AXPONA 2022 Show Report
After breakfast in my room from the goodies in my food stash, I descended from the hotel directly to the 1st floor where there is a collection of boardrooms that to my mind are the perfect size for displaying large systems. Plenty of room for large speakers, but still realistic enough to be equivalent to a domestic listening room. Anything much larger than this and you'd probably use it as your indoor basketball court or to house a small car collection.
As I rounded the corner to enter the cove of boardrooms a Clearaudio Double Matrix record cleaning machine was on silent and unattended display. With all the arms, buttons, and clamps it hinted at being very cool, but also very expensive — especially knowing what Clearaudio turntables sell for. Being constructed of aluminum suggests that it might be as quiet as my Nessie, which is a very endearing feature.
Turning to the right I entered the Knowledge room where Quintessence Audio was displaying Wilson Audio's new Alexx V speakers ($135k, standard finishes) powered by Audio Research Reference 10 line stage, Reference 10 phono stage, and a pair of 160M tube monoblocks, a quartet totaling $85k. I had heard the Alexx V at my 'local' Wilson dealer in Buffalo, NY, but the presentation here was far superior. The speakers had room to breathe.
A Clearaudio Master Innovation Wood turntable with TT1-MI linear tonearm, equipped with a Goldfinger Statement MC cartridge ($17,500) was the analog front end. A new dCS Vivaldi Apex DAC, clock, and upsampler ($90k) handled digital duties. A loom of Transparent XL signal cables added $70k while a gaggle of Transparent PWX power cords at $4k each kept the lights on. Critical Mass Maxxum component stands totaled $75k, including the amp stands seen in the photo.
The room totaled around $600k and was well set up, resulting in another of the Best Rooms at the show. The soundstage was large, dynamic, highly resolved, full of tonal color, and an excellent sense of the musicians being live and in the room. If you've got this kind of money, you don't need a full review of all the components; you just walk in, take a good listen, and tell the man, "I'll take it." And oh, I forgot to mention there is a $16k upcharge for the special finish on the Alexx V as shown.
Moving along to the Perfection room next door, Quintessence Audio featured another Wilson Audio speaker, the Sasha DAW ($39k).
The amplification here was solid-state from Moon by Simaudio including the 850P preamp ($36k), 820S power supply ($8500), 860A V2 power amp ($20k), and 810LP phono stage ($13.5k), totaling $78k. The analog front end was a Clearaudio Ovation turntable with Tracer tonearm ($9.5k) equipped with a Hana Umami Red MC cartridge ($3950). This was the second room I had seen featuring that cartridge. And a Moon 780 D v2 Network Player was the digital front end.
Kubala Sosna supplied the Sensation series cables as well as the power conditioner in the lower-left corner of the Franc Audio Accessories equipment stand ($12k) which I thought was a stunning design with a very transparent finish on the wood. I expect other wood species and finishes are available from this company in Poland. I noticed each component (or stack) on the top level was on its shelf. They work only through select dealers and have been in existence for over a decade, though this was a pleasant discovery for me.
The music here had a different flavor than in the previous room as you would expect with a change from tubes to solid-state, monoblocks to stereo amp, less expensive front ends, and a different brand of cabling. The price of the rig was hard to figure out as the cables were not priced, but I expect it was about a $200k system or a third the cost of the previous room. Despite the differences, this also qualifies as one of the Best Rooms at the show.
In the third Quintessence Audio room (the Connection room) I was delighted to see the flagship speaker of the Sonus Faber line, the Aida Mk II ($140k) with gorgeous wood cladding on the sides. Unfortunately, the music playing at the time was techno and it was hard to get a true sense of the system. Sonus Faber speakers are known for being musical with a very inviting midrange and a bass and treble that don't distract from the essence of the music. For me at least, the techno music distracted from the musical quality of the system.
The amplification was from Boulder with the 2110 preamp ($70k), 2108 phono preamp ($56k), and 2160 power amp ($63k), totaling $189k. The front ends were a Clearaudio Innovation Wood turntable with the Universal 12 tonearm ($18k), and a Clearaudio Reference Jubilee turntable with the new 9" version of the Universal tonearm ($30k), equipped with the Jubilee MC cartridge ($6,600). They also showed the new DS Audio Grand Master optical phono cartridge set that includes the cartridge and the equalizer ($60k). On the digital side, they featured the new dCS Rossini Apex streaming DAC ($32k) along with the Rossini Clock ($10.2k).
Transparent Opus cables tied it all together and powered it up to the tune of $190k. And a Transparent Reference Power Isolator kept it clean for $7,290. Critical Mass Systems provided racks and isolation for an additional $150k. The room totaled out at about $834k, though you wouldn't likely buy both turntables and your cables would likely be shorter and less expensive. Still, it would have been nice to hear some good jazz or classical on this system to hear what it might have been capable of producing.
Quintessence Audio, btw, is in Morton Grove, IL, directly east of Schaumburg, just before you get to I-94, Evanston, and ultimately Lake Michigan.