2016 GUANGZHOU AV FAIR SHOW REPORT
Spread over two venues situated side by side (viz the Dong Fang Hotel and the China Hotel Marriott), this year’s Guangzhou AV Fair was held from the 18th to 20th November 2016 and promised to be bigger and better than anything ever shown in China before. The ‘humble’ directory of exhibitors - free with the entrance fee of RMB60 per day per person together with the obligatory exhibition CD - is itself meaty enough to pass off as one of those glossy fan-boy Japanese or Hong Kong hifi periodicals sold for good money in Far Eastern bookshops.
From its very humble beginnings, the Guangzhou AV Fair is now touted as one of the big four domestic hifi events around the globe. 136 exhibitors showed their various wares either in ground floor conference rooms or in smaller guest rooms from the 3rd to the 7th floors. This year, almost every major hifi brand you may care to name was represented in one form or another, proving yet again that China is an economic tour de force to be reckoned with, and that her citizens’ luxury goods consumerism is not only of ruddy health, but also on the rise. Note: for reference purposes, at the time of writing (December 2016), 1 RMB (renminbi) is equivalent to USD0.145.
BEST SOUND AT SHOW…
Goes to, without a doubt, U-Acoustic Limited’s room. Here, Tidal’s massive Contriva G2 loudspeakers was making music with de Falla’s Three Cornered Hat, played by the Bergmann Galder turntable, and accessorized by Entreq grounding boxes of all shapes and sizes. The little black leather mice you see atop the Contriva G2s are Entreq resonance control products known as Vibbeaters (prices range from RMB1100 to RMB2500 a pair).
The Contriva G2 loudspeakers were first launched in Asia (Hong Kong specifically) early last year, so they are not unfamiliar to Chinese audiophiles. Since their launch, the G2s have won many awards for Best Sound in Show, a fact I found out only after I had made up my mind based on my visiting all the rooms in the Guangzhou show.
Of all the high end set-ups I heard during the show, this was easily one of the most impressive on several levels, not least of which was the system’s bass reproduction. Here, one could not only hear and feel the low frequencies, but the Tidals presented bass as a tactile, real-life experience. It almost single-handedly redefined the word ‘slam’. Apart from a pair of Lumen Whites many moons ago, I do not think I have ever heard bass sound like this before.
Overall, it was a close call between several rooms for this title, but all things considered, I think Best Sound deservedly goes to these guys this year. Well done U-Acoustic Limited!
EINSTEIN AUDIO, KLIMO & JR AUDIO
Einstein Audio’s The Pure 3-way sealed box loudspeakers, coupled with an active woofer component, was driven by Dusan Klimo’s funky-looking turntable called the Tafelrunde, a suspended design that can be paired with a maximum of four tonearms (priced at RMB130,000 with one 13” tonearm).
Electronics were also from Klimo, particularly the Merlino Gold Plus pre-amplifier. The Carl Orff Carmina Burana they played when I visited seemed a bit fast to me, but then again I do not know the piece or recording well enough to judge if the set-up was askew or not. Regardless, the system was making great music and was invariably full of enthusiastic attendees whenever I passed by.
One interesting brand carried by this particular exhibitor is JR Audio, a joint venture company formed by principals from Sweden and Poland. Analogue sources being their specialty, their calling card is an interesting arm called The Impossible, a pivoted design made partially of wood that mimics the trajectory of a linear tracker. Unfortunately, it was only on static display so I was unable to audition it. Perhaps at another time I might be able to get my hands on a working sample and do a review on that.
The current analogue darling of high-end vinyl spinners has to be the Kronos range of tables, and in this show they pulled out all the stops to showcase its awesome potential. Naturally, only the best would be good enough for Guangzhou, so the Kronos Pro turntable (with its counter-rotating platters) was pressed into action. Judging from the standing-room only demonstration sessions, China’s audiophiles were clearly mesmerized by Montreal’s finest, paired with glossy monster speakers courtesy of Evolution Acoustics and driven by BAT electronics. Playing the Paganini Violin Concerto performed by Michael Rabin, the system sounded quite impressive. Rabin’s rare and collectible LPs were a common sight this year in many showrooms, testament to the fact that Chinese audiophiles not only have the cash to splurge on expensive equipment, but also on expensive software too.
Chord Electronics, UK put up a grand show in Guangzhou this year. Colin Pratt, Sales Manager at Chord, was on hand to give talks about the Field Programmable Gate Array (FPGA) technology used in their latest designs, from the cute little portable Mojo to the top of the line Dave DAC. From what I could see, audience attention was rapt as Colin held forth on the benefits of the FPGA DAC. Clearly, interest was very high in the Middle Kingdom for these DACs from the United Kingdom.
Above, Colin holding the TOTL Dave DAC and Tom Vaughan, senior engineer at Chord, with the Mojo
When I asked whether Chord had any plans to licence its FGPA technology to other interested parties, Colin was quite unequivocal about their intention to keep proprietary know-how within the confines of the company. Rob Watts, designer and owner of Chord, is more interested in pushing the boundaries of digital playback and achieving maximum sound quality than creating a mega-conglomerate, says Colin. It is precisely this kind of single-minded, unwavering pursuit of excellence that has kept Chord at the forefront of modern DAC design and will no doubt continue to do so for many more years to come. Although I did not ask to review the Dave when I was talking to the Chord boys, it is a foregone conclusion that I will have to listen to it in my own system sooner rather than later. Here’s a heads-up to Colin to expect a call or email from me shortly…
Apart from the two portable DAC headphone amps (Hugo and Mojo) stealing the proverbial show for Chord this year, Colin and Tom also brought along their really cool-looking CPA 5000 Reference Preamplifier, CPM 2800 MkII integrated amplifier (which also contains Chord’s proprietary FGPA technology), and their massive 750W SPM 6000 Reference MkII monoblocks, which uses 3 of their 5th generation 4kW power supply units and their own lateral structure dual-die MOSFET technology.
PROFESSIONAL MONITOR COMPANY & AVM
Richcoln’s room demonstrated the charms of PMC’s exclusive MB2 Deluxe floorstander, priced at RMB200,000 a pair (with stands). This particular model was developed specially for the China market at the request of Richcoln, PMC’s China distributor, and is directly based on the design and principles of the MB2 SE models.
A closer look at the PMCs reveals that, apart from slight cosmetic changes, the Deluxe model also boasts a new 26mm Sonotex tweeter which is driven by a circular array of six rare-earth neodymium magnets. With electronics from German company AVM doing amplification duties, the sound was particularly incisive with both CD and vinyl, with details galore and no hint of glare or brightness. Had it not been for the awesome Tidal set-up, this room would have been a strong contender for Best Sound of Show.
MCINTOSH & SONUS FABER
Richcom’s room (not to be confused with the aforementioned Richcoln) brought along venerable US brand McIntosh, in particular their MA 7900 integrated amplifier and MCD 550 CD player, to play along with Sonus Faber’s Amati (RMB158,000).
The MA7900 integrated amplifier, which also contains a phono stage and DAC, has been well-received by Chinese audiophiles for several years now, and by all accounts it appears to be still going strong. Chinese magazine Hifi Review declared it Product of the Year in 2013, and this year, it takes pride of place on its own pedestal and was priced at a not unaffordable RMB50,000.
Australian (manufactured in China) brand Melody put up a strong showing this year on the ground floor of the Dong Fang Hotel, demonstrating their WE2688 preamplifer and Everest 212 monoblocks to good effect. The WE2688 utilizes 2 Western Electric 416, one 274B and 2 WE373 tubes, while the power amplifier makes use of Full Music’s massive 212 output tube, one WE374, WE429 and 274B tube each per monoblock. Power output is 30W per channel and is yours for RMB280,000 a pair.
As can be seen in the picture above, all their amplifiers are point to point wired and the layout is neat and well thought-through. Quality components such as Nichicon electrolytics and Jensen coupling caps are evident, as is what appears to be a generous smattering of high-quality Japanese carbon film Kiwame resistors.
When the Melody electronics were hooked up to a massive pair of Triangle loudspeakers (which was on loan for the show), the sound that emanated was so life-like that it left a great impression on me, even though I was not even in the room! Some audiophiles use this “outside-the-room” sound as a test of a system’s potential, and from what I can tell, the Melody/Triangle system passed with flying colours. With their beautiful product design, well-crafted innards, and extremely high quality sound, the Melody room was easily one of my favourites for Best Sound in Show.