Frederick Davies, Creator of the AXJET Loudspeaker system talks to Hifi Pig

Your History 

How did you get into/what was your first job in the industry?

I had the WEM PA in our band when I was 16, I was a lousy drummer and a worse singer but they needed the PA!

Who or what was the biggest influence on your career?

Professor Jack Dinsdale who wrote 3 articles in Wireless world on Horn speaker design in 1974.

Proudest moment/product you’re most proud of?

Pedal power PA for Greenpeace and 4-way AXJET  chill-out Glastonbury 1998

You and your system 

What was your very first system?

EMI mono radiogram, then 2xQuad II and 22 with VHF and AM radios  plus Goldring Lenco turntable with Shure M75 cartridge and Goodmans 12” dual cone drivers in plywood boxes and 3” ex navy aluminium cone compression drivers with high pass caps for tweeters.

Tell us about  your system history.

Source: various tape players inc. Elizabethan, National, Yamaha, Sony, Phillips, Decks: Goldring Lenco turntable, BSR then Garrard SP25 followed by AR XB and then Linn Sondek LP12 with Ittok and Asak. Plus Technics 1200 and 1210.Various cartridges: Sonotone, Nagaoka MP11, Ortofon, Pickering, Goldring, Stanton 680, and numerous Shures  M55, M75, WHTL. CD players, Aiwa, Sony, Phillips

Amps: many … Armstrong, Marantz, Trio, Yamaha, Quad II and Quad 405, Hafler pre, Leak, Bang and Olafson, Pioneer, NAD, Croft X series and pre. HH, Crown, C-Mark, and numerous other PA amps.

Speakers: Wharfdale Diamonds, B&W, Mordant Short, Heybrook, and a few other small boxes plus many, many drivers (mostly full-range) in self built enclosures… Goodmans, old Wharfdales, Volt, Bandor, Jordan, Jordan Watts, Tannoy, Lowthers ..PM 2,6,7, DX3, Audio Nirvana, Voxativ,  Vitavox  K12s and S2s amongst others!

Which component/product do you miss the most/wish you had never got rid of?

I had my Linn LP12 stolen and it had an Audio Technica OC9 on it with an Ortofon phono stage….miss that!

Best system (or single component) you have ever heard (no brands you represent please…!)

Kiso HB speakers… coming from the opposite end of speaker theory to me, they are built like Stradavarius violins and they sound like it!!

Tell us about your current system(s)

I have a couple of little systems we use for DJ monitoring or in the house as background for dining, but the main systems are the chill-out PA and the lounge home system. The PA has two AX custom Basstages which are 40hz compound horns, each is 600mm high x 1200mm deep x 3000mm. The Bass drivers are 1x500W Eminence drivers per side. We used to use 2x100hz Axhorns that were part of the pedal-powered PA for Glastonbury, each of which has a 6inch PD mid driver and the Vitavox 3×5 Multicell horns with S2 drivers as tweeters, but now I just use 2  AXJETS on each Basstage. I use a custom amp-rack with 650W bass amp and I use 450W C-mark mosfet PA amps for the AXJETS, although they only need 30W… with the power attenuated the big amps deliver about that in pure class A before they go into AB mode which gives the speakers a wonderful depth of undistorted power.

Home system is the old Aiwa CD transport with fantastic Chord Hugo DAC and an old Thorens SME combo that I got after the Linn was nicked! I have the old Asak on it at the moment. The speakers are the latest AXJETS with AER MD3B  and I use various amps. I still have the Quad IIs but they sound wooly in the low end. For most purposes the Pioneer that has been tweeked by Tom Evans is just fine as is his Eikos Pioneer CD player.

For demos I use Tom’s amazing Vibe pre-amp and Linear A Hybrid valve amp  along with his Master-groove phono stage and either a Nottingham Analogue Space deck or Max Townshend’s Rock with a Lyra cartridge. I supply the AXJETS with 10m x 4mm Klotz cable with Neutrik Speakons for outdoor use and I do that with the PA, but I also provide 5m Atlas Hyper2 with crimped Z-pins into Muntdorf 4mm sockets which I use for home and shows.  I use the Tom Evans Pioneer equipment with a Behringer DJ mixing desk and a pair of Technics also at demos to show how big the speaker contribution is and what a difference it makes to take mid-priced quality kit that lots of people are familiar with and put a really good speaker on the end of it. It is amazing, and it is very nice for playing out in the garden with a few people round too!IMG_0827

The state of the industry 

What’s your view on the valve renaissance of the past 20 years or so?

Valves, nice, often mellow but fuzzy down low. The resurgence … well fashion mostly, and the illusion that horn speakers inevitably work better with valves. This is just because lots of horns are badly designed and shouty and this is moderated by the wooly valves. Now that we are starting to get astonishing levels of efficiency with the new AER BD4 it will make small 3watt triodes a real possibility at last, which is where valves work best. A good transistor amp is usually better than a valve, but the hybrids like Tom’s are the best of both worlds.

What are you views on the state of the industry/where is it going/what will it look like in 5 years/what will typical systems look like?/What will happen to prices?/What will happen to the high end – will it carry on regardless?

The whole music industry has been in a decline because of corporate greed. Turbo was the zeitgeist for the 80s and Digital has been the word for the 2000s. It is mostly meaningless and often retrograde against analogue options, but now everyone expects some absurd digital connection with every part of their lives. I think that we will see a more pragmatic approach to everything, with a return to enjoying quality sound reproduction.

Stadium rock with line array PA and digital mixes and speaker management has turned itself into a bland shadow of its former self. Smaller live gigs will have a comeback and someone will figure a way to sell hi-res sound files on memory sticks or something to allow us to buy music again. Even with digital it is nice to own a CD… I see kids playing their music off computers at gigs and it is like reading the phone book… soul-less.

Mid-level systems will stay cheap and be acceptable for the majority as they are now, but with fewer silly buttons and options, a resurgence in real volume control pots! I think the high-end will expand with the spread of wealth at the top. The best consumer option is still buying very high quality equipment second_hand when it is not so fashionable.

What are the industry’s biggest con(s)?

Biggest con … selling an MP3 for 99p at Apple and allowing whole CDs to drop to pennies on Amazon. The failure of the audio DVD format has left us with barely acceptable parameters for CD and nowhere to go for higher resolution files without big hard drives and fast internet… and luck as to whether the music you want is available.

Clearly the inmates have taken over the music biz asylum!IMG_0721

The way you work 

Presuming the measurements are fine, what do you listen for when assessing products?

Being there. Shut your eyes and you are there. Once you have a system which does that, you just get more and more discerning about what recordings you can listen to!

Your sound preference -‘Smooth, listenable musicality’, ‘forward, driving, ‘foot-tapping’, involving sound’ or ‘detailed neutrality and transparency’?

It must be engaging, it needs to go loud if the music is loud, it needs to be fast and dynamic with no woofy hangover. I don’t want to hear the system at all, just the music or with a movie, the effects and dialogue. People often talk about rock sound or classical sound or dance systems … the truth is that if the system is good enough it will play anything. It is only with reggae or dub types of music where the sound system is an instrument in itself that it can’t be effectively reproduced.

Your preference – Full-range floorstanders or freestanding mini monitors with a sub?

Full-range horns…AXJETS.IMG_0728

It’s all about the music, man… 

What is your favourite recording?

Electric Ladyland.

Tell us about your 3 most trusted test recordings

Sia, Ry Cooder, Sa Ding Ding, Timo Mass, actually Booker T- Green Onions, Johnny Cash – Hurt, Joe Satriani – Echoes , Dave Brubeck-Take 5 live, Tracey Chapman – The Promise, Jennifer Warnes – Way Down, John Martyn – Solid Air, Oui Three – We  Love You, Leftfield – Storm 3000. Sorry 3 is impossible!

What are your most embarrassing recordings/guilty musical pleasures

Kylie -On a night like this, Dolly Parton/Whitney Houston – I will always love you.

Having safely ushered  your loved ones out of the house as it is burning down to the ground, you ignore all standard safety advice and dash back inside to grab just one recording – what is it?

Jimi live at Randalls Island  on Vinyl bootleg… his last recording just after I saw him at the Isle of Wight.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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