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.
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.
The midrange on Christian McBride's "Hallelujah Time" was excellent, and the deep bass pretty damn fabulous. Ditto for the depth on a recording by Amber Rubarth, and the air on Reference Recordings' hi-resolution version of dance from Tchaikovsky's Mazeppa (you know, the one everyone plays at audio shows). Instrumental timbres were also spot on. Even though Alan Eichelbaum and Sunny Umrao had not been able to successfully tame all the problems in their very slap-happy roomAlan called it "echo chamber"their set-up persistence allowed the music to come through loud and clear.
Somehow I managed to snap a single shot of the large, lobby level show directory signage before another throng of eager attendees covered up my view. On Saturday April 26, when AXPONA was mobbed until the last hour of the show, it would have been impossible to take this photo.
Even if I couldn't get far enough back to either take a decent photo or appreciate the sonics at their best, I could admire the warm, eminently pleasing sound of Acoustic Zen's Crescendo Mk.II loudspeakers ($18,000/pair) mated with Triode Corporation's TRX-M845 monoblocks ($22,500/pair), new TRX-2 tube preamplifier with MC/MM ($5000), TRX-DAC 1.0 Tube ($2500), and TRV-CD5SE ($3200).