05 August, 2011

Show Report: 2011 Hong Kong High End Audio Visual Show 香港高級視聽展

Sometimes it's better to remain silent.

Show Report: 2011 Hong Kong High End Audio Visual Show 香港高級視
聽展 (August 5, 2011)
 
Attention: -click all pics to enlarge 點擊照片就會放大 -Revision 1 (Aug 6): This is mostly it. I shall make a few additions in the next revision.

General Observations As usual, I could almost reprint last year's show report (click here for 2010 my show report) for this year's. Year after year, the show is much as usual, with the exhibitors occupying their usual rooms on the upper floors. More interesting were the smaller rooms in the foyer, where there were more new stuff than usual. Overall, sound was less good than last year (I wonder if widespread use of CAS was to blame). The cue for tickets was longer than last year. However, as before, inside the venue it was not particularly crowded (by show standard), leading one to suspect some people just bought the ticket for the CD and never attended the show.
 
As usual, for me and my friends, we hit the software counters first. As usual, this year there were no bargains. For the regular stuff, discount was small, the most generous being perhaps Ming Da.

CAS was widely used by exhibitors. However, with few exceptions, the sound was pallid. As usual, the best sounds came from LP sources, followed by CD replay. Despite use of Weiss etc, CAS had the poorest sound. BTW, do you believe all the hype about CAS? Weiss? I say, no.

The coverage below is in no particular order, divided into categories and by merit only:
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Good Try (Large Room)
In terms of large speaker demo, three setups stood out for their room-filling sound, no easy task in these big convention rooms. It should be noted that I visited early on the first of three days, when many setups likely have not achieved status quo. Your mileage may vary.

(Distributor Jadis Electronics) usually did reasonably by show standard. But, in their big room, more than the big MBL and Westlake they showed in the last 2 years, and more than the other Wilson's they had in the past, the Wilson Alexandria X2, this round provided a satisfying room-filling sound with the help of Wadia and Boulder electronics and of course Thor's Hammer (wise to use a sub-woofer in this setting). Could the improved sound be attributable to old-hand 余師傅 who had joined the staff recently? Although not perfect, this is much better Wilson sound than the many pairs of Alexandria and Maxx and whatever Wilson's that I have heard in many HK home visits. Once again, this proves that the speaker must match the room. Unfortunately, in HK, more often than not we see Wilson's housed in rooms that are too small; as a result, sometimes these are played at very low volume in order not to lose control. The resulting sound is anemic, even somnambulating - that illustrates the sad state of HK hifi. Yawn.


Miraculously, despite partnership with over-priced and usually under-performing Burmester (which year after year delivered artificial and colored sound at the show), the flagship Ascendo gave a very good room-filling piano sound (Distributor Richcoln, not to be confused with Richcom). Many years ago I heard a much earlier iteration of this Ascendo; then driven by Audionet the sound was awful.
Our friend trazom thought it best of show. In this room I ran into gentlemanly Leo Fung; it's nice to see him in great shape. I wish him well.




Distributor Dah Cheong year after year mostly played their lackluster Chario in their big room. Last year they bravely had the flagship Cabasse, which was not a complete success. But they really ought to be playing their Tannoy a lot more. This time, the Kingdom Royal sounded great as driven by Esoteric, a lot better than the same speakers we heard at a previous home visit.
I missed our friend Richard Cheong, who has left the company.

Good Try (Small Room)
On a less epic scale, for once (Distributor Hit Audio) had a hit (as you shall see later, they failed spectacularly too in another room). Zu speakers did great justice to the electronics of Chinese Line Magnetic, the field-coil specialist. I heard the beautifully finished LM219IA integrated amp, a SET 845 amp driven by 12AX7 followed by re-issue "WE310A" (website; does not work too well in English). The sound was excellent, proving simple is best. And the meter is definitely a plus!

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Could have been Better Two brand new speakers, Kondo and Rockport flagship, should sound better than they did.
L: Darth Vader; R: Feminine Field-Coil
(Distributor Tara Labs) traditionally had consistently excellent sound on offer in a big room. But this year the Darth Vader Rockport Arrakis (which Robert Harley raved about) had just arrived, and was definitely not even close to run-in. These are the largest speakers the company has ever handled, and they are much bigger than pictures make them. These were driven bi-amp'ed (a must, said manager 阿明) by VTL TL7.5 pre/MB450 monoblocks. My friend whlee, who visited a few hours later, praised the sound of the room. I had perhaps visited too early. Note the beautiful Spiral Groove turntable with the latest arm.
(Distributor Avantgarde) usually did pretty well in shows. But this year, without their flagship Avantgarde Trio the sound did not measure up. When I visited, the sound delivered by the just arrived and intriguingly styled Kondo BiYura field-coil loudspeakers definitely showed they were not run-in. This may still be a prototype; the only reference I found was a negative comment for its appearance in CES 2011 (here), but note that the writer sells Audio Note, rival to Kondo, so... An unverified source told me the tweeter is similar to the one in Kiso HB-1. The Ongaku used was probably also too little power for the room. Later, friends reported the Avantgarde Uno G2 did not cohere either, as one would expect of hybrid design in such a big room. Perhaps their YG would have done better? The excellent AMR 777 was used as source.
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Not Too Bad
EAR this year finally got better speakers (at least they look so, even if they look like clones). They did not crank it up, but sound was good.

Over-priced MBL, unlike Burmester, at least put on a reasonable showing every time. This time, a smaller room and decent sound.


Naim sounded good with hi-res file, a notable exception from the majority of poor CAS sound at the show (partnered most often with Weiss to no effect). This is the only brand I heard from the large stable of (Distributor Radar).
Audio Physic, as driven by Simaudio, delivered not the most neutral sound, but it at least had good rhythm and pace, no easy task in shows!


Neither Eggleston nor Krell are personal favorites, but they delivered at least acceptable sound at (Distributor Excel). It is just too bad that I did not get to hear again the wonderful Vivid Giya or Dartzeel, surely superior products. And, why never Magnepan?
Dali matched with Lyngdorf was passable
. Surely, room correction was used?
(Distributor Wellwick) always did better than usual (considering what they have). This year it was Elac as driven by over-priced and over-rated Accustic Arts. I'd prefer the same company's more humble Densen.

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Not too Good

The Tannoy-like flagship 5-way Wharfedale Airedale was only so-so with Luxman. Although missing over-hyped Eventus is nothing to me, I wished I had gotten to hear Soulution (Distributor Wise Sound).
German Physiks this year used a smaller pair and sound was not as good as last year's bigger brother, as driven by Brinkmann.



Similarly, TAD and Marten did not achieve their best.
The TADs were driven by Esoteric monoblocks but without preamp, using computer and the Weiss DAC's volume knob. No wonder the pale sound. I asked the sale person why no preamp. He said, "Esoteric preamp not out yet." Hey, man, why not use your company's Quad preamp?
Zellaton driven by Ayre was lackluster.
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Bad

I was excited by the appearance of the Devialet, but sound through CAS/Weiss was pallid.

Adam driven by Modright had one-note bass.
What happened to YBA? So ugly! Together with Atohm they failed to make music.


Melody (big 845 monoblocks) tried to show off its strength with ATC, but failed miserably. So, one hit, one miss for (Distributor Hit Audio).

The Crystal loudspeakers gave a terrible showing. Why not play Franco Serblin's products?

(Distributor First Impesssion) continued to disappoint. What happened to the tried-and-true combination of Avalon + Rowland? Is there nothing certain in this world anymore? It seems Italian Audia electronics is not a good match. Watch the first impression you give!

(Distributor Matisse Asia) is usually nothing but gimmicks. This year when I visited they were showing a black and white jazz video! Sound through Verity Audio in surround was simply awful, without a trace of presence that is necessary for jazz reproduction.


(Distributor Premiere HiFi) sadly failed to live up to its name. I am not familiar with newcomer Trennel and Friedel, but the sound was awful as driven by Viva. It's too bad all the JC Verdier stuff were lying idle on the side! Sacrilege!

Elephant Holdings seem to be hibernating these days. Remember the old shows at the Regal Kowloon Hotel? They used to have great sound.

JBL 4365 should not have done so poorly. I venture the Harman electronics are not up to it.

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Unusual Looks
My vote for the best looking loudspeaker goes to retro-cool Danish Davone. You can easily mistake them for furniture from the likes of Kartell and Driade, or whatever. here it was seen with Japanese Leben tube products.

I was taken by the funky looks of the strangely named Everything But The Box. I hope it would not turn out to be "everything but the sound".

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Chinese Products (and those that pretend they are not)
The usual Chinese products (mostly tube) are there. Beside established (and well finished) Shanling, Raysonic, Line Magnetic etc, we have a few newcomers, though not nearly as many as in the Quangzhou show.

What is also apparent is that even old budget manufacturers are moving upmarket. One of the most striking example is Dared. These massive 300B amps look pretty good!

Here, I'd like to divert a little. It is now fashionable for Chinese designers (especially from HK) and companies to disguise themselves as non-Chinese (Canadian, US, Australian, whatever) in order to charge you more. How sad! I often see products that look suspiciously like barely dressed up (in some cases down) Chinese stuff, but commanding a much higher price.

In the world of tube products, if you see something that looks suspiciously like a Chinese product, but is said not to be, and the website has poor English, is either devoid of content or has little information on the company or designer, then it is likely a disguised Chinese product. I frown upon this practice and would avoid these companies like the plague. In contrast, I support Chinese companies that are Chinese from Day One (like the aforementioned Line Magnetic, Shanling, Raysonic etc).


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Lifestyle products

As is the world trend, there seems to be an explosion of compact devices of T-amps and USB capable DAC's that cater to earphones and the lifestyle crowd. These companies often have unusual names, like Briks, Trends etc, and why not?
Loudspeakers that target the desk-top crowd are everywhere too. One of the more interesting one is Taiwanese JohnBlue, which uses full-range drivers. I'd love to hear the company's desktop JB3 and floor-stander JB8 (pictured).
But have you noticed a phenomenon? The established lifestyle products get more expensive quickly, whereas newcomers appear everyday and fight for the lower priced territory? Personally I think this is not healthy, and the market is saturated. Lifestyle products have a large me-too component and is not the future of hifi. When you see mass-market TEAC trying to emulate Meridian (seen above, used at a counter that sold CD), you know the end cannot be far away.
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Other Show Reports

As you know, much on the internet is BS, pics with few words, and certainly no criticism. I don't know why people bother to read them.

A rare exception is the report by Francis Leung in computeraudiophile. Candid and concise.

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The "Not For Sale" CD Every year the show produces a CD that is free with admission (HKD 60). The gimmicky part is the CD comes in 2 versions.
The SACD/CD dual layer version is always available. But the so-called "LPCD" version (favored by some local audiophiles) are limited to a much smaller quantity and available 1) only in a dual-pack of 2 admissions in tandem with 1 SACD/CD; 2) on a first-come, first-served basis. This means the majority of the people will not get the LPCD, thus enhancing its value, and a great promotion for the "format".
This CD is supposedly not for sale, but you can easily buy it on the net (click here; still 97 copies available at time of writing). Can someone tell me why??

香港高級視聽展 的 SACD 不是 [非賣品] 嗎? 那爲什麽網上大把有得賣? 此刻,這個網頁 還有 96 張 SACD (隨便填寫一個大數目,然後投入購物車,就可得知餘數),港元 150 一張。往年的 LPCD 也有少量。

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As for the content of the CD, let me add something in the next revision.

4 comments:

Anonymous said...

Thanks D J,
Not sure if I fully agree with you. The sound was worse than you have noted ;)
Tim de Paravicini was at the EAR stand. What a pitiful excuse for a demo corner....Sadly I could hear nothing in the din. Tim looked nonplussed. I am sure he has been there in his long Audio life?
Leben

doctorjohn said...

Ha, Brother Karma, indeed TdP had been there before. Yes, the setup was not really optimal; I presume that is a lot cheaper than a room and required to not turn the volume up. What we assess is potential...no need when it comes to EAR.

Anonymous said...

Hi Doctor John,
Merely to see if you are interested in reading my report on the Show posts to Computeraudiophile today.
http://www.computeraudiophile.com/content/2011-Hong-Kong-High-End-AV-Show
Francis

doctorjohn said...

Hello Francis, thanks for your message. It reminds me that I enjoyed your report last year. It is vitally important to have independent views and yours is one of the best, as usual. Keep on the good work!

I posted a link to your report.