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John Atkinson  |  Apr 21, 2011  |  0 comments
Michael Fremer raved, raved about the Soundsmith SG-200 strain-gauge phono cartridge system in the March issue. "The SG-200 is a unique game-changing product," he wrote, so I made sure I checked it out at Axpona. In a system featuring Soundsmith's own HE150 MOSFETamplifiers and Dragonfly two-way standmounts ($1500/pair), the strain-gauge cartridge, mounted in a Schröder Reference tonearm on a VPI turntable, breathed new life into Dave Brubeck's "Take Five," with a clean, open sound and excellent upper-bass clarity. When Mikey write that the SG-200 was "as addicting as its proponents say," my experience at Axpona convinced me he was correct.
John Atkinson  |  Apr 21, 2011  |  0 comments
"Designed by Ear. Verified by Science." So says the promotional material from Nashville-based LSA, who were demming the pretty LSA1 Statement speaker ($2600/pair) at Axpona, driven by their 150Wpc Statement hybrid integrated amplifier ($5000). This amplifier uses a pair of Electroharmonix 6922 tubes in its preamp section but a solid-state output stage. The speaker combines a treated paper-cone woofer with an Aurum Cantus folded-ribbon tweeter and uses Alphacore air-cored inductors in its crossover. Listening to a laidback blues from George Faber, "It Beats Working," I was impressed by the smoothness of the highs and the low-frequency extension of this nicely finished two-way.
John Atkinson  |  Apr 20, 2011  |  First Published: Apr 21, 2011  |  0 comments
The larger speakers in the Role Audio room were the Model 100M from NSMT's Mastering Series ($5500/pair). An active two-way speaker, the 100M uses a coaxial drive-unit from SEAS in a well-finished enclosure made in the USA from formaldehyde-free materials. The sound, using a Squeezbox Touch and a Peachtree iDecco used as a DAC was rich, with good dynamics.
John Atkinson  |  Apr 21, 2011  |  1 comments
You can see here the dipole nature of the Orion 4, with the rear-firing tweeter, the back of the midrange unit, and one of the woofers.
Stephen Mejias  |  Apr 20, 2011  |  3 comments
I enjoyed speaking with Role Audio’s Erol Ricketts, who is proud of his company’s formaldehyde-free designs. After researching the harmful effects of heavy exposure to toxic substances such as formaldehyde, Ricketts decided it would be best for his own health, and for the health of his company, family, and planet, to manufacture a new sort of loudspeaker, one with a small, and environmentally friendly, footprint.

Because Role Audio believes hi-fi should aid in the discovery of new music—a philosophy I hold dearly—all of the company’s products are named after ships, vessels for discovery. The slim Sampan ($1400/pair) measures just 4” W by 4” D by 37” H, and uses a single 3.5” driver in a transmission line design. Mated to a Peachtree Audio iDecco, the system impressed me with its transparency and solid stereo imaging; these speakers “disappeared” like no others I heard at the show.

Stephen Mejias  |  Apr 20, 2011  |  2 comments
Sound Ideas Stereo, a hi-fi dealership based in Gainesville, Florida, used a McIntosh MXA60 ($7500), “a full-blown McIntosh hi-fi in miniature,” to pump music into the long and busy corridor between the large Atlanta rooms and the great Capitol Ballroom, where seminars and live performances took place daily.

At any given moment during the show, I could pass by this exhibit to hear sweet sounds and smile at the lovely ladies who seemed enchanted by the MXA60.

Stephen Mejias  |  Apr 21, 2011  |  First Published: Apr 20, 2011  |  3 comments
Although this photograph doesn’t express much of the equipment in Jeffrey Catalano’s High Water Sound suite, it does give some sense of the room’s vibe: warm, relaxed, soothing, effortless, lit with gold.

I smiled when I saw the great stacks of vinyl propped up against the room’s side wall—far more vinyl than can possibly be played during a 3-day event, one might think; but, if anyone could get through all of those sides, it would be Jeffrey Catalano.

I’ll happily confess now that I failed to do my job while in this room. I saw Catalano sitting there in the front row, looking forward, contemplating the music, and I thought about going up to him, asking him for details on the system—What are we listening to? What’s new?—but there was something so right about the scene, about the sound, about the moment, that I just couldn’t bring myself to cause a disruption. I’m sorry.

The system, Catalano later shared with me via e-mail:

Stephen Mejias  |  Apr 20, 2011  |  0 comments
I didn’t get to see much of Atlanta while at the show, but what I did see was beautiful. During breakfast one morning, a member of the Atlanta Audio Video Club led me outside to a quiet balcony where we enjoyed this view of the Atlanta skyline.

That UFO-shaped structure near the center of the image is the revolving restaurant, Polaris, atop the Hyatt Regency, on Peachtree Street in downtown Atlanta. Designed by John C. Portman, Jr., the Hyatt Regency was opened in 1967, and was the first hotel constructed around an atrium.

Stephen Mejias  |  Apr 20, 2011  |  4 comments
In just a couple of weeks, my boss, John “Ice Cool” Atkinson, will celebrate 25 years as editor of Stereophile, the greatest hi-fi magazine on the planet (and don’t you forget it). As editor, JA has refined the hi-fi industry in many ways, and has taught us all so much, but it’s perhaps his loudspeaker measurements which have been most influential and fascinating.

In these 25 years, JA has performed extensive technical analyses of well over 700 different loudspeakers, an accomplishment that, in my opinion, cannot be overestimated. On several occasions, I’ve had the privilege of watching John go through the process—a slow, long, often tedious, often thankless process, and one which often involves some very heavy lifting. The dude is tireless.

So, it was cool for me to see a large group of audiophiles and music lovers on hand to listen as JA discussed that process in detail, illuminating how and why he does what he does. “I’ll describe what I do,” he said, “what the measurements mean, what they don’t mean, and how we can use them to understand what we hear….”

That’s my boss!

Stephen Mejias  |  Apr 21, 2011  |  First Published: Apr 20, 2011  |  7 comments
Pretty freaking drained at the end of a very long Saturday, I walked into the Capitol Ballroom and was surprised to see a live band—from outside the room, I had wondered if the music was being produced by some very fine hi-fi that I had somehow missed. (Funny, huh?)

Even more surprising was to see John Atkinson on stage, playing a smoking blues riff on the fretless bass. Joining JA were John Yurick on piano, Spiral Groove’s Allen Perkins on drums, and show organizer Steve Davis on guitar and vox.

After a few rocking numbers, Balanced Audio Technology’s Geoff Poor strolled up to the mic and let loose a few jazz standards. “This next song requires some audience participation,” Poor said. “It requires you to drink.”

Ready for a beer, JA gave way to Dean Peer on bass, and the band continued to rock and sway, providing the perfect nightcap to a long day.

Stephen Mejias  |  Apr 20, 2011  |  1 comments
Upon walking into the Napa Acoustic room, I heard many expressions of awe and disbelief as attendees searched for subwoofers and asked, again and again, if the products’ stated prices were correct. Indeed, the system here—Napa NA208 A amplifier ($399), NA208S speakers ($199), and DT-307C CD player ($399)—filled the room with solid, believable sound and music.

The brand made its debut at last year’s Jacksonville Axpona. While all of Napa’s current manufacturing takes place in China, the company’s Joseph Kwong told me he hopes to produce an affordable vacuum tube amp right at home, in Fremont, CA, in the not too distant future.

Stephen Mejias  |  Apr 20, 2011  |  4 comments
Here we see John Atkinson giving a karate chop to the problem of inaccurately stated voltage sensitivities. Hi-ya!

Problem: Loudspeakers are not flat, so manufacturers specify the most-overoptimistic figure they can find.

Stephen Mejias  |  Apr 19, 2011  |  2 comments
And I couldn’t resist snapping a shot of one guest in the Audioengine room, who was listening to the company’s A5 ($349) while reading my review of the speaker.
Stephen Mejias  |  Apr 19, 2011  |  1 comments
But who cares about speakers and turntables? Say hello to Miss Jessi Monroe!

When I visited his room, WS Distributing’s Tom Myers had mentioned that Jessi was supposed to be performing a few of her songs, but she “ran out to buy some records and never came back.” My kinda girl.

Just as I was about to leave the room, Jessi walked in…and I sat back down.

Jessi’s been traveling between Los Angeles, Atlanta, and Nashville, working on her recording career. She played a few riffs for us and the sound was somewhat tentative and perhaps touched by sadness, but long-legged and lovely, with blue-green eyes, long eyelashes, and exceptionally red lips.

Stephen Mejias  |  Apr 19, 2011  |  4 comments
Responses to my first “Entry Level” column have been wonderful—far more detailed, thoughtful, and encouraging than I could have imagined or hoped. Many of the letters I’ve received tell stories about first experiences with hi-fi, and, within those, many readers fondly recall building their own loudspeakers.

To many of today’s teens and young adults, the thought of building a loudspeaker would be completely foreign and unrealistic, if not plain irrational and silly: Why build a loudspeaker? But, decades ago, doing things yourself, with tools and instructions, was not only the easiest way of accomplishing a goal, but often also the best, cheapest, and most enjoyable and satisfying way—a way of life we’ve sadly forgotten.

Companies like Madisound and the Meniscus Audio Group try to preserve that tradition, offering all the parts and knowledge required to those who are interested in doing things themselves. Here we see an array of Madisound speakers, all built from kits. I spoke with Mark Sayer, speaker guy of Meniscus Audio Group, who has been building his own speakers since he was a child. For him, the experience is more about the process than the product, a way of slowing things down.