The XFI Premium Audio Show 2019 took place in the Netherlands last weekend and of course, Hifi Pig was there to bring you loads of pictures and comments from the show. Here is Stuart Smith’s first report from a superbly well organised and very well attended event.

We had planned to attend the XFI Premium Audio Show that took place over the previous weekend just on the Sunday, but with the cancelling of the London based Festival Of Sound we were able to make the whole weekend and we are so pleased we were. We were also delighted to be media partners for what was a terrific show.

The show is so well organised by Ton van der Veeken and his team and the quality of the exhibitors’ rooms is really second to none ensuring the show is bound to be on the “must attend” shows for us and many more in the coming years. Add to the equation that the show is probably easier for us to get to than many of the UK shows that take place and it soon becomes a no-brainer. Flights to Eindhoven from Stansted in the UK are regular (three flights a day) and a taxi from the airport to the venue will set you back around €40 – a tenner a piece if there’s four of you sharing. Bedrooms at the huge venue are large, well-appointed and very reasonably priced and adding all this up just makes the whole prospect of visiting even more appealing.

Once inside the hotel and conference centre, you realise how massive it really is with some calling it a warren. However, you soon get your head around the layout and the excellent signposting and map in the show-guide help enormously.  My only criticism of the venue is, given my dietary restrictions, is a lack of vegan food, though the restaurant will cater for you if you let them know in advance. On the food front, the hotel has a number of cafe-style areas serving soup, sandwiches, drinks and snacks to sustain the weary audiophile throughout the day – again prices are very reasonable.

The show was very well attended on both days with queues of eager music lovers waiting for the opening of the show on both days. Speaking to some of the attendees it soon became very evident that the vast majority are very knowledgeable and genuinely looking for their next purchase or upgrade – this observation was echoed by a good number of the exhibitors too.

We spent two full days at the show and what we loved was that given the scale of XFI we were able to sit in rooms for a good while and really get a feel for the systems playing. More speedy visitors could easily cover the majority of the show in a day, but I’d strongly urge you to attend on both days to fully appreciate everything that is on offer.

So, without further ado here is my first report of thoughts from the show which we have both said is probably our favourite Hifi show so far, with the possible exception of the North West Audio Show – but then we’d be biased with regards that particular show.

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

Archidio

Archidio is a new name to us and is a small company based in the Netherlands and run by Chris Dorricott-De Graef en Chris Camphuisen (Chris and Chris). There are two speakers in the company’s range called The Little Ones and The Grown Ups. I like this naming a great deal and it immediately gives you a sense of fun that the speakers convey.

The Little Ones, and to a lesser extent The Grown Ups, are designed to be used in smaller flats and homes and with the brief demonstration we had, work very well indeed. They are handmade in Amsterdam and both are active designs with The Little One going down to an incredible 30Hz despite their diminutive proportions (17 x 17 x 24cm).  Both speakers also use Motional Feedback (MFB) or “servo bass” which was originally used by Philips in the 70s. Here is what Wiki has to say about MFB: “Motional Feedback (MFB) is an active high fidelity loudspeaker system which was developed by the Dutch Philips brand in the early 1970s. The loudspeakers have built-in amplifiers and feature a feedback sensor on the woofer. The sensor measures the output signal of the woofer and compares it to the amplifier input signal. This results in very low distortion and furthermore a more extended low-frequency response in a relatively small enclosure. Any distortion induced by the enclosure or the woofer itself is immediately corrected by the feedback loop. To a degree, the sensor-feedback system also compensates for non-optimal room acoustics.”

That’s all well and good, but do they sound any good? The answer is a definite yes with The Little One (€995) sounding very clean and precise, and with very good bass extension as promised, though, intentionally, they do not go very loud. The Grown Ups (price to be determined but likely €4-5K) are a bigger speaker and were in their prototype stage at XFI but clearly have the same sound as The Little Ones, though on a bigger scale. The Grown Up uses a coaxial driver to give a fuller sound in the mid-band but still with that great bass extension. Actually the sound is quite uncanny with us both leaving the room and describing them as exceptional for their size and price.

Riviera Labs and DeVore

Silvio Delfino is the president of the Italian brand Riviera Audio Laboratories and at XFI was using the Orangutan O 96 speakers made by DeVore Fidelity and featuring a 10″ paper cone with a phase-plug powered by a motor adapted from their Silverback Reference drivers and a 1″ silk-dome tweeter with a powerful double-magnet motor system and gently horn-loaded.

Silvio was using the AIC10 amplifier when we went in the room, but on Sunday he treated visitors to the bigger and more expensive AFM 25 amps. actually, the AIC10 (€12500) is designed to be an “integrated headphone amplifier” but puts out a very healthy 10 watts a channel into 8Ohms and all in Class A. It’s a Zero Feedback design with and Hybrid too (Triode, BJT, Mosfet) featuring 3 Line inputs, Balanced and ¼ inch unbalanced headphone connectors and switchable loudspeakers output. It’s nice an compact, measuring 26×43.5×14.5h cm and with a weight of 14.4 Kg. Build is frankly stunning!

Silvio played us a lovely version of Blueberry Hill and the sound was as exquisite as the build with a beautifully clear and coherent mid-band and an overall balance that was captivating. this was only our second room of the first day and we had to move on, but I could have sat and listened to this set up all day long!

Hansted Audio

The door marker told us this was Hansted Audio but the branding in the room suggested Audio21. Whatever, the speakers were the Auras from Italian brand Diesis and electronics from popular french tube amp manufacturer Jadis. The speakers are an open-baffle dipole design using a 12″ woofer cut to 200Hz, a 10″ mid-driver run open to 1800Hz and a horn-loaded 1″ driver. They are a 93dB sensitive speaker and have a frequency response from 32 to 28000 hz +/-8 db. We reviewed them back in 2015 and you can read the full review of the Aura loudspeakers here.

The turntable is by Dutch brand Pluto Audio that was established in 1974. The room exuded “high-end” audio in the way it was set up, the quality of the components and the sound. They were spinning som Sonny Boy Williamson when we were in the room and I turned to Lin and made the comment that this show was shaping up to be very, very impressive indeed…but sadly time was not our friend and we had to move on.

Audioscape and CineDream

I make no apology in saying that I have not been a fan of home cinema rooms when I’ve visited them at Hifi shows around the world and this is part of the reason we have never really invested in a dedicated listening room. The problem for me has always been that the exhibitors seem to want to outdo each other on how loud they can make the bass and play a whole load of explosions from tedious action movies to demonstrate. This tends to leave me with a feeling that they are all bells and whistles with little actual substance to the sound – there have been a couple of exceptions to this in the past with one notable one being the Cabasse room at Munich a couple of years ago and playing Adele. I took one look at the CineDream door and thought “Oh no, not home cinema” but, boy, was I pleased we took the time to go in this room as I was simply blown away with the quality of the sound. This room was undoubtedly THE best I have ever witnessed home cinema with a proper audiophile sound complemented by Italian brand Synthesis valve amplifiers from Italy partnered with Klipsch loudspeakers. The guys running the rooms installed us in the relaxing chairs, reclined them for us and played the film Bohemian Rhapsody. At last a home cinema set up that I would be happy to have at home.

Brilliant!!!

Spatial Europe

Walking into this room I was overjoyed to see some familiar faces both from a people and kit perspective. A Rega Planar 10 fitted with a Nagaoka cartridge got the tunes out of the grooves whilst a Graham Slee Reflex phono was used as the phonostage (we use one). Electrocompaniet and the wonderful Audion amplifiers (we have the 300B PSE monoblocs in our big system at the moment) were also in use. The main feature in the room was, of course, the open baffle speakers from Spatial Europe. They are an open baffle system going from 35 to 22 000 Hz and coming in at a sensitivity of 95dB and a 4Ohm load. As well as the big driver there’s also a 1″ horn-loaded tweeter. The finish is fantastic and the company are committed to building the speakers, including packaging, to be sustainable. There are only three parts to the crossover and all the parts are of very high quality.

Sonically this room was marvellous playing electronic music (Laing I believe) with a wonderfully tight and tuneful bass and a really beautiful mid-band. At the top-end, the speakers were exceptionally detailed whilst remaining smooth and not at all harsh. This really was a lovely room and the speakers especially are very beautiful. A great system that comes in at a relatively achievable pricepoint.

So, another fantastic sounding room at XFI and this is starting to be just one great room after another. We were loving it!!!

Harmony Audio Imports

Harmony Audio Imports had a large room that was really nicely put together to highlight the beautiful looking products on demonstration.

The pre and power amps were from the Modern Line from Japanese manufacturer Zanden with the power amp being the 8120 and the pre being the 3100. The power amp uses 4 x KT120 tubes and 4 x 12AU7sto deliver around 100 Watts a channel. The amp is fully balanced and works in class AB with fixed bias and minimal negative feedback. The preamplifier uses high gain and unique circuitry with fixed bias and tube rectification. There is no negative feedback and output transformers are used. It comes with a remote and absolute polarity switch.

The speakers are the Kroma Audio Stellas from Spain. They are a full range design and are made from a composite material called Krion which is anti-resonant. The tweeter is by Hiquphone whilst the mid-woofers are Scan Speak Classic Series 6,5” made to Kroma’s specifications. The Passive crossover network uses Mundorf components and they have a sensitivity of 89 dB. They are 120cm high, 35cm wide, 45,3cm deep and weigh 41 kg

Playing Fly Like an Eagle showed a tight and fast bass with lovely mids too, combined with low colouration and a very dynamic presentation. The streamer on the day was the fantastic MU1 from Grimm Audio that was launched earlier this summer. It’s Roon ready, supports all sample rates has AES, spdif and optical digital stereo inputs and even an FM receiver.  Tidal and Qobuz are also supported.

DAC was by Mola Mola, the SACD player was by Luxman and Zanden and Furutech cables were used throughout.

Finally, we were treated to some Dead Can Dance that was a real eye-opener revealing a huge but believable soundstage (helped no doubt by the interesting room treatment in place) and a very low but tight bass.

Audioscape 

Synthesis Audio amps (again) along with SOTM and Klipsch came together in this room.

The big amplifier you see on the floor in the foreground is the NYC 200i integrated amplifier. It provides 460 watts (230W per channel), power output from 8, KT120’s in Ultra-Linear (UL) – push/pull operation. The NYC 200i features a newly designed custom output transformer and costs just over €22 000.

This was a great sounding room too and what I took away was a great mid-band and a sense that it didn’t matter where in the room you sat, you always got a great image.

On static display were other products from Synthesis Audio including the Soprano LE. Hifi Pig reviewed the Soprano earlier this year with Adam saying “Throughout my time with the Soprano the one thing I loved about her the most was just her beautiful sense of musicality she bought to everything I listened to.” It’s price, given its features is a very competitive £1300. You can read the full review here.

Avantgarde Acoustic,  x-odos,  and YN Audio

Regular readers will know I make no secret of my love for Avantgarde acoustic and their wonderful horn loudspeakers and so it came as a bit of a shock when we were later in the day chatting with an older couple in the bar and the chap mentioned that he thought this room sounded a little thin – I can only assume he was in a completely different room to the one we visited as the sound (they were playing a version of Eleanor Rigby) sounded wonderful, with me commenting that the double bass actually like there was a double bass in the room. They also played the original of Imagine and that sounded equally wonderful through the smaller Uno Fino XDs, though I struggled to tell if it was the larger Duo XDs playing. Relaxed, easy to listen to and natural-sounding my notes tell me.

x-odos had a new product at the show in prototype form – so prototype that the backplates had just arrived. It will cost around €5000 and will feature a similar feature set to their xo|one CD Ripping Streamer costing £7500 only without the ripping function and a slightly different PSU. Can’t wait to give it a try in our system. Hifi Pig reviewed the xo|one and Dan had the following to say “I can’t inform you of what recipe of hardware components or software the team at xodos use to produce the xo|one, all I can do is speculate that they are built and configured in such a way that it reflects the intentions of an individual or individuals that understand how music should sound.”

Great job Michiel Bouwens and the team.

Hanze Hifi

Hanze Hifi is a retailer based in Zwolle in the Netherlands and sells a wide range of products to suit all pockets. The phono amp and the amps you see are by Het Audio Team whose motto is “Simplicity is Genius” with their power amps being based on the Unitrans Transformers from the Dutch company of the same name from the 50s. The amps are based around the KT 120 tube and give 60 Watts per channel.

They also have breathed on the Thorens TD124 turntable fitted with the EMT XSD15 moving coil cartridge.

The first music they played in the room was Doug MacLeod which was followed by some Chet Baker. The system was brought together beautifully by the frankly brilliant Fyne 702s. The F702 has a 200mm IsoFlare point source driver and 200mm multi-fibre bass driver which fires into a twin cavity tuned cabinet with a BassTrax LF diffuser integrated into the down firing port. They cost just shy of £6000 in the UK.

Musically this was a lovely system with me commenting that it sounded as smooth as silk and judging by the grins on the folk in the room I wasn’t alone in this thought.

Reference Sounds

Wilson Audio Yvettes (€34 990), Mark Levinson No 5805 (€9 190) and Mark Levinson No 519 media player (€22 990) all conected with Transparent Cable was making a splendid sound. In fact, Linette and I walked out of the room turned to each other and both started speaking at the same time and both sayihng EXACTLY the same thing “That is the best I’ve heard the Yvettes sound!” Spooky.

The № 519 was designed to be “the heart of high-performance audio systems, with the ability to playback virtually any audio format from streaming music services including Spotify, Tidal, Qobuz and others, to networked storage, to CD to high-resolution digital inputs and even aptX Bluetooth® wireless. It will also decode MQA. The Mark Levinson № 519 offers digital decoding up to 32-bit, 192kHz from PCM and double-speed DSD. Its Precision Link DAC features an ESS Sabre32 Reference converter. The № 519 contains a complete embedded Precision Stream Linux computer with 1GHz multicore processor.

It also features a proprietary Mark Levinson Pure Path discrete, direct-coupled, fully balanced, dual-monaural signal path offering balanced and single-ended analogue outputs, balanced, optical and coaxial digital outputs and a high-performance Main Drive headphone output integrated into the front panel, enabling listeners to drive up to 32-ohm headphones in class A using the main output circuitry. Fixed or variable main outputs enable usage as a standalone music playback device connected directly to a power amplifier or active loudspeakers without the need for a separate preamp, and selectable high-pass filtering enables subwoofer integration. Like all Mark Levinson products, the № 519 is designed and made in the USA.

 

Audio Analogue and Esse Quadro

Audio Anaologue is an Italian brand that has been arouns for around 23 years. At XFI they were playing their Bellini Preamplifier which is a fully differential, zero global feedback design from input to output. Its dual-mono fully balanced amplification stage features Audio Analogue’s own SeGeSTA (single gain stage transconductance amplifier), designed to make the preamplifier quieter. Rather than using a traditional potentiometer volume control, the Bellini uses a ladder of fixed value resistors and it comes with a solid aluminium remote control and a price of around £5 000. Donizetti Power Amplifier is also a zero global feedback, fully balanced design and was used in its mono configuration here where it can deliver a stonking 1000 Watts a channel into 8 Ohms.

The speakers Esse Quadro are a brand new name to me and come from Italy too. The 223s were in use in the room which have controls on the back that allow for the tweeter and the mid-range to be changed to suit the listening conditions. It’s a bass reflex design with a front-firing port and is 88dB sensitive. They have a claimed response of 31Hz to 25 000 Hz and use a 28mm soft dome tweeter, a 76mm soft dome mid and a 235mm natural fibre woofer. WBT binding posts are used and they weigh 28Kg each. Price including stands is €12 000.

They played Take 5 on the day and whilst I am sick to death of hearing this at shows this system really did make me sit up and take notice. Dynamics and control were the order of the day with the drums really being fast, accurate and controlled. I actually really enjoyed this tune and commented it was the best I’d ever heard it.

Bastanis and Silvercore

The speakers in this room are the Bastanis Matterhorn which features a 1.4″ dipole horn tweeter and a 15″ wideband driver that is in a backloaded horn configuration that fires downwards. They are 100dB sensitive and weigh 50Kg each.  Price is €9800 which actually seems pretty reasonable.

The amps in use are (I believe) the Silvercore 833cMKII named after the 833 tube that is used as the power output. The 833C is a large transmitter tube for transmitting power up to 1800 watts, though in this audio circuit it delivers 20 W per mono amplifier.  In the driver stage, there is a long plate EL34 and the amp has a fully balanced XLR studio input (optionally RCA) with a transformer, which is wound from silver wire. Price is from €9700.

I think Rodrigo and Gabriela were playing in the room when we went in and the live recording did sound very live and in the room with wonderful dynamics. Later we heard The Eagles played and this too sounded great, particularly in the vocals which really came to the fore, though didn’t dominate.

Audio Note UK 

The Meishu 300B integrated, the 3.1X CD player, TT2 and the ANJ speakers made up this room that was a little bass-heavy for my liking in this relatively small room – room treatment would have sorted this was the comment I wrote down. I do wish Audio Note UK (a great brand it has to be said) would echo the quality of their products and use properly made up signs rather than bits of A4 with product and prices scrawled on them in marker pen – I’ve purposefully missed them out on the photos.

Oosterveld Audio

T + A, ProJect and Boaacoustic Cables were represented in this room, with a full T + A system playing when we went in.

Of particular interest was a computer the team from T +A were using that is just visible to the right of the main rack. The whole thing runs under Windows 10 Pro 64 Bit with a Roon core server. Additionally, there is an HQPlayer by Signalyst for upsampling. The HQPlayer is a great tool from a sonic point of view say T +A  but they really didn’t like the interface and so the HQPlayer plug-in for Roon makes everything much better. The computer was built specifically to use with T + A’s recently launched SDV 3100 HV reference streaming DAC, which is capable of handling a maximum resolution of DSD 1024…and that requires a fair amount of computing power for the upsampling process. They have used an Intel I9 9900/3.6GHz/8-Core processor with 16GB RAM and 8GB MSI GeForce RTX 2080 graphics card that supports CUDA plus a 1000 W power supply and some serious cooling fans for our computer build.

At XFI the computer was connected to T + A’s MP 3100 HV Multi-Source Player via the USB DAC input and all files were upsampled to DSD 512, as this is the maximum the MP 3100 DAC can do. From the MP 3100 we went into the PA 3100 HV integrated amp followed by their Talis S 300 aluminium speakers.

This was a great sounding room playing Gregory Porter and the sound was matched by the fantastic looking kit. Who said high-end audio had to be ugly?

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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