Bright red Totem Mani-2 loudspeakers, glimpsed through an open door, drew Julia and I into the Amsterdam Room, where products from D-Box Technologies, Digital Projection, Audio Design Associates, Stewart Filmscreen, and Totem were combined to create an exceptionally impressive 3-D home theater demonstration. Leather lounge chairs from Design NS had been equipped to convey a sense of motion to their users' posteriorspresumably these remain perfectly still during most Merchant Ivory filmsso we felt as well as saw as well as heard the action during excerpts from Avatar and The Owls of Ga'Hoole. Julia's face says it all.
The line outside the AIX room at Axpona, like the line outside the MBL room, was evidence that something special was happening inside. Mark Waldrep of AIX Records prefaced his AV demonstration with an interestingand amusingdiscussion of how difficult and expensive it can be to film in 3-D. There followed one of the most convincing performance clips I've yet to see: fingerstylist Laurence Juber playing a number called "White Pass Trail" on his signature Martin guitar. During the second part of this instrumental, Juber switched from mere picking to actually slapping the strings over the guitar's fingerboard extension (slapping the body, too, for percussion), and the five Thiel SCS4T loudspeakers ($3690/pair) captured perfectly the speed and impact, along with the color and texture, of those sounds. By this time of the show my wife had joined my daughter and I, and she shared my surprise at how the 3-D effect enhanced, rather than tarted-up, the performance. An impressive recreation of superb music.
John Marks brought violinist Arturo Delmoni to Axpona New York, who in turn brought his 18th-century Guadagniniand his virtually unique mastery of the Romantic approach to solo violin. His Friday afternoon performance of the Ciaconna from Bach’s D-minor Partita held the audience spellbound, with extraordinary intonation, oceans of tone, and a passionate, emotional one-ness with Bach’s music that prompted JA to comment, appropriately: “The man was on fire.”
JA was sitting at the back of the ballroom and was surprised by how loud the sound of the solo violin was. Whipping out his iPhone with the Studio Six Digital SPL Meter app, he measured the typical sound pressure level at 72dB(C).
The New York Axpona Show came together on very short notice. It was announced to the industry and press on the penultimate day of the Atlanta Axpona, which took place in mid-April. As I understand it, the Show's genesis was the Consumer Electronics Association (CEA) thinking that it would be a good idea to add high-end audio consumer days to their annual CEWeek in New York. This is a "line show," where big electronic companies show their fall product line-ups to the press. Accordingly, CEA partnered with Axpona's Steve Davis to organize the high-end show, with marketing support being given by Stereophile and Home Theater magazines.
Two months is not much time to organize a large show and possible exhibitors would already have their promotional budgets fixed. So it was no surprise that there was only a limited number of exhibitors at the Show: 22 rooms (not including software vendors) representing 72 individual brands on three of the hotel's floors, plus a mezzanine.
Axpona New York, held at Manhattan's Affinia Hotel opposite Madison Square Garden June 2425, was my daughter Julia's first audio Show. She and I followed the sound of Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young singing "Déjà Vu"more real music!to the Empire Room, where Wharfedale Airedale loudspeakers were being driven by monoblock amps from a new company called Audio Power Labs. Each 833TNT amplifier uses a pair of 833 transmitter tubes, operated in push-pull and driven by a 6550 pentode. Inter-stage transformers take the place of coupling capacitors, and replacement tubes are said to be plentifuland reasonably cheap, at about $175 each. The 833TNT itself, which delivers 200W, costs a bit more than that, though: approximately $175,000/pair.
Cardas Audio used Axpona NY to introduce their new Clear cable line, with loudspeaker cables ranging in price from $1200 to $6000 for an 8' pair, and interconnects ranging from $695 to $1200 for a 1m pair. The cables at the top of that rangecalled Clear Beyondwere put to good use in a system comprising the Unison Research CDE CD player ($4000) and S6 integrated amplifier ($5000). The latter, which uses parallel single-ended EL-34s, seemed to be a lot of amp for the moneyand sounded fine driving a pair of Opera Grand Callas loudspeakers ($10,000/pair).
During the half-hour Julia and I spent visiting Channel D Software's Rob Robinson, the room never ceased to be mobbed with attendees. That was partly due to the good sound (provided by Joseph Audio Pulsar speakers, Hegel H20 amp, Artemis record player with Zu cartridge, and Audio Research DAC8plus, of course, a Synology NAS and a brace of Apple computer gear, driven by Channel D software), and partly to the fact that the exhibit was like a free seminar on both the basics and the minutiae of computer audio, with Robinson as the generous instructor. Channel D's Pure Music 1.8 ($129) is now available, and I hope to try it soon after returning home.
The DP-77 D/A converter ($4995) from the English firm AMR that had impressed JA at the Atlanta Axpona in April made its New York debut at the Show, playing music files streamed from a German Purist NAS ($3000), with iPad-based controller software from the same firm. Amps were solid-state monoblocks from Absoluta (approximately $14,000/pair), and the loudspeakers were a fascinating design called the Ray ($6000/pair) from the Danish firm Davone, which are shown on the photo. The Ray is a two-way reflex-loaded speaker using coaxial driverit sounded amazingly well-balanced and musical in the smallish room. ASI room-tuning accessories were used throughout.
I tried but failed to photograph the on-screen image from the home-theater dem in one of the two Emotiva rooms, so you’ll have to take my word: Eric Clapton wore a black short-sleeved shirt and a pair of ripped and faded jeans (shame how some of these rock stars just frittered away their millions), and played a baby-blue Fender Stratocaster. But the real stars of this slick and commendably spare-sounding band were the three backup singers, who were sufficiently passionate to convince me that they had, working together, indeed murdered a sheriff somewhere. The excitement of it all was delivered by Emotiva electronics and loudspeakers, including XPA-2 and XPA-5 amplifiers ($679 and $764, respectively), UMC-1 surround-sound processor ($594), ERT-3 floorstanding loudspeakers ($1278/pair), and ERD-1 stand-mounted surround speakers ($319/pair). The sound was quite decent by any measureand exceptionally good for the money.
As with other Shows, the New York Axpona was an opportunity for music-lovers to sock up on audiophile recordings. The Affinia's Hotel's mezzanine floor was packed with vendors, from HDTracks and Chesky on the left in my photograph to MA on the right. (That's MA's Todd Garfinkle, whose prowess as a recording engineer has little equal, on the right at the back. The gentleman in the green shirt with his back to the camera is none other than audio writer Steve Guttenberg, who both contributes to Stereophile and has an entertaining audio blog on CNet.
Like many exhibitors at Axpona, Joseph Audio was playing files from a laptop for their dems. In this case, Jeff Joseph was using Pure Music on his MacBook Pro and feeding a short USB link to Bel Canto's LightLink converter (reviewed by Erick Lichte in the June issue), which in turn fed the audio data via a low-jitter ST optical link to the Bel Canto DAC3.5VB, which also acted as the system preamp. Power amplifiers were a pair of Bel Canto Ref.500 monoblocks and speakers were Joseph's own stand-mounted Pulsars ($7000/pair). The sound of Jeff's rip of Louis Armstrong's "St. James Infirmary," a long-term staple in Joseph dems, was visceral. (Another iPhone photoforgive the grainy quality, due to the lack of light.)
One might argue that there are more research-driven engineering innovations in the Linkwitz Lab Orion-4 than in most other high-end loudspeakers which is remarkable, considering that it sells for less than $15,000/pairbut at the Axpona show I found it easy to forget all of that and simply enjoy the speaker's musical prowess. Driven by Bryston amplifiers and fed by an Auraliti L1000 digital music player and MSB D/A processor, the Linkwitz loudspeakers disappeared into their own wide, deep, and mildly recessed (as opposed to in-your-face) soundfield. In addition to being spatially convincing, the Orion-4s sounded open, clear, and appropriately colorful: one of the finest demonstrations at the show.
John Marks also arranged, courtesy of Audio Power Laboratories and Wharfedale, to present Arturo Delmoni performing the slow movement from Karl Goldmark’s Concerto for Violin in their room. Arturo played live, but Steve Martorella playing his transcription for pipe organ of the orchestral part was recorded by John Marks in the First Baptist Church in America and played back from CD over the Wharfedale Neo Airedale speakers. The result was impressive, both on the grounds of the system’s sound quality, with extended low frequencies demanded by the organ, but also for Dr. Delmoni’s lyrical virtuosity. This wasn't so much Live vs Recorded and Live with Recorded.
We all owe John Marks a big "thank you" for bringing live music to Axpona New York.
May Audio Marketing's Nabil Akhrass (seated) was even busier than usual at this show, given the absence of his sister, Julia: She recently gave birth to her and her husband's first child (congratulations!), and decided to sit this one out. When I visited the May Audio exhibit on Saturday morning, they were already enjoying brisk sales of CDs and vinyl.