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    AXPONA 2019 Best of Show

    AXPONA 2019 was easily the best US audio show in recent memory. I'm not basing this off of any stats, only the feeling I got from walking the show for three days, talking to everyone, and listening to some really great systems. 

     

    I started walking the show a bit before the opening bell on Friday. I stopped to see Amadeus Meitner at the EMM Labs room because it was already open and reproducing really good sound. Also, I wanted to let Amadeus know that the EMM DV2 DAC with volume control I just placed in my own system for review sounds excellent. I look forward to publishing that review before the Munich show, at which EMM will display a new digital product I hope to receive in the near future. Hint, it isn't a DAC.

     

    I heard several rooms full of really good sound this year. It seems like only short time ago I wrote about not finding anything good at AXPONA. Times change, people change, components change and exhibitors learn how to squeeze the best sound from their rooms. This includes using the right size speakers and components to match rather than stuffing flagship products, too large for all but a ballroom, into a small hotel room.

     

    My top three rooms at this year's show all featured systems that paired with the room exceptionally well and were setup by the exhibitors with care and precision. I congratulate those involved in putting the rooms together for doing it right.

     

     


    3. Constellation, MartinLogan, AURALiC, Cardas


    This room sounded very good on several different types of recordings. The Doug Macleod track I'll Be Walking On, heard in the video below, is as high resolution as they get. I was surprised to hear so much detail and air in this recording given the circumstances. I hate to say it but in my experience exhibiters using MartinLogan based systems at trade shows usually struggle to show people just how good the speakers and connected components really are. This wasn't the case at AXPONA 2019. The speed and liquidity of the electrostatic panels, being driven by the single Constellation stereo amp, was truly delightful.  


    Amplifier: Constellation Audio Inspiration Stereo 1.0 ($11,000)
    Preamplifier: Constellation Audio Inspiration PreAmp 1.0 ($9,900)
    Phono Stage: Constellation Audio Andromeda ($18,000) with DC filter ($5,000)
    Speakers: MartinLogan Expression ESL 13A ($15,000)
    Digital to Digital Converter: AURALiC ARIES G2 ($4,000)
    Digital to Analog Converter: AURALiC VEGA G2 ($6,000)
    Turntable: Continuum Audio Labs Obsidian ($35,000), Viper tonearm ($10,000), Ortofon A-95 cartridge ($6,000)
    Cable: Cardas

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

    2. Vinnie Rossi, Triode Wire Labs


    Vinnie Rossi's room was the surprise of the show. Vinnie always has good sound, usually showing with Harbeth speakers and a gregarious demeanor. At AXPONA I ran into several people who implored me to spend some time listening to Vinnie's new Stiletto loudspeakers. I immediately though to myself, HiFi needs another speaker like a hole in the head. I was very skeptical and I told Vinnie that after my extended listening session.

     

    Using the ultra high end equipment rack from Amazon.com ($20) to rest his L2 series components and Triode Wire Labs to connect everything, Vinnie has pulled off something pretty special with his Stiletto speakers. The speakers feature an open baffle 15" woofer design for the bottom end and a sealed cabinet for the mid and top frequency drivers. The two pieces are completely separate in a WATT/Puppy fashion. 

     

    Listening to this system was so pleasurable. I requested several songs as show-goers came and went. I felt the need to stay and listen. It was so relaxing and effortless. One of my go-to tracks this year was Don't Take Your one From Me off go John Coltrane's album Standard Coltrane. The sound was almost ethereal as Coltrane's sax oozed from the left channel and Jimmy Cobb's drum kit and Red Garland's piano sprinkled around the right. As one person left the room he said something to the effect of, great song selection. I take zero credit for this man's enjoyment. It was all Coltrane and Rossi. 

     

    Vinnie played a Natalie Merchant track for me and I immediately got goosebumps. The richness in her voice came through this system, in a terrible sonic environment, wonderfully. Half-way through the track I had to let Vinnie know this was something special. 

     

    I asked Vinnie to put on the track Xanny from Billie Eilish's new album released in March of this year. This track has mix of what I'll call somewhat traditional bass and electronic bass. In most room at the show this track exposed the horrible room modes and bass humps. Through Vinnie's system the bass was big and tight, but without any trade show boom. Vinnie explained that this was a product of the open baffle 15" woofer design of the Stiletto loudspeaker. Based on this experience, and knowing many people around the world have rooms that can easily be overloaded with bass due to small size, I think the Stiletto speakers offer a very compelling value proposition.

     

    Nice work Vinnie.  

     

    Amplifier: Vinnie Rossi L2 Signature Monoblocks ($16,000)
    Preamplifier: Vinnie Rossi L2 Signature ($17,000)
    Speakers: Vinnie Rossi Stiletto 15 (preproduction, available this summer, roughly $20,000)
    Music Server: MacBook
    Digital to Analog Converter: Vinnie Rossi L2 DAC module in the preamplifier ($3,500)
    Rack: Amazon.com ($20)

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

    1. Avantgarde, Esoteric, Transparent, Harmonic Resolution Systems


    The Avantgarde Duo Mezzo XD based system was unequivocally my Best of Show. It was absolutely captivating. I heard the system as I walked into the room, but passed by to listen to the Avantgarde Zero TA speakers in another room because I couldn't get a seat or good standing position. I could immediately tell the big system was operating on all cylinders as I inched my way though those listening. 

     

    After thoroughly enjoying the Avantgarde Zero TA based system, I was told the team was ready to play my beloved Coltrane track I used throughout this show. I found a seat on the edge of the couch for the start of the song, but by the end I was sitting dead center. Perhaps the gentleman who gave up his center seat need to use the restroom because the sound was so spectacular. There's no way anyone without some sort of issue was going to leave part way through this demonstration. It was too good, too captivating. 

     

    From the opening notes of Coltrane's sax I was transported to Rudy Van Gelder's Hackensack, New Jersey studio in 1958. This doesn't happen at trade shows. The environment is too crowded and too noisy, or I'm stuck listening to a 32 bit / 384 kHz recording of snapping sticks. Not so with Avantgarde at AXPONA 2019. I heard every genre of music and each was equally compelling in its own right. Sure I didn't care for some of the tracks but I could hear why others weren't leaving their seats. 

     

    When I heard Stevie Ray Vaughan and Coltrane I couldn't leave. The sound was just too good. Dynamic as one can imagine, these horns laid the delicacy of each note right out in front of the listeners. The large room was filled with music that seemed to come from a live band on stage, rather than a tweeter, midrange, and bass woofer like most rooms. 

     

    After this experience, I am 100% considering replacing my TAD Compact Reference speakers with horns from Avantgarde. That's no joke.

     

    Speakers: Avantgarde Duo Mezzo XD ($60,500) 
    Amplifier: Esoteric Grandioso F1 ($31,000)
    SACD Player: Esoteric Grandioso K1 ($31,000)
    Music Server / DAC: Esoteric N-01 ($21,000)
    Clock: Esoteric G01X ($21,000)
    Cables: Transparent
    Stands / Racks: Harmonic Resolution Systems

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

    Above is the Avantgarde Zero TA based system that was also very good.

     

     

     

     

     

    P.S. There was one more system that really impressed me at AXPONA. It was a headphone system. I can't give this system, a rating because it isn't officially being released until the Munich show in May. However, we've been given an exclusive to post video of the system Tuesday. What I heard was possibly the best headphone system I've ever heard. It isn't cheap (over $20,000) but the best things in life are either free or well over what most of us can afford. Look for more on Tuesday.



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    P.S. There was one more system that really impressed me at AXPONA. It was a headphone system. I can't give this system, a rating because it isn't officially being released until the Munich show in May. However, we've been given an exclusive to post video of the system Tuesday. What I heard was possibly the best headphone system I've ever heard. It isn't cheap (over $20,000) but the best things in life are either free or well over what most of us can afford. Look for more on Tuesday.

     

    Having joined Chris for this preview and listen, I can attest to the fact that it's quite special.

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    7 minutes ago, The Computer Audiophile said:

    Here is the Coltrane:

    Qobuz version - https://open.qobuz.com/track/31034477

    I have a CD rip of the Analog Productions version that is even better - https://store.acousticsounds.com/d/82058/John_Coltrane-Standard_Coltrane-Hybrid_Stereo_SACD

    CD rip? Or SACD rip? I love Coltrane... Ordered the Analogue Productions SACD you pointed to (which is not out yet) - their Nina Simone's "Little Girl Blue" SACD remaster from 2015 is absolutely stunning. Plus it was done five blocks away from my home in NYC! :)

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    6 minutes ago, miguelito said:

    CD rip? Or SACD rip? I love Coltrane... Ordered the Analogue Productions SACD you pointed to (which is not out yet) - their Nina Simone's "Little Girl Blue" SACD remaster from 2015 is absolutely stunning. Plus it was done five blocks away from my home in NYC! :)

    CD Rip.

    I believe it's the same version released years ago from Analogue Productions.

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    Just now, The Computer Audiophile said:

    CD Rip.

    I believe it's the same version released years ago from Analogue Productions.

    When I get the SACD (no release date yet apparently) I'll post a review. I have a PS3 which I solely dedicate to the task of ripping SACDs.

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    23 minutes ago, Madra said:

    That said, I feel it is going to be too big for your listening room. An Uno XD will be visually and sonically (probably) more appropriate. Maybe more experienced Avantgarde listners can chime in.

    The Duo Mezzo (which I have) is a large speaker that works great in a large space. See: https://goo.gl/66fjxw

     

    Would it work well in a smaller space? It is a fairly directional speaker (because of the horns) so room reflections are generally less critical in the mids and highs than with a regular design. Given the basshorn is pretty adjustable, it is possible it would work fine in a smaller room. 

     

    One more thing: In my previous apartment the speakers had to be set up in one end of a large room, firing in the short direction. You can get this to work well with careful setup. But these speakers project sound forward with a lot of power, and when you set them up firing in the long direction of the room they really rock.

     

    What I would recommend is talking to the Avantgarde guys - they are super nice.

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    Always pleasing to finally come across a system that's been coaxed into delivering competent sound ... the Avantgarde is as good a demo as any of what playback should always be like, and how miserable many setups are at getting it right, in comparison. This is a rig that's "getting out of the way", and you actually hearing the content of the recording ...

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    1 hour ago, The Computer Audiophile said:

    I love the flexibility one gets, with respect to amplifiers, when using horns. 

    Yeah. Had a friend come in with a ZOTL amp - flea watt sort of thing - and it drove the AG's without issues. Not the same as Ongaku, but still fun...

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    I liked the Avantgarde, Esoteric, Transparent, Harmonic Resolution recording best, but I would be very unhappy with that sound in my home system. iPhone recordings are interesting but terribly limited in SQ. I don't doubt it sounded awesome in real life.

     

    The Avantgarde Zero TA based system had horrendous sibilance and I don't think that can be blamed on the recording, since the other systems did not have the same problem.

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    3 hours ago, The Computer Audiophile said:

    Only a 16/44 version from Tidal, not Analogue Productions. 

    Sounds really good, Coltrane is a great test for systems, most cant keep up! Keep the videos coming, you can easily tell if a source is producing noise or music. 

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    Agree the Vinnie Rossi room was great, enveloping, generous – if I were starting out and had the necessary in my pocket, and weren't a twitchy audiophile, that would be perfect. The Dynaudio Confidence 20s were something too, glad to have heard them. I became increasingly disaffected by vast boxes and cables like invasive pythons (not to mention monster loudspeakers playing small-group female vocal jazz, thwack, twang, brush), and the VR room was the antidote. Nagra plus Kharma was the best sound overall, but that's getting back into crazed audiophile territory.

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    14 hours ago, miguelito said:

    Would it work well in a smaller space? It is a fairly directional speaker (because of the horns) so room reflections are generally less critical in the mids and highs than with a regular design. Given the basshorn is pretty adjustable, it is possible it would work fine in a smaller room. 

    One more point: This is certainly not a near-field speaker. You need at least around 10ft distance for the various drivers to blend. The Uno Fino is much more of a near-field speaker.

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    14 hours ago, miguelito said:

    The Duo Mezzo (which I have) is a large speaker that works great in a large space. See: https://goo.gl/66fjxw

     

    Would it work well in a smaller space? It is a fairly directional speaker (because of the horns) so room reflections are generally less critical in the mids and highs than with a regular design. Given the basshorn is pretty adjustable, it is possible it would work fine in a smaller room. 

     

    One more thing: In my previous apartment the speakers had to be set up in one end of a large room, firing in the short direction. You can get this to work well with careful setup. But these speakers project sound forward with a lot of power, and when you set them up firing in the long direction of the room they really rock.

     

    What I would recommend is talking to the Avantgarde guys - they are super nice.

    I actually auditioned the Duo Mezzo in a reltively small space and it worked rather well. I was seated 3m from the speakers but felt that a couple of additional meters, and more space around the speakers would yield even better results.

    My reservations about the Duos in Chris’s room are equall sound and aesthetic. Having a pitched low ceiling on the sides, I do not find them a good visual match, and I know Chris is sensitive about visuals.

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    33 minutes ago, Madra said:

    I actually auditioned the Duo Mezzo in a reltively small space and it worked rather well. I was seated 3m from the speakers but felt that a couple of additional meters, and more space around the speakers would yield even better results.

    My reservations about the Duos in Chris’s room are equall sound and aesthetic. Having a pitched low ceiling on the sides, I do not find them a good visual match, and I know Chris is sensitive about visuals.

    Honestly I think those horns look amazing in any room. Just need to be careful about choosing an appropriate finish.

     

    My friend in Princeton with the Duo's had them in metallic blue. He's actually a psychiatrist. When I was debating about the color, I liked the striking look of the metallic blue, or the Ferrari red. However, he made the point that you're looking at it continuously, and that if I chose blue, they would sound bright to me, red would always feel hot-rodded... So I chose metallic rose gold, which I love. If I were to order for Chris's room, it would be a dark finish on the basshorn (black or similar) with a matte white horn.

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