Of caped crusaders and towns. The power of music to connect, entertain and move us was at the center of the first Cape Town High Fidelity Experience on the 15th of October. The venue was the stunning Cellars Hohnenhort Hotel in Constantia on the Eastern slope of Table Mountain. As much thought went into the choice of music as the selection of hifi hardware on show in three lovely music rooms. Organizers Airmusic wanted to demonstrate that the main aim of good hifi equipment is to play all types of music, not just typical audiophile recordings. So extensive playlists covered a broad swath of genres from classical and jazz to electronic and hip-hop. Slots dedicated to each genre formed the backbone of the events of the day. Qobuz provided streaming but vinyl too factored in one rooms. After the drought of events brought about by Covid, Cape Townians were keen to meet up hence attendance was above expectations. The organizers made extra effort to attract not only diehard enthusiasts but music lovers who'd not typically attend audio event. The diversity of guest was encouraging; and ranged from fellow hifi retailers to partners of enthusiasts to young millennials who'ld probably never think of stepping into a typical high-end audio store. Many guests stayed the whole day and moved from one room and system to the next. Later in the afternoon the hosts entertained requests and festivities reluctantly ended by the end of the day.
The equipment in the three rooms did not disappoint, each having a different concept around which rooms and hardware were curated. In the largest room the idea was to showcase how a music system can fill a space with realistic levels through medium-sized speakers which are décor friendly so not only sound good but look the part. The Rosso Fiorentino Volterra 2.5-way floorstander played alongside its smaller Fiesole 2-way monitor sibling. Xavian's top Orfeo stand-mount also demoed here. Amplification was via Accuphase E-480 integrated and Norma Audio SC-2LN/PA150 pre/power combo. For good measure and as counterpoint to solid state, a Jadis I35 with KT120 illustrated the virtues of class A valves. Source was a Holo Spring 3 Level 2 and Mac Mini running Audirvana. The nifty WiiM served as transport. Cables were mainly Cardas. The Volterra driven by Accuphase maintained a balanced and immersive sound at even high levels. The Fiesole were open and engaging and responded well to both the control of the Accuphase and the more saturated Jadis valves. The Xavian Orfeo which are tonally rich inherently impressed when driven by complementary Norma gear to be very clean and neutral but always refined and liquid. Many guests were surprised by how easily and effortlessly the mid-sized Orfeo filled a large space and gained even more depth and dimensionality with the Jadis. That said, modest 35wpc tube power limited the SPL that could be maintained as the Orfeo are not as sensitive as the Rosso Fiorentino. Rock, jazz and classical music played throughout the day and guests seemed glued to their chairs. Min Jun Sung's "Air on a G String" and The XX's "A Violent Noise" were tracks well received and even some dubstep later in the afternoon amazed aficionados of this genre.
In the second room the concept for the hardware was easy-to-drive speakers on low-to-medium power gain. Living Voice's A25R played anchor for most the day, ProAc's Response D2R stepped in from time to time. Amplification was a Pathos TT hybrid with 35 single-ended watts and timeless industrial design. A Jadis Orchestra Black fitted with EL34 outputs and a diminutive Shindo Montille CV391 also took part, a Holo May KTE DAC served as source and vinyl came via Dr. Feickert's Volare fitted with Origin Silver arm and Hana SL cartridge. A Fezz phono stage completed the analogue setup. Independent of amp used, the sound was always effortless, natural, insightful and tonally saturated. Each amp brought its own distinctive personality to the fore. The Pathos TT sounded open and refined, the Jadis powerful and extended while the Shindo created an immersive experience that sounded real and lifelike with rich color shadings and supple dynamics shifts. Despite very good digital, the vinyl rig demonstrated that even a mid-level setup can still win votes for musicality and plain fun. When the Living Voice floorstanders gave way to ProAc monitors, the presentation changed somewhat. The smaller speakers with ribbon tweeters were more open, neutral and their bass naturally lighter and tighter, albeit at the cost of ease and naturalness. Cables by Cardas interchanged with Auditorium 23 from Germany. Memorable musical moments were the fabulous electronic soundscapes created by talented local musician Felix Laband, various jazz and classical cuts as well as the surprising ease and raw rendition of "Smoke on the Water" from the live playlist.
The third room was to prove that you don't have to break the bank to enjoy music at home. That almost stole the show. Here Poland made a strong statement for being taken serious as a birthplace of very good hifi gear. Airmusic were excited to launch the Pylon Audio speaker as well as Fezz Audio electronics ranges. The AAdac from Audio Analogue interpreted 1s + 0s fed by the WiiM mini streamer also used in other rooms. This little device worked a treat to link up to Qobuz. A Moonriver 404 Signature integrated and Audio Analogue Puccini Anniversary amplifier also saw time to great effect. The fresh-off-the-shelf Pylon Jade 20 made a positive impression with their vintage looks and driven by a Fezz Torus sounded solid and meaty. They probably require a larger room and careful setup to show their true colors. The Pylon Diamond 18 monitor might be the sweet spot of the range. Those got the thumbs up from many guests. In a similar vein the entry-level Opal monitors pushed the value curve with excellent sound. Both Pylon's speakers and the Fezz amplifiers could be disruptors for more established brands worldwide. For good measure and to showcase how good the Torus 5060 solid-state amplifier with its built-in Wolfson DAC is, it paired with the iconic world-class ProAc Tablette 10 Signature minis. No genre could upset these systems which handled all styles equally well. Musical hits indicated by guests included the XX's "A Violent Noise" and Elvis' "Fever".
Guests clearly enjoyed their day out and the hotel's 5-star setting and facilities complimented the fine music and equipment. Friends were made, music was shared and appreciated. Everyone agreed that the experience was fresh and invigorating. The organizers also mentioned the many involved to make this day a success – from sponsors to the hotel and staff for whom no request was too much right up to the couriers used to transport the equipment. The hotel even sent a bottle of champagne to other guests in their luxury establishment just to insure that the music wouldn't be viewed as a nuisance, which it wasn't. A lucky guest even won an iFi Streamer. Whilst some audiophiles like to split hairs about details such as the influence of cables on the sound, this event demonstrated that with a slight shift in focus the hifi industry isn't necessarily on a downward slope. We need to revisit some high-end ideas, demystify the hobby and make it more inclusive. In the end, if the focus is on music and the experience of it not the sound per se, the true value of fine equipment emerges which can enrich our lives in many ways." – The organizers.