My trip to Denmark in late August was all the result of a simple question—what is Audio Group Denmark doing that other high-end audio manufacturers aren’t?
That question was originally formed, of course, in response to a pair of two-way bookshelf speakers called the Børresen M1. When I first heard them at High End 2022 in Munich last May, I was flabbergasted. This wasn’t a matter of hearing something that merely challenged my expectations, but rather a revolutionary encounter that made me doubt everything I thought I knew. This small, two-way stand-mounted monitor from Audio Group Denmark didn’t just “punch above its weight” or “sound like a big speaker” or any other audiophile trope. If I closed my eyes, this diminutive transducer easily sounded just like any number of monstrous towers at high-end audio shows that ventured near or even past the six-figure mark.
How did they accomplish this?
I was so surprised by this experience that I couldn’t process it until I returned to hear the Børresen M1s at the Pacific Audio Fest in the Audio Group Denmark room a few weeks later. By that time, I had received a bit of information on the M1s that clarified what I was hearing—a pair of these speakers do cost six figures, exactly $100,000 per pair. Now I could tell myself that there was truly something special inside that might explain the quantum leap in performance, and that was a quantum leap in the cost of making such a product.
Still, you can walk around the M1 on its dedicated stand, touch it, peer into its face, and still ask yourself why it costs $100,000/pr. I told several people in the industry and at PTA about this tiny speaker with the unfathomable price tag and I noted the usual eye-rolling and handwringing about the state of high-end audio and its ever-ridiculous prices. But to paraphrase Harry Pearson, if you haven’t heard it, you don’t have an opinion.
Fortunately I was able to talk with Lars Kristensen, the co-owner and founder of Audio Group Denmark, and he gave me some insight into the remarkable technologies in the M1 monitors. (You might have heard of his partner at AGP, Michael Børresen, who serves as CTO and Chief Designer.) First of all, Lars showed me the 4.5” woofer cone of the M1, along with the extraordinary woofer basket that costs more to manufacturer than some of his entry-level speakers. He explained how an incredibly thin layer of titanium was used on the cones. Then he handed me the raw cone, and it was undeniably light and stiff, which accounts for the M1’s incredible speed.
He provided further details, but after a few minutes I realized that the products from Audio Group Denmark, which also includes amplification and digital sources from Aavik and cable and power management from Ansuz, are far more ground-breaking because they don’t employ mysterious “proprietary” technologies. The company merely has the resources and motivation to keep refining every single part, and every single interaction between those parts.
In fact, it didn’t take too long before I realized that “proprietary” can be a very misleading word in high-end audio.
Let’s Go to Aalborg!
It also didn’t take long for Lars Kristensen invite me to Aalborg, which once served as Viking headquarters so many centuries ago. (That claim, of course, is challenged by several other Danish cities.) You don’t have to twist my arm to go to Europe, as you may have ascertained from my exuberant reports on the Munich Show in 2019 and 2022. Just minutes after arriving at the Aalborg airport, I was in the Audio Group Denmark factory getting the whole tour from Lars while my head was still spinning from the trip, one that included a monumental non-stop leg from Portland, Oregon to Amsterdam. Lars quickly gave me the run-down on the main design objectives of Børresen, Aavik and Ansuz. It was a dizzying amount of information at first, but over the course of several days it all made sense.
The prime objective of Audio Group Denmark is the elimination of inductance. Electrical conductors can oppose changes in the current, which creates a magnetic field. Inductance creates noise. Reduce inductance at every step, and you reduce noise. Reduce noise, and more music comes through. It seems simple, but most manufacturers try other ways to improve performance or reduce the noise floor. In many cases, they completely ignore the effects of inductance.
One way to reduce inductance, Audio Group Denmark has found, is through cryogenic treatments. Say what you will about cryo, but I’ve worked in the past with companies such as Furutech who have performed important research into the technology and have published their findings. 72 hours of cryogenic treatment at Audio Group Denmark will decrease inductance by 8 to 10%. It’s measurable. You can also hear the big differences between a driver, and that same driver after cryogenic treatment. It’s not subtle. That’s why cryogenics is a vital part of the Audio Group Denmark story.
Next, Audio Group Denmark uses two technologies to reduce inductance—their own Tesla coil technology and their analog dithering technology. As you move up and down the Børresen, Aavik and Ansuz lines, the costs are influenced by the amount of these technologies present in the design. It’s a cumulative effect—the more you use, the better the noise suppression. That’s why these products have a similar sonic signature, but with each step you hear an improvement because the noise floor keeps getting lower as you install more of the technologies.
Finally, Audio Group Denmark is very serious about the raw materials used in their designs. I had only been in the factory for a few minutes before I heard the phrase, “We don’t like aluminum.” Lars immediately asked me, “If aluminum is so good, why don’t they make musical instruments out of it?” He can’t believe how many audio manufacturers boast about speaker enclosures and amplifier chasses that are milled from solid aluminum billet. If you know how aluminum responds to the energy discharged by an audio signal, and how it changes as the energy returns, you’ll wonder why it’s used at all. Aluminum is susceptible to hysteresis, after all, which means its response depends on both its current state as well as past states.
Unfortunately, it’s difficult to avoid aluminum completely. Audio Group Denmark has reduced the amount of aluminum used in their products, sometimes as low as 1% of the total material used. But aluminum is only employed where it does no harm. To avoid aluminum, quite simply, is to avoid more inductance.
What is used in its place? As you move up and down the product lines of Audio Group Denmark, you’ll start seeing composite materials combined with such metals as copper, titanium, silver and even gold. At the very least, stainless steel is tried before aluminum. Some of the more esoteric products, with predictably esoteric prices due to the scarcity of said materials, includes zirconium. Lars and Michael are constantly obtaining these materials, sometimes to the consternation of the Denmark government because these rare elements tend to be used in nuclear reactors and not speaker cables.
That’s why a simple footer such as the new Ansuz Darkz Z2 Signature costs $4,000—individually, not a set of three or four—and the first customer who heard them wound up buying 52 of them for his Ansuz, Aavik and Børresen system. Different metals can change the sound.
The more exotic metals get special treatment at the nearby Aalborg University, where they have a particle accelerator. These metals are bombarded for 36 hours with a combination of zirconium, tungsten and aluminum titanium nitride. This process hardens the footers, and hardness allows the energy to disperse more efficiently. Is it worth it? As most audiophiles know, any improvement is worth it if you can clearly hear an improvement. Luckily, I was about to hear these products for myself.
Audio Group Denmark and Proprietary Technologies
With all of this new technology, I expected Lars and Michael to be quite secretive. But when I asked Lars about taking photographs of all the things going on inside the Audio Group Denmark factory, he said I had complete access to anything and everything. Why would he do this, especially in the high-end audio industry when designers are reluctant to tell you too much about their “proprietary” technologies?
Here’s the big secret of Audio Group Denmark. They make everything themselves in house. I watched them build those precious titanium-coated drivers, the little Tesla coils, the analog dithering assemblies, everything. They do buy raw materials, and they only source out items such as the Class D amplifier modules. Why class D? Because the iron in transformers muddies up the sound with the asymmetrical way it handles the energy passed through them—which is why Dave McNair says he hates “hearing the iron.” That’s called the eddy effect, of course.
Lars told me what the rest of us are starting to find out, that class D technologies are coming into their own. In fact, the folks at Audio Group Denmark still believe that pure class A, when done right, provides the best sound, but the finest class D products will confidently beat the sound of almost every class AB amplifier circuit in existence. That’s because you don’t hear the iron anymore.
As I mentioned, they have the resources to try out anything to see if it works. That comes to rare elements, or overall circuit designs–they can design it, build it, measure it, and listen to it. This is especially important to the speaker drivers, including the now famous Børresen ribbon tweeters. Most speaker manufacturers buy their drivers from other sources—Scanspeak, SEAS, Morel, Peerless, whatever. In most cases, the designer can ask for custom modifications, and these companies will be happy to build them.
But that’s the problem. Once you have one of their drivers, you’re limited with what you can do with it. If you try further modifications to the driver, there’s a very good chance you will destroy the integrity of the driver assembly. These aren’t meant to be taken apart and rebuilt. Beyond coating woofer cones, there’s not a lot you can—or should—do.
But building drivers from scratch, machining every part, every ring, every spider, and every membrane gives you infinite possibilities when it comes to designs. Make it, and if it doesn’t work you can try something else. This is how Michael Børresen created the amazing titanium-coated driver in the Børresen M1. He kept refining the design, trying different materials, using computer simulations and 3D printing, starting over when necessary. This luxury is usually not available to the DIY guys building speakers in their garages.
If some of the prices of the Audio Group Denmark seem unusually high, this is why. If there’s a machine they need—CNC, wire stranders, cryogenic vats—they buy one and learn how to use it.
Who Is Audio Group Denmark?
Audio Group Denmark is not led by nobodies who came out of nowhere with radical but untested ideas. Lars Kristensen worked for Nordost for many years, then started Raidho Acoustics with engineer Michael Børresen before they broke free and started AGD. Flemming Rasmussen, who is the senior visual designer, was the founder of The Gryphon and designed the legendary Head Amp. They’ve all known each other for decades, and with Audio Group Denmark they are free to do what they want without the usual corporate politics. They want one thing—to make the best audio equipment possible. That sounds like market-speak, but after a few days I started to think hard about the type of high-end audio company this is, and how they are different from anyone else.
After spending a few days at the Audio Group Denmark facility, I quickly learned one thing. It seems to a wonderful company to work for. Everyone is smiling and happy and full of energy. They’re having incredible fun, and not just because Denmark is continually rated as the Happiest Country in the World. My favorite detail was lunch where hot meals are cooked, and everyone sits and eats and talks and bonds. Audio Group Denmark charges the employees the equivalent of a dollar per day for this meal. The food, with the traditional Scandinavian pot-luck format, was uniformly delicious.
Testing the Products
There are four different listening rooms at the Audio Group Denmark factory, and each one was used to demonstrate certain types of products. The first room, located in a very sunny room upstairs, used a curtain to create a blind listening demo. Sales Director Frits Dalmose let me listen to the unseen system for a couple of minutes—it sounded big and open. I expected to see another of those tiny yet amazing Børresen two-way monitors, similar to the old Bose Lifestyle System demos I heard at the shopping mall decades ago, but instead it was revealed that I was listening to the most inexpensive floorstanding speaker Børresen makes—the $20,000/pr Z2s.
This room, however, was focused on testing Ansuz power cords—focusing on the most important power cord of all—the one that gets plugged into the wall. In addition, this was the room to test out a variety of Ansuz’s accessories such as the Sparkz harmonizers and Darkz resonance control devices.
What was interesting, however, was the lack of Aavik amplification. Instead, Fritz used a modest Primare integrated and the least expensive Ansuz cables. This was the room where we tested Ansuz Mainz power cords, from almost-but-not-quite-the-top to bottom, from the Ansuz X2 ($960 each), the P2 ($1,400), all the way up to the Gold Signature in another demo room, which costs a daunting $68,000. With each move up the ladder, there were instant improvements in the sound, far from subtle. Sometimes I noticed deeper bass, sometimes I noticed more detail, sometimes I heard a recording of a voice turn into a human voice that was in the room with us. If you’re skeptical of what power cords can do, you need to experience this demo for yourself.
Next, we compared the first of the Ansuz Mainz8 power distributors with their composite chasses and compared them to some popular commercial power strips that, unfortunately, were housed in aluminum boxes. Here, the comparisons were striking in their scope. Later, Lars posited a theory about why we shouldn’t use aluminum in these applications and think about titanium instead. Titanium is used in knee transplants because the body doesn’t reject it. You cannot use aluminum. That suggests titanium, and other rare metals as well, have a more organic nature that is easier for the human body to absorb—even when it comes to sound.
Finally we tested the other Ansuz products including the Sparkz Harmonizers ($520 to $1,200 each), which plug into the distribution boxes or in any wall outlet in the room, Sortz Anti Arial Resonance Coils ($1,080-$2,100 each), which are inserted into spare RCA jacks anywhere in the system, and the Darkz Resonance Control devices, which are isolation feet that can be integrated into all of the Børresen speakers, Aavik components and Ansuz power distribution boxes.
This is where it gets crazy—each of the versions featured different materials and ranged from $360 each for the Darkz C2t to $4,000 each for the Z2 Signatures, which use incredibly rare pure zirconium. That price, once again, is for each piece and not a set, and yes, they are stackable. You can go nuts and spend a lot of money—as I mentioned the first customer who heard the Z2 Signatures wound up placing an order for 52 of them.
If this sounds like snake oil to the more jaded audiophiles, it’s merely because we are talking about extremely rare metals that require being placed in a particle accelerator. You don’t have to go this far, but you can if you want to. Each move up the ladder was, again, very easy to detect. Each step removed inductance and reduced more noise from the system in very detectable ways. Sometimes the gains were modest, and sometimes—as with the zirconium—there was a quantum leap in gains.
It wasn’t just power cords that made the difference, of course. As Frits and Lars reminded me, “the heart of the system is power distribution.” So, the second demonstration room, featuring a upcoming model of Borresen speakers, also included A/B comparisons of the Ansuz Mainz8 power distribution boxes which ranged from the Mainz8 X, at $1,300, to that mighty D-TC Gold Signature at $64,000. From the outside, the power distribution boxes looked almost identical with their composite boxes—the differences were on the inside.
This is also where we compared the upper range of the Mainz power cables, including the ones with the composite enclosure that houses the Tesla coil and analog dither technologies. As we moved from room to room, the equipment became more and more advanced. We tried out a series of Ansuz PowerSwitch ethernet switches, ranging from $2,600 to $23,000, and indeed I heard the same upgrade in sound—less noise, more music. Some of us at PTA have been a little skeptical of the benefits of ethernet switches, but this was the demonstration that set me on the right track. Not once did I hear an AGD upgrade that didn’t provide an improvement in sound. When Frits told me the heart of the system is power distribution, he later added that the heart of digital is the switches. What’s the difference? Well, the internet isn’t grounded.
The Big System
The final room, the so-called big room, contained the flagship products centered around the Børresen line of speakers, all powered by the magnificent-looking Aavik I-880 integrated amplifier ($70,000). The 880 line, which also includes the C-880 control amplifier ($70,000) and the P-880 power amplifier (yes, you guessed it–$70,000), is different from the other Aavik amplifiers because it’s all Class A instead of Class D. This class A is referred to as efficient class A, or even “green Class A” because of the way it routes the energy from the signal as it returns, instead of allowing it to increase inductance.
They did not have the M1s for comparison because it’s still a prototype, but as Lars reminded me, “You’ve already heard them twice.” We did compare the Børresen two-way monitors, starting with the entry-level Z1, without ($12,000/pr) and with ($14,500/pr) cryogenically treated drivers. (Note that the famous Børresen ribbon tweeter is one of the few components from Audio Group Denmark that isn’t cryo’d—the thin membrane cannot withstand the severe cold.)
The difference, again, was not subtle. The basic Z1 threw out the same spacious soundstage as I’ve heard from most Børresen speakers, but the cryo pair filled in a substantial amount of detail within the same space. As we moved through the two-way monitors—the Børresen 01 ($38,500/pr), the 01 Cryo ($41,000/pr) and the 01 Silver Supreme Edition ($55,000/pr)—it was as if I was viewing the same magnificent mural, with the artist coming in to add new colors and draw out the images until they were crystal clear.
Then we moved to the flagship Borresen, the 05 Silver Supreme Edition ($214,500/pr). This was where I heard the apex of the Audio Group Denmark vision, an effortless full-range sound that delivered all types of music with a poise that I don’t think I’ve experienced until now. But Lars is also fond of saying, at each upgrade point, “Can we do better?” And whomever else is in the room will always answer “Yes, we can.”
Farvel til Danmark
So, while I may be hearing the best Audio Group Denmark has to offer at this point in time, that’s constantly changing. This is one of the reasons why Lars was not afraid to let me see and photograph everything—it’s not proprietary, it’s just a tremendous amount of effort to take the basics to the nth degree. By the time another manufacturer reverse-engineers an Audio Group Denmark product and releases it commercially, Lars and his team will already be down the road doing something else. They see the pathway to improvement clearly, and they’ll just keep going in that direction.
It may seem that I’ve sipped some of the Audio Group Denmark Kool-Aid. With all of the big manufacturers out there making big expensive products, the Kool-Aid argument always arises. You can look at some of the audio publications out there, and they all have favorites, and often those bonds seem unbreakable. But nothing in high-end audio has impressed me more than that first encounter with the Børresen M1 at Munich. I wanted to know more, and now I do.
Of course, there’s another step to take, and that’s reviewing some of these products in my own home. In September, I’ll be receiving my first pallet of goodies from Audio Group Denmark—a pair of Børresen Z1 Cryo monitors, an Aavik U-280 integrated amplifier with built-in DAC, an Ansuz PowerSwitch D2 ethernet switch, a Mainz8 C2 power distribution unit and a set of Mainz power cables.
From there I hope to move up the line, just like I did in Aalborg. Why? As Lars Kristensen says, “We can always do better. Because we can.”