High End 2017 pt.1

The High End is normally a pretty hectic affair, you are assailed on all sides by towering loudspeakers and gigantic turntables and that’s before the oompah band starts up in the concourse. This show has become the biggest in Europe and, according to many, the best in the world, all I can say is that this year it was damn hot. But there was plenty of fabulous gear to see and hear and we have picked the most interesting for your edification, here’s the first tranche.

PMC unveiled its first amplifier Core, an integrated 95 Watt per channel design with tone controls of all things. It’s fully remote so you can adjust balance and tone with the handset or bypass them all together. Inputs run to four RCA pairs alongside a single balanced connection to the balanced circuit within. The output stage is a classic Darlington pair design of the sort not found outside of Salisbury for some time. When asked why this speaker specialist built an amp, designer Ollie Thomas (top right with co-designer Elliot Whyte) said “because we’ve always wanted to”. Price will be £5,000 and numbers limited.

Rega slipped out an unexpected revision of its Apollo-R CD player, this follows a similar move with the Brio amp of the same proportions earlier in the year and turns out to be purely cosmetic to match that amplifier. Price is £598, availability as yet unknown.

Wharfedale’s Peter Comeau introduced the latest incarnation of the longstanding Diamond range dubbed Diamond 11. “The pinnacle of my [Peter’s] design career” is a six strong range of stereo models, half of them floorstanders. They share curved cabinet edges, slot rather than port loading, foam surround main drivers with Kevlar cones and ceramic magnets across the board. The tweeter has a vented pole piece and rear chamber as found on many high end designs, in fact this range, which starts at £160 for the 11.0 bookshelf (above left), benefits from features normally associated with far more costly designs. The smallest floorstander, the Diamond 11.3 is £600 while the top model 11.5 is £1,000.

It was difficult to find an electronics brand without a new streamer and Primare went further than most with its Prisma circuit, a network module that brings streaming to a number of new models. The I15 is a €1,750 75W integrated with a Hypex class D output stage, DAC and built in Chromecast receiver. The i35 is a bigger integrated with a 150W UFPD amp and optional DAC and Prisma board starting at €3,500. The CD35 disc spinner has a Teac drive and a 768kHz capable DAC with optional Prisma for €2,800, while DD15 is a slot loading transport for around €1,250.

Playback Designs showed two new range toppers in the Dream Transport and DAC. The MPT-8 transport ($15,000) plays SACD/CD discs and is also a server with SSD storage and optional streamer. It connects via an ST optical link to the MPD-8 DAC ($22,000) which runs DSD256, PCM 384 and uses FPGAs to create a fully balanced converter. Both are due for release at the end of the year.

Undoubtedly the coolest product of the show was the Mag Lev floating platter turntable. Created by a bunch of young Slovenian guys who are looking for production this turntable uses magnets to float and drive the platter above the plinth. When you press stop it slows down and legs come up from underneath to support the platter. It has a UPS power supply to stop it falling in the event of a power failure and is hoped to be available early next year for a projected €1,400.

Lindemann have taken their name literally and produced two Limetree products in compact stainless steel casework. The Limetree network Bridge (€500) has a low noise PSU, femto clock and high speed active filtering. It can be upated via SD card and omits wi-fi for sound reasons, output is via USB only. The Phono is a pure JFET design with passive RIAA and both MM and MC gain options but no loading alternatives for the same price.

ATC had a very swanky SE version of their SCM50 floorstanders (£24,000) in action. Combining a piano black finish with nickel effect detailing to create the most 50 to date. These were powered with P2 power amps (£3,200) and a prototype revision of the CDA2 disc spinner with new analogue and digital boards that can do DSD256 and has digital inputs, it should be available by the autumn. Outside the booth was the new On-Wall range of sealed box designs designed for discreet but uncompromised sound, these range from 125mm to 150mm in depth and have ATC drivers all round, prices start at £475 each.

CAD demonstrated the GC-3 ground control (£3,850) in a system comprising Boenicke electronics and speakers connected by Chord Co cables. The GC-3 has six outputs and provides a noise free ground for mains and individual components, it demonstrated well, as did Chord’s Sarum T and ChordMusic speaker cables.

Sven Boenicke’s new integrated doesn’t have a name yet but it’s a 400W (4 Ohm) class D design with optional DAC and phono stage, there will be standard and SE versions but hopefully both will have that lovely knob. Price will be between €5,000 and €6,000. It sounded delightful with his W13 floorstander especially when playing Mop Mop and James Blake.

Living Voice introduced a new table dubbed G3 to reflect the amount of legs. It’s a heavyweight design built from aluminium tubing with tensioners in each leg torqued to a specific tuning and piano ply platforms decoupled by elastomers with a double layer for the top shelf. Finishes shown are mazur and walnut but you can specify veneer and metalwork finish along with size. Price for the standard finish is £16,000.

Monitor Audio unveiled its all new silver series of loudspeakers with distinctive dispersion grilles on the tweeters and dished metal mid and bass drivers. The smallest bookshelf is the Silver 50 at £500 and the entry level floorstander is the £1,000 Silver 200. The range topping Silver 500 with two 8 inch woofers is £1,500.

Australian analogue legend Mark Dohmann showed his most affordable turntable to date, the Helix 2 incorporates many of the ideas found in his original Helix at a lower price of $25,000 including Schroeder arm. The chassis uses the Minus-K isolation system that works down to half a hertz, while the armboard has a separate magnetic isolation system with height adjustment. A one box design the Helix 2 can take arms up to 12inches long and has an 18kg platter.

The best looking DAC/preamp just got more interesting. Resolution Audio have totally rebuilt the DAC stage in the Cantata MC. The 3.0 Music Center has an R2R ladder DAC rather than the original Burr-Brown chips, it replaces AES and coax inputs with three opticals but retains USB and network connections. Two analogue inputs make it a full system preamp and there will be an optional MM or MC phono module. Price will be “under $9,000” and availability by the autumn (with luck).

Jason Kennedy

See part 2 of our High End coverage here