Bristol Hi-Fi Show 2020 Report and Gallery
The StereoNET UK editorial team spent a long weekend at The Bristol Hi-Fi Show 2020 to bring you this report.
The weather may not have been as kind to Bristol this year as last, but we are happy to report that there were plenty of improvements elsewhere at The Bristol Hi-Fi Show 2020.
The Bristol Hi-Fi Show is, for many, ranked the biggest and best in the UK. The Bristol Show is, however, inarguably the UK hi-fi circuit's kick-off point and is well-managed by Audio T. Also, after decades at the same venue, there must be little to surprise the organisers at this stage. Even one lift seems to give up as if on cue during the show.
That said, we must firstly applaud the increased standard of sound and music on offer this year. For us, this was a significant improvement over the last few years across the board. Almost totally obliterated from the show were the safe, breathy jazz standards and singer-songwriter acoustic weariness. This year, there was a much more extensive selection of tracks being played that appeals to a broader, and, younger audience. Also, on that note, it was refreshing to see the number of young couples and families in attendance this year. This can only be good news, both for the hobby as well as the industry.
A room bursting with British pride was home to Acoustic Energy. AE was playing the beautifully finished AE509 mid-sized floorstanders which are priced at £2,300. They certainly possess the renowned AE speed and control but also are capable of kicking out more low-end than one might be expecting from such a compact unit. You also get a lot of high-frequency information along with that bass and nicely-weighted midband.
An energetic track by Freq was being pushed along nicely from an Innuos server and Rega integrated amplifier. It was also nice seeing the AE500 wearing its Applause Award with price.
The lightweight modular headphones are a new concept to us, so we were looking forward to getting ears on with them. The clean lines and super-lightweight aspects lead you into a false sense of judgement as their sound profile is anything but lightweight. Full, vibrant, and encompassing is what our Bristol Show notebook states.
A familiar name to many, Atacama was showing its range of audio supports on the ground floor. However, upstairs they were demonstrating the new range of power cables designed by Mark Sears of Missing Link/Vinyl Passion.
We have already had the Spirit, Verve and Imperium cables in for review and were mightily impressed, especially by their pricing, performance and holistic approach.
On our first visit to the room, the SCM40A floorstanders were playing using Vertere's beautiful £9,300 MG turntable and ATC electronics. However, the real surprise was just how much bass ATC was squeezing out of their SCM7 speakers and a SIA2-100 integrated amplifier. So much so that they didn't bother adding the latest addition to the range; the C1 Sub Mk2 12-inch active subwoofer (£1,600).
Just when the rooms seem to get a bit samey, it's always lovely to be snapped out of the fug by something different - first hinted at by the velvet night-club style rope outside the door. Once inside, there was only one seat in the sweet spot. Moreover, that seat was a throne. Once sat, you were faced by a pair of mirror-finished Stenheim standmounts being pushed along by Origine electronics. A very high-end yet simple set-up that sounded marvellous. Paul explained that his discerning clientele wants high-end bespoke-finished hi-fi. Looking through the catalogue, there is some eye-popping, credit-card chomping kit going through Audio Art. Amazing stuff. If you're looking for more 'off-the-shelf' high-end hi-fi, the other arm of Paul's business is Imperial HiFi based in Hampton Wick.
Audio Note was demonstrating its new Cobra integrated amplifier using its Type J speakers. The Cobra (£3,400) integrated has both line and digital inputs and features EL34 tubes in a push-pull configuration which resulted in an impressive sound from the blast of AC/DC we got.
AudioQuest's 'speaker cables through the year' demonstration is generally an eye-opener for those who haven't experienced it before, and there were some raised eyebrows again at Bristol. AudioQuest was using a Stack Link streamer with Dragonfly Cobalt DAC plugged into a Rega Aethos integrated amplifier. The demo starts at lamp flex bought from Wickes, going on to the original Monster cable and then AudioQuest's Rocket 11 into GoldenEar Triton speakers to good effect. Of course, GoldenEar was recently acquired by AudioQuest, so that makes perfect sense. Everything was plugged into a Niagra power distribution block. Additionally, we got word that the Stack Link will soon be receiving an upgraded clock as well as a linear power supply, the latter being designed by Dragonfly creator Gordon Rankin.
Audio-Technica launched a pair of closed-back headphones with hardwood caps, hinged ear cups and redesigned headbands.
The Asada Zukora (£1,300) uses Japanese hop hornbeam wood while the Kokutan (£1,700) has a beautiful striped ebony embellishment. Both models sport 53mm drivers and are bundled with detachable cables allowing quarter inch or balanced connection. Additionally, there was a massive display of AT cartridges and other things to make your credit card nervous.
AURALIC and SPENDOR
Auralic's room is always a sparse affair with the spotlight placed on its range of digital front-ends. When we visited the 2TB version of the Auralic Altair G1 (£2,299) was paired with Spendor's A-line floorstanders. The result was exceptionally good to our ears with a decent range of music being played. The overall tasting notes that we jotted down was that the presentation was extremely engaging and on the warm side of neutral, but with impressive bass being supplied by a reasonably small cabinet.
AVID was keeping it wonderfully no-nonsense, and the result was a typically enjoyable affair from Conrad and team. The Ingenium plug n play turntable (£1,250) plugged into the company's £7,000 Integra integrated amplifier. At the end of the chain was a pair of freshly-launched, and well toed-in AVID EVO4 standmount speakers. The result was brilliant imaging once sat in the sweet spot.
In the first Canton room we visited, we were treated to the Queen biopic, Bohemian Rhapsody being played through one the brand's soundbars. The ability of the soundbar's performance was underlined by how it pulled us into the film on an emotional level.
Elsewhere, team Canton was feeding its compact Smart Amp and standmount pairing with what looked like a not inexpensive AVM A 6.3 CD/Streamer/DAC/pre-amp (£9,990). In comparison to the AVM all-in-one, the Canton amp and speakers come in at a very reasonable £1,450. The system was detailed and punchy as well as musically engaging. Great bang-for-buck, we think.
CHORD COMPANY / ENGLISH ELECTRIC
Now, we had spotted that, thanks to The Bristol Hi-Fi Show's Facebook post on February 12th, the Chord Company were due to announce a data switch. That, to us, sounded like a dangerous overlap with Chord Electronics' territory. So, it was with a degree of excitement and relief when the switch was announced under the revived branding of English Electric. English Electric will be a name familiar to fans of trains and jet aircraft as it was once a significant force in British engineering.
Now, new owners Chord Company will use it to brand its electronics. The first launched product being a network switch that has been designed from the ground up for better sounding streaming, we were told.
Featuring a low noise clock, a quiet switching power supply and eight ports the demonstration used Patti Smith's excellent rendition of 'Boy in the Bubble' which appeared to be appreciably more coherent when compared to a standard switch. The price will be in the £400 - £500 ballpark when it is released later in the year. Colour us interested. Also, officially launched was the LeylineX speaker cable at £5/m and the final version of the company's Ohmic Transmission Fluid contact cleaning system. Chord established that longer drying time is needed to give a long-lasting benefit to all treated contacts and managed to provide the fluid with a longer shelf life, the two-stage ChordOhmic fluid costs £200 for 10ml but is said to go a long way.
Chord Electronics used the Bristol Show to demonstrate its new 2go portable streamer (£995) and 2yu DAC adapter (£450) at their official launch. Rajiv Dave explained more about these remarkably compact bits of British tech.
Dave's CV includes stints at the BBC working on its digital tech in the nineties, including Nicam and DAB. He told the gathered press that 2go was a battery-powered streamer designed to partner the manufacturer's Hugo2 DAC. 2go boasts Roon compatibility as well as wired and wireless internet connectivity along with Bluetooth and is built with avionics/military-grade electronics with extremely high tolerances. Additionally, with 2yu locked together with 2go, you get a streaming solution that can feed multiple rooms via a suitable USB DAC hub. StereoNET was so impressed with the ingenuity, flexibility and sound quality of the Chord Electronics 2go that it is the first product to receive the inaugural StereoNET Wildcard Award which also had its launch in Bristol this year during the Clarity Award ceremony.
Also in the Chord room was the new ULTIMA PRE 2 and power amplification demonstration using MScaler and DAVE at the front end with ATC 50 speakers.
Claire and the team were keeping it compact with the Applause Award-winning Cyrus ONE Cast (£1,295) system. Cyrus was able to show that a competent hi-fi system doesn't necessarily need multiple boxes and many cables to produce a room-filling and engaging sound. This also seemed to be a winner with a younger crowd, too.
DALI had its wireless Rubicon 2C in action in a beautiful white-with-grey-grille combo sat atop equally stunning white SolidSteel stands. The £3,840 speakers pack in 250W of Class D amplification aside as well as streaming skills and produce DALI's signature sound of tuneful neutrality. We were told at the show that DALI is expanding its wireless Rubicon C range with two new models.
Also in the room where the IO Bluetooth headphones, the brand's first foray into the market and the IO-4 impressed us so much that they gained an Applause Award.
AUDIO ANALOGUE, MAGNEPAN, THE WAND, VAN DEN HUL, MELCO
Here we had a system featuring the bank account-friendly £1,000 Magnepan LRS speakers. That price tag puts these speakers into bargain territory for this form of driver tech. The Magnepan seemed to have everything that an electrostatic fan would be looking for - there was detail aplenty with a lifelike presentation of vocals. There was also that typical lightness in the lower registers. Still, if you have an electrostatic scratch to itch and baulk at the more expensive offerings, the Magnepan LRS may well be the balm you are looking for.
In another room, we found a Dual CS-458 turntable playing into Scansonic's slim M-68TL floorstanders. The system including turntable, speakers and phono stage was being offered at the show for £1,643 (typically £2,143) - a particularly competitive price point.
ECLIPSE, DUAL, AUDIO ANALOGUE, AYRE ACOUSTICS
The third of the Decent Audio's rooms was our favourite of theirs, and no small part of that was due to the StereoNET Applause Award-winning Eclipse TD510z MK2 speakers. The Eclipse is incredibly accurate as well as nimble. The speakers were being fed by a Dual CS 465 turntable into an Audio Analogue phonostage. Amplification was by Ayre Acoustics, and all were joined together by van den Hul cabling. The balance and impact were perfect, and it is always great to see Hideto at the helm.
Denon was flashing its HEOS-friendly Denon Home wireless speakers. The three speaker range includes Denon Home 150, Denon Home 250, and Denon Home 350. Naturally, these have access to all the major streaming services and play well with hi-res audio. The Denon Home 150, 250 and 350 is priced at £219, £449 and £599 respectively. However, it was this perfect bedroom system of CD/digital audio player and Definitive Technology that won us over.
A UK hi-fi show is not complete without Newport's Diverse Vinyl having a stand. Dangerous for the pocket but a joy for the senses, the range of fairly-priced LPs on offer at Bristol starts off looking a bargain until you find yourself with half-a-dozen in one hand and your credit card in the other. What price happiness, though, right?
David Bowie once more looked over this room featuring Dynaudio's £23,000 Confidence 50 floorstanders being driven by Naim's 500 series components including the ND555 streamer and the 300DR power amp. As you would expect, this was a confident performance with great synergy between the Naim electronics and Dynaudio speakers.
Hunters of performance-per-pound were treated to ELAC's Debut Reference DBR62 standmount (£500) playing content provided by ELAC's Alchemy slimline, rack-friendly electronics. There was very little to not like here, especially for the price. If you need more speaker, then the floorstanding DFR52 Debut Reference, we were told, comes in at a still achievable £1,200.
Elipson were playing the imposing Legacy 3230 (£7,500) floorstanders on our first visit using Primare electronics. This proved to be a dynamic presentation by the speakers that can trace their DNA back through to the French manufacturer's 4050 and Le Religieuse models of the 1960s. The looks may be divisive, but the sound they produced was enough for us to want to hear them more. Later, Elipson pulled forward the much more compact Planet range additions, the W35. At £799 each, the pair did a great job of filling the room thanks to their 360-degree dispersion.
EXPOSURE and KUDOS
We have experienced the Exposure VNX active analogue crossover with £7,750 Kudos Titan 505 loudspeakers before, and have been impressed by how much more energetic the already superb Titans sound with the addition. The VXN comes in 2-way for £1,545 and 3-way at £1,795. The VXN power supply is £995.
Meanwhile, next door, the green lighting hinted at a new approach from Kudos this year. The Titan 707 (£13,000) was using Naim's SNAXO active crossover which is now configurable to work with the Titan and Super Cardea range of British loudspeakers. The system featured an NDX2 streamer being served by an Innuos Zenith, a SuperNait 3 integrated amplifier and a 250DR power amplifier with the SuperNait 3's preamp taking care of bass duties and the 250DR handling the upper ranges via the SNAXO crossover. No matter what the audience requested, music-wise, the system confidently performed its duties. This was obviously the more spendy of the two rooms, but both systems worked incredibly well with the larger system occasionally befalling to room restrictions.
Finally, and without neither pomp nor cheer, Kudos also announced the company's speaker cables. They're 18-strand silver-plated copper and derive directly from the cable used by the brand for internal speaker wiring. Kudos anticipates the cable to cost £30 per linear metre unterminated.
Falcon was demonstrating two products (as well as proving they know their onions!) - the new 2-way kit speaker and the Gold Badge 15 Ohm impedance version of the classic BBC LS3/5a monitor. The latter made a bold statement as it was stacked in a 2x 4 array that was mostly there because they could. The IMF 100 kit, however, was sat atop SolidSteel stands and being fed by a Mofi turntable. With Frankie Goes to Hollywood's Welcome to the Pleasuredome coming through the £1,495 transmission-line plug and play speakers it was hard to imagine that they arrive as finished cabinets, pre-built crossover boards, drivers, connection panel and acoustic wadding. Moreover, they are completed with only the tools provided and around 30 minutes of your time. Jerry Bloomfield added that the kit uses the same B110 mid/bass and T27 tweeter that Falcon had made for their LS3/5A. We were also given a glimpse of a new Falcon project that they were hoping would be ready for the now-cancelled High End Munich show.
FUNK FIRM and CURVI HI-FI
The first thing that hit you in this room was the beautifully constructed, Applause Award-winning Curvi-BMR speakers. Chris of Curvi is rightly proud of his latest design which appeared to be drawing interested audiences who seemed won-over by their performance. Sat on the rather attractive Lateral audio stands and linked by Gekko cabling were a standard Rega Planar 8 (£1,699) and Rega P1 with Funk Firm's Rage 3 kit which comes in at £889 including turntable. The presentation really had the couple sat in front of me enthralled, especially when discussing that they could be saving almost half the cost of the P8. Naturally, Funk Firm was also showing their extensive LP12 upgrade kit that just drops into the chassis once the original top plate, armboard and sub-chassis have been removed. The full package boasts Funk's three-point vector drive as well as a sub-chassis that has been designed for long-term consistency. There are two versions of the 20/20 upgrade; SL at £2,500 and GL at £3,500. Arthur Khoubessarian also hinted that his Pink Triangle brand may reappear this year; at least, that's what we assumed he was referring to.
Fyne Audio's F502SP (£3,499) was on demonstration using a Rega Osiris amp, Isis CD player and the rather fab Auralic Altair G1 supported by a Lateral rack and Chord Company cables. We were glad that we had heard these speakers elsewhere as the room was pretty unkind to these floorstanders. These are usually fun and dynamic performers, and the midband and upper frequencies were still joyous here, but the lower end suffered a little due to the room's dimensions. Yet, they are great performers for the money in the right environment. In fact, if you popped over to the Linn room, you could hear the same speakers, but with Linn's Space Optimisation in action, you would've got a better idea of the speaker's overall sound.
Next door the Scottish brand was demonstrating the compact end of its flagship F1 series, the £2,999 F1-5 standmount loaded with a 125mm mid/bass cone complete with FyneFlute roll surround. Paired with a Rega Aethos amp, this was a wonderful-sounding system that could fit in any size room. There was enough bass to give weight to music but, let's be honest, there is going to be a limit as to what a speaker this size can deliver - we're told below 50Hz, and that's as much as we could find out. That said, in the hotel bedroom of the Bristol City Centre Marriott, we didn't really need more.
However, later in the day, they swapped out the impressive F1-5 for the £4,000 F701 standmounts, and their 35Hz-34kHz range certainly made an impression.
The room-treatment gurus from GIK returned to the Bristol Show after a four-year hiatus and, judging by the constant stream of visitors, it appears that room treatment is finally getting the attention it so very much deserves. At the stand, you could find the new budget-friendly foam Alpha series panels as well as the improved Art panels. There is an all-new gallery of artwork to choose from on the website, with more designs on their way through artist collaborations. However, GIK will also print your own handiwork on to one of its unique acoustic panels. Many demonstration rooms were utilising GIK's panels, and it was apparent through the overall improvement in sound quality at this year's show. Naturally, the ever-friendly David and Lukas of GIK Europe were on hand to give advice or just to have a chat.
Harbeth had its usual two-room set-up at the show this time demonstrating the company's new “XD” versions of its speaker range. The P3ESR XD (£2,495) is the brand's BBC LS3/5a inspired standmount which were perched on Hi-Fi Racks stands. We were told that the XD special sauce enables improved clarity, especially to the vocal range, and we have to agree as we were played an opera piece that was said to be the first stereo recording.
Next door the larger Conquest 7ES-3XD (£2,695) were playing Josef Erich by Trilok Gurtu via a Marantz CD player and Hegel amplification. A much more rounded performance than the focused P3ESR to our ears but, that is the signature of those BBC monitor-style speakers.
Harman Kardon brought a good selection of their Citation range of wireless streaming speakers. On show here was everything from the £180 One right up to the attractive £2,200 Citation Tower conical floorstander. The Citation range is wrapped in Kvadrat fabric and hooks up to Google Assistant for a full smart speaker offering.
HEGEL and AMPHION
Keeping it real as always was Auden Distribution's Hegel and Amphion home set-up. Bill Leigh's room is always a joy to experience, and this year was no difference, although we got a telly to watch too this time. Manned by Little Audio Company's David Falkner, the system comprised a Hegel 120 streamer / DAC / amplifier (£2,200) and Amphion Argon 1 speakers (£1,040). Sat on a £75 Wayfair-purchased AV stand among a Blu-ray player, and a few home knick-knacks this was a perfect example of how a great-sounding stereo set-up can easily be integrated into the average home.
Elsewhere, brand ambassador, Johan Coorg was steering the £5,000 Hegel H390 integrated with KEF LS50s (£799) with the help of Melody Gardot's Preacherman. This was an impressively dynamic presentation and, between the two rooms, an excellent example of Hegel's capabilities at either end of the scale.
KLIPSCH, PRO-JECT, MUSICAL FIDELITY
What's not to love about the Heresy IV (£3,495) three-way design with its horn-loaded tweeter and mid partnered with a big bass driver? The compact floorstander suited the homely vibe in this room.
However, next door was the stand-mounted RP-600M which, at £625 punched way above their weight and sounded brilliant hooked up to a Musical Fidelity amp and Pro-Ject deck. These impressive speakers feature 6.5-inch spun copper Cerametallic woofers, and a 1-inch Titanium LTS vented tweeter augmented by a hybrid Tractrix horn. If you're looking for a big sound from a compact speaker, then these should be on your audition list.
Downstairs, on the ground floor, the distributor featured ranges aplenty from Pro-Ject, Ortofon, Lehman, Musical Fidelity and more.
As well as being featured in many rooms around the show, Hi-Fi Racks' range of attractive hardwood performance-enhancing furniture seemed to be drawing the crowds each time we went past. Of course, the Hi-Fi Racks team were in constant demand on their stand. Also, it was great to see the white plinths on the wood-finished rack on the stand.
A cast-iron speaker cabinet isn't something you see every day. So, thanks to Oli Lund Christensen we had something very different to listen to. We were shown how aluminium, a popular cabinet material, rings much more than the high carbon cast iron Jern uses, which also much denser. The Danish speaker's model number reflects the mass of the speakers in kilos. Additionally, once you have decided on which cabinet you want, you can then specify which drivers you want to have fitted - it is that combination that dictates the price. The 11 kg model 11 being demonstrated was the entry-level £1,250 model. Plugged into an old Gamut amplifier via Dryholm cables, the speakers were fast and fun and produced pin-point imaging. Granted, they lacked the deepest bass due to their size; however, there is a subwoofer on the cards soon.
We enjoyed Kanto's TUK speakers when we heard them last year, and now they are finally available to purchase in the UK after some unforeseen delays. We have had their Yu6 speakers for review and enjoyed their flexibility; however, the £750 TUKs take the sound quality even further thanks to their AMT tweeter partnered with a 5.25-inch aluminium cone driver.
The Bristol Show saw the UK debut of Emotiva's XMC-2 16-channel processor (£3,295) plugged into the XPA-11 amplifier (£2,399) which was doing a great job paired with SVS speakers and SB-2000Pro subs. The room was set a rig featuring height channels for a full 7.2.4 system. All that was missing was a cooling beverage and snacks, and we would have stayed all day. An impressive home cinema system for much less money than many others.
The entry-level Prodigy record cleaning machine made its Bristol Show debut this year. Coming in at a special show price of £599 it is perhaps one of the most pleasant-looking RCMs out there thanks to its bamboo construction.
Dr Charles Kirmuss held court with his In The Groove KA-RC1 record cleaning machine (£1,200). Colorado-based Kirmuss states that vinyl repels water and that, because of this, most cleaning machines don't work as well as they should. Moreover, as his ultrasonic machine de-gasses the cleaning fluid, monitors temperature (we're told 30 to 35 degrees is optimal) and works at a frequency he establishes does the best job, that's why audiophiles and archiving institutes are choosing his machine over the rest.
T+A, TAIKO AUDIO, TELLURIUM Q
Bookended by T+A electronics sat on Stillpoints feet and the brand's speakers was, for us, the star of this particular show as Kog Audio has managed to bring in the incredible Taiko Audio Extreme SGM. OK, so extreme doesn't seem to fit its outward appearance; however, lift the lid on this 42 kilo, £25,000 beast and things start to make more sense. Skipping over its huge 24TB storage capacity using solid-state modules (not SSD), the Extreme SGM features a CNC machined hybrid copper/aluminium “Panzerholz” chassis and a choke-regulated linear power supply. Additionally, the music server utilises dual Intel Xeon Scalable 10 core – 20 thread CPUs. Naturally, all of this would amount to nought if not for the award-winning Tellurium Q cabling. Here the British company's Ultra Black II speaker and RCA cables were in use (£310 and £430, respectively), as was its Silver and Silver Diamond power chords (£1,200/ £2,200).
LEEMA, BRIGADIERS, PEAR AUDIO
There was no ambiguity as which countries were reppin' here with South Wales's Leema bringing along Shadwell the sheep and a new, fluffier friend. Joining the party was an inflatable 'roo, courtesy of Australia's Brigadiers speakers. However, Pear Audio's Slovenian mascot was nowhere to be seen although you could not miss the Blue Little John turntable finished in Lamborghini (we're saying StereoNET) orange. The turntable was fitted with a Pear Audio Cornet 1 tonearm and a Goldring cartridge. Taking care of digital duties was the Leema Sirius 2TB streamer/library (£4,000). These were linked to a Tucana II anniversary edition amp (£5,000) that proved to be a great partner for the consistently impressive £5,000 Mu.2 standmount speakers sat atop the SolidSteel stands. Again, the Leema room didn't disappoint with Andy's often tongue-in-cheek introductions (Depeche Mode was once introduced as being at the forefront of Basildon's experimental jazz movement) and music choices that are the antithesis of the smooth jazz that generally infects shows such as this. An ultimately friendly, welcoming and fun room - the way demo rooms should be.
Last year saw Linn return to the Bristol Show after a long break and this year had them performing 25-minute scheduled demonstrations of either their digital or analogue offerings. This was a distinctly Scottish room with cables from Atlas and F502SP speakers supplied by Fyne Audio. Could we ever see an Exact version of the Fyne F502SP? Now, that could be interesting. In a few years Linn will celebrate its 50th anniversary and so will its much-lauded Linn Sondek LP12 record player. Even though the turntable has been around for half-a-century, it still has some new tricks up its sleeve, and, at Bristol, Linn announced that RAL colours are now available along with gloss finishes for colours and natural woods. The streaming demo started with the wireless and room-friendly Series 3 speaker and then on to the full-sized hi-fi Selekt components - one featuring the entry-level DAC, the other sporting the Katalyst DAC option. A couple of tracks were played, and the difference was easily discernable by most of the people in the room. We also got word that there will be more product developments later in 2020.
LIVING VOICE and KUZMA
When we entered the room, Living Voice / Definitive Audio's Kevin Scott was setting a record going on the orange Kuzma Stabi R turntable which was connected to valve based electronics into Living Voice Auditorium OBX-RW3 speakers. The Stabi R is a £7,500 turntable, and this one was fitted with a 4Point 11inch arm (£6,850) and CAR 60 cartridge (£13,700) with solid diamond cantilever.
The Stabi R's built-in power supply drives a super-high torque drive that gets the weighty platter up to speed in 3 seconds. The tube amps were an SJS Model 7 preamp, Model 5 300B single-ended power amp and Model 3 phono stage. All the kit was sat on a Living Voice G1/2 rack. An SJS / Living Voice amplifier collaboration would be a very excellent idea, wouldn't it?
Additionally, Kevin brought his own power supply - literally - thanks to Living Voice's Pure Music battery power supply. Plugged into the hotel mains, this converts AC mains to DC into the batteries and then re-generates the AC mains from those batteries. The result is that everything in the system runs from battery and is isolated from mains bound noise and instability.
The speakers were running on 8 Watts and, to our ears, this was one of the most listenable systems at the show. It wasn't harsh or excitable but had dynamics, enthusiasm and punch for days. Glorious.
Lockwood loudspeakers being powered by Quad electronics - now, pick the decade you're in. The Lockwood speakers at The Bristol Hi-Fi Show 2020 are based upon the classic designs for single driver monitors as used in Abbey Road. Lockwood speakers saw action with The Beatles, The Stones, Led Zeppelin, The Who and more. Today's Lockwood revival is down to the founder's grandson, Danny Timms. Danny has used vintage Tannoy drive units in sealed cabinets to provide that authentic sound of the 60s and 70s. Prices are £4,700 for the Mini and £6,000 for the larger Academy model, and we love the choice of groovy colours. Far out!
MARANTZ and DEFINITIVE TECHNOLOGY
Solidsteel stands were supporting a lovely-sounding pairing between Marantz PM7000N streaming DAC/amplifier (£989) and Definitive Technology Demand 11 bookshelf speakers (£999). At just under £2,000 this was a very capable set-up that would not only work well in a second room but would make an excellent bedroom system for a teenager's room.
David had his usual spot and was bookended by Townshend and Hifi Pig this year. This stand is always a goldmine of performance-enhancing accessories, and Mr Brook's no-nonsense brand of advice is guaranteed to cut through any marketing spiel.
MELCO and PLIXIR
Melco servers seemed to be a popular choice in several demonstration rooms over the weekend. Alan Ainslie appeared to be fielding questions about the Melco network switch that does a great impression of the company's N10 from the front. What with this and the new offering from English Electric, are network switches going to be the latest trend?
MIAN AUDIO DISTRIBUTION
We have been championing the Italian stand-maker ever since it gained UK distribution through Mian Audio. It has been amazing to watch the number of rooms using SolidSteel stands increase over such a short amount of time. Head honcho, Gaetano, is always enthusiastic about his products and the small, dedicated team that he has producing these beautiful supports. The Hyperspike range is terrific, but the S5 are great performance-per-pound too. SolidSteel's foray into vinyl storage and lifestyle products will no doubt take the brand into new and exciting areas, hopefully.
One of the SolidSteel racks featured Mian Audio's latest addition, the fellow Italian brand, Ricable Cables. These appeared well-made and quite attractive, for cables.
Always eye-candy, the Michell room never fails to draw a crowd. Bristol this year saw the company launch its three-product Cusis range of moving coil cartridges - the Cusis E, S and series topping M (pictured).
At the heart of all Cusis range is a samarium-cobalt magnet combined with pure iron. 30μ pure copper wire is used to precision wind the cartridge coils onto an ultra-lightweight armature, which is then mounted onto a specially designed damper. The differences are in stylus profile, cantilever and body material.
Monitor Audio was all about its Bronze 100 standmount and Bronze 500 floorstanders, this year. The 100s were in play during our visit and admirably driven by Roksan components. Also in the room was Roksan's pretty recently added, Sara tonearm. A good sounding room, this.
NAIM and 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. Focal speakers certainly have their fans, and to our ears, this set-up sounded detailed, incisive and accurate.
NEAT and NORMA
Hats off to Neat for creating yet another site of sensibility at the Bristol Show. Where it is nice to go ga-ga over speakers and components that might be tricky to fit in the average home, this was a demonstration of what can be attained by a relatively compact and aesthetically pleasing system. Bob Surgeoner of Neat Acoustics has distilled what he learned with the Ekstra floorstander (which played on day 2 with a £5,695 Norma Revo IPA-140) into a compact standmount dubbed Ministra (£1,795).
Ministra continues with the isobaric bass design, along with an internal bass driver behind the visible mid driver. Treble duties are handled exceedingly well by a ribbon tweeter. The system comprising of a Norma Revo IPA-70 (£3,475) integrated and Well Tempered turntable sounded great. Also, we were informed that Norma now offers a 5-year guarantee which is a sign of confidence by the manufacturer.
Origin Live was showing off its new £199 record weight or, rather, clamp designed with the help of Tony Sharman. The odd thing is that, as Mark Baker demonstrated, it doesn't actually weigh that much. Additionally, inside the clamp are loose ball bearings that actually rattle when shaken. Using the brand's rather lovely Resolution turntable, we were treated to the weight's performance-enhancing properties.
AVM, MARTIN LOGAN, PMC
PMC generally come to Bristol armed with their own brand of speakers along with the equally impressive electronics supplied by AVM. This year, however, after taking the renowned Martin Logan marque under the PMC Distribution umbrella, the American-made speakers were here in force in its famous electrostatic guise as well as its more under-the-radar Motion series.
Additionally, PMC rolled out an improved line of its twenty5 speaker line cleverly titles twenty5i. The new range gets an updated tweeter that has a lower natural roll-off and so has a crossover point of 1.7kHz which, we were told, creates a closer dispersion pattern to the mid/bass driver its matched to. Also, there are improved isolation foot-bars which, during a chat, may be offered as an upgrade to owners of the previous twenty5 speakers. Watch this space.
Across the hall from PMC was ProAc's larger launch from its K range, the £33,995 K10. Eva Cassidy's Nightbird LP was playing as we got settled and spotted the Trilogy 925 integrated (£11,495) sat on the Quadraspire rack. To us, the K10 really presented a 'live' sound with a keen leading edge and realism to the vocals. The K10 is kitted out with a pair of 75mm midrange domes, two 8-inch bass units and shares AMT tweeter with its smaller K1 standmount sibling. We stayed long enough to hear the music change to the Americana-tinged Chris Jones album, Roadhouses & Automobiles. Again, the lifelike-ness of the guitar through the big ProAcs was something we could get very used to.
Upstairs the ProAc K1 (£5,999) was doing an equally sterling job with the lower frequencies augmented by a down-firing port helped by its purpose-built stands. Here a 6.5-inch Kevlar midrange driver is partnered with the AMT tweeter via a “high-quality crossover network”. The K1 was hooked-up to an Audio Research CD Player and Trilogy amplifier.
French lossless streaming service Qobuz announced a 25% reduction in its Studio Premier subscription, bringing the price down to a much more affordable £14.99 per month. The offer is for the first 100,000 subscribers (as well as current subscribers) and will end on May 31st. It has also has ditched MP3s from its service proudly stating that CD-level quality is now the service's baseline.
Rega was another brand looking to get people hooked with a no-nonsense all-in-one package called System One. Here they offered a vinyl-based system headed by the Rega P1, the brand's IO integrated amp and the new Kyte speakers, all for £999. It sounded good enough as a great place to start for those not interested in shopping around and building a hi-fi from a variety of makes. At the other end of the market, Rega had its Aphelion 2 moving coil (£3,149) on hand as well as the Aria Mk3 MM and MC phono stage (£899).
Bridgend-based bass maestro REL brought its S/510 subwoofers to demonstrate how good it is for music. Moreover, it stacked them three-high aside to bolster a set of KEF Reference standmounts. A live acoustic recording was used in a comparison demonstration where the subs were turned on and off. Impressive stuff. However, using a more bass-heavy track, the fittings in the room shook to a point where the rattling detracted from the presentation. We are sure that, in a suitable place, the line array of REL subs would make for a fun addition to a system.
For those yearning for a 'hi-fi equipment of yesteryear' vibe, the Rogers room was a treasure trove of vintage. Sporting a new integrated E20a/II Classic tube and a Thorens TD124 and a pair of Goldring turntables as well as ReVox reel-to-reels (one of which was having tape issues), this was a lesson in the classics.
Rogers launched its AB3a sub to be used with its LS3/5A. The AB3a (£3,500) features parallel B110 drivers and a 50W amp, but these were not in action. The E20A2 integrated amplifier is a looker, especially with Rogers branded 6L6 push-pull output tubes. We were told that it will be in production soon and will have a £4,000 asking price when it becomes available.
RUSSELL K, TELLURIUM Q
Russell Kauffman has produced a less wallet-bothering variant of his popular Red 50, dubbed the Black 50. You still get the Red's undamped box with an internal acoustic loading shelf combined with a 5-inch mid/bass and 25mm soft dome tweeter but comes in a black painted finish for your £899 compared to £1,099 for the Red version. We quite liked the Russell K Black 50 on the SolidSteel stands being pushed along by a Melco N10, Rega Saturn R CD spinner and Aethos amp sat on the Quadraspire rack hooked up with Tellurium Q Ultra Black II speaker and RCA cables (£310 and £430, respectively). Additionally, go-juice was supplied via Tellurium Q's Silver and Silver Diamond power chords (£1,200/ £2,200).
ISOACOUSTICS, BENCHMARK, MEZE, RUPERT NEVE DESIGNS
The IsoAcoustics demonstration using Focal speakers is always on point. They now even have a neat light-up IsoAcoustics display signifying when the speakers sat on IsoAcoustics are in action, rather than a little LED.
Elsewhere it was all about head-fi with NovaFidelity's new software being at the heart of many of the listening stations. More stable and much friendlier, browsing the NovaFidelity interface was a breeze. This also gave us an excuse to spend some more time with the Applause Award-winning Meze Empyrean headphones. Rupert Neve's gorgeous Fidelice DAC was also present.
CLEARAUDIO, DS AUDIO, KEF, FURUTECH
One room that rarely fails to pull us in, often because of music choice, is the one being driven by Sound Fowndation's Chris Green. At one point it was System of a Down's 2005 Hypnotize album being pushed through a ClearAudio Concept Active fitted with a DS Audio optical cart going out through a pair of KEF LS50s. It was difficult not to stay here all day awaiting the next jolt of music.
CLEARAUDIO, EXPOSURE, KERR ACOUSTIC
In Sound Fowndation's other room is where you could find Jes Kerr and his rather excellent K300 (from £4,995) 2-way standmount whose low-frequency capability is staggering. Being driven by Exposure electronics and a ClearAudio deck, the K300 proved itself even-handed and more fun than most studio-derived loudspeakers we've sampled. Hopefully, now that they are being distributed by Sound Fowndations, Kerr Acoustics speakers will find love in a domestic environment, just as they have in a professional one.
The Soulines Kubrik turntable has the power to stop us in our tracks even when not playing anything. At the Bristol Show, Dave Cawley had also brought along the Technics SL-1200 that featured a variety of Timestep special touches.
Totem's new compact standmount speaker, the Skylight, costs £1,100 and was joined by the remarkable Tribe Tower (£4,999). The latter was playing, matched with Chord Hugo electronics, and won our hearts. A typically lively performance from Totem saw this compact hi-fi punching way above its stature both in terms of slam and enjoyment.
Townshend Audio showed the Allegri Reference that has been incredibly well-received (review in the pipeline) and everyone that has heard it seems to agree that it is a rather good bit of kit.
Also on the Townshend stand was a lovely blue Rock turntable. We are hoping that the rumour of a new Townshend Rock record player becomes a reality.
If your pockets are deep and you are looking for clarity and precision mixed with a unique aesthetic, then USA's Von Gaylord might tickle your pickle. Driven by valve-based electronics and an MBL CD player, the brand's speakers delivered almost forensic accuracy. One for the orchestral fans we think.
It was great to see Voxativ at their Bristol Show debut as we always enjoy their room at the Munich show. This appearance has been made even more special now that High End has been cancelled. The brand was playing their valve based electronics and the Zeth floorstanders upon our first visit, fed by an EAR CD player. On another visit, the Absolut Hagen digital system had been extended to include some new bass modules that, handily, doubled as plinths. Anyone familiar with the Voxativ brand will be aware of just how fantastic their full-range drivers are, and we encourage anyone with the opportunity to check them out.
WHARFEDALE and AUDIOLAB
Wharfedale launched its up-market Elysian range at Bristol, and they certainly cut an elegant figure at the show. However, we appear to have not thought to photograph them or any of the other goodies on display, aside from the immensely enjoyable 85th Anniversary Lintons - perhaps this was after 'lunch'? Additionally, the Evo 4.4 floorstanders (£1,200) proved to be a lot of speaker for the money and sounded impressive paired with Audiolab's 6000 series electronics.
WILSON BENESCH, NUPRIME, CLEARER AUDIO
Taking up residency in the large conservatory room was the high-end Sheffield-based Wilson benesch. You wouldn't know that it was a conservatory as all most of the glass was covered. As we entered the room, there was a display of the brand's Precision range, along with Clearer Audio cables, which were also used in the system. Said system was stacked on Wilson benesch's own R1 rack, which is a feat of engineering in itself. Loaded on the stand was Nuprime electronics which were linked to the P1.0 standmounts and the P2.0 floorstanding speakers, the latter of which was in action when we visited. Focused, accurate and enjoyable is what we noted here.
The main takeaway from 2020's Bristol Hi-Fi Show was the improved sound quality, along with the wider demographic of the visitors. Both of these factors played a part in making the show feel much more energetic and vital - despite the horrendous weather we had for most of the weekend.
As always, there are many more photos from the show in the gallery below.
StereoNET UK’s Editor and Bass playing gadget junkie. He’s captained the good ship GadgetyNews for over a decade, making low jargon high tech a very handy thing. His passion for gadgets and Hi-Fi is second only to being a touring musician.
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Posted in: Hi-Fi Headphones Home Theatre HiFi Show
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