AXPONA 2019 Show Report --
Audio Expo North America
Tien Audio was taking pre-orders on their carbon fiber Viroa tonearm for $2200, a 20% discount. It features a patented magnetic damping design that combines azimuth adjustment and anti-skating, as well as ensuring the cartridge maintains good tracking. This system is simple, keeping the tonearm free of interference from additional mechanisms. It's available in 9", 10' and 12" lengths, and additional carbon fiber arm wands are available separately. It's a uni-pivot design with tungsten steel needle in a sapphire polished bearing and includes Van den Hul silver Litz internal wiring.
Utopia D back on the main floor was featuring Richard Vandersteen's liquid cooled amp, flagship speaker and subwoofer with the upgraded stone base under the main speaker. There was a Brinkman turntable on one of Mike Latvis' HRS equipment racks, but the platter was covered with a Mylar sheet and wasn't spinning. That was all familiar territory for me. The music was sounding very, very good here as you would expect from the Vandersteen speaker. The rest of the system, however, was not making any sense to this analog, tube loving traditionalist. Fortunately, Robert Robinson, Director of Engineering at Channel D, came to my rescue and dragged me into the 21st century. The Queen of the Hop here was their Seta (silk, in Italian) L20 Mk2 battery powered phono stage with two turntable inputs for mc and mc/mm cartridges. MSRP, to scare most people away, is $63k, but FOB from the factory in New Jersey is only $43k.
The Seta L20 Mk2 is the much bigger brother
to the little Lino C (linen, in Italian), $2499, which was on the shelf
below it and has been very favorably reviewed. Both models are current mode
direct coupled and have extremely accurate RIAA curves. The Lino C has balanced
input only and works only with mc cartridges, but the Seta has additional RCA
inputs that act as balanced input adapters for the all-balanced circuitry. (You
can use single ended phono cables with an adapter with the Lino C, if
necessary.) Both units have ultra-high bandwidth, with the Seta L20 extending
out to 20 MHz, a thousand times the limit of human hearing. And
both units are powered with an internal rechargeable battery, an approach that
has proven itself over the past nine years. The charging system automatically
turns off when it senses a music signal, and back on when no signal is present,
so you don't have to think about keeping the unit charged.
Both the Lino C and the Seta L20 Mk2 can output an RIAA signal directly to your preamp in either single ended (RCA) or balanced form like a normal phono stage. And they can both output a FLAT signal without RIAA equalization. By using very high bandwidth circuit components in both the initial 50dB to 60dB of gain of the signal coming from the phono cartridge, as well as in the RIAA EQ circuitry (which limits bandwidth and adds an additional 12dB of gain) they are able to reduce audible impulse noise distortion in both the RIAA output and the flat output of the phono stage.
At the show, the flat output of the Seta L20 Mk2 was sent to the Lynx Hilo ADC/DAC ($2500) hidden in the shadows below the turntable via balanced interconnects. The Hilo digitizes the flat signal and sends it to a computer equipped with Channel D's award winning Pure Vinyl program. (It looked like an Apple Mac Mini with SSD was tucked away even further into the shadows.) The Pure Vinyl program converts the flat signal to an RIAA signal in the digital domain which is even more accurate and has less sonic degradation than when this is done way back in the Seta L20 Mk2. For listening, music was then called up from the computer and sent back to the Lynx Hilo where the DAC side of the Hilo converts the now RIAA digital signal to analog that can be sent to a line stage in a typical system. But at the show, since both the Seta L20 Mk2 and the Lynx Hilo have a degree of volume adjustment, no preamp was used and the RIAA analog signal from the Lynx Hilo was simply sent directly to the Vandersteen amps that were powering their speakers. To a guy like me who is stuck in the Dark Ages with a transport and DAC for digital music, this was a whole new sport.
The end result
was pretty spectacular — like state of the art, even in this large room. It
was hard to believe that the transparent and extended recordings were originally
sourced from vinyl. Robert attributes it to their use of ultra-high bandwidth
technology, superb engineering and applying the RIAA equalization in the digital
domain with their Pure Vinyl program. It was clearly the best of both analog and
digital combined, making for another of the Best Rooms at the
Schiit Audio displayed their many combinations of headphone playback options within the main floor's large multiple exhibitor space. The poster reads: Mo Money, Mo Better. Spend mostest for bestest sound. And on the far building: Obey. Gotta love it. Sure sounds like a Capitalist plot to me.
HIFIMAN had this interesting tube amp hooked up to a multi-thousand dollar headphone.
Jerry Harvey does custom in-ear monitors since 1995.
It looks like Transparent is into the Ultra Headphone Cable business.
I loved the design of this small-stack of iFi Audio headphone amps.
Would have offered EveAnna Manley a hug, but looking at her t-shirt I feared her capacitors might not have been discharged. I did pick up a fresh Tubes Rule sticker for my Tracker, however. Rochester winters are brutal on bumper stickers.
The First Annual Shirt of the Show Award goes to this dude for his shirt with "Al" Einstein's famous quote: "Imagination is more important than knowledge." As a prize, if he wears this shirt to the show next year, we'll publish a photo of the front of the shirt.
People were packing up at a rapid pace and I decided to pack out. It was a big show and I saw most of it.
Nothin' but a little wet snow on the Hotel Tracker.
Monday was California Dreamin' cutting across Canada back to Rochester. Hope you saw something of interest in this report. As always, in the end what really matters is that you...
Enjoy your music.