Cuttin-Edge, On-the-Spot Reporting

Have You Seen?


On the evening of Friday, February 23, after the first day of the Bristol Hi-Fi Show, Naim Audio took me out for a superb meal. The evening concluded with some fine single-malt courtesy of Kat Ourlian, global sales and marketing director for SME Ltd. You’ve gotta love a gal whose only poison is whisky! As a result, I slept very contentedly.

The large queues for entry were thankfully quickly processed

Saturday proved the busiest of the three days. The venue was absolutely heaving with people, so it was difficult to get into many of the rooms—queuing was mandatory. The lineups for entry to the show venue stretched all the way down the street and around the corner, so I knew in advance that it was vital to plan which rooms to target.

ATC Loudspeakers

Once again, ATC had one of the best-sounding rooms at the show. This time the firm brought something quite unusual: the SCM50se loudspeaker (£38,760/pair, all prices in GBP), a luxurious special-edition version of the active SCM50, which I reviewed for Soundstage Ultra! in October 2022. The SCM50se isn’t merely a cosmetic overhaul. It incorporates several technical refinements, including an uprated amplifier featuring a discrete class-A op amp rather than the standard model’s integrated circuit design. The cabinet is formed from a multi-layer laminate of higher quality than the MDF used on the standard model. Different acoustic damping is applied internally, and the structure is stronger and more rigid. The cabinet on the special-edition model has curved sides to reduce internal reflections. Finally, the 50se is supplied with a dedicated floor stand to further reduce the impact of vibration.

ATCATC’s sublime SCM50se

Besides the SCM50se speakers, the demo system included ATC’s SCA2 preamplifier, the venerable Technics SL-1200G Grand Class turntable, and an Auralic Altair G2.1 streaming DAC–preamp. The system combined striking transparency, an incredible sense of naturalness, and lifelike dynamics. On vinyl, Dire Straits’ “Telegraph Road” displayed timing that was whip-crack fast, combined with bass that seemed bottomless yet incredibly articulate and refined. In the midband, vocals and guitars sounded sublime thanks to what is probably the world’s finest midrange driver. The vocals and guitar on Jackson Browne’s “These Days” had extraordinarily natural timbre. I spoke to several people at the show, including reps from other manufacturers, and everybody was unanimous in their praise for ATC. This wasn’t mere hi-fi—it felt like I was monitoring playback off the master, whole generations closer to the source. These sublime loudspeakers bring you closer to the artists and their music than anything else I can think of, which is precisely why I own and use ATC at home. ATC’s corporate tagline, “Acoustic Engineers,” says all that needs to be said.

ATCThe ATC SCM50se’s driver complement, handmade in the UK, right down to winding the coils and making the magnets

There’s no doubt that the 50se is an extremely attractive loudspeaker, designed for those who find the standard-edition SCM50 a little too utilitarian, a little too “pro-audio” for domestic use. The fact that the SCM50se delivers both sonic and styling improvements over the standard version is remarkable.

Chord Company

This firm has become one of the leading suppliers of audiophile cables in the UK—for good reason. Recent efforts have been focused mainly on reducing the impact of radio-frequency interference (RFI) and ground-plane disturbance on the delicate electrical supply and music signals traveling down cables. Wires can act as antennas, meaning all unshielded wires are aerials tending to gather RFI and funnel it into your audio equipment.

ChordChord Company cables demo with new P6 powerblock to the right on floor

In a comprehensive demo using ATC SCM100 loudspeakers and Naim amplification, Alan Gibb, Chord Company’s managing director, compared the standard unshielded Naim Burndy cable with Chord’s new shielded Burndy cables (£880 to £4435, depending on configuration, length, and quality level). The Chord Burndy cable exhibited a lower noise floor with a slightly lighter tonality and more snap and detail.

Next up was the new PowerHAUS P6 power-supply block (£600), which slots into the range below the PowerHAUS M6 and above the PowerHAUS S6. This new design does away with the all-aluminium construction and bus bars of the M series. It uses high-quality, heavy-gauge internal wiring that seeks to minimize the interaction between live, neutral, and earth feeds internally. This series also incorporates Chord’s proprietary ARAY technology to minimize high-frequency and earth noise.

ChordAlan Gibb of Chord strutting his stuff

Finally, Chord demonstrated its recently launched English Electric EE1 high-performance network noise isolator (£249) and Chord C-stream ethernet isolation cable (from £60, depending on length). I can hear Doug Schneider choking on his coffee as he reads this, since he does not think noise on an ethernet line is that big of a problem! Nevertheless, the EE1 is a small inline box with RJ45 ports on either side. Plug the network cable from your router into one end of the EE1 and run a second cable from the other end of the EE1 to your streamer’s ethernet port, following the direction indicators on the unit. Obviously, this little box doesn’t aim to modify the ones and zeroes being transferred over ethernet. Rather, it aims to filter and thus reduce all the other spurious signals traveling down the ethernet cable that could impact the downstream electronics. Most of the press assembled for the launch agreed that there did seem to be a lower noise floor and cleaner top-end sound with the EE1 in the system.

Chord Electronics

Having recently reviewed the Ultima Pre 3 preamplifier and Ultima 6 power amplifier for SoundStage Ultra!, I was keen to see what Chord Electronics had up its sleeves for Bristol. On demo for the first time was the Chord Ultima Integrated. Priced at £8495, the new integrated amp incorporates all the latest enhancements of its bigger brethren, including the latest dual-feed-forward error-correction topology, the firm’s legendary proprietary ultra-high-frequency power supplies, and input filtering designed to suppress radio-frequency interference. Rated at 125Wpc into 8 ohms, this is quite a behemoth!

ChordNew Chord Ultima Integrated

There’s probably nobody in the industry with such depth and breadth of musical taste as Doug Graham of Chord. Whenever I visit, he always delights in introducing me to something new and intriguing. Micatone’s “Sit Beside Me” amply demonstrated the Ultima Integrated’s ability to keep the ATC SCM40 speakers’ heavy drive units under control, with superb timing and bass that was extremely solid yet tuneful.

Doug Graham and Jonathan GorseIndustry legend Doug Graham with the author

Also on demo were the uber-desirable Hugo M Scaler and Qutest DAC, which, per its name, might be the cutest DAC in the world. Chord has established itself as one of the most impressive digital- and electrical-engineering audio firms in the UK, and its products have rightfully garnered widespread acclaim. Sonically superb, the styling remains as distinctive and eye-catching as ever!

ChordThe cutest DAC in the world? Chord Hugo M Scaler (left) and Qutest DAC (middle)

Rega Research

Here is another major player in the British audio scene. Arguably, no audio firm has done more in the past 50 years to advance the cause of analog replay. It was therefore fitting that Rega had one of the nicest displays of classic vinyl I had ever seen, all set up in a beautifully illuminated cabinet displaying the album sleeves.

RegaRega’s stunning vinyl display

For the show, Rega was demonstrating a modestly priced system comprising the Rega Planar 6 turntable and RB330 tonearm (£1155), Elex Mk4 amplifier (£1199), Fono MM Mk5 phono stage (£220), and Aya loudspeakers (£1499/pair). Bristol marked the show debut for the Aya floorstander. Also making its debut was the prototype ND7 MM cartridge.

The ND7 MM cartridge has an aluminium cantilever, but unusually for a moving-magnet design, it has a fine-line diamond stylus. And it is the first moving-magnet design in the world to utilize a neodymium magnet, which is the most powerful type of permanent magnet currently available. The cartridge body is made from injection-moulded, glass-filled polyphenylene sulphide, and the whole cartridge is handmade by Rega in England. Anticipated pricing is around £450.

RegaNew Rega ND7 MM cartridge

The Aya loudspeaker uses a revolutionary UK-manufactured GRC (glass reinforced cement) cabinet, which is far cheaper than wood or MDF, but extremely resistant to vibration. This has enabled Rega to achieve superb price-to-performance with this 2.5-way design.

RegaRega Mercury prototype

Also on show in prototype form were the Mercury preamplifier and Solis power amplifier, which were designed to complement the recently launched high-end Rega Naiad turntable. These new flagships are expected to retail at £6000 each when they launch in autumn.

Harbeth Audio

Founded in 1977 by the head of BBC audio research, Harbeth has established itself as one of Britain’s leading speaker brands. At Bristol, the firm demonstrated its P3ESR XD minimonitor (£2595/pair), which is very much in the style of the classic BBC-derived LS3/5A. New this year is the Nelson Bass Extender speaker stand (£3295/pair), which incorporates DSP and a 50W class-D amplifier powering a 110mm (4.33″) woofer in a band-pass arrangement. The Nelson is said to be capable of delivering bass down to 35Hz. This system has a bass-level control to permit integration with most standmount designs.

HarbethHarbeth’s Nelson bass extender and speaker stand

What was deeply impressive was the Nelson’s superb integration with the minimonitor—the combination just sounded like a much larger floorstanding design. Peggy Lee’s “Fever” demonstrated very effectively what a profound difference the bass extenders made to the sound of the P3ESR XD monitors, adding warmth and texture to the music. This is a very sweet-sounding combination, thanks to the superb quality and tuning of both loudspeakers. As a bonus, the stands look very pleasant and unobtrusive, blending into most rooms seamlessly.

HarbethBlending into the room

Kog Audio—Epos and T+A Elektroakustic

Kog Audio was exhibiting two new products at Bristol. First up was the all-new T+A R 2500 R all-in-one system (£12,905), which incorporates a 120Wpc amplifier, CD player, FM tuner, high-resolution DAC, and T+A’s G3 third-generation streamer board, which supports all major streaming services. The DAC section accepts PCM audio up to 24-bit/768kHz and DSD up to 24.5MHz. Also on demo was the T+A DAC 200, which is a high-quality preamplifier-DAC. As you would expect from this German brand, the styling and the fit and finish were excellent.

T+AT+A Elektroakustic’s DAC 200 (left) and brand-new R 2500 R

Paired with the T+A front end were a pair of the new Epos ES-7N loudspeakers (£1890/pair). The ES-7N was designed by Karl-Heinz Fink and was making its show debut at Bristol. A pair of these small standmount loudspeakers seemed able to throw a soundstage that far exceeded their diminutive dimensions. The ES-7N employs a 28mm (1.1″) ceramic-coated aluminium tweeter that is identical to the one fitted to the larger ES-14N. The midrange-woofer is a 130mm (5.1″) mica-loaded polypropylene driver derived from the larger woofer in the ES-14N.

EposEpos ES-7N cute and perfectly formed

A clever feature of the Epos ES-7N is a rear-panel switch that lets you optimize the speaker for stand mounting away from a wall or bookshelf placement right up against the wall. It’s nice to see the Epos brand return and go from strength to strength, because I can recall lusting after the original Epos ES14 as a teenager back in the 1980s!

EposEpos ES-7N back and front


I’ve always had a soft spot for Kudos loudspeakers, and at Bristol the company was debuting something unique. The Kudos Sigao Drive external crossover takes an unusual approach to active operation in that it is unpowered by mains electricity and relies instead on the preamplifier signal. It’s also unique because it is compatible with almost all amplification systems and can be adapted to them by plugging in a range of adapter DIN plugs that match the output impedance to the partnering amplifiers. A unique PCB design and some exotic circuit components are capable of sitting in front of the power amplifiers in the position of a traditional active crossover. This has the potential to enable users of almost any make of amplifier to go active with Kudos loudspeaker systems.

SigaoThe Sigao Drive

Kudos claims that the elimination of a mains power feed to the crossover circuits provides sonic benefits and less residual system noise compared to a normally powered active crossover. Mark Knopfler’s “Lights of Taormina” certainly sounded extremely impressive on the Kudos Titan 505 loudspeakers (£9999/pair) running active with the Sigao Drive.

SigaoThe Sigao Drive’s rear panel

Availability is scheduled from summer 2024.


The Danish brand showcased the awesome Confidence 60 floorstander (£36,500/pair) for the first time at Bristol. The pair of 60s were driven by a brace of high-end Naim electronics. Bill Livingstone, Dynaudio’s extremely likeable representative, was keen to explain the sophisticated and extended R&D that was required to produce such an advanced design. There’s no question that Dynaudio’s research facilities are right at the leading edge. The concept of the Confidence range was to push the boundaries of musical performance and to achieve the closest approximation to a point-source speaker possible from a multi-driver array. To achieve this, the design incorporates a precisely sculpted front baffle made of an entirely new composite material called Compex. Surrounded by a DDC (Dynaudio Directivity Control) lens, which reduces reflections from floor and ceiling, the 28mm (1.1″) Esostar3 tweeter sits between two 5.9″ MPS (magnesium silicate polymer) midrange drivers. Outside those are two 9″ MSP bass drivers designed specifically for the Confidence range.

DynaudioDynaudio Confidence 60

A recording of Maurice Ravel’s Bolero demonstrated an extremely broad and coherent soundstage, while Eva Cassidy’s “Need Your Love So Bad” was absolutely superb—precise, fast, dynamic, and emotive.

DynaudioBrimming with confidence

GIK Acoustics

One element of sound that most audiophiles tend to ignore in their pursuit of shiny new tech is the acoustic environment of their listening room. I’m as guilty of this as anyone. So this year, I have resolved to optimize my listening environment without turning it into a domestic version of Abbey Road Studios! There’s no denying that sonic performance varies widely even when using identical equipment in different rooms. GIK has become one of the best-known providers of acoustic treatments, bass traps, and diffusers. I was impressed to see just how many styles are available to permit seamless integration into almost any domestic environment.

GIKSo many styles to choose from

At Bristol, GIK showed its new SlatFusor series of slat diffusers (from £85, depending on size). These attractive panels are finished with real oak veneer and will fit nicely into almost any room. They’re designed to scatter mid- and high-frequency reflections and to reduce noise, echo, and reverb—all without overdamping the room. This is very much my next hi-fi project, so look forward to my exploration of acoustic treatments on SoundStage Ultra! later this year.

GIKGIK’s SlatFusor, launched at Bristol


Since its launch in 2007, the FiiO brand has become synonymous with digital playback. As an airline pilot, and thus a frequent traveller, I’ve taken a couple of the firm’s devices around the world with me over the past 15 years. Not only do those players sound better than mobile phones; they have much longer runtime. And by using a FiiO device for music playback, I avoid flattening my mobile’s battery while lazing by the pool in exotic climes!

Given FiiO’s digital heritage, I was more than a little surprised to see a prototype Walkman-style cassette player on the stand! Like most audiophiles, I have been bemused by the return of the Compact Cassette. Let’s be honest: most of us only used it as a portable music carrier because there was no alternative. It was never really hi-fi, unless you’re talking the likes of Nakamichi, whose domestic machines still fill me with lust years after the brand’s demise.

FiiOFiiO CP13 in baby blue

Available in silver, red, and pale-blue finishes, the new FiiO CP13 cassette player has a gorgeous aluminum-alloy body. Inside is a classic audiophile-grade JRC5532 op amp, dual-mode power supply with a high-voltage section for the motor, super-large copper flywheel, and balanced amplification tape head. Its 1800mAh lithium battery provides an impressive 13 hours of runtime, a big improvement over the four-hour runtime that a pair of AA batteries typically provided on 1980s-era Walkman players. FiiO claims that the CP13 betters the performance of the original Walkman Pro, which, if true, is certainly impressive.

FiiORelive your ’70s and ’80s heyday with the FiiO CP13

It’s a bold move and a nice piece of retro tech. I’m pretty sure I still have a large stockpile of old compilation tapes in the loft, so maybe this is just the incentive I need to play them again.

Wrapping up

And so another Bristol Hi-Fi Show came to an end. The good news is that the audio industry in the UK seems to be in fine fettle, despite talk of recession and conflicts around the world. Perhaps the COVID epidemic taught us to spend a little more time enjoying our lives at home, and one of the best ways to do that is with a high-quality audio or video system. With the rising costs of concerts, meals out, and other outside entertainment, suddenly running a hi-fi system looks like a very affordable source of pleasure.

BarThe bar area providing sustenance to the thirsty

Consider this: Out there, millions of people are prepared to pay £170–£200 per ticket to see a top-flight artist perform live for two hours. Add in the cost of transport, parking, overnight accommodation, and drinks, and you could very easily be looking at £600–£700 for a night’s entertainment for a couple. Now consider the fact that proper hi-fi systems start around £2000 for a source, amplifier, and speakers. So for the price of three nights out seeing bands, you could be enjoying all the music you love for the rest of your life in excellent quality at home. Even a £10,000 audio system is equivalent to 15 gigs, and you could easily spend that in a year or two. But a high-quality audio system will last decades and provide tens of thousands of hours of pleasure. It makes you think, doesn’t it?

Enjoy the music, and see you here next year.

Jonathan Gorse
Senior Contributor, SoundStage!