For the past decade, hifi shows have been something that Australian audiophiles can only read about. So it's no great surprise that the 2011 Australian Hifi Audio and AV show has been so well received. In the week leading up to the show, the last of 50 rooms at the Marriott Hotel were booked. It was a great chance to hear a great range of gear all in one location. If you are like me, you are reluctant to ask for an audition to listen to equipment you know you won't buy.
Weston Acoustics / Von Schweikert
The show ran for three days, but I went in the day before to help set up the Weston Acoustics / Von Schweikert room. I measured the room in various listening positions to assist with speaker positioning. The results were highly variable based on position and as expected there was a fair peak around 40 Hz in the sweet spot - a primary room mode based on the length along the listening axis. We tried placing the Von Schweikert speakers as per manufacturer's recommendations - near the wall with no toe in. This turned out to be less than ideal for a show situation, although we could tell that the speaker was voiced to sound balanced tonally with no toe in. Greater toe in widened the sweet spot but also increased brightness. In the end a compromise seemed to work best.
|Above: Von Schweikert speakers driven by Weston tube amps.|
Left: Geoff Doherty the distributor of Von Schweikert speakers Right: Earle Weston of Weston Acoustics
As a nice gesture, Earle provided bottled water free to guests - very welcome considering the rooms were quite warm and there were no other sources of water except in going back down to the ground floor.
Geoff Doherty is the Australian distributor for VS speakers - Cardoh
There were no shortage of valve amplifiers at the show, but Earle's stand out in two ways. Firstly, they retain a certain hand crafted charm. Many of the amps at the show take on an aesthetic that almost suggests they are trying to be a solid state amplifier. Earle's amps have a certain charm that befits a hand made product, with a beautifully finished timber chasis.
At the show Earle ran the system on his Tempest monoblocks, shown above.
Above: Troubadour - this is Earl's budget amp which is intended to tempt buyers away from cheap Chinese imports. While not too much cheaper, the imports have vastly inferior performance and reliability.
Above: Topaz. According to Earle, this is one of the better sounding and better value amps in the range, at only $1495 for the standard EL34 version, although the one shown here is KT120 priced at $1995.
The Von Schweikert speakers are a 3 way design with decent sensitivity and very deep bass, due to the low tuned port and rear firing woofer. In the demo room the bass extended lower than I measured. At 15 Hz there was no roll off! The combination with Earle's amps worked well and gave a clear indication that valve amps can do bass well. Bass control and output were no problem at all. Many reported that this was one of the better sounding rooms and it was always full.
SGR audio is a family-owned business with an impressive range of products.
Above: Stuart Ralston standing next to the first Illuminator ever made.
You probably can't tell in this photo, but in person you might have noticed bloodshot eyes after a week of 3 hour sleeps. It was a huge challenge getting ready for the show. SGR are extremely busy! When you see their products, it's not hard to see why. Where possible they use Australian suppliers and the attention to detail is clearly evident in everything they do. Look on the back of their speakers and you see custom made in-house amplifiers - yes all their speakers are active with analogue crossovers that have been designed in-house. They even make their own heatsinks!
The Illuminator you see here is beautifully made, with a pristine finish over an exotic veneer, the front baffle wrapped in leather. The drivers are the very well regarded (and expensive) Scan Speak Illuminators. The subwoofers (8 in total) were supplied by Lorantz Audio, the only remaining Australian speaker driver manufacturer that I'm aware of.
|SGR power amps|
|SGR CX4 speakers|
I only had a brief listen to the Illuminators and they certainly did impress. Very neutral and transparent.
Most of the time the SGR room was crowded, but I managed to grab a shot when it wasn't busy.
As it turns out, I'm lucky enough to know the owner of the Illuminators and hope to get a chance to listen to them soon. SGR are located in Melbourne and sell direct. You can hear there speakers in the Melbourne showroom. For interstate auditions, check the website.
Equinox Audio is another family owned business and it was a good chance to meet Rick Stadelmaier, their designer.
Walking into their room it was immediately apparent that they went to more effort than other rooms to get the room itself to behave.
Just that little bit of extra effort taken to treat the room certainly did pay off. I was able to sit down and appreciate the speakers without having my impressions tainted by a poor room.
I sat down with one of my reference CDs for a good listen. The sound was clean, neutral, detailed. Bass wasn't out of control like many of the other rooms. The combination of a high end soft dome tweeter with metal cone drivers worked very well. I have an interview coming up with Rick that will reveal more details about his speakers, including their relatively new statement speaker.
Osborn make big speakers! You might have heard of them via StereoNET where the designer, Greg Osborn was interviewed.
DIYers will recognise the drivers used, they were well regarded units and the prices are very attractive. I didn't get a chance to have a good listen, but I did notice that unfortunately the bass was quite boomy - a room effect and not a speaker fault. Excellent value speakers considering their size and the parts used.
Ask just about anyone which rooms they preferred, and this one is almost certain to come up.
What you see here is a 4 way digital active speaker based around a coaxial point source driver arrangement. You can see a dome tweeter with a midrange and lower midrange driver. There is also a 15" woofer behind (not visible).
Designer Chris Cabasse
I do regret not spending more time in this room, it was one of the best sounding rooms at the show. Ask just about anyone which rooms they liked best and you are likely to hear this one mentioned.
Coming up ...
Two of the most popular rooms:
Kyron Audio - a very novel digital active speaker almost without a baffle
WAR audio - ribbon and accuton drivers driven by valve amps
VAF - the best presentation at the show