It’s hard not to be awestruck as you walk up to Ascot Racecourse in Berkshire, England. Located 25 miles west of London, Ascot was the site of UK Hi-Fi Show Live 2023, held September 29 to October 1. The scale of the venue, not to mention its rich heritage, reminds you how important this event is. It’s put on by the UK magazine Hi-Fi News & Record Review.
Seldom does a consumer product attain the success or longevity to affect a collective consciousness, let alone a hi-fi product. But the Bose 901 speaker system is exactly one such product. With a nearly half-century-long history, the 901 has enjoyed incredible commercial success and has generated much conversation amongst audiophiles. The 901 is one of the most unconventional designs in the history of audio and one of the most recognizable.
I knew that Portland, Oregon, was noted for its fine audio emporiums: Pearl Audio, Encore Audio, and Fred’s Sound of Music among them. But on a recent vacation trip to the City of Roses, my wife, a friend, and I discovered a new one, the Record Pub (TRP), in the city’s Sellwood-Moreland neighborhood. We were intrigued and went in.
Bowers & Wilkins, commonly known as B&W, was founded in 1966 by John Bowers in Worthing, West Sussex, England. It grew out of an electronics store that John Bowers and his friend Roy Wilkins had started after World War II.
I love hotels, especially those set in the great country houses of England. They always have king-size beds and blackout curtains, so I generally sleep better there than at home. Your every need is catered to: food and drink are served with a smile wherever and whenever you wish. Furthermore, nobody who lives in a normal house has this much land to roam around. It was a delight to explore the acres that make up Cranage Hall Estate, site of the North West Audio Show, held June 17–18 in Cheshire, England. I’ve already reported on my first day at the show. Here’s what I experienced on day two. All prices are in British pounds.
It’s not often one gets to spend the weekend listening to some of the world’s best audio systems in an Elizabethan-style manor house built in 1828, surrounded by Doric columns and illuminated by glorious chandeliers. It’s not often that one enters a hi-fi show by walking Oscars-style up a red carpet before getting personally greeted by the organizer and receiving a perfectly chilled glass of fizz from a silver platter. But that was my experience entering the North West Audio Show, which was held June 17–18 at the De Vere Cranage Hall Estate in Cheshire, England.
I found it somewhat challenging to get a handle on the town of Civitavecchia, which is about an hour southeast of Rome. On the one hand, it has a sleepy, small-town feel—lots of narrow streets lined with cafes and restaurants, exuding charm and quiet, old-world sophistication. But Civitavecchia is also a major port that services Rome. I saw two enormous cruise ship monstrosities moored just offshore, out of which poured waves of tourists whom the locals seemed to bear with admirable patience.
Following the Unison Research and Opera Loudspeaker factory tour, the Fidelity Imports caravan pulled into the Santa Maria Novella train station in downtown Florence on late Tuesday afternoon of the week after the High End Show in Munich. After a short tram ride, we were met by Ottavio Marino Cerrato, Tom Dolfi, and Alice Zoppi, Gold Note’s graceful, stylish, and friendly representatives. We traveled along some of the twistiest one-lane mountain roads I’ve ever experienced, up an ear-popping circuitous route that devolved into a rough dirt track. The end game was the classically marvelous Le Fonti a San Giorgio “farmstay” villa. I melted into a puddle as I soaked up the twilight views of hillsides layered with vineyards, cypress trees, and flowering honeysuckle.
As is my wont, I woke up early on my first morning in Treviso, Italy. My presence here, an extension of my week in Munich covering High End 2023, was arranged by Steve Jain of Fidelity Imports. A US distributor of high-end audio gear, Fidelity represents Opera Loudspeakers, Unison Research, Gold Note, and Audia Flight—all of which I’d be visiting over the course of the week, along with several other journalists and one dealer. Jain had arranged this trip so that we could gain some familiarity with these Italian brands.
When I first heard from Yamaha Canada about its yet-to-be-released integrated amplifier with an integral DAC and streaming capabilities over a year ago, I wasn’t quite sure what to expect. All of the previous models in the company’s four-digit series of high-end integrated amplifiers and preamplifiers have been all-analog affairs requiring an outboard DAC or optical disc player for digital playback. Case in point, the gorgeous A-S3200 integrated amplifier I reviewed a couple of years ago. While I loved the sound of the A-S3200, including its fabulous MM/MC phono stage and its absolutely stunning cosmetics and build quality, I lamented its lack of an internal DAC.
At the end of each year, the SoundStage! editors pick the best products based on the reviews that have appeared across our network of sites during the previous 12 months. This year, we created an award for Outstanding Achievement in the industry—and there were three people in 2022 who won.
It’s not often I get stopped in my tracks by a turntable. I should qualify that statement a bit . . . I’m a cheap date, and any turntable that isn’t a rectangular slab of wood will give me horny pains. But that said, I’m quite capable of walking past most of the chrome and acrylic monstrosities without going ga-ga.
The Rockport Technologies and Absolare room was packed. Standing room only. This was Saturday, the first of two days during which High End was open to the public, and attendance seemed to have more than doubled. Thank heavens the COVID-19 emergency has officially ended because this would have been a superspreader event.
In the weeks leading up to a show like High End 2023, I research what new products have been announced and ask manufacturers to let me know what new products they’ll be displaying. I plan my initial coverage around products for which I’ve received advance information. Everything else I discover at the show is secondary.
For the first time ever, I got to listen to Pink Floyd’s The Final Cut at an audio show—on vinyl, no less. It impressed me that Gediminas Gaidelis, owner and engineer of AudioSolutions, had this LP buried in among the usual audiophile bumfluffery. Why more exhibitors don’t use this album in demos is beyond me.
Are you not entertained? Is it a spectacle you want? Well, ESD Acoustic, a new-to-me company that’s just thrilled to tell you it’s from China, presented a truly over-the-top spectacle at High End 2023. In all my days, I’ve never seen anything like this outrageous system. I mean, just look at this setup.
Certain iconic products have become part of our cultural DNA. The Coca-Cola bottle. The Rolex Submariner watch. The Chanel N°5 bottle. The Ferrari 308.
Switzerland’s Stenheim used High End 2023 to launch the new Alumine Two.Five loudspeaker, which the company describes as “a passive two-way, floorstanding, high-performance speaker that incorporates the company’s essential design attributes in an elegant tower that adapts to most living spaces.” The Alumine Two.Five reportedly “builds on the simplicity of the original bookshelf Alumine Two, but with greater cabinet volume and double bass drivers for lower extension.”
After sitting down in Verity Audio’s room, I realized within 15 seconds just how much I’ve missed listening to the company’s speakers. It’s been well over a decade since I reviewed a Verity speaker. It was the Amadis, back in 2010. That sealed my fate, as the Amadis was probably the most musically satisfying speaker I’d ever heard in my room.
For 20 years, Denmark’s Lyngdorf Audio has been making products that are both technically advanced and lifestyle-friendly—the latter meaning that interior designers might approve of using Lyngdorf components in the home. That can’t be said of all hi-fi brands.
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