2016 AXPONA  CHICAGO AUDIO SHOW

SHOW REPORT

Part 5

 

MORE HIGH VALUE AUDIO

 

James and Linda Darby

 

Long Hallways at the Westin

 

EXEMPLAR AUDIO

 

We've know John Tucker for over a decade.

For years he's been designing some of the best, if not well known, high end gear available.

Prices were up there, too.

 

Remember the LSA  hybrid integrated amps that we were first to review about 12 years ago?

John was the guy that took the Standard amp and juiced it to create two new models,

the Statement being the..well, statement.

 

After I reviewed it, I bought it. Something I rarely do.

For years it was a main reference and I still use it often

and over the years it's bailed me out of mistakes and errors reviewers

in a rush often make, and sometimes blowing stuff up.

The Statement has been bullet proof, surviving much artillery unscathed.

 

But now, his Exemplar company has come out with some really remarkable gear

and I must say, it has very high price/performance ratio.

 

 

 

This is the Exemplar Exception 50 wpc integrated amp.

John hand builds these and for $5,500 it simply smokes many peers

with its outstanding presentation.

 I honestly thought we were listening to a $20,000 tube amp

and that was through speakers I've never heard before.

 

This amp has exceptional SPEED.

 

I have to chuckle when ill informed reviewers use terms like PRAT and bloom.

T

The Oxford Dictionary defines PRAT as:

 

NOUN


a person's buttocks.
an incompetent, stupid, or foolish person; an idiot.

 

See what I mean? PRAT is supposed to stand for pace, rhythm and timing.

Those, my friends are all functions of SPEED. But "PRAT" somehow sounds more intellectual.

 

Bloom? Have you every seen a plant bloom?

It's slooow.

If your system is "blooming", you've got a baaaad system.

 

 

Why is speed in a musical system important?

Music is fast. Sound is fast. If a component is not fast enough to produce

ALL of the nanosecond initial transient, the music sounds less real. Because it is less real.

 

Most audiophiles have no idea what speeds sound like, but I do.

Why?

 

Most people don't know, not even my reviewers because I intensely dislike talking about myself, that I was a musical prodigy.

Started playing piano at age two.

 Began as principal pianist and organist at a medium sized church at age 7.

Arranged the charts and played keyboards in a recording session for a female vocalist at age 12.

Toured the USA and Europe when I was 13 and 14.

 

Got my degree in music and was hired as a feature soloist for a international TV program

that was telecast from the Cathedral of Tomorrow to half the world's population of then 2 billion people.

 

 

The Cathedral seats as many as Radio City Music Hall, but without a balcony.

5,500 people on one level. A major architectural advance in 1968.

 

 

 

Linda and I were also married there. See the TV camera?

Our wedding was also broadcast to 2 billion people...

 

 

I am a published composer, arranger and orchestrator.

Worked with many big name artists in pop, jazz, country, gospel and others for nearly 30 years.

Studied pipe organ and have played many of the world's biggest and best pipe organs.

The Wannamaker Organ in Philadelphia is my favorite.

 

 

Conducting Israeli Chamber Orchestra at Roman Ampitheater

at Ceasarea Phillipi, Israel

 

Conducted a 200 voice choir and 40 piece orchestra in a mega church for 12 years.

Retired from professional music when I was 45.

 

The point is, I know what real music - real instruments and real voices - sounds like.

 

So. Speed is important.

The Exemplar Exception has it. Get it?

It truly is "Exception"al.

 

It also has outstanding dynamic contrasts, texture and just the right amount of color.

Music is also very colorful. Many systems don't get it right.

They are either too bleached or too saturated.

 

But then we started wondering about those speakers.

 

 

 

They are the new Exemplar Audio XL-III Loudspeakers - $8,995/pr

 

John fooled us again. We thought we were listening to a big, multi-driver speaker

with a complex crossover and probably 85db sensitivity or so.

 

But nay!


Single driver speaker (paper cone, treated cloth accordion surround) with no crossover or EQ
96db
35 hz to 20 khz
110 lbs each
30 watts rms power handling
Impedance 8 ohms
Dimensions – 45.5 “ h x 14.75” w x 21.375” d

 

Single driver. NO crossover and 96db sensitivity.

 

i actually made him take off the grills. He wasn't kidding.

 

 

I've reviewed and heard many single driver speakers.

None sounding like this. Full range. Lots of very accurate bass

and a sweet, no-honk midrange.

 

Then we spied the source: a Tucker modified Oppo - $4,995

INCLUDING a new Oppo!

 

 


 

The Oppo, of course, plays everything from BluRay video

to DSD audio and can be a good music server as well.

If it only played audio, John's mod would be a good buy for $4,995.

 

And then there's this:

 

 

This is John with his son David.

 

John talked MUCH more about David than he did his system. You can see the pride and love radiating from his face.

For good reason.

 

David did four tours in Iraq and Afghanistan.

He suffered catastrophic injuries which you'd never notice because of all the surgeries he's undergone.

He was told he'd never walk again.

David told me he's refused to take numerous purple hearts because he was "just doing his job".

After years of painful recovery, David will be pursuing a Doctorate in Engineering.

Talk about "high-value", David Tucker is a true American hero.

It was a distinct honor to meet him and to recognize him here.

 

 BLUE SOUND

 

 

BLUESOUND AUDIO

 

is another very high value company.

Blue Sound is an alliance of designers, engineers and individuals who have spent their lives in the music industry audiophiles

dedicated to delivering on the promise of wireless, digitally-perfect high-fidelity audio.

They make digital players, integrated amps WITH streamers and even speakers, similar to Sonos but better, I'd say.

And much less expensive.

 

They've also announced a partnership with MQA. YES!!

 

"MQA is at the very forefront of digital audio, and we're proud to lead the way for wireless multi-room systems to support MQA's lossless audio files," said Greg Stidsen, Blue Sound Director of Technology and Product Planning. "Fusing Bluesound's proprietary BluOS software and advanced audio architecture, with MQA's scientific approach to digital processing, makes it possible for listeners to stream authentic Studio Master recordings in real time with enhanced audio quality."

 

Here's what we're talking about:

 

 

THE NODE 2

$499

 

Access your downloads and your entire iTunes library – or any other USB NAS drive connected

all without ever turning on a computer.

 

Stream your digital music to any existing stereo system

Connect to and access internet radio stations and cloud music services - including Tidal.

 


Control music wirelessly with an intuitive Controller App for iOS, Android, Kindle Fire, and Windows & Mac OS X desktops

 

 

Supported File Formats
MP3, AAC, WMA, OGG, WMA-L, FLAC, ALAC, WAV, AIFF, HRA

Native Sampling Rates 32 - 192 kHz

Bit Depths 16 - 24

DAC 32-Bit, 192kHz

Audio Output
Analog RCA Stereo with FIXED option
Coaxial RCA
TOSLINK digital optical
Headphone 3.5mm Stereo
Subwoofer RCA
12 Volt trigger out

 

Again, only $499

 

OR....

 

VAULT 2

$1,199


The BLUE SOUND VAULT 2

Does everything the NODE 2 does with the addition of:
2TB internal ultra-quiet hard-drive with low power consumption
Slot-loading mechanism for ripping standard audio CDs

 

Native Sampling Rates
32 - 192 kHz
Bit Depths
16, 24

Plays music from network shares on the following desktop operating systems: Microsoft Windows XP, 2000, Vista, 7, 8, Apple Macintosh


Power Node 2 - $799

Streaming audio with Integrated amp and DAC

HYBRIDDIGITAL™ AMPLIFIER, 60 Watts x2 into 8ohms

Supported File Formats
MP3, AAC, WMA, OGG, WMA-L, FLAC, ALAC, WAV, AIFF, HRA
Native Sampling Rates
32 - 192 kHz
Bit Depths
16 - 24

Plays music from network shares on the following desktop operating systems: Microsoft Windows XP, 2000, Vista, 7, 8, Apple Macintosh
Free Internet Radio
TuneIn Radio, iHeartRadio
Supported Cloud Services
WiMP, Slacker Radio, Qobuz, HighResAudio, JUKE, Deezer, Murfie, HDTracks, Spotify, TIDAL, Napster, Rhapsody.

 

We can't wait to get our ears on this efficient, cost effective system.

 


Kii 3 Self Powered Speakers - $13,900/pr

 

It seems at every show there's a product that sounds much different than the way it looks.

These were a huge surprise.

 

These small speakers sounded as big and powerful as other floorstanding monsters

with a rack of components! When Kii says "self powered", they mean self POWERED

with 750 watts PER SPEAKER!

 

That's because they feature FOUR 6.5" woofers (one on each side and two in the rear), one 5 inch midrange and a 1" tweeter with wave-guide.

 

They are powered by six built in 250 watt NCore amplifiers with full A/D and D/A conversion. The active DSP and crossover filtering are designed for controlled dispersion and have selectable filtering for different room placements.

 

"NCore Amps" are a key here. Bruno Putzeys, head of Kii, invented the Ncore for Hypex.

 

The Active Wave Focusing Solution

Small directive speakers are possible - if you have enough drivers and you feed them the exact right signal. The THREE has a total of 6 ways, front, side and rear, working together to throw the sound in one direction only without relying on a baffle. The THREE’s ability to direct bass is comparable to, but much better controlled than that of a traditional speaker several meters wide. The speakers are said to go all the way down to 20 Hz.

The Active Wave Focusing method retains full time alignment all around the speaker and the rear wall has no impact. Sonically, the effect is a very even, unusually detailed bass. Even in problematic rooms, a drum kick has that visceral thud that previously only very big or in-wall speakers could achieve.

 

Room reflections can cause smearing and loss of detail. The Kii 3 seems to take the room out of the equation.

 

A full compliment of digital and analog inputs are provided along with streaming ability with any WISA certified device.

XLR Input - this can provide either analog or digital Input depending how the select switch is set
Select switch (3 positions) - chooses between AES left channel / Analog / AES right channel Input
KiiLink Digital Input on CAT5 - used to connect the two speakers & future Kii products
KiiLink Digital Thru on CAT5 - used to connect the two speakers when using a single AES Input
Boundary switch - can be set to 16 positions between free / wall / corner to optimize setup
Contour switch - provides flat setting + 14 different preset EQ curves to match the listeners taste
Mains Power Connector - plug in your power cable and go, the Kii Three has no power switch

 

Kii Three self-powered loudspeaker system ($13,900/pair), options are custom colors for $1960 and stands ($1250/pair),

The stands are pricey, but at least they are made so that the speakers firmly attach to the stands.

 

You just need to add a source. The Blue Sound streamer would be good. Kii was using a MacBook Pro.

 

All in all, a VERY big, full range high end sound in a small package for a high value price.

 

 

 


The Aurum Cantus Melody M-102SE ($2,500/pr)

 

3-way vented towers with pure aluminum ribbon tweeter

sounded especially sweet with the

Hegel H-160 Integrated amp with built-in DAC $3,200

 

with the Sound Science Music Vault Diamond Ultra Music Server

$4,995

 

The Diamond Ultra comes with 16GB of RAM. An i5 quad-core processor with passive heat sink.

Included are a pair of 3TB Drives in Raid-1 for music auto-duplication, plus a 500GB SSD for the Operating System and control software.

Plays any sample rate and DSD effortlessly.

The Diamond Ultra has bit perfect output over AES/EBU, SPDIF, Firewire, USB and Ethernet.

The Diamond Ultra is a digital source designed to offer your DAC perfect bits with the lowest jitter which is what your DAC needs for optimal performance.

It comes with a Blue-Ray drive that was chosen for its superior ripping qualities

and has the benefit of allowing the Music Vault to perform as a DVD and Blue Ray Player. CDs in perfect shape can be ripped perfectly in this drive in as little as 2 minutes.

The Diamond Ultra operating system is housed on a lightening fast Solid State Drive which makes it very responsive to commands

and keeps the pair of 3TB hard drives working as accurately and quietly as possible.

3 TB Storage Price: $4995

 

So, for a little over 10 grand for the Aurum Cantus speakers

and the Hegel H-160 with the DAC needed for the

Music Vault Diamond Ultra Music Server

and you have an excellent full system.

 

Be aware, though, that the Hegel's DAC does not do DSD which the server does, but maxes out at 24-bit/192kHz.

This may not be an issue if you a lot of CDs or 24 bit recordings.


On the previous page we said,


"So far, you have to admit that we give you more
info you can actually use than anywhere else. Right?
Find a better Axpona report? Email us.
Know of something you want us to review? Email us that, too."

 

 

Well, we've gotten several emails from readers who took us upon that. Here's a sampling.

 

John Stanley said, "I took your challege and searched all over for other reports.

I saw various small reports from Stereophile, Enjoy the Music, Absolute Sound

and a couple of others not worth mentioning. None had the info you provided.

I felt like i had been at the show. Thanks so much and keep up the good work!"

 

We will, John.

 

 

Kirk William Dolin told us,

"I certainly haven't read a better AXPONA show report, though there's some decent forum posts around.

I agree that the Harbeth & Spatial rooms were great."

 

We're looking into a couple of things he mentioned he wanted reviewed. We do that. He's dead, Jim...

 

From Doug West

 

Really enjoyed your EXPONA 2016 show report from Chicago, almost felt like I had attended. A nice detailed 4 part review, nice job. Of interest to me was the Spatial room and Claytons M3 turbo S speakers. Will look forward to your upcoming review on these, I want some!

 

Clayton's promised us an early review once customer orders are filled.

I have Tommy O"Briens (Digital Amplifier Co.) big Cherry Ultra powering either my Snell Ci or VMPS ST/R speakers. Tommy is building me his new DAC DAC now in TL-version ( Tube Like ) so looking forward to it soon, would love a review of it also.

 

Tommy's Marrichino Cherry Amps review will be up after I complete this report.

Congrats on your extra free time, hard to imagine you reviewing product any harder than you do now, and keep on telling it like it is!! Taking crap from nobody for a review piece is what I really enjoy about Stereomojo.

Thanks, Doug

 

Frank Van Alstine of AVA Audio via Facebook said,

"Thank your for the great write up. Not only was it complimentary, but also very in depth.

It is great to see you going a bit more into detail with the show coverage.

It is certainly nice to read a bit more details about the show than a few snip-its with photos. We appreciate your hard work at the shows.

Just let me know what you want to review and I'll send it."

 

The new preamp and power amps, Frank...

 

Soooo...

 

We're still not done!

 

Let's go to

PART 6 now!

 

 

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