Nov 122010

Saturday 6th of November was for audio enthusiasts of all persuasions in Northern Ireland an important date, as it marked the return of an audio show to the calendar in the province. The last show to be held anywhere in Northern Ireland was back in 1999 and at the same venue that this show was being held, the Stormont Hotel.

Those previous audio shows were organised by a now long gone audio dealer (1) though the show returned in 1999 organised by that original dealer’s (Zeus Audio) progeny: Kronos HiFi (now AV)

So after a break of ten years had anything much changed ? Well the way in which music is listened to by the masses has changed a lot, as many now chose to listen to highly compressed information stripped downloads/MP3 files either via a computer, mobile phone or other portable music devices.

Back in 1989 (the date for the first Zeus Audio show…if my memory serves me right) the new way to listen to music was via the compact disc and the heated debates which surrounded that new format (vinyl/analogue vs CD/digital)  now rage between the traditional audio enthusiasts who prefer CD/vinyl to downloads. However at this show bar a few uses of computers the majority of equipment used was similar (though the brands were in many cases different) to the kind used in the last Zeus Audio show in 1994 or Kronos show in 1999.

One major change over all the past shows was the inclusion of other dealers/distributors/manufacturers to the exhibitors list. In reality this was mainly a Kronos AV show as most of the brands exhibited at it are sold via that outlet and the organisers of the show Gr8 Events are owned and operated by Tony Sallis (and his wife) of Coherent Systems who distribute a number of brands that Kronos sell, namely Belles, Oracle and Cabasse.

Despite any potential audio politics everyone exhibiting seemed to be getting on and I for one feel this pulling together approach (and the pleasant atmosphere it helped create at the show) will ultimately benefit the pursuit of promoting quality music reproduction rather than the division that “my brands way of doing this is better than yours” can bring. What the industry needs as a whole is to pull together not pull apart.

As per usual I will present this show in the way a visitor might have worked their way around it and in order to do this I will have them start in the reception area/ground floor before moving to the lower ground floor (not the way it happened in reality) (2) and then back to the ground floor before moving to the first floor.

As in previous reports I will be sticking to two channel audio only, so I will not be covering the Anthem room (or the Car Audio products that Audio Advice had on display outside the hotel); worthy as they are in the context of the home cinema world, they just don’t fit within the AIHFA remit.

I would like to dedicate this report to the memory of my Mum….this ones for you.

Let the show coverage begin……

Ground Floor

On the ground floor by the entrance to the conference centre GR8 Events had set up their reception desk at which visitors paid and received their show guides.

The reception was manned often by the lovely Anne Sallis and mostly by staff from CT Munkii.

Diverse Vinyl

Had travelled across to the NIAS from their base in south Wales and had on display a large selection of new release records and back catalogue ones from many different record labels both general and audiophile.

Unlike other mainland shows they had not brought any SACDs or audiophile CDs with them, which in my opinion was an oversight, as not every show visitor has a turntable.  Regardless of that it was really nice to see them at the NIAS and I hope they come again to a future show.

Alas I made no purchase myself from them but would have had I visited them earlier. In the process of reviewing the photos I took at the show on the first dayI saw a copy of In The Court of the Crimson King by King Crimson under the arm of a lucky show visitor……drat !

Room CR1 KronosAV

Kronos had split their room between two systems, one on the wall beside the door to their room and the other along the opposite wall, with chairs sandwiched between the two in the middle of the room. Along the other walls on either side a fair amount of kit was on static display.

The system at the door consisted of Triangle Magellan series Cello speakers £7499, Spendor STs speakers £5999, a Coloratura HX407 turntable with HX009 tonearm, VTL TP-2.5 phonostage, VTL ST 150 power-amplifier, Bladelius Embla CD Player £5585, Saga pre-amplifier £5450 and Atlas Mavros interconnects and speaker cable.

The Embla CD player struck me as being a very interesting design and based on the approach and technology used the retail price seems very reasonable. Bladelius say this about this product (taken from their website)…..

“Bladelius Design Group is offering a totally new replay system. The Embla offers a silent playback system without any moving mechanical parts when playing from the built-in flash memory. The Embla is built from the ground up as a high performance audio playback system.

Unlike computer based playback products the Embla is based on our proprietary audio DSP design, allowing complete control over the timing and reading of the discs. The Embla is designed as a true audiophile unit from the ground up and it’s not a modified computer that can copy discs. Not only is the Embla a playback system but it also includes an analog preamplifier, a world class DA-converter based on our reference CD-player, the Gondul M. The DA-converter also carries a switchable digital filter with analog behavior. Insert a CD and you have the option to play directly from the disc like a standard CD-player or you can store the disc on the internal flash memory. You’re not even limited to just internal storage. External units can directly connect via USB to the Embla, as well as you may access files on a network drive or music streaming from a PC.

The Embla comes preloaded with a database with album and track names and will display album art if connected to the internet via its Ethernet port.
The Embla uses a built in database for album and track information. If Embla is connected to the internet it will retrieve the latest information for album and track names as well as album cover art.

Embla makes bit perfect copies of CD’s to memory using our advanced proprietary data reading error analysis algorithms enabled by a high performance Teac drive. The bit perfect copies will be stored in strict wav pcm format.

The internal memory for music storage is flash based, which gives you a completely noiseless system. The internal flash memory is upgradeable to larger size. Available from 64 GB to 2 TB.
Embla has an USB port for USB memory sticks or external harddrives, which can be used for external storage of music. Embla has a second USB port for streaming music from a compute.
Embla has an Ethernet adapter for connection to your local network. This allows you to play music from media servers such as a computer or a NAS . If your local network is connected to the internet, Embla will retrieve album art and update its database with the most recent data.

Playback of PCM, WAV, HRx, FLAC, MP3, OGG with tag information. Audio Data files are supported up to 32bit, 192 kHz.
The built in analog preamplifier with analog volume control in 0.5db steps. You also have the ability to choose from two separate balanced DAC configurations (2 DACs/channel); ability to select a special filter with analogue behavior; ability to select up to 192kHz sampling rate DA-converter provides the master clock for the transport and reading of the flash memory for the ultimate jitter performance. A highly efficient memory based jitter remover can be set for external sources.

The Embla has large linear power supply with toroidial transformer and multi-stage regulation for the lowest possible noise levels”.

Also on show in the Kronos room was a new turntable that I had not seen in the flesh before (only in photos) from Chinese new start company (2009) Coloratura-audio.
The HX 407 motor-unit £1999 and HX009 tonearm £1399 certainly looks like a lot for the money, with excellent fit and finish, from what I could see.

The other system featured an Oracle Delphi MK6 turntable, Focal Scala speakers £17000, DCS CD player/DAC/Clock, and items from Atlas including Asimi interconnects, speaker cable and a balanced mains conditioner, which can be provided with 1,1.5 and 2 KVA capability. It was also totally silent during operation; yours truly put his ear to the case and it was silent.

John Carrick from Atlas was also present in the room during most of the show’s duration; though a threatening storm on Sunday afternoon and the announcement of the cancellation of the ferries back to Scotland meant he had to leave early.

The Atlas Asimi cables are a continuation of the work started on the Mavros cable range. You can read more about this cable range here

Sadly on static display were a couple of components from a company I have not heard of  before JE Audio of Hong Kong. The items were the VL 20 pre-amplifier and the VS 70 power-amplifier. You can read more here

As I mentioned earlier Kronos had a great number of items on display around the room including Spendor A5 and SA1 speakers, Pathos Classsic One mk3, Pathos Digit CD player, MF M1 DAC, Lema Stream and Pulse, Moon CD 1, Bel Canto 1.5 DAC, S300 integrated amplifier, Audio Epilogue Pimienta 2 speakers.

I only got to hear the system by the door and it was playing at a fairly low level but despite that it was open, detailed, effortless, organic and quite musical. The Kronos room was quite busy on a number of times that I tried to visit it during the show weekend and it was only on Sunday AM before I was able to take photos and get a listen.

The room was nicely laid out and was full of interesting kit.

Room CR2 True Colours Industries

Andrew Stacy of TCI was in full flow when I visited his room as he described some of the cables from his extensive range of cabling that is assembled in Lisburn a few miles outside of Belfast and then demonstrated them.

The sound in his room on the first day was a tad forward and bright but on day two it had become more coherent and much less forward though at times he had a few room related bass issues as did many of the exhibitors.

The system TCI were using was a mixture of Andrew’s own gear and a few items he had been loaned. Andrew was using a Chord DAC64, Oracle CD1500 £8500, Musical Fidelity M3 integrated amplifier £1000, Meridian 602 transport, vintage Musical Fidelity p270 power amplifier and a Toshiba Aurex stereo pre-amplifier. The speakers were Focal Diablo stand mount speakers on their matching stands £7899.

All signal and mains cabling was TCI (not surprisingly) and included King Cobra and Cobra signal cables and both Boa Constrictors and King Constrictors mains cables.

TCI had a fair selection of their cable products on display at the back of the room and available for purchase.

Room CR3 KOG Distribution

KOG were using a system fairly similar to that which they had used at the recent Whittelbury Hall show and it was interesting to hear how it performed in a smaller room compared to the one they had used in that other location.

The system was made up of a four box DCS Pagainini CD player VTL MB 450 Power-amplifier, VTL TL 6.5 pre-amplifier, Tellurium Q black interconnects and speaker cables. The speakers were the amazing looking Focal Maestro Utopia’s at an eye watering £30000 the pair.

The MB 450 mono-block amplifiers had there UK premier at the Whittlebury show and had sounded very good in the Right Note room. You can read more here

On tables at the back and sides of the room various products were on static display from KOG’s portfolio including various VTL items namely, P1.5 and 5.5 pre-amplifiers, a TL 6.5, IT 8.5 integrated amplifier and TP 6.5 phonostage. You can read more about VTL here

A large red framed glass cabinet was full of Tellurium Q cables.

On the right wall (just to the left of the TQ Cabinet) Storm Audio’s lovely sounding V55 and V35 integrated amplifiers (I have yet to hear a bad sound in their rooms at any of the shows I have attended) were on static display.

Along the left wall near were you entered the room a number of Focal loudspeakers were on display including Chorus 716V £749, 806 £549, 1008 £2649 (£3198 with stands), 1028Be £4649 and 1038Be £7349.

Overall the sound in the room was fast, punchy and very clean but as is the case with most Focal’s I have heard (to date) just a tad cool for my own personal tastes; though the 1008 Be (on static display) speakers have a slightly warmer presentation which suits my tastes better. There were some bass issues in the room, which is not a surprise as the Focal Maestro Utopia’s are a very big speakers, capable of moving a lot of air.

However taking everything together in the round I felt the sound in this room was slightly better balanced than that achieved at Whittelbury, were the room was much bigger.

Room CR4 Audio Physic and WBT connectors.

This long room was being used at one end by a motivation company CT Munkii and at the other by the UK distributors of German speaker range Audio Physic and the excellent range of WBT speaker plugs, RCA/XLR connectors, mains plugs etc.

The system in use was a very simple one comprising of a Bel Canto CD player, Belles integrated amplifier housed on a Townsend Audio rack. Coherent Systems cabling was used throughout with Audio Physic Sitara speakers. There was also a Furutech C T P 60 mains distribution block in use.

While the sound of music was quite nice, open and detailed with out being too forward, there was however a slight lack of midrange presence to the sound. There were no bass boom issues in this room as the speakers were just the right size for the area being driven.

However I can’t help but feel that visitors were only just hearing what this system was capable of doing and this was perhaps because of the rooms partition wall being open to facilitate the motivation group who were sharing the room.The lack of rear wall was I think responsible for some of the issues I heard in this room. Overall though it sounded quite good all things considered.


The End of Part One….

Part Two will focus on the Lower Ground Floor.

(1) Zeus Audio ran an annual show at the Stormont hotel until 1994 which was the last year that company organised one. Financial difficulties forced it to fold late Nov 1995)

(2) One weaknesses at this show was (and it has happened at other shows so NIAS is not unique in having experienced this problem) that there were no large scale free standing signs to direct visitors around the show from floor to floor. Small green arrows on the walls just were not good enough.

I feel that the more logical approach would have been to direct visitors to the lower ground floor first, then to the ground floor and then to the first floor. In reality this is not what happened and many missed out on the lower ground floor rooms and possibly the first floor rooms too.

©Text and all photos Copyright Adventures in High Fidelity Audio 2010 all rights reserved, except for the show logo NIAS/Gr8 Events copyright.

NB No part or portion of this article may be reproduced or quoted without written permission.

 Posted by at 7:30 pm

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