ASoN. The Audiophile Society of NSW inc.

Introduction: I was really looking forward to this one, as I had heard a system comprising equipment from Acoustic Zen Technologies, Rogue Audio, and North Star Design a while ago, and rated it most highly. This system was a step above in terms of the specific models. Equipment: Speakers: Acoustic Zen Technologies – 3 way – horn loaded ribbon tweeter, 2 x midrange with underhung voicecall in MTM (D’Appolito) configuration; 2 x base drivers in transmission line. Amplification: Rogue Audio (tube) M180 Monoblocks featuring KT90 output tubes in ultralinear or triode mode; Athena reference preamp. Unusually, you can switch modes “on the fly” – no need to power down. Source: North Star Design USB-DAC32 “32 bit” DAC, sourced from laptop and M192 CD transport with I2S interconnect (rather than SPDIF). Cables: Acoustic Zen Technologies and HDiamond DAC to preamp - silver; remaining copper; power cables – regular economy IEC Playlist and Impressions: ( I was seated front row centre.) Ultralinear mode; CD transport 1) Carol Kidd – Dreamsville The double bass and Carol’s voice were very detailed and natural – realistic and convincing; there was a touch of midrange “glare” when other instruments came in. As usual “blame it on the room”. 2) Orchestral – brass intro. Clean, fast bass extension; brass had the right amount of “bite” without becoming harsh 3) Alan Taylor – Old Friends, New Roads Good clarity; guitar perhaps more convincing than the voice 4) Antiphone Blues – Arne, Domnerus Sax and pipe organ – lots of reverb in the recording, difficult to judge 5) Jennifer Warnes – Bird on a Wire Good example of the speaker’s “speed”. I don’t really like that term, but transients were very clean and this track highlighted the low distortion of underhung voice coils and transmission line bass loading 6) Scheherezade – London Philharmonic Orchestra – Jose Serebrier Here we switched between ultralinear and triode modes. The solo violin was very clear. Triode mode sounded warmer, and by comparison, ultralinear now sounded a bit lean and clinical (but by no means “bad”). Ultralinear seemed to give greater clarity to the strings of stringed instruments; triode gave a greater sense of the actual body of the instrument i.e. more depth, weight. From here on, the vote was to stay with triode mode. 7) Allen Smith Quartet – Estate – Live jazz recording featuring trumpet and piano Piano was realistic, with great presence and the right sense of size. Trumpet was also realistic and “there”. 8) Naim demo disc – Thea Gilmore – rock Awful recording, sounding very “cluttered”. Difficult to separate vocals, instruments. 9) Pink Panther Theme Great detail, resolution, dynamics. Lovely percussive attack on Hammond organ. One of the best tracks so far. 10) African – male voices Good ability to distinguish and separate the voices. After the break, we changed source to high resolution internet downloads on PC. 11) Jazz trio – featuring piano. Natural, drums very dynamic and detailed, perhaps a touch of ringing on the piano at times, soundstage a bit “dual mono” at times. 12) Female vocal, baritone sax, drums Very realistic, one of the best tracks. 13) Ray Charles and Norah Jones – “One More Time” - 24 bit, 88.2 KHz Despite having a few of her albums, the fact that she is usually well recorded, and listening to her frequently, I did not initially recognize her voice. Sound was all body, no tops. 14) Christy Baron – “Happy Together” – FLAC 24 bit 96 KHz Nothing to criticize. 15) Diana Krall – piano trio, no vocal Piano at time sounded “congested”, top notes edgy and hard; percussion very detailed; bottom end extended and powerful 16) Eva Cassidy Again, top piano notes a bit “hard”, “brittle”. Again, may be the room. Conclusion: In re-reading my notes, it occurs to me that I may be being overly critical. The reason is simply that is a great system, and equipment that I have heard before and therefore I had VERY high expectations. The issues with ringing and harshness are likely to be due to the room acoustics. For example, when I heard the club’s KEF Q900 speakers here (and Haberfield was even worse!) they sounded way too bright, and seemed to ring to the extent that there could have been a tweeter fault. However, when I got them home, none of this was evident – they could barely be described as “a touch bright”. I may be a “solid state guy”, but I am certainly impressed with Rogue (tube) amplification. In fact, all the equipment was of a very high standard, and certainly not overpriced. A beautiful system! Many thanks to Matej from Audio Solutions for presenting this great equipment to us.

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