AXPONA 2019 Show Report --
Audio Expo North America
Saturday Morning, April 13th
Eli and Ofra Gershman had greeted me with smiles upon seeing my familiar face from the month before at the Montreal show. They also supplied me with scissors. The new and good here was their new Grand Studio monitor ($6500, including the powder coated solid steel stand) that looked like trickle-down aesthetic if not drivers from their new flagship POSH speaker that is priced in a much higher league. Music was coming from a VPI Avenger turntable and the pre and power amps looked to be the same VAC tube gear I heard in Montreal. This sounded very good to me on my brief visit and a strong contender for someone looking for a contemporary styled high-end monitor without breaking into five-figures. Claimed in-room response is 25Hz to 20kHz, and sensitivity of 88dB/W/m. A pair of their Grand Avant-Garde floorstanders were tucked in the corner, so some visitors may have heard that fine speaker. (Room 710)
Next door, in 714, the Sadurni Acoustics Staccato GT four-Way Horn Loudspeakers ($33,333) immediately grabbed my (and everyone's) attention. This stunning design takes the German Avantgarde horn speakers to the next level with its artistic interpretation of time-alignment and rich, deep burgundy finish. It's like the most beautiful woman at a party who will make you forget any lingering pain of an unrequited love in your past. The word lust comes immediately to mind and it is tempered only by demand of floor space in my listening room. The black horizontal tubular servo-controlled subwoofers to the outside of the horn drivers are the principal deterrent and raises wonder if a more compact cubical sub from another manufacturer might circumvent the issues of space and positioning.
I was amazed at how coherent the sound was even with the 9' triangle in this modest size room. I'm compelled to mention the 300B Siegfried stereo amp ($15k) from David Berning, whose earlier work before licensing his ZOTL technology to Linear Tube Audio I've reviewed many years ago. Apparently he has resumed manufacturing under his own name again. LTA supplied the preamp here ($4450), and Stillpoints, whose footers and the platform (under the Wolf server ($7995)) I've reviewed in the distant past, supplied the component rack ($8495). Ayre's QX-5 Twenty DAC ($8950) was also in the stack. Being a SET tube lover, I could have spent the rest of the weekend in this room, but left after only a few minutes. It didn't take long to recognize this was one of the very Best Rooms at the show.
This Thrax turntable with a Goldring cartridge jumped out at me in the Troy Audio room. The other end of the chain was the Troy Audio Achilles speaker ($40k) with 100dB/W/m sensitivity allowing it to be driven with ease by the Thrax Spartacus monoblocks putting out 70 Watts of SET power each from parallel Emission Labs 520B-V3 tubes. An interesting feature of these amps is a switch that allows you to select low, medium or high input sensitivity to adjust for output levels of different sources or preamps. You can expect these world class amps are very expensive.
While Troy Audio is based in Houston, the speakers are designed and built in Guadalajara, Mexico, using an improved version of Altec's famed 212 driver now made by Great Plains Audio. The main driver is a 12" with a full-range coaxial horn. The small driver above it is a horn super tweeter. It's available in wood veneer, but was shown in a very high-quality automotive paint finish. Speaker cable connections are behind the drivers, requiring speaker cables be a little longer than are usually necessary. It is a beast at 265 pounds, but I find it hard to argue with SET amps driving high efficiency speakers.
SOtM-USA represents the South Korean company and it was an interesting rig comprised of downsized components. The stack on the left was two power supplies and a clock on top. The large boxes in the center stack were a server, DAC and amplifier driving Magico speakers. For those not into collecting a lot of "stuff", this rig keeps it small and compact thanks to the aluminum and Plexiglas racks. This could be the iFi of the Far East. I'll be keeping an eye out for reviews. (Room 725)
The Parasound room had a couple of interesting pieces in their new 200 series due out in early summer — a preamp (seen on the bottom) and an integrated amp (seen above with the speaker binding posts). The integrated is a 2/1 design with DAC. The $1195 price I believe was for the integrated amp. Another new product was their HINT 6 ($2995), successor to the Halo Integrated. It is a 2.1 design with ESS DAC. New stuff all around except for the John Curl designed 160 Wpc, Class A/AB power amp stage which was retained. This looks like good news for people looking for more affordable gear.
The piece that grabbed my attention in Room 733 was the VPI Prime Signature Rosewood, a custom order model, not off-the-shelf, fitted with an Audio-Technica Art-1000 cartridge. It was feeding a VPI Voyager phono stage, along with a Rogue preamp and Rogue M-180 monoblocks, Dark version (a $2450/pr upgrade). Speakers here were the Dali Epicon 6 ($14k). Cabling was by Nordost. This was one of four rooms on this floor by Holm Audio of Woodbridge, IL, one of the western suburbs of Chicago.
Nordost and VTL teamed up in Room 734. I loved the way they used the Nordost speaker cable as edging for the flower garden between the speaker and the amp. According to the signage, that would be Odin 2 series cable. A power cord starts at $17,849.99. The VTL Reference stereo amp in the photo was $33,500. And the Stenheim Alumine Five speaker (largest of the Alumine series) goes for $58,900. The red line on the side and the red Stenheim logo on the front baffle give it a casual contemporary feel that goes along with the contemporary block chassis that flies in the face of sculpted sides and non-parallel surfaces of so many of today's speakers. In this price range you should expect the music to sound very good and it did, being another of the Best Rooms at the show. Other players in this room included a VPI Avenger turntable with a Lyra Etna cartridge and a dCS Rossini CD player and clock. Total was well over $400k. (Room 734)
I picked up on the potential of Questyle electronics years ago at the Montreal show where they premiered a very small but dynamic system. It's been fun watching them grow and become popular. Their patented current mode amplification, developed in 2006 has matured into the 200 Wpc monoblocks used here to drive the Revel Salon 2 speakers. On a drum cut there was plenty of transparency, speed and dynamics on display here, but the contrast in sizes of the speaker and monoblock bordered on the humorous. The goal here is to sell amplifiers, of course, so they were placed where they could not be ignored. (Room 740, another room sponsored by Holm Audio)