Just got back from the show. Had a very enjoyable day indeed but found the demonstrations to be a very mixed bag.
The Rega system was absolutely superb. RP3, Apollo-R, Brio-R, DAC and RS3 (?) speakers. Sounded very natural, involving and spacious on both CD and vinyl sources and overall given the price/performance ratio I'd say this was the standout of the show.
I very much enjoyed the KEF demonstration. The Blades are incredible and the demonstration material was very well chosen to show off the qualities of these and the new R-series speakers. In fact KEF came out as one of the best speakers across the show - they sounded excellent in the TEAC room too. In the TEAC room they were showing some interesting and very capable sounding full-size seperates which I hadn''t seen before!
Also impressive was the Dali room, partnering Audiolab 8200CD with 8200A amp and the Zensor 5 floorstanders. Very satisfying combination, particularly convincing with vocals, although perhaps lacking the fleetness of foot and openess of the Rega system in the opposite room.
Roksan and Audiovector sounded excellent too, particularly from CD source, and the other major standout was the Neat room with the incredible new Iota speakers. They had me looking for the sub! Very clever engineering and they sounded superb on the end of a Naim Uniti-something and a Rega RP3 turntable. I also liked the Focal room, and the little Wilson Benesch standmount speakers.
The Chord demonstration was very interesting and illuminating. I'm still not convinced about the benefits of expensive USB cables. In terms of the step up through the analogue range, I felt again that there is a clear difference between the entry CrimsonPlus/Carnival Silverscreen combination and the ChameleonPlus/Odessy, but as you go up through the price range I'm not sure that some of the fairly subtle improvements really warrant the outlay and, certainly, you'd have to have a very very special system to even consider the upper end of their ranges.
The Naim rooms with the Ovator floorstanders did absolutely nothing for me yet again. I just can't get on with that sound at all.
I was disappointed with the Audiolab/Wharfedale room which used the M-DAC with the 8200CDQ and the Mono-blocks driving the Wharfedale Jade floorstanders. It was clearly very accomplished but it was very sterile and I didn't find it remotely involving. In fact, I much preferred the entry-level Audiolab components through the Zensor floorstanders in the Dali room.
The Marantz room was a disappointment and I wasn't overly enthusiastic about the 6004 range. Maybe the Castle speakers didn't help but the sound was strangely flat and certainly not as good as my 6003s sound at home. I'm sure in different circumstances I'd hear differently, but today I wasn't taken.
Some manufacturers clearly expect people to be impressed by looking at their equipment rather than listening to it. We had to ask for the Pro-ject box set-up to be demonstrated, Pioneer and Yamaha's hi-fi was just stacked up looking pretty, and the B&W guy spent ages talking to somebody about non-B&W accessories whilst leaving the volume turned right down on the Classe electronics driving the PM1s. The Cyrus display was also ineffective in this respect and when I did hear a Cyrus set-up in another room later on (one of the speaker manufacturers, can't remember who) it sounded pretty awful.
The REL room was interesting for the Sonus Fabers playing in there, but I would have preferred to hear them without the REL subwoofer as sub-bass really isn't an interest for me.
All in all a very interesting day again and well worth the trip. Certainly given me some food for thought.