World of Hifi in Wiesbaden, GER, on 1/31 - 2/1/09

Anyone touring Germany during the weekend of 31/1 and 2/1 - and the few A'goners actually living in the neighbourhood, of course - may be interested to know that a (smallish) show is being held at the Dorint Pallas Hotel in Wiesbaden (a stone's throw away from the main train station) on those two days between 10:00h and 18:00. The show is organised by the German High End Society and Stereo magazine. Listening sessions will be held in 9 rooms only with systems starting from a moderate USD 10k and the next ones situated into a higher financial bracket, each time. The "biggest" though, and that's my reason for posting this, will feature the mighty and rarely seen Transrotor Gravita in a system otherwise consisting of AR gear and SF Amati Anniversario speakers. In another room Thorens's reference amps will drive the new Focal Utopia Scala. Surely not enough to take a plan, but if you happen to be around with nothing else to do... Admission is free.
Hmmm, I hope no one travelled hundreds of miles for the show as a few things left to be desired. The concept is really interesting, though. You get to hear systems in very different price brackets in guided listening sessions of 25 minutes each. These systems are supposed to show good synergies between brands, but they are of course limited to gear of the distributors and manufacturers contributing to the show.

A few general remarks:

Each moderator chooses music of his or her own liking, laudable since that will be recordings they know very well. But in some cases this turned out to be particularly restricted to one style only, and one man's favorite tunes are another man's boredom, I'm afraid. Also, on an occasion such as this they should have shown what the featured gear is able to do with symphonic orchestra as well as a rock band, solo instruments, voices, you name it. To make things worse, one guy liked to hear himself talk rather than play music. Pitty, since this should have been one of the most interesting rooms.

Most of the more expensive systems resided on truly superb Copulare stands, excellent! Power supply, on the other hand, left to be desired in many cases, a surprise considering how much Stereo magazine, one of the organizers, stresses the importance of that (Mudra, Phonosophie: with all due respect, at a certain price point one can do considerably better).
As to the usual problem with sonics in hotel conference rooms, the positive surprise was the Transrotor room treated by Dmitri of Transparent Acoustics, a real incentive to take on room acoustics before one puts another smack of $$$$ in the next gear.

Observations on a few rooms:

At EUR 7k the least expensive room featured an all out French/Chinese built Advance Acoustics systems, consisting of cd-drive, DAC, pre-amp, mono amps and floorstanding speakers. If it proved anything, then at this price point you don't need 7 boxes! The system sounded terribly "hifi" as opposed to "music". I do believe the speakers were the main culprit. Just think of the beautiful speakers one could buy together with a nice integrated amp and cd-player at the equivalent of $ 9k.

Skipping a few systems, at EUR 23k there was a quite interesting Phonosopie system with Isophon Vescova C speakers and Acoustic Solid Machine turntable. Phonosophie gear has a reputation for sounding as if it were "on speed" but sacrificing other virtues such as transparency, so you've got to like that. Certainly, this system could rock. The most interesting part, I thought, were the Vescovas at EUR 8k. Smallish floorstanders for not too big rooms, impeccably built, neutral and with a nice stage to the extent where the speakers "disappear".

Next, at EUR 39k there was the EUR GamuT/ VPI/ Roksan/ Acoustic Plan/ German Physics system. What sounds like an intriguing combination of highly regarded names was disappointing. Lame and lacking on both sides of the frequency curve with both cd and vinyl. I would think the German Physics HRS120 speakers at EUR 13k were largely overburdened in that quite big room. A pitty as I was really looking forward to the Acoustic Plan Vadi cd-player (EUR 9k) whose qualities I'm just unable to evaluate.

The Avantgarde/ Chord room at EUR 44k, then, was just way too overcrowded to make a valid judgement (plus questionable choice of music). Even with Duo Omegas, you cannot have an audience filling the entire room wall-to-wall as if it were a movie theatre. Anyway, EUR 19k for Chord Red Reference cd-player seemed a breathtaking venture here. Worth it???

Quite a relief after two disappointments was the EUR 58k T.A.C./ Thorens/ Focal room. Whereas this was altogether not the most expensive room, it featured the most expensive amplification (Thorens TEP3800 and TEM3200, together EUR 34k) and the new Focal Utopia Scalas were audibly "enjoying" the treat. A quick calculation will tell you, the T.A.C. C60 was thus one of the cheaper (in the context of all sytems, that is) machines and a positive surprise at EUR 4k. Firm and lively yet sweet where necessary, here's one cdp to consider next time you go hunting in that price bracket, guys!

Next step up was the EUR 83k all-out-assault Esoteric system (P-03/D-03, G-ORB, C-03, A-80) paired with Fisher & Fisher SN550 slate speakers. Wouldn't you know it, this was where the moderator kept talking about stuff not one person was interested in, leaving not half of the time for music. Again, the room was overcrowded here, but the Esoteric showed its authority anyway. As to the Fishers, I had not heard any of their speakers before, and the SN 550 (EUR 16k) featured here sounded excellent (the short intervals that one got to hear them). Authoritative is the word that leaps to my mind again. Very "see through", calm and yet emotional, detailed and nicely flowing at the same time, a brand to check out for sure!

On to the EUR 139k system, whereby almost two thirds of that price went into the Transrotor Gravita featuring a TR5012 tonearm (modified SME 312 or Series V or something in between?) and Merlo Reference cartridge. At this level, can one say whether the Artus or the Clearaudio Statement or still something else is even better? I was just happy to have heard music as rendered by this wonderful machine, that cannot and will never be mine. Yet, I had a slightly uneasy feeling in this room. Room acoustic treatment was as good as it could get. The ARC REF 7 cd-player was its usual excellent self as must have been the case with the ARC REF 3 pre-amp. However, in a last minute decision a Krell Evo 402 amp had been substituted for the initially programmed ARC REF 110 as more power was considered to be necessary in that room. Speakers were Sonus Faber Amati Anniversario that I heard for the first time. Now, this was a really fine presentation with dynamic recordings, meaning it did become LOUD at times. Surely, this was an impressive performance and yet - dare I say it - did I hear distortion at high levels? I wondered, were the speakers overdriven? Or is it perhaps not a good idea to combine ARC with Krell (any ideas on that)? Or was the cabling not befitting the rank of that venerable gear? Trying to ferret that sort of thing out is also part of the excitement of this hobby, I suppose.

Conclusions? In spite of the critical tones above, I'll certainly visit the show again if it happens to be organised in the wider neighbourhood. I went home with the good feeling that I need not change my system presently. Room treatment may become the next project, though.