AXPONA 2013 - Part 4

Show report
Solid-state power amplifiers,
Tubed power amplifiers,
Solid-state preamplifiers,
Tubed preamplifiers,
Digital-to-analog converters,
AXPONA 2013 - Part 4

For a vendor, an audio show is an expensive thing. There’s several thousand dollars they put out for the demo space, there’s the shipping and handling, the room and board, and the opportunity costs associated with doing the show and not doing something else. It’s not insignificant—and this is repeated for every show they do. If you see anyone on “the circuit” more than once in a year and you know they’re laying out serious cash. And that’s just one of the reasons why I feel bad for not taking a few minutes to at least acknowledge their investment in a show report. In some ways, it’s the least I can do. That said, I still don’t always make it through the list. Perhaps there are too many rooms, or there are too many people, or I’m just too lazy—take your pick. But the upshot is that I feel guilty about missing rooms. So, apologies to the Transmission Audio, Blue Circle, Sonus Faber and ARC, April Music, Classic Audio, Linn Audio, Bigston, Don Keele, and any other room I might have been unable to spend time in. Mea culpa.

In his coverage, Robert Harley talked about the two Promusica rooms featuring Dynaudio/Naim combos. As he mentioned, these rooms sounded remarkable—but I was struck with how remarkably similar they were. Which makes sense – you know, family resemblances and all that, but to pick one out, the sound coming from the larger Confidence C-2 Signature (starting at $13,500) was extraordinary. See Robert’s comments for more details.

Rega is celebrating their 40th birthday this year, a birthday I remember with some fondness, and I for one am happy that Rega is making us all a gift of their new RP-8 ($3,490, including arm and Exact cartridge). The design is minimalist and modern—and altogether sexy. Played through a Rega Brio R integrated amp ($895), and Rega RS3 floor-standing speakers ($1,395/pair), the sound was far better than the price tag suggests. Affordable audio rules!

I thought the made-in-Ohio JansZen ZA2.1 ESL loudspeakers ($7,495/pair) each with their own Bryston Power Pac 250 amp ($2,350) bolted to their tail, were really interesting. A sealed enclosure with dual 7” drivers crossed over at 500Hz, with a dual ESL panel for the rest of the band, the configuration is a “controlled dispersion” arrangement with rather limited horizontal and vertical dispersion. Settling down into the listening position was like sitting in the optometrist’s chair when the “right” prescription finally clicks into the machine he’s got you peering through. And—snap. Suddenly, the sound was fast, punchy, and detailed. The made-in-Toronto exaSound DAC does have a built-in digital volume control, so that explains its use here as a preamp. The e20 ($2,495) is capable of 32bit/384kHz and double-DSD resolution/sampling over USB—and it has a headphone output.

The Leonardo Model 8 loudspeaker ($65k/pair) uses a push-pull ribbon-planar arrangement to move the air. It’s neat. And it was set up here with no toe-in and only about a foot off the sidewall. Not what you’d think would be an ideal setup, would you? Well, it was working! The speakers were paired with some truly posh-looking Art Deco styled 50TNT 50wpc monoblocks from Audio Power Labs ($47,500/pair). Laufer Teknik’s Memory Player 64 music server was used as a DAC and preamp ($17,500 base price) and Kaplan power cords with High Fidelity Cables CT-1 Ultimate signal cables rounded out the setup. A happy discovery, this room; the sound was extremely clear and coherent. I went in with a smile and left with a grin….

When I walked into the Music Hall demo room, Roy Hall was pouring drinks and talking smack, so feeling full of myself, I knew I was in the right place for an attitude adjustment. Being press, I was promptly demoted to He Who Aspires To Pond Scum, and while I was shown about the place, thoughts of “long, shallow money trenches” kept bouncing around my bat-addled brain. Roy was showing off a pile of new, reasonably priced, bits, including the new Ikura turntable ($TBD, will ship with tonearm and cart) with a white plinth and a Music Hall cork mat. Marimba bookshelf speakers ($349/pair) were plopped on stands, bracketing a rack filled with a Creek Evo 50a integrated amp ($1,195), an outboard Creek OBH-15Mk2 phono pre ($599) and a Music Hall DAC 15.2 ($299). The music was turned companionably low for the late afternoon crowd, so I didn’t get to make much of it, but Roy did offer me a shot, and when he didn’t immediate reach for his concealed carry, I considered it something of a victory.