After 30 years of absence, we are about to start marketing a new range of speakers under the new name of Microphase Audio Design (M.A.D. in short...). It will be sold only online with five showrooms around the World where you will be able to listen to them. All products will be limited editions and the first product to be release, the new SAT MK2 pictured, is available through our e-store on this website. Towards December 2016, we will launch a dedicated website for these speakers.
To help you understanding the qualities of these speakers, we have started a new page here where we are documenting our design principles, the process, the measurements and listening test and eventually some testimonials from trusted professionals.
These products are fully manufactured in Australia and will be shipped around the world from here. So, don't be shy, read our story and if you are in Australia or New Zealand, we can organise a listening session in Sydney by prior arrangement. If you are in France or in Europe, stay tuned for an announcement in the coming weeks.
I have been communicating with Raymond for quite some time as he is the lucky owner of a pair of EA12 from my friend and fellow speaker designer Alain Wacquet. Raymond has also been helpful in providing information for my article on Confluence.
He has just posted a comprehensive review of these fabulous speakers on the forum Audio Vintage and has kindly given permission to rewrite and translate his prose in English here.
For those of you who read French and want to read the original post, here is the link:
My notes are in italics in the text below
EA12 presentation by Raymond Lerat - The English version
Raymond Lerat had the pleasure to meet with Alain Wacquet in Nancy chez Audio Video Son in the mid 80s. He found him affable and full of humour with a smile on his face, and passionate about music with a penchant for jazz, and a composer himself, up to this day where he indulges in more esoteric compositions with prepared instruments and noises. He was born near Lille in the Northern part of France, close to the Belgium border. (This is where I met Alain...)
Raymond first interest in presenting these panels to the Forum was to gauge the level of knowledge, interest and exposure that the members of the forum might have with this confidential range of vintage speakers from the early 80s.
Raymond notes that all people he knows who have been exposed to AW speakers were all enthusiastic about them, specially when reproducing jazz ensembles and small classical formations where they excel.
Their main characteristic been described as "energetic", with a real sense of "beeing in the room" and with perfect imaging and spatialisation.
All reports written over the 10 years of research by Raymond have all returned an "enthusiastic" response.
The way Raymond describes his first encounter with AW Audio fells short of a "love at first sight" declaration, but like often, the object of ditto love seems unreachable financially and is left confined to the realm of dreaming...until such a time where it suddenly becomes accessible.
Raymond goes on to describing various experiences with other panels, like Magnepan, Stax, Audiostatic and Quad, products which were not lacking in anything, but which would actually add undesirable things, in his opinion.
With Magnepan for instance at the time, the image of a piano might have been stretched to 15m or so, within an orchestra which would feel like 20m wide, so the proportions of the sonic image was distorted. Inadequate dynamic range, lack of the bottom octaves, short circuit between front and back fields made it near impossible to position the panels for the best results in a given space.
Lansing Trimline, DCM Time Frame, Carver in the US, Phonophone, Triangle in France have tried to use electrodynamic drivers to design such a type of speaker with various degrees of acoustic success, but no commercial one.
Alain Wacquet managed to stay in business for over 10 years, while producing a "haute couture" type of product, made by hand, with love and exceptional craftsmanship, hence expensive.
The objectives and typical qualities of an electrodynamic panel are a credible horizontal and vertical image, with a cylindrical polar response, providing a stable, accurate and homogenous response and image.
The impulse response - slew rate - will have to be exceptional, vastly superior to any other system, with a very good reproduction of timbres, the hallmarks of an acoustic doublet system.
The use of a linear array of mostly identical small full range drivers will provide such result if they are correctly implemented. If not, the result will be like a "sonic porridge" as Raymond nicely puts it.
NOTE: I have found this measurement from a LEEDH Perspective designed by Gilles Millot, using the same driver as a midrange. This shows the exceptional impulse response of the main driver used by AW Audio, a WFR12 from Audax. It is to be noted that 6 12cm drivers have an equivalent surface to a 300m woofer with half the mass...But the resonant frequency would be about double, hence why the lower octave can't be reproduced at the same level as a 300m woofer which fs would be around 30Hz.
Obviously, it will be expected that the lower octaves of the audio spectrum will be somehow reduced in level, but still extremely clean because of the speed provided by the light membranes of the drivers, but also by the acoustical short circuit between the front and rear waves.
Trying to add a subwoofer often results in a bad marriage, which Raymond describes as trying to mate a carp and a rabbit!
Raymond has experimented with electrostatic and isodynamic panels over time but found them lacking inefficiency, and dynamic range, qualities required to give life and freedom to the music, a treat that a boxed system cannot achieve. For these reasons Raymond had abandoned his quest, even though he owned a pair of QUAD ESL 63 in the 80s.
The various advantages of a panel speaker compared to a box speaker
A bit of history - You might want to read my own articles on the timeline of AW Audio
The AW Audio adventure started in 1985 after two years of research prior, resulting in the introduction of the EA12 first panel, then the less expensive EA11 and finally the outstanding EA16 which only 10 pairs have been sold.
Later the EA12 would be replaced by the PA12 and there are a few units of the ultimate Transparence (in Alain's basement...) all this over a 10 year period and through a handful of dealers around the country.
Raymond didn't get a chance to listen to this second generation of panels, which seem to carry the same drivers, although they are no longer locked behind the fabric. (neither did I...)
Obviously, the difficutiles of marketing and selling such a boutique range of products of such high quality, superb finish, designed by a passionate and uncompromising man such as Alain was not a piece of cake, having to abide by the rules of greedy esoteric and high end dealers, (being used to extravagant margins to push such a product and others..)
Raymond goes onto explaining some of the reasons behind Alain's decision to abandon the project although all public demos were all spectacular and well received in comparison with similarly priced products at the time. Essentially, it was extremely difficult to transform all these marketing efforts into sales.
(I have witnessed a number of these demos and they are amongst the best I have ever heard at any price... It took me decades to find something better, and you probably know that I am referring to my friends at Kyron Audio here!)
Raymond goes on to compare the experience of listening to an AW Audio panel to the degustation of a Grand Cru wine, as it stays with you for the rest of your life either on the palate or in your ears. (Obviously, you can rejoice time and time again to the pleasure of listening to a pair of good speakers, difficult and somehow far more expensive to keep drinking bottles of Ducru-Beaucaillou 1982, my all time favourite wine, if you can find some, that is...).
The relation between cost of manufacturing and sale price is quite similar in both cases...
To calibrate the topic, a pair of EA11 cost 15500 francs, EA12 25000 Francs. EA16 50000 francs.
(The dealer was probably buying them for less than half that price, and a pair of EA12 was equivalent to my generous monthly salary at Hewlett-Packard..., so Alain would have to sell at least two pairs a month to barely survive!).
A pair of EA12 was sold at the same price as a pair of Confluence "Pastorale" designed by another atypical engineer, musician, music lover and passionate.
Alain Wacquet had some serious criteria and objectives to design his panels: linear phase, homogeneous polar response, slew rate and extended dynamic range, timbres accuracy and enough bass in such a dipole setup, maybe not as deep as a traditional box speaker, but certainly cleaner in many aspects. The AW Audio panels had very few rivals at the time with these parameters in mind.
Alain has never unveiled anything much about the crossover schematic, nor the treatment of the midrange drivers, but one can see that 8 drivers (WFR12 from Audax) were used in line, the two top ones have some treatment applied and are dedicated to the midrange, the six at the bottom are the bass drivers. A Focal tweeter takes care of the higher frequencies. It is a 2-way electrically but three way acoustically. The coherence and balance of the system are outstanding
(The quality of the voices, male or female and accuracy of the timbres particularly on percussions were astonishing and Alain was a perfectionist when it came to choose the music that would put the best out of his speakers... At some hifi shows where we were both exhibiting, I would sometime abandon my own stand to delight myself in Alain's demos...).
The AW Audio panels are quite easy to set up, specially compared to other types of panels, when it comes to spread and tilt as well as distance from the walls. A reasonable power amplifier is enough as the efficiency of these speakers is around 91db/1w/1m. Even a valve amplifier will be a good match, bringing out all the qualities of the panels on vocals and small musical ensembles.
In a few words, the general impression left by listening to the EA12 is one of balance, with an image as wide as it is high and deep with a great sense of precision, without halo around the instruments, with no listening fatigue.
The differences between live or studio recordings are well articulated as there is no fuzzyness attached, giving the impression of space between the various instruments, what can be expected of a panel speaker versus a traditional cabinet of the same quality.
Percussions are very realistic, the brass are physical, and the strings are very quick, all timbres rendered with accuracy, speed and finesse, the vocals are superb, palpable...
The bass is as speedy as the upper spectrum, there, with a sense of freedom, it breezes...
All listeners agree that, even though the very bottom part of the spectrum is not present, the quality of the bass is second to none, not withstanding much larger box speakers.
Having bought the Confluence "Pastorale" two weeks after getting the EA12, Raymond had extensive comparative listening sessions over the last two years.
The EA12 excel at jazz and classical small ensembles with their imaging, finesse and precision, still providing a big sound even at low volume
On the other hand, the Pastorales are more polyvalent, specially if one listens to pop, rock or soul music..
(I am tempted to disagree with Raymond on this, being a great lover of small speakers, where imaging, precision and finesse are more important than a lot of bass. In many ways, AW Audio and Microphase were very similar in their objectives and were both very accurate and quick, with a great imaging, hence why we became friends quite naturally).
Each speaker brings its own character to the party and that is why so many people design speakers as it is still the realm of some "black magic", definitely an art form.
Raymond goes onto stating that his "graal" for listening at home still favours high efficiency and dynamic range over other criteria, implicitly giving the preference to AW Audio. It is worth noting that the EA12 and the Pastorales are in the same price range, hence there is a valid point in comparing the two systems.
Raymond concludes by saying he was very lucky to find a pair of EA12 to buy, almost 30 years after having first seduced by Alain's demos and contraptions, as most owners of AW Audio panels tend to keep them for themselves. And I would agree with that statement 100%!
A few years back, this gentleman got in touch with me through the AudioVintage forum. He had bought and restored a pair of passive SATs from Microphase. We talked further about where to find a subwoofer to match. And it just happened that my good friend Pierre Bréart, the happy proprietor of Audio Conseil in Uccle, one of the most respected dealers in Brussels, as well as one of my best dealers at the time, had bought one back from a customer. And I just found out that the two got together and clinched the deal! The power of the internet and social media!
You will find below a few photos of the inside of the beast, including Cabasse 21 cm woofer, modified SAT active amplifier and connectors. And to help this particular fellow and happy new owner of this very rare piece of French Vintage Hifi, I have put together a wiring schematic for his new hybrid system. Very few of these subwoofers were made, so it was quite a surprise for me to find one in such a good condition. When I first got photos from Pierre, I actually didn't remember producing this particular product. So here it is for posterity!
Leon Suter and Lee Gray of Kyron Audio were kind enough to spend a few hours listening to my vintage contraptions, aka my Microphase speakers. My current subwoofer is slightly bigger than the original and now sports a 10" XXLS from Peerless with its own 200w amplifier, and the tweeter now upgraded to a 1" VIFA.
Electronics include a NAD preamp, Bryston 3B amplifier and OPPO player. The Bryston feeds the satellites directly and the preamp drives the Bryston AND the subwoofer's amp separately. I found that setup to give the most control on one end and the best sound out of the satellites, as they are not filtered at the bottom end.
I hope they will leave their own comments below, and without wanting to reveal too much of their reactions, I was pretty chuffed when they said that these speakers "would have created quite a sensation" at the time!
Quite not big enough obviously, but what not cease to amaze me is that after 30 years, they still sound as accurate and dynamic as they were then. Some might say than they have been truly broken in by then...
We listened to Alchemy Live by Dire Straits , Modern Cool by Patricia Barber on Blu-Ray, Anouar Brahem, The Astounding Eyes of Rita on ECM and an historic recording of Bill Evans, Live in Paris, 1972 Vol 2 recorded by Radio France at the time and pressed by the Institut National de l'Audiovisuel (INA) in 1988. we also listened to a famous French percussionist Jean-Pierre Drouet, a digital file kindly "loaned" to me by Alain Wacquet of AW Audio fame. Lee is a percussionist himself, Leon a clarinetist, btw, so he could really appreciate the soundscape!
We had a great time and I had to push them out of the door as they had a plane to catch back to Melbourne.
Thank you guys, it was good to have you in my patch this time!
One of my friend and ex-HP colleague is selling his system after 25+ years of good service, because it is supposedly too big for his new "maison de campagne"...
And I thought we had designed it to be the most "WAF" friendly system on the Planet!
"Des gouts et des couleurs, on ne discute point"...
So, if any of you dear readers are interested in a pristine Triton passive system at a bargain price, here is your chance!
If I were not so far away, I would buy it myself, as I do not have this system in my collection. Being in Australia would probably cost me more in shipping than the gear itself, although I am tempted!
Anyway, to do justice to the product and help out my friend Philippe, I have posted a review of this wonderful triphonic system as an add-on to a previous post featuring the active version of this magnificent piece of french vintage hifi!
You will find the review written by Patrick Vercher in the now defunct "Revue du Son" here:
Any enquiries are welcome via our "contact" form
Bruno Gest has been at it for over 25 years and I have spent an inordinate amount of time there in the 80s, investigating drivers, buying samples and components or just listening to the wonderful contraptions Bruno and his team created month after month.
At that stage, they were very much into horns and Fostex drivers, but also keen suppliers of drivers and kits from Audax and Siare, then Focal, and now Atohm, PHL Audio and Davis Acoustics.
I had met Herve Breton on the Atohm stand in 2010, but didn't get a chance to visit the Paris store. In October 2011, I was not going to miss out again...Situated in the 11th arrondissement at 138 Avenue Parmentier, you can find here a very large assortment of drivers, primarily of high efficiency or/and full range variety, components like inductances, capacitors and resistors as well as accessories like wires, connectors, vents, and also full kits to build your own speakers.
In one word, this is the Ali Baba cavern of the speaker DIYer, and also a plave where one can discuss designs, tricks of the trade or simply share a good listening session and enjoy the camaraderie and the knowledge of the people which is the trademark of the place.
Luckily enough on the day of my visit, Bruno walked in about 15mns after me, and once we had reconnected, Bruno surprised me with two things: one, a smaller version of our Microphase SATs that we thought we would market years ago, and two, amazingly a very rare prototype of our SATs, as we probably made 10 pairs to test the waters before going full speed. Bruno had bought them back from a client - I thought I had given him a pair at the time, but not...
Note the smaller cabinet, the off the shelf drivers and vent, and the first order crossover. also the cabinet maker could not make the chanfreined cabinet, so you can see the edge of the plywood on each corner.
Although quite elegant, it is nothing compared to the shear beauty and perfection of the final cabinets manufactured for us by Jean-Paul Guy of GUY HF in Bourbon-Lancy, now part of the Focal empire!
Over the years, our bespoke medium driver has been modified and upgraded and as a result, the later versions are more durable than the original ones.
The main difference is in the suspension: originally we had a foam suspension, supposedly more linear in the midrange.
However, we changed later for a inverted rolled rubber, more linear in the bass, and with very little audible difference (if any...) in the midrange.
I have come across recently two pairs equipped with the foam suspension, and the photos speak for themselves...
If you are in possession of such a pair, don't dispair!
Our friends at www.audiovintage.fr have found three potential repairers in Europe.
I am publishing the corresponding links here:
http://www.public-adress.fr/th-prod-205 ... rleur.html
http://www.reparationhaut-parleur.com/p ... itures.htm
In The Netherlands:
http://www.speakerrepairshop.com/index. ... 15&lang=EN
We will have soon some feedback from the owner of a pair who is using this company to repair his. Stay tuned!If you are in France, I would be tempted to use the official Audax repairer, but obviously, I have not try any of them, so you are on your own, I'm afraid!
Well, this is not MY reference system...
But it was certainly very adequate to listen to the new Martin Logan Ethos!
Thanks to the very friendly and knowledgeable team of my friend Adam Carlino at AudioConnection, I think I was the first person in Sydney at least to have the chance to listen to these fabulous speakers.
I will summarise my findings by saying it is the first time I am considering upgrading from my cherished Microphase speakers in the last 25 years...(yes, I know, I am biaised!)
But let's start at the begining:
I currently use a REGA P1 (in its NAD jacket...) with the new RB250 arm(I also have a REGA P3 - vintage 1984...currently on loan to my daughter) and a recently acquired Ortofon RED MM cartridge feeding a NAD 7140 receiver (1984 vintage) used only as a preamp/FM Tuner and then into my Bryston 3B (1994 vintage).
I use a Pioneer DVD/SACD player as a digital source.
I also recently got an iPhone than I am keen to try as a pure digital source.
I have been very happy with this system for many a year and even after visting the HiFi show in Paris, I didn't find anything that took my fancy at a reasonable price.
I have been investigating upgrading my preamp and am considering buying either a NAD C165BEE (#1500$) or a Bryston BP26 with a MM phono stage (#5000$ for comparable features).
So the question is: Is it worth spending an additional 3500$ to get a complete Bryston amplification, or should we spend that money on upgrading the front-end, namely the turntable?
Obviously, it is only by trying the different combinations that you might be able to find the answer, and this is almost impossible to achieve as it would be almost impossible to find all this gear at ONE dealer, willing to spend the time to put such a system together with the hope that one might something out of this exercise.
My ideal and theoritical reference system today would look like this this:
Michell Orbe turnable with Origin-modified Rega RB250 (as the one fitted on the rega P1/NAD555), probably fitted with a Grado Platinum (6500$)
Bryston BP26 with external power supply, remote control and phono stage (4500$)
Bryston 3B power amp
Martin Logan Ethos (10000$)
Total price of the upgrade: 21000$
My second choice would be to upgrade my Rega turntable with Isokinetic kits and arm using Origin Live mods and Grado Platinum cartridge, a new C165BEE NAD preamp, my current Bryston 3B amp and Microphase speakers - that would cost me around 3000$ and would probably satiate my appetite for a better system for many years to come. And that is a 700% price difference!
Will I get a 700% improvement in my listening pleasure???
I let you be the judge...
In the meantime, my current system is MY reference system as I know perfectly all its weaknesses and strengths and this is totally adequate to review other systems against it
BTW, the Martin Logan Ethos are the best value for money speakers I have ever listen to and they provide REAL music and enjoyment:
It was really fabulous to see the expression of surprise and delight on my dealer's face as we listened together to a live recording of "Private Investigations" from an old Dire Straits album called "Alchemy" and my best test record...
It was recorded in 1983 on a Rolling Stone mobile studio and is a magical piece of music, engineering and it was (unknowingly at the time...) my first encounter with Australia, as Brett Whiteley, one of the most famous Australian painter, did the artwork for the cover.
Brett Whiteley in this particular work could be labeled as the Aussie Salvator Dali, my most favourite artist of all times (Album Vertigo VERY 11 #818 243-1)
Just found out that this is now available as a DVD/Blu-Ray album (http://www.mark-knopfler.info/d2010.htm). My birthday is coming soon...
I will be in Paris next week-end to visit this Exhibition which is a staple on the calendar of French and some european HiFi freaks, and it has been going for over 25 years, still with the same organisers, SPAT and Jean-Marie Hubert, already at it when I was presenting our Microphase speakers in the mid-eighties!
Passion just doesn't go away that easily, and they say, you can't take the spots of a leopard!
If you happen to be there, I will love to meet with you and have a chat about the topics we discuss here and beyond.
I am also interested in buying back some Micrphase speakers, in particular the central subwoofer part of our Triton system (I will post on this product when in Paris, as I will have access to one at a friend's place...) and also, some of the active versions of the SATs, once very poular in Germany and Norway (The Norvegian Radio was a big fan!) and the quite rare black piano lacquer version.
I will be in Paris until the 22nd of October, so plenty of time to do a deal!
I will also use some of my time to visit some of the best dealers in Paris or nearby (Denis Beau, Le Studio Hifi in Versailles, will be one of them) with the intention to report on the evolution of the most enduring French Hifi manufacturers, like Triangle, Jean-Marie Raynaud, Cabasse, Elipson, Davis, Supravox and more...
Your suggestions are welcome and I will try to fit them in.
See you in Paris!
Born in France, well travelled, relocated to Sydney in 1997.