Notes from the show

Last June, I attended the North West Audio Show again, at Cranage Hall in Holmes Chapel. My old schoolmate Chris was there with me too, like last year.

It was great to see so many people there; the show was bigger than ever. Despite the popularity of videos and gaming, hi-fi can still draw an audience, which is nice to see. However, I’m not as mobile as I used to be, so we decided to cherry-pick, instead of trying to see every room. There are too many to see – and hear! – in one day.

This blog is so late because I misplaced my notes. I want to post this anyway, though, to pass on my impressions of a small handful of particularly impressive products. Impressive enough, I think, to justify such a long delay before publication.

I’m not quite sure about the names here, but in the Watt room were Markaudio loudspeakers, showing the class D MA-01 power amp and their range of Frugel Horn single-driver speakers.

The amp was offered as a Kickstart on the net, and I saw it just after I’d invested in my new amplifier. Humph! Now they’re available directly, powered by your choice of Hypex N-core modules, and still priced reasonably. They sound good too!

The speakers were also more than impressive, using single full-range drivers in a horn-based cabinet. I would have loved to audition them directly against these:

The new PMC fact.12 speakers were magnificent! Luxman-driven, they sounded good enough to blow your socks off, and to blow your savings on! Everyone who could afford £15k for a pair of speakers should hear them.

And finally, that star of the show: the Chord Hugo M Scaler. I’m not even going to try to explain how it works, but the results are much simpler. I’d love to tell you how it tightens up the treble, and clarifies the bass, and all that stuff. And it does. But the abiding impression that it left me with is that it (delves into the digital data, from where it mathemagically recovers and) restores the beauty to the music.

We heard the music, via a top-flight Chord front end, with and without the Scaler. The differences were very clear and obvious. This is a revolutionary product that anyone who uses digital hi-fi should investigate. It’s the reason why we attend hi-fi shows in the first place.

[No commercial or other association with any product mentioned.]

Notes from the show

North West Audio Show

I visited the North West Audio Show at Cranage Hall on Sunday 24th June, with my old schoolmate, Chris. These are my memories of a full and enjoyable day. We dawdled wherever the music sounded good, so we missed a few of the bedrooms. Overall, the sounds were good, and those that weren’t were mainly due to the sound being turned up too loud. Refreshingly, most visitors were asking exhibitors to turn the volume down, not up. But do you want the good news or the bad news first? Yes, you’re right. It’s better to end on a high note. 🙂
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I’m a big fan of PMC speakers, so I was disappointed to hear awful sounds from them. We arrived at the end of the show, and heard the last half of the last track they played before packing up. Heavy rock was jack-hammering out from Luxman-driven PMC IB2s. I choose to believe it was just a poor recording, played too loud. Someone who hadn’t heard PMCs before might not be so kind.
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Earlier on, we heard some sweet sounds over Amphion Krypton3s, driven by Caas electronics. They’re quite large (tall), and feature ports made of lots of little holes, up beside the mid-range drivers. Nice music, and interesting looks. Those who visited the room stayed for a good while, enjoying the music. We did too.
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Next, a novelty. In the audiopro room, a small pair of active speakers were sitting on a table, sounding quite good, if not exceptional. As hifi speakers, that is. Then I realised they were computer-desk bookshelf monitors, which is the novelty. As such, they were Very Good. They will surely exceed the quality of what you feed them, unless you’ve already got a Chord Mojo. More details here.
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Vox 3 mini monitors awaited us in the Sound Kaos room. As ever, the sound was open, airy, and entrancing. This seems to be their family sound. Although we were running out of time to see all the rooms, we stayed and listened to the music for a while. We did last year too.
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In the Neat Acoustics room, we auditioned their new Xplorers. I had especially looked forward to these, and I wasn’t disappointed. Great highs from the AMT driver, and well-rounded isobaric bass. They have been added to my list. You know, the one I’ll return to when I win the lottery….
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And finally, a treat from Puresound, in the form of Heco Direkt speakers. They have drawbacks, admittedly (see this review), but I haven’t had so much fun in years! A pre-recorded reel-to-reel tape of the Ramsey Lewis Trio offered superb percussion, such as I have rarely heard. You should consider these speakers to be like old-fashioned horns. A bit lacking in the extremes, but always lively and exuberant. A bit of light classical sounded nice too. Probably not for all music, or all music-lovers. Hear them if you can.
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I came with a particular interest in hearing speakers, so I’m afraid I neglected many other worthwhile things. These were my personal highlights. If you didn’t make it to the Show, come next year? See you there.

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[Dots between paragraphs to ensure paragraph spacing. It looks awkward: sorry! 😉 ]

North West Audio Show

Hi-fi and Windows 10

The Chord Mojo is what you buy if the sound from your mobile or laptop isn’t all you could hope for. It plugs into your device and bypasses your inboard sound hardware with something much better. You probably connect your TV sound through your hi-fi; this is the same thing, for the same reasons. I wanted to write a review of the Mojo, but I don’t have the experience of competing products, and so on. [If you want a proper review, here’s a link.] Anyway, the story went its own way, as you will see. For now, here are my, er, opinions of the Mojo.

Mojo does two things better than most: transients and notes.

Good transients let you hear the start of each note, and the rest of it then follows on quite easily. This helps distinguish the instruments, and makes the music clearer and easier to enjoy. This is especially helpful with low-quality recordings. Your low-bit-rate mp3s will still sound murky, but better. Higher quality files will sparkle accordingly. 🙂

I thought I left one-note bass behind years ago, but I hadn’t. At least, not to the extent that Mojo plays notes. The effect covers the whole spectrum, but is more obvious in the lower registers. Bass and drums, in particular, have a note as well as a sound.

Good transients and good notes lead to good timing/rhythm and good tunes. What more could you want? 🙂 Mojo delivers a full, balanced and well-rounded sound. Follow the Golden Rule, and listen for yourself. As for me, I’m rediscovering my music collection. I am living the cliche! 🙂

Configuring a Windows PC for hi-fi sound

I had some difficulty configuring my laptop to reproduce hi-fi. The problem lies with Microsoft Windows. It is nothing to do with Chord or the Mojo. You can’t avoid this irritation by buying (say) an Audioquest Dragonfly instead. The same problems apply. Having said that, Chord market the Mojo for use with Windows PCs….

Normally, when you plug in a new USB device to your PC, it auto-loads a driver, or you download one from the vendor’s website and install it, and you’re done.

This is not the case with a music device!

Windows 10 will grab your music, and process it as it knows you would want, if only you were as clever as it is. 😦 It will run your music through its mixer and volume control, up- or down-sample your music, and who knows what else. This is Windows’ default sound scheme, called Direct Sound. To avoid it, you will need to put in some extra and unfamiliar effort. You need to use an alternative sound scheme: ASIO or WASAPI.

“Bitperfect” is a misleading term to describe a system whereby your music player program can pass the music direct to your Mojo without Windows getting its grubby hands on it. Only ASIO and WASAPI support this. I can hear no difference between them, and the hi-fi community seems to favour ASIO, so that’s what I’ve gone for.

To use your audio device, you need to install ASIO at both ends. Download and install Asio4All. This will connect the ASIO output to the Chord driver, and thereby to the Mojo hardware. Then you must configure the front end, your music player, by enabling it to support ASIO. Chord support JRiver, but I found it painful to use, and went for foobar2000, which is almost as well regarded, and it’s free. But you will still need to download and install a ‘component’ to support ASIO operation.

If this is too much for you, try WASAPI instead. A single component for foobar2000 will get you going.

One other thing. Some Windows PCs can become misconfigured. This results in intermittent and severe problems with channel balance. It isn’t just that one channel is missing, it’s more complicated than that, but your ears will know if you have a problem. If you do, as I did, you need to open a console box (right-click on cmd.exe and select ‘Run as Administrator’ — this bit is important) and type:

net localgroup Administrators /add networkservice

net localgroup Administrators /add localservice

This should solve your problem.

Finally, you need to enable ‘exclusive access’ to your audio device in the Windows driver settings*, and you should be able to listen to hi-fi on your Windows PC. At last. 🙂

* — Go to Settings/Control Panel/Sound. Select your output device, then Properties, then the Advanced tab. Tick both of the ‘Exclusive mode’ boxes.

Conclusion

I spent 32 years developing software (not Windows software), using PCs as a ‘power user’ since 1983. And I’m not especially stupid. I promise. But I misunderstood, and bought a £400 product after auditioning on an incorrectly configured laptop*. [It’s lucky I’m so delighted with it!] Learn from my mistake.

* — N.B. This is not the fault of my dealer, Audio T. I told them my laptop was correctly configured, as I thought it was. Mike (Audio T) and Tom (from Chord) helped me sort all this out, once I told them I had a problem. Thanks to both of them!

If you’re anxious about all this, you could ask your dealer to help configure your Windows computer. I’m sure many of them would be happy to assist a valued customer like you. 😉 Alternatively, if you have the option, you could build your music machine using Linux. 😉

The Chord Mojo is a little box of joy and wonder. You should treat yourself to one. You won’t regret it.

I have a degree in Electronics, and I worked in electronic hardware and software design for many years. I have no qualifications as a hi-fi reviewer, and no connection with Audio T or Chord, apart from being a satisfied customer. I am a lifetime hi-fi and music enthusiast. I am not a huge fan of Microsoft Windows.

Have you had problems with hi-fi on your Windows 10 PC? Please leave a comment. Thanks for reading this. Oh, and if you expected a firmware blog, I’ll try to do better next time. 😉

 

Hi-fi and Windows 10