Michael Lacomba of Southern Cinema, with stores in Cumming, GA and St. Augustine, FL, was having a great time demming several joyful systems that combined tried and true with fresh and new. Almost as fresh and new as Michael, who at age 26 laments, "People my age don't know this stuff exists." Not that Steve Davis and the small and dedicated Axpona crew didn't do everything possible publicity-wise to bring in a fair amount of curious collegiates, some of whom were actually heard to mutter, "I'm going to have to rethink my whole iPod thing after hearing this."
When I was supping with John Atkinson and Michael Fremer, Mikey mentioned how impressed he was with Cary's true high-end surround processor, the Cinema 11. At Axpona I encountered the North Carolina company's more traditional line, assembled by Fort Lauderdale dealer Let There Be Sound: Cary CAD211 Founder's Edition monoblocks ($20,000), running 70Wpc pure triode; Cary SLP-05 linestage ($8000), Cary CD306 SACD Pro player ($8000), and Cary PH-302 Mk.II phono stage ($3500). Also called into play were the Acoustic Solid Royal turntable ($18,000) with Shelter Harmony cartridge ($5300), Isotek Sigmas A/C. conditioner ($2700), and a large assortment of Cable Research Labs (CRL) cables. Cary's signature sound demonstrated why the company is thought of so highly in the audiophile community.
TwinAudioVideo teamed up with Acoustic Zen to pair the large and imposing Acoustic Zen Crescendo loudspeaker ($16,000/pair) with Triode Corporation Ltd. of Japan's Tri TRV-4SE tube preamp ($1,900), the power module of the Tri TRV-845SE 20W pure class-A integrated amp ($6000), and Tri TRV-CD4SE tube CD player with 192kHz upsampling ($2200). The Crescendo is a 3-way, 125 lb transmission-line design with 6 ohms nominal impedance, 89dB sensitivity, and a frequency range of 20Hz to 30kHz. Also in the room on the floor were two ORB power traps (aka power conditioners/distributors), the Kyoto ($6000) and Kamakura ($3900), and, of course, Acoustic Zen cabling. This system did a fine job of capturing music's beauty and warmth. Which is saying a lot.
The room shared by Oracle and Phase Technology featured the eye-catching Oracle CD2500 CD player ($12,500), Oracle Delphi Mk.6 turntable with Oracle SME 5 tonearm and Thalia cartridge ($16,500 total), Oracle phono stage ($9950), and Oracle SI 1000 175Wpc integrated amp ($9950) powering the black Phase Technology PC-9.5 loudspeakers ($3500/pair). I was given very different figures in the room than are printed on the literature. Does this 4 ohms nominal impedance speaker have 91dB sensitivity, as the literature says, or 87dB, which is what the spex said? Is its frequency response 32Hz22kHz, or 35Hz20kHz ±2dB. And is its price what I was told? Such are the mysteries of life.
As much as I enjoyed many of the systems I auditioned on the first day of the show, the one that seduced me the most was assembled by Doug White's The Voice That Is of Newtown Square, PA. Powered by Vitus (pronounced VEE-toos) Audio SM-010 25W class-A monoblocks ($49,500/pair), and connected by Argento Audio FLOW power cords ($3100/2m), interconnects ($4100/m with RCAs), Master Reference interconnects ($8900/1m RCA), and Master Reference speaker cable ($24,500/2m), the dCS Puccini SACD/CD player ($17,999) with U-Clock ($4999) and Tidal Audio Piano Cera speakers ($28,400/pair in midnight black lacquer, or $36,3000 in Ebony Macassar) were producing the warmest and most beautiful midrange I had heard so far. In fact, as it turned out, it was the warmest and most seductive midrange I heard on the first two days of the show.
Madisound, a speaker kit company based in Madison, Wisconsin, demmed a full range of loudspeakers that starts with the recession-buster RB3 ($445/pair). Playing at the time I visited was the astounding for the price Zaph Audio floorstander (with the black face$1559). Equipped with two Scanspeak drivers, and powered by the Fountek Altitude 3500 23Wpc integrated amp ($1350), the system delivered impressively smooth, full-range sound on a stellar Chesky CD from vocalist Rosa Passos and bassist Ron Carter.
I could have kicked myself. At the 2010 CES, as much as I wanted to hear and blog about the eye-catching and ultra-expensive The LARS 1 36W monoblocks ($90,000/pair), I couldn't find the room. So when the CBO/founder of Engstrom , Timo Engström (second from right in my photo), emailed to say he'd be displaying at Axpona, I assured him that if I didn't get to his room this time around, I deserved to be shot.
As I entered a large room filled with May Audio's CDs and LPs, the dynamic duo of Jay Paul Apodaca (right) and Carlos Peniche (left) was dashing between two impressive systems set up at the other end. I was quite impressed with the large and exciting soundstage thrown by the setup whose power came from a Mastersound Evolution 845 integrated amp ($15,000). This pure class-A, 50Wpc amp uses two 845 tubes per side. For the uninitiated, and that includes me, the Italian Mastersound company first began manufacturing transformers 50 years ago.
Michael Chafee, a Saratoga-based dealer, consultant, and system tuner, was still in the process of fine-tuning his 7.1 surround setup when I paid a visit. Standing next to the Genelec HT210B loudspeaker ($3739 each) that served front left and right channel honors, Chafee's intriguing system also utilized Genelec HT208 surround loudspeakers ($2859 each) and HTS4 subs ($4729 each), Simaudio Moon CP8 processor ($20,000), a Lexicon RT20 CD player ($5000), and Nordost Heimdahl cabling.