The year has flashed past since the last National Audio Show at Whittelbury Hall and the one that has just past and as per usual Adventures in High Fidelity Audio will present this show report very much as if a show visitor is wondering round it.
This year sadly my coverage won’t be quite as complete as it has been in the past as several rooms were closed when I visited (not being open by 10.30 on the first day) and as such I did not revisit them. In my opinion this is really not on as the opening hours are clearly to be adhered to and being closed gives a bad impression to the show visitor and presents the time poor audio journalist i.e me, with too big a challenge to go back; so I didn’t. Two other companies rooms were not visited by me, for personal reasons.
A few other rooms were only accessible via a ticket for a fixed time demonstration or lecture/clinic. As much as I would like to have attended these, being a one man band means I can’t afford the time to visit these rooms, as while you might feel two days is enough time to cover The National Audio Show, I can tell you as I cover it, it isn’t. As ten to three pm came on the Sunday I had just finished my coverage. Staying on later would have helped but as I had to leave at three in order to get my flight back home, this was not an option.
This year I have decided to start the show coverage from the rear entrance, rather than the front entrance and as such my coverage of this years show will start with the Brooklands Suite, which is laid out as a kind of market place.
The Brooklands Suite
I always enjoy visiting the Brooklands Suite, as it is set up like a medieval audio market place, with lots of interesting stalls set up around the large room that is the Brooklands Suite.
The Entrance to the Show
T1 The Missing Link
I very much enjoyed my chat with the owner of Missing Link Cables Mark and his wife Jan. This no nonsence British Company has been ‘making’ (note I say making) his extensive range of interconnect, speaker and mains cables for quite a number of years now and he bases all his designs on solid sensible electrical engineering principals rather than on ‘foo’ and magic pixie dust claims.
Missing Link have also recently taken on distribution of Vincent audio products in the UK and I wish them all the best with that as based on hearing a few items from the range at a previous show (when distributed was being done by MV Audio) they are very much worth checking out. I wish Missing Link all the best with Vincent.
T3 The HiFi Critic
Subscription only magazine The Hi-Fi Critic had a stall selling back issues and subscriptions and interestingly also had a room elsewhere in the show where they had teamed up with Wilmslow Audio.
T5 Black Rhodium
Graham Naulty cable industry stalwart had a very interesting stall set up with many of his excellent cables.
Black Rhodium used this show as a platform to launch the new ACT1 speaker cable.
‘This special cable uses processes found in our flagship Ninja speaker cable, yet is more agile and is priced to suit entry level reference systems. The ACT 1 has been designed using production processes found in our ultra high end Ninja DCT++ loudspeaker cable, to give low impedance, low capacitance and most importantly a fantastic sound reproduction quality.’
Also on show for the first time at the National Audio Show was the Aria, Oratorio, Overture, Cantata and Chorale stereo interconnect cables, all of which (excluding Aria) feature the new improved DCT Ultra Treatment and Crystal Sound Process.
‘For many years Black Rhodium has been at the forefront of using precious metals in its cables and our new cables are no different. Overture, Cantata and Chorale use extra special Deep Cryogenically Treated 99.95% pure palladium and are available with Eichmann Silver Bullet Plugs or for the first time ever on a Black Rhodium cable Oyaide pure silver SLSC RCA Connectors or rhodium plated Focus 1 XLR plugs.’
Distributed in the UK by Black Rhodium Oyaide had for the first time their own stall with their excellent quality range of cables, connectors and analogue products. Revealed for the first time at the UK show was a new addition to their ‘platter mat’ range in the shape of a thin ‘rubber typed’ mat to go under the metal one.
This item is called the BR one and Oyaide describe it thus….
‘At its sensational appearance in 2010, Oyaide “MJ-12” turntable mat attracted audiophile’s attention by its beautiful design. Then we have started to produce its option item which enhances the performance of MJ-12. A result of development will appear on the market as BR-ONE.
BR-ONE, made by butyl rubber, is the 1mm thick turntable sheet.
Its excellent vibration damping property absorbs vibration generated on the platter and maximizes the property of MJ-12. The simple usage of BR-ONE is that you just place it between turntable platter and MJ-12. It will also have good result combining with your other turntable sheets.’
This particular show marked the first anniversary of Black Rhodium’s distribution of Oyaide in the UK and they had brought Mr. Hayato Ishiguro, Managing Director of Oyaide, to the show; sadly I missed the opportunity to talk with him.
While I was visiting the stall John Robinson of Black Rhodium, the UK didtributors of Oyaide was minding the store, while Mr. Hayato Ishiguro was elsewhere. We chatted a bit about Oyaide products the headshells and the platter mat and I must say while our conversation was short it was a pleasure talking to him.
There will be a review of both the platter mat and the weight in a future edition of AIHFA.
T7 Timestep/Sound HiFi
Dave Cawley of Sound HiFi/Time Step was exhibiting his well established and regarded Technics upgrades, ANT Audio products and the long awaited Funk Firm Technics 1200/1210 platter upgrade as well as a Funked Technics arm.
This is what the Funk Firm say about their Technics 1200/1210 platter….
‘Technics SL1200 series turntables.
With 3 million units sold this must make it perhaps the most successful production turntable of all time.
Designed for harsh DJ arenas, “robustness”, “reliability” and “consistency” are all bye words that have built SL1200’s reputation. For the audiophile, however, where information retrieval (of the smallest signals) is paramount, it is clear that in the SL1200, finesse has taken a definite backseat. But then the SL1200 was built to a very affordable price. Hardly surprising then to find heavy compromises.
SL1200’s platter is a complex affair comprising various holes, pillars, tapers for the bearing and so on. The only way Technics’ engineers were able to incorporate all these different requirements whilst sticking to a limited budget was in a casting, which turned out to be a thin construction with severe ringing bell modes.
In an effort to try and control some of its resonant flexing they bonded a thick layer of rubber to the underside.
Despite all this damping, one only has to hold the platter by one of its finger holes and tap, even gently, to experience how ineffective it is. This then will have a negative impact to the music as it plays. There is an additional problem in bonding a sheet of rubber results in sample-to-sample variations in the dynamic balance and the servo has to work very hard – this is never a good thing.
To support the record they supplied a thick rubber mat and this as we all know is an appalling interface for the record.
One might think that all this may be of little concern in the driving, high SPL environment of the disco floor but one thing is certain, it has no place for the audiophile. Returning now to the disco environment, it should come as no surprise that the louder you go, the more you amplify the problems, so the truth is that DJs have also been suffering, badly.
The other major area of concern is SL1200’s arm. Once again, both design brief and budgetary constraints in manufacturing means that is an unashamedly cheap stock construction, no different to any of the other myriad arms found on oh so many Japanese decks. Surprisingly, however, we find two redeeming features: The delicate bearings are actually quite decent, whilst its VTA adjustment capability, is legendary and has earned it many friends…if only the arm didn’t sound so bad, for when tracing a groove, each musical chord is characterised with a signature that has long been a source of sonic irritation to discerning ears.
All these criticisms notwithstanding, audiophiles have recognised potential in the SL1200’s capabilities. A motor assembly that is basically very good, as is the bearing. The dreadnaught plinths also deserves commendation. Now, with typical flair and creativity, Funk addresses the weaknesses enabling SL2100s to turn in a quite superlative performance.
As with all Funk’s products, if you are going to do a job, do it really well and we start with a thoroughbred of a platter derived straight from high end turntable design practice. This platter is a precision engineered as a single-piece and so benefits from enhanced rigidity, accuracy and balance.
A few words on the machining.
The design requirements for SL1200’s acrylic platter are unlike other conventional high end platter designs where the two faces simply need to be machined flat – this is a relatively straightforward, cost-effective operation and with minimal material being removed.
By contrast, SL1200’s platter has a central post protruding below the platter, various holes, a tapered bore all of which are turned, milled and drilled out of a single original stock plate. Considerable material has to be removed and machining too quickly will result in chipping and warping so it has to be done slowly and with care.
Even though things are not rushed, the platters are then left for a period of time to stress relieve before a final finishing cut is made. Time consuming, such care means that we can offer a life-time warranty on our platter.
As for the benefits, the museum grade acrylic immediately provides a very good impedance to match that of the record.This substantial component does not suffer the structural resonant vagaries of the original.
A carefully calculated profile provides means the inertia works with SL1200’s servo for the fastest response possible. At the same time Its mass has been kept comparable to the original so it does not load the bearing – wear does not increase. Finally, it has been profiled so that it drops directly onto the standard bearing whilst working with the protective shield in place.
Funk’s SL1200 platter is available in black or machined clear.
SL1200 Platter Servo:
The new platter also comes precision fitted with a multi-layer assembly servo sensor.
Nine layers of low hysteresis material are precision cut, aligned and then carefully assembled on a jig. Such a construction is considerably more costly than a single part but it does produce a component which due to the low hysteresis maintains the torque from the motor drive. All you, the user, has to do is to transfer the original magnet – simply three screws and a few minutes.
We doubt that Technics’ engineers ever in their wildest dreams thought that their design would be reproduced in this way from a precision engineered component because put simply, from the above it is self-evident that the original design doesn’t lend itself easily to being re-moulded to audiophile standards ‘
and the Funk Firm upgrades to the standard Technics arm, which turn it into a FX-1200 arm…..
‘The other aspect to the upgrade is in the arm, where Funk has been pioneering a new approach to arm design.
It is called F•X technology and is revolutionising the way arms work. Due to the nature of our technology we don’t call them “tubes”, (that is left to all other manufacturers) we prefer to use the term “beams” as that more correctly describes the differences and operation. We have now applied this technology specifically to the SL1200.
FX1200 is not just FXR. FX1200 is a laborious full re-working the original arm specific to SL1200 and means we have been able to retain 1200’s VTA adjustment in a cost effective package.
Instantly visual differences are evident – a straight, all-black livery and newly designed headshell. Beauty as they say, however, is more than skin deep, so and based on Funk’s F•X technology the business part of the significant technical differences go deeper.
These result in Funk’s very benign break-up curve which indicates the music is not held back by conventional tube resonances, delivering nothing less than state of the art performance.
Listening to FX1200 you will realise that this is an arm that unlike any you have previously heard. It throws a very wide, sweet and deep soundstage. The best description is that it really does sound genuinely captivating.
Modification of your arm is carried out at our facilities, where your arm will be fully stripped and checked. The VTA system commonly seizes up so this will be corrected and the bearings checked and re-set or replaced.
Only then do we start on the full modification which includes a new high performance external cable.’
These Funk Firm developed Technics upgrades have been in the pipe line for quite awhile and based on what I heard via an ANT Audio headphone amplifier and Audio Technica Headphones I feel they have been well worth the wait; as they give the Technics owner another path to upgrade their turntable by.
The sound was open and detailed, with a very natural organic presentation with excellent detail retrieval and a very musical sound. Being an owner of two Technics 1200 turntables, both modified, I was very impressed with the sound I was hearing; of course I would love to hear these upgrades in my own system to comment more but based on the brief listen via headphones I think the Funk Firm are onto a winner here.
Dave had a Denon 103 cart fitted on the Funk/Technics arm and he told me that Arthur Kobaserrian of Funk Firm developed the platter and arm modifications with a Denon 103 cart very much in mind, in fact the carts used for the development program were obtained from Sound Hifi; Dave’s retail outlet.
The platter costs £600 and the arm £950
Also on display was the Timestep Evo version of the Technics 1200, which incorporates the Timestep bearing, armboard, HE power supply and SME 309 arm, Audio Technica AT33EV cart, Oyaide mat and weight.
Show regular Audioitalia were exhibiting their usual equipment tables but also an interesting new range of loudspeaker from 8 Ball Audio.
There were a number of speakers on static display from this interesting (new to me) company. Audioitalia say this about 8Ball….
‘We are pleased to supply a range of audio furniture made by a team of talented designers and audio engineers.
they are available in a variety of configurations and materials including solid woods, veneers and (in some cases) the same material used for AudioItalia Modena™ audiophile furniture.
8 Ball Audio products have been designed by audio enthusiasts, taking in to account both audiophile performance AND visual design. Would you like a loudspeaker finished in genuine Paul Smith* material? You will find it here.’
The Tall £4400
‘This is a special edition version of our renowned floorstanding speaker. Using walnut cabinets, and exclusive fabrics from Maharam, we have created a stunning contempory loudspeaker. It’s looks really do match it’s sound, offering a truely stunning piece of acoustic furniture!
Using a unique ported assembly adds even more extension to the natural bass of the driver, while still maintaining structural stiffness and weight to the construction. The design follows the philosophy of fusing modern and traditional.
Covering the front baffle in fabric allows virtually infinite customisation, matching any interior.
Frequency Range : 39Hz ~ 20Khz, Efficiency : 88dBs, RMS : 50w ~ 100w, Finish : Solid Walnut, Fabric, Width and Depth: 18cm, Height : 90cm
The quality of finish on these was breathtaking but how they sound, I can’t say as the next offering on display from 8 Ball The Round was not wired up for sound.
The Round £3200 was like the Tall a beautiful example of woodworking craftsmanship and here is what 8 Ball….
‘The brief was simple, to produce a beautiful and unique Loudspeaker to compliment any surroundings, using rich hand crafted solid wood and steel.
Pushing the enclosure design so far forward the speaker became a piece of modern furniture in its own right. Beautiful both sonically and visually it really does have the WOW factor.
It has a practical, elegant support. This bespoke piece of engineering is hand made from polished, chromed steel which works at reflecting the light, surfaces and colours of the room. It perfectly compliments the Highball in its look and feel, and with three points of contact will always sit securely on any floor.
Frequency Range : 59Hz ~ 20Khz, Efficiency : 88dBs, RMS : 50w ~ 100w, Finish : Solid Walnut, Ash, Maple, Width and Depth: 30cm, Height : 75cm
There was also a subwoofer on display too The Low £3000…
‘Using walnut cabinets, and exclusive fabrics from Maharam, we have created a truely stunning piece of acoustic furniture, hiding a trouser flapping secret!
Using a sealed enclosure and specially design 400w amplifier [made here in the UK], it delivers real extension from the natural bass of the large 12″ driver. Internal bracing maintains structural stiffness and weight.
Covering the front baffle in fabric allows virtually infinite customization, matching any interior or our Tall or Round speakers , while the lovingly handmade construction really sets it apart.
The bass is fast and extended with deep notes and film effects sounding particularly good.’
Frequency Range : 20Hz ~ 140Hz, RMS : 400w, Finish : Solid Walnut, Fabric, Width and Depth: 40cm, Height : 55cm
As always it was a pleasure talking with Colin Locke of Audioitalia.
T9 Loricraft Audio
Garrard modification and updating firm Loricraft were in their usual corner displaying their beautiful modern updates of the classic Garrard 301/401 turntables and their own Garrard based design + their record cleaning machines.
I can’t help but think what a pity they don’t take a room so all those who attend the show can get a slice of the legendary Garrard magic.
Loricraft had on static display the New Triton turntable, Garrard 501, Garrard 601, record cleaner and the PSUs for 301 and 501.
T10 Claro Precision Audio
Wonderful British turntable manufacturer had their beautiful Clarity 09 and Dark Clarity turntables on static display once again. I have badly wanted to hear one for awhile and thankfully at this show I did get a chance to do so in another exhibitors room, sadly the experience was not long enough to form any solid conclusions (though it did sound very good indeed but the electronics and speakers were unfamiliar; so I am unsure as to what was doing what exactly) other than I hope some time in the future to hear a Clarity 09 turntable again for longer and perhaps in familiar surroundings
T11 HiFi +
Had a stall selling back issues, subscriptions and the current issue of the Absolute Sound. Can’t help but think that since Moth Marketing don’t exhibit at shows anymore and Borders are gone that HiFi + could sell a few back issues of the Absolute Sound at shows as well as their own title after all both titles are owned by the same company. I for one would buy them (bought the October issue issue that was on sale) as I am sure others would too. Its a real shame the Absolute Sound does not get more exposure in the UK.
AS01 Jo Sound
I was really looking forward to visiting this company’s room even though the sound they had at the Audio World 2011 show was poor (mostly down to room acoustics and a few equipment malfunctions), I still felt I could hear enough in their unusual speakers to want to hear them again and I am pleased to report that on this showing the Jo Sound speakers are very much worth listening to, though I will concede that their particular way of making music is not for every one.
I felt that they had more that made the most of the sound pod that they were using and the system which comprised of a Musical Fidelity streamer, DAC and Icon Audio valve amplifiers was making a very musical sound with good detail and a fairly full range sound. I enjoyed chatting with Jo Sounds owner and the speakers designer Jo Jouhal, who gave me a potted history of the company’s origins and the process of designing the speakers.
The speakers on demo were Jo 33/1 £15,995 using a single voxativ drive unit per speaker and Jo 45/1 £3995
T12 Russ Andrews
Russ Andrews had as usual, or so it seemed, once again, decanted his entire stock from the Lake District to Whittelbury Hall.
T15 Atacama Audio
T16 Track audio
One year on from last years show Track Audio continue to push the boundaries of quality engineering in association with audiophile support products. This year Track Audio had guests Spendor speakers sharing the stand with them.
I have reviewed a number of this companies designs this year and last year and frankly I feel that Track Audio deserve more recognition for their efforts to bring ‘no foo’ quality speaker stands, equipment supports, isolation spikes and replacement spike kits to a market full of over priced under engineered racks and stands.
Track Audio were exhibiting a prototype oak lamination isolation platform (seen in photo above with an AMR 77 series integrated amplifier sitting on it) which Mike Butler was loaning out to a few companies one such being John Howes and the laminated oak as well as looking beautiful also in conjunction with four Isolation Spikes did an excellent job at isolating. I personally felt that John Howes system and amplifiers benefited from their presence.
I wish Mike and Track Audio all the best for the future and I hope that among a lot of identi kit products that Track Audio get the attention they so richly deserve. You might say I am biased in saying that but having lived with and still living with Track Audio products they do exactly what they say on the tin and the quality engineering give a pride of ownership most other similar products simply don’t have.
T17 Supra Cables
T19 Stamford Audio
Had their usual extensive collection of new and s/h vinyl and CDs for sale, plus turntable accessories. I found a few nice items to buy in the form of vinyl from Bill Bruford and Grace Jones.
T20 Advanced Acoustics
Sean of Advanced Acoustics was very busy elsewhere, during the show, running clinics and rooms dedicated to acoustic room treatment demo rooms on the first floor and also his retail business (Audio Sanctum) who also had a room at the show; so its fair to say he was a very busy man in deed.
This year he had brought less acoustic panels with him for loan around the show and I think it also fair to say that a fair number of rooms could have benefited from having them in place. However as many companies exhibit in the same rooms year in year out perhaps they should invest in some panels from AA to insure their rooms always sound excellent…..just a thought.
The system was made up from components from XTZ and Parc from Rivesaudio.
T21 HiFi Racks
HiFi Racks were residing in their usual pitch at the show, or at least the same one they have been in for the last two years and as before were exhibiting their lovely range of modular wood audio and video equipment racks.
Having got to help assemble one of their stands as part of helping John Howes set up his room at this show I must say I was very impressed with the quality of fit and finish and also the simplicity of design; which was very effective.
If you are looking for a quality equipment rack which manage to walk the thin line between quality conventional household furniture and audiophile street cred support racks (which often look like oilrigs) then the HiFi Racks Podium range walks that line very well indeed.
T22 Diverse Vinyl
Diverse vinyl had their usual ‘diverse mix of records covering all genres of music and I bought a few Mo Fi releases Dead Can Dance – Into The Labyrinth and Marc Cohn self titled debut.
T23 Mains Cables R Us
Relatively new company Mains Cables R Us had a stall and it was really nice to be able to put a face to the person behind the email exchanges I had during the time I reviewed the Mains Cables R Us Ultimate Mainscable.
David Brook was exhibiting a viritable cornicopia of goods from many companies including his own brand, Furatech, Oyaide, Blue Horizon and many others. Having recently teamed up with audio designed Nick Goram, David was proudly showing of his power supply for the Technics 1200 turntable, which only one of a range of upgrade PSUs that the pair have designed and produced to suit a wide range of audio products that are supplied with wall wart styled PSUs.
Anyway the Technics PSU project was born out of David’s owning a Technics turntable himself and wanting to do something a little different than the other PSU offerings on the market and it would seem that he has succeeded in doing that by offering a much larger power supply than most others (though the Paul Hynes SR5 is bigger I think)
On David’s website it say this about the Technics PSU….
‘Utilizing many features and custom made in the UK, the Mains Cables R Us Technics PSU will transform the performance of your turntable. Many innovative features have been included in the design including a Furutech gold plated IEC inlet fitted with a Furutech audio grade quality fuse, Furutech gold plated XLR inlet and detachable DC lead using Kimber PBJ cabling which is excellent for reducing RFI and other mains interferance. The Kimber is supplied pre cut and stripped ready to solder directly to your turntable (instructions provided with all PSU sales) and is fitted with a Furutech XLR connector for attaching to the PSU.
We have not come across any other PSU offering such quality parts as standard in the design.
The unit is supplied with a 2 metre Kimber DC lead as standard.
What distinguishes this product from all others is its use of a specially designed choke to provide inductive energy storage and filtering, we will be publishing a white paper at a later date detailing why this is simply a better solution, but the major advantage it brings is the absence of disruptive harmonic energy that with conventional units extend from 100Hz all the way through the audible range and is injected into every other item in your rack.
The PSU comes complete with our own audio grade mains power lead with silver plated iec connector and silver plated mains plug.’
Price for the PSU is £495
The PSU was very heavy to lift and was pretty substantial in regards to case work. However as time was pressing I did not get a chance to listen to the turntable, through the Nick Goram phonostage and headphone system that David had provided for auditioning the Technics turntable.
I very much enjoyed meeting David at the show.
Concrete Speakers – The Hinterland (an unofficial crack, between the edges of two stalls)
Just opposite the Mains Cables R Us stall inside a little crack formed by the edges of two stalls a relatively new start-up speaker manufacturer was displaying some schematics and samples of the kind of finishes that could be supplied as part of the AL200BR speakers £4500 for a pair.
I enjoyed chatting with the designer but at this stage I can say no more about the speakers except that concrete is an interesting material for making speakers out of and it has been awhile since anyone has (I think) done this. I recall Avance a Swiss company that did and Shan Acoustics who made speakers out of a polmer concrete back in the late 80’s and who were based in Northern Ireland.
Thus ends part One of the National Audio 2011 show report. Part two will follow soon and will cover the rest of the ground floor rooms.
© Text and Photos Copyright 2011 Adventures in High Fidelity Audio, with the exception of photos taken from 8 Ball Audios website, Black Rhodium and Concrete Speakers. Copyright for those images belongs with those companies.
NB No part or portion of this article may be reproduced or quoted without written permission.