Aavik U-280 Integrated Amplifier/DAC | REVIEW

marc phillips system

In the interest of full disclosure, I reviewed the Aavik U-280 integrated amplifier and DAC ($18,000 USD) in a full Audio Group Denmark system that included the Aavik S-280 streamer ($12,000), the Ansuz Mainz8 C3 power distribution ($5,500), Ansuz PowerSwitch ethernet switch ($6,600), Ansuz Digitalz C2 ethernet cables ($9,900 ea.), Ansuz C2 power cables ($4,300 each), Ansuz Speakz C2 speaker cables ($9,200/pr), Ansuz Darkz S2T resonance control devices ($800 ea.), and the Børresen Z1 Cryo two-way monitors ($14,500/pr.).

I’m starting off with the numbers, so to speak, because these are some big guns. You might think well, of course the Aavik U-280 is going to perform beautifully will all that support. Will I have the audacity to suggest that you’ll need to spend close to six figures to experience this level of sound from an $18,000 integrated amplifier with an inboard DAC? That doesn’t make sense, so I’ll try to review the Aavik U-280 on its own as well.

Words and Photos by Marc Phillips

In fact, my review of the Aavik U-280 integrated amp/DAC will be my entry point for talking about the entire Audio Group Denmark system, since it’s the heart of the system. It all starts here, so to speak, but I will follow up with reviews of the Børresen Z1 Cryos, then the Aavik S-280 digital streamer with the Ansuz PowerSwitch D2 ethernet switch, and finally all of the Ansuz cabling, isolation devices, power distribution.

If you read about my Audio Group Denmark tour in Aalborg, Denmark, you’ll know that I had a crash course in this innovative company that designs and manufactures Aavik amplification, Ansuz cables and Børresen speakers. You’ll also know that Lars Kristensen and Michael Børresen, co-founders of the Audio Group Denmark, don’t like to say they’re being innovative. These groundbreaking products are simply the result of addressing problems (inductance, eddy currents, the sonic disadvantages of using too much aluminum) and having the resources to pursue every lead to find results. It’s all about the endless research.

Within most of these Aavik, Ansuz and Børresen product lines you’ll find a basic design, albeit a strongly considered one, and the differences between individual models revolve around greater amounts of AGD’s Tesla coil and analog dithering technologies. In addition, you’ll be paying for those costly materials—stainless steel, copper and even zirconium—that can replace the aluminum, which creates inductance and, therefore, noise.

aavik u-280

In other words, with Audio Group Denmark you get what you pay for—quite literally. Take the 180, 280, 580 and 880 series of components from Aavik. The difference between the 180 and the 280 lines is the additional Tesla coils and analog dithering devices used. (These devices have a cumulative effect on noise reduction—the more the merrier.) It’s still pretty much the same integrated—same features, same look, same 300 watts per channel, same class D circuitry. Jump up to the 580 series, and the chassis is made from copper and titanium. Jump up to the $70,000 I-880 integrated, and you’ve ditched the class D for pure class A and you’ve added zirconium. The case, designed by Flemming Rasmussen, is also complete new and different from the rest of the line.

The I-880 is an integrated that I couldn’t quite lift by myself. But I’ve also had a couple of extended listening sessions with the 880 series, and it’s so good it’s unnerving in that familiar everyone-else-must-be-wrong kind of way. But the Aavik U-280 box is light and manageable in that surprising class D way.

At the same time, let’s look in the other direction. The entry-level components from Audio Group Denmark are not only relatively affordable, but they offer nearly similar sound with a slightly higher noise floor. But you can start off fairly simple—an Aavik I-180 integrated amplifier starts at just $7,200. The U-180, which is an I-180 with the DAC, is just $10,800. The Børresen speakers start at just $12,000/pr for the Z1s. Ansuz power cables start at $960, RCA interconnects start at $660/pr, Mainz8 power distribution boxes start at $1,300 and speaker cables start at $2,000/pr.

marc phillips system

Expensive, yes. Crazy expensive, no. If you want crazy expensive, you can look at the Ansuz Mainz Gold Signature power cords for $68K each, or the Ansuz PowerSwitch Gold Signature ethernet switch for $23K, or the Børresen 05 Silver Supreme Edition loudspeakers for $214,500/pr.

Don’t miss the point, though. With Audio Group Denmark products, get what you can afford and don’t lament about the top-of-the-line stuff and how it inevitably marks the decline of Western Civilization. When something is called the Gold Signature at Audio Group Denmark, it’s because it has real gold in it. A single kilo of zirconium is around 30,000 euros, and I’m not even mentioning the effort it takes to convince your government that you’re not building a nuclear device when you bring this mere rod, easily held in one hand, into your country.

But these rare metals eliminate inductance and lower the noise floor in a way that’s easily heard by most people–at least the lucky few who visit the factory in Aalborg and get the grand tour with the endless demos of every single product AGD manufactures. No matter what level of AGD you can afford, you’re still in good hands because that basic design is there, a design that still focuses on eliminating more noise than most.

aavik u-280

Inside the Aavik U-280

From the outside, the Aavik U-280 looks identical to the U-180 and the U-580. In fact, much of the Aavik components in these three lines look the same–from the amps to the streamers to the phono stages to the DACs. The outer cases on these components is made from a special composite material which offers a huge reduction in inductance and noise compared to more common metals. Audio Group Denmark describes the reasons for using this composite material:

“The testing of new circuits and electronic components is often done without the enclosing cabinet. The disturbing sonic influence, which emanates from the material the cabinet is made of – mostly aluminium – results from its mechanical resonance. To eliminate this sonic distortion, the challenge was to minimize the use of aluminium in the cabinet to the absolute minimum that is unavoidable to ensure sufficient cooling. We began testing various materials and designed an innovative natural-based composite material, which reduces the mechanical influence, particularly the hysteresis. The sonic result is distinctly audible and reflects a further prominent cornerstone in Aavik’s quest for the ultimate music experience.”

In addition, Aavik has designed these cases in an unusual way, much like a musical instrument: “A combination of the natural-based composite material, the contours and the ratio of the sizes can impact and define the tone.”

aavik u-280

It’s almost impossible to discuss everything that goes inside the Aavik U-280 without writing a full-length book, especially when I have at least a dozen Audio Group Denmark products to discuss over the next few weeks and they all involve some remarkable technologies. But here’s the basic overview of the Aavik U-280.

As I mentioned, the Aavik U-280 offers 300 watts per channel. It’s also class D, which makes perfect sense once you consider all those eddy currents bouncing around in iron transformers and creating more inductance. But Aavik takes another step here, developing the UMAC amplifier to avoid some of the shortcomings of switching amps:

“UMAC technology primarily targets two areas of modulated amplifier design. Firstly, the PWM (pulse-width modulation) generation is produced with sine wave modulation rather than the more common triangle modulation. The benefit is that sine waves create far less high frequency noise than triangles, no sharp corners, and thus require far less inductive filtering at the output. The lower inductance in the output gives the amplifiers a much better damping factor and thus a distinctly better speaker control. Secondly, the advanced dual mixed mode feedback allows damping factors that are characteristic of only the very best linear amplifiers.”

Operation is fairly straightforward–the buttons on the front panel are few, and the lone knob controls navigation throughout the menus of the Aavik U-280. (The supplied Apple remote has been pre-programmed specifically for each unit which mirrors many of the knob’s functions.)

When it comes to the unique technologies that Audio Group Denmark employs to control noise, the Aavik U-280 contains 72 active Tesla coils, 160 active square Tesla coils, eight analog dither circuits and four anti-aerial resonance devices. Those numbers change, of course, as you move up and down the lines.

marc phillips system


The Aavik U-280 integrated amplifier and DAC–which Audio Group Denmark calls a Unity amplifier–is a unique and innovative product, but it still feels like a traditional integrated amplifier when it came to hooking everything up. The back panel was logical and nicely organized, and it was obvious where everything connected. I was up and running in no time, and I did so without consulting the owner’s manual. Even the internal DAC of the U-280 initialized quickly and was streaming Qobuz well within my usual five-minute deadline.

As I mentioned at the beginning, I listened to the Aavik U-280 in two separate systems—one focused on Audio Group Denmark, and the other where I placed the U-280 in my existing system, on its own, without all its allies. The U-280 was mated to the Børresen Z1 Cryos for the former period. I also hooked the U-280 to the following pairs of speakers: Neat Acoustics Ministra, Qln Signature, Sonner Audio Legato Uno and Sonner Audio Allegro Unum.

ansuz darkz

The isolation feet on the Aavik U-280 are designed to mate with the Ansuz Darkz resonance control devices—they just fit together perfectly and are aesthetically pleasing once installed. I used the Darkz S2t on both the U-280 and the S-280 streamer. They’re the second from the lowest in the Darkz line, but they are still $800 each. Not for a set, but each. That means the base $18,000 Aavik U-280 integrated amplifier and DAC instantly becomes a $21,200 product with the addition of the Darkz–more if you want to stack another layer or two of Darkz isolation devices underneath. (Yes, it works.)

Was it worth the extra $3,200? First of all, the Darkz start at just $360 each for the C2t so you can save a little cash and have the same basic performance with a slightly higher noise floor. Or you can go nutz and get the Darks Z2 Signature devices for $4,000 each, which brings your U-280 up to $34,000. It’s up to you.

What did I think about the Darkz S2t with the Aavik U-280? Yeah, it made a noticeable difference. The only other isolation or resonance control device that makes sonic improvements these dramatic was that HRS platform I put under the Brinkmann Taurus turntable. The Darkz gave me more detail, more music, and the sense that I was hearing further into familiar recordings than ever before. After this A/B comparison, I left the Darkz in the system and never thought about removing them again.

borresen z1 cryo

Sound of the Aavik U-280

There is no sound. There is merely a nothingness that brings out the sound of you.

I’m not trying to be all Rod McKuen here, but this will give you an idea of what I heard with the Aavik U-280 and that huge assortment of products from Audio Group Denmark. I knew I was listening to a very low noise floor–I feel like I’ve had a lot of practice identifying low noise floors after spending the last couple of years investigating high-end audio grounding gear. I did learn, for example, that low noise floors have very little to do with putting your ear up to the woofer cone and trying to hear some sort of electronic presence. It’s more of the same philosophy about lowering the noise floor so that more music comes through. It comes across as lower distortion and razor-sharp transient images. It’s funny that in 2022, a lot of audio manufacturers are starting to talk about these same approaches in their ads and seminars and exhibition rooms. Audio Group Denmark is at the vanguard, it seems, and not the fringe.

Still, I was tempted. I was all set to cue an LP when suddenly I noticed that my ear was fairly close to the woofer of the Børresen Z1 Cryo and I thought well, I’m right here. Let’s see what happens with this Aavik U-280 and all the other stuff in the system.

back panel

I’ve done this test before. I’ve heard a lowering of the noise floor in real time before by shifting some isolation devices around. I’ve probably gone as far as saying that I heard absolutely nothing, that the speaker cones were completely silent. I don’t know if I was mistaken or exaggerating or, and this is my best guess, that I didn’t know what absolute silence sounded like until I heard it. Crazy, huh? With the Aavik U-280, there was indeed no sound, but it appeared to go far beyond that. This was the sound of something electronic that isn’t currently powered on. No presence, no feeling of something still rumbling about in the bowels of this amplifier. My only thought was “Is this thing on?”

I did mention something about “the sound of you,” and it’s something else I’ve mentioned in the past. If your system is extremely quiet, you will start to hear your own heartbeat. You will hear what you suspect is a strange noise coming from the system and you will track it to another room. You’ll start to wonder why “kitchen appliances for audiophiles” isn’t a thing. These are the things you discover when your hi-fi is really, really quiet. Whenever you hear people in hi-fi talking about “big black backgrounds,” this is what they mean.

lyden av arktis


So what does a low noise floor mean when it comes to how music actually sounds? I’ll give you an example. On Lyden av Arktis from 2L Recordings, there’s very little going on musically in this composition for long periods of time, or at least I thought so. Turns out, the Aavik U-280 proved me wrong.

With the U-280 powering the system, low-level information started oozing from every pore of the music. Lyden av Arktis, I quickly gathered, is about the sounds one might hear in the Arctic, as well as the music inspired by these sounds. At first listen, without the Aavik U-280 in the system, I heard the wind and some far off tinkling noises. With the U-280, I heard not only the wind, but I heard the distance that wind had to travel to get to my ears. The tinkling sounds weren’t just establishing an appropriately icy motif, but capturing the sound of everything freezing in the wind and crystallizing instantly.

In other words, I had so many more aural cues to focus on that it increased my understanding of the music. It took me several listens to find a cohesive story within this challenging yet beautiful recording, but the Aavik trained a high-powered flashlight on the wintry scene and provided me with the information to understand its deeper concepts.

aavik u-280

As I mentioned, the DAC was very easy to initialize and get rolling. I was also surprised that streaming Qobuz from the DAC in the Aavik U-280 directly from my laptop was more consistent than usual with my other sources. When I’m jumping in between sources, I’m often discouraged when I start streaming and familiar music just doesn’t seem right. Often, that means I have to stop what I’m doing and play that track on a familiar format just to get the bad version out of my mind. I know, that’s sort of the nature of streaming, but I didn’t seem to notice this nearly as much with the Aavik U-280. I kept thinking of the DAC in the Aavik as a high tide, lifting all boats equally.

(I will mention that streaming through the Aavik S-280 took another step up the sonic ladder while allowing a far more sophisticated level of navigation. More on that later.)

aavik u-280

As you might suspect, it’s hard to describe how low noise floors allow more music to reach your ears. It’s something that should be experienced first-hand, as well as something that needs to be acknowledged more in high-end audio. Sometimes you’ll hear something in a familiar recording that you’ve never heard before, which shouldn’t surprise because that’s the reason we all got into this hobby. Perhaps that made my first listen to the newly remastered Revolver something that was mesmerizing and disconcerting. I know, it sounds very different from the near-mint stereo Parlophone LP I own, but the Aavik U-280 added considerable depth to this new version that makes me feel like I have to go back and hear everything I’ve ever heard because it was probably wrong the first time.

I suspect that most of the people who buy Aavik electronics, Børresen speakers and Ansuz cabling reach the edge of this precipice, these endless rabbit holes. That’s why you can dial it up or down among all their products so you can find a happy compromise between what you can afford and what you need to be happy. For me, I could easily see a bright and shiny future with the U-280. Drop the $18K now, and when I think I need an upgrade I’ll just move up to the next level of Ansuz Dartz. It’s as simple and as satisfying as it gets at this rare level of fidelity.

aavik u-280

Aavik U-280 Conclusions

I mentioned the word unnerving a way’s back, and that’s what this Audio Group Denmark cornucopia of gear is. This company came out of left field, as far as I’m concerned, and I had no idea my overall views on audio would be changed so dramatically. Aluminum is bad. Getting rid of inductance is the most meaningful way to address noise and all sorts of distortion. Class D amplification can, when applied properly, compete with the absolute best (which is emphatically NOT class AB, according to Audio Group Denmark).

In my younger days, I would have declared something like the Aavik U-280 integrated as revolutionary, or ground-breaking, and all of the old audio dudes would’ve fell over themselves laughing. I was cautious entering into this unique audio world, and I didn’t want to be the latest audio writer to champion something that may or may not have been as good on a universal basis as stated in the review.

aavik u-280

One of the most comforting things about spending time with the Audio Group Denmark gear is the realization that I’m not out here, on my own, on the audio fringe trying to be iconoclastic. One of my esteemed colleagues from another publication reviewed the Aavik and Ansuz gear and immediately decided to buy it. My friends Dave and Carol Clark at Positive Feedback also had a very positive experience with the ethernet switch from Ansuz, almost identical to the one I have. As I write this, Stuart and Linette Smith of Hi-Fi Pig are undergoing the same factory visit in Aalborg that I experienced last August. I can already sense they’re excited in the same way I was.

So when I declare the Aavik U-280 as one of the finest integrated amplifiers I’ve used, there are many layers of meaning behind it. What else can I say about the 280? It’s powerful, it’s light enough to move around without straining your back, it has a killer DAC that makes streaming from Qobuz effortless and, most of all, it has such a low noise floor that it’s constantly reminding you that there are no noise floors to worry about during live musical performances. It’s not about whether this incredible electronic device sounds good–it’s about whether or not it sounds like music. It does, to a degree that I’m still trying to put into words.

pta reviewers choice

audio group denmark

ansuz darkz

ansuz cabling

ansuz cables

aavik u-280


  1. “relatively affordable …. Aavik I-180 integrated amplifier starts at just $7,200”
    what’s wrong with you? seriously? Do you understand the word “affordable” at all?

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