Show Report: The UK Hi-Fi Show Live 2023
Jay Garrett was under starter's orders at Royal Ascot for the first time since 2019, to visit one of Britain's most iconic audio shows…
Establishing its place as the UK's elite exhibition event for high-end hi-fi and hosted in the equally patrician surrounds of Royal Ascot, The UK Hi-Fi Show Live 2023 returned for the first time since 2019. Thanks to the left-right combo of a global pandemic and the passing of Queen Elizabeth II, show organiser Paul Miller had little say in the forced hiatus. Judging by the queue on Saturday, the first public day of the show, its place on the hi-fi show calendar has been missed by many.
Spread out over six levels in a stadium 480 metres long – yes, almost half a kilometre – the Ascot grandstand was home to hi-fi royalty with rooms boasting fantastic sunny views over the well-groomed racecourse and surrounding greenery.
However, the 10,000 square metres of glazing isn't exactly optimal for acoustic setups, in much the same way as the Munich High End Show faces similar challenges. Another similarity with this is Ascot's light and airy atrium, which I find preferable to worn and tired West Country hotel rooms. With the judicial application of treatment panels employed alongside the knowledge that this is an exhibition rather than a demonstration, it was the chosen venue for several UK debuts.
A trio of larger areas hosted by Absolute Sounds, Cadence Distribution and YG Acoustics helped set the tone of this year's show, while Definitive Audio set an amazingly relaxed high-end atmosphere in a smaller yet no less opulent space. Finally, Renaissance and Boyer spread their respective represented brands' exquisite wares between adjoining rooms to significant effect, able to independently demonstrate systems at different levels and price points. That's not to say that the singular rooms were any less impressive as loudspeakers from DALI, Stratton, Monitor Audio, Lowther, Node Audio, Kii Audio and Perlisten all managed to make their voices heard without annoying their neighbours, who were at least three or four doors down. For those suffering from retro-fever, the Vintage Village had a host of goodies for sale for the discerning collector - a taste of which can be seen above.
Absolute Sounds had the best idea of all the exhibitors – build two demonstration rooms within the rented space.
These heavily treated and carefully arranged spaces proved to do the trick, as they had arguably the best sound of the show.
One hosted Wilson Audio, Audio Research, D'Agostino Audio, dCS and Transparent Audio and was the European debut of D'Agostino's MXV Integrated. The other boasted Constellation, Robert Koda, Döhmann's Helix One and Magico S3 loudspeakers.
The Magicos were being powered by Constellation Audio's Hercules Stereo and Altair II pre, with digital audio coming via dCS, all joined by Ikigai cables. As well as brand presentations, I caught Twisted Sister's JJ French in fine form chatting about rock 'n' roll, hi-fi and some things I can't write about here.
StereoNET's Jay Garrett, Twisted Sister's JJ French and Dohmann's Mark Döhmann
Elsewhere in Absolute Sound's gallery was an area reserved for its elevated Ten Collection. I also noticed its latest addition, Reed turntables and arms, on display amongst the likes of EAT, Franco Serblin, DartZeel, Jadis and similarly high-end brands.
Bowers & Wilkins
This iconic speaker brand kept it reasonably real, demonstrating its 805 and 801 Signature models, pushed along by Classe Delta Series electronics with tunes coming via Innuos.
While the Signature models add to the standmounters' standard price, their in-room performance did a great deal to prove their worth.
An example of 'impressive and then even more so' came from Boyer's adjoining rooms.
The first room had an Esoteric front-end powered by an Engström Arne integrated going out to a pair of Kroma Stella loudspeakers in a reasonably average lounge setting. This was lovely. However, through the partition door sat Kroma Stella Extreme loudspeakers (£29,000) being fed by an Engström Monica preamplifier (£49,500) connected to Lars monoblocks (£63,500).
The digital front-end was the six-piece Wadax Atlantis Reference server and DAC (€219,000), while a Brinkmann Balance turntable connected to an Engström M Phono valve phono stage (£23,000) took on analogue duties. Connections and power were sorted via Shunyata Research products. Yes, this was all lottery-win fare, but jaw-droppingly impressive acoustics abounded – Anette Askvik's Liberty was spellbinding.
This might be an unfamiliar name to some, but the products Cadence looks after are nothing short of legendary – heck, Cadence Audio Group even owns the likes of SME, Garrard, Crystal Cable, Siltech, and Spendor to name but a few.
Besides the chromed-out SME Synergy and gorgeous Model 60 in honeycomb aquamarine, I was quite taken by the Landrover Green Garrard 301 (£30,000) loaded with a 12-inch SME arm. Elsewhere there were Quadraspire racks filled with Burmester and Nagra hooked up to Rockport Technologies Orion loudspeakers (£140,000).
It was also great to catch Stereo's Matthias Bode entertaining the willing crowd.
Chord unveiled its two new Burndy cables, an upgraded Burndy T (£1,760) and an entry-level Burndy X (£880) for Naim amps.
Meanwhile, the demo room hosted a pair of active ATCs at the end of a Chord Electronics DAVE and Innuos server as a base to show how the Chord Company cables, Ground Array and PowerHAUS products alongside English Electric network switches can improve things.
Magico A3 loudspeakers? Now I wasn't expecting that from Chord Electronics!
However, it made sense as they were at the end of an Ultima Pre 3 preamp (£6,000) and a pair of 480W Ultima 3 monoblock power amps (£11,500 each). The front end was equally tasty in the form of a Dave DAC (£10,500) and Hugo M Upscaler (£3,500). No-nonsense high-end from Chord Electronics, then.
The Vikings are coming! DALI partnered with Bergmann and Gryphon to show off its Epikore 11 (£40,000) and Kore loudspeakers.
The Epikore 11 was enjoying its UK debut and showed what its four 8-inch bass drivers, specially-designed 6½-inch midrange, and EVO-K Hybrid Tweeter module was capable of. This is the trickle-down flagship from the amazing Kore project, which also stretched its legs in a very impressive demo. Mest fremragende!
Decent Audio had a couple of rooms for its presentations; one featured Raidho's remarkable X2t floorstanders, while the other room saw a pair of Magnepan 1.7is, which sounded lush at the end of SPL electronics and a Dual CS 618Q direct-drive turntable.
A streaming-free zone welcomed analogue fans in Definitive Audio's room. Kevin and Lynn Scott are renowned for bringing their own power station to shows to avoid the venue's supply.
Here, Definitive Audio debuted a production pair of the Living Voice R80 loudspeakers sporting a luxurient bookmatched santos veneer (£52,000) at the end of a pair of SJS Model 10 monoblock power amps (£88,000 per pair excluding valves).
The 20W amps were each loaded with three 300B tubes, two in a parallel single-ended array, while the third was employed as a driver with an interstage transformer. Meanwhile, the monstrously impressive Kuzma XL Air's 130kg was supported by a Zero Vibe 6050P active levelling and isolation platform.
This veteran company is well-respected for its electronics, and its 3510 Series, monoblocks, and new toploading CD player were doing fine work paired with some Graham Audio Chartwell LS6/f loudspeakers.
I was not expecting the Exposure-branded turntable, however. I assume there has been some help from friends in the South East of England with a four-letter name beginning with R. Priced at £1,300 sans cartridge, it has apparently been designed to complement Exposure's wares.
GoldenEar x AudioQuest x Auralic
GoldenEar's slender Triton floorstanders were getting the party started in one room at the end of a Heed Lagrange amplifier, fed by an Aries G2.2 streamer and Vega G2.2 being ably assisted by a Leo GX.1 clock.
Power was managed by an Audioquest Niagara 5000. Meanwhile, a more compact system featuring the GoldenEar BRX (£1,699) standmounters sounded totally on song. Naturally, everything was plumbed by AudioQuest cabling.
Hegel unveiled its H600 (£10,500) range-topping streaming amplifier at the show, nudging output up to 303W per side.
#The new unit benefits from trickle-down tech from the P30A preamp launched earlier in the year, including the digitally controlled analogue volume control and a new streaming platform.
This was paired with the equally new Viking CD player and ran out to Egglestone Works speakers. Two boxes and some slim floorstanders, and the result was huge sounding!
Henley's primary demo system had catnip for retro lovers in the shape of a pair of Klipschorn AK6s (£22,000) at the end of a Musical Fidelity Nu-Vista PRE/PAS pre/power combo (circa £43k).
Some might describe this as overkill for loudspeakers with a quoted 105dB sensitivity. It did sound great with sources of a Pro-ject Signature 12 turntable (with Ortofon Verismo cartridge) mated with a Nu-Vista Phono, performing analogue duties backed up with the very commendable HiFi Rose RS130 streamer.
It wasn't all big bucks systems at Henley though, as WiiM's Applause Award-winning £219 Pro Plus proved, and it was rightly getting plenty of attention.
The Sutton Coldfield-based retailer had plenty for head-fi fans to get excited about in the Panoramic Headphone Zone.
Although there was an extensive array of personal audio products on show here, it is worth noting that Hifonix also deals in two-channel hi-fi, including loudspeakers, turntables and the rest of it.
That said, I'd be hard-pushed to pick out my favourite pairing from just what was on offer at The UK Hi-Fi Show Live, but the small Burson/Audeze combo was excellent, although my eyes and ears were drawn to the MOON North Collection and T+A systems.
Innuos had its Statement and Pulsar streamers taking turns playing through a Chord Dave DAC and Dan D'Agostino Progression stereo integrated amp out to some Wilson Sabrina loudspeakers to marvellous effect.
However, as R&D Director and Co-Founder Nuno Vitorino, and Head of Sales Steven Gomes were keen to point out, the innuOS 2.5 update and Sense app were the focus here - to be honest, the sound quality out front was doing a great job of speaking for itself.
The most interesting part I found was the ability to merge or split music categories, meaning you could separate Country from Western or merge all orchestral music together – you heathen!
Karma went for the triple at The UK Hi-Fi Show Live 2023 with rooms dedicated to MoFi. Perlisten and System Audio.
For me, the main event was the Perlisten S7T limited edition floorstanders (£30,000). Only fifty pairs will be made, featuring driver refinements and larger carbon fibre cabinets courtesy of designer Dan Roemer. I'm told that each pair is hand-matched to within half a decibel by Dan himself. At the pointy end of bi-amped Primare monoblocks dishing out up to 1,400 Watts sounded particularly juicy.
Then again, the impressive multi-channel system featured a bridged 8-channel amp and the new Primare SPA 25 AV receiver alongside the obligatory Hans Zimmer Live soundtrack.
The MoFi room hosted the brand's Master Deck turntable (£7,000) with a matching Master Phono phono stage plugged into a BAT tube amp driving the SourcePoint 8 loudspeakers.
This was a very chilled and relaxed vibe compared to the excitement of the Perlisten showcase. For those blinking a little at the Master Deck's price, it contains enough Spiral Groove TT DNA to almost make it bargain fare.
Finally, the System Audio Silverback all-in-one wireless speakers were demonstrated in the third room. Plenty assumed it was the larger Silverback 40.2 floorstanders on the go; the Silverback 1 on-wall speakers were doing such a tremendous room-filling job.
KEF Audio's room was consistently standing room only.
If you managed to squeeze in, you were treated to the LS 60 and Blade Meta 2 speakers at the end of Hegel's H600 and Innuous Zenith.
KOG Audio had two great-sounding rooms. The first I came to had Fink Team's Applause Award-winning Kim standmounters (£10,700) powered by a Soul Note A3 amplifier (£19,000 tbc), and D-2 D/A converter (£7,700) all joined by Tellurium Q's excellent Statement cabling.
The amp is apparently rated at 2x 120W into 4 ohms, but the results from the DAC, which is capable of 768kHz PCM and DSD512 thanks to four ES9038PRO chips and a TI LMX2594 synthesiser for the Master Clock, sounded top-notch through the Kims.
More high-end streaming was to be had in the other room courtesy of the Taiko Audio Extreme (£30,000) music server sending its digits to be sorted by T+A's PSD 3100HV DAC/streamer (£14,900). This then went out to T+A's A3000HV integrated amplifier (£14,900) and Talis S300 loudspeakers (£10,900) – again, all connected by Tellurium Q. To my ears, the Soul Note/ Fink Team combo edged it through a mixture of staging and sonic elegance; however, that's no detriment to the T+A system and Taiko server. Again, it's difficult to be definitive at shows.
I consider myself a thoroughly modern man. Heck, I even cut my journalistic teeth covering the latest tech and gadgets.
However, there is something akin to coming home whenever I spend time in a Lowther demo space. Indeed, the laptop providing the tunes via a Lowther DAC/preamp and a pair of prototype PX4 monoblocks into Edilia loudspeakers seemed utterly incongruous. Averting my eyes from the portable computing device, I was told that the PX4 amps are expected to retail at under £10,000 per pair and that the Edilia is much more than an Almira with a woofer. In fact, the drivers are completely different, with the Edilia sporting the new DX2 bass and equally fresh PM7A alnico full-range driver. Also brought into action on a later visit were the stately TP2 corner horns. Everything here just sounded right.
Monitor Audio officially launched Hyphn (£70,000), which we have already had the pleasure of spending time with. Driven by a stack of satin blue Vitus Audio components (“they don't do white”) they sounded remarkable for the room.
No doubt thanks to the clever point-source design consisting of a thermoformed, mineral-loaded cabinet armed with six flat 50mm midrange units, surrounding an AMT-style tweeter alongside four underhung bass drivers. More down-to-earth designs were also on show, including the Platinum Series 3G and the Anthra subwoofers.
Naim Audio had its 300 series attached to Focal Sopra 2 speakers in black Ostrea.
Set up with amps and power supplies on one side of the rack and sources on the other, it was enough to make any Naim fan drop to their knees. Again, allowing for the room, the sound was enough for me to wonder what this system would be capable of in a better environment.
Thankfully, there was some treatment around the speakers, but there was still more to come from this rig.
It was great to catch up with the friendly folks of Node Audio, maker of the highly impressive £27,000 Hylixa loudspeakers, who caught me somewhat off-guard by presenting their latest design – the SS1.
The new support systems (isolation feet) are designed to isolate electronics through a recipe of stainless steel, glass nylon polymer and ceramics. Priced at £675 for three or £900 for four, we might even see a similar design for speakers if these take off.
Origin Live made a stand for the source-first philosophy here with its Voyager turntable (from £23,000) and Renown tonearm attached to a Whest Titan Pro (£9,000) phono stage going out to pair of AVI DM 10 active monitors helped along by a subwoofer.
Power treatment by Puritan. And while I believe more could have been made of this front-end, the sound was certainly impressive enough to make the point.
You can always rely on John and Team Renaissance to put on a great show, and here the two adjoining rooms of MOON, Audiovector, VPI and Nordost were packed full of grinning music lovers. On show were examples from MOON's new North Collection with the 791 network player (£16,000) and 761 power amplifiers (£14,000 each) doing the do through Audiovector R8 Arreté speakers.
Also here was VPI's Avenger Direct turntable. All were supported by Lateral Audio Stands. Cabling and power treatment was of course by Nordost, as was the network switch, thanks to the American brand's QNet (£3,320).
Meanwhile, next door saw the first UK demonstrations of the 681 streaming DAC (£12,000) and 641 integrated amp at £11,000, which utilised the skills of Audiovector's R3 Arreté and showed just how good a two-box plus speakers system could sound.
Rogers used its push-pull 350B-powered E20/a Mk3 integrated amplifier (circa £4,500) fed by an Audio Note CD player and out to a pair of LS5/9 speakers.
The amp can be flicked over to 15 ohm output should you wish to pair it with a set of LS3/5a monitors. Also in the room were a pair of LS3/5as sat atop AB-1 subwoofers. A wonderfully unforced sound was to be had here.
Russ Andrews and Kimber Kable had plenty for tinkerers and upgraders to look over with a main demo utilising two pairs of PMC Twenty5 speakers. A HiFi Rose streaming amp and other electronics were found showing their rears to the audience – saucy!
Although, as this was a cable demonstration, it made perfect sense. Here, interconnects and power supplies could easily be tweaked until optimal.
SCV's room hosted Triangle's flagship Magellan Quatuor 40th Anniversary loudspeakers at the end of a Manley Steelhead preamplifier and Snapper monoblock tube amps.
Tunes were supplied via an Innuos Statement 2-box streamer and Chord Dave DAC with power treated by IsoTek. I have to admit to having a soft spot for Triangle products, and these did nothing to change my mind. Even at £11,000, the recently reviewed Magellan Cello 40th Annniversary speakers pose great value.
If personal listening is more your thing, SCV also had a considerable presence in the Headphone Lounge, demonstrating Kitsune and Manley, amongst others.
Sound Design Distribution
The first of the launches on the Friday press day was from Kii Audio, with designer Bruno Putzeys introducing the Kii Seven (£3,495) active wireless speakers. Pitched as a smart speaker for audiophiles, this is more than simply a scaled-down version of the Kii Three.
Sporting a cardioid dispersion pattern, multiple drivers and amplification in a smaller, wireless cabinet and boasting pretty much every wireless streaming feature you need, including Dante, the Kii Seven can be used as a solo smart speaker or as a multi-speaker set-up. Read my thoughts about the demonstration here.
Signature Audio Systems
Amongst a throng of Canton speakers and Thorens turntables, PS Audio's reference system held the most attention here, especially as company owner Paul McGowan was here to perform the demonstrations.
The PS Audio Aspen FR30 loudspeakers were at the end of a most impressive rack of PS Audio gear alongside mains regenerators. Elsewhere, a more UK-friendly Canor/Canton system attempted to keep up.
Making magic here was a Clearaudio Reference Jubilee turntable with DS Audio Grand Master optical cartridge and two-box phono equaliser, going into a Kondo GE-70 line preamplifier and GamuT D200i power amp, driving Kerr Acoustics K320 floorstanders.
You know there's going to be no messing about here, aside from the 'always on form' Chris and team. It is good to hang around until they demonstrate DS Audio's DS Audio ES-001 (£5,500) eccentricity detection stabiliser. This widget tells you how far off-centre your vinyl's spindle hole is and helps you rectify it. The difference is plainly audible and, as such, makes this essential for those looking to get every last bit of performance from their records.
Stratton Acoustics' Elypsis 1512 could never be classed as shy and retiring. Taking the likes of JBL studio monitors of the nineteen seventies as a jumping-off point and giving them some modern love and a little more domestic charm, these £75,000 weapons do everything at scale.
The 1200 x 1100 x 600mm (HxWxD with stands) cabinets are each home to a pair of 15-inch bass drivers, a 12-inch mid driver and a 1.2-inch domed tweeter sat within a large waveguide. The baffle sports four ports and fascia-mounted mid/treble EQ controls in a gorgeously CNC'd unit that houses half the crossover. The low frequency crossover sits deeper within the cabinet due to its weight, I am told. These are a basshead's dream with a quoted “conservative” rating of a 28Hz at -6dB, with Trentemøller helping to prove this via an Innuos server and Technics SU-G700M2 amplifier, attached by Tellurium Q Statement cables. The Elypsis 1512 did prove they were more than a one-trick pony, with a wonderfully separated string quartet and harpsichord piece.
Brinkmann turntables amplification and DAC playing out from a pair of Wilson Sabrina X loudspeakers.
However, I was directed to the Goldenberg Brilliant moving coil cartridge (£2,595) doing the heavy lifting. The Swiss brand has fitted a boron cantilever and micro ridge stylus into a rhodium-plated body. This demanded more time than I had left, unfortunately.
Yamaha had a room demonstrating the excellent R-N2000A receiver and NS-2000A three-way floorstanding speakers.
The company also brought the new NS-600A (£2,000) and NS-800A (£3,600) standmounters from the same range, aiming to give the listener a similarly authentic presentation to their larger sibling.
Elsewhere, the HA-L7A headphone amp (£3,499) was on demo paired with the YH-5000SE headphones in a special booth – a taster that made me want to try the amp with my DCA Expanse.
A well matched trio of YG Acoustics, Bel Canto, and Boulder had a variety of systems at different price points and sizes.
I was really taken by the Bel Canto Black EX integrated (£15,000) which combines a high-end DAC, MM/MC phono stage and amplification in a sleek-looking unit. Meanwhile, the star of this area was the active, DSP-controlled YG Vantage 3 Live (£66,000).
Packed with a 700W amplifier for each drive unit and operated via a wireless controller unit created with assistance from Bel Canto, these three-way active towers made remarkable work of Metrik's Hackers with literally all other demonstrations stopping almost immediately. Impressive stuff, and perhaps a sign of high-end things to come.
This show was light, airy and – should you want to escape the crowds for a while – had plenty of places to sit and take a moment. Granted, the good weather helped (nobody could forget the rain and blustery weather of 2019), but Ascot is a welcome departure from the cramped halls of long-in-the-tooth hotels. And, dare I say it, an upgrade from the show's previous digs.
The products on show here were excellent, and whilst mostly unashamedly high-end, you rarely go to a car show to paw over an affordable 5-door hatchback, do you? Here your senses were teased with what is possible, and the variety that is on offer. It was also a great opportunity to catch up with plenty of people, as well as meeting a few for the first time in the flesh. Overall then, this was a very fine couple of days spent out of London in leafier climes.
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 Home Theatre HiFi Show
Tags: absolute sounds bowers & wilkins bowers wilkins boyer distribution cadence distribution chord company the chord company chord electronics dali decent audio exposure goldenear golden ear technology audioquest auralic hegel henley audio hifonix innuos karma av kef kog audio lowther monitor audio monitor audio group naim node audio origin live renaissance audio audiovector
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