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Reviewer: Srajan Ebaen
Source: Zanden Audio Model 2000P/5000S
Preamp/Integrated: ModWright SWL 9.0SE; Music First Audio Passive Magnetic; Bel Canto Design PRe3; Wyetech Labs Jade; Supratek Cabernet Dual [on loan from owner]; Melody HiFi I2A3; Raysonic SA-30A [on review]; Eastern Electric M520; Yamamoto HA-02

EQ: Rane PEQ55 active merely below 40Hz
Amp: 2 x Audiosector Patek SE; Yamamoto A-08S; FirstWatt F3 & F1; Bel Canto e.One S300
Headphone systems: Opera Audio Reference 2.2 Linear, Melody/Onix SP3 with KT77s, AKG K-1000s w. hardwired Stefan AudioArt harness; Raysonic CD128, Yamamoto HA-02, audio-technica W-1000s
Speakers: Zu Cable Definition Pro in custom lacquer; Anthony Gallo Acoustics Ref 3.1; Mark & Daniel Ruby w. Omni Harmonizer

Cables: Zanden Audio proprietary I²S cable, Zu Cable Varial, Gede, Libtech and Ibis; Stealth Audio Cable Indra, MetaCarbon & NanoFiber [on loan]; SilverFi interconnects; Crystal Cable Reference power cords; double cryo'd Acrolink with Furutech UK plug between wall and transformer
Stands: 1 x Grand Prix Audio Monaco Modular five-tier
Powerline conditioning: 2 x Walker Audio Velocitor S fed from custom AudioSector 1.5KV Plitron step-down transformer with balanced power output option
Sundry accessories: GPA Formula Carbon/Kevlar shelf for transport; GPA Apex footers underneath stand, DAC and amp; Walker Audio Extreme SST on all connections; Walker Audio Vivid CD cleaner; Walker Audio Reference HDLs; Furutech RD-2 CD demagnetizer
Room size: 16' w x 21' d x 9' h in short-wall setup, with openly adjoining 15' x 35' living room

Review Component Retail: € 8,000; USD $9,800

Ancient. The word conjures up extraterrestrial visitors seeding civilizations on Earth. Ancient Audio, however, is rather more recent. The only thing alien about this Polish firm's electronic products -- if we factor in the overwhelming sameness of black boxdom in audio -- is how stunning they look done up in real granite. And perhaps that word about 'em is still relatively contained. Though a few reviews in the UK and Norway have started to chip away at what one assumes is a significant time delay where Polish-made audio products arriving with fanfare on the global audio scene is concerned.

In its native Poland, however, Ancient Audio is one of the well-publicized underground heros. For obvious reasons. Its CD players and tube amps in particular -- there are also two speaker models -- cut a fabulous profile that wouldn't be out of place in Milan, Beverly Hills, Düsseldorf or Hong Kong. Lest you assume it's all looks and no substance, a closer - um, look at the ingredients inside the granite or wood enclosures suggests a lot more than just pretty but empty calories.

For the new top-line 30,000 Silver Grand Monos, we're dealing with 18-watt parallel single-ended 300B SETs with separate power supplies. That's a box count of four - if you can count the two above as boxes without embarrassing yourself. "One of the best amplifiers ever made on planet Earth" is how designer Jaromir 'Jarek' Waszczyszyn calls them. Of course he would. Think Teflon V-caps, silver ribbon wiring, ultra-fast power supplies, hand-wound transformers, the works. Lead time for a pair is 8 to 10 weeks due to extensive hand labor involved. External power supply below.

Adam Mokrzycki, my host for the Audio Show Poland in Warsaw, had already tested the older 16-watt version of these monos on his Avalon Eidolons. Adam customarily runs Lamm 1.2 References. He strongly suggested I review Ancient Audio's monos. The necessary arrangements have already been made. That's a serious privilege. This is hand-crafted low-volume stuff. Delivery is scheduled for somewhere in the first quarter of 2007.

Closer on arrival in Cyprus is the Lektor Prime, Ancient Audio's top integrated CD player. It sits one tier above the regular 3,800 Lektor IV [shown above, granite version 4,300].' Integrated' refers not only to one box -- yes, the top-range Lektor Grand is a 3-chassis affair by virtue of separate mono DACs -- but also points at variable analog outputs for direct amp connection and one pair of analog inputs. In the case of the Lektor Prime over the IV, it further adds a second 6H30 for fully balanced operation. All Lektors are integrated CDPs and source-switching valve preamps just as Audio Aero has done for their popular Capitole players.

Spinner duties are handled by a nude Philips CD-PRO2M, the most upscale dedicated CD transport shy of Esoteric's proprietary VRDS mechanisms. To read TOC, a button has to pushed or the Lektor won't see that you've just loaded a CD on its exposed spindle. Signal paths are dual differential, with a 1st-order analog filter following Ancient Audio's so-called Silver DAC III. Output voltage has been doubled over the single-ended Lektor IV and balanced outputs are of course part of the aftern connectivity options.

Dimensions, W x H x D , are 350 x 70 x 350mm or 13.7 x 2.75 x 13.7 inches. Weight is a Rolls-Roycian "sufficient". The DAC, "a company design using special topology, employs a standard 8 x digital interpolation filter, sophisticated delta-sigma modulator and two half-bit D/A converters working with 256 x fs clocks. Due to their fine processing, these converters can work with a simple 1st-order 50kHz low-pass post-conversion filter (one resistor and one capacitor), identical to what is used in SACD players. All converter/analog stages use pure silver cables and silver ribbon ground connections, hence the name Silver DAC.

"Very important is the fully balanced topology - two converters, two analog filters, two volume controllers and a fully balanced vacuum tube output stage with a very high common mode rejection of around 80dB. All noise from previous DAC, filter and volume control circuits gets cancelled. Signal coupling is performed by four V-Cap Teflon/tin-foil capacitors, considered the very best in the business. We use one common but huge toroidal power transformer with separate windings and regulated power supplies: +8V for the mechanism drive, +5V for digital electronics, +63V for valve stages. Also unregulated, +12,6V for tube heaters, +/-12V for the analog stage and local +6V and +3.3V regulators for the DAC chips. During stand-by, all analog stages except the tubes remain active so it is not necessary to wait for subsequent warm-up for best sound. We also use a special low-impedance electrolytic capacitor whose AC impedance is lower than 10 milli ohms up to 100kHz.

"Some technical applications previously found in the Lektor Grand were incorporated into the Prime to make it sound refined and exceptional. However, there are a number of novelties which have been installed that outshine even those applied in the Lektor Grand. An instantly striking difference, seen long before it is turned on, is that of the mechanical construction. Instead of a single slab of granite, there are now three layers of them. The
upper one is suspended on viscoelastic elements and the area between the other two has been filled with damping compounds. This construction makes for rigidity and very high damping specifications. Another visual aspect is our entirely new red LED display with graduated brightness."

Shown below is the Lektor IV with its single stone slab.

As we'll see, Ancient Audio also offers custom finishes.

The guts of the Lektor IV above show how it differs from the Lektor Prime below.

The rear panel shows the RCA inputs and balanced outputs. Based on build quality, appearance and ambitions, Ancient Audio joins RCM and Acuhorn as upscale brands developed and manufactured in Poland since the communist damper on entrepreneurship lifted.

One glance at Ancient Audio's first iteration of monoblocks [lower left] shows how elegantly simple cosmetics were part of Jarek's credo from day one and have evolved since.

For remotes, there's a standard plastic one, a 230 optional metal wand and a custom system remote named Galaxy, made from a granite slab, "which friends call Fred Flinstone's Dream, almost 3kg of desktop remote or handy emergency weapon".

The complete Galaxy system is a de facto audible business card - of Kamico, "the best stone masonry shop in southern Poland whose owner is Jazz drummer."

Stoned isn't the word.

Jarek's sense of decor friendliness isn't above matching his machines to existing stoned precedents. One Ancient Audio customer had a fireplace made from Delicatus granite. Jarek was quick to embrace the calling and delivered a perfectly matched custom hi-end/multiroom system.

Another customer owns Avantgarde Acoustic horns in bright red lacquer and commissioned a custom paint job for his Lektor Prime. Jarek was only too happy to oblige. The pictures tell their own story. Luxury goods hand-crafted with pride in Cracow, home also to the stunning Cracow Klezmer Band who insist on only using JVC's K2 processing technology for their releases.

If Poland suffers certain post Iron Curtain perceptions from abroad and those who haven't visited, Ancient Audio's case evidence points at cutting-edge standards honed by the best from the West. Perhaps that's why Polish audiophiles, when asked about domestic High-End audio, are apt to mention Ancient Audio first.