Since 1987, The Bristol Hi-Fi Show has been held in the Marriott City Centre Hotel. Men of a certain age (and a smattering of women) can find their preferred aural fetish in hot, sticky airless bedrooms. In one room a sound system can bring you to climax over the course of a jazz standard, whilst another can pummel you into submission with 5.1 surround sound, and a sub-bass low enough to be deployed as a sonic weapon. You can walk down the corridor and sneak a peek at all sorts of hi-fi perversions, and in our search for the perfect high-fidelity sound we push on, knowing that the system of our dreams could be behind the next door…
Dean & Alex with hifi royalty – Roy Gandy
JBL L82 classics
First up are JBL who have bagged themselves a space in the foyer. Alongside last year’s standouts JBL L100, are their younger siblings – the 2 way compact L82 Classics. They have the same sonic characteristics as the L100s and share the 8 inch bass unit, but with a more focused sound.
They also share the trademark Quadrex foam grills, available in blue, orange & black.
JBL L82 & L100 Classic Loudspeakers
Astell & Kern
Astell & Kern have the SA700 limited edition hi-res player linked via the Chord Electronics Hugo 2 with Audeze LCD-2 Bamboo headphones. “When you’re Smiling“ by Frank Sinatra is already playing, and Frank’s liquid vocals combine beautifully with the lush brass section.
Next up is James Blake’s “The Wilhelm Scream“ – his double-tracked vocals pan from ear-to-ear, sitting atop a crisp sub-bass – the perfect tune to listen to on these headphones – all the subtleties are picked up, and they are not tiring on the ears. You could listen all day.
Astell & Kern SA700 limited edition
For us they have the best designed stand at the show – understated Japanese minimalism.
With an informative wall display featuring their cartridges, and unique glass scale replicas of each needle. This gives you an insight into how the different shapes extract information from the vinyl.
We bump into Roy Gandy ( co-founder of Rega ). He informs us that he is most proud of, not his iconic turntables, but the Rega Aethos amplifier. A lot of blood, sweat and tears went into producing the amp, and the results are perfection. He also hints at the possibility of a Rega valve amp in the not too distant future…but you didn’t hear it from us, okay?
Audio Technica – glass replicas of their needles
Bowers & Wilkins
The sound of silence…
One of the highlights of the show is usually the 800 D3 speakers getting unleashed, but disappointment soon sets in when we realise that there’s to be no demo this year (unless you count the four bluetooth speakers from the Formation range playing in the background). A solitary Prestige Santos Rosewood 800 D3 revolves around silently, which admittedly does look incredible, but it’s just a shame we don’t get to listen to it.
We’re also told how amazing the new Michi Amplification system is, but again, it sits impotent on a plinth with no source or speakers attached.
However, the new PX5 & PX7 headphones are plugged in – both feel very comfortable and have an impressive sound. It does feel like a missed opportunity for Bowers & Wilkins, and with this week seeing the resignation of their CEO, things are looking uncertain for one of the world’s leading manufacturers of hi-fi.
Bowers & Wilkins 800 D3 – Prestige Edition
Bowers & Wilkins PX5 & PX7 Wireless Headphones
This year Chord Electronics have opted for the ATC SCM 50s, with their famous soft mid-range dome speakers, they sound spectacular, and are not fatiguing in the slightest. They are paired with the DAVE, Hugo M Scaler , Ultima Preamp & Stereo power amp with an Innuos server.
This system skilfully separates the sound of Billie Eilish “Bad Guy”, with each element working on its own level – but still managing to gel into a cohesive whole. It has incredibly controlled bass and the sound doesn’t collapse in on itself, like it would on lesser systems. Lovely!
They’ve also released the ‘2go’ music streamer to work with the award-winning Hugo2 (DAC). They offer 768kHz high resolution playback via 2.4 GHz long-range Wi-Fi and Gigabit Ethernet connection for desktop ( or Bluetooth A2DP ). They have a formidable 8hr battery life and a 3 year warranty.
ATC have the tri-amped, 3-way SCM40 Active speakers with their ultra transparent sound, which lends them beautifully to acoustic guitar & classical strings – so perfect for Nick Drake’s “River Man”*. The bass is handled superbly, the timing impeccable, and the stereo imaging is hypnotic. Confirming why I think, in my humble opinion, they are still the best mid-range speakers on the market.
* If you’ve not heard Andy Bey’s version of “River Man” I urge you to check it out.
ATC SCM40 Active & SCM7 bookshelf
Bob Surgeoner talks us through his design of the iso-baric bass system that the new compact Ministra contains, and why he decided to use a ribbon tweeter. The soundstage is huge considering the speaker’s size, and has an incredible room filling sound even at low levels. We listen to “Train” by Goldfrapp and the speakers handle the transient impacts very adeptly.
Neat Acoustics – Ministra Speaker
Kudos apply the same engineering excellence as Neat, with a focus on what sounds right, rather than what the charts say sounds good.
The have a demonstration of the Kudos Titan 707s attached to a full Naim system which includes: the NDX 2 network player, Supernait 3 amp (for the bass), Hi Cap, SNAXO active crossover with Hi Cap, and a NAP 250DR power amp (for the treble) together creating an active system, and one of the best sounding of the show!
Kudos Titan 707s Loudspeakers
Leonard Cohen’s low growl greets us in the Naim Audio room.
We show our respects as we walk past some Naim legacy equipment which sits on plinths as we take our seats for the demo. Out front sits the full Statement amp system, which is backlit for dramatic effect, paired with the Focal Scala Utopia Evos. They handle the bass of Cohen’s singing voice amazingly well, punching out the bass with Dean sitting in awe at how much headroom there is in the Statement.
There appears to be a retro theme to this year’s demo, harking back to Naim’s golden period back in the 70s with its minimalist design echoing through the show, and onto the merch stand.
The whole room sounds perfect, probably helped by the acoustic paneling soaking up any unwanted reflected sounds.
The demonstration wins Clarity’s “ Demo of the Show Award 2020 “.
Naim Statement – Effortless power
Naim legacy products – still design classics!
Rega launch the “System One” – a complete hi-fi system which contains: Rega’s entry-level Planar One turntable, the new io intergrated amplifier with inbuilt MM phono stage, a pair of Kyte speakers, 2 x 3 metre speaker cables, and a remote control!
A lot has been packed into this system, and is a great starter plug-and-play set-up, at an affordable price.
Rega System One – £999 for an outstanding entry level hi-fi system
Linn Series 3 & Selekt DSM
We get to listen to the new Series 3 wireless speaker. Apparently based on the shape of a wine glass, and not a Glade Air freshener as some have suggested. We can confirm the pear shaped all-in-one does look better in the flesh, and the ceramic case adds a touch of class whilst also reducing any resonance. It does have an impressive room filling sound.
Linn Selekt DSM demo:
The demo set-up is 100% Caledonian, with the speakers hailing from Fyne Audio just down the road from Linn’s Glasgow base, and the Atlas cables are produced in nearby Kilmarnock. We personally felt the speakers were a tad lumpy in the bass, but shifting to sit in the sweet spot sorted that out.
We’re given the Pepsi challenge ( A/B demonstration ) and asked to compare the Selekt DSM with and without the Katalyst upgrade, and with Space Optimisation turned off.
You do hear previously hidden sounds with the Katalyst upgrade, and the whole sound appears more open, with more life and clarity. The Space Op does appear to take away any negatives in the room that may affect the quality of the sound, it even accounts for the temperature of the room, as the speed of sound varies at different temps.
The Linn brand is built around the idea of their products being modular, so you’re able to upgrade over the course of a lifetime, and it’s refreshing to see such sustainability in an industry not known for its ecological credentials.
Book a demo of the Linn Selekt DSM, at our studio, or in your own home.