Australian Hi-Fi Show 2023 report
My ears had a particularly good weekend at the end of April. Yours would’ve too no doubt, had you also attended the first-ever hi-fi show held in Australia by Future, the publisher of this very magazine. The Australian Hi-Fi Show 2023 was the first of its kind in Sydney since the pandemic stopped the planned HIFI2020, and saw four floors of the Novotel Sydney Central packed with products from more than 100 brands, and floods of fortunate visitors who were able to hear them being demonstrated. Indeed, the threeday show rewarded showgoers with demos of some of the finest audio and AV equipment from Australia and around the world, including some brand-new kit that Aussie audiophiles were given sneak peeks of before their appearance at the High End Munich show the following month. It was personally fantastic to see so many well-set-up, good-sounding rooms — yes, good sound within a hotel room! — and interesting, oft-interactive demos, so hats off to the retailers, distributors and manufacturers who were able to get those rooms to sing.
If you couldn’t make it, don’t fret — my almost complete* showfloor highlights of the hi-fi and home cinema celebration can be found on the following pages, so you can at least see what sonic heaven at the show looked like and have an idea which product demos to chase your local retailers for as the winter months draw close.
And hey, there’ll always be next year’s show! And you guys will hear about it first.
*Sincere apologies to the few rooms where my notes or photos (or memory) has failed me.
Vivid Audio Avation
The brainchild of Laurence Dickie (designer of the famed Bowers & Wilkins Nautilus), South African speaker company Vivid Audio occupied one of the largest rooms of the show with its majestic flagship Giya and new Kaya range, including an early showing of the $10K little Kaya S12 bookshelves. The Lumina P1 amplifier and Devialet 250 streamer were feeding the company’s Giya G3 model during my longest room visit, impressively hitting the heights playing a live version of Katharine McPhee and David Foster’s The Prayer. Natural, dynamically soaring sound from such distinctive-looking
speakers (the tubes are specifically designed to handle resonance, if you were wondering), made from fibreglass, carbon fibre and Kevlar, no less.
Yamaha has sensibly produced a partner for its recently launched (and exceptional, by the way) YH-5000SE open-back headphones, the HA-L7A headphone amplifier, which will launch near the end of the year. On demonstration in pre-production form — hand-brought from Japan, in fact, before it winged its way over to Munich for the High End Show — the L7A is a built-from-the-ground-up design, with its distinct look owing to the isolated placement of two toroidal transformers (powering the preamp and power amp stages) away from the rest of the electronics. A very special-sounding pairing that consolidated my high regard for the 5000SE, and one I could’ve listened to for much longer than my allotted time!
In another Yamaha room you could hear the whole 5000 Series, fully analogue from end to end, with the ‘giant and tremendous’ GT5000 turntable, C-5000/M-5000 pre/power amplifiers, and the NS-5000 Zylon-loaded speakers. A receiver of many ‘Best Sound’ room votes from showgoers — and with good reason.
Ohm Acoustics Decibel Hi-Fi
With New York-based Ohm Acoustics speakers no longer exported to Australia, Decibel
Hi-Fi is now making Australian versions of the W2000 model in Queensland, built to the same specification with the Walsh drivers imported from Ohm housed in alternative cloth-covered cabinetry to the original’s timber wood box. Not only are they striking to look at (the cloth designs can be changed to be house move-friendly), but they’re also very interesting to listen to due to their distinct upward-firing line-source driver, which not only means they radiate a 360-degree soundstage but also makes them less fussy to position in a room. More Australian Ohms will be built this year, and I urge you to seek out a demo if you can.
Bowers & Wilkins, Marantz & more Masimo Consumer
The massed brands of Sound United had their first outing under new name Masimo Consumer, making the most of one of the largest rooms to offer back-to-back (literally) demos of two systems: Marantz’s latest SACD 30N source and 40N integrated amp electronics driving Bowers & Wilkins 700 Series and Formation speakers, and the Denon 9000 Series electronics feeding Polk R700 speakers, flying the flag for affordable hi-fi.
The former system is a particularly great example of a terrific all-round system that proves you don’t need to spend tens of thousands to get a cracking-sounding setup. Unless you can afford it, in which case you owe yourself a demo of Bowers’ bloody brilliant 800 Diamonds, which took up residence in Masimo’s third room connected Classé amplification, and was unsurprisingly a very popular demo throughout the weekend.
Kyron Audio & Halcro
Guess what, a $500,000+ system can sound pretty darn good — shocking, eh? And it certainly
did in the case of the Kyron Audio’s backless Kronos speakers and Mercury subwoofers and Halcro’s multi-box Eclipse amplification, an Aussie partnership that treated me to the best rendition of Rufus Du Sol’s Innerbloom I’ve heard to date — which is saying something considering how frequently that song is played at hi-fi shows, and that it’s on a go-to playlist I’ve been using to test hi-fi equipment for years. The interplay between all of the track’s rhythmic elements was truly outstanding. The room wasn’t a bad advert for Mark Dohmann’s remarkably engineered Helix One Mk3 turntable, either!
PERREAUX & Sound And Music
Fresh from a Sound+Image ‘Amplifier of the
Year AU$8,000-AU$12,000’ award win was Perreaux’s 200iX (in bright yellow!) running Amphion standmounters, while the New Zealand brand also showed off its brand-new VP4 phono amplifier alongside its 300iX amplifier, Holbo’s highly engineered air-bearing turntable and Amphion’s flagship Krypton3X towers.
It’s always a pleasure to be introduced to a brand you aren’t familiar with at a show, and Dutch & Dutch was one of them that weekend. I don’t need to tell you where the brand is from, but it occupies an increasingly popular space in the high-end all-in-one active speaker market with its plug-and-play C8 with built-in REW room correction. An interesting offering in the increasingly popular world of completely fussfree hi-fi.
Kyron and Halcro were run amazingly close in the public vote for ‘Best Room Sound’ by another Australian company, March Audio, from Albany, WA. It was the first outing for the new Ukkonen AWG floorstanders, to be priced at $9000, along with the award-winning Soiutuva WG, both driven by March’s own Eigentakt P421 mono amps, and playing in the backdrop of a framed photo of the husband and wife (Alan and Ruth March) team’s Norwegian-breed dogs! Both the Sointuva and Ukonnen did a cracking job delivering Hubert Sumlin’s gravelly crooning and the texture of the bass chords in Sometimes I’m Right. Real class acts.
Wisdom Audio National AV Solutions
One of the biggest surprises of the weekend for me was the 80-inch-tall Wisdom Audio Sage Series LS5 line-source array speakers, which predominantly use a 1.3m planar magnetic driver to cover its 350Hz-20kHz frequency range and pride themselves on offering a spread of sound with high volume albeit low distortion, losing only 3dB in loudness every doubling of distance. You can connect a subwoofer (which will take over at 80Hz), but I reckon it kicks out enough deep bass for most owners not to add one. It’s the midrange, however, that really stunned — super clean and pure with Lisa Lovbrand’s vocals in Let’s Get It On, thanks no doubt in part to the crossover being at 350Hz. Not a cheap proposition at
$70K together for the speakers and Wisdom
Audio amplifiers, plus $30K for the dCS Bartok streaming preamplifier it was paired with — but one that certainly makes a great impression.
Also showing were the compact GoldenEar BRX standmounts and SuperSubX with Parasound’s Hint 6 power amp.
Innuous, Avantgarde & more Maxmedia
Maxmedia was showing off the new Avantgarde Duo SD horn speaker (another that was being readied for Munich in May) in a rather lovely orange finish, with black gloss cabinets as a stock option rather than a special order. They were paired with Innuos’ Statement power supply, Valvet pre and power amplification and Cos Engineering’s neat D10 V2 DAC, preamp and streamer. A stand-out both visually and sonically.
In its second room, all eyes and ears were on the Piega 301 standmount speakers, paired with the well-regarded LAB 12 Integre4 integrated amplifier — 65 watts and two KT-150 valves per channel. ‘Do Not Touch!’ read a sign on the LAB 12, ‘HOT!’ As was the sound.
Another pleasant surprise: the performanceper-dollar value of the speaker and pre/power amplifier pairing from Melbourne-based OAD (Open Audio Designs) Ultrafidelity, whose Vajra power amp was very well-reviewed in the last issue of this magazine, and whose fully analogue dual-mono Padma preamplifier you will get to know over on page 56. The amplification pair driving the company’s Gem dipole speakers struck me as being very open, natural-sounding performers with great headroom. Oh and that visually distinctive Gem is a DIY speaker, which has a full-range driver up top with a 15-inch woofer. It can be flatpack shipped worldwide, available in a range of colours at $6,200 and in an American oak veneer for $7,200.
McIntosh, Cambridge Audio, Sonus faber & more Synergy Audio Visual
Another room that reliably impresses show after show is Synergy Audio’s most premium systems, this time featuring McIntosh’s reference electronics — the MCD12000 DAC, two-box C12000 preamp and the MC451 power amps (getting their first Aussie outing) — and Sonus faber’s Serafino speakers (which will soon make way for the new Serafino G2), fed either sweet streams by the Aurender N20 server or lovely, warm vinyl by the McIntosh MT10 turntable. I had to wait quite a while to enter this room, it was so busy the whole weekend — and I’m glad I did.
More modest but no less impressive for their level was the second room headed up by Cambridge and ELAC. The ELAC Vela FS 409 floorstanders beamed out with their JET 5 tweeters and Crystal AS-XR cones in a lovely gloss walnut cabinet, and enjoying a couple of speaker-level-connected REL S5/10 subwoofers in support. The Cambridge NQ streaming preamplifier and W stereo power amp brought the source and power requirements in one purposeful pair.
Fun. That’s what you’ll have with Richter speakers. I can say that of the Aussie company’s Wizard S6SE and Excalibur S6SE anyway, as I found myself tapping my feet along to the more upbeat demo tracks thanks to its fine sense of rhythm — musical talents its well-matched system accompaniments, the Bluesound Node streamer and Musical Fidelity M6si integrated amplifier, also share. By Sunday, Richter was celebrating designer Martin Gosnell’s Sound+Image Lifetime Achievement Award, too.
A small speaker highlight for me was easily the Serhan Swift Mµ2 MkII, whose spread of sound and bass punch belies its compact dimensions, and whose detail, precision and agility make it just as compelling a performer too. I could’ve happily stayed listening for much longer, and credit deserves to be given to the Leema Acoustics Tuscana II and Austik CD player behind it too. This was one of the few rooms presented ‘sideways’ — and a good choice that was too.
Bertrand Audio uniquely offered an opportunity to get in on some smooth, soothing reel-to-reel player action courtesy of a refurbished Crown Reel model (CX 822), driven by a Canary Audio C1300 valve preamplifier from Canada and T1610 valve-inclusive KR Audio Kronzilla VA-680 power amp from Czech Republic, and into a custom pair of horn AER Loudspeakers (in shiny plexiglass), using the company’s BD3B driver from Germany.
We were delighted to find the new French brand Revival in Audio Marketing’s room — not least considering a colleague’s thorough praise of the Atalante 3 model, which seem quite large for a standmount but which actually looked positively dinky in the room alongside the enormous three-way Atalante 5, which were firmly on song for side 2 of a Mo-Fi pressing of Supertramp’s Breakfast in America, played on Holbo’s MkII Airbearing turntable (which had a second appearance at the show!) with power from Musical Fidelity’s 500W M8s-500s amp.
Magico, Boulder, Silent Angel & more Hi End Audio
Distributor Hi End Audio kept its side of the bargain with multiple demonstrations of truly delectable kit, from the Magico A3 speakers to the Boulder 866 and Vitus RI-101 MK2 streaming amplifiers. I nailed timing by entering when Stenheim Alumine Three speakers were being powered by a DartZeel CTH-8550 Mk2 amplifier — a $110K pairing, no less — and it confidently put the cat amongst the pigeons in terms of precision and detail.
Sennheiser made up a not-to-be-missed room for head-fi fans, with much of the German brand’s lineup available for demonstration, including the excellent range-topping HD820 and the all-new HD660 S open-backs, which my short demo of reassured me that the resolution and spaciousness the model has been known for over the years remains their priority.
Then there was an AV room ready and raring to show off the equally ready and all-the-moreraring Ambeo Plus soundbar with subwoofer, not to mention the magnificent multi-award-winning Ambeo Max model.
Copland, Kudos Audio & more Audio Magic
A kit-packed rack in Audio Magic’s demonstration was using the Lumin U2 streaming transport visited, alongside the Aqua La Scala MkII Optologic DAC, into Copland’s CTA407 valve integrated amplifier, and fine sounds emerging via the interesting isobaric and fixed boundary bass-reflex Kudos Audio Titan T606 speakers with their unusual side profile.
Beyerdynamic Synchronised Technologies
Some of the most consistently impressive wired models on the headphone market are by Germany’s Beyerdynamic, from the budget DT 770 to the high-end T1. Heading up the Head-Fi section of the show by the entrance gave visitors a chance to hear some of the finest examples in-home and on-the-go personal listening from the off.
And not forgetting AV…
Hisense filled the back wall of its suitably large room with the screen that comes bundled with its latest L9H ultra-short-throw ‘Laser TV’, showing the simplicity of this home cinema solution with built-in sound, VIDAA 6 interface and triple laser image. An AV setup equally quirky and desirable.
And in perhaps the biggest — certainly the loudest! — room of the show was Elementi, which had a full and massive home cinema room with its monumental Elementi Air Tempest speakers flanking a freestanding screen, with four subwoofers and a Christie projector: the sound was HUGE!