The HI-FI SHOW 2000 - London
Like last year, the Show took place at Novotel in Hammersmith, London. It is organized by the British Hi-Fi News magazine. This time I was accompanied by three of my audiophile friends from Istanbul Hi-Fi Club: Cuneyt Borcbakan, Haluk Ozumerzifon and Mahmut Yener. We visited the Show during the first two trade days.
As this was my second consecutive year at the same event, I noticed that some manufacturers (like Linn, Carfrae, Beauhorn) although remarkable, had exactly the same components in the their stands. I chose not to include them in this report (please read my 1999 comments about them) and only concentrated on new and/or different products.
Please read my below commentaries having the following in mind:
- Due to the adverse acoustical (and other) conditions of the shows, this is not an absolute review but just my impressions.
- I only covered the rooms which seemed either original, interesting or had a new product.
- I automatically skipped all rooms with a screen (white or plasma) between the two speakers.
- I always tried to evaluate using my own CD's which were:
R. Strauss / Violin Sonatas / Chung, Zimerman / DG427 617-2
Keith Jarrett Trio / Bye Bye Blackbird / ECM 1467 513 074-2
Shostakovich / Symphony No.8 / Concertgebouw, Haitink / Decca 411 616-2
- I was listening to systems and not to components and therefore, if my impressions are favourable, this may indicate that either all the components are sounding good or the synergy is good. In the opposite case, either one or more components are causing it or the synergy is poor. Speaker positioning and room treatment are also extremely important.
- The order of visits is totally random.
click images to enlarge
Tannoy were displaying their new Dimension TD12 speakers. They incorporate Tannoy's new SuperTweeter (which extends the frequency response to 54 kHz) and a "Dual Concentric" drive. It is claimed that the SuperTweeter also improves the low frequencies' performance. See the picture of the transparent plexiglass model of the speaker.
Tannoy is also offering the SuperTweeter as a separate item to be used in combination with other speakers. I was expecting to hear an on-off demo of the separate SuperTweeter but unfortunately this was not available at the show.
The electronics were solely by Marantz and included their new SACD player.
With its full bodied midrange the sound had a sweet and velvety character. Although pleasant, it seemed too sweet to my taste. Low frequencies were extended but not too defined (this may also be due to room placement).
Chord / Wilson Benesch
They had the same room as last year and the speakers had the same diagonal placement. There were still two important novelties: Chord's new massive looking power amplifier called SPM-1200 and Wilson Benesch's new monitor speakers called Discovery.
Chord SPM-1200 is rated 800W into 8 ohm with 24kW (!) peak power availability. Physically it really looks huge! (middle picture shows the SPM-1200 with its designer John Franks). You immediately notice the blue light coming out of the top grill. It is obtained by 160 blue LED's placed underneath the top cover for cosmetic purposes. It gives you the impression that something is burning inside (see the bottom picture). And what is burning inside is coming out as a warm sound from the Wilson Benesch Bishop's. As I had listened to the Bishops with another Chord amplifier last year it seemed to me that the additional warmth is the work of the new power amp. The sound was dynamic, effortless and had a big sound stage. Still it was a little on the dark side.
I was very impressed by Wilson Benesch's new monitor speakers called DISCOVERY (see the top picture). If you close your eyes you would think they are four times bigger than they look. The sound had body, bass extension and weight and the sound stage was as big as the Bishop's. Only the low frequencies had a little less resolution compared with the Bishops, and this is perfectly understandable. We are told that the retail price will be around £5,500.-. The reversed (as on the Bishop) woofer cone is placed at the bottom of the cabinet and thus fire vertically. Wilson Benesch claims that in case the woofer is placed on the front face to fire horizontally, it's reaction force vibrates the cabinet back to front. This fact is more accentuated in the case of light constructions such as the monitor speakers. Vertical movement prevents these unwanted vibrations.
Audiofreaks are the British importers of different American brands. The system on display was consisting of Avalon's new speaker SYMBOL driven by Conrad Johnson's solid state MF2500 stereo amp. The preamplifier was Conrad Johnson 17 and the CD Player Muse Model 9 Signature (a new model which can also play DVD-A's). All cables were by Cardas.
The sound was very natural, detailed and had a big, deep soundstage. The only shortcoming was probably the bass weight which is understandable due to the size of the speakers, but otherwise very balanced from top to bottom. To me this was the "Best Sound No.3" of the show.
The system was a duplication of the Tannoy's: all Marantz electronics (including the new SACD player) and Tannoy speakers. The room was considerably bigger and that's why I was curious to see if I'll hear major differences. Not really, it was the same sweet and velvety sound that I had heard in Tannoy's room. It can be very pleasant for some people who like this tonality. It was difficult to discern the responsible party of this dominant sonic character but my guess is Tannoy.
Naim DBL speakers have an unusual geometry as you can notice from the picture. They are placed right against the back wall with no space behind. You may well guess that all the electronics were by Naim.
The sound was natural and the violin timber was as it should be with a lot of inner detail. The piano sounded a little muffled to my ears but my overall impressions were positive.
Unfortunately when I visited the room there was no technical assistance and the set-up was not planned for auditions. In fact, changing a CD was a very painful task due to the placement of the top loading Sony SCD-1 Player in a middle and narrow shelf of the rack. When I asked the lady manning the stand that I wanted to listen to my own CD's, she first said no, but upon my insistence she said that I could do it if I knew how to. When I attempted to open Sony's top drawer I understood what she had meant, but I still managed.
My insistence and curiosity was mainly due to the NUVISTA M3 Integrated power amp that is using Nuvistors (very tiny valves). The speakers were B&W 803 Nautilus.
I heard a very detailed and natural sound. Tonal balance was slightly on the lean side.
Relco Audio / Norma
Relco Audio were displaying their MANTIS speakers driven by NORMA SC2 Preamp and NORMA 8.7MR mono (100W) power amps. V.Y.G.E.R. Atlantis turntable had an impressive and imposing look (see picture). All companies are from Italy.
Mantis speakers' mid range and trebles (everything above 300 Hz) were handled by ribbons only. Probably that's the reason why trebles were so natural and grain free as well as the rest of the frequency range which was relaxed, transparent and fatigue free. Only when I played the Shostakovich Symphony 8 I noticed a lack of weight on the bass. But overall this was one of the very good sounds of the show.
This room was featuring Ocellia's Kedros speakers driven by Verdier 845 Single Ended mono power amps and Tron preamp. The CD player was a prototype placed in a wooden box.
Ocellia speakers have thin walls built like a musical instrument. They claim that thicker walls are damping vibrations but this is done at the expense of musicality. They further claim that dimensions, thickness, types of wood, joints and varnish are all elements that influence the final result. A very unique and interesting approach indeed!!!
This wasn't the first room I had visited and therefore I had heard the same test CD's of mine already on different rooms but for the first time the music was so much alive. Everything else seemed dull or veiled compared to this. Was it because of Ocellias or the Single Ended Verdier amplifier, I don't know. But something was very positively different in this room. The sound was natural, relaxed and devoid of fatigue. There were also some shortcomings: bass was not controlled enough and the trebles seemed rolled-off. But overall a very musical sound indeed.
Ear / Yoshino
Tim de Paravicini did it again! Last year he had used Quad ESL-63 speakers beautifully complemented with his own subwoofers and this year the speakers were Quad 57's but again with a dedicated subwoofer. All other electronics were his own and all were using tubes.
I can easily state that the biggest success of the subwoofer is its seamlessness. The sound was very coherent from top to bottom. It was natural, transparent, had good resolution and a lot of inner detail. Although it seemed a little lean and the bass a little dry, I liked it very much. The sound even seemed to me to be better than last year, probably more transparent. Bravo Tim de Paravicini!
Nightingale / Pearl
Nightingale's Armonia integrated amplifier was driving Pearl Celta speakers. Both companies are from Italy.
Armonia is a very good looking, well finished integrated amplifier with 20W output power. It is using 4 x EL84 tubes per channel.
The sound was small, very natural and detailed but slightly lean and dry.
Lavardin is a French company specialized in the manufacturing of solid state pre and power amplifiers. They claim that: "as soon as the memory effect of solid state circuits is reduced, all the improvements that transistor technology handles (like unlimited power, accuracy, very low harmonic distortion) can be added to the most alive and silky musical rendition of the best single-ended monotriod design".
The system consisted of Lavardin electronics complemented by a Sony SCD-1 SACD player and Sonus Faber Guarneri speakers.
The sound was detailed, natural and had body. It seemed a little forward though.
There was a CD cover placed on the left of Sony's top drawer (see picture). They told me that it was put there to prevent light infiltration inside the CD housing. Then we tested with and without the CD cover and it seemed to me that the feeling of depth and airiness increased with the cover in place. This may be a valuable tweak for Sony SCD-1 owners. Worth experimenting, it costs nothing.
Acapella / Clearaudio / Convergent Audio
This room was featuring Acapella High Violin 2000 speakers driven by Convergent Audio JL1 100W push-pull tube mono amplifiers, Convergent Audio Preamp and the front end was a Clearaudio turntable. All companies are German.
Acapella High Violin 2000 is a three-way speaker. The mid driver is horn loaded and placed on the top. Below it there is a horn loaded plasma tweeter and the bass driver is a cone with no loading. The efficiency could have been very high due to horns but in order to match the one of the bass cone they dropped it to 89 dB/W/m.
The plasma tweeter (see the macro picture showing the flame of the plasma at the back of the horn) is the most original part of the Acapella speakers (at least to me). They are the most perfect and neutral tweeters with a frequency response extending up to 100kHz (thus they also cover the area of a supertweeter without a crossover point). The use of plasma tweeters was abandoned many years ago due to the fact that they produce Ozone (O3). Ozone is very useful at the stratosphere levels but not in lower levels due to its aggressiveness and corrosiveness. It attacks nearly everything including our lungs! So, the rooms with plasma tweeters had to be efficiently aerated. Accapella's designer expained to us that he solved this problem by the use of a ceramic and bronze cathalist which converts O3 to O2. He claims that it is 100% solving the problem and that we can even sleep in the room with the music on.
I, in fact could easily sleep in this room, the sound was so beautiful. There was no CD player available, so I couldn't listen to my own CD's but this wasn't really necessary to appreciate such musicality. There was space, liveliness, liquidity, resolution, effortlessness, inner detailÍ Everything seemed to be right! To me this was the "Best Sound No.1" of the show.
Final is a Japanese company producing both the speaker and the electronics. The OPUS 202 horn speakers have a very original feature: they use traditional Japanese charcoal nuggets on the inside of the rear panel. Final claims that the charcoal's thousands of holes efficiently absorb the full range from ultra-low to ultra-high frequencies. Speakers' efficiency is 103 dB. They are driven by a 10W solid state power amp of which the power supply can be either battery or transformer-free vacuum tube. Batteries were connected during our listening session.
I found the sound to be alive but a little forward. The bass extension was limited and there was a hint of coloration.
Cadence is an Indian high-end company. They make both the speakers and the power amplifiers. The Anina (sanskrit: "The Small One") speakers' mid range and high frequencies are handled by a rectangular slightly curved panel. The bass is cone (as you can see from the picture). Canasya power amps use four 845 tubes in push-pull configuration to get 200W (class AB).
The sound was natural, relaxed and had both body and silkiness. Its detail and transparency were also top level. The bass extension seemed to be slightly limited but just very slightly so. I think the speakers would have benefited from a stand of 30 to 40 cm. I very much liked this sound and will rate it "Best Sound No.2" of the show.
Danish company BOW is known with their very fine CD players. The Wizard CD player is not their top level one. The preamp is called Warlock and the power amp Walrus. The speakers were Revel M20's.
The sound was natural and detailed but slightly hard.
Amphion / Past Audio
Amphion Speakers are from Finland whereas the Past Audio amplifiers are designed in Russia and built in Sweden.
Amphion Xenon speakers are using U/D/D (Uniformly Directive Diffusion) to increase directivity in order to minimize the rooms' negative effect on the sound and thereby create best possible sound also in normal living rooms. The woofers are firing sideways.
Past Audio amplifiers are zero feedback Single-Ended designs and their glass covers give them a very stylish and well finished look.
The sound was well balanced and natural. There is a feeling of edginess on the high frequencies but nevertheless this is one of the good sounds of the show.
Audiostatics / Neukomm
Audiostatic full range electrostatic speakers are built in Germany but the concept comes from Netherlands. The model name is Wing and it is the only speaker of the company.
Neukomm Power amplifiers and other electronics are from Switzerland.
This was a typical very transparent electrostatic sound. But it was lean and the bass was dry and not extended enough.
British company Trilogy were displaying their 250W The Finale mono power amplifiers using 211 power tubes in push-pull configuration.
The ARS Acoustica speakers were from Canada.
The sound was detailed but lean and forward.
The Real Best Sound of the Show
It was natural, silky, airy, detailed.... It was so much alive and palpable that you were getting a feeling of "being there" :-)
What a good idea to help to calibrate audiophile ears! But unfortunately very few people took advantage.