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.
Audio Note UK's David Cope always does good dems at shows, and AXPONA was no exception. With the K/SPe two-way, sealed-box speakers ($3700/pair plus $650/pair for stands) placed in the room corners, and driven by the OTO SE Signature parallel singled-ended integrated amplifier ($5500; $6300 with phono stage), Lukas Foss's Time Cycle, a 1960s recording from Leonard Bernstein conducing the Columbia Symphony Orchestra, sounded rich yet detailed, with percussion instruments nicely delineated in space. David then played a familiar CD, Cantus singing "Swing Low, Sweet Chariot," which I had recorded 10 years ago. This revealed the system to sound a little too lush and warm, but who could complain about that!
Their chassis designed by Robbii Wesson, responsible for some beautiful cover illustrations for The Absolute Sound in the 1980s, the Aragon amplifiers were as beautiful to look at as they were to listen to. In Artisan Electronics Group's room at Axpona, the fairly new owner of Aragon, Indy Audio Labs, who bought the brand from Klipsch in 2009, were showing off the Aragon 8008, a software-upgradable, 200Wpc amplifier ($4399) with its ethernet-based control and status monitoring. Speakers were the glass-enclosure French Waterfall Victoria Evos ($7000/pair); source was an Oppo Blu-ray player used as a DAC with an Aragon preamp. Jamie Cullum's "High & Dry" sounded dynamic with neutral tonal colors.
Allowing Showgoers to calibrate their ears as he has done at prior AXPONA shows, pianist John Yurick did a great job in the DoubleTree's lobby. Sunday afternoon, as I was leaving for the airport, John was joined by someone playing standards from the American songbook on a chromatic harmonicluvverly music!
Yes, that's a dub LP from Bob Marley and the Wailers you can see in the Music Hall room at AXPONA. It was being played on the forthcoming Ikura turntable (price still to be decided, probably around $1000), with the new Creek EVO-50A integrated amplifier ($1195) and a pair of Music Hall's budget-priced Marimba speakers ($350/pair). The Marimba was designed by Roy Hall hisself, and is made in China; it will be reviewed by Stephen Mejias in our June issue). At $250/pair, the stands cost almost as much as the speakers!
"Updating of a legend..." read the one-sheet in Barrington retailer Essential Audio's room. It was referring to the Transmission Audio M1i speaker, a much-evolved descendant of the Red Rose Music R3 loudspeaker designed by Bo Bengtsson that Michael Fremer favorably reviewed for Stereophile back in May 2001. The M1i combines a dipole quad-ribbon tweeter with an aperiodically damped 5" woofer and costs $4500/pair.