North West Audio Show report: the (un)usual hi-fi show

North West Audio Show 2024

I had the opportunity of attending the North West Audio Show, one of UK’s largest audio shows, set in the English countryside in the village of Cranage. It takes place in an old mansion converted to hotel, the De Vere Cranage Estate, surrounded by a large area of greenery – which certainly helps making things more beautiful. The unusual twist on the show is that I was asked by HiFiMAN to help them man their booth, so I spent most of my time interacting with people from behind the HiFiMAN table: it was a novel experience for me and I met a lot of very interesting people in the two days of the exhibition!

As a consequence for this, I only had limited time to actually visit the show, which is why you will only find a few of the actual exhibitors in this report. Many exhibitors I decided not to cover as they were displaying cables, power adapters and furniture which is hard to judge in general and even more so at a show, and especially if you don’t get to hear any of it (and one has to wonder what is the point, but wondering about that is an exercise I leave to the reader…).

Astell & Kern

Astell & Kern was present with their UK distributor, HEA Distribution. They had the latest products on show: the new flagship, the SP3000T (in the first picture),  which has Raytheon tubes to provide amplification on top of the solid-state stage, as well as the new Activo P1. The latter is the device I found the most interesting: it is small and lightweight, with a very modern design which looks and feels great; as in A&K’s tradition, build quality appears to be fantastic. From what I understood it also comes with stock Android, so you should be able to install any applications you like – overcoming a limitation of A&K’s software which I mentioned in my reviews. As weird as it may sound, I am more excited about the Activo P1 than I am about the SP3000T, although the latter costs 10 times as much as the former (the P1 should retail for ~£350). I should be able to try both in the (relatively) near future, so stay tuned for updates!


HiFiMAN had quite a few new products on display at its booth, including the new Mini Shangri-La system which includes both the amplifier/energiser and the headphones. This system is an evolution over the Jade II, to which it looks and feels very similar. I can’t really comment on the similarities when it comes to sound, as I didn’t have a Jade II on hand, but what I can say is that the new Mini Shangri-La sounds superbly detailed and well-balanced, with very good extension at both ends and very good tightness in the bass area – something that’s not quite a given with electrostatics.

The company also had the new EF499 DAC/amp (first picture), which has 4.3 W output at 32 Ω and is also a network streamer – not too shabby at just £299! Up along the chain we find the Goldenwave Serenade (second picture), which is the first product to come out of the new acquisition of Goldenwave by HiFiMAN; like the EF499 it is a network streamer, plus it offers a screen and Bluetooth as well – and outputs 4 W at 32 Ω. It is based on HiFiMAN’s new Hymalaya Pro R2R DAC, which improves significantly on the distortion compared to the previous generation. It has enough power to drive the Susvara to very high volume, so it is probably going to be enough for any other headphone!

Finally, I had a chance to try out the Arya Organic, which I took home with me for an in-depth review which will arrive in the coming weeks together with that of the HE1000SE – whose recent price cuts make it a more compelling product.

iFi Audio

iFi had all their latest (and also not-latest) devices on display, including the Zen DAC 3 (third picture) and the Zen Phono 3 (fourth picture) which constitute the base offering of the company. Going much further up the chain was the Diablo 2 (first picture), heir to the Diablo which I reviewed a whole three years ago. There was also the Go Bar Kensei (second picture), the latest evolution in the portable DAC/amps by the company which are meant to be used with a smartphone, tablet or laptop.

Imperial Furniture

Although I said in the intro that I would exclude the exhibitors who presented furniture at the show, I think that one mention needs to go to Imperial Furniture nonetheless. This is a small company that manufactures chairs by hand, with the aim of providing a high-end chair (and by “high-end” I mean that it costs more than £1,000!) which is both comfortable and acoustically neutral. While I am not entirely sure I side with the latter premise, something has to be said for the fact that Mark, the owner, was actively working on a chair while at the show and demonstrating how every unit is created using traditional techniques and tools, which I found terribly interesting. When I entered the room, he was already talking with a member of the public and explaining how he sources logs which then he cuts to size and splits in order to get the required wood, paying attention to the peculiarities of the wood so that the pieces have the necessary strength and flexibility.

Longdog Audio

This was one of the pleasant surprises of the show. I admit I was lured into Longdog Audio‘s room due to the unusual speakers they had: they were completely transparent as they were made of acrylic. Much to my surprise, they sounded absolutely great, even in the imperfect environment of the hotel room. The speakers were open baffle and made with thick transparent acrylic, with three drivers that managed to both go very deep with bass and be clear with highs. One of the owners was commenting jokingly that they decided to make speakers because they were tired of advertising other people’s products for free, as Longdog’s main activity is designing amplifiers and other electronics (e.g. preamplifiers, power supplies, etc), but I have to say that the result is impressive nonetheless. It is unfortunately difficult to say anything about the electronics being shown, simply due to the fact that it is impossible to say what their contribution was to the sound. The system as a whole sounded simply fantastic for sure!


NVA is a British manufacturer of amplifiers and other electronics, though the company started to also market their own speakers about a decade ago. They had both the Cube 1 and Cube 3 speakers on display and they were using the Cube 3 (the black ones) to play a variety of music from AC/DC to Elgar – and I have to say they managed both very competently, with smooth mids, deep bass and clear highs. It struck me that these employ a sealed cabinet, which is quite rare due to the difficulty in managing its drawbacks; NVA was able to do so with great success. In fact, these were among the most fun speakers I heard at the show without being overly coloured.


If you ever approached the world of guitar and bass, it is virtually impossible you haven’t encountered Orange‘s amplifiers, which are well renowned. The company set up a consumer division a few years ago and started producing a variety of products aimed at non-musicians, including Bluetooth speakers which resemble the famous guitar amplifiers. There are currently two of them: the BOX and the BOX-L – and, as you can easily intuit from the names, the latter is the larger version. The company also showed at NWAS the new second-generation tube tester: this is a device which performs a variety of tests on tubes to tell you whether they are still viable or not. It was originally designed for guitar amplifiers (being Orange a manufacturer of those…), but the company realised there was demand from audiophiles as well and released the second generation, which supports a wider variety of tubes including those most used in headphone and speaker amplifiers. The test requires just a few minutes to run on each tube and then gives you an estimate of the remaining life from 15 (the tube is new) to 0 (the tube is completely dead). It is a very useful device, whose only possible limitation is price: at £850 (around €1,000 or $1,100), it is certainly a pricey option that puts it more in the “die-hard tube aficionados” camp than anything else.

The company was also displaying its Pyramid system. it’s an ingenious 2.0 speaker system with its own amplifier, shaped like a pyramid. The company’s sales manager, Kevin, explained to me that the system will be expanded with further modules that will be attached to the bottom to continue the pyramidal shape: there will be a network player as well as a CD player, perfectly integrated into the system. That will surely be interesting to see! The full pyramid system, comprising the speakers and the amplifier, retails for £799 and targets both music enthusiasts as well as musicians who need a reliable sound system for their studio work.


Historical Scottish loudspeaker maker Tannoy was present at the show through their distributor for the UK, Symphony Distribution. They had the latest Sterling III LZ speakers driven by Sugden amplifiers; the result was a warm, relaxing sound which I really enjoyed, especially as they were the last booth I visited at the very end of the show!

Bonus: Pink Floyd speakers!

A nice bonus to the show was that CH Vintage Audio was displaying Pink Floyd’s original speaker system used to record The Dark Side of the Moon, and it was indeed playing that album along with others from the band’s discography. It was quite an experience being able to see and listen to this system!

About Riccardo Robecchi

Living in Glasgow, Scotland but born and raised near Milan, Italy, I got the passion for music listening as a legacy from my father and my grandfather. I have reported on technology for major Italian publications since 2011.

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