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Impressions: My Audio Oasis! Awards from AXPONA 2019 - Part the Fifth & Final

06-11-2019 | By David W. Robinson | Issue 103

Here is the final installment of my Audio Oasis! Awards from AXPONA 2019. A major event; a major set of articles reflecting upon the awards that I gave.

Daedalus Audio/Vacuum Tube Amplification/LampizatOr/WyWires

In the Daedalus Audio/VAC/LampizatOr/WyWires room…great beauty here!

Lou Hinkley, Fred Ainsley, Kevin Hayes, and Alex Svetinsky were making beautiful music in Room 496, for sure. The linkup of these companies led to me being pulled into the room, with the LampizatOr Golden Gate 2, an SET tubed DAC that I know extremely well here at PF Central, providing the source music. Lovely, lovely!

The system consisted of:

  • Daedalus Audio Apollo 11 Loudspeakers (starting at $22,800)
  • Daedalus Audio DiD SPK (Daedalus isolation Devices for speakers) ($45 each)
  • Daedalus Audio Stainless Steel/Brass Spikes ($32 each)
  • Daedalus Audio DiD (isolation devices for electronics) ($480 per set)
  • VAC Signature SE Preamplifier ($19,990)
  • VAC Signature 200 iQ Power Amp ($14,500)
  • LampizatOr Golden Gate 2 DAC ($16,995)
  • LampizatOr Super Komputer Music Server ($8000)
  • WyWires Diamond and Platinum Series cables (prices vary)

Lou Hinkley with his Daedalus Audio Apollo 11 Loudspeaker

Lou Hinkley is a master craftsman of loudspeakers; the sheer beauty of his cabinetry speaks for itself. This was the first time that I can remember seeing and hearing Daedalus Audio pair up with VAC. The results were really exceptional…very authoritative, and the VAC gear definitely got the Apollo 11's attention!

Fred Ainsley of LampizatOr North America with the brilliant Lampi Golden Gate 2 DAC

Also in the room was Fred Ainsley of LampizatOr NA, a really good audiobud, with the sterling Lampi Golden Gate 2, unbalanced version. I had it here for a good long while, owned it, until I recently upgraded to the new Lampi top-of-the-line DAC, the Pacific. (Glorioski! Review to follow!)

This room was filled with musical juciness, tubic greatness, and mountains of coolosity. There was no gainsaying its Audio Oasis! Award.


 Daedalus Audio/LampizatOr/Linear Tube Audio/WyWires

Here was another Daedalus Audio, LampizatOr, and Wywires room, but this time with Linear Tube Audio in the mix. Lou Hinkley has been enthusiastic about LTA, and this was an opportunity for me to hear what he liked so much. Not to mention the Lampi Golden Atlantic 2 DAC!

The system consisted of:

  • Daedalus Audio Apollo Loudspeakers (starting at $18,500 per pair)
  • Daedalus Audio DiD-SPK speaker isolation devices (starting at $45 each)
  • Daedalus Audio SS/Brass Spikes ($32 each)
  • Daedalus Audio DiD isolation devices for electronics (starting at $480 per set)
  • Linear Tube Audio microZOTL Preamplifier ($4450)
  • Linear Tube Audio Ultralinear Monoblock Power Amplifier ($6,800 per monoblock)
  • LampizatOr Golden Atlantic 2 (introductory price of $9995)
  • LampizatOr Super Komputer Statement Music Server (starting at $8000)
  • WyWires:
  • Diamond Series Interconnects (starting at $4495)
  • Platinum Series Power Cords (starting at $999)
  • Diamond Series Power Cords (starting at $2995)
  • WyWires/Daedalus Speaker Cables ($1995)
  • WyWires/Daedalus Power Broker AC Distributor ($2495)
  • Diamond Series Digital Cables (starting at $1699)

The Daedalus Audio Apollo 11 Loudspeaker:  wood crafting beauty! And 96dB/watt/meter efficiency...

I've never been in a Daedalus/WyWires room that was anything less than lovely, and in every way. Whether showing with ModWright or with LTA, the results are always first-rate and intensely musical.

This space was no exception; once again great audio seductiveness was applied to the ear and to the eye.

Fred Ainsley of LampizatOr North America with the LampizatOr Golden Atlantic 2 DAC

Fred is a killer cat who really gets what music is about, and who works to get Lukasz Fikus' work at LampizatOr in Poland out to audiophiles on this continent. As a person who's heard LampizatOr designs at many shows, and who's owned the Golden Gate DAC, the Golden Gate 2 DAC, and now the LampizatOr Pacific Reference DAC (unbalanced), I can speak with some authority about the quality of their designs and builds, and the superior music that their DACs make.

This, friends, is top-notch tube-based digital design, made with real craftsmanship.

A closer view of the Golden Atlantic 2, which supports a number of tube configurations…a "tube rollers paradise," says LampizatOr. Yes, those are KR 150's in the back, with an Emission Labs 300B up front.

And, of course, they're drop-dead gorgeous!

The synergy with the downstream LTA electronics and the Apollo 11's via the WyWires pipelines was quite obvious. These are components that work and play very well together. Clean, rich, nicely balanced sound, with excellent detail, and (for an audio show) reasonable soundstaging and imaging.

The Linear Tube Audio Ultralinear Monoblock Power Amplifier

No doubt, no doubt at all.

This is what an Audio Oasis! Award room does for me.

And this is what I do for them.

Finest Fidelity/Accustic Arts/Xact Audio/Reed/Wolf Audio Systems/Magico/van den Hul/Stillpoints

A sight for sore ears: Accustic Arts, Magico, van den Hul, Xact Audio, Wolf Audio Systems, and Stillpoints

Ah! Here is some gear, some names, and some people that I know very well!

Randy Forman's Finest Fidelity room featured the likes of Xact Audio, Accustic Arts, Stillpoints, and van den Hul, all of whom I very great respect for. And that would be because I've had all of it in our reference stereo listening room, and have been extremely impressed with the results.

So, no surprise here…just audio pleasure!

The Accustic Arts Mono II Monoblock with a Magico S3 Mk II Loudspeaker:  a synergistic match

The system in the FF room:

  • Garrard 301 turntable with Dobbins plinth and a "Steve Dobbins special" platter, courtesy of Xact Audio ($9700)
  • Reed 2P tonearm ($4850)
  • van den Hul Colibri Master Signature MC ($11,995)
  • van den Hul The Grail SE Phono Amp ($25,995)

A stack in the rack:  Accustic Arts and Wolf Audio on shelves in place on Stillpoints

  • Accustic Arts Tube Hybrid Preamp ($16,400)
  • Accustic Arts Mono II Power Amps ($24,995 per pair)
  • Accustic Arts Tube Hybrid DAC ($16,400)
  • Wolf Audio Systems Alpha 3 Server ($7195)
  • Magico S3 Mk 2 Loudspeakers, Bronze Cast Finish ($28,000 per pair)
  • van den Hul Extenders ($5000 per pair)
  • Stillpoints Stand ($14,800, as configured)
  • Stillpoints ESS 6 ($899 each x 16)
  • Still points LP-1 Record Isolator ($549)
  • van den Hul 3T Mountain Interconnects, XLR and RCA ($1695 per meter)
  • van den Hul 3T Cumulus Speaker Cables with Berri Buss Terminations, 2.5 meters ($6995 per pair)
  • van den Hul and Accustic Arts Power Cords (prices vary)

AJ van den Hul of vdH, Randy Forman of Finest Fidelity, and Jochem Voss of Accustic Arts at the Finest Fidelity room

The sound was excellent:  dynamic, but not edgy; detailed, but no glare; full-range without being bombastic. These components obviously work and play well together, and it was a pleasure to listen to music here.

Because it definitely was music.

An Audio Oasis! Award winner, for sure.

ModWright/Destination Audio/SOTA Turntables/WyWires

A vision of audio glory!

As usual, ModWright and WyWires lit up the room that they were in…but this time they were in tandem with some components that I hadn't heard in a long time (SOTA), or at all (Destination Audio NIKA Horn Speakers).

Another great system collection here:

  • SOTA Cosmos Eclipse Turntable ($9700)
  • Origin Live Enterprise Tonearm ($6010)
  • Dynavector XV-1s Cartridge ($5650)
  • SOTA Isolation Rack ($2500)
  • ModWright Ambrose 845 DS Monoblock Amps ($49,995 per pair)
  • ModWright PH 9.0 Phono Stage ($2990)
  • ModWright LS 300 Tube Preamp ($9995)
  • ModWright Pioneer UHD LX-500 modified ($1500 for the modification; user supplies the LX-500)
  • Destination Audio Horn Loudspeakers ($29,000 per pair)
  • WyWires Platinum Series Power Cords x5 ($899 each)
  • WyWires Platinum Series Interconnects x 3 ($1799 each pair)
  • WyWires Diamond Series Speaker Cables ($7995 per pair, terminated here in Bananas)
  • WyWires Diamond Series Phono Cable ($2,995, DIN-RCA)
  • WyWires Diamond Series USB Cable ($1695)

The gorgeous ModWright Ambrose 845 DS Monoblock Amp

I've had other 845-based amps in my listening room here in past years, but none of them sounded anything like as brilliant as the Ambrose. I really think that Dan Wright has made a true statement product, and shows what can be done at the audio heights with the 845 tube.

Well, yes, the price is very high.

But if you have the bux, and love what 845's can do…well, this is it.

The new ModWright LS 300 Tube Preamplifier

These components in this room really brought it together in a big way. Dan's new and exceptional LS 300 links up with the PH 9.0, as one would expect, but the SOTA Cosmos produced some really rich and music sound, with the price-is-no-object Ambrose 845's pushing out 32 WPC of Pure Class A lusciousness. The Destination Audio NIKA with its 99dB/watt/meter efficiency was a perfect match, sporting a frequency response of 25Hz – 20kHz. The sound was really seductive:  rich, harmonically well integrated, nicely detailed, and always musical.

Dan Wright:  a portrait

Dan Wright and I have a growing tradition of a photographic portrait of him at every show that I see him at. The above was this year's result.

Anyway, all of the signs were here for another Audio Oasis! Award. This space pulled me in, made me smile, relaxed me, and made it tough for me to leave.

Frankly, this was an easy call.

 McGary Audio/ANTICABLES/EXOGAL/Salk Sound

The system here featured the following components:

  • Salk StreamPlayer Gen II SE ($2,495)
  • Exogal Comet Plus DAC ($3,500, including the Upgrade Power Supply)
  • Exogal Upgraded Power Supply ($600)
  • McGary SA2 Amplifier ($7,985)

The McGary Audio SA2 Amplifier


  • Level 3.1 Reference Series Speaker Cables, 8 ft. pair ($280)
  • Level 6.2 ABSOLUTE Signature RCA Analog Interconnects, .75 meter pair ($495)
  • Level 3.3 Reference Series USB Digital Interconnect ($290)
  • Level 3 Reference Series Power Cords, 5 ft., x 3 ($300 each)
  • Salk SS 9.5 Loudspeakers ($9995 per pair)

The Salk SS 9.5 Loudspeaker

The sound in the McGary et al. room surprised me pleasantly by its quality. The component list above shows some relatively (in high-end terms) reasonable prices, and the music was at ease, very appealing, and evidence no unpleasant digititus. The Salk Loudspeakers had great range, and blended nicely with the front end. And the 80 watt McGary SA2 in red and silver…well, that was drop-dead gorgeous, and potent too!

Mike McGary of McGary Audio

No doubt about it in my mind:  Mike McGary and company deserve this Audio Oasis! Award.

exaSound/Magnepan/NativeDSD/Parasound/Roon Labs/Krolo Designs

exaSound:  Now here's a reference-level multi-channel DSD room!

PF readers who have been following my awards over the years will have seen the name exaSound appear again and again. There's a very good reason for this:  George Klissarov and company produce some of the finest DSD DACs around (yes, they do a fine job of DXD and PCM as well), and at prices that are quite reasonable – in the world of high-end audio, that is.

Over the years I've reviewed very nearly every one of their models, apart from several from the earliest days. This has allowed me to follow and assess their progress over time, and to appreciate the significant progress that exaSound has made in its understanding of digital formats and their implementation of superior designs to apply that understanding.

At every show, I always make sure to stop by the exaSound room. Once again, George was making beautiful DSD music…in surround!

The system was made up of the following components:

  • exaSound PlayPoint DM ($14,000)
  • exaSound e38 Mark II 8-channel DAC ($3995)
  • exaSound e32 Mark II stereo DAC ($2499)
  • exaSound Gammer Server ($2499)
  • exaSound Sigma Streamer for exaSound DACs ($750)
  • Parasound Halo A 51 Multichannel Amplifier ($4795)
  • Magnepan 3.7i Loudspeakers, front ($5995 per pair)
  • Magnepan 1.7i Loudspeakers, rear ($1995 per pair)

You'll note the relatively reasonable prices. The excellence of the performance of this system was really astonishing. Many recordings from NativeDSD.com were in evidence, and set the bar at the highest level for resolution and musicality.


A rack of exaSound, with the outstanding PlayPoint DM on top, and the Parasound surround amp on the bottom shelf

The presence of the Parasound Halo A 51 surround amplifier really drove the Maggies really well, exercising nice control and presence. The immersive results of this combination could not be missed.

Another "no gainsaying" moment here:  DSD in surround via this system was exceptional, and demonstrated why a fine surround sound system is attainable, with music being supplied by companies like NativeDSD.com in increasing numbers.

What's not to love?!

Once again, the exaSound room and George Klissarov, et al., take one of my Audio Oasis! Awards!

Innuos/Nagra/YG Acoustics/Transparent Audio/Vicoustic/Modulum Audio/Bag End

I am very familiar with the sound of YG Acoustics over many years now. Above you see a pair of YG Haileys being fed by a Nagra HD system, with the Innuos Statement Server supplying the feed. The racks are Modulums, as was the Electronic Bass Trap; the cables are by Transparent.

I also have extended experience with Nagra's HD line…AXPONA, Munich 2018, plus my review of the Nagra HD DAC with MPS Power Supply, which you can see HERE. The upshot of all this is that I consider Nagra to be a first-rank world-class reference for electronics. In fact, I've talked with René Laflamme about doing a system review of the Nagra HD…perhaps that will happen one day.

Alas, though. No equipment and price list for this room, either at the show or afterwards. (For shame, folks.) I can't list what I don't have a list for, eh?

Steven Gomes and Amelia Santos of Innuos

I do like the way that the Innuos Statement Server connected with Nagra and the YG Hailey. The sound in here was detailed, extremely transparent and clean, and always musical.

Without a doubt, this was Audio Oasis! Award quality sound.

Thus recognized.

Linear Tube Audio/Black Cat Cable/Fern & Roby Audio

In the Fern & Roby, et al. room

Wow! What a space!

The system in this room was made up of the following:

  • Fern & Roby Audio Tredegar Turntable with Schröder Reference SQ Tonearm ($21,500)
  • ModWright Instruments PH 9.0 Phono Stage ($2900)
  • Soundsmith Zephry MIMC Star Cartridge ($1999)
  • Linear Tube Audio MZ3 MicroZOTL Preamplifier ($3700)
  • Linear Tube Audio ZOTL40 Reference Power Amplifier ($6800)
  • Fern & Roby Audio The Ravens Loudspeakers ($9500 per pair)
  • Black Cat Cable Lupo 5 meter RCA ($2599 per pair); 1.5 meter ($1199 per pair)
  • Black Cat Cable Lupo Speaker Cables, 3 meter ($1799 per pair)
  • Fern & Roby Audio Walnut Amp Stands ($325 each)

The Soundsmith Zephyr MIMC Star Cartridge in action on the Tredegar Turntable with Schröder Reference SQ Tonearm

The look might have been a bit of a throw-back…certainly The Ravens brought back memories of mid-century American styles to my mind…but the sound was simply killer! Talk about musical, organic, and deliciously seductive…this room had it by the ton. I just leaned back and let the music wash over me.

The Soundsmith obviously synergized with the Schröder and the Tredegar, and the Linear Tube Audio electronics provided a wonderfully rich foundation for The Ravens to launch our way. Chris Sommovigo's Black Cat Cables were definitely in the mix, and really do seem to like its neighbors. Chris and Christopher are making an excellent connection here.

Sitting in here, talking with Christopher Hildebrand…

Christopher Hildebrand of Fern & Roby

…was a real delight. He's clearly a passionate artisan, a major new craftsman of the audio arts. I was taken by his enthusiasm and boundless energy as he talked about the directions that he saw for the future of F&R. (It's a company that does a lot more than just fine audio, by the way.)

Yes, I took the music in, relaxing and feeling the audio show stress ebb away.

An Audio Oasis! Award just had to be given.


 Convergent Audio Technology/Essential Sound Products/Essence/MusicCord

In the CAT/ESP/Magico/VPI room…

This was a very interesting space. I have great regard for the reference-grade tube designs made by Ken Stevens of Convergent Audio Technology (CAT). I've never done a review of his gear here in my own listening room, but have heard it at a number of shows. I'm always quite pleased with what I'm hearing…AXPONA 2019 was no exception.

The system list for this room (no prices provided):

  • CAT (Convergent Audio Technology) SL-1 Legend preamplifier
  • CAT JL-7 Limited Edition mono amplifiers
  • ESP (Essential Sound Products) Eloquence ac power cords & Power Distributor
  • VPI HW-40 Turntable with van den Hul Crimson cartridge
  • Magico S5 MK-II speakers

Michael D. Griffin of Essential Sound Products

The room host while I was there was Michael Griffin of ESP. He proved to be an enthusiastic evangelist for his high-end cables, which have been used in recording studios. (For example, they've been employed during some recent recordings of Patricia Barber, which is quite a recommendation.) He and I are talking about ESP getting a review; we'll see if this works out.

The Magico S5 Mk-II Loudspeaker and a CAT JL-7 Limited Edition monoblock amplifier

This setup was extremely straightforward, but some amazing sound was happening here. There was great clarity. I have been in some rooms over time in which Magico speakers didn't sound like quite the thing…although that's been improving over the past couple of years now. But the combination of the ESP-connected CAT kit with the Magico S5 Mk-II Loudspeaker, all being fed by VPI/van den Hul on the analog source side, was really tasty. (VPI and van den Hul…yep, there's delight in them thar hills!)

Highly synergistic; a real pleasure to hear.

Definitely an Audio Oasis! Award winner.

Gershman Acoustics/Valve Amplification Company


I walk into this room, and got sucker-punched by the Music Monster!

VAC is, of course, very well known to me. Kevin Hayes has been hitting tubular grand slams for many (many!) years now. And with a VPI Titan in our reference stereo listening room, a relationship with VPI that goes back into the '90s, and a long-time friendship with Mat Weisfeld, VPI's virtues aren't lost on me.

But Gershman Acoustics and I haven't crossed paths…until now.

The Gershman Acoustics Grande Avant Garde X Loudspeaker

Unfortunately, I never received a complete equipment and price list from Gershman for this room. What I've been to piece together is the following:

  • VPI Avenger Turntable
  • VPI Voyager Phono Amp
  • VAC Statement 450S iQ Dual Mono Amplifier
  • VAC Master Preamp, including Internal Phono Board
  • Gershman Acoustics Grande Avant Garde X Loudspeaker ($13,000 per pair)
  • All cables were Nordost (prices vary)

The electronics and analog source were really fine, of course, and so one could debate the source(s) of the qualitative experience that I had here. Regardless, the Gershman speakers really filled the room with satisfying, soulful sound, reflecting very high sonic values. Given the relatively modest price point of the speakers, I was astonished at how rich, how deep, how wide, and how organic the harmonics here were.

The VAC Statement 450.S iQ Stereoblock Amplifier

VAC's Master Preamplifier, with the VPI Voyager Phono Preamp perched below

Ofra Gershman of Gershman Acoustics, with her Grande Avant Garde X Loudspeaker:  a moment

I spent some time talking with Ofra about her speaker and how well the room sounded. I had to confess my surprise and pleasure that a speaker of this size and price should be such a killer performer.

She just smiled.

Give her a well-deserved Audio Oasis! Award…done!

Wolf Audio Systems/Audience/Stillpoints/Berning/Linear Tube Audio/Ayre/Sadurni

The Wolf Audio and friends room

And now for something different.

Really different.

The Wolf Audio Systems room was hosted by Joe Parvey of Wolf Audio Systems. Joe and I have been talking for months about the ins and outs of music servers, storage arrays, RAID, and all those other cool things that go along with digital audio. Both of us are deep on Information Technology and various aspects of network-/Internet-based music, and I've enjoyed our discussions. He says that he'll eventually…you know, "eventually"…get a RAID storage array and reference server my way.

We'll see about that.

Meanwhile, I have to say that the sound in here was delicious.

Joe Pardo of Wolf Audio

The equipment list:

  • Wolf Audio Systems Alpha 3 XS Music Server ($7995)
  • Ayre QX-5 Twenty DAC ($8950)
  • Linear Tube Audio MicroZOTL Preamplifier ($4450)
  • Berning Siegfried 300B ($15,000)
  • Stillpoints ESS Four-Shelf Grid Array Rack with Ultra SS Isolation Feet ($8495)
  • Audience Cables Frontrow Series (price varies)
  • Saadurni Acoustics Stacatto GT Horn-Loaded Loudspeakers ($33,333 per pair)

The Berning Siegfried OTL Amplifier on a Stillpoints ESS Rack

Joe and I listened for a while, and talked about the very interesting progress that he's been making in digital audio. The sound that he was getting in this room, mixing his music server, an Ayre DAC, LTA OTL, and Berning…feeding horn-loaded speakers…was dynamic (as you would guess), but also detailed, clear, and nicely transparent. You felt the music; you felt the joy.

Caramba! Good stuff!

A glance inside a Wolf Audio Music Server

Joe gave me a look inside this server, but I didn't have the time to really parse what was here. He'll just have to send me a reference-level standard when he's ready!

Joe Parvey et père:  a moment in time

So much of the promise of this room will have to be confirmed via Wolf Audio Systems and companies like Linear Tube Audio.

But I can say that the experience floated my boat nicely, and is worthy of an Audio Oasis! Award.

So ordered.

And now finally done....

All photographs and image processing are by David W. Robinson, except Robinson portraits by John Robinson, and the Alice in Wonderland drawing by Sir John Tenniel, in the public domain.