AXPONA 2017 Bill Wells PART 2
SHOW REPORT – Part Two
AXPONA Audio Expo North America
April 21 – 23, 2017
Started out early Saturday morning with determination to get to a few exhibits that caught my eye/ear on Friday but ran out of time to do them justice. My very first stop was at the exhibit hosted by the Chicago-based dealership Saturday Audio Exchange. This exhibit was essentially two exhibits in one rather large room. The configuration was with two completely different systems at opposite ends of the room. Essentially they rotated from one system to the other approximately every 30-45 minutes or whenever there was sufficient interest or demand for either system. The speakers of choice were from the Paradigm product line and the electronics provided by Anthem.
At the far end of the room, they were displaying the very attractive flagship, and very good sounding Persona 9H ($35,000). These were driven by the Anthem STR Integrated amplifier ($4,500). Electronics were placed on a Sanus equipment stand, cabling was by Audioquest and power conditioning by the Audioquest/Niagara line conditioning ($995). Music was done via streaming and unfortunately, my notes don’t include a description of the source. Sorry. Having heard lots of positive comments regarding the newer upscale Persona line, as well as very positive reviews, I was most anxious to hear them for myself and get a really good grasp on their overall performance capabilities. From a somewhat abbreviated listening session – I felt they did an admirable job on the music that was selected. I was also somewhat interested in how these would sound with the other Anthem electronics in the room as well. Anyway – what I heard was sufficient to warrant a more intentional listening session and hopefully sometime in the not too distant future.
In the other side of this same room, another system was set up also consisting of Paradigm speakers and Anthem electronics. Specifically the Paradigm Person 3F speakers ($10,000) and Model B (blue) that are large bookshelf ($7,000 - with Sanus stands adds $149 pr.). There were also Paradigm Prestige 75f speakers in optional Black Cherry ($3398). These were driven by the Anthem AVM 60 pre/ proc ($2,999), Anthem M1 1000w mono block amps ($3,499), Marantz SA14 S1 Super Audio player and Sanus equipment stand ($169). Unfortunately, due to several requests for playing different speakers in this system – I wasn’t able to check out the smaller Persona 3f speakers and only had limited time to listen to the others due to some sort of problem getting the Marantz to load properly. By the time I left – things were up and running properly and with apparent good sound coming from the smaller system. Of note – in speaking with the folks hosting this room – they were emphasizing the ability to get really good sound and without braking the bank. Lots of options with the various Paradigm speakers coupled with reasonably priced electronics from Anthem and I believe they accomplished their goal.
Next up was a multi-layered approach to visiting three separate exhibits sponsored by Bill Parrish of GTT Audio. Last year I had the privilege of visiting GTT Audio in the western suburbs of New Jersey and was very impressed with the various systems in his multiple showrooms and with an array of stellar high-end audio products. So in a very real sense – having the opportunity to visit three separate rooms at this year’s Axpona Show with GTT Audio as the primary host for each of these exhibits, I was expecting some good sounds. One thing Parrish does is make sure that each of his rooms aren’t simply replicas of each other but instead, each room has its’ own distinct personality and musical flavor.
My very first GTT Audio exhibit that I visited was a room consisting of Mola Mola electronics including Kaluga mono amps ($16,500), Makua preamp ($11,740) and DAC ($7,850). These electronics carried the input source signal and provided power to a pair of YG Acoustics Carmel loudspeakers ($24,300 pr.) Cabling was by way of Kubala-Sosna Elation interconnects and speaker cables ($6,000 per meter/$1200 additional meter), power cords ($1,800 per meter, $500 additional meter) and Realization USB cable ($3,500). The sound was very open, full with excellent detail and expressiveness. Vocals in particular were beautiful, delicate and a very nice tonal quality. All in all – this room didn’t disappoint in any way and was clearly a room where you could simply sit down, relax and drift away. Also, having Dick Diamond, YG Sales guru, there to guide us through an impressive selection of classic music, jazz and classical, definitely helped to keep the vibe alive. Nice job.
Moving on to the next GTT Audio room placed me in a setting where the innovative Kii Three Loudspeaker System (self-powered, $13,900) were doing their thing. Perhaps a bit louder than what I typically prefer but nonetheless, these relatively small, self-powered speakers were impressively and effectively belting out the sounds playing some big kick-ass, funky electric bass (courtesy of Victor Wooten recording). The sound was fast, deep, powerful, reasonably articulate and definitely shaking the room. This particular pair of speakers was done in black ($1,960 for optional custom colors, $1,650 stands and $1,760 for Kii Control). All-in-all, lots of sound for the money since all you need from here is an input source.
Last GTT Audio room that I visited was my favorite of the three. Perhaps due to my familiarity with the YG Acoustics Sonia 1.2 loudspeakers ($72,900) The sound felt like I was reconnecting with a dear friend from the past. (I actually had an earlier version of these speakers at my home years ago for an extended period and still very much recall the high level of performance and musical satisfaction they provided while at my place). Complementing the speakers was a quite a wonderful array of components including the following: Audionet (Preamp) Pre ($23,350), Audionet MAX mono amps ($30,500 pr.), Audionet PAM G2 Phonostage ($10,100), Audionet EPX Optional Power Supply ($10,100), Audionet Plank CD Player ($18,800), Audionet Ampere Optional Power Supply ($11,200). For the wonderful analog playback setup – the elaborate Kronos Pro Turntable was there ($38,000) along with the Kronos Black Beauty Tonearm w/arm boards ($10,000), SCPS-1 Optional Power Supply ($13,500) and Air Tight Opus 1 cartridge ($15,000). Connecting the electronics all together including the speakers – Kubala-Sosna Cables were ever present. Realization! Interconnect ($10,000 – 1st meter/$1,800 additional meter), Elation! Power Cords ($2,800 – 1st meter/$600 additional meter) and Kubala-Sosna XPander ($4,800). Listening to some wonderful classic jazz LPs (i.e., Ray Brown and Dexter Gordon) was quite a treat. Sound was very much classic YG being superbly open, clear with good foundation, tight and articulate bass. This is the type of system that can play all types of recorded music that pleases the ear as well as the soul. Always good to check out the GTT Audio exhibits.
OK, moving right along – next stop was an exhibit that represented a collaboration between several persons representing three different products. Perhaps the most notable of the group, all from Hudson, WI, and please don’t read this as being dismissive in any way to anyone, is Paul Wakeen from Stillpoints. The others notable persons is Bruce Jacobs, representing the electronics (Exception Integrated - $5,950 Hybrid with tubes/solid state, 50 watts per ch, Exception Phono Stage - $6,950 plus Mysonic Eminence streaming device - $5,800), and finally John Tucker representing the speakers (Exemplar XL-III loudspeakers - $8,995). Unique feature of the speakers – full range with single driver and no crossover. For analog source – a VPI Avenger ($15,000) was put into action, power conditioning and cabling was courtesy of Shunyata (Denali 6000T, $4,995), Alpha Interconnects ($1,995 1 m each), Sigma Power Cords ($2,495, 1.8 m each) and Delta Speaker Cables ($2,000, 2 meter pair).
Equipment was sitting on a Quadrasphere rack ($900) with Stillpoints Ultra 6s including base ($939 each). Overall sound in this exhibit was actually quite good and worth more than a cursory visit. Yes – I stayed and listened to some good tunes and more than just one. Good job guys.
On both Friday and Saturday, Ken Forsythe of MQA provided a special presentation regarding the MQA technology that has been introduced for significantly enhancing the sound of previously recorded music. Since I managed to squeeze my way into a fairly crowded room and with no way to take notes, I can only suggest that with what I heard, as well as the enthusiasm expressed by a number of electronics manufacturers, MQA capability is clearly a break-through technology and something we should become learn more about.
Literally next door to the MQA presentation – I entered the exhibit by the folks from Audioengine. Needless to say – this exhibit had products that were clearly at the other end of the spectrum from what many exhibits provided but I also considered the importance of what these products represent in terms of easy access and relatively good sound. Not that these powered speakers are likely to inspire you to replace your cherished main speakers and electronics but what they can do to provide solid musical satisfaction in an office, on top of your desk, in a bedroom or other space where you want good sounds and without lots of equipment, cables, other – these can do the trick. (Insert Photo #52 here). Also, while there – I did in fact listen to several selections of music that I was unfamiliar with but nonetheless impressed. Definitely something to think about and also consider.
Another very short trip, as in literally next door to this exhibit, I found myself in the exhibit presented by CH Precision. Nicely laid out exhibit visually and good sounding as well. Unfortunately I was on a mission to keep moving and did not have sufficient time to seriously check this system out properly – so my apologies. My hope/intent was to try and get back later for a more intentional listening session. Here are a few photos for this particular room including the following: Magico S1 MKII loudspeakers, CH Precision – L1 Universal Integrated Amplifier, T1 10MHZ Tim Reference and D1 CD/SACD player, Kronos Sparta turntable with Kubotek cartridge, Artensania Audio equipment rack.
Continuing through the hallways – as I walked past this room, something caught my attention. First it was the visual impression of speakers that I was unfamiliar but the sounds from the room also seemed to draw me in. The exhibit was presented by Audio Solutions of Indy/Harman International. As I entered the room – before me was a pair of JBL Everest speakers ($67,000) in their exclusive handcrafted premium high-gloss Polar White finish (i.e., optional premium finishes are available) featuring a large horn speaker on top with two 15” woofers below. These were being driven by Mark Levinson electronics including the model 526 preamp and 534 mono block amplifiers. Power conditioning was provided by the Audioquest/ Nagra 8000 and cabling was Nordost Odin 2 speaker cables and Valhalla 2 interconnects and power cables.
Paragon Sight and Sound had two separate exhibits and my next encounter the smaller room that also displayed a very impressive system along with good sounds. Of particular note – this room also provided three different top-shelf sources for music reproduction including analog, digital and reel-to-reel tape. All formats sounded quite good but to my ear and credit goes to the hosts for selecting some fine recordings for all formats. However, I must say that the real magic came when listening to the awesome sounding reel-to-reel tapes. I should note that during this particular show, as well as previous other shows where I had an opportunity to listen to some of the specialty tapes that are now available, I have had the same general reaction. There is just something quite special with this format although the cost of individual tapes is quite high, ranging from approximately $200 per tape to over $400.
Here is a listing of various components that may give you a hint as to the overall capability of this system. Featured brands included the newer Wilson Audio Yvette loudspeakers ($25,500 retail, standard color. Optional custom colors are also available for additional costs). These speakers replace the highly respected Sophia with the Yvette being an all new design incorporating trickle down technology from the company’s flagship top-of-the-line loudspeakers. The core system included wonderful tube electronics by: Doshi Audio - v3.0 preamplifier ($16,995), v3.0 Jhor mono block amplifiers ($29,995 pr.), newly released v3.0 Stereo power amplifier ($15,995), v3.0 phono preamplifier ($16,995) and v3.0 tape preamplifier ($16,995). Digital processing was in the hands of the well-known dCS products including Rossini DAC ($23,999) and Master Clock ($7,499). Analog playback was courtesy of Brinkmann Spyder Turntable ($17,490) and Koetsu Rosewood Signature cartridge ($4,995). Special music treats came from the U.S. manufactured Maramachine MCI JH110 Reel-to-Reel tape deck ($8,000 right). Cabling for this system was done via Transparent including Reference speaker cables ($8,745), Reference phono cable ($3,460), Reference digital BNC ($4,285), Reference interconnects (single-ended, $4,920 and balanced, $5,600), Reference power cables ($1,100) and Power Isolator 8 ($3,795). Providing solid footing and stability, as well as isolation, for this superb electronics were various products by Harmonic Resolution System including RS RXR 4V & SXR 3V Audio racks & bases ($20,655) and M3X amp stands ($5,790).
The other Paragon Sight & Sound exhibit was truly a premier, large scale system featuring the Wilson Audio Alexx loudspeakers, D’Agostino Momentum electronics, dCS Vivaldi Digital system, Brinkman Audio Balance turntable, Transparent Opus cabling and power conditioning and finally Harmonic Resolution System Isolation system components. During the time I was in the room, Dan D’Agostino was literally holding court and providing an overview of the system including design considerations, other. Clearly, my expectation for great sound in a room like this was quite high. And for the relatively brief time I was in the room, what I experienced was quite impressive. Here is a more detailed listing of the components with prices for this mega system: Wilson Audio Alexx loudspeakers ($109,000 pr. Standard color – optional colors available for additional pricing), D’Agostino Momentum preamplifier ($35,000), Momentum phono stage ($28,000), bridged Momentum mono block amplifiers ($65,000 pr.), dCS Vivaldi DAC ($25,999), UpSampler ($21,999), Master Clock ($14,999) and CD/SACD Transport ($41,999). The Brinkman Audio Balance turntable featured a 12.1” tonearm ($32,080), Koetsu Azule Platinum cartridge ($10,995), Transparent Opus speaker cable (12 ft., $41,365 pr.), Opus OSC Balanced Interconnects (35 ft., $36,615), Opus balanced phono cable IC (phono-to-pre, $22,000), Opus OPH1.5 RCA phono cable ($13,580), Opus balanced IC (dCS to pre, $22,760), Transparent XLAES 1.0, 1.5 and 2.0 digital cables ($3,995, $4,500 and $5,000 respectively), XL 75 ohm 1.5 digital cable ($4,285), Opus power cord ($5,550), PowerIsolator 8 ($3,795) and Opus PowerIsolator ($15,950). Harmonic Resolution System components included their VXR-4T Audio Stand ($21,745 ea), M3x-1921 ($2,895 ea), M3x-1923-2DGWSTN MM amp stand ($3,495) and SXRC-1923-2-1V amp isolation base ($6,190).
As it was becoming late on Saturday afternoon and my time at this year’s Axpona event nearing a close, made an efforts to check out several more exhibits as well as conduct an interview before winding down this day. Next up for me was a visit to the exhibit hosted by High Fidelity Services, dealership based in Hingham, MA. This particular system included Verity Audio speakers driven by Audia Flight electronics and fed primarily by analog (i.e., LP’s). Interesting to note as well – this show served as a debut for the speakers, amplifier and also the turntable. The speakers were three-way Verity Audio Finn ($6,995), the electronics included Audia Flight FL2 integrated amp (i.e., used as a preamp for this show - $5,295), FLS4 amplifier ($8,995) and Flight phono ($5,995) and the turntable was AnalogueWorks TT Two turntable ($5,595), featuring an SME 309 tonearm ($1,895) and Ortofon Cadenza Black cartridge ($2,729). Cables were the Signal Projects Andromeda interconnects and speaker cables (pricing n/a), Vibex V3 power cables (pricing n/a), Vibex Granada Dual DC and Alhambra AC Mains power filters ($2,995 and $2,145 respectively. The equipment rack was Hi Fi Grand Stand ($2,495).
This system was in rather stark contrast to several behemoth systems that I visited during the show but in all actuality – there was no major let down from a sonic performance standpoint – just different in scale and scope but not from a musicality perspective. Room setup provided a relaxed, warm, inviting ambiance and the overall sound was very musical satisfying and quite pleasing. It had an overall open/clear and dynamic sound with excellent midrange and good bass. Definitely a system that I could listen to for extended periods, relax and groove to the music.
The final exhibit for my visit was hosted by Audio Video Interiors of Chicago. Again like several other dealerships – this exhibit actually had two completely different systems in the same space and located at opposite ends of the room. The first system I checked out included floor standing Sonus Venere Signature speakers in white gloss finish ($5,000 pr.). Simply judging by the looks, pedigree and sound of these speakers, I was somewhat surprised and fairly impressed, particularly at this price point. In fact – this was lots of good sound for the money. Electronics used for this system included all McIntosh gear featuring C2600 tube preamp with internal DAC including USB streaming from a PC for this exhibit. The amplifiers was the McIntosh MC452, 450 watts per channel. Cabling was provided by Audioquest.
The other system in this room was quite different and featured the rather large Martin Logan Neolith electronics. These too were being driven by McIntosh electronics in the C1100 tube preamp (2 chassis) and MC 1.2kW tube amps (1000 watts per channel). Similar to the other system, this also had Audioquest cabling as well as the Aurender A-10 Music Server. The overall sound was as you could imagine – big, dynamic and very transparent. Definitely an impressive sound and with this much tube power feeding these large screens, you would expect something on this order.
Finally my day for actively pursuing and visiting as many exhibits as possible had come to an end. The only thing left was something that I had actually been anticipating and really looking forward to throughout my time at this show. At this point, I had the distinct honor to visit with and conduct an informal interview the founder/President/CEO of Tidal Audio, Jorn Janczak, . This opportunity was especially positive for me since Jorn had traveled all the way from Germany to be at this show that served as a platform for the debut showing of the Akira loudspeakers in the U.S. at a high-end audio show. If you read my earlier comments in Part One of my Show Report you already know how I feel about this particular speaker. It is truly awesome.
What I was interested to learn, from the man – not just by reading his company’s website or even hearing from his dealer(s) and representative(s), was more about his initial thinking and efforts to build the company. What I learned was that from early in his youth, he had a strong love of music and built his first big sound system for his car. Also, his early work experience as a production manager in a manufacturing plant exposed him to precision machining (i.e., CNC techniques and processes). From there he had a vision and later partnered with a long-time friend who also shared his passion and commitment to pursue creating a company that would ultimately design, develop and build high-quality loudspeakers. After putting together their business plan and securing the necessary funding, the company known today as Tidal Audio (i.e., pronounced Tee-Dahl) was launched (1999). Jorn’s first big loudspeaker (i.e., Sun Ray) was a noticeable success and initially displayed in Asia (2003). For more detailed information regarding the company’s philosophy, design approach and more – I suggest you visit their website at: www.tidal-audio.com. Since this time, the company has grown by providing a superb, high-quality product and by reputation, not by marketing and advertising.
During our time together, Jorn also shared with me some exciting news related to ongoing product development and various other pursuits by his company. What he indicated was that as he is preparing for the future, and specifically for the purpose of making access to Tidal speakers more accessible, Tidal is in the process of developing something more affordable. This is also in response to his dealers (and clients) who are interested in something more affordable. Also according to Jorn, a key to this approach for these newer products will be to preserve the Tidal legacy (i.e., DNA) of high quality by leveraging trickle-down technology and maintaining the same high standards of his premier line of products. The intent is to extend the opportunity to the Tidal experience with no compromise to company’s philosophy and/or design and development approach. More information will be made available later and surely will expand on this exciting news.
By the end of this day - I was thoroughly spent mentally and physically. However, I was also inspired by all that I had seen and heard over the past two days. Axpona Audio Expo North America is a quality event, very well organized along with positive interactions with staff and various support members. Here’s one last bit of exciting news for consideration – the annual Axpona Expo will be moving to a new and much larger venue for 2018. The location of next year’s event will be in Shaumburg, IL and specifically at the Renaissance Shaumburg and Convention Center. In terms of the distance from this year’s event to next year, it is approximately 35 minutes by car and still with relatively easy access if traveling by car and/or air travel through Chicago O’Hare airport. Regardless – I plan to be there and suggest you start making your plans as well.