North West Audio Show 2022 pt.1

My first visit to this increasingly popular event coincided with the hottest day of the year so far, which made the six hour drive to Cranage a bit more of a challenge than expected, but the show more than made up for the effort. Credit has to go to organiser Kris Sawicki who has shown that with attention to detail and imagination it is possible to put on an audio exhibition that’s a pleasure for exhibitors and visitors alike. Not only is it free to enter but they were handing out fizzy wine or orange juice to early attendees, which explains why there was a queue outside the door before opening time.

The venue is a mix of stately home and modern business hotel so room sizes and shapes vary significantly with exhibitors in the larger and older rooms having a the best opportunity to produce a good sound. That said many managed the same in the smaller bedrooms despite an all concrete construction that made playing bass heavy material a risky business. There were many good sounding rooms however and a surprising amount of new gear so without further ado…

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CAD have been going to Cranage since day one and have a nice irregularly shaped room. This year they were joined by Cameron Jenkins of Stranger High Fidelity who brought some MBL 126 standmount speakers (£10,800) and an Aesthetix Mimas amplifier to complement the CAD transport, DAC, Ground Control devices and interconnect cables. The MBLs with their distinctive pulsating ‘rugby ball’ drivers have remarkable dispersion and sound very good even at 90 degrees off axis, basically sideways on, but give a better image if you sit in front.

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The Chord Company took the opportunity to demonstrate the new Powerhaus mains distribution blocks and Ground ARAY devices with a fairly modest system based around an Innuos Zenith Mk3 server/streamer, Chord Electronics Hugo TT2 DAC and TToby amp connected to KEF R5 loudspeakers via Chord Music signal cables.

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Retailer Fanthorpes unveiled the Luxman M-10X power amplifier (£16,000), a substantial 150W beast that’s capable of delivering 1200W into a 1 Ohm load yet its first 12 Watts are in Class A. It sounded rather good with the latest next gen Innuos Statement server, Luxman c900U preamp and PMC Fact 12 Signature speakers.

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Auralic continue their alliance with ATC and brought an Altair G2.1 streamer/DAC connected to a pair of SCM40A active loudspeakers. An apparently simple three box system that had the exhibitors tearing their hair out over networking issues as the doors were opening. Sounded great when it got going though.

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Alchris have a thing about the Celestion Ditton 66, their AR-66 (£4,499) is essentially a modern version of that classic design with a much more solid cabinet and the ABR loading of the original. Dome treble and mid units, the latter with a Celestion style dispersion plate are paired with twin 12inch bass drivers and sounded excellent with a Pioneer PD901 stable platter CD player from the ‘90s. If you are bored of regular loudspeakers Alchris also work in prop making and showed a pair of Predator style speakers that can be made to commission.

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Kudos had snagged a lovely room with mullioned windows in the old part of Cranage Hall, here they were making some very engaging sounds with Titan 707 floorstanding speakers on the end of Accuphase amplifier and Innuos Statement server with power conditioning courtesy of Audioquest’s Niagara, now available with UK sockets.

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I met former audio journalist Silvio Delfino who started Riviera Labs with an engineer colleague six years ago in order to bring their vision of amplification to the market. Their experience helped them to establish which measurements really count when it comes to human perception and they make a small range of tube and hybrid amplifiers near Naples. G.Point Audio were using the Riviera APL-01 tube preamplifier and AFM-50 monoblock power amp (50W, Class A) with Audionec Evo 2 dipole speakers (below) to excellent effect.

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Moor Amps were enjoying their first hi-fi show and playing Ian Dury’s Clever Trevor with an Auralic Aries streamer, iFi Pro iDSD DAC, their Angel Pre and Angel 6 power amp and Graham LS5/9 floorstanders. A system that with the exception of the speakers is almost identical to the one I run at home.

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Woodwork is Coppice Audio’s speciality and they had a room full of panels that are designed to diffuse the sound from their range of solid wood loudspeakers. On the occasions I visited they were using the X1 standmount with a Ming Da Cadenza tube amplifier and Gekko Cable’s prototype DAC and streamer. It’s hard to say whether it was the components, the treatments or the fact that they played interesting music at relaxed levels but I probably spent as much time in this room as any other and thorough enjoyed it.

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Wilkinson Audio from Nelson in Lancashire had two turntables in their room, a Roksan Attessa and a the Stack Audio upgraded LP12. Stack make beautifully machined aluminium parts to replace the structural elements within this classic turntable. There are three levels of LP12 upgrade from Tenor through Alto to Soprano with the latter including a one piece machined plinth. The full Alto build is £1,400 plus installation for which Wilkinson charge £100.

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Audioquest had a pair of Goldenear Triton 3 loudspeakers with active bass system and a Sugden ANV-50 amplifier connected to the Niagra power conditioner making weighty sounds. AQ and Goldenear are now sister companies so we can expect to see more of these distinctive American loudspeakers on these shores.

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Nick Gorham at Longdog Audio has given up making products that he thinks will sell and is concentrating on those that he enjoys which at Cranage included a prototype loudspeaker that didn’t have a name until I asked, the answer: Fred. This is an open baffle design with a Lowther PM6a full range driver augmented by a horn loaded tweeter and a 12inch Supravox GMF bass unit. Price on application. 

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Longdog Audio was one of several rooms to feature a Townshend Rock turntable that had been refurbished by Matt McNulty, the Rock Doc as he’s known. They all looked rather better than they had originally and anyone interested in smartening up this classic record player should get in touch.

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Topping Audio have a bewildering array of headphone related products but Mark at Electromod singled out the A90D headphone amplifier/preamplifier as one of the most interesting at the moment. This costs £599 and has 4.4mm, 6.3mm and XLR outputs plus remote control, its capability can be expanded with the EXT-90 for extra balanced and single ended inputs for £250.

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If you fancy upgrading the pads on your headphones Elite have a range of four models to fit 450 different models. The options are: hybrid, sheepskin, fenestrated (perforated) and velour and prices range from £30 to £80.

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Auden had a nice big room in which to demonstrate some substantial Egglestonworks Viginti loudspeakers, these aren’t the biggest in the range but big enough at £46,000. They sounded excellent with a full Auralic G2.1 streaming system consisting of the Aries streamer, Sirius upsampler, Leo clock and Vega DAC with power provided by a Hegel H590 integrated. Auden had hoped to have the big new Hegel P30A/H30Apre/power seen at High End but that wasn’t available so soon after Munich.

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Primare had their A35.8 eight channel power amplifier in action with Perlisten S7t loudspeakers. Terry Medalen explained the benefit of so many channels to the stereo enthusiast as well as the home cinema lover as being huge flexibility, in a stereo situation this amp can be bridged and bi-amped so that it becomes a 1500W/channel beast. Yet it can also be used in 5.1, 7.1 and 5.1.2 Atmos set ups if you want full effect surround sound. Inside the box are eight Class D Hypex modules with a Primare power supply, which is a lot of power even for £4,500.