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 report 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 Rubanoide Dvaijnoy 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 power???

This was too good an opportunity to pass up.

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 relief....

The long 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  Rubanoide Dvaijnoy loudspeakers.

Standing 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 Neodymium magnet structure and a membrane similar to the Rubanoide Dvaijnoy, the Rubabass is designed handle the lowest organ pedal notes and bass drum kicks with with no exceptions or apologies.

Schmidlin 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 right).

With 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 expectations?

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...