Even though Antwerp is a mere hour's car drive from Rotterdam, you enter a completely different world. While Antwerp is a harbor city just like Rotterdam, with an influx of many nationalities not every man in the street is capable of appreciating, what sets Antwerp apart from other cities is the way it incorporated foreign influences already hundreds of years ago. Antwerp thrives on its diamond trade which wouldn't exist without its Jewish population. The French lifted the local cuisine to levels where nowadays even France has a hard time competing. The residents' wealth and their ability to appreciate art drew many artists to the city to create masterworks. Top all this off with the very pleasant Flemish tongue which is so much softer in tone and voice than the comparatively harsh consonant flavor of its Dutch relation and you get an idea why a trip 'south' is so rewarding for us.

In the audio arena, Belgium relies heavily on the Dutch print magazines in the northern part of the country while the French speaking southern part remains more focussed on the French magazines. However, there is a thriving Flemish Internet-audio community serviced by its own website. It is this website that organizes a handful of hifi shows throughout the year. The shows are mostly regional and in September this year, a national show is planned. We visited the Antwerp show that focuses on the Antwerp region. A mix of dealers, importers and manufacturers filled a reasonable amount of rooms in the local Scandic hotel. Smaller shows have the advantage that visitors can cover all the rooms in a day and still have enough time to relax, listen and talk. And many visitors did as we noted during a comfortably busy Saturday making our rounds.

At ground level next to a large booth with software, the results of German winemaking could be sampled, not a bad start for a show. Bottoms up and cheers.

Final Sounds set up a few systems with their wide range of electrostatic loudspeaker designs in a large room. From the smallest wall-mountable model to the largest panels towering nearly 2 meters high, all speakers share their so-called inverter concept where the incoming music signal doesn't drive the stators but the diaphragm directrly. A review of Final's tallest model is presently in the works.

On the way to the elevators, proof of another Belgian High End product was on display - chocolate. This little country is pure paradise for all who live life to the fullest and indulge in its pleasures.

Vaessen has a thing with egg shapes. Designer Koen Vaessen added a subwoofer to his latest creation - or should we say laid a Roc's egg?

53 dBA was the measured sound pressure in the far corner of the Technology Factory while a record was being cleaned. After that annoying sound, the result on the Clear Audio Ambient table with MM cartridge made up for it. The Hørning Agathon loudspeakers were driven by an Okki Nokki integrated amplifier nearly ready for production. Integrated for once means that the package includes a phono stage. While playing X-mas carols -- why not in March, global warming changes seasons as it is -- images of an open fireplace emerged. Even certain tubes were shivering what with wearing their EuroAudioTeam cool dampers.

Down the hall Okki Nokki had installed a complete disc washing installation. Visitors were invited to bring their old LPs or even new ones just purchased at the show and clean them on one of the record cleaners.

Mattijs de Vries, well known in the realms of DIY amplifier builders, had brought a pair of his Pink Faun SE monoblocks, unfortunately on silent display only. This is an amplifier that definitely merits further attention.

Though a few rooms showed a relative dearth of listeners while we entered, at other times the rooms would rather fill up. Busy or not, it gave visitors a good chance to get an impression of the wares on offer.

A nice surprise was the Daluso room next to a Reimyo CAT 777 and Pat 777 amplifiers and Bravo speakers where the new Abbingdon Music Research CDP was in action. Whether you like its blue internal lights or not -- count us out -- the music produced was very pleasing indeed.

Another room with fine ambience offered up Manley amplification and WLM's Diva loudspeakers, a simple setup that offered nothing but pure music. Importer Beta Audio started a mere year ago and already acquired WLM and Manley. His background in professional audio is no doubt a big plus for this quick ascension up the ranks.