AXPONA 2017: McIntosh, Martin-Logan and Sonus Faber

The McIntosh room sponsored by Chicago retailer Audio Video Interiors was fascinating to me. At one end was an all-out “balls to the wall” reference system with prodigious and clean bass emanating from the Martin Logan flagship Neolith speakers. At the other end of the room was a more modest Sonus Faber Venere S based system of more reasonably priced electronics. Of course, the imposing Neoliths got all the audience attention and drew large crowds when I was there. But if you stuck around with the hardcore crew, Ron in back of the large room would cue up some demo material on the Venere S speakers as part 2 of the demo. It’s a shame really, as many would leave after hearing the Neoliths. Big mistake in my opinion as the Sonus Fabers were equally enticing.  I’ll explain why…

First up, the Neoliths. This was my first exposure to the Martin-Logan flagship. I always have enjoyed the openness of the Martin-Logan designs going back to when David Chesky had a pair of CLSs in the 90s.  Martin-Logan has of course continued refinement to Gayle Sanders masterwork and the Neoliths have a huge bass cabinet below the panel that puts out huge volumes of bass. It’s a refined bass though, much better than some earlier efforts. The trick has always been integrating the woofer section of the ML speakers with the electrostatic panel and I think the Neoliths show they have it all sorted out. Tight sounding and musical. Really cool is a big rectangular panel on the back of the woofer box that allows jumper cables to be set in various pre-configurations to help manage the bass-room integration.  Very clever ML.  Of course, you really want some big amps and here Audio Video Interiors delivered with the McIntosh MC-1.2kw monoblocks. Wowzers. These amps are as fun to watch as they are to hear. Who doesn’t like a large UV meter display that bounces around with the music?

In the past, I’ve found McIntosh products to lean a bit too much for my tastes to the darker side of things with a bit too much warmth. I did not hear as much of that in this room. The upper and midrange panels had a very detailed, open sound to round out the frequency range. Vocals had a lot of presence and the midrange just flowed and is the apex of the Neoliths’ sound quality. The system used an Aurender A-10 music server with built-in DAC and the top of the line Audioquest WEL Signature interconnects and speaker cable. They certainly seemed to be letting everything through!

So here I am bringing my biases against Martin-Logan and being schooled — they are far more neutral than I remember. It’s not a dead-neutral sound, but very musical, just a bit to the warm side, but I’d probably do well to have more extended listening in my home system (hint, hint). Needless to say I was impressed.

Speaking of the World of McIntosh, they also produce the excellent Sonus Faber line and that brings us to the Venere S. This folks is a world-class speaker at reasonable price of $5,000 for the white pair at the show and $5,500 for the typically gorgeous walnut cabinet. The Venere S has a 29mm soft dome tweeter for highs and a mid cone of 150mm with coaxial anti-compression of Sonus Faber design. For bass, the Venere S has three aluminum drivers for woofers, a port that faces down into the floor. Finish of the speaker is superb. The more modest electronics used to power this system were the McIntosh C-2600 preamp and the MC-452 amp with 450 watts per side.

Demos were done digitally via the DAC inside the C-2600 preamp. Ron played “Grandma’s Hands” by Livingston Taylor. This was a treat as I had worked on this in the early 90s while part of Chesky Records recording team and had helped set up Liv’s guitar microphones. The Venere’s capture the width and depth of the space of what he heard at the Kaufman Astoria Studio recording facility. The guitar was crisp and clean and the vocals were as dynamic and present as I remember. The midrange was spot on. Fairly amazing what a $5K speaker can do this day and age. We also heard some classical and rock music and that sounded wonderful too.

The Neoliths certainly many traits of what a huge reference system can do. It was among the best bass I heard at the show. But the real sleeper was the Venere S. It had a combination of natural warmth and musicality that I could get used to.

Bravo, Audio Video Interiors! Bringing both of these systems together was genius as it showed two satisfying ends of what an audio enthusiast can accomplish.

AXPONA coverage generously provided by NOBLE AUDIO.

About Lee Scoggins 118 Articles
A native of Atlanta, Georgia, Lee got interested in audio listening to his Dad’s system in the late 70s and he started making cassettes from LPs. By the early 80s he got swept up in the CD wave that was launching which led to a love of discs from Mobile Fidelity Sound Labs. Later while working on Wall Street in the 90s, Lee started working on blues, jazz and classical sessions for Chesky Records and learned record engineering by apprenticeship. Lee was involved in the first high resolution recordings which eventually became the DVD-Audio format. Lee now does recordings of small orchestras and string quartets in the Atlanta area. Lee's current system consists of Audio Research Reference electronics and Wilson Audio speakers.