This was one of the first rooms that I visited, and I was happy to get to experience the new Estelon Extreme Mk II ($259,000/pair). Paired with Vitus electronics, the total system ticket price exceeded $1MM. Though I was a bit disappointed with the Estelon Extreme Mk I that was set up in AXPONA 2022, this system was one of the best in show. There was a lot of richness and detail which together translated to incredible realism. The speakers easily disappeared and the system filled the massive room with ceilings over 30ft high.
AGD and Next Level Hifi have always been a favorite due to the combination of Borresen Acoustics loudspeakers, Aavik electronics, and Ansuz cabling and tweaks. Their introduction of the $100K Borresen M1 monitor and $70K I-880 integrated amp at the Florida Audio Expo gave them one of the best of show. For AXPONA, they introduced their larger counterparts, including the M3 loudspeaker ($280,000/pair), and the I-880 separates (each $70,000). The sound was familiarly the most clean, dynamic, holographic and three-dimensional of the show. I did start to get annoyed, however, based on the continued widening and increased toe-in of the speaker positioning. This has been their trend for the last year, and it gives this illusion of sound bouncing off the walls, almost as if phasing becomes your friend, at the expense of a stronger center image and soundstage depth. For the first time, I truly felt that this was a smoke and mirrors act and walked away dissatisfied.
I was looking forward to visiting this room the most as I wanted to experience the debut of the new Solitaire S 540 loudspeakers ($54,900), which are the older sibling of the Solitaire S 530 speakers I reviewed a few weeks back. Paired with the SDV 3100 HV Reference Streaming DAC Preamp ($38,500) and M40 HV tube hybrid mono block amplifiers ($62,850/pair), the system exhibited amongst the most refined, natural and organic delivery of any room in the show. This was one room unfortunately that evidently had a lot of challenges, and unless one was sitting directly in the sweet spot center chair in the second row, room modes and phasing became their worst enemy. In some areas the center image just disappeared due to the cancellation of frequencies. But luckily, I was able to sit in the sweet spot chair for a good amount of time across the two days.
Vimberg Tonda D speakers ($70,000/pair) have been on my bucket list for some time, and given their reputation and style, I was curious to becoming a dealer for them. Paired with Karan electronics, whose monoblocks ($106,000/pair) deliver an astounding 2100wpc into 8 ohm and 3600wpc into 4 ohm the system delivered with the most effortless sophistication that was completely rich, airy and fast. The system completely disappeared and delivered top notch holography with the utmost realism, and I crown this system easily to be best of show.
Ted Denney and team were up their usual tweaks, this time with Estelon XB MKII speakers ($49,000), the Soulution 725 preamp ($60,000) and the Soloution 511 stereo amplifier ($38,500). Front end sources included the Berkeley Audio Design Alpha Reference 3 DAC ($28,000) and the Sonorus Audio ATR10 MKI Reel to Reel deck ($19,950). The collection of Synergistic Research products included a full loom of SRX cabling, SR Black Boxes, Galileo Active Ground Blocks, Tranquility Racks, HFTs, and more. My previous experiences with Soulution have always left me wanting, as they are incredibly detailed electronics and sometimes lacking the “soul” in Soulution. Demonstrations by Ted proved this to be true when he started removing the Black Boxes, tuning bullets, and HFTs away from the room. With the proper Synergistic Research tweaks in place, though, the system was clean, full, holographic, dynamic and downright fun.
Legacy always puts on a great showing in their room every year and consistently are one of the best of show. This year was no exception with the Valor loudspeakers ($80,000/pair) matched with the Wavelet 2 DAC/Pre/Processor ($7,500) and I-V2 Ultra amplifier ($4,785). While none of these are new this year, they continue to perform amongst the best. The sound was crisp, clean, spacious and engaging, demonstrating great depth in the soundstage and finesse in the microdynamics. Unfortunately, the Legacy team themselves seemed very unenthusiastic, almost as if they really didn’t want to be there. That took away from the vibe of an otherwise exceptional room.
One of my favorite releases this year is the Aurender AP20 ($22,000) which is essentially the $14,000 A20 DAC / streamer / server paired with a 200wpc Class D amplifier based on Purifi Eigentakt modules, making it one of the most reference-grade one-box solutions to have ever hit the market. It’s not going to be endgame reference for diehard audiophiles that are accustomed to reference separates, but it can be endgame for most. I would love to hearing streaming on this against, say, the Boulder 866. Delivering a sound that was crystal clear and involving, it was fairly linear and neutral in tone and very detailed without being fatiguing. I’m not aware of any other fully integrated amplifier with streamer and DAC whose performance even comes close to the AP20.
This Italian company always promises great fun, pairing their fully active Duo GT horn systems ($30,000 pair) with exceptional Phasemotion tube electronics and coveted dCS Vivaldi Apex digital front end which helped to deliver the maximum resolution possible. Though I very much preferred last year’s larger Trio G3 and multitudes of subwoofer horns accompanied, this year’s smaller setup led with soul and followed with satisfying dynamics, though overloaded bass boom at times convoluted the remainder of the frequency spectrum.
Luxman was my first favorite audio electronics company, and I’ve owned at least a dozen pieces of Luxman gear due to their ability to deliver a warm yet dynamic sound. They are amongst the kings of soul and musicality. Magico’s S5 MKII loudspeakers ($45,400/pair), which can easily be perceived as being dry and too “hifi”, was an ideal partner for Luxman’s electronics, which included the new Luxman PD-191A turntable ($12,495), E-250 phono stage ($2,395), C-900u preamplifier ($15,995), and M-10X power amplifiers ($19,995 each). The result was a pure music that was bold and deeply involving. The imaging did not make the speakers disappear like some of the other rooms, but it didn’t get in the way of giving me goosebumps.
My experience with Clarisys Minuet Neo speakers ($33,800/pair) set up by Suncoast Audio at both the Florida Audio Expo and AXPONA were both equally exceptional based on the transparent, airy midrange and incredible detail retrieval combined with a very powerful, guttural bass. My one pet peeve of these speakers though are that I have yet to hear varying depths in the music. In all cases, they may image where the speakers are or even deeper, but it seems that the entire stage is always at a consistent distance. Never could I say “do you hear the horns just left and behind of the piano”.
I finally got to hear the production release of PS Audio’s Aspen FR30 loudspeakers ($29,999/pair). Back in 2018, I heard the prototypes for them, which look nothing like the final production release. Unfortunately I was let down by the sound in the room as well as the build finish of the speakers themselves. Paired with PS Audio’s BHK amplification ($6,999 preamplifier and $16,998 mono block amplifier pair), their DirectStream MK2 DAC ($7,998), all with power foundation from the P20 Power Plant ($9,999) the sound was dynamic, but imaging wasn’t as holographic as I would have wanted, and yet the playback was not cohesive. And while I’ve loved seeing photos of the FR30’s aesthetics, in real life the gloss white looks and feels a little cheap, especially considering its price tag.
Every time I go to a show where the Margules team is able to set up their equipment, it makes me proud to be Margules dealer. Their U-280 SC 30th Anniversary Amplifier was configured in stereo mode, powering Raidho TD 1.2 stand mount speakers ($25,000). As expected, it delivered one of the most harmonically rich, seductive and involving musical experiences of the show, all with incredible realism.
Rockport Technologies speakers are another company I get giddy about because I have not heard any of their speakers sound bad. They’ve always played confidently with a decent amount of heft and speed, and it’s not hard to make them sound rich yet controlled. Paired with Snell electronics, the Rockport Cygnus ($62,500/pair) enabled the room to sound excellent despite the positioning of the speakers and listening chairs to be set up in a much more near field configuration than what does the speakers justice.
Wilson and ARC are one of those magical pairings in the audio world, that it makes me think whether these two companies collaborate on the engineering of their products to maximize synergy. Any time I’ve heard the two together well set up, they never fail to impress. I purchased the Wilson Yvette personally in 2021 after hearing them in AXPONA 2018 (though I did let it go in 2022, long story). This year, Quintessence Audio upped the game with the Wilson Alexia V ($67,500/pair), Audio Research Ref 160 Monos ($34,500/pair) and Ref 6 SE preamp ($17,000). The sound was amongst the boldest AND cleanest, delivering the best combination at the frequency extremes at ultimate speed. The midrange of course was wonderful, but not as rich and effortless as some systems listed, but all of this comes down to an individual’s sonic preferences, and for many, this likely would have been considered exceptional.
Triangle Art gets an honorable mention because I typically don’t like their sound. Sure, in the past I have found their equipment to sound bold and warm, but at the expense of detail retrieval and microdynamic pacing. Well, the tables were turned in the small room they had this year, pairing their age-old electronics with their Metis horn-based loudspeaker ($59,999/pair). Microdynamics were much more palpable which incredible imaging and stage size, all without sounding forward as many horns can.
There were a number of other great showings by other groups, and plenty more disappointing ones, and I would love to hear your impressions if you were there. Overall, I still look forward to attending next year.
Thanks for reading!