AXPONA 2019

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Jim Austin  |  Apr 18, 2019  |  2 comments
AXPONA 2019 was a good show—I'm tempted to say an important show. It's just an intuition, but I sense renewed vitality.
Jim Austin  |  Apr 17, 2019  |  6 comments
Both the name of the company and the look of their products belie what I found to be the company's spirit. "CAD"—short, in this case, for Computer Audio Design, but more commonly denoting computer-aided design, evokes highly technical, inhuman stuff. The main CAD products on active display in this room at AXPONA—the CAD Audio Transport, the 1543 Mk II DAC, and various "Ground Control" boxes—are squared off and minimalist in design, resembling space objects from 2001: A Space Odyssey. The components' green logos evoked, for me, nothing so much as the eyes of aliens come to abduct us.
John Atkinson  |  Apr 17, 2019  |  3 comments
The last room I visited at the 2019 AXPONA was the best-sounding: the big room shared by Kyomi Audio and MBL on the Renaissance Hotel's 15th floor. The system comprised MBL's Noble Line N31 CD player/DAC ($15,400) that I reviewed in February 2018, the N11 preamplifier ($14,600), four N15 monoblock amplifiers ($35,600/pair) and the omnidirectional 101E Mk.2 loudspeakers ($70,500/pair), all hooked up with WireWorld Eclipse Series 8 cables.
John Atkinson  |  Apr 17, 2019  |  5 comments
I sat down in the Playback Designs room to listen to a system featuring Playback's MPS-8 SACD player/DAC ($25,000 plus $2400 for the Stream_X option) and Stream-IF streaming interface ($3300), both from the company's Dream series, with an Playback IPS-3 integrated amplifier ($14,000), these all sitting on an English Lateral Systems 4-shelf rack ($4100), driving Verity Parsifal Anniversary loudspeakers ($25,000/pair) and wired with Kubala-Sosna Emotion interconnects and Fascination AC cord and speaker cables. Playing was the DSD256 file of "Let There Be Love," copied from an analog Ampex 468 ¼" tape running at 30ips that had been recorded in parallel with Lyn Stanley's new direct-to disc album London With a Twist: Live at Bernie's.
Herb Reichert  |  Apr 17, 2019  |  17 comments
By the time I knew they were handing out cots, it was too late: They had already run out. The person at the Help Desk at Chicago's O'Hare International Airport said he'd never seen so many people camping out there. (Thanks to Mike Trei for the above photo.)
John Atkinson  |  Apr 17, 2019  |  5 comments
MartinLogan co-founder Gayle Sanders emerged from retirement at the 2018 AXPONA with a new loudspeaker brand, Eikon. But Eikon is not just a loudspeaker but a complete system ($25,000 in standard finish or $30,000 in the carbon-fiber finish shown in my photo), with DAC, preamplifier, and digital signal processor incorporated into the Eikontrol unit, which has both analog inputs and digital (USB and S/PDIF but PCM only) inputs, and each of the speaker's drive-units has its own amplifier.
Jim Austin  |  Apr 17, 2019  |  1 comments
The racks produced by Butcher Block Acoustics, which were on display in the EXPO at AXPONA 2019, are about what you'd expect from a company with that name: They look like butcher blocks made into shelves, with lots and lots of maple. If you want a softer, warmer wood, you can get walnut instead. Or, you can get walnut shelves with maple legs, or maple shelves with walnut legs. However it's configured, it's a modern, minimalist look--almost Scandinavian.
John Atkinson  |  Apr 17, 2019  |  0 comments
Florida-based Bending Wave USA were showing the ginormous Divin Noblesse loudspeakers ($220,000/pair) making their US debut—I wrote "ginormous" but these are actually just the second largest speakers in the German company Goebel's line—driven by the Swiss CH Precision phono preamp, preamplifier, and power amplifiers.
John Atkinson  |  Apr 17, 2019  |  2 comments
"Why is there a box of parts next to each of the Evolution loudspeakers?" I jokingly asked Blue Light Audio's Jonathan Tinn. He explained that those were the external crossovers for the three-way Maestoso loudspeakers ($18,900/pair) with their lids off. The speakers were being driven by the darTZeel NHB-108 Model Two power amplifier ($44,000), which was making its North American debut at AXPONA, and preamp was that Mikey Fremer favorite, the darTZeel NHB-18NS Mk.II ($44,000 with phono stage).
John Atkinson  |  Apr 16, 2019  |  1 comments
I was impressed by the new Monitor Audio Gold 300 speakers when I auditioned them at the recent Montreal Audio fest. At AXPONA, Chicago retailer Saturday Audio Exchange was showing off the smaller Gold 200 tower ($5000/pair) and Gold 100 bookshelf ($2100/pair) driven by a Roksan Blak integrated amplifier (4499) and Black CD player ($3999) and hooked up with AudioQuest cables. Like the 300, the smaller speakers feature midrange units and woofers that use Monitor Audio's RDT II (Rigid Diaphragm Technology) sandwich diaphragms, with a "Micro Pleated Diaphragm" tweeter.
John Atkinson  |  Apr 16, 2019  |  1 comments
The impressive-sounding room from dealer Audio Video Interiors featured the Anthem STR integrated amplifier ($4499) that Tom Norton reviewed for Stereophile in July 2018. Speakers were the Paradigm Persona 3Fs ($10,000/pair), a smaller sibling to the similar-looking Persona 5F ($17,000/pair) that Kal Rubinson reviewed in October 2018.
Herb Reichert  |  Apr 16, 2019  |  3 comments
Look at that photo and notice the elegant wood grille on the Gershman Acoustics Grande Avant Garde loudspeaker ($13,000/pair). How good does that speaker look in person? I put a high value on imaging and what an orchestra looks like between the speakers. Therefore, I prefer speakers with grilles: Exposed drivers distract me from the sound and the illusion . . .
John Atkinson  |  Apr 16, 2019  |  2 comments
Manley Labs' firebrand CEO EveAnna Manley always seems to enjoy audio shows and AXPONA was no exception, where she was showing off the Absolute Tube headphone amplifier ($3800) in the Ear Gear Expo.
Herb Reichert  |  Apr 16, 2019  |  3 comments
My personal selection for Stereophile's 2018 Product of the Year was the super-resolving, highly-involving TAD Micro Evolution One loudspeaker ($12,495/pair). I heard it first at a MoFi demonstration at an audio show. Wherein I repeated the words "wow" and "my god" over and over. Think goosebumps and awe. But I never thought, or imagined, how much more fleshed out and expansive the ME1s could sound with another octave of energy at the bottom. This year, in the second Tenacious Audio room, the $27,995/pair TAD Evolution E1TX-K loudspeakers produced a much larger and more forceful energy field—with an enhanced octave to octave tonal balance. The E1TX-K's dual 7" woofers and CST coaxial mid-tweeter array delivered an extremely beguiling transparency.
John Atkinson  |  Apr 16, 2019  |  10 comments
Ken Micallef was impressed by this British company's CDA2 Mk.2 CD player/DAC ($4249) when he reviewed it in the January issue, and ATC were using it as the souce in their room at AXPONA. But pride of place went to their SCM50 tower speakers ($22,000/pair, far right in my photo) and the similar-looking SCM50SE powered towers ($60,000/pair, near right).

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