The snow fell outside but inside the Holiday Inn tower block on the outskirts of Hamburg there was a real buzz. Long before the official opening the corridors were crammed with keen audiophiles who had flocked to this dealer-organised event.
Norddeutsche HiFi-Tage – or North Germany Hi-fi Days – is arranged by local retailer Hifi Studio Bramfeld and the two-day event has become a mecca for brands large and small, most of which are not stocked in the Hamburg store but are nevertheless a welcome addition.
Dodging the smokers outside, for at 9.30 in the morning it was rather too early for this cigar enthusiast to indulge, the foyer was crowded as visitors prepared for the low-key opening. Catalogue and coffee in hand it was time to ascend to the 18th floor to see what was on offer.
My first stop was to meet Austrian Peter Trenner who had crossed the border to promote Trenner & Friedle coaxial speakers, a brand he formed with Andreas Friedl more than 25 years ago. And, impressive they were too. The €16,900 RA model dominated the room but is not the largest in the range, that honour falls to the Duke reference. Newest to the line-up, launched at the end of 2017, is the Taliesin which has been produced to be a “worthy successor to the awesome forefather!”. The floorstander’s cabinet is a mix of different density multi-ply birch damped with recycled composite wool felt. The coaxial drive unit (comprising 12 inch paper cone/fabric dome with a 1.75 inch titanium compression tweeter) is combined with an 18 inch woofer to move lots of air for extended bass – both impregnated with Italian balsamic oil lacquer. Crossover components are by Mundorf, with Cardas posts and wiring. Accompanying amplifiers were also Austrian: the CFA-1 and CIA-1 from Crayon Audio.
German brand Fischer and Fischer were promoting their high-end speakers with a range of jazz music. Even by 10.10am the room was packed as this marque has a loyal following, no less so than on home soil. The ported three-way passive floor-standing SN470M were playing sublimely, the bass handled by a pair of proprietary 180 mm cones featuring a carbon paper foam sandwich membrane, with another 180mm unit for the midband, this with carbonised paper, carbon foil sandwich membrane and aluminium phase plug. The tweeter is a specially-manufactured Air Motion Transformer (AMT), by Mundorf.
Analogue sources were very much the order of the day in Hamburg and no less so than the Oracle Origin in new, Mk II form along with Transfiguration Phoenix cartridge used by Ibex Audio who also featured Russell K Red 120 compact floorstanders. The turntable’s new motor promises improved performance while the new, more accurate cueing mechanism allowed the single-point tonearm to be placed precisely onto the record below. I was impressed by the performance of the new Onix DNA integrated amp, recalling fondly the original models which I reviewed back in the days of steam. The British system was completed with the latest version of Nick Poulson’s ISOL-8 mains conditioning unit.
Along the corridor were USA brand De Vore Fidelity with the stunning Super Nine speaker in glorious piano black lacquer. The €10,900 model portrayed Peggy Lee’s ‘Black Coffee’ with an uncanny realism. A combination of subtlety, texture, detail, refinement and transparency brought the recording to life courtesy of a VPI turntable and Audiomat electronics comprising D1 Drive, phono stage, Maestro2 DAC and Aria integrated amp. Outside was a Keith Monks record cleaning system from the Isle of Wight, relegated to the corridor because it made too much noise inside the room!
Down to the seventeenth floor and another formidable turntable, this was the AMG (from Analog Manufaktur Germany, based in Bavaria) Giro model complete with the new AMG arm, a €7,200 combination allowing personal cartridge selection, but partnered here with the DS Audio SD002 optical cartridge. Rendition through Dali Epicon 2 stand-mounts was impressive and I’m surprised we don’t hear more about the precision engineering created by the AMG team in the UK.
In contrast to many rooms, Musikelectronic Geithain managed to create an extremely dark, overly hot and rather uncomfortable space. Thus, only a short stay was endured but enough to sample the magic of a Dr Feickert Analogue turntable source with the €6,600 Blackbird pressed into service, accommodating two arms. The RL934K active nearfield monitors did the source proud with their tri-axial system generating a cardioid radiation pattern, and active power provided by integrated three-channel MOSFET amplifiers.
A static array of Clearaudio products included the Double Matrix Professional Sonic record cleaner in a special display box featuring an enigmatic purple light. Sadly, though, it’s not available commercially in this form. In an adjoining room the turntable was operating with Immersive Audio’s Ascendo Live 15 speakers in white and showing their agility, drive, kick and bass ability with hits from Yello being enjoyed by the toe-tapping audience.
Down another floor in this high-rise hotel and I bump into long-time German importer and distributor Bernd Hömke, in discussion with Mike Creek who had brought examples of his latest electronics. The new Creek Evolution 50P integrated, producing 55W into 8ohms, is an €845 design and a smaller version of the already successful 100P, rated at 200W. The matching 100CD is a transport/DAC at €1,600 with the volume control in the digital domain. Bluetooth capable and with a headphone amp/socket, it features Creek’s own slot-loading transport configuration which is capable of reading data discs to allow for easy firmware updates. Bernd was alternating CD sources with some of his personal and extensive LP collection courtesy of a €4,150 Transformer turntable, a refinement of his Starter model and exclusive to Input Audio. Loudspeakers were the redoubtable Harbeth M30.2 anniversary edition.
Valves, valves and more valves were the order of the day at Audioplan. Tubes courtesy of Jadis creating delightful jazz sounds from a digital source, the Jadis CD player. Speakers were the €7,500 floorstanding Audioplan Contrast 5 in black gloss, a classic two-way ported design from a brand which dates back many decades. The standard finish version sells for €6,500, Thomas Kühn tells me, explaining his former days as a high street dealer and how his early designs were inspired by Heybrook but with a desire to create a cleaner sound with more resolution, increased bass and a sweeter treble. Thus in 1981 he built his first ported two-way aimed at the affordable high-end and it created something of a stir on the German market as all 600 pairs were quickly sold. Today he makes a range of speakers, power conditioners, cables and accessories.
This impressive array features the German Linnenberg line-up of Liszt electronics and €6,000 hORNS (sic) by Audio-Tech from Poland which created tuneful R&B-funk sounds from LPs via a J. Sikora Reference turntable in black, also Polish, with Kuzma 4point 14-inch tonearm. A more modest pair than seen at Munich High End last year, the speakers suited the room well and attracted an enthusiastic response. They have a passive rear driver which is switchable according to the acoustic environment.
It makes a reporter’s life so much easier to be given a sheet detailing a system’s components, and allows attention to be focused on the sound produced. Thus it was in a room alternating Graham Audio’s shoebox-sized LS3/5 speakers with the more majestic Odeon Otello at €9,990. Front end components were a Dr Feickert Blackbird (again) with Sorane/Abis tonearm and Kiseki Blue NS cartridge hooked up to a €6,000 Grandinote Celio phono stage. Digital signals came from an Aqua La Diva CD transport (€7,560) and Aqua La Scala Mk II DAC at €5,780. Amplification was in the form of €7,800 Grandinote Proemio and Serbian sourced NAT Audio’s single-ended monblocks. A fine sound resulted as I enjoyed the friendly welcome and hospitality on offer.
Across the corridor, as lunch-time approached, I couldn’t help but be impressed by the giant Quadral Aurum towers from Hannover, standing 145cm tall. The Grandinote Celio €15,000 (now in ninth generation 35 years on from the original) is just one model in a huge portfolio from this revered brand. The three-way features the company’s quSENSE aluminium ribbon tweeter, the midrange handled by a pair of 180mm drive units while the dynamic bass comes from a couple of 265mm units. No wonder it packs a punch.
German engineering in the next room I visited included the two-way Tempesta bookshelf by Blumenhofer who have been creating speakers since 1977. Volker Bohlmeier was in full flow and had a captive audience. When the music came there was a sense of immense detail, with speed and precision to the sound from the combination of 170mm carbon-sandwich main driver and 35mm Mylar tweeter with ‘horn throat’.
Hamburg 2018 pt.2