AXPONA 2011

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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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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 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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Stephen Mejias Posted: Apr 16, 2011 0 comments
Well, not really miles, but definitely a lot. Feet and cones and spikes and pucks and all sorts of fun stuff. I kinda just wanted to run as fast as I could and fling myself right up onto this table to swim with all of these little goodies. But I managed to restrain myself.
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John Atkinson Posted: Apr 16, 2011 2 comments
"A North Carolina firm called Bob's Devices has joined my list of favorite phono step-up suppliers," wrote Art Dudley in June 2010. There in the Analog Ballroom at Axpona was Bob Sattin himself, showing off his range of affordable step-ups, using selected new and vintage transformers from manufacturers like CineMag, Sowter, and Altec.
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John Atkinson Posted: Apr 16, 2011 1 comments
While making my way to the Goldmine seminar room at Axpona, to catch Michael Fremer's turntable set-up talk, I came across pianist John Yurick playing some smooth jazz improvisations to a background of a Lamborghini and Aston Martin that happened to be parked in front of the Stereophile booth.
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Stephen Mejias Posted: Apr 15, 2011 Published: Apr 16, 2011 1 comments
Check out the sexy Oracle Paris ($3150), available in four high-gloss finishes. This one is in red, and ladies love red.

It uses a carbon fiber Paris tonearm ($950), which begins as a Pro-Ject 9cc, but gets dressed up with Oracle’s Micro Vibration Stabiliser System, developed for the more expensive Delphi Mk.VI, and which uses a silicone damping bath and precision plunger fitted to the tonearm tube. The Paris phono cartridge ($1150), a high-output moving-magnet design, is machined from a magnesium-aluminum alloy. Fully assembled and pre-calibrated for a nearly plug-and-play installation, the Paris package costs $5000. The ‘table uses a semi-floating suspension system with Sorbothane decoupling, has a two-piece acrylic/aluminum platter system, includes adjustable Delrin feet and a Delrin record clamp, and uses the same motor and drive electronics found in the Delphi Mk.VI.

“We have a hard time compromising,” confessed Oracle’s Jacques Riendeau. “With the Paris, we pushed the limits of performance while hitting a lower price point.”

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Stephen Mejias Posted: Apr 16, 2011 4 comments
The YG Acoustics Anat III Signature ($119,000/pair) employs a new circuit in its main module which enables the speaker to play louder while minimizing midrange distortion. Though the Anat maintains its rated sensitivity of 89dB, its impedance is more even, which should make the speaker easier to drive. Completing the system were a Veloce preamp, Krell 402 amplifier, dCS Scarlatti system, and Kubala Sosna Elation cables.

Alright. As some graceful piano came slowly tinkling into the room, I was immediately struck by the system’s combination of scale and delicacy. And when the first voice came in, it was one of those holy shit moments. And when the second voice came in, it was another one of those holy shit moments. And when the two voices came together, all I could do was sit there and grin like a dummy, in awe of the texture and tone and exquisite delineation of images. And then the percussion—fast and clean and authoritative. It added up to a compelling complete performance, just as sonically impressive as it was emotionally involving.

I heard myself thinking wild thoughts: It’s incredible that reproduced music can sound this good…. Sitting there listening to Herbie Hancock’s The Imagine Project, I was having the same sort of reaction as when walking the halls of a museum or strolling down 34th Street between Fifth and Sixth Avenues, looking up at the Empire State Building: I’m just sort of amazed that humans can create such beauty.

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