It was dark, and it was cold, and the faint morning light seeping through a crack in the curtains of my hotel room was grey, and did nothing to prompt me to throw them back, and greet the day like that famous Monty Python scene from Life of Brian. But with one eye cocked open surveying my surroundings I decided to see just what this last day of AXPONA 2018 would bring to my eyes, and ears, and so I leapt out of bed (not really), and headed over to the Renaissance Schaumburg.
First up was Wyn Wong of Wynn Audio from Toronto, Canada. Wong has been awarded with a number of “Best in Show” awards for his systems at trade shows over the last couple years, and Chicago will be no different I’m sure. His main rig in the Utopia C ballroom featured the Metronome Kalista DreamPlay One CD transport, a Thales TTT-Compact II Turntable with an EMT JSD VM cartridge, Karan Acoustics electronics, Penaudio Sinfonia loudspeakers, and gorgeous Zensati Zorro, and Seraphim cabling. This was a reference-level rig in my opinion, but minus the reference-level price I usually associate with this level of sound. It had large-scale, space-filling, big-dynamic-swing capability, was utterly captivating, musical, and had an incredible amount of resolution without sacrificing warmth: this is what system synergy is all about to me. Wong seems to clearly understand what it means to put a holistic system together with experience.
Rolling with the big-system vibe, I then ducked into Paragon Sight & Sound which was showing in the Innovation room located on the ground floor. Here I took in the the sinister black, brooding hulks of the Wilson Alexandria XLF loudspeakers, being driven by a pair of weighty Dan D’Agostino Momentum mono block power amplifiers, Momentum Preamplifier, and Momentum phono stage for the Clearaudio Innovation turntable, not to mention a full dCS Vivaldi stack on the digital side. Cabling, and power conditioning were provided by Transparent Audio. This room had a meaty, sinewy sound in the mids, and bottom end, that seem to enjoy showing off a bit of wall-flexing dynamic speed, and bass extension. With that muscle came sophistication though – this wasn’t brawn without brains – as the upper mids, and treble seemed to hold sway with air, delicacy, and transparency to the recorded space as decay off piano notes had beautiful spatial bloom.
Just a hop, skip, and a jump away in the Connection room, Quintessence Audio was holding big-boy court with a pair of gorilla-sized Sonus Faber Aida loudspeakers being held firmly in a sonic grip by a pair of Audio Research 750 SE mono blocks being fed by an Audio Research Reference Phono 10, and Reference 10 preamplifier. An Aurender W20 network server, and a dCS Vivaldi DAC/w Network Bridge handled the ones/zeroes, and a Clearaudio Innovation turntable stacked three high was in the grooves. Since it was Chicago, I’m going to go with the pizza analogy, and say this room sounded like deep dish instead of thin crust. In my experience, the big Aida speakers can get a little tonally thick without total amplification control, and the two 750 SE monos weren’t letting anything slip around here. These amps feature eight pairs of matched KT150 output tubes to deliver 750 watts/eight Ohms, and the bass control on display reflected what I would expect from an amp with this power rating. Despite the beast-mode the mono blocks were in, the rest of the frequency range was less brute force: think of an iron fist in a velvet glove for the midrange, and upper registers.
While this may have been the first AXPONA at the Renaissance Schaumburg, it certainly won’t be the last, and after packing up my bags to leave, I took a moment to sip a cocktail in the Lobby bar while waiting to call an Ubër for a lift to the airport. I sat, and thought back to the previous four days spent in the chaos that is the largest audiophile trade show in North America, and I smiled because I was already looking forward to next year.