Because of the nature of the hi-fi beast — politics and prejudice often override reality — the Hi-Fi Show at the Ramada Hotel at London’s Heathrow Airport is always taken for granted. Or dissed beyond belief. Maybe it’s because the show is sponsored by a magazine. Or maybe it’s because the British despise success.
Whatever, the facts are as follows: it is now Europe’s largest “specialist audio” (or high-end, if you prefer) show in both the number of exhibiting brands and visitors, dwarfing all others in all manner of clout. It also pulls in more foreign visitors than any other, with over 35 countries represented. Over 100 rooms showcased over 200 actual brands at the 1995 event; unlike those from nearly all other shows, the Hi-Fi Show’s catalogue doesn’t count every drink in the hotel bar as an exhibiting brand. Because it takes place at the beginning of the season, it’s always good for a host of important launches. These are but a few:
1) ACAPELLA, the German firm long known for outrageous horn-loaded systems, showed a novel B&O challenger called the King, Queen and Duke; the models are, respectively, a vertical 32W/ch integrated amplifier, loudspeakers in cast aluminum cabinets and a combination CD player/tuner.
2) AEON ACOUSTICS’ handsome Signet is a sloped-back, tiny speaker which uses the company’s unique “starform” drivers; these feature relief patterns in the cones, which are made by pressure-bonding two styrene halves together. Each Signet measures only 25.25×7.75×11.5in (HWD).
3) ALCHEMIST introduced The Alchemist monoblock power amp, designed in association with Tim de Paravacini. It’s a single-ended design and rated at 65w pure Class A. UK price is a heady £9000 ($13,500) per pair.
4) ALCHEMIST’s new pre-amp, to match either The Alchemist power amp or the 200W/ch stereo addition, is the remote controlled APD24 pre-amp. It provides ten inputs (four balanced, six RCA) and transformer-balanced outputs for up to four sets of power amps, plus one single-ended set.
5) ARION ACOUSTICS unveiled the Adonis kit, a 20W/ch pure Class A triode-coupled pentode amplifier with custom-designed transformers for only £495 ($750), but this eyecatcher is the more ambitious Nemesis Single-Ended Triode power amp, set to sell for just under £3000 ($4500).
6) ART AUDIO (not to be confused with Italian cable and accessory maker A.R.T.) showed a high-quality single-ended triode Class A OTL design demonstrated through this novel modular speaker design. The basic component is the Solo pyramid seen at the top, which becomes the Duet when augmented by a sub-woofer. Full Trio status is achieved by adding the super-sub, for a total package price of £3500 ($5300).
7) AUDIO NOTE’s gorgeous Ankoru arrived just in time for the show. It’s an 80W pure Class A monoblock, parallel single-ended and selling for £12,500 ($18,750) per pair.
8) BOW TECHNOLOGIES’ ZZ-One integrated amp finally appeared in production form, this stunning Danish design having been seen before only as a computer-generated drawing. Set to sell in the UK for around £2500 ($3750), it will be joined by a matching CD player within a year.
9) CHAMELEON’s Ruby must be the world’s slimmest power amp: the footprint is 438x305mm but the height is only 45mm. A self-cooling device without fans and delivering 200W/ch into 8 ohms, the Ruby comes from the pro sector, as shown by its construction.
10) CHIMERA launched the X50, a 50W/ch solid-state integrated amp costing only £399 ($600). Also new to the range are the 80W/ch X80, and the 2x100W X100 at the top of the range.
11) CHORD ELECTRONICS demonstrated this solid-state monster, the SPM5000 amplifier, costing £9987.50 ($15,000), with the matching CPA 2800 pre-amplifier. The top-end Chord electronics feature industrial-strength construction, novel features and bags of power.
12) CONCORDANT, previously regarded as a cult item of limited distribution, appeared in a new, more commercial guise with a range of three tube pre-amplifiers: the Exhilarant, the Excelsior and this one, the flagship Exquisite, complete with its own dedicated Super ‘A’ power supply. Noticeable was a vast improvement in build quality and neat cabinets for each unit.
13) COPLAND’s first CD player, the CDA288, had its world launch at the Hi-Fi Show. The super-clean styling matches the company’s existing units, and those rotary controls are multi-functional. Short flicks take care of track accessing. Price in the UK is circa £1800 ($2700).
14) DPA introduced the entry-level Little Bit 3 for £300 ($450), featuring a proprietary DAC, multiple inputs, digital output, double PLL for ultra low jitter, and a full-width case, unusual at its price point. It’s shown here with the Enlightenment transport.
15) ELECTROCOMPANIET returned to the UK market with an entry-level line-only integrated amplifier, the EC1-2 delivering 50W/ch. Price is £990 ($1500).
16) FOCUSRITE AUDIO ENGINEERING LTD, from the professional sector but keen on entering the hi-fi arena, showed the crimson-hued Red 4 pre-amplifier at £2950 ($4500) and the Red 5 power amplifier at £2450 ($3700). Just in case you need a break from black or silver…
17) GAMMA ACOUSTICS had a room full of new models, crowned by this huge beast, the Rhythm Reference 211/VT4c 26W single-ended stereo power amp/line integrated amplifier at £11,999 ($18,000). Also for S.E.T. crazies is the Space Signature 300B 40W single-ended mono power amp, at £34,999. Or just over $50,000. Yeah, right.
18) GATE, or Glass Audio Tube Engineering, launched itself with a pair of monoblocks available in either tetrode- or triode-powered versions. In UL501A form, the amp uses two KT88s for 50W output; in TR201A form, these are replaced with two 300Bs for 15W of pure triode power. Price for the KTT88 edition is £2585 ($3900) per pair, while the 300B package costs £2702 ($4050). To follow is the PR101A preamplifier.
19) HARMAN-KARDON unveiled what is believed to be the first-ever true digital power amp. Described as a genuine PCM-to-PWM converter, it’s a compact, 8kg cube delivering 200W/ch into 8 ohms, with better than 70% efficiency. Inputs feed the SPDIF decoding, followed by 24-bit, x8 oversampling digital processing and noise shaping, the PCM-to-PWM stage, a MOSFET switching H-bridge, and a 4th order Bessel filter before the outputs. Alongside this chain are the system control and user interface stages, plus the digitally-controlled switch-mode power supply.
20) KAL produced a range of single-ended, Class A amplifiers tailored to customer preferences: you specify the tubes. DA100s, original Telefunkens, EL156s, original Western Electric 300Bs — take your pick. Also available are three all-Telefunken- pre-amps ranging in price from £999 ($1500) to £2500 ($3750).
21) KORA from France came over with the outrageous Triode 100SB monoblocks, fitted with two 6C33CB tubes for 80W output, but the surprise was the new Triode Preamplifier, all-tubed and with that most rare of features: a headphone socket.
22) KRELL’S long-awaited KAV-300, the company’s first integrated amp, received its world launch in actual functioning form; it was one of the most talked-about debuts at the show. Fully remote controlled and delivering 150W/channel, it sounded terrific played through Sonus Fabers.
23) LORICRAFT was a smash hit with their lovingly restored Garrard and Thorens turntables. Fitted to hand-crafted bases, the resuscitated record decks are flawless, and the company’s reputation as the Salvation Army of Analogue has meant that revivable vintage LP spinners are now selling for premium prices.
24) MERACUS arrived from Germany with numerous examples of their handsome Imago CD player/transport in a range of wild colors, including red, white, and navy blue. The hit feature, besides the sloped cabinet, is the sliding glass lid.
25) MOTH ELECTRONICS’ additions to the modular Thirty Series include the Super Passive Line Stage, the Super Passive with phono option, the Super Active line stage (which adds 25dB of gain to the Passive). The Thirty Plus Assembly System seen here consists of a selection of 9mm-thick aluminium front panels to form integrated units from various Thirty Series modules.
26) NVA’s new Tubular Range is actually solid-state, the name now denied to manufacturers of glassware. The components are housed in compact cylinders, the various models including The Tube integrated amplifier for £620 ($930), the Power Tube stereo power amp for the same price and the Control Tube six-input pre-amp with various configurations starting from £670 ($1000).
27) ROGERS surprised everyone with prototypes of their new tube amplifiers. The first models will be the 20w/ch Class-A E20a at £1200 ($1800), and the 40w/ch Class A E40a for £2500 ($3750), and all that needs finishing is the curved cover. Rogers hired one of this UK’s top tube wizards to help with the design.
28) RUARK ACOUSTICS’ Icon replaces the long-serving Swordsman. Selling for only £359 ($540) per pair, this two-way system’s woofer utilizes a custom-made 140mm polymer composite chassis and treated paper cone; upper frequencies are covered by a 25mm doped fabric tweeter. Full shielding and a cabinet made from 15mm particle board with an 18mm MDF baffle complete the recipe.
29) SOUND BY DESIGN’s elegant new turntable, the belt-driven Quasar, positions the main bearing and the tonearm base on a pair of rails for ridiculously easy set-up. Price is only £1250 ($1875) without arm.
30) STRATOSPHERE’s ST1 uses an air support system and it is said to have one of the quietest bearings of any turntable currently available. It can be fitted with two tonearms and was demonstrated with both Graham and Morch tonearms and Transfiguration cartridges.
31) SUMO turned up with — no kidding — tube products. Completed only days before the show began were the Gold all-tube line pre-amplifier, with five inputs plus tape and the matching 300B-powered 30W monoblocks seen here.
32) TANDBERG returned to the UK after a long absence, with the handsome 4000 series slimline components seen at other shows. But the scoop was the pre-production version of the forthcoming Troll, an incredibly tiny 30W/ch integrated amp with on-board passive pre-amp section and a non-magnetic housing.
33) TECNACO displayed an elegant three-way, rear-ported floorstander with its upper section featuring sloped sides. The driver complement consists of a soft-dome “dipole” tweeter, a 5in cone midrange and an 8in woofer, in a cabinet measuring 294x395x920mm (WDH). Sensitivity is 87dB/1W.
34) UNISON RESEARCH from Italy provided us with the world launch of the drop-dead-gorgeous Mystery One pre-amp, a week before the home market got to see it. All-tube, it features extensive use of wood in a manner which only the Italians can achieve.
35) WILSON AUDIO’s WITT, seen in static form at earlier shows, received its first-ever public airing with production samples. This is the company’s entry-level loudspeaker and it was on everyone’s “must hear” list.
36) WILSON BENESCH showed a part-carbon-fibre stand for their turntable, and a first glimpse at the forthcoming moving-coil cartridge with a solid carbon fibre composite body. Two steps closer, then, to a metal-free system.
(Fi Magazine, 1996)