Audio Research escaped from the clutches of a large corporation and returned to independent ownership in 2020, since then they have been working to bring more processes in house in order to avoid the supply issues that many hi-fi brands are struggling with today. One of the less expected changes is that they now offer the new I50 integrated amp (below) in a range of Cerakote colours. This is a push-pull design running 6550 tubes to deliver 50Wpc, it can take both DAC and phono modules and is the first of a new series that will be expanded in the autumn. Brand spanking new is the Reference 320M monoblock shown above in a special white Cerakote finish for High End, this runs six KT150 output tubes to produce 320W and gets warm enough to warrant a slow running fan built into its base.
Stein Music’s Bob XL Plus Ultimate four box horn system is a bit spendy at €348,000 but it certainly looks the part and I quite like the name.
AVM took over the opulent environs of the Drivers and Industry club across the road from the convention centre to announce a Black Edition of the Ovation CS8.3 (€15,000) all in one CD/streamer/amp, which is essentially a performance enhanced version with WBT terminals and better tubes in the hybrid amplifier. They also announced third generation of the Evo line where the 3.3 (from €3,900) models are solid state and the 5.3 are hybrid designs with the top CS5.3 (€4,900) model offering 330W, the X-Stream streaming engine and either MM or MC phono stages. MP3.3 and 5.3 are media players that are good for CD and streaming with a third generation modular phono stage and the option to adjust EQ via remote. The new Evo line is due in Q3 this year.
One room that always sounds good at High End is that shared by Primary Control, Air Tight and Wolf von Langa. Primary Control make Kinea direct drive turntables with variable torque options from a low torque motor in a mixed material solid plinth with a 40mm Panzerholz base in the example shown (€16,500). This features the FCL tonearm (€25,700), a unipivot with field coil magnets for stabilisation and a feedback system for optimal performance, it’s available in three lengths with a range of custom finishes including hardwood veneers over a damped carbon/aluminium tube.
Air Tight from Japan showed their ATC7 preamplifier which has some unusual features including presence, gain and bass compensation controls. No price has been set as yet.
WLM make active loudspeakers in Vienna and managed to make some good sounds at High End with their Anton preamplifier driving a pair of solid wood Franz floorstanders (€49,000) with 1,850W of power onboard. It has four 12inch bass drivers, as many 8inch mids with alnico magnets and a pair of AMT tweeters, oh and an upward firing 6inch unit firing upwards. It shouldn’t work but there’s no denying that it did. We like Way’s handy (groan) cable lifter below, and its cables look great too.
Vivid had a new Kaya C35 centre channel ($9,00) and a wall for bracket the S12 ($6,800) seen above on stands. I was distracted by the stereo system with a Consonance Wax Engine turntable, Mola Mola amplifier and Vivid S12 froglets. They were playing something spunky by Nicki Minaj and while I’m not a fan this tune definitely helped.
PMC didn’t have anything new to show at High End so took the opportunity to demonstrate the “speakers you’ll never hear” to a packed gathering of journalists, only for the system to resist all attempts at working for a couple of minutes. It proved worth the wait however as anyone who has read our review of this remarkable speaker will be able to imagine. What the new slimline Oliver Thomas did tell us is that PMC continues to follow its founders’ philosophy of bringing the sound of the studio into the home and that Grammy award winner Darcy Proper is using fact fenestrias for monitoring purposes. Nice work if you can get it.
MSB continue to expand their range of immaculately finished electronics and have come up with another box to add to the digital to analogue conversion chain. The Digital Director is a separate digital processor that can be used with compatible MSB DACs in order to eliminate noise entering the DAC circuitry proper. It connects via a pair of ProISL fibre optic cables and is available in three levels starting with the Premier at $14,500 and reaching $27,500 for the Select version to suit the DAC of the same name.
Mark Levinson are celebrating the 50th anniversary of the brand with the ML50 Anniversary power amplifier. This monoblock takes aesthetic cues from the company’s first power amp, the ML2 created in 1977 but is a modern design with 425W on tap the first 20W of which are Class A. The glass top is not just for show purposes, this and the red LED internal lighting are standard features of this limited edition amplifier. Price is $50,000 per pair and only a 100 pairs are being made.
The wi-fi revolution is ushering in a new era of active loudspeakers and Dynaudio is keen to join the fray. Their new Focus range consists of three models all of which incorporate Pascal amplifier modules that have 110W for treble and 280W for mid and bass drivers. There is a Stream Unlimited streaming module and WISA wireless connection between master and slave speakers for an ultra low latency connection to ensure maximum coherence. A Bluetooth remote and set up app complete the picture with prices at €5,000 for the Focus 10 standmount, €7,500 for the Focus 20 floorstander and €10,000 for the larger Focus 30.
Arthur ‘Funk Firm’ Khoubessarian brought his latest high end weapon to High End and quite a beast the Kepler is too. It has three Raptor Z arms that can be rotated around the platter, an air suction platter and the choice of belt- or direct drive, at £75,000 including arms it’s ambitious in all respects. His more down to earth aim is to get people to enhance their turntables with a Funk Isolation Bubble products such as Bo!ng feet, the Achroplat mat and Houdini cartridge isolation device. He makes Isolation Bubble upgrade kits for specific turntables from Rega, Technics, Pioneer etc with prices around £600.
Aries Cerat demonstrated their Aurora horn loudspeakers (€108,000), these are semi active with horn loaded mid and treble and four 12 inch bass units in the open baffle sides of the cabinet, radical is one word that comes to mind.
Ixoost from Moderna, Italy showed a selection of fabulously finished and genuinely different wireless speakers including this Mercedes model which has exhaust ports from AMG and active operation for €15,500 plus tax.
Reed’s 5A tonearm (from £6,950) isn’t brand new but it is different. While essentially a tangential, pivoting arm it has a parallelogram system that means the cartridge takes a linear path across the record in order to eliminate the distortions caused when the stylus is not exactly in line with the groove. AJ Van den Hul was using it to demonstrate his latest Colibri cartridge via Diapason loudspeakers so it must be pretty good.
See part 4 of our High End coverage here.