Sometimes a system touches your heart when you least expect it. There I was in Reinhard Goerner's Goerner Communication room (Montréal) when, all of a sudden, the warmth and beauty of Joni Mitchell's voice on a vinyl pressing of "I Could Drink a Case of You" had me half qvelling. (Hey, it's Yiddish. I don't know how to spell it; I only know how it feels).
Headlined by Aerial Acoustics' Model 7T loudspeaker ($10,000/pair, to be reviewed in the May 2012 issue of Stereophile) and Audio Research's Ref 5 SE preamp ($12,900), Ref 150 amplifier ($12,900), and DAC 8 ($5000), the system from Audible Images of Melbourne, FL delivered very clear, warm (rather than neutral), and crisp sound from a Japanese compilation Three Blind Mice. "Excellent," I wrote in my notes. Undoubtedly the Krell Model 505 CD player ($10,000), and Transparent Audio's Reference XL speaker wire, Reference interconnects, Power Ix, and Power link power cords had something to do with it.
Silnote Audio Cables of Boones Mill, VA, a company new to me, was making an all-out effort to bring attention to its line. Paired with Tyler Acoustics D-20 loudspeakers ($10,500/pair), an Olive 4HD music server, Musical Fidelity DAC, Rogue Magnum tube amp, and Rogue phono stagethere must have been a turntable and cartridge, but I failed to write it downSilnote's Master Series Orion M-1 interconnects ($3100/pair), speaker cables ($4700/pair), and power cables ($1800 each) were helping deliver solid sound.
Alan Eichenbaum and Sunny Umrao's Scaena room was one of four that vied for my personal Best of Show. It certainly competed with MBL's for most expensive set-up at AXPONA. At its center stood the Scaena Spiritus 3.4 loudspeaker system ($110,000). Each tower contains 12 midranges and seven ribbon tweeters. Bass at 100Hz and below was handled by the four massive 18" subs that looked as though they could pacify an advancing army with their slam. (You should have heard the bass drum on Mahler's Symphony No.2; it had the most convincing weight, focus, and up against the wall impact I've ever heard from my Channel Classics hybrid SACD).
At Saturday night dinner with Channel D’s Rob Robinson, his wife Claudia, and Jeff Joseph of Joseph Audio, we spoke about the number of exhibitors at audio shows who either come ill-prepared to deal with the vagaries of hotel room sound, don't know what to do about room-invoked sonic anomalies, or think any attempt at amelioration is futile. This was certainly not the case with Jeremy Bryan, President CEO of MBL North America, Inc. Faced with an air-walled room replete with bass boom, and whose ceiling was sonically divided halfway back into the listening position (with the back half of the ceiling concealing a crawl space that did not extend forward), Jeremy took immediate action. He may have been up until the wee hours, but when we arrived in his fabulous-sounding space, I had no idea that behind the rear drapes were concealed double rows of mattresses, stacked on their ends, that were absorbing errant bass. Rob and Jeff were familiar with this fix, because they had done the same in their room.
I wasn't able to meet the legendary Bob Carver, who gave talks on tube amp development and Ribbon Line Source loudspeakers on both Friday and Saturday afternoons, but I did make two visits to hear his new Amazing Line Source loudspeakers ($22,000/pair). The speakers were coupled with a Sunfire Subrosa subwoofer ($5000), Black Beauty 305W monoblocks ($12,900/pair), Purity Audio Ultra GT preamp ($28,000), AMR CD777 CD player ($5000), and Analysis Plus cables.
All the way from East Greenbush, New York, Bill Demars of Beauty of Sound was showing the brand new Ikeda 9TT moving-coil cartridge ($3800) on The Emperor Turntable, whose total price ($17,400) includes both the cartridge and Ikeda IT-407CR1 tonearm ($6500). The cartridge's body parts are made of an aluminum alloy, and the cantilever is made of a double-layered hard aluminum alloy in order to reduce possible distortion from warped platters. Appropriate stylus downforce is 1.75gram2.25gram, and frequency range is 10Hz45kHz
Tom Maker, formerly of Edge Audio, has something really good going with his self-powered Maker Audio/M Audio Model 10 loudspeaker ($24,000/pair, or $35,000/pair when equipped with a diamond tweeter, big subwoofer, and a bigger internal amp for the sub). For one thing, this speaker is remarkably compact for the huge sound it produces. Even better, it is able to play music streamed wirelessly from up to 33 feet. And best of all, it sounds great.
At the same time that AIX Record's Mark Waldrep was in the Omni Ballroom B giving the first of two keynote seminars, "Realizing the Dream of Perfect Music Reproduction: Are we There Yet?", the large salon two doors down was presenting his new AIX Records Real HD-Audio sources Blu-ray discs using Dolby TrueHD Encoding. I confess that I find wearing 3D glasses awkward, and don't know if I'll ever become accustomed to the neck of a guitar beaming out at my gut like a foreign projectile while I'm listening to beautifully played classical music. Nonetheless, the quality of the picture could not be faulted, and the sound, especially when discomfort was erased with eyes closed, was very fine.
Audible Images of Melbourne, FL treated AXPONA visitors to a 5-channel MartinLogan set-up that managed to look big even in the huge Florida Salon B. Capable of playing five different formats, the system did full justice to a two-channel recording of Jimmy Smith from 1958, with sound very warm and laid back. Further treats were in store with a 3-channel Mercury Living Presence SACD of Rodrigo's famous Concierto d'Aranjuez, the system capturing both that label's in your face brightness as well as the beautiful delicacy of the guitar. In multichannel, Pink Floyd's Wish You Were Here sounded as though "here" had come to me, which was a good thing. My own disc of Mahler Symphony No.2 sounded convincingly big and bright, although for some reason the low bass lines were not as full as I'm accustomed to hearing.