AXPONA 2013 - Part 3

Show report
Solid-state power amplifiers,
Tubed power amplifiers,
Solid-state preamplifiers,
Tubed preamplifiers,
Digital-to-analog converters,
AXPONA 2013 - Part 3

I read too much, I think that’s fairly clear. Which might explain why, when a fire alarm goes off in a crowded hotel anywhere near Chicago, my first thought isn’t “grease fire over at Gibsons”. This was an audio show, but my first thought wasn’t “blown tube amp squirting jets of burning glass” either. No, my first thought was: "The building was on fire, and it wasn't my fault." I mean, it was Chicago, after all. I’d just finished re-reading all 13 books of Jim Butcher’s Dresden Files, so I guess I was primed for monsters and fireballs. And since I never got confirmation that there wasn’t a vampire barbeque happening somewhere off stage, I’m going to stick with my own little fantasy, thank you very much.

Aside from the unscheduled visit from our local fire department, the show went over like gangbusters. AXPONA’s Steve Davis says there were over 4,000 attendees, but that next year will be bigger. Stark contrast to the last couple of shows, but whatever was in the air (scorched demon?), it sure was working in Steve’s favor.

Moving on to the gear! Mytek Digital, Pass Labs and Sony loudspeakers have become something of a “regular thing” over the last year, and I for one, couldn’t be happier about the three-way. Ahem. Anyway, here at AXPONA was a new twist – DSD in the round. Three Mytek Digital Stereo 192 DACs ($1,595 each) wired in parallel, were feeding five Sony SS-AR2 loudspeakers ($10k each) and a pair of NA9 subwoofers, for some of the most electrifying audio at the show. A pair of Pass Labs X600.5 amplifiers, supplemented by a trio of 3 Lipinski monoblocks, drove the ping-ponging surriound sound deftly across all corners of my aural compass. That was some crazy stuff, right there. A USB hub connected all three DACs to a Windows computer running JRiver. JRiver “sees” all three DACS, which are automatically assigned channels, and with the right music, you’re done. You’re going to need a slightly more powerful (think Intel I7 cpu) computer than your run-of-the-mill playback machine if you decide to run down that route, so be aware. Some of the DSD surround files on hand included Mahler’s 1st Symphony, a 5.1-channel download from Channel Classics, music from Bluecoast Records, and some SACD rips, like Pink Floyd DSOTM and Dire Straits. For those of you stereo-only folks out there, I think I have the reason to go upgrade that “home-theater only” system you have out in the “other room”. Oh, yeah.

Pass Labs made another entry, surprising at least to me, in the Lowther America room, with an XP-20 preamplifier and an XP-25 phono preamp, facing a pair of First Watt SIT-1 monoblocks and shoveling current into a Lowther-based 3-way. Analog tape (a Technics 1500) sat side by side with an AVID turntable, all squarely sitting on a SolidSteel rack. Rich, immediate, Lowther – and solid state? Definitely not what I was expecting – where are the tubes?!? But I was told this: “Settle down, Beavis. These First Watt amps are amazing.” And guess what? They are. Heh heh. Heh heh. Heh heh.

What else was amazing? The Genesis Advanced Technologies 5.3 loudspeakers ($28,000/pair) over in the other Tweak Studio room! Here paired with Burmester electronics, the Genesis speakers have been a favorite of mine since I stumbled over them at RMAF in 2010. Arnold Martinez of Tweak Studio had a 911 Mk 3 amplifier ($31k) weighing down the bottom of the in the Burmester V3 audio rack ($4,995), matched to a Music Center 111 ($50,000), and a 100 phono with “full options” ($27,500). A Thorens TD 350 turntable with an SME M-2 tonearm ($7,200), mounted with a Magic Diamond cartridge by Blue Electric, upgraded by Peter Lederman of Soundsmith with a saphire cantlilever ($6,500). I got treated to sultry Montreal singer Anne Bisson on high-resolution audio files, vinyl, and live and in her own person (she’s really nice!). This system rocks, and rocks hard.

You’ll know Reinhard Goerner by the bandana – he’s never without it, it’s like a flag, shouting “hey – great sound over here!” Audio Physic, the brand Reinhard brings in, is a show-favorite of mine.  The in-room performance of the Virgo 25+ was extremely satisfying, with a grainless treble, a lovely, clear mid and ample (if not overpowering) bass. What’s not to like? And, as my wife would have put it – they look like speakers (as opposed to space ships, apparently). The “Plus” version here is a special edition, commemorating the company’s 25th anniversary, but I think that was just an excuse to tweak the performance even more. New posts, some new materials, trickle-down footers from the flagship Avanterra, and – ta da! -- a new speaker with better bass, detail and presence is on offer. Or so I’m told -- all I know is that it sounds great. Price starts at $18k. An Acoustic Signature Storm turntable ($7,500) with a Funk FXR tonearm ($2,995) were demoed with a Trigon Advance phono ($2,995) and a Grandinote Shinai class A, dual-mono, zero-feedback integrated ($16k). A Creaktive Audio-Line 1-4 Aktiv Plus ($2,200) audio rack held all the bits together.