HIGH END 2023 Show Report
Downstairs in the vast halls of the ground floor, I found a Norwegian company with the unlikely name of Little Fwend which makes tonearm lifters, rather nice ones too. Based on an Audio-Technica design from vinyl's heyday the Little Fwend is a beautifully made stainless steel device that picks up the arm when it reaches the end of the side. Available in three sizes with a dedicated version for Technics SL turntables it has a very sensitive trigger and a lovely slow action so that the cartridge is lifted gently off the vinyl with no drama. Price is $249.
On the same floor iFi Audio had a flagship headphone amp which is designed in such a way that it looks like two units, but in reality, it merely separates functions for the hybrid design. It's distinguished by its compatibility with most varieties of electrostatic headphones. It does this with an SD card-based bias adjustment system; plug in the card for your electrostatics below the relevant outputs and it will drive them with the correct voltage. The price in the UK for this fully analog amp is £3,749.
Server specialists Innuos previewed their Pulse range of streamers at HIGH END 2022 last year and now have the top Pulsar ($6,899) model in production. This has a substantial power supply based on Mundorf caps and a 300VA transformer, a Phoenix USB Litereclocker on the USB output, and a single-level cell SSD for the InnuOS operating system. It demonstrated impressively via a dCS Rossini Apex DAC, Pilium amplification, and Estelon X-Diamond Mk2 loudspeakers. The contrast with the next model down in the range, the Pulse was pretty stark.
Chord Electronics has plenty of digital components in its line but have been concentrating on bringing their Ultimate tech to the full range of amplifiers. On the desktop front, the TToby is being phased out in favor of Berttie, a completely redesigned stereo amp that offers 75W/channel for £3,995, making it the least expensive Ultima model in the catalog. The Ultima Integrated is the first integrated amp from Chord in seven years, designed by founder John Franks it offers 125W a side and runs on proprietary high-frequency power supplies with advanced error correction which monitors and corrects signals before the output stage. Fully balanced with four line inputs and switching via relays it provides individual buffering for each input to keep noise to a minimum and will be priced at £8,500 when it ships in the fall.
There is never any shortage of serious loudspeakers at HIGH END and 2023 was no exception. Dali has trickled down the work that they did for the reference Kore model into the Epikore 11 ($60,000), which bridges the gap between their biggest model and the Epicon 8 in a 4.5-way twin ported design. This features paper and wood fiber woofers for stiffness with low mass and a new generation of Dali's SMC (soft magnetic compound) motor systems, a method of reducing hysteresis that makes voice coil movement considerably freer than pure iron systems.
The tweeter consists of 35mm soft dome allied to a ribbon for the highest frequencies up to 34k Hz with no fluid used in the dome's drive system to avoid the damping found with ferrofluid. This system demonstrated impressively with superb imaging on the end of bridged NAD M23 power amps employing Purifi Eigentakt Class D output stages and pushing out 700W when required.