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NEWS

December 2013

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!

 

Ciao,

Hugh R. Dean



 


December 2012

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 governments.

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!

 

Ciao,

Hugh R. Dean

 

 

 

 

 

 

NEWS

December 2011

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 choice.

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 remarkable.

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!!

Hugh

 

December 2010

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!!

 

May 2010

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 name...

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 superior.

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!

Cheers,

Hugh

 

Christmas 2009

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, too.

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!

 

Cheers,

Hugh

 

 

April 2009

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 with it.

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 a bow!

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 sound.

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.

Cheers,

 

Hugh

 

 

 

 

 

December 2008

Christmas Greetings!!

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 up!

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 good ideas.

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 to come.

 

Sincerely,

Hugh

 

 

July 2008

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!

Cheers,

 

Hugh

 

 

November 2007

RADIOACTIVE News!!

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 assembly.

#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 modules.

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 impressive."

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 economic front.

Hugh

 

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 aksa1@optushome.com.au 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.......

MC Headamp

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 $US600.

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 intervening!

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 OWNERS!!

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.


Cheers,

Hugh Dean
Ben Williams

 

March 2006

Developments...

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 state.

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 customers,

Cheers,

Hugh

 

 

December 2005

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 semiconductors.

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!!


Cheers,

Hugh Dean
Ben Williams
Michael Hollmann

 

August 2005

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 more.

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 run.

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!

 

 

NEWS

April 2005

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 appreciate it.

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......

Hugh

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