All Words And Photos By Ken Kessler
As previewed by the Milanese at TOP Audio a week earlier, the analogue revival is clearly a force to be respected rather than tolerated. Anyone treating it as mere cult activity does so at his own peril. Or with self-abnegation. Why? Because it's restored a buzz to the enthusiast sector that's been missing of late. But don't take my word for it: not only was the Hi-Fi Show & AV Expo 2004 host to a number of new turntables, there were also new cartridges, arms and phono stages in abundance, along with plenty of new and vintage vinyl courtesy of Vivante, The Direct Disc and other vendors.
With Lyra's new Argo cartridge on demo, the London Reference making its debut, the ELP laser turntable in latest form, a £175 record cleaning machine from Cadence, an Air Tangent 2002 arm seen on a Brinkmann LaGrange, a new (yes!) version of the legendary Dynavector 'hinged' arm and other rare beasties sighted hither an yon, it's impossible to pick the analogue stand-outs. For my money, though, the ones to watch certainly include Tim De Paravicini's first turntable, the EAR Yoshino La Platine, with magnetic suspension, Tim's new 88PB valve phono stage, a new two-piece phono stage from Tri-Chord, the Nordic Concept Artist -- less ambitious than the flagship but just as enticing -- and pair of decks from Rolf Kelch.
Most obvious is his own design, which appears to have a double chassis, the lower section formed from some granite-like material. But the piece I saw as the show was being set up (and sadly didn't have time to return to) is his take on the legendary Thorens Reference. Because the Thorens situation is a bit chaotic -- there are two factions with involvement in the brand -- Kelch can't label it a Thorens. But for those of you who missed out on it first time around, this modern interpretation looks like a honey. My photo, alas, shows it in disassembled form!
At the other extreme, both AVT and Sony gave glimpses of the future. AVT, the magazine edited by Paul Miller, presented what has to be as-near-as-dammit the state of the art in home cinema, thanks to the amazing InFocus three-chip DLP projector and the AVT team's sublime set-up skills. The demos were packed out, and my stomach is still reeling from the aerial footage.
Sony, which arrived with a room full of goodies, provided the most convincing demo yet of future video technologies with a clever Blu-Ray presentation. Using a split screen version of Lawrence of Arabia, you could watch the caravan of camels proceed from stage left (the best possible DVD playback, at higher res than is actually available in the stores) to stage right, with 'mid-level' Blu-Ray. It was like moving from a throwaway plastic camera to a Leica M6. Best of all, Sony opted for a projector with a retail price of £1800 on an affordable screen, so there were no tricks involved. The battle ain't over yet, but
HD-DVD has its work cut out for it.
One sub-culture that's being ignored is that of upscale -- as opposed to mass market -- AV Receivers and all-singing/all-dancing pre/processors. Absolute honeys included Myryad's MXD7000 pre-amp processor, with 6.1 or 7.1 channels from two channel sources via Dolby Pr Logic IIx, 8 channels of 24-bit/96kHz D/A conversion, bass management, video up-conversion of composite and S-video to component video, T+A's sexy SR 1535R, supporting 7.1 channels of audio with 2x280W for the main L/R channels and 5x150W for the effects channels and Lexicon's RV-8. The latter really makes me tingle because I've always had good luck with Lexicon products and refuse to let go of my now-aged MC-1 processor. The RV-8 does everything, of course, include feeding three separate zones for sound around the home, with 140W for each of seven channels, acceptance of two sets of 5.1 channel analogue input (e.g. separate SACD and DVD-A players), five video sources through S-video or coax, plus three via component video - it even has an m-m phono section!
Valves, of course, were everywhere -- Art Audio; Audio Research (the new phono PH5 stage!);
Jadis; Steve Jackson's JD1; Unison Research new single-ended valve amplifier, the Performance, with six KT88 power valves; a full suite of Lamm including the LP2 phono stage, L2 Reference preamplifier and both ML1.1
(90W push-pull) tube amps and the new M1.2 MOSFET output hybrid; a tower of Tube Technology; PrimaLuna; Affordable Valve Company; McIntosh; a host of tube products -- including a professional mixer/pre-amp - from EAR Yoshino; Antique Soundlab; AudioValve with the award-winning 'Baby Baldur'; Italy's Nightingale and dozens more.
Lingering memories? Hands down, the best sound came from Wilson Audio, with Peter McGrath dazzling the hell out of visitors with demonstrations of bass, transparency and sheer power that few music lovers rarely experience at home. He still managed this even while nursing major league fatigue due to too much international travel. And on a personal note, it was wonderful to see former
HFN Editor John Atkinson -- now Editor of Stereophile -- over on a flying visit. He took the time to participate in all four 'Meet The Expert' panels. At one point, we had pretty much 80 percent of the circa-1983
HFN/RR team at one table. Plus ça change?
Hands down, the software event of the show was the release of Classic Records' deluxe 3LP version of Neil Young's
Greendale. Classic spread the album over three 200g (or 180g if you're concerned about weight) LPs for maximum groove space, added a green vinyl 7in single with alternate takes, a stunning booklet, a 'program' booklet, and a sticker. Easily on a par with Dylan boxes for packaging. The music? Typically cranky Neil Young! Also seen and heard were:
Chesky Records CDs:
Ana Caram Hollywood Rio (JD276)
Marta Gomez Cantos De Agua Dulce (JD281)
Mobile Fidelity 180g Vinyl LP:
Primus Animals Should Not Try To Act Like People (MFSL 1-45001; 45rpm)
Mobile Fidelity SACDs:
Ryan Adams Heartbreaker (UDSACD 7002)
R.L. Burnside First Recordings (UDSACD 2026)
Mike Marshall Gator Strut (UDSACD 7001)
Mobile Fidelity Gold CDs:
The Chieftains Long Black Veil (UDCD 763)
Naim LPs, 180g Virgin Vinyl:
Antonio Forcione Dedicato (Naim LP083)
Music Collection Volume 1 (Naim LP 070)
Foo Foo Sweet As Hell (Naim CR 02)
Jim Gailloreto Shadow Puppets (Naim CD076)
Charlie Haden and John Taylor Nightfall (Naim CD077)
Mike Lindup Conversations With Silence (Naim CD073)
Fred Simon Remember The River (Naim CD 081)
Various The True Stereo Sampler (Naim CD 080)
Click here to see equipment at the show
Click here to see various people at the show.
Also see our 1999, 2000, 2001,
and 2002 coverage.