I love hotels, especially those set in the great country houses of England. They always have king-size beds and blackout curtains, so I generally sleep better there than at home. Your every need is catered to: food and drink are served with a smile wherever and whenever you wish. Furthermore, nobody who lives in a normal house has this much land to roam around. It was a delight to explore the acres that make up Cranage Hall Estate, site of the North West Audio Show, held June 17–18 in Cheshire, England. I’ve already reported on my first day at the show. Here’s what I experienced on day two. All prices are in British pounds.
The Pink Floyd The Dark Side of the Moon P.A. system.
Imagine my surprise then when I stepped into one of the courtyard beer gardens to find Pink Floyd’s original The Dark Side of the Moon sound system playing (you guessed it) Dark Side of the Moon! This was made possible by a delightful gent named Chris Hewitt, who owns not only the DSOTM P.A. system but also the system used for Pink Floyd: Live at Pompeii in 1972. Chris has written three fascinating books on the development of large rock P.A. systems. He also runs the Museum of Rock, which is open by appointment. See chvintageaudio.com for further information.
Chris’s definitive guides to rock P.A. history.
One of the great things about heritage buildings like Cranage Hall is the thickness of its walls. They’re so thick that sound doesn’t leak into adjoining rooms, which is a real problem with many hi-fi show venues. Also, the high ceilings and spacious rooms enable manufacturers to achieve good sound quality even with large systems. Cranage Hall proved capacious enough to accommodate the thousands of attendees comfortably. The show never felt crowded the way the Bristol show often does.
The bar seemed to be doing a roaring trade throughout both days.
Another great thing about the North West Audio Show is the organization behind it. The organizers made attending the show a great experience through niceties like offering a glass of bubbly on arrival, naming corridors after famous musicians, and making street signs with those names to simplify navigation.
There’s no hi-fi show in the world with quite as much class as the North West Audio Show.
Let me take you down because I’m going to . . .
One of the biggest influences on British audio design over the past 100 years has been the BBC. There’s no better example of this than the legendary LS3/5 monitor. Its development was undertaken by BBC Engineering in the early 1970s for use in outside broadcast vans. After completing the design, the BBC licensed production to several UK loudspeaker manufacturers, including Rogers, Spendor, Goodmans, and KEF, whose drive units were used in the design. Initial problems with the consistency of the bass driver led to some redevelopment work before production commenced, so hardly any were made. But improvements to the original design led to the birth of the hugely popular LS3/5A. Around 60,000 pairs of LS3/5As were sold over the years. But when supplies of the original KEF drive units ran out in the late 1990s, the LS3/5A was widely regarded as having reached the end of the road.
The Falcon Acoustics LS3/5A—note the superb-quality cabinetry.
Enter Falcon Acoustics, which, in 2014, re-engineered the original KEF drive units and the original crossover before manufacturing the LS3/5A to BBC specifications. I still run a pair of Linn Kan Mk1 loudspeakers—Linn’s take on a rock-oriented version of the LS3/5A. All these years later, these loudspeakers can show a clean pair of heels to many modern bookshelf designs.
The Falcon Acoustics system.
Falcon was driving a pair of LS3/5A monitors (£3495) with a Primare Prisma I25 integrated amplifier, using a Primare DD15 CD transport and an Innuos streamer as sources. Elton John’s vocals on “Roy Rogers” sounded incisive, rich, and textured, while the piano had the correct timbre and a surprising amount of warmth. The LS3/5A has always had a knack for fooling listeners into thinking the speaker has deeper bass extension than it actually has. This trick is accomplished by a bass hump around 140Hz. Listening to this system, and bearing in mind the LS3/5A design dates back to 1968, I have to ask if we have come as far as we think we have in the past 55 years. If you live in a flat or have a modestly sized listening room, a pair of LS3/5As and the new Naim Nait 50 would be the ultimate minimalist system. Just glorious!
Exposure Electronics and Ophidian loudspeakers
Since its foundation in 1974, Exposure Electronics has built a strong following for its range of amplifiers and CD players. Exposure places a real emphasis on delivering the excitement of live music, so it’s always a treat to hear its systems. Premiering at the show was the Exposure 3510 CD player (£2500), while amplification was provided by the familiar 3510 preamplifier and two 3510 mono power amplifiers, each rated at 100W into 8 ohms.
The all-new Exposure 3510 CD spinner.
The Ophidian Incanto loudspeaker (£6000 per pair) is a new ported, three-way floorstander. The driver complement includes a Sonomex 22mm (0.87″) soft-dome high-frequency unit with wide roll surround and large magnet, a 50mm (2″) soft-dome midrange driver in a sealed subenclosure, and three 175mm (6.9″) black-anodized aluminium woofers with copper shorting rings.
Exposure Electronics and Ophidian Incanto loudspeakers.
My listening notes for the Holly Cole Trio’s “Get Out of Town” state that the midrange was especially impressive, but that bass was a little uncontrolled. There are some very good things about this loudspeaker. It’s been put together with care from good components, but I wonder whether it would be tighter and better controlled if manufactured as a sealed design. Reflex designs are more prone to room interaction, and I can’t help wondering if this was a factor here.
The Professional Monitoring Company (PMC) was showcasing its brand-new Prodigy range, which comprises the Prodigy1 bookshelf (£1250 per pair) and Prodigy5 floorstander (£2000 per pair). These Advanced Transmission Line designs are intended to make the clarity and performance of PMC’s higher-end loudspeakers available at lower price points. Both models employ the same 27mm (1″) soft-dome tweeter found on PMC’s Result6 nearfield monitor, while the woofer is a 5.25″ doped paper-cone, long-throw bass unit from the company’s CI series. The main difference between the two models is that the Prodigy5 has a longer transmission line and thus greater bass extension.
The new Prodigy series from PMC.
I heard a pair of Prodigy1 monitors and found the scale and richness of the sound deeply impressive, considering their modest size. PMC was using the AVM Evolution CS5.3 streaming integrated amplifier (£10,500), which is capable of delivering 350Wpc into 4 ohms—more than enough for any loudspeaker for the home!
On “Papa Was a Rollin’ Stone” by Lisa Fischer and Chris Botti, the bass was impressively tuneful and agile. Demonstrating their studio heritage, the PMC standmount speakers delivered plenty of detail across the entire frequency spectrum. I think PMC has scored a bullseye because these new speakers seem to have many of the sonic qualities of PMC’s elite studio monitors.
I’m always intrigued to hear what ATC brings to a show, as ATC is the loudspeaker brand I use in my own reference system. As usual, ATC partnered with Auralic, which brought along its impressive Altair G2.1 streaming preamplifier (£5299). The Altair G2.1 incorporates a resistive-ladder analog volume control and two analog inputs: one line-level and the other MM phono. These analog inputs are screened and separated from the digital electronics. The Altair G2.1 is housed in an aluminium enclosure encapsulating a highly effective copper subenclosure that protects the advanced internal electronics from outside interference. The aluminium base is heavily constructed and supported on a six-spring suspension footer system for ultimate isolation.
The impressive Auralic Altair G2.1.
ATC also brought along a pair of SCM50ASL active loudspeakers (£15,600 per pair), which I reviewed recently for Soundstage! Ultra. These are essentially professional active studio monitors housed in gorgeous book-matched wood veneer cabinets. They are capable of staggering transparency and dynamics. I’ve yet to review a better pair of loudspeakers—they’re that good.
What I always enjoy about visiting ATC at these shows is watching the reaction of listeners who have never encountered such a loudspeaker before. The sheer power, bandwidth, dynamics, transparency, and control often shock people. The people at ATC really love to create a truly memorable experience for show visitors, so they turned to Liquid Soul’s “Valley of Peace” and dimed the volume to live-session levels. This track incorporates staggeringly deep synthesized bass. Through the big ATCs, the speed of attack and decay on those bass notes was jaw-dropping. People accustomed to ordinary hi-fi were shown the extreme capability of ATC’s “baby monitor” for home listening.
ATC’s venerable SCM50ASLs moving some serious air and kicking serious ass!
The Auralic/ATC team played lots of popular music too, from Matt Monroe to Elton John. Irrespective of genre, I was struck by the incredibly lifelike performance, all from a system with only a few boxes. This is “future-fi” in action: one pair of active speakers and a small streaming preamplifier, without the need for racks of equipment filling the living room. I’m looking forward to reviewing an Auralic streamer in the near future.
The Chord Company
Chord Company has been my first-choice audio-cable provider for over 20 years. Even I was surprised when the company shipped me the latest generation of Epic X (from £500), Signature X (from £1000), and Sarum T X ARAY (£2100) interconnects during an amplifier review for SoundStage! Ultra. When I plugged them in, I found they made a huge difference to the dynamics and transparency of the system.
Chord’s display stand near reception.
Lately, Chord has begun to investigate the impact of Wi-Fi interference and noisy switched-mode power supplies on sound reproduction. This led to the development of new cable insulation and dielectric materials, which Chord says are better able to shield cables from outside influences. Chord’s new X-series cables incorporate superior cross-linked polypropylene rather than the previous PTFE insulation. In addition, the plugs are now plated with Choralloy, which Chord claims improves conductivity and longevity.
Chord demonstrating the benefits of the S6 and M6 mains blocks with tuned and ground ARAY.
The Chord Company has now expanded into mains treatment and power blocks to combat the increasing prevalence of electrical interference in our homes. At the show, Chord gave a very effective demonstration of the benefits of better interconnects and mains cabling. Each progression in cable quality manifested as improved dynamics and low-level detail. In addition, the benefits of the S6 and M6 ARAY mains blocks were demonstrated. The S6 (£1000) incorporates tuned ARAY technology, while the M6 mains block (£2000) incorporates the superior ground ARAY technology. Sadly for my wallet, the differences were all too obvious!
Karma AV is a leading UK audio distributor, representing major brands such as SVS, Primare, and Perlisten. It was demonstrating Perlisten R7t floorstanding loudspeakers (£8800 per pair), Mo-Fi’s gorgeous sunburst-finished Fender X turntable (£3500), and a range of Primare separates. Perhaps most impressive of all these was the Primare A35.8, an eight-channel amp rated at 8 × 150W (8 ohms, 1kHz). In fully bridged biamped configuration, it can deliver 1500W total output.
A brace of Primare components and Perlisten’s remarkable R7t floorstander.
From just a cursory listen, it was clear that this was a system capable of tremendous pace and verve. The Who’s “Won’t Get Fooled Again” rocked with a great sense of detail, power, and control.
The Fender x MoFi PrecisionDeck turntable is a limited-edition design of only 1000 units. It’s based on MoFi Electronics’ standard PrecisionDeck, a belt-driven design, but the top plates are hand finished at Fender’s California factory before being sent to MoFi in Michigan for assembly. The turntable’s 6.8-pound platter is made of Delrin, a material chosen for its close impedance match with vinyl. Mobile Fidelity’s MasterTracker cartridge comes pre-installed on the 10″ Ultra aluminum tonearm, which is wired with Cardas cable. Given how stunning the Fender x MoFi PrecisionDeck looks, I can’t believe nobody has thought to put a guitar-like sunburst finish on a turntable before!
MoFi’s beautiful Fender x MoFi PrecisionDeck turntable.
The Perlisten R7t is an extremely impressive floorstanding design incorporating three 1″ silk soft dome tweeters in what Perlisten calls a DPC (Directivity Pattern Control) array. The purpose of the DPC array is to limit vertical dispersion and thus reduce the degradation of imaging arising from reflections from the floor and ceiling. The woofer complement comprises four 6.5″ drivers whose cones are made from Perlisten’s unique HPF pulp material, which reputedly took two years to develop. Thanks to the DPC array, these loudspeakers offer full-bandwidth sound and extremely precise imaging.
Auden is a leading distributor of high-end components in the UK. Its brands include Hegel Music Systems, Amphion, and Audiomeca. To celebrate the company’s 10th anniversary, the Auden team was handing out slices of delicious fresh cream and blackberry sponge cake! They had me right there as I’d skipped lunch, so I’m hoping that other distributors will take note!
Auden’s wonderful 10th-anniversary cake in the form of an amplifier.
It wasn’t only the cake that went down a storm. Auden had also printed up a nice A4 sheet detailing its demo system, complete with prices. I wish all exhibitors would do this because it saves a lot of time and prevents interruptions by the press who are trying to figure out exactly what components are being demonstrated.
Auden’s system comprised the Innuos Statement music server (from £12,700), Merason DAC1 MkII DAC (£7000), Hegel P30A preamplifier (£7000), Hegel H30A power amplifier (£17,000), and the stunning Amphion Krypton 3X loudspeakers (£17,600 per pair), which were making their UK debut at the show. It’s hard to design a loudspeaker that is large and full-range and yet looks attractive in a room. But the Krypton 3X knocks it out of the park visually with its stunning white-and-black cabinet design, with other colors available as well.
Stunning Amphion Krypton3X loudspeakers.
The 3X’s driver array includes a redesigned 25mm (1″) titanium-dome tweeter, two 8″ papyrus midrange drivers, and a side-mounted 10″ aluminium woofer. The midrange drivers benefit from a proprietary waveguide said to deliver point-source-like imaging and low distortion, even during periods of high cone excursion. The two drivers are housed in their own individual chambers. The chambers then vent through grilles on the sides to create a cardioid dispersion pattern. The woofer is mounted in a vented enclosure located between the midrange drivers’ chambers and hidden behind a cloth cover. Amphion suggests positioning the speakers with the woofers firing inward in smaller rooms. In larger rooms, it suggests positioning the speakers so that the woofers fire outward, as this will create a bigger and more room-filling soundstage.
Amphion states that the aim of this loudspeaker system was to be able to reproduce the scale and dynamics of a classical concert hall in a domestic setting. While I munched happily on cake, I listened and thoroughly enjoyed the sound of this system. “Paper Tiger” by Beck sounded superbly transparent, with huge scale and vivid detail. Curtis Mayfield’s “Pusherman” demonstrated the Amphion’s ability to move quickly with excellent transient response and speed.
Moor Amps Ltd. is a small British audio firm that has developed a cult following, even among reviewers. Visually, its equipment is distinctive with signature blue “moor AMPS” backlit logos. On show at Cranage were the Angel-Pre preamp (£2995), Angel 4 power amplifier (£5995), and Angel 6 power amplifier (£10,995). Moor has also developed an impressive three-way floorstanding speaker, the Ascalon 8, which incorporates Volt drivers (£11,500 per pair).
Rhapsody in Blue—Moor Amps.
The Angel-Pre incorporates four line-level inputs, a tape loop output, and a unity gain facility for A/V integration. The Angel 4 dual-mono power amplifier is rated at 75Wpc into 8 ohms or 150Wpc into 4 ohms, indicating that the amplifier has a good-quality power supply. The Angel 6 delivers 150Wpc into 8 ohms and 300Wpc into 4 ohms. Playing Ian Dury’s “Clevor Trever,” Moor’s system, which featured the Angel-Pre, Angel 6, and a pair of Ascalon 8s, demonstrated a clean and open sonic signature with impressive transparency on vocals and guitars.
KEF did a splendid job of transforming its large suite into an audio oasis with cool lighting and backdrops, and used this space to demonstrate the R3 Meta standmount speaker (£1900 per pair) from its new R Series. The pair on display sported the eye-catching Indigo Gloss Special Edition finish. KEF offers matching stands in the same finish for £649. Given how stunning the pairing looks together, their purchase is a no-brainer.
KEF’s impressively designed room.
The R3 Meta is a three-way, rear-ported design utilizing the same drivers as the range-topping R11 Meta. A 12th generation Uni-Q driver array comprising a 5″ aluminium midrange driver and concentrically mounted 1″ aluminium dome tweeter is mated to a powerful 6.5” hybrid aluminium bass driver. These loudspeakers delivered tremendous speed and responsiveness on “Hep Mi Ben” by Ayaz Erdoğan. On “Sailing Ships from Heaven,” Katie Melua’s vocals and piano had wonderful detail and transparency.
KEF’s R11 Meta, R3 Meta, and LS60 speakers.
KEF seems to be going through an engineering renaissance, launching one winning product after another. It’s good to see the company taking its rightful place at the forefront of British audio firms with the Blade, the LS50, and now the R3.
Innuos brought an impressive selection from its range, including the PhoenixNet audiophile network switch (£2799), Pulse network music player (£2299), and Pulsar music player (£4949). The company was founded in England in 2009 but is now based in Portugal, where all its products are manufactured. All Innuos products are built with audio-grade toroidal transformers, high-end capacitors (e.g., Mundorf), and unique board designs intended to minimize jitter and other audio corruption that can occur in the digital domain. The casework deserves special mention for its attractive sculpted fascia design. The excellent Innuos Sense app consolidates music sources like Tidal, Qobuz, and network-attached storage into one common music library for browsing purposes, much the same as Roon does.
Innuos’s attractive range on demonstration.
Played through a system that included Hegel amplification and KEF R3 loudspeakers, Bruce Springsteen’s “Nightshift” demonstrated excellent transparency and a very open sound, with a lot of low-level detail. I was slightly taken aback by this record because, in my experience, Springsteen’s albums have always seemed to me to be atrociously recorded, with shrill and compressed sound. Springsteen is a great songwriter and performer, but so much of his material is let down by the production. This one isn’t!
Doug Brady HiFi
The largest room at the show was taken by Doug Brady HiFi, a famous Warrington audio store. As a teenager, I used to visit the branch in Liverpool (now closed) just to see the elite kit there! For the show, it had assembled three systems from a myriad of different audio brands, including Burmester, Bowers & Wilkins, Quad, dCS, Vertere, and YG Acoustics. I was particularly keen to see the brand-new Platina range that Quad announced in May at High End in Munich.
Burmester, dCS, and Vertere—putting on the glitz!
Quad is a legendary British hi-fi brand with a rich history of class-leading products, from the original ESL electrostatic loudspeaker to the 606 power amplifier. This was the first public showing of the Plantina series in the UK. The range comprises an integrated amplifier (£4000) rated at 200Wpc and a matching CD transport (£1500). I was intrigued when I saw a warm red glow emanating from the top grille of the amplifier. I initially assumed that there were glowing valves in there, but it turns out that it’s just internal illumination—either way I liked it. The front panel of the integrated amp is dominated by an electronic VU meter display. Based on photos I’d seen from Munich, I was concerned that the ersatz meters might look cheap, but they look more convincing in the flesh than in photographs, and they move very smoothly. Sure, I would prefer real VU meters, but my overall impressions of the design were positive.
Quad’s new Platina line.
Quad confirmed that a streamer is coming in 2023 or 2024 (£2500–£3000), which is an exciting prospect for the legions of Quad fans who have yet to dip their toes into streaming waters. Interestingly, Quad has chosen to place an ESS Sabre 9068 DAC in the amplifier, viewing it as the hub for the whole system.
Quad’s new Revela 1 loudspeaker.
Also new at the show from Quad were the Revela 1 standmount (£2500 per pair, including matching stands) and the Revela 2 floorstanding (£3500 per pair) speakers. A system with the Platina integrated amplifier and CD transport fronting a pair of Revela 2s demonstrated excellent fluidity on “Liberty” by Anette Askvik, with beautifully rendered female vocals against the subtle keyboard.
GPoint Audio, a UK distributor that represents several boutique high-end brands, gets my vote for the most spectacular-looking system at the show!
The most visually striking system at the North West Audio Show.
The most striking parts of the system were the incredible-looking Audionec EVO 2 AS loudspeakers (around £30,000 per pair). This French loudspeaker has a modular design that places each driver in a separate box to minimize interaction. Audionec isn’t the first to do this, of course—Naim did it with the SBL and DBL loudspeakers back in the 1980s. What is entirely new is that you can upgrade from the EVO 2 to the EVO 3 or EVO 4 just by buying additional driver modules. This must be the most futureproof speaker system on earth! The top module houses a supertweeter, with a bandwidth that extends to 45kHz, and a wideband driver with a 31cm (12.2″) vertical voice coil that covers the 400Hz–10kHz band. The midrange-bass module houses a 22cm (8.7″) Scan-Speak Revelator driver. The subwoofer module at the bottom houses a 28cm (11″) Scan-Speak Revelator driver capable of extension down to 18Hz.
LampizatOr’s extraordinary Horizon DAC—if you need to ask the price, you can’t afford it!
The remainder of this impressive system included the J.Sikora Standard Max turntable (£15,625), a LampizatOr Horizon DAC (£45,000), and a Riviera Audio Levante tube-transistor hybrid integrated amplifier (£17,400), among other delights. This really was one of those “if you need to ask the price, you can’t afford it” systems!
J.Sikora Standard Max turntable .
Fortunately, distributor GPoint Audio had hired a very large room—absolutely essential when running a system as visually and sonically imposing as this! Tonally, the system exhibited a well-balanced sound with good detail retrieval and wide bandwidth. Dire Straits’ “Telegraph Road” certainly impressed with its detail, dynamics, and scale, although there was a sense that the soundstage was less “pinpoint” than with more conventional box loudspeakers. An intriguing system and an impressive introduction to some exciting brands you don’t often get a chance to hear.
Loricraft had a small stand at the show demonstrating its excellent redesigned PRC4i record cleaner (£2349). I recently reviewed the flagship PRC6i cleaner for SoundStage! Ultra and found it hugely effective at removing dirt and surface noise from records to the point where I want one—badly! Nothing else I have ever used comes close to this for cleaning vinyl.
The Loricraft PRC4i record-cleaning machine .
But the PRC4i model would be my choice for a couple of reasons. First, it’s around £500 cheaper. Second, it uses a smaller, marginally noisier, but more powerful suction pump, which means it can be built into a less imposing case. Loricraft is now owned by SME, and it shows. Thanks to SME’s recent redesign, the workmanship on these machines is sublime: from the beautiful real-wood veneers to the brazed pipework of the cleaning arm. These are record cleaners for those who cherish vinyl and want to enjoy it for decades to come.
This was my first time attending the North West Audio Show. I was hugely impressed by the quality and range of equipment, the superb demonstration environment, and the level of organization. Historically, this show has attracted more dealers and distributors than actual manufacturers; but I think that’s changing fast. Many manufacturers are already here, but brands that aren’t directly represented (e.g., Linn, Naim, Rega, Rogers, PMC, Cambridge Audio, and Arcam) need to embrace this show, because it is now a major date on the UK hi-fi calendar. The North West Audio Show is ideally situated right at the apex of the northern powerhouse of Liverpool, Manchester, Leeds, and Birmingham. It’s also the show most likely to attract people from Newcastle, York, Edinburgh, and Glasgow. That’s too big of an economic catchment to ignore. As a bonus for manufacturers, I’m informed it’s also considerably cheaper to exhibit at North West Audio Show than Bristol or Ascot.
Another brilliant weekend closes.
For journalists and enthusiasts alike, this was a hi-fi weekend par excellence, offering a wonderful opportunity to experience some of the world’s best audio equipment and to meet many leading firms. I came home having vastly extended my range of demo tunes, courtesy of Shazam. And I now have a long list of equipment I want to review. Doug Graham of Chord Electronics told me that this is his favorite show of the year. It’s now mine, too!
Arustic Duo playing their lunchtime set.
As if that weren’t enough, there was live music from Arustic Duo and Scott Wainwright. And Diverse Vinyl from Newport, Wales, had a stall that was extremely well stocked with a good mix of high-quality records.
Diverse Vinyl’s stand—I could have spent serious money there if only I’d had more time…
If you live in the UK and missed the show this year, I hope to see you there next year for more sublime music and hi-fi, accompanied by the gentle clink of a champagne flute. Cheers.
Senior Contributor, SoundStage!