There’s that word again—favorite—which stands in stark contrast to Best if we take care in the words we use and their meaning.
I prefer referring to Favorites when talking about hifi because there’s no such thing as a Best when dealing with personal preference. But I get it. Picking Bests is the best way to draw attention while also elevating the picker above the masses, helping to build up a brand that banks on the notion of taste maker. And who doesn’t want to own The Best (here’s a secret—every hifi that’s used and loved is The Best).
If we keep our ears and minds open at hifi shows, which means keeping our mouths closed at least once in a while, the fact that different people like different things is as obvious as poor personal hygiene in a hot tightly packed elevator. Another plain-as-the-nose hifi fact is different people make different sounding gear and no amount of blustery graph waving will ever change this reality. And I say hallelujah! Vive la différence! Just imagine a world where a hifi show had but one room…
The Vinnie Rossi BRAMA Integrated Amplifier ($38,995), a true beauty in form and function according to my tastes, made its debut at last year’s Axpona and I was thrilled, thrilled!, to spend time together again, this time with the stunning Rockport Atria II Loudspeakers ($38,000/pair), an MSB Premier DAC ($27,500), and Innuos Statement Server (starts at $16,700 ). I took a trip to Goodwin’s High End back in 2021, the purpose of my 2-day visit being to spend time with Rockport speakers, and I was mightily impressed then and now—this simple system sounded like a match made in HiFi Heaven.
I enjoy a good presentation and Dutch & Dutch’s co-founder and designer Martijn Mensink gave a great one at Axpona 2023—concise, informative, and educational (no fat), talking about the Dutch & Dutch model 8c speakers ($14,950/pair). The model 8c are active speakers that also house a DAC and DSP, the latter assisting in fine tuning performance in room. My all-to-brief listen, I wanted to go back on Sunday but I’ve learned that, like high school, you can never really go back when attending a hifi show, left me very impressed.
Jeremy Bryan of MBL North America knows how to put on a show and MBL’s designer, Juergen Reiss, knows how to make gear that is distinctive and astounding. It took me and my mind a few seconds to adjust to the MBL sound, it always does because it’s distinctive (wholly unique), but once I did I relaxed into its stunning power, grace, and holographic presentation. The speakers you see are the Radialstrahler mbl 101 E MK II ($91,000/pair) powered by the mbl 9011 Mono Amplifiers ($64,000/each).
I had the pleasure of hearing the Grimm Audio LS1 speakers at Munich High End year’s ago and listening to their flagship LS1be loudspeakers ($25,250/each) at Axpona 2023 acted as a very pleasant reminder of how lovely they are. Another fully active speaker that offers digital and analog inputs and DSP to tweak their in-room performance to taste, the LS1be offer a compelling case for less is more.
I’ve lost count of how many people, people with ears I know and trust, who have told me I have to review the Grimm MU1 Music Player ($12,500). Have to!
The DeVore Fidelity O/baby ($6700/pair with stands) made their debut in the Lumin room, paired with a full Lumin stack that included their class A/B XAMP ($13,990) and P1 Pre/Streamer/DAC ($10,000). As someone who has owned 4 pair of DeVore speakers, not counting my current ride the O/96, I feel confident in saying I’d love to spend more time with these. O/baby!
Christopher Hildebrand of Fern & Roby has made some refinements to his Raven III speakers ($8500/pair) since I reviewed them back in 2022 and his room that also featured the smaller Fern & Roby Raven II ($6750/pair), Linear Tube Audio Z40+ Integrated Amplifier (from $7650) which I reviewed back in 2022, the Weiss DAC501 (review), and cabling from Black Cat Cable elicited as many smiles, thank you’s, and “sounds great!” comments from show goers as any other room I visited.
High Water Sound’s Jeff Catalano is another hifi professional who knows how to work a show. Great sound, great music, great atmosphere all made for an experience I wished I had more time to experience. You’re looking at the Cessaro Horn Acoustics Opus Loudspeakers ($45,000/pair) matched with a pair of Cessaro Opus Subwoofers ($20,000/each), with electronics and analog gear from TW-Acoustic. I had the pleasure of visiting Jeff’s place near the Brookyln Bridge (on the Manhattan side) for a more extended and informative listen.
The new GoldenEar T66 Tower Speakers ($TBD) sounded like I need to get to know them better (and I love their new look—what a difference a footer can make).
In my review of the Sonner Audio Legato Duo ($9500/pair), I found they offered “…reproduced music that was capable of seduction, wonder, grace, and ease” which was also the case at Axpona 2023 when paired with the Ayre Acoustics VX-5 Twenty amplifier ($10,950)—grace and ease.
“Where are you headed?” a colleague and friend asked.
“Hegel.” I responded
“Oh, good. You’re going to like it. Sounds great.”
I did and it did, like it and thought it sounded great. The Hegel H30A Reference Power Amplifier ($19,000) / P30A Preamplifier ($8995) combo drove a pair of Clarisys Audio Minuet planar speakers ($33,800).
Sometimes bigger is better. The Dynaudio Confidence 50 Loudspeakers ($33,500/pair) stand over 5′ tall and reach down to 29Hz (@ +/- 3 dB). Driven by electronics from Octave, the Confidence 50 filled the Utopia D Ballroom with delicate heart-pounding energy.