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Day 2 AXPONA 2018: Reality Sets In

04-24-2018 | By Myles B. Astor | Issue 96


By now the reality of covering 162 rooms (with 60 new exhibitors) and 80 booths was over. Any hope of seeing the whole show—other than sprinting from room to room and taking pictures—was also dashed and it was time to implement Plan B. So plan B—namely cover what I could—was put into motion. Of course, I couldn't help but think of the Mike Tyson quote, "Everyone has a plan ‘till they are punched in the mouth." Saturday kicked off with a 7:30 AM breakfast meetup for my Audionirvana.org board members, and by 5 pm, my feet had reached their limit. AXPONA was so spread out that I truly regretted not packing any sneakers.

This year I decided to only bring LPs to AXPONA 2018. I was feeling lazy and didn't feel like schlepping reel-to-reel tapes to the show, not to mention it's gotten to the point where the tape people have plenty of software and tape samplers. So what LPs made the cut and trip from New York to Chicago?

The Doors: LA Woman, "Riders on the Storm," AS reissue, 45 rpm
Kenny Burrell: Midnight Blue, "Chittlins Con Carne," Music Matters Jazz, 33 rpm
Gonoud: Faust, AS RCA Living Stereo reissue
The Emerald Forrest, "End Titles-Eagle Break"
Ike Quebec: Soul Samba, Blue Note/Classic Records reissue
Poulenc: Organ Concerto, EMI
Sonny Terry and Brownie McGhee: Sonny and Brownie, MCA

All of the listed albums were pressed into at some point during the show; the Poulenc, The Doors, Emerald Forrest, and Sonny and Brownie saw the bulk of the playing time.





Speaking of tape. Jeff Joseph and Jeff Rowland (who at one time worked for Ampex) wowed show attendees with tunes spun on a Mara Machines/MCI deck feeding Nick Doshi's Doshi Audio V3.0 tapestage. That signal was fed to a Rowland Daemon integrated amplifier driving a pair of Joseph Audio Pearl 3 loudspeakers. The crowd was reduced to tears and jaws dropped when the Acoustic Sounds sampler tape reached the Dean Martin Dream with Dean track and the Joseph Audio Pearl's sounded like a million dollars. The good news? The Pearl's don't need tape to sound their best!

File this under favorite show moments. I happened to be in the Einstein room when in walks Chad Kassem with a hot off the press test pressing of Acoustic Sounds' upcoming UHQR release of Jimi Hendrix's Axis: Bold as Love. The latest version of the UHQR LPs are all hand pressed on Clarity vinyl and come in RCA-Soria-style packaging. Acoustic Sounds is, by the way, using a completely different Clarity vinyl formulation (sourced from Thailand) than Classic Records utilized. Note in the picture that the vinyl looks whiter than the long out-of-print clearer Classic Records Clarity releases.

How did it sound? Chad's test pressing played back on Einstein's new The Turntable sounded ultra quiet. Not just pops and ticks but the whole background noise floor was mucho quieter! Sonically, according to Chad, this UHQR is probably the pressing closest to the sound of the original master tape. Grab them while you can. As of the show, the 1500 mono releases were already sold out while there's very limited availability of the 5000 copy stereo version. I doubt anyone will be disappointed with the first UHQR; well except for the fact that windowpane isn't included.

Myles caught taking a break from the show to check in on his bulletin board audionirvana.org! Photo courtesy of hardcore audiophile Sherrell Morris who I see at every audio show!

Kyomi Audio, based out of Chicago and owned by concert pianist and Depaul Music Professor George Vatchnazde, took two rooms at AXPONA. In the first room were MBL 101 Mk 2s driven by MBL Noble electronics line. Sources were either digital—or for the very first time at a show—a turntable. Here the featured analog source was an Air Force 3 turntable outfitted with a Graham Phantom Elite arm and Techdas cartridge combo. The system had the usual MBL strengths: speed, transparency and super impressive imaging. No loudspeaker gets out of the way of the music like a well setup pair of 101s; the low end, however, could have been better controlled. My reaction—and I'm not sure if it was it was a result of the SWT room treatment—also varied with musical genre. The system on something with prodigious amounts of ambient space like the Poulenc Organ Concerto lost a bit of the recording's spaciousness; this wasn't quite as obvious, say, with The Doors album.

Kyomi's other room was located across the hall from MBL and featured Gryphon Mojo S mini-speakers and Diablo 120 integrated amplifier with accompanying DAC. New from Gryphon was the Sonnet phonostage that was paired with Pear Audio's Kid Thomas turntable and Cadenza Black cartridge for LP playback. The Mojos were quick and detailed but the system deserved a better cartridge and probably some of the dryness could be attributed to the Cadenza Black.

Gershman Acoustics debuted their new top-of-the-line $129K Posh loudspeaker at AXPONA. The loudspeakers were ably complemented by VAC tube electronics including the stereo version of the 450IQ and VPI's recently released and massive top-of-the-line Titan turntable and new Fatboy gimballed tonearm. The Gershman setup was one of the few systems that I heard at AXPONA that could reproduce the tone, timbre, and richness of Ike Quebec's tenor sax on Soul Samba. Plus the musicians didn't, as in so many other rooms, feel like they were lined up facing a firing squad.

Who says there aren't any women in high-end audio? Ofra Gershman with her new babies!

Long time industry insider Elliot Goldman (we first met what now seems like eons ago when he worked at Lyric Hi-Fi) and Bending Wave Audio debuted Oliver Gobel's new Aeon Fine speaker from Germany for the first time in the US at AXPONA 2018. Priced at $140,000 a pair, the Gobels were complemented by Swiss manufacturer CH-Precision's M1 amplifier, L1 preamplifier, and C1 DAC.

Lampizator and Daedulus Audio teamed up once again at AXPONA 2018. Lampizator brought along the final version of their beautiful looking Pacific DAC (and SuperKomputer) while Daedulus displayed their new Apollo 11 loudspeakers. Driving the loudspeakers was the brand new 18 watt ZOTL ultralinear amplifier designed by David Berning. The sound was very relaxed and unmechanical. Rendering of space was as good as I've heard from digital. One thing, though, that struck me the longer I listened was the loss of detail: recordings were just too smoothed over.

Late last year Magico announced late the release of their brand new, under $10K loudspeaker named the A3. Could Magico designer Alon Wolf pull off at a lower price point what he had achieved with cost no object speaker? The answer at the loludspeaker's AXPONA debut was unqualified yes. The new A3 allied with Constellation electronics sounded absolutely amazing. This roughly $40K total system was very linear from top-to-bottom with no one area outshining the other. The lower octaves were also outstanding, especially considering conditions: not quite the scale of bass of its bigger brothers, but what the A3 has is clean, detailed, and ballsy. That was coupled with superb imaging and sense of space. Above all, the A3 is—despite the cabinet looking like the older Q-series—closer in signature to the newer than older Magico loudspeakers.

How did Alon keep the price down? Simple. Scale of production. Oh, and don't expect to order an A3 and receive your loudspeakers next week. The A3s are, as of the show, completely sold out and backordered.

Some other systems from AXPONA 2018. Walter Swanborn and Fidelis Audio presented new Stenheim's new Alumine 5 powered by the VAC's new170IQ integrated amplifier. Records were played back on an Acoustic Signature turntable.

Triangle Arts new Master Reference turntable.

Zesto Audio basically demonstrated the same system at RMAF last fall (Leto 1.5 preamplifier, Tessara phonostage, Allasso SUT, Eros amplifier, and Coltrane Django loudspeakers) with the exception of Merrill-Williams new 101.3 turntable. The MW 101.3 features further refinements to the platter, feet, and record clamp. The sound was pleasing, but there just is something about the Djangos sounding "small" that is a little disconcerting.