AXPONA 2017 Recap – Music City?

AXPONA…    Audio Expo North America…  Could there be a new nickname brewing for the Windy City? 

The 2017 edition of this gathering of all things good in the world of audio was a rousing success.  Great music was everywhere, and the event was well organized and extremely consumer friendly.  But I do have a nit to pick…

The problem?

Too little time and far too many rooms for this one audio connoisseur to cover…  A good problem to have!  However, this condition forces my apology for those rooms left unattended, and for any left out of this recap…
Of the rooms I visited, sound quality was pretty darn good overall, although one must work around some of the room induced acoustics at times.  Kudos to all involved for working to get the best sound possible, regardless of the environment.  Here are a few highlights…

Talk about audiophile jewelry...!  The stunning Italian-made Sonus Faber Venere S speakers (5K/pr) paired with the retro-cool McIntosh C-2600 preamp and MC-452 amp provided… what else… beautiful music!  Excellent musicality, tone and a bit of perceived warmth, but not in an overly-honeyed manner. 

Equipment vendor Music Direct had a triple threat room, with three price levels of systems.  The starter was a sub-$1,500 system with Marantz electronics and Wharfedale's Diamond 225 stand mounted speakers.  Next up was the floorstanding ELAC Uni-Fi UF5 speakers (999/pr) sourced from a McIntosh MCT450 disc transport (4K) and McIntosh MAC6700 receiver (6,500).  Both sounded excellent for the money, but the cream of this crop was the bluer-than-blue Focal Sopra No.3 speakers and Balanced Audio Technology electronics providing excellent scale and texture.  A great comparison of three fine systems…

Quintessence Audio’s room showcasing the new Dynaudio Contour 60 speakers (10K/pr), paired to great synergistic effect with the always excellent Simaudio electronics, provided top-notch audio.  I have heard the new Contour line several times now and have been impressed at each listening.  Possessing Excellent dynamics and surprising low-end power paired with a refined top end, these Dynaudios are impressive indeed!

GTT Audio & Video had a dandy sounding room with the excellent YG Acoustics Sonja 1.2 (72,800/pr) and electronics from Audionet, featuring their PRE G2 preamp (23,350), Max mono amplifiers (30,500/pr) and Planck CD player (18,800).  The turntable was a Kronos Pro with Black Beauty tonearm and Air Tight Opus 1 cartidge (63K-ish in total) and cabling was a full suite of Kubala-Sosna’s new Realization! line.  Excellent detail in the music here…

In the “pleasant surprise” category was the CH Precision room.  In the past I have not had opportunity to spend much quality time with gear from this Swiss manufacturer, but they are highly thought of in the industry.  With some sonic exposure, I can now say their reputation is well-earned.  Playing through the excellent Magico S1 MkII speakers (16,500/pr), the electronics consisted of the D1 CD/SACD player (38K) and the new I1 Universal integrated amplifier (38K) with optional Ethernet streaming board and phono input board added in.  I believe the turntable was a Kronos Sparta with a Helena tonearm and Kuboteck cartridge.  Open and naturally detailed, this was an impressive rig…!

Certainly in the running for Best-of-Show was the room from Doug White at The Voice That Is featuring Tidal speakers and electronics.  The Tidal Audio Akira speakers (215,000/pr) were debuting to spectacular results, powered by Tidal’s 3-piece Presencio preamp (77,900) and Impulse monoblock amps (64,900/pr).  Digital was provided by an Aurender N10 server (7,999) through the excellent Bricasti M1se DAC (10,000) and analog was provided by a TW-Acoustic Raven AC-3 turntable with a 10.5 tonearm and Transfiguration Proteus D cartridge, totaling a bit over 35K.  I DID… NOT… WANT… TO… LEAVE… THIS… ROOM…!


Another room that invited longer listening sessions was presented by Chicago’s Kyomi Audio and paired the striking Vivid Audio Giya G1 Series II speakers (68K/pr) with Jadis tube-based electronics, specifically the JA200 MKII mono amps (33,900/pr) and JP200MC preamp (32,900).  Sourcing was provided by a Merging Technologies NADAC (14K) and an MBL 1621A CD transport.  I believe the turntable was a TechDas.  I have never heard the Vivid Audio speakers paired with Jadis gear, but the synergy was obvious, and impressive!


Brian Zolner and the folks at Bricasti were up to their usual level of sonic excellence.  Debuting their new M5 Network Player (2K) running through the new M12 source controller (DAC / preamp - 16K) and a pair of M28 monoblock amplifiers (30K/pr) feeding Tidal’s Piano Diacera speakers (40K), the Mahler sounded simply beautiful…!

Desmond Harrington from Pass Labs providing me with details of their new XA25 class-A stereo amplifier (4,900) shown here on static display.  This gem provides 25wpc into 8 ohms and doubles that rating into 4 ohms.  A great entry product into the world of Pass Labs amplification, this is well priced and I expect typically superb sound…!

California manufacturer Magico had their new S3 Mk II speakers (38K/pr) on hand, paired with more of the impressive CH Precision electronics, namely the L1 linestage (34,500), P1 phone stage (31,000) and the M1 monoblock amplifiers (102K/pr).  A Kronos Pro turntable handled the vinyl duties and a Berkely Alpha Reference Series 2 DAC provided the digital sourcing.  Open, impactful and effortless all came to mind here.  A superb showing...!

Luke Zitterkopf from Aluminous Audio waxing poetic on updates to the Gravitas speaker system.  Paired with BAT electronics, the sound was even a bit more open and airy than I recalled from RMAF.  This is good stuff..!

The Benchmark folks had a triple stack of their new and very special DAC3 (2,195/ea) running a multi-channel audio rig, powered by their AHB2 mono amplifiers.  With accompanying video, this was one cool and fine sounding demo, despite a bit of an acoustically unfriendly room.  You can find my review of the DAC3 DAC here.

Yet another fine sounding room paired audiophile fave Wilson Audio’s Yvette speakers (25,500) with electronics from lesser-known Doshi Audio.  Owner-engineer Nick Doshi ran his v3.0 Jhor monoblock amps (29,995/pr) along with the v3.0 preamp (16,995) and v3.0 phone stage (16,995).  A dCS Rossini DAC (24K) and Master Clock (7,499) provided the digital conversion, and a reel-to-reel tape deck from Mara Machines was playing analog.  Great jump-factor and life in this room!

Relaxed, clean and lifelike described this system featuring the Wilson Benesch Discovery II stand-mounted speakers (26,800) mated to their Torus subwoofer (12,500).  Ypsilon electronics provided the juice with a Phaethon integrated amplifier and VPS-100 phonostage.  The vinyl rig was a Thales TTT Compact II turntable, Simplicity II tonearm and Ikeda KAI MC cartridge. 

Lars Christensen and the folks at Raidho Acoustics had their Danish-made, stand-mounted D-1.1 Black speakers (23K/pr) on hand with electronics from Aavik Acoustics, namely the C-300 preamp (42K) and M-300 mono amps (48K/pr).  The sound was typical of Raidho speakers, meaning toe-tapping quick and transparent.  The soundstage was far larger than expected from these smaller speakers. 

Another of those rooms with surprisingly top-notch sonics was prepped by the affable Wynn Wong and utilized Penaudio Seranade Signature floorstanding speakers (12K/pr) along with the excellent Goldmund Eidos 36U+ universal player and Karan Acoustics’ L Ref preamp (17K) and S600 stereo power amp (30K).  Extremely musical and with bass that belied the Penaudio speakers' size, this was one sweet-sounding room… 

I will close with one of my most anticipated demos of the show.  Famed speaker manufacturer Paradigm’s new Persona line of speakers has been burning up the audio press machine, and rightly so.  A listen to the top of the line Persona 9H (35K), paired with an Anthem integrated amplifier proved a happy-ear event!  Quick and open, the sound struck me as very even with excellent pace and groove.  The high-tech engineering in the beryllium midrange and tweeter drivers, along with active electronics in the woofers really paid off.  I could live with these speakers for the long haul..!

A special thanks to all the folks doing the work behind the scenes at AXPONA.  If you have a Jones for fine music, put a visit to next year’s show on your to-do list...!  A toe-tapping good time, Chicago may truly be "Music City"…

Marty Feldmann, The Connoisseur, is the highly sought after consultant who assists businesses and individual clients with the acquisition of the finer things life has to offer.  Whether you are planning a weekend getaway to wine country, selecting audio equipment to outfit your home, planning your dream vacation or purchasing your ultimate transportation, Marty is your personal connection to the good life…

Marty can be contacted at:   916.952.9529    Marty@ConnoisseurCorner.com