AXPONA 2011

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John Atkinson Posted: Apr 21, 2011 0 comments
The system in distributor The Signal Collection's room was decidedly esoteric: Klimo Labor Merlino preamp ($6699) and Tine class-A tube monoblocks ($8999/pair) from Italy, and the Transmission Audio M1i Ribbon Mini speakers from Sweden ($4499/pair), hooked up with Klimo Labor Reference interconnect ($2999/1.2m pair) and Stereolab Diablo speaker cable from the USA ($1395/2.5m pair). Source was a more mundane Oppo BDP-95 universal player ($999). The speakers caught my attention, as they are designed by the engineer responsible for the similar-looking Red Rose Music R3 that Michael Fremer reviewed for Stereophile a decade ago. However, the treble above 3kHz is now handled by four ribbon units. The sound in this room benefited from. . .
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Stephen Mejias Posted: Apr 21, 2011 6 comments
On Saturday night, after a long day of listening, writing, and chatting, I couldn’t force myself to enjoy another dinner or even have a beer. Things come to a dull end where all systems sound the same, I forget what it is I’m supposed to be listening for, I can’t give the exhibitors and attendees the attention they deserve. So, instead of pushing myself further, I decided to head back to my room and post a few blog entries before packing my bags and going to bed. Earlier in the day, I had already begun to regret my decision to leave the show on Sunday morning: There were rooms I hadn’t visited, people I hadn’t met, songs and stories I hadn’t heard, and now I had run out of time. Nevertheless, as I succumbed to sleep, I could hear myself singing...
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John Atkinson Posted: Apr 21, 2011 0 comments
The jewels of an audio Show are the rooms that wrest great sound quality from inexpensive ingredients. Such was the case in the second-floor room of the Sheraton shared by Wharfedale and Musical Fidelity. The Wharfedale Diamond 10.7 towers ($1299/pair)were being driven a Musical Fidelity M3i integrated amplifier ($1500) and M3CD player ($1500) that Sam Tellig raved about in his November 2010 column. If you don't count the kilobucks' worth of Transparent cabling that was being used, this system weighed in at a very affordable $4300. Elvis Presley's "Fever" sounded clean and open with excellent extension at both ends of the spectrum.
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John Atkinson Posted: Apr 21, 2011 1 comments
Though I have shown in the photo the prototype of the new BAT P1 phono cartridge, developed by Peter Lederman but with a feature unique to BAT that is said to reduce stylus jitter, the star of this large room was the pair of Scaena line-source speakers ($66,000/system) that were driven by BAT's new Rex tubed amplifier ($15,000, used here bridged for mono) but also proved unphotographable (at least by me). (You can find Jason Serinus' photo of the speaker at the 2010 Axpona here.)

The rest of the system included a Silver Circle Pure Audio 5.0 AC conditioner, Kubula-Sosna Master Reference cables, Critical Mass Systems stands, BAT VK-P10 phono preamp, BAT Rex line stage, Scaena subwoofers, and a Spiral Groove SG-2 turntable and Centroid tonearm. Listening to Marc Cohn's "Riding on a Ghost Train" and Miles Davis's "So What" from LP, it was though I were hearing these familiar pieces for the first time. There was a stability to the high frequencies, a clarity to the midrange, a depth to the low frequencies, that thrilled.

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John Atkinson Posted: Apr 21, 2011 0 comments
The Kingsound full-range electrostatics have been hits of recent Shows. At Axpona, Roger DuNaier was demming the latest version of the King II ($11,500/pair), which was driven by VAC's Statement tube amplification via Cardas Clear cable to great effect on Jane Monheit's "Somewhere Over the Rainbow." Her voice had that palpable presence that you only seem to get with panel speakers. I photographed Roger with the rear of the speaker, so you can see the King II's field-serviceable modular construction. There are seven full-range modules and three narrower tweeter modules and the corssover and HT supply is now housed in a separate enclosure, connected with industrial-quality, secure connectors.
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John Atkinson Posted: Apr 21, 2011 0 comments
Although in many ways Atlanta's Sheraton Downtown was ideally suited for an audio show—many large rooms; high ceilings—its rambling layout mean that some rooms were hard to find. I wouldn't have come across the second-floor room being shared by Carnegie Acoustics and Leon Speakers if I hadn't bumped into Danny Richie (pictured with the CST2 speaker) in an adjacent corridor. Carnegie had sensibly treated their space with room treatments; the sound of the CST2, which combines eight 5.25" Vipacor-cone woofers with a 1"-by-3" Mylar-fim planar tweeter, driven by a VAC amplifier and a Mach 2-modded Mac mini feeding a Tranquility DAC, was impressively neutral and fullrange on Patrica Barber's "A Test of Honey" from Cafe Blue.
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John Atkinson Posted: Apr 21, 2011 0 comments
Michael Fremer raved, raved about the Soundsmith SG-200 strain-gauge phono cartridge system in the March issue. "The SG-200 is a unique game-changing product," he wrote, so I made sure I checked it out at Axpona. In a system featuring Soundsmith's own HE150 MOSFETamplifiers and Dragonfly two-way standmounts ($1500/pair), the strain-gauge cartridge, mounted in a Schröder Reference tonearm on a VPI turntable, breathed new life into Dave Brubeck's "Take Five," with a clean, open sound and excellent upper-bass clarity. When Mikey write that the SG-200 was "as addicting as its proponents say," my experience at Axpona convinced me he was correct.
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John Atkinson Posted: Apr 21, 2011 0 comments
"Designed by Ear. Verified by Science." So says the promotional material from Nashville-based LSA, who were demming the pretty LSA1 Statement speaker ($2600/pair) at Axpona, driven by their 150Wpc Statement hybrid integrated amplifier ($5000). This amplifier uses a pair of Electroharmonix 6922 tubes in its preamp section but a solid-state output stage. The speaker combines a treated paper-cone woofer with an Aurum Cantus folded-ribbon tweeter and uses Alphacore air-cored inductors in its crossover. Listening to a laidback blues from George Faber, "It Beats Working," I was impressed by the smoothness of the highs and the low-frequency extension of this nicely finished two-way.
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John Atkinson Posted: Apr 21, 2011 1 comments
You can see here the dipole nature of the Orion 4, with the rear-firing tweeter, the back of the midrange unit, and one of the woofers.
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John Atkinson Posted: Apr 20, 2011 Published: Apr 21, 2011 0 comments
The larger speakers in the Role Audio room were the Model 100M from NSMT's Mastering Series ($5500/pair). An active two-way speaker, the 100M uses a coaxial drive-unit from SEAS in a well-finished enclosure made in the USA from formaldehyde-free materials. The sound, using a Squeezbox Touch and a Peachtree iDecco used as a DAC was rich, with good dynamics.
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John Atkinson Posted: Apr 21, 2011 3 comments
I wasn't surprised to see that Channel D was featuring Joseph Audio Pulsar two-way stand-mount speakers ($7000/pair) in their room. My experience of the Pulsar at Shows is that it offers more bass than you'd expect from its size, with an uncolored, naturally balanced midrange. But I was surprised that it was Jeff Joseph himself, seen here seated at the computer, who was demonstrating Channel D's Pure Music program. (Channel D's Rob Robinson, who was doing the dems of the Pure Vinyl LP-"ripping" program, can be seen standing second from the left.) The rest of the system in this room included. . .
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John Atkinson Posted: Apr 21, 2011 0 comments
Sonist's Randy Bankert was about to grab some lunch when I stopped by his room on the last day of the Show, but he graciously stayed on to explain what was new about the Concerto 4 speaker ($5895/pair). Art Dudley had reviewed the earler Concerto 3 a couple of years back and described it as coming close "to being the one true, affordable, all-around satisfying choice among the SET-friendly loudspeakers with which I'm familiar." I had found some cabinet resonant problems, however, which Randy had fixed by the time I auditioned the Concerto 3 at the 2010 Axpoina in Jacksonville. The new speaker uses two paper-cone woofers rather than one with the same ribbon tweeter and solid poplar front baffle, and boasts a claimed 97dB sensitivity. This allowed the Concerto 4 to fill the Atlanta room (sensibly treated with Real Traps) with sound with just 5Wpc from the EL84-fitted Glow Audio Amp One ($648). Source was a Cary CAD306 SACD player.
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John Atkinson Posted: Apr 21, 2011 0 comments
Loudspeakers from Kentucky-based Tyler Acoustics have created a bit of a buzz on the Internet, but Axpona was my first opportunity take a serious listen to them. The lastest version of the Taylo Reference System shown in the photo ($4800/pair) combines a 6" magnesium-cone midrange unit from SEAS with a 1" soft-dome tweeter from Scanspeak and a 15" woofer from Eminence in a sealed enclosure. Crossover frequencies are 150Hz and 2kHz. The system featured a Basis turntable, Krell CD player, Sutherland phono preamp, and Rogue preamp and monoblocks, wired with DH Labs cables.
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John Atkinson Posted: Apr 21, 2011 1 comments
The room shared by Audio Physic and Esoteric was one I returned to, as I couldn't quite believe the superb treble quality being produced by the 25th Anniversary edition of Audio Physic's Virgo speaker (to the right of the photo, $12,800/pair). Couldn't believe it? It was because this speaker was using a cone tweeter. But as AP's Reinhard Goerner explained, with the break-up problems of soft-dome tweeters now well-understood, it made engineering sense to use a cone. The Virgo's aluminum-cone midrange unit features a cast basket with minimal surface area to interfere with the diaphragm's backwave and the twin woofers are mounted on the enclosure sides to minimize vibrational excitation. Esoteric was featuring. . .
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John Atkinson Posted: Apr 21, 2011 7 comments
Definitely one of my two best sounds at Axpona, along with the BAT-Scaena room, was the Orion 4 dipole speaker (from $14,750/pair with analog line-level crossover), designed by Siegfried Linkwitz and with custom enclosures made by Wood Artistry. Quad-amped with two Bryston 9B four-channel amplifiers, a Pass Labs preamp, and a Marantz CD player, the "William Tell" section from Shostakovich's Symphony 15 had superb dynamic range, with a "quiet" quality that seemed like there was a lower level of spurious behavior from the room. This allowed a wealth of detail to be perceived even when the music was itself quiet.

Each Orion 4 weighs 85 lbs and uses five SEAS drive-units: two soft-dome tweeters, a magnesium-cone midrange unit, and two long-throw 10" woofers especially developed by SEAS for the open-baffle loading used by Linkwitz. The crossover frequencies are 90Hz and 1440Hz and the tweeters, the midrange unit, and each woofer are driven independently, though the woofers can be paralleled to allow tri-amping if only six amplifier channels are available.

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