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Switzerland. Does it bring to mind mountains, cheese, cows and watches? Leave those aside for a moment and think of divine tube amplifiers, precision turntables and exquisite speakers that play music sweeter than Apollo’s harps or recreate the sound of thunder. These were the images and sounds I experienced when the latest edition of the HighEnd Swiss show beckoned. So I duly heeded the call and made my way to Regensdorf near Zürich. Ironically, the name of this town means rainy village and true to its name it was one of the wettest days in October.

I straightaway made tracks to the room where Montana Audio presented the Swiss debut of the Martin Logan Ethos hybrid electrostatic loudspeaker—the latest addition to their Reserve series—and the world-renowned Sonus Faber Stradivari Homage. The chance to hear these two famous brands using speaker technologies as different as chalk and cheese side by side brought a spring to my step.

True to Swiss precision, the guided demonstration started exactly at 10:00. First up were the Ethos driven by an Audio Research VS I60 integrated amplifier. The Ethos immediately imposed their authority over female vocals, guitars and the soundstaging but the bass sounded a bit flabby (maybe it was the room – hotel rooms are certainly not acoustically ideal).

After four songs spanning Jazz vocals, Blues, Classical and World instrumental music, it was time for the Stradivari to step in driven by an Audio Research Reference series preamp, CD player and Pass Labs XA100.5 monos.

The same songs played through the Italians looking stunning in their leather and hand-crafted wooden body presented a very different view on the same picture. The bass was so much richer, the soundstaging, musicality and piano more lush and nuanced. When the first note emerged, such was their musical virtuosity that it brought gasps to a lady in the next row (women attending hifi shows is a very European phenomena I think). The presence of the vocals and guitars seemed a tad shy of the Ethos but one could clearly hear why the Stradivaris are so highly regarded. I was left wondering how a combination of the qualities of these two exquisite speakers would sound – if such perfection is even possible.

The next room was the German camp of Burmester, Audio Physic and the JR Transrotor turntables. Burmester were premiering their Reference line CD player, driving the B30 speakers from their 911 MK3 power amplifiers. Doing analog duties was the striking Transrotor Tourbillon 07 on a custom stand.

The Dave Matthews band being played in the room sounded exactly what a system upwards of €100,000 Euro should sound like – impressive. The constant inflow of people attracted by the CD player and Transrotor simply gave me no chance to sit down and listen at peace.

Transrotor also had their Orfeo 25/80 turntable on static display [below]. A strip of medicine capsules next to it probably pointed to the stress the person setting up the exhibit went through!

Right next door were more Germans by way of Avantgarde Acoustic showing off their Trio and Basshorns in a huge conference room played through Audio Aero electronics. The sheer transparency of the vocals and bass impact generated by the setup meant that the Allman Brothers band playing an acoustic set from their 2nd Set seemed right there in front of me on a huge stage without any of the digital gadgetry interfering with the sound. Breathtaking! This easily was among the three best sounding rooms in the show.

Now it was time to get a Swiss perspective on things. This being Switzerland, there were a large number of Swiss brands strutting their stuff and it was interesting to see how many different approaches to music exist in such a small country.

Swissonor manufacture their peculiar looking line of speakers and a range of 100% tube pre and power amps plus they sell refurbished classic Swiss Thorens turntables. On display were their B.A.C.H. 10 & 12 speakers whose nomenclature stands for Bass Adjustable Coaxial Horn – certainly a mouthful. These are 2-way coaxial & co-planar loudspeakers with a Tractrix horn, a different approach to making music. Upon spinning a vinyl pressing of JJ Cale’s Naturally, one could actually hear the strings bend as Cale coaxed his trademark laid-back sound from his Stratocaster. Definitely worth a second look.

The venerable Swiss Nagra Audio firm premiered their new integrated push-pull 300B tube amplifier, which made impressive sounds playing Buddy Guy via B&W 804 diamonds. On static display among others were the classic VPA 845 tube monos.

Elsewhere the slim-line Orpheus Labs electronics provided juice to Boenicke Audio’s SLS towers, extremely handsome tall speakers only 10cm wide CNC’d from solid American Walnut. Mozart's Symphony No. 40 in G minor playing in the room presented a realistic feel of a large symphony orchestra with all the dynamic swings you would expect from such a powerful piece of music. They also had an interesting take on isolation with their SwingBase system.The über-expensive Wavac Audio HE-833 Ver1.3 monos were curiously tucked away in a corner as though not good enough for the sleek SLS!

Turning a page on the minimalist school was Soulution Audio with their absolutely massive 700 Series power amps that can provide up to 1560 watts into 2 ohms (each almost the size of a 21-inch CRT TV set) paired with the German Ascendo Audio C8-C monitors presenting Mahler’s 2nd Symphony in all its thunderous glory.

Keeping up the modern trend of computer/networked audio were Revox Audio with their ultra-cool modular and truly future-proof M100 system connecting to a network storage device belting out music via their pint-sized amplifier modules which can be controlled from iPads, iPods, computers, Macs and a standard remote. The music of the Swiss electronic duo Yello got everyone’s feet tapping.

The start-up firm Music Wonder was promoting their 3-D sound over the Twins—a solid-state music storage, CD transport and DA converter with touch screen display affair (an audiophile-grade minicomputer in other words)—and the matching amplifier and their Hooters speakers.

Reson Audio who make everything from turntables, cartridges and CD players had their affordable RH4 music server/CD player/streamer/internet radio—name a feature and it had it plus it made good sounds too—and Epos M 22i speakers. Such products certainly augur well for networked high-end audio brought into the mainstream.

One of the best sounds I heard was at the room of a new German company called Analog Domain whose range of amplifiers use a proprietary circuitry called DXDrive™, which apparently overcomes the problem all solid-state amplifiers face – dynamic bias shift and thermal distortion. While I can’t explain how they manage, I can vouch for the sound. Their Athene monos rated up to 2 kilowatts operating in pure class A in the first watts where most the music happens played John Lee Hooker’s Tupelo in a totally relaxed and non-fatiguing manner that made me want to stay.

But there was still the Magnepan MG 1.7 to hear driven by French Atoll electronics. All discussions about Maggies lacking bass were thrown out of the window as they handled the attack of the punk rock genius Clash with aplomb. British speaker house KEF played their very affordable new Q series Q300 bookshelf monitors with an Arcam Solo making nice music for a welcome change from the mega-buck systems. Legendary audio designer Tim de Paravicini’s EAR Yoshino put up a good display driving their interesting looking Primary Drive speakers using their own tube electronics.

Another memorable setup was the intriguing looking RA Box speakers from Trenner & Friedl driven by Jeff Rowland amplification. The small speaker firm of two friends handcrafts these speakers in Austria using paper cones with six layers of Italian balsamic oil varnish and sheep’s wool damping in a cabinet of golden ratio proportions. This seemed a perfect recipe and Dylan’s voice on "The man in the long black coat" from OH Mercy had all the haunting immediacy producer Daniel Lanois intended it to have.

While hifi shows are obviously held to show off good sound, one can easily find bad sound as well. One such example was Focal who had surprisingly taken up a very small room for people to audition their massive Stella Utopia EM speakers driven by Arcam electronics. The setup was clearly too much for the room and overpowered and killed the music but the Arcam rDAC looked promising with its added ability to wirelessly pick up music over the network.

French Cabasse loudspeakers, Canadian Bryston electronics and PMC speakers were other notable exhibitors with less than impressive sound. While all these firms are renowned for excellent gear, a novice hearing it on that day would have wondered why anyone would pay so much for their equipment.

Love of music is typical at European shows and exhibitors are game for you to play your own discs/LPs yet musical snobbery still exists. This was on full display in one of the rooms where the only music available were audiophile CDs with good sound but average to horrible music. To bring some fresh air into this stuffy room, I requested the title track of Phish’s Rift. It was quite amusing to see the exhibitor itching to switch off this non-audiophile sound from his room. We parted ways staring at each other from the corners of our eyes.

True to Swiss precision, the day ended at 16:00 and all of us hungry audiophiles eager for more musical debauchery were ushered out. After a whole day of being awash in wonderful sounding music systems, it was a pleasure to return home and listen to Dylan belting out "Shelter from the storm" on my Cadence Amaya hybrid electrostatics driven by an Audio Analogue Puccini amplifier. Musical heaven was right here and I certainly wasn’t missing much…