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AXPONA 2012 Show Report
AXPONA 2012 Show Report -- Audio Expo North America
Warm winter brings cool sounds to the South.
Show Coverage By A. Colin Flood

 

Audio Power Labs
Displayed, but did not have working, their new 50-watt tube amplifier... for a mere $47,000. Their room was easily the most enticing of the show with its sumptuous plate of colorful lighting. Picture big warm blobs of orange glow from their incredible 833TNT amplifier along with tall loudspeakers bathed in red.

 

MBL
One of the always-popular headliners of the show was the unique white-on-white MBL loudspeakers. These Radialstrahler drivers, meaning circular signal in German, radiate a 360 degrees pattern, just like musical instruments. The drivers are energized ribbons of metal in a tulip bulb shape. Never seen anything else like them at any audio show. (This is my third.) Their amplifiers are huge. Easily largest ones at the show. In white, this time, MBL's amplifiers are the size of a many loudspeakers. The mid-size models are two feet and weigh 135 pounds. A string quartet showed me why the MBL room is so highly regarded. It replaced the whiny teenage girl squeal of violins with the precise accuracy of sweetness.

 

Audio Images
Their five Martine Logan CLX system, with yellow string bass, confirmed that many systems sounded better than I remembered from the show last time in Jacksonville. More of the rooms had acoustic treatments, like Real Traps. Perhaps this is why many seemed better than I remembered.

 

Soundsmith
The heavily bearded guys in the Soundsmith room, with their deep voices, remind me more of urban lumberjacks than ZZ Top musicians. Once again, the lush, organic, fully formed notes in this room, with such small loudspeakers, confirm that Soundsmith knows something about making musical reproduction. Their new $7000 Hyperion cartridge uses cactus needle! They do this, they say, because the cactus "has half the mass and internal damping with longitudinal fibers and filled with desiccated resin."

 

Power Supplies
Don Naples, Wood Artistry in Healdsburg, northern California, said the key to woofer control for great bass response is the power supply. Maybe that explains why he used a handful of Nelson Pass amplifiers to power his open-baffle Orion-4 loudspeakers.

 

Sweet Starter System
Although she could not spin the smooth sales talk like the accomplished Elmer Gantries employed in the other rooms, the lady in the JIB room full of speaker cables and interconnect patch cords, also had a nice sounding and looking Napa mini system. It came with an integrated hybrid amplifier with hand-sized Mistral loudspeakers and really great sound for less than $1000 with CD player too. Not a bad way to start.

 

Best Value
Even better values though are the much larger, powered bookshelf Monitor loudspeakers in the new Soundfield room. I know Ammar Jadusingh ("AJ") from the Suncoast Audiophile Society (Meet up.com). He is extremely knowledgeable about loudspeaker design. His new three-way Monitors have two drivers. The top one is a two-way KEF driver, like KEF's new $30,000 Blades, with a tweeter cone inset inside the mid-range driver. The Monitors include a class AB plate amplifier driving the woofers below 200 Hz. Sensitivity is a lowish 86dB/w/m, but because the loudspeakers are powered, your amplifier only has to drive the much easier mid and high-end load.

However, you still need an amplifier and a source for these Monitors, perhaps at twice the cost of the Napa mini system above, the incredibly solid and powerful bass, much greater mid-range articulation and sharper treble knocks the mini out of the game. Investing in audio can be an exercise of diminishing returns: you spend increasing larger amounts to get decreasing improvements. Ouch. Not so in this example. An extra grand (we all have that right?), is well worth another week in the fields to savor the tangy meats of the Soundfield Monitor meal.

 

The Best Horns
The best "horns" at the show were also in AJ's room. His new 1812 Overtures are big, two-foot square, raw boxes - one on top of the other, separated by the narrow black pipes of a loudspeaker stand - with two simple large cone drivers. Unlike most of the systems at AXPONA, when I first came into AJ's room, he was playing the wide frequencies and dynamics of complex orchestral music at loud volumes. Just like horns. They easily made orchestral music sound real, live and present. Not what every tweaking audiophile is looking for, I know. Nevertheless, hard to beat the "in your own listening room" experience too. Although he quickly showed how easily his big black boxes handle typical demo fare, like Norah Jones and Jack Johnson, his simple Overtures are powerful and dynamic for $7500.

 

Naked Drivers
I love the looks of an undressed component. Amplifiers and loudspeakers look good to me without their clothes -- especially vacuum tubes and horns. Color me tubby and horny. Bob Carver may get away with leaving his new tall, thin and black line driver array exposed without a grill. AJ can't. His big raw babies need clothes or they are never getting into a spouse's living room. I would not be surprised if AJ either has his pricing wrong, or that his prices increase with production. Either way, his Overtures need grills.

At dinner Saturday night, I was talking to one of the Cary Audio people. Instead of the typical elevator question though (what did you like?), he asked me "what would you like to own?" Big difference. I immediately thought of three systems that I wanted to check out further:

  1. AJ's powerful bookshelf monitors, for only $1,200
  2. AJ's bulky Overtures, for $7,500
  3. Beauty of Sound's new, also naked, open baffles with their big back-lit drivers and folding side wings

 

Booth Babes
A few attractive women worked the show, but no obvious eye candy pandering to the almost all male crowd. I find this surprising, given the blatantly sexual titillations that so much advertising focuses at male prurient sentience. Of the low percentage of females at this testosterone regalia, 99.999% were on the arm of a middle-age guy. Happily, not one of the ladies hesitated to voice their opinions about which systems they liked and why. BTW, these opinions, at least in this crowd of tweaking audiophiles, did not seem related to the looks of the system versus its sound. Universally, their comments were about sound quality. In general, the women liked the sound of the most expensive and elaborate dream systems the best. I do not think any one of the high-end systems was a particular favorite. Maybe with a slight edge to the gorgeous white-on-white MBL system.

 

Get Better Sound
Sadly, Jim Smith could not make it this weekend. Too bad. I cannot think of any book more important than his Get Better Sound (book reviewed here and DVD was reviewed here) for a tweaking audiophile to own. Chock full of tips and basic audio knowledge -- from his years in the industry, including bringing the Avantgarde Acoustic horns to the USA -- Smith's book really is a first course primer for budding audiophiles. Physics teachers could easily make an interesting beginning course explaining the laws of nature and math behind his recommendations. Tweaking audiophiles could certainly pick up a trick or two.

 

Hotel
Better than the last Jacksonville location, the Omni got on my bad side initially. First, I had to put a $50 deposit down on the mini bar: snacks and sodas! Second, the refrigerator was locked. The key is free, but it was filled with junk food. The square layout made finding the rooms easier than the X-shape of the last location. As usual, AXPONA did not have enough "you are here" maps. The show was small enough this year that volunteers to help direct people weren't necessary. I saw many rooms two and three times, the delicious breakfast buffet was $17 and parking was $20 per night.

All in all a fun show and I feel honored to have attended and met with so many great people within the industry. Thanks for a great and and look forward to AXPONA 2013!

 

Click here AXPONA 2012 show report part 2.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

     
 

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