While the following is not exhaustive, it is a representation of the varied experiences I had at AXOPONA 2016. The show seemed a bit less crowded than last year, but not poorly attended. There seemed to be a balance overall on displays using digital and analogue sources. I was encouraged to see more youthful faces than previously, perhaps brought out by some of the notable economical products entering the marketplace and the substantive personal listening space emphasis growing in the industry.
My overall impression of the systems was favorable, with one or two standouts I consider the best I have heard at any show. There was a trend, at least according to my ears, of emphasis on definition and top end energy. It seemed many systems were top heavy, some with so much upper end emphasis I could hardly stand them. Active speakers continue to claw their way into the public awareness, and I heard a better representation of them at all budget points than prior years.
So, what did I see and hear in these three days? I’m going to do things a bit differently in this report. Rather than trot out all the minutia about each component of systems, I will be discussing brands being used together and my impressions of them. I will comment upon individual components as needed, and the reader will get an idea of what kind of systems I would consider putting together.
Gingko Audio room
Salk PowerPlay Monitors (active speakers), Salk StreamPlayer Generation III running Roon software, Wells Audio Innamorata Signature Amplifier, Lampizator Lite 7 DAC/Preamp and wired with Dana Cables. Through the years, Salk has paired often with Van Alstine electronics, and did so again this year. The introduction of Wells amplification brought a bit more snap and pep to the Salk speakers. These brands gelled well together and were indicative of a very high degree of value to performance. I tend to desire larger systems with more extreme performance in terms of frequency extension, but within the parameters they defined, I consider this a very good combination of brands.
Blue Smoke Entertainment
Blue Smoke Entertainment Systems Black Box Ultimate, MSB Diamond DAC-V, VAC Master Line Stage Pre-Amplifier, VAC Signature IQ 200 Amplifiers, Von Schweikert Audio VR-55 Active Speaker and V-12XS Shockwave Subwoofer, MasterBuilt Audio Cables (made by Von Schweikert), with Harmonic Resolution Systems racks and bases and SMT tuning and treatment devices. I did not get to play my music on this system, but I found the partnership of these brands worthy of further investigation. Having reviewed and owned Von Schweikert VR-4 SR MkII speakers and working extensively with VAC electronics, I heard good synergy between them. My impression was that it was ultra clean and with a high degree of dynamic capacity. From what I heard later in the day, the MSB digital was instrumental in bringing the VAC and Von Schweikert lines together successfully.
Helix 1 Turntable, Schroeder CB Arm, Thrax Orpheus Phono Tube Preamplifier, Dionysos Line Level Tube Preampllifier, Maximinus DAC and Teres Hybrid Mono Amplifier, driving Thrax Lyra 2-way Stand Mounted Loudspeaker. This was a forceful combination, showing a high degree of synergy in terms of dynamics and definition, yet it did not capture my soul. There seemed to be a great number of forceful sounding small speakers at the show, but these including active ones, did not stir my soul especially. I remain at heart a floor standing speaker man.
Metronome Technologies Calypso Premier Transport, Legacy V Speaker System (includes Wavelet DAC/Preamp/Crossover/Room Correction), and Raven Spirit 300B Mk2 Monoblock Amplifiers. One of four systems set up in the cavernous Legacy Audio room, the V is the flagship of the Legacy Line. This room was not forgiving of the endeavor, and I had to remind myself to extract it from the equation as much as I can. I had been encouraging Legacy Audio to try some different amps as I was not thoroughly settled with previous show sound. The Raven amplifiers were the best I have heard to date and turned the V from a high power transducer to one with much better tonality as well. I recall hearing the Whisper at shows in large rooms and being confronted with the same issues, however in my home it shines brilliantly. I suspect the same would be true of the V.
LampizatOr Komputer Server, Golden Gate DAC and Silver Silk Power Conditioner, Verastarr Grand Illusion Cables series, Essence of Audio Chimera device on speaker leads, Vapor Audio Derecho Speaker.
Vapor did not participate in the headlong rush toward the “top end” as in overdoing the treble as if there was an unspoken agreement, “The more treble the better!” I know how precise and exacting the Joule White 3 is, so it was a pleasure to observe how mellow the Derecho was with the Musical Design amp and LampizatOr DAC. It reminded me of the luxurious low level demos of Jeff Rowland, peaceful and unassuming. The sound was extremely well balanced and easy on the ears.
Vinnie Rossi and Acoustic Signature Comparison
In these next two systems I present an “overlap”, a duplication of usage of some components, but with divergence of results in unique systems set up in different rooms, which underscores the importance of careful matching of products to achieve the sound one desires!
System 1: Volti Audio Alura Speaker, Vinnie Rossie LIO Integrated Amplifier, Triode Wire Labs cables, and Acoustic Signature Challenger MkIII with TA-1000 Arm. A good friend of mine owns the Volti Alura with Border Patrol amplification and Synergistic Research cabling, it is snappy, quite vibrant. This show system was sleepy sounding to me, very subdued. I qualify my assessment, as I did not play my tracks from USB stick. (no picture)
System 2: (Fidelis AV) Harbeth M40.2 Loudspeaker, Vinnie Rossie LIO Integrated Amp, Terrurium Q Silver Diamond Speaker Cables and Acoustic Signature Thunder Turntable with TA-5000 Arm. Here, in a very close field listening position I was simply won over by the beguiling mix of precision and finesse. I have not been enamored of classic “box” speakers, but the Harbeth was simply outstanding with this collection of gear. It was vibrant without being sloppy. One of the better near field exhibitions I have heard at shows.
Musical Surroundings and Quintessence Audio Ltd. Comparison
The audiophile typically finds that a particular brands by a distributor or dealer either enthrall or disappoint them. Here are two systems represented by a notable distributor and dealership, to which I had strong reactions. Both systems used Kubala Sosna cabling and Critical Mass racks.
System 1: Clearaudio Performance DC Wood Turntable with Upgraded Magnify Arm and Stradivari Cartridge, Pass Labs Xs150 Mono Amps, Pass Labs XP-30 Preamplifier, Pass Labs XP-25 Phono Preamplifier, Berkeley Audio Designs Reference Series Alpha DAC, Aurender N10 Digital Music Server, Focal Sopra n2 Loudspeakers. I recently had a revelation regarding Pass Labs gear. Having reviewed the formidable XA250 and X600.5 amps, and now in process of writing up the First Watt J2, I prefer Nelson’s lower power (actually, a pair of J2 Amps) to the others. Hearing the similar signature of the high power sound I was cool to the sound of this system.
System2: AMG Biro G9 Turntable with 9W2 Tonarm and AMG Teatro MC Cartridge, Audio Research Reference Phono 3, Audio Research Reference CD9 Player/DAC, Audio Research Reference 9 Line Stage, Audio Research GS150 Stereo Amplifier, Sonus Faber II Cremonese Loudspeakers. Here was a moving audio experience! This was one of the most memorable systems of the show, and also in the minds of my colleagues and friends at the show. All agreed the Audio Research and Sonus Faber matched extremely well. While not as viscerally explosive or overwhelming as the Scaena speakers the presentation was rich and rewarding. Frankly, previously I have not been a fan of Audio Research, but this system forced me to reconsider their new line.
- (Page 1 of 2)
- Next page →