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.
Gingko Audio, known for its isolation platforms and turntable covers, has recently begun marketing DanaCable. Gingko's Doug Williamson was happy to show me samples. Manufactured In Colorado Springs, the cables range in price from the Deluxe Line Onyx ($395/1m pair unbalanced interconnects) to the Reference Line Diamond ($1100/1m pair unbalanced interconnects, add $300 for balanced). The company also manufactures speaker cables and digital cables. "They sound better in room 926," Williamson quipped.
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.
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).
Just as I was about to chat with the good folks from Music Direct and Musical Surroundings, what did I happen upon on the mezzanine level but an animated conversation between Stereophile's editor in chief John Atkinson and two of AudioQuest's finest, Joe Harley (left) and Shane Buettner (right). (They were discussing Art Dudley's recent review of the Beatles LP box.) In Buettner's happy hands, at my request, is a sign about Stereophile's Budget Product of 2012, the AudioQuest DragonFly.
Greeting Showgoers at the Chicago Axpona was this steampunk-style MP.III speaker from Mancave Metal. With its glowing red LEDs around the tweeter and cut and welded steel construction, the MP.III is unlike any other speaker I've encountered. How did it sound? No idea, as it was on passive display.
Axpona runs today and tomorrow at the Doubletree by Hilton Hotel in Chicago suburb Rosemont (5460 North River Road) near O'Hare Airport.
It's not just the first audio show in Chicago in 14 years, since Stereophile's Hi-Fi ’99 at the Palmer House. It's also the first in a millennium where computer audio is changing every aspect of the music and audio industries.
Nor is it a minor effort. AXPONA Chicago, which runs March 810 on five floors of the Doubletree by Hilton O'Hare Airport, promises 90 separate exhibit rooms, 74 table displays in approximately 30 different booths presenting 100 or so brands, and equipment from over 400 manufacturers. Dealers exhibiting number 26, with 15 from Chicago, and others from New York, California, Florida, and other states. That's a lot of show.
According to Michael Goodman and Stacie Romashchenko, hands down the sweetest non-couple I encountered at AXPONA, CEntrance's business is upgrading computer audio sound. To that end, the team were showing CEntrance's premium DAC, headphone, speakers, and other components. Goodies include the CEntrance DACport, a portable 24/96 USB DAC and headphone amplifier ($299); the DACport LX ($249.95), a portable 24/96 USB DAC with line-level output; the DACmini; and DACmini PX ($999.95), an all-in-one 24/192 USB DAC, headphone amp and speaker amp. New to the list of products is the HiFi-M8 (699), a portable DAC/amp with internal battery that streams music from either your iPhone or laptop to headphones.
Booth exhibits occupied much of the open space on the Doubletree's mezzanine level. First on my path was Sumiko's, where Jaime Moreno declared the Pro-Ject Debut Carbon turntable ($399.99) "probably the best turntable available for under $400." The table, which can play either 33/45 or 33/78, comes complete with an Ortofon 2M Red cartridge, which costs $99 on its own. Best $498.99 turntable package for under $400?
Music Direct did more than assist Steve Davis of AXPONA in organizing the Marketplace on the first floor and table displays on the mezzanine; the Chicago-based mail-order giant also had some delicious show specials available. Among them were the Marantz AV-7005 surround preamp, Pro-Ject Debut III turntable, and Marantz NA7004 network audio player/DAC. The company's Jon Schulman explained that while the Oppo BDP-105 wasn't on sale, it was too hot an item not to bring along.
An extremely healthy looking Dan Wright of Modwright Instruments, Inc. greeted me as I entered the room wired with Dynamic Design cabling. Treated to the CD version of Cantate Domino, the sound of a Scandinavian choir singing "Stille Nacht" (Silent Night) in German was exceptionally smooth and lovely, if a bit gray around the edges. Then again, aren't many of us these days?
I first heard the dipole Orion 4 speakers ($14,750/pair with Analog Signal Processor), designed by Siegfried Linkwitz and manufactured by Wood Artistry of Healdsburg, California, at the 2011 AXPONA in Atlanta, where they were one of the best-sounding rooms at the Show. They were in too large a room in Chicago, but still managed to sound clean and natural, with a full range of frequencies, driven by Pass Labs amplification with DH Labs cabling. I refer you to me 2011 report for details on the speaker's design but new at Chicago was a refined version of the Analog Signal Processor, with closer-tolerance crossover components, and an amplifier/processor that obviates the need to drive the Orions with 6 or 8 amplifier channels and the resulting confusion of cables.