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  1. Henley Designs Ltd. was formed in 1997 by a management buy-out of Ortofon UK. A small team, led by Laurence Armstrong and Nick Fuller, quickly established an innovative collection of hi-fi brands. Their core principle was: quality product, quality service. In 2017 to mark the occasion of their 20th Anniversary, Henley Designs Ltd. changed its trading name to Henley Audio, giving both trade and consumers a better idea of what to expect from one of the UK’s major hi-fi distributors. Henley Audio is now based in Didcot (nr Oxford) in a large and modern 20,000+ square-foot facility. They have a large open-plan office for their Customer Services, Technical & Marketing Services and Finance teams. Unusually for a distributor, they have a dedicated Service Centre where they employ two specialist engineers who are able to repair almost every product they represent. At the back of the building is a huge warehouse that houses their stock. It is about 10 metres tall and allows them to supply a vast array of products on a very quick turnaround. Of great interest to me was their custom showroom and demonstration facility. This is open to the public (appointment only) and gives visitors a chance to get up-close with their products and try anything out before purchase. Henley Audio has established a network of nearly 500 retailers across the country allowing buyers to get the product they want locally. They also have an excellent web page that is easy to get around and has a wealth of information including advice on using a valve amplifier and how to set up a turntable with a few helpful videos to make the explanations easy to follow. I arranged to meet Kieran Pickaver (Area Sales Manager) for Henley Audio after attending to a great demonstration at Oxford Audio a few weeks ago Kieran was very relaxed about answering my multitude of questions. He was very generous with his time, which was needed as there as so many good products to talk about. I started asking about the products I heard at Oxford Audio, Unison Research amplifiers and Opera Loudspeakers. Henley Audio have represented Unison Research amplifiers and Opera speakers for a few years now. Both these companies are housed in the same manufacturing facility in Treviso, Italy. They have been making amplifiers and speakers for decades and as they are in the same facility it is not surprising that their products work together. These artisan products are made using components sourced locally so any developments and issues can be discussed face to face and dealt with quickly. Unison Research is mainly known for their great valve products with really good and heavy transformers. I currently have at home their S6 amplifier which is a 30w single ended triode EL34 integrated amplifier. And it sounds superb. The Unison Research valve amplifier range goes from the small 12w Simply Italy amplifier to the enormous Unison Research Absolute 845 behemoth. All with that imaginative flair that only our Italian cousins know how to do. UR have another range of amplifiers the Unico, which uses a valve pre and a MOSFET power amplifier. The Unico amplifiers are generally more high powered amplifiers. Opera Speakers have two main ranges that look absolutely superb. The top Callas and Grande Callas speakers have stunning looks with deep lustrous varnish on the woodwork and a stylish black glass top. Italian speakers always look superb but the Opera speakers are not as expensive as the other major Italian company. The S6 amplifier and Callas certainly did the business at Oxford Audio. Speaking of high value and powerful speakers Henley also had a collection of Klipsch speakers along the far wall of their showroom. The legendary Jon Wilbur Klipsch started his speaker company in 1957 in Hope, Arkansas with the flagship Heritage series still made in the US. The range on show was the newer Reference speakers. These speakers have a very distinctive copper spun mid-range and bass unit with a Tractix tweeter. The copper spun units have a very striking golden colour and contrast with the black ash speaker box. These are a modern statement speaker. Although I did not hear these speakers people who I trust say they sound big, powerful and very dynamic. Oh, and a biggie like their Reference R-28F (at 42” high) with 2x8” mid/bass spun copper units and a horn loaded tweeter is reasonably priced at £800. However, Klipsch speakers are famed for their big horn loaded loudspeakers. In the demonstration room, I managed to hear the Forte III speakers with a 12” bass unit, a mid-range horn unit and a horn loaded tweeter. And when I looked around the back of them there was a 15” ABR bass unit. Now that is my kind of speaker. And they get bigger as well. Because of their history, Henley Audio carry a good range of vinyl products and have benefitted from the great vinyl revival of the last few years. They distribute Project turntables from the all-in-one jukebox that only needs a set of speakers to play music to the limited production Vienna Philharmonic Anniversary. The Anniversary TT is based on their Classic turntable and looks classy without adding too much bling. Project make an enormous range of turntables and seeing and handling them in the showroom is a great advantage although a good dealer is the best way to get the right turntable. Still, it looked a real Aladdin’s cave. As you may expect these turntables are often partnered with Ortofon cartridges. Ortofon have three main ranges of cartridges, the 2M, the Cadenza and the Quintet. Within each range, there are different sounding cartridges (colours) that range from a more forgiving sound (Red) to a more accurate dynamic sound (Black). Of particular interest is the SPU range of cartridges based on the original Decca cartridges that have attracted a special status with some audiophiles. For people who are not into audio with character but want a more affordable lifestyle product then Henley also distribute Jamo speakers. These speakers have very clean lines and do not look out of place in either a modern home or something more comfortable. And they do not cost a king’s ransom. In fact, that seems to be part of Henley Audio’s philosophy, no super bling audio that is all show and no audio. As you might expect Henley also distribute a lot of other vinyl orientated products as well as the new Roon digital server and some great inexpensive audio from Project’s Box Design’s electronics range. And now onto the Showroom. The showroom has a significant number of items from each of the ranges. I loved it, seeing all this audio on show under one roof. And in the top corner was the demo room. Kieran, knew that I liked valves and had set up a Project 2Xperience SB S Shape turntable with Ortofon Quintet Black S cartridge, a Tube Box DS2 phono stage, the SweetVinyl SugarCube SC-1 (a digital box that de-clicked and de-hissed the signal), the Simply Italy Unison Research valve amplifier with the Klipsch Forte III speakers. The listening room was large and when the Simply Italy was turned up and with help from the Klipsch speakers, they filled the room with a great sound. It was a little unreal to have such a big sound coming from an enormous 12w/channel amp!! Even when I asked for Led Zeppelin to be played the system coped with all that crash and bash with ease and showed the sheer power that Bonzo got from the drums complemented by Robert Plant’s big powerful voice. Of course, we played more refined music, including an album recorded live of a jazz trio. It was effortless and very ‘in the room’. A Richer Audio album featuring new unsigned bands (mainly electronic) compiled by Alice Levine from Radio 1 really showed what this system could do, with deep synthesised bass. Nice. Once again this system had a direct and live sound. It was probably helped by the unsigned bands not overproducing their music. Henley Audio has a great range of products and their showroom and demo room brought it all to life. They do carefully select their dealers and certainly Oxford Audio is a great dealer as is Audio Oasis. Audio Oasis? Yes, I contacted them as they had a nice ex-dem Unison Research S6 EL34 valve amplifier for sale. I borrowed it for a week and… is staying. Review to follow. A water feature greets visitors: Project turntables: Unison Research amplifiers: Klipsch Headphones: Headbox headphone amplifier: Unison Research Sinfonia Amplifier: Klipsch Speakers: Demo Room: Unison Research Little Italy Amplifier: Tube Box DS2 phono stage: Klipsch III Speakers and Jamo Speakers on Demo Project 2Xperience SB S Shape turntable with Ortofon Quintet Black S cartridge Klipsch Forte III 15" ABR Unit