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.
I have made a point of visiting rooms at Shows featuring speakers from the Adam, the German manufacturer successfully extending their expertise with professional monitor loudspeakers into the world of consumer audio. In the room at Axpona, strategically treated with RealTraps, Adam were showing off their Tensor Beta towers ($31,000/pair) with Accuphase amplification and CD player via Transparent cable. The speaker's two Hexacone woofers are mounted on the front and back of the lower enclosure and driven by an internal amplifier. The midrange and treble enclosure is decoupled from the woofer cabinet with three sand-filled leather bags and both double-walled enclosures have the space between the walls filled with sand. The glory of this speaker is. . .
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.
"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.
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. . .
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. . .
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.
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.
The Smyth SVS Realiser A8 system is a revolutionary product, found Kalman Rubinson in his November 2010 "Music in the Round" column. After the listener has the sound field produced by his system at the entrance to his ear canals analyzed with tiny probe microphones, the Realiser synthesizes that soundfield with Stax electrostatic headphones. The effect is though the listener was not using headphones but listening to his system; and unlike conventional headphone listening, the perceived sound is outside the head and if the listener turns his head, the sound remains centered. Even in surround.
At Axpona, Smyth were subjecting listeners first to a 5.1 system, then calibrating the Realiser for each listener, then allowing them to switch between the real thing and the version produced by the headphones. Everyone I spoke to, including Ivy Johnson shown in the photo, thought the effect amazingly lifelike; my regret was that I did not have time to experience it for myself.
Although in many ways Atlanta's Sheraton Downtown was ideally suited for an audio showmany large rooms; high ceilingsits 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.
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.
Legacy's large Whisper speakers ($20,900/pair with digital-domain crossover and four channels of ICE-Power amplification for the woofers) had been one of my best sounds of the 2010 Axpona in Florida. However, the Whisper hadn't sounded as good as I was anticipating at this year's Montreal Show, where they were being demmed in too small a room and loading up the room with low frequencies as a result, even with room correction applied and the speaker's unique woofer alignment. At the 2011 Axpona, the Whisper, seen here with designer Bill Dudleston who is showing off one of the speaker's dual-woofer cardioid bass sections, the company had the opposite problem, witht he speakers being demmed in an enormous, live-sounding room. Even so, driven by Coda CX amplifiers, a Coda CL preamplifier, and an Ayon tubed CD player, the Whispers almost managed to fill that room with high-quality sound.
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.
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. . .
One of the things I like about audio Shows is when they have a full program of fringe events. The 2011 Axpona continued this tradition. Not only did Michael Fremer demonstrate how to set up turntables and Dean Peer talk about his experiences as a recording musician, but Channel D's Rob Robinson shows Showgoers how to rip their LPs to their PCs, author Jim Smith explained how to get better sound from your system, Mark Waldrep of AIX Records demonstrated HD music in full surround with 3D video, Enjoy the Music's Steve Rochlin gave talks on the state of the industry, I explained how I measure loudspeakers and what the measurements mean, and Rives Audio's Richard Bird, shown here in action, talked about how best to cope with the acoustics of the listening room. Good, essential stuff.