A visit to Z Axis Audio

spiritofmusic

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Jun 13, 2013
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#1
I just thought I’d pass on some thoughts of a fascinating visit today.
Paul Stratton runs Z Axis Audio, based in Sussex, South Of London. His main trade is as a master furniture craftsman, but his big passion is high end audio, and under the name Z Axis he manufactures a range of audio components including a balanced power transformer, equipment racks/isolation and cables. He also is a main dealer for Concert Fidelity amps and dac from Japan, and runs a heavily modified Sony DD tt in a nested plinth he designed, with an SAEC506 12” tonearm and ViRa Aidas Panzerholz diamond MC cart, Allnic H3000 phono, Esoteric K07 transport. He has also heavily modded a pr of ML Spire stats, removing woofers and crossovers from the main spkrs and isolating these in beefed up seperate cabinets with upgraded parts.
Paul was a great host, happy to have me over despite me not being an immediate customer, putting up with my desire to hear good analog as a compare for my current tt reinstall.
We had been in intermittent contact for a while, and so when the opportunity arose to visit, I took it. Paul was gracious enough to drive me 50 miles to and from a distant destination due to train issues.
I took my “go to” lp, my desert island disc, Stomo Yamashta “Go”, an amazing exercise in continuous music covering atmospherics, ambient, symphonic, avant garde, percussion frenzy, funk and ballad, featuring Steve Winwood, Al Di Meola and Klaus Schulze, all wrapped up in mid 70s expansive production. Paul added some Ravel after for good measure.

I’m a pretty critical listener, having heard some downright poor and unbalanced systems recently that couldn’t be redeemed.
But I also recognise a thoroughly impressive and consistent sound when I hear it, and that was the case today.
First I was truly struck by the seamless sound on offer, certainly a first in my experience of MLs. There was no apparent disconnect of stat panels and woofers, maybe a direct result of seperating the subs boxes/crossovers and beefing up cabinets. Whatever, this was hugely impressive, I just felt I was listening more to full range drivers, albeit with vastly increased frequency range. Music truly appeared with no hint of where from. Bass was highly impressive, mids went back forever, and treble soared but was never cutting. Here, the Concert Fidelity amps showed their mettle truly providing the music and getting right out of the way. All message, no messenger.
The analog setup was not as I expected it to sound. A 1970s Japanese DD could have been harsh, grey, mechanical. On the contrary, the sound was natural, warm, detailed and nimble. I was highly impressed, also with the 1970s SAEC506 arm, surely a great alternative to the SME 3012R. The biggest surprise was the little known Aidas MC cart, truly even top to bottom, and without doubt the best cart I’ve heard wrt surface noise - there was minimal evidence of this on my lp that is not that quiet in my system. A true uber performer.
It was hard to seperate out other aspects of Paul’s system, but the consistent, expansive, immersive and downright enjoyable sound must have been a synergy of carefully chosen components, superbly modded gear, and Paul’s very own personally designed balanced transformer, rack and cables.
Paul is a really friendly voice on varied topics on WBF, was even more charming and self effacing in person, and runs a truly exemplary system with fascinating components created with his personal stamp.
A wholly enjoyable day, thanks Paul.
 

LL21

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Dec 26, 2010
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#2
Great stuff. Thanks for posting...did you hear the Concert Fidelity digital?
 

DaveyF

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Aug 1, 2010
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#3
Marc, this doesn’t surprise me at all. On the one occasion that I had the pleasure of meeting Paul, I was extremely impressed by the system he was demoing. In fact, I felt it was the best sounding system at the Newport show that year!!
Paul was demoing with a Denon DD that was modded in Japan...this table was superb in all aspects.
Paul’s stands and racks were also immensely impressive.
 

bonzo75

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#4

spiritofmusic

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#5
Lloyd, unfortunately not. As usual, I didn’t have unlimited time, and I stupidly left a fave cd at home. Maybe another time.
What I’ve tried to get over in my mini review is that Paul has pulled off a thing that is pretty unique and very hard to successfully achieve in this hobby. That is a system that betrays no character in itself, but plays music full of character. For this one needs a speaker that is seamless from bass to treble, and Paul is to be commended on getting a hybrid stat/sub to be absolutely seamless. One also needs amps that fundamentally suit the speaker but get wholly out of the way, drawing no attention to a SS or tube signature. Here the 200W SS Concert Fidelity power amps and hybrid preamp does just this - I really never once thought “tubes or SS?”. One also needs a source that is fast and warm and truly forensic but forgiving, and here I was most amazed - the kind of DD tt that was scoffed at in the 80s to 2000s as belt drive gained preeminence (Linn LP12 aficionados back in the day would have spat on the Sony LOL), now modded to current day engineering standards to maxx it out, an arm I was only vaguely familiar with ie the SAEC506 which truly impressed (especially visually, what a combination of beauty and sheer engineering wholesomeness), and this amazing Aidas cart, which thru the Allnic, was an absolute paragon of excellent tracking, surface noise suppression, tonal eveness, and just sheer believability.
I’d sum things up as “power and grace”, very unusual in being highly neutral, highly expressive, not drawing attention to itself, yet truly riveting and immersive.
A total triumph.
 

spiritofmusic

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Jun 13, 2013
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#6
Last word should go to Paul’s ancillaries, ie balanced transformer, racks and cables.
I know that from my expenditure on these areas, and efforts in getting these areas right, they can transform a system. So I’m confident in inferring that a lot of Paul’s holistically complete sound is down to his own brand ancillaries, esp balanced power that we both agree really is an amazing foundation for any good system.
 

Uk Paul

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Sep 27, 2012
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#7
Marc, thank you very much for your succinct words and as always I am relieved that you enjoyed the music that we played yesterday, good choices ;) Like you, I am seriously impressed with this MC cart and I wish ViRa High End (no affilliation!) all the success that they rightfully deserve with it. I may even buy another as a spare incase the price increases, as it stands I think it is performing well beyond it's price point, and it has such astonishingly low groove noise that this must contribute to it's performance as you have witnessed..
I would mention also the headshell is the Nasotec swing piece which again I believe contributes to the sytems seamless and clean sound from Lp's, and again, bought because I was intrigued by the principle and have been impressed ever since, and to hear any cart track all 4 bands on the hifi news test lp is pretty rare, which this set up does.

Btw, I should have played some of the Prokofiev Romeo & Juliet boxed set I picked up for £8 recently, it is truly impressive :) Next time though..
 
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spiritofmusic

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#8
Sure Paul, and I’ll save you the drive by coming down by car next time. Maybe when you get the Ayon transport?
I’m listening to my system now, and it’s fascinating to note that my sound is somewhat less “walk thru” than yours, not as neutral, w more overt “gear character”. And not by a small margin.
Normally when I’ve listened to systems touted as neutral or characterless, the music itself emerges as lacking in character. No names, don’t want to upset the fans of some so-called SOTA gear. This was maybe the first time I just couldn’t pick up on a system signature, was fully transparent, that didn’t send me to sleep. Indeed it was fully engaging as a pure result of an unadulterated musical signal hitting my ears, no hint of the reproduction chain.
Indeed, the music speaking for itself.
When I compare this to the roll out in the UK of the ML Neoliths fed by AF1 tt, Metronome cdp and Constellation amps, that was sadly lacking any togetherness, I really remain absolutely amazed by the holisticness of what I heard yesterday.
 
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User211

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Jul 28, 2014
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#9
What would be really interesting is to put a pair of stock Spires in the room, then shift them out for Paul's, to see where the performance difference really lies.

Souping up stock designs using components the manufacturers can't afford to put in there can pay huge dividends, I think. I should have done that years ago with my Ascent\Descent combo.

Reading Ked's review and looking at the pics, Paul has his Spires almost exactly as I used to have my Ascents in a 28 by 12 foot room. In other words, a front wall of glass window, with one speaker directly in front of the window. It wasn't too bad either. But when I dumped them in my smaller room in a newer property that Ked and Marc both know, the sound did improve and markedly. How much of that was due to the room dimensions and other room factors is impossible to say.
 

spiritofmusic

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Jun 13, 2013
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#10
Well Justin, if Paul does another commission of modded Spires, I’m sure he will a/b them.
I can tell you from gut instinct what he’s done is spot on, that seamless thing does not come easily.
 

User211

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#11
I should be moving this year. That means a new listening room.

Estate agents should understand that a house sale is subject to room sonics, and if a room fails to hit the spot for any reason, a 100% refund is due.
 

User211

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#12
If I was going back to ESL again I'd do something like Purist did, though that wasn't OB. Or even the original ML Statement, but smaller in scale.

So I'd mount something like 3 twelve inch cones in an OB panel, probably inch thick perspex or the like, and run a large ESL panel next to them in ultra rigid frames. So four towers.

That would be cool. Or so I reckon.:)

Original Statement - somehow looks a lot more awesome than the E2. Huge panel:) Mine wouldn't be so huge...

https://www.martinlogan.com/products/statement
 

spiritofmusic

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#13
As a system at manageable cost, of manageable size, for manageable rooms, this one takes a lot of beating.
I’m sorry Justin, but despite me loving your sound, it’s too characterful, too forceful, in comparison to this one.
I’m finding systems can be very like their owners .
 

bonzo75

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#14
As a system at manageable cost, of manageable size, for manageable rooms, this one takes a lot of beating.
I’m sorry Justin, but despite me loving your sound, it’s too characterful, too forceful, in comparison to this one.
I’m finding systems can be very like their owners .
Lol. Yours must be sounding dreamy one moment and aggressive the next and in another mood in a few more minutes. Does it also play the same record every few minutes. I can also see your system is single ended, not balanced.
 

spiritofmusic

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#15
Yep, all three, and many more. I’m a complicated kinda guy. Truly unbalanced. Nature or nurture? Born this way, or an environment of audiophiles made me this way?
 

Uk Paul

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#16
I wanted to get a pair of stock Spire's here when I completed these but understandably the dealer then was not at all interested in it! But yes Justin it would have been good to compare the two side by side for sure. I did think that the speakers were good to begin with though, and "worthy of some small changes" I thought back then :) though each time I have heard stock ML's since, either Summit, Summit X, 11a and 13a, Montis, the tranparency wasn't anywhere near the same, and the bass in mine is far less bloated and more controlled and reveals tone better. Just to point out though that the 10" bass unit is still mounted in the original placement below the panel, with only the electronics and crossover moved to the external cabinet, which may get a rebuild at some point as these are not quite truly finished. These run off the Symetrica too which is a must. Early experiments with Bal power was only on the speakers years ago when these ML's were stock, running each speaker from an airlink transformer and that clearly demonstrated that it worked but they did hum a bit, hence using the big DC filter now in the Symetrica.

The marriage of the CF ZL-200 mono's and these does work very well though as these dip to below 1ohm at hf, so clearly the amps can deliver the current required from just 8 Mosfets per channel in BTL configuration. This can give amazing power and dynamics and often provokes a '**** me' moment.. I wish there was more talk on here about ML's, and Marc, I didn't realise you heard the Neolith unveiling, was this at KJ? To hear that these surpass that set up is a nice thing to hear! Thank you! Fwiw, I put the Neolith as a choice on Davey's thread along with the Nautilus which I'd love to try here if anybody has any kicking around? lol..
 
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bonzo75

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#17
I heard the neolith 4 times. Twice at Munich, once the same set up that Marc is referring to, which Ron also heard, and once with Gian in Italy heard the CLX with the vivaldi stack and constellation, similar to Kj but vivaldi instead of metronome, CLX instead of Neolith. Kj also had AF3 with koetsu

Wasn't impressed by any of these. The main thing that lacked was density, they sounded thin, and the imbalance with bass was much clear.
 
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User211

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Jul 28, 2014
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#18
As a system at manageable cost, of manageable size, for manageable rooms, this one takes a lot of beating.
I’m sorry Justin, but despite me loving your sound, it’s too characterful, too forceful, in comparison to this one.
I’m finding systems can be very like their owners .
What a bats post after literally being obsessed with my system for yonks and going through all sorts of emotional issues with it.

You are indeed complicated!

I liked Spires. They were good speakers. Get some they'll be a lot less hassle than trying to re-create mine.
 

Uk Paul

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#19
So it seems that getting the density is key with ML and maybe all esl? You'd hope that with gear like that they would be very very impressive! And they should be as flagship for ML. I've heard most of those electronics sound very good in various systems over the years ( not heard AF though), but costs are very high..
 

spiritofmusic

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Jun 13, 2013
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#20
Justin, I’ve been with Zus for a decade now, happy for the most part. So I’m not always changeable.
 

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