Robert Harley on AXPONA Chicago

Show report
Solid-state power amplifiers,
Tubed power amplifiers,
Solid-state preamplifiers,
Tubed preamplifiers,
Digital-to-analog converters,
Robert Harley on AXPONA Chicago

The biggest thrill for me at AXPONA was hearing analog tape via the United Home Audio Phase 11 tape machine driving an MBL Reference Line system with MBL 101e loudspeakers. MBL’s Jeremy Bryan never fails to get spectacular sound at shows, but the analog tape put this experience over the top. The tape had a “physicality” of dynamics and weight that’s simply missing from digital and even the best LP. Dynamic peaks are also reproduced very differently from tape, which goes loud with ease and grace. These qualities were also apparent in a second room that featured MBL’s 116f speakers driven by a new monoblock from Jolida called the Luxor. The two-chassis (per side) Luxor features four EL34 output tubes that can develop 100W. The Luxor will be manufactured in the U.S. when production starts this summer. The estimated price is $12,000 per pair. The Luxor is a decidedly upmarket move for the budget-oriented Jolida.

Sony demonstrated its top-of-the-line SS-AR1 loudspeaker ($27,000) with Hegel electronics, and the result was one of the show’s better sounds. Even with standard-resolution digital, the SS-AR1 came alive on female vocals, sounding extremely open and neutral. In fact, this is the best showing of the SS-AR1 I’ve heard.

Albert Von Schweikert launched his most ambitious loudspeaker yet, the $140,000 VR100xs. Although perhaps a little underpowered by the 25W Kronzilla tubed amplifier (but with Channel Islands Audio switching amplifiers driving the outboard subwoofers), the VR100 sounded a little thick on the first hour of the first day. But going back for a second listen, the VR100xs produced one of the show’s best sounds—big, spacious, tonally pure, and wide in bandwidth.

The big TAD Reference-1 loudspeakers sounded amazingly lifelike driven by Lamm ML2.2 solid-state amplifiers and sourced with another United Home Audio open-reel tape machine playing the amazingly present and realistic-sounding tapes from Jonathan Horwich’s International Phonograph. The sound had a decidedly “studio-monitor” feel.

I’d have to say that the show’s best sound was the room of retailer The Voice That Is. It featured the Tidal Piano Diacera loudspeakers ($37,690) driven by the 300Wpc Vitus RS-100 amplifier ($13,500), the new Vitus RD-100 DAC ($14,000), and the Aurender S10 music server. Cabling was all Purist Audio Design, and the equipment was on a Stillpoints rack. The sound was texturally luscious yet resolved, expansive, and dynamic. Although not as “big” sounding as some of the mega systems in the large rooms, this system was extremely involving.

Another great sound was produced by the YG Acoustics Carmel loudspeaker ($18,000) driven by Veloce electronics, including their unusual hybrid tube/Class D power amplifiers. The front end was a new Accuphase DP-550 CD/SACD player ($17,500) that can also play DSD files directly from a DVD-R. Cables were by Kubala-Sosna.

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