Belgium is a strange country. It is enclosed by the North Sea in the West, Holland in the North, France in the South and both Germany and Luxemburg in the East. After the Treaty of Schengen, formal border crossing formalities were eliminated. Now one simply drives through to notice the road signs changing shape and color. There are no nasty looking customs officers or policemen stopping each and everyone for a quick inspection or the odd call to that back room. But Belgium still retains one real though invisible border - the language barrier. The northern part of the country, Flanders, speaks Flemish and the southern part French. Flemish itself is almost Dutch but with a much friendlier tone. The city of Brussels acts as Belgian capital and part of the European capital, the latter status which it has to share -- not yet officially? -- with the French city of Strasbourg.

Both halves of Belgium enjoy their own regional parliaments but the country has one national parliament. The most curious of all is the fact that Brussels is also the capital of the Flanders region, the third hat the city wears. Add to this that Brussels speaks French even though it sits 'above' the language border and you might see what an interesting country the Kingdom of Belgium really is. Is it any wonder that a national government is hard to form? It takes months to get all noses and egos aligned.

Nevertheless, Brussels is a sparkling city -- een bruisende stad -- with lots of culture not merely stemming from historical times but also attracted by the many international agencies that surround the European government, officially called 'commission'. Politics and other tribal behavior apart, Brussels is also host to the yearly Hifi Show. With 45 dealers and / or importers to demonstrate this time around, it falls in the category of small show, a big plus in our book. Even with ample attendees, the exhibitors still have sufficient opportunity to interact with them all.

A group of friendly girls welcomed the visitors and handed them a small sticker that functioned as badge. Simplicity ruled at this show where six floors of the Sheraton hotel hosted the exhibitors. The hotel has enough fast elevators to transport all attendees swiftly from floor to floor but the temperature in the hotel was quite high. Most exhibitor rooms had the air conditioning switched off and with lovely sunny October days plus plenty of visitors and tube gear, the mercury rose substantially. The hotel provided some fans in the hallways though such that a cool breeze was available here and there.

We started our rounds at the top floor and found something that was simple and well thought-out. The exhibitor here used small LCD picture frames to provide information of his NAD, Dali and other display wares. It took visitors a few minutes to read the scrolling text and there was no need for repeat verbal explanations nor paper handouts.

Triangle Electroacoustique offered a generous peek at the innards of a Magellan Concerto sw2. There is a lot going on inside that speaker.

After Home Theater in A Box, there is something new that arrives completely in one box. TAD showed their Geneva line of all-in-one optical disc player, FM tuner, iPod dock, stereo loudspeakers and a 600wpc class D amplifier. Is this the return of the Tonmöbel, the radio/turntable combination of the late '50s?

One floor down we found a room demonstrating the Wilson Duette with its accompanying Novel external crossover. The Duettes were placed in the window sill on top of the air-conditioning's duct cover smack against the large glass window, a position no normal thinking exhibitor in his right mind would choose. Only this time is was intentionally done as Dave Wilson has specially designed the Duette for even odder placements.

The Duette feels completely at home near walls, in bookcases and even at non-audiophile heights. Due to the tuning options in the external crossover, the Duette system can be adapted to any circumstance. We played a track from Musica Nuda, the Italian singer and bass player duo recorded live at the Fip studios in Paris. The track "Il camello e il dromedario" is a killer
and can make or break a system. Here the exhibitor aimed to please us by adding a giant Watchdog subwoofer to the already far from bass-shy Duettes. Luckily we could persuade him to switch the beast off right away. An acoustic bass thundering like a Saturn rocket take-off spills the tea in our cup.

How about the Transparent Reference speaker cable above? It seems the networks on these cables grow bigger and bigger each year.

A completely different approach was found next door. Here there was a lot of European gear mixed with some American. As front ends, the good old Metronome Kalista and a TW Acoustic Raven handled digital and analogue respectively. Amplification was by PS Audio just as was power regeneration. For loudspeakers, the latest Belgian egg-shaped Vaessen had been commissioned. Unlike much Euro legislature, this international cooperation was pleasing to the ear.

In a smaller room, Vaessen's The Box loudspeakers formed the end of the line driven by a PS Audio DAC and amplification. More interesting was the source, a Microsoft Vista PC without any moving parts - no fan, no spinning hard disk, just loads of physical memory and zero pagefile configs. The system further had been stripped of all redundant Windows software. A solid state memory device was used for storage, having enough capacity to hold .WAV files for hours of listening pleasure. This PC setup was now getting to the point where all negative influences inherent in the concept had been neatly eliminated though this setup will need some extra attention in the future.

Melody Europe stacked a large quantity of glowing tubes on black frames together. Spinning the supplemental black vinyl made the nicely contrasting white speakers sing with joy.

French make Venus crossed the northern border to show their line of loudspeaker which each begin with the letter 'C' and have in common the C.F.T.A design which stands for Canalization, Fragmentation, Treatment and Absorption. By using parabolically curved internal surfaces in the cabinets, Venus claims to avoid any negative influences on the cones. Externally, Venus applies a layer of enameled glass on the cabinet veneers. Fine-tuning the placement of Venus speakers is made easy with a provided kit containing laser finders. That way a speaker can be at the millimeter-precise location one intends it to be. Did we say that all this is proudly made in France?

One room that was constantly filled with attentive attendees was the Podium Sound exhibit. Shelley Katz had come over invited by his distributor from the south of France. Next to his large Podium Sound Model One was demoed the smaller Model 0.5.

Though substantial smaller and hence very home friendly, the musical capabilities quite resembled the big 'un, with the same dynamics, transparency and phase coherence while a perhaps little lighter bottom end. Here we had another opportunity to spin Musica Nuda and the crowded room was pleased with the naturalness of the bass and vocal rendition. We returned later to play some other music on the 0.5s but the room was simply too crowded then.

Across from Podium Sound we found an interesting lineup of more conventional dynamic dome'n'cone loudspeakers. After we made the brain-click back to this kind of sound production, we could enjoy speakers by Mark & Daniel small and large, Studio Electric T3, Hansen The Prince and Rethm's Maarga. All these were powered by Audio Space tube gear. Their Hong Kong-made Reference Series pre- and power amplifiers both employ 300Bs for a very nice, open and involving sound. We hope to hear more of this very soon.

Some 40 years ago or maybe even longer, the first migrant laborers called guest workers arrived in Holland. Often they were Italian terrazzo artisans. They had the skills to meticulously sand and then polish this hard material consisting of mixed cement and small pebbles. Once the mixture was spread out evenly and dried sufficient, the work for these muscled men began. Hours and hours they sanded kitchen top surfaces or shower stalls. When done, there was a super smooth surface that lasted for years and years. Only when fashion introduced the American Kitchen with its white steel cupboards and stainless steel work tops, this Italian specialist hand labor broke down. But we distract.

Terrazzo is a Dutch loudspeaker manufacturer who uses the same super rigid, strong and acoustically inert kitchen sink material of yore. Yet today, machinery helps a great deal. Concrete is poured in molds prepped with all the holes and connection points necessary . Post sanding, a seamless loudspeaker cabinet emerges and Terrazzo is experimenting with all manner of shapes and configurations.

In one of the rooms we spotted the new CEC TL53Z CD player. We are curious about Paul Candy's forthcoming review here on the moons. The brief listen we had did not disappoint.

Dutch distributor More Music always dresses up the rooms they 'live' in for a few days during a show. In Brussels they relied on the new Philips Livingcolors mood lights to add another dimension to the yards of colored cloth they had brought and draped in their display. As always, an interesting mix of music was DJ'ed over Avalons and other kit.

A surprise was found in one of the last rooms we visited - the presence of Siltech. Very soon after the festive presentation of their first-ever Pantheon 25 loudspeaker, Siltech now presented the somewhat smaller Pantheon XX. The speaker on demo was still a beta version but nonetheless bloomed in the large room. The biggest difference to the Pantheon 25 is the Raal ribbon tweeter replacing the Cadence electrostatic tweeter. Housed in a similarly shaped baffle with foam deflectors on top and bottom of the ribbon, the tweeter remains adjustable for fine-tuning the sweet spot via tilt.

Where and how they find the designers, materials and resources is still a question only Siltech can answer but now they discovered this ribbon tweeter in Serbia where Aleksandar Radisavljević has developed a foil of just 0.004 mm in thickness or almost as light as air itself. The same manufacturer also developed a tweeter with an amorphous core magnet which will be used in the subsequent prototype of the Pantheon XX. Knowing Siltech, the final product will have a ribbon tweeter fully customized to their additional ideas and benefit from the Comsol multi-physics modeling software they use.

Another room that never disappoints and is practically the same at every show is the one where KR Audio teams with Harmonic Technology, Pluto and Von Schweikert. This time the VR7 moved the air steered by a Kronzilla amplifier for good solid sound that never fails to please the visitors. A novelty was the Inex Innovation Laser Amplifiers. Inex is Harmonic Technology's supplier of their latest rechargeable battery packs used with the CyberLight cables. These cables transform the incoming electrical signal to a photon stream of light that is retransformed to an electrical signal at the receiving end to prevent RF interference during the signal transmission.

Now Inex Innovation takes the photon input and amplifies it prior to electrical signal conversion. It's an amplifier in a cable and a relatively small box with an external power supply is all there is to it. There are two types, a 9-watt and more powerful 20-watt version. At the Brussels show the cable amps were merely on display so we cannot report on any sonics for now.

Even though the Cabasse La Spheres cannot be called small, they were dwarfed by the giant room they were used in. Unfortunately the room was not merely big but big on echoes as well. So here's a mere view of the one-eyed giant on his helical stand to close out our short report.