I consider myself unreasonably lucky. In 1999, I moved into my current home, which is one of a block of nine townhouses. The houses were built in 1986 as what’s known in Toronto as infill housing. The land was part of a farm in the late 1800s, and as Toronto spread outward, the land was sold off in parcels. Encircled by houses, ours was the last remaining undeveloped lot in the area, which is less than two miles from the city’s core.
There are few audio designers more imposing than Touraj Moghaddam, a towering Iranian expatriate of impressive eloquence and wit. His piercingly intense eyes betray a lively sense of humor. When Touraj speaks, his powerful voice and quick intellect enable him to project his ideas about audio design with great passion. In short, when Touraj talks about high-end audio, you’d better be on your A-game because he’s a master of the subject, and keen to engage, debate, argue, and inform. I warmed to him immediately.
The Brits have a certain way of doing hi-fi. They’re quietly self-assured, and they’ve earned it, because most of the stuff they come up with is superlative. They know this. Falcon Acoustics, then, is the stereotypical British speaker brand, because it’s been known for its excellent replicas of the BBC LS3/5A monitor for years. Here at Audio Video Show 2023 in Warsaw, the company has publicly debuted its new M40 floorstanding loudspeaker.
Doug Schneider had the inside scoop. “Head up to room 608. Check out Blackwood’s speaker. It’s got some really cool tech.” Doug is a master of understatement, so I figured there was something in that room worth getting excited about. Off I went.
It only took one song.
I’d hurried over to the PGE Narodowy stadium to meet with Heinz Lichtenegger, founder of Pro-Ject and the current owner of Musical Fidelity. The plan was to discuss my upcoming review of the Musical Fidelity M8xTT turntable, but I arrived about 15 minutes early, so I puttered around in the three rooms that Pro-Ject and Musical Fidelity shared in this quadrant of the stadium. It was first thing in the morning, and the show was just opening, so the rooms were nearly empty—this was the golden hour, like right before sunset, when the light is best for photography.
It’s rare that the two Audio Note companies—Audio Note UK (from the UK, obviously) and Kondo Audio Note from Japan—end up at the same show. It’s likely not a good idea. If products from the two companies were to touch each other, they might well explode with the force of a thousand suns. They’re matter and antimatter, so to speak.
If you’re unfamiliar with SoundStage! Ultra senior editor Jason Thorpe, here’s the most important thing you need to know about him: he’s an elite-tier button pusher. “Hey, I’ve got an idea,” he told me as we left one of the demo rooms at the Radisson Blu Sobieski hotel. He smiled out of the corner of his mouth and rubbed his hands together. “Why don’t we do a faceoff between Audio Note UK and Kondo Audio Note, which is from Japan? I’ll write up one; you do the other. It builds tension.” He’s the audiophile press’s version of hovering your finger half an inch from your older sibling’s nose and squealing, “I’m not touching you!”
I’ll admit, I was not expecting to be blown away by Polish hi-fi brands. Yes, I knew they’d be out in force for their home country’s expo, and I already knew that the likes of Fezz Audio and Lampizator produce very respectable gear. But boy howdy, was I unprepared for just how ready some of these Polish companies were to strut their stuff at AVS 2023. What can a Polish brand come up with if it has the stones to create “horrifically priced gear,” as my comrade Jason Thorpe calls it?
Matt Bonaccio has got it into his head that because I review $20,000 speaker cables, I’m a gear snob. Well, not so much. When I’m not eating venison and turtle soup, I’m always on the lookout for a smoking audio bargain.
Let me begin with a confession: I did not intend to write this article. Actually, I did not expect to write any articles at all during Audio Video Show 2023. My plan was to take most of the photos, edit them, guide writers Matt Bonaccio and Jason Thorpe around the show, and then take more time listening to systems than I usually do. I figured I’d only write about something if it really intrigued me. The Paradigm-Anthem setup at the PGE Narodowy stadium did just that, so I wrote an article about it.
Warsaw’s bustling stadium left us with much to do and not much time to do it, but I made sure to stop at the Headphones Zone—this trip wouldn’t be complete without it. The layout was impressive, with dozens of brands displaying their wares one next to another, like a Persian bazaar. Here, of course, were not exotic spices and hand-woven rugs, but headphones, amplifiers, in-ear monitors, and every accessory imaginable.
Today the SoundStage! crew made a jaunt over to Audio Video Show’s main location, PGE Narodowy. It’s Warsaw’s national stadium, and this weekend it’s hosting a bevy of the world’s best-known audio and home-theater brands. I saw a lot there today—keep an eye out for more—but one of the highlights was Norwegian electronics manufacturer Electrocompaniet.
There’s a brunch restaurant near me that’s insanely busy on the weekends. On Saturday and Sunday mornings, there’s a lineup of about 20 people waiting to be seated. This amazes and repulses me. The concept of lining up and waiting—probably for quite a while—is completely foreign to me.
Canadian sister brands Paradigm and Anthem are hi-fi powerhouses, with extensive manufacturing and design capabilities. Both brands have roots in the advanced loudspeaker research done at Canada’s National Research Council (NRC). In fact, some Paradigm and Anthem employees worked at the NRC and conducted some of that research. As a result, both brands offer high-performing hi-fi products with unique features that allow users to set up their systems in interesting ways.
There’s something about tubes, right? Maybe it’s the shiny, glowing glass bottles, maybe it’s their benign low-order distortion character, or maybe it’s a mix of those two with a healthy glug of nostalgia thrown in. Or maybe it’s just that the voltages are high enough to flash-fry you if you touch the wrong wire.
I know it’s juvenile, but I know I’m not alone in this. I’m a sucker for bass. Exhibitors know how they can use this little kink to draw in showgoers, but they have to walk a fine line. Sloppy bass doesn’t work. Boomy mid-bass doesn’t work.
“Poproszę jedem pączek. I cappuccino, proszę.” The woman behind the café counter dutifully set my plate on the glass countertop and set about steaming the milk for my drink. We’d ducked into the small, French-styled café to get out of the rain and refuel as we wandered around Warsaw’s Old Town. I brought my pączek (it’s like a jelly donut, but better) to the table and sat down across from SoundStage! Ultra senior editor Jason Thorpe and SoundStage! founder Doug Schneider. Doug gaped at my newly acquired ability to order a donut in Polish. “You know, you’re the most un-American American we’ve ever brought on one of these trips,” he said and laughed.
On Monday, October 16, at 4:15 p.m., the shipping company picked up the Estelon XB Mk II speakers that I reviewed in July for SoundStage! Ultra. The XBs had lived in my main system for close to six months, and, as you can read in my review, I spent those months enamored by their dynamic prowess, retrieval of detail, and utter musicality.
“It’s the flight, Doug. It exhausts me,” I said to Doug Schneider as we were discussing our plans for Audio Video Show 2023 in Warsaw, Poland. “I can never sleep on planes. These overnight flights leave me crippled and exhausted.”
Here’s the third and final instalment of my coverage of UK Hi-Fi Show Live 2023 from Ascot Racecourse in Berkshire, England. As in my first and second reports from Ascot, this one includes a raft of new product launches, informative audio presentations, and another world-class system.
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