AXPONA 2018: The Audio Surgeon, just what the doctor ordered


Climbing the peaks of the auditory mountain top can be quite the adventure, that is, if you have the right guide. Step in Dr. Andrew S. Collen, better known in audiophile circles as the The Audio Surgeon. Helping his clients develop and achieve their dreams is one thing, helping manufacturers develop their products? That is something special and to take in consideration when consulting a dealer within the sphere of influence of The Audio Surgeon.

AXPONA 2018 Coverage brought to you by Zesto Audio

The Story

The Audio Surgeon story could be a long one, but I’ll do my best to convey the important details while also moving along for the sake of reading time. Dr. Collen’s friendship with Harry Pearson (founder of The Absolute Sound and fellow North Carolinian like myself) is where I will begin, as it is this relationship that becomes a pivotal point in Andrew’s life where his obsession for attaining better sound directs him to action as a muse and “golden ear” of sorts to help Harry identify the best sounding gear amidst the every broadening sea of manufacturers. So even if you haven’t directly dealt with Dr. Collen — the audio surgeon — you’ve likely been indirectly influenced by his ear for sound.

Andrew is not a shy person; he is outgoing and will speak his mind — but moreover he cares, that’s the major characteristic that overrides all other descriptions of Dr. Collen. He cares: for sound, for his customers, for the manufacturers. His need to see the hobby and industry succeed is personal one (as is my own). Himself being on the other side of the industry for so long, he understands the audiophile and knows they are not to be underestimated. It wasn’t until a little over four years ago when Dr. Collen decided to start The Audio Surgeon as a way to continue his evangelising for the hobby, and also be a better steward of the industry.

What may set Dr. Collen apart is his ears, but not in the way you may think. He listens to people, understands his audience; this is key to his success as a dealer. He’s not telling his customers what they should like, he’s listening to them to find out what they like — then delivers. It’s recognition for other people’s perspectives that gives Andrew his success, in short we’ll call it audiophile empathy.

The Sound

The exhibit was assembled with care (as are most), but immediately I notice room treatments. I’m often looking as I enter an exhibit room for how well the lighting is bouncing off of the walls, sometimes I just trying to find out if there is lighting at all. The last thing I take note of is the system in the room.

Taking a seat up front and turning my attention to the sound, I take note of a few pieces, and like what I am hearing. The Pass Labs XP17 Photostage was in perfect harmony with the VPI / Ortofon combination. Looking further, I find bathed in shadow the Dynaudio C2’s. I’ve heard them before on other equipment, and yes it was digital, but the overall experience was still much less alive than it was here in the Audio Surgeon room. In one sense, this has changed my opinions about the Dynaudio C2’s and isn’t that what we seek out from a dealer? To be upended in our prejudices?

Oddly however, this is the first time I’ve heard one of the Pass Labs class AB amplifiers. Call me spoiled, but I’ve only experienced the class A options from the Pass amplifier line-up. Admittedly I know that most of our listening was probably done in class A as the Pass Labs X260.8 operates with high bias in class A for quite some time before switching. Going further we trotted through Dr. Collen’s personal vinyl collection, never making a poor selection. The music flowed with great liquidity.

One thing of note was the fact that room treatments had been implemented. This was something I didn’t see much of at the show, and it’s been said before that “all hotel rooms sound bad, so why try?” Show attendees surely did appreciate the care taken with perfecting the sound of this room, it was a good lingering spot for many, and even a return visit for a few. Doing right by the customer in front of you is of greater service to the brand, than doing right in the atmosphere of broad based marketing; an idea that those who function closer to the customer assign proper value. For Dr. Andrew S. Collen, The Audio Surgeon, it’s all about the people.

The System

Dynaudio Confidence C2 Platinum Loudspeakers – ($15,500 USD)

Pass Labs X260.8 Class AB Amplifiers – ($13,500 pr USD)

Pass Labs XP22 Preamplifier – ($9,500 USD)

Pass Labs XP17 Phono Preamp – ($4,300 USD)

PS Audio DirectStream DAC – ($5,999 USD)

VPI Avenger Turntable – ($19,900 USD)

VPI Fatboy Tonearm – ($4,000 USD)

Ortofon Cadenza Bronze Phono Cartridge – ($2,000 USD)

Torus Power RM Series Power Conditioner

All cabling Cardas Clear series, all room treatments by Dr. Collen.