Part II - international coverage
. To avoid duplication, I will begin with my seven favourite rooms based on sound, then list the remaining entries to illustrate the type of support this event had from global brands; and what a visitor could expect to see and hear in terms of product mix. When it comes to sound quality, it should be no surprise that very much larger rooms had an innate unfair advantage (not so unfair given that they paid for it) over tiny shoe box spaces if they played their cards right. That many didn't is par for the course. That some smaller rooms made very much better sound than some of the large exhibits is a reminder that setup skills, proper matching of speakers to room and such are qualities visitors have a right to expect from the experts but often don't really get.

Piotr Misiewicz of Living! Sound got it and gets it. He is a Krakow-based importer who'd taken out a large space in the Golden Tulip hotel. His system was simplicity itself: a Computer Audio Design server controlled from an iPad; a matching CAD DAC; a Sanders Sound Design amp—presumably from Coda/Continuum—and a pair of Boenicke Audio W8 loudspeakers set up in deep free space toed in severely. Add Stein Music devices and a PurePower+ 3000 AC regenerator and that was the extent of the hardware.

Those hesitant to believe that such small speakers could possibly play this room to full satisfaction have simply never heard a solid-wood Boenicke speaker before. This system did space, scale and depth like none other I came across.

Here is the rear of the Windows-based CAD server, with outboard Teddy Pardo-designed power supply in the insert.

Check out the flimsy panels doing duty as sound-proof walls. Not. Cooperation between neighbouring exhibitors is mandatory for relatively peaceful coexistence here.

The next exhibit—in the Sobieski hotel as the carpet gives away—was a fully 6M-approved affair of Lumin server, Wow Audio or Crayon Audio electronics and Albedo Audio Aptica speakers. Owning both the Crayon CFA-1.2 integrated and Aptica speakers, I was confident that within the crammed confines of their space, these folks got the very best from their hardware. I'm certain that many looked in vein for a subwoofer given how unbelievably extended those compact Italian transmission-line 2-ways will act when powered properly.

This dealer/distributor room combined an Aqua Audio transport/DAC with an Art Audio Conductor preamp borrowed from a friend with Wells Audio monoblocks and Diapason 2-way monitors. With plenty of diffusors and traps on the front wall, curtains slightly parted to let in some light—far too many rooms opted for the full black-out which killed proper photography unless one arrived with a big ceiling-reflector flash—this exhibit practiced the credo of "right speaker for the space", then chanted the mantra "big amps make small speakers sound really big" and finished off with another, "the source does matter".

Kaiser Acoustics' Chiara super monitor fronting a full stack of AURALiC made for another oasis of truly high-end sound that didn't need to play loud to communicate (this was a very quiet system); and which didn't suffer room bloat, boom, sibilance excess or any of the other issues which so often bedevil temporary show setups in acoustically compromised conditions. When presumed sound professionals—the makers of this stuff—don't manage this properly, they in essence say one of the following to their audience: a/ this is as good as it gets, b/ we don't know any better, c/ we don't give a shit. None of it serves them or us. In fact, it all undermines their credibility; and if their stuff is of the very expensive sort, competely invalidates the entire high-end concept. Just showing up isn't good enough! To be sure, Kaiser didn't. They even brought their own stands and room treatments.

An example of the full black-out came in the Steinway room where very small monitors were mated to two very big subwoofers planted squarely in the corners. With presumably oodles of very clever Lyngdorf digital speaker/room processing on hand, this system was a full-range shocker without room issues and no audible seams between monitors and subs. That isn't easy to pull off. When done properly however, it nearly invariably is far more successful than running passive floorstanders with equivalent bass extension. This room showed how to perfection!

Because I'm not a monster-flash carrying tripod-toting 20cm-long lens-shlepping show reporter, I fell back lazily on grabbing a shot of that Steinway & Sons monitor on their hallway poster to illustrate how this isn't your normal mini monitor. I'll in fact have some reading up to do on their website to learn more about it.

Unbeknownst to them, Trenner & Friedl from Austria practiced the "three strikes and you're in " rule when, after their wonderful showing at the HighEnd Suisse described in that show report, they hit another two high marks with their Trilogy/Pharaoh system (I'd never heard of Trilogy from the UK but this integrated amp clearly deserves better)...

... and then their 3-way Isis fronting a complete Reimyo stack. This second room caught me in one of those lulls where one feels in need of a caffeine injection and proper music to offset some of the minor crimes against good sound and civil conduct elsewhere. As though mind readers, the folks manning this exhibit produced an unsolicited espresso, then spun some brilliant tracks of Polish music I'd not heard before. Accordionist Marcin Wyrostek & Colorage riffed on Besame Mucho and the gorgeous Serbian song Jovanke Jovanke, Kaczmarek by Możdżer showcased a brilliantly dynamic piano track of a film score I'd not heard of before. I spent quite a while here listening to more, all the while wishing that the speakers were smaller and less boxy. In fairness of course, if you want this type of very gutsy super-dense sound, a 15-inch woofer is a must. And if you want the type of pure dynamic treble that keeps up with a coloratura soprano leaning in, you need a superior hornloaded tweeter that wont falter. The big Isis three-way obliges on both counts. In short, a Trenner & Friedl review is in my future.

As you'll appreciate, the sound in these seven rooms which I singled out as my favourites was quite different from one to the next. Just as there are many different cuisines, there are different sonic flavours. Done well, any of them will convince and stir up lust. Which one you want to settle down with for good without turning into a serial monogamist... that's the tough question.