Brussels High End

René van Es checks out an ambitious dealer show and finds that when it came to producing a sound to match the price points some are more successful than others.

In Brussels there’s usually a high end audio show in November, where distributors show their new toys to grown up boys. But this year a group of dealers turned their back on that event and organized a show dedicated to ‘real’ high end. I was there on Sunday, the quieter day, so I had the opportunity to really listen to some very nice systems in the almost sound proof rooms of the hotel Bloom.

Esoteric/Gryphon/Rockport
Once inside I came across a pair of Rockport Technologies Atria loudspeakers driven by a very large and costly Gryphon Audio Antileon power amplifier. The rest of the system was mainly from Esoteric for digital playback, the analogue source was not in action but consisted of a Spiral Groove SG1.1 turntable with a very nice Transfiguration Proteus cartridge. The system showed off the qualities of both amplification and loudspeakers to good effect. The sound was very open, with a good soundstage and lots of detail, but crucially it was also musical.

Metronome/Kondo/Ovo
These strange egg shaped loudspeakers are called Ovo, and were designed in Brussels, but unfortunately they didn’t reveal the best qualities of the partnering  Kondo amplifiers. The cabinet which houses a 15 inch woofer, 12 inch midrange and 5 inch ribbon tweeter, is not only odd in shape but failed to engage my ears, but I admired the Metronome Kalista CD player and the Kondo amps.

Lumin/Accustic Arts/Lawrence Audio
This was the first time I have heard Lawrence Audio loudspeakers. They look like instruments with the woofers housed at the bottom and a tapered top for air motion tweeters. Driven by German Accustic Arts electronics and a Lumin streamer they sounded impressive. The bass was too strong however, it’s probably tuned for the wooden walls of houses in the US that absorb low frequency energy like a sponge. Some of the Lawrence Audio systems are active and they also suffered from this phenomenon. A larger room might solve the problem.

Micromega/Russel K
The least costly system at the show must have been the Micromega MyAmp (€499) with a pair of Russell K. 100 loudspeakers (€1,495). This system won’t break the bank but still made me very happy. The sound is fast, nice and controlled. The little MyAmp is indeed a small wonder of technology while the Russel K. showed that in a room full of people 30 Watts per channel can be enough. Excellent value for the cash strapped music lover.

Naim/Gato/Harbeth
A Naim front end combined with Gato amplifiers (above left) produced beautiful music over a pair of Harbeth HL5 loudspeakers (above right). This could easily be voted the best sound of the show for classical and acoustical music. The loudspeakers were placed metres away from the back wall, while the sound stage was behind the speakers all the time. This dealer seems to know exactly how to set up a descent system. I would love to hear a pair of HL5s at home.

Project/Luxman/Cabasse
In the next room a bright red Project Xtension 9 (€1,990) was the most attractive thing at the show. Pity it was only on display. In the same room some Cabasse loudspeakers were combined with Luxman electronics for maximum fun. Luxman was never cheap and the current prices for the D38u CD player (€2,890) and €3,950 for the SQ30u amplifier still seem that way. Retro style wooden sleeves add to pride of ownership however and the finish is still very good.

CEC/Jeff Rowland/Marten
I have never been a great fan of Marten loudspeakers so I was pleasantly surprised to find a pair playing better than ever in combination with Jeff Rowland electronics. The Marten Miles 5 is a real treasure. A CEC CD transport was used next to a computer to play classical and pop which unfolded the qualities of both the amp and the Martens, showing a fine soundstage with a very enjoyable and musical sound.

Kuzma/Grimm
The Dutch Grimm Audio active loudspeakers sounded impressive too. The electronics inside the box and the preamp were developed by Bruno Putzeys of Hypex. His PWM Mola Mola ‘digital’ amps are finally ready to ship or so he says. A Kuzma Stabi-S turntable was used to play some vinyl and showed how well the Grimm system handles analogue sources.

Alluxity/Estelon
Alluxity is new to me. These electronics come from the son of Ole Vitus, famous for his amplifiers. The combination of Estelon loudspeakers and these amps was very impressive. The room was almost empty, which is a pity because this system was a contender for best sound in show. In the adjacent room we found Gauder Akustik Berlina loudspeakers with Vitus amps, but no one was around to play music. So it was only Estelon making nice noises.

Vitus/Tidal
Big is beautiful must be the thinking behind Tidal loudspeakers. Again a complete Vitus electronics system was used, this time with black front plates. However, Tidal did not convince me that it would be worth changing my living room to accommodate their huge designs. The four woofers in each cabinet, firing to the left and right, are a bit too much for most rooms and especially for a hotel room. A smaller system would have been a better choice.

I enjoyed this show and it was nice to hear a couple of systems and brands that are not available on every street corner. The dealers from the Brussels area arranged a pleasant weekend for their customers and those who were willing to drive up to the European capitol.

René van Es