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British audio makers 2.0

Audio Quarterly outlines a snapshot of British audio soon to be reported on by the editorial team.

AQ has from early publication in print back in 1997, some 24 years ago, set out to embrace and focus on well-designed and well-engineered British made audio.

It was a natural direction as the UK has had throughout the late 70s onwards many pioneers such as Naim Audio and LINN an establish path for music lovers to step into audio and upgrade their systems to the state of the art or what is referred to as high-end audio. Our article on the Naim story goes into some detail how one British startup became a “household Naim”.

There was an energy to the industry when we launched two decades ago. We paid visits to factories from Glasgow for Linn for the launch of the Sondek CD12, to Sheffield in the midlands for the highly creative and innovative Wilson Benesch utilising CAD software to design kinematic bearings for tonearms and to Rega Research in Essex, where we met a youthful and dedicated manufacturing team. All across the UK we met and reported on a highly vibrant industry brimming with innovations and talent.

The Wilson Benesch Circle, featured on Edition N1V1

It was familiar to experience good audio even within the reach of the Everyman and we also discovered the niche makers such as Nottingham Analogue and Voyd. Sonic excellence was available to all.

Fast forward to 2021 and with the drawbridge of Brexit fully up and the global restrictions to travel for the time being a good opportunity to once again get behind the narrative of these brands and makers and pay attention to the superb audio that is still being made and innovated in the UK.

What the new identity, or British Audio 2.0 will emerge as will be interesting to see.

It is important that we do not turn Cool Britannia into rude Britannia – so at AQ we have a passion for good audio where ever it is made.

For example we will continue to publish our American-made audio series and we are finding Italy a haven for artisan audio. Not to mention some superb analogue products from France and Germany. Currently we are enjoying the DAS MM Cartridge by Thomas Schick, spinning on a PTP Solid 9 from Holland.

In due course we will publish reports on some famous icons of British audio however as our focus returns to British audio along side international artisan makers. We will always take a balanced approach.

The openness and generous spirit of the British brands to tell their story and have their products reviewed is heartening and revealing of their desire to bring more music lovers to audio. They fully embrace the ethos of to broaden the narrow editorials and connect to a world that wants to enjoy music at home. Our experience is an industry with a passion for music and not the typical British snobbery we have become so famed for.

Listening to music at home is a growing trend. Yes a HiFi system is cool again. We shall see the definition of that shift back to two channel. Hopefully more than just streaming for techno heads. There is another unique era emerging for brands, makers and music lovers to connect as with previous generations.

What does this mean? Well we have the following products coming to you shortly. We have looked at both the design values and performance to price.

We start with a look at the Rega P3. A benchmark product for any Vinyl enthusiasts to enjoy their collection or for any entry into a good stereo system at home. It is so beautifully made and classy. If there is one product that could represent the UK audio scene this is it.

Decades of commitment to engineering and attention to detail. On first impression it looks and sounds fabulous and far more expensive than the very low package price under £1k with the Neo PSU and a good cartridge. The team at Rega Research are to be highly praised.

Our P3 came with an installed cartridge, the Elys and frankly it is really good. The factory fitted cartridge makes the turntable in-effect a plug and play model. Could we live with this turntable and not feel the angst to spend more? A resounding yes.

It has many of the virtues of analogue and for a super price and a beautifully minimalist design. It is far better made than many so called high-end products. Have no doubts go buy one and spend your extra cash on collecting vinyl.

We have bought our review sample and it will stay as a family heirloom product, no doubt my daughter when a teenager will adopt it and make hers. Hopefully my record collection will not go missing as well. Although vinyl with printed lyrics and album art is far more educational than social media. She can borrow as many records as she likes.

Have fun with HiFi and share with the family. We cannot be too precious and dominated by the angst of continuous upgrades. Rega must be commended on their design and manufacturing philosophy.

We find in Rega Research a perfect model company and a vision for British Audio. Post Brexit everyone can afford good audio made close to home and save up for that special amp or speaker.

The classic 80’s Audiolab 8000A integrated amp

Another famous name of the British audio scene of the 80’s is Audiolab, founded in 1983 by Phillip Swift. The iconic 8000A integrated amp was another iconic design. The aesthetics of the design was clean and minimalist. The right balance of controls and less is more approach.

The amp was created to produce Quad sound for those that could not afford Quad. The whole startup had an intellectual almost democratic approach. The amp was really good and a huge success. Today a mint 8000A will be as valuable as the retail cost. Not a bad investment.

Back to the Future, and in 2021 Audiolab is part of the International Audio Group. Although manufacturing is now in Asia with a British design team, to quote one of AQ writers, “IAG respects the heritage and the people and make things in Asia with care.”

Absolutely fair statement. Classic products and brands are being made by the UK with international links.

Back to the future: The Audiolab 6000A Play

We have at the AQ review bench an Audiolab 6000A Play. Which is an integrated amplifier and wireless audio streamer combined. Featuring DTS Play-Fi technology.

The 6000A Play features analogue and digital audio circuitry of the highest quality and for a super price. Two products from Audiolab have combined to a single unit that is a great one stop solution, just match up with a good pair of speakers and you have a great family system.

We partnered with Mayfly 301 ( Canadian ) and Graham Audio LS6f. The unit can drive floor standers to a good level with minimal distortion. Especially well recorded tracks were superb. You could not imagine how a little Audiolab can punch above its weight sound wise for a modest investment.

We have had a good impression with Tidal HiFi and the phono stage is no afterthought. We found the pre-amp stage very clean and hooked up to power amps you have a decent streamer and pre. Thus allowing an upgrade path depending on power requirements and speaker choice.

The Audiolab 6000A Play is a great investment product. Actually the last word for now should be the excellent build quality. A lovely product.

We could easily recommend a starter system with the Rega P3 and Audiolab 6000A Play. Neither break the bank or combined. A good dealer can help you begin your upgrade path from there.

Part of this system building approach will inevitably lead to set-up and getting the best performance out of the components.

After careful room setup and good supports, we can change the sound somewhat of the turntable by upgrading cartridges – cables will be important to extract as much performance as possible.

This requires very careful advice and ideally listen for yourself with dealer loans or manufacturer 30 day trials.

One British brand and niche maker of cables that is familiar to AQ from day one is the Derby based British in-house maker, Black Rhodium. We don’t make a special case for this brand exclusively but we can highly endorse their range.

Pretty much from the day Graham Nalty, the MD once walked into my living room with a £1k “Black Rhodium” interconnect in a case, a mission was set out to make cables that pushed the boundaries of performance. Of course the price looked an ambitious project at the time. However, nearly 25 years on Black Rhodium has progressed in quantum leaps and is very much at the high end of performance.

We have auditioned two of their speaker cables across our test systems and they are not only exquisitely made the performance is technically excellent. We had a test run with the Quickstep S speaker cable which has a fine balanced and insightful sound. They are a fine match to the Audiolab.

The superb Black Rhodium Polka S

Once again however, Graham as a thought provoking manufacturer sent a pair of the latest Polka S speakers cable at twice the price. You have to audition for yourself with a dealer.


Whatever your preconception maybe about how much to spend and cables and do they make a difference? Well our perception has been a little altered by the somewhat mind altering performance.

Where does it come from? Well a lot is to do with the science behind the cable to isolate from RF and micro vibrations.

We have had the outstanding Graham L59s to hand to hear with a monitor class speaker the test products. The Polka S feels like a you have been transported into a recording studio. A great match for top speakers like the LS59. Crystal clear treble and high frequencies and a bass to die for.

However, as ever listen for yourself. Especially with cables. We have such a good impression with the Polka S that we will continue to use with high end tests. At AQ we love the feel of the sound generated by the Polka S. Hand-made in Derby, England the whole range is worthy of audition at any price point.

Our up to date experience with a handful of British Audio 2.0 is that of more refined products better engineered and sonic performances best in class.

At the end of the day the people behind these products are to be appreciated for their dedication and honest desire to make refined and worthy audio that can make music come alive in your home.

No system is perfect. But we suggest some investments will be ultimately rewarded to have fun at home with music replay courtesy of any of these products on our test bench.

Postscript

Graham Audio LS59

We can’t praise Graham Audio enough for their spectacular loudspeakers. Spend time if possible to audition the LS59s. So insightful and transparent that you really shift from the sound of HiFi to the sound of music. Live recordings are utterly beguiling and you can live and breathe music as recorded. Very special speakers. Bravo Paul for making these wonderful speakers in a little Devon workshop.