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Impressions: My Audio Oasis! Awards from AXPONA 2019 - Part the Second

05-21-2019 | By David W. Robinson | Issue 103

Continuing with my Audio Oasis! Awards series from AXPONA 2019...

Synergistic Research/Scott Walker Audio

In the Synergistic Research/Scott Walker room


I spent time in the SR/Scott Walker room, checking out Ted's latest innovations at Synergistic Research. There is always something interesting going on with Ted and company, and I've had nearly 25 years of experience with Ted and his designs. Regardless of the controversies that have followed him about in high-end audio over the years, I am convinced that Synergistic Research products really do make a positive, significant difference in the sound of the systems that I've used them in. That ranges from cables to isolation feet to his PowerCell 12 UEF to his active grounding system to his headphone products and yes, his fuses.

So, like I said, I always drop by.

Ted Denney in the Synergistic Research/Scott Walker Audio Room, with his buddy, a United Home Audio Ultima4 OPS-DC RTR machine

As is his common practice, Ted was doing more of his A/B/A demonstrations with his latest products. I've sat in on a number of these over the past few years, and every time I'm able to hear the improvements that SR brings to the sound of a demo room.

The SR/Scott Walker room hosted the following products:

Digital Front End (MSRP/each)

  • SB Premier DAC w/ Premier Powerbase & Fento 33 clock, $35,500
  • Baetis Reference 2, $14,620

Analog Front End

  • Acoustic Signature Storm turntable w/ TA2000 arm & AirTight PC-7 cartridge, $13,500
  • United Home Audio Ultima4 OPS-DC Reel to Reel, $31,000


  • Gryphon Audio Design Pandora Preamplifier w/ Legato phono module, $41,300

Power Amp

  • Gryphon Audio Design Antileon EVO Stereo Amp, $39,000


  • Magico M3 Loudspeakers with MPods, $85,000

Power Conditioning

  • Synergistic Research PowerCell 12 UEF SE, $6495

Acoustic Room Treatment

  • Synergistic Research Black Box, $1995
  • Synergistic Research Atmosphere XL4 w/ ATM, $3495
  • Synergistic Research UEF Acoustic Panels, $595
  • Synergistic Research HFT, $299
  • Synergistic Research HFT 2.0, $299
  • Synergistic Research HFT X, $299
  • Synergistic Research HFT Wide Angle, $399
  • Synergistic Research Vibratron, $1500
  • Synergistic Research MiG 2.0, $249

Racks and Shelves

  • Synergistic Research Tranquility Base XL UEF, $3250


  • Synergistic Research Active Ground Block SE, $2995
  • Synergistic Research High Definition Ground Cable, $395


  • Synergistic Research Galileo SX Interconnect, $7500
  • Synergistic Research Galileo SX Speaker Cable, $17,500
  • Synergistic Research Galileo SX Digital Interconnect, $2995
  • Synergistic Research Galileo SX USB, $2995
  • Synergistic Research Galileo SX Ethernet, $2995
  • World Debut Synergistic Research SRX Power cable, $10,000

Quite the array!

And it did sound really good. Really good. Certainly, the Magicos were happy transducers in this room!

SR's Galileo PowerCell 12:  very powerful improvement to AC for high-end audio

But I don't just rely on show impressions when it comes to SR. For a number of years, I've had a number of Synergistic Research designs in both our stereo and multi-channel reference rooms here at Positive Feedback River-City-and-up-the-hill. Ted Denney visited early in the year, with a boatload of new cables, which took our stereo listening room up several steps. I'm particularly impressed with the new generation SR Galileo SX cables, which are in the category of "Oh mama!" when it comes to pushing the envelope of what's possible. Ditto his Active Grounding Block. Capable of being tuned and grounded, they are revolutionary here at PF Central. They were the same at AXPONA 2019.

The transparent display window of the Synergistic Research Galileo PowerCell 12

SR's Galileo PowerCell 12 UEF SE was powering the rest of Ted's demo system, doing its usual top-notch job of providing very a clear, ultra-clean foundation for the music. HFT's were in evidence round about; the latest iteration of his Black Box and Tranquility Base system was in place.

Ted Denney:  portrait

Listening to Ted's A/B/A demo, and to the music while I was there…Ted was using a lot of analog this time around…confirmed my initial impression that this was an obvious Audio Oasis! Award room in moments. Enveloping sound; great detail; excellent transparency; superb soundstage depth.

Definitely top-tier, and confirming once again what we're hearing at home base here at PF Central.

Award given!

Paragon Sight & Sound/Clearaudio/Wilson Audio/dCS/Harmonic Resolution Systems/Rogers High Fidelity/Transparent Audio

All photographs in this section by Lee Scoggins, a good audiobud of mine, and appear courtesy of Scot Hull and Part-Time Audiophile.

Well, what do you know. I did something with this room that I haven't done in quite a while. I enjoyed the room so much that I neglected to make my room photographs! Damn! So Lee Scoggins, Scot Hull, and Part-Time Audiophile to the rescue! The four images here appear by written permission of friend Scot, with a tip o' the hat to Lee.

Both of Paragon Sight & Sounds' spaces were quite the sight, and set world-class standards at AXPONA 2019. This particular space was set in the Imagination Room. It hosted the following components:

  • Wilson Audio Alexia 2 Loudspeakers
  • Rogers Corona Integrated Amplifier
  • Rogers PA-1A Phono Stage
  • dCS Bartok DAC
  • Clearaudio Ovation Turntable w/ Jubilee Cartridge
  • Transparent Reference & Reference XL Cabling
  • HRS RXR & R3X Racking

As I've mentioned, there were a handful of rooms that were operating in the more stratospheric regions of price-performance. This was one of them. The room was striking look...the lady in red had visited! The main component color...red! You could not remain indifferent.

Seeing Red! The Wilson Audio Alexia 2 had undeniable eye (and ear) appeal.

The Rogers gear was new to me, so I can't claim any experience with it. But this initial listen was very promising, with this KT-88-based design providing some real power at 100 WPC in Ultra Linear Mode, or 80 WPC in Triode Mode. That's pretty bloody potent for triode. There was certainly no problem with the volume that I was hearing in this system! The Alexia 2 sat up and took notice of the signal and power headed their way.

And talk about great-looking, to go with great-sounding! This is luscious design work.

The Clearaudio Ovation Turntable sported a matching red finish to match the rest of the system, a very nice touch. The sound was quite solid, well-integrated, and dynamic, courtesy of its Clearaudio Jubilee MC. 

The dCS Bartok DAC

On the digital side of things, dCS handled the task via its Bartok DAC. I didn't get a lot of time to listen to digital sources here, but what I did hear was certainly promising. I would have liked to have heard some DSD playback on this system, though. There's never enough time to do everything that you'd like to do at an audio show of this size.

Regardless of that, I came away with the conclusion that this was another Audio Oasis! Award winner.

Also done!

Quintessence Audio/Musical Surroundings/Sonus Faber/MOON/AMG/DS Audio/Kubala-Sosna/Critical Mass Systems

Here's one of the audio-mighty rooms at AXPONA 2019.

It was one of a handful of spaces that clearly sought to set a reference standard at the show. I have to admit that I was surprised at the number and quality of these rooms at this rarified level…there seemed to be quite a lot of them, with results that really stopped me in my tracks. And that was regardless of the topology, the source type, or the transducer.

This room hosted the following system:

  • AMG Giro 5th Turntable, $13,500
  • DS Audio E-1 Phono Cartridge System, $2750
  • Simaudio 850P Preamplifier, $35,000
  • Simaudio 760s Mono Amplifiers, $16,000 per pair
  • Simaudio 780 V2 Streaming DAC, $15,000
  • Simaudio 820S Power Supply, $8000
  • Kubala-Sosna Interconnect and Speaker Cables, price varies
  • Critical Mass Systems Component Stands, price varies
  • Sonus Faber Amati Tradition Loudspeakers, $29,900

The AMG Giro Turntable with the highly innovative DS Audio E-1 optical cartridge

I wasn't familiar with the AMG Giro Turntable, but I have heard the amazing DS Audio optical cartridge…in fact, this may have been the model that Nelson Pass played for me while I visited with him in early 2018. Don't quote me on that, though. I have a strong interest in the DS Audio designs, ever since Nelson was kind enough to share the experience with me. (As a result, we have the DS Audio Master here for review at PF Central, courtesy of Garth Leerer and Musical Surroundings; I'll be commenting on it later in the year.) The AMG Giro did a very solid job of it while I was listening. The entire system was housed by Joe Lavrencik's ever-exceptional Critical Mass Systems racks, which we also use here at PF Central. And Kubala-Sosna cabling throughout. Of course! Ambrosia!

I really liked the sound of the Sonus Faber, which took the feed from the AMG/DS Audio to the Simaudio Moon stack and turned it into soul-filling and very satisfying music. The sound was full-range, enveloping, and pulled me into the listening from the get-go.

A full rack of Simaudio MOON electronics, resting on its Critical Mass Systems Rack, sounding brilliant in this room…

No, nothing harsh, edgy, or "electronic" about this system…just a room that made it very hard to leave.

Definitely an Audio Oasis! Award winner.

Paragon Sight & Sound/Clearaudio/Dan D'Agostino Master Audio Systems/dCS/Harmonic Resolution Systems/Transparent Audio

Caramba! What an all-out room Paragon and company had in place here.

The collection of hardware in this room was extremely impressive. This is another one of the small handful of rooms at AXPONA that set the standard for world-class performance, the sort of experience that helps you to recalibrate your notions of what peak excellence sounds like.

  • Wilson Audio Alexx Loudspeakers
  • Wilson Audio Subsonic Subwoofers
  • Wilson Audio WATCH Controllers
  • D'Agostino Relentless Monoblock Amplifiers
  • D'Agostino Progression Monoblock Amplifiers
  • D'Agostino Momentum Phono Stage
  • D'Agostino Momentum HD Line Stage
  • Clearaudio Master Innovation Turntable w/ TT-1 M1 Tonearm & Goldfinger Cartridge
  • Stromtank 2500
  • dCS Vivaldi One
  • Transparent Reference XL Cabling
  • HRS VXR & M3X Racking

Peter McGrath, master of fine audio recordings:  portrait

I was fortunate to have Peter McGrath invite me to an early demonstration of this room, in which he would host me as he shared a number of his orchestral recordings from past years. Many of these have never been released to the public, so it was a real privilege to hear them as Peter shared notes and reminiscences about each album.

He also gave me a fine series of A/B comparisons of some his recordings:  e PCM standard recording, and then the MQA version. In this, he had been helped by Bob Stuart of Meridian, who fine-tuned Peter's original masters. I could certainly hear that MQA did seem to improve the original PCM (either 44.1kHz/16-bit or 88.2kHz/24-bit), without question. Of course, Bob Stuart himself handled the process, so I would expect to hear improvement. Nevertheless, Peter's demonstration, which he stretched to nearly 45 minutes for me, was striking.

Is MQA in the same league as DSD, especially Double or Quad DSD? No, definitely not. But does it bring some improvement to PCM? Yes, it certainly seems to do so.

Many thanks to Peter for being such an urbane and kind host, and extending this invitation to me. I truly enjoyed it.

Garth Leerer, president of Musical Surroundings, at the DJ's position with the Clearaudio Master Innovation Reference Turntable

I also got to talk with Garth Leerer again, who is another very fine person...and he knows his stuff. Certainly his line card has become quite formidable over the years, and his sensibilities reflect his long experience in high-end audio. He demonstrated a full-monty version of the Clearaudio Master Innovation Turntable with its linear tracking tonearm and a Goldfinger cartridge. I have to say that the "gold" in Goldfinger never sounded more golden than during this session.

The performance of the D'Agostino electronics was breathtaking, to tell you the truth. I had seen the amplifier at Munich 2018, but it was a static display. I had no idea of how it sounded.

Now I do. Damnation! Potent!

The sonic presentation of this room was amazing. Effortlessly dynamic, wide and deep soundstaging, wonderful transparency and detail. You'd have to have a really serious budget to afford what was here…which is often true at audio shows…but if you did, well….

There was no gainsaying it:  is was an Audio Oasis! Award room…in spades!

Kyomi Audio/Raidho/GamuT/Jadis/Pear Audio Blue/Ortofon/Artesania

The Kyomi Audio/Raidho "Big Room" at AXPONA 2019

Really different. Really, really different!

The "Big Raidho Room" had a completely different sonic signature than the cost-no-object rooms. Michael Vamos hosted the space, which was set at one end of the major booth area, in its own place. Unique, that!

The system consisted of:

  • Raidho TD 1.2 Loudspeakers (world premiere), $27,000
  • Raidho stands, $2900/pair
  • GamuT Reference Speaker Cables, $5800 (three meter pair)
  • Gamut Reference Interconnects, $2990 (one meter pair)
  • GamuT Reference power cables, $4290 (two meters)
  • Jadis NEC 845 push-pull 40-watt monoblock tube power amp, $29,900/pair
  • Jadis JPS2 preamp with outboard power supply, $15,500
  • Jadis JPS3 MM/MC phono amp with outboard power supply, $14,990
  • Pear Audio Blue Kid Thomas turntable with Cornet 2 tonearm, $7995
  • Pear Audio Blue optional external power supply for the turntable, $1995
  • Ortofon Cadenza Black cartridge, $2700
  • Artesania Exoteric Rack, $7900

(Praise to Michael Vamos for being prepared with a complete system list! You others…take note.)

Raidho TD 1.2 Loudspeaker

The assembled system was a great combination of analog, tubes, and the world-premiere of Raidho's remarkable TD 1.2 Loudspeaker. As usual with things GamuT, Pear Audio Blue, Jadis…and now, Raidho…the resultant sound was intensely musical, with a very high organics index. I was really taken at the dynamics, detail, and relatively deep reach of the TD 1.2.

The Jadis tubed electronics synergized very well with the rest of the system, upstream and down. Stereotypical "tubey" sound was nowhere to be found, and the 1.2 never ran out of steam on any of the music that we listened to.

Michael Vamos in action!

Michael Vamos is a really passionate audio evangelist, a huge lover of the group Talk Talk (me too), and brings a deep, heartfelt feeling for music to all of his listening sessions, both on-the-clock and after hours. This led me to returning several times to hear what these 1.2 monitors were doing. Each time, I was struck by the sheer amount of music that these beasties were making. Bloody fine, and quite revealing, regardless of source recording.

The new upgraded version of the Pear Audio Blue Turntable with Ortofon Cadenza Black MC

I also got to hear the newest version of the Pear Audio Blue Turntable. I've had the earlier revision of this TT in my listening room, and was seduced by its well-integrated, organic presentation of LPs. At its price point, it's a real killer.

The results were clear to me:  other of my Audio Oasis! Awards belonged here.

"So let it be written; so let it be done!"

Well Pleased AV/Bergmann Audio/GigaWatt/Innuos/YG Acoustics/LinnenberG/Swisscables/SGR

The Well Pleased A/V room...quite an appealing sight

Time for more changes!

Mark Sasso's Well Pleased AV room featured an all-digital front end, fed to a stereo tube amp, and thence on to the unique looking Rethm loudspeakers, to striking effect.

The room featured the following system:

  • Rethm Maarga v2 Loudspeakers, $9750
  • Qualiton 420i SE Amplifier, $4999
  • Aqua Formula xHD H/D, $17,000
  • Innuos Zenith MKIII Music Server, $4250
  • GigaWatt PC-4 Power Conditioner, $10,000
  • Swisscables Diamond/Reference, price varies
  • SGR HiFi Racks Symphony Model 5/3, price varies

The Rethm Maarga v2 Loudspeaker:  conventional looks, but seductive musicality!

The sound here in this all-digital room with tubed amplification was really pleasing. There was no hint of edginess, glare, or other gremlins of digititus. There was great harmonic integration, reasonably extended bass, a sense of spaciousness, and real coherence. The Innuos server and Aqua D/A demonstrated world-class sonic performance; I'll admit to being impressed. With the Innuos, my notice of the quality of their work began at Munich 2018. The display space there was a bit too small for the Innuos server there to spread its wings, unfortunately, but there was no such problem in Well Pleased AV room this year, I'm glad to say. The level of synergy in this system was notable; this is good stuff!

Unusually for me, I didn't make a portrait of Mark Sossa, President of Well Pleased AV. He's such a fine person, and I've enjoyed our growing friendship over the past several years. Don't know how that happened, Mark…sorry brother!

Next time…

Meanwhile, here's one of my Audio Oasis! Awards for a room that surprised me in a very good way, indeed.

Stay tuned for Part the Third!

All photographs and image processing by David W. Robinson, unless otherwise indicated.