Having enthusedgushed, reallyover the Orion-4s ($15,510/pair in this iteration with active crossover, Bibinga wood and Ebony trim) when I first heard them at Burning Amp 2010, then again at Burning Amp 2011 (as reported in the January 2012 issue of Stereophile), I was happy to encounter them once more in Jacksonville. It was no surprise to find them doing an absolutely wonderful job of capturing the correct sound of a piano, and bringing lovely depth to a recording of Mozart's Piano Sonata in D Major, K.576. They did an equally fine job in showcasing the beauty of a quartet performing music by Lera Auerbach.
Although Misty Ellis' atmospherically lit room was a challenge to photograph, the sound this company from Columbus, OH put together from a big-bucks system headed by the Audio Power Labs 833TNT 200W transformer-coupled monoblocks ($175,000/pair), Tidal Audio Contriva Diacera SE floorstanding speakers ($58,190/pair in piano black, $64,190/pair in African Pyramid Mahogany as shown), and Laufer Teknik The Memory Player 64 ($24,600) was as tantalizing and satisfying as its visuals. Initially marred by an exaggerated midrange and treble resonances, everything improved immensely when Tidal dealer Doug White, the extremely conscious proprietor of The Voice That Is in Newtown Square (Philadelphia), PA, removed the preamp responsible for the imbalance.
Alan Eichenbaum and Sunny Umrao's Scaena room was one of four that vied for my personal Best of Show. It certainly competed with MBL's for most expensive set-up at AXPONA. At its center stood the Scaena Spiritus 3.4 loudspeaker system ($110,000). Each tower contains 12 midranges and seven ribbon tweeters. Bass at 100Hz and below was handled by the four massive 18" subs that looked as though they could pacify an advancing army with their slam. (You should have heard the bass drum on Mahler's Symphony No.2; it had the most convincing weight, focus, and up against the wall impact I've ever heard from my Channel Classics hybrid SACD).
Tom Maker, formerly of Edge Audio, has something really good going with his self-powered Maker Audio/M Audio Model 10 loudspeaker ($24,000/pair, or $35,000/pair when equipped with a diamond tweeter, big subwoofer, and a bigger internal amp for the sub). For one thing, this speaker is remarkably compact for the huge sound it produces. Even better, it is able to play music streamed wirelessly from up to 33 feet. And best of all, it sounds great.
I wasn't able to meet the legendary Bob Carver, who gave talks on tube amp development and Ribbon Line Source loudspeakers on both Friday and Saturday afternoons, but I did make two visits to hear his new Amazing Line Source loudspeakers ($22,000/pair). The speakers were coupled with a Sunfire Subrosa subwoofer ($5000), Black Beauty 305W monoblocks ($12,900/pair), Purity Audio Ultra GT preamp ($28,000), AMR CD777 CD player ($5000), and Analysis Plus cables.
Legacy Audio's imposing system, made even more imposing by the photo of the entire line that dominated the wall to the left of the system, included both the 63" high, 235 lb. Whisper XD loudspeaker ($20,995$23,5000/pair, depending upon finish) and, to the inside, the smaller 56" high, 184 lb. Focus SE ($9200$10,500/pair, depending upon finish). That's a helluva lota real estate for the money.
At Saturday night dinner with Channel D’s Rob Robinson, his wife Claudia, and Jeff Joseph of Joseph Audio, we spoke about the number of exhibitors at audio shows who either come ill-prepared to deal with the vagaries of hotel room sound, don't know what to do about room-invoked sonic anomalies, or think any attempt at amelioration is futile. This was certainly not the case with Jeremy Bryan, President CEO of MBL North America, Inc. Faced with an air-walled room replete with bass boom, and whose ceiling was sonically divided halfway back into the listening position (with the back half of the ceiling concealing a crawl space that did not extend forward), Jeremy took immediate action. He may have been up until the wee hours, but when we arrived in his fabulous-sounding space, I had no idea that behind the rear drapes were concealed double rows of mattresses, stacked on their ends, that were absorbing errant bass. Rob and Jeff were familiar with this fix, because they had done the same in their room.
Audible Images of Melbourne, FL treated AXPONA visitors to a 5-channel MartinLogan set-up that managed to look big even in the huge Florida Salon B. Capable of playing five different formats, the system did full justice to a two-channel recording of Jimmy Smith from 1958, with sound very warm and laid back. Further treats were in store with a 3-channel Mercury Living Presence SACD of Rodrigo's famous Concierto d'Aranjuez, the system capturing both that label's in your face brightness as well as the beautiful delicacy of the guitar. In multichannel, Pink Floyd's Wish You Were Here sounded as though "here" had come to me, which was a good thing. My own disc of Mahler Symphony No.2 sounded convincingly big and bright, although for some reason the low bass lines were not as full as I'm accustomed to hearing.
All the way from East Greenbush, New York, Bill Demars of Beauty of Sound was showing the brand new Ikeda 9TT moving-coil cartridge ($3800) on The Emperor Turntable, whose total price ($17,400) includes both the cartridge and Ikeda IT-407CR1 tonearm ($6500). The cartridge's body parts are made of an aluminum alloy, and the cantilever is made of a double-layered hard aluminum alloy in order to reduce possible distortion from warped platters. Appropriate stylus downforce is 1.75gram2.25gram, and frequency range is 10Hz45kHz
At the same time that AIX Record's Mark Waldrep was in the Omni Ballroom B giving the first of two keynote seminars, "Realizing the Dream of Perfect Music Reproduction: Are we There Yet?", the large salon two doors down was presenting his new AIX Records Real HD-Audio sources Blu-ray discs using Dolby TrueHD Encoding. I confess that I find wearing 3D glasses awkward, and don't know if I'll ever become accustomed to the neck of a guitar beaming out at my gut like a foreign projectile while I'm listening to beautifully played classical music. Nonetheless, the quality of the picture could not be faulted, and the sound, especially when discomfort was erased with eyes closed, was very fine.
Jacksonville's very own House of Stereo, run by Bill Gibson, gave me my third opportunity to hear KEF's relatively new Blade loudspeaker ($30,000/pair). Coupled with Ayre electronicsAyre MX-R monoblocks ($19,000/pair), Ayre KX-R preamp ($19,000), Ayre DX5 universal player ($10,000), and Ayre phono preamp ($2500)an Oracle Mk.VI turntable with SME arm and Oracle cartridge ($13,000), and an assortment of Audience Au24 cabling and line conditioners, the system had a laid back and non-fatiguing presentation that just made you want to take off your shoes, lie back and chill. This was an exceptionally quiet and smooth system, especially on vinyl, and one that threw a huge and inviting soundstage.
It's always a good sign when the first room you enter at an audio show makes you happy that you're there. Better yet when the room is on the lobby level, and acts as a good feng shui portal to the 27 other rooms to follow.
Larry Diaz of Miami's High End Palace had put together a fine system whose sound was solid and a bit sweet.
When I arrived on the second floor the first day of AXPONA, the large open landing that had served as a reception area for exhibitors the night before had been transformed into a mellow entryway to sonic heaven. Paving the way on the keys was John Yurick, who was playing John Lennon's "Imagine" as I snapped his picture. Facing him were May Audio's CD display on the left, and Transcendental Meditation on the right. Note that the TM folks do not simply chant themselves to bliss in mantra land, they are also very connected on a cellular level.
With the sound of Jacoby Symphony Hall virtually hyped to life by the glowing accolades on its website and the praises of AXPONA's Steve Davis, I had to hear it for myself. Besides, I'd never heard either An-Lun Huang's Saibei Dance or John Corigliano's Oboe Concerto. I do recall, however, hearing Beethoven Symphony No.7 in A major at least once in my increasingly lengthy lifetime. (I'm being facetious, folks).
Bliss and Beethoven: That's AXPONA founder Steve A. Davis' promise to show attendees. The bliss comes in the form of several show seminars centering around Transcendental Meditation, which he and his wife Carmen have practiced for many decades. Beethoven is served up across the street, Thursday through Saturday nights, courtesy of the Jacksonville Symphony Orchestra under guest conductor Mei Ann Chen. Further bliss hopefully comes as attendees experience audio nirvana, or at least cumulative sonic epiphany, in AXPONA's 28 exhibit rooms.