Aavik Acoustics System Review
This Review Features:
The subjects of this review feature components and accessories from two of the three brands designed and manufactured by The Audio Group Denmark, which acts as an umbrella company for Aavik Acoustics, Ansuz Acoustics, and Børresen Acoustics. The company was started by two Danes, Lars Kristensen, and Michael Børresen, who first met more than 20 years ago.
Aavik Acoustics designs and manufactures many types of high-end audio components, such as amplifiers, DACs, phono stages, and streamers. Ansuz Acoustics products consist of what most audiophiles would call high-end audio accessories, cables, power distribution, streaming accessories, and resonance control devices. Børresen Acoustics designs and manufactures high-end audio loudspeakers.
During the summer of 2021, I spent a couple of months listening to and reviewing Ansuz Acoustics I-180 Integrated Amplifier, D-180 DAC, and S-180 Streamer/Network Player (as seen above). I highly recommend reading this review, mainly because I describe the basics of the Aavik Acoustics component's sound quality, the design of these similar-looking cabinets, their front panel functionality and displays, and many of their similar internal components that make Aavik components Aavik components.
Aavik offers its components at three levels, the 180, 280, and 580 lines, with incremental technological and sonic improvements as one scales those three levels. After hearing the components from their ‘180 line, it was evident that Aavik sets the bar very high regarding their first-rate construction, especially their distinctive sound quality, even in Aavik's most "affordable" line.
The component's sound quality upgrades when comparing the different lines in Aavik Acoustics's catalog are due to several reasons. Still, their website explains a significant reason for this is their increase in Ansuz noise canceling technology. I raved about the Aavik component's sound quality and gushed over the trio of Aavik components' appearance, especially when stacked atop each other. I was extremely impressed with their top-to-bottom red LED display, making it possible to read even from across a large listening room.
In reviewing the three Aavik Acoustics components from their "180" line, I didn't seem to care if I ever reviewed any components higher up in Aavik Acoustics's line or, obviously, painting myself into a corner. Priced at $7200 each, Aavik Acoustics's I-180 integrated amplifier, S-180 streamer, and D-180 DAC was and are incredible values.
In this review, I had the opportunity to audition components from one step higher in Aavik Acoustics's line and experience what could be done when adding Ansuz power products and their vibrations control units into the mix.
U-280 Unity Integrated Amplifier With Onboard
After spending quite a bit of time with the U-280 unity amplifier in my system, I would bet that comparing it to a stack comprised of a separate Aavik P-280 power amplifier, C-280 preamplifier, and D-280 DAC, the audible difference between the two setups would be significant. But the cost savings by using the single chassis U-280 Unity integrated amplifier would be around $35k, not including the decent cables one would need to connect the three components. Spoiler alert: Judged on its own, the sound quality that came through my speakers with the $18,000 Aavik U-280 Unity Amplifier in my system was magnificent, and since the price difference between the two options is so large that it is a moot point to compare the two.
Those who might be concerned that the U-280's output section uses a Class D circuit can rest easy. During the audition period, it never even occurred to me that I was listening to a component with this type of output section. I'm grateful to Audio Group Demark's US representative and former Danish resident Peter Hansen for sending me some information about Aavik Acoustics's Class D circuit (and helping me set up all the equipment needed for this review!).
Aavik Acoustics uses in their amplification circuits something called UMAC amplifier technology. UMAC was developed to avoid the design flaws of traditional switching amplifiers. It targets two areas, the first being that the Pulse Wave Modulation (PWM) generation is produced with sine wave modulation rather than the more common triangle modulation. With no sharp corners, sine waves create much less high-frequency noise. Less noise means less filtering at the output, and less filtering leads to lower inductance. Because of this, the amp will have a better damping factor, leading to better speaker control. The second area the UMAC targets is its advanced "dual mixed-mode feedback," which is present in only the best linear amplifiers.
While the Aavik U-280 is in operation, all one has to do is turn this component's volume control to realize that it is exceptional. The quality of this control has often come up in my reviews. I strongly feel that "attenuator" is better than volume control. No matter how we feed a musical signal to our amplifier, it is presented to it at its maximum output before reaching this control. Yes, it "controls the volume," but it does this by attenuating the signal, which is much more challenging to do without affecting the signal than it outwardly appears. Aavik Acoustics's line stage uses a unique, inverted, virtual GND (ground) amplifier topology, which attempts to provide the "highest stability" of this control.
According to my new friend Peter, the feedback gets so powerful that it allows the damping of the signal to a lower gain. It preserves the full signal with the lowest signal-to-noise ratio (most often denoted as SNR or S/N Ratio), regardless of how low or high the volume control is. According to Peter, this provides the loudspeakers "with a clear and distinct informational flow to make even the finest details of timbral and textural nuances audible on an extremely quiet soundstage."
Peter's description isn't hyperbole. When listening to music with the Aavik Acoustics U-280 in my system, instruments and voices floated between, atop, and to the sides of my reference Sound Lab Majestic 545 speakers. A portion of this drawn-to-scale soundstage created a bridge of sound between the two speakers. With the right recording, the soundstage made a semicircle of sound, starting at the side walls and extending way behind the front wall of my listening room. This soundstage filled the front of my listening room with lifelike-sounding instruments and voices.
When playing loud rock or electronic music, the intentions of the musicians and producers became more apparent. This was because of the U-280's crystalline transparency, the previously mentioned multi-layered drawn-to-scale soundstage, and the myriad of positive traits this superb integrated amplifier possessed.
Aavik Acoustics S-280 Streamer
The Aavik Acoustics S-280 Streamer was more than a pleasure to use, even if I ignored the fact I was using the most advanced and, by the way, the highest-priced internet streaming device I've ever had in my listening room. The Roon-ready Aavik S-280's back panel reveals its flexibility and that it can be used in myriad ways and not only connected to another Aavik Acoustics component. It connects to one's home network via an Ethernet LAN. Its outputs include a BNC jack for S/PDIF, which can provide a signal up to 24-bit,192k, and an optical (Toslink) output with the same specifications. It also has a convenient RCA line output. In addition to the $12,000 Aavik Acoustics Streamer, I also had the ethernet output of the Aavik Acoustics streamer connected to the input of a $4,000 Ansuz Acoustics PowerSwitch A2 Ethernet Switch with a $1,200 a meter Ansuz Acoustics Digitalz Ethernet cable. Two meters of the Digitalz cable went from the Ansuz PowerSwitch A2's output to our home's Verizon Fios modem.
On the Audio Group Denmark website, they do their best to explain the technology behind the Aavik Acoustics streamer. Once again, its superior sound quality has to do with noise reduction. They start by defining "The Tesla Coil Principle," which is to have two coils wound in each direction - a coil and a counter coil, or "a double inverted coil." The bottom line is that Ansuz's active Tesla coils send pulsated signals in well-defined frequencies. These signals are transmitted in a counter-phase and thus eliminate the noise. Yes, it is more complicated than this. Still, my philosophy regarding the technology of high-end audio equipment is that I'm more interested in the final results - good sound quality, than how it's done. So, if they design the component using empty beer cans and parts of ball-point pens, all held together with duct tape, I'm OK with that, as long as it comes with a good warranty.
I located the Aavik Acoustics S-280 Unity Amplifier, the S-280 Streamer, and the Ansuz Ethernet switch not on a shelf where most of my other equipment was located. Most were on my Arcici Suspense equipment rack, which can ward off a considerable amount of harmful vibrations airborne or otherwise. It does this with its five acrylic shelves hung with metal rods connected to a 50-pound stainless steel plate that rests atop three inner tubes. The amount of air in the inner tubes is adjustable via three valves on the front of the rack.
Ansuz Acoustics Darkz C2t Resonance Control Devices Footers
The complexity, technology, and structural design behind the Darkz C2t Resonance Control Devices are such that they easily could have been featured in a separate Enjoy the Music.com review. I felt confident that their placement under the two Aakiv components and the Ansuz ethernet switch made them safe from any of the harmful effects of vibrations from any of the usual suspects.
Besides an audiophile's quest for better sound using devices to decrease the effects of harmful vibrations, we also like to optimize our system's sound by attempting to guarantee we're getting the power right. I've spent many reviews pontificating about the importance of clean AC, even going as far as using the often very expensive or inconvenient battery power supplies.
Ansuz Acoustics A2 Power Cables
The Ansuz Acoustics Mainz8 power distributor has what's called Ansuz dither technology. This circuit is claimed to increase the volume and clarity of the music signal and add more "energy" to the music. It does this by reducing noise by providing the lowest grounding impedance, ensuring that no noise is transferred from the power distributor to the individual cables that feed the audio components. As I mentioned before, each of these components deserves an individual review, as there is so much more technical information about them than space permits; this includes the Anzuz Mainz8 power distributor. If one wishes to read more technical info on it, the Denmark Audio Groups website goes into much more technical detail than I do here.
After listening to the system with all these ancillaries installed, the Ansuz vibration control devices, power cords, and power distributor, I took the time to remove them for a short time, then reinstalled them later. Listening to these rather pricey components using a no-name power strip connected to the wall outlet is not recommended. There ought to be a law.
Yet the sound of the Aavik Acoustics components connected directly to the wall sounded surprisingly good. I have two dedicated power lines that travel directly to our circuit box in our basement. And the power cords I usually use are hardly chopped liver. Nor is my usual power supply for my system. But the Ansuz Acoustic's vibration control, power cords, and distributor decreased the background noise a notch and increased the general sound quality up the sound of my system, that's for sure. It was very quiet beforehand, but now I could honestly use the phrase "blacker than black" as a verifiable statement. This total background noise led to an objective increase in every positive demonstrable sonic trait possessed by the Aavik components, such as making my speaker's location even more difficult to locate. But that's just one attribute out of a multitude of others.
Ansuz Acoustics Speakz Speaker Cable
Obscured By Clouds
On vinyl, I have an original UK LP (above photo) pressing on EMI, a Japanese pressing of the LP (below), and the newest remaster released on Pink Floyd Records. Digitally, I have what I think is the original US-made CD from back in the day, a recently remastered CD from Japan, and a downloaded 24-bit/192k version, which is also available for streaming on Tidal and Qobuz. I also have a remixed version that was completed in 2018 on CD and a 24-bit/44.1k download of it. Thankfully, this version is also available on Tidal and Qobuz). I rip physical CDs with the Exact Audio Copy (EAC) app and store them on hard drives connected to my computer-based music server, along with the downloaded versions.
Even though the above list of versions of this album I have in my music library for my listening pleasure might seem long, everything is relative. The website Discogs lists 394 versions of Pink Floyd Obscured By Clouds that have been released in various formats since this album was released in 1972. A serious Pink Floyd collector certainly has their work cut out for them! Obviously, I collect records. But I'm not a record collector.
Through the Aavik Acoustics gear, I used the Aavik S-280 steamer with Qobuz on the Aavik Acoustics app to listen to the 24-bit/192kHz version of the album. It was as if I could "see" into the mix of this album, hearing sonic holograms of real people playing real instruments in the studio. It was also "fun" to hear how mediocre the original CD from 1987 sounded and how wonderful it was to revel in the sound of the meticulously made Japanese vinyl version of this album and the high-resolution version streaming on Qobuz controlled by the Aavik Acoustics streaming app.
The sound I was hearing when listening to Qobuz and Tidal through the Aavik S-280 Streamer connected to the digital input of the Aavik Acoustics U-280 Unity Amplifier was mind-blowing. I preferred Qobuz over Tidal f because they display the resolution of the files I was streaming.
During this listening session, not only did I use the S-280 Streamer connected to the U-280 Unity Amplifier's DAC during my listening session. I connected the S-280 streamer's digital output to my reference EMM Labs DA2 converter's digital input using an Accusound Digital Link cable. Briefly, the EMM converter improved the sound quality of the music coming from the S-280 Streamer by making it a more coherent presentation. Instruments, voices, and sounds seemed more discrete, which led to other improvements in the S-280's sound quality. Considering the more than twice the price difference between the U-280 and the more expensive EMM labs converter makes a simple "how much better did it sound?" calculation impossible. But I'm happy to report that the U-280's internal DAC was not embarrassed by the EMM labs converter and produced a fantastic sound, even when streaming a "CD quality" source. The S-280/U-280 combo sounded incredibly transparent and had a very "non-digital" sound.
Above I revealed that the Japanese vinyl version of Obscured By Clouds was at the top of my list of "best sounding" versions. I slightly preferred it over the best-sounding digital version, the 24-bit/192 version I downloaded from HDTracks. My reference analog front-end might have at least something to do with my opinion. It is built around a Basis V turntable, and its AC synchronous motor is powered by an AC regenerator that feeds it a clean 60 Hz sine wave (81Hz when playing 45 rpm records). A Top Wing Suzuka Red Sparrow phono cartridge was mounted on a Tri-Planar 6 tonearm, its silver internal wiring directly connected to a Pass Laboratories XP-27 two-chassis phono preamplifier. The Pass phono preamp was connected to an analog input on the rear panel of the Aavik Acoustics U-280 Unity Amplifier.
During my binge, in which I enjoyed a few days of pre-Dark Side Of The Moon Pink Floyd at their best, I also spun the first side of Obscured By Clouds' original UK pressing and a recent 180-gram version made in the USA in 2016. A short time later, I played the Japanese pressing, which is also on EMI. EMI owned the pressing plant in Japan, and I've read about numerous former employees at EMI who believe the same plates used to press the record in England were also used for this early Japanese pressing. The most significant difference between those two copies was the amount of surface noise. The Japanese used virgin vinyl instead of the usual half virgin vinyl, half recycled vinyl used in the UK and just about everywhere else. Like in our audio systems, a quiet background means more musical details are heard, and both macro- and microdynamics seem more present, among a host of other sonic positives.
Regardless of which version of Obscured By Clouds was listening to with the two Aavik Acoustics components argument by the Ansuz ancillaries in my system, rarely have I heard them sound this good. Due to the set-up's extremely high level of you-are-there transparency, with the best pressings or digital files, I could close my eyes and imagine myself sitting in the studio's control room, listening to the playback of the master tape of their latest mix of the album. Regardless of which version I was playing, the reach-out-and-touch sound that came forth from my speakers was uncanny. I would often whip my head to the right or left, thinking someone had entered my listening room unannounced.
It often sounded like I was listening to an unreleased version of Obscured By Clouds because never have I heard this album sound so realistic. Everything sounded less cluttered, as instruments, voices, and sounds were separated in the soundstage with a sonic distance that sounded like I could measure them with a yardstick.
The sound of the best versions of Pink Floyd's Obscured By Clouds served as a paradigm for the sound of the Aavik Acoustics components supported by the Ansuz ancillaries. I determined that the best version on vinyl was the Japanese pressing for many reasons, including the imperceptible amount of surface noise that made it possible for all of the recording's positive sonic traits to come to the fore. The 24-bit/192k digital version was a showcase for both the streaming prowess of the Aavik Acoustics S-280 Streamer and the onboard digital-to-analog converter in the U-280 Unity Amplifier.
When I speak of the surprisingly quiet surfaces of the Japanese pressing allowing all the positive traits of the music to be heard, the profoundly silent background of the Aavik Acoustics components had an unquestionably more profound effect on the music. This trait was even more apparent when the Ansuz Mainz8 A2 AC Distribution Bar and the Maniz8 A2 power cords supplied AC. It was also nice knowing that behind the scenes, the Ansuz Darkz C2t Resonance Control Devices were at work controlling vibrations and even going one step further using titanium balls placed between the footers and the Aavik Acoustics components, mainly because it seems as if Ansuz realizes that only the best will do when it comes to protecting the equipment from vibration, and thus protecting the musical signal.
Beethoven's Ninth Symphony
Aavik Noise Reduction
Dimensions and Weight
Aavik Noise Reduction
Dimensions and Weight
Ansuz Mainz8 A2 AC Power Distribution Bar
Ansuz Mainz8 A2 AC Ansuz Power Cords
Ansuz Speakz A2 Speaker Cables
Ansuz Digitalz Ethernet Cable
Ansuz PowerSwitch A2 Ethernet Switch
Ansuz Darkz C2t Resonance Control Devices
Titanium Balls for Darkz
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