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AXPONA 2012 Show Report
AXPONA 2012 Show Report -- Audio Expo North America
Warm winter brings cool sounds to the South
Show Coverage By A. Colin Flood


Writers' Panel
Fellow reviewer Jason Victor Serinus hosted three others at a discussion before a dozen tweaking audiophiles. I was one of them. Joining us was Ray Seda of Dagogo and Neil Gader of The Absolute Sound. In my prepared notes, I wanted to say:

I, Mr. A. Colin Flood, write for Enjoy the Music.com because, by and large, my publisher lets me say what I think in equipment reviews (Editorial note: That is 100% a lie according to those on discussion boards, so I am editing out your lie to keep things honest on this site… and if by now you don't get the humor of this, you may be a Redneck audiophile ;-) )

One reason tweaking audiophiles are never satisfied with our systems is because our ears are connected to one of the most powerful super-computers on the planet! And what is that supercomputer design to do? Pattern recognition: a spec of colorful fruit in a jungle of green, a small flutter of a bird in a forest of trees, a shadow beneath a stream of waves, a female form miles away, the DNA in a kiss... and the malformed note of music. Our listening trains us to hear better. Our brains notice the differences.

The room is the largest component in our systems. I learned about this when I reviewed, and loved, Ethan Winer's Real Traps (see Enjoy the Music.com review) acoustic panels. Learn the frequency response not only of your systems, but also of your room. Knowing the peaks and modes of both empowers you to refine your system to a higher level of quality.

"This above all: to thine own self be true, And it must follow, as the night the day, Thou canst not then be false to any man." Shakespeare's "Hamlet" has wise words for tweaking audiophiles. It is what you hear and enjoy that matters. I know full well the debates raging among us about digital, vinyl, tubes, solid-state, horns, cones, stats and panels. In the end, all that really matters is that you enjoy the music.


Instead of these points, what we discussed first was how we writers came to be there. In my case, I was fortunate to know Ralph Karsten of Atma-sphere OTL amplifiers when I was an impressionable teenager. He introduced to me to horns and tubes. Serinus said discovering the missing octaves at a live performance was an epiphany for him. He said tweaking audiophiles are trying to get closer to the point of music creation with our systems.


What did I think was the future of high-end audio?

The baby boom in high-end audio is peaking! The male portion of the 79 million babies born between 1946 to 1964, and led by Presidents Clinton and Bush, will die off quickly in the next decade.

Serinus made a comment bemoaning the lack of musical education in schools. I agreed: a shocking percentage of teenagers have NOT heard the live acoustic of an orchestra performance. In fact, many budding stereo heads are not trying to reproduce the 3D sonic illusion of a live, intimate coffee house or studio artist at all! They want the head-banging experience of the rock concert or the big-screen movie theater. Nothing wrong with that. Yet as movies migrate from the public cinema to the big screen in the living room, why isn't high-end audio coming along also? Isn't quality audio just as important to movies as screen size?

The iPad is a transformative device. I suspect society will continue to deploy it and other electronic gadgets in ways unimaginable, as according to the law of unintended consequences (not the outcomes intended by a purposeful action). Already "Guitar Hero" and the Wii, for example, have millions of people doing strange things in their homes, including faking, and maybe, learning something about music. Steve Davis, organizer of AXPONA, told me in the hallway that the competition for high-end audio is the ubiquitous iPod. He may be right, but the future of high quality movie and music reproduction in the home must lie in embracing the new technologies: we need iPod connections in every device!


The Coolest Thing We Heard
Scott Hall, Part-time Audiophile blogger, asked us "what was the coolest thing we heard recently?" Three events induced the blissful, somatic state of dream-like alpha waves for me, which I equate with audio nirvana:

Centrally located seats (for $10!) at the Florida Orchestra performance of one of my all-time favorites, Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky's buoyant second symphony, "Little Russian"

Bottlehead 2A3 Paramours with Supravox's single driver Carla towers (Bottlehead 2A3 reviewed here and Supravox reviewed here)

Jaton's powerful Operetta amplifier with their A3 loudspeakers (Operetta amplifier reviewed here and A3 reviewed here)


Serinus said he heard a MBL system once that floated a magical note from Beverly Sills above the audience at exactly the right spot! (No, the loudspeaker cables in the picture above are not pipes of white light; it is merely reflection off their shiny white sides.) Seda said his similar experience was with the original Mark Porzilli Pipedream and amplifier system. Porzilli, a child prodigy, now with Nova Physics Group, designed all of Melos Audio's solid-state and vacuum tube products. He is also the designer of the original, award winning Pipedreams and new Scaena loudspeakers.


M Audio
Another, "you must check out this room" favorite amongst my audio club, was the unique design, looks and sound of the Tom Maker's system. Maker was founder of EDGE Electronics. This was a $24,000 three-way system, with two 6" drivers and a 2" tweeter in a boy-girl-boy known as a D'Appolito arrangement. Marker's first loudspeaker enclosure is aluminum, carbon fiber and fiberglass reinforced polyethylene tubes. He fronts and backs the tubes with 0.75"-inch thick aluminum plates to remove resonance. The interiors of the tubes are lined with rock wool, known in the room acoustics for its acoustic properties. The outside of the tubes are covered with wood veneers. The subwoofer cabinet was shaped like a truncated pyramid to reduce reflections. It houses a 700 watt amplifier, digital signal processor and music streaming electronics as well as a 330mm woofer. The cabinet is made of 1" thick high-density MDF, reinforced with carbon fiber and an aluminum composite panel. In addition to surprisingly large and solid bass from mid-size cabinet, the soundstage of the M-Audio system exhibited a lot of air around the images.



Back this time with their own room, Audioengine had three very interesting little items:

N22: a 7" tall 22-watt desktop amplifier – just the right size and power to drive my Big Ole Horns

Audioengine 2: tiny powered desktop monitors with 2.75" Kevlar woofers, silk dome tweeters and built-in 15-watt, class A/B amplifier, providing 65 Hz to 22 kHz, within 2-dB for only $200! Smooth enough at low volumes up close, but "forgetta 'bout it!" Save up your shekels. Get the bigger brother instead. The larger model is well worth it.

Audioengine 5+: an extra 200 bucks gets you a larger, more powerful and much better sounding monitor. Wrapped in rap-solid bamboo, the 5+ has a USB port, remote control, 150-watt peak power (50-watt RMS), 5" Kevlar woofers reaching down to 50 Hz (big difference) and up to 22 kHz, within an incredibly flat 1.5dB! Much better sound. Approaching some qualities tweaking audiophile love: mid-bass, ability to make music sound realistic, better sound stage and imaging. I would love to hear these with an integrated tube amplifier.


Soundfield Audio
The specs on the bookshelf Monitor I mentioned in Part Two above include a passive 5.25" mid-range Coincident coaxial driver with its 1" tweeter and 8" active long throw woofer, for a frequency response of 38 Hz to 20 kHz within 3dB! Even better, AJ claims the three-way Monitor is within a very flat 2dB in the hypercritical 100 Hz to 10 kHz range. The Monitor includes a 300-watt BASH plate amplifier on the rear. Sure enough, AJ says "both the amplifier and sub driver are being upgraded, ETA end of April" and price is going up, to $1300 per pair. The boxy 1812 Overture prototypes (not yet on website) are 3-way enclosures with satellite sitting high above the sub on stands. They include passive 12" mid-range coaxial driver with 1.75" ring radiator tweeter and 18" active cardioid subwoofer for 25 Hz to 25 kHz within 3dB. The powered woofer on both models allows tweaking audiophiles to drive the Soundfield mid and high-range drivers with their own amplifiers, such as the tubes I think are so magical. With a very high sensitivity of 97dB/W/m and their 300-watt plate amplifier, at a listening seat about ten feet away, the Overtures should be able to reproduce microsecond music peaks of about 112dB!



Avatar Acoustics
Named before the movie existed, Darren Censullo, ex- fighter pilot, ex-Delta Airlines Captain, brought his "always one of the best sounding" Avatar rooms back again. Front and center in his parade were the Italian four-way Rosso Fiorentino Siena speakers ($24,995 per pair). They include 8" woofers, 6.5" ScanSpeak midrange cone with 1" silk-dome tweeter, for a response of 35 Hz to 100 kHz, within 3dB. Censullo used a rack of Abbingdon Music Research equipment: CD player ($11,000), phono pre-amplifier ($12,000), integrated amplifier ($10,000) and DAC ($5000).


Acoustic System International
Censullo also used finger-size, wall mounted, room tuning blocks again. These $250 to $2850 gem-decorated tinker-toys claim to have high-density precious metals to preserve space, conversion of the room's low frequencies into high frequencies to cancel unwanted resonances and to fine-tune a room's harmonic response. The small wood blocks use Maple bases and tiny metal bowls. The five different models are based on pure metals and proprietary alloys: Copper, Silver, Gold (yellow gold), Gold Special (Red Gold) and Platinum. Count me skeptical about everything; I can't see how such tiny blocks could effectively attenuate a room, but no less a personage than Harry Pearson gave them an Absolute Sound award in 2008.


Driving the big, square, 100dB/W/m efficient Bastanis boxes in the Beauty of Sound room were a pair of Tubeguru 300 B single ended monoblocks. Gorgeous in red, these babies put 8.5-watts per channel, about three times what my Big Ole Horns need to reproduce microsecond musical peaks above normal listening levels. THD is said to be 0.8% at 1 kHz, with response within 2dB from 12 Hz to 49 kHz. Bill said the pair is available for $6400. I said send me a pair for review!


Thrilling systems with incredible looks, sounds and yes, expense, were showcased at the AXPONA 2012. it indeed another exceptional event for tweaking audiophiles. I very much look forward to next year's event.


Click here for main AXPONA 2012 show coverage page. 













































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