Welcome back to Headphone.Guru’s coverage of AXPONA 2023 thanks to the generous sponsorship provided by our good friends at xsa-labs and Vera-Fi Audio LLC.
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etymotic / Westone Audio
etymotic and Westone Audio are two of the oldest names in the In-Ear Monitor world and now they are sister companies under the Lucid Audio umbrella and they were demonstrating both their entire etymotic collection and their new Westone Audio MACH Series Universal IEMs which Headphone.Guru recently did an extensive review of, letting each of our writers take a shot at them (here, here, and here, with more to come) the standout of course being the Westone Audio MACH 80 8 BA Driver UIEM ($1,599.99), but each has its own unique benefits to offer. The flagship of the etymotic line is their multi-driver EVO with its two low-frequency BAs and single midrange/treble BA that sells for $499.99 to $624.99 depending on which cable you choose.
Gingko Audio / DanaCable / DanaTone
Vinh Vu of Gingko Audio had two booths at the show, one in the Ear Gear Experience room demonstrating the DanaTone Headspace Amplifier ($8,995) and DanaCable headphone cables, and the other in the Expo Hall showing Gingko Audio’s amazing vibration control solutions. Using two Headspace Amplifiers and a Denafrips Venus II DAC ($3,107.22) and three pairs of HIFIMAN SUSVARA Headphones ($6,000) you were able to A/B test DanaCable Lazuli Nirvana Plush HF-SE Headphone Cable ($3,495.00 – $4,295.00), Lazuli Reference HF-SE ($999.00 – $1,399.00), and the original stock cable. The Gingko Audio VCS Toolkit (reviewed here) is available in two flavors VCS Starter Toolkit ($599) and VCS Premium Toolkit ($899).
Luxman / Melco / Magico
Luxman offered up three dignitaries from Japan, Tatsuya Sueyoshi the President of Luxman, Izumi Saito, and most notable for those who came to see his presentation Masakazu Nagatsuma the Director of Research & Development for Luxman. And what an interesting presentation it was, rather than a long lecture on their technologies, he played several musical cuts explaining what they were listening for and trying to reproduce with each piece. It was a wonderful glimpse into the mind of an audiophile audio designer. Of course, their reference system which featured the gorgeous new Luxman PD-191A Flagship Turntable ( $12,495) with a Luxman LMC-5 MC cartridge ($2695) playing through a Luxman E-250 Reference Phono solid-state equalizer ($2,395), along with a Luxman D-07X SACD player ($9995), a Luxman NT-07 Streamer ($TBD), through a Luxman C-900u control preamplifier ($15,995), and a pair of Luxman M-10X stereo power amplifiers ($19,995), configured as monoblocks driving a pair of Magico S5 MKII loudspeakers ($45,400/pr) and a Magico QSub15 ($22,000) along with the new flagship Melco N1-S38 Digital Music Library ($11,999), performed exactly as stated.
Endow Audio / Orchard Audio / Audio Envy
Two of the more unique and interesting rooms were the Endow Audio rooms using Orchard electronics and Audio Envy cables. The floor standing Endow Audio Bravura 12 ($14,900/pr) and the stand mounted Endow Audio Bravura 7 ($6,900/pr) both employ Endow Audio’s “Point Array™” Speaker Technology which consists of a single directional tweeter surrounded by an array of tweeters placed at a 90° angel to the directional tweeter to provide a spacious soundstage with pinpoint imaging and are internally wired using Audio Envy cable. Each pair was set up with an Orchard Audio Starkrimson Ultra Amplifier ($2,300) and an Orchard Audio PecanPi Streamer ($875). This is a sound that needs to be heard to be believed.
AV Luxury Group International / Margules / Raidho Acoustics / Scansonic HD / RSX Technologies / WestminsterLab / Burmester / Rutherford Audio / Berkley Audio Design / Vertere / Aurender
AV Luxury Group International had four rooms highlighting their brands Raidho, Scansonic HD, Margules, and RSX. Whereas at previous shows they ran multiple rooms featuring Margules electronics, this time they reached out to other rare air companies to show that their speakers sound equally fantastic with other state-of-the-art electronics.
Their first room employed the Raidho TD3.2 Loudspeakers ($70,000/pr) being driven by a Burmester 216 Power Amplifier ($35,000) fed by a Burmester 808 MK5 Reference Preamplifier ($49,000) which in turn was fed from a Vertere Phono 1 MKII ($1,599) which was connected to a Vertere DG-1 Dynamic Groove Turntable ($4,349) with a Vertere Magneto MM Cartridge ($349), though what really caught my eye was the Vertere RG-1 Reference Groove Turntable ($33,495).
The room pictured above featured the Raidho TD2.2 (46,000/pr) with a pair of the WestminsterLab REI Class A Monoblocks ($32,900/pr), a WestminsterLab Quest Preamp ($25,100), and an Aurender N30SA Digital Output Network Transport ($25,000) through a Berkley Audio Design Alpha DAC Reference Series 3 ($28,000).
The main Margules room for me was the best sounding, one of the best at the show, as the larger speakers overload these small rooms and so far the Raidho TD1.2 Loudspeakers ($28,600/pr with stands) have sounded the best at the shows I have attended, plus I will almost always pick tubes over solid-state. This room was set up with a Margules Audio U280-SC 30th Anniversary Limited Edition Class A Tube Amplifier ($12,000), a Margules Audio SF220 Special Edition Tube Preamplifier ($8,000), and Margules Audio’s yet-to-be-released Music Server (TBA).
Almost more impressive was the Margules budget room that featured Scansonic HD MB1 B Stand-Mount Speakers ($3,499/pr) and Scansonic HD MB6 B Flagship Speakers ($15,000) with the new Margules Audio Magenta ACRH-4 Hybrid Integrated Amplifier ($4,800) and three Margules I-240 Stereo Tube Integrated Amplifiers ($7,000) all matched up with the launch of RSX Technologies’ Benchmark Speaker Cables ($379). For those who are unfamiliar with the RSX name, you probably remember XLO, and Roger Skoff was the original designer for them.
Black Ice Audio / Jolida
Black Ice Audio (formerly Jolida) is a well-respected name in the two-channel loudspeaker world and they have now made their first foray into Personal Audio with a couple of outstanding and unique products. Their soon-to-be-released Black Ice Audio ARIES Headphone Amplifier (TBA) was designed in partnership with Jim Fosgate (the pioneer of high-end multi-channel surround) and as such has several features not found on most Headphone Amplifiers such as a Sub Bass Boost control, Balance Control, separate High-Frequency EQ for right and left channels with adjustable slope, and a Surround control to adjust your soundstage. There were two levels of the ARIES on display a base model and a fully upgraded model and I can state categorically that there was a significant improvement in sound with the upgraded model, yet even that didn’t approach the magic that was the Black Ice Audio Fusion 11 Integrated Tube Amplifier ($1,875) which as the name implies also works as a loudspeaker amplifier.
Yet another exciting find at the show was T+A, who is another ultra-high-end audio company who has decided to leap into the Personal Audio world. Taking one of the large ground floor ballrooms to exhibit their rare air system consisting of T+A SD 3100 HV DAC ($36,390), the T+A P 3100 HV Preamplifier ($22,350), the T+A Solitaire S 540 Loudspeakers ($54,900/pr), and a pair of T+A M 40 HV hybrid monoblock amplifiers ($59,000/pr). But the highlight for me was their T+A Solitaire P Planar-magnetostatic headphones ($6,900), their new T+A Solitaire P-SE Planar-magnetostatic headphones ($3,900), and their HA 200 Headphone Amplifier ($9,650) which was sourced from their MP 200 Multi-Source Player ($5,900). Also of interest was their wireless ANC T+A Solitaire T Headphones (1,600).