In this second and last episode, we will review our Australian exhibitors, a lot of what is now called Head-Fi and finally cover the British brands and some very big systems.
Let's get the Show on the road!
I have first heard of Legend Acoustics a couple of years back, when I approached their cabinet maker for a custom project of mine. I was quite impressed by the level of complexity and astuteness of the cabinet design as well as the quality of the finish product. I was not allowed to investigate too closely for obvious commercial confidence reasons. But having been in the trade for about four decades, I knew I was onto something quite unique. Then I learned that Rod Crawford, the owner and designer, worked for my dear old Scottish friend Ivor Tiefenbrun of Linn fame, and that triggered an even bigger interest, as working for Ivor is not for the faint hearted!
So, for this Show, Legend was very high on my list of people to visit and I even had a chance of a great conversation with the man himself! What I was not aware of either is that Rod has followed the same path as my friends at Kyron Audio by using equalisation and electronic crossover from DEXQ, but in a conventional cabinet, and even better a separate medium-treble unit sitting on top of a substantial subwoofer acting as a stand for the satellite, my favourite combination! A total of five drivers, a tweeter, a midrange, a mid-bass and two 12" woofers.
The cabinets have no parallel faces, requiring an expert joiner and accurate CNC machinery to achieve this level of craftsmanship. We are in Jean-Paul Guy territory here of Focal Grande Utopia Be fame - funny the resemblance of names on opposite ends of the Planet.
What I heard confirmed my theoretical assessment of these speakers: extremely speedy sand accurate, delivering extremely tight bass in a visually attractive and not too intrusive cabinet.
I think they are to box speakers what Kyron Audio Kronos are to open baffle. I am planning to have an extended listening session later and will certainly write a complete review then.
Although I didn't ask for the exact price of the system, I believe it to be under 50K$.
The Head-Fi department
It was an amazing display at Addicted to Audio, where you could try almost any headphone with any amp. Due to time constraints, I only listened to the AUDEZE, GRADO RS1 and OPPO on the Decibel Audio stand nearby. All three setups returned extraordinary results and surprisingly I think the most beautiful sound came out of the ICON AUDIO + ORIGIN LIVE + LONDON DECCA analog chain into the OPPO headphones. It was almost liquid sound, definitely silky, accurate and comfortable to wear, and even in such a noisy environment, quite easy to concentrate on the music. I found the AUDEZE slightly more digital, but it might be just because of the source. The Grado was a close second in my opinion. The SONY would be good to travel with at 500$.
The Aussies have not completely become a republic of sound and are still the subjects of Her Gracious Majesty of British Hifi! And even as a Frenchman, I have always been interested, maybe fascinated even..., by the so-called British sound, polite, politically correct, Victorian even maybe as it does not try to be orgasmic, just staying on the edge of it, but still trying to steer all these emotions out of a well-educated, music savvy listener. After all, I am listening to many more British bands (The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, Dire Straits, just to name the top three...) than any ridiculous French bands (name one if you can...) And yes I like Barbara, and Brassens and Yves Montant and my dear friend Joel Favreau, but French rock? No way!. So how can you enjoy Private Investigations on a pair of LS3/5? I guess you will need to upgrade to a pair of KEF Blades to get that visceral response that this kind of music is suppose generate in your body!
And some of the best recording studios are in the UK (Abbey Road and Decca come to mind...)
So, yes I do have a lot of respect for British Hifi with a sweet tooth for the Scottish category!
Scandinavia was poorly represented this year with the notable absence of Dynaudio (and matching Bryston amplification) as well as Electrokompaniet. Pen Audio has never made it to these shores, so no surprise there. There were plenty Scandinavian drivers around in other speaker brands, as Scan-Speak and SEAS still command a lion share of the high end audio.
But Jamo, Audiovector and Raidho did make a serious appearance and it was sonically welcome.
A bit of valve porn - Nostalgia or Revival?
Well, it seems like every other day there is a new turntable and a new valve amp for headphones or speakers. Bigger and more powerful tubes are being invented in the Czech Republic or elsewhere, and even I was taken by an Icon Audio Headphone amp driving the OPPO headphones. And yes my very first amp was valve-based and rated at 10W per channel!
I had built my own transistor preamp though and my very own first full range speakers equipped with a 17cm Siare driver in a smallish closed cabinet filled up with redundant wool covers my Mum gave me. Add a Dual 1219 turntable and Shure V15 cartridge and I was in hifi heaven, or was it "all about the music" as Harry Connick Jr says? And that's the nostalgic part: at the time, it was the only kind of system a young electronic (or else..) student could afford. No longer, as valve electronics are now in the realm of High-Enf Hifi and out of reach of most music lovers.
So, is this revival triggered by the return of the vinyl, also out of nostalgia from baby boomers now able to spend a fortune on their hifi gear, or is there a genuine better quality of the sound?
The jury is out there, and I am the first to be confused at time. I have even considered building one small amp for fun and maybe give it to my daughter who seems to be the one having inherited the audiophile bug. Time will tell. In the meantime I will stick to my Bryston amplifier!
The Big Boys - Systems priced over 100K$
German and Austrian High End gear primarily on one of the two TELOS Suites. Turntables by Spiral Groove and Continuum - see episode 1 - amplification by Ypsilon from Greece, speakers from Brodmann, Kaiser Acoustics (I like them a lot...) and German Physics. You won't get much change out of 200K$ there either!
It felt incongruous to pair such a supposedly high-end electronics with a mid range Ovator 600 speakers. At least, I would have liked to hear the system on the Ovator 800, some of the very rare speakers managing to use the BMR technology properly. Besides, there was no way to listen to our own CDs or to rip an HDCD on the system. I was quite disappointed I have to say...
I might surprise you in choosing the TechDAS and Gauder Akustik system as my gear of choice if I had 200K$ to spend on a new HiFi combo. It was the most coherent and musical system in that price range. Besides, the Air Force turntable is not only a "tour de force" but also prone to be a great conversation piece between a few glasses of Hospice de Beaune Pinot Noir. The system has all the bits and pieces not only to play your existing - and probably large - collection of vinyl but also can accommodate your CDs and digital files. At half the money I would go for the Kronos from Kyron Audio and just add a Bergmann Magne turntable et voilà!
If I were to move into a smaller place, I would consider an all OPPO system, and keep my current NAD amp and REGA turntable and buy a pair of Q Acoustics 2020i foe less than 5K$!
It was well worth getting up at 4.00am to fly to Melbourne and spend the day at the Show. The Intercontinental Rialto Hotel is very comfortable for the occasion and the absence of the usual crowds (probably not such a good thing for the organiser and the exhibitors, though...) made it a breeze to cover the event in one day. For sure I deliberately skipped a few rooms, and I surely missed a few products that I would have enjoyed discovering or revisiting, but life is all about choices and besides, this is my passion not a job I am paid for, so it gives me a bit of "poetic license" as they say...
I hope you have enjoyed reading my prose, and my Google Analytics results seem to confirm that you do. Thank you for your time and hope to see you again (virtually...) soon
I can't believe it has been a year already since I was last in Melbourne for the previous Show!
I woke up at 4.00am to catch the first flight from Sydney and was in Melbourne way before the opening time. Walking from Spencer Street Station to the Intercontinental is only a 15 mins walk, invigorating as the cold Melbourne morning air was "au rendez-vous". And the place was packed with 70,000 Jehovah Witnesses attending their annual gathering at the near by Etihad Stadium. Quite a sight and a very polite, well dressed and orderly procession, it was!
With 42 exhibitors and maybe 50 rooms to visit, it is not a huge show, but all the important players in the local market and their suppliers are committed to give the audience a good time!
And a good time I had, indeed...So here is my report organised in a different format, as I can!
Involve Audio - The most innovative product and it is Australian!
Combine electrostatic speakers, innovative signal processing technology, and a hint of vintage quadraphony and you are close enough to describing Involve Audio. Here are a few diagrams that might help understand how it works. And by the way, it does work!
The interesting thing is that technically, you could use your own speakers and definitely your own amplifiers, as they are not part of the system. However, the way the speakers are designed, they take full advantage of the decoded signal and will bring you the best surround sound result.
I actually find the look of the speakers quite interesting and they sound pretty good at the price.
Kyron Audio - the most awarded product before and during the Show
If you follow me on this blog, you will know that it is no secret that I really like those speakers - actually, I should say this system. I have been a great advocate since the beginning of Leon and Lee adventure with the Gaia, and now there is no excuses for not considering buying their gear, with the introduction of the Kronos. You need only a source to play music, and that be be your audio files on your computer, iDevices or Androids, and why not connecting an OPPO player and a turntable. That should leave you some spare cash out of a 100K$ to buy more vinyls...
And I have been vindicated by Michael Fremer of Stereophile fame who could not find enough praise for the Kronos on his blog Analog Planet: http://www.analogplanet.com/content/kyron-audios-kronos-best-sounding-system-you-will-ever-hear.
Michael was invited at the Show to run a turntable masterclass and he was enticed to go and have a listen to the Kronos. The boys were a bit nervous, I heard, but then they got over it!
The cutest products
I didn't get a chance to listen to these cuties, but I have found memories of discovering WOO at the CES in 2012, where their minimalist look and great sound opened my mind to this genre.
I will have a whole chapter of this review on headphones, miniDACs and amp in episode 2.
SONY - the most innovative and coherent offer in AV
Very good private demo of the various capabilities of the Hi-Res Audio new products from SONY, coupled with the amazing 85" - that's 2.15m diagonal! The video signal processing, the hi-speed refresh rate and the new pixel technology make you feel more looking at a slide projector than a TV screen. Who remembers the first demos by Dr Faroudja at CEDIA in the 90s. Incroyable!
The audio side of things was not as stunning, but it was very good indeed for a Japanese designed speaker. I like the new three-part tweeter. Things were on the brighter side as a result.
Where are the French?
Although these four French brands of speakers have reputable distributors in Australia, none of them chose to show their French wares at the Show, and I believe the Aussie audiophiles are missing out on some great products. Hopefully this will be different next year.
Devialet had team up with Athom and a special edition of their GT-1 to give us one of the most spectacular demo of the Show. No sub, just two very good bookshelf speakers. The CD transport was provided by OPPO, although the DAC in use was the Deviate. The speakers were also further equalised with the proprietary SAM technology which covers about 60 different speakers as of today, but up to 200 before the end of the year. The system is keenly priced as well.
Most speaker designers follow some of the same principles and end up with different box designs, relying on proprietary drivers, esoteric loading, complex crossover and cabinet geometries variations to deliver what each believes to be the best sound at that price point.
On the other hand a few, like Kyron Audio, Siegfried Linkwitz and the two culprits here, Brodmann and DC10Audio make wonders out of designs that are not following the book.
I have been willing to find out about these speakers in real life for quite a while, as I suspected that although their design is very unconventional, they might actually work very well. And guess what? I was quite impressed! And yes they were very well fed by a YBA CD transport, an Allnic DAC and an YBA amplifier, and I was welcome to play one of my favourite CDs - Patricia Barber's Cafe Blue, A Taste of Honey on HDCD - and the high sensitivity coupled with the horn dispersion made it for a very smooth, dynamic and precise sound. And they look gorgeous too...WAF!
I have discovered these speakers at the CES in 2012 and was quite intrigued by them. I have since had a chance to listen to them numerous times here in Australia with mixed results. But at this Show, they were paired with Thrax - which I first heard driving Kaiser speakers - and an Ypsilon CD transport which i love the look of - and the result was mesmerising. Having just not one, but two tweeters on the front baffle for the top of the range model shown here (a no no in MY book...) and the bass-midrange drivers on the side of the cabinets, you need a particularly good positioning to reproduce the sort of diffuse sound that you experience in the concert hall when you are far away from the orchestra. These speakers are amazing on classical orchestral music, and at reproducing cellos, one of my favourite instruments. Thumbs up!
A few turntables for good measure
That's it for Episode 1! On the next and final episode, I will review DACs and headphones and their partnering amps, all the major British brands including my report on the private listening session of the Statement amplifier and associated gear from NAIM. And obviously, all the nice Australian gear like Legend, Richter, Osborne and Krix. Until then...good night!
The Australian Audio & AV show in Melbourne will take place in 10 days at the Intercontinental Rialto Towers, as in its previous incarnation on which we have reported at the time. The French contingent this year is still minuscule with only five brans represented and the noticeable absence of Davis Acoustics, Elipson and Waterfall Audio. Although not really French anymore we welcome YBA to the fold!
We will be watching a few other brands dear to us but will regret the absence of Bryston which is not listed yet as an exhibitor. Stay tuned as there is still time for them to register...
Interestingly enough there are a few record labels exhibiting, so we will be listening!
I hope you will be visiting if you live in our part of the World and feel free to approach me for a chat - it is always a pleasure to meet my readers in the flesh!
And the answer is...MASS and turntables.
The recent passing of Jean-Constant Verdier triggers this article and will take us on a journey in time to revisit three of the most famous French High-End turntables and pay tribute to the two designers behind these mighty designs, JC Verdier and Pierre Riffaud.
It is quite amazing to see the resemblance between these two, don't you think?
Interestingly enough, both Jean Constant Verdier and Pierre Riffaud came to massive designs from very different paths. Jean Constant worked for ERA and designed a very flimsy turntable with a underhung sub chassis and innovative "virtual pivot" arm. I owned such a "bijou" after leaving home and letting go of our Dual 1219 turntable to my sister - who still has it, I believe.
The ERA turntable was very well regarded at the time and it was also used in a "combo" with amplifier, tuner and matching speakers, called the "Bloc Source Quarante", named after the industrial designer who put it together Danielle Quarante, born in the same year as JCV, 1938 (btw, quarante in French means forty, so I originally thought it was a model number...) and was available in blue, white, red (French flag anyone???) and orange. See photos below. I really like it!
Pierre Riffaud started by re-engineering Garrard 401s - he still does it by the way...
and in that process started to design a new platter for it and reusing the oversize and very reliable motor as well as the very strong spindle and bearing.
JC Verdier went on to design "levitation" for his turntable, first magnetic, and now hydraulic, on the more recent "Magnum" which competes with Pierre Riffaud's Heritage and Clearaudio Statement, and probably a few more I am not aware of...
It definitely has the biggest platter and the heaviest at 60kgs, with 3 motors of 30kgs each and a solid marble plinth, raising the total weight to 400kgs!
JCV claims it is the heaviest on the market, not the most expensive but just the best
The difficult part would be to organise a comparative listening session, and I don't fancy my chances to be successful with that project...
I have not had a chance to listen to any of these separately, just the Classique at Point Musiques in 2011, and that was certainly better than my REGA, but how much better these top of the range turntables would be compared to the Classique or to my current upgrade of choice, the Bergman Magne, a mere 12K$...
Pierre Riffaud will not give you a price for the Heritage, saying to me with a cheeky smile: if you ask, it is that you can't afford it! ditto Epure, Verdier or Clearaudio...
But having said that, I have the upmost respect for people who dedicate their whole life to the pursuit of perfection at any cost, whether they design turntables like these two, or speakers like Wilson Audio, KEF, Cabasse or a meal like Guy Savoy, Joel Robuchon or Heston Blumenthal.
So RIP, Monsieur Verdier, in the knowledge that your son will continue holding the fort and we will continue spinning vinyl on whatever turntable one can afford, leaving some money in the bank to buy more records, good food and wine and listen to music in good company...
Born in France, well travelled, relocated to Sydney in 1997.