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    The Computer Audiophile

    Searching For Good Sound at AXPONA Chicago 2014

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    thumb.jpgI attended my first AXPONA audio show over the weekend. The show was held at the Westin O'Hare about thirty minutes outside Chicago. I had a really good time at this show. The venue was terrific. It's always nice when luxury goods are on display at a hotel where a luxury goods buyer may actually stay. In other words, high end audio shows shouldn't be at rundown hotels or motels. The Westin O'hare is a very nice location. I hope to attend the show there next year. I spent much of my time at AXPONA searching for good sound and good music amongst a sea of subpar noise. I say noise because much of it didn't sound like music. A guy beating on some tree roots with sticks isn't my idea of a good time. I like music for its ability to bring out emotion and connect with people. Playing this music on a great audio system can really enhance the experience. Most of the rooms we just plain bad. The sound quality wasn't representative of the equipment on display and worse yet, the noise that was played through these systems was so unemotional I felt like I was in a laboratory. Oh wait maybe I was. One manufacturer was displaying his equipment connected to an audio analyzer so people could see the waves on a small green screen rather than listen to music through his components. Maybe I'm an outlier because I prefer to bring my own USB stick of music and play it on a variety of systems as if I was sitting in my own house. That brings me to another issue I had with people demonstrating equipment at the show. I had a difficult time getting manufacturers or dealers to play music from my USB stick. This is computer audio people, not rocket science. If your system is setup so bad it's nearly impossible to import audio from a patron's USB stick maybe you ought to spend some time getting educated on the ins and outs of computer audio. When it's easier for a user to order a component online, demo it for thirty days in his home at no cost, and ship it back if needed, something is wrong. High end audio should be on the cutting edge of sound quality, convenience, and customer service. The prices are certainly on the cutting edge, but not in a good way. Enough of the excuses about being "analog guys" who don't understand all this "new" digital stuff. It's time to adapt or die.[PRBREAK][/PRBREAK]

     

    That said, I had fun at the show and found some real gems. My favorite room featured exaSound DACs and JansZen loudspeakers. George from exaSound was running the room with his laptop and JRiver Media Center connected to both his stereo and multi channel DACs. George played a piece of music for me and a colleague that sounded so much better than most of the other rooms combined, we asked to hear it again. The piece of music featured a terrific violin solo that sounded as if the violinist was standing between the speakers. The texture of the violin strings and bow could almost be felt just by listening. Another room that is worthy of praise is the Quintessence Audio (Morton Grove, IL) / Dynaudio / Simaudio room. I was handed an iPad that contained a "real" music collection rather than Scottish nose whistle recorded at 33 bit / 384 kHz. I queued up a bunch of Pearl Jam, ask for the volume to be set somewhat loud, and tapped play on the MiND network music player iOS application. The large Dynaudio loudspeakers and very powerful Simaudio monoblocks energized the room. The sound was great and enabled me to have fun as if I was sitting at home with my iPad and remote control. This is the type of experience I'd want to have if I was at the show searching for new HiFi equipment.

     

    In addition to the audio rooms, the AXPONA show featured several seminars and presentations. I attended the presentation given by Pono CEO John Hamm. John's presentation was a breath of fresh air in a frequently opaque audiophile world. Simply put, John has done his homework and he gets it. He shared several slides depicting how the Pono model will work, addressing naysayers, and showing industry trends for streaming, MP3 downloads, and high resolution downloads. Wrapping up the talk John answered every question posed without a hint audiophile vagueness that turns good people away from this hobby. I believe the presentation was recorded. Hopefully it will be available online in the near future.

     

     

    Here are a few photos from AXPONA Chicago 2014.

     

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    High end audio should be on the cutting edge of sound quality, convenience, and customer service. The prices are certainly on the cutting edge, but not in a good way. Enough of the excuses about being "analog guys" who don't understand all this "new" digital stuff. It's time to adapt or die.

     

    Very well said indeed!

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    The Aria was obviously done by someone with a flair for industrial design. Speaking of industrial design - whose are those speakers that look like something out of Alien or The Nightmare Before Christmas (one says "Raptor" on the front in one of your photos)? Very cool! Re not playing your USB stick - either they don't know how, or they're afraid there could be a virus (not a likely thing unless the OS is Windows, and even then if they have an AV installed it should be a matter of moments to scan). Either way, as you say, long past time folks became routinely familiar with playing files. I want to know someone I'm about to spend a fair amount of money with knows his/her stuff.

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    The Aria was obviously done by someone with a flair for industrial design. Speaking of industrial design - whose are those speakers that look like something out of Alien or The Nightmare Before Christmas (one says "Raptor" on the front in one of your photos)? Very cool! Re not playing your USB stick - either they don't know how, or they're afraid there could be a virus (not a likely thing unless the OS is Windows, and even then if they have an AV installed it should be a matter of moments to scan). Either way, as you say, long past time folks became routinely familiar with playing files. I want to know someone I'm about to spend a fair amount of money with knows his/her stuff.

    I didn't catch the name of the steampunk type speakers. They were really neat looking.

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    I know four different people that went to the show and they all commented that every room was just way too loud and the music was way too esoteric. It's odd, it's like the audiophile manufacturers didn't get the memo; make this stuff more palatable to the mainstream. The high end audio community is losing focus in a big way and it looks like it will be the mainstream companies that will lead the way to more folks being exposed to decent sound moving forward because a whole bunch of the "high end" just ain't gettin it.

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    Chris, could you describe the sound in the Dynaudio / Simaudio room in a bit more detail? The Evidence Platinum is Dynaudio´s newest creation - and an expensive one - and I would be interested how it stacks up against Magico and the like in a similar price category.

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    I enjoy the Benchmark ... I have their DAC and find it very decent with my Audeze LCD3 and Focal speakers... TU Chris

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    I attended all three days as well, and although I cautioned others (on another forum thread) to beware of trying to evaluate product sonics at show conditions...we all do it. And yes, I fully agree with Chris (and yes he is my pseudo-boss :) ) that this show in particular had a bad combination of poor sonics often played way too loud (one presenter pointed out that the rooms were more square than other hotel shows and thus the damn midbass humps were even more prevalent).

     

    But I did enjoy the show immensely. Why? Cuz it hit all of my goals: touch and feel some new devices I was interested in, catch up with several manufacturers/friends on next steps (Dan Wright, Paul McGowan, Wang Xuanqian, George Klissarov, etc) and re-kindle great friendships made at these forums (often even meeting a few face to face for the first time).

     

    What about this idea: develop a show where the entire room setup needs to be less than $x (say $5k) or multiples ($5k on floor 29-30, $10k on floor 34, etc) so the dealers or mfg'ers are forced to "get real". There is nothing more pathetic than going into a suite of $300-500k worth of gear, hear the same audiophile cuts at 108db, overpowering the room something fierce, and walking (or running) away with the feeling that this is hedonism at its worst.

     

    I will continue to attend these shows, but mainly for my aforementioned goals. If I hear a room that even portends greatness it is almost by accident.

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    I attended all three days as well, and although I cautioned others (on another forum thread) to beware of trying to evaluate product sonics at show conditions...we all do it. And yes, I fully agree with Chris (and yes he is my pseudo-boss :) ) that this show in particular had a bad combination of poor sonics often played way too loud (one presenter pointed out that the rooms were more square than other hotel shows and thus the damn midbass humps were even more prevalent).

     

    But I did enjoy the show immensely. Why? Cuz it hit all of my goals: touch and feel some new devices I was interested in, catch up with several manufacturers/friends on next steps (Dan Wright, Paul McGowan, Wang Xuanqian, George Klissarov, etc) and re-kindle great friendships made at these forums (often even meeting a few face to face for the first time).

     

    What about this idea: develop a show where the entire room setup needs to be less than $x (say $5k) or multiples ($5k on floor 29-30, $10k on floor 34, etc) so the dealers or mfg'ers are forced to "get real". There is nothing more pathetic than going into a suite of $300-500k worth of gear, hear the same audiophile cuts at 108db, overpowering the room something fierce, and walking (or running) away with the feeling that this is hedonism at its worst.

     

    I will continue to attend these shows, but mainly for my aforementioned goals. If I hear a room that even portends greatness it is almost by accident.

    Well said Ted. I enjoy seeing old and new friends shows and having fun listening to good music when possible.

     

    I also think these shows are perfect places for room correction and room treatment manufacturers to really shine. Yet, they rarely show up. Nobody has a perfect room at home. Show conditions are great for demonstrating how a bad room can be worked with.

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    Chris, could you describe the sound in the Dynaudio / Simaudio room in a bit more detail? The Evidence Platinum is Dynaudio´s newest creation - and an expensive one - and I would be interested how it stacks up against Magico and the like in a similar price category.

    It would be a disservice to go into further detail.

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    I attended all three days as well, and although I cautioned others (on another forum thread) to beware of trying to evaluate product sonics at show conditions...we all do it. And yes, I fully agree with Chris (and yes he is my pseudo-boss :) ) that this show in particular had a bad combination of poor sonics often played way too loud (one presenter pointed out that the rooms were more square than other hotel shows and thus the damn midbass humps were even more prevalent).

     

    But I did enjoy the show immensely. Why? Cuz it hit all of my goals: touch and feel some new devices I was interested in, catch up with several manufacturers/friends on next steps (Dan Wright, Paul McGowan, Wang Xuanqian, George Klissarov, etc) and re-kindle great friendships made at these forums (often even meeting a few face to face for the first time).

     

    What about this idea: develop a show where the entire room setup needs to be less than $x (say $5k) or multiples ($5k on floor 29-30, $10k on floor 34, etc) so the dealers or mfg'ers are forced to "get real". There is nothing more pathetic than going into a suite of $300-500k worth of gear, hear the same audiophile cuts at 108db, overpowering the room something fierce, and walking (or running) away with the feeling that this is hedonism at its worst.

     

    I will continue to attend these shows, but mainly for my aforementioned goals. If I hear a room that even portends greatness it is almost by accident.

     

     

    What about this idea: develop a show where the entire room setup needs to be less than $x (say $5k) or multiples ($5k on floor 29-30, $10k on floor 34, etc) so the dealers or mfg'ers are forced to "get real". There is nothing more pathetic than going into a suite of $300-500k worth of gear, hear the same audiophile cuts at 108db, overpowering the room something fierce, and walking (or running) away with the feeling that this is hedonism at its worst.
    A great idea if someone would attempt to pull it off. Shame they couldn't do this at this years RMAF in Denver.

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    Well said Ted. I enjoy seeing old and new friends shows and having fun listening to good music when possible.

     

    I also think these shows are perfect places for room correction and room treatment manufacturers to really shine. Yet, they rarely show up. Nobody has a perfect room at home. Show conditions are great for demonstrating how a bad room can be worked with.

     

    Yep. A few years ago I even offered (for free) to bring my measuring equipment to RMAF and help anyone. Zero asked. I also offered to go to people's houses within 2 hrs of my house for the same thing and zero took it. Nothing surprises me anymore when it comes to this stuff.

     

    I go for fun now. See some people and very specific equipment. Certainly not to listen to great rooms although there are always a few.

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    Chris/Jason,

    A few of us chatted about room correction for that same reason. One room that boasted of using it (McIntosh/Martin Logan 5.1 surround room) couldn't even demo turning it on and off (said they didn't know the software well enough..or maybe cuz the a/b was not proof enough). ?? Seriously, and they were the dealer? Not buying from them, sorry. It would have been a tremendous opportunity to push McIntosh's RoomPerfect...since these rooms are likely much worse starting off than most audio lovers' home listening room conditions.

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    There is nothing more pathetic than going into a suite of $300-500k worth of gear, hear the same audiophile cuts at 108db, overpowering the room something fierce, and walking (or running) away with the feeling that this is hedonism at its worst.

     

    Myself and an industry veteran visited the AIX Records / German Physiks room around 12 Noon Saturday and were so underwhelmed we couldn't believe it. For the price of that system ($400,000+) I should have been able to close my eyes and feel like I was in attendance at a concert. I don't doubt the recordings and the equipment are capable of great things, but I also don't doubt people with an extra $400,000+ would rather spend it elsewhere after that presentation.

     

    P.S. I ran into someone in the elevator who loved the sound of the room :~)

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    Did you listen to the Scaena speakers? They were my personal favorite of the whole show, and were simply breathtaking. They may have instantly become "King of the Audio Hill" in my little fantasy listening room configuration. I'd need to hear them again -- gladly -- to decide for sure.

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    Did you listen to the Scaena speakers? They were my personal favorite of the whole show, and were simply breathtaking. They may have instantly become "King of the Audio Hill" in my little fantasy listening room configuration. I'd need to hear them again -- gladly -- to decide for sure.

    I walked into that room while they were playing a Reference Recordings track. I'd never heard that track sound so off before. Maybe it was just me, but the Scaena room didn't impress.

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    I believe several rooms (like MBL Omnis on lower level and Scaena on main floor) were out of phase in some of their driver pairs. Stuff sounded ethereal when it shouldn't have. I've heard those Scaenas sound much better (RMAF Hyatt room). My $.02

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