10 August, 2014

Hong Kong High End Audio visual Show 2014 Part II

Hong Kong High End Audio visual Show 2014 Part II

See Part I (previous post below) for a lot more coverage (pics and brief comments)

I attended Saturday mid-afternoon and there was no line. It seems to me the show is getting a little smaller. But I was able to spend a little more time than last year. Overall, there were more new things and it was not too bad. This report is brief and I shall reference only what is rare and interesting in my opinion.

Click pics to enlarge. Notice due to editing limitations, the pics are stacked somewhat unconventionally. Watch the legends.

Some Good Efforts

Audio Extreme has always done reasonable demonstrations, but this year was substantially improved. Electronics were similar to last year, Mod Wright, JMR, Acoustic Solid, Northstar etc.

So, what makes the difference? Simple, cunning use of an all-Ortofon front. Ortofon arm, SPU cartridge and phonoamp, lending it badly needed texture (as my friend icefox would say, "normal stuff", "正路野"). By no means the most expensive arm/cartridge/phonoamp in the show, but equal to all in performance. On the other hand, I regret they did not demo their Phasemation and Aurorasound products (the latter especially interests me).

Ernest Audio once again delivered. I had to walk around several times to hear something, because they spent too much time talking. Like last year, the large room was divided into two, and the same Rockport Altair was used, driven by the same top VTL electronics.

While CAS through Blue Smoke (USB to SPDIF converter) and some Korean DAC was respectable, Time Out lacked the ultimate rhythmic finesse and microdynamics. Needless to say, analog playback via the excellent Spiral Groove SG2 turntable (not sure what arm) and Clearaudio cartridge (they are no longer dealer and too bad Tranfiguration was not demo'ed) was way superior and more emotive. I was shocked though to learn that 阿明 had left the company.

Cabasse (right) finally got a good effort from Dah Cheong. I have always loved Cabasse, especially for their high frequency performance. The strangely named satellite system Baltic Evolution + Santorin sub was smartly placed close together for enhanced texture, yet dispersion was pretty good, as one would expect of coaxial designs). I was shocked to find out how much they cost! A more humble floorstander also did well in a smaller room (Part I, pic 1)

Revel loudspeakers delivered the goods in two separate small rooms (Part I, pics 11 + 12). This proves a competent design needs not fear the vagaries of show condition. Too many excuses, too many over-priced bad products, especially expensive multi-driver speakers.

Dynaudio is commonly said to be hard to drive, but I think this is not true. Most of the terrible Dynaudio sound (their own design as well as other brands using their drivers) I have heard (and I have heard a lot!) come from being driven by over-sized, over-priced, over-damped, over-designed and over-praised solid state amps (most of high-end). Let it loose a little and it shall be content with much less. In the show, several rooms, including tube amp manufacturers, used Dynaudio to reasonable effect. But by far the best was in the large room partnered by simple Musical Fidelity CDP fed into Nuvistor 800 integrated amp (Part I, pic 22). This shows yet again a hybrid consisting of tube front and solid state end can sound better.

Most unusual demonstration (left)
This has to be the demonstration of the DS audio Optical Cartridge (6.5 gm, output 500mV). This was used on the TechDAS Air Force Two turntable (TechDAS is descendant of the legendary but imho frequently mechanical and not good sounding Micro-Seiki), curiously fitted with a vintage SME arm! This has to be for a reason, perhaps to warm up the sound? Like all cartridges, this one uses a cantilever (bolon) and stylus (shibata), but employs optical instead of magnetic conversion, said to consist of few parts and all analog. But I have my doubts: few parts is still not like magnetic conversion (no parts) and here you are tied to DS' own phono equalizer (definitely no-no to me).

Through Nagra (preamp and 845 amp) and "small" Wlison Benesch speakers, sound was not exceptional, but not too bad. I'd love to spend some time carefully auditioning this cartridge (if there is such a thing). Credit to Forthwise for demonstrating this novelty but thumbs down to the BS salesman who introduced the system, who said things like Wilson Benesch does not build things based on sonic principles, rather on material science. I am sure WB will disown him soon.

In passing, in the same room (pic to the right) , Forthwise demonstrated the Stenheim Reference loudspeakers with CH Precision electronics. Sound was promising, and that is not only because I like Stenheim's looks and most things Swiss. Note the Stenheim uses my favorite D'Appolito array (least problematic multi-driver array imho).

Power Failures

Avantgarde (Part I, pic 30) has to be one of them. They used to be better, but recently they tend to make the sound smaller, more focused on the few people in front. There is no excuse for big horns like the Trio + Basshorn not to fill the room. Why concentrate on hifi "virtues" like imaging with big loudspeakers? Where is the presence? In a way, the sound is not too different from their much smaller showroom. That said, Kondo (including the Kagura) sounds a whole lot better than last year's Avantgarde amplifier, though not even close to ideal.

JBL Everest DD67000 (Part I, pic 15) Come on Harman International! Get something decent to demonstrate the Everest! Your own humble Revel Salons sound a whole lot better! Why so much power needed from the bank of 6C33 tubes? I'd rather think a cheap and cheerful NAD3020 or Cyrus I/II would do a much better job!

  •  Again, there is no surprise that the best sounds come from analog setups. But, the use of cheap vintage SME on the TechDAS/NS setup and, especially, the success of the Ortofon arm/SPU/phonoamp described above are reasons enough for reflections. These traditional products when used properly sound a lot better than many ridiculously expensive modern analog inventions, be it tonearms, cartridges or phonoamps.
  • Again, there is no proof that CAS sounds better than CDs, not to say analog.
  • Simple often sounds better. No better proof than the Musical Fidelity Nuvistor 800 amp. Simplest setup in the whole show.
  • Aside from the VTLs, where are the big tube amps? No more ARC, CJ etc. For sure, aside from some Chinese brands, fewer tube products are used.
  • The CD/SACD is ok, reasonably detailed but dynamically unnatural. At least, no horrible EMI classical cut this year! Best cut musically is the little known Balkan Baroque Band. But the more you listen to this CD, the more unnatural it sounds, result of too much digital manipulation. Sometimes I even think it has some digital "fog".

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