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A Visit to Aaudio

by Paul Bolin | October 6, 2012

rian Ackerman of Aaudio Imports invited Marc Mickelson and me to visit his showroom/residence in Parker, Colorado, just south of Denver over a weekend late last month. Brian is the importer and distributor of, among other lines, Ypsilon electronics, Lansche speakers, B.M.C. components and Bergmann turntables. Also in-house for this fact-finding visit was Carlos Candeias, the CEO and chief designer of B.M.C.

Paul Bolin (left) talks with Carlos Candeias of B.M.C. . .

Candeias explained every aspect of his design philosophy and how it is implemented, which was fascinating all by itself. The son of a Portuguese father and a Spanish mother, Carlos was raised in Germany, where B.M.C. is headquartered. These days he spends most of his time in the city of Hangzhou, China, where B.M.C.’s wholly owned factory is located. Fluent in a half-dozen languages and even more technical disciplines, Carlos is one of the brainiest and most impressive people I have met in any field of endeavor, anywhere. He loves to talk audio and has a knack for the teaching aspect of the process; he is able to explain why he does what he does, and how it works in a manner that makes his concepts immediately accessible and understandable even by people like me -- my degrees are in political science and law -- for whom most engineer-speak may as well be Sanskrit. On top of that, he has wildly eclectic and wonderful taste in music.

DIY digital remastering: a "revelation"

I first met Carlos Candeias last summer, more than a year before Paul Bolin and I together flew to Denver just a few weeks ago. I already knew how well versed he is on all manner of subjects, from the properties of capacitors to the fine points of B.M.C.'s unorthodox sales model, whereby the company pays its dealers. For full discussion of this, see my blog from last year.

When Paul and I began our listening to the full-boat B.M.C. system arrayed in Brian Ackerman's purpose-built demo room, it was with our own CDs. We played cuts we knew well that could reveal the system's capabilities, if not fully then reasonably well. As the conversation shifted to digital audio, specifically file playback via computer, Carlos revealed yet another of his ample talents: a deep understanding of digital remastering. Back in the mid-1990s, when he still had something of a personal life, Carlos wanted to improve the digital music he listened to and valued most. Eventually, as he told us, he rewrote the algorithms for "a not well-known digital editing program" and set about doing his own remastering. In general terms (that's all he would reveal), Carlos corrected "frequency-domain and time-domain errors, dynamic errors and noise problems." With some pieces of music, this took minutes, while with others (usually from poor source materials) it took days.

Carlos's laptop, which runs Linux, as he believes this does the least harm to music played from a computer, was loaded with nearly 40 gigs of his remastered music -- everything from Supertramp to Peter Gabriel to 50-year-old classical chestnuts to original recordings made by one of the people who works for B.M.C. We began listening to familiar material, some mid-'70s Neil Young, and were immediately dazzled by the ease and purity of what we were hearing. This digital music sounded all the world like exceptional analog -- which was not the source. It was good old CD. We could push the volume as much as we wanted, and the music never showed signs of stress -- neither did the electronics nor the speakers. Transients had whip-crack speed without edgy emphasis, and drums were impressively, impossibly impactful. Vocals were redolent and more intelligible. We listened for hours to Carlos's music, finding new cuts we wanted to hear and then being astonished by them. Paul had a great line about what we were hearing: "This doesn't clean the window. It knocks the glass out."

At one point many years ago, Carlos had visions of releasing some of his remastered music on a CD sampler, but licensing issues were simply impossible to sort out, so he instead reserved it for his own listening. While the 32 gigs of music he had on his laptop seem like a lot, he has hundreds more that must represent thousands of hours of work.

Carlos was kind enough to loan me some of the music he had with him, putting it onto a high-capacity thumb drive, so I could explore it at home -- with a full system of B.M.C. electronics, which I'm adding to my system piece by piece. I'm used to hearing incremental improvements in sound quality -- they're the stock and trade of audio reviewers -- but Carlos's remastered music went well beyond "incremental." It was digital like I've never heard before, not from high-rez PCM, not from DSD. For me, this music was the revelation of meeting with Carlos a second time, and I will be guarding that thumb drive with my life.

-Marc Mickelson

Brian’s main listening room is something in and of itself -- purpose-built for auditioning the highest of high-end components, it is comfortable, spacious and possessed of the most imposing array of acoustic treatments I have seen in a private home.

On a Saturday evening that stretched into the wee hours of Sunday morning we were treated to a B.M.C. system consisting of the BDCD 1.1 belt-drive CD player/transport ($5990) and fully loaded DAC 1 PRE DAC/preamplifier ($6290), AMP M2 mono power amplifiers ($15,980/pair) and the new Arcadia loudspeakers ($36,300/pair in satin finishes, $40,300 in glossy piano finishes). The system was hooked up with Stage III’s Gryphon interconnects ($7100/meter pair) and Mantikor speaker cables ($14,900/two-meter pair), and Stage III Minotaur and Zyklop power cords ($4600 and $6600, respectively). Also present were B.M.C.’s MCCI phono stage ($3890) and Bergmann’s Magne air-bearing turntable/tonearm combination ($13,000), which were not auditioned. Power distribution in the form of an HB Cable designs Powerslave Acrylic ($6995) and a three-shelf Tandem Audio Statement Series rack ($16,100) and amplifier stands ($4500 each) completed the system.

The Arcadias are worth some exposition all by themselves. This narrow-baffle, bipolar speaker has an 11" woofer mounted on each side of its cabinet and sports an external crossover that weighs a hefty 37 pounds. The midrange drivers and Air Motion Transformer tweeters take up the top third or so of both the front and back of the cabinet, which is made of cast ceramic. To say that the Arcadias’ cabinets are dead is to understate the case. A soft, quickly decaying "tk" is the only sound produced by a sharp rap. Carlos designed all of the drivers.

While quite expensive, this system delivered a level of sonic excellence and completeness that can be legitimately compared to systems costing three to four times as much. The B.M.C. components have as fast and lithe a character as even the most exotic solid-state competition but do not sound skeletal or unnaturally thinned out in the least. The system’s dynamic performance was simply extraordinary; with one of Carlos’ recordings featuring a Tibetan ensemble, the impact of the Kodo drummers’ thunderous entrance was like being hit in the chest with a hammer. With my own music, the B.M.C. system effortlessly peeled open the multi-layered remix of Ayumi Hamasaki’s "M" on Ayu Trance 2 [Avex Trax 10135] like an onion. "O Fortuna" from Orff’s Carmina Burana [Naxos 8.570033] let the system, particularly the Arcadias, throw an immensely broad and deep soundfield in which every instrument and singer was placed precisely as a fully dimensional image. As the night wore on, Marc, Carlos and I selected track after track with the same results.

The B.M.C. gear has a resolution floor the likes of which I have not heard before, dynamics that sit at the top of any class you might care to name, Usain Bolt-like speed to burn, and a full-bodied presence that consistently hit "electrifying." The Arcadia is a soundstaging champ and delivers controlled deep-bass thunder which seems utterly incompatible with its modest footprint. Though I have spent more than twenty years as a high-end hobbyist and journalist I cannot recall any company that has exploded onto the scene with the impact of B.M.C. Every one of their products is superbly finished, sonically distinguished and thought through with a relentless fanaticism. In value terms, I’ve not heard anything that can touch them. These are world-class, top-level components at what have to be seen as bargain prices when compared to their sonic competition. Mark my words: Carlos Candeias is a lead-pipe lock to be one of the faces of high-performance audio for the next couple of decades.

The other system in Brian’s big room was truly all-out and cost-no-object. This monster consisted of Bergmann’s top-shelf Sleipner turntable, which sports an air-bearing tonearm and air-bearing/air-centered platter ($54,000) carrying a Lyra Atlas cartridge ($9500), Ypsilon’s VPS100 tube phono stage ($26,000) and accompanying MC10L moving-coil step-up transformer ($6200), CDT100 CD transport/player ($26,000), DAC100 tubed D/A converter ($29,000), PST100 Mk II hybrid preamplifier ($37,000) and the striking SET100 Ultimate monoblock power amps ($125,000/pair) all feeding Lansche’s No. 7 loudspeakers, which feature a plasma tweeter ($108,000/pair).

Cabling was all from Stage III Concepts: five Minotaur ($4600 each), three Zyklop ($6600 each), two Kraken ($8400 each) and one Vortex Prime ($2800) power cords, an Analord Prime tonearm cable ($3100), a Chimaera digital link ($5900), three pairs of Gryphon interconnects ($6400 each) and Mantikor speaker cables ($14,900). Power distribution was with Powerslave Marble units ($8995 each), and Symposium Acoustics three-level ($5000) and double-wide four-level ($10,000) racks were used in addition to nine Acapella platforms ($3200 each). All of this adds up to a boggling $587,990, if my Minnesota math is correct.

The sound of this very big and very imposing system was quite different from that of the B.M.C. system: a bit lusher and more rounded. Only on a bit of sustained listening, particularly with analog sources, did the true excellence of this system become forthrightly evident. Images were gloriously life-sized, with tonalities that were burnished yet totally extended on top (that plasma tweeter is rated to 150kHz) while remaining utterly relaxed. This system was as coherent in every way, dynamically, timbrally, and temporally, as anything I have ever heard. This kind of superiority is only to be expected when a system carries such a stupendous price tag, though that by itself is no guarantee of excellence. Few things are easier to do in audio than throw together a random group of megabuck components and emerge with sheer mediocrity in sonic terms.

. . .and listens to the half-million-dollar Ypsilon/Lansche big rig.

Such was assuredly not the case with this system, however. Brian fired up the beautiful Bergmann Sleipner and played "St. Thomas" from Sonny Rollins’ Saxophone Colossus [Analogue Productions 7079]. When the track ended, Marc and I were actually standing and applauding. Riffling through Brian’s LPs, Marc found Dean Martin’s Dream With Dean [Reprise RS-6123], which Brian had commended to him a while back. This rather unusual album featured the crooner with a jazz quartet led by guitar legend Barney Kessel. The intimacy and lifelike quality of this album were enough to make me swoon. Dino was there, sitting between and about a foot behind the huge Lansches, the quartet laid out perfectly in space behind and around him. Nirvana’s Live Unplugged in New York [DGC/Original Recordings Group ORG 034] was every bit as compelling. Sade’s "Smooth Operator," from Best of Sade [Music on Vinyl MOVLP-130 ], was like slipping into a skin-temperature Jacuzzi. As Billy Crystal used to say in his Fernando Lamas character from Saturday Night Live, "simply maaah-velous." Initially it seemed to me that the B.M.C. system was faster, but on extended listening this proved not to be the case. The speed and resolution were there, but they were combined with a suave and relaxed quality that only the finest, best-balanced systems can achieve.

All in all, it was a most entertaining, informative and enjoyable two days. Time spent with interesting people, great gear and superb music is always time well spent.

Official Link... http://www.theaudiobeat.com/visits/aaudio.htm

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