AXPONA 2013

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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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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 5 comments
This modest system in the April Music room actually sounded like music. Solus 2-way speakers (sorry, didn't note the price) were being driven by the new Stello S100 50Wpc power amplifier ($1200) and Stello HP100 D/A preamplifier/headphone amplifier, all wired with Verastarr cables. The Stello components are nicely finished and use enclosures manufactured in California, though final assembly is in Korea. Only disappointment was that the HP100 uses the Burr-Brown PCM2705 USB audio chip, which is limited to 16-bit data with a sample rate up to 48kHz and operates in the less-than-optimal adaptive mode.
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Jason Victor Serinus Posted: Mar 13, 2013 0 comments
Ever since encountering the wonderful sound of Nightingale electronics, manufactured by Simetel of Rome (as in Italy), at the first AXPONA show in Jacksonville, I've looked forward to another visit with their Lancaster, PA-based USA representative, Valentina Ross. Her set-up of Nightingale Concentus open-baffle CTR-02 loudspeakers ($9750/pair), Onda 90 monoblock amplifiers ($12,450/pair), PTS-03 preamplifier ($9750), CR-1600 line conditioner ($3960), and unnamed source and cabling—her assistants, who handed me literature, spoke little English—was one of the most attractive at the show, and the sound remarkably open and spacious.
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Jason Victor Serinus Posted: Mar 13, 2013 1 comments
Given the number of loudspeakers in the relatively small room, I was amazed that two corner traps, combined with intelligent speaker placement that began at 8am, could result in such well-controlled bass. But on the Channel Classics native DSD/hybrid SACD of the Budapest Festival Orchestra performing Mahler's Symphony 2, the opening movement exhibited ideal control on the low end as well as natural warmth. I kept waiting for the booming, but it never came. What a great end to my first long day at AXPONA Chicago, 2013.
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Jason Victor Serinus Posted: Mar 13, 2013 0 comments
Sandwiched between rooms, apart from the other tables on the mezzanine, Miko Krolo of Canada displayed his new line of attractive equipment racks and supports. By heart an audiophile, and by trade a designer of residential interiors, Krolo began his company just one year ago. On view were the Krolo Design Tomo Audio Rack ($3300–4300, depending upon number of shelves) and Krolo Enhancers equipment supports ($260/set of three). The racks include solid aluminum rods and stainless steel supports—I hope I have that right—and shelves float on cones.
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John Atkinson Posted: Mar 13, 2013 0 comments
Allowing Showgoers to calibrate their ears as he has done at prior AXPONA shows, pianist John Yurick did a great job in the DoubleTree's lobby. Sunday afternoon, as I was leaving for the airport, John was joined by someone playing standards from the American songbook on a chromatic harmonic—luvverly music!
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John Atkinson Posted: Mar 13, 2013 8 comments
Chicagoland dealer Quintessence devoted a large ground-floor room to the Fine Sounds groups of companies—Sonus Faber, Audio Research, Wadia, and Sumko/REL—along with the superb racks from Harmonic Resolution Systems and a Clearaudio/Benz Micro LP player. A pair of the Sonus Faber Amati Futura speakers that I reviewed in May 2012 ($36,000/pair) was being vertically bi-amped with two tubed Audio Research Ref250 monoblocks driving the midrange/tweeter sections and two solid-state Audio Research DS450M monoblocks for the woofers. No fewer than four REL powered subwoofers were handling the low bass. Preamp was the Audio Research Ref5 SE that Brian Damkroger and Bob Reina raved about in Stereophile.
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John Atkinson Posted: Mar 13, 2013 0 comments
Audioengine's small powered speakers have become my go-to recommendations for desktop situations; I bought a pair of the Audioengine 2s for use with the flat-screen HDTV in our kitchen, where they do a great job. The 2s ($199/pair) are the small white speakers in the center of my photograph; flanking them are the Audioengine 5+ speakers ($399/pair). Source was a MacBook Pro feeding the speakers 24/96 audio via the 24-bit capable Audioengine D2 streaming wireless interface/DAC ($599/set), which my colleague Michael Lavorgna enthusiastically reviewed in February 2012.
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Jason Victor Serinus Posted: Mar 13, 2013 4 comments
That is not a feeble attempt at a joke; it really is how Mr. Freud forced this Contributing Editor to slip on the word “editors.” Perhaps I was thinking of The Absolute Sound Executive Editor Jonathan Valin, who not only pulled a no-show for the Friday and Saturday afternoon 90-minute Editors panels—pre-show promotion and the show guide had advertised his participation, with Robert Harley—but also attempted to erase from history, in his online AXPONA report, the rather significant fact that the last major audio show in Chicago was not the 1994 Consumer Electronics Show, as he claims, but rather in 1999, when the Stereophile show came to the Windy City. Is such competitiveness really necessary, given how different the two magazines are?

The moderator for both panels was the extremely articulate and informed Bes Nievera of Music Direct and also a host on Chicago area public radio station WDCB, who just happens to be a long-time audiophile. Panelists included (left–right), from TAS, Editor-in-Chief Robert Harley; from DaGoGo.com, Senior Editor Ed Momkus; from Stereophile and an embarrassingly long list of other publications, Contributing Ediot Jason Victor Serinus, and Stereophile’s Editor-in-Chief John Atkinson.

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John Atkinson Posted: Mar 13, 2013 0 comments
M•A's Todd Garfinkle always makes good music at shows and Axpona was no exception. Todd was driving a Primare PRE32 preamp and Primare A363 power amp with single- and double-rate DSD master files, played back from his Korg recorder. Speakers were the two-way Elac BS244s, which combine an AMT tweeter with a dimpled metal-cone woofer. Piano and drums had excellent jump factor combined with clarity and accurate midrange tonality, despite the modest-looking, table-top set-up.
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Jason Victor Serinus Posted: Mar 13, 2013 2 comments
For many of us, the luscious equipment combo from Rochester, NY-based Your Final System would make our lives complete. I certainly wouldn't kick it out of bed, metaphorically speaking, though I don't know how the spouse and two dogs might react to all of this in the living room, let alone the bedroom. Pause for breath as you take a look at the line-up below, then grab a calculator and add it all together. I would, but my hands are too shaky from typing everything up.

Here we go: Your Final System HD Ref 3 Limited Edition Music Server System ($14,500), EMM Labs DAC 2X ($15,000), Purity Audio Ultra GT preamplifier ($53,000), bi-amplification of upper frequencies by KR Amplifiers SXi Mk.II integrated ($21,000) and lower frequencies by Channel Island Audio D200 Mk.II monoblocks ($3500/pair), Von Schweikert Audio VR-100XS "Universe" System with towers and two EX V15 subwoofers ($140,000), four additional EX V15 subwoofers ($10,000 each), MasterBuilt Signature Series speaker cables ($7500/pair), MasterBuilt Signature Series interconnects ($3600/pair) and power cables ($6200 each) and dual-headed powered USB cables ($4000), GIK Diffusers ($350 each), ASC Tube Traps ($450 each), ATS Acoustic Bass Traps ($150 each), ATS Acoustic Studio Stackers ($200 each), and a mere $37,000 worth of Critical Mass Systems equipment racks and stands.

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Jason Victor Serinus Posted: Mar 13, 2013 0 comments
Gary Kumpf did a whole lot of talking between selections, but nonetheless I managed to be blown away by the sound of the no-pun-intended McAire ($3000). This one-piece unit, complete with built-in speakers and a downward firing woofer, offered superb stereo imaging as it projected an amazing amount of impressive sound well into the room. Compatible with all existing digital technologies, it seems like a fantastic buy for the price.
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Jason Victor Serinus Posted: Mar 13, 2013 1 comments
What else might you expect to hear on Classic Audio Hartsfield field-coil driver loudspeakers ($59,950/pair) than Classic Records' 45 rpm pressing of Louis Armstrong and Duke Ellington? Despite bass problems stemming from the 10' black hole above the room, the music sounded quite wonderful...until we got to the first track on Patricia Barber's new CD, Smash. There, her voice sounded great but the bass was impossible. Doing their best were Atma-Sphere's MP-1Mk.3.2 preamp with phono ($12,100) and MA-1.5 Novacron power amplifier ($12,000/pair), mated with the Tri-Planar Ultimate 12 turntable with what I think was a Technics SP10 Mk.II arm and either a van den Hul III Gold or Koetsu Jade cartridge.
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Jason Victor Serinus Posted: Mar 13, 2013 0 comments
Look out Audiogon. Your latest competition in the online marketplace department, AudioMart, launched this week. The company's Mark Mawhinney, who owns a retail store and is also responsible for the Spin-Clean Record Washer, says AudioMart lists both used and new equipment. "It's quicker, faster, more socially integrated, and much more mobile friendly," he proclaims. "Images are posted for free, and we're offering free dealer storefronts through September 1."

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