Bristol Sound & Vision 2015 Show Report
Too much HiFi or too little?
2015 represented my twelfth visit to the Bristol Sound & Vision show which while faintly alarming from a personal perspective is rather impressive when viewed another way.By any logical calculation, the Bristol show shouldn’t still exist. Shows in London and Manchester have fallen by the wayside in the same period but Bristol has survived and managed to stay relevant. Furthermore, there were some signs to me at least that after a few years of exhibits creeping up in price at the expense of affordable products, 2015 saw a return of technically interesting products at more sensible prices that have some real world relevance to customers. Some of these items are also covered in Steven Withers’ video of the event but I felt they warranted coverage in a little more detail.
In terms of sensible prices, they don’t come much more sensible than the new Q Acoustics 3000 series. Building on the success of previous models and making use of some of the lessons learned from the very clever Concept models. While the 3000 models can’t use the same complex gelcore cabinet, the lessons learned in bracing and stiffening have been carried over to the new speakers. As an added bonus, the 3000 series features a centre- something that the Concept range still does without. With Armour’s Steve Reichert giving it the full showman, I have to say that the performance was properly good for an affordable speaker.
Neither were these the only sensibly priced speakers on offer. Tannoy took the wraps off the new Revolution XT Series which sits above the entry level Mercurys I looked at late last year. These are the least expensive speakers that Tannoy makes with their trademark Dual Concentric drivers and while the styling is going to be subjective, I think that this is a good looking range of speakers. What should be less contentious for anyone who caught a demo was that they sound seriously good too. The range has initially launched as stereo only but a centre speaker is due later this year.
Also due later this year is the new range of speakers from Rega Research. Rega changes their speakers only very slowly and given that the outgoing models are seriously good, I have very high hopes for the new models. Prices start at £550 for the standmount which for a UK built product is quite an achievement.
Henley Designs- perhaps best known as the distributor of Pro-Ject, has been bringing new brands into the fold of late and one of these is Acoustic Energy. The new arrivals were on display in a few rooms but one of the most successful partnerships of the whole show (indeed it grabbed Clarity’s best sounding room award) was the ‘baby’ setup of Pro-Ject MaiA integrated with RPM 1 turntable. The performance of this very affordable system was joyous and showed that although you can spend a lot of money at Bristol, you don’t have to.
Also sounding rather decent was Musical Fidelity’s new Merlin system which combines the generally mutually exclusive parallels of lifestyle audio and vinyl in an attractive and fairly compact system. It did have to play second fiddle to the mighty Nu Vista 800 amp it was sharing a room with but it still left a lasting impression.
While the selection of Atmos demonstrations rightly took centre stage, there were some other AV releases that were worthy of note. On static display in the Bowers and Wilkins room was an all new AV processor that forms part of the Sigma range from Classe. Designed to be a stereo optimised product that can additionally run 7.1, I have to say that I’m very interested in listening to this and its matching five channel power amp as soon as I can.
I have to be careful in describing PMC’s Twenty series sub as an AV product as the company is keen to stress the stereo credentials of the product but having had a listen to it, I’m confident that this is going to be an entertaining accompaniment to film soundtracks. With a transmission line no less than nine feet in length and 400 watts at its disposal, this is a seriously impressive sub that offers the speed and agility some of the huge single driver designs can struggle with. And yes- I’ve asked for a review sample.
PMC wasn’t the only high speed subwoofer in town though. Eclipse had their TD725SWmk2 strutting its stuff. The glass of water wasn’t in shot by accident- it was demonstrating the extremely inert cabinet enclosure. The entire design is built to be as fast as possible and the results were certainly effective.
One of the slightly disappointing things at the show is that one of the most talked about products of the last few months was present but sadly wasn’t doing anything. The Devialet Phantom is a self contained active streaming speaker that features some decidedly radical technology. They can be used singly, in stereo or as multiple sets. Sadly, the only example at the show on the Qobuz streaming service stand wasn’t running. Maybe next time.
Devialet did have their amplifiers running though and this led to one of the most unusual but brilliant rooms at the show. Spendor took three rooms on the first floor and one of them using the SP100r2 speaker and Devialet amp/streamer was a truly lovely sound. The combination of speaker that has evolved slowly from the 1970’s with a truly 21st piece of electronics might seem an odd one but in many ways it represents where we are as an industry at the moment- keeping with tradition but adopting new ideas when needed.
Another blast from the past came in the form of the new electronics from Technics. The C700 equipment was on demonstration while the R1 models (including a power amp with the coolest VU meters I think I’ve ever seen) were on static display. I hope to secure the C700 system for a review in due course so my thoughts on the performance will wait until then but what I think is admirable is that the new products are innovative and bold and a definite design statement rather than simply going with something conservative.
Those of you with even longer memories might be able to recall Acoustic Research which is another brand that has been relaunched recently. The ARM2 portable audio player is aimed firmly at the same market that the Sony ZX1 I reviewed for the forums is aimed at and it must be said that it has a lot going for it. As well as some funky metalwork, the ARM2 is DSD capable and has expandable memory. I don’t know just how large this market is but there is no question that manufacturers are starting to take an interest in it.
DSD capability was a big theme at Bristol and more products at terrestrial prices are starting to appear that can process it. TEAC had brought along a small stack of gear including their UD-501 DAC that handles most flavours of DSD over USB. As well as being beautifully built, the sound quality was well up to snuff too. TEAC has more experience than most brands in this field thanks to the mighty Esoteric players they have been building for some years and this expertise shows through. If you really feel you need DSD playback, you might want to consider who has been doing this for a while and who has jumped on the bandwagon.
DSD wasn’t the only new technology on display. In late 2013, I visited Linn in Glasgow to be demonstrated their new Exact system which exerts full digital control over the speaker and its behaviour in room. Bristol saw the first time that this has been applied to a speaker that is not produced by Linn in the form of the new Kudos Titan. Representatives from Kudos and Linn were both at pains to stress that this was a prototype and that the design has more to give but what I heard suggests that this is going to be a very capable product indeed and an interesting alternative to Linn speakers.
Having achieved considerable success with the original Hugo, Chord Electronics has been busy working on the new Hugo TT (table top) which takes many of the technologies used in the smaller unit and turns it into slightly a more static but equally more capable preamp. The spec remains comfortably state of the art and it must be said, much as I like the Hugo very much, the TT is a much more user friendly design and a great looking object.
Good though the Hugo TT is, my favourite headphone amp of the day was the Quad PA One. While not brand spanking new, the Quad is a fairly new arrival and the sound into the Ultrasone headphones on dem with it was smooth and refined but still full of detail and energy. I can see it finding many happy owners.
The other product of the day that has me extremely interested is the new Paradigm Prestige series. Paradigm has produced some excellent speakers in the past but where the Prestige range breaks new ground is that (in my view at least), these are handsome and well proportioned speakers that take the sound quality of the brand and place it in a rather more UK friendly exterior. The demonstration via an Anthem AV amplifier was very, very good and as soon as the matching sub breaks cover, we hope to have a closer look.
My final stop at the show was the Naim Statement and Focal Utopia display. This was effectively unchanged from last year but with some good order numbers for Statement on the books, it was almost like Naim has relaxed a little about showing what their monster can do and listening to this big rig play Rage Against the Machine was a great deal of fun. Firestarter next year please chaps.
Bristol remains a bit of an oddity- I can already see from comments online that AV fans feel there is far too much two channel and elsewhere, two channel fans resent the explosion fests downstairs. Perhaps it is because Bristol is a halfway house that it has managed to survive though and some of the products I’ve seen this year leave me with a positive feeling for 2015.
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