TAG-McLaren and Wilson Audio were among the stars shining on the first day at The HI-FI Show 98

The HI-FI Show 98, the sixteenth put on by UK audio magazine Hi-Fi News & Record Review, sedately opened its trade days this morning in the Renaissance and Excelsior hotels on Bath Road near London's Heathrow International Airport. No, that's not a change in venue, it's yet another name change for the hotel that first hosted the "Penta Show" and, more recently, the "Ramada Show." However, this year's show will be the last at the site, as the new owners do not seem interested in hosting large-scale events at all. Next year the show will be moving---to a destination that nobody's revealing in advance of Friday's official announcement.

The big buzz, at least as of the first day, was TAG-McLaren's ambitious assault on the High End, marketed under the TAG-McLaren name. How ambitious? Today's debut of twelve audio components is just the opening salvo in their seven-year plan to make "the best audio and audio-visual reproduction systems in the world"---to quote their press release.

The new range's distinctive look was designed by Peter Stevens, the industrial designer who styled the Lotus Esprit and Elan, the Jaguar XRJ15, and the McLaren F1 road car. The components were the subject of an intense design process (representing "almost 50 man-years of design," according to TM) that included some 2000 hours of listening tests.

I got a chance to sit down and talk with Dr. Udo Zucker, TAG-McLaren's CEO, about the new audio project, and was surprised to find him, at heart, very much an audiophile. I initially wondered if he had found the world of high-end audio a strange place to be, but, as it turns out, he fits right in. He informed me that it was at his suggestion that listening tests were added to the development process of the components. "The human ear is sensitive to things that we still cannot measure," he said. "Since we are designing these products to be listened to, it would be foolish not to listen to them as we design them."

Following the F3 series will be the even more highly stylized F3 Avant-Garde integrated music systems, which will be based on the circuit designs of the F3 components. Still later will come the F2 and the very distinctive F1 lines, which, at present, exist only as design prototypes---but awfully impressive ones. From all appearances, TM is very serious about high-end audio. I asked Dr. Zucker what the firm's plans were for the States. "We will launch our products in the United States when we have a video solution in place," he said. "We cannot go there and tell people that they cannot have good-sounding music as long as they put a television between their loudspeakers unless we can offer them something else. You cannot, you know---that's just physics."

I also got a chance to catch up with Meridian's Bob Stuart, who seems to have spent most of his time since HI-FI '98 on planes to and from Japan, where he has been coordinating with Working Group 4, which on August 4th selected Meridian's Lossless Packing (MLP) to be part of the DVD-Audio standard v1.0 (see related story). Stuart is confident that WG4 will announce the standard the first week of October at the DVD Conference in San Francisco. "Essentially everything's in place now," he told me. "The only piece missing is the copy-protection system."

Wilson Audio Systems' UK importer, Absolute Sounds, was demoing Wilson's MAXX loudspeaker in a system that included Krell's KPS-25 integrated CD/preamp and KMA-650s, as well as Transparent Cable. Although the speakers made their US debut at HI-FI '98, this was the first chance I had had to sit down for an extended audition, and they sounded far more relaxed and natural than I had found them in LA, where they had a brutally large room to contend with. Wilson's Troy Kosovitch demmed Paul McCartney's cover of "Ain't No Sunshine" from Unplugged!, and it was a revelation. The cute Beatle sounded powerful and exceedingly life-sized through MAXX. His version of the song is dynamic as all get-out---and, no, I don't mean loud, I mean he goes from a whisper to a scream---and that seems to be an area where MAXX---or, rather, the whole system---shines.

Good show!

So far.