This review page is supported in part by the sponsors whose ad banners are displayed below
14-15 February, Sheraton Hotel
It may not be the most significant international hifi show there is but, it is a pleasurably compact event with loads of positive vibes. Whether those good vibes are due to some objective show ingredient or the simple fact that the show is on Swedish soil I don't know. And I don't care as long as an outsider like me senses a promising and curious attitude among the audience. Which is less obvious at our Helsinki show in Finland for example. Visitors, approximately 4000 over two days, seemed knowledgeable and civilized, critical but not cynical. I like that.

With just one and a half floors, the 2009 Show was small. I heard a whispered explanation. This time participation was by invitation only. I couldn't confirm it though. It was a pity of course that many lesser known smaller actors -- the salt of many shows -- were missing. The saving grace was that the remaining rooms were large and that their occupation rate was high. And because the show was so focused, people could spend more time listening to each system. Nor did it take the whole weekend to cover it all. Visitors were first welcomed by Anthony Gallo's new flagship, the 5LS line arrays. The speakers were placed in the reception on either side of two easy chairs. The rapporteur was convinced that even the reverse listening position and wide listening angle were no obstacle to an enjoyable musical experience accompanied by the fireplace five feet away.

Big rooms, big systems. From KEF came what looked like their reference 207/2 speaker amplified by Chord electronics. The room or rather hall was so enormous as to completely prevent any fair assessment of the sound quality. In such a cavernous space, even the best high-end speakers become PA boxes.

Focal's grand new Grand Utopia I'd heard in the first iteration a long time ago in Paris and later versions over the years on different occasions. There's no denying that the Grand Utopia is one of the most progressive speakers on earth. At the same time, it has always been a kind of underachiever in particular on bass performance. An indirect proof is that for the new Grand Utopia, the manufacturer has gone to town with new 16" field-coil woofers with greatly increased force factor. And it sounded great, clean and convincing with Bridge Audio electronics. On top sat a new Audiomeca turntable from Pierre Lurné. This, like others mentioned later, was a parallel exhibit at local dealer's Audio Concept.

TAD's Model 1 Audiophile Reference speaker goes for circa $60,000/pr in the US. With the current exchange rates, I dare not guess what that amounts to in Swedish kronen. And yet I learned that a pair had found a new home during the show, with two others awaiting a similar fate.

Amphion demoed two systems: the flagship Kryptons with Audio Analogue electronics and the new Prio 620s with the esoteric theLars 300B monoblocks. The 90dB sensitive, 4-ohm Prio sang surprisingly well with theLars monoblocks given the latter's relatively small power (ca. 20 W/1%THD) and probably quite high output impedance.

Despite the two 300Bs per channel, theLars is not a parallel single-ended but push/pull design. In fact, Lars Engström told me that a parallel SE configuration was the last thing he'd like to do with those tubes. To find out why there are so many tubes per side, check out Srajan's preview on this hyper-expensive design.

The Sonus Faber room attracted many visitors. Homage Stradivaris did good work with Sim Audio Moon electronics. The turntable was a Brinkman Balance I believe, a fine deck by all standards. Still, what puzzles me always is that regardless of such quality components, the analogue sound at hifi shows is rarely as addictive and seductive, soft and rich and laden with meaningful musical details as I often come across elsewhere.

Maybe just as high style cannot be bought from any shop but relies on grooming, education and instinct, a successful analogue sound requires more than what money can buy - deep knowledge and devotion to minute details of setup for instance.

Now that the hyper-expensive Continuum Caliburn has carried the flag of cheerleader for some time, the firm reaches out to those somewhat less financially liberated analogue lovers by launching the Criterion at roughly 40% the Caliburn's stratospheric sticker or about €40,000 in absolute terms. Cough.

The Criterion packs the new Copperhead tone arm. Acquired separately, it demands about €6000-7000 as compared to the €15,000 of the Cobra. I was told that installation remains demanding precision work despite a 60-page instruction manual. It was not the sweetest sound I've heard from a Continuum-orchestrated system but I do trust each and every component of it on its own: the Karan Acoustics Ph2 Reference Mk2 phono stage, KA L preamp, KA M650 power amps and Kharma Exquisite Mini speakers. The cartridge was a Dynavector XV-1S.