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Taking place over the October 24/25 weekend in Regensdorf's Mövenpick Hotel in the suburbs of Zürich, HighEnd Swiss 2009 was for the first time organized by the very capable team which has put on the famous München HighEnd show for years. As a result, exhibitors I talked to had nothing but praise for how well the event was organized. Contrary to conventions and perhaps as a pilot experiment, trade day with carefully screened credentials was on Monday, i.e. after the two consumer days. For best sound, this would have been an ideal scenario as by the last day, exhibitors traditionally have figured out how to make the best of their allotted space. Plus, any brand new gear by then had at least a few days of solid play under the hood.


Alas, many exhibitors simply were unprepared to take any real advantage of trade day. Practically dead in terms of attendance—the previous two 'public' days apparently were packed so top marks go to management for their clearly successful promotions of the event—Monday had many rooms not playing any music. Instead, exhibitors were engaged in chit chat amongst themselves paying zero attendance to the few walk-ins. Even ghost town could be sparked to occasional life if you've got the attention and commitment to make it so. After all, at times it's that lone chance encounter that makes all the difference to a manufacturer, dealer, importer or reporter. It can occur at any time during show hours so the properly committed don't let down their guard until the final bell tolls and maintain proper work ethics to the end.



To do otherwise isn't merely a waste of time and money. It's discourteous to those attendees who did show up. It's very bad form—and unbelievably bad business—to not remain on the ball for the duration. The folks manning the Isophon and big Dynaudio exhibits for example fell into this clueless category. Take this big room with Dynaudio's Consequence Ultimate Edition set up with top Accuphase gear. A gentleman dressed in a natty suit and tie sits in the sweet spot listening to music all by himself. He's the presenter. He doesn't acknowledge us entering the room. He doesn't say a single word. He just listens to hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of kit to a music track he fancies, in a big empty space that cost money to rent and should be turned into as many opportunities as possible. The minutes ticked by, I took the photos, then quietly walked out. A lot more could have happened perhaps. But that's not my job. My job is to show up. To "put on the show" is up to the exhibitors.


On the subject of shows, Switzerland also has the Klangschloss Greifensee event which I covered last year. The next and fifth installment will take place in the spring to not compete with the subsequent HighEnd Swiss. Committed dates are April 10 + 11, 10:00 - 20:00 on Saturday, 11:00 - 18:00 on Sunday. More information can be found on their website.



Back to Zürich. The Mövenpick Hotel sports a sizeable adjacent Messe Zentrum for exhibitions and events and HighEnd 2009 took up a big open floor for the usual passive displays. From this space a corridor led to large halls for active exhibits around the corner from which spun out another corridor with the usual (cheaper) small hotel rooms emptied of furniture for the occasion. Additional large active exhibits could be found on the minus two floor and one final outboarder was catty corner from the Mövenpick in the Hirschen Hotel three minutes foot walk down the street to demonstrate the new EMMlabs XDS1 one-box SACD player, Jeff Rowland Criterion preamp, Cardas Clear cabling and Trenner & Friedl's Miles speakers (host Audio Sphere couldn't secure a sufficiently large room on the show premises anymore and thus opted for the Hirschen venue).


As Sven Boenicke of the eponymous loudspeaker house put it, "it was far more fun to be here on the open floor with high ceilings, good lighting and ventilation and talk to the folks than being crammed into one of those tiny rooms which quickly heated up with bodies and had limited chances of making good sound." Not that I heard much sound on Monday but I take his word for it.



Surprisingly, at least one foreign manufacturer decided to use HighEnd Swiss for a world premiere. Jeffrey Kalt of Resolution Audio had flown in from San Francisco to debut his new Cantata Music Center [$6.000] and Cantata 50 integrated amplifier [<$5.000] in the room of his domestic importer Reson who showed their Rethm-based speakers with Supratek drivers (which sound very different from Jacob George's favored Lowthers to no longer justify any Rethm branding - below the Reson 2.rethm for CHF14.500/pr).


The Resolution Audio firm is of course best known for its current stack of half-width Opus 21 components below.


The new Cantata source takes advantage of Jeff's one-year descent into computer audio R&D which netted his own asynchronous USB protocol mated to Ethernet transmission. Since USB is limited to 5-meter cables but many audiophiles and music listeners prefer to leave their computer in the home office farther down the hall or on a different floor altogether, Jeff decided on Ethernet as the preferred cable interface, with his Pont Neuf USB-to-Ethernet bridge [<$500] handling conversion in the vicinity of the computer (UPnP-AV being another possible protocol). The Cantata MC sports 24/96 USB and Ethernet ports, Toslink/RCA/XLR digital inputs and RCA/XLR analog outputs. Remote volume control is in the analog domain for best performance and max output voltage is 2.5/5V RCA/AES-EBU. All inputs and related processing blocks are galvanically decoupled from the analog output stage and the master clock resides inside the Cantata of course to deslave streaming data from the PC source. The CD spinner is a slot drive and the unique but very fetching cosmetics combine a very slim black base with the usual command buttons with a 'hammered' aluminum hood whose machined pattern is arbitrary and far larger than the individual chassis blocks. This assures that no two machines will be exactly alike. The very large white display is super legible without retina burn and the dot matrix is assembled of large individual diodes peeking through a fresh pattern of punched square holes.



The matching Cantata 50 amplifier scales up output power of the existing Opus 21 S30 but retains the special anti-magnetic Dennis Morecroft class A/B circuitry. Final pricing will be locked in by CES 2010 at which time formal production should be underway and the cosmetics for the Bridge device finalized. Said Jeffrey below: "It'll remain a very simple box to keep costs down. USB is the future, asynchronous the only way to properly do it. While business was slow last year, I spent the necessary time to develop our own async protocol." Makes you wonder why Ed Meitner elected to not offer USB on his new statement machine. How can we complain about high-end audio dying if we don't offer built-in future proofing for digital source components, especially expensive ones?


Compliments to Jeffrey Kalt for braving the long flight from faraway California to debut his exciting new digital source component and matching amplifier at the first installment of the German-run Zürich HighEnd. This was exciting stuff alright. We'll now proceed with our usual alphabetical show coverage.