Top Audio, Milan 2012

It’s taken me a long time to get to Italy’s biggest show and I now realise that I should have started a long while back. Where else can you get such fabulous food, see such beautiful shops, people and buildings and hear such a diversity of serious kit. The best rooms at this event sounded pretty damn stunning and there were considerably more home grown brands than I’d expected despite many years of attending European shows. The choice of music sometimes left a little to be desired but fans of Pink Floyd and tinkly jazz are very well accommodated! There is no avoiding the enthusiasm of Italian audio lovers, the quantity of exhibitors and music sellers rivals Munich and makes one wonder why there isn’t a show of equal scale in the UK. Here are a few of the more interesting new products I found.

Naim UnitiLite

Naim’s MD Paul Stephenson was in Milan to launch the latest and sleekest addition to the Uniti range dubbed Unitilite. Depending on how you look at it this is either a small NaimUniti or a full width UnitiQute with CD player. Unitilite costs £1,650 and has a 50 watt amp onboard alongside full 24/192 Uniti streaming capability, there is also the option of adding a DAB and FM tuner module for a £245 premium.

An unexpected bonus of this introduction is that the price of the Unitiqute has been dropped to £995 for the 24/96 version, this apparently to clarify the Uniti pecking order.

Paul Stephenson explained that the all in one nature of the NaimUniti has bought a lot of newcomers to the brand and Unitilite is clearly intended to expand that user base. Other features include iPod and USB stick playback from the front panel, full service internet radio, gapless playback and support for all lossless and most lossy formats.

Roksan Oxygene

I bumped into Roksan MD Tufan Hashemi who had the first sample from his shiny new Oxygene series. Designed by Bo Christiansen but with Roksan know how inside this is one of the most stunnnig pieces of design  todayin the hi-fi business. The case is machined from a two inch slab of aluminium with edge radiusing that’s accurate to less than two 100ths of a millimetre, the display is via perforations in the front panel and control is entirely by remote handset. The Oxygene integrated amp (£3,000) has a Bluetooth APTx receiver built in that was chosen to give high sound quality from mobile devices, it will be joined by the Oxygene CD player (£2,500) when the range is launched. Roksan plans to add a loudspeaker, CD transport and DAC next year.

Guru Junior

Rumours have been circulating about a smaller Guru speaker for a few months so it wasn’t surprising to see a prototype in Milan. Guru was sharing a room with Cambridge Audio and playing some appealingly unhi-fi music to excellent effect through the QM10.2. The new Guru Junior should be in store by November and features the same drive unit array as the QM10.2 in a more conventionally shaped cabinet. It retains the slot shaped port and will come with soft feet in true Guru style but costs half as much at £800. The brushed aluminium facia on the samples shown looks likely to be indicative of the final finish but Stefan Loorits above and the Guru guys are also considering an off-white anodised aluminium for the white model which looks rather good.

Audio Note AN-E SEC slate

Audio Note brought a pair of its AN-E SEC loudspeakers to Milan that were clad in a prototype slate finish. This silver wired version of the largest speaker in the range has a crushed stone ‘veneer’ on all faces and brings new meaning to the description monolithic. Price is £38,000 per pair. Elsewhere in the system they had the CDT 6 two box CD transport and matching DAC 6 Signature at £115,000 apiece. Analogue source was an AN-TT 0.5 Reference (£27,000), the penultimate turntable in the range which has has three motors and a belt that should look a bit more true when it starts turning the acrylic platter.

Micromega MyDac

Micromega is launching a range of compact components at budget prices yet keeping manufacturing in France. The first to appear is the MyDAC converter, an asynchronous USB device that runs at 24-bits/192kHz and has a built in power supply. It measures a mere 3.5cm (1.5inches) high and has coax and Toslink inputs alongside class 2.0 USB. Price in Europe is €299. Future Micromega My products will include a phono preamplifier, headphone amp, wireless streamer and integrated amp.

Revox Joy

Revox’s compact Joy is an integrated streamer and amplifier in a case that’s not so different in scale to a Naim UnitiQute but even plainer. It only has a power indicator behind the glass façade of its front panel and there are no controls to be seen on the sleek aluminium body, so you need to hang onto the handset. It comes in two guises the S119 delivers 60 watts for €1,690 while the S120 doubles that power rating for €2,390. Joy has two line and four digital inputs plus wired or wireless streaming at up to 24/96. It is also ready for multi-room installation and has a power napping function that sounds rather handy for those of us that get a little dozy in the afternoon.

Galactron MK 2280

A new name to me Galactron is an Italian company that has a large range of amplifiers and power conditioners. It caught my attention because of the sound quality that the new MK 2225 integrated was producing with a pair of Triangle Magellan speakers and a Heed transport and DAC. This amp is a 80 watt class A design with dual mono construction and FET output devices, but the key spec is the use of interstage transformers. Such things are a rarity in tube amps let alone solid state designs. Its €6,740 price reflects why this might be but if the brand makes it to the UK I’d be keen to give it a spin.

Audio Research LP1

Audio Research has clearly spotted the renaissance of vinyl and is keen to get a piece of the action. The LP1 is its least expensive phono stage yet at €2,390, it has a hybrid tube/transistor circuit using the 6H30 output tube. It’s designed for moving magnet and high output MC cartridges and has a custom power transformer inside its compact casework.

dCS Vivaldi

Looks like dCS has decided to make a statement with its range topping Vivaldi components, these have the sort of jaw dropping casework that reminds one of Constellation Audio. There are four Vivaldi components, a DAC (£19,999) with onboard volume control as well as USB and DOP (DSD over PCM) inputs, it utilises the latest generation of the company’s Ring DAC and FPGA processing chips. The Vivaldi digital to digital Upsampler (£12,499) can turn any digital source into DXD (24-bit/352.8kHz), DSD (1-bit/2.822GHz) or PCM 24/192 formats for the Vivaldi DAC. There is also a Vivaldi CD/SACD transport (£24,999) and separate word clock (£9,699.

Fortevita Audiovisore III

The most striking piece of cabinet design was unsurprisingly from an Italian company. Fortevita makes a range of very stylish components including the Audiovisore III preamplifier, which  uses vintage J-FETs and has a total of two inputs on RCA phonos, so it must sound good. Fortevita calls it a program amplifier or gain stage which has a volume control to adjust the “amount of input signal”, a gain control which determines the I/O voltage ratio” and an overdrive control that “optimizes the spectrum of the harmonic distortion”. So it’s as wild as it looks but is based on a class A, DC coupled circuit that is devoid of feedback so it has potential. Price reflects appearance at €27,500.

Hanss Acoustics M13

Better known for its turntables Hanss Acoustics revealed an integrated tube amplifier in Milan. Under its striking machined grille there lurk two pairs of EL34 pentode tubes running in classic ultralinear mode. Output is quoted as 40 watts a channel and weight a solid 21kilos. It has three inputs and taps for four or eight ohm loudspeakers.

Arte Acustica Concept 103

One of the most dramatic looking speakers in action was the substantial Concept 103 from Arte Acoustica of Cagliari. This behemoth claims 103dB sensitivity and crossoverless design, electrical crossover that is, with four drive units there has to be some kind of network. It turns out that there’s one capacitor and one resistor so that claim is mostly true. They don’t specify height but the bass driver is 15inches in diameter (380mm) which gives you a good idea.