AXPONA 2013 - Part 1

Show report
Solid-state power amplifiers,
Tubed power amplifiers,
Digital-to-analog converters
AXPONA 2013 - Part 1

I was totally on a roll at this point.

Next on my list of “do not miss” was My Audio Design, one of the new lines Colleen Cardas Imports was bringing to the States, and one I’d missed at CES. Arnold Martinez and Tweak Studio was showing a pair of Duke Royal Limited loudspeakers ($48k/pair). Shown here with a suite of components from New Zealand from a relatively new-to-me company called PureAudio, the Vinyl Phono preamplifier ($4,500), Control preamplifier ($9,500) and Reference Class A monoblocks ($15,550/pair). The aesthetic is a bit like seeing an exposed aluminum skeleton, which is a bit freaky. But with that sound coming out of the Dukes Royals, I won’t get hung up on it. A SOTA Millennia Series III turntable and SME tonearm and a Soundsmith Hyperion cartridge pulled tunes from the grooves. WyWires cables were used throughout and the gear sat on a slick-looking Trellis Audio rack and amp stands. Back to the speakers -- they’re not big. At the asking price, I figured I’d be looking up, not down, at them, but while I was sitting there thinking of the lettering you’ll find on the passenger-side mirrors in US cars – “objects in the mirror are closer than they appear” -- the Duke Royal Limited were blithely putting out some of the most elegant sound on display at AXPONA. Extremely refined – and coming from the TIDAL room, this was anything but a let down. ‘Outstanding’ was what I wrote in the margins of my flier, and while I was shrugging at the apparent pricing disconnect, I saw the extremely cool marquetry on the side cabinet – hello, Union Jack. All told, a very surprising speaker.

Speaking of Soundsmith – this was my next stop. Peter Ledermann announced a suite of new Strain Gauge phono preamplifiers (starting at $6,500) at RMAF last year. With a variety of options for the widget-inclined, the differences between the SG200, SG210, SG220 have everything to do with the preamplifier section – want variable gain output? Multiple, switchable sources? Then move up the chain. No? Then the “entry level” is your ticket. Played here on a magnificent VPI HRX turntable on a Schroeder SG Reference Arm, the Strain Gauge put out what I call a classic Soundsmith show-stopper sound – it was arresting. Don’t think the Strain Gauge can sound good? Ha. Your loss!

Another note – did you know that Soundsmith offers a full kit? The Monarch and Dragonfly standmount loudspeakers are reference quality offered for (relative) peanuts and the HE-150 stereo amplifiers, here wired for a sweet 440wpc in mono, are simply outstanding. Yes, Soundsmith “does” cartridges, but that’s just the beginning. Also shown here was the upgrade to the revolutionary cactus-cantilevered Hyperion, the Hyperion II ($7,499 with an industry-leading 10-year warranty). The Hyperion II "features even better channel separation (and it was scary before), improved pulse response and the introduction of a 470 Ohm load version, making it compatible with wider variety of preamps (the original was a 1000 ohm minimum load suggested). Still available in both CL and OCL styli configurations, as well as LT versions of same for passive linear arms where there might be any concern for slight lateral drag, as the LT version has lower compliance in the horizontal plane (patents pending).

Like big speakers? You’re gonna love the new Von Schweikert. Your Final System of Rochester, NY, managed the rather massive and delicate task of maneuvering the giant prototype VSA VR-100xs “Universe” System. Pricing is set at $140k/pair and includes the towers and a pair of EX V15 subwoofers. A Purity Audio Ultra GT (now $53k) preamplifier was sending the high signals to a KR Audio SXi MkII integrated ($21k) and low signals to a pair of Channel Island D200 Mk II monoblocks ($3,500/pair). Source was a Your Final System branded server, the HD Ref 3 Limited Edition Music Server System ($14,500). An EMM Labs DAC 2x ($15k) handled the conversion. Cabling came from VSA’s “MasterBuilt” line. $37k worth of Critical Mass Systems racks and stand held everything in place. Room treatments came from ASC, ATS and GIK.

The VR-100xs features drivers that started life at the Excel line at SEAS before being spec’d, matched, modified and mounted around a ribbon tweeter, sitting square in center of the array. The external subs are there for obvious reasons; together, the system is capable of reaching 8Hz at -6dB and Albert Von Schweikert assured me that it measures flat to 16Hz – just for those of you with pipe organ fetishes (you know who you are). Interestingly, the group delay for the four speakers (towers plus subs) is an astonishingly low 2.8ms. On the other end of the frequency range, the upper limits aren’t precisely known. Flat to 40k, measuring anything beyond that is a bit of a challenge, but Albert Von Schweikert confided that the team is convinced that a -6dB number at 100kHz is a reasonable expectation. Ahem. Don’t like the output? It’s adjustable with a “click-stop” autoformer, with adjustments from -6dB to +1dB in quarter-dB steps. Overall impedance is about 6 ohms, with a dip to 3.4 ohms at 300Hz. Sensitivity is about 89dB. The cabinet is a triple-laminate with different Q-values, so resonances simply cancel. One of those layers is concrete, which may explain why the speakers are 468lbs – and yes, that’s each. A rear-mounted horn-loaded tweeter and ribbon super-tweeter add ambience and support.

The Universe is a crazy beast of a loudspeaker. Personally, I’d love to hear it with more power on tap – we managed to send the Kronzilla into protection – and yes, that was before I even sat down or asked to play something, so don’t look at me. It must have been all that classical crap. Anyway, I figured a little Morcheeba would appropriately re-set the pace – and give me a window into the speaker. Hee hee! Ahem. Yes, [cough], the speaker was able to render the bass … ah … very satisfactorily. Looking forward to seeing this baby at future shows, but have to say, it was a great debut.