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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DALI / NAD
Probably the most eye-catching display at the show was the DALI exhibit which they set up in the library area of the hotel lobby. The striking and wonderful sounding DALI KORE Loudspeakers ($110,000/pr) were being driven by a NAD M33 BluOS® Streaming DAC Amplifier ($5,999) to great advantage, when I first heard it I thought there was a live band in the lobby until I rounded the corner and saw the exhibit. There was also an off-site demonstration being performed at local dealer Simply Stereo but time did not allow me to attend.
While the Campfire Audio display appeared to be business as usual it actually featured all new upgraded versions of three of their most popular IEM. Topping the bill was the all-new Campfire Audio Andromeda ‘Emerald Sea’ ($1,450) employing Five Custom Dual-Diaphragm Balanced Armatures which while still providing strong realistic bass had a much more balanced and neutral timbre than the previous revision. This was accompanied by their full range planar magnetic offering the Campfire Audio Supermoon IEM ($1,500), and their Campfire Audio Orbit True Wireless IEM ($249) which offers a 10mm LCP Dynamic Driver and Dual High-Quality Built-in Microphones.
Empire Ears was excited to show their soon to be released 12 driver Empire Ears RAVEN IEM Prototype (TBA) which boasts a single Bone Conductor driver, two Dynamic drivers, five Balanced Armatures, and Four Electrostatic drivers, this is a definite must-hear offering.
Kimber Kable had two demonstrations in progress, one in the Ear Gear Experience showing their Kimber Kable AXIOS Headphone Cables and another in the tower showing the difference in sound between their Kimber Kable Carbon 16 Cable and Kimber Kable Carbon 18XL Cable using two sets of identical speakers placed atop each other to make placement as identical as possible. The change was astounding with the Carbon 18XL creating a significantly larger more spacious and three-dimensional soundstage. If you ever believed that there was no difference in cables this would certainly convince you otherwise.
Danny McKinney of RAAL|requisite had a very scaled back display for the Ear Gear Experience at AXPONA 2023 showing that his True Ribbon Headphones can in fact be driven with portable amplifiers. He had the updated RAAL|requisite SR-1b ($3,500 with cables, TI-1b interface, and Open-Baffle Compensation Barrels) running of a humble iFi iDSD Diablo ($999 reviewed here) as well as the Schiit Audio Jotunheim-A (discontinued) paired with an RME ADI-2FS DAC ($1,299) and the RAAL|requisite CA-1a ($2,500 with cables, TI-1b interface, and Open-Baffle Compensation Barrels) was driven by a CEntrance Ampersand ($749.99).
As usual, Audeze had their full line of headphones available for audition though focus appeared to be upon the new Audeze MM-100 Professional Headphone ($399), the Audeze Maxwell Wireless Gaming Headset ($299 – comes in versions for either XBOX or PlayStation), and the Audeze LCD-GX Open-Back Gaming Headset ($899)
One of the more exciting finds at the show was Woo Audio’s new Woo Audio WA7e Fireflies Electrostatic Headphone Amplifier/DAC ($1,399). Those familiar with the WA7 Fireflies know that they are a fantastic compact tube amp, and now they are bringing that great sound to electrostatic headphones. They were also demonstrating their new beautiful WA23 LUNA Headphone Amplifier ($8,999) which was also being used by Meze Audio to demonstrate their new Meze Audio Elite Tungsten Headphones ($3,999).
Kanto was showing a quite impressive array of small self-amplified, wireless, and passive speakers, but were especially keen on their flagship Kanto TUK Speaker ($799.99) with AMT tweeters for audiophile sound at an extreme budget. The TUK has two analog inputs with one designated for phono along with Optical S/PIDF, USB, and Bluetooth 4.2, as well as a subwoofer output if you want that extra oomph.
Benchmark / Laufer Teknik / SVS / DEQX
Benchmark was sharing a room with Laufer Teknik, SVS, and DEQX demonstrating a fantastic Line Source speaker system by Laufer Teknik, The Note Loudspeaker ($32,500/pr including a single SVS SB 3000 Subwoofer), using Laufer Teknik Liquid Cables Speaker Cables ($8,500/set – depending on length), Dual SVS SB 3000 Subwoofers ($1,099.99/ea), dual Benchmark Media AHB2 Power Amps ($3,299/ea), a Benchmark Media DAC3 B ($1,799), a DEQX HDP4 Processor (TBA), a Laufer Teknik Products Memory Player ‘Elephant’ ($12,500), and Benchmark Media Interconnects. As one would expect, the imaging was simply fantastic.
VPI / dCS / VTL / Stenheim / Lyra / Nordost
While the first thing to catch my eye was the VPI Avenger Direct Turntable ($36,000) and a Lyra Etna Cartridge ($8,995), VPI / dCS / VTL / Stenheim / Lyra / Nordost room had epic sound as usual, with the Stenheim flagship Reference Ultimate Two speakers ($155,000), being driven by VTL MB-450 Monoblock Amps ($30,000/pr.) and VTL MB-185 Series III Signature Monoblock Amps ($27,000/pr.), VTL Reference Line Preamp Series III ($35,000), VTL Series II Signature Phono Stage ($15,000), a dCS Rossini APEX DAC ($36,800) and dCS Rossini Grade 1 Master Clock ($10,850). One of the more intriguing items in the room was a custom-made rig to burn in cables made by Nordost though apparently, it is only available to dealers and not for sale.