I wanted to audition the Aavik’s built-in DAC but my Meitner transport apparently has proprietary connections that are incompatible with the Aavik. I didn’t have the time to accumulate a number of transports for purposes of this review, but I do have a perfectly good Oppo multi-format player with TosLink and RCA digital outputs, both of which are accepted by the U-300. I understand the Oppo is not the ultimate high-end source, but it is a great value and I thought it would be interesting to see if an inexpensive transport would work well with the Aavik.
I connected the Oppo and re-played all of the CDs I played when I first received the Aavik, discussed above. When finished, the Oppo/Aavik combination had demonstrated some distinct differences from my Meitner transport/DAC. I have been very happy with the Meitner for a long time and never thought it was anything but “quiet,” but the greater background blackness of the Aavik DAC was noticeable on every CD. Second, the Meitner was a little more laid-back in presentation, while the Aavik was more upfront. I can’t say that one sound is better than the other, but over time the Aavik seemed to flesh out small nuances a little better than the Meitner, while the Meitner seemed to offer slightly more air and space on orchestral recordings. Call it a tie. The Oppo/Aavik sounded very slightly more transparent than the Meitner; perhaps that is why musical nuances were more easily heard with the Aavik. But the biggest difference between the two combinations, by far, was in the bass range. The Meitner has powerful bass which sometimes seems a little overblown (in my system). The Aavik DAC also has powerful bass, but through the Maggies the bass with the Aavik is much better controlled and more tightly defined than the Meitner. I could imagine some systems where it would be a close call choosing between the two sets of transport/DACs, but the 20.7s loved the control and definition of the Aavik.
I can only imagine what higher-end transports might sound like with the Aavik. But I can report that even with a low-cost but outstanding player like the Oppo used solely as a transport, the Aavik digital section was competitive with the Meitner and superior in some important respects. Sonically, there is little doubt that the Aavik DAC was designed and built, like the phonostage, to compete with or exceed the best separates. In my view, Aavik has more than achieved its goals with both the digital and the phono sections of the U-300.
Does the U-300 Offer Good Value?
Where does the Aavik U-300 fit in the audio universe? One thing it did for me, immediately, is change my view of integrated amps and Class D technology. Before I tried the U-300, my general impression of integrateds was that they were a convenient and cost-effective means of driving less-assuming speakers in a smaller room. But the U-300 shows that an integrated amplifier system can be the heart of a cost-no-object system. This single box is truly competitive with a host of very expensive separates. Based upon my very positive experience with the U-300 and my power-hungry 20.7s, it is hard to imagine the Aavik having difficulty cleanly driving any speaker to any level you might want. It’s a true powerhouse. It is also supremely transparent, removing even the clearest pane of glass between you and the music. It is not thin or harsh. Nor does it sound like my preconception of “solid-state” or “Class D.” It is rich and full-bodied when the music allows, but it is never syrupy or overripe.
I have taken pains, so far, to avoid a detailed comparison of the U-300 with my reference tube gear. I can’t say that the Aavik sounds like tubes, but neither can I say that it sounds solid-state. It sounds like music. Perhaps it is not quite as full-bodied or three-dimensional as competitive tube gear, but it is close enough to be totally satisfying on the broadest range of music. And it is so fast, and so black of background, that it leaves much tube gear in its wake. Moreover, finding tube preamps and power amps that will drive the 20.7s with the ease and alacrity of the Aavik is not an easy or inexpensive undertaking. The U-300 is the first solid-state preamp and amp combination I have auditioned, in my own system, that offers a fully satisfying alternative to high-powered tubes.
I do not mean to imply that the U-300 is unbeatable. I love my tube front-end, and some tube amps sound outstanding with the 20.7s. I have not heard them all. Perhaps a more interesting question today, in light of the wealth of new superb solid-state equipment from many manufacturers, might be how the Aavik sounds compared to the best of the latest solid-state gear. I have not heard all of the latest amplifiers in my room and cannot make that assessment. What I am prepared to say, with a high degree of certainty, is that it would be very difficult to find separates (tube or solid-state) with performance equal or greater to the Aavik, at anywhere near its price. In drawing this conclusion, I am considering the cost of a state-of-the-art phonostage, a state-of-the-art DAC, and a superb amplifier with sufficient power to drive most, if not all, speakers with ease and enormous headroom.
After living with the U-300 for over three months, I still look forward to every listening session and am still discovering subtle nuances in old recordings I thought I knew well. I get goosebumps at almost every session. Fun bonuses that don’t affect the sound: It’s nice to turn on the whole system with a single switch; it’s refreshing not to have to turn on the air-conditioning every time I play the system for more than an hour; it’s a pleasure to only need a few cables and power cords to hook up the entire system.
To answer my own question, I believe the U-300 offers enormous value, even at $30,000. When considering the combined cost of separates that are truly competitive with the Aavik, the U-300 is a relative bargain in today’s high-end scene. To my way of thinking, the U-300 is a game-changer in the high-end industry. It is now possible to think about state-of-the-art performance for all necessary electronics in a single, very stylish box. The U-300 welcomes with open arms almost any speakers, not just monitors or high-sensitivity models. I hope some of you take or make the opportunity to audition the U-300. I think you’ll be impressed.
SPECS & PRICING
Type: Integrated amplifier with built-in DAC and mc phono preamplifier
Output: 300Wpc into 8 ohms, 600Wpc into 4 ohms; stable to 2 Ohms
Inputs: One RCA (phono), three line-level, two RCA SPDIF (32k–192kHz), two TosLink optical (32kHz–96kHz), one USB (PCM 32k–192kHz)
Input impedance: 10k ohms
Dimensions: 17.3" x 3.9" x 14.6"
Weight: 36 lbs.
9000 Aalborg / Denmark
+45 40 51 14 31
Kuzma Stabi M turntable with Kuzma 4Point arm; Lyra Etna, Koetsu Rosewood Platinum Signature cartridges; EMM Labs; Aesthetix Eclipse Io phonostage, Aesthetix Eclipse Callisto linestage; Aesthetix Atlas Signature monoblock and VTL 750 amplifiers; Purist Audio Design, Transparent, and Audioquest cabling