AXPONA 2011

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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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Stephen Mejias Posted: Apr 21, 2011 Published: Apr 20, 2011 3 comments
Although this photograph doesn’t express much of the equipment in Jeffrey Catalano’s High Water Sound suite, it does give some sense of the room’s vibe: warm, relaxed, soothing, effortless, lit with gold.

I smiled when I saw the great stacks of vinyl propped up against the room’s side wall—far more vinyl than can possibly be played during a 3-day event, one might think; but, if anyone could get through all of those sides, it would be Jeffrey Catalano.

I’ll happily confess now that I failed to do my job while in this room. I saw Catalano sitting there in the front row, looking forward, contemplating the music, and I thought about going up to him, asking him for details on the system—What are we listening to? What’s new?—but there was something so right about the scene, about the sound, about the moment, that I just couldn’t bring myself to cause a disruption. I’m sorry.

The system, Catalano later shared with me via e-mail:

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Stephen Mejias Posted: Apr 20, 2011 0 comments
I didn’t get to see much of Atlanta while at the show, but what I did see was beautiful. During breakfast one morning, a member of the Atlanta Audio Video Club led me outside to a quiet balcony where we enjoyed this view of the Atlanta skyline.

That UFO-shaped structure near the center of the image is the revolving restaurant, Polaris, atop the Hyatt Regency, on Peachtree Street in downtown Atlanta. Designed by John C. Portman, Jr., the Hyatt Regency was opened in 1967, and was the first hotel constructed around an atrium.

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Stephen Mejias Posted: Apr 20, 2011 4 comments
In just a couple of weeks, my boss, John “Ice Cool” Atkinson, will celebrate 25 years as editor of Stereophile, the greatest hi-fi magazine on the planet (and don’t you forget it). As editor, JA has refined the hi-fi industry in many ways, and has taught us all so much, but it’s perhaps his loudspeaker measurements which have been most influential and fascinating.

In these 25 years, JA has performed extensive technical analyses of well over 700 different loudspeakers, an accomplishment that, in my opinion, cannot be overestimated. On several occasions, I’ve had the privilege of watching John go through the process—a slow, long, often tedious, often thankless process, and one which often involves some very heavy lifting. The dude is tireless.

So, it was cool for me to see a large group of audiophiles and music lovers on hand to listen as JA discussed that process in detail, illuminating how and why he does what he does. “I’ll describe what I do,” he said, “what the measurements mean, what they don’t mean, and how we can use them to understand what we hear….”

That’s my boss!

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Stephen Mejias Posted: Apr 21, 2011 Published: Apr 20, 2011 7 comments
Pretty freaking drained at the end of a very long Saturday, I walked into the Capitol Ballroom and was surprised to see a live band—from outside the room, I had wondered if the music was being produced by some very fine hi-fi that I had somehow missed. (Funny, huh?)

Even more surprising was to see John Atkinson on stage, playing a smoking blues riff on the fretless bass. Joining JA were John Yurick on piano, Spiral Groove’s Allen Perkins on drums, and show organizer Steve Davis on guitar and vox.

After a few rocking numbers, Balanced Audio Technology’s Geoff Poor strolled up to the mic and let loose a few jazz standards. “This next song requires some audience participation,” Poor said. “It requires you to drink.”

Ready for a beer, JA gave way to Dean Peer on bass, and the band continued to rock and sway, providing the perfect nightcap to a long day.

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Stephen Mejias Posted: Apr 20, 2011 1 comments
Upon walking into the Napa Acoustic room, I heard many expressions of awe and disbelief as attendees searched for subwoofers and asked, again and again, if the products’ stated prices were correct. Indeed, the system here—Napa NA208 A amplifier ($399), NA208S speakers ($199), and DT-307C CD player ($399)—filled the room with solid, believable sound and music.

The brand made its debut at last year’s Jacksonville Axpona. While all of Napa’s current manufacturing takes place in China, the company’s Joseph Kwong told me he hopes to produce an affordable vacuum tube amp right at home, in Fremont, CA, in the not too distant future.

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Stephen Mejias Posted: Apr 20, 2011 4 comments
Here we see John Atkinson giving a karate chop to the problem of inaccurately stated voltage sensitivities. Hi-ya!

Problem: Loudspeakers are not flat, so manufacturers specify the most-overoptimistic figure they can find.

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Stephen Mejias Posted: Apr 20, 2011 3 comments
I enjoyed speaking with Role Audio’s Erol Ricketts, who is proud of his company’s formaldehyde-free designs. After researching the harmful effects of heavy exposure to toxic substances such as formaldehyde, Ricketts decided it would be best for his own health, and for the health of his company, family, and planet, to manufacture a new sort of loudspeaker, one with a small, and environmentally friendly, footprint.

Because Role Audio believes hi-fi should aid in the discovery of new music—a philosophy I hold dearly—all of the company’s products are named after ships, vessels for discovery. The slim Sampan ($1400/pair) measures just 4” W by 4” D by 37” H, and uses a single 3.5” driver in a transmission line design. Mated to a Peachtree Audio iDecco, the system impressed me with its transparency and solid stereo imaging; these speakers “disappeared” like no others I heard at the show.

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Stephen Mejias Posted: Apr 20, 2011 2 comments
Sound Ideas Stereo, a hi-fi dealership based in Gainesville, Florida, used a McIntosh MXA60 ($7500), “a full-blown McIntosh hi-fi in miniature,” to pump music into the long and busy corridor between the large Atlanta rooms and the great Capitol Ballroom, where seminars and live performances took place daily.

At any given moment during the show, I could pass by this exhibit to hear sweet sounds and smile at the lovely ladies who seemed enchanted by the MXA60.

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Stephen Mejias Posted: Apr 19, 2011 4 comments
Responses to my first “Entry Level” column have been wonderful—far more detailed, thoughtful, and encouraging than I could have imagined or hoped. Many of the letters I’ve received tell stories about first experiences with hi-fi, and, within those, many readers fondly recall building their own loudspeakers.

To many of today’s teens and young adults, the thought of building a loudspeaker would be completely foreign and unrealistic, if not plain irrational and silly: Why build a loudspeaker? But, decades ago, doing things yourself, with tools and instructions, was not only the easiest way of accomplishing a goal, but often also the best, cheapest, and most enjoyable and satisfying way—a way of life we’ve sadly forgotten.

Companies like Madisound and the Meniscus Audio Group try to preserve that tradition, offering all the parts and knowledge required to those who are interested in doing things themselves. Here we see an array of Madisound speakers, all built from kits. I spoke with Mark Sayer, speaker guy of Meniscus Audio Group, who has been building his own speakers since he was a child. For him, the experience is more about the process than the product, a way of slowing things down.

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Stephen Mejias Posted: Apr 19, 2011 0 comments
John Atkinson mentioned some of the trouble faced by MBL’s Jeremy Bryan in getting the best possible sound from his demo room. Bryan went to heroic lengths to tame his unruly room. One of the most obviously sonically challenged rooms I visited at Axpona was that held by Krell, who were showing their new Phantom preamp, scheduled to be available later this summer ($17,500), along with their Primo/Duo modular speaker system ($65,000/pair; designed specifically to be mated with Krell electronics), and the big Evolution 402e power amplifier ($18,500).

We listened to Sting doing a version of Jimi Hendrix’s “The Wind Cries Mary.” (Man, I once knew a girl named Mary; she could make the wind cry....) Although Krell’s Bill McKiegan had strategically placed a few RealTraps panels around the room, some sonic problems were still readily audible. The bass was boomy, largely due to the acoustic of the small, L-shaped room, but guitars and voices were attractive, and the soundstage was wide and deep. Afterward, we listened to a bluegrass track and I was impressed by the system’s speed and clarity.

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Stephen Mejias Posted: Apr 19, 2011 0 comments
Throughout the show, the Audioengine room was almost always busy; attendees seemed very attracted to the technology, design, and prices of Audioengine’s small, versatile speakers. When I walked in, a pair of A5 powered loudspeakers ($349/pair) were playing, and it was interesting to note their familiar sound, even while in an crowded and unfamiliar environment. My discussion of the A5 appears in our May issue, copies of which were being distributed in the Audioengine room and throughout Axpona.

Audioengine’s Brett Bargenquast was happy he’d decided to exhibit at the show. Traffic was steady, and the company sold several pairs of speakers during the three-day event.

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