Hits (And Misses…) Munich High End – 2023

Following the format established by their long-lived and highly regarded OBX models, the new R80 adds bigger drivers to a bigger box, in search of greater scale and bandwidth without sacrificing the immediacy, colour, articulation and musical communication that has made the Auditorium series such an enduring success. The possibly imposing bulk of the large cabinet is successfully offset by the broad, bevelled base that anchors the speaker to the floor, aesthetically and mechanically, making this surprisingly attractive for what is essentially a bluff box. Teamed here with the top-tier SJS electronics (including the new line-stage with curved wooden casing to match what must be the prettiest tube power amp on the market) and the latest (greatest) turntables from Kuzma and Grand Prix Audio, the sound was as bold and engaging as it was effortlessly involving. Kevin Scott’s range of distinctly non-audiophile discs kept things interesting and this room was permanently packed – probably not helped by the comfy bucket seating which, along with the astonishingly entertaining musical performance encouraged the audience to take root. You want the hot-seat? Be prepared to wait – wait some more – and then fight for it…

The R80 is already available in two different versions (internal or external crossovers) and if this enthusiastic first showing is anything to go by, it might well represent the birth of, if not a new dynasty, then a new extended family. Prices start at £33K and rise to £45K if you go all in with the externally housed network and the piano lacquer.

Stenheim Alumine 2.5

Stenheim’s long trailed A2.5 duly appeared at the show – and duly impressed. This compact floorstander, with its twin bass/mid drivers is often (mistakenly) assumed to be a two-and-a-half-way design, similar to so many B&W speakers – and their clones. Short of using a completely different driver technology, the smallest Stenheim two-way couldn’t be more different to that format if it tried. The familiar golden ratio proportions, aluminium cabinet and low volume damping are all present and correct, as are the benign load and musical sensitivity. The whole raison-d’etre for the design was to add scale without sacrificing the lucid musical agility of the remarkable A2 – whilst also overcoming the buying public’s resistance to the stand-mount format. Displayed in a large space and driven from a comparatively simple system that combined basic Nagra and Dartzeel components, it certainly did just that, with an open, lively and engaging performance that will only gain weight and purpose when it is transposed to smaller spaces. Investigating that scenario has just started jostling for space at the top of my list of priorities.

At 21,500 CHF, the A2.5 promises to bring the benefits of the Stenheim approach to smaller spaces, smaller systems and smaller – if not small – budgets. This could well be a breakthrough product for what has up until now been something of a niche brand.

Crystal Minissimo forté