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Stereophile Staff  |  Apr 30, 2013  |  14 comments

At the 2013 AXPONA in Chicago in March, Cool Cleveland asked JA for his thoughts on the state of high-end audio. His answers might surprise you.

John Atkinson  |  Mar 15, 2013  |  2 comments
Verity's US distributor John Quick (right) shows the Amadis speakers, with Brian Wasserman

Back in 2009 I recorded classical pianist George Vatchnadze for a live-vs-recorded dem. As well as being a superb classical pianist and teacher—he teaches piano at Chicago's DePaul University—George has a parallel life as an audio retailer. His company, Kyomi Audio, had two 8th-floor rooms at AXPONA, featuring Verity Amadis speakers ($30,000/pair) driven by CAT amplification and hooked up with the huge and expensive helium-filled Stealth cables. Sources were either an Acoustic Signature turntable fitted with a Funk Firm arm and Colibri cartridge, or an Esoteric transport feeding data to a prototype non-oversampling D/A processor from Stealth, this featuring the AD1865 DAC chip.

Jason Victor Serinus  |  Mar 15, 2013  |  1 comments
Both at and post-show, Buffer (aka L. Langdon Ergmann, Jr.) was charmingly apologetic. Having read my "As We See It," "There's No Business without Show Business," in the April issue of Stereophile just hours before I walked into his Laufer Teknik room, he knew that his inability to supply a list of components and prices, add a track to his Memory Player from one of my six USB sticks, or even tell me what music was playing on his own music server (as in "We don't have an internet connection, so we can't identify the track") had left him a prime candidate for the Duncecap Dealer of the Day award.
Jason Victor Serinus  |  Mar 15, 2013  |  3 comments
You can always count on Doug White, owner of The Voice That Is in Newtown, PA, to provide excellent sound and an attractive display. At AXPONA, he came through in spades, rendering John Atkinson's recording of male ensemble Cantus singing Eric Whitacre's Lux Aurumque with extreme beauty. The system did equally well on Rimsky-Korsakov's well-worn Dance of the Tumblers, producing superb sound and nice depth. Lacking only were the ultimate transparency and room-filling soundstage that I encountered in far too few rooms at AXPONA.
Jason Victor Serinus  |  Mar 15, 2013  |  2 comments
I wish I could say something of import about International Phonograph Inc.'s room, which was showcasing the Artisan Fidelity turntable. The marvelous TAD Reference One loudspeakers were mated with Lamm electronics to play master tapes of jazz and other genres. Alas, there was far more talking than music going on when I stopped by, and the promised equipment list never made it to my inbox. Hopefully, others can fill in the blanks in the comments section below.
John Atkinson  |  Mar 15, 2013  |  0 comments
Chicago retailer Pro Musica, led by recording engineer Ken Christianson, had two rooms at AXPONA. The first featured a system built around Dynaudio's Confidence C2 Signature loudspeakers ($13,500/pair in standard Mk.II finishes; $15,000/pair in Signature finish). The electronics were a Naim NAP 300 amplifier with 300PS power supply ($11,495), Naim 282 preamp with NAPSC2 ($6795), Naim SuperCap2 DR preamp power supply ($6595), Naim UnityServe SSD server ($3045), Naim NDS streaming player ($10,995) with Naim 555PS DR power supply ($9645). Speaker cable was Naim NACA5 ($15/foot) and the equipment rack was the Quadraspire EVO (6 shelf, $1200).
Jason Victor Serinus  |  Mar 15, 2013  |  1 comments
In the room set up by Holm Audio of Woodridge, IL, Sony SS-AR1 loudspeakers ($27,000/pair) dominated a system in which Nordost Odin cabling—Odin power cord ($15,999/2.5m), interconnects ($19,999/2m) and speaker cable ($25,999/2m)—transmitted signals from a Rega RP6 turntable ($1990 with Rega Exact cartridge), Hegel HD25 32-bit DAC ($2500), Manley Chinook phono preamp ($2250), Hegel CDP2A ($2650), Hegel P20 preamplifier ($2900), and Hegel H20 amplifier ($5750). On Randy Crawford's CD, We'll Fly Away, the sound was very smooth and non-fatiguing, but lacked sparkle.
Jason Victor Serinus  |  Mar 15, 2013  |  2 comments
Walter Schofield had lots to smile about besides his new trim and fit look. The great buy Wharfedale Jade 5 loudspeakers ($3199/pair), fed by an Avid Ingenium turntable with Pro-Ject arm ($1750) and Ortofon 2M Black cartridge ($719), Avid phono preamplifier ($7000), Marantz SA-15 SACD player ($2000), Marantz 150Wpc integrated amplifier ($2500), Audioquest Columbia interconnects, and PS Audio power strip—there was more, but I can't decipher my notes—produced a really nice midrange on Madeleine Peyroux's "Dance Me to the End of Love." The sound may have been euphonic, but it was also euphoric; the music swung so compellingly that I couldn't stop tapping my foot.
Jason Victor Serinus  |  Mar 15, 2013  |  3 comments
Linn Audio Loudspeakers (not be confused with Linn Products of Scotland) knocked a major $20,000 off the price of their Athenaeum speaker system (normally $80,000/pair) for AXPONA goers. Unfortunately, their associated components—Bryston 4BST power amplifier ($4000), Linn Audio SET Tube Amp ($500), Linn Audio active crossover/preamp unit ($6000), Linn Audio cabling, and unidentified CD source—rendered Diana Krall's voice far too bright and ringing on the bi-amped loudspeakers. Compensation came in the form of a wonderful clarity to her piano and an impressively wide soundstage.
Jason Victor Serinus  |  Mar 15, 2013  |  0 comments
In the second room sponsored by Arnold Martinez' newly opened Tweak Studio (located in Chicago's Hyatt Downtown) and Colleen Cardas Imports, a SOTA turntable, curiously unidentified on the room's equipment list, and unidentified cartridge and tonearm, were making lovely sound with three products from PureAudio. Designed by Ross Stevens and Gary Morrison, formerly of Plinius, the redundantly titled PureAudio dual-mono vinyl phono preamplifier ($4500) joined PureAudio's dual-mono Control preamplifier ($9500) and Reference 65Wpc class-A monoblock amplifiers ($15,500) to drive My Audio Design 1920S loudspeakers ($3800/pair).
John Atkinson  |  Mar 15, 2013  |  1 comments
Peachtree's room was typical at AXPONA, packed with an enthusiastic crowd of listeners enjoying the music all weekend. The Peachtree Nova125 that Sam Tellig reviewed in January ($1499) was being demmed with the MartinLogan Montis speakers that Robert Deutsch reviewed in September 2012 ($9995/pair). The speakers were certainly not let down by the inexpensive amplifier—"The Nova125 will handle any source, any speakers," proclaimed Peachtree's Jonathan Derda (below)—who played me Rickie Lee Jones on LP on a Pro-Ject turntable with Phono Box dual-mono phono preamp, the sax-and-bass duet on Sting's "Standing on the Moon, from a Turtle Records hi-rez file, and even a luminous-sounding MP3 streamed from Spotify.
Jason Victor Serinus  |  Mar 15, 2013  |  0 comments
Bob Walters of the Bay Area Audiophile Society often refers to Jim Salk's loudspeakers as one of the best buys in high-end audio. Certainly I have never heard them sound better in a show context. Using an AVA ABX switch ($1499), Salk Audio switched between three of its speakers: Salk Silk Bookshelf ($3499/pair), Salk Supercharged SongTowers ($3495/pair), and, the largest Salk SoundScape 8s ($7995/pair). The 8 uses the same RAAL ribbon tweeter, Accuton midrange, and 12" passive radiators as in the two larger SoundScape models (not shown), albeit with two 8" drivers.
John Atkinson  |  Mar 15, 2013  |  3 comments
When I win the PowerBall and retire, I am going to have MBL North America's Jeremy Bryan on call as my set-up man. At show after show, Jeremy has demonstrated that he can tame the most recalcitrant, obdurately obstinate room acoustics problems, using whatever tools he can find, to allow his system to shine its brightest. When I went into the larger of MBL's two rooms in the Doubletree, it was apparent that he had worked his magic. But what I didn't know that throughout the show, snow melting on the hotel's roof was causing a stream of water running down the wall of the room behind the drapes. (I was impressed by the system's liquid-sounding midrange, however!!)
Jason Victor Serinus  |  Mar 15, 2013  |  0 comments
My first opportunity to hear the exaSound e20 DSD/DXD/PCM DAC ($2500) did not disappoint. The company that self-effacingly identifies itself as "exaSound," with a small "e," played along with surprisingly extended Janszen 2A2.1 electrostatic loudspeakers ($7495/pair),, which are reputedly flat to 40Hz, and the Bryston Power Pac 250 amp ($2350) to deliver a beautiful smooth, wide soundstage on a DSD recording from Channel Classics.
Jason Victor Serinus  |  Mar 15, 2013  |  2 comments
If you value smoothness and liquidity, the eye-catching system from Beauty of Sound and KT Audio Imports was to fall in love with. Playing Aaron Neville's aptly named LP Warm Your Heart, the sound was so warm, sweet and mellow, and the presentation so beautiful and spacious, that it was a challenge not to feel as though I had died and gone to heaven.