At the same time that AIX Record's Mark Waldrep was in the Omni Ballroom B giving the first of two keynote seminars, "Realizing the Dream of Perfect Music Reproduction: Are we There Yet?", the large salon two doors down was presenting his new AIX Records Real HD-Audio sources Blu-ray discs using Dolby TrueHD Encoding. I confess that I find wearing 3D glasses awkward, and don't know if I'll ever become accustomed to the neck of a guitar beaming out at my gut like a foreign projectile while I'm listening to beautifully played classical music. Nonetheless, the quality of the picture could not be faulted, and the sound, especially when discomfort was erased with eyes closed, was very fine.
Audible Images of Melbourne, FL treated AXPONA visitors to a 5-channel MartinLogan set-up that managed to look big even in the huge Florida Salon B. Capable of playing five different formats, the system did full justice to a two-channel recording of Jimmy Smith from 1958, with sound very warm and laid back. Further treats were in store with a 3-channel Mercury Living Presence SACD of Rodrigo's famous Concierto d'Aranjuez, the system capturing both that label's in your face brightness as well as the beautiful delicacy of the guitar. In multichannel, Pink Floyd's Wish You Were Here sounded as though "here" had come to me, which was a good thing. My own disc of Mahler Symphony No.2 sounded convincingly big and bright, although for some reason the low bass lines were not as full as I'm accustomed to hearing.
Headlined by Aerial Acoustics' Model 7T loudspeaker ($10,000/pair, to be reviewed in the May 2012 issue of Stereophile) and Audio Research's Ref 5 SE preamp ($12,900), Ref 150 amplifier ($12,900), and DAC 8 ($5000), the system from Audible Images of Melbourne, FL delivered very clear, warm (rather than neutral), and crisp sound from a Japanese compilation Three Blind Mice. "Excellent," I wrote in my notes. Undoubtedly the Krell Model 505 CD player ($10,000), and Transparent Audio's Reference XL speaker wire, Reference interconnects, Power Ix, and Power link power cords had something to do with it.
Although Misty Ellis' atmospherically lit room was a challenge to photograph, the sound this company from Columbus, OH put together from a big-bucks system headed by the Audio Power Labs 833TNT 200W transformer-coupled monoblocks ($175,000/pair), Tidal Audio Contriva Diacera SE floorstanding speakers ($58,190/pair in piano black, $64,190/pair in African Pyramid Mahogany as shown), and Laufer Teknik The Memory Player 64 ($24,600) was as tantalizing and satisfying as its visuals. Initially marred by an exaggerated midrange and treble resonances, everything improved immensely when Tidal dealer Doug White, the extremely conscious proprietor of The Voice That Is in Newtown Square (Philadelphia), PA, removed the preamp responsible for the imbalance.
"We initially meant our self-powered speakers for the computer market, and never thought you guys from Stereophile would take us seriously," Audioengine's Brett Bargenquast told me in a particularly candid moment. "Then Bob Reina's review of the A2s helped launch us."
It sure did. Bob's glowing review even convinced me to get a pair of Audioengine 5s for my iMac. Years later, they remain in use, making the husband's cheapo TV in the cottage sound far better than it should.
You can usually count on former airline pilot Darren Censullo of Fayetteville, GA to put together an exhibit that sounds as good as it looks. Impeccably displayed, although in light that barely revealed their true Tuscan leather exteriors and aluminum front baffles, the beautiful Rosso Fiorentino Sienna loudspeakers from Italy ($24,995/pair) shared the ambience with the Dr. Feickert Analogue Firebird turntable ($12,995) and Analogue DFA 12.0 tonearm ($1495 with table); AMR (Abbingdon Music Research) CD-77.1 CD player ($10,995), PH-77 phono preamp ($11,995) AM-77.1 integrated amp in mono vertical biamp mode ($9995), and DP-777 DAC ($4995); AMI-HIFI HDR Mini Server Version music player ($2995), Monk Audio phono preamp ($3495), a host of Acoustic System International Resonators ($250$2850 each) and LiveLine cabling ($995$2100), as well as the company's 3-shelf equipment rack ($3500) and Top Line feet ($750/set); and Avatar Acoustics' own Mach 4 Power Distributor w/captive ASI power cord ($1995) and Afterburner 8 wall outlet ($80).
It's the afternoon before AXPONA Jacksonville opens, and Carmen Davis is getting prepared. Badges are ready, and welcome smiles and hugs are plentiful. But it's not until after 5 that the show guide arrives from the printer. There were, it seems, so many last minute cancelations and room changes that what only a few weeks before had been announced as 40 exhibit rooms has instead been consolidated into 28.
The largest consumer audio show in America's Southland, AXPONA (Audio Expo North America), returns to its roots when it opens in Jacksonville on Friday March 9. The three-day show, which launched in Jacksonville in 2010, has happily switched locations from a "not-ready-for-primetime" venue to the more upscale Omni Jacksonville.
What the hotel offers audiophiles, besides its amenities and lovely waterfront, is its neighbor across the street, Jacoby Hall in the Times-Union Center for the Performing Arts. Home of the Jacksonville Symphony Orchestra, the hall's much touted superior acousticsmezzo-soprano Frederica von Stade has called them "sensational"offer attendees the opportunity to refresh their ears with the sound of a live, unamplified orchestra in a very special hall. What better way to tell if the audio systems you're hearing present a reasonable facsimile of the real thing?
Bliss and Beethoven: That's AXPONA founder Steve A. Davis' promise to show attendees. The bliss comes in the form of several show seminars centering around Transcendental Meditation, which he and his wife Carmen have practiced for many decades. Beethoven is served up across the street, Thursday through Saturday nights, courtesy of the Jacksonville Symphony Orchestra under guest conductor Mei Ann Chen. Further bliss hopefully comes as attendees experience audio nirvana, or at least cumulative sonic epiphany, in AXPONA's 28 exhibit rooms.
All the way from East Greenbush, New York, Bill Demars of Beauty of Sound was showing the brand new Ikeda 9TT moving-coil cartridge ($3800) on The Emperor Turntable, whose total price ($17,400) includes both the cartridge and Ikeda IT-407CR1 tonearm ($6500). The cartridge's body parts are made of an aluminum alloy, and the cantilever is made of a double-layered hard aluminum alloy in order to reduce possible distortion from warped platters. Appropriate stylus downforce is 1.75gram2.25gram, and frequency range is 10Hz45kHz
Legacy Audio's imposing system, made even more imposing by the photo of the entire line that dominated the wall to the left of the system, included both the 63" high, 235 lb. Whisper XD loudspeaker ($20,995$23,5000/pair, depending upon finish) and, to the inside, the smaller 56" high, 184 lb. Focus SE ($9200$10,500/pair, depending upon finish). That's a helluva lota real estate for the money.
I wasn't able to meet the legendary Bob Carver, who gave talks on tube amp development and Ribbon Line Source loudspeakers on both Friday and Saturday afternoons, but I did make two visits to hear his new Amazing Line Source loudspeakers ($22,000/pair). The speakers were coupled with a Sunfire Subrosa subwoofer ($5000), Black Beauty 305W monoblocks ($12,900/pair), Purity Audio Ultra GT preamp ($28,000), AMR CD777 CD player ($5000), and Analysis Plus cables.
Sometimes a system touches your heart when you least expect it. There I was in Reinhard Goerner's Goerner Communication room (Montréal) when, all of a sudden, the warmth and beauty of Joni Mitchell's voice on a vinyl pressing of "I Could Drink a Case of You" had me half qvelling. (Hey, it's Yiddish. I don't know how to spell it; I only know how it feels).
Read to the end, folks, because this one has a happy ending. In their extremely popular roomI couldn't get in the door the first time I triedRob Robinson of Channel D and Jeff Joseph of Joseph Audio were attempting to dem computer audio done right. I say, "attempting" because, despite the unquestionable excellence of Joseph Audio Pulsar loudspeakers ($7500/pair, to be reviewed in the June issue of Stereophile), which I have enjoyed at multiple audio shows, and Channel D's Pure Vinyl high-res digital transcription/editing/playback software ($299) and Pure Music Digital Music Player ($129), the 24/192 files I heard when I first entered had a most unpleasant hard edge to them.
I fell in love with Todd Garfinkle's oft-exotic, ambience-rich, superbly recorded gems on MA Recordings years ago, and have always looked forward to seeing him displaying his latest discs at shows. Now relocated from Japan to Los Angeles, Todd has found an ideal show partner in Chris Sommovigo. Chris, importer of Michael Fremer's reference Continuum Caliburn turntable and designer of the once heralded Illuminati digital cable, currently resides in Atlanta, where he engages in mischief and distributes a host of components, including his own Black Cat Morpheus! cabling, under the umbrella, "The Signal Collection."