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|Formerly known as 'The London Hi Fidelity Show', its organisers the Chester Group described 'Audio World 2011' as a stepping stone to their National Audio Show held at Whittlebury which I reported on last year. By this definition it appeared I'd already tasted the main course and was belatedly about to sample the soup.
The Park Inn is situated in Heathrow, London and certainly couldn't be a more different venue from the picturesque Whittlebury where most visitors parked for free on the grounds or rather fields.
Here it was all barriers, parking ticket machines, keen-eyed wardens and a hefty charge before entering.
Once inside the corridors were full of exasperated exhibitors waiting to be let into their empty show rooms due to an extra charge being levied on anyone wanting to gain access before 7.00pm.
Exhibitors were also charged £10 or so for each chair they wanted to use so it's good to see that at least some businesses are able to make a healthy profit from audio in such a bleak economic climate.
This won't be an in-depth report by any means, more a toe-in-the-water vignette with pictures and notes of the more interesting rooms to inform you of what was on display rather than an attempt to pass judgment on the sonics.
Any rooms which played bass-heavy tracks at intolerable volumes were avoided as were those playing Diana Krall.
The near four-hour journey, work commitments and the predictably poor acoustic environment of a show equated to a less than soul-enriching audio experience. As with the Whittlebury Show my overriding impression was one of pity for the exhibitors who I imagine are stuck between a rock and hard place. They need to get their products out there for prospective customers but invariably the performance is severely hamstrung and the more discerning punter with a decent home system is going to leave distinctly unimpressed.
Good sound seems to be the preserve of show-hardened exhibitors who know in advance what conditions to expect and which components—most importantly which speakers—will work. Speaker manufacturers who had a new floorstander to exhibit obviously didn't have any wriggle room unless they could procure one of the larger business center rooms (of which there were only half a dozen or so). They had to make do and perhaps stay clear of LF-heavy tracks. At Whittlebury there had been far too many mismatches of large speakers to small rooms and visa versa but this was less evident here, possibly because there were far fewer exhibitors. One problem quite noticeable was the willingness of the polystyrene ceiling tiles to sing along at certain frequencies. The syndicate rooms also had large loose-fitting sliding glass windows a good few inches in from the outer double-glazed units.
The more savvy discovered these could be removed but the majority were left in and their contribution to the general room malaise wouldn't have done any favors to the exhibitors' cause.
The Right Note: Vertex AQ Aletheia DAC-1 (£11.500) utilizing the Philips TDA1543 16-bit chip with no oversampling, no software or hardware noise shaping or filtering.
Accustic Arts Drive 2 Reference CD Transport (£7.200),
Kaiser Kawero Vivace 3-way (£22.360 - £30.444) and
Storm Audio V55 Vertigo amp (£3.600).
I'm a sucker for the older Philips chips and this system had a very nice sound with excellent imaging in one of the larger rooms although it was playing far too loud.
The crossover pictured is the optional supreme crossover with VertexAQ technology.
LW Audio: Stereoknight amps (no brochures on these), Reference 3.5 Anthony Gallo Acoustic speakers. This exhibitor was just not playing loud enough to create a realistic reproduction and didn't keep my attention for longer than "Life in the fast lane" by The Eagles. This was a shame really as it could have been interesting and wasn't doing anything obviously wrong I could discern.
Sound Foundations: A very good and impressive IsoTek demo of their new Syncro power cable. Compared to their own Sigma cord the Syncro instantly demonstrated less congestion, more air, separation and the usual improvements I'm sure we've all experienced when upgrading components.
Of course it is possible to weigh such demonstrations one way or the other so whether this obvious improvement could be replicated outside the demo room isn't guaranteed. However I'm sure existing owners of the Sigma will be doing the same comparison when they upgrade from Sigma to Syncro and I'm quite confident that the demo was kosher. I'll certainly be looking at testing a Syncro (£875) some time in the future.
From the brochure, “IsoTek's Syncro is much more than IsoTek's top-of-the-line power cable. It also incorporates innovative electronics designed to tackle the increasingly prevalent issue of DC on the mains. Syncro 'synchronises' the mains supply in order to deliver a perfectly symmetrical sine wave......”
JoSound: Some beautiful woodwork was on display in this room - or so you'd think until a quick perusal of the literature reveals the cabinetry to be constructed of solid bamboo which strictly speaking is a grass.
As a sustainable resource bamboo has no peer. Full maturity is reached in five years. It is self regenerating and no replanting is required. Kudos to JoSound whose carbon footprint must be smaller than an ant's. As used in the Curvi speakers I reviewed previously, these almost full-range Jordan drivers have strengths which are well suited to some musical genres though not to others. The bass-shy demo guys could be confident of a warm reception for the choral music on tap. There's certainly no crossover like no crossover.
The single driver speakers photographed are the 45/1s at £3.995, the triple driver (all operating fullrange) the 45/3s at £5.995.
AngelSound Audio: AMR LS-77 reference class professional monitors (£10.995),
Dr. Feickert Analogue turntable,
AMR PH-77 phono stage, VTL 120 in triode. This had nice and crisp sound and the bass did not overwhelm in a larger room.
Voxativ Ampeggio: Ampeggio loudspeakers by Voxativ and Schimmel Pianos showing again with Trafomatic Audio Experience Two 300B integrated a they did at three prior Euro shows recently.
I really liked the sound here. It was very detailed, dynamic and realistic. Again the volume was too high for me but understandable to some degree as the sound from a neighbouring room was quite invasive.
Detailed layered bass.
The full-range AC-3X driver is built in house and rated at 101db/1W/1 m. Frequency response is given as 38-20.000 Hz, power handling up to 50-watt sine wave and weight at 121 lbs or 55Kg.
As someone who works in the automotive paint finishing industry, I can only doff my cap in admiration at the 13-stage polished lacquered finish that Schimmel's craftsmen apply and then seal.
Deco Audio: Audio Note AN-E HE speakers (£5.400).
The AN-E sound is familiar to me although my Silver Signatures have a 'bigger' sound and more going on but for 5 x the price of these they should and I was happy to sit in this room for longer than most.
KOG Audio: Focal Electra Be 1028 (£4.769),
Densen B-420 CD player (£1.850),
Densen B-410 CD player (£1.350),
Densen B-150 integrated (£3.400),
Densen B-110 integrated (£1.350). As relatively affordable systems go this was quite entertaining with plenty of detail that wasn't at all 'in yer face' or aggressive. Very nice rasp to saxophone too.
Not quite the weight or authority of the bigger Electras with megawatt amps but I enjoyed this system and the Focals did seem to be quite a lot of speaker for the money.
Kronos AV: Focal Utopia Viva LCR (£7.699 or £8.358 with stand),
Townsend Rock 7 turntable (£1.750), dcS Puccini CD/SACD player,
dcS DAC, VTL pre with phono,
VTL Power 150. This was weighty sound with subtlety but despite the Utopia range being able to do so much very right I always suffer a certain detachment from the music after prolonged listening. I'd need an even more prolonged listening session to put my finger on why.
The Puccini CD player is very interesting. According to the brochure it can upsample CDs to DSD whilst playing SACDs in their native form. Having never been in the least 'bit' impressed by SACD this isn't something I'd be attracted to but for SACD enthusiasts—I know at least two—who bemoan the lack of SACD titles yet eulogise over DSD, this could be worth investigating.
Emporium Hi-Fi/Funk: Lector CDP 7TL mk3 tube player (from £2.600 to £3.600),
Vandersteen Quatro wood speakers time-and-phase corrected and full range; Funk Firm Saffire with FXR '11' arm;
Ant Kora Reference;
Viva New Linar preamp (£13.000), Viva
Solista 4 x 845, 6 x 6NT transformer input-coupled power amp (£10.000).
This was nice smooth 'woody' organic sound.
Pictured in the corridor is a hand-made 1930's paper cone looking like Gandalf the Great's hat.
Revolver/ Audion International: Revolver Cygnis Gold speakers (£13.995),
Audion Golden Dream Level 8 amp,
Audion Quattro 2-box preamp,
Audio Note CD1 Zero,
Audio Note DAC1 Signature. This too-small room had smooth vocals and with decent bass behaved itself, imaged well and showed a nice midrange.
As emphasized by their brochure, these speakers are a 'true' three-way design incorporating two separate cabinets, one the 117-liter MDF bass bin, the other a midrange/tweeter resin-laminated affair with angled baffle for correct time alignment.
Daedalus Audio/First Sound/Modwright: Daedalus Audio Rma speakers ($6.450/pr, all poly crossover option adds $1.550),
First Sound valved preamp,
world premiere of Modwright KW150 Special Edition class A/B amp which sounded quite valve-like or at least Class A with a fluid midrange. Liked it.
I'm well acquainted with the AMR CD-77 and an extended listening session later in the evening suggested that the First Sound valved preamp and Modwright amp were a very nice pairing given the environmental restrictions. Definitely both are candidates for future reviews although I didn't enquire about this on the day.
Soundlocation: iPod + Wadia 1 series dock + DAC;
Eclipse TD307 II Series speakers (£148.08 each in white, black or silver). This was
a nice little system. Changing power cables the same track with no alteration of volume had one particular roof tile which had quietly sat through the first recital misbehave quite badly to not resist buzzing during the lower registers. It was no surprise that the diminutive Eclipses couldn't exactly make any trousers flap. As far as desktop systems go though this looked great and sounded decent enough.
Music First Audio (room one): Nottingham SME Spacedeck;
MFA moving-coil stepup transformer,
TVC preamp in copper version 2,
phonostage with 2 x 6SL and 2 x 6SN7 from the 1940s plus EZ80-based PSU; refurbished
A cracking analogue source through Quads via the ultra-transparent TVC preamp had me wanting to give the speakers a big cuddle.
Music First Audio (room two): Quad IIs modified by Howes Acoustics,
Howes quarter-wave loudspeakers. The speakers are designed for corner placement with a bass vent at the bottom and mid and treble reflected into the room by a half-cone deflector. Drive units are Lowther PM6A, PM7A or DX2. You wouldn't expect these speakers to image with the best and you'd be right but I've never regarded imaging as being of such great importance so the relaxed ethereal presentation of the Howes got a big thumbs-up and of course the Quad II's contribution shouldn't be ignored.
Art Audio: Conductor 30wpc 211 SET, Conductor preamp,
Conductor 300B stereo SET,
PS Audio PerfectWave transport and DAC,
PS Audio PowerPlant Premium,
ARS Aures Audio speakers. This was quite a nice sweet sound but lacked slam as could probably be expected. At 89dB the speakers were sensitive enough to play at decent volumes fed from single valves but were not exactly ideally suited to impress lower down.
AMR/Select Audio: AMR-77.1 CD player (£7.295),
AMR DP-777 DAC (£3.295),
Pass Labs XP-20 preamplifier (£7.695),
Pass Labs XA60.5 class A mono amplifiers,
Verity Audio Amadis Speakers (£24.995),
Vibex VF8R power filter block with DC power filtering (£1.695),
Harmonix Speaker cables,
Basis Audio and AMR interconnects;
Basis Audio, Harmonix and AMR mains cables. The fact that I was guest of AMR/Select Audio means I feel a little uneasy stating that this system managed to sound very good indeed again considering the conditions. Stephen Riddick of Select Audio simply is an old hand when it comes to exhibiting and has a much larger choice of components than most from which to build a suitable show system.
The new AMR DP-777 DAC impressed when paired with a laptop to play hi-rez files, the laptop having been purchased purely for that purpose with no other programs installed to degrade performance.
Audio Works: On display was the MusicWorks ReVo equipment support which was as transparent as we'd all like our components to be. So were the speaker stands.
For the standard 35cm deep 3-tier unit in 15mm acrylic expect to pay £1.250 as you would for the 46cm deep unit.
For a kit to add a half-height shelf midway between the standard shelves you'll have to hand over £290. And that's it for my show impressions.