Bristol Hi-Fi Show 2020 Report
The Bristol HiFi Show is now comfortably the longest-running UK audio show and the 33rd iteration took place in February in the familiar surroundings of the Marriott Hotel in the city centre. After a few years of dabbling in AV as well as two-channel audio, taking the Sound & Vision name, the event Bristol reverted to its roots, describing itself as a hi-fi show, last year. These days two-channel is very much the focus, although there were a respectable number of multichannel demonstrations too.
The bulk of the products on show occupied more mainstream price points than one sees at some 'high end' events – something partly defined by the event being organised by UK audio dealer chain Audio T, shaping the sort of products companies tend to bring. Another contributing factor is that all but a few of the rooms in the Marriott hotel used for the show are on the small side and don't take well to having huge pairs of speakers in them. But perhaps the most enduringly curious feature of the Bristol Show is that – despite coming straight after rather grander international events like CES and ISE – it still manages to have an impressive selection of products making their first appearance.
Rega also announced the flagship Aphelion 2 moving coil cartridge.
It fell to Rega Research to combine newness, affordability and intelligent use of a Marriott bedroom to best effect. The company showed off two new products: the £380 Io integrated amp (so-called because it is half a Brio, the previous entry point to the Rega amplifier range) and the £429 Kyte standmount speaker. reviving one of the company's celebrated model names. Rega has taken the opportunity to bundle the two new arrivals with a Planar 1 turntable and all the cabling required to connect the system together, producing the £999 System One. To be available a little later in the year, this represents a very clever way of delivering an entry-level system while maintaining the virtues of the brand.
Another terrestrially priced new arrival was the new Bronze Series from Monitor Audio. The eight strong range – four stereo models with supporting AV speakers – starts at £260 and makes use of the latest versions of the company's C-CAM dome tweeter and mid/bass driver technology. The performance of the Bronze 500 floorstanders in particular was worthy of note: connected to a Roksan system, the speakers balanced room filling ability with a neat combination of energy and refinement.
PMC's revised Twenty5i range (right) was demonstrated against its predecessor to impressive effect.
The new Monitor Audio Bronze range sounded impressive considering its relatively affordable pricing.
Slightly further up the speaker food chain, PMC launched its Twenty5i range, an evolution of the previous Twenty5 range and offers the same choice of two standmounts, three floorstanders and a centre speaker with prices ranging from £1,995 to £8,495. All models have the same cabinets as their predecessors but make use of a new tweeter incorporating a 19mm dome and 34mm rolled surround, derived from the company's Fact range with a view to improving dispersion. This is mated to an improved crossover and, in the case of the floorstanding models, mounted on entirely new plinth bars, refining the mechanical interface between the cabinet and the floor.
The diminutive Fyne 1-5 looks a little curious but sounded outstanding.
A rather different looking speaker impressed in one of the two Fyne Audio rooms. The £2,995 F1-5 is the smallest member of the company's F Series and combines a 125mm multifibre mid/bass cone with a 19mm magnesium tweeter in its throat. In a compact 32cm tall cabinet dominated by a large 'presence' control on the front, the result is unquestionably curious to look at but sounded very good indeed. Fyne also showed off the larger F1-8 standmount and three new members of its F700 Series.
Chord Electronics launched a quintet of new products. The Ultimarange of amplifiers all make use of a circuit topology.
Chord's New Ultima Pre and stereo power amps combined to good effect with ATC SCM50 speakers.
Chord owner John Franks has been developing from ideas laid out by Dr. Malcolm Hawksford and Bob Cordell. The Ultima 5 and 6 stereo power amplifiers, at £5,995 and £9,250 respectively, are the 'smallest' (a relative term) Ultima amps and were joined at the show by the £12,500 Ultima 2 preamp.
The company also demonstrated the 2Go attachment for the Hugo2 DAC, converting it into a mobile streamer, able to play music from two microSD card slots or network storage. Alternatively, the 2Go can be combined with the £495 2Yu to become a self-contained streaming head unit for use with any DAC.
Neither were the Ultimas the only amps to have their first UK showing. The Rotel Michi components – sadly only on static display – also made their first public appearance. The M8 mono power amplifier is perhaps the most arresting model in the range: weighing a fraction under 60kg, it can deliver an impressive 1080W into an eight ohm load, rising to 1800W into four ohms, with a view to being able to driving pretty much any speaker in existence to any level you fancy.
The M8 is joined by the (slightly) more compact S5 stereo amplifier and P5 preamp and the whole range looks very competitive for the asking price.
There was less in the way of analogue product launching this year but even so, there were some new arrivals. Rega showed off a revised version of the £899 Aria phono stage and the £3,149 Aphelion 2 moving coil cartridge which will also be available pre fitted to the Planar 10. There were also show débuts for the Vertere Mystic moving coil and three new moving coil designs from Michell Engineering.
There were some surprises, too. The Chord Company announced the return of the English Electric brand. Historically responsible for the likes of the supersonic Lightning jet and Deltic locomotive, the revived English Electric has slightly more modest aspirations and will be used to market a range of audiophile network switches due later this year. The need for devices like this is increasingly important and a demonstration of a prototype suggested that the finished article could be a useful boost for network audio system.
Taxing the definition of 'new' to breaking point were the latest versions of Klipsch's Heresy and Cornwall speakers. Now onto their fourth revision – a milestone that has taken a mere 60 years to achieve – the speakers have been substantially revised with new drivers and, for the first time, a rear bass port on the Heresy.
Rotel's Flagship Michi Line looked impressive and promises biblical power output.
Klispch wasn't alone in a relaxed attitude towards modernity: Falcon Acoustics and Rogers continued their work on the LS3/5a, Rogers by demonstrating the AB1 integrated stand/ active subwoofer, Falcon stacking four pairs of LS3/5as to create a marvellously idiosyncratic array.
The Bristol Show itself hasn't been around as long as these veterans, but 30+ years is no small achievement in itself. Despite the less than central location, this is still an extremely important UK show, managing to punch above its weight in terms of relevance. At the time we went to press there was no available information on attendance, but dates for the 34th show have already been announced: we'll no doubt be back wandering the halls of the Marriott in a year's time.
Below: The newly revised Klipsch Heresy IV put on a charming performance with Pro-Ject electronics Below right: Falcon Acoustics demonstrated the LS3/5a as a quadruple stacked array.