"I really wanted people not to say that the electronics are why the speakers sound good, so I brought a very minimalistic set-up," said Milwaukee-based Jeff Permanian of his very first display at an audio show. Granted, his imposing, Internet-direct JTR Noesis 215RT ($7000/pair), a 3-way loudspeaker with a claimed 95dB sensitivity and impressive frequency response of 18Hz24kHz, may not be a visual work of art. But in the company of an Oppo BDP-95, Adcom integrated, and Cardas cabling, its reproduction of Norah Jones' "Come Away with Me" exhibited sufficient warmth to make me want to hear the Noesis loudspeakers in superior company next time around.
I don't want to wax biblical here, but in Stereophile's world of show reports, the last shall be first, and the first, last. Thus we begin our coverage of the final day with the last system I auditioned at AXPONA 2014. Welcome to Goerner Communications' room on the Westin O'Hare's third floor.
Not one to think small, Brian Walsh of Essential Audio in Barrington, IL needed a very big room to house the Sound Lab Majestic 845 electrostatic loudspeakers ($35,840/pair), Atma-Sphere MP-1 Mk.III.2 preamplifier ($16,940) and MA-2 Mk III.2 output transformer-less amplifiers ($41,600/pair), Aurender W20 reference music server ($16,800), Bricasti M1 DAC ($8995), Kuzma Stabi XL 2-motor turntable with all the trimmings ($32,280 total), Teo Audio equipment racks, and cabling from Teo Audio, Clarity Cable, and Creative Cable Concepts.
Ammar Jadusingh began his loudspeaker company, Soundfield Audio, in late 2010, not long before he exhibited at AXPONA Jacksonville. Sold direct via the internet, his brand new Variable Soundfield Tower 3 four-way loudspeaker ($8500/pair), aka VSFT-3, contains two different, active woofers: a 10" sealed, high-excursion woofer and a 12" dipole woofer. With a claimed frequency response of 20Hz23kHz, 8 ohms nominal impedance, and 92dB sensitivity, the speakers exhibited quite good balance and a warm midrange on a Red Book version of Dave Brubeck's "Take 5," live from the UK.
"Whatever you do, don't miss the speaker company around the corner at the end of the third floor," a dealer who had no connection with the room selflessly told me. "The sound is terrific." Thus I scurried along to the exhibit sponsored by Audio Limits of Colorado Springs and Polymer Audio Research of Florida. There I encountered the new, eye-catching Polymer MKS-X loudspeaker system ($60,000/pair), whose 365 lb loudspeakers boast a pure-diamond, acoustic-suspension tweeter and midrange, plus two 6.5" composite-cone, rear-ported woofers connected in parallel.
I have no idea exactly what was in use in the McIntosh room, because both times I paid a visit, the exhibitor was too involved in demonstrating the system's "Room Correction" component to stop to chat. Regardless, the sound was very, very goodjust what you'd expect from a McIntosh system that can control challenging hotel acousticsand the demo far more convincing than my mother's apple pie.
There was some booming in the bass, but the really nice highs and openness, as well as the large and engaging soundstage on a 24/96 version of Jennifer Warnes' "Nightingale" convinced me that Daedalus Audio, ModWright Instruments, and WyWires cabling are doing something very right. Reinforcement came from a very nice and smooth, albeit less than brilliantly illumined Red Book track by Chris Jones.
Designed by Art Powers Sr., who, I understand, manufactured some of the older Lamm amplifiers and designed their loudspeakers, Madison Fielding's second-generation Flagstone all-weather speakers ($3500/pair) include down-firing 10" Eminence 150W active custom-made woofers, and claim a frequency response of 44Hz15kHz ±3dB. The Flagstone series consists of two models and three variations, and claims to cover an area of up to 1000 sq. feet.
Admittedly, the title seems almost melodramatic, if not messianic. But after Emerald Physics' handicapped presentation at, I believe, the last Rocky Mountain Audio Fest, I was not expecting to hear such fine and pleasing sounds. While ample credit is due PS Audio's brand new DirectStream pure 1-bit DSD-decoding DAC ($6000), thanks also be to Mark Schifter's canny programming of the DSP2.4 DSP crossover/equalizer ($850) that comes with Emerald Physics' CSE MK2 Controlled Dispersion, DSP-controlled, open-baffle loudspeakers ($3500/pair). Thanks as well to the new Emerald Physics EP 100.2 power amplifier ($1600), DSPeaker preamp/DAC ($1200), and REL T9 active subwoofer that filled in from 25Hz to 48Hz.
Thanks to musician and AXPONA founder Steve Davis, pianist John M. Yurick could be heard throughout the day in various locations on the lobby level of the Westin O'Hare. It's a shame that his piano's lid was closed in order to render his piano less obtrusive amidst the talking, because Yurick is an excellent musician who deserves more than "background music" attention. He also moves faster than my camera's flash-less "Night Setting" could accommodate.