It’s always fun to visit a new-to-us Hifi Show and we had been thinking about going to XFi, in Eindhoven, The Netherlands, for the last two or three years, but unfortunately, it clashed with Festival of Sound in London. This year, however, we planned to get there for one day but then, as FOS was canceled, we thought “why not?” and decided to become Media Partners with the Dutch show and visit for the whole weekend. We were very happy that we did.

Location is very important for a Hifi Show, both for the exhibitors and the visitors. The NH Hotel Koningshof is the venue for the show and it is conveniently located on the edge of Veldhoven, on the outskirts of Endhoven. It was once a monastery and the decor is kept simple to allow the original features to show through, if you decide to stay in the hotel you will find the bedrooms are very pleasant and calming too. It is set in wooded grounds so that you feel like you are out in the country, very pleasant. You can fly into Eindhoven airport and get a taxi to the show, or public transport is apparently good from the centre of Einhoven for those traveling by bus or train. Being a conference centre and hotel the venue is perfect for a Hifi Show, with big rooms and all the facilities that you need. The organisation was brilliant, with the show route well signposted and an easy to follow guide. Though it is a huge and rambling place, the show layout keeps everything easy to find and there is a good flow to the show, so it is hard to miss anything. This was quite a big show with well over 50 rooms plus a Headfi zone and static stands selling music and accessories. The two days of the show gives you ample time to visit all the exhibits and chance to sit and soak up the music…and believe me, you will want to. The quality of the systems was exceptionally high, one of those shows where you can’t quite believe how good it sounds!

With the standard being so high, my job of picking my top favourite rooms has become very difficult, I was aiming for five but there was too much to like, so here are my favourites, in no particular order. Full coverage of all the show will follow from Stuart, with detailed info on all rooms.

Please note all photographs and words are subject to copyright and may not be used without prior written permission.

The ‘I Didn’t Know I Liked Jazz This Much’ Room – Riviera Labs with Devore Fidelity & Chord

So I’m starting with a room that was playing Jazz, I know, what do I complain about all the time? People playing nothing but Jazz at shows. But the thing is it sounded great in here, and we were getting the likes of Duke Ellington and Louis Armstrong rather than that loopy noodley stuff that drives me mad. ‘Blueberry Hill’ was the best version I have heard of the song. The sound was laid back but engaging and toe-tapping. The Devore Orangutangs sang with Riviera Labs integrated amp and Chord Hugo…it looked very stylish too, a very ‘liveable with’ system.

The ‘Totally Nailed The Design’ Room – Spatial Audio & Audion (Sound Emotion)

Spatial Audio makes open baffle loudspeakers…and they do it rather well. Ok, so the ‘totally nailed the design’ bit, well just look at them. They are designed on Bauhaus principles of simplicity and form following function, so they look stunning. The incredible new wood veneer finishes were a work of art in themselves. The ones playing were a new, smaller model that had been designed for the EU market specifically.

Nice to see and hear Audion and Graham Slee gear in this room, the turntable was the Rega P8. The sound was just beautiful, detailed and clear tops and mids with wonderfully controlled bass.

Spatial also make a point of using natural materials like wood and also eliminating the use of plastic in their packaging, they use sustainable alternatives instead. Top marks for that too.

The ‘Perfect Home Cinema’ Room – Synthesis & Klipsch (Audioscape)

This was excellent. So many times at shows you feel that the AV and Home Cinema rooms just want to blow you out of the door with ‘THE BIGGEST SUBS IN THE WORLD!!!!’ and you just feel so sorry for their neighbours trying to play some understated classical music next door. Audioscape turned this stereotype on its head. Using a Sony 4k projector with very nice Synthesis valve amps and Klipsch Heresy speakers (two at the side and three at the front) plus a sub, the sound was concert-like and immersive, with control and detail rather than just shaking your teeth out with rumbling bass. This wasn’t just the best AV/home Cinema room for this show, but the best I have experienced at any show.  Then they put on the ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ film, the Live Aid concert scene, and it was epic…I could have stayed to watch the whole film! Room treatment was on point and the comfy chairs were lovely too. You could quite happily sit in there and just play music too.

The ‘Just Like Being At Home’ Room – Avantgarde Acoustic

Yeah, yeah, I know I am a total fan-girl when it comes to this brand, but Avantgarde Acoustic really are the German horn masters. We got John Lennon’s ‘Imagine’ followed by a strange jazzy version of ‘Elenor Rigby’ that I had never heard before. It was everything that you expect from AA, that engaging, expansive horn sound that just draws you in and makes you want to listen more and more…just like being at home. They had Duo XDs but we listened to the smaller Uno Fino XD, they were incredible, in a huge room they still filled the space…not bad for the baby brothers!

Avantgarde were using the x-odos xo|one music server that we have reviewed with an AudioNote DAC5 and AvantGarde’s own amplification.

The ‘Does Hifi Get Any Cooler Than This?’ Room – Chord Electronics & Innuos

Chord gear divides opinion, especially with it’s looks. Me, I think it looks fabulous, space-age and sci-fi and like it came from a galaxy far, far away. This cool black set up looked particularly good with the matching black Innuos gear and big ATC speakers, and it sounded as good as it looked. Fantastically powerful and driving sound, this was Hifi for people that aren’t scared to make a statement.

Innuos were showing the new PhoenixUSB reclocker that they launched at RMAF 2019 and the Zennith Mk3. The Chord gear was the new Ultima 2 monoblocks, Blu 2 CD transport, and DAVE DAC. Cables were Chord Company Signature and speakers were ATC SCM 100.

The ‘Because They’re Dutch’ Room – Music2

Music2 distribute several brands in the Benelux region including Blumenhofer and Trafomatic.  They also have a bit of a thing for Old School Hifi.  Walking into their room was like walking into the house of your ‘psychedelic’ friend. There was great Hifi with excellent music playing, really cool art on the walls, Lava lamps, red wine and whisky…I guess that’s how they do things over here!

The ‘Total Immersion’ Room – 432 Evo & Conquistar

There was a lot of tech going on in this room, with the Belgian 432 Evo Master Server, SOtM, Vitus Audio amp and Metrum DAC, but when you sat down and listened it just wasn’t about the gear or the tech at all, just all about the music.  Seriously, this was stunning. Total immersion in the music a beautiful, detailed and enveloping experience. That is surely what Hifi should be about. The speakers were very interesting to me as I love a ribbon tweeter, they were from Conquistar of Antwerp, a hybrid with ribbon tweeters and two full range drivers, which you could have in a wide variety of finishes, starting from 15,000€. The whole of the system was perfectly matched and the end result undeniable.

 

The ‘Well I Haven’t Seen That Before’ Room – Aries Cerat & Ilumnia

OK, obviously I have seen and heard Aries Cerat’s fabulously full-on huge gear before, them having a particularly favourite room with us, and just about everyone I know at High End Munich each year, but they had sneaked in the new Genus SET integrated amplifier. This is a 15k€ beast of an amp, with the instantly recognisable Aries Cerat styling. What always gets me about their gear is that, though it is huge, the sound is delicate and beautiful. Aries Cerat were partnered with speakers that were very new to me. The Ilumnia speakers (these were the floorstanders and we heard the standmounts in another room) feature a floating cone driver, which looks pretty cool and also gives a wonderfully omnidirectional quality to the music, so it doesn’t really matter where in the room you are. They are made by a pair of Belgian brothers who have developed the technology that eliminates the mechanical suspension of spider and surround, and replaces it with their electro magnetic suspension, so the cone floats free in the air in an electro magnetic field. A great and unexpected combination of these two brands tht I look forward to hearing again.

The ‘New Brand Discovery’ Room – Audel, Electrocompaniet, Holbo & Way Cables (Colab/Sound Emotion)

So, I’m very familiar with Electrocompaniet and Way Cables, and Holbo with their air-bearing turntable was a High End Munich discovery, but the new brand to me in these two neighbouring rooms was Audel. These are lovely looking wooden speakers from Italy. We had the standmount Magika in one room and the floorstanding Malika in the other and we ended up spending a long time on Sunday morning in these two rooms as they were just very pleasant to be in…plus we wanted to listen to more of the systems featuring these speakers. For handmade in Italy speakers, these seemed to be excellent value at (I think) under 3000€ for the standmounts and 5500€ for the floorstanders. Really impressive and a nice discovery to make.

The ‘High End Perfection’ Room – Vitus Audio & JosephAudio (Connaisseur AV)

Vitus Audio’s Benelux distributor, Connaisseur AV had paired the new SIA-030 amplifier, that launched at High End Munich, with JosephAudio’s new Pearl 20/20 Graphene speakers, getting their first outing in Europe at XFi…and the system sounded simply stunning. It was Sunday afternoon by the time we got to the room, but I imagine it still sounded just as good earlier on in the show. This was a sound that went straight to your emotions, detailed but powerful and you got the sense that there was even more just below the surface. Proper High End, but without any gimmicks or flashyness, just pure, brilliantly enjoyable music. Stunningly good looking too, again in an understated way, the Vitus gear means business and the JosephAudio speakers are a lovely, pared back luxury design.

As I said at the start of this report, I could just go on and on as it has been so difficult to choose favourites between the rooms. I’ve included some extra mentions below as I just could not leave them out but have to stop somewhere! Practically every single room at this show was special in it’s own way, with interesting, amazing and surprising treats around every corner…that’s pretty impressive for a show of this size.

Extra shouts got out to:

Aequo Audio – ‘If This Is The Future Of High End Then I’m Very Happy’ Room

True Blue Box – The ‘How Does It Sound This Good On Such A Small Budget?’ Room

Daudio & b.audio – The ‘Laid Back Sunday Morning’ Room

Voxativ – The ‘I Could Quite Happily Just Stay Here All Afternoon’ Room

Wilson Audio & Mark Levinson – The ‘I Never Heard These Brands Sound This Good Before’ Room 

Gryphon Audio – The ‘Now That’s What I call A High End Demonstration’ Room

Very Fine Solutions – The ‘And That’s How You Put A System Together’ Room

Can’t wait for next year’s XFi Show, roll on 2020 and I hope that many more of you will join us in Eindhoven then!

Linette Smith

MORE FROM XFI

XFi 2019 Show Report Part 1

XFi 2019 Show Report Part 2

XFi 2019 Show Report Part 3

XFi 2019 Show Report Part 4

Bird’s Eye View Of XFi 2019

Please note all photographs and words are subject to copyright and may not be used without prior written permission.

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