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

DarqueKnight Posts: 6,765

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

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.

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

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.

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.

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

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

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

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).

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.

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

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!

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

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.

Figure 14. Pass Labs 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.

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?"

Proud and loyal citizen of the Digital Domain and Solid State Country!


  • DarqueKnight
    DarqueKnight Posts: 6,765
    edited April 2018
    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".

    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.

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

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

    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.

    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.

    Figure 21. Cool P20 displays.

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

    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.

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

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

    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.

    Proud and loyal citizen of the Digital Domain and Solid State Country!
  • pitdogg2
    pitdogg2 Posts: 24,783
    It would of been nice to meet you Ray. There was a group of 10 of us there Saturday.
  • Moose68Bash
    Moose68Bash Posts: 3,842

    As always, a great review of an interesting subject.

    Thank you.
    Family Room, Innuos Statement streamer (Roon Core) with Morrow Audio USB cable to McIntosh MC 2700 pre with DC2 Digital Audio Module; AQ Sky XLRs to CAT 600.2 dualmono amp, Morrow Elite Speaker Cables to NOLA Baby Grand Reference Gold 3 speakers. Power source for all components: Silver Circle Audio Pure Power One with dedicated 20 amp circuit to main panel.

    Exercise Room, Innuos Streamer via Cat 6 cable connection to PS Audio PerfectWave MkII DAC w/Bridge II, AQ King Cobra RCAs to Perreaux PMF3150 amp (fully restored and upgraded by Jeffrey Jackson, Precision Audio Labs), Supra Rondo 4x2.5 Speaker Cables to SDA 1Cs (Vr3 Mods Xovers and other mods.), Dreadnaught with Supra Rondo 4x2.5 interconnect cables by Vr3 Mods. Power for each component from dedicated 20 amp circuit to main panel, except Innuos Statement powered from Silver Circle Audio Pure Power One.

  • DarqueKnight
    DarqueKnight Posts: 6,765
    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.
    Proud and loyal citizen of the Digital Domain and Solid State Country!
  • GlennDog
    GlennDog Posts: 3,105
    as always, nice and thorough details
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    Power Rogue M180 Dark monos
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  • Joey_V
    Joey_V Posts: 8,531
    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.
    Magico, JL, Emm, ARC Ref 10 line, ARC Ref 10 phono, VPI, Lyra, Boulder, AQ Wel, SRA Scuttle Rack, Bluesound
  • nooshinjohn
    nooshinjohn Posts: 25,213
    What were your impressions of the Carver ALS and amps DK?
    The Gear... Carver "Statement" Mono-blocks, Mcintosh C2300 Arcam AVR20, Oppo UDP-203 4K Blu-ray player, Sony XBR70x850B 4k, Polk Audio Legend L800 with height modules, L400 Center Channel Polk audio AB800 "in-wall" surrounds. Marantz MM7025 stereo amp. Simaudio Moon 680d DSD

    “When once a Republic is corrupted, there is no possibility of remedying any of the growing evils but by removing the corruption and restoring its lost principles; every other correction is either useless or a new evil.”— Thomas Jefferson
  • BC6
    BC6 Posts: 109
    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.
    2 Channel: Atohm GT-1 speakers, Atoll IN400 integrated amp, PS Audio DirectStream DAC, PS Audio NuWave Phono Converter, Pro-Ject Debut Carbon Esprit SB with Ortofon Bronze cartridge, SotM sMS-200 ultra streamer, SotM sPS-500 power supply, and homemade infinite baffle subwoofer with two Fi Audio IB318 drivers.

    HT: All Polk: SDA 2.3tl fronts, CSiA6 center, 500-LS ceiling, RT/FX, RTi8, Monitor 4 rears, plus Yamaha CX-a5100 AV Preamplifier/Processor, Yamaha MX-a5000 11.1 channel amplifier, and Sony XBR55-AE1 OLED TV.
  • DarqueKnight
    DarqueKnight Posts: 6,765
    edited April 2018
    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.
    Proud and loyal citizen of the Digital Domain and Solid State Country!
  • GlennDog
    GlennDog Posts: 3,105
    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
    AC Regenerator PS Audio PerfectWave Power Plant 10
    Source Lumin U1 Mini into Lampizator Baltic 4 DAC
    Pre Cary SLP-05
    Power Rogue M180 Dark monos
    Mains Salk HT2-TL
    Rythmik F12
  • mhardy6647
    mhardy6647 Posts: 33,270
    Nice to see that big ol' Technics reel to reel deck.
  • erniejade
    erniejade Posts: 6,321
    There was quite a bit of reel and tables being the source.
    Klipsch The Nines, Audioquest Thunderbird Interconnect, Innuos Zen MK3 W4S recovery, Revolution Audio Labs USB & Ethernet, Border Patrol SE-I, Audioquest Niagara 5000 & Thunder, Cullen Crossover II PC's.