North West Audio Show 2022 (Cranage) Show Report & Gallery - PART ONE
Having heard plenty of positive reports, Jay Garrett heads to Cranage to sample his first North West Audio Show…
It looks like hi-fi shows are definitely back! It seemed that, within moments of me publishing my reports from High End Munich, I was driving up towards Crewe from StereoNET UK's London base to experience the North West Audio Show for the first time.
Some regional shows can be cliquy affairs as regulars make it their own. However, I journeyed up to Cheshire, clinging on to hopes of that legendary northern hospitality (even though the event was being held on the wrong side of the Pennines, as far as I was concerned). Fortunately, I was blessed with good weather and lucky with traffic as I arrived at my hotel (the wonderfully helpful and friendly restaurant and inn called The Vicarage) ahead of schedule and, after a short walk up the road, was strolling down the driveway of the De Vere Cranage Estate at 10.30 am.
Manned by smiling yellow t-shirt-clad assistants, the show was spread throughout the country manor hotel with corridors named after famous musicians. Even so, it did take me the best part of day one to get my bearings, but once I had worked out where the hub (or bar, as some might call it) was in relation to everything else - I was sorted.
I dare say you could cover the show in a single day, especially if you were going to check out specific offerings, but my two days were packed, with the first being mostly taken up with meetings and long ad hoc chats. I must try to factor the social side into these things in future!
Anyhow, without further ado, here are my thoughts room-by-room. Don't forget that there's a full gallery of images on the StereoNET forum.
3 Square Audio Translator floorstanders were playing Kate Bush's Running Up That Hill, which, thanks to Stranger Things, seems to be everywhere again.
The £2,800 loudspeakers did well with this mid-eighties track powered by NVA amplification, Topping DAC and TEAC CD player. However, it was the aubergine purple Ayal standmounts at £1,300 piping George Benson & Al Jarreau's All That I Am and Thanks to You by Boz Scaggs into the room that really upped the game for me in here. Real-world equipment at real-world prices producing excellent sounds. What more could you want?
Chester-based Acoustica brought a bevvy of Bowers & Wilkins loudspeakers amongst SME decks, Michi amps, Naim streamers and Focal cans.
All top-notch stuff here making great sounds. I think it was the Saturday evening when it pretty much sounded like an all-out rave in there - but one with incredible fidelity.
At last year's UK Audio Show, Alan Clark and Christine Inneson of Alchris Audio debuted their new post-Kralk offerings, and the Yorkshire-based team sounded even better here.
The Celestion Ditton 66-inspired AR66 was magnificent being fed by a Townshend Rock given the Rock Doc magic courtesy of Matt McNulty. These large handmade floorstanders cost £4,500, and I could well imagine them costing twice as much through the usual channels, especially after hearing them in a more conducive room. Ron Tutt by Robbie Buchanan was playing, and the drums sounded incredibly 'live'. Spirits in a Material World by The Police was also given an outing on the recent repress, and still, that pull to listen closer was there. Also in the room were the £799 AR6 standmounters. So if you're looking for plenty of sound (and speaker) for your pound, you owe it to yourself to check out the AR66!
The Predator heads in the room were also speakers (if you didn't read the attached legend “YES, these are speakers”) if you're looking for a break from the norm.
Auden's statement piece was undoubtedly the £46,000 EgglestonWorks Viginti loudspeakers. These angular floorstanders feature a pair of 10-inch woofers, and a couple of 6-inch mid-range units, all topped off by a 1-inch tweeter.
The end result tips the scales at 115kgs per side. These Memphis megaliths were driven by a Hegel H590 (£9,500) and fed by a four-box Auralic system consisting of the Aries streamer, Sirius upsampler, Leo clock and Vega DAC, linked by Audiomica cables and sat on Lateral Audio Stands. Power block, cables and isolation were thanks to MusicWorks. “Wonderfully room-filling” was part of my listening notes for this room. The delivery was enthusiastic, energetic, and yet marvellously controlled and considered. There was heaps of dynamism without “over-egging the pudding”. Just a shame that the Hegel P30A/H30A wasn't available here as it was in Munich - that may well have made things even more jaw-droppingly good.
Elsewhere, Auden was also showing the £1,300 Amphion Argon speakers with Hegel's V10 phono stage (£1,350) and H120 (£2,400) amp being fed by a Rega RP8 fitted with an Apheta 3 cartridge. The show-standard The Race by Yello sounded pretty great through this compact and well-matched system.
Audio Counsel was playing a system comprising an Audio Note TT2 Deluxe turntable outfitted with an Arm1 & IQ3 cartridge Audio Note out to an Oto SE Signature integrated amplifier, and Audio Note AN/J-LX loudspeakers.
The alternative source was an Audio Note CD 4.1x. Although I initially thought Maddy Prior's Brother Lawrence was an interesting track choice, it sounded rather good and emphasised the system's ability to bring out the nuances of a recording. Those visiting this room at a different time of day would have been graced by the excellent Devore O/93 loudspeakers, Leben CS 300XS amplifier, Audio Note 4.1 CD Player, and Audio Note TT2 turntable.
AUDIO DREAMS - KERR ACOUSTICS/ TOWNSHEND AUDIO
Jes Kerr's Applause Award-winning K320 MK3 (£7,450) floorstanding loudspeakers were in full effect, here finished in walnut.
Thank You by Chris Jones was spun on a Rock Doc-curated Townshend Rock turntable into a Longdog Audio MCJ3 Phono Stage, Townshend Audio Allegri Reference Pre-Amplifier and EAM Lab Studio 362 Limited Power Amplifier before switching to Rise by Dominique Fils-Aime by way of a Lucas Audio Labs Minimus Media Server and LampizatOr Atlantic TRP DAC. Everything was joined by Townshend Audio cables and accessories and sat on a Hi-Fi Racks Omnium 8 XL stand. The room was treated by GIK Acoustics panels. Another perfectly balanced presentation by Kerr Acoustics producing clear vocals and insightful instrumentation. Also in the room were the brand's large K200 standmounters due for release this autumn costing around £16K.
Audio Note's system comprised TT Two Deluxe turntable with Arm Two/ii tonearm and IQ3 MM cartridge going to an M2 RIAA phonostage and out to AN-E/D speakers on E stands.
Silver discs were catered for by a CD 1.1 integrated CD player while everything went through an Audio Note Cobra integrated PP line amplifier. Naturally, all were connected via Audio Note cabling. I must confess that Audio Note demonstrations can sometimes leave me mildly underwhelmed; however, the room was jumping with some luscious bass thanks to a dance track being played when I visited. Quite a difference to Audio Counsel's room. Just goes to prove that preconceptions can result in missed experiences.
The Audio Pinnacle room had a whiff of carefully-selected high-end thanks to Gold Note phono, pre and power amps, a Voyd turntable and Gershman Acoustics Avant Garde loudspeakers.
The system was also ready to play through the attractively-constructed Audel Malika Plus speakers. This two-way design features a 29mm soft dome tweeter and a pair of 5 1⁄2-inch Curv cone woofers crossing over at 2.4 kHz, giving a claimed 35 Hz – 25 kHz frequency response and 92 dB sensitivity. The drivers are mounted on a 36mm plywood panel in what the Italian company calls its IRS, or Internal Ribs System. This was as refined as you would expect, and the Avant Gardes were being played at a level suitable for the room - not everyone would do so.
AUDITE ACOUSTICS/ AF AUDIO
AF Audio's reputation for sensibly-priced (sometimes bargain-priced) handmade cables seems to be growing. A top bloke who seems happy providing music-lovers with affordable quality really is a credit to our hobby/ lifestyle/ addiction (delete as appropriate); Andrew Foster, the AF in the brand name, was joined by Audite Acoustics, whose Pilare loudspeakers were causing quite the stir at the show.
Quite frankly, these had no right to sound so good for the price. Initially, I thought it was the Model S playing and, for £995, they were making a good fist of it - there's also an active model, the SA, costing just shy of £1,600. However, everything changed once I realised it was the Pilare kit floorstanders costing £350 a pair. The apparently easy-to-DIY loudspeaker flat-pack is of 18mm MDF and uses a quarter-wave transmission line in concert with a humble 4-inch wideband driver. Glue it together, paint it and enjoy. I'm surprised everyone at the show didn't go home with a pair at this price!
Audite's Brij isolation platforms could also be spotted supporting amplifiers and the like in other rooms.
AURALIC AND ATC
Perhaps one of the most simple systems aside from the Kii Three BXT at the show. Auralic's Altair G2.1 was plugged into a pair of ATC SCM 40A active speakers, and while I could tell that attention had been given to placement and the room, this was a great-sounding plug-and-play system.
There was plenty of definition and low-frequency punch, making it irresistible to move to Astrix's Shamanic Tales. A guy sat next to me and asked, “is it just that?” while pointing at the Auralic box. I replied, “and the active ATCs”. He nodded. I nodded. We listened and smiled.
AVID's Ingenium Plug and Play turntable was sonically punching above its £1,500 asking price, using nothing more exotic than a Rega Carbon cartridge on the end of a Rega RB202, although here referred to as the AVID CA1 and TA2, respectively.
Granted, it was plugged into the £15K SIGSUM integrated and, depending on when you visited, either the EVO 4 (£8,000) or EVO 3 (£15,000) loudspeakers. That said, your ears could be forgiven for thinking that the analogue front end was much more pricey. I came away suitably impressed after sitting through Thank You by Chris Jones (not the first time that weekend).
BRIAN AND TREVORS
The large Moor Amps Angel 6 (£8,495) was sat on an Audite Acoustics Brij platform and was at the end of a Melco N100 digital library and N1S network switch, along with Linn's Booplinth LP12 and Klimax DSM/3 sat on Lateral Audio stands and IsoAcoustics feet going out to Kudos Super 20A speakers which were further augmented by a pair of wonderfully integrated REL T9/X subs.
This system used Kudos speaker cables, Linn Silver balanced cables and Chord Company interconnects. Power was managed via Puritan Audio P12, power strips and cords. Love We Found by Bob Moses sounded huge, direct and powerfully engaging through these components.
The second system introduced the new Aha Model A2 Loudspeakers/ Linn Aktiv Exact with a Linn Klimax DSM/2 Organik, Linn Klimax Exaktbox Organik and a trio of Linn Klimax Twin Power amplifiers linked by Mogami loudspeaker cables.
BROOK AUDIO/ VINYL ADVENTURE/ MCRU
David Brook and the team were on a three-pronged mission to give music fans and audiophiles what they needed.
First, Vinyl Adventure would sate your thirst for high-grade records. Meanwhile, top-notch accessories and cables could be had, courtesy of MCRU.
Finally, perhaps Brook Audio could tempt you with the hi-fi system consisting of a FiDATA HFAS-1 music server, Soulution 560 DAC and Pre, and PassLabs XA-25 power amp being played through Kerr Acoustics' excellent K100 Mk2 speakers resting on Townshend seismic podiums and a Blue Horizon rack?
The main room also hosted presentations by Wally Tools covering all kinds of engineering angles regarding getting the best from your vinyl sources, and the stand had some very interesting doodahs for increasing playback accuracy from your tonearm, cartridge and turntable.
Brook Audio was your one-stop-shop at Cranage with something for every budget, ensuring you went home with a little audio-related treat.
COMPUTER AUDIO DESIGN
CAD's system featured the company's Audio Streaming Source with additional PSU, CAD 1533 DAC, and Ground Control devices.
Amplification was by way of a lovely Aesthetix Mimas and out to MBL 126 omnidirectional standmount speakers (£10,800) on loan from Stranger Hi-Fi's Cameron Jenkins. Wabash Blues by Duke Ellington enjoyed a magnificently authentic and spacious soundstage, and the MBL's party piece of not having a sweet spot remained true with a reasonable presentation still enjoyable at almost 90 degrees to the system.
CHASING THE DRAGON
Renowned audiophile analogue location recording specialist Chasing the Dragon was not only selling its high-quality recordings, but it also had an impressive system that just so happened to be playing Clare Teal covering Ella Fitzgerald classics.
But, for those with time and who managed to book a ticket, you could enjoy the real thing live as the artist gave a concert on Saturday evening in that very room. I was pretty happy hearing the playback from a top-drawer EAT turntable through a Constellation phonostage and enormous ATCs, though.
Chord Company was spreading the word of its PowerHAUS M6 (£2,000) and S6 (£1,000) power blocks, this being the first time the brand has offered power distribution solutions to its customers, although it had dabbled before to create its own extensions and trailing sockets for shows, etc.
The S6 (Studio) and the flagship M6 (Master) have six outlets and feature high-quality, heavy-gauge cables alongside a high-performance 16-amp IEC. In addition, the flagship M6 offers three hybrid MainsARAYs fitted in parallel (rather than in series). We've already reviewed the S6 here.
Getting its first official outing in the UK (although those in the know had a pre-Munich listen, thanks to Reference Audio), the Chord Electronics ULTIMA PRE 3 pre-amplifier offers has five inputs (2 x balanced and 3 unbalanced), balanced and unbalanced outputs, a 12V trigger, and a 5V/3A Type-A USB output that can be used to power Chord's Qutest or Hugo 2 DACS.
At Cranage, Chord Electronics employed a pair of Neat Majistra loudspeakers being fed by a Chord DAVE DAC and MSCALER through an ULTIMA 5 power amp.
Connected Distribution spun Marillion's FEAR on a PUG tonearm-equipped Roksan Xerxes plugged into a John Curl Parasound JC3+ phonostage (circa £3,500), JC2BP pre-amplifier and A23 power amplifier (£2,200).
As the power amp is capable of producing 125W+ into 8 Ohms or over 400W (4 Ohms) when bridged, there was no danger of this being an underpowered performance. This was another system and group of people I could've quite easily spent the rest of the day with. The second system of Kimber Kable/ Russ Andrews linked offerings here included an Auralic digital front-end going to a Heed Audio Thesis system comprising Alpha pre and Omega monobloc amplifiers.
Coppice Audio specialises in building loudspeakers using wood from their Malvern woodland, starting with the X1 standmount as enjoyed at the UK Audio Show 2021 and then the X2 floorstander.
Joining these were the new X3 flagship floorstanders. It was the X1 standmounts playing connected to a Ming Da Cadenza tube amplifier and DAC and streamer from Gekko cables when I visited, and everything seemed to have a relaxed, musical vibe in this room. I loved the addition of Coppice's own treatment panels and stand.
Naturally, the latest XR series from Cyrus were on show here, looking great in the standard Cyrus form-factor wrapped in an attractive phantom black paint finish.
Recently, the XR series was awarded Roon Tested certification. The Cyrus Pre-XR pre amp, CDi-XR reference integrated CD player and Cyrus i9-XR amplifier were in the system along with Cyrus Mono X 300 amps. Chord Epic cables linked the system, and Spendor D7.2 speakers were at the business end. I really appreciate that many rooms, such as this, at the show were demonstrating what I'd class as 'real-world' systems. What I mean is, irrespective of budget, there are options to achieve great audio without making your living room look like a hi-fi store if you don't have the luxury of a dedicated listening space.
Diverse Vinyl was in a dangerous/ optimal position, depending on how you look at a vendor of lovely LPs situated at the end of a bar. But, as evidenced over the two days of NWAS, the vinyl revival shows no signs of slowing as the representatives of this Newport-based record store seemed to be doing brisk business throughout the weekend.
I didn't even dare look as I know that I am weak (and swiftly running out of storage space).
DOUG BRADY HiFi
Passing through the doorway into the room, my ears were welcomed to Marcus Miller's Jean Pierre live being played at almost concert volume.
Further investigation revealed two large rooms representing offerings from Naim, Rega, SME, ATC, Spendor, ProAc, Mola-Mola, and much more, as well as statement pieces such as the dCS APEX Rossini DAC, Gryphon Antileon EVO Monoblock amplifiers, and Marten Parker Quintet Diamond speakers.
It seems that Doug Brady doesn't mess about, and, being an owner of both Marten and Gryphon products, I feel a trip to Warrington at some point might well be in order.
Head-fi was the order of the day in Mark Dolbear's room, where he showed Dan Clark Audio cans from the entry-level Aeon 2 headphones to range-topping Stealth, Dekoni replacement earpads ranging between £30-£80, as well as other accessories and cables.
There was also an array of Topping Audio products, including the new Topping A90 D headphone amp/pre-amp.
Costing £599, it boasts 4.4mm, 6.3mm and XLR outputs plus remote control, and can be even more flexible with extra balanced and single-ended inputs when the EXT-90 extender is added for £250. A perfect place to get your personal audio system sorted without necessarily breaking the bank.
Northamptonshire-based Emilen Audio's ES-1 Reference active speakers caught my ears and eyes.
The two-box bass enclosure combines solid walnut and walnut veneered MDF lined with carbon fibre to increase stiffness and is damped by a special 3-layer damping material, I'm told. Meanwhile, the high-frequency drive units have their own loading cavities mounted in a curved front panel constructed of 30mm thick solid walnut reinforced by 50mm of sculpted MDF to provide a resonance-free mounting devoid of straight edges, which could affect imaging. The crossover of the ES-1 is DSP controlled, and the Class D amps are mounted in enclosures made from machined aluminium to ensure good heat sinking. Each side has three power amplifier channels, 250W for the pair of bass drivers, 250W for the mid-range drivers and 100W for the tweeter. Although not a particular fan of Van Morrison, Crazy Love sounded crazy good in this instance.
Falcon's Complete@Home IMF 200 floorstanding speakers cost £2,895 but would be priced much higher if they were delivered full-assembled.
StereoNET has successfully built Falcon's DIY offerings, and we've been impressed by the results. The IMF 200 are a 1/4-wave folded transmission line, 3-way design, featuring a Falcon T27 ¾-inch Mylar dome tweeter, B110 5-inch Bextrene cone midrange, and a B139 bass driver. The IMF200 also employs a detachable, magnetic Tygan cloth speaker grille. The cabinets have smooth curved front edges, giving the speakers a modern appearance. James Arthur's live version of Mr Writer was being played and sounded good once the door was closed as Falcon appeared to have noisy neighbours when I visited.
Tower of Power's Diggin on James Brown set the mood as a pair of £15,495 PMC FACT 12 Signature speakers grooved along, driven by a Luxman C900U pre-amp and new flagship M-10X power amplifier (£15,955) designed to replace the popular M-900U.
The Luxman M-10X keeps it pure Class A up to 12W and is capable of 150W per channel into 8 ohms and an instantaneous 1,200W per channel into 1 ohm. It will even deliver 2,400W into 2 ohms in BTL monaural mode. This was being fed by an Innuos Statement with a Shaun Jacobs PSU, Chord Electronics M Scaler and DAVE DAC.
THE FUNK FIRM
Funk Firm's Arthur Khoubesserian is evangelical about the “Isolation Bubble”, and anyone that discusses such with him will find it difficult not to fall under his spell as everything he says is rooted in “common sense engineering and physics”.
On offer at the show were improvements to Thorens and Lenco turntables, including alternative motor mounting, alongside Firm favourites such as the Acromat and Boing!
Also making its second appearance this year was the turntable tour de force known as Kepler. We are still in a state of awe where this unique record player is concerned and cannot wait to see and hear it in action.
GOLDEN EAR / AUDIOQUEST
Golden Ear's Triton 3 speakers aren't quite as spendy as you might think, with these active bass-touting American floorstanders costing around the £3,000 mark.
AudioQuest had them paired with a Sugden ANV-50 amplifier and a Stack Audio Link II streamer connected to the AQ's Niagra power conditioner. The results were potent and played at perfect levels for the room. We look forward to more such demos in the future, as AudioQuest and Golden Ear are now sibling companies.
G-Point's Greg Drygala was joined by Lukasz Fikus of Lampizator, Silvio Delfino of Riviera Audio Labs, and Lukasz Domański from LucasAudioLab and I managed to score time with each of them over the weekend. What struck me was the passion for live music and the need to replicate that emotional connection in your room. Whether musicians, sound recordists, or a background in building and supplying PA rigs for raves and festivals, the inherent thread running through the quartet representing here is music performance.
Listening to both systems over the weekend, I could tell there is an emphasis on portraying the natural dynamics of instruments and voices alongside the visceral and emotional connection that only music can give through components designed to deliver such.
Lukasz Fikus - LAMPIZATOR
Lampizator currently offers six DAC lines ranging from £3,000 upwards to the new Horizon flagship, enjoying its UK debut at this show just weeks after its global unveiling in Munich, which Lukasz told me costs around €44,000 plus tax.
As well as buying up the current stock of Nixie Tubes used for the Horizon's display that indicates the warm-up countdown, input number, volume, etc, the Lampizator Horizon is another result of the lockdowns, his “Covid baby”, as Lukasz puts it, and was not built to a price or specification. Instead, the intention was to produce uncoloured sound - which, according to Lukasz, involved around eighteen months of searching for the “circuit holy grail”, eschewing the use of OpAmps and using a DAC chip enabling PCM conversion that apparently nobody is using yet. I asked what it was, but Lukasz wouldn't go into any more details as it has been customised (“hacked”) “and taken outside its data sheet parameters”, and there's been a year's worth of software design to control it, so any discussions regarding how good or otherwise this particular chip is would not be a good use of anyone's time.
Lukasz adds that this DAC is 50/50 where the importance of the digital conversion and analogue output is concerned, and the latter is where he sees most of the mistakes historically made by some other companies, namely over-processing and over-filtering the analogue section. So, he went back to where the road forked leading to the wrong path and forged his own one using tubes simply “because they sound better” and a “simple circuit”. Simple the circuit may be; however, this means that special care needs to be taken, as does a focus on quality components, meaning that “a 10 cent capacitor doesn't become a $1 capacitor but a £500 capacitor.” The Horizon also features custom transformers, a custom four-layer PCB, and seventeen separate power circuits. The zero-feedback design (global and local) includes a tube rectified power supply, 6SN7 conversion tubes and KT88 output driver tubes. This high-end valve DAC will process DSD 512x and PCM 768k via inputs including USB, S/PDIF RCA, AES/EBU, TOSLINK, and i2s. Outputs are balanced XLR or unbalanced RCA. If you think you hate the sound of digital and believe that vinyl wins every time, I suggest you take a Lampizator DAC for a trial. Vinyl and streaming can live harmoniously - I can see it on the Horizon.
Silvio Delfino - RIVIERA LABS
Riveria Labs was only founded in 2017, and yet its stylish, high-end, Class A hybrid amplification (Triode, BJT, Mosfet in the power amps - pre-amps are all-tube) will undoubtedly be recognised by attendees at hi-fi shows as it appears to be a popular choice for speaker brands to pair with their products. Silvio told me that, of course, the team at Riviera have many years of experience behind them; however, perhaps more importantly than that, the company has spent plenty of time understanding how we hear and the mechanics behind that. He adds that while some companies might say that they do the same, they might not thoroughly do so or acknowledge what needs to be done as they are too focused on measurements on the spec sheet.
Before setting out on the Riviera journey, the partners behind the brand asked themselves, “Is there room for another amplifier company?” The answer was “yes because, since the 1950s, nobody has really been asking why this circuit works, just how to make a better version”. He goes on, “in the late 60s, the Audio Engineering Society had four or five 'perfect amplifiers' that were measured at the limits of the testing equipment. However, perfection can only be one. Also, if they are perfect, why do they sound different to each other? Something was missing in our understanding”. Silvio wraps up by saying, “since then, you cannot find a scientific study about circuit design and human perception, and this is very important”. As far as I can tell, the upshot is that most measurements are static based, whereas music is dynamic. Of course, these measurements remain important but are not telling the complete story. “Look at the specs of an amplifier used for controlling an industrial motor, it has high-end specs. It is DC coupled, has loads of power, is very linear, and so should be the best audio amplifier. Unfortunately, it really isn't”. Silvio also makes an interesting case regarding subjective performance regarding hi-fi amplification. He says that some people are looking at it the wrong way. “Hearing is made up of the hardware, how the hearing is done, the mechanical side, and the software, how the brain interprets the information. This is the same for everyone; what is different, if you like, is the performance of the system. So, as long as you look and only relate to the system, this is absolutely objective. The performance, then, doesn't matter as you will have the same performance when listening to a real piano or a reproduced piano.” From what I understand, THD (Total Harmonic Distortion) does not need to be extremely low, but it must follow the distortion shape of the human ear. This means the predominance of lower order harmonics, with their regular distribution in frequency (the higher the order, the lower the harmonic level, with a relation between harmonics similar to the human ear). Furthermore, the distortion level must be monotonically increasing with the power level. The result is an amplifier with soft clipping and a distortion spectrum similar to the ear. Naturally, being an Italian brand targetting the high-end market, the styling had to be more “Ferrari and Lamborgini, not Fiat” and I think they do look stunning and, perhaps, sound even a bit better than that.
Lukasz Domański - LUCASAUDIOLAB
While Lukasz Domański's background and talents are IT-based, he has spent much of his life around music and even spent a few years in the Bristol party and rave scene, helping with sound as well as live streaming the events. As a result, he comes across to me as one of life's problem-solvers; this is how he found his way here this weekend. After building a streamer that fulfilled his requirements regarding sound quality, he was told he should sell them. Soon, orders meant he could not keep up with demand and customise the cases himself, so LucasAudioLab now has a ground-up chassis design featuring a 6mm aluminium cover for shielding and a 15mm front.
The software used for the Minimus and Maximus streamers is a highly-customed version of Linux, I am told, that allows you to use Roon (with the option of bypassing any rendering), Audivarna, JRiver, etc., and you can ask for this to be changed at any time and this can be done remotely. Minimus, at £6,900, performs native format playback, has up to 2x4TB storage and can be upgraded with an external linear power supply and uprated 3R USB reclocker. However, the £14,000 Maximus (top left on the rack above) will play native or upsample, sports 4TB storage, reclocker and external linear power supply as standard. Also, it offers upgrades of up to 4x 4 TB onboard storage, fully bespoke design, and finish, including exotic wood, powder-coated, and anodised aluminium options, while boasting better shielding and grounding than Minimus. In addition, the SSDs used have been “optimised”, including uprated grounding, power-delivery (little ripple) and the likes. Hearing systems with Maximus and Minimus in them, especially when partnered with Lampizator DACs, have me wondering if my streaming solutions need upgrading soon.
In the G-Point room, the primary system featured Lucas Audio Labs Maximus Music Server, Lampizator Horizon DAC, Riviera Audio Labs APL 01SE pre-amp, Riviera Audio Labs AMF 50 monoblocks, joined by PSC (Pure Silver Connection) Monolith cables and going out through AudioNEC Evo2 AS loudspeakers. The second system swapped the separate Rivieras for the Levante integrated amp using PSC R50 cables and going out through the artistic Diptyque Audio DP160 Signature/Elegance planar loudspeakers.
Power management for both systems was by Gigawatt Evo 4, and room treatment was by Acoustic Manufacture.
Henley Audio came armed with the Klipsch Cornwall IV speakers that were making their first public demonstration since the launch of the latest generation back in August 2019 - of course, we've had these £7,299 classics in for review, and you can read our thoughts about them here.
Also on show was the recently released and reviewed Pro-Ject X8 turntable (£2,099) connected via balanced cables to a Musical Fidelity M6x Vinyl. Meanwhile, digital audio came via a HiFi Rose RS150B (£3,899). An attractive Synthesis A50 Taurus valve integrated (£6,190) was employed for amplification duties and did a mighty fine job with James Taylor's Runaway Boy. The A50T promises a minimum of 100 watts (50W per channel) from four KT88/6550's in ultra-linear push/pull operation.
It was also good to see Cabasse Pearl Akoya loudspeakers in the room as my partner has owned a pair since falling in love with them and their overall user-friendliness last year, and the entire Pearl collection is now Apple Airplay 2 compatible. They're also capable of rattling the windows thanks to 1050W per channel amplification onboard each speaker!
Innuos demonstrated the difference between its new Pulse Mini and Pulse streamers unveiled at last month's Munich show. These were linked to a Zen Mk3 server and PhoenixNET Re-clocker and output through a Hegel H390 amplifier and Kudos Super10A speakers. The Pulse Mini is £900 and includes a basic DAC alongside “industrial-grade” SSDs, while the larger and more upmarket Pulse (£2,299) features a more tricked-out power supply, more RAM and AES/ EBU output amongst its list of upgrades.
All was connected by Chord Company Epic range cables and sat on a SolidSteel rack. Mains distribution was courtesy of Puritan Audio Labs PSM156 with Ultimate power cables; meanwhile, GIK Acoustics panels provided room treatment. I don't think you'd be disappointed by either of the Pulse units, but there was a clear winner between them sonically during the demo. The gamer in me also appreciated the neat underlighting that signifies power status.
Karma's stack featured a MoFi Ultra Deck plus M turntable with Master Tracker MM cartridge, Primare PRE35 Prisma pre-amp and network player, CD35 CD player, R35 MM/MC phono pre-amp and A35.8 eight-channel power amplifier bridged and bi-amped to turn it into a 1500W/ channel powerhouse, used here with Perlisten S7t loudspeakers.
Inakustik cables were used throughout the system. This flexible £4,500 amp can also be put to work in home cinema situations to power 5.1, 7.1 and 5.1.2 Atmos systems. Terry treated me to Psychedelic Furs' Heaven, Depeche Mode's Welcome To My World and Blondie's One Way or Another from Parallel Lines through the streaming side of things. These tracks, especially the Blondie number, sounded more vital and alive than I recalled. I even asked what version of One Way… was being played as my ears seemed to be getting new information.
A second system was in the room, consisting of System Audio Legend 60.2 Silverback powered WiSA high-resolution wireless connected speakers with Primare SC15 Prisma WiSA enabled network player, DAC and pre-amp, DD15 CD transport and R15 MM/MC phono pre-amp plus MoFi Studio Deck + with Studio Tracker MM cartridge. I could've spent hours here, chatting, listening to music and reminiscing. Good times.
KEF's Applause Award-winning LS60 wireless floorstanders were wowing visitors to this room.
The £6,000 speakers (side-on in the image above as the Blades were being used at the time) are an active sealed box design with DSP control in one channel and 1,400W of Class AB and Class D power amplification. Requiring just power cables if streaming, these slender offerings proved to be garnering much interest at the show and having already past through our reviewers, we can understand why.
Kii speakers are an active modular design controlled by DSP, enabling you to buy the Kii Three standmounts and add the bass units later if you feel they're required. Altogether, you're looking at £27,540, but that's for the initial Three speaker units (mid, tweeter and four woofers (two side- and two rear-firing)), pushed along by 1,500 W of Bruno Putzeys-designed Class D amplification onboard, as well as the lower unit that features a further 16 drivers and converts the original standmounters into the BXT System floorstanders.
Naturally, you can stream to these wirelessly via the Kii Hub or connect other sources via analogue, USB, SPDIF, TOSLINK, and AES ports. I was instantly welcomed by a rousing rendition of Du Hast by Rammstein, and then it went very 'Goth friendly' with one of Pete Murphy's solo offerings, which saw me request Money for All by Nine Horses in response. I was then played out by some Dali's Car. The Kii Three BXT is incredible fun and compact to boot. A superb option if you're in a purely streaming household, as this is all you'd need to rattle the windows. The orange ones would be my choice, of course.
The Kirmuss KA-RC-1 Ultrasonic Record Restoration System had plenty of interest over the weekend, and I enjoyed a long chat with MD & Partner Kevin Jackson. Charles Kirmuss also gave presentations on how best to take care of your records.
Ultrasonic cleaners, or ones purporting to be such, are getting increasingly popular, with lovely-looking automatic models attracting the most attention. However, I was told that most do not provide the all-important 'cavitation'.
I was shown using tinfoil discs how some ultrasonic cleaners could damage your precious vinyl. While at the stand, a well-known and respected industry figure enquired about a Kirmuss machine after using one of the flashier ones a few times and was disappointed by the results. So, where the Kirmuss method might not be the automated system you fancy, it sounds like the KA-RC-1 produces the desired results.
The British-made Kudos Audio Titan 707 two-way design features bespoke SEAS drivers alongside SEAS K3 tweeters.
These £17,000 speakers sounded extremely impressive at the end of the Innuos Statement digital source and Accuphase amplifier. Of course, everything was joined by AudioQuest cabling, including Diamond USB, Thunderbird ZERO loudspeaker cables, and Hurricane power leads plugged into AudioQuest's Niagara 5000 power conditioner, now that it's available with UK sockets.
LATERAL AUDIO STANDS
Lateral Audio supplied its component supports to several rooms at the show, as well as having a stand handily positioned just before the bar area.
Almost every time I passed, there seemed to be someone making enquiries (I had to wait until the end of Sunday for this shot), so I hope this translated into some good business for these well-made stands.
LIVING VOICE / SJS ELECTROACOUSTICS
This was a particular treat for attendees at NWAS as the system was almost identical to the one shown in Munich - although that enjoyed a larger room in the MOC.
However, the SJS Electroacoustics valve pre-amp, phono stage and single-ended 300B power amplifiers being fed by a Kuzma R turntable loaded with a 12-inch Kuzma 4-Point arm and CAR60 cartridge and out to Santos wood-finished Living Voice OBX-RW loudspeakers gave no hint at being constrained. Patricia Barber's music was being played on my first visit, but, as I passed later in the show, this set-up was making a remarkable presentation of some complex orchestral work, especially considering the room size.
Longdog Audio's as yet unnamed prototype open baffle speakers feature a Lowther Silver PM6a full-range driver, Supravox 12-inch GMF bass unit and horn-loaded super-bullet tweeter.
Rated at 98db sensitive and priced around £9,000, they produced an incredible sound on the end of the Longdog and Music First Audio amplification, and Rock Doc'd Townshend Rock turntable.
Lowther seems to be back after its 30-year hiatus. At NWAS 2022, the venerable British brand brought its classic TP2 corner horn and more contemporary, and dare I say it, average room-friendly, Almira floorstander.
The new model is based on a Voigt quarter wave horn design and employs a horn tweeter alongside a Lowther DX3 full-range driver.
The Almiras were being admirably driven by a restored Leak Stereo 20 power amplifier thanks to their 97dB sensitivity. Eagle-eyed visitors to the room may have also spotted Lowther badged electronics - I was informed that these are prototypes at the moment.
MALVERN AUDIO RESEARCH
Mark Manwaring-White from Malvern Audio Research was showing off Audio Detail's new £8,000 300B push-pull stereo power amp, DHT 101D pre-amp and phono stage, with the GM70 SE monoblock amps taking over from the 300B depending on when you visited.
An Audio Detail Chela DAC2, fed by the Lucas Audio Lab LDMS server, was in the system. Unfortunately, network gremlins were at work when I visited, so it was the Amari LP32S turntable with Hana Umami Red cartridge spinning Robert Cray's Smoking Gun that welcomed me through the tweaked hORNS Universum Mk3 which physically dominated the room but sounded wonderfully natural and effortless.
I always look forward to visiting Mian Distribution's room at shows as I can guarantee that Andy will have a few “non-standard hi-fi show tunes” prepared to confuse and delight in equal measure. The main feature, however, was Leema's new Quantum range of products, including the excellently-named Neutron and Graviton pre/ power combo.
The Neutron is a DAC-equipped pre-amp that also benefits from an onboard MM/ MC phonostage and balanced/ unbalanced inputs. The Graviton power amp is a Class A/ B design rated at 150W per channel. Sources were the Electron CD player, which is kitted out with a SABRE ES9018-based DAC and boasts a headphone socket, and the Positron streamer, which was a 'stunt double' at the show as it's not quite ready yet.
These were treated to being output through a pair of Serhan Swift Mu2 MkIIs that had been previously sat in my reference system only a few days earlier. Without giving any review spoilers away, somehow, the Antipodean magicians have managed to improve on the original, which was already outstanding. These white versions looked stunning on the white SolidSteel stands, too.
MOOR AMPS/ GRAHAM AUDIO
We had already experienced one Moor Amps £8,500 Angel 6 power amplifier in Brian & Trevor's room, but here it was matched by the brand's Angel-Pre fed by an Auralic Aries G1 streamer and ifi Pro iDSD DAC going out into the room via Graham Audio LS5/9F speakers, although I had hoped that the LS5/5F floorstander spotted in Munich would be playing here.
The Angel 6 claims a satisfying 150W into 8 Ohms or 300W into 4 Ohms. Meanwhile, the more compact Angel 4 (£4,995), also on display, delivers 150W RMS per channel into 4 ohms and shares the high current/ low-feedback design with its larger sibling. The Angel-Pre costs £2,795 and boasts unity gain buffered outputs with five line-level inputs, motorised ALPS volume pot, and offers single-ended RCA and balanced XLR outputs. Apparently, the buffered outputs have independent power feeds and low feedback analogue regulation circuits. Interestingly, the Angel-Pre is also rocking a tape loop out and the handy inclusion of a line-level output enabling headphone amp connectivity. This system, supported by a Quadraspire rack, even made Taylor Swift's The Moment I Knew (Taylor's Version) enjoyable and delivered great sound per pound.
MUSIC FIRST AUDIO
Music First chose NWAS 2022 to launch its £6,600 Reference V2 passive pre-amplifier, which employs relays rather than the potentiometer volume method in the previous Reference model.
This results in 60 one-decibel steps and shows the output level via a red or blue LED display. The EJ Jordan Greenwich loudspeakers were also enjoying their first outing. The 450 x 250 x 210mm (HxWxD) £4,434 standmounters feature twin Eikona full-range drivers without the need for a crossover and gave a wonderfully smooth presentation of Nouvelle Vague's version of Making Plans for Nigel (without the supertweeters sat to one side) through a laptop, Lampizator Baltic 3 DAC and Longdog Audio power amps. Elsewhere in the system sat a 1983 Akai reel-to-reel tape machine that was also used during the weekend.
FinkTeam Kim partnered by Accuphase? Yes, please!
Thankfully, Karl-Heinz Fink's smaller speakers did not disappoint - having heard them in various systems now, the £9,000 wunderkind standmounts always bring something special to the party. At the other end of the system, you'd find an Accuphase DP1000 CD and DC1000 processor, 50th anniversary C3900 pre-amp, and A75 stereo power amp (£17,000) with everything connected by Audiomica cables. The result was a well-balanced system that seemed to suit strong vocal deliveries, which were presented with plenty of nuance and character.
That's all for Part One, but don't forget to check out the gallery over in our Discussion Forum as well as clicking below for Part Two!
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 HiFi Show
Tags: nwas 2022 north west audio show nva chord electronics the chord company sme kudos audio kii audio falcon acoustics audioquest nagra padood distribution connected distribution karma av alchris audio af audio curvi bowers wilkins auden distribution egglestonworks hegel amphion parasound roksan perlisten audio rega audio note kirmuss kerr acoustic atc
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