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

The new line source loudspeakers from Newform Research were not what I was expecting. Not that I was expecting anything in particular. But I can’t remember the last time I saw a loudspeaker, even a prototype like the Coaxial Ribbon Line Source, line up the tweeter array in front of the mid/bass drivers. But that’s what they did. With the aid of an outboard DSP system, like what you’d find in a standard home theater preamp – or an audiophile quality room correction device like the DEQX HDP-4 ($5,495) as shown here – you can straightforwardly delay those tweeters to eliminate any time-domain issues. But lining them up this way does do something else – you create a true line source, and one that has “broad and even dispersion while at the same time minimizing diffraction and baffle bounce”. Okey, dokey, says me. All I can say is “it works”. Sound was seamless. Not sure about the durability or aesthetic, but sonically, I get it. Shown two different ways: a series of stacked monitors ($6,800) and as “No Holds Barred” tower ($11,400). An Onkyo TX-SR 818 ($1,300) drove the first; a pair of Wyred4Sound SX-500 and SX-1000 monoblocks drove the second.  Both showed with Atak Sub 12 subwoofers ($1,680) to round out the system.


The second “Sony room” featured a pair of the big SS-AR1 ($27k/pair) loudspeakers everyone – myself included – is enamored of. I overheard an exhibitor offer up the following to a puzzled attendee who was asking about “how audiophile Sony really is” – they said, “every ten years or so, Sony goes on a tear and puts out a series of statement-level audio products if for no other reason than to show that it can”. As good a reason as I’ve ever heard for banging out some quality gear, and the SS-AR1 are outstanding. In something of a departure (at least from my expectations), Hegel Audio was the pairing in this room, and here I found the new Hegel P20 preamplifier ($2,900) and the new 32bit HD25 DAC ($2,500) that I first met back at CES in January. The matching H20 stereo amplifier ($5,750), along with the CDP2a disc spinner ($2,650), rounded out the set and all but the DAC wore silver. Hegel, as a brand, has been deadly serious about offering some seriously high-performance gear for high-value pricing – and I can’t be happier about it. A Rega RP6 ($2,500) was paired with a Manley Labs Chinook phono pre ($2,250) for the analog front-end, but it wasn’t playing on my way through. Also unexpected was the über-cabling from Nordost’s flagship Odin line … [insert head-scratching here]. Okay … looks like I had just missed a demo? Anyway, the sound in here would translate really well into my listening room, I’m quite sure, thanks for asking. Hello? Buehler?

Vapor Audio was showing off a pair of stand-mount Cirrus Black monitors ($3,995/pair) when I strolled through – or attempted to, as this room was standing room only. The base-level Cirrus Black features a RAAL tweeter mated to a custom 7” AudioTechnology C-Quenze mid/bass driver in a uniquely shaped cabinet that’s available in a variety of veneers (shown here in an unfortunately yellow and orange) and with a blizzard of upgrade options. Hard to say how the sound was from my position off-axis, but the crowd seemed to be thoroughly digging it. The Due Volte, an 805-based SET monoblock ($5,500) from Arte Forma Audio, with a tube-based Thalia preamplifier ($2,250), and a BMC Audio DAC with an Antipodes computer audio server, rounded out the system.

The Wharfedale Jade 5 ($3,199/pair) was shown with electronics from Marantz and AVID, and this was one of those demos that made me wonder if I’ve overspent on my high-end rig. Everyone talks about how the price/performance curve hits a knee after which you pay an arm and a leg for tiny increments in performance. What I am coming to learn is that the knee happens a bit lower on the pricing scale than many of us believe. Ahem. So … the three-way Jade sports a quartet of aluminum drivers with a laminated cabinet and puts out a very respectable bass extension. The match with Marantz was inspired – shown here with the 90wpc PM-15S2B Limited ($2,499) and the matching SA-152SB Limited ($1,999) SACD player. Rich, smooth, powerful – and under $10k, out the door? Hello, baby!

Meridian makes fine sounding speakers, it’s true, but I think that of late, when I think “Meridian”, I’m thinking “technology”. Case in point is the Explorer ($299), a 24bit/192kHz portable USB DAC. It’s about the size of a cigarette lighter – remember those? It has a headphone jack, an on-board volume control, and a combo analog/Toslink output rather similar to what you find in an iPhone. It’s pretty slick. Back in November, Meridian announced some upgrades, such as “improved linear power supplies, DSP algorithms and new filter designs” to a broad swath of products, including the DSP7200 loudspeakers ($38k/pair). Owners of existing products may be able to upgrade. I’ve been a fan of the speakers for years – they’re attractive and sound great. Contrary to industry norms, pretty much everything you’d need is built into the speaker – you know, stuff like the DAC and the amps. Helpful things. An external controller is all you need to feed your ears pretty music. The idea is compelling, especially if you’re a put off by how complicated a hi-fi system can get, and I have to tell you, simply “networking” your speakers with some flat-wire CAT-5 cabling run under the carpet – and that’s it – sounds a little bit like audio heaven.

Mark Conti was on hand demoing Veloce Audio’s latest, the Veloce Audio LS1 preamplifier ($18,000) Saetta monoblocks ($18,000/pair). Veloce has been working on battery-powered/off-the-grid technology for years now, to no little acclaim. The Saetta monoblocks, which have been in the pipeline now for about 3 years, seem very close to release – orders are in, the final design is done, they’re just waiting on sheet metal. Very exciting! Especially given what I heard coming out of the YG Acoustic Carmel loudspeakers ($18k/pair), from the Accuphase DP-550 ($17,500). Best I’ve heard Veloce? Maybe, yes. This was intoxication, folks. A knockout demo.

Next up was more Sony – and yet again, another Nordost demo that I missed. Thems the breaks, but I wasn’t put off – the new Sony SS-NA2ES ($10k/pair) are quite a treat. The triple-tweeter setup is called I-Array, is crossed over at 4kHz, and consists of three drivers – that much is fairly clear. What’s not is how those three tweeters work together to create the “wide dispersion and ambience of original recordings without adding any unnatural artifacts to the sound.” Arranged in small-big-small configuration, the three are apparently fed the same signal, and yet there’s no combing I could hear – the top end on this speaker is very natural and non-fatiguing. Rated at 45Hz-45kHz, with a 4Ω Impedance and a 90dB/wm sensitivity equals a tidy little package. Definitely in line sonically with the rest of the Sony lineup, which means, surprisingly good. I mean, it’s Sony, right? Yeah. “Just because they can” indeed. Whatever the reason for it, I think it’s a welcome addition to the segment. Good on ya, Sony. Matched here with a 250Wpc Hegel H300 integrated ($5,500) and a Hegel CDP4A CD player ($4,000). A Rega P3 and Manley Labs Steelhead phono preamp were also in the rack, but I didn’t get a chance to hear those. Nordost connected everything, including Blue Heaven LS signal and power cables, a Qb8 distribution system ($1,399) festooned with two QV2 AC Line Harmonizers ($350 each), and a QX4 Electro-Magnetic Field Stabilizer ($2699) that sat in the rack.