AXPONA 2022 was a welcoming next step as we move forward as a high end audio community. Attendance was good, and it will only get better as things settle down and we all get more comfortable. It was wonderful to see old friends and to establish new friendships. After all, this isn’t just about evaluating hardware and software. For me, the social aspect is just as important. Discovering new music and finding ways to better experience our old favorites has always been another fun priority. With these objectives all in mind, I have to think that AXPONA 2022 was a big success and I am looking forward to 2023!
For this report on the show, I have picked out six of my most favorite rooms. You may ask, what in the heck does “favorite” mean? Well, it definitely is not a list of the six best sounding rooms. The six are also not ranked by any order or criteria. I was not able to see and hear everything, so it would not be fair to all the exhibitors if I took this “best of show” approach. Everything about these shows is so fluid and so subjective that it would have very little value to anyone other than myself.
My choices were made for many different reasons, but basically they only reflect a personal connection or reaction to these six rooms, and hopefully that my readers might feel the same. Maybe it was a new product announcement that seemed interesting. Maybe it was about a new technology or design breakthrough. Maybe it was about the people who supported the room and what was communicated. I did find a few specific combinations of components that presented something better than what I have heard in the past from each, but again, it was not a “best of show” kind of thing. Considering all of the above, I hope that I have provided some useful information for those who were not able to attend and for those who attended and might want to chime in.
A big shout out to David Solomon, Dan Mackta, and the entire Qobuz team for their streaming sponsorship and support at AXPONA 2022. I cannot remember a better sounding overall conference and Qobuz played a significant role. Not sure how much bandwidth was available at the Renaissance Hotel, but I never experienced any service issues or buffering during the entire event. I was also extremely impressed with the fidelity that was offered in each room where streaming was a critical platform for music. When it comes to Qobuz, the two keys for me are the high resolution formats (even beyond CD quality), and the vast library of titles. Several times and during several sessions, an audience member would shout out a unique or even obscure request, and within seconds the room host had it up and playing. And, more often than not, it was streamed in a high resolution format. Bravo Qobuz!
Krell, Estelon, Innuos, MSB & Transparent
Krell is back! To be fair, like Elvis, Krell never really left the room. The company has continued to offer many outstanding products well beyond the early years, but it has been some time since something was rolled out that was uniquely special. We have it now. The new Krell KSA-i400 stereo amplifier has been generating quite the buzz on the Internet over the last year, and AXPONA 2022 was the first opportunity for both the press and the public to give it a good listen.
At 160 lbs. and 400 watts per channel into 8 ohms, 800 watts into 4 ohms, and 1600 watts into 2 ohms, the KSA-i400 stereo amplifier is a real beast. A monoblock configuration will also be offered down the road, so interested parties had better get a few piano movers on the payroll. The industrial design harkens back to prior old school Krell models that are now considered classics. I owned the KSA-50 and FPB-300 stereo amplifiers—two of my all-time favorites. At an estimated $35,000 MSRP, the KSA-i400 is a different animal in both demeanor and sound quality. Yes, we still have the thunderous bottom end grunt, but now we have a musicality and bloom in the mids and highs that are well beyond the earlier legacy models. There is a sense of space and dimension that will fill the very biggest and most challenging environments—which was much the case at AXPONA in the vast Schaumburg D room.
I talked briefly to Krell CEO Walter Schofield at the show. You could just sense the excitement and pride for this new offering. I learned that there are three proprietary technologies that are the primary differentiators or keys to the efficiency and performance of the KSA-i400. The first is the Krell intelligent Bias or iBias system that delivers the sonic performance of Class A operation while minimizing the power consumption and heat that Class A traditionally requires. The second is the Krell XD technology that provides for improved amplifier stability and transient response by lowering the output impedance below traditional norms. The third has not been formally named or designated just yet, but it can support the elimination of 2nd order harmonics – thus, still another improvement in performance and sound. Don’t let these overly simple definitions fool you. These technologies are extremely sophisticated. Please see the Krell website for more detailed explanations.
Lets not forget the Estelon Forza loudspeakers, Innuos Statement streamer, MSB Reference DAC and Transparent XL cable. The Forza loudspeakers sounded just fantastic from top to bottom. No subwoofers needed here! Tone, timbre and pitch were spot on. I am not a big Diana Krall fan, but when she kicks in on “A Case of You” from her Live In Paris release, I had to lean forward and slowly take it all in as it almost sounded like a different recording. Yes, this was something special!
- Krell Illusion Preamp ($22,000)
- Krell KSA-i400 Stereo Amplifier ($35,000 )
- Estelon Forza Loudspeakers ($160,000)
- Innuos Statement Streamer ($15,100)
- MSB Reference DAC ($49,500)
- Transparent XL Cables Throughout (Assorted)
Quintessence Audio, Sonus Faber, Boulder, Clearaudio, DS Audio, dCS, Transparent, Critical Mass
I arrived early on the first day of the show just in time to watch Mick and Patrick Survance and the entire Quintessence team in action. Quintessence has been a staple at AXPONA since its inception and this year was just another example of continued excellence. The last minute details never seem to end at an event like this, but these two had it all under control and ready to roll. A few final tweaks and a few final smiles of satisfaction, and all three of their rooms were locked in and loaded. These folks know what they are doing and the results clearly highlighted the difference that an experienced dealer can offer—even for the most complicated configurations and the toughest rooms at a high end audio conference.
I have owned a myriad of Sonus Faber loudspeakers over the years. This includes the original Guarneri, the Amati Anniversario and now the Stradivarius. Bottom line. I have never heard a Sonus Faber loudspeaker sound this good! The Aida MK II took the music to another level. No doubt that the behemoth Boulder 2160 Amplifier had something to do with it. This is the third time that I have heard it—all with different speakers and supporting components. Everything it touches seems to turn to gold! I am also confident that the components from Clearaudio, DS Audio, dCS, Transparent and Critical Mass provided significant contributions, but there is something about this Boulder gear that brings out the very best.
I have heard the Hugh Masekela “Stimela” (Coal Train) track on many systems and via many formats. A favorite at most shows, it seems to rock the house and sound impressive in almost any system. This room provided something new. I was sitting dead center in the front row and when the trumpet and drums began to roll in and enter the soundstage, I turned and looked at my wife standing in the back. I could see that her chin had almost dropped to the floor. She was soon sitting next to me and enjoying a more near field experience. The sound was physically startling with an impact and weight that I have rarely experienced before. So much transparency. So much clarity and definition. So much harmonic brilliance. A sonically massive combination! Thanks to Will Kline of the McIntosh Group for hosting the room and for his excellent musical selections (see picture above)!
- Sonus Faber Aida Mk II Loudspeakers ($140,000)
- Boulder 2110 Preamp ($70,000)
- Boulder 2108 Preamp ($56,000)
- Boulder 2160 Amplifier ($83,000)
- Clearaudio Reference Jubilee Turntable & 9″ Universal Arm ($30,000)
- DS Audio Phono Cartridge ($6,600)
- dCS Rossini DAC ($32,800)
- dCS Rossini Clock ($10,200)
- Transparent Opus Cables Throughout ($190,000)
- Transparent Power Isolator ($7290)
- Critical Mass Olympus Racks & Isolation ($150,000)
Vinnie Rossi, Qln, Innuos, Merason and Swisscable
I have been discussing the new Vinnie Rossi Brama Integrated with Mark Sossa of Well Pleased Audio Vida for well over a year. I am a huge fan of the Vinnie Rossi L2i Signature integrated amplifier, and Mark’s updates and pleads for patience on the Brama were quite the tease. Well, despite the pandemic and now the supply chain challenges, the design and rollout of this incredible jewel was well worth the wait.
This room was an interesting contrast from the two mega systems outlined above. This was a more intimate and nuanced presentation yet very expressive and perfectly balanced. The synergy between the Brama and the Qln Signature Speakers (Mark represents both products), was immediate and mesmerizing. Add the Innuos Statement Music Server, Merisason DAC-1 and Swisscables and you have pure magic. Along with a certain measure of liquidity and harmonic seduction, there was also an impressive level of inner detail and transparency that was extremely engaging.
This was my first face to face with Vinnie. The new Brama preamp, amplifier and integrated amplifier are clearly the very pinnacle of his design career as his passion and excitement were hard not to notice. You have to admire if not applaud this kind of commitment! Superbly thought out and executed, the Brama integrated amplifier is a unique design with the best of both old school and new technologies. We are talking 200-watts at 8 ohms and 350 at 4 ohms. You have optional solid state and triode modes (with Western Electric 300B) that can be matched to specific musical needs and also switched back and forth on the fly. Internally, there is some very sophisticated circuitry that monitors both heatsink temperatures and output current for additional control and long term reliability.
The alluring aluminum Bluetooth remote, with a high resolution sapphire glass display, provides an extensive menu of controls and options well beyond most standard offerings today. And the industrial design? Vinnie worked with the celebrated designer Olivier Raymond to develop the look and feel of the Brama. The end result is that the Brama has got to be one of the most beautiful integrated amplifiers currently available. I couldn’t keep my eye off those analog gauges and the drop dead gorgeous aluminum chassis! I can’t wait for a review later this year!
- Vinnie Rossi Brama Integrated Amplifier ($38,995)
- Qln Signature Loudspeakers ($18,000)
- Innuos Statement Music Server ($15,100)
- Innuos Phoenix NET ($3500)
- Mersason DAC-1 ($6000)
- Gigawatt PC-4 EVO+ Power Conditioner ($14,500)
- SGR Audio Statement Rack ($12,000)
- Swiss Cable Diamond Speaker Cable ($7,150)
- Swiss Cable Diamond XLR Interconnects ($3,450)
- Swiss Cable Diamond Power Cord ($2,800)
Next Level Audio, Audio Group Denmark, Borresen, Aavik, Ansuz
Next Level Audio is located in the western suburbs of Chicago (Wayne, Illinois), and is clearly a true success story. Proprietors Dana and Tyler Mueller have literally built this business brick by brick into something very special. They moved into their new building just a few years ago. One of the few brick and mortar dealerships still remaining in the Midwest, they have an extensive lineup of premier high end audio brands. One highlight of their portfolio is their long term relationship with Audio Group Denmark, which includes Borresen loudspeakers, Aavik electronics, and Anuz cabling, power management and resonant control products.
When we talk about Audio Group Denmark, you must also talk about the people behind it. This includes Michael Borresen, Lars Kristensen, and Peter Hansen. When you see them at AXPONA and other shows, they are always very warm and inviting when approached. Always ready to have an interesting dialogue and exchange—in both directions. They set an excellent example of what this industry should really be all about. BTW, it has now become a tradition each year at AXPONA to stop by the Next Level rooms to see and hear Lars. My wife insists on this as she loves his showmanship and excellent if not unique taste in music. It’s Lar’s 70th birthday this year. Happy Birthday Lars!
With Lars at the helm, you will need to fasten your seat belts! The Borresen 01 Silver Supreme Speakers are a giant killer. The music just filled the room with unleashed levels of dynamic punch and physical energy. The soundstage was deep and wide. Harmonics had a natural bloom and richness of color. Via basically a pair of monitors, Otis Taylor was virtually sitting there growling and wailing away on his custom Santa Cruz Signature guitar playing “Resurrection Blues.” You will soon be looking around the room for a pair of subwoofers, but they are nowhere to be found.
When we left for a visit to the next room, my wife grabbed my elbow and whispered that if we ever downsize our home or our system or both, the Silver Supremes have got to be on our shortlist. Over the years, those kind of statements from her are fairly few and far between. This says a bunch about these speakers and this system!
- Borresen 01 Silver Supreme Loudspeakers w/Stands ($60,500)
- Aavik C-580 Preamplifier ($30,000)
- Aavik P-580 Amplifier ($30,000)
- Aavik S-580 Streamer ($25,200)
- Ansuz DTC Signature Cabling Throughout (Assorted)
I have seen the Synergistic Research demonstrations on a few occasions over the years at the various conferences. Ted Denney, owner and chief designer at Synergistic Research, sets the standard for demonstrating these products. Ted is extremely effective and quite the bench mark. Everything is laid out for audience interaction and discussion in a very organized and logical way. Dave Weintraub (see picture above) was the speaker on this occasion and faired quite well adding his own personal style and perspective. I was very impressed! Great job Dave!
Some of the newer products that have been added since my last attendance include the new Galileo Discovery Cables, the Ethernet Switch UEF and the Galileo Active Ground Block. See the complete equipment list below. When considering the entire configuration, I have never heard the Magico M2 Speakers and MSB Reference DAC sound any better!
During the demonstration, the Galileo PowerCell SX, the Black Box, the Ethernet Switch UEF and the Galileo Active Ground Block were each switched out of the system one at a time and then collectively to demonstrate individual and aggregate results. Please see the Synergistic Research website for complete descriptions and closeup pictures of each product.
I love to sit in the back row and observe the individual reactions. More often than not the entire audience will react in unison and with some fairly dramatic and positive body language at each step of the way. There are many benefits realized, but the most important is probably the lowering of the noise floor to allow for better dynamics and transparency, and for a more natural harmonic presentation to find its way through.
To my ears, I heard the differences at each step but it was the Galileo PowerCell SX that made the most positive difference. The Ethernet Switch UEF always surprises me when its impact is assessed—very real and very effective. Though we were not provided any A/B comparison of current cable models, the new Galileo Discovery cable seemed to be approaching the performance of the former flagship Galileo SX cables, which I reviewed a few years ago. Detailed, spacious, and with a natural bloom and timbral purity. This at a much more cost effective price point. I have not had an opportunity to review the new flagship SRX cables, so it is hard to imagine what can possibly get better. The beat keeps rolling at Synergistic Research!
- MSB M205 Monoblock Amplifier ($58,500)
- MSB Reference DAC w/Preamp Section ($49,500)
- Magico M2 Loudspeakers ($76,500)
- Aurender N30SA Music Server ($24,000)
- Synergistic Research Galileo PowerCell SX ($27,995)
- Synergistic Research Ethernet Switch UEF ($2295)
- Synergistic Research Black Box ($1,995)
- Synergistic Research Tranquility Base Carbon XL Shelves ($3,250)
- Synergistic Research Galileo Active Ground Block
- Synergistic Research Galileo Discovery Interconnect ($7995)
- Synergistic Research Galileo Discovery Speaker Cable ($17.995)
- Synergistic Research SRX Phono Interconnect ($8995)
- Synergistic Research SRX Digital Interconnect ($5995)
- Synergistic Research Galileo SX USB ($2995)
- Synergistic Research Galileo SX Ethernet ($2995)
- Synergistic Research Galileo Discovery Power Cable ($6995)
- Synergistic Research SRX Power Cable ($10,000)
Note – the system also included various Synergistic Research fuses, duplex covers, cable lifters, FEQ, HFT, and MiG products. Again, please see the Synergistic Research website for complete descriptions and pictures.
GTT Audio, YG Acoustics, Audionet, Kronos, My Sonic, Mola Mola, Roon, AURAliC, Kubala-Sosna
When I walked into the GTT Audio room, I almost did not recognize the loudspeakers. YG Acoustics loudspeaker cabinets are traditionally an all-aluminum affair that are precision machined in house. The new YG Peak loudspeaker series incorporates a precision machined aluminum front baffle, but the remainder of the cabinets are made from one inch thick dense rosin fiber and are manufactured to exact tolerances in European workshops. The design also includes advanced bracing and acoustic absorbers to eliminate cabinet resonances and internal reflections.
The YG Acoustics Summit loudspeaker is a member of the Peak series and is a three way floor standing design. It utilizes a proprietary ForgeCore tweeter along with 7″ and 10.25″ proprietary BilletCore drivers. At 165 lbs. each and with dimensions of approximately 44.7″ x 12.2″ x 19.7″, you have a very sleek looking substantial cabinet design with a beautiful finish and an attractive sense of contemporary sophistication.
I was always a big fan of the smaller speakers in the YG Acoustics Reference series—especially the Carmel and Hailey models. I found them to be extremely detailed and musical. On first blush, the Summit fits in nicely with the family tradition yet might be slightly warmer and slightly more fleshed out. Not always a good thing by my experience, but in this case I found the combination to be brilliantly coherent and exciting! One thing that was very evident from many in attendance was the pin point imaging and expansive sound stage. Comments came from several surrounding listeners throughout the listening session.
All of the components in this room came with big credentials and big reputations for performance. I can only speak to the Mola Mola Tambaqui DAC and Kubala-Sosna Sensation cables. I have some experience with both and I am confident that both were contributing big time to the excellent sound in the room. I have not reviewed Kubala-Sosna cables in quite some time since I owned a full loom some 10 years ago. Maybe its time to take another listen!
One last observation. At some point in the demonstration, the LP entitled If Walls Could Talk by Justin Johnson was played. All of a sudden I could hear feet shuffling and butts wiggling and iPhones under duress. This is one heck of an analog recording! The gentleman next to me was frantically trying to find it on Discogs with no success. I was able to find a copy later. Justin Johnson is sort of a master guitarist who plays all types of guitars and string instruments with roots in both the blues and country music. As I said earlier, discovering new music is always one of the delights of these conferences. Highly recommended if you can find it! Thank you to Bill Parish of GTT Audio!
- YG Acoustics Summit Loudspeakers ($25,000)
- Audionet Humboldt Integrated Amplifier ($58,750)
- Audionet PAM G2 Phono Amplifier ($10,100)
- Audionet Ampere Power Supply ($11,200)
- Kronos Pro Turntable ($45,100)
- Kronos SCPS Power Supply ($15,000)
- Kronos Discovery RS Tonearm ($24,000)
- My Sonic Platinum Signature MC Cartridge ($11,000)
- Mola Mola Tambaqui DAC ($13,500)
- Roon Nucleus Plus ($2,558)
- AURAliC Aries G2.1 Statement Streamer ($57,000)
- Kubala-Sosna Sensation Cables Throughout (Assorted)