After leaving the Blue Conference Centre I made my way to the very long corridor that contains the Syndicate rooms. In past years rooms on both sides of the corridor have been in use but this year that was not the case, as only the left side was being used.
Most of the rooms seemed to be fairly well attended as I made my way up and down the corridor several times on both days. I try to leave sound quality impressions until the second day as this gives exhibitors equipment a full day to warm up and also allows tweaking of the set ups within the rooms.
As I have hinted at elsewhere in this show report, hotel rooms are not ideal for HifI systems and I am quite sure that most of the poor sound I heard in this part of the show was down to hotel room syndrome and not badly matched systems.
Of course some of the rooms I was not quite so keen on was as a result of my own particular tastes in music reproduction and thus should not be viewed as a bad mark against any particular product, system or exhibitor. This report is based on my impressions and is as such an opinion piece and not a statement of absolutes. Please keep this in mind at all times.
Aspara is the latest project from Brian Taylor formerly of Impulse speakers and his current business partner Julius Hyde. These speakers have a front facing bass driver with its rear, working into a bass horn enclosure. Brian feels this approach”leads to a more coherent sound”
The Aspara Acoustics HL1 £8175, stand over 1.2 m tall and have a fairly large foot print, though they seemed quite at home in this room from a visual point of view. I had a good look at the cabinets and fit and finish was very good indeed. The specs are 25Hz to 20 kHz, 12inch Precision Devices bass/mid driver, tweeter 2 inch compression driver, sensitivity is 100 db, with a nominal impedence of 8 ohms.
The electronics being used were all from the Pure Sound brand and Guy Sargent was hard at work fielding questions about various items in the room and was also master of ceramonies when it came to changing the music being played.
He was kept very busy on both days. I know this first hand as I tried to talk to him a number of times and failed to do so, due to the crowds within the room.
The system being used comprised of the following Pure Sound components an A8000 Cd player, P2A3 and A10 integrated amplifiers, P10 and T10 phono stage combination and Guy’s very own SME armed Technics p10 turntable and copper bodied Audio Note IO cartridge.
The sound was very open, effortless and dynamic but not quite to my taste. I am one of those people who just don’t like what horn speakers do. I have tried over the years to understand what it is about them, that their users love but to date I have yet to hear any horn speaker that I could respect, let alone love but never say never; I have an open mind and open ears.
While listening a few times during the course of the weekend I was never overly aware of the hands cupped colouration that nearly all speakers like this seem to have but I did at times find the presentation too forward and harsh for my tastes.
Guys electronics are excellent in my opinion, so the blame for for this disappointment either lies with the speaker technology or the interaction between room and speaker’s or both of those factors. Without hearing the Aspara speakers in a more controlled environment, I can’t say much more about it, which is a pity as I was looking forward to both seeing and hearing them.
I am very much an advocate for old technology and quite often the design solutions of yesterday can offer more than newer ones. In the case of Artisan Audio they were very much using old technology to amplify the groove modulations of a vinyl record, even more so than you might at first imagine.
We have all heard of Moving Coil, Moving Magnet and Moving Iron (to a lesser extent) but the Strain Gauge was a new one on me, when I first started reading about the Sound Smith cartridge a few years ago.
Unlike a Moving Coil cartridge a strain gauge cartridges generates a voltage by the stylus/cantilever movement deflecting two tiny silicon strain gauge elements. Basically the vibration from the stylus arrives at a thin sliver of silicon which deforms due to this motion; because it is a semiconductor this motion changes its electrical resistance. The cartridge is powered by the passing of a constant voltage through it and the changes in deflection of the semiconducting silicon generates a music signal.
Unlike most high end cartridges you can change the styli on this one. You have a choice between four with prices starting at £150 for the entry level styli rising to £500 for the top model.
The system in use in this room was as follows…. the turntable was a Galibier Gavia, fitted with a Morsiani CM-1. The cartridge was the SG-610 Strain Gauge cartridge + preamplifier, which was driving a pair of Quicksilver V4 monoblocks. The music server was Apple Macbook/Pure Music/Prism Sound Orpheus interface. Cables were Discovery Essence (music server) and Discovery Plus 4 (wired from the tone arm and between the pre-to-power)
This was an amazing looking system and it sounded very good as well. However I really felt that the room was holding things back, which was a shame, as I could hear what the system was trying to do, but being held back by a crap hotel room. I felt frustrated for the exhibitors.
From a personal point of view, it was also nice to see and hear a set of Quick Silver valve amplifiers. Many years ago when new to audio, it was amplifiers like this that used to set my pulse a racing when reading copies of Stereophile or the Absolute Sound.
It is always interesting to see what Max has been up to in recent times. Over the years, his designs have been both unique and challenging; by that I mean, that Max has always thought outside the box and found very innovative ways to solve audio design problems. I think it fair to say that many of his solutions have been just that wee bit more imaginative than many of his peers and those solutions, have at time redefined what is possible in music reproduction.
On entering his room it became clear to me that Max’s designs had taken another unique evolutionary path. Firstly his new speakers the Glastonbury Tor £19950 looked incredible from a visual point of view (it should be kept in mind that form always seems to follow function with Max’s designs) but these new speakers are also in many ways a departure from previous designs. Secondly and for the first time in my life I saw the glow of tubes in a Townshend Audio demo. I almost felt like I needed to sit down…..valves.
This is the spec details taken from Townshend Audio website……..
The Glastonbury Tor are focused-line wide range high fidelity loudspeakers, 4 bass mid drivers 15Hz-5kHz vertical line foreword facing, 6 leaf tweeters 5kHz-20kHz vertical line foreword facing, 1 leaf tweeter rear facing ambience, 1 Supertweeter 20kHz-90kHz point source foreword facing, Bass drivers made in house to achieve the correct Q for bass reflex loading, Resonant frequency 27Hz, Double flared port pioneered by Townshend Audio in the original legendary Glastonbury II speaker from 1985.
The Line has full frequency response from bottom to top unlike speakers which have bass, mid then treble. Multiple drivers reduce distortion due to constructive interference superposition.
Time aligned Line array, Welded steel shell Herculite lined 20mm, Fixings set in Herculite, Fully floating on Stella Stand isolates from 2Hz up, Weight 85Kg, Frequency response 15Hz-90kHz +/- 3dB, Power handling 400W, EDCT wired.
The Tor’s have an External Crossover 3 position switch which allows operation to be passive or use the following elements for drive….Class D amplifier, Class D Bass, Class A triode for tweeters. (Triode amp filtered -3dB 5kHz to rise headroom), Class A wide range. The filter also has a 6 dB per octave filter slope for linear phase.
The valve amplifiers were driving the tweeters. Now the only other company I know that does this is T&A but in their case the amplifier is in the speaker. Considering the microphonic nature of valves, this is not at first thought perhaps the best place for valves to be used. Max has designed the Tor so the valve tweeter amplifiers are kept well away from any vibration the speaker might generate….though it should be pointed out that these speakers if they are like past Townshend Audio speakers will have highly inert and heavily damped cabinets thus reducing vibration internally and externally. Still sitting the valve amplifiers away from the speakers, is in my opinion a more sensible decision.
Max was also enthusing about his new pre-amplifier which I over heard him say “was is best ever.” The Glastonbury Pre q pre-amplifier £9950 “is a passive auto transformer design. The volume has 23 steps with2/3db between steps and -1db remote controlled gain change to double steps of 46. It has 6 inputs, 2 outputs on RCA phono and 2 inputs and 2 outputs via XLR connection and the design is balanced”…….
A piece of cello music was playing when I entered the room and I had to stop and listen. The music playing was breathtaking, haunting and beautiful. The body of the instrument was fully realised in the room, with all the bowing sounds and note decay clear and detailed. The overall sound was highly focused and coherent with a natural quality which was neither forward or dark…the sound was just right. As the music ebbed and flowed I was struck also by how cleanly the leading edges of notes were reproduced with excellent stopping and starting. These speakers were very fast as well. While the music being played was not bass rich to my ears, the lower mid and bass elements of the instrument were reproduced with out any obvious frequency suck outs.
I would have loved to hear some more music but time did not permit it. However there was magic going on in Max’s room.
The sound in this room was nice and relaxed but a mystery was presented to me. After a few minutes of listening I noticed that neither of the VU meters on the Mcintosh integrated amplifier were moving….very odd. My suspicion was that the Mcintosh was only being used as a pre and the real power amplifier was hiding behind the table somewhere out of sight. The sound was not what I expected of a Mcintosh valve amplifier, lacking that lush three dimensional quality I had heard from this integrated a few years ago, at a September Park Inn HiFi Show. I later had this suspicion confirmed for me, by another exhibitor. I was told, that it was felt that the Mcintosh had not been able to drive the speakers being used to Whest’s satisfaction. this is fair enough as the AE1’s are a very hard drive; so a solid state alternative was being used but which one ?
The full range of phonostages were on static display including the Whest Two, Whest Three, PS.3oR and MC Ref 5 and a PS.30RDT was in use as part of the rooms system.
The system in use, in this room consisted of an Eastern Electric Minimax Tube CD Player, CD to Pre Interface : Eastern Electric BBA – Valve Array Impedance Matcher, Pre-amplifier : ATC CA2, Power : ATC P1, Mains Supply : PurePower 1050 Mains Regenerator, Mains Infrastructure : Vertex Silver Plus Jaya (RFI Filter), Platforms : Vertex Hi-res Kinabalu with Hi-Res Coupler / De-Couplers and all of this housed on a Hi-Fi Racks Limited Podium 4 Reference, the speakers were from ATC. Audio Emotion were also using cables from Wire World, Stratus 5 Mains Cables, Oasis 6 Interconnects and Oasis 6 Speaker Cable. The speakers were ATC SCM-40 Floorstanders – finished in Cherry Wood.
Audio Emotion being a dealer, had assembled a system from the best of what they sell but had set themselves a maximum system cost of no more than £6000. Gary of Audio Emotion spent well over two hours ” blutac’ing the ceiling tiles to their frame !!”( there’s dedication for you) in order to solve some noise issues, which were being created by these tiles.
These hotel rooms can create problems for exhibitors. I remember a few years ago in a similar room at the Park Inn, some bass notes setting off a weird squeaking sound. It was traced to the window frame and not record storage boxes as had first been thought. A few solutions were tried but these only resulted in a reduction of the problem and not a complete cure.
The sound was very good, though not being familiar with any of the equipment being used makes it hard for me to say what elements contributed to what but over all it was open and detailed with good dimension and nicely controlled bass. However if I am honest the sound was a little too forward for me.
Two exhibitors in one room with sadly no Adcom on show but plenty of other goodies to see and hear. The system was made up of Chapman T8 speakers, MIT cables (which Audiobility are the UK distributors for) and DCS and Spectral electronics. All of this was supported by a Music Works Revo table and various Reflex mains products feed the electronics with clean power.
This was the UK Show launch of the Chapman range of speakers and the T8’s on display the specification for them is as follows
|Amplifier Power Range|
This, again was a room that seemed to be having too much of a negative effect on the music….
AUDIO WORKSHOP NORWICH
Audio Workshop were using both active and passive versions of the ATC SCM50A so that the audience could hear how active speakers compare to passive. This speaker choice was part of the program of seminars that the Audio Workshop gave during the course of the show each day.
The schedule was as follows….11.00 Steve Elford of Vertex,13.00 Myself (Julian Musgrave) on Active versus Passive speakers, 15.00 Wouter Kolkman on downloaded music files versus SACD disc. Must say that I would have loved to have sat in on these seminars but alas time would not have allowed me to…pity.
As I can’t comment on sound quality in this room, I offer these photos instead…..
TOM TOM AUDIO
This company had Guru Pro Audio speakers on show and a full Naim system. The system was made up of Artemis Labs SA1 turntable fitted with a Naim Aro tone arm, Naim Suoer Line phonostage, Naim Dac, Naim HDX hard disc player, Naim CDX 2.2 Cd player , Naim pre-power combination + power supplies, Guru QM 60’s and QM10’s loudspeakers.
The overall sound in this room was not for me. I am one of those people who just does not understand, what it is, that others love about the Naim sound. On this occasion I just don’t know if it was the Naim electronics, the Guru speakers, the room acoustics or a mixture of all three but I left the room feeling totally underwhelmed.
The Artemis Labs SA-1 turntable looked fantastic and I am sure the Naim Aro arm suited it fine but I wanted to scoup it up and move it to another system, so that I might have heard it in a set up that was more to my taste.
I have an open mind and thus try hard never to rule anything out, so some day I do hope that I might be able to get and like the Naim sound but at this show, in this room, on these days, I failed to do this.
AUDIO NOTE UK
This was an awkward room to get into and as it was very busy each time I entered it (I was unable to sit down for a listen), I can’t really say much about what was in use or how it sounded. This is a pity as I like Audio Note electronics and cabling.
I took my photos apologising as I went and left as quickly as I could, thus trying not to annoy the natives too much.
The photographs will have to suffice.
Once based in the UK, Audion now reside in France but despite the location change this company still makes a large range of valve amplifiers. The only visual change being that the designs are now slightly fatter. Show partners (for a few years now) Revolver…..yes the same as the company that, back in the 1980’s made one of the most popular budget turntables that sold in the UK then and also one of the first to offer a dedicated record clamp…known as the Pig.
Well a few years ago Revolver returned with an impressive line up of speakers a large floor standing flagship model called the Cygnis and then a return to analogue in the form of a turntable called the Replay. At this show they were showing off the latest version of their flagship speaker the Cygnis Gold Reference £14950 a UK show first.
While on the way out of the room one of the Revolver staff pointed at the circa 1980 Revolver turntable and said “we are bringing this back, later in the year” Now this off the cuff remark may pan out to be something or not. However on the current price list, a turntable called Rebel 2 £999 is listed but not on the website…….go figure. I for one hope this happens.
The system being used comprised a Naim 2XS Cd player, New Audion Black Shadow 845 mono amplifiers and the Revolver Cygnis Gold speakers. Overall the sound was very good but at times was slightly strident on high notes and when the music reached a peak. Bass despite the speakers being large (perhaps to big for the room) was well controlled and extended without being boomy.
The London Hi-Fidelity Show coverage will continue with Part four, the rest of the Syndicate Rooms…..coming soon.
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