But whereas many of the products and systems I’m high-lighting here seriously expensive, amplification was one area in which serious performance was to be had at far more approachable prices. Living Voice was running the latest Auditorium OBX RW4 compact floor-standers. Those expecting to see (and hear) the Vox speakers were beguiled by sound that was both delightful and extremely engaging and, while the Kuzma R/Safir and Grand Prix Monaco/4Point14 front-ends (with CAR-60 and CAR-50 cartridges respectively) were obviously playing their part, don’t overlook the contribution of the SJS electronics. In typical LV fashion (although SJS is an independent company), these bespoke boxes are available in a range of different specifications and performance levels, despite being outwardly identical. At the show, they were playing the top of the line Model 7 Premier Silver line-stage (£29,000) and Model 5 Enhanced 300B power amp (£20,000), but those products start at around £6,000 and £15,000 respectively. The Model 7 Enhanced line-stage (c. £8,500) is genuinely remarkable, while the power amp has to be one of the most elegant pieces I’ve ever seen. Hand-built, limited production products like these are never going to be available off the shelf, but the wait will be more than worthwhile.
But there were even more affordable options available. The interesting Kora 400 integrated amplifier, with its novel hybrid circuitry, was delivering excellent results in the Diptych cabin, but the budget star of this show came from Aesthetix, whose Pallene pre-amplifier and Dione power amp combination look almost indistinguishable from the company’s pricier products, yet are priced at $6,500 USD each! For that you get an all-tube, balanced line-stage with a resistor ladder volume-control (and the option to add phono and/or DAC cards at $1,200 each). There’s even the option to upgrade the internal headphone amp. The hybrid power amp offers balanced and single-ended inputs and delivers 160W/ch 8Ω, 320W/ch into 4Ω from its substantial 20kg/44lb chassis. With the same fit, finish and operational niceties as other Aesthetix products, the sound from this pair was beautifully open, unforced and intimate. Aestetix has always been a high-value brand, but with these products they appear to have hit it out of the park. I can’t wait to get better acquainted with the Pallene and Dione…
The superb performance of the Göbel Divin Marquis came as no surprise, but the equally superb and superbly integrated contribution of the Divin Sovereign subs lifted the smallest (well, everything’s relative) Divin speakers onto a completely different level. Their facetted and tapered cabinets even managed to look elegant – and that’s no mean feat for what is basically one big driver in an even bigger box. The units at the show included built in electronics with blue-tooth DSP control from any phone or tablet (€44,000 each). However, what piqued my interest was the option to run the Sovereign as a passive sub, using the active cross-over that Göbel already produce for the Epoque Aeon series speakers. Being able to use identical amplification top and bottom in a sub-based system is a proven approach to superior performance and, judging from what we heard in Munich, that performance uplift could produce results that are spectacular indeed.