AXPONA 2011

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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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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 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 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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Stephen Mejias Posted: Apr 15, 2011 Published: Apr 16, 2011 7 comments
Hey, as I type this, it’s 2am, which means it’s officially Record Store Day. Woo! Earlier in the week, I was feeling a bit bummed about not being able to participate in the festivities. Since I’d be covering Axpona, I figured there’d be no way that I’d get out of the hotel and down to a record shop. Don’t ask me why, but after 33 years of life, I continue to rob myself of opportunities, enforcing upon myself limitations that need not exist. It’s as if I’m still punishing myself for having been born. What is up with that? I don’t know. Good thing I’m getting soft in my old age, succumbing to peer pressure with much more enthusiasm than when I was a kid. A friend here at the show convinced me that I’d be out of my mind to pass up an opportunity to get a behind-the-scenes look at one of the country’s greatest independent record stores. So, at around 5pm this evening, he and I snuck out of the show and made the quick trip to Criminal Records in the colorful, entertaining Little Five Points section of Atlanta.
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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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