It's been a month since the AXPONA 2016 high-end audio show went down in Chicago. This weekend I finally caught a break and had a chance to go through my notes, photos, and video clips from the show. Eleven of the most interesting rooms at the show wound up with their own articles, which you can read by clicking here .

However, those 11 room reports only capture a portion of what I experienced. In the three days I was there, I visited a number of additional rooms—many of them in the company of Home Theater Shack's Dennis Young and Wayne Myers. With THE Show Newport mere weeks away, it's time for the "better late than never" AXPONA 2016 wrap-up report.
Wayne Myers(left), Mark Henninger (center) and Dennis Young (right) at AXPONA 2016
Dynaudio Confidence C1 Speakers ($8750/pair)

"Dome tweeters with the detail of ribbons." Of all my notes regarding these speakers, that one probably best-explains the appeal of these Dynaudio dynamos. Yes, they are pricey monitor-style 2-way speakers, but they assuredly sound astonishing when they are working their magic. The intricacy of vocal harmonies comes through, the delicacy of a great recording is revealed—it's the very definition of quality Hi-Fi.

Wayne agreed, stating that "The little woofers can push some serious air. Simple is the first word that comes to mind about the overall sound. But more than that, honest. Melody Gardot's voice can challenge a speaker's imaging capability, but the C1 handled it without losing track of what she was singing or how to represent her." He continued… "Radiohead's "National Anthem" once again highlighted the superb imaging and soundstage of the C1s. Tonality is honest enough to make George Washington blush."
The Confidence C1 features a 2-way cone-and-dome design.

Good old "Tin Pan Alley" is a high-end show staple.
Specs for the speakers: Sensitivity is 85 dB dB/W/m with 170 W power handling into 4 ohms impedance. Frequency Response is 45 Hz to 22 kHz (+/- 3dB). It's is a ported design with a vent on the rear, and the crossover point is 1800 Hz.

In this particular system, cables may very well have been the most expensive component category with Nordost Valhalla 2 power cables, speaker cables, and interconnects costing approximately $46,000.

Dynaudio Evidence Platinum ($82,000/pair) with Naim amplification

Did I say the Dynaudio Confidence C1s were pricey? Never mind. Step up to Dynaudio's flagship towers and you are looking at ten times the price tag. For the sticker price of a Cadillac Escalade or BMW 750-series automobile, you get an unapologetically luxurious pair of speakers.

As is customary in (ultra) high-end audio, the price of the other stereo components were the same ballpark as the speakers. A pair of Naim Statement NAP 1 monoblock amps ($90,000 each) supplied power to the towers after being fed line-level audio from a Statement NAP 1 preamp ($90,000). Priced at $352,000 just for preamp, amp, and speakers—this was a system meant for for high-rollers with big bank accounts.

As long as I ignored the price-performance ratio of this system, it was easy to compliment. It did just about everything right. Much like a prima ballerina of a top ballet company, it was captivating to behold the Naim/Dynaudio combo put on a performance.

These 6-foot plus towers can handle 550 watts of continuous power and offer 28 Hz to 25 kHz (+/- 3dB) frequency response. I auditioned them along with Wayne. He said they were  "Perfection," and frankly I didn't hear anything during my time in that room to make an argument to the contrary.
Over a third of a million bucks worth of stereo gear is visible in this photo.
Starkly minimalist but essentially perfect-sounding.
PSB Imagine T3 towers ($7500/pair) with NAD electronics

I recognize the signature PSB sound in the company's flagship T3 towers—it's the sound of science. It's dry, clean, unexaggerated, yet full. Precise imaging that's also expensive (when need be) is a strength—these towers truly disappear. The price/performance ratio in this room was much higher than what I found in most at the show. While listening to Daft Punk, I wrote that "A lot of purveyors of systems here should feel quite embarrassed." As well they should, given that quite a few six-figure systems I heard did not match the PSB rig's overall fidelity.

BTW, a Bluesound Node 2 ($500) was used as a source and at least some of what we heard was in MQA format.
PSB Imagine T3 towers are a far better bargain than most of the high-end speakers found at AXPONA 2016.
Although AXPONA was a goose bumps-free show for me, about the closest I came to an involuntary physiological response to high fidelity was the smile on my face listening to Roberta Flack sing "Killing Me Softly." I wrote that is was "quite close to perfect delivery" and "It's the ole 'she's in the room with me' audiophile cliche—still the best way to describe how good it sounds." Coldplay's "Adventure of a Lifetime" had plenty of drive to it and sounded studio-perfect.

These speakers sport superb specs. Sensitivity is 91 dB/W/m with 300 watts of power handling and 8-ohm impedance. Frequency response is listed as 24-23,000 Hz +/- 3dB and Paul Barton is not one to fudge a spec. That's five-figure performance for a four-figure sticker price and as a result I was a bit sad that Dennis and Wayne didn't get a chance to check 'em out with me.
PSB Imagine T3 towers provided a top-tier listening experience for less that the price of the speaker cables used in some other systems.
D'Agostino preamp & amps with Wilson Alexia speakers ($50,000/pair)

Only one room at AXPONA was so audaciously over-the-top (in audiophile terms) that it would not even rely on the untrustworthy electrons supplied by the hotel. D'Agostino powered everything in the system with a huge lithium-ion battery bank. That includes the twin Progression Mono Amplifiers ($40,000/pair) 800-watt (into 8 ohms) class-A amps running the Wilson Alexias.

The end result of having all those bespoke electrons on-tap was the D'Agostino demo wound up being one of the loudest (in a good way) demos I heard that day. When I peeked at my phone's decibel meter, I saw that the peak levels were exceeding 100 dB and even hitting 110 dB for a few moments (C-weighted).

This room did not pique either Wayne or Dennis's interest enough for them to fight the crowds and jockey for a good seat. I'm kind of glad I did, especially given my high school memories of hanging out at the local high-end shop to hear Krell gear. That's because the guys who made Krell great back then are the guys running the show at D'Agostino today.
Stromtank. For those who insist on powering huge class-A stereo systems using a giant battery.
Madisound and the Linkwitz Lab LXmini

If you catch the DIY bug, at some point Madisound is going to show up on your radar. The 44 year-old company has been helping hobbyists fulfill their audiophile fantasies by providing raw speaker components and kits to anyone motivated enough to build their own speakers.

Madisound was demoing the Linkwitz Lab LXmini, a DIY speaker ($450/pair) than can easily be built from a kit with the addition of some PVC tubing and other supplies you can pick up at a local hardware store.

Whereas I had no prior experience with the LXmini, my two cohorts—Wayne Myers and Dennis Young from Home Theater Shack—had prior experience with the speaker. Specifically, Wayne has built and reviewed a pair of LXminis. Check out Wayne’s LXmini build thread and in-depth review on HTS.

The LXMini utilizes either a 2x4 or 4x10 miniDSP DSP for use as an active crossover with its two-driver design, with the 4x10 unit being able to handle the addition of subwoofers. Madisound ships the MiniDSP unit pre-programmed and ready to go, but as Wayne notes in his review, you can also create your own crossover matrixes if you wish to experiment.
Imaging that's world-class at a price that's budget-friendly.
Odyssey Audio

I gotta give credit where it's due, and the Odyssey demo at AXPONA 2016 was truly one of the best I heard. The icing on the cake was the demo itself, held in a psychedelicized room and run by the charismatic (I'm sure that's the best term) Klaus Bunge.

"I Can't Forget You" by Cracker was playing and the whole system sounded just about perfect. The speakers were pushed far to the sides with appropriate side-wall diffusion for first reflections. The result was a wide, detailed, and "proper'" stereo image. It was exactly how I want a great 2-channel system to sound.

Dennis and Wayne concurred regarding the room's excellence. Wayne stated that "Klaus also knows how to set up a room at an audio show. This year he gave us the most expansive soundstage—absolutely wall-bursting—with precise imaging. It was a room I just wanted to stay in and have fun with." He further noted that "Odyssey Audio's room is definitely 'The Soundstage & Imaging Room of the Year for AXPONA 2016'."

Dennis was also impressed, commenting "What else can be said about Klaus' room? Likely to be the best bang for the buck at any show he attends."
Trippy!!!
 

Classic Audio Loudspeakers T1.5 Reference loudspeakers ($73,000/pair)

I know this company from my two visits to the Capital Audio Fest, and although the demo I heard at AXPONA didn't break any new ground, that's because it's hard to improve upon a speaker system that does so many things right—for a price.

Dennis did it justice when he wrote "After hearing them numerous times, this audition cemented my previously established preference of the T1.5 Reference as my favorite dynamic-coil (aka field coil) loudspeaker." He continued... "Kenny Burrell's 'Satin Doll' was playing on vinyl; the horn players were located hard left and right. The sound was nice and brassy; the trap kit sounded like it was near the back wall, right where you'd expect it to be."

I love a well-designed horn loudspeaker and these may very well be some of the best that exist. Since I'm buying a mansion ifwhen I win the lottery—and therefore will have multiple rooms for stereo systems—I added a pair of T1.5 Reference speakers to my must-have list.
Absolutely a "Classic," it's the T1.5 Reference. 
Basically speakers that can do no wrong... for a price.
Von Schweikert Audio VR-55 Aktive speakers ($60,000/pair) with VAC Signature 200 amps ($14,000 each)

This was one of those rooms and one of those systems where everything sounds great and you simply try to ignore the price tag. It comes as no surprise that these semi-active speakers (on-board amps drive the woofers) with great-quality drivers and massive, well-built cabinets can belt out dynamic, accurate audio. Furthermore, four V-12 Shockwave subwoofers ($11,500 each) were located to the rear of the room. Their task was to counteract the peaks and nulls in bass response caused by standing waves.

Dennis noted that "Nils Lofgren Band's "Bass and Drum Intro" is a complex percussion piece that was dissected and laid out by the Von Schweikert Audio VR-55 Aktive speakers. Each instrument retained its unique identity; no one piece overshadowed the other." He added that "The old standby demo—Eagles "Hotel California" (live)—showcased the detail the recording is known for. Fidelity was through the roo and. I would very much enjoy a system of this caliber in my home."

Frequency response for these beasts is listed at 16Hz-40KHz (-6db) and 21Hz-40kHz (-2dB) and sensitivity is 88 dB/W/m. These are 8-ohm speakers.
This Von Schweikert/VAC system proved that lots of money can buy good sound.

Von Schweikert Audio's VR-55 Aktive speakers.
Vapor Audio Derecho and Cirrus speakers

I'm not well-versed in the history of Vapor Audio but Dennis and Wayne were surely excited to hear demos of the company's speakers, so I joined them for a listening session. My notes were brief but in retrospect telling. Regarding the Cirrus, I wrote "Character, clarity, sweep—the imaging assuredly expands beyond the edges of the speakers. Like a few other great-sounding speakers here at the show, they manage to absolutely and completely disappear. Frank Sinatra is channeled."

Dennis said that "Revisiting the Cirrus, I am completely enamoured just as I was the first time. Every track I listened to kept me riveted to my chair, Dead Can Dance, Frank Sinatra, whatever... any genre, any pace, fast or slow, I stayed long after I should have been moving on." Furthermore, Wayne noted "I enjoyed the Derecho, but the Cirrus was what I wanted to hear. I was hoping to confirm last summer's impressions that they are a monstrously engaging speaker and I was not disappointed. To put it simply, the Cirrus is the most engaging, most nearly perfect speaker I have heard yet at under $20,000 (or so). They are at the top of my 'Gotta Have A Pair' list."
Home Theater Shack's Dennis Young takes photo of the Vapor Audio Cirrus.

Demoing the Derechos.


Click here to check out more reports from AXPONA 2016.