Sep 302010

All roads audio or so it seemed(1)led to the picturesqe village of Whittlebury just outside the town of Towcester, North Hamptonshire, England on the 25th and 26th of September.

The Whittlebury Hall hotel was once again(2)the venue for the National Audio Show and while this was the second year of this location being used, this was in fact my first visit to this particular show; though I had visited it several times  at its previous location-the Park Inn, London, Heathrow.

Having picked Luton as the closest airport to fly into, I made my way up the M1 to junction 15a and from there (after a short journey) to Whittlebury. First impressions of the hotel were quite good but as I mentioned in my Exhibitors Prologue the actual layout of the hotel was complex and to be honest somewhat confusing.

Many times during the duration of the show public and trade alike mentioned the complexity of the layout and both groups expressed a fear that they would miss a room or rooms.  In the case of the exhibitors this anxiety was that their room would not be visited at all. I am afraid to say that I think it highly likely that this happened as I missed a few rooms myself something at least on this occasion I don’t feel quite so bad about as Whittlebury is much bigger than the Park Inn.

While I am on the topic of failures I think that Chester Group have frankly let both the visitors and exhibitors down by making this a two day show only. The size of this show, though not as big as Munich or CES in America, is now of sufficent size to really require a full three days. This would allow all show visitors be they trade or public to visit each room properly, something two days does not allow.

Frankly Saturday was somewhat of a waste of time bar taking photos as many (though not all) of the rooms had fairly poor sound.  No surprise there as most audio gear needs time to warm up properly and while some sounded quite good on the first day it was really the Sunday that sorted the good out from the bad.

Without visiting many of the rooms again on Sunday it would have been a fairly negative sound quality impression that I would have been left with. However I am pleased to say that many rooms sounded better on the Sunday over Saturday, though some still sounded very poor. This may be down to poor system choices (why  do exhibitors insist on putting big speakers in tiny rooms or small speakers in cavernous rooms ?), bad mains quality but in many cases I think the poor room acoustics just got the better of systems that would have sounded much better elsewhere.

During the course of the show I got to hear a number of brands that I had long wanted to hear Burmester, Transrotar, Gryphon and NVA and I am pleased to say that my long wait was not in vein as despite awful rooms (3) these exhibitors managed to create a good sound. More on this later on.

Unlike the Park Inn hotel show back in March, Whittlebury had two entrances and as such I was faced with a slight quandery as to where to start my show report from; as either entrance would qualify as a good starting point. However I will start from the reception area as this is where most visitors seemed to be starting their show visit.

As Adventures in High fidelity Audio does not cover Home Cinema products I did not visit a few AV orintated rooms or displays. To be honest I barely had enough time to cover the two channel part of the show to the standard I wanted and needed to do.

I was also unable to attend any of the seminars or ticketed demonstrations (Absolute Sounds) as much as I would have liked to it just was not possible with the amount of time available.

Though getting into one of the Absolute Sounds rooms on the Sunday morning before the ticketed demonstration was due to start (in order to take photos) I was afforded a glimpse of Ricardo Franassovici doing a Chuck Berry styled Duck walk/dance across the front of the room, while some loud music was playing. Its was really nice to see Ricardo letting his hair down and to see him playing air guitar, was priceless.

As the show opened large crowds of visitors gathered in the main Hotel reception area and for much of the day the numbers here were high. I know this because I visited this area a number of times to try and get a show guide and the queue was always too large. I finally ended up getting my show guide from the Brooklands Suite entrance which was less busy.

The Ground Floor.

Jess Childs

Just to the right of the main hotel entrance Welsh singer songwriter Jess Childs had a residency during the show in the lounge area and I must say while I was unable to sit and listen for long, what I did hear was very nice indeed.

I think the shame of this was that there were no signs indicating where she was located and because of this I fear many missed her beautiful music.

In the show guide she was listed as being located in the Chequers Courtyard, when in fact KJ West One had a 3D Audio Visual stand in this location.

A large sign would have solved this problem.

Room S1 Symmetry

Nigel Crump’s distribution company had the honour of having the first room S1 just off to the left of the main corridor which formed a T junction leading either to the Brooklands Suite and the second entrance to the show or round to the right and the larger ground floor exhibition rooms.

Within this room a very impressive selection of Stax headphones with energisers and products from Esoteric were both on static and active display.

From left to right Stax SRS 2050 mk2, SR 4040 mk2 SR 007 and SR007 U.

As well as the Stax headphones various other items where positioned round the room and these included an Esoteric X05, C-03, Ayre CD player and pre-amplifier driving a set of Stax headphones, Triology 903 and Esoteric RZ-1, KX-R, A-03, E-03 and G-03X.

The room was well attended and many visitors were trying on the Stax headphones that were available to listen to while I had a look around and took photos.

Room S2 Dunlop System Deck and Audio Origami

Dunlop System Deck were showing their new 3D (68kilos) turntable and it was a family affair with the sons Derek and Ramsay of the late great Peter Dunlop in attendance, along with Johnnie of Audio Origami.

I have to be honest and say that the Art Deco 20 speakers they had in this room were way too big for the small size of the room and as such the dance music they were playing when I visited the room, was not helping much with its overly modulated bass. This produced massive amounts of bass boom and sadly this (it seemed) was also effecting the turntable performance….I thought I could hear feedback, muddying the sound.

I had been looking forward to hearing these turntables but the way too big speakers in a small room was just not working for them when I was in the room on Saturday.

Room S3 H G Rapkin S3

Local Northampton audio dealer H G Rapkin had a very impressive room featuring all sorts of goodies I had not heard before, including the impressively large Jamo R909 open baffle speakers in bright yellow.

The system was made up of the Musical Fidelity MR CD player, Musical Fidelity M1 DAC, Musical Fidelity AMS 35i 35 watts class A integrated amplifier, B&W CM9 speakers, Sugden Masterclass CD Player, pre-amplifier and power-amplifier. Analogue replay was via a Project turntable and Project phono box. All of the equipment was housed in or on tables from Stands Unique.

Despite this being one of the first rooms I visited on Saturday the sound was quite good.

Room S4 Zouch Audio

This room like the one next door to it had been taken by another specialist audio dealer- Zouch Audio from Ashby-De-La-Zouch, Leicestershire.

Their systems amplification was derived from the brand new Musical Fidelity monster Class A stereo power-amplifier the AMS- 100. This amplifier was getting its world premier at this show.

The system comprised of Musical Fidelity AMS Primo pre-amplifier, AMS CD player. AM1 DAC, a Roksan TMS 3 turntable, Artemiz tonearm, Shiraz cartridge, Roksan phonostage and JM Lab 1038be speakers. Cabling was Black Rhodium Cantata interconnects, Nija speaker cable and Crusader mains cables.

The sound in this room was very good indeed, again a bit of a surprise as the show was only going for about half-an-hour when I came in for a listen. My listening notes read…. ‘open and detailed with very good bass control for such a small room. Overall sound very good bar being a tad forward’.

Overall I enjoyed my all-to-brief visit to this room but the time spent listening here was enough to show me that Musical Fidelity are right back on track again, after a few years wandering around in the desert. Welcome back MF.

Room S5 Triangle and Gryphon

Its been a few years since I had last spoken with Jack Lawson of the Audio Salon, Glasgow and I enjoyed our short chat.

He was sharing a room with Triangle Acoustics of France who were showing their Duetto and Lyr speakers along side Gryphon Scorpio CD player £6995 and Atilla integrated amplifier £6995 (which Jack distributes) a BCD table and JPS Labs cabling.

I have wanted to hear Gryphon electronics for quite a long time and the sound in the room was very good, though just a touch too forward for my tastes. Despite that slight forwardness it was however quite musical as well.

While Jack and I chatted he was very enthusiastic about the fact that this system was not using crazy priced cabling to achieve the sound. The cabling used in this system was the Super Conductor Q cables which fall to the middle of the JPS Labs range.

Overall I enjoyed the sound in this room, though I am quite sure that the room acoustic was not ideal for the system. Despite that Jack and Triangle managed to have a good sound.

Room S6 Tron and GT Audio

It was hard not to be impressed by the visual majesty of the Avantgarde Acoustic Duo G2 horn speakers which dominated the room. The Musical Affairs Grand Crescendo speakers sitting to the side of them were dwarfed by the Duo’s.

At first glance I thought the Grand Cresendo’s were vintage Tannoy’s but Graham Tricker of GT Audio put me right on that and explained that the speakers were using PHY 12 inch dual concentric drive units.

I must say that GT Audio’s information sheet as to what they were using in the room + CD Rom of show details has made this writers job so much easier. I ask the question, why can other exhibitors not offer this too ? both for the press and show visitors. In my opinion this should be the rule and not the exception. Other than GT Audio only a few other exhibitors had this sort of information to hand.

The rest of the system comprised some items I have never seen or even heard of before. The Acoustic Plan Vadi CD player being one such item as were the Thales Simplicity and Reed 2P tonearms mounted on a Raven AC turntable.

GT Audio were also using a Tron Seven phonostage and Syren pre-amplifier along with the beautiful Tron Telstar 211 power-amplifier and the Tron Discovery power-amplifier as well.

I managed to position myself towards the rear of the room in the middle but the sound was just a bit too explicit and forward for me personally. However there was none of the oft encountered (at least by me in the past) horn honk colouration. Imaging and sound stage width and depth was very good but I suspect the room was not an ideal match for the speakers.

However despite that (this was an issue for most exhibitors to lesser or much greater degree) the sound was quite good just not the sound I myself would be looking for but I would certainly encourage anyone interested in this type of speaker in having a listen both in a demo room but more importantly in their own room at home.

Very interesting room and I for one would like to hear Avantgarde speakers again in a more suitable environment.

Room S7 Icon Audio

What can one say about the Icon Audio room except wow ! Icon Audio had or so it seemed every item in their their extensive product portfolio in their exhibition room and it was all beautifully laid out as well.

As you came into the room on the left hand side a large table had various amplifiers integrated, pre and power as well as headphone amplifiers, buffers and phonostages displayed across its top and length.

The star of the room was their new valve CD player, of which there was no literature (that I could see) about it sitting in the room, so what it is and has in it is a bit of a mystery (4).

This information taken from a press release.

‘A valve output stage can be beneficial to the sound of compact disc but the common practice of putting a pair of low-voltage valves in the output stage, sharing the same circuit board and power supply as the digital electronics is far from ideal.
The Icon Audio CDX1, designed by David Shaw, completely separates the digital and analogue sections, with the analogue valve section having a dedicated power supply sympathetic to the very best traditions of valve design. This involves a massive choke regulated power supply with valve regulation and valve rectification. The output valves are the legendary 6SN7,
a rugged long-lasting valve, which gives exceptional insight into recordings. The valve section has it’s own hard-wired chassis, completely separated from the digital circuitry.

The digital section features a 192 kHz 24 bit upsampling DAC for high resolution. Two digital inputs are also included so that external digital devices can benefit from the CDX1’s exceptional combination of high resolution digital to analogue conversion and ‘pure valve’ output stage.

Every CDX1 is finished and tested by Icon Audio’s team of engineers in Leicester, and can be ordered as a ‘David Shaw Signature’ version featuring Jensen copper foil oil-in-paper capacitors and premium valves.’

Features: Icon Audio CDX1

External digital inputs with 192 kHz 24 bit upsampling technology

Three independent power supplies

Analogue section hand wired “Point to Point” for the best sound and


Class A, all triode output stage

Zero feedback, 2 6SN7 output and buffer stage

EZ80 valve rectifier

Valve regulator

Custom wound power supply choke

Solen audiophile polypropylene capacitors (standard version)

Teflon insulated silver plated wiring

‘David Shaw Signature’ upgrades available

Ceramic valve holders

Gold plated RCA output sockets

12 month warranty

CE, ROHSS & WEEE compliant

Technical Specification: Icon Audio CDX1

Digital to analogue conversion: 192 kHz 24 bit upsampling

Digital inputs: 1 x Optical, 1 x Co-ax (RCA)

Frequency Response: 20 Hz – 20 kHz +0 / -5 dB

Signal to Noise Ratio: -100 dB

Output level (0 dB reference): 2v

Valve compliment: 1 x OA3 regulator, 1 x EZ80 rectifier, 2 x 6SN7 output

Power consumption: 50watts

Dimensions (H x W x D): 150 x 435 x 370 mm, 16 kg

Weight: , 16 kg

Warranty: 1 year

UK selling price (Inc. VAT)

Icon Audio CDX1: £999.95

Icon Audio CDX1 David Shaw Signature: £1349.95

It took me several goes to get into this room as it always had a large crowd either standing at the door or seated.

David was using an early prototype Palmer Sound 1 turntable with SME arm, his usual Gyro Deck SE having been usurped (5) The Palmer is a beautiful looking turntable and it matched the overall look of the system being used.

The rest of the system was made up from Sources were the Icon Audio CDX1 and the aforementioned Palmer Sound Palmer 1. Amplification was a variety of Icon Audio models including the new MB845 MkII, prototype MB805 single ended monoblocks, and a prototype Stereo 60 MkIII. Loudspeakers used included the Kingsound Queen II, Icon Audio MFV3 Super and Icon Audio MFV2.

The sound overall standing off centre as I was forced to do due to the number of people in the room was quite good tonally but more than that I can’t say.

I know I annoyed a few listeners as I took photos around the room as their faces had various disapproving expressions written across them and this despite my apologies. Once again sorry for the temporary interruption to your listening.

The End of Part One…….

We will take a break at this point and in Part Two cross the corridor to Room S12 in which joint exhibitors Astintrew and Revolver had some very interesting items. From there we will make our way back to the entrance and take a left turn towards the larger exhibition rooms on the ground floor.

Part two will follow in a few days or sooner.


(1) The show seemed to be very well attended as many rooms were full on both days and the number of people wandering the corridors also seemed very high. This bodes well for future shows.

(2) This show started its life out as an alternative to the annual HiFi News show which had its base at Heathrow airport London for many years. For the first few years this show was held at the Park Inn across the bath road from where HiFi News held theirs but was moved to Whittlebury Hall in 2009. I seemed to be in a minority but I prefer the Park Inn as a venue as it favours international visitors and as a hotel has a much better layout + its not as dear either from an accommodation point of view and food and drink is also cheaper at the Park Inn as well.

(3) Sorry to refer back to the Park Inn again but to my mind the sound exhibitors are able to achieve there based on this visit to NAS at the Whittlebury Hall offers in my opinion better sound overall.

The rooms at NAS were either massive or way too small and only a handful of exhibitors seemed to have got any of the middle sized rooms. Obviously cost is a factor here as the bigger rooms cost more over the smaller ones but there does seem to be more suitable rooms at the Park Inn than at Whittlebury Hall.

(4) I have Emailed David Shaw of Icon Audio for details which I will include in the article when I hopefully receive them. Now added thanks David.

(5) Every show I have been to where Icon Audio have been exhibiting so far has seen them use of a Gyrodeck SE turntable….. so to see it gone was a bit of a surprise. However change is good and the Palmer looked interesting.

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

 Posted by at 6:56 pm


  1. Interesting to note your view that the layout site is confusing/ I did not attend this year as last year I was thoroughly confused and missed some of the exhibitors as a result. I seemed to be going round in circles. It just made my head spin.

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