Analog Forum 2016

A whole weekend dedicated to analogue audio is a treat for those who flock to the annual pilgrimage near Dusseldorf. Organised by Germany’s Analogue Audio Association, the Analog Forum finds a remote hotel and conference centre filled with all manner of record players, tape machines and predominantly, but not exclusively, valve electronics.
We sent intrepid reporter Trevor Butler with notebook and camera to take a look.

With a slightly different emphasis each year, the two–day show attracts visitors from far and wide, including many who make the trip from neighbouring countries including The Netherlands. A mix of informative workshops and presentations plus the usual hi-fi show demonstration rooms, the Mercure establishment outside Krefeld buzzes for the duration.
An eclectic mix of the nostalgic equipment of yesteryear, lovingly restored to prime working order (or better given circuitry not available when the machines were new) mingles with the very latest designs. Seminars are very popular at Krefeld, constant queues formed for the upcoming presentations which ranged from a highly entertaining demonstration of cartridge/tonearm setup by audio veteran Wally Malewicz, to a DJ Workshop and even an audio comparison session (courtesy of tonmeister Holger Siedler) between 16-bit and 24-bit digital sources alongside vinyl.

With the Analog Forum gaining in popularity some exhibitors are forced to make use of smaller hotel bedrooms, but the range of equipment makes it a one-off affair, and all the better for that. These small spaces provide acoustic challenges but even so many managed to produce melodic sounds. In the aptly-named Innovation Room, distributor WOD Audio made the most of coupling Ypsilon’s €16,500 Phaethon power amp to drive Thrax Lyra speakers with an impressive Bergmann Galder four-arm, air-bearing turntable.

With a product looking as fine as it sounded, Heed Audio was proud to demonstrate its slanting baffle Enigma floorstanders in a sophisticated mix of grey with either white or black piano lacquer.  The larger Grand Enigma are €6,800 with the smaller Enigma €2,900, both two-way designs from Budapest. They were fed with a turntable and arm from Soulines based in Belgrade.

With a small room meaning SPLs would be low, Spendor’s distributor B&T Hifi opted to showcase the firm’s Classic series, the SP1/2R2 model made melodic sounds alongside product from Edwards Audio, Heed and Van den Hul.

Negotiating a Telefunken M5B and Studer B62 in the corridor, marvelling at the solid engineering of these old reel-to-reel machines, there was even more of a treat inside the Eternal Arts room. Here another tape machine (a Ferrograph Logic 7) provided the source material to drive a full-range floor-standing Dipole speaker which boasts bass down to a 25Hz and is designed specifically  as a 16 Ohm speaker for compatibility with the company’s 180W OTL (output transformer-less) monoblocks.  The whole effect was mesmerizing.

Providing total symmetry, even down to the stand badges (with one a mirror image of the other), Lautsprung’s two-way stand-mount speaker sells for €4,000 a pair. Source material was courtesy of an AMG Viella 12 turntable at €13,500 which featured a most unusual cartridge from DS Audio. A photo-optical design, it relies on a moving-light system with no coil and no magnetics. The photo optical cell and light beam are powered from the EQ unit which feeds a preamp. Total price is €8,800.

New met old in the SWS-audio room which appeared constantly crowded and especially so on Sunday. Relying on some floor-standing speakers from a now defunct Danish brand because “they create a warm sound which people like”, the effect was rather wonderful. A Dr Feickert Analog turntable seemed very at home complete with carefully chosen Dynavector arm and cartridge and provided the source for an unusual preamp, a headphone amplifier from Quad feeding solid state QMP monoblocks. Music, like the speakers, was mainly from the 1970s.

Audio Note’s German distributor, Voigt Audiosysteme, had assembled a complete system from this popular British marque and produced a lovely tone which certainly attracted visitors to something of an oasis of good music amid much mediocrity.

With Danish Pandion 20 speakers by System Audio distributor Libra Audio was keen to emphasise that their coils are non-magnetic “so don’t work against the music”. They were certainly tuneful partnered with the Plato complete music server from Convert Technologies (the new name for Entotem) and its 28W Class A output.  This being an analogue event, there was also a Pear Audio turntable, the new Robin Hood, another great product name from this Slovenian brand.

Rainer Horstmann designed the world’s most expensive turntable in 2010 for his private use (a €500,000 engineering feat boasting a 30kg platter with 100% magnetic bearing), he has now developed a more affordable variant. With two prototypes of the €20,000 turntables which themselves have 25kg platters and a magnetic bearing. There’s also a new tangential tonearm for €40,000 as an alternative to the current Dynavector 507II radial arm.

Apart from all manner of wonderful equipment, the weekend event had its fair share of accessories which came in every shape and size, from NAB tape hub adaptors to bespoke wooden tonearms there was a clutch of record cleaning machines. This one from Draabe Technologies, based near Hamburg, is the €945 Nessie with auto suction proudly demonstrated by Uwe Draabe.

Specialists in high-mass turntables, Sperling Audio showed two models, the flagship L-1, a 70kg heavyweight accepting two tonearms, plus the smaller L-2. Both proudly engineered in Germany.

No German hi-fi event would be complete without horn loudspeakers and the aptly named Horn Kultur played their Corneo 2-way model to the crowds using a Klangstube turntable, LFD phonostage/pre-amp and mighty valve amps from AirTight. The audience lapped it up.

In a room rather nicely named Teamwork, Japanese speakers and electronics by TAD drew the crowds. The Compact Reference One (known as the CR1) was powered by M600 solid state monoblocks, C600 pre and an Audionet phono stage. The source was a Well Tempered Lab MkII; and a fine combination it made with standing-room only for much of the time.

A sweet-sounding room had me absorbed and taking fewer notes than I otherwise might, but Genuin Audio Vertrieb combined product well, assembling a system of €12,740 Genuin turntable, Nimbus amp in prototype form and floor-standing Pulse speakers which appeared to have four drive units a piece in a three-way design and a €9,950 price tag.

Diapason’s German distributor Rainer Israel is behind the design of a rather interesting new vale DAC. Called Zero Uno it boasts a “real tube output stage” and is poised for production after a three-year design period since it wasn’t originally intended to be a commercial product but merely for private use. Price will be some €6,850 under the brand name CanEver Inc .

Made in Germany, these bubble-like loudspeakers are from Acapella, inventor of the spherical horn. The La Campanella MkII was demonstrated with a Pro-ject RPM 9.1 turntable carefully modified by the speaker-creating father and son design team.

Avid’s founder Conrad Mas was on hand to conduct his ‘good, better, best’ routine using three of his turntable designs. With stunning-looking Avantgarde Duo Messo XD speakers dominating the room, the dem involved the same arm and cartridge, the same record but gradually improving turntables.

Illustrating just  how to bring the past right up-to-date, no true analogue event would be complete without Martina Schoner and her Garrard 501 upgrades. It is just amazing what can be done with solid engineering, and the fact that Martina’s room was full to overflowing throughout the show is no surprise.

Bright colours stand out and Elac’s new turntable the Miracord 90 Anniversary at €2,000 was no exception. It’s also available in black, white and walnut as well as the stunning pillar box red and grass green. Speakers in this room were Elac’s active 2-way standmount Air X403 at €2,900 a pair.  It’s a ‘Marmite’ sound but this seems to be a popular flavour in Krefeld.

Clean lines and a clean finish on these elegant looking white floorstanding Ascendo C6s. A single point-source (coax) 2-way at €3,400 a pair, they are also offered in black or red piano lacquer. Sonically surprising in producing deep bass from minimally-sized cabinets, they were a must-listen.

One room using reel-to-reel as a music source was Duevel with a magnificent Studer A807 which brought back happy memories of my time in BBC studios. This fed the omnidirectional Duevel speakers and the smaller pair of Planets in stunning tangerine finish. A room partnership saw German Musica Nova valve pre and a Pia Nova turntable for when the tape ran out.

Another room packed for the duration was flying the flag for many popular British names including Harbeth, Neat, Palmer, Croft and Michell Engineering who create their TechoDec as the Input Audio Starter. For this entry-level turntable, Input’s Bernd Hömke has designed a modification which he claims yields better imaging and a more stable soundstage. His acrylic Pro-Disk is manufactured by a shipbuilder in his home town of Kiel.

Next door was an unusual room-within-a-room concept courtesy of Audiophile Architektur who managed to incorporate Pink Floyd’s The Wall into one of their walls. All to illustrate the importance of room acoustics, as did several other stands at the event with an amazing array of room treatments and acoustic panels of varying shapes and sizes. Judging by the interest, it is a subject taken seriously by German analogue fans.

And so it was time to head home after another very successful (the view of many an exhibitor, not just mine) event which is well organised, as you might expect in Germany, but also extremely friendly with the Analogue Association’s committee members always on hand to help. Here’s to next year’s Krefeld show and how wonderful it would be if something similar could be staged in England. Any takers?

Trevor Butler