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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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    8 minutes ago, jtwrace said:

    @The Computer Audiophile you mention that the VR System has TWL and say "Using the ultra high end equipment rack from Amazon.com ($20) to rest his L2 series components and Straightwire to connect everything"  Pretty sure it was TWL as I see Pete in the pic.  😉

    Yes, there was some confusion on my part. I changed one spot but I see I missed another. Thanks.

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    16 minutes ago, The Computer Audiophile said:

    Please listen to the start of the video.

    Sorry, my mistake! I have the album which is displayed on the video (on the streamer) and the part with the cover song of Queen is not on it. So, I presume that's a special live version...

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    I have said for three years that Precision Audio Video had a winner with the Martin Logan/Constellation setup, and this year I've heard others say same.  My pal even texted me while in the room with "Wow."  The difference this year is that they brought the smaller ML 13a speaker vs. the 15a they had the last two years, which slightly overpowered the small room.  They all have the same "family" sound but the 13a was just right, and even with minimal room treatments, I was not the only one to say it sounded fantastic. My first year hearing this system (when the show was at the Westin), I sat through an entire album side.  This was after hearing the Martin Logan Neoliths in a system not too far down the hall that sounded terrible.  I don't know if the McIntosh DAC or their overpowered monoblocks were to blame, but the sound was metallic, edgy, harsh.  And they turned it up so loud that it drove me from the listening room, and marks the only time I have ever complained to an exhibitor about the volume level.  It was painful, and since then I've never set foot into another Audio Video Interiors demo at AXPONA. 

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    10 hours ago, johnwilk said:

    ...The Dynaudio Confidence 20s were something too, glad to have heard them. ....

     

    Please forgive, perhaps I should send a side note so this does not get off topic, but I have a chance to buy a pair of the Dynaudio Confidence 20's for a not bad price. It's just that I've never heard them before. Can you elaborate just a bit more on what impressed you, then we can drop this side bar. Thanks!

     

    John J

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    Well, I can say a bit but these things are very subjective. Quite a few top-rated speakers seem to me tuned for maximum impact rather than coherent and integrated musicality. I felt the Confidences absolutely had that, to a really unusual extent, completely engaging even at a show, and they have remarkable bass too for their size. When it comes to the highest-end speakers I like Gamut which also have that integrated feel as opposed to Magico which initially impress but become tiresome to my ears. Sorry to be less than articulate in description, but if I had the money in pocket I'd go for the Confidences without hesitation unless I had an enormous room.

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    Chris,

    My thanks for your Trane recommend.  This is just the sweet spot in his, too short, career.  Next off to buy a download...listening on Tidal and it sounds so fine.

     

     

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    Speaking of Dynaudio Confidence speakers, it was the top of line units a few years ago at an audio show, driven by Bryston monoblocks, that delivered the most capable sound I have yet heard, from a system not my own - especially impressive was the effortless SPL capability; better than anything I have achieved.

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    thanks for the excellent report. if you wouldn't mind, what is the song playing in the Avantgarde Zero TA video?

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    42 minutes ago, imanpaul said:

    thanks for the excellent report. if you wouldn't mind, what is the song playing in the Avantgarde Zero TA video?

    I can’t remember. Just play it back and use Shazam. Then tell us 😁

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    What is the deal with Horns really showing up everywhere it seems. Guttenberg and Stereophile too. I'm going to have to hit Axpona next time to hear these. Plus the painted colorful (Lambo/Ferrari colors) are way cool.

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    What horns do to the equation is make the job for the electronics far easier - the amplifiers are operating much, much further down in their working range; and the power supplies are actually functioning as they're supposed to. Currents being drawn from the mains are much lower, and are far less spikey; interference anomalies are greatly reduced.

     

    All the designer has to do do is make sure the design of the horn drivers, etc, doesn't add too much distortion, which happens if they are not made well enough in the physical sense.

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    I concur with your impressions of the Avant Garde room...I am not usually a fan of horn speakers, but those are amazing.

     

    I also really liked the Eikon room and I liked the room with the ML Impression 11A speakers better than the one with the 13A.

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    I got a set of Gradient Revolutions back in late 1999, when I was sent over to live in Asia for a couple years (so had to leave my US current components in storage at home.) Triangular shaped tower. The woofer is suspended, open air, in the bottom segment. The mid and tweeter are in a separate unit that mounts on the woofer unit, and has a cardioid radiation pattern. (speakers are forward facing, with the other two sides of the triangle open, so that there's some sound radiation there.)

    Got them for the reason I think the Rossi speakers sounded so good to you... that open woofer/cardioid mid and tweeter makes the speakers fairly independent of the qualities of the room. Our apartment in Singapore had hard plaster walls, with a wall of windows on one side, and marble floors. The living room dining room was two stories high on one end. The echoing was so bad that when I took a mobile call in the place, the person on the other end literally couldn't understand me.  When we moved in we did what everyone does there - lots of rugs with thick padding, and we hung rugs here and there as decoration. While it made it possible to make phone calls, the place was still WAY too live.

     

    At one audio shop, I picked out a couple amps and speakers I wanted to try, and was telling the owner about the awful acoustics. He burst out laughing, and said he'd come by that evening with speakers - the ones I thought I wanted would sound horrible, all room coupling and muddy. Showed up with the Gradients, set them up near the wall at one end of the room, where you'd logically want them... and they sounded amazing. Then he moved them into different placements, and they really didn't sound much different no matter where. He then hooked up a set of more traditional speakers he'd also brought (that cost twice what the Gradients did) and there wasn't a placement that worked. Muck and boom no matter where. He was right. The Gradients stayed.

     

    I've had them in several very different rooms since then. Some well damped, some almost as bad as the Singapore place. They always sounded great. The Gradients are a bit bass shy, as the woofer is much smaller than what Rossi's using. In well damped rooms, I added a sub for the last octave.

     

    I was excited when I saw the Rossis, since speakers don't last forever and Gradient no longer has a US distributor, until I saw the price... 

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