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

A Music Professor's Assessment Of AXPONA 2023
Great memories of music plus a renewed energy, and inspiration for the art of premium audio.
Audio Expo North America 2023 Show Report By Dr. Michael Bump

 

 

Day 2
Saturday was a full touring day. Again, and clearly with only two days, I was not able to peruse and enjoy what I'm sure were many fine gatherings of audio synergy. However, touring southward down the stairwell, here are rooms which had me extending my welcome, asking lots of questions, and otherwise really stood out as exceptional.

 

 

Room 712
I so enjoy visiting the Gershman Acoustics room and experiencing music through their always well-crafted assembly of audio instruments. To have missed this opportunity even for a moment would have been a personal disservice to the weekend! In particular, it was such a pleasure this year to meet and visit for the first time with Ofra Gershman, CEO of Gershman Acoustics. Bringing their A-Game to Room 712, Gershman Acoustics featured the premieres of two new Gershman designs: The 30th Anniversary Grand Avant Garde ($17,000 pr) 3.5-way dynamic speakers, and Studio XdB two-way with integrated Bass-Trap ($12,000 pr). Innovative in design, the Studio XdB may appear as a monitor, but functions and sounds like a full range.

 

 

The "stands," as it were, actually serve as the patented Bass Trap, providing a low frequency response/extension down to 23Hz and eliminate the back wave. Listening to the latter, the presentation was well-defined, articulated, quick, with organically authentic source definition, and, in particular, impressive and tight low frequency extension.

 

 

Soundstage was enveloping and engaging with every musical example. Completing the consort was the sonically and visually captivating new VAC Master 300 amplifier ($42,000), VAC Master preamplifier ($38,000), full loom of Cardas cables, and the premiere of the exaSound s82 Mark II streaming DAC and Roon server ($7599) which features the ES9038PRO DAC. This was one truly complete, versatile, and very impressive-sounding digital source. Though I unfortunately missed the live performances with Ann Bisson and Isabeau Corniveau, I had a very clear sense of just how beautiful those demos must have sounded.

 

 

Room 724
IMHO, AXPONA 2022 Room 722 offered an intriguing window into the design concepts of AGD Productions, Inc. This year was no exception and proved to be a highlight of AXPONA 2023. I've been an ardent admirer of Alberto Guerra's work via AGD Productions since our first meeting / conversation at the 2019 AXPONA show. Revealing a revolutionary Class D output stage, the whole amplifier is essentially inside the tube... but it's not a tube! Rather, it's fabricated to look like a KT 88, with a miniature circuit board inside the tube (The technology within utilizes the unique GaNTube Gallium Nitride MOSFET-based powerstage, which I first became acquainted with through reviewing and owning some of Merrill Wettasinghe's designs). Looks are indeed deceiving, as what appears to be a low output SET actually puts out 200 to 400 Watts... and to many a raised eyebrow!

 

 

 

On active display were a pair of AGD Gran Vivace Molto monoblocks ($18,500), a pair of Audion MkII SE monoblocks ($8,400), the AGD Tempo stereo amplifier ($5,500), the Andant pre / DAC / streamer / phono ($13,999), along with the premiere of the Perfect-Bit model AX "Ultimate" media server ($12,000).

 

 

Paired with the superb Ocean Way Eureka two-way reflex monitors ($14,800 with stands) by Allen Sides (via Ocean Way Recording Studios in Santa Monica), the presentation did not cease to amaze and impress. Within and beyond their price points, AGD offers some true giant-killers in high-end audio. Gorgeous, three-dimensional imaging extending well beyond the room, macro and micro dynamics in spades, no noticeable sonic artifacts, all with lightening transient speed and tautness. Always an engaging listening experience.

 

 

Epiphany Room
The Scaena / Silversmith Audio room is another audio partnership I was first introduced to at last year's AXPONA 2022, and was indeed impressed with, though unfortunately did not have sufficient listening opportunities to offer any constructive commentary. As with the Bayz room however, this year I vowed to treat my ears a bit longer, and fortunately found two opportunities to do so The latter window alongside Enjoy the Music.com colleague and good friend, Greg Weaver. Mind you, each time found the room well-occupied with enthusiastic listeners.

Yes, the Scaena Model 3 loudspeaker consortium is a memorable art sculpture and a highlight for anyone who graced the doors of the Epiphany Room. Principal designers, George Bischoff, Sunny Umrao, and Alan Eichenbaum, have gone to great lengths towards the accurate reproduction of recorded music. At first glance, one only need digest the visual aesthetic of the moment to begin contemplating what type of musical experience could these incredible instruments regenerate. Once heard, however, the experience takes on an entirely new dimension.

The Iso-Linear array design and displacement provides a unique dispersion pattern, minimizing interference from room surfaces, filling the room with a life-size area. The multiplicity of drivers allows for isolation and optimal spacing / blending.

 

 

I am genuinely and continually impressed with Jeff Smith's significant contributions to our audio art. His designs in cabling have resulted in quantum improvements of volume Volume in terms of recorded information as it was intended - A full reveal of the documented moment of human creativity, spontaneity, emotion, energy, and venue. Mind you, many a power/speaker, cable and interconnect has graced my system over the years for review or simple curiosity, always being compared to my personal live performance experiences throughout my career. None thus far, however, have made as profound an improvement as the Silversmith Fidelium speaker cables. And not to even get started on the cost-to-performance ratio - simply none out-perform in this category, in my opinion.

Jeff has mentioned in our prior correspondences his pursuance of an interconnect design of similar outcome to the Fidelium, and has produced such a prototype (cost yet-to-be determined), premiered within this system and the PranaFidelity system in Room 1533 discussed previously. I greatly look forward to a review opportunity, as availability permits.

 

Scaena Model 3 loudspeaker system (as exhibited):
8 woofers ("Symphony" arrangement) - $140,000
dCs digital source system:
Vivaldi CD/SACD transport - $49,000
Vivaldi APEX DAC - $46,500
Vivaldi clock - $21,000
Vivaldi upsampler - $27,000
High Fidelity MA-70 WPC class A/B amplifier - $70,000
Silversmith Audio Fidelium speaker cables - $1,195/per 8 foot pair
Silversmith Audio Fidelium interconnect prototype TBD
Nordost QNET - $3,199.99
Nordost QB8 (20 amp) - $2,149.99
Nordost Linear power supply - $2,799.99

 

Perhaps an interesting sidebar to this year's AXPONA 2023 listening tour that bears commenting: I tended to hear less of the status quo reference recordings and more unique selections. Perhaps this was more a reflection of the thousands of uniquely varied attendees and their personal requests readily available on tablets, or perhaps pre-planned exhibitor playlists that just decided to step outside the sandbox.

Either way, I found it refreshing. What an unexpected surprise for a percussionist to walk into an audio room with John Cage's Third Construction performing, or even a project from my past that I happened to be performing on ("Remembering Marian Anderson," ProMusic Chamber Orchestra, D'Note Classics label)... and these weren't even my requests!

 

 

 

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