percussive ensemble. 

Keith Jarrett’s ‘Coral’ is the second well-chosen tune and brings the tempo down so that the band sound mellower and there’s some space for intimacy in their playing. Here the guitar gets a break and sounds lovely doing so. In fact the whole piece is pretty lovely and provides a good contrast with the first of two pieces written by British pianist Gordon Beck. ‘Tying Up Loose Ends’ is the best of them and in this band’s hands it is reminiscent of King Crimson right up until the moment that vibes join the fray at which point melody takes centre stage. Although centre stage is not perhaps the best description as Burton’s work gets little more attention than anyone else’s in the mix save for the bright tonality of his instrument.

As with all ECM releases the New Quartet was produced by ECM founder Manfred Eicher, apparently Burton had met him a couple of years later and was impressed by how well he worked with musicians, when he had the choice between sticking with Atlantic or signing to ECM he took the latter route. The sound on this pressing is excellent, full of energy and life but also really well separated and defined. It’s easy to hear exactly what each musician is doing and how they are interacting with one another. I tried the digital stream on Qobuz but that sounds thin and flat by comparison with none of the depth or body that a decent record player extracts from the vinyl.

Side two opens with a piece by another Burton favourite Carla Bley, ‘Olhos de Gato’ is a downtempo beauty that features a classy guitar break and has rather more space than other numbers, this allows Goodrick and Burton to play a duet over relatively subdued backing that reflects the charm of the composition to a T. Gordon Beck’s ‘Mallet Man’ allows Laboriel to really stretch out and showcase his fluid style before guitar and vibes come together in unison. The album ends with two Mike Gibbs pieces the last of which, Nonsequence’, is almost full tilt boogie. There’s so much precisely honed energy on this romp that you pretty well have to get up and leap around, or is that just me? ECM have done a great job with this pressing not least by bringing it into the limelight after so long, highly recommended even if you think you don’t like vibes.

Back to Music

Xavian Virtuosa Anniversario

What sort of loudspeaker would one expect from Xavian, a Czech company run by an Italian audio engineer? Perhaps artisanal, with refined, traditional woodwork and naming primarily inspired by classical music? Sure. Maybe a pleasant, inviting, warm listening experience washing over you and majoring on rich tonal colours and textures? Got it. How about speed, firecracker dynamics, transparency and detail retrieval uncovering bits of music that previously had gone unnoticed? Hang on, that wasn’t in the script, not like this anyway…

Perhaps a better question would be—what to expect from the flagship speaker of an outfit whose price list reads nothing like that of the Magicos, Wilsons, and Avantgardes of this world, one that comprises six distinct speaker lines and has its centre of gravity in the middle four-figure range (which seems extremely reasonable throughout given the levels of build, finish, and materials on offer)?

The countdown begins

The Xavian Virtuosa Anniversarios are a strictly limited edition floorstanding loudspeaker, which will be all over when 50 pairs have been built and delivered (more of half that number already having ‘sold’ stickers at the time of writing) and features a full complement of Scan-Speak’s statement Ellipticor drivers, which big-brand manufacturers wouldn’t dream of incorporating in a speaker with a retail price in the lower five-figure range (Xavian was the first and the only brand so far to use Ellipticors in a series-built speaker). Still, on its Facebook page, Xavian is almost apologetic about raising the price from 330,000 to 365,000 CZK in its home market. This works out to €15,000 or £13,000 for a pair of one of the brand’s finest loudspeakers, which doesn´t sound like ‘serious’ high-end money, when a ‘statement’ phono cartridge is almost expected to cost the same… or more.

Xavian Virtuosa Anniversario

Whatever your expectations would be, you’d probably be wrong. These are very much Xavian owner/chief engineer Roberto Barletta’s babies, culminating over three decades in the business of loudspeakers (and the odd amplifier). Having started working for an Italian company making loudspeakers and power amps in 1989 until moving to Prague five years later. Barletta founded Xavian (the name deriving from Greek mythology, being the sacred place of the Muses) in 1996. The XN line, which with their sloping baffles pretty much defined the aesthetics of the larger Xavian speakers over two decades, launched in 1997 and is being reborn with the Virtuosa Anniversario. A project that started in 2022 with a design brief to create a mildly modified and updated version of the XN line´s flagship Virtuosa, resulted in a completely new design incorporating “ultimate solutions, a journey into the innermost and previously hidden corners of music without technical limits.”

The main talking point is those Ellipticor drivers; in this case, a 38 mm high elliptical dome tweeter and two cone drivers of 18 cm and 22 cm diameter, respectively, covering the midrange and bass regions. Bar the elliptically shaped dust covers – integral to the membranes rather than glued onto them – look entirely normal from the outside; however, it´s a somewhat different story at the business end, usually hidden in the cabinet. Six neodymium magnets per driver are grouped in a star constellation around an elliptical voice coil, which drives a paper membrane. The membrane’s shape is not conical, but slightly curved, not unlike the mouth of a Tractrix horn. It sounds simple enough as a description but is rather complex in the real world and has huge ramifications in terms of production tolerances. Happily, the advantages are rather sizeable, too: the elliptical shape of the voice coil and voice coil gap significantly lowering distortion over the entire bandwidth and dynamic range of the drivers and excellent impulse response.

Xavian drive unit

The Fifth Element

Then, there is the crossover filter, which consists of only five elements – none of which are capacitors. Instead, high-quality ribbon coils from Denmark and military-grade ‘ultra resistors’ using copper elements on their heat sinks do all the dividing and equalising work. The absence of capacitors – even the very best and most expensive ones – in the signal path removes a significant restriction in terms of absolute sound quality, mainly low-level dynamics, in itself; Xavian having been able to eliminate them, uses so few parts and still achieve a very uniform frequency response as well as a gentle impedance curve (the minimum being 3.1Ω at the 37Hz port resonance frequency) which is almost purely resistive over the entire range. Couple that with a generous 92 dB/W/m sensitivity, and it is a testament to the accumulated body of experience and skills the firm has gained over the past near-three decades.

In practice, despite their 4Ω rating, the Virtuosa Anniversarios provided what is undoubtedly one of the least demanding amplifier loads I´ve encountered from a box-type speaker to date. It enabled my Audio Note (UK) 300B single-ended monobloc amplifiers with a nine Watts rating (which is probably being generous) to shine at their brightest without any apparent compromises in terms of bass control, bandwidth or dynamic range compared to my (admittedly comparatively modest) solid-state amplification.

The most conventional – if very thoroughly engineered – aspect of the Anniversarios is the cabinet, which is solidly constructed out of thick sheets of high-density fibreboard (some other Xavian speaker series use solid woods, but this one probably would be impossible to move, being a hefty 51 kg apiece as is) and divided into three separate chambers inside. Bitumen felt, and fleece are used as damping agents, while the chambers for the mid and high-frequency drivers are filled with seven metres of sheep wool. The bass chamber is tuned using an oval-shaped port made of wood.

Six hours later

Right after Barletta delivered and installed the speakers in person (it´s a six-hour drive from Prague to my home,) I put Kraftwerk’s Radio-Aktivität [Kling Klang]which sounded rather enjoyable as it was. Barletta noted that the frequency balance was a bit on the warm side, which was solved to my complete satisfaction by toeing in the speakers more towards the listening seat. These are not warts-and-all, if-you-can’t-stand-the-heat-get-out-of-the-kitchen studio monitors; instead, they´re expertly voiced to give a frequency response that is perceived to be natural by real people in actual rooms – which is with a slight roll-off towards the high end of the frequency band rather than being ruler flat in anechoic chamber conditions. They don’t need to do the latter, either – the sheer quality of the drivers and the minimalist crossover, coupled to a cabinet of which the resonance behaviour seems to be very benign at worst, results in a noise floor that is unusually low for anything that isn’t a horn speaker or one that uses a single driver for most or all of the frequency band.

The electronic sounds that open Radiohead’s ‘Everything In Its Right Place’ from the album Kid A [Parlophone] were so warm that one could dive into them, yet the alienating effects surrounding them took on a new level of clarity and delicacy, rising from a background free of grain and fuzz; the nuances in Thom Yorke´s voice and the rising dynamic tension as the piece progresses being minutely traced. The Anniversarios proved equally adept at untangling the dense arrangements of Björk’s magnum opus Homogenic [One Little Indian], letting both the rich textures of the real string instruments and the harsh, distorted, dynamic electronic sounds shine through – more so when on the end of the Audio Note SETs. Vocals were both intelligible and intimate, the soundstage keeping its size and solidity when all of it got underlined by big wads of 50 Hz electronic bass courtesy of the late producer Mark Bell of LFO fame.

Low-end satisfaction

Speaking of the lowest frequencies – while those seeking to reproduce the lowest pipe organ tones in rooms big enough to accommodate them, might not come away entirely satisfied, for the rest of us playing real-life rooms these generously sized but not monumental floorstanders can be regarded ‘full range’ without reservation. Moreover, the bass is quick on its feet with little or no discernible overhang, and as rich in tonal colours and textures as the rest of the frequency range. There are oodles of get-up-and-go to serve techno and the new wave of dark electronic body music from the likes of Ultra Sunn and NNHMN with plenty of drive and impeccable timing. Joy Division’s Unknown Pleasures [Factory] has been accompanying me through the past four decades at least; the Xavians, however, were shockingly adept at painting producer Martin Hannett´s entirely unnatural but completely relatable dystopian soundscapes – wide open, distant and empty but also claustrophobic and too close for comfort at the same time, distorted elements that are glass clear all the same; the primal scream of the guitar parts, the nervous, driving bass patterns, exploding glass, the icy synths and of course Ian Curtis’ voice (which also had been subjected all sorts of manipulation including being recorded through a telephone line in Insight). It was like a new listening adventure again.

Xavian’s Virtuosa Anniversary – the limited edition and excellent Czech floorstanding loudspeaker – wowed our reviewer, Eric van Spelde. And unlike most top-class audio products, this one doesn’t cost a King’s Ransom!

This underscores the main point of this review – I had expected the Xavian Virtuosa Anniversarios to be refined, to be at least ‘good’ in all the box-tick audiophile aspects, to play with authority, to not draw attention to itself, to be a thoroughly enjoyable listen – what I didn’t expect was for the Xavians to be genuinely exciting. They are. They make me want to listen to my music – all of it – all over again. That´s what its creator set out to do – to achieve it, and to do so without resorting to artificial elements that would fatigue and the wish for a change of speakers some time down the road is commendable at any price. That bigger names in the business, following their usual calculation models, would probably charge several times the price that the Xavians retail for, is merely the icing on the cake. Weren´t it for the tiny number of them being available for a world market, there´d be serious potential for disruption here…

Technical specifications

  • Type Type: three-way, floor-standing, front ported speaker
  • Driver Complement: 1x 120 mm Scan-Speak Ellipticor silk dome tweeter, 1x 180 mm Scan-Speak Ellipticor midrange, 1x 222 mm Scan-Speak woofer
  • Sensitivity: 92 dB
  • Impedance: 4 Ohms (min. 3.1 Ohms at 37 Hz)
  • Frequency Response: 37 – 20,000 Hz (-3 dB)
  • Recommended Power: 10 – 200 W
  • Dimensions (H x D x W): 109 x 43 (51) x 26 (34) cm
  • Weight: 51 kg
  • Price: £13,000/€15,000/365,000 CZK per pair

Manufacturer

Xavian Electronics s.r.o.

Home page: www.xavian.cz

Product Page: https://www.xavian.cz/product/virtuosa-anniversario/?lang=en

Where to buy: https://www.xavian.cz/about-us/where-to-buy/?lang=en

Back to Reviews

Munich High-End 2024: The Top, Top Fives!

The annual Munich High-End Show is the predominant audio event. Although AXPONA in Chicago a few weeks before the event and the Hong Kong and Warsaw shows later in the year are also strong contenders, this is still the show to attend if you want to know what’s new and what’s next in audio.

Its biggest problem is its size. With hundreds of exhibitors spread across the MOC exhibition centre, the nearby MotorWorld, the HiFiDeluxe show across town, and more, it’s easy for a company’s new product launch to be entirely drowned out. To this end, this year, both Thursday and Friday were trade days, allowing distributors, dealers, and the media more time to visit manufacturers and allowing manufacturers to spread their events across the two days. In addition, the two atria were filled with manufacturer’s booths for business-to-business discussions. Despite this, the sheer scale of the show meant that multiple press conferences took place every hour over the two days.

The Munich High-End Show has long been an event of monumental proportions, impossible for a single person to cover comprehensively. Attempting to cover everything would result in an overwhelming report, a testament to the show’s significance.

So, instead, we tasked several reviewers at the show with coming up with their top five products at the event. To make these top five more impactful, we asked them to consider their best at the show’s end rather than having it in their minds as they walked the halls. Note that not everyone took images at the show; where possible, we have used our own images; there will be some ‘gaps’!

Post-show time is busy for everyone as people write their reports, try to secure products for review, and catch up on lost time in their schedules. We sent our request for a top five to several of our reviewers; these were the first to respond. There will be another round next week!

Alan Sircom

Constellation Audio

Constellation Audio Revelation 2 Preamp and Phono stage

On the surface, Constellation Audio launched a revised version of its Revelation range (dropping names like ‘Pictor’ and ‘Andromeda’ for a simpler ‘Revelation 2 Preamp’ nomenclature in the process). It brought an elegant new champagne finish and now has XLR connectors between the main unit and power supply. However, a root-and-branch change to the Constellation Audio design has replaced conventional linear power supplies with custom switch-mode power supplies throughout the range. The amplifiers still retain their Class A/B amplification, but in listening, they deliver a faster, more dynamic, and exciting reading of the classic Constellation Audio sound.

DALI

DALI Rubikore range

 

Danish loudspeaker experts DALI announced its new Rubikore range at the show. Like the Epikore range launched last year, Rubicore takes many of the lessons learned in developing the brand’s flagship Kore loudspeakers and brings them to a party that costs a lot less. The company gave an hour-long presentation on every aspect of the design using the £5,999 Rubikore 8 to give musical examples to highlight these performance aspects. From the light, rigid Clarity Cone mid-bass and its innovative magnet materials science, to the combination AMT/dome tweeter array, this speaker could handle any kind of music and sets a high standard to beat at the price.

Marten

Marten Coltrane Quintet

 

Marten released its outstanding Coltrane Quintet floorstander at one of the best demonstrations at the show. The loudspeaker, starting at €170,000 per pair (€187,000 for the Statement Edition on show) now uses a Marten-designed diamond tweeter, beryllium midrange dome and new carbon-fibre mid-bass, alongside the Accuton-derived bass units. Some 25% larger than the Coltrane 3, the four-way bass reflex design also uses internal wiring from sister brand Jorma, the company’s trademark first-order crossover and Marten’s new isolators. It was shown in a room-within-a-room, playing through the recently-rebooted Halcro audio electronics.

Innuos

Innuos ZENith NG

 

The Innuos ZEN NG and ZENith NG do not replace the existing ZEN and ZENith. Instead, they use an entirely new streaming server platform that has taken three years of development. The new, fine-tuned Precise Audio main board is considerably more optimised toward audio performance. This is met with a new Gallium Nitride-based low impedance power supply and the new Sense 3 operating system. These combine to deliver a server with strikingly low latency. In performance, and in the context of an excellent system, the £14,200 ZENith NG was trading blows with the existing Statement Next Generation server, with many preferring the newer model to the reference.

Wadax

Wadax Studio•Player

 

Spanish digital experts Wadax launched the first in its new line: the Studio • Player. Drawing heavily from the company’s Atlantis flagship line, the one-box Studio • Player features a CD/SACD transport, a sophisticated streaming platform and the same DAC circuit used in the Atlantis in a more streamlined, attainable, and – let’s be honest here – less ‘bling!’ package. The €35,000 one-box digital solution will be available in mid-2024 and is expected to be followed by a clock and standalone DAC from the same line. The Studio • Player was on demonstration in two rooms at the show and sounded damn good in both of them.

 

Simon Lucas

Arcam

ARCAM SA45

The new ‘Radia’ range of two-channel separates has given Arcam a shot in the arm, it seems – so much so that it took the opportunity to launch three more models at Munich (in between hosting some extremely hip German octogenarians showcasing their latest jazz odyssey on vinyl). The SA45 is the standout product, for me at least – this is an amplifier/network streamer with 180 watts of Class G power, a switchable MM/MC phono stage and an HDMI eARC socket too. It features a big (8.8in) hi-res display, two-way aptX Adaptive Bluetooth connectivity and DIRAC Live Room Correction (an appropriate mic will be provided in the box).

Aries Cerat

Audio Cerat

 

This is what we mean when we talk about ‘high end’. When Cypriot Stavros Danos founded Aries Cerat in 2010, he presumably had to construct a room around its ‘Contendo II’ stereo speakers rather than just setting it up – even without its wardrobe-sized bass modules. This speaker system requires plenty of space and several burly individuals to position. I took a picture of the entire set-up, and even when as far away from it as it was possible to get, I still needed to use the ‘panorama’ setting on my smartphone to fit the whole thing in. I heard it playing some solo piano, and the realism was uncanny. I also heard it playing some pipe organ, and several people had to dash to the lavatory.

Focal

Focal has been doing admirable work where full-sized headphones are concerned lately, and it used the Munich Show to launch a couple more pairs – and of the two, the hard-wired, open-backed £599 Hadenys seem best placed to (for want of a better word) disrupt the established order. More than a little reminiscent of the company’s Bathys wireless headphones, Hadenys are a winning combination of leather, woven fabric and memory foam in conjunction with the distinctive ‘honeycomb’ earcups that are becoming a Focal calling-card. They’re fitted with the same 40mm aluminium/magnesium ‘M’-dome drivers as the Bathys, which won’t harm them…

 

Linn

Linn Klimax 800

 

Never knowingly understated, Linn took the opportunity to create a ‘Klimax’ system consisting of an LP12 turntable, Klimax DSM network streamer, 360 Passive with Activ Bass loudspeakers driven by six (count ‘em!) Klimax Solo 800 monoblock amplifiers, at £37,500 per amplifier! Given that the Munich High-End Show takes place in an exhibition centre rather than an aircraft hangar, it’s safe to say this system constituted overkill – but, at the same time, it was one of the more prodigious experiences on offer. I’m limited for space here, so I will just deploy the words ‘power’, ‘control’, ‘insight’, ‘dynamism’ and ‘finesse’ to hint at the impression this set-up creates.

Q Acoustics

Q Acoustics 3000c

Not only is the new Q Acoustics 3000c range not ‘high end’ as the Munich Show traditionally understands it, but it’s also not ‘high end’ where Q Acoustics is concerned. Nevertheless, the covers being whipped off this latest entry-level range of passive loudspeakers constitutes one of my highlights of the entire show – mainly because Q Acoustics is so very good at this sort of thing. Two standmounters, two floorstanders and a centre channel comprise the new range, with prices starting at £329 and topping out at £899. There are four finishes – two wood variations along with black and white. And the 3000c range are the most affordable loudspeakers to feature the company’s new ‘continuous curved cone’ driver technology that’s gone down so well in the rather more upmarket 5000 series.

Steve Dickinson

SUPATRAC

Supertrak

A truly radical design, SUPATRAC’s ‘horizontal unipivot’ concept has been confounding expectations of tonearm performance. This is a rare example of how some properly fresh thinking on the role of the tonearm can get some truly extraordinary results. The regular ‘cooking’ Blackbird Farpoint tonearm is raising expectations as to where the limits of vinyl may be, and the ‘cost no object’ Nighthawk version, which debuted at the show on a Grand Prix Audio Parabolica, through a CH Precision P1 phono stage in the Vienna Acoustics room, seems to bear out the assertion that using the best and most appropriate materials for the job, gets you even further.

Fyne Audio

Not to be confused with the SUPATRAC tonearm, Fyne Audio has recently launched a supertweeter, dubbed SupaTrax, available in a wood finish to match its Vintage series loudspeakers and also in piano black for wider acceptability across (or indeed outside) the Fyne Audio range. What the supertweeter brings to the party is remarkable to the point of being transformational in terms of loudspeaker performance, particularly in terms of overall levels of coherence, tunefulness and tonal accuracy. Partnered mostly with their Vintage 12 loudspeakers, which are neither as large nor as visually arresting as many speakers at Munich, the overall levels of sheer musical communication rivalled any of the seven-figure systems playing elsewhere, despite using very modest (in Munich terms, at least) Rega electronics.

Peak Loudspeakers 

Peak Dragon Legacy

Does anybody remember Peak Consult? If you do, you may have welcomed their return at Munich last year. Now dubbed PEAK Loudspeakers, they demonstrated their top model, the €180,000 Dragon Legacy, supported by Gryphon electronics. I revisited this room repeatedly as a form of ‘detox’ from some of my other experiences at the show. Effortlessly musical, they shamed many considerably more expensive alternatives and, had I the funds or the space, these are end-game loudspeakers. I also think the wood and leather finish, while not novel, is so beautifully executed it helps you overlook their substantial size.

EPOS ES28N 

Epos ES-28N

FinkTeam demonstrated its new EPOS ES28N, completing a 3-model lineup of the small ES7N standmount, the chunkier ES14N, and now this mid-sized, 3-way floorstander. It was doing all the right things for me, and at around £8,000, it looks likely to be a real contender at that price. Slotting in below FinkTeam’s branded Kim and Borg models, the EPOS range keeps the faith with the FinkTeam approach at somewhat more accessible prices and deserves to do well. Also of interest in this room was the new Luphonic R3 turntable, a clean, fresh design with an interesting rotating armboard that easily accommodates all manner of effective lengths. Here, using their own in-house designed and built 12” tonearm, it looks and sounds good enough to challenge quite a few established turntables.

CH Precision 

CH Precision C10

CH Precision’s 10 Series continues to grow, with the new €91,000 C10 DAC introducing digital audio at the 10 Series’ performance level. Like the amps, preamp and phono stage that preceded it, the C10 goes beyond the performance of the 1 Series components – a quick 30-second A/B comparison with CH’s C1 D/A control unit was all I needed to appreciate that this was a next-level performance. It’s not as fully-featured as the C1 and won’t fulfil the unit’s control functions, so you’ll still need a (L10) preamp. it’s a more focused product, and that focus shows in how it performs. CH also has some very interesting thoughts about the role of digital filters on DAC designs and why they seem so special on both C1 and C10.

 

Ed Selley

Musical Fidelity

Musical Fidelity Nu-Vista

Among what appeared to be a complete new company’s worth of gear from Musical Fidelity, the NuVista 600.2 integrated stood out as the most alluring of the many new models on show. Fractionally less volcanically powerful than the existing 800.2 integrated (150 watts into 8 ohms and 300 into 4), it actually offers better connectivity than the big amp thanks to a second balanced input. Resident designer Simon Quarry has revised it substantially over the original, partnering the NuVista preamp stage with a beefier power amp section than was used previously. It is on sale later this year.

Dynaudio

Dynaudio Contour Legacy

I’m a big believer in the adage that if it looks right it probably is and the upcoming Dynaudio Contour Legacy is a case in point. Designed to pay tribute to the Contour designs of the eighties and nineties but with modern internals, it uses a 28mm Esostar tweeter and dual 180mm woofers derived from the Evidence range which are controlled by a bespoke crossover made using premium components. The American Walnut finish has been selected both for its similarity to the original Contour veneers and because it is sustainable. Only 1,000 individually numbered pairs will be built.

Meridian Audio

Meridian Ellipse

It has been a while since we’ve seen anything new from Meridian Audio so the arrival of the Ellipse wireless speaker at the firmly terrestrial end of the market is good news all round. The £1,900 unit features UPnP, AirPlay, Chromecast and will be Roon certified, supported by wired input options. The chassis is sealed and all metal with all assembly being undertaken in the UK. Demonstrating something as dinky as the Ellipse in the unforgiving space of the MOC is not without risk, but the Meridian managed to sound extremely impressive over the various test tracks being played.

Fyne Audio

Fyne Audio Classic Gold

Fresh from delivering the Classic and Vintage ranges, Fyne Audio unveiled the Classic Gold range which go on sale later this year. These sit between the existing Classic and Vintage ranges (and Fyne is keen to point out they are closer to the Vintage range in performance while being nearer to the Classic models in terms of pricing). It is also the first time that there will be a 15 inch driver model in the Classic range and while they’re neither small nor exactly subtle, they look great fun and a welcome addition to the range.

Wilson Audio

Wilson Audio WATT/Puppy

The first Wilson Audio speakers I ever heard was a pair of turn of the century WATT/Puppys and they left a lasting impression with me. The decision therefore to revive the name in 2024 is a very welcome one. The premise of the design is the same as before; a two way standmount sat atop a separate bass module; two distinct speakers but sold as a single entity. It now benefits from every additional material and engineering benefit that has been achieved by Wilson since the last iteration in 2011. I almost certainly cannot afford a pair but I covet them very much indeed.

 

Part Two

 

Back to Home

The Lilac Time: Dance Till All The Stars Come Down

Two years ago, hi-fi+ spoke to English singer-songwriter Stephen Duffy, frontman of country-folk band The Lilac Time, and a founding member of Duran Duran, about his long-lost late ‘70s / early ‘80s group The Hawks, as well as other projects.

He told us: “My last record, The Lilac Time’s Return To Us, wasn’t about Brexit, but it was very current politically. I sat on that for two years and thought, ‘Oh God – this is going to seem so out of date by the time it comes out’, but now it seems more relevant than it did when it came out because of everything that’s going on.”

Now he’s back with Dance Till All The Stars Come Down – the title comes from a line in a W.H. Auden poem – which is The Lilac Time’s first album since 2019’s Return To Us and the eleventh since they released their eponymous debut in 1987. It’s a record that’s more relevant than ever, despite some of it being written in 2015.

Speaking about the album’s first single, ‘A Makeshift Raft’, which was inspired by Syrian refugee, Alan Kurdi, drowning while attempting to reach Greece in 2015, as well as Trump becoming the Republican party presidential candidate, Duffy says: “It’s the first song I wrote for the album. So ‘first’ in fact, it could’ve been on the last album, Return To Us.” 

He adds: “I started writing in 2015, when three-year-old Alan Kurdi drowned with eleven others trying to reach Kos and was photographed being carried off the beach his corpse had reached.”

Like the rest of the album, ‘A Makeshift Raft’ doesn’t feature conventional drums or bass.

“This is the one song I almost broke with the precept of no drum kits,” says Duffy. “For my sins I erred toward a bass drum, but the precept endured.”

First song, the dramatic, ‘50s tinged strummer, ‘Your Vermillion Cliffs’, opens with a wonderfully melancholic line Morrissey would be proud to have written: “I’ve never liked my birthdays, they always make me sad.”

Second single, ‘The Long Way’, is a pithy rebuke to Tory voters – “Who votes to be homeless / To be unemployed / Who votes for kindness / To be destroyed / They offer just hatred / Or suicide” – while the gorgeous and romantic ‘On The Last Day of the Last Days of Summer’ (“Dance ‘till all the stars come down  /  Stay with me until there’s no else around”) has acoustic, Lennon-style guitar picking as heard on ‘Julia’ from The White Album.

‘Candy Cigarette’ features some delightful bluesy-folk mandolin playing that harks back to those great Rod Stewart albums from the early ’70s.

The whole record is acoustic, stripped back, sparse and intimate – rustic country-folk.

Very much a family affair, The Lilac Time comprises Duffy, his brother, Nick, and wife, Claire.

Ben Peeler plays pedal steel guitar and the songs have been beautifully mixed and mastered by the Grammy-winning John Paterno, who has worked with The Lilac Time since 2015 – his other clients include Bonnie Raitt, Badly Drawn Boy and Robbie Williams.

Duffy, who turned 63 this year, says the final song, which is the poignant, reflective and nostalgic ‘The Band That Nobody Knew’ – “That was our time in the shade / No one but the driver got paid” – is about the dysfunctional relationship he had with touring. 

It recounts his time on the road: “I loved how it felt / Between towns / And all the ups and the downs / The acrobats dropped by the clowns.”

Explaining his thinking, he says: “It was just being out there, thinking about the next deal and the next album. This is our next deal and this is our next album. I hope you enjoy it as much as we did making it.”

Duffy believes Dance Till All The Stars Come Down is the best album The Lilac Time have ever made – he might just be right – and he says he wrote each song as if they were to be the last one ever written. If he never wrote another song, it would be such a shame, but when he makes albums as good as this one, you can forgive him.

Back to Music

REL Classic 98

In the 1990s, a Welshman called Richard Lord had an idea about bass. That idea became the REL (after ‘Richard E Lord’) range of subwoofers. Those first subs – Strata, Stadium, Stentor – put REL on the UK map. But the product that ‘broke’ REL internationally was the Strata III in 1998. And REL’s latest model is the Classic No 98, essentially the Strata III brought up to date.

This could have gone one of three ways. REL could have simply remade the Strata III once again. It could have made a poor pastiche of the Strata III. Or it could take that classic product and see what modern-era REL could do with the design. REL took the high-ground option and viewed 1998 through 2023’s design lenses.

Original Concept

The original REL concept was a sealed enclosure with a relatively low-power Class A/B amplifier and a long-throw bass driver. Where most subwoofers tend to use a port to stretch a loudspeaker’s deep bass properties, Richard Lord’s clever idea was to use a bigger – but sealed – inch-thick cabinet. This meant the Strata III and 98 use a 250mm bass unit. Back in 1998, that driver was a VIFA unit. The company could have ‘raided’ the driver from its T9X design but has instead made its own paper driver unit specifically for the 98.

In fairness to late 20th Century REL, the low-power Class A/B design was more of a necessary evil than a design decision. Commercial Class D designs were still a year or two away. Building several hundred watts of Class A/B amp into the Strata III would have been stupidly heavy, prohibitively expensive, and would run alarmingly warm.

REL of 2023 knows its way around Class D amps, and a new 300W model is used in the 98.

In recent years, the brand has shied away from the wood veneers that were such a feature of ‘OG’ REL. Most modern RELs are black or white and often a rich black piano gloss. However, exploring the company’s past without a walnut veneer wouldn’t be right. The No 98 has a deep matt walnut veneer finish and rolled edges, especially on the top and bottom plates. The shiny REL badge on the middle of the top plate and the square feet are the only visible differences. Even the rear panel comes close to looking like a Strata III, although the current logo looks less like a child of the 1970s.

Same as it ever was

Setting up a REL is the same as it always was. For audio, use the high-level settings (the supplied cable helps, and there is an upgrade that is worth treating yourself to). Connect this cable to the loudspeaker terminals. Now turn the subwoofer down until it is at the limits of audibility (then turn it down one more notch for good measure). A good way of checking this is to use a well-recorded piece of music with a solid walking bass. Adjust until the REL sub makes that bass come alive but doesn’t thicken or slow the sound. Check back in a few weeks; you’ll probably turn the sound down more.

REL Classic 98

What REL has done here is successfully blend old and new. REL subs were a revelation for music lovers wanting to add some reinforcement to the sound, but they probably weren’t the deepest or most neutral subs around. However, some still crave that early REL warmth… or at least the idea of it. Most find them a little too warm for today’s systems and want something with some of that characteristic old-REL performance, but with the speed and depth of modern designs. The Classic 98 balances those demands well.

There’s some of that lovely warmth still in effect. The first REL designs gave the midrange more space but there was always a sense of adding a bit of creamy richness too. The 98 doesn’t have that warming-up effect to anything like the same effect, but it sounds more direct and deeper than its 1990s archetype.

More speed!

More importantly, though, the Classic 98 has the speed of modern REL designs. That paper cone driver moves a lot of air at very great speed; faster than I remember its 1990s predecessors doing. It wouldn’t be a fair comparison using a 25 year old subwoofer as its ‘provenance’ is always unclear (a polite way of saying, “it could well be completely screwed”), but this sounds less warm and even more in time with the sound than I remember hearing with any 1990s REL model at the time, and I do recall them well.

The warmth of older REL designs was, in hindsight, possibly a lack of control over the bass. The Strata III was an unbraced cabinet with OK wadding and as much power as could be used to grip that driver at the time. While the cabinet remains unbraced, the thicker wadding, the more controlled, more dynamic cone and a lot more power on tap all make for a faster, tighter, and deeper sound, with just a trace of that warmth.

I find this the perfect foil to the Revival Audio Atalante 3 two-way stand-mounts tested in issue 216. The easy roll-off of these loudspeakers – reminiscent of classic British BBC-style loudspeakers of the last century – is a perfect blend with the REL Classic 98. Bass reinforcement from this subwoofer is more in line with REL’s long-standing guidelines of just enough to underpin the sound, thereby letting the midrange and treble of the main loudspeaker shine through.

While the Classic 98 can do good bass ‘oomph’, like the Strata III of a quarter of a century ago, that’s not the point. This is sound reinforcement, not simply confined to bass, and that’s what makes this great for audio.

Not just rose tinted

Richard passed away in 2017, aged 78. He would be extremely pleased about the Classic 98. It’s a distillation of his ideas, combining what made the Strata III such a hit 25 years ago, with what REL does so well today. It’s so much more than just a rose-tinted view of the past; it honours what made REL the company it is today. And finally, for classic speaker lovers, you can do no wrong with the Classic 98.

Price and contact details

Price £1,299

Manufacturer

REL Acoustics

www.rel.net

+44(0)1656 768777

Read more REL reviews…

https://hifiplus.com/articles/rel-no-31-subwoofer/

https://hifiplus.com/articles/rel-acoustics-212-se-subwoofer/

https://hifiplus.com/articles/rel-acoustics-s510-subwoofer/

Back to Reviews

Balanced Audio Technology VK80i

There is a lot of talk these days about the vinyl revival. But it strikes me that there is another revival that is every bit as significant – the valve revival. Now, some may argue valves never really went away, and to an extent that is true, but there has never been such a wide choice of good tube products as we have today.

I used to be a transistor man back in the day, and way back then many of the valve amps being touted as wonderful didn’t live up to the billing. Now, though, we have a choice of some excellent tubed products from the likes of Audio Note, Leben, Rogers and Icon to name but a few. To that list, we can add Balanced Audio Technology (BAT), and their 55W VK80i valve integrated amplifier, which is the subject of this review.

This is the first product from BAT that I have reviewed, but the company itself, based in Wilmington in the USA, was founded back in 1995 by chief engineer Victor Khomenko and general manager Steve Bednarski, both of whom previously worked for Hewlett Packard.

Tubes, tubes and more tubes

The company produces tube preamps, transistor and tube power amps and two integrated amps – one valve (VK80i) and one hybrid, the VK3500i, which has a tube input stage and transistor output stage. It also makes two phono stages and a DAC. Its top mono valve power amp, the VK80t, sells for around £20,000 and its top tranny model, the 500W REX500 mono power amp weighs in at around £45,000. The VK80i I am reviewing here sells for a more modest £9,995.

BAT VK80i

As the company name suggests, they are firm believers in using fully balanced circuit designs and the VK80i is no exception. On its website, BAT’s chief engineer Victor Khomenko is quoted as saying: “One day, Steve came to me and told me he’d bought a preamplifier that featured something very unusual – a balanced circuit. My immediate response was, ‘That’s the only way to build a circuit’.”

BAT believes that balanced circuits offer significant benefits, which is why professionals use balanced circuits in studios and for live performances. These are improved signal integrity, reduced noise and enhanced channel separation. They say that by using positive and negative phases of the audio signal, common-mode noise and interference are effectively cancelled out. They say it also offers higher signal handling capabilities and increased dynamic range.

And so, the VK80i sports one balanced XLR line level input as well as three standard RCA phono inputs, selectable with the row of push buttons on the left of the front panel. There is also a large rotary volume control on the far right as well as a mute button to its left and an LED display that tells you the volume level and which input is selected.

Feedback? No thanks!

Also central to BAT’s designs is its zero global feedback approach. They say that by not feeding the output signal back to the input signal they preserve the natural characteristics of the audio signal, enhancing transparency, dynamics and tonal balance.

The VK80i is a hefty item weighing some 20.4kg and its exposed valves means that it is probably best kept out of reach of young children. It is rated at an impressive 55W and sports four 6C33C-B triode output tubes in push-pull configuration and four 6SN7 input tubes. The spec sheet says it delivers this power into either 4ohms or 8ohms and separate taps on the output transformer mean that there are three sets of speaker connections on the back for loudspeaker impedances of 3–4ohms, 4–6ohms or 6-8ohms. BAT says the amplifier is capable of driving even difficult low-impedance loads.

BAT VK80i internal

As well as balanced circuitry, the VK80i also offers fuse-less protection and intelligent automatic biasing. The design has just the one regulation mains input fuse, other than that it relies not on fuses but on electronic and thermal electronic protection circuits to guard against users driving the amplifier too hard into clipping.

BAT also says that it has side-stepped one of the traditional headaches with tube amps – namely the need to readjust the bias current of the output tubes. The VK80i uses intelligent circuitry to automatically compensate for changing line voltage and ageing valves. Each of the four output valves has its own circuit.

BAT-ting well above average

Knowing that the review sample of the VK80i was well run in, I could dive straight in and satisfy my curiosity as to whether the sound quality of this product matched its obvious high build quality and good looks.

I used the VK80i with a number of speakers – the excellent Perlisten S4B standmount speaker (also distributed by Karma AV) as well as two other favourites of mine – the Russell K Red 120Se and Audio Note AN-J LX Hemp.

I tried a variety of source components. Not having a phono stage – BAT make one, but it was not supplied for this review – and so I used a Puresound P10 with a Music Audio First Reference step-up transformer to amplify the signal from my Audio Note TT3/Arm Two/Io1 record-playing setup.

I also used an Innuos Statement streamer through a Chord Dave DAC, as well as an Audio Note CDT Five CD transport and DAC Five Special.

Rather usefully, I also had to hand a comparably priced and well-respected transistor amp that I know well and that would serve as a useful benchmark.

Encouraging

Initial impressions of the VK80i were encouraging. And what better to search out on Tidal on the Innuos but one of my fave Ben Sidran tracks from his Bop City album, ‘It Didn’t All Come True’. Sidran’s voice on the VK80i had warmth, reality, emotion and range, while piano had presence and was well balanced in the mix, while the bass line was full and tuneful. A quick switch to the transistor amp saw the sound become a bit cold, less emotion-packed, his vocals less human, the bass line less fluid.

I couldn’t help but throw my favourite track from my favourite Bruce Springsteen album, Darkness on the Edge of Town, on the TT3 platter next. ‘Racing in the Streets’ is an emotionally charged ballad and beautifully recorded with great vocals from Springsteen and a beautiful solo piano accompaniment on the opening bars.

On the VK80i, it was atmospheric, moving, powerful – his vocals had soul and the piano had power but with finesse. The sound collapsed inwards slightly on the tranny amp. The piano was somehow smaller, not so real. Drum rimshots as the track progressed were less crisp than they were on the VK80i and the deep, tuneful bass line was certainly tight on the transistor amp, but lacked the fullness, movement and character it had on the VK80i. There was no doubt in my mind which I enjoyed more. Definitely the BAT.

Using the CD player next, I reached for sax genius Dave Koz’s wonderful album The Dance and played the track ‘The Bright Side’.

Koz is one of my favourite saxophonists, along with David Sanborn, Eric Marienthal, Art Pepper, Gerald Albright and Grover Washington to drop but a few famous names, and he is really in the groove on this track. His alto sax had just the right degree of bite and body on the VK80i compared with the colder, less insightful rendition on the tranny amp. Percussion was snappier, tighter, the bass line fuller on the BAT and the whole impetus and flow of the track was more convincing on the VK80i. And this track has it in spades – they are all top class musicians, and they really play well together to give the song a special coherence and impact. And while it was OK on the transistor amp, everything just seemed to snap into place on the VK80i.

BAT VK80i

Finally, it was the turn of guitarist Peter White to thrill me with his lovely rendition of the old Johnny Nash classic ‘I Can See Clearly Now’ from his Groovin’ album. This track has a real sparkle, life and rhythmic lilt that carries the listener along in a melodic and delightful way and has the wonderful added bonus of a guest appearance from a jazz guitar favourite of mine, Jonathan Butler. From the first few notes he plucks on his guitar, I could instantly hear the style of his play and his unique sound. Don’t ask me what it is, but there it was! On the transistor amp, it was not so well delineated. Sure, he was there, but lacking the sparkle and focus.

Simply musical

After you listen to a few tracks, patterns usually emerge and listening to the BAT VK80i was just the same. And it did not matter which speakers I was using. The musical performance, power and grip of the VK80i meant it drove the Audio Note, Russell K and Perlisten speakers equally well to sensible levels with complete control.

The VK80i proved itself to be a very competent performer. The sound was coherent and tuneful, giving plenty of insights into what is going on in the music. It took on one of the best transistor amps I know at this kind of price range and showed it a clean pair of heels. I liked it a lot and have no hesitation in recommending it as an excellent buy.

Thank you to Home Media in Maidstone, Kent, for their assistance during this review.

Technical specifications

  • Type Zero-feedback, balanced integrated valve amplifier
  • Power output 55watts into 4/8ohms
  • Valve complement 4 × 6SN7 input tubes; 4 × 6C33C-B triode output tubes
  • Inputs 4 × line level 1 × XLR, 3 × RCA
  • Frequency response 8Hz–200kHz
  • Total harmonic distortion 3% at full power
  • Input impedance 215kohms
  • Volume control 90-step resistor ladder
  • Power consumptions 400W at idle, 800W at full power
  • Dimensions (H×W×D) 203mm × 431mm × 406mm
  • Weight 20.4kg
  • Price £9,995

 

Manufacturer

Balanced Audio Technology

www.balancedaudio.net

UK distributor

Karma AV

www.karma-av.co.uk

+44(0)1235 511166

Back to Reviews

Audiovector Trapeze Reimagined

Back in 1979, a Danish music lover called Ole Klifoth founded a company called Audiovector. His goal was to make a loudspeaker that brought together all the good qualities of the best loudspeakers of the time and iron out all the wrong bits. So, no biggie, then! The first model was a giant eight-driver, six-way trapezoid design. The more manageable three-way Trapez followed soon after and proved a hit. And now, 45 years later, it’s back and brought up to date in the Audiovector Trapeze Reimagined floorstanding loudspeaker.

Why would Audiovector recreate its first commercial success? Simply because it’s still in the public domain. Audiovector fans—especially in Europe—swear the Trapez is the best speaker ever. Times change, and floorstanding loudspeakers look very different from the wide-baffled designs of yore. However, some still feel the move to more svelte tower speakers loses as much as it gains. The Audiovector Trapeze Reimagined floorstanding loudspeaker addresses these concerns without falling into the trap of being a pastiche.

Audiovector Trapeze Reimagined: Isobaric Compound Bass

The new Trapeze Reimagined is a three-way, Isobaric Compound Bass-loaded floorstanding loudspeaker design. It uses a 12-inch high-power mid/bass driver (with an eight-inch driver in an isobaric configuration), a five-inch high-speed midrange, and an Audiovector SEC Air Motion Transformer (AMT) tweeter designed explicitly for this loudspeaker. That relatively short description unpacks several things, the most notable being the Isobaric Compound Bass design.

Audiovector Trapeze Reimagined

While isobaric loading is not unique, Audiovector has developed a unique solution to the design. The term implies ‘equal’ (‘isobars’ meaning ‘equal pressure’, derived from the Ancient Greek word ‘isobares’ meaning ‘of equal weight’). This unique approach to isobaric loading sets the Audiovector Trapeze Reimagined apart, piquing the interest of audio enthusiasts and potential buyers.

A typical isobaric chamber has two identical drive units, laid cone-to-magnet in phase, with both units in identical sealed enclosures. This configuration ensures the pressure between the cones of the two drivers is equal, and they act in parallel, effectively behaving as one larger driver with twice the enclosure volume. The result is a deeper bass response than what you would typically expect from a given drive unit size. It’s like having two smaller loudspeakers perform as one larger one, but with half the compliance and impedance, a unique advantage of the Isobaric Compound Bass design.

Redraws the rules

The Audiovector Isobaric Compound Bass redraws these rules by using a smaller internal driver in a larger volume cabinet to partner with a larger external driver and a port between the two chambers. Pressure is equalised between the eight-inch internal driver and the 12-inch unit. This chambered internal construction couples the masses of the two drivers, making it somewhere between a classical isobaric and a bass reflex solution. However, the result is functionally the same and delivers a good combination of weight and speed. Audiovector uses a similar system in its tower loudspeakers, such as the R6 Arreté and R8, and delivers uncanny bass levels from a relatively narrow-baffle design, so it’s not without precedent.

That eight-inch internal driver is met by a 12” bass unit at the front of the cabinet. This bass driver is a custom design manufactured to Audiovector’s specifications. The membrane is a lightweight yet stiff, long-fibre paper cone with a corrugated ‘concertina’ surround. It uses a 4”, hysteresis-free, fully vented voice coil. It also features an aluminium/magnesium chassis. The bass unit crosses over to the midrange at a relatively high 500Hz, which is rare in any sized drive unit but almost unheard of in a 12” unit.

Blisteringly fast

The midrange must be fast enough to handle that blisteringly fast AMT tweeter. The five-inch custom-made Trapeze Reimagined midrange driver uses a lightweight, impregnated paper cone, once more featuring a ‘concertina’ surround instead of the more commonplace rubber half-roll design. Like its big bass brother, it also features a hysteresis-free voice coil and a chassis made from aluminium and magnesium. However, in this driver, the magnet is a powerful vented circular Neodymium magnet, and the design includes a copper induction shorting cap on the pole piece.

Audiovector has long been a proponent of AMT designs, and the company claims its open-back Air Motion Transformer tweeter is the only one remaining true to Dr Oscar Heil’s original design. The pleated membrane uses an extraordinarily light and well-controlled mylar membrane with aluminium leading strips and powerful N 51 Neodymium magnets. Mylar was chosen because of its good internal damping and inherent low distortion. Audiovector perfected its etching process to produce the diaphragms for its current range. This is mounted to the cabinet with a clever three-point installation system, and its front fascia is made of aircraft-grade aluminium, milled with a circular pattern.

Audiovector Trapeze Reimagined: Occam’s crossover

Audiovector designed the crossover network to meet the problem-solving principle known as Occam’s razor. Attributed to 14th-century English philosopher William of Occam, it’s popularly stated as ‘the simplest explanation is usually the best one’. The Trapeze Reimagined’s crossover is simple (although no simpler than it should be!), developed for the loudspeaker, and uses high-quality components. It sports custom capacitors, which use polypropylene dielectrics with a tin-flashed copper foil, which are ‘double cryogenically’ treated and selected to have less than ±0.3% tolerances. Its copper inductor coils are also subjected to the same ‘double cryo’ treatment because one cryogenic treatment takes simplicity too far!

Audiovector Trapeze Reimagined

The Audiovector Trapeze Reimagined also uses high-quality film resistors instead of the more commonly used reactive wire wound resistors in the tweeter section. There is also an Audiovector x Duelund bypass capacitor for the AMT’s extreme high-frequency component.

Throwing shapes

Loudspeaker designers constantly try new cabinet designs to help reduce internal standing waves. A conventional rectangular cabinet is uniquely designed to promote such internal resonance. Something as simple as a lute or boat-shaped enclosure can help. However, just as non-parallel walls can make for better-sounding rooms, so non-parallel internal surfaces of an enclosure help reduce internal standing waves. This is where the trapezoid shape of the Trapeze Reimagined does so well. By angling that front baffle, the cabinet is effectively a standing wave-free zone.

However, to correctly achieve that goal beyond its non-parallel shape, there’s some deceptively complex alignment of the acoustic centres of each driver. This has another benefit alongside the substantial reduction in standing waves; the correct placement of those drivers’ acoustic centres contributes to creating 6dB/octave slopes between the drivers. The less perfect the positioning, the more complexity goes into the crossover network. Also, by angling the front baffle and the drive units on that baffle, toe-in is achieved while the rest of the loudspeaker is parallel to the rear and side walls. Not only does this aid installation, but it fits well with many listeners’ domestic demands.

A big hardwood, high-density board cabinet also allows for lots of bracing. It doesn’t necessarily need lots of bracing (once again, the thin-walled cabinets of BBC designs famously had ‘minimal’ – British understatement for ‘bugger all’ – internal bracing), but the Audiovector Trapeze Reimagined takes advantage of bracing to help lower cabinet-induced distortion and coloration.

Audiovector Trapeze Reimagined: Compatibility

A lot has changed in the audio world since the Trapez first appeared 45 years ago. Most notably in amplifiers, the prevailing technology was a solid-state Class AB amplifier with a moderately good damping factor. Connecting a loudspeaker to a single-end triode design with a very low damping factor or a behemoth power amplifier with an extremely high damping factor was still some years away. Fortunately, Trapeze Reimagined is one of the few designs that factor in an amplifier’s damping factor, with a three-position switch on the rear panel.

You can also use this like a tonal compensation switch, taking some of the tautness from a dry-sounding amplifier. The effect is noticeable, but given I spent an hour or so thoroughly enjoying the Trapeze Reimagined in the wrong position for the amp used, it’s neither a deal-breaker nor a speaker-destroyer if you leave it in the middle position. It’s worth experimenting, though.

And that word ‘enjoying’… well, it often comes up when playing the Audiovector Trapeze Reimagined. It’s not a fussy loudspeaker, even though it’s worth experimenting with accurate placement, partnering equipment and that damping factor switch. But Trapeze Reimagined is the opposite of the stuffy audiophile loudspeaker that only springs to life when fed beautifully recorded music.

No shame

This is the loudspeaker you can happily surf through Tidal’s or Qobuz’s less salubrious sections, put on a musical horror, and enjoy. Play ‘Just a Gigolo/I Ain’t Got Nobody’ by Louis Prima or ‘All Star’ by Smash Mouth (I have no shame), and it raises a smile. Play ‘La Mer’ by Julio Iglesias, and you start sauntering across a room like you are Colin Firth in the closing scenes of Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy. Or play Infected Mushroom or Iron Maiden and start headbanging until something bursts. It’s that kind of speaker when it wants to be.

Given the Isobaric Compound Bass, I’m trying not to make it sound like word-association. Still, I can’t help thinking about the old Linn Isobarik loudspeaker when listening to the Trapeze Reimagined. In the late 1980s, I used to sell Linn ‘briks’. They did a lot wrong, but what they did right few other loudspeakers could do. That still holds, although the ‘did a lot wrong’ part in today’s market will arguably weigh heavier.

Doing it right

So, what did Linn Isobariks do right? They made bass at once deep and visceral and rhythmically ‘bouncy’. Everything else sounded like a slow, one-note drone by comparison. And if you liked that staggeringly good, forceful bass, you would likely overlook the Isobarik’s lack of stereo imaging, relatively weak vocal articulation and midrange clarity, and its treble that could sound underwhelming or screechy.

The Audiovector Trapeze Reimagined is a Linn Isobarik with the nasty bits smoothed off. It’s got that same sense of a visceral, ‘meaty’ and rhythmically precise bass, but this time coupled to a midrange that expresses itself beautifully and a treble that is at once detailed and never peaky sounding. Like most Audiovectors—and like most wide-baffle designs—it gives an excellent presentation of stereo imaging. And it all hangs together beautifully.

Take it down a notch

Playing more informative pieces of music reveals a loudspeaker of depth and subtlety, too. Imaging is first-rate, with the loudspeaker creating an image slightly more profound than it is wide but still cast wide of the loudspeaker cabinets. ‘The Ghost’ by Anna B Savage [in|Flux, City Slang] has an atmospheric mix of natural and synthesised instruments with her voice front and centre. It’s easy for the mix to leave her almost removed from the music because she’s close-mic’d. Still, the point of the track is to be claustrophobic and intense, and the Audiovector Trapeze Reimagined presents that effortlessly.

Unlike many high-end designs, it’s a detailed and honest performer, but the detail is not thrown at you. It’s a more compelling and coherent sound than that, and you never feel the interaction between drivers or any tonal shifts as you move through the registers. It just sounds natural, ‘right’, and always enjoyable.

Audiovector Trapeze Reimagined

As with many of the best loudspeakers, it gets the midrange very right, but the Trapeze Reimagined never pushes this midrange clarity and absence of coloration. ‘Entr’acte’ from Caroline Shaw and the Attacca Quartet’s Orange [Nonesuch] shows this midrange at its best; it swings between pizzicato and glissando, with moments of attack and other Phillip Glass-like repetition. Get the midrange wrong, and it sounds like the string quartet is warming up. The Trapeze Reimagined locks your attention to the point where finding another track before it ends would seem like musical heresy. The same applies throughout; listen to ‘Peace Piece’ by Bill Evans [Everybody Digs Bill Evans, Riverside], and the world stops for six and a half glorious minutes. Even though the improvisation falls mainly in the middle registers, the bass brilliantly roots the sound in place.

Normal rooms

The downsides are few and trivial. This is a loudspeaker-sized, shaped, finished, and priced for ‘normal’ listening rooms rather than an oligarch’s winter palace. As such, it doesn’t reach the lowest octave where 64’ organ pipes live. But those deepest bass notes are often more of a curse than a blessing. You usually need to control and contain them. The Trapeze Reimagined is small enough to be used in homes where space is at a premium. This is as ‘full-range’ as you need in such rooms, and anything else is excessive.

Audiovector’s Trapeze Reimagined are barely on the high-end nursery slopes. You can buy power cords that cost more than these loudspeakers. Still, I suspect they will have the same staying power as the Trapez of almost half a century ago. And it’s the same motivation in people who still play their music through Linn Isobariks today. The Trapeze Reimagined is a loudspeaker that stays in your system. You could move up to some seriously high-end electronics and not feel a burning desire to upgrade the loudspeakers.

More or better?

Sure, spending more gets you more. However, if there’s one thing you take from this review, it’s that ‘more’ doesn’t always mean ‘better.’ The bass has impact and slam. The overall sound is coherent, with a simple sense of fun. This makes the Audiovector Trapeze Reimagined floorstanding loudspeaker a tough act to follow. No matter how much money you spend on your loudspeakers.

A wide-baffle loudspeaker will always be a minority interest in today’s audio world. For good or ill, most people buy slimline tower loudspeakers today. For those people, many options are open to them… including several from Audiovector’s range. But some see slim loudspeaker design as a sonic misstep. But not all want the easy-going, laid-back sound of a pair of BBC-derived designs either. For those who want something that plays music with fun and force, those who want something that can produce detail and danceable tunes, and for those who wish to bass that has depth, slam, and a wicked sense of rhythm… the Audiovector Trapeze Reimagined floorstanding loudspeaker is calling you.

Audiovector Trapeze Reimagined: Technical specifications

  • Type: Three-way floorstanding loudspeaker with isobaric loading
  • Drive Units: High-frequency Unit: 3800 mm2 Audiovector SEC AMT. Mid unit: High-resolution 5” paper cone with Neodymium magnet. Bass Unit: High Power 12” paper cone with 4” Voice coil, with internal 8” Isobaric Compound Bass driver
  • Frequency Response: 34Hz-52kHz, ±2.5dB
  • Average Impedance: 8 Ohm
  • Minimum Impedance: 6.5 Ohm at 20kHz
  • Sensitivity: 88 dB SPL at 1m for 2.83Vrms input
  • Distortion: <0.2% THD at 90 dB SPL
  • Crossover Frequencies: 500 and 3.000 Hz
  • Terminals: High Current, gold-plated copper/brass binding posts accepting 4mm plugs or spades
  • Finish: Nordic Oak, Italian Walnut, Black Ash, White Silk. Custom piano colours on request
  • Dimensions: (HxWxD): 87.5x42x43.5cm
  • Weight: 50kg per pair
  • Price: £15,500/$19,950 per pair

Manufacturer

Audiovector

www.audiovector.com

UK distributor

Renaissance Audio

www.renaissanceaudio.co.uk

+44(0)131 555 3922

Read more Audiovector Reviews

Back to Reviews

MOON TO DEMONSTRATE NEW PRODUCTS AT HIGH END MUNICH SHOW

May 2, 2024 (Montreal, Canada) – MOON will be demonstrating its new 861 power amplifier and 891 network player/preamplifier at this year’s High End Munich show. The two new products are at the pinnacle of the North Collection, and they offer a premium performance that displays the very best attributes of the renowned MOON sound.

In MOON’s room at the show, an 891 network player/preamplifier will be paired with two 861 power amplifiers. This combination will deliver all the power and finesse to satisfy the most demanding visitor. A pair of Dynaudio Confidence 60 loudspeakers will be connected to the MOON system by a full set of Nordost Valhalla cables, and a Nordost QBase Reference QB10 will manage the AC signal. HRS (Harmonic Resolution Systems) furniture will allow the 861s and 891 to perform exactly as MOON’s engineers intended.

The MOON 861 features the groundbreaking MOON Distortion-Cancelling Amplifier (MDCA) circuit, and delivers unparalleled control, transparency, and tonal richness. Every detail, from its iconic front panel to its sophisticated construction, reflects MOON’s four decades of engineering excellence.

The MOON 891 network player/preamplifier comprises a streaming DAC, phono stage, and graphic interface. The brilliant 5” colour screen on the front of the 891 displays volume and input selection, enables the extensive setup menu, and showcases cover art and metadata. The iconic BRM-1 remote offers supreme system control.

The MOON team will host a series of demonstrations in its room throughout each day of the show and visitors are warmly invited to walk in, settle down and enjoy the music.

Other manufacturers at the show will also be demonstrating MOON’s products. The 791, 681 and 641 will be heard in Dynaudio’s room and the 791, 641, 681 and 888 will be playing in the Raidho & Scansonic HD Dantax Radio room.

Etienne Gautier, MOON CCO, said, ‘We are delighted to be able to present the MOON 861 and MOON 891 at High End Munich. They were demonstrated at the recent Montreal and Axpona shows where they were loved by the North American audience. I am certain that they will be just as well received in Munich. Our room at the show has been designed to offer our visitors a relaxing environment in which they can experience the very best MOON products and enjoy our renowned Canadian hospitality.’

High End Munich takes place from May 9-12, 2024, at the MOC Event Centre Messe München, Lilienthalallee 40,
80939 München, Germany.

MOON will be in room C120 on the first floor of Hall A (A 3.1).

Show hours: Thursday 10:00am – 6:00pm, Friday 10:00am – 6:00pm, Saturday 10:00am – 6:00pm, Sunday 10:00am – 4:00pm

For more information:

www.simaudio.com

www.highendsociety.de/high-end-44.html

Adblocker Detected

"Neque porro quisquam est qui dolorem ipsum quia dolor sit amet, consectetur, adipisci velit..."

"There is no one who loves pain itself, who seeks after it and wants to have it, simply because it is pain..."