Bristol Hi-Fi Show 2019 - Show Report

Hi-Fi Show with solutions for modern life shocker

by Ed Selley Feb 24, 2019 at 7:34 AM

  • I have said in the past that the Bristol Show, by rights should not exist. There is no logic to its ongoing relevance to the industry, coming as it does just a month after CES and with Munich a scant two months away.
    Despite this, it still sees a surprising amount of new product breaking cover. With ‘Sound & Vision’ being dropped from the title, the show has embraced its stereo heritage and the vast majority of equipment on show was two channel. The blurring of how equipment works and the roles it performs meant that there was rather more here than an endless succession of record players.

    PMC had weighed up going for a supersized stereo demo but decided instead to bring along a hefty Atmos system with electronics courtesy of Bryston. The height channels, made of the company’s low profile Wafer series speakers, have been implemented in some installations that the company has done for Universal Movie Group.

    By way of thanks, UMG supplied Atmos remasters of some classic tracks and these formed a key part of the demo. I’m not going to pretend that I’m a huge fan of music in the round but… the results here were extremely impressive. The transition of effects across channels was effortless and convincing and it sounded controlled but seriously potent with it.

    Upstairs, SVS and Emotiva had a smaller scale demonstration on the go but the results were no less hefty - let’s be honest for a moment, when was the last time an SVS demonstration was anything other than a full body experience? A pair of the new 3000 Series subs were providing the classic ‘shock and awe’ presentation that we’ve come know and love from the company. Also of interest was the use of the company’s Prime Elevation effects speaker which was delivering a effective performance from a small and relatively attractive cabinet. Compared to the PMC offering, this was positively affordable but it still delivered a crunching performance.

    Bowers & Wilkins
    Affordability was also a key element to Bowers & Wilkins this year. The new 600 Series speakers were being demonstrated against their predecessors on Rotel electronics via well-attended, timed demonstrations and there were also some being used in a multichannel setup on the What HiFi? stand.

    As well as some tidy looking Google Cast equipped soundbars and sound bases, Canton had chosen to bring their Smart Vento 3. This £2,100 active speaker uses wireless technology to sync channels (meaning that, intriguingly, they can used in a modern day quadrophonic arrangement). With XLR connections and 350 watts at their disposal, these sounded absolutely excellent and look like a superb solution for a compact but deeply capable Hi-Fi system.

    If over two grand feels a little high, Totem had a more cost effective option in the form of the KIN play. This £999 powered speaker system includes Apt-X Bluetooth and a line input that can be switched to a phono stage. These also sounded really very good indeed and also offer the possibility of a compact but very enjoyable stereo system.

    For a number of years, there has been something of a gap in Rega’s amp range between the £1,680 Ilicit R and the spendy (but magnificent) £6,400 Osiris. This gap will be plugged later this year by the £3,000 Aethos. With 125 watts per channel - from a circuit that promises to be a little different to any amplifier on sale - and line level only connections (Rega feels external phono stages are the answer at this price point), it looks fantastic and has huge potential to be a very fine amplifier indeed.

    Neither was this the only new amplifier on display. Better known for their turntables, AVID has been working on a range of electronics. Up until now, these have all been on the pricey side - think six figures for the flagship - but this has been trickling down to lower price points. This has resulted in the Integra, a £6,000 integrated with line level connections, headphone amp and phono stage. Designed with a fastidious attention to detail and feeling almost as substantial as the bigger models, this was sounding very impressive at the show.

    Mark Levinson
    If the Integra feels a little old school, an extra £999 will buy you a Mark Levinson No 5802. This integrated amp features a selection of digital inputs, Bluetooth and MQA support, all wrapped in casework that looks very smart. Interestingly, there are no analogue inputs at all - although the sister 5805 has them - which makes for an intriguing but potentially clever amplifier for those modern types who have kicked vinyl into touch.

    Not generally known for rapidly releasing new models at a rate of knots, Neat has been unusually prolific of late. This time, they took the opportunity to show off the Ekstra. This slender floorstander with a ribbon tweeter makes use of a Neat party piece to give it some heft. This takes the form of a pair of downward firing drivers in an isobaric arrangement. The result showed considerable promise - a speaker with almost ‘lifestyle’ proportions that sounded bigger and more potent than those slender lines might suggest. The Ekstra goes on sale in a few months at £3,000.

    Having announced them at Munich, Dynaudio demonstrated their new Confidence speakers. These are a medley of clever materials, precision engineering and fastidious attention to detail. The Confidence 30 is a three way floorstander which costs something in the order of €19,000. This is unquestionably a lot but they did sound absolutely outstanding on the end of a Naim Audio rig.

    After the exuberance of last year’s SL-1000 demonstration, Technics was running the SL-1500 C turntable. This is a derivative of the equally new SL-1200 Mk7 but one that has been designed with a view to being a more domestic design. The pitch control, strobe and other DJ accoutrements are dispensed with and there is an internal switchable phono stage and supplied Ortofon 2M cartridge. It also has an automatic lift for the end of the record - an underrated fitment. Coming in under £1,000, this is a well made, well thought out and appealing piece of kit that I’m hoping to look at soon.

    Having shaken up the sub £1,000 integrated amplifier market with the 6000A, Audiolab announced a new 6000N streamer to join the squad. This is a DTS Play based device with an ESS Sabre DAC and power supply arrangements borrowed from the matching CD transport. With a price point supposed to be around £500, this is going to be a very interesting new arrival in the affordable network audio category.

    Acoustic Energy
    The rework of the Acoustic Energy range continues apace. The 500 Series will top the range and make use of carbon fibre drivers including a carbon fibre tweeter. The slim cabinets with curved corners and gloss finishes look excellent and the £1,000 price for the AE500 standmount and £2,300 for the AE509 floorstander looks to be competitive too and we look forward to having a proper hands on session.

    Instead of new speakers, ATC showed off the new CD2 CD player and SIA2-100 intregrated amplifier. The CD2 is a classic CD player priced at £1,500 but the amp is more unusual. Offering 100 watts per channel (and ATC watts tend to go a long way), it also has a selection of digital inputs all wrapped in a very smart all metal casework. Priced at £2,500, this was sounding very good at the show and could be a bit of a star.

    One of the most covetable objects at the show was providing an alternative source for the ATC electronics. The Helius Viridia turntable and Pheadra tonearm are exquisitely over-engineered objects - that arm tube is machine from a single piece of aluminium - and it sounded absolutely lovely. Thanks to an impressively clever suspension system and clever isolating feet, it is also very resistant to outside interference. While it isn’t cheap at over £12,000 it is a truly spectacular object.

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