The Audio Geek!

2016 Australian HiFi & A/V Show

I went to the Australian HiFi & A/V Show held in a Melbourne hotel yesterday. On the whole it was pretty unexciting. Although a claimed 100+ brands were on show, limited range of exhibitors and sadly but not necessarily surprisingly, most systems sounded ordinary compared to my Kyron Audio Kronos system here at home. To make matters worse, the demo music being played in most rooms was dreary dirge-like stuff or classical which I couldn’t take to at all. So I didn’t even get to come away with any music recommendations.

VAF Soundwall, really interesting - 2016
Bricasti electronics and Tidal speakers - 2016
Hilton and Project Audio room - 2016
Audio Note, always an oasis of sound - 2016

The event was saved for me by one room. Stunning (in size, cost and sound) Ypsilon pre-amplifier and mono-block power amps, matching CD player & DAC, the Audio Union Helix 1 turntable designed by Aussie Mark Dohrmann and German Physiks Borderland (I think) omni-directional speakers. The CD player was frankly a bit ho-hum but the turntable sounded pretty special with decent records (CSN live from Melbourne and Johnny Cash being a couple of standouts). But I will save the best for last. When we first walked into the room, there was a drum solo playing pretty loud in a small (untreated) hot, dark hotel room full of people and equipment. It sounded pristine, lively, clear and tuneful. I assumed it was a modern percussion track designed to demonstrate the system’s dynamics. Which it did superbly. After a couple of minutes I sensed that I had heard the track before. A bunch of blokes (my age) were rocking along with the solo and then it struck me, just before the guitars kicked in. The track was ‘Moby Dick’ by Led Zeppelin off their second album recorded in 1969. A closer inspection of the playback suite showed no records on the turntable, a static display on the CD player and there was not a streamer in sight. Then I saw it. A 25+ year old Studer reel-to-reel tape recorder / player deck. I had a mate with with me and we both agreed that this was the best sound reproduction we had ever heard. The fact that the music was a 47 year old rock album that sounded like it was recorded yesterday was borderline unbelievable. We visited the room three times just to make sure our ears weren’t playing tricks on us. No surface noise, no tape hiss, no wow & flutter, just a huge image and pin point instrument placement and clarity across the (artificial) studio soundstage. Revelatory is a word that comes to mind. 

I had read in recent audio mags that audio shows in Munich and Newport had seen a rise in exhibitors using reel-to-reel as a source. I dismissed those articles as promoting the ‘lunatic’ fringe… I am now a believer! And I want one!

The good news is that the reel-to-reel decks are relatively cheap by high end audio standards. Between $5 and $20K gets you used high class Euro gear (Studer, Telefunken etc). Sadly that is the end of the good news. The bad news is that the units are a bit temperamental and delicate and potentially need regular maintenance. There is a degree of complexity around tape width, tape speeds, matching the pre-recorded tapes EQ to the player’s reproduction settings and I am sure other issues. But the big drawback is a lack of range of tapes and their cost. $A450 to $750 per tape!!! Yikes. Practically, I would only be initially looking at 10 - 25 tapes of material that I absolutely loved and was confident in the sonic quality and provenance. Think ‘desert island tapes’...

A poor picture of some awesome technology - 2016

Over dinner my colleague and I continued to focus on the positives of what we heard and are committed to exploring the potential opportunity to get in the game. Lots more research to do however. The cost paradigm of analog LP versus tape is just swapped around. Probably long term costs are similar but in one mode you play more for the equipment and in the other you pay more for the software. But from what we heard, tape sonically kills even SoTA vinyl. I am sure my Kronos system would do the tape sound justice and take my audio reproduction to a whole new level.

Watch this space!