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Discussion Starter #1
This report is coming to you from the beautiful Westin O'Hare in Rosemont, illlinois. just a short shuttle ride from O'Hare Airport. I arrived late afternoon Thursday to find a lot of scurrying as exhibitors completed the setting up of their displays.

Jump to the Discussion Thread HERE.

Knowing Sonnie's generosity, I had booked the penthouse suite -- ooo, ouch, I just caught a burst of Sonnie's infamous death-ray stare. OK, OK, of course I really got a normal room like everyone else here.. This is a VERY nice hotel, as the following photos will attest.



Exhibitors were in varying degrees of readiness / disarray...

]

Some attention getters...



Our buddy A.J. of Soundfield Audio let me in for a miinute, but was camera shy...



Other rooms...



And here it is Friday morning. There were a couple of technical difficulties getting this posted, but it should go smoother friom here.

Much more to follow through the next three days. Stay tuned.
 

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Almost my entire focus was on speakers. I had intended to spend a few hours with headphones and simply did not get to it. Of course there were expensive DACs, monoblock amplifiers, turntables, and CD players galore, and they all sounded... Well, they all seemed to sound great, and we will leave it at that. With no way to compare them to anything else, in my mind it is difficult to tell. That is my way of looking at it, although some will disagree.

My test track CD contained the following:
  1. Packt Like Sardines In A Crushd Tin Box - Radiohead
  2. Ode to a Butterfly - Nickel Creek
  3. Reasons Why - Nickel Creek
  4. Ain't It A Shame - B-52s
  5. Vision of a Kiss - B-52s
  6. Baby I'm A Fool - Melody Gardot
  7. Don't Know Why - Norah Jones
  8. The National Anthem - Radiohead
  9. Weird Fishes_Arpeggi - Radiohead
  10. Chant - Fourplay
  11. These Bones - Fairfield Four
  12. Fête d'Adieu - Deerhoof
  13. Shallow - Porcupine Tree
Wherever I was allowed, I listened at least to Reasons Why and Ain't It A Shame, two of my most trusted test tracks.

What I listened for:
  • Overall frequency response balance, even handling of stand-up bass tones, natural sounding female vocals and fiddle, high frequency extension and smoothness.
  • Dynamics of string picking sounds, clarity, especially of complex cymbal tones.
  • Soundstage wide, natural, comfortable, with open space between the sound images.
  • Imaging very specific, stable, and natural.
  • Did they disappear in the room? Many of the best did not, surely as much a matter of setup as design.
Of course, there was lots of demoing done with vinyl music sources, and while I have nothing against this, in some cases it was a distraction. Some of the recording choices were excellent, but with some the recording quality made it difficult to tell much about the speakers themselves. Fortunately, in most cases the exhibitors were able and willing to play requested test tracks from CD.

A handful of the speakers I heard were set up for good imaging and soundstage at the center listening seats, but in many cases I found myself kneeling three or four feet in front of the front row of seats to find the best position for these characteristics.
 

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Soundfield Audio




  • Monitor 2 (M2): $1600 / pr
  • Variable Soundfield Tower 3 (VSFT-3): $8500 / pr
First stop was with AJ at Soundfield Audio. He had hoped to feature a new pair of towers constructed of butcher block, but there was shipping damage which prevented him from being able to play them for us. That was a disappointment, but we did spend some time with his smaller two-way monitors.

The Monitor 2 (M2), features a 9.5 x 6 inch planner magnetic horn-loaded tweeter, crossed over way down at 900 Hz, and an 8 inch aluminum woofer in a sealed enclosure. With a piano jazz trio, the complex cymbal tones were as accurate as with just about any tweeter I heard at the show. AJ prides himself on experiencing and learning this sound of live, unamplified music and on being sure his speakers can reproduce natural instrument sounds accurately.

AJ is a big believer and controlled-directivity speaker design as a way of minimizing room interactions. Fewer room modes get excited so room mode decay is quicker. The result is a faster-sounding speaker with minimal room treatment.

Ode to a Butterfly - the physical aspect of the instruments seemed very well represented. The pick-on-string sound of the mandolin and guitar were very tactile, very true and present. I also loved the beautiful fiddle tone.

Female vocals were very smooth and very natural. The M2 design seemed very well integrated. The M2 was not a bright speaker, had a more laid-back presentation at high frequencies, very smooth through the mids and highs.

The soundstage and imaging were fair-to-good as the speakers were set up, but improved markedly when I moved forward a few feet. This was typical of the way speakers were set up at the show.

+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++​

Jump forward to Sunday.

AJ go his towers working. They are a 4-way design, including supertweeter, with various bass radiation patterns possible (dipole, monopole, or cardoid).

The cool feature to me was a rear-firing magnetic planar tweeter with its own drive control, covering frequencies above 3 kHz. As it was turned up, the soundstage broadened and deepened quite a bit, and with a totally natural feel. Very nice.
 

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Legacy Audio



  • Aeris (top): $19,525 / pr
  • Whisper XDS (bottom): $23,650 / pr
I missed Legacy Audio altogether back at RMAF last fall, so had them at the top of my list for AXPONA.

The Aeris felt incredibly dynamic, with lots of air moving power. As usual, I had to kneel a few feet in front of the seats to get the best soundstage and imaging. They were excellent - drum and cymbal images were clear, sharp, and natural. Cymbal tones were super precise and clean. The tones of a jazz piano were spot on, and dynamic, almost jumping at you. I noticed a few peaky bass notes, but that could have been the recording.

Yet they did not totally grab me. Don't get me wrong, they sounded superb, and I would be very happy with a set of them. But love is personal, and I did not go head-over-heals for them. At least not like the speakers across the room from them...

The Whispers... After about 5 seconds of listening, I commented to another listener, "WOW, I'm already in love!" It only takes a moment, right?

I was immediately taken by the clarity, the crystallized high end, the crisp definition of the bass and mids. Tonal balance seemed about perfect, with the higher range set well above "subdued" but just below "bright," forward enough for my taste yet held back so as not to be fatiguing. The soundstage and imaging were completely open and natural and gathered me in to the Whisper's musical experience. There was simply nothing not to love about them. I could not think of anything about their sound I would change.

Having heard about Legacy speakers, it was a delight to hear them in action. I became an instant fan.
 

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AIX Records, German Physiks


This room was really mostly about AIX Records and their unique surround recordings. The huge German Physiks Emperor MK II speakers dominated the room physically as the delivery devices for the music.

Mark Waldrep, the founder, president and CEO of AIX Records, presented and described the tracks we heard in that room. The emphasis of the recordings and philosophy behind the AIX approach is:
  • Use first-rate musicians who know the music to be recorded.
  • Get the recording done quickly in a minimum number of takes so it sounds fresh.
  • Use simple mic techniques (stereo pairs, etc.) that capture a clean, live sound.
  • Capture several mixes: 5.1 stage mix, 5.1 audience mix, 2.0 stereo mix
  • Present all at high-def resolution (Blu-ray)
Having a recording background, I fully admire everything about the theories and approaches that Mark talked about. And he covered them with such enthusiasm that it was hard not to be convinced. He talked about how it became difficult to enjoy any other kind of recording after getting hooked on the AIX sound. I almost wanted to be hooked.

And I was impressed by a couple of tracks. But I was not hooked. Before I go on, though, let me emphasize that the following comments are completely personal preference. It is not hard to understand how a different set of listening priorities might lead someone else to absolutely LOVE the AIX surround recordings. They did not grab me, though.

A very nice recording with two acoustic guitars and a vocalist was the most convincing one I heard. It was certainly a well-captured recording of an excellent performance. Images were fairly stable but were larger and softer than I care for, and that is probably the personal preference that I had the hardest time getting past. Stereo or surround, I like crisp, well-defined images. They feel more real to my ear. On another track, the sonic image of a flute seemed huge (6 feet wide?) and very non-specific, and that did not work so well for me. Immersive is cool, but if not convincing, I lose interest.

Being in a hurry to move on, I surely did not give the AIX sound the chance it deserves. Anyone who is interested in surround mixes and high-res, well-performed recordings might do well to give one or two of their titles a chance.
 

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Scaena Iso-Linear Array with Bohmer Audio Energy-Time Alignment



When it comes to some areas of technology in the world we live in, there is theory and there is practice. The coolest theories do not always lead to perfect products.

I have always been a bit knocked out by the theories behind line array speaker designs. When it comes to dynamics, they can not be beaten. A whole bunch of light, quick little drivers can really snap the air, crack it like a whip. The Scaena was no exception, you could feel the slap and punch of drum strikes like every square inch of your skin was part of the ear drum. IMPACT!

Frequency response seemed fairly smooth, but not exemplary. Imaging and soundstage - again, good but not exemplary. I could not find a spot where the soundstage felt completely unstrained and natural, where it took over as totally convincing. Was I asking too much? Was I supposed to be knocked over by the dynamics and call it good, or perfect, on that quality alone?

One thing I noticed in later rooms was that in every case where room correction was demonstrated, the soundstage was never quite convincing, it always felt a tad strained, unnatural. Knowing what a difference the mic pattern for the room analysis can make, I will chock it up to technique and the hurry-hurry of getting ready for the show.

So, while the Scaena array might have been benefiting from the Bohmer Audio Energy-Time Alignment, something about the combination was not getting completely out of the way of the music.

The look of the Scaena array is nothing short of dynamite. If some audiophile wanted to make points by helping his teenage sons impress their friends, this would be a way to get there. And knowing how sensitive some designs can be to room placement and treatment, it just might be that the Scaena Iso-Linear Array could behave much closer to perfect under better conditions. I DO love the theories involved. I would definitely like a few days to experiment with them in the right room some day.
 

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Classic Audio Loudspeakers


  • T-1.4 Reference (left): $36,500 / pr
Walking into this room I did not expect much. Was I in for a surprise. I only heard the T-1.4 Reference, which reminded me of the ancient black-and-white TV we had when I was a wee lad. The T-1.4 Reference looks retro, to say the least - we'll stick with "classic" - weighs in at 450 lbs. each (shipping weight), and sounds...

I can not even remember the piece being played when I sat down to listen in the front-center chair. Wait, there it is in my notes - Lucky Man, by Emerson, Lake, and Palmer. There was something special about the quality of Greg Lake's vocals coming through that big wooden "tractrix" horn, covering from 400 Hz up to where the super tweeter takes over -- I have to admit I had a brief emotional moment while listening to those speakers -- twice. There you have it, and no other speaker at the show did that for me.

The highs were slightly laid back, but not weak, very smooth and nicely extended by that beryllium-domed super tweeter. All components use proprietary "Field Coil" drivers. A 15" woofer and a 15" mid-bass driver complete the 4-way design. All elements worked together seamlessly.

Soundstage and imaging were very nice, totally easy and natural. Detail was wonderful, and distortion seemed nonexistent - the T-1.4's simply hinted at what was to be done and the air obediently moved on its own with no resistance.

I will probably never own a pair of these speakers, but I will never forget the few minutes I spent listening to them. Special!
 

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Acoustic Zen


  • Crescendo: $18,000 / pr
Zen is exactly the right name to associate with these speakers. There was a very peaceful unity about their presentation. There was no sense of there being separate drivers or a crossover.

Every instrument sounded completely at home on the Crescendo. Piano was simply gorgeous. Female vocals, horns, strings, all sounded like they were meant to be heard through these speakers, so easy, comfortable, natural, restful. I was reminded of the description of the act of artistic creation in Pirsig's classic book "Zen And The Art Of Motorcycle Maintenance," how the work is complete when the artist and the materials both come to a state of rest. That is how listening to the Crescendo felt.

Bass response went deeeeeeeep. Imaging was crisp and natural, and the soundstage was monstrous.

The Acoustic Zen Crescendo immediately grabbed a spot high on my list of favorites for the show and had no trouble staying there.
 

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Tyler Acoustics



  • Insight (green): $5500 / pr
I stepped into the Tyler Acoustics room just long enough to hear a FUN pair of speakers, the Insights. Tyler also makes Mastering Studio grade systems. The Insights struck me as a great home theater candidate, with good imaging and soundstage and a lively presentation.
 

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KEF



  • Blade: $30,000 / pr
  • 5160 In Wall Main: $3,000 ea
  • 3160 In Wall Center: $1,800 ea
  • LS-50: $1500 / pr
  • x300A: $800 / pr
  • M500 Headphones: $300 / pr
My first experience with high-end speakers was with a pair of KEF towers many years ago, and the company has always had a special place in my heart. So I had to spend some quality time in the KEF room.

They featured the Blade speakers with the concentric mid/tweeter driver and symmetrical virtual-point-source LF drivers. They balanced a nickel on top of one of the Blade cabinets to show how the LF driver configuration cancelled out cabinet vibrations - the nickel never tipped over. Highs were a bit laid back but not dull or weak.

Imaging was sharp and solid and the soundstage was big and open, all VERY nice, although their set presentation and demo material gave only a brief chance to hear them and only with a cappella male voices. Low-frequency performance was impossible to judge under the circumstances.

I admire the design concepts and my intuition sans there is a lot about the Blades that we did not hear. I would LOVE a chance to experiment with a pair of Blades some day.

Their in-wall speakers performed quite well. I have never heard an in-wall installation that gave imaging and soundstage performance that I could be happy with. But the KEF in-walls did alright considering - the flat soundstage was limited to the area between the mains, and imaging was a bit vague, but respectable - more a statement on what can be accomplished in-wall than a statement on the KEF technology. Frequency response was fairly even. Vocals from the center channel were quite forward, good for a home theater installation. If I absolutely HAD to install in-wall home theater speakers, I would definitely look at the KEFs for it.

The little LS-50 bookshelf, with the Blade 2-way concentric technology packed into a small box, made for a WOW little speaker that sounded VERY high-end. They were so very point source, with solid, well-defined bass and lower-mids. The piano demo left absolutely nothing wanting. Soundstage was good (hard to judge) and imaging seemed tight and solid (again hard to judge).

The X300 bi-amped computer monitor with also sounded very high-end, very smooth with tight, well-defined bass. It featured 24bit/96kHz DLNA-capable wifi and LAN connectivity.

The only headphones I spent much time with at the show were the KEF M500 on-ear phones. They were extremely comfortable, folded up nicely for travel, and had very - and I mean VERY - flat frequency response with bass that went DEEP.
 

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Dynaudio


  • Evidence Platinum: $85,000 / pr
I finished off day one with a bang. When I walked into the main Dynaudio room on the 12th floor, all the right things happened. The Evidence Platinum speakers are imposing and beautiful. I highly favor the MTM virtual-point-source configuration. And they were made by Dynaudio - no secret I am a bit smitten by the name and the mystique. They were playing a well-recorded rock track - I don't remember what, but it was from a digital source - thank you - nice and loud. I was immediately blown away.

They graciously played my demo tracks as well. Imaging was absolutely perfect. Every voice, every string pick, every echo, drum strike - all was point source perfect, rock solid and stable. The soundstage came very close to allowing a complete disappearing act for the speakers, but not quite. A few setup tweaks would have done it, I'll bet. The soundstage was HUGE, wide open, completely natural.

On Reasons Why, Sarah's vocals were delicate, present, intimate. Mandolin and guitar string picks were pinpoint precise and so real I was looking for the instruments in the room.

On Ain't It A Shame, the sheen on Cindy's vocals was airy and clear. The vocal echo that hangs high in space to the right was completely surrounded by openness and hung there with density. The harmonica sounded like a harmonica. The bass and kick drum were tight and detailed.

The guitars and bass on Shallow had impact, the big ringing snare drum pounding on the chest. The effect was delicious.

Frequency response was impeccable. You could have run some kind of room correction software - take your pick - and it would have thrown up its hands and given up. There was nothing to correct. Highs were smooth, and I mean smooooooooooth, and extended. Lows were smooth, and I mean smooooooooooth, and extended. Get the picture? Clarity, definition, impact, power, focus, detail. they were all there and defied you to find the smallest fault.

The design seemed perfectly integrated. There was no sense of separate drivers involved, simply perfect sound emanating from a point source. You could blast craters with them or lullaby baby angels to sleep with them. There seemed nothing they could not do, and do perfectly.

OK, my two respected listening companions the next morning were not nearly as impressed, felt the highs were too forward. To my ear they were perfect.

And that was my comment to the exhibiting rep on my way out the door Friday night. "That might just be the perfect speaker."

That's my story and I am sticking to it. Perfect.
 

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Wilson Audio



  • Alexia: $50,000 / pr
  • Sasha 2: $31,000 / pr
Speaker Disappearing Act #1

It was not long ago that I declared the Wilson Alexia the perfect speaker (RMAF last fall). And upon hearing them again at AXPONA Saturday morning, I had many of the same feelings about them.

They were a little laid back in the highs, but very smooth. Imaging was somewhat diffused, but very stable and natural. The soundstage was huge, very natural and completely open, although a bit more recessed than I expected for the room, almost like it was retreating from the listener somewhat. The Alexia speakers did a complete disappearing act in that room, the first speakers to do so at the show for me.

There was detail galore and the sense of clarity was superb. The overall presentation was about as natural and smooth and transparent as you could expect a speaker to sound, yet was far from being boring. The sound reached out to hug you and gently held you in place, whispering, "Now listen to this."

The design allows for individual height aiming of the mid- and high-frequency drivers for the listening position, no doubt contributing to the imaging and soundstage and sense of tight component integration.

The Sasha 2 setup was also impressive. My notes reflected almost the same impressions as with the Alexia setup, although they did not disappear in the room like the Alexia. Soundstage and imaging were good but not stellar. In other sonic categories, the Sasha 2 lagged behind the Alexia slightly, but not by far. The piano in piece being played had a perfectly balanced tonality and wonder inner detail.

The Wilson tonal balance, while a tad light at the high end for me, is overall about as even and smooth as you could want a speaker to be.
 

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MartinLogan



  • Montis: $10,000 / pr
  • CLX 25th Anniversary: $25,000 / pr
I only spent a few minutes in the MartinLogan rooms, but that was all it took to be reminded what a fan I am of their speakers.

The Montis room had a full 5.1 surround setup going, and although I did not write it down, I believe the recent 5.1 mix of Dark Side of the Moon was playing (someone jog me if that is not correct). Those wonderful hybrid electrostatics were so clear, so natural sounding, so easy to listen to, I could not help but be impressed all over again by them.

The big CLX setup next door did not grab me quite as much. The demo was of more about McIntosh's Room Perfect correction system. From the prime listening spot, neither the "with correction" nor the "without correction" soundstage seemed natural and relaxed to me. They were different, to be sure, and "with correction" was a partial improvement, but there was an uneasy tension about the sound that I could not get past. I have nothing against room correction, it can sound phenomenal, but this particular setup did not to me.

Focusing more on the sound of the CLX themselves, they did have a grand, clean presence to them. They are full-range electrostatics with LF and HF electrostatic panel sections. Again, it was hard not to be impressed by the effortless presentation.

I am sure I will be a MartinLogan fan forever.
 

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Horning Hybrid Systems


  • Eufrodite: $30,000 / pr
I regret that I did not spend more time with these speakers. I only heard an acoustical guitar piece played through them and intended to get back to them for another listen, but did not.

The piece I heard was very dynamic, life-like, and engaging. They are speakers that definitely deserve a detailed listen should one get the chance.
 

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Magico


  • S3: $22,600 / pr
I almost missed out on the Magico magic. The room was crowded so I took a seat way off-center. My first impressions were not great, but I could not tell if it was the tracks being played or the speakers themselves that were at fault.

I started to leave. At the door, the rep stopped me and asked if I had some music of my own I wanted to hear. He introduced himself and I recognized him as someone Sonnie Parker (former HTS owner) had worked with in getting speakers for HTS Speaker Evaluation Events. We spoke for a moment and then he started up my requested tracks. I got a better seat and gave the S3 another chance.

The listening experience was completely different, extremely positive. The S3 were wonderfully detailed and smooth through the mids and highs. I loved the detail in Sarah's and Cindy's voices on Reasons Why and Ain't It A Shame. They felt present in the room, right up close. Instrument details like string picks and background synthesizers were gently pushed forward for closer inspection, but never obtrusively.

Imaging and soundstage were nothing short of phenomenal! The soundstage was huge, natural, and spacious, as good as any I heard at the show. Clarity and definition at low and lower-mid frequencies was impressive with the second track really cranked up loud. Overall tonal balance was absolutely spot on. I could think of no performance area where they fell short. The Magico S3 speakers had thoroughly grabbed me and infected me with their charm.

Thanks to an attentive rep, I left the room absolutely loving the Magico S3 speakers. In the "around $20K" price range, they were among a small handful of speakers at AXPONA that left me grinning and wishing for much, much more time to spend with them.
 

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Focal


  • Stella Utopia EM: $90,000 / pr
Upon entering the Focal room and sitting down in the front-center seat, I quickly realized that all I could hear was the mediocre recording quality of the obviously-vinyl source. I asked to hear my own tracks, which were played.

I simply loved the high end of the Stellas, especially on vocals, and especially during vocal harmonies. There was a richness to the way voices blended together, yet they were kept separate and clearly defined at the same time. Cindy's vocals on Ain't It A Shame simply took my breath away, so present in the room with me, so clear and rich and intimate, as though I was hearing the heartfelt emotion in her performance for the first time. The imaging and soundstage were fantastic - best of show? I quickly realized that I just said the same in the previous room. In the end, I had to call it a tie.

There were a few bass notes on Reasons Why that were a little boomy and uneven. That was the only imperfection I noted. But overall, the Stellas were Very Impressive!

I had to chuckle as I left the room, hearing one listener, obviously a vinyl fanatic, tell another with a tone of disbelief, "That was a CD!" The incredulous response, "Really?"

Yes, friends, you can get good sound from a CD. And it sounds mighty fine on the Stella Utopia EM.
 

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Dynaudio


  • Confidence C4 II: $25,000 / pr
More Dynaudio WOW from the Confidence C4's. Again, the MTM configuration really worked for me, had a very tight, "together" presentation that sounded like a point source. Imaging and soundstage were marvelous.

The C4 felt a little bright but was so smooth and clean and clear through the mids and highs that it was not overwhelming to my ear. The sense of detail and impact was very nice.
 

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YG Acoustics



  • Hailey 1.2 Floorstanding: $42,800 / pr
This is another speaker that deserved more listening time, but circumstances did not allow.

Imaging and soundstage, as they were set up, was fair - I have no doubt they are capable of showing much, much better.

I heard a jazz piece with piano, sax, and drums - all three sounded quite good in tonal balance, nicely detailed. Cymbal sounds were very clear and accurate. The source material limited my ability to say more than that.

I do hope to give YG Acoustics more attention at a future show.

Edit: My initial impression of the Hailey speaker had been: Sounds like vinyl. As I entered the room it was obvious that a vinyl source was playing and that it would be difficult to fairly judge the speakers with that source. To be clear, vinyl can sound fantastic, as good as digital if carefully chosen. In many cases it was not, and it seemed that vinyl medium was given priority even where recording quality was mediocre. Thus the "sounds like vinyl" impression that met me in more than one room at AXPONA.
 

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Cabasse


  • Baltic Evolution: $18,000 / pr
It was a special treat to run across an innovative product like the Cabasse Baltic Evolution at AXPONA. This "point source" design consisted of a 3-way concentric driver in a spherical enclosure, mounted on a blade-like stand similar to the tail fin of a jet fighter - an altogether striking and very attractive visual statement. The centered tweeter is surrounded by a ring midrange driver, which is surrounded by a larger outer-ring low-frequency driver (down to 80 Hz). Crossover frequencies are at 800 Hz and 3500 Hz.

As one would expect, the imaging was absolute perfection. Vocals were pinpoint precise, drums were so tightly placed that you could see the point where the tip of the drumstick hit the head. The soundstage was noted as "very nice," and I could not help but wish for time and opportunity to play with placement to improve it - certainly they could deliver better.

The setup included a subwoofer, as one would expect for a speaker cutting off at 80 Hz. The tonal balance was good - I noted it as "lively" and "fun" - meaning not quite reference grade, but not all that far from it, either. Let's call them "serious fun." Female vocals were very clear, with a nice presence and intimacy. Percussion had a nice bounce, like it was jumping right out into the room. Cymbals sounded very clear and natural. Horns, like the vocals, had a presence and detail that invited you to listen closely to the performance.

They were really nice speakers to experience, and seemed like they could play any kind of music well. I thought of them as speakers for music lovers rather than speakers for spec lovers, although respect for tonal accuracy had certainly been paid attention to. The price lined them up against some mighty stiff competition, though, and I would have had a hard time selecting them over other models I had already heard in that range.

But this was a design meant to catch a certain eye and ear, a design for the music lover who wants something a little bit different, a speaker for those who approach music their own way and are not afraid to show it. The Baltic Evolution said, "Relax, stop analyzing, get into the music and have a good time." I felt they could be easy speakers to get attached to.
 

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JTR


  • Noesis 215RT: $7,000 / pr
During a discussion at dinner the night before, a fellow AXPONA attendee described how expectations can shape perception at an event like this. Walk into a room with high expectations and you will often be disappointed by what you hear. Walk into a room with low expectations and you will likely be pleasantly surprised by what you hear.

That was exactly what I experienced walking into the JTR room. Knowing that JTR makes high-impact home theater speakers, I did not expect the imposing Noasis 215RT's (RT stands for Reference Tower) to sound hi-fi grade. And, to my surprise, they were quite impressive as music speakers.

As was generally the case, I was not satisfied that the placement of the listening chairs was best for the speaker pair as set up in that room. I pulled the center chair forward several feet and found a spot where the imaging and soundstage became very natural and relaxed, much better than I could have hoped for. When I heard comments of disappointment by other auditioners in a later discussion, I could not help but think they simply had not sat in the right place to hear them at their best. (Nor had the exhibitor prepared the seating as carefully as he could have - but such was the case in most rooms I entered.)

I liked the sound of the big centered horn quite well, especially the midrange. It seemed very natural for the broad range of frequencies it was handling, from 350 Hz on up. The highest highs on Cindy's and Sarah's vocals on my main two test tracks were not quite reference-smooth, and the standup bass on Reasons Why was a little lacking in definition, but overall the Noesis did very well with guitar, mandolin, banjo, fiddle, synthesizers, guitars - all were delivered with admirable clarity and accuracy. The highs impressed me as being extended without any harshness.

The Noesis had a very quick responsiveness - the finger snaps on Chant were sharp. No doubt they could perform with impact when called upon. As nice as they sounded with fairly delicate music tracks, they would be killer in a home theater setting. My final note was that they were built like a Caterpillar and drove like a Mercedes - a bit of a stretch, but you get the idea.
 
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