Endless pork products, beer and turntables the size of family cars- small wonder this might be Ed Selley's favourite place on earth.
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7,860Every January, our very own Phil and Steve make the pilgrimage to
Las Vegas for the CES show.
For the core product categories that AVForums covers, it is undoubtedly the most important show on the planet and for those of a hifi persuasion there is a huge amount of new product announced there too. For pure hifi though, CES now has a credible rival and one that takes place a little closer to home. Every year, at the MOC Exhibition Centre in
Munich, the audio industry gathers for a no holds barred exhibition of the current state of the art. This year was the eleventh time the show has been held here and in amongst the thousands of products on display, I've tried to find some of the more interesting and (hopefully) relevant ones.
XTZ does Auro
As, the XTZ review was expertly done by Phil, this was one of the first times I've heard the Cinema series and certainly the largest installation I've seen. It was also one of the first times I've listened to Auro material. With no less than eight 12 inch drivers at the front of the room, I feared that the results might be slightly bass heavy but in actual fact, integration was excellent and the general performance was very impressive. Naturally, if any Auro material is going to sound good, it will be the demo disc, but the results were sufficiently impressive, I'd be happy to see more of it.
Astell & Kern 'Layla' Earphone
When I reviewed the Noble Kaiser 10, I had assumed (naively as it turned out) that ten drivers per side might represent the logical maximum that anyone might try to build into an earphone. Six months later however this idea has been roundly knocked on the head by the arrival of the Layla, the first earphone being offered in the Astell & Kern range. Twelve armatures are arranged in four crossover points of three and the whole thing is yours for around £1,800-2,000. The housing is not small though so be prepared for a few looks, admiring or otherwise.
Focal Sopra 1 and 2
Focal has been a little quiet of late and it seems that the reason for this calm period is that the men and women of St Ettienne have been getting really rather obsessive over making their already excellent drivers that little bit better. The Sopra range sits between the Electra and flagship Utopia series and this means that there is more than a little Utopia to the Sopra 1 standmount and Sopra 2 floorstander. There are also some features not seen on any other Focal model up to now. The tweeter (Beryllium as one might expect) vents to a chamber at the rear of the speaker while the main drivers use new surrounds and flux technology to improve their linearity. The result of all this beavering away is a duo of speakers that sound really very good indeed. Hopefully some AV models will follow too.
Chord Electronics DAVE
Elsewhere at the show, whatever they are putting in the drinking water at Chord Electronics shows no signs of dispersing. Hot on the heels of the Hugo TT we saw at
Bristol comes an all new DAC that represents the bleeding edge of digital to analogue decoding. An all new FPGA chip, bespoke filtering and the sort of processing power that our computers didn't have at the turn of the century, let alone our audio equipment, have all been combined in classic Chord 'science fiction prop' styling in a product called... DAVE. This is actually an acronym for Digital to Analogue Veritas in Extremis but with Hugo and DAVE now parts of the Chord lineup, I'd be lying if I said I wasn't looking forward to where they go next with this new naming policy. If you are interested, a DAVE will set you back £7,995.
Naim DR Power amps
Naim has so far resisted giving any names at all to their core 'Classic' range of components but this doesn't mean that they aren't constantly working on them. The latest upgrade is the 'DR' specification which stands for 'Discrete Regulator.' This uses technology from the flagship Statement pre and power amplifier we first saw last year and starts to make some of the research and technology available at a more terrestrial price point. When combined with the NA009 transistor- also specially developed for the Statement and built in house by Naim- the result is a useful upgrade in performance to the four core power amps in the Naim range. A short demo with the Focal Sopras suggested that the improvements are a useful step forward and the synergy between the two brands is improving all the time.
Having complained that the only example of a Phantom at
Bristol wasn't actually running, I did actually get to hear a pair in March but this is a the first time, I have any reason to report back on how they sound in an official capacity. A ferociously complex active speaker with a decidedly unusual means of generating low frequencies, the Phantom can be used in singles, pairs or as demonstrated, completely variable groups. I'm not totally bowled over by how the Phantom sounds- I think Devialet has extracted some bass depth at the expense of a bit of control and detail- but I still think it is an amazingly clever product and one of the coolest looking speakers you can buy.
The Phantom wasn't the only product Devialet was showing off however and they inadvertently ensured a product I have never actually heard in the entire time I have been working in this industry also got a look in. The company was showing off their 'SAM' technology which adapts the performance of the amp to specific loudspeakers and the speakers they chose to demonstrate this with was the oft seen but rarely heard Bowers and Wilkins Nautilus. The overall result was pretty impressive- although ironically, as I've never heard the Nautilus without the SAM processing, making a final judgement isn't completely straightforward but it was good to see.
Final Audio Design
Final has been in
Munich at the same time as the show in years past but this was the first time they exhibited. The stand was open plan but was able to show off the fantastically shiny Sonorous VIII and X headphones and the equally ghetto fabulous Heaven VII and VIII. Equally splendid (and shown in the photo above) is a 'distressed' version of the Heaven V which is referred to as the 'Ageing.' While completely pointless from a performance point of view, I'd be lying if I said I didn't want a pair.
Later this month, a review of the Avid Ingenium Turntable will go live on the site. The process by which the Ingenium has been designed is that it is a distillation of the flagship Acutus turntable you can see in the picture above. This means that your amp decisions over the next few years might be influenced by the electronics you see here. The Reference preamp and monoblock power amps are Avid's opening gambit in this product category and will in time generate a whole family of amplification. In the meantime, if you need the power to drive pretty much any speaker in existence, two phono stages and staggering build quality, this is a fine place to start looking.
Arguments over the most expensive room of the show are complex and hard to establish but Esoteric had to be in the running with an absolutely beserk demonstration of their entire flagship lineup- including a great many power amps at $21,000 each in one giant orgy of hifi. Like almost all the really expensive systems playing at the show, a slight terror overtakes the operators and absolutely no risks are taken with the music that is played but there was enough promise there to suggest that being left to my own devices with the system would have been fun.
The noble exception to companies playing it safe was Avant Garde who seemed to be intent on generating sound pressure levels that could boil the fluid in your inner ear (and given the astounding sensitivity of horn speakers, something they could probably do). In the general pricing insanity of the
Munich show this system was only seriously rather than astronomically expensive but a really very loud rendition of Kraftwerk's Electro Kardiogram meant it was one of my favourites.
Klimo Stern Turntable
After a while wandering around the show, a sort of crazed price blindness takes over and anything that has a list price lower than a well specced Ford Focus actually starts to look like good value. Tucked away in a smaller room at the end of a corridor and only on static display was something rather lovely and by the deranged standards of
Munich, fairly affordable. The Stern turntable is the entry level design from Italian company Klimo- albeit at a hefty €2,800. What I struggled to capture in photos is how achingly pretty it is. I can honestly say that in sheer- 'I want that and I want it now' value, this was the loveliest thing at the show for me.
Munich represents a massive commercial undertaking for most companies and it is not something you rush into doing. The idea therefore that one chap turns up with no real intention of selling anything and exhibits purely for the joy of showing off some equipment celebrating its eightieth birthday seems a bit weird but that is exactly what Manho Ho does. If you really wanted to talk about the Silbatone amps he makes, he will but he was really at
Munich to demonstrate a pair of 1930s vintage Western Electric horns pretty much because he can. He might have a point though. For something that is only marginally younger than my Grandmother, those gigantic horns (really designed for theatres and early cinemas rather than home use) sounded absolutely awesome. Their sensitivity is such that most dems were carried out on rather less than 1 watt of input power.
So there you have it. If you like a bit of two channel, I urge you to get out to this show at least once and these highlights have barely scratched the surface of what else was running at the show. I have put in a few requests with various manufacturers for products that will hopefully be of interest here and I try to feature a few of them over the coming months.
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