"What a refreshingly honest blog about listening to music through hi-fi. So happy to see views based upon the enjoyment of music rather than so-called sound 'quality'." - Peter Comeau, Director of Acoustic Design at Mission / Wharfedale

Monday 18 March 2013

Chester Hifi Show March 2013 Review

Must be show season, with Scalford on 3rd March, Manchester coming up on 23 / 24 March and last weekend's Chester show put on by Acoustica and held at the Doubletree Hotel on the outskirts of the City.  A bijou show this one - just 6 systems on show, and a couple of iPod docs from B&W too.

Here's a summary of what we heard:

Naim electronics / Guru speakers sounding very good in the top of the stairwell - not exactly the ideal place to put a system, so quite challenging. Perferred the standard Gurus to the new Juniors - the Juniors sounding very good with some music but going hard and unforgiving on other music.  The standard Gurus are quite remarkable for such small boxes - going very deep and filling the room without any signs of strain.

Rega RP6 / Classe / B&W 805s (the RP8 they were hoping to demo had failed in the morning). We were in this room when they played Dark Side Of The Moon and it was rubbish.
The disc that is, should've been binned - sounded like the dog had eaten its dinner off that disc, why on earth anyone would use that to demo anything is beyond me. We waited a good 15 minutes into the first side to see if it cleared up but it didn't. Demoing at its worst. Unfortunate for the system, but we didn't bother going back for more.

Naim electronics (2 x NAP300 bi-amping, HDX and DAC as a streamer, not sure about all the power supplies nor the pre-amp) into the £145k AudioVector R11s. On first entering the room this system sounded mighty impressive - oodles of detail, rock solid imaging etc. But after about 20 minutes I realised I hadn't been toe-tapping at all, bass was so tightly controlled it was somewhat lacking and the sheer height of those things make them completely impractical for 99% of homes. But it was the lack of involvement in the music that struck me. They played a live version of Smoke on the Water that had 2 people leave the room and the rest of us begging them to stop playing it. I've never felt the need to ask someone to stop playing something at a hifi show before.

Naim electronics (NDS streamer and lots of NAP300s) driving the new to maket £30k Ovator 800 speakers in active mode. In a converted barn. Magnificent room, completely unsuitable for listening to a home hifi.  Why? What are the dealers and manufacturers trying to achieve by putting a system in such an unsuitable environment?  Are they trying to put people off buying their stuff? Pretty much everything pop / rock sounded congested and cardboardy (anyone who has head the smaller Ovators will probably recognise that description). Sounded good with some very simple choral music, but went all congested (compressed even?) when the whole choir and organ ensemble joined in together.

Naim electronics (NDS, 252, not sure on the amps) into Kudos Super 20 floorstanders (£4,250). At last some musicality. Really superb. Saved £141k on speakers there then, in comparison to the AudioVectors! This really was the stand out system for all 4 of us. Beautiful sounds here - no nastiness, no real compromises, but also worth noting that this was probably the most realistically "domestic" room in the whole show - and the type of room the show needs to concentrate on. They also played some vinyl on a DPS turntable with Naim Aro and Dynavector XV II which was a pleasure - great dynamics and no background noise at all.

Arcam DVD player and Arcam top end AVR receiver, B&W 5.1 system - played Toto's Africa from a recent concert on Blu-ray. A band clearly enjoying what they were doing and a very immersive experience - wanted to applaud at the end. One of our group thought it sounded poor, but I thought it sounded like a real concert PA system, so you can make your own mind up on that one!  Watching the remastered Star Wars on Blu-ray was good too, but a touch of harshness now and then.  As usual, it might be better to demo these systems at a slightly lower volume - high enough to show off the dynamics, but not so loud as to strain the system.

Sorry about the vagueness regarding kit, but these "professionals" need to learn from the enthusiasts at the Hifi Wigwam Show at Scalford - they give you lots of information about the kit in use and many provide playlists too. Yesterday at the Doubletree there were no kit lists in evidence and no playlists to choose music from.  It would be a very small amount of effort to put a kit list on the door or wall and to print a few music lists out - make an effort please professionals - you are trying to sell product here, this kind of detail should be a given, not seen as a nuisance.

There were some live musicians in the bar too - mainly just jamming, but clearly talented and good to listen too when we took a 15 minute break from the systems.

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