Friday at AXPONA in Chicago greeted travelers with open arms. The warm embrace of glowing tubes combined with the luster of highly polished metals made to look their very best beckoned audio lovers into its ample bosom. While some were still shaking off the remnants of free drinks the night before, I was lucky to have access before the general public that morning. As much as I love running into friends and the impromptu audio stop-n-chat, there is something to be said about unfettered access in an audiophile wonderland. As the day progressed foot traffic increased to optimal levels, but I never felt like I was being packed into a sardine can.
Laid in among the throngs of people was the Benchmark room. The latest and greatest in a fairly well tiered product line, the DAC2 ($2k) seems fairly reactive to the changing digital times. Continuing to build upon a solid reputation of top-tier DAC performance combined with a very respectable headphone amplifier section, Benchmark decided to include a remote, along with a multitude of inputs on the compact box. To what end? Cutting out the middle man. The middle man acting as a pre amp in this case. The setup on display clearly reflected this modern day trend. The DAC2 on display was running directly into a power amplifier. A possibility that even [disc players] have taken up in recent years.
AudioEngine has been producing great price-to-performance gear for a few years now. The latest entry takes another step in reducing your desktop clutter by introducing a built-in DAC to the mix. The A2+ is a new twist on AudioEngines popular A2 ($200) powered speaker and is due out in this summer with a projected retail price of $250.
One of the best hands down bass sections I have ever heard from a bookshelf-size speaker came from the captivating Joseph Audio Pulsar ($7k/pair) loudspeakers in the Channel D room. The somewhat deep cabinet no doubt had some influence over the surprisingly full range of frequencies the Pulsar was capable of. The size of this monitor would likely need a large desk to rest upon, however if you are the type of person that can afford to spend $7k on a bookshelf, I feel confident you have the means to find a matching desk.
The KEF room had a triple threat of their finest wares on active display. On one side the flagship Blade ($30k/pair) of which I am very fond. On other side the buzz-worthy LS50 ($1500/pair) bookshelf monitor. Turning to the back you could find the budget all-in-one X300A ($800). This pair of premium computer speakers separates itself from the rest of the budget herd by featuring a separate amplifier, power supply and DAC chip for each speaker so neither driver is passive.
KEF X300A on Amazon: http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B00AXYKF30/
Not something you generally see at a high end audio show, US Sound Labs had an A/B comparison set up for their new bass augmenting product the Subwoofer Module SW2 ($100) . The small box claims to clean and tighten the bass frequencies sent through it.
The SW2 on Amazon: http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B008HSPSA4/