2019 AXPONA Show Report

Discussion in 'Audio Hardware' started by -=Rudy=-, Apr 17, 2019.

  1. -=Rudy=-

    -=Rudy=- ♪♫♪♫♫♪♪♫♪♪ Staff Thread Starter

    Mid-April in Chicago. It could be sunny, rainy, cold, warm, you name it. As luck would have it, we were blasted by a winter storm on Sunday, leaving about four inches of wet snow on the cars before leaving mid-day for home. Nonetheless, the show went on, and there were plenty of sights and sounds to share.

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  2. -=Rudy=-

    -=Rudy=- ♪♫♪♫♫♪♪♫♪♪ Staff Thread Starter

    In the past few years, I used to try to visit as many rooms as possible in two days, and revisit some favorites on the third day (Sunday) before leaving mid afternoon to head home. This year, I unknowingly tried a different approach--I took it easy. I did walk all the floors on Friday, taking stairs instead of elevators (except for the hop to/from the upper floors), and managed to poke my head into a few rooms along the way. But otherwise, I was staying longer in fewer rooms, taking in a couple of presentations, and finding a more relaxed pace made the experience more enjoyable.

    So with that in mind, you won't find all of the latest and greatest equipment in my write-up, but I will cover my own personal highlights and feature a few new products that made their way to AXPONA this year.

    As with any trip to AXPONA, my first stop is always the Marketplace. I have learned from years past that some items are sold out relatively quickly, and this was no exception--I managed to grab the one and only copy of an Analogue Productions LP I had been wanting (the Living Stereo cut of Bartok's Concerto for Orchestra), and gave a look through the used record titles at the Morrow Audio booth to find a seemingly unplayed copy of a pair of Bartok piano concerti on the Philips label. I did not see as much of interest in Morrow's used cable offerings (they used to take trade-ins of competitors' cables, and the show deals were always excellent buys), but I did order a couple of needed interconnects using their 60% show discount.

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    (Look very closely and you might see @oldcuster and @Pug in the crowd somewhere above. ;) )


    Adjacent to the Marketplace is the Ear Gear Expo, a busy few rows of headphones, headphone amplifiers, DACs and accessories. In fact, Josh Meredith (of Cardas) told me that due to the number of do-it-yourselfers in the headphone community, one of their most requested items was the Cardas solder, along with other components like their line of audio connectors.

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  3. -=Rudy=-

    -=Rudy=- ♪♫♪♫♫♪♪♫♪♪ Staff Thread Starter

    Serious audio sometimes requires some serious Schiit, and they brought some new Schiit for us to hear. The Aegir Class A amplifier, which provides 20 watts per channel stereo, or 80 watts as a monoblock. The Aegir (bottom shelf in the photo below) is currently available from the company web site. They also brought a prototype of their upcoming Sol turntable, which features a carbon fiber uni-pivot arm and on-the-fly VTA adjustment. Expected price is in the $700 range. Schiit teamed with Salk, who provided their speakers.


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    Here is one for the No Seance Required part of my show coverage.

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    No, your eyes do not deceive...

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    ...the platter is levitating above the plinth! This is MAG LEV Audio, using magnetic force to both levitate and rotate the platter. I would like to see this turntable next year in a proper room to hear how it really sounds. But considering that its motive force is not belt, direct drive or idler wheel driven, it could prove to be a very quiet method of rotating a platter.

    And of course, I make my yearly trip past the Clearaudio turntable display and plan my (distant) future upgrades. This is the Clearaudio Innovation Basic, with the TT5 arm, as presented by Paragon Sight and Sound of Ann Arbor, MI.

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  4. -=Rudy=-

    -=Rudy=- ♪♫♪♫♫♪♪♫♪♪ Staff Thread Starter

    ...or it's slightly larger brother, the Clearaudio Innovation , with a pivoting arm.

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    Also in turntables, Audio Technica displayed perhaps one of their nicest turntables yet. The belt-driven AT-LP7, which retails for around $800.


    Dr. Feickert's Volare turntable (with what appears to be a Rega arm):

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    In the Needle Doctor room a year or two ago, I heard the Hana SL moving coil cartridge up against the $2,000 Clearaudio Charisma v2, and I was not alone in declaring the Hana to be the more musical of the two, at $1,225 less. Hana now offers a Microline stylus in the MH (high output) and ML (low output) variants, for a cost of $1,200, and it sailed through a very busy Azymuth LP from the late 70s with ease. I like underdogs, and Hana has another winner in its lineup.

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  5. -=Rudy=-

    -=Rudy=- ♪♫♪♫♫♪♪♫♪♪ Staff Thread Starter

    One highlight of this year's AXPONA were the "flash DJ" sessions, hosted by industry members. The idea was that they would visit a room and play their own selection of music on the equipment. One flash DJ session I took part in was hosted by The Audio Company of Marietta, GA, with their "million dollar system" comprised of Von Schweikert Ultra 11 speakers, numerous VAC amplifiers, and the stunning Air Force One turntable.

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    Take a good look at the record if you are a fan of The Who--this is an unreleased test pressing of Who's Next which was mastered by Chris Bellman, and pressed on two 45 RPM LPs at QRP for Analogue Productions. A true rarity.

    The stray fingers in the photo are none other than Analog Planet's Michael Fremer, who hosted this flash DJ session with some excellent sounding pressings and a couple of rarities from his own personal collection.

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    The system itself, to coin an overused word, was stunning. The speakers, about 7 ft. tall, need every inch of this ballroom to sound their best, but it is rare that I have heard a system that could play so effortlessly at a loud yet comfortable volume, and convey the full scale of something like a full orchestra (the Poulenc Organ Concerto I heard last year easily handled the lowest organ tones without breaking a sweat). Yet it handled smaller groups with ease, and I had no feeling I was listening to a 7 ft. tall violin. My pal @DonC texted me a single word when he experienced the system later that day..."Wow". And that about sums it up. I realize us mere mortals can never afford a system of this scale, or a house with a man cave large enough to host these 7-footers, but that is what audio shows are all about--we can listen to and enjoy systems like this, which we could not otherwise experience elsewhere.

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    I could easily say this was one of the top three systems I heard at the show this year.
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  6. -=Rudy=-

    -=Rudy=- ♪♫♪♫♫♪♪♫♪♪ Staff Thread Starter

    To change gears a little, another flash DJ session took place in the Legacy room with David Solomon, co-founder of hardware manufacturer Peachtree Audio and currently the "audiophile evangelist" of French streaming service Qobuz.

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    If there were a face-off between Qobuz and Tidal at this year in terms of visibility, Qobuz easily won game, set and match with their appearance. They sponsored all but one floor of the hotel this year, and their streaming was used in many of the rooms as the sole source of music for the show. David's enthusiasm is infectious, and he reiterated that Qobuz is a company of music lovers, and he is one of the biggest. He sampled selections from their "Qobuz Now!" playlist to show off their catalog and their platform.

    Tidal? Well...all they seemed to offer was a banner on the mezzanine. :wtf: I can only think of a couple of rooms that used it.

    In speaking with another Qobuz representative in the Marketplace, they have very recently (as in, the past couple of weeks) negotiated with a very large music distributor, so many holes in the Qobuz catalog will be filling in over the coming few weeks as they load all the tracks into the US system. The problem is that licensing negotiations can take time, and even if they may already be licensed in Europe, the labels need to be back-licensed to the US before they can be streamed or sold here. I had specifically asked about the HeadsUp/Telarc labels, and Mack Avenue Records, and both are part of this distributor's offering. I am confident that given another couple of years of negotiations, Qobuz should have their catalog at parity with the other streaming services in the US.

    Here are a couple more peeks inside the Legacy Audio room.

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    Last edited: Apr 18, 2019
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  7. -=Rudy=-

    -=Rudy=- ♪♫♪♫♫♪♪♫♪♪ Staff Thread Starter

    Another room with speakers that dwarfed the show attendees was KEF, displaying their chromed Muon "statement" speakers in one of the ballrooms. Next to these are the new KEF R11 towers, which I felt had the coolest driver color at the show. The Muon pair was playing on both visits to the room, so I was not able to hear the R11s. So how did the Muon sound? It did offer a nice presentation but I don't feel it had the same scale that the Von Schweikerts had, although a lot of it had to do with the music they were playing in the room--if anything, I felt they sounded a little "polite." Had they played larger scale music, though, I'm sure they would have sounded a lot fuller. As it was, they were still very balanced top to bottom. And I think I spotted a few fingerprints on the surface... ;)

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    Another of my top three favorites had to once again be the room presented by Precision Audio & Video (Chicago area), pairing up the Martin Logan Expression ESL 13a pair with Constellation electronics, Auralic streamer and Continuum Labs (Obsidian turntable, Viper arm, same as prior years). The sound is captivating. Last year they used the larger Renaissance ESL 15a model that somewhat overpowered the room, yet the 13a fit it nicely and made for a clean, musical and dynamic sound that invited me to listen until I wore out my welcome.

    I heard the 15a in another room powered by Luxman and it couldn't compare. ESLs can be very sensitive to upstream electronics, and my bad experience with the 15a and the massive Neolith system via another exhibitor using McIntosh solid state electronics a few years ago pretty much proved that point to me. With both, the sound could be harsh, metallic and loud, with little depth to the soundstage. Something in the secret sauce that the Constellation system offers made the presentation sound much more natural.

    It certainly sounded better than my poor photo of the room...

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    Another engaging room is the room presented by Snake River Audio, featuring the Sonist Audio Concerto 4 speakers, now in their second generation, sporting the same beautifully finished solid wood cabinet but featuring internal upgrades like improved chambering to clean up the bass (which I felt extended lower than on previous visits), and improved internal wiring and crossover components. Their high efficiency is perfect for lower-powered tube amps, without having to use a horn-loaded system. Disclaimer--the prospective owner must supply their own Miracle Gro.

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    Another design I found very interesting was an electrostatic speaker array that claims a wide 120° horizontal dispersion by use of a highly curved electrostatic panel. This is the Muraudio SP1, which utilizes this panel plus cone drivers to make for a full-range system. Their higher models feature an omnidirectional array using three of these 120° electrostatic sections.

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    Finally, I made a return to the Eikon Audio room, where founder Gayle Sanders remembered me as last year's "troublemaker" who shut down one of their two demo rooms. :laugh: I had pointed out a problem with the sound being shifted to one side, and subsequently, Gayle and his assistants discovered that they had a failed XLR cable running from their preamp to the midrange section. They had a similar problem with the XLR connection at RMAF. Interestingly, they ran their DSP correction function, and surprisingly found that the system "corrected" itself to account for the missing section.

    Such is the highly advanced DSP in the Eikon Audio system. A refresher from last year--the Eikon system consists of a preamplifier with a DSP section that corrects the room not only for frequency response, but for correcting time anomalies as well. The idea is to create a unified wave launch from the entire speaker system, much like a single electrostatic panel can do. In addition, response is more even throughout the room--you can walk around the room and hear a similar bass response from just about all positions. The preamp sends four analog outputs to each speaker, with each drive having its own class D amplifier built into the cabinet. The cabinets themselves are rather diminutive in size, the very top of the cabinet making it to ear height, but the sound is much larger and easily fills a room. The bass is surprising from the system--it reaches low, and is quite powerful.

    I snapped a photo of a speaker in the outer room of the suite, which has a carbon fiber finish. The system used in the demo had a wood finish.

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  8. -=Rudy=-

    -=Rudy=- ♪♫♪♫♫♪♪♫♪♪ Staff Thread Starter

    The Joseph Audio room sounded nice this year, and was one of the few I saw that used a reel deck as a source. Here, the Technics deck is used as a transport, feeding a Doshi tape head amplifier feeding Jeff Rowland Design Group electronics. The speakers are the new Joseph Audio Perspective2 Graphene.


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    The Volti Audio/Border Patrol room is always a fun stop at the show.

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    A company somewhat local to me is getting started in offering speaker systems--Creative Sound Solutions. You can buy the completed systems as shown here, or purchase knocked-down cabinets and the speaker components and build them yourself. Kudos on helping keep the DIY community alive. The Absolute Sound gave them a needed boost last year. The larger speakers are the newer model 2TD, and the smaller are the P215 that TAS gave a favorable nod to.

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  9. -=Rudy=-

    -=Rudy=- ♪♫♪♫♫♪♪♫♪♪ Staff Thread Starter

    I finally had a good opportunity to hear a "classic" speaker by way of the Falcon Acoustics version of the venerable LS3/5A. While its bass will not rattle the rafters, it extended deeper than I felt it would, and had quite a nice presentation. If it has "the stuff" like the classic BBC version, I can see why it has been so appealing over the years, especially when used as monitors--it may not do everything, but what it does do, it does correctly.

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    Back in the 80s, I actually thought of building my own pair, as you could buy the same KEF drivers from Madisound, and I'm pretty sure the old Speaker Builder magazine had the plans for the cabinet and crossover. (Thanks to compadre Bill Leebens for remembering the model numbers for me--theKEF B110 bass driver and T27 tweeter.)
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  10. -=Rudy=-

    -=Rudy=- ♪♫♪♫♫♪♪♫♪♪ Staff Thread Starter

    Many here are likely aware of the SweetVinyl SugarCube, a high-resolution device that removes the sound of clicks and pops from records using a highly sophisticated proprietary algorithm and a lot of processing to remove scratches without affecting the sound quality of the recording. In my listening, it goes far beyond what any computer software is capable of.

    Two items of note for this year. First, they have developed a new version of the software that can now distinguish electronic music (such as Kraftwerk, and EDM) from scratches. Second, they have expanded the line-up. There is now a barebones entry-level model SC-1 Mini, which offers all of the click removal features and both an analog and digital output (which can be run to a computer for recording, or a DAC for listening), and the same ability to control the unit remotely via smartphone. The SC-1 Phono adds a phono stage which supports both moving magnet/iron and moving coil cartridges, with continuously variable loading for the moving coil input. The SC-1 Plus has internal improvements and also adds a digital input.

    The SC-2 is still the flagship product, which will record to a USB stick or external hard disk, or a network drive, and will also split and tag all of the tracks using their metadata retrieval system.

    From top to bottom are the SC-1 Mini, the SC-1 Phono, and the SC-2.

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    Here is a demonstration of the system by Leo of SweetVinyl, using a dustbin copy of Steely Dan's Aja. I heard the SC-1 Phono on a relatively new classical LP prior to this demonstration and it played back cleanly without any digital artifacts or other clue that it was doing its job. Very nice!

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  11. -=Rudy=-

    -=Rudy=- ♪♫♪♫♫♪♪♫♪♪ Staff Thread Starter

    PS Audio had some products to introduce at this year's show. Located in a room on the main level just behind the registration area, they had a large, tall room for static displays of most of their products, and displayed a few new products in the pipeline that will be arriving within the next several months.

    First, they are working on the new Stellar Phono Stage, designed by Darren Myers. Here is an interview with Darren Myers, courtesy of Analog Planet:

    Next up. What happens when you give your digital guru carte blanche to make his ultimate DAC? Ted Smith designed the DirectStream DAC a few years back, with the expected concessions made for cost and materials availability. The upcoming Obsidian Series Signature DAC will take the DirectStream concept even further, utilizing a two-chassis system that splits the digital processing from the analog circuitry, separated by a true fiber optic cable (not Toslink) that will keep noise to as low of a level as possible. The digital chassis will feature a full-length glass front panel with a touchscreen display. The design sticks with the PS Audio aesthetic, but features a few premium touches such as a tilted front panel, and facets cut into the bezel surrounding it. Scott McGowan felt this system would go into production within the year.



    The other big event was the debut of the first PS Audio speaker: the AN3 prototype. The system features an air motion tweeter, a Bohlender Graebener planar midrange, a mid-bass coupler (currently ~8 inch, but they are considering trying a 6½ inch driver), and a side-mounted woofer. The woofer and mid-bass coupler are each driven by internal Ice Power Class D amplifiers (based on their Stellar amplifier series), and will be tunable to the room using DSP room correction. The AN3 will be the smallest of the AN ("Arnie Nudell") series, the largest (the AN1) being a flagship tower system at 7½ ft. tall and will act as a successor to the legendary Infinity IRS V and Genesis II.5. From what I understand, less expensive speakers will evolve through the Stellar series of components.


    In the above photo are the AN3s, with the BHK Mono 300 monoblocks off to the sides. The center array includes three of the DirectStream Power Plants, the BHK preamplifier, and a DirectStream DAC.
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  12. -=Rudy=-

    -=Rudy=- ♪♫♪♫♫♪♪♫♪♪ Staff Thread Starter

    I sat in on the live Ask Paul recording, which is posted below. Paul McGowan and Ted Smith also talk about the AN3s and the Obsidian DAC.

    And that pretty much wraps up the highlights for AXPONA. I'm not sure if I'll get to RMAF this year, due to having travel a couple of weeks either side of that show. But I'm recharging for next year's AXPONA, which I'm sure will grow even more. It is certainly one of the major shows in North America.
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  13. Steve Hoffman

    Steve Hoffman Mastering Engineer Your Host

    Nice work, Boss! Good pics and I saw some old friends..
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  14. Jerry

    Jerry Grateful Gort Staff

    New England
    Great thread and spectacular pictures! This is why I buy lottery tickets every week.

  15. Erik Tracy

    Erik Tracy Meet me at the Green Dragon for an ale

    San Diego, CA, USA
    Thanks for the pics and writeups - well done!
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  16. Black Elk

    Black Elk Music Lover

    Bay Area, U.S.A.
    Is that a new mbl Radialstrahler speaker? :winkgrin:

    I see Chad Kassem in the center, with his hands in his pockets!
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  17. psulioninks

    psulioninks Forum Resident

    Midwest USA
    Thanks! It's always awesome to see the new audio goodies being touted at these events - even if most of them will never be within my means!

    I think I will go listen to Boston's "A Man I'll Never Be" now...
    -=Rudy=- likes this.
  18. Matt Richardson

    Matt Richardson Forum Resident

    I agree, this did sound very nice. I always come away from these type of things wondering how many of these have they actually sold?
    -=Rudy=- likes this.
  19. Matt Richardson

    Matt Richardson Forum Resident

    They still have tons of space available in the expo room. Hopefully even more exhibitors will sign up next year.
    -=Rudy=- likes this.
  20. Art K

    Art K Forum Resident

    Corvallis, Oregon
    Great thread!
    -=Rudy=- likes this.
  21. Tullman

    Tullman Senior Member

    Boston MA
    Thank You Rudy!
    -=Rudy=- likes this.
  22. Glmoneydawg

    Glmoneydawg Forum Resident

    Ontario Canada
    Nicely done!
    -=Rudy=- likes this.
  23. JackG

    JackG Forum Resident

    Nice work. This is what a show report is all about, great pictures! :)
    -=Rudy=- likes this.
  24. Agitater

    Agitater Forum Resident

    That’s an Origin Live tonearm - either the Ruby or the Onyx.
    -=Rudy=- likes this.
  25. Agitater

    Agitater Forum Resident

    Thanks for the posts!
    -=Rudy=- likes this.

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