The mighty Focal Grand Utopia EM loudspeakers ($190,000/pair), which use field-coil energized woofers, took pride of place in one of the two big rooms on the Doubletree's ground floor sponsored by Chicagoland dealer Quintessence. Driven by two-chassis Pass Labs Xs300 monoblocks with Kubala-Sosna cabling throughout the system, both the 1950s Duke Ellington and Johnny Hodges collaboration "Back to Back" and the Reference Recordings Rutter Requiem were reproduced with a stunning combination of vocal purity and instrumental majesty. Source was a file fed by USB to a Playback Designs player/DAC.
As in other shows, the Chicago AXPONA devoted a ballroom to the software vendors who feed our passion for music. Even before the show officially opened on Friday, a healthy crowd was browsing Music Direct's, Elusive Disc's, and Acoustic Sounds' racks'o'vinyl while Josh Bizar, Director of Sales and Marketing for Music Direct and Mobile Fidelity, acknowledges the camera.
My first visit at AXPONA was to the large ground-floor room where AIX Records' Mark Waldrep (pictured) was playing back some of his superb-sounding multichannel recordings from Blu-ray, complete with hi-def video.
The following morning, Friday March 8, the line of Showgoers formed at the will-call booth at least an hour before the official 1pm start of AXPONA. More than 2000 tickets had been presold and the exhibit rooms were full until the end on Sunday March 10.
Greeting Showgoers at the Chicago Axpona was this steampunk-style MP.III speaker from Mancave Metal. With its glowing red LEDs around the tweeter and cut and welded steel construction, the MP.III is unlike any other speaker I've encountered. How did it sound? No idea, as it was on passive display.
Axpona runs today and tomorrow at the Doubletree by Hilton Hotel in Chicago suburb Rosemont (5460 North River Road) near O'Hare Airport.
In one sense, Richard Vandersteen has been the victim of his own success. His Model 2 loudspeaker (footnote 1), introduced at the 1977 Consumer Electronics Show, put his company on the map but proved a hard product to improve on. Based on the idea that the HF and midrange drive-units should have the minimal baffle area in their acoustic vicinity, both to optimize lateral dispersion and to eliminate the effects of diffraction from the baffle edges, the Model 2 also used a combination of a sloped-back driver array and first-order crossover filters to give a time-coincident wavefront launch.
It's been 30 years since I began work on my very first equipment report, of the Goldbug Brier moving-coil phono cartridge, for Hi-Fi News & Record Review. That review appeared in the British magazine's May 1983 issue; I have lost track of how many equipment reviews I've written since then, but my review of the Vandersteen Treo loudspeaker in this issue is at least my 500th.
Since its founding just over ten years ago, Mission Electronics has grown to become one of the largest "real" hi-fi companies in the UK. Although their product line originally consisted of three relatively conventional loudspeakers, it rapidly grew to encompass high-end pre- and power amplifiers, cartridges, tonearms, and turntables, and, in the mid 1980s, a system concept based on CD replay and relatively inexpensive electronics: the Cyrus amplifiers and tuner.
As I wrote in my review of the Bricasti M1 D/A processor in February 2012, it seemed a good idea in the late 1980s: upgrade the performance of your CD player by feeding its digital output to an outboard digital/analog processor. British manufacturer Arcam, one of the first companies to see the opportunities in this strategy, introduced their Black Box in 1988. When I reviewed the Black Box in February 1989, I found that its low-level linearity was among the best I had measured at that time for a product featuring the 16-bit Philips TDA1541 DAC chip set. However, that linearity still wasn't very good in absolute terms. Back then, it required heroic and expensive engineering to obtain D/A performance that did justice to the 16-bit CD. These days, however, the semiconductor foundries produce a plethora of relatively inexpensive D/A processor chips that both handle 16-bit data with ease and wrest full resolution from 24-bit data.
I walked into BSG's room at the Newport Beach Show in June 2012 unsure of what I was going to hear. I was well aware of this new company's qøl Signal Completion Stage ($3995), but didn't know if it was a genuine step forward in audio reproduction, or just another example of the hokum found on the fringes of our hobby. I took my listening seat, and BSG's CEO Larry Kay, cofounder and erstwhile publisher of Fi magazine, performed A/B comparisons with the qøl's processing in and out of circuit.