Nestling in the Bavarian countryside, Hifi-bauernhof in Altusried is without doubt one of the most unusual audio dealers in the world. Once a thriving cattle farm, now owned by Dietmar Sutter who was born on the Allgäu estate, it boasts six studios which have eight systems on demonstration at any time. The next generation is already working at the store as son Siegmund looks after marketing and social media, and also helps in service and sales.
Twice a year Hifi-bauernhof stages Open Days – typically over a weekend in March and another in November. These special occasions provide, mainly by personal invitation, a chance to audition some of the best audio equipment that’s currently available. I was fortunate enough to be able to join the team and experience some outstanding sounds, not to mention some delicious local beers and cuisine.
Entering one wing of the expansive property, which is split into the audio business and a family home, a staircase leads to the first floor where there is an impressive record store (featuring an array of mainly audiophile LPs and CDs), several record-cleaning machines for customer use and four dem rooms. Past the entrance to the domestic quarters, another staircase leads to the second floor which features a pair of larger demonstration areas, including the option of 7.1 channel surround.
The Open Days’ team pose in front of the majestic Tannoy Prestige loudspeakers
Starting at the top of the building, I was ushered into a room offering two systems, one at each end. I was fortunate enough to hear the mighty Tannoy Canterbury (£17,950/€24,000) driven by an EAR Yoshino 868PL preamp (£4,063/€5,485) and a pair of EAR Yoshino 861 power amps (£6,922/€7,015) to create a marvellous full sound, oozing with detail and creating a size and scale which I shall long remember. Sources here were EAR Acute II CD player (€3,000) and a Nottingham Analogue Astra turntable (€4,830). How I long to have a room capable of housing such a fine array of equipment; but plenty have and Hifi-bauernhof is known for supplying top-end systems to customers from far and wide. Indeed, over the weekend I met visitors who had come not only hundreds of kilometres across Germany (several from Munich and beyond) but also from Austria, Switzerland and even Italy.
By swiveling the centrally-placed seating around, I was confronted with a totally different setup. Now it was the turn of Swiss loudspeakers from Tobian Soundsystems to take centre-stage. The handmade Standmonitor 15 reflex design (at €29,500) gave a stunning performance. These two-way coaxial horn speakers are exclusive to just two dealers in the whole of Germany. They proved themselves rather special, driven as they were with a Viva Audio Solista valve amplifier from Italy (€16,450) with sources including a Viva CD player (the €10,490 Numerico) and €20,180’s worth of Nottingham Analogue Black Diamond turntable, with Ortofon SPU Royal and EMT TSD-75 cartridges, via an EAR 912 phono stage (€9,495). With this kind of sound quality on offer, it’s little wonder the 200-plus customers who visited over the weekend lingered over each system.
Across the landing I found what was probably my favourite system: a delightful balance of affordability, aesthetics, sound quality and sheer musical beauty. At its heart were the much-acclaimed Kensington speakers from Tannoy’s Prestige range (£9,950/€13,000) driven by a Unison Research Performance integrated valve amp (£7,500/€10,000) providing 45W/ch from its single-ended, parallel KT88 output valves. Sources in this room, where I have to admit I spent several hours, were a Rega RP10 turntable (£2,998/€4,800) with Ortofon Cadenza Red (£825) into an EAR 834P Deluxe phono-stage (£1,750/€1,870); as well as a Unison Research Due CD player which costs around £3,200/€4,000.
This proved a popular room with visitors as well and I much enjoyed my introduction to captivating music by French serpent player Michel Godard. No surprise that recordings featuring this ancestor of the modern tuba are rare, but this album Monteverdi (with the Italian composer-cum-priest the inspiration for the project) features five of his madrigals with a twist by combining early baroque with jazz in a way that works surprisingly well for this musical purist. The highly-talented Godard has added lines for his beloved serpent to these and the other album tracks. Well worth a listen, if only to decide whether it’s for you or not.
Downstairs and I found myself in familiar territory with a system using Harbeth’s latest monitor, the Super HL5plus (£3,729/€4,200) sitting on locally-created TonTräger Audio stands (€1,000). The speakers were singing thanks to delightful electronics by that valve guru Tim de Paravicini. His German distributor Lothar Mertens was on hand to extoll the brand’s virtues. EAR’s V12 (£7,025/€7,125), parallel push-pull, Class A (generating ‘soft’ second-harmonics) integrated amp provided 50W/ch which was more than adequate for the Harbeths in the compact room. The elegant design splits the dozen EL84 pentode tubes into six-a-side in a V-shape reminiscent of automotive engineering. The CD source was courtesy of a (£4,800/€5,000) EAR Acute Classic (an integrated CD player and DAC with three digital inputs to act as a digital preamp) plus Nottingham Analogue Interspace Junior with Hana SL (£1,380/€2,400) into an EAR 834P Signature phono-stage (£1,347/€1,375).
Next door were the most affordable systems. Floor-standing Dali loudspeakers caught my eye here, “most affordable because, although designed in Denmark, they’re assembled in China”, I’m told, noting the reasonable £549/€678 price tag of the Zensor 5s (above) which were driven by a Rega combination of £548/€850 Apollo R and the P2 turntable with Ortofon 2M Blue (£550/€740). These Rega units, all handmade at the brand’s UK headquarters, I’m assured, are very popular here. “We shift hundreds of them”, Michael explains. “Today’s student customer will be here again when he has a house of his own and wants a bigger system.”
Across the hallway and we find the larger Dali Rubicon 6 (£2,999/€3,700) drawing the crowds. Dali’s man in south Germany Alan Bachmann (in Bavarian national costume in team pic above) held the fort and entertained his audience with an abundance of good source material, both from the EAR Acute Classic integrated CD player, but also the Nottingham Analogue Spacedeck (€3,180) turntable with Ortofon SPU Classic NE (£625/€735) feeding a £4,120/€4,460 EAR 88PB phono-stage.
The Rubicon 6 is one of three floor-standing models in the series; a rung down from the flagship Rubicon 8 (boasting an addition mid/bass unit in a bigger box). A highly entertaining design to my ears, this bass-reflex design features a pair of 6.5 inch mid/bass drivers in a near three-way design which has one drive unit rolling-off acoustically around 800Hz while its counterpart is high-passed at 2600Hz. The well-respected Dali hybrid soft-dome/ribbon tweeter module completes the line-up with the dome crossing over to the ribbon at 14kHz to extending the treble response to a rather pleasing 34kHz.
Alan (above) managed to extract so much resolution from the material he played, the Dali speakers were truly on-form, driven with Rowen amplification (the Absolute pre at €3,350 and the €2,850 65W Absolute Two used with separate power supply (€1,580)). These Swiss-made high-end electronics were new to me, and fairly new to Hifi-bauernhof as well. Available at just a trio of outlets in Germany, they are certainly a find, being single-ended Class-A solid-state designs of the quality one would expect from the world’s finest watch-making country.
Next door were Rowen’s Symphony S6 LMT floorstanding loudspeakers (above, €6,300 a pair), sounding rather good. In the centre of the Symphony line-up, the S6 may be a diminutive 35 inches (89cm) tall, but it houses a pair of 6 inch bass drivers and shares the LMT five-octave mid/high system found in the top-of-the-line S10. A fully bipolar design, with bass down to 28Hz it produced incredible sound from some rather good organ CDs that I found among Hifi-bauernhof’s extensive collection. The soundstage was realistic and the dynamics fairly explosive.
Someone had worked well to partner these incredible speakers with the brand’s PR-2 and PA-2 amplification, driven by a Rega Saturn-R CD/DAC and RP8 turntable with Ortofon Cadenza Red into the Aria-R phono-stage, creating a system which comes in at around €18,000 plus stands and cables.
That’s the joy of hi-fi dealers who know their brands, they assemble systems that really work and give the customer an idea of the best that can be achieved at a given budget. My weekend in Bavaria went all too quickly and I know from the visitors I spoke to that time flies at Hifi-bauernhof; that’s probably why they have so many who come back, time and time again.