AXPONA 2019 Show Report --
Audio Expo North America
Schaumburg Ballroom Area
Each monoblock had its own power regenerator and there was a third regenerator for the preamp and digital front end. As the presentation seemed on the warm side to me, I wondered about the wood side panels partially covering the side-firing woofers, and if the presentation might have been more successful in a smaller, more conventionally shaped room.
The rig was set up on the diagonal, which is normally advantageous, but like the other rooms on the sides of the ballroom, with the tall ceilings, it was close to cubical — challenging, to say the least. Nonetheless, at the end of the day I saw Paul and his wife leaving the show with big smiles on their faces, and knowing his optimism, drive and tenacity, I eagerly look forward to hearing this speaker in a more refined form at Rocky Mountain. With luck we will see black anodized surrounds on the tweeter and midrange ribbon driver to shift the visual focus more to the gorgeous wood side panels. Projected release of the speaker is near the end of the year.
The other good news at PS Audio was the announcement of the Stellar Phono Preamplifier (really just a phono stage; target price $2k, available in a few months) and Stellar Gain Cell DAC ($1699, available now). These units are not only handsome, but feature-packed and more affordable as are the line stage and power amps in the Stellar lineup. I learned a Stellar Power Plant 3 regenerator was also in the works and given the length of time it has taken to write this report, it is now available for $2199, making power regeneration far more affordable than their Direct Stream regenerators. As we chanted in the 1960s, "power to the people"!
Next door in Schaumburg B, Abt Electronics, Appliances and More was clearly presenting "more" in the form of B&W flagship 800 D3 speakers ($30k) available in gloss black, satin white or Rosenut, driven by an all-McIntosh rig. The McIntosh MTI 100 integrated turntable ($6500) is a complete lifestyle system with Bluetooth, aux inputs, phono stage, vacuum tube preamp, headphone jack and 50 Wpc @ 8 Ohms Class D power amplification. (The MTI100 was not driving the D3 speakers.) Note a pair of subwoofers was added to the large rig to cope with the large cubical room. The fact that McIntosh has come out with a lifestyle product points in two directions — first, to younger folks wanting a simpler entry-level solution to the high end, and second, to older audiophiles who are downsizing and simplifying their lives.
Moving on, Schaumburg C was home to Gryphon Audio Designs imported by the dapper Philip O'Hanlon of On a Higher Note. I've left the wide-angle photo un-cropped to give you a sense of the size (and height) of these rooms — and even then, you still can't see the ceiling. As I said, they are practically cubical. Nonetheless, this Gryphon Trident II speaker held the full audience in rapt attention with a very high-quality presentation, ranking as another of the Very Best Rooms at the show. The Ethos CD player with three adjustable legs for leveling was as fine a work of art as I've seen in the High End with its clean, contemporary styling, augmented with a blue led illuminating the surface below it for listening in the dark.
The Mojo S stand mounted monitor with D'Appolito configuration and orange side panels had an equally sophisticated contemporary design. It is a cost-no-object design with dedicated stand and comes in a wide variety of joyful colors on the side panels. The technology concealed within merits a trip to the website of this elite Danish manufacturer. Should your room require something even larger, in the corner was their flagship Kodo speaker — at least one channel, as you will note these are two distinct 237cm (~94") towers comprised of 19 drivers. Multiply that by two for stereo. And don't let the fear of choosing the right color for the side panels hold back your purchase, as they are easily removed and re-painted should you decide to change your décor at some time in the future.
The last room on this side, Schaumburg D, was a real treat with a rare presentation of KEF's Muon speaker ($225k), whose beauty is superseded only by its concealed technology. Hegel gear was driving the Muon quite nicely. Next to is was KEF's new R 5 speaker ($2500) which looks almost identical in design, but not finish, to their Reference 5 ($20k). If I'm mistaken, I'm only $17,500 off. Although they have the new Reference series, the KEF Blade ($31k) and Blade 2 ($25k) remain in the lineup above the Reference 5.
Sliding around to the other side of the large ballroom which housed press room, show management, seminar and concert rooms, were four more large rooms. Emotiva took the first two, Schaumburg E & F, for a home theater presentation and a room for static displays. I squared off with the new RMC-1 Differential Reference Cinema Processor ($5k) on a rotating turnstile. On another turnstile was the new XMC-2 processor ($3k). And on a third turnstile was the RMC-1L ($4k). It being Sunday afternoon, and with the snow coming down, the crowd was obviously thin, in spite of being in Daylight Savings Time.
Schaumburg G was filed with tables passively displaying Pass Labs gear and this First Watt SIT 3 power amp. Due to the limited number of silicone induction transistors the production of this amp is limited. All have been sold, so if you want one you had best track down a dealer who has one available... should I say "pronto"?
Schaumburg H, the last room on this side was listed as AURALiC North America, Inc. They had a rig with YG Acoustics speakers and some tables with product on static display, but apparently, I didn't connect with any hosts to help me out here. I was stunned to see a chassis machined out of a billet of aluminum. Surely there must be a better and more economical way to quell vibrations than this, masterful as it was.
Four little cubicles noted as the Adventure Rooms on the map were actually little offices accessed by an entrance that I bet many visitors missed. A couple of them were displays of Kimber Kable, and two others were home to Dragonfire Acoustics, a high end electrostatic speaker system for your home computer rig. It included the speakers, amplifiers, DSP and an active subwoofer. It was really good…and really expensive ($10k) for a computer workstation, but I know of some music lovers whose life revolves around their computer for either work or YouTube. I liked it at Rocky Mountain, too, and they told me they have made some improvements to the speakers since then.
On a side table was a Son(-)ma electrostatic headphone & amp ($5k/both) where I picked up on a little Blond on Blond from Bob Dylan via Roon.
Across the hall from the small Adventure rooms was the Journey/Creation offices, home to Synergistic Research and Scott Walker Audio. I had been there earlier in the show but stopped in to visit with Ted Denny whom I had missed earlier. It seemed a peculiar location but offered space for silent display of their product as well as a relatively normal size listening room. I hope their tall banners in the hallway leading to the Expo Hall/Café and Ear Gear Expo attracted the attention this room clearly deserved — it was one of the Best Rooms at the show, as I said earlier in Part 3.
In a more relaxed time frame I was able to take a prime seat at Ted's insistence, and really enjoy the excellence. I also noted their use of HFT (High Frequency Tuning) dots on the very expensive Magico speakers. Even at $800 for enough to treat two speakers, this may be a bargain relative to spending say, $30k to upgrade your $15k speakers which may now only be worth $8k on the used equipment market. They come with a 30-Day money-back guarantee, if they don't work for you.
It was also worth noting that the PowerCell 12 in use here was the UEF model, not the new Galileo upgraded version I saw in the outer room. So, as good as it was, there was potential for it to get even better. In the outer room, Ted delighted in demonstrating the trick lighting in the new Galileo PowerCell 12 thta can be switched among numerous colors including McIntosh Blue and I noted the amp meter etched in the front glass ranging from zero to 30 Amps. While such a statement piece is exciting, it is equally important, and commendable, that Synergistic Research trickles down their technology to a wide range of price points for a broad spectrum of audiophiles. I should also mention that Scott Walker Audio is one of the best-known high end dealers in the Southern California area, which explains why the rig here had such a diverse collection of brands including the Acoustic Signature turntable, the MSB DAC and the massive high current, Class A Gryphon stereo amp driving the Magico speakers.