Country of Origin
Reviewer: Srajan Ebaen
Financial interests: click here
Main system: Sources: Retina 5K 27" iMac (4GHz quad-core with Turbo, 32GB RAM, 3TB FusionDrive, OSX Yosemite. iTunes 14.4), PureMusic 3.02, Audirvana 3, Qobuz, Tidal, Singxer SU-6 USB bridge, LHY Audio SW-8 switch, Sonnet Pasithea DAC; Active filter: icOn Gradient Box 2; Power amplifiers: Kinki Studio EX-B7 monos, Goldmund/Job 225 on subwoofer; Headamp: Cen.Grand Silver Fox; Phones: HifiMan Susvara, Meze 109 Pro; Loudspeakers: sound|kaos Vox 3awf + sound|kaos DSUB15 on Carbide Audio footers, Audio Physic Codex, Qualio IQ [on loan] Cables: Complete loom of Allnic Audio ZL; Power delivery: Vibex Granada/Alhambra on all source components, Vibex One 11R on amps, Furutech DPS-4.1 between wall and conditioners; Equipment rack: Artesanía Audio Exoteryc double-wide 3-tier with optional glass shelves, Exoteryc amp stands; Sundry accessories: Acoustic System resonators, LessLoss Firewall for loudspeakers, Furutech NCF Signal Boosters; Room: 6 x 8m with open door behind listening seat
2nd system: Source: Shanling M3 Ultra into Soundaware D300Ref SD transport to Cen.Grand DSDAC 1.0 Deluxe; Preamp/filter: Vinnie Rossie L2 Signature and icOn 4th-order/80Hz; Amplifier: Enleum AMP-23R; Loudspeakers: MonAcoustic SuperMon Mini or Acelec Model One + Dynaudio S18 sub; Power delivery: Furutech GTO 2D NCF, Akiko Audio Corelli; Equipment rack: Hifistay Mythology Transform X-Frame [on extended loan]; Sundry accessories: Audioquest Fog Lifters; Furutech NFC Clear Lines; Room: ~3.5 x 8m
Desktop system: Source: HP Z230 work station Win10/64; USB bridge: Singxer SU-2; Headamp/DAC: iFi iDSD Pro Signature; Headphones: Final D-8000; Active speakers: DMAX SC5
Upstairs headfi/speaker system: Source: smsl Dp5 transport; DAC: Auralic Vega; Integrated amplifier: Schiit Jotunheim R; Phones: Raal-Requisite SR1a; Active DSP speakers: Fram Midi 120
2-channel video system: Source: Oppo BDP-105; All-in-One: Gold Note IS-1000 Deluxe; Loudspeakers: Zu Soul VI; Subwoofer: Zu Submission; Power delivery: Furutech eTP-8, Room: ~6x4m
Review component retail: from $2'200
To follow up my 'just do it' feature for darko.audio, I checked in with designer Pál Nagy to update us on the various Gradient Box iterations in the pipeline. Unlike reviewers and retailers, most home users don't change out speakers and subs like underwear. They may not need all the functionality of the bigger version. "I'm happy to share my accumulated experience with the GB and designs over the last three months. If counted correctly, I'll finish two boards for the 6th version even though the first was an abandoned trial from a year ago. Because the concept remains somehow novel, expectations and resultant requirements are all over the place. No two people want exactly the same from it. So for a designer that situation is quite tricky."
Gradient Box just visible beneath left-channel Kinki EX-B7 mono.
Was Pál chasing elusive shadows? Let's learn about the gradients of his boxing skills. Of course 'no' is always a good word when bombarded by custom requests. But as he put it in an earlier email, "looking back I feel that 'til now I tried to stay on the middle of the road by offering no-nonsense science-based solutions for general consumption. But I see and feel a quite big demand for more exotic and faith-based designs and solutions. Because I love new challenges, I started to work on these already." After giving me an example, "for me it's not better just different. But for some clients it will be better because they know it to be better and so will hear the difference. And I'm happy with their satisfaction." To be clear, what he means by faith-based are entrenched beliefs which regardless of careful measurements and auditions refuse to go away. Rather than fight taxes, City Hall and audiophile beliefs, Pál has come around to giving those people what they want. We'll learn soon enough what that means for the icOn preamp range.
Clearly Pál-type people aren't wired for one size fits all. Arguably to their detriment of free time, they actually get off wrestling with new challenges. Our man is far more apt to say 'yes' then land himself in trouble when things turn out more complex than expected. Not that he gives up. When vital parts for the first Gradient Box went extinct during the pandemic or their quoted shipment showed a sudden 18-month (!) lead time, he scrapped sundry boards to start all over again; and more than once. Though born and raised in Eastern Europe, he's assimilated the Churchillian KBO mandate. While those are the initials of the Korean Baseball Organization, it's not what old Winston had in mind. For him those three letters stood for keep buggering on. In my book, the best equivalent word for that is resourceful. It fits our Hungarian expat who today lives in Manchester with his wife Agnes. That now gets us to his most recent shadow-boxing score. KO'd by 21 customers in the sixth round? Hardly!
"The nomenclature for the top left box is icOn sub crossover and preamp; bottom left is icOn sub crossover; right is Gradient Box Mk2.
"The Mk2 incorporates customer feedback beyond your original version. The first RCA socket spacing prevented a retailer's clients from using their high-end single-ended cables. So I replaced the PCB-mounted sockets with 10 x costlier versions from my usual icOn preamps to widen the spacing. I also added IR-controlled switching for the RCA/XLR inputs; and a stereo/mono function for the low pass.
"The simple xover has the same 7-frequency filters, same active sub-gain control with a big faceplate knob plus phase and stereo/mono toggles on the back.
"The scaled-up small version adds a second input, a high-end 0.5dB-step buffered not just passive volume control, balance, mute and other small features from my icOn preamps plus a white 3-digit display with optical encoder. The case for the two smaller models is 125 x 230 x 90mm.
"For pricing I had to finally face my actual labor costs. These units are far more difficult to produce than icOn preamps. Assembly takes about twice as long. Then there's measuring and testing beyond even a fully balanced autoformer icOn. It's actually exceedingly tedious to assembly these filter boards by hand but I still must wait before I can outsource them reliably. Finally the constant fluctuations between £|$ kept throwing things off. So in January I started listing all of my products in US currency.
"Reflecting these facts, the GB Mk2 now sells for $3'800; the icOn sub xover/pre at $2'950; and the basic icOn sub xover at $2'200." So here we have 3 versions all with 7-freq filters. Which one suits us best should mainly depend on whether we need preamp functionality and remote control. That's a lovely bunch of new options in this very niche sector.
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