Oh it's good to be back. The Bristol Hi-Fi Show – the UK's biggest and longest-running dedicated hi-fi show – has been off our calendars for three whole years and for me personally, I was more excited than usual to be back.
People laugh at me when I say this, but I genuinely love the Bristol Hi-Fi Show. I joined What Hi-Fi? over ten years ago and it's still one of my favourite events of the year. It's the place where the audio industry congregates year after year (in the exact same place, even the exact same demo room) to celebrate all things hi-fi. It's familiar, the people are lovely, and there's a genuine buzz around seeing the latest (and sometimes older) audio kit.
And with 160 brands exhibiting, there was plenty to see. New launches, products already announced but getting their first public showing, surprise reveals, and some classics that I never tire of seeing.
I'd urge you to check out our Bristol Show highlights page for a fuller picture (including many hands-on photos) of all the new announcements and more of what the brands were showcasing this year, from Naim to Technics, Rotel to PMC.
But here I've picked out a handful of products from the Bristol Show that not only caught my eye and piqued my interest, but ones that I couldn't stop talking about to my colleagues. These are the top hi-fi products that stayed with me throughout the show weekend.
Rega had a world-exclusive reveal of its new high-end turntable, celebrating the company's 50th anniversary this year. The Rega Naia is a production-ready version of the fabled Naiad (an engineering exercise that was never meant to be in production but was hugely in demand - only 50 will ever be made). The Naia (£12,000 with the fitted Aphelion 2 MC cartridge) is designed to be a real-world model that can actually be bought and enjoyed.
The turntable features a carbon fibre skeletal plinth and a new titanium tonearm, but won't officially launch till Autumn 2023. I can't wait to hear it when ready.
Wharfedale Dovedale & Audiolab 9000 Series
Wharfedale announced the Dovedale, the latest and biggest classic model to be revived in the Heritage Series, just a couple of days before the doors opened at the Bristol Show. And sister brand Audiolab also announced brand new 7000 and 9000 series of electronics only a few months ago.
Not only were all new products at the show but rather handily, the new 9000A integrated amplifier and 9000CDT CD transport were powering the Dovedale speakers during the demo.
While a trade show (especially one taking place in acoustically untreated hotel rooms) isn't the ideal environment for any kind of critical listening, it was a match that seemed to work well. The system sounded open, smooth and large-scale in an effortless way. Of course, the Dovedales do have the benefit of a rather large cabinet volume (about 65 litres), but it did demonstrate a tantalising glimpse of what the retro-style speakers are capable of.
Lyngdorf's new Cue-100 speakers caught the team's attention from the start, thanks to its modern Scandi design that looks timeless and futuristic at once. But it's the Purifi technology with Neutral Surround Geometry that's the real star.
What exactly is that? It's the unusually crinkly, ruffled design of the surround that, well, surrounds the aluminium mid/bass driver. Lyngdorf uses a "ring shape [consisting] of alternating mountain ridges" here, designed to eliminate any distortions brought about by the movement of the surround, and aims to deliver ultra-low distortion levels.
And while you can't quite see it clearly in the photo above, in person, it's a design that looks positively revolutionary.
Pro-Ject Colourful Audio System
What's the best way to stand out in a hi-fi show? A bright yellow finish. This system looks so good, I couldn't stop going back to see it repeatedly at the show.
Pro-Ject's Colourful Audio System cleverly packs in everything you need in one tidy system: a Debut Carbon Evo turntable, a MaiA S3 streaming amplifier, Speaker Box 5 S2 two-way speakers, and even the cables are thrown in.
All for £1599, and ideal for anyone looking to get started with hi-fi or wanting to dip into vinyl and streaming. And the fact the whole system comes in a range of attractive finishes (yellow, blue, green, white, black, walnut) does it plenty of favours.
Martin Logan & AVM
We knew Martin Logan and AVM would be at the show, but I wasn't quite prepared for how good this combination sounded in the room.
The new Motion and Motion XT speakers aim to combine the open sound of electrostatics into a traditional box cabinet design, while the feature-packed AVM CS 5.3 all-in-one player boasts 350W per channel and gave the system plenty of grunt.
Despite being a noisy show floor, the system managed to cut through the chatter and sounded clear, punchy and toe-tappingly rhythmic. Impressive.
Meze Audio 109 Pro
Headphones were few and far between, but Meze Audio stood out from the crowd by a mile. Not only were the Romanian company's high-end Elite and Liric headphones scattered throughout the show and paired with Chord Electronics and EarMen DACs/amps, but I also got our hands on the new 109 Pro open-back dynamic cans. They look and feel lush: distinctively styled wooden housings mixed with plush ear cushions.
JBL Classic Series
What Hi-Fi? has already covered JBL's new Classic Series of electronics at CES 2023, but this was the first time they've been shown to the UK public. And crucially, it's the first time I've seen them in the flesh. The CD350 player, two stereo amplifiers (SA550 and SA750), MP350 music streamer and TT350turntable all look smart, adding a sleek touch to the vintage revival that's been very popular.
I hope they sound as good as they look, too.
Vivid Audio Kaya S12
Sometimes you come across a new brand - big or small - that makes an impression and you can't stop talking about them. Vivid Audio hasn't been at a trade show in a long while, but the South African company decided this year they'd make an appearance at Bristol.
And I'm glad they did: the new small Kaya S12 standmounters definitely stood out. It wasn't just because of the shiny purple finish (you can request most colours to match your car), but the designer/technical director behind the speakers is one Laurence Dickie. If the name sounds familiar, it's because he's the one who designed the original, iconic B&W Nautilus speakers.
The S12 are roughly £6000 per pair, and Laurence said that the warm response they've gotten at the show hopefully points to Vivid Audio making bigger waves in the UK market.
Wilson Benesch put on an impressive display of new ACT 3zero floorstanding speakers (shown here in a purple finish), swapping the trademark carbon fibre enclosure – which the Yorkshire company has used for years – for sustainably sourced and bio-based composite materials in its construction.
It's an interesting move from the speaker company, whose products are always at the cutting edge of technology.
An oldie but a goldie... no Bristol Hi-Fi Show would be complete for me without a visit to the Michell Engineering room. It's a chance to look at and listen to the iconic Gyro turntable (as well as Orbe and Tecnodec models).
Making elegant, iconic turntables since the 1960s and even featuring on the silver screen, the Gyro SE and GyrdoDec models are always a delight to experience in person.
Bristol Hi-Fi Show 2023 highlights: all the news and latest products