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05-24-2015 | By Gary L Beard | Issue 79

Dateline April 23-25th, 2015, The Westin Hotel, Rosemont Ill

Today's Headlines: AXPONA 2015 Returns and Morphs into Audio Con!

Spock Sighted Dancing with AXPONA Speaker Girl!

Audiophiles Applaud Reviewers for a Job Well Done!

This report and crappy photography brought to you by cub Field Reporter, Gary L. Beard.


Wow, how time flies. It seems like just yesterday that I was returning from AXPONA 2014. Now it's not just AXPONA, it's Audio Con too! After I first read the media release outlining Audio Con, my brain conjured up images of audiophiles named Leonard, Sheldon, Howard and Raja long with their audiophile brethren, descending on Rosemont dressed as tubes and tone arms and line array speakers. I of course, would show up in my cartridge hat (You know, the one where I paint my nose like a line-contact diamond stylus?). There'd be Live Long and Prosper vinyl care systems for sale in the Marketplace and a Thank Your Favorite Reviewer dunk tank in the lobby. Yes, Audio Con 2015 would be perfect; all the rooms incredible, the elevators empty and on my floor, the bar free, and the chair in the sweet spot permanently available…

Well, beyond those fairy tale wishes, there was in fact, a real Audio Con and it didn't have a building-emptying fire alarm either. Joel Davis, Steve Davis and all the fine people of AXPONA/JD Events put on another wonderful show with a couple of significant improvements: A new dining area christened Audio Con Café featured sandwiches, stir fry and snack food items at reasonable prices. There were many more live music events too, including featured performers Patricia Barber and James Primer playing shows on Friday and Saturday nights respectively. While I admit that I was not in attendance for either of the evening shows, I believe them to be a welcomed expansion of options for attendees.

What, Where, How?

My plan for AXPONA/AUDIO CON was really simple. I wanted to have fun, attend Mike Fremer's vinyl set-up seminar, and check out audio gear that I really wanted to hear. I also wanted to reintroduce myself to previous acquaintances and make some new friends along the way. I concluded that if I got those things accomplished, I would be a very happy audiophile. I did and I am!

Audiophiles are Fun People Too

In addition to renewing friendships and meeting several more industry insiders; this year, I finally met a few of my audio-friends from the orbs of Audio Circle as well as numerous fellow audio writer-types. I also briefly met for the first time, da boss (Positive Feedback Editor) in-Chief, David Robinson, as he sat in the darkened mysteriousness of the afterhours MBL/Jolida room. Nice to finally meet you Chief!

Like David, I also attended the ritualistic after hours listening sessions. As always, a sincere "Thanks!" goes out to Greg Beron of United Home Audio, as well as MBL and Jolida for the fantastic listening rooms and fabulous master tapes. Greg's Reel to Reel machines are analog treasures and those tapes make me smile every time I hear them.

I also spent a few precious—make that precocious—late night minutes with the Zu Crew and friends.

The Press Pressing: Peter Breuninger video's Zu's DJ Sean Casey.

Wrap a fun-loving passion for great music around the noggins of a bunch of talented speaker designers/builders, throw in a dash of rave-on, a pinch of instant friendship and stir lovingly with a couple cold ones and you've got the recipe for a good time. Thanks Zu'all, hanging with you makes me forget how old I'm getting--at least until I wake up.

Mark it Sold

The Marketplace was bustling and while perusing the merchandise, I managed to snarf a couple of LPs to replace old faves that have been victims of careless stupidity. I purchased Acoustic Sounds repressing's of Steppenwolf's first release Steppenwolf and Lynyrd Skynrd's Second Helping, and snatched up the 45rpm pressing of The Doors, The Soft Parade. I'm stoked about them and will report in a few weeks on their sound. Acoustic Sound's Chad Kassem, explained to me that the foil Steppenwolf cover, cost an extra $5 bucks an LP to reproduce. Nice work, sir. I look forward to the first spin!

Cartridge Comedy

As I am in the midst of revitalizing my vinyl system, one of my goals was attending Mike Fremer's TT set up show. I made it to Friday's session and witnessed firsthand how comfortable Mr. Fremer is in front of a crowd. His entertaining wit amused us as he waded through the minor foibles of working with way too small electro-mech-shit in front of 150 or so people and a video camera.

Just like any good student, I took notes and doodled in the margins. These notes will valuable assets down the vinyl road. (My family can sell the doodles for millions after I expire.) Having never set up a really good cartridge, but due to do so soon, I learned a lot and chuckled a bit during that short 45 minutes. I'm sure it won't be comedy when I try installing my new cartridge. I just hope it's not tragedy…I wonder what Mike charges for home tutoring?

The Rooms

There were a ton of rooms at the show this year and because I was having such a fine time discussing the relevant audio issues of the day with other show-goers; frankly, I did not get to all the rooms I had intended to visit. When I left on Sunday, I thought I knew how I felt about the show. But with four Interstate hours to stew over my two and a half days of Audio Con; I found myself thinking more about what systems fit my own needs and listening bias' and less about what caught my instant attention. I heard quite a number of good systems in general, and yes, a few that weren't quite there yet. Even some of the better systems couldn't totally fend off the boom-boom of show conditions. There were standouts of course. I won't say they were "the best", but rather, my favorites and I've given a few my stamp of approval, which indicates a system that would fit my own audiophile desires without entirely hallucinating my ability to purchase. Most of the rooms I really loved were…Well…Let's just say, I ain't got enough dough risin' in the kitchen to afford them without the patron saint of audio.

Onward audiophile soldiers, in no particular order…

Volti Audio/Border Patrol/Triode Wire: I really liked this system in the bigger room. It was dynamic, fast as lighting and the music was fun.

Essential Audio/Audiokinesis/Atmasphere Music Systems/Kuzma/Exogal/Aurender/Essence of Music/Clarity Cable/Essential Music/Teo Audio: The Audiokinesis Zepherin 46 speakers were quite musical and natural sounding. I need to hear them longer to really get a sense of how the unique LCS (Late Ceiling Splash) design really works.

Ryan Speakers/AURALiC: I was taken by surprise in this room. When cranked with energetic fare, the Ryan speakers served notice they could be an amazing value at $5k.

Vinnie Rossi/Acoustic Signature/Fidelis Harbeth/Red Wine Audio/Tellurium: Vinnie Rossi was showing his new modular integrated amp LIO with Harbeth SHL5+ loudspeakers. The hot swappable modules of the LIO give it high marks for future-proofing and the sound was relaxed and smooth.


Wilson Audio loudspeakers have never quite grabbed me, but this year I really enjoyed both the Doshi/Wilson room and the Dan D`Agostino/Wilson room. Incredible gear and fine sound in both.


Paragon Sight and Sound/ Dan D`Agostino/Wilson Audio: D`Agostino Momentum electronics and Wilson Alexia loudspeakers and Transparent cabling.

Audio Video Interiors of Chicago/Martin Logan/McIntosh Laboratories/Audioquest: The big Mac a-stack driving the Martin Logan Neolith's were really great. Yes, really. A bit much for the room perhaps, but the imaging and impact were fantastic. One of my favorite rooms at the show…

Blue Smoke Entertainment Systems/Merrill Audio/Sadurni Acoustics/Harmonic Resolution Systems/MSB Technology/Running Springs Audio/Savana Miljo Teknik: The Merrill Audio Veritas mono amps never fail to impress and the Sadurni Staccato horn speakers are something very special. The incredible dynamics and transparency were mesmerizing.

Kyomi Audio/Convergent Audio Technology/Helius Designs/Lumin/Magnan Cables/Townsend Audio/Vivid Audio: I already knew that I would find love in the form of CAT electronics, but this was my first time hearing Lumin and Vivid loudspeakers. The Giya G3 were as stunning aurally as they were visually. A really nice room!

Audio Note UK: Audio Note was making beautiful music with the massive 211 amp and AN/E loudspeakers.

Kingsound the Prince III, KR, Allnic, Sound Science Music Vault: I've liked every Kingsound room I've heard at AXPONA. This one was no exception.

Audia Flight/High Fidelity Services/High Water Sound/TW-Acustic/Verity Audio: Jeff Calatano's High Water Sound room was a complete departure from his norm. This room was powerful, smooth and really enjoyable.

Bricasti/Tidal: Another good showing from the combination of Bricasti and Tidal loudspeakers. Very nice sound here. I called out the Bricasti DAC as a winner last year. (Although they haven't sent me one for review yet…hint, hint.) I noted it was used in several fine rooms this year, including The Voice That is.

Lagacy's Bill Duddleson shown running a comparison of the differences between high resolution, Redbook and MP3 quality audio. The high-res files were the definite winner to my ears.

Expanded for 2015, Ear Expo was a busy place!

The Marketplace Beckons!

Endeavor Audio/Constellation Audio/Your Final Sound: This room was one of several that got significantly better over the course of the weekend. The new Endeavor E5's sounded very good driven by the Constellation Inspiration gear. A personal stamp of approval here, even though it is a fair margin outside wallet reality.

Daedelus Audio/Modwright/WyWires: This was certainly one of my favorite rooms. Dan Wright and Lou Hinkley really know how to put together a system that sings. It doesn't just grab, it caresses the music and the listener. The longer I sat there, the more I wanted to stay put. This is another room that gets my stamp of listening approval and sadly, another system that my broken piggy cries over.

Doug White's The Voice That Is room featured the U.S. premier of Tidal's Contrivia G2, Presenscio preamp and Audio Impulse monoblock amplifiers, along with Silver Circle's TCHAIK 6 AC powerline conditioner. When I heard it on Sunday, the sound was simply breathtaking; a wonderful balance of detail, speed, resolution, power, all in a curiously relaxed presentation. Without question one of my favorite rooms at Audio Con.

Special Mention for good sound and hi-fi value goes to:

Music Hall: I couldn't get a good picture of the gear, but the Creek/Tannoy system sounded very good.

Audioengine: Value and good sound lives here too…

Special mention for something new goes to:

The new Parasound Halo 2.1 Stereo Integrated Amplifier

Audio Archon Room: The first picture of the new Concert Fidelity prototype 300B Integrated Amplifier. Price TBD, but under $10K.

Venerable cable manufacturer Belden has a new line of cabling for high-end music systems, designed by long-time audiophile and Belden Principal Product Engineer, Galen Gareis.


Special Mention for something old is new again:

Dale Harder's HHR Exotic Speakers: Walsh drivers updated!

Sound Classics: Beautiful restorations of classic audio designs.

Brokenpress: One olive, or two? Awesomely cool, yet simple furniture, perfect for that Mid-Century moment in your listening room. It may look lightweight, but I tried to pick one end up, nope, not light. I want one…Or two… http://brokenpressdesign.com/

Special mention for making an audio show fun:

United Home Audio/MBL.

Zu Audio Druid Mk.V's driving Pass Labs XA60.8 mono's. Serious about rocking…Rave on!

Closing Time

The inaugural Audio Con is now but a fond memory and I enjoyed it as much as any other audio nut in attendance. Seeing/hearing some of the world's finest audio gear and meeting those who are responsible for making and selling it is a real hoot, even when it doesn't quite sound as good as it should or could. Upon returning home, I found out a scheduling conflict will preclude my attendance at Audio Con 2016. (Damn, and I just found an unreserved Vivid Giya G3 costume!) Yep, I'm bummed that I won't be joining you. A rendezvous like AXPONA/Audio Con is a very special thing. For a few irreplaceable days, it brings a broad spectrum of High End audio to the Midwest USA, and that, dear readers, is priceless.