Bel Canto Black will go a slightly lighter shade of black with their forthcoming Black eX DAC. Positioned between e.One and Black, it uses a display simpler than Black and bolts together its chassis with invisible fasteners rather than route it out from solid billet. Otherwise it looks very similar and apparently packs very similar innards. Pricing TBA but expected at ~€15'000. John Stronczer volunteered that we'd get the first review unit so stay tuned for the full breakdown. Other reviews that coalesced in similar impromptu fashion were Angel Despotov's reference DAC under his Analog Domain brand, a server from Fabier Tallant's Orpheus Labs, an amplifier from WestminsterLab's Angus Leung shown in the Lumin room, a new integrated from Vitus Audio, the new AFD planarmagnetic headphones from Final, Vinnie Rossi's new DAC and a Gryphon Diablo 120/Mojo S combo. From this nicely loaded plus column, let's briefly segue into an equally loaded minus column. The first assault at common sense and courtesy was Ascendo's Jürgen Scheuring with his colossal subwoofer previewed earlier. This hellish contraption wreaked havoc through numerous adjacent rooms and across the hallway. There was no defense against such infrasonic long waves. His neighbours repeatedly asked him to turn it down. Invariably, the volume would creep up again. Show management really ought to have shut down this exhibit for violating their contract's max SPL limits. It made life miserable for fellow exhibitors who spent the same cash to be there.

Equally uncouth were a group of three Mundorf solicitors loudly identified by their get-up. They walked the halls looking for opportunities to sell parts to prospective manufacturers. When they happened upon the Living Voice room during a demo, they promptly bee-lined it to behind one speaker in an overt attempt to look at its external crossover. Doing so without permission, they clumsily dislodged a damper atop the filter box. This crashed into the speaker to mar its luxury finish. Mundorf should expect a bill for damages done. The behaviour of their ingrate associates beggared belief!

Doing equally so but back again in very good form was the above measurement for Nagra's forthcoming HD preamp. The few small spikes are environmental feedback. That -160dB S/NR is from a valve preamp by the way. Based on a dirty/clean twin-chassis approach, its power supply runs UltraCaps for virtual battery performance. The dual-mono volume controls are electronically clutched. They actuate precision step-down transformers whose secondaries create a passive attenuation matrix. Dialling in an offset adds precision balance control.

The upstyled modulometer won't be the only cosmetic difference of the HD preamp. It also grows wider than Nagra's classic stance and introduces a sophisticated mechanical suspension system by way of four outrigger pillars based on the exploded drawing's concept of soft and hard parts which can stack multiple components atop each other whilst being mechanically perfectly isolated.

Global sales manager Matthieu Latour reported that this final piece in the HD puzzle (DAC and amps being the two outer pillars which the preamp bridges) elevates the performance of its mates to a level even its own designers weren't 100% privy to before. With the launch of the HD preamp later in the year, Nagra believe they will have a true take-no-prisoners system that won't make apologies to anything. If I were Matthieu, I'd eye the Kondo gear in the Living Voice exhibit across the hallway from Nagra each year.

With a pair of HD amps having sold every single week of 2017 until show time, it boded well for happy future homes of the pending 'completer'. The moral of this story is a familiar one: whatever component in a system is weakest even at this level, it will hold back the ultimate performance of the rest.

With their bright-red Wilson towers, the Nagra system certainly laid to rest any and all prior reservations punters may have entertained about their amps not getting it up with really big speakers. Those days are far behind the Swiss team by now.

Big amps and big speakers too factored in the Tune Audio/Trafomatic Audio exhibit where enormous Elysium monos fronted large Avaton horns. Having made it a point to visit Manolis Proestakis' room during each of my prior Munich covers, I'd heard his various horns with Engström and ModWright electronics before. This particular combo was my favourite yet and our Greek designer seemed rather pleased himself. I asked him whether he could listen to these in his house. Only with his feet touching the horn mouth he replied. During R&D, he had to use a properly spacious industrial facility but for his personal use, this model would be far too large and brutal overkill.

It was a good reminder. Many of the really big systems unapologetically aimed at a very elite clientele which have appropriately capacious rooms to support such transducers in the first place. For most civilians, the perhaps sanest speaker solution I saw at the show...

... came from the land of the vikings, albeit without blood, gore and the sacking of monasteries.

Say tervehdys to The Ones, a three-deep range from Genelec of Finland which combines their trademark dual-concentric wave-guided array with twin hidden oval woofers for compact active three-ways in aluminium clamshell enclosures. Dubbed the 8331, 8341 and 8351, the first two use the same 19m/90mm tweeter/mid coax whilst the top model grows the mid to 130mm. Meanwhile woofer sizes grow from 130x65mm to 170x90mm to 200x100mmm. All of them come with Genelec's compensatory dip switches or AutoCal software for in-room calibration, bass management and response tweaking. Finishes are dark grey, black or white. Pricing tops out below €4'000. These can all go vertical or horizontal and either stand atop their own footers or be wall-mounted. Most people will never need more - yet there's always Genelec's own subwoofer/s which can be looped in with perfect filter blending.

Whilst the earlier reviewed Kii Three remains the currently most intelligent monitor made, these three Finns would be more within reach and sprout their own high EQ meaning, active drive and adaptive DSP filtering. Promoting a similarly active lifestyle were Focal with their new Shape 40 and Shape 65 models which sport force-cancelling sidefiring woofers.

Back to Audio Physic it was via Willie Bauer's new activated 'Virgos'. Having asked designer Joachim Gerhard what his best-selling model was prior to Sonics and now Suesskind, Willie was promptly pointed at the original Virgo for which he subsequently obtained the rights to author a fully active modern version. When I spotted these in the Lindemann room, I spurted out loud "these look like Audio Physic". I was instantly told that "they are". Payton's Place and all that Jazz. Play it again, Sam.

Coming from the land which the vikings discovered well before Columbus was in diapers? Vinnie Rossi. He'd brought his DHT Lio for a talk show behind a small table in the Acoustic Signature booth. Vinnie explained the inner workings and modularity of his award-grabbing beast to anyone who wished to know and was very excited about the performance upgrades his new DAC would introduce.

To properly convey the scale of Goldmund's new flagship amp, I asked their accommodating associate to stand beside it.

That carbon fibre needn't mean black was ably demonstrated by these Blue Brothers from Wilson Benesch.

Green not with envy but from patination were these copper-clad Æquo Audio Ensis. Their thick copper coverage not only alters the looks and stiffens the sticker but also damps an already inert enclosure for sonic not just visual benefits.

Brought by smart phone renderings not truck were Æquo Audio's forthcoming Stilla and Diluvium models. The former will be a 90dB sensitive 107cm tall three-way with twin hidden 7" woofers behind a 14cm baffle that transitions into an elliptical back whose continuously diminishing radius prevents shell resonances and reflections. This shell is artificial stone produced in-house with high-pressure thermo forming. The woofers are oriented diagonally inside the cab, with one cross-wise atop the other to exploit force-cancelling effects. These activated bass drivers (2 x 250-watt nCore) communicate with the outside world via a vertical pipe that's as long as the enclosure to be tuned well below where normal-sized rooms would respond. This pipe flares like a short horn at the bottom to increase gain. "Implemented ARPEC™ and EHDL™ technology as well as the avoidance of rear ports allow problem-free placement in virtually any room. The ARPEC™ system is used to simulate the bottom octave of closed-box speakers and can be adjusted for room size and placement near walls and corners to deliver taut bass without any boom. The EHDL™ high-frequency system redistributes some of the vertical energy into horizontal energy so the soundstage will not suffer from floor and ceiling reflections. Optimized directivity delivers great results even in acoustically non-perfect environments." The 93dB efficient Diluvium flagship will be a six-driver 4-way with dual front-firing mid-bass couplers below the two-way head and twin sealed sidefiring woofers. All four lower drivers are actively powered. The motorized remotely actuated head section can alter the angle of its array for perfect focus with the seated position. Two rear arrays of three controls each will offer a broad range of pure analog-domain adaptability including a very unusual presence-region controller. By being easier to manufacture than the Ensis, the Stilla will become the new entry-level model but is promised to perform unreasonably close. With the Diluvium whose enclosure composition remains to be finalized relative to certain internal hi-tech damping materials, this Dutch company are aiming for reference calibre performance. A review for the Stilla which will bow first has already been booked.