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
Born in France, well travelled, relocated to Sydney in 1997.