Show Coverage: Hi-fi Show Live 2018 Windsor Show Report And Gallery
It was a crisp and sunny November morning when I took to the road and headed out to Old Windsor. This was my dad's old stomping ground, he has always called himself a country boy and, upon driving through Runnymede, I could see that it was quite different to the Windsor we lived in when the family returned from Canada.
However, this wasn't a trip to rediscover my dad's roots, I was heading to the De Vere Beaumont Estate for Hi-Fi Show Live 2018 which was held over the weekend of November 10th and 11th. The venue sits in beautiful grounds with another slightly grander residence less than 10 minutes up the road; that being the Queen's 11th century Windsorian home.
Up until now, I have been a Hi-Fi Show Live virgin, and my primary concern was parking. Me being me, I had done my research and found out that there was a free shuttle service from an overspill car park, which is good planning. Thankfully I quickly found a space just down from the main entrance. Presenting myself at reception, I was given a sticker as some of the press passes had “gone walkies”.
So, disguised as a regular punter, it was time to find my way around. Now, this is something easier said than done. It might be because it was a Sunday after having quite a full-on Saturday (writing session with the band, attending a gig at The Roundhouse - much beer), but I found the show exhibition space a tad tricky to navigate. What also threw me a bit of a curveball is that there were a couple of other gatherings going on at the same time which meant a few apologies from me when walking into a room that had nothing to do with the Hi-Fi Show. Ah well, every day is a school day.
Once I finally got my bearings within the main and adjoining buildings, it was time to explore the hundred-plus brands that were waiting to be discovered. Here are the ones that made an impression on me.
Karma AV - Falcon Acoustics and Primare
Falcon Acoustics was demonstrating its new LS3/5a clone. The company has gone to great lengths to replicate the exact materials, specs, and performance of the original BBC-licensed monitor. The sound was brilliant through the Primare rig. I would say that the LS3/5a leaned more to a mid-focused balance, but the speakers are undoubtedly hard to knock for their size. A chap in the audience even jokingly asked where the subwoofer was hidden. The LS3/5a was initially designed as a desktop nearfield broadcast monitor but didn't seem to stop it dishing out a decent amount of low-end. It's also the perfect size for most UK living rooms.
The drivers used are the renowned Malcolm Jones-designed Falcon B110, and the Falcon T27 tweeter. The matched 15 ohm BBC Specification FL6/23 filter networks are made exclusively by Falcon in the original transformer-style to, naturally, BBC specification and contain inductors specially made in Britain for Falcon to the original specification.
The cabinets are handmade from specially selected graded Baltic Ply, and Beech fillets. Of course, the speakers are available in a variety of natural wood veneers with a Tygan Cloth front grille.
The small Falcons were driven by the Primare CD35 Prisma CD player/streaming DAC that features a balanced analogue output and packs an ESS Sabre DAC compatible with 384kHz/ DSD128 music files. Additionally, the I35 Prisma integrated amp is the first to use the company’s new UFPD 2 power system, a refinement of its award-winning UFPD all-analogue Class D technology. The 150W I35 Prisma amplifier also includes digital inputs supporting 768kHz LPCM and DSD128 music files.
In another room stood the company's GC6500R Reference floorstanding speakers driven by Primare’s new PRE35/A35.2 pre-power amp team. The set-up features a fully modular architecture and Primare’s Prisma connectivity platform, lately enhanced by Roon and Chromecast built-in. Again, a great sounding combination.
Melco and HighResAudio
This was the first outing of the N10 beyond Japan so quite an exclusive. The N10 is a break from Melco tradition is so far as it is a two-box solution. One box contains the power supply which is potentially damaging to sound quality. Here you have a linear power supply with a toroidal transformer. In fact, there are two separate power supplies at work here, one for the delicate electronics and the other for the hard drive storage. That tech is all sat in box number two. Internal storage of the N10 is rated at 3TB, but this can be further augmented via the E100 (E = expansion) digital storage drive. The expansion drive is plug and play as well as daisy-chainable.
Playing from the N10 can be performed directly via one of its Ethernet ports to a networked player, making the connection switchless. Alternatively, you can connect a USB DAC (Melco was using a Chord Hugo) and take the audio from there.
The D100 is Melco's CD loader and can be added to any of the other Melco models.
At the other end of the room was a demonstration by HighResAudio.com. This relatively new streaming service started in 2010 and is based in Hamburg and Berlin. The USP here is that they are taking rips direct from recording masters.
The German streaming company offers downloadable and streamable “Studio Masters” with a depth of 24-bit and a sample rate of 88.2kHz, 96 kHz or even higher up to 384kHz. The high-quality Studio Masters are available from the site priced from 15 Euros. The bespoke Download Manager simply loads them directly to your terminal, network hard-disc (NAS), desktop PC, or laptop. Lothar Kerestedjian told us that some labels technically manipulate and up-sample tracks artificially to 24-bit and 96 or even 192 kHz to get them to market quicker. HighResAudio sound engineers check each new Studio Masters track for authenticity using a complicated testing procedure meaning that you will always get exclusively native 24-bit Studio Masters with the actual sampling rate. The demonstration was impressive, and a couple of people signed up there and then.
Bowers & Wilkins
Bowers and Wilkins brought along a pair of 802 D3 loudspeakers, powered by a couple of Chord Electronics SPM 1400 MkII mono power amplifiers and a CPA 5000 preamp. The digital source was courtesy of a Chord DAVE reference DAC and Blu MkII CD transport. The analogue was supplied by a Musical Fidelity Nu-Vista Vinyl phono stage and Rega RP8 turntable. Here we were treated to the now expected detailed and pristine output from the digital chain. Unfortunately, the new Rega wasn't in action when I was in the room.
Icon Audio is a small company dedicated to designing and producing all its own tube amps and speakers.
David Shaw's company was showing their fabulous new 300B integrated amplifier. With 2x25W of low distortion triode power, it's designed to put a smile on your face and that it did. Icon Audio has also upgraded their Stereo 40 EL34/KT88 integrated amplifier. The room had a comforting glow about it, just what you need on a winter weekend. Additionally, the warm tone coming from their MB81 mono amps was equally welcoming.
Sound Fowndations - Clearaudio, DS Audio, Larsen, IsoTek
Sound Fowndations had a combination of Clearaudio turntables, DS Audio amplification, IsoTek mains cleaners, Furutech cabling, and loudspeakers from Larsen.
Clearaudio were proudly showing their limited edition Reference Jubilee turntable fitted with DS Audio's DS W2 optical phono cartridge.
Another UK exclusive for the show was the top-of-the-range Larsen 9 speakers. The Swedish brand's flagship speakers are designed to stand against the wall as they actually use the surface sound reflections to enrich the listening experience. The system projected a large image, and there was plenty of rich bass.
Elsewhere in the room was Blue Horizon's very impressive Professional Rack System (PRS).
Symmetry - Magnepan, Brinkmann, Ayre Acoustics
Symmetry Distribution's room was dominated by the Magnepan 20.7 loudspeakers being driven by the final production models of the Trilogy 995R hybrid monoblock amps and the 915R tube preamp. The 915R is a fully balanced vacuum tube preamp offering full remote control. The 995R is a balanced hybrid monaural power amp offering 200W Class AB or 40W in pure Class A.
The digital source came courtesy of an Ayre Acoustics C-5xe used as a transport only and a Brinkmann Nyquist DAC. The analogue source was a Brinkmann Edison phono preamp that been upgraded to MK II spec with revised circuitry lowering noise and improving low-level detail and dynamic. The amp was connected to a Brinkmann Final Edition Oasis turntable. Limited to 100 pieces, it comes with a 10.5in arm and performance power supply.
The system playing as I walked in stopped me in my tracks. I know that panel speakers have a very loyal following but the Magneplanars acoustic imaging was very impressive. Expansive and engaging were the only words that I scribbled down here.
Symmetry was sharing the room with Chasing The Dragon recordings which were using a Sony 1/2-inch studio reel-to-reel deck for playback. How could you not like the look of it?
From open reel tape to something much more 21st century. The extremely dark room that Kii Audio inhabited.
Kii was demonstrating its model Three BXT, which is a combination of the Kii Three (standmount) and a new bass section (BXT). The BXT transforms the Kii Three system into a floorstanding, line-source design, deploying 16 additional drivers (eight per side) and a further 4000W, lifting total system power to 7000W.
All Kii speakers are active and feature some clever DSP processing techniques allowing the speaker to be tuned to the room.
Using proprietary Active Wave Focusing technology, each Kii Three’s six-driver configuration, which is actively driven by six 250W Ncore amplifiers, can be made to produce an entirely coherent, time-aligned wavefront that is emitted only forward and behaves as though it came from the midrange driver.
The company's DSP operates using cardioid principles, eliminating all backward radiation from the driver system. Rather than delayed reflections, the listener hears all the sound at the same time, in any space.
Building the system is less complicated than I imagined as the modules are easy to attach/detach and are auto-detected by the Kii Three, which then adjusts the software automatically. The BXT makes full use of the Kii Three’s technology, extending the frequency range and SPL of the system for the most extraordinary ultra-wide fidelity.
The sound was dynamic and powerful with excellent presentation. As well as being dark I thought that the room was too small for these speakers. However, it is a testament to the DSP tech onboard as the imaging was excellent and the system never felt trapped or overblown.
Wilson Benesch, CH Precision, CAD and Quadraspire
South Yorkshire company, Wilson benesch was demonstrating its Endeavour loudspeaker powered by the Swiss electronics brand CH Precision. The digital source came courtesy of CAD (Computer Audio Design).
Computer Audio Design’s (CAD) 1543 MkII DAC was paired with a prototype of CAD’s updated CAT Audio Transport. This smart, single-chassis unit is a combined CD-ripper, music storage device, streamer and integrated NAS drive. Naturally, the system was connected using CAD’s USB cables I and II and Ground Control units, CG1 and CG3, which tackle noise reduction.
The Wilson benesch Endeavour standmount loudspeaker features entirely bespoke, hand-built driver technology and advanced composite cabinet construction.
Also making its UK premiere at the show was the M1 power amplifier and L1 line preamp from CH Precision. All this kit was supported by Quadraspire's most excellent X Reference rack and QPlus acoustic interface feet.
All-in-all visitors to this room were treated to a rich and detailed sound that could easily be mistaken for extremely high-end analogue.
Luxman and DALI
Luxman shared a room with the Danes from DALI. Luxman is another brand that is still held in high regard after all these years. Well built and retaining that retro-chic are just a couple of the brand's touch points.
The Luxman/DALI live demo used the more modern M-900u power amp along with the C-900u preamp. Music was sent to that duo via a D-08u disc player. Also on show was the PD-171A turntable. The deck boasts a high-torque AC synchronous motor, a 5kg platter, and arm with a detachable headshell. The PD-171A went to Luxman’s new EQ-500 tube-based phono stage, which uses valves manufactured by JJ Electronic in Slovakia.
DALI Epicon 8 speakers were at the end of the chain and looked especially lovely in Walnut gloss lacquer. Connections were all from Nordost.
This was in no ways the most expensive system at the show but to me proved that when you have well-matched components, the end result can be so much more than the sum of its parts.
Decent Audio - Raidho, Ayre, Kronos
Decent Audio distribution showed off the Raidho D-2.1 speakers being powered by Ayre electronics and a Kronos Sparta turntable.
Here we were able to meet the new Colibri XGW Signature Stradivarius from A J van den Hul for its UK debut. The flagship cartridge was partnered by New Zealand-based DBL's (Design Build Listen) The Wand unipivot arm. All of this was attached to the unmistakable Kronos Sparta turntable.
Amplification was delivered by American brand Ayre Acoustics’ QX-5 and KX-5/VX-5.
Finally, moving along the chain, we have Raidho’s superb C2.2 2.5-way floorstanders along with the new Scansonic MB5‘B’. The ‘B’ suffix denotes prized designer Benno Baun Meldgaard of GamuT, who joined the Raidho family last year and who has further developed the already excellent, as well as remarkably affordable Scansonic MB range.
Unfortunately, when I was in the room, there was too much loud chat happening so I could not really get the full appraisal of how the system sounded.
On the flip side, Decent's other room was perfect albeit with a much more modest set-up. In this room, you had a Dual CS-600 turntable, topped with van den Hul’s DDT II Special cartridge feeding Audio Analogue’s AAphono with amplification from Ayre Acoustics’ EX-8 and Audio Analogue’s new valve-based Pegaso.
Completing the system was Eclipse TD’s amazing TD510Z Mk2 loudspeaker partnered with a TD520SW subwoofer. Here I had the added bonus of catching up with Hideto Watanabe from Eclipse.
Padood Distribution - YG Acoustics, Avantgarde Acoustics, Nagra
By the time I had reached this room my expectations had been raised by the quality of some of the other installations. However, upon entering the impressive Remenham suite, I knew that I was in for something special. Here we were treated to an eclectic mix of high-end brands from YG Acoustics, Avantgarde Acoustics, Bel Canto Design, SME, Crystal Cable and Siltech, Nagra and more.
The alluring Carmel 2 speakers from Denver-based YG Acoustics powered by Bel Canto electronics were being led by the first UK outing of SME's new Synergy integrated turntable. Sat upon another of Quadraspire's X Ref racks, the Synergy turntable features a magnesium tonearm based on the company’s highly acclaimed Series IV with mono crystal silver internal wiring by Crystal Cable. It also boasts a specially designed built-in phono stage by Nagra and Ortofon’s ‘exclusive series’ Windfeld Ti moving-coil cartridge. With Bel Canto’s award-winning Ref600M 300W per channel power amps in the driving seat, I was glad I was there in time for the demonstration.
Before that though, we were treated to the acoustic guitarist (and body percussionist, as it turned out), Joncan Kavlakoglu. He played what he described to me as flamenco-funk fusion using Avantgarde's Duo XD speakers and Nagra HD AMP monoblocks at £62.5k a pair as his PA system.
This is a room I could've stayed in for the rest of the day. When demonstrations weren't happening, there were cases of Nagra, Crystal Cable, Siltech, Analysis Plus and more to gaze at. Altogether making this my favourite room of the show.
Kog Audio - Vitus Audio, Avalon Acoustics, Estelon
Here was another room packed with high-end hi-fi. On demonstration was the RI-101 integrated amp from Vitus Audio, an updated RI-100, mated with the company's new RD-101 DAC/streamer.
Avalon Acoustics PM1 floorstander sounded as impressive as it looked. Also on stage was the equally remarkable and similarly priced Estelon YB. Melco digital servers were serving up the hi-res music in this room to great effect.
It was great to catch up with Aseem Hussain of Hifonix. Naturally, the room offered a huge selection of headphones, players and DACs to audition. I took this opportunity to take the new Focal Elegia for a spin. They sounded great for the price and for being closed back. Music came by way of a Questyle system.
As I sat listening to Kate Bush singing to me, it suddenly struck me that here and in the Electromod room you had demonstrations of personal audio; however, this show did not have any AV kit on display. You know what? I hadn't missed that element at all.
Mark Dolbear is always good for a chat. Here his room was kitted out with the MrSpeakers electrostatic Voce the Ether 2 planar magnetic headphones. As I had already tried those out at CanJam earlier in the year, it was the Dekoni Blue headphones that I made a B-line for. The Blue is a new venture for the accessory brand, Dekoni and is a planar-magnetic design using Fostex drivers. Basically, the headphones are a custom variant of the Fostex T50RP MkIII headphone although, to my ears, sound much more accomplished.
The Electromod Schiit show was a range spanning from the elegant, two-input passive Sys preamp at just £60 all the way up to incredibly impressive Yggdrasil multi-bit reference DAC at £2200.
Nordost partnered with Esoteric and KEF for its demonstration. Nordost had isolated pretty much every inch of the components on show here today as well as treating both signal and mains power supply feeds. From what I could hear, they had achieved what they set out to do, but I was left wondering at what point do you hit maximum overkill.
Elac showed a full complement of its own components, from the splendid Miracord 90 Anniversary turntable to a pair of Vela FS 407 loudspeakers, which feature the trademark JET AMT-type tweeter. Elac always hosts a great room, and this was no exception. The sound was great and the staff friendly and chatty without being pushy (remember that I wasn't wearing a press badge).
Graham, Planalogue and Exposure
Planalogue was proudly displaying its Prelude turntables. The Prelude 2.1 features updated materials being used in both plinth and base while a redesigned motor supply brings a sound full of vibrancy and attack. The range will feature three models that will be supplied with the Sorane (Abis) SA 1.2 tonearm and the new Hana ML cartridge. Complementing the Planalogue Prelude 2.1 was Exposures XM3 phonostage.
Finally, Graham Audio's LS6f floorstander sounded great. Elsewhere in the room were the LS3/5 and LS6 standmounts from Chartwell. Also, the new LS3 budget version of the LS3/5a, which retails at under £1000. Yet another exceptionally cohesive system and relaxed presentation. Again, components were supported by a Quadraspire X Ref rack.
Kudos Audio showed off its new Titan 505 standmount speaker. The Titan's isobaric driver configuration, first popularised by Linn in the late ’70s which they cleverly dubbed Isobarik, is supplied by Norwegian specialists, SEAS. If you already own a Linn Exakt or Devialet Expert, the Titan 505's crossover can be bypassed to enable active operation by those systems instead.
The Titans really do have a fantastic bass extension, and the overall clarity of the system and smoothness of delivery seemed to effortless fill the room. In the same room was AudioQuest's range of Niagara power conditioners.
For pure impact, Chord Electronics must be given the first prize in this hangar-sized hall.
The sound of jaws hitting the floor as people entered the room which was demonstrating the recently launched Ultima monoblock amps and Ultima preamp, representing a new reference point for Chord. The all-digital source came from a DAVE DAC and Blu MkII CD transport. Speakers were chromed KEF Muons Cabling was by the Chord Company. This was both a feast for the eyes as much as the ears.
There were some smart speakers at the Hi-Fi Show Live, and these were presented by Harman Kardon.
The Citation range of entertainment systems looked pretty cool and have the added benefit of voice-activated control via Google Assistant - I was told that there were no known plans to introduce Amazon's Alexa to the system.
The display had a variety of desktop speakers, a soundbar, powered subwoofer, surround speakers and the rather natty-looking tower speakers. Naturally, you can play the same music or different music in different rooms in a multi-room stylee.
The look and materials were quite impressive thanks to their Scandinavian industrial design. Additionally, the speakers used blended wool fabric made by Kvadrat.
Signature Audio Systems - Theoretica, PS Audio and Vandersteen
More high-tech hi-fi was to be had with the UK exclusive demonstration of Theoretica’s BACCH-SP digital ‘stereo purifier.’ The kit features a digital processor, DAC and streamer all in one. The system sees the listener fitted with binaural microphones before it computes an individual crosstalk cancellation filter that is then applied via DSP to the music playback. Furthermore, ‘3D sound’ localisation is assured via the IR camera used for tracking the listener's head position. The demonstration was conducted by Princeton physics professor, Dr Edgar Choueiri.
The system used was powered by PS Audio’s P20 mains conditioner and reference Signature preamplifier. The preamp boasts a vacuum tube input stage as well as single-ended and balanced ins/outs. Also put to use was the PS Audio Signature monoblock power amps, good for 300W into 8ohm.
The PS Audio electronics were driving a pair of Vandersteen Treo CT loudspeakers featuring the US company’s patented carbon fibre ‘Perfect-Piston’ drivers.
Naturally, you had to be in the sweet spot for the full effect, but I was sat in the next chair and can attest that the 3D soundstage being produced by this two-channel set-up was quite remarkable.
JBL and Mark Levinson
Harman's other room was much more hi-fi. Here you had Mark Levinson’s No52 alongside the No536 monaural amplifier. These amplifiers were buddied up with the No515 turntable and the network-ready CD playing No519. This rig was used to drive JBL’s most advanced and sophisticated K2 S9900 floorstander.
I didn't get to hear that rig; however, I was in time to catch the UK debut of the Mark Levinson 5000 series using the No515 and No519. The new integrated amplifiers powered the very cool JBL L100 Classics loudspeakers. This sounded brilliant, and I was informed that the waiting list to review the L100 was long, very long. Hopefully, I managed to sweet-talk SNUK's way up the list. Probably not, but we'll see.
Absolute Sounds - Wilson Sasha DAW and Audio Research
Thankfully, I made time to join the timed demo for the freshly announced Wilson Audio Sasha DAW speakers. The speakers were powered by Audio Research Reference 160M monoblocks and a Reference 10 preamplifier, with DCS supplying all DAC and source equipment.
Peter McGrath used the equipment to demonstrate the sonic differences between recordings on a CD remaster (£40), CD-R burnt 1:1 from original master tapes (£150), and a crystal glass variant that would cost you £2000 if you can get hold of one as they are produced in minimal numbers. An interesting seminar that did, indeed, highlight the differences between sources. Although, saying that, I would have also loved the opportunity to hear the Sasha DAW for a more extended play-through session.
In the foyer of one of the ancillary buildings, you could find Timestep. The Devon-based company had the Technics SL-1000R turntable on show fitted with a Glanz MH-104S tonearm by way of a new custom-made stainless steel armboard also by Glanz.
Also on display was the beautiful Soulines Kubrick DCX turntable (reviewed here) which was partnered with Timestep’s own T-609 tonearm.
This was perhaps one of the more genteel hi-fi shows that I have attended. Whether I got that impression through the surroundings or merely the fact that I was there on a Sunday, I cannot really say.
What I did enjoy was the lack of over-powering sub bass, as well as a distinct focus on two-channel hi-fi, rather than additional A/V kit, as much as I like it.
The personal audio on display was also of a broad enough price point that all budgets were catered for. True, at the other end, the audiophile exotica was very much present, but it was well executed and suited the rooms.
The odd one out, for me, was Harman Kardon's Citation range but, I found it a great palate cleanser and actually spent quite a while chatting to the father and son team while listening to the smart speakers.
Just as I started to find my way around the show, it's all change next year. The Hi-Fi Show Live moves to Royal Ascot with an increased number of spaces available to exhibitors. It will be interesting to see if this impacts the newly revitalised Festival of Sound show or if they can both survive harmoniously.
Check out the gallery below for even more photos from the day.
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 Visual Integration Technology HiFi Show
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