Since the first Show in which I was involved in the organization (the 1981 Hi-Fi News Show at London's Heathrow Airport), I have arranged a program of seminars where Showgoers can be entertained and also learn more about the theoretical aspects of audio. Axpona was no exception, and for the very first seminar after the Show opened on Friday afternoon, my guests were Mark Waldrep of AIX and iTrax.com (left) and legendary mastering engineer Bob Katz, of Chesky fame and many others (right). We spent 75 minutes talking about the advent of the computer as a high-end audio source, the sonic advantages of high-resolution audio, and the sonic limitations of lossy compression. My thanks to Mark and Bob for taking part, and also to Michael Fremer, Jason Serinus, Jim Smith, John MacDonald, Dick Diamond, and Bill Dudleston for giving up some of their time at Axpona to talk to Showgoers at these seminars.
At last, after 16 years, the South East has again hosted an audio show of considerable merit. Even more significant than the number of attendees, which according to many seasoned observers exceeded attendees at the first Rocky Mountain Audio Fest six years ago, the first of what will hopefully be many Axponas connected dealers, distributors, and manufacturers with music lovers in deep and satisfying ways.
Stereophile senior editor Michael Fremer hosted two turntable set-up seminars at Axpona, explaining how to optimally install and set-up a phono cartridge and tonearm for lowest distortion and best sound. He did a great job of demystifying an arcane subject; for those who couldn't attend Axpona, you can see an expanded version of the seminar on his DVD 21st Century Vinyl, available from this website.
Did Koetsu USA's room have the best sound at the show? It's hard to tell. Since my goal was to cover every single room at Axpona without playing slam, bam, thank you ma'am, I intentionally skipped set-ups John intended to cover. Those included some of the big players: YG Acoustics/Krell, Acapella/Einstein, the huge Legacy speakers, Belles/Advanced, and Mark Waldrep's huge, powerful AIX surround set-up with its five Thiel CS3.7s, two Thiel subs, four or more Boulder amps, DH Labs cabling, and Oppo player. Unfortunately, I also skipped the Ayon Audio exhibit, which I thought John was covering because it shared a room with Legacy.
Stereophile Shows in the past always had full programs of live music, to allow Showgoers to recalibrate their ears. While Axpona had a live concert Friday night featuring Steve Davies on guitar and vocals and John Yurick on keyboards, with me guesting on bass, this was for exhibitors and press only. Fortunately, John Yurick performed live on piano in the hotel's lobby during Show hours, offering up some excellent jazz standards.
At the other end of the large room shared by Definitive Electronics and Michael Chafee Enterprises from the Genelec-based surround system that Jason blogged about, renowned mastering engineer Bob Katz was playing 24-bit/96kHz files handpicked from his portfolio. Speakers were the superb Revel Ultima Salon2s driven by a solid-state Balanced Audio Technology power amp, hooked up with Nordost cabling.
One of the things I love about Shows like Axpona is the chance to hang out with Stereophile's readers, like Ed Lippman and his son Ross. "Can you publish our photo in the magazine?” asked Ed. So here they are. Ed’s on the right and Ross (who wrote an Axpona report for Audio Asylum) is on the left.
As I walked into the Emotiva room, a blast from the distant past greeted me with a smile. It was the Eagles, live, welcoming me to Hotel California. Resisting the temptation to declare, "But I've just come from there," I instead noted the solidity of the bass line, the powerful slam, and the sonic warmth that really did feel like a welcome. "Welcome to Emotiva land," the system seemed to sing.
As I entered Jeffrey Catalano's High Water Sound exhibit, I was immediately taken by the beauty of Herbie Hancock's Watermelon Man (Cisco LP re-issue). Listening to a recording of the music of Heinrich Biber further underscored the beauty of this system's midrange. Heard were the turntable owned by the First Chair violinist of the Vienna Philharmonic, the TW Acustic BlackNight ($40,000) with TW 10.5 tonearm ($5500) and Dynavector XV1T cartridge ($9000), TW Acustic Raven phonostage ($9000), Thöress linestage ($8000), Thöress 300B 6W monoblocks ($10,000), Horning Aristotle 98dB-sensitive loudspeakers ($15,000) with Zigma Ultimate Plus Lowther DX65 drive-units, Stealth cables, and Silent Running Audio Equipment rack ($12,000).
Sonist of Studio City, CA was touting the premier of the Recital 3 all-wood floorstanders ($2195/pair), with a lower-price black textured finish model ($1795/pair) also available. . Featuring a 6" woofer and ribbon tweeter, the 8 ohm speaker has 93dB sensitivity, and a frequency response of 45Hz40kHz. Audience and Cardas parts point to high quality. Shown next to the larger Concerto 3 ($4195/pair with all-wood cabinets, otherwise $3495 and reviewed by Art Dudley in April 2009), the Recital 3 is an 8 ohm, 95dB-sensitivity speaker with a frequency response of 30Hz40kHz. Current production of the Concerto 3 has fixed the cabinet resonance problem JA found in our review.
You can always count on several things from Soundsmith: rich, luscious, extremely seductive sound (especially from the moderately romantic Strain Gauge cartridge/phono preamp), and a flashing light show from multiple components that is curiously at odds with the refinement of most of the vinyl Peter Ledermann plays.
Although I didn't get a chance to audition themRoy Hall tried to ply me and just about everyone present with Scotch or something to get me to linger, but this extremely moderate drinker decided I could do a better job if I didn't stumble from room to room, dragging cables behind meI was quite intrigued by the AktiMate Mini ($695/pair) in the Music Hall room. This Australian baby, engineered by folks from Creek Audio and Epos, is an active speaker, similar to the popular AudioEngines, and the master unit is equipped with an iPod dock as well as stereo RCA phono and mini-jack inputs. There is even an RCA stereo out to enable connection to a subwoofer, as well as a volume remote.
Audio Plus Services, Toronto, distributes a luscious batch of products that includes Pathos, Focal, Cambridge Audio, MicroMega, Crystal cable, Siltech cable, and Solid Tech racks. At Axpona, throwing aesthetics to the dogs in an attempt to tame the room, APS's Ian McArthur sent files wirelessly from his Macbook Pro or a PC running the Airfoil utility via the MicroMega WM-10 Airstream wireless receiver ($1595) to the Pathos TT Anniversary 35W class-A hybrid integrated amp ($7695) and Focal-JM Lab Electra 1028BE loudspeakers ($8495/pair). Cabling was Crystal Cable Reference for both interconnect ($2400/1m) and speaker cable ($7500/3m), and the industrial-look rack was Solid Tech ROS Reference 3 ($1495). The Airstream basically incorporates a self-configuring WiFi router to feed audio data (limited to Red Book at present) to its DAC. Although use of iTunes as the media server, without benefit of either the Amarra or Channel D's Pure Music interfaces, undoubtedly contributed to a lack of transparency, cellos sounded extremely deep and solid, and Marta Gomez's debut CD on Chesky (played directly from the computer's CD drive without benefit of burning) was rewardingly crisp and extremely fast.
Don't even think about the juxtaposition of so-called "modern art" with the kitsch figurines of Nipper and the parrot. Instead gaze upon the Classic Audio T1.3 Reference loudspeakers ($36,500), shown here with Classic's John Wolff. The T1.3 uses two 15" woofers , a TAD compression-loaded tweeter, and the jewel of the design, a 4" compression-loaded midrange dome feeding a Tractrix-flare horn designed by Bruce Edgar. All the drive-units are energized by field-coil magnets rather than permanent magnets. The rest of the system comprised Atma-Sphere MA-60 MUIII monoblocks ($6800), an Atma-Sphere MP-1 preamp ($12,100), Esoteric DU-50 CD player, Kuzma Reference table ($8900), TriPlanar arm ($4850), Van den Hul The Grasshopper cartridge, 59-cent hook-up wire, and my feeble attempts to decipher illegible handwriting. (So much for the "You don't have a sheet listing your products; you do the writing while I listen" approach). Playing the same Mahler as auditioned in the fabulous Koetsu USA room, this system certainly nailed the sound of the cymbals.
Midway through Axpona, Norbert Mundorf, maker of the fabled Mundorf capacitors, flew in from Germany to bring the Steinmusic Harmonizer H2a and H2b to the Jaton room. Although I had already blogged the room, I happened to be in the right place to learn what was going on.