It was déjà vu all over again when I went into the MBL room at Axpona (after a wait in the corridor outside, this room being packed throughout the Show). The system was the same used at SSI in Montreal and Axpona in Atlanta last April101E Mk.2 omnidirectional speakers driven by gigantic 9011 monoblock amplifiers, a 6010D preamp, a 1621A CD transport, and a 1611F D/A converterbut this time with everything finished in a superb gloss white. I listened to "Fit Song" from Cornelius's Sensuous CD, "The Boy in the Bubble" from Peter Gabriel's Scratch My Back CD, and the hi-rez solo piano recording made by MBL's long-time chief engineer Jürgen Reiss, "Walchensee, Mondnacht," performed by Martin Vatter, from the album Klangbilder. All the music was being played from a Linux music server put together by MBL's Jeremy Bryan and fed via an asynchronous USB link to the MBL DAC.
The room was a little on the small side for the speakers, with their extended LF response and omnidirectional highs, but that aside, the sound rocked, with an enormous and well-defined soundstage drawing me into the music.
The sign on the door said JIB Germany, leading me to expect…well, something very different from what I found. (As the late Vivian Stanshall declared in a Bonzo Dog Band number titled “Shirt”: ‘24-Hour Cleaners’? That’s just the name of the shop, dearie!) That said, the exhibitors in this room demonstrated a pleasant-sounding mini-system, comprised of a Napa Acoustics NA-208A hybrid tube integrated amplifier ($399) and NA-208S two-way loudspeakers ($199/pair), fed by a first-generation iPod playing Abba songs. Hand not included.
In Channel D's own room at Axpona, Rob Robinson demmed the latest version of his Pure Vinyl LP ripping program and Pure Music audio file player program for me. One of the new features of Pure Music v1.8 is the ability to play DSD files as well as hi-rez PCM, and to emphasize that fact, I photographed the display of Rob's Playback Designs MPD-3 D/A converter ($6500) to show that it was receiving DSD data via USB2.0.
Despite the small room, the musicDavid Elias's "Freedom on the Freeway"sounded excellent, with an analog-like ease to the presentation. The rest of the system comprised Joseph Pulsar speakers ($7000/pair) driven by a Hegel H20 amplifier. Blue Coast and 2L are already offering DSD files for download, and I understand that there are many live concerts available from tapes via bit torrent sites.
It’s okay to like R.E.M. again, and not just because their latest single (“Uberlin”) is the band’s best in over a decade: In the exhibit sponsored by EgglestonWorks and Rogue Audio, R.E.M.’s “How the West Was Won and Where it Got Us” sounded so good and so clear and so utterly fresh that I literally did not, at first, recognize the music. The combination of Rogue Hera II preamplifier ($7995) and Apollo monoblock amplifiers ($10,995/pair) plus Eggleston Andra III loudspeakers (ca $24,000 per pair) contributed to my wondering if the album from which that single sprung1997’s New Adventures in Hi-Fimight be better than I thought. I guess I’ll give the LP version another try (although I maintain that NAIHF represented the very nadir of the group’s covert-art pretentiousness). The Axpona experience renewed, in particular, my admiration for Rogue Audio’s persistence in making superb tube electronics at sane, fair prices.
Steinway-Lyngdorf's S-Series loudspeaker is tiny, at just 10.2" H by 7.8" W and 3.1" D. (My apologies for the grainy photo but the battery in my camera gave out and I had to resort to my iPhone 3GS for this shot.)
After Peter Lyngdorf left Tact, he went into partnership with the Steinway piano company to make a line of expensive speakers aimed not at audiophiles but at well-heeled music lovers. I was impressed by what I heard of the first of this line, which incorporates Lyngdorf's RoomPerfect acoustic correction, when I auditioned it in Manhattan a couple of years back, so I wasn't surprised when Steve Guttenberg button-holed me and told to go listen in the SteinwayLyngdorf room at Axpona.
The S-Series subwoofer-satellite system ($22,100) was producing a big sound with the tiny satellites stood on a credenza against the wall behind them. Incorporating RoomPerfect correction, the speakers also use digital signal processing to produce a flat response, which Peter Lyngdorf explained allowed him to optimize the drive-units for maximum sensitivity. The two small subwoofers were placed in the room corners, with a crossover frequency (depending on the room correction necessary) around 200Hz
Best sound apart from violinist Arturo Delmoni, that is. I am reviewing TAD's Compact Reference CR-1 three-way stand-mounts ($37,500/pair plus $1800/pair for stands) for a Fall issue of the magazine so I was interested in seeing what kind of sound TAD's chief engineer Andrew Jones was getting from the CR-1s in the room TAD was sharing with its New York dealer, Triode Picture+Sound. Though there were a pair of Atma-Sphere tube monoblocks in the room, the speakers were being driven by TAD's solid-state amplifier with the source Andrew's MacBook Air running Decibel and feeding data to a TAD DAC via USB. I listened to several hi-rez recordings at 176.4kHz and 192kHz from Chesky and ex-Sheffield Labs engineer Bill Schnee, whose recording for Bravura Records of a band led by drummer Simon Phillips had one of the best recorded drum sounds I have heard. Even in the cramped and crowded hotel room, it was obvious that these speakers, with their coaxial, beryllium-diaphragm midrange/tweeter and reflex-loaded 8" woofer with a 4" voice-coil, were doing something out of the ordinary with respect to freedom from compression.
A challenge for the journalist who can’t read his own notes (that would be me): The need for information regarding the Mark Neumann loudspeaker shown above led me to the world-wide web, but a Google search on the words Mark Neumann returned mostly hits that had nothing to do with audio and everything to do with politics. (It was a little like reading one of my old columns. But just a little.) I returned to my senses and visited the website of Miami’s High End Palace, the Axpona exhibitor that brought the mighty Coliseum XLS loudspeaker (approximately $40,000/pair) to New York, and learned that this open-baffle speaker’s design was inspired by a concert grand pianoand that only 12 are made each year. Fed by a Stahl-Tek CD player and driven by Tact and BAT electronics, the Coliseum XLS sounded impressive in a number of ways, although its considerable bass response tended to overwhelm the smallish room.
Art Dudley mentioned earlier in this show report the Audio Power Laboratories tube monoblocks driving Wharfedale's new Neo Airedale flagship loudspeakers ($25,000/pair). Source was a Musical Fidelity CD player, preamp an Audio Research, and the sound in this room was indeed one of the best at Axpona: extended lows, clean highs, and impressive dynamic range.
The show started before the show started: Julia and I were having morning tea in our room on the 7th floor when we heard a familiar and compelling voice: not Amanda McBroom or Jacintha but Lhasa de Sela a real recording artist! The music turned out to be coming from one of two exhibit rooms sponsored by New Jersey retailer Woodbridge Audio, whose proprietor also had the audacity to play such non-audiophile fare as the Andrews Sisters and Michael Hedges. Think of it! The system in Woodbridge's tonier room had an estimated total value of $125k and included a VPI TNT HRX record player with Koetsu Urushi Black cartridge, Mark Levinson electronics (including the majestic No.53 amplifiers), and a pair of Revel Ultima Salon2 loudspeakers, with MIT cabling, Richard Gray power accessories, and ASC Tube Traps.