The system in distributor The Signal Collection's room was decidedly esoteric: Klimo Labor Merlino preamp ($6699) and Tine class-A tube monoblocks ($8999/pair) from Italy, and the Transmission Audio M1i Ribbon Mini speakers from Sweden ($4499/pair), hooked up with Klimo Labor Reference interconnect ($2999/1.2m pair) and Stereolab Diablo speaker cable from the USA ($1395/2.5m pair). Source was a more mundane Oppo BDP-95 universal player ($999). The speakers caught my attention, as they are designed by the engineer responsible for the similar-looking Red Rose Music R3 that Michael Fremer reviewed for Stereophile a decade ago. However, the treble above 3kHz is now handled by four ribbon units. The sound in this room benefited from. . .
The room shared by Audio Physic and Esoteric was one I returned to, as I couldn't quite believe the superb treble quality being produced by the 25th Anniversary edition of Audio Physic's Virgo speaker (to the right of the photo, $12,800/pair). Couldn't believe it? It was because this speaker was using a cone tweeter. But as AP's Reinhard Goerner explained, with the break-up problems of soft-dome tweeters now well-understood, it made engineering sense to use a cone. The Virgo's aluminum-cone midrange unit features a cast basket with minimal surface area to interfere with the diaphragm's backwave and the twin woofers are mounted on the enclosure sides to minimize vibrational excitation. Esoteric was featuring. . .
"Designed by Ear. Verified by Science." So says the promotional material from Nashville-based LSA, who were demming the pretty LSA1 Statement speaker ($2600/pair) at Axpona, driven by their 150Wpc Statement hybrid integrated amplifier ($5000). This amplifier uses a pair of Electroharmonix 6922 tubes in its preamp section but a solid-state output stage. The speaker combines a treated paper-cone woofer with an Aurum Cantus folded-ribbon tweeter and uses Alphacore air-cored inductors in its crossover. Listening to a laidback blues from George Faber, "It Beats Working," I was impressed by the smoothness of the highs and the low-frequency extension of this nicely finished two-way.
The jewels of an audio Show are the rooms that wrest great sound quality from inexpensive ingredients. Such was the case in the second-floor room of the Sheraton shared by Wharfedale and Musical Fidelity. The Wharfedale Diamond 10.7 towers ($1299/pair)were being driven a Musical Fidelity M3i integrated amplifier ($1500) and M3CD player ($1500) that Sam Tellig raved about in his November 2010 column. If you don't count the kilobucks' worth of Transparent cabling that was being used, this system weighed in at a very affordable $4300. Elvis Presley's "Fever" sounded clean and open with excellent extension at both ends of the spectrum.
I have made a point of visiting rooms at Shows featuring speakers from the Adam, the German manufacturer successfully extending their expertise with professional monitor loudspeakers into the world of consumer audio. In the room at Axpona, strategically treated with RealTraps, Adam were showing off their Tensor Beta towers ($31,000/pair) with Accuphase amplification and CD player via Transparent cable. The speaker's two Hexacone woofers are mounted on the front and back of the lower enclosure and driven by an internal amplifier. The midrange and treble enclosure is decoupled from the woofer cabinet with three sand-filled leather bags and both double-walled enclosures have the space between the walls filled with sand. The glory of this speaker is. . .
I enjoyed speaking with Role Audio’s Erol Ricketts, who is proud of his company’s formaldehyde-free designs. After researching the harmful effects of heavy exposure to toxic substances such as formaldehyde, Ricketts decided it would be best for his own health, and for the health of his company, family, and planet, to manufacture a new sort of loudspeaker, one with a small, and environmentally friendly, footprint.
Because Role Audio believes hi-fi should aid in the discovery of new musica philosophy I hold dearlyall of the company’s products are named after ships, vessels for discovery. The slim Sampan ($1400/pair) measures just 4” W by 4” D by 37” H, and uses a single 3.5” driver in a transmission line design. Mated to a Peachtree Audio iDecco, the system impressed me with its transparency and solid stereo imaging; these speakers “disappeared” like no others I heard at the show.
The larger speakers in the Role Audio room were the Model 100M from NSMT's Mastering Series ($5500/pair). An active two-way speaker, the 100M uses a coaxial drive-unit from SEAS in a well-finished enclosure made in the USA from formaldehyde-free materials. The sound, using a Squeezbox Touch and a Peachtree iDecco used as a DAC was rich, with good dynamics.
Upon walking into the Napa Acoustic room, I heard many expressions of awe and disbelief as attendees searched for subwoofers and asked, again and again, if the products’ stated prices were correct. Indeed, the system hereNapa NA208 A amplifier ($399), NA208S speakers ($199), and DT-307C CD player ($399)filled the room with solid, believable sound and music.
The brand made its debut at last year’s Jacksonville Axpona. While all of Napa’s current manufacturing takes place in China, the company’s Joseph Kwong told me he hopes to produce an affordable vacuum tube amp right at home, in Fremont, CA, in the not too distant future.
I didn’t get to see much of Atlanta while at the show, but what I did see was beautiful. During breakfast one morning, a member of the Atlanta Audio Video Club led me outside to a quiet balcony where we enjoyed this view of the Atlanta skyline.
That UFO-shaped structure near the center of the image is the revolving restaurant, Polaris, atop the Hyatt Regency, on Peachtree Street in downtown Atlanta. Designed by John C. Portman, Jr., the Hyatt Regency was opened in 1967, and was the first hotel constructed around an atrium.
Sound Ideas Stereo, a hi-fi dealership based in Gainesville, Florida, used a McIntosh MXA60 ($7500), “a full-blown McIntosh hi-fi in miniature,” to pump music into the long and busy corridor between the large Atlanta rooms and the great Capitol Ballroom, where seminars and live performances took place daily.
At any given moment during the show, I could pass by this exhibit to hear sweet sounds and smile at the lovely ladies who seemed enchanted by the MXA60.
In just a couple of weeks, my boss, John “Ice Cool” Atkinson, will celebrate 25 years as editor of Stereophile, the greatest hi-fi magazine on the planet (and don’t you forget it). As editor, JA has refined the hi-fi industry in many ways, and has taught us all so much, but it’s perhaps his loudspeaker measurements which have been most influential and fascinating.
In these 25 years, JA has performed extensive technical analyses of well over 700 different loudspeakers, an accomplishment that, in my opinion, cannot be overestimated. On several occasions, I’ve had the privilege of watching John go through the processa slow, long, often tedious, often thankless process, and one which often involves some very heavy lifting. The dude is tireless.
So, it was cool for me to see a large group of audiophiles and music lovers on hand to listen as JA discussed that process in detail, illuminating how and why he does what he does. “I’ll describe what I do,” he said, “what the measurements mean, what they don’t mean, and how we can use them to understand what we hear….”
My review sample of the Audioengine A5 was dressed in a clean, handsome satin black, but the speaker is also available in what the company calls “caramel,” a carbonized solid bamboo, which adds elegance to the look and $100 to the price. In bamboo, the A5 costs $449.
Throughout the show, the Audioengine room was almost always busy; attendees seemed very attracted to the technology, design, and prices of Audioengine’s small, versatile speakers. When I walked in, a pair of A5 powered loudspeakers ($349/pair) were playing, and it was interesting to note their familiar sound, even while in an crowded and unfamiliar environment. My discussion of the A5 appears in our May issue, copies of which were being distributed in the Audioengine room and throughout Axpona.
Audioengine’s Brett Bargenquast was happy he’d decided to exhibit at the show. Traffic was steady, and the company sold several pairs of speakers during the three-day event.