In the aptly titled Navigator Room, Fernando Cruze of cruzeFIRST Audio of Miami had quite a stunning display of gear imported by Chris Sommovigo of Atlanta. At its head was the fabled Continuum Audio Labs Caliburn LP system ($150,000), equipped with a Lyra Titian I cartridge ($5800) and Chris' own tonearm cable. Sending its signal via the two-chassis Audio Premier Quattro preamp ($15,000) and Belles SA-500 stereo amplifier ($9000) to the Lansche 4.1 loudspeakers ($55,595/pair) with their plasma tweeter, 25Hzצ150kHz capability and extreme 99dB sensitivity, the system also benefited from two Tri-Point power conditioners, the Troy ($12,000) and Spartan ($35,000) and a full complement of Stereolab cables (loudspeaker, $3750/2.5m, interconnect, $3500/1m). If you can say that all in one breath, and pay for it without blinking your eyes, more power to you.
Mistral, a registered trademark in the UK and China, is a Chinese company, based near Canton, that began marketing its audio products overseas in 2002. According to their PR, they are recognized "all over the world for creativity, reliability and credibility." Judging from the rest of their written copy, they must believe that their credibility is so strong that they can dispense with the services of a bilingual writer with a firm command of English grammar.
Jim Smith, author of Get Better Sound, spent a full hour discussing a host of topics from his book. Among the subjects he was prepared to cover were optimal use of subwoofers, loudspeaker set-up, multi-channel system requirements, room acoustics and treatments, system enhancements, bi-amping, and analog vs digital. In the brief time I spent in the room, questions were lively and plentiful. One in particular, on compression in modern pop recordings, harked back to John Atkinson's recent "As We See It" and his Rocky Mountain Audio Fest presentations on the subject.
I had respected more than loved the Legacy speakers I have heard in the past, but without a doubt one of the best two-channel sounds I heard at Axpona was provided by the giant Helix loudspeaker, shown here with Legacy founder/designer Bill Dudleston. Front-end at the Show was an Ayon CD player, and the speaker's crossover is implemented in the digital domain using FIR filters and 24-bit DACs and the six channels of amplification were provided by two three-channel McIntosh MC303 amplifiers. The speaker is actually a four-way; there is a rear-facing 15" subwoofer driven by twin ICE-Power class-D modules. The front-facing, open-baffleloaded upper woofers are actually backed up by second units, which, as with a twin-diaphragm microphone, gives a cardioid directional pattern, allowing a more optimal match with the room's acoustics than with a conventional omnidirectional bass unit. Completing the drive-unit complement, twin silk-dome tweeters are arranged side-by-side and are flanked by four midrange units. Considering what you get, the price of the Helix is a not-unreasonable $46,000/system, including the DSP/DAC crossover unit.
After much too long a hiatus, Stereophile again pierced the digital shield with the return of its “Meet the Editors” panel. Although a poorly publicized schedule shift from Friday to Saturday afternoon diminished attendance in the seminar room, those present asked about everything from Stereophile's influence on the High End and integrity amongst audiophile publications to our favorite rooms at the show. While an objective report is impossible as far as I know, there are no prices on our heads that we can listit's fair to say that attendees got a pretty good sense of who we are as both dedicated listener/reviewer/critics and as human beings. Seen in the photo are (left to right): senior editor Michael Fremer, editor John Atkinson, and yours truly.
As you will see from the forthcoming May issue of Stereophile, modern horn speakers don't suffer from the colorations and idiosyncrasies that plagued the genre in earlier decades. Such was the case in the room shared by Aaudio Imports and Sanibel, FL retailer Lee Island Audio. The German Acapella High Violoncello II speakers ($80,500/pair) with their ionic tweeters, driven by Einstein The Turntable's Choice phono preamp ($9,800), Einstein The Tube Mk.2 balanced line stage ($18,400), and a pair of Einstein The Final Cut tubed OTL monoblocks ($34,900/pair), connected with Stage III interconnects, speaker cables, and AC power cords, produced a seamless soundstage and a smoothly coherent tonal picture. With the LP of Rickie Lee Jones singing "Chuck E's in Love," played on a Galibier Stevio turntable ($15,000) fitted with a Triplanar Mk.VII tonearm and a Dynavector XV1s phono cartridge ($5250), the sound was one of the best I heard at Axpona. I have asked Aaudio Imports' Brian Ackerman for review samples of the Acapella speakers.
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.
Roy Hall's Music Hall was showing several nifty little systems. Making its official debut as well as show debut, the Creek Audio Evolution 5350 Integrated amplifier ($1795), which has been around for perhaps a decade in various proven incarnations, was sending its 120Wpcs into 8 ohms signal from the Creek Destiny CD player ($2495) into the handsomely slim (were we all only as. . .) Epos M22i loudspeakers ($2599/pair). This system was uncompromising in its portrayal of brash rock as exactly that. No euphonic roll-off or soft-pedaling allowed! Switch to the Oscar Peterson Trio, and you'll hear a very different, sweet sound on piano and bass.
To anyone who has committed my blogs to memory, or treated them with the same reverence as passages from the Bible, my love for mbl speakers and electronics will come as no surprise. Listens at CES 2010, RMAF 2009, and CES 2009 left me in awe. If only the newest mbl speakers on the market had been on active rather than static display, I expect I'd be waxing ecstatic once again.
One of several low-cost, high quality exhibits at Axpona came from Jaton. Based in Fremont, CA, Jaton sources its speaker components from Germany and other parts of Europe, but assembles them in China. It amps, which include 14 Mundorf caps in the amp proper and four more in the power sector, are assembled in Fremont. Everything is designed by the company's unnamed and extremely secretive CEO, who only began to enter the high-end market a few years ago.
In the Audiowood/Glow room, I again made the acquaintance of the diminutive, low-priced amps that were playing across the hall with Sonist speakers. This time, I had the opportunity to hear the story behind them.
If the Soundsmith exhibit invariably brings a light show, the EgglestonWorks/Arte Forma Audio room created the opposite effect. All of the horrible energy-saving fluorescents were turned off, leaving the room lit only by what came through the window.