2016 GUANGZHOU AV FAIR SHOW REPORT page 2
Mundorf electronics, a company well-known for their M-Cap range of capacitors, showed not only their latest components for building electronics and speaker crossovers, but also clearly Asia CEO Norbert Mundorf’s favourite creation, the MA30 bookshelf speakers made specially for the company’s 30th anniversary. Each MA30 cabinet uses an AMT 19CM1.1 air-motion tweeter, a 6.5” Accuton C158 ceramic driver, and a crossover made up of Mundorf MCap Supreme Evo components. Quality WBT 0703AG speaker connectors are used at the back. The separate components are sent as a kit to Mundorf’s China factory where the cabinet is manufactured, and where skilled technicians complete the build under strict quality controlled conditions. The result is proudly displayed below by CEO Norbert Mundorf himself (priced at RMB21,000 a pair, RMB46,000 with the accompanying BE30 bass unit).
Due to a very tight show schedule, I was unable to spend the amount of time I would have liked to audition the MA30s. But suffice it to say that, from the little that I was able to hear, the MA30 definitely belie their small size, sounding like a very much bigger speaker. There was a lack of boxy colouration and the AMT tweeters, coupled with the ceramic drivers, played music like their life depended on it. Despite what seems to be a complex crossover, I could not detect any signal loss as the musical image spread out before me, in its full glory and minute detail. I would love to review a pair of MA30s in my own home in the not too distant future.
I have a special fondness for this company’s products. Based on the vintage Western Electric gear, Line Magnetic produces a whole range of equipment (from amplification to loudspeaker systems) that holds true to the Western Electric principles and design aesthetic. This year, their new electronics launched at the Guangzhou show included the new LM-125, an integrated amplifier based on the 211 output triode (far right on the picture below), the 129P phono stage (centre), and the 123 tubed buffer stage (left).
The LM-125 is able to output a total of 15W per channel, while the exciting LM-129P not only has a mono switch but also several different EQ curves to select from, eg RIAA, NAB, AES, Columbia or Decca FFRR depending on the record you are listening to. I have already requested a sample of the LM-129P for review and can’t wait to get started on it. Last but not least, the LM-123 tube buffer (RMB25,000) is primarily meant for closer impedance matching between components, not (as with some lower-end tube buffers like Musical Fidelity’s X-10D) to ‘add tube warmth’, whatever that means. Without giving too much away, the difference between having the LM-123 in or out of the system was startling, to say the least. The designer claims that the LM-123 will do wonders for any system, and from my very brief acquaintance with it, it has already become one of my Most Wanted Components for 2016.
LATEST TRENDS AND PRO DUCTS
Two particular trends were notable from the Guangzhou show. The first was the preponderance of lifestyle products such as portable digital players and headphones. Second was the resurgence of reel-to-reel tape technology and software.
Not wanting to be left behind in the continuing digital revolution, venerable CD player brand Shanling has reinvented itself and is now pushing out a whole new range of personal digital players.
Starting with the cute little M1 (dimensions 60mm x 50mm x 13mm), despite its diminutive size, Shanling has fitted it with a 200 femto-second internal clock and it is capable of native DSD64 and DSD128 playback.
Although the sample unit was black in colour, the M1 comes in a variety of colours, including white and dark blue.
Moving up the ladder, Shanling offers more upscale players called the M2 and the M5, the latter currently its top of the line personal player. The M5 is capable of supporting digital playback up to 384kHz/32bit (using an AK4490 converter).
One of the more interesting local Chinese brands was xDuoo. They launched a two-strong range of headphone amplifiers, known respectively as the TA-20 and the TA-10. The former is simple hybrid (12AU7) amplifier with a balanced input, while the latter has a built-in DAC (again using the popular AK4490) for DSD and up to 384kHz/32bit capability.
Both headphone amplifiers derive their name from the subtle “X” shape formed by the tube protectors/coolers, and although small, did make a very nice, open and transparent sound with a pair of Beyerdynamic open-backed headphones. Obviously, the TA-10 was better overall, but I would be more than happy with the TA-20 for light, non-critical music-listening.
Final is a Japanese brand that was established in 1974 to build high end cartridges, and later branched out into OEM earphones, headphones and speakers under the company name of S’NEXT. In 2009, they decided to sell their own earphones under the Final Audio Design brand and this year, they have showcased (literally) their range of earphones and related accessories that elevate them from a utilitarian device to a piece of fine jewelery.
Prices range from RMB1129 (just the basic earphones) to RMB25,000 complete with the most exclusive decorative accessories you would ever want on your buds.
What do you do when you have a whole rack of Western Electric mastering gear, vintage Studer reel-to-reel tape machines, and a big collection of master tapes waiting to be transferred to the latest digital technology? Well, you do what Chinese-based ABC Records do, and issue CDs directly mastered from the original tapes. ABC Records even issues R2R copies of the originals, available during the show at a discounted price. Connoisseurs were seen snapping them up like hot cakes.
ABC Records was by no means the only purveyor of R2R software. I spotted at least one other vendor selling spools, but they closed early before I was able to get more information from them. Fortunately, a friend was able to snap a few quick photos of their Studer machine before they left for the day, and based on my enquiries, I understand that the label originates from Germany. I also recall spotting a few classic titles such as RCA’s “The Reiner Sound” and George Gershwin’s “Rhapsody in Blue”. If I am able to obtain further information about them, I will report back.
Ordinarily, I would not consider Klipsch a lifestyle brand, and I still wouldn’t, but this year in Guangzhou they showed a tendency to move in a more consumer-friendly direction, demonstrating their Heresy III loudspeakers with a mid-range horn (RMB24,000 a pair) in a lifestyle context.
Harking back to their heritage, the Klipsch Heresy III floorstanding speakers has been in continuous production since 1957 and little has changed with regards their external appearance. However, audio has a come a full circle and what was old has now become new again. If you have never seen a pair Heresy IIIs before, you would be forgiven for thinking that these are the company’s latest attempts at designing modern speakers with a retro twist. And true enough, they do not seem to have aged a single bit. Kudos to Klipsch for dusting them off and bringing them out again for the 21st century for a whole new generation to enjoy.
Mr Hung, designer of Qinpu electronics (pronounced chin-poo, meaning “zither score” in Chinese) believes very much in the power of music to heal. I do not have enough space to go into his design philosophy, but from the loving way that he has fashioned each component, it is clear that Mr Hung wants his “hifi” components to do more than just reproduce music.
If you had the good fortune to walk into the Qinpu room, you would have entered into an oasis of calm and tranquillity. In fact, it was such a wonderful coda to the entire show that I found myself finishing the 2015 Guangzhou AV Fair right here in this sanctuary. Qinpu is not interested in moving tons of product nor in making their stuff the biggest, baddest and most expensive in the world. Their little A6800 tube amplifier (RMB1800, using ) is no bigger than a hardcover novel, and their little omnidirectional speakers (RMB1760 each) fit in your hands like a delicate, freshly-brewed pot of Chinese tea. Mr Hung advises potential users of his system to consider speaker placement as a Zen exercise, not necessarily an audio one. Look at one of his speakers below and you’ll understand why.
When time permits, I will be going more in depth into this range of very special, very interesting products. For some, they might seem ludicrous or simply a brazen attempt to tap into the New Age market. For others, such a place might be the end point in a long and arduous audio journey and a final release of one’s ego.
All in all, the Guangzhou AV Fair 2016 was a resounding success. Going through all 130-plus exhibitors’ rooms was extremely tiring, but also tremendously rewarding. It was an opportunity to renew old acquaintances, make new friends, and re-discover the passion and beauty of this hobby we call high-end audio. I loved every minute of this journey and I hope I have been able to bring a little of that excitement to you through this article. Hopefully, it has piqued your interest in this show and perhaps we can meet each other next year in Guangzhou 2017!