National Audio Show, Whittlebury Hall, UK, 20-21 September 2014 – The Director’s Cut

24th October 2014

You can tell Christmas is on the way because Next has holly-shaped tags on their clothes, some city centres are already installing their Christmas lights and the National Audio Show opens its doors at Whittlebury Hall, next to the Silverstone F1 race track, not far from Milton Keynes, in the UK

It’s an odd show. The ground floor is known for its confusing room layout while upstairs features exhibitors installed in gutted hotel rooms. You’ll never hear the equipment sounding at its best in this environment but the exhibitors are full of enthusiasm, so it’s difficult not to get stirred up in the passion of the companies involved.

The location itself is a little odd. You’re not going to attract too many passers-by. In fact, the only passing trade tends to be taxi drivers, dropping off hi-fi enthusiasts, and looking for a loo or golf players (from the adjacent course) looking for a lost ball. This place is in the middle of nowhere. Hardly the centre of attention, therefore. Nevertheless, there was plenty of fascinating products to see at this show.

In this ‘Director’s Cut’ report, I have included a range of ‘live’ audio interviews from many of the exhibitors attending the show. Not everyone is included. Some were just busy or unavailable and, despite my two day attendance, time was not on my side. For those exhibitors that I couldn’t talk to in person, I have included images from the show plus a brief textual account.

A quick note of the use of sound files for this show report. They are included for a variety of reasons. Firstly, just that – variety. It makes a pleasant change from a dry press release and puts you in touch with the passion behind the products from the day itself. Secondly, I didn’t use video because the interviewees were busy people, often moving around, dodging members of the public, agitatedly pointing fingers to staff and colleagues. Setting up a stable video feed during a busy show for all of the interviewees was not possible. In many cases, I had to drag each one by the arm to a relatively quiet corner for a few minutes chat before they ran back to the fray. Nevertheless, rather than having just one or two video feeds, I preferred to have many more audio feeds.

Next, sound quality. The interviewee’s voice can often be much quieter than my own. So don’t be shy with your volume control. This is only because stuffing a microphone under the nose of a relatively nervous hi-fi man can be a little daunting for them. I had next to no time to help them relax and say what they really wanted to say.

Finally, yes the concept isn’t perfect, there are lots of improvements that can be made (please feel free to add your own suggestions) so I ask for your patience. It will improve over each forthcoming show.

I could be wrong, of course but I think such interview files for a show report to be a ‘first’. For future shows, just watch the copyists suddenly find the ability to include interview-based sound files on their show report. Remember, you saw it here first.



Arguably, the busiest stand at the show and packed with rather nice headphone designs including this set of Obravo HAMT-1 headphones (£1,500). Hear about many more models in the audio interview including Ultrasone and Fostex. : Tel 01767 448121



Yes, that’s right, two arms on a SME 10 turntable. Something that SME itself does not offer. Timestep approached the company with the idea, though and SME provided it’s blessing for the enterprise. The two-armed turntable is called the SME-10/D (£3,825, less arms) or you can buy just the extra arm board, the 10/D arm mounting plate, for £199. : Tel 01803 833366




The company was showing a range of its, Bamboo-based, hi-fi and AV stands including some exclusive product, such as this 4-shelf Helix Eco 4.0, designed for non-standard hi-fi equipment. Price for a four-shelf unit is £350. More details via the audio interview. : Tel 01455 283251



New to the show, Richard Best showed two new audio designs, both of which are being sold direct to the public to keeps prices down: the Model 22/3 (pictured, £1,750) and the 40/4 (£2,850). Both use sloping baffles. There was something uniquely British about the design. More details in the audio interview. (This is a new company, even the website is ‘under construction’.)



Showing, once more, the outfit’s BC-30 mini monitor (£349). To b positioned close to the wall for best sound results (so, they can actually be ‘bookshelf’ speakers), the BC-30 speakers are hand built from birchwood ply and then veneered. The mid/bass driver is doped paper and the tweeter is a fluid cooled 25mm model. : Tel 01924 828545



The N Series N6361 (£2,000) is a 2-way design with a 1″ tweeter and a pair of mid-bass drivers, spanning 7″. It has a 90db sensitivity and weighs in at 28.5kg.



The MB81 monoblock amplifier (£12,500 a pair) beasts feature GU81 pentode valves. Offering 200W of power in triode mode. Note the smaller and more common EL34 valves, alongside. Much more information in the audio interview. : 01162 440593



Straussmann appeared at the show for the first time, occupying one of the larger show rooms. It was showing a new system that features the Control Centre, the MC-Phono 2010, featuring symmetrical signal processing and thermionic valves and the E-50 mono amplifier with fully symmetrical signal processing. : Tel +49 30 8058 6120



Packed with gear including Clearaudio parallel tracking arm, turntables and Gamut speakers (both pictured). More on the audio interview. Also in this room, although not particularly highlighted, was Isotek’s EVO3 version of the Titan, current power conditioner. Designed to deliver clean power for power-hungry amplifiers, mono-blocks, active loudspeakers and subwoofers. :  Tel 0118 981 4238



A collaboration between the two companies has produced this two-box, Reference, phono amp (£9,850), designed to run moving magnet cartridges only. If you want to also handle moving coil, the companies recommend that you add the Music First step-up transformer (for a total price of £11,000) : Tel 01424 858260/07812 249747



The company was showing all four of its turntables to the public for the first time. The latest is known as the Fat Boy (aka Turntable 3), it is still in prototype form. No price just yet. Check out the audio file for information on Rogue and Egglestone Works, which Divine also distribute. : Tel 01536 762211



Also present in the Divine Audio room, apart from its own Analogue Works turntables, were two American brands that it now distributes. Rogue Audio had a number of amplifiers on show plus Eggleston Works speakers, owned by Jim Thompson. Listen to an audio interview with Thompson. : 01536 762211



Priority was given to Pardo’s phono amplifier (top in picture), the PHN1 (“About £750,” said Pardo), featuring moving coil and moving magnet. The load is set with plugs at the rear, depending on your cartridge type. To hear about other hardware and more details, check out the audio interview.



LW were featuring a range of new and updated hardware. Included was the Audio Music RT2 (£7,500), the silver-wired version of the RT1, a two-box pre-amp. Also present were the Audio Music 833s II monoblocks (pictured), running the mighty 833 valves (£24,000 – £4,000 more than the earlier, copper versions). Listen to the audio interview for information on the Horning Eurodite Ellipse speakers. : Tel 01284 716415



The new 1108 monoblock amplifiers (£5,750) now superseed the company’s original 1008s (the latter are now 30 years old). Despite the fact that I interviewed the company at the show (listen to the audio interview) obtaining a decent image was problematic due to lighting, position and lots of people. The above image is direct from Albarry. Tel 07984 354130



Do you own a copy of the original Royd Minstrels? This design hasn’t been seen since  Joe Royd retired in 2002. Now Adam Norbury has created the Minstrel inspired Troubadour (listen to our audio interview with Norbury). Black version is £999 or coloured for £1,199.)



New on Mark Dolbear’s stand included the HiFiMAN He400i (£360), replacing the He400, and the He560 (£650, pictured), which replaces the He500. Check out my audio chat with Dolbear. My apologies to Mark. I seemed to have suffered all of my mechanical injuries, all at once, at his stand. The images of his headphones failed to materialise and his interview was slightly curtailed. There was no truth in the rumours of his stand being haunted. Nevertheless, I will be reviewing a pair of HiFiMAN headphones soon, on this site (and will ignore any spectral wailing emanating from the Planar drivers).



Two new streamers for you featuring Qobuz content (a music service offering CD quality music). Reportedely, this is the first wireless system to handle double rate DSD. The Aries LE (£995) features a built-in Femto clock to remove jitter and vibration affecting the sound while the Aries (£1,495) features two Femto clocks and a better power supply for further sound improvements. Check out the audio interview on this one.



New for the show from Harman was the AKG Y-Series Line including the basic over-ear model, the Y40 (£70), the Bluetooth model Y45 (£110) and the brand new Y50 (£80). The Pro model, the K812 (£1,100) is the company’s new flagship model with 53mm transducers, the largest that the company has ever built. This was the first time that the latter had appeared at any show. More information can be had via the audio interview.



New at the show was the company’s Micro iDSD (£425, pictured, left), both a desktop and portable DAC/headphone amp featuring native PCM and DSD output. Also on the stand was the iFi Retro 50 (£1,500, pictured above), an all in one valve amp, phono stage and DAC that supports Bluetooth.



As opposed to the Leema debacle (below), I stood in this room for…well, it seemed like weeks. But no-one appeared. I picked up a leaflet. Took a few pictures. Peered out of the room and up and down the corridor. Nothing. Lots of kit, therefore, but no actual bodies to talk to. The new Pluto omni-directional speakers where there, of course (you never have a really big, strong bag when you need one). The company says, in the leaflet, that its cylinder shape is the most rigid structure, while eliminating the standard design ‘box-sound’. : [email protected]



The US-based Merrill Williams R.E.A.L. 101.2 turntable featuring a centre clamp and peripheral clamp. Features swoppable arm boards. Listen to the interview about the turntable but also other products that this distributor has brought into the country from the USA.



This rather crammed room featured the company’s new mains extension blocks. The X-Blocks arrive in 2 (£169, pictured), 4 (£259) or 6-socket (£349) blocks. Wired with KimberTCX cable, the Blocks feature a Silencer mains filter plus SuperClamp noise reduction.



I tried to see Leema, I really did. Every time I approached the room, though, I couldn’t get past the locked door. My bad timing, I reckon, or they could see me coming (I did wonder what the sound of hammering wood and locks being applied was, now I think about it). I am assured that, behind the door, was the Libra DAC supporting 24bit/192kHz, DSD and DXD, the Elements Ultra Phono (pictured) featuring comprehensive electrical matching, the 200W Pulse IV integrated amplifier and the Stream IV, CD player/streamer. No show pictures though. Unless you are collecting images of doors. : Tel 01938 559 021



The first UK demonstration of the KEF Blade Two. With all of the original Blade’s acoustic signature and design but on a slightly smaller scale. Where space is at a premium. No show picture for this one because I arrived in the middle of a rather active demonstration. Getting a clear shot was tough. I would have failed the audition for the film, Day Of The Jackal, I’m sure. : Tel 01622 672 261



Designed and hand-built in the UK, using bespoke technology, the company were showing the Dundee 6 speakers. Featuring a combination of the company’s Acoustic Induction technology and an undamped Transmission Line cabinet. : Tel 01273 697 848