Place: SAS Radisson Hotel
Time: 9/17-18/2005
When I woke up this morning at daybreak, the first image I saw was of some seagulls wheeling in front of my window. At the next phase of rising consciousness, I discerned contours of a flight of small birds. Absentmindedly staring outside, I saw another flight and then another and another. All were headed west along the coastline. In less than an hour, I estimated that more than 1000, maybe 2000 chaffinches (fringilla coelebs) passed by my window. The day was sunny and the wind from the north. A chilly wind. Ideal conditions for a mass emigration of many bird species. It was magnificent. The necessity of it, the perseverance of those little wings.

Nothing as fantastic for one's eyes was on offer at the Helsinki HiFi-Show that opened its doors a few hours later. The show doesn't bestow a gathering place for tens of thousand of hungry bills. But its not bad for what it is. If predictions come true, roughly 5-6,000 visitors will indulge their curiosity during the two days over the weekend. That's not a bad figure for a market of - what? Using the well-worn 1:10000 ratio, 500 serious hobbyists. (Those figures should be enough to accurately infer the population of Finland). 500. Think of it!

On the supply side, more than 150 brands were represented, from Accuphase to Zu, from the first to the last in the alphabetical listing. And there must have been equally as many brands that didn't show up (Finland's a long country). So the competition for the souls was heavy but the actors are surviving. Just like those little birds that today decided to cross the sea and fly south.

On my way to the show, I had an idea. Why not tell you about some rare Finnish birds - if there were any to be seen at the show? As it turned out, there were. Talking about rare Finnish birds mainly means talking about Finnish speakers. DIYers assemble their tube amps but very rarely do their inventions end up on the commercial market. So here's some hot info on the latest Finnish speaker developments.

Gradient played its revised Revolution speaker. The bass drivers are upgraded and the crossover along with the new woofers makes the whole affair two centimetres taller. The bass performance of the Revolutions was as convincing as ever regardless of which organ toccata was fed. I didn't have time for anything other than organ music but knowing these speakers well from past encounters, they hardly fail with any sort of music.

Amphion's full hand of Krypton, Xenon, Argon, Helium, Creon and Athene got company from a new little brother named Ion - "the only positive ion" as one of the designers put it. It's a tiny two-way speaker with a completely new bass/midrange and crossover. And it sports what has become a trademark for Amphion: a small horn or diffuser for controlled directivity.

The Ion, via Kimber Cable, was connected to BAT pre/power tube combo, a Lector CD and tubed DAC. I didn't stay in the room too long but judging from what I had time to hear, I got the impression that the sound lacked the sort of artificiality common to many similar-sized monitors. Plus, the bass had body and warmth without being phony.

Being in Finland, however, controlled directivity is not solely Amphion territory. Many Finnish speaker designers swear by the principle as the secret for a super-sounding speaker. That goes for the new Weckstrom Compact and Genelec 8000-series speaker (Genelec is better known for its celebrated studio speakers). The former is made of solid Finnish birch, the latter of some synthetic material but both have a similar diffuser about whose advantages their marketing propaganda positively gushes. Typical of all these designs is that the crossover point -- thanks to the horn or diffuser -- drops closer to 1kHz than 2K.

Another Finnish speciality is high-end ribbon speakers. The show had two of them, both with directivity-controlling diffusers. Whether this obsession is a sign of overly uniform culture or sound engineering -- or both -- I leave for you to decide.

Crevasse [upper right] has already built a reputation abroad. The speaker is taller than I am and certainly better looking. The ribbon is one meter long and two 10" woofers underneath work in dipole configuration. The bass section was upgraded for the show, its mass substantially increased for tighter and punchier bass performance. The crossover sports new high quality parts. This beauty was driven by in-house fabricated 845 SET monos. And good work they did, I must say. A very competent speaker indeed.

For Midas Audio [upper left and lower right], this show marked their commercial launch after a protracted woodshack period of intense R&D. Midas speakers are magnetostatic line sources with two 100 mm dynamic drivers for bass. Two models were on demo, their differences in the crossovers and resultant tonal balance. The less expensive Mi 1.10 Ghost is primarily meant for friends of Rock and other rolling studio recordings. The Mi 1.10 Signature is more for those whose thumbs are up on classical and other acoustic music.

I heard the Signatures and quickly recognized their apparent strengths. The sound was such as to trigger my cognitive apparatus. The Signatures were hooked up to the Illusion Mk I, a Finnish output-transformer-less tube amp, and an Audio Research CD-2/DAC-3/LS5 combo.

Pen Audio, purveyor of the acclaimed Charisma and Rebel models, introduced an entirely new speaker, the Alba. It's a pyramid-shaped, vented two-way floorstander with Seas drivers and a 4kHz crossover point. Unlike its siblings, the Alba is not made from plywood but uses veneered MDF. But like its siblings, what it does well it does unassumingly. This room would have deserved a longer audience. Alas...

Harrin Kaiutin, mainly acting for the domestic market, introduced its brand-new Kaakkuri (Gavia stellata) speaker. These 1600 euros/pr floorstanders make very good use of Seas coaxial units in a bass reflex cabinet. The sound was clean and presentable. However, the music played was conventional HiFi material, i.e. almost completely uninformative.

Of all the other speakers present, I'd like to single out Radiotehnika. This is the firm that once was responsible for basically providing all the transducers that the citizens of the Soviet Union exposed their ears to. They're still manufactured and at a very reasonable prices. Parts are partly coming from their own factory in Latvia, partly from abroad.

A very interesting speaker also was the modestly sized Onkyo D-302E. Plenty of pioneering thinking has gone into this Japanese luxury item. Proper assessment of its sound quality wasn't made possible but Nouvelle Revue Du Son for example ranked it very high.

And here a few more pics from the show just in case you want to fly over. There's still another day left!