The sign on the door said JIB Germany, leading me to expect…well, something very different from what I found. (As the late Vivian Stanshall declared in a Bonzo Dog Band number titled “Shirt”: ‘24-Hour Cleaners’? That’s just the name of the shop, dearie!) That said, the exhibitors in this room demonstrated a pleasant-sounding mini-system, comprised of a Napa Acoustics NA-208A hybrid tube integrated amplifier ($399) and NA-208S two-way loudspeakers ($199/pair), fed by a first-generation iPod playing Abba songs. Hand not included.
May Audio Marketing's Nabil Akhrass (seated) was even busier than usual at this show, given the absence of his sister, Julia: She recently gave birth to her and her husband's first child (congratulations!), and decided to sit this one out. When I visited the May Audio exhibit on Saturday morning, they were already enjoying brisk sales of CDs and vinyl.
A challenge for the journalist who can’t read his own notes (that would be me): The need for information regarding the Mark Neumann loudspeaker shown above led me to the world-wide web, but a Google search on the words Mark Neumann returned mostly hits that had nothing to do with audio and everything to do with politics. (It was a little like reading one of my old columns. But just a little.) I returned to my senses and visited the website of Miami’s High End Palace, the Axpona exhibitor that brought the mighty Coliseum XLS loudspeaker (approximately $40,000/pair) to New York, and learned that this open-baffle speaker’s design was inspired by a concert grand pianoand that only 12 are made each year. Fed by a Stahl-Tek CD player and driven by Tact and BAT electronics, the Coliseum XLS sounded impressive in a number of ways, although its considerable bass response tended to overwhelm the smallish room.
It’s okay to like R.E.M. again, and not just because their latest single (“Uberlin”) is the band’s best in over a decade: In the exhibit sponsored by EgglestonWorks and Rogue Audio, R.E.M.’s “How the West Was Won and Where it Got Us” sounded so good and so clear and so utterly fresh that I literally did not, at first, recognize the music. The combination of Rogue Hera II preamplifier ($7995) and Apollo monoblock amplifiers ($10,995/pair) plus Eggleston Andra III loudspeakers (ca $24,000 per pair) contributed to my wondering if the album from which that single sprung1997’s New Adventures in Hi-Fimight be better than I thought. I guess I’ll give the LP version another try (although I maintain that NAIHF represented the very nadir of the group’s covert-art pretentiousness). The Axpona experience renewed, in particular, my admiration for Rogue Audio’s persistence in making superb tube electronics at sane, fair prices.
The line outside the AIX room at Axpona, like the line outside the MBL room, was evidence that something special was happening inside. Mark Waldrep of AIX Records prefaced his AV demonstration with an interestingand amusingdiscussion of how difficult and expensive it can be to film in 3-D. There followed one of the most convincing performance clips I've yet to see: fingerstylist Laurence Juber playing a number called "White Pass Trail" on his signature Martin guitar. During the second part of this instrumental, Juber switched from mere picking to actually slapping the strings over the guitar's fingerboard extension (slapping the body, too, for percussion), and the five Thiel SCS4T loudspeakers ($3690/pair) captured perfectly the speed and impact, along with the color and texture, of those sounds. By this time of the show my wife had joined my daughter and I, and she shared my surprise at how the 3-D effect enhanced, rather than tarted-up, the performance. An impressive recreation of superb music.
Bright red Totem Mani-2 loudspeakers, glimpsed through an open door, drew Julia and I into the Amsterdam Room, where products from D-Box Technologies, Digital Projection, Audio Design Associates, Stewart Filmscreen, and Totem were combined to create an exceptionally impressive 3-D home theater demonstration. Leather lounge chairs from Design NS had been equipped to convey a sense of motion to their users' posteriorspresumably these remain perfectly still during most Merchant Ivory filmsso we felt as well as saw as well as heard the action during excerpts from Avatar and The Owls of Ga'Hoole. Julia's face says it all.
During the half-hour Julia and I spent visiting Channel D Software's Rob Robinson, the room never ceased to be mobbed with attendees. That was partly due to the good sound (provided by Joseph Audio Pulsar speakers, Hegel H20 amp, Artemis record player with Zu cartridge, and Audio Research DAC8plus, of course, a Synology NAS and a brace of Apple computer gear, driven by Channel D software), and partly to the fact that the exhibit was like a free seminar on both the basics and the minutiae of computer audio, with Robinson as the generous instructor. Channel D's Pure Music 1.8 ($129) is now available, and I hope to try it soon after returning home.
One might argue that there are more research-driven engineering innovations in the Linkwitz Lab Orion-4 than in most other high-end loudspeakers which is remarkable, considering that it sells for less than $15,000/pairbut at the Axpona show I found it easy to forget all of that and simply enjoy the speaker's musical prowess. Driven by Bryston amplifiers and fed by an Auraliti L1000 digital music player and MSB D/A processor, the Linkwitz loudspeakers disappeared into their own wide, deep, and mildly recessed (as opposed to in-your-face) soundfield. In addition to being spatially convincing, the Orion-4s sounded open, clear, and appropriately colorful: one of the finest demonstrations at the show.
The show started before the show started: Julia and I were having morning tea in our room on the 7th floor when we heard a familiar and compelling voice: not Amanda McBroom or Jacintha but Lhasa de Sela a real recording artist! The music turned out to be coming from one of two exhibit rooms sponsored by New Jersey retailer Woodbridge Audio, whose proprietor also had the audacity to play such non-audiophile fare as the Andrews Sisters and Michael Hedges. Think of it! The system in Woodbridge's tonier room had an estimated total value of $125k and included a VPI TNT HRX record player with Koetsu Urushi Black cartridge, Mark Levinson electronics (including the majestic No.53 amplifiers), and a pair of Revel Ultima Salon2 loudspeakers, with MIT cabling, Richard Gray power accessories, and ASC Tube Traps.