This review page is supported in part by the sponsors whose ad banners are displayed below

Helsinki HighEnd 2009 - Radisson Hotel, September 26-27
Quad ESL 2905 with JL Audio Fathom 113 subwoofer, Nagra CDC and VPA 845 monoblocks - many considered their sound best of show. In the same room, Magico's V3 with Spectral Audio sounded fine but rather more ordinary.

Other good-sounding systems included Triangle Magellans with Sugden electronics; JMlab Diablo Utopias on Primare electronics; Sonus Faber Liuto with Burmester electronics; Omega 6 XRS with Ayon Audio electronics; PCM 18th Anniversary with Accuphase and so on. Dipole speakers suffered from unfavorable room interactions.

Think Emerald Physics CS2.3 with Wyred4Sound and Blacknote; and Jamo Ref 907 with ASR and Brinkmann for example. Meanwhile the big Spendor SP100R on EAR Yoshino electronics and the Harbeth HL-P3ESR with Cyrus kit proved surprisingly immune to the modest size of their rooms. Ad infinitum. Systems come and go as do hifi shows. Fortunately something always stands out to the mind of particular showgoers and here's my short list:

Phono equalizers are either very simple or quite complicated. Accuphase’s first standalone C-27 phono stage is complicated. Previous Accuphase phono stages were integrated in their preamplifiers or available as optional modules. The C-27 runs separate circuitry for MM and MC, adds three impedance settings for MM and six for MC, up to 70dB of gain for the weakest signals and enough inputs for three turntables. The C-27 is a must-do review item despite probably housing more parts than are strictly necessary for simple phono equalization.

Amphion had two new models, the Argon 3 and Helium 510, both with newly designed wave guides plus certain internal improvements. All Amphion models—or rather the grills—are available in several colors to offer more interior design matches. [Amphion's Anssi Hyvönen told us that "... summer has been absolute and constant madness with quite a bit of R&D work during which we practically reworked all our speaker models after finding a drastically better performing wave guide geometry which enforced a complete reevaluation across the line. We are now slowly wrapping up most the associated work." - Ed]

Estonian Audes introduced a completely revised (inside and out) version of its Blues speaker which connected to their EL34 integrated tube amplifier, apparently a prototype. The sound was very pleasant, relaxed and mellow but still informative. They mainly played LPs and the reliable cartridge in their Pro-ject turntable was the distinguished Denon DL-103! It's simply amazing how much music this inexpensive cartridge can retrieve in the right hands.

On the Finnish front, the Cerica is a new 2-way by Aurelia with two DDC Isomatrix woofers for frequencies below 1.5 kHz and three Titanium tweeters mounted in their Cylinder Source Radiator wave guide similar to the one in their flagship Graphica.

On the heavy engineering front, there was the Swedish Guru Pro Audio setup which sounded good. The Finnish DSPeaker too believes in engineering virtues and manufactures, among other things, the famous Anti-Mode 8033 subwoofer equalizer. The same Anti-Mode room equalization algorithm is applied to their Servo 299 L active loudspeakers together with other advanced technologies (high-order DSP waveform correction, current feedback bi-amplification, processor-controlled active suspensions and more). Yet the sound at least at this show was far from perfect and worse, devoid of any charisma. This is not to say that in some environments, the comprehensive technical means at hand would not help the speaker perform much better than it would without them. They do. I’ve tried.

I recently reviewed Esa’s Credo 4 three-way floorstander with two 22cm aluminum cone ScanSpeak Revelator woofers. The nearly sole concern I had with regard to the sound was the speaker’s rather generous bass. I secretly wished the manufacturer would have used paper cone woofers from Scanspeak’s Illuminator series. Voilà, here is Esa's new Credo 3 Illuminator, a 2.5-way design with passive Illuminator woofers also at the back of the speaker.

G.A.D. is a Swedish furniture manufacturer whom Mårten Design commissioned for some equipment racks. Their rack does not look spectacular but still possesses enormous rustic elegance, style, romance and honesty. The stone for the shelves is from Gotland island where the company makes its home. The material's inherent resonance is attenuated with small dampers beneath. This might have been the only product at the show (and it wasn’t even an official entry) that had my blood accelerate. The rack almost overshadowed the Mårten Miles III playing music through a set of McIntosh electronics. I’ve now heard the Mårten & McIntosh combo play together on several occasions and am starting to believe that it’s a really good match.

Gradient's iconic Helsinki model sported a flashy new red dress.

The Swedish Guru Pro Audio "loves engineering" (their own words) and no surprise it was then that their representative would have spent a good amount of time measuring the room from each corner to find an ideal place for their QM10, a cute little cube with a 16mm dome and 4” plastic-coated paper midranger. No other exhibitor in an equivalent room had their speakers on the same wall or in the same position. When placed in the vicinity of a wall, the QM10 is said to reproduce bass notes as low as 30Hz. And bass there was. The tone was somewhat technical but not without interest. There was something quite appealing to how this speaker performed despite the fact that the sound actually aimed to be objective and detached.

Back to Finnish speakers, the Huuhkaja is a new two-way from Harrin Kaiutin. The speaker looks conventional but sounded wholesome and very coherent without a wave guide, likely due to very carefully designed crossover circuitry.

OR Loudspeakers is an old Finnish loudspeaker company which has joined the Nordic club of wave guide users. The new OR-18Qi bears a striking resemblance with Weckström speakers. Which was the chicken and which the egg I don’t know.

Profel is a pro-audio company that offers active speakers for home use. The Nuovo Quaranta is a fully active 3-way monitor with adjustable LF output and additional room tuning and tone adjustments.

SES Audio Design is a new Finnish company clearly invested in the cosmetics of their loudspeakers. Their Breeze is a two-way bass-reflex bookshelf speaker with Seas drivers. The hand-made cabinet is manufactured from high-quality Baltic birch plywood in CNC precision-cut slabs which are stacked and joined horizontally to form a stiff enclosure.

The best sound for dollar came by way of Usher's €3000/pr Mini Dancer 1 with entry-level Cambridge Audio electronics. This system sounded so right and self-explanatory that nothing had to be added, nothing deleted. Another good deal would have been the €800/pr Wharfedale Onyx 200 below, a three-way floorstander with sensible bass down to 45-50Hz. There's nothing special about that speaker and its drivers are probably quite cheap which to some extent can be heard as a minor lack of sophistication. Regardless, the speaker manages to present music quite engagingly and it certainly makes a good hifi choice for somebody with an average need for music whereby music is simply listened to for the immediate pleasure it gives.

Rumors of their death were premature. Well Tempered’s new Amadeus deck features a 2-layer MDF plinth and WT’s trademark solution of a frictionless platter bearing and a bearingless tone arm. The Amadeus is made in China and thus more affordable than past WT turntables.

It would mean a Jungian healing of massive proportions for this hobby if a goodly number of its participants added (moving) pictures to the equation - as in, music videos from classic Rock to opera and anything between via not multi-channel but stereo. The Finnish Audioshop assembled such a 2-channel music/video system around WLM's Stella speakers, a Manley Stingray tube amp, a Full HD projector and Screenlux screen. The source was an inexpensive NAD DVD player connected to a Blacknoise line filter and power cord. My guess is that this was the room where people most focused on the software at hand and completely forgot about the hardware as soon as the first guitar solo hit their ears.

Having gone mainstream in all avenues of life, the heydays for vintage are probably over. The Club of Finnish HiFi Hobbyists wirelessly teased Yamaha's NS1000 studio monitors through an Accuphase converter. The sound was what it was and many expected more. Best was how the disagreement on sound quality revealed a group of NS1000 enthusiasts who really know how to dig deep into the soul of this speaker. It reminded me of people for whom a Saab 900 is the only vehicle worth owning and driving.

Postscript: One of the curious features of the Helsinki Highend Show is that students from the Audiopoli Helsinki University of Technology participate with a new product sprung from their fertile minds. It’s part of their culture and humor to waste their talents and mock what they believe represents the soul of the so-called high-end audio world.

If it’s not Smooth Jazz—female vocalists are on top of their list of sins—then what they target becomes, surprise surprise, high-end cables. The one shown is thicker than an anaconda. As often happens and also did in this case, their positive contribution of loudspeakers was not on a par with their 'negative' achievements...