AXPONA 2017: Digital Audio and Amplification (Part Two)

AXPONA 2017: Digital Audio and Amplification (Part Two)

Continuing my ‘beat’ covering digital audio and amplification (with an awful lot of loudspeakers, analogue sources, and cables thrown in for good measure), April’s AXPONA event in Chicago is fast becoming one of the main fixtures in the audio world, and is arguably becoming America’s most important audio show in the first half of every year. Given the former significance of CES in January, that’s saying a lot.

The advantage AXPONA holds over the mighty trade event is two-fold; it allows the public to gain access to the latest and greatest audio equipment, and – from a public relations perspective – means new products from audio brands do not get swamped by discussions of wearables, drones, and gadget central.

D Digital’s room was another example of how all-digital rig seems so simple next to the extraordinary analogue rooms. A pair of Mark Levinson No 536 mono’s ($30,000 pr) a Mark Levinson No 519 audio player ($20,000 and on my wish list to review) feeding the mighty Revel Ultima2 Salon2 4-way floor standing speakers ($22,000pr) all connected with a collection of WireWorld Platinum Eclipse and Electra speaker, interconnect and power cables. Simple and high performance. The sound was inspiring!

Superior Audio systems was previewing the new Conrad Johnson Classic 62 KT120 amp. Coming in at £4,750 this tube based beauty offers 60 wpc into 8 Ohms. Feeding the amp was the auranas SRV music server (yes, lower case a). This device has enterprise grade music file protection and can play virtually any bit rate or format of music file. Running off an intel i3-4130T 4th generation Haswell chip is a slim 395mm x 225mm x 40mm. The system was powering a pair of Vandersteen Treo’s so I felt right at home!

The Cardas room featured an all Zesto Audio system driven by the beguiling Eros 300 Monoblocks Class A power amp ($19,900 Pr) and Leto 1.5 Pre-amp ($7,500). Speakers were the Marten Coltrane Tenor’s ($80,000) The Merrill Williams Audio REAL 101.2 turntable ($7,200) with Benz Micro Gullwing SLR MC Cartridge ($3,600) fed the Zesto Andros Tessera tube phono stage ($12,000). Stillpoints Ultra 6 feet ($899 ea), ESS42-26-5 Rack and Cardas Audio cables completed the system. This was one of my top rooms for sound quality at the show. Clear three-dimensional sound with terrific detail made this room a bit of an audio oasis compared to many of the rooms that presented significant sonic challenges to the gear. An excellent job by all parties in this room.

Lars Kristensen of Raidho fame is always one of the friendliest exhibitors. Even on a last day of a show he is in a great mood. Of course, if you get to listen to systems of the quality he does you would likely have a smile all day too. The mighty Aavik C-300 digital pre-amp/DAC ($36,000) fed the Aavik M-300 monoblocks ($48,000 ea) into the Raidho D-1.1 stand mount speakers ($23,000). The system had incredible imaging and instrument placement. The dynamics of these stand mounts was amazing. After a few minutes of the typical audiophile music someone handed him a CD or Rammstein’s Mutter (German heavy metal!) and the system rocked out.

Fidelis Music Systems had a stealthy Digital aspect to their seemingly all analogue room. The Zero-Uno DAC Plus ($9995) is a tube based DAC that could have easily been mistaken for a Phono Pre. Music was sourced from an Aurender N10 server ($8,500 with 8TB) It was feeding files to the VAC Sigma 160i Special Edition 85wpc ($14,000 + $2,200 for MC phono stage). Speakers were the Diapason Adamantes III ($6,599 pr) speaker cables were 3 Meter Tellurium Q Black Diamonds ($4,200 pr) Also featured was the Acoustic Signature Ascona MK2 Turntable ($32,995) and Acoustic Signature 12” TA 9000 Tonearm ($17,995). I was impressed with the Adamantes III’s delivery from the VAC integrated. As a tube fan this was a fun and well-coordinated system.

ExaSound was premiering their e32 DSD 256/DXD 32 bit DAC ($3,499) and e38 Multi channel DAC ($3,849) alongside the high value PlayPoint network audio player ($1,999 with Roon installed). The PlayPoint and e32 were feeding a Parasound A21 power amp ($2,500). Speakers were the Magnepan 3.7i’s ($5,995pr). Talk about bang for your buck. This was a high-performance system for an all in $14,000 USD. If you are looking to go digital ExaSound needs to be on the short list.

Audio Research was being presented by Quintessence Audio on the 12th floor. The Sonus Faber Il’Cremonese speakers were filling the very large room being powered by the Reference 250 Monoblocks and fronted by the Reference line of DAC’s and Pre-amps. The new toys were the VT80 amplifier producing 75wpc running KT120’s ($7,500), the DAC9 ($7500), the LS28 Linestage ($7500) and the PH9 Phonostage ($7,500) making up the new Foundation series. Aesthetics were sharp and very Audio Research.

Another Quintessence room featured Simaudio Moon driving the new Dynaudio 60 speakers ($10,000pr) The 780D DAC/Streamer ($15,000), 850P Pre-amp ($30,000) and the 860A 200WPC amp ($15,000) provided great power and grip on the Dynaudio’s. This was another top room for me. I am a fan of Simaudio Moon gear and Dynaudio has a hit on its hands with the Model60’s.

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