Fabric-shrouded 'bookshelf' speakers and dark, unobtrusive boxes that slink virtually unnoticed into your existing system are the natural preserve of many an audiophile. Music is an aural experience, after all – one needn't see it to fall in love.
But what if you want your hi-fi to be your home's focal point? What if you're tired of the normal, the typical and the humdrum? What if, when you next invite friends over for dinner, you want them to exclaim, "What is that... in the lounge?"
Imagine a set of speakers that wouldn't look out of place in Lewis Carroll's Wonderland, a steampunk-styled valve amplifier, a preamp you can see right through or a turntable that looks as though it might start scuttling towards you baring its fangs.
We jest, of course, but every product featured in this list is a veritable feast for your eyes. This is our nod to our High End Week in the form of the 10 most outrageous-looking (and expensive) hi-fi products of all time, in our opinion.
If you need to know the price, you can't afford it. But there's no harm in looking...
Avantgarde Trio XD
As if these large-scale, triple-horn stereo speakers aren't interesting enough, German firm Avantgarde Acoustic also offers a 'Shiny Citrine Orange' option – just one of the 11 colour choices available.
Avantgarde's designs are firmly rooted in its horn technology – the oldest physical principle for rendering sound – and it isn't going small with those.
The design comprises an 18cm tweeter horn, a 57cm spherical midrange horn and a 95cm spherical low-midrange horn – that's almost a metre in diameter. The base frames are made from solid cast aluminium, with three steel frame rails and four custom-made spike cones with precision adjusting mechanism.
Finally, you can select one of three compatible subwoofers. The largest option, the Basshorn XD subwoofer, is seen here between the two Trio XD speakers. Yes, that's right... it's not a posh bookshelf, it's actually the subwoofer.
Clearaudio Master Reference
German high-end audio brand Clearaudio promises 'engineering worthy of a jeweller' within this striking turntable design. The Master Reference features three separately housed motor drive units, three independent belts, precision machined tonearm mounting plates, hand-polished inverted bearing with a diamond polished ceramic ball and stainless steel decoupling bases.
It certainly looks as though it could start moving of its own accord, either crawling horizontally along your hi-fi rack, or taking off straight up into the air.
Unison Research Absolute 845
If you remember the 1985 movie Return To Oz, you might be thinking of the 'Electric Healing' machine – the shock therapy contraption Dorothy's parents hooked their daughter up to in the hope that she'd stop talking about Oz and the Emerald City.
The Absolute 845 is a beautiful piece of craftsmanship: a dual-mono stereo integrated valve amplifier with five line inputs and two tape inputs, as well as all the knobs and meters you could wish for. Despite its turn-of-the-century feel, the 845 only started winning Awards in 1994.
Bang & Olufsan Beolab 90
High-end audio and home cinema manufacturer Bang and Olufsen released the BeoLab 90 to mark its 90th anniversary in 2015. Boasting a 360-degree design, it has 'no apparent visual front', with speaker drivers placed in various directions to help guide the sound around a room.
It is made from 65kg of aluminium – some of it is used for the crowns forming the frame, which are cut from solid blocks of the stuff, and the rest is die-cast. You also get seven 3cm tweeters, seven 8.6cm midrange drivers, three 21.2cm side and rear woofers and one 26cm front woofer. That's right: 18 drivers per channel, all facing different directions. The ones not facing you are used to correct and balance the sound based on your settings and/or the environment.
A pair will set you back a cool £62000 ($85,000).
TechDAS Air Force 1
It's not a high-tech portable car battery charger, nor a pair of trainers, but this turntable is not just any old disc spinner either. This remarkable machine features a tri-laminar chassis structure, weighing in at a whopping 43kg.
It is called the Air Force 1 because of the air suspension system onboard. One press on the 'suction' button after setting a disc on the platter holds down the disc, while the platter itself is floating. TechDAS promises that sympathetic vibrations are eliminated. Another press on that suction button allows the release of your disc.
Two different tonearms, such as 10-inch or 12-inch type, can be mounted, and while the main platter is made of non-magnetic forged stainless steel, there are three different upper platter materials available; select your preference when placing your order.
Kalista DreamPlay CD/DAC
The Kalista DreamPlay is a CD turntable. Yes, you read that correctly. For the most demanding audiophiles, the DreamPlay CD turntable combines a feast for your eyes and the promise of musical prowess. Simply put the disc onto the turntable, cover it with the CD clamp and press play.
If you want your CD player to resemble a contemporary art installation, the Dreamplay CD can be stacked on top of the DreamPlay DAC – it even has a gorgeous 4.3in colour touchscreen.
Yes, it's 2020 and you're looking at a high-end open reel tape machine. The Ballfinger M063H5 is a stunning analogue tape recorder with 1/4" bandwidth and direct drive.
Don't be fooled though. While Ballfinger’s beautiful reel-to-reel tape decks will doubtless appeal to nostalgia lovers, this flagship model is no antique, launching in 2018.
The M063H5 is equipped with an editing system, three direct-drive motors and wooden side panels that come in black, white, or walnut. All the elements for recording are on the right, playback is on the left, and drive functions are arranged in the middle.
It will cost analogue devotees around €24000 (approx £21,500). But if you think reel-to-reel is the new vinyl, you can't do much better...
Vivid Giya G1
Mother nature hates straight lines – think of sound waves and the shape of our own ear. That's why Vivid Audio settled on such an animalistic design for its inaugural stereo floorstanding speakers. The Giya G1 is Vivid Audio's original product, designed by acoustic engineer Laurence Dickie.
It's a four-way, five driver system, comprising a 26mm metal dome unit tweeter, 50mm metal dome midrange driver, 125mm lower-mid driver and two 225mm metal coned units with short-coil long-gap motor design to handle bass frequencies.
Standard finishes are white and black, but Vivid says it can match any colour, or even create a unique design on your speakers upon request.
They come at a price though. And that price starts at £53,000 ($65,000).
DNM 3D Six Preamplifier
In an era of smartphones, tablets and games consoles all housed in impenetrable black plastic shells, wouldn't it be refreshing to actually see – and celebrate – the innards of your pricey tech in action?
Meet the DNM 3D Six Preamplifier. All of its circuitry is clearly visible beneath translucent acrylic casework. And it's not just a visual gimmick, either; DNM says that the form and materials used in the construction of any amplifier affect its sound as much as its circuit diagram. The metal casework normally used in the production of amplifiers can modify and interfere with the internally generated magnetic fields, to produce dynamic compression. That's not the case here (get it?).
DNM says its customers' ethos is that 'if it doesn’t help the sound, we don’t want it'. In that spirit, there's no remote control for the DNM 3D Six Preamplifier, no micro-processors, no software, in fact, nothing that doesn't help optimise sound quality. And we think it looks splendid.
Burmester 808 MK5 preamp
When Dieter Burmester completed his own preamplifier, the Burmester 777, from parts of medical machines, it set the company's inimitable aesthetic in stone.
When we reviewed one of its descendants, the Burmester 808 MK5, we praised its terrific insight, control and composure, fluid presentation, configurable design and class-leading build. "This a preamp for those that live and breathe hi-fi", we said. Most of all though, it’s for people that love to compare kit – including us – and for those with a massive disposable income (not us).
Fully specified, this Burmester preamp will accommodate seven line-level sources plus three of the fully balanced variety and can include either a moving magnet or moving coil phono stage. The latter comes with the option of a single-ended or balanced connection. And where sold, it costs £22,242 (approx $27,000). Sigh...
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