High End 2017 pt.2

Leema’s co-founder Lee Taylor likes his guitars, so much so that he brought three of them over to decorate the booth, he even bought guitar amps but restrained himself from playing them. The newcomer for Leema at this event was an Anniversary version of the Hydra power amp (below), this has been given the same treatment as the Tucana II integrated that appeared last year, which means upgraded parts all round including Nichicon Muse capacitors. The PCB tracks have been beefed up and Leema has used its best speaker cable for connection to the speaker terminals, kind of makes sense really. If the effect is as profound as that on the Tucana this 150 Watt, £4,995 design could be a giant killer.

The last time Dynaudio bought out an anniversary special was for its 25th birthday, now it’s 40 so they have a Special 40 bookshelf in red and grey birch finishes. It combines a new variation on the Isostar tweeter found in their top models with a mid/bass similar to that in the pricey C1 and C2, so at £2,500 it looks like a very serious piece of kit in a shiny box.

Funk Firm’s Arthur Koubesserian has clearly been busy. His AK1 tonearm is the most radical I’ve seen for some time, it combines a ceramic armtube with a headshell that rotates in order to keep the stylus parallel to the groove at all times. A special gimbal arrangement attaches the headshell to the rotating element and allows users to change cartridges with a proprietary removable headshell system. VTA and azimuth can be adjusted on the fly and movement in the headshell is restricted to the two requisite planes. Simples it ain’t, £24,000 it is.

SME took its first High End stand and ran a large banner picturing founder Alistair Robertson-Aikman in his heyday. Whether he would have approved of the extra bling that has been added to his turntables and arms is open to debate but they certainly provoked interest. As did a range of record clamps and spirit levels that can be used with any turntable.

Innuos showed a very interesting special edition of its top server. The Zenith SE is a 100 unit limited edition with a triple linear power supply, custom wound transformer and various measures to combat vibration and keep out noise. The power supply was designed by Sean Jacobs (a PSU guru apparently) and uses Mundorf caps and internal cabling that’s silver plated and shielded. This pushes the price up to  £4,999 for 2TB of SSD but I suspect it’s worth it in serious streaming systems.

MSB showed a new Reference DAC that looks very similar to their top line Select at first glance, but look closer and you notice that the top is flat and the finish not quite so fancy. Which helps bring the price down, slightly, to $40,000. With modular inputs giving future proofing and a network renderer onboard this is a pretty serious piece of kit, it has MSB’s femtosecond clocks and supports quad DSD natively, all you have to do is find a source that can provide the signal.

Reed is a turntable brand from Lithuania with a lot of ideas, their first Muse 3C turntable offered friction driver or belt drive and their 5T arm (above) is a motorised tangential design with a laser tracking device to ensure zero tracking error. This year they unveiled a more affordable turntable called Muse 1C, this has a plywood chassis although the finish disguises as much and is belt driven but takes its main bearing and ‘drive traction’ from the 3C, price is €9,000.

Ayre brought two prototype entry level models to the show, the AX-8 is an 80 Watt integrated amp with full streaming capabilities and digital inputs next to the analogue ones. It’s a fully balanced, zero feedback design that’s Roon ready and offers the popular audiophile streaming services, which isn’t bad for a $7,000 American built design. Its partner the QX-8 (below) is what Ayre calls a digital hub (see DAC), again fully balanced this has custom digital filtering and asynchronous coax and optical inputs, which is a first to our knowledge. Price will be between $4,000 and $5,000.

Musical Fidelity has a new M6 SDAC at £1,299, this upsamples incoming signal to 32-bit/768kHz with a reclocking circuit and runs at up to DSD128. It has three optical and as many coax inputs alongside USB. It can be used as a line source or connected directly to a power amp thanks to variable output, it will also drive headphones with “very low impedance”, the inference being that it will drive pretty well any headphone.

Living Voice showed a European walnut veneered version of their Vox Palladian and  Palladian Basso four box horn system. This looks fabulous with the caruba waxed bronze detailing and exposed laminate edging, but at £450,000 you’d want something a bit tasty. It sounded rather good too, especially when playing Massive Attack vs The Mad Professor, a long forgotten nineties gem with some genuinely room warping bass.

Art Déco Acoustics had one of the most distinctive systems at the show, the M15 monitor shown is machined out of aluminium and provides mid and treble, bass is supplied by a pair of substantial B16 bass towers and amplification is courtesy of a matching E17 integrated design running KT150 output tubes. Price is a nice round €100,000 for the lot.

Focal unveiled two new Utopia III Evo models at High End. The Maestro and Scala stick to the beryllium dome, open back tweeter but have revised crossovers with hand selected components and now have mass damped suspension on the midrange drivers alongside NIC magnets. The bass cabinet is damped with a new acoustic foam and, controversially for Focal, both models are bi-wirable. They also come in some new finishes including racing green and ash grey. Prices are £24,999 for the Scala Utopia Evo (above) and £39,999 for Maestro Utopia Evo.

Townshend Audio were busy demonstrating their remarkable Seismic Podiums but less obvious was the first sighting of Fractal F1 speaker cable. This not only promises the sort of sound quality improvements that Fractal treatment brought to their interconnects but also provides vibration control with damping around each pair of conductors. I also spotted one of the Halcyon subwoofer isolation bars that Townshend has been installing in nightclubs from Ibiza to LA. Bangin’.

High End is not all high prices, Wharfedale’s Peter Comeau took the opposite approach and incorporated as many high end features as possible into the new Diamond 11 range. These include a rear vented textile dome tweeter, Kevlar cones and laminated cabinets with curved edges. The mid/bass and bass drivers have that rare thing a foam surround, chosen for sound quality reasons, and the cabinet is slot loaded for greater linearity of airflow. The key models looks like being the 11.1 bookshelf at £270 and big 11.5 floorstander at £1,000 with twin eight inch woofers. There are six stereo models in all with prices starting at £160 for the Diamond 11.0.

Jason Kennedy

See part 3 of our High End coverage here.