DK's AXPONA 2018 Experience - Pt. 1 of 3 - General Notes

DarqueKnightDarqueKnight Posts: 6,199
Introduction

I attended Audio eXPO North Amera 2018 with one goal in mind: finding candidates for a loudspeaker upgrade for my two channel system. I was not successful in that regard. I was successful in finding out what my "dream" speaker would sound like. It would have the speed, clarity, detail, resolution, liquidity, dynamics, and build quality of the Sonus faber Aidas coupled with the sound stage, image weight, image stability, and tactile sensation of my hotrodded SDA SRS 1.2TLs. In other words, my dream speaker does not exist...yet. However it's creation is well within the the realm of the possible...if not the probable...and I now know exactly what it sounds like.

My report on AXPONA 2018 is split into three parts:

1. General Notes.
2. Review of the Sonus faber Aida.
3. Modification of my friend's SDA 1Cs and his impressions of AXPONA 2018.

The Venue

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Figure 1. The Renaissance Schaumburg.

I did not stay at the show venue. I stayed at a hotel 5 minutes away with similar amenities and 1/2 the room rate. I thought I might have an issue with parking, but I was able to find (free) parking a short distance from the hotel entrance on each day of the show, even on Saturday...when everyone and his brother showed up.

Friday was very laid back with no crowded rooms (at least not the rooms I was interested in) with plenty of opportunity to listen in the sweet spot. Saturday was crowded. Sunday was back to being laid back.

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Figure 2. I wondered if this was going to be worth the extra cost. It was, if only for the...

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Figure 3. ...Gold Pass Lounge. A quiet place to relax, enjoy a beverage and snacks, and organize my copious amounts of listening notes.

After registration, I made a kamikaze dive for the "Connection" room, where the Aidas were set up with some breathtaking electronics.

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Figure 4. Sonus faber Aida Mk IIs ($130,000). All other listening sessions were a slow descent downhill after this. The amps are Audio Research Reference 750 SE monoblocks ($66,000 per pair)

I spent 4.5 hours listening to the Aidas, with my music from a USB stick and other musical selections provided by the hosts (Sonus faber and Quintessence Audio), and other show attendees. The hosts were happy to play digital and vinyl music brought by the attendees...or they would look up special requests via their music streaming service.

I asked one of the hosts if there were other Sonus faber speakers on exhibit at the show. He said there were, but he didn't know where because he had no involvement in the other exhibits. I didn't feel like hunting them down.

Next, I visited the world of Wilson Audio.

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Figure 5. Wilson Audio Sabrina ($15,900).

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Figure 6. Wilson Audio Alexia 2 ($57,900)

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Figure 7. Wilson Audio Alexandria XLF ($210,000-$220,000)

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Figure 8. The Alexandrias digital source was a drool-inducing dCS Vivaldi stack ($115,000 total). Top to bottom: Vivaldi transport ($42,000), Vivaldi DAC ($36,000), Vivaldi clock ($15,000), Vivaldi upsampler ($22,000).

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Figure 9. Clearaudio Master Innovation turntable ($32,500) and matching stand ($11,000) in the Alexandria room. There were many beautiful turntables on display at the show. Thank heaven I don't have to fool with these mechanical abominations any more (except for the occasional LP-to-digital transfer).

Regardless of which Wilson model I auditioned or what they were driven with, the Wilson sound was too bright and "Krellish" for my tastes. After listening to the Alexandrias, I went back to the Aida room in order to calm my ears.

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Figure 10. Whoo Hooo...Clearaudio turntable display. AXPONA offered up an abundance of turntables and tubes...neither of which I am interested in.

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Figure 11. I remember the nerve wracking days of cartridge set up...and desperately trying not to break those hair-thin cartridge wires. Digital (DSD) delivered me!

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Figure 12. Carver Amazing Line Source speakers ($18,500).

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Figure 13. Audio Thesis room featuring an all Italian design stereo system with Rosso Fiorentino Certaldo speakers ($6,000). Forum member @DSkip is Audio Thesis' owner. Very impressive sound. The speaker's red "metalflake" finish was awesome.

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Figure 14. Pass Labs room...so disappointing...only static displays of gear, but Pass gear was well represented throughout the show. The man in the dark suit is Desmond Harrington, Pass Labs president and chief of mechanical design. When I asked him why none of the XS series gear was on display, he said they didn't feel like hauling gear that heavy across the country. When I asked why they didn't have an equipment demo setup, he said their philosophy was that shows are not the best venue for demonstrating gear. Well, he's right. There is no substitute for a home audition. It was nice to meet Desmond after corresponding with him for years.

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Figure 15. Martin Logan Renaissance ESL 15a speakers ($20,000). My friend Craig, whose
SDA 1Cs I modified during my time in the Chicago area, had been lusting after a pair of Martin Logans after hearing a pair at his mechanic's house. He didn't want the Martin Logans after his 1Cs were modded. He also found that he didn't need his subwoofer any more. Craig laughed at me when I told him that he wouldn't want the Martin Logans and he wouldn't use his subwoofer after his 1Cs were modded.


Craig joined me on day two of AXPONA. I took him to the Aida room first, then to the Wilson Audio rooms, then to the two Martin Logan exhibits, then we wandered around to different exhibits. He became increasingly agitated and asked "why does everything sound worse than the first room?"

"So hot it burns Mice!"~DK
"Polk SDA-SRSs are hopelessly out of date both sonically and technologically... I see no value whatsoever in older SDA speakers."~Audio Asylum Member
"Knowledge, without understanding, is a path to failure."~DK
"Those who irrationally rail against something or someone that is no threat to them, actually desire (or desire to be like) the thing or person they are railing against."~DK

Comments

  • DarqueKnightDarqueKnight Posts: 6,199
    edited April 20
    nts3k9lmlzgc.jpg
    Figure 16. Magnepan 3.7i ($6,000). I had never heard bass this good from a Magnepan speaker, not even from the big ones. I suspected the 3.7i's were getting some help on the low end. I asked the host if there was a subwoofer somewhere in the room. He replied, in a very hushed voice, that there was a Velodyne subwoofer in operation and tucked behind the curtains, but it was "turned almost all the way down".

    pc5pd7bfeoer.jpg
    Figure 17. I only went to the Utopia A room because the show directory said that's where Douglas Connection cables were on exhibit and I wanted to meet @helipilotdoug. When I got to the room and saw nothing but Legacy Audio speakers, I asked if they were sharing a room with Douglas Connection. It was explained that Legacy uses Douglas Connection cables. This was a huge room, 30' W x 59' L x 15' H.

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    Figure 18. Legacy Valor speakers ($80,000).

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    Legacy Signature SE speakers ($6,995-$8,250).

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    Figure 19. Legacy Focus SE speakers ($10,615-$11,990). These were my favorites of the Legacy line.

    The second largest chunk of time, after the time spent with the Aidas, was in the Legacy Audio room: 2 hours over two days.

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    Figure 20. I only stepped into this room because they had PS Audio's newest AC regenerator, the P20, in the system. I own five PS Audio power plants ( three P10s, one P5, and one Power Plant Premier). I find the P20 intriguing, but I don't know if I could ever talk myself into owning a piece of gear with handles on the front. No, the handles are not removable. I, and others, have already asked.

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    Figure 21. Cool P20 displays.

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    Figure 22. The Bryston room, featuring Bryston Mini T speakers ($3,200). My system at work is all Bryston electronics.

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    Figure 23. Now, I can cross hearing a million dollar stereo system off my bucket list. This "Ultimate Sound System" featured Von Schweikert Ultra 11 speakers ($295,000), four VAC Statement 450iQ power amps ($240,000 total), and $500,000 worth of preamps, source components, and cables. This system was set up in the appropriately named "Euphoria" room, which measured 30' W x 59' L x 15' H.

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    Figure 24. The Ultimate Sound System equipment rack left end.

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    Figure 25. The Ultimate Sound System equipment rack right end.

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    Figure 26. Understandably, there were lots of "government agent" type guys in very dark suits standing around in the room. I thought they would shoo me away when I approached the equipment rack to take pictures, but they were cool.

    The Ultimate Sound System didn't tickle my ears either. It had that "etched", "hyper detailed", "hi-fi-ish" sound quality that I often hear in high end stereo systems. This was supposed to be the last demo for me on the last day of the show. Fortunately, after auditioning the Ultra 11s, I had a little over 30 minutes before the show closed. I made another kamikaze dive for the Aida room to listen to a few more tunes so that my show experience would end on a high note.

    "So hot it burns Mice!"~DK
    "Polk SDA-SRSs are hopelessly out of date both sonically and technologically... I see no value whatsoever in older SDA speakers."~Audio Asylum Member
    "Knowledge, without understanding, is a path to failure."~DK
    "Those who irrationally rail against something or someone that is no threat to them, actually desire (or desire to be like) the thing or person they are railing against."~DK
  • pitdogg2pitdogg2 Posts: 9,835
    It would of been nice to meet you Ray. There was a group of 10 of us there Saturday.
  • Moose68BashMoose68Bash Posts: 3,525
    @DarqueKnight,

    As always, a great review of an interesting subject.

    Thank you.
    Family Room, PS Audio PW Transport, DirectStream DAC; AQ Sky XLRs, Perreaux SM6 MKII Pre; AQ Sky XLRs, Perreaux Prisma 750 Amps or CAT 600.2 Dualmono Amp, Morrow SP7 Speaker Cables, SDA SRS 1.2tls (RD0198s, Dreadnought, Black Hole 5, Acousta-Stuf, Dynamat Extreme, JBWeld. Vr3 Mods: "The Abbot" Monastery-Level Xovers, Custom Internal Wiring, Binding Post Plates, & SDA ICs).

    Exercise Room, Wadia 171 iPod Dock, PS Audio PerfectWave MkII DAC, AQ Sky XLRs, Perreaux SM6 Preamp, AQ King Cobra RCAs, Perreaux PMF3150 Amp, Dreadnought, Supra Rondo 4x2.5 Speaker Cables, SDA 1Cs (Vr3 Mods Xovers).

    Synology 713+ NAS on Gigabit LAN serving PW MkII DAC & DirectStream DAC.
  • DarqueKnightDarqueKnight Posts: 6,199
    pitdogg2 wrote: »
    It would of been nice to meet you Ray. There was a group of 10 of us there Saturday.

    Sorry I missed you guys. DSkip also told me some of the guys were meeting for dinner Friday night, but I was tied up each night modifying my friend's SDA 1Cs.
    "So hot it burns Mice!"~DK
    "Polk SDA-SRSs are hopelessly out of date both sonically and technologically... I see no value whatsoever in older SDA speakers."~Audio Asylum Member
    "Knowledge, without understanding, is a path to failure."~DK
    "Those who irrationally rail against something or someone that is no threat to them, actually desire (or desire to be like) the thing or person they are railing against."~DK
  • GlennDogGlennDog Posts: 1,483
    as always, nice and thorough details
    Power Rogue M180 monos & Adcom GFA 5802
    PS Audio PerfectWave Power Plant 10
    Rears Definitive Technology BP-2
    Center Definitive Technology C-1
    Pre/Pro Integra DHC 40.1
    Pre Cary SLP-98 Hot Rod
    LCD Samsung LN46B750
    Source Oppo 105
    PS Audio AC-12
    Wires MIT S3.3
  • Joey_VJoey_V Posts: 6,520
    I have read through your notes DK... thank you for the pics and the foot notes.

    I always find it interesting that people hear differently.

    My friend who I was supposed to meet at Axpona was my "ears" for the show. He came to some different conclusions about a few of your systems listed. Some that you call good, he called bright... and vice versa.

    As always, audio is one of the most subjective hobbies around.
    Joey's Gear:
    Current Gear:
    Torus RM15 -> Emm Labs DAC2x and TSDX Transport -> Cary SLP-05 preamp -> Boulder 2060 stereo amp (w/ Audioquest WEL Signature) -> new speakers
    Rotel RA1592 Super Integrated -> Sonus Faber Olympica 3
    Rotel RC1570 preamp -> Rotel RB1582 amp -> Focal Kanta 2

    Old Gear:
    Speakers: BW PM1 (3.5/5), CM10s2 (3.75/5), BW800D3 (5/5), Rockport Aviors (5/5), Sonus Faber Stradivari (5/5), BW 802D2 (4.5/5), Martin Logan Summits (4.25/5), Martin Logan Vantage (4/5), Sonus Faber Cremona Auditor (3.75/5), AV123 Strata Mini (3.5/5), ML Mosaic (3.25/5), Onix Ref1 (3/5), Sonus Faber Concerto (2.75/5), SF Concertino (2.5/5), Axiom M22ti (2/5), Polk LSi9 (3/5), LSi7 (2.9/5)
    Source: Squeezebox 3 -> PS Audio Digital Link III -> Cary 306/200 CDP -> Cary 306 SACD -> EMM LABS DAC2X/TSDX
    Preamplification: Rotel RC1070 -> Rogue Perseus -> Cary SLP98 -> Cary SLP98F1 -> Cary SLP05 (sold and then repurchased)
    Amplification: HK AVR330 -> Rotel RB1070 -> Rotel RB1090 -> Plinius SA102 -> Cary 211FE -> Classe M600 -> Boulder 2060
    Subwoofer: Infinity Entra2 sub -> SVS 25-31PC+ sub
  • nooshinjohnnooshinjohn Posts: 17,572
    What were your impressions of the Carver ALS and amps DK?
    The Gear... Carver "Statement" Mono-blocks, TriangleArt Reference SE with PS Audio NuWave Phono converter, Walker Precision Motor Drive, ClearAudio Stradivari v2 cartridge and Origin Conquerer Mk3c tonearm, Polk Audio "Signature" Reference Series 1.2TL with complete mods, Pass Labs X1 two channel preamplifier Signed by Poppa himself, PS Audio PerfectWave DAC MkII, Krell Evolution 525a CD Player, Pioneer Elite SC-65, Oppo UDP-205 Blu-ray , Sony XBR70x850B 4k, Polk audio AB700/800 "in-wall" surrounds

  • BC6BC6 Posts: 48
    Great write-up so far! I’m looking forward to the rest of it.
    I was also wondering what you thought about the Carver ALS. I heard them briefly at RMAF and wish I had spent more time with them.
    Polk Audio: 2.3tl front, CSiA6 center, 500-LS ceiling, RT/FX, RTi8, and Monitor 4 rears, really loud and ugly homemade subwoofer
    Atoll IN300 Integrated Amp, Yamaha CX-a5100 AV Preamplifier/Processor, Yamaha MX-a5000 11.1 channel amplifier
    Sony XBR55-AE1 OLED TV
  • DarqueKnightDarqueKnight Posts: 6,199
    edited April 20
    What were your impressions of the Carver ALS and amps DK?

    Very good clear and natural sound with no "high-end, hi-fi glare". It's not what I would choose for the instrumental jazz I listen to, due to the bass not being as tight and fast as I prefer. They certainly didn't chase me out of the room the way that some high-dollar high-end speakers did.

    I liked how voices and stringed instruments were rendered. However, since I had no prior familiarity with the sound of Carver tube amps or the ALS, I don't know how much of what I heard is attributable to the amps, speakers, source components or room. I did not play any of my familiar recordings in that room.
    "So hot it burns Mice!"~DK
    "Polk SDA-SRSs are hopelessly out of date both sonically and technologically... I see no value whatsoever in older SDA speakers."~Audio Asylum Member
    "Knowledge, without understanding, is a path to failure."~DK
    "Those who irrationally rail against something or someone that is no threat to them, actually desire (or desire to be like) the thing or person they are railing against."~DK
  • GlennDogGlennDog Posts: 1,483
    I don't know how much of what I heard is attributable to the amps, speakers, source components or room. I did not play any of my familiar recordings in that room.

    That! Sir, is the ultimate obstacle . . . it can be very challenging
    Power Rogue M180 monos & Adcom GFA 5802
    PS Audio PerfectWave Power Plant 10
    Rears Definitive Technology BP-2
    Center Definitive Technology C-1
    Pre/Pro Integra DHC 40.1
    Pre Cary SLP-98 Hot Rod
    LCD Samsung LN46B750
    Source Oppo 105
    PS Audio AC-12
    Wires MIT S3.3
  • mhardy6647mhardy6647 Posts: 17,646
    Nice to see that big ol' Technics reel to reel deck.
    "It's like watching a roomful of people who couldn't get through college algebra discussing the flaws of quantum physics theory. I guess it could be fun, but it's ultimately a waste of time." -- seen on audiokarma

    "Some amps run on self bias, some amps run on fixed bias. But his amps run on confirmation bias." -- seen on audioasylum

    "Writing about hifi is like dancing about architecture" -- paraphrasing some wag (possibly Frank Zappa)
  • erniejadeerniejade Posts: 4,054
    There was quite a bit of reel and tables being the source.
    Lumin D1, KEF LS50 Wireless, Cayin scd-50T, LH Labs VI Dac, Technics 1200, Denon DL160, Jolida D9, HP I7 Laptop, Wireworld Eclipse 7, Wireworld Aurora, Wireworld Electra 7, Signal Magic Digital, Cardas Quadralink 5C, Velodyne SPL1200
    USB helpers: w4s Recovery

    HT: Elite SC27, Full Polk RTI setup.

  • Yep2Yep2 Posts: 1,087
    Shows like that make you realize your not blind in both ears.
    Eye candy.
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