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Report Audio Show iEAR 2021

Let’s face it: it was a crazy iEAR show this year. The Friday before the event the stricter Corona-measures were announced. Nothing to be done, unfortunately. Fortunately, iEAR and the exhibitors (brands) at the show are flexible enough to still make the best of it. And because of this attitude and commitment the Saturday was still a great success.

Let’s kick off with the announcement that iEAR once again put on a tightly organized show together at the Willem II stadium in Tilburg, Netherlands. And hats off to all the exhibitors who had beautifully decorated their spaces. Every single one of them beautiful demos. Unfortunately we were not able to attend all of them, as it was often too busy in the venue and we had to visit everything in one day. However, we did our best to have a look and take pictures everywhere.

Ground Floor

The first floor featured Sound United, IDC Klaassen, Terrasson Audio and GP Acoustics. Or in other words, brands like: KEF, Hegel, Isotek, Bowers & Wilkins, Rotel, Marantz, Denon, Polk, Definitive, Vivid, Grimm, Mola Mola and, for example, Arcam. Something for everyone, because the price ranges are very different as you can imagine. A Vivid Gaia on Mola Mola and a Grimm MU1 is something else than a KEF LS50 on a Hegel H95 to name but one. But that is also the beauty of a fair like this: you can find everything: from very exotic to very affordable. And from a complete streaming solution to something completely analogous (like at Music2).

What was very nice to attend was the Isotek demo of the Aquarius V5 and Titan V5. Keith Martin of Isotek was there himself to do the demo. He – deliberately – did not do endless technical stories about power-filtering, but let the product itself do the work. With the famous touch of British humor of course. And fortunately the difference was again very perceptible and equal to what we ourselves experienced in our set-up in the listening room.

At Bowers & Wilkins the new Zeppelin was downstairs – together with 700-series Signature – and upstairs the 800-series D4 could be found on a Classé system. An excellent separation, as another complete 800-series set in this room would not have been possible we estimate.

At KEF there was also a lot to see. Downstairs a set with Blade and among others LS50 Meta. But upstairs was a room where also live music was played. We walked in when Wish you were here of Pink Floyd was covered. A bold song to do of course… but it was very nicely done.

First Floor

Dimex basically opened the show for us with a press meeting around the new Cabasse products. The French introduced a new “mini-system”: the Pearl Keshi – 2,500 euros for a complete system – and a new, large Pearl Pelegrina – about 25,000 euros for a pair if we understood correctly. The specifications are impressive, with 3700 watts of power for the Pelegrina being the most memorable. Absolute control… no matter what volume you are listening at.

At Dynaudio we find the new Contour and new Emit. Emit of course has just been introduced which makes it interesting to give it a good listen. The room was completely full, so it will have sounded good, we guess. Author Wouter was already very happy with the bookshelf of Emit… Apart from Dynaudio we found a lot of electronics from Auralic. Soon we will receive a complete stack to listen to. Soon more about the new Auralic products!

At Bowers & Wilkins the new Classé-line is playing on a pair of 800D4s. A beastly system. Big, dynamic… Even a bit bigger than the 804D4 that we had the pleasure of listening to earlier in our live test on a complete Quad-system. The Classé had a good grip on these brutes that easily filled the room with music.

A little further on was Yamaha with a complete 5000 series pre- / power and NS-3000 series monitor speakers. A magisterially neutral combination. On the other side for the room, a home-cinema had been set up in cooperation with Klankbart. We unfortunately were not able to enjoy that. However, we will soon be checking out Optoma’s entry-level laser projector.

Surely, in Latham’s room, we find a feat of engineering…. Focal Grand Utopia on a NAIM Statement system which also featured the recently introduced NAIM Solstice turntable (report to follow). It unfortunately wasn’t playing when we were there, but this must have played unprecedentedly large and impressive. The experience at Latham itself was that the turntable plays really super quiet and controlled.

At Fine Sounds there are two systems around Sonus Faber and McIntosh. A larger and a smaller system. And that is great to hear, because it shows that bigger is not always necessary to get into the music. By the way, a system should always be adapted to the room. Too big doesn’t sound right either. Again, the room is completely full when we go inside. So quiet listening is not an option. But what we did learn is that the demos were done with care and that people are enjoying themselves with a smile.

NAD has chosen a mixture of live music (John van der Veer) and demos. We see the new NAD C700 standing next to the M10 V2 and of course the new DALI streaming speakers from the Equi line. Wirelessly… and possibly in surround setup with the hub that also allows surround. An interesting concept in our industry. After all, who feels like pulling wires when it can be done wirelessly? (Yes, you must use a power-cord).

Finally, a visit to Music2. There is a complete analog system there with Blumenhofer, Trafomatic, Reed, Van den Hul and Dr. Feickert. If I’m not mistaken, Marco from Music2 was playing with a REED turntable upon entry. Two big-ass Trafomatic tube amps were driving a set of gigantic Blumenhofer horns. A recipe we do like. Completely analog. Open, fast, musical and unmistakably a lot of fun.

Second Floor

We go up another flight of stairs to look at the second floor. We find distributors like Audioquest standing there with their cables and Golden Ear. And Network Media Systems who clearly want to show what Hifirose can do. We must admit: the display looks great. Large, colorful and easy to read.

ServiQ is prominent in the main hall on the first floor. We see Elac, Advance Paris and Cocktail Audio. We weren’t so aware yet that Elac has really high-end speakers in their lineup. We are going to take a closer look and listen to a nice model at iEAR soon. We also have a Cocktail audio on the agenda to review. But first we want to be able to check out Cocktail’s desktop app; it’s not ready yet.

For those of you who found the Focal Grand Utopia and Naim Statement a little too much of a good thing…. here you can also enjoy a slightly smaller system from Latham’s stable.

Next door is HNNY with a system based on Fyne Audio, REL, Van den Hul, Heed and New Horizon. Also not too big although in our hobby it quickly gets expensive if you also want some quality.

Viertron had an interesting set-up with speakers that could be build in. That sounded surprisingly good for a speaker system in this class. Partly because of the good amplification and good, active filtering, we estimate. Furthermore, there are electronics from Atoll which now falls under Viertron. There is an Atoll-duo on its way to Geoffrey to take a look. By the way, there is also some Meridian soon in our listening room; it has been a long time since we listened to anything from these Brits.

Joenit had set up a very compact and charming system with Totem and Rega. This sounds incredibly loose and fluid. Something we have come to expect from both Totem and Rega. An insanely beautiful combination for those who like to stick with traditional, tried-and-true technology. And there is much to be said for that when we hear this!

IDC also had another space here. It was more like a shared space with Esoteric and TEAC. Because yep: finally an official importer for TEAC in the Netherlands. Esoteric’s electronics – with a new all-in-one pre-amp / dac / streamer – drove a new version of Q acoustics’ Concept line. Very nice stuff! F

inally, System Audio, Audio Physik and Primare. We currently have a pair of System Audio speakers on trial. The first impression is very positive: easy installation and it sounds very tight. The wireless WISA system is just right… At Primare with Audio Physik we had to check whether there was any room correction active: that sounded really tight in the bass. And that in a demo room full of people and with far from ideal acoustics. Very impressive.

Rounding off

We really had to race to see everything in one day and be able to catch up with people. Moreover, it was very busy at the show, which is good for iEAR and the exhibitors. Also, a fair / Expo is not the place to really sit down and listen; you can’t. The space is unfamiliar, the music is often difficult to hear, and the music is not very good… in short: you get no more than an impression.

But that too is worth something of course. All in all, we thought it was a beautiful show. And it was just good to see everyone again. Human contact is irreplaceable. In short: fingers crossed that next year it can happen again. iEAR and all exhibitors: thank you!

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