Well, my ears had a very good weekend. Yours would’ve too no doubt, if you also spent your Friday, Saturday or Sunday attending Future's first-ever Australian Hi-Fi Show. Visited on multiple days? Good for you, I hope you managed to cover most of the 100+ brands that were on display and being demonstrated.
If you didn’t, or couldn’t make it altogether, don’t fret – the showfloor highlights from the three-day celebration of the hi-fi and home cinema industries can be found in annotated photo form below, 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!
Brought to you by Australian Hi-Fi, What Hi-Fi? and Sound+Image magazines by Future Publishing, the central Sydney show rewarded visitors with demonstrations of some of the finest audio and AV equipment from Australia and around the world within the walls of the Novotel Sydney Central. There were brand-new products that Aussie audiophiles were given sneak peeks of before their appearance at the High End Munich show in May, a dribble-inducing demonstration of a system that costs over AU$500,000 and, unsurprisingly, drew a constant crowd over the three days. Moreover, there were many recently announced Sound+Image Award winners proudly crowing over their trophies.
Below is a snapshot of what went down (with more to come)…
- See our Australian Hi-Fi Show 2023 guide
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. The Lumina P1 amplifier and Devialet 250 streamer were feeding the company’s Giya G3 model, which was impressively hitting the heights playing a live version of Katharine McPhee and David Foster’s The Prayer during my time in the demo room. Natural, dynamically soaring sound from such distinctive-looking speakers (the tubes are for handling resonance), made from fibreglass, carbon fibre and Kevlar.
Yamaha has sensibly produced a partner for its recently launched YH-5000SE open-back headphones, the HA-L7A headphone amplifier, which will launch nearer the end of the year. On demonstration in pre-production form – hand-brought from Japan, in fact, before it soon wings 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 that was in just one room! In its other two, Yamaha was naturally raving about its flagship 5000 Series components and the 2000 Series it launched last year.
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. Striking to look at (the cloth designs can be changed), and to hear due to their distinct upward-firing line-source driver, which not only means they radiate 360º soundstage but also makes them less fussy to position. More Australian Ohms will be built this year.
Bowers & Wilkins, Marantz & more (Masimo Consumer)
A visit to a hi-fi show is never complete until you’ve visited Masimo Consumer (formerly Sound United), which has some of the biggest brands in the hi-fi and AV industry under its umbrella. Bowers & Wilkins was giving an Australian outing to its new 700 Series, paired with some of the latest electronics from Marantz.
I heard the 705 S3 standmounters and 702 S3 floorstanders with the Marantz SACD 30N source and 40N integrated, examples of terrific all-round systems that prove 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’ 800 Diamonds (which was unsurprisingly very popular throughout the weekend). Flying the flag for affordable hi-fi was also the Polk R700 speakers with Denon 9000 Series electronics from Masimo Consumer.
Kyron Audio & Halcro
Guess what, a AU$500,000+ system can sound pretty darn good (a shocking statement, eh?). And it certainly does in the case of the backless Kyron Audio Kronos speakers and multi-box Halcro Eclipse amplification, an Aussie partnership that treated me to the best rendition of Rufus Du Sol’s Innerbloom I’ve heard to date – the interplay between all of the track’s rhythmic elements was truly outstanding.
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, that’s saying something. It’s hard to argue with the companies’ mantra: stay true to the source.
Fresh from a Sound+Image ‘Amplifier of the Year AU$8,000-AU$12,000’ award win for its 200iX, New Zealand’s Perreaux showed off its brand-new VP4 phono amplifier alongside Holbo’s highly engineered air-bearing turntable and Amphion’s flagship Krypton towers.
Dutch & Dutch (Sound And Music)
It’s always a pleasure to be introduced to a brand you aren’t familiar with at a show – that’s always been one of the beauties of shows for me – and Dutch & Dutch was one of them this weekend. I don’t need to tell you where they’re 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 world of completely fuss-free hi-fi.
The Sound+Image Award-winning Sointuva WG standmounts were out in force, as were March Audio’s new Ukonnen floorstanders, paired with the company’s (also Purifi-based) P421 mono power amplifiers, a Topping DAC… and 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 LS4 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 me – 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 AU$70K together for the speakers and Wisdom Audio amplifiers, plus AU$30K for the dCS Bartok streaming preamplifier it was paired with, but one that makes a great impression.
Innuous, Avantgarde & more (Maxmedia)
Maxmedia was showing off the all-new Avantgarde Duo SD horn speaker (another that will appear in Munich next month) in a rather lovely orange finish, paired with Innuos’ Statement power supply, Valvet pre and power amplification and the Cos D10 DAC and streamer. A stand-out not just visually but sonically too.
Another pleasant surprise: the performance-per-dollar value of the speaker and pre/power amplifier pairing from Melbourne-based OAD Ultrafidelity, whose Vajra power amp was recently very well-reviewed in Australian Hi-Fi magazine. The brand’s Padma preamp, Vajra power amp and Gem dipole speakers struck me as being very open, natural-sounding performers with great headroom.
McIntosh & Sonus Faber (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 sweet streams by the Aurender N20 server.
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.
A small speaker highlight for me was the Serhan Swift Mu2 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.
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 KR Audio Kronzilla VA-680 from Czech Republic, and fed to a custom pair of horn AER Loudspeakers using the company's BD3B driver from Germany.
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 AU$110K pairing, no less – and it put the cat amongst the pigeons in terms of precision and detail.
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 in-home and on-the-go personal listening from the off.
Sennheiser delivered another 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.