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Heading far East we did with Opera Audio of Peking. Founded in 1994 this Chinese company is solidly entrenched in our domestic market and made initial waves with their top-loading Droplet CD player. Far newer is the 25kg valve-fitted Linear 1 preamp (€5.998). The glowing complement of 2 x 2A3, 1 x 6SL7, 2 x 101D is sourced from Full Music, the transformer from Sweden’s Lundahl. The circuitry is fully balanced, hookup wiring is pure silver and even the MKP capacitors don’t suggest any penny pinching. Somewhat curious but uncompromised? The Linear 1 also comes without remote control. For the same price. Due to the absence of circuit boards and pure point-to-point wiring, Opera claims that the non-remote version sounds even better. Why should it be cheaper? Also new was the Reference 7 Music Player, a valve-powered streamer with graphic-ready display.

The always busy Nubert team rolled out their own fresh bacon with the nuLine 34, nuLine 264 and nuLine 284 which €670, €1.570 and €1.950 bring home. Developer Günther Nubert listed a number of special tweaks that pooled into these models, the visually most obvious the flat driver on top of the floorstanding models. This flat membrane doubles up midband coverage with the cone driver beneath the tweeter. The firm has traditionally vetoed flat drivers since contoured diaphragms have greater stability to suffer less resonance modes. A new assembly with special honey-comb structure now eliminates prior reservations. The claimed advantage? The bracketed tweeter ‘sees’ disparate drivers such that any reflections or intermodulation are more offset. Relative to veneer finishes, Nubert dreamt up a draw to help decide final colors.

Nubert bosses Roland Spiegler and Günther Nubert

Feeling transported deep into a sylvan forest was caused by Swans not just because of their backdrop but also their two-meter tall €30.000 imposing line arrays. Even so the F2.8 with 12 x magnetostatic tweeters and 12 pug-nosed midrange domes is the firm’s smallest line source. For that it operates full-range with added LF drivers where the big ‘uns get a special subwoofer. For listening distances between 5 and 15 meters this would have been the perfect tool to flood the show room all the way to the last row without loss of dynamics or detail. And even there things did sound decidedly accurate and mature – except the company’s Jörg Erwin notified us that we were in fact listening to the compact €1.600 M1B with €600 Sub 10. Cough. This had us move front row for more listening. Without a doubt this was one of the day’s bigger sonic surprises.

Swans Sub 10 with blue Ampzilla

Back to electronics with a just-born trio which over the year will trickle to market peu à peu. The Marantz PM-11SE integrated [€3.999] is slated for August, the SA-11S3 SACD deck [€3.999] for September, the €2.999 NA-11SE streamer/network player for October. The integrated’s power stage is fully discrete, attenuation is by newly hatched IC and the LCD display is particularly low distortion. The copper-lined chassis sports XLR and RCA inputs and the preamp stage can be bypassed for amp-direct usage. CDP and streamer employ the same DAC and both offer async USB inputs. IPods, USB sticks, S/PDIF and Toslink sources are game too. Data limits are 24/192 and outputs are on RCA or XLR. The NA-11S1 is also fluent in AirPlay and gapless.

Things got heavy with Förster Audio who don’t have a single Bavarian speaker in the fold that puts less than 70kg on the scale. There are three models on the table already. A fourth top model is in the chute. With 12dB electrical networks trimmed for phase coherence throughout, the models are differentiated by size, price, construction (the bigger ones get sand-filled double walls), driver size and number as well as very different tweeter solutions. The ‘small’ FA7.3 [€13.900/pr] sports a Viva ring radiators that’s surprisingly deeply inset to hit the acoustic center of the Accuton ceramic midrange. The horn loading is said to linearize the top octaves. The next-bigger FA5.3 [€27.500/pr] on demo with Karin von Prittwitz was unbelievably clear, intelligible and focused and gets the same bass/mid drivers but upgrades to a Mundorf ATM. The 7cm thick front baffle of the 140kg/ea. FA3 [€54.500/pr] unites mids and highs in a bending-wave driver from Manger.

Attendees looking for compact speakers weren’t left out in the cold either. Connect Audio showed smaller siblings to Elipson’s Planet L ball speaker we reviewed last year. The new arrival is the €550/pr Planet M. The model names really do refer to size. When challenged why these cute little balls weren’t called Planet S (they really didn’t look like medium) designer Cedric Leon countered that an even smaller one is in the wings. Hey, we’re told French dress sizes always run smaller than elsewhere. The obligatory sub costs another €550. There’s a hidden size also in the BS50 Tribute [€4.800/pr] – a 50cm diameter of a design classic with roots all the way back to 1953. At that time the chassis were still made with gypsum. Today they’re composite resin. The reflector is said to make for very spacious room-filling dispersion. It’s probably not 100% hard-line text-book hifi but it is undoubtedly an interesting and very decorative concept. Good final words for this event too.