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.
This compact system, in which Monitor Audio's Gold GX 200 loudspeakers ($4500/pair) and brand new Silver 10 loudspeakers ($2500/pair) mated with the Cyrus Lyric 09 all-in-one class-D system ($6499, due in June or July), sounded very fine through Nordost Red Dawn cabling. Especially when I moved up a bit from the back wall, I noted how controlled and musical the system sounded at the start of the Budapest Festival Orchestra's Channel Classics recording of Mahler Symphony 2, and how good the bass was.
Some of the best sound at AXPONA filled Chicago-based dealer/concert pianist George Vatchnadze's room. With more than a little help from industry veteran Dan Meinwald, who not only claimed to have simply plunked everything down, but also called the large room at the end of the 3rd floor of the Westin O'Hare "the best hotel showroom I've ever been in," Ella's "Angel Eyes" from her universally lauded LP, Let No Man Write My Epitaph, sounded drop-dead gorgeous. The midrange felt like a warm embrace, inviting me in without fear of witnessing Fitzgerald's emotion drowned in a sea of euphonia.
Mated with the new Avid Ingenium turntable with Pro-ject tonearm ($1999), Marantz PM14S integrated amplifier, and Audioquest cabling, a not fully broken-in set of Wharfedale Jade 1 loudspeakers ($1199/pair) sounded very impressive for the price. On the Cowboy Junkies Whites Off Earth Now LP, a take-no-prisoners depiction of electric guitar was balanced by a decent midrange, good bass, and a fine depiction of female voice. Abetting bass response was Wharfedale's Diamond 10.2 subwoofer ($799), which filled in between 35 and 65Hz.
"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.