I first heard the dipole Orion 4 speakers ($14,750/pair with Analog Signal Processor), designed by Siegfried Linkwitz and manufactured by Wood Artistry of Healdsburg, California, at the 2011 AXPONA in Atlanta, where they were one of the best-sounding rooms at the Show. They were in too large a room in Chicago, but still managed to sound clean and natural, with a full range of frequencies, driven by Pass Labs amplification with DH Labs cabling. I refer you to me 2011 report for details on the speaker's design but new at Chicago was a refined version of the Analog Signal Processor, with closer-tolerance crossover components, and an amplifier/processor that obviates the need to drive the Orions with 6 or 8 amplifier channels and the resulting confusion of cables.
Peachtree's room was typical at AXPONA, packed with an enthusiastic crowd of listeners enjoying the music all weekend. The Peachtree Nova125 that Sam Tellig reviewed in January ($1499) was being demmed with the MartinLogan Montis speakers that Robert Deutsch reviewed in September 2012 ($9995/pair). The speakers were certainly not let down by the inexpensive amplifier"The Nova125 will handle any source, any speakers," proclaimed Peachtree's Jonathan Derda (below)who played me Rickie Lee Jones on LP on a Pro-Ject turntable with Phono Box dual-mono phono preamp, the sax-and-bass duet on Sting's "Standing on the Moon, from a Turtle Records hi-rez file, and even a luminous-sounding MP3 streamed from Spotify.
Verity's US distributor John Quick (right) shows the Amadis speakers, with Brian Wasserman
Back in 2009 I recorded classical pianist George Vatchnadze for a live-vs-recorded dem. As well as being a superb classical pianist and teacherhe teaches piano at Chicago's DePaul UniversityGeorge has a parallel life as an audio retailer. His company, Kyomi Audio, had two 8th-floor rooms at AXPONA, featuring Verity Amadis speakers ($30,000/pair) driven by CAT amplification and hooked up with the huge and expensive helium-filled Stealth cables. Sources were either an Acoustic Signature turntable fitted with a Funk Firm arm and Colibri cartridge, or an Esoteric transport feeding data to a prototype non-oversampling D/A processor from Stealth, this featuring the AD1865 DAC chip.
In the second Kyomi Audio room, E.A.R. USA's Dan Meinwald was doing an effective dem of the Marten Django XL speakers ($15,000/pair) that Erick Lichte favorably reviewed in September 2012. He used a prototype CAT tube amplifier, a CAT SL1 Renaissance tube preamplifier, and an Esoteric K-1 DAC with standalone clock fed audio data from Amarra. Cabling appeared to be all Magnan. With the Swedish speakers set up firing along the room's diagonal, low-frequency room modes were tamed and vocal music blossomed, whether it was Peggy Lee singing "Fever," Paul McCartney singing a demo of "Mother Nature's Son," or Neil Young live from Massey Hall.
I loved the TAD Compact Reference CR1 speakers when I reviewed them in January 2012. And I am also a fan of the Parasound Halo JC1 monoblock amplifier. But when I walked into the Blue Smoke room at AXPONA and saw the latter driving the former, I was a little taken aback as this is not a combination I would have thought worked well together, both speakers and amplifiers tending toward the lean and clean side of things. But only a fool would allow his expectations to affect what he heard and the sound in the room was superb: clean, yes, but not lean; a rich, extended low end but without bass boom; and a wealth of detail with the feeling of anything being spotlit. The MSB Diamond DAC 4 with Femto Clock, the Argento cables, and the Bag End Electronic Bass Traps must have had something to do with the great sound, of course, but the source, Blue Smoke's new Black Box II (to be priced around $8000 when available) must have been the key.
Playback of DSD files from a computer via USB is a hot topic right now, but at AXPONA Mytek upped the ante by playing 5.1 multichannel DSD files, using three of the preamp version of their Stereo192 DSD-DACs ($1595 each)linked together, with the files played with J River Media Center. The system included five of the Sony SS-AR2 speakers that I had liked so much in my review last September, driven by Pass Labs amplifiers, with Sony's new SA-NA9ES subwoofer fleshing out the bottom octaves. Not that the system needed a subwooferwith multichannel playback, the low-frequency "room gain" is greater than it is with two-channel.
There is something about the sound of open-reel tape that doesn't translate either to CD or to LP," I thought as I sat listing to Jackson Browne's "Rosie (you wear my ring)" from a 15ips Tape Project tape in the room shared by United Home Audio and Jolida. With MBL's floorstanding 116 omnidirectional speakers driven by Jolida's new Luxor 100W tube monoblocks ($12,000/pair) and Luxor dual-mono preamplifier (price still to be decided) sitting on Critical Mass Systems racks, and the tape played on one of UHA's extensively modified Tascam decks, there was an unforgettable, fleshed-out palpability to the presentation.
"Do you hear that difference?" asked Shunyata's Grant Samuelson. Indeed I did. Grant was playing a track from singer-songwriter Ray LaMontagne on Focal speakers and had replaced the Marantz amplifier's and disc player's stock AC cords with Shunyata cords; the voice and instruments became slightly better differentiated from one another. Then,instead of plugging the AC cords straight into the wall, he plugged them into a Shunyata Hydra distribution box. There was a further improvement in the same direction. Finally Grant removed the German-made Stillpoints wideband acoustic absorbers from the room's sidewalls. He didn't need to play any music, the sound of his speaking voice acquiring a distinct "honk."
Jeffrey Catalano of Manhattan retailer High Water Sound missed his vocationhe should have been a DJ, as listening to his choice of music is always a Show highlight for me. As I entered Jeffrey was playing the old Stones song "Wild Horses" but it didn't sound like the version I knew from the band's Sticky Fingers album. Yes it was Mick Jagger singing, but the backing was more like a demo. Jeffrey showed me the LP cover: The Rolling StonesStripped. It went on my must-buy list.
UK company Icon Audio was a new name to me, but as Adrian Fearey explained to me, they manufacture a wide range of tube gear. Adrian was demming the FRm2 floorstanding speaker, which uses a single 8" driver and has a claimed sensitivity of 96dB/W/m! US distribution is apparently by Music Direct.