AXPONA 2018 Show Report 1; Product Debuts and First Finds

At most shows, I start with a picture of the hotel taken from the outside. The problem is that the weather in Chicago was so gray that any picture from outside just looked dreary. So, I’ll start with a picture of Becky, The Beatnik’s wife, who make this site possible, and one of my favorite singers, Anne Bisson. In fact, as I’m writing this, I’m listening to her album Connections. 

Thankfully, things inside were not gray and dreary. The only real complaints I had with the show were how big it was and how well attended it was. Both are very positive for an industry that a few years ago everyone thought was nearing its death, but for a reviewer, it left us with about eight minutes per room. I never got to a few rooms because of how crowed they were. So, I’ll admit right now that some rooms I ruled out right off the bat and just got a picture. There were only a few rooms that really impressed me, and for those, I did go back for a really good listen. There were also a few that I got to spend some significant time in when the show wasn’t officially open so that I could really tell you about them.

In this first report, I want to share with you some of the components I discovered for the first time or that were debuting at AXPONA. The first of these were a couple of components in Jeffrey Catalano’s High Water Sound room. The new Horning Aristotle Ellipse loudspeakers at $16,000/pair were making their North American debut and sounding incredible. The other products in the room that were new to me were from Arte Forma Audio. Jeffery brought the Jadeite linestage that sells for $3,500 and the Due Volte 805 SE amps $7,500. These three components, amp/preamp/speaker, made incredible music for $27,000. I was mightily impressed by these products!

VAC was debuting their new 170IQ integrated amplifier. As you can tell from the look on Keven Hayes’ face, the amp is heavier than it looks. The 170IQ is on the way for me to review, and I can’t wait.

The Fidelis Audio room was full of new products including the VAC 1701Q integrated amp that was being used to power the debut of the Stenheim Alumine 5 speakers. They were also using the beautiful new Acoustic Signature Double X turntable with a TA2000 9″ tonearm and a Dynavector XX2 cartridge. The cabling was the new Tellurium Q Statements. Lastly, they were also using Stein Music’s new line of Harmonizers.

Knowing my love for single-ended amps, Dave Thomson of Raven Audio was excited to show me a brand new 300B amp they were debuting. The amp uses four 300B tubes and puts out around 18 watts per channel. Look for the upcoming review of this amp.

Wynn Audio of Canada is now the distributor for Thales of Switzerland and their wonderful turntables. Back in 2016, I reviewed their entry-level Slim Turntable and Easy Tonearm and was very impressed. They were playing their new top of the line TTT Compact II turntable.

Mounted on the new TTT Compact II was their brand new Thales Statement Ultimate Tonearm that comes in either gold or silver. Pictured also is the new Simplicity II Reference Tonearm and the Easy Tonearm. The Thales tonearms use tetragonal geometry that basically eliminates tracking error, and they measures at 006.

Tom Vu of Triangle Art is rightfully proud of his new entry-level Meastro turntable. Here it is shown with a Jelco tonearm just like the one currently set up at my house for a review. I can tell you first-hand that this is a really great turntable for $7,500. Of course, it doesn’t hurt that it looks like a million dollars.

Pass Labs debuted two new models and one from First Watt at AXPONA. All of the Pass Labs products were on static display. The XP-22 Preamp replaces the XP-20 Preamplifier that was introduced in 2008. In their promotional literature, they say the new XP-22 uses double-shielded, low-noise toroidal transformers in an external supply connected via aviation-grade circular connectors using silver over oxygen-free copper. The power supply is dual mono, with two transformers offering lower radiated and mechanical noise. The gain circuitry continues to use our favorite transistors from Toshiba, but it has a larger, higher-biased output stage like the Xs Preamp, and includes auto bias. The volume control is a single stage instead of two stages and has more range. It is also quieter and more accurate. This is the same volume control that is used in the XP-30. Overall this makes for a quieter, more neutral, musical and versatile control center for your system. Suggested Retail Price: $9,500.

The second debut from Pass Labs was the XP-27 Phono Preamp. In their promotional literature, Pass Labs says the new design uses double-shielded, low-noise toroidal transformers in an external supply, connected via aviation-grade circular connectors using silver over oxygen-free copper. The power supply is dual mono with two transformers with lower radiated and mechanical noise. The XP-27 input and gain circuitry are similar to that found in the Xs Phono. This means switching and loading are done at higher signal levels, minimizing noise and improving low-level performance.

The First Watt product debut is the one I’m personally most excited about. I reviewed the SIT 1 monoblocks at the end of 2013, and I was shocked by how good they were. The only problem was that the two monoblocks produced too much heat, and I already owned the Wavac EC-300B. If the new SIT 3 is close to the SIT 1, it will be a giant killer. The SIT 3 will retail for $4,000, and it puts out 18 watts into 8 ohms and 30 watts into 4 ohms. It should be in production soon, and I can’t wait to hear it. Again, watch for my future review.

In the Vinnie Rossi room, Vinnie was showing the beta types of his new “statement level” L2 Preamplifier and L2 monoblock power amplifiers. The monoblocks are Class AB MOSFET design topology with a power output of around 75 watts per channel into 8-ohm and 140 into 4-ohm.  I loved the looks and size of these amplifiers, but most of all, I was impressed that they drove the Harbeth M40s better than I even knew was possible. The cost of the amps will be somewhere around $15,000.

Stay tuned for Show Report Number Two sometime tomorrow!



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