Monday, 24 February 2020

Bristol Hifi Show 2020 - Highly Commended Award - Wharfedale and Audiolab

I was really looking forward to Wharfedale's newly launched Elysian range at Bristol - their move significantly up market.  The static large standmount on display shows the finish is both an interesting shape and extremely well executed - from that aspect alone they're very impressive.

The 85th Anniversay Lintons were being demonstrated and you can read thoughts about them from the 2019 show on this blog.  So of much more interest were the (also newly launched) top of the range Evo4.4 floor stander, retailing at just under £1200.  On the face of it this is a lot of speaker for that money - the AMT tweeter and dome mid range drivers are typically not budget units.  Partnered with Audiolab's equally VFM 6000 series electronics this system did a fine job of filling this largish room with style. And music. There was lots to admire here at this price level, trouncing some much more expensive systems. I wish I'd had more time to spend with this system.




Bristol Hifi Show 2020 - Sound of the Show Award - Kudos Audio (with Naim)


A new product and a new approach from Kudos this year at the Bristol show.  Fittingly highlighted in green in keeping with the Naim electronics, Kudos brought their Titan 707 for us to enjoy.

As is now the norm for Kudos show demos, the Titans were running active. Sometimes its Linn Exakt, sometimes Devialet Pro but more often its Naim with the SNAXO active crossover dedicated to the Kudos range. But this time there was a twist.  Normally we would see Streamer to Pre-Amp to SNAXO to power amps to speakers.  But Kudos have spotted an interesting opportunity in the way that Naim cabling works.  They presented a system here that used an NDX2 streamer, a SuperNait 3 integrated amplifier and a 250DR power amplifier. I'm not quite au fait with the way that this is strung together, but its suffice to say that its possible to split out the pre and power sections of the SuperNait so that it acts as a full range pre-amp but the power amp is only looking after, for example, the bass output (as it was here) from the SNAXO whilst the 250DR gets on with looking after the treble drivers.

This is pretty significant as it reduces the cost of entry to an active system and brings SN3 owners into the equation in terms of upgrading to active - they no longer have to move on from the SN3 to a new pre-amp and 2 new power amps - adding the SNAXO and one more amp is enough - and that could even be a used 180 or 200 to keep the costs down further.

Music was coming from the local Innuos Zenith server or from the Tidal streaming service.

Enough of that - how did it sound?  Well, great. Very very easy to sit and listen to all sorts of genres - which of course Kudos were confident enough to deliver.  The audience being encouraged to request tracks too.  All of this musicality meant that it was often difficult to get into the room as many visitors will have been happy to absorb the tunes for longer than in other rooms. Sitting in the front row made the system sound a touch light and in the second row a touch boomy so clearly this was a room effect and the best seat would've been midway between the 2 rows. Its difficult to write much more about this system, it just got on with delivering the music without any obvious issues nor with any outstanding areas - other than the outstandingness of its total confidence in delivering the goods.


For those of you who are Naim cabling aficionados, you might be able to work out the signal from SuperNait 3 to the SN3's HiCap PSU to the SNAXO and its HiCap PSU and then to the SN3's Power Amp section and the 250DR Power Amp. For those of us who are mere mortals, just be sure that it works and that someone else could probably get it to work for us!


Newly (quietly) announced at the show from Kudos is their own brand of speaker cables.  They're 18 strand silver plated copper and derive directly from the cables chosen by Kudos for the inside of their products.  No news on price at this point.


So, sound of the show for Kudos this year, and an honourable mention in the "music of the show" category too - a good variety being played and the audience being asked if there was anything they'd like to hear - the way the music should be at shows.

Bristol Hifi Show 2020 - Highly Commended Award - Totem (with Chord)


The performance per $ and per sq m of floorspace occupied is Totem's new compact standmount speaker, the Skylight's target.  Presumably derived from the very well received and very musical Sky standmount, Totem have done a great job again.  It was good to see these partnered with the very compact Chord Hugo electronics and the whole thing was lively without being shouty, punching above its size in terms of bass output and musical enjoyment.  Very much worth a listen at this price point and this level of space efficiency - electronics and speakers.


Bristol Hifi Show 2020 - Best Cinema System - KEF (with Arcam)


KEF focussed on home cinema in this room - it was dark so I don't have pictures of the speaker set up, just the rack of Arcam electronics.
The room was showcasing the latest R series speakers in a Dolby Atmos configuration.  The main speakers were the floorstanding R5 supplemented by a centre, 2x subs and 4x Atmos height speakers.  A couple of demo tracks were played from a demo disc.  The sound was extremely well controlled in every sense of the word - deep, powerful bass from a music perspective, substantial and controlled thuds where appropriate to the content and the steering was superbly smooth and seamless around the room.  Its a system that does all this without any sense of harshness nor compression that's often an issue - and they didn't play it "loud to impress" but loud enough to be very enjoyable. Deeply impressive stuff, which is should be at a total of £35k. Great demo.

Bristol Hifi Show 2020 - Highly Commended Award - PMC Twenty5.26i and Bryston

PMC have taken on distribution of Martin Logan so they were added to the demonstrations scheduled by PMC and in their static displays.  I liked the idea that PMC had listed their demonstration schedule on the door outside the room - so you could choose which product you wanted to hear and slot it into your tour of the hotel - even better would be to publish this beforehand :)


So I visited the room at a fortuitous time as the top of the line in the latest in the Twenty5 series iteration was playing.  The new Twenty5.xxi range is a development of the popular Twenty5.xx.  There's a new tweeter based on the FACT design, some tweaks to the crossover and some work to reduce cabinet resonances. Without the benefit of direct comparison with the previous range, its fair to say that they Twenty.26i was sounding good in what is a pretty large room. The front end was a Bryston digital player and large integrated amplifier.  The music was engaging, well controlled and the sound was even across the frequency range.  Also on show, see below, was the rest of the "i" version of the Twenty5 range.


Bristol Hifi Show 2020 - Highly Commended Award - Hegel and Amphion



 
Keep it real with Hegel and Amphion.

Most people don't have room for an enormous hifi system.  Its great to see and hear those systems at this kind of show, but its great to also find a system that's being presented as a real and achievable solution for the majority. So here we have the compact Hegel 120 streamer / DAC / amplifier and the small but very well built Amphion Argon 1 speakers. And that's it. But sensibly they were displayed in a real World scenario - a compact furniture unit with room for the hifi, a disc player / TV box / gaming console, a TV and a few homely touches.

Did it sound good? Absolutely. Very good indeed.  Even using this kind of furniture you can see how it would work as its not that dissimilar to a regular hifi rack / speaker stand structure, but it looks like furniture, designed for the average room and use case. Opposite was a comfy sofa so we settled down to some tunes. A few different genres were played and all of them rendered very enjoyably. Then we switched over to the Yello Live in Berlin concert Blu-Ray disc and enjoyed that too. Good stuff at a sensible price.

Thanks Hegel / Amphion for showing how to sell hifi without scaring away the punters.

Yello Live in Berlin

Bristol Hifi Show 2020 - Best Value For Money Award - Rega Research


There's always something reasurringly down to earth and straightforward about the Rega approach to playing music at home.  Their rooms are always simply presented - and I mean this in a complementary way - they have reasonably priced equipment on which they play a good range of music genres.  This year was an exception though - they've really outdone themselves this time with the great wall graphics but more importantly, with the system on demonstration.

Featuring, of course, a turntable at its heart, Rega have clearly grasped a few things that are needed to catch the attention of a new audience, a new generation. 1 - make it simple - here we have a turntable - arm - cartridge - amplifier - speakers - cables all in one package; 2 - show it in a realistic setting with ordinary furniture with no bling nor high priced accessories; 3 - make it compact to fit in with most young people's living space; 4 - make sure its cool (turntable) and sounds great; 5 - price it at a very attractive level and that's the big news here, without the stands Rega have fitted this right under the magic £1k level at £999.  No price on the stands yet, but they look to be made from MDF so shouldn't be too expensive.

So that's the story here. A full, cool and vinyl based system - the P1, IO amp and new Kyte speakers for under a grand. And it sounded fine. No harshness, plenty of information, tuneful. Great.
Well done Rega for understanding what's needed for a new generation. System One - go and have a listen.



Bristol Hifi Show 2020 - Highly Commended Award - Canton Smart System



The team at Canton were using a seriously expensive AVM CDP / streamer / DAC / pre-amp unit to feed their very compact little Smart Amp feeding the standmount speakers.  All-in the amp and speakers amount to a very reasonable £1450.  The system was detailed, punchy, lacking in harshness, but most of all musically engaging.  Stayed for a while listening to this one on both visits - great value for money.  The second year in a row when Canton have collected an award based on the sheer value for money of their offering.


Bristol Hifi Show 2020 - Best Music Choice Award - Leema Acoustics and Brigadier


Riffing on the South Wales origin of the Leema Electronics (sheep on the right) and the New South Wales origin of the Brigadier MU.2 speakers (inflatable kangaroo just out of shot on the left) the Leema team brought a bit of fun to Bristol.  But they also brought a couple of other things - a seriously good sounding system whether using the Leema Sirius streamer / library or the turntable and a wide range of music choices.  This system has lots of get up and go yet without giving the impression that it would be tiring to listen to over a longer period. The Tucana II anniversary edition amp had plenty of grip on the little standmounts that are very dynamic yet deliver plenty of nuances in the music. I have to say that the room host was mixing it up with the music too - I went into this room 3 times and not once was there plinky plonky jazz.  I first heard the album "Eyes Closed" by Haevn in this room - it featured in a couple of other rooms too - decent chill out electronica with a hint of London Grammar. On one occasion U2's Zoo Station was to be enjoyed - not a "hifi" track at all - and that demonstrates the confidence in this room - it was the music that took centre stage. U2 was followed up by the Cambridge King's Singers delivering an accapella version of Good Vibrations. Variety.  Leema clearly knew that their system was musical and had the confidence to demonstrate is abilities.



Bristol Hifi Show 2020 - Turntable of the Show Award - Kuzma and Living Voice




The Stobi R turntable from Kuzma was playing through valve based electronics into Living Voice Auditorium speakers. For these ears, this was the best sounding turntable at the show, and possibly the best sounding valve electronics too.  The LV Auditoriums are a perennial favourite but they don't always seem to get the front end they deserve. But here today it all came together very well - it's one of those buttery smooth systems, but without the lack of dynamics that description normally implies. A very enjoyable system and one I could've listened to for a good while.

In the background can be seen Living Voice's Pure Music battery power supply - this converts AC mains to DC into the batteries and then re-generates the AC mains from those batteries, essentially an attempt to isolate the system from mains bound noise and instability.


Bristol Hifi Show 2020 - Highly Commended Award - Linn Products / Fyne Audio

LINN PRODUCTS / FYNE AUDIO


Scottish Linn Products were back again this year - after their re-appearance in 2019 was preceded by a long absence from Bristol.  It was possible to book in advance for their scheduled demos - with a choice of 25 mins of streaming or 25 mins spent with the long lived LP12 turntable in various iterations.  Musings spent time at the streaming demo and an exclusive play of the new Series 3 wifi speaker in stereo operation.  Thanks for that extra time Linn.
First a bit of news on Sondek LP12.  In 3 years time it will be Linn's 50th anniversary, along with the LP12. A remarkably long standing product, but one which has continued to evolve over that time.  Launched at Bristol is a new range of finishes - RAL colours are now available along with gloss finishes for colours and natural woods.  Nice to have so much choice.  Also, there will be more product developments later in 2020, but no further details just now.
On to streaming - initially a Series 3 speaker was playing quietly and was introduced, but then straight on to the Selekt.  This one box modular solution is streamer, pre-amp, DAC, Exakt hub, power amplifiers and more.  Now it receives signals over wifi and bluetooth too.  The demo was between 2 versions - one with the "entry" level DAC, the other with the "Katalyst" DAC option.  A couple of tracks were played and the difference was quickly obvious - the standard DAC is good, the Katalyst is very good - there's no point in listing what's better about it - its just everything. Simple.
Worth noting that Linn were making the room an all Scottish affair - Atlas cables (yes, Linn were using third party cable upgrade products) and Fyne loudspeakers - all of these made in the Glasgow area. The Fynes are the floorstanding F502 in SP guise which has upgraded drivers over the standard model.  These have been measured for Linn's "SPACE" room optimisation software and the next demo was a track played with and without the optimisation.  Again the benefits were clear, literally, in the way the boominess of the room was tackled, letting the music play more clearly - across the full range.  I'd really like to see Fyne and Linn collaborate together and produce an Exakt version of this speaker - it sounds extremely good for its price bracket with a good strong, taught and deep bass line, something that has been lacking in some other Fyne speaker designs.

Finally there was a chance for musings to hear the new Series 3 standalone speaker in stereo mode.  The primary unit is £3k and does the control work - partnering it with the £2.5k auxilary speaker is but a moment's work.  Whilst the speaker itself is capable of streaming from ethernet or wifi, when in a pair they use a Cat 5 cable to transfer Linn's proprietary Exaktlink communications.  They're designed to be used in kitchens, dining rooms and bedrooms really, not as a main system, but to do so in the highest quality possible in such a compact package. A couple of things help with these less than ideal placements - the cabinet is very inert, constructed from something rather like corian, plus, of course, Linn's SPACE Optmisation capabilities.  In single speaker mode the sound from this wine glass shaped unit is very enjoyable - musical.  It doesn't go particularly deep, but its impressively deep for such a compact design.  Pair it up with its auxiliary partner and the sound fills the room very well - its tuneful and works very well with music and speech that are probably suitable for the intended locations.  Only when we wound up the volume with some bass heavy Yello did things feel compromised.  So its good for the job its intended for, and it might make an interesting rear and side speaker in a Linn Exakt surround system too.

Sunday, 23 February 2020

The Bristol Hifi Show 2020 - Pictures and Report

So here we go again into the UK show circuit's traditional kick-off event.  The audio fest extravaganza that is the Bristol Hifi Show, ably organised by dealer chain Audio T.  It's the UK's biggest show, and for many that will be enough to make it the best.  The best place to see the most brands in one place.  Formerly the Sound and Vision show, but usually known as the Bristol show, the formal name now matches the way the industry talks about the event.
With over 110 exhibitors and 90+ playing music in demonstration rooms, that's a lot to get through in one weekend, never mind in one day.  So there are multiple strategies - go for all 3 days and take your time, be selective and fit in what's important to you in one day, go the middle route and try to cover it all in 2 days etc. This year I could fit in a whole day on Friday and 3 hours on Saturday.  This allowed me to cover nearly all the rooms but that's without any headphone coverage, as that's not a focus for the blog, and to skimp on the accessory stalls - focussing on the rooms with full systems playing music.
My usual day is Friday and in the last few years it has been possible to get in to every room at first attempt.  Good news for the industry though - this year some rooms took a few visits before it was possible to get in and get a seat, so the place was busier. Still time at the end of the day for re-visits to confirm initial impressions, or to check why initial on-line commentary wasn't aligned to my own experiences. Then Saturday am was to catch up on rooms I'd put lower on the priority list and to make further confirmation visits.
We'll kick off with some shots from the static exhibition areas, mainly on the ground floor and mezzanine areas of the central Marriott hotel, to ease you in gently to the scene.  Before fighting for the one operational lift over the 6 exhibition floors - makes you wonder if the other lift was still out of action since last year...

The good news is that the general standard of sound and music on offer was significantly up on the last few years - across the board.  That's reflected in the number of awards we were able to make at the 2020 show - the highest number at any show.  Also worth noting that there were a good few more rooms this year when it was possible to thank the room host for avoiding the trap of playing simple jazz ad infinitum.  Thanks for that - its long past time to play stuff that appeals to a wider, and, dare I say it, younger audience.

Please bear in mind that these notes are made from systems playing in less than ideal conditions. Hotel rooms are generally tricky and the need to make an empty room and a room full of people sound good is not easy to achieve. Having said that, some manufacturers seem to be able to get a good sound in the same circumstances.

You can click on the images to see a larger version.

Audio Technia TTs


JBLs Was Focussing On Their Classic Reincarnations - Here With The New Range of Stereo Electronics From Arcam

Fyne Audio Had An Impressive Presence At The Show - 2 Static Displays, 2 Music Playing Rooms and Supporting the Linn Room Too

Fyne 502 Available in Standard and SP Versions

More from Scottish Brand Fyne

Plenty of Racks Available At The Show - Here Solid Steel, Next Door Were Hifi Racks

Klipsch Static Display - They Had 2 Music Playing Rooms Too

Musical Fidelity in Silent Mode

A "Confident" Display Outside Dynaudio's Demo Room

 
Dynaudio Are Proud Of The Effort That Goes Into Their Tweeters


Right, that's the pre-amble around covered, let's get into the listening rooms....

LINN PRODUCTS / FYNE AUDIO


Scottish Linn Products were back again this year - after their re-appearance in 2019 was preceeded by a long absence from Bristol.  It was possible to book in advance for their scheduled demos - with a choice of 25 mins of streaming or 25 mins spent with the long lived LP12 turntable in various iterations.  Musings spent time at the streaming demo and an exclusive play of the new Series 3 wifi speaker in stereo operation.  Thanks for that extra time Linn.
First a bit of news on Sondek LP12.  In 3 years time it will be Linn's 50th anniversary, along with the LP12. A remarkably long standing product, but one which has continued to evolve over that time.  Launched at Bristol is a new range of finishes - RAL colours are now available along with gloss finishes for colours and natural woods.  Nice to have so much choice.  Also, there will be more product developments later in 2020, but no further details just now.
On to streaming - initially a Series 3 speaker was playing quietly and was introduced, but then straight on to the Selekt.  This one box modular solution is streamer, pre-amp, DAC, Exakt hub, power amplifiers and more.  Now it receives signals over wifi and bluetooth too.  The demo was between 2 versions - one with the "entry" level DAC, the other with the "Katalyst" DAC option.  A couple of tracks were played and the difference was quickly obvious - the standard DAC is good, the Katalyst is very good - there's no point in listing what's better about it - its just everything. Simple.
Worth noting that Linn were making the room an all Scottish affair - Atlas cables (yes, Linn were using third party cable upgrade products) and Fyne loudspeakers - all of these made in the Glasgow area. The Fynes are the floorstanding F502 in SP guise which has upgraded drivers over the standard model.  These have been measured for Linn's "SPACE" room optimisation software and the next demo was a track played with and without the optimisation.  Again the benefits were clear, literally, in the way the boominess of the room was tackled, letting the music play more clearly - across the full range.  I'd really like to see Fyne and Linn collaborate together and produce an Exakt version of this speaker - it sounds extremely good for its price bracket with a good strong, taught and deep bass line, something that has been lacking in some other Fyne speaker designs.

Finally there was a chance for musings to hear the new Series 3 standalone speaker in stereo mode.  The primary unit is £3k and does the control work - partnering it with the £2.5k auxilary speaker is but a moment's work.  Whilst the speaker itsself is capable of streaming from ethernet or wifi, when in a pair they use a Cat 5 cable to transfer Linn's proprietary Exaktlink communications.  They're designed to be used in kitchens, dining rooms and bedrooms really, not as a main system, but to do so in the highest quality possible in such a compact package. A couple of things help with these less than ideal placements - the cabinet is very inert, constructed from something rather like corian, plus, of course, Linn's SPACE Optmisation capabilities.  In single speaker mode the sound from this wine glass shaped unit is very enjoyable - musical.  It doesn't go particularly deep, but its impressively deep for such a compact design.  Pair it up with its auxiliary partner and the sound fills the room very well - its tuneful and works very well with music and speech that are probably suitable for the intended locations.  Only when we wound up the volume with some bass heavy Yello did things feel compromised.  So good for the job its intended for, and it might make an interesting rear and side speaker in a Linn Exakt surround system too.


LIVING VOICE AND KUZMA




The Stobi R turntable from Kuzma was playing through valve based electronics into Living Voice Auditorium speakers. For these ears, this was the best sounding turntable at the show, and possibly the best sounding valve electronics too.  The LV Auditoriums are a perennial favourite but they don't always seem to get the front end they deserve. But here today it all came together very well - it's one of those buttery smooth systems, but without the lack of dynamics that normally brings with it. A very enjoyable system and one I could've listened to for a good while.

In the background can be seen Living Voice's Pure Music battery power supply - this converts AC mains to DC into the batteries and then re-generates the AC mains from those batteries, essentially an attempt to isolate the system from mains bound noise and instability.




FALCON ACOUSTICS


Falcon were demonstrating 2 main products - their new 2-way kit speaker and the 15 ohm impedance version of the classic BBC LS3/5a monitor - unusually in a stacked 2x 4 unit configuration.  My luck wasn't in with this room - on all 3 visits I managed to time it with the same stand mount kit speaker, missing the opportunity to catch the 4x LS3/5a array.
No worries as the new kit is an interesting item on its own.  Fed here by a Mofi turntable and either Primare or BAT amplification, this accomplished speaker was an enjoyable listen.  Even more so when the kit is available at around £1400.  The kit is a fully finished cabinet, pre-built crossover board, drivers, connection panel and acoustic wadding.  The tools are provided with the kit so its a simple 20 minute or so build per box and you're up and running.  A great way to encourage new entrants into the hobby.

FUNK FIRM AND CURVI



Well this room certainly piqued the interest with the beautifully constructed Curvi speakers fed by Funk Firm turntable upgrades.  The speakers are single driver, complex cabinets and BMR technology. 3 techniques that I've never really get on with individually, but perhaps together they'll work really well? Not today - flat vocals, no sparkle and boxiness.  So not really possible to determine if the rest of the system is capable or not.

LEEMA AND BRIGADIER


Riffing on the South Wales origin of the Leema Electronics (sheep on the right) and the New South Wales origin of the Brigadier MU.2 speakers (inflatable kangaroo just out of shot on the left) the Leema team brought a bit of fun to Bristol.  But they also brought a couple of other things - a seriously good sounding system whether using the Leema Sirius streamer / library or the turntable and a wide range of music choices.  This system has lots of get up and go yet without giving the impression that it would be tiring to listen to over a longer period. The Tucana II anniversary edition amp had plenty of grip on the little standmounts that are very dynamic yet deliver plenty of nuances in the music. I have to say that the room host was mixing it up with the music too - I went into this room 3 times and not once was there plinky plonky jazz.  I first heard the album "Eyes Closed" by Haevn in this room - it featured in a couple of other rooms too - decent chill out electronica with a hint of London Grammar. On one occasion U2's Zoo Station was to be enjoyed - not a "hifi" track at all - and that demonstrates the confidence in this room - it was the music that took centre stage. U2 was followed up by the Cambridge King's Singers delivering an accapella version of Good Vibrations. Variety. Go for it exhibitors, it might just get more people to stay longer in your room to see what might come next.  That would be good eh? Leema clearly knew that their system was musical and had the confidence to demonstrate its abilities.




T+A (Kog Audio)



A largely T+A system playing here.  Beautifully constructed and a very technically precise kind of sound.  I didn't feel engaged with the music in here.

CANTON



The team at Canton were using a seriously expensive AVM CDP / streamer / DAC / pre-amp unit to feed their very compact little Smart Amp feeding the standmount speakers.  All-in the amp and speakers amount to a very reasonable £1450.  The system was detailed, punchy, lacking in harshness, but most of all musically engaging.  Stayed for a while listening to this one on both visits - great value for money.  Second year in a row when Canton have collected an award based on the sheer value for money of their offering.






VON GAYLORD


At the other end of the price scale, von Gaylord like to go their own way with valve based electronics and indivdual looking speakers.  The system was fed by a suitably priced mbl CD Player.  There was a nice clarity to this system but another one that doesn't engage the heart.

AUDIO NOTE


 I should mention here that I generally don't get on well with AN systems. At Bristol 2020 they were demonstrating a new Cobra integrated amplifier into Type J speakers.  At one time boomy and harsh, AN were proudly stating "we're using a hotel table!". Perhaps they shouldn't?

FYNE AUDIO


Like the Linn room, the F502SP was on demonstration but here with Rega electronics. With decent vocals and higher frequencies, the boominess of these speakers in this room was rather obtrusive.  An excellent demonstration of Linn's SPACE optimisation benefits and Linn weren't even in the room.


Next door Fyne were demonstrating the tiny little F1-5 standmount from the upper end of their range.  This is a nice sounding solution, but lacking in weight, as might be expected.  No room boominess here though.


HARMON KARDON


HK were at the very sensible end of the pricing spectrum with their new Citation range of wireless streaming speakers. From £180 for the One model up to the £2000 floorstander with several price point inbetween.  They're powered by Google Assistant (rather than Alexa) as HK believes the Google solution has a more comprehensive and therefore more useful search engine to respond to the users inputs.  Voice or tablet / phone driven the 100 Model sounded good for its size and purpose.  They can be paired up for stereo.


REL ACOUSTICS


Apparently the S/510 is a good subwoofer for music. To demonstrate this REL stacked up 3 per side to accompany KEF Reference standmounts. An acoustic live recording was used with the subs on and off and it was good to hear the effect of the feeling of the venue being brought to life by the subs.  Then on came London Grammar - Hey Now - a particularly bass heavy track.  This, literally, made the door to the bathroom rattle in its frame. The music was obliterated.  I'm pretty sure this is a good product, when used responsibly.

AVID


I like AVID turntables - they seem to work very well.  But as soon as they're in a system with AVID speakers, it all becomes a bit non-descript. Again the speakers were toed-in so much that they were focussed on a point in front of the first row of seats. Strange.


DECENT AUDIO - AUDIO ANALOGUE, MAGNEPAN, THE WAND, VAN DEN HUL, MELCO

 


Here we have a system featuring the £1k Magnepan LRS ribbon speakers, which is a low price for this kind of technology. There was plenty of detail on offer with decent vocal rendition and feeling, but some hardness and still lacking in the lower end.  If you like the electrostatic sound but don't have the budget for the bigger models, worth an audition. 

DECENT AUDIO - DUAL AND SCANSONIC


More at the budget end of the market a turnable playing into small floorstanders this one was, unfortunately, harsh and insubstantial.  There are better offerings at the show this kind of price point. 

VOXATIV


Voxativ were playing their own valve based electronics and the one piece floorstanders - the outer pair of speakers. These were fed by an EAR CD player.  The two piece speakers were also on demonstration but not when I was in the room. This is one of the most successful single driver speaker designs I've heard, going reasonably deep without any obviously boxy colouration and not seeming to be constrained at the top end either.  The horn "cupped hands" effect was minimal too, but of course this is dependent on the vocal range of the singers in the tracks being played. Not sure of the price of these speakers as it depends on which drivers are fitted - Voxativ provide a choice which go up to £50k a pair, just for the drivers.

HARBETH


Harbeth had to rooms at the show, demonstrating their new "XD" versions of their traditional speaker range.  The PE3ESR is the BBC LS3/5a inspired tiny standmount.  Thoughtfully they were mounted on Hifi Racks stands that are probably intended to be used for rear speakers in a cinema system - they're very tall. I say thoughtfully because what that means is that the sound from these diminutive speakers can travel over the heads of the audience to the row at the back of the room, making them accessible to all attendees - so often speakers are playing into the bodies of the front row and are lost to the rest of the room. If you like the LS3/5a kind of sound then you're probably going to like these too.  Apparently XD brings extra clarity, especially to the vocal range which is always a highlight of this kind of speaker design. And very clear in the vocals they are too.  For me, I find the lack of the bass tune lines too distracting to be able to enjoy the rest of the sound, but many will enjoy them.
Next door the larger C7ES made for a more enjoyable listen - it sounded precise and measured. But here's the issue - when I was in there they were playing that 40s kind of jazz with the scratch trumpet kind of sound. I tried the room again on 2 further occasions when exactly the same genre of music was playing. Really? Is that the (disappearing) audience that's being targetted? Or is there something about the speaker that means that's the only thing that can be used to demo its abilities? I strongly suspect the latter is not true, but let's hear what it can do please folks. I'm 55 now and this stuff is way too old and audience, even for me.

ELAC


Experience of Andrew Jones design speakers has generally been a positive experience for me and that has continued with his work at ELAC.  The ultra budget Debut range is stunningly good VFM (now in version 2.0) and the mid price bracket (but now already discontinued) Adante are both enjoyable for listening to music. Here we had the £500 white Debut Reference standmount playing content provided by ELAC's own streaming electronics.  The sound was engaging and enjoyable - very little to criticise.  I suppose its a bit like the difficult second album for this Debut Reference range to follow on from the success of the Debut - this is a good speaker, but it lacks the wow factor that is now expected following on from Debut.  If you're in the market for a speaker at this price, well worth a listen.

LOCKWOOD SPEAKERS


The smaller pair of Lockwoods were playing on my visit, on the back of Quad electronics.  They're based on some classic designs for single driver studio monitors.  There was a nice small display of books covering the classic studios in the UK and the recording of the Beatles albums to illustrated their heritage.  Nice gentle sound, excellent vocals, but I wasn't engaged in the musical experience. Funky colour options available.


REGA RESEARCH


There's always something reasurringly down to earth and straightforward about the Rega approach to playing music at home.  Their rooms are always simply presented - and I mean this in a complementary way - they have reasonably priced equipment on which they play a good range of music genres.  This year was an exception though - they've really outdone themselves this time with the great wall graphics but more importantly, with the system on demonstration.
Featuring, of course, a turntable at its heart Rega have clearly grasped a few things that are needed to catch the attention of a new audience, a new generation. 1 - make it simple - here we have a turntable - arm - cartridge - amplifier - speakers - cables all in one package; 2 - show it in a realistic setting with ordinary furniture with no bling nor high priced accessories; 3 - make it compact to fit in with most young people's living space; 4 - make sure its cool (turntable) and sounds great; 5 - price it at a very attractive level and that's the big news here, without the stands Rega have fitted this right under the magic £1k level at £999.  No price on the stands yet, but they look to be made from MDF so shouldn't be too expensive.
So that's the story here. A full, cool and vinyl based system - the P1, IO amp and new Kyte speakers for under a grand. And it sounded fine. No harshness, plenty of information, tuneful. Great.
Well done Rega for understanding what's needed for a new generation. System One - go and have a listen.





HEGEL & AMPHION



 
Keep it real with Hegel and Amphion.
Most people don't have room for an enormous hifi system.  Its great to see and hear those systems at this kind of show, but its great to also find a system that's being presented as a real and achievable solution for the majority. So here we have the compact Hegel 120 streamer / DAC / amplifier and the small but very well built Amphion Argon 1 speakers. And that's it. But sensibly the were displayed in a real Word scenario - a compact furniture unit with room for the hifi, a disc player / TV box / gaming console, a TV and a few homely touches.
Did it sound good? Absolutely. Very good indeed.  Even using this kind of furniture you can see how it would work as its not that dissimilar to a regular hifi rack / speaker stand structure, but it looks like furniture, designed for the average room and use case. Opposite was a comfy sofa so we settled down to some tunes. A few different genres were played and all of them rendered very enjoyably. Then we switched over to the Yello Live in Berlin concert Blu-Ray disc and enjoyed that too. Good stuff at a sensible price.
Thanks Hegel / Amphion for showing how to sell hifi without scaring away the punters.

Yello Live in Berlin

DYNAUDIO


Dynaudio utilised some serious Naim 500 series components such as the ND555 streamer and the 300DR power amp. Playing into the very tall Confidence floorstanders this system was very err, confident.  Good across the board and clearly working well together with the Naim electronics.  The only element that was less than convincing was the imaging - everything's just a bit too big, but its a minor point.

MONITOR AUDIO


Room Treatment

Driven by Roksan electronics this system was competent and probably reflected its price point pretty well.

CHORD ELECTRONICS


Chord were demonstrating their new pre-power amplification using MScaler & DAVE at the front end with ATC 50 speakers.  I've seen some reports on line of people who enjoyed this room (and mention of Wharfedale speakers, but not sure if that's correct) so I assume there was a problem with the system when I visited this room.  There was something curiously synthetic about the sound.  I'm going to assume there was a problem and therefore not come to any conclusion.

PMC DISTRIBUTION

PMC have taken on distribution of Martin Logan so they were added to the demonstrations scheduled by PMC and in their static displays.  I liked the idea that PMC had listed their demonstration schedule on the door outside the room - so you could choose which product you wanted to hear and slot it into your tour of the hotel - even better would be to publish this beforehand :)


So I visited the room at a fortuitous time as the top of the line in the latest in the Twenty5 series iteration was playing.  The new Twenty5.xxi range is a development of the popular Twenty5.xx.  There's a new tweeter based on the FACT design, some tweaks to the crossover and some work to reduce cabinet resonances. Without the benefit of direct comparison with the previous range, its fair to say that they Twenty.26i was sounding good in what is a pretty large room. The front end was a Bryston digital player and large integrated amplifier.  The music as engaging, well controlled and the sound was even across the frequency range.  Also on show, see below, was the rest of the "i" version of the Twenty5 range. Its worth noting at this point that the "i" is quite an expensive little letter.  The 26i is now £9k, quite a hike from the original £6k of the Twenty.26 from 5 years ago.



PROAC (K Series Floorstander)


We walked across the lower ground floor corridor from PMC to hear ProAc's latest offering.   I've generally enjoyed previous ProAc offerings, the latest and greatest "K" range is quite a departure with multiple drive units including AMT tweeters. Possibly this was one of the larger changes in the musical experience between 2 rooms so close together.  Here the K10 was sounding a little hard, disjointed and distinctly lacking in any kind of reason to engage with the music.  I'm not familiar with the turntable nor the electronics, but as a system it didn't work well together. Then it was noted that the K10 speakers are £34k, which makes the £9k PMCs seem a bit of a bargain, at least in relative terms.

KEF


KEF focussed on home cinema in this room - it was dark so I don't have pictures of the speaker set up, just the rack of Arcam electronics.
The room was showcasing the latest R series speakers in a Dolby Atmos set up.  The main speakers were the floorstanding R5 supplemented by a centre, 2x subs and 4x Atmos height speakers.  A couple of demo tracks were played from a demo disk.  The sound was extremely well controlled in every sense of the word - deep, powerful bass from a music perspective, substantial and controlled thuds where appropriate to the content and the steering was superbly smooth and seamless around the room.  Its a system that does all this without any sense of harshness nor compression that's often an issue - and they didn't play it "loud to impress" but loud enough to be very enjoyable. Deeply impressive stuff, which is should be at a total of £35k. Great demo.

FOCAL (Chora)



Another cinema system - they seem to congregate in this part of the hotel, probably because the rooms are a little larger and the walls more substantial for separation.  In a completely different price bracket to the KEFs, this wasn't in the same sound league.  Nevertheless it was enjoyable - clear, dynamic and very smooth especially for Focal speakers - as is often the case the lower end Focals seem more enjoyable than the £10s of thousands speakers at the other end of the product range.

TECHNICS



Nice looking kit in this room, but a thin and bright sound coming from the digital source that was playing an SACD disc. 


 MELCO


Melco servers were featured in a number of rooms, but, to my knowledge, no one was playing the new £2k (!) network switch.  So here are a couple of pictures of the switch and its power supply from the Melco stand.  When the switch is turned around it looks like the N10 server so is a much better fit on a hifi rack than most switches. High price though.


AURALIC / SPENDOR


Last year the Auralic / Spendor room, featuring the Classic 100, was the Audiophile Musings sound of the show - it was exceptionally good and a great range of music was being played to good effect.  On that basis I was hoping they would bring the Classic 200 this year, but it was not to be.  On the first visit to the room a pair of D series floorstanders were playing and it wasn't at all what I'd expect from Spendor - it was harsh, thrashy and uncomfortable to listen to.  A second visit (to check if there had been a problem) and the lower cost A series floorstander was playing and normality had been restored - a touch warm, but deep bass from a small box and engagement in the music was high.  Nice.
Series A sounding pretty good
NEAT / NORMA


One of the few rooms with a realistic domstic set up that customers can relate to.  I'm pretty sure for those looking to move on from Sonos etc., this kind of room configuration is going to be of interest to them rather than off-putting.  Norma electronics usually do a great job and here they were effectively driving the little NEAT Ministras very enjoyably - they're impress for such little boxes, yet give the impression they won't be tiring over time.  I noticed last year's Best Accessory award winning IsoAcoustic Gaia isolation feet under the speaker stands too.

DALI


Dali had one of the medium sized rooms at the Marriott and this made it a little less crowded and easier to enjoy the sound on offer.  Their Rubicon 2C sat atop Solid Steel stands is a fully active wireless speaker at around £3500 the pair.  That seems quite a chunky price for a smallish speaker but there's no amplification no streamer to be added to that price.  Sat for quite a while in this room and enjoyed the music being played.  The speaker is very even handed, tuneful and doesn't seem to suffer at all from its wireless connectivity.

ATC

In this visit to the room the SCM40A floorstanders were playing, using the ATC CDP / streamer / DAC / pre-amp directly into the active version of these speakers. I've heard these speakers a number of times and I know they can produce a suberbly musical result.  Given the last 2 years of experience I would say that the ATC electronics is holding them back from this.  With and Auralic front end they sound much better than they did today.

ELIPSON


Elipson were playing the large Legacy floorstanders on my visit, from Primare electronics.  Possibly taking some design inspiration from B&W?  This system was dynamic but not friendly to listen to - I got the impression of a bunch of drivers not quite working together as a whole.

EXPOSURE


Kudos loudspeakers, in the Super and Titan ranges, can easily be converted for use in an active system.  By removing some links on the rear panel, the internal passive crossover is removed from play and active connections are possible.  Of course this means that an active crossover is required - one that operates between the pre-amp output and the power amp inputs, with one channel of power amplification for each speaker drive unit.  Collaboration with Linn and Naim has produced very successfully musical results and Devialet's Pro range is a further option available.  At last year's Bristol Show Exposure announced a further option with their VNX active crossover being designed to work with the Kudos Titans.  But there was a technical hitch last year and the results were not good.
This year all is supposed to be well and I was very much looking forward to what this system might be capable of, particularly with the mono power amps in play. Well, I made 3 visits to this room across Friday and Saturday morning with the same results. Flat, lifeless and thin. These are not attributes that can be attributed to the Titan 505 - one of the more confident bass performers out there.  If you know about the polarity connections on speakers and know that a lack of bass from a system can be down to connecting one speaker the opposite way around to the other, then you'll know how this system sounded.  I wanted to ask them to check, but didn't feel it was appropriate to question what was being demoed. Disappointing and I hope there was an unknown problem because this approach has real potential.

PROAC (K Series Standmount)


An Audio Research CD Player and Trilogy amplifier were driving the standmount K Series which features an interesting port / stand section - take a close look at the pictures.  I've heard the source and amp sound good, but the K Series standmount didn't fair any better than the floorstander.  The performance per $ ratio is not good.

TOTEM


Meanwhile, at the other end of the performance per $ and per sq m of floorspace occupied is the Totem's new compact standmount speaker, the Skylight.  Presumably derived from the very well received and very musical Sky standmount, Totem have done a great job again.  It was good to see these partnered with the very compact Chord Hugo electronics and the whole thing was lively without being shouty, punching above its size in terms of bass output and musical enjoyment.  Very much worth a listen at this price point and this level of space efficiency - electronics and speakers.



 KUDOS


A new product and a new approach from Kudos this year at the Bristol show.  Fittingly highlighted in green in keeping with the Naim electronics, Kudos brought their Titan 707 for us to enjoy.

As is now the norm for Kudos show demos, the Titans were running active. Sometimes its Linn Exakt, sometimes Devialet Pro but more often its Naim with the SNAXO active crossover dedicated to the Kudos range. But this time there was a twist.  Normally we would see Streamer to Pre-Amp to SNAXO to power amps to speakers.  But Kudos have spotted an interesting opportunity in the way that Naim cabling works.  They presented a system here that used an NDX2 streamer, a SuperNait 3 integrated amplifier and a 250DR power amplifier. I'm not quite au fait with the way that this is strung together, but its suffice to say that its possible to split out the pre and power sections of the SuperNait so that it acts as a full range pre-amp but the power amp is only looking after, for example, the bass output (as it was here) from the SNAXO whilst the 250DR gets on with looking after the treble drivers.

This is pretty significant as it reduces the cost of entry to an active system and brings SN3 owners into the equation in terms of upgrading to active - they no longer have to move on from the SN3 to a new pre-amp and 2 new power amps - adding the SNAXO and one more amp is enough - and that could even be a used 180 or 200 to keep the costs down further.

Music was coming from the local Innuos Zenith server or from the Tidal streaming service.

Enough of that - how did it sound?  Well, great. Very very easy to sit and listen to all sorts of genres - which of course Kudos were confident enough to deliver.  The audience being encouraged to request tracks too.  All of this musicality meant that it was often difficult to get into the room as many visitors will have been happy to absorb the tunes for longer than in other rooms. Sitting in the front row made the system sound a touch light and in the second row a touch boomy so clearly this was a room effect and the best seat would've been midway between the 2 rows. Its difficult to write much more about this system, it just got on with delivering the music without any obvious issues nor with any outstanding areas - other than the outstandingness of its total confidence in delivering the goods.


For those of you who are Naim cabling affecionardos, you might be able to work out the signal from SuperNait 3 to the SN3's HiCap PSU to the SNAXO and its HiCap PSU and then to the SN3's Power Amp section and the 250DR Power Amp. For those of us who are mere mortals, just be sure that it works and that someone else could probably get it to work for us!


Newly (quietly) announced at the show from Kudos is their own brand of speaker cables.  They're 18 strand silver plated copper and derive directly from the cables chosen by Kudos for the inside of their products.  No news on price at this point.


So, sound of the show for Kudos this year, and an honourable mention in the "music of the show" category too - a good variety being played and the audience being asked if there was anything they'd like to hear - the way the music should be at shows.


MICHELL ENGINEERING





Nothing playing when I dropped into this room - the turntables looking fantastic as usual though.

SHORT INTERLUDE


The ceiling decorations in the Old Duke pub, where live music was to be enjoyed on Friday night

Chillin' in the streets of Bristol on Friday Evening

Queues each morning awaiting the show opening
WILSON BENESCH



Wilson Benesch took up their customary space in the large conservatory room, lots of materials draped over the glass to keep the room under control. They fronted their system with Nuprime electronics and were playing speakers from the Precision range. On my visit they were using the P20 standmounts. Despite the large size of the room they were doing a really good job - plenty of details and insight on offer and the bass output didn't seem lost in this space. Enjoyable.

WHARFEDALE & AUDIOLAB

I was really looking forward to Wharfedale's newly launche Elysian range at Bristol - their move significantly up market.  As you can see in the image of the (very) large standmount below, the finish is both an interesting shape and extremely well executed - from that aspect alone they're very impressive.  But that's all the impression that was possible this year, there was no scheduled demos, which was disappointing as it would have been fantastic to hear the floorstanders, but they do have a lot of recent products to choose from.


The 85th Anniversay Lintons were being demontrated and you can read thoughts about them from the 2019 show on this blog.  So of much more interest were the (also newly launched) top of the range Evo4.4 floor stander, retailing at just under £1200.  On the face of it this is a lot of speaker for that money - the AMT tweeter and dome mid range drivers are typically not budget units.  Partnered with Audiolab's equally VFM 6000 series electronics this system did a fine job of filling this largish room with style. And music. There was lots to admire here at this price level, trouncing some much more expensive systems. I wish I'd had more time to spend with this system.





ROGERS


Most definitely fitting into the "old skool" approach, Rogers fronted a new integrated E20a/II Classic tube amplifier with Thorens TD124 and Goldring vintage turntables.  The Thorens was playing on my visit and the sound eminating from the Rogers LS5/9 speakers was engaging, smooth but not rounded off.
It would have been fun to drop into the room when the reel to reel decks were in use, but I didn't get lucky this year.
Goldring

 
Thorens
Also in the room but not playing at the time are these interesting active subwoofers for LS3/5 type loudspeakers

ACOUSTIC ENERGY


Apparently very proud of their Britishness AE were playing the elegant and beautifully finished AE509 mid sized floorstanders priced at £2300.  They produce more bass than might be expected for their size and it has that traditional speed and control that AE are known for.  An Innuos server and Rega integrated amp were driving this system along with some energy and the Freq track kicked along nicely.  Loads of treble information which may become tiring over time.

NAIM / FOCAL
 

Naim brought along their flagship statement pre and dual mono power amp combination again.  The £170k amplifier combo being headed up by the ND555 streamer and driving Focal's £30k Utopia Evo speakers.  Usually I find the top of the Focal range intolerably bright and shouty.  On Saturday morning the system was playing at a lower volume than usual and it was tolerable to listen to - a big step forward.  Still sounds like hifi and not music though - I'd dearly like to hear these electronics with some different speaker options to hear what they're capable of.

JERN


Something different from JERN - in a number of ways.  First, the cabinet material - cast iron - which is both dense and much less ringy that materials such as aluminium as used by some manufacturers.  Their model number reflect the mass of the speakers in kilos, which is novel. The second element is the option on drive units - so one cabinet can be specified with a number of different drive units which determines the price point of the complete speaker.  The 11s on display were the entry level model at £1200 or so.  They were fast, produced fantastic imaging and were fun to listen to.  Due to their size they don't go deep, but a matching subwoofer is on the way.  Interesting to note that as the size of the cabinet increases so does the difficulty in achieving a good result every time, so the prices rise more exponentially than you might hope for. An interesting idea with a good result judging by this demo and I like the idea of multiple price points for one cabinet.  I look forward to more from JERN.

MEANWHILE OUT IN THE COLD...


Naim brought along the new Bentley Flying Spur which is equipped with a "Bentley by Naim" audio system.  It was possible to have a sit in the car and listen, but there wasn't time on this visit.

CONCLUSION

A busy show - it felt much busier than last year, and the overall standard of systems was much improved.  Its a good day out, if you're willing to be patient, don't mind the stairs and don't have a problem with crowds.  I hope the improvement curve continues and its good to see the biggest show on the calendar continue to thrive.  We need more music variety to be played too, and some rooms were putting the effort in this year.