During the MEOW 2 opening of the cat sleeves exhibition in Belgium’s Antwerp, we ran into several interesting people. Besides music lovers, musicians and artists, we also met Koen Vaessen. Many interested in audio might recognize the name Vaessen Audiodesign as a loudspeaker brand. Next to smaller box-shaped models, Koen also produces this unique large egg-shaped 3-way system. Not knowing better, we figured Koen made a full or at least part-time living from producing loudspeakers but during the exhibition, we stood corrected. While he does  indeed produce these loudspeakers, that’s actually the smallest part of his livelihood. The main bread and butter source is consultancy; audio consultancy that is. This recently privileged him with a temporary loan of a Luxman C-1000f preamplifier and a pair of massive Luxman B-1000f monoblocks playing in one of his music rooms in Brasschaat just across the Dutch-Belgian border. This had us at hello and we made a quick appointment for an informal RoadTour stop.

A week later we drove down. The Brasschaat village is known for its well-to-do Dutch inhabitants who fled their home country for the friendlier Belgian tax system. Brasschaat is thus littered with oversized McMansions and corresponding cars that drive up to Holland en masse each morning to take their owners to work and back in the evening. High-end cross-border labor so to speak. To get to the Vaessen residence in the old part of Brasschaat, we had to dodge the Range Rovers, Cayennes and other fashionable 4x4 urban assault vehicles of the villa community. Upon arrival at Koen’s, we were led directly to the ground-floor listening room. Roughly half the dimly lit room was filled with eggs - not hatching aliens but the shells of Vaessen loudspeakers in various sizes and states of completion.

This conveyed an idea of the complex production process involved in building these ovoid loudspeakers. The front half of the room was the listening part and its walls were lined with CDs, LPs and open reel tapes. We also spotted various amplifiers, transports, a Sonos system and at the right side on various shelves more gear including tape decks. In front of the covered wall facing the listener, a pair of Vaessen Aquarius loudspeakers flanked the Luxman setup of two huge monoblocks on trolleys and the matching preamp atop an orange cube. Behind them were an Oracle CDP and Perreaux. Koen apologized for not having a PS Audio PWT/PWD combo but those two are too difficult to get hold of at present so he has settled on the current setup.

Over coffee we asked what his company offers. An interested customer can call on Koen if he or she is interested in a sound system that has to meet several criteria. Ex equo on the list of criteria is the requirement that the complete system should sound and look right. Sounding right doesn’t imply being raved over by several reviews but sounding right to the customer. Looking right means an aesthetic that blends with the customer’s living environment. Then there is the kind of system - stereo, multi-channel, A/V. Not unimportant of course is the budget. Koen can assist with the selection and together with the customer create a shortlist. With his many years in the audio arena, Vaessen has built up a substantial network of manufacturers, distributors and dealers. This is important as the Vaessen company operates globally and insists on fairness to local sales channels. Only when a local distribution network is unable to deliver a certain product does Koen look at another country’s infrastructure or at the manufacturer direct to satisfy his customers.

In his years of working with many different brands, he has developed a certain affection for the Japanese Luxman brand. When putting together a shortlist, the name Luxman is likely to be featured but not a given. Now that a good customer of the audio consultant was interested in the Luxman flagship series components, the C-1000f and pair of B-1000f were on temporary break-in at the Vaessen residence prior to delivery.

The 1000 series of Luxman has an interesting background as the accumulation of Luxman’s 80 years of developing audio gear. Though the anniversary was in 2005, the 1000-designated models remain the company’s best. The monaural B-1000f amp was designed to handle any loudspeaker impedance fluctuations without sonically compromised reactions. Even a dip to 1 ohm causes no issues and the amp then delivers a staggering 2000 watts. An important part of the design is a distortion-reduction circuit called Only Distortion Negative Feedback (ODNF). This isolates noise and distortion from the music signal at the output but applies corrective feedback only if and when needed. Unlike conventional feedback which is always in the loop to cause phase distortion, Luxman’s feedback loop is adaptive.

The amp features other special solutions. The power supply transformer uses a laminated EI core wrapped in paper-insulated rectangular copper wire instead of conventional round conductor. A Japanese craftsman spends more than a day with a wooden hammer to meticulously build up the core. With the use of rectangular wire, the windings can be made far tighter to improve performance. With this transformer in the power supply, the amplifier is claimed to respond faster and sound more dynamic even into otherwise unforgiving speaker loads. The printed circuit boards also are different by avoiding right-angled circuit traces, a solution well-known from ultrasonic boards where electron behavior has been empirically proven to favor round corners. If this sounds like an application of feng shui, it’s perhaps not too far off.

Luxman’s premier amplifier has impressive specifications including pure class A operation for the first 30 watts beyond which class B mode extends to 250 watts. The amp then doubles output into each halved impedance until reaching 2000 watts into 1 ohm. With this truly load-invariant design, a customer is finally free to select a loudspeaker of choice without regard for any potential control or drive issues.

In Brasschaat the B-1000f was preceded by the matching C-1000f control amplifier. Luxman incorporated its ODNF circuit here as well and added a LECUA 1000 computerized attenuator which is shorthand for Luxman Electronically Controlled Ultimate Attenuator. This attenuator is only used for the line input, offers 72 attenuation steps but inserts only two resistors in the signal path at any given setting.

Having a complete set of 1000 Series components on hand was a quite unique opportunity. This gear is made exclusively to order where it faces a substantial waiting list. Two days after our visit, one very happy customer would take possession of his treasures. But first we had our own opportunity to learn whether a set of roughly €80.000 could make us happy.

Listening to unknown equipment in an unknown room is no different from an audio show of course where each parameter of the listening process is an unfamiliar variable. One might bring one’s own music to reduce these variables by one but on balance, it’s the least of them so we entered in tabula rasa mode. Koen had mentioned already that this rare Luxman set was capable of ‘bending’ the music around the listener in a surrounding envelope.

To us this suggested excellent handling of musical phase information. This Japanese statement product’s other strength according to our host was its processing of low level detail. Since we did not bring our own music, Koen played DJ from his own extensive collection and we encountered unfamiliar artists in turn. The Cinematic Orchestra is a UK-based electro jazz group which struck the room with powerful though melodic ambient washes composed for a film by Russian director Dziga Vertov.

Completely different was Cantate Domini with soprano Marianne Mellnäs. The "O Helga Nagt" Christmas carol featured a lot of acoustic information of the church where the recording was made including the pipe organ. More profane music was next compliments of Poland’s 3 Metry with its shards of Klaus Schultze followed by Toscho Torodovic’s Serious Fun to enter the Blues into our equation. Another unfamiliar singer was Geoffrey Oryema from Uganda with his wonderful dark and at once soothing and piercing voice. The track "Makambo" from the album Exile had us write down the album’s title at once. Lebanese composer Gabriel Yared was introduced to us as having penned the soundtrack for the movie Betty Blue. We knew this fantastic film but had somehow not registered its music. Hearing it now without accompanying imagery, the music came to life in its own right. But the most impressive material we heard that day was a radio drama, the predecessor of the podcast. The most famous of those no doubt was The War of The Worlds which caused serious havoc when first broadcast. Koen played us Der Weltersegler, a radio drama in German which should hold the attention of even non-German speakers just as the narrative of a Fellini film will capture non Italians.

The dense canvas of the voices told a large part of the story even though Der Weltensegler added extra depth for foreigners incapable of following the direct meaning. You see, Germany lip syncs all foreign films, causing riotous hilarity for English speakers to hear John Wayne say jawohl Boss. But for Germans that’s perfectly normal. Ditto hearing Luke Skywalker, Mr. Spock and Captain Picard all speak with the same voice. Der Weltensegler put this thematic to work by combining the voices of various male and female protagonists of Star Wars, Star Trek and other outer space sagas into a unique futuristic adventure that was embedded in ambient and space music as though the 35 years since Ash Ra Temple, Tangerine Dream and other space (cake) bands had never passed. Only the use of Q-Sound phase manipulation was new.

In short, we listened to a wide variety of mostly new—and some rather trippy—music. Koen played at a low level and the combination of Luxman electronics and Vaessen Aquarius speakers never begged for more power. Even at modest levels this system occupied the ‘zone’ and offered deep bass and transparent highs without the slightest emphasis. This combination mirrored the few other systems we had heard in the past where a given system utterly subtracts itself from the picture to leave behind only the music without any technical reminders of artifice. The C-1000f/B-1000f components proved to be amazing feng shui wind masters. Spending a few hours with such a system was of course far too short but it did gift us with a rather lasting impression. Having unlimited funds to bequeath on this hobby can reap some very distinctive rewards if and when experience and good taste put everything together just so. Koen Vaessen clearly has accumulated a lot of knowledge in this field...
Vaessen website