2016 AXPONA CHICAGO AUDIO SHOW
The name of this speaker company is
That's their actual logo. Any guesses as what it says?
It's ILIES. See it? No?
Not sure about the name, either because it looks like "I lies".
Not good when you're seeking the truth in sound.
This is their Orion 02, 4-piece system - $4,500 including dual separate woofers.
No Crossover Design
Ilies Mid Frequency Transducer
We use a sound absorbent panel mounted on pegs more like that used in violins. It is placed in such a way to satisfy the law of the sweet spot. This system allows us to produce frequency levels from 200 Hz up to 15,000 Hz with extremely detailed sounds and precision every time.
High Frequency Transducer
Features one 1” Soft Dome Tweeter paired with one 1” Super Ribbon Tweeter designed to run without a Crossover. Capable of reaching Heights of 45,000 Hz
Low Frequency Transducer
Two 8” Dual Voice Coil Woofer, Designed to run completely open without a Crossover. Capable of going as low as 30Hz and as High as 1500Hz. Providing you with a natural sound and perfect roll off from Mid-range Panel. Enclosed in a Sealed box modeled after the Golden Ratio, to provide you with Natural, and tight sound.
I regret to say that this was one of the most unsatisfying systems we heard.
It just sounded very hifi-ish and unmusical. Needs work.
The new $500 Elacs we featured sounded better.
This is the Achates SE turntable from Artisan Fidelity,
a company that takes old turntables like Lencos and Garrards
and completely reworks them, restoring the fundamentals
but vastly improving everything else.
Kris Kosiba of Lakeview Audio told us the beltless table (uses Lenco idler drive geometry) was a Lenco outfitted with a Kuzma 4 Point arm with a Lyra Kleos cart. Amps were by David Berning preamp and tube mono blocks.. costs a hefty $18,500, but they he told me to try and lift it. So, I stuck my left hand under the front corner and...
...it was like a frickin' anvil! "130 pounds" Kris smiled. I don't ever remember a Lenco weighing anywhere near that.
Perhaps the internal ancillary linkage, solid billet aircraft aluminum plinth, the Magnesium alloy and Inox Stainless Steel internally damped precision platter, inverted enlarged bore hardened steel diamond laped Sapphire bearing and custom oil impregnated primary sleeve bushings had something to do with that.
Accommodates single or dual 9" - 12" effective length tonearms and includes a dedicated regulated outboard AC power supply.
LaHave Audio of Nova Scotia provided the single driver speakers, $9,000 pr.
Everything is made there. The book-matched, piano lacquered wood was gorgeous.
And, they are an outstanding 94 db sensitive.
But how did everything sound?
Wonderful! Organic, smooth and beautiful.
Oscar Peterson's trio on "We Get Requests" sounded about as close
as you can get to "in the room with you" fidelity.
One of the better presentations at the show.
Kris said he'd love for us to review the speakers. We would, too.
I've known "Underwood" Walter Liederman for years
and he's always been innovative and extremely value conscious.
He had a bunch of new stuff at this show.
NEW EP 4.8 speakers $8,495
Walter was one of the first to use DSP in a speaker. But this model has none.
(However, he does offer the The DSPeaker Anti-Mode 2.0 Dual Core which is a Preamp, DAC, tone controller, parametric equalizer
& room correction device in one package under $1200)
If set up as single amp, full range network configuration, the 4.8 is 95Db efficient.
In addition to an extra 3Db of efficiency, the new EP4.8 offers greater dynamics, improved midrange and bass transparency
as well as resolution over the previous model.
It incorporates a 15" woofer, 12" midrange and Neodymium Polyester-Diaphram compression tweeter
and an improved crossover over the original EP4.7 that it replaces.
NEW EP200.2SE amp $2,995
200 watts RMS per channel @ 8 ohms, 400 @ 4 ohms
Can be an amp or used as an integrated amp/Remote volume(!)
Fully balanced design
preout/main-in for external processors
2 ohm stable
2 RCA & one XLR input with front panel switching
Upgraded caps, resistors and hand wound inductors
Dual 400VA power transformers
Made in USA
3 year warranty
Exogal Comet Plus DAC $3,500
The "plus" is a Power Supply Upgrade
The Exogal Comet is a high performance DAC playing up to 32/384k and DSD. .
The Comet DAC does everything you would expect a high-end DAC to do, including balanced and unbalanced analog outputs, digital volume control and asynchronous USB input - all at a sensible price.
Asynchronous USB, AES/EBU, SPDIF, Toslink, and line level Analog input
Direct connection analog outputs with 32-bit Digital Volume Control
Analog Outputs: one pair balanced (XLR), one pair unbalanced (RCA), one stereo Headphone
Single ended and balanced analog outputs can be used simultaneously.
Single ended outputs can be programmed as stereo, or center/subwoofer operation.
Single ended outputs have a programmable offset level from balanced outputs
Controlled by the Exogal Remote App for Android phone or tablet or Apple Ios
Call Wally and mention this Stereomojo Show report
and just MAYBE you can get a lower price!
But check THIS out;
Total system price is over $16,000, which is a very good value.
He can sell it to you DIRECT for $12,000.
If interested, call Wally at 770-667-5633
Merrill was running his THOR monoblocks ($4,800/pr) into Reference 3a speakers.
We reviewed them last year and found them to be outstanding.
Here you get about 75% of the Veritas for almost a third of the price.
We were first to review both.
The Veritas became my reference amps after an in-home audition.
I like telling the truth about audio gear and I must have amps that tell me musical truth.
With the Veritas, I get the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth.
That's why they were our 2015 Product of the Year.
Read our review for details.
More recently we reviewed the Merrill Audio Taranis stereo power amp.
For $2,000, it is the Stereomojo Best Value Amplifier for 2106.
400 watts per channel.
You won't see this in other show reports, but this is the new
Merrill Cara preamp - Price: $3500, shipping included
2 pairs (4 channels) outputs each can be set to independent relative volume levels.
Remote Control with Mute, off/on for remote trigger (12v, 20ma),
Cardas XLR inputs, gold plated chassis with Rhodium plate metal body, teflon insulation and silver pins.
External power supply with double fused inlet.
Large LED display with -99 to +15db control in 0.5 db steps.
Frequency Response: 0.1dB 8 Hz to 200 kHz
S/N Ratio: 110db
Inputs: 4 inputs with individual gain presents
Merrill, when are you going to send us one of these??
Perhaps you notice a trend here.
If you visit Stereomojo.com, you will also discover that Merrill is NOT a sponsor.
To me that indicates that our reviews are not influenced by advertising. Does it to you?
Yes, we relish informing our readers about "dirty little secrets" in the audio biz.
You'll see them throughout our reviews.
This one is not really a secret, it's very well known in the industry, but it's pretty dirty.
Anytime you hear an editor tell you that advertising does not influence their reviews,
they are ...let's say...being disingenuous. Period.
That's not just in audio publications, but most for profit publications.
Almost all people at the top of major publications and many reviewers, audio or not,
rely on at least part of their income from them to put food on their tables.
It's their job - their career.
For me, it is not.
I have an interesting interview I did with a guy who "reviews" stuff on Headfi.org.
We'll get to that in the Headphone show section later.
The Reference 3A speakers pictured are:
The Taksim floorstanders priced at $6990 pr.
You've gathered that beautiful wood ( faux or veneered) speakers cabinets are admired here.
So, with their bright silvers crews and dead flat gray cabinets, the Ref 3A speakers are not that...attractive.
BUT... there's a reason for their appearance, even the screws.
TAKSIM cabinets are densely coated Nextel in anthracite color. It is a unique finish that absorbs light and sound creating a very silent cabinet. They are also very rigidly constructed with dense panels and several perforated braces in critical points, horizontally and vertically. Superfluous vibration energy from the enclosure is significantly reduced.
The new pure Beryllium dome tweeter is custom optimized to acoustically match with the main driver it is positioned and aligned in a recessed acoustic wave guide. A non inductive capacitor is used as the sole high pass filter to coherently integrate the drivers. Specially selected, cryogenically treated, OCC single crystal pure copper conductors with Teflon dielectric in appropriate thicknesses are used internally to ensure perfect signal transmission to the drivers.
Patented Surreal Acoustic Lenses are now installed in the core center of the main drivers. They prevent the formation of vortex generated by air turbulence and related noise inherently present in cone shaped drivers.
Assembled inside the binding post input connectors, patented Magnetic Conduction Signal Wave Guides are used so that strong magnetism keeps the electrical signal flow aligned and random pathways for electrons within and along the conductor is minimized. This also promotes signal transfer where resistance to the signal is highest and where the greatest losses can take place.
All drivers are placed on a break-in rack with high-level test tones for at least seventy-two hours. They are then tested at several steps for meaningful matching to very tight tolerances. They will sound good out of the box but further break in period will be required to realize the full performance potential. An average of 200 hours or longer, depending on the loudness levels, and type of music played will start revealing more sonic refinement.
And even the silver screws were chosen for their sound qualities - or lack thereof.
True, the cabinets were not exactly gorgeous, but the sound was very different.
Clean, clear, rather linear sounding from bottom to top with exceptional soundstage imaging.
Lots of speed, too.
Detail, surely helped by the Merrill Thor amps, was abundant and natural.
Frequency Response is a claimed 31Hz to 40KHz and it sounded like it.
Low frequencies, especially in this untreated room, were textured and easy to identify.
"Textured" means that you can easily hear details beyond just being a low note.
Woods sounds like wood, felt sounds like felt, metal like metal and so on.
In short, the presentation drew us in and made us forget for a time that we were at a show.
Often times, it is how a piece of gear makes you "feel" rather than how it sounds.
Ever notice that? It's important and mostly overlooked.
That is a quality found lacking in many of the big name and big price speakers we mentioned earlier.
Things you hear may be impressive, but we don't listen to something to be impressed.
Many audiophiles do simply because they don't know any better.
It is a process of learning. But you have to want to learn.
Audiophiles who are easily susceptible to marketing hype and "influenced" reviews fall prey to it.
You are told to "trust your ears", right? But HOW do you DO that?
Another big plus is that the Ref 3A Taskims are have a Sensitivity 92 dB.
Amplifiers will love them.
NEW Music Hall table MMF5, 3SE $1,400. Complete with cartridge and arm.
Very high value.
Ryan speakers are the only speakers I know of that places the soundstage completely
BEHIND the speakers. It's different but very engaging.
These are the R630 ($5000/pair).
They were being driven by ModWright SWL 9.0 Anniversary Edition preamp ($2900) and KWA 150 Signature Edition amplifier ($8995). Music was served up by the Aurender N10 music server ($7999) and PS Audio DirectStream DAC ($5999).
Here you see Sony Na2ES speakers $10,000/pr
Hegel HD30 DAC $4,800
Hegel H20 Power Amp with 200 wpc - $5,750
Hegel CDP4A CD player - $4,000
With streaming and downloading music files, CD players in the US are diminishing - as are CD sales.
But not in China, Japan and Europe who still crave the little spinners, which is why you see most straight CD
players are made by companies in those countries and US companies that rely on overseas sales.
The sound here was not bad, but we think you can do better with things we've already shown you - and for less.
Oh! And who should we run into but our old friend
Nah...this is Ron Sutherland who was showing his new two-box Argentum flagship phono stage ($16,000)
We had a rather extended conversation with James - uh, Ron in the hallway.
I told him I noticed that lower priced amps and preamps are now featuring fully balanced circuits.
Such things in the past usually were found in only the most high-end electronics,
so what was happening?
Ron slipped way for a moment and came with this.
It's a circuit board from his new phono pre mentioned above.
He pointed to the right side of the board above and said,
"This is the entire balanced section". Nuff said.
Balanced circuits are rather controversial, you see.
Some say they are essential for low-noise and the best transmission of a signal.
Others say nonsense.
I happen to know in the past, Ron was closer to the "nonsense" side.
One reason we've always like him a lot - he's a no nonsense guy. (There are still a few of them left...)
So I asked him why he had decided to implement one now.
Ron began a monologue that any politician would admire, almost visibly squirming.
But the difference is, in the end he told the truth without giving us a direct quote, laying it between the lines.
The closest he came to a solid opinion is "My customers want it".
I don't want to put words in his mouth or even infer anything.
I'll just point you to what I said above about marketing.
Personally, my vote is still uncertain.
My whole system, including the Merrills, are fully balanced.
Am I a victim of marketing as well?
GamuT RS7 speakers $39,000/pr.
M250i Mono amps $13,000 EACH
D31 Dual Mono preamp - $8,390
and various Gamut cabling.
Turntable is the Pear Audio Kid Thomas turntable with Coronet 2 arm with ext. power supply - $9,990
Their reference phone stage - $4,495
Ortophon Cadenza Black cartridge - $2,750
The unmistakable look of Modwright amps, Eggelston speakers
and Triangle Arts turntable.
Dan's amps were ModWright PH 150 Reference tube phono stage ($7900),
ModWright LS 36.5 DM Reference tube preamplifier with external dual mono tube supply at $9995,
and ModWright's powerful KWA 150 SE SS monoblocks ($8995 each).
His $6900 Elyse DAC Reference Tube DAC did digital duties fed by
Dan's mod of an Oppo 105D ($4400).
Info didn't say if this price includes the Oppo, but I think it must since the price for the mod only is $2495.
Overall, I believe Modwright products are good bargains
comparatively speaking. You can spend a lot of money and perhaps get a little more,
or spend the same money and get a lot less.
Dan's customer service is excellent as well. That's important.
Eggleston's $28,000 Andra III speakers.
More involving than the Wilson Sacha's
but I actually preferred the Magico S5 Mk2's, but they're $10k more.
Better still are the $18k Legacy Aeris and the $19,800 Nola Studio Grand Reference Gold.
Tweeter: Single – 1” dome
Midrange: Dual – 6” carbon fiber cone
Bass: Dual – 12” poly cone
Frequency Response: -3dB @18Hz – 24,000Hz
This is Morgan Day of AUDIO ENGINE showing off.
Oops, meant showing off the new flagship HD6 self-powered loudspeakers ($750/pair).
But these are NOT just powered speakers!
They are a remote controlled speakers, amps, DAC and streamer.
Built-in analog class A/B monoblock power amplifiers
Dual audio inputs and full-range variable output
High-fidelity advanced Blue tooth® with apt®, simplified setup, extended range, and 24-bit upsampling
24-bit digital optical (SPDIF) input
Custom 5.5” Caviler woofers with die cast aluminum woofer baskets
Custom 1” silk tweeters with neodymium magnets and phrenological voice coils
Hand-built cabinets with furniture-grade finishes
Detachable magnetic speaker grills
Threaded inserts to secure speakers to stands
Passive crossovers with upgraded components
Solid aluminum remote control
They integrate Bluetooth and Toslink optical to play 24/96 files.
They also stream Tidal, Spotify, Pandora, and YouTube wirelessly via smartphone, tablet or laptop.
We'd add their S8 powered subwoofer for $349 with a frequency response of
27Hz-180Hz (+/-1.5dB) to fill out that bottom octave and all the good stuff that lives under 45 cycles.
For a thousand bucks you've got a rather killer little system that sounds BIG
and has lots of flexibility.
This system does not currently do DSD.
Which brings me to this:
I get a lot of emails asking if it's worth getting into DSD
Is DSD better than 24 bit?
DSD demands a significant investment. You have to have a source that plays it,
a DAC that decodes it and a willingness to pay $45 or so
for a very limited number of recordings.
If you have SACD's, they CAN be ripped, but it requires lots of time and more dollars.
Do they sound better than 24bit?
Depends on the recording and your DAC.
For example, I've heard some very high-end DACs where regular CDs can sound better than DSD or 24 bit
through an entry level DAC.
I've talked to many very respected people in the industry who are sure DSD sounds better than PCM.
I've also talked to many respected people in the industry who are convinced PCM sounds better than DSD.
And they all have scientific reasons to back up their views.
I have a hearty DSD collection and many 24bit recordings.
I listen to and enjoy them both.
To me, DSD sounds a bit more focused back lacks some color.
24 bit has more analog feel than DSD
So for me, if I have two identical recordings in 24/96 or higher and double DSD (and I do)
I slightly prefer the 24 bit. But it also depends on the recording itself. But that's me.
If you get a chance to hear both, try listening emotionally rather than analytically.
Now. Lest you think I'm biased against all expensive systems...
Bricasti put together their new M12, dual-mono source controller ($15,995), M1 Limited Edition DAC ($15,000),
and M21 monoblock amplifiers ($30,000/pair)
with the Tidal's Piano Diacera loudspeakers at $35,000
to produce one of the best sounds at the show, bar none.
For around $100,000 plus the Oyaide Cables and Stillpoints Isolators
you get a complete system that is far more musical and engaging than any of the $400k+ systems
or even a single pair of the $200,000+ Wilson, Magico or MBL speakers.
However, when I started asking questions about the speakers, I was told
"Tidal doesn't make these anymore..".
If you really want to buy a speaker for around $100,00, how bout these?
I'd never have to play them...
These in piano black were playing in another room. While it was most likely the room, I preferred the Piano Diaceras.
That they don't make anymore....
A system we heard but have no good pic
was in the "Jeffs" room.
Jeff Joseph of Joseph Audio and Jeff Roland of Roland.
This is the Joseph Audio Profile speaker - $7,000 a pair.
From the Joseph Audio website
When we walked in, "I'll Take You there" by The Staple Singers was playing.
I mean it was PLAYNG!
It was alive! It took me a few minutes to tear myself away
long enough to spy a vintage Studer studio reel to reel churning away at 15ips.
Jeff Rowland told me it was one of Chad Kassem's new Mastertape series.
Tape playback is becoming more commonplace at the shows.
With all the advances in digital, demos in the highest-end rooms are often tapes.
It's also not unusual for decks on Ebay to have multiple bids.
Linda and I both were so enamored with the sound
that we forgot to document Mr. Rowland's amps.
We're sorry, Jeff, because they sounded wonderful.
For $7,000, the Jeff Joseph Profile speakers were rather amazing.
April Music from South Korea had some interesting gear.
On top is the Aura Vivid CD player + DAC $1,000.
CD Mechanism Sanyo Front Loading, Toshiba Chipset
3 Digital Inputs 2 COAX, 1 OPT
1 Digital output 1 COAX
Main Analog Outputs 1 XLR, 1 RCA
DAC Cirrus Logic CS4398
Full Function Remote Controller Included
We don't know what bitrates the DAC portion decodes and couldn't find out.
Not even on their website.
If you're going to advertise this as a CD player + DAC, you ought to publish bitrates.
The bottom is the Aura Spirit Receiver.
You don't see many receivers in the high end,
because by definition receivers include FM tuners.
Output is a healthy 150 wpc
Inputs are 1 XLR, 2 RCA and 1 MM phono
Output is a single pair RCAs
FM tuner has 16 presets
2 pairs of speaker outs
and a headphone jack
We were told $3,000 for both the receiver and CD player. Plus Dac.....
We came away thinking Aura needs some updates. Soon.
Avantgarde Zero XD powered speakers $21,900 pair.
Like the AudioEngine H6's above,
these are much more than powered speakers.
They can be a whole system.
They have three amps per speaker (Class A for tweeter, Class A for midrange and Class D for bass),
preamp/analog inputs (for phono stage), a 24/192 PCM DAC and a multitude of other inputs for other sources.
Can adjust bass frequency.
Linda loved the looks. "So dimensional ...I want to touch them..."
Ryan Scott's Vapor Audio
is always a room to which we look forward.
Ryan plays the BEST music of any demo.
It's a place people go to hang out. Like us.
Because the sound is always invigorating, lively and energetic with a high degree of realism.
Gobs of speed and dynamics
You just feel GOOD!
He was featuring his new Derecho.
He always puts a lot of work in his cabinets, inside and out.
These were in golden brown Bare Ply with Olive Ash Burl tops with upgrades piano gloss metallic brown baffles,
Jenson copper/foil capacitors, Silver/Gold amoprhous core tweeters, Silver/Gold wire on tweeter
and bi-wire WBT posts.
He also makes that killer rack made with 1.5" solid 6061 aluminum forgings
with a weight capacity of 250 lbs per shelf.
Price - $5,900
ON the rack it was Lampizator city.
Some don't know that we were the first to EVER review a LamipzatOr DAC.
A Lamp 4 won our famous blind DAC shootout.
If you've never seen a picture of Lukasz Fikus,
the genius that is LampizatOr, this be him.
This is the Lamp Lite 7.
Lukasz stripped down the Big 7
to something more affordable - $5750
•Output capacitors Jupiter AM series
•Tubes: Standard Psvane 101D, with provision to switch to 2A3, 6A3 or 300B or 45-245-345.
•Same Level 7 PCM DAC 384 kHz
•USB up to 32 bit/384 kHz
•DSD engine same as Big 7
RCA output pair
USB input socket
One of the best indicators of how good a product REALLY is,
is when said product is used in other people's demo systems to make their
amps, speakers and cables sound better.
LampizatOr was in SIX.
Here we had the Golden Gate with remote volume control ($15,000)
But for us the interesting NEW thing LamipzatOr had to offer was the...
DSD KOMPUTER MUSIC SERVER
An exquisite music server designed from the ground up to meet Lampizator's extremely high standards.
We searched the world high and low in our quest for a good solution. By good I mean a solution that sonically matches our Golden Gate DAC.
We narrowed it down until we settled on a present solution . We built 20 working prototypes and compared them to each other and to the widely accepted benchmarks: Fully tweaked Mac Mini, Fully customized i7 laptop, Ayon S5 transport,
Aurender W20, and Adam the “Elberoth” fabulous Windows Optimizer /JCat Win2012 server.
We settled on using LINUX.
Why Linux ? Because Linux does with one hand tied behind the back what the Windows is merely trying to achieve.
Windows can be tweaked to sound good, but then it becomes difficult because Windows will modify itself,
or loose licence, or loose licence of associated softwares or all of the above.
We considered it an UN-USABLE operating system. Fully tweaked Windows requires EVERYDAY attention and support.
We added the other key elements of good sound: High End USB card for audiophile quality 3.0 output.
128 GB SSD drive from SAMSUNG PRO series with highest transfer speed of 6 MBIT SATA
Music storage drive SSD (0,5TB) or traditional 4TB highest spec drive WD-RED
Play from a memory stick, from CD USB drive, external 3_1/2 inch drive or from the internet.
Our software can play from internet radio, Tidal, Spotify.
All machines will play DSDx64, DSDx128 DSD and also files x256 will be played although downsampled to 128x.
Once native Linux256x is available, we will upgrade immediately for free.
We use customized embeded Linux in shell mode with no functions other than music .
i7 4-core, multi thread processor
16 GB DDR3 type RAM,
Our own dedicated multi-output, fully regulated, fan-less linear power supply (not impulse), the heart of the system
SSD drive, a tablet as a remote control,
Plays both PCM and DSD and as far as we are concerned it is the best that PC technology has to offer.
Perhaps of all things we saw at the show
the DSD KOMPUTER MUSIC SERVER
is the ONE thing we wanted to bring home NOW!
Summer Yin of Auralic
Above we said, "One of the best indicators of how good a product REALLY is,
is when said product is used in other people's demo systems to make their
amps, speakers and cables sound better.
Without a doubt, the prolific product at the show was
Auralic Music Servers.
Their newest is the ALTAIR for $1,899
It's a single-box music source that combines a High-End DAC with world class wireless streaming solution.
The 15 input sources including stream from Network Shared Folder, USB drive, Internal music storage (optional),
uPnP/DLNA media server, TIDAL and Qobuz streaming, Internet Radio, AirPlay, Bluetooth, Songcast and RoonReady.
The rest of digital inputs are AES/EBU, Coaxial, Toslink, USB device to computer, 2 USB host for storage and external DAC.
ALTAIR is developed based on AURALiC’s award-winning VEGA Digital Audio Process and Lightning Streaming platform,
the industry’s first streaming technology that supports DXD and Quad-Rate DSD playback through WiFi network.
It also supports several advanced features such as gapless playback, on-device playlist and multiple-room functions.
OK James, why pictures of shrubbery?
They're not shrubs, they're speakers!
Pretty good ones, too, considering.
I think it's safe to say they have the best sound qualities of any real outdoor speakers.
Bass typically goes down to around 40 Hz.
They have many models to fit your decor, audio tastes and budget.
Prices start at around $3,000/pr.
We're still not done!
This completes our standard High-end Audio coverage,
NEXT UP if our EAR GEAR EXPO COVERAGE
followed by our
BEST OF SHOW AWARDS
From Cheap Bastard to Cost No Object, we reveal what we think is the Best of the Best.
In the meantime, email a link to your friends.
Post a link on your favorite forum.
We're trying to help you out..please help us out, too.
We appreciate you immensely. Thanks!