Editor's Note: Due to unforeseen circumstances, our AXPONA coverage arrived at about the same time we were coming in to land in Munich for the High-End show there. Our coverage of Munich will roll out over the next few days. Our apologies for any confusion caused.
Steve Davis was smiling. The doors had just opened on his latest AXPONA (Audio Expo of North America) in Chicago and the registration desk was mobbed. 83 degrees Fahrenheit on a sunny spring morning and thousands of audio enthusiasts were going indoors to spend a part of their weekend listening to a record 400 exhibitors. How many people? Nearly 6000 over the three-day event, an increase of 16% over the previous year’s show! They came to browse and to experience the 111 rooms of gear featuring over 70 new product releases starting with the new Wilson Audio ALEXX speakers coming in at $109,000 USD. The show also featured several live concerts, the Ear Gear headphone expo, several technology seminars and a Marketplace where you could browse hundreds of vinyl albums, CD’s and SACD’s. If you are in any way into audio, there was something for you to enjoy. As the sole representative for HiFi+ I am going to highlight several rooms that I found particularly interesting throughout the weekend.
Jeff Wells builds fantastic amps. His Headtrip headphone amp is one of the very best Solid State amps available and his Innamorata flagship amp ($15,000 USD Located elsewhere at Axpona) is an exceptional performer. Located in the Sherman room Jeff set up shop with his new Majestic integrated amplifier ($3,499 USD) and a yet to be named brand new 3-way speaker from Salk ($2,895 USD). Sourcing was the Salk Streamplayer Generation II Mini ($1,195 USD) a Lampizator Amber DSD/PCM DAC ($2,300 USD) connected with Dana Cables ($395 - $1,300 USD) and Gingko Audio’s Platformula rack ($1950 USD) and Semi cloud ($169). The sound was effortless and engaging even though the new Salk speakers had exactly 2 hours of break in when I sat down. This was a truly high value room!
The MBL room was the top of the food chain room at Axpona for sheer scale. The total value coming in somewhere just north or $750,000 USD (Speakers and amps alone were $475,000) Also included were the 6010D Pre-amp, a 1611 DAC and the 1621 CD Transport. A United Home Audio ¼” reel to reel tape deck also provided source material. Cables were supplied by Wireworld, Shun Mook and Siltech. At an after-hours party Friday night, they put on a tape of Kenny Loggins and his band playing at an outdoor venue. The scale and dimensionality of the soundstage was immersive and breathtaking. This was a stadium experience writ large!
NAIM brought the big toys utilizing their Statement S1 Preamp & S1 Mono Amps ($270,000 USD) as well as their NDS Network player ($13,000 USD), UnitiServe SSD Hard Disk Player/Ripper/Server ($4,600 USD), 555 PS Power Supply for the NDS ($11,500 USD), Lumina interconnects ($3,200 USD) Lumina speaker wire ($1,000 per meter) supplying the imposing Dynaudio Evidence Platinum speakers ($82,000 USD) Throwing on some Led Zeppelin I had the band in life sized glory all to myself. If you have the room (and the bank account) the staging was impressive!
The Marketplace area offered many companies showing their latest in a booth style environment. Bill Hutchins from LKV Research brought his Veros One Phono Pre ($6,500 USD). Fully balanced, dual mono, fully differential and Zero feedback, it offers an incredible array of loading options. Bill will set it for you if you tell him your cartridge. If you are not familiar with LKV Research let this be an introduction to a significant player in the Phono Pre market.
Three years in the making the new Woo Audio WA8 Eclipse transportable tube based Headphone Amp/DAC brings Woo Audio’s class leading tube headphone tech to a portable form. The WA8 can drive most any headphone and has between four and seven hours of battery life depending on volume. Available in Gold ($1,899 USD), Black or Silver ($1,799 USD). I have listened to the entire Woo Audio lineup with many different headphones and this device upholds their high standards in an amazingly small form factor.
Dan D’Agostino and Bill McKiegan were showing off the new Progression Mono amps which produce 800W into 8 Ohms ($39,000 a pair USD) with Paragon Sight and Sound. They were paired with a Momentum Preamp ($35,000 USD) and the Momentum Phono Pre ($28,000 USD). Also on hand was a dCS Rossini CD player ($28, 499 USD). Turntable was a Brinkmann Audio Spyder with PI cartridge ($19,980 USD). The entire system was being powered by the Stromtank ($30,000 USD) battery powered power system created by Wolfgang Meletzky of MBL fame. The Stromtank is so formidable it can run this system for several hours without recharging. Pure regulated power for your high end system. It was a wonderful presentation throwing a wide accurate soundstage.