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The hi-fi show season is in full swing, and the finest audio products are being showcased across the planet. Last weekend exhibitions took place in Paris and Toronto, and this weekend there is a huge one scheduled to take place in Warsaw. I visited the UK Hi-Fi Show Live at the end of September and was lucky enough to be able to hear some of the latest and greatest systems in action.
The UK Hi-Fi Show Live took place at Ascot racecourse and the visitors’ car park looked like a photoshoot for the Grand Tour. I’ve never seen so many BMWs, Porsches, and Bentleys in one place. And none of them were entry-level models, each had been specified and upgraded to match their owner’s exact requirements – Overfinch and Autobiography models were everywhere.
These cars were a clear indicator of precisely the type of visitor the show attracted. The drivers of these cars clearly have the technical knowledge (and slightly deeper than average pockets) to be able to select, appreciate and acquire some of the hi-fi systems on display.
The show was held inside the racecourse’s magnificent grandstand. The main atrium is similar to the inside of a grand ocean liner, with a central escalator swiftly moving guests to the six floors. Each of the building’s hospitality suites had been converted into demonstration rooms in which one could sit back and enjoy listening to brilliant musical reproduction.
Some exhibitors had a prepared playlist of tracks, some let the visitors choose their own music, and many did a combination of both. And what was being played? Well, you won’t be surprised to hear that the first tune I heard coming was Pink Floyd’s Comfortably Numb. In fact, the show was a bit of a Floydtastic event with some Eagles, Fleetwood Mac and a little Bach cello sprinkled across the proceedings. There was even a request for some Jethro Tull.
So, clearly the oldies are still the goldies and hugely popular with visitors to hi-fi shows. And I can see why. If you’ve grown up listening to a beloved album, and can now own the best audio system available, the pleasure of hearing notes and movement that you’ve never been able to notice before is immense. It is very clear that classic rock is the life blood of the high-end audio industry.
And, on the subject of classic rock, I’ve just been listening to Hackney Diamonds, the new LP from the oldest and goldest, the Rolling Stones. When I heard that the band had a new album, I was initially nervous as I’ve not enjoyed one of their LPs all the way through since Exile. The two tracks released in advance of the album were reassuring: Angry is classic Stones and Sweet Sounds of Heaven may just be the best thing they have done in decades. I was astonished by how good it was. So, would the complete album match up?
To listen to the album, I’ve kindly been loaned an excellent system from Loud & Clear. It comprises Audiovector’s QR 7 loudspeakers (bouncy and fun, perfect for the Stones), the mighty MOON 250i integrated amp (in classic (Paint it) Black finish) MOON’s 110LP phonostage (extracts every little detail from a recording), and a Rega 6 turntable (What Hi-Fi 2023 annual award winner) featuring VPI’s Goldy cartridge (to guarantee even more detail). I think that this is an appropriate set up for listening to the Stones. (Contact Loud & Clear Edinburgh if you’d like a personal demo).
Is Hackney Diamonds any good? Yes, very good. There are some absolute belters which are as easily as strong as the Stones’ last great work back in the early 80s. The collaborations with Lady Ga Ga, Stevie Wonder, Elton John, and Paul McCartney are the best recordings on the album. These influences add depth and take the band in new directions. There are a couple of weaker tracks on each side, but generally this is a cohesive affair which will stand up to repeat listens.
At its core, the new album is exactly how I wanted a modern Stones recording to sound and it has excellent production values. My wonderful loan system picked up each track’s every detail and delivered a clear and dynamic presentation. Mick was almost in the room. I couldn’t ask for much more.
This album definitely sounds fabulous on vinyl and reinforces the comments Keith made in a recent interview:
‘I like real,’ said Richards.
‘We actually cut this record for vinyl, it’s by far the best sound, if you want to listen to a record properly. Digital is toytown. It’s synthesisers. And now you have AI, which is even more superficial and artificial. Vinyl gives you what is real, and I prefer to hear it that way.’
Sure thing, Keith. I agree with you on the vinyl. I love its warmth and sense of life. However, some of the ‘toytown’ digital products that I heard at the Ascot show do a fine job of delivering a thrilling and enthralling performance (check out MOON’s new North Collection).
I’m certain that Keith is more than aware of the financial benefits that vinyl sales will bring to his band. At around £30 a pop for the new album, it’s going to be a fine money maker. And I’m sure that Keith, Mick and Ronnie will appreciate this income, as we know that they like to be driven around in vehicles that are as least as good as those parked in the hi-fi show car park at Ascot racecourse.
Matt Tasker (Ammonite Media), October 2023