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Bristol Sound & Vision Show 2015

Bristol Sound & Vision Show 2015

The Bristol Show (more formally, The Sound & Vision Show) runs at the tail end of February at the Marriott City Centre hotel near Bristol’s Cabot Circus development. Now in its 27th year, the show has seen audio eclipsed by home theatre, only to return to a position of dominance. It has seen a market eroded by iDevices and smartphones, only to claw back with headphones. Now, it’s seeing audio begin to regroup, thanks to the vinyl revival, streaming, and wireless connections to phones.

Bristol has become the largest show on the UK calendar; the National Audio Show may be more oriented to high-end audio, but Bristol has become something of a bell-weather, allowing us to gauge the enthusiasm real-world customers have toward today’s audio equipment. And judging by this year’s show, the ‘buzz’ is returning. This show has a distinct price ceiling – except for a few notable exceptions, most audio equipment at the show is in the hundreds or low thousands of pounds level – and much can be ordered at a discount at the show itself, which makes for a more immediate ‘tell’ on the success of a product.

It’s also perfectly timed to show products seen at CES for the first time in Europe, several months before the Munich High-End Show. However, it has also become a showcase for new products in its own right, especially from UK manufacturers wanting to give the home audience an advance preview of upcoming products.

 

Arcam took an ‘it’s all good’ approach to music replay in its demonstrations, demonstrating its new £1,500 A39 Class G integrated amplifier alongside the £800 SACD/CD/streaming CDS27 launched last year. This allows users who are in transition from disc-based to streaming/networked music to have their cake and eat it. Which is kind of the point of cake, when you think about it!

Auden Distribution was showing the excellent digital streaming Aria range. The company ‘s top £3,800 Aria was playing through a Young DAC, Albarry mono, and Amphion loudspeaker system, while the new £2,300 was playing direct to Burson electronics and yet another pair of Amphions. We’ll be looking at the Aria very soon…

Audio Note is a consistent show-goer. The brand always has a strong presence. This year, the company played its ‘latest’ products – although neither the £660 new arm or £30,000 Tomei ‘ongaku light’ integrated amp are that new. Nice sound, though.

Booplinth is a clever new replacement plinth for the evergreen Linn LP12. A rich aftermarket of luxury plinths for the 42 year old design have arisen over the years, but the £1,650 Booplinth is the first made entirely of solid bamboo laminate, free from glues, screws, or clamps. The plinth – made by Quadraspire (itself celebrating 20 years in business with the launch of brass upgrade parts and its new £1,000 per tier X-Reference bamboo shelf) – was on demonstration, compared to an otherwise identical LP12 with standard plinth. The difference was marked. Booplinth is only available from the Booplinth site, or through the Manchester-based Brian and Trevors store (Brian and Trevor being the originators of the Booplinth),

Chord Electronics is on a roll. Following in the wake of the mighty Hugo, the company has addressed comments raised by making a desktop version, the £2,995 Hugo TT and a Hugo in a Chordette box, the £995 2Qute (both first seen at CES). However, the new £6,995 CPM 2800 MkII ‘digital’ amplifier, which can offer up to DSD 128 on its USB input, and features the same Spartan 6 FGPA seen in the Hugo.

 

Creek Audio has been absent from Bristol for a few years, but it returned with style thanks to its new £1,500 120W Class G Evolution 100A amplifier, complete with AMBIT tuner and Ruby DAC plug in modules. Creek stablemate Epos also announced active amplifier modules for its range. More on that later…

Cyrus showed its new £1,750 per channel Stereo 200 ‘hybrid’ stereo amplifier, which combines Class D power with its own Speaker Impedance Detection circuit, to ensure the amp and loudspeaker are always speaking the same language. This allows Cyrus to deliver a healthy 200W per channel from the popular Cyrus half-width ‘singing shoebox’ design.

Based in Derby in the midlands of England, Enotem is a bold new start-up with a bold new concept called Plato. This combination Android-based streamer/ripper/storage/DAC/preamp/power amp is equally at home with music and video files, will play anything up to 24/192 precision, can even rip Blu-ray, and includes a 2TB hard drive. Price to be confirmed, but expect something in the £2,000-£3,000 mark for the full device.

The Melco ‘computer audio without the computer’ source has been shown before, although at the show it was appearing in a number of demonstrations with great success. However, the company distributing Melco was also showing its new £2,100 Exogal Comet, a fully upgradable, open architecture DAC designed by Jim Kinne; better known for the Wadia 27 Decoding Computer.

Exposure showed a new version of its popular 3010 preamp. The new 3010 S2D preamplifier adds a built in digital converter that can accept both coaxial and USB inputs, and yet the price remains keen at £1,060. Matching mono amps remain unchanged at £1,900 per pair. Also on show but not playing was the £1,700 integrated amp from the same family. The DAC board is a dealer-fit device, for £325.

Furutech’s side brand Alpha Design Labs has announced an ‘alpha’ version of its hugely popular GT40. Combining DAC, phono stage, ADC for recording, and headphone amp, the £395 ADL GT40 alpha now samples to 24/192 precision, and includes a light to show when a recording is clipping. Clever, smart, small, and cool… what more do you need?

 

The show has a very strong local following, with lots of British brands getting a lot of attention, but there are notable exceptions. This year, Hegel was one of the international newcomers, showing virtually the whole range, playing from a MacBook Air, and an iPhone, into a pair of the new white-finish KEF LS50 via lots of Nordost Blue Heaven cable. Anders from Hegel has a remarkably laid-back presentation that wins friends quickly, playing whatever the audience wants, even if it’s not the usual order of things. You want to hear a DAC straight to a power amp… no problems! It helps that the sound was damn good through every configuration, of course.

IsoTek always puts on a highly successful show, and this year was demonstrating with GamuT electronics and loudspeakers. The company’s range of power products were making big changes to sound as usual, and this year saw the launch of the new £325 EVO3 Venus mains conditioner, a part of the company’s entry level discovery range.

One of the most consistent product range at the show, Moon electronics were springing up in several rooms. Quietly turning out great sound, the products are proving exceptionally popular among big-hitter loudspeaker companies, because Moon consistently makes loudspeakers sound good. This 35 year old company was used to great effect in the Nordost room, once more just getting out of the way to let the demonstrations speak for themselves. I had thought I had photographed the new 430HA headphone amp, playing the equally new Heimdall headphone cables, but this is pretty cool and very tidy in its own right…

Music First Audio is best known for its passive magnetic preamplifiers and step-up transformers. However, it recently teamed up with Nick Gorham of Longdog Audio, to develop its two-box, shunt-regulated, valve based MM Reference phono amplifier. With inductive passive EQ wound by MFA, this £10,000 dual mono phono preamplifier was one of the stars of the show.

 

Naim Audio showed its brand new NAC-N 272 streaming preamplifier, one of the stars of the show. Members of the press were given a look and listen to this networked audio, DSD-compatible, upgradable £3,300 preamplifier prior to the Bristol Show, but it was playing to the general public through a suitably compatible system, ending in Focal loudspeakers. This is a product that offers a lot, both for future Naim upgraders, wanting the convenience of something like a SuperUniti with the added power options of a combination, and for those wanting to upgrade a preamp and add streaming without extra boxes. It also offers the promise of DSD support coming to other Naim streaming devices. Possibly even existing Naim devices. Naim had several official stands and rooms at the show, demonstrating everything from the new mu-so right up to the mighty Statement.

Onkyo announced a new direct drive turntable, the £399 CP-1050. First shown at CES, this cool-retro design features an aluminium S-shaped arm with detachable headshell, and adjustable feet, the new deck will be sold as a complete package with MM cartridge. Only available in black, the CP-1050 has shades of classic Thorens about the design.

Pristine Vinyl Ltd is a new company with a whole new product in prototype form. The ViVac RCS1 (pictured above – £1,795) is a record cleaning machine with a difference or two. It uses the wet/dry cleaning system most commonly associated with Keith Monks models, but manages to make the cleaner look elegant enough to stay in the same room as the record player, and not sound like a motor launch. The idea being if it looks good, sounds good and isn’t too complex to use and clean, you’ll clean more records. The ViVac RCS2 (pictured below – £1,995).

The £1,050 Pro-Ject 2 Xperience SB turntable, sold as a complete package with carbon-fibre Evolution arm and an Ortofon 2M Silver cartridge was first seen in prototype form at CES, but was part of a group of rooms by Pro-Ject distributor Henley Designs. Pro-Ject’s turntables are flying off the shelves at this time, and with an improved speed control, better arm, and lovely finish, it’s not hard to see why with decks like this.

Quad announced its next range at the show. Coming at the end of the year, the new Artera range will feature at first the £1,500 CDP CD player/preamp, with a USB and analogue inputs, and balanced outputs, and a matching Power 140W current-dumping power amplifier for the same price. These will be followed by the all-in-one Artera One streamer for around £2,000 and an Artera Play standalone streamer, at a price yet to be confirmed.

A limited run of 500 Rega RP1 turntables with the company’s Carbon cartridge will be sold especially to celebrate Record Store Day in mid April. These £239 turntables are fitted out in special livery for the event. Apparently more than half are already sold, so get your order in quickly. There will be more on Rega’s new loudspeakers soon.

 

Sound Hi-Fi has introduced a clever second arm board for the SME 10 turntable. The arm board outrigger is simple to fix, and designed to have the fit and finish of a SME itself, which says a lot. It costs £199, and can be fitted to a new SME 10, it becoming the £3,250 SME M10-D (arms not included). As the distributor of Miyajima cartridges, it makes sense to have an arm for stereo and one for mono!

We have already discussed Technics’ return to the audio fold, but Bristol was the first time the brand’s new digital player, amplifier, and speaker systems were shown to the UK public at large. The £3,300 C700 system (ST-C700 streamer, SU-C700 amp, and SB-C700 standmount speakers) were best suited for smaller rooms, while the £37,000 R1 system was consigned to a downstairs passive role. The smaller system, complete with optional CD player, sounded a lot better than its earlier outing in Audio Lounge late last year. And the Technics online music store is beginning to deliver the goods, too. This system holds a lot of promise.

AJ van den Hul himself was there, giving seminars on cartridge evaluation, design, and performance clinics, repairs, and retips for those bringing in cartridges. There’s also a Point One turntable and a new Crimson MC with one ohm coil impedance, and new carbon nanotube cable coming. The system at the show sounded good with vdH cartridge and phono stage, an EAT Forte S deck with EAT-branded Ikeda arm, Tsakiridis Devices integrated amps and ProAc loudspeakers.

VPI has streamlined its range recently, and there’s a new kid on the block; the £3,750 Prime. Supplied complete with the latest version of the company’s 3D printed tonearm, and standard low noise 500RPM motor, this replaces the basic Classic turntables and Scoutmaster, and sounded excellent with a ‘NOS’ Kiseki cartridge through Moon electronics and the KEF Blade 2.

Finally, there seems to be almost a war raging between ‘Chinglish’ brands Ming Da and Icon Audio. Each has its own interpretation of the biggest, heaviest tube amplifier possible, and both seem determined to cram the most amount of audio equipment in the smallest room possible. Icon showed its potent 200W push pull £12,500 per pair MB81 monoblock amp, each sporting a pair of the immense Russian GU81 transmitter tubes, while Ming Da went for more of a tower of power, with its £34,950 per pair Cantible Grandé MC-998A monoblock featuring Chinese FU80 military power triodes and pumping out a healthy 80W in pure single-ended Class A.

As ever, this barely scratches the surface of what was on offer. We’ll cover loudspeakers, headphones, cables and portable audio soon, but there’s a lot more we had to skip there simply isn’t the time to cover everything!

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