SHOW AND TELL: 2017 MELBOURNE INTERNATIONAL HIFI SHOW
They were young. They were eager, and they came in droves.
The demographic for the 2017 International Hi-Fi Show was age-wise, heading South. Most hi-fi shows attract an aging population complete with the stereotypical mid-life audio buffs in anoraks.
The StereoNET organised Melbourne show continues a trend beginning with last year’s well-attended, well-received inaugural event.
A trend that proves an audio show can attract a younger audience as well as rusted on older audiophiles.
However, only if it is marketed in a way that appeals to a new generation of music fans, if it is held in an appealing venue and most of all, if it’s a show with the kind of exhibitors and gear that appeals to young audio newbies.
By the Monday after the show, official figures had the age of the average attendee pegged at 38-45, well below the 62 plus average age of most rival events.
You only had to stand and watch the horde of under 35s make a beeline for any suite with turntables, streaming devices or headphones to understand what makes this audio segment tick like a well-oiled Flinders Street clock.
The youngerphiles also loved the idea of having a record fair as an integral part of a hi-fi show. They were buying plenty of vinyl and loving it.
On the Friday well before the show’s official opening hour, there was an excited buzz spreading through the Pullman's well-appointed foyer.
The same occurred on the Saturday and Sunday, but wonderful to report, the weekend featured plenty of couples with kids in strollers taking in the exhibits.
Two other improvements are worthy of note: the first was the new ticketing system that allowed visitors to seamlessly present their phones and have their pre-purchased tickets scanned making the entry to the show quicker and much more pleasant. That is when they correctly remember the show opening time (some enthusiastic punters were arriving at 8 am wanting to get in!).
The second was the food fair arranged by the Pullman Mercure venue after concerns were raised by the show organisers about last year’s lack of affordable gourmet fare.
This time around there was a veritable feast of gourmet treats, wines, beverages, fresh fruit and sweets at prices so keen many showgoers visited and revisited the well-stocked stalls.
The bar was also opened much earlier than a typical weekend, while the cafe was kept open later. As for the coffee, it was smooth, creamy aromatic and cheap.
Commencing on Friday, the good-natured crowd populated by interstate and overseas attendees, swelled around the strategically placed Halcro Lounge, housing Halcro/PS Audio/Amphion. The new and eagerly anticipated Eclipse Halcro amps were displayed in all their glory. Guests arriving at the show were gob-smacked by the sound of the humongous but superb looking Halcro Electrostatics until a glitch shut down one of the amps.
PS Audio in the shape of Stellar series electronics driving studio quality Amphion Kryton3 floor standing speakers generated a sound with huge scale and presence.
Also on display was New Zealand based Design.Build.Listen, and its new turntable sporting a Wand tonearm that I wanted to hear, but the Halcro system was down temporarily while I was there.
Despite the Halcro glitch, we’d all heard enough to say: Halcro Is Back! Big Time!
Halcro's new Record division used the show to launch Mary Webb’s latest recording and the first on the label, called Love like Planets. Mary Webb is a musical prodigy and whilst I didn’t get to hear her perform live, I did listen to both sides of her CD in a single sitting after arriving home from the show.
Which wasn’t a chore given the quality of the artist, the music and the benchmark class recording quality of the Compact Disc. Halcro will release a two-LP vinyl version soon.
Australian and New Zealand designed and manufactured audio gear is entering its golden age.
Some of the best sounds at this year’s show came courtesy of brands including Hulgich, Osborn, SGR Audio, Krix, Elektra, Redgum, Axis, Legend Acoustics, Java HiFi, Holton Audio and let’s not forget, Melody.
Most of us associate Melody with China forgetting its owner and chief designer Mr. Wang resides in Melbourne and that's where most of the design takes place. Melody is a larger company than most realise and though Mr. Wang keeps all things low key, the brand manufactures for other well-known valve audio brands.
Melody had a huge suite located a cricket pitch away from the Halcro system. The large room was decked out with a massive array of huge Melody amps, preamps, and an amazing looking CD player.
The sound of the Signature preamp, Everest Mono Amps and Melody CD player spinning Telarc recordings including a Jewish marriage folk song, through the unmissable JBL Everest speakers was huge, loud and abundantly musical if lacking transparency and detail. The system would have cost you North of $130,000.
By the time the show opened, the Halcro and Melody suites were packed. They remained that way for the duration of the show, thanks to the great gear and prominent positions.
Continuing the Aussie-made theme, the sound in the Hulgich Audio suite where the new Ella Mk11 speakers (from $8400) driven by Nord nCore amplification and wired with the brand’s new affordable and beautifully built FTM cables was one of the best at the show.
The Ella’s styling and build are world-class. Their sound is sublime. Factor in that Hulgich sells direct to you and me, and it’s clear why the brand is earning an incredible reputation.
Chatting with the Ella’s crossover designer, Goran Niréus who made the trip from Sweden, we learned the goal was a seamless crossover with minimal distortion. Mission accomplished.
Down the end of the hall, Pure Music Group / Sonic Purity's display was creating a sense of anticipation.
Hearing the Gauder Akustik Cassiano Mk II Speakers ($23,000) sporting light, rigid and ultra-responsive ceramic drivers and cabinets finished in to-die-for Makassar Ebony is always sure to impress. This time around PMG chose to drive them with Audionet electronics comprising Audionet EPX Power Supply ($8500), Audionet PRE G2 Preamplifier ($21,200) and Audionet MAX Monoblocs ($28,000). Sources include the NZ designed and manufactured Antipodes Audio DX GEN 3 music server ($6900) via a Playback Designs Merlot DAC ($9100); the room and the sound was quite a revelation.
Best sound at the show? It certainly was one of them, especially when the demo moved from digital to analogue via a Kuzma Stabi Reference 2 Turntable, Kuzma 4 Point 9” Tonearm and Lyra Kleos SL MC Cartridge ($23,000). Overall the sound was totally transparent, had scads of detail, dynamic drive, and was inherently musical while imaging and the soundstage were holographic. The lesson learned after an audition: Wilson Audio speaker buyers might want to audition these Gauders before splashing their cash.
The show as expected had its fair share of sanely priced equipment. The new Marantz PM10 integrated amp rated at 200 watts per channel ($12990) had the pulses racing fed a signal from the Rolex quality SA14S1 SACD/CD player ($4999) much for its build quality, as for its sub $5k price.
Although the room was hindering its sound as it was effortlessly driving a pair of Klipsch LaScala speakers ($32000), there was enough of a tantalising glimpse that alerted you to what may be Marantz’s finest integrated amp ever.
Also affordable was the Cambridge Audio Azure 851 series CD player, Rega turntable and integrated amp powering a pair of Andrew Jones designed Elac Adante ($4495) compact speakers in one of the Synergy Audio Visual rooms. Visitors remarked how good the sound of this system was especially for the money.
Next-door Synergy AV was also showing a full suite of McIntosh models comprising the MCT-450 transport, C52 preamp and MC452 power amp powering a pair of Sonus Faber Serafino speakers finished in violin red. A finish produced in the Sonus Faber tradition of luxury craftsmanship and one matched by very few speakers. Source came compliments of a MoFi Ultradeck turntable.
Both rooms were packed to the rafters and stayed that way for the three days proving the show attracts those in the hunt for a bargain along with those looking for high-end exotica.
Another standout display saw the SGR Audio Discovery stand mounts powered by Tasmania's Holton Audio Five-Zero-Zero amps fed a signal from the exquisitely styled Java HiFi LDR passive preamplifier and MSB DAC. The system was blowing music lovers away with its poise, refinement, and musicality. This system was reckoned to be one of the show’s best sounding.
In another room, SGR Audio was also running the gifted new CX4F floor standing active speakers now in MkII format and newly implemented 'current-drive' amplifier technology, with an eye and ear arresting Brinkman turntable and electronics.
M&G Hoskin’s suite comprised Monitor Audio Platinum PL300/11 and Bronze series speakers driven by a Roksan Blak amplifier. Jeremy Brown of Monitor Audio U.K had also made the trip out for the show and was on hand to answer questions about the brand. Dynamic, transparent and eye-arresting styling? The Platinum delivered all this and more.
Around the corner, Audio Active was pulling in a crowd with a pair of aspirational Paradigm Persona 7 speakers and a system comprising new Primare amps and CD player along with Isotek power improving products. The Persona series embodies the best technologies this Canadian brand can muster and sonically the Persona 7 is up there with the top shelf models.
The Sound Gallery room was one where you came and stayed. If the Gold Note Pianosa turntable and PH-10 phono stage or DigiBit Aria 2, Weiss DAC502 and Bel Canto electronics driving Wilson Benesch speakers wired with Tara Labs were not reason enough to hold your attention, the Franco Serblin Accordo speakers with their distinctive curved sides did. However, a chance to hear Micromega, Gold Note, Audio Flight, Solid Tech and Weiss Engineering and much more, was a temptation too much to resist. Pencil in a visit to Melbourne's Sound Gallery because it is run by John Ong, one of the most experienced hi-fi enthusiasts you are likely to meet.
Kings of affordable gear and one of the oldest brands in audio-visual, Pioneer, were in attendance showcasing their latest components via Krix loudspeakers.
Another room to attract favorable comments for its great sound housed REDGUM electronics and Legend Acoustics speakers. Affordable, attractive and delivering a sound way, way above their price points, Legend and REDGUM models are audio bargains. Period.
Sounding ultra-detailed and ultra-refined were REDGUM’s RGMP8 DAC and new Media player combo ($990 each). The Black RGi35ENR integrated amplifier ($2000) sounded as good as it looks and overall driving the Legend Joey 9 speakers ($995) or Kama 9 speakers ($1990) visitors were treated to an affordable, effortless and very musical presentation. There's magic to be had with a REDGUM and Legend combination.
Not to be outdone, Aussie speaker specialist Krix, delighted showgoers with the latest Esoterix Altum compacts that were powered by the exquisite Elektra Reference High Definition amplifiers. Krix seemed to be everywhere at the show blowing away visitors with what can be achieved home cinema wise with its 'wall of sound' demonstration.
Also making another appearance in Melbourne was Krix's Heretix fully active speakers driven by DEQX processing and Elektra Reference amps, with huge scale and immense detail and dynamic slam. The Heretix is a labour of audio love for Scott Krix. It’s the model he’s wanted to build for more than 30 years and he’s so invested in the design, he constantly tweaks and retweaks the design because he’s a sonic perfectionist.
All shows have a quirky display and this time around the honour goes to Studio19’s boisterous Solo E500X/EQ portable, wireless Bluetooth speaker that had a 360-degree sound field and played ultra loud. The Solo’s battery is good for about 8-hours, plenty of time to provide music in the great outdoors.
Also portable and proving to be a real showstopper was the wee BenQ GS1 portable projector. Even in a room with some ambient light, the GS1 pulled in a horde of people with its 60-inch screen ability and 720P resolution.
We have heard Devialet’s Phantom Gold speaker sound better than it did in its showroom where it was configured as a full on 5.5 system. Yes, it played loud, very loud and the quintet of Phantom’s looked ultra chic, but the room was not cooperating. But yes, rated at more than 4500 watts per phantom, the sound was monumental, and the room was packed for the duration of the show.
Across the way, Interdyn was having a lot more success showing the latest 1572 series of Rotel models wired to PMC speakers and a signal source provided by a Pro-Ject turntable and tonearm sporting an Ortofon cartridge. Interdyn’s Ortofon Cartridge Lab where visitors could compare cartridges proved to be a smash hit and a unique experience for many younger show visitors.
The Audio Marketing suite had an affordable package of Triangle Elara active speakers and turntable for $1499. A package that appealed to the show’s attendees and I'd be surprised if these packages aren't already walking out the door following the show.
Arresting also was the new Musical Fidelity Nu Vista 600 integrated amplifier, the Australian designed Axis VoiceBox speakers that had excellent sound, and to top it all off, models from Krell and Peachtree Audio. A highlight of the Audio Marketing suite and in my opinion a huge reason why the gear sounded so compellingly musical, was the use of Inakustik cables throughout. Still one of audio’s best-kept secrets, Inakustik cables may be the last you’ll ever need to buy from my experience.
Speaking of headphones, Sennheiser's five-figure, valve-powered HE-1 looked better in the flesh than any publicity shot. Had it not been for pre-booked listening sessions that were full across all three days, a conga line stretching down the hall and around the corner would have formed to hear these $75,00 headphones. Talking to those that were fortunate enough though, the waiting was more than worth it, as was hearing the new HDV820 digital headphone amp.
Bill Mclean is still an audio enthusiast, and his suite showed his experience and his passion for good sound. It featured a lot of gear, but standouts were the Spatial Hologram open baffle speakers and Australian digital sound processing specialist’s own Legend Acoustics designed prototype speakers. DEQX dazzled visitors with the new flagship HDP5 processor.
Greg Osborn has been designing and selling a wide range of speakers direct to music lovers for longer than we can remember. He was showing the Grand Monument Reference (about $23000) fed a digital signal by Audio Aero and Consonance analogue source. Preamplifier was an AM Audio RT-2 silver wired preamp ($7650), and power amps were the AM Audio 833M Ultima Silver wired monoblocs ($14850). And the sound? Monumental!
The Maxmedia suite was attracting hordes of visitors with the Avantgarde Uno XD speakers, and the brand’s XA amp fed a signal by the Lab12 Pre1 preamp and Innuos Zenith SE music server and Lab 12 DAC1 special edition DAC.
Aussie brand, Neudrum, debuted to the market at the show and was running its open baffle Oceans speaker ($10,000) with external crossovers with a matching amp fashioned with a wooden chassis.
Radiance Audio Visual’s room was one you entered and stayed. It housed the larger SGR Audio Discovery passive speakers powered by a Karan Acoustics amplifier and fed a digital signal by a Chord Electronics' hi-end DAVE DAC. Is there a better-looking digital source than the DAVE DAC? Probably not.
The Purasound suite was sounding particularly good. The system delighting the punters comprised the Italian Grandinote Mach 4 ($25,000) speakers powered by a Shinai dual mono, class A integrated ($14,500) and fed a digital signal by a Grandinote Volta Streamer/DAC ($11,500). The speed and precision of the 4” drivers, while not the last word in bass, left many listeners impressed.
Beyerdynamic was fielding plenty of enquires about its formidable range of headphones. Sounding particularly lucid was the Avento model that has a calibration tailored to your hearing, all controlled via a smartphone app that while not released yet impressed listeners with the sneak preview.
Speaking of headphones, the large well-stocked Jaben Audio suite proved why this Melbourne CBD based outfit is one of the country’s best headphone destination stores.
Jaben virtually packed up its whole store and moved it to the show, and this mighty effort was rewarded by a show suite full to the brim for the entire three days. So full, that at times Jaben staff had to ask people to come back because the room was packed out. Stax, predictably, was in huge demand as people jostled to sample the various models.
The Convoy room kept us captivated with its display of Cary Audio’s masterful AIOS all-in-one integrated that is equipped with oodles of connectivity options. However, it was the Cary pre/power valve combo driving JBL K2 and 4367 speakers that continued to enthral.
The room also featured NAD Master Series components driving JBL and PSB speakers.
The large VAF Research suite was a standout with its revolutionary and innovative Sound Wall concept. VAF was also highlighting its new Fanaticus range of active speakers that use a newly VAF developed driver diaphragm material and are equipped with amplifier and DSP technology to enhance overall sound quality. The sound we heard from these models had a huge dispersive area so you can say goodbye to a single, fixed sweet spot. While only just completed in the nights before the show, we heard certain potential and are keen to hear the refined and finished product.
That’s the show wrap folks. But it has to be said the tone of the show was warm, relaxed and friendly. The show was also well supported by the press and had more than 17 journalists to cover proceedings. The show was also reported in other publications as “the most well-organised hifi show in Australia.” A nice accolade but one we feel is well deserved.
To add weight to the event, social media was on fire with show content for the entire three days. The headphone displays were immensely popular reflecting the young demographic attending over the three days.
The record fair was a standout and vendors say Friday provided a chart-busting number of sales.
As with any HiFi Show, demonstrations are conducted in often challenging rooms. I recommend that if a particular product or brand piqued your interest, follow up with a Retailer or the Exhibitors directly.
You can view the full gallery from the 2017 Melbourne International HiFi Show here.
You can check out the StereoNET Awards for the Show here.
See you again next year in Melbourne, October 12-14th, 2018.
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.