The room sponsored by Newform Research itself, as opposed to the adjacent Happy Sounds room that was dominated by Newform Research speakers (see below), was built around Newform Research's triple-stacked LineSource Monitors ($6800). Although less expensive that the No Hold Barred Coaxial Ribbon LineSource speakers, less brought more, in the way of a really nice, solid presentation that was a delight to listen to in the sweet spot. I don't know what was playingthere was a lot of activity in the room, and the hosts were quite busybut I do know that the remaining equipment in the $9800 system included the Onkyo TX-SR 818 receiver ($1300), four Atak Sub 12s / Crown 1000w amplifier combos ($1680), and a Sony Blu-ray player ($129). Also shown, but not playing when I entered, are Newform Research's Ribbon Pyramid speakers ($2720/pair).
ADLAlpha Design Labsa bargain division of Furutech, arrived at AXPONA complete with the ADL H118 headphones ($299) and ADL X1 portable 24/192 USB DAC and headphone amp ($550). The latter, which supports Apple's iOS and Android digital at up to 16/48 for iPods, iPhones and iPads, and runs 24/192 S/PDIF with high-resolution files from a PC, comes complete with a Li-ion battery that lasts 80 hours before recharging. Expect its appearance in early May.
Peachtree's room was typical at AXPONA, packed with an enthusiastic crowd of listeners enjoying the music all weekend. The Peachtree Nova125 that Sam Tellig reviewed in January ($1499) was being demmed with the MartinLogan Montis speakers that Robert Deutsch reviewed in September 2012 ($9995/pair). The speakers were certainly not let down by the inexpensive amplifier"The Nova125 will handle any source, any speakers," proclaimed Peachtree's Jonathan Derda (below)who played me Rickie Lee Jones on LP on a Pro-Ject turntable with Phono Box dual-mono phono preamp, the sax-and-bass duet on Sting's "Standing on the Moon, from a Turtle Records hi-rez file, and even a luminous-sounding MP3 streamed from Spotify.
You may wonder why this report of AXPONA Chicago lacks the usual exterior shot of the show venue. The answer is simple: It was too cold in Rosemont, where the Doubletree was located near Chicago O'Hare airport, for anyone from the "season-less" Bay Area to want to stand outside. Knowing that I would discover up to 9" of new snow on the ground and face sub-freezing temperatures at night, I went shopping before my trip for a hat tailor-made for Nanook of the North. What do you think Nanook would have thought of the "Made in China" label? Of course, John Atkinson, who's from a colder and wetter clime, will be posting a photo of the Doubletree hotel later in this report.
Chicago retailer Pro Musica, led by recording engineer Ken Christianson, had two rooms at AXPONA. The first featured a system built around Dynaudio's Confidence C2 Signature loudspeakers ($13,500/pair in standard Mk.II finishes; $15,000/pair in Signature finish). The electronics were a Naim NAP 300 amplifier with 300PS power supply ($11,495), Naim 282 preamp with NAPSC2 ($6795), Naim SuperCap2 DR preamp power supply ($6595), Naim UnityServe SSD server ($3045), Naim NDS streaming player ($10,995) with Naim 555PS DR power supply ($9645). Speaker cable was Naim NACA5 ($15/foot) and the equipment rack was the Quadraspire EVO (6 shelf, $1200).
Booth exhibits occupied much of the open space on the Doubletree's mezzanine level. First on my path was Sumiko's, where Jaime Moreno declared the Pro-Ject Debut Carbon turntable ($399.99) "probably the best turntable available for under $400." The table, which can play either 33/45 or 33/78, comes complete with an Ortofon 2M Red cartridge, which costs $99 on its own. Best $498.99 turntable package for under $400?
Channel D's Rob Robinson was using the same combination of Joseph Audio Pulsar speakers, Hegel amplification, and a Lynx Hilo D/A processor that he used at earlier shows to show off the LP rips made with his Pure Vinyl program for the Mac, now in its v3.1 incarnation. In honor of the late Alvin Lee, Rob played me a rip from a Kevin Gray-mastered 10 Years After LP, made with an Artemis turntable/arm, Zu DL103 cartridge, and the latest version of the Channel D SETA L solid-state phono preamplifier. I have been getting increasingly impatient with the occasional ticks and pops with my LP rips, as eliminating them is too much like work. But there was no such noise on Rob's rips, a tribute to his LP player.
The mighty Focal Grand Utopia EM loudspeakers ($190,000/pair), which use field-coil energized woofers, took pride of place in one of the two big rooms on the Doubletree's ground floor sponsored by Chicagoland dealer Quintessence. Driven by two-chassis Pass Labs Xs300 monoblocks with Kubala-Sosna cabling throughout the system, both the 1950s Duke Ellington and Johnny Hodges collaboration "Back to Back" and the Reference Recordings Rutter Requiem were reproduced with a stunning combination of vocal purity and instrumental majesty. Source was a file fed by USB to a Playback Designs player/DAC.
Chicagoland dealer Quintessence devoted a large ground-floor room to the Fine Sounds groups of companiesSonus Faber, Audio Research, Wadia, and Sumko/RELalong with the superb racks from Harmonic Resolution Systems and a Clearaudio/Benz Micro LP player. A pair of the Sonus Faber Amati Futura speakers that I reviewed in May 2012 ($36,000/pair) was being vertically bi-amped with two tubed Audio Research Ref250 monoblocks driving the midrange/tweeter sections and two solid-state Audio Research DS450M monoblocks for the woofers. No fewer than four REL powered subwoofers were handling the low bass. Preamp was the Audio Research Ref5 SE that Brian Damkroger and Bob Reina raved about in Stereophile.
In Room 806, one word said it all: Rega. Demming the Rega RP8 turntable with Rega Exact 2 cartridge ($3400), Rega Apollo R CD player ($1095), Rega Brio R integrated amp with phono stage ($895), and Rega RS3 floor-standing speakers ($1395/pair), the nattily bow-tied Barnaby Fry of The Sound Organisation was having a ball playing Johnny Adams' From the Heart. The system did best on Adams' voicethe voice was greatbut when the blues artist sang, "I can't control the vibrations," I'm afraid he was talking about the limitations of the system's bottom reach and bass control. (For starters, I don't believe power conditioning or special equipment supports were in use.) But on voice and piano, Rega x 4 = very nice.
I had been looking forward to auditioning the 10th Anniversary Edition of Scaena's Silver Ghost speakers at the 2013 CES, but as I reported, there was a curious lack of recorded ambience. The Silver Ghosts, which cost $153,000/system with two active subwoofers, sounded much better at AXPONA, driven by Audio Research amplification. The front end was the new dCS Vivaldi rig and cabling was all Silversmith Audio Palladium. A duet between a woman singer and a double bass on the old Gloria Gaynor hit "I Will Survive" was absolutely convincing in its tonality and musicalitywith plenty of recorded ambience!
I first heard the dipole Orion 4 speakers ($14,750/pair with Analog Signal Processor), designed by Siegfried Linkwitz and manufactured by Wood Artistry of Healdsburg, California, at the 2011 AXPONA in Atlanta, where they were one of the best-sounding rooms at the Show. They were in too large a room in Chicago, but still managed to sound clean and natural, with a full range of frequencies, driven by Pass Labs amplification with DH Labs cabling. I refer you to me 2011 report for details on the speaker's design but new at Chicago was a refined version of the Analog Signal Processor, with closer-tolerance crossover components, and an amplifier/processor that obviates the need to drive the Orions with 6 or 8 amplifier channels and the resulting confusion of cables.
It's always a challenge, in a room filled with unfamiliar equipment, to pinpoint what's causing what. All I know is that on the 7th floor, in the room wired with $8000 worth of Silnote Audio Cables, the midrange on a recording of the Talking Crows was simply beautiful, if a bit dry.
In the room set up by Holm Audio of Woodridge, IL, Sony SS-AR1 loudspeakers ($27,000/pair) dominated a system in which Nordost Odin cablingOdin power cord ($15,999/2.5m), interconnects ($19,999/2m) and speaker cable ($25,999/2m)transmitted signals from a Rega RP6 turntable ($1990 with Rega Exact cartridge), Hegel HD25 32-bit DAC ($2500), Manley Chinook phono preamp ($2250), Hegel CDP2A ($2650), Hegel P20 preamplifier ($2900), and Hegel H20 amplifier ($5750). On Randy Crawford's CD, We'll Fly Away, the sound was very smooth and non-fatiguing, but lacked sparkle.