Welcome to the show…
This year Melbourne once again hosted the international HiFi show, an event targeted at the high-end audio and video consumer seeking to learn about the latest advances in technology.
As expected household names such as Yamaha and Polk were present, along with a plethora of local and boutique AV brands. Geeks, AV aficionados and curious consumers in general were able to enjoy, over the 3 days at the Pullman hotel facilities, a number of demos of cutting edge home theatre and AV systems.
The venue selection was a highlight. Many audio related trade shows are hosted in convention centres where it’s hard to get any decent listening experience. This event was hosted at a hotel so most exhibitors utilised hotel rooms or meeting rooms and were able to customise them with acoustic panels and have a really private experience without much bleeding of sound or interference of any kind.
The other highlight was the song selection. Most demonstrations utilised content which is known to have the best production ever in music. Yes as you may have already suspected, the likes of Pink Floyd, Dire Straits, Fleetwood Mac and others from the golden era of music could be heard everywhere. Multiple thumbs up!
The usual suspect
Surround Sound Goliath Dolby teamed up with Krix, Trinnov Audio and Barco and utilised the Krix Cinema Ballroom (a 32 seat cinema-like space) in the hotel to demonstrate the latest Dolby Atmos® technology. This technology utilises a multitude of channels (way beyond traditional 5.1) to provide a full 3D immersion and sound experience. It was, according to the presenters, a world first demonstration of the 24.10.10 version of the system (yes you read correctly). According to the presenter the room featured seven tri-amped dual 15-inch loudspeakers behind the screen, twenty-seven surround and overhead speakers. and ten subwoofers.
24.10.10 should be read as follows (taken from the Dolby website):
 This refers to the number of traditional surround speakers (front, center, surround).
[.10] The middle number refers to how many powered subwoofers you can connect to your receiver.
[.10] The final number refers to how many in-ceiling or upward-firing speakers are in your Dolby Atmos® setup.
For reference, existing cinema versions of the Atmos® system are said to be 7.1.2 and home versions are typically 5.1 or 7.1. But before you start running to go and buy this, the room cost was said to be $500K – keep reading… the content selected was a scene from Mad Max: Road Fury where voices whisper in the head of the main character, and you could clearly hear those voices all around you. It then moves to a fast scene where marauders with hot rods show up and all hell breaks loose – the dynamics, depth and clarity of the sound was so intense that we barely notice that the scene was probably not appropriate for a few kids present.
For the mere mortals like me, Selby was demonstrating:
- A sub $10,000 5.1.2 version of a home system which supports Atmos® based on Onkyo receiver, 1080p projector and Krix speakers
- A sub $5,000 5.1.2 version of of a home system which supports Atmos® based on Onkyo receiver, 4K projector and Polk speakers
For comparison, same content was available, and both sounded impressive enough. A bit more ‘flat’ but way less likely to get you filing for divorce…
So Doc invented a time machine…
Or so I though as I walked past the initial demonstration room and into the event. A record fair was part of the event, and it contained mainly vinyl ! Yes, I know, this has been going for a while. CD sales are down, vinyl sales are up and throughout a few rooms we could browse countless original pressings as well as some of the new pressings of old records with ‘thicker’ format and updated artwork. All sorts of genres were represented: rock, jazz, metal, folk, side-by-side with plastic sleeves and cleaning products. Prices ranged from $20 to $80 in general. What a trip down memory lane!
As you may have suspected, logic dictates that the highlight in terms of gear was the high-end turntable. Right-o, state-of-the-art gramophones ranging from $1,000 to $5,000 were alive and kicking in various of the demonstration rooms. In the lobby one of the main lectures was about the construction of high-end turntables, and aficionados and tech-heads were discussing the various methods of design and where to get parts for their systems.
The best of the rest
Yamaha is another giant with strong presence, occupying one of the biggest rooms, demonstrating a high-end system running in stereo, with their own brand of acoustic treatment placed in the room. Top notch clarify and fidelity as you would expect.
Polk has their own booth as well, where one of the highlights for me was the number of soundbars they have in their line-up, rubbing shoulders with the traditional multi-channel speaker arrangements. Not everyone has the budget or the space for a full home theatre, so this is not entirely surprising.
Beyer were demonstrating an interesting device which combined a DAC and a headphone amplifier into a small portable device which looks like a remote control found in many headphones. It took digital audio from iPhones and other phones via lightning or USB connectors and delivered it straight to the headphones. An interesting solution for those unhappy with the poor quality of the analog headphone output of some mobile phones, or their entire absence (thanks Apple).
SGR audio were demonstrating their locally crafted high end speaker systems in a mini-theatre room. Again the clarity and depth of the sound was remarkable, but the main interesting factor here is that the content being played was coming from a set-top box styled music server, and it was in lossless FLAC CD quality, the good old 44.1 kHz, 16-bits stereo system.
Another interesting nugget of the show was the Historical Radio Society of Australia, which specialises in restoring old valve radios.
The summary of the International HiFi Show confirms my expectation that high end systems will always have their space. Multi-channel and spatial audio continue to push boundaries, high fidelity over price is key for a segment of the market, and vinyl left an undeleable impression in music aficionados. In an era dominated by poor digital representations of music played in cheap devices piled up at the shelves of the nearest supermarket, it was good to see that some people still have a passion for high-end audio.
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