NDHT Norddeutsche HiFi-Tage 2024

Published: 06/02/2024

Author: Karsten Hein

Category: Explorations

Tag(s): Norddeutsche HiFi-Tage

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The Norddeutsche HiFi-Tage 2024 (or NDHT) were hosted by the Steigenberger Hotel in Treudelberg on the outskirts of Hamburg. There were approximately 200 exhibitors listed for the event, many of whom were still unfamiliar to me. Having begun my Explorations in Audio based mostly on vintage gear, I felt it was high time to make some new discoveries and broaden my horizon by including contemporary brands.

In preparation for the fair, I ran some web searches and took notes on each exhibitor. I packed a suitcase that contained eiaudio.de business cards, printouts of the visitors statistics to the eiaudio weblog (which had recently risen to over 12,500 visits per month), two Boogie Woogie CDs by Jörg Hegemann, my trusted Macbook, and some nose spray. The latter was just in case the combination of dry air and loud music would prove to have adverse effects on my already strained vocal cords.

Although I arrived only a few minutes after the official opening of the fair at 10:00 AM, the Steigenberger hotel parking lot was already fully occupied. I had to circle around the block and was lucky to secure a semi-legal slot adjacent to a longer line of parking lots where I was not in anyone’s way. Just in case, I walked up to the house on which I touched the driveway with two tires and left my mobile number with the young gentleman who opened the door.

I would have preferred the parking situation to be organized better. There were clearly large open spaces on the hotel premises that had not (or not yet) been made available to visitors. Being waved on by helpless parking attendants did not make for a positive first impression and was also a contradiction to hotel’s website information for drivers which stated quite clearly that there was sufficient parking available on site.

I ended up walking towards the hotel with droves of visitors that were exchanging stories about where they had managed to secure a spot for their vehicles. Some suggested that the traffic police had been quite unforgiving in the years before, on occasion charging parking offenders not only with a hefty fine but also with the cost of repairing the stretch of damaged lawn under the respective vehicle’s tires. I could well imagine that such proceedings had led to lasting memories for some of the guests.

I was a bit nervous about the event, too. Ever since we had our children, some ten years earlier, we tended to spend much of our free time among ourselves, and us going out to visit events had become the exception rather than the rule. This gradual weaning off sometimes became obvious when confronted with small things, such as the price for leaving my coat at the wardrobe having doubled in the meantime. You might therefore imagine my utter disbelief when I was first confronted with the recommended retail prices of modern HiFi gear — not just at the higher end of the market. It seemed to me that sporting five digit figures for a minimal home setup had meanwhile become quite usual.

I began my walk around the show at the Dynaudio booth and was pleasantly surprised by the setup I found. The renowned Danish loudspeaker manufacturer shared its booth with Canadian HiFi gear maker SIMAudio, and the presentation was clean and sophisticated throughout. Étienne of SIMAudio France explained to me that this impression might be due to the two companies manufacturing all their components from scratch. By doing so, they could combine technical functionality and visual design in a meaningful way, a philosophy that included the product the presentation.

Étienne directed me to a listening demonstration in which a pair of Contour 30i were positioned with plenty of space to the front and side walls and driven by SIMAudio gear. The room was of appropriate size for the speakers, and in combination made for a well-refined experience. The classical music tracks revealed a wonderful harmonically rich midrange and only on occasion gave away the position or moderate size of the speakers. Tonal memory is an elusive beast, but here I was listening to the same reassuring sound that I remembered from many earlier experiences with the brand. I gave Étienne my card, thanked him for the experience and went on my way.

The next room down the hall displayed a Musical Fidelity system that was hooked up to floor standing speakers by what looked like the French manufacturer Triangle, although I could not find the exact model on Triangle’s website. During the brief introduction that followed, we were informed about Musical Fidelity’s special approach to amplification, which consisted of two amplifiers working together to fully execute the positive and the negative curve of a music signal rather than killing the back signal through a high damping factor. According to the presenter, this made for a less constrained and more life-like listening experience.

Looking around the room, my eyes rested on the A1 integrated amplifier. I ran my hand across its heatsink top and was instantly reminded of how hot these units get. What an impressive little machine this was. Sadly, the music demonstration that followed did not support the theory presented on this occasion. Instead of a life-like presentation, the Triangles sounded boomy and imprecise. Seeing that the speakers were mounted on (metal?) slabs that had been placed on top of a long floor carpet, I suspected that this setup was the culprit. All the bass driver energy was possibly causing the speakers to wobble.

As there were sets of Magnepan speakers on the right hand side of the room, I would have much preferred to give the Maggies a listen, especially because I have not yet had a set on this blog. It was well possible that the magnetostats would have worked better on the wobbly slabs than dynamic drivers. However, as there was no indication that a change of speakers would soon take place, I decided to make my way to the next booth. Fun fact: Musical Fidelity changed owners in 2018 when its original founder Michaelson sold the company to Lichtenegger (of ProJect, amongst others).

Walking past reception, I saw a lineup of German Transrotor turntables on display. I must confess that I have always been a silent fan of their massive designs. Touching the drive belt, I was shocked that it felt as fragile as an ordinary household rubber band. I was pleased to see that the unconventional shape of the Transrotor turntables also managed to turn heads among the few female visitors present. In HiFi this usually says something, and I was once again reminded of my wife’s flattering reception of the DQ10.

The next room introduced me to a setup by Audio Reference, a German distributer for a handful of selected HiFi brands. I must say that, despite my prior research, it proved to be difficult to understand who was responsible for displaying what at each booth. And there was little space or time to talk to professionals, because everyone seemed quite busy. The speakers on this day were made by Perlisten Audio from Wisconsin, and we were either listening to a D’Agostino integrated amplifier that was run via a StromTank battery supply or a D’Agostino preamp with Krell power amplifier underneath. Either way, there was a slight edginess to the treble coming from this ensemble that I did not much care for.

In addition, Audio Reference had set their system(s) up diagonally to the room, which is a valid option to mediate modes in a difficult room. However, the measure also took some of the natural agility and attack out of the bass frequencies. Looking at their website, I could see that they had such a host of well-made equipment to choose from that it must have been difficult for them to narrow the selection down to a single setup for this show. I would have been interested in addressing the treble phenomenon and learning more about the company philosophy, but with the music playing and everyone looking busy, I thought I might as well Google it. While the fair might help to increase brand awareness by confronting the visitors with products they have not yet seen or heard of, the relatively loud environment did not make it ideal for serious conversation on the subject.

Instead of moving on to the upper echelons of the High End market with brands such as Ansuz, Axxess, and Borresen that will easily sell for six digits and more, I decided to get back down to earth with some German HiFi royalty. Rolf Gemein had been designing HiFi gear since the 1970s and made a name for himself by creating systems that made real music sound real for real people. His branded Symphonic Line products had won many national and international awards over the years.

In room 326, located on the third floor and all the way at the end of the hall, I was warmly greeted by Heinz-Peter Völkel the founder of "analog-treff" Nürnberg, a contributor to the Rundfunkmuseum, owner of a record label, and a distributer for Symphonic Line. We had been put in contact by a mutual friend and already spoken on the telephone a few days before the fair. It was good to meet in person. H.P. took my card and passed it on to Rolf, and this is how we met. I sat down among the other guests to listen. The music was well-chosen, hand-made stuff recorded live at intimate venues with acoustic instruments and vocals. And yet it was not your usual High End system esoteric Vocal Jazz, but rather the true to life recordings of the 60s and 70s.

Having spent much time setting up and fine-tuning systems over these past years, in getting rid of noise sources, optimizing ground potentials, moving to symmetric power cords, etc., I was pleased to identify that the same principles had been applied to the Symphonic line setup. The loudspeakers featured 20cm baked Görlich chassis and an air-motion transformer that was custom made by Mundorf and housed in a separate and mechanically insulated box. The speakers were driven by Symphonic Line’s RG10 MK5 integrated amplifier in conjunction with the brand’s newly developed power chord. There was a superior sense of order in the music and the dimensions of music events seemed both spatially and dynamically just right for the material presented.

In fact, I was often surprised by the dynamics presented. This is one aspect in which I found the Symphonic Line system to exceed my expectations. Moments of attack came so startlingly realistic that I found myself grinning from time to time. The occasions on which the speakers showed their limitations were exceptionally few, at least from a centered position. While standing to the right or left of the room, I sometimes had the impression that there was some compression of the mid-frequencies that I had also noticed on the Dynaudio setup. This was probably caused by the speakers interacting with the room.

My next stop was with AVM. The German manufacturer presented a lineup of high-gloss silver-fronted HiFi gear and partnered with British PMC to supply the loudspeakers. The setup looked clean and elegant, however, I could not say the same for the acoustics. My trouble is that I cannot say anything positive about a system when the tonal integrity is lost. The treble sounded piercing, metallic, and overly analytical. In this state, the setup would always draw attention to itself rather than the music. Looking behind the rack, I saw that signal cables were crossing power cables etc. It was difficult to say how the components would have sounded had they been set up properly, but having just come from Symphonic Line, where the owner and developer himself had arranged the setup, the contrast could not have been starker.

The French streaming amplifier manufacturer b.audio partnered with Intrada, a speakers manufacturer from California to present their gear. Intrada uses bandpass technology to extend lower bass and the resulting sound was — different. As I had not heard of either of the two brands before, I first had to make some sense of what was causing what in this particular signal chain and sought the assistance of a sales representative. I was informed that all tone controls were off and that the onboard DSP of the b.audio unit was inactive and had not been calibrated to the room. With his information, I listened for a few minutes and came to the conclusion that bass came across like a separate music event on this system. The two integrated band passes of the Intrada speakers proceeded to send shockwaves of sub bass through the room from time to time, something that would surely appeal to bass lovers.

Eternal Arts by Dr. Burkhardt Schwäbe had a combination of tube amplifiers and tape machines on display on which the company presented studio master recordings. The speakers were dipoles of Eternal Arts’ own product line. And although I very much enjoyed the approach and speaking to Mr. Schwäbe himself, I was not overly pleased with the resulting sound of this particular setup. The top end was a bit muffled, and spatial presentation suffered as a consequence. As I have read some positive reviews of the gear itself, I suspect that the source and amplification were of high quality. I am personally not so sure about the benefit of the metal grilles in front of the speakers, although I understand that these particular speakers were designed in cooperation with Ecouton and that there is surely a good reason for everything.

Graham Audio offered a solid performance. During the second half of the day, there was a tendency among exhibitors to turn up the volume. Doors were no longer shut for the listening sessions and each room tried to drown out the noise floor coming in from the hall. Playing loud was no problem for the Grahams, however, it did present a problem to me. Trying to speak to people became more difficult, and my already strained voice was becoming coarse. The air had become quite hot and dry in many rooms. When windows were opened, the winter cold coming in at times lead to uncomfortable drafts. We were listening to the LS5/5F, and I must day that I liked the design, both, with the grille on or off. As the volume level had become quite overpowering, I could not stay in the room for long.

From the AVM booth onward I was joined by Alec and his son from Hamburg. Alec had built speakers professionally for some time before moving into computer programming. Although Alec was not so deeply involved with the subject anymore, it was good to share our experiences and discuss each room when we were back in the hall. I was getting ready to go home but wanted to show Alec and his son the Symphonic Line booth before I did. I just wanted to see how their reaction would be. On the way there we passed the Polish brand of tube amplifiers fezz and marveled at their sleek and modern design.

When we reached the Symphonic Line booth, Heinz-Peter was playing music from his living room-concert series by his own label and was clearly enjoying it. Having met with him earlier, I could point out that 2dB less would be an advantage for everyone, to which he agreed, and we closed the door to the hallway. We were lucky and found three empty chairs in the centre. Alec and his son were sitting in front of me, and after just a few seconds I could see them relax in their seats. After some time, I padded Alec on the back: "So, What do you think?" "It is very good. Sounds live." Alec responded.

In the time that we were in the room, people came in, stood for a while, and left again. It seems they could not make sense of the shape of the speakers, did not recognize the brand, etc. And none of them sensed what was so spectacular about this room. People trust their eyes more than what they hear. In fact, in colloquial language use we tend to discount "I heard…" to "I saw it with my own eyes." One would think that this would be different at an audio fair, but judging from the reactions I saw at the fair, we can no longer be sure.

Having lost my voice almost completely, I said goodby to Rolf and H.P., took a whiff of nose spray and accompanied Alec and his son to the parking lot. It seemed that meanwhile further areas had been made available so that Alec had managed to secure a space on hotel premises. Approaching my own vehicle in the street, I could see that some self-proclaimed police officer had taken a pile of dog poop and placed it on the hood of my car. „Still cheaper than a fine“, I thought as I brushed it off with a stick. It seems my note with the telephone number had not satisfied everyone in the neighborhood.

I hope you enjoyed this little account of the 2024 NDHT fair. This being the first of its kind for me, I did not manage to get around to everyone. As usual, I have tried very hard to faithfully recount to the impressions I gathered. If you disagree with my findings or need help in setting up a system, let me know in the comments below. You can share the URL of this article by first clicking on the header picture and then copying the URL.

While proofreading the article for me, Landon suggested that I add a summary of my findings for quick access. And since he even wrote it for me, here it is:

Dynaudio & SIMAudio

  • Clean and sophisticated setup shared between Dynaudio and SIMAudio.
  • Emphasis on in-house component manufacturing for integrated design and functionality.

Musical Fidelity & Triangle Speakers

  • Unique amplification approach using dual amplifiers for a more lifelike sound.
  • Setup with Triangle speakers resulted in a boomy and imprecise sound, likely due to suboptimal speaker placement.

Transrotor Turntables

  • Impressive designs but the drive belt felt unexpectedly fragile.
  • Turntables caught the attention of a diverse audience.

Dan D'Agostino & Krell with Audio Reference

  • Slight edginess to the treble in the sound presentation.
  • Setup orientation in the room could have contributed to less natural bass frequencies.

Symphonic Line by Rolf Gemein

  • High praise for the authenticity and dynamic sound presentation.
  • The system's setup adhered to rigorous noise reduction and optimization principles.


  • Clean and elegant appearance marred by piercing and overly analytical treble.
  • Setup issues suspected due to cable management.

b.audio & Intrada Speakers

  • Bandpass technology delivered extended lower bass, creating a distinct sound profile.
  • The setup required calibration for optimal performance.

Eternal Arts by Dr. Burkhardt Schwäbe

  • Tube amplifiers and tape machines provided a unique listening experience.
  • Sound quality possibly affected by speaker design choices, leading to a muffled top end.

Graham Audio LS5/5F

  • Solid performance, but high volume levels during the fair impacted the listening experience.
  • Design and sound quality of the LS5/5F speakers were commendable.

My General Observations

  • The parking situation and initial access to the event were challenging.
  • Prices of modern HiFi gear were surprisingly high.
  • The loud environment at the fair made serious conversations difficult.
  • Personal interactions, such as the one with Heinz-Peter Völkel and Rolf Gemein, added value to the experience.
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