Welcome to the conclusion of our multi-part coverage of AXPONA 2022 once again thanks to our good friend Walter Liederman of Underwood HiFi, https://www.underwoodhifi.com/ , the best place to find high-end audio at affordable prices. As AXPONA cater to the Personal Audio community as well as the two channel loudspeaker community, we will be running these reports on both Headphone.Guru and HiFiAudio.Guru simultaneously.
So AXPONA 2022 was a bit too large for me to cover everybody, in fact, since the show ended an hour earlier than I expected, there were several exhibits that I had set out to cover that I either failed to find or simply ran out of time to see. With that in mind, I thought I would lay down a bit of my methodology for covering the tower. Knowing that I couldn’t cover everything, I wanted to cover the most interesting. There were of course many exhibits I planned to cover from the outset and those have been dealt with in my previous reports, leaving mostly the fun and unique rooms for this entry. I basically started at the top floor and went room to room, most of which were demonstrating astronomically priced boxes blaring loud music. When I came to something of interest, I would photo document, and when possible stop and talk with the exhibitor. As such, I am presenting you with the cream of the crop so to speak.
Audio Video Interiors of Chicago
Audio Video Interiors of Chicago were a local dealer who had booked one of the large ground floor ballrooms and were showing a very impressive system consisting of a McIntosh Laboratory C1100 Tube Preamp ($14,000 USD) and two McIntosh MC611 power amplifiers ($16,000 USD/pair) running off of a McIntosh MPC-1500 Power Controller ($5,500 USD) driving Bowers & Wilkins 802 D4 Loudspeakers ($26,000 USD) and dual JL Audio Fathom F113 V2 subwoofers ($6,000 USD /each) with a JL Audio CR1 ($3,500 USD) fronted by an Aurender A20 music server/streamer ($14,000 USD) using AudioQuest cables and power cords.
The first truly unique speaker I came across was the BAYZ Audio Counterpoint 2.0 Loudspeaker ($160,000 USD). Looking like an escapee from a Terry Gilliam set, these omnidirectional speakers were driven by a Pilium Achilles amplifier ($40,000 USD) with Pilium Alexander Preamp ($40,000 USD) using an Esoteric K-03XD SACD/CD Player/DAC ($15,000USD) and Taiko Audio SGM Extreme Music Server ($27,000USD) as source with Nordost Cables. While there is no question that in a proper environment these are epic-sounding speakers, they way overpowered the tiny room.
American Sound Of Canada
Without question, the most impressive system at the show was the brand new Avantgarde Active Trio G3 Loudspeakers ($129,000 USD/pair) and the new dual-driver SpaceHorn ($88,000 USD). This fully active speaker system fronted by the new dCS Vivaldi APEX DAC/Upsampler/Master Clock/CD/SACD Transport system ($95,000USD) through the VAC Master Preamp ($40,000 USD) could easily fill a music hall it overwhelmed the master suite in which it was set up. The irony here is that I have known Angie Lisi for close to 30 years and filmed the room without actually realizing that it was hers (she was out and about). I was actually quite taken with the smaller system in the adjoining room consisting of the Avantgarde Uno Fino Loudspeaker ($21,000USD) with Phasemation MA-1500 Monaural Power Amplifiers ($32,800 USD/pair), Phasemation CA-1000 Control Amplifier ($51,500 USD) sourced by a VPI Titan Turntable ($47,000 USD).
Devialet has a passion for sound and a passion for artistic design and both were in evidence, from the collection of remastered classic vinyl records to their futuristic space pod Phantom I 108 dB Opéra de Paris Wireless Speakers ($7,600 USD/pair, “Treepod” sold separately $300 USD). Their striking 17 driver 5.1.2 surround channel Devialet Dione Sound Bar ($2,400 USD) is a whole home theater system in a single attractive package. Not to leave Personal Audio out, the Devialet Gemini True Wireless Earbuds ($240 USD) offer Ear Active Matching (EAM®) that automatically tunes the signal of the music to the shape of an individual’s inner ear, as well as active noise canceling.
I have been a huge fan of MBL since I first discovered them in the mid-eighties and their latest version of their Radialstrahler omnidirectional full range ribbon driver speaker the MBL Radialstrahler mbl 101 E MKII (84,500 USD/pair) has done nothing to dampen the ardor. I was first introduced to MBL by Robert Lee (of Acoustic Zen fame) as the premier solid-state amplifier manufacturer (something that Robert has no little skill at) as their MBL 9011 Monoblock Amplifiers ($120,000 USD/pair) firmly attest, but it was the sound of their speaker that sold me. The rest of the system included a MBL 6010 D Preamplifier ($30,000 USD), an MBL 1611 F DAC ($32,250 USD), and an MBL 1621 A CD Transport ($31,500 USD).
In an attached room they were demonstrating a more budget system consisting of their MBL Radialstrahler mbl 126 ($12,900 USD /pair) which is available in a center channel version for home theater systems, an MBL N51 integrated amplifier ($19,900 USD), and an MBL N31 CD-DAC ($17,400 USD).
Speaker Physics USA
Okay, the most interesting room was the Speaker Physics USA room. Not because of any groundbreaking technology, or unmatched sound, but because of the potential of being groundbreaking, in fact, it was the breaking of ground that they were showing, in the form of a pair of prototype speakers that looked pretty much like a homemade atom bomb in a plastic planter. Essentially it is a three-way omnidirectional speaker, with a large woofer in the base (facing downward using the waves of the back side), then a quarter sphere of dome mid-range drivers firing upward towards a sphere of tweeters facing each other. The sound was slightly dark as you would expect from a speaker without any direct-radiating tweeters, but it will be fun to see what develops. For those interested in such things here is a link to the patent for these things https://www.freepatentsonline.com/y2020/0329306.html
For the last several years AGD Productions has garnered a great deal of attention from the press and been especially eye-catching due to their unusual aesthetic of making Class D amplifiers employing Gallium Nitride Transistors inside a Vacuum Tube (not actually a vacuum tube as they are not sealed but they look cool), so I was not surprised to find them at AXPONA and took the opportunity to give them a gander. One should note that these are not actually tube amps and although you can swap out the amp modules (GaNTube TM KT88 MKII, and GaNTubeTM 120KT) you wouldn’t want to put a tube in one. On display was their usual full lineup driving the excellent sounding Ocean Way Audio Eureka Loudspeakers ($12,000 USD/pair with stands) powered by AGD Gran Vivace monoblocks ($18,500 USD/pair) with the AGD Andante Preamp/DAC/streamer/Phono Stage ($12,500 USD) as source. Also, there were a pair of AGD Audion monoblocks ($7,500 USD/pair).
One of my favorite rooms at the show was the Rega room. For many of my audiophile friends, Rega was their first taste of high-end audio, usually in the form of an AR turntable with a Rega tonearm. Well, close to 40 years down the road Rega is still showing that you can achieve audiophile sound on a mid-fi budget. They were playing excellent music on a complete Rega system from cartridge to speaker. The system included a Rega PLANAR 1 ($595 USD with Cartridge), a Rega IO Integrated Amplifier/Phono Stage ($725 USD), and a pair of Rega Kyte Mini Monitor Loudspeakers ($895 USD). That’s $2,215 for a whole system for less than the price of the cables you would probably want to use with it.
Another exciting find was Fidelity Imports who were displaying the gorgeous English Acoustics Stereo 41C Ultralinear Dual Mono Tube Amplifier ($9,999 USD) driving Q Acoustics Concept 500 Floorstanding Speakers ($6,499 USD). On the same Cyrus Hark III Rack ($1,499 USD) were the Cyrus One HD integrated amp ($1,499 USD), a Cyrus Phono Signature phono preamp ($2,199 USD), a Cyrus Pre-XR Preamplifier ($5,499 USD) with a PSX-R2 Outboard Power Supply ($1299). Other items of interest in the room were the English Acoustics Stereo 21C Ultralinear Stereo Tube Amplifier ($7,499 USD), and a Michell Engineering TecnoDeck Turntable ($1599 USD, not including a tonearm).
Refined Audio/Pass Labs
One way to retain phase linearity and avoid crossover distortion is to use a single full-range driver as demonstrated by these fantastic Cube Audio Nenuphar BASiS Loudspeakers ($26,900 USD/pair) driven expertly by the amazing new Nelson Pass “The Beast of a 1,000 J-Fets” Amplifier (TBA), with a Pass Labs XP-27 Phono Pre-Amp ($12,075 USD), a Pass Labs XP-32 Line Stage ($18,275 USD), a Lampizator Pacific DAC ($24,000 USD), a TW-Acustic Raven Turntable ($12,000 USD) fitted with a Schroeder SQ Reference Tonearm ($8,500 USD) as well as a Schick 12” Tonearm ($2,000 USD), using an EMT Lime Cartridge ($5,500 USD) and Koetsu Rosewood Signature Cartridge ($4,995 USD), and Silversmith Cables, a Jena Labs Sapling II Power Filter, and Sonore Rendu SE USB Retimer. Note: the room treatment was not identified but was serious all the same.
I find it amazing how many of the better-sounding rooms were both British manufacturers and budget-oriented and of course, Cambridge Audio was a clear example of this. They had two systems for your entertainment, their large system included a Cambridge Audio ALVA TT V2 Bluetooth Direct Drive Turntable ($1,999 USD) playing through a Cambridge Audio Edge NQ Preamplifier/Network Player ($5,499 USD) and Cambridge Audio Edge A Integrated Amplifier ($6,499 USD) driving a pair of Q Acoustics Concept 500 Floorstanding Speakers ($6,499 USD). The budget system featured a Cambridge Audio ALVA Bluetooth Belt Drive Turntable ($999 USD) with a Cambridge Audio EVO 150 All-In-One Player ($3,249 USD) driving a pair of Cambridge Audio EVO S Bookshelf Speakers ($799 USD).
Rethm caught my eye when I noted that they were running an iFi Pro iDSD Signature Tube/Solid-State DAC/Headphone Amplifier/Preamp ($3,249 USD) as the heart of their system, more impressive still is the fact that the Rethm Aarka Active Loudspeakers ($6,000 USD) are one of the few active loudspeakers to employ a tube amp. The Aarka are biamplified with a Class A/B solid-state amp for the two bass drivers and a 6H6P tube/FET hybrid amplifier for the wideband driver.
Infigo Audio/Alta Audio
The combination of Infigo Audio Method 4 DAC/Preamp ($35,000 USD) and Infigo Audio Method 3 Class A Mono Block Amplifiers ($50,000 USD/pair) with their glass tops and glowing lights along with the esquisite sensual shape of the Alta Audio Adam Loudspeaker ($17,000 USD/Pair) is bound to catch anyone’s eye. All cabling was Infigo Sparkle Series Cables and for serious listening, the heavy aluminum tops, which sat beside the amplifiers, could be set in place.
Vinnie Rossi was in attendance himself giving a demonstration to a sizable crowd of his Vinnie Rossi Brama Integrated Amplifier ($38,995 USD) driving a pair of QLN Signature 5 Loudspeakers ($18,000 USD) fed by a Innous Statement Music Server with a Innous PhoenixNET ($3,500 USD) run through a Merason DAC1 DAC ($6,000 USD). The whole lot was stacked on a SGR Audio Statement Audio Rack ($12,000 USD) with power supplied by a Gigawatt PC-4 EVO+ Power Conditioner ($14,500 USD) with Swiss Cables Diamond Series Cables throughout. Sweet.
Aries Cerat debuted eight new products at AXPONA 2022 which were as distinctive to look at as to hear, the Aries Cerat Pink Faun 2.16 Ultra Music Streamer, Aries Cerat Pink Faun Reference USB Cable, Aries Cerat Ianus Ageto Reference Preamp, Aries Cerat Ianus Essentia Monobloc Amplifiers, Aries Cerat Aurora Reference Speakers, Inakustik 4500P Power Station, Inakustik Pure Silver Cabling, and Apex RD Absolute Reference Grounding Box.
MoFi Distribution had several rooms covering the multitude of products they represent including the distinctive HiFi Rose RA180 Integrated Amplifier ($7,495 USD), HiFi Rose RS150B Network Streamer ($4,495 USD), and the soon to be released HiFi Rose RS250 Network Streamer (TBA). For speakers, they were running Piega Coax 711 speakers ($24,995 USD/pair), while IsoTek power cords from the new IsoTek Aquarius V5 Power Conditioner ($2,995 USD), and Cardas Clear Reflection cabling completed the picture.
In another room, they had dual-armed Dr. Feikert Analog Blackbird Turntable ($7,495 USD) using a pair of EMT Cartridges fed into a Whest Audio whestTWO.2 Discrete High Resolution All Discrete Phono Stage ($3,495 USD) with a Mastersound Compact 300B Integrated Tube Amplifier ($8,595 USD) driving a pair of Falcon LS3/5a Gold Badge Speakers ($3,495 USD), with a Mastersound Compact 845 Integrated Tube Amplifier ($10,495 USD) and a pair of Manger P2 Passive 2-Way Floorstanding Speaker ($18,995 USD/pair) set off to the side.
As regular readers know, I am a huge fan of Electrostatic Speakers so it was a treat to find Martin Logan had a pair of hybrid ML Renaissance ESL-15As ($27,500/pair) running off of a Luxman L-509X Integrated Amplifier ($9995) with a Luxman D-03X Digital Player ($4,195 USD) and Aurender N20 Music Server ($12,000 USD) as source.
In addition to their presence in the Headphone Area covered here, Mytek had a room in the tower demonstrating their soon to be released Mytek Empire Streamer DAC ($24,995 USD) and matching Mytek Empire GanFET Monoblock Amplifiers ($9995 USD/each) driving a pair of Wilson Sasha DAW Loudspeakers ($39,000 USD/pair). The Empire Streamer DAC can function as a Roon Core with 8TB of SSD internal storage (+ another 8TB expansion slot) as well as a Roon endpoint and preamplifier with nine analog inputs including MM/MC Phono inputs.
One of the most impressive rooms sonically was the Esoteric room where they had the Esoteric K-01XD SACD/CD player ($24,000 USD), along with the Esoteric N-01XD Network Audio Player ($20,000 USD) running through the Esoteric F-03a integrated amplifier ($14,000 USD) pushing Raidho TD-3.2 three-way loudspeakers ($70,000 USD/pair) using AudioQuest cables and Niagara 3000 power conditioner on a Grand Prix Monaco 4-shelf rack ($7250) with room treatment by Auralex.
Almost more exciting for Personal Audio fans was the new Esoteric N-05XD Network Audio Player ($11,000 USD) on static display which has both ¼” TRS and 4-pin XLR headphone outputs.
Saving one of the most unique speakers for last, and literally the second to last room I visited (the last being Focal/Naim which was covered earlier) the Malbork Warsaw Loudspeaker is an audio component that justifies its rare air price of $65,000 USD/pair. Three weeks of continous 5-axis CNC machining go into each pair of speakers as the interior of each driver enclosure CNC’d from a solid block of aluminum is a tapered cylinder to prevent standing waves and ringing. Intended to be tri-amped the speaker connections are labeled Soprano, Alto, Tenor. The Warsaw was driven from a simple iPad via Wi-Fi to a Sonos Port ($449 USD) connected to a Moon Audio W-5 Power Amplifier ($4,795 USD) which in turn was connected to the speakers using Malbork cables.
Of note was a prototype omnidirectional driver on display outside of the room for a future project.
That concludes our in-depth coverage of AXPONA 2022 and again I would like to thank our good friend Walter Liederman of Underwood HiFi, https://www.underwoodhifi.com/, for sponsoring our coverage of AXPONA. Next week it is off to T.H.E. Show 2022 in Long Beach, California to be followed a week later with CanJam Chicago 2022, stay tuned for coverage of both shows thanks again to Underwood HiFi.