Founded 27 years ago, the Audio Video Show in Warsaw took place for the 25th time this year. We all know the reason for this mathematical imbalance, but there is absolutely no trace of any after-effects to be felt: as usual, the trade fair spread across three packed venues – and also as usual, the atmosphere was fantastic.
160 rooms, 150 exhibitors, 600 brands. Like the High End, only a little smaller, you might think at first glance – and you’d be way off the mark: The Audio Video Show in Warsaw is so refreshingly different from any other trade show, it’s a special highlight for us every year. Formally, the second largest hi-fi trade fair in Europe may largely follow the model of a classic hotel trade fair, but the music, the audience, the atmosphere – as an audiophile in particular, you have to see and hear it at least once. B2B is clearly in the background here; the Warsaw event is all about the end consumer. And it’s not just the exception that he is an fact a she; also, significantly less than half of the visitors are gray-haired: The established doctor or architect is of course represented, but teenagers also scurry curiously from room to room, mothers guide their awestruck kids through the demonstrations – the Warsaw trade fair is refreshingly in touch with the average consumer.
Of course, said average consumer is not primarily listening to Anette Askvik or Patricia Barber – the various rooms leak a colorful mixture of Toni Braxton, Hans Zimmer, Pink Floyd and many others. Here and there, hard techno or Rammstein can also be heard. Don’t worry: audiophile fare is also on offer, but by no means dominates the fair’s general sound. The atmosphere is refreshingly unpretentious: mass manufacturers such as JBL, Pioneer and Onkyo exhibit party speakers and affordable AV receivers in the immediate vicinity of high-end manufacturers such as McIntosh, Wilson Audio and Audio Group Denmark, who demonstrate what is technically possible to exactly the same “unspoiled” audience.
In between, various manufacturers entice visitors with wheels of fortune, lottery drums and other competitions to burn themselves permanently into their memories with small gadgets and real prizes such as headphones or smart speakers. Top-class home cinema systems are not only being demoed with blockbusters and rock concerts, in many places games consoles are also connected for everyone to try their hand at, at Pioneer there is even a Simrig complete with racing seat, force feedback steering wheel and a serious pedal set, a couch racer is sharpening his skills on the latest Forza title – that’s how you grow new hi-fi audiences!
The Radisson Blu Sobieski Hotel has been the main event venue since the very beginning, but has long since run out of space to host the entire event. In addition to the Golden Tulip diagonally opposite, the AVS has also been using the Warsaw soccer stadium “PGE Narodowy” since 2015 – the opportunity to look out onto the pitch through the window front on the front wall of the listening rooms alone creates a very special flair, while the DJ duo in the foyer does the rest to reliably keep out any hint of dust and crustiness.
Also in line with the interests of a younger clientele, a generous area in the stadium is reserved exclusively for head-fi. Tables with numerous listening stations are lined up in a spacious, always busy foyer and together form Poland’s largest headphone zone. From Audeze to Sennheiser to Warwick Acoustics, everything can be found here, and those looking for something special can also browse through a selection of customization options such as third party ear pads for their audiophile headgear.
The organization is excellent, by the way: while you only have to cross an – admittedly huge – intersection diagonally to get from the Sobieski to the Golden Tulip or vice versa, the PGE is a good hour’s walk from both hotels. The best way to cover the distance is to take the shuttle bus, which shuttles back and forth between the Sobieski Hotel and the PGE Stadium every half hour. This means you never have to wait too long for the next departure, and the journey itself takes a good ten minutes. So if you are there all day, you can change locations several times if you like. Nevertheless, a little pre-planning is still highly recommended – there is a lot to see and hear, and the long weekend will be over sooner than you think…
A Cornucopia Of Curiosities
…especially when you want to really take in the sheer breadth and diversity of the exhibitions on offer. The quality of the experience at any hi-fi trade fair is determined by the equipment on display. The usual big names such as Accuphase, Bowers & Wilkins, DALI, Innuos and Transrotor are of course represented, as are the big local heroes: Fezz, Pylon, Lampizator, Taga Harmony, to name a few of the weightier names. But a big reason to visit such an event is of course the opportunity to look beyond the horizon, to manufacturers that are more off the beaten track in the hi-fi landscape – and it is precisely in this regard that Warsaw traditionally has a whole cornucopia of exotics and curiosities to offer.
While most of the hotel rooms in the Radisson Blu are quite cozy, there is a room on the second floor that seems surprisingly empty despite its dimensions being identical: a freely positioned, technoid-looking mannequin consisting of a torso and head dominates the room. What at first glance could be mistaken for an extremely elaborate headphone stand – the head is adorned with a Stax electrostat – actually provides amplification via the torso section.
A quick sound check is convincing, but anyone who thinks the installation is a head-fi system with a wow effect is also wrong: As the mischievously smiling demonstrator explains to me, the solution to the puzzle lies in the head section: A naked clockwork is ticking away just about where you would expect to find the brain. It is in fact a cooperation with a renowned Swiss manufacturer, the object is primarily a luxury clock – the high-end headphone system is just an extra, so to speak.
The heart on the outside
The Forum DIYAudio.pl room is worth a visit every year – here you can admire the creations of the Polish DIY scene: All of them built with top-of-the-shelf components, some of them quite experimental designs. Electronics and crossovers are on open display here, inviting curious glances.
This year, the range of approaches to cabinet design was particularly striking: a pair of tiny speakers that could both fit in the palm of my hand demonstrated how clean a 3D-printed cabinet can look, while the opposite pole was formed by two capital standmounts that rely on the inertia of roughly textured concrete.
Putting the cart before the horse
When it comes to hi-fi, there is always the question of which component is the most important – loudspeaker or amplifier? Or the source perhaps? Anyone looking for a controversial opinion on this topic needs to look no further than ZenSati’s room. As I enter the room, I think at first that the demonstration is still under construction: The rack is facing the front wall, the entire front half of the room is full of a dense tangle of power cords, speaker cables and interconnects in shimmering silver braided tubes that make the predicate “thumb-thick” seem like a kindergarten announcement.
At the splice points, the mighty rigging gratuitously displays gold plating. The driving electronics from Audio Analogue not only fade into the background here, they almost disappear completely. The price for the cabling? Just a number – the target customer simply takes note of it and pulls out his black Visa card without batting an eyelid.
Controlling the entire signal chain
You have to believe me when I tell you that the pair of JBL L19s in the RT Project room was something special – but in this case it has a lot to do with the environmental variables. The only production model the young manufacturer offers is a high-end DAC, available with a transistor, tube or hybrid output stage. For the Warsaw show, however, the developers have created a more than complete front-end: The DAC feeds a pre/power amp combo that is still in the prototype stage, but whose unusual form factor with side-mounted transformers and tubes would be an absolute eye-catcher in any setup.
I write more than complete because RT Project goes one step further still: Ultimately, what comes out of the speaker mambranes is largely determined by the crossover, and this was evidently not good enough for the Polish engineers – so they quickly developed external networks whose housings are coupled to the stands of the American standmounts via bricks. The result was definitely worth listening to!
If you really want to experience hi-fi in all its facets, the Audio Video Show in Warsaw is a must – the audience is just as colorful as the systems on display, and the whole thing is embedded in a refreshingly unpretentious, approachable atmosphere. We are already looking forward to next year!