Bristol Sound & Vision 2014

Show report
Bristol Sound & Vision 2014

Elsewhere though, there was a distinct lack of headphone makers at the show. Yes, brands like Focal, KEF and Musical Fidelity were showing headphone lines alongside the brand’s core audio products, but where last year the show was dominated by brands such as Sennheiser, the only headphone brand covered extensively at the event was Audeze, which was on display in several rooms and stands, as well as in the distributor (Decent Audio) room. Perhaps the largest single collection of headphones was on the Astell & Kern stand, where the company was inviting people to play the new AK240 on a range of models (including the Audeze range), but this is a marked change in direction for this important show on the UK audio calendar.

Tubes, as ever at this show, were thin on the ground. Ming Da being the regular exception, bringing every valve amp the company could fit into a truck and playing a fantastic, but bewildering array of tubular electronics. Elsewhere, Unison Research replaced its long running Simply 4 integrated amp with the new Triode 25 £2,350. As ever full of Italian charm, this EL34-based push-pull/triode amplifier can even be supplied with a DAC to bring the elegant 1950s wooden coffee machine looks right up to date on the inside.

The solid-state amplifier market was well covered, with few new launches that weren't covered at CES. But there were a few newcomers, even here. Quad chose to launch the new Vena integrated amplifier at the show. Quad's cheapest amplifier to date, the 45W design also features AptX Bluetooth connectivity, USB input, analogue connections and a range of finishes, starting at £600.

When it comes to subwoofers, we have a lot of time for REL. The company's presence at Bristol shows why. Where most sub companies were booming away and making a loud bark around the hotel, REL was going for subtlety in two and five channel sound. A chance to show off its new range of Serie S subwoofers, John Hunter of Sumiko had flown in from the US to give demonstrations on what a subwoofer does for audio, and why. In the process, he fell for the excellent Harbeth Super HL5 loudspeakers (on very tall stands), telling everyone how good they are. A true enthusiast, John is able to heap praise on products when it is richly deserved (even if the picture is not my finest photographic hour). 

Finally, turntables. As might be expected given the vinyl revival still going on, there was renued interest in all things LP. But two big British names spring to mind here: Rega was showing its RP10 turntable (seen at CES) in a modest, but nice sounding all-Rega system, and Michell Engineeing played its prototype Orbe SE.ex (perhaps not the best working title around). This integrates the plinth of the Orbe into the stand itself, to lower the profile of the deck and improve performance in the process.

And, although not necessarily new, we have to give full marks to Wilson Benesch for making an all-white version of its Circle turntable, which looked especially striking playing the white-vinyl version of the Nirvana Unplugged album. The Circle 25 is not simply a nice colour scheme, it replaces the MDF plinth with white Delrin:

There was a lot more, as ever. Of special note was the excellent sounding Antelope DAC (now with Atomic Clock!) driving Amphion loudspeakers, the Michell-Johnson range of very low cost electronics that have a striking resemblance to Sansui. The new £425 USB cable from CAD and Atlas’ new Asimi Ultima with better plugs and a new look for £2,750/m. The new Heed Thesus range of upper end amps behind the curtain. And of course, A J van den Hul bringing his lab to the hotel and building vdH Crimson cartridges in the room.

For what could be mistaken as a provincial show, Bristol Sound & Vision has become and remains the strongest event on the UK show calendar.