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A welcome departure from the usual city center or airport hotel venue, Whittlebury Hall stands in its own extensive grounds on the outer limits of—unsurprisingly—the leafy village and civil parish of Whittlebury in the English southern county of Northamptonshire. What wasn’t so welcome? The 2:58h drive suggested by the Sat Nav which didn’t take into account any other traffic or road works on the 187-mile route. So it was nearer to four hours later that I with great relief turned into the Whittlebury Hall grounds and trundled down the driveway past the golf course on my left while to my right were the distant shotgun volleys of clay pigeon enthusiasts. Approaching the hotel itself marshaled directed show visitors into a field devoid of parking meters or wardens. Another big thumbs-up although how a prolonged downfall of rain would affect the suitability of that particular parking is perhaps something to consider for the future. No sign of any rain clouds on this day though and during the short walk to the hotel entrance via golden gravel paths it was possible to discern the scream of motorcycles from the famous Silverstone motor racing circuit around a couple of miles away. That's the home of the British Grand Prix.

Once inside the motor racing connection became a theme Whittlebury Hall played on very effectively. The Silverstone bar area is adorned with various motor racing paraphernalia displayed in glass cabinets along with framed photographs of past racing celebrities on a crowded wall. If all bars were this attractive and interesting, I might be tempted to frequent them on a more regular basis. Alas it was only a glass of coke which quenched the thirst acquired over the course of the journey and the camera lens cap was duly removed before setting off to explore the ground floor exhibit rooms. 

After finding myself back where I started five minutes later, it was evident that I should have picked up a show plan to navigate the maze of corridors which quickly disoriented the unaccustomed visitor. Part of the problem was that Whittlebury Hall is built around three courtyards. The hallways have to dissect these whilst also extending outwards. With show guide in hand and some study, it was possible to find and then tick off each exhibition room to prevent repeat visits although by Sunday some rooms were visited again as the general sound had improved overnight when some of the systems mentioned positively in this report had been still borderline on Saturday.

What follows are the usual hifi show photographs accompanied by brief comments of equipment on display but be advised that in my experience, shows are possibly the worst environment to judge and evaluate equipment. Hence there will be no in-depth evaluations of sonics. In many instances I would enter a room, sit down for barely half a track and make a swift exit once that distinctive digital edge, general coarseness and/or forwardness had replayed themselves which I'm sure we've all experienced.

Very few rooms got the scribbled 'nice sound' or even 'quite nice'  notepad memo. Those which did manage to retain attention get a mention in this review. In my opinion far too many exhibitors use speakers too big for typical hotel rooms when stand mounts would be more suitable. In the exhibitors' defense it's the prestige flagship speakers potential customers are most interested to sample. Without the benefit of a larger conference room to let them breathe, I'd still be inclined though to leave them in the store.

Ironically there were also monitors struggling to drive rooms which were too large to make me wonder how many exhibitors actually visit rooms beforehand or at least acquire dimensions to evaluate what will work and what obviously won't.

Alongside the mismatches of speakers to rooms, there was the constant background drone of bass leakage from adjoining and facing rooms and even rooms above or below. Exhibitors keeping their doors shut to reduce leakage risked being bypassed by show visitors especially in the Whittlebury labyrinth. With no air conditioning, the smaller rooms also quickly became uncomfortable behind closed doors.

Add mains quality which is usually poor in hotels even without having to provide for the dynamic swings of 50+ audio systems and the recipe for frustrated exhibitors and unimpressed visitors was complete.  Those are just my own thoughts of course and despite this Hell's Kitchen scenario, there were quite nice-sounding systems though even those would be utterly transformed with decent power conditioners, better rooms and quieter overall conditions. With this is mind, I find it better to enter hifi shows with lowered expectations and then be be pleasantly surprised.