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The London Hi-Fi-Show 1999

Part 2: impressions of an ordinary punter!

[Italian version]

[The Shadow speaker]
The unusual Shadow 'speaker

About 2 months ago I was introduced to Lucio, the Director of this web site, by a mutual cyberspace friend. Having been interested in music and hi-fi for as long as I care to remember, I was excited by the idea of collaborating with him and the other members of the TNT-Audio team.
I had never been to a Hi-Fi show and Lucio asked if I would be able to go to the London show (23-26 September) and cover the solid state products, while Thorsten would cover the glassware. I agreed and made preparations to go up to London for the Saturday - the first public day. I e-mailed Thorsten to arrange to meet and his reply started to ring an alarm bell i.e. he would be going on the trade days and may not make the Saturday.

No matter, Saturday morning arrived and I made the 2 hr journey from East Anglia to west London, arriving at 11 am. (I must confess to a lie-in that day as I normally catch the 7:10 am commuter dash 3 days a week as part of my job :-(). Upon arrival at the Hotel I was immediately struck by the number of exhibitors, the labyrinthine layout and the hordes of people.

Turning to the latter first, and I hope I cause no offense here (remember I am an enthusiast too!), I was startled by the lack of female participation.
I would guess that 90% of the people there were men - of all ages it has to be said - but male all the same. There were a few couples, no unaccompanied females that I could detect, a few families and a number of daughters in tow as their fathers dashed from one bedroom to another (these you understand had been transformed into demonstration rooms).
This caused me to muse about the appeal of hi-fi as a hobby. Is the appeal the reproduction of music or the technology? Given that in my experience girls are more likely to be interested in playing a musical instrument than boys, surely they should be more predisposed to searching out a high quality reproduction system with which to enjoy music later in life.
On the other hand, it is well established that boys are more likely to become engineers than girls (whether by social conditioning or genetics I do not know). So I am led to the muse that it might be the technology rather than the music that appeals.

So did attending my first Hi-Fi show prove to be a seminal moment in my life? Well in a word - NO. It has to be said that it was well constructed in an organizational sense with an excellent range of products and manufacturers.
But, and this is a big BUT: How can one listen to a hi-fi system when the sound waves from the 50 other rooms provide a background noise level of more than distracting proportions?
Also the very success of the show in attracting so many people leads to a glut of acoustic damping in the rooms :-). Some manufacturers only allowed entrance with a precious ticket, which no-doubt addresses some of the acoustic indifference associated with most of the rooms at the show but this practice is a tad frustrating if you don't have a ticket.
Also I found the attitude of some of the representatives was so evangelistic as to be off-putting. And here is something that I perceive time and time again. Opinions about hi-fi seem so entrenched that discussion seems so quickly to degenerate into personalized sneering, snobbery and ridicule. Can anybody have a monopoly on what a good sound is? Surely it is all opinion and personal taste? Or maybe it is the passion that is the fun?
Whatever, attendance at the London show provided adequate examples of the Hi-Fi sub-culture.

[The Parsifal]
The Verity Audio Parsifal loudspeaker

So what have I to tell you about the show. I guess first of all these are not the places to go to audition hi-fi with the intention of passing over you hard earned cash. Some of the exhibitors did have largish rooms which helped mitigate the problems mentioned above but my advice is go to a dealer or better get some kit on loan in your own home.
Or try some DIY and search out some secondhand bargains (oops there goes my prejudice for all to see :-)). That is if you are interested in sound quality, but if you are interested in the technology (still make your own) then techno-babble and styling was in abundance at the show.
Having said that some of the rooms did grab my attention as I battled my way through the crowds. ATCs towering SCM70 active monitor speakers caused me to stay and listen for some time. These beasts looked more like computer server hardware than hi-fi to my eye and no-doubt could do justice to some very large rooms and expensive front ends.
At the other end of the scale where the pyramid shaped Orion speakers by Shadow. When I visited their room they were playing some Led Zep, so I stayed a while to listen to these three way brightly coloured eye-catchers. GT Audio's room was particularly crowded but well worth squeezing past the masses to get a seat in front of the huge Avangarde Acoustic horns with subwoofers.

There were new products on "show" and in "action" from all the mainline mass producers of solid state kit. To be honest if you want to know about this sort of stuff I suggest a walk down the local superstore or dealer will bring you up to speed. I will mention Naim's new NAP500 power amplifier, however, as it made a sound that appealed to me - but then I am a Naim fan.
The power supply is separated from the audio circuits in its own box. This caught my eye because I have the same arrangement in my DIY'd system. I have added regulation circuits of my own construction to some NAP110 audio boards in two of the Naim standard enclosures, fed by transforms and capacitors as separate home-made power supplies. This gives me 4 monoblocks to drive the 2 way-speakers in my active system. The NAP500's apparently have ten stages of regulation!

The exhibit which has stayed most vivid in my memory was that of RT Services. They had quite a large room and when I visited they were playing some beguiling music with depth, smoothness and articulation that I found most alluring.
The system at that time consisted of Verity Audio Parsifal speakers, powered by a Spectral Audio DMC-12 pre and DMA100 power, with Accuphase DP-65V CD player (yes a CD player!) and a dCS Elgar D/A. Now I reckon this set up would cost the normal punter in the region of thirty-odd thousand British pounds.
I have to say as well as making the most memorable sounds during my visit to the show, the gentleman in charge was courteous and welcoming - a very pleasant room to visit all-round and in fact made my visit worthwhile. If I win the UK lottery I will be giving those guys a ring.

Another impression that remains with me is that I spent a lot of time in rooms with glowing glass (even though I was supposed to be searching out the solid state stuff!).
I have never owned a valve amp and I am very happy with my solid state amps but it has made me wonder! I would say that many of the modifications I have made to my set up over the few years has made the sound more cohesive and liquid, and it was these qualities that struck me most about some of the spectacular glassware at the show.
I do like trying out "tweaks" on my system so I stopped by the Ringmat Developments stand and had a conversation with John Rodgers, leaving with their new Statmat and equipment feet to try out. In this area of the show were all manner of accessories from cables to equipment supports.
Oh yes, I bought an LP from Simply Vinyl on the way out. Went home and listened to it on my system and convinced myself that I would have to part with a lot of dosh to significantly enhance the enjoyment I get from listening to music through my system.
What that says about Hi-Fi Shows as a genre, I'm not sure :-). Still it was an interesting day and yes I think I will go to another show as it does provide an overview of the industry in one hit.

Back to Part 1

© Copyright 1999 Steve Davey - http://www.tnt-audio.com

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