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AXPONA 2018 Day 1: Crowds Set Records For Attendance

04-16-2018 | By Myles B. Astor | Issue 96

I’ve been totally overwhelmed by the size of the show, and trying to cover all the rooms. Industry turnout today Friday was, as my Absolute Sound buddy Andre commented, "like RMAF, pre-renovation, only with far more consumer turnout." According to Liz Miller of JD Events, there were 162 rooms at AXPONA 2018. Consumer attendance on Friday was simply unbelievable:  It seemed like a Saturday. The halls and rooms at the Schaumburg Renaissance Convention Center Hotel were jammed. I’m pretty sure that AXPONA attendance records will be smashed this year. AXPONA has firmly established itself as THE U.S. high-end show.

So onto to some pictures around the show.

Paragon SNS room with Doshi electronics, Brinkmann turntable, DCS digital and Studer 810 plus Doshi V3.0 tapestage, and Wilson Audio Sasha 2s. Nick's new hybrid, 2 gain stage stereo amplifier acquitted itself well, regardless of source.

The speakers had just arrived from the factory, but the Quintessence room with Alexia 2s, ARC electronics, AMG table, and DS Audio cartridge sounded great. Very clean, controlled, and palpable. The self-biasing M160s are really sexy looking with that transparent meter.

Beauty and the beast. The latest Sonus Faber Aida 2s and ARC Ref. 750SEs monoblocks.

Audio Union and Thrax. New from Thrax was the Spartacus, a 60-watt, PP 300B-based tube amp.

Paragon SNS room with Wilson XLFs with D'Agostino electronics. Seemed like that wonderful Clearaudio table was an afterthought rather than a forethought here. Never seemed to be playing. All that they wanted to play was DCS digital.

On the topic of digital:  I had an opportunity for the very first time to compare two of Peter McGrath's raw, 24/88.2 digital files with the MQA encoded version (no provenance or remixing issues here.) This was by someone with no vested interest in the outcome.

Hate to say this to the MQA haters, but there was simply no comparison here. As good as the original digital files were, they were trounced in every way possible, from the top to the bottom of the frequency range.

First was an recording of an acapella group of four women. Raw file: nice sense of space and ambience, but an electronic glaze to the sound. It was like running a MC cartridge wide open. Good sense of palpability and tone. MQA file:  sheen gone and more realistic sense of voices floating in space. Much improved 3D, as well as greater transparency.

Second was Peter's Firebird recording. Same result with one interesting addition. The bass drum on the raw file sounded like a pop gun and lacked weight. The MQA file remedied this and added depth to the drum. No, not bloating the bass, but bringing it closer to the sound of a live drum.

Conclusion:  In this instance, MQA made a sizable improvement to an already well recorded piece. And it broke down that barrier that kept the listener at arm's length from emotionally connecting to the music.

Scaena speakets driven by new High Fidelity amplifiers. Hope they are still working on the casework.

Synergistic Research room with Magico S5 Mk. 2 speakers. Ted was demoing numerous doodads, including an active grounding box and the Black Box (in front on floor), an all-in-one Broad Spectrum Low-Frequency Resonator Array with UEF Technology.

The Audio Company out of Atlanta with the same basic setup seen at Axpona and Capital Audiofest last year-but in a bit bigger and better room. Featured gear included VAC Statement 450IQ amps, Kronos table with Air Tight Opus 1 cartridge, J-Corder/Technics reel to reel tape deck, and von Schweikert Ultra 11 speakers.

Wynn Audio from Canada with a few of the multinational lines they represent, including Karan electronics, Thales tables and tonearms, Metronome digital, and Pen Audio speakers. Gotta love those pivoted-linear trackers!

One reissue I am waiting for based on the job MOFI did with Dire Straits BIA. Hopefully out later this year.

Audience filing in for the "Meet the Editors" get together on Friday. Shockingly, this was the first time the MTE forum has been held in three years; the last session was in 2015. The panel consisted of David Robinson (moderator and PF), Greg Weaver (TAS), Julie Mullen (TAS), myself (PF), Carol Clark (PF), and John Atkinson (SP). Great attendance and questions from the audience! Hoping this forum becomes a regular staple once again at AXPONA!

Allen Perkin's Spiral Groove table with My Sonic Labs Platinum cartridge.

One of the best sounding rooms at AXPONA! (Bass performance in one way or another was really compromised across the show, in all rooms). GTT Audio and Bill Parrish put together a "shock-and-awe" system, consisting of YG Acoustics Sonja XV Jr speakers, Kronos Pro LE turntable and Air Tight Opus 1 cartridge, Kubala-Sosna Realization cables, and Audionet's new and top-of-the-line Heisenburg monoblocks and Stern reference preamp. No let down here. The speakers threw a wide and deep soundstage, and had no trouble handling the depth, authority, and dynamics of Poulenc's Organ Concerto.

Gamut and a lot more including a very impressive demo of the new Pneupod equipment insulators! Pneupods under the gear brought improvements in mid-bass definition, dimensionality, resolution, and spatiality. Nor did it take golden ears to appreciate the improvement wrought by the Pneupods. Remember we are talking about solid-state electronics, not tubes here! 

More Avante-Garde than you can shake a stick at including the massive Uno horns. Angie Lisi and American Sound also brought along a few goodies including Bergmann tables and Phasemation electronics and cartridges. Love the look of the Phasemation 300B-based amps.

High end Audio by Oz. A room—given its almost cuboidal shape—that sounded better than it had any right to. Part of that had to be due to the astute or fortuitous choice of combining Vitus integrated amplifier and MBL 120 speakers. Maintaining the continuity between the MBL bass and the rest of the speaker has always been an issue with this speaker line, and Vitus' control really helped here!

This was the second time in recent memory that Kharma tried to shoehorn one of their bigger speakers into a tiny room, outfitted with the Nagra HD line of electronics, with much the same results as the initial attempt. Why Kharma repeated this mistake escapes me, save that they may have been at the bottom of the room lottery pool, and this was all that was left when it came time to choose a room. Or they decided to attend at the last moment.