Another year, another Bristol Show.
Like the world's most peculiar migration, the audio industry once again descended on
Bristol for what has become the UK's main AV show.
As has been discussed on a number of occasions this year and before,
Bristol continues to be much more about the audio side of the business than the video one and the break down of audio sits firmly in favour of the stereo side of the business.
While I appreciate the frustration for dedicated cinephiles, the nature of the organisation of the
Bristol show- a dealer managed show where items can be purchased on the day- does tend to favour two channel over multichannel. Furthermore, while some uncertainties and delays remain in the availability of all of the major building blocks of 4K HDR home cinema, it was fairly likely that two channel will continue to take up a lot of the slack.
This being said, nobody could accuse Arcam of doing things by half measures. Their Atmos demonstration featured their flagship AVR 850 doing the processing but handing over decoding duties to a full compliment of P49 power amps. Timed demonstrations are as much use as a handbrake on a rowing boat when you have to get around the whole show in a vaguely organised fashion but a quick look around the door suggested that if you have the wherewithal to take Atmos as seriously as this, the format offers a truly excellent AV experience. I apologise for the rather soft nature of the shot- taking photos of pitch black objects in a pitch black room full of people is not an entirely straightforward task.
If spending the same as a well specced BMW 5 Series on your AV system is a little bit much, Yamaha's demonstration of the YSP5600 was impressive in its own way. Sound projectors have a tough time at shows as the means by which they function- bouncing signal off walls- is very hard to do in a room full of people. To add to the challenge, the ceiling of the conference rooms has bevelled indents that further affect the ability of the height channels to work. Despite this, the 5600 did sound good- a big, competent and refined sounding one stop solution.
Over the way PMC, was focussing on two channel demonstrations (and picked up the award for best sounding two channel room in the process), in the corner of the room on static display was a pair of all new centre speakers. The two models are members of the fact range of components and mean that a particularly fearsome multichannel pack based around the fact series is now possible. The smaller fact.5C is a two way design for £2,125 and the beefy fact.10C (which features the famous PMC midrange dome), is £5,500. The idea of an AV system with three such domes across the front is a very appealing one indeed.
These weren't the only AV speakers breaking cover either. Dynaudio launched the Emit range of speakers that use trickle down technology from more expensive models. The usual Dynaudio virtues of hefty voice coils and robust engineering are apparent and the good news for all concerned is that the range includes a centre speaker. I've voiced an interest to Dynaudio for a review set.
Elsewhere, Monitor Audio had booked a pair of rooms. In one, the Bronze series was putting in a strong showing as a multichannel system. In the other (and by invitation only), the company was giving demonstrations of their new flagship Platinum PL500II speakers. It must be said that this demonstration wasn't perfect- the room was possibly a little small for the task and the music choices weren't anything to get excited about. The speakers themselves however are very special- they have a scale and effortlessness that is rarely encountered. I'm not going to pretend that the £15,000 asking price is 'cheap' but I'd mentally pegged them at about the £25k point before learning the price so make of that what you will.
If you aren't looking for a six foot plus tall monster for your home,
Canton was demonstrating their DM 100 soundbase. This slimline design mounts four 50mm drivers and two 19mm tweeters in the front and a quartet of 100mm woofers on the underside. While this sounds like an awful lot of driver to fit in a compact chassis, the product itself sounded pretty impressive.
Should 100mm bass drivers sound a bit weedy for you, REL was demonstrating what a pair of their 212SE subwoofers augmenting a pair of Harbeth speakers sounded like. I'm not a huge fan of stereo augmented with subwoofers but I'll freely concede that this sounded really very good indeed. Not only was there more bass (as you might expect) but the whole soundstage was larger and more impressive while they did it. It isn't cheap but this is a tremendous LFE solution.
Some of the few 4K demonstrations came courtesy of JVC and Epson. Both companies were demonstrating their proprietary projector technologies and I can only assume JVC was doing something right as despite trying a few times to get into the room to take a pic, I wasn't able to actually get in the room. I visited Epson before opening on Saturday morning and was impressed at their laser projector which was producing an impressively natural picture despite having to deal with light leakage into the room.
The choice of non soundbar style TV augmentation continues to increase. Q Acoustics has taken the well regarded 7000 satellites and sub and designed a compact amplifier to power them. The Q-AVA is a four input Class D amp with twin optical inputs, Bluetooth and an analogue input for good measure. The resulting product sounded unreasonbly good and will be afforded a high priority for review once production begins shortly.
Elsewhere, Wharfedale took the wraps off their Diamond Active A1 speakers. The 60 watt two way units require power (obviously) but otherwise need no physical connection between themselves and their control hub. This hub supports a range of digital and analogue inputs and allows the speakers to be placed up to twenty metres away making for very flexible placement.
Also from the IAG company umbrella,
Mission unveiled a new range of speakers in the form of the LX Series. These compact two way standmounts caught the eye for a few reasons. They look like Mission speakers, there was something about the sense of bite to the performance that ensured they sound like Mission speakers should and finally in pedigree terms, they feature the involvement of Karl Heinz Fink who knows a thing or two about affordable loudspeakers being responsible for many Q Acoustics models among others. These are one to watch.
The good folks at Sony had decided that they wouldn't be showing anything so niche as a 4K product and instead gave an interesting demonstration of their PS-HX500 turntable. This £400 unit will go on sale in May and as well as sounding pretty respectable for a turntable at that price point, features the ability to rip the vinyl being played to DSD or WAV. I've gone in the past about how I find this process to be pretty thankless but the software on display actually looks pretty good and this could be a very interesting addition to the choices on the market at this price point.
Neither was it the only new and affordable turntable making an appearance. Elipson showed off their Alpha and Omega range of models that are among the most affordable turntables to hit the market in some time. Designed and built entirely in-house, they feature an arm that has a patented anti-skate system, automatic speed change (rare at this price) and some models can be ordered with a phono preamp built in to the chassis and the flagship model also features Bluetooth connectivity as well. The looks, build and sound all suggest that this is going to be a very impressive bit of kit.
Finally, the budget analogue veterans Rega took the wraps off the latest version of the immortal 'three series' deck. This generation- to be called P3- is visually similar to the old RP3 but is in fact almost completely new and features design information and data from some of the rather pricier Rega turntables designed in the last few years. It doesn't rip to DSD like the Sony or have the facilities of the Elipson but be under no illusions- this is still likely to be the design to beat.
If all this analogue is an anachronism to you, Innuos showed off their new generation of audio Ripservers to replace the very impressive Zen we tested last year. As well as lovely new casework, the new models have a brand new UI that is designed to simplify the business of tagging stray albums. It all looked usefully slick and with pricing staying similar to what went before, these look like excellent solutions to storage and collation for streamer owners.
Nearby, Pioneer was showing off the all new A-70 integrated amp. This handsome Class D design features an all new balanced preamp to partner the range of digital and analogue inputs on the old model. Around the front, Pioneer has seen fit to fit some of the nicest control knobs going and the performance of the amp sounded very, very impressive. The company also let slip at the show that a firmware update for the XDP-100R portable player is now available that gives a rather significant boost to the available volume which corrects a major criticism of our review.
Reporter's privilege entitles me to list what I felt was the best sounding product at the show and that fell to Neat Acoustics with one of the strangest looking speakers of this or any other Bristol Show. The company has been tinkering with the idea of a floorstanding version of the dinky IOTA standmount. The result is a titchy 30cm tall floorstander that features the drivers from the IOTA angled back to provide a more on-axis listen augmented with an extra 5.25 inch driver. The end result looks odd (one person I spoke to said it reminded them of a pedal bin) but it sounds fantastic. Neat intends to get the as yet unnamed speaker in production and I have very high hopes for it.
Bristol continues to have too much hifi for the AV fans and too much AV for the stereophiles but the show still manages to be busy and feature an impressive amount of new equipment being launched there. There was a also an encouraging amount of affordable equipment rubbing shoulders with the exotica that is vital for keeping new people interested in the sector. Hopefully, the continued normalising of standards for 4K and HDR will see a little more on display next year.
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