Electronic music filled the Ilumnia room, a new brand with a loudspeaker that has been in development for the past seven years. From across the Belgian border, Tom Nuyts was proudly showcasing his speakers featuring the world’s first electromagnetic floating cone driver. Worthy of an entire feature article [hint to the editor!], this passive design looks different and sounds exceptional. To say that I was blown away is a cliché, but the sound was truly mind-blowing. This unusual speaker began as a project to create something sonically special for Tom’s brother and ended up as a featherweight floating cone with electromagnetic suspension in a speaker that is ultra fast, linear and virtually distortion-free. An introductory price of €15,000 per pair has been set.
It was a pleasure to enjoy the Avantgarde Acoustics’ room with its bright orange horns dominating a large demonstration area where I was introduced to one Peter Gabriel – no, not the musician, but his namesake. The semi-active Trio/Basshorn proves that it’s possible to move large volumes of air and create high SPLs without fatigue or distortion. This €31,000 speaker system was just awesome – not only to look at, but also to listen to. Not content with speaker production, Avantgarde was proud to show its XA Power stereo amplifier, a €11,500, 43kg beast generating 150w/ch (bridgeable) from a zero-feedback circuit design.
Based on the ‘less is more’ principle the €10,900 ZMI Audio 20.2 floorstanding passive speaker (seen with its creator Kristoffer Zegers above) is built on an open baffle using top-spec SEAS drivers and claims a response of 36Hz-20kHz. There’s only a single resistor in circuit from 50Hz to 7.5kHz. Partnering American electronics were from Magnus Audio, the €4,500 MP-1000 pre-amp and matching MA-400 stereo power amp at €8,000 using 24 matched MOSFETs in class AB to produce 250W into 8 Ohms.
One of the most local products at the show was the €24,000 Ensis floor-standing speaker from Aequo Auido based in nearly Eindhoven. Launched at the show was the brand’s latest model, the smaller Stilla – with a ‘bigger brother’ promised soon to complete the trio. The Ensis’ shape resembles a musical note with a sealed enclosure designed and made in-house. The three-way driver includes an active 10-inch sub, controlled by on-board amp. There’s also smart room size and speaker placement correction system to make this a very interesting product. The newer Stilla relies on two 7-inch subwoofers inside the horn-loaded bass reflex cabinet and powered by ncor amplifiers to generate the same response above 20Hz as the Ensis. It produced a rich and mellow sound, full of detail and with great, almost holographic, soundstage. The source was a DSD 256 Sound Galleries Music Server, or SGM, using HQ player and conceived in Monaco but engineered in Holland.
Employing Townshend Seismic Isolation under speakers and system, RMR Sound Systems were entertaining visitors with the Sivian Acoustics’ Leda three-way, time aligned floorstanders (weighing in at 36kg each) and comprising five drive units, these were driven by the Larissa 300B stereo power amp (150W into 8 Ohms from 24 output devices per channel) and the matching Elara preamp with its non-oversampling DAC. An impressive overall sound resulted.
Mighty tubes dominated the first of Benelux importer Colab’s rooms and, judging by the crowds, valves are still hugely popular here. The €12,000 TLA Athena handmade valve preamp from TrueLife Audio was partnered with the Zeus powerhouse, a stereo power amp using eight KT88 tubes and rated at 120W continuous (tetrode) or 70W from six 6SN7s (triode). The network player/DAC was courtesy of APL, the DSD-MR with quadruple DSD processing and differential Class A tube output stage. Not to disappoint, the system sounded as stylish as it looked.
The next Colab space boasted electronics from Serbia, the stylish leather and walnut-clad Auris Audio Piano preamp with E88CC tube input stage operating single-ended in Class A, and matching DC-125 power amp offering 65W of Class D and twin VU meters. The leather and wood craftsmanship was superb and reminded me of the finish in a Bentley. Complementary speakers are also available, from compact bookshelves to floorstanders
Open-baffle W1 dipole speakers from daudio were accompanied by dedicated amps and a DAC with volume control as this highly-respected name in Dutch high-end presented a most realistic demonstration of their new models, the Monitor 1 and Studio 1. Their speaker design incorporates special drive units to create dipole action across the frequency range. Instead of a conventional cabinet a W-frame is employed and an obviously deep, clean bass exuded. The original air-motion tweeter has been redesigned and uses a new, lighter-weight membrane to give wide dispersion. Ingeniously, there is an active filter system for the LF/MF transition, with a passive one adopted for the mid/treble crossover.
Apart from the maze of corridors with individual dem rooms, this year’s show promised something new. Yes, there were accessories galore and enough cables to satisfy every taste, software abounded for sale in both digital and vinyl form, there were books and magazines to browse and buy and a great range of talks and lectures to enjoy. These included digital doyen Bert van der Wolf of NorthStar Recording Services who gave a unique insight into the developments of recording practice over the last 30 years from his perspective as a producer/engineer. Then there was the chance to hear Swedish speaker aficionado Ingvar Öhman in a talk entitled “It’s all about physics.” Founding his brand with Swedish violinist Erik Ring, he brought us the Guru speakers with a seemingly improbable bass response from a small enclosure, and spilled the beans on how it was possible. Fascinating stuff.
Particularly interesting for me, as a former BBC studio operator, was the use of the venue’s 250-seat auditorium for a series of special recordings made by my old friend Fritz de With (above), founder of STS Digital. Apart from doing a roaring trade in analogue recording tape, he was on hand with trusted Studer tape machine to capture the harbour Jazz Band and Eric Vloeiman’s String Quartet, a jazz trumpeter who’s not known as the Miles Davis of the Low Countries for nothing.
Here’s to another year
And, so – as dusk began to fall on Sunday afternoon we saw the end of another most enjoyable and obviously popular XFi. Co-organisers Caspar Bunge and Ton van der Veeken said of the 2017 Dutch show that it had been the most successful ever: “More participants, more brands, more live music and more audio events”. No wonder they herald it as an unbelievable show. You could see people enjoying themselves all over the place so that, at times, it appeared to be one big audio and music party. And this is just the way the organisers like it. Already, they are looking forward to next year’s event. Aren’t we all?