The Audio Beat – Roy Gregory
National Audio Show 2013 UK
“Z:Axis Audio showed a suitably ambitious system built around a full suite of Japanese-built Concert Fidelity electronics. The DAC040/BD hybrid D/A converter (£7900) is a tube-rectified, tube-output-stage, hybrid design with an internal battery supply for the DAC circuitry. With Red Book conversion, a single S/PDIF input and a single pair of RCA outputs, it might be resolutely old school, but the results were impressive nonetheless. This was teamed with an SPA4C J-FET-based phono stage (£8100) and a 080-LSX2 all-tube line stage (£12,900), driving a pair of ZL-200 MOSFET power amps (£26,300/pair, 180Wpc). The understated elegance of the electronics was matched by their natural and unobtrusive sound, delivering a subtle yet authoritative musical performance from both vinyl and CD. The record player was a rare Sony PS-B80 Biotracer direct-drive deck, its self-balancing tonearm (auto calibrated after every record) carrying an exotic Kondo IO-m cartridge. MBL provided the CD transport in the shape of their expensive (£18,900) Model 1621A, and the speakers were TAD CR-1 stand-mounted monitors (£40,000 including stands).
The system was played somewhat quieter than most, something of a tradition in a room that used to be occupied by Audiofreaks, but given a chance to adjust, the ears soon revealed that the musical integrity and communication on show were also in keeping with the room’s august record of previous “best at show” performances. That rather suggests that the room itself is contributing, but I’d also draw attention to the details of the setup. The whole system was running from a PS Audio P10 Power Plant, while the cables throughout were Z:Axis’s own designs.
But just as significant and in many ways more interesting were the new Mirage racks, again designed and built by Z:Axis. These beautifully presented, furniture-style racks offer a choice of mechanically grounded, energy-dissipation support, or magnetically floated isolation, all within the same elegant structure. They can be daisy-chained sideways to accommodate multi-box systems, and the combination of wood veneers, aluminum trim and the machined undersides on the shelves’ acrylic interface layer, which produces an almost floating, holographic visual effect, is both impressive and attractive. The show being their first outing, precise pricing is yet to be fixed, but it looks like it will lie firmly in the middle ground, above the likes of Hutter or Quadraspire, but well below Stillpoints or HRS. Final judgment will also have to wait until they reach the more controlled environment of the home system, but first indicators are extremely promising, and I’m seriously looking forward to their arrival.
Z:Axis might be a new name in high-end circles, but they’re doing a lot of things right, while their willingness to question conventional wisdom is both encouraging and refreshing. NAS 2013 might not have represented a new dawn, but at least it presented one welcome new face.”