My first experience hearing Audio
Consulting of Switzerland products turned out to be one of
the greater musical experiences at High End Munich
2009...and my life! In my '09 High End report, I waxed
gleefully over the sound of these battery-powered components
and thought it was easily the best sound that year (see that
here). Since that time, I have developed a greater
respect for battery-powered components and have become more
devoted toward addressing AC noises in my own setup.
Moreover, I've managed to stay in touch with Serge
Schmidlin, chief designer and president of Audio Consulting
of Switzerland. This year, I posed the question of whether I
would be hearing his products once again in Munich.
Schmidlin informed that he would not be attending but
offered to have me come visit him in Geneva, Switzerland and
perhaps have a personal listen to his very own (all)
battery-powered reference setup.
My fond memories of Schmidlin's setup
in Munich involved such a high level of resolution that, for
me, it easily set new benchmarks in terms of sheer ease,
musicality and lack of noise. So much so, in fact, I decided
to travel to Geneva, Switzerland first rather than after the
High End 2011 show. Could the sound be better than I
remembered back in '09? The one thing I hadn't heard from
Schmidlin were his 103 dB efficient
planar/ribbon-like loudspeakers. I've heard a wonderful
sounding loudspeaker that uses the very same full-range
driver (100 Hz to 20 KHz), called the Answer from AudioNec
of France in Munich. Interestingly, this actively-driven
stellar sounding setup earned my Best Sound in 2010 with a
surprisingly open and uncolored presentation. The Answer
sounds like a planar/ribbon with dynamics I never heard from
a true ribbon loudspeaker. What potential lies in a
loudspeaker like this driven on pure unadulterated battery
This was too good an opportunity to
I received a phone call from Buffer
Ergmann who a poster-child for the passionate audiophile. He
asked if I were attending Munich and I answered an emphatic
"Yeah, of course!" Last year, Buffer and walked the show and
really enjoyed the event. I mentioned that I would be making
a stop to hear Serge Schmidlin's gear over in Geneva,
Switzerland. After a long pause...the next thing he said was
"can I join you?" And, without hesitation, I answered "the
more the merrier." Since Buffer's a OTL tube-aholic who also
enjoys the sweetness of electrostats, I think hearing these
battery-powered electronics will ultimately have as positive
an impact on him as it had on me.
Geneva, Switzerland is home to most
high-end watch manufacturers and the billboards seemed to be
every 10-feet apart!
After about a 8-hour cross-Atlantic
flight I arrived at about 8:45 AM Wednesday morning.
Schmidlin and I had to wait an extra 90-minutes for Buffer's
flight to arrive. A nice restaurant with coffee, eggs
(sunny-side) and good conversation seemed to do the trick.
Felt like we waited only minutes. Three adults in a
two-seater Audi TT proved challenging. Unless you put Buffer
in the back seat.
Fortunately for us, Serge Schmidlin's
place is only minutes from the airport. What a wonderful
and winding road to Audio Consulting of Switzerland...
Finally, I made my way up to the
listening room which coincidentally is also located on the
top floor of this beautiful three story home. What
immediately caught my attention besides the attractive
looking electronics throughout the room was the unique
appearance of the
only about four-feet tall, the Rubanoide Dvaijnoy is a very
unusual dipole transducer in that uses a Linaeum driver
element invented by Paul Paddock. Tandy (Radio Shack) bought
the design back in the early '90s and did very well with it
(at $99 a pair, I'm told they sold over one million pairs).
There's plenty to like in its very uncolored, open and airy
sound. In fact, Serge Schmidlin's own modifications (a
special paper versus plastic membrane) on this
already excellent transducer allows the Rubanoide Dvaijnoy
even greater dynamic range, linearity and transparency than
what was originally thought possible. Because the Linaeum is
a type planar/ribbon, I had to ask Schmidlin why did he
choose it over more contemporary types. His answer was
"Having had very good results with high efficiency ribbon
drivers down to 500Hz (Orca's Raven R3), I was interested in
having a full range ribbon, and if possible a dipole one.
Real high efficiency with dipole ribbons is not easy at all
to be achieved. Looking at the Linaeum principle with the
new Neodymium magnets in mind was an interesting idea. Also
I wanted to avoid plastic membranes and the challenge was to
use paper ones. The latter took 2 years in order to find the
right paper. This paper is entirely hand made, after an old
tradition dating back to over 400 years. It is totally
stable temperature and moisture free, while at the same time
doesn't show any plastic coloration."
The Rubabass is the perfect mate for
the Rubanoide Dvaijnoy
(Mozart and Verdi sculptures would also agree).
It too is a dipole-type flat
dynamic driver that measures 20" by 10"
with a rated sensitivity of 96 dB. Using the same
magnet structure and
a membrane similar to the
the Rubabass is designed handle the
lowest organ pedal notes and bass drum kicks with with no
exceptions or apologies.
spent little time attempting to
explain what each component was doing on a technical level
but spent a great amount of time playing music for which I
was grateful. However there is a video of Schmidlin
discussing some if his products (click on small photo far
an entire arsenal of hand-built battery powered electronics
which included an amplifier, preamp, two turntables, a
phono-stage, DAC and yes, even his Apple iMac laptop -
boasting Schmidlin's own internally wound transformers,
chokes and silver wire - one has to wonder what did this
system sound like and overall did it meet my already high
Yes. Most certainly!
I've heard plenty high-priced high-end
rigs in my travels. I've not heard a full battery powered
system outside of the Audio Consulting room at the High End
show in Munich back in 2009. That sound was in many ways the
best I've heard in terms of it lacking any electronic hazy
signature whatsoever. This paid huge sonic dividends on
tonal authenticity and the overall naturalness of that
system. This system was different in many ways that would
most certainly qualify it as better. In Munich, the
loudspeakers were Jean Hiraga's excellent MS 15 reference
horns which reproduced Cassandra Wilson's deep and raspy
voice on Love is Blindness in a way that was hauntingly
beautiful. The Rubanoide Dvaijnoy/Rubabass
didn't seem to possess that same sort of warm tonal balance
I remembered. This was a fast and completely free and open
sounding system: reminiscent in many ways of the most
memorable sounding planar/ribbon setups I've heard: Jason
Bloom's big Apogees driven by a set of Audio Research
reference mono amps. This system went further however in
that it was devoid of any electronic artifacts normally
associated to a high-end playback system. It was much more
than dead quiet. Whether it was via his turntable or playing
tunes of his modified iMac, the sound was remarkably
dimensional and well-proportioned in terms of image size,
density and location on the stage between and around the
loudspeakers. Nothing sounded overdone or missing.
Especially the human voice. Bass was also surprisingly alive
with ample amounts of torque. The pitch definition made me
nod my head in appreciation on more than a few songs.
Schmidlin's listening space is a modest
sized one that is longer than it is wide. The setup is along
the short wall which offers good distance from the
loudspeakers but width-wise, I would qualify it a tight fit.
I think this in some ways impacted on the overall
expansiveness of the sound. As good as it was, it couldn't
really convey the sense you are surrounded by the music, say
in the same way Dr. Jim Langham system does via the $375k
Magico Extremes loudspeakers.
I won't go offering what the sound of
batteries sound like because that's too hard to do. But I
can better describe what using an entire battery-based
system doesn't sound like: artificial. Songs I know
intimately through Schmidlin's system sounded like new
masters infused with life-like colors and less electronic
colorations. Music has greater tonal shadings, dynamics and
thus sounds more realistic and colorful. Seeing through and
into the music takes on new meaning.
Audio Consulting of Switzerland is a
take no prisoners high-stakes audio manufacturer and Serge
Schmidlin has achieved that rarified art of manufacturing
excellence that is seldom seen or heard in this hobby.
Ultimately, it is a sound that will make most folks envious.
Folks like me.
Geneva, Switzerland is a beautiful
place with breathtaking views. The above photos believe it
or not, were taken from my 2nd story hotel window in the
late afternoon. Schmidlin is also a great host and seemed to
really enjoy our company. We spent an entire day mostly
listening to his system and I think that's high praise all
by itself. Both Buffer and I were really glad we made the
trip as well. Battery Powered components....Finally, there
was something to be inspired by...
Now we're off to Munich...