Here I share news, advice and opinions.
by Greg Osborn, Osborn Loudspeakers.
It is still gratifying to receive so much unexpected and ongoing feedback from happy customers. Especially when existing speakers get a new lease on life. This one just arrived from a happy Epitome Tower Reference owner in East Brisbane who whilst in Melbourne, called in to have a listen to the Elite upgrade option, and was smitten. It is always amazing that when you think it just cannot get any better, along comes a new version that blitzes it. The upgrade is the same price anywhere in Australia, just that outside driving distance, the flight there and back, and picking me up and returning me to the airport is additional. This one to Brisbane is the farthest so far
The photo is Ian's custom made Sassafras Towers.
It has been a few months now of living with my new Epitome Tower Reference Elites. What a wonderful pair of speakers these are. The midrange purity, soundstaging and imaging are fantastic.
As I commented during the audition, I really noticed the increased air in the sound, particularly the way reverb in the recordings is much more noticeable and natural. This is an example of the increase in subtle cues that I did not notice before with my 17 year old Eclipse References.
Strings and vocals sound particularly lifelike and “in the room”. I am sure the sound is in part due to the “elite” upgrades and these new midrange drivers you are using.
I am still experimenting a little with speaker placement, although these are not that easy to maneuver given their weight. However it is worth commenting how such a large pair of speakers can “work” in a domestic environment. The quality of finish and physical construction is outstanding. My wife did not attend the audition process and had not seen these speakers in the flesh. Her initial impression when they were delivered on their pallet was concern (the delivery driver struggled a bit.) However once unpacked and inside the living room they have easily achieved spousal acceptance.
Thanks again for your time and customer service during the audition (including dropping me at the train station afterwards).
Here we are a couple of weeks into the lock down and I thought it would be bludge and Netflix, but I have not had a day without several things to do. Since the Sydney Hi Fi Show was coming up, and the Melbourne one later in the year, I ordered up on stock so I would be prepared. All this is now starting to arrive, so I am fairly well stocked, but now Sydney has been postponed and who knows with Melbourne? I have actually had several "Pack and Send" sales. although the "Pack" bit is a problem as the Polyurethane packing foam place I used has shut, apparently permanently. I had changed to this company because the giant one I had used for 30 years disappeared suddenly. Australia doesn't make much anymore that needs packing. I of course ship to anywhere in Australia or the world on the proviso, that if they do not exceed expectations, I will pay the freight back.
My order for amplifiers and digital sources I placed after Christmas is finally ready to ship as the factory was closed for two months, which is great as I am pretty well out of stock. However there is a shock. Air freight used to come as excess space on passenger flight. The main reason they are so particular that people don't exceed their suitcase limit, as that is another kg of freight they can fit in. Freight now comes on dedicated freight flights.
The Chinese government, keen to profit from the scourge they have unleashed on the world, has added a US$700 fee on all freight over 100kg. They have also added a bogus magnetism check that adds another $450 because it entails running a meter over the pallet, which is very unlikely that they even do that as the cartons are clearly marked as not magnetic. My modest shipment is 270kg. Plus the freight that has gone from about US$7 per kilo to over US$21 per kilo, taking my freight cost to over US$7000 compared to the around $3000 it would have cost last shipments. With my minimal pricing, I am very unlikely to make that out of everything in the shipment. so sadly, any electronics from now until regular passenger flight commence will rise by $11/kilo that the unit weighs. This still won't cover my additional costs, but its the best /I can do to keep going. Since everything I sell is about half, or less than anywhere else in the world, and the electronics are so startlingly good, they are still screaming bargains. Everybody else in the industry will be in the same boat, but they operate on much bigger margins that I do.
The interesting thing, according to my Freight Forwarder, the price of bringing a 40 foot container from China has massively increased. The price to send one back, full of cargo is $90. Otherwise they go empty. That is a worry to all of us.
On a brighter note, I mentioned in my second last post about an audio enthusiast that had extraordinary equipment and runs companies that employ over 600 people and is in a position to buy anything that fancies him, like the Sultan of Brunei who bought a whole system from me over everything else in the world. He just sent me his impression of the Grand Monuments he bought. The picture is the actual pair he now has. I am delighted to be able to share it with you.
Sorry it’s taken so long for me to get back to you after installing the Monuments more than a month ago!
Truth be told, for more than two weeks after they arrived, I spent about 8 hours every night just sitting listening – until well into the morning.. Every time I thought I ought to get some sleep I just had to play “a few more tracks” - and I’ve never been that good at numbers! 😉
Over the 45 years I’ve been playing and listening to music, it is only rarely that I’ve heard music the way it actually sounds.. Back in the 70’s and 80’s it was usually inaccurate and either bass-blown-out or horribly harsh, mids terrible, bass inaccurate. Overt the past two decades, manufacturers seem to think that increasingly complex electronics and ‘high-tech’ drivers will save them from what are, essentially, either overly complex designs or the creation of beautiful furniture. The truth is, what they manage to deliver – at least to my ears – is surreal, rather than real.. Treble is usually artificially bright, mids usually okay but not well separated – and lower registers usually inaccurate. Listening to a recent release of the flagship speaker from a much-coveted manufacturer I could actually hear the crossover point between the drivers – musicality?.. zero.
So, I had stuck predominantly with one manufacturer for several decades – someone who really understood – and has a passion for – reproducing real, accurate, natural sound. The acid test has always been the ability to accurately deliver live performance and real acoustic sounds – and spaces. His early speakers were the first time I’d ever heard a violin sound like it does when you’re in the room (that was in the mid 70’s). Unfortunately that generation of his speakers required augmenting to achieve anything like realistic bottom-end reproduction.. A few years ago he moved to an isobaric design that allowed much better, accurate, low frequency response, while retaining all of the beauty and honesty of the mids and highs. He had developed prototype solutions to deliver even better low frequency response, but the amplification required just made them unrealistic in anything other than a studio environment..
And then I stumbled across you and your astonishing Grand Monuments! Finally I could have honesty, clarity and real-life music reproduction I live for with no compromises anywhere in the sound spectrum. The real differentiator was having a complete low frequency response that is a seamless extension of a beautiful three-dimensional sound stage – not an add-on. As importantly, your ability to deliver large, accurate bottom-end with as much force as was recorded, but with decay as swift as much higher frequencies, is something I’ve not heard before. The overall musicality that emanates from these significant speakers is just astounding. I won’t try to break all of the observations I have had sitting listening into lots of words and expressions – because in truth the words would be wasted..
What I will say is that I have spent more hours listening with greater joy to music I know and love, than has ever been possible up until now. Thank you!
For those who may read this and wonder whether your speakers deliver this kind of rapture for the type of music they listen to, suffice it to say that there’s not a genre of music I don’t listen to and the 10,000 albums in my collection cover every type of music from the very first mono recordings through to current releases in all genres. It spans classical (orchestral, solo instrumental, chamber, opera, choral), jazz, blues, rock, vocal, popular and electronic and includes both analogue and digital sources (predominantly digital these days) in all formats and at all resolutions. There is simply no music I’ve played that doesn’t sound as good as – and usually better than – any rendition I’ve been able to reproduce up until now. Importantly, the same applies to music played at low volumes – not just when the drivers are really getting a workout – which is another really significant gift.
So, I couldn’t be happier – and couldn’t recommend more highly – that anyone in search of audio nirvana arrange to have a listen to the Grand Monuments. They’re no bookshelf speaker, but don’t need a huge room to sound amazing and are, without a doubt, the most musical, most realistic, most enjoyable speakers I’ve ever had the pleasure of listening to. They are, I think, the last set of speakers I’ll ever purchase!
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We will be exhibiting at the upcoming HiFi20 Show in Sydney.
ROOM 17 in THE CORRIDOR OF SOUND
Due to the room size and the distance to drive and moving everything in, we will be exhibiting the Epitome Towers Elite. The Eclipse. Titans and Eos and Eos Elite. To show the spectacular sound that can be achieved with affordable electronics we will be using the Consonance 880i integrated KT150 amplifier and the Consonance Reference 8 25th Anniversary Streamer/DAC. Yvonne and I hope to see you all there
Well. That one was a bust. Hopefully we will get another go later in the year. Virus permitting.
People often ask me why do I make such big heavy speakers? They say that most companies now make smaller, more room friendly speakers that sound incredible. (Or at least some do.) That is largely true but no matter how good a small speaker can sound, and that can be seen by everyone experiencing the jaw dropping performance of the Eos and Titan range. But if you listen to real music, you realise that a great small speaker is astonishingly good for what it is. It is not astonishingly good compare to the original performance. A customer recently bought his well-known English speakers which have received many rave reviews over to compare them with the Titans, which were a similar size but cheaper and substantially heavier. After we had played several tracks, my wife came in and saw them, and asking are those your speakers. He replied “Yes, unless I can find a bin to put them in on the way home.” I said I had a Chinese track I often played for Asian customers. He asked to hear it, so I played it. About 1 minute in, a huge drum is struck. When it started to play, he said that he had that album and listened to it all the time. When the drum sounded, he immediately said it was a different version, I didn’t think so, he said it was a different drum, the version he had was much smaller. We played it on his speakers, and he was right, the drum was much, much smaller. All the bottom fundamental of the drum were gone, the room effect was gone, the 3D holographic soundstage was gone. The Titan projected a huge 3D soundstage 20m behind the wall, whilst his speakers stopped the soundstage about 10cm from the wall. The reviews said it showed what superlative components and design could achieve…..Errrr….Right.
39 years ago, or more we went to The Military Tattoo at the MCG. We were opposite the players race and about halfway up the stands when the New Zealand army band came marching out, and the drummer was pounding his big bass drum. I was astonished at the power and the thump against my chest from over 250 m away. I wondered what sort of speaker could produce a sound that could match that. Even an AC/DC type stack could not accurately reproduce that percussion.
As I moved into the frustrating hobby of sound reproduction and became a designer myself I realised that scale and authority were an extremely important part of music.
For that reason, even my small speakers have a giant sound with a massive three-dimensional sound stage because that is the way real music sounds.
If you try to reproduce A 36-inch bass drum with a 5 inch speaker driver, I think you can see the problem.
A very good customer came to see me today. He is the proud owner of a pair of Reference Eclipse Towers. He has heard a lot of expensive speakers and attends shows regularly and has never really thought that he had seen a better sound than he has at home, except a friend’s house who has Epitome Reference towers. He brought some stunning CDs with him that mainly portrayed large powerful organs and orchestras with quite a spectacular sound staging and authority, including some of the better and demanding Star Wars pieces, and other tracks were recorded in large halls and theatres with massed choirs and quite spectacular room effects, where the sound fades away into the distance. Or at least, it should.
First, we played them on the Epitome Tower Elites and they were just spectacular.
He knew these tracks backwards and forwards but was just stunned at what he heard compared to what he was used to at home despite the fact that he was using a better and much more expensive amplifier than what we were using here at the time.When we had finished with all his tracks, we moved the Epitome Towers and replaced them with the new Grand Monuments. I must admit that I was a little nervous as I have not done this comparison with the new model. It was an understatement to say that even I was impressed. It is astonishing and after hearing something which is truly special, to hear it played again so much better. In some pieces where the strings reached a loud Crescendo and the sound almost became shrill, which it certainly did on other speakers and bordering on that at his house ,and only approaching it on the Epitome Towers, but not actually getting shrill, on the Grand Monuments, The sound remained completely coherent and just rose to a thrilling crescendo with an astonishing
degree of scale, so that when the symbol finally crashed, it was quite awesome. The soundstage was even bigger and the body and feeling of the room made the whole experience so much better and more emotional. The extended bass and the authority and sense of room and space around the orchestra became something that is just not possible on smaller speakers with less scale and authority.
My customer runs a veterinary hospital employing seven vets and numerous support staff and operates in a fairly stressful environment. When he goes home, he listens to music to unwind and he said to me that he was astonished at just how he could feel the stress draining out of him as he sat ruptured in the performance. It will not be long before he's living room will be graced by a pair of Grand Monuments. A couple of days later another person came to listen to the Grand Monuments. He already had exceptional equipment, and he also used music to unwind as he ran very stressful businesses employing over 1000 people. He told me that he had expected to be impressed, but not that much. I was equally impressed by his car.
Audio is very similar to many other things in life. If you want equipment that gives you a vague impression of something and you can get it at a reasonable price, and it's quite convenient and it doesn't take up much space, that’s easy to get. It is a bit like a trio takes up much less space and is more friendly than an orchestra and considerably cheaper. But there are many things that the small trio cannot do. So, it's fairly clear. If you want something convenient and affordable that will disappear into your living room and be virtually unseen, you are just not going to hear what the conductor does as he is standing in front of his orchestra. If you want to hear the tune, that's easy. If you want an experience that will move you in many ways, then unfortunately it's bigger, and costs more, and is less user friendly. But life is just better, and none of us know how much of it we have.
I had not been 100% positive that the new grand monuments were completely perfected, but now I am.
After releasing the quite spectacular Elite model (The Reference Elite Option.#41 (06.03.19)) The reaction to the upgrade has been amazing, with only one pair of Eclipse Reference Towers and one pair of Eos Reference being sold. All the other Tower models and Reference Eos sold since then have been the Elite model.
So, all was going well, then came what appeared at the time to be a calamity. Focal announced that the quite extraordinary Utopia midrange used in all our 3-way models had been discontinued and the replacement was not suitable for our requirements. I had spent a lot of time in the past attempting to find another driver that offered a performance on a par with the Focal and had not come close. Then I thought about Wilson. They had changed from Focal some time ago in their uber expensive models, so I had a look at what they were using. They “looked” good and were a similar price to the Focals, so I ordered a pair and made some rough boxes to try them. They were great, and remarkably similar to the Utopia Focal, so problem solved. Then I noticed that the same company made a much more expensive super midrange which was known as “The best of the best”. Since I just happened to make a range of speakers that were also similarly known, I bit the bullet and ordered a pair.
I ran them in for a few days and had a listen. It was a revelation. Vocal purity and the live room sound behind and around the instruments were emotive. So, I decided to move the Elite models to an even higher level and incorporate this driver. Then I started thinking about the improvement it would make to the rest of the models in my range that used the Focal midrange. I could use the next model midrange down in my models beneath the Elite, and the superb performance would be retained, at the same cost. Or I could use the super driver in everything and adjust the price to cover the extra cost. In normal commercially speakers this would not have been an option as it would have increased the retail price per pair of speakers by over $3,000, but as we don’t work that way, I decided to increase the price by $500 a pair for the moment and reduce my already small markup by a bit more, If anyone really didn’t want to pay the extra, they could order a pair with the 2nd best driver for the same price as before. This would be a final decision, as the two drivers are not interchangeable, as both the cutout and the crossover are different. We would be surprised if anyone opted for this, but people have surprised me before. Several pairs of speakers have already been sold to very happy customers already, but from now on, all 3-way speakers will use this new driver and the pricing on the website has been adjusted.
EWEAT R11 4K Ultra HD Audiophile Blu-ray Media Player 2GB/16GB SATA 3.0 LED Display AC WIFI Gigabit LAN HDMI Recording ESS9038 PRO DAC.
Evaluated, sold, serviced and warranted by Osborn Loudspeakers in Melbourne. We ordered some of these to mainly to evaluate the Audio performance, as that is what we do. From normal flac, wav, high def and DSD files in very high quality audio systems, so we could offer our customers an affordable and versatile player capable of stunning 4K video, and especially audio performance. Many of these types of units offer pretty impressive video performance, but are not very good as an audio player. Some have good definition and resolution, and are highly regarded in some circles. But they lack real performance musicality and quickly become fatiguing and are not interesting enough for long term critical listening.
The R11 certainly lives up to its claims. The video performance on my Oled Ultra 4K TV is quite mind boggling, but the 2 track audio reproduction is exceptional for a multi purpose player, and streets ahead of most CD players and DACs at several times the price, so the stunning video is a bonus. The streaming quality from Tidal is also exceptional. It is not as good as my dedicated music streamers, but they are at least 3 times the price and audio only. Osborn Loudspeakers are pleased to add the Eweat R11 to our lineup of exceptional value for money audio components, and at a price below what others sell them for. $1,140 with Free Postage.
The Reference Elite Option.
It is coming up to 5 months since we launched the new "Reference Elite" option at the Melbourne International Hi Fi Show. We are delighted that impressions of this new crossover components upgrade option has been been overwhelming. Of the 8 pairs of Eos sold after the Show, 6 were Elite, one Reference and one standard. All owners thrilled and we have kept out enviable record of never having anyone come to audition a pair without buying them. It was heartwarming that one of the customers said he wanted to warn me from the start, that he had been to every Hi Fi Shop in Perth and Adelaide and most in Melbourne and nothing had impressed him and he was becoming really jaded, even models several times his budget, but after I played the standard Eos, he just kept repeating that nothing could be better than that, but the look on his face after hearing the Reference and then Reference Elite version was priceless. It only took 20 seconds for him to decide, Elite it is.
The set of Grand Monument References that went to a Recording Studio in Sydney, because they wanted the best Monitoring Speaker in the World, were naturally, Elites. They are overwhelmingly convinced that they even exceeded their expectations for them. I received an email from the Engineer at a rival Studio who had just gone to listen to them. He said "When you have been around the industry for a long time, and you think you have heard the very best, then along comes the Osborn Grand Monument Reference Elite and you realise it is a whole new ball game"
All the Epitome and Eclipse Towers sold since then have also been Elites. One now customer, who flew down from the Gold Cast to audition The Eclipse Towers promptly ordered a pair of Reference Elite versions and his friend who just came along for the ride, with no interest or intention of buying anything, ordered a pair of Epitome Tower Reference Elite. They are addictive.
I have also had two previous Grand Monument and two Epitome Tower owners take me up on my upgrade offer, and I have been as far as Brisbane to do the exchange. All have been thrilled, and even I was impressed by the immediate difference.
It never ceases to amaze us, that when something is just incredibly good, it can still be improved to a whole new level.
If anyone is interested in experiencing them for themselves, don't hesitate to let me know. There is certainly no obligation to do anything else than listen. I rely on word of mouth to keep my prices at rock bottom, and everybody who hears them, certainly talks about it.
Here is a feedback from one of the Monument owners who just got the Elite upgrade.
Thanks for upgrading my loudspeakers to the “Elite” specification. I’ve had my Reference Monuments for over four years and they’ve been paired with lots of different equipment during that time. The Monuments and my Audio Aero La Fontaine source have been my reference whilst I’ve dabbled in all sorts of DIY and commercial equipment, chasing my audio nirvana. I’ve always imagined it would be difficult to improve on the accuracy and scale of the sound of the Monuments and it was with great interest that I read of your “Elite” crossover upgrade. Having become somewhat immune to manufactures claims I felt it necessary to resort once again to the “try before you buy” method and so, after hearing each of your two pairs of Reference Epitome Towers in turn, one with and one without the Elite crossover upgrade the improvement in the sound was immediately obvious and I was hooked.
Now that you’ve upgraded my Reference Monuments I’m getting even more enjoyment from my music collection and I know it’s a bit of a cliché but I’m hearing deeper into the recordings and discovering hidden details that previously went unnoticed and a further bonus is the improvement in dynamic range and clarity across the board. It really is astonishing what the new capacitors and high grade resistors have achieved in the new Elite crossovers.
Best regards, David D.
We introduced the "Reference Elite" range at the Melbourne International Hi Fi Show in October 2018.
For over 20 years there has been a "Reference" version of all of the audiophile speakers, from the Eos, up to the Grand Monuments. These have been our top models in each range. The Reference models were all lead lined with a heavy felt/heavy lead sheet/heavy felt sandwich, securely stapled to the inside walls of the cabinet along with heavy bracing. Plus they used the finest tweeter available, and were usually found in speakers costing 20 times as much. Both the "normal and "reference" versions had virtually the same crossovers, each weighing 9 kg each in the 3 way and Tower models, and 18 kg each in the Monuments, with minor changes to correctly balance the awesome tweeters. The inductors were all wound in house to match our exacting specifications, and the capacitors were sourced from the USA and were the best we had been able to find.
Some time ago we began a search to see if any more recent capacitors could better what we have been using for some time. We rejected most, but found one that was in the same sort of price bracket, but had even more detail and definition in the treble and midrange and were a worthwhile change, so we have changed to these in the standard and reference range with no pricing increase.
But we did find some that were terribly expensive, but absolutely stunning. So much in fact that after a long running in period I installed them in a pair of Reference Epitome Towers, and was just thrilled at the difference, and in fact felt quite emotional about what I was hearing. Others felt the same way, so I decided to launch the Elite version of the reference speakers, with all the 5 capacitors and the resisters in the crossovers replaced. Even before they were announced I sold three pair, as the only Reference Epitome Towers I had before the launch at the Hi Fi Show were Elite models. The Elite version costs $2,200 more than the normal Reference in each of the 3 way and Tower models and $750 extra in the Eos and Atom. The Reference models will continue, to suit people who would prefer not to spend that.
All previous Reference models can be upgraded at the same price and the new crossover will be exchanged for the existing ones. This includes me coming to your house to do the conversion. If interstate the airfare and getting to your house and back to the airport will be extra, but nothing additional for time. Also if you live more than 50k by Google Maps, adds $2/k (one way distance)
The simple, free trick that could make your system sound A LOT better.
People often ask me about the best way to power their stereo system. Should they just use a normal power outlet? Should they install a dedicated circuit just for the stereo? Should special cabling be used? Should they put in a dedicated circuit for each component, or one for analogue and one for digital? I had a particularly poignant and unintentional demonstration of this this week, so I thought I should share it. I have known for a long time, but I have been surprised that over the years, when I told people of it, they were surprised and had no idea, and were shocked when they tried it.
Many years ago, when I started to get hooked on this quirky hobby, I had a problem that the fridge was on the same circuit as my stereo system, so that every time the fridge started, there was a loud "clack" over the music. After trying filters and other "magic" devices, that made little to no difference, I decided to fix the problem once and for all, and get an upgrade. I installed a new, separate fuse box and ran five 30amp circuits to separate double outlets behind my stereo. I then plugged one component into each of the separate outlets. Perfect.
Then I had a listen. It was terrible. The "clack" from the fridge was gone, but so was a lot of the detail and the soundstage was side to side with little center spill. What the?! I got a power board and plugged everything into one circuit. Perfect. So, wondering, I got two power boards and split between just two circuits. Not perfect.
A few months later I was visiting the house of Peter Familari, who was then the Herald-Sun Hi Fi and Video Editor. He told me that he had just had his electrician put in a dedicated circuit for his stereo, and that he had not been sure what to plug into it, but considering the CD player to be the most critical, had plugged that in. I asked him to play something. Which he did. I then said to plug everything into a power board. He located a cheap Click Supermarket type power board and plugged everything into it. The improvement was quite sensational. He was stunned.
Several times over the years I have had opportunities to experience similar situations, but last week, I was comparing a pair of the new Consonance Cyber 800 II Power Amplifiers with the Flagship Linear 1 Pre-amp with my tried and true, and quite awesome Cyber 880i integrated, that I use for most of my demonstrations. With everything plugged into two Filtered power boards (Consonance PW-1) which were plugged into a Unfiltered power board (Consonance PW-3). As good as the integrated was, the preamp/monoblocs combination was clearly better.
Then on a whim, I played the combination, and then switched off the integrated, as they are both robust amplifiers with a reasonable, but not excessive draw, both being Class AB and not the power-hungry Class A amps I often use. There was an obvious improvement with the second amp turned off. So I plugged the lead from power board powering the two monoblocs and preamp into another circuit, leaving my streamer plugged in to the power board powering the integrated.
A couple of days later a customer was coming, so I turned on the Monoblock's/pre/streamer to warm up a bit. He wanted to listen to something, so I put on a track. Immediately I knew there was something wrong. It just didn't sound right. It was flat and there was no soundstage fill and as I was sitting a bit to the left of center, I could only hear the left speaker. My speakers throw a huge soundstage, where the listener gets a perfect soundstage wall to wall. I checked everything, it was correct. I said to him there was something wrong as I could only hear the left speaker, and he said he could only hear the right. Fearing an unexpected electronics failure, I switched off the amps, and connected the integrated and switched it on, stone cold. Everything was as it should be. He was impressed. Thinking about it later as to what it could be, I remembered my previous experience, so removed the plug from the wall and pit it back into the power board where it had been. Straight away, the magic was back. Huge soundstage, speakers disappeared sonically. Really, it was the sort of a difference that you would pay thousands of dollars to get as a major upgrade.
I would advise anyone with components plugged into more than one outlet to give it a try. If it is a double outlet in the wall, that's fine as it is still the same circuit. The same way that two power boards plugged into another power board works. On my Big System, I have a 4 plug wall socket, on the same circuit. And two power boards plugged into that.
Do portable music players give good sound?
A while ago, Consonance released their first ever portable Music Player, the Suzanne. I thought I might try it because I have never known them to make something that wasn’t outstanding. I had to wait for some time because they told me they had been rushed on the first production and had decided to make substantial improvements, and not release any more until the Mk2 version was ready. When I received them, I opened one and ripped some of my Demo CDs onto a Micro SD so I could judge the sound. I connected it a quite exceptional amplifier and my second-best model speaker which has extraordinary resolution. I did not have very high expectations as it was only the size of an iPhone, but quite a lot thicker.
I definitely expected it to sound better than a phone doing the same job, but not in the same league as a really serious DAC, as the two I use, I sell here at substantially less than anywhere else in the world at $3,400 and $33,000. I had been playing the Consonance Reference 8 Pro, which is an exceptionally musical unit with a valve output stage. At first, I thought I had connected it incorrectly and was listening to the Reference 8. The sound was quite exceptional. Going back and forwards between the two units I realised that there was a difference, but we had to listen into the back of the soundstage to realise that the ambience and microdetails were not quite as good, but the soundstage, image, separation and musicality were quite exceptional, and it seemed ridiculous that such a sound was coming from this little box. A nice touch was that if it was placed in the optional, but surprisingly cheap Dock, it allowed the attachment of a USB Hard Drive and also allowed the unit to be controlled via an app by a phone or pad, making it a viable alternative in high resolution audio systems.
A previous good customer asked me about it and took one to try and immediately bought it. He has a very expensive large system that is brutally revealing, and he loved kit. Several other people immediately bought one after hearing this system. A while later someone came to the house to listen to speakers and asked if he could connect a similar unit from Sony to play his music. I was a bit dubious, but he assured me it was well over twice the price of the Suzanne and was good. So, we connected up the system using the same cheap headphone to RCA lead that I had used before. Well. Talk about a death in the family. All the ambience and inner detail and holographic soundstage had completely disappeared. I extracted his Micro SD Card and put it in the Suzanne. Da Da. All the life was back.
Some time later another customer produced a fancy looking, similar sized unit and asked to play some music. I related what had happened last time and he said it would be OK as he had managed to get an exceptional deal on this unit but had still paid $6,500. So, I thought it would be pretty interesting to hear such a thing. Oh oh. Here was the death again. Better than the Sony, but not even close to the Suzanne. It made me wonder why anyone would buy such a thing, but after my next demonstration, I realised why.
I had it on display at the last Show and a young Asian bloke and his wife came in and asked to listen to it, but embarrassingly, the battery was dead flat and I had not bought the charger. But he persevered because he was so impressed at what he heard in the room, so they took the long drive from Sandringham to have a listen. This time it was charged. He produced a Astell & Kern - AK320 which sells for $1,799 and a pair of quality headphones. After listening to his card in both players he announced the Suzanne to be much better. He handed it to his wife who agreed. Then I connected his AK320 to my big system and there it was. The death was back. Not bad, but two dimensional and flat without the huge, stunningly alive soundstage of the Suzanne. It then occurred to me that maybe none of the other players, which may have had lovely touch screens and other features that made them quire delightful, as long as you didn’t want to use them for listening to music. Once again it reinforces that the price is no indication to the sound quality in Hi Fi.
Audio Aero, now Vermeer Audio:
The best sounding DAC or Music Center I've ever heard, by a mile.
38. (28.01.17) Vermeer Audio - Model 2
When Audio Aero closed their doors suddenly and without warning several years ago, it was rather devastating for me. I have been The Audio Aero agent since 2001 when I saw them in Canada and realised I had never heard a digital source like it. The reason they closed was internal politics, not lack of extraordinary products. It would be funny if it was not so serious.
Audio Aero designed the Capitole CD Player to outperform all SACD players, by using standard CDs, and they easily achieved that level of performance. Nothing I had heard in my 14 overseas shows as a seller and 2 as a buyer even came close.
It was interesting that most rooms at the CES in Las Vegas, who were not selling CD players, were using the Capitole. Several times on walking into other rooms, it was obvious without looking, that a Capitole was being used, even when I had never heard of the other equipment before. There was a constant across most of these rooms. A big relaxed analogue sound, with a huge soundstage and inner detail, and a stunning musicality, which was lacking in most of the other CD players on offer.
I knew that I had to have one despite the somewhat knee trembling price (to me). My customers were then able to experience this phenomenon for themselves, allowing me to sell about 60 Audio Aero products, despite the cost. Once heard, not forgotten.
A few years before the end, they released the absolutely stunning La Fontaine and La Source. In Europe, the La Fontaine was the same price as a VW Gulf, and the La Source was about twice that. When I got my first La Fontaine, I was just stunned at how much better it was than anything. I was very concerned about the price of the La Source, as it was the price of a good car. I just could not see how it could be much better than the La Fontaine. But after selling two of them without ever seeing one unboxed, and what a magnificent box it was, I decided I had to bite the bullet and get one. It was some trepidation that we first sat down to listen to it. My doubts and fears were swept away. It was chalk and cheese to the La Fontaine and every other CD player I had ever heard. The amount of information on a CD is just staggering. Most CD players and DACs only allow you to identify the tune.
A year or so ago I was contacted by the head of Vermeer Audio. The designers of the La Source and La Fontaine had managed to buy the rights to Audio Aero after lengthy bickering in the French Courts. (Anything done in the French Courts is lengthy) to tell me that they had been working on the Model 2 for the past two years and it was ready for production. The Power Supply for the 2 and the main board were interchangeable with the La Fontaine boards, so there was an option to upgrade the La Fontaine to a Model 2, with the benefit it would still play CDs and SACDs. So, except for looking a bit different and being falsely branded, it is a Model 2 Vermeer. Because of my long and enthusiastic association with Audio Aero, they wanted me to continue with Vermeer, which I was and am delighted to do.
Now I don't have to go without the ultimate front end, and neither does any other discerning music lover in this country. The sound is quite staggering. Come and listen for yourself. Book a non-obligation demo anytime, but beware, once you hear it, it will be difficult to live without it.
Do cables make a difference?
37. (28.01.17) I have posted this on my Facebook page, and am reproducing it here.
This is a debate that has raged for many years, and it is a perplexing one. When I started the "Never ending Journey" of seeking the best sound possible, no one had really considered such a thing. When it was first suggested, it was widely debunked in most Hi Fi Magazines. Stereo Review in the USA, which was the largest circulating Hi Fi Magazine in the World at the time, were very scathing for many years at the very suggestion. Hi Fi is an oxymoron in regards to a large percentage of Audio Magazines worldwide. They are really Consumer Audio Magazines who would not know Hi Fi if it fell on them. A lot of shops put up a big Hi Fi sign out the front, mainly because a Low Fi or at best, Mid Fi sign has not got quite the same panache. Hi Fi of course, stands for High Fidelity, or the faithful reproduction of the original sound, something few systems approximate, but I digress.
When the debate first started, Monster Cable released the first "Audiophile" Cable. I bought some and did a careful listening test on my reasonable impressive system which was worth at the time, about a year's pay at the average salary level. I compared it to the preferred cable of the day, which was a reasonably heavy figure 8 automotive cable. I could not hear any difference at all. I then increased the figure 8 wire to a 30m length, but still could not really pick much difference, so I considered it as mere bunk. But then I started making my own speakers and I tried some different cables again and was shocked at the obvious and dramatic differences. I then realised that there were in fact two camps. Those that had systems of high resolution where tiny differences were apparent, and those that had low resolution and relatively subtle differences just did not make it through. A classic case of this was a customer who borrowed a Consonance Droplet CD player, to compare with his top of the line Rotel. He was running them into a $3000 Rotel pre amp into an Electra Amp and a pair of B&W speakers. He rang me the next day to say that although the Droplet was slightly warmer, there was little difference. I told him it was his pre amp, to which he protested, telling me of its reputation and great reviews. I lent him the cheapest Consonance Pre and he tried again. This time the difference was stunning. The Consonance wanted to throw a huge 3-dimensional soundstage with all the instruments separated from each other, so that you could easily pick the individual voices in a choir, but the Rotel was going to have none of that. 2D and everything in together was what it did, and that is what you were going to get.
So, when people say that they compared something expensive with their relatively cheap version and there was no difference, what they are often saying is that my system cannot resolve the differences between the two.
Although, I have had surprises. A bloke from Shepparton rang and said he had a Richter Centre Speaker and a Yamaha amp. Would a Datalink Centre cable make an improvement? I said I doubted it, but he came and got one. A week later he was back and bought a set of speaker cables and his mate bought a complete set. He said the cable had transformed the sound and nearly everything he had not liked before was gone. Another rang and asked if a Silverlink would help the sound from his Foxtel Box to his amp. I also doubted it and advised him to take the pair that he had off his CD player and try them. He was over the next day to get another pair because it was just a stunning difference. I have learned to never be surprised!
Years ago, I was able to borrow several very expensive cables from various stores and compare them. There were considerable differences, and I ended up with some what I regarded as expensive Audioquest and some Analysis Plus Cables from the US. Speaking to a couple of manufacturers at the CES in Las Vegas, I realised that there was terrific mark up in cables and that sometimes there were hundreds of dollars a meter difference between models, when the actual cost of making them was a couple of dollars a meter. This was proven to me when I bought some cables from a manufacturer who was offering big discounts to fellow Exhibitors. I bought some of his middle of the road cable, because the top model was $400 a meter length more expensive. I quite liked the cable, so went back to get some more. I was dashed to hear he had sold out and he only had the expensive one, and since I wanted 2 pairs, I was not going to pay another $800. I was shocked when he handed me two pairs of the "expensive" cable for the same price. I protested that I didn't want him to make a loss, but he assured me that there was only a couple of dollars in it and he was still doing fine. There was a prominent local Audio Shop a while ago selling a pair of Speaker cables for $1000 for a 3-meter pair. They sold heaps. What they did was use standard house electrical cable. They peeled off the white external insulation, twisted it and put a nice sheathing on it and nice Banana Plugs. About $60 worth, and a nice profit.
I then spent several years sourcing different type of wires and making up speaker cables to try. Some were exotic and some every day varieties. Then I found a combination that outperformed the very best I had heard. I started selling this as the Osborn Datalink Speaker Cable. I was confident enough to offer a Lifetime money back guarantee, if anyone could find a better cable at any price. I have sold over 3500 pairs and have yet to have to give any money back, and I have had people compare them to cables costing fifty times as much.
It is a very neutral cable with extended, natural highs and a solid and extended base and it does not seem to add or subtract anything from the audio signal.
After this I started searching for the perfect interconnect. I found silver cables gave a very nice transparency, but often had poor bass, and often sucked out the midrange leaving vocals brittle and harsh. Copper cables were usually more neutral, but were usually more veiled and constricted than the best silver. Then I found a place who could make me a very thin pure silver wire, that was extruded in continuous lengths and it was done cold. Most silver cable is extruded hot which apparently damages the crystal structure, resulting in the thinness and harshness I had been hearing. This new interconnect was just wonderful. It had wonderful top end extension and clarity, but a glorious midrange and powerful and articulate bass. This is the Osborn Silverlink. I have also sold around 3500 pairs of these with the same Lifetime Guarantee. So far, I have had only one pair returned, but he did tell me that the ones he had suited his system slightly better, but he was embarrassed to tell me just how expensive they were, so I was not offended or disappointed. No component suits all systems.
I have often had arguments with very smart people, who were Engineers with PHDs in Metallurgy and Nuclear Physics, who tell me that if two cables measure the same, then they will sound the same. My opinion, after listening to a lot of cables, is that if a difference cannot be measured, we are measuring the wrong thing.
There are many things in audio that just do not make sense. I have learned over the years to be philosophical. If it cannot possibly make something sound better, but it does, then use it. But I always go back a while later and remove it, to make sure that what I heard, or that I thought I heard before, is still there. Many people buy something that is raved about on the internet, put it in and assume it is better, and leave it there, oblivious that it is detracting from the sound and is responsible for why they no longer enjoy their sound as much.
A really perplexing cable is the Power Cable bringing electricity from the wall. When the power has come hundreds, if not thousands of kilometres to the house from the Power Station, stepping down voltages several times in huge transformers along the way, why should the last meter from the wall to the amp or audio source make a difference? Surely the best power cable would be a length of house wiring to keep it all the same. Although house wiring doesn't sound bad, it isn't the best. So why do quality power cables make a considerable difference? I have no idea. They are certainly not just facilitating the flow of electrons from the wall, as one may imagine. If you plug a 10m Extension Cord into the wall and the quality lead into the end of that, the difference is still there. Why on Earth? All I can say is that something is happening in that lead that improves, or at least affects the sound. I just accept that it happens, and don't delve into Quantum and Particle Physics that I have absolutely no idea of, and even people who do, could probably not explain.
People often ask about what exotic cable they should use from the wall to the Power Board. I tell them that the normal lead that comes with the Board will be fine. I have experimented with lots of Power Cables and have found that cost is not related to the way they sound. Some very expensive and quite huge leads did not sound as good as the giveaway lead that came with the component. I was using some US$1500 each Power Cables, but when I compared them to the Consonance Ella Babies which I sell for $210, the Consonance one was clearly better, so the expensive ones are now used on Home Theatre and less critical components. The only Power Cable I have found that are obviously better are the AM ones. These are huge and at $1650 each a bit knee trembling, but if you want an obvious improve in an awesome system, that is what you pay, and a recent comparison against power Cables costing 3 times as much, that were just crushed by them, shows that even at that, they are a bargain.
The old adage applies. Listen to things before you buy them. Go back and listen with and without them later, and if the difference is still there, accept them.
Does something sound better because it is famous, glowingly reviewed, or extremely expensive?
36. (14.08.16) I have posted this on my Facebook page, and am reproducing it here.
It is interesting to see how everyone sees and hears something different in reproduced sound. I reflect back on my 35 years in the pursuit of a goal, and that I had no idea of what that goal was during a lot of that time. Expensive systems that I lusted over and dreamed about 30 years ago, have shocked me when I have heard them again some 25 years later. They don't sound good at all. I guess to a certain extent it is like having a drive of a car that was the icon when we were young. Mind numbing performance at that time is easily matched now by family cars. Huge thundering V8s are now left standing by economical diesels of all things.
When I first started I was impressed by big sounds, and loud. High efficiency and lots of power. I ended up with a pair of Kenwood LO8 200 W Mono Blocks, which were widely considered the ant's pants and a Pair of Klipsch Cornerhorns. These speakers had an efficiency of 106db/watt and an absolutely huge sound. They also had surprising delicacy and clarity and incredibly low distortion, and were favoured by Opera fans for those reasons. Playing the 1812 Overture on a 200w amp actually upset the breathing rhythm and literally took your breath away when the cannons fired. But I noticed that as I improved my electronics, the speakers failed to show the improvements. I was experimenting with my early speaker designs at this stage and I noticed that the Klipsch gave a huge wall of sound, but there was very little imaging, and the sound came from everywhere. At this stage some people started to notice that cables and interconnects sounded different. This was ridiculed by many of the major Hi Fi Magazines and all Australian Publications. These same people also touted the line that all competently designed amplifiers sounded the same, so there was no need to buy expensive ones as there was little to no difference. By this stage I had perfected the Mk 1 Epitome and was stunned at the imaging and soundstage that they projected. It was also painfully obvious when comparing cables and any other component that there was a World of difference between them. I was shocked at one stage when I only had a pair of the Mini Monitors, which were a smaller 2 way and the forerunner of the Titan, later to become the Eos, and my Klipschorns. The Mini Monitors were stunningly better than the Klipsch. So I sold them and have never looked back. It stunned me then, that something that I sold at the time for under a thousand dollars could so easily outperform one of the best speakers available and costing more than a year's salary. This is something that I still wonder about 30 years later. Since then I have done over 60 Shows, 16 of them overseas. I have heard so many systems that if I sold my house, I would have a nice deposit. One would think that at the price, size and complexity of these systems, that the performance would be spectacular, but it rarely was, in fact often it was quite unimpressive.
I have been really surprised so many times over the years that when I have done side by side comparisons with speakers costing from 10 times to 40 times the price of mine and they didn't even go close. This was never shown more obviously than when the Sultan of Brunei did not like his US$200,000 speakers and after searching the World and auditioning speakers up to $750,000. They bought the best they had heard, a pair of my Reference Epitomes for $6500 at the time. This sort of thing has happened so many more times since then.
I remember at a CES in Las Vegas one year, David Manley from VTL and then Manley Products was running around bringing the captains of the industry to our room, telling them that they had to hear these Aussie speakers, and that he had never heard anything like it. He asked me if I was a genius, but I assured him it was something else. In fact, I have never done a comparison that I did not win.
This happened again at the last Stereonet Hi Fi Show at the Mercure Hotel last month. The Show was about an hour and a half from the end on the final day, when two blokes came in and stayed until it was time to pack up. He had been pursuing a standard of performance for many years, but he had come to the conclusion that it was not attainable. He had been right around the Show, coming into my room last, but had not heard anything that he was remotely impressed with, compared to his system, which consisted of a very well-known English brand. He had a pair of extraordinarily highly regarded speakers that cost $90,000. An amplifier that was reviewed as just sublime and easily worth its $150,000 price. It was fed by a more reasonable $10,000 preamp. His CD Transport and DAC were older models, obtained second hand, but still at an eye watering price. New, the DAC was $55,000 and the Transport about $18,000. His Turntable was new and was only $15,000 with a Pre pre to match the low output $10,000 cartridge. All this equipment was designed to go with each other, so one would expect a fairly awesome sound, and it did sound pretty good, but without the spine tingling realism and musicality I am more used to. After he came out to our house a few days later, after I had managed to reassemble everything, he had another listen which left him pretty convinced. A couple of days later I loaded my van to the gunnels and took the couple of hour drive to his home.
We lugged my $22,000 Grand Monument Reference Speakers in and placed them against his $90,000 speakers. Immediately, there was a stunning difference. The sound was much bigger, more separation, more ambience, more richness, more scale and a lot more dynamics and extension, but most importantly, musicality. The speakers stayed. The last thing we played using his amplifiers, was the first two tracks of Pink Floyd, The Wall CD. It sounded really good. Then we replaced the amps, keeping his pre amp, with the AM (Audio Music) 833M. $14,850 compared to $150,000. The difference was just stunning. The Wall went from sounding good, to thrilling, and it was an emotional experience. This resulted in my next trip down bringing the big brother AM 8333S ($21,550) and the AM RT-3 Pre Amp which I seriously doubt would be approached in performance by anything at any price. ($8,590) Again the differences were so dramatic, that they stayed. This was the same system shown in my Masthead at the top of this page.
We plugged in the Consonance Reference 8-20 Streamer DAC ($2,960) so we could play his Flac files on his HD. Comparing the files with the CD from which they were ripped from, playing on his $78,000 combination, the Consonance was clearly better. We then compared his CD combination with the $3,400 Consonance Droplet CD player, which was again clearly better. Next we went analogue and tried his turntable on the Consonance Reference 40 Phono stage ($1,295), with which he was already really happy. Then we put on the Consonance Die Walküre Turntable. ($3,690 with arm). Previously I had carelessly, and very annoyingly ripped the stylus off my cartridge. I posted the cartridge body back to Dynavector for repair, but it went missing in the post, so it was an expensive exercise in clumsiness. Since I did not have a cartridge, I removed the 30 year old Clearaudio cartridge from my old turntable that I had not used more than twice in the last 15 years.
It was with some trepidation that I lowered the needle onto the last played record. The difference was immediate and dramatic. The removal of the vail across the soundstage, the separation, the transparency, the clarity, the purity, the musicality. It was overwhelming.
I left him several pairs of the AM Power Cables that I consider exceptional, but looked on as expensive at $1,650 each to compare with his. He assured me that mine were cheapies compared to his and that if he switched to the AM, it would save him a fortune. He has since ordered a bunch of AM cables as he said it was the same old thing. Like opening a window, with the veil further removed and the detail and transparency and musicality clearly better.
So all in all. It was a good day for me. But there is a moral. I could go one, but this is getting long enough. There is a reason why as a one-man enterprise, I have sold 3500 pairs of speakers in 16 Countries, all by word of mouth. Audio Music is similar to me. Just one bloke who gets his brother to help him when he is really busy, but his products are second to none, but so much more affordable.
I never planned to sell electronics, but I chose brands which were just exceptional, to the point of World Beaters, but reasonably priced, without the just crazy prices which abound in this industry. Many of those prices are mainly extraordinary mark ups. This can be seen by the AM833S (Silver) costing over £30,000 in Europe, and $21,550 here.
There are a few great audio products out there, and no doubt a few more that I have not heard. But a lot of them are great Hi Fi Systems. They have clarity, transparency, dynamics and great separation, but most of them lack musicality. Many people prefer it that way. I don't, and fortunately a lot of other people don't have to either. Otherwise I would have had to keep working somewhere where I was a lot less happy that I am doing what I do now. If you are used to listening to real instruments, in a proper setting, unamplified, then you know what that is. It is a sweetness in the sound, the emotion in the music, the richness in the tone of both instruments and voice. If you feel at the end of the performance that you have had an emotional experience and feel emotional. That is musicality. That is what I love, and what I have continued to strive for and design, for over 30 years.
The best advice I can give to anyone, is never buy anything that you cannot return, that you have not carefully auditioned and unless just impossible, in your own system. Don't fall for the idea that if it costs more, then its better. It often definitely is not.
35. (29.06.16) Consonance Cyber 880i wins prestigious Plus X Award.
Consonance has won the Prestigious Plus X Award from Germany which is an all industry, Worldwide award for excellence for the quite stunning Cyber 880i integrated Amplifier for its design and performance excellence. This amplifier has been a favourite of mine since I first heard it, and it is what I use to demonstrate my speakers, up to the Epitome Tower Reference. For its price, it is unbeatable by anything remotely close to it. and a lot has to be spent to beat its towering performance.
Now the World has suddenly noticed it as well. This is the first time an Audio product has won this award.
The demise of CDs
For a long time people have been predicting the imminent death of Cds. Pointing to the convenience and vastly better selections from sources like iTunes and the like and the nowadays the new streaming services such as Spotify and Apple Music, For a long time I was not a fan. At Shows when people asked me if I had a way for them to plug in their phone, so they could play one of their tracks, I always said no, because I had made sure that I didn't. Once at a Home Show at Jeff's Shed, one of the other exhibitors came in and asked to play a CD on my big system. I had connected it, but had not played it at that stage as I had been using the small system, which was sounding great. I put on his Cd and it sounded just awful. We went from track to track and we were both devastated. He had heard great things about us and was very disappointed, and I was suspecting all sorts of major problems in the system. He went away quite dejected. I then put on my normal CD and it sounded fabulous. I searched through my collection and found a song that he had played and once again it was fine. Fortunately he wandered back in the next day and I asked him where he had got that CD. "I burnt it last night from my iTunes." When I played him some normal CDs, he spent $18,000. Had he not wandered back in, I would not have had that sale.
If you read the opinions of "experts" on the internet, they will tell you there is very little if any difference between mp3, mp4, 320kb/s, Cds or Hi Def files. If you listen on an iPod or phone over cheap headphones, or on a cheap stereo system, then there is in fact, very little difference. (I must add that by "cheap", I mean low resolution. Many systems you can buy nowadays are nor cheap, but they are low resolution) There is in fact not a lot of difference between mp3 and cassettes for sound quality.
Also it does not follow that the higher the resolution of the recording, the better the sound quality. A bad hi def recording will still sound bad, it is a bit like phone cameras which now have huge megapixel cemos. The limiting factor is the $10 lens. I would suspect that the resolution of the lens would be reached with a couple of meg. All the rest just makes a huge file. I have a wonderful professional lens for my camera which weighs 1.6kg and is 19cm long and costs over $3,000, and the camera can exceed its resolution, Higher bit rate recordings will only sound better if it is a well produced and executed recording. If it is a popular piece done by a major label, sadly, it probably will not be. Many times I have been shocked when people bring their expensive music servers here and we rip one of my Cds onto the HD and then play it back, and then I play the same CD in a modest CD player and the difference is amazing. Even when we connect the server to the same DAC in the CD player being used, there was a noticeable degradation.
So for the past couple of years, I continued to use CDs for all my demonstrations. But recently as a matter of convenience, I ripped all the Cds I use regularly onto a HD and connected it to a Consonance Reference 8 Media Server.
It will connect to any HD on the network and will accept several HDs plugged directly into it. It is also an Internet radio. Consonance in their wisdom, and despite my protests, make it network only and not wi fi. My complaint is that wi fi is necessary to use a phone or pad to control it. Their argument is they don't want people to stream by wi fi because the quality drop is too much. All that is needed is a $20 USB dongle to give it wi fi, and they do supply power outlets on the rear to power them. The sound quality is frankly excellent. The on board DAC is now as good as in the Droplet CD5 CD player, which is outstanding. The new Reference 8-20, which signifies the Companies 20th anniversary, is a step up again and it will process 128kb files, when someone records anything in that format. It is a better processor as well, but sadly costs a bit more, which is to be expected.
We recently had a very careful listening session on a very high resolution system, using the cheaper Figaro streamer, but bypassing its excellent DAC, using the DAC in the US$25,000 Audio Aero La Fontaine Music Centre into the AM RT-2 pre and the just overwhelmingly extraordinary AM 833M Mono Blocks feeding a pair of my Epitome Tower Reference. We switched back and forwards from listening to the same tracks on the CD played by the superb transport in the La Fontaine and the ripped copy on the Figaro. It was virtually identical every time. Every now and then we would detect slight differences, mainly in imaging, but we could never say which was better, or worse. It was still awesome, just slightly different.
I now have a server on my 3 different systems and use them all the time. It is so convenient not having to go hunting for a not often played CD which has disappeared and can't be found. On my everyday system, I also use the Consonance X1. This has a high quality CD ROM with some proprietary software that allows it to outperform much more expensive transports so that the combination works like a normal CD player, and a HD slot which will take any normal DD. I use an adaptor and a Kingston SSD, which has superior sound quality and ample space. If I want to add to it, I just push the button, eject the drive and plug it into my computer. I considered getting a Wi Fi drive. so I didn't have to do that, but how lazy do we need to be.
It is a strange thing, which I have seen documented in credible publications and opinions and confirmed myself, and poo pood by the on line "experts" that the type of storage actually does make a sound quality difference, SSD usually sounds better than a disc HD, but not always, it depends on the operating system of the drive. HDs will sound better than USB sticks. Why? Who knows? but the speed of a HD is usually a lot faster than a stick, or it could be the operating system again.
I have ripped all my CDs as WAV files, because I don't need to save space. All the experts insist that there is no difference between a WAV or a FLAC file, but a FLAC is a compressed WAV file and the player has to un-compress it as it plays. I have a lot of downloaded FLAC files and I would not claim to hear a difference, but I asked the engineers at Consonance which ones to use and they said WAV, so if there is no other reason, I will continue to do so. Apparently FLAC is better as a download as WAV is more easily corrupted during the download process. I have joined HD Tracks and have quite a few albums in 24/44, 24/96 and 24/192. Most of these are pretty good to excellent, some not so much. It is interesting that they offer a free sample track that actually sounds terrible. Good marketing strategy?
As for the streaming services: For convenience, they are great; For variety and content, also great. But for use on a quality, high resolution system? Background music only.
So. I am pleased to say that Digital Storage has grown up and the main limiting factor is the DAC. Many people use sound cards or cheaper plug in DACs which are fine if your expectations are low. However many will argue that they have achieved audio perfection this way. Good for them. I cater for the people who can hear the quite astonishing differences that are there to be heard.
Amplifiers - Affordable Excellence.
Take a couple of steps - Less affordable, but absolutely extraordinary.
In my Facebook post of a couple of weeks ago I discussed just how ordinary sounding many, if not most amplifiers are, relatively regardless of their price. Then there are a select group of extraordinary amplifiers that are relatively affordable in the $2,000 to $4,000 range such as the amazing Consonance Cyber 100 - 15th Anniversary Model and its big brother the Cyber 880i. Both of these seriously embarrass other amps in the $10,000 to $20,000 class. Most of these justify the price in size; weight, appearance; build quality and power, but not sonically. As far as I am concerned, this is the only criteria for judging.
In my 32 years in this Industry, exhibiting at over 45 Audio Shows, 16 of them overseas, and even visiting a couple as a buyer (Very different as a buyer than as a seller) I have heard a lot of stuff. I have been to countless really High End Audio shops in several Countries, but despite the appearance, size and eye boggling cost of some of these systems, and with very high expectations, I have surprisingly listened to very few that really moved me.
Since I am a Loud Speaker Manufacturer, I never intended to sell Electronics. I only did so because I came across some truly extraordinary products and my customers wanted then too. Because of this I have sold over 1750 Consonance products, Over 90 Audio Aero Products, which is pretty good since they are expensive.
Above the unbeatable for the money sit the AM Music RT-1 and RT-2 Pre amps and the 805M Monoblock amplifiers. These are very modestly priced by have easily beaten some of the World's most highly regarded amplifiers costing many times more. It is not a surprise that everybody who has tried a pair so far has bought them.
Before this week, my top class amplifier range jumped from the AM805M, to the mighty flagships the massive and imposing 833S.
But then AM came out with a slightly stripped back, single chassis Monoblock, weighing a svelte 50kg each. Picking them up to ease them into the rack, I thought that old age was finally catching up to me, before I checked the specifications. I just let them warm up for a couple of hours and had a listen. Straight out of the box, with never switched on before valves, all I can say is they are just EXTROADINARY. Orchestral pieces that sounded a bit constricted and lifeless on exceptional amplifiers just came to life. The Soundstage, the silence in the background, the stunning clarity of sounds and instruments around the rock solid soundstage, the sheer depth, the bass, Oh! The bass, so tight, so fast, so defined. Voices just standing in front of us, the timber, the breathing, the air, the liquidity. I need a Thesaurus. I have run out of superlatives. I have only ever heard this level of refinement once before and that was with the big brother AM833S, but as truly awesome as these are and at the quite ridiculously low price I sell them, a lot of people would buy a nice car.
I would seriously doubt that there is a better amplifier than these. I have been happy to put them against the Super Amps in the $150,000 class, where the AMs were clearly and stunningly better. These comparisons have been carried out many times in Europe with the same results.
Once you have heard what information there is in a recording. It is very hard to listen to that recording again with a good percentage of the musicality removed. I really feel honored and privileged to own these things.
Email from NZ on receipt of his Grand Monument References.
It is always nice to get complimentary feedback (I have not had any that was not, since I started all this 31 years ago)
This email was from new Zealand from the last person to buy a pair of Grand Monument References. I already knew this, as I have heard the Focal Grand Utopia in several different locations and systems, when it was cheaper at $139,000, than it is now. Plus this was also the opinion of J. Peter Moncrieff of International Audio Review in the US, and Martin De Wulf from Bound for Sound Magazine in the US, and David Wurtz from Secrets of Home Theatre and High Fidelity, and also from the US and Canadian Distributor of Focal, and also from Audio Aero, who always used the Grand Utopia at the CES in Las Vegas, but after heating them alongside the Grand Utopia, asked to use the Grand Monuments at the CES instead. But it is always nice to hear it again.
All I can say is WOW!!!
These are truly fantastic speakers
I had a set of the focal Grande Utopia BE for 12 months previous to the Grand Monuments- I'm not joking when I say Grand Monuments sound better.
Just more right, and way, way easier to integrate.
Obviously the Grande Utopias are great speakers, but you could only play them in big rooms and very, very picky - with source and amps.
Your speakers just seem to get on with it and play music how it should be. Very, very impressive.
Thanks for all your help.
Arrival of the new AM 833M
Am Fang, who is AM Audio, is always reaching for the stars. After coming out with the quite extraordinary AM 805M, which causes problems for anyone selling them in that they easily outperform all other amplifiers, at any price, so how are you supposed to sell the much more expensive brands? He then designed the absolute ultimate amplifier, the AM 833S. This stunning amplifier shames the rest of the World's super amplifiers with their "silly money" price tags. But even at the ridiculously low price that I sell them for, they are still verging on the border of expensive, even if the value for money is unsurpassed. There is one other slight down side, and that is they are quite big, and dammed heavy, with the two amplifiers and their two matching power supplies weighing in at 150kg.
The power supplies are 40kg each which means they can be moved and set up without too much drama, but are a struggle for the elderly and infirm. Another small problem is where to set them, as with their matching RT-3 preamplifier, they weigh 200kg, which can tax some cabinetry.
So he set his mind to the problem of performance/cost/weight/size and has now released a more normal version of the Cost and zero compromise Flagship, the AM 833M. This is virtually the same amplifier section as the 833S, but with a still substantial, not absolute reference power supply. This allows them to be fairly normal sized mono amplifiers, and they are of a similar size to the 805M, but with even better sonics. It is actually pretty hard to believe that anything could sound better, until you hear it.
I have absolute confidence in Fang, and believe him when he tells me that the performance is not that far away from the monster 833S. I have ordered a copper pair and look forward to their arrival within the next month.
We are having a very rare sale across the range until the end of the Financial year. Click to go to Specials Page for details.
Finally, a Facebook page
Click to go to new Facebook Page
I finally decided to get with the times and start a Facebook page for the business. It is very frustrating in what it won't allow you to do.
Release of the T10 Music Sub.
Just in case my existing 42 model lineup was insufficient, I decided to introduce the T10 Music Subwoofer. Most Subwoofers use a subwoofer driver, which means they have larger than usual surround, to allow a long throw on the cone, so they can move more air. This is fine for a lot of rumbling on a Home Theatre Track (Although even here they are often bloated and have little relationship in their output, to what is happening on the screen).
When they are asked to play music, especially in an attempt to add some depth and extension to the sound of smaller and Bookshelf speakers, they do not perform well, giving a bloated and disjointed sound, and smearing the soundstage. They lag along behind the music, as they are just too slow to react fast enough. The T10 is a slightly smaller version of the T12, except it uses the same 10" Bass driver from the Epitome, and Epitome Tower speakers. This is one of the finest bass drivers available. (Not a subwoofer driver) It has slightly less authority and sheer "wallop" than the T12, but is faster and more integrated, and will make a small pair of Bookshelf speakers, sound like a pair of medium sized Tower speakers, with a bass extension down to 20 Hz.
Most "other brand" subwoofers also employ a lot of boost in the bass area. This is why they have massive, poor quality amplifiers; this introduces a whole lot of new problems. This is again so they can move more air, but then in a massive contradiction, they roll off the very low bass, below 40 Hz usually, in order to protect the low quality amplifier and driver from over driving. This makes the very name false as "Sub" means sub harmonic, which is below 30 Hz, where they don't go. The Redgum amplifier used in the T10 does not do either of these, so remains fast, coherent, and musical.
Michael Fremer, Senior Editor from Stereophile, visited our rooms at the Hi Fi show.
We exhibited at the Hi Fi Show at the Intercontinental Hotel at the Rialto. I am quite pleased. Michael Fremer, Senior Editor from Stereophile, visited many rooms at the hi fi show, but was only impressed enough to write about 2 of them on his blog. Fortunately one of them was mine. The initial meeting was a little embarrassing, as I mistook him for a bloke who had been in a dozen times. The fact that he mentions it in his article is sort of funny. Some of the music that people want played is pretty awful, and I didn't want him coming in to a cacophony. I would have loved to have two room so the Monuments could have been optimally placed, and the other equipment in the other, but being one man with low profit margins, makes that a dream.
The reaction from the visitors was overwhelming. Over 60 people told me that we were the absolute stand out there, and 9 people after listening to my $9000 system, went to listen to a couple in the $100,000 toi $360,000 range and reported back that they were not even close. It is
always nice to hear. I do tend to wonder who buys these systems? Someone must?
I don't know how many hours this RT-3 That I received today has run, but I unpacked it and set it up alongside the RT-2 running the 805 Silvers into a pair of my Reference Epitome Towers, and gave everything a couple of hours to warm up. First track I played was Lou Reed with "Take a walk on the Wild Side" and the shakers on both sides were quite eerily spread right along the walls on both side of the room and were actually extended slightly behind me. I had never heard that from a CD source before, they were so clear that it was disturbing. I went back onto the RT-2 and they were clearly audible along the wall, but although I had played that combination and that track many times, I had not really noticed. Playing several more tracks found the same thing. Things were clearly there on the RT-2, but startlingly so on the 3. Vocals also had a little bit more "air" and clarity.
The main differences are in soundstage width. If the track doesn't have much of a soundstage, then it isn't changed that much, things are only a bit clearer on the 3. It there is a big soundstage, then it is huge on the 3. Really noticeable were choirs behind the singers.
The difference overall, I suppose, isn't a really big difference as the sonic signature is so similar from each of the versions of this preamplifier. It is one of those relatively small differences that is indispensable once heard and the sound goes from "Excellent" to "thrilling". It is such early days, so I look forward to some more running and slotting it in with the 833 Silver Editions on my Grand Monuments.
Well done Fang.
Arrival of the new flagship AM 833S
Whilst reveling in the sound of what I consider to be the best pre amplifier available, the AM RT-2 (Silver Edition) AM announced that it had perfected their absolute Reference Preamplifier. The mighty AM RT-3. The RT-1 and the RT-2 were, I thought, quite heavy at 35Kg. But the RT-3 weighs in at a portly and impressive 56Kg. There are not many large and powerful amplifiers with the power supplies of this preamp. Virtually all the internal wiring and the umbilical cords are gold coated pure silver wire. There are several upgrades and modifications to the Preamplifier section, and there is now one Power Supply unit module per channel and twice as many transformers as there is in the Power Supplies of the RT-1 and the RT-2. This results in a 3 box design. I have secured the first production model outside China, where several have already been sold to wildly enthusiastic owners, and I should have them next week.
AM tell me that it is the best sounding and musical Preamplifier they have ever heard or made, and that the sound is approximately 30% better than the RT-2. I know that it is pretty well impossible to put a percentage value to the sound of anything, but better is better and often, it has been my experience that after hearing a slight improvement in some components, it is just impossible to go without it. And if the sound is significant…….well. I very much look forward to getting it, and I will report back later.
One problem with having components of this AM quality, is that using other components that I thought were just outstanding is very unsatisfying.
Excellent new review of the RT-1 by Hi Fi+ in the UK. The RT-1 seems pretty unbeatable, until one hears the RT-2 and then the RT-3. Aything that is a "No Brainer" at £5,500 ($9,980)