A rep from Chinese-based HiFiMan arrived at AXPONA with a host of new products. At the top of their list were the new RE-400 earbuds ($99). Also on display, the HM-901 digital audio player ($999), which handles multiple file formats, HE-300 dynamic driver headphones ($299), and HE-6 planar magnetic headphones ($1299).
Musical Surroundings, the distributor whose headquarters are in my notoriously crime-ridden town of Oakland, had multiple presences at AXPONA. One was on the mezzanine, where Mike Fajen was touting the pairing of the Fosgate Signature headphone amp ($1500) with Musical Surroundings' new MYDAC II ($1200). To these ears, the pairing is felicitous. Heard through revealing Sennheiser HD 800 headphones, the sound was exceptionally nice, warm, and lovely.
Gingko Audio, known for its isolation platforms and turntable covers, has recently begun marketing DanaCable. Gingko's Doug Williamson was happy to show me samples. Manufactured In Colorado Springs, the cables range in price from the Deluxe Line Onyx ($395/1m pair unbalanced interconnects) to the Reference Line Diamond ($1100/1m pair unbalanced interconnects, add $300 for balanced). The company also manufactures speaker cables and digital cables. "They sound better in room 926," Williamson quipped.
With deepest apologies to Scarlet O'Hara, and perhaps even deeper apologies to the Deep South and Bad Pun Police, it's time to toot the horn of Morrow Audio of Northern Kentucky. Mike Morrow (on the left), who began the company in 2006, came to AXPONA with Larry Love (on the right) to proudly announce Morrow Audio's partnership with Legacy. Morrow, who initially started out as a Legacy dealer, has seen his business grow 25%/year. Currently selling direct on the net, he and Love have plans to start a dealer network. When? Well, tomorrow is another day.
Bill Dudleston didn't haul Legacy's mightiest marvels to AXPONA, but what he did bring had great potential. Unfortunately, the huge 10' high airshaft above his room basically did in what I heard. His first system, which alternated between the Legacy Aeris in Sapele Pommele finish (outer speakers, starting at $17,750/pair), which I auditioned, and Legacy Signature SE in Rosewood finish (starting at $6450/pair), also included Coda's CSX amplifier ($6000) and CP preamplifier ($3500), Ayon's CD 2S ($6350), and Morrow Audio SP7 Grand Reference speaker cables ($1499/pair) and MA6 Grand Reference interconnects ($899/pair).
Just as I was about to chat with the good folks from Music Direct and Musical Surroundings, what did I happen upon on the mezzanine level but an animated conversation between Stereophile's editor in chief John Atkinson and two of AudioQuest's finest, Joe Harley (left) and Shane Buettner (right). (They were discussing Art Dudley's recent review of the Beatles LP box.) In Buettner's happy hands, at my request, is a sign about Stereophile's Budget Product of 2012, the AudioQuest DragonFly.
It's not just the first audio show in Chicago in 14 years, since Stereophile's Hi-Fi ’99 at the Palmer House. It's also the first in a millennium where computer audio is changing every aspect of the music and audio industries.
Nor is it a minor effort. AXPONA Chicago, which runs March 810 on five floors of the Doubletree by Hilton O'Hare Airport, promises 90 separate exhibit rooms, 74 table displays in approximately 30 different booths presenting 100 or so brands, and equipment from over 400 manufacturers. Dealers exhibiting number 26, with 15 from Chicago, and others from New York, California, Florida, and other states. That's a lot of show.
Sonos's Geoff Marks talks to attendees about networked music
If ever one needed an object lesson on how to put on a successful demo, the team at AudioVision San Francisco provided. At an evening entitled "A Sonos Wireless Event," held on the evening of February 7, at least three demonstrations were held simultaneously: the first in the store's main "High-End System" room, which in itself involved two different systems; a second in the store's smaller demo room, again including a switch of Triangle loudspeakers, Bel Canto Design electronics, and Nordost cabling; and at least one more in the hallway. Representatives from Sonos Wireless Audio, Bel Canto Design and Nordost conducted the demos with an able assist from AudioVision staff.
The demo seemed simple enough. A distributor proposed a session for the Bay Area Audiophile Society (BAAS) that would pit his relatively low-cost speaker cable against an ultra-expensive competing model named for a Norse god. We would listen to the music first with the high-priced spread, then with his cable, then discuss the differences. As far as the distributor was concerned, everyone would hear that the Nordic Emperor had no clothes.
With so much new equipment to cover, and so little time, I only listened to a handful of systems at CES. One of the few that really wowed me to the core was in the “Made in the USA” Absolare room at T.H.E. Show. The system mated the parallel single-ended 52W Absolare Passion 845 monoblock amplifiers ($37,500) and single-ended Absolare Passion preamplifier ($25,000)both manufactured in New Hampshirewith a full MSB digital systemMSB Signature DATA CD IV transport ($7995), MSB Diamond DAC Plus with Femto Second Galaxy Clock ($38,950), MSB Signature Transport Powerbase ($3495), and MSB Diamond Power Base ($5995)Rockport Technologies Altair II loudspeakers ($100,000/pair), Absolare Bybee Purifier ($7250), Absolare Speaker Bullets ($3750/set of four), and Echole cables.