AXPONA 2015 Dave Thomas
Thank god for Maurice Jeffries! Though new to our publication and the world of audiophile journalism in general, he wrote a stellar and highly detailed account of the most recent AXPONA show. So for a change, I’ll simply just add my two cents about my favorite rooms and a few other items that I found interesting.
Though AXPONA is a local show for me (I live in the south suburbs of Chicago) I actually missed most of it due to some personal and family commitments. I missed the whole day on Friday, half the day on Saturday, which meant that on Sunday… I was running the halls of the Westin Hotel like a madman.
As Maurice mentioned in his report this year’s show did appear to be better attended than last year’s, but more importantly it also seemed to sounded better. Admittedly, I did not get enjoy all of the rooms for any number of reasons: Some rooms were always crowded. Some played incredibly bad music (I’ll come back to that), and some quite frankly featured systems that I was just too familiar with. There are some manufacturers who always demonstrate with the same associated components. If I just saw a system demonstrated four months ago at CES, I didn’t need to hear that same system again at AXPONA. In fact, there were a few rooms that demonstrated nearly the same components at this year’s AXPONA that they demonstrated at last year’s AXPONA. So those rooms I passed on. That doesn’t mean that they weren’t fine sounding rooms, I was just short on time. And speaking of time, let me stop wasting yours by getting into the rooms that I felt were this year’s “Top Five Rooms at the Show.”
Doug White, the proprietor of The Voice That Is, is a brilliant setup man who has yet to have a room at a hi-fi show that wasn’t considered among the best. This room was no different. Doug used AXPONA for the “US Premiere” of three new TIDAL Audio products: the Contriva G2 loudspeaker ($69,690/pair), Presencio preamplifier ($77,990), and Impulse monoblocamplifiers ($64,990/pair). Source components were the Aurender W20 Reference music server ($17,600) and Bricasti M1 DAC w/USB ($8,995). All cables were from the Purist Audio Design Luminist line and the component rack was the Still Points ESS GRID rack ($8,600-based on configuration) w/Ultra 5, 6 and SS Isolators. Also in service was a Silver Circle Audio TCHAIK 6 isolation transformer ($9,995). The music in this room was splendidly rendered and eminently enjoyable. Though Doug fretted over everything including residual HVAC noise, different ceiling heights and a room that presented some unique challenges, yet he still managed to produce a phenomenal listening experience. Bravo Doug! You never fail to satisfy.
At every show there’s a room that you walk into and your unfiltered reaction is simply to go… damn! For me, that room was the Vapor Audio room. Grabbing my attention were the massive Vapor Audio Perfect Storm Loudspeakers ($26,995/pair). The system also featured the Antipodes DX Reference Music Server ($7,500), Lampizator Golden Gate DAC w/volume control ($17,600), and Lamm Audio ML 2.1 Signature preamp ($16,000) and ML 1.2 Reference Monoblock Amps ($27,000/pair). A VH Audio Plasmatron 3 power conditioner ($3,999) and Verastarr cables were also used. The sound of music in this room was big, powerful, and yet, lively. I expected to feel beat over the head by booming bass from these speakers, but from their ribbon tweeters down to their 15” woofers the sound was linear and coherent even at higher volume levels. Quite frankly, given their build quality, enormous size, musicality, and ability to please a broader spectrum of music lovers, their enormous price tag is actually a bit of a bargain considering some of the other things available that are much smaller and more musically challenged at the same price if not more.
Emerald Physics was featuring their new EP-2.3 ($5,995/pair) open baffle design loudspeaker. The speakers were finished in a gorgeous Cocobolo Tri-coat automotive finish which is an $1,800 option. They were set up in an interesting tri-amp configuration using three of the company’s EP100.2SE 100-watt digital amplifiers ($2,200 each). One amp fed the high frequencies and the other two were used as 450-watt monoblocks to feed the dual 15” woofers. A PS Audio Bascom King Signature amplifier ($7,500) was used to feed the speaker’s midrange. They also used two Emerald Physics DSP2.4 electronic crossovers ($850). A DSPeaker Anti-Mode Dual Core 2.0 was used as a DAC/preamp/room correction device ($1,200). Source components were a Wyred 4 Sound MS-1 music server and a Marantz CD-5004 CD player. Having recently spent some time with the company’s excellent EP-4.7 speakers, I was immediately taken by the sound of their larger siblings. Call it system synergy, but the full-blown EP system was very well balanced.
The High Water Sound & High Fidelity Services room was a showstopper for me. Even though I was running like crazy, when I stopped and sat down in this room. I knew I’d be there a while. This was easily the best system I heard that featured an analog rig. Hell, it was one of the best rooms I heard all weekend. This room featured the lovely TW-Acustic Raven GT SE turntable ($12,500) with two 10.5 tonearms ($11,000) and Miyajima Madake ($5,900) and Zero Mono ($2,000) cartridges. The music signal from this setup fed a TW-AcusticRaven Phono preamp ($17,000). Electronics were the gorgeous Audia Flight Strumento No.1 preamp ($17,500) and Strumento No.8 mono amps ($65,000/pair). The speakers were the Verity Audio Amadis S ($33,995) and the cabling was the Unity Audio Design Reference Series. Most of the equipment sat on a Custom Design UK Definitive XL rack ($1,595) and the table sat on a Silent Running Ohio Base XL isolation platform ($2,800).Yes! Yes! Yes! Is what I kept thinking as I listened to one of my favorite album’s Steely Dan’s Gaucho. Wow! This music was so nicely rendered through this system that when I left, I went down to the Audio Marketplace to see if I could pick up a fresh vinyl copy. Paul Manos of High Fidelity Services and Jeff Catalano of High Water Sound are to be commended for the quality of sound this system was producing consistently all weekend.
One of the biggest surprises for me from last year’s AXPONA was discovering the Polymer Audio Research MKS-X loudspeaker ($68,000/pair). This year that speaker could be found in the Hi-Fi Imports room and baby let me tell you. This was a match made in audio heaven. When you listen to speakers like the Polymers that are rich with detail, musicality and effortless portrayals of raw power, you can’t help but think, “I wonder what they’d sound like with tubes?” Well, enter the Thrax Audio Dionysos preamp ($21,500), Maximinus DAC ($33,000) and Teres hybrid monoblock amps ($30,000/pair). The system was fronted by the Weiss Man 301 Music Archive Network Player ($12,262 w/DAC, $9,083 w/o DAC) and cabling was all Enklein’s David Series. Boy, talk about being wrapped in a warm cocoon of musical bliss. This system delivered the goods, even under show conditions. Good friend and fellow Stereo Timer Key Kim has actually had Thrax Audio gear in his house. Suddenly I don’t like Key as much as I used to. Just kidding… but I am jealous.
Notables. There were a few other things worth mentioning. At every show there are pieces of equipment that make it onto my short list of things that I’ll be pursuing for review this year. Among the items making that list from this show were the lovely phono cartridges from Canadian distributor Charisma Audio. The wonderful sounding and multi-faceted Vinnie Rossi integrated amp/preamp/phonostage/DAC/headphone amp also makes the list. The new Wilson Audio Sabrina loudspeaker garnered a lot of attention as did their showmates the gorgeous tube gear from Doshi Audio. Colorado distributor Rutherford Audio featured a few of the excellent and modestly priced Thorens turntables. Following in the footsteps of Sony, who is shedding some of its mid-fi persona in the U.S. with products such as the SS-AR1 loudspeakers and HAP-Z1ES Hi-Res music server, Technics showed a promising looking and sounding line of products aimed squarely at the high-end market called the R1 Reference series. This nicely built line includes the SB-R1 loudspeakers, SE-R1 stereo amp, and SU-R1 Network Control Player. Technics Director, Michiko Ogawa, is a popular jazz pianist, personally listens to every R1 Reference component to ensure quality. This stuff is definitely high on my list, but I also think its gonna be high on a lot of people’s list. Anvil Turntables was a new company to me but they make some really sleek looking products. They only have one table design called the “Alloy Convertible,” a 60 pound (!) all-metal table that I was really fascinated by. It was in a static display so hopefully I’ll be able to get my hands on one and let you know if it sounds as cool as it look. Finally, from my main man Ty Lashbrook at Tyler Acoustics has come up with something that is truly unique in audiophile circles. It’s called the Taylo Dream Console ($28,000). This is Ty’s take on the old stereo console from the ‘60s that marries custom wood cabinetry with high-quality stereo components such as a VPI turntable, Rogue Audio integrated amp and Tyler’s own full-range speaker system, all built into a massive handmade cabinet. Sounds great too! At 48”w x 52”h x 27”d and 350 lbs., it may not be coming to my house any time soon but if you’ve got the bucks and are looking for an awesome centerpiece for your man cave, look no further.
Well that’s my two cents about this year’s AXPONA/Audiocon. I saw and heard lot’s of great stuff and hopefully, some of it will be coming to me for review at some point this year. Please keep visiting our website for more great reviews and show reports from the world of high-end audio. Happy listening!