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A few years ago I had the unexpected good fortune to cross paths with Serbian brand Trafomatic Audio. This happened at a time when they were still virtual unknowns beyond their own borders. Last year I mentioned Auris Audio. They were a surprise addition from the land of Nikola Tesla. This year the same team around Milomir Trosic had pulled out all stops. They hit the MOC with a mass introduction of mature valve gear we came to call "styled as though by Italians but better". Think cream or cocoa leather and solid Walnut. Think Absolare but different pricing.

Sven Boenicke & Milomir Trosic

With Sven Boenicke of the eponymous Swiss Boenicke Audio brand contributing his fabulous W5 mini speakers on short stilts, the brand-new 3-way Anna with ambient rear tweeter plus solid setup/tuning expertise and attractive DJ skills, this wood-themed room exemplified 'musical' not 'hifi' sound at a high if not extreme level. Without any derogatory implications—we must use some terms to speak clearly—I refer to hifi sound as a presentation that pushes up transient sharpness, treble energy, image focus, soundstaging and apparent speed beyond levels occurring at concerts. This in turn sacrifices colour intensity, textural density and meatiness. Tube electronics often show up in the warmer chunkier richer systems. If the speakers belong to the other class, their contributions can dominate however. This show to my ears was very short on musical systems. Not only did hifi sound rule, so did lame music. How many more choo-choo trains to Johannesburg do we have to sit through? I in fact walked out of two rooms where a very well-recorded upright bass (on different albums) was played very badly out of tune. Meanwhile the audience sat unflinchingly through these demos. 'twas as though sound quality could compensate for lack of musicianship. Am I bizarrely intolerant of musicians with lousy pitch? I don't think so.

Back on tack. Here we see one half of Sven's Anna cab to show off the clever solid-wood innards. The next photo shows the ambient tweeter as well as the tiny version of the W5 right above its chic WBT binding posts.

The Anna sports a clever implementation of Sven's wire-suspended SwingBase. This practices decoupling from the floor via his favoured multiple-degrees-of-freedom scheme completed with a ball bearing beneath the speaker's front. The myth of the mechanical one-way diode aka spike could be seen busted in a number of rooms which implemented their own forms of disconnecting speakers from the floor.

The Serbian Largo preamp [€4'860] of this active system included a DAC and this wooden remote for volume and mute.

The Forte 6550 monos with their quads of output glass for 100-watt power demanded €11'880/pr...

... whilst the Spinnaker phono stage also on active display commanded €3'950.

What follow are a few shots of numerous other Auris Audio models. Valve/class-D hybrids were nearly completed and the present catalogue already included headphone amplifiers.

One dead giveaway about whether a room is run by rookies or pros is the presence or absence of a 'closing room'. That's a separate area where business can be conducted on the premises not elsewhere. Beginners with active systems play constant disc jockey. This entertains their visitors but often has them go home with little else accomplished. You threw a party, everyone consumed your free food and drink and now you're left with a huge bill and big cleanup. Pros hire disc jockeys or double even triple-team to conduct actual business behind 'the curtain'. This room definitely had the curtain. And the business. Milomir proudly showed me his growing notebook of business cards accompanied by his personal notes about would-be distributors which he now had to vet for proper seriousness of purpose and ability. These days many distributors exist only on paper. They carry no stock or develop any dealer networks. Yet they list 50 brands and greedily book dealer and distributors margins. For said privilege they happily take your credit card to place an order with the maker. Forget about deliveries on the spot. Why the heck should any customer work with such lame uninvested operators? And why should manufacturers? Milomir's experience as CEO of another very successful company which he runs concurrently would clearly not tolerate such poseurs.

Naturally there's far more to the rise of Auris Audio. We'll simply leave that story for my upcoming review of their flagship preamp and quad EL84 monos. That will cover background, engineering, a virtual factory tour and more. Here let it suffice that I considered Auris Audio the most impressive debut of a new brand at HighEnd 2014. Together with the next room they also hosted my favorite musical system for relatively sane coin. This also meant very living-room friendly looks and surprisingly compact dimensions for Sven's speakers. All cables for this terrific exhibit were by Absolué Creations of France and from their TIM Reference range. Cables are easy to overlook when covering any audio event but they are vital contributors to any system. Without them there would literally be no sound at all.

Whilst it could seem like a deliberate setup (Switzerland + Serbia times two)... on sound, appearance and general positioning the next system made for a well-deserved déjà vu on more than one count: