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.
From whatever vantage point you choose, AXPONA (Audio Expo North America) 2014 in Chicago's Westin O'Hare was a major success. Attendance on opening day, Friday, April 25, was quite robust, and the feeling in the hallway and in rooms was extremely positive. Saturday was mobbed, with standees in many rooms during peak hours, and hallways buzzing.
Is this the third consecutive show where the sound of Balanced Audio Technology (BAT) electronics has won me over? BAT doesn't need to either sugar-coat or tone down its tube sound, because its openness, clarity, and musical truth are so spot-on. IMHO, of course. The sound was so good that I didn't even bother to take notes on the music I heard.
I enjoyed my short time with the Vienna Acoustics Imperial Series Liszt loudspeaker system ($15,000/pair). The Liszt incorporates Vienna Acoustics' flat-spider 6" coincident midrange driver and 1.2" vented silk-dome/neo-coated motor, as well as three 7" woofers that cover the 26200Hz range of a speaker that extends up to 25kHz. Mated with a Primare I32 integrated amplifier ($4750), whose pre-installed full media board option allowed a wired LAN connection to a NAS drive, and AudioQuest cabling, the system depicted a file of a recording of Mahler's Symphony 3 with superior midrange, fine bass, and appropriate top-end bite. Percussive slam was tight, if a bit shallow, but that may have been due to the recording itself.
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.