This year I decided to leave home earlier to make the show in good time.  It was all in vain as it took as long to get from the Clifton Bridge on the A4 to the show venue itself as it did to get from Cornwall to the outskirts of Bristol.  I got within sight of the Marriott Hotel to find the road closed and a huge un-signposted detour through the city centre, with new pedestrianised areas, road works and new one way  streets enabled since my last visit.  It is getting as bad as central London, but without the congestion charge zone.  Hush up Dominic, don’t give the city council any more ideas to make motorist’s lives even more stressful. This was confounded by a piece of a building falling on an unwitting pedestrian and a major road being closed for the whole afternoon and night.

I love and loathe the annual Bristol Show.  I love it as I can put faces to names of people I correspond with as a reviewer, I get to hear the new and familiar products too, but I loathe it at the same time because one day just isn’t nearly enough to get round the whole show and do it justice, and one day is all I am able to grant it due to other commitments. Instead it is mostly popping into to demo rooms for a speedy listen then out again and on to the next one. If the room is already packed with people then I have no other option but to stand out in the corridor which is far from ideal, of course.  And as for queuing for half an hour for an appointment for a listen, my time at the show is far too constrained for that kind of luxury.

I had the pleasure of a private hearing of Chord’s range of cables containing a new dialectric known as “Taylon”.  Cables which are thus equipped with this material will have a “T” suffix in their model designation.

I had set a plan in my head not to fight trying to bag the rooms that are usually packed and instead explore areas that I had never really ventured into before, like headphones and the marques that are just a little bit “off the beaten track”.    Strange decision really, as I am no lover of listening through headphones and I don’t relish having sweaty ears with the sound planted into the centre of my head at the best of times.  The very last thing I wanted to do is go “Ooooh” and “Ahhhh” at the high end gear because I have no doubts there will be many folks who attended the show will provide plenty of that for your delectation and edification.

My first port of call on the headphones quest was the Grado stand.  First impressions were a heavy pumping bass that obliterated most of the fine details in the recording and I knew instantly that these headphones were not for me.  Off then to the Audeze stand and slipped a pair on.  I don’t know the model numbers and quite frankly it was no loss not knowing either, as the sound to me was a tad flat and lacking in dynamics after trying on two pairs.  Now then, where to next?  Onkyo and Pioneer provided the answer on a stand with Onkyo’s DAP and Pioneer headphones.  London Grammar’s “Hey now” was first on the playlist and that was very impressive, with good solid bass without bloom or boom and the treble had a slight edge to it so the added faux reverberation effects embedded into the recording seemed just a bit too lively, but by no means excessively so.  Despite my lack of enthusiasm for headphone listening I stayed with the Onkyo and Pioneer pair for at least three or four very enjoyable tracks.  Just shows that it is a brand unlikely to be in the headlines that is the pearl waiting to be found.

Another objective I had in mind was to take some of my own CDs along to see how systems sounded when fed with some real world music instead of the specially selected tracks designed to impress.  There was one slight flaw in my plan though, as the day before the show I had picked out three good CDs to take with me, but this idiot picked up the wrong pile as he was departing.  In my defence it was early when I left home and I am not at my best at that time of day.   I had put aside a direct cut recording called James Newton Howard and Friends which has some fearsome dynamics that really do set speaker cones a’jumping and a’leaping.  Next was a compilation album called Cafe Solo by Jose Padilla, which has  a couple of great tracks by Tripswitch and Felix Laband.  Lastly, a Porcupine Tree effort called Signify.  Instead, old numpty here picked up Fink’s Wheels Beneath My Feet album which was my one saving grace on the day, plus a gospel choir album and a high resolution female vocals album that Dan Worth had given me and I was not familiar with at all.  However, the drawback to taking CDs is that most demonstrations were sourced from streamers or vinyl and not too many exhibitors had a CD player to spin them up in.  The first room I managed to get a playing was Musical Fidelity’s room where they had on show their brand new all-in-one streamer, CD player and amplifier, feeding a pair of KEF Reference 1 speakers on stands, with cables by Nordost. This system struggled a tad to play Fink’s CD with a great deal of fidelity today, especially the track called “Sort of Revolution” where the drummer’s floor tom whacks came out more as a whimper than a resounding peak, but then a show environment REALLY isn’t the place to be getting anything more than an overall feel for the sound in far from ideal rooms. 

I then ventured into Exposure’s room to find their XM Series amplifiers driving a pair of Audiovector SR floorstanders, with cabling by Atlas.  This system gave a very good account for itself today, given that the speakers were well out into the room, and what impressed me the most was the same drummer’s floor tom whacks which had some real power and heft to them.  I then asked the guys to play a track from the gospel choir’s album and that soon emptied the seats in double quick time.  My profuse apologies for that misdemeanour chaps.

My room visits became a bit random after that, bypassing all the crowded rooms with one exception, which was the Devialet room.  I have seen countless still pictures of their famed speakers but never actually heard them play any music.  The music was being played pretty loudly in the room and the speakers were at full tilt when I entered.  To my dying day I will never forget the sight of these two speakers facing dead ahead with the bass cones flapping in and out together on both sides of their cabinets, the tweeters on the front of the cabinets staring at me as well so the whole ensemble looked like an angry one eyed dragon ready to take a big lungful of air and spit fire out of the front.  Within moments I felt rather queasy at this sight, so I didn’t stay very long.  The sound?  Plenty of bass, but not a lot of fine details for my liking and the volume was turned far too high because a perceived “loudness” to the sound (as opposed to an increase in volume level alone) is in fact “distortion”.

Q Acoustics’ Concept 500’s were being demonstrated on the ground floor and it was a refreshing change to hear a demonstration at sensible listening levels rather than ear shredding levels that I heard elsewhere.  Nice refined easy to listen to sound.

I get blown away by the diminutive Ophidian speakers.  Tiny little cabinets making a big sound.  Amazing. 

All of the Henley Designs rooms were very well set up and glad to say no jazzy plinky plonk music was being played.  It just shows what can be achieved with inexpensive components, well set up and with real world music being played.

I did manage to sneak into the Monitor Audio surround demonstration on the tenth floor just a mere whisker away from closing time.  I like the Platinum 2 floorstanders because none of audible spectrum leaps at you, none is missing either and it’s the sort of speaker that doesn’t wear you out during an extended listening session.  They were playing a music DVD which isn’t representative of how they would sound in a two channel stereo rig, which is my preferred set up.

Finally, I visited the Amphion room and was pleasantly surprised that they were playing some classical music. Yes, you read that correctly, some CLASSICAL music. Oddly enough, the seating was across the room, making the front row seats rather too close to the little white Argons perched on perspex stands, so I sat in the rear row. Driven by Accuphase amplification, I was soon captivated by the sound and I sat there with eyes closed for quite a while enjoying what I was listening to, even though I tend to avoid classical music like the plague generally. At one point I was almost converted into a new classical fan. I did say ALMOST! 

On the way home it was a bee line for the Taka Taka kebab shop in the Triangle.  Excellent quality food, a huge choice and very reasonable prices too.  Great end to a great day for me. See you next year!

Dominic Marsh


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