The Bristol Hi-Fi Show 2019

We didn’t manage to get to Bristol for the first time since 1988 but that’s no reason not to report on some of the highlights of this always entertaining event. No longer dubbed Sound & Vision but not entirely devoid of home cinema the event was apparently as busy as ever with plenty of new kit in action. Here are some of the more interesting new products that were at the event.

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There have been rumours of a new high end amplifier from Rega floating around for a couple of years and Bristol saw its unveiling. Aethos is a pure analogue integrated with 156 Watts per channel on tap and a class A preamplifier stage and line level inputs, no phono stage or DAC. Priced at £2,998 Aethos is due to be available in late May or June.

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ATC brought their new CD2 disc spinner and DAC and the matching SIA2-100 integrated amplifier, pairing them with SCM40 loudspeakers. A Melco N1ZS/2A server was plugged into the USB input on the CD2 to provide top notch digits. Apparently this system went some way to dispelling the myth that ATCs need a monster amp, mind you 100W isn’t exactly lightweight.

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Michell Engineering showed the most attractive turntable of the show by integrating a stand with their Gyro SE turntable. This stainless steel and acrylic rig replaces the base of the SE with a shelf for the motor and incorporates two extra shelves for a power supply and phono stage. Price is £3,800. They also demonstrated what they hope to be the final prototype of the Cusis MC cartridge which will go into production very soon.

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Chord Co showed new insulation material XLPE, which has been implemented in ShawlineX (£30/m), RumourX (£30/m), OdysseyX (£30/m), EpicXL (£200/m) and SignatureXL (£300/m) speaker cables. XLPE (Cross-linked Polyethylene) is claimed to be a major performance upgrade over PTFE as found on the earlier incarnations of these models. Chord also released Ohmic fluid for contact cleaning, a product that looks likely to be prices but demonstrates very well.

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Leema played their new Stream CD player which as the name suggests both spins discs and streams music. At £2,295 it features an ESS Sabre DAC, a 24/192 streaming module and the ability to play from NAS drives and USB flash drives. 

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Chord Electronics made an impression with their Hugo M Scaler (£3,495), an upscaler that claims “the world’s most advanced filter technology”. It upscales CD’s 44.1kHz digital audio 16x up to 705.6kHz, a figure that rises to 768kHz (from 96kHz input data) when used with Chord Electronics’ dual-BNC-input DACs: DAVE, Qutest and Hugo TT 2.

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Mitchell & Johnson demonstrated the S800 CD player, a new British made design at £1,299. With an ESS Sabre DAC and “European-sourced” CD drive it has a linear power supply and XLR and RCA outputs alongside digital coaxial and Toslink connections.

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Acoustic Energy has a new flagship range dubbed 500 series. Both tweeter and woofers have carbon fibre drivers which AC claim is “much lighter and better damped than other typical hard dome materials”. A cast aluminium waveguide on the HF is used to reduce vibration getting to the tweeter. There are two models so far, the AE500 2-way stand mount at £1,000 and 2.5-way AE509 floorstander for £2,300.

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Townshend Audio continue their quest to educate audiophiles about the problems with spiking. By placing tablets on identical speakers, one spiked and the other on a Seismic Base and running a vibration sensing seismographic app it’s clear just how much vibration travels through spikes. We can confirm that the results of this sound better than they look, highly recommended.

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PMC took a break from launching new speakers to demonstrate the potential of Dolby Atmos using pre-release mixes of classic tracks by the Beach Boys, Elton John and Public Enemy. They used twenty5 series speakers for surrounds and flew Wafer2s on a gantry for the height channels in a 7.4.2 system. The technical wizbottery was achieved with Bryston’s new SP4, 16-channel surround processor (£13,995) which was enjoying its UK debut at the show.

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Fyne Audio launched two new Scottish built speakers at Bristol, the F702 (£6,000) is a “midsized” floorstander that combines a 200mm midrange with centrally located tweeter and a bass driver of the same size in a cabinet with down firing port. The F1-12 (£26,000) is their biggest speaker yet with no holds barred build and 300mm (12 inch) drivers with a titanium diaphragm three inch tweeter, presumably a horn loaded compression driver, at the centre of the midrange.

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At the end of the first day of each Bristol show industry body the Clarity Alliance gives out awards to those who managed to make a good sound in the hotel’s challenging rooms. Among this year’s winners was PMC whose founder Peter Thomas accepted the award for Best Sounding Home Cinema from sales ninja Tom Barron. Other winners included Linn for Best Sounding Hi-Fi Room and Dali for Best of Show. It was heartening to hear that reviewing legend and former colleague John Bamford got a posthumous lifetime achievement award. 

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Among the systems that we heard good things about was this combination of Melco N100 and upgraded power supply, Questyle CAS192D DAC, PMC Cor integrated amplifier and Russell K Red 150 loudspeakers in the Russell K room. A system that doesn’t cost a fortune yet proved extremely entertaining according to our spies.

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DALI was making very respectable sounds with its £699 Oberon 5 floorstander powered by Audiolab electronics including the new 6000N streamer (£499) and using an Innuos Zen Mini Mk3 server (£999). This system got Best in Show approval from the Clarity Alliance judges so must have been pretty decent.

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Mellow Acoustics made their debut at Bristol and showed an unusual hybrid loudspeaker called FrontRo. This has an electrostatic mid/treble panel atop a conventional woofer in a pyramid shaped cabinet. Maker Tim Mellow chose this approach to more closely emulate the highly reflective sound of live acoustics. The FrontRo speakers are £7,500 per pair.