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AXPONA 2023 Luxury Premium Audio And Hi-Fi Stereo Audiophile Show Report By Enjoy the Music.com

The AXPONA 2023 Chronicles: Part 12
The one, and only, 1st Floor.
Audio Expo North America 2023 Show Report By Rick Becker


The AXPONA 2023 Chronicles: Part 12 The one, and only, 1st Floor. Audio Expo North America 2023 Show Report By Rick Becker


Sunday Afternoon
On the 1st Floor, directly beneath the hotel registration desk and lounge are an alcove of boardrooms that are equivalent in size to large living rooms in McMansion size homes, though their ceilings are taller than most. In the hallway leading to these rooms are a few static displays each year.

I've always loved Sonus Faber for its exceptional styling. The cabinetry with wood and leather appeals to my lifelong love of furniture and design. They tend to sound very inviting, too. Pictured above is the Electa Amator III, though it is very similar to the Minima Amator II, both of which are in their Heritage Collection that also included the Maxima Amator floorstander. On the 11th Floor in Part 5 there was an opportunity to hear the Amati floorstander from the new Homage series. And I'll come to an even higher model in a moment.



Quintessence Audio, Bassocontinuo, Clearaudio, DS Audio, Dan D'Agostino, dCS, Transparent XL, And Wilson Audio
As I entered the alcove, immediately around to the right was the Knowledge room, one of three rooms, plus the open space in the alcove, sponsored by Quintessence Audio in Morton Grove, about 10 miles east of Schaumberg, next to Evanston.



The large Wilson Audio Alexx V speakers ($145k, in a special deep burgundy finish) towered over the low-lying Dan D'Agostino Momentum M400 MvX monoblock amplifiers ($79,950). The colors clashed here and I'm clueless about the silver removable panel at the bottom of the speakers. I much prefer the silver & copper finish on the D'Agostino components to the black & copper, though you may differ. It seems more uplifting, speaking of which, the M400 stands for the amps are $4k. Other Momentum components in the rig were the HD preamp ($42,500) and HD phono stage ($32k), both gorgeous.



Front ends included a Clearaudio Reference Jubilee turntable with a Universal 9" tonearm ($30k). A Clearaudio Jubilee MC cartridge ($6,600) was listed, but I heard the rig with the new DS Audio Grand Master EX cartridge ($22,500) playing through the Grand Master EQ phono stage ($45k). The digital front end featured the new dCS Rossini Apex streaming DAC ($32,800) with the Rossini clock ($10,850). Transparent XL cables were used throughout, totaling ($83,735). And a Bassocontinuo Revolution X rack from Italy was $35k.

All totaled, this was about a half-million dollar rig, compensating for the duplicity of the phono stage and cartridges. That said, I didn't think the music that was playing at the time was very impressive. In past years Peter McGrath has set up rooms for Wilson Audio, and I didn't see him, or Daryl Wilson around, but then, it was Sunday afternoon.



Quintessence Audio, Audio Research, Clearaudio, Critical Mass, dCS, Hana, Kubala Sosna, And Wilson Audio
The Perfection room looks even larger than the Knowledge room on the floor plan, but I think it is cut in half with a partition probably for storage of all the boxes for their four systems. It sounded significantly better than the previous room. There was a multitude of differences tubes vs. solid state amps, digital versus analog front ends, different cable companies, different music being played, and different room dimensions. There was roughly a $130k difference in price between these two rooms, so choose wisely and pay attention to your dealer.



The new Alexia V speakers ($67,500, $79,500 in the special green finish shown) looked much more appropriately sized for the room. Their styling leans more toward the Sasha DAW than the Alexx V. They were driven by Audio Research 160M monoblocks ($38k) equipped with Russian KT 150 tubes. Also in the rig was an Audio Research Reference 10 line stage ($35k) and Reference 10 phono stage ($35k). If you haven't heard, Audio Research was recently rescued from bankruptcy by a white knight who intends to continue operations.



The front ends included a Clearaudio Innovation Wood turntable with a Universal 12" tonearm ($20k) with an Olympus stand in black lacquer listed at $16k, though I'm not sure what that is.



The cartridge mounted was the new Hanna Umami Blue MC cartridge ($2,500) but I didn't get to hear it. BTW, that is an LP periphery ring on the floor in front of the rig. The digital front end was, again, the new dCS Rossini Apex streaming DAC ($32,800) with the Rossini clock ($10,850). Kubala-Sosna Research cables from the Sensation series totaled $88k for the system. Critical Mass Systems' new Ultra Q equipment racks were $23,355, though I suspect that price was for just one rack.



Quintessence Audio, Boulder, dCS Vivaldi Apex, Clearaudio, Critical Mass, Sonus Faber, And Transparent Audio
The Connection room was the third room presented by Quintessence Audio. It totaled almost $1.2M. That's "million." The speaker, amplification, and turntable were the heavy end of the hammer, topping $800k. The companies represented here are all top-tier companies and the components are all at or near the top of their respective lines. There's no shame in moving down in their lines if the room does not require such large or powerful components, or if your interest in one of the sources is less relevant than another.



The speakers were the Sonus Faber Aida Mk II ($140k) and the amp was a Boulder 3060 stereo amp in their flagship 3000 series.



The amp requires a 240V circuit and a special 32 Ampere power cord. Boulder makes one with a special right-angle space-saving connector. The amp operates in Class A with special circuits to minimize power consumption and generation of heat. It is rated at 900 Wpc into both 8 and 4 Ohms, with Peak Power listed as 1000 Watts into 8 Ohms, 1650 Watts into 4 Ohms, and 2000 Watts into 2 Ohms. These amps are made to order and are delivered during the off-season by members of the Denver Broncos defensive line. The amplifier itself weighs 355 pounds and the specially designed base that comes with it is an additional 86 pounds. A model 3050 pair of monoblocks is also available if you prefer.



The photos above do not give you a reference for the size of the amp and speakers. The Aida stands 68" tall and weighs 363 pounds each, so yeah, a little shorter but just as heavy as the linemen who deliver the amp. The speaker cables are from Transparent Audio's flagship Opus series. The fiberglass modules in the cables contain filter networks that are individually calibrated to work with your specific components and customized to work in your specific room.

A Boulder 3010 preamp ($158k) and 2108 phono preamp ($62k) completed the amplification in this system.



The analog front end was the Clearaudio Statement turntable ($300k) fitted with their Goldfinger Statement MC cartridge ($17.5k). Note the heavy pendulum hanging down through the axis of the platter.



The controls for platter speed selection and adjustment were both elegant and intuitive.

On the digital side was the dCS Vivaldi series with their new Apex streaming DAC ($46.5k) with the Vivaldi Clock ($21k) and Vivaldi Upsampler ($27k). When I eventually listened to the rig, it was from a digital source.

Wrapping up the equipment in the system, the Transparent cables totaled $193k and the Critical Mass equipment racks and isolation totaled almost $71k.

The equipment was magnificent but the other side of the story is also telling. When I entered the room it was empty, save for a host talking with a prospective customer by the Clearaudio turntable. I took a front-row center seat and waited a minute or two for some music to manifest as I looked over the equipment sheet I had picked up. When no music appeared I started taking photos of the gear.

An astute young man, noticing my bright orange Enjoy The Music.com lanyard and press pass approached me and I asked him if he could play some music. He approached the older gentleman about that and I took a seat again. After another couple of minutes of silence, I simply got up and left, leaving a few more attendees who had wandered into the room to absorb the quietude. The younger dude was apologetic when I left, but he wasn't the one calling the shots.

After taking photos of the McIntosh rig in the alcove and investigating the Imagination room, the aforementioned astute young man caught my attention and invited me back to the Connection room where the music was finally playing. Not for any gratitude to the older gentleman who could easily have put on some music and taken his conversation to the alcove, but for the interest of you, my dear readers, I went back in for a quick listen. Yes, it was superb music reproduction, but no, it did not have the bass heft of the rigs with Wilson speakers. At this price level, there will still be nuances that require prospective buyers to audition the equipment in person with their own familiar music.

And this is where the story of my experience comes into play.



In the alcove, outside of the Connection room, Quintessence Audio had a fourth display comprised entirely of McIntosh equipment. It's no secret McIntosh has a huge following in this country, being founded back in 1949. While the multitude of people and conversations in this open area precluded a serious listening opportunity, the presentation drew a lot of interest as it does every year. I've heard these speakers and a comparable McIntosh rig at the Montreal show and they deserve your consideration if they fall within your criterion and price range.

The rig featured the tall XRT2.1K speakers ($140k), driven by MC2KW monoblocks ($86k) that put out 2 kiloWatts(!) of power. A C2700 preamp ($8.5k) selected among the front ends that included the MT5 turntable ($7.5k), MDC1200 SACD player ($12k), and MS500 music streamer ($6.5k). Also in the rig was the MPC1500 power controller (conditioner) ($6k) and McIntosh cabling.




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