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AXPONA 2019 Show Report By Enjoy the Music.com

AXPONA 2019 Show Report -- Audio Expo North America

AXPONA 2019: Monstrous Fun in the Windy City
All I can say is, we enjoyed the music!
AXPONA 2019 Show Report By Greg Weaver


342 - ELAC
Over the years, both ELAC's Andrew Jones and Peter Madnick have independently managed to reset my beliefs about what could be accomplished at any given price point. The first to come from the good Mr. Jones was the KEF 103.2 in the early 1980's. For Mr. Madnick, it came with the original Audio Alchemy line at the end of the 1980's. But when you put these two almost preternaturally gifted wizards together in the same shop, all I can say is Shut the Front Door!

This system used the new ELAC Alchemy Series DDP-2 Pre-amp/DAC/Streamer ($2,499.98) to feed the DPA-2 Stereo/Mono amplifier ($1,499.98), driving the new Carina BS-243.4 bookshelf speaker ($1199.98/pr.) positioned on LS-30 stands ($399.98). The entire system was just a jot under $5,600 without ancillaries!

The room also included the Shunyata Denali Hydro AC Linc conditioner ($4,995), used all Shunyata power cables ($1,500), and Wireworld Platinum Eclipse 7 interconnects ($1,400), and Gold Eclipse 7 loudspeaker cables ($2,100).


Peter Madnick standing between the ELAC Alchemy electronics and new ELAC Carina speaker.


The DDP-2 is sleek and trim, at just 2" tall, 17.5" wide, and 15" deep (including jacks), and weighing 14 pounds. Digital inputs include a USB, two S/PDIF coaxial, two TosLink optical, an AES/EBU, 2 I2S (Alchemy & HDMI), it streams over Ethernet, Wi-Fi, or Bluetooth and supports PCM (44.1, to 384 kHz), DSD, DoP, ROON endpoint, Spotify Connect, AirPlay option, MQA capable (MQA Coming Soon). With two RCA and one balanced XLR inputs, and one each, XLR Balanced, RCA Unbalanced (Fixed Gain) and an RCA Unbalanced (Variable) analog outputs, I can't imagine more versatility for the money.

With a listed frequency response (both digital AND analog) of 10Hz to 20kHz (+/- 0.2dB), a Nominal THD+N (digital) of less than 0.01% and a Signal-to-Noise Ratio (1 kHz) (Digital) greater than 110dB, this puppy represents a tremendous value.

Now, the DPA-2 shares the same form factor and weight, delivering over 200 Watts (8 Ohms), or 325 Watts (4 Ohms) in stereo, and 420 Watts (8 Ohms) or 625 Watts (4 Ohms) mono! It includes one set of unbalanced (RCA) and one set of balanced (XLR) inputs, and five-way binding post speaker outputs. Frequency response is given as 5Hz to 20kHz(+/- 0.2dB) with a nominal THD of 0.003% (1 Watt Into 8 Ohm), a signal-to-noise ratio of 94dB (1 kHz), with a channel separation of 70dB @ 1kHz.

While Andrew is famous for his concentric tweeter/midrange driver designs, this new Carina uses a JET folded ribbon tweeter and a 5.25" aluminum-cone woofer, with a unique cone curvature, and is a reflex design. It uses a downward firing port at the bottom of the enclosure that vents though a slot formed between the base of the speaker and a plate underneath it, allowing a wide birth in placement.

I'm going to tell you that this is, without question, the most accomplished performance I've ever heard from products of both these dimensions and price points. It was simply staggering how such a tiny speaker can offer such transparency, impact, and extension. This system presented everything Peter demonstrated so articulately, with such clarity and purity, and with such a sense of dynamic ease and expressiveness that I was honestly dumbstruck. Had I not been able to see these tiny speakers on their stands, I would have easily taken a bet that I was listening to a much larger, considerably more expensive, floor standing speaker.

This was an absolute stand out for me at this show, and I will be reviewing the DDP-2 in the very near future.


1540 - Kyomi/EAR
It is always a pleasure to visit with Dan Meinwald, who represents Tim De Paravicini's EAR electronics (formerly "Esoteric Audio Research") and the Swiss loudspeaker manufacturer, Marten. Digital music in this room came from the EAR Acute Classic CD Player ($6,750), or a Roon Nucleus Music Server. Vinyl was spinning on a Merrill-Williams 101.3 turntable ($8,995), sporting the Helius Omega Standard tonearm ($3,695), and a ravishing Koetsu Rosewood MC cartridge ($3,495), which was handing off to a brand-new phono stage, the EAR Phono Box ($1,895). Both sources were connected to the 50 Wpc, EL84 based, EAR V12 Integrated amplifier ($9,795). Loudspeakers were the Marten Django L ($10,000/pr.), a newer, smaller sibling of the Django XL ($15,000). All cabling was from Craig Buckles' Magnan lines, including the Silver Reference interconnects ($3,200/1-meter pr.), and Signature series speaker cables ($1,200/7-foot pr.), and power cords (S1,210/6 foot).

EAR Electronics, Marten Django L loudspeakers, and Magnan cabling.


The system delivered excellent weight and punch, with an amazing degree of air and shimmer to match. Body was very well fleshed-out, with remarkable detail, and offered remarkable tonal balance from top to bottom. Horns were so accurately presented, in tone and brashness, and with just the right blend of bloom and resolution, allowing this system to set a very high standard.


570 - McGary Audio/Salk Audio
Mike McGary and Jim Salk seem to have hit upon some serious synergy. This room was still quite affordable, yet hauntingly musical and completely engaging.

Featuring the Salk StreamPlayer Gen III SE ($2,495) feeding the Exogal Comet DAC ($3,500) with the Exogal Upgraded Power Supply ($600), the new McGary SA2 ($7,985), an 80 Wpc stereo amp, bridgeable for mono and switchable between Ultralinear or Triode modes, drove the brand new Salk SS 9.5 loudspeakers ($9,995) in an eye-catchingly beautiful finish. All cabling was from the sensibly priced AntiCables, using the Level 3.1 Reverence Series loudspeaker cables ($280/8-foot pr.), Level 6.2 Absolute Signature single-ended ICs ($495), Level 3.3 Reference Series USB cable ($290), and three of the Level 3 Reference Series Power Cords ($330/5 ft.).


Mike McGary's new SA2, pared with Jim Salk's new SS 9.5 loudspeakers made for some great tunes.


The new SS 9.5 is a three-way design with a pair of side mounted passive radiators. Using a Beryllium Satori dome tweeter, an Audio Technology midrange, and a Satori 9.5" woofer, with side mounted passives, this system really speaks with an unforced sense of weight and dynamic involvement.

Listening to their streamer, hearing the first cut from Joe Bonamassa's 2006 release, You & Me, I was taken with how fluid and coherent everything sounded. There was this easy sense of flow, with very good detail and micro dynamic involvement. The system portrayed just the right balance between resolution and bloom and rendered a nice sense of instrumental placement and space.



404 - Constellation/MartinLogan
My recent time with the Inspiration series of Constellation electronics has solidified my appreciation of just how accurate and resolving this gear can be. Combine Constellation's iron-fisted grip and lockstep control over any loudspeaker you hitch to it, and you'll understand why I was curious to see what this magic might reveal when driving a good hybrid ELS panel.

Irv Gross, Constellations Vice President of Sales, had some of my favorite LPs at the ready when I stopped by, playing them on a Continuum Audio Labs Obsidian ‘table ($35,000), with the Continuum Viper tonearm ($10,000), fitted with an Ortofon MC A-95 cartridge ($6,500). Digital playback used the Auralic Aries G-2 Transporter ($3,999), and Vega G-2 DAC ($5,999).

Introducing a component from the step-up Revelation series to the mix, the Constellation Andromeda Phono Stage ($18,000), was mated with the Inspiration series 1.0 Preamp ($9,990), and 1.0 Stereo Power amp, and proved to be utterly amazing.


Power and finesse: Constellation electronics and MartinLogan ESLs.


The hybrid ESLs chosen were the MartinLogan Expression ESL 13A ($15,000/pr.). The 13A pairs a 44" tall by 13" wide XStat CLS electrostatic transducer to the bass enclosure housing a pair of 10" high excursion, aluminum dynamic cone woofers, which are powered by two 300-Watt amplifiers.

With LP playback I was treated to delicious texture, spot on timber, with a shockingly transparent look into the performance. This system had wonderful low-level resolution, very good dynamic expressiveness, and an open, properly sized soundstage. Though there was just a touch of room-related mid bass bloat, this was one highly musical system.


354 - Studio Electric/ModWright
Talk about a match made in heaven! The synergy Dan Wright and David MacPherson created in this room was so serious that while there is no way you could begin to quantify it; you sure had no trouble experiencing it.

Using a Fern & Roby Montrose turntable and Unipivot arm ($7,500), fitted with the overachieving Hana SL cartridge ($750), Dan Wright's new ModWright PH-9.0 phono stage ($2,900) a compact, two-box, tubed preamp with solid state external power supply, handed off to the ModWright KWH 225i integrated ($8,495), which combines a tubed preamp with a solid-state output stage.


ModWright electronics with Studio Electric speakers.


David had both his floor standing towers ($6,900/pr.) and his monitors ($3,500) on hand. This listen included the superbly musical FS1, a narrow footprint, three-driver, 2.5-way floor standing speaker. The 6.5" low frequency driver and the 6.5" low/mid driver are tuned in separate sealed enclosures. David hand selects the 1" silk dome tweeters, chosen for both their excellent polar response and high power handling capacity. They are mounted on a 1.5" thick baffle, with extensive internal bracing. The result is an amazingly musical over-achiever.

This room offered contagiously good sound, with warm, full tone, leaden with musical detail. With amazing weight and impact, the sound was full bodied, with excellent bloom, had tremendous dynamic swagger and rhythmic confidence to spare. Driven with Dan's electronics, the system was rife with infectious nuance and finesse, yet capable of significant dynamic contrasts and sensational punch. I dare you to keep your feet still with music playing in this room. This system simply made music.


Utopia C - Wynn Audio
This was my first time meeting Wynn Wong, President of Wynn Audio of Ontario, Canada. But with such a remarkably synergistic room, I'm sure to be looking him up at future events.

The analog system was from Thales, including the TTT-Compact Mk2 Turntable ($14,850), and their Statement Tonearm ($21,090), fitted with the Swiss manufactured EMT Tontechnik JSD-VM cartridge ($4,995). Digital was provided by the French Metronome AQWO SACD/CD Player ($18,000). Electronics were from Hungary's Karen Acoustics, and featured the Karan Acoustics Ph Reference Phono stage ($23,995), Karan Acoustics L Reference Preamp ($16,995), and a pair of the Karan Acoustics M 2000 Monoblocks ($59,999/pr.). The loudspeaker choice in this room was the Tonda ($38,000), the flagship of Tidal's new Vimberg series of loudspeakers.


Thales, Karan, and Vimberg: an engaging mix.


AC management was achieved using several of the latest model of the Swiss made Entreq Poseidon ($4,999) and Silver Tellus Infinity ($2400) Ground Boxes. These are passive devices used to connect the chassis of your components (or the RCA ground) to the ground box. The room also featured the new Crystal Cable Future Dream series, a 15th anniversary limited edition cable series, combining two proprietary conductors, monocrystal silver and silver-gold alloy, and Joe Laverncik's Critical Mass Systems Olympus Racks and Amp Stands supported all the equipment.

The room exuded extremely expressive and natural sound with pop music that drew me in right away. Wynn played some Vivaldi for me, which exhibited impressive weight and engrossing microdynamics, with striking bloom and body, especially notable with massed strings.  This system offered superb depth and lifelike instrumental decay, very accurately recreating the acoustic experience of recordings. This room offered one of the most truthful and expressive representations of solo violin I encountered at this event.



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