Part One of Don’s show report ran in Issue 190.
Editor’s Note: You might have noticed that some of our show reports happen sometime after the shows occur. This is because of a variety of factors – it takes time to collate all the notes and photos, our writers are busy and don’t do this full-time – and your undemanding editor doesn’t ask that they stay up all night to work on their show reports. Also, the shows have become too big for any one person to cover, so it can be informative to get different perspectives even after the fact.
Butcher Block Acoustics
Butcher Block Acoustics has proudly displayed their wood audio racks, speaker stands and amp stands for a number of years in AXPONA’s Expo Hall and Record Fair. The company also offers a wide variety of anti-vibration accessories. Their products are a great alternative for those looking for a more traditional look for their audio systems.
PS Audio had a beautifully-appointed room on the main floor of the show, featuring a demo of the ultra-high-end aspen FR30 speakers driven by PS Audio electronics, including their flagship BHK Mono 600 power amplifier and a sneak preview of their upcoming AirLens Music streamer. The room was always crowded and bustling with activity, clearly a big draw for the audiophiles and industry insiders at AXPONA.
Bob Carver Corporation
After the licensed builder of his products shut down in 2022, industry legend Bob Carver resurrected his old company and Bob Carver Corporation is selling his designs today, backed by a new team assembled from engineers from the aerospace industry. A mix of vintage and current Carver products were on display at the show. The current line consists of the vacuum-tube RPM V12 preamplifier and three vacuum-tube amplifiers.
If Bob was there, I did not see him. It would have been nice to have met him, given his name and products were so prominently displayed in the audio magazines of the 1980s when I first entered the hobby. Years ago, I did get to have lunch with Matt Polk, founder of Polk Audio, after Polk VP and PR contact Paul DiComo set it up for us. It was almost surreal sitting at a table with him in a Chinese restaurant in Baltimore, when as a teenager I would constantly see him in Polk ads wearing his white coat!
Loudspeaker manufacturer Phillips Design had a well-appointed room (complete with an authentic vintage Modeline floor lamp that looked quite expensive) to show off their “Speakers for the Modern Home” exhibit, which seemingly drew inspiration from two products of the past. The Philips Design OH-16 speakers look like taller versions of the 1960s and 1970s Zenith Z565 “Circle of Sound” omnidirectional speakers, and the round cabinets and custom wraps are reminiscent of the Ohm Acoustics Sound Cylinder Walsh speakers. The OH-16 speakers feature an upward-firing coaxial driver and a down-firing woofer. Customization is one of the big draws here, as the speakers are available in a number of finishes and varieties of wood, metal, and upholstery trim. It would be interesting to hear these outside of a show. They start at $4,500/pair.
Germany’s MBL demoed their always-impressive Radialstrahler 101 E MKII omnidirectional speakers (shown in the header image of this article) to a rapt, packed room. These speakers are rare and expensive at over $90,000/pair, and if you have never heard them, it is worth a trip to the show just to have the opportunity to experience their magic. The speakers were mated with the company’s Reference Line electronics; MBL offers it’s Reference, Noble and Cadenza ranges of components that include CD players and transports, CD players, a DAC, preamplifiers, and stereo and mono power amplifiers.
Storied British manufacturer Mission is producing products in the UK again and were showing off the latest version of the Mission 770 speakers, featuring classic styling with updated components. The sound was warm, detailed, and satisfying, with a fullness that is a characteristic of speakers with wider, boxier cabinets, as compared to many modern speakers which have adopted taller, narrow cabinets and “creative” port designs. In fact, speakers with larger cabinets were in evidence throughout the show, demonstrating a new appreciation for such designs and what they can do. The Mission 770 speakers sell for $5,000/pair and are distributed in the US by American Audio & Video.
Plinius and Alta Audio
New Zealand’s Plinius Audio used Alta Audio Adam speakers ($17,000 - $18,000 per pair depending on finish) to demonstrate their high-end high-power amplifiers, and their preamplifiers and phono stages. The Plinius amplifiers drove the Alta Audio speakers without strain, and the system sounded fantastic. The Plinius gear has a passing resemblance to vintage Perreaux electronics, also from New Zealand, interesting given the shared country of origin but perhaps just a coincidence. pliniusaudio.com
Audiophiles looking for affordable powered speakers would do well to check out Kanto Audio, a standout in the segment for their inexpensive yet fine-sounding powered speakers and subwoofers. Many models were on exhibit at AXPONA, including powered subwoofers and speaker stands to go with them. [Full disclosure: the editor occasionally does some work for Kanto. – Ed.]
Panasonic has continued to expand its Technics high-end audio brand and some of their best equipment was on display at the show. The $1,099 SA-C600 Compact Network CD Receiver is an all-in-one solution that incorporates much of Technics’ best technology, including sophisticated digital signal processing, a phono stage, and a room correction system that can be controlled from a smartphone. It can obviously be used with any pair of speakers, but the $1,099 Technics SB-C600 bookshelf speakers are a logical match and the combo is often sold together.
SVS has long been known for their exceptional subwoofers, and their passive and powered speakers and audio components have been winning awards for years as well. I have known Nick Brown of SVS for years, and he treated me to a demo of the $1,199.98 SVS Ultra Bookshelf speakers driven by the $699.99 Prime Wireless Pro SoundBase digital amplifier, a compelling combo for under $2,000.
British speaker manufacturer Q Acoustics has made a name for themselves over the past few years by delivering audiophile-quality sound at affordable prices, most notably with their $449.00 per pair 3020i bookshelf speakers, which have won awards from both lifestyle and audio publications. At AXPONA they highlighted their new 5000 Series speakers that feature C3 Continuous Curved Cone technology, which uses woofers with a unique smooth curve profile, said to optimize reproduction throughout the frequency range and to smoothly integrate with the tweeter. The $1,499 5040 towers sounded rich and refined, and were competitive with a lot of far more expensive speakers I heard that day. The new cone design is definitely something special, and I expect the new 5000 Series will play to the same critical acclaim as the 3020i.
Header image: MBL Radialstrahler 101 E MKII loudspeakers.