The Bristol Sound and Vision Show - The changing face of Hi-Fi

Discussion in 'Articles' started by Steve Withers, Feb 26, 2013.


    1. Steve Withers

      Steve Withers
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      “Much that once was is lost, for none now live who remember it”

      That quote is from Galadriel at the beginning of The Fellowship of the Ring but I found myself thinking about it as I walked around this year's Bristol Sound and Vision Show. The way that people listen to music has fundamentally changed over the last few years and even a Hi-Fi stronghold like Bristol must eventually recognise that fact - like some supertanker that takes miles to turn around. Of course rebels have been battering at the gates of the Bristol Show for years; young upstarts like multi-channel audio and AV receivers have all tried to storm the barricades but the Hi-Fi defenders have held strong.

      However, like a great tree that could never be damaged from the outside, the decay spread from within and gradually weakened the once mighty edifice. This particular ‘stream' of decay began as just a trickle but in time it would wash away all before it in a torrent of wireless speakers, DACs and earphones.

      [​IMG]

      Last year I noticed that the attendance seemed down on previous years but in 2013 it appeared that the crowds had returned, perhaps recognising Bristol's status as the only Hi-Fi and AV show left or perhaps just reflecting the fact it was freezing outside. Either way it was comforting to see the crowds milling around the rooms and corridors of the Marriott City Centre Hotel. What was immediately apparent was the general lack of 'vision' at The Bristol Sound and Vision Show - there were still a few old faithfuls but far less than previous years.

      JVC were there of course, in their usual spot just to the left of the entrance and they were demoing the DLA-X55 projector we reviewed in January, but only with 2D material. They weren't the only ones, with Epson also demoing their new TW6100 and TW9100 projectors, again with 2D material. Only Optoma appeared to still be showing 3D material, although that is a strong point of DLP and their new HD23 looked very impressive for a 3D projector that only costs £795.

      [​IMG]

      Moving away from the projected image, Sony had their 85” Ultra High Definition TV on display, giving many people their first chance to see native 4K content. Despite the quality of both the native 4K content and the upscaled 1080p, it's doubtful that many will be swayed by the £23,000 price tag but, with smaller and considerably cheaper UHD TVs on the way, 4K's time will come. Sony were also showing their new DA5800 receiver and seemed confident that the improvements they have made will result in an even better performance than last year's award-winning DA5700. Interestingly the number of AV receivers on display was considerably less than previous years and Denon/Marantz weren't even there, mainly due to a lack of new product. The same was true of big hitters like Onkyo, who had a much smaller demo than in previous years. Pioneer had their recently reviewed SC-LX86 AV receiver setup with a Kuro (funnily enough) but they seemed more interested in promoting their new line of stereo products like the A-70 Class D amplifier, the PD-50 Super Audio CD Player and the X-P01 Hi-Fi System.

      [​IMG]

      In recent years the bottom seems to have fallen out of the AV receiver market and nowhere was this more obvious than at the Yamaha booth, where they were heavily promoting their new YSP-4300 soundbar. As modern TVs have become slimmer and slimmer, so their sound has become worse and worse, resulting in an explosion in the size of the market for soundbars. At Bristol there were even new high-end soundbars from GoldenEar and Paradigm, showing that just because you are using a soundbar, you don't need to compromise on audio quality. Interestingly Sim2/Anthem/Paradigm had eschewed their usual large projector and 5.1 demo room, relegating the 3D-S projector to a smaller part of their stand. Instead they were promoting the new lineup of Peachtree audio products and the emphasis was very much on streaming, DACs and two-channel.

      [​IMG]

      Much like soundbars, DACs are another product area that has seen substantial growth over the last few years. As people play more and more music from digital sources, so they, and perhaps more importantly manufacturers, have realised that to get the best sound they need improved digital to analogue conversion. There were a multitude of DACs on display at Bristol, kicking off with Arcam, who have been building themselves a heathy niche in the DAC market. Arcam had their SonLink DAC on show, which has been designed to work with and specifically match the Sonos Connect. They also had their airDAC which as the name might suggest, allows you to network any audio system to an Apple Airplay enabled music source. Not to be outdone, the higher end of the market also had a number of DACs on display, from Bryston's BDA-2 DAC to Chord's flagship QBD76HDSD with DSD (Direct Stream Digital) decoding - your's for a very 'reasonable' £5,000. Still that does buy you the kind of build quality that you can drive a tank over - seriously, there's a video on YouTube! Naim were also showing their DAC-V1, whilst relative newcomer Computer Audio Design were showing their 1543 DAC which is hand-built in the UK and designed to be a no-compromise asynchronous USB-only DAC to get the very best out of your digital sources. At the Anthem AV Solutions room, they had the daddy of all DACs with the DaVinci from Light Harmonic, which can be picked up for a cheeky £20,000. Suddenly the Chord DAC doesn't seem so expensive.

      [​IMG]

      What are these digital sources that need converting? Well it certainly isn't the humble CD player these days, which has almost been relegated to the dustbin of history. It seems that when a CD drive is in evidence, it's main purpose is to rip your CD collection rather than actually play one. As lossless downloads increase, there can be only one outcome for the CD, a sad thought for those of us who prefer physical media. Still even we have to admit that the convenience offered by storing your music on a hard drive and streaming it to numerous devices is appealing. As our lives become more hectic, so music's place in it changes, going from star performer to soundtrack. Just about every manufacturer is offering a streaming solution these days, with some like the Yamaha CD N500 still including a CD drive as a half-way house before the inevitable move to a downloadable future.

      Of course you can use a PC or Mac as your digital source but if you fancy a dedicated streaming device there are plenty of choices, starting with the undisputed kings - Naim. They had their full range on display including the NDS Network Player, the NAC-N 172 XS Streaming Pre-amp, the Naim Uniti2 All-in-One and the UnitiLite All-in-One that recently won an AVForums Reference Status badge. Not to be outdone, Chord had their DSX1000 Digital Network Player which includes uPNP/DLNA access and control, HD audio support, Internet radio and smartphones apps. At £7,000 it certainly isn't cheap but then it does effectively include the £5,000 QBD76HDSD DAC, so perhaps we should consider it a bargain.

      Hot on the heels of Chord, Bryston have their BDP-2 Digital/Player Server which has been designed for people with larger music libraries who require multiple hard drive connections and improved interface speed. Pioneer were showing their N50 Music Streamer as part of their two-channel room and Anthem AV Solutions had dedicated much of their room to the launch of their Peachtree range of integrated amplifiers.

      [​IMG]

      A lot of the displays were using Mac Minis or AppleTV as a source and the seismic impact of Apple on the audio world can never be understated, with the iPod, iPhone and iPad all changing the way we listen to music and creating a cottage industry of new products to support them. The number of docks available for your iDevice are almost limitless and every manufacturer now offers a way of connecting your smartphone or tablet to their products, be it Hi-Fi systems, AV receivers, docking stations or wireless speakers.

      The latter category in particular is growing as people move away from physical connections in favour of a more wireless approach. Pioneer had their Wireless Direct XW-SMA Speaker Range on display, along with mini-systems and docks from both Pioneer and Yamaha. Every manufacturer also offers both iOS and Android apps, further assimilating the smartphone and tablet into our audio world.

      [​IMG]

      The flexibility and convenience of our modern digital world means that everyone now has a music source in their pocket and the inevitable result of that is that the headphone market has changed beyond all belief. We could review nothing but headphones and earphones being released this year on AVForums and still not be able to cover them all. Sennheiser were at Bristol in force, promoting their new Club Orpheus which is designed to deliver the very best in terms of their headphone products.

      There were the HD800 and HD700 headphones offering uncompromising audio performance, as well as the RS220 which provides a wireless option. New for this year, Sennheiser are offering the HDVD 800 and HDVD 600 headphone amplifiers, along with their new IE 800 in-ear system. In-ear headphones and headphone amplifiers are both growing markets but across the board, manufacturers are jumping into the headphone arena. At Bristol there were new headphone lines on display from Grado, Pioneer, Yamaha and JVC, with in-ear solutions being particularly well covered. There was also a surprisingly retro feel to many of the new headphone designs, with soft brown leather making a welcome comeback.

      [​IMG]

      Of course it wouldn't be Bristol if there weren't plenty of speaker manufacturers in attendance and this year didn't disappoint. Focal had a large display on the mezzanine level and even brought a live band - a brother and sister act called The Luck - to entertain the crowds on Saturday and Sunday. Meanwhile Q Acoustics were showing off their technical wizardry with a new design of speaker cabinet that uses an adhesive that never quite sets to dampen vibrations and improve the sound. Just like the Q7000 system from last year they sounded fantastic but the use of quite expensive custom stands will add to the price.

      Ed Selley was raving about the Guru Juniors and given that there were quotes from his review on the wall, it's just as well that they lived up to their billing. Their unique design allows them to work with the room rather than against it and anything that can sound good in a stripped out hotel room deserves consideration, especially at £795 a pair. KEF and PMC were also in attendance and SVS appeared to be doing their best to bring the Marriott down around our ears as the demoed their subwoofers up on the third floor. Wilson Benesch were in the conservatory, showing their new flagship speaker - The Cardinal - and doing remarkable things with carbon fibre.

      [​IMG]

      The imminent demise of the CD player appears to have opened a hole in the market for the trusty turntable and vinyl was definitely more in evidence this year than previously. Having not heard vinyl in a long time, it was like meeting an old friend and the warmth of the analogue sound was a welcome treat. Who of a certain age doesn't miss the joy of a gatefold LP or the ritual of cleaning and playing a record? Avid were showing off their new Ingenium turntable which has two arms, demonstrating that there remains a fine line between enthusiast and lunatic but it was comforting to see all the same. The presence of vinyl reminds us that not everything is lost and some of us still live to remember.
       
      Last edited: Mar 5, 2013
    2. Craig uk

      Craig uk
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      It was my first time at the show and a very long drive, but it was well worth it. The best sounding rooms I managed to listen to were Leema & Dynaudio. Wilson benesch was also very good but vastly overpriced.

      Thoroughly enjoyed Sony's 4k demo also.:thumbsup:
       
    3. Wilseus

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      I'm surprised loads more people haven't commented on this, or is there a separate "Bristol" thread somewhere?

      I went on Sat with a couple of colleagues from work. I've never been to a hifi show before, but I had a good time. It's a shame that I didn't get to see everything I really wanted to, due to time cosntraints.

      I was quite disappointed with a lot of what I heard, especially some of the larger speakers which just sounded far too boomy. The one system which stood out for me was driving a huge pair of Analysis Audio ribbon speakers. I've never heard anything like them.
       
    4. Craig uk

      Craig uk
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      I think you really need two days to see everything and not be pushed for time. The limited room size & acoustics were the problem with the larger speakers, to be expected really. Only so many large room available and I guess they were reserved for the big boys.
       
    5. Steve Stifler

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      On the Friday, I caught a glimpse of Steve in the Wilson Benesch room, but he left before I had a chance to say Hi. Listen to the AVF podcast which is interesting. Standouts for me (pardon the pun) were the Proac Stand mounters (not sure which model) and the PMC 24s sounded just awesome.

      Streaming and/or digital music was the in-subject, but there was conflicting information being given. The HiFi Choice demo compared standard itunes bitrate tracks, then a CD equivalent, and finally high res (FLAC I think). The highres tracks needed more volume to hear them at a like-for-like level with itunes and CD versions. The highres versions sounded better, at least to the audience I sat with. In fact the standard itunes tracks sounded pretty awful. Given the dearth of highres material avaialble to buy, it was interesting to hear comments on how to source highres material. Avoid anything that is remastered, which generally means even more compression, while some older CDs might have less compression making them more suitable for turning into highres versions in your digital collection. I didn't realise that CD is quite so compressed anyway, with a limit in the range from loudest to softest.

      Elsewhere a reasonably well known audio and video group were extolling itunes, yet no mention of bitrates or highres. Moving along, I was trying to eaves drop on a conversation in another room but couldn't hear what was being said about how to use your PS3 for streaming, and just how good it was.

      Headphones/earphones were popular too. Thought it was finally time for a change, so I bought some headphones which will probably replace my 1970s vintage Wharfdale DD1s that I might sell. Heed had a nice set up.

      Friday seemed busier than last year, and there were more women there for a change. In fact I only ever go on the Friday, and have done so for the last 10 years or more. I've gotten inspiration for buying demo disks most years. A few stands (JVC and KEF) were showing The Art of Flight bluray, with RedBull snowboarding. Looked amazing, and a great sound track! Shame Sony weren't showcasing their HW50 projector, given that the WhatHiFi demo also had Sony 4K TV on display.
       
      Last edited: Feb 28, 2013
    6. Wilseus

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      I'm a little puzzled at this. I agree that it's usually (but not always) best to avoid remasters, but I don't understand the rest of it. I can't see how you can create hi-res files from CD. The best you can do is rip them directly, you can't "improve" on what was there on the CD, which admittedly can be pretty damn good. (By hi-res I am referring to anything that's a significantly better sample rate or bit depth than CD's 44.1khz 16bit. Are you?)

      And I disagree that CD "is compressed." It isn't, or at least it shouldn't be. A lot of releases from the last 20 years or so are compressed and sound awful, but that's nothing to do with them being on CD. That's just damage that's been done at the mixing desk.
       
    7. larkone

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      In a word - upsampling. Whether that is a good thing and/or better or not is another matter, but it allows companies to sell hi-res versions that now provide audio information outside a human's hearing range. :thumbsup:

      Why - because they can. It starts to get like a great analogy I heard about this. Someone bought a Ferrari but complained he could only average 11mph in London, so they charged him a bucket load of money and tuned it for him to make it accelerate faster and have a higher top speed. You get the idea, it is all about chasing numbers for the marketing people to sell you features you didn't realise you needed.

      Have posted this before but it does make interesting reading - http://people.xiph.org/~xiphmont/demo/neil-young.html
       
    8. Craig uk

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      Proper hi resolution music will always sound superior to cd , 24 bit in all its sampling rates will sound considerably better, some also claim that up sampling improves the quality, similar to watching a non HD programme on a HD channel, the upscaling tends to clean up the image but we all know its no substitute for true HD & the same can be said for up sampling 16 bit @ 44.1khz I guess. There are a few DACs on the market that will upsample to 24bit if required and a good choice of software that allows you to do the same from a PC.

      I'm perfectly happy with CD quality although I do listen to plenty hi res music in the 1 bit DSD form on SACD.
       
    9. larkone

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      Another good article about hi sample rate music and it's issues

      http://www.lavryengineering.com/pdfs/lavry-white-paper-the_optimal_sample_rate_for_quality_audio.pdf

      and the conclusion from this paper
      http://lavryengineering.com/pdfs/lavry-sampling-theory.pdf

      Conclusion:
      There is an inescapable tradeoff between faster sampling on one hand and a loss of accuracy, increased data size and much additional processing requirement on the other hand. AD converter designers can not generate 20 bits at MHz speeds, yet they often utilize a circuit yielding a few bits at MHz speeds as a step towards making many bits at lower speeds. The compromise between speed and accuracy is a permanent engineering and scientific reality. Sampling audio signals at 192KHz is about 3 times faster than the optimal rate. It compromises the accuracy which ends up as audio distortions. While there is no up side to operation at excessive speeds, there are further disadvantages:


      1. The increased speed causes larger amount of data (impacting data storage and data transmission speed requirements).


      2. Operating at 192KHz causes a very significant increase in the required processing power, resulting in very costly gear and/or further compromise in audio quality.

      The optimal sample rate should be largely based on the required signal bandwidth. Audio industry salesman have been promoting faster than optimal rates. The promotion of such ideas is based on the fallacy that faster rates yield more accuracy and/or more detail. Weather motivated by profit or ignorance, the promoters, leading the industry in the wrong direction, are stating the opposite of what is true.
       
    10. hifix

      hifix
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      Agreed. I needed three days (rep chat takes up another day :laugh:), and I enjoyed it much more than previous years when I've only gone down on a Sunday. It was nice to walk around without any time restriction, spending as much time in a room as I wanted to, revisiting some rooms, and coming back to the rooms that were busy (rather than intending to, but not getting round to it!).
       
    11. Craig uk

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      I thoroughly enjoyed it and will definitely be going again next year..for two days:thumbsup:
       
    12. Steve Stifler

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      One other highly notable point I observed was on a number of the competition entry forms. Companies were asking what industry magazines were read, and included was AV Forums!! So congratulations to Phil, Steve, Mark and the other reviewers as you are getting even wider recognition of the quality of your reviews, and to forum members who post helpful information or give guidance to other members. Great stuff!
       
    13. hifix

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      I think there's quite a few manufacturers who realise that AVForums has a large voice and can't be ignored. I think a manufacturer should ignore AVF at their own loss....
       
    14. Craig uk

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      IMO forum members are better informed on AV products than most staff in the few remaining electrical retailers/specialists left on the high street!
      I doubt this would be the case without the excellent product reviews and editorial reports on everything AV related provided by the team:thumbsup:

      I've noticed more & more new TVs in shops are proudly wearing the AVForums badge on stickers or labels.
       
    15. hifix

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      I don't find this worrying or surprising though. Firstly, the wages some staff are on are laughable when you take into the account the sort of knowledge they should have or are expected to have - you really have to live and breathe this stuff in order to be able to put up with the wages in some places. Also, if these stores (take us for example) have a huge range on demonstration, its hard to find the time to learn about everything, particularly if you're a busy store. Those not in the trade who frequent a forum regularly are so much into it that they spend a lot of time with their own products, so they get to know them inside out on a daily basis, which is one reason why my system has been changing a lot recently. Compare that to us, where we have around 300 products on demo - that might not sound much, but look around our store and it is. Surprising amount! The only way to learn about all of that in depth would be to spend a year getting to know the stuff and ignoring the customers who walk through the door!

      :)
       
    16. Craig uk

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      I totally agree about living & breathing this stuff and I think that's the problem in a lot of cases, for many of these shops the staff just don't have the interest or enthusiasm to really get knowledgeable about the products they sell. The level of knowledge is better when you move from the bigger 'box shifter' outlets to the more specialised dealers but imo they still need work.

      The only way these places will stay in business is by insuring the staff are well trained and able offer thorough demonstrations & good advise on the products they sell. I don't want to tarnish everyone with same brush as I know its not the case everywhere but the lack of knowledge and service from some of my local dealers is very poor indeed.
       
    17. hifix

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      The main issue is wages. Many of these sales guys are on minimum wage, so can you blame them for not wanting to spend the time to know the products? I've worked out that I spend around 150 days per year on forums outside of my normal working hours which I don't get paid for - most wouldn't even bother to do that for a couple of evenings.
      And I don't necessarily think that it is dealers with substandard staff that are the ones dying - it is those sitting on their backsides like they did in the 70's and 80's waiting for it to come to them. A dealer needs to be proactive.
       
    18. Craig uk

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      I think there will always be a place on the high street for HiFi dealers who specialise in the mid to high end sector, but the rest of the box shifters are fighting a losing battle against the online domination where its all about the best price.

      Panasonic are to be commended in this area as their philosophy is pushing the opposite way, reluctant to make their high end displays available to purchase online. Instead dealers are expected to display and demo them in store and to a high standard, I think the same can be said of high end HiFi really.
       
    19. Bert Coules

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      I went to the Bristol show last year. It was my first time and I certainly enjoyed it, but I was disappointed at how relatively little vision there was compared to the amount of sound. If this year's show was even more audio-heavy I don't regret quite as severely as I did not being able to make it.

      The discussion here on last year's show saw several posters lamenting that there isn't anywhere an event dedicated purely to home cinema in all its aspects. Perhaps there simply isn't enough demand to support even a relatively small-scale show?
       

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