Ian Ringstead gives us his views on this years National Audio Show at Whittlebury.
Whittlebury Hall has been the venue for the National Audio Show (NAS) for the past eight years and I have been to everyone. Unlike Stuart and Linette who were NAS virgins, I am very familiar with the venue and really appreciate its relaxed and sumptuous surroundings. Also it is relatively easy to get to and far more convenient for us northerner’s than London which used to be the main venue (remember The Penta Show at Heathrow in the eighties and nineties).
Although the number of exhibitors seemed lower than previous years, it meant getting around was less arduous and hurried. I took my dear wife Heather with me this year who was also a NAS virgin and she was most impressed by the show. Having both attended Munich in May this year, Whittlebury was literally a walk in the park for us and made for a hugely enjoyable day.
After a short time queuing up in the drizzle on Saturday morning with the other eager show goers, we entered the main stand area in the Brooklands Suite where all the headphones and static exhibitors were. We would have loved to spend more time here but a busy schedule of trying to see and hear everything meant we had to move on and hopefully return later in the day.
Moving onto the ground floor area of demo rooms I noticed quite a few new names which is encouraging given the doom and gloom prophecies post Brexit. The first name that caught my eye was Analog Domain, a German brand that had mightily impressed me when in Munich. Reminiscent in style and looks to Mark Levinson this brand has an equally expensive price tag, but the fit, finish and sound is sublime, and I hope to get the chance to review their amps one day. They were being used with Estelon speakers, another brand that impressed me in Munich. Next to Analog Domain was Air Audio Distributors who import Hana moving coil cartridges which I reviewed last year and offer excellent value and sound. Michael Osborn of Air Audio was keen to demo a rather nice and classic Technics reel to reel machine which I remember well. Michael distributes a range of quality reel to reel tapes by STS Digital that although not cheap, sound great.
Longdog Audio who hail from Yorkshire were demo-ing a superb sounding Garrard 401 turntable. These turntables have a cult following and when properly fettled take some beating. They also used some of their excellent electronics and a MFA pre through Graham Audio speakers which sounded great.
Next door was Xclusive AV, a company new to me, but who have been around a few years and are based in Hastings. They are the UK distributors for Waterfall loudspeakers, a French company based in the south of France whom I have seen at a few shows over the years. Being made of glass they look stunning and the room was superbly appointed, with a great display and lighting really showing the Waterfall speakers at their best. For me it was one of the best looking rooms at the show. Hifi Pig reviewed the Victoria speakers back in 2013 and they were well received. In the right setting Waterfall speakers can’t fail to impress.
Zouch Audio from Leicestershire (Ashby de la Zouch) had an excellent room dedicated to Luxman electronics and a pair of Dali floor standers. I am a sucker for Luxman as it is beautifully made and sounding kit. I owned a L550AII, a fabulous class A integrated which weighed a ton and had a plethora of useful facilities, including those VU meters which although not much use practically, look fab. Zouch were focusing on vinyl and playing a great selection of records including some I have (Simply Red’s Picture Book being one of them). The PD171A turntable was lovely and really showed vinyl at its best. The owner’s young son (22 years old) was loving the room and telling me enthusiastically about the product. I wish all retailers were this keen. The overall sound was very smooth as you would expect from Luxman. Zouch had done a great job of dressing the room too.
Nearby, another new name was Wall of Music, a Lithuanian company now based in Northern Ireland. Brand new, these speakers have sixteen drivers in them and look like the old Quad ESL 63’s. They impressed me with the limited equipment they were using to demonstrate, and played some good classical music instead of the usual jazz so often opted for. I like jazz, but not all the time. A company to look out for in the future.
Quality dealers such as Divine Audio, Audio Emotion, Sound Fowndations and The Right Note were all putting on excellent demos and offering expert advice. Henley Designs had three large rooms and put on their usual professional displays of key products including Pro-ject Audio, Roksan, Opera and Unison Research.
Vivid Audio and Devialet had a large room, the Suzuka, to show off the stunning Giya speakers and Devialet’s new reference amp. Being a large room it was hard to judge critically, but in the right setting I am sure they would be amazing.
Upstairs on the first floor, Fanthorpes Hi Fi, a long established dealer from Hull had two rooms, both using PMC speakers and a mixture of Bryston electronics in one and Sugden in the other. Both rooms sounded good and showed what you could get in quality hifi from a reasonable budget to deeper pockets for the real enthusiasts.
Russ Andrews were giving their usual expert advice and appeared to be doing a roaring trade as always when at shows. I spoke to Russ briefly and he said business was brisk and it was good to see plenty of interest from the consumers. Russ gave a couple of lectures on 30 Years of Making Music Sound Better.
Arendal Sound, a Norwegian speaker manufacturer were making great sounds. They manufacture all their own drive units and cabinets being independent of other suppliers and are new to the UK. I hope to try some out soon.
Speaker companies were prolific this year at Whittlebury and another newcomer was Kerr and Smith Audio from Cambridge. They used some classic hifi kit to dem their speakers with, including a Pink Triangle turntable, Sony Tan pre amp and Mark Levinson power amp. Three speaker models were on dem ranging from a large floor stander the KS-100 down to two smaller stand mounters the KS-300 and KS-400. I will be reviewing one of these models soon.
The final newcomer to Whittlebury was Code Acoustics, run by a talented young designer from Woking called Ceri Thomas, who has come up with a rather unique modular system of active electronics, control unit and speaker system that you can build up in stages as funds or desires permit. This system really interested me and impressed me greatly. My wife also loved the design principle and looks of the system. Another young company to keep an eye on.
So overall Whittlebury was a great show for enthusiast’s and beginners alike. What really struck me this year was that there were so many new to the UK or young companies exhibiting. In unsettled economic times globally I love the fact small or larger companies are still willing to give it a go. Enterprise is a great thing and whilst ambition abounds in individuals, long may it prosper.