Show Report: Australian Hi-Fi & AV Show 2018
This year’s Australian Hi-Fi & AV Show 2018, run by the Chester Group, which returned to its home base of Melbourne in 2018 after a brief sojourn in Sydney in 2017, had quite a few surprises in store for the thousands of Melbournites who braved the variable weather to visit the show during its three day run, including several world-firsts, perhaps the most exciting of which was the chance to listen to the very first amplifier ever made by Japanese valve specialist manufacturer Takatsuki.
The biggest surprise at the show for Melbournites was that they were the first in the world to hear the first amplifier ever built by Japanese valve manufacturer Takatsuki, the TA-S01. Of course it was a valve amplifier or, to be precise, a single-ended integrated amplifier using TA-300B valves… made by Takatsuki itself. ‘We first heard this amplifier in March this year in the listening room of Takatsuki with the design team,’ said Bryan Fletcher, of Finn Bespoke Technology (pictured below). ‘It was actually quite a surprise as we were visiting the company to find out more about their valves and knew nothing about the existence of their amplifier. When I asked what amplifier they were using, and they said it was their own development which wasn't released yet. The dynamics, tone, and speed of the amplifier were all very impressive, but at the time, the power transformer they were using was only set up for 120-volt mains. After convincing them to built a new transformer with both 120-volt and 240-volt taps we had to wait for several months while Tamura designed and built those transformers, just in time for us to show the amplifier to the world for the very first time, here at the Australian Hi-Fi & AV show. The amplifier we’re demonstrating here bears the serial number 1.’
The Takatsuki TA-SO1 has three unusual controls on its front panel. One is labelled ‘Harmonic Content’ and is reportedly used when you want to adjust the tone of the amplifier to be the same when switching from one pair of speakers to another. The second control is labelled ‘Coupling/Bypass Capacitor’ and our best translation of the explanation of what it does is currently that it ‘Changes the sound’, so we’ll have to get back to you on that one, but apparently it allows you to switch between different types and value of coupling capacitors.
The third control ‘Bypass Power Capacitor’ adjusts the level of bass. You can also adjust the bias of the 300Bs fitted to the TA-SO1 using a front panel bias meter in concert with inbuilt bias adjustment circuitry. No power output level was claimed for the Takatsuki TA-SO1, but since it’s a single-ended design, we’d expect it would be around 9-watts per channel. The frequency response is rated at 5Hz–60kHz ±3dB and the output transformers, which are made by Japanese company Tamura, have taps for 2Ω, 4Ω and 8Ω loads.
Linn's Space Optimisation Improved
Visitors to the Australian Hi-Fi Show were also the first in the world to hear the results of Scottish manufacturer Linn Products’ recent MkII improvements to its ‘Space Optimisation’ technology. What is Space Optimisation technology? According to Nigel Ng, of Advance Audio (pictured below), Linn’s Australian distributor, it's technology that allows you to get the best sound in your room. 'You can have great speakers, but Space Optimisation technology will make them sound better in whatever room you're putting them in.' But according to one show-goer, who wanted to remain nameless, what Space Optimisation technology meant to him is that: “I can put the speakers where my wife says they have to go, yet still get perfect sound quality at my listening position.”
Linn’s improvements to its Space Optimisation are many. One of the biggest and best is that you can now do all the required programming with a phone or a tablet: there’s no longer any need to use a computer. Almost as big a change is that whereas you previously could model only regularly-shaped rooms, you can now model rooms of any shape, including ones with recesses and nooks and crannies, specify the materials the wall surfaces are made of, plus tell the program where all the windows are and their size. You can even have the system compensate for the effect your room’s temperature and humidity have on the speed of sound in that room. Best of all, you don’t have to know anything about programming to use this Mk II version of Space Optimisation. Rooms are created by just ‘drawing’ on the screen surface.
The first product to incorporate Space Optimisation Mk II is the Linn Selekt DSM. It’s available as a dedicated streaming source to drive an existing system, or can be configured with an amplifier output stage so it can directly drive speakers. Whatever configuration you choose, you can also optionally upgrade the internal DAC architecture to Linn’s ‘Katalyst’ D-to-A conversion. “Delivering a tactile and beautiful musical experience, Selekt DSM will make any system sound better, and help you fall in love with music all over again,” says Gilad Tiefenbrun, of Linn. “We love the clarity of digital music, but we also love the tactility of physical records. It’s easy to feel we’ve lost touch with the immersive experience of playing a vinyl record—the LP selection, the arm-lift-lower, the anticipation during those first pops and clicks. Selekt DSM revolutionises our physical interaction with digital music; every aspect is precision engineered for a tactile and enriched listening experience.”
Aries Cerat Symphonia Limited Edition
Although they’ve previously been demonstrated at industry and trade shows in Europe, Aries Cerat’s Symphonia Limited Edition loudspeakers made their public debut at the Australian Hi-Fi Show. The Symphonia Limited Edition differs from the standard edition by virtue of its exterior being coated with ‘liquid carbon’ and ‘liquid copper’ finishes, plus the crossovers, internal cabling and transformers have been upgraded. The high-frequency transducer in the Symphonia is a customised aluminium foil ribbon loaded with a specially-designed and unique-shaped horn that Aries Cerat says dramatically alter the parameters and performance of the ribbon. The midrange driver is a 100mm diameter titanium driver (also horn-loaded) that has a magnet that weighs 11kg magnet. The bass drivers are baffle-mounted, but they're rear-horn-loaded to maximise output in the listening room.
'Although the Limited Edition speakers look absolutely stunning because of their exterior finish,' says Rob Campbell, (pictured above) whose company Purasound Music & Audio distributes Aries Cerat in Australia, 'the entry-level version of the Symphonia gives around 95 per cent of the performance of the Limited Edition at around a one-third saving in price.' In Australia, the Aries Cerat’s Symphonia Limited Edition retail for $195,000.
Eggleston Andra Viginti
Eggleston’s new Andra Viginti (A$65,000 per pair), which are not only the first Eggleston speakers to use a slotted bass reflex port, but also the first to use a midrange-tweeter-midrange (MTM) driver array, made their Australian debut at the Melbourne show. Designer Jim Thompson says the slotted port enables the enclosure to behave as a sealed box down to the port tuning frequency of 30Hz, and that because the tuned frequency is so low, the resulting group-delay phase shift occurs in a region where the human ear is effectively insensitive to phase errors. The Eggleston Viginti sports two 254mm carbon-fibre coned bass drivers, two carbon-domed 152mm midrange drivers and a 25mm Beryllium dome tweeter. Eggleston’s Australian distributor, Reference Audio Visual really had the Andra Vigintis singing at the show and the buzz in the hallways suggested they’d win the popular vote for ‘best sound’ at the show, possibly tied with Bricasti.
The biggest surprise in Bricasti’s room was not so much the new Bricasti M21 Platinum Series DAC/Preamplifier, which was released earlier this year, as the fact that the person demonstrating it was none other than Bricasti’s founder and designer Brian Zolner (pictured above), who’d made the 10,500-mile trek from Massachusetts to Melbourne to help out local distributor Deborah Sloss, of Studio Connections. The new M21 is perfect for anyone who’s not sure what type of digital conversion process they like best—20-bit ladder, 24-bit delta-sigma or DSD–because the M21 allows you to choose whichever one you want, whenever you want, due to being switch-selectable. ‘The M21 uses precise analog gain control for its execution of direct DSD functionality and driving amplification,’ said Zolner. ‘It features a true hard-wire bypass analog attenuator, so setting this control to 0dB means you can use it with your own external preamp if you’d prefer. The M21 design is all about offering maximum flexibility for users.’
In addition to handling all types of digital inputs, using whatever DAC method you like, the Bricasti M21 is also network capable, comes with a built-in renderer and is Roon ready. In Melbourne, it was driving a pair of Bricasti M28 monoblocs and a pair of Tidal Piano Diaceras—speakers that, regrettably, are no longer available.
One of the busiest stands at the show was the headphone corner, ‘HeadZones’ and one of the longest queues was the one for Focal’s new Elegia design. Unlike Focal’s last three high-end headphone releases (Elear, Utopia and Clear) which have all been open-back designs the Elegia, is a closed-back design. It appears that because of the propensity for open-back designs to be almost as loud for people nearby as they are for the person wearing the headphones, they haven’t been popular with audiophiles who use headphones on their daily commute, or when travelling. So according to Focal, ‘The Elegia was designed for use with portable audio players, which are often used when commuting, so the Elegia has excellent sound-proofing, to ensure anyone nearby can’t hear your music.’ says Focal. The Elegia uses a newly designed full-range speaker as a headphone driver that has what Focal calls a ‘frameless’ voice coil that drives a 40mm diameter ‘M-shaped’ aluminium/magnesium dome. When you’re not using the headphones, you can store them in their supplied thermo-formed protective carry-case, which measures 250×240×120mm.
The second-busiest queue was for Sony’s DR-Z7M2 headphones which take over from Sony’s award-winning DR-Z7M2s and whose neodymium driver magnets are twice the volume of that model. The MDR-Z7M2 (A$1,299) uses 70mm aluminium diaphragms coated with liquid crystal polymer and claims a frequency response that extends to 100kHz. The DR-Z7M2s were connected to Sony’s new DMP-Z1 ‘portable’ DAC/Headphone player, which uses dual Asahi Kasei Microdevices AK4497EQ DACs and features Sony's DSD Remastering Engine which converts PCM to DSD 5.6MHz. The battery enables around nine hours of playback from the 256GB of on-board storage which can be expanded via microSD cards (x2). You can also hardwire via analogue, digital or USB, or deliver music wirelessly via Bluetooth aptX. It retails for A$9,999.99.
Dynaudio Confidence 20
Dynaudio showed its new Confidence 20, which replaces the C1 and is the first to arrive in Australia of four new Confidence models. All four have new drivers, including the new Esotar3 tweeter with its new directivity control lens. The new coned drivers have revised chassis to enable freer air flow around the rear of the cones, new glass-fibre coil formers and ‘NeoTec’ magnets. All baffles on the new models are made from a material Dynaudio calls ‘Nomex’, rather than the previous MDF. The Dynaudio Confidence 20 is a large, two-way stand-mounted speaker that couples a single 177mm bass/midrange driver with the Esotar3 tweeter. The speaker comes with a dedicated stand because it has an unusual down-firing bass reflex port, and so cannot be used on a conventional speaker stand. The new directivity control lens (DDC) is said to be the direct result of measurements made by Dynaudio’s ‘Jupiter’ measurement system in its new HQ in Denmark. ‘Intensive analysis using the Jupiter measuring facility enabled us to refine the Confidence speakers' high-tech DDC sound-beaming technology to produce the new DDC Lens system,’ said Otto Jørgensen, of Dynaudio.
Yamaha 5000 Series
Yamaha showed the same 5000 series components at the Australian Hi-Fi Show in Melbourne that it debuted earlier this year in Berlin, at IFA, namely the C-5000 stereo pre-amp (A$12,999), M-5000 stereo power amp (A$12,999), and GT-5000 turntable (TBA), but all were prototypes, with limited operational functionality. The C-5000 pre-amp has twin toroidals and fully balanced, mirror-imaged circuitry that is floated to remove potential issues caused by grounding. The M-5000 power amplifier’s circuit topology is similar, and power output is rated at 100-watts per channel into 8Ω (20Hz–20kHz, 0.07% THD) and 200-watts per channel into 4Ω. Both models have the retro Yamaha hi-fi 'look', though the switches and control mechanisms have been modernised with ball-bearings and precision-cut aluminium knobs and housings.
Marantz Ishiwata Anniversary
Not to be outdone, Marantz showed its SA-KI Ruby SACD/CD player (A$7,990) and PM-KI Ruby integrated amplifier (A$7,990), which it says will each be available in a limited global production run of only 1,000 pieces. Each component features a laser-etched facsimile of Marantz ambassador Ken Ishiwata’s signature and a symbolic ‘ruby’ (actually a red Swarovski crystal) atop their front-plates. The two components celebrate Ishiwata’s 40th anniversary of working for Marantz. The PM-KI Ruby has a Class-D output stage derived from the Marantz PM-10 amplifier that’s rated at 100-watts per channel into 8Ω and double that into 4Ω. The SA-KI Ruby plays SACDs, CDs, and home-recorded CD-ROMs and DVD-ROMs. An asynchronous USB input handles formats up to PCM/DXD 384kHz/32bit and DSD11.2MHz. Marantz uses what it calls ‘Marantz Musical Mastering technology’ to up-converting all file formats to DSD before conversion to analogue.
As with most audio shows, attendees were predominantly male, so it wasn’t hard to do a straw poll in the corridors to find out which of the hundreds of loudspeakers at the show women would most like to have in their homes. The overwhelming majority of those polled identified the Davone Solo, which were being driven by Halcro amplification in Magenta Audio’s demonstration room. Not surprisingly, the Davone Solos were designed and engineered in Denmark, reportedly as homage to the famous 1-2-3 chair created by one of Denmark's most influential 20th-century furniture and interior designers, Verner Panton.
The shape of the Davone Solo cabinet not only looks beautiful, but also serves the physics of loudspeaker design well, because down low the cabinet is wide enough to enable a good-sized bass/midrange driver (203mm), before narrowing to accommodate a 100mm midrange driver, with the narrowness of the baffle ensuring improved dispersion, after which the cabinet thins yet again, to provide an almost point-source environment for the 25mm dome tweeter. Plus, of course, the height of the speaker means the tweeters are at the ideal height (seated ear level). The curvature of the cabinet also minimises internal standing waves, reducing resonances and the integral stand seems to suspend the cabinet in mid air, decoupling the cabinet from the floor, minimising vibration transmission in both directions. The three-way design ensures a linear frequency response, with Davone claiming one of 30Hz to 22kHz with an efficiency of 89dBSPL. 'The flexible small-scale production gives Davone the freedom to experiment and implement ideas that would not be possible with large-scale production,' said Tony Wong, of Magenta Audio, which distributes Davone in Australia. 'The Solo is a great design, but all Davone's speakers are a far cry from mass-produced anonymity... the speakers have the ability to remain continually intriguing in terms of both sound quality and design throughout the years.'
The new Cambridge Edge A integrated amplifier made its appearance for the first time in Australia at the show, and it's The Edge A is not your average integrated amplifier. For a start, it has opposing symmetrical twin toroidal transformers, not only to provide pure power to each channel, but also to cancel out electromagnetic interference. Cambridge's UK engineers have also eschewed Class-D designs and stuck with traditional Class-AB, but with very high-bias, so the amplifier operates in Class-A to higher-than-usual power output levels. As well as all the conventional analogue inputs, as well as digital inputs, the Edge A also has Bluetooth on board, with aptX HD support, so you can play at up to 24-bit/48kHz. 'Cambridge designed the Edge A to celebrate musicality,' said Philip Sawyer, of Synergy AV. 'Riffs, phrases, percussive rolls you can hear and revel in every detail of your music thanks to its dynamic performance... performance that is effortlessly powerful, but with incredible depth. The overall sound is breath-taking – it's as if you’re sitting in the recording studio with the musicians.' Magus Turner, of Carlton Audio (pictured above ), was in the person demoing the Edge A when we arrived, and the amplifier was new to him as well: he'd seen it for the first time only a few hours earlier. 'It's certainly powerful,' he said, 'being rated at 100-watts per channel into 8 ohms and it doubles that -- to 200-watts per channel -- when it's driving 4 ohm speakers.' The new Cambridge Edge A will retail for A$8,500 (RRP).
It was great to see the Acoustic Transducer Company (ATC) return to the Melbourne show because although its founder, Billy Woodman, now lives and is based in Britain, where ATC speakers are made (it's one of the very few companies that makes its own midrange drivers and tweeters), he was born not too far from Melbourne (you can read the whole story HERE).
The sole ATC speakers in Jag Imports suite at the show were the ATC SCM19ATs, a two-way fully-active design that stands less than a metre high. Two discrete Class A/B MOSFET modules on board power the two drivers: 150-watts continuous for the bass/midrange driver and 32-watts continuous for the tweeter. The bass/midrange driver is 150mm in diameter with a doped fabric cone to which is fixed a 75mm soft dome, a technique ATC says delivers exceptionally broad and even dispersion of mid-band frequencies. The cone is driven by an ‘under-hung’ (short coil/long gap) motor using a 9kg ‘Super Linear’ magnet in order to maintain linear coil force and inductance to keep distortion low, even at high drive levels. The 75mm-diameter voice coil is wound in-house, using flat-wire ribbon that is also milled in-house by ATC.
The SH25-76 tweeter used in the SCM19AT is made in-house by ATC and shares technology with the renowned ATC soft-dome mid-range drive unit, one example being the dual suspension system designed to suppress rocking modes at high power output levels. The tweeter has a 1.5-Tesla neodymium magnet with a black heat-treated top plate to dissipates heat away from the voice coil to maintain high-power handling and low power compression. A precision-machined 5.5mm rigid alloy waveguide provides optimum dispersion with a flat on-axis frequency response and resonance-free operation.
‘Designed and manufactured by ATC entirely in-house, the SCM19AT offers the ownership of a hand-built ruggedly engineered speaker system, world famous for musical accuracy and high power output,’ said Aaron Tate, (pictured above) of Jag Imports, which distributes ATC’s domestic products in Australia. ‘And as with all ATC products, the SCM19AT is backed by a six-year warranty.’
Sonus faber Electa Amator III
Standing room only in Synergy AV's room as showgoes flocked to hear the new Italian Sonus faber Electa Amator III speakers shipped direct to Melbourne from their world debut at the Rocky Mountain Audio Fair, demonstrated by Philip Sawyer (pictured above), who distributes Sonus faber in Australia. The Electa Amator III is a small (375×235×360mm), two-way bass-reflex stand-mount design that features a newly-developed 180mm-diameter bass/midrange driver (MW18XTR-04) that has a real-time air-dried cone that’s made with a blend of traditional cellulose pulp, kapok, kenaf and other natural fibres. This driver is crossed at 2.5kHz via a first-order crossover network fitted with Clarity Cap polypropylene bipolar capacitors and low resistance Jantzen inductors to a 28mm diameter silk dome tweeter with what Sonus faber calls a ‘damped apex dome’ (DAD).
The bass reflex cabinet is typically Sonus faber, with a triple-layer constrained sandwich construction using sheets of solid walnut and a base made of 30mm-thick Carrara marble with a brass sheet between it and the cabinet. Both the front baffle and the rear panel are covered in black leather. Sonus faber specifies the frequency range of the Electa Amator III as being ‘40Hz to 25kHz’, the sensitivity at 88dBSPL (2.83V/1m) and the nominal impedance as 4Ω. The Australian retail price ($16,995 per pair) includes the essential black anodized aluminium stands, filled with damping material and mounted on a Carrara marble base.
Magic from Magico...and Vitus Audio and AMG and DS Audio
Absolute HiEnd's Boris Granovsky and Sound Gallery's John Ong (pictured above at left) were tag-teaming in the same room, mostly demonstrating a brand new pair of Magico A3 ($14,999 speakers which were at the tail end of an e AMG Gyro turntable ($15,499) fitted with a DS Audio cartridge and an also new-to-Australia Vitus RI-101 integrated amplifier ($22,000) which was in fact the exact same amplifier that was reviewed by Australian Hi-Fi Magazine, with the review appearing in the November/December 2018 issue (the one with the Audio-Technica AT-LP7 turntable on the front cover).
The Magico A3 is a four-driver, three-way design that use scabinets made entirely from 6061 T6 aircraft grade aluminium. There are two 178mm-diameter bass drivers that have Magico’s ‘Gen 8 Tec cones’, underhung neodymium magnets and 75mm titanium voice coils. The midrange driver is said to be newly developed by Magico for use in the A3 and has a 152mm diameter carbon fibre cone with a layer of XG Nanographene, an overhung neodymium-based motor system and a 75-mm diameter pure titanium voice coil.
The 28mm dome tweeter has a pure beryllium-diaphragm and is based on Magico’s M-Project tweeter. It has a neodymium motor system is encased in an improved back chamber. Ong told us 'the A3 uses Magico's latest generation technologies, which deliver ultra-low distortion sound, enable higher power handling than the previous generation, and have massive dynamic capabilities,’ with Granovsky adding 'at long last Magico has developed a loudspeaker that’s priced so that this aspirational brand is now obtainable for a wider audience,’
Mag-Lev, Harbeth & Lavardin
Melbourne-based distributor Audio Magic was definitely weaving some magic in its demonstration room at the Australian Hi-Fi & AV Show, with the best trick being the appearance of the Mag-Lev ML1 turntable, fitted for the occasion with a Pro-Ject 9cc tonearm and Ortofon OM10 cartridge, a combo that retails for $3,495). The trick was that the platter appears to 'float' above the turntable as it rotates, a trick made possible by magnetic force overcoming gravity. (See below)
Amplification was by Lavardin's ISx integrated amplifier (see Australian Hi-Fi Magazine's review HERE) which was (mostly) driving Harbeth's Super HL5+ speakers ($8,390 per pair) but Aleksandar Maksimovic of Audio Magic, who was hosting the room, occasionally swapped in a pair of Harbeth P3ESR speakers ($4,430 per pairturntable ). When the Meg-Lev wasn't spinning, the source was a Lumin A1 network player ($7,700).
Indi Imports was one of the very few exhibitors at the Australian HI-Fi & AV Show 2018 that was showing both stereo and AV equipment, so not surprisingly its large room on the ground floor was packed with equipment, yet still was not big enough to showcase all this company's brands. We spotted AMC and the stylish Sonoro systems are in the vestibule, while in the main room were Q Acoustics speakers with Cyrus amplification, the stylish spheres of Elipson, a selection of Loewe TVs both LED and OLED, and a full projection syste with sound from M&K Sound’s new S150 speakers backed by a pair of M&K Sound X12 subwoofers, using AMC power amplification to drive the main speakers.
Paul Riachi from Indi Imports rotated demos between the various systems in the suite, though during our visit it was the big sound generated by the M&K Sound system that was attracting the attention of the crowd. Visually, though, the shining light was a huge Loewe bild 7.7 OLED against the far wall, with Canton speakers standing ready to play when its turn for demo came around. To one side were three sizes of the Loewe bild 3 range, the bild 3.43 (43-incher, $2,499), bild 3.49 (49-incher, $2,999), and the bild 3.55 OLED ($4,499). As you can see from the prices, Indi has done a remarkable job of bringing these premium German TVs to Australia at prices which directly rival the more mass market brands. You can read a full review of the bild 3.55 OLED HERE
Eye-catching as always were the spherical Elipson speakers alongside the latest Elipson Music Center Bluetooth HD, which combines DAB+ radio with a CD Player and audio streaming. QED was also featured with a display of the company's installation speakers and cable range. Below you can see the Q Acoustics speaker line-up that alternated with the M&K demonstrations.