In an exhibit surprisingly free of whisky (unless I was too preoccupied to notice), Music Hall offered proof that you don't have to break the bank (assuming you have one to begin with) in order to get good sound. "Very smooth, nice, and pleasant," I wrote of the enjoyable music from the new Music Hall C-DAC 15.3 three-input DAC/CD player ($549), Creek Evo 50a 55Wpc integrated amp ($1195), and Epos Elan15 bookshelf loudspeakers ($1395/pair). The player contains two different DACs, a Burr-Brown for CDs and a Wolfson for external sources. Source was a computer playing Pure Music, and connected to the C-DAC via optical.
Admittedly, the title seems almost melodramatic, if not messianic. But after Emerald Physics' handicapped presentation at, I believe, the last Rocky Mountain Audio Fest, I was not expecting to hear such fine and pleasing sounds. While ample credit is due PS Audio's brand new DirectStream pure 1-bit DSD-decoding DAC ($6000), thanks also be to Mark Schifter's canny programming of the DSP2.4 DSP crossover/equalizer ($850) that comes with Emerald Physics' CSE MK2 Controlled Dispersion, DSP-controlled, open-baffle loudspeakers ($3500/pair). Thanks as well to the new Emerald Physics EP 100.2 power amplifier ($1600), DSPeaker preamp/DAC ($1200), and REL T9 active subwoofer that filled in from 25Hz to 48Hz.
Clayton Shaw, who designed Emerald Physics loudspeakers and founded the company, returned last year with Spatial Audio loudspeakers. The Spatial Hologram M2 standard ($1995/pair) contains a new Hologram Circuit, and is a completely passive, analog, high-efficiency, open-baffle speaker. Each baby contains two 12' mid/woofers and one coaxially mounted compression driver. Designed to eliminate floor bounce, it claims not to need DSP or bi-amping.
Through the excellent Kingsound KingIII electrostats ($14,995/pair), Hegel H30 350Wpc amplifier ($15,000), Purity Audio Design new Reference class-A balanced linestage preamplifier ($10,995), Purity Audio Design Harmonia 300B tube buffer ($5500), M2Tech's new Young DSD/DCD DAC ($1699), Trigon CD II ($4250), and Dana Cables, music sounded very smooth but somewhat damped on top. A tenor sax sounded especially warm and inviting.
Thanks to musician and AXPONA founder Steve Davis, pianist John M. Yurick could be heard throughout the day in various locations on the lobby level of the Westin O'Hare. It's a shame that his piano's lid was closed in order to render his piano less obtrusive amidst the talking, because Yurick is an excellent musician who deserves more than "background music" attention. He also moves faster than my camera's flash-less "Night Setting" could accommodate.
For the second year in a row, a fire alarm sounded in the middle of AXPONA's busiest afternoon. Although it seems that the warning didn't reach all floors, it sent some who did hear it scurrying. In my case, that meant grabbing my heavy jacket, computer, computer glasses, camera and monopod, and complete collection of show literature and notes and trudging down seven flights.
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.
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.
Paddling all the way from NYC, Jeffrey Catalano's High Water Sound, aka “2 channel with attitude,” featured the premieres of Hornning Hybrid Systems Eurfrodite Mark IV Ellipse loudspeakers ($30,000/pair) and Tron-Electric’s flagship Syren II GT preamplifier ($55,000) and Seven phono/mono ($15,000). The speakers have eight 8” bass drivers in push-pull configuration, a back-loaded horn, and a PM 65 Lowther midrange, all of which help account for their 9899dB sensitivity. Jeffrey called the Tron preamp “a work of art,” with an outboard power supply, “all-silver everything,” and proprietary caps and transformers.
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.