AXPONA Chicago 2013

My Kind of Town

Show report
Solid-state power amplifiers,
Tubed power amplifiers,
Tubed preamplifiers,
Disc players,
Digital-to-analog converters,
AXPONA Chicago 2013

As good as all these speakers were—and they were superior—four exhibits struck me as exceptional: the TAD Reference 1s driven by Lamm electronics (and sourced by United Home Audio’s UHA-HQ Phase 11 reel-to-reel tape deck), the YG Acoustics Carmels driven by Veloce electronics, the Audio Physic Virgo 25s driven by Trigon, and, well, we’ll get to the fourth in a moment.

The TAD Ref 1s are one of the great loudspeakers—and almost always impressive at shows. Here, playing back Jonathan Horwich’s 15ips, two-track tapes of Chicagoland jazz combos—they were awesome. Nothing else I've heard in the high end combines the sheer grip and wallop of these superb transducers.

The dainty two-way floorstanding Carmels simply made the best impression of any YG speaker since the giant Sonjas at CES—wonderful integration of drivers, wonderful tone color, seemingly unrestricted dynamics (which wasn’t always the case with smaller YGs), super resolution (a house specialty), a thoroughgoing disappearing act, and an impression of deep-going bass that belied their size and form factor.

Though the Audio Physic Virgo 25 multiway floorstanders have always sounded terrific (at least as Reinhard Goerner sets them up), here they came within a hair (as did the other two top contenders) of winning my Best of Show award. In spite of their demure size the Virgo 25s seemingly lack for nothing in frequency response, tone color, resolution, and dynamic range—plus they soundstage like the dickens.

My fourth pick for exceptional sound happens to be a speaker from a company that, in the past, hasn’t overly impressed me—TIDAL (see the photo at the start of this blog). Maybe it was the Vitus electronics or maybe it was David White’s expert setup or maybe it was that Chicago mojo, but here the gorgeous two-and-a-half-way Piano Diaceras, with their black Accuton ceramic mid/woofs and black Accuton diamond tweeter, were downright breathtaking—incredibly high in resolution, incredibly subtle and powerful in dynamics (sensational on a cello and piano sonata), incredibly gorgeous in tone color, and very realistic. Though their three rivals were also outstanding (as were the Big Boys on the bottom floors), the TIDALs simply won my heart—and my Best of Show award.

Having said this, the Best Source of the show wasn’t in the TIDAL room. As Robert will tell you (and as I’ve already written about—see, Greg Beron’s 15ips, two-track United Home Audio UHA-HQ Phase 11 tape deck—which was found in a surprising number of rooms at this show—simply cannot be touched by vinyl or digital sources, no matter how good or how self-proclaimedly “HD” they are.

On Saturday night, after hours, Robert got to experience what I’d already heard—a dub of the mastertape of Sgt Pepper, here played back via Beron’s masterpiece on mbl 101 E Mk II and MBL electronics. Folks, there are bound to be naysayers out there, who not having had this experience will think I’m just an old Luddite going nuts about a technology that time has long since passed by. But trust me (please): There is nothing more astonishing and satisfying and downright thrilling than hearing a great piece of music in a less-than-great recording transformed into a you-are-there-in-the-studio sonic experience of the very first order. This is what Beron’s tape machine (and other reel-to-reels) is capable of with Sgt Pepper (or any mastertape).

Those of you interested in seeing larger photographs of all of the products mentioned in this blog (and many, many others), go to

Best of Show System: TIDAL Audio Piano Diacera Speakers ($37,690 in Midnight Gloss Black finish); Vitus RD-100 DAC ($14,000), Vitus RS-100 Stereo Amp ($13,500); Purist Audio Design Corvus Cables; Aurender S10 Music Server ($6990); StillPoints Rack

Best Source: United Home Audio UHA-HQ Phase 11 two-track, 15ips tape deck ($17,000-$22,000)

Best Introduction: Von Schweikert VR100 XS ($140,000)

Most Interesting Product: Newform Research LineSource Reference