This article is from HI FI World and was written by Noel Keywood and Adam Smith, April 2012.
This years Bristol Show, based in the citys Marriott Central hotel, was as busy as ever, in spite of gloom and doom arising from Europes economic woes. Even the weather was clement; the bitter winds that often sweep Bristol in February were replaced by sunshine. As a long established show, this one attracts a wide selection of exhibitors, including many from Europe. Here is what we saw.
Chief Acoustics engineer and HiFi World Contributor Peter Comeau flew in from the IAG factory in China to tell us about his latest project, the bijou Wharfedale Denton. The new Denton is another of Wharfedale is expanding range of golden oldies. Build to suit traditional tastes, it is almost certainly aimed at the Chinese market, and a wider Far East audience eager to buy into old values and traditional styling. Inside lie a pair of modern drive units of course.
Here is Chords top CD player, the Red Reference, now lifted to MIII form we were told. As always for chord products it glowed beautifully in the low lit room, from internal lighting that shines out through windows that give a view into the complex internal circuits boards and components. The door of this layer now opens and closes at the touch of a button, and a USB input has been fitted that accepts a computer lint to the internal DAC, up to 192 kHz sample rate. It works asynchronously, meaning the player's internal master clock controls proceedings, the computer becoming a slave. This is Chord’s new updated Reference CD player and it looked stunning.
Well known for their compact but high quality units such as the Canamp headphone amplifier and Orbit turntable power supplies, Heed resurrected another old name in the form of the Obelisk range. Taken from Ion Systems products of the 1980s this introduced a range of half-width separates including an integrated amplifier designed with help from original Ion Systems owner Richard Hay. In addition, a CD player, pre-amp, power amps, DAC and version power supplies complete the range, and all are available with gloss black or rather fetching white front panels because, according to Heed “white is the new black" – hmmm!
Out from under the wraps came the new Tannoy Precision 6.4 loudspeaker, price around the £2k mark we believe. It uses four 6in drive units to keep the front baffle narrow. The top one is a Dual Concentric with horn loaded tweeter firing out through the woofer, to cover the entire frequency range from one coherent source. Of the three drivers below the centre one is a bass unit and flanking it are ABR, or Auxiliary Bass Radiators. These are passive (undriven) cones that act much like ports, but have many benefits. They are and easier and more precise way of tune port behaviour and they block box reflections too. ABRs give better bass quality than open ports, but raise cost of course. We expect powerful bass from this model.
Locked away in glass cabinets were some tasty digital cables in the Audioquest room. Shown are Carbon and Cinnamon USB links, but there was an array of HDMI cables too, including powered version. We didn’t get to find out about this at the time as there were too many people milling around but it all looked very interesting. The sound of digital cables is fast becoming a big issue it seems.
It was Neat by name and Neat by nature in the Neat room, as designer Bob Surgeoner unveiled his new baby in the form of the Iota. Small two way bookshelf designs intended for use horizontally, those looked fabulous, sounded much bigger than they had and right to, and come in a wide variety of funky colours. We like!
The Marantz Airplay system looked smart and technically interesting. It accepts Apple Airplay audio streams direct from iPad or iPhone, so music can be played back wirelessly through the system, at CD sample rate.
From a new name to a very old one, Bristol 2012 heralded the return of the Sansui name, amid a room full of classic Sansui memorability. The new items are finely tuned Chinese sourced items and include a CD player, network streamer, DAC, amplifiers and an impossible cute micro system, all of which were on demonstration. The sound was fine and the prices very keen indeed, promising something of a shake-up at the affordable end of the market.
PMC celebrated their twentieth anniversary last year and this has heralded the launch of the aptly named “Twenty" series of loudspeakers. With the range comprising two stand mounters, two floor standers and a newly launched centre channel, the Twenty promises something for everyone. The styling is very funky, with the leaned-back shape of the enclosures and matching stands adding a very striking “go-faster" attitude to proceedings. Even more encouragingly, however the sounds they made turned out to be some of the finest of the show for me an impressive first encounter.
Elac loudspeakers of Germany were showing a fascinating hi-tech mini loudspeaker, the 301.2 having a small cone midrange driver fitted with a co-axial tweeter. It was partnered by a floor standing 2030 subwoofer. Two 301.2 satellites and one 2030 were making a very convincing sound in the Elac demo room at the show and would appear to offer a great solution to the difficulty of finding a room friendly mini speaker system. Price was £1349.99 we were told. Also on show was a single floor stander flown in from a Tokyo show, the new FS257, selling at £2499 per pair. Possessing a single Jet ribbon tweeter flanked by two bass/midrange units in classic D’Appolito arrangement it looked technologically advanced and purposeful. We expect a clean, fast sound.
Kef have launched an R series that sits above the Q series but is less costly than their top Reference models. Our picture shows the tall narrow Blade, a standmount Q300 and floorstanding Q700. They use Kef’s Uni-Q coaxial drive unit with tweeter firing out through a Tangerine waveguide from the centre of the drive unit, to give a focused source. As always KEF demonstrated to a packed room throughout the show. We noted that amplification was from Electrocompaniet, including their impressive Nemo power amplifiers.
A new name to the hifi scene was Oriton, introducing their delightfully eccentric, brightly coloured and alarmingly wobbly hifiracks. Fear not, however they are supposed to be like this! Fielding a system that also comprised prototype Oriton loudspeakers and power amplifiers plus a mock-up of a forthcoming turntable this was an interesting demo from an intriguing newcomer.
Aha! Roy Gandy, owner of Rega Research was spotted by us running around the High End show in Munich a few years ago muttering about “bending mode radiators" and here is end result – their new R10 loudspeaker. At top is an unusual bending mode drive unit, a variant of NXT technology also used by Naim. BMRs give a clean sound free from distortion, so the R10 should give interesting sonic results.
In the Spendor room we spotted their new A7 loudspeaker, complete with dome tweeter sitting behind a dispersion grille, bass midrange unit below it and powered bass unit below that. Behind is a twin venture port that acoustically loads the bass unit.