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.
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.
"We initially meant our self-powered speakers for the computer market, and never thought you guys from Stereophile would take us seriously," Audioengine's Brett Bargenquast told me in a particularly candid moment. "Then Bob Reina's review of the A2s helped launch us."
It sure did. Bob's glowing review even convinced me to get a pair of Audioengine 5s for my iMac. Years later, they remain in use, making the husband's cheapo TV in the cottage sound far better than it should.
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.
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.
Although Misty Ellis' atmospherically lit room was a challenge to photograph, the sound this company from Columbus, OH put together from a big-bucks system headed by the Audio Power Labs 833TNT 200W transformer-coupled monoblocks ($175,000/pair), Tidal Audio Contriva Diacera SE floorstanding speakers ($58,190/pair in piano black, $64,190/pair in African Pyramid Mahogany as shown), and Laufer Teknik The Memory Player 64 ($24,600) was as tantalizing and satisfying as its visuals. Initially marred by an exaggerated midrange and treble resonances, everything improved immensely when Tidal dealer Doug White, the extremely conscious proprietor of The Voice That Is in Newtown Square (Philadelphia), PA, removed the preamp responsible for the imbalance.
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).
Tom Maker, formerly of Edge Audio, has something really good going with his self-powered Maker Audio/M Audio Model 10 loudspeaker ($24,000/pair, or $35,000/pair when equipped with a diamond tweeter, big subwoofer, and a bigger internal amp for the sub). For one thing, this speaker is remarkably compact for the huge sound it produces. Even better, it is able to play music streamed wirelessly from up to 33 feet. And best of all, it sounds great.
I wasn't able to meet the legendary Bob Carver, who gave talks on tube amp development and Ribbon Line Source loudspeakers on both Friday and Saturday afternoons, but I did make two visits to hear his new Amazing Line Source loudspeakers ($22,000/pair). The speakers were coupled with a Sunfire Subrosa subwoofer ($5000), Black Beauty 305W monoblocks ($12,900/pair), Purity Audio Ultra GT preamp ($28,000), AMR CD777 CD player ($5000), and Analysis Plus cables.
Legacy Audio's imposing system, made even more imposing by the photo of the entire line that dominated the wall to the left of the system, included both the 63" high, 235 lb. Whisper XD loudspeaker ($20,995$23,5000/pair, depending upon finish) and, to the inside, the smaller 56" high, 184 lb. Focus SE ($9200$10,500/pair, depending upon finish). That's a helluva lota real estate for the money.