"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

Friday 23 December 2022

The UK Audio Show, October 2022 Part One: Turn On The Lights Again at Staverton Park, Daventry

The Staverton Estate / Golf Club hosts the UK Audio Show in 2022 for the second time.  The 2021 event was the first post-Covid hifi show event in the UK and Chester Group went out on a limb to run the event in the hope that enough exhibitors and visitors would be ready to mingle again.  Last year about 30% of visitors were wearing masks, thankfully this year we seem to be currently in a much better place.  A few still in masks, perhaps having an eye on cases rising again.
Thankfully that 37 room show was successful enough to go again in 2022, this time with a massive 70+ rooms to enjoy. It feels like the lights have been turned on again for UK hifi shows.
As usual I try to get to as many rooms as possible.  Those at either end of the enjoyment spectrum get a re-visit to confirm, where time allows, prioritising the better sounding rooms where time is tight.  Fortunately for this year's visit I could make both days so room confirmation was possible across the board.
Pleasingly, this show had more than the average number of enjoyable rooms.
Let's get to it.

Kerr Acoustic / Lampizator / Townsend / Lucas / EMA

Essentially this is Kerr Acoustic's room with the electronics playing a supporting role.
And its a really good start with Kerr's floorstanding K320 Mk3 filling this room with dynamics, punch, crisp detail, big kick drums, deep bass but plenty of control.  I spend a good bit of time enjoying tunes in this room, with the Kerr family happy to play any choice of visitor music - a sign of confidence.  The finish on the speakers is exquisite and the ribbon tweeter seems to be very well integrated with the mid-bass, something some manufacturers struggle to achieve.
Townsend here providing the Allegri pre-amp and the isolation platform under the Kerrs.


 NAIM / KUDOS (Cultured Audio)

Something of a traditional pairing - Naim with Kudos - when a Naim dealer is free to choose a system to play music.  Kudos' top of the range Titan 808 was in passive form here, paired with Naim 500 series such as the ND555 streamer and 500 power amplifier.  I'm used to hearing the 808s active with Linn Exakt or Naim SNAXO crossovers - in the latter case typically with 250DR power amps, so an interesting contrast here with the single more expensive power amp passive replacing 3x active lower cost power amps.  Pleased to report that this system was very enjoyable.  It had a touch more finesse and bass depth in this guise but a little less control over the bass timing. This brand pairing continues to work well together.

Falcon are developing their business - they continue to be in the forefront of spare parts and kit builds, but the new direction is driver unit manufacturer and now into fully built speaker products.  At Staverton they fielded 2 systems and the larger of the speakers they brought along on our visit to the room - the M50 floor stander.  It features a single SEAS tweeter, but more crucially for Falcon, a pair of their B110 mid-range drivers and their revival of the classic KEF 104 bass driver.
An enjoyable system - good tuneful bass (but without the fully visceral feel of the Linn Isobariks, one of the more famous applications of this driver) and lovely clear characterful vocals.

A huge range of headphones and headphone amps were brought along by HiFonix.  Audiophile Musings doesn't cover headphones, but this looks like a great place to hear lots of combinations of product.

Townshend Audio
Sadly now without its enigmatic founder at the show, Townshend fielded a full system for us to sample with Rock TTs, Allegri pre-amp, isolation products and Glastonbury Tor loudspeakers.  A system that offered good insight into the music, but which didn't keep me engaged.  A number of other visitors to the show were finding much to admire.

Alphason Specialist Audio
Alphason are best known for their very successful award winning tonearm from the latter part of the 20th Century.  With the revival of interest in vinyl, they're back with a revised version of the classic arm, featuring a stiffer laminated and damped headshell and the latest in cabling technology - indeed, 60 different cable options were tested before settling on the final solution.
In a bit of retro celebration, the system was all from Alphason, all from the 1990s with the exception of the latest iteration of the arm.  This system had a real spring in its step and was all about fun rather than refinement.

AlChris Audio 

AlChris already has a vast array of loudspeaker products in the portfolio.  From these compact standmounts right through to large floorstanders featuring substantially sized drivers.  Here they had a small room and - other exhibitors please note - brought along a system and a set of speakers to suit.  Befitting of the very affordable speakers, the system was a budget CD player and one of those tiny class D amps available on ebay, Amazon etc for tens of £s.
And what fun it is to listen to.  Joie de vivre!

IcOn Audio
A (new to me) passive pre-amp from icOn audio was demostrated here along with an active Linkwitz system with a DSP / digital crossover, multi-channel amplifier and the hybrid bass enclosure / open baffle matching speakers.
I've heard none of these products in other systems, so its not possible to pinpoint what was causing tthe muffled and dull sound. 

Lowther - Hegeman

Having not hearing field coil loudspeakers previously (at least, not knowingly), 2 opportunities were afforded this weekend at Staverton.  In the Lowther room they had a number of different offerings on dem - see later for the Almira.  But on the first visity they were demonstrating a revival speaker - the field coil Hegeman.  Audio Note also brought a field coil design - see comments below.

A field coil speaker uses a powered coil in place of the traditional magnet so is far more complicated to design and build, needing a power supply and more components.  Hence we don't see very many of them.  Here Lowther have built such drivers into this classic Voigt horn design, here powered by Audio Detail valve amplification.

A very polite sound from this speaker that I'm sure will appeal to some. Its a beautifully crafted "statement" piece, if you can afford the space and the price ticket.

Lucas / Lampizator / Levante / Audionec (G Point Audio)

In a reprise of their North West Audio Show system, G Point provided a clear, harshness free, deep, "live" kind of sound that was full of musical details.  Sound stage was large but imaging not so precise.

Coppice pride themselves on their solid wood speaker cabinets - they're beautifully finished.  Here paired with Gekko Digitial Audio Player and a Ming Da integrated valve amp, the £4k X2 floorstanders proved tightly controlled and effective.

Melco / T+A (Ultimate Stream)
This system, featuring the £11k aluminium floorstanding T+A Talis S300 speakers presented a curious mix of sweet detailed highs and a muffled indistinct bass.  On day 2 the Epos ES14N moved to this room and made much more of the this room.

WAND / Moonriver / Boenicke 

I've heard the tiny Boenicke floorstanders a number of times and they're remarkable.  Here, the tiny standmounts feel more like "amazing for their size" rather than remarkable in absolute terms.

William Eikos Aurigen

The only info I have on this system is that it was fed by a laptop. Oh, and the brochure that mentions solid blocks of bamboo, hand built craftsmanship (200 hours work to create the arc) and something about yachts.
In practice, a smushed up blur of non-music.
A fine piece of artwork more suited to looking at than listening to.

A compact floorstander said to have remarkable holographic imaging capabilities.  In reality this second listen confimed that its a reasonably competent floorstander that's good value for money.

Audite Acoustics
Here Audite were showing their kit build speakers, based around a "full range" 4" driver.  The latest prototype kit features 2 of these drivers in a transmission line cabinet. Like when I heard the single driver version at another show, I hope that these have a very very low price.

NOLA / Electrocompaniet
My second encounter with NOLA speakers.  Last time it was a very large floorstander that was as expensive as it was relentlessly harsh.
Here, with the Boxer S3 speakers I heard lots of dynamics, good imaging and good tunefulness.  You'll see in the pictures that the set up was a little curious with the speaker stands on packing cases and unidentified boxes sitting atop the cabinets.  Multi-storey cable lifters too.

Dr. Feickert / Lebden / deVore

The D.F turntable played through the Lebden amp into the deVore Orangutan speakers (the light coloured wood ones on the right).  Yello was playing on vinyl, which should've been just my thing.  But it revealled the Orangutans as a bit squawky and boxy.


Trade Stands & Refreshments
Around the corridors in the open "break out" areas, there were trade stands and ample tea / coffee / light refreshment stands.

Bladelius / qln / Lumley

The incredible Lumley Stratosphere turntable was on display in this room, presented with 2 tonearms.  It wasn't playing on our visit so we listened to the Bladelius digital source, pre-amp and gargantuan power amp.  qln provided the speakers which are a relatively diminutive floorstander which did a good job of filling this reasonably large room with sounds that were even footed.


Epos speakers were a breifly successful brand back in the 1980s and 1990s, but faded almost as quickly as they arrived.  They were known for producing very "fast" speakers with lots of detail.  This probably worked very well with vinyl and older electronics designs, but not so well with digital sources that would push them to be edgy and difficult to listen to for more than a short time.

So this is probably one of those re-works that have become popular of late - particularly in the Wharfedale / Mission stable.  But this one is, to me, a curious choice of branding.  What we have here with the new Epos ES14N is a different shape of cabinet to the originals, being more shapely with the chamfered lower part of the baffle and a very much more accomplished, grown-up kind of sound.

The system was a digital source, DAC, pre-amp and power amp from the T+A Series 200 product range.
I spent a good deal of time in this room, so enjoyable was the music it was making.  This pair of ES14N speakers might be a very late pre-production model, but there's really nothing that needs any further attention other than to get them available in dealers for demo.  They're punchy, go deeper than expected for the cabinet size without trying to do stuff they can't do, vocals are well presented, treble is crisp without edginess and the music drives along with pace.  Worth noting here is the relatively compact size of the T+A electronics, fitting easier in to most homes but proving here that there seems to be very little impact on their performance.
Aqua / Accuphase / Ophidian
 Aqua source and Ophidian's newly launched Voodoo speakers - literally a very large departure from their more familiar products - sandwiched a VU equipped Accuphase integrated amp.  Lots of distinctive cables and stuff to connect it all together.  This system wasn't doing the Ophidian's any favours, the whole sounding curiously boxy and wooly - I know they're better than this.  This is not the first time I've struggled to understand what a system equipped with Aqua is trying to achieve.

I like the idea of NVA - their products used to be exceptional value for money and available direct from the manufacturer on a sale or return basis.  The latter part is still true, but prices look very similar to larger companies selling through dealers.  This system was playing very quietly through the apparently updated "Cube" speakers.  These speakers must work for someone somewhere, but I've no idea why.  I suspect the electronics deserve much better. 

Art Audio
Not to be confused with ART, Art Audio were playing their work-of-art tube based amplification.  As you can see in the pictures below these are destinctively styled - taste is, err, a matter of taste but they're beautifully built.  Personally I like the look of them but don't think they would help those who like a darkened room to help them focus on the music.

The Art Audio components were the Composer Solo turntable, Vinyl One phono stage, Conductor Pre-Amp and Adagio single ended monoblock power amps.  These fed a pair of speakers Art use for demonstration purposes.  The Two Cellos album shown in the pictures was playing and produced a lovely rich sound with good dynamics.  Impossible to say much else given the nature of the music.