AXPONA 2019 Show Report --
Audio Expo North America
His main areas of expertise are automobiles, wines & spirits, travel & leisure, kitchen & cooking, and high-end audio & video. I sat solemnly amused as the two bartenders asked his opinion on a seldom ordered exotic drink. (He had them add a couple of more drops of vodka, or something, which improved the drink to his liking). I never have that problem, being an occasional beer drinker. There's not much wiggle room once you open the bottle, save perhaps a slice of lime.
Sunday morning began with an exercise in futility as I returned to the nearby mall to find lots of people walking for exercise, but the McDonald's was closed. So I arrived at the Renaissance earlier than expected and found a parking spot much closer than the previous days. (This was great because it was much colder on Sunday.) Breakfast was traditional road food: Clif Bar, cookies, banana, mixed nuts and V8 juice. Once inside, I ran into Louis Desjardines of Kronos and we chatted while in line for coffee.
Back in the corner, one flight below where I encountered the new Magnepan were two rooms hosted by ELAC and Alchemy which was acquired by ELAC a year or so ago. Speaker designer Andrew Jones was presiding in room 342 where the Navis ARF-51 floorstanding speaker ($4k) was driven by an Alchemy DDP-2 preamplifier / DAC / streamer ($2500), fed by a Discovery DS-S101-G music server ($1100). The Navis is tri-amplified with a 160-Watt Bash amp on the bass, 100-watt Bash amp on the midrange, and a 40-watt class AB amp on the tweeter — all analog amps, not digital. Moderately priced AudioQuest interconnects and power cables were used here, and I suspect they were taking advantage of the speaker's wireless capability as no speaker cable was listed.
Andrew is developing quite a cult following at shows, drawing packed rooms wherever he appears. Not only does this indicate the popularity of the "Everyman's" ELAC speakers he is designing, but ELAC may very well be the driving force of acceptance for powered speakers in the industry, a trend that seems to be spreading. The downside of Andrew's presence, however, is that the room takes on the air of a question & answer seminar at the expense of actually hearing the speaker. I suspect this results in strong sales, if not at the show, then shortly thereafter. Unfortunately, with the number of rooms I had yet to cover, I couldn't outlast the questions or the answers.
Next door, in 344, ELAC was showing their Carina BS-243.4 bookshelf speaker ($1200) which also is a considerable step up from where Mr. Jones started with ELAC a couple of years(?) ago. This rig used the same preamplifier / DAC / streamer, but added the Alchemy DPA-2 stereo/mono power amp ($1500). At $5600 for the rig (not including the cost of some expensive Shunyata power conditioning and cables, and WireWorld interconnects and speaker cables) this room came in only $2k less than the previous room. Both rooms featured the Pangea Audio Vulcan X Bracket equipment racks ($200).
I gave one a shove to check the rigidity and it seemed quite stable — perhaps a good place to start until your ship comes in. The addition of aftermarket footers can provide further improvements until you can afford one of the very high-end racks in the multi-thousand-dollar range. (Don't gag. When you reach that league, you will realize they make a substantial and cost-effective contribution.)
In 340 I found this very handsome Larson 9 loudspeaker ($15k) designed to fit tight to the wall — a rarity in this industry. The midrange/tweeter were mounted on a sloping baffle on top of the speaker. Gamut M250 monoblocks ($25k/pr) and D3i dual-mono preamp ($8390) provided the amplification. An Aurender N10 music server ($8k) and Bricasti M1 SE ($10k) provided the digital front end, while Pear Audio Blue provided their Little John/Comet 2 turntable/arm ($4k) equipped with an Etsuro Urushi Cobalt Blue cartridge ($5400).
Pneuance Audio, whom I've mentioned earlier, provided their Pneupod NP-1 and NP-2 (heavy duty) pneumatic isolation footers. ($975/set three, $1295/set four and $1050/set three, $1395/set four, respectively.) They also offer two sizes of their platforms at $495/$649. Set up on the long wall in the room, this rig sounded very good with the digital source, as you would expect from these top brands.
AVM from Germany appears frequently at the Canadian shows so the quality of their presentation here was no surprise, except for the inclusion of a Wilson Audio Sabrina speaker which is likely the best value in the entire Wilson lineup for those of us mortals with medium size rooms. Aside from just one of the big rooms featuring a Wilson speaker (which I'll get to later), this was the Best Sounding room with a Wilson speaker at the show. The other interesting item here was AVM's first (?) turntable, the Rotation R 5.3 with a 10" arm of their own manufacture. The translucent blue platter was stunning in the dimly lit room, and perfect for listening in the dark. The apparent bulge is a consequence of the reflection off the aluminum covered 60mm composite plinth.
I noted the lip of the LP extends beyond the upper edge of the platter to facilitate lift-off and the use of an HRS record clamp. Priced at $8990, it is expensive, like other AVM equipment, but not outrageously so. Also featured were Ovation Series CD/MP media player and a Class A/AB integrated amplifier with tube line stage, Class A headphone amp and remote ($18,900). System balance for the size of the room was the key here and it all added up to be one of the Best Rooms at the show with a dynamic piece of classical music. (Room 346)
Down in 352 Mojo Audio had their digital front end comprising their Déjà Vu music server ($7k) and Mystique V3 Non-oversampling direct coupled DAC ($7,555) feeding German Physiks new Emperor Extreme preamp ($19,750) and Emperor Extreme stereo power amp ($27,250). And integrated amp ($41,750) and monoblocks ($27k/ea) are also available. I thought the electronics were especially handsome. The speaker was one of German Physiks many omni-directional floorstanders, the Borderland ($37,250/pr in high gloss) which are available in satin or gloss veneers or paint finishes as well as high gloss polyester or carbon fiber. Fern & Roby, which makes a turntable mentioned earlier in the show coverage also makes furniture, so I'm not sure if the equipment rack and amp stand might be theirs also. In any case, the amp stand shown here is unique with its massive corner pillars to keep kids, party-goers and rogue vacuum cleaners from bumping into the amp. Loud conversations and an unusual piece of music (in a foreign language?) precluded an opinion on the music here.