Windsor HI Fi Show Report

The Hi-fi Show Windsor Report.

Everybody will have their own view on what is exciting about The Hi Fi shows 2016 and what they went to see and what they saw.

I was asked to do this report on the show as it is only 50 miles from our second shop in Staplefield, West Sussex.

NEW  HAMMERSMITH SHOW

All reports of a show will have a flavour of the person writing it, so I will not make any apologies for visiting rooms that were either associated with Kronos and the products we supply or are personal favourites.

The Windsor Hi Fi Show this year fell a couple of weeks after a brand new show at the Novotel Hotel Hammersmith West London called The Indulgence Show. This was very different to the normal Hi FI show, as it was three shows in one, or three  separate zones.

The Headroom Zone, focusing on Headphones and Portable Music players, the Audio  Zone Hi Fi as you would expect and finally the Pure Pleasure zone for a wide range of luxury goods from Tesla cars to fine wines.

The reason for mentioning this other show here is that when you get two shows so close to one another, you will find that some of the normal Hi Fi show exhibitors will tend to do one show or the other but not both,  not in all cases though. However this new show is for the future yes. The reported feedback was strong  so watch out for The Indulgence Show 2017  Novotel hammersmith. 

WINDSOR SHOW

There was at the Windsor show quite a number of new distributors showing for the first time, with both new lines and products that have moved to these distributors.

Puresound/Titan Cables

One of the first places for me to visit was in the Sandringham Suit and PureSound & Titan Audio shared room as I had spoken to Guy Sergeant of Puresound the week or so before and he promised that he would be bringing his 845 Mono Block power amplifiers. I had to pay homage the one of my favourite Valves the 845 of all time it is just a delight and so musical.  Puresound were demonstrating the said Mono Block single ended Triode 845 amplifiers with Aurorsound Vida disk stage, and Preda line level control through the very interesting Heco Direkt speakers. It did not disappoint, I was able to listen to some of my own Vinyl albums through the system and returned to this room a number of times while at the show. If you have a love for Valves and Vinyl and what they bring to the table, I would also strongly recommend the looking at the Puresound L 300 Pre-amp, which uses a 300B Triode valve with the 845 Mono Blocks combination you will end up listening to so much music you will be in heaven. Titan Audio had an impressive showing at the show, displaying and demonstrating their full range. At Kronos we are no stranger to these cables, and the effect that they can have on any Hi Fi System, and the Nemesis Signature is just something else. Certainly a brand and upgrade worth considering, and a demonstration is welcome anytime at either of our branches. 

Also in the Sandringham Suits was Decent Audio being demonstrated by an old friend of mine Chris.

There were a number of very interesting components in a very good sounding system from Decent Audio.

As you entered the room you could not help noticing the Magneplanar 1.7i Planar loudspeakers which very affordable if you have room.

At the front end of the system was the baby Kronos Audio Turntable the Sparta .5 using one of my favourite cartridges the Transfiguration Proteus 

Headphone Zone

It was good to see that AudioQuest had on show a new version of their Nighthawk headphones, these come as a closed back design and are called the NightOwl and will make many wives very happy as you can use them in the same room as other people and not annoy them.

They use the same technology as the NightHawks, but have improved cabling and inline mic facilities for those on the move and retail at around the £400 mark, which is excellent news for a product of this quality. Easy to miss as it is so small but a very important product was the New RED DragonFly USB DAC+Preamp+Headphone amp, the original DragonFly first shown in 2012 and was a worldwide award winner. AudioQuest have introduced the next generation the Black DragonFly and Red DragonFly, both using the 32 bit ESS Sabre DAC Chip with the RED using a High Performance 9016 version.

Both the Black and Red have a processing capabilities to produce 24-bit/192kHz resolution while the Black has an output of 1.2 Volts, and the Red has a 2.1 volt output.

G Point Audio

G-Point Audio were show casing My Sound Cubes the small EL34 Valve Mono Blocks with the horn Universum MkIII. Which I felt sounded much better on Sunday than it had on the Saturday as they had taken the casters off the speakers and installed the dedicated Spikes. They had also gone to the time and trouble to work on the rooms acoustic. A real showy system that will alway catch the eye and impress.

PS Audio

A couple of other exhibitors that caught my eye and ear were the Signature Audio Systems. They showed the range of PS Audio who have moved on and have strong range of good looking and interesting electronics.

Showing for the first time in the UK was the New PS Audio DirectSteam Memory Player a new Transport that plays SACD,DVD-A ,and CD it is equipped with three I2S outputs to service multichannel SACD media.

A good show and more to come as I understand.

Emerging UK

Upstairs was Emerging UK showing for the first time a Swiss brand called Merging Nadac which is a bespoke network audio solution capable of handling 44.1kHz to a quad DSD media in two and multichannel mode, it uses the DAC used by the recording engineers who record the music so I am told and it does perform very well.

The other product here that is a bit of a game changer for me was the PSI Active speakers, now it is some years since I sat down and listened to active speakers. I listened to two models first the small two way stand mounted or near field monitor PSI A21-M and then the bigger combination  PSI A25/225. The PSI A25 is three way speaker being used as the top boxes with the stereo PSI A225-M Subs.

Active systems  are not the normal way most hi fi companies or shops sell Hi Fi, but if you are looking for a way not to have lots of bits of electronics around the house it could be the way forward for you. I was a very enjoyable demonstration and being swiss made the finish was also first class. 

I thought the New Quadraspire XReference with Bamboo shelves and Bronze spiked feet not only looked very good but performed very well in this system and saw it being used by a few others exhibitors around the show.

Focal

From there I went into the main part of the Hotel and found myself in the Windsor suits, and going into the Focal/Naim room on display and playing were the New Focal Sopra speakers. Playing at the time I went in was the Sopra No2 suitable for rooms from 30m square to about 70m square. Finished in what Focal call Electric Orange, very striking if not to everyone tastes, but I am sure there is a range of colours.

What is new about these you may ask other than the colour, the inverted Beryllium dome tweeter is now loaded in to what Focal call Infinite Horn Loading system which they call IHL. 

What this does is enables the rear air pressure wave from the tweeter to be gradually absorbed and dispersed avoiding audible distortions from the tweeter. The idea is not new, but that it is being done and that is a good thing, and very neatly done whilst keeping mechanical time alinement. Another addition to the design of this speaker is a split material surround to the mid range drive, again not a new idea in itself. Last seen if I remember was on the Celestial SL 700 and others in that range. What it does do is improve the cone resonances damping over a wider range of frequencies in order to reduce distortions in the cone and increasing definition to the mid-range, Focal again call this THD technology (Tuned Mass Damper). To this they have finally added NIC (neutral inductance circuit) to the mid range driver, this I understand is to improve the stability of the magnetic field again lowering distortions and improving the definition and dynamic of the sound. It is good to see companies like Focal still pushing to gain improvements in there drivers and loud speakers design. Yeah my kind of speaker, sounds good and innovative I think a lot more people could well like this speaker.

Sound Foundation

Next door was the Sound Foundation room with some fine products from Clear Audio and GamuT and a number of other quality brands, at the time they were between demonstrations so I did not hear anything. A good room full of tantalising equipment.

Symmetry

In Windsor Suit 6 was Symmetry Systems as I have already said in my intro to this report this was the one of the most interest room at the show for a number of reasons. Best looking room by far, and a very in-lighting demonstration and a lot of very good products from the likes of Audio Alchemy electronic, Ayre electronics, Brinkmann audio systems, Lyra moving coil cartridges, Stereolab cabling, Sumiko moving coil cartridges, Tri-planar Tone arms Trilogy Audio Systems and finally Stax Electrostatic earspeakers. Stax electrostatic headphones I use myself with the vacuum tube out put stage, for those of you that are very serious home headphone users and have not tried these are missing a real treat. 

Absolute Sounds

The next three Suites were all Absolute Sounds rooms and if you have ever been to a Hi Fi Show and not gone into any Absolute Sound rooms then you have been missing out because what these guys distribute in the UK is just what all our wildest dreams are made of. Yes some of the kit is expensive, but it should not stop a man from his dreams.

Are your eye watering yet, the bad news is that D’agostina Mono Block power amplifiers are about half the way up the price ladder, it gets a lot more serious in other Absolute Sounds rooms.

The Audio Research system with Sonus Fabers that a bit more down to my level of dreaming. Not on demonstration but affordable was the Copland DA215 DAC/Pre and headphone amp unfortunately not shown is the equally fine CTA 506 Power amplifier using the new KT 120 Valve in a push pull design .

Along with PrimaLuna, Wadia, Continuum Audio Labs, EAT, was DCS the British HI End Digital manufacture which I understand Absolute Sounds took on the UK distribution back in July this year. As seen below in a system with Jadis Valve Mono Blocks, Martin Logans Electrostatic’s with the DCS Rossini Up-sampling CD Player with DAC decoding DXD & DSD 2UPNP NetworkPlayer underneath the Rossini Master Clock .

Ken Kessler Reviewer

In the one of the two main demonstration rooms was the Hi Fi Reviewer legend  Ken Kessler with Irv Gross giving hourly talks on various aspects of recorded music and how equipment can bring the best out of it. In the room were some very serious Hi -End kit from France Metronome Technologie, Australia Constellation Audio, along with the Magico S5 MkII speakers from the USA.

The other room I was unable to get into due to it being a bookable demonstration  however on show was the New Wilson Audio Alexx speakers being driven by Dan D’Agostino’s Momentum M400 Mono Blocks with the DCS Vivalidi series at the front end, i will just have to save that delight for another year.

Kef

In the White house Dining room was an impressive looking system, put together by KEF ,Chord Electronic and the Chord Company Cables.

Avantgarde

More Horn Loudspeaker from Avantgarde, but this time with built in amplifiers and from the recently renamed Convert Technologies a range of four Music/streaming systems called Plato

New Distributor

From another New Distributor to me Padood, who have seemed to have collected some very well know prestige Products.

Recently added to their portfolio was the Bel Canto range known in the UK for many years for the eOne half width electronics which we have stocked and sold. They have now added a brand new range called Black an upmarket range of electronics seen here in the UK for the first time. Along with these was SME Turntables/tone arms, Plinius Electronics, Weiss network player, Medus DAC and Kuala Sosna Elation cables.  Two other brands featured strongly in the room were companies I know very well from my Sound of Music / Metropolis days as we were the distributor, for both Boulder Electronics and YG Acoustics speakers.

The New smaller YG Acoustics Sonja 1.1 was being played and sounded like I would like to hear again.

B and W 50th Anniversary

B&W or Bowers and Wilkins were marketing 50 years since their beginning with a History Zone.

Decent Audio

In the Second room from Decent Audio was a real favourite of mine the Raidho speakers from Denmark.

I have a thing about high quality small speakers and slim floor standing speakers that use ribbon tweeters,especially when they are done well they can be pure pleasure.

The Raidho D1.1 is an evolution of their driver design, they now have four stand alone ranges C series, D series. X series and finally the XT series with no less than three models in each range. They are not cheap, but they do have a sister company Distributed in the UK by the Decent Audio as well called Scansonic and all the designs are inspired by the same design team and they are affordable.

To that end it was a great shame that they did not show any of them here, but I am looking forward to them visiting our Staplefield, Sussex shop with them just to see how good there really are after hearing them in Frankfurt a years or two back, watch this space.

Just look what else was in the same room the Kronos Pro turntable, see the two platers, the lower of the two rotates in the opposite direction to give a gyroscopic effect. On show as well in the Decent Audio room was electronics from Audio Analogue Maestro Anniversary  RC10000 remote integrated amplifier and Fortissimo air tech CD/DAC and using cables by Van den Hul. 

Icon Audio

Icon Audio put on a good show, displaying a wide range of their Valve Amplifiers. This one the new for 2017 the MB81SE caught the eye and ear.

I thought this New ST30SE Integrated KT150, not only looked good but gave a very good account of itself. Pure Class A output power, 18 watts in Triode 28 watts in Ultralinar with remote control for 5pence under two grand.

The Stereo 40 MkIII integrated with EL34 output valves shown here with valve protection in place and looking very good for the money also available with KT88 output valve upgrade for an extra £100. 

Sound Design

In the Sound Design distribution room on show and being demonstration was the very futuristic Vivid Giya G4 loudspeakers with drivers designed by Ex B&W designer Laurence Dickie of the Nautilus fame. Electronics being used were the much vaunted Mola-Mola electronics. Make pre-amplifier with modular DAC and phono options and the Kaluga mono blocks. The designer Bruno Putzey was there on hand to talk us all through his new designs, Bruno was the wonder kid of Universal Class D ( UcD ) technology back in 2001 and then introduced NCore Class D amplifier technology this maybe one to keep a eye and ear out for. 

Industry Legend

In my travels around the show I met up with another of the Audio Industries legends Max Townsend!

Elite Audio

Moving on to Elite Audio Distribution room.

On arriving at the Elite room the New Boenicke W8 loudspeaker were playing, this is a petit floor standing speaker that just filled quite a large room with music, although I knew of the brand I have never heard them before and what a treat, they just stopped me in my tracks and I had to seat down and listen for quite a while and time well spent.  In the context of this system these speakers were at £5500 are an absolute sonic bargain 

For me the show stopper!

I would have loved to show you all the inside of this solid wood cabinet, the porting and loading of the drivers can be seen and cut away where it has been routed out with a CNC cutter is just a pure work of art. Sometimes it is what you can’t see that is the all important bit, but here there are so many quality elements that make up this speaker. If you ever get a chance to hear them, they will not disappoint.

When something sounding this good it is never just the one component, it is the whole system. Along with Boenicke W8 speakers in this system was the Gato Audio AMP 150 integrated amplifier, which I must say I was equally taken with the great sound and build quality. The turntable was the Audio Signature Thunder MKII with the TA 2000 tone arm and a Soundsmith Zephyr MkIII Moving Iron Cartridge again I knew of them by reputation but had never heard one before and another thing I must try for myself at some point in the very near future. Finally the cabling was by Volvox cabling. 

Later some music was streamed from a laptop using the very impressive Aqua Formula Optilogic DAC.

I also had the chance to hear the large floor standing Triangle Signature Delta Loudspeakers and in this system they sounded great and have a good scale about them and as they are 92 dB allowing for a much wider range of electronics to be used to drive them , they are also of course a lot cheaper than the Boenicke speakers. 

After the 6 moons review it was also good the see that the Crayon integrated amplifier is now available in the UK through Elite Audio Distribution and look forward to hear that for myself again very soon. 

It was good to see Densen available in the UK again.

I know I have missed out a number of exhibitors out and I am sorry to both them and you the reader for this, but there is only so many hours in a Hi Fi Show day, but I hope I have been able to give you a flavour of the show. A big thank you to all the people and hard work goes into a show like this, and I am off to help pack up a few boxes.

By Richard, Kronos Audio Visual.