Australia has a speckled history in boutique speaker manufacture but we soldier on bravely. Brands come and go with amazing speed. There are some, like Orpheus and Richter, Krix and Duntech, that stick around for years and carve out a worthwhile slice of the market, but mostly they streak across the firmament, blazing brightly for a few precious moments to disappear forever. According to Google there are currently 45 speaker brands being made in Australia. I’ve never heard of most of them.

24 Ambience 1800When you’ve been around this industry a while you treat Australian-made audio equipment with care. Everyone, including me, would like to see local brands succeed especially when so many of them produce such good products, but unfortunately good product is not the be-all and end-all of success. On too many occasions I have enthused greatly about local products, even buying them myself, only to get burned.

The problem is that most of these brands are started by people who know more about audio than business. They make mistakes with any or all of marketing, distribution, ordering, out-sourcing and indeed pricing, and go south at a rate of knots. This leads to problems with warranties, parts and customer support – sometimes all three become non-existent.

This is a long way of saying that while I really like Ambience hybrid ribbon speakers I exercise a degree of caution in suggesting them to you. They’re made in Lake Bunga, near Lakes Entrance on Victoria’s south-eastern coast, by a guy called Tony Moore and he doesn’t include their specifications on his website. This could be because he doesn’t want to bog the website in detail or maybe because the specs may vary from one pair to the next as he continues to tinker and tweak. He’s been making them for ten years and has no idea how many he’s sold, but tells me there are lots of happy customers.

I came across them in a hi fi shop a long way from Lake Bunga when a friend was in the market for a pair of speakers around $4000 to $5000. She loves music and is mainly into classical but enjoys a lot of more popular stuff. The dealer listened carefully to what she wanted and to his credit did not pressure her up to something more expensive, always a danger. Mind you he did crank up a pair of $6000 Jamos just for comparison. Interestingly he didn’t have a classical music recording on hand, he said it was years since anyone had wanted to listen to classics.

So we went to a hi-def website and dialled up ‘The Armed Man’ by Karl Jenkins, a gorgeous piece he’d never heard of, and listened to it through Tannoy’s new Revolution XT8Fs at $4000, the Jamo C109s and Ambience hybrids at $4999.

24 Jamo C109The Jamos, from Denmark, were tight, full and beautifully balanced. Great all-rounders, they were my pick of the day over the Ambience by a short half-head, but being a grand cheaper they had my nod. The dealer was amazed I found the British Tannoys a bit bassy, although their definition, depth and soundstage were brilliant for the money. He loved them but allowed that everyone hears differently. Which left she who had the actual money, and she loved the Ambience. The stage was a little narrower and they seemed to both she and me to be crying out for more power (the dealer was using a 40-watt valve amplifier) but she loved the delicacy and precision of the music, typical of ribbon speakers.

But she wouldn’t buy them. Given their height (178 cm) they were way too imposing for her, and when she was told they could not be built into the wall (the 18 cm woofer is at the rear and the ribbons fire back as well as forward) and that they sound best a metre out from the wall she lost all interest. Aesthetics are critical with lots of buyers, something boutique manufacturers tend to miss. The Jamos were her second-best.

Turns out Tony Moore recommends an amplifier of 100 to 150 watts for his speakers and they can be in-built with a separate woofer (the kit approaches $7000).

Published July 2016

 

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