It's always a good sign when the first room you enter at an audio show makes you happy that you're there. Better yet when the room is on the lobby level, and acts as a good feng shui portal to the 27 other rooms to follow.
Larry Diaz of Miami's High End Palace had put together a fine system whose sound was solid and a bit sweet.
Jacksonville's very own House of Stereo, run by Bill Gibson, gave me my third opportunity to hear KEF's relatively new Blade loudspeaker ($30,000/pair). Coupled with Ayre electronicsAyre MX-R monoblocks ($19,000/pair), Ayre KX-R preamp ($19,000), Ayre DX5 universal player ($10,000), and Ayre phono preamp ($2500)an Oracle Mk.VI turntable with SME arm and Oracle cartridge ($13,000), and an assortment of Audience Au24 cabling and line conditioners, the system had a laid back and non-fatiguing presentation that just made you want to take off your shoes, lie back and chill. This was an exceptionally quiet and smooth system, especially on vinyl, and one that threw a huge and inviting soundstage.
Strange that I, who often blogs about cables and lives may 40 minutes from JIB-Germany's US headquarters in Fremont, CA, has yet to meet them anywhere but at shows. Certainly the company's oxygen-free copper cabling, which has been available for two years, looks promising in passive display mode, and sounded good in a diminutive Napa Valley Acoustics system. Certainly JIB's literature, which touts cables for hi-fi and home cinema, is beautifully put together. Belle Tsai (pictured) tells me that cables range in price from $200$1000, depending upon model number. The company even sells earbuds. Gotta try some of these babies sometime.
At the prompting of John Atkinson, yours truly organized and moderated a non-denominational four person "Meet and Ask the Writers" panel on Saturday afternoon. Joining me, on the left of the photo) were (leftright) A. Colin Flood of Enjoy the Music.com, Ray(mond) Seda of Dagogo.com, and Neil Gader of The Absolute Sound. Because the panel was sandwiched into the seminar schedule last minute, we only had 45 minutes to dialog without mikes over music not exactly wafting through the air walls. (A big thanks to Part Time Audiophile for his selfless photographic assistance and positive energy. Much appreciated by all.)
When I arrived on the second floor the first day of AXPONA, the large open landing that had served as a reception area for exhibitors the night before had been transformed into a mellow entryway to sonic heaven. Paving the way on the keys was John Yurick, who was playing John Lennon's "Imagine" as I snapped his picture. Facing him were May Audio's CD display on the left, and Transcendental Meditation on the right. Note that the TM folks do not simply chant themselves to bliss in mantra land, they are also very connected on a cellular level.
Tom Maker, formerly of Edge Audio, has something really good going with his self-powered Maker Audio/M Audio Model 10 loudspeaker ($24,000/pair, or $35,000/pair when equipped with a diamond tweeter, big subwoofer, and a bigger internal amp for the sub). For one thing, this speaker is remarkably compact for the huge sound it produces. Even better, it is able to play music streamed wirelessly from up to 33 feet. And best of all, it sounds great.
Alan Eichenbaum and Sunny Umrao's Scaena room was one of four that vied for my personal Best of Show. It certainly competed with MBL's for most expensive set-up at AXPONA. At its center stood the Scaena Spiritus 3.4 loudspeaker system ($110,000). Each tower contains 12 midranges and seven ribbon tweeters. Bass at 100Hz and below was handled by the four massive 18" subs that looked as though they could pacify an advancing army with their slam. (You should have heard the bass drum on Mahler's Symphony No.2; it had the most convincing weight, focus, and up against the wall impact I've ever heard from my Channel Classics hybrid SACD).
Having enthusedgushed, reallyover the Orion-4s ($15,510/pair in this iteration with active crossover, Bibinga wood and Ebony trim) when I first heard them at Burning Amp 2010, then again at Burning Amp 2011 (as reported in the January 2012 issue of Stereophile), I was happy to encounter them once more in Jacksonville. It was no surprise to find them doing an absolutely wonderful job of capturing the correct sound of a piano, and bringing lovely depth to a recording of Mozart's Piano Sonata in D Major, K.576. They did an equally fine job in showcasing the beauty of a quartet performing music by Lera Auerbach.
Silnote Audio Cables of Boones Mill, VA, a company new to me, was making an all-out effort to bring attention to its line. Paired with Tyler Acoustics D-20 loudspeakers ($10,500/pair), an Olive 4HD music server, Musical Fidelity DAC, Rogue Magnum tube amp, and Rogue phono stagethere must have been a turntable and cartridge, but I failed to write it downSilnote's Master Series Orion M-1 interconnects ($3100/pair), speaker cables ($4700/pair), and power cables ($1800 each) were helping deliver solid sound.
Having recently written a detailed description of Smyth Research's amazing Realiser, which was posted to these pages on February 21, 2012, I shall leave to your click and downward scroll a detailed description of the Realiser's ability to virtually reconstruct "the complete experience of listening to actual loudspeakers in an actual room, in up to eight-channel surround."
Soundfield Audio, a speaker company which launched six months ago in Tampa, was making a considerable mark with its Soundfield Audio Monitor 1 ($1300/pair) and larger Soundfield Audio System 2 ($7500/pair with separate subwoofers). The Monitor 1 is a 3-way bookshelf that claims to reach down to 38 Hz ±3 dB, and boasts a passive 5.25" midwoofer and 1" tweeter united in a coincident coaxial driver, and an 8" active long-throw subwoofer. Not yet posted or detailed on their website is the larger System 2.
Hardly 90 seconds into the demo, the earthquake hit. No, not one caused by God and nature, or the vibrational residue from a huge subwoofer in the room above or below. Rather, this earthquake was courtesy of the huge industrial washing machine located directly below Soundsmith's fourth floor exhibit. And we are not talking minor stuff here, folks. Everything was shaking badly, including the sign on the wall, and it went on for several minutes.
With the sound of Jacoby Symphony Hall virtually hyped to life by the glowing accolades on its website and the praises of AXPONA's Steve Davis, I had to hear it for myself. Besides, I'd never heard either An-Lun Huang's Saibei Dance or John Corigliano's Oboe Concerto. I do recall, however, hearing Beethoven Symphony No.7 in A major at least once in my increasingly lengthy lifetime. (I'm being facetious, folks).
The view from the 16th floor of the Omni Jacksonville may look a bit bleak, but AXPONA was anything but. Initial disappointment at the number of exhibits, which diminished to 28 or so when three parties who had contracted for multiple rooms were forced to cancel due to illness, was replaced by delight as I kept encountering enthusiastic attendees hungry for good sound.
Talks with several exhibitors, including Dick Diamond of YG Acoustics and Rob Robinson of Channel D, revealed their delight at meeting a goodly number of knowledgeable audiophiles who were as educated and committed as they were eager to explore. Hey, Jacksonville may not have a reputation as a capital of cultural sophistication, but I could play Schubert and Mahler as well as Rosa Passos and Charles Lloyd without everyone running for cover.
So here we are on Saturday night, Rob Robinson of Channel D, Jeff Joseph of Joseph Audio, and myself of something or other, chilling in the ridiculously oversized chairs in the Omni Jacksonville's lobby near the elevators, awaiting the arrival of Rob's wife Claudia so we can all head out to Thai dinner, when Jacksonville Symphony French horn player Aaron Brask, aka "Last Horn," appears out of nowhere and on your mark-get set-go begins telling us how absolutely, positively, and totally stoked he is that we have brought all these high-end audio exhibits to Jacksonville. It seems that, given that artist Brask is unable to talk while his embouchure is otherwise occupied with his instrument's mouthpiece, the boy has seized the opportunity to gush, and I mean gush, over his chance to finally hear the equipment, big and small, that he had been reading about and lusting after for all these years.