High End 2017: The horns of Azzolina Audio, Thomas Mayer amplification, Vinylista turntables


Horns, tubes, and turntables.



That was the closest colour match I could think of to describe the large, tasty Sphera horns that Azzoline Audio – the creation of Frenchman Chuck Michlin – was showing off with Thomas Mayer’s bespoke tube amplification at High End in Munich.

Gorgeous full-range drivers, bespoke circuit, and chassis designs.

The pairing seemed tailor-made for each other, as did Martin Brenner’s (Vinylista) gorgeous, modified Garrard 301, and 401 idler-drive turntables which were pressed into service as analog sources. A pair of server/DAC modules from Vincent Brient’s totaldac line had digital duties. I’ve been a fan of Mayer’s valve-amp designs from afar for quite a while, so I was chuffed to be able to hear them in person at last – even more so considering they were driving such unique horns of a make I’d not previously had exposure to.


The 300B-powered Differential Amplifiers from Mayer.

The set-up included various versions of Mayer’s custom, hand-built-to-order phono pre-amplifiers, line preamplifiers, differential power amplifiers, and valve-rectified power supplies. The Sphera is a full-range 104dB horn-loaded design that presented a truly effortless reproduction of recordings, with lightning-fast transient response noted on strings, exquisite decay, and bloom of notes from piano, high hat, and cymbals. The Garrard I heard was the modified 301, with a Lyra Atlas LOMC cartridge fitted on a Thomas Schick tonearm. The soundstage was quite broad, and had excellent off-axis imaging with no grain, tension or tightness to the upper registers of the cohesive sonic presentation.

Vinylista’s Garrard 301 goodness.

To my ears, this was a system built to extract maximum frequency response, and dynamics from the recorded medium to be played back with the impression of true tone with a real transparency to source – this was not the golden age sound of some horn set-ups that trade the finest shadings of accuracy for brassy timbral glow. No, this was more high-fidelity with a solid nod to to simpler musical times with all the presence, and speed that horns, and tubes are famous for.

–Rafe Arnott



About Rafe Arnott 389 Articles
Editor of InnerFidelity and AudioStream