Audio Plus Services, Toronto, distributes a luscious batch of products that includes Pathos, Focal, Cambridge Audio, MicroMega, Crystal cable, Siltech cable, and Solid Tech racks. At Axpona, throwing aesthetics to the dogs in an attempt to tame the room, APS's Ian McArthur sent files wirelessly from his Macbook Pro or a PC running the Airfoil utility via the MicroMega WM-10 Airstream wireless receiver ($1595) to the Pathos TT Anniversary 35W class-A hybrid integrated amp ($7695) and Focal-JM Lab Electra 1028BE loudspeakers ($8495/pair). Cabling was Crystal Cable Reference for both interconnect ($2400/1m) and speaker cable ($7500/3m), and the industrial-look rack was Solid Tech ROS Reference 3 ($1495). The Airstream basically incorporates a self-configuring WiFi router to feed audio data (limited to Red Book at present) to its DAC. Although use of iTunes as the media server, without benefit of either the Amarra or Channel D's Pure Music interfaces, undoubtedly contributed to a lack of transparency, cellos sounded extremely deep and solid, and Marta Gomez's debut CD on Chesky (played directly from the computer's CD drive without benefit of burning) was rewardingly crisp and extremely fast.
As I walked into the Emotiva room, a blast from the distant past greeted me with a smile. It was the Eagles, live, welcoming me to Hotel California. Resisting the temptation to declare, "But I've just come from there," I instead noted the solidity of the bass line, the powerful slam, and the sonic warmth that really did feel like a welcome. "Welcome to Emotiva land," the system seemed to sing.
One of several low-cost, high quality exhibits at Axpona came from Jaton. Based in Fremont, CA, Jaton sources its speaker components from Germany and other parts of Europe, but assembles them in China. It amps, which include 14 Mundorf caps in the amp proper and four more in the power sector, are assembled in Fremont. Everything is designed by the company's unnamed and extremely secretive CEO, who only began to enter the high-end market a few years ago.
Don't even think about the juxtaposition of so-called "modern art" with the kitsch figurines of Nipper and the parrot. Instead gaze upon the Classic Audio T1.3 Reference loudspeakers ($36,500), shown here with Classic's John Wolff. The T1.3 uses two 15" woofers , a TAD compression-loaded tweeter, and the jewel of the design, a 4" compression-loaded midrange dome feeding a Tractrix-flare horn designed by Bruce Edgar. All the drive-units are energized by field-coil magnets rather than permanent magnets. The rest of the system comprised Atma-Sphere MA-60 MUIII monoblocks ($6800), an Atma-Sphere MP-1 preamp ($12,100), Esoteric DU-50 CD player, Kuzma Reference table ($8900), TriPlanar arm ($4850), Van den Hul The Grasshopper cartridge, 59-cent hook-up wire, and my feeble attempts to decipher illegible handwriting. (So much for the "You don't have a sheet listing your products; you do the writing while I listen" approach). Playing the same Mahler as auditioned in the fabulous Koetsu USA room, this system certainly nailed the sound of the cymbals.
As I entered Jeffrey Catalano's High Water Sound exhibit, I was immediately taken by the beauty of Herbie Hancock's Watermelon Man (Cisco LP re-issue). Listening to a recording of the music of Heinrich Biber further underscored the beauty of this system's midrange. Heard were the turntable owned by the First Chair violinist of the Vienna Philharmonic, the TW Acustic BlackNight ($40,000) with TW 10.5 tonearm ($5500) and Dynavector XV1T cartridge ($9000), TW Acustic Raven phonostage ($9000), Thöress linestage ($8000), Thöress 300B 6W monoblocks ($10,000), Horning Aristotle 98dB-sensitive loudspeakers ($15,000) with Zigma Ultimate Plus Lowther DX65 drive-units, Stealth cables, and Silent Running Audio Equipment rack ($12,000).
Michael Lacomba of Southern Cinema, with stores in Cumming, GA and St. Augustine, FL, was having a great time demming several joyful systems that combined tried and true with fresh and new. Almost as fresh and new as Michael, who at age 26 laments, "People my age don't know this stuff exists." Not that Steve Davis and the small and dedicated Axpona crew didn't do everything possible publicity-wise to bring in a fair amount of curious collegiates, some of whom were actually heard to mutter, "I'm going to have to rethink my whole iPod thing after hearing this."
The room shared by Oracle and Phase Technology featured the eye-catching Oracle CD2500 CD player ($12,500), Oracle Delphi Mk.6 turntable with Oracle SME 5 tonearm and Thalia cartridge ($16,500 total), Oracle phono stage ($9950), and Oracle SI 1000 175Wpc integrated amp ($9950) powering the black Phase Technology PC-9.5 loudspeakers ($3500/pair). I was given very different figures in the room than are printed on the literature. Does this 4 ohms nominal impedance speaker have 91dB sensitivity, as the literature says, or 87dB, which is what the spex said? Is its frequency response 32Hz22kHz, or 35Hz20kHz ±2dB. And is its price what I was told? Such are the mysteries of life.
TwinAudioVideo teamed up with Acoustic Zen to pair the large and imposing Acoustic Zen Crescendo loudspeaker ($16,000/pair) with Triode Corporation Ltd. of Japan's Tri TRV-4SE tube preamp ($1,900), the power module of the Tri TRV-845SE 20W pure class-A integrated amp ($6000), and Tri TRV-CD4SE tube CD player with 192kHz upsampling ($2200). The Crescendo is a 3-way, 125 lb transmission-line design with 6 ohms nominal impedance, 89dB sensitivity, and a frequency range of 20Hz to 30kHz. Also in the room on the floor were two ORB power traps (aka power conditioners/distributors), the Kyoto ($6000) and Kamakura ($3900), and, of course, Acoustic Zen cabling. This system did a fine job of capturing music's beauty and warmth. Which is saying a lot.
When I was supping with John Atkinson and Michael Fremer, Mikey mentioned how impressed he was with Cary's true high-end surround processor, the Cinema 11. At Axpona I encountered the North Carolina company's more traditional line, assembled by Fort Lauderdale dealer Let There Be Sound: Cary CAD211 Founder's Edition monoblocks ($20,000), running 70Wpc pure triode; Cary SLP-05 linestage ($8000), Cary CD306 SACD Pro player ($8000), and Cary PH-302 Mk.II phono stage ($3500). Also called into play were the Acoustic Solid Royal turntable ($18,000) with Shelter Harmony cartridge ($5300), Isotek Sigmas A/C. conditioner ($2700), and a large assortment of Cable Research Labs (CRL) cables. Cary's signature sound demonstrated why the company is thought of so highly in the audiophile community.
Do you wish you could stroll through a field of poppies, and drift into oblivion while listening to your favorite music? You needn't fly to the land of Oz or pastoral Afghanistan. Instead, try the almost all-in-one i-Fi Home Theater in a Chair ($4000). Though it currently lacks a TVI for one am not complainingthis Kimber Kable-wired, motorized, Italian leather recliner comes complete with two satellite speakers, a tactile transducer (I'll explain), and hidden-in-the-back class-D amplifier and subwoofer. The baby even has a Bryston iPod DAC, built-in demo library for the true wherever-you-lead-I-will-follow(s) amongst us, and a wireless transmitter.
I could have kicked myself. At the 2010 CES, as much as I wanted to hear and blog about the eye-catching and ultra-expensive The LARS 1 36W monoblocks ($90,000/pair), I couldn't find the room. So when the CBO/founder of Engstrom , Timo Engström (second from right in my photo), emailed to say he'd be displaying at Axpona, I assured him that if I didn't get to his room this time around, I deserved to be shot.
As much as I enjoyed many of the systems I auditioned on the first day of the show, the one that seduced me the most was assembled by Doug White's The Voice That Is of Newtown Square, PA. Powered by Vitus (pronounced VEE-toos) Audio SM-010 25W class-A monoblocks ($49,500/pair), and connected by Argento Audio FLOW power cords ($3100/2m), interconnects ($4100/m with RCAs), Master Reference interconnects ($8900/1m RCA), and Master Reference speaker cable ($24,500/2m), the dCS Puccini SACD/CD player ($17,999) with U-Clock ($4999) and Tidal Audio Piano Cera speakers ($28,400/pair in midnight black lacquer, or $36,3000 in Ebony Macassar) were producing the warmest and most beautiful midrange I had heard so far. In fact, as it turned out, it was the warmest and most seductive midrange I heard on the first two days of the show.
Michael Chafee, a Saratoga-based dealer, consultant, and system tuner, was still in the process of fine-tuning his 7.1 surround setup when I paid a visit. Standing next to the Genelec HT210B loudspeaker ($3739 each) that served front left and right channel honors, Chafee's intriguing system also utilized Genelec HT208 surround loudspeakers ($2859 each) and HTS4 subs ($4729 each), Simaudio Moon CP8 processor ($20,000), a Lexicon RT20 CD player ($5000), and Nordost Heimdahl cabling.
As I entered a large room filled with May Audio's CDs and LPs, the dynamic duo of Jay Paul Apodaca (right) and Carlos Peniche (left) was dashing between two impressive systems set up at the other end. I was quite impressed with the large and exciting soundstage thrown by the setup whose power came from a Mastersound Evolution 845 integrated amp ($15,000). This pure class-A, 50Wpc amp uses two 845 tubes per side. For the uninitiated, and that includes me, the Italian Mastersound company first began manufacturing transformers 50 years ago.