2-channel heaven?
Welcome to my coverage of the only serious HiFi show in Norway. With ca. 4.3 million people and almost half of them living in the greater Oslo area, you can appreciate why we neither have the capacity nor need for multiple shows. There are of course local activities but none as big as this one. Alas, there is one other Oslo show - but that one is more geared to the surround and multi-channel people. I don't belong to that group and thus pass on their show.

This show took place September 3/4 in Horten, a small town about 100 km south of Oslo. Almost 30 exhibitors presented 200 different brands. The organizers are two guys with their own HiFi businesses. It is a great effort to pull this off every year. Kudos to them both. To my knowledge, they don't write any profits to write home about but they do generate plenty of good will - and that's not a bad thing either. However, this is not to belittle their efforts. God knows that the HiFi community in Norway needs this event. It is a rather lonesome hobby during the long winter months. And of course, it is also a great opportunity for retailers and importers to mix and mingle with their prospective customers.

Let's start with the state of the HiFi hobby in Norway. Our small population does not leave room for many dealers and importers. Of course we can buy Edge, Krell, Wadia and other popular brands. But, it seems to me that everybody knows each other for good and bad. The Norwegian market is dominated by two or three large vendors and a lot of small mum'n'pop outfits. So there's pretty stiff competition and everything is very transparent (not the cable). Norway is also a high cost country. We pay blood for the best of the best. No kidding.

Like in every other country, we have our own brands with almost religious followings. Perennial discussions debate what is the best and which sound is the right one. No surprise there. But let's dispel a myth. Foreigners tend to think of Scandinavians as calm and taciturn (they probably have seen too many Finnish movies - sorry Kari, but we find Finnish dramas quite depressing on these shores).

Not so. The common Norwegian audiophile is as fanatical and hysterical as his American counterpart. Certain domestic brands enjoy an almost religious cult of followers who defend their brand of choice almost to their deaths. I never stop being surprised what certain groups will eventually stoop to.

That said, many Norwegian brands are definitely competitive with the imports but in general, they don't enjoy the corporate funding to market them properly abroad. Before we make the rounds, I would like to mention that I shall mostly refrain from sonic comments about the different rooms. Some were very good, others missed the mark completely. Some played too loud, others did not make their systems come alive due to serious component mismatches. And of course, I do not want to start a debate in my small country based on my subjective opinions on the sound in rooms I did not know and equipment I haven't heard before. It would not be the right thing to do.

Domestic brands to get us started
Everybody of course has heard of Electrocompaniet. The company is back with full force after a couple of difficult years. Former owner Per Abrahamsen no longer is with the firm but will introduce a new range of amplifiers under a new brand in the not-too-distant future. Electrocompaniet has sold to a group of companies working the hi-tech sector in another part of Norway. They are optimistic about the future and have launched many new products, some of them at this show.

This included the powerful new AW-400 monoblocks mated to the highly successful EMC-1UP CD-player driving Martin Logan CLSes with serious bass towers. New Electrocompaniet multichannel products were on hand as well. A new speaker was pre-screened in prototype form, a 2-way effort with a ribbon tweeter. Let's wish them success. Prior EC launches of speakers and cables did not enjoy nearly the popularity the company's electronics have.

The dubious prize for highest output levels goes to Oslo Hifi Center, Norway's biggest retailer. They used amplifiers and speakers from Adyton of Norway. These components together with two Audio Physic Minos subs produced SPL levels that were too much for my tastes. The line source speakers consist of 18 mid/woofers with a ribbon tweeter. Below 80Hz, one or two subs take over. The price for a pair of line sources is 15,000 euros.

The amps where Adyton Cordis 1.8s, each with 2 x 350 watts into 8 ohms. Though they've garnered some positive reviews in Norway, I had never heard them before. List price is about 12,000 euros. The CD player was a Wadia 860.

Patos loudspeakers have many domestic devotees as good-sounding speakers that represent fair value for the money. They used a ribbon tweeter model with expensive electronics from EMM Labs and Audiopax. It was good to see local brands succeeding in a competitive market full of alternate choices.

The foreigners, big rooms, small rooms and one high-end celebrity
To many, he is the best salesperson in high-end audio. Yes, I do mean Lars Christensen who was there with his Eben speakers powered by Gamut electronics. He played music and used the inter-track breaks to tell us about the speakers with Audio Technology drivers and a special ribbon-tweeter. They had three models on display, with the Eben X-4 in the picture below. It's always interesting to spend time around Lars. He's very knowledgeable and a very pleasant presenter.

Directly from the land of depressing movies and saunas came a big setup with the Gradient Active speaker system, Metaxas electronics and a Audio Synthesis CDP/DAC combo. This was an impressive system from the serious and well respected dealer PM Audio from Kristiansand in Southern Norway.

Classe and B&W had a huge room that played Reggae each time I walked by. I'd heard the B&W 802 before but never with Classe electronics. Well, they are both famous brands and the importer is one of Norway's largest, with a chain of outlets. The sound? No comment - but cinema-sized rooms are not my favorite place for listening. Who were they trying to impress anyway? Under better conditions, I'm certain these brands can produce the kind of sound one would expect.

A really elegant system built around Wavac electronics, a Simaudio Moon CD player and the stunning looking Sonus Faber Guarnieri Homage impressed many but I thought the cosmetics outdid the sonics. The Wavac MD-805 were not capable of properly
driving the Guaneri The hosting company also sells the Simaudio amplifiers and I would have loved to hear the Guaneries with a Moon W-3 or even better the W-5.

dCS just launched the new P8i integrated Cd player at ca. 8,500 euros in Norway. Not cheap but for all I know, money well spent. They used Rogue Audio valved electronics which I respect for making good value electronics at fair prices. Also on display in this huge room were the Hyperion speakers. Do you understand why I do not comment on the sound? This setup wasn't appropriate for playing a room of 70-100 square meters and it showed.

A blend of American and Danish high end teamed up for the Audiofreaks display. Audiofreaks is the Scandinavian agent for Peak-Consult, Conrad Johnson and other brands. On display was the brilliant CJ Act 2 with Edge front-end and amp.

Sharing the room with Audiofreaks was Audio Design from Bergen, showing off the mightily expensive Messenger tube preamp. This preamp retails for around $30K in Norway and is by far the most expensive preamp I have yet heard. The speakers were Von Schweikert's VR4 SR. Cables were Nordost Valhalla and the Edge CDP processed the digits. Not bad at all (there I go again). The owner of Audio Design can be seen behind one of the speakers not doing what you are thinking.

Next was some Italian stuff made in the Czech Republic, Xavian speakers with a DK-Design amplifier and a Monrio CD player. The Xavian XN 360 is a quality speaker using very good drivers from Scanspeak. The prize is about 7,000/pr. Remember, life in Norway is costly.

I also spotted an old friend, the Amphion Xenon from Finland. This is a great speaker for $4K, sounding very good with BAT electronics and a Lector CD player. In fact, music lovers looking for a speaker in this price range must hear the Xenon.

The last system worth mentioning was the one around the Compass speaker from Usher of Taiwan. This brand is receiving good reports from many magazines and I can see why. The room was too big but the speakers was still capable of producing good sound. Here it worked together with an Usher amp and Audio Aero's CD player. The speaker finish was extraordinarily good for the $12K asking price.

Was this 2-channel heaven after all?
Like I said, it is impossible to evaluate products during a show. I got indications that certain gear had potential while some retailers surprised me with systems that sounded dull despite the fact that they were showing so- called high end products. Well, it could also be me. Maybe I am turning old and grumpy. Or I am spoiled? I don't know but nothing at the show gave me that "I have to have this" feeling.

What this event did show without a doubt is that the high-end business in Norway is alive and kicking. By common consensus, this show was up over 2004, always a good sign. Attendance was fair, with plenty of discussions, people taking photos and so on. The Norwegian audiophile is enthusiastic and shows a genuine interest in sound and music. That's a good sign, heaven or not. Until next year ...