North West Audio Show pt.2

Living Voice took almost the same system to Cranage as they used at the Munich High End but had to cram it into a much smaller room, so there was one equipment rack topped by a Kuzma R turntable with a 12inch Kuzma 4-Point arm and CAR60 cartridge feeding SJS tube electronics (preamp, phono stage and single ended 300B power amplifier) with Living Voice OBX-RW loudspeakers. This was used to stun visitors with the uncompromising creations of Messrs Shostakovich, Pärt, Cage et al. The system’s ability to deliver substantial, not to say difficult, orchestral pieces in a convincing fashion was truly remarkable.

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Music First shared a room with EJ Jordan and launched the Reference V2 preamplifier. This marks a change from the existing transformer based Reference preamplifier by employing relays rather than a conventional potentiometer for volume control. As a result it offers no fewer than 60 one decibel steps and shows output level with a red or blue LED display, it even has remote control with a mute function. They had two sources to choose from, an Akai reel to reel from 1983 and laptop running through a Lampizator DAC with power amps from Longdog Audio.

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Manchester based retailer Brian & Trevors combined components from Linn (Booplinth LP12, Klimax DSM), Melco (N10), Moor Amps (Angel 6) and Kudos Super 20A to deliver a gripping sound especially when playing the Rolling Stones’ Stripped album. They also gave over half an hour each day to tape specialist Reel Resiliance who talked about how to keep an R2R tape recorder working well, using a Revox PR99 Mk2 (below) from 1990 as an example of the breed.

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Super Natural Audio demonstrated their valve DAC which runs a non-oversampling TDA1543 multibit converter chip and has a tube buffer stage and tube rectification which is uncommon even at the £5,000 asking price. Naturally it has an all tube output stage with EL34s combined with a variety of output tube options. Founder Danny Baty also makes an all tube preamplifier (on left) with a triode based output stage, Alps Blue Velvet volume pot as standard or a stepped attenuator as an optional extra, it uses components from Jantzen, Audio Note, Mundorf and Nichicon among other boutique brands and costs £2,500.

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Chris Liauw builds the Curvi transmission line speaker which has recently been upgraded to Mk2 status (£6,500), it retains the BMR driver and distinctive birch ply construction but the minimalist crossover is now in a new plinth which also has rather more attractive feet. Chris also launched a new brand Etude at Cranage, the first prototype is the Etude 5 which runs four 85mm BMR drivers augmented by a ring radiator tweeter and a pair of force cancelled 200mm bass drivers. As with Curvi the crossover is kept to the minimum and uses only three elements and no filtering for maximum immediacy, price will be £13,000 and I’m told that more conventional finishes are coming.

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Innuos demonstrated the difference between their new Pulse Mini and Pulse streamers via a Hegel and Kudos system using a Zen Mk3 server. The Zen Mini is £900 and includes a basic DAC while the bigger Pulse is £2,299 and has a rather more serious power supply. Both have rather nice underlighting to indicate power on status but that proved difficult to capture on ‘film’.

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Neat were giving the first demonstration of the new Petite Classic loudspeaker unveiled in Munich. This compact monitor was producing so much bass that you had to ask where the subwoofer was, inevitably there wasn’t one and while some of the rooms at Cranage are bass heavy this was still impressive. The Petite Classic (£1,995) sounded rather good with a ST200 streamer (£2,000) and IN300 amplifier (£2,500) from Atoll.

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Auralic were not the only company using ATC SCM40A speakers at Cranage, Vertere have discovered the benefit of this relatively compact yet powerful active loudspeaker and were driving it with an FM Acoustics preamplifier hooked up to their three most affordable turntables. I particularly enjoyed Gotta Serve Somebody from the Muscle Shoals: Small Town, Big Sound album on the MG-1 turntable (above) with a Mystic cartridge.

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Atoll distributor Replay Audio had a new compact monitor from Westbrook Audio. The Auricle Mk2 (£1,500) is a foot high and runs a six inch polypropylene main driver allied to a fabric dome tweeter so it could hardly be more conventional and yet the sound was quietly captivating on the end of an Atoll SDA2000 Signature streamer/amplifier, clearly the recipe is right.

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Lowther has risen phoenix like from three decades of relative slumber and is once more building complete loudspeakers. These include the classic TP2 corner horn (middle) as well as the rather less space hungry Almira floorstander (left). This is based on the Voigt quarter wave horn design and employs a horn tweeter alongside a Lowther DX3 full range driver to produce a 97dB sensitivity that was easily driven by a John Howes restored Leak Stereo 20 power amplifier. I’m told that Lowther plans to put a field coil driver into production soon and are working on rebuilding the legendary Hegeman Reproducer originally introduced in 1951. The Lowther badged electronics in the room are at the prototype stage thus far.

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Optical cartridge maker DS Audio has come up with the E5001 eccentricity detection stabilizer, a device which measures how far off centre a record is and allows it to be centred more precisely. At £5,500 this seems like a rather expensive toy for the vinyl maniac, at least it does until someone demonstrates it through a revealing system, proving that reducing eccentricity by a few hundred microns allows the record to sound dramatically better. Put it this way, I want one.

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Audio Detail had a big horn system to demonstrate the abilities of a new 300B push-pull amplifier (£8,000) that’s made in the UK, this helped to produce a great rendition of Riders on the Storm with the aid of an Amari LP32S turntable, Audio Detail’s 101D DHT phono stage and preamplifier with Horns Universum Mk3 loudspeakers.

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KEF demonstrated the new LS60 floorstanders that are remarkably slim and attractive considering how much power this active design can produce. This £6,000 wireless (well almost, it needs mains power) speaker has a sealed box and DSP control in one channel and 1,400W of Class AB and Class D power amplification.

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Newbriks renovate and update Linn Isobarik loudspeakers and put on a dem that left listeners in no doubt as to this venerable beast’s capabilities. They used classic olive series Naim amplification and a Linn LP12 to deliver building shaking bass that suggests there is no shortage of life left in this vintage speaker.

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You can rely on dealers to come up with unlikely combos that work. Phonostage Audio put together a nice system based around a Nottingham Analogue Hyperspace turntable and arm with Hana SH cartridge (£3,800) and Graham Slee’s Majestic Preamp and Proprius monoblocks (£2,500) with Graham LS6/f loudspeakers (£3,333) that gelled very nicely.

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Russ Andrews showed me the new versions of Kimber Kables’ oldest speaker cables, 4PR and 8PR. The new red and black versions feature Varistrand conductors, that is a variety of different diameter strands within each made of high purity, oxygen free copper and said to have “industry leading conductivity” and very low induction (a good thing). Prices start at £145 for a 2.5m pair of 4PR.