AXPONA 2019 Show Report --
Audio Expo North America
Vinnie Rossi has come a long way in a few short years and he now has his own speaker, the Stiletto 15 ($20k), with an open-baffle 15" woofer and sealed box for the midrange and tweeter, to go along with his electronics. And yes, those are tube cages atop the L2 Signature preamp ($17k) in the center on the table, not coffee cups. The L2 Signature monoblocks use MOSFETs for 75 Watts into 8 Ohms and 140 Watts into 4, and they are stable into 2 Ohms. Cabling was by Triode Wire Labs. Like many other companies today, he is pushing to become a one-source manufacturer for your entire system.
Some years ago, I had a chance to hear Vanatoo's outstanding original small powered monitor but never got a chance to review it. Now, with a new Transparent One Encore model out, I'm too busy to give it a try. Damn! Somehow I neglected to get a photo of the speaker, but I heard it play with and without a subwoofer in the system. While I'm not sure about the sub they used, the Transparent One Encore is a very high-value powered monitor with built-in DAC without resorting to expensive or exotic technology. Rick Kernon proudly displayed the above SPL graph of the Vanatoo and two of their big-name competitors.
I told him my ears tell me it's even better than the chart. The price has crept up to $599, but this speaker is worthy of a subwoofer at least twice that price if you want to go full-range. Check out the back side of the speaker for the controls, inputs and passive radiator that gives it superior bass response. The only downside is the funky speaker cable connection and the captive power cord that preclude upgrading the cables, but other than that, there's an awful lot to like. If you can't swing the bucks for the Encore, check out their Transparent Zero. (Room 490)
Jumping from the $600 Vanatoo to room 496 with a rig that easily topped $100,000, I once again found a gorgeous Daedalus Audio speaker, this time the Apollo 11 dressed in figured maple veneers with modest geometric inlays ($22,800). That's a 10" woofer and a mid-tweeter-midrange array in this speaker with 96dB/W/m efficiency and relatively flat 6 Ohm impedance, making it very tube friendly. And they sounded great with a VAC Signature SE preamp ($20k) with separate power supply and Signature 200 iQ power amp ($14,500) with their iQ continuous automatic biasing system. The front end was digital with Lampizator's Super Komputer music server ($8k) and their Golden Gate 2 DAC with tube analog output ($17k). Look at the footprint of that DAC!
Cabling and AC distribution was by WyWires. Daedalus also listed numerous footers for the speakers and gear, and may well have provided the two handsome three-shelf racks sporting thick wood shelves of three laminated layers each. This room was poised to rate as one of the Best Rooms at the show, but the quasi-rock music that was playing was not only unfamiliar to me, it was downright forgettable. Nonetheless, I've heard each of these manufacturers elsewhere at the show, and I can highly recommend them in good faith.
Moving on to the long walk of the atrium in room 404 was a pair of Martin Logan ESL 13A electrostatic speakers with a pair of 10" woofers each driven by a 300-Watt Class D amp in the cabinet protruding behind the panel. They were driven by a large Constellation stereo amp. While the electronic music being played was considerably higher energy than what I listen to on Hearts of Space, it is a familiar genre and I absolutely loved what I heard here. Often electronic music can be less than ideal on inferior solid-state systems, but the resolution as well as the PRAT combined to make the best presentation of electronic music I've heard. Granted, timbre is not particularly relevant in this genre and I don't get to hear electronic music in most rooms at shows (in fact, sometimes never) but the presentation here was exemplary, worthy of mention as a Best Room at the show.
Also present, but not heard, was the new Continuum turntable ($35k) with the new Viper tonearm ($10k). I didn't think to give the platter a poke with my finger to see if it had the same "float" factor as the original, but I appreciated the smaller form factor and overall design.
Room 406 was hosted by AMPED, a new encounter for me, who seems to make Class D power amps. On the top of the rack was their AMP 2400 ($4000), a stereo amp with 400 Wpc @ 8 Ohms that doubles down to 800 Wpc into 4. Those figures were for a 1% THD+N @ 1kHz. No S/N ratio was given. Their signage and literature sheet suggest they are targeting both high-end 2-channel as well as home theater, surround and multi-room applications. I was told they also offer model 2250, a 250 Wpc version for $2500. They offer both RCA and balanced inputs. The rig here included an LA Audio disc player and an Adcom 816 preamp, fairly basic gear. Their website urges you to buy from the few authorized dealers and lists a page full of unauthorized internet sellers offering gray market product that will not be protected by the two-year warrantee. It seems to be a fairly straight-forward product and I will certainly keep an eye out for reviews.
KR Audio Electronic from the Czech Republic, whose amps I reviewed early on in my tenure with ETM, produces some extraordinary vacuum tubes such as the T1610 seen here on the Kronzilla SXI MkII integrated amp ($20k) that puts out 50 Wpc of pure Class A power with zero feedback. The amp easily drove the Acoustique Quality Passion 25 speakers ($5k) with Satori tweeter and midrange and a pair of Scan-Speak woofers. Impedance is 8 Ohms and efficiency is 89db. AQ is an affordable speaker line also from the Czech Republic, who is celebrating their 25th anniversary with this speaker.
The sound was very good here with the speakers having a high perceived value. The red and black speakers shown here were also from AQ with the red Orca monitor being $6150/pr. and having 8 Ohm impedance and 89dB/W/m sensitivity as well. This makes me wonder if I have the price correct for the white speaker. The black model has won an international award for design and innovation for its asymmetrical design and it is rated at 6 Ohms with 89dB/W/m sensitivity and a frequency response of 20Hz to 45kHz ($19,980).
Sharing the room with KR and AQ, Well Rounded Sound presented these attractive small monitors driven by the Heaven 11 Billie hybrid integrated amp with tube preamp section and an ICE power amp stage that puts out 120 Wpc @ 4 Ohms, 60 Wpc @ 8 Ohms. Heaven 11 is the start-up of Itai Azerad of Montreal. The Billie comes packed with a mm phono stage and a built-in ESS DAC. And yes, AptX Bluetooth and a headphone input. It is on sale thru May 14th for $1800. Next to the Billie is an Adcom GIA-275. In the second photo on the right is Well Rounded Sounds desktop amplified speaker. Very nice-looking speakers!
In the Zesto room was a Stillpoints rack ($10k) full of, well, Zesto tube gear which everyone is well acquainted with by now. Leto 1.5 preamp ($7500), Andros Deluxe phono stage ($6900), Allasso step-up transformer ($2995) and the Eros 300 monoblocks ($19,900/pr) driving the Marten Django XL silver grey speakers with Accuton ceramic tweeter and midrange ($15k/pr). Cabling was by Cardas including their Nautilus power strip ($1500). What interested me most here was the Merrill Williams Audio REAL 101.3 turntable ($8900). (Doesn't that sound like an FM station?) It was fitted with a Tri-Planar U2 classic tone arms ($6200) with a Benz Micro Gullwing SLR mc cartridge ($3600). The LP playing at the time was a female vocal with a band that sounded like a remaster of a 1950's LP, so I didn't really get a fix on sound quality. Obviously, though, this is all really good equipment. (Room 416)
Moving down to room 430 I found this surreal rack full of MSB Technology with a couple of now discontinued cylindrical monoblocks that looked like models for nuclear power plant cooling towers. With the tops of most pieces in the rack bulging upward, threatening to explode, this room was downright intimidating. With music playing through Magico M3s ($75,000/pr) this room could easily climb above a half million dollars and I wouldn't blink if you said a million. This is where the edge of the art is created with virtually unlimited budget or compromise. Yes, it's digital, and no, you won't care. To call this one of the Best Rooms at the show is trivial. Still, it was nice to have had the opportunity to have a listen, however brief. The nice thing about rooms like this at shows is you don't have to feel unwanted if you didn't pull up in a Bugatti Veyron. The parking lot is clear out of sight and no appointment is necessary.
Room 434 was listed as Raidho, but the speakers here were tall MB5B Scansonic models ($7300 in black or white) from Raidho's affordable sister company in Denmark. That's a Primare CD15 Prisma CD player (that can channel stored or streamed music) at the bottom of the rack from Sweden feeding a Gamut integrated amp, also from Denmark. I love their logo cut-out on the top plate. On the top shelf is what looks like a Kid Howard turntable, the entry level model from Pear Audio of Germany. I also liked the contemporary stacked rack in black and metal.
Methinks 434 was a two-room suite as my next photo was of the new Raidho TD4.2 with trickle down technology from the flagship TD4.8. Under the guidance of Benno Baun Meldgaard they have updated the original design of Michael Borresen with Tantalum-Diamond drivers and an updated ribbon tweeter among many other upgrades. The prices I saw were $126k in black and $147k in walnut or custom colors. The rig here was Chord from Great Britain in black finish starting with their Blu MkII M-scaler and DAVE DAC, CPA 5000 Reference preamp and SPM 1400 MkII monoblocks. They also had a VPI 40th Anniversary direct drive turntable with Ortofon Cadenza mc cartridge. There were numerous conversations going on in the room at the time, but still, it was a very present sound. And while not as expensive as the MSB room, it still ranks as one of the Best Rooms at the show.
I finished up the 4th floor in room 440 where a mostly-Bryston rig (I think) was clothed in darkness. Somebody briefly let some light in so I could grab a shot, but... well, I've taken better photos. Sorry, guys. Good sound here, as always from Bryston monitors driven by a pair of monoblocks, though I'm not sure the front end was Bryston. As they show consistently at Montreal and Toronto, I can tell you they put on a much better showing back home in Canada. Good sounding, excellent build quality and an iron-clad reputation.
Part 6 will probably be posted after Steven R. Rochlin returns from Munich's HIGH ND 2019 show. I'll cover the 3rd floor of the atrium rooms and move on to the larger exhibition rooms on the second and first floors. As always, much more to come. Until next week, I'll be writing. Cheers.