AXPONA 2011

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Stephen Mejias Posted: Apr 18, 2011 1 comments
Evolution Home Theater is an Atlanta-based dealer carrying products from B&W, Pioneer, Marantz, Pro-Ject, Arcam, Sony, Musical Fidelity, Definitive Technology, and Sonus Faber, among others.

While in the Evolution Home Theater room, I enjoyed speaking with Andy Ritz, whose Ritz Interiors offers a wide selection of solutions for room treatments, specializing in whole-room custom treatments but also happy to provide single panels for smaller jobs, each project available with customizable fabrics and designs for “a true theater look and feel.”

I also enjoyed chatting with B&W’s Eric Joy, who told me that the company’s new P5 headphones (seen here) have been a great success. Indeed, I’ve even started seeing people in NYC sporting the good-looking headphones. At just $299, the P5 might offer the discerning music lover a fine alternative to Monster’s Beats by Dr. Dre headphones.

I sat down and listened to a system made of the P5, along with a suite of Musical Fidelity V-Series components—V-CAN headphone amp, V-DAC, and V-Link asynchronous 24/96 USB to S/PDIF converter—tied to one another and to an Apple iBook G4 by AudioQuest cables. There was nothing muddy about Muddy Waters singing “You Can’t Lose What You Ain’t Never Had.” (So true.) The sound was perhaps a little laidback, smooth, and seductive, with a good sense of air around Muddy’s voice, a weighty, well-defined bass, and great tone to the guitar.

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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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John Atkinson Posted: Apr 17, 2011 5 comments
The modest-looking system being demmed by Atlanta dealer Playhouse Audio was my final stop on the first day of the Show but turned out to be one of the highlights of that day. Nola's new three-way Contender speaker ($3400/pair) was being driven by an Audia Flight FL2 integrated amplifier, with the source a Mach 2-modified Mac mini feeding USB data to a Peachtree iNova that was being used as a DAC. Cabling was all Harmonic Technology: Pro-10 speaker cable and Magic 2 interconnects, as well as a Silver Oval interconnect from Analysis Plus and a Platinum USB cable from Wireworld. In one of those too-rare audiophile moments where one track organically led to another to another to another. I listened to Dave Grisman and Tony Rice ("Turn of the Century" from Tone Poems), Taj Mahal and V.M. Bhatt ("Come On Over My House"), Herbie Hancock and Luciana Souza ("Amelia" from River: the Joni Letters), but a discovery for me among the music played was a live version of Nat King Cole's "Nature Boy" by Swedish singer Lisa Ekdahl. Nice. Very nice.
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John Atkinson Posted: Apr 17, 2011 3 comments
I have never been a fan of transmission-line speakers. My experience has been that too often resonant problems in the line color the speaker's upper bass. But I didn't hear any such problems with the Acoustic Zen Crescendo speakers ($16,000/pair), seen here with designer Robert Lee. The Crescendo combines two 5" midrange units with magnesium-impregnated paper cones placed either side of a horn-loaded tweeter with two 8" woofers that use ceramic-coated "non-pressed" paper cones, these loaded with a transmission line venting at the speaker's base. Driven by a Triode Corporation 20Wpc TRV-845SE integrated amplifier ($6000), which uses two 845 output tubes running in class-A, and a Triode TRV-CD4SE CD player, the sound in this room was uncolored and extended at both frequency extremes, revealed by a superb recording of a female singer accompanied by a double bass.
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John Atkinson Posted: Apr 17, 2011 0 comments
The Avatar Acoustics room featured the Rosso Fiorentini Siena speakers ($24,995/pair) that made their North American debut at last January's CES, seen here with Avatar's Darren Censullo. A four-way sealed-box design, the Siena features two 8" aluminum-cone woofers, a 6.5" paper-cone midrange unit, a 1" silk-dome tweeter, and a Murata ultrasonic generator and produced a big sweep of sound on what appeared to be the Show's ubiquitous dem track, Nils Lofgren's live acoustic number "Keith Don't Go," driven by an AMR AM-77.1 integrated amplifier. But converting Nils' bits from an AMR CD-77.1 CD player used as a transport was AMR's new DP-77 D/A converter ($4995). Uniquely, this offers a choice of two DAC chips, one a non-oversampling 16-bit type which is recommended for CD playback, the other a 32-bit type optimized for playback of high sample-rate data, which offers minimum-phase, apodizing, and "organic" reconstruction filters.

The DP-77 has an asynchronous USB input that can accept data with sample rates up to 192kHz and jitter is reduced by using a high-precision clock and rather than adjusting its frequency in continuous steps to match the average rate of the incoming data, which can allow jitter to bleed through to the DAC chip, the DP-77's clock switches between 28 million discrete frequencies.

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John Atkinson Posted: Apr 17, 2011 0 comments
Back in the day, you couldn't cruise the corridors at an audio Show without hearing Willie Nelson's arrangement of "Stardust" coming from every open door. So it was with a feeling of nostalgia that I walked into the Sanders room at Axpona and heard that familiar voice. Providing the tunes was an all-Sanders system featuring the Model 10c speakers ($13,000/pair including 500Wpc bass amplifier and crossover module), which combines an electrostatic panels for the midrange and highs with a transmission line-loaded 10" moving-coil woofer. Unusually, the active crossover operates in the digital domain, operating at 24/96 and splitting the signal at 172Hz with 48dB/octave slopes, which should ameliorate the problem blending the omnidirectional woofer with the dipolar panel. With a Sanders line stage, Sanders electrostatic amplifier ($4000), and Sanders cables—Roger Sanders feels strongly that a system should designed as a system—the 10cs sounded unexpectedly dynamic.
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John Atkinson Posted: Apr 17, 2011 1 comments
I first heard the Voxativ Ampeggio speaker ($29,750/pair) at the 2011 Montreal Show, where I was gobsmacked by what I heard. In a beautiful, high-gloss enclosure from the Schimmell piano company was a single drive-unit with an old-fashioned "whizzer" cone that resembled but wasn't a Lowther unit, which is was loaded with a rear-loaded horn. Such designs offer enormously high sensitivity—the speakers at Axpona filled the room with sound using a Fi WE421A single-ended amplifier ($3275) that offered just 4Wpc for its single dual-triode output tube—but my experience with Lowthers is that they can sound equally enormously colored. But the Ampeggios, seen here with importer Gideon Schwartz, just produced the same uncolored, dynamic-sounding music in Atlanta as they had in Canada. I'll be driving up to Artie Dudley's in upstate New York in a few weeks to listen to and measure the Voxativs in his room. Intrigued by what I'll find.
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John Atkinson Posted: Apr 17, 2011 2 comments
MBL's Jeremy Bryan had an interesting problem when set up his system at Axpona, in that while the hotel room was large, it was also double-story, with a 16' ceiling and an acoustic nightmare of a mezzanine level at the rear. Jeremy, shown in the photo next to the unanticipated in-room stairway, solved it by packing the mezzanine floor with queen-size mattresses that had been emptied from other hotel rooms. The system was the same used at SSI in Montreal two weeks ago—101E Mk.2 omnidirectional speakers driven by gigantic 9011 monoblock amplifiers, a 6010D preamp, a 1621A CD transport, and a 1611F D/A converter—and I listened to the same hi-rez solo piano recording made by MBL's long-time chief engineer Jürgen Reis, "Walchensee, Mondnacht," performed by Martin Vatter, from the album Klangbilder. Once again, the piano sound was disturbingly lifelike, with full-range dynamics.
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John Atkinson Posted: Apr 16, 2011 2 comments
An enthusiastic crowd turned up on the first morning of the Show to catch Michael Fremer's workshop on how to optimally set-up a turntable. With the help of close-up video, Michael used a Spiral Groove turntable and arm, and Lyra cartridge to show how to optimize headshell offset, overhang, antiskating, VTA, azimuth, and other analog mysteries. The session is being repeated Saturday at 11:30am in the Goldmine seminar room.
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Stephen Mejias Posted: Apr 15, 2011 Published: Apr 16, 2011 1 comments
The Oracle Paris turntable acted as the analog source in a system which also included Oracle Audio electronics (SI 1000 integrated amplifier, DAC 1000 preamplifier-D/A converter, Paris phono preamplifier), 4-way Induction Dynamics ID1.15 loudspeakers ($17,750/pair; sexy red finish adds $2500/pair), and Kimber Select cables (all-copper KS6063 speaker cable: $4400/8ft pair; copper-silver hybrid KS6065 speaker cable: $8000/8ft pair; copper-silver hybrid KS1026 interconnects: $1320/1m; Paladium power cords: around $1200).

Early on Friday morning, when I walked into the room, I heard more surface noise than I would like, but the music was nevertheless compelling, with images that just seemed to grow and grow and grow from a dark background. I heard a classical guitar rendition of “Stairway to Heaven” that managed to both rock and sway. While looking down to take notes, I could almost imagine live musicians in the room with me.

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Stephen Mejias Posted: Apr 16, 2011 57 comments
The Daniel Hertz M1 ($100,000/pair), designed by Mark Levinson (the man), uses a high-frequency horn, a 12” mid-woofer, and an 18” woofer. The stainless steel frame surrounding the horn is said to optimize waveform termination and imaging quality, while those frames surrounding the woofers are used to increase the rigidity of the drivers. The speaker is divided internally into two sections: One section for the horn and 12” driver, damped using sheep’s wool for its high mass and absorptive properties, and one section with two tuned ports for the 18” driver.

As seen here, the M1 is designed to be powered by four Telikos M5 Mono Reference amplifiers ($8000 each): Each channel uses one M5 switched to frequencies above 80Hz and one M5 switched to frequencies below 80Hz. Also in the system was a Telikos M6 preamp ($10,000). The source was a $400 laptop running WAV files from iTunes.

Interesting story: Daniel Hertz (the company) takes its name from the two sides of Mark Levinson’s family. Daniel Levinson was Mark’s father, while Heinrich Hertz (1857-1894), a German physicist and the first to demonstrate the existence of electromagnetic waves, was Mark’s great uncle on his mother’s side.

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John Atkinson Posted: Apr 16, 2011 4 comments
"It's fitting for the world premier of the Da Vinci 384k DAC to happen on the first day of Axpona," explained Light Harmonic's Larry Ho, "as today is Leonardo da Vinci's birthday." 384k? Yes, the Da Vinci DAC ($11,999 regular price, $8999 Axpona price [NOTE: The actual retail price ended up at $20k-ed.]) will operate at sample rates up to 384kHz. At the show, in a system featuring Wilson Sophia 3 speakers driven by Pass Labs amplification, a 2L recording of Ole Bull's violin concerto, sourced from a Mac 2-modded Mac mini running Pure Music and recorded with a 352.8kHz sample rate, according to the DAC's front panel display, offered up some of the sweetest-sounding, natural violin sound and the most solid stereo imaging I have experienced from a classical recording. The 384k DAC uses the USB2.0 protocol and functions on a Mac without a driver having to be installed.
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John Atkinson Posted: Apr 16, 2011 1 comments
Electric bassist Dean Peer's concerts with drummer Bret Mann at the Montreal Show two weeks ago had been a highlight for me of that Show. At the Atlanta Show, Dean Peer was scheduled to take part in a jam session Saturday night, but Friday and Saturday afternoon, he gave a 60-minute talk on how he approaches playing the bass, making recordings, and how a musician and composer became involved in the world of audiophiles. He also played some of his compositions, including a favorite of mine from his first album Ucross, which was released exactly 20 years ago. Can't beat that live music!

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