"If you've ever wondered what the future of recorded music is going to sound (and look) like, you should be sure to check out the AIX Records demonstration in the Port Ballroom," said the AIX/iTrax.com ad in the Axpona show guide. I started my Show itinerary by visiting this room, and in some ways, nothing I subsequently heard at Axpona matched it. Mark Waldrep was demonstrating his surround recordings in full 24/96 resolution from Blu-ray, played on an Oppo player, with five Thiel CS3.7 speakers and two Thiel subs driven by Boulder preamps and amps via DH Labs cabling. The AIX recordings I auditioned ranged from solo guitar and piano to full big band, and all were enveloping in a manner I have never experienced on even the best two-channel system. Adding to the experience was true High-Definition (1080p) video projection using a very bright, sharp projector from Wolf (distributed in the US by Sumiko). Mark always shoots HD video at his sessions, and he also provides a unique choice in that the listener can choose between audience and stage perpectives. I had assumed that most people would prefer the audience perspective, with the ambience at the rear as at a concert hall, rather than the stage perspective, where the listener is surrounded by the musicians. Mark corrected me: the feedback he gets back from AIX customers indicates that the full immersive experience is what people prefer.
My loudspeaker seminar on Saturday featured Dick Diamond of YG Acoustics (to the left in Jason's photo), John MacDonald of Audience (far right) and Bill Dudleston of Legacy (immediate right with hand raised). The first half of the session featured each panelist discussing what his goals were as a loudspeaker manufacturer, what technical parameters he felt most correlates with good sound, how he balanced all the various aspects of performance to get a good balance at a specific price, and where he felt there was the greatest room for continued improvement in speaker performance. The second half of the seminar consisted of a Q&A session and there was a lively discussion, including mention of the fact that all three companies featured on the panel continue to manufacture their speakers in the US.
I almost missed the Nightingale display. The first time I tried to enter the room, there were so many people involved in post-listening conversation that I skipped it. Happily, the Axpona organizers alerted me to my omission, enabling me to leave the show on a high note. And once I took a listen, I understood why people were spending so much time discussing what they heard.
In addition to his enormously impressive hi-rez surround-sound dem mentioned earlier in this report, Mark Waldrep of AIX Records and iTrax.com gave a well-attended seminar on all three Show days explaining how a computer can be used as a valid source in a high-end audio system and demystifying HD music.
"That's a familiar sound," I thought as I entered the 5th-floor suite shared by YG Acoustics and Krell. It was the classic Show dem record from the early 1980s, James Newton Howard & Friends on Sheffield Lab. The speakers were the YG Anat Reference II Studios ($70,000/system), which differ from the Anat Reference II Professional reviewed by Wes Phillips a year ago in not having the powered subwoofer modules. The room was problematic at low frequencieseither there was an upper-bass suckout or there was too much upper bassand YG's Dick Diamond had spent long hours optimizing the sound on set-up day, but the effort was obviously worth it.
Speaker designer Bill Roberts talks so fast, I could only write down every third word as he explained the design principles behind the Advanced Transduction Directorate loudspeaker. A four-piece, three-way system with an outboard crossover and line-loaded woofers, the 600lb Directorate has a very high claimed sensitivity of 96dB/W/m and bass extension of 3dB at 14Hz. Price is $30,000/system in light-oak veneer, or $25,000/system unfinished, as shown in the photo. With left and right speakers each driven by a 125Wpc Power Modules Belles 150A Reference stereo power amplifier ($2300), and a front end of CD files played with Sony Sound Forge running on a PC sent as digital audio to a Belles DAC and the new tubed Belles 22A preamplifier ($2500), the sound, even in an acoustically challenged room, had superb balance, dynamics, and transparency.
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.
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.