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AXPONA 2024: Andre Jennings on Analog and Digital Sources

08-AJ-Aida-JSikora

Topping 10,000 attendees, with 391 to spare, AXPONA had its biggest showing yet. People of all ages came to this year’s show in ample numbers from 42 states and 31 countries. The show exhibit had many longstanding products as well as a remarkably high number of newly introduced ones in every category. My beat was source components. Yeah, there is a source component in every room unless the display is static, and even then, there could be one included. So, to offset the inevitable impossibility of one person covering all 202 exhibit rooms, I mostly prioritized newly introduced products. As always with a show this large, I certainly missed some brands but, at this point, it is understood by most readers that there is a physical limit to what can be covered. With that said, let us see what I found.

Most Significant

01-AJ-Kalista-Mantax
Kalista Mantax DAC
Kalista Mantax DAC

From the mind of Kalista’s Jean-Marie Clauzel comes the Dreamplay Mantax DAC ($64,300). While the inputs of this DAC can support multiple digital sources (SPDIF, AES/EBU, TosLink, I2S, and USB), the optimal connection for the Mantax to the Dreamplay X/XC is I2S. The unit comes in two chassis (the DAC and a separate power supply). Inside the DAC are two main PC boards (the D/A output-stage board and the digital-input board). The output board contains a user selectable ESS DAC or AKM DAC as well as the choice of tube or solid-state output. The display gives full menu access and there is a remote control for from-the-seat selections. Sonically, in a system of Karan Acoustics electronics, and Vimberg speakers, the Dreamplay Mantax system sounds liquid and refined: arguably one of the most inviting digital playback systems at AXPONA.

02-AJ-Thiele-TT
Thiele TT01 Turntable w/ TA01 Tonearm
Thiele TT-01 Turntable w/ TA-01 Tonearm and Active suspension platform

Thiele introduced the TT-01 Turntable with TA-01 Tonearm ($28,000) and active suspension platform ($18,000). A platter mat ($230) and damping weight ($1000) rounded out the Thiele offerings. The table has three levels of constrained-layer damping, with the drive motor and controller on the lower level, the armboard/tonearm on the center level, and the platter/bearing on the top level. The bearing uses a ceramic ball with bearing grease designed to give a slight bit of drag for the motor system. The platter is a form of horizontal constrained-layer damping using a subplatter, acrylic disc, and metal outer ring. The TA-01 tonearm mount consists of a center ceramic ball secured to the armboard by four screws in a parallelogram arrangement to form a 5-point mount. The arm itself is a pivoted linear-tracking design that is said to have less than 0.036 degrees of error. The armtube is a double-walled design filled with a gel to provide resonance damping. The operational feel is good as was the sound of this analog system playing music. Finally, there is the active suspension system that monitors vibration and actively cancels it from below as well as any airborne or mechanical vibrations from above. The system is said to have no digital latency/delay since the isolation function is entirely analog. In the same system as the Kalista digital front-end listed above, the Thiele TT/arm combination proved to sound excellent. Look for a review in a future issue of TAS.

03-AJ-AAD-TP1000
Analog Audio Design TP-1000
Analog Audio Design TP-1000

Pro Sound Ltd. showed the Analog Audio Design TP-1000 tape deck ($27,000, reviewed by JV in TAS 350). The TP-1000 is a new tape deck built from the ground up that will play back 2-track (½-track) ¼” 7.5ips and 15ips tapes. The unit features a remote control and LCD touchscreen display that allows access to all set-up and configuration options, as well as a headphone output. Operation and playback using the deck is smooth and seem intuitive. Listening to 15ips sample cuts from Horch House (Yello’s Stella, Hans Theessink, and Monty Alexander) were delightfully entertaining.

04-AJ-Soulution-757
Soulution 757 Deemphasis Preamplifier
Soulution 757 Deemphasis Preamplifier

The Soulution 757 Deemphasis preamplifier ($84,975) was in the playback system in the AXISS Audio room. What is a deemphasis preamplifier? It’s a phonostage for moving-magnet and moving-coil cartridges that also provides power and equalization for DS Audio optical cartridges. If that weren’t enough, the 757 also provides equalization for direct tape head connection from a tape deck. In this system, the 757 was equalizing a DS Audio Grand Master EX cartridge mounted on a Transrotor tonearm and table. The Soulution 727 preamp and 511 mono amps rounded out the electronics that sent the signal to the Gauder Akustik DARC 250 Mk II loudspeakers. The sound produced from my Basie LP was resolved, while RLJ’s “We Belong Together” was studded with drive and dynamics. There will be a review in a future issue of TAS.

05-AJ-Bellson-Brilliance
Bellson Brilliance Phonostage
Bellson Brilliance Phonostage

Bellson introduced its two-input Brilliance phonostage ($8500) that features a Wi-Fi remote-control app where the user selects one of two inputs, cartridge type (mm/mc), loading, and gain. The unit features no coupling capacitors in the signal path and is DC servo-controlled, uses high-bandwidth discrete op-amps and Class A outputs. The sound produced from the demo system of Acoustic Signature, Ortofon, VAC, Clarisys Audio, and Nordost showed promising performance at its price point.

Auspicious Debuts

06-AJ-SAT-UHA-Lampi
UHA Apollo, Lampizator Poseidon, SAT XD1 w/CF1-09Ti
UHA Ultima Apollo, Lampizator Poseidon, SAT XD1 w/CF1-09Ti

UHA introduced the Apollo tape deck ($55,000) with as much trickle-down technology from the top-tier SuperDeck that could fit into the standard TASCAM BR20 physical chassis the units are based on. The sonic improvements come from changes that encompass a new improved tape playback equalizer and beefed-up supply voltage regulation needed to feed the circuit; the UHA outboard AC-to-DC power unit is required and supplied with the deck.

Like UHA, Lampizator embarked on a similar path of creating a DAC that is one-tier-down from its top-line Horizon with the intent of providing a product that gets as close as possible to its flagship at a more affordable price. The Poseidon ($25,500) has Horizon-like input and remote-switching/volume control features, as well as a new OLED display.

In the same room, SAT displayed its XD1 TT for the first time at a U.S. audio show, along with the CF1-09Ti tonearm ($307,500 TT/arm) holding a Lyra Atlas Lambda cartridge. The table uses a sophisticated Technics motor and controller with many enhancements incased in a substantial yet component-rack-friendly footprint. The table has isolation features via a custom Minus K Technology platform and additional isolation/damping in its trio of support feet.

The sound from all three devices (UHA, SAT, and Lampizator) was in line with expected performance at their high-end price points. They provided the system of VAC electronics and Acora loudspeakers linked by Cardas cables with enjoyable musical sources that certainly filled the highly voluminous exhibit space with good sound. I also had a slightly similar listening experience with the Lampizator Poseidon in the room with Von Schweikert VR55 SE speakers driven by WestminsterLab electronics.

07-AJ-Clearaudio-MasterJubilee
Clearaudio Master Jubilee turntable
Clearaudio Master Jubilee turntable with 10″ Unity tonearm

Clearaudio introduced its Master Jubilee turntable with 10″ Unity tonearm ($60,000). The Master Jubilee is a 45th anniversary, limited edition record spinner in the form of the Reference Jubilee with additional tweaks. With a larger platter and stainless-steel flywheel sitting atop its magnetically levitated bearing and magnetically stabilized Unity tonearm, the Master Jubilee is one eye-catching record player.

Clearaudio Signature turntable w/Signature Carbon Black tonearm

On the more affordable front, Clearaudio’s Signature turntable w/Signature Carbon Black tonearm ($4000) made its debut. As an exclusive U.S. market item, the Signature integrates technology from the Concept Signature and the Master Jubilee and is equipped with an external Professional Power 12-volt linear power supply.

In Other News

08-AJ-Aida-JSikora
Aida Mammoth Gold, J.Sikora

At this show, we listened to a limited-edition cartridge made from mammoth tusk (the Aida Mammoth Gold, $10,450) mounted to the tonearm on a J.Sikora 15th Anniversary Standard MAX turntable ($47,000) feeding a bespoke custom Doshi Audio EVO phonostage ($35,995+) and electronics powering Joseph Audio’s new Pearl Graphene Ultra loudspeakers in a system wired with Cardas cables. Playing RLJ’s “We Belong Together” produced good dynamics and drive.

Soulution updated its 3 Series components and showed second-generation versions at this year’s AXPONA. Among the ones in my category were the new 350 phonostage ($21,975) and 360 DAC ($24,975). The new line is said to have updated circuitry derived from the 5 and 7 Series electronics.

On the DAC/streamer front, Ideon showed its Absolute Epsilon Meta DAC in a configuration with its streamer and clock in a JMF/Stenheim-based system. Cambridge Audio showed its new CXN100 Network Player ($1099) with LCD color display connected to a new integrated amplifier from the same company. A brief listen to some already streaming Daft Punk was promising at that price point. Grimm showed a working version of the MU2 streamer/DAC ($17,500) that was on static display at last year’s AXPONA. Accuphase showed its refreshed CD/SACD Player/DAC, the DP-770 ($26,575). Luxman’s new NT-07 Streaming Network Transport ($7495) made its debut in an all-Luxman system feeding Magico S3 2023 speakers. InnuosPulsar was shown with a prototype I2S output they are developing. The Pulsar’s I2S output fed a Lampizator DAC with Soulution electronics and Rockport speakers.

The AMG turntable introduced last year gained a wood body (called the AMG Giro Wood MKII w/9w2 tonearm, $13,500). Rega showed its new up-priced Naia turntable ($12,995) that takes technology from the bespoke Naiad concept turntable and transfers it to Rega’s most ambitious and advanced production model yet. Metaxas & Sins displayed the Tourbillion T-RX tape deck ($49,000) and its new to the US market Perambulator turntable ($29,000) with an all-titanium Combobulator tonearm ($8000). Transrotor introduced the new Bellini TMD turntable ($6495) and 9″ Studio tonearm ($5595). Atoll showed a very affordable dual-mono discrete Class A phonostage (PH200, $1600). Auris had the new lower-cost belt-drive Mystik turntable ($999) on display in the Expo Hall. Luxman’s prototype E-07 phonostage ($TBD) made a showing. Zesto Audio had its new Andros Spirit phonostage ($2997) on static display. Brinkmann showed its new TraNt turntable power supply ($3490) connected to the Taurus that is said to up performance and get the combo closer to Brinkmann’s top-of-the-line RoNt III power supply. Finally, DS Audio showed the new E3 ($2750) optical cartridge/equalizer system, DS’ lowest-priced entry-point offering yet.

AJ’s Best of Show:

Best Sound (cost no object)

Gauder Akustik DARC 250 Mk II/Soulution/Transrotor in the Axiss Audio room produced resolute sound and Stenheim Ultime Two SX/VTL/Nordost in the Nordost room produced dynamic sound in a large space.

Best Sound (for the money)

Clearaudio Signature turntable w/Signature Carbon Black tonearm

Most Significant Product Introduction

Soulution 757 Deemphasis Preamplifier

Most Significant Trend

The increased variety of age-based interest in show attendees

Most Coveted Product

Thiele TT-01 turntable with TA-01 tonearm and Active suspension platform.

Tags: ANALOG AXPONA DIGITAL SHOW REPORT SOURCE

Andre Jennings

By Andre Jennings

My professional career has spanned 30+ years in electronics engineering. Some of the interesting products I’ve been involved with include Cellular Digital Packet Data modems, automotive ignition-interlock systems, military force protection/communications systems, and thrust-vector controls for space launch vehicles.

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