AXPONA: More from Jason's Day 3

The fabled Nelson Pass, whose 160 lb XA 200.8 class-A monoblocks are an essential part of my reference system, has just gone small with the first appearance of the Pass Labs XA25 class-A stereo amplifier ($4900). With a single pair of 700W devices per side, the single-ended amp delivers 25Wpc into 8 ohms and 50Wpc into 4 ohms, and is stable down to 0.5 ohm.

Of the amp, which was shown in passive display, Pass Labs' Desmond Harrington said, "We needed a smaller, lighter, and less expensive amplifier. A single human being can pick it up, and it can fit on a shelf. It's actually a little punchier and open in the midrange than its big brothers, due to its topology."

I can just see Herb Reichert lining up the XA25 for review!

With my ascent to floor 12 came the problems that previously led AXPONA to attempt to direct people to rooms on lower floors. Not only are the ceilings 12' high, but some of the rooms are virtual cubes. The only way most exhibitors (save for the ingenious Larry Marcus of Paragon) are equipped to deal with the impossible echo, room nodes, and all the rest that come with such dimensions is by lining the walls with heavy black draping. While that certainly mitigates some of the problems, it also greatly reduces depth, truncates highs, and potentially plays havoc with balances. Systems that could sound positively lovely on lyrical melodies and gut-seizing on rock have a tendency to sound somewhat flat on floor 12.

Hence, any observation about the sound in one of those square rooms must be tempered with this essential caveat: What I heard may not resemble what you may hear in a more accommodating environment. Nonetheless, what I heard (through the filter of my own ears and consciousness) is what other show attendees heard. And, by Day 3, the sound on floor 12 was as good as it was going to get. Which leads me to the room in which Bertrand Audio Imports, Blue Smoke Entertainment Systems, and Analog Domain displayed the Soltanus Acoustics full-range, crossover-less electrostatic Virtuoso loudspeakers ($12,500/pair) from Serbia. These are 86dB sensitive, 4 ohm impedance loudspeakers that descend to approximately 40Hz. In front of them were the Analog Domain M75D integrated amplifier ($22,000), which outputs 400Wpc into 4 ohms, and DAC 1 ($22,000), which outputs data at a constant rate of approximately 120kHz before sending it through an optimized digital filter and then to DACs that operate at 940kHz. (Gosh, I hope I got that right.)

The rest of the setup consisted of a Blue Smoke Entertainment Systems Black Box Ultimate digital server ($7500), Hemmingway Audio cables from South Korea, and SMT of Sweden room treatment (in place of heavy draping). The system did a pretty fine job on my Murray Perahia CD. Fast notes were articulated clearly while linked in a continuous flow, which was not the case with one system that rendered them as a series of in-tune, staccato gunshots. All that was missing was ultimate glisten and transparency, and a bit of sonorous fullness and air within the notes. But that lack, which translated as a lack of inner illumination in the voice of mezzo-soprano Jamie Barton, could have been a product of the room acoustic. Whatever the cause, the magical transparency I expect from electrostats was absent.

The huge soundstage, fast and deep bass, and lots of synthesized effects heard in the Joseph Audio Video Solutions room made a track from Malia and Boris Blank's Convergence into an ideal showcase for a system that could play very loud without causing discomfort. Equally successful was the Jazz Percussion Group's Jazz Variants, which, if not at all equal in creative inspiration to the percussion pieces of Lou Harrison, nonetheless gave the system a good workout in the speed, slam, and bass departments. On all levels, it came out with flying colors.

Doing the honors was the enormously successful (to these ears) Dynaudio Contour 60 loudspeaker ($10,000/pair), in its consumer-show premiere. (On Friday, the $10,000/pair Revel Performa F228BE, in pre-production mode before a 4th quarter release, was in use.) Electronics were the Mark Levinson No.526 preamp ($20,000), No.519 media player ($20,000) which handles up to 32/192 PCM and DSD128, and No.536 amplifiers ($30,000/pair; watch for Larry Greenhill's review in the July 2017 Stereophile). Cabling was from Argento and Organic, save for an AudioQuest NRG-1000 power cable on an AQ Niagara 7000 power conditioner ($7999). Equally showcased was Joe Hesse's setting-up acumen. I only wish I could have evaluated the system with some of my own music.

The eye-catching Sadurni Acoustics Miracoli loudspeakers ($24,000/pair), last seen at the New York Audio Show, traveled West to wow us in Chicago. In a fine system that included the premiere of Audience A24SX power cords ($4600/4 feet), we also heard a Nagra 300i stereo integrated amplifier with 300B output tubes ($20,000), Resolution Audio Cantata music center ($6500), Wolf Audio Red Wolf server ($8000), and Audience TSSOX power conditioner ($8000) and Audience cabling.

Even from the back corner of the room, the depth, snap, huge images, and impressive sense of space on Stevie Ray Vaughan's "Tin Pan Alley" wowed me. "Wonderful sound, really fast and tight," I jotted down about a system whose Miracoli speakers included a servo-controlled subwoofer that descends to 20Hz. Fast timpani rolls on a recording of Stravinsky's Firebird were reproduced with clarity. As with previous showings of Sadurni Acoustics loudspeakers, I left deeply impressed.

Given that the top-of-the-line AVM MA8.2 monoblock amplifiers were the subject of my first amp review for Stereophile, I was eager to hear the German company's more modest assemblage of components. Courtesy of AVM retailer MusicDirect, the new all-in-one AVM CS8.2 ($12,995) worked as a preamp to power the AVM SA8.2 stereo amp ($14,995), which in turn drove ATC loudspeakers. Although those speakers could not descend low enough to transmit everything on the recording, the system had amazing height, held nothing back, and absolutely nailed the complex sound of Clark Terry's trumpet. It was really excellent. I wish I could have stayed for more.

Boy, was it tough to cover the Bob Carver Company's room. First there was the long rap that seemed like it would never wrap. Then, as soon as I was getting into a track by Dianne Reeves & Wynton Marsalis, the track changed, and then changed again. Hello, Frank Sinatra; bye bye, Ol' Blue Eyes. I heard some lovely timbres, but between the reduction of fine musicianship to a series of sonic blips, and multiple loud discussions, I threw in the towel on Carver's Amazing Line Source loudspeaker ($18,500/pair) with mandatory SubRosa subwoofer ($3000), Model 350 monoblock amplifiers ($9500/pair), and Model Silver Seven four-chassis 900 monoblocks (32,000/pair). Sounding real good, when I could hear it, was a Mytek Manhattan II PCM/DSD/MQA DAC /phono and line preamp/headphone amp ($6000).

Allen Fant's picture

As always, beautiful pics and excellent coverage- JVS.

Odin 412's picture

From you and your colleagues. It's great to read your reports from all the shows that I wish I could attend, but were not able to.

FMalitz's picture

Jason's comments on my company's room were utterly, unequivocally, and impartially correct--very good sound but flawed presentation. I could not agree more. It was simply a case of too many cooks. We had people changing the recordings too rapidly without thinking things through. Frankly, the crowds were overwhelming. It was our first real introduction of this product in the Midwest. Next time we will be better prepared. My apologies.

As far as the extended verbal presentation goes, we had to cover the loudspeaker which is quite unusual, the subwoofer which is equally unusual, the subwoofer amplifier which is also unusual--2700 Watts, RMS Class AB, our 350 series monoblocks which have a lifetime warranty on the tubes and the amp itself, and the wonderful Digital Products we borrowed from my Mytek. There was a lot to talk about.

I'd like to correct an error. The system does indeed retail for $18,500 but it includes the subwoofer. If the end-user already has a high-quality subwoofer, I will arrange for a discount through one of our dealers; it would not be right for me to force a person to buy another woofer.

Any serious audiophiles who wish to hear the system in my home or at our Chicago area dealer are more than welcome. Just call me:847-668-4519 anytime seven days a week
Frank Malitz CEO
The Bob Carver Company

AVM Audio's picture

Thank you Jason for a wonderful review of our room.

Peder Bäckman
AVM Audio