At last, after 16 years, the South East has again hosted an audio show of considerable merit. Even more significant than the number of attendees, which according to many seasoned observers exceeded attendees at the first Rocky Mountain Audio Fest six years ago, the first of what will hopefully be many Axponas connected dealers, distributors, and manufacturers with music lovers in deep and satisfying ways.
Now in its second year, and almost double the size of its launch, AXPONA (Audio Expo North America) is set to make a major impact on East Coast audiophiles when it opens to the public on April 15. Sponsored by Stereophile, the annual show, which runs April 1517 in the beautiful, centrally located Sheraton Downtown Atlanta, promises at least 70 exhibit rooms alive with gear from at least 250 individual manufacturers . . .
Importer Charles Harrison had arranged four distinct systems in an air-walled ballroom at THE Show. The room's boundaries were so porous that I was able to hear the sounds of a competing Mahler symphony playing so loudly in an adjacent room that I thought they were coming from one of the four systems in the room I was in. The system I was actually trying to listen to featured the new Ayon Audio Triton III integrated stereo amplifier ($12,500), which can output 125Wpc of pure class A power, as well as Ayon's Ortho II XS flagship preamplifier. Witht eh room
S sub-optimal acoustics, the chain produced a very bottom-heavy snippet of Mahler's Symphony No.2, capped by bright highs.
When I poked my head into the Ayon ballroom on Friday, the first day of T.H.E. Show, the sound was too bright for my taste. A day later, listening to the Tape Project’s Master Tape of Nojima Plays Liszt, I found the sound much too subdued and flat. Perhaps, as is often the case at shows, by the end of the show the system arrived at a place of balance.
Opening the top of Ayre's new AX-5 integrated amplifier ($9950) revealed an impressive layout, with transformers so big that they extend down through the bottom of the chassis. Rated at 125Wpc into 8 ohms, or 250 into 4, the AX-5 uses the same volume control as in the KX-R, and a diamond buffer circuit in the output stage. The amp, driving TAD CR-1 stand-mounted monitors, sounded eminently smooth on a track by Ella Fitzgerald, and did a fine job communicating the smile in her voice.
Shipping by the end of January, Ayre's new KX-R Twenty preamplifier ($27,500) is a complete redesign of the KX-R that was introduced in 2008. Among the new baby's features: a completely new "Ayrelock power supply" with twice the capacitance as of old, an optimized Equilock gain stage and Diamond output stage, significant part upgrades in all critical areas of the audio circuit, and, of course, "proprietary tweaks." Also playing in the system, which featured Vivid Giya G1 speakers, were the forthcoming MX-R 20 20th Anniversary monoblock amplifiers. There is as yet no retail price, as the parts are being finalized over the next two weeks.
A fabulous soundstage and air for days distinguished an already-distinguished recording of the great Shirley Horn. Ms. Horn, who was making beautiful music in several rooms at the Hilton, seemed especially at home in the second room sponsored by Tim Miner’s Pacific Coast Audio Video, where Wilson Audio Sophia 3 loudspeakers ($17,900/pair) mated beautifully with Ayre’s new AX-5 integrated amp ($9950) and QB-9 DAC ($2750); Parasound’s Halo JC 3 phono preamp ($2395), Rega’s RP8 turntable ($2995) outfitted with Ortofon’s Redondo Blue cartridge ($879), and Synergistic Research’s Element Series cables, Tranquility Base, and Acoustic A.R.T. System.
Reflecting dramatic changes in the high-end industry, British loudspeaker manufacturer Bowers & Wilkins has developed for its products a new US retail outlet. Beginning in October, audio shoppers will be able to audition and buy the company's loudspeakers in Best Buy's chain of Magnolia stores.
Beneath the striking fascias of B.M.C. electronics lies some advanced engineering. As best I could gather from a rather zippy introduction that had me scrambling to write everything down coherently, the B.M.C. M2 monoblock amplifiers ($7790/each) contain LEF (load-effect-free) circuitry that delivers the signal, voltage, and necessary current independently. This purportedly allows them to handle complex speaker loads without need for global feedback. (There’s more to say, of course, but I don’t trust my scrawl.) The M2 outputs 200W into 8 ohms, and 380W into 4. Designed in Germany but manufactured in China, each monoblock weighs 88 lbs and includes a 2kVA transformer.
How nice to again make the acquaintance of the folks at Balanced Audio Technology, aka BAT, now owned by Music Direct, and discover their three handsome new preamplifiers. The VK-53SE ($15,000), which replaces the VK-52SE, incorporates the same transformer-coupled output stage as in the flagship REX II preamp, and uses a new amorphous-core output transformer, encapsulated in a Mu Metal case. "There are no caps in the signal path in our preamps," proclaimed Geoff Poor. "The best capacitor is no capacitor." Also new are the VK-33SE preamplifier ($9995), a replacement for the 32SE and a trickle-down beneficiary of the VK-53SE's technology; and the VK-33 preamplifier ($7000), which replaces the VK-32.