AXPONA 2011
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AXPONA 2011
John Atkinson 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.

AXPONA 2011
John Atkinson 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.
AXPONA 2011
John Atkinson 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.

AXPONA 2011
Stephen Mejias 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...
AXPONA 2011
Stephen Mejias 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!

AXPONA 2011
Stephen Mejias 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.

AXPONA 2011
Stephen Mejias 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.

AXPONA 2011
Stephen Mejias 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.

AXPONA 2011
Stephen Mejias 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.

AXPONA 2011
Stephen Mejias 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.

AXPONA 2011
Stephen Mejias 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:

AXPONA 2011
Stephen Mejias 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.

AXPONA 2011
Stephen Mejias 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.

AXPONA 2011
Stephen Mejias Apr 19, 2011 0 comments
The Krell Phanton preamp made its debut at Axpona. It shares the steely, solid, no-nonsense look and feel of other Krell components, and is meant to partner with any of the company’s Evolution e-Series amplifiers. The Phantom is the first Krell preamp to include an optional crossover, so that the user can employ a satellite/subwoofer arrangement, without compromising sound quality.

The Phantom uses a dual-monaural circuit design, and receives power from a Krell current mode analog power supply housed in its own chassis. No negative feedback is used. The Phantom should be available later this summer; price estimated at $17,500. The crossover option adds $2500.

AXPONA 2011
Stephen Mejias 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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