AXPONA 2011

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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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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 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 19, 2011 0 comments
In his WS Distributing room, Tom Myers had set up a system made of a Vincent CD-S7 CD player (available now for $2199.95 in black or silver), Thorens TD 2030 turntable with blue acrylic plinth ($3699) and Benz Ace cartridge ($700) , Vincent amplification, and Thiel SCS4 loudspeakers on Pangea speaker stands. With its top-to-bottom coherence, the system was easy to enjoy. Moving from the Vincent CD player to the Thorens turntable added measures of body and scale, which I found even more involving.
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Stephen Mejias Posted: Apr 19, 2011 3 comments
There was nothing dirty, mean, or mighty unclean about the Audio Power Labs TNT 833 monoblock power amplifier, a pure class-A, push-pull design rated to deliver 200W into 8 ohms. Each amp weighs 160 lbs and uses 833C output tubes, 6550 driver tubes, and 12BH7 pre-driver tubes. The price will be somewhere between $150,000–$170,000/pair.

The system, including an Audio Research LS27 preamplifier, Musical Fidelity M6CD CD player, Vandersteen 3A loudspeakers, and aided by an array of RealTraps room treatments, produced big, robust voices, and had a good sense of musical flow.

Audio Power Labs’ Clyde Holobaugh confessed that the TNT 833 has been “a labor of love,” requiring over two years in design and development. His goal was to build a class-A, push-pull design that would be powerful, while also eliminating distortion.

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Stephen Mejias Posted: Apr 19, 2011 2 comments
And I couldn’t resist snapping a shot of one guest in the Audioengine room, who was listening to the company’s A5 ($349) while reading my review of the speaker.

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