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Thread: AXPONA show report

  1. #1
    Senior Member Ducatista47's Avatar
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    AXPONA show report

    I just returned from the 2019 edition of Audio Expo North America and it was a very eventful outing.

    The first thing we (My friend Dave, and thank you for funding the outing once again for your broke audio buddy.) stumbled upon was GREAT PLAINS AUDIO, their first time at this show. Nice meeting Bill and taking in some of his received wisdom, which seems vast. They were just finished setting up and we had them to ourselves. They were situated in a large room called Expo Hall where vendors not needing playback to show their wares could have a high profile without renting a listening room. Nearly all the concerns selling music, record cleaning services and equipment, cables, and much more were in the hall so traffic was high and I hope Bill had a good show. He reminds me of the radio/tv repair guys you used to trust to fix your music system and band electronics. I miss that scene; I understand the biggest concentration of those guys and the associated parts stores was a neighborhood in NYC that was leveled to build the World Trade Center. In obvious hindsight, they should have let it be.

    In the more or less equally sized adjoining hall was Ear Gear, home of all things headphones and personal listening. Everyone with good stuff always makes this show and it is a glorious experience. MANLEY, having a headphone amp line, was there and for I think the first time EveAnna Manley was present. I had never met her before and she has to be the most down to Earth owner/CEO in audio. We had a nice talk. What a pleasure and so much fun. Instead of someone selling you something, it was like bumping into someone very interesting at the grocery store.

    The show also gave me a World Class serendipity meeting of someone very, very special and not an audio person. IBasso is a Chinese company and cleverly uses satisfied, knowledgeable customers to represent them at shows instead of employees. The lead guy there has designed and made headphone cables himself, is an EE and one of the smarter guys in the room. Someone helping him with display and gear was a small older woman dressed from being in the Arizona desert; a brimmed hat, and boots to absorb rattlesnake strikes. I mention this to place her as we had met earlier. I had seen her coming out of an elevator in the hotel we were in and we introduced ourselves when she happened into the fitness room where I was working out to keep my knees in shape to navigate the huge show. That was where we had the opportunity to get to know each other. A minute into a conversation and I knew I was in the presence of greatness without her saying a single word about herself. She possesses many degrees it seems and this selfless angel uses her knowledge, experience, and credentials to help heal people and the Earth. She has picked up the indigenous languages of some places; she mentioned Formosa, Indigenous North America, and Guam but there must be others. She mentioned working in Alaska, the Pacific, Africa, and the Southwest a lot, and I am sure that was the tip of an iceberg. I can say that the only other woman I ever met that was as impressive as a human being was Helen Keller, and the only man was R. Buckminster Fuller. So, thank you AXPONA. I'm sure I will never get to see her again but we have each other's emails.

    Before I get to audio stuff I heard, two other encounters with biologicals. The show has seminars and concerts. We spent Friday afternoon at seminars and they were very good. I like the industry health and personality seminars much more than how to seminars, and those were on Friday this year. The man who founded AXPONA ten years ago is retired, but he showed up this year and asked his friend PAUL REED SMITH, the PRS guitar founding luthier and owner to do what he does. Unless you have caught him on YouTube at a TED Talk, the entire affair would be a total surprise. His favorite way to communicate with an audience is to get them to argue with him. He is a no BS guy and has unpopular opinions about instruments, designing and building them, and making music, and he is right about it all. As fascinating as informative, you may or may not like him but he is not to be missed. He may have pulled out all the restraints because his friend put him at the center of his show, I don't know, but it was special in any case.

    The French-Canadian singer, musician and composer ANNE BISSON has been a fixture at this show for some years. Like Lynn Stanley, Jennifer Warnes and Rebecca Pigeon, she was already a musician in different styles when she was encouraged to go after the audiophile recording community for an audience. I have heard her in performance several times but had spoken to her only briefly; this year she stayed full time at the little table in the hall outside her piano set up where she was selling and signing her music. My friends always get her vinyl so I had not heard her recordings. In the hotel, I streamed them on Napster and definitely preferred one CD it ends up she had composed. She liked it best and didn't care for the one I didn't care for either. I believe she got tired of suits telling her what to perform and record to be "successful". When it was about time for her to go in the room and play I went in to get a seat and there was a loud demo still going on. Techno blasting out of huge metal speakers and all the chairs facing the demo instead of her piano. When it ended I turned around a chair and set it up as close to her as I could physically get, maybe nine feet, so I could hear her directly as well as through the PA. The second of two songs (15-minute performance) was in English and she was about the best thing I had ever seen. The song she rendered was INTENSE. In the past, she was less involving when performing in English but she has moved past that. She is a fine pianist and in concert performs numerous long passages on the keyboard that become integral to the songs. You get that extra excellence when someone is accompanying themselves and pulls it off. The communication is so instantaneous and invariably correct. She blew me away. I can only hope future recordings reflect what I heard.

    Next post, some equipment reports.
    Information is not Knowledge; Knowledge is not Wisdom
    Too many audiophiles listen with their eyes instead of their ears


  2. #2
    Senior Member Ducatista47's Avatar
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    Some AXPONA room reports

    I will spare everyone with shorter versions of all but two of the room highlights I want to share.

    Harbeths and Magicos are still top drawer speakers. Magico has new lines and they are at least as good as the older ones. The Magico M2 I heard and it is mostly carbon fiber. While a lot lighter, especially for a floorstander, it sounds great. I guess I have to admit carbon fiber has arrived.

    Nelson Pass's First Watt power amplifiers still sound better than anything else but do come in flavors. One flavor's production is ending forever because the only Static Induction Transistors (power VFETs) are gone. There will likely never be audio suitable SITs produced again. They enabled single gain device class A amps and those who like their character will never settle for anything else. The SIT-3 is nearly sold out already.

    I heard the EAR V12 tube amplifier has the reputation of being the best sounding tube amp around. It uses six EL-84s per channel and it did sound excellent to me - and I don't like tube sound. The EL-84 was the last tube designed for audio and it shows. The best tube unit I still have is EL-84 powered.

    The MBL room did not disappoint. Having heard the huge top-line system and its little brother the Radialstrahler 101 E MK II, I like the smaller one better and it is good for anything smaller than ballroom sized spaces. Easily the best omnidirectional speaker system ever designed, the Radialstrahler gives up a slight bit of resolution (because it bombards the entire room with a lot of audio energy) to the most resolving systems. In exchange, it offers an absolutely enthralling sound field, which I predict as time goes on will become the most important quality in high-end reproduction. I can describe it as being bathed in music instead of the usual impression of facing speakers. This can not be achieved with surround technology; it is quite different. Some do not like it and say it is "confusing". I have seen what is going on. They actually look between the speakers trying to find where the usual stereo impression went. Get out of that expectation and accept what is actually going on, and it is like an optical illusion you can't "unsee" once you've seen it. I find it glorious. There is a small price to pay. Omnidirectional systems put a lot of acoustic energy into every surface in the room so distortion is higher than in most high-end installations. Room treatments are still a good idea.

    This technology lies at one end of the home enjoyment of speaker produced music. The other end was just developed and while the experience is more like what we already know, it is possibly the ultimate leap forward, the most important development in audio in my lifetime - and I'm seventy-one. How about a speaker system that doesn't allow the room to influence the sound at all, needs no room treatment and no setup, and has only amplifier levels of distortion and no time alignment errors. That is amplifier levels of distortion for the entire speaker system, not just for individual transducers like Jerry Morro's Everest II compression drivers. A byproduct of the approach is the elimination of any other electronics except the source.

    This may take a bit of explaining, but it is in theory simple. The implementation was, however, a bitch and took a ton of R&D which is now complete and this is a fully formed technology. It is from Kii audio in Germany and is called the Kii 3 (Three). I didn't take photos, there is nothing special to see, but it is all at www.kiiaudio.com The goal was to generate a sound field in the home identical to a perfect studio with soffit mounted speakers closely emulating infinite baffles into a fully treated space. That worked out to 80% direct sound and 20% reflection. They actually did it one better because being in front of the Kii 3 adds no speaker distortion making distortion volume independent. Turn it up or down and the distortion level is still not audible. Go to a punishing 120+ dB and it sounds intense but not loud in the usual sense. Add a couple of percent distortion and it would be unbearable. Be careful with these things!

    How to do this? Processing for each transducer, and there are many. Each has a DAC and an N-core Class D amp. That is how the amplifier distortion is so low. Class D is actually capable of distortion as low at power as other amplifier classes. It's just more expensive to do it right than the usual consumer pieces. The direct sound bias is from the production of a cardioid pattern. That was the very hard part. That, possibly with some additional processing control, I don't know, makes the speaker system output sound only in the directions it needs to create the desired pattern. For instance, go behind the speakers and there is no sound there. No back wave at all. While that sounds like an opportunity for subtractive sound shaping, I was told the approach is mostly additive. Frequency response? Plus or minus 0.5 dB. Flat in anyone's book.

    So how does it sound? I guarantee you have never heard anything remotely like it. You would think a top drawer electrostatic headphone would sound the same, but it does not. (That's what I listen to all the time and they don't even resemble each other.) I have no idea why this is so, but I do predict most audiophiles will need some time to get used to it because, as I always say, everyone has their favorite distortion and this speaker proves it. Nothing is missing but distortion and everyone is used to hearing a lot of it. I do have to wonder if users of tube gear and tape or vinyl sources, all distortions kings compared to digital, could handle a clean modern recording with this system. WHERE'S MY DISTORTION? It is especially startling when you turn the volume up but it is amazing at any level. From what I could gather from the presenter, audiophiles, who actually love their favorite distortions and their multiplicity of expensive gear, are resistant to the idea of losing both. Musicians, on the other hand, who rarely have fancy stereos and do know sound quite well love this thing. It is a no fuss proposition, is compact and sounds very much like what they hear when they play. Which is what we all claim we really want.

    There is a small upper unit and a larger lower unit can be added for lower frequency reproduction, but the presenter recommended not needing the whole system unless listening to techno or home theater boom boom material. He said DACs never have failed and a few, a very few, amps have needed replacement. Prices are about 20K for each pair, upper or lower. I imagine you were wondering, the upper unit has 3000 watts and the lower 4000 if I read it right. No headroom issues. You've gotta experience this thing. Unpack it, position it where you want it (doesn't matter a lot), hook up the source and enjoy. Catch a demo wherever it is; anywhere is fine because it doesn't matter at all. Greenhouse, basement or A-Frame, all the same. If I could afford it would I buy a pair? In a heartbeat. Because for me it has always been all about the music, not the hobby of the care and feeding of gear. For those who CLAIM it is all about the music for them too, this is their chance to prove it. Fish or cut bait.
    Information is not Knowledge; Knowledge is not Wisdom
    Too many audiophiles listen with their eyes instead of their ears


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    Thanks for the report. I love audio shows and I hope to go to one this year. Either the Cal show or RAMF. It is always fun to see the latest stuff and to hear a boatload of aahhhh.....hyperbole. It seems that up here in the far flung marches that audio may be coming back. Just a hunch.
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    Senior Member Ducatista47's Avatar
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    Source vs reproduction technologies

    It occurs to me that I should have said the Kii 3's technology is the biggest leap in audio reproduction in my lifetime. The greatest leap in recording technology and source software is definitely digital. Both represent the most quantitative gains in fidelity since I was born. As of this moment, DSD for recording and Redbook CDs for playback is as good as it has ever been. High Rez you say? I have to call BS on that. For recording, outstanding. For playback, inferior and the flavor of the day. So far, no one has ever proved Harry Nyquist wrong about anything. Complain all you want about brick wall filtering but like jitter, no one has ever heard it; an inaudible problem. In dumbing down high rez playback sources to analog, audible artifacts are created, so it makes things worse.

    I'm not ignoring the impact of past improvements. The LP was a big step up from shellac and that was in my lifetime. The first transistor was constructed the year I was born; the rub is that they wanted to make a JFET but couldn't figure out how. It took a long time to get there. They had to settle for a Bipolar. Great for switching but not a natural amplifier.
    Information is not Knowledge; Knowledge is not Wisdom
    Too many audiophiles listen with their eyes instead of their ears


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    Administrator Mr. Widget's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Ducatista47 View Post
    It occurs to me that I should have said the Kii 3's technology is the biggest leap in audio reproduction in my lifetime. The greatest leap in recording technology and source software is definitely digital. Both represent the most quantitative gains in fidelity since I was born. As of this moment, DSD for recording and Redbook CDs for playback is as good as it has ever been. High Rez you say? I have to call BS on that. For recording, outstanding. For playback, inferior and the flavor of the day. So far, no one has ever proved Harry Nyquist wrong about anything. Complain all you want about brick wall filtering but like jitter, no one has ever heard it; an inaudible problem. In dumbing down high rez playback sources to analog, audible artifacts are created, so it makes thing worse.

    I'm not ignoring the impact of past improvements. The LP was a big step up from shellac and that was in my lifetime. The first transistor was constructed the year I was born; the rub is that they wanted to make a JFET but couldn't figure out how. It took a long time to get there. They had to settle for a Bipolar. Great for switching but not a natural amplifier.
    Thanks for sharing... I'll stick with my flavor of distortion for now, but appreciate the fact that other flavors exist.


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    Member Mitchco's Avatar
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    @Ducatista47 - The Kii THREE's and Dutch and Dutch 8c's I measured and listened to, are a level up on any speaker technology with their cardioid designs. waveguided dome tweeters and sophisticated use of DSP. The Kii THREE had a level of transparency that is bordering on too dry to my ears as compared to the 8c's.

    But I still listen to large JBL cinema speakers and 18" subs for music and HT. Mind you, using software DSP as well, achieving similar to these new speaker designs, but with old school large, wide baffles and large format compression drivers and waveguides... I like the narrower directivity... However, if I was looking for an all in one stand mount, the Kii THREE and D&D 8c would top the list. A class of sound and technology onto their own...

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