A new show for the UK Spring at Whittlebury Hall - a conference style hotel within engine note hearing distance of Silverstone circuit which hosts the British F1 Grand Prix in the Summer.
For those distributors / brands who constantly complain about how small the rooms are at shows, there are no such excuses here with many large meeting rooms ready for some seriously specced systems. The show was unashamedly aimed at distributors and brands that want to show off big systems - big as in lots of large boxes, large speakers and large (very large) price tags. There are a few more modestly sized rooms and systems too, but the focus was on the big stuff.
Throughout the day live music was available in the "lounge" in addition to some of the system demo rooms. A close up magician was touring the corridors and entertaining attendees. There were also talks from people such as recording engineers and record labels. So a good, varied agenda. I wasn't sure how much of the day would be taken touring the systems so a prioritised those over the live music and talks, but there was definitely time to take in some of the live stuff. With around 25 rooms to visit, it was easier to spend a bit more time with each system and take in what was on offer - a contrast to how some shows can be a mad rush to get around 3 times as many rooms.
For those not driving, a glass of prosecco was offered to all visitors to the show, for those driving tea and coffee was on free vend all day, which was very welcome.
So let's tour round, introductory quotes are from the show guide:
"The company is one of the few to offer complete in-house designed and manufactured systems."
Using their field coil speakers (explanation here) heard by Audiophile Musings last year are now in production form and fed here by their own CD player, stereo pre and mono valve power amps in one of the smaller rooms at the show.
Thankfully the sophisticated smoothness of the prototype field coils has made it to production and tame what is normally, for me, an Audio Note shouty and congested character with their systems when they include their standard passive speakers. The tunes were reasonably enjoyable, but as you might guess from the photo, with speakers tucked into corners and a great big spread of kit about a metre deep and filling almost all the space between the speakers, no chance of any kind of imaging illusion here.
"LATERAL AUDIO widen their approach in the UK, presenting a highly musical system with JMR loudspeakers of France".
|Lift or not to lift your cables? Avoid doubt and do both...|
Lateral are an equipment stand manufacturer but introduced us to JMR - a French brand of loudspeaker - at the 2023 show.
Driven by the various vinyl and valve components shown below, this system was in one of the smaller rooms and worked well enough but still a little too lightweight for my taste. I suspect this is one of those systems you could listen to for hours on end with no fatigue.
Absolute Sounds - EAT / Rhapsody / DeVore
Heading up this system is the formidable EAT Fortissimo turntable. The picture is deceptive - most turntables support a 9" tonearm hence the proportions of the platter to arm look about right for a 9" arm and standard platter. But its deceiving because that's an F-Note 12" arm and a 12" LP on the oversize platter - this is quite a substantial deck which also sports a dual motor decoupled drive unit for the twin belts. The top of the range arm was supporting the equally top of the range No8 cart.
The deck fed an EAT e-Glo S valve phono stage with its dedicated linear power supply and the integrated Trafomatic Rhapsody valve amplifier and DeVore Fidelity O/93 speakers. Interestingly I'd heard these speakers with a dCS streamer and Western Electric amp only 2 days earlier. Then I found them indistinct, lacking image and loose with underwhelming bass. Here though, possibly better suited to the smaller room, they were musical, free flowing, went reasonably deep and had a semblance of a decent image. Enjoyable.
Absolute Sounds - dCS / Audio Research / Wilson Audio
"Highly covetable, high-performance products. Like the finest watches and most pres-
tigious motorcars, these brands deliver finely tuned, supremely engineered products that simply ooze desirability."
Is that really what music reproduction in the home should be about? Hmmm.
|Taste is an individual thing. More cable lifting done in a half hearted way|
|Wilson Audio Alexia V curiously positioned a long way into the corners in a large room - it worked though!|
|A big stack of Innuos Statement and dCS digital wizardry fronting valve pre- and mono power-amps from Audio Research|
This may (or may not) have topped the $ scoreboard at Whittlebury - it will certainly be up there somewhere. I was intrigued by the positioning of the speakers in the room - unusually pushed back well into the corners of a large space. But the team must've spent some time on discovering this position as it worked very well indeed. This was probably the clearest / cleanest sounding system in the show with superb imaging and stability to the sound - probably down to extreme clock accuracy and consistent channel matching of components through the entire chain. Timing was very good, tunes easy to follow, vocals beautifully expressive and full of emotive information. This might've been the best system at the show, but even with 4 visits I didn't hear anything other than "hifi show" type demo tracks that didn't tax the system too much, so had to reserve judgement. Shame.
AudioFreaks - Rokna / Karan Acoustics / Wilson Audio
|Rear of the Wilson Audio Sasha DAW|
|Karan Lineb Pre-Amp sits atop Rokna CD player and DAC|
|Karan Power Amp and Wilson Sasha|
I gave this system 3 tracks. All dull, uninteresting, lacking dynamics, detail or realism. Oh dear.
"Through precise matching of bespoke hardware and in-house developed software, Innuos music servers, streamers and more, continue to prove that digital music sources can still be pushed to new levels."
Innuos, best known for their music servers, brought along their newly upgraded Statement server / renderer and its dedicated power supply and PheonixNet network switch. The Statement passed its data along a USB cable to the dCS DAC / pre-amp connected to a D'Agostino stereo power amp. Finishing off the system are a pair of the aluminium cabinet Magico mid-level (by Magico standards) A5 speakers.
In systems I've previously heard equipped with the higher priced Magico speakers, they've tended to come across as technically accomplished but emotionally cold. Happily this system didn't suffer from that mix, but was rather more musical, flowing and more welcoming. Still plenty of dynamics, detail and great imaging, but friendlier.
"Blade – a sound statement. An icon that engages every sense. A bold and striking presence, Blade pushes the boundaries of what is possible with sound"
Blade 2 was the order of the day in the KEF room - not sure why Audio Show Deluxe didn't merit the Blade 1 and the show guide makes mention of "Reference" which was not seen in the room on Saturday, but there we have it. Electronics came from an Innuos Zenith server, Hegel pre-amplifier and Soulution mono power amps. This could be a system that was suffering from being a bit of a mullet (the back end of the system taking the major part of the investment) as it was muddled and thumpy. I'm not a fan of the Blade, but I've heard it sounding better than this before.
"Sweden’s Engström, Spain’s Kroma Atelier, and Austria’s FalkenOhr, adding some of the world’s finest tube amplifiers, speakers and audio furniture to the offering. This family of brands is carefully curated to ensure they come together as a system to deliver a pure, natural sound."
Some very good looking equipment in this room - a refreshing change to see modern looking minimalist valve amps that avoid the steam punk or overly ornate "gold plated everything" aesthetics.
|Engstrom Arne integrated amp on static display|
|Engstrom Lars power amps on static display|
|The playing system featured this ethernet switch and power supply combination|
|Vitus provided the DAC for files from the Taiko server|
|Eric Encore Power Amplifiers were playing on our visits|
|A different approach to cable lifting|
|A selection of Kroma speakers|
|On the FalkenOhr rack at the back, the burnt orange box on the left is the Monica pre-amp, that on the right either the power supply or the M-phono stage|
The line up here is a Taiko server feeing a Vitus DAC playing into Engstrom Monica pre-amp and Eric power amps through Kroma Stella Extreme speakers notable for using a mid-range driver similar to those recently enjoyed in Lyngdorf speakers at Bristol and a bass driver similar to those in many a speaker from Wilson Benesch. A quick bit of loose arithmetic, excluding cables, tells me this system is in the region of £400k, so suiting the Audio Show Deluxe brief very well. Shunyata was also deployed in this system for power management and distribution. I noted some of the colourful finishes available on the static display Kroma speakers along the size of the very well presented room.
This was a big room for moderately sized speaker but they did a good job. I enjoyed the music in this room and sat through a good few tracks - despite its physical appearance this is not a "show off" system in the way it performs, but neither does it underperform like so many beautifully built products can do. It is unassuming, effective, unobtrusive in terms of letting the music through to the listener. A room worth going back to for more.
Definitive Audio: Kuzma / SJS / Living Voice
"It may be an old adage, but it is as true as it has ever been – a great system is more than the sum of its’ parts. It should transcend sound, leaving the listener in a blissful state of musical immersion."
|Living Voice brought along their 600Ah battery pack power supply|
|The new Living Voice R80 loudspeaker|
|Kuzma front end, SJS Arcadia amps|
|Grand Prix Monaco 2 TT fitted with Kuzma arm|
Living Voice brought along their new (4 years in development) R80 speakers to listen to. They look like a much larger evolution of the R25 / OBX lineage and sit between those speakers and the Vox Olympians in the range. Here they were fed analogue signals from a couple of turntables (one Grand Prix Monaco 2, the other from Kuzma) into SJS Arcadia valve amplification. This is a stunning system having a nicely balanced mixed of attributes - dynamic, clear, confident, full of substance and intent but no signs of edginess or an over-aggressive nature. For me this is LV's best speaker, clearly fed by a top quality signal and significantly outperforms the Vox Olympian in terms of musical enjoyment. This is another system that could potentially have taken a sound of the show award but on my second, third and fourth visits were playing simple unchallenging jazz twiddling. Come on exhibitors, have some conviction and play some music representative of what most people actually listen to.
"MBL’s reputation and customer commitment ensure that every product shares the same amazing audio signature, exquisite sound, and unmatched aural experience. The result is an unsurpassed line of flawless audio products"
I've experienced MBL products twice before - both times they were extremely harsh and aggressive. Here, thankfully, that wasn't a problem at all. However, hearing 3 or 4 different distinct drivers that aren't playing together (not sure if its a sonic or timing integration issue), really isn't for me. So I continue to stuggle with these products, but they do look amazing.
"Whether you’re imagining the classiest compact music system or a jaw-dropping immersive home theatre experience, our brands will help to generate the world’s most enthralling home entertainment."
Apologies for the dark pictures here, but Karma were demonstrating an AV system hence it was in a darkened room.
Often better know as a producer of music focused stereo electronics, Karma presented us with Primare as a home cinema brand. These were coupled with Perlisten speakers for what was probably the best value for money system at the show. Sounded good too with lots of dynamics and scale - there are very few systems that can give this level of concert hall scale and power that does a Hans Zimmer disc justice.
"We take great care in choosing brands and consequently they are all individually excellent. They do however also all work superbly well together to create a well-balanced and insightful system right from the entry-level models."
An aposite quote there from the show guide. As mentioned in the introduction to this report, many shows have smaller rooms and Audio Show Deluxe is a bit different in offering so many larger rooms. Auden, typically with Hegel all-in-one streamer / DAC / pre- and power-amplifer products and standmount Amphion speakers have received multiple Audiophile Musings awards for their show systems. Largely because they put together systems that work with the room - a fundamental that many exhibitors just don't grasp. So here was a chance for Auden to show us what they can do at the larger end of the scale. At roughly the £180k end of the scale, excluding the turntable element.
|On analogue duty was a full Avid front end of turntable, turntable PSU, phono stage and phono stage PSU|
|Audiomica cable display|
Above can be seen the digital and the power side of the system. An Innuos Statement server provided USB signals to the Merason DAC. Pre-amp and mono power amps are from Hegel.
So Auden have done it again. Whilst this system wasn't the absolute last word in refinement and detail at the show this weekend, it excelled in many other areas. Here is a system that could actually move some air in the room without being aggressive nor harsh - bass that's got weight, power and presence but no sense of overhang or boom. Lots of detail and expression in the mid-range and vocals with a crisp but smooth top end, this system drove the music along, timing being precise and tight and everything presented with a sense of balance an proportion. The imaging illusion was nicely done too.
But here's the thing - musical variety. Yes, some jazz, but also Dylan, Massive Attack, The Who, Nitin Sawhney - lots of chances to hear what the system could do with real World music, the breadth and depth of the music being played gives a chance to appraise a system properly. It seems blindingly obvious to me, but very few do as good a job as Auden did this weekend.
"Stratton Acoustics, making its debut appearance, is a design-led, artisan electro-acoustic company founded to bring both traditional ideas and innovative concepts to music enthusiasts and audiophiles. It’s the musical experience that’simportant, not necessarily the technolo-
gy or the specification numbers"
If you want to make a statement about your dedication to audiophilia, this could be the product for you. Big, uncompromisingly in your face piece of audio hardware for your listening room. Making their public debut as this show, a chance to hear something new.
|Bryston power, Quadraspire X-Ref rack|
|To give a sense of scale, that mid-range driver top centre is 12" (300mm) in diameter|
Fed by an mix of electronics from Innuos and Audio Note at the front end and Bryston power this system doesn't sound anything like the way it looks - it doesn't seek attention in that kind of way. In fact, it was very underwhelming, not doing anything particularly interesting at all, except make some kind of physical statement.
In the Lounge
There were a variety of live music acts on in the lounge throughout the day. The Jet speakers sounded like your voice does when you cup your hands around your mouth and shout.
"Symmetry will be showing their long-established brands from Brinkmann, Harmonic Resolution Systems, Kiseki, Lyra, Quadratic Audio and STAX. A full Brinkmann playback system will be demonstrated allowing visitors to hear both the best in analogue and digital formats"
Symmetry brought along a pair of Franco Serblin Ktema speakers through which to demonstrate their equipment. They also shared the room with the Chasing the Dragon audiophile record label which has a superb reputation but did somewhat limit the breadth of the music available to be played. I enjoyed the first big band we heard and that says a lot about the capability of this system as that's not something I'm known to enjoy, at all. Also enjoyed the album "Forgotten Dreams" by Eleanor McEvoy on the turntable.
The Brinkmann eletronics are beautifully built, diminutive, unassuming but perform very well fed either by the Brinkmann turntable or even better by the massive reel to reel tape player there to demonstrate CtD's amazing copies of master tapes. The system was being fed power by Shunyata. I did appreciate Brinkmann fitting some of their kit with transparent top plates to allow visitors to see the innards and the high build quality.
Decent Audio - Kronos / Ayre / van den Hul / Audio Analogue
"For 15 years plus Decent Audio has been growing a carefully selected roster of interesting and multi award winning Audio brands and importing them successfully into the UK market then distributing via a limited number of selected dealers."
The substantial (here floorstanding) Audio Analogue class A integrated amplifier formed the heart of the system from Decent Audio. It was sandwiched between either a Kronos turntable / van den Hul phono stage or an Ayre CX-8 CD player and the recently launched floorstanding Raidho X2T speakers.
This is the first time I've enjoyed a pair of Raidho speakers - normally I find them a little hard and unrelenting. The X2t was either partnered with a better mix of components than I've heard before, or Raidho are heading in a direction I find easier to agree with.
"Founded in 1972 by Malcolm Jones, Falcon Acoustics has been at the centre of the British audio for over 50 years, and continues to develop new and innovative products."
Coming from the driver and kit business, Falcon has moved more towards near complete and fully built products over the past few years, launching new products on a fairly frequent cadence. Here, amongst the F1 livered fish sculptures they introduced the M50 - a 3 way speaker featuring the Falcon re-boots of the classic B110 and B139 drive units in addition to a "custom" tweeter.
Given the history of the B139 bass driver, some might have expected an isobarik arrangement here, but that's not the case. This system sounded OK, not really doing anything wrong nor really engaging me in the music, but I suspect the room was too big for these speakers, even though they'd be quite dominating in a typical sized UK lounge.