The Audio Show, Woodland Grange 2019 pt.1

This was my first visit to the Audio Show at Woodland Grange in Leamington Spa and I have to say it’s a nice place. Originally a country house and still containing many of the features of its heyday it has been extended and modernised to create a hotel with a lot of conference rooms that are well suited to audio demonstration. The size and character of the rooms varied a lot but most exhibitors were able to make their systems sound pretty decent, some very much so. There was a good variety of brands at the event, with relative newcomers alongside seasoned pros and plenty of new product on show and demonstration. One of the most interesting was a retro audio room with two classic Meridian systems and a vintage studio set up brought along by Lodgsound. This included a Sony APR-5000 reel to reel playing Dark Side of the Moon through a Music First preamp and Quad 405.2 amps into Rogers LS5/8 active speakers; undoubtedly the coolest system of the show.    

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Thorens have three new turntables to tempt us with and two of them have automated operation. The TD1600 (£2,399) and TD1601 (£2,899) are essentially the same with a subchassis supported by three adjustable springs and a tension wire to stop the motor pulling it out of skew. They feature a plate that locks the arm to the main bearing and the TD1601 has an electronic arm lift and auto stop function. Both have an MC cartridge made by Audio-Technica and based on the OC9 XSLC.

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You couldn’t miss the yellow Sveda Blipo (£6,000) active speakers from Poland and they sounded great too. The rest of the system included a Lucas Audio Lab streamer (£4,000), COS H1 DAC (£2,400) and the first outings for Music First’s new Baby Reference V2 TVA preamp (£6,120) and Classic MC Step-up V2 (£2,940), a pair we hope to hear at home soon.

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The Acoustand Evolution turntable (£3,995) made its debut at the Audio Show and looks like a lot of high quality engineering for the money. Using magnetic suspension under the platter and plinth it has a large diameter bearing and can support up to four tonearms on the suspension posts. Available with a Delrin, aluminium or bronze platter and finished in the powder coat colour of your choice it’s made in Lincolnshire using machinery from the former Marshalls tractor factory.

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Missen Audio is the creation of a London based club sound designer who felt that he could do better than others in the business. The three-way system consists of TM83 speakers (on the high stands for the show) with a horn loaded compression drive tweeter and 8 inch midrange, bass is provided by a separate subwoofer with a large paper cone driver in a big ported box. This combination had a lot of energy helped in some part by playing the Nuyorican Soul remix of ‘I am the Black Gold of the Sun’, a ‘tune’ if ever there was one. Missen showed two rather stylish prototype amplifiers based on John Linsley Hood circuits, these have three channel output, and a class A, 15W output stage for the high 100dB claimed sensitivity of the speakers.

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The Thorens TD402 (£749) has a ‘super silent’ direct drive motor that is optimised for low noise rather than quick start up, it has a carbon arm tube and offers automatic start/stop functions. It’s fitted with an A-T VM95E MM cartridge and onboard phono stage that’s switchable for connection to an external stage. Thorens was using a pair of classic Yamaha NS-1000 speakers with third party active drive using Hypex amps on the back, the system sounded remarkably good with the TD1601 source.

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Monopulse demonstrated two active loudspeakers using a Bluetooth link from a PC. The newer model is the larger Model A (£2,500), this is a two-way with an 8inch mid/bass and 135W of class D power built in.

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Townshend has a solution for anyone looking to use its Supertweeters with a speaker that can’t support them. These dedicated stands have three Seismic isolation pods and a magnetic platform for the Supertweeter, price is £1,000 per pair. Townshend also showed the new rubber coated Seismic Podiums that are available in standard and custom shapes to suit specific loudspeakers, the example below is for the KEF Blade II.

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Audio Note had the whitest turntable at the show in the form of a TT3 with three motors and a level 3 power supply which comes in at a cool £10,000 but did make a very nice noise through a less than excessively priced system.

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EAM Labs of Milan were using a Marantz SA17 S1 SACD player from a few years back as a source in a system featuring their C102 integrated amplifier (£2,400). This is a class A/B solid state amp with a 90W output that doubles into four Ohm loads. It has a dedicated headphone output, pre and power sections that can be separated and dual mono construction with balanced internal circuitry. This system sounded rather good with Ophidian P1 standmounts.

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Nick Gorham of Long Dog Audio has built the Quartz TT (£950) a power supply for owners of Garrad and Lenco idler drive turntables. It has a high 55W output to suit the current hungry motors of those models, speed selection and pitch adjustment. It can be run at 110V or 230V and either 50Hz or 60Hz so will work in pretty well anywhere you can find an idler drive turntable.

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LDA also showed the MCJ3 phono stage which is a valve design that has JFET gain stages for MC cartridges. It was making very nice noises with a Clarity Dual high mass turntable, Pass Labs integrated amplifier and Kerr Acoustics K300 MkII loudspeakers, but anyone who plays Solid Air has an advantage in my books.

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Kerr’s floorstanding speaker the 320 (£4,295) was making some appealing sounds in a sweltering room with Grandinote electronics including the Volta streamer, Celio phono stage and Proemio preamp with Silva power amp, the vintage Pink Triangle turntable was good to see even if it wasn’t in action.

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We reviewed the attractively priced Electricbeach Blackwoods speakers a while ago so it was interesting to see the company’s latest model which also features an upward firing AMT ribbon tweeter. The new model is called Blackwoods 98 (£2,250), the suffix indicating its high sensitivity, this has a 12inch full range driver in a large floorstanding sealed box enclosure, the ribbon tweeter placed to provide ambiance rather than direct sound. It was heartening to see that Glenn Croft’s bargain priced valve electronics are still in production, this system running the Baby pre at £770 including phono stage and matching power amp for the same money.

See part 2 of the Audio Show here.