Sonic impressions of Axpona 2011

I recently attended Axpona in Atlanta and had a fabulous time. I imagine that putting a show like that together is an enormous amount of work, and I wanted to thank the organizers accordingly. I also wanted to thank the manufacturers and other representatives for taking the time and money to demonstrate their wares. It seems like a very difficult time to be in hi end audio, and I could sense some discouragement here and there. It is hard enough to move equipment on Audiogon let alone run a company since the annual expenditure on audio has dropped from 500,000,000 to 200,000,000. We need to distract generation Y and beyond from low rez music and video...

Now that my preamble is out of the way, what did people hear that they liked?
I will start the ball rolling. I heard lots of good things but not perfection. What do you expect this side of heaven? Notable rooms in no particular order of preference were:

1. Voxativ/Schimmel: very kool custom single driver speaker housed in a spectacular cabinet by Schimmel pianos driven by single ended flea-watt Fi triode tube amps. I will have to confess that I am a sucker for single driver speakers. These speakers produced the most textured and organic midrange I heard at the show. We pushed them a little with a very dynamic piece off of Duke Ellington's Jazz Party, and you could hear its limitations. Still, a speaker/system I could happily live with for the rest of my days.

2. Highwater Sound: Horning Eufrodite Ultimate Zigma Plus speakers, TW Acustic table, Horning Hybrid Sati 1605 SE amp, Tron phono pre-amp. I am a child of the digital age and do not own a table, but this room made me want one. Very three dimensional, organic sound with a very deep sound stage and good imaging. Bass was also very tuneful and musical. Tres bien.

3. Lee Island Audio: Acapella High Violinncello II, Ypsilon electronics and a Bergmann turntable. I am a fan of the speed and dynamics of horns and also find the plasma tweeter appealing. It seems to extend smoothly without the brittleness of a standard cone tweeter. At times I felt the midrange in this system was a little too smooth. I am not sure. The Acapellas did a brilliant job with a Duke Ellington Jazz Party test CD. I also heard Albert Cummings "Together as one", and it was simply stunning.

4. Sanders Sound: an all-Sanders system with the 10c hybrid panels with digital x-over, Sanders amps, cabling, and a cheap digital front end. I like a lot of what panels do, and the 10cs were fast, uber transparent with great transmission line bass. A friend of mine who is a panel purist poo-poo'd the hybrid and felt the panel and TL were not well integrated. I thought it sounded good and for a little over 13K was the biggest sonic bang for the buck IMO.

5. Transmission Audio/MA Recordings: the relatively petite M1i speakers with a ribbon tweeter had a big and spacious sound with ghost-like imaging. The bass was lacking, but the hotel was apparently a black hole in this department. Associated gear included Klimo pre and amps from Italy along with the latest Oppo universal player. What I enjoyed most about was gasing with Todd Garfinkle from MA Recordings. He had a bunch of his hi rez recordings on hand (I bought 5) that focused on sparse, dual mic recordings in large, non-studio spaces. Awesome music. I am still unsure what to think of the Oppo and that Sabre chip.

6. Cruz Audio/Aaudio imports: This system consisted of Lansche No. 5.1 speakers, BMC AMP M1 monoblock amps, BDCD1 belt-drive CD player/transport, DAC1 PRE D/A converter/preamp, MCCI MC phono preamp, and Bergmann Magne turntable and tonearm. That plasma tweeter strikes again. The system had a smooth, delicate, and yet big sound. The speakers, being German, were absolute perfection in terms of fit and finish.

One final impression to report: I was privy to an after-hours demo of Miguel Alvarez's (Tripoint Audio) new Orion conditioner and Troy. The A+B session was quite stark in fact that my good friend Gary (Glory) Anderson turned around and asked if anyone in the audience was deaf. The Tripoint gear injected a lifelike energy and palpability to the images that was frankly shocking. It was the best sound I heard at the show by a significant margin. Miguel is obviously beating a path into the 21st century of power conditioning. It is no longer a accessory or afterthought IMO. It should be the center piece to any good system.
Hi Agear,
Thanks for the very nice show report.Using the Duke Ellington Jazz Party CD is perfectly understandable. I`ve own it for years(superb live recording) it can tell you just about everything you`d want to know about a system/component. It sounds heavenly in my current system(just played the entire CD last night!). I plan to take this CD to RMAF later this year.
Best Regards,
Thanks Charles1dad. I remember you were part of the TRL/Shindo thread. Neither of those two manufacturers were there, but Tron was and that room sounded very nice as I referenced above.

Yeah, the Jazz Party CD is lethal and lovely and requires a balance of dynamism and organic texture to pull off. In lesser systems, it sounds thin, brassy, and annoying. A thank you to Glory for turning me onto that CD.

Axpona was nice in that the number of vendors is far less than RMAF, and thus it is easier to avoid overloading your circuits.
I presume not many people made it to the show, at least ones who want to talk about sonics....

I have a few more impressions to add:

Da Vinci dac: new dac from a company called Light Harmonics made its debut at Axpona. It is an asynchronous dac that is able to process 32/384 via their own proprietary USB module. This module includes another patent pending technology called "Jitter-Free Layer Buffer" that eliminates all possible jitter at the USB-PC interface.

Light Harmonics also believes that the “distribution” of harmonic distortion is more important than the total harmonic distortion (THD). According to the website jargon: "High harmonics makes music unnatural and edgy. The 5th or 6th order distortion will do 100 times more harm than the same amount for the 2nd order harmonic distortion." Thus they have developed another proprietary technology called LOHD (Lower Order Harmonics Distribution) System. LOHD theoretically allows 99.999999% of the existing distortion to be in distributed in the lower (2nd, 3rd, 4th) orders. This redistribution is supposed to produce harmonics that more accurately mimic actual instruments, etc.

So, the question is: how does it sound? Well, I first heard it with a system featuring Wilson Sophia 3 speakers, Pass Labs amplification, a Mach2 mac mini and Pure Music. In that context, it sounded very good but constrained. I later heard it in a room which included Carnegie Acoustics and Leon Speakers, VAC pre-amp and amp, and a Mach2 Mini. I had heard this room the previous day where the Mini was feeding the Tranquility dac. The Tranquility had a beautiful tonality and organic, analog sound. With the Da Vinci in the chain, the sense of space increased substantially, as did the layering and definition of images. I have honestly never heard a digital front end produce that degree of image density. This was most conspicuous when playing the 32/352.8 file of a violin piece. The only bad part of this story is that the dac runs around 12K....