So much hi-fi, so little time. That’s what it feels like on day one at Europe’s biggest gathering of the high fidelity clans, and to make matters worse they all have a press launch on the first day. But by the time the show was winding down I had a much better idea of what was worth hearing and what just looked extreme, there is never any shortage of that. This year’s winner of the too much stuff for the room award goes to ESD a new Chinese company that has developed its own compression drivers, carbon fibre horns and class A solid state amplifiers. When you put ten of each in a glass room it gets quite warm. But there were many more sensible options some of which were almost affordable, the following were my highlights.
Laurence Dickie’s designs for Vivid undoubtedly sound amazing but the aesthetics of the company’s Giya range are not for everyone. In an attempt to broaden their appeal Vivid has brought in external design talent and produced the Kaya range, this incorporates the composite cabinets with tapered tube rear loading, catenary dome tweeter and reaction cancelling bass drivers of other Vivid designs in a less radical form. The Kaya 25 (€9,000)has a slim integral stand and 125mm main driver while Kaya 45 (€16,400) is a floorstander proper with twin, side firing bass drivers. The Kaya 90 (€16,400) is a more substantial but curvy beast with two sets of side firing bass drivers that was demonstrating rather nicely with a vinyl front end.
PMC’s Olly Thomas has gone for maximum vibration control in the new £45,000 factfenestria floorstander. This 1.7m tall beauty consists of two transmission line bass systems atop one another with vents top and bottom, what sets it apart is the central aluminium section that holds tweeter and midrange domes. This is isolated on specially formulated mounts that stop energy from the bass systems getting to the drivers. The energy coming of the cabinet sides is cancelled by panels that are mounted in such a way as to work in antiphase, thus killing off a major source of colouration. The bass drivers are pretty unusual too and consist of flat sandwiches of carbon fibre with a foam core that deliver high SPLs thanks to their long throw.
Patrick Miller of Sugden suggested I talk to Falcon Acoustics and when I got into their listening booth it became clear why, a full Sugden system was powering Falcon’s distinctly unFalconlike GC6500R (£18,000) floorstanders. At a glance you’d think they were Sonus fabers but designer Graham Bridge has used 6.5inch graphene bass drivers, a 50mm midrange dome and a ribbon tweeter in a laminated MDF cabinet with down firing port. It’s smartened by Alcantara leather on the baffle and a glass top but there’s no disguising its power and resolution when playing tunes that you won’t find in an audiophile’s preferred listening list, that alone made this one of the most entertaining systems of the show.
Karl Heinz Fink designs real world speakers for a variety of brands but in his spare time he gets the Fink Team together to combine drivers that really shouldn’t work. Borg has what looks like an old school 10inch woofer with pleated surround and an AMT planar tweeter, but the fact that the crossover point is at 1.6kHz reveals that this is no ordinary pair of drivers. The other novelty is an adjustable passive crossover to allow for different types of amplifier and source, different damping factor amps, image placement and HF output. No wonder it worked so well in an exhibition centre that’s largely made of glass.
Living Voice Vox Olympian/Vox Elysian
Nottingham’s Living Voice has become something of a fixture at the High End, they consistently make very convincing sounds with one of their multi box horn systems. This year the range topping Vox Olympian and Vox Elysian bass horn made a welcome return alongside new source components for the brand, Kevin Scott’s quest for a worth CD spinner has resulted in him modifying a Canary CD3000 (£7,500) Ken Ishiwata style. Living Voice launched a new equipment rack at High End, the G2 is a slightly simplified version of their G3 system with torsion rods in the legs and is priced at £21,400 for three tiers.
Innuos Zenith Statement
Portuguese network audio specialist Innuos blew me away with their Zenith SE server, this year they have gone further. The Zenith Statement (€11,000) is not just an SE with an outboard power supply, it has eight rather than three linear power supplies and puts the heavy lifting in the lower box with regulation as close as possible to where it’s needed. This has benefitted clocking on the ethernet and USB outputs to the extent that Innuos claims that even streaming services will sound better. They demonstrated SE versus Statement through some Kii3/BXT speakers, the difference was almost night and day.
Costa Koulisakis introduced Moon’s latest network preamplifier the 390 ($5,300) at High End, a product whose understated appearance belies a massive feature count. It combines the tech found in Moon’s 350P preamp and 350D network streamer/DAC, has optical volume control, streams at up to 32/384 and has Bluetooth aptX, Wi-Fi and 4K HDMI switching. It’s MQA and Roon ready and can accept a DSD stream if you have a source that can provide it, oh and it also has an MM/MC phono stage with variable loading, gain etc. I don’t think there’s much more that you can ask of an audio component than that.
MSB Premier & Discrete
MSB’s Analog DAC was one of the most unusual in appearance at least on the market but it seems that the market wasn’t so keen on a converter you could use as a tea tray. So MSB have replaced their entry level DAC with the Discrete ($9,950), this has a display to show volume level and two of MSB’s Prime ladder DAC modules, it also has a discrete power supply and the brand’s preferred billet machined casework. Next up the range is the new Premier DAC ($19,500) with four Prime modules and an isolated Powerbase. MSB has now standardised input modules across its range, which should make things easier for the factory at least.
Chord Hugo TT2
Digital guru Rob Watts was on hand in the Chord Electronics room to explain a little about the new Hugo TT2 (£3,996) desktop DAC and headphone amplifier. The first point he made is that it’s powerful enough to drive a pair of speakers. It will provide 5 amps from its XLR outputs which equates to 18 Watts thanks to new output stage technology based from Chord called Power Pulse Array. As a DAC it has five times the processing power of its predecessor and more advanced noise shaping to boot.
Request The Raptor
One of the first to build a serious server in the aptly named The Beast Request showed a concept model of a more affordable scaled down version dubbed The Raptor. This is a ripping server with an onboard DAC as well as digital outputs, the same OS and an I2S output for MSB DACs. It has SSD storage in one to four terabyte versions and price will start at €10,000. Request has also built an analogue volume control for The Beast that uses fixed resistors and relays for minimum compromise, it’s called The Silence.
The company’s new owners have had time to get their ducks in a row down at SME and this year saw the first fruits of their work. Synergy is so-called because it has been designed as a complete record player with tonearm, cartridge and phono stage in one unit. The base contains a phono stage that was designed specifically for the Ortofon Windfeld moving coil that is supplied in the arm, itself a variant on the classic Series IV. The company have also noticed that there is considerable demand for their legacy product and showed a new old stock 3009 Mk2 that they intend to put back into production over the coming months.
Here’s something a bit different, Audiosilente are from Rome where they have mastered the art of machining high density graphite into triangular turntable chassis. But that’s not all, the Blackstone Reference (€39,000) has an idler drive system and a bearing spindle housing made out of cast iron chosen for its thermal consistency. It has a brass and bronze platter that can be spun at anything from 16 to 78rpm and the turntable will accept arms from nine to 13inches long.
Clearaudio Reference Jubilee
Clearaudio is celebrating its 40thanniversary by reviving some elements of its first turntable. The Reference Jubilee is the same shape as its ancestor and comes with a freestanding Innovation class motor and control system. It has sensors that allow it to adjust speed to suit different weights of vinyl and a Panzerholz chassis with a 70mm stainless steel and POM platter. Price with TT3 parallel tracking arm and Jubilee MC cartridge is €20,000.
Pink Triangle Preference
Arthur Khoubesserian had hoped to blow minds with the re-introduction of his first brand Pink Triangle, but sadly complications at the event meant he didn’t have an arm to put on the Preference turntable (£70,000). So revolutionary are the ideas within this new design that Arthur wanted me to sign an NDA before explaining them, so I let it lie. He would say that it’s a ‘bucket list statement turntable’ with a 3D spring suspension and 3kg oversize platter made out of aerated aluminium. It also has a “zero gap” bearing and mylar belt drive, the rest will presumably be revealed at a secret launch one day.
Editor’s note: I did sign the NDA and here’s what I can tell you about the turntable: FGLYG TLMGR JVFKA IWYGI VVCP. Enigma codebreakers… have fun!
Onkk Cue DD
This happy looking turntable is a whole lot more complex than it appears. Paul Beckett built this direct drive design from the ground up without using any standard parts, the result is one of the most advanced drive systems yet conceived. The Onkk Cue DD (c.£21,000) as it’s known offers variable torque because Paul has discovered that higher torque benefits timing while lower levels work better with voices and less percussive instruments. He has his own arm the Scribe 306.5mm on the way as well and plans to make the Cue DD available in the Autumn.
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