Highend from Scandinavia – Part II

Extracts from the Copenhagen, Stockholm and Helsinki Highend Shows. Part II: Stockholm.

This the second of a three-part report; the first one on the Copenhagen Show can be found here.

In the absence of dozen or so key players, the Stockholm 2019 fair was slightly less inspiring than the shows in previous years. The same rooms, the same brands. No mind-blowing surprises or intellectually attractive novelties. The same Audio Technica and Stax headphone booths, the familiar Naim cable replacement event, the same Heco speakers (this year with Cayin tube amplification though), the same fully packed  Dynaudio/Hegel room, the same set-up/config episode with the Devialet amplifiers, the almost identical rooms by Totem, Technics and Focal (dSC, Pass Lab, Siltech) compared to the year before.

And the music? Johnny Cash, Dire Straits, Dave Brubek (Take Five), and Jose Carreras singing Ariel Ramirez’ Misa Criolla etc. Come on guys! What is this? A time trip back to  the 1990s! Honestly, who really needs this? Has anybody noticed that there would be a  shortage of good music?

Among the more stimulating presentations there were the ones by Kii Audio and AeQuo Audio, both in Stockholm for the first time. The former with its active BXT DSP-speakers that ”only require a quality power cord”; the latter with the model Stilla driven by exclusive Apurna amps (Luna cables and Ström powering unit). Quality sound from both, the latter more in the spirit of traditional highend. Stilla is a slim 3-way featuring a tweeter with a waveguide and acoustic lens, an active woofer part with two 7-inch drivers (2 x 260W N-Core amplifier) and a polypropylene coned midrange driver. A very spacious and in all respects positive sound was sourced from the Technics turntable and Auralic streamer/dac.

Steinway-Lyngdorf is a regular visitor at the Stockholm Show but this was the first time that it let the Swedish audiophiles hear the Steinway & Sons Model B speakers. Model B equals to the Steinway & Sons Model D combined with a dipole bass extension, filtered digitally and amplified by a 4 x 400 W digital amp. The idea is certainly good, but the resulting sound, for some unidentifiable reason somehow left me this time a bit cold.

Other novelties of the Show included Buchardt Audio S400 stand mount speaker, Technics SL-1500C turntable, and the stereo-amps by AVM:n (A8.3) and Mark Levinsonin (5802). Technics’ main attraction was the much-acclaimed SL-1000R turntable carrying by far the fair’s most popular cartridge: the semi-optical DS Audio. Here with its $ 9,000 model Master 1.

The best sound? Fairly good sound was available eg. from the JBL’s new L100 speakers with the Arcam source, Mark Levinson amplifier and Straightwire cables. The same goes for dipoles/omnis of the Swedish Oiko Audio, in combination with Valvet amplifiers, Totaldac front end and Bibacord cables. The system represents a very special sound whose level the team managed to improve from last year. Check it!

The small French Bulldog at the back of the listening room didn’t know what to think.

“Good to listen to” sound was available from Mbl 101 omnis with Apurna amplifier and Luna cables;  KEF with the new R-Series R11 speaker together with Chord electronics and van den Hull cables gave us a secure performance; as did Audio Solutions speakers with Alluxity source, Vitus amplification and Furutech cables; Piega’s Coax 711 aluminum speakers did well with Devialet amps; and so did the Magico’s awesome M6s with Constellation electronics and Shunyata cables.

Very close to delivering the top sound this time, in addition to eg. the AeQuo Audio room, was provided by the HiFi Concept showcasing the excellent Swedish QRS speakers (don’t let its conventional looks misguide you), fueled by AVM & Burmester electronics.

The Perfect Sense premiered the Vimbero speaker with the help of very high-quality electronics. Vimber is Tidal’s more affordable sub-brand. The model Tonda (pic) sports one Accuton 30mm Ceramic Cell tweeter, one 168mm Ceramic Cell midranger, both housed in an aluminum cabinet isolated from the bass part. Three Accuton’s 190mm aluminum woofers work in a tapered bass cabinet. The amplifier was Thrax, streamer Lumin, dac CEC, cables Vertere, network filter PS Audio and the rack Final. Absolutely top class performance!

Perhaps the most inspirational (if not the tonally most accurate) sound of the fair came, however, from the room where an awesome battery of Audio Research’s tube amplifiers (the new M180 mono power amplifier at the head) was chosen to handle the 105 dB sensitive Klipschorns originally launched in 70 years ago! It was wonderful to be able to hear how a relatively short rear shooting bass horn works in conjunction with corner placement/walls! The source, the Roon Streamer, failed to spoil the performance. Klipschorn enthusiasts probably first look for the original speakers but the reheated version wasn’t bad either.

Synthese Soprano is a sympathetic integrated amplifier from Italy with an inbuilt 24 bit AKM dac. Two (per channel) EL84/6BQ5 pentodes, with ultra-linear coupling, output  12 class A watts (6 ohms) per channel. The preamp part featutes the JRC4580 OP-AMP and the driver a pair of MJD340. At less than 1500 euro, the Soprano is a tough competitor to the Luxman XQ-SN10, for example.

Another El84 amp: Line Magnetic’s single-ended 218 IA SET, only one EL84 per channel on the deck. The amplifier is primarily intended for headphone listening, but its 3 watts should be enough for a variety of high sensitive speakers (widebanders, for example). There are numerous examples for this type of El84 amplifier (eg. Almarro). In some of them (eg. Lyric Ti-24) the amount of negative feedback is adjustable.

A heart-warming vintage system by the Old School HiFi: Soundlab A-545 electrostatics plus AtmaSphere OTL power amps and the equally renowned CAT SL1 preamp.

The new mini-Phantom, the Phantom Reactor, can tuck in either 600W/900W peak power and produce a commendable amount of SPL down to lowest frequencies (max. 98dB).

Swisscable’s handmade cables: solid copper conductors, natural fiber insulation, custom geometry, wooden jacks and air as the dielectric!

Keep this Swedish tube amp manufacturer in mind: APS Tube Technique. The picture below shows the AirArt 60 mono blocks: 60 watts output power for less than <0.4% (1 W, 1 kHz) distortion from a pair of KT88 tubes, GZ34 / 5AR4 rectifier, and ECC82 / 12AU7 and 12BH7A at the input section. The OTPs come from Lundahl, capacitors from Jupiter and connectors from WBT.

Handsome and expensive: Constellation Audio Virgo III preamp and Centaur II power amplifier, inhaling music from the Roon Nucleus and TechDAS Airforce III turntable.

This true man’s manly mess is made up of Shunyata cables, the thickest of which,  Shunyata Harp Zigmas, leading to Magico M6 speakers.

Power, precision, efficiency. Sbooster’s BOTW P&P ECO is a power supply upgrade for  audiophiles. The manufacturer promises 35% less power consumption than that of the conventional solutions.

Brums! Where does the hum come from? Is dad’s fine stereo system sick or can his  exclusive stereo cables be blamed? Lollo sets out to solve his father’s hum problem. He takes his friend Albin with him and together they build a hum trap.  Will they succeed in catching the culprit? In Brumfällan one can follow how a real hi-fi problem will be  solved. The book, feeling sympathy for hi-fi enthusiasts and their families, is written by the family behind Svalander Audio.

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