High End 2016 pt.2

MQA, the encode/decode system for halving file sizes is making serious inroads into the pro and domestic scene. Warner Music signed up to MQA shortly before the show and the ability to decode the format appeared in a number of new DACs. Essentially built to provide higher resolution streaming services MQA seems to have the potential to not only save space but offer better sound thanks to its emphasis on reducing distortion in the time domain by removing errors in the A/D and D/A process. It sounded remarkably convincing in a dem by Brinkmann and on headphones with a Meridian amp/DAC. I’m not suggesting converting your files yet but it could be a possibility in future.

In an effort to build the an authentic BBC LS3/5a monitor Falcon Acoustics founder and original KEF engineer Malcolm Jones (below) has rebuilt the B110 woofer and T27 tweeter used in the classic speaker. Falcon had to buy Bextrene in bulk to do so but claim to have made exact replicas of the original KEF drivers. The crossover is likewise to spec and the tweeter has the classic brass grille while the grille cloth itself is Tigan. Available as kits or BBC licensed finished speakers the Falcon LS3/5a will retail for £2,200.

Sven Boenicke always makes a good sound at Munich and this year was no different. He showed his latest and biggest model the W11 with a wood veneer mid/bass driver in a labyrinthine, solid wood cabinet with a side firing bass driver and aluminium cone tweeter. The source was an Ear favourite the CAD CAT digital transport and CAD 1543 Mk2 DAC and the system benefited from a large GC3 version of CAD’s Ground Control system being used to keep the output of an Isol8 power conditioner as quiet as possible. The final part of this system was a prototype amplifier from Boenicke called E2, this 200 Watt design increases voltage with transformers and has what is described as a distortion cancelling output stage. Put together this was probably the most relaxed and easily enjoyed system of the show.

Focal has added a new model to its stylish Sopra range and called it No3 on account of it being bigger than both Sopras 1 and 2. Standing 1.26m high and weighing in at 70kg this is a serious speaker. The cabinet is 60% bigger in volume terms than the No2 so it goes louder and has greater dynamic potential with a very useful 91.5dB sensitivity. The bass units are 8inch W cone types with a system for maintaining consistent magnetic field regardless of coil position, this is also applied to the 6 inch midrange. Sopra No3 costs £15,750 or €18,000.

Linn made a rare appearance at the High End but in an unusual context, they worked with KEF to demonstrate the effects of the Exakt DSP crossover on a pair of Reference 5 speakers powered by Arcam P49 and P349 amplifiers. KEF had designed the crossover in the Exaktbox for this loudspeaker and Linn was there to support the event so it came as no surprise to hear that the Exakt system sounded considerably more detailed and revealing. According to KEF designer Jack Oclee-Brown (above) this came down to the phase linearity of Exakt technology rather than merely the move to active operation, which always brings its benefits. Linn’s Exakt system has been used by other speaker companies but KEF is by far the largest, at this stage however the collaboration is more of an experiment than a commercial proposition.

Gpinto from Naples debuted the ON (old/new) turntable (€2,999). This is an all in one machine with a valve preamp, 100W class D power amp and inputs for USB, SPDIF, Bluetooth and analogue sources. Built in Corian and wood this is no Crosley competitor but a rather more elegant vinyl replay solution with loftier ambitions.

Audio Technica not only came up with one of the most attractive booths at the High End but also delivered one of the best sounds with its ART1000 moving coil cartridge (£4,100) atop a Vertere MG-1 turntable and arm. This radical MC has its coils on top of the stylus rather than at the other end of the cantilever. The coils are held in place by a plastic moulding and sit in the magnetic gap when appropriate downforce is applied, each cartridge being supplied with an exact figure for this force in order that the coils remain in the correct position. Listening to Deep Purple with the ART1000, FM Acoustics amplifiers and PMC Fact.12 speakers proved that Audio Technica is onto something big with this design.

Chord Electronics have built a partner for the Hugo TT dubbed TToby, where TT stands for tabletop. With the same footprint as the DAC/headphone amp this is a 130 Watt MOSFET power amp with a high speed power supply and XLR and RCA phono inputs for £2,750. The Mojo portable has a new jacket (£65) as well, this is a hard plastic shell with leather wrap that protects the little DAC/headphone amp from the dangers of life on the move.

Wolf von Langa demonstrated a smaller model this year called Son (€7,900), this features a field coil powered 15inch woofer combined with a planar tweeter on an open acrylic baffle. Combined with Thomas Mayer tube electronics including 211 powered SET monoblocks and the new Primary Control Kinea turntable (€12,000) this system sounded sweet as a nut. The Kinea is a low torque direct drive design with an air core motor that can deliver variable torque in order to minimise the cogging effect that undermines many such designs. It has a 3.2kg aluminium platter with a mass loaded perimeter and can be used with a range of Primary Control arms.

Vertere took the opportunity to demonstrate the Stage 1 platform for its turntables atop the company’s new modular rack system. Stage 1 (£28,500) is designed to provide isolation down to half a hertz and controls torsional behaviour with thin silicon struts for damping. According to designer Touraj Moghaddam “It maintains the relationship between arm, motor and bearing in Vertere turntables by keeping them stable and sympathetic”. The rack system is based on two heights of aluminium upright and acrylic platforms with silicon balls sandwiched between them, the balls can be placed to suit the weight dispersion of each component using 18 alternative holes for 8 balls. LED lighting is an option as is a cable clamping system on the back of each rack to allow for ease of routing.

High End pt.3