Stockholm High-End Mässan 2018

Scandinavia boasts a number of well-known audio brands as well as many more whose products are often not seen outside the territory. Trevor Butler went to Stockholm to investigate the high-end scene at the annual High-End Mässan [fair] held over a wintery weekend.

With the snow falling outside the warm welcome of the region’s largest audio event provided the chance to not only see and hear from some of hi-fi’s famous names, but also an opportunity to meet some of those behind Scandinavia’s more esoteric brands.

Joint-organisers Robert, Gunnar, Teodor, Fredrik, Carl and Nicklas put on a fine display in three central Stockholm locations: part of the Sheraton Hotel, the Coore exhibition centre next door and Lundqvist & Lindqvist, a conference centre a few blocks away on  the other side of the central railway station. Each afforded a range of decent-sized rooms where manufacturers, distributors and high street retailers could compose systems to be enjoyed.

Saturday proved a busy day and I was pleased to have set aside Sunday for my investigation although there was still a queue forming ahead of the 10am opening with visitors anxious to see what was on offer for their 200SEK entry fee (1SEK is worth 8.7p or 12c Euro/USD).

 

 

First stop was Connaisseur AV who had a spacious area to demonstrate Estelon’s YB floor-standers from Estonia in a limited edition Champagne Gold pearlescent finish which looked simply exquisite and sounded open and spacious with a sweet, delicate treble from the beryllium tweeter. Priced locally at 202,100 SEK, these were used alternately with the 329,000 DEK Gauder Akustick Berlina RC7 floor-standers from Germany with their diamond tweeters. Closer to home here were the Danish electronics from Alluxity in titanium orange lifestyle finish, including the Media One (a 2TB media server), Pre-One preamp and Mono One power amps. The father-and-son company is based in Herning and creates a range which combines a modern finish with ease-of-use such as touch-screens on all units as well as IR remote and an IP-based media server which affords phone, tablet and computer control no matter what the operating system. The combination created one of the best sounds of the show and was a great start to the day.

 

 

Across the hallway, past a complimentary refreshment centre thoughtfully provided, was Roland Eriksson from Audio Connection who distributes some interesting products in Sweden. He was trying out the smallest model from Austrian speaker brand Trenner-Friedl, the stand-mount Sun. At 25,000SEK it seemed the bargain of the show, creating so much from such a small cabinet. Piano, cello and double-bass all sounded so natural and, the acid test, human voice was reproduced with an uncanny realism. Driven by Class A/B solid-state amplification courtesy of Gold Note’s IS-1000 (some €4,000) integrated and then Fess Audio’s valves from Gold Note’s Mediterraneo turntable (via the matching RIAA box even though the amp has on-board phono stage). Once the show got underway it was time to trial the various Harbeth models which are Roland’s mainstay speakers, and a chance to hear a premier of the Anniversary Edition P3ESR and M30.2. Also here were the range of Swedish grounding boxes and equipment racks from Entreq who have made a name for themselves in Asia.

 

 

The full force of Monica Zetterlund, a notable Swedish vocalist, was brought home with her album Spring is Here through the pro-looking JBL 4367 created by audio giant Harman for the hi-fi market. Live tracks showed the bass capabilities of these monoliths which are clearly for those who don’t have neighbours. The full line-up included Mark Levinson electronics, now also under Harman’s control: the 515 turntable, 512 CD/SACD player and €13,000 585 integrated amp with Tidal the chosen digital source.

 

 

Next door, not finished products but rather a Swedish OEM supplier of drive units – the loudspeakers on show made-up simply to show the metal cones’ capabilities. EAD, or Esoteric Audio Devices, launched the MkII version of its 15-cm broadband driver the E100HD, made in Denmark by ScanSpeak. EAD is probably best known for creating speaker chassis for Ted Jordan but now markets under its own name.

 

 

Danish speakers from Buchardt Audio are interesting in that the company supplies directly to the end-user, no distributors and no high street shops. They offer a 3-day home trial which seems to generate sales while keeping margins down, not to mention their 10-year warranty. A brand new model was being auditioned in Stockholm and one worthy of further investigation if the sound produced at the show was anything to go by. The LS5400 was in late prototype with a May launch day and circa €2,000 price tag. Located at the bottom of the baffle, the tweeter has an ingenious aluminium, horn-hybrid waveguide, deeper than one might expect. This reduced the HF output to almost zero at 50o off-axis.  A large rear-firing passive radiator supplements the main drive unit.

A company rooted in engineering, Buchardt used a nearfield scanner to check the design’s output at over 5,000 points. I was impressed at the bass output from this relatively small cabinet which boasts 33Hz capability. Speed and agility are clearly key factors here along with incredible imaging and transparency.

 

 

Making the journey from Italy, and not enjoying the sub-zero temperatures, was Riviera’s Silvio Delfino. He was proudly showing the solidly-made range of hybrid tube/transistor electronics constructed near Naples. Small details include 11cm solid aluminium front and rear facia plates with no fewer than 11 coats of paint lacquer to create a glorious finish. I was introduced to the AFC-10 headphone amp with its pure Class A zero-feedback circuit, the APV-01 preamp with balanced and unbalanced inputs, plus the mighty AFM-50 50W monoblock. True heavyweight products which packed a punch on a variety of musical material.

 

 

With a three-model range of loudspeakers, Vox Tonus put on a memorable performance. The Nano, Micro and Milli are based on the company’s Cochlea Concept, named after the inner-ear, created by Nils Hjelte’s lifelong interest in audio. He recognises the conflict between a compact loudspeaker’s need to create a large, dynamic soundstage and its ability to deliver uniform sound over the entire frequency range with perception of direction, distance, reflections, spaciousness, reverberations and transients at the listening position. With a servo-controlled active stand, to take account of floor reflections, the system is programmed for the room acoustics.

From the chosen musical selections, including Yinon Muaellen’s album Breath and a DG recording of Patrick Gallois (CPE Bach’s G-Major Flute Concerto), there was clearly something in this design philosophy which is worthy of a wider audience.

 

 

Swedish rooms appear to be acoustic nightmares, but deft use of absorption panels and acoustic radiators allow meaningful presentations to be made. Not least in a room shared by Valvet electronics from Germany and Swedish speakers by Marten, the Heritage Miles 5 which are the last from the firm’s original range and now in refined form. Cables here were also local, from Bibacord. The A4e monoblocks appeared to drive the large floor-standers well, fed by the Soulshine 2 Total DAC/media server. Certainly the room was always busy.

 

 

Along the corridor was an interesting mix of wine and loudspeakers. Yes, that’s right – Lukase audio is owned by Lauri Pappinen who’s better known perhaps for his Swedish winery. On show today was a floor-stander creating a light, airy sound, very open and transparent from the full-range drivers sourced from John Mc Donald, CEO of Californian-based Audience, combined with Mundorf AMT ribbons.

The result of two years of part-time R&D is a crossover-less design with a 40Hz to 23kHz response utilising four front drivers and four more to the rear where there is also a super-tweeter, although Lauri happily admits that it’s not for his benefit. The side-firing 12inch woofers kick-in at 100Hz and below; the other side units are 12inch passive radiators – all on a 30cm anti-vibration baffle sandwich. Local price is 130,000 SEK, or €13,000.

Inside the cabinet there are no parallel walls, I’m told, but three chambers and absolutely no damping. “I wanted  fast transients!” Lauri says with a smile on his face. His creation was certainly causing some interest among local audiophiles.

 

 

Looks can be deceptive and so it was with the Oido Audio loudspeaker Deep Space 1 which was creating highly melodic sounds along with seismic bass from the Yello tracks being played. The Stockholm company has created an open-enclosure speaker system priced at 89,000 SEK and making its world debut. In each open-topped tower a conical tweeter is combined with a dipole-action coaxial midrange (sourced from Italy) and four 10inch bass drivers as two sets working in phase. The Thorens TD124 from yesteryear was doing a sterling job with EMT arm and TSD15 cartridge. A punchy, open sound with plenty of detail and low-down grunt emerged to keep the audience’s feet tapping, pleasing designer Gunnar Hilden.

 

 

The first two floors of the Sheraton hotel next door were packed as crowds flocked towards displays and demonstrations by some of the mainstream brands with a strong following in Sweden. The only thing here which really caught my attention were German brand Voxativ who I’d not been able to see at the recent Hamburg Show because their room was also too darn busy. Under the banner ‘Born in Berlin”, here there was more space and time to chat as well as absorb the sounds from the Zeth B speakers (labelled as 20Hz to 20kHz) partnered with the T-211 valve integrated, and a lovely combo it proved to be as well.  Melodic in the extreme.

 

 

Avoiding the crowds I made the short journey across town to Lundqvist & Lindqvist which had many large spaces although a trio of engineering students from the nearby Royal Institute of Technology had chosen the expansive corridor to catch the passing trade. They were previewing a new concept under the banner Friedrich Wikland, with passive Rieman speakers mounted on high tripod legs, it was clear that Bjorn Magnusson and his colleagues had experience of the sound reinforcement scene. The coaxial drive units combine a 1inch compression driver with 8in paper-doped bass cone and rely, currently, on an external crossover although there are plans to make this internal before production. Stunning visually because of the interchangeable grilles in a range of bright colours, the sound was promising too. This being Sweden, the enclosure had to be wooden – with Baltic birch the choice, but consisting of no fewer than 21 rings, each CNC’d and glued. I wish them well with the development.

 

 

Downstairs were Swedish firm Guru with their loudspeaker range which has been making inroads into the UK market. The 9900 SEK Junior (above right) and 19,990 DEK Q10 were on A/B comparison for the attentive audience who had gathered in the company’s very best efforts to create a typical living room environment. Partnered with Rotel amplification and a Rega P3 with Tidal from a Mac Book, the result was pleasing and it’s easy to see why these small speakers, on their  three-legged stands are popular

 

 

 

From one extreme to the other, but staying with Swedish audio brands. Leaving the minimalism of next door behind was the in-your-face experience of XTZ and their enormous range of home theatre speaker systems which were anything but discrete. With a large monitor taking centre stage, the results were impressive, captivating even as I was lured into a fantasy world where images and sounds came together to create an immersive illusion. This is stunning entertainment if not pure hi-fi.

 

 

 

My final stop before heading back out into the blizzard was from an old favourite – Avantgarde Audio. This German brand’s stunning Trio XD horn array, complete with a subwoofer of gigantic proportions, filled an enormous space with ease. That shiny Citrine Orange finish is rather addictive, as is the sound, and I sat and absorbed wishing I had a space not only of this size but with as much damping, to be able to accommodate them. Sensational.

 

Not just ‘another city, another show’ by any means: Stockholm afforded the chance to see some product lines that were completely new to me, and to meet designers with enthusiasm and passion for what they are doing. That’s something that can be easily eroded in today’s helter-skelter world where compromises are made for the benefit of the accountant or because of some Red Tape directive. Bravo, the Swedes – a cracking event. Looking forward to next year already. 

Trevor Butler