Norddeutsche HiFi-Tage 2018 Pt.2

International man of mystery Trevor Butler continues his tour of the Holiday Inn, Hamburg in a quest to bring you first hand info about great sound and cool hardware at Germany’s second biggest show. See also part one of this show report.

I felt rather at home with the re-conditioned Otari MX55 (€2,600) reel-to-reel recorder relaying Holst’s Planets (BSO/Steinberg) the machine is one of several tape recorders available from Eternal Arts. In another corner was an example of the first machine I used at the BBC, the trusty Ferrograph Logic 7 (€2,800 with Dolby H). Complete with EA’s OTL (output transformer-less) valve amps and Dipol (dipole) floorstanders, it produced one of the most memorable sounds of the Show and it’s little wonder that the room was always busy. The speakers are €15,000 a pair and differ from what one might imagine a dipole design to be. The midrange and air motion tweeter are positioned on an open baffle above chambers for the woofers. An engineering achievement in anyone’s book.

Also on home soil were Manger, with news of technology developed  in co-operation with Linn. Filter data has been created for both the p1 and z1 loudspeakers for the Linn Exaktbox, MD Daniela Manger explained: “I agreed with Linn to publish two filter designs, one created by Linn and the other by myself”. Other updates to the Manger range includes internal wiring with Furutech cabling, while the passive speaker models gain uprated crossover components and improved damping, the active speakers benefit from AHP fuses. The result, she says is “more coherence, more structure and the core performance enhanced with improved transient resolution”. It’s good news for existing users is that older models can be upgraded to the new spec.

Making my way to the first floor where mainstream brands had taken over the larger spaces, there was also a smattering of esoterica, albeit confined to the smaller rooms. I was taken with the set-up provided by Genuin, Audio Solutions and Perreaux. The German Genuin Tars music server (€12,500), Perreaux Eloquence 255i integrated (€8,500) and floorstanding Figaro M at €4,690 by Italy’s Audio Solutions made for an engaging sound with lively dynamics and a huge soundstage which filled the room. A great combination.

Next door were some amazing mini panels from Italy that were created by an engineer who spent ten years servicing and repairing Magneplanars. The Flag M (M for Middle in the three-model range) are €4,690 and something of a bargain in my book. The transparency is just incredible and the detail sublime. We are going to hear more about this brand I am convinced since these appear to overcome the shortcomings of most panel designs. Well done to Fonica International for making electrostatics that don’t sound like electrostatics. They can even be wall-mounted or, hard to believe, in-wall mounted.

Stopping by the Bryston room, not for the ear-splitting, bass-thundering sound but because they had a proper three-group espresso machine, I discover next door that DIY kits are alive and well in Germany. Omnes Audio are offering their Flat 8 speaker for just €374, built on a large, open baffle finished in gloss white. The sound was open and detailed, while Bryston’s coffee was sublime.

Every show throws up surprises and Hamburg was no different. Heinz-Walter Hoeltkemeier was attracting a lot of interest in his HRD Space One speaker system. We discovered that the family name means "woodman" and has been involved in woodworking, furniture design and interior design for generations. Heinz was a racing driver and teacher, but above all a music lover so he developed his own speakers over 50 years ago. His first design, the Dinohorn, has been exhibited around the world and became a cult speaker. Recently, a new model - the omni-directional SpaceOne appeared and it certainly filled the room with sound in a most convincing and realistic fashion.

A short climb to the second floor found me in the room of the affable Christoph Mertens, distributor of Hi-Fi Racks and Italian Chario loudspeakers among other brands. Discovering that Chario’s cones are made from a Rohacell material used for helicopter blades and A380 wings, you realise that a lot of thought and engineering has gone into these models which are hand-made in Europe. On display were the first Aviator models from Chario, dedicated to aviation pioneers. These will range from the 2-way €2,199 Ghibli bookshelf (complete with T38II waveguide tweeter and 13cm Rohacell  woofer), to the €5,899 three-way tower featuring three 16cm bass units. Never a brand to stand still, two further ranges are promised from Chario: Belong, currently comprising the Type S two-way bookshelf with the newly-developed T32 tweeter in an organic-looking cabinet at €8,699 inc stands; plus the upcoming Constellation in Mk II form, which will embrace four models.

Concrete enclosures may not be the most obvious for loudspeakers but Betonart Audio, located close to Heidelberg, have an interesting variety of models including the €5,380 Syno floorstanders and matching €3,970 DWD-21 sub-woofer.  Talk about dynamics. Wow! There was so much attack, weight and deep bass that the sound sensation is one I shall long remember if not be able to reproduce at home for fear of alienating close neighbours. Jörg Wähdel is to be congratulated on his creation of what he terms ‘concrete audio’.

In the Klangloft room I was delighted to see Tobian speakers and electronics. A long-time admirer of this notable Swiss brand, it was a joy to listen to the bright, airy sound with input from a Langer No. 7 turntable. The MA100 valve monoblocks combined with the Monitor made for a quite unforgettable performance and was a highlight of the show thanks to Munich representative Klangloft whose Michael Kromschroder had travelled the length of Germany to be with us. It was well worth the journey, let me assure you.

Goodness, I thought – yet another Dr Feickert Analogue turntable, this time the Firebird with Swiss Thales arm and Dynavector XX2 cartridge. A Luxman EQ500 tube phono stage and 590AX Class A integrated amp drove Tune Audio’s Marvel speakers from Greece. The €13,499 model had very controlled dispersion to create a most realistic soundstage from an 8inch mid/bass driver and 1inch compression driver with titanium diaphragm for high frequencies.

Always a pleasure to see Japanese brand SPEC on the road, especially when their gear is coupled with TAD speakers. An awesome combination. A chance in Hamburg to preview two upcoming models from Playback, a new HDD and a DAC. Not a great one for tweaks and add-ons, I couldn’t but help be interested in the SPEC Real Sound Processor. At €990 for a pair, they connect in parallel with the amp’s feeds to the speakers and appeared to have a staggering effect on female vocals in the shape of Anjani’s ‘No One After You’. Worthy of closer scrutiny for sure.

Stuck behind a group of visitors who couldn’t decide which way to go, my eyes fell upon the Dodocus table, one of many in the several open areas at the  Show dedicated to magazines, accessories and software. Here we have the Pre-amp N which features technology I thought was redundant in the 1980s as part of its retro-look.  The four-input IR-remote unit has red-glowing nixi tubes protruding to show the selected input and volume control. Price is some €920 but it is hand-made in Bremen.

Star attraction in the Lyngdorf room wasn’t so much the Danish electronics but a rather stunning German turntable built by Ubar Audio and brought to the Show by retailer Auditorium. The €3,300 Stick has been created especially for the company and comes supplied with tonearm and basic cartridge, allowing for a cartridge upgrade by the user. Working with Lyngdorf phono stage and amp, the total system came to some €12,000 and put up a good performance.  

Some equipment just looks the business, and so it was with spl’s line-up of mini pro units. Made in Germany they feature stunning fascia in a range of finishes. The bright red attracted my eye and comprised a €2,899 DAC/preamp, phono stage at €1,799, and €2,999 stereo power amp. Solidly made and just a joy to use as well as look at, I would welcome them into my home for their aesthetics alone.

Thinking I’d arrived at an offshoot of Kew Gardens, the German HighEnd room featured as much foliage as audio equipment. These active speakers are €3,300 each, with a larger version incorporating bass extender available for €7,000. The crossover is a serious piece of kit in its own right and sits in a separate enclosure about the size of a footstool. Incorporating SEAS drivers, the sound was punchy with plenty of weight and attack. Serious stuff.

BMC, or Balanced Music Concepts, are based in Berlin with roots back to 1986. Producing both electronics and loudspeakers, they stopped OEM supply to concentrate on their own range. Affable proprietor Carlos Candeia has a fascinating story to tell – too lengthy to detail here, but worthy of a full report at another time. With a classical music education, he recorded with Karajan, ran retail stores and is now in high-end audio manufacturing. His German factory still makes belt-drive CD mechanisms and Air Motion Transformer tweeters as well as high-precision extrusions and cases, plus giant VU meters – all because, as he tells me with a smile on his face, “it’s fun to bring ideas to life”.

With that it was time to head to the airport as another enlightening Hamburg show closed and the exhibitors began to dismantle systems some had taken days to perfect. That such a magical and enjoyable free-entry exhibition can be run by a retailer is a lesson to us all.

Trevor Butler