Not too long ago, the Bristol Show was a major AV event. Much of the ground floor was given over to a medley of (then) state of the art multichannel demos and while there was plenty of HiFi too, it lurked on the upper floors. This has changed sufficiently that branding the show as a ‘Sound & Vision’ exhibition was something of a misnomer and recently, Bristol rebranded to a HiFi show.
This is partly a reflection of why the Bristol Show exists. Organised by the Audio T group of dealers, the show is a reflection that the equipment that they are selling and this has gravitated towards two channel in recent years. What is more unusual is that despite now being sandwiched between much larger international shows, it still represents an opportunity for some companies to launch products so for two channel enthusiasts it is very much worth a visit.
Despite the renaming of the show, some companies were still going for a multichannel demonstration and Arcam’s was probably the most technically sophisticated. Using the new AV40 AV Processor and 16 channels of extended surround goodness, they partnered with sister brand JBL for a very well attended set of demonstrations. For two channel fans, the SA30 integrated amp- which will be reviewed here shortly- was running with the absolutely magnificent looking JBL L82 Classics in the foyer.
Making use of the relatively recent released R Series, KEF also went for an extended surround demonstration with the largest model in the range, the R11 being used for front left and right and the slightly smaller R7 being used for surround channels. The R8a Atmos speaker was on hand for surround duties.
Next door, Focal had a smaller but very elegant extended surround demonstration. One of the reasons, I’ve broken out the use of the word ‘elegant’ is the Chora 826D. This £1,600 floorstander takes the basic Chora 826 and integrates an upward firing, Atmos compliant speaker into the top of the cabinet in a manner that makes some of the bolt on Atmos modules look a little messy by comparison. The set on demonstration was ‘only’ a 5.1.2 but it managed to sound very impressive indeed.
Upstairs, SVS was indulging in some considered low end thuggery with a pair of their SB-2000 Pro subwoofers underpinning a set of Prime passive speakers. The decision to use two smaller subwoofers was a good one as they performed very effectively in the unforgiving surroundings of the Marriot bedrooms, delivering the trademark SVS bass extension without overloading the room while it did so.
The most serious demonstration of sub bass though came from REL. They had no less than six of the S510 subs running in a ‘line array’ configuration. You might take one look at the picture and assume that the effect it created was akin to being blown up but the whole intention of this configuration is to provide an effortless augmentation of the lower registers without over emphasis. It isn’t a cheap (or small) solution but it did sound very good indeed.
The twenty25i range is PMC’s new entry range of speakers and- perhaps unsurprisingly- replaces the twenty25 models. The range is the same as before with two standmounts, three floorstanders and a centre speaker and the cabinets that the new speakers use is functionally identical to the preceding models. Internally though, there are many changes. An all new tweeter is combined with a revised crossover to boost the performance and improve dispersion. Another area that has been changed is the feet. New non resonant cabinet bars and longer spikes avoid a significant level of cabinet resonance. Some demonstrations suggested that there are some significant jumps in performance and we’ll be taking a look at some when they are released in a few weeks. Prices start at just under £2,000 for the twenty5 21i
A more affordable offering was Monitor Audio’s new Bronze speakers making their UK debut. This eight strong range of speakers (two standmounts, two floorstanders, centre, surround, upward firing speaker and sub) all making use of refined versions of Monitor Audio’s trademark drivers to create a genuinely good looking range of speakers that sounded very impressive on the end of Roksan electronics. With prices starting at £260, this looks to be one of the most significant launches of the year and we’ll be testing them as soon as we can.
Neither was this the only interesting affordable debut. Rega showed off the new £429 Kyte loudspeaker and £380 Io integrated amplifier (so called because it is half a Brio) represent the new entry points for Rega ownership. The most interesting twist to this is that Rega will offer the Io, Kyte and Planar 1 turntable and all the cabling required to make it work for £999 all in. This is an impressive achievement but the really good news is that it sounded really very good indeed. We’ll be looking at System One as soon as one is available. At the other end of the spectrum, the company also announced the new Aphelion 2 moving coil cartridge, which they are confident is the best they’ve ever made. Yours for £3,149 or mounted on a Planar 10 for £6,219.
Chord had five new products making a UK debut at Bristol. At the spendy end, the new Ultima stereo power amps (£5,995 and £9,250) and Ultima 2 (£12,500) preamp were running with ATC SCM50 speakers and they sounded extremely good; the new topology that the Ultimas use has been a genuine step change for Chord. At a more terrestrial price point, the company also demonstrated the £995 2Go and £495 2Yu. 2Go is a bolt on module for the Hugo2 and offers DLNA streaming from external drives or micro SD cards. It can also function as a Roon endpoint. The 2Yu is effectively a bolt on for a bolt on. Attaching it to a 2Go turns it into a network streaming transport that can be used with other Chord DACs or indeed other companies DACs.
It is an interesting state of mind to look at a 500 watt integrated amplifier and worry it isn’t powerful enough but Musical Fidelity clearly felt it was a concern. The M8xi delivers no less than 550 watts into 8 ohms (and a thoroughly alarming 870 watts into 4) and has been designed with the declared statement of driving any commercially available speaker to any level it can withstand. Unlike the fairly sparsely equipped M6 500i, the M8xi has a digital board and more connectivity than the ‘smaller’ amp. As I’m a sucker for amps that weigh more than a small car, I’ll be looking to test one when I can.
The Musical Fidelity is a bit of a lightweight compared to the new Michi components from Rotel though. Each M8 monoblock weighs a whisker under 60kg and can produce 1,080 watts into an 8 ohm load. What the photo doesn’t completely convey is that the Michi components are beautifully made and while £3,299 for the preamp and £5,399 each for the monos is not money you lose down the back of the sofa, it does represent good value for money.
Recent years have seen many products take on a more retro element of their design but Klipsch has approached this somewhat differently. The latest version of the Heresy IV and Cornwall IV speakers. In continuous production since the mid 1950s, these two stalwarts have been given a gentle cosmetic refresh that actually works genuinely well to take a speaker that keeps the same unique aesthetic but manages to make it feel slightly more modern. The Heresy was on demonstration in one of the bedrooms and the performance was an eloquent demonstration of why they have been in production for over sixty years.
After a substantial time out, Living Voice returned to Bristol and showed a level of commitment to demonstration that is admirable if mildly alarming. Most companies bring their own mains treatment with them but Living Voice brings a complete battery power supply that ensured that their system was completely detached from the hotel mains. Now the UK distributor for the magnificent range of Kuzma turntables, the care and attention to detail that had gone into the dem resulted in a superb performance.
The single most impressive sounding product this year for me came from Fyne Audio. The compact F1-5 is a curious looking speaker but the performance of this diminutive £2,999 standmount was absolutely outstanding. Using a concentric driver arrangement of a 19mm tweeter and 5 inch mid bass and incorporating an adjustable frequency response thanks to the large dial on the front panel, the performance on the end of Rega electronics was absolutely outstanding. Fyne Audio has taken sufficiently large a number of orders that there is a bit of a backlog but I’m determined to give these singular speakers a closer look.