Three years after the last Bristol Hi-Fi Show, in 2020, the British audio industry returned in strength to the Delta Hotels by Marriott in Bristol City Centre, from February 24 to 26. There was a palpable sense of excitement in the air as punters, manufacturers, designers, and journos came together to celebrate the universal power of high-quality music and movies.
As the show opened, the crowds were snaking back down the street (picture courtesy of Simon Downey).
Friday used to be the quiet day, but I saw little evidence of that at this year’s event. Before the show opened at 10 a.m., the queues were snaking 300 meters down the road! Within minutes, the 169 brands exhibiting this year were swamped by the faithful who, during the COVID years, had evidently missed the experience of hearing some of the best music-replay equipment in the world.
Just after opening inside the exhibition.
From the vast number of product launches and technology advances, it was clear that manufacturers hadn’t been idle during the pandemic. Most firms I spoke to reported a huge upswing in demand during COVID, as people sought entertainment in their own homes.
Dynaudio was demonstrating the Focus 30, the latest entry into the “future-fi” arena—and it made very impressive sound, too! The range starts with the Focus 10, a compact two-way bookshelf monitor priced at £4399/system (all prices are in British pounds and include value-added tax of 20 percent); climbs through the three-driver, 2.5-way Focus 30 on demo at Bristol (£6499/system); and culminates in the large four-driver, three-way Focus 50 (£8699/system). All of them are wireless-enabled active, streaming loudspeakers and come packed with technology. All support Tidal Connect, Qobuz Connect, Apple AirPlay 2, Spotify Connect, Roon, Google Chromecast, and Bluetooth as well as wireless DLNA. Dirac Live room correction can be added to all three models.
Dedicated Pascal-built class-D amplification powers the drivers. In the case of the Focus 30, this includes three individual amplifiers per cabinet (280W for each midrange-woofer, and 110W for the tweeter) in a sealed-box configuration. The range of finishes available includes White High Gloss, Black High Gloss, Blonde Wood, and Walnut Wood. The driver complement of the Focus 30 comprises a 1.1″ soft-domed tweeter and two 5.5″ MSP (magnesium silicate polymer) Esotec+ drivers, one of which hands off to the tweeter at 2.4kHz, and the other of which only covers frequencies from 220Hz downward.
The technically advanced Dynaudio Focus 30 loudspeaker.
Inputs are extensive, including one set of RCA analog inputs, one optical (TosLink) and one coaxial (RCA) S/PDIF, plus, of course, the ability to receive digital audio via Wi-Fi or ethernet. The Focus 30 also comes equipped with a range of outputs including RCA subwoofer and trigger feeds as well as coaxial S/PDIF (RCA). It will even connect wirelessly to any WiSA-equipped TV for high-quality TV sound without wires. WiSA technology also enables the stereo pair to stay synced and communicate with each other.
I recall in my youth being somewhat in love with MartinLogan hybrid electrostatics—their wafer-thin diaphragms and towering monolithic designs seemed to be the essence of cool. I dreamed of living in a stylish apartment overlooking the sunset skyline of London or New York and equipping it with MartinLogan electrostatics, which I would feed with a constant diet of Roxy Music. In this fantasy, I would style myself on Bryan Ferry, which seemed to entail wearing a lot of long overcoats and enigmatically smoking St Moritz cigarettes with abandon. On the weekends, I would date glamorous women with a penchant for wearing little black dresses and attending my soirées. I suspect I was watching too much Thirtysomething at the time. I never did buy the loft apartment or even hit my quota of LBDs—but I once came close to buying a set of MartinLogan electrostatics.
MartinLogan is now distributed in the UK by the Professional Monitor Company (PMC), and both firms were in adjoining showrooms. At Bristol, MartinLogan launched its new Gen2 Motion and Motion XT series of box loudspeakers. Although they may look conventional, they are anything but! The Motion and Motion XT ranges derive their names from the Folded Motion Tweeters fitted to each model. Martin Logan claims they give an almost electrostatic quality to the high-frequency response—an ability confirmed by my listening.
Part of the new MartinLogan range of Motion loudspeakers.
The Folded Motion Tweeter is an ingenious design wherein the diaphragm resembles the folds of an accordion or bellows. The diaphragm is moved by a series of very powerful neodymium iron-boron field magnets that can generate field strengths up to 20 times stronger than conventional magnets. Being folded, the diaphragm has a much larger surface area than a conventional dome tweeter. Combining these attributes with the ultra-lightweight diaphragm results in a very high power-to-weight ratio, which, according to MartinLogan, results in a near-electrostatic level of responsiveness. The tweeters on the new series have larger magnet structures than their predecessors. This results in lower distortion and higher output, MartinLogan says.
The Folded Motion XT Tweeter in its waveguide.
The floorstanding range starts with the Motion F10 at £2995 per pair and extends to the range-topping Motion XT F200 at £6495 per pair. Like all models in the Motion XT series, the Motion XT F200 uses a larger and higher-spec variant of the tweeter called the Folded Motion XT Tweeter; this is combined with a Nomex-reinforced Kevlar midrange and two 8″ aluminium woofers. The floorstanding models all have downward-firing bass ports, but there are also bookshelf models starting at £1195 per pair and a center-channel speaker priced at a competitive £1195 for those wishing to use MartinLogans in smaller rooms or as part of a home-cinema multichannel setup.
PMC’s room was full all the time!
The Professional Monitor Company was showcasing its Twenty5i range of transmission-line loudspeakers, which extend from the Twenty5 21i two-way bookshelf speaker at £2395 per pair right up to the twenty5 26i three-way floorstander at £9895 per pair. All were driven at different times by the immensely powerful AVM Ovation CS 8.3 streaming receiver, which made its show debut and comes loaded with a built-in CD player, streaming, and the ability to deliver 500Wpc into 4 ohms. This hugely capable unit is priced at £18,495 in the UK.
The AVM Ovation CS 8.3.
The sound in the room was very clear and detailed; the smaller loudspeakers, in particular, deeply impressed with their prodigious bass output and sense of scale. These are great rock loudspeakers, and PMC has done a superb job of popularizing transmission-line loading.
Cutaway showing a portion of a PMC transmission line.
REL has been busy developing several completely new ranges of subwoofers since the last Bristol show. The range starts with the T series and the budget-friendly Tzero MkIII, priced at £449, which offers an aluminium-cone 6.5″ driver and 100W of class-D amplification and is suited to smaller rooms. Next level up is the T/x series, which starts at £699 and features more power and cone sizes of 8″ and up. One tier up is the HT series, starting at £699 for the HT/1003 MkII; features include a re-profiled cabinet design, lightweight CarbonGlas drivers, and totally redesigned amplification. This range tops out with the immense HD/1510 Predator, which has a 15″ drive unit and 1000W of class-D power for £1799. Those looking to augment their music and movies with a sub may decide to focus on the S series, which starts at £2299 and features a passive radiator firing downward, while the principal drive units feature aluminium cones with re-engineered class-D amplifiers. Also new at the show was the REL Carbon Special, which is priced at £3799. It features an all-new carbon drive unit design capable of a full 4″ of pistonic travel.
REL’s new limited-edition Carbon Special subwoofer.
REL’s flagships are the two Reference models: the No.31 and No.32, priced respectively at £7000 and £10,000. These offer 1000W of class-D amplification, carbon-fiber-coned drive units, plus custom-built curved cabinets lavishly finished in 15 layers of piano-black gloss lacquer. The subwoofers are fully stackable in case just one isn’t enough to achieve the full Saturn V lift-off experience when playing the Apollo 13 movie!
SVS and System Audio
Subwoofer specialist SVS partnered with System Audio loudspeakers and Primare amplification to provide a compact and impressive Atmos demonstration at the show. The SVS 3000 Micro (£999) was delivering impressive impact for such a compact design. The cabinet is only 10″ square and will fit in even the smallest of rooms. The subwoofer incorporates twin 8″ woofers moving in unison on opposite sides of the cabinet so that the cone forces are effectively canceled out, which SVS claims will prevent the cabinet from walking itself across the room! These are driven by an 800W RMS Sledge STA-800D2 power amplifier. A wide range of configuration and DSP options are available via the SVS app running on a smartphone.
The SVS 3000 Micro—small and easy to accommodate.
As part of the same system, System Audio demonstrated its compact Saxo Atmos loudspeaker array with Saxo 40 fronts (£999 per pair), Saxo 10 center (£299 each), Saxo 6 sides and overheads (£598 per pair), and Saxo 16 rears (£798 per pair). I was particularly impressed with the ultra-low-profile Saxo 6 surround loudspeakers on display, which were used in overhead positions. This compact, low-profile two-way has an ingenious mounting mechanism that made the pair slick and unobtrusive in the room. Meanwhile, the sound was impressively balanced, detailed, and impactful.
System Audio Saxo 6 mounted in the overhead.
Pulling everything together was the brand-new Primare SPA25 integrated A/V amplifier (£4995), which was making its show debut and providing nine channels of amplification rated at 100Wpc, support for all the latest formats like Dolby Atmos and DTS:X, and Dirac Live room correction out of the box. Compared to most A/V amplifiers, the Primare has a welcome, understated Scandinavian elegance that makes it stand out from the crowd. Press an old stereo amplifier into service to drive the front two channels, and you can enjoy 7.2.4 Atmos surround.
Elegance, power, and grace from Primare.
Exotic high-end Italian brand Sonus Faber launched the new-generation Homage series at Bristol, complete with some of the most stunningly elegant finishes ever seen on a loudspeaker. Available finishes include Wenge, Red, and the new Graphite color. The three-model range includes the Guarneri Tradition standmount, which comes complete with associated stands for £16,200 per pair); the Serafino Tradition floorstander, priced at £20,000 per pair; and the Amati Tradition floorstanding loudspeaker, for £30,000 per pair.
Sonus Faber Serafino Tradition—the iconic string grille remains.
All new models benefit from improved cabinet quality, since Sonus Faber recently acquired the factory. This has enabled the factory to offer a range of non-standard finishes on request and to apply the legendary SF logo in tasteful silver leaf to the top of every cabinet in the range. Many changes have been made, from better bracing and porting to improved and redesigned drive units. Finite element analysis was used for drive-unit redevelopment. SF claims that speed, power handling, and transparency have all improved with these new models.
Senior Contributor, SoundStage!