Cape Town Hi-Fi Experience 2022 Report.

"The power of music to connect, entertain and move us in many ways was at the centre of the first Cape Town High Fidelity Experience on the 15th of October. The venue was the stunning Cellars Hohnenhort Hotel in Constantia, located on the Eastern slope of Table Mountain." 

As much thought went into the choice of music as the selection of high fidelity equipment that was on show in the three lovely music rooms. Organisers Airmusic wanted to demonstrate that the main aim of good hi-fi equipment is to play all types of music and not only the typical audiophile recordings. Therefore extensive playlists were created, covering a broad range of music genres from classical and jazz to electronic and hip-hop. Slots dedicated to each of these genres formed the backbone of the events of the day ( Qobuz was used to stream, but vinyl was also used in one of the rooms. 

After the drought of events brought about by Covid, Cape Townians were keen to meet up again and attendance was above expectations. Specific effort was also made by the organisers to attract not only the die-hard enthusiasts, but also music lovers that would not typical attend hi-fi shows. The diversity of people at the event was encouraging; from other hi-fi retailers to partners of enthusiasts as well as young millennials that would probably never even think of stepping into the typical high end audio store. Many of the guests stayed for the whole day and moved from one room and system to the next. Later in the afternoon, requests were entertained by the hosts in the rooms and festivities were reluctantly ended by the end of the day.

The equipment in the three rooms did not disappoint either, with each having a different concept around which the rooms and systems were curated. 

In the first room, the largest space, the idea was to showcase how a music system can fill the space with realistic levels of playback through medium-sized speakers that are still room friendly and not only sound good but look the part as well.

The Rosso Fiorentino Volterra, a 2.5-way floorstander, was used along with its smaller sibling the Fiesole (2-way standmount speaker). Xavian’s top of the range bookshelf, the Orfeo, also was demoed in this room. Amplification was provided by an Accuphase E-480 integrated amplifier and the Norma Audio SC-2LN/PA150 pre-power combination. For good measure and as a counterpoint to the solid state amplifiers, the Jadis I35 (fitted with KT120 valves) was thrown into the mix to illustrate the virtues of Class A valve amplification. The source was a Holo Spring 3 Level 2 DAC and a Mac Mini running Audirvana. The nifty WiiM served as transport. Cables were mainly from the Cardas range. The Volterras driven by the Accuphase sounded good, with a balanced and immersive sound, even at high sound levels. The Fiesoles were open and engaging and responded well to both the control of the Accuphase and the more saturated sound of the Jadis valve amp. The Xavian Orfeos, which are inherently tonally rich, sounded excellent and impressed when driven by the complementary Norma combination; very clean and neutral but always refined and liquid sounding. Many guests were surprised by how easily and effortlessly the mid-sized Orfeos filled the large space and on top of it also gained even more depth and dimensionality when the Jadis was used. That said, the modest power (35W) of the Jadis I35 limited the sound levels that could be maintained as the Orfeos are not as sensitive as the two Rosso Fiorentino speakers. Rock, jazz, and classical music was heard flowing from this room throughout the day and guests were nailed to their chairs.  Min Jun Sung’s Air on a G String and The XX’s -A Violent Noise were tracks that seems to be well received and even some dubstep music was requested later in the afternoon and aficionados of this genre were amazed to hear this kind of of music on a very good hi-fi system.

In the second room, the concept that was used to curate the room was around easy-to-drive speakers coupled with low to medium powered amplification. 

The Living Voice A25R was the anchor for most of the day, but the ProAc Response D2R was also used from time to time. Amplification was provided by the Pathos TT hybrid with its 35 single ended watts and timeless industrial design, a Jadis Orchestra Black fitted with El34 output valves and the diminutive Shindo Montille CV391. A Holo May KTE DAC served as source, together with a vinyl set-up that consisted of a Dr Feickert Volare deck, fitted with an Origin Silver tonearm and Hana SL cartridge. A Fezz phono stage completed this analogue set up. Independent of which amp was used at any given moment, the sound in this room was always effortless, natural, insightful, and tonally saturated. Each of the amps brought their own distinctive personality to the room. For instance, the Pathos TT sounded open and refined, the Jadis powerful and extended and the Shindo created an immersive experience that sounded real and lifelike, with rich colour shadings and supple dynamics shifts as the music required. Despite the very good digital-based sound, the vinyl rig demonstrated that even a mid-level setup can still win votes in terms of musicality, and just plain fun. When the Living Voice floorstanders were replaced with the ProAc standmounts the presentation changed somewhat; the smaller speakers with their ribbon tweeters sounded more open, neutral and the bass naturally slightly lighter and tighter but at the cost of the ease and naturalness of the R25A. Cables used were from the Cardas range and interchanged with the Auditorium 23 range from Germany. Memorable music moments were the fabulous electronic soundscapes created by talented local musician Felix Laband, various jazz and classical cuts as well as the surprising ease and raw rendition of Smoke on the Water from the live playlist.

The third room was curated to prove that you don’t have to break the bank to enjoy music at home, and it almost stole the show. In this room, Poland made a strong statement that it should be taken seriously as a birthplace of very good hi-fi equipment. 

Airmusic was very excited to launch the Pylon Audio speaker range as well as the Fezz Audio range of electronics. The AAdac from Audio Analogue interpreted the 0&1s to become music and it was fed by the WiiM mini streamer (also used in other rooms at times). This little device worked like a charm to link up with Qobuz and sounded excellent. The Moonriver 404 Signature integrated amplifier and the Audio Analogue Puccini Anniversary amplifier were also used from time to time to great effect. The fresh-of-the-shelf Pylon Jade 20 made a positive impression with their vintage looks and driven by the Fezz Torus sounded solid and meaty. They probably require a large room and careful setup to show their true colours. The Pylon Diamond 18 standmount speakers might be the sweet spot in the range. They got the thumbs up from many of the guests. In a similar vein, the entry-level Opal Monitors pushed the value curve with their excellent sound. Both the Pylon speakers and Fezz amplifiers could be disruptors for more established brands worldwide. For good measure and to showcase how good the Torus 5060 solid state amplifier with its built-in Wolfson DAC is, it was also paired with the iconic, world-class ProAc Tablette 10 Signature mini monitors. No genre could upset the systems in this room, they handled all music equally well.  Musically hits as indicated from guest include the XX’s A Violent Noise and Elvis’ rendition of Fever. 

Guests clearly enjoyed the day out, and the hotel’s setting and facilities complimented the fine music and equipment on show. Friends were made, music was shared and appreciated. Everyone agreed that the experience was fresh and invigorating for all involved. The organisers also mentioned that there were many involved to make this day such a success; from sponsors to the Hotel and staff for which no request was too much to handle, right up to the couriers that were used to transport the equipment. The Hotel even sent a bottle of Champagne to other guests in the luxury establishment just to make sure that the music would not be seen as a nuisance, which it certainly wasn't.  A lucky guest won an Ifi Streamer as well.

Whilst some audiophiles like to split hairs about details such as the influence of cables on the sound, the CPTHFE demonstrated that with a slight shift in focus the hi-fi industry isn’t necessarily on a downward slope. We need to revisit some high-end ideas, demystify the hobby, and make it more inclusive. In the end, if the focus is on music and the experience of it, not on sound per se, the true value of fine hi-fi equipment comes into play, and it can enrich our lives in many ways. See you at the CTHFE 2023. (All the tracks referenced in the report details are available on the Airmusic webpage.

Thanks, The CTHFE 2022 Organising team.