National Audio Show 2012

The National Audio show proved to be a more popular event than expected thanks to a good turn out from visitors and exhibitors alike. As well as the usual suspects there were rooms taken by European brands including Backes & Muller, T&A and Polish representative G-Point Audio sitting alongside dealer dems and individual companies. The dealers ensured that bigger brands had some representation and also gave visitors the opportunity to hear combinations of equipment that would not usually be found. One highlight of the show was not a product but the opportunity to hear complete albums played on vinyl and presented by the charming Colleen ‘Cosmo’ Murphy (above) whose Classsic Album Sundays events have been making remarkable progress out in the real world. Her efforts were reinforced in no small way by a very serious system from Loud+Clear.

 

Roksan Oxygene

I managed to find out a bit more about the spectacular looking Oxygene range from Roksan at Whittlebury. Currently there is an integrated amplifier and CD player on the verge of production, the cases for these are machined from a 50mm slab of aluminium with an extremely thin area under the lettering ‘Less is More”. This is for capacitive electronics that let you change input and volume on the amp by merely touching these words, so ‘more’ increases volume and ‘is’ plus ‘more’ changes input upwards. The CD player can be controlled in a similar fashion. The amp offers 75 watts per channel on its own or double that with an external power supply, it has three inputs plus Bluetooth APTx.

 

ifi iPhono
AMR has broken ranks and produced a range of compact components for the less well heeled audio nut. So far there's an iDAC (£249) complete with headphone output and volume control, iCan (£199) dedicated headphone amp and iUSB (£199) that cleans up the current in the USB line. Most intriguing however is the pre-production iPhono (£299) which although only about six inches long is MM and MC ready, has variable gain and impedance and nothing less than a selection of EQ settings alongside standard RIAA. This is a pretty scarce feature on high end phono stages let alone affordable ones and if this thing sounds half as good as it looks it could be a giant slayer.

 

Audio Note Empress
Essentially a copper version of the Neiro the Empress monoblock runs parallel single ended 2A3 triodes for an 8 watt output from a choke rectified circuit, yours for £4,500 a pair.

 

Prometheus Audio
George Thomsen from Poole in Dorset brought along the biggest equipment rack in a show full of big racks and stuck his substantial Prometheus turntable on top of it. Both items are made to order with the rack featuring air suspension and the turntable being built with a slab of ancient hardwood as its plinth. This example used mahogany that George says was cut in 1950, the base is in slate and the aluminium platter weighs between 17 and 20kg. Proper back breaking analogue technology in all its glory. The tonearm is also made of hardwood but not by Prometheus, it's a unipivot Durand Talea from France.

 


Canalis Anima
This attractive two-way is made by the speaker division of turntable specialist Spiral Groove. It was designed by Audio Physic founder Joachim Gerhard and features a laminated bamboo cabinet, a material that I imagine will become more common in the future because of its high stiffness and relative affordability by hardwood standards. The tweeter is an aluminium dome in the centre of a wide fabric surround, the idea being to combine the qualities of both materials, the bass driver has a five inch ceramic coated aluminium cone with 20mm quoted excursion. Price in the UK is £2,800, Canalis is being brought into the UK by Kog Audio.

 


Da Vinci Virtu
This elegant 12inch arm is fitted to the Systemdek 3D and being distributed by its maker Derek Dunlop. Made in Switzerland it features an ebony section on the armtube itself and a detachable headshell made from same material. Information is a bit scarce but apparently it has a four point gimbal bearing and costs £9,000.

 


DPA Minuet
Deltec Precision Audio launched three new 'sub £500' components at Whittlebury. The Minuet Disc is an MM/MC phono stage with fixed gain and impedance, the DAC is a three input type with a DPA filter and asynchronous USB that runs at up to 192kHz and comes with a driver. The last element is the Minuet Filter, a power supply upgrade for the other two components. Price at the event was £300 apiece but the company is undecided on final retail.

 

Astin trew Concord
Astin trew has hired the talents of Graham Fowler, creator of the Trichord phono stages, to design the Concord DAC (£3,760). As well as the usual features there is the option of adding either an XMOS USB module or a Firewire input module for £300. The Concord also has an I2S input to accommodate PS Audio transports among a few others. It uses twin Burr Brown converters and avoids upsampling, the icing on the digital cake is a tube output stage. A matching transport is in the pipeline.

 

Trichord headphone amps
Graham Fowler has been busy expanding the Trichord range to include two headphone amplifiers. Both in prototype form at the show but soon to be available, one will cost £400 with a standard power supply or an extra £100 for the Never Connected version. The bigger model (shown) is based on the Michell Alecto that Graham designed back in the nineties, that was a rather good amplifier so I have high hopes for this Never Connected PSU device which will cost between £700 and £800.

 

Icon Audio MB30M
These attractive Quad II like amps are David Shaw's latest monoblocks, the MB30M (£1,799) has KT120 output tubes that produce 16 watts in triode mode or 27 watts in push-pull. Features include tertiary wound transformers and a choke interstage transformer.
Icon also showed its latest range topping preamp the LA5TX (below), this has a transformer output stage so that it will drive pretty much any power amp on the planet and do so via long interconnects which is not always the case with tube line stages. It has single ended and balanced outputs, four inputs and remote control not to mention a double choke power supply.

 

 

Keystrobe
Keystrobe is a company which specialises in devices to assist in getting your turntable runnning at the right speed. He is holding the KeyStrobe Au gold stroboscopic disc (£36), this is the same size as a record label and is made PCB style with gold markings for 33.3, 45 and 78rpm with one side marked for 50Hz UK mains and other for 60Hz power. He makes a standard printed version for £15 and a range of torches to use with the discs which start at £34. Garrard 301 owners will also be interested in his Lightbeam 301, a permanent strobe light that fits in one of the existing bolt holes and lets you read the markings on that classic turntable's platter, it costs £95 including power supply.

 

Light Harmonic DaVinci

The DaVinci is a 32-bit/384kHz DAC built into the sort of casework that Darth Vader would surely have approved of, he could probably afford the £20,000 price tag too. It was combined with a Plinius preamp, Anthem monoblocks and Martin Logan Summit X speakers in a huge room which the demonstrator had attempted to control with curtains. This was partially successful but clearly a Herculean task for speakers of this size. Nonetheless when played at sensible levels it timed well, had good body and an even balance which is an achievement itself in the bigger rooms at Whittlebury.

 

BD Audio

Malvern dealer BD Audio brought along a good sounding system fronted by the distinctive Tune Audio Marvel speakers (£8995) to draw in the crowds. I heard them with the Ming Da MC200-CD (£1,395), MD-7SE preamp (£1,520) and MC-805A monobolocks (£3,499) and have to say that the result was most enjoyable. Two factors clearly helped however, one was the closed door and the other was the fact that they were not playing audiophile music but a nice bit of dub, sweet.