After 5 years of absence, I finally returned to the best Hifi Show in the World as a journalist for this blog and on assignment for SoundStageAustralia to cover a factory visit to eminent speaker company Gœbels.
You can find that article on their website:
Onto the loudspeakers which impressed me most…
You know my personal interest on this topic, being a designer myself for over 40 years and still keen to admire how creative people can be trying to reproduce this elusive perfect sound…
So, below i will feature the loudspeakers that have either intrigued me, got my foot tapping, or blown me away…
I only had two full days at the Show, so unfortunately, i have missed out on a few of my favourite, trying instead to visit new people.
Money is no object
Audionec, from France, Gœbels from Germany - see above, Wilson Audio from the US of A, Stenheim from Switzerland, all fall in this category.
Each show brings a collection of unusual designs, some will last, most will disappear…
So here are a few examples
I was blown away with some speakers I never had a chance to listen, as some were new models and some I never had a chance to listen to…
This report is far from being exhaustive of all the good speakers in attendance. This is just a glimpse into my favourite products or those who i thought different from the mundane and the big brands. Voilà!
Stay tuned for Part 2 which will be about turntables and tape recorder…
A bientôt !
A great mid-century piece of furniture, which also happened to be quite an interesting speaker, the Mercuriale FC413 was designed and manufactured in very small quantities by no other than Audax, the famous French speaker drivers, particularly renowned for their tweeters, and their domes, still manufactured today in huge quantities for other giant Scandi-Chinese conglomerates...
I was inspired to write this article because of an email i received recently all the way from Finland, from the Editor-in- Chief of a local, but far reaching Hifi Magazine Inner, Kari Nevalainen.
His article walks you through the rebuild of a pair of these speakers by a local audiophile, and you can read it here in English. I have been given permission to use it here.
I was by now hooked and intrigued and started to investigate what else I could find on the Web about them and I also talked to my good friend and cabinet maker extraordinaire Jean-Paul Guy of GUY HF fame, who towards the end of his career helped developed the amazing cabinetry of the Focal Grande Utopia.
That how I found that these were made by Audax, and that he was not involved in the manufacturing.
I also checked the website of Patrick Pennetier, probably one of the people with the best knowledge of vintage hifi from France and beyond at www.hifi-antique.com . He never had a pair to sell...
Further usage of my favourite search engine led me to a review from Hifi Stereo in February 1978, confirming the period when these beauties were manufactured, and I found it on Cabasse forum in French, links below
So for the benefits of my English speaking audience, I try to extract “la substantifique moelle” of the review:
Well it is the first striking element of these speakers! Six little cabinets house the 4 boomers , the tweeter and the crossover, more on these later. The separate enclosures are all linked by an aluminium tube which also forms the stand of the speakers.
Although I couldn’t find the exact dimensions, it appears it would between 300-350mm wide, 400mm deep and 450-500mm high, without the stand.
Interstingly enough, each bass driver is loaded by a double resonator as per Elipson, but the tweeter is not time aligned, although the crossover enclosure is recessed...
The boomers are deemed to be HIF 15 from Audax obviously, but I can only find a data sheet for the HIF 13 on their legacy website.
More likely HT170 or HT130, as they feature white cones in carbon fibre and rubber suspension.
The tweeter would have been their best 25mm soft dome, still made today, the famous TW025.
A complex affair...
Original and new built below
Overall, a pretty impressive set of measurements, extended frequency response, flat impedance curve and decent distortion levels over the Fs of the drivers which seems to be around 60Hz once loaded.
You can see on the impedance curve how controlled that resonance is, due to the correct usage on the double resonator.
The transient response is also very good even though the tweeter is not time aligned mechanically, it is clearly taken care of in the complex crossover.
THE LISTENING TEST
My recollection of these speakers date from the late 70s, early 80s at best, so I am not in a position to really give you a proper review. However, the lasting impression was of a decent performer.
HIFI STEREO had obviously a proper listen and I will try to translate the main points of their critique here:
Power handling: Amazing, due to the load being distributed among 4 drivers. Rated at 120watts
Efficiency: Not stated, but 120W transfer into a 109dB sound pressure, so probably around 85dB/1W
Bass response: Would probably require a subwoofer by today standards, see photo below.
Midrange: Smooth, but probably not as analytical as a single driver speaker
Treble: Audax shines there as always, extremely accurate, but as a result will show any defect from the source
Definitely worth having if you can find a pair in good condition and you want to include them in a Mid-Century interior.
Add a modern subwoofer for good measure and drive them with a very good amplifier like a Bryston or equivalent.
In 1978, they would have cost 2 weeks of my generous salary as a Sales Engineer at Hewlett-Packard, a month of it at my previous joint, the obscure French Test & Measurement AOIP , now defunct.
I am actually tempted to build a replica, using the drivers we currently fit into our Microphase Audio Design speakers. But that would be fairly M.A.D. , wouldn’t it be? Link in Navigation bar.
ELIPSON | LA PERFECTION DU SON
You may recall my visit to Jullien Thaler and my story about his collection of Elipson speakers and paraphernalia, most probably the largest in existence. You might want to read it again here ...
Jullien, whose nickname in his endeavours elipsonesques is Violet, had a website where a lot of this information was stored in a somehow erratic way, as he started that website way before any serious web builders were available... It was at risk of disappearing altogether...
So he decided to start from scratch and six years and 667 pages later, he has now published the Elipson Bible with an enormous amount of new material, historical photos, reviews, schematics, patents, etc...
I thought i knew a lot about Elipson, but in fact it’s about the same as my knowledge of Saint-Julien, that famous plot of land in the Bordeaux Right Bank, where I know only 14 Chateaux out of 48, and it’s even worse if you go about the whole Bordeaux region which has around 4800 wineries and I might know and drank less than 200 in half a century! So the comparison is very appropriate!
I have chosen to show you this particular page, as this patent is what makes Elipson speakers sing...
For sure, the use of resonators, although seldom in speaker design, was not entirely new, but what Joseph Leon found out is that in order to tune the resonator properly, one need to adjust the Q factor of ditto resonator, in other words its bandwidth, hence the second opening...
Monsieur Leon went on to patent time alignment which is important in getting the group delay just right, so the timbres of instruments and the slew rate of the music are reproduced correctly.
The late Siegfried Linkwitz and fellow HP colleague Riley did some more research on how to achieve this in the crossover as well.
So i won’t lose any longer on the subject matter and will entice you to read the Bible yourself!
The tape universe
Tape is the new vinyl! Tape recorders and players, as well as music on tape copied directly from the master tapes were certainly a prominent population at the Show.
Now, if you think a 10,000. euros turntable is expensive, think again! This beautiful contraption from Metaxas and Sins, now based in Athens but originally from Melbourne, Australia, will st you back 35,000 euros!
And there were more, and more expensive ones too... So here is a little sample.
These people had no less than half a dozen of Studer machines and high end headphones and amplifiers to let you sample the master tapes they are selling. It will set you back 3---400 euros per tape and obviously you need to find a Studer or a Revox in good condition to play them, not to mention the space for the hardware and the software... It sounds fabulous obviously but to hear the difference from let's say an ECM recording via Tidal, you will probably need to invest a 100 grand or more in associated listening devices... like below
I have listened to this system at shows in Sydney, Melbourne, Paris and now Munich, but also chez Edgar Kramer, the editor-in-chief of online magazine Sounstage Australia and although I am not a great fan of most Wilson Audio speakers that I find too sterile, the Alexia II is both lively and accurate and I could happily live with a pair if I had the space, not to mention the money! This was one of the two best demos and sound at the Show besides French Audionec.
I could bore you with tons more photos of products that you already know. I have chosen instead to feature my favourite, or what I consider innovative, exceptionally good sounding or designed products. It was my first visit and I was overwhelmed by the quantity and quality of the products displayed or in demonstration. It was also the best organised Show I ever visited as well as being the most comfortable, specially as being just off a 25 hour journey from Australia! Being in Bavaria, arguably the best place for good produce and cuisine in Germany, the various restaurants in the venue were producing huge amount of very reasonable food at realistic prices... Only caveat, if you don't like kartofel, bring your own sandwiches!
On that subject, we had the pleasure to celebrate Marc Ruston of StereoNet fame 40th birthday at a lovely Italian restaurant in town with a bunch of other great people from our industry.
I will return in 2020, so stay tuned!
Et tout finit par des chansons...
I met David Wessel a few times at IRCAM in the 80s - he worked there from 1977 to 1988, when working at HP Test & Measurement, which became Agilent under the baton of Ned Barnholt then Keysight Technologies more recently.
At the time, I was designing my first commercial speakers under the Microphase brand, and I had all sorts of connexions in the audio field, but also I had IRCAM as a client.
That's how I met David originally. My passion for music reproduction gelled with his lifelong interest in electroacoustic music and we became friends.
In 1988, he moved back to the USA, and started a local version of IRCAM that he appropriately named Centre for New Music and Audio Technologies.
In 1984, I moved to Scotland, then Amsterdam and then back to France as a Product Marketing Manager and I was kind of commuting to the US , New York City, Colorado and California with the odd trip to Spokane, Washington for good measure, so to speak...
David and I stayed in contact over the years and he invited me to CNMAT in Berkeley when I was visiting the Bay Area for work. So, on a gorgeous Californian evening, I drove over the Bay Bridge for the first time and headed up to Berkeley University.
No iMaps, no iPhones back then and the sun was rapidly disappearing. Eventually I found the place and David navigated me from the parking lot to a Spanish Hacienda looking building, all dark inside as it was way past business hours by then...
David then showed me around a little, but became very excited - David had reserves of enthusiasm that were second to none - as we approached the northwest corner of the building where the remnant of daylight made it quite a bit spooky...
Then in that corner, there was a big black cube and large B&W monitor next to it, so to speak.
David pressed an invisible button on that sci-fi monolith and after what felt like an eternity, the screen became alive...
You may have guessed by now what it was, but let's just say that even though I was working for HP at the time, I already was a MacIntosh addict and a Steve Jobs fan...and David knew that as there was a plethora of Macs and MIDI devices at IRCAM...
So here I was, bewildered, knowing that this thing was running UNIX with an amazing UI on top, and then the penny dropped with a hint by David:
I was sitting in front of one of the first five NEXT computers that Steve Jobs had generously gifted to the newly formed CNMAT.
I guess you can tell by my prose that I remember that evening like it was yesterday where in fact it happened 30 years ago...
We ended up going out for dinner and it was very late when I came back to my hotel downtown San Francisco. I didn't know at the time it would be the last time I see him...
Now, fast forward to a Christmas party with one of my current client who manufactures LED light fittings a few days ago and I get to sit next to a very jovial Julien Freed, a lighting designer that I knew of for a long time but never met.
So why am I telling that? Well Julien and I got talking - his father is French, people in lighting often consult in audio as well - Julien doesn't - so we start talking about speaker design and music, and then he dropped the name of his brother Adrian who still works at CNMAT i believe and was working for years with David.
Now, the funny thing is that neither Julien nor I could remember David's name, as I had lost contact with him when I left HP in 1992.
So we called our friend Google to the rescue, and bang comes his name and his photo!
I couldn't believe it! The next stage of our conversation did tame our joy as Julien told me about David's passing in October 2014 and incidentally his brother Adrian wrote his eulogy than I am giving you a link to below, as well as a few relevant other tributes. The last one is the best in my opinion.
David Wessel was a very jovial, full of life genius who was so humble and down to Earth, but probably one of the most impressive brains I had the fortune and pleasure to meet in my life!
I devoted an entire day at the Show just to look at turntables, and later realised I actually missed a few featured on other blogs!!! Pro-Ject, now the largest manufacturer of turntables in the World, Clearaudio and Acoustic Signature both from Germany had huge stands and literally hundreds of models on display... So without further delay, here are some photos from the day!
KUZMA - discovered in Paris chez Analog Planet 27/10/2010!
Kuzma was established in 1983 i Slovenia! Just at the time when CDs were introduced, so they clearly have done something right and different to survive the vinyl apparent obsolescence...You might want to search my site for either Kuzma or Analog Planet to read that article published almost 9 years ago! In that article i also talk about the first Nagra phono stage running on batteries. Now Nagra HD range is almost mainstream, if you can afford it!
More turntables in no particular order...
And that pretty much covers my second day at the Munich High End Show 2018. Time to say good night now and come back for Part 3 soon to be publish and covering my third and last day at the Show.
Munich is a magnificent city and it is only my second visit, and my first for the High End Show!
I had the opportunity to spend 3 full days there - out of 4, the duration of the Show - and being kind of short of time, I decided to structure my days around a particular topic...
So Part One of my reportage will feature the numerous French brands who were exhibiting.
Some famous names indeed like Focal and Devialet, but some new and unknown to me like Audionec, a highlight of my visit. So on we go!
Germany is one of the biggest export markets for Cabasse, hence why Christophe Cabasse has become fluent in German, not a mince feast! Not a great amount of new products there, but a solid traditional offering with the new improved Baltic 4 mated with the new Santorini 38 subwoofer. Impressive comes to mind!
AMADEUS PHILARMONIA by Jean Nouvel - Merging-Nadac
I had met the people from Merging-Nadac at RMAF 2017 where they were showing their wares thru a pair of Definitive Technologies speakers.
In Munich, they went a notch higher in price, specifications and design by teaming up with audio pro French manufacturer Amadeus, showing off their new Jean Nouvel designed Philarmonia speakers. I have to admit that I spent an inordinate amount of time listening to them in non ideal conditions and I was quite taken by their precise, but still smooth sound.
SUPRAVOX - BC Acoustique
One of my very first speaker designs was indeed based on this iconic driver, the engine in the Elipson spheres developed for the national French Radio ORTF. Supravox has been through a number of iterations and ownerships, not all respecting the original design, but still trying to capitalise on the famous brand. I have been assured by the new owner BC Acoustique that we are back to the original design and performance... I am tempted to buy a pair to recreate the famous "event laminaire" cabinet and enjoy the benefits of a very efficient full range driver.
New kid on the block! Starting with a DAC/Streamer and then moving onto an integrated solution, B Audio have certainly spent some time and money on the look of their products... I have been assured that the inside is as beautiful and well designed than the outside. It was their first foray into exporting, so we wish them all the best in their marketing efforts!
MULIDINE, YBA and friends
And so the story goes: I met Jacki Pugh, the charing lady in the photo above in the 90s at CEDIA Expo, at the time a small gathering of 30 exhibitors in a hotel in Dallas, Texas. She introduced me to Len Wallis and other Australian Hifi characters way before I had any idea I would one day relocate to Australia.
By a twist of fate, she ended up working for Shangling, a reputable Chinese audio manufacturer who bought over YBA, a very famous French brand of amplifiers designed by Yves Bernard Andre, for which she has become the International Sales Manager.
One could be tempted to transfer the "Paul Emile Victor" the famous French explorer joke to Yves Bernard André and ask which one of the three is actually the real inventor, lol...
But rest assured that this holy trinity is one and unique gifted electronic engineer.
Now, when Jacki was planning to exhibit in Munich a few years back, she turned to me for a recommendation of a French speaker manufacturer who would be interested to join.
Well, it just happened that one of my ex-colleague and distinguished audiophile Marc Fontaine has taken over another iconic French brand Mulidine. Et voilà! As they, the rest is history...
I live literally 5 minutes drive away from Len Wallis Audio, but it takes the two us to travel to Munich to spend some quality together, and in this case on the Triangle stand who Len distributes in Australia since losing the Focal agency after their merge with Naim Audio. I also had a chat with the son of the relatively new owner, Marc Le Bihan, a wine enthusiast - that's how he befriended Renaud de Vergnette the founder and eventually bought the business when Renaud decided to retire - who has by another twist of fate bought over Mas Amiel, a winery in French Catalogne, near Collioures, who used to belong to a distant cousin of my grandfather... Small world!
Do I need to present Metronome? They make arguably the most expensive CD player on the Planet, but that doesn't prevent people to buy heaps of them... What you might not know is that their first products were...speakers! And to celebrate new ownership and 30 years in business, they have designed those amazing speakers, part vintage Triangle 1180, part Focal Grande Utopia, but certainly not for the faint hearted or the poor audiophile, lol...
And obviously, they are still making the most expensive and arguably best CD player on the Planet!
A pink Grande Utopia? Why not? What success and brand awareness allow you to do...
GOLDMUND - not exactly French, but...
They look familiar, but these are entirely new speakers powered by DSP and digital amplification! Static demo unfortunately, so a trip to Geneva will be "de rigueur"
A very innovative company and new kid on the block too, Dyptique Audio is making a range of planar speakers and they sound fabulous, built and assembled in Montauban, the city made famous in the audio industry by Bouyer, the purveyor of sound reinforcement for all our beautiful French churches...Amen!
Under the new technical management of Philippe Penna, Elipson has come up with very decent speakers at a very competitive price as Made in China. Joseph Leon is probably turning in his grave, but eh the brand is still alive, so who am I to complain? The turntable is also a great addition to the range.
AUDIONEC - JADIS - au temps futur...
That was the big surprise of the Show! These speakers are about the same price as a Grande Utopia from Focal...But they do make the most amazing music! Probably one of the best speakers I ever listened to in my 50 years Hifi career. That paper dipole. open baffle sounds absolutely amazing... I will rephrase: it doesn't sound anything...It is the most transparent driver I have ever heard, effortless, highly efficient, reproducing instrument timbres accurately.
The two 38cm woofers and the super ribbon tweeters are there to extend but not compromise the full range main driver. Astonishing! Driven by Jadis tube amplifiers... Best exhibit at the Show by far...
Munich is a charming city, full of historical buildings and famous for a great food market, It is only my second visit to the capital Bavaria, a rare Catholic province of Germany, and this time I have allowed an extra day to properly visit it before heading to the High End Hifi Show for the following three days. I will start with the entire day i spent looking at turntables...
I should start by saying that this is my first visit to this Show, now considered as the best in the World, as the Hifi section of the CES in Vegas has lost a lot of its lustre as it has been shrinking and overshadowed by the growth of the general consumer electronics part of the Show.
RMAF, AXPONA and other regional shows in the US are more worthwhile of your time these days.
It looks like I have not been to this event since 2015! So this year i made a concious effort to go and get out of my comfort zone by visiting three new stores I didn't know existed...
Red Eye Records - Sydney CBD
The biggest store in the city and always well attended, even by very young teenagers. They also have a huge collection of CDs besides the generous vinyl sections
Mojo Record Store and Bar - Sydney CBD
A tiny store in a basement with a bar attached, but not open that early in the day! I had an interesting conversation with the youngest shop attendant who couldn't believe I knew Joseph Leon, George Cabasse and Jacques Mahul to name just a few. I think he is going to have a few late nights reading my stories here...
Quality Hifi - next door...
I couldn't resist going to say hello to my good friends at Quality Hifi next door, one and certainly the largest independent Hifi Store left in the City, and set in a magnificent heritage building. They were as as affable as usual and gave me a tour of their current turntable offering: Enjoy!
Birdland - Level 4 - Dymocks Building
Tucked away on level 4 of the magnificent Dymocks building bang pang in the middle of the city, Birdland is more Jazz CDs and rare things - a lot of ECM records - than vinyl. I found there on my last visit this HDCD of Patricia Barber that you have seen me playing often, too often? A rare shop with natural light! The quiet owner will let you browse until you engage with him and he then share a glimpse of his immense knowledge of the music he sells.
Utopia - Home of Metal - on the edge of Chinatown
Well, I sell loads of metal for a living, but I can't say I like it as a music genre, lol... Hence why I had never heard of this shop tucked away in a basement at the back of an Adina hotel
It was very busy though and it seems to be very famous with the aficionados of that music!
A bit of lunch in the Balkans on Oxford Street - Darlinghurst
A vintage restaurant for a vintage day? Oui bien sûr! This place has been opened and operating at the same place for decades, and I never managed to try it... Silly me as their steak was cooked perfectly rare and to my liking. The cold potato salad is delicious, and one need to come back for the seafood! The wine by the glass is 10$ and is 50% more generous than anywhere else in the city. I had a great Pinot Noir from the Adelaide Hills. But go elsewhere for coffee...
Radio Free Alice - Darlinghurst
Interesting owner James Tsai attracts a colourful but dedicated clientele. He also plays vinyl on his late Japanese uncle's vintage system: a bonus! Mostly vinyl here, not many CDs, but plenty DVDs!
The Record Store - Surry Hills
Clearly where the action was! A gentle crowd of young professionals and beautiful people welcome you into a rather small space filled with music out of two JBL monsters tucked in the corners, a real DJ and free beer,,,which I don't drink, so I stayed on the linger of my earlier Pinot Noir, probably a good thing.... The owner Stephan is a character and we got on like a house of fire - well the house was on fire anyway - and we will meet again to talk about Microphase Audio Design . One of the rare shops selling hardware and speakers from my good friends from AudioEngine met at RMAF 2017 in Denver last year. And they have a disc cleaner!
Very interesting Record Store Day in Sydney for this 2018 edition, Tell us your story in comments or send me a email with photos. The best answer will give you a 10% discount on a pair of our brand new Microphase Audio Design Signature speakers! A vos plumes!
Born in France, well travelled, relocated to Sydney in 1997.