Way out west, that’s where you need to be on the penultimate weekend in February every year. Head for the Marriot Hotel in Bristol and you will find it awash with sound systems and audio enthusiasts clamouring to hear them. That at least is the impression you get on the Friday morning of the show when the doors are first opened and the music lovers flock in. But with a bit of navigation it’s possible to get in and hear some pretty sweet sounds, especially if the exhibitors have the nouse to use turntables and small speakers – the key to appealing sound in small sonically unhelpful room.
And there were more turntables than ever this year thanks to the revival in vinyl’s fortunes that seems to have lasted longer than trend spotters expected. Technics have followed up their variations on the SL-1200 theme with a much more serious offering at a far more serious price. In the speaker universe the sale of Tannoy left a lot of unemployed experts twiddling their thumbs in Scotland, but this event revealed that they had been doing nothing of the sort. Naim showed the first signs of a high end streamer to go with their 500 series electronics and AVM unveiled its 30th anniversary entry level range outside of Germany for the first time. See part 2 for more on these and other stories.
Fyne Audio is what former Tannoy personnel have called their venture and very fine the range topping F1.10 (above) looks too. The Fyne team have have three ranges of loudspeakers starting with F300 (below) that includes floor- and standmount models priced from £180 alongside three subwoofers at £300 upwards. The F500 range incorporates what Fyne are calling Point Source drivers, which are not entirely dissimilar to Tannoy’s dual concentric designs with a tweeter in the middle of a midrange or mid/bass cone, these start at £600 for the F500 standmount with six inch driver. The F1 range only consists of the F1.10 at present but this is a fully Scottish built beast with 10inch Isoflare point source driver surrounding a 75mm compression driver tweeter with titanium dome. Price is £18,000.
One of the best sounding rooms at Bristol was also among the most ambitiously equipped. Front end consisted of a Kronos Sparta turntable (£20,000) with a Wand Master carbon fibre unipivot arm (£3,000) and Van den Hul’s Colibri Master Signature cartridge (c£7,000). The latter is a single pole moving coil with a Brazilian satinwood body and the new flagship in the range. With amplification from Audio Analogue and Eclipse TD712zMk2 single driver speakers it made me want to get the big Eclipses in for review.
I was pleasantly surprised to find iFi’s main man Thorsten Loesch at Bristol, he spends most of his time keeping things running smoothly at the company’s Chinese facility so it’s a rare site. He was keen to show me the beautiful xDSD portable DAC and headphone amp (below), this has Bluetooth, DSD512, 3D and Xbass features, offers 8 hours of playback from one charge and will retail for £399 in the near future. IFi have also finished their most ambitious DAC the Pro iDSD (above), compact but bristling with features it has JFET and tube outputs, two tube sound settings, network bride, USB and AES inputs. It uses FPGA filtering and upsampling with NOS, Bit Perfect+ and apodising filters and can convert PCM and DSD up to DSD1024. Which almost makes the £2,499 price seem cheap.
Melco have finalised two ancillary products to go with their excellent N1 audio servers, the E100 is a 3TB expansion drive that will also work with PC and Mac and runs HDDs in a heavy aluminium chassis with USB connections. The D100 is a CD loader for ripping discs to Melco servers.
Audio Technica has a new range topping headphone in the ATH-ADX5000, this has a substantial 58mm driver with a single piece coil and transducer built into a magnesium chassis. Earcups and band are covered in velvety Alcantara leather and the cable has A2DC coaxial connections on a quarter inch jack, balanced cable is an optional extra. Price has been set at £1,995.
If you’re looking for an easier entry to quality vinyl playback Rega’s P1 Plus (£328, above) has a built in Fono Mini phono stage and Carbon MM cartridge for instant plug and play joy with any amplifier. Those after a bargain should seek out one of the 500 Record Store Day (RSD) turntables (below) that Rega will have on sale from April 21st. This has the high gloss plinth from a P2, a new heavier melamine platter and components from a P1 for £265, only £15 more than a regular P1.
Klipsch once more has a UK distributor in Henley Designs who showed some retro styled pieces including HP-3 headphones (£1,300) and Heritage Headphone Amp (above) for £520. There were also some Forte (below) speakers at the show, one of the more manageable models in the range with horn loaded mid and treble in a 914mm high box with 99dB sensitivity, an easy load for tubes.
Roon has solved the dilemma faced by anyone who wants to use their impressive software but doesn’t want to keep a PC running 24/7. The Roon Nucleus is a compact core or gateway PC that runs the software and pulls together music collections from virtually anywhere on your network, price is £1,500.
Wireless active speakers from Dynaudio are getting more serious, the Xeo 20 standmount (£2,000) and Xeo 30 floorstander (£3,200) can receive 24/96 quality signal through the ether and have 65 Watt amplifiers for each drive unit alongside DSP crossovers. Equally useful is an external Connect box for regular sources like turntables and CDPs.
American speaker brand ELAC has bought, Peter Madnick’s recently revived digital brand Audio Alchemy and plans to integrate its multi box range into single box amps and DACs dubbed ELAC Alchemy. They had the current range driving a pair of Adante AS60 standmounts (£2,600) with a passive driver up front and a powered unit hidden within the box. They also showed the Miracord 70 turntable, which comes with an arm and cartridge for £1,000, less than half the price of the Miracord 90.
Kudos demonstrated the first standmount in their Titan range, the 505 (£6,700). This has a cunning port arrangement built into the base and the same constrained layer cabinet construction found in the bigger Titans with a big soft dome tweeter and isobaric bass loading via 6.5inch drivers back to back.
Chord Company took the time to demonstrate Transmission Fluid, a two stage cleaner and contact enhancing goo that they plan to launch in the coming months. It was as ever a convincing dem that made me want to try some of this stuff at home as soon as possible. What they actually have in production are ChordOhmic connectors, these are silver plated speaker cable terminations available in 4mm banana or spade varieties. Price is £8 per plug and Chord Co is keen to point out that these connectors can be used with any speaker cable.
Neat Acoustics’ Iota Alpha has spawned a bigger brother in the form of the Iota Xplorer. At £3,495 this is rather more ambitious with a pair of bass drivers firing downwards and arranged isobaric style. An AMT (air motion transformer) tweeter can be seen next to a 6.6inch mid/bass driver in a floorstanding enclosure that’s just 74cm high.
This was the first time I’ve seen Russell Kaufmann with his RussellK brand of speakers at Bristol, he was using the Red 150 floorstanders with T+A electronics and Tellurium Q cabling to produce one of the sweetest sounds at the show. Not seen is a new floorstander the Red 120 that we hope to get to hear in the near future.
Spendor have found the magic size for domestically acceptable loudspeakers and built the A7 to hit that spot. This slimline two-way has a fourth-generation linear flow port that MD Phil Swift suggests makes the speaker behave more like a sealed box. With its 6.5inch mid/bass and 22mm tweeter the A7 comes in at £2,995.
ATC took a room at Bristol for the first time in their forty plus year history, audio sales journeyman Dave Speirs encouraged the move and brought along an even rarer sight in the form of a Helius Alexia turntable (£4,464) with Omega Silver Ruby arm at the same price. ATC played this through their new CDA2 Mk2 CD player, DAC and preamp (£2,950) along with a pair of SCM40A active floorstanding speakers, a system that sounded rather good streaming Nils Frahm’s All Melody album from a Melco N1Z server.
In Wilson benesch’s expansive room they were having trouble with the server so using their Circle 25 turntable and ACT 25 arm with the new DS-Audio W2 optical cartridge from Japan and it’s substantial EQ box/phono stage, this sounded very good indeed via CH Precision amplification and Wb’s Resolution floorstanders loudspeakers playing Peter Broderick’s Grunewald.
See part 2 of Sound & Vision 2018 here