Whenever we revisit Audio Solutions, the hi-fi emporium based in Mascot in Sydney’s south east, what strikes us most is the atmosphere of the store and their clear connection to their customers. It often seems to be as much an extended family as a retail relationship.
Nick, whose system you can see on these pages, is one such long-term customer.
“Nick has been a client since the beginnings of Audio Solutions, so that’s more than 15 years,” says Tony Stantzos, co-owner of Audio Solutions. “We’ve built many systems for him over the years in the many houses he’s built or renovated.”
Those ‘many houses’ are an indication of Nick’s job heading a team that tackles major projects in urban design and master planning, as well as apartments, houses, public buildings and more. So it’s no surprise to find that this music room was purpose-built for his new system as an extension to his existing house.
“This space is within an extended part of the house, another living space that has a connection to different outdoor areas”, Nick explains. “It’s really a retreat for relaxing and listening to music, away from kids’ movies and family-room action. The original living space remains fundamental to the success of the way the overall house functions, and ensures the new listening living space is always free for its purpose.”
As this implies, the new system was created to add to the home’s existing entertainment options, rather than replace them.
“The existing system we continue to use is a more generic 5.1 set-up for music, DVDs, TV and Apple TV – an all-round system,” confirms Nick. “Whereas the goal for the new system was pretty simple: the ability to play only pure two-channel hi-fi in vinyl, CD and streamed HD music formats. A system that the kids have no control over...”
So very neatly do the selected two-channel components fit in the new space, it’s hard to tell which came first – the equipment choice or the room design. A bit of both, perhaps.
“The equipment was chosen early in the piece, probably a year or so before the installation,” says Tony from Audio Solutions. “The main hardware was selected by a few listening sessions – and his main goal for this system was firstly, of course, the sound quality. But given his eye for design, the aesthetics of the equipment had to be right for the planned space.”
“We went through a process of debating various scenarios and combinations before making the easy decision to settle on what we have now installed”, adds owner Nick. “I knew of both Luxman and B&W from the outset – I had some smaller sub and rear B&Ws, though nothing more. My existing systems were made up of Arcam, Bryston, Sonus faber, Focal – all of which have been great. And the selection process here, resulting in the pairing of an all-Luxman component base with the 800 Series speakers, was a relatively quick one. The compatibility was evident even straight out of the box.”
The loudspeaker choice, indeed, seems never to have been in doubt.
“I think Nick had picked the B&W 800s before we even listened,” admits Tony. “He had his heart set on them way before this all started.”
The Bowers & Wilkins 800 Series is, of course, legendary, the choice of recording studios around the world, with B&W being the official speaker (and headphone) partner of Abbey Road Studios. The model selected by Nick is the very one hailed by Abbey Road as delivering the most accurate reproduction of audio to date in those studios, the range-topping 800 Series Diamond D3, here chosen in the radically different satin white finish introduced in this series (and we should note, of course, that this installation took place well before the release of the new D4 series.)
The Japanese Luxman electronics provide the choice of both compact disc and vinyl here – does Nick have a preference?
“I love both CD and vinyl,” he tells us. “Comparing the two with albums like ‘The Dark Side of the Moon’ and the Rachmaninoff piano concertos always surprises me – the depth and richness from those old LPs are just mind-blowing. My music collection is very diverse – classical to transanthems, Nils Frahm and Tangerine Dream electronica and Eno ambience, jazz, pop and rock, James Taylor to Pearl Jam. And with this system, female vocals from all genres are something else.
The Luxman electronics
Luxman PD171A analogue player
When Luxman launched the PD171 in 2011, it was the company’s first turntable – or ‘analogue player’ as Luxman calls them – in 30 years. A high-inertia heavyweight turntable, the PD171A variant used here is fitted with a Jelco S-shaped tonearm (a successor to the classic Sumiko MMT), while the aesthetics certainly meet Nick’s high standards, the beautiful wooden base topped by 15mm-thick aluminium plate with a hairline polish finish to match the other Luxman components.
Luxman D-08u digital player
The D-08u is Luxman’s highest-end CD player, also playing SACD discs, and having a fully populated digital input section so that its DAC section is available to external inputs, capable of accepting 32-bit/384kHz PCM and 5.64MHz DSD via USB, or 24-bit/192kHz.
Although Luxman software is available for file playback, in this system a Bluesound Node 2 provides easy access to Tidal (though streaming is, we gather, currently a relatively low priority source for this system).
Luxman C-900u control amplifier
Luxman’s top pre-amplifier, firmly analogue in its inputs (the ‘digital player’ provides the digital inputs), with three line inputs offering balanced and unbalanced connections, as well as an external preamp input and both balanced and unbalanced outputs. Volume control uses the company’s latest LECUA 1000 circuit, with four 88-step fixed-resistance attenuators in parallel.
Luxman M-900u power amplifier (x2)
Two of Luxman’s premier stereo power amps are used to biamp the B&W 800 D3 speakers, the M-900u delivering an unbreakable drive force of 2 x 150W into 8Ω (up to 2 x 1200 W instantaneous maximum output into 1Ω), and the latest version 4.0 of Luxman’s ODNF circuit that performs feedback of only distortion components, the goal being delivery of ultra-low distortion levels.
The installation itself went extremely smoothly, given Nick’s longstanding relationship with Audio Solutions and also his understanding of building requirements.
“One of the first things I told Nick was that dedicated circuits were a must for this system, and he totally understands that,” says Tony. High quality power was further assured by the use of an Isotek power conditioner and Nordost Frey2 power cables to the components.
Having noted some hard surfaces in the room, and a sloping ceiling rising to the left above the system, we asked Tony if it had been difficult to optimise the sound.
“The space was challenging,” he admits, “and the system initially sounded bright. But through hours of listening, trying different tweaks and cables, surprisingly the room really works. The cables, tweaks and power conditioning changed over a few different listening sessions.”
Nick confirms the tweak-fest.
“We had gone through a process of debating various scenarios and combinations before making the easy decision to settle on what we’ve now installed. What did change were the final selections of interconnects, power cables and speaker cables. This was the result of trying numerous combinations to get the richness and full optimisation from the component-speaker pairing.”
“Nick and I finished our last tune over many hours of listening and many glasses of wine...” concludes Tony from Audio Solutions. “Nick was ecstatic with the sound. And now the system has done a few more hours, he is totally over the moon.”
“Transformational,” adds happy owner Nick. “The combination of all elements has revealed sound that I’ve never heard, from both CD and vinyl. The Audio Solutions team did what they always do – deliver painlessly, maintain their interest in the project, always remain accessible and nothing is ever a problem. They are a great team, always good fun to deal with. The result is exceptional. For once I’ve got no new plans, I just need to take a breather and enjoy what I’ve got.”
This system went on to win one of our Sound+Image GOLD Awards, recognising the highest standards of custom installation. And Tony tells us that since we first featured this stereo installation in Sound+Image, Nick has made one further upgrade.
“He’s upgraded his Isotek Mosaic to the PS Audio Power Plant 20,” says Tony. “Made a huge difference, and he’s stoked.”
Luxman PD171A turntable with Jelco arm
Zyx Ultimate 4D cartridge
Luxman EQ500 phono stage
Luxman D-08u cd player
Luxman C-900u preamp
Luxman M-900u power amp x 2
Bowers & Wilkins 800 D3 loudspeakers
Nordost TYR2 speaker cable (high end of speakers)
Wireworld Silver Eclipse speaker cable (bottom end of speakers)
Nordost TYR2 balanced interconnects
Nordost Frey2 power cables
Solid Tech DOS4 isolation feet
PS Audio DirectStream Power Plant 20 power regenerator
Audio Solutions, Mascot, Sydney