There are some unusual developments coming out of Aalborg in the north of Denmark. Michael Børresen and Lars Kristensen are developing products based on the resonant characteristics of the human body. To put it more plainly they are using metals that are sympathetic to this frequency including tungsten, titanium and zirconium. Look closely and you may noticed that products made by the brands founded by these two industry stalwarts, Ansuz, Aavik and Børresen, avoid aluminium wherever possible, this is because Børresen and Kristensen believe it to be almost the worst material with which to enclose audio components. They are not alone, I recall that innovator Denis Morecroft of DNM demonstrating the hysterisis of aluminium in the nineties, he always used acrylic for his own components and a few of the more intrepid designers have followed his lead. At Ansuz they use a wood based composite for for most of their casework but have incorporated titanium into their most ambitious amplifier to day.
Aavik i280 amplifier with Sortz plugs in unused inputs
The triumvirate of brands is known as Audio Group Denmark, a company that has grown to over 30 employees in the last five years and which manufactures all the elements necessary for a complete streaming system, with a phono stage but no turntable as yet. Ansuz was the first brand that Kristensen and Børresen created a decade ago and specialises in power distributors, cables, isolation feet and even network switches some of which we have reviewed in these pages. The theme is noise reduction because the lower the noise floor the more signal can be resolved, and the more music you hear. Noise gets into an audio system through the mains power cables and the internet connection but it can also be picked up from the radio frequencies that surround us. They combat the latter in various ways including devices that decrease the tendency for cables to act as aerials as well as using cable lengths that minimise this effect.
The Darkz resonance control range
Ansuz makes a variety of Darkz resonance controlling devices that consist of three metal pucks that are loosely clamped together with titanium or tungsten balls between them, they are available in a range of metals including steel, tungsten, titanium and zirconium and function as feet for any components including loudspeakers. Frits Dalmose is very adept at demonstrating the Ansuz range, playing tracks before and after elements are introduced where the noise floor clearly drops to reveal extra detail, better timing and other aspects of the music. The move from glass blasted titanium to the same metal with a thin zirconium coating really takes the edge off, producing a big drop in the noise floor to unveil acres of reverb on a track by Black Light Syndrome (Duende). Frits and his colleagues are good at choosing tracks but never play the same one more than twice, differences are always clear and positive when moving up the range (even without playing at the high levels that they would prefer!).
The ‘starter’ dem room usually has a curtain in front of the system and contains a Primare i35 streaming amp and Børresen Z2 loudspeakers
The key component in any system according to Kristensen, Børresen and co is the power distributor. They are not at all keen on mains conditioners feeling that they sap the dynamics out of the sound, something that is hard to disagree with when you hear their dem. The Ansuz power distributors have noise cancelling technology within them but there’s no attempt to smooth out or regenerate the AC. If you enjoy a taut, immediate sound this approach will definitely be of interest and possibly explains why not everyone is convinced by conditioners. Even plugging one of these distributors into the same power circuit but without powering the system through it brings clear advantages thanks to its noise sapping capabilities.
Ansuz D-TC3 mains distributor with multiple noise cancellation devices
In a streaming system is the most critical element is the network switch according to Ansuz. Like a power distributor the switch acts as a gatekeeper, doing what I can to stop noise on the network from entering the audio chain. Qobuz is the source of choice in the four listening rooms within Audio Group Denmark’s facility (more than any other company I have visited), so their streamers have to deal with a bit more of it than those that store their music files on an audio quality drive. But the results achieved with this source were outstanding it has to be said, especially in terms of dynamics, immediacy and depth of resolution.
Various Aavik and Ansuz components alongside a Naim Supernait 3 used for reference
The Aavik brand is dedicated to electronics which come in three levels and inhabit very similar plain looking composite wooden cases, what changes as you go up through the range is the level of noise reduction rather than the fundamental components of the streamer, amplifier or phono stage. Before he got into audio Michael Børresen worked in marine electronics where he found that dithering, originally conceived for radar, can be used to make a signal more clear relative to background noise. He has applied analogue dither to his electronics designs, something achieved by creating Tesla coils that come in PCB and wire form, the latter being insulated in black PTFE and filling up the higher grade 580 models.
The unusual suspects: Frits Dalmose, Michael Børresen, Flemming Rasmussen and Lars Kristiansen
The latest addition to the group’s design team is Gryphon Audio founder Flemming Rasmussen who Børresen persuaded to come out of retirement to help with his most ambitious amplifier project, the i880. They mentioned that unlike most Danes Rasmussen is a catholic and it’s not too great a leap to suggest that this is why his work is that much more flamboyant than the minimalist aesthetic usually found with Scandinavian design. The i880 is no mere design exercise however, it’s a new Class A design that uses 20% of the power usually required to run in this Class. Like the rest of the Aavik components the power supply is a variant on the switched mode theme called resonant mode, one which is driven by sine waves rather than square waves.
A partially built i880 amplifier with only copper on the inside and titanium in the baseplate
The i880 does have some aluminium in its casework but it doesn’t get close to the electronics as there is a copper shield to keep this sonically nasty material at bay, and on the top and base plates are a sandwich of titanium, copper and the same composite material seen in the rest of the Aavik range. It’s one of those components that reveals so much detail in their system that you might have thought that they would be more than happy, but Kristiansen is always asking “How much have we not heard?”. It’s a premise that this company applies to all of its R&D and they go further than most in seeking it. In the O and forthcoming M series loudspeakers this is pretty obvious.
Distinctly organic looking 3d printed titanium baskets for M series drivers
For the O series Børresen replaced the iron usually used to focus the magnetic power in the main driver with copper. They were already using neodymium magnets for maximum control but found that another group aim, reducing inductance, was achieved by using copper for the yoke. This works well, very well as Lars demonstrated but, it got them thinking about what else could be used and it wasn’t long before the notion to use silver came along. Not being the sort to do anything by halves they are casting silver yokes in-house, something no other speaker maker or hi-fi company has the facility to do to the best of my knowledge. This silver yoke is being used in the new M series albeit after it has been given the deep cryogenic treatment that they give to all the metal parts in all three ranges.
Casting silver yokes for M series drivers
Cryogenic treatment involving reducing the temperature of a material down to –196 degrees Celsius and then slowly bringing it back up was pioneered by Townshend Audio and is widely accepted as being beneficial, especially to copper, but I’ve not heard of other engineers using it across so many components as is the case in Aalborg. It was originally developed for cables and has the same inductance reducing effect as other aspects of the Audio Group’s work. With cables in particular and other components in general the feeling is that mechanical rigidity is highly desirable, the stiffer a cable is the less sensitive it is to vibration and the closer the conductors are the lower the aerial effect.
The basis of range topping D-TC Gold Supreme cable
Ansuz use single core silver plated conductors in a thin coaxial topology, and they use the same cables for everything from AC mains to interconnects to loudspeaker connections. What changes as you go up the range is the lengths that they go to in order to reduce sensitivity to noise. Børresen’s father has developed a machine that winds noise cancelling wire around the signal cable to create something more elaborate than you will find in any audio cable. It’s not quite handmade but closer than most and looks very distinctive in its unfinished state.
Cones for M series drivers have woven ‘spread tow’ carbon fibre skins and a Nomex core
I learnt a few tricks that these guys use which cost nothing, one is for those using a streaming service like Qobuz or Tidal. If you put a track into a playlist it sounds better than just hitting play, strange but true. Another, which comes from Italian engineer Alberto Sabbatini of Astri Audio, a room acoustics expert who found that air flow is critical to the sound in a given room. Lars demonstrated that putting something in a room corner has a negative effect on sound quality which suggests that minimalism may not be as bad as it often seems (and bass traps may not be as helpful as they are claimed).
Aavik i280 electronics beside a turntable running a DS Audio optical cartridge and Børresen O2 loudspeakers
The Group will be launching an entry level Axxess range next year in an effort to bring the benefits of their work to a wider audience. Building audio electronics on a small scale is expensive wherever you do it but this is doubly true in the Scandinavian countries, all but the loudspeaker cabinets and metalwork is done in house for the three brands, this combined with the cost of research goes some way to explaining why such plain looking products have relatively high prices. But Kristensen, Børresen and their team are doing some genuinely pioneering work in Aalborg, work that the rest of the industry would do well to follow, I anticipate that the names Aavik, Ansuz and Børresen will grow to compete with the established leaders in the high end before the decade is out.
Audio Group Denmark have an in house ‘Irish pub’ where you can sample cryogenically treated gin, like you do