Hifi Pig’s roving reporter Steve Crowe visits the UK Hifi Show Live and tells us what he made of the first Hifi Show to be held at Ascot.

I visited the ‘Windsor Show’ for the first time last year. The quality of HiFi on show was excellent but, like many, I didn’t find it an easy show to get around, with rooms in disparate locations. Some suites were in separate buildings and it was easy to miss parts of the show. Other events were also taking place in the hotel at the same time and many of us nearly ended up at a wedding.

This year I set of from home to Clive, my partner for the day’s house and he then drove me to Ascot through the dreary weather.

It was with eager anticipation that I looked forward to the venue being changed to Ascot Racecourse and, on the day, I was not disappointed. This is a superb venue, although some found it to be a little spread out. The obvious benefits I found were that it was self-contained, the rooms were generally larger than hotel rooms, and the spacing allowed exhibitors to play at optimum levels with little sound-bleed between rooms. I seriously believe that this show, in time, could rival Bristol as the pre-eminent show in the UK. There is a lot of room for expansion and the facilities are magnificent. Some visitors bemoaned the fact that there was no alcohol served on the day, which did rather limit the usual convivial groupings. I didn’t hear anyone say ‘shall we get together for a few coffees later!’

A common question I asked most of the exhibitors is how they were finding the new venue. Most were pleased with their rooms although a few found the huge glass windows facing the racecourse to be something of a challenge.

For me, the best features of the show were the relaxed atmosphere and an overall level of sound quality far in excess of what I traditionally find at hotel-based shows. Also, I have never been to a show where there is so much high-end equipment being demonstrated. Absolute Sounds and Padood both had huge rooms with fabulous demonstrations. Sadly, I was unable to get into the Wilson Audio demonstration, as all seats for each show had been snapped up very early on. The sound from the Magico room in the Absolute Sound suite was stunning, as was the Avantgardes in Padood.  There were about sixty rooms and over a hundred manufacturers, which is far more than the old Windsor Show could accommodate.

After quite a gentle start to the day, weather-wise, the rain drifted in and landed permanently. All the walkways at Ascot are exposed and when the wind picked up, even though everything is covered by a very large roof, it could get quite damp going from room to room.

The main grandstand at Ascot really is spectacular and there is a long sweep up from the gatehouse to the main entrance past the pristine parade ring/winners’ enclosure. On the main concourse, there were several cars with elaborate sound systems, the star of which was a Lamborghini furnished with JBL gear. Clearaudio displayed an amazing turntable, which must have weighed a ton. I suggested it was too heavy to carry up the stairs, a comment which fell rather flat with the very well turned out German guy who was standing guard.

My first encounter of the day was with the debonair Chris Green from Sound Fowndations, who was his usual cheerful and welcoming self. During the show I had a long chat with Max Townshend who is just about to launch a new passive pre-amp, complete with remote control and visual display.

Overall, this is the best UK HiFi show I have every attended, which augurs well for its future development. There appeared to be a lot of people there but, other than a couple of high-end rooms, it was never crowded. I found it a joy to visit and look forward to hearing feedback from other customers and, of course, the exhibitors.

Onto the show itself. In one day it was nigh impossible to have a long listen in every room, but I will mention a few highlights as I go through.  I’ll start with the ‘biggies’ then move on to the other rooms.

Absolute Sounds

This was a massive suite with several rooms and areas separated out as listening rooms. The equipment on display was extensive including Dartzeel, DCS, EAT, Jadis, Krell, Sonos Fabre, Magico, Prima-Luna, Krell, Dan D’Agostino, Wilson Audio and many others which I apologise for leaving out.

I bumped into Paul Clark from Hi-Fi Lounge who was supplying manpower and answering questions to the many visitors. The separate listening rooms housed Magico, which I did get to listen to and was truly excellent, and Wilson Audio, where the excellent Alexx speakers were being driven by Dan D’Agostino Relentless monoblocs. Sadly, the Wilson Audio room was sold-out early on and I was unable to get in. In the photos you can see, amongst many other items, the magnificent EAT turntable with its amazing arm.

Padood

This was another wonderful room with an excellent display covering Avantgarde, YG Acoustics, Boulder, SME, Nagra, Plinius and many other brands. There was a huge amount of gear to lust after. In the listening area were the amazing Avantgarde Duos, driven by a 7 watt Nagra valve amp. Oscar Peterson has never sounded so real.

I’d always associated Anthem with AV equipment and was surprised to find some excellent two-channel kit. Seen here with the excellent Paradigm loudspeakers, T + A amplification and Innuos streamer.

Arcam had a very full display and I was particularly intrigued by their diminutive 25 watt per channel streamer/DAC. It really is tiny. Speakers are by JBL.

Atlas Cables had a large display of their cables and were also featured in many other rooms. The rack is by Quadraspire. Atlas were selling their Equator Interconnect at a discount of 50%, cables will be made to order at the show on both days and all proceeds went to the “Music For All” charity.

Avid were sounding good and they had a prototype of a new floorstander. Having elicited customer feedback over the past few months they will be making some changes before final production. Expect reviews in the coming months on Hifi Pig along with the chance to win an Avid turntable.

Bluesound had a very interesting demo where the streamer was demonstrated, purportedly through a Naim amp. At the end, the hoax was revealed and they uncovered a Bluesound amp. It all sounded rather good.

Chord Electronics were demonstrating their new monoblocs, the Ultima III’s (£11, 000each) complemented by the flagship DAVE DAC and upscaling BLU MKII CD/digital transport. The Kef Blade 2s in use looked terrific in their deep Matt Blue finish. Cables were by Chord Cables and the zeros and ones were provided by Innuos.

Decent Audio was demonstrating big Magneplanars, heavyweight Kronos turntables and, in another room, some very fine sounding Eclipse speakers. These use a full-range driver in an egg-shaped enclosure (TD510ZMK2). They were demonstrated with and without a sub (TD520SW). Even without a sub to support the lower end they were very impressive.

Emotiva, had some excellent sounding two channel systems in use plus a full Dolby Atmos set-up using the newly launched XMC-2 16 channel processor. This uses Sabre DACs on all channels and the front three channels were ‘differentially balanced’, whatever that means!

GamuT had some impressive looking speakers on display with their ‘ladder’ grills. Buy these and your cats will thank you, though this style of grill is becoming increasingly popular on high-end speakers! The sound from this room was very enjoyable. Record player was by Vertere and Innuos once again supplied the streamer.

Goldmund brought along their very unique two-box speakers plus a new wireless speaker system. Moon by SimAudio made up the electronics and the vinyl front end was by VPI

As is common with many shows these days there was a large area for headphones and associated equipment. This area was literally at the highest point in the show at one end of Level 6, expansively called the ‘Panoramic Headphone Zone’. All the usual suspects were present, Astell&Kern, Electromod, Audeze, Benchmark, Ifi Audio, Schiit Audio, Mr Speakers, Benchmark etc, (no Sennheiser) plus several small companies and Fidelice by Rupert Neve with their first foray into domestic audio, having normally been better known for their professional equipment. I bumped into Adam Taslaq from Harmony HiFi Distribution/Nintronics.

Luxman had a lot of equipment in several different rooms and were showing off their turntables and electronics. Their ‘retro’ looking D380 CD player and LX-380 amp certainly caught my attention.

In the Kii room the Kii 3 was partnered with their dedicated bass units. This active system has a very engaging ‘in your face’ sound which I have come to associate with the brand. If these are playing, I always feel compelled to listen.

Mark Levinson were another manufacturer with quite an extensive range. These amps have a real quality look and are very desirable. In this case they ae partnered with Revel loudspeakers.

Melco took the opportunity to display and demonstrate what is a fast-growing range of components. Interestingly they have a new network switch (The S100 Data Switch), made to ‘audiophile, standards. All the new equipment is housed in their modern-looking half-sized case. The dark silver versions looked very attractive. As a Melco user myself I can attest to the quality of their electronics.

Moon had a very interesting multi-room demonstration where you could walk from one to the other with no lag in the sound. The larger room featuring their well-respected electronics partnered with a pair of fine-sounding Dynaudio Confidence speakers. Turntables are again from VPI.

Over the past couple of years, I have become aware of the Node speakers. They always sound pretty amazing and this show was no exception. Both rooms in use demonstrated them to good effect. These are very desirable but the price is eye-watering!

Signature Systems bought a number of products along to the show, including PS Audio, SBooster and Duevel. The main focus for PS Audio was the new Stellar Phono stage and there were static displays of the DirectStream Memory Player and DirectStream DAC plus the extremely heavy P20 Power Plant, with mains connections for both sources and amps. SBooster majored on their linear power supply and I talked to the very nice people from the company who described their ‘Vbus2’. This is a tiny device which you plug into a USB source to remove the power connection for DACs which don’t need a 5 Volt supply to function. This removes the possibility of power noise contamination from the USB cable.

Sound Fowndations were demonstrating one of their record CLearaudio decks with a DS Audio cartridge through Kerr Speakers. In the photo there is a black tower with two green lights. It is not for stylish illumination but is a de-ioniser!

Last, but certainly not, least I finished up in the Marketplace in the Frankel Bar.

There were two large vinyl sales areas where there was the room to really expand their displays. Qobuz was present and pleased to answer questions such as ‘why don’t playlists work across national boundaries?’ The answer is down to differential licensing in different territories, apparently.

A man from Atlas cables was hand-terminating cables using their legendary ‘crimping’ rather than soldering of the wires. Atlas were selling their Equator Interconnect at a discount of 50%, your cables could be made to order at the show on both days and all proceeds went to the “Music For All” charity.

I’m certain that if this year is considered a success, which it should be, this area will be much expanded in the future.

And some gratuitous pics for your delectation and delight.

SCV Distribution had some lovely Focal speakers being powered by Briscati electronics and a Vertere record player. The server you see is from Cocktail Audio. Cables were by Atlas.

Elite Audio were showing off a number of their many brands including this Acoustic Solid Wood Round turntable that retails at £5950 with arm and cartridge. Elite also had a great display of the well-loved Manley Audio electronics and Boenicke loudspeakers.

Cambridge Audio.

More from KEF.

ClearAudio’s Statement turntable looking rather splendid at Ascot – it’s even got a fancy hat by way of linear tracking tonearm.

Some nice motorcars.

British brand Exposure showing off their wares. I’m particularly interested in their new active crossover so keep an eye out for that on the Hifi Pig pages in coming weeks. Speakers are from Kudos and as always rather excellent.

Falcon Acoustics showing off their range of authentic BBC speakers partnered with Primare electronics and Mofi turntable.

 

 

Elite showing of more of their brands, this time it’s Gato.

Goldnote is distributed in the UK by Audio Pinnacle.

Isotek.

IsoAcoustics from Canada in the SCV room and partnered with Focal speakers. This is a very good dem of the isolating properties of the IsoAcoustics products.

Origin Live is a name that is synonymous with the UK and high-end vinyl playback. Here we have their Voyager turntable but what caught my eye were the speakers. They are the Origin Live Astutes and cost £9995.

ProJect turntables on show along with Klispch speakers by Henley Audio.

Esoteric electronics and the wonderful Raidho speakers.

Roksan and Monitor Audio.

Russell K speakers.

Mike valentine of Chasing the Dragon in the Reel 2 Reel room.

Vimberg Loudspeakers from Lotus Hifi with Melco and Vitus Audio pre/DAC. Cables in this system are by Tellurium Q.

All in all UK HiFi Show 2019 at Ascot was a great success and one that is sure to grow year on year.

Steve Crowe

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