From a philosophical point of view, the argument for
or against the existence of coincidence seems to be a "boundary"
decision, conditioning our entire worldview. It is a fundamental experience, one
that is used as a basis for the whole superstructure: faith or unbelief,
religion or irreligion, optimistic or pessimistic approach to the problem of
free will. Without that, we will live in suspension. And it probably doesn't
really matter which decision we make, whether we follow, say, Michael Heller,
the author of "Filozofiaprzypadku" ("The Philosophy of Coincidence", 2012), who
sees God in chaos and probability calculus, or we rather side with Richard
Dawkins, the author of "The Blind Watchmaker" (1986). What matters is that this
is our choice.
My own approach to this question is pragmatic:
sometimes events really look to happen by coincidence. I am aware, however, that
I'm saying this from the microcosm point of view, while the regularities
described, for example, by Heller are visible at the macro level. On the other
hand, how can you not talk about the lack of coincidence in situations such as
that involving AbysSound.
I have known for several years that such a
manufacturer exists. It was promoted at the Audio Show by people from Chillout
Studio who presented its beast of an amplifier, the ASX-2000, operating in Class
A, boasting two 50 Watt each power output and weighing 115 lbs. I had a chance
to look at it at the show. Everything about it was puzzling. The assembly and
finish quality resembled that of Krell from its best years, and the interior
looked like current Krell. The sheer number capacitors and transistors could
give any ecologist a heart attack. And last but not least, those 80 Watts in
However, I have never had the chance to talk to
AbysSound head, Mr. Marek Stoliński, much less to its chief designer, Mr.
Julian Studnicki. Or so it seemed to me. When we finally arranged a meeting, and
Mr. Stoliński arrived at my house together with Mr. Jacek Biskupski,
responsible for logistics, the former looked at me and said that he knew me. I
was dumbfounded. I could swear I never saw the man before! He seemed to read it
in my eyes for he quickly explained what's what.
As it turned out, we met once, 12 years ago (what
a memory!), at the Audioholic audio salon. Audioholic was a Polish distributor
of American high-end gear from the likes of McIntosh, VTL, Aerial, Enlightened
Audio Design and Runco, as well as PSB and Nakamichi. I used to work there over
a year, curing myself of former professional influences (I had spent previous
eight years as a sound engineer, in the studio and on stage) and getting ready,
in retrospect, to work as an audio journalist. The audio salon was actually a
villa on the outskirts of Krakow, wholly dedicated to audio presentations. They
could be arranged in several listening rooms furnished to resemble a normal
apartment, and a home cinema room. Lots of very interesting people visited the
salon, including - for example – Zbigniew Preisner, a Polish film score
composer, and Dr. Studnicki, a lecturer at the best Polish (in my opinion)
institute of technology, AGH University of Science and Technology in Krakow.
Once I knew what to look for, I immediately
retrieved this event from my memory, with all details. I vividly remembered the
effort with which Marek helped by another person had lugged up to the second
floor a true monster – the work of AGH lecturer. The thing looked hideous but
sounded wonderful. It was the prototype of a 50-Watt Class A amplifier, whose
further, more powerful (80 Watt @ 8 Ohm and 160 Watt @ 4 Ohm) development is the
ASX-2000. I compared it then with a McIntosh power amp, the MC500 predecessor,
and the results were at least promising. The tonality and dynamics of the Polish
unit were clearly better. The one thing where the American amp seemed to come up
on top, at least in such a short audition, was its better resolution. It was
clear, however, that the Polish amplifier was not a finished "product"
in the full sense of the word. It was not suitable for sale, primarily due to
its finish and looks. I did not see it for the next ten years.
A few simple words about...
Julian Studnicki, Ph.D. Eng.
When semiconductor components became widely
available in Poland, Mr. Studnicki fully devoted himself to electroacoustic
designs. He designed studio equipment, including compressors, peak limiters and
de-essers. He also developed unique microphone amplifiers and studio monitors.
Dr. Studnicki actively participated in recording studio work, using his
proprietary designs in the signal path. He collaborated with the Polish Radio in
Warsaw. During that time he designed the B-500 bridge amplifier. It was a fully
proprietary design that resulted in filing a patent application.
For the last ten years, Dr. Studnicki has been associated with AbysSound. He has been responsible for developing analog circuits in our products. A common feature of all his circuit designs is the lack of operational amplifiers in the signal path. Over the years, he and other AbysSound engineers created dozens of prototypes and carried out numerous tests, comparisons and auditions. They analyzed a lot of circuit design solutions to select and refine the one and only circuit for each of the devices they created. Their current work includes, among others, audio preamplifiers, phono stages and headphone amplifiers, DAC output stages and input stages for analog-to-digital converters. Based on Mr. Studnicki's experience in the field of vacuum tube technology, a number of prototype tube-based circuits have been tested and developed. Ultimately, they will become the basis of our future products. The main work, however, has been focused on acoustic amplifiers. This resulted in our two amplifiers that have been launched to the market.
As you can see, Mr. Studnicki was always full of bright ideas backed by his theoretical background and experience. What he did lack was something every ambitious designer dreams of: the funds. This is where Mr. Marek Stoliński came to help. His company, ARTMAN Electronic, specializes in industrial automation systems designed to work in the most demanding conditions. The systems are resistant to high and low temperatures, high humidity, electromagnetic interference and supply voltage changes. It is his devices that are used to measure and evaluate the technical condition of all four football stadiums prepared for UEFA Euro 2012 in Poland, and of the largest new bridges in our country.
A high-end voltage amplifier must have an extremely good
linearity, while a good output stage needs a very low output impedance. Both
characteristics must be achieved without any local negative feedback loop in
either of these circuits, and with zero global negative feedback (involving the
whole amplifier). The following paragraphs include a brief description of the
solutions allowing to achieve the above objectives.
BQVA – Bi-Quartet Voltage Amplifier
ULHD – Ultra Linear High Damping Circuit
A single glance at the ASX-1000 is enough to realize that this is a "macho-man" type of an amplifier. Black, huge and heavy. Its overall build and finish quality is perfect and shows a significant money that went into it. The enclosure design is not particularly original, and includes elements found in other well-known amplifiers. Thick aluminum panels are reminiscent of Pass amplifiers and the rear resembles designs from BAT. The top panel has cutouts that, for the life of me, look exactly like those in the flagship 850A from Cambridge Audio. It is apparently difficult to come up with something new, though. The enclosure features massive heat sinks with cooling fins on both sides.
only items on the faceplate are a blue-rimmed on/off switch and a deeply milled
company logo. The rear panel sports more elements, but also without
exaggeration. They include a pair of stereo gold-plated 0201 RCA input
connectors from WBT and two pairs of 0765 speaker terminals from the same
manufacturer. An IEC socket with an integrated switch is placed in the center,
between the speaker terminals. It might be worth replacing the accompanying fuse
with something better. The rear panel also features two large handles on both
sides. They are not a mere decoration – they are used to slide the amplifier,
vertically, into a dedicated case, similar to those used as traveling cases for
musical instruments and professional equipment. Each amplifier should be
packaged this way.
The interior looks to be designed and made with equal
precision. And it is just as predictable, at least when it comes to the
component placement. Input buffers are mounted at the rear panel on small
circuit boards potted in blue masking epoxy, additionally damping the vibration.
From there, the signal is fed to power amplifiers mounted directly to heat sinks
and housed in perforated metal screens. Speaker terminals are connected with
very thick copper and silver plated copper braid. The same type of wire is used
to supply power to the output stage. The latter use eight Sanken transistors per
channel. Passive components are all very good quality, including Wima and Evox
polypropylene capacitors. The amplifier circuit is Dr. Studnicki's proprietary
design and employs his Bi-Quartet Voltage Amplifier in the input and the ULHD in
the output stage to increase the damping factor. The amplifier is designed to
work with zero global feedback.
of the interior is occupied by the power supply. Its basis is a huge, low-noise
1600 Watt toroidal transformer. It works with large ON rectifying diodes mounted
to heat sinks and ten Nippon Chemi-Con filtering capacitors for the massive
total of 220,000 μF. The currents involved are so high that the capacitors
are parallel coupled with thick silver plated copper flat bars instead of usual
wire. The input and control sections have voltage control power supplies. The
operation of the amplifier is controlled by a microprocessor that has a separate
power supply. The microprocessor ensures amplifier's safety and long operation
What I heard while swapping the preamps was so significant
that in a way it "set up" the whole audition. The difference between the two
units was large, but it was based on the change of sonic priorities and not of
the sound quality. While I preferred the "package" I got with the Ayon,
I was not indifferent to what was offered by the Accuphase. The AbysSound showed
these differences with grace. "Easy" and "unproblematic" is the starting point
in the high-end and I will not even invoke these terms in any different context
than to use them as an explanation. The pleasure with which I was watching the
differences was caused by the tonality of the Polish power amp way and its
approach to the question of timing.
Let us start with tonality, as that is usually the most
pressing problem. I recently corresponded with one of "High Fidelity" readers
from the U.S. who was looking for a matching amplifier for his Focal-JMLab
Maestro Utopia speakers. Being aware that their impedance can drop as low as 1.6
Ω and that they need a powerful amp, he was at the same time worried about
tonality. In the case of these speakers, it is usually sharpened by the
accompanying components. I suggested to him either something from the Soulution
700 series or a flagship amp from Vitus. I know both of them and they are both
great. What turned out to be the problem, however, was the price. Over $50,000
for a power amp that requires an equally good preamp significantly exceeded his
allocated budget. If I had then known about the ASX-1000, it would have been my
The reason is that the amplifier offers a meaty sound, in
which the most important are the first planes, instruments and vocals. The
spatial aspect, i.e. the soundstage, is in the background. Its holography is
outstanding, but only when it comes to a given instrument, vocals or music
event. The body and three-dimensionality of a given sound source are only
slightly inferior to those offered by the Soulution 710 and resemble what I
heard from the Accuphase A-200 Class A monoblocks. Yet it was its differently
set priorities of the sound source versus the accompanying room response
(acoustics and reverb) that made the unit from Krakow engineers a particularly
interesting proposition to me.
The amplifier creates large phantom images; dense and
saturated. One could even call them mature, in the sense that they do not
require further clarification by the listener and are "fulfilled" rather than "suggested".
The extent to which we are longing for something like that was revealed to me by
the very first album I listened to, a collection of old Dean Martin's recordings
released as part of the Collector Series. Although I have many of his albums,
this one is special. All the recordings were sourced from the original master
tapes and remastered in the analog domain, which would be almost impossible
today. Only specialized labels like Mobile Fidelity and Analogue Productions
still practice this sort of thing; large record companies stopped doing that
anymore. The first two tracks go back to 1948 and come directly from the lacquer
discs, and are truly outstanding. The Polish amplifier showed these recordings
in the manner usually offered by good turntables and the best audio file players
with DSD material: warm, yet with outstanding resolution. Selectivity was less
important. The warmth came from a full-bodied lower midrange, both in terms of
quantity and quality.
The former is simply related to an adequate power of this range. It made Dean Martin's vocals, as well as those of Bing Crosby I auditioned next, sound credible due to their large volume. What's more, the live recordings that usually sound too light and too ethereal, such as Deep Purple on "Now What?! Live Tapes", moved the air in my room with a strong kick drum and great bass guitar work.
latter, i.e. the quality, is linked with resolution. You will not be able to say
that after only a short audition, or a short exposure to this presentation. This
is not the case here. In this perspective, the ability to show differences
(differentiation) and small details that add up to something bigger (detailness)
translates in us into a kind of inner peace during our listening. Nothing
distracts or irritates us, but nothing is missing, either. Obviously, this is
not a perfect sound, and the flagship power amps from Switzerland and Japan show
it even better, but I have yet to hear that in a $10,000 amplifier.
As I said, what's most important here are the first planes and
direct sound sources. This gives us the sense of intimacy and the feeling of
being "there." Or, actually, "here" as the unit brings the instruments over to
our room rather than creates a separate world in front of us. It does it
irrespective whether it's a jazz ensemble, such as Art Blakey's "A Night In
Tunisia" on the latest XRCD24 AudioWave release, Portishead's debut on the SHM-CD,
or the Bösendorfer Imperial grand piano played by Oscar Peterson during his
performance. Each time, the sense of performers' presence was of high intensity
and the directness of their appearance could sometimes cause heart palpitations,
especially at the volume knob turned up higher.
This type of presentation is usually associated with very fast
and transparent amplifiers. However, less experienced music lovers often confuse
true speed with fake speed, or even an artifact. I am not blaming anybody or
pointing any fingers, but the fact is that only a prolonged exposure to the kind
of amplifiers like the Accuphase A-200, the Soulution 710, the best 300B designs
or the ASX-1000 enables us to rearrange things in our brain. It is a process and
we need to work at it for it to be successful.
The trick I have in mind is to emphasize the sound attack and
to slim down its decay. Often part of it is sound brightening that adds an extra
dimension, suggesting a large space. It is but a hollow shell; make no doubt
about that. The most resolving amplifiers actually have a dark tonality. Or at
least so it seems at first. In reality, detailness is not manifested the way it
is usually conceived. It is not a "large amount of details." On their own, they
are rather annoying and shatter the illusion of participating in a real event.
They only make sense when they build up the presentation and are part of more
basic assumptions. The amplifier from AbysSound has this difference in its blood
and could be used as a basis to teach about it. However, it is not only its
strengths that show the success of people from AbysSound in designing this amp,
but also its weaknesses. Against much more expensive competitors, it was not
fighting a losing battle but did a good job and hardly ever went wrong.
The density of sound and its saturation causes a feeling of
its slight slowdown. It is not entirely true nor is it the equivalent of a "tube
sound." However, the dominance of saturation and sustain over attack and decay
is clearly audible. Hence, when we play a track that requires real impact, say,
Chuck Mangione's "Children of Sanchez", the Polish amplifier approaches the
matter from the full body rather than impact side. The Soulution 710 was much
better in this respect, as it offered the former without losing the latter.
Also, the connective tissue that binds together various sounds, in other words
the acoustics together with the attributes of the medium on which the sound was
recorded (e.g. noise), were withdrawn. This is not an amplifier that "X-rays"
the recordings. In all fairness, it also needs to be said that it does not
particularly help in creating a "holistic whole." I have mentioned before the
first two tracks on Dean Martin's album, which was transferred from a lacquer
disk – the background noise is their inherent part. The amplifier nicely
showed it behind the main sound, but at the same time reduced it. I was
not lacking the treble as such, at least when it comes to cymbals' tonality.
What I did lack, however, was some opening up the sound, something between the
sounds that makes them more visible. In this respect, it was very much like
expensive amplifiers from Vitus Audio. And finally, the lowest bass. I am not
sure whether you would pay attention to it without a direct comparison with an
expensive top amplifier from the competition, but the Soulution 710 clearly
pointed it out: the Polish amplifier slightly rounds off and calms down the
lowest bass. We are talking here about the sub 40 Hz range, as the lowest bass
string was shown without any problems. However, the hyper-low electronic sounds
on the albums by AnjaGarbarek, Depeche Mode and Portishead were not that
The amplifier from AbysSound is powerful, warm and fast, and favors the foreground. It offers an intimate, dense sound that we plunged into and take off. It is not the best, and I will not even pretend to call it "absolute" amplifier. But for the money, you will not find anything even half as satisfying. The A-200 monoblocks from Accuphase are more resolving, the Solution 710 and 700 are both faster and more resolving, and top 300B amplifiers offer a lighter sonic texture, delving even deeper into recordings and music. The expensive monoblocks from Vitus Audio sound very similar and are generally slightly better in everything. However, you will need to pay for something like that. And that will hurt.