Every year some of the best presents are in the small boxes under the Christmas tree. This post focuses on some of the best products in small boxes at AXPONA 2018.
In the ELAC room pictured below, the designer, Peter Madnick, was the host. The room showed off the ELAC Miracord 90 turntable that sells for $2,500. It was paired with a Soundsmith Zephyr moving-iron cartridge that sells for $2,000. This analog source was used with their ELAC Alchemy DDP-2 preamplifier/DAC (retail $2,500), the PPA-2 phono preamplifier for $1,000 and two DPA-2 stereo amplifier for $1,500 each. All of this was driving ELAC’s Adante loudspeakers that sell for $2,500. The two ELAC rooms were so crowded that I never got into the other one, but this one sounded great.
Seattle-based Vanatoo is one of my favorite audio companies, so let me start by saying I’m sorry I didn’t get a better picture of the new speaker. They were showing the Vanatoo Transparent Zero at $359 per pair I think it is the most incredible full-cost system for under $1,000. I have reviewed and owned these speakers, and they are something special.
From what I heard at the show, there will be a new product to claim that title. The slightly larger speaker in the picture is the prototype of the Transparent One Encore, and the price is still to be determined. They should be out sometime this summer to replace the older Transparent One that sold for $500. The new Transparent One Encore is rated at 60 watts per amp. It is a two-way that contains four class-D amps plus a DSP crossover.
I was shocked that these speakers sounded better than the Transparent Zeros. Yes, I expected a little more bass, but the Transparent One Encore is simply a more refined-sounding speaker. It produces a large sound with deeper and tighter bass and a more delicate top end. Don’t misread that last comment. It’s only the top end that is delicate; this speaker sounds big and bold.
In the Parasound room, the Tekton Impact Monitor speakers at $2,000 a pair were driven by the little Parasound Zonemaster 250 amplifier and the matching preamp. The ZoneMaster 250 puts out 50Wpc into 8 ohms, and it costs only $475. It uses an ETAL class-D module, and the preamp cost $449. In this picture, you can see the electronics on top of the left speaker. The sound was shockingly good; a very good soundstage and a really big and powerful sound.
High Fidelity Services had two great rooms. The first one I went to featured the Neat Acoustics Iota XPLORER speakers that sell for $5,000. It stands only 29″ tall. The enclosure for this speaker is divided horizontally into three internal compartments. The top compartment angles upward and has a bass/midrange cone driver and an AMT tweeter mounted on the slanted front baffle. The middle chamber is ported to the rear and houses the crossover and a 7″ bass driver that fires downward into the third sealed isobaric chamber to work with the second 7″ woofer that is ported downward.
I think these unassuming speakers are one of the best-kept secrets in audio land. They have big dynamics with strong, tight bass and a very open midrange and top end. They also have the ability to produce a great vertical soundstage for such a short speakers.
The Stereo Haven room had the best sound I have ever heard from any LS3/5A BBC monitor I have ever heard and that includes the ones from back in the day. The beautifully finished Falcon Acoustics LS3/5A monitors, the Well Tempered Lab Simplex MK2 turntable, and the Line Magnetic tube amps created incredible music. I didn’t say incredible sound, I said music.This was the first of three rooms that pulled this off with small stand-mounted monitors.
Fritz Speakers and Wyred 4 Sound put together another system that sounded like music. Fritz had four different models of his speakers in the room. When I was in the room, the Carrera BE speakers that sell for $3,500. I have reviewed these speakers, and I promise you they are much better then their price would indicate.
They were being driven by the new Wyred 4 Sound 750-LE at $1400. The preamp was their STP-SE and the source their MS i3 Music Server with one TB of SSD memory for $3,500. They were using the DAC 2v2se 10th Aniversary for $4,500. All the cabling was from Wyred 4 Sound except for the speaker cables that were from Kimber.
This was a very satisfying system, easy to listen to but still with great detail.
Dave MacPherson of Studio Electric has been making very musical speakers for over 30 years. I just reviewed his newest speaker, the m4 Monitor, and I said in the review, “It is a truly musical speaker. It is a sealed box monitor speaker that is nearly a full of range speaker and for myself and many others, it would be considered plenty full ranged.”
The electronics in this room were from ModWright Instruments, and the source was from Fern & Roby. The was a very special sounding room. I really liked the sound of the bass from the sealed-box enclosures.
I’ve already shared with you how good the Bandwidth Audio electronics sounded at AXPONA, but I was shocked by the sound of the little Tannoy Turnberry speakers. I had no idea how good this small floor-stander could sound.
I started this post with a great, affordable system, and I’ll end with one, the Technics’ new Ottava f SC-7 all-in-one audio system for $1,000. I promise you it sounded unbelievable for an all-in-one system. The size of the soundstage it produces was shocking. It was the product Becky most wanted at the show, and I’ll hopefully review it soon.