At the end of September, I traveled to England to attend UK Hi-Fi Show Live 2023, which was held from September 29 to October 1 at the world-famous Ascot Racecourse. There, I met up with UK correspondent Jonathan Gorse, who wrote three articles for SoundStage! Global to cover the show. On October 1, I hopped on a plane to Billund, Denmark, where I was joined by SoundStage! videographers Chris Chitaroni and Jorden Guth. We visited several hi-fi companies in that part of the country and shot some videos for our YouTube channel.
Our first stop in Denmark was at AVA Group, parent company of the Vitus Audio and Alluxity brands. We then made a brief visit to Buchardt Audio to see that company’s facility and drop off a 2020 Product of the Year trophy for their A500 loudspeaker system—COVID-19 lockdowns had prevented us from delivering the award in person until this trip. Next, we visited DALI and then Steinway Lyngdorf, where Steinway Lyngdorf and Lyngdorf Audio design and manufacture their products. Finally, we met with Claus Neesgaard and Lars Risbo of Purifi Audio. We didn’t visit the Purifi facility, which is near Copenhagen, far from where we were staying. Instead, Neesgaard and Risbo came to meet us and conduct a demonstration at our hotel.
Purifi Audio was founded in 2015 by Lars Risbo, Bruno Putzeys, and Peter Lyngdorf—the same Lyngdorf who’s behind Steinway Lyngdorf and Lyngdorf Audio as well as DALI and retailer HiFi Klubben, among other companies. Lyngdorf’s hi-fi zeal is shared by Putzeys and Risbo, who are both engineers with decades of cutting-edge designs. Neesgaard is one of Purifi’s co-owners.
Purifi’s goal has been to improve the state of the art in amplification and transducer technologies, a challenge Purifi’s engineers tackle mainly by pushing distortion to remarkably low levels—lower than what many have considered attainable. The Purifi team has achieved that goal repeatedly, starting with the 2019 release of the 1ET400A Eigentakt mono amplifier module and PTT6.5W04 midrange-woofer, which I first wrote about in June 2020. To demonstrate the amp module, which was designed mainly by Putzeys, Purifi created an ad hoc stereo amplifier, which I managed to get my hands on. For testing and demonstration of the midrange-woofer, Risbo created a loudspeaker platform Purifi named SPK5.
Claus Neesgaard, Doug Schneider, and Lars Risbo
Today, Purifi Audio has many more drivers and amplifier modules, all boasting exceedingly low distortion figures, but it doesn’t offer and doesn’t intend to offer complete components. The company is strictly an OEM supplier; its wares go into other companies’ products. On the first leg of my trip, I listened to speakers infused with Purifi tech. It was an unexpected listening experience.
At the UK Hi-Fi Show, in Ascot, I heard a stunning system in the demonstration room of Boyer Audio, a UK distribution company. It had a pair of loudspeakers up front, the Stella, by the Spanish company Kroma Atelier, about which I knew little but, having heard these speakers, plan to learn more. At the time of this writing, Boyer lists the Stella at £26,950 per pair.
Kroma Atelier speakers’ most distinctive feature is arguably their cabinet material, a sturdy stonelike composite called Krion, composed of natural minerals and resins. The drivers housed in those cabinets are sourced from third-party suppliers. At the heart of the Stella are two 6.5″ Purifi drivers used for the midrange. Between the Purifi drivers is an air-motion transformer (AMT) for the highs, and below is a single 6.5″ Scan-Speak driver for the bass. I asked a Kroma rep why not a Purifi driver for the bass and was told that no suitable low-frequency driver was available from Purifi before the Stella’s design was finalized. But the way this was said lead me to believe that we might see a Purifi bass driver in a future version of the Stella. I didn’t need to ask about a Purifi high-frequency driver—there isn’t any (though one is in the offing, as I was to discover).
Driving the Stellas were extraordinarily expensive electronic components strung together by Shunyata Research’s most expensive cable line, Omega. Powering the speakers directly were Lars mono tube amps from Engström, a Swedish brand best known for its low-power tube designs. Engström also makes a multi-case preamp called Monica, which was in use here too. The Lars amp is specified to output 36W before hitting 1% distortion—not very powerful. In front of the preamp and amps were an Atlantis Reference DAC and Atlantis Reference Server from the Spanish company Wadax. The electronics were all plugged into Shunyata Research power conditioners. Together, the two Wadax components cost as much as a Bentley Continental in the US, more than $200K. With the electronics and cables and conditioners, that’s a half-a-million-dollar setup, at least!
I must say that I can’t see the logic of putting together a system where the least expensive part is the speakers, but I can’t deny that this megabuck system, despite the relatively inexpensive speakers, sounded great—eye-popping, ear-perking, jaw-dropping great. What most impressed me was the midrange, particularly when “The Sound of Silence,” by cover artist The Ghost of Johnny Cash, was played. I was flat-out floored by the robustness and texture of the voice and its in-the-room presence. That striking midband was manifest in other songs, too, as were the depth and tightness of the bass and feathery sweetness of the highs.
Admittedly, I wasn’t familiar with the music playing at the Boyer Audio demo, nor was I familiar with the gear or the room. So, the takeaway from the foregoing account must only be this: I was impressed by what I heard, mostly by the sound of vocals, particularly in “The Sound of Silence.”
At the end of the day, if I had to vote for the best sound at UK Hi-Fi Show 2023, I would have put a checkmark next to Boyer Audio. And I couldn’t help but wonder how much of that sound had to do with the Purifi midrange drivers.
It was about a week later, on our last day of filming, that Lars Risbo and Claus Neesgaard met us at the hotel. They set up a demonstration system in one of the rooms and invited Chris, Jorden, and me for a good long listening session. It was also an opportunity to learn more about where Purifi is now with its products.
For their presentation, Risbo and Neesgaard brought a pair of demonstration monoblocks built around Purifi’s latest amplifier module, the 1ET9040. The 1ET9040 is purported to output around 400W into 8 ohms or 800W into 4 ohms. Being current limited, it doesn’t output twice the power again into 2-ohm loads, but it can still deliver more than 1400W stably. According to Risbo, this new module is not only more powerful than the company’s current 1ET400A module, but it also has lower distortion thanks to some new design tweaks Putzeys has introduced. In a nod to its lineage, the 1ET9040 is informally called “Eigentakt Gen.2.” The monoblocks used in this demonstration were encased in a chassis very similar to that of the original 1ET400A-based demo amp I had received from Purifi.
Purifi’s drivers are co-designed by Lars Risbo and Purifi co-owner Carsten Tinggaard, who has decades of R&D experience with the Peerless, Vifa, and Scan-Speak brands. When I evaluated Purifi’s first driver, as part of the SPK5 loudspeaker, it was married to a Mundorf AMT-type high-frequency driver. Now, with many more drivers in its catalog, Purifi has created the SPK16, a wholly proprietary standmount for testing and demonstration purposes. Outwardly, the SPK16 has a traditional rectilinear form with generously rounded edges and corners, unlike the sharp edges of the SPK5. Internally, the cabinet design is quite complex, the result of meticulous CAD modeling and simulation. And whereas the SPK5 was made mostly from plywood, the SPK16 seemed to be made of thick MDF. Although still at the prototype stage, its crossover external, its cabinet unpainted (I did see a red-painted SPK16 at the Munich High End show in May), the SPK16 looked closer to a finished product than the SPK5 did.
Like the SPK5, the SPK16 is also a two-way design, but it uses a 6.5″ Purifi PTT6.5X04-NAA-08 midrange-woofer on the front baffle, augmented by a 6.5″ Purifi PTT6.5PR-NA2-03 passive radiator on each side. These drivers have the distinctive surround Purifi has become known for—an organic, molten-looking form designed to reduce distortion. But the most tantalizing element of the SPK16, one Neesgaard and Risbo were eager to highlight, is the new PTT1.3T04 aluminum-dome tweeter, which has some novel features that show Purifi to be a serious player in the high-frequency game.
An unusual aspect of this tweeter is its size: 33mm (1.3″) in diameter, not the typical 25mm (about 1″). The larger size, and the commensurately large voice coil, increases power handling, but it also narrows dispersion at higher frequencies. To correct that, Risbo created a three-ring acoustic-lens waveguide (a Coherer, in Purifi’s argot). According to a white paper on the Purifi website, this unique waveguide “shapes the wavefront at the throat to widen the dispersion.” Risbo presented to me measurements and colormap visualizations (see white paper and chart below) that show how wide and even the SPK16’s sound dispersion is across the audible spectrum.
Purifi’s R&D and manufacturing doesn’t extend to digital-to-analog conversion tech, at least not yet. The digital front end in the demo system comprised an Intel NUC computer running Roon Core and a Mola Mola Tambaqui DAC, which Putzeys designed when he worked for Mola Mola in his pre-Purifi days. At $13,400 (in the US), the Tambaqui isn’t cheap, but it is widely considered state of the art.
The Purifi-made cables used in the demo system are not very expensive, but they were designed with special attention to the connectors to optimize signal transfer between components. Cables and connectors are thought by some not to matter much, but considering how low the distortion is in Purifi amps, it’s easy to appreciate the importance of properly terminated cables.
Neesgaard used his phone to play locally stored music and stream music from Tidal, playing some of Risbo’s and his own favorites and then a selection suggested by Jorden and Chris, who left later on to work on our videos. I then got down to business with songs I know well, all streamed from Tidal, to suss out the system’s performance—particularly the SPK16s’.
I began with “Mining for Gold” and “Misguided Angel,” from the Cowboy Junkies’ The Trinity Session. I followed with “Long Time Running,” from the Tragically Hip’s recently remastered Road Apples, and “Pacing the Cage,” from Bruce Cockburn’s The Charity of Night. I next moved to St. Vincent’s “Los Ageless,” from her 2017 album Masseduction and then played that same song from her album MassEducation, which came out a year later. The 2018 album is essentially an all-acoustic remake of the previous release, which is suffused with electronic and synthesized sound. To me, the 2018 MassEducation is the superior album—musically and sonically. Reportedly, it was recorded over two days at Manhattan’s Reservoir Studios, with just St. Vincent (her given name is Annie Clark), vocals, and Thomas Bartlette (a.k.a. Doveman) on piano. “Los Ageless,” on this album, astounded me and the two Purifiers in the room.
The system’s extraordinary sound characteristics were evident in every song we played. My sole criticism is that the SPK16s weren’t reaching below about 30Hz. That hotel room had no acoustic treatment, though, and was far from an ideal setting for a hi-fi demonstration. (But does anyone expect a modest-size, two-way standmount to go down to 20Hz? Hell no!) That said, the SPK16s hit their 30Hz low end with aplomb. They reproduced bass strongly, amply, and in perfect balance with the higher frequencies. The bass was also exceedingly clean, and despite the suboptimal speaker placement in that mediocre listening room, no obvious room modes were present.
At the other end of the frequency spectrum, the highs were so prominent that during one song, I leaned over to Risbo and told him I wouldn’t turn the treble up any higher. But after listening for a while, I’m not sure I’d turn it down either. As pronounced and extended as the upper range was—no one would accuse this speaker of sounding dull—it was perfectly clear.
What struck me most, though, was the level of detail, particularly through the midrange. Vocals popped onto the soundstage with such presence and definition, they had a tangible 3D quality. The soundstage was so deep that during one of the Cowboy Junkies’ songs, Risbo, who’d never heard these songs before, remarked at the incredible sense of spaciousness he felt. I told him I had never heard such clean delineation between Margo Timmins’s vocals and the recording space when listening to this album through any other pair of speakers—at any price.
That intoxicating clarity graced every track. Performers were depicted sharply, distinctly, within the surrounding acoustic space. In clarity, the SPK16s were up there with the best speakers I’ve heard, which made me ponder high resolution. This term usually means a bit depth or sampling frequency (or both) greater than those of a CD (16 bits sampled at 44.1kHz). It is commonly believed that high-resolution files can store and reveal more musical information than CDs can. The recordings played during this demo were all in CD quality, yet the level of detail I heard left absolutely nothing to be desired.
What I saw and heard in England and Denmark piqued my interest so much that even now, back at home, I am still intrigued and intend to investigate Kroma Atelier’s speakers and Purifi’s newest offerings more deeply. Do the other speakers from Kroma Atelier sound as special as the Stella did? What else is in store for us with Purifi’s new 1ET9040 amp module aside from the promise of increased power and lower distortion over its predecessor? How far has the company come with their amplifier design? But it is the SPK16 loudspeaker that I found most intriguing. Purifi drivers are always of much interest, but this spectacular-sounding Purified standmount may well be the reference against which to judge other standmount designs.
. . . Doug Schneider