Janine Elliot (pictured below between Hifi Pig’s Stuart and Graham Audio’s Paul Graham) rounds up Hifi Pig’s coverage of this year’s National Audio Show.
I have been going annually to the National Audio Show in Whittlebury since its first year there in 2009. Set in rural Northamptonshire countryside near to Towcester, Milton Keynes and the iconic Silverstone race course, this has become an important audio show, not least because of the free parking and avoiding the hustle and bustle of going into busy London.
The Chester Group began the NAS event in London two years earlier, though could see the advantages of moving it out of the capital, especially favourable to those coming down from the North. There is a definite relaxation with this show compared to many, which gives you a chance to carry out the important job of concentrating on socialising and listening to music. Whilst exhibitor attendance numbers weren’t as high as it has been in some years, it was still a memorable weekend of listening, chatting, and experiencing first hand old and new products entering this important market.
Whilst there were the usual favourites there, and many conveniently in the same rooms or suites as before, there were a few rooms that really caught my eye and are worthy of mention, particularly home-grown newcomers. Newcomers to the show were presenting clever ideas that tested the boundaries of existing designs, and were a breath of fresh air for me.
Pristine Vinyl is certainly worth a mention with their record cleaners. At last a machine that you could leave on show when it is not being used; my cleaner is put away when not in use meaning that I actually very rarely get to clean my records. The RCS1 and 2 might not be the cheapest but they are the best looking and really did clean the records. Whilst using the conventional approach of vacuum pumping, unlike most vinyl record cleaning machines that need brushes or strips continually replaced, the ViVac has the addition of cotton thread which, with each clean moves the thread a few millimetres along ensuring that no re-contamination can take place. This would happily sit next to any vinyl set up. If only there was a top-end record player with its own built in cleaner. Meanwhile my cleaner will have to go back into the cupboard.
To play your newly cleaned records, newcomer Peter Laitt had on show his very curvy Prelude from Planalogue. The cuddly turntable design looks like a shelf on top of which is a 5-layer piano black acrylic/birch ply plinth that hides noise decoupling ‘patterns’ inside that disperse energy and vibrations, so that the important music from the record could be controlled and not coloured by the plinth, something all manufacturers aim to achieve. This might be a new turntable but it has ideas from his past now finally put into production, and uses an AC motor in a vibration damping pod.
Newcomer Ceri Thomas was there with his two powered speaker systems. The young manufacturer has a history of automotive design engineering, designing electrical systems for cars, but, as an avid hifi fan, is turning his interest into the two new active speakers (up for review on HiFi Pig soon). Whilst not active in the old sense (amplifiers in the speaker boxes) the 6-channel DSP and power amps (Class D Hypex modules) are in a central box with full digital control. You simply add your source and connect the leads to the speakers. The larger system allows you to add as many speakers as you want, should you wish to annoy your neighbours. All speakers are infinite baffle and whilst looking home-made in their present pre-production form, created an encouragingly good sound.
Old dogs Longdog and Music First Audio always get me interested, especially the MM phonostage I reviewed in 2015. The former’s new P6 mono block (called P6 as there are two small amplifiers driving the output devices; a push-pull driving push and a push-pull driving the pull; so there are 6 Ps!) is class A to around 50 W and class b above, but gives sonic ability of a lower powered amp but with more power. This should be ~£7,500 when they go to market. They also had a new power supply for idler driven turntables such as Garrard 301 or Lenco, adding to their existing PSUs.
A recent newcomer at the show was Graham Audio, whose BBC LS3/5 and LS5/9 were reviewed by me in the last year. On demo was the diminutive LS3/5, the very much larger main BBC speaker of the 80’s to noughties the LS5/8, plus the shortly to be released VOTU (Voice of the Universe), a scaled down version of a speaker they designed for the Royal Opera House (the System3D). The LS3/5 shocked many visitors to the show with the amount of bass and clarity attainable from such a small speaker in the reasonably large room. Derek Hughes, son of Maurice who designed the original BBC speakers was also there on hand to talk to visitors to the room. Where the BBC LS3/5 pricked my ears with their precise and musical offering, the best room in my opinion was from Hi-Fi Hangar, whose combination of Eminent Technology LFT-8B ribbon speakers and Acoustic Imagery ATSAH 500 class D 400W monoblocks, sounded crystal clear and musically inspiring at a pleasant price of £4100 (£2500+£1600 respectively) proving that good sound can be attained in the bedrooms of Whittlebury after all, and at a very reasonable price.