It takes balls, resilience and determination to take on a big multinational press group and organise your own local HiFi Show. Not only Marc Ruston of StereoNet fame has these qualities, but on top, he made a success of the event. Well done Marc!
It is not a big show by any measure, but to be able to pull out about 40 companies representing not far from 200 brands, mostly famous, but with some more esoteric gear thrown in, I really enjoyed visiting the show, meeting people I knew, and newcomers, as well as talking to a fair number of visitors and listening to some amazing systems and music bien sûr...
There was obviously a plethora of turntables, even though digital files were never far away. One wealthy distributor had even brought his own Studer pro tape machine to play first copies of master acquired through very special connections. A treat!
I missed my friends from Bryston, Kyron Audio and Brigadier Audio, but the last two had just broken the piggy bank to attend the Newport Hifi Show in the US of A, a show with a lot more exposure for their very special speakers indeed...
There was, surprinsigly, only a handful of Australian manufacturers, and I was the only French thing in sight, besides a static display of Cabasse speakers and Audio Aero imported by Osborn.
So, let's start with these Aussie legends!
Holton Precision Audio - Ex Nihilo Amplifier - Tasmania
Anthony Holton is a serious person when it comes to designing amplifiers - he has been doing for 20 years - and it shows. This new Ex Nihilo monster is just that, the result of doing table rase of previous designs and starting with a blank sheet of paper and giving himself carte blanche in terms of budget and the sky is no limits specifications. By the way, Anthony is one of the rare amp manufacturer to specify slew rate, the most important parameter in my view, as it will give you a good idea of the transient response of this piece of electronics.
And it is beautiful too, the chassis being machined in Switzerland, a country that has produced other fabulous sound machines like Stellavox or Nagra, not to mention Goldmund, Alumine and a few others..
We were treated to listening to these beauties (it takes two to tango...) on some open baffle speakers from Israel, Pure Audio Project. See below for my take on these speakers.
Osborn makes almost French speakers, using a lot of Focal drivers and interestingly enough manage to get a much more lively and interesting result at a tenth of the price of the Grande Utopia using most of the same drivers! The cabinets are magnificently crafted without shouting "Look at me".. Interestingly enough, Greg Osborn also imports French electronics from Audio Aero.
Quoting his website here says it all and certainly reflects my opinion:
"After several years of experimentation the Mark 1 Epitome was born. This speaker easily eclipsed the best of the references used in their design and they captured the heart and soul of those that heard them. The same ideals are reflected in the present generation of speakers where each instrument is separated from the next and operates in its own acoustic space. They have spectacular dynamic range with no dynamic compression and awesome bass response, so that the potential power of the orchestra can be sensed by the listener even during quiet passages. Osborn Loudspeakers put back what has been missing from reproduced music: life, excitement and satisfaction.
Although the three larger models epitomize the designers goals, he at least appreciates that people live in real houses and usually have real wives who can see no reason why the living room should be dominated by something as imposing as the Monuments or the Epitomes. The Eclipse was the major attempt to bridge the two ideals. It is large enough to be able to reproduce deep bass and it is lightning fast, with a sound out of all proportions to its size."
VAF Research speakers
I like Philip Vafiadis, i like the man, his enthusiasm, his dedication...and his speakers. And I suppose their trademark is the consistency across the whole range from the tiny i(0 to the towering i93 shown above. And I hear him saying "Darling I shrieked the i90..." as there is now an even smaller version of the i90, the149! You can stop this guy and that's fine with me!
Wyndham Audio makes more traditional speakers, but I was really interested in listening to folded horn single driver design. There is a fine line between transmission line and folded horn, but we will leave that discussion to the experts... This implementation of the concept, based on a single Fostx 108 full range driver was a delight to listen to. Single driver designs give the best phase and with a very high efficiency, the Fostex gives great slew rate and timbre accuracy. Au external baffle compensation filter gives the system the extra bass required together with the folded horn. Quite impressive result in a very spouse friendly package...
And now let's have a look at the foreign contingent...
Well, if you are a regular reader, you will know I like horns and Avantgarde's in particular. So I was pretty keen to get a listen to this "tout en un" system, not dissimilar in concept to Kyron Audio, just a hornier version...
The room set up was no ideal, as I think the speakers were too far apart to produce the kind of image these type of speakers are capable of. But,eh, every exhibitor had some of the same problem. After must tergiversations, we finally managed to plug my famous USB stick in the system and play these percussions from Jean-Pierre Drouet, one of my definite test.
It played quite well, maybe not as accurately as the Kronos from Kyron Audio, but still very realistic with good timing and slew rate, but the timbres were not as precisely rendered.
Mind you, these are also a lot less expensive that the Kronos... Great looking speakers!
German Physics, Ypsilon electronics and Studer tape machine
Telos Distribution are very good at showing their very expensive but magnificent products.
Ypsilon and German Physics need no introduction and we have covered them before on this blog. I like these german speakers much better than their MBL "cousins".
Fed by either first copies of master tapes running on the Studer or from the Doehmann Helix turntable, the result was some of the finest listening sessions of classical music or jazz at the Show. I did spend an inordinate amount of time there, just because I could...
PureAudioProject - Open Baffle in kit form (almost...)
This was the best surprise of the Show. I am a bit of a fan of Open Baffle speakers, as you have probably noticed if you are a loyal reader... The small version called the Trio 15 got my vote (well it was Election Day in Australia on that Saturday...) and with two 15"/38cm woofers from Eminence and the famous Voxativ full range driver in a d'Appolito arrangement, a complex and high quality Leonidas crossover (and we are not talking Belgian chocolates here...), the result was not short of spectacular... Mind you, with two mono blocs of power from Holton, there was plenty of juice to drive these beauties designed in Israel.
One interesting thing is that they are shipped flat packed and ready to assemble by the end-user, IKEA like. They are also very affordable, in the same price range as the now famous Emerald Physics from the US of A.
Curiously, I was far less impressed by the "grand modèle" using Morel drivers (also from Israel).
I thought they sounded more brittle and the timbres were not accurately reproduced. Unfortunately there was no possibility to plug my now (in)famous USB stick, so I could not test them with material I knew intimately. These larger speakers are not on their website yet, so let's give them the benefit of the doubt and consider them at prototypes for the moment.
Harbeth - Un grand classique
The quintessential British design originating from extensive research by the BBC and now with a new bass/midrange driver developed in house. Refined sound, very polite and accurate, great to listen to classical music, but maybe a tad restrained when it comes to more modern repertoire.
The construction, manufacturing and finish is outstanding although very dated in terms of look, a real vintage winner with a modern twist.
A couple of electronics from the USA and China
Bricasti Design - USA
Like Bryston, (you know, my favourite brand of amplifiers...) Bricasti started in pro audio and still get the bulk of their business from recording artists and studios, but with the introduction of the m1 DAC/preamp and M@* mono blocs , the consumer market was within reach.
Brian travels the World to show his wares with his own pair of speakers (Accuton) and his demos are some of the best you can get as he not only knows his gear, but his music as well.
I have never heard them before and it was quite a revelation. Besides Brian looks and talks like an HP engineer, so we got along just fine... I was expecting Siegfried Linkwitz to walk in any minute...
You should visit their website, as there a number of interviews of pro users raving not only about the sonic qualities of these electronics, but also about the care taken in their manufacturing!
Melody - China
Pardon my ignorance, but I had never heard of Melody... And that is a shame, because these people craft some of the most amazing looking valve electronics I have ever seen. The quality of the finished product rivals my all time favourite Allnic.
Unfortunately, the Chinese music being played almost exclusively was not familiar or should I dare say enjoyable to be able to give them a fair judgement and hopefully I will have a chance one day to listen to them on material that I know. Just from the manufacturing quality and aesthetics point of view, they certainly look the part and I expect them to perform accordingly!
A diarrhoea of turntables from all over the World
Acoustic Signature makes a dozen different turntables, various tone arms and phono amps, built in Germany, with a little resemblance to Clearaudio at times. Well designed and beautifully crafted, they are objets d'art as much as turntables. And not all will break the piggy bank...
So, in conclusion, this was a great show and it was well organised and attended. We will be waiting for the Sydney event in March 2017. Well done Marc Rushton!
Born in France, well travelled, relocated to Sydney in 1997.