These nice-looking standmounts are Salk Sound's Exoticas ($6000/pair), which use new high-performance drive-units from SEAS. Driven by an AVA solid-state amp (bottom in the rack), they produced a natural sound on a Kimber IsoMike cello recording. But when I first entered this room, the less-expensive, floorstanding Salk Sound Towers, which sell for less than $2000/pair, were producing a big sound on a Trentemoller track, driven by AVA's Ultravalve tube amplifier ($1995, above the solid-state amp in the rack), which gets 35Wpc from a pair of EL34s per channel. Preamplifier was AVA's new FET-Valve CF.
If I had to pick one amplifier designer as having had the greatest continuing influence on the high-end market, as much as I admire John Curl, Audio Research's Bill Johnson, and Krell's Dan D'Agostino, the name of David Hafler inexorably springs to mind. Not because he challenged the very frontiers of hi-fi sound, but because he combined a fertile, creative mind (footnote 1) with a need to bring good sound to as wide an audience as possible, both by making his products relatively inexpensive and by making them available as kits. (The Major Armstrong Foundation apparently agrees with methey presented David with their "Man of High Fidelity" award at the summer 1988 CES.) It remains to be seen if the Hafler company will continue in this tradition, now that David has sold it to Rockford-Fosgate. But there is no doubt that many audiophiles were first made aware of the possibilities of high-end sound by Hafler products in the late '70s, and by Dynaco in the '60s.
DIY hi-fi used to be an important aspect of audio magazine content 30 and more years ago, but these days it has migrated almost completely to the Internet, with just Ed Dell's AudioXpress magazine still waving the roll-your-own flag in print. Sharing a stand at RMAF were two of the Internet's most notable DIY engineers, Jan Didden from Holland (left) and Bob Cordell from New Jersey (right), and both were venturing into the print medium. Bob had advance copies of his new tome Designing Audio Power Amplifiers for sale, which I will be reviewing in Stereophile early in the New Year. Jan had the first volume of his new bookzine Linear Audio, which has articles on audio design from Bob, as well as Doug Self, Joachim Gerhardt, Nelson Pass, Siegfried Linkwitz, and many others. But if you have any interest at all in the nuts and bolts of audio design, don't wait for my reviews of these books; check them out for yourself. There's audiophile gold within their pages!
The Scaena Spiritus 3.4 loudspeaker system ($110,000), which uses separate tubular subwoofer modules to reinforce its line-source arrays of midrange units and Raven ribbon tweeters, sounded better than I had heard them at previous shows. As well as the C-J ART amplifiers mentioned by Art Dudley above, the system comprised a Kronos turntable with its contra-rotating platters, fitted with an SME V-12 tonearm and a Dynavector XV1S cartridge, an AMR tube phono preamp, and a fully loaded dCS Scarlatti digital front-end.
The second Audio Element room was one of my best-sounding systems at the show: Sonus Faber Elipsa speakers were being driven by Ayre’s new VX-5 power amplifier and KX-5 preamplifier, with source the latest version of the QB-9 USB DAC, which can handle DSD data. The sound was more open, less dark than in the other Audio Element room, with more space around the instruments. The new Ayre preamp and power amp have much in common with the new AX-5 integrated amplifier, which Art Dudley will be reviewing in the August 2013 issue of Stereophile.
Following the death of his father in July 2011, Brian Berdan had been running Brooks Berdan Ltd, the well-regarded retailer in Monrovia, the suburb east of Los Angeles. But T.H.E. Show saw the debut of Brian’s new venture, Audio Element, which will open in Pasadena in August. Many of the brands that used to be sold by Brooks Berdan Ltd. are going with Brian to the new store. Many were exhibiting in Brian’s two rooms at the Atrium. In the first room, Sonus Faber Amati Futura speakers ($36,000/pair), which I loved when I reviewed them in March 2012, were being driven by VTL’s MB-450 Series III Signature tube monoblocks ($18,000/pair), VTL’s TL-7.5 Series II Reference line preamplifier ($20,000), VTL’s TP-6.5 Signature phono stage ($8500), and the fully loaded, four-chassis dCS Vivaldi SACD playback system ($108,496). Analog playback was with a Grand Prix Monaco turntable ($23,500) fitted with a Tri-Planar tonearm ($5800) and Lyra Skala cartridge ($3995). Cables were all Cardas Clear and Clear Beyond and racks were all from Grand Prix Audio.
The New York Axpona Show came together on very short notice. It was announced to the industry and press on the penultimate day of the Atlanta Axpona, which took place in mid-April. As I understand it, the Show's genesis was the Consumer Electronics Association (CEA) thinking that it would be a good idea to add high-end audio consumer days to their annual CEWeek in New York. This is a "line show," where big electronic companies show their fall product line-ups to the press. Accordingly, CEA partnered with Axpona's Steve Davis to organize the high-end show, with marketing support being given by Stereophile and Home Theater magazines.
Two months is not much time to organize a large show and possible exhibitors would already have their promotional budgets fixed. So it was no surprise that there was only a limited number of exhibitors at the Show: 22 rooms (not including software vendors) representing 72 individual brands on three of the hotel's floors, plus a mezzanine.
A closer view of the Dan D’Agostino Momentum amplifier, with its watchface-styled meter. Photographs just don't do this gorgeous amplifier justiceI just wanted to stroke that meter, caress those copper flanks!
The corner placement required by Audio Note speakers always raises my eyebrowsthere was even a mirror next to one of the speakers!but the sound of Ivan Moravec performing Brahms late piano works, the Op.118 Intermezzi, on a secondhand Turnabout LP, was extraordinarily engaging on the Audio Note AN-E Lexus Signature loudspeakers. This was the last room I visited Saturday night and I didn’t feel the need to visit any more rooms for more music.