High End 2013 pt.4

Brinkmann Balance two arm
German turntable maestro Helmut Brinkmann has added the option of a second armboard to his range topping Balance turntable. You can add different length arms as was the case in Munich or fit cartridges with alternative qualities. The Balance being used at the show had Brinkmann's 12.1 and 10.5 arms, one with the company's version of an EMT cartidge and the other with the a Pi. With a tube drive power supply and a motor derived from that in Brinkmann's direct drive Bardo this €20,000 was the best sounding analogue source I heard at the show.

 

 

Cambridge Audio 851E & 851W
Cambridge has replaced its 840 series pre/power amps with Azur 851 models in line with last year's changes further down the line. The 851E preamp has eight inputs, three of them switch-able between XLR and RCA for balanced and unbalanced connections. It uses an "ultra low distortion, linear" volume control and has impedance buffering modules which separate amplifier and signal impedance for more consistent sound across sources. Someone also let slip that a digital 851D version of this preamp will also soon be available.
The Azur 851W is a 200 watt/channel stereo power amp which uses a refined version of Cambridge's XD combination of class A and class AB techniques. It too has impedance buffering and can be bridged to form a 500 watt monoblock. Prices had not been confirmed at the time of writing.

 

Cambridge Aero
Cambridge showed an interesting range of speaker that are far more serious in audio terms than anything previously produced by the brand. Most interesting are the two Aero series models that feature BMR drivers, these are still pretty rare beasts but have been used by Naim in its Ovator series so clearly have potential. The advantage of the BMR is that it is very wide band, both the three driver floorstander (above) and the standmount are two-ways with a crossover point at 240Hz. This puts it right out of the way of the midband and which can do remarkable things for overall transparency and coherence. These are vinyl wrapped speakers so prices are sensible, the floorstander will be around £650 and the standmount £350.
The smaller models with dome tweeters are the SX50 (£150) and SX60 (£200), both have decent paper cone woofers allied to treated soft dome tweeters.

 

Focal
Focal joined its partner Naim for a press conference where MD Gerard Chrétien said that the new media side of the business had grown by 28% in 2012, so this year the company is concentrating on the classic market, essentially traditional loudspeakers. At the affordable end is Chorus 700 a range of two bookshelf and three floorstanding models with prices between €398 and €1,198. These will feature trickle down technology from the Utopia range toppers and are made in France with all in-house drivers including a new TNV2 tweeter.
The Scala Utopia with sales of 1,500 pairs has proved the most popular Utopia model, a state of affairs which has earned it an upgrade to V2 status. This consists of a new woofer and voice coil that provide improved linearity and greater SPL potential, in other words it goes louder and stays cleaner.
Focal also introduced the Spirit Classic headphone which is designed for use in the home and has a bigger ear-cup, memory foam pads and a larger headband than the existing Spirit. It also features metal stirrups and a baffle design that provides greater treble linearity. Price is €299.
If that weren't enough Focal is also dabbling in the wireless speaker market with Easya an active floorstander and base station that uses Kleer transmission technology (16/44) and has both digital and analogue inputs. Amplification is provided by 80 watt BASH digital modules and the speakers feature two 5inch woofers and an aluminium/magnesium tweeter. Price is €1,999 per pair. There is also a wireless version of the XS Book desktop system, this modern speaker can be run via Bluetooth aptX or from analogue sources and hits a very competitive €299 price point.

 

AVM Tec Alluxity
Alluxity is a new Danish brand created by Alexander Vitus Mogensen, the son of Vitus Audio founder ???. His amplifiers caught my eye because of the extremely high quality of metalwork on display, the cases are machined from solid by Alexander who learned his skills working for Vitus Audio. What's most impressive is that he can produce components of this quality for such a competitive price, the preamp is €6,800 and has relay based volume control, a touch sensitive display and an iPad app while the 200 watt power amp has no global feedback and is described as class A/B/A, it costs €8,200, both components are fully balanced. These prices do not include European sales tax which is typically 20% but even if you include that it looks like good value for the build quality on offer.  

 

                                                            

Hifiman HM-901
Hifiman has made an impact with headphones in recent times but claims to have invented the concept of high end portable players with its HM-801 in 2009 (which was well ahead of the AK100 at least). In an attempt to put upstarts like Astell & Kern in its place Hifiman has released the HM-901 (€1,000), a portable with a pair of 32-bit Sabre DACs, stepped attenuator volume control, 192kHz upsampling and exchangeable headphone output modules. It accepts SDXC flash cards of up to 256GB and can play WAV, FLAC and ALAC file formats. It's not as cute as an AK120 but has the potential to give it pause for thought in the sound quality department.

 

KEF X300A
KEF wanted to make a computer speaker with a difference so it has built an active design using its Uni-Q coaxial driver technology. The X300A (£600) is the first active Uni-Q and has been built with the minimum of compromise, class D has been avoided in favour of class A/B amps which produce 50 watts for mid/bass have 20 watts for tweeter. Input is via USB and each speaker has a DAC onboard so that there is minimal degradation prior to amplification. The X300A's DACs run at up 24/96.

 

Silbatone Western Electric
It wouldn't be a High End if Silbatone didn't bring a pair of vintage Western Electric horns to use with its tube amps. This year they had the largest so far in a Mirrophonic 3 system, each bass horn being built into a massive 7396 enclosure with 4181 drivers and a multi-cell midrange horn running dual 594s, highs were covered by a GIP 9501. The smaller speakers are contemporary GIP Labs models from Japan.
Apparently Mirrophonic was a recording as well as a replay system used by WE in the era of ‘talkies’ or non silent movies.

 

Schröder Artemis prototype
In the same room Frank Schröder showed a prototype turntable that’s an upgrade of the seemingly shortlived Artemis. This model has a plinth that sandwiches a core of aluminium foam providing low mass rigidity and tape drive from an outboard motor with an Artemis style tensioner, hopefully he will finish this for next year. It also features a beautiful 12inch example of a new Schröder arm.

 

Auris Audio Trianda
These unusual and substantial amplifiers come from Serbian company Auris, the name Trianda means 30 in Greek which presumably is an allusion to the near 30 watt output of the GM70 triode that sits up front. This is driven by a 300B with a 6SL7 on the input, the power amps cost €17,000 per pair with the preamp which was at prototype stage with an onboard DAC coming in at €4,000. Fit and finish and sound for that matter were pretty impressive.