The system in distributor The Signal Collection's room was decidedly esoteric: Klimo Labor Merlino preamp ($6699) and Tine class-A tube monoblocks ($8999/pair) from Italy, and the Transmission Audio M1i Ribbon Mini speakers from Sweden ($4499/pair), hooked up with Klimo Labor Reference interconnect ($2999/1.2m pair) and Stereolab Diablo speaker cable from the USA ($1395/2.5m pair). Source was a more mundane Oppo BDP-95 universal player ($999). The speakers caught my attention, as they are designed by the engineer responsible for the similar-looking Red Rose Music R3 that Michael Fremer reviewed for Stereophile a decade ago. However, the treble above 3kHz is now handled by four ribbon units. The sound in this room benefited from. . .
The Smyth SVS Realiser A8 system is a revolutionary product, found Kalman Rubinson in his November 2010 "Music in the Round" column. After the listener has the sound field produced by his system at the entrance to his ear canals analyzed with tiny probe microphones, the Realiser synthesizes that soundfield with Stax electrostatic headphones. The effect is though the listener was not using headphones but listening to his system; and unlike conventional headphone listening, the perceived sound is outside the head and if the listener turns his head, the sound remains centered. Even in surround.
At Axpona, Smyth were subjecting listeners first to a 5.1 system, then calibrating the Realiser for each listener, then allowing them to switch between the real thing and the version produced by the headphones. Everyone I spoke to, including Ivy Johnson shown in the photo, thought the effect amazingly lifelike; my regret was that I did not have time to experience it for myself.
Michael Fremer raved, raved about the Soundsmith SG-200 strain-gauge phono cartridge system in the March issue. "The SG-200 is a unique game-changing product," he wrote, so I made sure I checked it out at Axpona. In a system featuring Soundsmith's own HE150 MOSFETamplifiers and Dragonfly two-way standmounts ($1500/pair), the strain-gauge cartridge, mounted in a Schröder Reference tonearm on a VPI turntable, breathed new life into Dave Brubeck's "Take Five," with a clean, open sound and excellent upper-bass clarity. When Mikey write that the SG-200 was "as addicting as its proponents say," my experience at Axpona convinced me he was correct.
I first heard the Voxativ Ampeggio speaker ($29,750/pair) at the 2011 Montreal Show, where I was gobsmacked by what I heard. In a beautiful, high-gloss enclosure from the Schimmell piano company was a single drive-unit with an old-fashioned "whizzer" cone that resembled but wasn't a Lowther unit, which is was loaded with a rear-loaded horn. Such designs offer enormously high sensitivitythe speakers at Axpona filled the room with sound using a Fi WE421A single-ended amplifier ($3275) that offered just 4Wpc for its single dual-triode output tubebut my experience with Lowthers is that they can sound equally enormously colored. But the Ampeggios, seen here with importer Gideon Schwartz, just produced the same uncolored, dynamic-sounding music in Atlanta as they had in Canada. I'll be driving up to Artie Dudley's in upstate New York in a few weeks to listen to and measure the Voxativs in his room. Intrigued by what I'll find.
I ended Friday night with a trip to the Goldmine Live Music Area, where the 20-piece West Georgia Saxophone Ensemble played an exquisite, soul-stirring piece in tribute to Japan. The slow-moving, thoroughly enveloping music seemed to blossom magically and was so painfully beautiful, expressive, and mournful I wanted to cry.
The YG Acoustics Anat III Signature ($119,000/pair) employs a new circuit in its main module which enables the speaker to play louder while minimizing midrange distortion. Though the Anat maintains its rated sensitivity of 89dB, its impedance is more even, which should make the speaker easier to drive. Completing the system were a Veloce preamp, Krell 402 amplifier, dCS Scarlatti system, and Kubala Sosna Elation cables.
Alright. As some graceful piano came slowly tinkling into the room, I was immediately struck by the system’s combination of scale and delicacy. And when the first voice came in, it was one of those holy shit moments. And when the second voice came in, it was another one of those holy shit moments. And when the two voices came together, all I could do was sit there and grin like a dummy, in awe of the texture and tone and exquisite delineation of images. And then the percussionfast and clean and authoritative. It added up to a compelling complete performance, just as sonically impressive as it was emotionally involving.
I heard myself thinking wild thoughts: It’s incredible that reproduced music can sound this good…. Sitting there listening to Herbie Hancock’s The Imagine Project, I was having the same sort of reaction as when walking the halls of a museum or strolling down 34th Street between Fifth and Sixth Avenues, looking up at the Empire State Building: I’m just sort of amazed that humans can create such beauty.
Thursday was the trade-only day at Axpona, held at the Sheraton Hotel in downtown Atlanta, Georgia. Many of the exhibitor rooms are situated around a lovely, inviting pool. I arrived in Atlanta at around 2pm, thrilled to see sunshine and feel warm, southern air on my skin. The staff at the Sheraton immediately struck me as being just as warm, eager to help and genuinely happy just to smile and say hello.
Thursday’s show activity was limited to system setup, howevermany exhibitors had been up till the very early hours of morning, unpacking boxes and crates which had arrived only a few hours earlier. It must be tremendously tough to unpack gear and set up a system after a long day of travel. Some exhibitors told me they’d stayed up until 4am, preparing and tweaking to achieve the best possible sound.
Judging from what I heard today, on the first full day of the show, they did an outstanding job.
Loudspeakers from Kentucky-based Tyler Acoustics have created a bit of a buzz on the Internet, but Axpona was my first opportunity take a serious listen to them. The lastest version of the Taylo Reference System shown in the photo ($4800/pair) combines a 6" magnesium-cone midrange unit from SEAS with a 1" soft-dome tweeter from Scanspeak and a 15" woofer from Eminence in a sealed enclosure. Crossover frequencies are 150Hz and 2kHz. The system featured a Basis turntable, Krell CD player, Sutherland phono preamp, and Rogue preamp and monoblocks, wired with DH Labs cables.
In his WS Distributing room, Tom Myers had set up a system made of a Vincent CD-S7 CD player (available now for $2199.95 in black or silver), Thorens TD 2030 turntable with blue acrylic plinth ($3699) and Benz Ace cartridge ($700) , Vincent amplification, and Thiel SCS4 loudspeakers on Pangea speaker stands. With its top-to-bottom coherence, the system was easy to enjoy. Moving from the Vincent CD player to the Thorens turntable added measures of body and scale, which I found even more involving.
There was nothing dirty, mean, or mighty unclean about the Audio Power Labs TNT 833 monoblock power amplifier, a pure class-A, push-pull design rated to deliver 200W into 8 ohms. Each amp weighs 160 lbs and uses 833C output tubes, 6550 driver tubes, and 12BH7 pre-driver tubes. The price will be somewhere between $150,000$170,000/pair.
The system, including an Audio Research LS27 preamplifier, Musical Fidelity M6CD CD player, Vandersteen 3A loudspeakers, and aided by an array of RealTraps room treatments, produced big, robust voices, and had a good sense of musical flow.
Audio Power Labs’ Clyde Holobaugh confessed that the TNT 833 has been “a labor of love,” requiring over two years in design and development. His goal was to build a class-A, push-pull design that would be powerful, while also eliminating distortion.