There was a distinct buzz on the first day of the Bristol show, it’s always lively but this year the energy was higher and, it turned out, people were here to do more than look and listen. Sales were up fifty per cent on last year and higher than they have been for over a decade, so either the audio enthusiasts of the South West have been winning the lottery or confidence is on the increase. The show was choc full of new kit, so much so that we have to accept that a day is not enough. We managed to find all the good stuff but it would have been nice to have had the time to listen a bit more. The Clarity award for best sound went to PMC where the mighty BB5 SEs showed people just what moving air is all about, the best sounding ‘real world’ system was in Chord Co’s dem room, where they played their new digital cables and made me want to buy all the music used. But enough rambling, on with the show.
The image above captures AJ van den Hul and Dutch chums Tonar Audio demonstrating an alternative use for inner sleeves. Photo courtesy Brent Fish.
It must be the stealth styling but somehow British company Innuos got to MkII with its Zen music servers before we noticed them. With USB out, prices from £1299 (2TB) and the ability to edit metadata with the tablet app this looks very interesting. There's an SSD version called Zenith with linear PSU for £1999 for 1TB.
Peter Madnick founded Audio Alchemy in 1990, four years later it folded, now the brand is back and has added the PPA-1 phono stage (£1,395) to the existing DAC/pre, PSU and two power amps.
Ifi has a Pro version of its iCAN headphone amp (£1,500), this has dual mono tube output stage, fully balanced operation, switchable tube or solid state power supply and a tube+ setting for extra tubeyness. A Stax module option is planned.
Melco has an anniversary N1Z music server with up to 2TB of SSD storage, refined electronics, an extra power supply and screened wiring at £7,000. However only 40 are to be made. They also have the N1ZH, a 2x3TB HDD version for a more approachable £3,500. There is also the N1ZS that can deliver Quad DSD via a software upgrade.
The Mission LX2 (£199) is speaker guru Karl Heinz Fink's first design for the company and the begining of the brand's attempt to revive its once legendary status. It sounded good too.
Vertere showed the first prototype of a modular support system and this turntable isolation base, it adjusts for weight and can isolate down to 1.5Hz. Price, availability and actual foot design have not been announced.
It might say Pulse IV on the box but this is a Leema Quasar (£3,000), a 200W integrated amplifier with built in DAC and wired/wireless streaming capability including Bluetooth, Spotify and Tidal will be added soon.
Bryston has cubed two of its most popular amps with better input stages and improved noise rejection, the 7B3 (£5,449) is a 600 Watt monblock and the 4B3 (£5,299) a 300 Watt stereo amp – see what they did there?
Neat has come up with a floorstanding version of its tiny Iota bookshelf, I say floorstanding but at 45cm high it's only just. The have a down firing bass driver and sealed top section, price and availability to be announced.
Chord Co's Nigel and Sally fight over the new Shawline and Epic cables announced at Bristol. The company is trying to simplify its range and now applies its ARAY technology in cables starting with the £100 Clearway. They demonstrated the best sounding sensible system at the event and the cables may well have had something to do with this, but the music was good too.