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AXPONA 2019 Show Report By Enjoy the Music.com

AXPONA 2019 Show Report -- Audio Expo North America
AXPONA 2019 Coverage By Rick Becker -- Part 4



  The eye catcher in 743 was the red Tien TT5 turntable with Viroa arm ($11k), a three-motor design with adjustable speed and torque. The cartridge was a Van den Hul Crimson Black ($5295). This was followed by an Acoustic Arts phono preamp ($18k) that fed a Viola Audio Labs Chorale integrated amp with 125 Wpc ($29,750). Less frequently seen was the Telos Audio Design system tweaks involving quantum technology. These ranged from a few hundred dollars to $12k. A heavily tricked out Stillpoints rack topped $28k and other footers and platforms of theirs were in use.




I noticed the Stillpoints Aperture stands and panels placed close to the Rockport Technologies Atria II speakers and canted toward them so as to reduce direct sound wave exposure to the side walls. This was the first time I had seen such placement used kind of a nearfield baffle. The complex piece of music I heard here was very well reproduced, but it was something totally unfamiliar to me. A note on the equipment list mentions that the Madison Audio Labs cables were voiced with the Rockport Atria II speakers as was the Viola Chorale amp. You don't get to see that kind of insider information very often. The contact email for the products seems to be that of Bruce Jacobs of Stillpoints, suggesting there is a lot of system synergy going on in this room. And indeed, this room sounded very good. (Room 743)



The Shunyata Research room (742) was also equipped with a Stillpoints rack for the source and preamplification that were feeding Audio Research monoblocks driving Wilson Yvette loudspeakers reasonably well. Shunyata, of course did the power conditioning and cables here. I wasn't particularly impressed with the sound, but noticed the monoblocks had a switch for pentode to triode mode. The host of the room had set them up in pentode, but I asked the young man who was currently monitoring the room to switch to triode, then back to pentode, which he did. To my ear, the triode mode was significantly more liquid and inviting and I left feeling a lot better of this room for the opportunity. As anyone walking the halls of this show will tell you, High End audio is a game of different strokes for different folks and it is also a game of paying attention to details.


6th Floor
Taking the stairs down to the 6th floor which was the highest floor with the open atrium and all the guest rooms on the perimeter, I first encountered the HSU Research room tucked in a corner where a very modest looking (read: dorm room) monitor with yellow cone and satin black paint was coupled to their flagship VTF 15H Mk II subwoofer ($899 in black) that sounded a lot better than it looked.



The VTF-15 Mk II has variable Q control, balanced inputs, triangular ports and can also be operated sealed. After the conversation bounced around the room for a bit, I realized it was Dr. Hsu himself, who has been around long enough to almost have invented the subwoofer. It was an absolute delight to meet him and finally get a listen to one of his fabled subwoofers. He is certainly to be commended for keeping prices reasonable while almost all others around him have followed the Big Money.




Bricasti Designrig in 646. Man, what a trip! This was the first room at the show with enough courage (and stupidity?) to play some Avant Garde/new music. I love this stuff and it sounded terrific here, but it is typically useless as a reference for evaluating a system as it is often random and usually unfamiliar. But what the hell, Bricasti has an excellent reputation, as do the Tidal speakers from Germany that were in play here. It was focused, dynamic and spacious and invoked my wild imagination, so what's not to like?

The speakers were the Contriva Diacera model and the new M3 DAC shown here at $5k was definitely and entry level product for their line. The massive M28 Special Edition monoblocks ($30k/pr) were very impressive looking in an unexpected kind of way...sort of laboratory/industrial styling. Cabling here was by Gotham, a name that was new to me.



Tri-art Audio from Kingston, Ontario, Canada is a very familiar brand as they show at both Toronto and Montreal on a regular basis. They are also consistently innovative and excellent sounding. The tall bamboo diffusers in the back corners actually have several super-tweeters (each) on the leading edge which are claimed to improve the sound, as is the super tweeter mounted just below the tweeter on the open baffle towers. Behind the left speaker on the floor you get a glimpse of the external crossover. I can identify with the foliage they prominently display at shows, and sometimes wonder why they don't re-brand themselves as "Tribal-Art." For all their innovation over the years, this company has shown remarkable staying power. You can feel the passion and it is not outrageously priced.





exaSound Audio Design is another Canadian company out of Toronto. They were showing their new e38 Mark II DAC (eight-channel DXD / 32bit DSD256) for $4k USD. They also had their new Gamma Server ($2499) and Sigma Streamer for exaSound DACS ($750). The dark amplifier on the bottom shelf of the rack was a Parasound Halo A 51 ($4795). On the top shelf of the rack was the exaSound PlayPoint DM dual mono DAC, server and headphone amp ($14k). They seemed to have a surround set-up on the room with Magnepan 3.7i speakers ($5995) up front and 1.7i speakers ($1995) at the rear, but they were running stereo when I was there. Probably because I wasn't able to sit in the sweet spot that planar speakers demand, or because there were simply too many people milling around this popular room, I wasn't able to really get a grip on the music here, but I could sense the great value for which the Magnepan are known.





The Auris line from Serbia shown here was simply gorgeous. The white on the speakers is real leather (also available in black) and the slender line fits perfectly with the minimal configuration of this rig. They make a wide range of tube amplifiers including 4 Wpc 2A3 model, and headphone amps for your executive desk. The Fortissimo integrated amp here is $11k. The Poison 8 speaker ($9899) shown here has a side-firing woofer and a defeatable rear tweeter to create a more three-dimensional soundscape. I liked it when I heard it last month in Montreal, and I liked it again here in Chicago. It has a very cosmopolitan look that is hard to achieve when matching components from a variety of sources.



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