What else might you expect to hear on Classic Audio Hartsfield field-coil driver loudspeakers ($59,950/pair) than Classic Records' 45 rpm pressing of Louis Armstrong and Duke Ellington? Despite bass problems stemming from the 10' black hole above the room, the music sounded quite wonderful...until we got to the first track on Patricia Barber's new CD, Smash. There, her voice sounded great but the bass was impossible. Doing their best were Atma-Sphere's MP-1Mk.3.2 preamp with phono ($12,100) and MA-1.5 Novacron power amplifier ($12,000/pair), mated with the Tri-Planar Ultimate 12 turntable with what I think was a Technics SP10 Mk.II arm and either a van den Hul III Gold or Koetsu Jade cartridge.
Sandwiched between rooms, apart from the other tables on the mezzanine, Miko Krolo of Canada displayed his new line of attractive equipment racks and supports. By heart an audiophile, and by trade a designer of residential interiors, Krolo began his company just one year ago. On view were the Krolo Design Tomo Audio Rack ($33004300, depending upon number of shelves) and Krolo Enhancers equipment supports ($260/set of three). The racks include solid aluminum rods and stainless steel supportsI hope I have that rightand shelves float on cones.
Brian Ackerman of Aaudio Imports, whose eye and ear for the esoteric has brought any number of superb brands to our sonic shores, is now importing Hartvig turntables from Denmark (base model $13,500). Available in multiple finishes and woodsBrian made it sound as though you could get almost anything your heart desiresthe table has a special bearing, housed inside the platter, which is precision machined by the designer. The passive display left me actively longing to hear the baby in action. Newport Beach in June, perhaps, or the California Audio Show in Burlingame in August?
Look out Audiogon. Your latest competition in the online marketplace department, AudioMart, launched this week. The company's Mark Mawhinney, who owns a retail store and is also responsible for the Spin-Clean Record Washer, says AudioMart lists both used and new equipment. "It's quicker, faster, more socially integrated, and much more mobile friendly," he proclaims. "Images are posted for free, and we're offering free dealer storefronts through September 1."
Chicagoland dealer Quintessence devoted a large ground-floor room to the Fine Sounds groups of companiesSonus Faber, Audio Research, Wadia, and Sumko/RELalong with the superb racks from Harmonic Resolution Systems and a Clearaudio/Benz Micro LP player. A pair of the Sonus Faber Amati Futura speakers that I reviewed in May 2012 ($36,000/pair) was being vertically bi-amped with two tubed Audio Research Ref250 monoblocks driving the midrange/tweeter sections and two solid-state Audio Research DS450M monoblocks for the woofers. No fewer than four REL powered subwoofers were handling the low bass. Preamp was the Audio Research Ref5 SE that Brian Damkroger and Bob Reina raved about in Stereophile.
The mighty Focal Grand Utopia EM loudspeakers ($190,000/pair), which use field-coil energized woofers, took pride of place in one of the two big rooms on the Doubletree's ground floor sponsored by Chicagoland dealer Quintessence. Driven by two-chassis Pass Labs Xs300 monoblocks with Kubala-Sosna cabling throughout the system, both the 1950s Duke Ellington and Johnny Hodges collaboration "Back to Back" and the Reference Recordings Rutter Requiem were reproduced with a stunning combination of vocal purity and instrumental majesty. Source was a file fed by USB to a Playback Designs player/DAC.
As in other shows, the Chicago AXPONA devoted a ballroom to the software vendors who feed our passion for music. Even before the show officially opened on Friday, a healthy crowd was browsing Music Direct's, Elusive Disc's, and Acoustic Sounds' racks'o'vinyl while Josh Bizar, Director of Sales and Marketing for Music Direct and Mobile Fidelity, acknowledges the camera.
That is not a feeble attempt at a joke; it really is how Mr. Freud forced this Contributing Editor to slip on the word “editors.” Perhaps I was thinking of The Absolute Sound Executive Editor Jonathan Valin, who not only pulled a no-show for the Friday and Saturday afternoon 90-minute Editors panelspre-show promotion and the show guide had advertised his participation, with Robert Harleybut also attempted to erase from history, in his online AXPONA report, the rather significant fact that the last major audio show in Chicago was not the 1994 Consumer Electronics Show, as he claims, but rather in 1999, when the Stereophile show came to the Windy City. Is such competitiveness really necessary, given how different the two magazines are?
The moderator for both panels was the extremely articulate and informed Bes Nievera of Music Direct and also a host on Chicago area public radio station WDCB, who just happens to be a long-time audiophile. Panelists included (leftright), from TAS, Editor-in-Chief Robert Harley; from DaGoGo.com, Senior Editor Ed Momkus; from Stereophile and an embarrassingly long list of other publications, Contributing Ediot Jason Victor Serinus, and Stereophile’s Editor-in-Chief John Atkinson.
Just as I was about to chat with the good folks from Music Direct and Musical Surroundings, what did I happen upon on the mezzanine level but an animated conversation between Stereophile's editor in chief John Atkinson and two of AudioQuest's finest, Joe Harley (left) and Shane Buettner (right). (They were discussing Art Dudley's recent review of the Beatles LP box.) In Buettner's happy hands, at my request, is a sign about Stereophile's Budget Product of 2012, the AudioQuest DragonFly.
Bill Dudleston didn't haul Legacy's mightiest marvels to AXPONA, but what he did bring had great potential. Unfortunately, the huge 10' high airshaft above his room basically did in what I heard. His first system, which alternated between the Legacy Aeris in Sapele Pommele finish (outer speakers, starting at $17,750/pair), which I auditioned, and Legacy Signature SE in Rosewood finish (starting at $6450/pair), also included Coda's CSX amplifier ($6000) and CP preamplifier ($3500), Ayon's CD 2S ($6350), and Morrow Audio SP7 Grand Reference speaker cables ($1499/pair) and MA6 Grand Reference interconnects ($899/pair).
With deepest apologies to Scarlet O'Hara, and perhaps even deeper apologies to the Deep South and Bad Pun Police, it's time to toot the horn of Morrow Audio of Northern Kentucky. Mike Morrow (on the left), who began the company in 2006, came to AXPONA with Larry Love (on the right) to proudly announce Morrow Audio's partnership with Legacy. Morrow, who initially started out as a Legacy dealer, has seen his business grow 25%/year. Currently selling direct on the net, he and Love have plans to start a dealer network. When? Well, tomorrow is another day.
Gingko Audio, known for its isolation platforms and turntable covers, has recently begun marketing DanaCable. Gingko's Doug Williamson was happy to show me samples. Manufactured In Colorado Springs, the cables range in price from the Deluxe Line Onyx ($395/1m pair unbalanced interconnects) to the Reference Line Diamond ($1100/1m pair unbalanced interconnects, add $300 for balanced). The company also manufactures speaker cables and digital cables. "They sound better in room 926," Williamson quipped.
Music Direct did more than assist Steve Davis of AXPONA in organizing the Marketplace on the first floor and table displays on the mezzanine; the Chicago-based mail-order giant also had some delicious show specials available. Among them were the Marantz AV-7005 surround preamp, Pro-Ject Debut III turntable, and Marantz NA7004 network audio player/DAC. The company's Jon Schulman explained that while the Oppo BDP-105 wasn't on sale, it was too hot an item not to bring along.
Musical Surroundings, the distributor whose headquarters are in my notoriously crime-ridden town of Oakland, had multiple presences at AXPONA. One was on the mezzanine, where Mike Fajen was touting the pairing of the Fosgate Signature headphone amp ($1500) with Musical Surroundings' new MYDAC II ($1200). To these ears, the pairing is felicitous. Heard through revealing Sennheiser HD 800 headphones, the sound was exceptionally nice, warm, and lovely.
A rep from Chinese-based HiFiMan arrived at AXPONA with a host of new products. At the top of their list were the new RE-400 earbuds ($99). Also on display, the HM-901 digital audio player ($999), which handles multiple file formats, HE-300 dynamic driver headphones ($299), and HE-6 planar magnetic headphones ($1299).