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M: Swiss precision, French creativity - that's how the Mimetism web portal describes its essence.

M: Modwright, Abbingdon Music Research, Analysis Plus, Coda Technologies, Raysonic - walking into Proaudio International's exhibit was deja vu all over again.

Another arrow in their quiver is Triode Corp. from Japan whose candy-apple-red lacquers always jump out of the crowd. Tri had just recently issued their first source component and Vince from AMR suggested I hold the CD player while he snapped the photo. Would you buy an audio component from that man? Didn't think so. Raysonic's new tube amps were there as well. So much good stuff, so little time...

MPN Audio continued the new-to-me streak of Italian hifi in the Xavian exhibit with mature-looking transistor gear.

Music First Audio from the UK showed its transformer attenuator top tog as their statement on what a passive preamplifier should be. Flexible i/o combinations of RCA and XLR, smooth progression into 6dB of transformer gain, remote volume, sexier threads than the Passive Magnetic I own and the "Nickel Brick TX102-MkIV transformer featuring refined winding geometry, a new 25% bigger core and improved shielding characteristics". If you're the passive type, this could have your name on it.

On the subject of which, my recent RoadTour Serbia reported on a statement effort by Dragan Solaja of Solaja Audio which will combine his own TVC units with his active single-stage tube preamp. "In A/B comparisons, my active preamp with tube rectification and stabilization came out slightly ahead over the TVC. But when I bypassed the active's volume control with the TVC, things went to another level again." That's an interesting observation from a designer who winds his own attenuation transformers and builds both passive and active preamps, don't you think?

N: New Audio Dimensions aka NAD showed components rather more upscale in appearance than their original integrated.

Nightingale showed a complete system anchored by the Concentus CTR2 open-baffle speaker in solid walnut under whose grill hide 2 woofers, 1 midrange and 1 tweeter for a claimed 35Hz to 22kHz response at 90dB and 8 ohms.

The Gala amplifier is a gleaming two-chassis affair which separates the 2 each E83CC, OD3, 6336A and GZ34 power supply from the 4 x 300B and 2 each E88CC and E82CC amplification unit which produces 18-watt RMS power in push/pull.

The unit below the PTS 03 preamp was the CP-1200 Power Supply Control Center which acts not only as a line filter and voltage stabilizer but regulates warm-/power-up sequences of connected components at programmed times.

Northstar showed a source-to-amp system and many of its components with the tops removed. Rosso Fiorentino provided the speakers for another all-Italian room.

P: The industrial design of Pathos Acoustics has always been top-notch and their Endorphin player is no exception.

Penaudio from Finland goes for the narrow baffle aesthetic which locates the woofers on the sides .

Piega champions ribbons and aluminum enclosures.

Podium Sound sounded better than ever, with revised construction and a new tuning plug.

My earlier encounters with Shelley Katz's bending-wave diaphragm driven from small exciter motors had suggested that it lent itself best to an auxiliary function of his Layered Sound concept. Milan's showing meanwhile countered that impression. His technology can well stand on its own now and previous tonal balance issues have been successfully addressed. This is not an electrostat or ribbon speaker by the way. The only thing Podium Sound has in common with those is the panel appearance. It seems this unique concept has now matured into a highly competitive solution of the general 'zero crossover dipole' category.

PS Audio was showing a gorgeous 2-box source component that attracted so much milling attention during my brief stop that I learned all of nothing about it since my Italian is non-existent. The photos will have to suffice.

Raysonic Audio's revamped line of integrated amplifiers now adopts the curved-corner chassis of its CD players.

Not to be upstaged by the fat man, Roth Audio had its own man-size poster with photoshopped valve highlights..

Audio owes a huge debt to Apple's iPod. It has reinvigorated design and opened a new component category, the iPod docking station. Exactly how far that particular concept can be pushed seems presently the focus of many firms. The fact that the iPod itself is priced so low in hi-end terms makes this all the more interesting. To be successful, docking stations can't suddenly practice the usual price escalation hard-boiled audiophiles take for granted while to everyone else, it's simply ridiculous. A successful docking station must be cool and affordable - and hopefully sound good, too.