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AXPONA 2023 Luxury Premium Audio And Hi-Fi Stereo Audiophile Show Report By Enjoy the Music.com

The AXPONA 2023 Chronicles: Part 2
Fine premium audio gear on the 15th floor.
Audio Expo North America 2023 Show Report By Rick Becker



MBL North America And Kyomi Audio
Speaking of MBL (or mbl), they were right across the hall with two different systems. The big rig featured the 101E MkII speaker ($91k) driven by the huge 9011 monoblocks ($64k ea.), so this tells you where we're headed. Sonically, it was superb in its omni-directional soundscape. It always is.



Clockwise from the top left were the 1621 A CD transport ($33.4k), 1611 F DAC ($34.2k), and the 6010 D preamplifier ($32.4k). I'm not sure about the thing on the lower left. It looks kind of like it might be something to flatten warped LPs.



The smaller rig in the adjacent room was also quite nice and a lot more affordable. It featured the C31 CD-DAC ($9600), C51 Integrated amplifier ($11,600), and 126 Loudspeaker (from $14,800). For a smaller, personal listening room, this is an elegant way to go.



Grimm Audio
Grimm Audio strikes me as a stereo system for people who want to listen to music, but don't want a stereo system. Combining the MU1 digital music source with the LS1 speaker is kind of a high-end all-in-two system with speakers that almost don't look like speakers. If they could just cover up those drivers, they would look more like metal detectors at airports. Seriously, though, this is high-level industrial design.



Iconic backdrops for the front wall of the hotel room have become a major form of branding at audio shows. As we enter the age of robots and artificial intelligence, this one becomes a little scary.



The box on the floor houses the woofer which is available at different performance levels. The LS1be with beryllium tweeter includes Ncore Class D power amps, DSP,  digital and analog inputs, and remote control so everything is at your fingertips and almost everything is out of sight. There is a small variety of finishes to make it even less conspicuous than white. The MU1 runs about $11k to $12K, depending on memory storage.

The speaker runs about $40k with the servo-subwoofer in the base. The speakers were aimed to cross over in front of the front row of seats and I was told this was intentional. The side walls had prodigious amounts of dispersion and absorption materials. The resolution and transparency were very high, so be sure to give these a long listen with your favorite music before buying.



PranaFidelity, Furutech, Kuzma, Silversmith Audio, And Groove Note Records-ORG
I caught this photo of Steven Norber in action before he realized I was in the room. We first met at Rocky Mountain before Covid and I think it's been 2019 since I've seen him. He's put a lot of high-speed miles on his motorcycle since then as well as practiced a lot of holistic massage therapy, not to mention being a high-end audio guru.



Mostly, we've emailed about motorcycles over the years but I've admired his work with active speakers and DSP crossovers. I was looking forward to his presentation of the Dhara speaker which was not active…but only in the sense that the amps were not built-in. Steven also makes his own components as separate entities.



The Dhara speakers are constructed the way he did the previous speakers I've seen, with layers of CNC plywood stacked and glued, allowing him control over the internal shape of the cabinet to control resonance. The two-way speakers have their symmetrical array configured with the 30mm tweeter inside the axis created by dual 6" woofers. With a frequency response of 38 Hz to 23 kHz, 8 Ohm impedance, and 88.5dB/W/m sensitivity, this is a very good all-around speaker. The clipped rear corners of the stand equate with the clipped rear sides of the cabinet and the matching stands are included with the speakers at the $9,500 price.



The clear natural finish reveals the nature of the construction and has an organic look that fits with the plants one might use for acoustic or decorative room treatment. That the front baffle is black minimizes the appearance of the drivers and front port. At 40 pounds each, without the stands, this is a substantial speaker. There was very good resolution, transparency, and dynamics without a hint of irritation — a speaker you could live with for a long time by itself, or add a subwoofer if you need to plumb the lowest octave.



Here again, the Silversmith Fidelium speaker cable ($1,195 for a 2-meter length) caught my eye and I've seen this cable around enough to expect that it contributed to the resolution and natural tonality of the Darma speaker. On the spec sheet, it mentions the new Fidelium interconnects at a price TBD, so I'm not sure they're out quite yet. Power cables were Furutech DPS-4.1 at $2,100 for a 2-meter length. A Furutech e-TP609 NCF ($2,200) was the power distributor used. I've found the Furutech NCF power plug-in modules to be useful and have one in my video rig.



Electronics are another of Steven's many talents. There is no getting around his Purna/ca (control amp, $14,950) and Purna/ma (power amp, $10,950) are basic in appearance, but their appearance belies their specs and performance. The preamp is full function, symmetrically balanced with MM/MC phono stage and selectable line stage gain. Signal to noise ratio is 115/112/107 dB at 0/6/12 dB gain settings. Frequency response is very wide-band and the slew rate is a fast 500 v/uS. Who would have thought?

The stereo power amp is equally impressive with 400 Watts @ 8 Ohms, 700 @ 4, and 1200 @ 2 Ohms. I dare say we didn't use most of them while I was visiting, though you may have a larger room. The S/N ratio was 128 dB (unweighted) far below the limits of human hearing. And it comes with both balanced and single-ended inputs.

Between the two amps on the rack was a Wyred 4 Sound DAC-2 which he has modified and above the preamp is a Pioneer Elite PD-65 CD player/transport he has also modified. (I should maybe send him my vintage Sony ES player I use as a transport for a massage?)



On top, Steven has used his Kuzma Stabi R turntable ($11,139) with a Stogi Reference tonearm ($4,852) for years. It was equipped with a Denon DL-103R with a boron cantilever and Fritz Gyger S stylus ($1k). It looked like it had an anodized, machined body, so it was clearly an upgrade from a standard Denon DL 103 cartridge.

I wish I could have stayed longer to hear more music here. Maybe that's an excuse to ride out to Denver this summer?




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