2018 AXPONA Show Report: Analog Sources

Show report
Categories:
Phonostages,
Turntables,
Cartridges,
Tonearms
2018 AXPONA Show Report: Analog Sources

AXPONA 2018 starts out with a new location and a new attitude. The new location is the Renaissance Schaumburg Hotel and Convention Center in Schaumburg, Illinois, which is a 15–20 minute ride from O'Hare International Airport. The new attitude is one of success from an improved experience for show attendees. There were lots of upbeat exhibitors and attendees and plenty of variety among product offerings for all types of listeners and/or their preferred equipment types.

With a bag of vinyl, I set out to explore the reported 160+ rooms to find new analog products at the show. Given the size and challenge involved in finding everything new in analog offerings, it is likely I may have missed some products. I apologies in advance if that is the case. With that said, let’s get started.

Most Significant

Sutherland Phono Loco Phonostage
Ron Sutherland of Sutherland Engineering showed off his new Phono Loco ($8400) current-input (transimpedance amplification) phonostage at this year’s AXPONA 2018. Unlike a voltage-input phonostage, transimpedance amplification utilizes the cartridge’s current output to feed the current-input stage of the phono section. Once the signal has gone through this stage and been amplified, it becomes a voltage output. Where this conversion from current-to-voltage takes place within the phonostage is at the discretion of the circuit designer, but in most cases it is probably done after or during the first stage. The Phono Loco has only XLR inputs due to the requirement for differential/balanced connection. There are no loading options required for a current-input stage. There is also no fixed default gain setting (gain will vary somewhat based on the cartridge impedance and output current). However, Phono Loco does incorporate a +6dB or -6dB gain setting for the output amplification, if the nominal level needs to be increased or decreased. The output of the Phono Loco is RCA single-ended. An evaluation in the pages of TAS could be upcoming.


Channel D Lino C Phonostage
Channel D has also introduced a stand-alone current-input phonostage called the Lino C. Derived from a section of its Seta L20 phonostage, the Lino C is current input only. It contains balanced only inputs with XLR input connectors while providing both balanced (XLR) and single-ended (RCA) outputs. The Lino C allows the gain to be adjusted over a 12dB range around the fixed gain set by the connected cartridge. Channel D claims adherence to the RIAA curve is better than 0.1dB from 20Hz–20kHz. The Lino C also allows the RIAA EQ circuit to be bypassed/disabled on the balanced XLR outputs for a “flat” signal—useful for LP-to-digital transfers using software like Channel D’s Pure Vinyl. The price of the Lino C is $2499. There is an option for inclusion of an AGM rechargeable battery power supply ($TBD). This is an interesting product that I’d like to evaluate in TAS.\


Air Tight ATE-3011 Reference Phonostage and Opus-1 Mono Cartridge
Air Tight displayed the new Opus-1 Mono cartridge and ATE-3011 Reference phonostage, both $TDB. I listen to the Opus-1 Mono cartridge with a few pre-1950 LPs and the selectable EQ curves available on the ATE-3011 phonostage made a difference. Given that many of the pre-1950 monos have different EQ curves, the ATE-3011 allows for five independent selections of both turnover and roll-off to get the user close to the ideal curve for the particular record being played, if the user knows which curve settings to select. The ATE-3011 also includes three inputs, 40dB of gain (step-up transformer or head-amp required for low-output moving-coil cartridges), and tentatively two RCA outputs.


Kirmuss Audio In The Groove Ultimate Ultrasonic Vinyl Restoration System
Kirmus Audio introduced the Ultimate Ultrasonic Vinyl Restoration System record cleaner. This Ultrasonic cleaning unit features a patented four record (7", 10", and 2 x 12") slot/rotation system. The user can clean all 4 records in a 5 minute time frame. Drying the record is done by hand (as suggested by Kirmuss Audio) or by other means available to the user. At $795, it’s priced quite affordably—now we’ll have to find out how well it works.


Perfect Vinyl Forever Record Cleaning Service
For those vinyl music listeners who don’t enjoy cleaning records or just want someone else to do a better job, there is Perfect Vinyl Forever. The service costs $5 (Ultra Deep Process) or $8 (Archival Process) per record for cleaning. Briefly, the difference involves additional steps with enzymatic soaking and vacuum extraction for dirty and/or used records with the archival process. Both processes involve ultrasonic deep cleaning, ultrasonic rinse, HEPA-filtered warm-air drying, and a static-free inner sleeve. There are drop-off points in certain locations around the country. The company also has prepaid and prepackaged shipping boxes (available for a fee) that are sent to your home; records can be carefully and safely placed in the application-specific packaging and mailed out for cleaning. The items are returned cleaned and ready to store or play.

Auspicious Debuts


Gold Note Mediterraneo Turntable, Donatello Gold Cartridge, and PH-10 Phonostage
Gold Note
brought an entire system with it to the show. The attractive Mediterraneo ’table (complete with B-5.1 ’arm and dust cover) ($7495), Donatello Gold MC cartridge ($1195), and PH-10 phonostage ($1595). The Mediterraneo features a damped platter, precision bearing, triple-layered plinth, and microprocessor-controlled AC-motor waveform-generator. That’s a good bit of technology and design in this ’table. The PH-10 phonostage allows for six different playback curves plus an “enhanced” version of each curve for user choice (if that’s his preference), fixed mm/mc gain settings plus additional gain adjustment options of -3dB to +6dB, nine selectable cartridge-loading options, two discrete sets of RCA cartridge/’arm inputs, with RCA and XLR outputs. But that’s not all! The P-1000 preamp ($6295), PA-1175 stereo/mono power amp ($7600 each), and XT-7 Speakers ($16,995) produced very nice sound playing my Joe Cocker Sheffield Steel album.


EAT Jo No.5 Moving-Coil Cartridge
European Audio Team
(EAT) showcased the new Jo No.5 mc cartridge ($1495) on the C-Sharp ’table with C-Note tonearm ($2995 bundled and reviewed in TAS Issue 254). The Jo No.5 has a body made of polyamide produced using a process called Selective Layer Sintering. The cartridge weighs 15 grams, has a nude fine-line stylus, 0.3mV output, and tracks at 2.3 grams—the specs look similar to the Ortofon Quintet Bronze cartridge. The analog front end was feeding the E-Glo S hybrid tube phonostage ($2995). Both the E-Glo S and C-Sharp were powered by EAT’s new LPS dual linear power supply ($1295). The LPS delivers a fully discrete, component-designed-and-filtered 15V and 18V on separate outputs to feed the EAT turntable and phonostage. A McIntosh MC 252 integrated amplifier was used to feed Audio Physic Avanti speakers.

Acoustic Signature Double X Turntable and Tango Reference Phonostage
Acoustic Signature
showed its new Double X ($5795) turntable with TA-2000 ($2395) tonearm and Dynavector XX2 cartridge ($1995) feeding a new Acoustic Signature Tango Reference Phonostage ($TBD). The particulars were few and far between for the Double X (which appears to have 8 resonance silencers in the high-mass platter, similar to the optioned-out Triple X ’table) and the Tango Reference Phonostage (no information available at the show). Sound was fed to a new VAC Sigma 170i integrated amp using Tellurium Q cables and Stenheim Alumine 5 speakers. Stein Music H2 Harmonizers were employed around the room.

In Other News

I’ll use this section to quickly list some of the remaining new and interesting items shown at AXPONA 2018. Thales displayed the $21,090 Statement Tonearm to complement the Simplicity II ($9450) and Easy ($5400) in its lineup of pivoted linear tracking ’arms. Also shown was the new TTT-Slim II ($6750) turntable. Technics showed new the SP-10R and SL-1000R (prices approximately $10k and $20k respectively). Merrill Williams had an updated REAL 101.3 ’table ($7995) spinning tunes. Triangle Art presented two new ’tables: Maestro and Master Reference. I spied an affordable Well Tempered Labs Simplex MK2 ($1995) ’table. Einstein Audio Components introduces The Record Player ($12,000), The Tonearm Silver ($9000) with The Pick Up Cartridge, and what looked like a new The Phonoamp Double phonostage in an all-Einstein system. More phonostages from Esoteric (E-02, $9000), Pass Labs (XP-27), Grypon Audio (Sonett, $7590), Phasemation (EA500, $7300), Black Ice Audio (F 159, $1499), Band-Width Audio (Kaskode One, $6500), Trilogy Audio Systems (906/907, $1395/$3995), and Haniwa (current-input HEQA03, $12,000) were also sprinkled throughout AXPONA. Cartridges included the ultra-low-inductance Haniwa HCTR01 Mk-II ($10,000), Phasemation PP2000/PP1000/PP500/PP300, ($5500/$4100/$2799/$1799), and the van den Hul Colibri Master Reference ($13,995). Finally, United Home Audio presented the Ultima4 tape deck with tape path improvements that result in the playback head being the only fixed point in the tape path –all other points are bearing-based guides/rollers.


To conclude this show report, I’d like to mention that I enjoyed the 15ips reel-to-reel tape playback of the UHA Ultima4 tape deck in two rooms (Atma-Sphere/Classic Audio/Purist Audio Design/ Silent Running Audio/etc. and Synergistic Research/Magico/Constellation/ Critical Mass/etc.), the J-Coder-modified Technics (VAC/Von Schweikert/MasterBuilt/ Critical Mass Systems/etc.), and the Studer A810 (Doshi/Wilson/Harmonic Resolution Systems/Transparent Audio/etc.). Special mention goes to tape playback from the Joseph Audio Pearl 3 speakers driven by Rowland Daemon integrated, using all Cardas Audio cables, taking the signal from an excellent Doshi V3.0 Tape Stage getting its signal from a Mara Machines MCI JH110 HiFi 1/4" 2-track tape deck –the sound was outstanding and balanced.

As can be seen from the listings above, AXPONA 2018 was a large show with many new (or newly introduced) analog products. To find and identify all of these components took nearly every bit of the three days of the show—so much time that there was little left for anything outside of my assignment. AXPONA 2018 is now a big show, in a new venue, with a new attitude.

Best of Show:

Best Sound (cost no object)
Audionet
(Stern, Heisenberg, PAM G2 Phono w/EPX power supply), Air Tight Opus-1, Kronos, YG Sonja XV Jr., Kubala Sosna Realization and XPander played excellent music in a space one could have in a home environment.

Best Sound (for the money)
While I didn’t get to explore this category as much as I’d have preferred, Stereo Haven’s room 630 with Well Tempered Labs ’table/cartridge, Line Magnetic, Box Furniture, Isotek, Auditorium, and Falcon Acoustics produced good sound.

Most Significant Product Introduction
Kirmuss Audio
’s $795 In The Groove Ultimate Ultrasonic Vinyl Restoration System makes the process of using this technology more affordable.

Most Significant Trend
AXPONA is growing and getting bigger.

Most Coveted Product
That would be an exceptionally good DAC to stream Tidal and play quad-DSD plus PCM up to DXD, when I’m not listening to vinyl or tapes.

Sidebar: Racks and Power
PS Audio
introduced the DirectStream P20 Power Plant ($9999) power-regeneration station. The P20 produces 2000 volt-amps of output, is passively cooled, has low output impedance and surge/spike protection, allows network control over the Internet, and offers adjustable output voltage. The 7" color touchscreen display can show an oscilloscope, power meter, “improvement” meter, and a THD meter.

Critical Mass Systems showed its OLYMPUS-V12 anti-vibration product-support system. Compared to MAXXUM, OLYMPUS-V12 has more mass and a dual zone, 12-stage, constrained-layer-damped, patented filter system with twice the damping ability of MAXXUM. Critical Mass Systems claims the upper damping section of this 12-stage system consists of a 27-layer sandwich, three plate materials for rigidity, and six different damping materials sequenced based on nomographic data. Additionally, the lower damping section is claimed to have an 18-layer sandwich, select bottom plate materials for rigidity, and five different damping materials sequenced based on nomographic data.


Pneuance Audio introduced an effective pneumatic isolation device called the Pneupod NP-1 ($949 for a set of three and $1195 for a set of four). Each NP-1 can sustain a maximum weight of 20 pounds (60 pounds for set of 3 and 80 pounds for a set of four). Based on the use of air compression within a rubber diaphragm, the Pneupod NP-1 decouples the component or shelf that rests above the device. This approach is different from other types of coupling devices that are designed to drain energy away from (or in some cases, into) the component. Which approach is ultimately preferred is usually up to the user—which we can’t really debate or discuss. A system utilizing Pneupod NP-1 devices (along with a prototype Pneupod shelf and equipment stand) was on display at AXPONA. The accompanying electronics were from Gamut, Pear Audio Blue, My Sonic Labs, Levin Design, Aurender, and Bricasti design. What I can say is the units worked exceptionally well in the setup. A direct demonstration with just one component showed the effectiveness of the Pneupod NP-1. That component was the Bricasti DAC. The Bricasti had four Pneupod NP-1 devices under it. The NP-1s were deflated (although not removed from the DAC for demo purposes; this could be done in a more rigorous comparison) and the hosts played a song (“Too Young” performed by John Lee Hooker from the Chill Out album). After a short period of listening, the host reinflated the NP-1s and the song was played again. The results under the Bricasti DAC were immediate and pretty obvious. The most noticeable was the electronic decay on vocals and guitar coupled with a higher level or clarity that seemed to add more vibrancy and delicacy to the performance.