High End 004 Clement Perry
Hi End 2004 Europe's Largest HIFI- Show
For the first time in twenty-one years Hi End 2004 shifted from Frankfurt's Hotel Kempinski to Munich. The venue was quite different from the more comfortable, living room type spaces offered at the Hotel Kempinski to a more professional Show Room style setup. The rooms were nicely setup I must say and most of the sound was better than decent. There was little to complain about with such good sound coming from so many different rooms. This was certainly one of the better shows I've attended. Last year's Frankfurt Show, which I also attended but was so overwhelmed I never got to do a show report, was also super impressive considering all the electronics that never see the light of day here in the US. This year's event was more successful as it was just teeming with exuberant and enthusiastic show goers, industry bigwigs, and over two-hundred press photographers from the various audiophile publications, many who stayed long after the show's 7:00 PM curfew.
In the Atrium (above), most rooms looked like sophisticated store fronts that reminded me of my excursion to Singapore's Adelphi Building back in 2000 [where there are more high end shops per square feet than probably anyplace in the world]. In addition, the outside was more of a meeting place with very cozy seats located right outside many rooms. Naturally one would think that all these glass fronts would attribute to poor sounding setups. Not so. This may be true in theory but the sound in most of the rooms I visited sounded quite good considering time constraints to get the best sound possible and the usual [read: less than ideal] show conditions.
Statistics don't lie and this year's attendance growth was quite impressive with 167 rooms featuring 540 brands of audiophile equipment. On the average, there were over 2500 visitors per day (not including Thursday's press only day) but more important was the cheerful atmosphere. The place was quite festive and all in all the wonderful new venue is my guess for why everyone was so upbeat.
I just couldn't resist taking this photo. Don Dixon and I traveled far arriving from the Big Apple and were not disappointed. Munich's quite a place. The weather was near 90 degrees but plummeted sharply two days later. Made me wish I had traveled with winter clothes. Munich's also one squeaky clean city with a population that seems almost perfect in balance: never were the trains or buses too crowded nor were they considered empty--at rush hour no less. The one thing I noticed most were the advertisements. When was the last time you saw a cigarette ad (right) at your local bus stop featuring two senior citizens puffing away?
I'm sorry but one of the most beautiful sights for this audiophile was the equipment racks from Copulare (above left). The attention to detail of these assorted equipment racks, the feel, fit, as well as functionality, is something I hereby nominate as special. These ain't ordinary racks even by extreme audiophile measures. So much in fact, the first time I saw them were in conjunction with the Transrotor Turntables and I didn't know they were two separate companies (but I guessed the price correct at astronomical with the combo selling for about $65k). I did also happen to run into a familiar sight with respect to my new Belvedere turntable (above right $3,995) from Bluenote Audio. Minus any super rack system supporting it I was impressed with its unique style and personally can vouch for the performance of this worthy piece.
Speaking of which; how do you like your vegetables? I would love mine with the delicacy of Transrotor's double armed Pianta 40/80/L (left). The entire line of products from this company are astoundingly beautiful and in keeping with their looks sounded quite delightful.
The Living Sound Room featuring Fast Audio Acoustics and Lumen White loudspeakers seemed to keep the audience captivated no matter the time of day. On the left was a photo of the room near the end of press day, which of course was great because there was lots to listen to undisturbed. But once the doors opened (right) it was first come first served.
Fast Audio's Franck Tchang (above seated) had plenty to smile about as his Resonators were doing some job in the Living Sound Room. I've got his amazing products here and will be reporting on them. Stay tuned.
Don't think for a second that I wouldn't take a moment to pose with the folks responsible for making such wonderful sounding loudspeakers in the Lumen White! Actually, it was Stefan Fekete (above right) who turned me on to an incredible new music label that I owe a gratitude of thanks. That label is Quinton Records.
If there is one thing that all shows have in common it is MUSIC LOVERS! There were so many showgoers searching for that long lost or Most Wanted CD/LP. And of course, you could have found me right there looking for those hard to find gems from labels like ECM, Turtle and the surprisingly wonderful sounding Quinton Records label. This relatively new label has some notable music makers like Don Alias, Victor Lewis, Wolfgang Puschnig and Steve Swallow on a CD entitled "Grey" that does not disappoint in the least. I absolutely love their slow paced rendition of Down by the Riverside which features Puschnig on alto sax. For more information go towww.quintonrecords.com
Walking about this huge show among many of the attendees while admiring all the new fangled Plasma and LCD displays proved a sight for sore eyes. This truly was a mini CES event. And if there was any one thing that gave me sore eyes it was the new Blu-Ray hard disc HD Recorder from Sony. In case you're wondering Blu-ray,
(BD) is the name of a next-generation optical disc format jointly developed by thirteen leading consumer electronics and pc companies (Dell, Hitachi, HP, LG, Mitsubishi, Panasonic, Pioneer, Philips, Samsung, Sharp, Sony, TDK and Thomson). The format was developed to enable recording, rewriting and playback of high-definition television (HDTV). Blu-ray makes it possible to record over 2 hours of HDTV, or more than 13 hours of SDTV on a 27GB disc. There are also plans for higher capacity discs that are expected to hold up to 54GB of data.
Who was it that said competition is a good thing? I dunno but I'll tell you what, this new all-in-one A/V Media Center: HDTV Receiver, Hard Disc Recorder, DVD-Player and web browser from German newcomers Allcanview was quite impressive if not overwhelming for all it could claim out of such a small box. For more info visit www.allcanview.de
Let me tell you the hallways weren't tight and cramped as they appear here until Friday. Show goers came in droves and proved once and for all that Hi-Fi is very much alive and well...at least in Europe.
One of the more gratifying sights was in the B&W room. Here they're showing the new Pioneer plasma with Rotel electronics. My happiness is in part to the fact I too just got this wonderful 50" hi-def wonder in and am super impressed by its picture quality.
Another live versus recording was taking place at the Munich show. But nothing could have compared to the live event (above top). In another suite Classe was showing off their newest line of Delta Series electronics with B&W loudspeakers (above) most notably the legendary snail shaped B&W Nautilus loudspeaker. Unfortunately they were setup more for perusing than serious listening. But, just as they did when first released, the Nautilus caught a lot of attention.
Turntable heaven. Europeans have not seemed to give up on LP. A centerpiece (above) of turntables adorned the walkway at the Munich show. And from the looks of it there were quite a handful of gems in this roundup.
Who said two-channel is fading? Loudspeakers, from the likes I never seen or nor heard before were there in full view.
It was a nice surprise to see local legends in Wilson Audio, VTL (left) as well as one of my personal favorites in the Maggie MG20's (right) at the show. Both rooms put on a very nice sounding demo to boot.
The sound of either room above showcasing the German Super Audio CD player from Lindemann was outstanding. I have heard this exquisite player's performance for two years in a row. I will admit though I can not tell you about the other electronics in the room and how they ultimately sound individually, I will state for the record that with the Lindemann in the mix the sound is quite musical.
Phonosophie was at home here in Munich and put on a show featuring their newest line of loudspeakers which still await a name and price. The sound was as one would expect from this remarkable line of electronics: very good. While the loudspeaker is extremely promising in its abilities as well.
Hmm......was about all I could muster from this setup.
Behold proved beyond the shadow of doubt just how excellent the Isophon Europa II loudspeaker really is (and why I own a pair). I know, I know, we've covered this product enough but many weeks after the show I'm still bowled over by the unbelievable sound this combination displayed. My hope is that when they make it over to CES 2005 (they've committed verbally to attend), they're going to make their room as good, if not better that what I heard here. I take my hats off to Dr. Roland Gauder of Isophon, and Ralf Ballman of Behold.
Coming soon to a home theater near you! Small, light, hi-def compatible, with a long bulb life. Now that's what we need. Projection Design's Action One DLP projector (shown above with engineer Anders Lokke), debuted their 7-segment color wheel, produced a picture that was absolutely breathtaking! The Action One sports adisplay that boasts the latest HD2 + Mustang DLP Technology with a 1280 x 720 aspect ratio (16:9 wide screen). In addition, it can handle a multitude of input signals: 1080i, 720p, 480i/480p, PAL, SECAM, NTSC as well as connectivity to DVI-D and RGB. With a contrast ratio of 3000:1 and Faroudja's famous DCDi video processing the Model One displayed one of the sharpest, most colorful, noise-free pictures I've seen. Available in a variety of colors and slated for release summer 2004, with a retail price of $12,000, this is yet another great Danish product that I think will have heads turning and jaws dropping.
Italian loudspeaker designer Domenico Foirentino (right), of Eventus Audio proudly displays the special patented innards of the Metis loudspeaker. The technology, called SACC (Simulated Anechoic Cabinet Construction) is said to dampen internal spurious reflections. I can't vouch for how well this technology works but strapped to the Italian Audia Flight 100 amplifier and Flight 1 preamp, the system was quite impressive considering both the size of the loudspeakers and the room as well. Certainly a product worth keeping an eye on.
Sony put on a studio style surround demo that had me along with many show attendees impressed. Using a full arsenal of DSD fed surround music featuring Meitner Labs and professional coax studio monitors from German loudspeaker company Musikelectronic Geithain. I would say the sound was some of the best I heard in 5.1.
Avalon's legendary Eidolon Diamond loudspeaker strapped to a pair of hand-shredding Pass mono amps led the way, while Ayre, Hovland, Grado and Tri-planar kept toes tapping. Together they set the stage for some serious musical enjoyment. With room dimensions that any respectable audiophile would die for, along with DAAD acoustic treatment and Transparent Cables, this was some of the best sound I heard at the show.
Thomas Fast (left) of Fast Audio, showed he didn't get that name for nothing, wasn't missing a beat in discussing the effects of proper room treatments while Acoustic Resonators designer Franck Tchang (bottom right), is caught on camera taking a breather. I must admit, I doubt anyone can keep up with Thomas Fast's hectic pace and absolute salesmanship. Then again, I doubt there's a tweak for enhancing room harmonics as successful as Tchang's resonators.
Thomas Sillesen (above), Densen Audio Technologies' chief of design put on some show that featured a lineup of their sleek 'n neat BEAT electronics . I was a big fan of their B-100 preamp some years back if for nothing else, its amazing low noise floor (a virtue of its printed circuit board made of Teflon and double sided to allow a signal on one side and ground plane on the other. This is said to optimize an interference free signal transfer). Shown from top to bottom (right), is the new B-400XS CD player ($4000) boasting a new 25 bit PlusBit Technology: Essentially, through a mathematical process PlusBit technology adds one extra bit to the original source material says Densen. B-200 preamp (remote controlled ) and the BEAT 300XS ($2695), stereo 100 watt per-channel amplifier. All in all, I would have to say I am dying to get a review sample of these exciting new products...again hailing from Denmark!
It was also quite a surprise to see the all-new Meitner DSD combo transport and DAC showing with Densen. Electrocompaniet's new line was also shown (right). My guess is Densen wanted everyone to know that they also are quite privy to what great and expensive digital sounds like too. Which is why they compared their B-400XS to it.
Just wondering if it's me or do these loudspeakers bear any resemblance to ET?
Piega loudspeakers of Switzerland (above) sure had a lot of wonderful sound coming from their new P5 LTD MkII (right), and C10 LTD (left). Hard to see but behind its grill is a coax ribbon midrange. I, along with Key Kim, had the opportunity this past weekend to hear the original Piega P10 at the home of Lewis Lanese and I've got to say, driven by the Ayon signature amplifiers and using Esoteric's best digital combo, the sound was just superb. I grew a new appreciation for what ribbons, tubes and an excellent digital front-end can sound like.
The Ascendo Room put on quite a show that featured Audio Aero's Prestige SACD player and power amps (center and rear channels only). The front two loudspeakers were the reference System M's and they were handily adept compliments of Convergent Audio Technologies' JL3 amplifier and SL1 Ultimate preamplifier. Ascendo showed once again their own version of room correction preamplification in the DASK-V. Used in two channel mode only, it was quite impressive to hear what the DASK-V succeeded in removing most of the boominess in this room. Ascendo's Jurgen Scheuring couldn't help but demonstrate this feature by hitting the by-pass button over and over. CAT's chief designer Ken Stevens (above right) was also in attendance and was quite proud of the sonic results achieved here. When Steven's wasn't greeting show goers, he could be seen just blending in checking out the sights and enjoying himself like everyone else. Ascendo introduced their new floor standing loudspeaker in the C6 (left) which is essentially a beefier version of their C5 monitor sporting the same coax driver with dual woofers. Considering the size/build/price ratio (slated to be around $4000 Euro), I think this may be the runaway performer in the Ascendo lineup.