My ‘Best of Axpona’ Demonstration List

We send reviewers to shows, with a primary purpose of discovering new equipment that might be worthy of review — later on, under better circumstances. The logic behind this idea is that under show conditions you can’t in any meaningful way “review” equipment. You don’t know the room, you don’t completely control the playlist, you can’t adjust ancillary equipment, you don’t always have an ideal seating position, you can’t adjust the seating position much, there is a high level of ambient noise, etc. etc. So show reports should never be considered reviews.

What we and you, dear reader, can do is look for especially high-quality things. This means that attendees will hear some particular attribute from time to time, and when that attribute is special, we want to note it. “Wrong” may be a product of the room, or the set-up or the ancillaries, but “right” is hard to do without actually or possibly being “right”.

So, here are my observations about equipment I heard that did something special (also note that no reviewer can possibly hear everything…not even close). In no particular order and with links to Lee Scoggins’ videos and interviews describing the features of some products:

• Estelon Forza speakers with Krell electronics. A balanced, neutral sound with effortless dynamics. And this was done in a very big room.

• Magico M6 speakers, with Luxman preamp, Luxman monoblock amps, Luxman SACD/MQA player/dac, Luxman turntable and cartridge, Luxman phono preamp, cables by Audioquest. This system had a phenomenal ability to separate instrumental voices. Image depth was outstanding as well. Old vinyl (1960s rock for example) was rendered revealingly and a new CD of Patricia Barber was stunning.

• Joseph Audio Pearl Graphene speakers, with J Sikora turntable and Benz cartridge, Doshi amplification and Cardas cables. A smooth, effortless midrange and treble quality that was impressively musical. Comparing digital to vinyl made it clear that the turntable/arm/cartridge was superb because the digital sounded very, very good.

• mbl 126 speakers with mbl Noble line amplifier and dac, Wireworld cables. mbl delivers a spatial presentation that is rarely equaled. The 126-based system also sounded balanced top to bottom and quite capable of proper dynamics. Neil Gader’s praise was not misplaced. For $12,000 this is a speaker that should be considered by anyone who thinks he or she needs to spend 2x or 3x its price.

• avantgarde Presidential Suite Alexander full horn speaker system. Yup, avantgarde showed this new speaker which features horns top to bottom. The sound was relaxed and at the same time dynamic, with top to bottom clarity. You need, of course, a really big room for these really big speakers (avantgarde showed them on the long wall, which makes sense if you have enough room width to get back to the sweet spot).

• Burmester BC 150 speakers, with 909 power amps, 111 music center (server, dac, preamp). A very big, effortless sound, with deep bass and liquid midrange. One of the best at getting the listener to focus on the music, not the sound. The finish level was non pareil, and photographs will not prepare you for the impressive size of the amplifiers. Variable damping factor was a tuning option that I’d like to try.

• Eikon Image .5. This $12,000 system, which only needs sources to make a complete system, might be thought of as a $5000 speaker, with a $4000 integrated amp, a $2000 dac and $1000 of cables. The sound was relaxed and well-controlled in the bass, with LF depth that seems impossible from a stand mount speaker. The only demo I heard that played both classical music and modern pop (I’m sure there were others, but I appreciated the willingness to cover a variety of musical types).

• Borresen 01 speakers, with Aavik amplifier, Aavik streamer, Aavik dac, Ansuz cables and power director. The midrange clarity and bass control was outstanding. And these small speakers handled a medium-sized space (maybe 15 x 25 feet) easily at pretty high volume. The whole system was a bit like a good macro lens on a camera. Borresen also showed the 02 speaker with the same electronics and cables to similar effect.

• Wilson Alexx V speakers, with Audio Research Ref 10 line stage, 160M mono blocks, and dCS Vivaldi Apex DAC, Clock and Upsampler, with Transparent XL cables. The biggest sound I heard at the show, with an impressive ability to get the sound off the speakers, an experience for which Matthew Clott’s excellent review (Issue 327) prepared me only partially. Well-controlled and dynamic, with excellent soundstage width. Did I mention that the Alexx V is very big? But this system left me wondering what the XVX Chronosonics and the WAMM do that these don’t. I guess I have to visit RH and JH.

• YG Acoustics Summit speakers with Audionet amplification, Auralic digital and Kuala-Sosa cables. This is one of those ‘good at everything’ systems. It leaves you wondering whether the products that have a greater ‘wow-factor’ are doing this via some distortion that will ultimately wear thin.