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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 6
Premium audio sound systems on the 7th floor.
Audio Expo North America 2023 Show Report By Rick Becker

 

 

Constellation Audio
Walking in to see Magico speakers driven by a Constellation amp, I expected good sound and I got it. Magico M2 speakers ($75k) were driven by a Constellation Centaur 500 stereo amp ($80k) and dual chassis preamp ($25k). An Aurender N20 server was the source, delivering Bonnie Raitt (again) right into this room. Cabling was Cardas Clear and a Puritan power conditioner was used. I didn't have to stay very long to determine this room was excellent.

 

 

Aretai, OePhi, And Convergent Audio Technology (CAT)
The Aretai Contra 100S has been around for about a year and won a prestigious Red Dot award for design in Europe. They talk about it being suitable for desktops or small to medium size rooms, but it would be a waste of the speaker's potential to use it on a desktop. It is a 2.5-way design with two 6" mid-woofers in a sealed cabinet.

 

 

Fit and finish were superb and the tweeter is almost an open baffle design. Different finishes are available. Being small, efficiency is only 85dB, but that was no problem for the Convergent Audio Technology preamp and power amp. I would see this same combination of amps driving floorstanding Magico S5 speakers in one of the very large rooms on the 2nd Floor later in the show. If you have a large room, Aretai has two floorstanders with similar styling, one of which has fairly high efficiency as well as a much higher price.

 

 

Normally, I am not a fan of this three-leg speaker stand, but given the speaker is likely to be in a smaller room not inhabited by leaping Ninjas, it's probably safe enough. The stand certainly complements the unique design of the Aretai. They claim a frequency response down to 32 Hz but I didn't hear anything close to that. As shown here with the black cabinet and white wave it was priced at $9k though other finishes are available. The music was excellent, though the rest of the rig, including the Aurender server, was far more expensive. (That's the power supply for the CAT preamp below the Aurender.

OePhi is a new-to-me cable manufacturer from Denmark that produces a range of different cable series. Their top-line Reference series was used here with a 2-meter pair of speaker cables costing about $4800. Note the wood spacers used on the interconnect and particularly on the speaker cables to widely separate the runs. The bananas on the Reference speaker cables were pure silver. They use both silver and copper for various types of cable throughout their line. I didn't expect this room to sound as good as it did. I left pleasantly surprised.

 

 

Gershman Acoustics And exaSound
The 30th Anniversary Grand Avant Garde speaker ($17k) was playing during my visit to the Gershman Acoustics and exaSound room. And I have to say I was a little disappointed, not because the room sounded very good, but because I had heard it sound spectacular a few weeks ago in a much larger room at the Montreal show. This has been a common response for me, it seems.

They go big in Montreal where the speakers can breathe and fill a much larger room than you would expect from their modest size, but when they come to the States, they go small. Granted, the supporting rigs were also considerably different. But the takeaway here is that if you liked what you heard in this small room, you will likely be surprised and enthralled when you put it in a deserving rig in a larger room. There are not many speakers this size that will play large.

 

 

On top of the shelf were exaSound DACs, which I'll get to below, then the VAC tube pre and power amps. The 30th Anniversary Grand Avant Garde speaker does away with the beaver tail that used to stick out behind. Functionally, it acted as a bass trap and allowed this speaker to go deep and taut.

In the new speaker, the bass trap has become the brick-like pedestal upon which the piano gloss black speaker sits. And I noticed special de-coupling footers there, replacing spikes on the earlier version of this speaker. The stained wood grills were sitting at the side, but they are a handsome addition if you feel you need protection from children or nosey dogs. Cardas cables were used throughout, which is Eli's preference, regardless of the components presented.

 

 

George Klissarov of exaSound was there, too, for the world premiere of his s82 Mk II Streaming DAC and Roon Server ($7,599). Below it, in silver, was his s88 Mk II 8-Channel Streaming DAC at the same price. At Montreal, the rig was running an analog front end that cost two to three times the price of this DAC, but I think the difference here was the size of the room. The music was smooth and detailed with good soundscaping and this DAC deserves critical attention from reviewers, which I am sure it will attract. How likely is it that the Mk II is worse than the Mk I? Not likely. This is one of the top brands in digital.

 

 

I heard the new Gershman Studio XdB with its integrated Bass-Trap Stand ($12k) in Montreal and was amazed at the sound quality and strength of the bass. I also forgot to take a photo of it there and promised readers that I would get one at AXPONA. So, here it is in glorious piano black gloss and the same de-coupling footers as the Grand Avant Garde. If you were thinking of spending $35k for the TAD monitor a few doors earlier on this floor, you might want to listen to this speaker. If you listen in the dark, you will never miss the multi-material cabinet of the TAD and you will likely appreciate the extra $23k in your investment portfolio. The XdB filled the large room in Montreal almost as well as the Grand Avant Garde. This speaker will surprise you.

 

 

Holm Audio And Lenbrook
I have no recall why I have no photos or video notes from this room. Sorry, guys.

 

 

 

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