To some extent, that’s the show suffering as a victim of its own success, but it also mirrors the reaction at other, recent UK events, suggesting (or rather confirming) that there’s a deep seated malaise in both the UK industry and amongst its customers. The entrenched, the forward looking and the well-funded are doing fine. Others? Not so much… Those waiting for a return to pre-Covid/pre-Brexit conditions are trying hard but finding it increasingly difficult to ignore a cold, hard reality. If Audio-T and the Bristol Show are feeling a chill draft on their neck, a lot of the UK audio establishment are going to find themselves in the same boat.
So what WAS new?
As already observed, exhibitors at the Bristol Show closely mirror the solidly mainstream/mid-fi stock profile of the organisers’ stores. That means that few of the more-highly regarded, international high-end brands or their distributors are present. However, at least two significant UK brands did use the show to launch important products:
Perhaps the biggest story at the show – at least for UK listeners of a certain age – was the belated arrival of the Naim NAP250 in the 21st Century. First built in 1975, the 250 is the most enduring symbol of the UK’s flat-earth philosophy, if not the UK audio industry as a whole. Just touching the internals of the venerated stereo amplifier is, for a certain group of die-hard Naim acolytes, the very stuff of heresy. This thoroughly modern makeover doesn’t so much slaughter the sacred cow as butcher the entire herd! I can already hear the rising tide of anguish and outrage, the rending of hair-shirts amongst the faithful! What has Naim done to attract the ire of its congregation?
Well, for starters, the new NAP 250 offers increased current delivery and a 25% increase in output power/headroom, constant current source circuitry in the input stage, balanced inputs (only), soft-start, forced air cooling and external heatsinks (to prevent thermal shut-down – a condition that’s curtailed many a Naim-based party). At one end of the practicality scale it has a music sensing standby facility; at the other, slots are cut in the back panel between the output terminals to inhibit eddy-currents. In short, all the things you’d expect to find in any, commercially relevant and right-thinking modern amplifier; and all the things virtually guaranteed to drive Naim Luddites over the edge.
To make matters better (or worse – depending on your point of view) the revised NAP250 is joined by the NSC222 digital/analogue pre-amp and the NPX300 power-supply. Interestingly, the pre-amp includes both RCA and Din inputs, a MM phono-stage fitted as standard and both RCA and balanced XLR outputs. It also offers built in wi-fi and streaming capabilities as well as four digital inputs. The volume control is a two-stage, stepped resistor ladder developed directly from the one in the Statement pre-amp, while the large diameter control is (to these eyes at least) a huge aesthetic advance on previous Naim efforts. Remote control is via the Naim App (iOS and Android) or the supplied Zigbee smart handset. The XPS300 power supply signals further rationalisation of the range. A universal supply it will be compatible with a whole family of future devices, offering separate Burndy multi-pin outputs to supply digital and analogue circuitry. Together the three products are the first in the somewhat awkwardly named New Classic Series.