This was my first visit to the UK’s National Audio Show (NAS) which is held annually at Whittlebury Hall spa hotel just behind the legendary Silverstone racetrack in Northamptonshire. As I had been playing a gig the night before any chance of an early start was out of the question but this also meant that I missed any queuing that may have occurred as I walked straight in.
What was noticeable upon my arrival was a huge section devoted to personal and portable audiophilia named the HeadZone.
This area packed in as much as Headroom and seemed less busy as I appeared to be able to just wander over to an area, pick up some nice cans and give them a spin.
MrSpeakers and Schiit
I ended up spending quite a while chatting with the extremely personable Mark from High End Workshop / Electromod who had literally brought the good Schiit to the show, not to mention some rather tasty headphones.
These open-backed cans are fitted with 2.75-inch x 1.75-inch MrSpeakers’ designed single-ended planar magnetic drivers that feature V-Planar surface processing. This, I am told, gives more rigidity to the planar’s surface. Kinda like the added strength you get by corrugating card or metal sheeting.
The MrSpeakers Ether headphones retail at £1150 or £1250 depending on the connecting leads you choose to partner them with.
Then there was all the Schiit. For those of you who may be more familiar with my potty mouth than these slices of valve goodness from the US of A you are missing out on some rather good audio tech from what I heard.
Schiit audio is an American company with what looks like a German name (to me) whose products seem to come from Norse mythology. Got it? Good.
For instance, I tried Yggdrasil DAC and Ragnarok amp with one set of headphones and then the Gungnir multi-bit DAC with Mjolnir 2 amp with the Ethers and the performance from all of these were impressive and something I’d like to spend more time with.
On one of the other stands I attempted to try some Stax SRS-2170 just because I like how they looked and have never been able to take some for a spin.
I put them over my ears and… nothing. I turned up the amp they were plugged in to. Nothing. I tried getting someone’s attention. More nothing.
Needless to say that there was loads of amazing looking, and incredibly priced speaker systems on show.
NAS 2015 main exhibitions
I wanted to check out the Devialet Phantom as I have read much about them, saw them in Bristol, but not actually heard them in action.
The pair of typically un-cheap, if you know Devialet, speakers use the French company’s Analog/Digital Hybrid or ADH tech. In short, a combination of class A analogue amplifiers and class D digital amplifiers, with the aim to achieve the musicality of the former with the power and efficiency of the latter.
All I can say is that in the rather large room Devialet was using the Phantoms had no trouble in kicking it out loud and clear. I started to get mesmerised by the way the side panels, which are actually the system’s woofers, puffed out when some particularly punchy bass made an appearance.
Apparently, there’s an upgrade expected in January that will allow the Phantom to be run from existing ‘Expert’ Devialet amplifiers, via an Ethernet connection.
Kralk Black Cat speakers
One of my favourite finds of the day was the BC-30 speakers from Wakefield-based Kralk. By-the-way, Kralk is basically Clark (the owner is one Alan Clark) backwards, as a school-friend had a habit of calling people by their surnames but in reverse. Speaking as a Yorkshireman, it can get weird up north 😉
I had already done the rounds of some very articulate and impressive speakers, as well as some highly expensive ones that either didn’t suit the rooms or were hideously overpriced compared with what I was hearing.
I sat down in a room just before a demo track started to play and I could see some bookshelf speakers on stands as well as some rather attractive floorstanders.
The track started and I was not only amazed by the clarity and tone but by the incredible soundstage to the point that I had to stand up and move behind the speakers on stands to be able to truly discern which speakers were playing.
All of this beautiful sound was coming from the Black Cat BC-30 bookshelf speakers of which a pair will cost you less than £450. Again, this was something that I needed to double check.
This was what the hand-made by Alan Clark in West Yorkshire speakers cost. You owe it to yourself to go and audition some, any, all of the speakers by Kralk.
If you are a Premiership footballer, or have the capacity to spend the price of a family car on each element of your Hi-Fi system then you can count on dCS to spend it wisely for you.
If, on the other hand, you are like me and know full well that you are never going to be in that position, then you needed to visit this room just to experience what money can buy and how good it can sound.
dCS showcased its new £18,000 Rossini player, £15,500 DAC, and clock, which ran through D’Agostino amplification, into Wilson Alexia speakers.
The units were sat on a Stillpoints rack and running off Nordost V2 cable.
This was definitely not a system for those on a tight budget but it was one of the best, if not the best, sounding set ups of the event.
There were many eye-catching speakers at the Whittlebury show and Vivid’s new £18,500 per pair B1 borrows the technology and drivers from the up-scale Giya range and slips it in to the distinctive, 10-year-old oval standmount design.
For me these were either bass-heavy or suffering from a bad room. It’s a shame as I quite like the contemporary design and the reasoning behind it – the enclosures have uniquely rounded contours to minimise interference with the surface of the speaker.
I have been invited along to their West Sussex home to hear them in more conducive surroundings.
I have mentioned their patio heater looks already on Facebook but the Polish high-end company are new to the UK so I should be a bit kinder really.
Zeta Zero have a diverse range of loudspeakers/patio heaters that feature ribbon drivers.
Origin’s unique take on speakers were to have them suspended by what looked like hemp.
Yes, they would no doubt make interesting talking points but, to my ears, they seemed to come over as being a bit limp which was a shame as I was hoping to get more from the Origin Live Voyager turntable.
This £13,000 deck is comprised of a multi part platter which is designed to transmit energy at all frequencies without the reflection problems encountered by other platter designs. It also packs a low friction bearing and an incredibly smooth motor. Unfortunately, in my opinion, the mixture of the speakers and Phil Collins did it little justice.
On my way out I met a very cool little streamer by the name of Olive.
Olive is a touchscreen streamer with a choice of storage options. This means you can hook up more than one Olive with your main Olive packing up to 2TB of on-board storage whilst two others feed from that from the network in to other rooms.
Under the hood is a 32-bit/384kHz Burr-Brown DAC with 8X Oversampling and incredible Signal-to-Noise ratio of 112dB to its ultra-low jitter master clock, as well as an amplifier per channel.
The Olive will play WAV, AIFF, FLAC, MP3, AAC, Apple Lossless, Ogg Vorbis and outputs via 3.5mm outs as well as Bluetooth, Coax, RCA, USB. You can also Bluetooth your tunes from your smart device or use DLNA/UPnP.
All-in-all a very smart and well put together package.
What would I buy from the National Audio Show 2015?
Realistically, if I wasn’t being realistic then I would have just had the dCS room contents packaged up and delivered, and if I had the money, I would definitely have come away with some Kralk speakers, either the bookshelf BC-30 or the floorstanding BC-30 3. They were just so impressive.
I also like what I heard from the all the Schiit amps and DACs I heard – there is very much something for every budget and listening style.
Finally, as I am on the look out for a stylish and good performing streamer, I think I’d pop an Olive on top.
I am hoping to get a variety of elements from my visit to NAS 2015 so stay tuned for reviews!