High End 2018e


Walking HALLE’s was where I ran into Hervé Brasebin (above center), director of Sales for AudioNec of France. Standing on his left is Francis Chaillet, who is AudioNec’s chief designer and rocket scientist. I’m only half-joking when you consider what Chaillet has accomplished with regard to both his sophisticated series of music servers, DACs and amplifiers and – on display for the first time – the mighty AudioNec Diva XL loudspeaker ($240k). 


Based on a no-compromise, no apologies approach, the 7 ft tall Diva XL boasts dual 15″ woofers in their own dedicated sealed enclosures and a very uniquely styled broadband driver that Chaillet refers to as a “Duo-Pole.” Similar to a traditional di-pole design, this odd looking driver serves as a box-less design that operates in the open air from the 200 Hz to 20 kHz. In addition, a powerful and specialized neodymium motor (with a magnetic field greater than one Tesla), is said to recreate life-like listening levels with an harmonic acuity that’s unmatched. A ribbon super tweeter handles higher frequency extension to beyond the human scope of hearing (45 kHz). Sensitivity is rated at a whopping 98 dB so modest powered tube amplifiers are most welcome.



Although AudioNec designs their own Class-D amplification (and to great results each time I’ve heard them), this year, they opted to have a “French Connection” that combined their products alongside two noteworthy French audio designers: Jadis (electronics) and Absolue Creations (cables). I’ve been a longtime fan of Jadis dating back to the early ’90’s, when Victor Goldstein was importing them right here in the Big Apple. Hardly visible around these parts, it’s nice to see them making a comeback at shows such as these. Absolue Creations has been making a name for themselves for a few years now. Every time I hear a system composed of their products, it usually sounds stellar. Harmonic correctness without blotting out the details is what this setup offered without even listening hard. This is not my first rodeo with AudioNec, as I’ve visited them each time I was fortunate enough to see them here at the High End show. However, this time, they made it a point that I visit them this year with regard to the auspicious debut of their flagship Diva XL loudspeakers. What struck me almost immediately was how clean, detailed, yet deep the bass was in this makeshift room felt as compared to the others located in the same location. The powers that be made the room longer and wider, which gave it a much better overall sound, but in the end the room was still made of some cheap material that easily swelled to the wallop of any low-end note. Not here in the AudioNec suite.



In fact, the bass was so detailed, rich and quick afoot that after about two days of back and forth listening, I had to ask Chaillet “what’s up with the bass?” His response was “speaker correction software!” You’d think after a decade of playing with room and speaker correction I would have guessed it for myself. But, this was different from what I knew. It didn’t have that digital-like glaze I had become aware of in the earlier days of digital room correction nor did it sound devoid of proper overtones. Looking at their Music Server and AA2 series Digital Amplifiers driving only the woofer section (replete with their own linear ANALOG power supply and discrete internal components), had me gushing over their performance. $240,000 is a lot of money to invest into a pair of loudspeakers but if I had the money, I wouldn’t hesitate investing into something like AudioNec’s Diva XL loudspeakers. In certain ways, that Duo-Pole midrange is something to marvel at when it comes to cleanliness and realism. Few speakers I’ve heard can match the level of realism it produces. One of the best sounds at the show!   




King’s Audio Limited, makers of ESL loudspeakers and headphones introduced two new models at this year’s High End. The larger model KS-18 is full-range electrostatic panel that should be available this Fall. The smaller model (photo above on the outside) is the company’s new hybrid Queen IV (price to be determined). Using King Sound all tube model P80, (100 watts), the sound was noticeably more balanced and musical than I can recall hearing in previous listening iterations. I told this directly to Simon Lai as we’ve reviewed their wares but I think their products sound best when played back through their own amplifiers. At only 83 dB efficient, I think there’s something to why they sound best when strapped to amps specifically designed to drive loads such as these. Surprisingly good sound! Bravo.   




Was happy to see Massimiliano Magri, or Maxx of Grandinote (above photo) greeting me from the MOC rather than some off sight location as he did last year. Once again, I was delighted to see the Grandinote Volta music server ($10k) feeding the newest member of the family in the Shinai integrated amplifier ($14k). What I was really looking forward to hearing however was the new 9 woofer/16 tweeter, 98 dB efficient, Grandinote Mach 9 loudspeakers ($30k), I had heard so much about since being bowled over by the smaller Mach 4’s during last year’s High End show (see that report here). And yes, by all accounts the sound was stellar as to be expected already knowing how good this Italian brand performs. Pure Class A tube sound from a solid-state device without the fuss. Sounds too good to be true until you hear these products for oneself.

That being said, these makeshift rooms couldn’t handle the energy the Mach 9’s let loose into the room. More often than not, the room literally shook from the lower octaves causing Maxx to lower the volume to acommodate the flimsy walls. This wasn’t the case last year when he had a true cement structure for which to showcase his new Mach 4 loudspeakers. At 98 dB efficient, the Mach 9’s, when played within the limits of the room, performed flawlessly. Unfortunately, to hear the Mach 9’s played to their limits is going to take another room and another day.

There’s a running theme to manufacturers who are talented enough to design their own music servers, amplifiers and loudspeakers. It usually leads to a sound that is really quite astounding in terms of synergy. Nothing really tops that! Oh, by the way, all cabling was by way of a new company called Luna, which sounded quite good I might add.  




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