Show Report and Best of Show – Axpona 2018

I have not been doing a lot of ‘Best of Show’ reports lately. The ones I read out there in the wild internet chose rooms apparently at random [or as a function of how many advertising dollars were spent this year] and I do not want to be a participant in such a worthless and misleading tradition like this [and in public, on the internet, too! Have they no shame? ;-)].

But people like them and so I will contribute this version of what I think a Best Of Show might be like on Opposite Earth, where I used to live and where things were supposed to make sense and people were supposed to be honorable some of the time.

For a Best of Show to be useful, IMO, it has to start with a point of view of what… is… excellent music reproduction.

Here is mine:

Best Sound: Is it Musical? Have realistic audiophile properties? Have impressive audiophile properties? Impressive dynamics? Impressive resolution?  Impressive bass? Attractiveness? Friendly manufacturer? Does it have a high price? Is the brand familiar?

This is more or less the order in which I personally judge the sound of these systems… and what I go for when I help setup our system at a show.

… but I would argue that the vast majority of other show reports out there use more or less the exact opposite order when they assign ‘best of show’ awards to exhibit rooms. 

I have described audiophile properties before, so let’s focus on Musicality as it relates to evaluating a system sound at a show.

I think it fundamentally has to do with, in priority order: 1) is the sound communicating something [hopefully a lot!] about the music [and the less it ‘sounds like hifi’ the better], 2) is the sound enjoyable [will people be able to listen to the thing for extended periods of time], and 3) will it still sound enjoyable after the ‘newness’ of the sound has worn off – i.e. does the sound have something akin to ‘depth of character’. Like art, some things look or sound good at first, but after awhile… living with the thing over a long period might either drive one nuts or bore one to death.

Because the system in our room is designed to have the Best Sound according to the above judging criteria, and because we pick manufacturers and gear [and often price-no-object gear] to accomplish this Best Sound according to the above, we are naturally going to often, if not always, have the Best Sound, according to the above criteria.

If people have different criteria for what constitutes Best Sound, then they are possibly going to disagree with our room having the Best Sound and the list of other Best Sounds I list below. But at least you know where we are coming from and how we came up with this list.

I missed the room with Martin Logan / Continuum room on our floor, I think, and a group of 8 rooms on the 2nd floor. My apologies, I just didn’t see them. I feel like kind of an idiot that I didn’t check the program guide to see if I missed anything. Maybe I belong on this Earth after all.


YG Acoustics loudspeakers and AudioNet amps

The GTT Audio Room

As much as it surprises me [and it does. For me, Bill Parish and GTT Audio has gone from caring some of the most interesting gear in the world to gear that primarily excels in high-performance  i.e. Impressive Audiophile Effects]. The Kubala Sosna cables help tame the sound of the YG Acoustics and AudioNet – but this is a sound much like, say, Magico rooms often go for when they setup rooms themselves. But in this case better than I have ever heard Magico – in recent memory anyway. It did so many things right, that the lack of musicality was not fatal for this listener who puts Musicality at the top of the list of his desirable attributes. So, yeah, it was good. Solid imaging, realistic soundstage with good depth, pretty evenhanded dynamics [on YG Acoustics speakers at that! I think this 4-box speaker setup is a big win]. Harmonics were bland, decay was blah, the finest subtleties were AWOL, but this is kind of what most solid-state offers these days, so many people, owners of solid-state, and never having heard these things anyway, will not miss these things. There were a lot of solid-state systems at this show, and many systems with this kind of sound, and of them all, this was by far the one I would take home.


The Von Schweikert and VAC room

What is it with reviewers who play music that no one ever heard before? Yeah, it’s cool that they found this piece and know all about it and all. And it may even help them, alone in all the world, to understand the sound of a system. But, half the time it is bleeps and boops, and the other half sparse, beautifully played but hardly-system stressing music. And please, please! let me not catch this show reviewer disease. Maybe you and your friends have not heard something I play at a show on other people’s systems to evaluate that system, but millions of other people have, so at least there is some chance that what I play will be useful to someone else not just me.

So this show I did not get to hear something like a simple rock and roll or pop song nor a complex classical piece. The last show, CAS 2017, I heard this system and it fell apart on rock and roll, becoming very aggressive and uneven [but was still one of the best systems there]. This show the system was better integrated into the room, less head-in-a-vice, and I would expect it did a bit better on jest about everything compared to CAS. But don’t know.

This system had scale and didn’t flinch when asked to fill the hall with sound. So that was awesome. And I personally loved the deep blue color 🙂 VAC has a tendency to roll off the dynamics and high frequencies, but not by much and it probably helps a bit to tame the system performance in unpredictable ‘show conditions’. This sound was slightly warmer than the GTT Audio solid-state system but not by much – and they both kind of excelled the same way: ability to handle macro-dynamics, good imaging and soundstaging [especially depth when seated between the speakers], fairly good, I guess I could say, satisfying, resolution…

Thinking about it, many of the rooms at Axpona had that old-style ‘dealer sound’. I haven’t heard this sound much at shows in… ten years? The sound which, when I hear it, makes me wonder who would ever buy this stuff and feel sorry for the few people who do buy it who were convinced that this is ‘good sound’. You know: harsh, uneven, grates on the nerves, but loud enough with enough bass and resolution to be better than Best Buy.

Well, GTT Audio and this room [and the smaller rooms listed below] were not that [at least at this show :-)], not a drop, and I hope they made an impact on your average everyday Chicagoan audiophile.

I liked several rooms at Axpona, a couple of the Raidho speaker rooms, the Alta Audio speaker room, and have some short notes about the following :

Prana Fidelity [clear, open and dynamic, extreme price performance], and just a fun place to be 🙂

EXOGAL (Ryan Speakers) [I find these speakers almost always musical, entertaining and approachable],

Deadalus Audio (the larger room) [harmonic, good separation, even-handed top to bottom]. This, for my taste, described above, was much better than they, these speakers, usually sound – which makes me think they were paired with better gear in this room (Lampizator DAC et. al.) – that makes me think that the speakers are good enough that they sound better as the quality of the system they are part of gets better – which makes me think they should use better gear like this at all their shows :-),


Triangle Art master reference turntable

Triangle Art Master Reference [the table sounded quite interesting], but I can’t hear enough of it around the EgglestonWorks speakers, and the unfamiliar amps and cables, to get a complete sense of what it is doing – but people f’n love this table. Yeah, it is blingy, but there are a lot of blingy tables, in fact the vast majority of turntables are blingy once you get above $5K or so. People just really like this one – it strikes some chord that I personally don’t see but I see it’s affect on other people and it is impressive. I can say that I think it does sound better than the average $40K turntable out there, so there is that :-).

The Voice That Is (TiDAL speakers) [These speakers have a polite sound, what we called a Sophisticated sound]. We used to LOVE this kind of sound, Neli even more than me. We both have kind of moved on to a more dynamic sound with perhaps more separation, so it is hard for me to rave about this kind of sound anymore. But along with all of the other systems in this section, Prana Fidelity, Ryan speakers, Daedalus in a quality system setup like this at Axpona, or better, and Tidal offer a relative safe and guaranteed way to get real music into an audiophiles life at various, often quite affordable, price points.

This is important: Earth to fellow dealers and manufacturers: People want to buy gear with sound that doesn’t suck. Sound that someone besides the person who paid for it can love. Sound that will not result in buyer’s regret the next morning. Because of all the choices audiophile consumers have these days – choices which seem to grow in number no matter how much common business sense says they should not – it is really REALLY hard for the consumer to find something that DOESN’T SUCK.

Well, these don’t suck.

And that is my show report. See you all at CAS 2018!

Photography Wars – Axpona 2018

Photography is an important part of every high-end audio show – but these days everyone has a smartphone, and things can go wrong… 🙂

Danny Kaey of Sonic Flare – […your caption here…]

Rafe Arnott, most recently with Part Time Audiophile, was using this Canon 5D MkII with a Canon 24-105 L lens as his primary camera


Rafe Arnott, most recently with Part Time Audiophile, was using this lowly Leica M8 camera as backup


Neli is happy, it was a good show


Hermann [Hermann Winters of Acapella Audio Arts] starts to play his very, very favorite music at the end of the show.

Uh oh, Hermann spies me photographing him…


Now Neli gets her revenge with all these photos I took of her, taking her own photos of Herman and I


Hermann gets an idea…


Argh! Got me [I am not nearly as photogenic as these two, landing somewhere between the Loch Ness Monster and the Hunchback of Notre Dame].

Neli wins the most fun to photograph competition [but I am, of course, prejudiced ;-)]

Audio Federation – Axpona 2018

Our room. And this concludes [thank goodness!] the room by room portion of our show report. We [mostly me] will have more to say about this show, and shows in general, in the next few posts.


Audio Note UK and Acapella Audio Arts ‘LaMusika’ electronics on HRS ‘SXR’ equipment rack

Audio Note UK CDT-Five transport

Audio Note UK CDT-Five transport

Audio Note UK “The Fifth Element” DAC

Acapella Audio Arts ‘Cellini High’ loudspeaker

Acapella Audio Arts ‘Cellini High’ loudspeaker’s plasma ‘ion’ tweeter

Acapella Audio Arts ‘Cellini High’ loudspeaker’s plasma ‘ion’ tweeter

Acapella Audio Arts ‘Cellini High’ loudspeaker’s plasma ‘ion’ tweeter

Acapella Audio Arts ‘Cellini High’ loudspeaker

Acapella Audio Arts ‘Cellini High’ loudspeaker

The show is over… turn out the lights.