High End 2022 pt.1

The three years that have passed since the High End show have done nothing to temper the enthusiasm of the crowds visiting Europe’s biggest audio event, turnout was better than expected with not even atypically high temperatures being enough to keep the fans at bay. Exhibitor numbers were undermined by the inability of Chinese companies to join in the fun but there was an awful lot to see and hear in the halls and rooms of the MOC exhibition centre over a hot weekend in May.

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Neat had so much success with the limited edition Petite Anniversary that they have created the Petite Classic as a permanent part of the range. Priced at £1,995 it is the same size (12 inches tall) and shape as the original Petite with a 5 inch main driver and an Air Motion Transformer tweeter, colours are limited to satin black or white with an on sale date of September.

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A rather more complex bookshelf was unveiled by JBL in the 4305P active wireless speaker. This has a 5.25 inch woofer allied to a horn loaded compression tweeter and a host of features: 24/192 DAC, Airplay 2, MQA decode, 300W RMS power, Roon readiness and tone controls. All of which make the $2,200 price seem quite reasonable.

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Ground cleaning specialist CAD have two new USB products, the USB filter sits between your existing USB cable and the digital input in order to keep noise at bay for £650, while the USB IIR is Scott Berry’s latest take on a low noise USB cable and has the same filter built in for £1,350. The latter was part of a CAD, Trilogy system including the CAT 2TB SSD server (£15,950), 1543 MkIII DAC (£14,0000) and the company’s new GC1.1 and 3.1 Ground Control devices. A Trilogy 915R preamp (£19,000) and 995R hybdrid monoblocks (£16,500 each) were driving Verity Sarastrospeakers to great effect in this remarkably analogue sounding digital system.

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Hegel have gone large with their latest pre/power amplifier pairing the P30A and H30A. The full balanced P30A line stage uses four Alps pots in parallel to control a proprietary volume control system while the 47 kilo H30A can be a 350W stereo amp or an 1100W monoblock which uses Hegel’s custom pairing of Siliconix transistors in the voltage stage and 15 pairs of bipolar devices in the current driving output stage. Pricing will be €7,000 for P30A and €17,000 for H30A with availability in October.

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The Karis Wave was already a striking compact standmount when Diapason's Alessandro Schiavi (above) unveiled it in walnut last year but the new olive version is even more distinctive. This wood is rarely seem in loudspeakers but grows in the brand’s native Italy so seemed a good choice, especially when they discovered how dense and heavy it is. Another bonus is the olive doesn’t require finishing because it is naturally self protecting. Still in prototype form and sold with 90cm dedicated stands it will retail for €14,000 when in production. 

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Danish disruptors Børresen were making some clean, fast and precise sounds with the X3 loudspeakers (€11 - 12,000) on the end of Aavik Acoustics electronics (C280, P280, S280 and D280) and Ansuz cables and noise reduction devices. Described by Frits Dalmose as a sports car built by an F1 company the X3 has carbon fibre and Nomex sandwich main drivers with titanium voice coil formers, a material chosen for its low inductance and non-existent hysteresis which translates to a higher speed of reaction compared to aluminium alternatives. 

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Marco Manunta from Pisa brought along the latest addition to his M2Tech Rockstar line in the form of the Tosh line stage preamplifier (€1,500). This is fully balanced with single ended and balanced in- and outputs, 4-band parametric EQ via app (over Bluetooth) and up to a high 20V RMS output. Also announced is the Manunta range of compact Evo components which will be sold direct to keep prices competitive. The Evo DAC 3 does 32/768 and DSD512 with MQA, Bluetooth aptX and low jitter oscillators for €850, Evo Phono 3 (belown) is a discrete MM/MC phono stage with high gain and continuously variable impedance setting for €700 while the Evo DDC 3 is a digital to digital interface converter with native DSD or DoP and an asynchronous USB interface, Marco describes it as “a Hiface on steroids” for €650.

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We have been expecting a streamer from Innuos for some time and at High End the Pulse range of network players (streamers without DACs) appeared. They can be used in two modes; as a standalone streamer/server or as an endpoint in multiroom installations. Pulse Mini (£899) has an external power supply with optical, coax and USB outputs, Pulse (£2,299, above) has a new generation Recap2 linear power supply and adds AES digital output while the Pulsar has a Statement grade power supply and a lower latency SLC SSD to run the OS, as well as a USB re-clocker built in for £4,949.

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Living Voice took a break from the magnificent horn systems it usually demonstrates to reveal the capabilities of the rather more approachable OBX-RW4 floorstanders (from £14,852, top of page). These sounded superb with Kuzma and Grand Prix Audio turntables allied to SJS tube amplification including a Model 5 300B Silver Enhanced single ended amplifier and the new Model 7 Premier Enhanced preamplifier. The latter is a full monty affair with a copper chassis, silver foil capacitors and silver wired inductors. It has a choke input power supply and a Penny & Giles volume pot and runs 6111 twin triod ‘pencil tubes’, price is £29,000.

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Loudspeaker guru Karl-Heinz Fink bought the Epos name three years ago and is now ready to unleash the ES14N on the world. This revival of a classis name does not mean a replica of the 1984 original but a recreation of the spirit and character of that model. The ES14N (£4,500) has a sloped baffle with a 7 inch variable thickness cone and a solid phase plug, and powered by a hybrid ferrite/neodymium magnet. The tweeter is a a 28mm alloy/ceramic dome and the input connections are 4mm sockets, not because that’s what the original ES14 had but because they sound better. There is even a dedicated wood and metal stand. It’s an intriguing introduction that looks like being followed by a smaller standmount and a floorstander in due course.

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Those looking for a more affordable sonic fix will be interested in the Marantz CD60 at £749. This is a dedicated CD player with almost no extra bells and whistles, it doesn’t have DAC inputs and only plays red book discs, but it does have a USB A input for thumb drives which you can scroll through and play from the front panel.

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There were plenty of spendy turntables at High End but the Cambridge Alva ST bucked this trend with an £849 price point and many of the features of their Alva TT now in mk2 form. The ST is a belt drive design with a cast alloy platter, built in but switchable phono stage, Bluetooth aptX HD for wireless speakers and an Audio Technica MM cartridge.

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Monitor Audio caused a stir by demonstrating the radical Concept 50 to demonstrate its tech prowess. It has a third generation MPD tweeter surrounded by six 52mm flat diaphragm midrange units in the central array, these have a combined surface area greater than a 4 inch cone and high power handling. The bass system consists of four 8 inch drivers braced against and facing one another in the gap behind the mid/treble panel. They float in two Solid Surface moulded cabinets that form the body of the speaker, don’t expect to see these in your local store.

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Simaudio Moon have developed their first loudspeaker the Voice 22 (£2,650). This is designed to match the Moon Ace streaming amp and isn’t as simple as it appears. The inside of the cabinet sides have uneven grooves cut into them which are filled with a damping material. The drivers are custom made and a magnetically attached sub-base gives the impression that the speaker is floating when on a bookshelf or can be removed for a solid fixing to a speaker stand.

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On the portable front Astell & Kern showed the Kann Max (£1,199), not a compact version of an ancient Linn loudspeaker but high power DAP. With a max output of 15V RMS it’s designed to drive a wide variety of headphones including high impedance types. It has all the tech expected of the brand including a 32/768, DSD512 DAC, 24-bit wireless codec and a low noise circuit in an aluminium and glass case with 2.5mm, 3.5mm and 4.4mm headphone connections. The company also showed the Pathfinder IEMs developed in collaboration with Campfire and priced at £1,899.

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John Devore was filling a booth with uncanny amounts of sound from his big Orangutan 96 stand mounts, genuinely high sensitivity loudspeakers with wide baffles and large woofers, Ode by Nils Frahm worked a treat on this system. In the corner was his latest creation the Devore Baby, which isn’t the smallest speaker around by far but it’s a tot compared to his usual creations. With a tweeter horn carved into the ply baffle and an uncharted 7inch woofer this Baby has high 90dB/W/m sensitivity and a $5700 price.

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Raidho introduced not one but three new loudspeakers at High End, the X1T Super Mini (€5,800) monitor has a planar magnetic foil tweeter allied to a ceramic and tantalum coated 5.25 inch main driver. It has better components than its X1 predecessor and claims bandwidth up to 50kHz. The X1.6 (€7,000, above left) is a bigger box with 6.5inch ceramic coated woofer which allows it to deliver bass down to 45Hz, it delivered the deep bass on London Grammar’s Hey Now in unusually clean fashion. The mighty TD6 (below) is Raidho’s statement speaker with a €200,000 price tag to match, it stands over 2m high and made the impressive scale of the smaller models seem restrained, it also plays at high levels with ease when partnered by amps of the Moon 860A V2’s calibre.

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One of the discoveries of this show was Japanese electronics brand Soulnote, their philosophy is that design by measurement takes the freshness out of the music, if the results produced with Fink Team Borg speakers are anything to go by they might be right. It’s rare to hear Take 5 sound as vivid and alive from a digital source as it did with this system, Soulnote DACs are a non oversampling types, an approach found with some of the most musical converters, while the top lid on the electronics are not fixed down but have spring isolation because Soulnote like many others have noticed that metal cases can “squash” the sound. Note also the separate spindly speaker cables in white, this is radical stuff.

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AJ Vand den Hul was still building this cartridge at almost the last minute to show at High End. But he finished the grandly titled Colibri Grand Prix Elite, which has a rosewood body, short boron cantilever and, critically, an ultra thin suspension wire for ease of movement. It sounded excellent on a Reed Muse 3C turntable with the radical 5A tangential yet linear tracking arm via Diapason Dynamis loudspeakers.

Part two of our High End coverage is here.