Not a comment on the Marriott Hotel. Rather, it’s one of the better quotes from the show, courtesy of Yamaha when we were discussing amplifier reliability: –
“The only things to survive a nuclear holocaust will be cockroaches, Volkswagens and Yamaha amplifiers.”
Point made! And whilst we’re on Yamaha, its N2000-A Network HiFi Receiver (£3,000) was making rather fine music through the new N2000-A speakers (£7,000). Surprising given the small room, but bass boom was definitely not on the menu. The all-in-one looked great – very sharp lines. The speakers looked fabulous too – very clean – and were beautifully finished. Yamaha’s HiFi resurgence continues. And we did have a chat about reviewing an entry-level amplifier suitable for HiFi Starters, so watch this space.
Clearly £10k systems are not bread & butter for HiFi Starters though. It’s just that companies do like to put their best foot forward at shows (not just Bristol), which means beginner’s kit is thin on the ground. No fear, we scoured the corridors of the Marriott on your behalf. This article covers the rooms that were relevant to HiFi Starters. A second article will cover ‘lottery-win’ territory. So, in no particular order: –
The little £699 Triangle AIO Twins fit squarely into one of our favourite categories – active speakers with digital and analogue inputs. Including a phono input, which is how Triangle ran its Bristol demo part of the time, through a turntable. The AIO Twins are small and well finished. And six finishes should allow a good match to your decor at home. They looked rather nice all round, and a brief listen was promising. So yes, we hope to review them soon.
Doyen of the 70s and 80s, Dual’s 505/2 turntable must be etched into the DNA of audiophiles of a certain age. The company then went quiet for a decade or two, undergoing changes of ownership and bankruptcy, before resurfacing again more recently. Growth seems to be steady, including a tie-up with Pro-ject that seeks to tap into Dual’s expertise around turntable automation.
On static display was the all-manual CS418 turntable, at £499 sitting in one of the hardest-fought market segments. UK Distributor Simon Griffin (Decent Audio) is a Dual enthusiast though, to the extent he bought a batch of the final Mk4 version of the 505. He believes the CS418 fares well against its many competitors, sufficiently so for us to take a proper look at it soon. I’m looking forward to that review – Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon may just get an outing.
IAG – Wharfedale, Mission, Audiolab
Dual certainly triggered a specific audio memory for me. Blow me if IAG – two rooms away – didn’t spark two more. Firstly the Audiolab 6000A amplifier, whose original incarnation was the centre of a friend’s system. Let’s just say it played very loud in his Barbican flat. At £649 the latest version remains relevant to the HiFi Starter.
Then there were Mission’s new 770 speakers. Large standmounts, they nod strongly to the company’s heritage. And for me they’re a reminder of some fabulous parties at a particular friend’s house in my teenage years. Nuff said.
The reincarnated 770 sounded anything but old though, pulling me back into the IAG room for a closer listen. Paired with Audiolab top 9000 series electronics they sounded fabulous. At £3,300 we won’t be reviewing them; I can sense why Darko enthused over them so much though.
Of definite interest to HiFi Starters was the little Mission system comprising the 778X amplifier at £549 driving LX-2 MkII speakers (£229). On static display, the amplifier’s vibe is distinctly Cyrus in nature; no surprise, Cyrus and Mission used to be one and the same.
New to Audiolab was the 7000A amplifier, tipping the scales at £1,099. That’s slightly more than the HiFi Starters limit of £1,000 per component. The 7000A does include a DAC though. One that’s based around the ESS 9028Q2M chip – the same as in my £1,300 Mytek Liberty 2 DAC – which bodes well. The 7000A’s connectivity also impresses, including phono and HDMI inputs (oh for when the latter becomes industry standard). And with 70W per channel of power at hand it should drive most speakers comfortably. I feel a slight bending of the <£1,000 review rule coming on.
Finally, Wharfedale has long had a strong presence in entry-level speakers through its Diamond ranges. Also now the Evo series. The Evo 4.4 looks a lot of speaker for £1,199; its wood finish was lovely. You also get an Air Motion Transformer (AMT) tweeter that’s usually the reserve of higher-end equipment. The Evo range starts at £499 for the Evo 4.1 standmount, also sporting an AMT tweeter. The Diamond range runs from the 12.0 standmount to the 12.4 floorstander. IAG had the Diamond 12.3 floorstander on static display, which looked great at £499. Somewhere in there is a review or three!
Speaker stands don’t get me salivating quite as much as some equipment. They can be a critical part of a system though. Hence me using £400 Graham Audio stands for most HiFi Starters reviews, even if their top surface isn’t an ideal fit for some speakers.
Step forward Atacama’s NeXXus range – from £140 for a 600mm high stand – with its interchangeable top plates. As standard you get a top plate measuring 13 x 17cm. Alternatives up to 19 x 30.5cm can be purchased separately. As you move up the NeXXus range the twin support pillars become more substantial. Fill them with Atacama Atabites (3 x the mass of sand) for improved performance.
All of which sounded pretty compelling, you may be seeing them in forthcoming reviews.
Acoustic Energy had a large room with numerous models on static and active view. Of particular interest were the AE1 Actives at £1,049 (+£200 for a lovely Gloss Walnut). Unlike the Triangle AIO Twins the AE1 Active doesn’t have digital inputs or streaming smarts. It does have the power amplifiers built in though, making it arguably more flexible long term. As and when digital / streaming technology moves on, just change your source electronics, you’re not stuck with what you’ve got.
We’re slightly late to the party as the AE1 Active was introduced a year or two ago. No worries, it’s still as relevant now as then, with sales apparently accelerating. Hence us aiming to snag a pair for review.
Star of Dynaudio’s room, and on permanent demonstration, were the large Focus 50 speakers. Active streaming speakers on steroids, they both looked and sounded fantastic. As they should for £8,500, but that doesn’t always follow, particularly in a show environment.
Back in the real world, Dynaudio’s Emit 10 and Emit 20 standmounts (£630 / £825) are worth considering. The 10 in particular has garnered some good reviews.
And you might want to check out the Dynaudio magazine with its mix of really interesting articles (many stemming from Dynaudio’s Pro activity). For the online version go here (scroll to the bottom). I bagged the latest hardcopy version, which at 180 pages long should keep me going for some time.
Focal was showing with its sister company Naim, the latter’s new 200 Series streaming pre-amp, power amp and power supply sounding really rather good through big Focal Utopia speakers. As it should have done; the electronics alone are nearly £18,000.
More pertinent here is the new entry-level Vestia range. The base model – Vestia 1 – just squeezes into HiFi Starter territory with a price tag of £799. Very smart it looked too.
Purveyor of oh-so desirable radios and small music system, Ruark has yet to produce anything I haven’t liked (with another hat on I’ve reviewed virtually all its models in the last few years). And they all look so stylish.
Off the record I was told about some interesting developments coming soon. I’ll spill the beans as soon as I can. In the interim the MR1 Bluetooth speakers continue to sound lovely. The turntable setup Ruark was demonstrating – playing through the MR1’s phono input – makes for a really neat little vinyl system.
New to me was Canadian manufacturer Kanto with it’s range of powered and passive standmount and desktop speakers. Topping out the range at £850 are the TUK powered speakers, complete with digital and RCA inputs (inc phono), plus headphone and subwoofer outputs. Bluetooth too (the better aptX version).
Propping up the range are the YU2 powered speakers at £260, with several models in between (including a subwoofer). Kanto also does a nice range of desktop and floor stands. I only had a brief listen but there’s clearly much of interest to the HiFi Starter here. Discussions are ongoing about getting one or two models in for review.
Danish company Dali had a medium sized room playing the company’s Opticon 8 Mk2 floorstanders. Which looked and sounded good – I sensed visitors stayed longer than other rooms, a sign Dali got something right (the Lyngdorf TDAI-3400 integrated amplifier won’t have done their cause any harm). At £2,800 and £5,000 respectively only well-heeled beginners should apply though.
Dali’s Spectron and Oberon ranges are more HiFi Starter fayre, with numerous models to consider. Discussion focused on what I think may become a target segment for HiFi Starters – small floorstanding speakers. These have some advantages over equivalent standmounts. Not least the lack of stands, which both saves money and improves aesthetics (IMO). Dali’s Spectron 6 and Oberon 5 floorstanders – £700 and £850 respectively – look good on paper. Fingers crossed we can arrange for at least one of them to be reviewed.
Star of the Rega rooms was its new top-end turntable, the NAIA. Based on the £25k+ NAIAD that never quite made it into regular production, the NAIA combines Rega’s mega-low-mass expertise with the ability to consistently manufacture the turntable. Which has brought the price down, but it’s still an eye-watering £9,200 (without cartridge). It was on static display so sonic assessment will have to wait. It did look stunning though. In the same room were the Rega Planar 8 and Planar 10 in their new white finish, which looked fabulous.
HiFi Starters would have been drawn to the second Rega room though, where its System One vinyl system was playing. Down to £999 again – supply problems had pushed it up to £1,200 for a while – the system comprised a P1 turntable, Io amplifier, and Kyte speakers. You also get 2 x 3m of speaker cable; just add stands if needed. The sound really took me by surprise, to the extent I asked what the new speakers were; the Kytes may be small but they had plenty of body. Overall it was a well balanced system that packs one heck of a sound for a smidge under £1k.
You bet I asked to review it. Absolutely, was the reply, although timing is to be agreed. If you’re in the market for a plug and play system at this level you might want to hot foot it to your local dealer though.
Henley – Pro-ject, Klipsch and more
In the same vein but slightly dearer is Pro-ject’s Colourful Audio System. £1,599 gets you a turntable (Debut Carbon Evo), amplifier (Maia S3) and speakers (Speaker Box 5 S2). Plus speaker cables and Damp IT speaker feet. Henley’s display system certainly caught the eye with its bright yellow finish. Black, white, green, blue and walnut are also available.
Klipsch has a whole slew of recently-announced products, with quite a few of interest to the HiFi Starter. Of note at Bristol were The Sevens (£1,499), active stereo speakers with excellent connectivity (including HDMI). I reviewed the smaller Fives for Darko a while back (here) and liked what I heard. Particularly after using the on-board DSP to reign in the bass a bit. The new sibling promise a bigger sound. Pair them with, say, a £90 WiiM Mini for a complete system.
The rest of the large Henley stand was given over to eye-candy of the expensive type; there was some seriously desirable kit to drool over. See the second Bristol article for more information.
Arcam – sort of
I don’t think Arcam, now under the wing of Harman Kardon (itself part of Samsung), was exhibiting at the show. If it was my apologies, I missed it. I did bump into one John Dawson though, founder of Arcam and designer of my very first amplifier (the A&R A60). He’s still going strong, working these days as a freelance designer and audio consultant. We had a brief chat, I took a couple of photos, including the one below. It was a pleasure to meet him 40 years after he unwittingly introduced me to this audiophile world.
With which I’ll sign off on the affordable HiFi Starter part of the Bristol Show report. Coming soon; dreamland Bristol!