After two years without a high-end show, audiophiles flocked in huge numbers to the first event in the Polish capital since Covid struck; in greater numbers than the organisers could possibly have imagined. They queued, patiently to pay their £10 entry; they queued to visit rooms and hear systems; they queued for food and drink, and they queued for the shuttle bus between the venues. Who says the British are the best at queueing!
This is the second-largest audio-video event in Europe, second only to Munich’s High-End show and attracts exhibitors, visitors and the media from across the globe. To report on every room would take a book, so here are Trevor Butler’s personal highlights from a hectic weekend.
I was looking, in particular, for equipment from manufacturers we may not hear much about and especially those from Poland itself and other east European countries. It wasn’t long before I found an international mix of Audio Solutions’ new Virtuoso B floor-standing loudspeakers (hand-made in Lithuania) with their deep cabinet and large rear port in a box-within-a-box construction. Amplification was courtesy of a Swedish amplifier by Bladelius with a Romanian DAC from Rockna. The result was a good blend producing a really dynamic sound with decent bass response.
From Kownaty in east Poland, Notte Sound Labs were proudly showing their handmade electronics range boasting J-Fet technology. Thankful that they had gone to the trouble of creating handouts in English, I was able to appreciate the NDAC-01 converter with inputs up to 32-bit and 192kHz including AES/EBU; the NLP-1 line preamp with supressed third-harmonic and offering both balanced and RCA in/out; plus both the 100W/ch NPA-01 stereo power amp and NMB-01 monoblocks rated 2x80W with, again, balanced and RCA connections.
Across the hall was a brand I’m particularly fond of, Gold Note from Italy. They were launching an entry-level phono stage, the PH5 (inspired by the mighty PH10) which is €890. Featuring a touch-screen for all settings, including the six preset EQ curves as well as fine adjustment of gain and load. The system created a sound I came back to more than once, not to mention the fine espresso. On my second visit I sampled the DS10-Evo streaming DAC/preamp with inbuilt headphone amp. Impressive.
Drawn to the room by one of my favourite loudspeakers of all-time, ATC’s masterful SCM50A actives, I discover that these are the personal property of PWL Audio’s boss who is showing an enormous valve preamp using 6SN7 tubes and stepped attenuators. The €9,000 prototype Chimera is there to gauge audiophile reaction. The front panel has mesmerising output level indicators and the most enormous capacitor bank of 160,000 mF. The unit is produced close to Warsaw and designed by a rightly proud Slawomir Sieolecki. Production is due to begin in the new year. This is the kind of remarkable product that makes visiting such shows so worthwhile.
There were more Polish tubes next door, here Adams Custom Audio valve amps with optional RIAA stage as well as two loudspeaker models from this new brand created by Adam Slowik as a family business. Completely handmade from stone, wood and metal, the stereo amps looked as good as they sounded: the €3,100 Alpha (12.5W/ch) and more powerful Beta at €4,200 capable of 25W/ch have KT88 output tubes. Drive units from Scan-Speak’s Illuminator range have been used for two-way floor-standing Breva which is offered in exotic wood options. The whole created an enjoyable sound with good timing and a very musical output.
Product and even brand launches were aplenty, including the world-premiere of a Polish-designed 3-way dipole speaker from Qualio Audio. Designer Grezegorz Rulka has placed the woofer is in a lower cabinet while the mid and tweeter are mounted on Perspex above. They begin at €5,500 a pair and sounded fast, dynamic and extremely transient, probably thanks to the AMT Mundorf tweeter and mid and bass courtesy of SB Acoustics.
The wonders of DSP were being demonstrated by Jaromir Waszczyszyn from Ancient Audio, based in Kraków, who has created a processing module for use in a variety of applications. He was drawing a lot of interest and it was fascinating to hear the power of signal processing, for example, in his Vintage Oslo II D, a small, active speaker system with just a 100mm full-range paper driver but sounding so much bigger. I particularly liked that they were sited on photographic tripods. By contrast, his Vintage Ribbon speakers, with their high efficiency and high impedance, use a 150mm ribbon to cover 800Hz to 40kHz, with a 380mm paper woofer for 23Hz-800kHz.The Single Solid is an integrated DAC, processor and amp based on a single-ended Class A circuit.
My jaw dropped when I saw a Telefunken M10a reel-to-reel being used as an analogue source in the TR Audio exhibit, having used such a machine myself in my early broadcasting days. The Warsaw company specialises in custom audio equipment while capitalising on the increasing interest in valve designs. Their Consulere phono stage supports both MM and MC with six tubes in the audio path along with a fully-valve power supply. There’s also the 8W Altum Sonori 300B mono amplifier and Chairman line preamplifier which boast a pair of ECC82s in the audio path, powered by a 6X5 tube. All-in-all, impressive sounding stuff.
Also on home soil were Lucarto Audio with new hand-crafted standmount loudspeakers, the Ferro FR100 based on Scan-Speak Illuminator drivers, and a new IA40 40W Class A integrated amplifier. The combination produced pleasing results sonically as well as visually with clearly careful attention paid to the cabinet design and front baffle profile. The line-up also includes streamers, interconnects, power supplies and cables.
Eye-catching guitar-shaped loudspeakers enticed me into the Sonar Audio room where their conventional-looking Inocentre 1.0 were playing alternately with the appealingly-shaped Vanguardia 1.0, both 2-way designs which sounded lively and involving.
Cube Audio were creating melodic sounds with their €8,000 Jazzon, a 10-inch full-range speaker from Poznan. The floorstander is the latest in the range which boasts no crossover. The minimalistic design is finished in high-standard finishes of high-gloss, satin lacquer or natural wood, all CNC-machined and hand assembled in Poland. Audibly, they had a special quality and an evident low distortion due to the underhung magnetic motor design. The sound was lifelike and dynamic.
Another room I returned to a few times was that of Mozzaik Audio who were producing a cracking sound. Created by Marko Dvečko and Mihael Munta in Zagreb, just before Covid hit the planet, the brand showed their all-in-one processor and amplifier. Clearly a sophisticated device, the hand-built Mozzaik1 incorporates four amplifier stages, so perfect for bi-amping. Hand-built, it is a 500W/ch amplifier/streamer (with up-sampling to DSD) with a control panel for three sound settings: Compensation Frequency, Speaker Compensation and Psychoacoustic Characteristics. Price is likely to be around €10,000.
Another local exhibitor was Ciarry Audio with two classic open-baffle loudspeakers. The smaller dipole model, KG-4030 is a three-way weighing 35kg and boasting a response of 39Hz to 40kHz, while the larger KG-5040 4-way, at 51kg, has extended frequency response down to 29Hz. The larger one, with a pair of 15 inch and a 10 inch bass drivers, a 2 inch midrange and ribbon tweeter, created an involving sound which helped to bring the music to life.