Audio: Listen to this article.
Axpona 2023 was an absolute blast. As usual, I enjoyed the people more than anything. Spending some time with @austinpop and @ray-dude was really fun, especially because they agreed with me when discussing the sound quality of each room. Only kidding, that wouldn't be fun at all. We agreed on many rooms, but I also appreciated their comments detailing items that I may not have listened for and their recommendations to visit rooms that I may have overlooked.
When I first met up with Rajiv and Ray, one of the first rooms they mentioned was the Innuos, Transparent, MSB, Vinnie Rossi, Rockport room. They thought it was one of the best they'd heard. This was great to hear because it's exactly what I thought as well, and neither of us had discussed it prior to seeing each other that day. It was nice to know my hearing and taste wasn't way out in left field, identifying a room nobody else liked. In addition, I know Rajiv and Ray listen for different aspects of sound quality than I do, and we still independently concluded that this room was excellent.
I went back to this room twice, to make certain that what I heard was "real" rather than a fluke or mental lapse on my part (with texts coming in constantly and other distractions, it can happen). Both times I heard the same sonic qualities, with different music, that enabled me to easily say this room was the best at the entire show. It wasn't the most expensive room, biggest room, smallest room, or anything on the ends of the continuum. It was put together with restraint, thought, and perfect system setup.
The source was an Innuos Statement server. Music reproduction can't get better than the source feeding it, so I understand the desire for a statement level server. However, after hearing the new Innuos Pulsar down the hall, I think it would've served this system incredibly well, at a fraction of the price. The DAC was an MSB Premier with Pro ISL / USB module, being fed via USB from the Innuos.
The MSB fed the Vinnie Rossi Brama integrated amplifier, where all volume control was done. I spent time fiddling with the Brama, its remote control, and analyzing the fit and finish of the chassis. I must say, the Brama is one heck of a high end component. I'd previously seen it in photos, but those are no match for experiencing it in person. I was wowed by the build quality and the sound quality.
The Brama powered the Rockport Atria II speakers wonderfully. These speakers were ideal for this size of the room, and setup by Rockport's Josh Clark and Jon Zimmer perfectly. The gear has to be good, but the setup absolutely must be as good or better. I don't believe I've heard Rockport speakers sound better than this at any show. I have a feeling the Atria II can work very well in smallish rooms, and be driven as hard as one wishes in much larger rooms. They are built like all Rockport speakers, like a brick outhouse :~)
The entire system was connected via Transparent cabling, and powered through a StromTank SEQ-5.
Two songs that left a major impression on me in this room were Dua Lipa's acoustic version of Golden Slumbers and Carmen Gomes Inc.'s version of Thousand Shades of Blue. On Shades of Blue, this system reproduced the bass and drums with absolute perfection. The air around the snare drum was reproduced beautifully! On Dua Lipa's Golden Slumbers, the system reproduced her glossy vocals exactly as they should've been reproduced. It isn't an audiophile track and has a pop gloss to it. I loved every minute of this guilty pleasure.
I have to give a tip of the cap to everyone involved in this room. It was what people travel to audio shows to hear. Nice work.
Very Honorable Mention
One room that surprised me more than any other was the T+A room. I wasn't surprised at the sound quality T+A components were able to reproduce, but I was surprised at how well the all-T+A system sounded in a huge room shaped like a cube. In fact, I had a representative of a very high end electronics manufacturer tell me he would only use a static display in his cube shaped room because it's the worst possible environment for music reproduction. Anyway, T+A really nailed it this year. I was amazed how well the two channel system loaded the entire room with appropriate bass frequencies. It's simple to reproduce no bass or way too much bass in a cube shaped room, but it's difficult to do it right. T+A did it perfectly.
As I sat through a couple songs, everyone around me seemed to have the same impression of the sound quality. I loved it, and so did the others. Several people expressed their delight with the system as they stood up to walk around the room. As many show-goers know, this isn't the norm! A job well done by the entire T+A team.
T+A is a brand to watch in the US market, and will certainly gain major traction with Dave Nauber as the CEO of North American operations. The people and the products at T+A are fantastic. Put them on your shortlist when considering a system upgrade.
I'm already looking forward to Axpona next year. The size of the show was great, seeing everyone was great, and I heard some systems that were great. Next year I plan to put on an immersive audio master class. I received the invitation to do it this year, but I couldn't get my act together on short notice. Based on my conversations with many people in the industry, such a class is sorely needed. I don't hold it against anyone for not knowing that Apple, Tidal, and Amazon all stream Atmos music, and high end record labels offer immersive downloads. Everyone has more work to do than they have time, I get it. My conversations informed me more than the people to whom I talked. I now know how to better educate the industry on what's already here, what's coming, and how to enjoy the biggest advance in music reproduction since the late 1950s.
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