AXPONA 2011

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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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Stephen Mejias Posted: 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.

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Stephen Mejias Posted: Apr 19, 2011 0 comments
My review sample of the Audioengine A5 was dressed in a clean, handsome satin black, but the speaker is also available in what the company calls “caramel,” a carbonized solid bamboo, which adds elegance to the look and $100 to the price. In bamboo, the A5 costs $449.
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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 18, 2011 0 comments
I ended Friday night with a trip to the Goldmine Live Music Area, where the 20-piece West Georgia Saxophone Ensemble played an exquisite, soul-stirring piece in tribute to Japan. The slow-moving, thoroughly enveloping music seemed to blossom magically and was so painfully beautiful, expressive, and mournful I wanted to cry.
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Stephen Mejias Posted: Apr 18, 2011 1 comments
Wow. Here’s a look inside the 200W BMC AMP M1 monoblock ($15,580/pair), with its massive 2-kilowatt toroidal transformer.

BMC stands for Balanced Music Concept. The company was founded by Bernd Hugo and Carlos Candeias, two audio designers based in Germany. BMC’s products are designed in Europe, but manufactured in China to keep prices down. While $15,580 is a lot of money for most anyone, BMC products contain a number of interesting design quirks, including modular construction for easy upgrades, Superlink signal transmission mode which “skips any coding process” and is said to create a wider soundstage with increased detail resolution, and Digital Intelligence Gain Management which eliminates the need for a preamplifier and allows a DAC to connect directly to an amplifier.

Whatever. Just look at the amp’s innards. The level of construction and detail look heroic! I wouldn’t want to make one of these things, but listening to it sure was fun.

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Stephen Mejias Posted: Apr 18, 2011 1 comments
There was a big, physical, purposeful, yet delicate sound coming from the Aaudio Imports/Cruze First Audio room.

The system was made of Lansche No. 5.1 loudspeakers ($45,000/pair); BMC AMP M1 monoblock power amplifiers ($15,580/pair), BDCD1 belt-drive CD player/transport ($5790), DAC1 PRE D/A converter/preamp ($5790), and MCCI MC phono preamp ($3890); Bergmann Magne turntable and tonearm ($12,000); Stage III Mantikor speaker cables ($16,500/2.5 m), Gryphon interconnects ($6300/1m), and Analord Prime phono cable ($2900); Stage III Vortex ($2400/1.5m), Monotaur ($4000), and Zyklop ($6000/1.5m) power cords; Weizhi PRS-6 Pure power distributor ($3200); and Acapella Fondato Silenzio base ($3100) and LaMusika Puck/3 couplers ($490).

I sort of just zoned out in this room, nodding my head to the music, which transported me easily to some comfortable, smoky jazz club in 1950s New York City.

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Stephen Mejias Posted: Apr 18, 2011 0 comments
A look inside the Qualia & Co. Indigo Blue Reference preamplifier seems to reveal solid construction. Qualia products, manufactured in Japan, are scheduled to be available in the US sometime this summer.
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Stephen Mejias Posted: Apr 18, 2011 2 comments
Take a look at this beauty, the Hartsfield from Classic Audio Loudspeakers, a tribute to the original Hartsfield, introduced in 1954 by the James B. Lansing Sound Company. In John Wolff’s version, a 15” low-frequency driver couples to a long exponential horn; above 500Hz, a 2” midrange unit couples to a horn-lens assembly, designed to provide wide dispersion and uniform high-frequency sound distribution.

Something about this speaker gets people feeling all romantic. When I walked into the room, I sat down behind a couple whose hands were joined and whose arms swung in the space between their separate chairs, happily and slowly, in time to the music. After they departed, their places were taken by a second couple. This time, however, the woman simply moved her seat as close as possible to her companion’s, creating a virtual love seat, so that the two could hold each other while the music played.

What the hell? Was this a hi-fi show or some sort of love fest?

I couldn’t blame them, though. The system was playing some extremely gorgeous, palm-in-eye-socket piece of violin music, and it sounded sweet, inviting, and nearly rapturous, with delicate, extended highs and easy, voluptuous mids.

Designer John Wolff said something about field-coils and 106dB...

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Stephen Mejias Posted: Apr 18, 2011 0 comments
A trio of Musical Fidelity V-Series products: V-CAN headphone amplifier ($199), V-DAC D/A converter ($299), and the asynchronous V-Link 24/96 USB to S/PDIF converter ($169), all tied together by budget-priced AudioQuest cables. These products may be affordable, but they offer true high-end sound quality.
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Stephen Mejias Posted: Apr 18, 2011 1 comments
A selection of RealTraps room treatments sit quietly in a quiet room. Discounted prices on RealTraps treatments were available to interested attendees, and many exhibitors used the popular panels to help tame their unwieldy rooms.
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Stephen Mejias Posted: Apr 18, 2011 0 comments
In the Immedia room, a sweet, relaxed sound was coming from a system made of Spiral Groove Allegra 2.0 loudspeakers, a Spiral Groove E60A power amplifier on a Finite Elemente Pagode platform, Audio Research CD8 CD player, Qualia & Co. Indigo Blue Reference preamp, and Spiral Groove cables.

At the time I walked into the room, Immedia’s Allen Perkins was in the nearby Analog Ballroom, tending to a disassembled sample of his Spiral Groove turntable, discussing its technology and design, while Michael Fremer used a fully assembled SG ‘table to give a turntable setup seminar.

So, though I didn’t get to hear vinyl, I nevertheless enjoyed the music. The system filled the rather large room with a lovely, easy sound, with solid stereo images and strong, compelling center fill. I don’t recall what we were listening to, but my notes quote the song’s lyrics—“I will rock you gently...”—which seems appropriate for this room and system.

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