The "Best Of" AXPONA 2015 - Home Theater Forum and Systems - HomeTheaterShack.com

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post #1 of 23 Old 04-27-15, 10:54 AM Thread Starter
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The "Best Of" AXPONA 2015

This past weekend audiophiles descended upon Chicago for AXPONA 2015. Kudos to the show’s organizers for fostering a great atmosphere full of buzz and excitement – they did a fantastic job keeping the event classy and allowed the audio world to truly shine. Home Theater Shack was well represented with staff writers Wayne Myers, Dennis Young, and myself patrolling the hallways and doing our best to capture the spectacle. The enthusiastic and passionate appreciation that Wayne and Dennis have for high-end audio is infectious, and I thoroughly enjoyed spending time with them talking shop. It was also great to meet several HTS members that took a moment to say hello. Shows like AXPONA really boil down to the people and geeked-out gear-head fun. Believe me when I say there was plenty of fun to be had!








Both Wayne and Dennis have diligently provided excellent room-to-room show coverage in the AXPONA 2015 Show thread, so for today’s article I thought I'd present a few of the show's highlights. Call this a Top 5 or a Best of Show...here’s my favorites from AXPONA 2015:



Must Buy Gear: IsoAcoustics Inc’s Aperta Stands


I consider myself fairly skeptical when it comes to an accessory that claims to have a noticeable impact on a speaker’s performance. Take the GRAMMA Pads I have under the subs in my theater room. Can I really hear a difference with them installed? My honest answer: I’m not sure. I think I can hear a difference, but a blind test would probably be a train wreck. As I meandered through the halls of AXPONA, I stumbled upon IsoAcoustic Inc’s room and a small hand-written note by the door caught my eye. It simply read: “Speaker isolation. Hear the difference…” So I decided to enter the room and put my skepticism to the test.

Industry veteran Dave Morrison, who previously was involved in planning and building radio and television studios at the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, founded IsoAcoustics Inc. The company’s product is called the Aperta speaker stand. It’s a height and tilt adjustable, aluminum frame, speaker stand that uses several simple design elements to isolate speakers and subwoofers from a surface. The stands have internal movement from front to back (not side to side), which allows some ‘physics of sound’ magic to happen resulting in noticeably better sound. We’re not talking about standard decoupling or isolation…this product is unique. And it works.

IsoAcoustics’ demo room had two pairs of identical bookshelf speakers for A/B testing. One pair sat directly on speaker stands while the other sat on speaker stands with the Aperta stands sandwiched in between (see picture). The audible difference between the two sets of speakers was jaw dropping in a "is that possible?" kind of way. The speakers sitting directly on stands had an okay image, but, as Wayne Myers later observed, their image was smeared and narrow (“mashed potatoes” was his technical description). Switching to the Aperta speakers was like a revelation as imaging literally bloomed to life with incredibly precise detail and open airiness. It held true song after song. They were also running a subwoofer demo that produced similar results.

Believe it. These stands work.

I left IsoAcoustics' room completely stunned. If you’re wondering about cost, the price points they discussed were very reasonable (the demo pair cost about $200). They make custom sizes to fit speakers of any size and weight (both of the those variables matter). The stands can be used with floor standers, monitors, and subwoofers. Definitely visit their website and consider buying a set. They’re worth it.



Killer Room Award: Seaton Sound


You might think it would be hard to pick a “favorite room” at an event that showcases gear that costs tens of thousands of dollars, but it’s not. At least not when Seaton Sound is in town. Let’s just say that Mark Seaton and his team brought their A-game to their hometown court and laid down the law with a sonic hammer.

Seaton Sound makes absolutely drool worthy speakers and subs. To my eyes and ears they’re doing everything right and the sheer robustness of their products is just flat-out cool and even cooler in person. Add to the mix a sense of pride and joy written on Mark Seaton’s face (not to mention a sparkle in his eye), and you have the makings of a show stopping demo room. Seaton’s dimly lit room had great ambiance with darkened draperies and cloth, tastefully placed lighting, a dialed-in projection system, and roughly 24,000 Watts of speakers and subs ready to rip.

The demo sessions I heard were nothing short of phenomenal, including a scene from Interstellar that delivered material hammering down to 10 Hz (the system’s eight subs devoured that scene). Of course his gear is more than just subs…the loudspeakers sounded incredible too. Great balance. Very neutral. Dialog during demo movies was beyond excellent. And the speakers perfectly reproduced all of the dynamic sounds that home theater buffs lust for.

Do I sound like a fan? I am. In fact, I believe that I may have caught a mild strain of “upgrade-itis” by hanging around Seaton Sound's products.

By the way, Seaton revealed its new Spark HC surround speaker at the show. It’s a thin speaker that can be mounted on walls and ceilings (yes folks, get your Atmos and DST:X mojo on!). I’ll publish a preview of this speaker soon.



Best Real World Gear: HSU Research


On to the Best Real World Gear award, with “Real World” meaning gear that’s not only highly affordable but a legit performer. Without question, this award goes to the incredibly gracious folks at HSU Research.

Traveling all the way from their lab in California, it was great to see a pioneer of ID subwoofer manufacturing strutting its stuff. HSU’s room had three subs (ULS15, VTF-15H, and VTF-3 MK5 HP), HB-1 MK2 mains and surrounds, and an HC-1 MK2 center channel. The HB-1s sell for $159 each and the HC-1 goes for $249. The two subs Dr. Hsu used during the demos (the VTF-3 MK5 HP and VTF-15H) are $799 and $899 respectively. That means a complete 5.1 system rolls-in well under $2,000.

HSU’s room was rigged with a projector and screen and its demo session featured a wide range of material including pop music, pipe organs, and scenes from Interstellar. I thought it was notable that their HB-1 mains were set-up with an extreme toe-in. This positioning created a large soundstage that stayed composed outside of the center listening position.

The HB-1s are great speakers and they produce a pleasingly neutral sound that isn’t shy about sounding full and well rounded. They really shine and they’re easy to drive too (as evidenced by HSU using an inexpensive Onkyo AVR to power the show). This goes without mentioning both subs can also dig super deep without a burp or hiccup.

It’s more than easy to give HSU’s speakers two thumbs up. If you’re in the market for a affordable quality system, I’d say HSU’s speaker package should be on your short list.



Favorite Find: LXmini Linkwitz Lab Speaker Kit


Madisound’s LXmini Linkwitz Lab Speaker Kit costs just about $500, but (WOW!) it sounds like it should cost thousands. The kit includes four Seas drivers, a miniDSP 2X4, dampening material, and a few other wooden parts (you supply PVC piping separately). The resulting speaker system not only looks cool but also produces a highly balanced and incredibly nuanced sound. Its imaging is spot-on and full of rich and precise detail. Perhaps sparkly and airy are proper descriptors.

This speaker system was easily my favorite find of the show.

If you’d like to enter the world of high-end two channel sound but have a strict budget, look no further than the LXmini. You’ll love it. Go to madisound.com to order.



Best Two Channel Sound: Martin-Logan's Neolith


After spending several days being bathed by expensive sound, I found myself wondering if it was possible to pick an absolute favorite two channel system. Leading-up to my final hours at the show, my estimated favorite was ATC’s SCM40A towers. There was something about them that just seemed to gel with my ears. And at a cool $7,000 per pair, they’re a bargain, right? I jest, of course. But when you’re consistently exposed to speakers costing eight times as much, $7K starts to seem more than reasonable.

Enter Martin-Logan and their absolutely glorious Neolith electrostatic speakers. These bad-boys weigh-in at 400-pounds each and cost a few bucks shy of a Mercedes Benz. Once I was exposed to them, there was little doubt that they were hands-down the “Best Two Channel Sound” at the show. The complete demo room (speakers and McIntosh components) was valued at $140,000, and it delivered everything you’d expect for that kind of coin. The Neolith’s sound was alive and shockingly large. It was perfectly balanced and transparent. Dynamic and delicious.

As much fun as it was to listen to the Neoliths effortlessly deliver sonic grace, I began to wonder if listening to them was a mistake. Experiencing perfection can make everything else seem so ordinary and that becomes frustrating when perfection comes from a speaker that falls in the realm of unobtanium.

Ah, whom am I kidding? I loved it. My only regret is that I didn’t have more time to spend with them.



One Last Note


I couldn’t help but ask Technics about the company’s failure to launch a turntable with its recent rebirth into the audio world. Before I could ask my question, the Technics rep interrupted me and said “Why no turntable, right?” I smiled and confirmed that was my root question. His answer was shocking. He said the mold to their best selling turntable had been “lost.”

“Lost,” I asked?

“Lost,” he said.

He went on to explain that Technics had spent the last 5 years developing their new products and that a new turntable’s R&D would be too expensive at this juncture. He didn’t completely shut the door on a future turntable release, but his tone didn’t sound promising. So there you have it. Even a multi-million dollar hi-fi company can lose its keys.

Images: Todd Anderson, Home Theater Shack
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post #2 of 23 Old 04-27-15, 12:51 PM
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Re: The "Best Of" AXPONA 2015

Hi,

Thanks for your show report !

I was wondering if you had a chance to audition the Lakeshore B ballroom ? A surround sound demo of musical recording by AIX records on OPPO, Benchmark and Revel playback system.
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post #3 of 23 Old 04-27-15, 01:29 PM Thread Starter
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Re: The "Best Of" AXPONA 2015

Hi,

I did visit the room, but (sadly) I'm having a hard time remembering my impressions. I didn't write anything in my show notes.

Checkout the show thread created by Dennis Young and Wayne Myers:

http://www.hometheatershack.com/foru...ow-report.html

They were present for all 3 days. One of them might have an answer for you!

Todd
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post #4 of 23 Old 04-27-15, 03:26 PM
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Re: The "Best Of" AXPONA 2015

Man, this was a great read! Very jealous but appreciative of your reports, Todd!
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post #5 of 23 Old 04-27-15, 04:22 PM Thread Starter
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Re: The "Best Of" AXPONA 2015

Thanks, Cesar. Appreciate the kind words. It's hard not to be jazzed after seeing what manufacturers in the industry have to offer. Frankly, I can't imagine it ever getting much better...it will...but it's hard to imagine!

Definitely head over to Wayne and Dennis' thread linked above. It's a tour of the event, minus waiting for elevators ;-).
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post #6 of 23 Old 04-27-15, 04:35 PM
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Re: The "Best Of" AXPONA 2015

Absolutely fantastic. It was hard not to drool over my work computer here.

It amazes me how subjective it all is. Some speakers costing hundreds of thousands of dollars might sound good (subjective) but look bad (also subjective). Or the other way around.

IMO, for a dedicated home theater room, it would be hard not to go with JTR's all around.

However, those Neoliths or any other speaker that has beautiful wood veneers with metallic components... it just makes my jaw drop. I love that combo.

At the end of the day, it's nice to dream a bit.
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post #7 of 23 Old 04-27-15, 09:06 PM
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Re: The "Best Of" AXPONA 2015

Quote:
Todd Anderson wrote: View Post
Hi,

I did visit the room, but (sadly) I'm having a hard time remembering my impressions. I didn't write anything in my show notes.

Checkout the show thread created by Dennis Young and Wayne Myers:

http://www.hometheatershack.com/foru...ow-report.html

They were present for all 3 days. One of them might have an answer for you!

Todd
In a word, YES. I could not believe how good his recordings are and the demo was simply spectacular. Anyone that thinks they are listening to hi def from most recordings or downloads could be quite mistaken. I bought several of his discs and they are brilliant.

Good Listening

Jack

"For those who believe no proof is needed for those who don't believe no proof is possible"
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post #8 of 23 Old 04-28-15, 01:38 PM
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Re: The "Best Of" AXPONA 2015

I went to Axpona, in fact I saw a person wearing a Home Theater Shack t-shirt with a giant camera and a note pad there.
Not sure how it happened, but I missed the Martin Logan room. Not cool. I did catch the Technics room. The Speakers looked beautiful in piano black and the silver amp had two dancing meters on the front, but the sound was bad, not even pretty good, just bad. I never know how to tell the vendors that something is not right, either with the setup or the equipment itself. $27,000 should blow me away. One of the worst. I asked them a couple times what the speakers cost. I could not believe it.
Axpona was great. Having a chance to see, hear and touch the products you see in magazines and internet ads brings gives you more of the real story. Reviews can only get you so far. Of course in-home demos would be better, but at Axpona I can speed date hundreds of components in a day or two. I went Friday, but ran out of time to check out the 5th and most of the 4th floor, so I went back on Sunday. Less people, allowed me to play some of my own music. I was glad I went back. This will be a yearly event for me.
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post #9 of 23 Old 04-28-15, 04:59 PM
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Re: The "Best Of" AXPONA 2015

I liked the room and the nice silver equipment without the pervasive blue lights.
I did not listen to the big black ones but rather the little white ones and was pleasantly surprised.


Good Listening

Jack

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post #10 of 23 Old 04-28-15, 05:48 PM
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I have to agree with your take on the iso acoustics room. I don't want to believe that it sounded that much better on the raiser/isolater, but it was abundantly clear. Pretty amazing actually.
Also, the room treatment A/B demo reassured what I already knew. The room itself is as important as any other gear.
I did not hear the smaller Technics, as I am researching full range speakers,I wanted to like the big Technics. Everything looked fantastic. But my ears are the judge and the $27000 Technics are not for me. Ok my wallet is also the judge and my wife.
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