Following last year’s visit to the NorthWest HiFi Show at Cranage Manor I decided a return visit was worthwhile. I arrived in good time – got parked in a real car park and made my way in. There seemed confusion over the opening time – I thought it was 930, but was let in at 920 but was told the exhibitors might not be ready for you. Actually, the first hour was the most fun – the rooms were quiet and exhibitors generally happy to chat.
The first room I found was run by Auden Distribution. I got a very friendly welcome and was greeted by one of those systems I only ever see at shows. It was huge! Hegel electronics, Amphion speakers and a Merason DAC. Total cost in excess of £80k. Best of all, in terms of impracticality, the cables cost £5k more than the speakers. The sound was impressive, but as usual, at Hifi Shows, the choice of music was not really what I would listen to anyway. Still knowing it wouldn’t fit in my house removed any danger of envy or angst over its complete lack of affordability.
One notable absence was that there were no Hegel streaming amplifiers to be seen. Indeed the whole show was light on streaming. There were several suggestions made; apparently, some components are still in short supply. More mundanely, both the hotel wifi and mobile data coverage were labeled as flaky. If you’re doing a demo, never work with children, animals and flaky wifi!
This lack of digital gave the show a definitely analogue feel, although CD was holding up well. Two real retro returns were reel-to-reel tape and VU Meters. As well as traditional meters, VU meters are making a return as an option on the digital screens found on modern kit otherwise used to display cover art and track information.
One room still unashamedly digital was KEF. They were again showing their LS60 speakers. This was a bit disappointing as I was hoping to see the revamped R series. KEF’s choice of music always seems to emphasise a very clear bright sound. Impressive but frankly wearying after a short while.
By now you may be feeling that I was not enjoying myself. Far from it, but there is something about a string of very large expensive hifi systems playing obscure music that can become repetitive quite quickly. Most of my favourite systems were smaller and simpler. This year, Coppice Audio, one of my favourite exhibitors from last year, teamed up with Malvern Audio Research to show their large coffin like flagship speakers. Sounded very good on the end of some large valve amps, but it was the dinky little X1 standmounters I lusted after – they would look and sound great in my living room.
The ATC and Auralic demo room was back again. Although no-one could call the ATC SCM50A speakers small, with the diminutive AURALIC electronics, they make a simple system that never fails to impress. The Chord Electronics kit is diminutive and makes lovely sounds. But my favourite small system this year was in the Falcon room – and in line with the retro theme, it was their BBC LS3/5As with relatively modest Primare electronics that really caught my ears.
One of the attractions of streaming is its fixed costs. Software is becoming increasingly expensive. Standard vinyl starts at £30, audiophile vinyl and CDs go for £50+. I did succumb to a vinyl copy of the 50th Anniversary edition of Tubular Bells – half speed remastered and a bargain (!) at just £30.
The other feature of the Cranage show are the local dealers. Doug Brady have a large presence and lots of shiny new kit on show although the stand is very popular and makes listening less practical. My favourite dealer encounter this year was with Wilkinsons from Nelson in Lancashire. Nice down-to-earth people with sound to match. Thank you to all the people who took time to talk to me.