Birthdays in Bristol
Three leading audio companies were celebrating significant anniversaries at Bristol. Linn, Naim, and Rega were all founded in 1973 and hit their 50th anniversaries this year. Meanwhile, Wales-based Leema Acoustics celebrates 25 years in 2023. It’s testament to the engineering, marketing, customer focus, and passion of these companies that they have managed to prosper in such a globally competitive market.
Increasingly, I see unknown Chinese manufacturers coming into the market with products that appear to offer a lot of features for the money. The problems usually start a few years down the line when things go wrong and there are no parts available (or even any willingness) to fix them. While the initial ticket price of a Linn or Naim system may seem high, it’s worth pondering whether this represents better value because of the ongoing after-sales support. My Naim NAIT amplifier, which dates from 1988, has just come back from service at Naim Audio. Naim recommends that its amplifiers be serviced every 15 years, which means my NAIT should be as good as new until 2038. At that time, it will have provided 50 years of musical enjoyment, which works out to £10 to £15 per year!
Few audio companies are more iconic than Linn of Scotland: Back in the ’80s and ’90s, the Linn Sondek LP12 was widely regarded as the turntable to beat. Since then, the company has expanded considerably, and now offers everything from turntables to streamers, amplifiers, and loudspeakers.
The Linn Sondek LP12 in Selekt guise at Bristol.
Linn deserves special mention for avoiding the usual diet of tinkly jazz and female vocals so beloved by hi-fi companies at shows. Seriously, who listens to this dreck apart from some hi-fi reps? At Bristol, Linn was a breath of fresh air. Our two Linn hosts played an exquisite selection of real music they happened to like, introducing each track with some interesting and engaging anecdotes. As a result, the whole session felt like spending an afternoon with two friends playing great records for the sheer fun of music. Other manufacturers, please take note—this is how you do shows! When Rachel slipped on “Mainstreet” by Bob Seger and the Silver Bullet Band, I was in heaven.
Rachel Mackenzie of Linn playing some really great music and sending the author to heaven.
On demo and sounding impressively musical was the Linn Sondek LP12 turntable in Selekt configuration, priced at £10,570 (all prices in British pounds, including value-added tax of 20 percent). In addition, Linn premiered the brand-new, gorgeously styled Linn Selekt Edition Hub—the new higher-specification version of the Selekt DSM streamer-amplifier and Organik DAC. This product is a rarity among high-end components because it is upgradeable via slot-in modules. In the digital era, it has become harder to upgrade existing equipment. All too often, older equipment must be disposed of when an upgrade occurs. Linn looked at its venerable LP12 and noted the fact that even the very oldest decks can still be upgraded to the latest specification. The company’s intention is that purchasers of the Selekt DSM will enjoy the same flexibility. In its simplest configuration, the Selekt Edition DSM is a streamer; add one of three levels of DAC module and you have a standalone DAC-streamer. Add a power amplifier module and you have a formidable one-box audio product. Base price for the older Classic Linn Selekt DSM is £4900. The brand-new Edition version comes in a machined-alloy case, has a more premium feel, has improved isolation, and costs £9950. For the demo at Bristol, Linn was using its Organik DAC module, the very first in-house Linn-designed DAC, which adds a further £3250 to the purchase price. The model on demo also included the stereo amplification module, which costs £855. As demonstrated, the Selekt Edition DSM costs £14,055.
Linn Selekt Edition DSM is a one-box music machine.
Interestingly, Linn was using Kudos 505 loudspeakers rather than its own loudspeakers. It mattered little—the sound from digital and analog sources was mellifluous and engaging.
Linn—masters of presentation.
Naim NSC 222 streaming preamplifier.
Naim and Focal merged in 2011, and today both brands are part of VerVent Audio Group. On display at Bristol was a system comprising Naim’s New Classic range and Focal’s Sopra No.2 loudspeakers (£13,399 per pair). The Bristol show was the first time many people got the opportunity to see and hear Naim’s all-new NSC 222 streaming preamplifier (£5700), NAP 250 power amplifier (£5700), and NPX 300 power supply (£5700), which launched in January.
Naim’s new range premieres.
A thorough evaluation of Naim’s New Classic range will have to wait until I can conduct a full review, which you can expect to see on SoundStage! Ultra in due course. In the meantime, there’s no denying the slick new styling looks fantastic and yet is still recognizably Naim. Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds’ album Murder Ballads grabbed my attention and sounded outstanding. One aim of Naim’s range re-organization is to simplify the complexities of its various power supplies and components. The outcome is difficult to foresee because other new products are yet to emerge, but the ability of new power supplies like the NPX 300 to power both preamplifiers and streaming sources is certainly a step in the right direction. This has effectively eliminated the SuperCap and HiCap, which have traditionally been used to power preamplifiers, as well as the XPS, which traditionally has powered source components.
Focal Naim’s main room was large by the standards of Bristol.
Yet another venerable UK brand celebrated its 50th—1973 was clearly a bumper year for engineers! Ever since being created by Roy Gandy, Rega’s turntables have been the standard recommendation for affordable vinyl replay. But recently, the company’s model range has ascended into price points where previous Rega decks feared to tread.
The Rega Naia prototype, the only one in the world!
At Bristol 2023, Rega showcased a new flagship turntable. The Rega Naia is derived from the £30,000 Naiad turntable R&D project, which dates back to 2009; only 50 units were ever made. Five years in development, the new flagship is expected to launch this autumn for around £12,000, complete with an all-new tonearm and Rega Aphelion 2 cartridge. Rega’s approach is to design for low mass and high rigidity, which reminds me of that old saying about bicycles: “light, strong, cheap—choose two.” The Naia will make extensive use of wildly expensive ceramics for the platter and main bearing, while the plinth will be made of a carbon-fiber and graphene composite. Rega informed me that early testing indicates its performance will be closer to the original Naiad than the current Planar 10 flagship (£6840).
Rega’s take on the ceramic bearing is revolutionary (and expensive!).
Also shown for the first time were the white-colored editions of the Planar 6 and Planar 10 turntables, which retail at £1870 and £4950, respectively.
The Rega Planar 6 in white.
Leema Acoustics was founded in Wales in 1998 by two ex-BBC engineers, Lee Taylor and Mallory Nicholls. To celebrate its 25th anniversary, Leema is releasing a new range called Quantum, still manufactured entirely in Wales. On demonstration at Bristol from the forthcoming range were the well-named Electron CD player, Neutron DAC-preamp, and Graviton power amp. The Electron CD player uses an ESS Sabre 9018 DAC and offers coaxial digital and headphone outputs. The Neutron preamp offers balanced and unbalanced analog inputs, MM and MC phono inputs, and a multi-input DAC. The Graviton power amplifier is a class-AB design rated at 150Wpc into 8 ohms. Each component will sell for around £2000.
The new Leema Acoustics Quantum range.
In its main room, Leema was demonstrating its upmarket Constellation Series products. These comprised the Libra DAC-preamp (£6250) and Hydra II Anniversary power amp (£5250), along with two components from the budget Elements series: the Elements Ultra PhonoStage (£1350) and Elements Streamer (£1350). Completing the system were the Serhan Swift Mu2 Mk II loudspeakers (£6450 per pair).
Constellation Series, complete with Welsh sheep.
Among the things that caught my eye about Leema Acoustics were its exemplary styling and finishes. Everything just works beautifully and looks built to last. I look forward to reviewing some of Leema’s equipment in 2023.
Senior Contributor, SoundStage!