National Audio Show 2016

There weren’t so many rooms resonating with the sound of great music at Whittlebury this year, but the ones that were upped both the sound quality and musical diversity to make up for it. There was a strong emphasis on turntables with two new manufacturers making their debuts alongside a selection of new models from established brands. The whir of record cleaners could be heard all over the place as well, they didn’t sound so good but are a necessary evil. I heard a good variety of music as well, with relatively few audiophile favourites and plenty of new stuff, which is definitely a good sign.

Paul Beckett (above) finally unveiled the extraordinary Onkk Cue DD (top), the most radical new turntable in a long time. Its cast aluminium, curved chassis hides a proprietary direct drive system, speed adjustment in 1/100 of an RPM steps, all ceramic bearings and a pistonic suspension system. It will retail for £16,000 and was demonstrated with an Origin Live Conqueror 12inch arm, NVO SPA II phono stage, AudioNet amplifiers and Vivid Giya G3 speakers.

Code Acoustics showed a modular, active loudspeaker system with a DSP control module. The oak veneer, two box System One is £5,500 but I heard the 10 box System 2, Stage 4 in the lighter veneer with two control modules sounding totally effortless and very wideband, price has yet to be set.

Laurence Dickie, the designer of Vivid Audio loudspeakers, told visitors about the design and execution of the Giya range, which uses a composite sandwich cabinet and all his own drive units to deliver astonishingly transparent sound.

Italian digital specialist Aqua had its Formula DAC in action. This has an R2R ladder converter, valve and MOSFET output stage plus battery PSU for £10,500.

Long Dog Audio unveiled new kit in the form of the Quartz Regenerator turntable power supply (above) that kicks out 80 Watts, enough to drive a Garrard 401 and just about any other turntable for £895. The P6 (£7,500 pair, below)) is a monoblock power amp with a single pair of complimentary MOSFET output transistors producing 200 Watts, it sounded very interesting indeed.

Roksan showed its new Radius 7, based on the same chassis and arm as the previous model it has a new motor, suspension and various other upgrades for £1,900. The standard colour is green, but you can have it in the pink too if that takes your fancy.

Sound Fowndations may not be so good at spelling but they know a good omnidirectional speaker when they hear it. The Larsen range is designed for wall mounting and sounded rather good when I heard it in Poland last year. Prices start at £995 for the model 4 on the right.

The DS Audio DS Master 1 (£18,995) is the ultimate version of the Japanese company’s optical cartridge. The difference between this and the standard model lies largely in the equalisation and phono stage, this is fully dual mono and inhabits the substantial case seen behind the turntable.

Project showed its Primary, nearly the least expensive turntable it the range at £169 with an Ortofon OM5 cartridge and MDF platter. It’s shown spinning the Star Wars Force Awakens vinyl complete with holograms.

Music First has finished its first headphone amplifier. The Classic Headphone Preamplifier has an active headphone amp stage, uses Classic series transformers and has six inputs with a mutable main output. It retails for £2,400. Upstairs MFA used Quad amps and Graham LS5/9 speakers to produce some sweet sounds.

Hi-Fi Hangar had its preferred Eminent Technology LFT 8b floorstanding panels (£2,500)  and Atsah 500 Hypex based monoblocks making very pleasant sounds with the aid of a vintage Squeezebox streamer, Bereseford Caiman Mk2 DAC and passive pot volume control. Steve Ansell played the most interesting music of the show including Scroobius Pip’s Broken Promises and many more equally obscure but excellent tracks.

German Physiks demonstrated the HRS-130 (£11,900). This uses the DDD full range driver, a unique cone shaped device made from carbon fibre that operates in different modes to suit low, mid and high frequencies. The HRS-130 has a 10inch bass driver and octagonal cabinet. The clear device between the speakers is not to put spare change in apparently but is an Acustica Applicata Volcano bass trap/tuner.

Choice Hi-Fi brought along the rather impressive Analog Domain M75D integrated and M75P power amp, unusually high power amplifiers that use a variation on class G that delivers uncanny transparency. Prices reflect this at £18,650 and £16,990 respectively. They made very revealing noises courtesy of an SME Model 15 turntable and Estelon XC speakers.

Reloop is a DJ brand that has branched into regular turntables with the Turn3 at £349. This is an automatic, three speed, belt drive design with a cast alloy platter, onboard phono stage and USB output, so pretty much everything all the time.

Analogue Works made a sweet sound with a system consisting of the Zero turntable (£800) with a 10inch Jelco arm and Nagaoka MP150 cartridge, Wave Mechanic WM1 power supply (£795) and a Croft valve pre/power combo. Omega Speaker Systems Super Alnico Monitors (£2,000) provided the final link, these full range single driver speakers come from Connecticut and offer a valve friendly 96dB sensitivity.

New turntable brand Planalogue showed the Prelude with acrylic platter atop two stages of constrained layer damped birch ply and acrylic sandwich plinth. The standalone motor has a heavily damped enclosure and electronic power supply for ease of speed change, while the armboard is interchangeable, at £2,295 that looks like great value.

Kern & Smith brought their three strong range of transmission line speakers to the event. TL is pretty rare outside the PMC range so it’s good to see a new entrant to this underrated quarter of the speaker world. K&S differentiate themselves with ribbon tweeters. Prices start at £1,920 for the KS-100 standmount. Nice to see a vintage Pink Triangle turntable and Sony ES series preamp in their system too.

Michael Osborn of Air Audio couldn’t tell me much about Cove Audio cables except that they are all British built, have silver plated plugs and “sound great”, they cost £500 a pair. Air is also distributing the STS master tapes (below on Dave Denyer's lovely Technics 1500) from Holland, the catalogue includes Ben Webster and the Crimson Investigation.

AKG has a closed back version of its K812 at the top of the range, the K872 (£1,100) has a two layer voice coil, a high power magnet system and a number of features designed to enhance long term comfort and durability.

Arendal are from a town of the same name in Norway, they have developed a bass/mid driver and couple it with a SEAS tweeter in a Monitor (£1,400) and a Tower (£2,350). The Monitor was demonstrated atop a stand (£575) that gives it a standmount look and delivers a high energy, dynamic sound.