Chicago AXPONA 2018 Page 2

Page 2

AXPONA Audio Expo North America

April 13 – 15, 2018

Schaumburg, IL


Aurender and GamuT
Aurender W20 with MQA Core Decode ($17,600), Berkley Audio Design Alpha DAC Reference Series 2 MQA ($19,995), GamuT RS3i Loudspeakers ($19990 pr.), GamuT D200i Stereo Power amplifier ($13,990), and GamuT Reference Bi-Wire Speaker, Balanced interconnects, and Power cables ($6190, $2990, and $4,290 respectively). Aurender digital electronics could be found in 20 rooms at Axpona. I’m a big fan of speakers that use a ring revelator tweeter. It’s rare to find a speaker that uses that tweeter that doesn’t sound good. This room had it going on with its natural balance and low distortion. A musical real world system that I’d love to have as a second system if I had the room.



prana1.jpgPranaFidelity. Kuzma (Stabi-Reference 2 turntable, 4Point tonearm, and CAR 40 cartridge), Luxman D-08u SACD/CD Player, PranaFidelity purna/ca preamp ($5,950 balanced linestage), PranaFidelity purna/ma 400 watts/ch @ 8 ohms amplifier ($8,950), PranaFidelity Vayu, 2-way quasi line array loudspeakers ($8,950), PranaFidelity Fivety90, 2 way symmetrical array stand mounted loudspeakers ($4,950), and Kubala-Sosna Elation cabling and Kubala-Sosna XPander power distribution. This and the Synergistic Research room I spent the most time in. The PranaFidelity Bhava loudspeaker had my vote for the best value for the money component. The sound from both the PranaFidelity Vayu and Bhava loudspeakers was “shocking” for the money. I asked the most cordial Steven Norber if I could review the Vayu(s) as I left this room for the second time on Saturday. One of the most musical systems at the show. The Fifty90 monitors were outstanding for price (Mike Girardi).

Very interesting exhibit and likely the best bang-for-the-buck at the show. Listening to the overly-played recording by Hugh Masakela (The Coal Train Song), the smaller two-way stand mounted (Sound Anchors) Bhava monitors ($4,950) were simply killin’ it. Very realistic with solid power and dynamics. These speakers are front-ported and provide fast, articulate detailed sound that is also full and goes impressively deep into the bass range. In fact, they were shockingly good with one of Brian Bromberg’s recording featuring acoustic bass. Rich, powerful sound with little or no overhang. Another recording included pipe organ with cello and the speakers produced a big, big sound that was very impressive. Speaker design presents a very easy load to the amp and has a 6 ohm load minimum and with less than 1% distortion. The larger Vayu model takes this sound to a noticeably higher level and in my humble opinion, at $8,950 retail, this baby is a true giant killer. It sport a two and a half way design with a symmetrical array for the drivers. Steve Norber, the designer, is proud of the fact that the drivers are available as off-the-shelf products (i.e., SB Acoustics) but where he provides a lot of attention is to a very sophisticated crossover design as well as the enclosures. Bottomline – a very successful exhibit and a compelling presentation of true high-end sound (Bill Wells).



Merging Technologies room. Merging + Player, Merging + NADAC, Merging + Power digital front end, PSI Audio AVAA C20 active velocity acoustic absorber, PSI A25-H loudspeakers, Star Sound Technologies Rhythm platform RP2, Backstage Speaker Platform BSPL101, Purist Audio Design cables, and Acoustic Geometry Curved Diffusers/Fabric Wrapped Panels. This demo was ear opening to say the least. I (Mike Girardi) heard my first MQA and hi rez DSD digital download demonstration in this room.  The soundstage that was located behind the forward facing PSI loudspeakers that extended well beyond the back wall and the ultra-low digital noise floor presented a smooth exquisite sound with well controlled lower frequencies that I will remember for some time. Forward sounding would not be a word I would use to describe this room. And … I’m super excited to have the Merging + Player and Merging + Power coming in for review at the end of April.



ayon2.jpgMoving on and with my head/ears reeling from such a wonderful experience, we headed to the Ayon Audio exhibit. There we experienced the wonderful Lumenwhite Kyara speakers ($49,900) featuring their gorgeous wood finish (i.e., called French Nut). Beautiful and exotic looking for sure. In terms of electronics to feed and power these speakers, in the system were the following: Ayon Spheris II Pre-Amp ($34,500), Orthose XS Gen 4 Mono Black amps ($28,800), CD-35 SACD Player/DAC/Streamer/DSD ($10,500), S-10 Network Streamer vacuum tube preamplifier ($8,300). Equipment was placed on a 3 shelf BBS Audio Rack System ($4,995). In terms of sound, the midrange and highs were precise and meticulous with superb detail. In fact – the music sounded magical especially listening to Wynton Marsalis (trumpet and band) with Diane Reeves (superb female vocalist). Very expressive sound, captivating. As with a number of the smaller rooms, there was a bit of room-induced bloom that caused the bass to be a little on the wooly side, something that is very uncharacteristic of these superb speakers. In fact, Ayon speakers always seem to speak the music truth and forth the most part – this exhibit excelled in this regard.



Emerald Physics exhibit was a very pleasant setting producing really good sound. The active display featured the company’s new LSA 10 Statement reference monitor speakers in a beautiful rosewood lacquer featuring a custom aluminum long throw woofer, single rear mounted 5” x 7” sub bass radiator and custom 1” copper beryllium dome tweeter ($3,495 pr.). System was powered by the Emerald Physics EP200.2E – 200 watts/ch hybrid dual mono digital amplifier/controller ($3,495) and DSPeaker Anti-Mode X4 with DSD/PCM DAC, 4 channel analog balanced preamplifier with 2-way electronic crossover and full range room correction ($3995). Rest of the system components Wywires Silver series cables, Power Broker AC Distributor ($2499-$4499) included the Pro-Ject CD Box RS, Wywire cables and power conditioning and high value type. Listened to vocals that were open, clear and very natural sounding. Bass had good extension, impact and realistically dynamic.



yg18a.jpgIn years past and specifically during previous Axpona shows, renown loudspeaker manufacturer YG Acoustics has managed to have anywhere from very good to outstanding quality sound in its various exhibits throughout this show. I’ve also heard various models in the YG lineup and in different sized rooms. This year’s exhibit very much carried on the tradition of really good sound and also in a moderate sized room as opposed to a large concert hall type venue. In particular, the exhibit hosted by Bill Parish of GTT Audio and featuring the newer YG Sonya XV Jr., four-tower loudspeaker system ($189,600), driven by top of the line Audionet electronics (Stern Linestage, $45,000 and Heisenberg mono amps, $105,000), as well as fed by Kronos Limited Edition turntable ($48,000) with companion Black Beauty tonearm ($10,000), SCPS 1 power supply ($13,500) and Air Tight Opus 1 cartridge ($15,000), Audionet PAM G2 Phonostage ($10,000) and EPX Power Supply ($10,000) wired by Kubala Sosna Realization Cables (Interconnects, $11,000, Speaker cables, $11,000, Power Cords, $3,000 and XPander, $5,400) provided a remarkably musical sound that was simply beautiful and compelling to listen to. Even though there was an impressive array of digital playback devices present including Audionet Planck CD player ($18,800) with Ampere power supply ($11,200) and Audionet DNC Streaming DAC ($10,100) and EPS G2 power supply ($4,050), our listening session consisted of some absolutely gorgeous LP’s.

Whether listening to classic jazz featuring Ben Webster (sax), Count Basie’s band or Oscar Peterson (piano), or a female jazz vocalist (unknown to me) performing an exquisite version of Human Nature, the music was always delicious and an absolute treat. This system seemed to have it all – specifically in terms of power, dynamics, control, transparency, sound staging, focus, extension at top the lower frequencies (i.e., deep bass with clarity and articulation), higher frequencies (i.e., open, airy and delicate) along with an absolute authentic midrange (i.e., texture and organic feel). Truly a standout demo and in so many ways. Yes for sure the total package was very pricey and easily one of the most expensive systems I’ve experienced. Yet, I can’t get the wonderful sound out of my head!



Synergistic Research (SR) room with Magico S5 Mk. 2 speakers, Berkeley Reference DAC, and Constellation electronics. Ted Denney, SR head guru, demoed various SR products including the Black Box which was laughable in terms of how significantly it improved the sound of this impressive system. In fact, when removed from the system, the overall performance degraded such that they literally seemed to be an essential aspect for getting the bass to perform correctly. Equally was the impact various newer designed SR products including the wide-angle HFT devices, Active Grounding Box, Atmosphere 4XL speaker cables and PowerCell 12 UEF SE. In our opinion, this was definitely one of the most significant rooms for this year’s show and clearly demonstrated the power of getting the room dialed in for ultimate performance.


Tall, slender Raidho D.41 model speakers ($145,000) with Chord electronics including Blu transport MKII ($11,500), DAC ($12,400), CPM Integrated amplifier ($14,000), Symphony phono stage ($3,000), SME turntable with model 309 tonearm ($10,000), Ortofon moving coil managed to provide excellent staging, tight control with clear, concise and dynamic musical presentation. Cabling for this system was Nordost Valhalla .2 cables.



HFC-speak.jpgIn the High Fidelity cables exhibit, lead guru Rick Schulze engaged in a series of lectures/demos describing his particular science (i.e., secret sauce) for his innovative cable design while in the other room, his staff provided a unique listening experience with a pair of speakers that were specifically designed for the show. The speakers included adjustable side panels for bass control. In this room the sound had a dead quiet background with a delicate, sweet overall presentation. Muddy Waters voice sounded absolutely superb with a sweet spot that provided a very interesting disappearing act. This was clearly a demo designed for the show and of course, included some of High Fidelity’s rather unique cable designs all following his theme of “Magnetize Your Music/System.”

Unfortunately due to the extreme weather conditions hitting across the upper Midwest region, and the fact that both Mike and I had driven from our respective cities to Schaumburg, we decided that it was best to get our return travels started earlier than originally planned. This basically eliminated attending the final day of show on Sunday and also limited our ability to get to a number of exhibits. For those manufacturers, dealers, distributors, exhibitors that we missed – our sincere apologies.

Next time!!


Bill Wells & Mike Girardi

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