Cuttin-Edge, On-the-Spot Reporting

Have You Seen?


The 35th Bristol Hi-Fi Show was held from February 23 to 25 at its usual venue—the Delta Hotels by Marriott Bristol City Centre—and the vibe was just as I’ve always remembered it. I’ve been coming here for over 30 years, and there’s a sense of energy that is incredibly infectious and quite unique. People are often packed into the rooms and spilling out into the corridors, trying to listen to the latest and greatest from the world’s finest audio manufacturers. The bar was humming all weekend, the industry was out in force, and there were some seriously impressive systems on display.

BristolOpening on Friday—traditionally a quieter day, but not this year!

I’ve banged on before about the lack of marketing savvy from a large swath of the audio industry. How is it possible that, in 2024, firms are still paying £10,000–£50,000 to exhibit at a show like this, putting multiple staff up in hotels, and lugging equipment all the way to Bristol, yet fail to display clearly the model numbers and prices of the components being shown? Surely, this is Marketing 101! Can you imagine walking into a Jaguar dealership and finding there are no prices or model numbers on the cars on display, so you don’t know whether the car you are looking at is an electric, diesel, or petrol model—or even what it costs?

This is done with the full knowledge that the international audio press is covering the show. You’re selling fabulous, aspirational products. This is your chance to get them in front of the world’s audio press and thousands of potential customers—so why give them so little information? All it takes is a printed page listing the models and prices of the products being shown. Laminate or frame it, and then people will know what they’re hearing. Journalists can take a picture of the sheet and use it for their show reports. Simple!


PMC showcased its new active Twenty5i loudspeaker range, comprising the Twenty5.21i Active and Twenty5.22i Active standmounts and the Twenty5.23i Active and Twenty5.24i Active floorstanders. All have onboard amplification delivering 100W for each drive unit. Besides offering new active versions of its popular Twenty5i-series speakers at a premium of £1400/pair over the standard passive models (all prices GBP), PMC is also enabling owners of passive models to upgrade their speakers to active status for £1795/pair. The conversion from passive to active can be completed by either the end user or a dealer, and takes little more than five minutes. The active system features both unbalanced RCA and balanced XLR inputs. A high/low gain switch enables compatibility with preamplifiers with differing output levels. The active crossover module features 24dB/octave filter slopes and high-tolerance components. PMC claims that the active versions have lower coloration and better transient response, thanks to the direct coupling between the amplifiers and drive units.

PMCPMC showcasing new active speakers

This ability to upgrade from a passive to an active design at a later date is something I haven’t seen before and is warmly welcomed. My only experience of something similar was with a special review pair of ATC’s venerable SCM50s. These featured detachable crossover/amplifier packs, but this was purely aimed at reviewers. Now PMC has taken the concept into customers’ homes. Brilliant!


PMCPMC’s revolutionary amplifier-pack modules

Michell Engineering

MichellMichell’s legendary GyroDec—still one of the most beautiful turntables on earth

Now that PMC has taken over UK distribution for Michell Engineering products, these beautiful and affordable high-end vinyl spinners will hopefully achieve the market penetration they have always deserved. The TecnoDec, GyroDec, and Orbe remain in production, but they now benefit from the development of the optional Michell LEVIS magnetic levitation feet (£460/set of three), which made their show debut at Bristol. These beautifully crafted feet float the entire turntable on a magnetic cushion and are claimed to provide superior isolation from external vibration, thus offering greater precision in reading the record microgroove. After fitting them to my own GyroDec, I noticed blacker backgrounds, better ability to retrieve subtle details, and greater solidity to instruments. And they look way cooler than the old feet!

MichellMichell’s new LEVIS footers—magnetic levitation comes to Bristol

Linn Products

Here is one of my top three systems at the show. Linn debuted its new Jony Ive 50th-anniversary Linn Sondek LP12-50 (£50,000). The turntable doesn’t just swap sharp edges for curves but features a completely new plinth. The Bedrok plinth is made from layers of beech that have been compressed with a special resin to form what Linn loosely describes as an organic carbon fiber. Linn says this new material blocks vibration better than any of its previous materials, providing a more secure foundation for the motor, platter, and sub-chassis to work their “magik,” as they say in Waterfoot. The deck also features an entirely new metal hinge design for the acrylic lid (cue loud hurrahs from existing LP12 owners who have moaned about the plastic hinge arrangement for years). Finally, the power switch has been redesigned and is now an all-metal circular design. Mated to the deck were the top-of-the-line Linn Ekos SE tonearm and Ekstatik flagship cartridge.

LinnStill turning vinyl at 50, Linn’s legendary Sondek LP12-50

At Bristol, Linn launched its new Klimax Solo 800 monoblock power amplifier, priced at £37,500 each. This all-new design features adaptive bias control to dynamically set the ideal bias current for the amp’s 16 output transistors in real time by measuring, sampling, and digitizing the current supplied to them. A digital control loop then implements and persistently adjusts bias current for each individual transistor, negating crossover distortion at any temperature. Output is rated at 400W into 8 ohms, doubling to 800W into 4 ohms.

LinnA Klimax Solo 800 monoblock—how much more black can it be?

A pair of 800 monoblocks drove Linn’s flagship 360 Passive with Activ Bass (PWAB) loudspeakers. The demo pair were finished in an absolutely gorgeous metallic-brown automotive paint finish called Single Malt, as a tribute to Scotland’s most famous export. It’s hard to put into words how beautiful this speaker looked and sounded. It incorporates totally new electronics, drive units, and cabinet construction, and is priced from £55,000/pair depending on finish and variant (custom colors are available). It’s the culmination of Linn’s 50 years of Klyde engineering know-how, and it is quite simply the finest loudspeaker the firm can build. The driver complement includes a 19mm (0.75″) dome tweeter, 64mm (2.5″) woven-carbon dome midrange, and 190mm (7.5″) woofer with an aluminum-magnesium cone. These were driven in this version of the loudspeaker by the 800-series monoblocks and are referred to by Linn as the 360 Array. Two 220mm (8.7″) long-throw aluminium-coned bass drivers are actively driven by the speaker’s onboard amplification to further extend bandwidth. A fully active variant is also available.

LinnLinn’s 360 flagship loudspeaker in simply gorgeous Single Malt finish

The final element of this extraordinary system was the Linn Klimax DSM streaming preamp (£35,000), which incorporates an enormously impressive room-correction system Linn calls Space Optimisation.

LinnThe Linn Klimax DSM (left) has uber-cool looks with sonics to match

Just like last year, in the Linn room, I felt like I was stepping into a room full of friends taking turns playing their latest music purchases. Linn has absolutely nailed this experience with a humorous and self-deprecating presentation style. I returned to this room so often that I think the team from Linn began to wonder if Tiefenbrun had put me on the payroll! The sound was sublime—full bandwidth, rich and detailed, but also hugely relaxing and natural to listen to. This is an audio system utterly at ease with itself. I can imagine coming home to a system like this after a day spent at flight level three five zero battling wind, water, earth, and sky. I’d pour a glass of golden Laphroaig, cue the LP12, and sink into a favorite armchair to relax into the music I love, savoring the heady taste of woodsmoke, peat, and sea salt from those moody Islay Isles. Magnificent, no other words . . .

LinnLike listening to records with friends

Naim Audio / Focal

Focal Naim ran ticketed demos for the first two days of the show. Bristol 2024 marked the debut of the new 300 series, comprising the NSS 333 streaming DAC (£8500), NAC 332 preamplifier (£8500), and NAP 350 monoblock power amplifier (£13,000/pair), plus the accompanying NPX 300 power supply (£5900). The demo took listeners from the base 300 system through the addition of optional NPX 300 power supplies before jumping up to the ND 555 streaming DAC (£26,999), NAC S1 Statement preamplifier (£84,999), and NAP 500 DR power amplifier (£26,999). Naim took pains to point out that, despite the introduction of the new 200 and 300 series, the 500 series will remain unchanged, save for the switch to white LEDs.

NaimWeapons-grade power: Naim 300 series vs. 500 series into Focal

The loudspeakers were a pair of Focal Scala Utopia Evo III floorstanders, priced at £35,000 for the pair. This formidable three-way bass-reflex design incorporates an 11″ woofer, a 6.5″ midrange with Focal’s tuned mass-damping suspension and neutral-inductance circuit, and a 27mm (1.1″) beryllium inverted-dome tweeter.

FocalFocal Scala Utopia Evo III reminded me of the famous Doctor Who Daleks

Musical selections included J.S. Bach’s Well-Tempered Clavier, Louis Armstrong and Duke Ellington’s “Duke’s Place,” Talking Heads’ “Heaven (Live),” and an absolutely stunning “Breathless” by Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds. Naim is another manufacturer that loves playing proper music at decent levels rather than audiophile dreck at low volume. This was another stunning system and a contender for being the best of the show.

The addition of the optional power supplies amply demonstrated their effectiveness, especially on the NAC 332, which exhibited greater soundstage depth, better low-level information retrieval, and more convincing rendering of instruments with the NPX 300 powering it. Stepping up to the 500 series revealed even higher levels of refinement, a richer presentation, and an absolutely stunning level of detail, proving that the old flagship still deserves its place at the head of the line.

NaimPerhaps Naim’s finest-ever industrial designs, the new 300 series

Cosmetically, I’m in no doubt that the new 200 and 300 series are beautiful industrial designs. The casework and heatsinks are superbly executed. Mounted on Naim’s proprietary Fraim tables, the whole system looked incredibly attractive. Perhaps the most heartwarming moment at the show for me was when three teenage boys walked in and I could hear them chatting and saying, “Oh, look, they’re using the Super Lumina cables.” They were clearly in awe of the Naim system, and I suddenly saw myself 40 years ago: just as excited but just as impoverished! Whether you’re 15 or 55, these systems and these shows are the stuff of dreams—which is what makes them so special. I happily watched the Naim guys taking some track requests from the boys and treating them as the future customers they will perhaps become—that’s class. One thing this industry badly needs is for the next generation to embrace high-quality audio replay. So if you’re reading this, lads, in the words of an old Jedi, “Welcome, you’ve taken your first steps into a larger world.”

NaimTwo old-school friends reflect on their 40-year hi-fi journey: Messrs. Andrew Price (left) and Jonathan Gorse (the author)

REL Acoustics

REL, Britain’s most famous subwoofer specialist, delivered shock and awe in its demo room, where it had assembled a formidable array of stacked S/812 subwoofers (£3000 each) in two towers, each three units high, one on each side of the screen. REL calls this configuration a line array, and it was a sonically and visually imposing experience! For the front left and right channels, REL was using a pair of KEF Blade Two Meta loudspeakers (£22,500), which never fail to impress with their command of music or film. A selection of movie scenes demonstrated the role of the subwoofer in creating spectacle. The use of both high- and low-level LFE inputs to the sub showed the benefits of high-level connection to augment LFE. The nighttime galleons and flaming arrow scene from Game of Thrones, in particular, showed the enormous gravitas and precision that these subwoofers are capable of.

RELThe REL S812 line array delivering shock and awe

I have used REL subwoofers for over 20 years and currently have the superb HT/1510 Predator (£1899) in my home theater. With its 15″ carbon-fiber-faced cone and 1000W of amplification, it’s capable of bowel-loosening bass, which it combines with rare delicacy and speed.

RELFerrari red T/9x makes a big impression

At Bristol, REL was showing its new T/9x Red subwoofer (£1549). This stunning sub is being made in a limited edition of 200 units. The finish is the exact same shade as Ferrari red. REL was keen to point out that the cabinet required several additional stages of preparation before the color could be applied, as it’s an automotive paint that isn’t easy to apply to MDF. Other changes compared to the standard T/9x include an improved 10″ drive unit, revised feet, and enhancements to the amplifier board. It struck me that this subwoofer would make a superb focal point in any self-respecting bachelor’s pad!

RELThe class of ’98

Also making its show debut was the Classic 98, styled to resemble the subwoofers of REL’s earliest years. Priced at £1299, this model features a 10″ downfiring driver and 300W of class-D amplification.

English Acoustics

Except for dabbling with cheap headphone amps, I’ve never owned a valve amplifier. But if I ever get one, English Acoustics will be right at the top of my list. The company is a newcomer on the scene, but it made quite an impression at Bristol with its beautiful automotive-quality paint finishes. I was particularly taken with the pearlescent purple option, which looked amazing.

English AcousticsThe simply beautiful English Acoustics Stereo 41c

The range is commendably simple: one preamp, the Downton (£5760), and two power amplifiers:  the Stereo 21c (£4999) outputs 14Wpc into 8 ohms, while the more powerful Stereo 41c (£7980) outputs 30Wpc. Both feature bespoke British-made output transformers; paper-in-oil and silver-mica capacitors; ceramic gold-plated output sockets; automatic thermal, vibration, and tilt safety cut-off; and a rear-panel LCD digital hour meter.

English AcousticsDownton preamplifier

Founder Peter Farrow is another hi-fi luminary who came through the BBC engineering program, which has made a massive contribution to the richness, brilliance, and diversity of the British audio industry. As a lad, Peter fell in love with the Leak Stereo 20, a design that can trace its heritage back to 1958. He eventually purchased one. The 21c and 41c are based on the original Leak circuit, but enhanced for the modern era—a reimagining, if you will. Sonically, these amplifiers impressed me right from the start because they seemed very open, transparent, and responsive. There was none of the soft woolliness of some valve amps I have experienced.

English AcousticsRed Gyro and red 41c make a striking proposition

Anthos Audio

Turning to the weird and wonderful, Anthos Audio has developed an eye-catching and unique system! Founder James Boyd is a classical musician who has spent his life playing in symphony orchestras all over the world. He thus knows what live music sounds like and has developed a fully integrated system comprising amplification and loudspeakers. His horn speakers are very unusual. As Anthos’s website explains, “Thirteen-leaf ‘flower horns’ are crafted from intricate wooden laminations, and finished with Cremonese instrument varnish developed in the 17th Century by Stradivarius for its exceptional sound quality and deep golden glow. The horns are driven by a highly optimised single-ended valve amplifier (with [Avery 2A3] valves designed in the 1930s). A cabinet houses amplification for each component together with highly sophisticated digital control using cutting-edge filter technology.” The drive units comprise a 3″ aluminum compression driver augmented by a high-efficiency mid-bass folded horn, while the bass is provided by Purifi long-throw woofers powered by class-D amps delivering 500W total output.

Anthos AudioAnthos Audio horn in Cremonese instrument varnish

The system incorporates linear-phase digital crossovers and digital room correction, so while some of the technology may be rooted in the early 20th century, some is state of the art.

Thomas Dunford’s recording of an arrangement for lute of one of J. S. Bach’s Cello Suites sounded superb, with excellent portrayal of timbre, while Claude Debussy’s “Clair de lune” displayed lovely delicacy and dynamics. This product has been a labor of love for its designer. The £100,000 asking price includes delivery, installation, and tuning to your listening room.

Anthos AudioAn intriguing combination of vintage valves and modern signal processing

With so much to see, I struggled to cover everything of merit in just three days, but watch this space for the second part of my odyssey at The Bristol Hi-Fi Show, and even more great music and sound.

Jonathan Gorse
Senior Contributor, SoundStage!