AXPONA 2013

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Jason Victor Serinus Posted: Mar 15, 2013 0 comments
My first opportunity to hear the exaSound e20 DSD/DXD/PCM DAC ($2500) did not disappoint. The company that self-effacingly identifies itself as "exaSound," with a small "e," played along with surprisingly extended Janszen 2A2.1 electrostatic loudspeakers ($7495/pair),, which are reputedly flat to 40Hz, and the Bryston Power Pac 250 amp ($2350) to deliver a beautiful smooth, wide soundstage on a DSD recording from Channel Classics.
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Jason Victor Serinus Posted: Mar 15, 2013 2 comments
If you value smoothness and liquidity, the eye-catching system from Beauty of Sound and KT Audio Imports was to fall in love with. Playing Aaron Neville's aptly named LP Warm Your Heart, the sound was so warm, sweet and mellow, and the presentation so beautiful and spacious, that it was a challenge not to feel as though I had died and gone to heaven.
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Jason Victor Serinus Posted: Mar 15, 2013 0 comments
JPauls Design of Cary, IL offered a handsome, visually sophisticated set-up that paired Wisdom Audio's L75 loudspeakers ($18,700/pair), SCS subwoofer ($4000), and SC-1 System Controller ($6500) with Krell's Phantom III preamp ($5500), Connect media server ($2500), and Evolution 2250e amplifier ($8000). There was a lot of rapping going on, with music interrupted for explication, but what I heard of Johnny Cash displayed a very warm and inviting midrange. A recording of drums favored slam over transparency and natural timbre.
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Jason Victor Serinus Posted: Mar 15, 2013 0 comments
Lowther-America showcased their prototype, 98dB-sensitive speakers. Aimed at the DIYer, but potentially available in finished form, the open-baffle design uses a Lowther PM5a, Rythmic subwoofer with dedicated servo amplifier, and SLS ribbon tweeter crossed over at 11kHz (DIY parts cost approx. $4500, custom-built approx. $12,000).
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Jason Victor Serinus Posted: Mar 15, 2013 0 comments
As Halie Loren sang her distinctly un-Peggy Lee version of "Fever," I reflected on how much I love the color and warm of Unison Research electronics. The internal glow of the sound, and the sweetness of the electric keyboard, especially stood out. Yummy.
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Jason Victor Serinus Posted: Mar 15, 2013 0 comments
The boys from Illinois in the Sonic Hemisphere room were in high sales mode, as in talk loud over the music. Playing their larger Fidelity One 3-way loudspeakers ($5750/pair) with an Oppo CD player, Nottingham turntable, K&K phono preamp, Carey pre-amp, and Clayton Audio amp—models and prices not supplied - the sound was a little shouty, and distant at lower volumes. Offered a "female vocal"—don't you love that term, "female vocal"?—it's as generic as an offer of "red wine" without the vintage—I enjoyed the nice midrange on a track by jazz artist Anne Bisson. The bass boomed, but not to the extent it boomed in some rooms. Not auditioned was the 2-way Fidelity Monitor ($1925/pair).
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John Atkinson Posted: Mar 15, 2013 2 comments
The Chicago Show was my second opportunity to hear the unique circular-arc line array speakers designed by legendary audio engineer Don Keele, who was for many years the speaker reviewer at the long-gone Audio magazine. The 5'-tall CBT36 covers a 36° vertical arc, and with its 72 ¾" tweeters and 18 3.5" midrange units, all sourced from Dayton, projects a tailored wavefront that both allows for a very wide sweet spot from where a stereo image can be perceived and doesn't fall off with distance in the usual manner. The speakers used a DEQX digital crossover and were being driven by an Acurus amplifier. They were operating down to 45Hz, below which a subwoofer took over.
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John Atkinson Posted: Mar 15, 2013 0 comments
In the second Kyomi Audio room, E.A.R. USA's Dan Meinwald was doing an effective dem of the Marten Django XL speakers ($15,000/pair) that Erick Lichte favorably reviewed in September 2012. He used a prototype CAT tube amplifier, a CAT SL1 Renaissance tube preamplifier, and an Esoteric K-1 DAC with standalone clock fed audio data from Amarra. Cabling appeared to be all Magnan. With the Swedish speakers set up firing along the room's diagonal, low-frequency room modes were tamed and vocal music blossomed, whether it was Peggy Lee singing "Fever," Paul McCartney singing a demo of "Mother Nature's Son," or Neil Young live from Massey Hall.
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Jason Victor Serinus Posted: Mar 15, 2013 2 comments
When Steve Davis told me that people were hungry for an audio show in Chicago, he wasn’t kidding. What Davis believes to be over 4000 attendees—2000 tickets had been sold before the Show opened—visited over the course of three days, March 8–10. They mobbed many of the rooms on Saturday and actually managing to keep things lively in most of the rooms I visited on the 8th floor on Sunday. And that was with people having to choose among 90 exhibit rooms, a bunch of table displays, an art show, multiple seminars, and lively marketplace that together extended over five floors of the Doubletree in Rosemont (Ground, mezzanine, and all of floors 7, 8, and 9) near O’Hare Airport. (My thanks to John Atkinson for standing outside in the pouring rain to get the photograph of the hotel.)

I don’t know what the sound was like at Chicago’s last consumer audio show, sponsored by Stereophile, which took place in the Palmer House Hilton in the Loop in 1999, but at the Doubletree, a large number of dealers and manufacturers managed to produce good to excellent sound within the confines of hotel rooms that they had never before exhibited in.

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Jason Victor Serinus Posted: Mar 15, 2013 0 comments
There was a lot of major explication going on in the Marantz room, as in you'll hear some music if only you'll entertain our track-punctuating spiel, but when I did hear a bit of Chris Jones on the just introduced Marantz Reference NA 1151 network audio player/DAC ($3500), my interest was piqued by the depth and weight of the sound. Better yet was Sensemayá from the Channel Classics hybrid SACD of music by Revueltas. Here, the new Marantz Reference SA 1153 SACD/CD player ($4000) and Reference PM 1153 integrated amplifier ($5000), feeding Boston Acoustics M350 loudspeakers ($2500/pair), surprised me with their big soundstage and engaging depth. Even if the core sound of the lowest percussion wasn't totally fleshed out, the way the system delivered what highs and lows the speakers (45Hz–30kHz ±3dB) could produce suggests this may be some of the best audio equipment Marantz has yet released.
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John Atkinson Posted: Mar 15, 2013 4 comments
I had been looking forward to auditioning the 10th Anniversary Edition of Scaena's Silver Ghost speakers at the 2013 CES, but as I reported, there was a curious lack of recorded ambience. The Silver Ghosts, which cost $153,000/system with two active subwoofers, sounded much better at AXPONA, driven by Audio Research amplification. The front end was the new dCS Vivaldi rig and cabling was all Silversmith Audio Palladium. A duet between a woman singer and a double bass on the old Gloria Gaynor hit "I Will Survive" was absolutely convincing in its tonality and musicality—with plenty of recorded ambience!
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Jason Victor Serinus Posted: Mar 15, 2013 1 comments
Handsome Vapor Audio Cirrus Black loudspeakers ($3995/pair)—I don't have a clue as to why speakers of blond wood are named "black," unless it’s a Harry Potter reference—mated with exotically named Arte Forma Due Volta monoblock amplifiers ($5500/pair) and Thalia preamplifier ($2250), a B.M.C. DAC1 ($5690), Antipodes DV2 music server ($3299), Antipodes Reference speaker cables ($2200/set) and interconnects ($1900), Balanced Power Technologies PC-9LN power cables ($499) and BP-3.5 power conditioner ($2399), and ATS Acoustics room treatments to produce sound that I found nicely illumined, albeit a little hard and unyielding. The system may not have penetrated to the heart of the music, but the sound was very attractive, solid, and well-controlled.
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John Atkinson Posted: Mar 15, 2013 0 comments
In Pro Musica's second room, Dynaudio's Confidence C1 Signature speakers ($8500/pair in Signature finish, $7700/pair in standard Mk.II finish) were driven by Naim's SuperUniti integrated streaming amplifier ($6000), hooked up with Naim NACA5 speaker cable ($15/foot). I listend again to some of Ken Christianson's recordings on the Naim label, including a Schubert Symphony 5 performed by Iona Brown leading the Norwegian Chamber Orchestra. Sonics, music, balance, communication—I wanted for nothing.
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John Atkinson Posted: Mar 14, 2013 0 comments
I loved the TAD Compact Reference CR1 speakers when I reviewed them in January 2012. And I am also a fan of the Parasound Halo JC1 monoblock amplifier. But when I walked into the Blue Smoke room at AXPONA and saw the latter driving the former, I was a little taken aback as this is not a combination I would have thought worked well together, both speakers and amplifiers tending toward the lean and clean side of things. But only a fool would allow his expectations to affect what he heard and the sound in the room was superb: clean, yes, but not lean; a rich, extended low end but without bass boom; and a wealth of detail with the feeling of anything being spotlit. The MSB Diamond DAC 4 with Femto Clock, the Argento cables, and the Bag End Electronic Bass Traps must have had something to do with the great sound, of course, but the source, Blue Smoke's new Black Box II (to be priced around $8000 when available) must have been the key.
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John Atkinson Posted: Mar 14, 2013 5 comments
"Do you hear that difference?" asked Shunyata's Grant Samuelson. Indeed I did. Grant was playing a track from singer-songwriter Ray LaMontagne on Focal speakers and had replaced the Marantz amplifier's and disc player's stock AC cords with Shunyata cords; the voice and instruments became slightly better differentiated from one another. Then,instead of plugging the AC cords straight into the wall, he plugged them into a Shunyata Hydra distribution box. There was a further improvement in the same direction. Finally Grant removed the German-made Stillpoints wideband acoustic absorbers from the room's sidewalls. He didn't need to play any music, the sound of his speaking voice acquiring a distinct "honk."

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