The UK’s Henley Audio distributes some of the best-known HiFi brands, particularly in the analogue world courtesy of Pro-ject and Ortofon. Based in Didcot, Oxford, it recently revamped the showroom and demo facilities at its HQ site, prompting a visit by HiFi Starters.
The first part of this article covered the business side of Henley’s operations, together with an overview of some of the brands handled. See here for a recap. That journey is completed below, together with some insight into what makes Simon Powell, Henley Ops Director, tick. We also report back on an all-too-brief listen to the mighty Klipsch Cornwall 4 speakers (a shame they wouldn’t fit in the car for the homeward journey). First though, Henley’s brands……
Henley recently took on the Japanese Sumiko range of cartridges, known for a slightly warmer sound than Ortofon (a broad statement). Of interest to the HiFi Starter are the £75 Oyster, £100 Black Pearl, £130 Pearl and £160 Rainier models. All are moving magnet pickups – Sumiko’s moving coils start at over £500 so are less relevant to the HiFi Starter.
French manufacturer Cabasse makes odd-ball speakers. Literally. As in, the majority of its speakers are spheres. I recently got to grips with a pair of Pearls for a Darko Audio review. At £2,690 each (two for stereo) it’s not exactly HiFi Starter fayre. They aren’t small either – 32cm diameter and 18kg apiece – so need a big room to work best.
They are clever though, with all amplification and streaming smarts incorporated into the speakers. Together with sophisticated DSP (digital signal processing) software that tailors them to the location they’re being used in. Head over to Darko for the full review here, suffice to say you get a very big sound, not least thanks to some very meaty bass.
Synthesis, Unison Research, HiFi Rose
Synthesis and Unison Research (UR) are known best for their valve-based amplifiers. Both companies also make DACs, phono stages and CD players. In addition Unison Research offers four speakers. Whilst there’s much of interest – the £2,200 UR Simply Italy amplifier works really well with big Klipsch speakers for example – the pricing of both Synthesis and Unison Research puts it out of reach of the HiFi Starter.
Do clock that monster Synthesis Metropolis NYC200i integrated amp below though – way over half a metre deep, weighing 50kg, 230W / channel. Yours for £20,999. Dream on.
HiFi Rose is a relatively young South Korean company that’s making waves with its sophisticated touchscreen streaming solutions. Again the pricing puts it beyond the HiFi Starter, although maybe the £1,749 RS201E squeezes onto the radar thanks to being an all-in-one device – just add speakers.
Jamo & Opera
Jamo and Opera focus on speakers. Opera makes beautifully-finished speakers in the £2k-£10k range. I confess to not having heard any, even for a cursory listen. If they sound half as good as they look they’ll get my vote.
Danish company Jamo is in the sweet spot for HiFi Starters though. Starting with the Studio 8 that’s available in passive form (S803 – £259) or powered (S801 PM – £325). The range tops out with the floorstanding C97 II at £1,049. One in-between model is the C93 II at £469. On display in the showroom it looked very svelte indeed – a listen may be in order.
HiFi Rose RS150
Jamo C93 II
Synthesis Metropolis NYC200i
Synthesis A50 Taurus
Completing the jigsaw
Roon makes two streamers that run its own streaming software. A Roon system is expensive and complex, but utterly brilliant; like many reviewers I’m hooked. The two servers differ in size, the larger one able to handle more music, more users and more Digital Signal Processing. Both simplify the process of running Roon.
USA-based Music Hall makes turntables and electronics that garner good reviews but again I’ve yet to hear anything from the brand myself.
And Lehmannaudio focuses on phono stages and headphone amplifiers. The entry-level £350 Black Cube Statement phono amplifier perhaps just fits into the HiFi Starter category if that starter is focused on a vinyl-only system.
Lehmannaudio Black Cube II
Last but not least comes Spin Clean with its very cost effective £79 Record Washer System MkII. It does what it says on the tin – well worth considering if you’re buying a lot of (used) vinyl. And Glorious makes record and CD storage that looks good and is sensibly priced. Another worth-considering range.
That’s a huge range of equipment, how to make sense of it? Enter Simon Powell with a couple of suggestions for a HiFi Starter system.
System 1 comprises the Pro-ject Debut Carbon EVO turntable playing into Klipsch The Fives powered speakers. £1,400 for a minimal-box-count system. In fact the only boxes are the speakers, all electronics being built into one of them (including a phono stage). I reviewed The Fives for Darko. Set up well they sing, you just need to get the bass in check (it can be a little exuberant). I didn’t try them with vinyl, it sounds like an interesting option.
System 2 is based on separates, again anchored by the Debut Carbon Evo. From that to a Pro-ject Phono Box S2 Ultra phono stage feeding a Musical Fidelity M2si amplifier, in turn driving Klipsch RP-600M standmount speakers: £2,100 all in. I recently got the S2 Ultra phono stage for my own system – so far no complaints. And the M2si / RP-600M pairing looks very tempting indeed.
Whether you go for either of these two systems or not, Powell says the key thing is to get balance. A £1,500 turntable in a £2,000 system isn’t going to give of its best, no matter how good it might look. Also focus your funds on what you need rather than trying to do everything. Streaming, vinyl, and CD is going to stretch a starter budget.
Finally Powell says separates exist for a reason – separating functionality into its constituent parts has tangible benefits. So don’t write the approach off, even if that all-in-one’s convenience appeals. Which might seem at odds with the first system suggested above. But that’s the thing about Henley, it offers both approaches, guiding rather than dictating the end-user’s choice.
At this point Powell and I covered a few questions sent over in advance of the meeting. Fun stuff rather than deep-thinking, but why not?
1. Can Henley staff suggest 5 albums worth listening to (not the ‘usual’ audiophile suspects) Spotify playlist here
“1. Olafur Arnalds – Late Night Tales 2. Verve Remixed – Vol. 4 3. Nils Frahm – Tripping With Nils Frahm 4. Ryan Adams – Live at Carnegie Hall (Boxset) 5. City and Colour – If I should Go Before You
2. Digital or analogue? What kit do you run at home?
“Analogue for proper listening, digital for background”
3. What’s the best piece of kit you’ve ever owned?
“Vienna Acoustics Schonberg speakers – I love the look, and they sound great tight to the wall, which suits kids and a dog!”
4. Which of Henley’s products do you covert most?
“The Pro-Ject Signature 10 turntable”
5. What was your first system / LP / CD? And guilty music pleasure?
“An old Denon stacker system got me started in HiFi. First vinyl was “Take the Long Road and Walk It” by The Music [Single] (bought it for the B-side, “The Walls Get Smaller”). First CD – The Super Mario Bros Movie Soundtrack (1993 film with Bob Hoskins). Guilty pleasure – Alphabeat
6. Favourite music / artist / album?
“Single favourite artist right now is probably Nils Frahm”
7. Pet peeve about the industry?
“The obstacles to access for beginners”
8. Audiophiles see Diana Krall as either the devil’s advocate or a true craftswoman! You?
“I don’t skip when she comes on a playlist”
And so to the Cornwalls
The original Klipsch Cornwall was launched in 1959. The formula hasn’t essentially changed, horn-loading being the standout. That brings potential downsides; past Klipsch Reference speakers can sound a bit shouty at times (think PA speaker – fair enough that was part of the design brief). The upside is a ‘live’ feel like no other.
So the Reference series divides opinion, you tend to love or loathe them. But each iteration advances the positives slightly whilst mitigating the negatives increasingly well. How would the fourth iteration £7,300 Cornwall fare?
Long story short, it retained the innate Reference live feel, and then some. Whilst sounding smooth and refined into the bargain. To a degree that surprised me, any rough edges were gone. The Class A amplifier – in development so I can’t name it – no doubt helped. And the HiFi Rose RS150(B) streamer impressed too – it was a joy to use. The Cornwall 4 was the star of the show though, its size the only detractor (97x64x39cm HWD).
Klipsch Reference speakers start at £4,000 a pair so aren’t for the HiFi Starter. I’d encourage you to hear a properly-set-up pair though. For those on the right side of the love/loathe equation they show what this crazy hobby of ours is all about. And there’s always the RP-600M II standmount if you want a big slice of the Klipsch magic.
Klipsch Cornwall IV
Summing it all up
Well that was quite a saunter through Henley’s myriad solutions wasn’t it? There are certainly numerous options when looking to assemble a system, whatever the budget. No wonder I felt like that big kid in the sweet shop.
Want to see for yourself? We aim to make that happen – Henley is inviting a group of HiFi Starters readers to Didcot to experience first hand what’s on offer and to listen to some selected products. It should be a fun day. Watch this space – as soon as the Covid allows we’ll begin planning.
Which just leaves me to say a huge thank you to Simon Powell and all at Henley Audio for hosting my visit and making me welcome yet again. I look forward to returning soon with new friends in tow. And maybe a bigger car to snaffle those Cornwalls home!
Cabasse Baltic 5
Pro-ject Jukebox E
Klipsch Cornwall 4
Reloop Turn 5 arm
Pro-ject Phono Box RS2
In the listening room
A korale of Klipschs…
Cabasse Riga 2
A few awards
A few more