A challenge for the journalist who can’t read his own notes (that would be me): The need for information regarding the Mark Neumann loudspeaker shown above led me to the world-wide web, but a Google search on the words Mark Neumann returned mostly hits that had nothing to do with audio and everything to do with politics. (It was a little like reading one of my old columns. But just a little.) I returned to my senses and visited the website of Miami’s High End Palace, the Axpona exhibitor that brought the mighty Coliseum XLS loudspeaker (approximately $40,000/pair) to New York, and learned that this open-baffle speaker’s design was inspired by a concert grand pianoand that only 12 are made each year. Fed by a Stahl-Tek CD player and driven by Tact and BAT electronics, the Coliseum XLS sounded impressive in a number of ways, although its considerable bass response tended to overwhelm the smallish room.
The sign on the door said JIB Germany, leading me to expect…well, something very different from what I found. (As the late Vivian Stanshall declared in a Bonzo Dog Band number titled “Shirt”: ‘24-Hour Cleaners’? That’s just the name of the shop, dearie!) That said, the exhibitors in this room demonstrated a pleasant-sounding mini-system, comprised of a Napa Acoustics NA-208A hybrid tube integrated amplifier ($399) and NA-208S two-way loudspeakers ($199/pair), fed by a first-generation iPod playing Abba songs. Hand not included.
I tried but failed to photograph the on-screen image from the home-theater dem in one of the two Emotiva rooms, so you’ll have to take my word: Eric Clapton wore a black short-sleeved shirt and a pair of ripped and faded jeans (shame how some of these rock stars just frittered away their millions), and played a baby-blue Fender Stratocaster. But the real stars of this slick and commendably spare-sounding band were the three backup singers, who were sufficiently passionate to convince me that they had, working together, indeed murdered a sheriff somewhere. The excitement of it all was delivered by Emotiva electronics and loudspeakers, including XPA-2 and XPA-5 amplifiers ($679 and $764, respectively), UMC-1 surround-sound processor ($594), ERT-3 floorstanding loudspeakers ($1278/pair), and ERD-1 stand-mounted surround speakers ($319/pair). The sound was quite decent by any measureand exceptionally good for the money.
It’s okay to like R.E.M. again, and not just because their latest single (“Uberlin”) is the band’s best in over a decade: In the exhibit sponsored by EgglestonWorks and Rogue Audio, R.E.M.’s “How the West Was Won and Where it Got Us” sounded so good and so clear and so utterly fresh that I literally did not, at first, recognize the music. The combination of Rogue Hera II preamplifier ($7995) and Apollo monoblock amplifiers ($10,995/pair) plus Eggleston Andra III loudspeakers (ca $24,000 per pair) contributed to my wondering if the album from which that single sprung1997’s New Adventures in Hi-Fimight be better than I thought. I guess I’ll give the LP version another try (although I maintain that NAIHF represented the very nadir of the group’s covert-art pretentiousness). The Axpona experience renewed, in particular, my admiration for Rogue Audio’s persistence in making superb tube electronics at sane, fair prices.
During the half-hour Julia and I spent visiting Channel D Software's Rob Robinson, the room never ceased to be mobbed with attendees. That was partly due to the good sound (provided by Joseph Audio Pulsar speakers, Hegel H20 amp, Artemis record player with Zu cartridge, and Audio Research DAC8plus, of course, a Synology NAS and a brace of Apple computer gear, driven by Channel D software), and partly to the fact that the exhibit was like a free seminar on both the basics and the minutiae of computer audio, with Robinson as the generous instructor. Channel D's Pure Music 1.8 ($129) is now available, and I hope to try it soon after returning home.
Bright red Totem Mani-2 loudspeakers, glimpsed through an open door, drew Julia and I into the Amsterdam Room, where products from D-Box Technologies, Digital Projection, Audio Design Associates, Stewart Filmscreen, and Totem were combined to create an exceptionally impressive 3-D home theater demonstration. Leather lounge chairs from Design NS had been equipped to convey a sense of motion to their users' posteriorspresumably these remain perfectly still during most Merchant Ivory filmsso we felt as well as saw as well as heard the action during excerpts from Avatar and The Owls of Ga'Hoole. Julia's face says it all.
The show started before the show started: Julia and I were having morning tea in our room on the 7th floor when we heard a familiar and compelling voice: not Amanda McBroom or Jacintha but Lhasa de Sela a real recording artist! The music turned out to be coming from one of two exhibit rooms sponsored by New Jersey retailer Woodbridge Audio, whose proprietor also had the audacity to play such non-audiophile fare as the Andrews Sisters and Michael Hedges. Think of it! The system in Woodbridge's tonier room had an estimated total value of $125k and included a VPI TNT HRX record player with Koetsu Urushi Black cartridge, Mark Levinson electronics (including the majestic No.53 amplifiers), and a pair of Revel Ultima Salon2 loudspeakers, with MIT cabling, Richard Gray power accessories, and ASC Tube Traps.
One might argue that there are more research-driven engineering innovations in the Linkwitz Lab Orion-4 than in most other high-end loudspeakers which is remarkable, considering that it sells for less than $15,000/pairbut at the Axpona show I found it easy to forget all of that and simply enjoy the speaker's musical prowess. Driven by Bryston amplifiers and fed by an Auraliti L1000 digital music player and MSB D/A processor, the Linkwitz loudspeakers disappeared into their own wide, deep, and mildly recessed (as opposed to in-your-face) soundfield. In addition to being spatially convincing, the Orion-4s sounded open, clear, and appropriately colorful: one of the finest demonstrations at the show.
Cardas Audio used Axpona NY to introduce their new Clear cable line, with loudspeaker cables ranging in price from $1200 to $6000 for an 8' pair, and interconnects ranging from $695 to $1200 for a 1m pair. The cables at the top of that rangecalled Clear Beyondwere put to good use in a system comprising the Unison Research CDE CD player ($4000) and S6 integrated amplifier ($5000). The latter, which uses parallel single-ended EL-34s, seemed to be a lot of amp for the moneyand sounded fine driving a pair of Opera Grand Callas loudspeakers ($10,000/pair).