An extremely healthy looking Dan Wright of Modwright Instruments, Inc. greeted me as I entered the room wired with Dynamic Design cabling. Treated to the CD version of Cantate Domino, the sound of a Scandinavian choir singing "Stille Nacht" (Silent Night) in German was exceptionally smooth and lovely, if a bit gray around the edges. Then again, aren't many of us these days?
Together with Chicago retailer Holm Audio, Nordost was conducting one of its ever-popular cable and support demos. Taking over where the now retired Lars Christensen left off, Nordost Eastern Regional Sales Jefe Steve Greene let folks hear differences between Blue Heaven, Red Dawn LS, Heimdall 2, and Frey 2 interconnects, speaker cables and power cords by calling into play a Hegel H300 250Wpc integrated amp with built-in DAC ($5500), Hegel CDP4A CD player ($4000), Sony's new SS-NA2ES loudspeakers ($10,000/pair), and, from Nordost, a QB8 distribution bar ($1399.99), two QV2 AC Line Harmonizers ($350 each), and a QX4 Electro-Magnetic Field Stabilizer ($2699.99). Nordost's three levels of equipment support Sort Kones were also compared.
It's always a challenge, in a room filled with unfamiliar equipment, to pinpoint what's causing what. All I know is that on the 7th floor, in the room wired with $8000 worth of Silnote Audio Cables, the midrange on a recording of the Talking Crows was simply beautiful, if a bit dry.
My drop-dead favorite sound of the showI hesitate to call it "Best of Show," since I heard nothing on the ground and 9th floors, and only half the rooms on the 8thfilled the large corner room on the 7th floor co-sponsored by Balanced Audio Technology (BAT) and Music Direct. There, on the physical level, I encountered, as sources, an Esoteric K-05 SACD/CD player & Reference DAC ($8299) and Avid Acutus Reference SP turntable ($25,000) with Avid Pulsare II phono stage ($7000). Both fed a top-of-the-line BAT REX II preamplifier ($25,000) and BAT REX II monoblock amplifiers ($40,000/pair), which sang through Focal Scala Utopia loudspeakers ($30,000/pair). The component list, handwritten in my notepad by BAT's Geoff Poor, also includes Shunyata Triton and Typhon power ($10,000), but I don't see them listed on their website.
For many of us, the luscious equipment combo from Rochester, NY-based Your Final System would make our lives complete. I certainly wouldn't kick it out of bed, metaphorically speaking, though I don't know how the spouse and two dogs might react to all of this in the living room, let alone the bedroom. Pause for breath as you take a look at the line-up below, then grab a calculator and add it all together. I would, but my hands are too shaky from typing everything up.
Here we go: Your Final System HD Ref 3 Limited Edition Music Server System ($14,500), EMM Labs DAC 2X ($15,000), Purity Audio Ultra GT preamplifier ($53,000), bi-amplification of upper frequencies by KR Amplifiers SXi Mk.II integrated ($21,000) and lower frequencies by Channel Island Audio D200 Mk.II monoblocks ($3500/pair), Von Schweikert Audio VR-100XS "Universe" System with towers and two EX V15 subwoofers ($140,000), four additional EX V15 subwoofers ($10,000 each), MasterBuilt Signature Series speaker cables ($7500/pair), MasterBuilt Signature Series interconnects ($3600/pair) and power cables ($6200 each) and dual-headed powered USB cables ($4000), GIK Diffusers ($350 each), ASC Tube Traps ($450 each), ATS Acoustic Bass Traps ($150 each), ATS Acoustic Studio Stackers ($200 each), and a mere $37,000 worth of Critical Mass Systems equipment racks and stands.
Ever since encountering the wonderful sound of Nightingale electronics, manufactured by Simetel of Rome (as in Italy), at the first AXPONA show in Jacksonville, I've looked forward to another visit with their Lancaster, PA-based USA representative, Valentina Ross. Her set-up of Nightingale Concentus open-baffle CTR-02 loudspeakers ($9750/pair), Onda 90 monoblock amplifiers ($12,450/pair), PTS-03 preamplifier ($9750), CR-1600 line conditioner ($3960), and unnamed source and cablingher assistants, who handed me literature, spoke little Englishwas one of the most attractive at the show, and the sound remarkably open and spacious.
For every reason under the sun, the big system from HiFi Imports of Colorado Springs should have sounded spectacular. Alas, given the 10' air space above the ceilings of most of the big conference rooms on the Doubletree's mezzanine, the law of the day was, the bigger they are, the farther they fall.
Gary Kumpf did a whole lot of talking between selections, but nonetheless I managed to be blown away by the sound of the no-pun-intended McAire ($3000). This one-piece unit, complete with built-in speakers and a downward firing woofer, offered superb stereo imaging as it projected an amazing amount of impressive sound well into the room. Compatible with all existing digital technologies, it seems like a fantastic buy for the price.
Given the number of loudspeakers in the relatively small room, I was amazed that two corner traps, combined with intelligent speaker placement that began at 8am, could result in such well-controlled bass. But on the Channel Classics native DSD/hybrid SACD of the Budapest Festival Orchestra performing Mahler's Symphony 2, the opening movement exhibited ideal control on the low end as well as natural warmth. I kept waiting for the booming, but it never came. What a great end to my first long day at AXPONA Chicago, 2013.
Although Soundsmith brought to Chicago the very same system it exhibited at RMAF in Denver last October, there was nothing has-been about the sound. In fact, sonics that I often find enticingly romantic, as on the slightly warm side, this time sounded far more neutral, yet infused with the glow that makes Peter Ledermann's cartridges and electronics so special.