December
2020

Country of Origin

UK

Gradient Box

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, Denafrips Terminator+ clock-synced to Soundaware D300Ref SD transport/USB reclocker; Preamp: Vinnie Rossi L2 Signature with WE VT52/300B or Elrog 50/300B; Power amps: LinnenberG Liszt monos; Headamps: Questyle CMA-800r monos; Phones: HifiMan Susvara; Loudspeakers: Audio Physic Codex; Cube Audio Nenuphar; Aurai Audio M1 [on loan]; Cables: Complete loom of Allnic Audio ZL; Power delivery: Vibex Granada/Alhambra on all source components, Vibex One 11R on amps, LessLoss C-MARC Entropic cords between wall and conditioners; Equipment rack: Artesanía Audio Exoteryc double-wide 3-tier with optional glass shelves, Exoteryc Krion and glass amp stands; Sundry accessories: Acoustic System resonators, LessLoss Firewall for loudspeakers, Furutech NCF Signal Boosters; Room: 4 x 6m with high gabled beam ceiling opening into 4 x 8m kitchen and 5 x 8m living room so no wall behind the listening chairs
2nd system: Source: Soundaware D100Pro SD transport; DAC/pre: Denafrips Terminator or COS Engineering D1; Preamplifier: Passive Preamp icOn 4Pro Model 3 SE; 
Amplifier: Bakoon AMP-13R or Crayon CFA-1.2; Loudspeakers: Acelec Model 1 w. Franck Tchang magnesium super tweeters, sound|kaos Vox 3awf, Zu Submission subwoofer; Power delivery: Furutech GTO 2D NCF; Equipment rack: Hifistay Mythology Transform X-Frame [on extended loan];  Sundry accessories: Audioquest Fog Lifters; Furutech NFC Clear Lines; Room: ~4x6m
Desktop system: Source: HP Z230 work station Win7/64; USB bridge: Audiobyte Hydra X+; Headamp: Kinki Studio Vision THR-1; Phones: Audeze LCD-XC on Forza Audio Lab cable; Powered speakers: Fram Audio Midi 150
Upstairs headfi system: Source: Soundaware A280 SD transport; Integrated amplifiers: Schiit Jotunheim R or Bakoon AMP-13R; Phones: Raal-Requisite SR1a, Audeze LCD-2, Final Sonorous X & D8000, HifiMan HE-1000
2-channel video system: 
Source: Oppo BDP-105; DAC: Kinki Studio; Preamp: Wyred4Sound STP-SE II; Power amp: Pass Labs XA-30.8; Loudspeakers: German Physiks HRS-120; Room: ~6x4m
Review component retail: TBA

Wicked R&D. A December 2020 email from the Liscarney skunkworks hurried to Manchester HQ. "Did you see this? It's an unusually flexible purely analog precision solution [since gone out of production – Ed.]. I know of only one other that's not quite as functionally advanced but sells for double. There could be a bigger market for something like that if remote control could do these adjustments from the listening chair. Perhaps an option for your cost-no-object model?"

The return email hustled back like so: "Thanks for the crossover suggestion. What's your opinion on adding two programmable notch filters to the multi-frequency crossover to treat the two biggest room-mode components? This could be very basic fully analogue room correction. The measurement of the room and calculation of notch filter settings won't be a walk in the park for beginners but I have ideas how to do it with a cheap iOS app measurement and sending the results to me. I'd send back the rough setting and the customer can fine-tune by ear."

The Irish leprechaun had his opinion. "There once was the Rives Audio Parc purely analog EQ with three main notch filters for the three primary modes of room width, length and height. It worked in stereo so each channel had its own adjustments for frequency, width and attenuation. That company is no more. For the average customer I'd probably not even bother with measurements. Just have them plug their basic room dimensions into an online calculator and voilà, it spits out the three main axial standing-wave frequencies. Now they know where to roughly set the notch filters and the rest can be done by ear. For more advanced customers, they measure how severe peaks are in their sitting position to calculate Q and width of the notch filter."

The Hungarian expat in Manchester had his opinion on that opinion. "Good thinking. In slightly modified form, I want to bring back fine but past tried'n'tested gear like I already did with the Slagleformer passive from John Chapman. The number of notches is flexible, I'd only need some more space on the board and in the box. You are right with the calculations, too. Based on the technical IQ of the user, it's worth to try different methods. It could be new entertainment for some audiophiles beside tube/op-amp rolling, cables swapping etc. During the coming Christmas break, I'll do some experiments with my enabled iPad, my miniDSP nanodigi + UMIK-1 + REW to see and hear the differences. If it works well in DSP, l'd consider making an analogue room corrector as part of an advanced icOn or as a standalone crossover + corrector. If I can do it, the first SE room corrector will come your way for review."

If this exchange told you nada, catch up here and here. Those reviews covered all the background in extensive detail already. Today is for the pimp-my-icOn audience; what designer Pál Nagy calls the audio jewelry version he's mulling over. For prospective bling, he's already ordered in VU meter and nixie-tube samples. But it'd not be a super icOn if it were just about fancier cosmetics or a more luxurious full-size build. It must also incorporate yet more upscale functionality or at least make it optional. Given how comprehensive the icOn 4Pro platform is already, that'll require clarified brain grease. Ghee whiz miracle whip?

Thankfully Pál is full of it and not adverse to burning it from both ends into the wee hours of the morning. Where normal people look forward to Year's End holidays to chill and get fat, he looked forward to time away from production to don his mad R&D cap. No rest for the wicked.

"I just finished a Model 5 for an Australian customer which I like very much. It's exactly a Model 1 from the outside and works as the Model 1 but inside has two autoformer pairs like the Model 4. Perfect for the audiophile who has one main source like a DAC with balanced output but there's also an RCA input for a single-ended phono. Sometimes less is more."

With no details or time table set—it will all depend on what the wood-shack pressure cooks up—today's intro simply alerts us that something's on the stove somewhere in Manchester. It's probably an ideal time to contact Pál with feature ideas/requests for his amusement. Before you do, just be sure to have checked our prior reviews. Be well aware of what's already available. It just wouldn't do to chew off a busy man's ears about stuff he's already done and dusted. Busted! If on the other hand it's a genuinely useful idea relevant to other users so not a one-up custom request, I'm certain Pál would give it his full consideration. A tube buffer and exotic hardwood chassis are already stewing away on the burner. "I love wood boxes. For the modular icOn's outer skin I would like to offer many options including wood and various non-magnetic metals with artistic finishing. The professional German-made 19" 3U Schroff Eurorack will be the inside frame."

"For the variable filters I'd probably use the same analogue switches as in the 4Pro. I have a lot of strange ideas for the icOn Ultimate which I'll analyze a bit to make a rough build plan with technical details, features etc. Only one thing is sure already: it will be very unique, truly ultimate and built with state-of-the-art parts, materials and solutions." No sooner had that virtual ink dried …