Factory: Aqua Acoustic Quality - Italy
Reviewer: Mike Cox - TNT UK
Visit: January, 2012
I have been writing for TNT-Audio for about a year and my first review was of the excellent DAC from aqua-acoustic quality (AAQ). AAQ are a small, two man operation based in the Opera district of Milan run by Stefano Jelo and Cristian Anelli. Since my review Stefano and Cristian have been asking me to visit so they can show off their other equipment and discuss their ideas and pholosphy.
Fortunately for me I live only about 30 minutes from Stansted airport and Ryan Air run flights from Stansted to Milan. I was on the first Ryan Air flight of the day to Milano - Orio al Serio airport at 6.30am so it was a very early departure from home! I do not enjoy the low cost airline flights, they are cramped and with no seat booking it ends up as a bit of a fight to get a seat. The overhead lockers are yellow and the seats black vinyl covered and in my opinion whatever Ryan Air paid their designer for this layout it was 100% too much. On a positive note Ryan Air pride themselves on their on time performance and the flights in both directions were precisely on time.
The Italians are famous for their passion in everything they do, clothes, food, cars, architecture it makes no difference. The design of an object is something Italians put a lot of effort into, I love their furniture so it was exciting for me to visit AAQ to discover their passion for audio and music.
Stefano and Cristian met when Stefano was looking for a CD player and Cristian was selling both a Revox B225 and B226. Stefano was surprised that Cristian sold him the B225 over the more expensive B226 as Cristian believed B225 was a better player. From that first contact the foundations of AAQ were laid. Cristian is the electronics designer and builder while Stefano handles the marketing.
So far the products developed are the La Voce and La Scala DACs with the La Scala being the really high end version with a tube output stage. As well as the DACs they have produced a range of three speakers, Tenore, Contralto and the range topping Mimesis that was used for listening during my visit.
Just launched and used during my visit is the CD Transport using the Philips CD-Pro2 mechanism. The interesting aspect of the this transport, the unusual selling point I am not sure it is unique, is the I2S interface. Both the DAC options now support the I2S interface and AAQ claim it to produce a better sound quality. My limited listening session in the different environment as well as system did show it sounding different, a more detailed and less edgy sound. I am hoping to audition this transport with the La Scala and La Voce DACs in my home system where it will be easier to evaluate the affect on the sound.
Cristian designs most the electronics only using external help for the USB interface. All the electronic boards are assembled by sub contractors with the final assembly and testing done by Cristian.
The €9000 Mimesis speakers are a two way design using the best available drivers. The mid/bass is handled by the SEAS Exotic W8 and the treble by the Beyma AMT technology TPL150. It is these speakers you can see in the picture. It is difficult to give anything but a short summary when listening to new audio equipment in a strange environment. The listening room at AAQ is very reverberant as well as large, it sounds very different to my much smaller listening room. The Mimesis are very fast, the dynamics are amazing and the sound well balanced with no obvious anomalies. The style is different and the finish superb, they easily equal anything on the market at the price point.
In development and used for our listening session is a valve amp using parallel single ended EL34 Svetlana valves. The development model uses dual EL34 per channel but this is under review as the feeling is more power is required. During my listening sessions in the large room power was never an issue with the Mimesis speakers but for wider compatibility more power is going to be better as long as it does not compromise the sound.
All good things come to an end and so after nearly two days I departed along with the new version of the La Voce for review. I cannot thank Stefano and Cristian enough for their hospitality and passionate enthusiasm on all things audio. Please watch TNT Audio for the review of the new La Voce DAC and hopefully the CD Transport with the La Scala DAC.
© Copyright 2012 Mike Cox - firstname.lastname@example.org - www.tnt-audio.com