High End 2018 pt.2

SME announced a rather different turntable called Synergy (£14,950). The has a phono stage built into the plinth and is supplied with an arm based on the Series IV and an Ortofon Windfield PWTi moving coil cartridge. The turntable has suspension like that on the SME Model 10 while the arm and electronics are wired with Crystal Cable. It’s an unusual approach for a high end brand but by combining synergy of parts with ease of set up they hope to broaden their appeal.Sugden started out in 1967 with a class A integrated amp that has become a classic, but the A21 has had its criticisms and now to celebrate their 50thanniversary the ANV-50 seeks to answer some of them. A 50W integrated with a Class A first stage driving an “ideal Class B” output stage that idles at 20W, it no longer gets hot enough to sear a steak. It has discrete output devices and, controversially, a high speed switching power supply but Sugden reckon its sound lives up to their reputation, price is £3,950.

Sugden started out in 1967 with a class A integrated amp that has become a classic, but the A21 has had its criticisms and now to celebrate their 50thanniversary the ANV-50 seeks to answer some of them. A 50W integrated with a Class A first stage driving an “ideal Class B” output stage that idles at 20W, it no longer gets hot enough to sear a steak. It has discrete output devices and, controversially, a high speed switching power supply but Sugden reckon its sound lives up to their reputation, price is £3,950.

Clearaudio have a huge stand with rather too many turntables on it but one of them is brand spanking. The Reference Jubilee is the same shape as the first Clearaudio turntable and has an Innovation class motor and control system, extrenal motor with adjustable bearings and a sensor system that automatically accounts for different weight of vinyl. The chassis is 40mm Panzerholz as per the Statement and the platter is a 70mm thick combination of stainless steel and POM engineering plastic. The arm is a TT3 and the cartridge likewise a Jubilee model has a Panzerholz body. The whole ensemble costs €20,000 and is limited to 250 units.

Final the Dutch electrostatic speaker maker has revised its range by printing a conductive coating on the mylar film that moves and the acrylic panels that sit either side of it using inkjet technology. They make a wide range of sizes of panel and finishes of frame with wood and metal in RAL colours, even the panels come in various colours. They plan to install digital amplifiers from Western Electric in future models as well as DACs so that all you need is source to run them. Prices start at €2,999 for the smallest model and rise to €11,999 for the Final 15 which stands close to 2m tall.

Revel have revised their Performa series models with beryllium tweeters to create the M126Be standmount ($5,000) and F228Be floorstander ($10,000). Both units have ceramic and aluminium plasma bonded cones and the tweeters sit in an acoustic lens waveguide.

Ken Ishiwata is celebrating his 40thanniversary with Marantz with a KI Ruby amplifier and SACD player, which rather than being hot rodded by Ishiwata have been designed by him from the ground up. The SA-KI Ruby plays most types of music discs including data discs containing high res files, it has a 32-bit/384kHz and DSD 11.2MHz DAC with digital inputs including USB. The PM KI Ruby is a 100 Watt.8 Ohm integrated amp with MM/MC phono stage and swiching power supply. Both models have copper plated chassis with a 5mm aluminium top plate, they will be priced at £3,500 each and limited to 1,000 units.

Mark Levinson and JBL is becoming a popular combo now that both brands are in the same group and the JBL Classic L100 sounded great playing rock and looked cool in its orange waffle foam grille. The brand also launched the 4306 two-way with 8inch woofer and horn loaded compression driver tweeter at $2,000 and the 4307 three-way with a 10inch woofer, paper cone mid and large 1.5inch tweeter at $2,500.

Wilson Benesch have always liked an ecumenical theme and this time they’ve gone for broke with Eminence, the largest speaker yet to emerge from the brand. At two metres tall is has 10 drivers per side four in an isobaric arrangement for the bass. The tweeter has a Fibonacci curve decoupled face plate and the Tactic midrange has the same thing at its centre. The drivers are made from biologically reinforced polymers that have emerged from a pan European research programm and there are natural fibres in the monocoque cabinet, then there’s the heavy weight and heavily engineered base. All of which goes some way to explaining the £140,000 asking price.

I was surprised to see the TAG McLaren F1 GRP loudspeakers at High End but apparently demand has encouraged brand owner IAG to build replicas of the original Graham Landig design. In the same group Quad showed a concept for a huge electrostatic speaker dubbed ESL18x (above) that may or may not go into production, the finish is hopefully going to be a bit more subdued. Rather more accessible is the first Quad headphone (below) which have planar rather than electrostatic drivers and a projected price of £600.

Dan D’Agostino has never been a shrinking violet but this year he’s going for broke with the biggest amp at the event. Relentless weighs 220kg and is considerably larger than it looks here, power output is specified at 1,500 Watts, which will double into four Ohms if you have 230V mains. Oh and it’s a monoblock, price looks to be £275,000 for a pair.

Somewhat more manageable is Audiolab’s 6000A, a more affordable variant on the 8000A at £600 with a new design of class AB amplifier and onboard DAC that accepts Bluetooth alongside wired inputs, it’s also turntable ready natch.

Living Voice teamed up with Danish valve amp maker Engstrom who used the Vox Palladian and Palladian Basso four box horn system (£450,000) in a European walnut finish. Engstrom launched their Arne integrated (£30,000) with 300B triodes arranged push pull style to produce 20W a channel via Lundahl transformers. The system sounded pretty damn good with Living Voice’s turbocharged Canary supply signal and I have to admit to being quite diverted by it.

French digital specialist Metronome has divided to conquer and now makes it most ambitious kit under the Kalista brand, this includes the Dreamplay One transport and DAC in one very attractive box for €35,000 with Elektra PSU and Roon ready Dreamplay Stream network streamer/DAC at €17,000 – €18,000. Marginally closer to the real world is the Metronome AQWO SACD player/DAC with multiple digital in- and outputs at €12,000 – €13,000.

This was the event that Pink Triangle returned to the hi-fi world, Funk Firm owner and original PT founder Arthur Khoubesserian showed the Preference, a turntable so technically advanced that he requested we sign an NDA to hear more about it. Sadly the arm he showed last year was stolen on set up day so he couldn’t demonstrate it but mentioned that the mylar belt driven, oversize platter is made out of aerated aluminium and it has the “world’s first zero gap bearing”. Priced at £70,000 it’s going to have to be good.

In the same room Lucas Audio Lab DSM from Poland showed a funky looking network server with some very high specs, including “advanced” EMI and RFI shielding, vibration control and damping, and a “high quality, clean linear power supply” in a separate case. Lucas himself seemed highly knowledgeable and keen to customise products to customer’s preferences, hence the unusual facia. Price is €7,000 for a 4TB SSD unit.

Vivid Audio unveiled the rest of the Kaya range that we previewed last month. The new speakers are designed to offer Vivid’s radial neodymium driver tech, and composite cabinets in a more restrained style than the Giya range, the Kaya model names indicate their volume in litres and start with the elegant Kaya 25 two-way (€9,000, above) has a 125mm mid/bass allied to Vivid’s 26mm tweeter. Kaya 45 (€16,400) incorporates a patented absorber horn with side firing bass drivers while the Kaya 90 (€26,000, below) has four side firing bass units in a reaction cancelling arrangement. The latter were demonstrated to entertaining effect with an Audio Silente Blackstone rim driver turntable from Rome, this is “made of stone, steel and blood” apparently but still made Dire Straits sound quite engaging.

In the digital to analogue converter world MSB is a brand to conjure with and this year they have two new tricks, the Premier DAC replaces the DAC 5 at $19,500 and incorporates four Prime ladder DAC modules, a discrete PSU, Premier and Femto 93 clocks and an isolated powerbase. The super slim Analog DAC has gone to be replaced with the Discrete DAC (above), this has two Prime modules, volume control and a discreet PSU for $9,500. MSB has also standardised its input modules so that any module can be used with any DAC, about time too.

CAD the digital audio specialist showed a prototype of a Signature 1543 MkII DAC in a room shared with Boenicke. The grey casework has not yet been finalised but is a mineral composite that Scott Berry has found works better than the acrylic of the standard converter, more important however is that he has used a small FPGA and a modified I2S input to lower the operating frequency of the bit and word clocks, which means that the old skool multibit DAC chips that give this product its name can cope with 192kHz. Anticipated price is £14,000 and no, there are still no more inputs than USB.

SJS Audio made a welcome return to the scene with their Arcadia Model 3 phono stage (£13,500). This sports very attractive solid wood and metal casework and has an all tube circuit with zero negative feedback, tube rectification and choke input power supply, point to point wiring and high quality parts including Hovland Musicaps and a PTFE board. The Arcadia was in use in the Living Voice and Engstrom rooms and made a very decent sound in both.

Dynaudio built their first Confidence loudspeakers thirty years ago and revised them in 2002 so it was time for a change. This statement range consists of four models that use Esostar3 tweeters and Neotec mid and bass drivers with the DDC sound beaming lens that’s designed to produce better dispersion. The cones have a flat surround and all neodymium magnets in baffles that are designed to absorb rather than reflect energy. The Confidence 20 standmount (€11,000) has an 18cm long throw mid/bass while the Confidence 30 (€17,000) is the smallest standmount with two 18cm bass units and a 15cm midrange. The Confidence 50 (€23,000) ups the midrange count of the 30 by another one  while the Confidence 60 (€35,000, (above)) is the daddy with a pair of 24cm bass units and two 15cm mids. All the floorstanders have the DDC lens. The Confidence 60 was demonstrated to impressive effect in Dynaudio’s large room with Moon electronics.

Innuos are trickling down the tech developed for the game changing Zenith SE into the more affordable servers in their range. The new Mk3 models will be available with storage up to 8TB and have custom motherboards, the entry level Zen Mini (€999, 1TB, above) has optical and coax outputs plus the option of an outboard linear power supply (€499). The Zen (€2,099) now has a double linear power supply and asymmetric feet as per SE while the Zenith (€3,299) is being described as an SE lite with fewer custom parts but many of the elements that made that machine so impressive.

Hi-Fi Racks have listened to its customers and built a rack to suit everyone, it hopes. The Omnium8 range combines a happy shelf thickness of 27mm with stylish shaping and the option of a cable management port. The stands can be spiked of bolted together and you can choose between round and square legs in black, walnut, cherry and white finishes. In short it’s a custom stand at a real world price of £140.40 per tier with bolted legs, standard width is 567mm with a double width version also being available.

Gravelli on the other hand uses concrete and carbon fibre to build the rather attractive Virtuoso stand mount speaker. Currently sold direct from the Czech factory for €5,000 this uses a BMR driver for highs and mid and has s DSP controlled amplification providing 100w for the side firing 5inch bass driver and the same for the BMR.

Jason Kennedy