AXPONA 2011

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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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John Atkinson Posted: Apr 21, 2011 0 comments
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. . .
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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 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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Stephen Mejias Posted: Apr 19, 2011 3 comments
A few weeks ago, I had the pleasure of meeting with Dan Laufman, founder of Emotiva, and his daughter, Jessica, Emotiva’s new marketing director. So, what I’m about to say has nothing to do with business, but, then again, maybe it does: Sitting there at our dinner table, across from Dan and next to Jessica, I was soon struck by the genuine warmth, care, and admiration the two held for one another. It was sweet. And, over the course of our meal, I bought into Dan Laufman’s discussion of his company’s core values: pride, reliability, customer service, building strong relationships with clients, offering high-quality products at affordable prices, sharing a passion for music.

Emotiva’s products have often struck me as cold and unwelcoming—odd, because the people behind the products are the complete opposite—but I must confess that my opinion has been based more on nomenclature and appearance than anything else. So I was anxious to visit the Emotiva room and listen again, with my revised perspective in place and my skepticism in check...

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