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  • AXPONA 2017: Lee’s Best of Show

    June 24, 2017 // 0 Comments

    This year’s AXPONA was the second one I attended and I thought it was a very well produced event.  Many manufacturers were represented and attendance appeared very healthy.  And there is no shortage of good out-of-the-hotel dining experiences in Chicago.  I am looking forward to the next one. Our colleague John Stancavage has griped about he absence of CDs and I must agree.  I may be a bit biased about this format since I have been collecting them since they came out in 1982.  DACs [...]
  • The audio-show year kicked off for me with an eardrum-flexing snare shot in Chicago at Audio Expo North America. If those three hectic days near the end of April are any indication, we’re in for a heck of a ride. AXPONA was the first of what will be the most crowded calendar ever on the exhibit circuit, with three shows in California alone, as well as at least that many other sizable events elsewhere. And that’s just the domestic lineup — the huge High End Munich show also drew [...]
  • AXPONA 2017: Music From Another Room, Part 3

    June 11, 2017 // 2 Comments

    A photojournal by Eric Franklin Shook You can’t just say “It’s awesome, buy it.” Eliciting a gut reaction of confidence in consumers who speak your name in conversations of top tier service and products is neither straightforward, measurable, or paint by numbers. Decades of experience and market research at all levels of the supply chain are prerequisite to attaining a seat at the table with the most trusted names in hi-fi. Building a good product is not enough. Anyone telling you [...]
  • Mark Sossa of Well Pleased A/V was, once again, show off his penchant for nifty-yet-affordable gear here at AXPONA. Mark is one of those guys with a reputation for exploration: all the brands he carries are just off the beaten path. Gems, all. But most are probably not “household names”. Take Rethm. Rethm makes some interesting “Lowther-esque” loudspeakers that you will probably never have heard of — because no one writes about these Made-in-India marvels (well, [...]
  • AXPONA 2017: Music From Another Room, Part 2

    June 11, 2017 // 3 Comments

    A photojournal by Eric Franklin Shook Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, proving again that there is more than one way to skin a cat. Axpona is to me an ensemble interpretation of beauty, ruggedness, finesse and power; all tangled in a whirlwind of song. Masterful as the grace of a ballerina, don’t let these good looks fool you, there is power beneath the skin. Today I want to highlight the sexy designs this industry has to offer. Let’s take a walk… Paragon Sight & Sound Feat. [...]
  • Mark Levinson has been on a comeback in recent years, adding top staff and developing an ambitious plan to revitalize its brand in the luxury home-audio market. Those moves started about five years ago when parent Harman International hired Todd Eichenbaum from Krell as director of engineering and set up a 12-person design and development team. A new plant also opened in Connecticut, and Harman gave Levinson access to a $400 million R&D budget. The fruits of those efforts are coming to [...]
  • I first met Zach and Bevin Mehrbach four years ago at AXPONA as the young couple was just getting going with their new brand, ZMF Headphones. I was in Chicago on my first assignment for Part-Time Audiophile and, not knowing any better, was trying to demo everything in the Westin O’Hare hotel. This included spending a couple of hours right before the show closed auditioning products in the EarGear Expo. I checked out all the hotly tipped brands and then spied an unfamiliar name: ZMF. The [...]
  • Merrill Wettasinghe, owner of Merrill Audio Advanced Technology Labs, is one of those guys in the high-end who seems able to coax a bit more performance out of his components than the average talented designer. I’ve heard Merrill (we’re going to use his first name here, as it’s easier to type) demo his electronics with a wide range of speakers — everything from horns to cones. In addition, I was so impressed with his Class D Thor monoblocks that I bought the review pair and am [...]
  • Some audiophiles have an unfortunate tendency to judge equipment at first glance by appearance alone. Often they are guilty of stereotyping products, as in, “Small speaker? Probably small sound.” Some visitors to the High Fidelity Services exhibit at AXPONA might have made that mistake when they saw the diminutive Neat Acoustics Iota Alpha speakers ($2,380 a pair). These uniquely styled transducers are floor-standers, but they still are just under 16 inches tall without spikes. The Iota’s [...]
  • The last time I listened at length to a pair of Daedalus Audio speakers at a show, they were flanked by the company’s custom subwoofers. At AXPONA, I again was impressed by the low frequencies coming from a Daedalus design; this time the new floor-standing Apollo ($14,250 a pair). As my aging eyes adjusted to the dim light, however, I noticed something: no subs. “I’ve always wanted to do a speaker with a 10-inch woofer,” Daedalus owner and designer Lou Hinkley told me. He usually uses [...]
  • I was approaching an open door on the lower level of the Westin O’Hare when I heard an unmistakable rhythm track kick in. From outside, the crack of the snare and the slinky, pulsing bass sounded like the musicians might actually be in the large room. Still, the music was too note-perfect, too immediately recognizable. “She was more like a beauty queen from a movie scene/I said don’t mind but what do you mean I am the one?” yelped Michael Jackson after an opening “hiccup.” “Billie [...]
  • There has been such an avalanche of music servers and rippers recently that it’s a bit hard to keep up with them all. When I heard that Naim Audio was coming out with a new model, I was especially intrigued. The British company is known for making some of the finest high-end components in the world, a reputation I have personally verified through listening to many of its systems at shows and dealers. Naim, however, offers equipment across a broad range of prices — a very broad range. [...]
  • AXPONA 2017: Sonoma M1 Headphone System

    June 2, 2017 // 0 Comments

      I’ve written about the Sonoma M1s before but what made their AXPONA room different this time was that these were no longer in prototype form.  In fact, the Sonoma team had formed a partnership with Chad Kassem’s Acoustic Sounds and the production versions were available for sale right in the marketplace. Present at the show were some big names in pro and consumer audio: David Kawakami, familiar from his leadership on the Sony SACD launch team, Gus Skinas a “jack of [...]
  • Goldmund had a very interesting and great sounding room at AXPONA using some new technology.  It had two pieces of gear and the Logos Sukha loudspeakers in typical “angled, stacked box” format that Goldmund designs are known for.  Sukha has an appropriate derivation, meaning “the wisdom that allows us to see the world as it is, without veils or distortions.”  In Pali, Sukha means happiness and ease, bliss or pleasure.  The sound fit the description and there was also [...]
  • To say that AXPONA 2017 was anything but a success from the standpoint of exhibitors, attendees or the media covering the show in Chicago would be disingenuous. It was a well-oiled machine from start to finish, with a great vibe, an easy-to-navigate venue in the Westin O’Hare, and easy to set up, well-known rooms for those coming back doing the demos. I had a thoroughly enjoyable show with exposure to some truly outstanding rooms whose sound was immaculately dialled-in, and played to the [...]
  • AXPONA 2017: KEF and the art of the demo

    May 25, 2017 // 0 Comments

    Johan Coorg and Dipin Sehdev are fixtures on the high-end audio show circuit, and for damn good reason — they put on one of the best demos going. With a wild disdain for decorum and outright mockery audiophile norms, the pair are just as likely to be strafing the room with a sonic fusillade as they are to “play nice” with yet another request for “something with female vocals”. Look, I like Diana Krall’s cover of “Temptation” as much as anybody, [...]
  • It’s not unusual for high-end amplifiers to be a particularly good match with some speakers, but not others. It’s been rare for me, however, to hear an amp from Chino, Calif.-based VTL sound anything less than impressive — and, more often, mind-blowing — on a broad range of speakers. The company kept that string going at AXPONA, where its ST-150 tube amplifier ($6,000) was driving Dynaudio’s floor-standing Contour 60 ($10,000 a pair) in one of Chicago retailer ProMusica’s [...]
  • AXPONA 2017: The Reel Deal

    May 19, 2017 // 1 Comment

    A photojournal by Eric Franklin Shook I love trolling the physical format cat fights on Facebook. “Vinyl vs Digital – Bowl of Milk, Party of Two”: blah blah, yada yada. My favorite way to do this is by bringing Reel-To-Reel into the fray. I know that’s kind of like bringing Bill Russell (Celtics ‘56-’69) into a conversation regarding the best players in the 2017 NBA Playoffs. Or is it? I was surprised to see so many Reel-To-Reel systems on exhibit at AXPONA this year — [...]
  • I first met Nick Doshi in 2013 at the Rocky Mountain Audio Fest where he was showing a prototype of his v3.0 monoblocks, a push-pull design that used four KT-150 tubes to produce 160 watts per channel. The sound, driving Wilson Audio Specialties’ Alexia speakers, was both dynamic and sweet. High-power tube amps are a tricky proposition. This young engineer seemed to have nailed it, however, even though the v3.0 was still a pre-production effort. I had a nice chat with Nick, who was especially [...]
  • It’s always fascinating to see what speaker makers come up with when cost is no object. I’m not referring to the many models out there that use expensive drivers, top-shelf parts or intricate cabinets. No, we’re talking real budget-be-damned, are-you-freaking-kidding-me, I’m-not-worthy designs. There aren’t a lot of these super-extreme speakers out there, because even in the high-end, these are not the models most manufacturers are going to be sending out the door very often. Actually [...]
  • I’ve been raving about Sanders Sound Systems’ amazing Model 10e hybrid electrostatics for so long now, I’m afraid of being accused of taking payola. Regular readers know that Part-Time Audiophile doesn’t play that game, though. What we hear is what we write. To me, when a speaker performs the way Sanders’ design does — and still doesn’t get a whole lot of ink — it’s hard to throttle down much. Electrostatics are a different animal. It seems in the high-end, speaker [...]
  • A photojournal by Eric Franklin Shook A truth I’ve found: the host of the room sets the mood. This cramps the monotony one might expect when attending an audio show. Let’s take a walk [...]
  • NAD Electronics for years was best known for being the stalwart of an underserved audio niche — affordable high-end. Its receivers, integrated amps and separates didn’t offer a lot of bling or bells and whistles, just good parts quality and dependable sound. NAD today has retained its pricing strategy, but has moved beyond offering just simple, basic components. Its newest models embrace the latest stereo technology, while still being within reach of many enthusiasts. At AXPONA, the [...]
  • There was something special happening in the Fern & Roby room shared with Voxativ in Chicago, and it kept me coming back for more. The turntables that Christopher Hildebrand, and cohort Jesse Brown had brought from Richmond, Virginia not only looked amazing, they did that thing where they sounded amazing. The analog translation duties were being handled through Voxativ T-211 amplifier with Oshima transformers ($22,900 USD, $31,400 CAN) and 97dB Zeth-B loudspeakers ($17,000 USD, $24,500 [...]