The “Thrax Audio” Story
Exclusive interview with Rumen Artarski from Thrax Audio
An essential reading for any high-ender, audiophile and hi-fi enthusiast. You’re invited to dig deeper into the audio realms with Rumen Artarski, the owner and CEO of Thrax Audio.
How it all started and what was the reason for you to enter the high-end audio industry?
It all started a very long time ago in the early ’80s. My family had just returned to Bulgaria after a few years of living in Mexico. I was a kid but my brother is a bit older. So I brought back my comics collection and he brought back a very good record collection. In those days in Bulgaria, there was no freely available western music of any kind, but instead, a very well organized black market. My brother was busy enjoying life while all my friends wanted a cassette recording of some of his records, so that was the start. Recording to cassettes and charging for the service, then realizing I could have a master on 1/4” tape and still sell the record as pristine and so on.
This called for better gear and this was the start. In the 90’s I moved to Denmark where I was a student at the Danish Technical University. It ended up I was not as clever as I wished and instead of studying hard, I got sucked by the activities of the local audio community. At this time Denmark was being established as one of the main innovators in the audio field.
Lots of people were active in developing new gear and staring on new brands. This led to my second business en-devour in audio. I was buying second-hand audio gear from the Copenhagen area shipping it back to Bulgaria and selling it there and with the money I was buying tubes from the TV repair
This escalated to a sizable business that my brother opened a shop in Sofia to sell all the gear I was shipping. Raising a bit of capital got us started with some of the new Danish brands. By that time I knew by heart all the models with spec and prices of most of the gear sold on the Danish market over the last 10-15 years. At this time I got more and more interested in the records and how they are made, so my dream became to go to London and study for a record engineer /producer. By that time it was obvious I was not gonna be a dull engineer drawing stuff all day or coding in assembler.
At that time Paul Messenger was writing for a British magazine called Studio Sound and there I saw my future. The School of Audio Engineering in London.
A few shakes of a tale later I was there mingling with wannabe musicians and others like me. Quickly disappointment settled in. The guys that were teaching me knew nothing of good sound and how to get it. Most of all no one cared. They were creating their unique “sound” by copying the setting of an effect processor from another studio they visited and so on.
Everyone wanted to be a star with no clue how. Damn my plan was failing and I needed to do my move, so I left SAE and went to another college in London that had just started to offer advanced production courses for audio, it was called Alchemea.
Visiting the location of the studio I met the most diverse and interesting crew ever. The company was started by 3 guys with expertise in different fields that could not be more different in character and knowledge. So I jumped straight into recording on location and in-studio, editing, and post-production. Guided mostly by a gentleman called John Lundsten. Master of anything to do with sound recording and editing, acoustics, and who knows what else.
Me being fresh from the technical university still with some memory of the classes in acoustics and electronics was perceived as one-eyed among blind and I got an invitation do help with the design and installation of some new recording and postproduction facilities. I was wiring mixing desks and designing the room acoustics together with the monitoring system. John was used to the Tannoy monitors but me coming from Denmark immediately seized the opportunity to shine and pointed to the super unknown danish brand Dynaudio. At this time they sold drivers and kits. I purchased some of those and started the construction of the first Dynaudio based studio monitoring system.
Project after project until realizing I was doing all the equipment specs for the studios and was making a lot more money from the gear than from my engineering service. Then that was it. In perfect timing one of our equipment suppliers called me and asked me to work for them as “system specialist” and they take care of all the gear imports.
At this stage, I started my first official company in the UK. In the late 90s, more and more business was coming from my home country and I set a company there as well going back and forth every month, still running the hi-fi imports business in parallel with my brother but now distributing several well-known brands. In 1999 I was practically most of the time in Bulgaria when the final decision came to settle for good. Then News Corp contracted me to build them a complete TV station in Sofia and that put the end to any doubts.
In the following years building TV stations and studios financed the hi-fi retail business and it moved from hi-fi to high end to the absurd end of it. I had a shop with 4 purposebuilt acoustically treated rooms and a dedicated home cinema with 3chip DLP projector room correction and so on.
We were importing products from over 70!!! companies. Horns, Electrostats, miniature, wood, metal all kinds of speakers, tube solid-state, digital amplification you name it. As soon as something notable made it to the show in London or Frankfurt it was in the shop immediately. Having installed, listened, and repaired so many products the search was on for the ultimate leading to the disappointment of seeking the unobtainable. Then the idea of copy the best invent the rest came to be and the first project was to do a remote-controlled tube preamplifier to get the most out of my silver transformer Kondo amp and Wavac monoblocks.
So this was the stage where I hired an engineer with 35 years of experience in tube gear design and maintenance to run the project. Setting a no-limit budget got us buying all the most exotic parts you can think of and some you can’t even think of.
Naively the first prototype was played on the launch in our shop of the most expensive system at the time with a Wilson Alexandria X-1 driven by Wavac HE-833Mk2 4 chassis monoblocks and 3 chassis preamps Continuum Caliburn with Koetsu Onyx and DCS digital front end. Putting the prototype in the system got me 3 orders from the people in the room. And this is when the trouble began. I had to deliver!
Why the name Thrax Audio?
On a trip in wine country in the Thracian valley I stopped to see some of the unearthed Thracian tombs and was stunned by the beauty and detail in the treasures found there, so in the evening googling details about notable Thracians I noticed a bunch of names like Maximinus Thrax and others that attracted my attention. It ended up Thrax was how the Romans were referring to the people coming from this region. (Thrace) It meant “Thracian”.
So it was logical for me to call my electronics Thracian as I wanted my products to be timeless objects of beauty. So Thrax was chosen as the company name.
Who was and perhaps still is your biggest inspiration?
Quite a few to be honest. I am inspired by some products because of industrial design, by others because of ingenuity and third because of sophistication of the execution.
Living in Denmark, of course, I was exposed to the local products first, so the biggest impression design-wise was the Primare 928 series just to be eclipsed by the 200 series designed by Bo Christensen. There has not been anything like it since.
Another favorite piece of Danish design is the Gryphon XT /Antileon combo. Sonus Faber Extrema is another super example of transcendent industrial design as are the Wavac HE series power amps and some of the Nakamichi electronics. Somehow the Danes got the bug in me for simple clean lines and I still don’t dare go out of this “style” for the Thrax products.
As to electronics design, I am a big fan of the super simple signal path. Probably one of the most inspiring personalities in this area is Nelson Pass and some of the work he has done. But Thrax is known for tubes and here Western Electric had the right approach and all they developed is “clever”. You can see it was done by intelligent people solving problems that others could not even identify.
A lot of thinking was done about synergy. Sakuma in Japan had some very interesting ideas and those had to be investigated as Tamura transformers he used were among the best sounding you can get. So he knew something we didn’t.
Now there is no strict solid-state or vacuum tube camp anymore. We have accumulated experience with all technologies and freely mix and match to get what we want. But an open mind gives you insight into the technology that is not audio-related but very useful.
I am impressed also by-products like Devialet. The overall concept of integration and design is exemplary. The end result is outstanding for what it is. As was the first TACT digital amplifier the M1 20 years ago. You can see knowledge at work. It is inspiring.
There are products I admire for the way they are put together. This is usually the part not visible by the client, so it says a lot about the values of the people behind the product. Once you see that the design team tough of each and every bit that goes in the assembly and all is self-explanatory as to purpose and function then you know the product has no shortcomings. (well at least they did what was considered the best to their knowledge). A good example would be Studer 816 tape machine vs a Sony APR-5000. Technologically they are about the same. Open the Studer and you see everything is in order and cleanly presented. Open the Sony and it looks like a birds nest. That said the Sony sounds better but I don’t get pride of ownership and you can clearly see 2 teams worked on the thing in a hurry.
Do you consider yourself as an audiophile?
I listen to music every day both for work and for pleasure. I love finding new music and discovering new artists, but I am probably screwed up in a way now as I also listen to the tone, timbre, and dynamics and the way the record was made. There is a lot of badly recorded good music and beautifully sounding bad performances. But I am no critic, now with the streaming services like Tidal and Qobuz I find something new each day.
So yes I am an audiophile. If it doesn’t sound good to get me to enjoy it, I don’t then spend time listening. I don’t sing under the shower but installed a sound-absorbing ceiling to get rid of the echo in the bathroom. You be the judge.
Is there a difference between the music lover and the audiophile?
Music lovers like the music and they follow lyrics, melody, and rhythm, we audiophiles can’t live without the rest of the message.
Think of it this way. You go and watch a Shakespeare play because of the message and the artists’ performance while you go to the cinema and watch a Luckas or Cameroon movie because of the mind-blasting experience. It is a different thing.
Kindly list the current Thrax Audio product line?
Not an easy one. Thrax has a very wide portfolio of products spanning from source to loudspeakers. Probably in the high end only Goldmund, Linn, McIntosh, and Luxman cover the full range like us. Let us try this historical approach:
Each Thrax product was designed as my take on what the best incarnation should be, so it followed the logic of my needs. The first product was the Dionysos line-level preamplifier having all the features I wanted in one unit that used the best possible attenuation and single tube gain stage. Quickly following was the Orpheus phono stage featuring LCR equalization, a built-in step-up, and multiple inputs with settings memory. Nothing like it was available at the time (now, not sure) and the third piece was the Spartacus power amp. Based on a Western electric concept taken to the extreme.
I had no further plans, but the exposed tubes and top caps of the Spartacus were not widely accepted by the general public and we needed a tubeless amp. This prompted the development of the Heros. How do you make an amplifier sound like the Spartacus but use no tubes? It was a no go. Heros actually still uses a tube and transformer coupling but the output devices are “enslaved” Mosfet acting like an output tube. Great product running true Class A and delivering the Thrax experience to Tubophobics.
Then the call for more power came from Magico and Dynaudio users and we developed the Teres by still using a tube but getting rid of the output transformer at the expense of a second output stage allowing more current. With the amplification sorted next logical step was to add digital front end and the Maximinus was born as a no hold classic R2R DAC where we initially based it on the world-leading MSB Diamond DAC.
As in house R&D progressed we replaced with our own development to bring out the current MK2 version. To demonstrate the abilities of our electronics we introduced a reference speaker design known as the Lyra. Lyra is a speaker like no other presenting tonal clarity and dynamics experienced only with large horns to the mortal users. It is a smack in the face when firs experienced. But to earn the respect of the “immortals” we added the Bassus motional feedback add on system making it unique and unbelievable full range speakers system.
After a few years of collaboration with some of the best minds in turntable design, the addition of the Yatrus direct drive turntable completed the range.
We refer internally to the above products as the Reference series.
Another development direction for us was to do a distilled version of our know-how in an all in one device. It was a tough one and in the end, we launched two devices instead. A tube and a solid-state version with the same functionality, DAC and phono stage but in different technology.
Enyo and Ares are a Thrax in a box delivering performance above and beyond most separate systems at a cost of a single component. Just have a peek inside an Enyo and you will see what I mean.
10 years down the road came to the turn to do a rework of the Spartacus and the Spartacus 300 was born. Same topology many improvements and no exposed tubes. The matching line stage was planned and introduced as the Libra. Libra like the venerable Dionysos is a unique product with construction, features, and sound like no other. Those two are our Statement products showing the state of our technology and manufacturing skills.
As I have 4 people doing the only R&D expect lots of new and interesting products to come. I think in 10 years for a privately funded company we are doing quite well and the number of products in our portfolio is really opening opportunities for future developments. As you would have noticed each product is a unique design and architecture with no scaling or simplifying for cost-cutting. Each is designed to fill a particular niche in the best possible way. I am not aware of another company with a similar approach.
Thrax Audio become one of the more known brands in the high-end audio industry in a relatively short time. What would you say is the reason behind this breakthrough?
Designed by audiophiles for audiophiles and very fair value. Our products offer features and sound appreciated by experienced audiophiles and most of our clients initially were industry professionals. Of course, we got a lot of feedback from them and each of our products has had a couple of revisions to make them mature by now. The fact is that not much comes on the second-hand market showing that Thrax is a destination brand. We also can service even the first unit made, so this gives a lot of confidence to users.
Please tell us more about your production facility…
Born out of necessity. The Dionysos industrial design concept was done by the architect of my house Mr. Atanas Panov. Top of its game here. The curved contours of the front panel proved to be a serious challenge for the processors of most of the CNC machines used by subcontractors. Our assembly tolerance was 2/100th of an mm to make it feel seamless.
Making one is not a problem but making ten proved to be, so out of necessity I ended up at the door of a German company making milling machines used to make the aluminum laptops. They produced a perfect sample, so I ended up buying the machine and the software thinking problem solved just to find out the next issue will be anodizing and so the story goes until all processes involved in the making of a Thrax chassis are under the same roof. We still face problems with aluminum consistency but for know no plans for aluminum mine :).
I have invested in machinery that exceeds the current need of the company allowing for unhindered growth. But I think it is a wrap now with 2x 5-axis machines, 2 vacuum clamping milling machines and 2x lathe/mill centers as well as a dual laser engraver, 5 axis waterjet, grinding, blasting and anodizing line. Maybe we get a 3D and a UV printer and that is it.
I never wanted to be a mechanics manufacturer but being in Bulgaria I could not find a suitable subcontractor. Now I hear the problem is almost everywhere. One word for all contemplating doing the same – DON’T DO IT!!
You have a rare luxury of producing almost everything in-house. Is this a big advantage in the current times?
In the house, manufacturing is a 2 edged sword. It is very advantageous as to development time and the ability to run small batches and to produce legacy parts when needed. It allows design freedom and we do things others do not dare in the designs. But consider that the sophisticated machines used to run the complex pars are also used for the simple parts and are total overkill for the job. A part that can be done on a machine with 3-4 times lower hourly rate ends up a lot more expensive for us than for someone outsourcing it. No free lunch!
The original Spartacus tube power amplifier was sort of a cornerstone in the Thrax Audio portfolio. Many of the hardcore Kondo Audio Note Japan and Wavac owners have chosen them over the established high-end audio iconic gear. Tell us more…
Owning multiple triode tube amplifiers I noticed that the sound of these is more or less limited by the sound of the fronted (input and driver) than by the output tube. So when people say “oh I love the sound of a 211” they never heard one. So a long investigation was launched as to how to remedy this. Here is where the work of Sakuma came to be useful. Building a Sakuma front end changed the sound completely. Suddenly unless you see the amp you cant tell it is tube but at the same time you know it is not Solid state as the tone and clarity are above and beyond the capabilities of those.
A bit of experimenting and the selection of the appropriate transformers set, we hit the sweet spot and Spartacus was born. As far as I am aware it is the only 2 stage all directly heated triode amp in commercial production. And on top of that with fully regulated power supplies, servo auto-bias on all tubes, current sourced filaments, Microprocessor controlled, and so on. At its launch 10 years ago it was like a flying saucer for the high-end industry. Then you look at the package it was in and you are certain it is impossible.
The Spartacus 300B. Can you tell us more about it and what drove you to design them?
With the design of the Spartacus, we had outdone ourselves. It was a gem but then I realized people know nothing about tube amps. They had no idea what the tubes used where. What was special about them and so on. For the average user, the amps were just a cool curiosity. It was clear that something familiar to every audiophile had to be at the core of the amplifier to gain recognition. What can be more appropriate than the 300B? A quick redesign and scaling and we had a working prototype but this time I didn’t want the mistakes of the original.
Structure and concept are identical but the execution differs as well as some of the materials. So now we have a large box enclosing the tubes and all the electronics are mounted on a single board. The major improvements are in the shunt regulators and the transformers used. In Spartacus 300 the transformer and choke are using new materials called nanocrystalline developed by Hitachi metals of Japan. It is the most advanced magnetic material but not as straight forward to use. It took 3 years of R&D until we had transformers significantly outperforming the original Tamura used in the predecessor. As with the previous iteration, we threw everything we had at the design of the amplifier. It ended up being so good that instead of redesigning the Dionysos we
had to come up with something even better to drive it.
How about Libra 300B? This seems to be an ultimate take on both solid-state and tube high-end audio preamplifiers?
This was a challenge. I wanted all the functionality in the best modern solid-state preamplifiers but with directly heated tubes for the unmatched sonics. A multistage design was out of the question. here we wanted purity. We have a power amp that is only limited by the source and that limitation had to go. So after a number of tests and prototypes, the solution came as more of the same.
We used again the 300B as the amplifying element making the complete chain 300B only. Now for the first time, one can experience a full directly heated triode signal chain. Noting as it has ever hit the market. It is an experience beyond belief. I think the first public performance of this was in Paris last November. So public comments are available on the net.
Western Electric 300B. Worthy of the high-praise and worthy of the current rocket-high pricing?
I would guess the price is entirely a product of the absurd demand and scarcity of the originals. Sonically modern production tubes have more to offer.
The design of the tubes has evolved and materials are better. There are the Emission labs, KR Audio, Elrog, Psvane, and Takatsuki current production 300B that are very good. Each having a different mechanical and electric behavior but delivering an astonishing result. I can’t put my finger on best sounding 300b. There are flavors some are more microphonic some are smoother some are more dynamic with higher contrast.
Then there are the standard Chinese and Russian 300B’s that should go directly in the bin. On the Libra, the noise floor will go up 12-14db from cheap Chinese tubes and part of the beauty is gone in the mist.
How much of the premium models technology is trickled down to your more affordable products?
We start by defining in great detail the goal of the project and then we add the absolutely necessary elements. Then we add the best solution for each element and then the overall control system so in the process we have developed our lego bricks which we use for the elements. Current sources, voltage references, cascodes, and so on. Then those are used throughout the range. If improvement to one of these comes up it is implemented in the entire range in the next iteration of the products. Once a few of those improvements accumulate or a major development comes up we move those products to MK2. We do R&D in all fields like material science, mechanics, acoustics, new components, and electronics. Initially, we went for patents to protect our intellectual property but now we don’t bother. What we do is not mass market and for someone, figures out what we did mean he is knowledgable enough to earn our respect and be free to use it.
Such people are few and far between and should support each other.
Can you tell us more about your speakers?
Now, this is a different story. The Lyra was developed by a gentleman named Plamen Valchev. Long time acoustician and speaker designer with 100’s of projects under his belt. I was supporting a recording studio project in Sofia and having done some work in the field I wanted a new class of monitoring system in the control room. Noting in the pro marked could reach the sonic goal we set. Consumer speakers usually can’t deal with the levels when you work with raw uncompressed microphone feeds and the pro speakers didn’t have the tone or resolution.
In most cases, the tweeter was the weakest point. There where 2 camps, those who cut too low and those that cut too high. So you have massive amounts of distortion in the midrange.
We needed a solution. Having the main monitors use custom-designed horns the decision was made to do this for the smaller monitors as well. And BMS made a custom version of one of their drives for the Lyra. This allowed us to extend the tweeter low enough to where the magnesium diaphragm of the Seas drivers is still within piston behavior while the horn loading of the tweeter took care of the intermodulation distortion associated with high excursion tweeters. This was so good that we decided to make some more for personal use and then I decided to take a pair to the Munich show.
The rest is history.
Why the aluminum as the enclosure material?
Well here is the secret bit about the Lyra. The surface of the speaker baffle is multiple times bigger than the surface of the drivers. Any energy transferred to the enclosure will have to be dissipated or reradiated. By making the front baffle as stiff as possible with high loss damping the resonance is moved up in frequency and lowered in Q. This significantly reduces the contribution of the cabinet to the radiated sound. Making the signal to noise ratio higher.
Machining the front from a solid billet of 50mm aluminum did the job. Now the horn is continuous and solid with no diffraction. Of course, we built first plywood and MDF versions but the MDF behaves like cheese at mid frequencies and is unusable for speakers in my opinion.
Plywood was a bit better but not much. We have a high-speed camera used for special effects in the cinema business doing 1000fps, so when researching we could see the panels move and waves traveling through them.
Not what you would expect. Listening to the damped aluminum enclosure compared to the wood enclosure is a night and day difference. The wooden enclosure adds so much that when you switch to the aluminum it is a different song. Clarity dynamics and tone purity are on a different level.
Would you say the Thrax Audio DNA is carried across the complete product line?
Absolutely. If it doesn’t convey the values I have set for music reproduction it will not have the Thrax brand printed on the product. As you can guess I am in the pursuit of a complete system doing everything I value in sound and each product is a step in that direction. But I don’t run the company as a dictator my team is actively involved in the evaluation of each product and unless we are all in consensus we keep digging.
Do you recommend your electronics as a matching partner for your speakers, or you leave that choice to the end-users?
Our electronics are designed to work fine with all other brands of speakers. There are some very good ones on the market and the results are stunning. The same goes for our speakers. They are made to work with any decent set of electronics still exhibiting the same qualities promoting their creation. We are interoperable.
What is your opinion about the competition?
I see no competition. If a customer buys someone else’s product then he has not grown a desire for the set of values that we offer but for another set that is not in my field of view.
To illustrate how I see things I will use an analogy with sports. My father was in sports when sports was for fame and glory and not money. 17 times national champion, several times champion of the Balkans, vice European champion and so on. He tells me; I win and take all the glory but I am not the best. Today I beat the second guy with 15 cm (he was a discus throwing athlete) tomorrow he will beat me. On the hammer trow, it will be vice versa.
So adversaries respect each other. But the stars among the sportsmen are the guys from the decathlon they are the real champions as they will be among the best in every discipline. Rarely wearing the crown, most people won’t know their names, but the ones that do have the deepest respect. The world today is after best and biggest and I am not. My enemy is mediocrity and “good enough” or exaggerated marketing hype.
What competition can be a product that lists other companies’ products that it is made off as its only strength, or saying Swiss made as nothing else could be said about it. Those for me are not on the same market and people that buy them deserve them.
How would you describe the difference between hi-fi, high-end, and ultimate high-end audio?
Everything is hi-fi, overpriced hi-fi is high end and ultimate high-end is jewelry either in the true sense of the word or in the technological and sonic sense.
Where is the borderline of transparency and proper sound balance?
This is a very appropriate question. sometimes too good is no good. Usually at the entry-level music sounds a bit congested and with etched artificial texture. At each step, you get better clarity and tonal richness until you reach a point that is satisfactory depending on your preference that could be dark, thick, and textured or smooth or bright.
But you hear enough to get the message in the music and you like it. This is where most audiophiles will feel comfortable. Once you go beyond the music seems to be less in the recordings, it starts to sound a bit slow at moments all those detached sounds that were floating in the soundstage start to be part of the instruments playing leaving a clear contour of the space around them until you are left alone among the musicians with effortless dynamics and zero stress.
Unfortunately, this puts a staggering requirement on the recordings as well and in many cases, you will hear the mixing engineers patchwork, the players’ strenuous noises like chairs, and the other instruments in the recording room which in many cases are better left unheard.
A modern pop recording recorded in an early digital machine trough an SSL desk will have nothing you want to hear more, some things are better left unheard. So you go beyond only if you have the records and music tase to justify it. Otherwise, stay on safe ground. For most drivers, an Audi RS is more than they can handle so you go to a Koenigsegg only if you can drive it.
The tone, timbre, and color. Do you follow this golden-triangle with voicing?
Generally, I am after clarity with a bit of warmth in the tone. Stress-free dynamics with enough resolution and contrast are the main qualities I seek. Being able to convey the modulation and change in tone and texture as an instrument is played. Each stroke of a bow will have a slightly different tone and sometimes the music is in those variations. Hearing them conveys the emotional message.
How important is the listening part of the development and finalization of the products?
Paramount importance, everything we do to improve is just a theory until proven in the field use. As creators we are biased, so often I will host a party of a local audio club to get unbiased opinions about a product they have no idea they are listening to.
Would you say one’s love and passion for music reflect in his products?
Most definitely. I do only what I see missing on the market. Trust me it is much cheaper to buy the best product instead of trying to do your own. But when you can’t find it the only solution is to make it.
How do you refined, voice, and fine-tune your products?
We listen and identify an artefact. Then we trace back the origin of this and try and deal with it. Once nothing distracts you from the performance then we are happy.
This is not to say we have dealt with all artefacts but that remains is not annoying or distracting.
How important is the room acoustic in achieving the state of the art sonic reproduction?
This is money much better spent than on gear. Did I say that!!!
Well yes if your room reflects too much too early there is no point in spending more money to hear more as you only hear the loudest part of the music and its echoes.
With a good well-designed listening room even mass-produced gear can have very good sound. But then you will also hear all the artefacts that with time become annoying and you will gradually start to replace your gear with a better one.
In this case, you will know what you are doing in the other we have a saying that no matter how many times you turn your ass will always be behind you.
What does the state of the art high-end audio reproduction look like thought the eyes of Rumen Artarski?
Lots of work! Dedicated room competently designed gear and a good record collection.
Exotic electronic parts?
Most definitely but not always. Some mass-produced parts are far better than what can be done in small numbers due to technology specifics. Others are the opposite.
Audio transformers are mechanical assemblies of utmost precision and for now, are the only component you can’t trust to be produced by a machine.
Does form follow the function with Thrax Audio?
Form kind of follows the cannons set by the industry as any deviation is hardly accepted by the audiophile community, but we make the best of it possible.
Is any state of the art speaker system complete without subwoofers?
Now you are touching a subject that is rarely discussed. So here are some facts. The ear is less sensitive to low frequency and at the lowest, this can be 20db per octave difference.
So to hear bass it has to be above a certain level. Let us call this fact 1. The sonic output of a conventional moving coil driver is governed by its conversion efficiency and acoustic loading.
A physical law defines the maximum efficiency of a driver in a certain volume of air (internal volume of the speaker – other speaker principles have different limits) and the relationship is 3-way volume/efficiency extension and you can choose only two. Let us call this fact 2.
Acoustic loading produces a phase shift at the low frequencies resulting in a group delay of varying amounts. Fact 3.
Now for an example, a modern super high-end speaker will be 60l of internal volume but the specs will read 92db/1w @ 28hz -3db and so on but then you listen and it sounds thin, lacking rhythm and pace and instruments are like ghosts.
This will be due to whoever wrote the spec is ignorant or a lying sack of shit. As a maximum efficiency for this will be below 83 dB if the extension is correct but it often is not so the speaker will most probably barely touch 40hz @-3 dB and the efficiency will rarely go above 87db/w. Most of all the bass will be out of time with the rest of the speaker.
Tuning a small volume speaker to produce low bass causes a delay of up to 12-15ms of the lowest notes. This is perfectly audible as a separate sound often translated as “mud” in audiophile language. But not only that the small size drivers used usually produce 3-10% harmonic distortion at the lowest frequencies meaning that in this case, you hear the harmonics before you hear the fundamentals. The ear is 20 dB more sensitive to the harmonics.
And to prove that there is a free online calculator that everyone can play with to see the maximum SPL produced by a piston of a particular size and its displacement. So a speaker with 2×6.5” woofers will barely reach 100db SPL @40hz while the harmonics will be already at 80 dB SPL making them more audible than the fundamental coming late if ever. Fortunately, not much music goes so low and somehow we get used to the absence of the fundamentals.
So the answer is you need the lowest distortion drivers with enough surface area to produce enough SPL and the largest possible speaker volume to make the efficiency reasonable.
In one sentence no time corrected big closed box sub – no music! Well, at least not the lower part of it. Large speakers tend to sound more realistic due to these simple facts.
Good bass reproduction changes the overall perception due to the effect of modulation but this is another story.
Digital vs analog?
Both these days. digital is really good now and analog is still getting better.
Solid-state vs tubes?
Both again. Used wisely results speak for themselves. There are fewer and fewer tube amplifier designers so I expect tubes to be more and more exotic in the times ahead. But still, some of their properties are irreplaceable.
What sets the Thrax Audio apart from the competition?
The way the products are conceived, their operational principle used, and the construction.
Are printed magazines a thing of the past?
Not seen one in my mailbox for years.
How would you describe the Thrax Audio customers?
Lucky bastards. It means they walked the path to find us and they can afford us, so the guys will manage in any situation and will be well off.
Is classical music ultimate reference material that upper echelon high-end audio products are judged upon?
Mostly because emotion is the most difficult thing to convey. And a lesser system doesn’t pass the test. Modern jazz and world recordings are very good.
Is it possible to experience a like-like impact with the proper high-end audio system?
The reaction of many first time listeners is just a grin on their faces.
We’ve already entered the luxury realms. What is your take?
At the pricing levels of the high-end, the item is luxury anyway so it better acts like it.
How to attract the younger people in our beloved, but still niche industry?
With new ideas. You will see some new product coming up from us in that direction.
Are high prices a must to achieve high-end audio performance?
Not a necessity but due to the very segmented market all is in small runs and the R&D cost has to be amortized on those small batches making the task difficult.
What would you say it’s the achievement you’re most proud of?
I love what I do and I ended up doing what I love. Could I ask for more!? Otherwise, it was scoring that 6ft brunette in 1989.
How do you see the current state of the high-end audio industry?
Very uncertain these days. Demand for a quality product is there, so I guess we are safe.
What are the most demanding challenges for the high-end audio manufacturer is current times?
Recognition in the swamp of mediocrity.
What would be your “cost no object” dream project?
No such thing in sight.
What can we expect in the future from the Thrax Audio?
Lots of innovation and a new product in new fields not explored by the company yet.
Any last thought for our readers?
Boy… If you reached this far you are a dedicated audio maniac and should seek help from your dealer.
Questions by Matej Isak