The Ascot Show (aka UK HiFi Show Live) had a faltering start thanks to Covid and then Queen Elizabeth’s death causing a 3-year hiatus. It was back in 2023 though, the ingredients largely the same as in 2019, with just a press day added on the Friday. The concourse of Ascot Racecourse again provided a stylish venue, with plenty of space for exhibitors to spread out. Bye bye hotel corridor scrums. The vibe was relaxed despite there being a lot of rooms to get around. And on the Friday and Saturday that I attended the sun shone down, adding to the feel good factor.
The focus was undoubtedly on the more exotic end of the spectrum, beginner systems consipcuously absent. Not to worry, we can all dream. So below is a photographic journey around the show to whet your appetite. I for one came away both enthusiastic and with new things on my lottery-win shortlist. Not least the mint-green Garrard 301 turntable above that looked absolutely fabulous. Without further ado….
Thorens TD 124 DD 140th Anniversary turntable
Celebrating its 140th anniversary Thorens has produced a limited edition version of the TD124DD turntable (itself derived from the original 124.) A new two-layer platter is topped with 5mm of copper, the TP124 arm has silver wiring, and an upgraded version of the SPU124 cartridge is now included rather than being an optional extra. And then there’s that drop-dead gorgeous plinth.
Only 140 are being produced, with the majority already sold despite the £13,000 asking price. It has to be said, up close and personal it’s lovely.
Thorens TD 204 turntable
More affordable at £850 is the TD 204 deck, which comes with the TP20 tonearm and Audio Technica AT-95E cartridge. There’s also a built in phono amplifier that’s defeatable as/when you upgrade. Thorens is pitching it as the ideal first deck for the Hifi Starter that’s serious about vinyl. It looks tempting, I’m just thinking it could handle a more upmarket cartridge.
Musical Fidelity M8xTT
First spied at Bristol in February, the £8,250 M8xTT is now production-ready and was looking resplendant with its new 10″ Musical Fidelity tonearm and leather mat. In the flesh it’s even more sumptuous than the photo.
Origin Live Voyager turntable
One from the top of the range – there’s an even swankier Voyager S – this beautiful looking turntable will set you back £24,000 (before arm & cartridge.)
Kuzma XL Air turntable
The XL Air was using Kuzma’s Safir 9 tonearm and Car 60 cartridge. £87,000 all in. Plus £24,000 for the Zerovibe active antivibration plinth it was sitting on. I’ve seen smaller oil rigs.
Reed Muse 1C turntable
The Muse 1C is an interesting turntable that comes in either belt drive (£10,000) or friction rim drive (£12,000) versions. Both prices are before arm and cartidge, yet this is Reed’s mid-level turntable. Expect to pay around £20,000 for the flagship Muse 3C. The Muse 1C is available in black. Or opt for this beautiful birch-ply finish, which really caught my eye.
The Beatles in Mono
A complete set of mono Beatles recordings – start saving.
Musical Fidelity A1 integrated amplifier
A revamp of the original Musical Fidelity amplifier that sounded great but had a reputation for cooking itself (it runs in Class A, which is a bit like driving everywhere at 100mph). Needless to say Musical Fidelity has paid close attention to heat management with the new £1,500 model. I heard a prototype about 12 months ago, driving huge Klipsch Cornwall speakers. 25 watts of power never sounded so good. And now I’m about to review it for Darko Audio – it’s a hard life as they say….
Trafomatic Rhapsody integrated amplifier
The Rhapsody tops Trafomatic’s line of integrated amplifiers and is, to say the least, a niche product. Using four 300B tubes (valves) it delivers just 20 watts per channel, meaning sensitive speakers are a must. Facilities are also fairly basic, with just three RCA inputs and one XLR. Price is €18,500 and only fifteen, yes fifteen, of them are being produced. But what looks!
Trafomatic Tara 30A pre-amplifier
For those with even deeper pockets who prefer separates the €55,000 Tara 30A pre-amplifier might fit the bill. The lower box is the power supply. Again inputs are limited to 3 x RCA and 1 x XLR (which, to be fair, would meet my needs). Out of shot are the matching Elysium monoblock power amplifiers that deliver 70 watts per channel and weigh 85kg each (the pre-amplifier is 22kg). Yours for €120,000. High prices indeed, it has to be said the amplifiers were exquisitely finished though, the Tara 30A in particular a work of art.
Dartzeel’s NHB-18NS preamplifier costs £50,000, is available in one finish, and eschews digital inputs. Indeed a phono stage costs more. It does make a statement though, and every single review I’ve read has eulogised over the sound quality. The matching £50,000 NHB-108 II power amplifier was also on display.
D’Agostino M400MxV monoblock power amps
I though all d’Agostiino amplifiers were hernia-inducing behemoths that took up half your lounge floor. They’re not small but the M400MxV breaks the leviathan mode for the brand (that’s my Pixel 7 phone for comparison). Price approaching £100,000 a pair.
Moon 791 network streamer
From Moon’s new North Collection, the £16,000 791 network streamer was playing into two 761 power amplifiers running in mono mode (600wpc, £14,000 each, or just use one in stereo for 200wpc). I think this was the first UK outing for the North Collection. I didn’t get to listen properly but having been impressed with Moon equipment I’ve had in for review I’d certainly give it consideration.
Chord Electronics Ultima integrated amplifier
I just love the mean and moody ‘stealth’ vibe the grey finish imbues on this £8,500 125wpc Chord amplifier. A pure analogue amplifier with 3 x RCA and 2 x XLR inputs (one XLR for AV use), the Ultima is simple in concept. Small too, you won’t need acres of equipment rack to house it.
PS Audio Sprout integrated amplifier
This integrated amplifer packs a lot into its tiny frame, including a DAC and phono stage. It’s Class D, outputting 50wpc into 8Ω, which is pretty reasonable grunt. All for £900. Scott McGowan, son of PS Audio founder Paul McGowan, said he’d love to squeeze a streamer into the next version. Now that sounds interesting.
EAR 912 tube pre-amplifier
Powering a £12,500 pair of EAR 509 power amps this £12,000 912 pre-amplifier certainly looks the part. I’ve always had a soft spot for the brand, having first heard an earlier version of the power amplifiers a long time ago (think: decades). The combination was driving the massive Stratton speakers (see below), and sounded wonderful.
Yamaha N-1000A network receiver
Yamaha had some new streaming amplifiers on static display, as well as the existing R-2000NA model playing through the big NS-2000A floorstanding speakers (which sounded as good here as they did at Bristol in February). The new models comprise the R-N1000A, R-800A and R-600A at £1,300, £1000 and £800 respectively. All of which are relevant to the Hifi Starter as you just need speakers for a complete system.
Musical Fidelity Nu-Vista 800.2 amplfier
Devoid of digital circuitry, the Nu-Vista 800.2 is an integrated amplifier with 4 x RCA and 1 x XLR inputs. Fixed and variable outputs are included too. So far so straightforward. It’s use of the tiny yet hardy Nu-Vista valve is uncommon though. And its size and power output (300wpc) give it a certain presence on your rack. Sure there are Nu-Vista separates too – a six box, 180kg, 600wpc solution that will blow your socks off for £61,500. Most of us will find the £11,000 Nu-Vista 800.2 intergated easier to accomodate though.
Add a Class D amplifier to WiiM’s Pro Plus streamer (review coming soon) and you get the WiiM Amp that was on static display. I know the power rating, I know the price. Both of which are embargoed until the formal launch later this month (if you can’t wait look closely at the photo!) It could make for an ideal Hifi Starter system though, just needing speakers to complete it. Watch this space, we will review it.
MBL Radialstrahler 120 loudspeaker
“The speakers with the carburettor on the top” as someone said to me at the show. OK, I get that!
Until now I hadn’t heard an MBL Radialstrahle. I’m glad I have now. Being omindirectional speakers they excel at creating a realistic soundstage, which the choice of music in the room accentuated. This Sterophile review says they can boogie too. Well worth a further listen. Just under £21,000 including stands.
MBL 101 E MKII speakers
Big brother to the Radialstrahler 120, these 101E Mk2 models were on static display in the auditorium. The price is just under £60,000, but having heard the littl’uns I’d love to put these through their paces.
DeVore Fidelity O/96 speakers
DeVore speakers have been on my must-listen list for some time, not least because several reviewers use them themeselves. Also because they’re high sensitivity, making them suitable for low-powered amplifiers. A brief listen at the Cranage Show left me bewildered – they sounded so warm, not what I’d been led to expect at all. Which I put down to the vagaries of rooms at shows. A shame a proper listen wasn’t possible at Ascot then. The £13,500 O/96s were playing, driven by the Trafomatic Rhapsody amplifier above, but only in a foyer type setting. I’ll have to wait a while longer then.
B&W 805 D4 Signature
These little B&W standmounts were sounding really rather good driven by Classe electronics. There was certainly no hint of the uplifted treble that some associate with the 800 range. And boy did the speakers look elegant in the special blue finish. Not inexpensive at £10,000 but they’d be on my shortlist if I was looking for high quality small standmounts.
Perlisten S7t speakers, Primare electronics
The S7t floorstanders – the top of Perlisten’s range – managed to fill their large room at Ascot, the level of bass having me look for a subwoofer or two. Powerful doesn’t beging to describe it. At £17,600 a pair they’re not inexpensive but have a real presence, both sonically and visually (at least in black).
Take me to your leader – YG acoustics speakers
Numerous YG Acoustics models were on static and active display, most in this aerospace-grade aluminium finish. I didn’t get chance for a proper listen but initial impressions were positive. They certainly make an aesthetic statement.
PS Audio Aspen FR30 speakers
The FR30 speakers belied their size and imposing looks to produce a delicate and nuanced sound. Had I the space and budget (£30,000) they’d get further consideration. Paul McGowan proved to be a lovely guy too. Ditto son Scott, head designer.
Living Voice R80 floorstanders
Definitive Audio’s room was one of the last I visited, alas reviewer fatigue setting in. I did listen to the new R80 speaker, complete with off-board crossovers, but my memories of the sound are vague. I do know it was being used with some very expensive ancilleries , such as the £100,000+ Kuzma turntable detailed above. And I remember the speakers being larger than anticipated – small rooms need not apply. They were beautifully finished too, as you would expect for their £45,000 price (£33,000 for standard finishes and internal crossovers).
Stratton Elypsis 1512
Huge, heavy, expensive. And absolutely exquisite; Stratton’s £75,000 Elipsys 1512 were Best of Show for me. Head over to my Darko Audio show report for more information on these gorgeous speakers.
Merididan 200 series electronics
The vintage audio room on the top floor of Ascot was a trip down memory lane. I used to own the Meridian 206 CD player that’s in this stack, also the Albarry M408 monoblock amplifiers on static display. And then I spied a pair of Koss Porta Pro heaphones, the ones I reviewed recently here (they’re still in production). For folks of a certain age (ahem) the room was a treasure trove.
Musical Fidelity MX series
Musical Fidelity’s MX range is ideal for the Hifi Starter wanting to begin a couple of steps up the ladder. Shown here are the £629 DAC (MX-DAC), £749 phono stage (MX-Vinyl), £629 headphone amplifier (MX-HPA) and £859 streamer (MX-STREAM). The latter is based closely on the Pro-ject Stream Box S2 Ultra that I know, so should sound good.
DCS Lina stack
Comprising a DAC/streamer, master clock and headphone amplifier, the DCS Lina range takes understated to a new level – that’s £30,000 you’re looking at there. I was so busy talking and taking photos that I didn’t get a listen. Those who did kept making funny noises of the ‘eureka’ variety. Note to self – find a way of spending an hour with these soon.
Meze 109 Pro headphones
And finally, since reviewing the Meze Classic 99 ‘phones for Darko I’ve returned to them regularly for personal listening. It’s a slight warm and cuddly sound that you just melt into for hours on end. Edgy they are not.
What would a souped up version with more detail and tighter bass sound like? Enter the Meze 109-Pro. At £770 they’re significantly costlier than the 99 Classics (£280) but the reviews have been universally positive. I had a brief listen but not enough to form a conclusion. Are they Hifi Starter fayre, appropriate to those wanting a headphone-only system? Or is that me trying to rationalise reviewing them?!
And…breathe. The above represents only a fraction of the exhibitors, which gives you a feel for the scale of the show (apologies to many excellent rooms not included). I don’t know the visitor numbers but it felt busy on the Saturday. And for me there were a lot of great sounding rooms, more so than I usually find (head over to Darko Audio for a more in-depth look at five more fabulous exhibits).
The bottom line – this visitor thoroughly enjoyed the UK HiFi Show Live, more so than any show recently (and Cranage was good). Overall Ascot ’23 felt like a great success, here’s to next year continuing the trend.