Monday, 30 March 2015

HiFi Wigwam Scalford Show Report 2015 - As An Exhibitor

After working through the check list and packing the car in 2 short stints in between the rain, on the way just after 1pm, arriving just before 4pm.  Checked in then my brother arrived just in time to unload the car.  We had a small ground floor room in the new block which had the expected twin beds set up, so not much room for boxes and kit.

Once the car was unpacked we headed for the bar, chatted with a few wammers but it was fairly quiet there.  Then we got the kit out of boxes and up and running, just so we could be sure everything was working, which it did straight away - I guess it took about 90 mins elapsed time once all the unwanted boxes and spares were back in the car.  We listened for a bit, decided it sounded OK, but there's no point in going for a result when the beds are in the room.  Got the bits n pieces off to the room to contribute to the charity bring and buy hifi stuff stall.

So a brief wander around a couple of rooms on the same floor, then off to the bar for a drink to join the curry.  A bit after 7pm the curry was available and the dining room filled up quickly.  Beef, chicken and veg curry plus rice, naan and bhajis etc., on a help yourself basis (so that'll be 2 platefuls thanks!) went well with the very well presented hand pulled Doom Bar ale.  More natter over the curry.

Then for the very relaxed wander around the rooms that were up and running to try and get as many done over the quieter hours of the evening - Sunday is always too busy to get around everything, particularly when there's a room to look after - even when there are 2 too share the work.  See separate report (to come) about the rooms I really enjoyed at the show.

Can we not have the show over the clock change weekend next year please?  :-)  Losing an hour doesn't help - not a biggie, but a preference!

We were up at 7:30am (BST), showered etc., then down to the decent breakfast where we learnt a good deal about reel to reel professional tape machines, tape mastering, the carelessness of the industry when it comes to preserving masters, how to unstick gummed up tape reels etc. etc from Lodgesound.  Didn't realise it was so complex!

Back to the room and we started with furniture moving (its about 8:45 now with visitors due around 10:00) to clear out the beds and bring in the chairs.  With there being 2 of us, we didn't wait or call for hotel staff, just got on with it.  The bed bases went into the en-suite, one mattress stayed in the room and one went out of the room.  The small bedside tables came in handy - I was thinking for putting small lamps on them, but it turned out they were great for creating bass traps in the front corners of the room.

We messed about for some time moving the speakers too and fro to try and get the bass boom in the room to a minimum - being in a very square room is only exceeded by a completely cubic room.  We did at least have a concrete floor to spike the speakers down onto though, so that helped.  The best place for the speakers was a long way out into the room and would've left only one row of seats - never going to be enough for visitors.  We pushed the speakers back closer to the wall again (about 45 cms from the wall) and stuffed socks into the rear ports on the Katans.  The bass boom was gone, but so was the music - the life was sucked out of it.

So the bedside table went into the front corners and were stacked with bean bags underneath and duvets on top.  This was a vast improvement, but still not enough, so the bean bags went on top of the tables and the spaces underneath were packed with pillows, with one of the mattresses propped up against the back wall of the room.  Believe me, if you want a good sound, make sure the house you buy doesn't have a square room!  At this point we were happy enough to say we'd done enough for a reasonable result - and enough room for 2 x 3 rows of seats for visitors.  I noticed that the room sounded at its best with 4 to 6 people in the room.  Curtains closed and some low level lighting to help the atmosphere :-)

First arrivals at around 9:50am (show opens at 10!) and we have 2 or 3 folks in the room at a time until around 10:15 when it starts to get busy, then we have a steady stream throughout the day through to 4-30pm.  Sometime there are 2 or 3 people, sometimes we have 12 in (game of sardines!) and sometimes folk try and open the door and give up trying to get in - maybe some of them came back later.  We did have a few that opened the door when there was room to get in, but decided they didn't like what they heard (which is, as I've said a good few times before at other shows, not a good way to make any evaluation, particularly when you consider how much effort goes into getting the speakers to just the right place in the room).

Throughout the day we are lucky enough to get several re-visits and some come back for a third session, with lots of really encouraging comments about the system.  Also, I noted that pretty much every visitor made the effort to smile, nod or say thank you as they leave the room - I think that was a massive improvement on previous years when many folks never bothered.

The FiiO was on shuffle going through the playlist here, but during the quieter times a few people asked for particular tracks to be played - very happy to do this!  Brother John and I took turns to look after the room and tour around the other systems.  The day whizzed by (it always surprises me this, the 7 hours of showtime seem to stretch out in front, but then it all disappears so quickly) and we enjoyed the music (mostly, I guess John wasn't that happy with some of the dance tracks on the playlist, but he knows how to move it on...).  Having technology that just gets on with playing the music makes the day quite easy (and give time to answer visitors' questions) and takes the heat out of deciding what to play next as the machine just gets on with shuffling through what I've already decided would be suitable.  It does take a bit more time in advance of course, so adds a bit of pressure in advance, but removes so much of it on the day. We did get some feedback on the music choice - particularly that it was "real" music choices rather than simple well recorded jazz-lite which is what seems to be always on offer at the commercial shows.

We had an empty room at 4:30 but then at 4:40 we had a couple of returnees who requested a few tracks and shared their thoughts on the day (they'd managed to visit every room - that's quite an impressive feat and bit of organisation, particularly as several rooms were impossible to squeeze into for a good part of the day, being so popular).  We were very happy for the re-visit, but with a 2.5 hour drive to look forward to unfortunately had to politely ask them to leave at 5pm so we could pack away.

Amazingly the packing was done in an hour and everything was back into the car.

Must say a huge thanks as follows:

James and the organising team at Hifi Wigwam
Those that organised the raffle and/or supplied prizes
Those that worked on the other charity efforts
The hotel (they're so tolerant, AND they now serve hand pulled Doom Bar)
Visitors to the room (who were happy to come through the door despite the brands listed on the door)
The kind comments from visitors about what they heard in the room
All the exhibitors who put in so much effort and are happy to help each other out
JVS for the pies and the excellent Wam-taxi services
And anyone else I should be thanking, but have forgotten

But most of all, thanks to my brother John who supported the room with box shifting, many hours of room sitting and assisting with the beer drinking and to my fantastic family for giving us the time to go out and do something a bit daft with the weekend  :-)

Here's a picture of Room 202 at the show:


On the bench, from left to right:

First (on the perspex stand): FiiO X3 portable hi-res player, loaded with FLAC files, most of which are 16 bit CD rips, but a handful of 24 bit files too. Music chosen on the basis of music I enjoy first, but then narrowed down based on production . SQ qualities. This was being used purely as a digital transport. Using the coax digital output the signal was fed down a Chord ProDAC Pro Gold digital coax cable to the DAC.

Second (small silver box): a Musical Fidelity PSU-2 which is a linear power supply for the DAC

Third (small black box): a Musical Fidelity V-DAC 1 which feeds its output down a pair of Linn Silver interconnects (silver is the model name based on the colour of the sleeve, there's no actual silver involved) to the pre-amp

Fourth (wooden front with silver knobs): Tisbury passive pre-amp - basically a source selection switch and a potentiometer in a box. This was connected by Linn Silver interconnects to the power amp

Fifth (large blue box): Linn AV5125 multi-channel power amp (125W per channel). In here there are active crossover cards. For each channel the signal from the pre-amp is split into treble and bass frequencies before the amplifiers, then the treble signals go to one channel of the amplification, bass to another. The signal is then sent down one pair of speaker cables (each Linn K400 speaker cable has 2 pairs of conductors) directly to the appropriate driver in each speaker (there are no crossovers in circuit in the speakers). So 4 channels of the power amp are in use - 2 power amps for each speaker, 1 power amp per driver.

The electronics are all on Mission Isoplats and a single shelf and legs of Quadraspire QAV (with a home made brace halfway down the legs)

Speaker cables are Linn K400, which, at 5m each are too long for the room, but we laid them in S shapes rather than coiling.

Speakers are Linn Katans with the back panel connections set up for active operation. They are on the original Linn stands which are spiked, adjusted to be level and no rocking movement. Katans blu-tacked to the stands.

Corners of the room heavily damped with bedding and bean bags (we ended up with more than shown in the photo) and a mattrass against the rear wall. Being a perfectly square room is a real pain! Took us about an hour to get the sound to the best we could with the room we had and the materials available. We even tried socks in the Katan's rear ports for a couple of minutes, but that killed the sound. We also had the system playing quietly the evening before and from about 7:30 on Sunday morning.

Power cables were all standard issue stuff, including a normal extension lead. The Linn amp has been refinished in MG Trophy Blue - one of the reasons the system has been so cost effective as the amp was very scruffy when I bought it, so it cost me about 55% of what they normally sell for.

I mention all the details, which you might think is very long winded, as I think all the little bits add up to a better total.

Hope that helps.

Link here to pictures of setting up the Katans and installing the active cards in the amp:

And another picture by Phil Morgan, with the full bass trap treatment (and a decent camera by the look of it!)

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