JA's Saturday at AXPONA

I started my second day at the Chicago show in the Dynaudio room, where the Danish loudspeaker company's Special 40 stand-mounts ($3000/pair) were being driven by an Octave 80SE integrated amplifier ($10,500) with its Super Black Box external power supply ($3000). Source was an Aurender server and the speakers were set up across the small room's diagonal. An arrangement of "What a Wonderful World" for voice and guitar was playing when I entered the room, followed by that audiophile staple, José Carreras's performance of the Ramirez Misa Criola. In both cases, the stereo image was superb, with the image of the solo voice stable and a halo of ambience surrounding the choir in the Misa. But even more impressive was the solidity and believability of the softly struck bass drum that punctuates the Ramirez. The Special 40 is certainly a special speaker—I have asked for a pair for review—but more importantly, this dem illustrated how matching a relatively small speaker to a smallish room can produce optimal and excellent sound quality.

Kitty corner from Dynaudio on the hotel's seventh floor was Chicago retailer KRC Professional, who were showing the small, two-way, transmission-line Twenty5.23 tower speakers ($5500/pair) from British company PMC. Amplification was PMC's 95Wpc Cor integrated amplifier ($7000) with source a combination of Bryston's BDA-3 media player and BDA-3 D/A processor, these all sitting on a Stillpoints rack. The speakers were set up on the long wall—stereo imaging was precise and stable, the midrange and treble were clean and uncolored, and the low-frequency extension was excellent for what is relatively small speaker. But listening to Spoon's "Hot Thoughts," there was simply too much upper-bass energy in the room, which was a persistent feature with the next couple of tracks I listened to.

In Stillpoints' own room, a pair of Rockport Atria II speakers ($26,000/pair), a smaller cousin of the Avior II that I reviewed last August, were being driven a 125Wpc Viola Labs integrated amplifier (price TBA) with source a Wolf Audio Systems Alpha 3 server feeding the Viola amplifier's optional DAC card. As you might expect, all the components were sitting on Stillpoints Ultra supports and the rack was a Stillpoints ESS model. Entrec, Telos, and Shunyata products were used to condition the AC power and the room acoustics were treated with Stillpoints Aperture Panels and Telos Quantum Acoustic Diffusors.

Audio shows are a great place to discover new music and as I entered the room, Moon Safari, the debut studio album by French electronic music duo Air, was playing. I noted a good balance between the midrange and bass, though when I listened to a recording by, I believe, the late Magda Tagliaferro of a solo piano work by Chopin, the soundstage was smaller than I was anticipating. Perhaps this was due to the recording, Billie Holiday's mono "April in Paris" sounding less small in scale.

I was hoping to listen to Gershman Acoustics' multi-enclosure, $129,000/pair Posh speakers (far left and second from right in photo) when I walked into this Canadian manufacturer's room, which had impressed Robert Schryer at the 2018 Montreal show. However, it was the Studio 2 sealed-box stand-mounts ($3600/pair, far right and second from left), which feature an 8" aluminum-cone woofer with a double-magnet motor and a claimed extension to 25Hz, that were playing. Driven by a VAC 450 tube amplifier, the sound was certainly close to full-range on an orchestral arrangement of Bach's "Wachet Auf." I asked Ofrah Gershman to hook up the Poshes and listening to the late Eva Cassidy singing "Stormy Monday, I could see why Robert was impressed by what he heard in Montreal. As he said, the Poshes "played music with poise and aplomb, sounding delicate or grand when called for."

I readily admit I am a fuddy-duddy, not being a fan of wireless speakers, no matter how readily the mass market has taken to them. But Peachtree's Deepblue SKY ($499) impressed with the fact that it is Roon Ready. So while you are using use the Roon media player as the source in your big rig, you can simultaneously stream the same file or a different file to the Deepblue Sky in another room. The sound was a bit upper-bassy but otherwise acceptably good, I thought.

As he regularly does at audio shows, AnalogPlanet's and Stereophile's Michael Fremer gave his "Internationally Renowned Turntable Set-Up Seminar" on Saturday. And as I regularly do, I take my hat off to Mikey for setting up a cartridge—something I hate doing and never believe I end up with an optimal alignment, not matter how much I double- and triple-check the result—with a video camera inches away from his fingers and an enthralled audience watching. Man's a star!

Parasound's Richard Schram was showing his new, John Curl-designed JC 5 stereo power amplifier at AXPONA. Offering 400Wpc into 8 ohms and priced at $5995, the JC 5 is an evolutionary development of the JC 1 monoblocks that have been listed in our "Recommended Components" feature since they were first reviewed in February 2003.

But the surprise for me in the Parasound room was how well the tiny Parasound Zonemaster 250 amplifier (50Wpc into 8 ohms, $475), which uses a ETAL class-D module, drove the Tekton Impact Monitor speakers ($2000/pair). (The Zonemaster 250, with its matching $449 preamp, can be seen sitting on top of one the speakers.) Herb Reichert is working on a review of this intriguing Tekton speaker, with its circular array of seven tweeters, for our August issue.

Michigan dealer The Audio Surgeon's room was dedicated to Dr. Andrew Collen's "late friend and mentor; Harry H. Pearson," and as I, too, had had a great deal of respect for the founder of The Abso!ute Sound, Andrew and I shared many memories of visits to Sea Cliff back in the day.

But the focus of sonic interest in this room was a pair of Dynaudio Confidence C2 speakers driven by Pass Labs XA260.8 amplifiers and a Pass Labs XP17 line preamplifier. In my photo, Dr. Andrew is showing off his VPI Avenger Reference magnetic-drive turntable, fitted with a VPI Gimbal Fat Boy tonearm and an Ortofon Cadenza Bronze cartridge. The show was about to close and I had one more room to visit, but before I made my farewell, I listened to Billie Holiday singing "Day In, Day Out." A great audio system is a great time machine, taking listeners back to the original performance.

That final room was Precision Audio's, featuring MartinLogan Renaissance ESL 15A speakers ($24,995/pair) driven by Constellation Taurus monoblocks, with a Constellation Cygnus media player, Pictor preamplifier, and Andromeda phono stage, with source a Continuum Audio Labs Obsidian turntable and Viper tonearm. (No cartridge was listed and I neglected to ask.) The sound was as good as I remembered from listening to these speakers in Jon Iverson's listening room, and while there was no acoustic treatment in this room, the 'Logans' powered woofers benefit from Anthem Room Correction, which works well to optimize their bass response.

Jason Victor Serinus and Jana Dagdagan shot a binaural video in this room, so you will able to listen for yourselves when it is posted to Stereophile's YouTube channel later this week.

One final picture: MartinLogan's Dennis Chern, who has been with the company for decades, told me that while production of their current designs takes place in Paradigm's factory near Toronto, they still have an office in Kansas, where they repair and rebuild earlier models. That is what high-end audio should be about: lifetime support of your customers!

Allen Fant's picture

Excellent coverage -JA
looking forward to a proper review of the Parasound JC5 power amp.
I can hardly await to read the 4ohm and 2ohm specs.

Listen Up's picture

I too am looking forward to a review of the Tekton speaker. It’s on my radar, and was a must-hear at the show. I wasn’t disappointed, but I don’t have golden ears like Herb.

Did anyone listen to the Kii room? It was another of my must-hear rooms after you made it an Editors Choice last year. I was amazed by the range and the drive they produced, but I was left with an impression of harshness. I’m not sure if it was the digital processing, the recording, or just my jet lag. I’d like to hear other impressions. Maybe I just like sugar coating (nudge to JVS).

Anyway, it was a great show and I really appreciate the effort put in by the organizers and exhibitors! Good coverage by Stereophile too!