Friday 23rd Feb 2024 saw me setting off for the annual beano that is the Bristol Show; over 32 years and counting according to the website. I may have been a few times (including last year – see here and here) and I certainly know where half the rooms are going to be by now. No worries, it’s still the start of the UK’s show season and besides, a few surprises keep you on your toes (lookin’ at you Harbeth).

As always meeting buddies old and new is half the fun. A few faces were absent this year, including big boys Henley Audio (Pro-ject, Musical Fidelity, Klipsch etc), speaker supremos B&W and Fine Sounds (McIntosh & Sonus Faber ). There was still plenty to see though, with attendance pretty steady on the Friday I was there.

So grab a cup of coffee and settle down for a quick tour of the goodies on offer this year.

Winning my award for best looking component of the show was the Fyne Audio Vintage 10, whose proportions sit just right with the styling and truly exquisite walnut finish. Yours for £17,999. The eagle-eyed will spot the super-tweeter on top of the speaker. Announced at the show it covers the 16kHz-60kHz range and costs £3,500. No those frequencies aren’t audible per se. They do have an impact on the phase response of the system according to Fyne though. A bit like subwoofers impacting the mid and high frequencies. Counterintuitive maybe but I’ve had heard that effect many times. So my mind is open on the potential benefits of supertweeters.

The header photo above is also a Fyne by the way – the Classic VIII SM at £4,500. Both midrange (presence) and treble (energy) can be tailored to suit your room and tastes.

Tannoy’s Gold Reference speakers mine a similar aesthetic vein, are similarly priced and again beautifully finished. What HiFi recently reviewed the Stirling LZ III Special Edition model at £12k and found it wanting. Which is strange, at the last Cranage Show it was the second best sounding speaker I heard. And it sounded great driven by Accuphase electronics at this show. It’s designed for smaller rooms so should work at home here. A shame it’s outside the Hifi Starters remit, I’d love to have a proper listen.

Yes, a new portable cassette deck. No not a Walkman, this is the CP-13 from FiiO. It was beautifully styled, also well put together from what I could tell. The only ommission was the lack of the obligatory pencil to sort cassettes out when they unravel. Yours for £99.99, available now.

FiiO’s R7 (£649) and R9 (£1,399) desktop DAC/Pre/Headphone amps were on display in the FiiO room alongside the C-13. The R7 has been very well received by the reviewing press and the newer R9 looks set to follow. Perfect for headphonistas. Or pair with active speakers for a very neat complete system, something we aim to explore.

Naim and Focal had several rooms at Bristol, including an open area with numerous Focal headphones powered by Uniti Atom Headphone Editions (£2,300). The Bathys wireless headphones (£699) sounded good and were drop dead gorgeous. Also getting a first outing was the Uniti Nova Power Edition, a (shock horror) Class D powered Nova that kicks out a very healthy 150 wpc into 8 Ohms. It’s not cheap at £8,600 but as a compact high-end solution (just add speakers) it does look attractive.

Anthos Audio speakers with a very, err, distinctive look. Supplied as a complete system, the cabinet between the speakers houses the valve amplification and digital electronics. The thirteen ‘flower-horns’ of the speakers are made from intricate wooden laminations. £100k all in.

Kanto has a tempting array of powered and passive speakers, not least as they’re sensibly priced (check out the powered options here). The cream speakers one from the end are a new model to be introduced in Autumn. They’re powered, have numerous connectivity options and come in several colourways. With an anticpated price of around £600 a review may well be in order.

Flying the artisan flag at Bristol were the Coppice Audio X3 floorstanders (£7,250) driven by an Audio Detail PX25 integrated valve amplifier (£16,800). That works out at £840 per watt!

REL’s had two rooms, one with numerous models on static display, the other with a six stack of S/812 models (£18k total) supporting KEF Blades. That room sounded good given its small size. Both the gloss RED T/9x and the new Classic 98 subwoofers (£1,550 and £1,299) caught my eye in the other room. The Classic is smaller than I’d anticipated, enough to fit comfortably in my listening room.  Maybe a review is in order….

Big news from the Harbeth camp with first showing of the NLE-3 speakers that catapult the company into the active digital realm. Provided in various configurations, the starting point is the NLE-3 standmount powered by 6 channels of Harbeth Class D amplification. Or BYO amplification, Quad’s venerable valve amplification being one suggestion. Available with or without room correction, prices start at £47,000 (cue Harbeth enthusiasts choking on their tea and biscuits.) It all sounded very good though.

Also shown at Bristol were the diminutive P3ESR XD standmounts (read: LS3/5A deriviative) on its new Nelson column, a combined active subwoofer and stand. £2,635 for the speaker, £3,300 for the Nelson.

Different room, same red light. Proac standmounts driven by a Sugden amplifier (A21SE I think), fed by an Auralic Aries G2.2 streaming transport (£5,300) and Vega 2.2 streaming DAC (£6,900). And sounding very good too, the Class A creaminess of the Sugden taming the Proac’s treble nicely (I usually find them a bit toppy).

The second photo shows some of the alternative facia colours from Sugden that look just great….check out here for more options.

Proac’s D20 speakers are available with either dome or ribbon tweeters, both costing £3,825. The low end caught me by surprise until I looked up the spec of 28 Hz. Which is presumably at -6dB. Whatever, it made itself felt in a wholly positive way. Electronics were courtesy of Exposure.  

Quested’s OLY-108 and OLY-208 (£14,400) passive standmounts were both looking and sounding good. Founded by John Quested in 1985, the company’s focus has previously been on the pro sector. John Quested himself is a recording engineer who has worked with numerous luminaries of the business (Led Zeppelin and Pink Floyd to name but two). I may have to check them out further. It turns out they’re based closed to where I live, indeed I drive past their HQ most weekends these days. Small world.  

Another pro-venturing-into-consumer company. Better know for its guitar amplifiers as used by rock royalty, Orange was showing its new Bluetooth speakers at Bristol. The Box XL above is £315. The smaller, portable, Box L is £275. Both sport a tough external finish in orange or black. Also launched at the show was a valve tester intended for home use. I bought the argument about needing to keep valves in tip top condition. At £850 its pricey for a home unit though. Orange said dealers had recognised that and were buying them to offer a testing service.

Also on static display was singularly the largest valve I’ve ever seen, heralding from the second world war. Did I mention how big it was?

The Silence Alpha TT-1 turntable was looking fabulous, it’s aesthetics bringing to mind some Clearaudio models. Imagine my suprise at the (introductory) price then, just £999 including the unipivot TA-1 tonearm and Audio Technica AT3600L cartridge (the latter the model that Rega’s Carbon is based on). 

Brand new Epos ES-7N loudspeakers (£1,890) were driven by a T&A R2500R all-in-one system (£12,905), its DAC 200 pre-amp/DAC sibling (£5,400) also on show for good measure. The speakers can be used 30-50cm out from the wall or on bookshelves, a switch on the back changing the crossover accordingly.

Neat’s Petite Classic standmount (£1,995) was powered by an Atoll SDA300 all-in-one streamer, DAC and amplifier (£3,995) and sounding pretty darned fine.

Cyrus was exhibiting with Audio Physic, the Avanti speakers (£6,700) being driven by a total of 8 boxes of electronics (a pre-amp, power amp, phono stage, streamer and four power supplies). 

Now that’s a neat idea – record storage integrated into a hifi rack’s top shelf so that its easily available. Say hello to the newest addition to Atacama’s Apollo furniture range. £270 (for the single stage)

Acoustic Energy launched its flagship Corinium speaker (£6,000) at the Bristol show. Three years in development, its understated looks rested easy on these eyes. Electronics were courtesy of SPL – the Performer S1200 power amplifier (£6,500) and Director Mk2 DAC/Pre-amp (£3,750) – fed by an Auralic streamer. A noisy room negated a proper listen but what I did hear had me wanting more.

And finally possibly the best looking system at Bristol, Ruark’s R810 ‘stereogram’ (£3,000). I recently tested its smaller sibling the R410, which was fabulous in all respects. Let’s just say the R810 had me lusting even more. Discussions are underway to have a proper listen soon; I shall report back.

A few other interesting rooms fell by the low-light-photography wayside. Audio Note for one, whose AN/E speakers and massive valve amplification were sounding good (as they should for the stratospheric prices). Then there was Elite Audio whose room was a delightful mix of electronics from Electrocompaniet, Aqua Acoustics, EverSolo and Antipodes, with speakers from Adalante. Kudos was showing its intriguing Sigao drive, an external crossover that doesn’t require power yet is still active in the sense it sits before the power amps. And the Cadence room was sounding good fronted by Spendor D7.2 speakers playing vinyl on SME turntables via Plinius electronics.

And that’s about it; so endeth another Bristol show. Like every show the amount of equipment for Hifi Starters was limited, but there was still plenty of interest. The general vibe with exhibitors was also one of optimism; the cost of living crisis has made life hard but green shoots may be starting to emerge now. Let’s hope 2024 proves to be a good year for the industry.