HE 2010 - Standout Demos

I'm probably sensitive to the quality of displays at trade shows because the SoundStage! Network has covered more audio/video shows than any other publication in the world in the last ten years, and I'm almost always there working as part of the team. As a result, after having seen so many shows, I'm often critical when a well-funded company has a lackluster display, but I will heap on the praise when I see a well-presented display. And when a company presents something that raises the bar by displaying something brand new that forces other companies to up the ante (if they aim to impress at future shows), I'll write an article like this one. My feeling is that if you're going to make specialty audio/video products that are a cut above the rest, then present them that way. Better yet, present them in the way in which they might be used.

Denmark's Gryphon Audio Designs turned 25 years old in 2010, and to mark the occasion the company did more than just throw a party. Gryphon Unplugged (written by Albert L. Jones, seen in photo below) is a 141-page hardbound book that catalogs the company's traverse through high-end-audio history. It's filled with wonderful images, product reviews, stories, product profiles, reprints, historical pieces, and photo galleries that tell the Gryphon story in detail. As a long-time fan of Gryphon Audio Designs, I'm delighted by it. I have my copy of Gryphon Unplugged in my suitcase to take back home, and it's something I'll enjoy and value for a long time.

I listened to the Technical Audio Devices (TAD) Reference Ones (€ 70.000 per pair) for about ten minutes today at Munich's High End 2010 and came away with an observation that really shouldn't come as a surprise to anyone who's followed TAD designer Andrew Jones's work in loudspeaker design. Jones was a key figure at Britain's KEF before joining TAD, and now with TAD he's bent on pursuing the state of the art in loudspeaker design. It wasn't that the Ones simply sounded great -- they pretty much always do -- but it was how great they sounded even listening way off to the side, far from what audiophiles call the sweet spot. I've heard the speaker many times before, but this was the first time I took note of this aspect of its performance.

I've been told that my SoundStage! review of Amphion's Argon2 loudspeakers about eight years ago is what put them on the map. I don't believe that's true because one review might get a company noticed, but it won't make them a landmark. What puts a company on the map is having good products to start out with, which is what Amphion had, and then continuing to improve on them year after year. The responsibility for the company's success and the credit for getting them on the map therefore lies with their leader. In Amphion's case, that's Anssi Hyvönen, whose vision has made them what they are today. Believe me when I tell you that Anssi and Amphion have come a long way.

I've always gone into MBL's demonstrations with the intention of enjoying them, but I never have. Most of the time, their systems are being played way too loud. Worst of all, whether it's due to the volume levels they're playing the speakers at or something inherent in their product design, the highs come across as screechy and cold. I usually leave the demo with my ears ringing, wanting to quickly get as far away as I can. I'm also mixed on the appearance of their products, namely their past color choices, which include just shiny black or silver. The flamboyant metalwork, coupled with the shiny black paint and accentuated with chrome and gold, seems like Harley-Davidson meets hi-fi.

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