Raidho Acoustics managed to do within a few years time what others did not achieve in decades, creating world-class avant-garde speakers with exquisite sound. Then the same design team under chief engineer Michael Borresen launched a cable line, Ansuz Acoustics and only two days ago the first amplifier designed by the same team was presented in Athens.
The Aavik Acoustics U-300 amplifier is an integrated amplifier that packs just about everything you could ask for, hence the name “Unity”. We are talking about a designed-in-house 24bit/192KHz DAC, with 2xToslink, 2xUSB and 2xSPDIF digital inputs, an on-board RIAA phono stage, with adjustable loading impedance from 70Ω to 10kΩ, 63dB of gain and 3 line inputs. Additional features include adjustable gain in three steps (3, 6, 12 dB) for each line input separately and a revolutionary hybrid volume control that works in the digital domain but turns itself off instantly when the volume is set!
Speaking with Lars Kristensen of Raidho, I was also told that the U-300 has a unique grounding topology and selected passive components. The output modules, provided by Pascal, work in Class D and guarantee 300Watts into 8Ω (given the name, this was not so hard to guess), doubling at 4 and stable all the way down to 2Ω.
The U-300 in matte black is gorgeous to look at, modern and stylish to say the least. Tiny white leds placed around the big volume knob indicate the status, selected source and volume setting. Instead of the classic heat sinks funnel-shaped holes at both sides (in the D’Agostino Momentum style) take care of dissipation. All inputs are well-organized in the back plate.
The rest of the demonstration rig was very simple: a pair of Raidho D3 finished in metallic gray lacquer and a Brinkmann Balance turntable with in house tonearm and EMT JSD 6 Gold HOMC cartridge. A Roksan CD player acted only as transport. Cables were naturally by Ansuz.
Before going into listening details let me say that the “room” was not the typical 300-400ft2 hotel room. It was a massive hall and probably closer to 2000ft2. The D3s were placed at 15 feet one from the other and the sweat spot was 20 feet back from the speakers. On my book this is not an ideal environment for the D3s, the big D5 speakers would have stimulated all those cubic meters of air much better.
In Nouela Johnston’s take of “Sound of Silence”, my first thought was that the system had emotion. A touching performance with a very convincing piano background. A vibrant jazz piece by Count Basie from 88 Basie Street followed and I found my-self tapping a foot in the carpet. A good sign, the system was delivering a positive, energetic vibe. It was time to ask for more, so I did. Went through the records and found Istvan Kertesz conducting the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra in Dvorak’s New World Symphony (Decca, Speakers Corner reissue). Lesser systems collapse with such complex passages, the Raidho-Aavik sounded better. The scherzo was reproduced with power, bass was very well controlled, high frequency extension on the violins was superb. I found the soundstage bigger during analog playback, but this was with different recordings so take it for what it is, a show demonstration.
Now for the not so good news, you will have to wait until next year to listen to the Aavik U-300 during the upcoming CES in Vegas. And the price … 24.000 euros in EU and $30,000 in the US. Is it a lot for an integrated amplifier? Sure, it does not come cheap, but most of the ultra-high-end amplifiers come at around $20K (Boulder, darTZeel, Soulution come in mind). None of these packs 300 watts in 8Ω, a DAC and a world-class phono stage. None of these is class-D either, and some might find the U-300 lacking in harmonic richness and texture compared to the best A/AB class integrated amps. My conclusion after two days of listening and despite the awful set-up in the enormous hall is that this integrated could be a game changer for many audiophiles who seek a compact solution that will drive pretty much everything. If you visit the CES, you know where to start from.