AXPONA 2013

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Jason Victor Serinus Posted: Mar 14, 2013 3 comments
Happy Sounds? Jacintha didn't seem to be laughing her way through "Light My Fire," but the sound was definitely pleasingly smooth and solid, if a bit dry and with a grayish background. The intriguing-looking speakers were Newform Research's No Holds Barred Coaxial Ribbon LineSource ($11,400/pair). Claimed to be "the first in the world to implement a coaxial ribbon linesource configuration," they contain high-impedance, wide-dispersion, monopole ribbons.
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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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John Atkinson Posted: Mar 14, 2013 9 comments
Audio Note UK's David Cope always does good dems at shows, and AXPONA was no exception. With the K/SPe two-way, sealed-box speakers ($3700/pair plus $650/pair for stands) placed in the room corners, and driven by the OTO SE Signature parallel singled-ended integrated amplifier ($5500; $6300 with phono stage), Lukas Foss's Time Cycle, a 1960s recording from Leonard Bernstein conducing the Columbia Symphony Orchestra, sounded rich yet detailed, with percussion instruments nicely delineated in space. David then played a familiar CD, Cantus singing "Swing Low, Sweet Chariot," which I had recorded 10 years ago. This revealed the system to sound a little too lush and warm, but who could complain about that!
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Jason Victor Serinus Posted: Mar 14, 2013 0 comments
The room sponsored by Newform Research itself, as opposed to the adjacent Happy Sounds room that was dominated by Newform Research speakers (see below), was built around Newform Research's triple-stacked LineSource Monitors ($6800). Although less expensive that the No Hold Barred Coaxial Ribbon LineSource speakers, less brought more, in the way of a really nice, solid presentation that was a delight to listen to in the sweet spot. I don't know what was playing—there was a lot of activity in the room, and the hosts were quite busy—but I do know that the remaining equipment in the $9800 system included the Onkyo TX-SR 818 receiver ($1300), four Atak Sub 12s / Crown 1000w amplifier combos ($1680), and a Sony Blu-ray player ($129). Also shown, but not playing when I entered, are Newform Research's Ribbon Pyramid speakers ($2720/pair).
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Jason Victor Serinus Posted: Mar 14, 2013 0 comments
Don't let appearances fool you. Those pipes you see in the photo are actually Bigston single-driver loudspeakers with built-in amplifiers. Designed in Japan and manufactured in Elk Grove Village, IL, the Bigston speaker systems have been designed to give an accurate representation of a soundfield as recorded at a live performance. The smallest of the lot, the Light ($300/pair with 3Wpc amplification), is designed specifically for use with laptops etc., and comes complete with a travel case.
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Jason Victor Serinus Posted: Mar 14, 2013 1 comments
It's always a challenge, in a room filled with unfamiliar equipment, to pinpoint what's causing what. All I know is that on the 7th floor, in the room wired with $8000 worth of Silnote Audio Cables, the midrange on a recording of the Talking Crows was simply beautiful, if a bit dry.
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John Atkinson Posted: Mar 14, 2013 3 comments
There is something about the sound of open-reel tape that doesn't translate either to CD or to LP," I thought as I sat listing to Jackson Browne's "Rosie (you wear my ring)" from a 15ips Tape Project tape in the room shared by United Home Audio and Jolida. With MBL's floorstanding 116 omnidirectional speakers driven by Jolida's new Luxor 100W tube monoblocks ($12,000/pair) and Luxor dual-mono preamplifier (price still to be decided) sitting on Critical Mass Systems racks, and the tape played on one of UHA's extensively modified Tascam decks, there was an unforgettable, fleshed-out palpability to the presentation.
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John Atkinson Posted: Mar 14, 2013 0 comments
UK company Icon Audio was a new name to me, but as Adrian Fearey explained to me, they manufacture a wide range of tube gear. Adrian was demming the FRm2 floorstanding speaker, which uses a single 8" driver and has a claimed sensitivity of 96dB/W/m! US distribution is apparently by Music Direct.
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Jason Victor Serinus Posted: Mar 14, 2013 1 comments
Money may not be able to buy you love, but the money New Jersey's GTT Audio & Video invested in quality equipment helped create a different world of sonic refinement than I encountered in most rooms. Listening to a track from Ben Webster's Ben's Blues, I marveled at the beautiful warmth, natural sound of cymbals and piano, and most of all, at the stunning depiction of Webster's saxophone that left me feeling as though I had dived right into the center of the instrument. What luscious sound!
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Jason Victor Serinus Posted: Mar 14, 2013 0 comments
The folks from Happy Sounds of Japan were doing everything in their power to tame reflections in their room. Here's the left side of the room; the right was just as interesting. I can't recall if they also requested some of the room treatment from ATS Acoustics that AXPONA made available to anyone who requested it.
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Jason Victor Serinus Posted: Mar 14, 2013 1 comments
Together with Chicago retailer Holm Audio, Nordost was conducting one of its ever-popular cable and support demos. Taking over where the now retired Lars Christensen left off, Nordost Eastern Regional Sales Jefe Steve Greene let folks hear differences between Blue Heaven, Red Dawn LS, Heimdall 2, and Frey 2 interconnects, speaker cables and power cords by calling into play a Hegel H300 250Wpc integrated amp with built-in DAC ($5500), Hegel CDP4A CD player ($4000), Sony's new SS-NA2ES loudspeakers ($10,000/pair), and, from Nordost, a QB8 distribution bar ($1399.99), two QV2 AC Line Harmonizers ($350 each), and a QX4 Electro-Magnetic Field Stabilizer ($2699.99). Nordost's three levels of equipment support Sort Kones were also compared.
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John Atkinson Posted: Mar 14, 2013 1 comments
Playback of DSD files from a computer via USB is a hot topic right now, but at AXPONA Mytek upped the ante by playing 5.1 multichannel DSD files, using three of the preamp version of their Stereo192 DSD-DACs ($1595 each)linked together, with the files played with J River Media Center. The system included five of the Sony SS-AR2 speakers that I had liked so much in my review last September, driven by Pass Labs amplifiers, with Sony's new SA-NA9ES subwoofer fleshing out the bottom octaves. Not that the system needed a subwoofer—with multichannel playback, the low-frequency "room gain" is greater than it is with two-channel.
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John Atkinson Posted: Mar 13, 2013 1 comments
With Benchmark's high-value DAC1 D/A headphone amplifier getting a little long in the tooth—our original review was in July 2003—it was good to hear the new DAC2 HGC ($1995) at Axpona. The DAC2 uses an asynchronous USB2.0 interface, will decode DSD files, has five digital inputs, two single-ended analog inputs, balanced and singled-ended analog outputs, two headphone outputs, and features a hybrid analog/32-bit digital volume control that preserves resolution. Analog signals are never digitized; digital signals never pass through an analog potentiometer; yet both analog and digital volume are controlled with a single knob.
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John Atkinson Posted: Mar 13, 2013 4 comments
The mighty Focal Grand Utopia EM loudspeakers ($190,000/pair), which use field-coil energized woofers, took pride of place in one of the two big rooms on the Doubletree's ground floor sponsored by Chicagoland dealer Quintessence. Driven by two-chassis Pass Labs Xs300 monoblocks with Kubala-Sosna cabling throughout the system, both the 1950s Duke Ellington and Johnny Hodges collaboration "Back to Back" and the Reference Recordings Rutter Requiem were reproduced with a stunning combination of vocal purity and instrumental majesty. Source was a file fed by USB to a Playback Designs player/DAC.

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