AXPONA 2012 Show Report --
Audio Expo North America
Warm winter brings cool sounds to the
Show Coverage By A. Colin Flood
Displayed, but did not have working, their
new 50-watt tube amplifier... for a mere $47K. Their room was easily the most
enticing of the show with its sumptuous plate of colorful lighting. Picture
big warm blobs of orange glow from their incredible 833TNT amplifier along with
tall loudspeakers bathed in red.
One of the always-popular headliners of the
show was the unique white-on-white MBL loudspeakers. These Radialstrahler
drivers, meaning circular signal in German, radiate a 360 degrees pattern,
just like musical instruments. The drivers are energized ribbons of metal in a
tulip bulb shape. Never seen anything else like them at any audio show. (This
is my third.)
Their amplifiers are huge. Easily largest ones at the show. In white, this
time, MBL's amplifiers are the size of a many loudspeakers. The mid-size
models are two feet and weigh 135 pounds. A string quartet showed me why the
MBL room is so highly regarded. It replaced the whiny teenage girl squeal of
violins with the precise accuracy of sweetness.
Their five Martine Logan CLX system, with
yellow string bass, confirmed that many systems sounded better than I
remembered from the show last time in Jacksonville. More of the rooms had
acoustic treatments, like Real Traps. Perhaps this is why many seemed better
than I remembered.
The heavily bearded guys in the Soundsmith
room, with their deep voices, remind me more of urban lumberjacks than ZZ Top
musicians. Once again, the lush, organic, fully formed notes in this room,
with such small loudspeakers, confirm that Soundsmith knows something about
making musical reproduction. Their new $7000 Hyperion cartridge uses cactus
needle! They do this, they say, because the cactus "has half the mass and
internal damping with longitudinal fibers and filled with desiccated resin."
Don Naples, Wood Artistry in Healdsburg,
northern California, said the key to woofer control for great bass response is
the power supply. Maybe that explains why he used a handful of Nelson Pass
amplifiers to power his open-baffle Orion-4 loudspeakers.
Although she could not spin the smooth sales
talk like the accomplished Elmer Gantries employed in the other rooms, the
lady in the JIB room full of speaker cables and interconnect patch cords, also
had a nice sounding and looking Napa mini system. It came with an integrated
hybrid amplifier with hand-sized Mistral loudspeakers and really great sound
for less than $1000 – with CD player too. Not a bad way to start.
Even better values though are the much
larger, powered bookshelf Monitor loudspeakers in the new Soundfield room. I
know Ammar Jadusingh ("AJ") from the Suncoast Audiophile Society (Meet up.com).
He is extremely knowledgeable about loudspeaker design. His new three-way Monitors
have two drivers. The top one is a two-way KEF driver, like KEF's new $30,000
Blades, with a tweeter cone inset inside the mid-range driver. The Monitors
include a class AB plate amplifier driving the woofers below 200 Hz.
Sensitivity is a lowish 86dB/w/m, but because the loudspeakers are
powered, your amplifier only has to drive the much easier mid and high-end
However, you still need an amplifier and a source for these
Monitors, perhaps at twice the cost of the Napa mini system above, the
incredibly solid and powerful bass, much greater mid-range articulation and
sharper treble knocks the mini out of the game. Investing in audio can be an
exercise of diminishing returns: you spend increasing larger amounts to get
decreasing improvements. Ouch. Not so in this example. An extra grand (we all
have that right?), is well worth another week in the fields to savor the tangy
meats of the Soundfield Monitor meal.
The best "horns" at the show were also in AJ's
room. His new 1812 Overtures are big, two-foot square, raw boxes - one on top
of the other, separated by the narrow black pipes of a loudspeaker stand -
with two simple large cone drivers. Unlike most of the systems at AXPONA, when
I first came into AJ's room, he was
playing the wide frequencies and dynamics of complex orchestral music – at loud
volumes. Just like horns. They easily made orchestral music sound real, live
and present. Not what every tweaking audiophile is looking for, I know.
Nevertheless, hard to beat the "in your own listening room" experience too.
Although he quickly showed how easily his big black boxes
handle typical demo fare, like Norah Jones and Jack Johnson, his simple
Overtures are powerful and dynamic for $7500.
I love the looks of an undressed component.
Amplifiers and loudspeakers look good to me without their clothes -- especially
vacuum tubes and horns. Color me tubby and horny. Bob Carver may get away with
leaving his new tall, thin and black line driver array exposed without a
grill. AJ can't. His big raw babies need clothes or they are never getting
into a spouse's living room. I would not be surprised if AJ either has his
pricing wrong, or that his prices increase with production. Either way, his
Overtures need grills.
At dinner Saturday night, I was talking to one of the Cary
Audio people. Instead of the typical elevator question though (what did you
like?), he asked me "what would you like to own?" Big difference. I
immediately thought of three systems that I wanted to check out further:
powerful bookshelf monitors, for only $1,200
bulky Overtures, for $7,500
of Sound's new, also naked, open baffles with their big back-lit drivers
and folding side wings
A few attractive women worked the show, but
no obvious eye candy pandering to the almost all male crowd. I find this
surprising, given the blatantly sexual titillations that so much advertising
focuses at male prurient sentience. Of the low percentage of females at this
testosterone regalia, 99.999% were on the arm of a middle-age guy. Happily, not one of the ladies hesitated to voice their opinions about which
systems they liked and why. BTW, these opinions, at least in this crowd of
tweaking audiophiles, did not seem related to the looks of the system versus
its sound. Universally, their comments were about sound quality. In general,
the women liked the sound of the most expensive and elaborate dream systems
the best. I do not think any one of the high-end systems was a particular
favorite. Maybe with a slight edge to the gorgeous white-on-white MBL system.
Sadly, Jim Smith could not make it this
weekend. Too bad. I cannot think of any book more important than his Get
Better Sound (book
reviewed here and DVD
was reviewed here) for a tweaking audiophile to own. Chock full of tips and basic
audio knowledge -- from his years in the industry, including bringing the
Avantgarde Acoustic horns to the USA -- Smith's book really is a first course primer for
budding audiophiles. Physics teachers could easily make an interesting
beginning course explaining the laws of nature and math behind his
recommendations. Tweaking audiophiles could certainly pick up a trick or two.
Better than the last Jacksonville location,
the Omni got on my bad side initially. First, I had to put a $50 deposit down
on the mini bar: snacks and sodas! Second, the refrigerator was locked. The
key is free, but it was filled with junk food. The square layout made finding
the rooms easier than the X-shape of the last location. As usual, AXPONA did
not have enough "you are here" maps. The show was small enough this year that
volunteers to help direct people weren't necessary. I saw many rooms two and
three times, the delicious breakfast buffet was $17 and parking was $20 per
All in all a fun show and I feel honored to have attended
and met with so many great people within the industry. Thanks for a great and
and look forward to AXPONA 2013!
Click here AXPONA 2012 show report part