UK Audio Show 2021 pt.1

It has been a long time since there was a hi-fi show in the UK, or anywhere else for that matter, so this event at the Staverton Park Hotel near Daventry was an exciting place to be. The attendance was good, the rooms light and airy and the sound in many of the demonstrations distinctly better than is usually the case, the rooms on the first floor in particular managed to deliver some great results. There was a good variety of brands at the event too with a mix of new and more established names from the UK, Europe and the US. I met guys from Greece, Latvia and Hungary who all had interesting kit to demonstrate not least the extraordinary Bayz Radial speakers with their omnidirectional tweeter. Bayz Audio from Hungary brought two loudspeakers to Daventry and used the larger Counterpoint model (top) in the Chord Electronics room. This is no ordinary speaker not least because of the cylindrical, electrostat style tweeter developed by Zoltán Bay. This omnidirectional driver and sits between two woofers running in opposite phase, each having its own tubular enclosure with reflex loading on the back. It has a carbon fibre cabinet that’s internally braced and sits on a solid granite base, I was quite impressed by how relaxed these substantial speakers sounded but have to admit the €150,000 price is a little challenging.

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Amphion distributor Bill Leigh had brought the big guns to Daventry, the Krypton 3 (top, £14,000) floorstanders combine a pair of 8 inch midrange drivers with a titanium tweeter and a side firing aluminium bass driver in a 72kg loudspeaker that sounded appealingly relaxed and effortless in a large room with Hegel H590 amplification.

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Whole Note were demonstrating AGD Grand Vivace amplifiers (£18,000/pair) that have what looks like a valve on top but the glass contains a Class D GAN chip that provides the amplification. The mono power amplifier produces a very un-valve like 350 Watts and the idea is that you can ‘tube roll’ with upgraded output devices in the future.

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Emilen is a relatively new brand from John Standen who produced a phono stage called Equinox in the late ‘80s. The new Equinox phono stage (£5,950) has RCA and XLR inputs and you can use the spare connections to add loading resistors. John says that he goes to “insane lengths” to ensure perfect component matching in the Equinox products in both the phono stage and preamplifier (£9,950), this uses data controllers rather than pots in order to keep signal paths as short as possible. The ES1 (£25,000) speakers are also by Emilen and are fully active with three Class D amplifiers producing a total of 600W, DSP crossover and solid walnut baffle for mid and treble. The bass cabinet is lined with carbon fibre and heavily damped.

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The Whole Note system was running an AGD Andante preamplifier with an R2R ladder DAC onboard for £11,265, and driving the diminutive Boenicke W5 loudspeakers (£5,150) to remarkable effect in what was a pretty big room. These speakers have side firing bass drivers and the cabinets are machined from solid wood with complex internal wave guides.

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Metal driver originator Ted Jordan is no longer with us but his company EJ Jordan lives on and this is the first full loudspeaker from the brand in a good long while. The Jordan Marlow (£2,750) is a compact LS3/5A size front ported standmount with an Eikona full range drive unit. The standard version has silver 4mm cable sockets and Kimber Kable TC internal wiring.

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Valve maestro Tom Willis had a range of his electronics driving some substantial boat tail section loudspeakers from Sung Audio. The Sung Reference uses ATC midrange and 12inch bass drivers alongside a Scanspeak tweeter with silver wiring and capacitors, there are also dedicated silver speaker cables that were developed for this loudspeaker. Price is expected to be £29,000, which given the size and build looks like good value.

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Art Audio were using their PX25 monoblocks, pure Class A triode powered amplifiers with a 20 Watt output and a £10,800 price tag. Art Audio are moving to a direct sale model in an attempt to offset component price increases and plan to add an e-commerce section to their website.

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Coppice Audio is using solid wood to build sustainable loudspeakers by hand in Malvern. The two-way standmount X1 is made of solid ash and was launched at the show with a price tag of £2,495 plus stands. An X2 floorstander is also available.

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Russell K. were demonstrating the first samples of their Red 120SE floorstander which had an attractive new finish and contains an upgraded crossover, improved tweeter and new finishes for £5,000. The Red 120SE runs a pair of 5inch bass units allied to a 25mm soft dome tweeter and avoids cabinet damping. They sounded good at the show with impressive bass for their size.

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Ming Da showed a new KT150 based single ended integrated amplifier called Piccolo MM Grandé which has an MM phono input and a 25 Watt output for £3,199.

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VAL HiFi also had Boenicke W5 speakers in their room but these were driven by a Moonriver 404 integrated amplifier, using a Silent Angel Munich streamer with the fabulous Merason DAC1 that I still hanker after. This system sounded really sweet playing some Tom Waits.

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In the same room were the distinctive Contra 100S (£7,250) speakers from Latvian newcomer Aretai, the white tweeter surround is described as a ‘vestigial waveguide’ and there is a second active bass driver on the back of the sealed box. The latter produces a bi-polar bass response that is said to drive the room better yet doesn’t require lots of space behind the speaker. Aretai also makes a floorstanding model and is being distributed by VAL HiFi.

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HB Labs is a new company from Rugby who have developed a high quality 13A mains plug that actually complies with all UK regs. They are looking to sell to the trade rather than the public but have made a lot of effort to produce a plug that is strong and sounds good, HB use solid copper internal parts and offering plastic and aluminium body versions.

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Gekko Cable’s Boban Djurdjevic had two new accessories at the event the most entertaining being the Magic Bow (£650) which he uses to remove static from vinyl records, the Bow has a grounding cable and just needs to be passed over the vinyl to remove the irritating source of crackle. Gekko Floaters are his new silicone gel and wood equipment support feet which are priced at £500 for a set of four.

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Kerr Acoustics were making some entertaining sounds with their K320 Mk3 transmission line speakers, Jes Kerr had some help from Townshend Audio who had provided custom Seismic Podiums for the speakers, and Fractal interconnects and speaker cables. He played Joan Armatrading’s Willow and it sounded particularly fine with the PS Audio Perfect Wave Direct Stream source and Longdog Audio monoblock power amps.

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Icon Audio have a new two box valve headphone amplifier called HP205 because it runs a 205D triode, “probably the oldest thermionic amplifiers in current production” this tube was designed by Western Electric in 1924. The Class A amp has tube rectification and a choke regulated power supply and there’s the option of Bluetooth too, price is £3,000.

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Sparkler is a Japanese electronics specialist run by former 47 Labs designer Kazutoshi Tsukahara, his Spiral II CD transport (£2,244) and Perceive DAC (£960) have a similar vibe to that cult brand with small form casework and an new old stock TDA1543 non oversampling DAC chip. Price for the pair is £3,700. They sat at the front of Leben valve amplification driving Devore Orangutan 093 loudspeakers making a highly gratifying sound whilst playing Jeff Beck at high SPLs.

See the second part of our UK Audio show coverage here.