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Insights from AXPONA 2018 part two

Insights from AXPONA 2018 part two

As discussed elsewhere, AXPONA has moved to a new venue, the spacious Renaissance Hotel and Convention center in Schaumberg, IL. near Chicago. The extra space was well used as this was the largest AXPONA ever in number of both rooms and exhibitors. Final attendance is not in, but it is sure to be a record. 

In some respects, AXPONA is raising its game, and becoming the audio show that CES always used to be and has never quite been able to achieve in recent years. There are still some things that need to be addressed before AXPONA fully takes over that CES role for the American audio industry, in that it needs more attendance from the buyers and dealers in the US, and distributors and press from around the world (Hi-Fi+ being one of the rare exceptions). This means that it probably needs a trade day and that it also likely needs to be staged further from the Munich High End, as the two events are less than a month apart. Regardless, this has become one of the two best shows in America. It’s also become one of the biggest! 

Given its size, I focused on new gear and a few rooms that offered truly wonderful sound. Here is my top ten, in no particular order save for when I walked in the room!

Sonner Audio

First up was a new firm, Sonner Audio. Based in Boston they manufacture two lines of speakers. Company President Gunny Surya was presenting their Legato line featuring the stand mount Unum at $5500 a pair, a two-way floor stander the Semis at $7,000 and a two-and-a-half-way floor stander, the Duo, at $8,500 all prices in USD. Sonner also offered speaker face plates that magnetically attach featuring a variety of colors for matching your rooms décor. A nice and attractive visual option. I greatly appreciate genuine enthusiasm to go along with terrific sound. The Sonner Audio Towers were being driven by the new Luxman L-509X Solid State 120W per channel Integrated Amp ($9,495) and Abbingdon Music Research DP-777 Special Edition ($5,000) as the Source. We may need to spend some more time with this exciting new company.

Prism Sound

Moving on to the Prism Sound room featuring a terrific sounding yet simple system being shown by Mark Evans from Prism Sound. The ATC SCM-40A Speakers ($13,000) were driven by the Prism Sound Callia DAC ($2750) which was sourced by an Aurender N100H Streamer/Server ($2700). The sound was dynamic while still providing a nuanced delivery. Prism Sound’s Pro audio chops have set them up well for delivering a wonderful consumer listening experience.

Daedalus ModWright WyWires

The ModWright, Daedalus, WYwires room offered up some of the best sound that tubes and natural wood can provide. The Daedalus Apollo 3-Way point source speakers ($18,500) paired beautifully with the ModWright Instruments Ambrose A30 SET Monoblock amps ($16,000 pr) and Ambrose One Dual Mono Preamp ($12,000). All cables were the Diamond series by WyWires. The sound was highly engaging and full. Sourced by a VPI Prime Signature table ($6,000) with 12” 3D printed arm and Dynavector XX-2 cartridge ($1,995) via a ModWright PH150 Phono Pre ($7900), ModWright Oppo 205 mod ($4200 including player) I could have spent all afternoon here and left the show reporting to the rest of the HiFi+ team. One of my picks for Best Sounding rooms of Axpona!

Vinnie Rossi

A room, a man and his Lio ($12,580 as configured). It must be Vinnie Rossi with his Directly Heated Triode wonder box. Is it a pre-amp? Yes. Is it an Integrated amp? Yes! Does it make Harbeth speakers sing for all they are worth? Every time! Vinnie was showing his soon to be released Monoblocks at 75wpc into 8 Ohms (Price TBD). The aforementioned Lio acting as Pre-amp feeding the new Mono’s. The Rossi gear was fronting a pair of anniversary Harbeth 30.2’s ($6890) to great effect. Also available for listening were the Harbeth 40.2 40thAnniversary edition ($17,990 pr) and the Harbeth P3ESR 40thAnniversary Edition ($2890 pr). Speaker stands were TonTrager stands made in Germany ($1495 and up) All cables were Triode Wire Labs. The body and emotion were tremendous sourcing from a MacBook air via the Lio’s DAC module. Any small to midsized room would do well as a home for this simple but sonically delicious system.

Wyred 4 Sound

Another room that brought great sound without breaking the bank was the Wyred 4 Sound suite featuring the W4S Music Server ($3499 as configured), The W4S Recovery USB Reclocker ($199), the W4S DAC-2V2se 10thAnniversary DAC ($4499), The W4S STP-SE Pre-amp ($1,999) and the new W4S ST-750-LP 750wpc Class-D amp ($1999). The W4S stack was paired with the Fritz Carrera BE stand mount speakers ($3500 pr) and wired with W4S’s custom cables. The sound was big and inviting. Great imaging and a surprising amount of low end from the smaller Fritz speakers. Wyred 4 Sound always shows well and having owned their gear I have always appreciated their high value quotient.


Ultra Fidelis

Wisconsin Dealer Jonathan Spelt’s Ultra Fidelis was showing the new Vandersteen M5-HPA amplifier’s ($15,000 pr) paired with the Vandersteen Quatro Wood CT’s ($14,600) fronted by an all Audio Research stack including the REF 6 Pre ($14,000) and REF 3 Phono ($14,000). An Aurender N10 Server ($8500) provided the source material. All cabling and power management was by AudioQuest. These new Vandersteen amps offer adjustable crossover points for Subwoofer performance and drove the Quatro Wood CT’s to such effect that they were my best sound of the show! The sense of depth and image was stunning. System synergy was spot on. I was pleased to be there early Sunday morning when the rooms were not packed so I could spend some time with this, for me, top performer.


The Fidelis Music Systems room featured the Stenheim Alumine 5 speakers ($50,000). One step down from the Reference models, the 5’s had spot on imaging and a solid low-end slam. Powered by the new VAC SIGMA 170i integrated amplifier ($14,000) the system was sourced by the new Acoustic Signature Double X turntable ($5795) with TA2000 9” tonearm ($2395) and Dynavector XX2 MC cartridge ($1995), the MSB Analog DAC ($9950) and the Aurender N10 Server ($8000) the whole system was tied together with Tellurium Q Statement cables. (Speaker cables $13,900 pr). Having admired the Stenheim’s from afar it was great to experience them in person while being paired with a collection of cutting edge gear.

Sonja XV Jr.

GTT Audio always offers up an impressive display of High-End audio. This time it was the debut of the YG Acoustics Sonja XV Jr’s ($187,500) paired with Audionet’s new Heisenberg line amplifiers. Source was a Kronos turntable featuring an AirTight Opus cartridge. This was one of my top five rooms for sound quality. The YG’s offered up one of the best low ends anywhere in the show (Everyone was struggling to some degree with room challenges in the very low registers.) Dynamics were powerful, and the soundstage was suitably large given the mighty nature of the four-box speaker system. Another room to spend an afternoon in. Well done GTT Audio!

CH Precision and YG

The CH Precision room featured their I1 Integrated amp ($38,000) with their Phono Pre add on board ($4500). It can be configured to manage three tone arms at once. Other add on boards are available. A D1 SACD player ($38,000) and Thalis Turntable with Simplicity Mk II tonearm ($22,000) along with a Hanous Cartridge ($8,000) fronted a pair of YG Carmel II Speakers ($24,300). The overall presentation was very clean and, well, precise! This system was very revealing and poorly mastered source material will not present well.

Gayle Sanders 

The HiFi+ team was treated to an industry unveiling of the return of Gayle Sanders, founder of Martin Logan. Gayle sold the company and retired in 2005. He just could not stay away. Teaming up with engineer Bernt Bohmer (above, left) and Marketing wiz David Solomon (above right) he has founded Gayle Sanders Eikon. Their first product is the Image 1 speaker system featuring of a pair of Image 1 speakers consisting of a front and rear firing woofer, a midrange and a ribbon tweeter each driven by internal monoblock amps and a highly customized Wavelet DSP Preamp they have christened the Eikontroller. This system ($25,000 including cables) uses an external microphone to sense the room space as well as the absorptive/reflective nature of the walls to provide an exceptional 3D speaker response not only in the sweet spot but where ever you are in the room.  The presentation was very effective and quite entertaining. Anticipated delivery should be in August of this year. It was quite a return for Mr. Sanders and a good example of why he is an industry icon and the new company could become one in the future.


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