Peachtree's room was typical at AXPONA, packed with an enthusiastic crowd of listeners enjoying the music all weekend. The Peachtree Nova125 that Sam Tellig reviewed in January ($1499) was being demmed with the MartinLogan Montis speakers that Robert Deutsch reviewed in September 2012 ($9995/pair). The speakers were certainly not let down by the inexpensive amplifier"The Nova125 will handle any source, any speakers," proclaimed Peachtree's Jonathan Derda (below)who played me Rickie Lee Jones on LP on a Pro-Ject turntable with Phono Box dual-mono phono preamp, the sax-and-bass duet on Sting's "Standing on the Moon, from a Turtle Records hi-rez file, and even a luminous-sounding MP3 streamed from Spotify.
Verity's US distributor John Quick (right) shows the Amadis speakers, with Brian Wasserman
Back in 2009 I recorded classical pianist George Vatchnadze for a live-vs-recorded dem. As well as being a superb classical pianist and teacherhe teaches piano at Chicago's DePaul UniversityGeorge has a parallel life as an audio retailer. His company, Kyomi Audio, had two 8th-floor rooms at AXPONA, featuring Verity Amadis speakers ($30,000/pair) driven by CAT amplification and hooked up with the huge and expensive helium-filled Stealth cables. Sources were either an Acoustic Signature turntable fitted with a Funk Firm arm and Colibri cartridge, or an Esoteric transport feeding data to a prototype non-oversampling D/A processor from Stealth, this featuring the AD1865 DAC chip.
In the second Kyomi Audio room, E.A.R. USA's Dan Meinwald was doing an effective dem of the Marten Django XL speakers ($15,000/pair) that Erick Lichte favorably reviewed in September 2012. He used a prototype CAT tube amplifier, a CAT SL1 Renaissance tube preamplifier, and an Esoteric K-1 DAC with standalone clock fed audio data from Amarra. Cabling appeared to be all Magnan. With the Swedish speakers set up firing along the room's diagonal, low-frequency room modes were tamed and vocal music blossomed, whether it was Peggy Lee singing "Fever," Paul McCartney singing a demo of "Mother Nature's Son," or Neil Young live from Massey Hall.
Bob Walters of the Bay Area Audiophile Society often refers to Jim Salk's loudspeakers as one of the best buys in high-end audio. Certainly I have never heard them sound better in a show context. Using an AVA ABX switch ($1499), Salk Audio switched between three of its speakers: Salk Silk Bookshelf ($3499/pair), Salk Supercharged SongTowers ($3495/pair), and, the largest Salk SoundScape 8s ($7995/pair). The 8 uses the same RAAL ribbon tweeter, Accuton midrange, and 12" passive radiators as in the two larger SoundScape models (not shown), albeit with two 8" drivers.
Both at and post-show, Buffer (aka L. Langdon Ergmann, Jr.) was charmingly apologetic. Having read my "As We See It," "There's No Business without Show Business," in the April issue of Stereophile just hours before I walked into his Laufer Teknik room, he knew that his inability to supply a list of components and prices, add a track to his Memory Player from one of my six USB sticks, or even tell me what music was playing on his own music server (as in "We don't have an internet connection, so we can't identify the track") had left him a prime candidate for the Duncecap Dealer of the Day award.
There was a lot of major explication going on in the Marantz room, as in you'll hear some music if only you'll entertain our track-punctuating spiel, but when I did hear a bit of Chris Jones on the just introduced Marantz Reference NA 1151 network audio player/DAC ($3500), my interest was piqued by the depth and weight of the sound. Better yet was Sensemayá from the Channel Classics hybrid SACD of music by Revueltas. Here, the new Marantz Reference SA 1153 SACD/CD player ($4000) and Reference PM 1153 integrated amplifier ($5000), feeding Boston Acoustics M350 loudspeakers ($2500/pair), surprised me with their big soundstage and engaging depth. Even if the core sound of the lowest percussion wasn't totally fleshed out, the way the system delivered what highs and lows the speakers (45Hz30kHz ±3dB) could produce suggests this may be some of the best audio equipment Marantz has yet released.
My first opportunity to hear the exaSound e20 DSD/DXD/PCM DAC ($2500) did not disappoint. The company that self-effacingly identifies itself as "exaSound," with a small "e," played along with surprisingly extended Janszen 2A2.1 electrostatic loudspeakers ($7495/pair),, which are reputedly flat to 40Hz, and the Bryston Power Pac 250 amp ($2350) to deliver a beautiful smooth, wide soundstage on a DSD recording from Channel Classics.
I wish I could say something of import about International Phonograph Inc.'s room, which was showcasing the Artisan Fidelity turntable. The marvelous TAD Reference One loudspeakers were mated with Lamm electronics to play master tapes of jazz and other genres. Alas, there was far more talking than music going on when I stopped by, and the promised equipment list never made it to my inbox. Hopefully, others can fill in the blanks in the comments section below.
Handsome Vapor Audio Cirrus Black loudspeakers ($3995/pair)I don't have a clue as to why speakers of blond wood are named "black," unless it’s a Harry Potter referencemated with exotically named Arte Forma Due Volta monoblock amplifiers ($5500/pair) and Thalia preamplifier ($2250), a B.M.C. DAC1 ($5690), Antipodes DV2 music server ($3299), Antipodes Reference speaker cables ($2200/set) and interconnects ($1900), Balanced Power Technologies PC-9LN power cables ($499) and BP-3.5 power conditioner ($2399), and ATS Acoustics room treatments to produce sound that I found nicely illumined, albeit a little hard and unyielding. The system may not have penetrated to the heart of the music, but the sound was very attractive, solid, and well-controlled.
JPauls Design of Cary, IL offered a handsome, visually sophisticated set-up that paired Wisdom Audio's L75 loudspeakers ($18,700/pair), SCS subwoofer ($4000), and SC-1 System Controller ($6500) with Krell's Phantom III preamp ($5500), Connect media server ($2500), and Evolution 2250e amplifier ($8000). There was a lot of rapping going on, with music interrupted for explication, but what I heard of Johnny Cash displayed a very warm and inviting midrange. A recording of drums favored slam over transparency and natural timbre.
In the room set up by Holm Audio of Woodridge, IL, Sony SS-AR1 loudspeakers ($27,000/pair) dominated a system in which Nordost Odin cablingOdin power cord ($15,999/2.5m), interconnects ($19,999/2m) and speaker cable ($25,999/2m)transmitted signals from a Rega RP6 turntable ($1990 with Rega Exact cartridge), Hegel HD25 32-bit DAC ($2500), Manley Chinook phono preamp ($2250), Hegel CDP2A ($2650), Hegel P20 preamplifier ($2900), and Hegel H20 amplifier ($5750). On Randy Crawford's CD, We'll Fly Away, the sound was very smooth and non-fatiguing, but lacked sparkle.
In a room shared with Audiogon, Cary Audio constructed a system of lower cost Audio Electronics brand equipment designed and hand built in Apex, North Carolina. With circuit designs less complex than those in traditional Cary Audio components, the line's four components utilize no global feedback, and their audio stages are predominantly class-A designs. New to the line is the Lightning USB 24/192 DAC ($1295). Utilizing asynchronous USB technology from Gordon Rankin of Wavelength, the Lightning is set to strike the market around April 1.
The boys from Illinois in the Sonic Hemisphere room were in high sales mode, as in talk loud over the music. Playing their larger Fidelity One 3-way loudspeakers ($5750/pair) with an Oppo CD player, Nottingham turntable, K&K phono preamp, Carey pre-amp, and Clayton Audio ampmodels and prices not supplied - the sound was a little shouty, and distant at lower volumes. Offered a "female vocal"don't you love that term, "female vocal"?it's as generic as an offer of "red wine" without the vintageI enjoyed the nice midrange on a track by jazz artist Anne Bisson. The bass boomed, but not to the extent it boomed in some rooms. Not auditioned was the 2-way Fidelity Monitor ($1925/pair).
Linn Audio Loudspeakers (not be confused with Linn Products of Scotland) knocked a major $20,000 off the price of their Athenaeum speaker system (normally $80,000/pair) for AXPONA goers. Unfortunately, their associated componentsBryston 4BST power amplifier ($4000), Linn Audio SET Tube Amp ($500), Linn Audio active crossover/preamp unit ($6000), Linn Audio cabling, and unidentified CD sourcerendered Diana Krall's voice far too bright and ringing on the bi-amped loudspeakers. Compensation came in the form of a wonderful clarity to her piano and an impressively wide soundstage.
I loved the TAD Compact Reference CR1 speakers when I reviewed them in January 2012. And I am also a fan of the Parasound Halo JC1 monoblock amplifier. But when I walked into the Blue Smoke room at AXPONA and saw the latter driving the former, I was a little taken aback as this is not a combination I would have thought worked well together, both speakers and amplifiers tending toward the lean and clean side of things. But only a fool would allow his expectations to affect what he heard and the sound in the room was superb: clean, yes, but not lean; a rich, extended low end but without bass boom; and a wealth of detail with the feeling of anything being spotlit. The MSB Diamond DAC 4 with Femto Clock, the Argento cables, and the Bag End Electronic Bass Traps must have had something to do with the great sound, of course, but the source, Blue Smoke's new Black Box II (to be priced around $8000 when available) must have been the key.