Show Report: UK Audio Show 2021

Posted on 9th November, 2021

Show Report: UK Audio Show 2021

Jay Garrett visits the first British hi-fi show for eighteen months…

For almost two years, there have been more 'will they, won't they?' moments surrounding hi-fi shows great and small than a classic British rom-com. However, on the weekend of October 9th and 10th, the UK Audio Show 2021 broke the fi fest fast and reminded us of what it was like in the before times!

Held within the lovely surroundings of the De Vere Staverton Estate, Daventry, England, the UK Audio Show was hosted over two floors of the hotel. Having eagerly awaited this first post-pandemic show, I was there for both days to soak everything in and finally spend time with industry friends, new and old, as any true enthusiast would.

UK Audio Show 2021 Report

Naturally, there were demonstrations designed to catch the eye as well as the ear with Chord Electronics drafting in Bayz Audio and its six-figure Counterpoint loudspeakers. These offered a listening experience that took a few moments to adjust to, but was well worth checking out. But there were also gems from unfamiliar names to be had.

Overall I was impressed by the variety at the show, even though it wasn't the largest I have attended. It ranged from small independent brands hosting rooms right up to sizeable distributors. Here are my top ten rooms from the show…

Alchris Audio with Missing Link/ Vinyl Passion and Mycetias

Yes, I am cheating a little bit straight from the off here, but I think these loudspeaker makers from either side of the Pennines deserve to be checked out equally. Firstly, the Yorkshire-based Alchris Audio shared the relatively compact room with Mark Sears' Missing Link/ Vinyl Passion, which made for an excellent pairing, even given the rather snug square room. Alchris is the new brand from Alan Clark of Kralk fame, and to say that he has come back stronger than ever would be somewhat of an understatement.

UK Audio Show 2021 Report

Some of Alan's latest designs borrow from classics such as Celestion's Ditton 66, used to create the AR66 (from £4,499). However, all Alchris loudspeakers benefit from modern materials and high-quality components, and with the resurgence of retro-style speakers housing modern tech (see Klipsch, KLH, Wharfedale, JBL, etc.), they should do well. I spent time listening to the 3-way AR-130/4 (from £3,200), which drew all the right kinds of attention connected to a Yaqin CD player using Missing Link cables and playing Supertramp's It's A Hard World. The AR-130/4 has a claimed 28Hz-30kHz frequency range from its 18mm soft dome tweeter, 130mm doped paper midrange and quartet of long-throw 130mm bass units that cross over at 500 and 3,000 Hz. On a later visit, I caught the special edition VP JM-12 turntable with Solid Sound Prism plinth and Audio Mods 6 tonearm in action, and it sounded remarkably good. Everything was supported by Atacama's Evoque Eco 60-40 SE2 shelving. Furthermore, sculptures of Motorhead's Snaggletooth and Iron Maiden's Aces High-era Eddie were decorating the room, which can also be ordered from the multi-talented Mr Clark.

UK Audio Show 2021 Report

Meanwhile, Lancastrian Mycetias produces affordable hi-fi with speakers starting at around £425. With a background in creating festival sound systems, the company brought its V2 and Vulcanian standmounts to the show, along with some in-house Class D amplification. However, as luck would have it, ZinAmp added its V6 (£2,699 or from £569 as a kit) “Class A driving Class B” hybrid tube integrated into the rig. This room once again proved that if you are prepared to do some searching, there are plenty of small outfits selling direct to customers whose products are capable of going toe-to-toe with established brands at twice, or even thrice, their asking price. All awe-inspiring stuff and well-worth looking out for and a brand to remember.

Aretai

Being hosted by boutique-brand dealer VAL HiFi was Aretai's monochromatic Contra 100S (£7,250) bi-ampable, 2.5-way standmount speaker. Janis Irbe, the founder of this Latvian newcomer, told me that he sourced the best drivers that the designs required.

UK Audio Show 2021 Report

Doing this enables him to concentrate on the cabinet and crossover design. The Contra 100S features a 'vestigial waveguide' around the tweeter to aid dispersion. Meanwhile, its impressively fast and taut low-end is helped along by a front-firing 6-inch mid-bass unit and a second 6-inch active bass driver on the back of the sealed box. This results in a claimed 32Hz-30kHz frequency range, 4 ohm nominal impedance and 87dB/1w/1m sensitivity. After the performance in this bustling room, they were added to my 'must hear again' list.

Art Audio

Art Audio showed off its new Velocé monoblocs and Diavolo MK2-T alongside its Vinyl One phono pre and Conductor line-level pre. The Velocé features four matched EL34s tubes aside and is part of the British company's push-pull series. These were being put through some rather architectural but incredibly lovely-sounding floorstanding speakers.

UK Audio Show 2021 Report

These came from Sung Audio, who's representative told me they can be made according to your room size, listening preferences, etc. The Reference models being used at the show featured midrange and 12-inch bass drivers from ATC, partnered with a Scanspeak tweeter.

UK Audio Show 2021 Report

Additionally, silver wiring and capacitors, along with specifically designed silver speaker cables, were employed. Although the thick-walled cabinets would not be cheap to make, I was told that the more significant part of the £29,000 asking price was the silver wire involved. “Bargain” might be pushing it, but I honestly thought these were going to be a lot more expensive.

Fink Team

Fink Team's Borg and KIM were represented at the show with the big, black Borgs at the end of an Accuphase frontline. However, it was KIM (£9,800) that was doing the business to my ears via its AMT tweeter and 8-inch mid-bass driver in Ultimate Resolution's room.

UK Audio Show 2021 Report

The front-end was courtesy of a Melco EX series music server going via a Sonnet Morpheus DAC. Tellurium Q's excellent Ultra Silver cabling was used throughout, with mains purification provided by the Puritan Labs PSM 156. Amplification duties were carried out by a Pass Labs XA 30.8. Everything sat on a Quadraspire rack with further isolation of the components and speaker stands provided by Franc Audio Accessories. GIK Acoustics panels were also utilised in the room. Again, this was an exercise in carefully chosen elements doing a great job together.

Kerr Acoustics

Jes Kerr's room was consistently busy. He was showing the K320 Mk3 transmission line speakers, which can now be ordered with custom Townshend Audio Seismic Podiums and were hooked up using Fractal interconnects and speaker cables with an Allegri Reference preamp going out to a pair of Longdog Audio monoblock power amps.

UK Audio Show 2021 Report

Here was a demonstration of synergy, as this was the best I have heard these speakers at a show, even if the room was less than ideal. It should also be noted that there was a degree of assistance given by way of the GIK Acoustic panels used. We went through various tunes using the PS Audio Perfect Wave Direct Stream source, and this remained a stand-out room at the show for me – and one I returned to the following day just to enjoy it.

Lavardin

Marking its second decade is French amplifier designer, Lavardin, which launched the ITx20 integrated amplifier (£10,500). Following the ITx15, released to celebrate fifteen years, this rather special red lovely features upgraded circuitry and power supply over the standard ITx and has a claimed output of 55 watts per channel.

UK Audio Show 2021 Report

However, the main goal here is to deliver microdynamics alongside wide bandwidth and transparency. It also comes with what Lavardin calls a “zero side effect volume control” remote. I was suitably impressed by this set-up which Midland Audio Xchange had put together, which saw a pair of Devore Orangutan 093 speakers at the end. Also, on the Lateral hi-fi support next to this little lot was a host of Leben separates, highly regarded by valve-lovers. Leben's designer and owner is former Luxman employee Mr Taku Hyodo, who apparently is ranked amongst Japan's top eight tube audio design engineers.

Lyravox

My first time in Limin Audio UK's room, the German Lyravox speakers were just about ticking over. Thankfully, the standmounted Karlsson (£16,000) was very much on song upon my next visit. Sat beside them were their larger Karlotta (£25,000) siblings.

UK Audio Show 2021 Report

The Karlsson Monoliths are an active 2-way design with DSP and a 23Hz-42kHz quoted frequency range. The Karlsonns are equipped with Accuton C-168-6-890 bass-mid drivers partnered with Accuton C25-6-158 tweeters and AMT L50 diffuse field tweeters. The drivers are pushed along by 5th generation NCore Class D power modules – 400W for the bass and 100W for the tweeter. The amount of people who thought that it was the Karlottas being played proves to me just how well these high-end actives were doing.

UK Audio Show 2021 Report

In this room, components from Origin Live, Puritan Audio Labs and Whest Audio were sat on Quadraspire racks. Although these looked like the Reference and SVT models we know and love, this was actually the debut of the new lines using bamboo. This allowed visitors to see how the latest finishes translated to the new, more sustainable material for the first time. Stay tuned for more information about these very soon.

Music First Audio

Jonathan Billington's room showed that less can be more – using Nagra open reel machines (a 4.2 and IV SJ) going into an MFA Classic V2 passive preamp (£2,940) and a pair of Longdog Audio P6100M monoblock power amps (£3,500 per pair), then out to E J Jordan Marlowe loudspeakers (from £1,960).

UK Audio Show 2021 Report

These LS3/5A-sized front-ported standmounts are equipped with an Eikona full range drive unit, with the standard version sporting silver-plated 4mm cable sockets and Kimber Kable TC internal wiring. The sound produced here would satisfy most audiophiles. Granted, there were more showy systems out there, but based purely on sound quality as I sat and listened to Mexican Pharmacy, this compact system would take some beating and suit even the smallest of listening spaces.

Node Audio

This company's Hylixa loudspeakers never fail to impress, but this was the first time hearing Node Audio's new Hylixa Signature (from £30,000). Although starting at the same price as the previous iteration, the Signature now also uses the same laser-sintered material in the pillar as it does the special helical head section.

UK Audio Show 2021 Report

In addition, an uprated crossover utilising Mundorf capacitors and Duelund internal wiring can be found in the special magazine-loaded compartment. A new base also houses the speaker cable binding posts closer to floor level. Using an Aurender streamer into a Soulution pre, feeding a pair of YBA Passion 650 power amps, SOHN's Veto from the Tremors album sounded quite remarkable.

Russell K

Visitors to this room were treated to the first outing of the Red 120SE loudspeakers. The compact floorstander not only boasts an attractive new finish to its Sheffield-made cabinets but contains an upgraded crossover and improved tweeter for its circa £5,000 asking price.

UK Audio Show 2021 Report

The Red 120SE runs a pair of 5-inch bass units partnered with a 25mm soft dome tweeter. Bass from this front-ported model – said to take the best from transmission line and reflex designs – was quite remarkable. Punchy and clear, I was told it goes “down to 30Hz-ish”. There is also a new plinth alongside titanium spikes and screws. This speaker really seemed to suit the room, as both timing and tonality were impressive as we listened to Money For All by David Sylvian project, Nine Horses, amongst others played via the Naim/ Melco front end.

Head-Fi

While not being listening rooms, as such, head-fi at the UK Audio Show deserves a mention. The main event was undoubtedly held in Hifonix's ample space and catered for any level of personal audio aficionado, the RAAL Requisite true ribbon headphones and amplifier were an experience in themselves.

UK Audio Show 2021 Report

Goodies were also to be found elsewhere, such as Warwick Acoustics' Bravura which was hidden away in the corner of VAL HiFi's room.

UK Audio Show 2021 Report

I was treated to some Japanese art house instrumental music to kick off my uninterrupted listening session before the doors opened on Sunday morning. Moving on to less esoteric tunes and the Bravura did indeed make a good case for itself.

UK Audio Show 2021 Report

However, my head-fi find of the show was the £979 RME ADI-2 DAC FS, sat unassumingly on Synthax Audio's trade stand. With a strong studio background in professional D/A and A/D converters, the ADI-2 DAC FS adds a top-flight headphone stage with impressive results.

Honourable Mentions

It just wouldn't be an audio show without Atacama, and it was great to see a wide range of racks and supports on display. But oddly, it is still the buckets of Atabites that drew the most attention and appeared to be the source of most questions asked.

UK Audio Show 2021 Report

These incredibly dense and inert zinc-coated steel micro-discs have been designed to fill the legs of your hi-fi, and speaker stands as a better alternative to sand. However, how much to fill said legs is often down to personal tuning.

UK Audio Show 2021 Report

AF Audio's cables are well respected amongst all who have tried them, and I spent a while with the affable Andrew Foster talking about his approach to cable making. Andrew's honesty is refreshing, and when you consider a pair of his handmade solid silver core RCA cables start at just £45, they are certainly worth checking out.

UK Audio Show 2021 Report

Sustainable construction was the name of the game where Coppice Audio was concerned, building their speaker cabinets from wood felled in their own forest in Malvern. Launched at the show was their £2,495 two-way standmount X1, made of solid ash. These were being driven by Ming Da's Piccolo-Grandé MM that features the much-admired KT150 in Class A single-ended mode producing 25W per channel to great effect. Everything was joined by Gekko cables.

UK Audio Show 2021 Report

Alphason's new HR-200S tonearm was on show with Mike Knowles on hand to answer any questions as well as take orders. The successor to the world-renowned 100S is constructed using up-to-date materials and design know-how and promises to be every bit as successful as its older sibling, all being well. Watch out for a StereoNET review soon!

IT'S A WRAP!

Hats doffed then to organiser Roy Bird and team UK Audio Show. Planning a show is a risky business, as we at StereoNET know all too well. However, numbers appeared decent, and there was a friendly vibe at this show, as well as a good cross-section of ages attending. Additionally, the feedback I've had about the UK Audio Show has been positive. The only thing is now I've had a taste I want more… See you at the next one!

Check out more pictures from the show in the image gallery

    Gallery

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      Jay Garrett

      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.

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      Posted in:Hi-Fi Headphones Industry HiFi Show
      Tags: uk audio show  alchris audio  missing link  vinyl passion  mycetias  aretai  art audio  finkteam  kerr acoustic  lavardin  devore fidelity  leben  lyravox  music first audio  ming da  coppice audio  node audio  russell k  warwick acoustics  alphason  atacama  af audio  chord electronics  bayz audio  gik acoustics  tellurium q  lateral  quadraspire  townshend audio 

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