Like a foghorn blaring over Albert Park lake, StereoNET’s Hi-Fi & AV Show summoned audio and music lovers from around the country and delivered a bigger and super-varied audio feast at its traditional venue, Pullman Melbourne Albert Park.
Arriving early afternoon on the show’s kick-off on Friday and leaving late on the final day on Sunday meant spending the best part of the three days listening to and enjoying a potpourri of technical excellence by designers from Australia and from around the globe. Plus, of course, there’s the opportunity to catch up with colleagues, both local and international, something I value greatly.
From my rough count, there were around 50 or so exhibits, strong evidence of the local audio industry’s solid buoyancy and a great opportunity for attendees in terms of placating Hi-Fi appetites. There were several hundred brands and multiples of that in terms of components. A mammoth task to cover the show’s entirety.
For that reason – as I also do at High End Munich – this report will cover standout rooms in terms of sonic performance, presentation, etc. Please check the gallery further down this page for a broader visual story of both key people and gear.
As in past events in Melbourne, the show was very well organised and marketed. As far as the Convention Centre, exhibitors were spread across multiple floors spanning from your typical hotel room to large conference spaces. Open areas were also used to exhibit smaller systems and static displays. Further, dedicated sections served as marketplaces for vinyl (also known as the ‘Record Fair’), various audio-related accessories and a new HeadZones personal audio exhibit.
Also refreshing and perhaps a sign of a change in audio show culture – I so, so hope – was the variety of demonstration music played throughout the show. Yes, the audiophiles’ staples were given their usual rotation, after all, they are safety buoys and reference markers for orientation, but these often musically lacklustre samples were mixed with less show-recognised genres. I was pleased to hear, power-heavy Rock, gut pounding electronica and trance, introspective indie artists and other music categories far removed from typical audio circuit clichés.
Overall, the show was a big success (perhaps attendee numbers were a little down on 2022, but according to the organisers it was "by design") and I felt that this year’s punters appeared more invested in the show’s activities. You know, the old adage of “quality is better than quantity”. I heard far more positivity and heightened curiosity in what was being shown. There were more reports of on-the-spot assurances. We can be a fickle bunch; in audio nothing is guaranteed and, at a show, a sincere spoken assertion is like flicking cash notes.
Bravo Marc and Ness Rushton and team StereoNET for staging another fabulous event.
As I was making my way down to reception and bidding adieu to 2023’s show I came across Marc Rushton. Skipping alongside were Marc’s son and daughter. I asked, “are you enjoying the show?” In ‘energetic mode’ they replied “we’re lovin’ it!” Indeed… so did we all.
... Edgar Kramer
Let’s Go to the Show!
As I tend to do in show reports, I’m writing this up in the sequence I visited these rooms. So, going by my acquaintance on the Friday afternoon, my first entry in terms of sound performance was at the top of the entry stairwell at the Selby Acoustics exhibit. At the time of my visit, the system in action almost fooled me into thinking the towering Raidho TD4.8 speakers were being played. Surprisingly, the full-bodied, highly dynamic and strongly bass-laden sound was coming from the much smaller X2T 2-way floorstander. The levels of detail and overall resolution were excellent. Granted, the super-capable Mark Levinson ML-50 Limited Edition monoblocks, Mark Levinson № 526 preamplifier and Aurender A20 Network Player were providing the upstream signal, so the classy support was there. Cabling was via Clarus while the smart-looking racks came from Solidsteel.
What is it about Italian loudspeakers and Scandinavian electronics? Man, they work well together! Pudding-proof came in Audio Dynamics’ room where the mighty Chario Academy Sovran floorstander was driven by an all Electrocompaniet electronics team. The power and control was provided by the company’s AW 800 M in monoblock configuration (read our review here), while the rest of the signal path was filled by EC 4.8 MKII Reference preamplifier and the brand new ECM 1 MKII DAC/Streamer. Components sat on Atacama’s top tier Evoque Eco rack. Upon entering the room, I immediately heard a super-refined sound full of nuance, detail and midrange body. Timbre was spot-on natural while the rhythmic qualities through a jazz track induced toe-tapping reactions from this writer.
It took a second visit to appreciate the sonic qualities of the Nirvana Sound exhibit. Upon my first trip, in a less than ideal listening position (it was always a super crowded room) I heard a somewhat congested sonic presentation, pun intended. The second time around I managed a better sitting location and got the sound. On display were handpicked components of extraordinary quality. Tunes were spun by the Döhmann Audio Helix TWO Mk3 hooked to a Sutherland phono stage (with the man himself, Mark Döhmann, heading scheduled DJ’ing) while an Aesthetix CD player was on zeros-and-ones-standby. All racking support by AG Lifter. Keen eyes will spot Australia’s own Secret Chord Analogue’s new vinyl cleaning kit box to one side below RHS speaker. Amplification was provided by the arrestingly Tron-like Alieno Preamplifier MkII and Alieno 250 LTD MkII monoblock with unique Single-Ended OTL/OCL 300B-based Class-A topology. Plus, the circuitry somehow manages to output 250 watts (strangely, rated at 3 ohms). What? Yes. Speakers were Wilson Benesch A.C.T. 3Zero in gorgeous Walnut Burl. In the second outing, the system resolved outstanding levels of detail and super-separated instrumental layers. Dynamics were outstanding and the soundfield spread defied the room’s dimensions. The control provided by the Alieno amplification was superb across the frequency bandwidth. I’d love to hear this system under more exacting, extra show conditions. Or even within the context of my own reference system. Leave that one with me…
Tim Wallis manned the Audio Marketing room and he personally spun a curated variety of vinyl via the superbly designed Holbo Airbearing Turntable System MkII (review here). Musical Fidelity’s new mammoth Nu-Vista PRE two-box preamplifier and two-box Nu-Vista PAS stereo power amplifier (review here) controlled the wonderfully retro Revival Audio Atalante 5 (review here) all hooked by inakustik cabling. I heard excellent levels of detail across the range, but I was especially taken aback by the sheer sense of presence and nuance on a track with a cello musical underpinning. It was like string rosin was dripping onto my ears directly. Equal beauty and presence were shown to male and female vocals. There was a delectable body and subtle warmth through the mids which I found alluring while the soundfield and image specificity was excellent and highlighted by the most consistently open and realistic image height (for vocalists) I heard at the show.
Audio Magic’s exhibit showed enough components to complete main and alternative subsidiary systems. At the time of my visit, I was struck by the musicality of the large Harbeth Super HL5+ XD driven by Ayre’s AX-5 Twenty. Music at the time of my visit was playing via Bergmann Audio’s Magne turntable with linear tracking airbearing tonearm. Digital included aqua acoustic quality’s superb Formula xHD, La Diva M2 CD transport and LinQ Network Streamer team. Also there, a Lumin stack in gorgeous silver. All cabling by Tellurium Q. A John Lee Hooker track played with very good dynamic expression while Hooker’s voice was immediate and full-bodied. The electric guitar came through with excellent detail. On a second visit, an orchestral track featured a massive soundfield. The Audio Magic guys have a knack for consistent good sound at shows. Bravo!
I’m always amazed at Dellichord’s Australian made FR6 speakers in terms of their refinement and their bass power given its size (review here). They’re a mischievously deceiving little over-performer. I say that because the cabinet houses a concealed internal bass driver while the rear panel holds an additional ‘racetrack’ bass passive radiator. So, with all that hidden and semi-hidden grunt comes a big sound, both in terms of scale and low-end. We’re looking at a speaker in the under AU$5K mark, driven by competent but modest Exposure 3510 integrated amplifier and an upmarket Aurender streamer. Racking system was supplied by sister company Stereotech. FR6’s presentation was musical and natural, with a generous dollop of scale and a subtle warmth through the midrange which provides a sense of ease and musical involvement. In bonus eye candy, room partner Audiofix showed EAR Yoshino’s delectable electronics in their full valve, chrome and gold glory. Plus, a rather interesting sampling of UK’s Ophidian speakers.
The gong for most dynamic standmount at the show, no actually, the most dynamic I have heard full-stop was in the HeyNow Hi-Fi and Sound and Music room. David Corazza presented the Dutch & Dutch 8c with signal flowing straight from streamer-to-speaker. Wow! A reinterpretation of “Take Five” on Joe Morello’s Morello Standard Time saw his own original drums role (and roll) given a more modern take in 1994 (pun intended). The power and slam was by far the most gut-punching I’ve heard from a standmount and among the best from floorstanders too. It was quite astonishing and the 8c speakers totally handled it without distortion nor compression. A magnificently expressive reproduction from an albeit large standmount, DSP’ed intelligently with ‘RoomMatching’ technology and with twin 200 mm high excursion drivers on its back panel, so yes, not a run-of-the-mill standmount. My skeletal frame is still shaking…
I’ve heard Microphase Audio Design’s Jean-Marie Lière’s diminutive speaker designs on many occasions and have been pleased with a sonic presentation which always defies stature. Talking to JM at the show about my even more heightened opinion of what I was hearing, I found out that he had conducted extensive crossover refinements in the current generation. I enjoyed the toe-tapping musicality, the controlled bass, the expressive dynamic contrast and the precise imaging. The latter in total denial of the very near field and cramped room arrangement. Those comments applied to both the SAT-MK3 3-way standmount (rear mounted 170 mm 'subwoofer' crossed at 200Hz) and the slimline Tower One floorstanders. Supporting equipment came via Microphase Audio Design’s own CSW-A subwoofer, Perreaux iX300 integrated amplifier, Holton Audio 101 power amplifier, Accento Dynamica valve amplifier (used through its valve preamplifier stage feeding the subwoofer), Musical Fidelity Bluetooth Receiver and inakustik cable loom. On casual play was a Rega P3 sporting the new-ish Les Davis Audio 33 1/3D record platter slip mat.
Dacman Audio and Hulgich Audio made a powerful exhibition duo. The former distributes a number of strong niche brands while the latter is a sophisticated Australian loudspeaker maker. This system sounded big and bold and beautifully detailed while also capturing realistic vocals with satisfying immediacy. The soundstage was widely and deeply spread and imaging, while not super-defined, was very good given the usual restrictions of show room context. Jay’s Audio CDT2 Mk3 CD Transport, Denafrips Pontus II DAC, Kinki Studio EX-P27 preamplifier and EX-B7 monoblock amplifiers were the key electronics hooked up via custom Shi-Tone cables. A variety of streaming and network kit was upgraded via Keces and Plixir linear power supplies. The gloriously finished loudspeakers are Hulgich Audio’s Duke Statement speakers.
Consistently standing out at shows are systems assembled by Finn Bespoke Technology. The company’s product portfolio may be relatively small but it has been carefully curated by company principals Bryan and Catherine Fletcher. The company’s highest profile brand is Audio Note UK and on show was an exquisite selection of AN’s products. Finn Bespoke Technology was showing the new, and stunningly veneered in Gloss Olive, AN-E SPx Ltd speakers with Field Coil drivers, Jinro Class-A integrated amplifier fitted with 4242 valves, DAC5 Special converter mated to CDT Five 5, GAIA II isolation feet and Telos Audio Design AC products. Cables were AN-Sootto, AN-Sogon, and Black Pallas II. As always, the speaker position was corner-based, yet the sound was superbly balanced. Tonal qualities were accurate and natural while there was tremendous refinement and delicacy to the midrange and high frequencies. There’s always a high engagement quotient at Finn Bespoke Technologies’ demonstrations and Bryan Fletcher is a very knowledgeable music curator.
Another consistent musical joy at every show is the gear presented by Bill McLean. McLean’s preferred loudspeaker showing has uniformly been large Magnepan panels. This time it was MG1.7i at a modest AU$5495 which sounded glorious through the mids driven by a Sanders Sound Magtech power amplifier fed by AURALiC’s Altair G2.1 Preamp/DAC/Streamer (switch by Melco S100/2). Low-end support came via two REL S/510 subwoofers. Loudspeaker DSP management provided by dbx DriveRack Venu360. All hooked by FoilFlex cables. As always, this was an open, fluid sound with excellent bass integration from subwoofers to panels. As you’d expect from Magnepan, vocals were clear, intelligible and totally realistic. Oh, and did I mention that AC/DC track “Ride On” totally kicked butt?
The discovery of the show was the MoFi SourcePoint 8 speakers from Andrew Jones, which changed my perception of what a 200 mm concentric driver is capable of in terms of sonic performance. Especially in light of the SourcePoint 8’s mating with the classy, yet mid-to-low-priced Advance Paris electronics, which included a unique source in the X-Stream 9 combining CD player, Network Player, high-resolution streamer, DAC and even DAB+ radio! I was struck by a very refined sound with excellent openness, engaging musicality and powerful bass. Let’s face it – Andrew Jones cannot design a bad speaker to save his life… As always, Phil Sawyer, Synergy Audio principal, delivered an informative presentation detailing key factors of all the componentry. Me? I was just carried away by the sound, especially through a captivating piano piece. Jonesy, you’ve done it again.
I start this summary with this sentiment: OAD Ultrafidelity has done it again. Jon De Sensi has a knack for producing not just outstanding electronics (look out for pre/power amp reviews coming in early 2023) but seemingly simple open baffle designs which can present tunes with dimensionality and in alliance with the music. This was via the new Bardot Open Baffle speakers driven by the company’s rather classy Padma preamplifier and Vajra power amplifier. Music was played via a USB storage device in the soon-to-be-announced OAD Ultrafidelity streamer while the new UP1 Reference Phono Amplifier handled vinyl signal fed from a Garrard 401 turntable fitted with the famous Aussie Golden Age Audio Univector 12 inch tonearm. At OAD Ultrafidelity’s exhibits, I’ve found a consistent sound performance favouring tonal delicacy, subtle detailing and a sonic presentation of great magnitude.
Highest SPLs – The new limited run Klipsch McLaren Edition MCL-905 (show sample Numbered ‘5’) driven by McIntosh Laboratory’s 352 amplifier gets the highest SPLs gong. Metallica’s “Nothing Else Matters” and a Ghost Rider trance track re-organised the position of my stomach, liver, kidneys and other internals…
Most Promising New Loudspeaker (Soon to be Reviewed) – DALI Epikore 11, a scaled down version of the flagship Kore, mated to Master Series NAD, including the brand new M66 Streamer/DAC/Preamplifier.
Most Surprising Turnaround Sound – Serhan Swift’s new mu3 floorstander sounded OK on Friday with a DAC feeding directly into OAD Ultrafidelity’s Vajra power amplifier. Returning on Saturday saw a revelatory change. The sound became full-bodied, dynamic and more like the Serhan Swift sonic excellence I’m familiar with. The cause? Introducing OAD Ultrafidelity’s Padma preamplifier. Yes, despite the on-paper contradiction, more circuitry in the signal flow can have a positive effect.
Most Creative Exhibit – Probably the largest room at the show, a cooperation between Advance Audio’s Nigel Ng and Sound Gallery's John Ong, featured a long corridor peppered with excellent photographic images by Kassidy Chan (kasstakesphotos on Instagram), presenting a beautiful artistic departure from audio. Kudos for the lighting colour scheme and the gorgeous passive display enhancement of the svelte Estelon Aura speakers. Secondly, deserving of a special mention for the mustering of exotica including D’Agostino Master Audio Systems (including the new Relentless smaller sibling), Gryphon Audio Designs, Linn, Nordost, Transparent Cable, Wilson Audio and more.
Party People & Gear Gallery
The always affable Hi-Fi Collective team: Gareth Weller, Debbie Stanton and Chris Murphy
Bjorn Bengtsson fields the usual barrage of questions regarding all things Nordost
DALI’s Gilles Brun in Australia to launch Epikore 11
Johan Coorg spruiking the considerable powers of Hegel and KEF
Melbourne audio legend Philippe Luder
The Three Musketeers - Johan Coorg (Hegel) and Robert Wong plus Adam Shaw-Cotterill (AudioQuest)
Carlton Audio Visual’s Rab Turner among prized Yamaha top-tier offerings
HeadZones was a hive of non-stop activity. Meze Audio personal audio exquisiteness shown here.
Rega, McIntosh Laboratory, Sonus faber, etc.
AURALiC, AVM, Melco, Plixir, Epos, Fyne Audio, etc.
Vitus SIA-030 Class-A integrated. For factory tour & interview with Vitus, watch our excellent video: SoundStageAustralia.com - Videos
March Audio’s P501 monoblock Class-D amplifiers and Sointuva standmount speakers
Audio Heaven showed Zavfino ZV8-X turntable with Gold Note and Allnic electronics and the attractive Gold Note A6 Evo II speakers
Lotus Eletre electric SUV with full KEF loudspeaker system (Image credit: Nigel Ng)
A stable-full of Wharfedale speaker goodness