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    AXPONA 2018 Show Report

    AXPONA 2018 was a great show on several levels. The new venue is far better than last year and likely better than any other show venue in the US. The fact that there's an attached convention center made the show feel a bit more official than other shows that are held in so-so hotels in which I'd never sleep. 

     

    Enough about the venue. Those who weren't there and have no plans to attend could likely care less about the venue. This show was a bit different for me in that I spent way too much time talking business with manufacturers and dealers. There was a ton of interest in Superphonica. We'll have a couple major announcements coming very soon with respect to blue chip brands selling certified used gear through the site and even selling new gear direct for the first time in their histories. 

     

    I was able to spend some time on Friday and Saturday listening and much more time on Sunday not only listening to audio systems but also listening to manufacturers explain their products. Some people get upset when a manufacturer is running through the specifics of a product rather than playing music, but I find it equally as valuable. Of note, was David Solomon working with Gayle Sanders new loudspeaker brand Eikon.

     

    David spent a good 10 minutes walking people, myself included, through the details of what I call the Eikon system. I call it a system because it includes a preamp, amps, speakers, cables, and DAC. For some this will be the type of lock-in they run from, but for others this is the solution to a world of problems. 

     

    The Eikon system features active loudspeakers with amplifiers for every driver. The most intriguing feature for me is the Wavelet room analysis and DSP correction in both frequency and time domains. The Eikon system uses technology from Sweden's Bohmer Audio (subsidiary of Aditus AB), similar to what Legacy Audio uses in it's systems. It's about time another legendary loudspeaker designer such as Gayle Sanders produced an active speaker with good DSP for room correction. These systems are very powerful and I hope to see many more in the future. 

     

    The Eikon system sounded excellent. I spent about 30 minutes listening to a wide array of music selected by David Solomon, another show attendee, and myself. The single most impressive part of this listening session was the Eikon's ability to make the music sound equally as good anywhere in the room. 

     

    For example, I put on Leonard Cohen's Show Me the Place and walked around the room, including in the cavernous entrance area of the hotel room. Anyone who has been to an audio show, knows what music sounds like when standing in the doorway or in a corner of a room. Sometimes the bass is so heavy it sounds like a nightclub. Through the Eikon system, this track should have pounded my ears as I walked into the corner and near the door to the room. The experience couldn't have been more opposite. The sound was fantastic no matter where I stood in the room. It was really cool. Once the room issues are removed from a listening environment, it's possible to hear so much more music and many more fine details. I hope my experience with the Eikon system is only the beginning of something great. 

     

    Note: I'm awaiting a response from the company about the correct digital input specifications. The website is confusing.

    Follow-up from Gayle Sanders: "The Eikontrol will directly accept USB at 352 kHz and will handle DSD as DoP (Digital over PCM) on the USB at 352 kHz PCM sample rate."

     

    Price: ~$25,000

    Gayle Sanders Eikon

     

    eikon-01.jpg eikon-02.jpg

     

     

     

     

     

     


    I spent some time in the official Aurender room, one of the 20 rooms featuring Aurender music servers. Yes, 20 rooms used products form Aurender. Two products excited me most, the new truly wireless S5W loudspeakers and the Aurender Content Server (ACS). 

     

    The S5W loudspeakers are truly wireless. No speaker cables, no interconnects, and no power cables needed. If inclined, a listener could walk around the house carrying one in each arm and music would still be flowing. The S5W speakers are powered by rechargeable 18V lithium batteries. Aurender wisely elected to use a standard Bosch battery that snaps into place in the back of the loudspeakers. These batteries are available "everywhere" for around $100. The S5W supports a continuous play time of about 50 hours and an idle time of about 30 days. 

     

    Not only are these speakers truly wireless, but they accept lossless 44.1 / 48 kHz audio. The S5W requires a USB wireless transmitter (included) be connected to an iOS device, Android device, laptop, desktop, and an Aurender music server. This ensures both reliable playback and configuration so simple there isn't any configuration. A CA reader sat next to me while I was listening to the speakers at the show and asked to use his iPhone to stream music to them. He asked if he needed to be on the wireless network. Aurender said no, just plugin the transmitter and stream music from the phone or Tidal etc... There also are no Bluetooth pairing-type headaches. There is no pairing or "connecting" to the S5W. Plugin the transmitter and that's it. 

     

    A red review pair is sitting on my desk, playing the song Chicago from The Staves as I type this show report. The wireless transmitter is connected to an Aurender N100H and I'm selecting music from the Aurender iOS app on my iPad Pro. Much more to come.

     

    S5W Price: $3,000 (excluding batteries and iOS cable)

    Aurender

     


    Briefly, the Aurender Content Server (ACS) was on display at AXPONA 2018. I've seen couple people talk about this as a CD ripper, but I assure everyone this is so much more. I'm really excited about the ACS to store and serve terabytes of my music. There are so many features either implemented or in the pipeline, that I really don't want to dive into this one just yet. I'll be receiving the first review sample in the world later this summer and will fill everyone in on the final feature set at that time. Again, this is far more than a CD ripper. 

     

    ACS Price: $5,600 w/ 8TB HDD

    Aurender

     

    ACS.jpg

     

     

     

     

     

    Other sights and sounds of AXPONA 2018

     

    The new Audio Research Reference 160 M (REF160M) power amplifiers not only look amazing, but they sound just as good. Quintessence Audio had the REF 160M amps connected to a dCS and Wilson Audio system at the show. Both times I went in this room, once on Friday and once on Sunday, it sounded wonderful. The new look of the REF160M is so cool, it should be seen in person to really appreciate. Power meters are between a dual layers of a transparent faceplate. This faceplate has etched output level markings illuminated by hidden LEDs, with manual brightness adjustment available. Again, go see and hear these if you can!

     

    Price: $30,000 /pair

    Audio Research

    quintessence.jpg ref160m.jpg

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

    Bel Canto Black EX system sounded wonderful with a wide range of music.

     

    belcanto-black.jpg

     

    Price: DAC/Preamp $13,990, Amp $11,990

    Bel Canto Design

     

     

     


    Avantgarde playing Rammstein = Priceless.

     

    avantgarde-v2.jpg

     

    Avantgarde Acoustic

     

     

     

     

     

    Dynaudio / Octave Audio

     

    dynaudio-v2.jpg

     

    Dynaudio

    Octave Audio

     

     

     

    SOtM

     

    SOtM-v2.jpg

     

    SOtM Audio

     

     

    By far the best part of AXPONA was meeting up with members of the CA Community after hours. I won't name names, because I'm not sure if there are warrants our for some of you (only kidding), but I had a blast with everyone I was fortunate enough to spend time with. A couple guys introduced themselves just as I was leaving. I'm bummed we couldn't talk more, but I hope to see them next year. 

     

     

    ATTN: ted_b and TubeLover - You guys were missed this year. 


    Also, on Thursday night I went with Mike from Dynaudio, Thomas from Octave Audio, and Taylor and Antonio from Audio Vision San Francisco to the Afghan Whigs concert. It was held at the Vic Theater in Chicago. I'd never seen the Whigs perform live prior to this concert. We arrived at the perfect time, just as the opening band was finishing. This enabled us to walk right up to the third row, in the center of the stage. The concert was a blast. However, listening to 120 dB music without earplugs wasn't the best move before attending an audio show. The first day my ears were still ringing, but by Saturday everything was back to normal.

     

    whigs-panorama.jpg 

     

    victheater.jpg

     

    120db.png

     

     

     

     

     

    I look forward to seeing everyone again next year!

     

     

     

    P.S. Not as bad as my drive home through an avalanche, driving home from Chicago was treacherous. Heading home to 15+ inches of new snow, we saw several cars in the ditch and this semi sideways in the middle of the highway. I think I'll fly to more audio shows :~)

     

    drive.jpg

     

     



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    The Avantgarde system was the best I heard, from the hallway!

     

    actually my favorites were the Vinnie Rossi room, with the Harbeths, and the Salk Song 3a speakers with Schiit gear. I got to listen to the 55K Sennheiser Orpheus, and liked them. I also think I might like the MrSpeakers Voce a bit more than my SR009s.

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    8 minutes ago, Bones13 said:

    55K Sennheiser Orpheus, and liked them. I also think I might like the MrSpeakers Voce a bit more than my SR009s.

    Ok. The Sennheiser Orpheus vs the Voce hooked up to a Blue Hawaii. Which would you take? 

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    Hi Chris @The Computer Audiophile,

     

    AXPONA was both great AND awful. :D 

     

    The great part was meeting people, especially fellow CA'ers. You and I crossed paths more times than I could remember (quit following me!) For those who weren't there, Chris was sporting a jaunty orange beret. Very sharp! I couldn't make the happy hour on Saturday, but enjoyed our impromptu bar meetup with Larry @lmitche and Chris @Forehaven. Finally, @Johnseye who is local, hosted Larry, Chris, and myself for an entertaining equipment comparison session - reported here.

     

    It was also great to meet manufacturers, especially designers, and chat about their current products, their designs, and their future plans.

     

    Now for the awful: the SQ level in general was just atrocious. I thought RMAF last October had far better-sounding rooms. I also disagree with you about the venue. I just found it confusing, and very haphazard. Here's one example. In RMAF, the Nagra room with their HD preamp and amp driving Wilson Alexia 2 sounded amazing. At AXPONA, that same stack, driving Kharma speakers, and using a Nagra digital source, sounded really harsh and boomy. I could not believe the difference. There were only a handful of rooms that I enjoyed.

     

    Here are the few systems that stood out to me as sounding great:

    • PS Audio mid-priced setup, using their Stellar line, and Goldenear Triton Reference. Surprising lack of glare and very smooth. Used their new P12 (P5 followon) regenerator
    • Chord room with Raidho speakers
    • Quintessence Audio (local dealer) had 2 excellent rooms:
      • Audio Research Ref 6/Ref 160 driving Wilson Alexia 2
      • Audio Research Ref 10/Ref 750SE driving Sonus Faber Aïda
    • Western Electric electronics driving Gauder speakers
    • Rethm Bhaava speakers (under $5k) driven by Audio Hungary (?) electronics with Innuos Zenith SE source. Very impressive speakers at this price point.
    • Vinnie Rossi electronics driving Harbeth 40.2. This was possibly my favorite room of the show.
    • Really enjoyed the quiet room with the Sennheiser HE-1 $60k headphone system. Finally, a headphone that bests my HD-800S in every possible way. If this were a CanJam, there'd be a line or signup for this setup.

    Overall, while it was my intent to do more listening, I found I could barely scratch the surface, as a lot of my time got taken in connecting with people. Don't get me wrong - I think that is the primary point of these shows for me!

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    38 minutes ago, Nordkapp said:

    Ok. The Sennheiser Orpheus vs the Voce hooked up to a Blue Hawaii. Which would you take? 

     

    Not even in the same zip code. The Sennheiser by a mile!

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    8 minutes ago, austinpop said:

     

    • Quintessence Audio (local dealer) had 2 excellent rooms:
      • Audio Research Ref 6/Ref 160 driving Wilson Alexia 2
      • Audio Research Ref 10/Ref 750SE driving Sonus Faber Aïda

     

     

    Mick, the owner of Quintessence is a great guy.  He sold me my ARC LS-28, came over to my house then helped me rake and tilt my speakers.

     

    Did anyone get the opportunity to hear the Classic Audio speakers with Atma-Sphere amps?  They were in one of the larger rooms, not in the tower rooms.  Very natural sounding.  It sounded like a concert in there.  I was impressed.

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    Hmm, I think I’d say the Voce system. While the Orpheus is that near perfect blend of refined, and defined, the Voce comes with pads to tune the headphones to your taste, or to “improve” recordings which are troublesome. My SR-009s are a bit more detailed (perhaps overly so) than the Voce, but there were better tubes on the BHSE at the show. I really need to dust off my SED Winged C quad and get them setup on my BHSE, I am still running the original tubes.

    Another advantage is that you pick from several cans for the BHSE. I would be happy to try out the new Senn stat if it ever comes separate and works on the old Senn bias and plug.

     

    Another nice part of the Voce cans are the removable cables, round at that. 

     

    At the level of those systems, it’s a lot about personal musical tastes, and to some degree, the physical element of the system. Marble plinth vs Justin’s custom enclosures. Elevating tubes vs the EL34s on top.

     

    All in all there is not a lot of improvement for the extra $45K. Really, really good, yet expensive gear vs. unobtainable truly statement piece of audio art. While I might not turn down a free Orpheus, I feel no need to try and upgrade.

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    Oh, I forgot one more - the Gingko Audio room, where they were A/B comparing 2 of the Denafrips DACs. 

     

    Based on this demo, I'm quite intrigued by the Denafrips Terminator DAC.

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    Wait - you said "Which would you take?" Not - "Which would you buy?"  Important difference. :) 

     

    I have to say, the Voce with Blue Hawaii did nothing for me. I liked the SR009 with Woo amp (?) in the next little alcove a lot better. But that's just me.

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    Hey Chris, good to meet you, really enjoyed the chat in the bar, especially the 2 "free" double G&T's courtesy of our friend from Manhattan.

    Here's a 1 pager about my visit which I posted to our club's facebook page  Far too many photos to include here.

     

    Just a couple of comments. It was great fun, I'll be going back and probably go to RMAF in October and maybe to Munich next year. I met many wonderful folks in the listening rooms and, of course, in the bars.

    There were 3 major highlights amongst many.

    On the low end was a $3k REAL wireless system from Aurender. During the presentation the host passed a dongle to attach to my iPhone and play my music (they use a proprietary wireless technology). It was so easy. The are battery powered and contain a DAC and active amp in each speaker. The batteries last for 50 hours but only cost about $150 each so having spares is not a big deal. Here's a link to their site.

    http://www.aurender.com/page/premiumaudio

     

    At the VERY high end there were several stunning systems displayed in large conference rooms as well as a couple for Home Theatre. I wasn't there for Home Theatre so spent minimal time on them. Take a look at the photos to see some of these systems but my favorite moment was walking into the Classic Audio Speakers display. They were in the middle of Moby Dick by Led Zeppelin playing on a reel to reel. It took me right back to when I saw Zep in 1971...nah, not really, my memory is not that good. But, the sound was astonishing. They were using their T-1.5 reference speakers, yours for a mere $72k a pair.

     

    At the mid point I had a great time with the new Gayle Sanders “system”.

    I took a selphy with Gayle who, I'm sure most of you know, was THE man at Martin Logan for many years. He's come out of retirement to introduce this new product

    http://eikonaudio.com/

    This was introduced at the AXPONA show and those of us with “Gold” tickets were able to go to a private showing. They had 2 rooms with the speakers positioned differently in both rooms. No point in me trying to describe the technology, take a look at the website. However, it was my favorite time of the 3 days, even including the 2 free G&T's I got from the computer audiophile guys.

     

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    Little bit of marketing trivia.

     

    1.  Identify this car and tell me why it is relevant to the product.

     

    eikon-for-web-84.jpg

     

    2.  Chris was enthralled it worked in a hall and near a wall inside a hotel room no better than a stall.  Explain to me how feasible a scenario we are taking in below.

     

    eikon-for-web-29.jpg

     

    Honestly a bit amazed at a full sized powered speaker system solutions ability to resolve complex multi-room limitations.  Don't think I'm taking too hard a look at their composite images.  You can learn a lot by examining the language exuded by design and layout if you remove the barrier locking them into cohesive thought.  Quite sure many of you much closer to their target audience will see widely more interesting notions than myself.

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    The Eikon's have caught my eye as I'm converting a former small kids' playroom to a mancave and have been looking into speakers for a 2-channel solution.  Based on @The Computer Audiophile' writeup, some additional info from @Derek Hughes, Google searches for additional show reports as well as a thread on these over at the ML owners forum, I've put a few things together:

     

    - I'm waiting for a response for an inquiry I submitted to Eikon, but as of now what it looks like is that the the Eikontrol box is a straight up Bohmer Wavelet.  I'm curious if Eikon worked with Bohmer to add any additional special sauce or just stuck with their turnkey solution (http://bohmeraudio.com/J345/index.php/2-uncategorised/15-products-turnkey).  I wonder if the production version will be in a different looking chassis than what was shown at Axpona, somewhat as suggested by Eikon's video Chris linked to above, but the internals exactly the same.

     

    - My gut guess is that Gayle decided to build a speaker that was made to pair with and therefore capitalize on Bohmer's Wavelet, thus offering consumers a ready made active speaker solution that includes stellar Room EQ.  That makes sense to do instead of spending years and gobs of R&D cash to develop your own Room EQ solution.  That would really make sense if Gayle's target is for a more boutique company and not a huge new brand.  He can still sell and tout the benefits of the whole system even if the digital domain smarts aren't his own company's IP.  

     

    - Unless there are more surprises to come in the shipping version, it's useful to point out that unlike some other active speaker solutions with network connectivity, the system doesn't include any built in streaming sources and it's not a Roon Endpoint.  All sources are BYO, which is personally fine by me.  Sure, it's nice to have a single app interface that affords content selection as well as master volume control, but I can live with that "limitation" as I prefer existing source interfaces from Roon and Sonos anyway.

     

    - This turnkey and separate box route for the digital components can be seen as both positive and negative.  For one thing, upgradeability should be easier than upgrading the speaker chassis units themselves.  Since the digital processing components are the ones we'd expect to more likely need hardware upgrades over the short to medium term vs the amp section, this is a benefit.  And who knows?  If Eikon is successful enough, maybe they work with Bohmer to create a more customized version of the Wavelet that could be upgraded to down the road.  

     

    The downside is that you have to worry about the health and future of 2 companies, instead of just one.  An important item of note is that the Wavelet sends data collected from in room measurement's to Bohmer's server for processing and then the results sent back to the Wavelet.  From a review from Secrets of Home Theater and High Fidelity from last year:

     

    "The resulting data obtained from measuring the Wavelet’s internally generated tones are uploaded, via your home network, to a dedicated processing server. The server crunches the data, which you can monitor real-time via the web browser on your computer or smartphone, with the final calculations being communicated back to the Wavelet itself."

     

    I saw mention in a Legacy Audio forum that this process may be a little annoying ("Connecting to a server in another country is a pain in the *bleep*, as well as other UI issues, but they've done an incredible job at Bohmer.").  This makes Bohmer's health and ongoing support for the product pretty darned important.   The update question is also a fair one.  Since it's Bohmer's product, how much influence do they have over the timeline of such updates?  How responsive can/will Bohmer be when Eikon isn't there only Wavelet customer (Legacy Audio)?  Will Bohmer roll out platform updates for all Wavelets or might there be a development fork that differentiates the ongoing Legacy from Eikon platforms other than badging for the interface app?

     

    - Intersting note is that Legacy's implementation doesn't include amplification, you BYO.  Again, Eikon's selling a more complete end to end.  Some folks will prefer that while others want the choice on amps.  

     

    - Some interesting resources:

    Legacy Wavelet User Manual

    http://legacyaudio.com/images/uploads/manuals/Wavelet_Manual_2017_opt.pdf

     

     

    Legacy Wavelet Back Panel:

    Wavelet_back.jpg

     

     

    Bohmer's Backgrounder on their approach to correction:

    http://bohmeraudio.com/J345/index.php/background

     

     

    Eikon rear panel with attached cables:

    IMG_8768.jpg

    axpona-2018-imag37.jpg

    A little less tidy than you'd like to see for something sold as an end to end system, but most of us don't see the rear of our floor standers all that terribly often.  

     

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    23 minutes ago, rgbyhkr said:

    Connecting to a server in another country is a pain in the *bleep*

    I can't help but laugh at that one. Unless the server is out in the bush in Austrailia with a 33.6 dialup modem, it won't matter where it's located :~)

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    23 hours ago, austinpop said:

    Oh, I forgot one more - the Gingko Audio room, where they were A/B comparing 2 of the Denafrips DACs. 

     

    Based on this demo, I'm quite intrigued by the Denafrips Terminator DAC.

     

    That system did sound good.  

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    Chris - thanks for the report. Although I'm sure you know this, you've gotta have earplugs, even if you have to use cigarette filters. If your ears are ringing, you've done damage and in your case, your ears are your livelihood. Take care!

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    15 hours ago, coot said:

    Interesting, but only 33Hz bottom end?

     

    That does seem a little conservative for dual, active 8" bass drivers.

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    51 minutes ago, left channel said:

    Chicago has great beef!

    Next time you go you have to make a pilgrimage to Mr. Beef.  It's a dive but a really memorable experience and the sandwiches are fantastic.

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    2 minutes ago, rickca said:

    Next time you go you have to make a pilgrimage to Mr. Beef.  It's a dive but a really memorable experience and the sandwiches are fantastic.

     

    Thanks! Maybe we''ll invite the Mr. Speakers crew to Mr. Beef. I'll bring Mr. Wallet, and Mrs. Credit Card.

     

    Late Saturday night we were a few blocks north enjoying the Improvised Shakespeare Company.

    We're making that a regular thing too. Chicago is the land of great comedy as well as great beef!

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