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 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 12, 2013 2 comments
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.
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Jason Victor Serinus Posted: Mar 12, 2013 0 comments
The night before AXPONA's official opening, people mobbed the reception for press and exhibitors. As audiophiles chattered, drank, and ate away—the food was a major notch above the oft-mediocre, and the bartenders quite busy—Chicago'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.
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Jason Victor Serinus Posted: Mar 12, 2013 0 comments
With deepest apologies to Scarlet O'Hara, and perhaps even deeper apologies to the Deep South and Bad Pun Police, it's time to toot the horn of Morrow Audio of Northern Kentucky. Mike Morrow (on the left), who began the company in 2006, came to AXPONA with Larry Love (on the right) to proudly announce Morrow Audio's partnership with Legacy. Morrow, who initially started out as a Legacy dealer, has seen his business grow 25%/year. Currently selling direct on the net, he and Love have plans to start a dealer network. When? Well, tomorrow is another day.
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Jason Victor Serinus Posted: Mar 12, 2013 1 comments
Musical Surroundings, the distributor whose headquarters are in my notoriously crime-ridden town of Oakland, had multiple presences at AXPONA. One was on the mezzanine, where Mike Fajen was touting the pairing of the Fosgate Signature headphone amp ($1500) with Musical Surroundings' new MYDAC II ($1200). To these ears, the pairing is felicitous. Heard through revealing Sennheiser HD 800 headphones, the sound was exceptionally nice, warm, and lovely.
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Jason Victor Serinus Posted: Mar 12, 2013 0 comments
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.
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Jason Victor Serinus Posted: Mar 12, 2013 1 comments
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.
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Jason Victor Serinus Posted: Mar 12, 2013 1 comments
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.
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Jason Victor Serinus Posted: Mar 12, 2013 0 comments
Bill Dudleston didn't haul Legacy's mightiest marvels to AXPONA, but what he did bring had great potential. Unfortunately, the huge 10' high airshaft above his room basically did in what I heard. His first system, which alternated between the Legacy Aeris in Sapele Pommele finish (outer speakers, starting at $17,750/pair), which I auditioned, and Legacy Signature SE in Rosewood finish (starting at $6450/pair), also included Coda's CSX amplifier ($6000) and CP preamplifier ($3500), Ayon's CD 2S ($6350), and Morrow Audio SP7 Grand Reference speaker cables ($1499/pair) and MA6 Grand Reference interconnects ($899/pair).
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Jason Victor Serinus Posted: Mar 12, 2013 0 comments
ADL—Alpha Design Labs—a 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.

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