The biggest hi-fi show in Paris is held in two locations next to the Seine in the 15th arrondissement. Run by the country’s largest retailer Son Video it occupies two floors of a Novotel and nearly as much space in the nearby CAP centre and attracted over 10,000 visitors during a rainy weekend in October. The brands represented are both large international names and smaller French companies whose products have yet to make it to the UK, so you find Focal, Cabasse and Elipson alongside PMC, Bowers and Wilkins, McIntosh, Klipsch and KEF.
The timing of the event is such that there are not too many world premieres but there was no shortage of interesting gear that has not been seen elsewhere or was only recently launched such as Focal’s Chora range or Elipson’s W35 sonic sphere. If there was a trend at this show it was serious loudspeaker makers building compact wireless speaker systems for the wider market. KEF, Devialet, Elipson and Cabasse all had active wireless speakers that can be used singly or in pairs and some sound surprisingly entertaining. If nothing else the desire to eliminate wires has led to active speakers becoming remarkably popular, and as the better examples can be used with cables they are capable of decent results at a family friendly scale and price.
Elipson have finished their W35 wireless speaker and are offering it with a range of support options including a wall bracket, ceiling hung and a tripod stand. This 35cm spherical speaker offers stereo sound from streamed (wi-fi, Airplay, Bluetooth) or wired (analogue, optical digital) sources. Price is £799 per speaker and the W35 can be used singly or in pairs.
The Synthesis Soprano Signature is a nicely designed tube integrated from Italy that uses EL84s in an ultra-linear arrangement to produce what could well be a very sweet 12W in class A. It has digital and analogue inputs and comes in at €1,290.
The JMR Voce Grande (€7,800) looks like a fairly straightforward two-way on a stand but that is misleading. For a start the stand is fixed to the speaker and contains the crossover, its air motion tweeter is made with silicon and aluminium, the main driver has a carbon PEEK cone and the stand has a foam polymer layer in the base to decouple it from the room. It also sounded very good with 3D Labs electronics.
The 3D Lab Nano network player V768 is interesting because it can be run with a wider variety of third party software than I have encountered in most streamers. The latest 32-bit/768kHz version can be used with Audirvana, Roon, JRiver, Bubble UPnP and more making it more truly UPnP than average.
It looks like Roksan has started to build some new components if this Sara arm (£1,800) is any indication. Like the company’s Nima arm it’s a unipivot with a jewel ‘seat’ and tungsten carbide pin, it has a weight on a thread for anti-skate and silver plated OFC internal wiring.
Musical Fidelity showed the M8xi (€5,500), the largest integrated with onboard DAC that the company makes. It offers 500W of class AB power and has in and outputs on balanced and single ended terminals.
Three new ProJect turntables were on display with the white X2 (£999) stealing the limelight. This, the Classic Evo (left, £1,250) and X1 (right, £699) have the motor driving a subplatter under the platter a la Rega. The Classic Evo has a decoupled subcchassi with six TPE balls for isolation and features an Ortofon Quintet Red MC, the X2 has a suspended motor with an Ortofon 2M Silver cartridge.
Launched earlier this year the KEF LSX is a little brother to the popular LS50 wireless that has broader appeal thanks to its compact form and £999 price point, the colours are nice too. It has a 100mm UniQ driver and packs 100W of power into a system that can be run without an umbilical between the two speakers. This combined with a comprehensive app control system makes it a serious contender in this expanding market.
Vienna Acoustics demonstrated the Concert Grande Reference in a large room with some Stravinsky to powerful effect using Musical Fidelity M8 series electronics, then they put on some opera at realistic concert hall volume.
I heard the Elipson Legacy 3230 in a fairly small booth at the High End earlier in the year but in Paris they had more room to breath and delivered a much more favourable sound with pretty much the same Bryston electronics. The Pixies’ Surfa Rosa was powerful and engaging and even Hell Freezes Over had more to it than usually meets the ear in a show scenario. It looks like the 3230 will be landing on these shores before Christmas.
The latest addition to iFi’s compact Zen range of components is the Zen DAC (£129), this USB converter has balanced and standard headphone outputs and a the ability to decode bit perfect’ DSD, MQA and PCM up to 24/384. The headphone gain is switchable and the DAC can be run from the mains or off the 5V from a USB source.
Helixir electronics showed their Loudspeaker Driver 500 (€5,700), a power amp that is said to be able to control any load including those with impedances that drop to one Ohm. It’s a ‘progressive’ class AB design with the first 20W of its 275W output are in class A. Their system featured a Helios CD transport, a very rare beast, but I heard a PC source with the HRD DAC and DCSP preamp via Waterfall speakers.
Another French brand that’s not averse to spherical designs is Cabasse who launched a bowling ball size wireless speaker at AudioVideo. The Pearl Akoya (above right, £1,499) is a very well specced design that can be used singly or in pairs, has the same long throw, carbon fibre drivers as the larger Pearl and offers Bluetooth and wi-fi connections, it can be controlled with Cabasse’s StreamControl app. It even has an onboard microphone for room tuning.
Audirvana the playback software people have recently launched an Android version of their remote app and converged the Windows and OSX versions of the player back in April. Audirvana can now be used via UPnP and USB and it has the ability to combine multiple libraries. It can also stream directly from Tidal, Qobuz and Hi-Res so it’s not hard to see why some hardware manufacturers are starting to make their streamers compatible with this consistently good sounding software.
Devialet are getting in on the burgeoning wi-fi speaker market with the dinky Reactor. This is essentially a mini version of the Phantom that’s available in 600W (€990) and 900W (€1,290) versions, it can be connected via Bluetooth, wi-fi and optical digital.
PMC’s distributor was having a lot of fun thrapping a pair of Cor integrated driven twenty5.22 standmounts with some good sounding dub, making some of the best sounds of the show in the process, the music certainly helped.
Lyngdorf had set up an actual bookshelf to support a pair of beautiful Sonus faber Olympica Nova I speakers alongside their TDA1-3400 integrated amplifier and some vinyl (no turntable was in evidence). They were demonstrating the room correcting DSP of this modular class D amplifier which can be had in alternate power versions, the 240W example demonstrated starting at €5,000. It comes with 12 preset ‘voicings’ to suit different rooms and tastes but you can add 32 of your own.
Krell unveiled the K-300i, this 150W integrated has an onboard Sabre DAC and is available with a wealth of HDMI inputs alongside the more conventional digital and analogue varieties. It can also cope with MQA and 4K UHD video making it well suited to the home cinema loving French market. Price over there is €10,490 for the video ready version.
Focal showed the Chora range which replaces its Chorus models with some nicely finished floorstanders and a standmount with ‘slatefiber’ cones that start at £599. The 806 bookshelf two-way is the most affordable followed by the Chora 816 with a second woofer at £1,099 and the four-driver 826 (£1,299) closest to the camera
Yamaha had a big space at this event with mock ups of every room in the house including an igloo like nook and this ‘proper’ system with the NS-5000 speakers, the point being that multi room is what the brand is about today. I didn’t stop to listen but appreciated the ambiance.
We saw the new Rotel Michi amps at the High End and they are due to launch in the UK in November but it was nice to see the dancing LED display on the monoblock power amp in Paris.