Oct 122010

Now on the first floor of the show the labyrinthine nature of the hotel layout would have become very clear to the show visitor. The ground floor layout while challenging pails next to the twisted narrow corridors used up stairs. Part of the problem was that there were very few landmarks by which to navigate by and even the doors to the stairways were not as obvious as they could have been. I am fairly sure that rooms were missed by visitors due to the confusing layout.

However from the comfort of your chair you can now revisit the show with this part six of the Adventures in High Fidelity Audio show report.

We will start this part of the report by visiting room 101

101   Studio 3 Design

On entering this room a visitor would be struck by the slightly odd appearance of a black and yellow loudspeaker. I say that because the drive units were hidden behind a series of diagonal slits that were cut into a soft material. For all intents and purposes these speakers looked as if someone with a razor sharp sword had cut slices out of the front cover, leaving zig zag wounds in the grills.

The EC2 mk2 speaker is a a totally revised version of the previous version with these revisions being as a result of work done on the FT3 speaker. Studio 3 Designs allows the end user a high degree of flexibility of internal cabling, and wood thickness and the amount of damping used. All of this to give better room and system matching.

The sound in the room was okay but as I was not entirely sure what I was listening too I can’t say if the slight oddness in the sound was as a result of the room, the vintage electronics or the speakers.

Anyway these speakers had an interesting visual design element to them and would certainly give you a talking point in your listening room.

There is no website for Studio 3 Design but you can contact them at nigel at studio3design.co.uk for more information.

102   HiFi+

Alan Sircom was conducting closed room demonstrations based on his series on System Foundations that HiFi + had been running recently in their magazine. Sadly I did not have the time to attend any of these demonstrations.

Equally it was unusual not to have seen Alan wandering the corridors of the show weighed down by an entire photography studio as he covered the show for the magazine he is the editor/reviewer for. I must be honest and say I missed that element. “There is a man who suffers for his profession and professionalism” I would often think as I had seen him in the past, passing him in the corridors at shows with numerous cameras and camera bags hung round his neck and over his shoulder. It must have been an odd new experience for him to have been room based at this show.

103   Unity Audio

Were showing a number of interesting products including a set of acoustic panels the Bass-O-Nators , a pair of Elac/Adam influenced active speakers sporting internal 100 watt Class A/B fully discrete amplifiers designed by Tim De Paravicini of EAR called The Rock and there was also an interesting DAC in use from Antelope Audio called the Zodiac Plus.

Unity Audio have a history in speaker distribution (Adam) and their own speakers are influenced by those many years of experience (Unity Audio was formed in 1995) and it shows in their own speaker design The Rock.

Unity audio had put a lot of effort into their room to make it both visually memorable but also sound good. They had also measured the acoustic signature of the room weeks before and had designed their Bass-O-Nator active room tuning panels to suit the room £586. This device is available in different colours and is a “tuned trap” to solve problem bass frequencies in any room. They can be wall mounted or free standing. These are made by Green on Green and are distributed by Unity Audio.

The Antelope Audio DAC called the Zodiac Plus is an interesting design as this info from Unity Audio’s website reveals.

“Zodiac+ wipes the virtual dust from your monitor speakers, widening the picture and adding more details, revealing extra dimension in the spectrum of music.

Is this really the best monitoring DAC for me? Well, it’s no secret that Zodiac+ sounds amazing. However, there is more! Read on…

  • Custom USB chip streams audio up to 192kHz
  • Antelope Oven Clock for supreme stability
  • 64-bit Acoustically Focused Clocking (AFC)
  • 129dB Dynamic Range
  • THD+N: 0.0004%
  • Ultra Linear, Dual Stage Headphone Amps
  • De-jittered, re-clocked Digital Audio Outputs
  • Precision Trim Pots for Balanced Analog Outs
  • Accurate Level Display for Main Volume
  • Mute (soft dim & full mute)
  • Mono summing function


Added flexibility for the professional user makes for a distinctly powerful device: AES Input, fine trimmers on the balanced outputs, mono button, mute select (soft & full), transparent analog inputs, BNC word clock input, 192kHz USB.


Digital outputs on AES/EBU and S/PDIF offer all the benefits of Antelope?s 64-bit Acoustically Focused Clocking, so external devices gain significant sonic advantages when connected to Zodiac+.


With a number of different inputs available, you can monitor many sources such as CD, Laptop, DAW or Mixers and Keyboards. Balanced and unbalanced inputs at both +4db and -10db allows tremendous flexibility, while auto detection of connected devices means source selection is simple and convenient.

Often overlooked, the quality of the clock is extremely important when high quality audio is desired. The clock is housed in a shielded container where the temperature is kept constant, therefore bringing significant benefits to the detail, dynamics and stereo placement of the audio.


Sophisticated 64-bit algorithms allow precise control over our Acoustically Focused Clocking (AFC) and Jitter Management; two critical components to improve audio via clocking. The incoming digital signal is brought to life with this unique 64-bit technology, resulting in smooth and detailed audio whatever the method of digital connectivity.


Custom implementation of the USB chip leads to extreme audio performance and comprehensive support for your system. There are user selectable modes tailored to suit both Mac and PC; and with a data transfer rate of 480Mbits flawless audio is achieved with native drivers.


Ultra Linear, Dual Stage Headphone Amps deliver smooth sound at both high and low levels. Custom designed for accurate monitoring with a wide range of headphone impedances. Controlled by a dedicated volume knob.


To preserve the full bit resolution of the DAC, volume adjustment is entirely in the analog domain. Separate analog and digital power supplies eliminate digital cross-talk. This is further enhanced by keeping analog and digital circuits on separate PCB?s. These gold plated boards utilize large internal ground plains, cancelling noise and voltage shifts.


All component decisions for Zodiac are based on a passion to produce something very special – technically, musically and aesthetically. Built with many solid aluminium parts and also very cute on the eye, it will be your pride and joy just like it is our passion.”

Price £2320

The care and attention in this rooms set up was obvious as their effort was rewarded with a nice sound which was open and detailed without being forward. Soundstage depth was also good as was the width of image too.

I for one would like to hear these speakers again for longer.

This was the first time I had experienced a ‘pro-audio’ derived system and the results were very good. Dare I suggest that the domestic audio market could learn a thing or two from these brands and this distributor.

I nominate these products for the “Ones to Watch Award in 2010/2011” I just hope the domestic HiFi market has an open mind enough to do so.

Unity Audio can be found here http://www.unityaudio.co.uk/index.php

104   Sound Foundations

Sound Foundations had a lot of gear in their room as they had back in march at the London High Fidelity show at the Park Inn. They are distributors for Isotek, Furutech, Blue Horizon, Clearlight Audio, Amphion among others.

Sadly as time was pressing on me I had to move on so can offer no comment on the sound in this room.

105   DBA Ltd

A new brand to me and I guess possibly many who attended the NAS show. DBA had a range of speakers and amplification on show but alas I could not easily get into the room as it was full. So I took some photos from the doorway.

Sound quality was okay but as I was way off centre I can’t really say much more other than these were certainly interesting looking designs.

More details can be read here http://demandbetteraudio.co.uk/index.html

106   Avid Hi-Fi

Conrad Mass of Avid was in good form when we chatted in his room about Avid, HiFi and on line and printed audio magazines though he expressed some doubts about how a not-for-profit online magazine would work as a commercial venture. My reply was that AIHFA is not a “commercial” venture.

Anyway we will have to agree to differ about AIHFA’s approach to things however one thing we can agree on is the excellent engineering, design and sound quality of Avid turntables.

Going for a more simple approach to his show system he was not using his top of the range deck the Acutus but rather instead two Avid Diva 2 SP turntables. A much improved turntable over the original version. These were fitted with a Jelco 250 arm and Goldring cartridges and an SME 309 arm

Also in the room on static display was the new Avid pre-amplifier and power-amplifier

This information has been taken from Avid’s website.

“Building on the Pulsare’s success, designed again from first principles, our Reference Pre-Amplifier will appeal to our specific customer. A vinyl based consumer who also has other interests and passions this fully balanced design with exceptionally low noise and distortion across the audio spectrum retains the Pulsare’s impressive headroom, so there’s never a feeling of ‘running out of steam’.

Employing extremely high-specification components, every attribute is of the highest order. At no point, in the circuit is signal integrity compromised, using a bank of relays for every adjustment. Inputs and outputs are both XLR and RCA, and whilst running fully balanced internally, the output is optionally balanced or unbalanced.

Two cartridges can be simultaneously fitted, each with independent controls. Mono can also be selected, catering for the growing interest in this playback style. Added to this are three line stages, an AUX input, a high quality dedicated headphone output and a fixed level tape output. Four main outputs allow up to four mono-amplifiers to be powered in either balanced or single ended configuration.

There are also both line level and output direct settings, allowing all electronics to be bypassed and the pre-amp to be used passively, highlighting the fact we have steered away from conventional ‘performance-limiting’ remote controls and employed a bespoke Penney & Giles volume control. Handmade from signal conductive plastic and manufactured to within 0.5dB per channel, this key component is indicative of our absolute purist approach.

Avid’s Reference Pre-Amplifier is expected to launch late 2010 along with mono block amplifiers offering new levels of sonic performance.”

Build quality of the Reference pre-amplifier and Reference Mono amplifiers, both outside and inside looked amazing.

Watch Avid’s website for release dates http://www.avidhifi.co.uk/index.htm

By turning right here one was faced with a dead end but also two interesting rooms

S14   Audiosmile

It was really nice to see Simon of Audiosmile again. Back in 2007 while out for a meal with Matthew of Real HiFi and Vincent Luke of AMR, Simon had accompanied us and his enthusiasm for audio and his upcoming speaker designs made for a very interesting set of discussions. At that time he had just completed his Supertweeter design and was talking about the speakers which are now a reality and available to buy.

The Kensai mini monitor speaker have been well reviewed and joining them are the new Advantage Bass upgrade. The addition of these units transforms the Kensai into a slim floor standing tower speaker.

Audiosmile’s website has this to say about the Kensai £2100

“The Kensai”is a fine example of British design flair, where every aspect contributes to making it one of the best sounding super-babies on the market. Uniquely, it manages to combine the incredible clarity and speed of a ribbon tweeter with a coherence of sound normally found only in single driver systems. It does this by combining an exceptionally high performance woofer with a special ribbon tweeter that allows for a lower crossover point than any other, whilst maintaining minimal distortion.

The ribbon tweeter uses isoplanar technology which allows push-pull drive of the diaphragm in a similar way that an electrostatic speakers works, producing exceptionally low distortion, and unrivalled top-end clarity. It has a very large area compared with other ribbons, so a low crossover point can be used, allowing the sound from the woofer and ribbon to glue together far better than a standard design. Finally, it also incorporates an acoustic lens to widen high frequency dispersion.

The woofer is a state of the art light weight magnesium coned design costing many times that used in most high-end speakers. The motor uses copper Faraday rings to improve linearity and give the clearest, least fatiguing sound. A solid copper phase plug quickly removes heat from the voice coil for crisp, uncompressed dynamics. Combined with 9mm peak coil travel, the little Kensai woofer also possesses impressively deep, controlled bass.

The cabinet is made by bespoke furniture manufactures in Kent, England. It uses a method of bracing where the energy in one side panel is fed to the out-of-phase energy in the other, so resonances cancel each other out. The centre section is made using light weight material in small sections for maximum rigidity, keeping resonance within a narrow band, so the sound is incredibly free from box colouration.

The porting system is a rather uncommon aperiodicity damped Helmholtz slot resonator. This allows the speaker to produce surprisingly deep and pacey bass, while also reducing the woofer’s work load below a sensible frequency to maintain low distortion and good dynamics.

The crossover is carefully phase aligned, and all aspects such as dispersion, power handling and resonances are considered to create as seamless a sound as possible. It uses low resistance ferrite and air-core inductors, polypropylene film capacitors, and wire wound resistors to ensure all the musical information is transferred to the drivers…and maximum enjoyment delivered to the listeners.”

And the Advantage Bass upgrade £3100

The Advantage transforms the Kensai into a 3-way semi-active floorstander, enhancing every aspect of the sound. This is not simply a subwoofer, as the Advantage completely frees the Kensai, and your amplifier, from the torture of producing low frequencies.

• Improved level capability and dynamics
• Cleaner, more involving sound throughout the range
• Bass is deeper, quicker and more powerful

Inside each Advantage cabinet are two 7″ woofers back-to-back. Built-in active filters and dual amplifiers deliver a total of 120 Watts directly to drivers with nothing in the way, so bass control is superb. A high quality passive filter reduces bass going to the Kensai. Although the speaker system is semi-active, it is used like any other, fed by your chosen amplifier. Only your amp is now free from the duty of producing bass and can focus solely on the midrange up.

The Advantage is a sealed design, which is uncommon for a bass speaker. The result is bass with less time delay than a ported speaker. Music therefore has great timing and pace. Sealed enclosures typically give less extension, yet this is not true of the Advantage. Using careful active filter design the speaker is able to reach right down below 30Hz with a gentle roll-off – Why compromise?

The crossover between the Kensai and Advantage is 100Hz. This very low crossover frequency is possible because of the Kensai’s impressive power handling, and unlike the majority of 3-way designs this keeps the crossover below the range of vocals and most instruments. The Kensai + Advantage system maintains the coherence for which the Kensai are so highly regarded.

Vibration has been eliminated from the Advantage design. Cabinet vibrations are typically a strong source of colouration in a bass speaker due to the large cabinet walls and great deal of energy in this range. The Advantage tackles this issue directly, by cancelling the vibration at its source. The twin woofers are mounted back to back, and fixed strongly together, providing a pathway for vibration from one motor assembly to the other. Feeding the same signal to each woofer, the vibration of one passes to the other, and perfectly cancels. Think of it like a tug-of-war with two perfectly matched teams; they don’t move an inch.

Attention to detail doesn’t stop here. Once low frequency vibration is solved, the next source to consider is the midrange. In a single cabinet floorstanding design, the large panels provide an effective pathway to the air, not just for bass vibrations, but midrange as well. The Kensai and Advantage are seperated with compliant isolation devices, so the pathway for midrange vibrations is broken. You just hear music, not speaker cabinets

Why The Advantage?

• The Kensai can focus effortlessly on mid & treble
• Your amplifier can focus effortlessly on mid & treble
• Bass driven directly by powerful dedicated amps
• Cabinet panel coluration is eliminated
• Sealed enclosure with active filters.”

On top of the Kensai Simon was using his first product the super tweeters The Audiosmile site says this about the Kensai Super Tweeters £570 and customised versions at £612

“This Supertweeter has been engineered to perfectly match the acoustical charactoristics of the Kensai speaker system.

The supertweeters use isoplanar ribbon technology. With wide dispersion, extension to 40KHz, distortion around 0.6% and a decay rate of ~0.35ms, these supertweeters offer first class clarity and definition.The body of the supertweeter is covered with the same high quality leatherette as the Kensai (black is standard).

Why do I need it?AudioSmiles design ethos for supertweeters is not the same as most other brands. The influence for building supertweeters has come from extensive work with room acoustics.

When listening to a speaker in a room, we hear a combination of sound coming directly from the speaker, and sound from room reflections. However, speakers do not radiate the same sound in all directions; lower frequencies have a wide dispersion pattern and very high frequencies are more like a direct beam of sound from the tweeter axis. The result of this phenomenon is actually less total energy (called the power response in the room at high frequencies than low.Our ears interpret a power response like this as soundning dull and less spacious than ideal, even though the on-axis direct sound from the speaker might be nice and extended.

AudioSmile supertweeters are designed to help correct this. The supertweeters filter is custom designed to add high frequency sound exactly where the main speakers dispersion narrows. When the supertweeter is angled off-axis from the main speaker, the high frequency energy in the room is filled out, while still keeping a reasonably smooth response on the main speaker axis. The customer can adjust positioning, and a two step level switch is situated on the back for fine-tuning the sound to personal taste.

The result of using AudioSmile supertweeters is clear for anyone to hear; improved spaciousness and a more open, live sound.”

Simon was using a mostly Naim system to drive his speakers with a Rega turntable and I also spied a Berhinger amplifier. Audiosmile do modifications to these as well as building their speakers.

Well these speakers are very transparent and a tad ruthless about recording quality. One recording picked by Malcolm Stewart the journalist was terrible bright thin aggressive and in your face and not knowing the recording or its quality (Malcolm, from comments he made while I was in the room uses it because it is like that), my initial thoughts were not good. However the next recording transformed my view all together as up next was some Eartha Kitt and the sound was nicely open and detailed with a very good soundstage. There was plenty of air and space with excellent image depth, width and height.

Instruments where nicely placed on the stage and Eartha’s voice was very clearly defined in the acoustics space. However the sound was still just a touch forward and less sweet than I would have liked.

The Kensai speaker system was very dynamic and detailed and is a testimony to Simon’s vision and enthusiasm. Well done Simon.

S15   Decent Audio/Magnepan

I have read much about these panel speakers for many years but I had never had an opportunity before this show to hear a pair.

Descent Audio were demonstrating a pair of MG 1.7 at £3500 on the end of a Rega Isis CD player £5998 and an Osiris integrated amplifier £5998.

The bass from these speakers on a Bob Marley track that was being played was amazingly good, deep tight and articulate and the mid and treble were also very good but whether it was the room or not (I can’t say) but the three elements were not as well blended together as I would have liked. However in saying that panel speakers are notoriously hard to get to work in smallish rooms and this may be behind the slight lack of frequency coherence.

There was also a Melody amplifier present in the room on static display and it was nice to see one again (last time was 2007)

Overall the sound in this room, despite the room (?) was pretty good.


The End of Part Six

In Part Seven we will continue our journey around the first floor exhibition area and we will be visiting the first floor suites.

©Text and all photos Copyright Adventures in High Fidelity Audio 2010 all rights reserved, except for the show logo Chester Group copyright.
NB No part or portion of this article may be reproduced or quoted without written permission.

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