AXPONA 2019 Show Report --
Audio Expo North America
I guess anything goes at AXPONA. Benchmark placed their glass-shelf stand right on top of the Aurender server to highlight their new DAC3 B ($1695), a bare-bones version of the DAC3 for those who don't need a headphone amp or the preamp functions of their other versions, and the LA4 line amp below it. Music here was played through Martin Logan Renaissance hybrid electrostatic speakers and the hard rock had a raw edge to it as it often does.
Zoltan Bayz is a man of incredible presence and obviously a man who thinks outside the box. I intentionally submitted a loosely cropped photo of his Courante speaker ($97,100) in the room to give you a sense of scale in the room. While the design is obviously unique and commands both attention and space, it does not overpower the room with size. To do that, you need the larger flagship model, the Counterpoint. Bayz' team includes Frank Nielsen of Danesian Audio, maker of speakers for ScanSpeak, Vifa and others, and Andras Voloscsuk, an expert in developing new carbon fiber materials, making monocoque bodies for Formula 1 cars and race planes for the Red Bull Air Race World Championships. It was obvious Bayz will settle for nothing less than state of the art. His patented BRS tweeter radiates in 360 degrees and is positioned in the opening of the large carbon fiber "C".
The soundstage is very focused and remains so as you move about the room. It is as natural as live music. The woofer, almost ironically, has an Egyptian papyrus cone. The system was simple, based around a CH Precision I1 integrated amplifier with DAC that puts out 175 Watts @ 4 Ohms, but given the 94dB/W/m sensitivity and 4 Ohm impedance, it could be driven with a good tube amplifier. Synergistic Research provided power conditioning and cables. Don't fret the delivery and set-up. Aside from the granite base, the speaker is much lighter than it looks. (Think race car body.) Zoltan and the carbon fiber bodies hail from Hungary and the speakers are hand built and tested in Denmark. This was another room I wish I could have spent more time in as acoustically it was easily one of the Best Rooms at the show and visually, one of the most exciting.
The Raven Audio room (678) was an education in financial diversity if you paid close attention. Identical Raven Corvus Reference Monitors $7995 w/45-day risk-free guarantee were also offered as the Corvus Tower System $12,995 (Upper and lower enclosures sold as a pair). You can start small and add the lower additional bass enclosures if need demands and/or finances become available. Both versions offer 92dB/W/m efficiency making them tube friendly. They were driven by their flagship Elite Series Shaman Monoblocks (325 to 400 Watts, depending on tube selection, $49,995) which is out of most peoples' budgets, but they also offer the very high value (and highly acclaimed) Avian Series Nighthawk Mk3 (20 Wpc, ultra linear, $2995) with 6L6GC power tubes and optional upgrades for the various small signal tubes, as well as their Blackhawk and Osprey models that offer enhanced preamp and power amp options.
While some spend thousands on power cords, they also offer a nice one for $149, and balanced interconnects for $139/pr. from their Soniquil Cable line. I'd call that entry-level friendly with an upgrade path if you wish to remain loyal to the brand. I haven't had much exposure to Raven, but I liked what I saw and heard here, and what I mostly just saw at RMAF where they partnered up with Legacy Audio speakers in a huge display that I didn't discover until the end of the show.
Volti Audio (speakers), Border Patrol Audio Electronics and Triode Wire Labsis practically a married brand room. Front and center in the photo is the Border Patrol P20 with dual mono construction using a pair of 300B tubes in push-pull configuration. Behind it are the twin tube power supplies with silver faceplates. This amp starts at $13,925 but escalates to $29k as shown with copper chassis, cryo treatment and heavy-duty transformers. And that's just for the amplifiers — your choice of tubes is an additional cost. The 20 Wpc of even the most basic model will drive the high efficiency Volti horn loaded speakers. Somebody here does very nice woodwork, too, as witnessed on the amp stands and matching long bench for the Innuos server and BP preamp.
The Vandersteen Quatro Wood CT ($15,300, I was told, but signage said $13,900) was driven by the new M5 HPA monoblocks ($15,800). The speakers each house dual 8" downward firing woofers and their own amplifier and 11-band equalizer for tailoring the bass to your room. While the efficiency is only 84.5dB/W/m, the 8 Ohm impedance range is only +/-3dB, making it tube friendly, but even more important they are time-aligned and phase correct. (Room 690)
Spatial Audio Labs teamed up with Anticables and Linear Tube Audio electronics in room 696. The front end was an Innuos Zen mini and the speakers were the new Spatial X3 open baffle ($7500). In chatting with Paul Speltz of Anticables I learned of their naked ZERO autoformer ($540/pr) and their ZERO-Boxes ($1140/pr) which incorporates the same naked autoformer in a solid cherry or Birdseye maple wood box with Cardas binding posts and free jumpers. Both models come with a 60-day trial period. So, what's an "autoformer"? Well, McIntosh uses them in their power amps. Basically, they multiply a speaker's impedance by 2x, 3x or 4x so they allow you to match up your amp's output with your speakers, thus enabling you to use say your tube amp's 8 Ohm output with your 4 Ohm speakers. While not cheap, you will probably spend a lot more to buy new speakers.
I was looking forward to talking with the folks at SVS in room 604 but the room was set up for a home theater playback with small monitors teamed up with a subwoofer, for which they are well known. (The side walls were plastered with awards from industry magazines.) Every seat was taken and the audience was in rapt attention with the presenter who was... well, doing his job, talking about the 3000 series. With my time so precious, I reluctantly moved on. As I said at the Montreal show, the display samples of their subs from a local dealer disappeared quickly at the end of the show with their new owners.
Next door, in 606, was more Linear Tube Audio along with Chris Sommovigo's Black Cat Cables and a company that was new to me, Fern and Roby. I spoke with Christopher Hildebrand about their unique Tredegar turntable made with a cast iron plinth and machined bronze platter fitted with a Schroder Reference SQ wood tonearm ($21,500). It evoked images of the iron age and begged for Gothic design cast into the sides. They were running the music through a Modwright PH 9.0 phono stage ($2900) with adjustable loading via a large knob on front as well as adjustable gain via a small toggle switch. After that came LTA's MZ3 headphone/speaker preamp ($3700) that puts out 1 Watt to drive real efficient speakers. But here they were feeding into an LTA ZOTL 40 power amp with premium Mullard NOS EL34 tubes ($6800). The Raven speakers ($9500/pr.) were also Fern and Roby with full-range SEAS drivers in a mid-century modern cabinet that looked like it was straight out of the 1950's. Fern and Roby comes out of Richmond, VA, not far from furniture making territory (what little is left).