I’m the Munich newbie in the SoundStage! crew. High End has been on my bucket list for over a decade, and it’s all I hoped it would be and more. In addition to my regular beat for SoundStage! -- Simplifi’d hi-fi -- I have another gig for Munich: headphones and portable electronics. It’s a big assignment, because there are scads of new products -- more than I can cover in my first report (so check back tomorrow). All prices here are in euros (€) or US dollars ($).
Expensive electronics abound in Munich at High End, and the first batch I came across was of the massive, solid-state variety. As well, most of it came housed in the machined-aluminum-encased enclosures that audiophiles know and love. All prices are in euros (€) or US dollars ($).
Last week, Bowers & Wilkins announced its new Formation line of wireless products, which I first read about on our SoundStage! Australia website. It really piqued my interest.
There wasn’t much advance notice, but it wouldn’t be a pop-up if there were. Recently, New Jersey-based Gingko Audio extended a last-minute invitation to a few audiophiles and fellow manufacturers to attend a pop-up audio demo on March 23. Word of the event was also spread to the New York and New Jersey audio societies.
Is the 2019 edition of Montréal Audio Fest the busiest audio show in Montreal ever? I can’t say, because I’ve attended the show for only a few years. But I had lunch with an industry veteran who said this is the busiest he’s seen the show (Montréal Audio Fest and its predecessor, Salon Son et Image) in a decade.
Finding speakers to cover at Montréal Audio Fest 2019 wasn’t hard -- they were in abundance, varying greatly in shape, size, price, and, most impressively, country of origin. In fact, it’s been years since I saw so many speakers from so many places at this show. Below is the second batch of speakers that caught my eye, with prices in Canadian dollars unless specified otherwise. You can read my first installment about new speakers at Montreal here.
There’s a huge infrastructure that supports the speakers, amps, and sources at audio shows. However, the cables and accessories often don’t share in the glamor that speakers, electronics, and turntables enjoy. And that’s a shame, really, because systems just can’t work without cables, and the accessories add some spice to an ecosystem that would otherwise be at least somewhat sterile. Below are the new cables and accessories I found in Montreal, with all prices in Canadian dollars unless specified otherwise.
Loudspeakers are the easiest for me to cover for three reasons: they’re typically the most obvious things when you enter a room, I keep abreast of the market and usually know right off the bat what’s new and what’s not, and I’m really into speaker design and always keen to learn what might be new. As a result, the moment I got to the Hotel Bonaventure, the home of Montréal Audio Fest 2019, I started looking at loudspeakers and little else. Below are the first speakers I found, with all prices in Canadian dollars unless otherwise noted.
The Montréal Audio Fest was jumping this year. Over the last two years I’ve felt a buzz ramping up at this show, but 2019 feels like it’s on another level. It’s like adding more mass to an already massive sun -- eventually it reaches a critical mass and begins to contract under its own weight. So goes it with the MAF. There were more exhibitors this year, and the Friday of the show, which is usually quite sedate, was just packed with showgoers. All good omens for the future of the show.
When I arrived at Hotel Bonaventure just before noon on day one of the Montréal Audio Fest 2019, there had to be at least 100 people in the registration lineup. So, not surprisingly, exhibit rooms were busy throughout the day.
First order of business at the Montréal Audio Fest 2019 is to scour as many of the used record bins as possible before the crowds dig up all the uncut diamonds.
It was purely a coincidence. Late in the day on March 21, I had little to do as I walked around the hallways of Hotel Bonaventure, in downtown Montreal, as companies were setting up for Montréal Audio Fest 2019, to be held March 22 to 24. The show was still a day away, so you can imagine that few were ready to showcase anything. I looked in room after room and saw little. Ready to give up and go get something to eat, I opened one last door -- to the room of Motet Distribution, distributor in Canada for at least a half-dozen brands, including the UK’s PMC. When I looked in the room, I saw a crowd of people and someone said, “Come in, you’re just in time.” Little did I know I had just walked into the North American launch of PMC’s Fenestria loudspeaker, a bold statement piece priced in Canada at $90,000 per pair ($65,000 per pair in the US).
For whatever reason, it’s been only recently that I developed a profound appreciation of Joni Mitchell’s music. I was therefore looking forward to the “Linn Lounge Presents -- Joni Mitchell” event, held on March 2 at Accent on Music, which is located in Mount Kisco, New York, about an hour north of New York City.
As I wrote before on Soundstage! Global, my past visits to New Jersey’s VPI Industries, a maker of turntables, phono stages, and record-cleaning machines, have been to the company’s showroom, VPI House. During this latest visit, I also toured the company’s factory, located less than five minutes from that location.
Integrated Systems Europe (ISE) is an annual event that is focused primarily on custom-installation (CI) audio/video systems (i.e., in-wall, on-wall, and in-ceiling speakers, as well as home-automation electronics and video displays, etc.), with this year’s show held from February 5 to 8 in Amsterdam, Netherlands. It was there on the second day of ISE 2019 that I met and interviewed Livio Cucuzza, who holds the title of chief design officer at Sonus Faber, the Italy-based manufacturer well known for creating speakers that look every bit as good as they sound. We talked about the launch of the new Palladio custom-installation speakers -- Sonus Faber’s first major foray into this market.
Located in Eastern Pennsylvania, Rogue Audio has designed and manufactured quality vacuum-tube-based electronics for 20 years. In January 2018, Rogue moved from its home of 17 years to a brand new facility it had constructed from the ground up. Shortly before Christmas, I visited the new premises, bringing along my brother, Sathyan Sundaram, who also writes for the SoundStage! Network. He also took the photos for this piece. Befitting the season, we stayed nearby in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, where there was, as it happened, room at the inn -- the Holiday Inn, that is.
I expected to pack all my coverage of the 2019 Florida Audio Expo into three articles, but I found enough to fill a fourth! For a brand new show, that’s impressive. What’s more, these final components proved to be some of the most interesting. Here’s the final batch, with all prices in US dollars.
After the first day at the Florida Audio Expo, I had been through all of the rooms and was fully acquainted with the show’s layout. For the second day, I revisited all of the rooms, but spent more time asking questions and hunting for products I might’ve missed, which was a good thing to do -- I came up with a few surprises. Here’s what I found, with all prices in US dollars.
As I continued on my trek for new and/or interesting products at the Florida Audio Expo, I became increasingly convinced that the show has a good future, for a few reasons. One is the time of year -- Florida in February creates a nice winter break for us in the colder climates. As well, since CES for high-end hi-fi is pretty much dead, we need a beginning-of-the-year show to get things rolling. February isn’t quite the beginning, but it’s close enough. I also thought the venue, the . . .
Florida Audio Expo, held February 8 to 10 at the Embassy Suites by Hilton Tampa Airport Westshore hotel, is a brand new show. It takes time for any new show to build and find its place in the hi-fi world, so when I arrived for this inaugural event, I wasn’t sure how to approach the coverage, because I didn’t know what I’d see when I got there. Thus, I spent the first two hours on February 8 combing through the seven exhibit floors to determine my best course of action. By the time I got to the final floor, I knew that if I focused only on new products, which is what we usually do, there wouldn’t be enough to write about. But I did see some products that, while not necessarily new, were interesting to me and likely to our readers. As a result, I decided to focus on new and/or interesting products, with the first part of that coverage reflected below. All prices are in US dollars.
January 31, 2019 -- it was on the coldest of winter mornings that I arrived at Flux Studios on New York City’s trendy Lower East Side to audition Q Acoustics’ Concept 300 speaker ($4499.99 USD per pair with stands). This British audio company made a bit of a splash with its entry-level 3000i-series speakers, which had the reputation for providing great sound and high value. The prospect of seeing what the company could do further up the price chain was intriguing enough to get me out of bed early.
Tony West of Adirondack Audio and Video joined me on my latest audio excursion, this time to visit Devialet’s flagship store in New York City’s SoHo neighborhood. Our goal was to audition the company’s main product lines -- the Phantom Reactor and Phantom Premier series of wireless speakers, as well as the Expert Pro all-in-one amplifiers. Now one of four Devialet stores in the city, the flagship is only steps from the company’s New York office space, but a long distance from its headquarters, located in Paris, France.
Here’s the last batch of the most interesting headphones and headphone-related products I saw at CES 2019. Also check out my first and second headphone reports from CES, and watch SoundStage! Solo over the next few months for reviews of some of CES’s most promising new models. All prices in USD.
Manufacturers knew well in advance that CES 2019 wouldn’t be a big show for audio, so most seem to have saved their big product launches for other venues. However, one company, PSB Speakers, used CES for one of its most important launches in years: the first revamp of the company’s budget Alpha speaker line since 1999. In its suite at the Venetian hotel, PSB founder and chief engineer Paul Barton showed four new Alpha-series models. They retain the general look and form factor of the previous models, but according to Barton, they’re all “clean sheet” designs, with completely new cabinet designs, drivers, and crossovers. All models are available now, in either black ash or walnut woodgrain finish.
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