Axpona 2019, Part 2

[Part 1 of Rudy’s Axpona report was in Copper # 83—Ed.]

One of my show favorites last year was the system from Eikon Audio, the new company founded by Gayle Sanders, co-founder of Martin Logan [with Ron Sutherland—the company name used their middle names. They learned from Mark Levinson’s mistake—Ed.]. The idea behind Eikon’s product is a powered speaker system fed by a custom preamplifier with highly advanced DSP which adapts the speaker to the room, not only through frequency response but also through timing characteristics of the sound within the room, yielding a balanced response in a wider portion of a listening room. The DSP helps to create the unified wave launch that Sanders and Sutherland first experienced with their electrostatic designs. This year, Eikon had a production model of the system on display, sounding every bit as good as I remember it. The diminutive cabinets belie the large sound this system creates, especially the amount and depth of bass present, while the imaging and soundstage are sharp and focused.

As the Eikon demo room was too dimly lit to get a suitable photo, here is a display model from their suite, in carbon fiber.

Got tubes? Here are some large specimens for you bottle lovers out there. These are the KRT-1610 tubes, a triode capable of 22-50 watts in class A, as used in one of KR Audio’s Kronzilla power amplifiers.

Schiit brought some new, umm, Schiit to the show. The new Aegir amplifier, configurable as a stereo 20 watt per channel amplifier or an 80-watt monoblock, runs in Class A, and were paired with Salk loudspeakers. Also debuted was the prototype of Schiit’s upcoming Sol turntable, featuring a carbon fiber uni-pivot arm with on-the-fly VTA adjustment. It is expected to retail in the $700 range when released. The Sol and the Aegirs flank the rack of Schitt from top to bottom:

Here’s one for the “no séance required” segment of our show report: The Mag Lev Audio turntable. Your eyes do not deceive—the platter floats above the plinth and rotates using a magnetic field, which does away with belt drives, direct-drive motors and idler wheels. The arm is a Pro-Ject Carbon. The Mag Lev was on display in the marketplace, but next year I would like to see them show the turntable in their own room, so we can determine how it sounds. Regardless, it’s intriguing to watch this turntable play a record!

Vinyl lovers who are tired of pops and clicks on their records may want to give this product a try. A few years ago, the SweetVinyl company debuted their SugarCube digital click and pop remover. The system converts the analog signal to 24-bit/192kHz resolution, applies their proprietary and very sophisticated noise removal algorithms, then outputs the audio with the worst of the noise removed. If anyone remembers it, this is a 21st Century equivalent of the old SAE 5000A Impulse Noise Reduction unit, which your humble author here has owned for decades, much of that time with it sitting unused. (A nice way of saying that it really did not work very well.) The SugarCube works its magic without any audible shift in sound quality, and given that all of the SugarCube models offer a digital output in addition to analog, we could use its output straight into a DAC of our choosing, or send the data to a computer for recording.

All parameters can be adjusted via the front panel, or via a convenient app for your smartphone or tablet, since the unit connects to your network in order to receive software updates. The newest version of the software (2.0) has been improved so that it may now detect scratches properly without affecting electronic music (like Kraftwerk, and a lot of recent EDM releases).

Originally starting with two models (the SC-1 and SC-2), the lineup has now expanded to include four models. The SC-1 is now available in three flavors. The SC-1 Mini provides the noise reduction, plus analog and digital outputs. The SC-1 Phono adds a phono stage, with an infinitely adjustable load for moving coil cartridges. The SC-1 Plus adds a digital input.

The SC-2 is the top model, which adds the ability to record your cleaned vinyl to USB stick, external hard disk or a network drive. It accesses an online database to retrieve the metadata for your record, and automatically splits and tags your files, making your needle drops a very simple process.

Top to bottom are the SC-1 Mini, SC-1 Phono, and the SC-2.

I made a video of the SugarCube being used on their “dustbin” record, Steely Dan’s Aja, to give an example of how well it works.

 

Once again, one of my favorite rooms at Axpona was the room presented by Precision Audio & Video, featuring the Martin Logan Expression ESL 13a speakers paired with Constellation electronics, Auralic streamer, and a turntable setup from Continuum Labs. As stats can be very revealing of source components, there is something magical about this system which just works. (I have heard these same speakers powered by Luxman and McIntosh, and in both cases was disappointed.) The Expression 13a is smaller than the Renaissance 15a pair they brought last year, and the smaller size worked perfectly in the hotel room. Everything has great synergy, and I enjoy my time in this room each year. My friend, who enjoyed the earlier system, later told me he was “gobsmacked” by this one as well, and another blog yesterday counted this among their top three rooms at the show. Sorry for the poor picture on this one!

I also spent some quality time in the PS Audio room, located on the first floor near the show registration area. The two big introductions this year were the AN3 loudspeakers, and the two-chassis Obsidian Series Ted Smith Signature DAC, shown as a non-functional display. Ted Smith was given free rein to develop his ultimate DAC as he originally envisioned the DirectStream concept years ago. The digital chassis features a glass display across the entire front of the unit, while the analog chassis will strictly be limited to clean analog output; they will be joined by a fiber optic cable (not Toslink) to keep electrical noise to a minimum.

The AN3 speakers will eventually be a middle-range system between the flagship AN1 (a set of 7½ ft. tower speakers to rival the legendary four-piece Infinity IRS V) and AN2, and a series of less-expensive speakers in the Stellar range. The AN3 builds on the design principles of Arnie Nudell, and the driver array consists of an air motion transformer tweeter (front and back), a Bohlender Graebener planar midrange, a mid-bass coupler, and a side-mounted woofer. The latter two are driven by separate internal 700-watt amplifiers, and DSP will be available to tune the lower frequencies to the listening room. Initial impressions of this prototype AN3 were very favorable by all who heard them, despite the odd nearly cube-shaped room and typically noisy show conditions. The removable wooden side panels are beautifully finished, as you can see below.

Finally, an honorable mention goes to the upcoming Stellar Phono Preamp, designed by Darren Myers, who also assists in the development of many other PS Audio products, including the upcoming speakers.

One final salvo before I wrap this up. If anyone recalls, my first Copper contribution bemoaned the state of demonstration music in the rooms of the show. There was a lot of the same music being played in several rooms, while others were poorly sequenced, and some were just too damned loud.

With this year’s show, I heard more diversity than ever. While many exhibitors still bring their own recordings (anything from selected LPs to hard drives full of tunes), I have a feeling the depth of Qobuz’s millions of available tracks may have had a hand in it (and Tidal’s, to a lesser extent). Good, high-quality music is now just a few taps away, and exhibitors can jump from their own selections to visitor requests in an instant. A win-win for everyone involved.

Well, that’s a wrap on Axpona for the year. Thanks for reading, and keep the tunes spinning!