Las Vegas is the grandest, London/Heathrow the most professional, Milan the most sympathetic. Such is, famously, Ken Kessler's ranking of the international HiFi Shows.

I've been to Milano many times but never for an exhibition so I cannot comment on Ken's preferences. But I have attended the Stockholm Highend Show at least three times. To me it's always been one of the most pleasing and most satisfying events in the business.

People are open, kind, ready to converse and willing to help and guide. You may not get a slice of pizza for two euros but what you do get is a beautiful city built on seven islands, the world's best social security and excellent public transportation.

Public transport wasn't really needed this time. The Sheraton Stockholm couldn't be more centrally situated in the city than it is, right by Lake Mälaren in the vicinity of the Old Town and the City Hall, a three-minute walk from the main railway and coach stations.

As in previous years, the show offered a nice cross section of the supply side of the current two channel market in Sweden. This is not the most comprehensive show there is but it doesn't play below the poverty line either. This event is still within the limits of the comprehensible and manageable. One day -- from 10 am to 4 pm -- was quite enough to plough through it. But less would have been inadequate. 4300 visitors attended I was told. This is good turnout for a local show like this and up from previous years.

The rooms were typically sweaty hotel rooms apart from the bottom floor. There more space was accorded to those who could pay for it. Last time I attended, there was more space at the Stockholm Polytechnic of The Teacher Education but less visitors.

The Stockholm show is exclusively about two channel sound reproduction. While I did see a screen in one or two rooms, it was always with musicians dancing across it. And Tubes Rule as one of the posters declared.

A characteristic of this particular show was the self-imposed dimness of many exhibits as though the manufacturers had wanted to repress the cold weather outside by creating a warm, cozy and mellow interior graced by good music. I don't know. For my tiny little digital camera, it was a nightmare. Anyway, here are some highlights of the show.

First, hifi at the highest level. This category was represented by systems such as the one with big Magnepans, Audio Research electronics, Audio Aero Prima CDP and Nordost cable. The same applied to the all-mbl system. Mainstream audiophile values remained well represented in these systems. Money isn't an issue in this context, whether or not one has it. These are "to dream about" setups just as boat exhibitions are crowded by people, 80% of whom cannot afford 80% of the dream boats brought to impress, dazzle and seduce.

A system that endorsed softer hifi values and in a good way was anchored by Harbeth's flagship 40 Monitor. The design of this speaker goes back to the 1960s and the LS5/5, the classic professional three-way monitor. The room wasn't exactly a traditional BBC control room but the domesticated version of 40 Monitor still managed to reveal down-to-earth British sensibilities in their best light.

The rather renowned JJ 323 22-wpc tube integrated from 1999 saw a new coming at the Show, its capacitors and transformers completely transformed. The JJ 323 drove WLM Monitor Divas with apparent success. Another good-sounding Austrian speaker was Vienna Acoustics' Concert Beethoven driven by Rogue Audio M-150 monoblocks.

I've had several earlier encounters with JBL's 3-way Project Array 1400 horn speaker but this was the first time I was able to lend them my ear for a longer exposure. Opera, heavy music - anything seemed to go. Yet I'd say the speaker puts emphasis on the overall handling of the music at the expense of delivering the finest nuances.

An interesting revelation was the full YBA system with the top-of-the-line Passion 1000 CDP, new Passion 1000 preamp and Passion 1000 monoblocks, all these being the latest creations by Yves Bernard André. The Silverline Audio Grandeur II speakers were hooked up to via JPS Labs cables. Verdict? The best sounding Norah Jones at the Show - and not only because it was the only Norah Jones sound I heard.

Mårten Design is definitely one of the brands Swedes can be proud of. At this show their new Bird was singing. And nicely it sang too in company with Einstein electronics. To me Mårten Design is one of the actors in the market with whom a certain quality level is always guaranteed, whether one warms to it or not. I didn't dare ask the price of the speakers though.

The most popular TT at the Show was the Rega P7 along with P9. Of other TTs, I remember the mighty Clearaudio Master Reference accompanied by Gignos Audio speakers fed by Halcro amps, and the Roksan Radius 5.

Rauna, run by Bo Hansson, is one of the Swedish brands that deserves more publicity. The company produces everything from drivers to tube amps to turntables to hornspeakers and audiophile recordings (Opus 3). The new Opus 3 Continuo turntable is especially tempting: it's available as a kit for little more than 500 euros. And the whole package assembled, including the Cantus tangential arm, is yours for ca. 1300 euros. Rauna's latest invention is a new spider made of thin copper plate.

One of the sonic delights of the show was a two-way prototype floorstander in which two 4" Jordans were supplemented with a Jordan tweeter crossing at 400Hz! Who says one cannot be creative with wide bandwidth drivers.

In the staircase on my way up to the show, a man slid a postcard into my hand and promised "the world's best amplifier!". So in I went to Room 223 to see The Lars 300B. The amp, as it will appear later this year, was set on a side table (check The music, however, came from two elementary metal boxes connected to French speakers called BC (a name that should not be forgotten either). I told Lars that after years of glimmering and glowing tube designs, I sort of liked the robust outlook of his prototypes. More interesting, Lars' design is one of very few tube amps I know of that take serious the work done by Dr. Otala of Finland, on the effects of transient inter-modulation distortion (TIM) on the sound.

The Loudest Sound of the Show un-award went to a setup in which Cerwin-Vega CLS-215 loudspeakers were whipped into a frenzy by two Cerwin-Vega A 2.6 KW power amps with NAD preamps. Those power amps bridged will burst out 2600 watts into 8 ohms per channel. Never mind your ears, it was time to let the kidney, liver and diaphragm do the shake, rattle and roll. These same guys who scared people out of the room with the sheer volume had strung up a poster reading: Bad Sound Kills Good Music.

They got it wrong though. Insanely loud sound kills people.

The purest, most direct and dynamic sound was found in a room filled up with a collection of vintage electronics and a row of speakers with HMV-type roof-shooting horns under the aegis of Western Electric. Fabulous Glen Miller's Chattanooga Choo Choo was flying out from a speaker that in a real life is a cover for a 1947 WE cutting machine for 78s.

After a long hiatus, Densen has come up with a new tuner which is actually a MkII version of their 800 FM.

T + A Elektroakustik celebrated its 25th anniversary. One of the festive objects was a new tube-based CD/SACD-player called D 10. At least I hadn't seen it before.

Aura Note's tiny and stylish CD/AMP Completer played music as the next CDP or amp. Watch out for Srajan's forthcoming review on the subject.

Wilson Audio's new little two-way Duette was the best supporting actress of the show, here pictured against one of the many church towers of Stockholm. Unfortunately the sound remained a mystery since the speaker wasn't hooked up.

A gorgeous looking Audio Space amp from China and their proprietary TL-speaker with factory-made drivers from top to toe held court in the next room.

One of the all-Swedish systems featured Bladelius electronics and QRS speakers, both brands well worth checking out. QRS Supernova pictured on the left photo's right.

A new Focal 3-way called Electra 1037 BE was was driven by Audionet electronics or alternatively ASR Audio Systeme. Another Swedish entry was Intelligent Sound's IS815 Pro, combining IS8 Pro and IS15 Pro. I'm not sure about the looks but the sound was fine.

The anonymous acoustic panel at left decorated a goodly number of rooms.

Finally, two systems that grooved, one by Linn, the other by Subas Audio [the latter's proprietor recently sent me some choice Mullards and Brimars for the Raysonic CD128 which put it over the top in its price sector. Gracias, amigo. I'm indebted - Ed.].