Show Report: Audio Expo North America (AXPONA) 2019

March 16 2020, 13:10
Rainbows, Unicorns, and Great High-End

AXPONA (Audio Expo North America) 2019 took place April 12-14 at The Renaissance Schaumburg Convention Center and Hotel. In this report for audioXpress, Masciarotte spent three days traversing multiple hotel floors packed with listening rooms, which this year included 50 new exhibitors, and writes about all the product highlights in most categories, from speakers to headphones, electronics and the traditional oddities.
 
The Escher-esque Renaissance Schaumburg Convention Center and Hotel, and the Raidho TD4.2 speaker.

​This year’s AXPONA was a sort of Groundhog Day, in that a fierce storm accompanied the event. Rather than last year’s fight to get home amid the literal wreckage strewn about the highway, my battle this year was traveling to the show. However, my trusty hybrid plowed through it all, and I settled in for some excellent audio the following day."

I had read about a new speaker prior to the exhibition, and was pleased to sit down for a bit with Zoltán Bay to discuss and listen to the worldwide launch of BAYZ Audio’s new flagship, the $97.1k Counterpoint (www.bayz-audio.eu). The 4 Ω Counterpoint plays “…lower (3 additional Hertz to around 24 Hz) and louder (+3 dB SPL) with a bigger vertical soundstage and lower distortion” than the existing Courante range. In the Counterpoint, his 200 mm Bay Radial Speaker (BRS) tweeter is combined with dual opposing, Danesian-designed 9.5” papyrus cone woofers and an all-carbon fiber “cabinet” for a low distortion delivery that both excelled at imaging and envelopment. The unorthodox, yet handsome pre-production prototype had crazy good sound — lively and organic.

Synergistic Research (www.synergisticresearch.com) supplied Atmospheric X Level 3 Euphoria cabling (8’ speaker $5,495, 1 m RCA $3,495, and 1 m XLR $3,995) and $2,995 Power Cell 8 UEF SE power conditioning (which includes a $1,995 Atmosphere X Excite power cable) connected to CH Precision’s (www.ch-precision.com) I1 integrated amp/DAC fed from one of Zoltán’s custom Linux based servers. The I1 starts at $38,000, and includes a digital input card (AES/EBU, S/PDIF, TosLink, and CH-LINK HD) and a balanced plus unbalanced analog input card. Additional options include two digital choices, $3,000 USB or $5,000 Ethernet, and a $4,500 phono stage with six EQ curves.

More Speakers
While on the subject of Danes, let’s talk about the Raidho division of Dantax (www.raidho.dk). Specifically, its chief designer, Benno Meldgaard, who has been on the job for the past 18 months since Michael Børresen decamped to start his namesake endeavor. Meldgaard and his team have upgraded and updated the D4.1 with tech adapted from its top line TD4.8, creating the new, scaled down €107,000 TD4.2. Its six new five layer, tantalum-coated “Diamond” drivers have upgraded motors, while internal damping and the ribbon tweet has been improved as well. They also took that same tech and applied it to a new stand mounter revision, the €20,500 TD1.2. The new tweeter provides several orders lower distortion and increased sensitivity to boot. A new €88,000 TD3.8, later announced at the High End Munich show, is on its way as well...

I discovered AQ s.r.o. (www.aqaudio.cz) at last year’s AXPONA, and have kept track of the company since. AQ’s quality products are reasonably priced, neutrally voiced, and visually pleasing. This year, the company had its $5,000 Passion Anniversary model playing — an 8 Ω, 40” three-way tower with smoothly satisfying sound. SB Acoustics supplies a 1” tweeter and 4” polypropylene mid, both from the low distortion Satori line. For low-frequency duties, four Scan-Speak drivers are employed, for an overall response of roughly 25 Hz to 30 kHz. 

Next up in the realm of speakers, the always jovial Vinnie Rossi (www.vinnierossi.com) was demo’ing his $20,000 Stiletto 15. The three-way model, a new product class for him and somewhat reminiscent of a Dalek in appearance, combines a 15” open baffle paper cone woofer with a 5.5” paper cone mid and 1” fabric dome tweeter. The mid- and high-frequency drivers are together in a sealed enclosure. Mundorf and Jantzen crossover components combined with WBT NextGen terminals round out the configuration. Response is spec’d at 39 Hz to 40 kHz ±3 dB, and impedance is a
nominal 6 Ω.

Acora Acoustics (www.acoraacoustics.com) was busy at the show, with not one but two loudspeaker debuts. Playing for most of the proceedings was its $28,000 SRC-1, a ported 8 Ω two-way with 7" sandwiched paper mid-woofer and a 1” ring radiator for the high-frequency tasks. Weighing in at 246 lbs. and 43” in height, these faceted towers are constructed of 3 cm granite. The 13” stand mounter, the SRB, tips the scale at 58 lbs. With a 5.5” mid-woofer mated to a 1” beryllium dome, they don’t go as low as the SRC-1, roughly 43 Hz versus 29 Hz, but the metal tweeter lets them reach up to 35 kHz.

Lest you think megabucks are needed for a satisfying system, consider Vanatoo (www.vanatoo.com) and its new Transparent One Encore, introduced at the event. The $530 powered two-way includes aptX Bluetooth along with analog plus USB, Toslink and coax digital inputs, a subwoofer output and even a full remote. Together with a compact 10” RSL Speedwoofer 10S subwoofer ($399), the diminutive Transparent One Encore made, according to my notes, for a “killer entry-level system.”
 
Some new speakers shown at Axpona 2019. AQ’s limited edition Passion Anniversary, the curvilinear carbon Counterpoint from BAYZ Audio, and the three-way line array Cinema LTM.

Local heroes Magnepan (www.magnepan.com) had another new, price conscious entrant, the 48" $650 LRS planar magnetic. Yup, 650 bucks for a Maggie. Insanely affordable, I wrote that they offer “astounding fidelity for the price,” while the diminutive size would make any significant other happy in their living space. Of course, being Maggies, they need a fair share of current to drive the 4Ω load they present, and maybe a subwoofer if you like pant-flapping bottom (-3 dB at 50 Hz), but these little critters could become the basis for an excellent starter system anyone could live with for a very long time.

At the show, Wendell Diller was driving the little Maggies with a novel, not-for-sale Maggie amp. A more realistic choice would be the $1,195 Parasound (www.parasound.com) NewClassic 200 INT integrated amplifier/DAC, available “…in early summer.” The slim unit offers a great set of analog and digital features, including 110 W of Class-D power supplied by Pascal technology. It also integrates a “...superb MM/MC phono stage,” two RCA line level inputs plus digital inputs for USB, coaxial, and optical sources. There’s even a home theater bypass for Left, Right, and two subs, plus a front panel auxiliary in for those damnable portable devices.

In the demo suite, the NewClassic 200 INT was fed by an OPPO Digital BDP-105 via Straight Wire $30 Musiccable II interconnects, while the amp was driving a pair of Buchardt Audio S400 two-ways (www.buchardtaudio.com) via Straight Wire’s $250 Symphony SC speaker cables (www.straightwire.com).

The $1,800 Danish speakers, making their North American debut, rested on $180/pair Norstone Stylum stands (www.norstone-design.com). The 4 Ω S400s are just over 14” tall, with a 6” aluminum cone midwoofer, and a 0.75” soft dome tweeter coupled to a 7” aluminum waveguide. On the back is a 5” × 8” low mass, racetrack passive radiator. They cross over at 2 kHz, and the response is listed as 33 Hz to 40 kHz ±3 dB. My notes mention that, all together, this was "...a perfect budget system" with low distortion, admirably even response and very gratifying results.

Stepping way up in cost, AXPONA saw the world premiere of EgglestonWorks’ new 18" tall, tapered top Nico Evo bookshelf model (www.egglestonworks.com). These $4,295 8 Ω two-ways have a 6” custom mid/woofer mated to a 1” soft dome, both by Morel. Matching stands are $495 and, at the show, they were powered by Primare’s $4,995 I35 Class D integrated (www.primare.net) and entry-level Audience cabling (www.audience-av.com).

Continue reading the full Show Report, now available online here.

This article was originally published in audioXpress, August 2019.
Attachment
LeadPhotoAXPONA-2019Web.jpg
AX-Aug2019-Axpona19Report.pdf
related items