We are in the more than fortunate position to professionally travel around the world and attend certain HiFi shows as an added bonus. At the end of 2004's audio show season, there are two major shows organized by magazines and one by a dealer organization. Let's check them out.

London calling! Via the ever-busy PR manager Lucette Nicoll [below], we get an invitation to attend the London Hi-Fi Show & AV Expo. Although the perfide Albion - as the French say - is only 40 minutes away, we have never before attended a British show. The timing is right and we book a flight and room in one of the two hotels housing the Heathrow event.

Arriving at Heathrow airport, we take a taxi to the Renaissance hotel. It appears Heathrow is a vast extended area with not only the airport but also a whole community around it. The lobby of the hotel looks like a construction site as many show exhibitors are still working hard to get their displays in order. The Renaissance is quite a large hotel built as a square. The Show occupies the lower ground floor, the ground floor and the first floor (that is second floor to those readers in the US).

Checking in to our room, we get a little claustrophobic. Okay, the room is clean and all amenities are present but the size is somewhat disappointing. We escape and
hit the bar to get something to eat and drink. On the way, we meet Lucette who hands us an invitation to the press breakfast where Ken Ishiwata will be speaking. After a good night's sleep, it's press day. At breakfast, Ken's speech is about the things the audio and video industry can learn from the watch industry. Before Swatch came to market, sales were down and general interest in watches was low. Then innovation and thinking outside the box saved the industry. That's what the audio industry needs to do as well. Ken has a point. Without innovation -- and it need not be pricey as Swatch shows -- there is no progress or future.

Ken himself is further proof. After his father and became real names in that industry, he started his career as a fashion photographer. But his heart was always with music and one day, he started his own little company making amplifiers. Business went well then collapsed, leaving Ken in substantial debt. Back to photography. After he had paid off dues and debts, Ken started at Marantz where he is now involved in almost all aspects of the company - marketing, product development and, let's not forget, his own signature series of components.

After breakfast, it was time for the rounds. The first noteworthy room encountered was the display of Dynavector. The company known for its pickup cartridges here introduces their new SuperStereo Adapter ADP-3. SuperStereo? Yeah, that's our reaction too. Not another sodding SuperWhatever, please - don't we have enough formats not to choose from? But SuperStereo is something else. Based on analog circuitry, SuperStereo adds a time-delayed signal to the stereo presentation. This extra signal is fed to two small auxiliary loudspeakers, here two Anthony Gallo Micro Nucleus. The ADP-3 has a built-in 2 x 24 watt amplifier and three settings to match the recording used.

The two sub-speakers as Dynavector calls them are placed in front of the listening position firing at the main speakers. There's no need for extensive setup precautions. With SuperStereo, there is no other sweet spot than with normal stereo. But the result is phenomenal. Every recording gets the idea of acting like a live recording. The frequency-dependent delays delivered by the small speakers simply add the ambient information that gives the auditor the illusion of a room other than the room she is in. SuperStereo definitely is something to look into further.

A little further along on our quest through the Renaissance Hotel, in search of remarkable auditive jewels, we bump into almost invisible loudspeakers. Furgusom Hill Studios present their FH001 loudspeaker with matching subwoofer. The FH001 is a transparent, elliptically shaped hornspeaker 1.65m high. Based on a stainless steel L-stand attached to the housing of a Lowther DX3 with phase plug, the clear cast Acrylic horn is almost invisible and here in the room provides the visitor an unhindered look at the inbound planes to the airport. An eerie sight. The Lowther's bass extension is good for only 150Hz, hence designer Tim Hill added a new subwoofer, the FH002. The sub is housed in a transparent acrylic ball and its 12-inch white cone matches the white of the mounting collar of the Lowther. At 98dB sensitivity, the horn is happy with just about any micro-power amplifier. That's the rationale for the bass amplifier FH003 - it delivers the requisite 100wpc of bass power to give the whole system a welcome foundation.

In the next room of interest, we spot Cadence Avita electrostatic hybrid loudspeakers and monoblocks fed from a VPI Masterscout [below left]. Here the view of incoming -- apparently directly into the room -- aircraft mingles with the enjoyment of vinyl. Cadence is made in Poona/India by an Indian-German cooperative. The two 845-based monoblocks aptly called Canasya –- delightful -- each are good for 200 watts to drive the Avitas into pure musical joy. The same Dutch distributor showed their in-house developed Okki-Nokki (?) record-cleaning machine. At 175 pound or 250 Euro, it’s a complete steal, US prices to be announced.

That shows can be stressful if equipment isn't cooperating was noticed in the Audiopax/Ecosse room [above right]. Their Meitner Philips CD player decided to stop after every 3 minutes of playing after which a hard reset (is it running on Windows?) brought the player back to life. This means a long night with the soldering iron. But when the player is doing its job, the European debut of the Audiopax Model 88/Audiopax REF100 combination makes music as always. Refined, effortless and purely musical. It is always a pleasure to meet with designer Eduardo de Lima and exchange new findings in musical software. With the interruptions caused by the player, we now have a chance to catch up talking music.

Though a static display at the show, Marantz is offering a new turntable, the TT15 [upper left]. Based on a ClearAudio design, this mainstream brand thus reenters the vinyl arena. Is this what Ken Ishiwata was pointing out over breakfast?

No doubt the largest demo room in this hotel is occupied by TacT. As during most shows, Peter Lyngdorf is completely in his element while DJ-ing [upper right]. Here the room is equipped with digital-only equipment: Digital front-end, digital room correction, digital amplification and to conclude the line, digital loudspeakers. The result? A very coherent and, above all, large soundstage. When large audio systems are demoed in a large room, the height information is often missing. Only the tallest of loudspeakers can handle this dimension as was aptly demonstrated here.

Transportation from one hotel to the next was via courtesy bus. The Park Inn hotel breathes a much more modern and open atmosphere than the Renaissance. What's acoustically satisfying is that the rooms here have higher and suspended ceilings. Accordingly, sound quality in all rooms here is much better than where we just were.