Festival of Sound 2018

The Festival of Sound, formally Indulgence, was held at the Marriot hotel in Hammersmith in west London. It attracted a good array of established brands including Naim, Bowers & Wilkins, Yamaha and KEF as well as non hi-fi brands including BoConcept furniture. The event wasn’t as spread out as last year’s Indulgence Show with the ground floor only being used for live music events with the Bowers & Wilkins’ live sound system providing PA for acts including the Art of Noise and UNKLE. There were seminars from a good range of speakers including ‘Whispering’ Bob Harris, drummer Kenney Jones (Small Faces, the Who), Marillion producer Chris Kimsey and Chris Difford of Squeeze among others. This combined with an exhibition of photography and memorabilia as well as Buddy Holly Foundation guitars made for a diverse event that was rather different from the usual hi-fi show fare.
The timing of the event meant that new product wasn’t to be found in abundance but there were a few launches and at least one brand new company to be found. The following are our highlights of the show.

PMC demonstrated their biggest domestic loudspeaker yet for the first time in the UK. The Fact Fenestria is an extraordinary loudspeaker and one which Peter and Oliver Thomas talked about in our interview from the Munich High End. Here they sounded rather good on the end of AVM amplification (including MA8.2 monoblocks) and a Bryston streamer alongside one of AVM’s new Rotation series turntables. The Evolution R5.3 (£5,995, below) has a DC motor and a balance pulley underneath an acrylic platter that’s backlit in blue for extra dramatic effect. The tonearm was built in-house by AVM and uses zircon gimbal bearings.

AVM Evolution R5.3

Nic Poulsen of Trilogy brought along his new 915R Reference valve preamplifier (£14,995, above) with transformer coupled output and high transconductance valves, this fully balanced pre takes top spot in the range but firmware timing meant that it had to sit out the event and leave the action to the more affordable 903. This was used to control a pair of 995R Reference hybrid power amps (£11,250 each, below) which offer 200W in Class AB or 40w Class A and have choke input supplies for maximum tubetasticness.

Trilogy 995R monoblock

Trilogy shared a room with CAD and Wilson Benesch and a very fine sounding room it was too, Scott and Isabel from CAD brought along a completely revised version of the CAT server (£12,000). Available in dedicated USB or Ethernet output variants what was already one of the most ambitious music servers has been overhauled with the aim of producing the best possible device of its kind. It runs JRiver and was being used to play choice cuts from the Leonard Cohen songbook whenever Isabel got hold of the tablet. And even to those of us who have yet to ‘discover’ his oeuvre it sounded very good via the Wilson Benesch Resolution floorstanders (£35,500).

Node is a new company with big ideas. Their Hylixa loudspeakers incorporate a helical transmission line inside a cabinet that’s made from laser fused particles of glass and nylon. The bass driver faces backwards and the bass travels down the centre and out via the helical line to exit around a front panel that houses a BMR for the midrange and a radial surround tweeter. The Cambridge based company is asking £27,000 for a pair of Nodes including rather elegant stands.

Naim brought along two systems the bigger of which was the full monty of ND 555 streamer with twin PS555 power supplies, Naim Statement S1 pre and monoblocks driving the latest iteration of the massive Focal Grande Utopia EM Evo. This has an outboard power supply for the electro-magnets on the 400mm bass driver and a beryllium tweeter driver with ‘infinite’ acoustic loading. I didn’t get to hear it but the more affordable system next door with the new Focal Kanta No3 speakers sounded really good considering the fact the space had been partly made with room dividers. The rest of the system consisted of an NDX 2 network streamer and SuperNait integrated with HiCapDR power supply.

The five outlet Russ Andrews Balanced Mains distributor doesn’t look very fancy but it’s custom made for the actual voltage of each customer’s incoming mains power. A volt meter is sent out to the customer so that they can establish the average incoming voltage and the handwound transformers inside the unit are adjusted to suit. It comes in two versions, the BMU1500 MkII offers 1.5kVA for £2,295 and should suit most systems while the BMU3000 MkII can provide up to 3000kVA for £3,555 and will power pretty well any system no matter how big.

Townshend Audio are getting close to finalising the Enigma preamplifier. Based on the Allegri that we at the Ear hold in such high regard the Enigma uses the same transformer volume control but has an outboard power supply to provide remote control and headphone output capabilities. Townshend has been going to great lengths to make the headphone amplifier as good as possible and we got some idea of this potential at the show through some Grado headphones. We suspect that results in a quieter environment will be a lot more impressive however.

KEF unveiled the rather attractive R series, these take their cues from the Reference range with a new 12thgen Uni-Q mid with concentric tweeter. This incorporates what KEF call a ‘Shadow Flare’, essentially a means of projecting high frequencies and stopping from travelling across the baffle and diffracting at the corners. The cabinet uses constrained layer damping and the bass drivers combine aluminium with paper for high stiffness to weight. Prices start at £1,300 for the R3 standmount and rise to £4,000 for the big R11.

Chord Electronics demonstrated the new Hugo M Scaler (£3,495), this is essentially an upsampler that takes a 44.1kHz CD sample rate and converts it 16x to 705.6kHz before passing it on to a suitably equipped Chord DAC. In this instance it was the Hugo TT2 which has the dual BNC inputs required to receive such high sample rates. Power was provided by the Etude desk top amplifier and this was driving a pair of Raidho D-11 standmount speakers. This compact high end system sounded extremely transparent indeed.

Vertere were having a lot of fun with Dutch singer Elles Springs and her partner playing in their room followed by Miles Showell explaining how half speed vinyl mastering is done. But I they also had a new turntable, the least expensive Vertere yet is called the D Groove and is built on the same principles as the company’s bigger designs. Most radically it has a flat tonearm that’s suspended on titanium cords rather than conventional bearings. Price is £2,000 including arm.

Role Audio is a new brand to us, based in North Carolina its mission is to deliver big speaker sound from compact boxes. The Enterprise SE floorstander (£4,500) is only 140mm wide yet has separate transmission lines for each of its mid/bass drivers while the Discovery standmount is an infinite baffle design with the same D’appolito driver array for £1,300. The larger model sounded unusually coherent on the end of some Accuphase electronics.

Audiolab had its new entry level 6000 series in action dribing a pair of Wharfedale D-300 loudspeaker in a surprisingly entertaining £1,200 system. The 6000 CDT is an entry level CD transport for £380 while the 6000A is an integrated amplifier with onboard Sabre DAC and Bluetooth for £600. 

Jason Kennedy