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AXPONA 2019 - My Favorite Rooms

04-17-2019 | By Robert S. Youman | Issue 102

Bottom line. AXPONA 2019 was a blast! I have not seen any numbers just yet, but I feel like AXPONA 2019 was very well attended and will be considered another big success story. I was only able to participate on Friday and Saturday, but many friends and contacts in the Industry seemed very pleased by the end of day Saturday. There were a record number of exhibitors and rooms and plenty of energy and smiles all around. As an Audiophile, you just gotta love the good vibes. The adrenaline was definitely flowing and you could feel it the second you walked through the front door at the Renaissance Convention Center.

From a practical perspective, there was plenty of traffic throughout yet very few log jams or lines. Sound quality was a big challenge as many of the irregular sized hotel rooms were obviously not designed for audio demonstration. But in general, I am not gonna be one of those complaining about sound. Why go low when you can easily go high? I experienced a number of fairly impressive rooms that were both entertaining and enlightening. The following were the standouts for my ever discerning ears and expectations. Before the comments start flying, just remember that key word that every Audiophile knows well. It's all "subjective" so please keep my thoughts in the proper perspective.

Musical Artisans, CH Precision, Rockport, Argento, and DaBaer

Ricardo Reyes of Musical Artisans is one of the good guys in the industry. Always welcoming and attentive, he has a distinct sense of style and sophistication that runs from the shoes on his feet to the watch on his wrist (but always in a classy understated way). Nothing but the best. This also extends to the superb equipment lines that he represents. In my opinion, CH Precision was one of the clear winners at the show. It was no coincidence that I noticed almost a half dozen other rooms using CH Precision to drive their systems and demonstrate the very best that their own components could provide.

I was also very impressed with the new DeBaer turntable and arm and the Top Wing Suzaku cartridge. It was not a surprise that Argento cable was the backbone of the entire system and Rockport provided the last link in the chain. When Ricardo lowered the stylus to Sarah Vaughn - Live at the Laren Jazz Festival (from the Devialet Lost Recordings series), you could hear a pin drop in the room. Full bodied, textured, and almost holographic. She was in the room with us. Absolutely mesmerizing.

  • CH Precision L1 Preamplifier
  • CH Precision P1 Phono Stage
  • CH Precision C1 DAC
  • CH Precision D1 SACD and CD Drive
  • CH Precision X1 Dual Power Supply
  • CH Precision A1.5 Monoblock Amplifiers
  • Rockport Technologies Cygnus Loudspeakers
  • DeBaer Saphir Turntable
  • DeBaer 9" Onyx Tonearm
  • Top Wing Suzaku (Red Sparrow) Cartridge
  • Argento Audio FMR and Flow Cabling
  • Box Rack System


Magico, MSB, CH Precision, Baetis, and Synergistic Research

Alon Wolf. What I can say? Every year he seems to surprise and delight as his efforts continue to move the needle forward on what might be possible for loudspeaker design and music reproduction. Starting with the initial Magico Mini back in 2004, to the Q7 (which I personally owned), to the M6 and M3 speakers, the legacy continues. Last year the A3 created a huge splash in the industry at a price point that provided excellent performance and value. The new M2 demonstrated this year at AXPONA might just be the sweet spot in the entire lineup. At $56,000 a pair, we are not talking peanuts here, but the sound I heard in the Magico room was simply outstanding. Very rich yet extremely detailed without edge at all frequencies. Usually this is quite a balancing act where one variable or both are compromised. Not with the M2. You get it all.

Please note the simplicity of the entire configuration. Less can absolutely be more. I have no doubt that the MSB Select DAC had something to do with the excellent sound. This was my first experience with the Select and it confirms what others have told me—it has to be one of the top two or three DACs in the market at this time. Lets not forget CH Precision and the Synergistic Research Galileo SX cabling—common elements in several of the best sounding rooms.

  • Magico M2 Loudspeakers
  • MSB Select DAC and Transport
  • Baetis Reference Server 
  • CH Precision M1 Monoblock Amplifiers
  • Synergistic Research Galileo SX Cabling (throughout)
  • Synergistic Research PowerCell 12 UEF SE


AirTight, Piaga, Transrotor, and Reed

This was one room where the quality of both system performance and music selection were some of the best at the show. Thank you Mr. Yutaka Miura of AirTight! Some rare Neil Young, Boz Scaggs, Dave Bruebeck, and even Harry James made it to the platter. It was hard not to notice that those surrounding me in the listening area late Friday afternoon were all swooning and giggling on every track. Folks were lining up in the room and out into the hallway for a chance to get a seat and it was easy to understand why. 

I have always been an AirTight fan. When combined with the right speakers, there is a certain sense of the real thing that these components can provide. This room was no exception. There is something about tubes when properly executed that can bring out the air and dimensionality of a recording venue like nothing else. This system also delivered a sense of purity and coherence that was both seductive and dazzling. We came back three times on Friday alone, and I could have easily stayed the night if allowed.

  • AirTight ATM-3211 Monoblock Amplifier
  • AirTight ATM-2 Plus Stereo Amplifier
  • AirTight ATC-5 Preamplifier
  • AirTight ATE-3011 Phonostage
  • AirTight ATH-3 MC Step Up Transformer
  • AirTight Opus-1 Phono Cartridge
  • AirTight PC-1 Coda Phono Cartridge
  • Reed Muse 1C Turntable with Reed 5T Tonearm
  • Transrotor Rondina Turntable with Reed 3P Tonearm
  • Piega 711 Coax Speakers
  • Piega MLS3 Speakers


Quintessence Audio, Sonus Faber, Simaudio, AMG, DS Audio, Kubala-Sosna, and Critical Mass

One of the corner stones of every AXPONA, Quintessence Audio stayed the course and again provided some spectacular highlights for the weekend. Mick Survance and his superb staff know how to put on a show! As I have stated in many reviews, the role of the local Dealer is still critical to the success of the high end industry. Quintessence has proven this over and over again. Their knowledge of system compatibility and component synergy is invaluable. I could have selected any one of their three rooms to talk about. This included those with state of the art flagship components like the dCS Vilvaldi DAC and Digital Clock, the Sonus Faber Aida Speakers, the Audio Research Ref 10 Linestage, and the Audio Research Ref 160M monoblock amplifiers.

For what ever reason, I was drawn to and felt emotionally connected to the "Perfection Room." This included the more reticent yet still impressive components listed below. This was obviously a collaborative system wide effort, but the Sonus Faber Amati Tradition speakers and the DS Audio optical phono cartridge were the key players for me. Each generation of the Amati has impressed me and the Tradition continues the legacy. Faster and more detailed than the original Amati Homage, you still get a very musical and natural presentation. There is something about the E1 optical phono cartridge that soothes the soul. I have heard it several times in several different systems. Very revealing yet again very musical and natural. I must also mention AMG, Simaudio, Kubala-Sosna, and Critical Mass. All were seen throughout the show in some of the very best sounding rooms. Coincidence? I think not.

  • Simaudio MOON 850P Preamplifier
  • Simaudio MOON Monoblock Amplifiers
  • Simaudio MOON 780 V2 Streaming DAC
  • Simaudio MOON 820S Power Supply
  • Sonus Faber Amati Tradition Speakers
  • AMG Giro 5th Turntable and 9" Turbo Tonearm
  • DS Audio E1 Optical Phono Cartridge
  • Kubala-Sosna Cabling (throughout)
  • Critical Mass Component Stands


Synergistic Research, Magico, Gryphon, Acoustic Signature, and AirTight

If you have never attended a Synergistic Research demo, you really should at least add it to your audiophile bucket list. CEO and Chief Engineer Ted Denney and his designs continue to amaze. You need to come with an open mind and with an appreciation for some of the out of the box thinking. If you can close everything else off and just simply listen, it will be a very rewarding if not educational experience. I think that the AXPONA 2019 session was the best ever. One difference was the size of the room. In the past, due to all the interest and the large crowds, the rooms were always extremely large in size and very limited in design and layout opportunities. Typically, there were curtains everywhere wedged into an acoustic nightmare. This time the room was quite compact and symmetrical with reasonable barriers allowing only a dozen or so listeners.

Ted kept it simple and concise. With active devices, Ted simply turned the component on and off for comparison. For the HFT acoustic products, Ted simply placed them in the room and then removed them. The results were very clear and you could sense the emotion and physical reaction to every change by the audience. Watching and listening to all of this just reinforced my own thoughts on Synergistic Research. For example, I have stated many times over the years that my PowerCell 12 UEF SE power conditioner could be the most important component in my system. It has probably had as much or even more impact than any other active device that I have owned or auditioned. BTW, lets not forget the contributions of the MSB Premier DAC, the Magico M3 speakers, the Gryphon Pandora preamplifier, and the Gryphon Antileon EVO amplifier. The sound in this room was as impressive as any at the show.

  • MSB Premier DAC and Fento Clock
  • Acoustic Signature Storm Turntable and TA 2000 Arm
  • AirTight PC-7 Cartridge
  • Gryphon Audio Design Pandora Preamplifier
  • Gryphon Audio Design Antileon EVO Stereo Amp
  • Magico M3 Speakers with MPods
  • Synergistic Research PowerCell 12 UEF SE
  • Synergistic Research Black Box
  • Synergistic Research Atmosphere XL4 w/ ATM
  • Synergistic Research UEF Acoustic Panels
  • Synergistic Research HFT
  • Synergistic Research HFT 2.0
  • Synergistic Research HFT X
  • Synergistic Research HFT Wide Angle
  • Synergistic Research MiG 2.0
  • Synergistic Research Tranquility Base XL UEF
  • Synergistic Research Active Ground Block SE
  • Synergistic Research Galileo SX Cabling (throughout)


Ultra Fidelis Audio, Acoustic Research, Vandersteen, Aurender, and Audioquest

From the most esoteric of institutions can come the most influential and impactful results. Take Ultra Fidelis Audio of Wauwatosa, Wisconsin. Yes, a small to medium sized shop in the suburbs of Milwaukee, but one with great insight and experience along with a staff that is as good as it gets. Ultra Fidelis also supports several of the most respected high end lines in the industry. There is a reason why these brands put their faith in Jonathan Spelt and his crew. If you take a quick look at some of the various Internet sites reporting on AXPONA, you will see that other than the ultra mega buck demonstrations, Ultra Fidelis received as much attention and as many positive comments as any room at the show. And with good reason. 

Why the raves? These folks know what they are doing. The combination of Acoustic Research and Vandersteen was a brilliant if not compelling choice. Speaker placement and dial in were spot on. Jonathan can obviously spin vinyl with the very best as his selections were greatly appreciated by all regardless of the genre. Talk about synergy! The music just flowed out of this room. If you want proper harmonic structure and bloom with dazzling layers and layers of musical information, this is one combination that must be checked out. Industry icon Richard Vandersteen himself was in attendance and provided some invaluable insight and logic behind his general design philosophy and the Vandersteen portfolio of products. In 25 years of attending these shows, I never had the opportunity to personally meet Mr. Vandersteen. Just one of many memorable AXPONA 2019 experiences!

  • Vandersteen Quatro CT Speakers
  • Vandersteen M5-HPA Monoblock Amplifiers
  • Audio Research Reference 6 Linestage
  • Audio Research Reference 3 Phono Preamplifier
  • Audio Research DAC 9
  • Aurender N-10 Music Server
  • AMG Viella Turntable
  • AMG 12JT Turbo Tonearm
  • Lyra Etna Cartridge
  • Niagra Power Conditioners - 5000 and 7000
  • Harmonic Resolution Rack & Isolation - RXR, SXR, and M3X
  • Audioquest Power Cables, Interconnects, and Speaker Cables (throughout)

Final Thoughts

When I evaluate the success of a show, there are four variables that I consider.

  • The Venue
  • The Equipment
  • The Music
  • The People that support it all

Don't underestimate that last variable and the support provided for each room and each product or service. The terms People or Professionals or even Personalities are all appropriate. These People and their passion for this hobby is essential. Their creativity and commitment is there for all to see and hear. For me, it is very much about the personal relationships that are built and the emotional connection to the music that they can provide.

For AXPONA 2019, I give all four variables the highest of praise! Bravo AXPONA!