Melbourne International Hifi Show 2017

I dropped into the Melbourne International Hifi Show today for a short visit and thought I would just summarise a few things in case you’re thinking of going along (or unable to go along).

Venue

Firstly, the venue is great. I prefer the layout of the Pullman hotel compared to the previous couple of Hifi Shows in the CBD (Rialto hotel? I can’t recall). The Pullman isn’t as flash, but it’s generally easier to navigate and is lighter and brighter which I think lends to a more upbeat mood this year overall.

Exhibitors

As always the range of exhibitors is varied and diverse with everything from a vinyl market (including vinyl accessories), all kinds of manufacturers, importers and retailers, and even a few yet-to-be released products that are great to see. As is often the case there are products ranging from affordable to the stuff of dreams (or nightmares). There are headphones, some speakers and accessories in the <$500 range right through to amps and speakers for >$30,000 so it’s fun to see the whole range.

While we’re on this topic, I couldn’t help but notice that many rooms I walked into were showcasing a specific DAC or amp and were doing so with a speaker setup (of course). What struck me though was the impact that the speaker selection had on my overall experience of each room. There were rooms I walked into that may have had amazing gear in the source chain, but I simply was not engaged because (to my tastes) the speakers let down the overall sound. Based on my experience, while a great amp or DAC will improve the audio experience, I’ve only ever heard the speakers (or headphones) ruin an audio experience so I have to put it down to the speaker selections in these cases. I don’t know what the answer is, but I was totally unmoved by many of the setups I heard today (while being totally engaged by some other setups).

Something for Headphone Lovers

If you’re into headphone audio you can always drop into the Jaben room if you like a crowded space, but I would probably take the time to go to their store one day instead – you’ll get to try the same gear and with fewer people around which means more time to talk to the staff if needed. At one point the room was actually blocked off entirely – perhaps they were at capacity, I’m not sure. However, all is not lost for headphone lovers as beyerdynamic had some interesting products on display that I’ll touch on shortly and will have in-depth reviews on in the near future so do drop in and check out the beyerdynamic stand if you’re interested in headphones (and headphone stands). Oppo are also at the show by way of their local importer / distributor as were Sennheiser, but I am not sure who exactly was managing their display area.

Highlights & Notables

As is often the case I had my camera slung over my shoulder so I’ll share with you a short tour of my highlights from the Show today by way of the images I captured…

Studio19 – Solo-500X-EQ

First up is the Solo-500 speaker from Studio19. Although I’m not yet entirely clear about the origins, design and manufacture of this speaker, it is apparently coming soon (like early 2018). So, why should you care? Because it’s seriously impressive!! This speaker is totally portable because it’s battery-powered and stands about knee-height without weighing too much, but it packs some serious punch in both volume and quality. It didn’t just fill the hotel room, it was uncomfortably loud when pushed to high volume (which was also not distorted). Put it this way, I am absolutely intending to buy one of these beauties to review it here on the site, but also to enjoy anytime I’m in need of huge, awesome sound outside of the rooms of the house where I have great speakers already.

Some quick details I could glean today:

  • Bluetooth
  • AUX
  • HDMI (you can use it as a soundbar)
  • WiFi
  • ~8000 mAh battery for 6+ hours of LOUD playback
  • 360-degree sound with great bass, but well-balanced (and adjustable) sound signature
  • Sounds fantastic!

Grandinote Speaker and Amp Setup

Honestly, I was underwhelmed by most of the speakers I heard today due to either the particularly dry tuning of the upper-mids / treble or the lack of imaging capabilities I was hearing in the various hotel rooms. Sure, perhaps in a more perfect / controllable setup each of these no-doubt-expensive speakers would sound wonderful, but I wasn’t generally wowed today and I was reminded of why I enjoy B&O’s acoustic lens speakers and headphones so much – they generally sound great no matter where you are in the room and what the room is like. All that said, I really liked what I heard from the Grandinote setup. I can’t help but wonder if it’s thanks to their use of multiple smaller drivers (5″ I am guessing) which are much less directional than the 6″ and larger drivers found in many of the other speakers scattered throughout the hotel. Admittedly the electronic track playing (a heavily remixed version of “Relax” by Frankie Goes to Hollywood) was probably more forgiving of off-axis listening than the acoustic jazz and classical fare in other rooms, but the Grandinote Mach 4s sounded like the real deal. Do note the photo showing their full high-tech amp setup and Skogrand cables all over the room – this setup isn’t going to come cheap, but it’s certainly worth a listen in my opinion.

Neudrum Baffle-Less Speakers

At first glance these speakers look like someone gave up surfing and decided to find a new use for their boards, but these are some serious speakers. The sound won’t be to everyone’s liking because the baffle-less design (the back of the speaker drivers are as open as the front) makes for a very ethereal sense of imaging. The sound is rich and full-bodied with buckets of detail, but I couldn’t decide if I liked the presentation or not. There was an amazing sense of space in the sound and the soundstage seemed endless, but there was a lack of focus to the sound which meant that the vocalist sounded like a ghost in the sense that I knew they were clearly within a certain part of the soundstage, but I could never put my finger on exactly where. Depending on your tastes and usage, these could be a very interesting and unique proposition.

Beyerdynamic’s new offerings

I’ve been generally a fan of beyerdynamic headphones so I was excited to see a couple of interesting new products. Of most interest to me are the upcoming portable, bluetooth headphones called the Aventho (pictured in the brown finish). The Aventho look like a slightly larger T51 or DT1350, but they’re wireless (they can also be connected with a wire) and more interestingly will tune themselves to your specific hearing profile using an app designed by hearing-aid manufacturers and experts, Mimi. That’s not to say these are only for the hard-of-hearing though. After a 6-7 minute interactive process, the Aventho’s will be tuned to your specific hearing subtleties (like adjusting for the subtle high-frequency hearing loss in my left ear). The folks at beyerdynamic’s Australian distributor had a lot of fun realising that trying out someone else’s calibrated Aventhos proved some significant sound signature changes were taking place. While this tells us not to expect others to be impressed with your tuned Aventhos, it also suggests that they might just sound magic once they’re tuned for your ears. I’m expecting a review unit in the coming months so stay tuned for more Aventho news.

Also on the beyerdynamic displays were the Amiron Home headphones and the Impacto DAC. I have review units coming so I won’t go into too much detail now, but the gist of the pairing is that beyerdynamic have created a couple of inline DACs compatible with computers and mobile devices to allow you to upgrade your listening experience with their headphones. The Impacto DAC will only work with beyerdynamic headphones that feature removable, twin-entry cables (Amiron, T1, T5, etc.), but this means that the DACs are tuned specifically to pair well with beyerdynamic’s higher-end offerings to bring you even better sound (and hi-res capabilities) with your headphones and mobile device or computer. It’s also a nice touch that the incline DAC also features hardware buttons to change volume, skip tracks and play / pause.

Final Comments & Additional Images

These final images capture some products at the Show that were either interesting or quite disappointing.

Interesting

  • The gorgeous Melody tube amplifiers which retail for more than some cars
  • The Benq portable electrostatic speakers which are no doubt interesting for stat fans, but underwhelming in real-world listening

Disappointing

  • The Devialet Phantom speaker (that unusual oval-shaped thing) was something I have been keen to check-out for a while, but it was a total disappointment with way too much bass (and I love bass) and treble at the expense of mid-range balance and overall quality of presentation
  • The beautiful cream and timber SGR DS2 speakers had me poised for goose-bumps at the beginning of a demo track so you can imagine my disappointment when the enveloping, rich and accurately-imaged instrumentals were shredded by an overly dry and bright female vocal
  • But the SGRs weren’t alone. The La Scala II speakers were either completely wrong for the room or are an extremely refined taste because I turned around and walked out of the demo in less than 30 seconds after hearing one of the most boxy, cramped presentations I’ve ever experienced (and with a track I know well and use regularly for demos). I don’t mean to bash a product unfairly here and I don’t know enough about the La Scalas to comment on their actual sound quality, but the setup at the Show is not doing them any favours in my opinion

So, what does this all mean? Firstly, if you’re reading this before the end of Sunday 5th November and you’re in Melbourne, get along to the International Hifi Show – it’s a fun way to spend a couple of hours if you’re into audio. And don’t let my disappointments scare you off! Just because I don’t like something doesn’t mean you won’t and even if you do find things you’re not a fan of, that just helps you to refine what you really like! Secondly, today’s trip has reinforced how brilliant the world of headphones is for delivering world-class sound no matter where you are and for a much lower budget that speakers. That said, nothing short of a live gig will match a truly great speaker setup – it’s just a matter of getting all the factors right and that’s tough in a hotel room. Finally, there’s some great new gear hitting the market soon so keep an eye out here and also in the media in general (Stereo.net.au and the like) for some great upcoming products.

Lachlan Fennen Written by:

Facilitator, training design consultant, blogger / writer and amateur photographer

2 Comments

  1. PETER JASZ
    November 29, 2017
    Reply

    Lachlan: Uh, that should read “hearing-impaired” (that would include those with slight HF hearing attenuation -in the left ear ! )

    RE: ” … these are only for the hard-of-hearing though”.

    peter jasz

  2. PETER JASZ
    November 29, 2017
    Reply

    Lachlan: Also (under ‘Disappointment’), understand that every single component/item preceding the loudspeakers deeply impacts the “sound” -often times wrongly believed to be the ‘sound’ of the loudspeaker itself.

    I’ve known and been demonstrating this phenomenon for nearly twenty years (as in the shocking distinctions revealed by the loudspeaker when ‘passive’ components are swapped, or simply even altered).

    Such an understanding (that any seasoned veteran has painfully experienced and hopefully understands) throws a massive wrench into what we are hearing and what exactly is responsible.

    peter jasz

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