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TAD Laboratories chose to operate in a dark room. In the dim light we discerned a system around the Evolution One loudspeakers with an M-series class D power amplifier, C2000 two-part preamp and D600 CD player. Of course output from a laptop was streamed to the CD player’s digital input.
Tingsha demonstrated the Grandinote Shinai 37wpc dual-mono power amplifier. This amp is based on what Grandinote calls a ‘magnetosolid’ concept. It boils down to a basic tube amp design where all vacuum-state bits are replaced by solid-state equivalents in the form of Jfets and Mosfets. Loudspeakers on duty were the Transmission Audio M3MKII with a PS Audio PWT/PWD source combination. On static display sat the cool retro-looking Daveson loudspeakers.
Daluso offered a system built around the Reimyo KAP-777 and CAT-777 MkII pre and power amplifiers. A combination of CDT-777 CD transport and DAP-999EX DAC formed the front-end. Compact Bravo loudspeakers filled the room with music. Every time we hear a system with Kiuchi-San products there is a little wonder. Or is it because Reimyo is Japanese for miracle?
Metrum is now well known for their non-oversampling (NOS) DACs but they offer much more. At the show they demonstrated a complete system with hybrid electrostatic transducers and hybrid amplifiers and of course the new Hex DAC. Metrum in fact started around 1987 with the production of electrostatic loudspeakers. Later they added digital processing systems to their product list. The new Hex DAC is based on 16 industrial chips run fully dual mono, hence a true balanced output pair is possible. Input signals can enter via coaxial S/PDIF or optional modules for USB and XLR.
Onda Ligera originates from Latvia and like many recent products from the Baltic states was a welcome surprise. At the show the Onda Ligera IPA006 300wpc amplifier and a DA003 high-output 3-volt DAC fed the Wave 168D 3-way loudspeakers with their opposing pairs of woofers. Despite non-music played during our visit—that dreaded Sheffield Labs drum thing—the system oozed musical potential besides obvious capacity to move serious air. Finishing of all components was perfect high-gloss piano lacquer. Not long ago there was fear of China overtaking hifi but that is over even with many Chinese companies disguising as Japanese by opening mailbox offices in Japan. It is now Eastern Europe that's taking over fast and hard! The sheer quality of design ideas and build quality is hard to beat in the more Western parts of the world. Brands like Onda Ligera, AudioSolutions, LessLoss, Trafomatic and others prove that in abundance.
HiFi Matters presented a set with Icon Audio tube amplification and Kudos loudspeakers. Both are from the UK but assembly of the amplifiers is performed in China though final quality control occurs in the UK. The Icon amplifiers—and there are a lot of different models—all share simple design and point-to-point wiring. Kudos is made in the UK with drivers from SEAS of Norway. Pricing is kept low by sticking to the bare necessities and eschewing frills.
Solosound is Dutch and into electrostatic loudspeakers. Owner and designer Mark Huinder played lovely older vinyl on a combination of Solostatic 200 ‘Swiss Edition’ panels assisted by a duo of Lyngdorf BW 1 woofers. Amplification was by Lyngdorf’s DPA-1 pre and a pair of Lyngdorf SDA 2175 power amps. Sources were a Lyngdorf CD player and a Michell Orbe SE turntable. The only thing missing was a nice drink to accompany the music.
Riverside Audio represents Sonneteer electronics and PenAudio loudspeakers in the Netherlands. The small Cynea stand mounts with SEAS drivers looked good and had sound to match.
X-Fi not only organized the show but they are also distributors for an impressive array of brands. One of those is Audio Note. This make is known for idiosyncrasy not only in their designs but also how they ‘handle’ music. Music should be fun and not something sacred. That idea matches X-Fi to a T and their pretty dark room made flash mandatory to take a picture and capture the obvious consequences of such fun - a floor littered with CDs for proof of some heavy music rotation. That the DeVore Fidelity Orangutan O/96 speakers are visually stunning and the looks of the AMR CD player and Luxman amp not at all bad either was a much played-down accessory to the supremacy of music, hence the darkened room.
The other X-Fi room was the visual opposite. Brightly lit, the main attraction was the combination of a G.I.P Laboratory horn system with field-coil drivers. Amplification was in the hands of the very best from Audio Note UK like their Quest Silver and Ongaku. Setting up a complex system with so many components and variables is not easy but the sound when we visited needed just a little fine-tuning for seats in the middle of the room. When seated at the back things were spot on already. Tubes and horns are a special combination even when the source is digital. Now imagine this room with dimmed lights and lots of CDs. Yum!