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The London Hi-Fi-Show 1999

Part 1: Valves, Vinyl 'n oddities

[Italian version]

Ladies and Gentleman!

This show was if only one thing, then BIG would be the word.

More Exhibitors, more cool gear, more Visitors. A new Venue too, the Exhibition took place on three floors in the Hammersmith Novotel Hotel.

Was there more Music than last year? Maybe not. Then again, maybe there was.

Each and every Exhibitor I talked to complained about room acoustics, the sound they where getting and all. Yet curiously some rooms managed to have VERY passable sound. Interestingly these rooms tended to showcase Vinyl with Valves, or valves and Horns or other combinations to the same scheme. This is not to say that there was nothing good sounding with Solid State and CD, only the numbers where disproportionaly small. Anyway, my brief was not to cover CD and solid state, but rather to hunt down the odd and interesting stuff.

The Music at the show

To my shame I must say that I did not visit the show on the two public days. I was so shagged out after the two days of covering the show, I needed the two weekend days to recover. I had also been spending the thursday evening with Holger Stein (Steinmusik) from Germany, listening to his Prototype CD Player (a heap of electronic pieces, bits and wires - without case) in my system and then the Show-party on Friday. It was all a bit much.

Thus I missed the live music performances the management had put on during the public days. I did however have a tremendous time during the "Show Party" on Friday evening. The Band of ATC Founder Bill Woodman was playing some great Jazz and Blues. The Party was really great. I had a chance to meet loads of interesting people, however I ended up (geek I am) discussing in great length intricate circuit details with a Designer of Audio Amplifiers and Speakers.

Luckily enough SHE was a rather nice Gal and hence I looked perfectly all right and just like all the other people milling around. It was nice to meet a few people I have known for a good while from the NET in person. So from here I say Hi to Guenther, Holger, Steve "Dude" Rochlin, Myles Astor and a few others (I have a terrible memory for names). I never did manage to get the name of the stunning young lady from KJ West One (we kinda run into each other repeatedly during the show) so a big HI to you, whoever you are.

Now have a quick view of the scene you where presented with when you came through the foyer. There where plenty of stands selling records and CD's. My friend Jon (who incidentally took most of the pictures you will see in this report) bought a few CD's. I managed to restrain my deeply seated urge to buy up all vinyl in sight by reminding myself that I had left both my money and my credit cards at home....

Right here at the beginning I must mention the single room in which I spend the most time of any single one, just listening to music and enjoying it. It also gets my solemn award for best sound of the show. This room immediately caught my attention from the outside by the music spilling through the open door. It was the room in which Hiroyasu Kondo (a.k.a. Audio Note Japan) was exhibiting his latest creations. Details of this later on, here just a note that I was severely slacking, spending at least two hours each day in that room.

However, I hear you asking, apart from chasing skirts, lusting after records and listening to music, do I actually have anything to report? I think so.

It's..... (Theme-Tune please)

Monty Pythons Flying Hi-Fi Equipment Circus

Okay, I referred to it before. For me this was the big one. Drawn in by the sweet sound of a string quartet I entered the room. Music was playing via a pair of B&W Nautilus 802 Speakers. A slab of dilicious Vinyl was turning on a Garrard 501 Turntable. In-between where a few silvery, coppery and glowing things and Boxes I thought at first was ordinary Audio Note Japan fare. Sitting down, I was approached by a slightly stooped Japanese gentleman handing out product literature. Stop, I thought, I know this gentleman! No, it can't be! Or is it?

It was! Standing there was Kondo San himself, smiling and presenting his latest creations. These are no longer marketed under the "Audio Note Japan" label. Kondo San has founded a new Company, Kondo Amplification. Here in London was the first presentation of the new Products. Included was the M-100 Preamplifier. This is a further development on from the Audio Note M7.

Also shown was the brand-new M-100 DAC. It uses no digital oversampling filter and sixteen Burr Brown DAC Chips per channel in parallel with a valve analogue stage. Bringing up the rear is the perhaps most exciting Item (for me at least). Kondo San has been known since the 1980's for manufacturing Single-Ended Valve Amplifiers. Yet the first poweramplifier to be introduced by Kondo Amplification is a Push-Pull Valve Amplifier using the 2A3 Triodes. As yet only known as 2A3 pp, the Amp was shown as a prototype.

Considering the rather difficult to drive B&W Speakers, the sound from this little amplifier was nothing short of stunning. The Music from the analogue system kept me riveted to a chair for hours, while the digital front-end almost succeeded in convincing me that there is some merit to the CD Digital Audio format after all. Definitely "Best Sound of the Show" if there ever was any!

The Hoerning Perikles hybrid horn loudspeaker

So here we are. Best sound of the show awarded, the report over? Not QUITE yet.

While this System did indeed do superbly what a Hi-Fi System is supposed to do, namely making you forget that you are listening to an assembly of wires, bulbs, resistors, capacitors and Jah knows what, such performance comes at a price. A very high price in this case, though I feel one that it just might be worth paying, if you have the prerequisite money. Now most of do not, so here the follows the Equipment for the rest of us. Or at least those items I found outstanding.

Let's start with the speaker seen on the right. If you where at the show during the public Day's you would not have even have seen it. Both manufacturer Tommy Hoerning and Importer Matthew Jameson are normally much to busy making and selling some great sounding and great looking Speakers based on Lowther Drivers and Horn technology. They are also too busy to have a web-site or even e-mail.

Seen here is the Perikles Speaker. Combining a Lowther PM6C with removed whizzer cone, a rear-facing 12" Beyma Pro Audio Woofer and a special cone tweeter the Perikles will cost you £ 2,449. The sensitivity is quoted at 96db/W/m and the frequency response is given as 40Hz - 20kHz. For a relatively affordable priced high efficiency Speaker, I must say that even under less than ideal condition at the show I was rather impressed by the sound. Matthew Jameson can be reached under the Phone Number 01257 473175, tell him Thorsten send you.

At the show the Perikles was heard on thursday, driven by the well known Atma-Sphere Output Transformerless Valve Amplifiers. These are now available in the UK, imported by Leicester's Audio Suite. On Friday the Audio Suite room was playing the German eurostatic loudspeakers as seen below. The eurostatic's are hybrid electrostatic Speakers and are also imported by Audio Suite. ESL's are not much to my taste, however, my friend Jon who is an ardent ESL fan thought the system sounded quite good.

As we are on the subject of Lowther Horns, quite a profusion of new and updated designs was seen. Where Carfrae Loudspeakers stunned me last year with their massive £ 18,000 Carfrae Horn, this year they showed the much more down to earth "Little Big Horn", which due to it's shape has also been called the "Doughnut" Horn.

Seen here is also a rather sneaky subwoofer that was shown with the "Little Big Horn" and had me fooled for a minute or two about just how much Bass this "Little" horn can do. The Driver used in the "Little Big Horn" is a Lowther DX 4, a driver that made its appearance in quite a few Speakers.

One of them (without Photo) was about the weirdest Lowther Speaker I have seen. Here the Lowther DX 4 was mounted facing upwards, in a small cabinet disguised as small cupboard. The Sound, well, as unique as the Idea, however definitely not to my taste.

The Beauhorn room - you should have heard the music

Much more like it was the sound I heard in the Beauhorn Room. Hardly surprising, considering that I am listening at home to a System using the same Speakers. Yet even my ESL loving friend Jon and Holger from Germany found the Music playing here much to their liking.

The reason (I believe) was that the latest incarnation of the Beauhorn Virtuoso Reference is sporting Lowther's latest DX-4 Driver. That one definitely is asking for a rematch at chez moi. The DX 4 elevates the already excellent performance of this Speaker further.

ProAc Future Series Loudspeakers

Another Lowther Horn shall round up the Lowther Brigade this year. Due to a rather dark room and unexciting b/w pictures in the brochure again without pictures I'm afraid. However, upon hearing, the Veritas horn speakers (especially the big H3) sounded promising. Maybe a bit more on these units at a later date.

For a little breather from all this heavy horn & Valve diet I think I shall introduce you to ProAc's latest Speakers. Called the Future Series these are really weird contraptions. I love the looks and admit that the technical concept is excellent. The Tweeter is a true ribbon unit and the Midranges operate without a Box. Scan Speak and Seas make the cone Drivers especially for ProAc. The room in which the Futures where playing was too crowded for me to listen. Considering that this was on a trade-day I see a bright, aehhhmm, Future ahead for the Future's.

Another newcomer to the show was Southcoast Speakers. On Display was an almost bewildering variety of Loudspeakers. The Photo below only shows a small section of the lineup. From small 2-Way standmounting Miniatures featuring the legendary Visaton Ribbon Tweeter and a Morel Woofer to a massive 5-Way Speaker using Drivers from Volt, Audax, Seas and again the Visaton Ribbon Tweeter there must have been something for every taste and Budget.

I particularly enjoyed the BIG MUTHA 5-Way speaker being driven to Mach Two on Spinal Tap playing Pink Floyd's DSOM (Dark Side Of the Moon). Gimme, gimme, gimme. I did hear that Hotel Management voiced concerns about structural damage after this little escapade and on later days somewhat more sedate replay levels where employed. Southcoast Speakers also offer many Speaker-Kit's, including the full lineup from Visaton Germany. However few of these where displayed during this show.

Southcoast Speakers

Moving for a moment away from Speakers (and sadly without any photographs) I'd like to bring to  your notice a whole range of Audio Products. APN or Audio Products Netherlands is a new brand that has come out of a long-term development in Audio Kit's for the Dutch "Audio & Technique" Magazine. All products are available as Kit or finished Units. Shown was a range of three Tubular Speakers, a DAC, a valve Preamplifier and a number of different Amplifiers. Products start at £ 460 for a finished pair of the smallest Speakers (£ 245 as Kit) and cover the DAC at £ 960 (£ 700 Kit) to the £ 2,380 (£ 1925 Kit) Hybrid 50 Watt (200W into 2 Ohm) Monoblock Amplifiers.

The Sound was pretty good, especially under consideration of the prices. I must however that I was most taken with the sound when Vinyl was played using a prototype Valve Single-Ended Amplifier and the largest Pair of Speakers on display.

Speaking of Single-Ended Valve Amplifiers, in the Audion Room I expected to see SE amplifiers over SE Amplifiers (where is the new PX-25 Amp?). Instead playing was a new Hybrid (Valve and transistor) integrated Amplifier which will retail for £ 1,395, including full remote control abilities. While again not up to match the best SE Amplifiers Audion makes, this little Amplifiers was laying down some serious groves and blues. Then again, maybe David Chessel  bribed me to say that by slipping me a copy of a CD he has recently helped to produce. Look out for "SMOKESTACK", highly recommend and they are touring the UK at the Moment with Muddy Waters. Pop in at the Bluebell (Ringmer) on the 30th of October and dig some smokestack!

A Silvernote Turntable

Hey! Reading all I have written so far leaves me to ask "WHERE ARE THE TURNTABLES!?". Yes, Sir, yes Milady. There where Turntables. Left and right are two examples from the Silvernote Room, the RC-1 and RC-3 at £ 4,995 and £14,995 respectively. These where shown as nominal "products". Yet in reality Silvernote will actually build you a one off Turntable exactly as you want it. If you have the readies and want something truly unique in sound and execution, ring 01992 620905.


LothX - how on earth did they get all that stuff over from Singapore!?

Even more Turntables (four different models) where available in the LothX Room. They looked all gorgeous, being made completely from acrylic. They apparenly can be had at a range of prices that should suit pretty much any purse. LothX hail from Singapore and also manufactures a wide range of speakers; a battery powered valve Preamplifier and all sorts of other little and big things. For your delectation, one big shot of the whole shooting match that had been set up on the right.

The sound was very good and I would like to hear more of their Equipment soon.

Turntables also where in evidence with DNM/Virtual Reality, a cranky, unusual and very British company> I missed them severely last year. As usual they where displaying the DNM Line of electronics, Reson Turntables and the Rehdeko Loudspeakers. The sound was very good, which is surprising, especially considering that there is not a single Valve in any of the DNM Electronics. Have a look below.

Is this Virtual Reality? Or just Audio?

Another very noteworthy room was the Linn Room. Sadly the mark of distinction was not the sound. Rather the unusual display of the new "Klimaxx" (sic) Amplifiers stacked vertically caught the Eye. No turntable was in sight, the system playing was fully active, using loads of Amplifiers to drive the Keilidth Speakers. As source the £ 12,000 Sondek CD-12 was used. I'm sure there was a point to all of this, however the sound was such that I exited the room rather faster than I had entered it.

Passing through the suite that introduced the Watt/Puppy MK6 to British shores I feel that Dave Wilson has either lost the plot or is simply pandering to a certain sound demanded by a certain group of wealthy Audiophiles. I don't know. Certainly this is the worst incarnation of the Watt/Puppy yet. Maybe the fault was with the Amplifiers, who knows. The Electronics driving the speakers where Krells best.

A Reviewer from an American magazine characterised the sound as worthy of a £ 1,000 Sony Rack system. I agree. Having passed three of the great names in Hi-Fi and having divested myself of the Awards for the worst failure to live up to expectation and price, its time to move on into the Quad suite.

Here I was in for more than just a small surprise. On show was a new Quad Valve Amplifier. No, not just a reissued Quad II, a new design. Ex Audio Note UK Designer Andy Grove (Mr. Ankoru) has outdone himself and so have the people who have redesigned the Quad ESL-63. The combination of the new Quad II -forty and the ESL989 Speaker was rather likable. More such stuff please, Quad.

Comparing to last year I'd guess Quad deserves the award for the most improved sound of the show.

While we have the Electrostatic Topic, let's quickly look in at the Inner Sound room. In the picture are the Eros Hybrid ESL Speaker. Down on the floor is a chinese 211 Single-Ended Amplifier driving the Speakers. Despite Room problems it sounded not bad at all. Also seen on the rack is the Purcell Upsampler from dCS and the Elgar DAC from the same stable. So, what do I think about all this upsampled CD to 24Bit/192kHz lark? Not all that much. The Kondo designed DAC without ANY oversampling or upsampling is much more to my taste. And cheaper.

 One more interesting newcomer to English shores is Odeon by Einstein. These are hybrid hornspeakers made in Germany Speakers, designed especially to partner Valve Amplifiers. Heard with the beautiful CR Developments electronics I liked the Speakers well enough to beg for review samples. And the new CR Developments Preamplifier with the super-retro-mega-cool round, chrome VU Meters is stunning. No idea how it sounds, but if look would count....












A room that I really liked to be in was the GT Audio Suite. Showing the Platine Verdier Turntable, their own range of Electronics under the "Tron" label as well as the German avantgarde Horn Speakers the sound was suave, dynamic and really alive.

I wanted to show the new Tron PX-25 Single Ended Amplifier, but the photo turned out rather badly. Avant Garde introduced a new Subwoofer which I felt addressed a lot of the weakness of the older model. But Subwoofers are just boring black Boxes. So have a picture of the avantgarde Trio in stunning metallic Blue.

Also a nice touch where the Ficus trees and the general way the GT Audio Suite was presented.




Meanwhile upstairs was spinning what was probably one of the stranger combinations of the Show. Simon "The Recordplayer" Yorke exhibited together with SAP from Italy. A new prototype Speaker from SAP, the Quartette, was hooked up to a cute OTL Valve Amplifier and the Yorke S9 Turntable.

Yorke S-9 Turntable

The result? Hmmm, I have some slightly mixed feelings about the Speakers, yet they are still prototypes and did show a lot of promise. Let's see (or rather hear) the finished Product.

As complete Valve fanatic I must show a close-up of the Amplifier. It is being described as Zero Feedback Single Ended OTL Amplifier, good for about 18Watt. I really like this one. And I'd guess my friend Paul would like this one too. So Paul, plenty of glow-bottles on the Amplifier- this one is for you….

REL Q-200 Subwoofer

There is plenty left I'd love to tell all of you about. For example the Aureavox Speakers by ADT which try to offer a Valve Amplifier friendly Speaker in a domestically acceptable Format (eg. No more - "No way are you putting these big and ugly Boxes in here..." from your spouse).

Then there where Living Voice Audio who disappointed me severely. After showing last year the highly promising "Rude Boy" 3-Way high efficiency Speaker I gather they where to busy filling orders for their smaller speakers to develop this to a finished product state. What a pity.

The British stalwart Subwoofer manufacturer REL introduced their take on the recently quite popular miniature Cube Subwoofer theme, the REL Q200. Really small it not only managed to pound out prodigious Low-End notes, it also managed to integrate very well and to play these notes in a musical way, not like your average home theather thunderbuster.

Before I go I'll leave you with a view into the EAR Room. With Tim de Paravicini as usual larger than live and in attendence this room tends to be rather interesting. This year playing via Quad ESL-63 Loudspeaker the sound from the truly revived Quad ESL 989 and the Quad II - forty clearly outshone what was what heard in the EAR Room.

I could go on and on and on. I could talk about the stunning looking Italian Nightingale Valve Amplifiers, the amazing Lumley Loudspeakers, Diapson's new floorstanding NUX Speakers or the Zingali hybrid hornspeakers with gorgeous looking wooden horns. However, I'm confident that you will read about these elsewhere.

So I remain yours truly. I hope you enjoyed our brief sojourn to discover the exotic, unusual and great sounding Hi-Fi this show had to offer. I for one had a great time and must thank the organisers of the show for a truly enjoyable time. I already look forward to the next show in September 2000.

Go to Part 2

© Copyright 1999 Thorsten Loesch - http://www.tnt-audio.com

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