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The Australian Audio and AV Show, Melbourne 21-23 Oct 2011

by Tom Waters

JBL speakerThe first serious Audio and AV show in Australia in 20 years or so was held in Melbourne from 21-23 Oct 2011. We were long overdue and it appeared to be very well attended. There were the merely curious that browsed a few rooms – and then there was the serious audiophile that could be seen scurrying between many rooms for hours on end. I ran into the same people many times, which I guess makes me a scurrying audiophile.

Most people were hungry for the chance to listen to and see so many different products all under the same roof. No doubt you have noticed that retailers that rely primarily on the sales of audio gear are having a hard go making a living these days – that is largely due to the CFC and the many people that are buying direct (through the web) from overseas to avoid paying the local distributor and retailer. Unfortunately, Australian retailers are closing due to this downturn which has the end result of all of us having fewer retailers where we can actually see, feel and listen to the actual gear. In recent years, it’s been well documented that Audio and AV shows really do help fill this gap. No doubt the Chester Group in the UK saw this as a most fortuitous moment to stage this wonderful event

In attendance from the Sydney Audio Club we had: myself (Tom Waters), Ray Eade, John Vandyke, Keith Morris, Morris Swift, Steven Polley and Alex and Ruth Wilson. My apologies if I have missed anyone; it’s only because I didn’t run into you during my days there. I also ran into Edgar Kramer many times as he scurried between rooms.

The show was held in the Marriott Hotel in the ground floor as well as the 3rd, 4th and 5th floors. I managed to get to all rooms and talk with the presenters in most as well. Our Events Coordinator extraordinaire, John Vandyke, was also doing the rounds. Between us, we made many new contacts and renewed many old contacts. In the end, we had a stack of business cards that I have collated to add into the Club’s Contacts List.

These shows are great for the Club as they give us the opportunity to make these new contacts and hence potentially open doors to new products that we can arrange for our members to listen to, and hopefully purchase, should the product suit their purposes. So the distributors and retailers both benefit and our Club members get to listen to gear that we might not otherwise have the chance to hear.

There were far too many rooms for me to write about each one individually. Instead, I would like to mention a few rooms that I thought were the highlights of the show. In no particular order:

  • McLeans Smarter Home Entertainment showed the Magnepan 1.7 speakers to wonderful effect. No doubt the expensive Zensati interconnects were a contributing factor! (Keith Morris thought the 1.7’s qualified as best in show as well.)
  • The Zensati room showed the Magnepan 3.7 speakers, complete with Technical Brain amplification, and of course, loads of Zensati cabling everywhere. Wonderful imaging, but due to the small room, it mandated very near field listen.
  • Vivid speakers from South Africa. Very clear and even across the frequencies. Amazing sound from what is basically a small enclosure.
  • The Cabasse L’Ocean had some very tight bass – perhaps the best tight bass at the show. Many systems seemed plagued by rooms that seemed too small for their bass output. Amongst the larger speakers, the Cabasse’s and the Magnepan’s seemed to be the exceptions. At $130 a pair the L’Ocean is not cheap but still they are half the price of Cabasse’s flagship!
  • Grover Notting room. Clear and precise, with transparency and good bass. Known mostly for studio gear but making inroads into the home market.
  • The JBL high end monitors, Ypsilon gear and Kuzma Stabi turntable had some very powerful but delicate sounds.
  • Sonus Faber Cremona Elipsa. These speakers typically need lots of space behind them as well as to their sides. Yet on the day they had neither and still sounded wonderful. Very surprising.
  • Focal Scala Utopia driven by Krell Evolution preamp and monoblocks.
  • KEF Blade and Wilson Audio Sasha speakers (alternating) driven by the new Momentum monoblock amplifiers, with source music streamed from a Linn DS series Music Streamer. Dan D’Agostino himself was on the controls once when I stopped by. The KEF Blade sounded bass heavy in the small room but appeared to have huge potential – I’d love to hear them in an appropriately sized and acoustically “nurtured” room.

In the JBL and Kuzma room were two very well known people. Wally Malewicz of USA Wally Tools was on hand. He is one of the world’s foremost authorities on tonearm geometry and setup. Michael Fremer of Stereophile and Jacob Heilbrun of TAS both hold Wally and his tools in high esteem. Wally has lived in the USA since the mid-seventies, yet he is fiercely Polish and he reminisced with my Polish wife for 45 minutes or so. He’s a wonderful character full of life. During that time I spoke at length with Mark Doehmann, designer of the world famous Continuum Caliburn turntable, and Wally as well.

Two other rooms stood out for their ability to draw you in when many other rooms appeared to be trying to drive you out with their hardness and brightness. One of these wonderful rooms was the Vienna Acoustics room playing the Klimt Kiss powered by Luxman source and amplification. The Kiss was wonderful and mellow on the ears but yet they were still quite resolving. (Apparently they also played the Mozart SE but I unfortunately missed them, even though I visited three times.) The other wonderfully mellow room was the Kyron Audio room. Kyron is a relatively new audio company based in Melbourne. They produce a range of speaker products. During the show they showed their large dipoles – they were sweet and forgiving. To my ears, they weren’t the last word in resolving power or detail, but had the ability to make you want to listen more and more. With any luck, we may see some of their product at our club someday soon.

Rumors were rift that there will be a similar show in Sydney next year. In fact, I was told by someone that really ought to know that such a show is a definite. It’ll be at a popular “high-end” hotel in the CBD. All looks very promising indeed for the resurgence of HiFi in Australia!

We really do owe a huge debt of thanks to the Chester Group of the UK who saw the need and opportune timing for this show. They originated in the UK but are branching out to other areas of the world as need demands. They also will have a show in New York in April 2012. Check them out at http://www.chestergroup.org/ to see where their latest shows will be.

Part 2 – by John Vandyke

SGR adio speakerMelbourne is a fascinating city to visit – the food, the culture, the night life all make Melbourne a great place to get out and about (let’s not spoil this fantasy by talking about the weather!). So it’s a bit ironic that we all spent nearly three days in Melbourne wandering around the crowded corridors of a hotel ogling expensive audio jewelry.

But I wouldn’t have traded it for anything. After 15 plus years in the wilderness, audio and AV are back on the map in Australia, and judging by the turnout (presenters and the public), there is plenty of interest still. The involvement of Next Media and the Chester Group brought some credibility to this event, and the industry turned out in force to show its stuff.

If we are talking about the best sound, cost no object, then a few of the demos I heard really stood out. In no particular order:

  • WAR Audio – Pat O’Brien was making real music with a system fronted by a professional hard disk recorder playing dual DSD rips from his turntable at home. The speakers were his own creation based on Accuton drivers.
  • The Audio Group (TAG to their friends) had their own speakers on display, with electronic from Vitus Audio, Acoustic Arts and Ayon.
  • SGR acoustics had the biggest room in the show. This is a company that I was not previously familiar with. Their big rig was based on their own speakers and amplification, and cast an enormous soundstage with staggering dynamics, particularly if you sat in the sweetest spot.
  • Synergy had a few rooms, but the Bryston/Audio Physic setup, showing off Brystons new BDP-1 digital music player, was making very nice noises.
  • Kyron Audio is another Australian company that seems to have come from nowhere with a fully formed and beautifully designed boxless system of substantial proportions, luxurious finish and enchanting sound.
  • Pure Music Group took me for a trip down memory lane with their JBL high end monitors fronted by Kuzma Stabi vinyl player and Ypsilon electronics – visceral is too kind a word for it.
  • The Cabasse room really surprised, with L’Ocean, their flagship highly sculptural spherical speaker kicking out some serious welly. Again fronted by great vinyl.

But there was also some really good sound to be had for more accessible prices. Like Tom, I made a few visits to the Pure Music room to listen to Luxman and Vienna acoustics. The little Mozart SE’s were also sounding wonderful, and this room was a real respite from the intensity of some other demo’s.

Our friend Bill McLean from McLean audio presented his Magneplanar 1.7 to very good effect. I also stopped in on the Aaron room, and was very impressed with the range and the obvious engineering excellence.

The high value surprise for me though was in the VAF room, where Phil Vafiadis presented a range of models, including his new on wall speakers. But the star of this room was the diminutive i90’s, measuring less than 12 inches a side in a cubical enclosure with a single coincident driver , these little speakers delivered immediacy and musicality way beyond their size and price.

There were other affordable combinations that caught the ear including components from Castle, Mystere, Creek, Epos and Aktimate. All in all, there was a great buzz at the event - a pleasant surprise given all the doom saying about the impending death of high end audio. Onward to Sydney in 2012!