My favorite part of any show is that quest for something, anything, that stops me dead in my tracks and demands I take notice. Better yet, a system that commands me to sit and stay a while. In that respect, I have to say that AXPONA 2016 had its share of riches. You could call these my “best of..”, but really, these are the rooms that for one reason or another managed to make a connection with me.
Thrax / Audio Union / Enklein
This room is a mystery indeed. Thrax Audio products was showcasing their complete line-up of audio products featuring the Dionysos Tube preamp, Orpheus tube phono, Teres 250 watt Hybrid mono power amplifiers, and Lyra 2-way stand-mounted speakers. Cabling throughout were the superb Enklein “David”.
Normally, I am not a fan of high efficiency compression driver type speakers. Yet I was really digging the groove emanating from the relatively compact Thrax “Lyra” speakers. Not only did I sit and listen for 30 minutes or so, but I returned to this room on three separate occasions. I simply did not want to believe that I was hearing a speaker system with a horn-loaded driver that did not sound like a horn at all (not a big fan of horns). The only obvious short-coming was the absence of low bass. I assume that the phase integrity and coherency of the system was also due in no small part to superb Enklein “David” cabling.
The vinyl playback system was also a design from the makers of Thrax. The Audio Union Helix 1 turntable was equipped with a Schroeder-designed ceramic bearing tonearm, and Lyra Atlas phono cartridge. As was the case of the digital system, the sound of the analog was neutral, true to the LP, and non-fatiguing. This is the kind of performance only careful set-up and attention to detail can yield. This was most certainly one of the most engaging (small speaker) systems at the show.
United Home Audio / MBL
I’m generally not one to give too much attention to million dollar rooms such as this one, and quite frankly I have heard MBL systems at shows that were really good and some that were seriously lacking or flawed. This one however, grabbed me by the throat, demanded that I step over the masses that were already piled in and seated and wrestle my way to the single available seat. This was no ordinary MBL system. I sat there mesmerized as I heard an open reel tape of Peter Gabriel’s “Ovo” (the show for the Millenium Dome). This concoction of circa quarter million dollar speakers, MBL “Xtreme”, a quad of MBL 9011 amplifiers, 6010D preamplifier and assorted bits of cable from Wireworld delivered the most arresting, beautiful image of the song ”Voice of Eden” that I have ever heard. Yes, this is an audio show, and yes, this means that the room acoustics suck. However, this system simply overcame any of those normal obstacles. The duet of Peter Gabriel and Sinead O’Connor were so beautifully presented in a multi-layered tapestry of sound and an almost other-worldly presence. I had goosebumps and my blood pressure spiked as the pure chemical reaction over what I was hearing took over. (Am I exaggerating? No, actually. I’ve been known to suffer a nosebleed or two in the presence of sonic greatness.) I stayed for a couple of songs, and did not dare return.
Scaena / Audio Research
By this time, I have had many encounters with the Scaena Speakers. Aside from a time I heard them at a CES under very poor room conditions a few years ago, they have always been amazing. This time Scaena was showing their midline model which includes the array of 15 mid drivers, 9 ribbons, and 3 woofers per side and powered by a pair of prodigious Audio Research Reference 7 power amplifiers. This actually was the first system to elicit that chemical reaction I related earlier in the MBL system writeup. Indeed this latest incarnation of the Scaena “15” model with the re-worked (and smaller) woofers filled the huge room with a sonic picture and presented that holographic picture of a musical event that I have always found to be breath-taking and somewhat eerie all at the same time. No, the system did not have an open reel machine as a source, but rather the latest of the dCS line-up of digital equipment. Did it matter? Not one IOTA. The Scaena’s astounding coherence and holographic image was something that the MBL/UHA system only alluded to.
The AXPONA 2010 Scaena/Engstrom pairing was magical; so too was the AXPONA 2012 Scaena/Conrad-Johnson GAT pairing. However, this latest iteration of the Scaena, with improved woofers and paired with the Audio Research monoblocks, is the best I have yet heard of these wondrous speakers and indeed I consider this room the best of the best from AXPONA 2016.
- (Page 1 of 1)