Axpona 2018 pt.2

Oh, look – a Garrard 301, but not as you’d know it. This is a $19,000 re-build with virtually the only part left from the original being the badge, so perhaps we can’t really call it a 301 at all? Offering 78, 45 and 33 speeds, it was used with a $9,000 Supreme Analogue Tangenta tonearm and a $6,000 Transfiguration Proteus MC cartridge. The set-up was causing quite a stir with queues outside the room. It took Artisan Fidelity ten-years to re-work the turntable and they were delighted to show how it faithfully reproduces bowed strings so convincingly. They take the ancient classic idler-drive platform and undertake a comprehensive mechanical rebuild, restore the motor, realign and optimise by lowering the centre of gravity, increasing platter mass in collaboration with experts from Purdue University’s Department of Engineering. 

 

 

Innuos unveiled their biggest server yet in the Zenith Statement, the first two box design of its type with a power supply in the lower case. As with the fabulous Zenith SE the power supply was designed by Sean Jacobs and has eight independent rails to provide a supply for each critical element. It sounded extremely good via an Aqua Formula DAC, Audio Research amplification and YG Acoustics loudspeakers. We have placed an urgent request a review sample, this looks very good indeed.

 

 

Adopting a ‘more tweeters the merrier’ philosophy, designer Eric Alexander managed to fix seven HF drivers on each baffle of his new Tektron Design stand-mount from Utah. In fact, the central one is the actual tweeter with the six peripherals acting as mid-tweeters. The $2,000 Impact Monitor model is a three-way made under Patent with what’s called a “polygon-orientated, trip-ring radiator HF array”. The idea is that it will disperse a precisely-focussed like a horn or waveguide but without any ringing-influence induced by the horn walls. On first audition, it was pretty effective and drawing the crowds.

 

 

Bob Carver, American inventor, audio designer and entrepreneur is legendary, so it’s no wonder his products were in use in several demonstration rooms in Chicago. The beautiful Crimson 350 model on static display caught my eye. It follows on the heels of his previous 305 design and uses Tung-Sol KT120 output tubes – and they do look the business. They are rated at 60W each, and there are six in the circuit for an easy 350W rms. He went for these over the less-powerful 6550 or KT88s on sonic performance, specification and because of their unique shape even though it’s hard to see them glowing due to the plate structure.

 

 

I’ve always been a Martin Logan fan, hence my excitement at meeting Gayle after so many years (see opening story). Here was an example of them being well set-up and suiting both the room and the music very well. The Impression ESL11A electrostatics were a delight , the sheer scale of the performance is awesome (I picked up the local lingo quite quickly), so expansive in all directions and so, so open and transparent as to be seductive. Talking of this technology, a little bird in the bar told me that Quad is posed to invest in an all-new production line for its electrostatics and move production back to England. If true, that can only be good news and will doubtless boost sales in China where customers hardly want to buy British designs made on their own doorstep.

 

 

In a room dedicated to American-made kit there was a pair of Volti Audio Rival horn speakers reminiscent of the kind of thing my best friend’s elder brother would make in his garage about 40 years ago. These three-way horn-loaded boxes certainly were dynamic, no doubt about that. They’re also highly sensitive (rated at 100dBW) and compact, notably so for their type. But such a contrast to the Logans across the way that I decided it was a chalk ‘n’ cheese comparison. Good to know they have their fans.

 

 

Previewed ahead of its official international launch in Munich was the Auralic Leo GX. Otherwise known as The Clock, it connects to the company’s G2 Vega DAC for improved performance by providing a digital reference master clock and is another innovation to elevate their already great digital streaming offerings in the new G2 series. Price and technical specs were being kept under wraps and even a photograph had to be take surreptitiously since attention was now being drawn to the new box. I only discovered its existence while queuing to check-in with one of Auralic’s senior executives. 

 

 

Another product in pre-launch mode was an early pair of Studio stand-mounts from Monitor Audio; rushed from the Far East production line just in time but whisked away again before the end of the show. These are minimalistic, grille-less even, two-ways at $1,400 with a dual-slot bass reflex cabinet offered in satin black, white or grey finishes. A optional matching stand, named – rather aptly – Stand is available at $500 in black or white. What owners of the grey version do is unclear. The HF unit is of interest, an MPD (Micro Pleated Diaphragm) tweeter which boasts low mass to give a surface area some eight-times greater than a traditional dome tweeter. 

 

 

There was more home-gown product down the hall (as they say) from Triangle Art. The $7,500 Maestro turntable and Reference Tube monoblocks on the front of some floorstanding ACA Seraphim speakers priced at $25,000. Playing Yello’s One Secondalbum, the result was impressive with the band’s deep, deep bass being realistically portrayed and making my toes vibrate – always a good sign. There was decent rhythm and timing present as well. This was toe-tapping stuff, no mistake. The vocals were precise while imaging good across a wide and deep soundstage. 

 

 

Staying with American-made, a new uni-pivot tonearm from Fern & Roby, the company that builds chassis for the highly-revered Linear Tube Audio, had just arrived at the venue and was yet to be installed. Christopher Hilderbrand, based in Richmond, Virginia it is part of the Tektonics Design Group. Showcasing alongside (I am sounding American!) was the Maverick phono preamp in a small room packed with people. Feeling rather claustrophobic, I had to depart before I heard more than a few bars of delightful jazz.

 

 

It seems appropriate to round-off with a final item from Studio Electric who work out of Salt Lake City. Their M4 speaker is a stand-mount two-way, compact, competent and selling for $2,400 a pair. It looks the part with retro-style grills which I thought added to the overall cosmetics. Electronics were from Dan Wright’s ModWright Instruments, based in Amboy, Washington state. It was a winning combination and one I could live with, lively and melodic. 

 

 

MarkAudio-SOTA was created by audiophile Steve Cheng and, in their Axpona room, Dwight Sakuma of Tadashi Sales showcased the Cesti T, a two-way floorstander in white costing $3.500. The Cesti B is a two-way bookshelf variant shown in red and priced at $3,000. We also had the two-way stand-mount Viotti One at $1,895 on the end of a Marantz CD6006 CD source feeding a Parasound P5 preamp and powered by a $1,500 Burston Audio amp. This was the first time MarkAudio-SOTA had been seen on US soil apart from some prototypes previewed two years ago. The balance was in the modern-style of bright and forward, placing the performers in intimate contact with the listeners - not helped, I am sure, by the room acoustics. A brand to watch as they develop and find their footing.

With that it was time to leave, negotiate the April ice storm and hope flights from O’Hare were not disrupted too much. The organisers were delighted with the first year at a new, larger venue and the event will bed down to become smoother in operation as everyone involved (organisers, hotel staff, exhibitors, media and even visitors) get to know what’s what and where’s where – just as they did at the old Westin. Overall, it was a delight to find far more rooms with adequate and good sounds than those with downright dreadful ones. That’s not always the case with hotel shows. 

Trevor Butler