UK distributor Henley recently spruced up the showroom at its Didcot Oxford HQ, with new kit and new (to it) brands on display. Maybe it’s time for another Henley Audio visit to see what’s on offer to the HiFi Starter. Picking up some hints and tips along the way. Grabbing a listen to the mighty Klipsch Cornwall 4 speakers ensconced in the demo room (icing meet cake). So off I trot for an afternoon with Simon Powell, Henley’s Ops Director.
Which yielded a lot of information. Too much for one post, so this is the first of a two-parter….the other to follow shortly. Overall it’s fair to say Willy Wonka had less fun in the chocolate factory.
Henley started in ‘97 with a buyout of Ortofon UK from its parent. The business expanded rapidly as more brands came on board, including mainstay Pro-ject thanks to a good relationship with its owner Heinz Lichtenegger (Ortofon cartridges come with many Pro-ject turntables). Other brands carried by Henley now include Klipsch and Musical Fidelity.
The complete catalogue can be found here; you’ll see that Henley focuses on non-UK brands for whom setting up UK distribution is undesirable or prohibitive. A proposition Powell said is even more relevant post-Brexit (a business not political point).
Some audio firms have flourished during the 2 year pandemic, some not. Powell takes up the story: –
“We sell goods for the home, and people have been at home, so business has been very positive. COVID allowed us to access a wider customer base than before. We have struggled with chip shortages, shipping delays/increases and Brexit bureaucracy, but we have been able to adjust quite quickly and our portfolio is wide enough that often there are alternative solutions available”
Interestingly, Powell says the real fight is over the customer’s discretionary spend. Holidays and home improvements are the competitors as much as other audio companies. Henley’s approach is to provide solutions to specific needs, not just to add more brands to its portfolio willy nilly.
Reloop is a case in point. Its turntables straddle the HiFi / DJ divide, the looks and prices aimed more at the younger end of the market. As opposed to Pro-ject, whose audiophile aspirations shout loud even with their entry-level offerings. Sure there’s overlap but the extra infrastructure needed to support a second turntable brand is marginal. Why not handle both?
Why a showroom?
I asked Powell about the showroom and demo facilities, isn’t that what dealers provide? The HQ facility augments what the dealer does is the reply. Big ticket items like the Klipsch Cornwalls can be demonstrated – not every dealer has the room to show them (or can afford to stock them). Henley also showcases a wider range of kit, such as the myriad Pro-ject turntables (I think there was one of each on display when I visited). Dealer’s customers love to visit. And it’s good for dealers themselves, informing decisions on which brands & products to stock.
The showroom and demo rooms are also used for testing and for training, and for press events like my visit. Basically anything that progresses the Henley cause. The only thing you can’t do there is buy directly from Henley. Sales are fulfilled through a dealer, Henley won’t undermine its partners.
So that’s the background, let’s have a spin around some of the goodies on show.
Founded in 1992 when CD growth was stellar, Pro-ject has arguably been the most important ‘keeper of the analogue flame’. It now claims market leadership in hi-fi turntables, with economies of scale that benefit the customer. Its Stream-Box electronics also cover most analogue and digital bases (I use some myself).
Topping the turntable range are the Signature 10 and 12 models – both over £5k with cartridge, so only well-healed HiFi Starters should apply. Up close that special-order Walnut Burl finish is lust-worthy though. Maybe when those lottery numbers come up…….
Pro-ject Signature 10
Much lower down the scale, Pro-ject’s T1 deck costs £299 complete with Ortofon OM5 cartridge. £349 gets you an inbuilt phono stage, £399 Bluetooth output as well. Available finishes are black, white or walnut. Fully loaded it’s an ideal starter deck, balancing quality, convenience and aesthetics. As my son is finding out (#hisfirstturntable). I’ll try to wrestle it off him at some point for a review.
£500 brings us the Debut Carbon EVO, a deck Powell describes as “your first taste of proper HiFi”. It comes with a £95 Ortofon 2M Red cartridge pre-installed, but you’ll need a phono stage if your amplifier doesn’t have one. Choose from 9 finishes, including the (for me) standout red and yellow options. The Carbon in the name refers to the one-piece 8.6” tonearm that’s made from carbon fibre – unusual at this price.
Digging deeper still into your pockets brings the £699 Debut PRO. Supplied with Pro-ject’s £99 MM Pick-IT PRO cartridge it’s gathering rave reviews. Any colour as long as it’s black. The arm is again a one-piece 8.6” model, but this time is an aluminium/carbon affair that elevates the Debut PRO above the chasing pack. Unusually at this price you can adjust the arm’s vertical tracking angle (VTA) to ensure the cartridge is at the right angle. If you can stretch to it – remembering to budget for a phono stage – then the Debut PRO is well worth considering.
And finally hot off the press is the £369 Pro-ject A1, the company’s first fully automatic turntable. Expect more automated decks as Pro-ject’s partnership with Fehrenbacher GmbH bears fruit (they used to make Dual turntables so have expertise in automation).
Debut Carbon Evo
As mentioned Henley also distributes the Reloop brand. The £749 Turn 5 deck sits atop the range. It takes a full-on-dive towards the Technics vibe, and comes complete with the Ortofon 2M Red. Propping up the range is the £229 RP-1000 MK2, with similar styling.
Reloop Turn 5
And say hello to the quirky £269 Style that’s powered by mains, battery, or a 5V USB power source (so yes it’s portable). DJ’ers can scratch, and you can digitise vinyl with the USB record capability. Plus there’s a built-in speaker. Catch the full spec here – the Spin looks fun, if not the last word sonically.
Pro-ject also has a nascent Pro division that sells Reloop’s other turntables and mixers – worth visiting if you have a foot in both audiophile and DJ camps.
The aspirational Cornwall 4 speakers are covered in the second part of this article. More relevant to the HiFi Starter are the company’s smaller standmounts and floorstanders. Many are AV orientated, with several worthy lifestyle products too (I’ve reviewed some).
Highlighting two models from Klipsch’s range I’d start with The Fives powered speakers. £899 may be a lot for a lifestyle product but with a DAC, pre-amp and stereo power amp built in you only need a source (streamer, turntable etc) for a fully functioning system. They’re certainly flexible, and with careful setup can sound good (Darko review here).
Klipsch The Fives
The second pick is the passive RP-600M standmount at £679. Not the cheapest option for a HiFi Starter, but Powell says they give more than a taste of the high-end Klipsch sound. To which end a review pair has been promised; we should get up close and personal with them soon. Edit – and lo, the RP-600M II was announced soon after the visit. Cost is now £729.
Brits (and others) of a certain age know the company founded by Anthony Michaelson. He’s now sold the reins onto Heinz Lichtenegger at Pro-ject, but there’s continuity in the form of MF designer Simon Quarry who still carries out product development. He also happens to be based at Henley in Didcot; I must say hello next time I’m there.
Lichtenegger’s influence is becoming apparent as he transitions the MF range, with a keen eye on what customers really want. Off the record Powell discussed some of the plans, which sounded very interesting – watch this space in 2022. In the interim there’s still ear-candy aplenty to interest the HiFi Starter.
The £699 M2si is a case in point, a simple 72W integrated amplifier with 6 RCA line level inputs. It’s ideal for those wanting flexibility and longevity, as you’re not limited to an inbuilt DAC or phono stage. Of course you may value convenience and fewer boxes over flexibility, in which case the M3si amplifier is worth a listen as it incorporates both digital and phono sections. £1,249 is maybe pushing it for a HiFi Starter though.
Musical Fidelity M2si
The MX-DAC at £629 is more price appropriate to the HiFi Starter and has been well reviewed. The £159 V90-LPS and £249 LX2-LPS phono stages are also worth considering. Headphonistas might want to check out the £629 MX-HPA headphone amplifier too.
Musical Fidelity V90-LPS
Danish cartridge manufacturer Ortofon has been around over 100 years and developed some landmark products. The up-market SPU range springs to mind – manifestly old-school but with a huge following. And still current (I’m eyeing one for my Garrard 401 turntable).
The SPU starts around £600. HiFi Starters should probably focus on Ortofon’s 2M range of moving magnet cartridges. Indeed the £95 2M Red is a popular choice for beginners, not least as it’s bundled with many turntables. Ditto the Ortofon OM5 – £49 with elliptical stylus.
Ortofon 2M Red
HiFi Starters wanting to push the boat out might consider the Quintet range – four moving coil cartridges, starting at £269 for the Quintet Red. Add £90 for the Quintet Blue – the photo below is the one installed in my Garrard 401. Above those sit the Bronze and Black versions (Ortofon adopts a Red-Blue-Bronze-Black hierarchy for its 2M, Quintet and Cadenza ranges).
Ortofon Quintet Blue (cartridge)
A temporary close…..
At which point we’ll pause for breath as that’s already a lot of information to take in. The second part of the article will complete the journey around Henley’s brands, covering names such as Sumiko, Cabasse, Unison Research, Jamo and others.
Simon Powell provides some guidance for the HiFi Starter and suggests a couple of systems to get the juices flowing. We also get to know him a bit better through some of his personal music & gear choices. And not forgetting that Cornwall 4 beast of a speaker; does it advance the Klipsch cause, or is it more Bach(!) than bite? Watch this space……
Reloop Turn 5 & Reloop Spin
Pro-ject Essentials Mk I
Pro-ject Signature 10
Pro-ject Tube Box DS2T
Klipsch RW-100SW & R-120SW
Klipsch Cornwall 4
Ringo Starr Peace & Love turntable