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.
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.
I've always admired the late Randy Bankert's Sonist Audio 3 loudspeakers. But now that the entire line, including the new Sonist Recital 2 bookshelf loudspeakers ($1895/pair), which are based on the Recital 3 have been upgraded with Snake River Audio internal wiring, their sound is exceptional for the price. The pairing with de Havilland's Mercury preamp and 50A monoblocks was a winner. I've always thought of the sound of Kara Chaffee's superb electronics as somewhat dark, but this presentation was quite illumined, colorful, and satisfying.
One of Musical Surroundings and Quintessence Audio's four rooms paired Aesthetix electronics, including the new Aesthetix Romulus Signature DAC and CD player ($10,000) with Focal Stella Utopia Em loudspeakers ($97,500/pair), HRS (Harmonic Resolution Systems) SXR Signature rack and amp stands, and Kubala-Sosna Elation cables. On a CD of the great pianist Murray Perahia playing Handel, the system's beautiful tonality and very warm, loveliest of midranges distinguished the presentation.
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.
I expected this system to wow, and wow it did. As if to up to ante after presenting the US consumer show debut of Wilson Audio's supremely musical Sasha Series-2 loudspeaker, Paragon Sight and Sound's next room paired Dan D'Agostino Master Audio Systems' new Momentum integrated amplifier ($45,000) and, on other occasions, D'Agostino's Momentum monoblock amplifiers ($55,000/pair) and Momentum stereo preamplifier ($32,000) with the four-piece dCS Vivaldi stack ($108,496 total), Wilson Audio Alexia loudspeakers ($48,500/pair), a costly amount of Transparent Reference cabling, and HRS equipment stands.