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This poster spied in the Avalon Acoustic importer's room is perfect on many levels. It could lead to a lengthy article of its own. But this is a show report. We'll simply let the poster overshadow and inform what follows in a subliminal way.

Intro stuff: I'd been told the Milan show was big. How big? My perception of square meters, number of exhibitors and attendees is always lousy. Let's just say that to premiere its very ambitious new Utopia range, Focal chose the Milan Quark hotel and not the UK's Heathrow venue whose show (don't they coordinate such things) took place simultaneously. Milan also was where Angelis Labor chose to launch its brand with the stunning quad-armed Gabriel turntable which didn't take being Roy Gregory or Michael Fremer to appreciate for its colossal chic and flawless fit 'n' finish.

The most fundamental difference to the Munich show? HighEnd takes place in a convention center. Top Audio runs in a hotel. The latter makes for a cozier atmosphere. There's the possibility for hallway talk and, if you booked early enough, the serious convenience to actually sleep in the same venue just as the Rocky Mountain Audio Fest in Denver offers.

I was surprised -- though perhaps shouldn't have been -- by the number of particularly Italian brands I'd not encountered or heard of before. My show report's focus will thus not be on rendering sonic judgments. It'll be to provide web links of who was there. This allows you to investigate, at your own leisure and to the extent you wish, those brands or products that interest you. Why get distracted or preconditioned by a stranger's snap-shot commentary? It's bound to be flawed. On the subject of which, a salient excursion.

You see, the folks from AudioPoint Italia, a new company that includes the long-established Suono e Comunicazione import house and the new Angelis Labor brand, had pushed hard to acquire a late ball room in which to demonstrate the Cessaro hornspeakers and Zanden gear they'd added to their import roster. They teamed up with the publisher of Audiophile Sound to share a space. It created a no-win situation which put two parties at profound cross purposes. Audiophile Sound was promoting its publication. This entailed endless self-congratulatory talk. AudioPoint wished to demonstrate its ambitious system. That would have entailed playing lots of music. In a sad display of disrespect for Audiopoint's luxury equipment however; its makers Ralph Krebs and Yamada-San who had flown in from Germany and Japan; and the Sicilian/Italian importers; the room-share arrangement was not reflected in equal time for both parties. Audiophile Sound simply took over.
What's more, they altered the Cessaro setup for which Ralph had flown in two days early. They managed to run the exhibit for a full half day without bothering (or noticing) to fire up the integral bass amps. They brought in an ultra-expensive Continuum Audio Labs turntable only to outfit it with a sub-standard cartridge which couldn't track dynamic material. Installing a screen and projector in front of the first row didn't help the musical matters for which most attendees -- and press members, cough -- gather either.

This large room also sounded fundamentally different when empty versus when filled with bodies. Depending on the state of affairs while you entered (and to actually listen to music uninterrupted, I had to come after hours), you could have been left with very skewed impressions indeed. Needless to say, the potential thereof was far from exclusive to this exhibit. It's trade show participation 101. Encountering it to the inordinate extent here simply was sobering. Truth be told, when after a brief verbal presentation by the designers, Audiophile Sound short-changed their demo with two quickly faded tracks that never got past their intros to launch into their own promotional spiel, I got up. I accused the presenter of wasting my time and walked out. Those left behind probably shook their heads. Honestly though, in all my tradeshow attendances, I'd never witnessed such blatant disregard for common courtesy. Apparently Burmester and Yamamura had similar experiences in years past. Unfortunately, the AudioPoint men weren't aware of those before making their own first show arrangements. I reckon this was a very expensive lesson for them. Let other new manufacturers learn from them: Room sharing at shows is a very complex proposition. Pick your partners carefully so your needs and goals overlap 100%!

To change tack, take another exhibit. Its maker couldn't afford to refuse selling the actual pair of speakers he'd wanted to show two weeks earlier. But he didn't manage to finalize the push/pull amps he really needed with the speakers he had left. While the sound was still one of my favorites -- we'll get to this and other rooms momentarily -- this man was also forced to carefully restrict his software choices and playback volumes to make work 300B SETs and 91dB speakers. Without the benefit of background data such as this or the above, showgoers and commentators will easily come to erroneous or unfair conclusions. And how much background insight is any given attendee or press member likely to have on all the rooms? Best to refrain from sonic comments unless something truly stood out. A few rooms did.

Top Audio had many importers whose names were on rooms which then sported a variety of their brands on active or passive display. How to best organize a report? I decided on an alphabetical sequence by brand since our readership is international. Rooms with multiple brands will thus be listed by whatever brand became the alphabetical marker. I've attempted to credit the import houses as well. Any omissions there or otherwise are purely coincidental and unintentional. (Though not stepping foot into the few rooms dedicated to home theater was fully intentional.) Finally, many rooms used very dim mood lighting. This forced a decision between using brash camera flash or relying on the AI setting of my small Lumix TZ-3. I mostly opted for the latter. This naturally also meant higher than usual graininess in my pictures. C'est la vie when you don't bring the big heavy camera equipment...