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Taking place one week after the 3rd installment of the Salon Sons & Sens in the Grand Hôtel Suisse-Majestic of Montreux which previously had occurred in Aigle Castle, the HighEnd Suisse show 2013 in Regensdorf/Zürich had clearly seen better days. Except for Klangwerk/Weiss and Soulution, none of the Swiss exhibitors from Montreux attended. Ensemble, Goldmund and Piega were missing from both. As one Swiss firm put their absence from Regensdorf very succinctly, "we always felt punished for attending" (referring to small rooms, a non-central location and high prices). As a regional show in a small country, HighEnd Suisse was never about massive attendance, international distributors/press or product launches. It was primarily a cash cow for the German HighEnd Society which also hosts Munich. With Sons & Sens strategically siphoning off the Swiss contingent—think Audio Consulting, Boenicke Audio, CH Precision, Colotube, Eternity Joe, Holborne, Illusonic, Manufacture Le Son, Nagra, Rowen, soundkaos, Stenheim, Swissonor—the Zürich show this year was clearly smaller and had even less of a good reason to exist. I primarily went because of a promise Angel Despotov had made at HighEnd Munich earlier in the year. He'd launch his new Analog Domain Isis integrated in Regensdorf.

Showing again with Göbel's unique bending-wave loudspeakers with dynamic woofers (2 woofers + 4 passive radiators in a 3 + 3 front/back-firing array) for very ambitious sound if in too small a room, the Isis was sadly absent. Bait'n'switch. Its claim to fame will not only be the €20.000 sticker—that's low in the Analog Domain catalogue—and more compact packaging but Angel's apparently revolutionary Excalibur circuit. It not only produces that lovely square wave at left, it seems to leave bona fide engineers shaking their heads. Looking at the schematic they purportedly insist it couldn't reliably work in any actual application. Despotov knows better. The reason Isis was still skulking in the lands of the Pharaohs had nothing to do with instability. He wasn't happy yet with his attenuator and back to a relay-switched resistor array, albeit one that will never use more than two relays for any volume step to avoid switching transients.

To demonstrate his disdain for conventional volume solutions, he showed how attenuating his dCS source by just 1dB down from full scale hooded the sound. He was correct. He'd thus jerry-rigged a small box with his own volume control for show purposes and to run the dCS wide open.

This is what the Analog Domain Isis will likely look like when she bows at the end of the year. Based on the sound here I'd love an eventual crack at reviewing the Isis and Göbel Epoque Fine though the latter's 100kg mass will require some very manly delivery agents to move into my walk-up flat.

With my hopes for an important product launch squashed, fickle Lady Fortune still smiled at me with an exhibit which I found the absolutely wickedest—most wicked, wickidacious?—for its potent MF factor (which isn't short for musical fidelity though that'd fit too but mind fuckery). Strong words? See for yourself:

Anthony Gallo as the tireless champion of small drivers taken to the max would have a chuckled. The Leedh E2 speaker [€12.000/pr] is a very unique French project from the Holophonic Laboratory of Research and Development made manifest in such a compact different way that even been-there/done-that veterans will feel a bit lost squaring the very fast but full-bodied super-timed sound in a room this size with the apparent absence of serious cone surface, a sub or anything much looking like a conventional speaker to begin with. Staring at this effrontery to common sense more closely netted this.

That's two horizontally opposed woofers duplicated for this model with a second module on the plinth not shown here; one front-firing midrange; and one tweeter all made of a Carbon composite. There are no spiders, surrounds or soft-iron pole pieces. The voice coils move in a specially formulated oil-based ferrofluid. Each speaker consumes in excess of 5kg of Neodymium for its motors. All of it adds up to very high excursions which allow a parallel reduction of driver diameter and exclusively sealed enclosures for very high transient response. 100dB SPL are possible from these dwarfish drivers to be well sufficient for normal rooms and sane ears.

Despite blatant sonic proof of beating the odds at Zürich, there obviously comes a point where room size exceeds this design's bass ability to keep up without sub assist. In the Mövenpick Hotel however there was clearly no need for a subwoofer to seemingly defy Physics. A quick skip to the company's website explains how no Physics were harmed in the making of this movie. Even so none of the tech talk dilutes the sensory decorrelation between sound source and room-filling very accurate quick playback and the attendant brain freeze I saw on each visitor's face when entering here. Granted, different for difference's sake is nothing but a short-lived and often cheap stunt. Sitting down with these Frenchies for a listen however suggested something far more substantial if admittedly quite futuristic on looks and costly on the wallet. Chatting with Anna Popova, a Russian violinist cum engineer who now lives in Liechtenstein running cable company O2A which was associated with this exhibit, I've been promised a review pair to explore this exciting subject in proper depth. Color me very keen!

Having the previous year occupied a large open space without sound when I stopped by on opening day, this year Swiss company ActivAudio had an active demo of their actively DPS-corrected open baffle speakers in one of the small rooms on the 2nd floor which show management unfortunately packed wall to wall rather than leave intermediate empty rooms as noise barriers.

ActivAudio loads its big woofers into a tightly defined front-firing slot whilst the backside fires laterally into the room. For the necessary equalization to compensate for out-of-phase bass cancellation the company provides its own multi-channel amps...

... and even extends the concept to the desktop with these two models.

Finnish pro company Genelec resumed their well-rehearsed demo of previous shows with once again terrific results. Whilst audiophiles are genetically miswired to appreciate active speakers, 'normies' who simply want the best sound for their dollar do far better with them. Active crossovers and built-in driver linearization and equalization make for far superior results than the hit'n'miss approach of passive speakers and arbitrarily matched electronics.

Just how small the active Genelec concept can get and still work was indicated with this minimalist desktop suggestion.

Kevin Halverson & Co. from HRT showed their new Stage system of small line-source port-loaded speaker with outboard class A/B 2x70w amplifier module, built-in DAC and included speaker cables terminated in the type of power plugs common for computer-type SMPS.

1.400 Swiss takes one of these sub-less systems home as a higher performing alternative to Electric Avenue plastic rigs though the casings here are just as plastic and cheaply finished. The Stage set comes in black or white. Threaded receivers below the rearfiring port anticipate a wall mount bracket.

With splashy highs and hollow bass until we turned the volume on the Trafomatic integrated down from full tilt to more appropriate levels, Jo Sound's founder had at 10:45 on a Saturday morning already fallen prey to the type of ear exhaustion which has volumes creep up over the course of a day of constant show demos. The bigger Ra model on the outside wasn't playing because its bass interacted badly with the room he said. The smaller Voxativ-fitted Cartouche model [€22.000/pr] however gave a good showing of itself to merit no excuses. It apparently benefited from refinements since last year which showed.

These solid bamboo enclosures have a very attractive honey color in real life that doesn't quite translate in the photos. If you're not into Voxativ's mirror-like lacquers, this could be an attractive option.

The big news for Voxativ on the opposing wall—both companies shared a room again since they also share drivers—was a new 'conventional' driver whose 2.4-Gauss field in the gap matches their top field-coil driver whilst coming down in price by a whopping €30K. That makes the big Ampeggio Due only €55.000 instead of €85.000. I must admit that even the lower figure still induces personal vertigo considering a single driver, two pieces of flat Plywood and some internal bracing all gussied up in Polish piano lacquer. None of it seems to bother the Chinese however where this model is reportedly very popular by selling in multiple pairs each month.

Sobering on a different note was company founder Inès Adler's experience with Kurt Schaffernicht's German-built Elrog 845s which she had previously championed openly. "Not one of his very costly valves made it past 30 hours. When customers contacted me with failure reports, I obviously asked for replacements. Elrog stoutly refused. Needless to say we were very disappointed. We're back to Chinese tubes which are as reliable as they ought to be." Teutonic engineering beat to a bloody pulp by Chinese reliability? It seems so. Consider yourself warned on Elrog then.

Though far from news, KEF's LS50 with Arcam electronics in its small room once again made such splendid sound that an honorable mention was mandatory. Bringing/buying too much speaker for the room is a folly shared by exhibitors and customers alike though particularly the former should know better. The LS50 demonstrated how to avoid such self-inflicted pain with bravura!

I'm not sure who'd want such a garish light show in their digs but on sound the small McIntosh monitor with its very small MTM array made a very convicting argument.

German direct-sell speaker company Nubert had numerous active monitors on display to continue the earlier Genelec theme of smart hifi investments.

Keeping up with the current DSD craze, Weiss had the new INT204 USD/DSD interface which converts incoming DSD to PCM and offers selectable filters for DSD and PCM.

Naturally there was more to see but either I'd come across it many times before; or I couldn't get into a room because the door was locked or the space too packed even for a Japanese subway rider. What I took away from this show was a downbeat overall vibe—"the world doesn't seem to be a happy place right now" is how one exhibitor put it—that smaller speakers generally had the upper hand in the smaller rooms (duh!) and that the love of disco levels and cyborg bass fit for a pounding nightclub are alive and well. In short little was new but if you knew where to look there still were real surprises.