Abyss Headphones is a US company with a rock’n’roll take on the panel headphone. The AB-1266 is a substantial, black, leather clad headphone with planar magnetic transducers ostensibly akin to those found in Magneplanar speakers, these sit in a steel and aluminium case with lambskin ear pads. Width adjustment is by a large bolt in the top band and the Abyss comes complete with a “heavy leather man bag style carry case” that looks as if it were designed to fit on a Harley Davidson. Pricing is somewhat Californian at £4,254. The Cavalli LAU amp being used for dem comes in at £4,995 and the sound they made together was both revealing and comfortable, not sure how well it would work on the back of a hog though.
Gamut has replaced its El Superiore S3 standmount with a version dubbed RS3 (£12,000 in black) of the same proportions and driver array. The changes apply to the cabinet, which has become 32mm alternating grain plywood instead of solid wood over MDF. The Wormhole Signature internal cabling has also been doubled but for the return path to lower resistance. A move which has apparently reduced the need for internal damping in the cabinet. The RS revisions have also been applied to the S5 and S7.
Gamut Phi 5 Mk2
Gamut’s stylish Phi range has also been revitalised with bi-directional ply cabinets and crossovers that have been tuned for best impulse response rather than maximum flatness of frequency response. Gamut has also modified the Scanspeak cones with an oil treatment that they claim has multiple benefits. The Phi 5 Mk2 is £2,850.
One of the better sounding and more affordable systems I heard at Whittlebury was that put together by local retailer Hi-Fi Lounge. They had combined a Bryston BPD2 with SSD drive (£3,200) with Heed electronics in the form of the da DAC (£1,300), si integrated amp (£1,290) and x2 power supply (£730). These were playing through PMC twenty.23 floorstanders (£2,300) with Atlas Mavros cables and Hi-Fi Racks supports completing the system. This made a very engaging sound thanks to decent timing and clean, open mids and highs, a good result for a cavernous room.
Recording Engineer Mike Valentine impressed me last year with his Chasing the Dragon recordings and this year he went one further by putting on an illustrated lecture and demonstrating the effects of different recording formats and techniques. He had a pair of Focal Scala V2 Utopia speakers, Soulution amplifiers and both a Nagra D HDD recorder and a substantial Studer reel to reel playing half-inch tape at 30 IPS. The latter sounded glorious with his original recordings but it has to be said that the Nagra was not far behind.
Music First didn’t have anything brand new to show so they made some beer mats, that’s my kind of marketing. They had brought along an almost modest system to demonstrate the fact that you don’t need fancy components to get a good result, but the use of a Revox B77 playing MP4s downloaded from iTunes does border on the perverse. This went through MF’s Baby Reference (£6,000), a vintage Quad 306 power amp, some ‘cheapo’ speaker cable and a pair of Audio Note Type K speakers. This ensemble made a most enjoyable sound with Buddy Holly among others.
Icon Stereo 845 PP
Icon Audio had restricted themselves to three pairs of speakers this year which might well have helped the sound they were getting with a new integrated, the only integrated of its kind according to Icon’s David Shaw. The 845 PP runs a pair of the big triodes per channel with a valve rectifier for the driver stage, the volume control is passive and output 40 watts a side, price is £6,000. Icon also showed the PS3 MkII, a two-box all valve phono stage with onboard step-up transformers, valve rectified and regulated power supply and point to point wiring in PTFE insulated silver plated cable. It’s an all triode design with passive RIAA and has stereo/mono switching, price is £2,099 for the MM/MC version.
Alacrity Audio Caterthun-8
Alacrity were playing the Caterthun-8, a larger version of the Classic that launched the company. The classic styling continues in a higher power handling (200 watt) design with a quoted sensitivity of 90dB and minimum impedance of 8 Ohms in a 450mm (18inch) high box. The main driver is an 8inch pleated paper type allied to a 20mm soft dome tweeter. Apparently there’s a ‘pseudo horn’ in there somewhere as well but I didn’t spot it, price is £3,500 per pair.
Vinyl vs cassette
I was amused to find one particularly unusual demonstration going on at Whittlebury. A turntable company that shall remain nameless (not the Classic Turntable Co. which produced the Garrard 301 above) had two decks in its system and a stack of vinyl including the sleeve of the album being played on display, yet there was no vinyl on either turntable. The source of the sound turned out to be a cassette deck! When I asked about this I was told that the album in question was out of print and playing it all day would wear it out…