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Srajan Ebaen
Financial Interests: click here
Source: Esoteric UX-1, Ancient Audio Lektor Prime, Raysonic Audio CD228, AMR CD-777 [on review], April Music Stello CDA-500 [on review], Aura Neo [on review], Apple iMac 1TB with WAV files, Weiss DAC2, Yamamoto YDA-01
Preamp/Integrated: Esoteric C-03 (transistor), ModWright DM 36.5 (valves), April Music Stello Ai500 [on review], Aura Groove [on review], Peachtree Audio iDecco [on review]
Amplifier: FirstWatt F5
Speakers: Anthony Gallo Acoustics Reference 3.5 [on review]
Cables: Complete loom of ASI Liveline, ALO Audio USB cable, Weiss-supplied Firewire cable
Stands: 2 x ASI HeartSong 3-tier, 2 x ASI HeartSong amp stand
Powerline conditioning: 1 x Walker Audio Velocitor S, 1 x Furutech RTP-6
Sundry accessories: Furutech RD-2 CD demagnetizer; Nanotech Nespa Pro; extensive use of Acoustic System Resonators, noise filters and phase inverters, Advanced Acoustics Orbis Wall & Corner units
Room size: The sound platform is 3 x 4.5m with a 2-story slanted ceiling above; four steps below continue into an 8m long combined open kitchen, dining room and office, an area which widens to 5.2m with a 2.8m ceiling; the sound platform space is open to a 2nd story landing and, via spiral stair case, to a 3rd-floor studio; concrete floor, concrete and brick walls from a converted barn with no parallel walls nor perfect right angles; short-wall setup with speaker backs facing the 8-meter expanse and 2nd-story landing.
Review Component Retail: $2.000, optional remote €200

Vin Diesel was the original Triple X, dare devil turned secret agent. The Double X from Aaron also pulls a stunt but refrains from Hollywood-style collateral damage. It's a Limited Edition 80/140wpc into 8/4Ω integrated amplifier that celebrates the company's 20th anniversary. During times when offshore outsourcing has nearly become synonymous with survival at least in the affordable sector, the XX is built completely in Hertogenbosch, Holland. Besides higher labor costs, there are very real regulatory costs for German producers to be in compliance with various EU and CE laws. Knowing that customs can't tell the difference, many imports simply fake their CE, RoHS and sundry compliance decals to avoid costly licensing fees. Without a whistle blower, such unfair competition goes unpunished. The added regulatory expenses of euro makers playing by the book then further undermines their chances of remaining competitive in their own home markets.

If domestic manufacture at the lower end of the European audio market seems like a nearly untenable business model these days, Aaron's boss Thomas Höhne probably wouldn't disagree. [At right with his top Sovereign monos which made a Guinness Book of Records entry as "world's biggest audio amplifiers" many years back.]

Instead of dancing to the whims of fashion and marketing demands however, he prefers to play by his own rules. He runs audio as a passion which is subsidized by his main business as corporate server provider. This makes the Double X into an informant of sorts, on the kind of realities which would sustain its own existence only through a secret double life in another industry.

It's an arrangement which buys Höhne the freedom to not release a new amplifier in eight years simply because he's nailed his existing models the first time; has covered the necessary price and feature points already; and refuses to indulge in silly MkII games. This type of old-fashioned attitude would have a marketeer barking. How to pursue fresh reviews with nothing new? How to maintain excitement in a market where "serious advances" are hawked every few months? Höhne can afford to not care. He also knows that he cannot manufacture digital source components in Germany to his standards and inside the Aaron price range. So he doesn't. His Aaron brand focuses on amplification devices exclusively. Know thy place, don't budge.

The Double X looks like an Aaron N°.1A. It slightly scales down the output power but retains 1-ohm stability.

The full metal remote becomes optional (€200), dual-mono output PCBs go stereo, the tape/processor loop goes bye-bye, power supply capacitance shrinks, output devices change to ON Semi MJL3281A bipolars, the input stage changes, the inputs and volume control* remain relay switched and the sticker drops from €3.490 to a surprising €2.000. It's "a thank you to our clients for their support over the years". And a timely response to a global recession.

* The inverted volume display proceeds from mute to 0dB attenuation in 3dB steps from -60 to -36dB; in 2dB steps from -34 to -12dB; and in 1dB steps from -11 to 0dB.


Let's return to the secret agent angle with dual identities. Media Mart in Europe is a vast chain which sells shavers, vacuum cleaners, kitchen appliances, cameras, PCs, laptops, cell phones, answering machines, DVDs, televisions - and audio. Given the context, it's not high-end. Enter Höhne whose Aaron and Sovereign dealers are under contract to deliver and set up his product in the customer's home. He convinced five domestic Media Mart outlets to dedicate one of their audio rooms to high-end [below in Hannover, with newspaper mentions here and here].

That's where the Wired nation can now hear an Aaron XX driving Jamo 909s or Dali loudspeakers for an experience beyond their ken. And it's not merely long-shot education. Höhne enjoys solid sales through Media Mart. It's not as though their iMacs or big screens had short stickers. It's simply a matter of exposure. The younger audience can tell the difference. They simply must encounter it on their turf and not be expected to frequent our sort of snobbish hifi establishments which disqualify them on sight.

But Aaron/Sovereign gets more insidious still. "If you visit the Frauenhofer Institute which birthed the MP3 codec and ask to see their audio demonstration facility, they use our Sovereign First Class mono amps. If you visit certain Steinway piano dealerships here in Germany, you'll see exclusively Aaron or Sovereign amplification in their hifi systems." One of the oldest Steinway & Sons dealerships is in Regensburg. Store owner Metz created a special demonstration room just for Sovereign amplifiers. Steinway artist Elena Nesterenko isn't merely a satisfied Sovereign customer, she routinely participates in sponsored concert evenings there.

Or take Herr Enge who since 1975 has operated one of Germany's most famous Klipsch Superstores and today is probably their largest domestic dealer. Past electronics lines carried included Krell, McIntosh, Classé and Mark Levinson. In the top sector, Enge today sells Aaron and Sovereign amplifiers.

Clearly Thomas Höhne thinks out of the box. A few phone calls made clear that he has an unflinchingly realistic view of the high-end scene and a clear assessment of what ails it. He put certain mechanisms in place to make the most of it without compromising a vision that's educated by expensive hobbies - flying; golfing; cars (he owns various Porsches and Ferraris); and live music (he and his wife spend serious money to very regularly attend concerts, many well outside the German borders).

"Not being a supplier of a full line of electronics but merely amplifiers, I must explore more creative avenues than my competitors who sell complete ranges. Most important of course are opportunities for prospective customers to hear our equipment. To cover areas without active dealerships, we employ independent contractors who, without obligation and charge, demonstrate our electronics in the homes of interested parties to experience and evaluate our goods in their own systems. Besides the obvious—an enthusiasm for and solid understanding of audio—Aaron/Sovereign agents must live above-average music culture and be active concert goers."

Having never heard the Aaron N°.1A above—our review was syndicated from Wojciech Pacula in Poland—I won't commit to a position vis-à-vis the XX which isn't a stripped-down N°.1 but purpose-designed new platform.

There's simply the obvious. A full-featured integrated amplifier with real power and low-impedance drive designed and built completely in Europe is quite the deal for two large. Unlike here today, gone tomorrow outfits whose offers are too good to be true, Aaron's 20-year track record adds real gravitas.

Incidentally, the limited in edition pertains not to XX units sold (even though Aaron's infrastructure is ultimately limited in how many they can produce in any given time period). The window of opportunity will simply close after a predetermined amount of time has elapsed.

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