Bristol Hi-Fi Show Report 2023 - Part One
The Bristol Hi-Fi Show returned for 2023 and here is Part One of StereoNET's comprehensive show report and extensive gallery.
Now that the dust has settled, it's time to look back at the Bristol show's return.
The Bristol Hi-Fi Show 2023 was held in its usual venue, albeit with a slightly different name - Delta Hotels by Marriott Bristol City Centre - from February 24 to 26. This show is generally seen as the launch of the UK show season. More than ever, there was genuine excitement this year as the date got closer.
The Friday of the show is generally when I take advantage of the quieter day to take photos and catch up with people. However, the snaking queue that met my eyes as I approached the venue through Castle Park told me otherwise. Things were different this year as music fans, manufacturers, designers, and journalists converged in Bristol for the first time since 2020, brought together after a three-year hiatus for many by the love of high-quality stereo and multichannel audio.
When the doors opened, 169 brands braced themselves for what looked like a busy three days ahead, and there was plenty to see and hear. While the Bristol show had a three-year break, manufacturers remained active, launching new products or announcing technical improvements to their offerings. Additionally, most exhibitors I spoke to confirmed that they had enjoyed an upswing in demand during the pandemic due to people investing in home entertainment while not being able to go on holiday, etc. However, there was also some concern that the 'Covid peak' may shadow the coming year if brands, distributors and retailers were not careful.
Still, the great mix of show-goers over the next few days indicated that there was still a hunger for high fidelity.
Onwards, then, to StereoNET's A-Y (there were no 'Z' brands) of the Bristol Hi-Fi Show 2023 with Part One, which takes you, dear reader, up to 'K'.
ACOUSTIC ENERGY/ WIREWORLD
Acoustic Energy took residence in a rather stylish suite with the multi-driver AE520 loudspeakers (£3,600).
The slender floorstanders boast six drive units a side, made up of a 25mm tweeter, bookended by a pair of 125mm midrange drivers backed up by a trio of woofers. These were being pushed along by Rega and Bluesound electronics. Although there was generally a hubbub of chatter in this room, shared with cable brand Wireworld, the sound from this system had plenty going for it, not to mention a well-balanced and communicative low end.
It was good to see Wireworld being relaunched in the UK through Acoustic Energy, and judging by the crowds at that end of the room, I wasn't the only one to think so. David Salz, President and cable designer of Wireworld Cables US, was at the stand to take questions and give advice on all things cable on the Friday and Saturday.
ADMM - MELCO
Melco's new range-topping music library - the N1 (£12,000) - was on static display here so that eager audiophiles could get up close and personal with the unit.
It's a beauty and feels every part a flagship product. Meanwhile, under the hood is a single 3.8TB SSD linked to an all-new motherboard design. The N1 boasts a larger cache than the N10 and offers Neutrik RJ45 connections and external clock input, the latter a first for Melco. It was also spotted as part of one of Mian Audio's systems which will be covered in Part Two!
AIR AUDIO - CONNECTED-FIDELITY/ COPPICE AUDIO
There was much to like about this room, shared by Connected-fidelity and real-wood loudspeaker whittlers Coppice Audio, which started with a wonderfully relaxed vibe.
Connected-fidelity used the Bristol Show to unveil its rather lovely-looking Hub-TT record player (£3,900), due for release in April. Formed of a specially supplied bamboo ply which, I was told, offered strength and very little resonance on top of its eco credentials, it sports a bronzed bearing and a 12V AC motor driven by a quartz-clocked power supply with speed control. The turntable comes in natural bamboo and a dark stained finish, complemented by natural anodised finishes to the aluminium motor pod and arm-board. The Sorane arm was loaded with the excellent-sounding Hana Umami Red.
Helping the pre-production Hub-TT makes some wonderful noises were the Coppice X2 speakers powered by Astin Trew electronics. The speakers are quoted as being 87dB sensitive and cost £2,500, with the stands being an extra £700.
Some interesting hi-fi optimisation accessories, including Connected-fidelity's Float 30 isolators, were also displayed.
JBL welcomed visitors in the entrance hall and gave a hint of the retro-tastic offerings at the show to come.
Here, the company's new Classic electronics enjoyed their first UK showing. Comprising an integrated amp, streamer, CD player and turntable, they have been designed with the Classic L Series loudspeakers in mind. No surprise then, the L100 was in attendance in a swish new gloss black finish.
These limited edition L100s (£5,198) are more than a fresh paint job, though; the speakers also boast an upgraded crossover design to provide dual inputs for use in bi-wiring applications, while a new input terminal cup includes dual sets of premium gold-plated binding post terminals. Additionally, the tweeter and midrange drivers have also been given a performance upgrade. If you like the finish but looking for something a little smaller, there are also gloss black versions of the L82 and L52 coming, so we have been told. The company also launched the 4292P (£3,499) active wireless speaker at the show.
Meanwhile, in the basement was a full Atmos cinema powered by JBL and Arcam.
This was a most impressive demonstration, with JBL Studio 6 speakers making their European debut at the Bristol show.
ATC was putting its SCM 50 ASL Actives (£16,500) through their paces via an ATC CDA2 CD/DAC pre-amp fed digital tunes by a Roon Nucleus and analogue by way of a Technics deck and Vertere phono amp.
As is the current parlance, these front-ported active large standmouts had 'dynamics for days'. Indeed, everyone within earshot could not help but come and check them out, resulting in a continually full room.
Kilmarnock's cable creators had its wares on display almost like swatches at a haberdashery.
This made the current range of Atlas Cables easy to understand and displayed the scope of what is available from them. But, of course, this was made all the better for the friendly folk who were on hand to help.
AUDEN DISTRIBUTION - AMPHION/ HEGEL
Auden Distribution hosted a couple of rooms filled with Amphion and Hegel loveliness. Moreover, Bill and the team won Most Welcoming Room in the Clarity Alliance Awards at the show, which gives you some idea of how relaxed, friendly and helpful the Auden group was.
One room was, for all intents and purposes, the showroom with a static display of products in an environment where visitors could be assisted and have their questions answered. Meanwhile, the other was the demonstration room featuring a Rega P8 turntable plugged into a Hegel V10 Preamplifier (phono) connected to an H120 amp powering a pair of Amphion Argon 1 loudspeakers. Auden always has a great sounding 'real world' room, and this system sounded much better than its £7,500 (including cables) price tag would have you expect as an appreciative audience nodded away to Talk Talk's Happiness Is Easy.
Congratulations to the Auden Distribution team, and well done to Clarity Alliance for recognising the passion that Bill, Johann and everyone put in.
AUDIO NOTE (UK)
Audio Note selected its Level 3 system for the Bristol show audience. With ANJ / SPe loudspeakers placed in the room's corners and a TT3 turntable with Three/ii arm and IO 1 MC cartridge providing the analogue source while a CDT3 CD transport and DAC 3.1x balanced converter provided digital disc-based tunes.
The TT3 was connected to an M3 phono pre-amp, and the sources met at a Conqueror Silver 300B stereo power amp. I dived into this room a few times over the weekend for a listen; however, Daniel Qvortrup always seemed to be answering questions from his eager audience. Although, I did hear some good reports from others.
Goldenear stretched out in one of the larger rooms with its sister brand Audioquest whose display on the way into the space was simple but very effective.
At the end of the room, some rather lovely noises came from the Triton Three+ floorstanders (£3,300) the first time I visited with the BRX bookshelf speakers (£1,699) caught later.
A simple yet marvellously effective system powered by a NAD M33 streaming amplifier connected by Audioquest William Tell speaker cables and Vodka ethernet cables with power conditioned by an Audioquest Niagara 5000.
AURALIC/ CYRUS/ SPENDOR
An impressive room moodily lit and packed with loveliness.
There was plenty to look at on static display from the trio of brands, while your soundtrack was supplied by a Cyrus i9-XR and PSU-XR external power supply and Auralic Altair G1.1 digital audio streamer plugged into Spendor A7 and D7.2 loudspeakers. The result was effortless and balanced audio from a faff-free system. Chatting with a group of younger hi-fi fans (late 20s-mid 30s) who said this was most likely the direction they would take when building a system.
The British cable brand presented tables filled with an impressive array of its connectors and trailing sockets at an equally abundant mixture of price points.
BOWERS AND WILKINS
Another consistently packed room belonged to Bowers & Wilkins. Here again, was a mixture of static examples from the company's line-up and a compelling dem system.
Naturally, the focus was on the British brand's new 700 S3 Series. The 702 S3 matched with Marantz electronics doing the business with plenty of nodding and foot-tapping going on from the appreciative audience. Depending on when you hit the room, you would also be treated to hearing the 705 S3 standmounts performing admirably in a space much larger than they'd probably usually find themselves in.
One of several launches at the show was Chord Company's PowerARAY and PowerARAY Professional - the latter developed under the name 'Music Box', in case you were wondering - designed to mitigate mains power noise.
The Power ARAY is a plug-type unit offering a low-impedance escape route' for high-frequency (HF) noise priced at £550. While the more involved PowerARAY Pro is aimed at those looking to silence all the RFI and EMI that plagues their system.
The Pro features a captive power cable with prices starting at £5,500 for the Signature X-equipped version. The PowerARAY units were demonstrated well on a Naim Classic-based system with an Innuos server and Bowers & Wilkins 702 S3 speakers.
Chord Electronics used its Hugo M Scaler, DAVE DAC (£10,500), Ultima PRE 3 (£6,000) and Ultima 5 power amplifier (£10,500) to feed a pair of Kudos Titan 606 speakers.
This was a potent and accurate-sounding system with bags of detail throughout the frequency range. The firm also had a range of its more portable offerings on demonstration elsewhere.
Dali brought its Opticon 8 MK 2 3.5-way design loudspeakers (£2,800), comprising a dome tweeter for work up to 13kHz from where a ribbon unit takes over for everything above that.
A pair of 8-inch bass drivers and a 6-inch mid join the hybrid tweeter system. This is the mid-range Opticon series flagship and offers plenty of speaker for the money. I have always enjoyed DALI's performance, and it is one of the brands I'd advise people who are looking for great sound-per-pound value to check out. At the show, the Opticon 8 MK 2 were paired with a Lyngdorf tdai 3400 all-in-one linked by Atlas Ailsa cables through which we heard The Beatles' Yesterday.
Additionally, vinylistas rejoiced at the sight of Transcriptor's all-new turntable loaded with an Origin Live arm and a Sumiko cart, which came in at less than £3,000. Spinning Bicep's Isles on neon orange vinyl made it look as good as it sounded - a fab system at sensible money.
DECENT AUDIO - RAIDHO/ AYRE ACOUSTICS
Decent Audio was powering the impressive Raidho Acoustic X1T standmounters (£6,500) using Ayre Acoustics electronics, including the CX8 CD player and the EX 8 amplifier (both also costing around £6,000).
Also on the Lateral Audio stand was a Dual CS618Q turntable, which was resting when I visited.
The compact Raidhos do a fantastic job for their size, not only producing an impressively large soundstage but also the amount of air and space, especially at the top end, giving the instrumentation room. An intelligent choice for those with the budget but perhaps not the space.
Dynaudio was keeping things bang up-to-date with its 2.5-way Focus 30 (£6,499), the latest in the Danish brand's Focus range which starts with the Focus 10, a compact two-way bookshelf monitor priced at £4,399 and currently tops out with the large four-driver, three-way Focus 50 (£8,699). The Focus series are all wireless-enabled active, streaming loudspeakers packed with tech. The Focus 30 comprises a 1.1-inch soft-domed tweeter and a brace of 5.5-inch MSP (magnesium silicate polymer) Esotec+ drivers, one hands off to the tweeter at 2.4kHz, and the covering from 220Hz downward. Powering these are dedicated Pascal-built class-D amp - 280W for each mid-bass unit and 110W for the tweeter - housed in a sealed-box configuration.
On top of Wi-Fi/ Ethernet and Bluetooth, the Focus speakers also offer RCA analogue, optical (TosLink) and coaxial (RCA) S/PDIF. The Focus 30 also provides outputs, including RCA subwoofer and trigger feeds, as well as coaxial S/PDIF (RCA). It will even connect wirelessly to any WiSA-equipped TV for high-quality TV sound without wires. You also get support for TIDAL Connect, Qobuz Connect, Apple AirPlay 2, Spotify Connect, Roon, Google Chromecast, and wireless DLNA. As much as many of us can appreciate building a separates system, there is no denying that such as the Focus series will be the future of hi-fi for plenty of people coming into the habit now.
Dynaudio also brought along an army of Emit and Confidence models to gawp at and lust over.
Exposure is a British brand that continues to offer plenty of performance at sensible prices.
Here they leaned on the new toploading 3510 CD player (£2,500) bolstered by the pre and monos from the same 3510 series going out to a pair of Graham Audio speakers moving the air. A confidently composed performance without being shouty that also seemed to please the visitors as we listened to When You Come by Crowded House.
The always affable Jerry Bloomfield and designer Graeme Bridge were in attendance, while the Falcon M10 bookshelf speaker (£2,395) was responsible for making the lovely sounds emanating from the room.
This compact two-way has a claimed usable response down to 30Hz, which is impressive for a 125mm B1110 mid joined by a 25mm M range custom soft dome tweeter made to Falcon specification by SEAS. This is achieved partly by the rear-ported cabinet - something that could see fans of the venerated BBC LS3/5a clutching their pearls. We've had them in for review, and David liked them very much, and I can see why as Leonard Cohen's Alexandra Leaving played and that unmistakably rich voice filled the room.
The purveyors of some rather tasty brands did not fail the West Country crowd. Here, the likes of McIntosh, Sonus faber and Isotek took up a sizable chunk of the large lower ground floor exhibition area.
The new Sonus faber Homage models were on show, giving most people their first glimpse of the series that runs between £13,000 and £30,000. Having heard them at a press launch, I can confirm that they sound as good as they look - and Sonus faber makes some beautiful loudspeakers. There's more to see in the gallery.
Naim's recently launched 200 series New Classic components featuring updated casework and connectivity formed a nicely modern system comprising an NCS 222 pre-amp/streamer, NXP 300 power supply, Uniti Core server and NAP 250 power amp. This was output through a pair of Focal Sopra 2 speakers (£14,999). I love the concrete effect side panels, but they would require suitable surroundings.
Elsewhere, the French audio firm demonstrated its new value-for-money speaker range via its Vestia N°2 floorstander (£1,799).
The hand-made Vestia sports an M-shaped inverted dome tweeter with a pair of 16.5cm Slatefibre woofers and a similarly-sized mid-frequency unit augmented by front and rear ports. I tend to enjoy affordable Focals, and this range seems to be going the same way.
Dr Paul Mills unveiled newcomers to Fyne Audio's retro-styled Vintage line-up. First up is the flagship Vintage Fifteen (£30,000), loaded with the Scottish company's largest Isoflare driver measuring a whopping 15-inches and boasting a 3-inch HF unit allowing for a 700Hz crossover, ensuring this cuddly colossus stays in its powerband. We were told that this hunk of audio furniture combines 800-watt power handling with 97dB/w sensitivity wrapped in a Basstrax ported cabinet with in-house slow cryogenically-treated crossovers.
A Garrard 401 turntable dressed in a granite plinth took centre stage between the fresh-faced Fynes.
While the hotel bedroom wasn't the ideal situation, the V15 sounded better than a speaker of its size should here and while large, it seemed supremely responsive. Meanwhile, the V15's mini-me, the Vintage Five (£3,750), features a 5-inch point source driver alongside its downward-firing Basstrax-augmented woofer.
GIK Acoustics make acoustic treatment panels that will improve your system's performance. Furthermore, with the ranges on offer, this can be done without giving your living room that studio aesthetic.
Whether you require diffusion, absorption, free-standing or fixed, GIK Acoustics can help. Moreover, the friendly team is always happy to advise on what will work best for your space and requirements. Finally, their gear is relatively inexpensive - even custom stuff - as they produce everything in-house.
The British loudspeaker company used a trio of rooms to show three very different speakers; two were more traditional Harbeth fare, and one was a concept that many wouldn't expect from the brand.
Firstly the compact P3ESR XD (£27,00) sat atop Hi-Fi Racks stands were ably pushed along by a Hegel amp, using USB via a Denon DAC.
The next room hosted Harbeth's M30.2 plugged into a Hegel amp being fed by a Marantz CD player.
However, the cherry on the cake for me was the M40 D Concept speakers in “Exotic Ash”. This is an all-digital active loudspeaker system created entirely in-house, including the outboard DSP. The M40 D sounded impressive, with a feeling that everything had been optimised, and so keeping the drivers in their happy place, no matter the source material, which, in this case, was Rag n Bone Man's Giant.
JBL's BAR 1300 soundbar with detachable satellite speakers did a great job from such a compact setup.
The wireless satellites are an ingenious touch as they dock and charge from the main unit, and when you're ready to watch a movie, you simply put them as your rear channels.
The system comes with a wireless sub and all in costs £1,300. Thanks to the clever multibeam tech, we're told that this is an 11.1.4 channel Dolby Atmos/ DTS:X multichannel system. While hardcore Atmos fans might scoff, I really liked what I heard in this room, and I am sure many will appreciate the fact that their living room won't need to look like an AV store once the BAR 1300 is installed.
Henley Audio treated audio fans to Pro-ject's latest range-topping turntable, the Signature 12.2 (~£11,000), now that it has finally landed in the UK. The new flagship boasts a magnetically supported high mass platter driven by a flywheel motor and a unipivot arm featuring “three-point support”.
That wasn't the only looker of a turntable, either. Pro-Ject Audio's sister brand, Musical Fidelity, also unveiled its M8x prototype turntable. Loosely based on the 2004's M1 and will likely be offered sans arm but with a choice of armboards to house one of your choice. What looked to be a Graham Phantom Elite tonearm (£16,500) being used in the display shows the brand's optimism but did the trick of piquing my interest.
Henley also displayed Pro-Ject's new VC-E2 and VC-S3 record cleaning machines, sporting an improved cabinet design utilising 5mm aluminium composite panels, new magnetic clamps for quicker setup, and improved motors and other upgrades.
The range of kit that Henley Audio has to offer is vast. Hi-Fi Rose is still drawing crowds, and its RS520 just-add-speakers component seemed extremely popular. The classy Cabasse Pearl speakers looked great as always but were dwarfed by the static displays of offerings from Jamo, Heco, Magnat and Klipcsh. You could spend half a day just in this part of the room. Brilliant! There's stacks more to see in the gallery!
The lovely Hi-Fi Racks team were on duty throughout the weekend, showing their range of beautifully crafted wooded hi-fi furniture, which could also be spotted in use in many of the demonstration rooms at the show.
Naturally, attention was drawn to the recently announced Totus rack, which can be configured into a completely bespoke unit.
However, the Podium Reference kept catching my eye.
IAG - AUDIOLAB/ WHARFEDALE/ MISSION
The spec sheet for the Audiolab 9000 promises plenty for the money (£1,999 for the amp (REVIEWED HERE), £999 for the CD Transport), and during the session, it quickly became evident that these were no hollow boasts. To my ears, they certainly seem to have a runner for best sub-£2,000 amplifier on their hands.
Also offering much for your money, the Dovedales (£5,500 including stands) might play on their retro looks, but these large standmounters were music, fun and authoritative when required.
The emphasis was on fun regarding the speaker cocktail cabinet just outside the room. The Mission 770s were also on duty over the weekend, putting on a great show.
Innuos was again demonstrating that great sound can come from just a few boxes as it leaned on the services of ATC's excellent SCM40A active floorstanders.
ISOACOUSTICS/ SPL/ TRIANGLE
Triangle's stunning-looking Antal 40th Anniversary was paired with SPL amplification and used to demonstrate IsoAcoustic's Gaia isolation feet.
IsoAcoustic's demonstrations generally result in gasps and wonderment and feature two pairs of the same speaker, one set on the standard spikes or feet and the other on IsoAcoustic's offerings. It is set up so the speakers can be switched back and forth so the audience can compare the difference. Although some change could be from the driver positions, as the ones fitted with IsoAcoustic feet generally stand taller, there is such a difference that there is more to it than simply height. I've tested several IsoAcoustic products, and they've always impressed me.
The V5 Elektra (£1,595) is the company's new entry-level power filtering product, whereas the V5 Titan (£4,499) has had a recent refresh while the V5 Aquarius has been around for a couple of years now.
The dem system included McIntosh's MCD85 SACD/CD player (£4,995) and MA7200 (£9,995) integrated amplifier powering a pair of Sonus faber Olympia standmounts which are all stablemates within Fine Sound UK's impressive distribution list.
However, Brett drew our attention to a small pair of unnamed prototype desktop speakers (the black ones sat atop the Ikea unit). They're likely to sell for around £350 per pair, and these compact speakers boast Bluetooth, RCA and USB-C inputs alongside a sub-out. We were given a blast of Blur's End of the Century, and they sounded much larger than they looked.
Jes Kerr's room consistently drew crowds and appreciative noises each time I dropped by over the weekend.
The Kerr Acoustics K300 MK3 standmounters (£4,995) were in fine voice. The demo system included a dCS Bartok going into a Townshend Allegri Reference pre and Sudgen Sapphire 40w class A power amplifier. Another example of a no-nonsense compact hi-fi system that pleased audio fans all day long. It must also be acknowledged that this room was aided by GIK Acoustics panels, demonstrating what a difference such things can make. However, the stars were most definitely the 2-way loudspeakers featuring a 6.5-inch sliced wood-fibre cone and true ribbon tweeter mated to Kerr Acoustic's transmission line design for a claimed 33Hz – 45kHz frequency response.
KOG AUDIO - SOULNOTE/ T+A/ EPOS
This room had been marked as a must-visit after being told what to expect at Bristol 2023.
I was not disappointed, either, with SoulNote's A-2 amplifier (£6,300) and D-2 DAC (£7,700) partnered with a pair of Epos ES1 4N loudspeakers (£4,000 inc stands) which were launched at High End Munich last year. The ES14N isn't a replica of ES14 but does stay true to its ethos, with Karl-Heinz Fink working his design magic. Everything was joined by Tellurium Q cables while T+A's 200 Series waited in the wings.
That's it for Part 1, so stay tuned for L-Y in Part 2. In the meantime, check out the gallery over in our Forum for loads more wonderful images from the show.
StereoNET UK’s Editor, bass player, and resident rock star! Jay’s passion for gadgets and Hi-Fi is second only to being a touring musician.
Posted in:Hi-Fi Headphones Home Theatre HiFi Show
Tags: bristol 2023 bristol hifi show acoustic energy wireworld melco admm air audio connected-fidelity coppice audio arcam jbl synthesis jbl atc atlas cables atlas auden distribution amphion hegel audio note audioquest goldenear golden ear golden ear technology auralic cyrus cyrus audio spendor black rhodium bowers wilkins the chord company
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