I attended the annual Odense domestic AV electronics show with high hopes for hearing some great audio and plenty of visual toys. The vast majority of the show seemed to revolve around two large halls of large, flat TVs. 3-D headlines were being splashed everywhere but I counted only four pairs of 3D glasses to go around several thousand potential wanna-sees.
Somebody really should be publicly thrashed for the long delays when there was nothing [at all] to see on many of the wall mounted screens. If they can't get rid if the endless cues, long black blanks and pretentiously silly credits, for every short film sequence, then they really should seriously consider the attention span of the average customer at such a show! Especially me!
Many of the screens showed jerky sideways movement on moving images which wasn't making me at all hungry for a better screen than my modest JVC 100Hz 37" LCD. My LCD doesn't judder on fast moving sideways action! Not ever! And, it's only "HD ready" with two HDMI sockets! So there!
There was one huge, wall-sized LCD screen but the image quality, while acceptable, wasn't exactly crisp. Probably ideal for despot's giving long, boring speeches to keep the unpleasant peasants at a safe distance. It certainly kept me at a distance. Most of the other screens varied considerably in PQ depending largely on source material. Which seemed too brutally honest even for a cynic like me.
The "real audio" was tucked well away from the main halls in much smaller rooms at the far end of a long corridor. A stack of Naim electronics, which in total would probably cost as much as a house, was all racked up on their incredibly expensive, Fraim support system.
The kit was playing through white, fire hoses to Audiovector S3 "Avantguard Arretté" speakers at over £5k a pair. Smart floor-standers with two 6-7" bass-drivers and a fancy looking tweeter above, consisting of a series of sub-elements on a recessed plate.
A picture of the very pricey Naim kit. Probably no change from £2k on any of the boxes on display. With several running from £12k for the CDP to well over £15k each for the pre and power amps.
I failed to capture the computer monitor perched right up on top. This automatically displayed track details and the album artwork after dropping a CD into the player. Not forgetting the inevitable puck. Naim kit is always hard to photograph but the room wasn't well lit anyway. I should have moved further back because the wide angle lens has distorted the geometry of the kit. The room was a bit too crowded for relaxed photography.
It all sounded very Hifi with plenty of drive, wallop and the ability to go quite loud. Bass was easily strong enough but it completely lacked any real extension, realism or physical presence. There were a few tracks with acoustic bass but it didn't sounds as if it was in the room. Unless it was a cello being plucked by a dwarf?
All thoroughly enjoyable if you don't mind the very obvious distortion on vocal pushes and the poor imitation of real bass. It would easily satisfy a great many listeners who know no better. People like investment bankers, estate agents and footballers in particular. Basically anybody who can drive an Audi really badly. While suffering delusions of grandeur as to their true value to our world.
As usual, my attention was immediately drawn to the slightly brash, Naim 'signature' sound. I have owned a modest preamp/PS/power amp Naim combo for nearly fifteen years. So I'm not just picking on the Naim kit for the sake of it. The forwardness is soon forgotten but can make some speakers sound "too loud" and tiring to listen to. Though not in this case. It was very well balanced without actually being at all wonderful.
There was the usual grainy SQ from CD and the tizzy edge to vocals. There seemed to be no escape from the forward presence regardless of the wide range of music played. Somebody had brought along a favourite artist's CD and this sounded very HiFi too. It was well recorded but certainly didn't make me want to go out and buy it like some systems do. Nor could I tap my feet reliably to anything which was played. This is completely unforgivable in any Hifi system! Particularly one from Naim! PRAT! (Pace, Rhythm and Timing, to the uninitiated)
Basically it sounded just how Hifi is expected to sound. Exciting and loud in places. Unfortunately it didn't sound at all real. Not even remotely. The imagery told us there was a soloist surrounded by a group of musicians up front somewhere or other. That didn't mean it sounded as if there was somebody actually performing right in front of our seats. There was no sense of being able to put one's hand out and touch anybody living and breathing. I moved about a bit as seats became available but could not improve on the basic offering.
Just to add to the fun somebody was demonstrating "HD Audio" via a computer right outside the open door! Another tragic case of mismanagement by the show organisers! One expects to be able to wallow in background peace and luxury at this price level.
It seems I missed some demo rooms due to closed doors being completely unmarked. Why the hell was Bose allowed into this area to take the largest room available? It speaks volumes of how the organising electrical chain has moved down-market into white goods. Probably in a desperate attempt to stay afloat in a recession. I think one may safely assume Bose offers a good mark-up and a ready willingness to pay for exhibition space.
In the high-end "chatter room" I found a massive, thread-driven platter, a 3/4" bearing shaft and a weird 12" SME 3012 clone. With (horror of horrors!) a detachable headshell!?! I have a couple of old SME3009s knocking about somewhere. One with a detachable headshell. The other the 3009 'Improved.' (i.e.Non-detachable headshell) Including the SME silicone damping trough on one of them. I think this was an attempt to kill the knife-edge rattles from the new breed of low compliance moving coil cartridges. These were more usefully attached to an [upstart] Linn Sondek/Ittok turntable. The new legend on the "Subjective" block which crushed SME's stranglehold on almost affordable "High End Hi-FI" for those who could actually afford this level of kit. Or was it all about damping record-warp-related, cone movement? It all seems a very long time ago now but I remember it all being horribly expensive.
The room had several Avid turntables, lots of flashy, "traditionally" chromed, valve (tube) electronics and a variety of speakers. I recognised no names on most of the other tin boxes except for Tim de Paravicini. (From a mention in a magazine somewhere in my hazy past.) A pair of promising, blond, Spendor, floor-standers were pushed expectantly towards the front. Though a modestly-sized pair of OBs were playing when I went in. At least they looked like badly undersized OBs. They certainly weren't grabbing anybody's attention, at all. In fact the room was stuffed with Hifi boors all talking very loudly indeed! I could hardly hear the bløødy music. 'Nuff said? Though so.
Then we [the unwashed] all had to stand up while "they" rotated all the chairs by 90 degrees so we could all be subjected to a new lot of kit. This time with a large pair of forward leaning, piano black speakers and another, rather more stealth-like, black, Avid turntable. This system immediately sounded so absolutely dire that I had to leave the room to stop myself from literally bursting out laughing! Or complaining out loud in my "pidgin" Danish! You know when you put a bit of greaseproof paper around a comb to make a simple kazoo when you're a kid? Well, now you've got the picture of how it sounded! I kid you not.
When I glanced back into the Naim/Audiovector room it looked as if the kit had packed up. Or some fault had developed in the, now lonely, demonstrator's skills. Probably just tired batteries in the terrifyingly expensive, Naim remote. Sadly for him I was much too well brought up to actually mention it aloud.
So, all in all, the free pass to get into the show was well worth the asking price. Perhaps I should have put in a claim for my travelling expenses? I bet they do when setting up customer's systems at home. Probably charge for time spent drinking the customer's coffee or booze too. Well, they really aren't much better than glorified electricians in posh salesmen's hats and the former charge for everything several times over. Which, come to think of it, so do the latter. ;-)
The best part of any show is always coming home to a modest system which completely and utterly trashes anything you heard, at any price, on the day. Bung on "Gaucho" to make sure you weren't terribly mistaken about the high-end kit's hideous graininess, total lack of warmth, realism, bass or depth. Now wallow in that silky sweetness. "Hi-Honey, I'm home!" :-)
Me negative? Only in the sense that I didn't need to spend any more money to remain happy with my music. If I get a free ticket next year I'm definitely taking my favourite Franck organ CD. That'll show 'em! :-)
For the humour-challenged, obsessive-compulsive, hi-fi phreak, who dresses formally in a hair shirt for "listening sessions at the hifi altar," none of the above should be taken too seriously. It's just that some of us have moved on from treating overpriced boxes, cables and pucks as sacred objects. We no longer erect sacred shrines in our listening rooms. Now we just listen to the music and pretentious hi-fi just gets in the way. As a magazine equipment reviewer I'd last about two minutes. If that. I have no respect whatsoever for anything which doesn't play music regardless of price. I certainly heard nothing today which could remotely manage it. Until I came home, of course.