Talk about an eye (and ear) catcher. Dominating the Wyndham’s Rope roomall the conference rooms have cute nautical namesand set up by Bill Gibson of Jacksonville-based House of Stereo, loomed Audience's ClairAudient LSA 16+16 line source loudspeaker ($54,000/pair). A one-way bi-pole, it uses an identical array of 16 Audience A3-S 3" drivers in the front and back, and boasts an impressive 99dB sensitivity. With its line-source array, it should image well anywhere in the room, and can be driven to a continuous and deafening 129dB.
As you will see from the forthcoming May issue of Stereophile, modern horn speakers don't suffer from the colorations and idiosyncrasies that plagued the genre in earlier decades. Such was the case in the room shared by Aaudio Imports and Sanibel, FL retailer Lee Island Audio. The German Acapella High Violoncello II speakers ($80,500/pair) with their ionic tweeters, driven by Einstein The Turntable's Choice phono preamp ($9,800), Einstein The Tube Mk.2 balanced line stage ($18,400), and a pair of Einstein The Final Cut tubed OTL monoblocks ($34,900/pair), connected with Stage III interconnects, speaker cables, and AC power cords, produced a seamless soundstage and a smoothly coherent tonal picture. With the LP of Rickie Lee Jones singing "Chuck E's in Love," played on a Galibier Stevio turntable ($15,000) fitted with a Triplanar Mk.VII tonearm and a Dynavector XV1s phono cartridge ($5250), the sound was one of the best I heard at Axpona. I have asked Aaudio Imports' Brian Ackerman for review samples of the Acapella speakers.
TwinAudioVideo teamed up with Acoustic Zen to pair the large and imposing Acoustic Zen Crescendo loudspeaker ($16,000/pair) with Triode Corporation Ltd. of Japan's Tri TRV-4SE tube preamp ($1,900), the power module of the Tri TRV-845SE 20W pure class-A integrated amp ($6000), and Tri TRV-CD4SE tube CD player with 192kHz upsampling ($2200). The Crescendo is a 3-way, 125 lb transmission-line design with 6 ohms nominal impedance, 89dB sensitivity, and a frequency range of 20Hz to 30kHz. Also in the room on the floor were two ORB power traps (aka power conditioners/distributors), the Kyoto ($6000) and Kamakura ($3900), and, of course, Acoustic Zen cabling. This system did a fine job of capturing music's beauty and warmth. Which is saying a lot.
Speaker designer Bill Roberts talks so fast, I could only write down every third word as he explained the design principles behind the Advanced Transduction Directorate loudspeaker. A four-piece, three-way system with an outboard crossover and line-loaded woofers, the 600lb Directorate has a very high claimed sensitivity of 96dB/W/m and bass extension of 3dB at 14Hz. Price is $30,000/system in light-oak veneer, or $25,000/system unfinished, as shown in the photo. With left and right speakers each driven by a 125Wpc Power Modules Belles 150A Reference stereo power amplifier ($2300), and a front end of CD files played with Sony Sound Forge running on a PC sent as digital audio to a Belles DAC and the new tubed Belles 22A preamplifier ($2500), the sound, even in an acoustically challenged room, had superb balance, dynamics, and transparency.
As I walked into the Emotiva room, a blast from the distant past greeted me with a smile. It was the Eagles, live, welcoming me to Hotel California. Resisting the temptation to declare, "But I've just come from there," I instead noted the solidity of the bass line, the powerful slam, and the sonic warmth that really did feel like a welcome. "Welcome to Emotiva land," the system seemed to sing.
Although I didn't get a chance to audition themRoy Hall tried to ply me and just about everyone present with Scotch or something to get me to linger, but this extremely moderate drinker decided I could do a better job if I didn't stumble from room to room, dragging cables behind meI was quite intrigued by the AktiMate Mini ($695/pair) in the Music Hall room. This Australian baby, engineered by folks from Creek Audio and Epos, is an active speaker, similar to the popular AudioEngines, and the master unit is equipped with an iPod dock as well as stereo RCA phono and mini-jack inputs. There is even an RCA stereo out to enable connection to a subwoofer, as well as a volume remote.
In the aptly titled Navigator Room, Fernando Cruze of cruzeFIRST Audio of Miami had quite a stunning display of gear imported by Chris Sommovigo of Atlanta. At its head was the fabled Continuum Audio Labs Caliburn LP system ($150,000), equipped with a Lyra Titian I cartridge ($5800) and Chris' own tonearm cable. Sending its signal via the two-chassis Audio Premier Quattro preamp ($15,000) and Belles SA-500 stereo amplifier ($9000) to the Lansche 4.1 loudspeakers ($55,595/pair) with their plasma tweeter, 25Hzצ150kHz capability and extreme 99dB sensitivity, the system also benefited from two Tri-Point power conditioners, the Troy ($12,000) and Spartan ($35,000) and a full complement of Stereolab cables (loudspeaker, $3750/2.5m, interconnect, $3500/1m). If you can say that all in one breath, and pay for it without blinking your eyes, more power to you.
"Reference Audio on a Budget" was the tagline for the exhibit from Darren and Bonnie Censullo's Avatar Acoustics of Fayetteville, GA. Most important, the room featured two world premieres. First was a product you're sure to hear more about, the Axis Voicebox S loudspeaker ($3000/pair). A 5 ohm, 83dB sensitive model with a frequency response of 45Hz20kHz ±3dB, this little baby was paired with Abbingdon Music Research's AMR AM 777 60Wpc hybrid integrated amplifier ($4500), AMR CD-777 player ($4500), Dr. Feickert Analogue Woodpecker turntable ($4995) with DFA 10.5 tonearm ($1000), AMR PH-77 phono preamp ($11,995, and soon to be reviewed by Michael Fremer)), and DFA premium tonearm cable ($600). Throw in $11,265 worth of cabling and power distribution from Acoustic System International and Avatar Acoustics, including the world premier of the Avatar Acoustics Mach 4 Power Distributor ($1800 with power cable), and $10,240 worth of Acoustic System International Resonators, and your hypothetical budget would top $50,000.
At last, after 16 years, the South East has again hosted an audio show of considerable merit. Even more significant than the number of attendees, which according to many seasoned observers exceeded attendees at the first Rocky Mountain Audio Fest six years ago, the first of what will hopefully be many Axponas connected dealers, distributors, and manufacturers with music lovers in deep and satisfying ways.
"If you've ever wondered what the future of recorded music is going to sound (and look) like, you should be sure to check out the AIX Records demonstration in the Port Ballroom," said the AIX/iTrax.com ad in the Axpona show guide. I started my Show itinerary by visiting this room, and in some ways, nothing I subsequently heard at Axpona matched it. Mark Waldrep was demonstrating his surround recordings in full 24/96 resolution from Blu-ray, played on an Oppo player, with five Thiel CS3.7 speakers and two Thiel subs driven by Boulder preamps and amps via DH Labs cabling. The AIX recordings I auditioned ranged from solo guitar and piano to full big band, and all were enveloping in a manner I have never experienced on even the best two-channel system. Adding to the experience was true High-Definition (1080p) video projection using a very bright, sharp projector from Wolf (distributed in the US by Sumiko). Mark always shoots HD video at his sessions, and he also provides a unique choice in that the listener can choose between audience and stage perpectives. I had assumed that most people would prefer the audience perspective, with the ambience at the rear as at a concert hall, rather than the stage perspective, where the listener is surrounded by the musicians. Mark corrected me: the feedback he gets back from AIX customers indicates that the full immersive experience is what people prefer.
I had respected more than loved the Legacy speakers I have heard in the past, but without a doubt one of the best two-channel sounds I heard at Axpona was provided by the giant Helix loudspeaker, shown here with Legacy founder/designer Bill Dudleston. Front-end at the Show was an Ayon CD player, and the speaker's crossover is implemented in the digital domain using FIR filters and 24-bit DACs and the six channels of amplification were provided by two three-channel McIntosh MC303 amplifiers. The speaker is actually a four-way; there is a rear-facing 15" subwoofer driven by twin ICE-Power class-D modules. The front-facing, open-baffleloaded upper woofers are actually backed up by second units, which, as with a twin-diaphragm microphone, gives a cardioid directional pattern, allowing a more optimal match with the room's acoustics than with a conventional omnidirectional bass unit. Completing the drive-unit complement, twin silk-dome tweeters are arranged side-by-side and are flanked by four midrange units. Considering what you get, the price of the Helix is a not-unreasonable $46,000/system, including the DSP/DAC crossover unit.
Did Koetsu USA's room have the best sound at the show? It's hard to tell. Since my goal was to cover every single room at Axpona without playing slam, bam, thank you ma'am, I intentionally skipped set-ups John intended to cover. Those included some of the big players: YG Acoustics/Krell, Acapella/Einstein, the huge Legacy speakers, Belles/Advanced, and Mark Waldrep's huge, powerful AIX surround set-up with its five Thiel CS3.7s, two Thiel subs, four or more Boulder amps, DH Labs cabling, and Oppo player. Unfortunately, I also skipped the Ayon Audio exhibit, which I thought John was covering because it shared a room with Legacy.
At the other end of the large room shared by Definitive Electronics and Michael Chafee Enterprises from the Genelec-based surround system that Jason blogged about, renowned mastering engineer Bob Katz was playing 24-bit/96kHz files handpicked from his portfolio. Speakers were the superb Revel Ultima Salon2s driven by a solid-state Balanced Audio Technology power amp, hooked up with Nordost cabling.
Just two months ago at CES, I enthused over the potential excellence of King Sound's China-made Kingsound The King full-range electrostatic loudspeaker ($8500/pair). But as much as VAC's Royal power supplies ($1300/pair), Phi 200 monoblocks ($9900/each), and Signature Mk IIa preamplifier with phono stage and external power supply ($18,000); Accuphase's DP-85 SACD player' and the VPI's Classic turntable equipped with Michael Fremer's fave Ortofon MC-90A cartridge were supplying superior sound, the system planned for Axpona was originally held back by junky interconnects and speaker cables. Cardas to the rescue. Thanks to Cardas Clear speaker cables ($3726/2m pair), Clear Beyond speaker cables ($7452/2m pair), and Clear interconnects ($1840/m for single-ended, $2140 for balanced), the system sounded simply wonderful. I was equally impressed with the sound of my SACD of Mahler Symphony No.2 and an LP of Lyle Lovett and His Large Band. Quad lovers owe these babies a listen, adds John Atkinson, who was equally taken by the sound of this system.
Michael Chafee, a Saratoga-based dealer, consultant, and system tuner, was still in the process of fine-tuning his 7.1 surround setup when I paid a visit. Standing next to the Genelec HT210B loudspeaker ($3739 each) that served front left and right channel honors, Chafee's intriguing system also utilized Genelec HT208 surround loudspeakers ($2859 each) and HTS4 subs ($4729 each), Simaudio Moon CP8 processor ($20,000), a Lexicon RT20 CD player ($5000), and Nordost Heimdahl cabling.