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AXPONA 2012 Show Report
AXPONA 2012 Show Report -- Audio Expo North America
Warm winter brings cool sounds to the South
Show Coverage By A. Colin Flood

 

   Now a regular at AXPONA, since I haven't missed a year since they started, some ask "Why do I go?"

Few high-end, audio-visual retail stores in my area
Convenient, entertaining, informative and not too expensive weekend
Stimulating seminars with experts
Something to do with friends from my Suncoast Audiophile Society (Meet up.com)
Another way to enjoy the hobby

 

At AXPONA, you can see, and hear, some amazingly cool stuff:

Ultimate "money-is-no-object" dream systems
Some very good sounding, yet practical systems
A few "I just don't get what they are trying to accomplish" systems
A few "why even bother" systems
Different transducer approaches: panels, electrostatics, horns
Lots of equipment you only read about
Somebody who might clarify techno-babble
A chance to talk with audio illuminaires
A possible change in your upgrade plans
A bag full of freebie junk

 

And for me, after more than a decade of writing audio reviews, a chance to act wise (and nervous) on a panel of real experts.  

Ripping Vinyl LPs / Computer Audio in Today's Audiophile World
The opening seminar with much needed free coffee on Friday and Saturday mornings got rave reviews from the attendees. Rob Robertson, from the Channel D and Pure Music room, had answers to many of the questions tweaking audiophiles had about transitioning to digital medium.

 

AIX Records
The award-winning record label displayed the world's FIRST public demonstration of their new Headphones "room processed" sound files, using a Mac Book Pro, a USB Benchmark DAC-1 HDR and a pair of Stax electrostatic headphones. The listener experiences the sound of the AIX Records studio through the headphones rather than the typical "inside" your head reproduction. There are a few rooms with sheer sound perfection quality at AXPONA, and AIX is certainly one of them. AIX is partnering with Dolby Labs, Bryston, Oppo Digital, JVC, B&W, Benchmark and DH Labs. They are demonstrating new 2D and 3D music productions from AIX using Blu-ray and Blu-ray 3D software encoded with Dolby TrueHD lossless encoding played back through an Oppo Digital BDP-95 hybrid Blu-ray player using the HDMI outputs to the new Bryston SP-3 A/V Processor, which will do the digital to analog conversion.

I love my Benchmark 2496 equalizer (as reviewed here). The Benchmark HDR will be used in the AIX Records/iTrax room for their two channel demonstration. The Bryston will provide volume control and state-of-the-art conversion through balanced DH Labs interconnects to massive Bryston 7B 600-watt monoblock amplifiers...one for each of the five main loudspeakers!  The speakers at B&W 802Ds for the fronts, and B&W 804Ds for the surrounds. There was also a DB1 sub-woofer from B&W. The video output of the Oppo player will be routed via HDMI to the JVC 3D Projector Model DLA-RS65U3D to an eight-foot wide Stewart FilmScreen Reflections 170 screen. Mark Waldrep, of AIX Records, gave the keynote noon address for the show on both Friday and Saturday. He and his wife did a steady business with a wide selection of discs.

 

House Of Stereo
They featured the sexy new KEF Blade speaker system. These $30,000 babies had some of the highest Spousal Acceptance Factor (SAF) of any loudspeaker in the show. Very slick. The House also had Acoustics Reference Series MXR Mono Block Amplifiers, KX-R Preamplifier, DX-5 Universal CD/DAC, the sleek Oracle Delphi MK VI Turntable, and Audience Reference line conditioners and cables. They showed-off vinyl as well as digital files reproduction through a 24-bit digital-to-analog converter (DAC).

Bill Gibson, President, says they get a common variety of questions at high-end audio shows:  "Who is the artist you are playing? How much is "X"? What cables are you using?" When House Of Stereo is asked about price, he says they usually explain that a similar sound is available in more affordable models from the same manufacturer. When asked about loudspeaker cables, the answer is almost always "Audience". Why?  "We feel the most natural overall balance of sound."

Editor of Enjoy the Music.com, Steven R. Rochlin, says, "I have shopped at House of Stereo and met Bill on more than one occasion during my relatively early audiophile years. Having lived in Florida, House of Stereo in Jacksonville and Sound Ideas in Gainesville were my mainstays. Both are great stores and if you happen to be in central/northern Florida they are well worth a visit.

 

Bob Carver
Of great personal interest to me is Bob Carver's talk introducing his new tube (yes, tube!) amplifier and narrow ribbon line loudspeakers. Indeed, Carver's talk, room, amplifiers and loudspeakers were on everybody's tongue all weekend. Robert W. (Bob) Carver (left, A. Colin Flood is on the right) is known for designing the Phase Linear 700, a 350-watt per channel, solid-state amplifier, the most powerful consumer audio amplifier available in 1972. He founded Carver Corporation in 1979 and Sunfire in 1994. Carver is renowned for powerful amplifiers and sub-woofers, duplicating expensive amplifiers with his lower cost designs and unique names for his product features, such as sonic holography. His room had two sets of his new Black Beauty 305 tube amplifiers powering his new eight-foot tall black-on-black line driver array loudspeakers in bi-amp mode! Carver and company also had their new Cherry red 180 tube amplifiers and a prototype of their new 20-watt stereo amplifier as well. Bob Farinelli, President of Carver, says the most common question he answers is about their new amplifiers: "Is that price per amp or pair?" He said "when I tell people ‘per pair,' they are pleasantly surprised." I am angling to get a pair for review...

The brains behind Craver's set-up was the top-of-the-line Purity Audio Design Ultra GT linestage (pictured below).  

Audible Images

They had two rooms:

Audio Research DAC 8
Ref 5se preamplifier
Ref 150 amplifier
Aerial Acoustics 7t
Transparent cable
MacBook w/ Amara

Florida Ballroom B
Incredibly huge soundstage in a very large room with this set-up. I use Dire Straights' "Brothers in Arms" album as a test because the crescendo on the "Man's Too Strong" track separates "the men from the boys" in stereo systems. Most systems mash the notes together in a crashing, glaring jumble of noise. Even amongst the gorgeous, sophisticated and refined systems on display at AXPONA 2012, most of the dozen systems that tackled this test failed. In the elegantly appointed Ballroom, with large double string double bass, the circle of five Martin Logan CLX electrostatic  loudspeakers was one of the few that passed. Unlike most systems, you could tell that all instruments were hitting hard in the crescendo, but the guitar suddenly appeared divided separately and from the back loudspeakers. At least it was still there. Their system included:

Five Depthi sub-woofers in front (behind three CLXs)
Two Descenti subs, next to the CLXs in rear
Krell Evo-707 processor, Evo-403e and Evo-402e amplifiers
Cipher CD/SACD
Transparent cable
Ref MM speaker cable
Ref Xl interconnects
Ref and MM power cords and conditioners

 

Wood Baffles, Pass Amplifiers, MSB Source with Snake River Cables
One of the rooms to earn rave reviews at AXPONA is Wood Artistry. Don Naples came from Healdsburg, northern California, to this southeast corner of the continent show. Many years ago, he built several pairs of Altec A7-500 VOT loudspeakers, so Naples knows the benefits of Big Ole Horn loudspeakers. He recently sold his Stephens Trusonic P30 Horns. Naples showed the latest version of the Orion-4 speakers using Pass Labs amplifiers and preamplifier and MSB digital source electronics with Snake River Audio cables in an window alcove in a odd-shape room. Very challenging set-up, but he managed to get an effective soundstage from it. The Orion-4 loudspeakers are open baffle designs for standard room sizes intended for a truly natural sound with impressive bass performance. They are designed by Siegfried Linkwitz and manufactured by Wood Artistry. This open baffle speaker provides a realistic sound stage with full range frequency response. The Orion-4 uses five SEAS drivers per speaker. The woofers were designed by SEAS specifically to Siegfried's requirements for use in dipole operation. The system at AXPONA 2012 includes active crossover (starting at $14,750). Configured for AXPONA in Bubinga with Ebony trim, they are $15,150.

Since Naples provided prices and pictures to Enjoy the Music.com, thought I would run them down briefly so everybody has an idea of the cost and quality level of their room. Many vendors showed off equipment of this caliber:

Pass Labs XP-20, with separate power supply, dual chassis reference line stage, $8600

Pass X250.5 amplifier, not just 250-watts into typical 8 Ohm load, but 500-watts into 4 Ohms impressively drives the four Orion-4 woofers (not the other way around)!  $8,250 (See my glowing Enjoy the Music.com review of the Pass Labs X250 amplifier.)

Plus, two Pass XA30.5 class A amplifiers. Once again, wattage doubles with impedance: 30-watts into 8-ohms and 60-watts into 4-ohms, for the Orion-4 midrange and tweeter drivers! Just about the same ten to one wattage ratio I use on my passive dual amplifier arrangement. Yes, three power amplifiers! The two additional amplifiers cost $5,500 each. ($11,000 total, just about ten times the cost of my three amplifiers.)

MSB Signature Data CD is the first MSB transport to take full advantage of the Pro I2S interface. It plays CDs and DVDs with high-resolution audio files up to 384 kHz and 32 bits. $3995

MSB Signature Platinum DAC IV (with a 384 kHz sampling rate source) and half the settling time as MSB standard DACs. The noise level is cut to 1/3 the normal value and the signal-to-noise ratio is up to 140 db. A mere $13,995. (Optional volume control enables the DAC to be used as a preamplifier, only $2295.)

Femto Second Galaxy Clock Upgrade - This new clock offers unprecedented accuracy with jitter under 77 femtoseconds (.077 psec). Say what? A femtosecond is the SI unit of time equal to 10-15 of a second. That is one quadrillionth, or one millionth of one billionth of a second! SI is the International System of Units (abbreviated from French: Système international d'unités). It is the modern form of the metric system. Oh, okay, thanks Wikipedia. $9950

MSB Power Supply - Signature Platinum Power Base with Digital Supply and Signature Power Cable. Each power supply comes with an output, able to operate a DAC or ADC AND an output to operate an MSB transport. $3495

Eight custom 10-foot speaker cables utilizing quick Speakon connectors and Pure Sonic spade connectors. A bargain at $500.

Snake River Signature Series Mamushi 1.0 meter balanced XLR connects the DAC output to the preamplifier, $1599.

Three pairs of 1.0 meter Signature Series MamushiRCAs (3X $1849) connect the Analog Signal Processor (ASP/Crossover) to the three amplifiers, $5547.

Cottonmouth 26 foot balanced XLR to connect the preamplifier output to the Orion-4 ASP, $2199.Cottonmouth two, three and four meter power cables, $1549 to $2199 each.

 

Seems like a lot of equipment, but everything tucked neatly into a low-boy stand. Naples says he frequently hears that his system is "Best sound" and "I had to come back to recalibrate my ears." He explains "the lifelike sound of the Orion-4 speakers is due to the open baffle and active crossover design of Siegfried Linkwitz."

The Orion-4 speakers are three-way loudspeakers with five drivers. Siegfried does not list the efficiency or maximum SPL. Naples says their efficiency though, basically is the efficiency of the drivers used because the active crossover eliminates the loss that passive crossovers create. "They can be driven with three channels of amplification per side if the woofers are wired in parallel, "he said, "as we demonstrated using a Pass Labs 250 watt amplifier at AXPONA." If the woofers are driven separately, then two more channels of amplification are required. Naples said, "the benefit is no passive crossover signal loss, plus when a big bass passage is played, the midrange and tweeters have no idea this is happening so they are not affected by the signal demands (assuming an amplifier with good power supplies)."

The Orion-4 speakers have a 6dB/octave switch that rolls-off at 30 Hz. Naples said the switch is primarily used for recordings that have subsonic noise and can also be used for turntable rumble. "We previously offered a subwoofer to mate with the Orion-3 loudspeakers," he said. When we moved to the SEAS woofers (specifically designed for Siegfried for the Orion application), the crossover point was lowered and the woofers have more capability than the previous woofers used. This eliminated the need for a subwoofer for most applications." Indeed mid and deep bass was as solid as expected. I could not however, get a LOUD and demanding orchestral or hard rock performance on these babies – neither of us had demo tracks on hand!

 

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