With the “Certified Sizzle” awards, my primary objective was to explore and shed light on some lesser-known, yet exceptional rooms that stood out from the usual crowd-pleasers. While well-established names like MBL and Triangle Audio are almost always guaranteed to deliver outstanding performances at any of the shows, I wanted to venture off the beaten path and uncover hidden gems that truly deserve recognition for their remarkable sound quality.
I had the opportunity to immerse myself in a variety of listening rooms that managed to leave a lasting impression. The following rooms, which may not have been on everyone’s radar, not only met but exceeded my expectations, proving that there are still plenty of underappreciated contenders in the world of high-end audio. These stand-out exhibitors showcased their unique strengths and innovations, ultimately redefining what it means to create an engaging and memorable listening experience.
The Linkwitz LX521.4 speakers are a unique four-way, full-range dipole design that creates a figure-of-eight radiation pattern, which is quite different from traditional speakers. Each loudspeakers’ PowerBox contains an “ASP”, or ‘Analogue Signal Processor.’ Ergo, the divider network and driver control has no digital conversion; just analogue voltages are passed to the Hypex Ncore amplifiers, which are connected directly to the driver voicecoils.
The speakers come with two boxes for the Hypex Ncore amplifiers and crossovers, which are all housed in bulletproof Panzerholz wood. This wood has excellent damping properties that make it perfect for speakers, resulting in excellent sound quality.
Listening to Boz Scaggs’ “Thanks To You” on the Linkwitz LX521.4 speakers was an immersive experience. The track exudes a lush, warm, and tangible quality with outstanding dynamics, and the instruments sound incredibly natural and well-balanced. The soundstage is wide and expansive, with spatial cues that are easy to pick up on. The timbre of each instrument is distinct and clear, with the midrange quality being particularly impressive. The bass is deep and rich, without ever feeling overpowering or muddy. Furthermore, the treble is crisp and detailed. Boz Scaggs’ voice is smooth and emotive, and the instrumentation is nothing short of fantastic.
Moving on to Roger Waters’ “The Ballad of Bill Hubbard,” the track features a range of instruments that are brought to life in stunning detail. The acoustic guitar in the opening of the song is crystal clear, with each string pluck ringing out with perfect clarity. As the song progresses, the drums come in with a deep, powerful thud that drives the rhythm of the track forward. Additionally, the bass guitar is rich and full, providing a solid foundation for the other instruments to build on. The midrange quality is particularly impressive, with Roger Waters’ vocals sounding warm and emotive. In fact, even the dog barking, growling, and howling in the background sounded a little too real.
With their advanced digital signal processing technology, exceptional sound quality, and immersive soundstage, the Linkwitz system kicked ass. These speakers excel at bringing music to life in a way that is both dynamic and engaging.
Boenicke W-8 SE speakers, handcrafted in Switzerland, boast a unique and elegant design that marries form and function. Their compact and minimalist appearance belies the exceptional sound quality they deliver. Crafted with a blend of solid wood and a special damping material, the innovative cabinet design reduces unwanted resonances and vibrations, resulting in a more neutral and accurate listening experience.
The W-8 SE’s distinctive features include a solid wood construction, a combination of Tang Band and Fountek drivers, and an ambient tweeter by Monacor. These elements work together to produce a captivating sound that defies the speaker’s small size. Designed with attention to detail, the speakers have a slightly tilted, slim profile that gives them a dynamic look. Furthermore, the absence of traditional bass-reflex venting is replaced by a transmission line solution, resulting in improved bass performance.
Fortunately, the place wasn’t too crowded on the last day, and I managed to find a comfortable spot to sit. As Lyle Lovett’s song “Church” played, the sound that filled the room was warm and authentic, highlighting Lovett’s voice and the accompanying instruments with remarkable clarity and texture. The system produced an expansive soundstage with exceptional imaging, which accurately depicted the location of each instrument. The bass was deep and resonant, providing a solid rhythm without overpowering the rest of the music. The various voices were clear and detailed in the midrange, while the treble added a pleasant sparkle. The transients were fast and clean, enabling the music to flow effortlessly, and the piano sounded rich and full-bodied. The choir voices harmonized naturally, adding a layering effect to the soundstage. Overall, it was a fun and engaging experience! I just didn’t expect such a natural yet bigger than life sound from this setup.
Although I’m not a huge fan of the cooler or more neutral tonal color of the Rockports, I believe a lot of what I was hearing was in the capability of the Vinnie Rossi Brama integrated amplifier. This was just from extrapolating what I heard from the only two rooms with this amplifier – so I could be mistaken. It would be interesting to hear them with a pair of Qln speakers.
While listening to Joel Grare & L’ensemble Paris’ “Istanbul – Shanghai – Paris – Istanbul – Shanghai: I. Nihavent,” the ambient sounds immediately captured my attention with its tonal balance, clarity, and depth. The percussion instruments had a remarkable sense of speed and precision, bringing out every nuance of the rhythms, while the strings were natural and inviting, creating the feeling that the performers were right there in the room.
Throughout the track, the soundstage was impressive: it was wide and deep and brought out the full range of the performance. The bass was punchy and articulate, with excellent timing and texture that gave each note a sense of presence. The midrange was smooth and detailed, adding texture and nuance that made the instruments feel more alive. And the treble was airy and extended, with a shimmering quality that added to the sense of space. There was just an extreme amount of grip and control for the entire duration. Not matter how complex the recording got, it never faltered.
Additionally, the system displayed remarkable transient response, allowing each note to sound crisp and clear, even during complex and dynamic passages. The string and percussive section in the middle of the track was especially dynamic and powerful, showcasing the system’s ability to handle demanding material, while the bells in the latter part of the track had remarkable impact and texture. Although not my preference as far as tonal color, the presentation was very impressive.
Now maybe I need to audition the Brama…(looks into wallet)…nevermind.
As you probably know, I’m a huge fan of Iconoclast cables and still use them for my interconnects on the main system (UPOCC all the way). I may be exploring some of their new stuff soon. Now let’s address the elephant in the room.
Encountering new and interesting speakers like the Treehaus field coil loudspeakers, they usually end up sounding, for lack of a better word, “experimental.” Initially skeptical, but to my surprise, they sounded superb. Honestly, there was an undeniable organic synergy with all the components in this room.
These speakers feature a German-made field coil full range driver, complemented by a tweeter and a 15″ woofer on the top and bottom. These unique speakers deviate from the norm and are a refreshing addition to the HiFi landscape. The accompanying 300B amp, which utilizes an 801 driver tube and is priced at $17,500, including Western Electric tubes. Additionally, a preamplifier with TVC control, incorporating a 4P1L Russian tube.
When listening to Miles Davis’ “Teo” featuring John Coltrane and Wynton Kelly, tonal quality was immediately evident from the first notes of the trumpet. The warm and rich sound provided a romantic and textured atmosphere to the room. Soundstage was wide and deep, allowing each instrument to breathe. The bass was prominent and the midrange was clear and articulate, allowing the trumpet to soar with authority.
Moreover, treble was extended and detailed, allowing each cymbal hit to sing and decay naturally. Transients were quick and precise, ensuring that each note was delivered with accuracy and speed. Ultimately, this system captured the natural and organic sound of the recording, making it a faithful representation of the original performance.
Throughout the slow and quiet passages, the Treehaus loudspeakers truly shined. Romanticism was maintained, with each note sounding oh so sweet. As the song calmly ends, these speakers delivered a delicate yet impactful performance, capturing the emotion and energy of the music. This is very impressive considering how these speakers were seemingly way too large for the small hotel room.
Fidelity Imports showcased a variety of rooms, and I must confess that each one sounded great. Their approach is to collaborate with companies that share their subjective listening preferences, aiming to provide the best possible audio experience at an affordable price point.
One of the highlights at AXPONA was the US premier of French loudspeaker manufacturer Diptyque’s Audio Reference Planar Magnetic loudspeakers, priced at $49,999 per pair. These speakers, reminiscent of the popular Magnepans, have a unique twist: an exceptional amount of bass, produced directly from the panel itself. Apparently, this remarkable bass performance is achieved through the innovative use of powerful bipolar magnets.
Larry Carlton and Robben Ford’s “Hand in Hand with the Blues (Unplugged)” is a delicate acoustic guitar piece that showcases the tonal reproductive strengths of the Diptyque loudspeakers. From the opening chords, the speakers produce a warm and natural sound that draws the listener into the performance. The guitar strings are vibrant and textured, with each note carrying a distinct timbre that brings the instrument to life. The soundstage is wide and spacious, allowing the listener to hear the intricate details of each guitar part.
As the song progresses, the bass guitar comes in, and the Diptyque speakers deliver a solid and well-defined low end. The midrange is clear and transparent, which allows the guitars to blend seamlessly together while still retaining their individual character. The treble is extended and detailed, with each string pluck and strum ringing out with clarity and precision. The transients are quick and snappy, ensuring that the attack of each note is accurately reproduced.
Now, this system had a surprisingly amount of bass. The kick drum had a nice weight to it, and each hit was palpable without being boomy. The snare had a sharp attack and a lively decay. The cymbals shimmered and decayed naturally, and the toms had a nice resonance that added depth to the sound.
Throughout the recording, the Diptyque speakers was able to capture the natural and organic character of the unplugged performance. The speakers excel at reproducing the delicate nuances of acoustic guitar music, with an engaging and gripping sound that draws the listener in. Overall, I thought the Diptyque speakers deliver a faithful and dynamic performance.
Fidelity Imports brings us another one!
The S7t is Perlisten’s most advanced speaker, designed for those who value the highest fidelity. It features a proprietary DPC-Array for Mid/High frequencies, a 28mm Beryllium dome, and dual 28mm TPCD ultra-lightweight domes. Developed in collaboration with companies from the USA and Sweden, it utilizes cutting-edge material science and Comsol acoustical modeling, resulting from 18 months of rigorous simulations and prototyping. The DPC-Array offers exceptional accuracy, smoothness, and directivity control, handling critical vocal range and delicate treble. All S-Series speakers share the same DPC-Array, benefiting from unique timbre matching across the series. The custom bass drivers, made from thin-ply carbon diaphragms (TPCD), can be configured as bass reflex or acoustic suspension based on listener preference. The S7 Tower delivers true full-range performance with unparalleled dynamic range and musical finesse. Notably, Perlisten’s S-Series speakers are the world’s first and only loudspeakers certified for THX Dominus, their highest rating.
“Goodbye Yellow Brick Road” is a classic song by Elton John, and in this live cover by Sara Bareilles, her stunning vocals and the accompanying instruments make for a memorable performance. Listening to it on the Perlisten S7t speakers, the tonal quality is warm and fun, with a natural and organic sound that brings out the nuances of the live performance.
The timbre of Bareilles’ voice is smooth and textured, complemented by the crisp and clear sound of the piano. The soundstage is expansive, allowing each instrument to be heard with clarity and separation. As the song progresses, the bass is tight and controlled, adding depth to the overall sound. The midrange is detailed and nuanced, highlighting the intricacies of the piano and Bareilles’ vocals, while the treble is delicate and airy, adding sparkle to the sound.
During the climatic passages, the transients are fast and precise, adding to the enthusiastic energy of the song. And as the pacing slows towards the end, you find that you’re just holding your breath. The Perlisten S7t were able to faithfully reproduce this popular live performance in all its beauty and excitement.
Arion Audio showcased their Apollo loudspeaker system at AXPONA 2023 in room 705. This five-piece system consists of separate high efficiency AMT based line array dipole towers and open baffle woofer modules. The towers cover the frequency range from 120 Hz to 24 KHz, while the woofer modules cover the frequency range from 20 Hz to 120 Hz. The AMT drivers are designed, developed, manufactured and assembled in the USA by Arion Audio.
The separate tower and woofer cabinets allow for optimal placement and soundstage imaging, while the bass modules can be placed for extended in-room bass response and seamless integration with the towers. The system also includes advanced DSP room correction for perfect system-room integration.
Buddy Guy’s “Blue No More,” featuring James Bay, exhibits an incredible tonal quality, with the midrange warmth and treble shine. The timbre of the electric guitar and James Bay’s voice is natural, organic, and faithful to the recording. The soundstage is wide, enveloping the listener, while the bass is punchy and well-defined, adding a dynamic and exciting dimension to the track. Both male vocalists are overlayed with a natural sense of gravity and space.
In contrast, Gregory Porter’s “God Bless the Child” offers a more subdued and slow-paced experience. The Arion Audio speakers deliver a truly rich quality to Porter’s soulful voice. Emphasizing the beautiful vocal textures. The soundstage is less expansive, but the intimacy of the track remains evident from the lingering reverbs from his voice. I think it was so mesmerizing, all the attendees in the room remained dead quiet.
The Apollo speaker system was not only very musical but hypnotic in some ways. I had a great time in this room.
Luxman proudly showcased their high-quality audio products, including the C-900u Control Pre-Amplifier, M-10X Mono/Stereo Power Amplifier, E-250 Solid State Compact Reference Phono Equalizer Amplifier, and the LMC-5 Cartridge. However, the true highlights of the event were the cutting-edge D-07X SACD Player with MQA and USB DSD Support, and the sophisticated PD-191A Belt Drive Turntable.
The D-07X SACD Player features a proprietary mechanism and offers support for USB PCM up to 746kHz 32bit and USB DSD up to 22.5MHz 1bit. Additionally, it incorporates MQA technology and advanced DSP room correction, ensuring impeccable system-room integration for optimal audio performance.
The PD-191A Turntable, on the other hand, represents a complete redesign based on a belt drive system with a brushless DC motor. It features a newly designed LTA-710 knife-edge bearing tonearm system, which was developed in collaboration with SAEC. This innovative tonearm design provides enhanced tracking and surface vibration damping, making it an ideal choice for discerning audiophiles in search of superior vinyl playback.
Upon entering this particular listening room, I was met with a strikingly neutral sound signature, which isn’t typically my first choice, as I have a soft spot for warmer-sounding systems. However, the room’s performance was so enthralling that I couldn’t resist being drawn in. Sitting at the sweet spot, I was able to recognize and savor its brilliant qualities.
The combination of Luxman gear truly dazzled when playing the dynamic and captivating “Black Orfeus Medley (Live)” by Ai Kuwabara. This live recording showcased the exceptional talents of Kuwabara on piano, Will Lee on bass, and the legendary Steve Gadd on drums.
This system flawlessly reproduced the fast, punchy, and gripping nature of this performance, creating a wide and deep soundstage that embraced the listener. With impressive delineation, each instrument carved its space within the sonic landscape. The piano, played by the gifted Kuwabara, demonstrated a beautiful, tactful, and gentle touch, evoking a sense of enchantment.
As the recording played, the system delivered vivid and deep vocals, capturing the emotion and nuance behind each note. The guitar play, working in perfect tandem with the vocals, added an extra layer of richness to the overall sound. All the while, the drums maintained the rhythm, keeping the performance cohesive and engaging.
The Luxman electronics surely showcased their ability to adjust quickly to the tempo and pace, allowing each instrument to shine at the right moment. The tight bass and deep thumps from the kick drum contributed depth and weight to the performance, further amplifying the excitement of this live performance.
When the track reached its chaotic climax, the system demonstrated composure and control, preserving the timbre and dynamic contributions of each instrument. Its fast and impactful attack and spectral control ensured that even during the most intense moments, the performance remained engaging and emotionally charged.
This experience serves as a testament to Luxman’s extraordinary ability to reproduce music with accuracy, emotion, and control. Being in this room at the show was an absolute delight and was one of the more fun and impressive listening experiences I had at the show.
Wharfedale has been rocking the world of home audio for 90 years by bringing some seriously awesome loudspeakers to the table. Today, their engineers are still all about using cutting-edge tech where it counts to create speakers that let you feel the passion and excitement of every tune.
They know that true sound lovers won’t stand for even the tiniest imperfection, and that’s why they’ve redesigned and built the new ‘Dovedale’. If you’re one of those listeners who just can’t settle for less, you’ll definitely appreciate the control, performance, and quality this speaker has to offer.
Handcrafted by super skilled, experienced loudspeaker gurus at Wharfedale’s headquarters in Huntingdon, Cambridgeshire, the Dovedale is a proud product of the home of British Hi-Fi. This new version carries on Wharfedale’s long-standing tradition of designing and making amazing loudspeakers that strike the perfect balance between craftsmanship, natural sound quality, and affordability.
The Wharfedale Dovedale speakers create an immersive sound experience when playing Billie Eilish’s “Bossa Nova,” enveloping listeners in a warm, organic, and inviting sound bubble that accentuates the song’s romantic qualities. The speakers provide a balanced and refined sound, capturing the intricate, fibrous, and stringy nature of the instruments with precision, while creating a smooth and beautiful midrange that delivers the emotional depth of the song.
The resolving soundstage of the speakers allows each instrument to occupy the right amount of space, offering a tangible and dense experience that brings out the song’s intimate qualities. The forward midrange and tight bass work harmoniously, creating an engaging listening experience that highlights the exceptional talent of Eilish and the accompanying musicians. Eilish’s sultry voice takes center stage, conveying every nuance and emotion of her performance, while the intimate soundstage brings out the subtleties of the instruments and the vocal delivery, creating a captivating experience.
In conclusion, the Wharfedale Dovedale speakers deliver a mesmerizing performance with a perfect balance of warmth, depth, and detail, making them a must-audition product for audiophiles who appreciate refined and emotionally engaging sound.
The Wolf von Langa SON loudspeaker has gained recognition within the audiophile community, earning prestigious accolades such as the Absolute Sound Product of the Year 2022 and Editors’ Choice 2023 awards. Crafted in Germany, these speakers deliver a thrilling and engaging listening experience.
The show setup features a linestage preamplifier and power amplifier from the Italian company, New Audio Frontiers, providing 20 watts of single-ended triode power. Other components include a Konus Audio Vinyle 3000MC phono preamplifier from Italy, a TW Acustic turntable and tonearm from Germany, a Stein Music Aventurin 6 cartridge from Germany, cables from the Japanese company Hijiri, and accessories and room treatment from Stein Music. The system’s exceptional quality and performance are further enhanced by the Silent Running Audio isolation bases from the United States.
The Wolf von Langa SON speaker utilizes innovative audio technology to achieve high-quality sound reproduction in a compact design. Key components include a field coil bass-midrange driver with a passive cone that relies on an electromagnet for improved speaker performance. This design results in a more natural, accurate, and dynamic sound reproduction. The passive cone, also known as a “drone cone,” bolsters the low-frequency response, adding depth and impact to the bass without compromising clarity.
Another standout feature of the SON speaker is the dipole air-motion transformer (AMT). This high-frequency driver employs a thin, pleated diaphragm to move air more efficiently than conventional cone or dome tweeters. The AMT’s diaphragm is propelled by the magnetic field created by conductive traces, resulting in a fast, detailed, and low-distortion treble response, as well as a spacious and open soundstage.
The adjustable stereo base width and time alignment at the listening location enable users to fine-tune the speaker’s positioning for optimal stereo imaging and soundstage depth, creating an immersive listening experience tailored to specific room and listener preferences.
The SON speaker is designed for true bi-amplification or bi-wiring, thanks to its split crossover network, allowing separate amplification for the bass-midrange driver and the AMT. This leads to better control, reduced distortion, and overall enhanced sound quality.
Lastly, the current-source power management system removes the need for an AC power cable and includes 2 x 3m cables for user convenience. This innovative approach ensures stable, efficient, and clean power delivery to the speaker, contributing to its outstanding audio performance.
The Wolf von Langa SON loudspeaker is truly fascinating, delivering exceptional tonal quality and clarity that impresses. The sound is transparent and highly resolving, capturing even the most subtle nuances in the music. When playing “Midnight Sugar” by Tsuyoshi Yamamoto Trio, the bass is well-defined, deep, and textured, with a tangible and dense sound. The midrange is detailed and lifelike, lending a neutral tonal color to the music, while the crisp and precise treble brings out the percussion instruments’ nuances. The hum and thump of the bass plucks are palpable and groovy, and the speakers keep up with the varied pace of the piano play, delivering speed and body.
When listening to “Good Morning Little School Girl” by Muddy Waters on the Wolf von Langa SON speaker, the open and airy soundstage is impressive, allowing each instrument to be heard with remarkable clarity. The organic and metallic quality of the slap and strings creates a beautiful rhythm that supports the vocals. Despite the challenging setup of the loudspeakers in the hotel room, with the vocals positioned slightly to the right side of the soundstage, the overall sound quality is impressive.
Overall, the Wolf von Langa SON loudspeakers are exceptional, delivering remarkable detail and clarity with a vast soundstage that make it a standout at AXPONA.
Immerse yourself in High Water Sound’s auditory realm, and the Cessaro Horn Acoustics Opus speakers are sure to captivate your senses. Renowned for their unparalleled sonic performance and distinct design, these gems boast a horn-loaded midrange and tweeter. No wonder they’re revered for their astounding precision and nuance in music reproduction! They cater to diverse musical tastes with their expansive dynamic range. Complementing these marvels, Opus subwoofers deliver robust low-frequency accompaniment – every note resonates profoundly, both audibly and tangibly.
Encountering Cochemea’s “Black Pearl” reveals a rich auditory tapestry that calls for a HiFi system characterized by exceptional tonal quality and faithful reproduction of timbre, soundstage, and transients. The system struck me as welcoming, energetic, dynamic, and brimming with texture.
The recording initiates with a gentle yet distinct flute melody, segueing into the rhythmic drum beats and the saxophone’s resonant notes. The bass enters with a forceful and robust presence, engulfing the room in its deep, powerful mood. Reverberations are accurately replicated after each strike. The brass section infuses a brighter hue, as the percussions contribute a spirited, pulsating texture.
As I delved further, the saxophone emerged as the star, its velvety timbre contrasting with the percussions. The midrange remains lucid and concentrated, with drums and bass laying a sturdy foundation for the other components. The treble has a natural shine, especially in bell-like instruments.
The system masterfully captures the dynamic spectrum throughout the piece, from the flute’s hushed moments to the climactic passages when all instruments unite in a more assertive performance. The soundstage is expansive and airy, with each instrument asserting its individual magnetism and presence.
In the end, this system unveils the delicate intricacies and minute details of the instruments, enabling listeners to wholly appreciate the musicians’ expertise and artistry. I walked away from this experience deeply impressed.
Speakers and Subwoofers:
Racks, Isolation, and Tuning:
Strolling into the AXISS AUDIO room, one can find A-300 monoblocks, a Class A power amplifier designed by Accuphase to mark their 50th anniversary. With 20-parallel push-pull power MOS-FETs in the output stage, the A-300 offers an enviable constant-voltage drive and an unmatched level of expressiveness, And the fully discrete balanced input amplifier ensures an incredibly quiet performance.
Also present in the room are the remarkable Gauder Akustik DARC 200 loudspeakers, featuring an innovative rib construction with aluminum instead of a dense fiber material, and improved crossovers and drivers. With some adjustability in bass output level and selective boost/cut between 30Hz-60Hz, these speakers offer an enjoyable and customizable listening experience. In this room, the DARC 200 speakers are being driven by the Accuphase A-300 monoblocks, tethered with Guader Akustic Clearwater speaker cables.
Listening to Hyannis Sound’s “I Will Survive” (Live), this system immerses you in the vocal warmth from the outset. The midrange faithfully conveys the splendid timbre and tonality of the ten male vocalists, crafting an expansive soundstage. The genuine, unfiltered ambiance of the audience lingers in the background, transporting you to St. Christopher’s Episcopal Church in Chatham.
The vocalists’ performance is nothing short of breathtaking, with the system’s resolution lending clarity and distinction to each voice as needed. The serene, hushed passages unfold exquisitely, allowing every subtle detail and nuance to shine. In certain moments, foot stomping reverberates with striking authenticity, amplifying the sensation of attending the live performance.
Handling the vocals masterfully, the system accentuates the male performers’ prowess without any instruments in the mix. Harmonies meld flawlessly, while the audience’s involvement heightens the overall experience, conveying their passion and vigor. Ultimately, the sound produced resonates with an unmistakable air of naturalness and veracity.
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