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|23rd September 2005, 10:03 PM||#1|
Join Date: Sep 2003
Report - 2005 London HiFi Show
The London HiFi Show 2005
Heathrow, September 23-5
This HiFi News sponsored hotel based show was smaller than last year, more high end, and the overall impression was of a much better overall sound quality – the bad rooms stood out. On the other hand, the systems were routinely on the expensive to very expensive end of the market. The old technologies were very much in evidence – plenty of valves and vinyl. Turntables get bigger and higher every year, and the KT88s and EL34s – though still in evidence – give way more and more to 845 and 300b outputs, particularly since Chinese production is getting better with each iteration. On the other hand, digital amps were not so much showing a glimpse of the future but showing that the future is here right now. Naim had one sounding good, and if there was one product that could claim to be Product of the Show, it was the Lyngdorf 2200 digital amp.
Peter Lyngdorf of Dali was there at the outset of digital amps in Denmark – he helped finance the first product designed by Lars Risbo in 1996 - and while the research part went to Texas Instruments – who now have a staff of 8 working on it in Denmark – Lyngdorf retained manufacturing rights and now sells the TacT amps under his own name. There is an analogue input version of the amp, the SDA2175, for £775, but the star is the digital input TDA 2200 at £2150) which has solutions to common system problems that previously filled several boxes, if they were available at all. Connect a CD source (e.g. CD transport) to this one amp and you get a 2 way crossover, including time delay correction for a subwoofer located behind or in front of the mains. You also get a volume control, and a room correction system (RCS) or graphic equaliser in old money. Such is the ability of this amp to correct for frequency and phasing problems that Lyngdorf has optimised his Dali Euphonia MS4 speakers purely for impulse response. The 10” Scanspeak wood fibre units in the twin corner located subs are so light and fast they cross over at 500hz – astonishing. Twin 6.5” wood pulp units in the mains cross over to a dome and ribbon working in tandem – the dome coming in at 2.7K and the ribbon at 8k with an unusual 6db filter, allowing it to overlap the dome 4db down. Speed and dispersion are the priorities. Consequently the sound was coherent, detailed and smooth – frankly as good in its way as anything in the show. There is little in the signal path, no feedback and a complex PSU with five filter stages, giving a claimed ripple and noise figure 140db down while the worst spike at 100hz is 137db down. The amp is claimed to be free from overshoot, undershoot, ringing and time smearing. This is a lot of technology for £2250 when you consider the range of system solutions this single box offers. Astonishing. Products in the pipeline include a CD-DAC-Pre with room correction and electronic crossover, then a multichannel amp in one box.
Following the path of innovation we come to Ferguson Hill, whose large FH001 perspex horns with no rear chamber used Lowther units with the magnets removed and replaced by field coils working off 12v batteries. Be ready to fork out £10K and another £5k for the FH002 subs and dedicated amp, but you do get a clean, detailed, smooth and very satisfying sound which was one of the top performers. Looks are, well, original. You have to like Perspex - fortunately for its size it’s transparent!
Another speaker working off a 12v sealed lead acid battery (for 15 hours at least with a 2.6aH) is the multi-panel Hong Kong based KingSound electrostatic – 5 treble and 7 bass panels featuring very thin mylar membranes. Very good sound from this large panel and its associated Jolida monoblok PP 211 electronics.
One of the sounds of the show this year comes courtesy of one of the long standing industry personalities, Branko Bozic of Audiofreaks. If his usual Conrad Johnson/Avalon system was sounding good in one room, then in the next room the same speakers were up a whole level when driven by the boutique amp to end all boutique amps – the Zanden which he imports. “Imports” and “production” are loose expressions when it comes to Zanden, and so is price, except think of £35k for his amps and several thousand for the CD transport, DAC and other electronics, which designer Kazutoshi Yamada claims are original circuits with patents taken out. It’s hard to imagine what can still be patented in valve technology, but apparently it can be done. His CD player and DAC were exquisite – well, all his gear is hand made to order by a friendly colleague in the industrial city of Osaka. The twin mono amps themselves are the ultimate status symbol – big, gorgeous looks and sound and there’s only one pair of them in existence! They work off balanced interconnects from the preamp and contain 5687 drivers going through Tamura interstages into PP 845 outputs with Plitron toroidal output transformers. One can dream….. This system deserves to be in the home of some celebrated classical conductor or instrumentalist – well, one who doesn’t listen through a kitchen radio most of the time that is. Yamada is perfectly charming – open, humble, sensitive and his English for once is damn near accent-less. He does all the designs as well as the electronics. A special system indeed.
Other very good sounding systems – clean, smooth and detailed – included, in no special order:
> Oracle CD2500 and DAC through Eclipse preamp and Quicksilver monos into Merlin VSMs
> Kondo KSL electronics into Living Voice speakers
> Prima Luna valve amps into Sonus Faber Amati Hommage speakers
> The Greek Ypsilon SET100 hybrid amp into a Watt look-alike two box speaker (best loud sound of show). Prototypes only as yet, and estimated £35k tag for the amp. This would be a dream PA system for a small band in a club setting.
> Best sounding vinyl system – Stratosphere turntable through Boulder preamp and Inner Sound amp into Rockport speakers. Gilels playing Beethoven sonatas on DG never sounded so good. Very impressive.
> Audio Aero amps – an unusual combination of 813 and 211 valves working together in the output stage and driven by 6SN7s sounded excellent, partnered by BC Acoustique speakers from this Toulouse based company. So nice to see 6SN7s instead of the ubiquitous ECC/12A*7 series inputs.
> Jadis DA885s into Martin Logan Summit hybrids, braving the challenge of getting electrostatics to sound good near walls in small hotel rooms – always a problem in the London HiFi Shows year upon year.
> Nagra pyramid amps into Peak 3-way speakers proudly claiming their Stereophile class a status.
All the above systems were excellent, and all were expensive. There was a lot of quality about, but only the Lyngdorf system - quite deliberately – was good value for money. HiFi seems to be mirroring camera technology – the old products like the Leicas get more and more expensive, while the digital technology gets cheaper and cheaper year on year. And more to the point, as in the camera world we are just at the point where the digital technology is on a level playing field in terms of quality – some prefer one, some the other. Since digital technology is likely to improve faster than analogue it’s hard to deny that this is where the future lies. Shame about all those vinyl albums and lovely glowing valves. Still - one might just still meet a better class of person at future car boot sales……………….
Andy Evans, Performance and Media
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