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

Audioengine has been cranking out some extraordinary desktop audio products for forever (okay, maybe not forever), and they’re still my default recommendation for anyone looking to bootstrap their computer into 21st century audio. The A2+ ($249/pair) is their latest in microaudio. It includes an integrated DAC with a volume control—all you need to add is the computer! They’re tiny, too—you can stick ‘em right in the briefcase, so no worries about your fellow cube-rats walking off with ‘em. Should be available soon.

D&M were on hand to show off some new bits from the audio mothership, including the really hot looking Marantz NA-11S1 network audio player ($3,500) from the refreshed “Reference” line. While I miss the champagne-colored chassis that marked that line, the new streamer has big chunky buttons and weighs more than my dog. Pandora, Spotify and SiriusXM are handled directly from the Internet, while computers can be attached directly via USB or remotely via Ethernet (Bluetooth and Wi-Fi require add-ons). According to the folks manning the room, the NA-11S1 has pretty much the same guts as the their flagship SACD player (SA-11S3, also $3,500), minus the transport of course. I asked when or if Marantz actually plans to ship a single box with the transport and all the fancy networking features that the streamer has, but I only got a shrug. Oh well. Shipping on the streamer begins soon.

To hear the Forum Folk tell it, Salk Sound and AVA never get “mainstream” coverage; covering it here will likely annoy a great many folks. I like that. I got to hear both the Song Tower ($3,495) and the Soundscape 8 ($7,995) at AXPONA, and not surprisingly, I was quite taken with the latter, which featured a slightly offset RAAL tweeter, an Accuton mid-range driver and a pile of 8” drivers. Big, powerful sound in a suboptimal setup, and on balance, it was really quite good. Audio by Van Alstine gear filled out the audio rack, including a FETValve hybrid DAC ($2,499), with an Oppo player and a Salk StreamPlayer feeding it. A FET Valve hybrid preamplifier ($2,499), Transcendence 8+ vacuum tube preamp ($1,299), an ABX switcher (a remotely switchable comparison unit with support for up to 2 pre, 2 power amps, 3 sets of speakers with or without subwoofers with 1/10th dB volume matching and a “double blind test mode” -- $1,500), a Synergy 450 ($1,999) for 220wpc, a pair of FET Valve 600R amplifiers ($3,499), filled the lower half. A Humdinger (10amps, $125), used to remove DC-offset from the AC line, was wired inline, behind the rack.

The Monitor 2 from Soundfield Audio ($1,800/pair) was another pleasant surprise for me, and AJ was beaming the entire time we cranked through an impromtu tour of 80s and 90s rock, settling on some Alice in Chains and just going to town. The new Monitor 2 features all-new drivers for AJ, a horn-loaded compression mid-range driver, a conventional bass driver and a little-bitty super-tweeter, working in concert to create perfect waves of measured flatness across the band. I’d love to hear it in more congenial environs, with some serious room treatments, as the Monitor 2 was certainly lighting up the room. More info coming soon as AJ finalizes the package. MG Audio Designs awesome new, huge, flat, yes-it-really-is-a-ribbon Planus III speaker cables sprang out the back of the Belles Audio Power Modules amplifier.

The Harbeth 30.1 ($5,995/pair) loudspeakers are simply lovely, both in looks and sound, here driven by Rogue Audio’s new Sphinx ($1,295). I should have known better, but I was taken aback. This was a very nice combo! A ClearAudio Performance DC turntable ($3,000 with the Verify carbon fiber tonearm) was connected to a Rogue Ares phono preamp ($1,995). Earlier (and later in the show), the Ares connected to a reference Hera preamplifier ($8,995) and a pair of M-180 monoblocks ($5,995), but on my tour through, the Sphinx was standing in for those. As for the sound, I sat down with an amiable Mark O’Brien, and was completely fooled—I could have sworn it was the reference gear playing. The Sphinx is 100wpc tube-hybrid Class-D amp and very definitely worth a look.

Newcomer Sonic Hemisphere had a pair of their loudspeakers on display, the Fidelity One ($5,750/pair), a 3-way/6ohm floor-standing model, and the Fidelity Monitor ($1,925/pair), a stand-mounted 2-way. I was quite taken with the former, and stopped by several times to hear the big guy get handled by the pair of Clayton Audio monoblocks. Great first offering, here!