I've always admired the late Randy Bankert's Sonist Audio 3 loudspeakers. But now that the entire line, including the new Sonist Recital 2 bookshelf loudspeakers ($1895/pair), which are based on the Recital 3 have been upgraded with Snake River Audio internal wiring, their sound is exceptional for the price. The pairing with de Havilland's Mercury preamp and 50A monoblocks was a winner. I've always thought of the sound of Kara Chaffee's superb electronics as somewhat dark, but this presentation was quite illumined, colorful, and satisfying.
I expected this system to wow, and wow it did. As if to up to ante after presenting the US consumer show debut of Wilson Audio's supremely musical Sasha Series-2 loudspeaker, Paragon Sight and Sound's next room paired Dan D'Agostino Master Audio Systems' new Momentum integrated amplifier ($45,000) and, on other occasions, D'Agostino's Momentum monoblock amplifiers ($55,000/pair) and Momentum stereo preamplifier ($32,000) with the four-piece dCS Vivaldi stack ($108,496 total), Wilson Audio Alexia loudspeakers ($48,500/pair), a costly amount of Transparent Reference cabling, and HRS equipment stands.
The second showing of the Magico S3 loudspeakers ($22,600/pair), courtesy of Musical Surroundings and Chicago’s Quintessence Audio, palled them up with Pass Labs’ beautiful sounding XA100.5 monoblocks ($16,500/pair), XP30 linestage preamplifier ($16,500), HRS racks, and Kubala-Sosna Emotion cabling. Heard through a Clearaudio Ovation turntable with AMG 9W2 tonearm and AMG Teatro MC cartridge ($10,850 total), tonalities were gorgeous and warm. The strings on the Reference Recordings Minnesota Orchestra rendition of Richard Strauss? Dance of the Seven Veils from the opera Salome were to die for.
The familiar show pairing of Salk Sound and Van Alstine got a major boost from Salk's brand new Exotica 3 loudspeakers ($11,999/pair), which includes dual 8" servo-controlled powered woofers. Thanks as well to Van Alstine's brand new FET Valve CF tube preamp ($1895 base price), FET valve hybrid DAC ($1899), and FET valve 600R 300W/channel hybrid amp ($3200 base price), the sound was very nice, smooth, and enjoyable.
After spending years pairing their DACs with components from other companies, Benchmark has opted to do it all themselves. The new Benchmark SMS1 loudspeaker ($2450/pair in black), which ships in 6 weeks, is claimed to extend from 44Hz20kHz, with ±3dB between 50Hz and 12kHz, and a lifted treble in the top octave. These are a variation of the Studio Electric loudspeakers formerly paired at shows with Benchmark DACs, but with better parts including custom-made Clarity caps.
The truly superior sound in the room co-sponsored by Paragon Sight and Sound of Ann Arbor gave me my first listen to Wilson Audio's Sasha 2 loudspeakers ($30,900/pair) and Doshi Audio electronics. First up was an LP of Ray Brown on bass, performing three days after Thelonious Monk died. Played on a Brinkmann Audio Balanced turntable package with Koetsu Azule Platinum cartridge ($46,500 total), the sound through Doshi Audio 3.0 phono stage and line stage preamplifiers ($31,990 combined) and Doshi Audio 3.0 Jhor 160W monoblocks ($26,995/pair) was warm and inviting, as in "I must hear more" (even if Brown occasionally strayed from pitch).
As if an impressive array of products, great seminars, and lots of other goodies were not enough, AXPONA capped its first day with an hour-long presentation by PONO CEO and confirmed audiophile, John Hamm (above). Even before the talk began, John walked through the audience, giving sneak peak, hi-resolution listens to attendees via Sennheiser HD650 headphones.
Show attendees have grown accustomed to hearing Sony's SSAR-1 loudspeakers ($27,000/pair) and other components mated with Pass Labs electronics. This time, however, their appearance with Rogue Audio's Hera II preamp ($8995) and Apollo Dark monoblocks ($14,995/pair), with Nordost Valhalla 2 cabling and power treatment, made for a unique and most successful pairing. This room sponsored by Holm Audio of Chicago was a definite best-of-show contender.
ProMusica Audio Specialists of Chicago demmed a Naim/Dynaudio system that was initially hard to hear over all the shouting. When things settled down, I enjoyed the lovely warmth and excellent midrange on a bit of the Norwegian Chamber Orchestra's recording of Schubert's Symphony 5.
I spent a lot of time trying to get a handle on the sound in the "Ambassador System" room, one of four rooms sponsored by distributor Musical Surroundings and Chicago retailer Quintessence Audio. My very brief taste of vinyl was warm and inviting when sourced from Clearaudio's Innovation Wood turntable and Stradivari V2 MC cartridge ($18,750 total). Sharing the analog honors were Simaudio's Moon 810LP phono stage ($12,000), whose performance was upgraded by the new Moon 820S external power supply ($8000) that can simultaneously power two Simaudio components.