Made in Austria. Kinda.
Austria has been home to some of the world's greatest classical composers over the centuries. Think Haydn, Mahler, Mozart of course, Strauss, Schubert and many more. Talk about location pedigree. Vienna is an amazing city of 1.5 million with four -- yes, 4 -- operas, two of which feature performances every single night. And of course those are well attended as are the numerous other venues featuring orchestras and chamber ensembles which Vienna boasts.

That said, it won't come as a complete surprise that there is also a very active audio industry in Vienna, though most audiophiles may only know of Vienna Acoustics and Pro-Ject. The Vienna audio show aptly named Klangbilder | Sound Images featured quite a few more of these enthusiastic small companies and I decided to put the focus of this report on them. Additionally, there were three Slovakian companies of interest to add a proper Slovac seasoning to our Austrian audio stew.

Klangbilder took place in the Hilton Danube hotel November 10-12, 2006. Exhibitors were in the usual hotel rooms plagued with the usual issues compromising top performance. Only the firms with the bigger conference rooms could present their products in less handicapped conditions.

But trained audiophile ears used to digging up pearls where there shouldn't be any look beyond that. More annoying than acoustic realities was the aural soft-core pornography in many rooms -- wispy female Jazz vocals over double bass -- which sounded swell. Annoying?

Yes, annoying - because such fare sounds good on any system. It's not really challenging for amps or speakers. Dear future exhibitor: If you have guts and if your audio toy can take it, play something more challenging next time. Otherwise savvy audiophiles will have to assume that your toy isn't up to the task.

Consensus Audio is a young company which recently was pulled out of the dark by The Stereo Times with a rave review of their Conspiracy loudspeaker. In Vienna, they showed their Lightning floorstander powered by a Lavardin amp in the morning [below].

To right, Stefan Fekete proudly posed with the Lightning.

The sound with these was a tad too analytical and cold for my tastes. The Lightning costs €11,500 with all ceramic drivers. Add 8,000 for a diamond tweeter.

In the afternoon, the Conspiracy with diamond tweeter powered by a Sonic Frontiers tube amp was on tap. This big speaker sounded much better than it should have in the small room. It does however weigh in at €35,500 (27,500 with ceramic tweeter).

Conspiracy in the foreground and a new monitor in the back follow below. Also present but not demoed were Consensus' 150wpc Racoon Integrated (€7,200) and 250-watt ML-1 monos (€17,800/pr.) in the lower right.

Bösendorfer, Paltauf: By now, most audiophiles know that this revered piano manufacturer produces speakers as well - and not quite your average speakers either what with their extra slim profiles and resonating sound-board panels. Did I mention that they are gorgeous to boot? The new €12,000/pr VC-7 was demoed in front of a Grand Piano whose presence added a special flair to this room, suggesting an actual concert venue (which transpired as well by way of live performances, which were recorded and then played back for comparison purposes).

At some point I went around the speakers to note some really weird-looking black drums on the floor there, connected to the speaker's binding posts but to nowhere else. This is a revolutionary system invented by Hans Deutsch called Acoustic Cable Tuning (ACT). The system consists of two antennas (the 'drums' plus a cable running on the floor connected each to a speaker) and a cable running from each speaker along the signal cables to a black box which performs "active shielding".

The antennas have membranes which capture floor- and airborne vibrations which interact with the speaker cables through "motional feedback". Although I don't really understand how it actually works, the philosophy of this idea is quite interesting. Instead of correcting room acoustics, this uses the speaker/room interface to achieve harmony. It sounds like homeopathy for speakers: don't cure the disease, cure the person. My above listening impressions with the VC-7 were with the Acoustic Cable Tuning in place. That adds €3,950 as demoed (less with 1 antenna). Of course I don't know how much of the sonic achievement to ascribe to these devices except to report that they're a decorator's enemy. You can't even use them as side tables. [Above, Mr. Deutsch next to a VC-7.]

This exhibit was the most convincing of any rendering large-scale orchestral. We found out when I parried Mr. Deutsch's query on how I liked the sound with a "can they play real music?" - because he too was playing soft porn when I walked in. My remark hit a nerve. Next thing we knew was Beethoven and Mahler. If eyebrows raised with Beethoven, the audience present really got enthralled by Gustav Mahler. The room became very quiet, movements settled down and people went to that other place wherever the music took them. Contrary to popular myth, these speakers don't merely excel at reproducing piano. Of course any performance at this level has to be preceded by equally good sources and amplification. The CD player was an Exposure 2010 and amplifier duties were carried out by Wolfgang Paltauf's €12,000, 60wpc (into 4-ohm) push-pull EL509 amp, the V-60. It demonstrated drive and stability. Wolfgang is going to issue a smaller version of this amp in the V-30 soon.

Pure Dynamics is a young company led by an enthusiastic team designing tube amplification and loudspeakers. The small floorstander Galibier costs €2,490/pr and features an AMT tweeter in a d'Appolito array. Many speaker companies in the Vienna show were using Oscar Heil's AMT drivers or derivatives and I salute the audio genius he was.

The Galibier sounded quite good but limited in the nether regions and therefore needs a sub which the demo eschewed. Pure was actually demonstrating three Galibiers for 3-channel SACD material, one of two companies at the show which supported this format. Quite impressive were the all-tube 6-channel preamp and 3-channel amplifier, €3,990 each.

On silent display was the 2A3 integrated [below]. Georg Ruppert, the amp designer, posed between it and the Galibier speaker designed by his associate Christian Drolle [Georg above]. This company makes well-designed, good sounding and fairly priced products. I'll keep an eye on them.

LOG Audio's tube amps and audiophile equipment stands were in the next exhibit. The amps actually look solid-statish and very neat, posing no danger of getting your precious tubes smudged by little fingers! Designer Thomas Pfob was keen to explain the high-grade components he used, including all gold-silver internal cabling on deeply engraved PCBs and Mundorf caps. Tubes are EL156s. His website is impressive as well. [€8,900 Dialog V integrated to left, €17,800/pr Monolog M monos to right].

Haigner Horns were next. Reno Barth, importer of EAR and Music First in Austria, represents Haigner Horns for Austria and Germany. On demo was the aesthetically challenged €24,000/pr BETA-Horn driven by EAR amplification and CD player. The room was small for these huge 98db/W/m horns, which require space to breathe. The sound was nevertheless quite good. Haigner also makes an even bigger horn, the Alpha-Horn as well as a three-way high-efficiency €2,000/pr stand mount not shown. [Reno Barth on the left, Herr Haigner on the right - and no, this is not a sink!]

Viola da Electronica ((no website) tel. + 43-1-9458200 and Pegasus: Gottfried Stunz of Viola and Dr. Christian Brunner of Pegasus, two audio enthusiasts, were exhibiting in the same room, the amps of the latter driving both the speaker of the former and his own. The Viola is a speaker build like a music instrument with a Heil AMT tweeter and sounded really good with the Pegasus amps. The Viola costs €4-5K depending on finish, quite reasonable considering the craftsmanship involved and the sonic result. Pegasus also presented a Fostex-based small floorstander, which, not surprisingly, really needed a sub that wasn't present.

The Viola is shwon on the left, the Pegasus speaker on the right. Both are sold direct.

The Pegasus amplifier combo below -- with the €328 POW026M power supply, the €425 60wpc AMP026B and the €380 AMP038DRV preamp -- are also all sold direct.

Bahamut (website under construction): Michaël Seifert presented his Genesis speaker system, dipole monitors sporting a Mundorf ribbon tweeter with a huge powered sub. The given sensitivity is 100dB and the prices are €7,300/pr for the monitors and €3,000 for the sub. They sounded good although there aren't too many living rooms which can accommodate such a big subwoofer - and it won't work without a sub since the monitors roll out at 120Hz. A very promising effort though.

Mace Audioequipment produces some neat solid-state amplifiers and DACs. Together with Joachim Gerhard's
Sonics-branded Allegrias, they made some rather nice music, albeit more audiophile than 'music-lover' oriented.

The €5,900 Pre/DAC and €5,400/pr monoblocks from Mace below.

Vienna Acoustics only demoed their little Bach Grand in a naked room powered by Cyrus electronics. It looked like they wanted to make a point. Well, point made! The €1,490/pr Bach made music, was coherent, enjoyable and definitely high end. This is audio how I like it - great sounding, affordable and easy to integrate in a real-life living room.

Heinz Lichtenegger, developer and CEO of Pro-Ject, presented his full range of turntables including the €800 comfort line.

Last but not least, Quinton. Quinton is two things, a sound engineering firm providing recording services and a Jazz label. They are also two guys, Andreas Rathammer and Heinrich Schläfer, with true audiophile sounds from their CDs. If you are a Jazz fan and audiophile, giving them a listen should be your immediate priority! Two major Austrian players, Ayon Audio and Wiener Lautsprecher Manufaktur, were not present at the show.

Parfum de Slovaquie
JJ Electronic
was represented by its Austrian distributor Robert Losonci of Tubeprofi. You certainly already know JJ vacuum tubes but may have overlooked their serious range of reasonably priced amplifiers.
Left to right: JJ243 preamp with phono for €1,600; the huge 20wpc dual mono JJ322 single-ended parallel 300B with Alps potentiometer for €4,800; a 70wpc KT88-based integrated for €2,800; the JJ283 phono preamp for €550 and (lower tier) the 10-watt JJ239 2A3 monos for €5,200/pr. The JJ322 driving a pair of smaller Bösendorfers produced a seductive sound in a perfectly tiny room.
Audio Resolution's Ellipse is a weird-looking speaker, a huge cylinder terminated by a woofer on top top. It is fully active and even includes a DAC and remote control. Just add a CD transport and you have a complete system! The sound was very good in a room too small to show the speaker's full potential. €26,000/pr make you an owner.r

EAT produces high-end tubes and tube dampers: a KT88 for €200 a piece (yes, per), a KT300B for €300 and even an ECC803 with included damper for -- hold on to your chair -- €150. Shown with CEO Jozefina Krahulcova.

Lindemann of Germany is neither Austrian nor Slovakian of course but I still wanted to write about them because their system sounded good and coherent. The €8500 B905 loudspeaker made music and I was really impressed as I thought they really cost €4,250/pair. Looking closer at the price list, that was the unit price. Which doesn't change the fact that the system sounded good. Lindemann had a very professional sales approach, generously handing out tons of info material. I engaged in a conversation with Herr Lindemann himself, on new music formats and the future of CD, and he passionately defended the SACD format, saying that there will always be a place in the market for high resolution.

Ecouton Audiolabor of Germany merited inclusion in this report because they also use the Oscar Heil AMT tweeter in their dipole monitors and because the people there were actually talking only about the music being played rather than hyping the hardware. These speakers sounded very high-end, extremely detailed and perhaps a tad cold. €12,000 to 25,000 depending on configuration Ecouton speaker on the left, Martion horns in the back, JS tube amplification.

Martion Audiosysteme had to be included because I like horn speakers. Basil Martion demoed his big Orgon horn speakers. They are active with Class A amplification for treble and midrange, Class A/B for the horn bass. They sounded good and Basil wasn't afraid to pump up the volume to insane levels. The Orgon remained entirely unfazed regardless. This is a world-class speaker at €42,500/pr.