SHOW COVERAGE: 2018 MELBOURNE INTERNATIONAL HI-FI SHOW
The 2018 StereoNET-backed Melbourne International Hi-Fi Show certainly raised the bar this year with record attendance, the best sounding rooms yet, and a wide variety of exhibitions and demonstrations on offer.
Old Sol was peering into the Westward facing windows of the Radiance Audio Visual room, as Dean Martin crooned in the background.
The windows looked out across Lakeside Drive and the parkland bounding Albert Park Lake. The scene, lush and green looked inviting.
On any other day, given a choice between a hotel room in the Pullman Mercure Hotel (or any other hotel) and the idyllic setting outside, the choice would have been a no-brainer.
But this was a special day for audiophiles and music lovers arriving to enjoy the third Melbourne International Hi-Fi Show.
On the show opening day, hundreds of good-natured audiophiles and music lovers were queuing for admission to what waited beyond the hotel’s foyer.
What a day! By late morning, the first day of this three-day show, the pre-spring Melbourne weather was idyllic. Warm enough to wear nothing more than a tee shirt.
As alluring as the scene outside looked, the sound inside the Radiance room was so good, no one ventured to move a centimetre from their seat.
Appearing for the first time in Australia, played through the ear-arresting combination of the Kharma Veyron EV-5D speakers driven by Kharma Exquisite Reference mono amplifiers, the sound was real. Close the eyes and you’d imagine Deano was strolling through the crowd, microphone in hand.
Quite a feat.
Dean Martin, like Elvis, had in reality long since left the building. Even so, and with its hint of assuring the late singer’s immortality, the Kharma system supplied a practical lesson about Hi-Fi being more than sound.
While the Radiance room and the awesome Krix Dolby Atmos home cinema display set the pace for this year's Melbourne International Hi-Fi Show, there were plenty of other suites where you could hear High Fidelity gear that was providing an experience for the senses that could be said to be: the closest approach to the closest approach, to the real thing. Period.
These ranged from SGR’s superb flagship Maestro active speakers with detail, transparency and musicality in spades, to the modestly priced system VAF Research was running in a small alcove of its large suite featuring a brand new speaker with a single coaxial driver especially made for VAF.
Quality was up in just about every display room and it was clear that exhibitors seemed more focused this year compared to years past. The equipment was nicely chosen, rooms were amply acoustically treated, and the spread of gear ranged from the budget-priced to eye-watering.
Attendances were up on previous years, remarkably so, much to the chagrin of the naysayers who predicted otherwise, so wrongly and mischievously.
Talking with the show organisers, Friday's numbers were up substantially on last year's show, but Saturday proved to break the attendance records of the two previous shows. Despite the Melbourne Marathon being held the same day, Sunday brought the show home strong with an unusually busy afternoon for a grand result of over 3,000 attendees from around Australia.
What the three shows have had in common is that they have each drawn a younger audience. Particularly the Sunday where so many families with young children arrived that Krix had to turn down the volume on its 44-speaker Dolby home cinema system.
The Pullman's specially created Hi-Fi Show Food Market saw food and beverages that were as appealing and as cheap as they were at the last show, which is more than can be said of most audio shows.
For those that missed the show, here’s a wrap of what kept the large crowds entertained:
Nicely positioned in the hotel’s huge foyer, the combined Dohmann / Bowers & Wilkins sound system played to the queues of show goers waiting to go through to the show.
This $400,000 system had a Cocktail X35 music streamer or the illustrious Dohmann Helix 1 turntable fitted with the My Sonic Lab Ultra Eminent EX cartridge mounted on a Schroder CB9 carbon fibre arm as signal sources.
Thrax Audio supplied the Orpheus the phono stage, the preamplifier was the Thrax Dionysos, and the mono power amps were Thrax Teres. The sound that was top-tier in its fidelity was fed via a pair of very desirable Bowers & Wilkins 800 D3 speakers.
Dohmann played DJ across all three days (and often into the late hours of the evening) playing anything but traditional audiophile tracks, with a strong focus on the appreciation of music. The Mercure Lounge quickly became the hub of this year's show enjoyed by thousands on their way in, and then out of the show.
One of the show's standout must see/hear demos, South Australia's Krix packed showgoer's into every 30-minute session across 3.5 days, and the crowd loved every second of this Dolby Atmos 24.10.10 system. It's estimated nearly 1,500 people sat through the presentation at this year's show.
They’d come to experience the world’s first demonstration of a 34-channel Dolby Atmos surround sound system and what they heard left them gob-smacked.
Krix teaming up with Trinnov Audio, Barco and Melbourne’s Elektra Audio who supplied the power amplifiers for this system had gone to the expense and effort to build a purpose-built space inside the hotel.
At one end was a massive 250-inch Screen Innovations acoustically transparent screen. Behind it was a veritable wall of Krix speakers.
Arthur Rappos, Elektra’s designer, had built new Krix Encore and Krix Premier amplifiers to Krix’s specification. Trinnov supplied the 34 channels of decoding via a Linux based Trinnov Altitude 32/48 computer with a Trinnov EXT48 module. Together the seamlessly powered and controlled 34 discrete channels of sound. Speakers used included seven tri-amped 15-inch models behind the screen, 8 side surrounds, 9 rear surrounds and 10 overhead surround speakers.
The floor shaking bass that was felt as much as heard was courtesy of ten time-aligned Krix subwoofers using 18-inch drivers.
The projector generating the highly detailed picture to this massive screen was Barco’s $150,000 Wodan model.
Watching the movie titled Unbroken via this system was akin to watching it for the first time for most of us who thought we’d seen and heard all that it offered at the cinema. Trust me, you haven’t experienced Unbroken the way the director wanted until you witness it first-hand in a demo the likes of Krix's cinema.
The surprise wasn’t the sound of the Levinson 526 pre and No 534 mono amps driving the swank pair of $41,000 Revel Ultima Salon 2 speakers which had high-end stamped all over it. No, this time around the interest was in Levinson’s first ever turntable sourced from VPI, called the 515.
Convoy was alternating between this system and one very sweet sounding rack comprising Cary’s $699 DMS 500 music server, $3999 SL100 solid state pre and $7499 SA200 power amp, also solid state driving the $8495 retro JBL L100 speakers.
Nor far from Convoy in the Park Room, Melbourne's SGR Audio was playing its new $80,000 flagship called the Maestro MT3.2 Mk 2 which is a 3-way active loudspeaker finished in Lamborghini Yellow Pearl custom in-house paint. These looked and sounded so sublime I wanted to take them home.
The system driving the new speakers was sourced from MSB Technology and included the $30,150 Premier DAC, $11,550 MSB Premier Power base as the DAC’s power supply and the MSB Network Renderer which costs $3080.
This equipment was displayed on an SGR's Model V STATEMENT rack.
Easily one of the standouts of the show in pure musicality and accuracy, it proves Australian manufacturers have what it takes, on a global Hi-Fi level. Interestingly, the rumoured 'Park Room curse' seems to have lifted. Previous exhibitors in this beautiful room blamed poor room acoustics for sub-standard audio performance, but it proved no problem for SGR Audio.
Sharing space in the SGR room was a great high-end Head-Fi demo which included the Chord Electronics Dave DAC ($17,000), Chord BLU MK II Scaler CD player ($16,000), playing through Sennheiser HD820 headphones.
Round the corner, VAF was engaging in its “The Signature Analogue Experience” and to my ears also one of the nicest sounds at this year’s show.
Speakers used were VAF’s newly designed Signature I91 MKIII SE compacts (from $5,499) using a proprietary SEAS dual concentric driver giving these beauties bass down to 30Hz.
Moving to the main corridor, we found M8audio in Room 1201 which was practically standing room only. We’ve had its latest Tiny Maxwell speaker at home for some time now, where they’ve established themselves as a $4000 high-end compact that looks exquisite with a sound to match.
They were at the show along with the $6500 Sweet Maxwell speaker. Either speaker driven by the new to Australia DiDiT AMP 212 and using a DAC212SE DAC ($6350) and DAC/Pre/Headphone streamer provided one of the most cohesive sounds at the show. M8audio also showed its new matching stands ($1500).
Next door, Melbourne-based tech company Involve Audio got our interest as they demonstrated how to get surround sound from 2-channel stereo. The system uses four beautifully made compact electrostatic speakers and an amp/processor running the brand’s unique and proprietary software.
The system is called the Akoustos Y4 surround sound system and includes one module with 680 watts of power, RCA, HDMI and Bluetooth inputs plus software. The four speakers were crossing over at 250Hz to a pair of small passive subwoofers to provide a huge amount of sound. Price for the package is $6990.
There was never any doubting owner Bill Mcleans great ears and even better taste. The 8c was using the $16,999 Aqua Acoustic Formula Optologic X HPO DAC and the sound in this room was ultra high-end without the excessive price tag or usual clutter of equipment.
At any time throughout the show, Bill's room attracted a good crowd that was clearly into the music, and he certainly knows how to make the right music choices at shows. Black Sabbath and Metallica featured regularly.
Bill also had a particularly beautiful piece of eye candy in the room. It was an Italian made valve amplifier running 803 output tubes and built into a superb wood grain chassis. Only the Italians. The brand is called Tektyron and a slew of other models with other output tubes are apparently on their way.
Convoy had three rooms at the show. The larger space mentioned previously, and another populated by NAD Electronics.
Looking very desirable there was NAD’s new $2600 C658 pre/dac with built-in BluOS. This DAC has a digital pre that handles Network audio, Ethernet and has USB input and get this, DIRAC room correction.
Also on display was NAD’s $2400 T758 AV receiver with Dolby Atmos and DIRAC. Playing very adroitly in the NAD room was a pair of soon-to-be-released $1200 JBL Stage A170 speakers, driven by the recently released Bluesound Powernode Gen 2i streaming amplifier at just $999 RRP. Great sound at sane pricing!
Convoy's final room revealed a very compelling A/B comparison using PSB Speakers to show off the difference IsoAcoustics speaker isolators can make. There was no need for any more convincing after the demonstrations delivered across all three days by Steve Burton, General Manager of Convoy, and Paul Morrison of IsoAcoustics, with punters laying down their hard-earned on the spot to improve the sound of their own speakers at home.
Synergy Audio Visual, the Sonus faber, McIntosh, Audio Research, Rega and Cambridge importer grabbed our time and attention with the prototypes of Cambridge Audio’s due-in-November nod to the high end models that comprised the $7500 EDGE Integrated amplifier, $6000 EDGE NQ preamp with network player and the EDGE W stereo power amp ($4500).
The Cambridge gear was powering with ease, a pair of beautiful Sonus faber SONETTO V speakers ($8500). But the hook in the room had to be ELAC’s Miracord Anniversary 90 Turntable priced at $4500 and a bargain thanks to its elegance and Swiss watch build quality.
Every year there’s a surprise at the show. This time around it came by way of Microphase Audio Design (Sydney) and its show debut. Playing in the room were the $3500 SAT Mk2 Signature bookshelf’s sitting on the $2800 SWS Mk2 Signature subwoofers. Anyone with a small room or apartment should make a note to hear these.
The same room was also shared with Melbourne start-up, Lucie Audio, headed up by Rick Bond with alternating demonstrations between the two systems across the three days. Lucie's Studio One ($4,400 pair, $1,900 matching stands) is a two way active compact speaker using SB Acoustics and Scan-Speak drivers finished in solid bamboo. It was connected to Lucie Audio's DSPre ($4,600 with on-site or remote guided room calibration) and Lucie Ncore Multichannel Power Amplifier (from $4,200). It's debut was impressive and we look forward to seeing more from this young Australian brand.
No stranger to shows, a combined effort between two well-known Australian manufacturers, DEQX and Legend Acoustics attracted a crowd that often left standing room only. The former are renowned for their DSP/Preamplifier offering the ability to set active crossovers and room correction, while Legend Speakers have a solid reputation for amazing value, high-performance speakers. By all accounts, many show attendees regarded this room as one of the best, but it most certainly proved that high-fidelity sound does not need to cost the earth. We expect Legend picked up quite a few new fans over the weekend.
Pure Music Group’s sound is always top-tier, and for the first time, they exhibited in a larger room this year and needless to say, the sound was divine once more. This room was brim full of really addictive analogue and digital models.
This keep-it-simple approach extended to the system entertaining throngs of listeners and that included the $21,000 Kii THREE speaker/audio system, Kuzma Stabi S turntable ($3200) with Kuzma Stogi S 12-inch tonearm ($3700) and $2850 Phasemation PP500 cartridge and $5200 RCM Sensor 2 phono stage.
Also on static display were the John DeSensi Melbourne-designed OAD CPO1 preamp ($6500) and matching $6300 UF1 power amp. I’ve heard both previously and can describe the OAD gear as a high-end bargain for the discerning audio buyer.
Pure Music Group also debuted the Aequo Audio Stilla hybrid active loudspeakers ($28,700) which according to reports seemed to please many for its small footprint but big sound. Pure Music Group alternated the systems during set times across all three days.
Selby Acoustics was making a lot of buyers happy thanks to its two rooms featuring a complete $5000 home cinema system in one and a $10,000 package in the other.
The dearer system was comprehensive and included the Onkyo TXRZ830 AV Receiver and Krix Phoenix front speakers, Krix Equinox Rears and Krix 3 sub. Using the same demo tracks as found in the Krix Dolby Atmos cinema, showgoers enjoyed back to back demos, and we can tell you this cinema package did impress for the small investment.
In another one of Selby’s rooms was the Vincent SA-94 preamp ($3299) and very affordable $1799 SP-331 hybrid power amp rated at 150 watts per channel. Selby also had the Vincent SA-31MK preamplifier equipped with four 6N16 tubes for the output stage and priced nicely at $1799. Selby's Vincent room provides high-fidelity sound can be achieved without breaking the bank, and the brand deserves the respect and good following it has amassed.
South Australia's Hulgich Audio had one of the best sounds at the show provided by a choice of either the newly released $18,000 Duke floor standers or $7200 Nina stand-mount speakers. Amplification was by Tasmania's Holton Audio.
Hulgich speakers are hand built and the finish must be seen to be believed. The Duke fitted with new SB acoustics mid and woofer drivers is a true high-end full range speaker delivering an even, smooth frequency response, transparency and subliminal detail.
The smaller Nina and more suited suit to the hotel's room size has all of the sonic hallmarks of Hulgich speakers but with a smaller footprint is built to provide high-end sound for those with modestly sized rooms and a modest budget.
If we said Yamaha provided one of the outstanding sounds at the show you shouldn’t be at all surprised. This, you’ll remember is the brand that gave us the iconic NS1000 loudspeaker adjudged as one of the best of all time.
Playing superbly in this room were prototypes of the yet to be released $12,000 C5000 preamp and $12,000 M5000 power amplifier. This combination was powering a pair of $20,000 NS5000 speakers and everyone in the room at the time agreed this gear was bound for greatness particularly given Yamaha was also showing its $8995 GT5000 turntable.
The genesis of the GT5000 was there to be seen in the room in the shape of the past classic GT2000 turntable Yamaha released decades ago. Similarities between the two turntables as with the NS1000 and NS5000 were not to be missed.
Westan had one of the more sanely priced home cinema systems at the show, and despite its affordability, it sounded and looked just great.
The system included a $4799 Epson TW9300 projector, Polk S55 5.2 Cinema pack made up of the $2499 front channel speakers, $499 centre channel and $499 rears. The two subwoofers in the room were priced at $699 each. Screen used for the display was a Stuart 138-inch model.
Westan was also showing the brand new Polk CommandBar, a soundbar system with Amazon Alexa and compatible with iHeart Radio, TuneIn, Pandora and Spotify. Priced at just $699 we expect this to be a popular addition to many Australian living rooms.
Radiance Audio Visual had two rooms this year, and both were first rate. The first room featuring a $600,000 Kharma and Chord Electronics system, as mentioned previously had the best stereo sound at this year’s show. Once inside, the music was so lifelike it was hard to leave.
The second room was displaying $23,000 Audio Physic loudspeakers linked to Chord Electronics comprising the $8500 Hugo TT DAC, $7500 M-Scaler and the TToby stereo power amp ($6200). The equipment looked superb on Bassocontinuo racks. Analysis Plus cables were used throughout this system.
Maxmedia surely had the most eye-catching speakers at the show. These were the $37,500 Avantgarde Acoustic UNO XD speakers with their bright red flared horns. Powering these speakers were the Avantgarde $40,000 pre/power amps with the signal coming from an Innuos Zen Mini media server, $5500 COS Engineering D2 DAC.
Martin Logan speakers are stylistically unmistakeable for any other speakers thanks to a slender electrostatic panel blending with a moving coil woofer. Along the hall, Audio Active, the brand’s importer chose the $25,000 Expression 13A speakers for the show.
Cogworks had a room filled with Vivid Audio and Meridian speakers. Two reasons why it remained so popular throughout the show. The Vivid speakers from South Africa have a styling that’s right out of Salvador Dali’s drawing book and in my opinion, look and sound divine.
Vivid’s G3 costs $55,000 and the B1 $36,000 but the kind of modern interiors these models will find a home suggests the owners won’t bat an eyelid paying these prices.
Meridian’s $25,000 DSP5200SE speakers are fast, responsive and dynamic. They were driven by Meridian’s Pre/Zone Controller called the Model q218 which is MQA compatible and handles Roon as an endpoint. Price is $16,990.
In prime place in the Level 1 foyer of the Pullman hotel was one of the largest names in the world in headphones, beyerdynamic. With new stylish branding and a whole suite of new products, punters were plugging in their smartphones and sampling beyer's finest. An absolute hit at the show and a top destination for the show's attendees, why more headphone brands and distributors in Australia are not plugging into this show is perplexing.
Osborn was the last room on the floor and also one of the best sounding at the show. It was great catching up with head designer Greg Osborn and his wife. Greg is looking trimmer than ever and still running marathons. And he's still building fabulous sounding, value-for-money speakers.
When I entered the room I felt certain I was hearing a full range sound from a floor standing model. It wasn’t. This huge, detailed sound was coming from a pair of new $3810 Reference Elite compacts.
They were driven effortlessly by a sweet-sounding Consonance Cyber 880i amp ($4200) that generates 100 watts per channel via KT150 tubes in a class A triode configuration. The signal source was the Consonance Reference 8-Pro streaming music server priced at $3390.
The Historical Radio Society Of Australia’s display was a great way to end a tour of the 2018 show. The room had a large selection of old solid state and valve radios, magazines and newsletter.
The staff knew their radio history and proved to be a goldmine of information. It was a refreshing walk down memory lane and a nice contrast to room upon room of modern-day Hi-Fi products.
As Australia's only 3-Day Record Fair, in its third year, it has grown beyond belief. With double the amount of vendors over 2017, punters race tot he fair from the moment the show opens to dig through the crates in the hope of finding that rare and elusive vinyl. And they did. All vendors reported their best sales yet with some heading back to their warehouses overnight to restock for the next day.
Rumour has it the Record Fair space will be doubled once again in 2019.
The third Melbourne International Hi-Fi Show has now established itself as the premier audio show in Australia. This year proved to be a show that built on the steady success of the past two shows thanks mainly to the unparalleled reach of Australia's largest supported publication, StereoNET.
Exhibitors have also reported record crowds and interest in their brands, and as they are now used to the show’s format are also planning better displays. The increase of room treatments and acoustic panels gave show visitors a chance to hear elite equipment providing a sound that has the utmost fidelity.
With credit to the show organiser, Marc Rushton, and his extensive team, the marketing for this year's show was widespread across national newspapers, magazines, billboards and posters, and of course, extensive digital and social media. It certainly paid off.
Next year’s show will be even bigger and better. See you in 2019.
Words: Peter Familari with Jason DeBono
Photos: Marc Rushton, Robert Wong, Shing Chia
Video: Extreme Kid Productions
One of the veterans of the Australian HiFi industry, Peter was formerly the Audio-Video Editor of the Herald Sun for over two decades. One of the most-respected audio journalists in Australia, Peter brings his unparalleled experience and a unique story-telling ability to StereoNET.