The Bristol Hi-Fi Show 2023 pt.1
The Bristol Hi-Fi Show 23 is the first of its kind since the pandemic. Run by retail chain Audio-T it has been running for as long as I’ve been involved in the industry, with my first visit back in 1989 when the hotel was a Holiday Inn and I was a fresh-faced reporter. This year some 170 brands were on display in a variety of rooms and static stands. While the big names walked away with the Show Awards for ‘best sound’, ‘best display’ and ‘most welcoming room’, personally I found the most melodious sounds to emanate from some of the more niche marques in the smaller, upstairs spaces.
Rega unveils range topping Naia record player
The story of the show has to be the first glimpse of Rega’s most ambitious production turntable ever. The Naia is virtually the same as the legendary Naiad (£30,000) but based on a carbon fibre skinned, foam cored graphene impregnated plinth similar in appearance to the P10. It has a zirconium toughened ceramic bearing, ceramic top and bottom braces, ceramic platter with improved flywheel effect and low mass skeletal feet. It will be sold with an RB Titanium tonearm with a one piece titanium vertical bearing housing, titanium vertical spindle and a tungsten balance weight and shaft (below). Price will be £9,200 or £12,000 with Aphelion 2 MC cartidge, Naia will be available in the autumn.
TT Hub bamboo turntable with Coppice X1
One of my favourite-sounding rooms was shared by Connected-fidelity and real-wood loudspeaker craftsmen Coppice Audio. It was a gorgeous combination as the solid-wood X1 standmount speaker was partnered with a pre-production version of Michael Osborn’s £3,900 TT Hub turntable with Sorane arm and Hana cartridge to delightful effect.
Built near Henley-on-Thames, the TT Hub has been three-years in the making. It is built in bamboo-ply, an incredibly strong material with very little resonance. The bearing is bronzed, while the 12V AC motor has a quartz-locked power supply with speed control. This is going to be an exciting product and due for launch around April.
Fyne brings little and large Vintage models
Dr Paul Mills showed two new models for Fyne Audio’s retro-styled Vintage line-up, the flagship Vintage Fifteen (£30,000) with the Scottish company’s largest (so far) 38cm Isoflare driver in a glorious real wood Basstrax ported cabinet with deep cryogenically-treated crossovers. Alongside was the new baby in the range, the Vintage Five standmount design with a 5-inch main driver. A Garrard 401 turntable in stunning granite plinth took centre stage between the transducers. A former research director at Tannoy, Dr Mills finally conceded to me that the dream of reclaiming the old company won’t ever be possible, despite a succession of rumours.
Moor Amps shows speaker at Bristol Hi-Fi shocker
One of the most exciting announcements for me was Moor Amps’ expansion into loudspeakers as the family-owned Devon company widens its portfolio. A pre-production sample of the new three-way floor-standing Angel Ascalon-8 was on show in stunning electric blue finish. Using Volt midrange dome and bass unit, special attention has been given to the heavily-braced 24mm birch-ply cabinets which have a carefully-tuned rear port that delivers tight controlled bass without overhang. Price for Tim Narramore’s first speaker is likely to be around £10,000 when it comes to market later this year. Another model for my bucket list.
Falcon’s LS3/5A alternative
I started in the uppermost exhibition rooms, on the fourth floor, where I found Falcon Acoustics. Here Jerry Bloomfield and designer Graeme Bridge were making delightful sounds with M10 bookshelf speaker. “Where’s the sub?” I ask, half in jest – such is the incredible bass response from this compact two-way that claims a usable response down to 30Hz
“We’re all out to re-create the classic British Sound, bringing back the 1970s”, Graeme explains as I wallow in the output of the £2,395 speaker which I feel I simply have to try in my own system. While it looks, from the front, like a ubiquitous LS3/5A, even down to the B110 mid/bass driver, the Italian-sourced cabinet is slightly deeper than that design and relies on a 1-inch soft-dome tweeter from SEAS, made to Falcon’s spec. Apart from the sound, I’m taken by the fact that everything, yes everything, about the product is 100% European, even down to the crossover capacitors which are sourced from Wales.
Rogers valve amps at Bristol Hi-Fi Show 23
Staying with classic British loudspeaker brands there was ‘hot’ amplifier news from Rogers who had the LS5/9 speakers creating a joyous sound at Bristol Hi-Fi Show 23. Here, on static display Andy Whittle had an early example of the new Rogers Cadet V Line tube integrated amplifier, alongside an original from the 1970s. Offering 5W of pure Class-A from single ended PCL86 valves, the weighty design features an aluminium chassis line with phono input option. It’s minimal with just three controls but what is novel is the ability to use either the [standard] 8 Ohm speaker outputs or the 15 Ohm ones which are ideal for use with Rogers’ LS3/5As. They’ve also now added this 15 Ohm option to the existing E20a amplifier.
Focal Vestia entry level floorstander
In a corridor seemingly packed with loudspeaker news, French giants Focal had my feet tapping with a value-for-money new speaker. The hand-made Vestia at £1,799 manages to eschew the French trait of excessive HF by using an M-shaped inverted dome tweeter. With front and rear ports moving considerable air, the Bristol Hi-Fi Show 23 audience was rightly impressed by this baby of the range. Another one I really need to try at home.
Kanto wireless desktop speaker
From Vancover, Kanto’s Brett Smalley had brought an array of intriguing bookshelf loudspeakers such as the £850 Tuk with its AMT tweeter and the £500 Yu Six with silk dome HF unit. Of special interest was a prototype of the new desktop design. Set to sell for around £350/pair it features Bluetooth, RCA and USB-C inputs alongside a sub-out. For its size and price, it’s clearly a proficient design.
Qualio shake the floor with high IQ at Bristol Hi-Fi Show 23
The floor was vibrating as I entered the Qualio room, such was the strength of the bass from their £5,000 IQ model. The Polish brand has placed a Mundorf AMT dipole unit as a super-tweeter (up to 31kHZ) and a full-range driver (running up to 15kHz) on an open baffle above the cabinet housing the 9.5-inch Satori bass unit promising output down to 28Hz. My tingling toes were testament to that being achieved. This design allows for user-adjustment of the crossover via a set of super-tweeter terminals on the rear allowing connection of various Mundorf copper-nickel resistors to ‘tweak’ the response curve ‘to taste’. Makes a change from DSP.
Leema Elements entry level streamer
It was hard to enter the packed Leema Acoustics room, such was the popularity of the Welsh designs which had made it to Bristol Hi-Fi Show 23. New products previewed included the Quantum series Electron CD player, Positron streamer, Neutron DAC/pre-amp and Graviton power amp. Meanwhile, the latest addition to the Elements range is a high-quality, space-saving streamer with high-performance DAC and USB drive playback. It’s Spotify Connect and Tidal integrated and relies on the streaming module from the Quasar amplifier.
Vivid brings custom car style to Bristol Hi-Fi Show 23
Vivid by name and vivid by nature in the case of the stunning-looking Kaya S12 compact speakers, named to reflect the diminutive 12-litre volume of air in the cabinet. To paraphrase Tom Wolfe the ‘Kandy-Kolored purple streamline baby’ looked stunning under the show lights. A two-way reflex design, the smallest Kaya starts at £6,000 (or £6,700 in the special finish) the matching tripod stands are £1,500, with wall brackets also available.
Central to the design is a long-throw driver and tapered tube-loaded tweeter common across the Vivid range. The injection moulded cabinet has an internal an omni diffuser, comprising ten exponential ports to ‘suck in’ the bass wave. Interestingly, the UK-made cabinets are shipped to South Africa for finishing.
Sennheiser HD660S2 headphones
Of the many headphones and soundbars demonstrated by Sennheiser, there was great interest in the latest addition for personal listening. The HD 660, now in Series 2 at £499, is an updated version of this popular open-backed headphone. Built in Ireland, it has 42mm dynamic drivers coupled with a 38mm diaphragm for claimed improved low-end performance with high-end quality, as well as classy-looking bronze accents on the logos.
Origin Live thousand cut turntables
It was sad to see the highly proficient but no-longer-made AVI DM10 active monitors in use by Origin Live at Bristol Hi-Fi Show 23. A subwoofer was also pressed into action to showcase the merits of the Voyager Sovereign-S turntable in its new Mark-V form (£8,300) featuring remodelled multi-layer platter and a new power supply. Alongside was a static example of the new Voyager at £24,000, and £3,700 Calypso with the same enhancements. The top surface of the new platter was developed empirically for months before the ‘thousand cut’ design (below) was arrived at, the idea is that vibration from the vinyl is controlled and dissipated rather than reflected as in conventional hard platters.
Triode tube power from Von Gaylord
A room I remember fondly from previous Bristol events was that of Von Gaylord Audio from Sacramento in California. This year they showed the Legend stand-mount loudspeakers (£4,500 pr) driven by Triode Mono amplifiers to create a highly-detailed and well-integrated presentation of a complex jazz track. The 70lb two-way bass-reflex speaker has triangular proportions and finished in a high-gloss mahogany. It has a claimed response down to 24Hz and was certainly filling the room with sumptuous bass notes. The 45W triode-mode valve amps, with self-adjusting auto-bias, feature hand-soldered point-to-point wiring and rely on 6550s and 6SN7 tubes.
Audio Note takes it to level 3
Audio Note UK chose to bring its Level-3 system to Bristol, placing ANJ / SPe loudspeakers characteristically in the room’s corners. A TT3 turntable (with Three/ii arm and IO 1 MC cartridge) provided an analogue source alongside a CDT3 CD transport and DAC 3.1x balanced converter. An M3 phono preamp was partnered with Conqueror Silver 300B stereo power amp for Daniel Qvortrup to present to the West Country audience.
Voxativ make an impression
Voxativ brought a distinctive system to Bristol Hi-Fi Show 23 with a single driver loudspeakers and, boy, did they create a sound to remember. The smaller Hagen horn-loaded monitor, with 5-inch driver and internal DSP, is sold as part of a €11,900 package which includes amp/streamer and cables. Stands are an optional extra. Driving these was an 11W, 211 triode valve amp. The larger 8-inch Ampeggio-X speakers (at £11,400) have been re-launched to mark the company’s tenth anniversary. Cabinets are made at a well-known piano factory and the incredible 110dB efficiency figure means they can be driven with very low power to create big sounds.
SCV match Triangle speakers with Manley valves
Triangle, the respected French loudspeaker company, was extremely well represented by its UK distributor SVC Distribution who handle a wealth of pro and hi-fi brands. I was particularly struck by the combination of Triangle’s Magellan 40th anniversary Cello loudspeakers with Manley valve electronics from California in the form of Snapper monoblocks power amps using EL34 tubes.
Another SCV room at Bristol Hi-Fi Show 23 was devoted to headphones as a discrete listening area with the full range of Meze Audio cans on demonstration. The flagship Elite, a planar with isodynamic drivers and closed-cups, were rather enjoyable.
See part 2 of our Bristol Hi-Fi Show 23 coverage here