Since its launch four years ago, the Bath Audiofest has grown to become one of the highlights of the high-end audio industry’s calendar. Organised by Ivan Kursar (above) of high-end audio specialist Cool Gales, it’s an opportunity for customers to meet the select group of high-end manufacturers that Cool Gales represents. Held across two venues just 100 metres apart, the Audiofest plays host to around 20 manufacturers in bright and airy demonstration rooms with excellent acoustics. Complimentary tea and very decent coffee together with a selection of cakes, pastries and sandwiches (no one told me there would be free cake! Ed.) are provided to keep hunger at bay, so that full attention can be directed to the delicious sounds on offer.
Paul Morris of Hannl with his record cleaners
The York Room was host to Peter Dawson of Ambergreen Records and Paul Morris of Hannl, who together gave show goers the opportunity to choose from a wide selection of collectable vinyl LPs, and then get them cleaned on the excellent Hannl record cleaning machines – ready to be played on one of the many exotic turntables at the show.
Leema Libra DAC
In the Dining Room, Leema Acoustics’ founders Lee Taylor and Mallory Nicholls demonstrated the Libra digital-to-analogue convertor (£5,995). The Libra, launched in early 2013, has recently been upgraded to include native DSD playback up to DSD 128, as well as PCM playback up to 24/384. Also in the Leema room, a Brinkmann turntable fitted with Triplanar arm and Soundsmith cartridge provided a superb analogue source for the Leema Elements Ultra Phonostage (£1,195).
Scheu Analog Cello Classic Line Timbre with Tacco tonearm
Scheu Analog, Thomas Mayer amps and Audioarum LaGrande speakers, stand by Tabula Rasa
Scheu Analog & Thomas Mayer
The Norfolk Room was next on my agenda. Putting on one of the best sounds of the show, Ulla Scheu and Thomas Mayer were on hand to show off their impressive ranges. Two Scheu turntables were on static display with a third turntable, the Cello Classic Line Timbre (above, £2,000), positioned on a Tabula Rasa Basis 600 stand (£1,510) playing into a superb amplifier system which showcased Thomas Mayer’s exquisite valve amps. The new Octal Phono (£2,900) and Octal Line (£2,900) preamplifiers were feeding the 6CB5A SE amplifier. Thomas Mayer amplifiers are hand-built objects of desire using NOS valves to create a magical musicality.
Aesthetix electronics and Sonus faber Amati Futura speaker
Clearaudio, Aesthetix & Sonus faber
The largest room in the Bath & County Club, the Lounge, hosted an impressive system fronted by the sculptural magnificence of the Clearaudio Master Innovation turntable (£14,500), complete with Universal 12” tonearm (£3,770) and daVinci v2 MC cartridge. Amplification was by Californian high-end artisans Aesthetix, the two-box 24-valve Io Eclipse phono stage (£17,850) extracting an incredible amount of detail in the most musical manner imaginable and feeding the new Atlas Signature stereo amplifier (£10,250). Digital playback was available courtesy of the Aesthetix Romulus CD player (£6,900) and the loudspeakers were Sonus Faber’s Amati Futura (£20,995) which sounded as good as they looked – and they looked really good! Furutech’s Flux series cabling may have had something to do with this.
Also in this room was a beautiful piece of Tabula Rasa hi-fi furniture: the Lowboard 06 (£1,920). In total, three of the rooms at the show used Tabula Rasa supports and this room showed why. Tabula Rasa is a German audiophile furniture manufacturer who makes supports constructed in solid hardwoods (no glass, steel or MDF shelves here). The Lowboard 06, was crafted from solid maple and smoked oak. Nice!
Amazon 1 turtnable with Mørch DP-8 tonearm
Gamut & Amazon
In the Duncan Room, Audio Reference’s Martin Brewster demonstrated a superb Gamut system, including the M250i mono power amplifiers (£14,500 pair) and RS3 stand mount loudspeakers (from £10,300). Another turntable was in use here (on yet another Tabula Rasa stand): Amazon Audio’s Amazon 1 (£4,760), fitted with a Mørch DP-8 tonearm (£3,600) and Transfiguration Proteus cartridge (£3,750). The phono stage was Amazon Audio’s B-Lab (£4,975).
Eclipse, CAD & Chord Co
Two further rooms, the Murch and Lonsdale rooms both used the unusual Eclipse TD712z mk2 loudspeakers (£6,495). These Japanese single drive unit stand mount speakers look highly futuristic and sound like nothing else. With impressive bass output from a small drive unit, the single drive unit Eclipse TDs excel at coherence and utter believability of sound. It’s almost impossible not to get entirely drawn into the music emanating from these speakers.
In one room, Eclipse’s Hideto Watanabe and Paul Burnip were enthralling the audience using an Esoteric all-in-one system to show just how good an easy-to-accommodate system could sound. The second Eclipse-based room featured Computer Audio Design’s (CAD) 1543 digital-to-analogue convertor (£6,900), Gamut amplification and The Chord Company’s top-of-the-range Sarum Tuned Array cables. The charming Scott Berry and Isabel Whitley of CAD and Nigel Finn of The Chord Company were pleased to answer questions and demonstrate just how good digital audio can sound.
The first thing that struck me about the Audiofest was what an analogue-friendly operation the show’s organizer, Cool Gales, is. More than half of the systems featured used vinyl sources. Add to that a vinyl LP store and a record cleaning service, and this really was analogue heaven! This was an entirely charming and enjoyable event. It was very friendly and welcoming and there was no feeling of being sold to. It was also excellent value: entry was just £3, including free refreshments, and all proceeds were in aid of The Musicians' Benevolent Fund charity. A welcome contrast to high-pressure sales-driven events. I’m very much looking forward to next year’s show.
By David Denyer
David provides public relations services for Audio Reference, Aesthetix, Furutech, Clearaudio and Gamut among others.