Audio Discourse Show Reports

Audio Oasis Awards AXPONA 2019

With help on room lists from PF Senior Editor Myles Astor

David W. Robinson, Munich 2018 (photograph by Wojtek Pacula)

A look backwards, and AXPONA 2019 fades into history. It’s already being overlaid by Munich 2019, which occurs too shortly after the event in Chicago. Then once more, the calendar for high-end audio occasions has been chaotic for many years no, and exhibits no signal of getting better any time quickly.

Frankly, I assumed it a fantastic present, probably the greatest in years. I don’t keep in mind operating into anyone who was badmouthing AXPONA, or complaining concerning the regular suspects:  turnout, visitors and logistics. There might have been some sad people around…some individuals are never glad…but if there were, I didn’t see/hear them.

The Schaumberg facility confirmed itself to be a effective venue once once more, with plenty of capacity for this rising occasion, some very huge rooms for giant exhibitors, and affordable elevator access, with its 5 shafts doing constant enterprise on Friday-Sunday. Liz Miller and firm did a fantastic job of organizing and coordinating the primary present, holding problems to a minimal. The primary disadvantage at AXPONA was the fact that its “standard” exhibit rooms have been on the small aspect, with some non-removable furnishings fixtures limiting the obtainable area, and in addition the seating area for quite a lot of spaces. Then again, that’s a continuing drawback when inns are used for high-end audio exhibits. Their rooms are simply not designed and constructed for the exacting requirements of high quality audio; compromises, some of them slightly critical, abound. Everybody will simply need to make their peace with that, and regulate their expectations accordingly.

The turnout appeared to be quite strong. In response to Liz Miller, the Event Director, attendance was wonderful, tipping the stability beam at 9534, even with the snowstorm that we experienced on Sunday. (It dropped over five inches of the white stuff on O’Hare airport, snarling the travel plans of hundreds of people, together with many making an attempt to depart from AXPONA. Nasty, that.)

My Audio Oasis! Awards

I’ve been giving this recognition since CES 2006. A quick phrase of history and rationalization about my AO! Awards for these unfamiliar with them. Quoting myself, quoting myself:

“As all the time, my Audio Oasis! Awards are meant to recognize rooms at audio exhibits which are properly above the run of the mill. Yes, everyone knows that exhibits are robust environments for superb audio…sure, everyone knows that it takes special talent and information to put together synergistic matches in these settings. Some people come across a very good mixture by serendipity…but some individuals get great outcomes yr in and yr out.

All the best way back in PF difficulty 23, January/February of 2006 (HERE), in the aftermath of CES, I put it this manner:

The result of this strategy is a new [Positive Feedback] present honor, which I’m dubbing the “Audio Oasis!” awards. This is my private recognition of the rooms that, even underneath present circumstances, really related with me, and refreshed me in the midst of the tyrannous urgency of CES. If these techniques can join emotionally at CES, I reckon you can rely on them doing nice issues in your listening room at residence. That’s an excellent thing to know when you’re on the lookout for guideposts in your audio quest.

A word of warning for my readers: the “Audio Oasis!” awards ought to not be seen as a variant of the almost worn-out “best of show” recognitions which are all too widespread in audiodom. I did not see every room at CES and T.H.E. Present [in this case, AXPONA 2019], and may do not know of how what I didn’t hear appeared like, [and how it stacked up against others]. Moreover, there aren’t almost enough days at CES to try this correctly in the first place, and its hotel-based surroundings is marginal, at greatest. “Best of Show” is just a reputable designation if the listener: a) heard every room at CES/T.H.E. Show, and b) knows what he or she is talking about. Think of it as the mixture of opportunity and sensibility. I don’t assume that these circumstances are met fairly often; in the event that they have been, there would in all probability be fewer of such pronouncements. Sufficient stated.

Yep, that says it. Properly finished, 2006 David.

As I’ve stated before, it is best to pay particular attention to the rooms that you simply see appear regularly in my Audio Oasis! Awards articles…they know what they’re doing, and are proving it to me repeatedly.”

A positive sign that I’ve discovered an AO! Award room:  I can’t walk by, and am pulled in by the quality of what I’m hearing.

A positive that that I haven’t found one:  I maintain strolling.

Worse yet:  I wince.

And if, whereas listening, I pull out my trusty Nikon D-850 and start to photograph…nicely, that’s an indication that the room will very possible receive an AO! Award.

To summarize here in 2019, my Audio Oasis! Awards are meant to be my private recognition for high-end audio show rooms that basically assist to set the standard for superior sonic performance. These awards are earned no matter worth level, format, amplification sort (strong state, hybrid, tubes, Class D, SETs, or other unique designs), room measurement, and so forth. Rooms each recognized and newly discovered can qualify. Loudspeakers giant and small, and between…room remedies galore, or not much particularly…sorts of cables, energy enhancement/distribution units…a spectrum of isolation/filtering equipment, stands, and platforms. The recordings could be from just about any style; I’m extraordinarily eclectic. Mono, stereo, and surround…all welcome!

So, I’m prepared to be pleased.

Even when, very often, I’m not.

This yr’s AXPONA was especially wealthy in some very high-quality rooms, I’m pleased to say, sound areas that pulled me in and let me take within the music, enjoyable in nice sound.

Pause:  As traditional, I’ve to publish my gripe concerning the lack of kit lists in most of the rooms that I visited. In the event you’re an exhibitor, you actually need to offer an entire and accurate record of the gear (with prices) that’s in your room. It helps potential clients, obviously, and in addition makes it simpler for audio journalists to offer full, right information about your room.

In the event you don’t provide that, then don’t plan on specific coverage. It’s as simple as that.

So, sit down and strap in! Right here’s my record for AXPONA 2019, in no specific order:

GTT Audio/Audionet/KRONOS/Kubala-Sosna/Mola Mola/YG Acoustics/AURALiC

Gee(TT). No surprise in any respect.

Once once more, the group of Bill Parish, Joe Kubala, and Dick Diamond put collectively a room that was completely primo. With a KRONOS Professional LE ($42,000)/Black Magnificence Tonearm ($12,375)/Air Tight Opus1 MC ($15,000) with SCPS Power Provide and Louis Desjardins new Reference phono amp ($45,000), feeding the magnificent Audionet STERN preamp and a pair of the HEISENBERG monoblocks, courtesy of Kubala-Sosna Realization cables, delivery sign direct to the YG Acoustics Vantage speaker ($32,800), my delight was unbounded, as you might think about.

The KRONOS Pro LE/Reference Phono Amp/SCPS Power Supply (bottom right):  a killer mixture!

Dick Diamond, Joe Kubala, and Invoice Parish:  a reasonably typical moment in their room at high-end audio exhibits

In fact, these gents know their music, which actually helps relating to demo’ing high-end gear. There’s nothing worse than listening to room-after-room of dreadful recordings. Invoice all the time brings a trove of nice LPs, and even some DSD to mild things up on that aspect of issues.

Howard Sosna and Joe Kubala of Kubala-Sosna:  partners and pals

The sound in this room was its regular world-class commonplace, as it has been year-in and year-out. Extraordinarily well-balanced tonally; clear and detailed; but by no means dropping its sense of musicality and soul. Wonderful imaging and soundstaging; the brand new YG Vantage impressed with its general performance at a lower cost point within the YG Acoustics lineup.

Killer system; killer recordings. What’s not to like?!

Undoubtedly an Audio Oasis! Award winner.

AXISS Audio/Air Tight/Accuphase/Piega/Reed/Shelter/Franco Serblin/Soulution/TAOC/Transrotor/WireWorld

Arturo Manzano and Yutaka “Jack” Miura:  a portrait

I’ve recognized Arturo Manzano for quite a few years now. A finer and more courtly high-end audio distributor you’ll by no means meet. He handles various exceptional merchandise, including the well-regarded Air Tight line of cartridges from Japan.

Yutaka Miura with the new Air Tight ATM-2Plus amplifier

Last yr at AXPONA, I had the pleasure of assembly the Lead Designer at Air Tight, Yutaka “Jack” Miura. He and his group made a really robust and favorable impression on me. Very friendly, very educated, and possessing first-rate audio sensibilities:  what’s not to like?! And their MC cartridges…absolutely selection!

This yr, I received an opportunity to see their latest designs. Certainly one of them was in proof immediately once I walked into their room:  Air Tight’s newly revised ATM-2Plus amp at AXPONA. Yutaka was fairly evidently pleased with this newly upgraded element. And why not? It sounded fantastic!

Sources included Reed’s two-motor Muse 1C turntable ($13,000) and 5T laser-guided linear-tracking tonearm. The MC was the luxurious Air Tight Opus 1, one in every of my favorite cartridges on the planet presently. The Opus 1’s new child brother, the PC-1 coda ($8995), was on the second turntable, a Transrotor Rondino with a Reed 3P tonearm. The PC-1 Coda is a current rave of mine, profitable certainly one of my Brutus Awards at the end of 2018, and remaining resident on our VPI Titan turntable presently.

The step-up transformer was an Air Tight ATH-3, feeding the Air Tight ATE-3011. Preamplification was provided by the Air Tight ATC-5.  Amplification was by way of either the ATM-2Plus or the ATM-3211.

In accordance with Air Tight, cabling was Cable World all through. Piega 711 ($25,000) loudspeakers have been at the far finish of the line, and sounded quite strong with the related system. A lot vinyl was in proof, and did its ordinary magic whereas I was there.

Yutaka Miura with the Air Tight ATM-3211 211-based tubed monoblock amplifier

Also in play was a pair of their ATM-3211 monoblocks. I heard these eventually yr’s AXPONA, and was very happy with the fantastic musicality that Air Tight gets out of 211 tubes. I’ve heard 211 designs that did very little for me…not so for these monoblocks! With the appropriate audio system, they’re dynamic, rich, and terribly seductive. There’s many an audiophile who would adore to personal and pay attention to these.

I’ve to say in passing that this was the most effective that I’ve heard Piega audio system sound. Enough stated.

What else can I say? There was little question in my mind that tubes, ‘tables, and twirling LPs dominated here. A really clear and particular Audio Oasis! Award winner…thanks again, Arturo and Yutaka!

Nagra/Musical Artisans/Kharma/Natural Reference Cables

In the Nagra/Musical Artisans/Kharma/Natural Reference Cables room:  magic!

Nagra is a reputation that’s been with us for a long time…and for good cause. It’s a Swiss brand that has been stroking residence runs in effective audio for many years now, going all the best way again to their rightly well-known RTR tape machines. Notable audio designers like Andreas Koch of Playback Designs hung out with Nagra, and their listing of audio brilliancies can be fairly lengthy.

The listing of electronics featured Nagra’s HD preamplifier ($65,950), their VPS phonostage ($8750), the Nagra Seven Recorder ($5500), Nagra TUBE DAC with basic Energy Provide ($39,500), a pair of the Nagra Basic amps ($31,995) and Nagra IV-S/QGB open reel (N/A). The Nagra amps piped sign to the Kharma Magnificence S7 Speakers ($18,000/pair) and all the things was related with Natural XLR cabling Speaker cable’s and power cords (costs differ).

René Laflamme of Nagra, and in addition of the exceptional label 2xHD

Once again, my good audio pal René Laflamme was the host of the room, and did his standard fantastic job of detailing the system and sharing some nice recordings with us. I’m an enormous fan of his 2xHD DSD transfers from tape, and have nice respect for his audio sensibilities.

The sound right here was very detailed, clean, clear, and well-balanced. The Kharma’s acquitted themselves properly, and undoubtedly punched above their relatively modest (in high-end terms) worth. Regardless of supply, including some RTR tapes, the overall effect was quite partaking, and musically satisfying.

René and I’ve discussed the potential for me doing a evaluate of one among their HD full reference techniques later in 2019; we’ll see if that comes collectively.

Meanwhile, this room takes a PF Audio Oasis! Award from me.

Ayon Audio/BBS Audio Rack Techniques/Lumenwhite USA/USA Tube Audio Labs

In Charles Harrelson’s Ayon Audio room…an actual delight!

The Ayon Audio room featured quite an interesting record of merchandise. On display have been Ayon CD-35 SACD/preamp/DAC/streaming/DSD player ($10,500; soon to be reviewed by me here), the Ayon S-10 Community Streamer Vacuum Tube Preamp ($8800), the Ayon Auris Preamp ($10,500), and a pair of the Ayon Epsilon Gen four Monoblock Tube Amps ($18,000). These fed sign to a pair of the Lumenwhite Kyara Loudspeakers in French Nut end ($49,900).

The audio racks have been the BBS Audio Rack Methods Three-Shelf System ($6995).

Charles Harrelson of Ayon Audio/USA Tube Audio:  the person himself!

As all the time, Charles was a welcoming and quite congenial host. I had enjoyed visiting his room at Munich 2018, which also gained considered one of my Audio Oasis! Awards for that event. He has an apparent love for nice music, tubes, and the chances of the audio arts that I discover very refreshing. Undoubtedly the actual factor amongst audio distributors!

The music in Charles’ room was actually interesting, and confirmed a degree of synergy that breathed oh yeah! The Ayon Audio CD-35 SACD player actually has had my consideration since last yr’s Munich Present, and Charles plans to ship a assessment sample to me after this yr’s occasion is over. Wonderful!

The Ayon Audio Epsilon Monoblock KT-150 tube monoblock

And I gotta inform you, these Ayon Audio Epsilon Monoblocks, plugged with a pile of KT-150s, can actually kick the hindmost elements! Pure Class A, with each triode (140 watts per monoblock) and pentode (200 watts per) modes out there and four/8 ohms, that is some significantly powerful and gorgeous-sounding gear. The Lumenwhites definitely sat up and saluted whereas I used to be there…nice, pull-you-into-the-room sound, with luscious tonality, wonderful element, and a high quality sense of presence.

Little question about it:  this was an Audio Oasis! room, for positive. Thanks for the good time, Charlie!

Warwick Acoustics

The Warwick Acoustics Aperio Headphone Amp with Quad DSD DAC and next-generation BD-HPEL Reference Headphones

Months earlier than I showed up for AXPONA 2019, I had been in touch with the great people at Warwick Acoustics about their (long-)upcoming and looked-for addition to their product line next to their Model One. Because it turned out, it was named the “Aperio,” and was on lively demo through the show.

The staff at Warwick Acoustics with the new Aperio reference headphone amp/DAC and headphones:  left-to-right, Dan Anagnos, Martin Roberts, and Orazio Pollaci. Great fellows all!

Finally! I received to see it once I took Warwick Acoustics up on their supply to take heed to the Aperio (Latin for “uncover,” “open,” or “reveal”) and see if the wait had been value it. I had reviewed the Sonoma Acoustics (now Warwick Acoustics) Model One headphone amp/DAC almost two years in the past (see HERE), and had been very impressed…with sure exceptions and reservations relating to the handling of DSD information that I mentioned prominently in that article.

I was advised that these reservations can be addressed within the Aperio. So I used to be undoubtedly interested to get an preliminary feel for the outcomes.

Dan, Martin, and Orazio have been very variety and excited to see what my response can be to an initial pay attention. Right off the bat, I really favored the feel and appear of the new and larger amp/DAC, and the BD-HPEL headphones have been a dream to put on! There at the moment are six inputs for the unit, starting from USB to balanced and unbalanced analog…wonderful.

Better yet is the truth that the Aperio now helps as much as Quad DSD in native mode. I did not get a chance to guage that, nevertheless, because the staff didn’t have pattern information for me to listen to. However, a remaining manufacturing evaluate sample will probably be despatched my approach right after Munich 2019. It should undoubtedly obtain the complete monty of DSD information at all resolutions from me…rely on it.

However what I did hear at AXPONA 2019 indicated that Warwick Acoustics is delivering the products…an excellent design! I can’t wait to guage this reference-grade headphone system.

Thus, this Audio Oasis! Award….

Quintessence Audio/Musical Environment/Wilson Audio/Audio Analysis/AMG/Hana/dCS/Kubala-Sosna/Important Mass Techniques

The Wilson Audio Sasha DAW Loudspeakers driven by Audio Research Ref 160 monoblocks on their Crucial Mass Techniques Amp Stands

I’ll admit it. Over the past a number of years, the Wilson Audio audio system have impressed me increasingly more at exhibits. I don’t assume that I’ve modified, but one thing’s been occurring with the design, sound, and (perhaps) synergy with the upstream electronics/cabling/isolation/and so on. So much in order that I’ve turn out to be a fan of the new era of their audio system.

Before current years…not a lot. So thank God for life’s audio blessings.

But by no means greater than at AXPONA 2019, their greatest displaying to my ears up to now. Wilsons have been outstanding in a few rooms that have been Audio Oasis! Award winners this yr.

For example, this room featured the Wilson Audio Sasha DAW (for “David W. Wilson”) loudspeakers ($37,900/pair) with the Audio Analysis Ref 10 Line Stage ($33,000), the Ref 10 Phono Stage (likewise $33,000), and the Ref 160 Monoblocks ($30,000/pair). AMG’s Viella 12 Turbo Black Lacquer was the turntable, with its 12JT 12″ Turbo Tonearm, with the Clearaudio Jubilee MC ($6000) and Hana ML MC ($1200) in evidence.

The digital aspect of the ledger was crammed by dCS with their Rossini Participant/DAC ($28,499), Rossini Clock ($7499), and Bartok Streaming DAC ($14,499). All cabling was by Kubala-Sosna, with Essential Mass Techniques providing the element stands.

This mix did a surprisingly superb job of filling a big exhibition room (this was not one of the normal lodge rooms) with music that was dynamic, harmonically organic, and properly detailed. Synergy was quite evident; this can be a system that works and plays together fairly properly. The truth is, I discovered myself sitting here for a while, and listening for longer than I expected. Actual audio magnetics here!

Pleasure and Joe Lavrencik of Crucial Mass Methods

I obtained to see Joy and Joe Lavrencik while I used to be in this neighborhood, two of the nicest people in high-end audio that you simply’d ever need to meet. Joe’s work together with his complicated filter-based designs is theoretically and practically main contributions to high-end praxis. I’ve heard various his products in my reference listening rooms through the years, and have by no means been disenchanted. Pleasure and Joe have develop into good associates over a few years now, and I can inform you that the CMS stands contributed substantially to the performance of this technique in this room.

And Kubala-Sosna? No shock a-toll. Another Joe (Kubala) current!

No, despite my response to the Wilson Audio audio system in distant previous years, I can inform you that the Sasha DAW’s in tandem with the Audio Analysis electronics undoubtedly floated my audio boat.

And meaning an Audio Oasis! Award for this room, for sure.

AXPONA 2019 was a serious present. There’s rather more of my reflections and awards to return…

All pictures and image processing by David W. Robinson, except as noted.