Playback of DSD files from a computer via USB is a hot topic right now, but at AXPONA Mytek upped the ante by playing 5.1 multichannel DSD files, using three of the preamp version of their Stereo192 DSD-DACs ($1595 each)linked together, with the files played with J River Media Center. The system included five of the Sony SS-AR2 speakers that I had liked so much in my review last September, driven by Pass Labs amplifiers, with Sony's new SA-NA9ES subwoofer fleshing out the bottom octaves. Not that the system needed a subwooferwith multichannel playback, the low-frequency "room gain" is greater than it is with two-channel.
There is something about the sound of open-reel tape that doesn't translate either to CD or to LP," I thought as I sat listing to Jackson Browne's "Rosie (you wear my ring)" from a 15ips Tape Project tape in the room shared by United Home Audio and Jolida. With MBL's floorstanding 116 omnidirectional speakers driven by Jolida's new Luxor 100W tube monoblocks ($12,000/pair) and Luxor dual-mono preamplifier (price still to be decided) sitting on Critical Mass Systems racks, and the tape played on one of UHA's extensively modified Tascam decks, there was an unforgettable, fleshed-out palpability to the presentation.
"Do you hear that difference?" asked Shunyata's Grant Samuelson. Indeed I did. Grant was playing a track from singer-songwriter Ray LaMontagne on Focal speakers and had replaced the Marantz amplifier's and disc player's stock AC cords with Shunyata cords; the voice and instruments became slightly better differentiated from one another. Then,instead of plugging the AC cords straight into the wall, he plugged them into a Shunyata Hydra distribution box. There was a further improvement in the same direction. Finally Grant removed the German-made Stillpoints wideband acoustic absorbers from the room's sidewalls. He didn't need to play any music, the sound of his speaking voice acquiring a distinct "honk."
Jeffrey Catalano of Manhattan retailer High Water Sound missed his vocationhe should have been a DJ, as listening to his choice of music is always a Show highlight for me. As I entered Jeffrey was playing the old Stones song "Wild Horses" but it didn't sound like the version I knew from the band's Sticky Fingers album. Yes it was Mick Jagger singing, but the backing was more like a demo. Jeffrey showed me the LP cover: The Rolling StonesStripped. It went on my must-buy list.
UK company Icon Audio was a new name to me, but as Adrian Fearey explained to me, they manufacture a wide range of tube gear. Adrian was demming the FRm2 floorstanding speaker, which uses a single 8" driver and has a claimed sensitivity of 96dB/W/m! US distribution is apparently by Music Direct.
Audio Note UK's David Cope always does good dems at shows, and AXPONA was no exception. With the K/SPe two-way, sealed-box speakers ($3700/pair plus $650/pair for stands) placed in the room corners, and driven by the OTO SE Signature parallel singled-ended integrated amplifier ($5500; $6300 with phono stage), Lukas Foss's Time Cycle, a 1960s recording from Leonard Bernstein conducing the Columbia Symphony Orchestra, sounded rich yet detailed, with percussion instruments nicely delineated in space. David then played a familiar CD, Cantus singing "Swing Low, Sweet Chariot," which I had recorded 10 years ago. This revealed the system to sound a little too lush and warm, but who could complain about that!
Their chassis designed by Robbii Wesson, responsible for some beautiful cover illustrations for The Absolute Sound in the 1980s, the Aragon amplifiers were as beautiful to look at as they were to listen to. In Artisan Electronics Group's room at Axpona, the fairly new owner of Aragon, Indy Audio Labs, who bought the brand from Klipsch in 2009, were showing off the Aragon 8008, a software-upgradable, 200Wpc amplifier ($4399) with its ethernet-based control and status monitoring. Speakers were the glass-enclosure French Waterfall Victoria Evos ($7000/pair); source was an Oppo Blu-ray player used as a DAC with an Aragon preamp. Jamie Cullum's "High & Dry" sounded dynamic with neutral tonal colors.
Money may not be able to buy you love, but the money New Jersey's GTT Audio & Video invested in quality equipment helped create a different world of sonic refinement than I encountered in most rooms. Listening to a track from Ben Webster's Ben's Blues, I marveled at the beautiful warmth, natural sound of cymbals and piano, and most of all, at the stunning depiction of Webster's saxophone that left me feeling as though I had dived right into the center of the instrument. What luscious sound!
The room sponsored by Newform Research itself, as opposed to the adjacent Happy Sounds room that was dominated by Newform Research speakers (see below), was built around Newform Research's triple-stacked LineSource Monitors ($6800). Although less expensive that the No Hold Barred Coaxial Ribbon LineSource speakers, less brought more, in the way of a really nice, solid presentation that was a delight to listen to in the sweet spot. I don't know what was playingthere was a lot of activity in the room, and the hosts were quite busybut I do know that the remaining equipment in the $9800 system included the Onkyo TX-SR 818 receiver ($1300), four Atak Sub 12s / Crown 1000w amplifier combos ($1680), and a Sony Blu-ray player ($129). Also shown, but not playing when I entered, are Newform Research's Ribbon Pyramid speakers ($2720/pair).
Happy Sounds? Jacintha didn't seem to be laughing her way through "Light My Fire," but the sound was definitely pleasingly smooth and solid, if a bit dry and with a grayish background. The intriguing-looking speakers were Newform Research's No Holds Barred Coaxial Ribbon LineSource ($11,400/pair). Claimed to be "the first in the world to implement a coaxial ribbon linesource configuration," they contain high-impedance, wide-dispersion, monopole ribbons.
The folks from Happy Sounds of Japan were doing everything in their power to tame reflections in their room. Here's the left side of the room; the right was just as interesting. I can't recall if they also requested some of the room treatment from ATS Acoustics that AXPONA made available to anyone who requested it.
Don't let appearances fool you. Those pipes you see in the photo are actually Bigston single-driver loudspeakers with built-in amplifiers. Designed in Japan and manufactured in Elk Grove Village, IL, the Bigston speaker systems have been designed to give an accurate representation of a soundfield as recorded at a live performance. The smallest of the lot, the Light ($300/pair with 3Wpc amplification), is designed specifically for use with laptops etc., and comes complete with a travel case.
An extremely healthy looking Dan Wright of Modwright Instruments, Inc. greeted me as I entered the room wired with Dynamic Design cabling. Treated to the CD version of Cantate Domino, the sound of a Scandinavian choir singing "Stille Nacht" (Silent Night) in German was exceptionally smooth and lovely, if a bit gray around the edges. Then again, aren't many of us these days?
Together with Chicago retailer Holm Audio, Nordost was conducting one of its ever-popular cable and support demos. Taking over where the now retired Lars Christensen left off, Nordost Eastern Regional Sales Jefe Steve Greene let folks hear differences between Blue Heaven, Red Dawn LS, Heimdall 2, and Frey 2 interconnects, speaker cables and power cords by calling into play a Hegel H300 250Wpc integrated amp with built-in DAC ($5500), Hegel CDP4A CD player ($4000), Sony's new SS-NA2ES loudspeakers ($10,000/pair), and, from Nordost, a QB8 distribution bar ($1399.99), two QV2 AC Line Harmonizers ($350 each), and a QX4 Electro-Magnetic Field Stabilizer ($2699.99). Nordost's three levels of equipment support Sort Kones were also compared.
It's always a challenge, in a room filled with unfamiliar equipment, to pinpoint what's causing what. All I know is that on the 7th floor, in the room wired with $8000 worth of Silnote Audio Cables, the midrange on a recording of the Talking Crows was simply beautiful, if a bit dry.