For every reason under the sun, the big system from HiFi Imports of Colorado Springs should have sounded spectacular. Alas, given the 10' air space above the ceilings of most of the big conference rooms on the Doubletree's mezzanine, the law of the day was, the bigger they are, the farther they fall.
Ever since encountering the wonderful sound of Nightingale electronics, manufactured by Simetel of Rome (as in Italy), at the first AXPONA show in Jacksonville, I've looked forward to another visit with their Lancaster, PA-based USA representative, Valentina Ross. Her set-up of Nightingale Concentus open-baffle CTR-02 loudspeakers ($9750/pair), Onda 90 monoblock amplifiers ($12,450/pair), PTS-03 preamplifier ($9750), CR-1600 line conditioner ($3960), and unnamed source and cablingher assistants, who handed me literature, spoke little Englishwas one of the most attractive at the show, and the sound remarkably open and spacious.
For many of us, the luscious equipment combo from Rochester, NY-based Your Final System would make our lives complete. I certainly wouldn't kick it out of bed, metaphorically speaking, though I don't know how the spouse and two dogs might react to all of this in the living room, let alone the bedroom. Pause for breath as you take a look at the line-up below, then grab a calculator and add it all together. I would, but my hands are too shaky from typing everything up.
Here we go: Your Final System HD Ref 3 Limited Edition Music Server System ($14,500), EMM Labs DAC 2X ($15,000), Purity Audio Ultra GT preamplifier ($53,000), bi-amplification of upper frequencies by KR Amplifiers SXi Mk.II integrated ($21,000) and lower frequencies by Channel Island Audio D200 Mk.II monoblocks ($3500/pair), Von Schweikert Audio VR-100XS "Universe" System with towers and two EX V15 subwoofers ($140,000), four additional EX V15 subwoofers ($10,000 each), MasterBuilt Signature Series speaker cables ($7500/pair), MasterBuilt Signature Series interconnects ($3600/pair) and power cables ($6200 each) and dual-headed powered USB cables ($4000), GIK Diffusers ($350 each), ASC Tube Traps ($450 each), ATS Acoustic Bass Traps ($150 each), ATS Acoustic Studio Stackers ($200 each), and a mere $37,000 worth of Critical Mass Systems equipment racks and stands.
My drop-dead favorite sound of the showI hesitate to call it "Best of Show," since I heard nothing on the ground and 9th floors, and only half the rooms on the 8thfilled the large corner room on the 7th floor co-sponsored by Balanced Audio Technology (BAT) and Music Direct. There, on the physical level, I encountered, as sources, an Esoteric K-05 SACD/CD player & Reference DAC ($8299) and Avid Acutus Reference SP turntable ($25,000) with Avid Pulsare II phono stage ($7000). Both fed a top-of-the-line BAT REX II preamplifier ($25,000) and BAT REX II monoblock amplifiers ($40,000/pair), which sang through Focal Scala Utopia loudspeakers ($30,000/pair). The component list, handwritten in my notepad by BAT's Geoff Poor, also includes Shunyata Triton and Typhon power ($10,000), but I don't see them listed on their website.
You may wonder why this report of AXPONA Chicago lacks the usual exterior shot of the show venue. The answer is simple: It was too cold in Rosemont, where the Doubletree was located near Chicago O'Hare airport, for anyone from the "season-less" Bay Area to want to stand outside. Knowing that I would discover up to 9" of new snow on the ground and face sub-freezing temperatures at night, I went shopping before my trip for a hat tailor-made for Nanook of the North. What do you think Nanook would have thought of the "Made in China" label? Of course, John Atkinson, who's from a colder and wetter clime, will be posting a photo of the Doubletree hotel later in this report.
The night before AXPONA's official opening, people mobbed the reception for press and exhibitors. As audiophiles chattered, drank, and ate awaythe food was a major notch above the oft-mediocre, and the bartenders quite busyChicago's Deep Blue Organ Trio turned up the heat. With Bobby Broom on guitar, Chris Foreman on organ and Greg Rockingham on drums, the heat was certainly welcome, given the freezing temperatures outside.
At the opening reception, AXPONA organizer Steve A Davis occasionally played double duty, retrieving drinks for folks as his wife Carmen dispensed drink tickets along with press and exhibitor badges. At one point, he even managed to hush the well-lubricated crowd long enough to pay homage to his late business partner, Andrew Spaulding, to whom he dedicated Chicago's first consumer audio show in 14 years.
Roger DuNaier of KingSound had plenty of reason to smile. His King III full-range electrostatic loudspeakers ($12,000/pair) were sounding the best I've ever heard them. That means the music they produced sounded exceptionally smooth, warm, relaxed and inviting. How Roger managed this on the Mezzanine of the Doubletree, where rooms had a 10' air space above the ceiling that sucked the life of most active systems on the floor, is no mean feat.
Sankar Thiagasmudram, President and co-founder of Audeze, was happy to show the company's LCD-2 ($995) and LCD-3 ($1995) planar-magnetic headphones. I was wowed by these headphones when I encountered them at Audio High last year.
ADLAlpha Design Labsa bargain division of Furutech, arrived at AXPONA complete with the ADL H118 headphones ($299) and ADL X1 portable 24/192 USB DAC and headphone amp ($550). The latter, which supports Apple's iOS and Android digital at up to 16/48 for iPods, iPhones and iPads, and runs 24/192 S/PDIF with high-resolution files from a PC, comes complete with a Li-ion battery that lasts 80 hours before recharging. Expect its appearance in early May.