It was Jean Hiraga who put the SET amplifier back on the map in the West. While SETs never went out of literal hearing distance in Japan, the West went solid state pretty soon after the E.T. Corporation launched the transistor and it found application in audio amplifiers. It might even have been Jean who imported the audiophile concept to the West after his stay in Japan from the mid '60s until the mid '80s. After adventures as correspondent for various French audio magazines, he founded his own L'Audiophile magazine. Now semi-retired, he launched his own brand for loudspeakers and soon electronics as well. In Munich Jean teamed up with Swiss everything-battery-powered Audio Consulting for the electronics to feed his signature loudspeakers.

In the JH MS15 Reference, he used a 15" woofer combined with a 1.75" compression tweeter attached to a 6-cell horn, each driver with its own magnet. Remarkable is the size of the enclosure, quite small for a 15" bass driver. Jean Hiraga uses a bottom port with minimum turbulence laminar flow. You can see a laminar flow in action when someone holds up a lit cigarette. From the glowing point, a steady stream of (foul-smelling) smoke goes up and at a certain point, it starts to twirl as turbulence begins. Many large systems like Focal use laminar flow techniques to reduce cabinet sizes.

At the top end, Hiraga's horn-loaded tweeter has limited extension. At about 17kHz, the party is over. For normal music playback that's no problem but this time the MS15 Reference was enhanced by super tweeters. For us there is something troubling about those. Each time one is active, it rubs us in an unpleasant way. At a Tannoy demonstration, a big Westminster was crowned with a super tweeter and these naughty Dutchies turned it down to enjoy music without extra cranial pressures. Perhaps to make up, Jean offered us one of his leather turntable mats on which we'll report formally later.

Meeting Adam Decaria from faraway Utah was a surprise in the Zu Audio room. Adam had embarked on a surprise trip to Europe and combined that with a visit to his German distributor. If things went as planned -- they did not -- Adam wanted to set up the latest Zu loudspeaker model, the Experience. Unfortunately for him and many visitors, Germany's courier system keeps strictly to national holidays like Ascension day so the Experience never made it to the show. Why the German distributor added the now discontinued Zu Presence to this room remains a good question.

Speaking of questions, a fairly large crowd was really impressed by what they heard in the Vivid | Luxman room. Here we met owner and balance engineer Frits de With of STS Digital in Holland. The three of us had the same problem with the sound. It could have been the recording so we waited for another CD to be played. Its large choir had the same issue. The system clipped unpleasantly. Our apologies to the exhibitor but we did not stick around to learn which component misbehaved.

Much better were things over at the equipment-dense Esoteric room. The familiar sound of Avantgarde horns in combination with Japanese engineering knew how to make music under show conditions even with Esoteric's own speakers which weren't connected but present.

Dutch firm Kharma's German distributor sets up big each year. The last two years it was with Continuum Audio turntables and Wavac, this year with Chord's SPM 14000 MKII to power the big Kharma Exquisite Reference speakers. The word we can use again for how it sounded to us is big.

The Audio Resolution room was quiet when we entered, giving us the opportunity to admire the fine wood working of their Ellipse speakers. The Slovak woodworkers are masters of their trade. Building an elliptical then tapered cabinet out of 16 layers of wood is no small feat. On top of many layers, a variety of the most beautiful veneers are applied and we really liked their combination of veneer and high glass piano lacquer.

behold teamed up with Ascendo loudspeakers as they do every year. This year behold's Ralf Ballmann could finally demonstrate the production Gentle G192 super-integrated machine which combines a 100GB hard-disk player, DAC, preamp, multi-channel slash bi-amp power amp(s), electronic room corrector, signal processor and as cherry on top, the Gentle power conditioner. All these functions are combined in one relatively small enclose with a giant LCD touch screen.

The only thing not included is a phono stage. Due to HF interference, behold only offers that separately. When the phono stage is connected, it outputs a 192kHz digital signal as behold keeps everything in the digital domain as far as the chain allows. For a few years now, the Gentle had been on display at the High End, each time in an improved Beta version. Now it was finally ready to go. Herr Ballmann added a very clever feature for the hard disk utility. Instead of programming or licensing ripper software, he points at all the available solutions already on the market like EAC or iTunes which add tags to rips or downloads. Once on Mac or PC, it is a simple matter of transferring the files to either the built-in 100GB hard drive or an external USB-enabled storage device of any size you like - multiple terra bytes anyone?

Once served to the Gentle's software, playback commences from a virtually jitter-free medium that's far more constant than any CDP can ever be because of any optical player's predominantly analog nature The Gentle's on-board digital processing can compensate for room correction before sending the upsampled 192kHz signal to the DACs which aren't standard Burr Brown issue but in fact power amps as well. That's why there are 4 for multi-channel or bi-amp applications. We have made an appointment to review this piece of super-duper highest-end tech.