The Bristol Show 2020 – A Ray of Hope

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The Bristol Show 2020 – A Ray of Hope

We don’t typically publish show reports online; instead we keep them as effectively a replacement to news in the magazine. We run a very small team here and no matter how fast we try to get a show report out, we’ll always be third in a two-horse race. Occasionally, however, there’s something about a show that ticks a few boxes beyond the norm. Such is the case at the Bristol Show.

A quick recap. For more than 30 years, Audio T has brought the UK industry together for a wet and windy February weekend in Bristol. Despite the tiredness of the almost Stalinist looking 1970s concrete Marriott City Centre hotel, the Show itself – held across seven floors – still manages to attract many of the UK’s best-loved audio brands and is often the launch-pad for many new products from a range of brands. This year was no exception, with Chord Company, Chord Electronics, Monitor Audio, PMC, Rega and more all announcing new products (or in the case of Chord Company, a whole new brand better known for making Cold War jet fighters… English Electric). 

Although that bodes well (more on this later), what became clear during the show was two important changes. First, the attendees. Yes, fears of coronavirus, Six Nations rugby matches and the fact that so much of the country was impassable due to flooding all potentially took their toll but show-goers were not thin on the ground. Each morning, there was a substantial queue around the block as people lined up to be first through the door; with bitterly cold winds and bouts of heavy rainfall, that takes dedication. 

What was more noticeable this year was the trend started a few years ago where the average age of the attendees dropped significantly. Granted, there are still the same faces coming through the doors year after year, but there were more people than ever this year who still had hair, and it was the colour they were born with. OK, it was still predominantly male, but not exclusively so, and there were several families and ‘lads and dads’ groups, with a distinct sense that no-one was being dragged around the show under duress.

And now the other big change, from some of the manufacturers and distributors. We often complain about the quality of music at audio shows, and with good reason: I am thinking of instigating a points system, where marks can be deducted from even the best sound, if all they play is Dire Straits, Pink Floyd, Diana Krall, ‘Keith Don’t Go’ and Porn at the Jazzshop. And while I did hear some of these recordings, there was a groundswell to use a more catholic musical selection. I was pleasantly surprised to hear ‘La Fong’ by D-Sens and Opiuo, ‘Lotus Flower’ from Radiohead’s The King of Limbs album, and ‘Shamanic Tales’ by Astrix… this last slice of wig-out trance played in the Spendor/AURALiC room. It also seems that Black Sabbath’s ‘War Pigs’ has joined ‘Child in Time’ by Deep Purple as one of the Rock Album Tracks That Can Be Played At Shows. If listeners can experience everything from Miles Davis to Mozart to Stormzy and back again via Metallica and Ed Sheeran at one show, why not all of them?

As I said earlier, the actual product launches at the show are destined for the pages of the magazine rather than the website, but there is one product that I think deserves mention above and beyond the norm. Rega Research launched its System One, which comprises the ever-popular Planar 1 turntable (with arm and cartridge pre-installed and ready to go), the new IO amplifier (which is a Brio-R in short trousers), and the rebirth of Rega’s most popular loudspeaker, ever… the Kyte. This inverted two-way standmount harks back to the original Kyte of the early 1990s. Although each is available separately, the trio also come in a single box called System One and priced at £999. 

This wasn’t the only system assembled at around this price, although most topped the £1,000 threshold. Staying in land of the distinctly sensibly priced, Sound United’s Marantz/Definitive Technology system, IAG’s Audiolab/Wharfedale system, and the new Monitor Audio Bronze loudspeaker range all offer outstanding performance without a price tag that looks like the ‘zero’ key got stuck. 

Ultimately, The Bristol Show has a fairly broad spread of products (although the highest of high-end is mostly absent… it’s more of a real-world show, for real-world buyers) and that makes it unique in the calendar. And it should be applauded for that… even if the hotel could do with demolishing!

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