Paul’s personal views on his top six rooms at this years Whittlebury Hifi Show.

For those with ears to listen, one thing stood out at Whittlebury despite not all rooms being taken this year and that was the up-beat vibes and feedback from the traders, big and small. I spoke to many of them and all had a similar message, and that’s the continued enthusiasm from the public and the support for the industry has been great considering the world recession.  People haven’t lost their love of music and continue to strive for ever more refined systems, for value and for quality.  All three of these virtues were on display this weekend.

Top 6 systems for me:

Nr 6:  Alactrity Audio

A relative newcomer to the audio world, Alacrity were here this year demonstrating their newly developed Caterhun Classic stand mount loudspeaker.  I’d passed their room several times, each time being impressed with what seemed to be emanating from the open door, and on my third “pass” I decided to go in and find out more.  What I heard from little stand mounters was impressive.  Very good bass extension, the little ‘speakers literally running full range. Considering the very modest source and amplification components* the sound was very well balanced if a little roug around the edges (which I suspect was more to do with what was connected to the speakers than because of them).  The makers claimed that these little speakers employ new technology based upon something called a Helmholtz Resonator to generate their amazing frequency response, which they also claim is flat from sub 20Hz to 20KHz.

*(a laptop which had “lost” all the music they’d brought so they resorted to using it’s CD drive and 3 of their CDs plus an –tube thingy amp which they confessed they’d paid £200 from Amazon for just to bring to the show!)

I think that these guys did themselves a disservice though by not hooking up the speakers to better quality ancillaries and bringing more music with them, but their enthusiasm was hard to fault!

Nr5 G Point Audio

Some mighty impressive and pretty whacky horn speakers on demo, and impressive they were too! Greg (who runs G Point) has recently gone to great lengths to get the cross-overs right on these since they were first demo’d at the Munich Hifi show and the results are impressive.  Very un-horn like lack of colouration, beautifully implemented mid range, which shone through on vocals, and effortless scale even if ultimate bass extension and slam was lacking.  A very refined sound and the partnering Lampizator electronics were a great match and no doubt contributed greatly to that sound.

Nr4 Magic Racks Room

No, not a manufacturer of electronics or loudspeakers, but a one man band manufacturing (very effective) isolation platform modular hifi racks using a clever system of suspended Neoprene belts to suspend gear on.  What impressed was that his slightly battered home system(!) consisting of an ancient Project TT, Lavardin and Marantz electronics driving a pair of older ANk stand mount loudspeakers produced some truly wonderful sounds and the newer ANks on loan from AN (UK) were even better.  I hate to say it, but I preferred what I heard in that room to what I listened to in the official AN room where room size and speaker placement I suspect contributed to a little too much boom.

Nr 3 Palmer Turntables

Jon Palmer was demonstrating his lovely new Palmer 2.5 TT matched with an equally lovely SME series M2-12 pick up arm.  The quality and attention to engineering detail showed through in the sound.  The Sugden amplification and lovely Harbeth Compact 7 ES3 loudspeakers down-stream of the turntable made what was for me the classical music system of the show.  Jon was a great guy to speak to as well.  With surprising modesty for someone who’s produced something so great he almost reluctantly took me through the design of the turntable, accrediting others with praise for their parts in the process.  Jon seemed to typify all that was good about home grown quality hifi brands, and even the pricing on this fine sounding deck was within reach of many punters who wandered in to hear that Palmer/Sugden/Harbeth magic.  I suspect Jon will do very well!

Nr 2 Audio Acoustics

It’s not entirely predictable that the very exclusive Audio Acoustics should figure with some of the best sounding gear, after all there was plenty of evidence that many other highly priced systems failed to make any sonic impact with quite a few people, including myself.  I can only describe being in awe of what the Sapphire Ti-C loudspeaker did with piano music…startling realism!  Eyes shut and a grand piano was in the room.  It was delightful to hear how they almost perfectly captured the timbre and decay of each note with precision and almost perfect dynamic control.  Astonishing price tag too, but for the well healed, these would have been a very tempting proposition!

Nr1 The winner for me this year was (queue drum roll)………Analogue Alchemy!

The sounds produced from this stunning system were unrivaled by anything I’d heard all day for dynamics and sheer musicality, the ability to convey music with toe tapping realism, gladly rising to the challenge of whatever genre was thrown its way and simply shrugging off the effort by producing some truly memorable music.  It had an almost live atmosphere to many of the recordings that many systems aspired to but failed to deliver or even get close!

Speaking to the owner, inventor and producer of this wonderful kit, it was simply astonishing to hear the effort and expertise that had gone into designing and building every single component.  Stunning high mass platter belt driven turntables, huge and beautifully constructed full range open baffle loudspeakers, and even a cassette deck designed and built in-house which managed to trump some other high end sources at the show!  Simply astonishing system, and whilst expensive (eg loudspeakers at £25K) ultimately worth every penny to those who could afford it.  The sound this system made would justify the price tag, so the problem most people would have is not the justification, it is the financing of such a system.  It proved for me beyond a shadow of a doubt though that the bar for the law of diminishing returns has been raised to new heights and it was great to see such wonderful and aspirational hifi engineered with such precision, quality and faithfulness to sound.  I would have gladly traveled to the show just to hear and see this one system.

Author – Paul

For more coverage of the National Audio Show 2012 see here and here.

What were your favourite rooms and why?

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