Galibier, Karna, Azzolina – Located in one of the big corner rooms was a system composed of a Galibier Design Stelvio ($12,500) turntable with Triplanar arm and Dynavector XV-1s. The phono stage and preamp were one-off designs, amplification from Karna Push Pull 300B amps from nutshellhifi.com. The speakers were Azzolina Audio Grand Sfera. Cables by Chimera Labs. I played my audiophile approved Sara K., then the Pete Townshend track. Since no one else had any other vinyl to play, I played the Nirvana cut. All the other attendees present left the room, but several more people came into the room and sat down with big smiles on their faces. After Nirvana I played The Eurythmics and Judas Priest to more smiles. So what did I hear from these five LPs. The Sara K. is a true audiophile recording – superbly recorded and pressed. What I heard was like her sitting and singing right there in the room with me. Very nice. On the Pete Townshend track I heard every detail, every movement of his fingers. Quite a toe tapping performance. Kurt Cobain’s voice on the Nirvana cut was not quite as realistic as in the Walker room, but still very nice. The Eurythmics track is heavily mixed. On a high resolution system you can hear each separate track of the mix. I heard all of the tracks. Turbo Lover is actually fairly well recorded and pressed, but I played it just for fun. Judas Priest sure beats hearing Jazz at the Pawnshop for the thousandth time. A very nice sounding room to which I returned several times.
Thom Mackris of turntable manufacturer Galibier Design (whose Stelvio costs $12,500) had me smiling when he played a hilarious track by Red Knuckles & the Trailblazers. Although a little raucous on top, the system (Schröder Reference SQ tonearm, perversely entitled ZYX Universe cartridge, Artemis Labs PH-1 phono stage, preproduction Karna push-pull 300B 15W amp from Nutshell Hi Fidelity, and Gran Sfera Horns by Azzolina Audio) offered a compellingly huge, all-enveloping, elevated soundstage coupled to a beautiful midrange.
One room over from Galibier, and again sporting imposing Azzolina Audio speakers, Hagerman Audio was showing another all-analog system. With no time to tune the system due to emergency equipment repairs necessitated by shipping damage, the system offered wonderful size and considerable midrange beauty, nonetheless.
Shortly after purchasing the Gran Sferas, I wrote…, expressing my great pleasure of owning these fine speakers,… to relate to you a few of my observations following several hundred hours of listening.
As you know, I am not a fan of the fairly popular Audio theory of mixing the “Tones” of various pieces of audio equipment to achieve a high performance level that accurately reproduces the sound of Live Music. I want transparency…..I want that audio device to be invisible, so it lets the Music flow through without changing it.
As I listened to your Loudspeakers, the first thing I noticed was how quickly I got “sucked” into the Music. My feet were tapping; I would have got up and danced if I would have been by myself. It was Live Music in all its Glory and I was THERE! And I had no plans to leave.
How did the Basso and Alto interact? To be honest, I didn’t think any 15″ driver could keep up with the Lowther A55 drivers. When we listened to Katie Melua’s Piece By Piece, tracks 2 and 4, the difference was amazing. Mid-bass, upper bass and lower midrange performance was outstanding. Best string bass reproduction I have ever heard. I was astounded how accurate the voices of the instruments were. The transition frequency range from the 15″ driver to the Lowther was seamless and undetectable.
Then there were the Susana Baca tracks that showed me that speed and 105dB sensitivity could accurately and effortlessly reproduce the challenging percussion…Rhythm, Pace and Dynamics. These are three of my favorite things and, in my opinion the hardest to achieve.
I am sure you can tell that I am still pumped about how they sound with any type of Music, in both vinyl and disc. I don’t think I have ever heard a more accurate or transparent reproduction.
In one sentence, in my opinion, your Loudspeakers are one of the finest I have ever heard!
Best Regards and Congratulations,
PS Thanks for developing a speaker accurate and transparent enough to let us hear what the Axiom Amps can do.
Serendipitously, I discovered Azzolina in my quest for new speakers for our Galibier turntable demonstration room.
In one sense, I consider my decision to use Azzolina Gran Sfera speakers to be stacking the deck, because the speakers’ resolution level as well as their compatibility with all types of music rival that of my analog front end. One could argue that demonstrating with such a system presents an unfair advantage. My clients have however come to expect nothing less of a system I assemble for demonstration purposes, so the decision to go with Azzolina was an easy one.
As a small, boutique manufacturer, I don’t have the room to store multiple reference speaker systems. The speakers I choose have to do it all – to the extent that this is possible. They must play to a wide range of musical tastes. Additionally, people should be able to relate to them – irrespective of whether their home system is based on dynamic box speakers (cones ‘n domes), open baffle architecture, electrostatics, or horns. I am a firm believer that the best expressions of various architectures will converge on musical truth and that the experienced listener will recognize quality when they hear it.
Over the few months I’ve been running the Azzolina Gran Sfera’s, I’ve received comments like “these don’t sound like horns”. I interpret these statements to mean that they don’t have typical horn coloration’s such as “honk” and other inconsonant resonance. They certainly have room-filling dynamics to the point of being frightening, scale the presentation correctly (large works sound large, and small ones are intimate), and have an immediacy and low-level nuance characteristic of the best horn systems.
Having worked with Azzolina for these short few months, I made the decision to make their speakers available through Galibier Design.
Small, boutique manufacturers occupy a rare position in the audio world. On one hand, we realize that our products need to have universality (which I consider both our turntables as well as the Azzolinas to have). On the other hand, we realize that the very top echelon of equipment requires painstaking system matching and configuration in order to achieve world-class sound.
This latter point is where we as boutique manufacturers hold the trump card over a conventional hi-fi distribution network. It is virtually impossible to lay 5 components from each equipment category in front of a competent audio dealer and expect him to build even one single world-class system from the components. They will likely achieve very, very good “sound” but will fail to achieve greatness and results will not stir the soul.
Achieving greatness in a music reproduction system results from equal amounts of hard work, perseverance and luck. As a result, many boutique manufacturers adopt a model of assembling a single system – one they have invested years in configuring. If you change one component, its performance can easily degenerate into something so pedestrian as to “only” receive a product of the year award from the popular audio press.
From my experience of the Azzolinas, it’s obvious that they share my philosophy – that great sound is merely the departure point on the road to musical greatness. Furthermore, they are well on their way. Listen to these speakers only if you’re ready to get out your checkbook. Resistance is futile.
It has taken me almost 1 year to write a report on these bass units. First of all I must thank Charlie for his patience and all these years of support in this endless madness of Hi Fi. Our history goes way back. By the time we got in touch (this time) it was a discussion about the LeCleac’h flare. Fast forward like 6 years…
Quick summary of my speakers: AER MD3 drivers mounted on Azura Horns naturally cutting off at 204Hz married with the Basso bass units in 160 litre bass cabinets. The horns are driven with Yamamoto A-08s which give out a whopping 2W, the drivers are 106db alone and the front horn takes them to 110db or there about. The Basso bass units are currently driven with Restek Thorens which are 50W mosfets and Toshiba fets with FRAKO caps. Crossover is a kit from Borisaudio using LeCleach theory, no expense spared with Jensen PIO silver lead outs caps, 24 of them, SPU is all back gates – all resistors are RMG. Pre-amp is Supratek Cortese. My front end has many variations, heavily modified slate Lenco, Garrard 301, SP10 MK2 just to name my main current players. Digital – which I don’t take too seriously as I am a vinyl freak. Carts – too many to name here which includes my own modified version of the Denon 103R (MIDAS).