In a room shared with Audiogon, Cary Audio constructed a system of lower cost Audio Electronics brand equipment designed and hand built in Apex, North Carolina. With circuit designs less complex than those in traditional Cary Audio components, the line's four components utilize no global feedback, and their audio stages are predominantly class-A designs. New to the line is the Lightning USB 24/192 DAC ($1295). Utilizing asynchronous USB technology from Gordon Rankin of Wavelength, the Lightning is set to strike the market around April 1.
Linn Audio Loudspeakers (not be confused with Linn Products of Scotland) knocked a major $20,000 off the price of their Athenaeum speaker system (normally $80,000/pair) for AXPONA goers. Unfortunately, their associated componentsBryston 4BST power amplifier ($4000), Linn Audio SET Tube Amp ($500), Linn Audio active crossover/preamp unit ($6000), Linn Audio cabling, and unidentified CD sourcerendered Diana Krall's voice far too bright and ringing on the bi-amped loudspeakers. Compensation came in the form of a wonderful clarity to her piano and an impressively wide soundstage.
Lowther-America showcased their prototype, 98dB-sensitive speakers. Aimed at the DIYer, but potentially available in finished form, the open-baffle design uses a Lowther PM5a, Rythmic subwoofer with dedicated servo amplifier, and SLS ribbon tweeter crossed over at 11kHz (DIY parts cost approx. $4500, custom-built approx. $12,000).
Greeting Showgoers at the Chicago Axpona was this steampunk-style MP.III speaker from Mancave Metal. With its glowing red LEDs around the tweeter and cut and welded steel construction, the MP.III is unlike any other speaker I've encountered. How did it sound? No idea, as it was on passive display.
Axpona runs today and tomorrow at the Doubletree by Hilton Hotel in Chicago suburb Rosemont (5460 North River Road) near O'Hare Airport.
There was a lot of major explication going on in the Marantz room, as in you'll hear some music if only you'll entertain our track-punctuating spiel, but when I did hear a bit of Chris Jones on the just introduced Marantz Reference NA 1151 network audio player/DAC ($3500), my interest was piqued by the depth and weight of the sound. Better yet was Sensemayá from the Channel Classics hybrid SACD of music by Revueltas. Here, the new Marantz Reference SA 1153 SACD/CD player ($4000) and Reference PM 1153 integrated amplifier ($5000), feeding Boston Acoustics M350 loudspeakers ($2500/pair), surprised me with their big soundstage and engaging depth. Even if the core sound of the lowest percussion wasn't totally fleshed out, the way the system delivered what highs and lows the speakers (45Hz30kHz ±3dB) could produce suggests this may be some of the best audio equipment Marantz has yet released.
When I win the PowerBall and retire, I am going to have MBL North America's Jeremy Bryan on call as my set-up man. At show after show, Jeremy has demonstrated that he can tame the most recalcitrant, obdurately obstinate room acoustics problems, using whatever tools he can find, to allow his system to shine its brightest. When I went into the larger of MBL's two rooms in the Doubletree, it was apparent that he had worked his magic. But what I didn't know that throughout the show, snow melting on the hotel's roof was causing a stream of water running down the wall of the room behind the drapes. (I was impressed by the system's liquid-sounding midrange, however!!)
Gary Kumpf did a whole lot of talking between selections, but nonetheless I managed to be blown away by the sound of the no-pun-intended McAire ($3000). This one-piece unit, complete with built-in speakers and a downward firing woofer, offered superb stereo imaging as it projected an amazing amount of impressive sound well into the room. Compatible with all existing digital technologies, it seems like a fantastic buy for the price.
An extremely healthy looking Dan Wright of Modwright Instruments, Inc. greeted me as I entered the room wired with Dynamic Design cabling. Treated to the CD version of Cantate Domino, the sound of a Scandinavian choir singing "Stille Nacht" (Silent Night) in German was exceptionally smooth and lovely, if a bit gray around the edges. Then again, aren't many of us these days?
Money may not be able to buy you love, but the money New Jersey's GTT Audio & Video invested in quality equipment helped create a different world of sonic refinement than I encountered in most rooms. Listening to a track from Ben Webster's Ben's Blues, I marveled at the beautiful warmth, natural sound of cymbals and piano, and most of all, at the stunning depiction of Webster's saxophone that left me feeling as though I had dived right into the center of the instrument. What luscious sound!
In the second room sponsored by Arnold Martinez' newly opened Tweak Studio (located in Chicago's Hyatt Downtown) and Colleen Cardas Imports, a SOTA turntable, curiously unidentified on the room's equipment list, and unidentified cartridge and tonearm, were making lovely sound with three products from PureAudio. Designed by Ross Stevens and Gary Morrison, formerly of Plinius, the redundantly titled PureAudio dual-mono vinyl phono preamplifier ($4500) joined PureAudio's dual-mono Control preamplifier ($9500) and Reference 65Wpc class-A monoblock amplifiers ($15,500) to drive My Audio Design 1920S loudspeakers ($3800/pair).
Playback of DSD files from a computer via USB is a hot topic right now, but at AXPONA Mytek upped the ante by playing 5.1 multichannel DSD files, using three of the preamp version of their Stereo192 DSD-DACs ($1595 each)linked together, with the files played with J River Media Center. The system included five of the Sony SS-AR2 speakers that I had liked so much in my review last September, driven by Pass Labs amplifiers, with Sony's new SA-NA9ES subwoofer fleshing out the bottom octaves. Not that the system needed a subwooferwith multichannel playback, the low-frequency "room gain" is greater than it is with two-channel.
Music Direct did more than assist Steve Davis of AXPONA in organizing the Marketplace on the first floor and table displays on the mezzanine; the Chicago-based mail-order giant also had some delicious show specials available. Among them were the Marantz AV-7005 surround preamp, Pro-Ject Debut III turntable, and Marantz NA7004 network audio player/DAC. The company's Jon Schulman explained that while the Oppo BDP-105 wasn't on sale, it was too hot an item not to bring along.
Yes, that's a dub LP from Bob Marley and the Wailers you can see in the Music Hall room at AXPONA. It was being played on the forthcoming Ikura turntable (price still to be decided, probably around $1000), with the new Creek EVO-50A integrated amplifier ($1195) and a pair of Music Hall's budget-priced Marimba speakers ($350/pair). The Marimba was designed by Roy Hall hisself, and is made in China; it will be reviewed by Stephen Mejias in our June issue). At $250/pair, the stands cost almost as much as the speakers!
Given the number of loudspeakers in the relatively small room, I was amazed that two corner traps, combined with intelligent speaker placement that began at 8am, could result in such well-controlled bass. But on the Channel Classics native DSD/hybrid SACD of the Budapest Festival Orchestra performing Mahler's Symphony 2, the opening movement exhibited ideal control on the low end as well as natural warmth. I kept waiting for the booming, but it never came. What a great end to my first long day at AXPONA Chicago, 2013.
Look out Audiogon. Your latest competition in the online marketplace department, AudioMart, launched this week. The company's Mark Mawhinney, who owns a retail store and is also responsible for the Spin-Clean Record Washer, says AudioMart lists both used and new equipment. "It's quicker, faster, more socially integrated, and much more mobile friendly," he proclaims. "Images are posted for free, and we're offering free dealer storefronts through September 1."