AudioHead’s Crazy Big, Crazy Fun, Crazy Loudspeaker Roundup – AXPONA 2014

Every show I like to do a quick roundup of all the strange, wacky, wonderful ear and eye candy available for consumption and this year AXPONA had plenty to share. Perhaps the most photographed piece at the show was this horn setup by Sadurni and Merrill Audio. This $40k pair of loudspeakers called the Staccato is even “larger than they appear” in this photograph, easily consuming a third of the downstairs exhibit room they were housed in.

The red horn beasts (also surprisingly in mid-life-crisis red) were powered by a a pair of Merrill Audio Veritas Monoblocks ($12k/pair). The room also featured this old school Sony reel-to-reel machine, but wasn’t utilized for the general demo.

These two tall drinks of water are made by a company called Scaena and retail for $40k for the complete set of towers and matching subs. The subwoofers were very similar in shape to a percussion drum, a unique design for sure. Pictured here with Ayon audio mono blocks ($68k/pair).

Chicago local dealer Quintessence Audio showcased four solid rooms throughout the show. One of the rooms on the 12th floor housed the mighty Stellla Utopia  Em by Focal ($97k/pair). Not even the flagship piece from the company (the Grand Utopia sits a bit higher), these large loudspeakers always remind me of those crazy earthworms from the movie Beatlejuice, don’t ask me why.

German Physiks had a fairly surreal collection of loudspeakers (including a 5 speaker setup) on the first floor that incorporated something besides the typical dynamic paper cone drivers most of the general populous is used to.  The omnidirectional driver featured here is the “DDD” driver with a carbon fiber diaphragm. The massive cabinets that flanked the screen are the Emperor Mk II ($284k) which include 4 DDD drivers, two 12″ subs and four 6″ inch woofers. The center is the Borderland Mk IV ($35k) includes one DDD driver and one 12″ woofer.

Not to be outdone in the omnidirectional driver department, the MBL 116F ($32k) made an appearance in two AXPONA rooms. The big step up from this model  (101 E MK II) is usually one of my favorite sounds at any show.

These electrostatic panels by Sound Lab barely made it into the room. Perhaps the largest I have ever seen at a show, the Majestic 845 ($36k/pair) were just inches away from clearing the smoke detector. Amplification was courtesy of Atma-Sphere’s Pre ($17k) and mono blocks ($42k).

One of my favorite sounds of AXOPNA came from the Sonus Faber and Audio Research combinations on the 12th floor. The SF Aida demo started out with a very blues-driven distorted guitar exclusively out of the right channel that made it hard to accurately determine what kind of clarity we were listening to. But when the vocal kicked in, there was no mistaking the focus, dynamics or resolution of these bad boys. Accurate with firm, tight bass the Aida were a real highlight from the show.

While perhaps not as showy as some of the rest of the loudspeakers on this list, Sony actually does make a high-end loudspeaker called the SSAR-1 ($27k). The source in this case was one of the new DSD-friendly streamers recently released (HAP-Z1ES, $2k), but amplification was not one of Sony’s own receivers. Rounding out the set up was a Rogue audio preamp ($9k) and Apollo Dark Mono’s ($15k).

Another Quintessence audio room featured these tall but slender Dynaudio Evidence Platinum loudspeakers ($85k/pair) tied to Sim Audio’s 880M Mono blocks ($45k).

Legacy seems to get a bit more show buzz than many of the other big speaker brands. Great sound and some very unique designs seem to follow the loudspeaker company where ever they go. Their AXPONA room really tried to get the most milage out of their appearance. It featured two setups, each with two alternating paris of loudspeakers, one CODA 15.5 ($10k) powered Legacy Whisper XDS ($25k) or Focus SE ($11k) and the one with CODA’s TS ($5.2k) driving either the Aeris ($21k) or Signature SE ($7k).

Martin Logan was stuck in far corner of the 12th floor, but local dealer Audio Video Interiors of Chicago made a wise choice with the McIntosh and electrostatic panel combination. While the stylings of McIntosh may be polarizing to some, I can’t seem to get enough of the green glowing tubes that adorn the top of these amps. Perhaps someday they will come out with a color changing option to set the mood for any occasion.

Monster speakers need monster cables (but surprisingly never actual Monster cable at these shows). This little speaker wire in the audiophile marketplace caught my eye and I think it is fine way to wind down this round up.

Overall the rooms sounded really good this year, even with a few surprises. Since this was a local show for me, I was able to peruse a few rooms with some finely-tuned, but less-educated pairs of ears from family and friends. Surprisingly there is always a common thread for those willing to really pay heed to the music. Without prompting, good sound was always instantly recognized. And for the most part, consensus is extremely common when it comes to room evaluations post-listening. Good sound is fun. Amidst specs, models, marks, and watts there is a lot of entertainment to be had just listening to these fine setups and I highly encourage anyone interested in the hobby to make it out to one of these shows, if not to buy, at least to listen. Perhaps you will make a new audiophile friend and together you’ll laugh and cry and listen to Dark Side on vinyl in an elaborate (but refined) basement listening room whilst eating steak nachos and watching the Wizard of Oz in your sunday best. Or perhaps you’ll just enjoy yourself among the throngs of likeminded individuals. Either way, get out there, no excuses.