Channel D's Rob Robinson was using the same combination of Joseph Audio Pulsar speakers, Hegel amplification, and a Lynx Hilo D/A processor that he used at earlier shows to show off the LP rips made with his Pure Vinyl program for the Mac, now in its v3.1 incarnation. In honor of the late Alvin Lee, Rob played me a rip from a Kevin Gray-mastered 10 Years After LP, made with an Artemis turntable/arm, Zu DL103 cartridge, and the latest version of the Channel D SETA L solid-state phono preamplifier. I have been getting increasingly impatient with the occasional ticks and pops with my LP rips, as eliminating them is too much like work. But there was no such noise on Rob's rips, a tribute to his LP player.
With Benchmark's high-value DAC1 D/A headphone amplifier getting a little long in the toothour original review was in July 2003it 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.
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.
"Updating of a legend..." read the one-sheet in Barrington retailer Essential Audio's room. It was referring to the Transmission Audio M1i speaker, a much-evolved descendant of the Red Rose Music R3 loudspeaker designed by Bo Bengtsson that Michael Fremer favorably reviewed for Stereophile back in May 2001. The M1i combines a dipole quad-ribbon tweeter with an aperiodically damped 5" woofer and costs $4500/pair.
Yes, that's a dub LP from Bob Marley and the Wailers you can see in the Music Hall room at AXPONA. It was being played on the forthcoming Ikura turntable (price still to be decided, probably around $1000), with the new Creek EVO-50A integrated amplifier ($1195) and a pair of Music Hall's budget-priced Marimba speakers ($350/pair). The Marimba was designed by Roy Hall hisself, and is made in China; it will be reviewed by Stephen Mejias in our June issue). At $250/pair, the stands cost almost as much as the speakers!
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 harmonicluvverly music!
Sankar Thiagasmudram, President and co-founder of Audeze, was happy to show the company's LCD-2 ($995) and LCD-3 ($1995) planar-magnetic headphones. I was wowed by these headphones when I encountered them at Audio High last year.
You may wonder why this report of AXPONA Chicago lacks the usual exterior shot of the show venue. The answer is simple: It was too cold in Rosemont, where the Doubletree was located near Chicago O'Hare airport, for anyone from the "season-less" Bay Area to want to stand outside. Knowing that I would discover up to 9" of new snow on the ground and face sub-freezing temperatures at night, I went shopping before my trip for a hat tailor-made for Nanook of the North. What do you think Nanook would have thought of the "Made in China" label? Of course, John Atkinson, who's from a colder and wetter clime, will be posting a photo of the Doubletree hotel later in this report.
The night before AXPONA's official opening, people mobbed the reception for press and exhibitors. As audiophiles chattered, drank, and ate awaythe food was a major notch above the oft-mediocre, and the bartenders quite busyChicago's Deep Blue Organ Trio turned up the heat. With Bobby Broom on guitar, Chris Foreman on organ and Greg Rockingham on drums, the heat was certainly welcome, given the freezing temperatures outside.
At the opening reception, AXPONA organizer Steve A Davis occasionally played double duty, retrieving drinks for folks as his wife Carmen dispensed drink tickets along with press and exhibitor badges. At one point, he even managed to hush the well-lubricated crowd long enough to pay homage to his late business partner, Andrew Spaulding, to whom he dedicated Chicago's first consumer audio show in 14 years.
The following morning, Friday March 8, the line of Showgoers formed at the will-call booth at least an hour before the official 1pm start of AXPONA. More than 2000 tickets had been presold and the exhibit rooms were full until the end on Sunday March 10.
My first visit at AXPONA was to the large ground-floor room where AIX Records' Mark Waldrep (pictured) was playing back some of his superb-sounding multichannel recordings from Blu-ray, complete with hi-def video.
Roger DuNaier of KingSound had plenty of reason to smile. His King III full-range electrostatic loudspeakers ($12,000/pair) were sounding the best I've ever heard them. That means the music they produced sounded exceptionally smooth, warm, relaxed and inviting. How Roger managed this on the Mezzanine of the Doubletree, where rooms had a 10' air space above the ceiling that sucked the life of most active systems on the floor, is no mean feat.
ADLAlpha Design Labsa bargain division of Furutech, arrived at AXPONA complete with the ADL H118 headphones ($299) and ADL X1 portable 24/192 USB DAC and headphone amp ($550). The latter, which supports Apple's iOS and Android digital at up to 16/48 for iPods, iPhones and iPads, and runs 24/192 S/PDIF with high-resolution files from a PC, comes complete with a Li-ion battery that lasts 80 hours before recharging. Expect its appearance in early May.
A rep from Chinese-based HiFiMan arrived at AXPONA with a host of new products. At the top of their list were the new RE-400 earbuds ($99). Also on display, the HM-901 digital audio player ($999), which handles multiple file formats, HE-300 dynamic driver headphones ($299), and HE-6 planar magnetic headphones ($1299).