an image to enlarge.
With the advent of solid state media, i.e. MP3, ipod,
broadband mobile phone technology and server-based systems, the
hi-fi industry seems to have shifted towards multi-media products,
rather than concentrating on audio purity.
Whilst the 2006 Hi-Fi Show at Heathrow accurately reflects this
shift, it begs the question; instead of quality, are we now merely
looking in the direction of convenience?
Entering the room designated to Chord Audio, a name that has been
highly respected in the hi-fi industry for many years - I was immediately
faced with a multi-media server. A SERVER, I thought this was a
hi-fi-show, not some computer expo.
Granted, the thing cost a five-figure sum and wouldn’t look
out of place on the space shuttle, but it is one example of how
music delivered to us in this day and age has changed.
On to the Ypsilon room - As I enter and turn right, I am now looking
at a quarter of a million pounds worth of audio, yes you read that
right, £250’000. (It makes the eyes water).
Huge, hulking amps that look like the property of the National Grid,
an obelisk of a Rockport turntable, and cabling the thickness of
a giant squid’s tentacles, ready to pull the whole lot off
their respective shelves.
Even the brick like remote control unit would require the owner
to purchase a re-enforced coffee table to rest it on. An impressive
sight indeed, but was this wallet-busting set-up equally impressive
to the ear?
Sadly not! The words flat, soul-less and non-communicative immediately
spring to mind. I engaged my favourite Victor Wooten CD for this
listening session (A Show Of Hands). Wooten’s bass playing
is phenomenal on this album promising truly seismic bass frequencies
within. Unfortunately this mortgage-inducing equipment did not come
close to reproducing the dynamics and tonal shift this great man
is capable of. In fact, it was the total antithesis – messy,
un-involving, cold and clinical, with absolutely no deep bass to
speak of – not what I anticipated from amps the size of 1960’s
classroom radiators and speakers the size of a magician’s
trick cabinet. “It’s vinyl time”, we thought,
but unfortunately Joe Sample’s “Seven Years Of Good
Luck”, from the album “Spellbound” clamped firmly
to the Rockport turntable did not fair much better.
By now, my faith needed restoration. Thank God for Absolute Sounds
– this Wimbledon-based, high-end hi-fi importer was my salvation.
The demonstration of a combination of Audio Research amps and Wilson
Audio watt puppy speakers was a revelation. An insight into what
REAL hi-fi sounds like. Powerful, yet unforced, tactile and delicate
- The true ‘musicians in the room’ experience.
As per previous years, many small, independent companies were touting
their wares. Totem’s small floor-standing speakers proved
that size is definitely not everything. ECS surprised and left us
eager to hear more from precisely constructed but un-complicated
components - Front man, Reuben Klein rightfully demonstrating confidence
in his equipment by just letting it speak for itself!
The biggest surprise (which I hinted at the beginning of this report)
was the number of MP3, MA and AAC devices, which were allowed to
be plugged into such esoteria. Even suggesting such an act a few
years ago would have been met with looks of pain, disgust and even
horror from many hi-fi manufacturers. Such add on devices would
not have been seen as ‘true hi-fi’. Jeez, they would
not even entertain the compact cassette 15 years ago – Now,
manufacturers allow us to plug Walkman phones into thousands of
pounds worth of hi-fi gear. What is the world coming to?
It seems as if the two-channel, ‘real hi-fi’ world
is going into extinction and is therefore trying to lure potential
buyers in by sacrificing themselves at the altar of solid-state
media to keep their heads above water.
Me personally? I believe, with all of these music formats available,
we are only HEARING and have stopped LISTENING. Well, that’s
one man’s opinion anyway.
Albums used on demo included:
Victor Wooten – Show Of Hands (CD)
Chris Botti – Night Sessions (CD)
Tsuyoshi Yamamoto Trio - Midnight Sugar (CD)
Joe Sample – Spellbound (vinyl)
Report by Andrew Griffith
© Michael Valentine Studio Ltd.