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Strata Mini Loudspeaker from AV123


Like with any journey one can never begin to appreciate the rewards of finding “the end” (or the true meaning) without a reasonable explanation of how one arrived at the destination.

I’m going to offer my very best abridged edition of how I arrived at “the end”, and in doing so hopefully meet the challenge of explaining the “how” and the “why”… The Mini like all of the Strata Series is my very best work to date. I’m only one small piece of this puzzle, and I look forward to introducing all of you to the people that will make these products possible… They deserve all of the credit.

I’m not at all sure how many parts this will be… I’m just beginning at the beginning and letting it flow…

Part One…

… are you like me? Do you save the best bite for the appropriate moment? Whenever I eat lasagna I sort of plan it — bite for bite, morsel for morsel. I REALLY enjoy it all as the flavours mix and mingle in a way that is so damn satisfying. The cheese, the pasta, the meat sauce in between (did you honestly think that I would eat Vegetarian Lasagna)… all of the textures and the tastes blending into a happy cacophony of an outcome I so very much enjoy. Good eating, like good other “stuff” is an art form all to itself… and I LIKE practicing.

Living well… playing well, even eating well… all of them are things we desire. What about listening well and placing your primary sensory needs into that list. I LOVE “listening well”… and just like GREAT food, we can learn to appreciate different forms of the art. The very first time I ate a Jean Banchet meal at Le Francais (in Wheeling, Illinois) I thought wow, this is just amazing… and it was. A lovely side bar to that “first time” was that I hosted this meal for the late/grate Burt Whyte (of Audio Magazine fame) and his wife, along with B.V. (Barney) Pisha, and Dr. Noburo Tominari, Founder of Dynavector Systems, Japan. That first time was a meal to remember… and I will never, ever forget it. Oh, yes… my point — well hang in there… it will become very clear in just another moment or two.

From that first bite I knew I was in for something special. Every texture magnificently put together for our enjoyment… each bite a new surprise… all of it was a slice of varying degrees of magic. I thought, well… this was “it”. Ah, so this is what the French keep talking about… food to awaken your senses… and then someone invited me to the original Spago, and as luck would have it I was treated to a new and equally exquisite gastronomy and I fell in love all over again with the enchanted cuisine of one Wolfgang Puck. The blending and “bending” of ingredients made me only want more. The subtle mixed with the not-so-subtle was a pleasant surprise… almost startling was his expression of the art. Even simple food like pizza took on new elements that startled and delighted. Shall I go on… well, on to the point.

The very first time I had a chance to listen to a World Class mini-monitor work it’s cohesive magic on my brain and senses was all the way back in 1973, and “it” was the original Rogers LS3/5A… Boy oh boy was I hooked, this was “it”… I could hear into the music for the first time… The walls disappeared and I was able to reach in and become part of the music. The speakers were simply not there, but the music was. And it was perfect, or at least I thought it was… Of course when the first real bass note was struck, the speaker f*rted… (sorry, but this is the perfect term for what I heard and felt)… it became grossly distorted and horribly disfigured… Dang… I thought I had found “it”… Later I came to discover that I had indeed found “part” of IT. The search continued.

Then I had a chance to listen to and get my head around the GREATEST of all of the early day (halcyon days if you will) designs… The Infinity Servo-Statik One, with it’s own 15″ woofer and Servo-Controlled Bass Cube. Life was good, it played bass (damn it) and I could hear it all. And then I had figured that THIS is “it” — I found what I’ve been looking for… and just as I said that one of the midrange panels (early electrostatic designs courtesy of the then RTR) blew itself up into a blue flash… My Mother wanted me, and THAT SPEAKER out of her house. (Ah, those were the days)… But my personal learning curve had started taking better shape. I was beginning to figure out what “I wanted” in a loudspeaker design. It was on to the next step now…

With The Servo’s (the early nick name for these guys) I could for the very first time hear “through the music”… The way the Electrostatic Panels “revealed, or exposed the information” was a revelation. The detail and the precision were all there (at modest volumes), but at last I could really sense the “texture” of the instruments… Not just play it, but also, actually “hear it” illuminated in a very nak*d sort of way. The first time I heard Burt Bacharach’s famous The Look of Love (Dusty Springfield’s original version) through these speakers I almost wet my pants (by the way… the much more recent Jacintha version on First Impression Music is one to own and cherish)… it was JUST THAT EXCITING…

The big problem in those days of course was how to “mate up” the ponderous and ferocious 15″ Servo Woofer system with the speed and dexterity of these Midrange and High Frequency elements. This was forever the Yin and Yang of this product… So s*xy and sweet, but so “heavy and slow” down low… Dang… but my learning curve was further forming and coming together in my own head. I could almost hear (imagine) what I wanted… If only…

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Then, the last piece of this puzzle presented itself. I heard for the very first time the Quads (or should I say Quad) at Mel Schilling’s Music and Sound of California, a bastion of great equipment in “the early days” and I store I helped open for Mel as his Manager all the way back in the mid 70’s… Mel exposed me to the magic of a single Quad Electrostatic Loudspeaker and my journey took on a new and very poignant meaning…

This speaker “talked to me”… rattled my soul and shook my brain… YES, even a single one (in full living MONO). I didn’t know what to think when I heard it for the very first time, but I knew I was in the presence of “magic”… THAT midrange magic was one I would listen for with every speaker I came in contact with… I would continuously try (with other speakers) to find the path to “listen into” the music the way the QUAD just beckons you in. Like nothing in the world… ( ? )…

Alas, the Quad as mystical and (here’s that word again) magical as it was (is)… it too suffered from being unable to produce the low frequencies with any sort of authority (notice I didn’t say definition) at all… and as Arnie always taught me long ago, begin with the bass and midbass and be damn well sure you have this sorted, as without it, you have no fundamental, and without THAT… you do not have the heart and soul of the music. I have found this advice to be completely and utterly correct as I continued my search… even here today. Get it right “downstairs” and build the foundation correctly and in doing so… you will allow the rest of the speaker to “proud” and “righteous”…

Part Two

So here we are… Allow me an indulgence or two (“why and how”) while I explain a bit more about this journey. You see, I’ve been traveling down this road for a heck of a long time… and I’d like to offer all of us a GOOD, L O N G libation… may I? It’s going to taste good, and it’s going to satisfy in a way that will bring a smile to your face every time you “drink from this shapely jug”… Sounds like BIG FUN to me…

Lets look at “why”, shall we? This is almost elemental to my purpose… and at it’s core, why av123 exists. Answering the why part of this equation unlocks a door to my personal make up, my audio DNA, my joyful and very happy self I found many years ago, and that I’ve become comfortable with over time. Simply put, I’m on a Mission (I know… please stop laughing — I’m not hovering over a workstation and trying to steal code with sweat pouring off my kisser — bosso, I’m getting ready to hug you man)… I believe that making good (even great!) audio affordable and reliable is basic “food” for me. I truly desired the sound of The Mini for myself (for sure)… but also for all of you. The Mini is oh-so sweet and yet absolutely s*xy (all at the same time), with an elegance attached that cannot be described by mere words (think Jennifer Garner). I know to many this will sound like pure hyperbole, but to me… this is a nexus of sorts, a link if you will… that will bridge a gap between the digital and analog camps that I’ve been privileged to be a major part of. I have a dream, and this series of product allows me to fulfill that dream in a very real and remarkable way.

Now don’t get me wrong… The Mini is not going to solve the world’s ills (wish it could)… but it will become something very strong and very real in your lives. It will tell (you) a story every time you press the Start Button on your playback system. Whether it’s Jazz or Blues — Beethoven or Sting — or the London Symphony at the Concertgebouw with “Sir Colin” doing his thing… The Mini will do “her thing” in an exquisite sort of way. She will sequence herself into your life in a beautiful and quite telling way. This pleasure will carry no pain (except the credit card bill on the front end) with it, just a beautiful noise that will take you away every time you turn her on.

When I first started working on this project I did not have the final drivers like I have now… but “it” (the system concept) wrapped itself around my cerebellum in a way I had never experienced… I LONGED to listen to this transducer. There was a pleasant synergy between the listener (that would me) and this speaker. It felt right, it combined all of the parts of the puzzle from my journey into a nicely scaled package that was super easy to drive, and because The Mini is NOT a dipole — was remarkably easy to place. I LOVE Dipoles as all of you know… but in this size and scale a Dipole will not work well as it could have trouble coupling itself to the room and giving you a believable “null point”… When The Strata Grande happens (congratulations, DOJ and Randy Marcoot) you will know EXACTLY what I’m talking about by it’s shear ability to create that “null point” and open up into the room (positive produced waveforms and negative produced ones as well) creating space and energy as ONLY the greatest loudspeakers can (think Genesis… think Arnie Nudell). But that’s for another time and place.

… do you all know how Doctors almost always make you wait? This device will NEVER make you wait for it… she’ll always be waiting for you… I guarantee that. The “why” was simple for me, I wanted to fulfill a dream, but the “how”… well that was a wee bit more complicated… and DAMN did I ever have to wait. Almost thought it might not ever happen…

How to build a World Class Loudspeaker on a less than World Class “Cost Of Good Sold” has turned into a bit of a Master Thesis for me. You start by asking some of your very best friends for help. Turned out they were only waiting for me to ask… Then, you have to hope that the raw material guys would cooperate — and they did this in spades — and then we needed to be able to actually build the darn thing. Hey, I’m an owner in a speaker factory… Heck, I’ll just ask my partners to do this one for ole’ mls. They surprised me by actually agreeing to everything I needed (and then some) to allow me to create a product and build it on a small scale, but price it (internally) like we were going to build 10,000 pairs of these the first year (hardly). We pulled a play from the Porsche / Audi playback… We used our very best parts from our component bins, and in some cases, we even asked our vendors to build some special ultra-high performance parts for our Little Lady… Everyone was cool… so it was Game On all the way.

Some of the Key, Critical Components include…

The built in Class A/B 350-watt amplifier for the woofer is from the RS1K

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The 8″ woofer itself (that wonderful mass-loaded wonder) is also from the RS1K

The miraculous 5.25″ Athom mid-bass coupler is from our old friend, The ONIX REF One (slightly tweaked for this purpose)

The 10″ Planar Magnetic Midrange is from the one and only Bohlender Graebener… These are the folks that make all of the PM drivers for the likes of Genesis… need I say more

… and our surprise in the group is the “Jet-like”, Pleated, Planar Magnetic tweeter from our own OEM source here in China that makes the ribbon “tweets” for some of the most famous brands in the audio industry — they went along and even helped out in several places when I told then what my marketing plan was for The Mini…

And lastly I asked our own staff here in China to build the very best chassis we can possibly build, and do it in limited numbers… sort of our very own “coach-works”… like the great Italian automobile factories of a day gone by. Limited, Exclusive… and built in very small quantities by a tightly knit group I hand selected over here… These are MY Guys… so get ready to see, touch and feel something special… 25 pairs per month… that’s IT!

Are you getting the picture, am I in focus… (yikes, I’m ugly)… but The Mini most assuredly isn’t… The why is cool… but the how is really all about a dedicated group of people that want to be (CARE to be) a part of my dream. I’ve invited them in, asked them for help… and each of them has played a key role in making this happen… SO MUCH MORE TO SAY… but I guess I better start to head for “the sound”… and how this lady makes herself heard when there are so many handsome guys in our group… Who sings the best… well, that’s next.

Mark Schifter

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