If the vinyl front-ends were where the few really great systems began, the streaming was, in large part, where they died. There were exceptions. The Wadax kit is extraordinary, extraordinarily consistent and shone in every system that used it. But there’s no escaping the stark fact that, on the evidence of this show, there’s a lot of pricy hardware devoted to streaming, to very little musical effect. Not that I’m putting all the burden of blame on the streaming you understand; there were a fair few very expensive loudspeakers and amplifiers which must shoulder their share of responsibility for my disappointment, too.
Having said that, sometimes convenience and practicality really does have its place too, and that’s where streaming has an edge. Now, if you can have that convenience without compromising performance, you’ll be onto something approaching audio’s current Holy Grail. Who thought the ultimate prize would be discovered in the Vienna Acoustics room, where this most conservative of companies was showing its new Mozart Infinity, a particularly pretty, compact floor-standing, all in one loudspeaker system. In a distinctly off-beat but demonstrably effective approach, one ‘master’ speaker contained the electronics, with built in streaming, analogue and digital inputs and a stereo amplifier. That amp drives both speakers via their passive crossovers. All you need is one mains lead and enough of the supplied speaker cable to connect the pair together: you can stream from your phone, wired or wireless network, hook up a disc player or even a turntable and phono-stage: Note to self – the Luphonic ‘table would be an almost perfect aesthetic match for the black or white lacquered Mozarts.
The slogan – nothing but two speakers – says it all. As a minimalist system, this has endless appeal and possibilities for those constrained by compromised domestic circumstances, or living with a Marie Kondo obsessive. But its all-European technology, clever in-house drivers, careful construction and trademark musicality mean that it’s a perfectly viable alternative to traditional separates systems at or around its €12K price point – just an awful lot neater. This set up was much, much more than just a pretty face and succeeded in delivering real musical communication and satisfaction, where so many vastly more expensive streaming systems failed so spectacularly.
So I don’t dismiss streaming and in the Wadax and the Vienna Acoustics products, I heard at least two systems, at opposite ends of the affordability scale, which make a strong case for streaming as a credible source. I think the technology has reached that inflection point which all formats seem to go through, when their performance finally starts to deliver on the claims made for it. It took CD around 10-years to get there, and another 10-years to deliver something I could get genuinely excited about. Streaming will get there too. The real question is how long it will take. On this evidence it looks like it will be sooner than I feared.