elects a new President, UK drops the pilot and leaves EU, Syria civil
war explodes, France, Holland, Germany and Belgium enter a phase of
political change, China rattles the
naval sabre, refugees number more than the
consequences of WWII, Asia begins an arms race, environmental
issues erupt in many western countries, we see wealthy Asians now
travelling the world, Australian economy is slipping back, terrorism
dominates with the worst massacre in Florida in US history and recently
And now the next phase of Aspen development; sales of the Maya established and the new SAKSA now available.
The last six months has been extraordinarily at Aspen.
Together with input from support from two good friends I have developed
the next products. One, the Maya described in NEWS December last
year, is the flagship of Aspen and will carry the reputation for many
years. It's topology, speed, soundstage qualities, musicality,
signal to noise ratio (well over 105dB) and astonishing power makes it one
of the best audio amplifiers ever devised. The second, the SAKSA (the super AKSA!) is the
replacement of the NAKSA line, which sold in good numbers over five
years, and across my health issues in 2012 and which supported the
Aspen company during my convalescence. The
70, 80, 100 and 125 sold
right around the world, and brought wonderful resolution, musicality,
imaging and reliability to many Aspen customers around the world.
I will continue to sell the NAKSA 125, but now the SAKSA is forming
very positive sales and I think Aspen customers will love it into the
next three years!
Many years in 2000 when I began selling AKSA 55 kits I had never
realised how the reputation would grow, based on easy assembly and
extraordinary sonic performance. It was really a Lin amplifier
from the fifties with a long tailed pair, but I had spent a lot of
R&D and effort at the end of 1999 and then again with the
upgrades. I'd realised that topology, components, and
dimensioning would make an amplifier good, better and best; but I
had never realised just how close I came to Audio Nirvana. Since
the AKSA I have continued to develop and refine my designs, and while I
have achieve 'better' amps, some like the Soraya and the NAKSA, there
is a part in my heart for the AKSA.
Accordingly, Colin Brown, a good friend in Canada who knows his way
round a schematic, sent me a rough draft of an AKSA-like preamp that he
come up. I spent some days with this topology on LTSpice,
refining a few issues such as compensation and output stage
drive. Throughout the last five years I have greatly improved and
speed with amp design using LTSpice; it really is a wonderful
tool, and with always improving models the simulation is approaching
reality every year. I then addressed the pcb layout, using the
precise pinouts of the NAKSA 80 so that it would be a drop in
replacement. This gave a pcb of 270mm x 70mm, accommodating left
and right channel, and a bifurcated linear power supply (we tried all
the smps supplies, no dice!). To a casual eye it seems identical
to the NAKSA 80, but the topology is a very difficult animal and many
of the parts are more robust. A good friend built the first Super
AKSA on my pcb (I will call it cheekily the SAKSA) and when we heard it
I realised it was like an AKSA 55 with steroids! We both realised
this was eerily consistent for a commercial, audiophile audio amplifier
- strong, driving bass; high resolution with without
fatigue; crystalline top end; warm, engaging midrange, and
strong power (85W) from low rail voltage. We A/B tested against
the Maya, the NAKSA 80, and a 25W Class A EL34 tube amplifier. I
set to the productionising; the pcb was enhanced and tuned, the
output stage was beefed up with outsized, robust mosfets, the BOM was
specified down to the each part catalogue, and every possible
refinement included for easy production, optimal operation, utter
reliability and moderate economy. Since learning the audio design
trade over 20 years I have finally picked up these skills; but
they say it takes 10,000 hours to do it well and I think this is
correct; at 15 hours an week at actual design and testing this
comes to about 13 years. I guess I'm a bit slow! But audio
is relatively easy engineering; it's all well understood, in fact
to design a good amp it takes a good ear, lots of other people to help
with the ears, and a willingness to try crazy ideas and move on if they
do not work.
Since my AAA in June 2012, I have slowly improved to the point where
unless you know me before my stroke you would not recognise. But
I live on the other side of the eyeballs, only I would know I'm slower,
with compound phrases, which take me seconds to map out in my mind as I
speak. However, I am something of an actor, and love public
speaking, so I have continued with audio presentations, both at the AES
in Adelaide and Melbourne, and the Melbourne Audio Club. This has
helped enormously, injecting more interest and drive for my
recovery. To my astonishment and despite my constant low energy,
my creativity has not dimmed at
all, and I find that now my ideas, if anything, still burble to my
consciousness. Even my pcb design is improved, although I might
move to newer layout software in the future.
I would like to wish all past, present and future Aspen customers a
Merry Christmas, and a New Year, with prosperity, good health, and
optimism! I have noticed when confronted with difficulties in
life we are far better equipped if we are opportunistic;
negativity is certain to create lethargy and inactivity, a major flaw
in the human spirit.
I remain commited to wonderful amplifiers, and even more wonderful
customers..... they are the reason I love my work, it gets
me out of bed every morning, and many of my customers are close
China slows, Australian economy
threatens recession, US economy may be improving, EU union in disarray
with refugee crisis and continuing economy issues, particularly in
Greece and even Russia. Syrian mid-east civil war escalates,
particularly involving Russia, US, France, Turkey and Iran. Australian
dollar now stable at US72c, mining now in recession, banks indicating
profits about to fall in Australia and Syria .
Aspen commercial activity is finally
improving with a new amplifier, the MAYA 200. Long, expensive and
unconventional R&D is showing benefits at last! The
Maya is my best amplifier design, an evolution since the AKSA, the
Soraya, and the NAKSA and now a beautiful amp with astonishing sound
year has been very good for Aspen, and I have managed, with friends
Steve and Paul, to complete the details of the Maya 200. This is
my opus magnus, it is a remarkable amp, with amazing qualities.
It comes with full speaker protection, 200W into 8R using 57V rails,
integrated power supplies (positive and negative rails are
independent), clip indicator, and capacities to drive any load down to
3R. The clarity and effortlessness of this amplifier is something
to be beheld it really is Aspen's best amp to date!
China economy slows, US economy remains
ambivalent, EU union is slipping and some of the nation
falting, Australian dollar drops alarmingly in the last six
automobile industry dies, mining falling fast, Banks posting
profits ever even as serious recession imminent. Aspen
activity has suffered largely due to principal illness, but
better than ever. NAKSA 125 and 200 now a reality.
Another difficult year passes by at Aspen. My energy has dropped
somewhat as my drugs kicked in a year back to preserve my ticker,
find it tough to meet my customer demands - for whom I toil away,
constantly trying to design a better mice trap! Ruefully I
that the world probably does not need another audio amplifier, but
unable to reduce my work, and the new designs continue to leap off
cafe napkins almost every month! I believe that if people are to
my amplifiers in a sea of cheap products from the orient, then I
offer something no-one else offers, and I am convinced that I can
do this into the next decade.
I'm very happy with my continuing progress at Aspen. The company
has never made a loss after all these years; there has always
demand, even when I was in hospital. I am very grateful for
past and present, particularly during the last couple of years
difficult world economy. However during the next year I expect
interest from the US, since their dollar has appreciated some 15%
the last four months.
I have found running the website almost impossible in the last
couple of years. A change of software, mandated by a new PC, and
mild stroke two years back has halted website work. My forum work
reduces too, but I'm hoping that this will improve markedly in the
The Middle East is on fire, and terrorism is increasing right
the world. Oddly, the price of oil is dropping like a stone, and
countries, particularly Russia, Venezuela and the Gulf States are
finding their budgets drastically reduced. This will worsen the
in the Middle East, and right acoss the world this will cause
No simple change to energy supply leaves any country unscathed,
it is threatened by mortal epidemics in West Africa.
I wish all past, present and future Aspen customers the best of
the festive seasons, and a successful, healthy 2015!
US economy slowly improves, European
holds, China growth slows, and Australian economy start to
recede. Proaudio from Grover Notting sells well, NAKSA higher
power version (200W) under way, sales of the NAKSA 80 growing.
Another year passes at Aspen. As my energy recovers my
sales of NAKSAs are building, and I'm very happy with progress in this
area. I thank all customers, past and present, for this
resurgence of my business, particularly during a difficult time in the
world economy. Things are as uncertain today as they were a
couple of years ago; it is very difficult to predict when will
happen next. The Middle East is not good; there is manifold
unrest in Egypt, Syria, Turkey and Iraq. I cannot predict what
happens next; it is very unstable in many countries.
I have spent a lot of time developing and testing the future
higher power NAKSA. With help from a US friend, I can inform
Aspen customers that there is a wonderful 125W amplifier about to enter
the market. I will announce more detail very soon........
The Australian dollar is now dropping sharply. Within
six months, it has fallen from $USD1.05 down to $USD89.5, almost
15%. This is very significant, and will make Aspen products much
cheaper in the US. I hope that in 2014 this will improve sales in
the US. I believe that there are very few modules in the US
market that can offer the sound quality of the Aspen products.
My health improves every month now. I can work half a
day every day now, a huge improvement in 12 months ago. I expect
my stamina will improve more in the next year, but my communication,
particularly writing, is somewhat reduced. I have been forced to
learn how to write again; it has been difficult and frustrating.
I am leaving for South Australia tomorrow for a couple of days
to see family, but will be back on 27th. If you email me in the
next couple of days, please be patient with my return!
I offer you and your families a Merry Christmas and a Happy
New Year, and thank you very much for your support for Aspen throughout
2013. Through thin and thick, Aspen remains in the market,
producing and selling wonderful amplifiers for discerning audiophiles!
Hugh R. Dean
World economy falls, strong sales for the NAKSA, a the
proaudio amplifier now completed, tested, and about to enter manufacture!!
Recently I thought back on these news which began in 2005! Today I see
the world is a parlous mess as it was then! The last week untold massacre
of a killing of 20 kindergarden children at Newtown in Connecticut, including
the Teacher, the Psychologist and the Principal. As a retired Army Officer
I recognised that at semi-automatic weapon was involved; bells are ringing
in the gun lobby and a looming self-awareness of the ubiquitous, dangerous
issue now needs political recognition.
The Arab spring which began in Tunisia two years ago has spread from
North Africa across to the Middle East. Syria is plunged into civil war,
a tragedy. There is very tension within Egypt between a secular and a
religious section, horrific pressure within sections of Israel, and turmoil
within the entire area as millions of refugees seek sanctuary. Large majorities
of populations are suffering in intolerable pressures and are forced to
flee the homeland - much it illegal - to other areas of the Middle Europe
and to Europe which is struggling with burden of huge debt and unstable
Indications in our press tell us that the world recession is worse than
the stock collapse in 1987, and now approaching the Depression of 1929.
What is striking is that most of the western countries are looking their
manufacturing facilities. It seems to me that if a countries loses its
industry, then employment follows. Next is the erosion of the tax base,
growing public debt, withdrawal of welfare and government institutions,
and either civil war or at least revolution. We must hope that 2013 brings
improvement; but the indications are not positive.
My year has been very creative at Aspen and I am well pleased with my
work. However by serious illness struck at the end of July, where I suffer
an aneurysm of the aorta. This is a genetic flaw, and should have taken
me out! With quick reaction and stunning medical intervention I prevailed,
earning my moniker at the hospital of 'Houdini'! My family was absolutely
wonderful, supporting me through a long, arduous recovering, and I thank
Sri, Soraya and Alessandra (who travelled immediately from NYC) more than
they can ever know.
During this episode I received best wishes and many wonderful posts,
emails and letters, not to mentioned daily visits from hundreds of well
wishes how approached my bed never quite sure what they were hearing;
my brain was damaged and my speech was badly affected at first but it
almost up to normal levels. I had to learn writing, too, this delayed
my responses severely but this slowly has been coming back. Thank you
ALL very sincerely for all your best wishes for my recovering; this help
me palpably through my recovering and it's moving well along now!
The experience has left me humbled and full of wonderment. The body and
the mind both recover in extraordinary ways. I do think that I am not
so fast these days, although I get there in the end, must a bit more slowly!!
For those with orders for Aspen products, pleased please that aware that
I can only work a few short hours each day, but your orders are noted
very seriously and I'm working through them slowly!
I wish you and your families for Merry Christmas and Happy New Year,
and thank you very much for your support for my company throughout 2012
in ways I cannot put in words!
Hugh R. Dean
GFC II, the NAKSA, and a proaudio amplifier range for
the world market!!
It is always surprising how life seems to accelerate as we age. I have
just turned sixty, and it seems the world remains a parlous mess, everything
is different, yet somehow contrives to remain the same!
As the leaders of G8, the wealthy countries of the Eurozone, vacillate
between maintaining their electoral support, so critical to any democracy,
and actually doing something to assist Italy, Spain, Portugal, Ireland
and Greece, we are all left wondering just what will be the outcome.
Here are my predictions. The Eurozone will contract to the wealthy countries,
Germany, France, Belgium and Holland, and the rest will be cut loose from
the Euro and forced to revert to their original currencies. This will
herald the breakup of the EU greater, and the eventual return to the pre-1914,
fractious state that characterised Europe before the First Great War.
This is a very significant, pessimistic outcome, but it will be accompanied
by a momentous shift in the balance of economic world power away from
the indebted US (now at more than $14.6 trillion and somewhere just over
100% of GDP) and towards the East, notably, China, which as you read this
brief is building two Aircraft Carriers to promote its role into the 21st
century as a major naval power in the Pacific, and probably the Indian
Ocean as well. China is very concerned about her borders, and keen to
enforce security for its trade routes, which extend to Africa, Australia,
the US and Europe - essentially, the entire world stage.
Lest anyone think that China will have an easy time of it, we should
understand that for many centuries that great country has suffered severe
internal unrest at least every 75 years. In recent times it was the Boxer
Revolution (1911), the Long March (1948), the Cultural Revolution (1965)
and the minor incident of Tianenmen Square in 1989. While most Chinese
are cynical about Communism, they will support it earnestly if they perceive
it is advancing their collective economic development. But if that development
falters for reasons of high inflation, falling living standards in the
rural provinces or lack of reform in their justice system, then things
may change. China's advance on the world stage is NOT guaranteed, just
as continuing economic growth for the US and Europe are not guaranteed.
There are many uncertainties into the future as nation states jostle for
position, but it won't be boring, and pressure is mounting continually
as resources are always limited. Climate change is challenging some of
the world's most populous countries, in particular Bangladesh, whose population
is now at 150 million, 40% of them living on a flood plain less than two
metres above sea level. The Netherlands is also in a similar situation,
with 25% of its area and 21% of its population living below sea level.
Climate change refugees will dominate the category within one generation,
and space must be found for these citizens into the future. The world
must become more multicultural and we must all learn to live with ethnic
tensions. As world population climbs above 7 billions souls we have no
In response to difficult economic times in 2008, I decided to create
a new amplifier series which was easy to manufacture, low in component
count, and very high in subjective performance. That series, the NAKSA,
has been very successful, drawing many old and new customers in with its
beguiling sonic presentation. Two versions are now available; the 70 watt
entry level, and the 100W larger unit for bigger rooms and systems, and
I have been approached by a proaudio manufacturer in Australia to build
a more powerful variant in this country for the world market. As I write
this version, of up to 175 watts into 8R, is being prepared for testing
and ultimately for manufacture. It will be sold with balanced line, HP
and LP filters, and all the accoutrements of the proaudio market.
The year has been a busy one, with the FetZilla Group Buy, a fun exercise
with forum members on DIYaudio, and recent development of the GK2 with
Steve Harrison, an American friend who spends part of his year in Victoria.
The GK2 is a more than worthy successor to the original GK1. I have collaborated
with Colin Brown in Vancouver in the design of the Maya, a fully developed
plug and play power amplifier now in Version 11, and possibly Aspen's
finest amplifier. This amplifier is unique and runs a 150W rms output
stage in open loop - no global feedback at all! The sound quality is truly
The next phase for Aspen should be a year of consolidation and preparation
for the coming GFC 2. I predict things will be very nasty in the year
ahead, with many people tightening their spending. In an area like high
end audio, discretionary spending will very likely reduce considerably.
With excellent products, well priced, I believe Aspen will survive and
even expand market share.
I take this opportunity to welcome new Aspen customers to our new product
lineup, and I wish all customers, past present and future, a very Merry
Christmas and a Happy, Healthy New Year!!
More Amplifiers, and a successor to the AKSA!!
I first began this NEWS column in April 2005. That's more than five years
back, how things have evolved!! The world is presently not a happy place
- names have changed but situation remains the same - with Afghanistan
worse than ever, Pakistan in crisis, North and South Korea at each others
throats, a very tough political climate for the US President, grim news
just past for Ireland, now suffering with a 23% VAT and draconian cuts
to public spending, and indications that Portugal's finances may soon
collapse, with the very real possibility that Spain, a huge country with
almost 20% unemployment, may also be in trouble. This has very grave repercussions
for the European community; today the Euro dropped almost 8% against our
Australian currency. We are quite likely seeing the slow disintegration
of the EU; it may take ten years, but it is difficult to argue that a
slow decline has not begun.
We are also seeing Factory China rising with greater speed than any observer
could have guessed only a few short years ago. Because of a united and
centrally controlled government, with wise and strong management China
is set to become the major economic force in the later half of the 21st
century. There are clearly social issues in that country, but there is
also something inexorable about the Chinese entrepreneurial spirit; their
processes are improving all the time and we are seeing astonishingly cheap
products. A recent batch of printed circuit boards I had manufactured
in China are superior to almost any pcbs I have seen in my life; they
are astonishingly good. I'm quite sure Chinese production standards will
improve still further, just like Japanese products after the Second World
War. One thing we should never forget is that it is rare for any successful
country to be able to keep its currency affordable in the face of runaway
industrial and trading success, and this fundamental economic law guarantees
ensures that the mantle of success will continue to shift from country
to country into the future. Although China has pegged its currency to
its biggest customer, the US, this situation cannot prevail forever and
eventually the yuan must appreciate, making Chinese products less affordable
to the world. But this may not happen for decades to come.
Aspen has been very busy this year. Further refinement to the Soraya
CB205, and two new lines of products; the NAKSA, available now in 70W
and 100W versions and sold as a module with integrated power supply; and
the Maya CB280, a fully built retail amp of stellar performance which
runs its very unusual output stage without benefit of global feedback.
I recognise major contributions to these products from Colin, Romeo, Jon,
Omar and others too numerous to mention; I could not do it on my own and
acknowledge huge input from others. it is contact with other enthusiasts
and designers which makes audio such a lot of fun!
The next phase for Aspen should be a year of consolidation now that the
products are fully complete. Aspen's line covers three areas; affordable,
premium modules, fully self contained and ready to connect to a transformer,
the NAKSAs; a highly refined and polished 100W//8R retail, plug and play
power amplifier, the Soraya; and a no holds barred, new technology zero
global feedback power amplifier with 150W of power and premium, world
class sonic performance.
I take this opportunity to welcome new Aspen customers to the fold, and
I wish all customers, past present and future, a very Merry Christmas
and a Happy, Healthy New Year!!
The Third Aspen Amp Surge begins....
It is difficult to explain just how active the last six months have been.
There has been the final refinement of the Soraya, the near completion
of the new 150W flagship amp the Maya, and just now, the very recent completion
and first delivery of a lower power (70W rms) entry level amp to take
up where the AKSA left off, the new AKSA, or the NAKSA! Now, there's a
As I write Nick Clegg, leader of the Lib Dems in Britain, is horse trading
for a new UK government now that Mr Brown has stepped down, the US is
contemplating new unemployment statistics and Obama's appointment of a
liberal Solicitor General to the Supreme Court, and GM has declared that
they have repaid all their government borrowings after their momentous
bankruptcy. The alarming crisis in Greece has led to civil unrest, and
Germany, with her Chancellor's party under siege in Westphalia, has reluctantly
pledged 120 Billion Euro of a total 750 Billion bailout. These figures
are mind numbing! This is a desperate attempt to protect the Euro from
currency speculators who might otherwise destroy it, hopefully averting
the biggest depression Europe might ever experience. The first attempt
to cap the leaking well head in the Gulf of Mexico has failed, with the
grim realisation that it could take three months more to properly cap;
and many airlines are experiencing more travel problems as the Icelandic
vocano again erupts. Iraq is again in turmoil from terrorism, and Israel
continues to forge ahead with the largest dividing wall in modern history,
peace talks all but stalled. No, the world never stands still, and in
Oz our Labor government is reeling from a couple of GFC stimulus packages
that went wrong, a complete reversal of policy on the emissions trading
scheme since Copenhagen, and a change of leadership seems to have elevated
our Conservative Opposition in the polls hugely.
I am fairly certain that we are seeing serious economic issues within
the EU which threaten its very existence. If the EU fails, Europe could
then lapse into the fractious, crochety continent it was in the early
20th century - they say three generations is often sufficient to repeat
the cycle of history. The loose confederation of warring chiefs which
comprises the EU seems only ever to agree when policy is imposed via bureacratic
edict, but the immortal words of Adam Smith toll a warning for us all,
'Democracy dies not with a bang, but with the wimper of loose fiscal control'.
We will see soon enough what happens, but there is a lot of evidence that
we are now experiencing the seismic aftershock of the GFC, and that it
has left the West much weaker than before. This is not a particularly
appealing thought, because we are seeing Western economic decay at the
very moment that China awakens from its long slumber to emerge the world's
factory, no doubt soon to be one of its pre-eminent economic powers.
Aspen has survived the GFC intact and spent the time regrouping its product
mix. The AKSA55 is now passed into history, and the NAKSA, a brand new,
entry level, low cost modular offering of 70W which comes assembled, tested,
and warrantied, is shortly to take its dignified place. Just today I ordered
a large number of pcbs for the NAKSA; this is an exceptional, revelatory
amplifier with palpable musicality and astonishing resolution. Once people
get to hear this amp I am confident it will be a very worthy successor
to the renowned, famous AKSA which quickly made Aspen's name ten years
ago. You may find this hard to believe, but the NAKSA is far, far superior
to the AKSA it replaces, and many will regard it as superior to the Lifeforce
as well. I feel that for me, it is a watershed; the low parts count indicates
that I am making real progress in the royal dress circle of high end audio
- musical engagement. This amp will tap the foot off your leg and still
leave you smiling at the blood on the carpet.......!
I hope to release a 100W version of the NAKSA soon too, and this will
supersede the AKSA100. The Lifeforce will continue for one year, whereupon
it will be dropped from the range. Service for all these Aspen products
will of course continue for the forseeable future.
Two new retail amplifiers are planned. The first, the Soraya CB105, is
105 watts per channel and an established product. It will continue with
minor updates for 2011 and 2012. The second, the Maya CB150, will be released
in September 2010 and will continue until end 2012. These products will
be Aspen's two flagship products, with the Maya the more powerful of the
two (150W into 8R) now in production prototype form and undergoing testing.
It is fair to say that R&D has been intense at Aspen for the last
six months. The Maya nears its debut as Aspen's finest product; the NAKSA
is about to make a spectacular appearance into the DIYworld as a modular,
integrated stereo amplifier. All you need to complete the NAKSA is an
enclosure, a single 300VA trafo, binding posts, RCAs for the input, and
an IEC plug for the mains. This means it offers far better value than
the original AKSA55 N+ kit, reflecting better design, more economical
processes in its manufacture, and improved reliability. I expect the NAKSA
to be a runaway success, as it captures all the musical qualities desired
by the audiophile - a tube like sound, with great power, stomping, articulate
bass, sweet, open midrange and crystalline, pure top end. To cap it all,
the component count is low, the reliability very high, and the robustness
with difficult loads an added bonus.
The VSonics have been redeveloped to suit new drivers from SB Acoustics,
a new Scandinavian speaker company which has arisen from the ruins of
Tymphany. I'm happy to say that the transition to the new drivers (the
tweeter is unchanged, though now it is badged 'Scanspeak') is completely
seamless and if anything the performance, particularly in the bass, is
In the next couple of weeks I shall publish more information on the upcoming
NAKSA, it's configuration, it's philosophy and its performance, so that
selling can commence. I will be using professional assemblers to fabricate
this exciting new product, but the entire design and layout is the pride
of Aspen Amps!
Thank you one and all for your continuing interest and support for Aspen
Amplifiers! The pursuit of excellence in the recording and playback of
music is a worthy one; there may be more interesting, exciting quests
in life but this one is enough for me!
Everything changes, but always stays the same.....
Christmas is upon us in just two weeks, and I take this opportunity to
wish all Aspen customers, past, present and potential, a Merry Christmas
and a Happy, Healthy New Year. Aspen's business has been good in 2009
and I can report modest but steady progress. This has been the second
full year of Soraya sales, and they have gone well. The Vsonics have done
well, too, and always, we move forward, developing new products and ever
approaching that holy grail of sonic realism we all of us strive for.
I thank Aspen's customers for making this possible, and assure them of
continuing good service and outstanding products.
As we come out of world recession it is salutary to remember that we
have all seen this before, particularly those of us over age 30 (remember
the stock market collapse of 1987?), and that the same forces which caused
financial woes will return again, so best to prepare...
In Oz our house prices, already amongst the highest in the western world,
have fully recovered, and three bedroom homes in Melbourne (population
3.8M and growing by more than 50K a year) are again selling in the eastern
suburbs for a cool $USD550K plus. This may be recovery of sorts, but it
begs the question about Gen X, who may never be able to afford to buy
a home in this fair city, which is predicted to be at 4.7M by 2021. I'm
confident this same scenario is being played out in many other countries,
China has suffered much less in this severe downturn than most predicted.
This clearly shows what a juggernaut this modern industrial state has
become, and just how seriously the factories of competing countries are
threatened. Through natural disasters, political upheaval and economic
downturns, the Chinese nation appears to be steadily building to become
the major manufacturing force of the 21st century. But can the economic
planners of the central committee avoid the stagnation which has beset
the Japanese nation for the last twenty years, a country whose textbook
success in the seventies and eighties also amazed the world?
As this comes to press, the Copenhagen summit is acting out on the international
stage. It all reminds me of St Augustine's lament: 'O God make me chaste,
but not yet'. The horse trading has begun in earnest. The LDCs want no
carbon limits, and economic assistance to mitigate climate change and
encroaching sea levels. The Developed World wants more generous caps and
argues the toss about carbon trading and tax laws, and the biggest LDCs,
India and China, want no limits on their astonishing industrialisation.
I recall something similar with the Muskie Clean Air Laws, first enacted
in California in 1970 to howls of protest from the people and the car
manufacturers. They came to pass, and today we have very, very low emission
motor vehicles. That's progress, but it's always painful, particularly
as the world very soon is in for some sobering, scary price rises for
electricity, gas, and oil.
The pressure is really on for zero emissions transportation. Diesels
are becoming truly impressive in these times, with astonishing economy
and performance, but will likely be a transition technology until ZEVs
are developed. Of course, the electric car still presents energy storage
problems, but few consider that the electricity to power them must ultimately
come from the mains grid, and that of itself is problematic - and polluting.
I forsee a time quite soon when international travel by jet aircraft will
become expensive, much more so than at present, and ultimately, reserved
for a very few because of the profligate use of fuel.
The next six months are likely to be unpredictable. There are major conflicts
in the Mid East, festering unrest on Russian borders, continuing instability
in North Asia, and ongoing terrorism around the world. The US is at a
crossroads in its history with several crucial corporations now in ruins,
a foreign policy in transition, and mounting debts incurred through military
campaigns abroad. Unemployment, perhaps the last demographic to be affected
in a recession, is yet to bite home for many. There is considerable insecurity
at many levels in our modern world, but then, there always has been!
A big thanks to all Aspen customers, and best wishes for the festive
season and the new year!
The Big R...
We are living in interesting times, interesting for Aspen, and indeed
all of us across the world - these last twelve months as economies stall
has been one of the most interesting periods of the last forty years!
Regrettably, we are finally starting to see the recession bite in Australia.
Our Banks are still solvent, but the auto, finance, housing and retail
sectors are all in trouble. Property values have dropped substantially,
the share market appears to be bumping around on the bottom with little
apparent pattern. The pundits are saying that interest rates have reached
their lowest and that the only way from here is up, but I believe recovery
will be very patchy, perhaps stretched out over more than eighteen months.
As I write, Fiat has just taken over Chrysler, GM's fate hangs in the
balance, and the Swine Flu is moving swiftly through the US States. It
is strange that in August 2007 on the forum I was saying that a world
wide recession seemed inevitable, but it's happened, and we have to deal
The structural changes needed to restore prosperity are not yet in place,
not even in the US, and the World Bank projected negative growth rates
for 2009, particularly in the UK (-4.1%) and Japan (-6%), are alarming.
It is now evident that most successful businesses appear to run on credit,
and when credit is hard to find, bankruptcies inevitably follow. Concerns
about emissions appear to have been put on hold, and the price of oil
has dropped to very low levels not yet evident at the pump. I feel that
the employment situation in Australia will change drastically in the next
six months (and in the US with the impending insolvency of GM), but I
remain confident this unhappy scenario will evolve into a better future
with less emphasis on household debt and people far more willing to live
within their means.
At Aspen things are moving along nicely. Sales are steady, R&D has
been especially rewarding with the new preamp and speaker, and in high
end audio, a small but dynamic market, we have much to be thankful for.
Let's look at progress:
1. The new preamp, the Hawk, is now ready for sale as a complete, retail
product. It is configured for the Soraya (100W) and the new Maya (150W)
power amplifiers, and will look just like the Swift, which will continue
as the GK1 kit preamp.
2. The VSonics have sold well, and are incredibly well received wherever
they appear. These are a world class loudspeaker, delivering astonishing
sonic realism from a very compact, home friendly package. Laurie, take
3. A new amplifier of 150W//8R, the Maya, is about to be released. This
will be truly the flagship of the range, incorporating all the Soraya
technology and offering even more power. It was developed with Colin Brown,
a gifted young Canadian with deep electronic knowledge and a very musical
ear, and promises to be the best amp yet. This will extend the range upwards
from the Soraya, which remains the premium 100W amplifier in the range.
4. After making threats for some years, I have decided to offer a hybrid
amp in late 2009. This amplifier will use a tube front end with no feedback,
and a seminal new error corrected feedforward Class AB unity gain output
stage. It will be nothing like the designs offered in such magazines as
Wireless World and Elektor, with a far more sophisticated output stage
of stunning clarity and efficiency. Phase shift of the output stage is
less than 1 degree at 100KHz! This amplifier is not designed to supplant
existing SS offerings; rather, it is designed for those who love the tube
The real challenges at Aspen do not revolve around the technial issues.
I have a new idea almost every week, and there is no shortage of products
or the energy to develop them. No, as for most technically minded people,
the problems revolve around marketing, reviews, advertising, and business
process. It is significant that people who seek me out for a chat do not
want to talk about marketing, or how I run the business, so it is easy
to see that these issues are becoming pivotal as the product range and
reputation grow. Yet for any successful business, marketing and business
process are the clinchers.
Accordingly, I have decided to spend more time on these vexed issues,
and actively seek reviews and ways of improving the business. While I
prefer not to receive emails along these lines (I receive far too many
emails as it is and spend too much time at the keyboard anyway!) if you
would like to ring me to discuss these weighty matters I would be quite
happy to shoot the breeze!
Thank you to all Aspen customers, past, present and future, and good
luck to all as we weather the biggest recession the world has seen since
the second War.
We have swiftly moved ahead to Christmas - it is quite sobering how quickly
time passes as we grow older.... I sincerely hope 2008 has been a good
year for you. The dark clouds of recession are gathering on the horizon,
but through all this gloom it is worth remembering that a very large part
of any economic crisis is fear of the unknown, and it always dissipates
as people eventually grow tired of pessimism and long to kick their heels
The year has been busy for Aspen. There has been a great deal of development
taking place; the VSonics have come to fruition and quite a number have
been sold now. My thanks go out to Laurie Menogue for his brilliant design
work - if genius is inspiration, hard work and constant iteration to get
it right, then Laurie has it. The VSonics are extraordinary speakers,
and right now we are, just for the fun of it, building one using Corian,
a hard plastic benchtop material with lovely texture which is sonically
inert and used widely in kitchen manufacture. We will post photos on the
website; this promises to look sensational and sound even better!
I am presently talking with a North American VSonics buyer who is keen
to offer the fully built speaker for the US market. This is a wonderful
step forward, as many audiophiles do not have either the time or the inclination
to build their own, and for Aspen to lock itself out of this market would
be ill advised. John, I thank you very sincerely for your interest and
Aspen has moved ahead with the development of the Generation II Soraya.
This is an extraordinary power amplier, with astonishing transparency
and an utterly natural sound. This has been a serious, highly intensive
development cycle, and the results have been very, very pleasing. However,
the quality of the amplifier has a ripple effect on all other Aspen products;
the VSonics are eminently compatible, but a new preamplifier is probably
needed to fully exploit the new power amp. This process is well under
way, with a prototype Swift II being tested first in South Australia,
then in my system, and shortly in Kent, UK. Again, I thank Richard and
Ron for their enthusiasm and strong contribution to the testing cycle
of product development. It is essential to find any problems before time
of release, and their work is intensive and greatly valued.
Sales have been good this year, but, as expected, tailed off somewhat
in recent times. Balanced against this is the low Australian dollar, which
at around 68.5 cents US makes Aspen products as inexpensive as they have
ever been in four years. This is, ironically, a great time to buy, particularly
if you believe you should stay home more and listen to your system rather
than go out for an expensive night's entertainment!
The world has changed in some unexpected ways. From a growth rate for
the last ten years approaching 12%, China is predicting an 8% growth rate
for 2009. I believe it will be lower, perhaps 5%, and already the resources
boom, driven by Chinese demand, has eased off in Australia. It is often
said that when the US sneezes, Australia catches cold, but the balance
of economies has changed, and now the cold is also blowing in from China,
since so much of its output is exported to the US. Australia has a 4.3%
unemployment rate at present, but this is expected to almost double in
2009 and will have huge effect locally. Already we have seen some significant
corporate collapses in Oz, and in Europe the recession has begun to bite
hard. It is my belief, based on historical precedent and the nature of
economic fear, that the US, arguably the most resilient economy, will
begin recovering within nine months, and Australia within one year. I
am not yet sure about Europe however, as there are several unknowns such
as the Middle East, Iran and Afghanistan, the Russian/Ukraine energy conflict,
the agonising debate about emissions levels, not to mention the growing
discontent amongst wealthy EU members with the relentless expansion of
the Union and its pervasive regulatory environment.
In a time when there is great pressure to reduce our carbon emissions,
OPEC crude has dropped below $US45 a barrel. Consider that oil has dropped
from almost $150 in less than six months, this is unprecedented and could
well delay international agreement on the pivotal issues concerning the
health of the planet. However, I think this point in history, marked by
the appointment of Barrack Obama to the highest office in the US, will
be seen in the decades ahead as a turning point, and the beginning of
rebuilding US foreign policy.
Recent developments lead me to believe that a revolutionary battery
suitable for traction use in motor vehicles will soon be available at
moderate cost. The control and motor technology has been with use for
many years; the first electric vehicles are more than 100 years old -
I saw a horseless carriage in the Natural History Museum in Denver CO
last year - and it was driven by an electric motor and a bank of heavy,
fully rebuildable batteries. I was dumbfounded, as I'd thought they did
not appear until the 1920s. The world is an interesting, often unexpected
place; and this wonder is essential to the process of technological development
at any level.
I thank Laurie, Ben, Sam, Colin, Richard and Ron for their contribution
to Aspen throughout 2008. I could never have done it on my own, I neither
have the energy nor the time! Thank you guys, I am particularly grateful.
I would like to thank all Aspen customers across 2008 and before for
their support of my little company, and wish them and their families a
Merry Christmas and a Happy, Healthy, New Year! It has been a pleasure
to serve the needs of my customers this year, and I look forward to many
Finally, Some News!!
Ah, more apologies for not deliverying news earlier. It's been a frenetic
eight months......... my thanks to Felipe for the gentle reminder!
The world has changed abruptly with the sharp increase in oil prices,
the emergence of the sub-prime and associated financial ructions in the
US, significant appointments in Russia, and rapid changes to the military-political
landscape in the Middle East. As I write, Mugabe has regained power after
a one horse race, presently under debate by the African Union in Egypt,
and China prepares to showcase itself to the world during the Olympics.
World sharemarkets are taking quite a battering, reliving much of the
disaster of 1987, and housing prices the world over are drifting down,
with predictions of up to a million US citizens to lose their homes in
the next twelve months.
Of these happenings, a surprising number could have been predicted (particularly
the oil shock), though a time line is always the question.
The last few months have been a time of development and consolidation
at Aspen. There were some immediate sales following RMAF in October, and
I worked hard to get them out the door. The retail paradigm is more difficult
and demanding than the kit model, which focusses on email support. Retail
focusses on production efficiency and customer service, and can be tricky
where sourcing and vast distances are concerned.
In December the creative impulse struck again and as a result of intelligence
garnered at RMAF, and together with my good friend Colin Brown in Canada,
Aspen decided to design, refine and perfect a 200W//8R amplifier which
has been christened the Aztec.
This has taken a long time, and continues to occupy my every waking thought.
The power supply and speaker protection still remain to complete, but
the amp circuits are done, and the power supply and protection circuits
only remain. But they are in my head, ready for pcb layout. I will need
to get a few more parts together, but it's in the bag.
Colin has built and auditioned a 100W version and the results are stunning.
With this new model, which will be twice the power of the Soraya CB105,
all three circuit blocks of the standard Bailey amplifier topology which
dates back to the 1960s have been re-examined critically and very carefully
redesigned. The input stage underwent radical re-invention with the Lifeforce,
the voltage amplifier with the Soraya, and now the Aztec has an utterly
new output stage which Colin tells me from his listening tests is utterly,
completely, transcendental - the sound this amp produces is so natural
the electronics and speakers are all but forgotten. This is, of course,
how it should be......
This amp will debut at the end of this year, but first up will be a review.
It uses four output device pairs with 62 volt rails and two large 500VA
transformers. The Aztec should easily do 350W into 4R, delivering quality
to match the best in the world. The entire front end and voltage amplifier
have been incorporated into a tiny 20mm x 28mm encapsulated module with
twelve pins; only the driver/output stage and certainly ancillary functions
use leaded components on the main board. This has naturally consumed huge
resources - until now I have not been a smd man - and I must thank Sam
Mitchell, a brilliantly clever and recently graduated EE with honours,
for his seminal layout work getting my design together! Sam now has work
as a project engineer with a significant R&D company here in Melbourne
which specialises in digital electronics. Aspen wishes Sam well in his
new job, and hopes he will still meet up with Hugh from time to time over
coffee to discuss wild, off the planet analog circuits!!
Work has continued on power supplies for the Squeezebox products. The
collaboration with Bolder Cable has been fruitful for us both, and Wayne
has sold many Nirvana modules for use in his Ultimate power supplies for
the SB2 and SB3. Recently, Logitech debuted the new Duet Squeezebox, which
uses an interactive remote on which is displayed the music selection,
and this now uses the Wolfson DAC chip from Edinburgh and operates on
an amended nine volt supply. I have poured R&D into a power supply
for this product too, and am about to test the new circuit on my own Duet,
purchased from Wayne just a few weeks back! It will still be called the
Hologram III, but will have 9V output rather than 5V like the original.
I'm hoping this will be a winner too!
There is more in the offing too, but I won't mention them here until
I have something to demonstrate!
Sales of the VSonics are good, and arrangements are in process for a
pair to be built in Denver for the upcoming RMAF in October, where Wayne
will show them off to great advantage.
I take this opportunity to thank all Aspen customers past and present
for their continued enthusiasm and support for my little boutique company!
First, allow me to apologise for not updating NEWS for a long time, almost
eight months!! I've often felt I'm a passable designer, but a better writer,
and Kyrill Gooseff of The Netherlands has upbraided me recently for this
failure to publish NEWS and I am sorry......
I have decided to return to the old website format, because I can easily
maintain it myself. For a web novice like me, this is REALLY important,
and so you see the same format originall designed by Nicholas Dunand and
tweaked by Andrew Gartside. My sincere thanks to Russ Bayliss for his
work, but my sheepish deprecations that I was unable to maintain it have
finally swung me over. In coming weeks, you will see changes made to bring
this up to date, but it is a pleasing format, is it not?
I have just returned from Rocky Mountain Audio Festival in Denver, CO
where I exhibited with David Ellis, of Ellis Audio, ably assisted by my
wonderful friend Martin Walker, who travelled all the way over to be with
us. We made a great team, a variation on Abbott and Costello, as anyone
will attest who saw us there, in Room 1117! The Audiofest was just amazing,
my first trip to the US a revelation, almost a spiritual awakening, and
I will be back.......
Here are Aspen plans for the next six months.
#1 Bed down the manufacture and sale of the Soraya CB105 power amp, which
debuted at Denver and drew significant praise from some very experienced
people, including some manufacturers.
#2 Commence work on a higher power version of the Soraya using SMD module
#3 Market and sell the new VSonics loudspeaker, a 8"/1" two
way Transmission Line designed by Laurence Menogue, a highly experienced
speaker designer based here in Melbourne.
#5 Formalise a North American Service Agent, one Chris Bridges, based
in Canada, for sales backup on the retail products.
#6 Bring the 'Paris' Moving Coil headamp to the market as a retail product.
#7 Ramp up marketing and manufacture of the Lifeforce and Soraya power
Let me offer some impressions of America. It is often informative for
people of one culture to comment on another; Australia and America are
very similar in culture, but there are important differences highlighted
here. This is a short take on what has already been published in the Aspen
forum, in response to a question from Chris Becker, aka LonewolfNY,
a wonderful man to whom I owe a debt of gratitude.
"I loved America passionately. It has a friendliness, scale and
landscape which staggered me, I love the country and wish I'd been there
thirty years ago. The Rocky Mountains were stupendous; at 11,300 feet
my breath was all but taken away!! At just 16 I travelled all over Australia
by air, and came to see the grandeur of my own country, which is very
different, based as it is upon ancient desert landscape, a very few tropical
areas, severe water shortages, and a dazzling array of burned colors.
The US is very different, with almost the entire country arable and water
plentiful. That makes a huge difference. Martin and I hired a car and
drove 500 miles to Aspen and back to have a good look. I was grateful
that although I drove on the wrong side of the road the entire distance
no one hit me...... You really do see the States by car, and it was awe-inspiring.
I found the people very friendly and willing to talk. There is a natural
reserve in Australia, people don't like to talk to strangers, we mind
our own business perhaps a little too much!! I am extremely talkative,
and many is the time Marty walked away from me, embarassed that I'd engaged
a bag lady in a long chat about nothing much on a street corner. I find
I can really discover things about a society this way. But in the States,
people were very happy to talk, and as soon as they heard my accent, they
were fascinated because Australians seem to have good press these days.
Most did think I was a Pom, which is regrettable, but hey, we are none
of us perfect.......... I had conversations with all kinds of people,
in shops, cafes, streetcorners, airplanes, gas stations, bookshops, parks,
you name it. (If only I'd been like this as a young man, hmmm, ) The sheer
numbers of people compared to my own tiny country made it a smorgasbord
for me; everyone has a story and I had a ball. Paul and his wife Nancy
made my NYC stay a tourist dream; sadly, however, I did not get about
as much as I should have, but then I'm nearly sixty and my energy was
limited anyway. The three of us covered just about every restaurant of
note in the Brooklyn district, and man, that's a big town!!
Of course there are problems in all societies. In the US I saw very tough
survival for most of the population, particularly if you should get sick.
There are quite a few beggars on streetcorners, many of them mentally
ill. This is very different to Australia, where we have a benevolent approach
and society's unfortunates are generally better cared for. But this has
its problems too, and our vitality and drive does not compare to yours,
with a consequent effect on our psyche. Your society is intensely driven
and creative and people are endlessly resourceful, and I can see why the
world's best technology originates in the US of A. This feature can be
argued; many European countries are outstanding in this area, notably
Germany and Scandinavia, but the US leads the world in consumer technology
in my opinion.
I was struck by the sincere courtesy I received at all times during my
visit. I can count on the fingers of one hand instances where people were
rude. I recall a conversation with an old black woman on a bus hurtling
down a major street in Manhattan as Paul and I searched for a good camera
store. She was a beautiful old lady, and just charming, with no trace
of prejudice towards me at all. I struck up a conversation with a beautifully
dressed, professional business woman, a thirty something black lady in
Denver, and was deeply impressed by her intelligence, and her grasp and
acceptance of the racial issues within her society. I met a Hispanic man
on an airplane who was another wonderful person, visiting a dying close
friend in Miami who was critically ill with liver disease and pneumonia.
He was a very accomplished man, too, a fully certificated engine and airframe
fitter for US Airlines. We spoke of the racial mix of US society, and
patterns of immigration, always a hot topic and for me, a fascinating
one. I would say that levels of politeness and community spirit are stronger
in the US than in my own country; I'm very impressed by this and am saddened
by the way Australia is going.
OTOH, I was appalled by the waste of oil I saw in the States. The country
is not taking depleting oil reserves and green house heating very seriously.
I come from a rural background of large diesel engines and broadacre farming.
I know about this stuff, and the pickup truck culture with it's huge gas
guzzling motors does need to change soon. Mind you, I love this technology
with a passion, and it would be tempting if I were a US citizen to buy
a Lincoln Navigator (or even Toyota Tundra!!), but over consumption could
bring the country to its knees and more than anything I want to see the
US survive and prosper.
I was disappointed I saw so very few motorcycles. I love them with a
passion, perhaps I should have spent time in California!!
In closing, I now know why New York city is the greatest Megopolis in
the world. I fell in love with the city, it is stupendous. A walk in Central
park, a frantic shopping spree on the corner of W 75th St and Amsterdam,
a stroll by the brownstones near the park, a ride on the subway, a visit
to B&H audio/video store, an aimless wander through the Museum of
Natural History - these were powerful memories for me and I shall never
forget them. I really want to go back, I loved the energy and vibes, and
was very impressed by the clean air and good condition of the city. The
history speaks to me in a way no Australian city can match; very, very
I will add to this chronicle as time passes, and try to keep it regular.
I will soon add my comments on world politics, too, as things are moving
much faster than I had expected both in China and on the North American
End June 2006
Announcement - HOT News!!
Much to discuss - a lot happening. After a decade, the world economy
appears to be moving out of a low inflation paradigm; oil and resource
companies are riding high; militarism is increasing everywhere; India
and China are looming giants in the industrial world; the mid-East appears
as mired in conflict as ever before; and weather patterns are now confirmed
as changing worldwide, with increased sea levels and higher temperatures
a very real possibility in the coming decades.
On the communication front, I have now changed the AKSA email address
from firstname.lastname@example.org to aksa1 -at- bigpond.com. I've decided to
go with Australia's largest ISP after receiving an offer I could not refuse;
I was fed up with my present ISP, an overseas company which has a very
aggressive and confusing billing and marketing policy. This change was
effected on 6th June, and so far - cross my fingers - I've not yet received
dreaded spam. Not yet, anyway.......
A fully built Moving Coil Headamp for vinyl lovers is about to be released.
I have only to devise artwork for the case, finesse the gain and input
switching configurations, and organise painting, enamelling and silk screening.
This headamp, named 'Paris' (after Ry Cooder's famous Paris - Texas album,
not the terrible two!), gives selectable gain of 26dB and 32dB. It will
run from a 24V wall wart. The Paris uses unique ground referenced circuitry
to confer one of the lowest noise outputs in the MC world. It's been extensively
beta tested in Australia and Belgium (thanks Andy and Uwe!) and delivers
what everyone wants in a headamp - resolution, low noise, selectable gain
and affordability. At this stage price is not set but I would expect around
An AKSA upgrade
Those who know my journey will realise I've been searching for a further
upgrade to the venerable AKSA for some two years now. This is not just
the time-honoured march of technology, but a very personal challenge at
the core of my intellectual life; Aspen continuously strives to improve
all its products. The AKSA remains a top seller, and is an incredible
amplifier for its refinement, engagement and impact. It is ideally suited
to the DIY constructor because of its relative simplicity and elegance.
But despite protracted effort, I have consistently met with brick walls,
as Ginger (aka Ian Miller), who has retraced many of my steps, can testify.
Each time I had a bright idea, I'd doodle it endlessly in cafes over countless
lattes, then breadboard it, test it, design the pcb, then prototype and
test it again. This process consumed many weeks each time, as the pcb
design, an integral part of the amp, often took a month of chasing the
mouse on a PC screen to get exactly right. On completion, a good listen
over just two hours was enough to pronounce the newbie dead or alive,
and a trip to an AKSAphile down the freeway (thanks Martin!) would confirm
or deny my impressions. All too often, however, it was back to the drawing
board (or the PC). Well, I have some good news to report......
I've done it. I've actually discovered and refined a topology which preserves
all the benefits of the AKSA such as Class AB efficiency, elegant design,
moderate assembly ease, and compact size - and significantly raises the
bar!! Sonically, this new amplifier is remarkable, but it's taken a radical
redesign and component changes to achieve this. I am calling it the AKSA
Lifeforce, to reflect its subjective sonic presentation (and in recognition
of good vampire movies across a couple of generations!!). In fact, if
the stock AKSA 55 is 7/10, the Nirvana 8/10 and Nirvana Plus 9.2/10, then
this design is 9.8/10!! The sound is so good that FM radio sounds like
the N+ playing a CD on a high quality front end!! On CD/DVD, the quality
is so highly resolving, so broad and deep in the sound stage, so intimate
and alive in its musicality, that you would swear you were listening to
the original performers in a LIVE situation - with absolutely no electronics
Technically, I cannot say much as I don't want this technology revealed
in the short to medium term. While the AKSA Lifeforce uses all the usual
building blocks of electronics, to my knowledge in the audio world such
a circuit has never been implemented in quite this way. The new Lifeforce
is of course a significant watershed for me and for Aspen, and so I have
decided to release the upgrade modules initially ONLY TO EXISTING AKSA
There are two reasons for this decision. The first is that my existing
customer base has been good to Aspen and to me, and should be given first
opportunity to take up this new technology, which I believe has the potential
to significantly influence the audio design world. The second is that
I wish to build a complete power amplifier for retail sale, as it's time
I generated a reasonable wage.
Accordingly, there will be a three tiered trade-in pricing structure,
depending on whether your present AKSA is stock, Nirvana or Nirvana Plus.
As an Aspen first, we will offer a generous trade-in on your existing
working, fully functional AKSA 55 modules; they must be returned intact
to Aspen (minus heatsinks, transformers and case - just the pcb modules)
to reap the benefit of this upgrade. Since the same power supply is used
it will be a plug-in upgrade, very little work required. There is no trade
offered on the 100W AKSA at this stage, but this may follow in the months
to come depending on how I hold up building scores of new Lifeforce amps!!
I will be offering a fully built and tested module so as to closely control
assembly quality and reduce service backup. No instructions will be produced,
of course, and no schematic will be published. All you need do is remove
the existing pcbs from the heatsink, keeping the nuts, bolts and mica
washers; then send Aspen the fully operational modules adequately packaged,
and wait a couple of weeks to receive your new modules pre-built and tested!
They will bolt straight in, connect exactly as the previous modules, and
immediately deliver a very significant performance increase.
The upgrade will comprise two fully built and tested pcb modules each
rated identically to the original AKSA modules, that is, 55W into 8R from
+/-36V power supplies. The new modules naturally will utilise the existing
power supply and case. More on price later, but first I must get some
reviews so people have a better idea of the sonic benefits.
For those who do not have an AKSA, the only other option to own the Lifeforce
will be a new retail product, which will be direct sold in the same way
as the AKSA Swift preamplifier.
A few words on the new amplifier. The Lifeforce delivers such an exceptional
peformance that it can hold its head high against any product in the store-bought
market. I will elevate the Lifeforce to the status of retail product for
all new Aspen customers. The DIY business has never been lucrative, chiefly
because of the low budget approach which characterises the industry, but
also because of strong competition from chip and switching amps coupled
with a heavy service demand. While DIY remains my first love, it remains
problematic as a business model and I now feel the Lifeforce and Swift
are the best products to bring Aspen to the retail market.
I am pleased to announce that there are even more products coming soon.
There will be a sophisticated error feed-forward power supply developed
as a universal 2 x +/-15V power supply for active crossovers. Prototypes
are presently under assessment by two beta testers, Philip (PT914) and
Mark (Aurelius). This product will be suitable for the Orion, Seigfried
Linkwitz's speaker masterpiece, or any other active preamp circuit requiring
+/-15V at up to 200mA per channel. Another forthcoming product is a Ben
Williams designed microprocessor-controlled switching component which
will marry up Home Theatre/Entertainment systems with a high quality stereo
rig. It will accommodate a multichannel synthesizer, a Haffler matrix,
for simple stereo, along with formats for all the commonly used multichannel
configurations. It will have a premium quality remote volume and balance
control as well, and will incorporate the new error feed-forward power
supply described above.
In conclusion, I'm proud to say I've traded my Honda CB900F Hornet for
a ZRX1200R Kawasaki. I am a large, heavy fellow, and when astride my Honda
it almost disappeared from view, causing passers by some amusement. This
comical presentation is not at issue with the Kawasaki, and it is more
comfortable, easier to ride, smoother, and just as economical. In fact,
the Kwaka is an engineering masterpiece and a stunning motorcycle from
all aspects, with more grunt than a pig farm and more torque than the
House of Parliament!!
Here's a picture of my red ZRX (often just termed the Rex):
I wish all AKSAphiles the best for the changeover of the seasons, summer
in my hemisphere, and fall in the North.
Christmas is past, the New Year is spent, Hamas is all but installed
in Palestine, Iraq is aflame with civil insurrection, Condoleeza Rice
is building bridges in Asia and Australia, and just last night the Commonwealth
Games opened in our own fair city, with Queen Elizabeth herself in attendance......
Much has happened in the DIY world. I recently met and now talk regularly
with Anthony Holton of Aussie Amplifiers - an impressive individual whose
mosfet designs I admire for their quality, high power and robustness.
He is presently engaged in contract analogue design with a UK company
who manufacture switching amps in China, but assures me that linear amplifiers
still have a future!
There are now increasing numbers of people building Seigfried Linkwitz's
Orion - a marvellous speaker system I have heard twice now in Melbourne,
both built by AKSA owners. Steady inquiries about AKSAs for the Orions
have led me to believe that there is definitely a market for true high
end amps for this sytem, and that AKSA is an outstanding choice. More
on that later!
The drivers for the AKSonics are now discontinued after the sale of DST
to a Chinese company. Soon stock will dry up, so the AKSonic product run
will come to an end. I might add that three months ago, Ron and I fitted
the AKSonic with the Scan Speak top line speaker and the Revelator tweeter
- and the results were just astonishing. It was the best two way I've
ever heard, so with suitable modifications to the crossover this too may
be an upgrade option. BUT, the drivers are VERY expensive!
There has been something of a scattergun approach to R&D in recent
times. There are no less than five new audiophile designs - a tube hybrid
presently under long term audition; a second hybrid awaiting reconstruction
with a novel output stage; an all-tube 6AS7/6080 6W SET prototype built,
tested and auditioned; a battery powered, solid state moving coil head
amplifier, and a highly original design with complementary, low feedback
control which I doubt has been seen or heard before, particularly in solid
At least two of these designs will see the light of day, as they all
sound different, and tastes do differ. There is unquestionably a place
in the market for many different amplifier types, and if properly voiced
all could very likely be commercially successful. However, a long standing
notion amongst audio designers for six decades has been that amplifiers
should be designed for lowest possible measured distortion. This attitude
prevails today with many audiophiles, yet, as we all know, there are amps
in this category which sound dreadful. While it is not rational to condemn
this approach outright, it is likely there is more to it than measured,
steady state distortion. It is worth mentioning that tube amplifiers,
particularly of single ended topology, are very highly valued by audiophiles;
yet, their distortion measurements at even moderate levels are often around
2%, an outrageous figure by these standards. Could it be that 'harmonic
enrichment' gets a bad rap, and we really should draw a line in the sand
between harmonic enrichment and harmonic distortion? (pun intended!).
The audio industry is large and enjoys pervasive marketing, and swimming
against the tide is traditionally difficult. I have found that audiophiles
have a broad spread of tastes, and if carefully questioned on their preferred
listening material and tastes, an amp can be selected which meets their
criteria. All this makes perfect sense if we realise that an amplifier
and speaker are effectively a musical instrument, rather than a scientific
apparatus. The latter description implies zero coloration, while the former
assumes some tonal contribution.
Perhaps this approach would yield better systems in the future?
My sincere thanks to all Aspen customers for their continuing support
and loyalty, and a guaranteed welcome to the AKSA family for all future
Swift, Lifeforce, Christmas...
Christmas is almost upon us, and I take this opportunity to wish all
AKSAphiles, past, present and potential, a Merry Christmas and a Happy,
Healthy New Year. It has been sobering just how quickly this year has
passed by with so many things remaining to be done......
The world landscape has changed extraordinarily during the past year.
It is almost the anniversary of the tsunami which took so many lives in
Sri Lanka, The Andamans, Indonesia, Thailand and Malaysia. Since then
there has been a horrific earthquake in northern Pakistan, and of course
the Middle East remains the most politically and militarily compromised
location on earth. Let us hope there is some resolution of these natural
and man-made disasters in 2006.
It's been a busy year of design and sales. There has been a lot of progress,
and Aspen is tradiing well. And designs are coming thick and fast; I'm
working on three new designs at present, at least two of which might make
it off the cutting room floor! (That is, after all, the acid test! Does
it sound any good?) All are hybrids, using low power tubes and high power
The Swift is now a retail reality, and will be formally installed as
a product in January 2006. Even the marketing copy is done!
The DAC remains unfinished, perhaps not surprisingly as Ben, the digital
brains behind this masterpiece, is finally in the closing stages of his
PhD. He starts a new research/teaching job at a local University here
in Melbourne, not two miles from Aspen's home, in January, and this will
put us even closer in touch! While I'm sad about all the delays, it's
best to do it properly, as experience has shown that if a kit is released
without full and proper design and documentation, the service call is
heavy, and the time input considerable.
The forum is going very well, with people using it as first line help
in a lot of cases. I extend my sincere thanks to those who have stepped
forward to offer their advice; since it always comes from those who have
been there, it's extremely well informed. A great case in point was the
inquiry about wiring up a source switch, from Fredly in Canada. The help
offered as extremely apt.
It is becoming ever more evident that the fads and fashions of audio
come and go, but there is still a place for a truly high end DIY Class
AB amplifier. While the attraction of the latest technologies is beguiling,
it is still true that the best available technologies are those on the
verge of obsolescence; they alone are truly refined.
Once again, best wishes and good health for Christmas and 2006. I extend
my sincere thanks on behalf of Aspen, Ben and Michael for the wonderful
support received during 2005. We'll be here for a long time yet!!
GK1 Swift, Consulting, Terrorism, Oil...
Time marches on, and the Northern Hemisphere is now approaching autumn.
China devalues its currency 2.2% - a tiny amount, but indicative of policy
change and of things to come; Hiroshima commemorates the dropping of the
first fission bomb; Iraq seems mired in insurgency, London and Madrid
sustain horrific terrorist attacks, Gaza is about to be returned to the
Palestinians, oil has now risen to over $US64 a barrel, cracks are appearing
in the EU driven by G8 concerns, and world populations grow accustomed
to higher air fares, pervasive surveillance, and changes to civil rights
in the name of the war against terrorism.
July brought the sad news that Malcolm Fear, a much loved AKSAphile,
had passed away in tragic circumstances in Sydney. Aspen and all AKSAphiles
offer our sincere condolences to Toni, his wife, and Jackson and Carly,
his children. Malcolm will be greatly missed; he was liked by all, a huge
influence on Hugh, and an extraordinarily generous man.
Aspen is now consulting for a high end company here in Melbourne which
is building arguably the world's best phono turntable. Ben and Hugh have
designed a remote controlled tracking angle system, which raises and lowers
the tone arm on demand and displays the tracking angle on a display on
the remote. It's nearly finished; man, what a brief this has been! Aspen
will supply built and tested modules for this system, which is microprocessor
controlled and powered by a servo motor. The turntable will be sold for
a very high price in the US and European markets. The downside has been
that Aspen projects, and in particular the DAKSA and other amplifier products,
have been relegated to second place for a time.
Nonetheless, R&D proceeds at Aspen. A new amplifier, the Antares,
was developed, built and auditioned. It used a tube front end and dual
bootstrap with bipolar transistor output stage. The pcb is elegant, compact,
and easy to build. But after exhaustive testing and a great deal of tweaking,
it failed to meet requirements, so out it goes...... The cutting room
floor of the Aspen workshop is littered with past unsuccessful attempts,
with only about 30% of designs making it to commercial reality. We have
therefore resumed work on the Lifeforce amplifier, a 1997 design, and
presently we are assembling the pcbs. We are confident this will deliver
the goods for the ultimate AKSA in due course. It too is a hybrid!
The DAKSA is ever in our minds, and after complications with the manufacture
of the pcb, we are about to build and test the prototype. This project
has been frustratingly slow in gestation, and is worrying for its complexity.
Because some components are only available in surface mount, we will be
performing some of the assembly prior to shipping; this will guarantee
very high success rates amongst our constructors but may cost a few dollars
Along with the kits, Aspen is now preoccupied assembling the GK1 Swift.
It is now available as a turn-key retail product, and coming together
very well. Performance matches the kit - in a word, astonishing. Two have
been delivered locally and one to South Africa, and more are on order!
Aspen is now taking orders, and price will be $AUD3400 until early 2006
when it will increase due to the higher costs of the second production
On a closing note, Hugh has fulfilled a dream and returned to motorcycling
after 23 years with the purchase of a Honda CB900F Hornet! It is a most
enjoyable way (in warm weather!!) to fang down the street for a coffee.
Ultimately he will don his leathers and join the Ulysses Club, a collection
of grumpy 50 and overs who travel the highways on weekends, reliving their
youth.......... The only problem is the police radar!
GK1 Swift, DAKSA and world developments...
Almost six months have elapsed since the last News Update; my apologies
for the tardiness - Aspen has been busy preparing the GK1 Swift for the
market and readying other designs for production and life is hectic. Melbourne
enters the best season of the year - Autumn - oil tops $US55 a barrel,
sharemarkets are all ajitter, China grows restive with Japan, Syria is
forced out of Lebanon, earthquakes and tsunamis visit the Indian ocean
with devastating effect on SE Asia, Pope Benedict XVI is elected, and
the love affair with low interest rates enjoyed by home buyers around
the world looks like it might soon end.....
The 100W AKSA Nirvana Plus US Audition tour has been very successful,
with a number of people very impressed with the sonic performance of the
AKSA and sales made. Testimony to this is the large number of very comprehensive
reviews which appear on the forum group; some of them are absolutely wonderful
and do great credit to the interest, energy, veracity and experience of
the reviewers. I would like to formally thank these people, and particularly
Occam (aka Paul) for shepherding the AKSA around the US, and Lonewolf
(Chris) for his tireless campaigning and kindness lending out his own
AKSA. Both did Aspen, and many audiophile peers, a big favor and I greatly
However, to build on this successful showing Aspen needs to have the
AKSA reviewed professionally so that people can read official reviews
and make judgements about how the amplifier ranks with its peers. Accordingly,
in future the amp will be made available only to groups or clubs where
it will be shown in a formal audition environment. I will contact a number
of audiophile groups around the US and ask if they are willing to undertake
this, but they will be required to pay carriage and insurance to and from
NYC. If you are a member of an interested club, please contact me or Paul
and we will respond immediately!
There have been continuing requests for the DAKSA. This project is nearly
complete, but I am holding off because the investment in chips, pcbs and
components is very high and I'm uncertain of demand. The DAKSA is a difficult
commercial decision because it is extremely complex to assemble, and there
is sure to be a huge service commitment which I'm not well set up to meet.
Ben Williams (who is the digital brains behind the DAKSA) and I are delighted
with the topology, design and pcb layout; thousands of dollars have been
invested into the DAKSA and we believe it will be up there with the best
Red Book CD DACs in the world. At this stage I've made the decision to
build the first prototypes, assess the performance, and report back to
AKSAphiles, but in the present economic climate this is unquestionably
a risky venture and until I have assurances that I can sell at least twenty
of these exotic kitsets I am loathe to continue..... such is the difficulty
of a DIY business!
Present interest in Class D amplification has burgeoned on the web, and
cannot be ignored. Three months ago, Aspen purchased four well known proprietary
modules, built up a 100W/8R power amplifier, and began exhaustive listening
tests. Results were reported in detail in the 'Class
D SOTA' thread on the forum. It has been the considered opinion of
all who have listened to this amplifier that it is very clean, very powerful,
with marvellous dynamics and good soundstage, but lacking in engagement.
One has no real desire to tap the feet, click the fingers, or smile. These
are subtle aspects, but at the high end we are dealing in marginality,
and they are important. After lots of discussion with Ben, we came to
the conclusion that these amplifiers are probably superior for pulse response
and deep bass, but they seem to lack the sort of engagement expected by
most audiophiles and exemplified in the Single Ended Triode. For sub-woofer,
special effects and movie duties, I think they are very good, and their
efficiency is obviously a huge benefit in an energy conscious world, but
at present, and perhaps until their switching speed exceeds 2MHz, they
do not compete head-on with the best linear amplifiers.
Aspen is involved in many R&D projects at present. One is nearing
completion; a hybrid amplfier based on a tube front end and modified AKSA
100W N+ output stage. I have dubbed this amplifier the Antares, because
it is very cool and a long way off, but I might yet surprise myself and
produce a working model quite soon. All the bench testing is very promising,
and if this amplifier is the sonic success I believe it might be, I will
consider making it as a retail product. But it will be quite expensive
as the topology is quite unique, yet simple, the AKSA trademark!
Sales have been brisk, particularly the last month. Most are for the
N+ versions of the amplifier, but a few GK1s have been sold too. The GK1-R
will be withdrawn from the market on 12th May, to be replaced by the Swift,
which will sell for $AUD3680, or approximately $US2850, as originally
notified. I cannot begin to describe how proud I am of this preamplifier;
I have had a lotof input from valued friends around the globe, and the
results are stunning.
Sincere thanks to all those who have helped Aspen along in recent times
- Ben, Michael, Darl, Paul, and all those who have expressed their confidence
in the company and bought the products. I have greatly appreciated this
faith and confidence, and continue to strive for ever better products
across each year......