AXPONA 2018: Quintessence and Musical Surroundings, a devotion to sound


A world within the show, a Quintessence Audio LTD exhibit only requires a few steps physically (none socially) to transport you to a wonderland of high-end audio toys. For one weekend a year, the Chicago area showroom gathers up its roots and re-plants itself large at Axpona. Often taking up an entire floor of the show tower, this year Mick Survance and his crew set up shop at the proper nexus of the audio show traffic.

The Story

Given enough time in any industry, navigating the metaphorical road that is predictable success becomes intuition. For those who operate in dealing with the public, this becomes a sense of magical power, something bigger than self, a type of cold reading or clairsentience. Shop stewards who can make unconscious deductions about their patrons actually do a tremendous service to all sides of the transaction. Have empathy and know your audience. Tailoring a system’s commutative ability to best work the room and components of the client, that’s a given, but going further and adopting that flexible human empathy to understand the clients needs — that’s the ultimate service. This is one arena where I think Quintessence has excelled. In developing a company culture that understands the audiophile end user and proceeds accordingly.

AXPONA 2018 Coverage brought to you by Zesto Audio

When I met Dave Weintraub of Quintessence Audio LTD I felt immediately a kindred spirit. His enthusiasm was heartfelt and true, and his passion for the music was just as rich. Along with Mo’ (another PTA writer) we spent the first evening of the show operating under the guise of after-show shenanigans, plowing through ‘80s new wave and post-punk records. All the while learning as a group each other and how we listen to music.


By morning of the next day I found myself staring dizzily at the Musical Surroundings Clearaudio display, mostly trying to acclimate myself to sunlight and journalistic responsibility. It was time to get down to business and explore what the Quintessence members had constructed to become this years three-room-circus of sound.

Interview portion:
Eric: What is it, and how do you do it?

Dave Weintraub: We at Quintessence Audio spend most of the year fretting over the details of our Axpona displays. We put together what we always believe is the bleeding edge of what is possible in the Hi-Fi world. We listen, test and tweak endlessly till we get the results we are trying to attain. Many times we have far from the most expensive systems at the show, but I can assure you we will always have the most compelling and emotional set up there. Our goal is to speak to the soul of the audiophiles that are in attendance.

Mick Survance: President of Quintessence Audio, We like to bring our daily philosophy to Axpona. We believe that the experience at the show and our shop should be pleasant and fun. We love what we do and hope that everyone who visits us at the show and Quintessence loves the music we play for them. No matter the budget, we endeavor to assemble a system that brings them closer to their music and gives them joy each and every time they turn it on.

CONNECTION: Sonus Faber, Audio Research, Clearaudio, dCS, Aurender, Kubala Sosna, and Critical Mass Systems

The best part of waking up is not Folgers in your cup, but instead having a newly updated pair of Sonus Faber Aida Mk IIs kissing you on the cheek like a stray rottweiler. I knew I was walking into a room, but I wasn’t expecting a concert. Getting closer to the Audio Research Reference 750SE monoblocks I was treated to their radiating warmth. Back away to a steady perch in the front row, I find myself again treated by something representing the best of its kind, an exacting resolution and truth, underpinned by a powerful force like that of angry seas. Waves of sound crash upon my shores and have excited me from head to toe. With a form of electrified caffeine now running through my veins, I am awakened and overjoyed.

PERFECTION: Wilson Audio, Moon by Simaudio, AMG, Musical Surroundings, Aurender, Kubala Sosna, and Critical Mass Systems

Thoroughly stirred into full attention by the last room, I briskly stride into the Perfection room expecting to pummeled again by power and dynamics, but this doesn’t happen. Jon Baker of Musical Surroundings is spinning a sweet classical serenade, and I’m charmed into a soft submission. The Wilson and Moon based system strikes large but with good value, and as you’ll see in my system breakdown, it is the most affordable room exhibited by Quintessence. Letting price alone dictate sonic expectations would be a foolhardy mistake. From top to bottom, the AMG/Wilson/Moon system conveys that attention to synergy and experience that Quintessence is famous for. The SuperNova III phono stage and Giro G9 turntable that had rocked us the night before was equally adept at gracefully placing me into the audience of the orchestra. Notes imbued with fleshy realism dance around the room, giving life to the page and space of the performance. My heart beat now retreating from happy agitation caused by the thunderous Sonus Faber exhibition, I am settled, calm and thankful.

KNOWLEDGE: Wilson Audio, Audio Research, AMG, DS Audio, dCS, Kubala Sosna, and Critical Mass Systems

I am contemplative. This will be the last room I listen to during my Axpona weekend, so I settle in to listen and think. My own story going from childhood to this precise moment could not be have been predicted, but I know that it is not uncommon. Unexpected evolution is all around me at the moment. Run with this thought if you will, I am at an audio show listening to what is the state-of-the-art in audio equipment. Who could have predicted decades ago that tube amplifiers like the Audio Research Reference 160 monoblocks, with their funky translucent meters, would be holding court in both areas of sound and design in the modern era? Who could have predicted that something like DS Audio’s DS W2 Optical Phono Cartridge system (employed here at the show) would be not only a reality, but a serious contender within the industry and hobby. Evolution is upon us, where it will go, it’s anyone’s guess.


The Systems

CLEARAUDIO by Musical Surroundings

Concept Black w/ Concept Tonearm – $1,600 USD
Concept Wood w/ Satisfy Black Tonearm – $2,500 USD
Performance DC w/ Satisfy Carbon Fiber Tonearm – $3,750 USD
Performance DC Wood w/Tracer Tonearm – $5,500 USD
Ovation Wood w/Tracer Tonearm – $8,000 USD
Innovation Basic w/ TT-5 Tonearm – $9,500 USD
Innovation Compact w/Universal 9” Tonearm – $15,500 USD
Innovation Compact w/TT-2 Tonearm – $19,500 USD
Smart Matrix Professional Record Cleaning Machine – $1,600 USD
Double Matrix Professional Sonic Record Cleaning Machine – $6,000 USD


Sonus Faber Aida Mk II Loudspeakers – $130,000 pr USD
Audio Research Ref 10 Linestage – $30,000 USD
Audio Research Ref 10 Phonostage – $30,000 USD
Audio Research Ref CD9 CD Player / DAC – $13,000 USD
Audio Research Ref 750SE Monoblocks – $66,000 pr USD

Clearaudio Innovation Wood Turntable w/ Universal 12” Tonearm – $33,250 USD
Benz Micro LP-S MC Cartridge – $6,000 USD
Vivaldi DAC – $35,999 USD
Aurender W-20 Music Server – $17,600 (as shown)

Kubala Sosna interconnects and speaker cables
Critical Mass component stands


Wilson Audio Sabrina Loudspeakers – $15,900 pr USD
Moon 700i Integrated Amplifier – $14,000 USD

AMG Giro G9 Turntable with 9” Tonearm – $10,000 USD
Teatro MC Phono Cartridge – $2,750 USD
Musical Surroundings SuperNova Phono Stage – $5,000 USD
Aurender A-10 Music Server – $5,500 USD (as shown)

Kubala Sosna interconnects and speaker cables
Critical Mass component stands


Wilson Audio Alexia 2 Loudspeakers – $57,900 pr USD
Audio Research Ref 6 Line Stage – $14,000 USD
Audio Research Ref 160 Monoblocks – $30,000 pr USD

AMG Viella 12 Turbo Cherry Turntable / 12JT 12” Turbo Tonearm – $21,500 USD
AMG Turbo Tonearm Cable – $2,250 USD
DS Audio DS W2 Optical Phono Cartridge System – $13,000 USD
dCS Rossini Player / DAC – 28,499 USD
dCS Rossini Clock – $7,499 USD

Kubala Sosna interconnects and speaker cables
Critical Mass component stands

1 Comment

  1. Quintessence is a fantastic store and Mick Survance has a fantastic musical ear and is an all-around wonderful guy.

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