Audio Show East 2023 took place over the final weekend in April. The event was organized by Signals Hi-Fi, a well-known British audio store located in a converted church in Trimley St. Mary, Suffolk, England. This year marks the store’s 30th anniversary. The show was held in the modern facilities of Trinity Park on the outskirts of Ipswich. This large showground normally plays host to vast agricultural shows for farmers and traders, so access and parking were a breeze for hi-fi manufacturers and punters alike.
At Audio Show East, the emphasis is on providing a small number of high-quality, spacious rooms equipped with gear from some of the best-respected audio brands. Each room ran coordinated, timed demos for around 30 minutes, which meant manufacturers didn’t face the challenge of demonstrating their kit over the din from the room next door. Here, at last, was a show where customers could take time to appreciate the sonic signature of each manufacturer. In addition, the size of the rooms enabled manufacturers to bring in their larger systems, so it was a great opportunity for the public to hear genuinely high-end equipment performing at or near its best.
Trinity Park—location of Audio Show East 2023
Almost 400 members of the public attended Audio Show East, but SoundStage! was the only major media group reporting from the show. So read on for a unique scoop on this interesting annual event—and plan your visit for next year!
My first port of call was the Chord Electronics room—which was appropriate because Chord had just shipped me its latest pre-power amplifier combination for review. Doug Graham, Chord’s director of international sales, is a superb raconteur with a seemingly endless range of anecdotes from his lifetime representing brands such as Chord Electronics, Naim Audio, and Neat Acoustics. What was particularly endearing at Audio Show East was the huge amount of warmth and friendly banter between Chord’s and Naim’s sales teams, even though they are direct competitors.
Chord had assembled a stunning demonstration system comprising a Roon Core, Chord Hugo M Scaler (£4195, all prices in UK pounds), which upscaled the signal feeding the company’s top-of-the-line Dave DAC (£10,495). The resulting signal was fed into its new Ultima 3 preamplifier (£11,500) and either the Ultima 5 power amplifier (£11,000) or Ultima 6 power amplifier (£7500). Two loudspeakers were demonstrated—Kudos Audio’s Titan 707 and ATC Loudspeakers’ SCM50SL.
The difference between the Ultima 6 and Ultima 5 was surprisingly pronounced, with the Ultima 5 delivering a warmer, richer sound with impressive levels of ambient detail and more powerful bass. That said, both combinations delivered really engaging sound. Even through the less expensive Ultima 6, “Laura” by Bat for Lashes was reproduced with stunning vocal timbre and a superbly realized sense of a piano in the room. Ocean Colour Scene’s “The Clock Struck 15 Hours Ago” was similarly impressive, with tight and percussive drumming that was extremely natural-sounding.
Chord’s impressive system
Both loudspeakers impressed with the Chord electronics. The Kudos Titan 707 offered a highly revealing top end, which was countered by the greater richness and power of the ATC SCM50SL.
Until this show, I was unaware that Chord has a successful professional division, and in fact supplies amplifiers to the BBC and Abbey Road Studios, as well as concert venues such as the Royal Opera House Covent Garden. Chord doesn’t shout about this facet of its business, but it’s an impressive endorsement. Increasingly, I’m finding myself drawn to companies that operate in both spheres.
Chord amplifiers—a feast for the eyes and ears
With their beautifully machined aluminium casework, Bauhaus styling, and internal illumination, Chord’s components are always a feast for the eyes. My experience at the show has left me eager to start reviewing the company’s pre-power combination for SoundStage! Ultra, so the two large brown boxes in my listening room are not going to stay packed for very long!
While we’re on the subject of companies with professional credentials, there is no manufacturer in the world more synonymous with professional mixing, mastering, and monitoring than ATC. This firm is to professional audio what Leonardo da Vinci is to portraiture. ATC decided to give its audience a real treat and brought along the staggering ATC SCM150ASL loudspeakers (£25,250 per pair), feeding them with local streams from an Auralic Vega G2.1 DAC (£6799) and Aries G2.1 streamer (£4799). Control and switching functions were provided by ATC’s own SCA2 preamplifier (£7300). ATC also used a Vertere MG-1 turntable (£11,850) equipped with a Vertere Mystic cartridge (£2450).
It’s rare for ATC to demonstrate its flagship domestic loudspeakers at shows because the speakers can overload the small rooms typical of these events. The 15″ bass driver designed and built by ATC offers huge bandwidth, power, and control. At Audio Show East, the large rooms with their lofty ceilings mitigated that issue. Right from the start, it was clear the ATC system was cooking with gas.
ATC’s magnificent flagship SCM150ASL loudspeaker—the cabinet weighs 75kg!
My listening notes for “The Sound of Silence” by the Ghost of Johnny Cash read, “stupidly transparent, scale immense, dynamics off the scale.” Those impressions were repeated over and over, no matter what music was played. Listening to Mike Oldfield’s Tubular Bells, I found the stabs of organ so dynamic that they made me jump, and plucked guitars sounded incredibly lifelike. This is more than high fidelity; it’s more akin to live music!
When attending any live musical event, whether it is an open-mike night in a pub, a performance by London Symphony Orchestra at the Barbican Centre, or a rock concert in a theater, one notices more than anything else the sense of dynamic freedom. Live music almost always sounds unconstrained and uncompressed. Without doubt, ATC’s active loudspeakers come the closest I have ever heard to reproducing this ideal. Sure, big Wilsons sound amazing, but their dynamics pale into insignificance compared to ATC. This was the best and most accurate sound of the show.
Naim Audio electronics have been at the heart of my reference system for 35 years. At Audio Show East, Naim was demonstrating the all-new NSC 222 streaming preamplifier (£5700), new-generation NAP 250 power amplifier (£5700), and NPX 300 power supply (£5700). This is the most powerful version of the NAP 250 Naim has ever made. It will comfortably out-drive even the NAP 300, which was traditionally the next model up in Naim’s range.
Focal Sopra N°2 speakers
This was the first chance for many attendees to hear these new-generation Naim components, which were partnered with the Naim Core music server (£2000) and Focal Sopra N°2 loudspeakers (£14,000 per pair). I haven’t traditionally been a great fan of Focal’s mid- and upper-range loudspeakers (the budget models are superb), but this system delivered an absolutely stunning rendition of Nick Cave’s “Palaces of Montezuma” from his live performance at Alexandra Palace. Clarity, transparency, emotion, and dynamics were there in spades, just as I’ve come to expect from Naim.
What the Focal loudspeakers do very well is provide brilliant ambient information. On Marisa Robles’s performance of Handel’s Harp Concerto with the Academy of St. Martin in the Fields, the Focal speakers created a very believable soundstage and sense of being in a large performance venue. They were less convincing on Sohn’s “Lights,” where there was a tendency to one-note bass.
Naim’s new separates point to the future
But with the new streamer and amplifier range, Naim has knocked it out of the park. The units are gorgeous to look at, and sonically they’re an advance on anything Naim has made at this price level. I can’t wait to get my hands on review units and give them a proper evaluation in my reference system.
Dynaudio brought along its stunning latest-generation Confidence 30 floorstanders (£17,500 per pair). Here is another firm with strong professional credentials; Dynaudio has been supplying monitor loudspeakers to many studios and the BBC for decades. The Dynaudio speakers were driven by Naim’s new streaming preamplifier and new-gen NAP 250 and NPX 300, as detailed above.
This Confidence 30 is an elegant floorstander with a down-firing bass-reflex port in the base. It features Dynaudio’s DDC (Dynaudio Directivity Control) sound-beaming technology, which uses complex sculpted baffles and a custom waveguide around the tweeter to reduce floor and ceiling reflections. The driver complement comprises the 28mm Esotar3 tweeter, a 150mm MSP (magnesium silicate polypropylene) midrange driver, and two 180mm NeoTec MSP woofers.
Dynaudio’s explosive Confidence 30 loudspeakers
This was probably the fastest and most articulate system I have ever heard. The Dynaudios share the same whip-crack responsiveness as the Naim electronics, and the combination was electrifying. Bill Frisell’s live recording of “I Heard It Through the Grapevine” was amazingly dynamic. The leading edges of percussion and guitar were gloriously revealed. This isn’t a sound that will send you to sleep—ever!
Talking Heads’ “Psycho Killer” was an incredible experience, with jaw-droppingly articulate bass notes. Sure, the Confidence 30s didn’t have the gravitas of the mighty ATC SCM150 loudspeakers. The Dynaudio speakers’ bass didn’t extend as low—the ATC speakers’ extension can sometimes leave you fearing for the structural integrity of your bowels! But for a loudspeaker that will fit into most rooms and systems, the Confidence 30 is unquestionably an impressive design. I’ve always had a deep respect for Dynaudio’s engineering. The company’s measuring and test labs are among the most advanced in the world.
Is there anything in the world of audiophilia sexier than glowing VU meters jumping to the beat of the band? The current revival of 1970s fashion, highlighted in shows like the sublime Daisy Jones & the Six, has made Accuphase’s champagne-gold, VU-clad electronics more appealing than ever. It’s not that Accuphase chases fashion trends in its designs; it’s been building hi-fi systems with that aesthetic since the 1970s. So, rather like Nakamichi cassette decks, changing fashions have caught up with Accuphase a second time around!
Accuphase with gorgeous glowing VU meters. I should have worn flares . . .
At Audio Show East, Accuphase partnered its DP-750 CD/SACD player-DAC (£18,500) and 180Wpc E-4000 integrated amplifier (£9000) with Dynaudio’s Confidence 20 standmount loudspeakers (£9600 per pair). Cabling was by Audiomeca. The resulting system delivered a wonderfully mellifluous and engaging sound. Diana Krall’s “I Love Being Here with You” from her Live in Paris set was just fantastic, with rich and sonorous basslines, transparent vocals, taut rhythmic drive, and a feeling of consummate control. The soundstage was especially spacious, lending the performers a feeling of real presence.
The Accuphase system
While listening to this system, I was struck by how simple hi-fi used to be. You bought a disc player, amplifier, and speakers. There was no buggering about with NAS drives, IP addresses, network switches, iPads, firmware updates, and the like. Just you, a disc, the music, and some bloody great VU meters jumping to a tune. It made me think we have lost something along the way, and it left me nostalgic for the 1970s, with its simpler, slower pace of life—and that’s before I even get to the girls in hot pants and boots! If you need a fix of the latter, you could do worse than checking out Daisy Jones & the Six.
Kudos Audio was established in 1991, and since then, its beautiful loudspeakers have garnered a devoted following. For Audio Show East, Kudos brought a pair of its flagship Titan 808 loudspeakers (£30,000 per pair). These were driven by Chord electronics, including the Ultima 3 preamplifier, Dave DAC, and Ultima 3 monoblock power amplifiers, while the source was the Innuos Statement music server and streamer (£12,700 to £18,400, depending on hard-drive capacity and power supply).
Chord electronics and Innuos in perfect harmony
The Kudos loudspeakers incorporate some innovative design concepts. The firm asserts that the role of the loudspeaker cabinet isn’t to contain resonance, but to dissipate it. To this end, Kudos uses two separate cabinets in the Titan 808 to isolate the tweeter and midrange from the bass chamber. All drive units are custom-specified units from SEAS of Norway. The driver complement includes the SEAS-Kudos Crescendo K3 29mm fabric-dome tweeter, which is used across the entire Kudos range. The midrange is a SEAS-Kudos 220mm Nextel-coated paper-cone unit with 39mm voice coil, copper shorting ring, and aluminium phase plug. The 808 uses two isobarically loaded SEAS-Kudos 220mm double-coated hard-paper-cone drivers with 39mm voice coils. Minimalist crossover designs are used throughout, and conversion to active operation is facilitated by simple rear-panel reconfiguration.
The magnificent Kudos Titan 808 towers
In contrast to ATC, Kudos does not offer its own amplification when converting the speakers to active operation. Instead, the amplification and active crossovers would be provided by third-party companies like Linn, Naim, Devialet, or Exposure. As a result, the amplification and active crossover are sited outside the cabinet, which Kudos asserts reduces degradation caused by component microphony.
Kudos makes reconfiguring to active mode simple
Operating in passive mode with Chord amplification, the Titan 808s sounded large, rich, and natural on the Mavericks’ rendition of “Blue Moon.” Sonically, these loudspeakers painted a gloriously spacious soundstage—among the widest and deepest I have ever heard. Visually, the Titan 808 is one of the most attractive large loudspeakers in the world. There’s something eye-catching about the way the top box appears to be perched precariously on the lower bass chamber. The beautifully veneered cabinets would look stunning in any environment.
Haevn’s “The Sea” sounded transparent and enveloping, with astonishingly transparent vocals and guitar. The tweeter is exceptionally detailed, but one would imagine it could be unforgiving on lesser recordings.
Audio Show East marked the UK debut of the brand-new GoldenEar T66 loudspeaker (£7000 per pair). This attractive, slender floorstander employs two actively driven 5″ × 9″ bass units, complete with a level trim on the rear, supplemented by two side-mounted 8″ × 12″ passive radiators. The tweeter and midrange are passive, comprising a high-velocity AMT folded-ribbon tweeter and two 4.5″ midrange drivers. The loudspeaker base and feet are made of aluminium, which GoldenEar suggests is stronger and more consistent than wood.
A pair of GoldenEar’s brand-new T66 floorstanders
The rest of the system comprised a Linn Selekt DSM streamer with Organik DAC (£8610), an Accuphase pre/power combination, and an AudioQuest music server. AudioQuest was also using its Niagara 5000 power conditioner (£4990), which can provide up to 90 amps of peak current.
The AudioQuest Niagara 5000 power conditioner
The T66s offered very fulsome sound for their size. Bass was articulate and extended. However, I felt there was a little too much bass interaction with the room. The midrange was very clear and realistic, while the upper frequencies, such as cymbals, female vocals, and violin, were reproduced without harshness or glare.
Rega is firmly established as one of the icons of British hi-fi. Having just finished reviewing the excellent Rega Planar 10 turntable, I was keen to see what the company had elected to bring to the show. In fact, it had brought along another Planar 10, complete with RB1000 arm and Apheta 2 cartridge, available as a package for £6840. It combined this with its flagship Aura MC phono stage (£4400) and Aethos integrated amplifier (£3300). The loudspeakers were again by Dynaudio, this time the Evoke 50 model (£4200 per pair). When partnered with Rega’s top arm and cartridge, the minimalist turntable design, which is intended to avoid storing resonance, is a formidable front end.
Rega’s formidable flagship Planar 10 turntable atop the Aura phono stage and Aethos integrated amplifier
This system delivered a smooth and detailed sound that was hugely enjoyable. I could have happily stayed all afternoon listening to the excellent selection of records being played by Rega’s team. Ryan Adams’s “La Cienega Just Smiled” was a perfect example of this system’s smooth yet detailed sound. The gently strummed acoustic guitars sounded wonderfully natural, while the inflections of Adams’s vocals were clearly revealed. The Beatles’ Love is an LP I have wanted for a while. Played on the Rega-Dynaudio system, it was utterly captivating—rich bass and natural vocals and guitars. A very synergistic system indeed—compared to the megabucks systems in the other rooms, it offered fantastic value.
Rega’s Aethos integrated amplifier
Besides the lack of crowds, convenient parking, and the size and quality of the rooms, one of the joys of this show was that manufacturers generally avoided playing audiophile recordings. Sure, they often chose well-recorded mainstream music, but we weren’t forced to sit through hours of unknown audiophile dreck. Real people play real music most of the time, and a high-end system that can’t make such music sound pretty decent isn’t much use.
Overall, Audio Show East is a superb event with free admission. It’s a really nice way to hear different systems from different manufacturers under excellent conditions. There’s a sensibly priced bar as well. Hot and cold food was available on Friday; my one gripe was that food wasn’t available on Saturday. That should be remedied by the organizer in time for next year. I think a good-quality pizza van would go down a treat.
The venue’s bar provided fine refreshment on Friday (but sadly not Saturday!)
One of the joys of attending audio shows is hearing great music you have somehow overlooked. My Shazam list was copiously extended by the end of the two days! I’m looking forward to playing some of these tunes on my reference system—and using them for future reviews.
Until next time . . .
Senior Contributor, SoundStage!