Show Report: AXPONA 2014 – Analogue Audio
- Chris Martens
- May 2014
Normally Hi-Fi+ show reports are presented in prose form with illustrations, but for this section we will take more of an image-intensive ‘Postcards from…’ approach. Thus, this is not an exhaustive report, but rather presents an annotated ‘photo album’ of sorts that we hope will convey the general scope of the analogue audio products seen at the Axpona. If you enjoy these images, by all means visit your local/regional dealers so that you can hear these products in action.
Analogue Audio Products
Acoustic Signature was represented in several room, but perhaps the firm’s most significant new offering was the new WOW XL turntable ($2299 for the table, $2795 with a basic tonearm), which can be viewed as a significantly enhanced version of the firm’s original WOW entry-level ‘table.
But several of the Acoustic Signature models featured hybrid combinations of various upper-end Acoustic Signature turntables fitted with the brand new 12-inch version of the Funk Firm’s FXR tonearm. One of the most eye-catching iterations, then, featured a massive Acoustic Signature Thunder turntable equipped with the new longer-version FXR arm carrying a van den Hul Calibri cartridge.
Though not yet well known in the US, the German firm Acoustic Solid may soon win new analogue friends with its lovely Solid Machine turntable ($6,700) that is, well, machined from—you guessed it—solid aluminium. The table’s appearance brings to mind some of JR/Transrotor’s classis turntable designs, but the Solid Machine’s price falls toward the lower end of the scale in view of the apparent quality of build on offer.
The German firm AMG (Analog Manufaktur Germany) is perhaps best known for its critically acclaimed AMG V12 turntable/tonearm, which combo figured prominent in the Sonus faber/Audio Research Corporation demo room.
But also new for the show was a cost-reduced 9-inch version of AMG’s original 12-inch V12 tonearm, plus an all-new moving-coil phono cartridge called the Teatro ($2,000), which sounds extremely promising and, happily, does not cost the proverbial ‘King’s ransom.’ Given how hard it can be to find good cartridges in the sweet-spot $2,000 price range, the Teatro is a welcome addition to the AMG range.
Avid teamed with Wharfedale for a demonstration that included Avid’s beautiful, entry-level Ingenium turntable, which sells for $1,999 complete with a Pro-Ject 9cc tonearm (though other, more ambitious arms can be bundled with the table at extra cost). Our thought: The Ingenium appears to be a lot of turntable for the money.
Clearaudio ‘tables (and other analogue components) figured prominently in several difference demo rooms, but two of my favourites were the all-Clearaudio turntable/tonearm/phono cartridge combo being used in the Dynaudio/Simaudio demo room, and the Clearaudio Master Innovation, which served as the platform for Graham’s all-new Phantom Elite tonearm.
After show hours proper were over I had the privilege of spending some time in the Dynaudio/Simaudio room, Where Dynaudio maven Mike Manousselis had put away most of the ‘audiophile’ discs and was instead spinning vinyl from favourite rock/pop/alternative groups. The Clearaudio rog played right along, proving it was ready, willing, and able to ‘kick out the jams.’
The Funk Firm’s two major highlights for Axpona were its new Flamenca turntable with F6 tonearm ($1495), and a new 12-inch version of its flagship FXR tonearm (which was seen in action in several demo rooms, as shown in the Acoustic Signature photos, above).
The F6 arm ($595, if purchased separately), features an unorthodox but ingenious thread-based suspension/pivot system (see photo).
Graham Engineering’s big news for Axpona featured the launch of the firm’s maximum, supremo, Phantom Elite tonearm, which looks terrific and sounded even better than that. Caution: To see a Phantom Elite is, quite likely, to covet one.
Pretty much everyone who has ever seen and heard Louis Desjardins’ original and very exotic Kronos turntable has wanted one. Sadly, though, the unit’s price and limited availability may place it beyond reach for all but an elite few. However, at Axpona the firm rolled out its all-new and (somewhat) cost-reduced Sparta turntable, which will sell for $21,500 (or roughly half the price of the original Kronos). In case you are wondering, yes, the Kronos Sparta still features the firm’s signature dual, counter-rotating platters. For the show, the Sparta was fitted with the new Helena tonearm ($6,500), which appears to be a tailor-made match for both of the Kronos ‘tables.
Music Hall was showing its elegant and (relatively) affordable Ikura turntable ($1,195), whose deceptively simple appearance—as viewed from above—conceals the fact that the table uses a sophisticated, plinth-on-plinth design where the upper and lower plinths are, by design, isolated from one another.
Though not a new product, Music Hall’s MMF 5.1 turntable was deserving of a photo, if only because the blood-red beast was fitted with a whimsical third-party platter mat made (I swear I am not making this up) of cowhide and dubbed the ‘Moo Mat.’
Finally, Music Hall was exhibiting its ultra-beefy, ultra-heavy-duty record cleaning machine, known as the WCS-2 ($750). The name, by the way, stands for ‘Washes, Cleans, and SUCKS…” (no, I’m not making that one up, either).
Though not a brand new model, Rega’s skeletal RP-8 turntable/tonearm (frequently bundled with the firm’s Apheta moving coil phone cartridge) continues to attract attention and is reported to be selling very briskly. A brief listen will show you precisely the sonic appeal of this innovative and well-priced analogue combo.
On display from the Swiss firm Thales was the new Thales Easy tonearm ($5,800), which is the latest—and least expensive—of the firm’s pivoting tangential tonearms. For those unfamiliar with the concept, which to our knowledge was pioneered way back when by the Garrard Zero-100, the key idea is to have zero tracking error from a pivoted, not a radial tracking or so-called “straightline”, tonearm. Precision is exactly what you might expect from a Swiss watchmaker.
Triangle Art is a southern California based firm, which specialises in turntable and tonearm design and is headed by acoustics/physics/metallurgical engineer Tom Vu. The firm also offers a range of interconnects, power cords, and power distribution products but it’s plain to see that analogue audio is where Vu’s passions are centred. On demonstration at Axpona were Triangle Art’s stunning, mirror-finished Reference turntable ($6,000) and Signature turntable ($15,990). Both ‘tables were fitted with Vu’s Osiris tonearms ($4,995 – $5,800, depending upon arm length).
Hot on the heels of VPI’s critically-acclaimed Traveler turntable comes a new entry-level model, called the Nomad ($995), that we think will: A) blow minds, and B) make the perfect answer to the question, ‘How do I get started in analogue audio anyway?’
The Nomad constitutes a robust and elegantly minimalist turntable/tonearm combo that—get this—comes fitted with an Ortofon 2M series moving magnet phono cartridge, a built-in phonostage, and a built-in headphone amplifier. That users can get all of this good stuff in one go for a tick under $1,000 make the Nomad a bargain by any rational standard. Moreover, VPI has plainly spent a lot of time getting the individual pieces to harmonize with one another in a sonically synergistic way. (In fact, one online audio equipment retailer told me he felt the Ortofon cartridge provided in this package actually sounds better in the Nomad than in any other platform the retailer has tried to date). If our guess is correct, the Nomad may turn out to be one of the ‘magic’ products where the whole is greater than the sum of the parts.
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