So here we are on Saturday night, Rob Robinson of Channel D, Jeff Joseph of Joseph Audio, and myself of something or other, chilling in the ridiculously oversized chairs in the Omni Jacksonville's lobby near the elevators, awaiting the arrival of Rob's wife Claudia so we can all head out to Thai dinner, when Jacksonville Symphony French horn player Aaron Brask, aka "Last Horn," appears out of nowhere and on your mark-get set-go begins telling us how absolutely, positively, and totally stoked he is that we have brought all these high-end audio exhibits to Jacksonville. It seems that, given that artist Brask is unable to talk while his embouchure is otherwise occupied with his instrument's mouthpiece, the boy has seized the opportunity to gush, and I mean gush, over his chance to finally hear the equipment, big and small, that he had been reading about and lusting after for all these years.
The view from the 16th floor of the Omni Jacksonville may look a bit bleak, but AXPONA was anything but. Initial disappointment at the number of exhibits, which diminished to 28 or so when three parties who had contracted for multiple rooms were forced to cancel due to illness, was replaced by delight as I kept encountering enthusiastic attendees hungry for good sound.
Talks with several exhibitors, including Dick Diamond of YG Acoustics and Rob Robinson of Channel D, revealed their delight at meeting a goodly number of knowledgeable audiophiles who were as educated and committed as they were eager to explore. Hey, Jacksonville may not have a reputation as a capital of cultural sophistication, but I could play Schubert and Mahler as well as Rosa Passos and Charles Lloyd without everyone running for cover.
Strange that I, who often blogs about cables and lives may 40 minutes from JIB-Germany's US headquarters in Fremont, CA, has yet to meet them anywhere but at shows. Certainly the company's oxygen-free copper cabling, which has been available for two years, looks promising in passive display mode, and sounded good in a diminutive Napa Valley Acoustics system. Certainly JIB's literature, which touts cables for hi-fi and home cinema, is beautifully put together. Belle Tsai tells me that cables range in price from $200$1000, depending upon model number. The company even sells earbuds. Gotta try some of these babies sometime.
Hardly 90 seconds into the demo, the earthquake hit. No, not one caused by God and nature, or the vibrational residue from a huge subwoofer in the room above or below. Rather, this earthquake was courtesy of the huge industrial washing machine located directly below Soundsmith's fourth floor exhibit. And we are not talking minor stuff here, folks. Everything was shaking badly, including the sign on the wall, and it went on for several minutes.
Having enthusedgushed, reallyover the Orion-4s ($15,510/pair in this iteration with active crossover, Bibinga wood and Ebony trim) when I first heard them at Burning Amp 2010, then again at Burning Amp 2011 (as reported in the January 2012 issue of Stereophile), I was happy to encounter them once more in Jacksonville. It was no surprise to find them doing an absolutely wonderful job of capturing the correct sound of a piano, and bringing lovely depth to a recording of Mozart's Piano Sonata in D Major, K.576. They did an equally fine job in showcasing the beauty of a quartet performing music by Lera Auerbach.
Having recently written a detailed description of Smyth Research's amazing Realiser, which was posted to these pages on February 21, 2012, I shall leave to your click and downward scroll a detailed description of the Realiser's ability to virtually reconstruct "the complete experience of listening to actual loudspeakers in an actual room, in up to eight-channel surround."
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).