Hi-Fi Deluxe 2018

With the main Munich High End well underway we sent Trevor Butler across the city to the breakaway Hi-Fi Deluxe event at the Marriott hotel in Berliner Strasse to see what’s happening on the other side of the tracks.

This show is an eclectic mix of those who could not secure space at the High End event up the road, others who found the room acoustics at the Marriott superior to anything the MOC exhibition centre could offer them, and some who were exhibiting at the ‘main’ event but decided the more tranquil surroundings at Schwabing would do them no harm at all made up the more intimate event.

Entry here was free and there were over 25 rooms to explore, most of them large spaces which allowed for some impressive sounds as esoteric brands displayed their wares. Also free were a friendly welcome-smile and A4 sheet which acted as a brief guide to the rooms.

Heading up the open staircase from the bright reception area I was lured by the delights of Supertramp Live emanating from the room directly ahead. Here was AER loudspeakers, an abbreviation for Acoustic Electronic Research from Stuttgart. A pair of gigantic acrylic reflector horns, acting as acoustic lenses, dominated the room and created a most convincing sound, full of body across an enormous soundstage. Michael Mauch was on hand along with designer Filip Keller to explain how the €60,000 Excenter design worked, that no subwoofers were needed since the full-range drivers are capable of going down to 50Hz on their own. With a quoted efficiency of 116dB no less, they will also work with some very low-powered amps. Also on demonstration was a new model to the AER line-up, the comparatively Lucy in rectangular form. Using a BBX Exciter on a rectangular acrylic panel, it eschews the need for a cabinet. The results were stunning with a full sound containing plenty of realism to get the feet tapping as the music moved to Pink Floyd in honour of this British visitor.

Next door, Gabrial Stark had made the journey across Europe from Slovenia to be in Munich and was showcasing his new models: the larger Emma, named after his wife, and the Jane in honour of his daughter. The latter €20,000 model was playing on my arrival, a two-way floorstander with elegant looks and a ribbon tweeter which has +/- 2dB adjustment to allow for room acoustics. Its performance of Marcus Miller’s ‘Summertime’ revealed a clearly competent design with the looks to match. I could live with these.

The sound of corks popping always attracts a crowd and the celebration by FM Acoustics from Switzerland was no exception. Here was a 45th anniversary party in full swing as the audience enjoyed the melodic sounds created by the new SX-1C and SX IIIC systems powered by the SX-IIIC in bi-amping mode. Also in the big room were Dutch artists Elles Springs and Mark De Grouw who delighted with their musical poems. After the breath-taking live performances, their new LPs were played through a Vertere/FM Acoustics system by way of demonstrating the level of resolution possible in a top-quality analogue system of today.

Also with a musician in attendance, this time pianist Martin Vatter (above), Acapella Audio Arts from the German city of Duisburg were making delightful sounds with his latest album Homeland through their hand-made Campanile speaker which starts at €53,000 a pair and looks as stunning as it sounds. Originally launched in 1992 it was here in Mk IV form (top of page) for a Munich launch by the creators of spherical horns. The enclosed 3.5-way model has four 25cm woofers working in individual chambers so as not to influence each other. Adjustable tweeter and midrange horns allow the speaker to work in a variety of acoustic environments. The team had done a good job with the set-up here and they were a delight to listen to.

This may have been a fairly small show, but it was truly international with Spanish company Alsy Vox showing their Botticelli full-range ribbon speaker, an €87,000 design which filled the room using a technology not unlike planar drivers, with a wonderfully engaging sound. Bass response was excellent from the 177cm high units that boast 93dB/W sensitivity. There was an air of effortlessness as the speakers themselves seemed to vanish into the soundstage. Transparency was incredible across a huge soundstage with tremendous width and depth. They were being driven by Italian electronics finished in a dazzling red lacquer (centre), including The Stream CD player from Omega Audio Concepts which resembled a witch’s cauldron and weighs in at some 20kg.

Another visitor was speaker brand Soulsonic by designer Miro Krajnc from Slovenia. His €150,000 monsters captivated with ‘Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds’ as I arrived in a vast room. A combination of Totaldac d1-seven DAC, Holton Audio amplifiers, Tellurium Q Statement cables and the top-of-the-range Hologramm-X speakers made for an impressive sound. I only wish I had the ceiling height to accommodate these three-way dipole units employing paper cones and 10mm wide, 2210mm high ribbon tweeters.

A very different sound emerged down the corridor as Kii launched their BXT base extender, a €12,500 add-on to the €13,500 Kii3 active speaker. The BXT (below) turns it into a floorstander with full active drive and a DSP crossover that changes the frequency sent to the Kii3 when the two units are combined. With forceful punch and weight to a sound with incredible timing, this is a set-up intended to impress the listener if not the neighbours. An Innuos Zentih Statement server was on duty here replicating the system that Innuos were using at the High End.

Italian styling is always striking and the Viva Audio range has always pleased my eyes and ears. Here we had Aurora monoblocks, with four 845 tubes per side, powering the three-way Allegro floor-standing speakers with their midrange horn and ribbon tweeter. At the other end of the room was the Master Horn reference system, looking more akin to something you would find on a stage at a rock concert, but your €200,000 (plus tax) buys a host of equipment including four subs, complete amplification and horn transducers – if you are so inclined.

 

Also from the home of pizza and pasta came Diesis Audio, with their hand-made speakers and amplifiers, who pressed a Studer B67 reel-to-reel player into service as a crackle-free analogue source. The €150,000 Roma Triode speakers (with dipole bass section employing twin 15-inch cellulose/cotton membrane drive units and horn trumpet in ebony) have been developed to partner the legendary Kondo Ongaku triode amplifier from Japan. Damping is courtesy of pure wool and leather, no less, while wiring is in silver Kondo cable. The entire system made an intimate sound which was being enjoyed by many, the large space was packed and visitors stayed for a long time to absorb the sounds. Diesis claim a working frequency of 27Hz to 40kHz.

Another Spanish company in attendance was Kroma Audio with both the new €6,800 mini two-way stand-mount, and mighty €94,000 floorstanding  Elektra with rear tweeter and separate rear ports for bass and midrange. In both cases the cabinets are made from Krion, an inert marble/mineral-composite. Endearing its audience, the Elektra boasts no metal components in an effort to avoid ringing as Miguel Castro explained. The company was seeking global distribution partners as much as end-user customers and had a launch party in Munich.

From exquisitely-finished production models we moved swiftly to some obvious prototypes, resembling breadboard projects I made as a student. ROHM Semiconductors’ European division had early versions of its new circuits and power supply ICs playing in a system feeding wonderfully smooth and immensely detailed MBL speakers which I have long admired. Thanks to acrylic covers, we were able to view the intricacies of the new ROHM 32-bit DAC with 768kHz PCM sampling and DSD 22.4MHz. Boasting an incredible signal-to-noise ratio of over 131dB and total harmonic distortion figure of -115 dB it certainly produced rich bass and realistic vocals in the system being demonstrated.

My final port of call was to admire the two-way Unison Max-2 reflex speakers in gloss cherry made by Opera. The design followed on from the respected Max-1 horn design and clearly offers incredible dynamics with a rich, full sound that goes deep when required. There is a sense of power here that draws the listener into a realistic soundstage.

With a rather ironic coupling, newly-launched Fyne Audio, by former employees at Tannoy‘s Coatbridge factory before its closure (see our Bristol Show report) was placed virtually next door to the now Chinese-owned brand’s latest line-up in the shape of the Revolution XT range. Both rooms were so hot and crowded that I made my way downstairs and outside for some air as the Bavarian temperature soared.

An enjoyable ‘extra’ to the feast of excess that is the High End show, Hi-Fi Deluxe offered the chance to hear some enjoyable systems away from the hubbub of the MOC centre, and it was clear that visiting audiophiles found the setting a relaxing one.

Trevor Butler