Lost in translation, time and place
The first thing you notice upon arriving at Moscow's Sheremetyevo-2 airport terminal? Nobody is really smiling. In the crowded hallways and waiting area ahead of the passport control, green uniforms are abundant, the faces above their star-spangled epaulets set to expressionless. The ladies in the passport control booths are no exception. Their facial expressions are neutral, their eyes focussed on the serious job of spotting impersonators and illegals. It took us quite some time to get through passport control. When entering the Russian Federation, you need a visa. The easiest way we found to obtain one was via the services of Dutch company Visumburo. They offer forms to download and all kind of useful advice. For instance, next to a valid passport with at least two adjacent empty pages, you need an invitation to the Russian Federation if you travel there as a tourist. The hotel we intended to stay offered this letter of invitation without hesitation. When all forms are filled out, you send those with your passport, mug shots plus the letter of invitation to Visumburo by courier. Two weeks later, the Visumburans had our passports upgraded with an impressive visa. For two Russia-approved passports, the complete operation set us back roughly 150 euros ($180 US).

Besides the visa, you need to fill out a landing card once aboard the plane. To make things easier, the landing card is in Russian. Think Cyrillic characters to get the picture. It appeared that besides the visa in the passport, an already filled-out landing card had been included by Visumburo. Nonetheless, we filled out the additional card just in case. Once on Russian soil, the visas and passports were meticulous examined after which we were allowed to pass. Point of interest? While the machines processed the passport scans, the photo sent in together with the visa application appeared on a PC screen. It was quite a wakeup call to notice that when the tightly uniformed ladies left their booths, they all wore ultra-short skirts, black panties and stiletto heals. Definitely the bad Bond girls!

Welcome to the Russian Federation of Independent States. After we picked up our bags, we had to put our checked bags through x-ray once again. Carry-on luggage we could hold on to, thankfully. At the exit into the world outside the airport, the driver we booked through the hotel was awaiting. This service seemed a much easier way than taking a minibus to the metro station to proceed from there to our final destination. Walking to the car, we noticed for the first time that having travelled 1300 miles east had deposited us dead center into the snow and cold. Heaps of snow everywhere. Stinging cold assaulted the nose with every breath. It took more than an hour to get from Sheremetyevo-2 to the city center. During this hour, we got a crash course in Russian driving. The roads were snow-laden and 4 lanes wide. Our chauffeur -- and later we noticed that he was no exception -- was a digital driver. He only knew two modes of operation: break or full throttle. Traffic itself was special as well. Cars were a mix of "fully air-conditioned" Ladas, big trucks and very expensive luxury cars. The latter, almost without exception, were polit bureau kosher black with black windows. The only thing that made all cars and trucks equal? The road grime all were encrusted in.

The hotel we had booked is located just across the Moscow River and Red Square. Looking out of the hotel's windows, the colorful St. Basil's cathedral sits prominently in the picture. Over to the left are the buildings that form the Kremlin. Not a bad location at all.

Next morning it was time for the HDI Show 2006. It proved a bit disorientating to look at the world outside. Were we in Anaheim looking at the Magic Castle or Moscow with St. Basil's? Anyway, HDI stands for Hi-fi, Digital and Install. The show's venue was the Iris Congress hotel and that again ended up an hour's driving from the city center through snowy Moscow. At the Iris, it was busy. The hotel is built around an atrium and the balconies of 7 floors rising from the lobby's floor were lined with colorful banners. Just like at any other show, visitors needed a badge. So we presented our show invitation to one of the people handing out badges. In fluent Russian, he explained that we ??? yes, what ??? Then he pointed to the metal detector port. We showed our invitation once more. The only word that made sense to point out to the fellow at this juncture were the magic three letters VIP on the invite. He did wave us through now. Okay, we didn't merit a badge but inside we were. The HDI's show website was in English and no problem to navigate or make sense of. Alas, now that we had actually arrived at the promised land, we had further difficulties with the language. Tower of Babel anyone?The 150-page show guide in our expectant hands was -- you guessed it -- in perfect Russian. Time for another quick refresher course in Cyrillic and off to the top floor we rushed [de-icing Moscow-style below].

Waiting for the elevator, we noticed the probable cause of our feeling a bit awkward. The clock above the elevators told all. It showed Thursday, February 30th. Thus with our internal clocks not only shifted by two hours, we also found ourselves in Lost Time. Alas, no velociraptors. Encouraged, we proceeded. The top two floors were dedicated to High End audio and HiFi, the lower floors more focussed on multi-channel A/V and installation services.

The first room we entered almost instantly blew us away with two set-ups. In one end of the room, a huge system ended with Westlake Audio HR-1VF speakers. With dual 15" woofers, a 10" mid bass driver and three compression tweeters and separate crossovers, this speaker is a beast. Big and loud, that's what the people in this room were into. When this demonstration was over, the system with the Acapella Violins took over. Again at a high SPLs.

Many rooms showed and demonstrated very common fare though from the highest segment. The first day of the show was for the trade and quite busy. There was a lot of interest and by the looks of it, business was written as many attendees wrote things down in notebooks.

Much more musical were the following exhibits. New-to-us RONEe'S showed a multitude of big loudspeakers and electronics. In the first room, a pair of large shiny black speakers in the form of half eggs played very subtly and musically. The language barrier intercepted again as reliable showstopper. We felt feel quite lost while the gentleman exhibiting attempted to explain the wonders of his product. We did not grok anything beyond that the immense power supply was good for 3000 watts. The origin and type of huge power tubes in their cylindrical housing remained lost in translation. All electronics, including CD transport and DAC, were of RONEe'S make and manufacture. They looked decent, well built and played accordingly. The room next door was set up with just a single system on active display. In a corner we spotted a prototype of a DAC as the gentleman from RONEe'S explained in halting English. The active system was set up with the CD transport we had already seen in the other room, a DAC and two 4-watt amplifiers. What kind of tubes were used was another riddle.
We did get that the loudspeakers are 89dB sensitive and the tweeter on top no super tweeter. When we sat down to listen to our own CD, all other visitors in the room were requested to leave. Handicapped by our lack of Russian, we just had to sit back, enjoy our apparent VIP status and listen. The only conclusion afterwards was that this system was very musical indeed. When one of the designers joined us in the room, we could make out that the system was apparently designed with especially the human voice in mind. Too bad that the website mentioned in the каталог (catalogue) did not provide more information.