Axpona 2018 Impressions
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Apr 12, 2018 at 11:06 PM Post #2 of 23

Makiah S

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This was really the highlight of my night! I believe the room was a join effort involving The Audio Company out of Atlanta who were showcasing these amazing speakers and their subsequant systems. I didn't quite catch the names of each as they were still doing some final tweaks and cleaning but I did get to hear two songs and give them some input of which seat was the "sweeter" of the sweet spot chairs.

I'm happy to see we all some what unaimously agree'd on which seat we felt sounded best. Overall though these were superbly impressive, much more so than the Maggie 3.7i's I heard a year ago or so in Upstaris Audio of Columbia.

Even with the vaccum cleaner running in the background it, the sound was well balanced and tactile. There was a sense of weight & Physicality not just in the bass but the mid range and up top! Very life like indeed,

20180412_172913.jpg


Also got a sneak in listen with the iFi iDSD Micro BL!! Very good indeed, a clear step up from the equally impressive nano


Here are some pics I shot at the end of the first day of set up! Nothing was ready to listen to just yet but from everything that wasn't under sheets I can tell tommorow's going to be a real treat!
 
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Apr 13, 2018 at 10:43 PM Post #3 of 23

Makiah S

Formerly known as Mshenay
Member of the Trade: HeadAmp
Joined
Mar 30, 2012
Posts
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2,082
Boy oh BOY! There's a lot to cover so let's get started!!!!

E-MU Zebra wood prototype

20180413_110128.jpg
Sounded very much like and improved Purpleheart so;

  • nice natural mid-range
  • very clean envelope with a beautiful balance of attack/decay/sustain and release, I found it had slight emphasis on the attack and release
  • slightly bass heavy with excellent extension
  • good heavy low end without any excessive bloat, overall had slightly better texture/resolve than the purpleheart
  • slightly dark up top but still spacious
All in all this one is said to be priced around 175ish, if MassDrop distributes this one again at the price point I'm pretty confident they'll do exceptionally well. Chen and I also spoke briefly about a balanced option! So I'm excited to see what becomes of these in the future!

HD 820

20180413_110614.jpg


Wowza, this was my VERY first listen today! An it lives up to everything I wanted it to be. Very much a closed back HD 800 NOT 800s, so the sound is a little more lively and bright like the HD 800 without as strong of or as obvious of a peak up top and... better bass than the HD 800 without being as warm/thick the HD 800S

I did cheat a little and use my HM901 into the HDV 820, as I wanted to listen with a source that I own and was familiar with!

But simply put this is *hands down* one of the best closed backs I've heard ever. A CLEAR step above the Mr.Speakers Ether C Flow, which I heard a few times today. I respect the Ether C Flow because it has a very similar tonal presentation and it's also very very detailed [and priced a bit more aggressively]! But at the end of the day it's not quite as refined as the HD820 to my ears!

Micro ZOTL

20180413_112401.jpg



Tube was pretty spacious, good clarity! Overall did a lot of things right, did very few things wrong but also a bit underwhelming in comparison to some other Tube Amps I heard in and around this price point

E-MU Teak & MassDrop CAL

20180413_111150.jpg

So starting with the CAL, this is my second time hearing it! Overall

  • it's sound is clarity over tonality
  • Pairs nice with darker Sources/Dacs
  • Fairly resolving and spacious, didn't sound closed in or intimate
  • Has just a touch of tube warmth and likely won't benefit to much form rolling
Though I will say the CAL was a bit noisy, but this was a show. I imagine at home with a decent power conditioner you could likely get a cleaner output from it! Given the price I certainly feel the CAL worth it's ask especially if you want a no fuss tube.

As for the E-MU Teak, the model I was listening to had a SPC/OCC Copper Hybrid Cable and with the CAL I quite liked it! I in fact enjoyed it more than the hard-wired Ebony Teak which I found to be very underwhelming. Again if you on the fence about it, I can certainly recommend it! I may in fact pick it up at some point to serve as a good reference for a quality mid range wood closed back

E-MU had a number of promising Prototypes including some open back designs based around the Purpleheart which will likely be placed around the same price point!

20180413_114653.jpg

Very exciting as these were really exceptional,

  • Natural like the Purpleheart
  • More Open airy sound
  • Equivalent detail and resolution but better imaging precison
  • Tonally I liked the Purpleheart the best as the Ebony was a little too hard sounding
Schiit Audio Lyr 3

FINALLY! The Schiit Amp I've been waiting for! The return of the Vali Gen 1 sound BUT with a 6SN7

20180413_115011.jpg

Overall I found it to be;

  • More natural tone & timbre than previous designs
  • Had NO loss of resolution or texture compared to previous models
  • In fact I found the envelope to have slightly more emphasis when presenting the trailing end or release of many instruments in comparison to previous models
  • Sound was also fairly spacious and there was VERY Low Noise with my sensitive ES10
  • Detail & Texture were good,
  • Hard to pin down the technicalities with the noise at the show
But overall, I'm liking this depart from the previous almost "hyper-aggressive" sound I experienced with a lot of their amps! Best of all I have a HUGE collection of well balanced Single 6sn7s So I'll be super excited to do a little tube rolling with this

Sonnare The Emotion

20180413_120645.jpg


Wow... just wow and more wow. THIS was the BEST tube I've heard to date! Dan the designer, executioner and well builder of this product told me the story of how it came to be! He's using some 300B Directly heated tubes but they appear to be a smaller soviet deigns. He also discussed how the human ear has 2nd & 3rd order distortion characteristics almost identical to tubes! So in addition to having a High/Low and 4pin XLR Output option he also had a knob to adjust the level of distortion

Now for my listening impressions I had it turned full counter clock wise, and again this was HANDS DOWN the best Tube Amp I've heard with my Modded ES10. I used my HM901 for source and EVERYTHING was amazing

  • Texture was crystal clear
  • The envelope was perfectly balanced with a slight focus on sustain/release with no loss of aggression or energy in the attack/decay
  • Sound was very open, airy and spacious!
  • Imaging was very precise
Again overall this was just phenomenal to listen to! Even with the noise it was phenomenal! And as a matter of fact Jose one of the vendor's who was using another Sonnare Amp to power a set of speakers [feel in love with my ES10 from another Sonnare Amp, so it would seem that Dan and I's personal preference for what "natural" a signature overlap quite a bit as this really felt like an amp built just for me!!!!!!



I am very much interested in purchasing this for my own home system! An as much as I need a new DAC I might grab this first as it was so amazing even with my HM901!!!!!!! Seriously if your attending PLEASE give this a listen!!!

Swan Audio


20180413_162707.jpg

They built a Class A Dac/Amp with Planars in mind, this was also my first time hearing the HE 560 and I enjoyed both quite a bit! The designer/owner also informed me that they are able to push right around 6w into 8ohms, so it seems these are built for both Book Shelf Speakers and Headphones.

As for the HE 560 I'm happy to say SwanAudio's Designer Tony went with a Full Silver Cable! As a silver cable guy my self, I was pretty impressed with the HE 560's presentation with this system overall!

  • Nice sense of immediacy
  • good balance of micro/macro dynamics
  • Fairly Natural Mid range with a slight emphasis on texture
  • Excellent bass quality, plenty of power and resolve
Again, build quality aside, at their current price I can say the HE 560 is a steal!!! Heck even if you purchase a second hand Gimbal/Headband assembly from one of our handy Redditors your still getting an amazing sounding open back at an incredible price!

Audeze Mobius

20180413_170825.jpg


Really impressed with this one! Loved it with Mad Max, overall sound was

  • Fairly clear
  • Solid powerful low end! Plenty of texture with NO bloat
  • Out of this world imaging
Hoping to spend a little more time with it tomorrow as well! But I can confidently say this is an excellent recommendation for any movie watchers/gamers, I personally would have stayed a little longer had they had more of Mad Max for me to watch!!!

Schiit Magni 3


20180413_135248.jpg

I can see why there is such a mixed opinion about this one!

With the Modi 2 I really hated how it sounded, very harsh and just bright yuck overall, *how ever* using a slightly darker more resolving source, my HM 901, I was actually really impressed with the Magni 3! Honestly I think I'd seriously like to pick one up for my review system. It would make a great solid state compliment to my Vali Gen1. An with my Sys I'd have a nice little Schiit stack!

But I would need to hear it with my Berringer UCA 202 before I can start recommending it, again with an equally priced dac it didn't sound to good, the tone was kinda off. Detail was good but the tone wasn't... now granted they DO have a Loki pair'd with it! An the total cost of the Loki with the Modi and Magni 3 is about what'd you pay for what I feel is a worthwhile DAC

SO if you were able/willing to get the Loki with the Magni 3 I think you'd have a real winner! As the Loki is able to correct the Tonal issues that the Magni 3 had to my ears when pair'd with a modi

Chord Dave & HeadAmp GS-X MK2

20180413_173149.jpg


For starters, EVERYTHING you've read about the Dave is true. It is the MOST resolving DAC I've EVER heard... PERIOD! Detail wise this whole system was hands down out of THIS world! The presentation of microdynamics, imaging, precision within the sound was literally mind altering!

So props to Chord for that! My only regret is that I had to use the Ether C Flow to listen... again I like it's presentation and overall detail, but it's a little metallic when compared to the HD 820 which offers the same super neutral presentation but with far more naturalness and SLIGHTLY better detail. I MIGHT MIGHT MIGHT be able to slide the HD 820 over to this system tommorow... MAYBE

Astell & Kern

20180413_164337.jpg


For starters... I didn't really love the AK 70MKII, sounded a bit similar to the Fiio X7 but with a ***MUCH*** smoother/faster and more responsive UI overall. So much easier to both use and navigate for sure

NOW The Kann on the other hand! That's a special one. It had the same level of detail & naturalness as my HM901 AND had BOTH SE and 2.5mm Balanced dedicated Line out and a Full Sized and Micro SD Card Slots... plus 64Gbs internal memory ON Board. So it's got

  • A natural timbre with a slightly energetic tone
  • Great dynamics, both micro and macro
  • Clear cohesive imaging
  • TWO Dedicated hard cable'd Line out Ports!!
  • An I can NOT stress how MUCH I value this feature! I hate having a Line out that's shared with the 3.5mm output OR that's shared with the Chagrining port... both are seriously in-convenient as I personally use Lineout DAILY. So I love the reliability and convince of a dedicated line output!
All in all based on what I heard I think this might be my next DAP, it has literally EVERYTHING I could ask for! An it retails for the same was what I paid for my Hm901 back in 2012... seriously A&K
where was the Kann when I needed it lol!

Fiio

20180413_155419.jpg



I got to hear both the X7 and M7! Honestly I liked each, the X7 had a nice clear sound, slightly forward in the midrange, so energetic with a little emphasis on attack & decay over release & sustain. But overall very enjoyable to hear, I also liked the M7 which embraces the same sort of warm but energetic sound but with a little less detail overall.

Head Amp Gilmore Lite MK2


20180413_173741.jpg

Very good! Sounds a LOT like my HeadAmp Pico Power but with a tad more naturalness and a slightly more spacious sound overall. Another excellent and easy recommendation, though it's no secret that I after hearing this and the GS-X MK2 many many times here recently, and owning the PicoPower I'm certainly a big fan of Justin's work!


Also forgive me for the large Pictures! I didn't think they'd be that dis-proportionate
 
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Apr 13, 2018 at 11:49 PM Post #4 of 23

danny.ho

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Joined
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Boy oh BOY! There's a lot to cover so let's get started!!!!

E-MU Zebra wood prototype


Sounded very much like and improved Purpleheart so;

  • nice natural mid-range
  • very clean envelope with a beautiful balance of attack/decay/sustain and release, I found it had slight emphasis on the attack and release
  • slightly bass heavy with excellent extension
  • good heavy low end without any excessive bloat, overall had slightly better texture/resolve than the purpleheart
  • slightly dark up top but still spacious
All in all this one is said to be priced around 175ish, if MassDrop distributes this one again at the price point I'm pretty confident they'll do exceptionally well. Chen and I also spoke briefly about a balanced option! So I'm excited to see what becomes of these in the future!

HD 820



Wowza, this was my VERY first listen today! An it lives up to everything I wanted it to be. Very much a closed back HD 800 NOT 800s, so the sound is a little more lively and bright like the HD 800 without as strong of or as obvious of a peak up top and... better bass than the HD 800 without being as warm/thick the HD 800S

I did cheat a little and use my HM901 into the HDV 820, as I wanted to listen with a source that I own and was familiar with!

But simply put this is *hands down* one of the best closed backs I've heard ever. A CLEAR step above the Mr.Speakers Ether C Flow, which I heard a few times today. I respect the Ether C Flow because it has a very similar tonal presentation and it's also very very detailed [and priced a bit more aggressively]! But at the end of the day it's not quite as refined as the HD820 to my ears!

Micro ZOTL




Tube was pretty spacious, good clarity! Overall did a lot of things right, did very few things wrong but also a bit underwhelming in comparison to some other Tube Amps I heard in and around this price point

E-MU Teak & MassDrop CAL



So starting with the CAL, this is my second time hearing it! Overall

  • it's sound is clarity over tonality
  • Pairs nice with darker Sources/Dacs
  • Fairly resolving and spacious, didn't sound closed in or intimate
  • Has just a touch of tube warmth and likely won't benefit to much form rolling
Though I will say the CAL was a bit noisy, but this was a show. I imagine at home with a decent power conditioner you could likely get a cleaner output from it! Given the price I certainly feel the CAL worth it's ask especially if you want a no fuss tube.

As for the E-MU Teak, the model I was listening to had a SPC/OCC Copper Hybrid Cable and with the CAL I quite liked it! I in fact enjoyed it more than the hard-wired Ebony Teak which I found to be very underwhelming. Again if you on the fence about it, I can certainly recommend it! I may in fact pick it up at some point to serve as a good reference for a quality mid range wood closed back

E-MU had a number of promising Prototypes including some open back designs based around the Purpleheart which will likely be placed around the same price point!



Very exciting as these were really exceptional,

  • Natural like the Purpleheart
  • More Open airy sound
  • Equivalent detail and resolution but better imaging precison
  • Tonally I liked the Purpleheart the best as the Ebony was a little too hard sounding
Schiit Audio Lyr 3

FINALLY! The Schiit Amp I've been waiting for! The return of the Vali Gen 1 sound BUT with a 6SN7



Overall I found it to be;

  • More natural tone & timbre than previous designs
  • Had NO loss of resolution or texture compared to previous models
  • In fact I found the envelope to have slightly more emphasis when presenting the trailing end or release of many instruments in comparison to previous models
  • Sound was also fairly spacious and there was VERY Low Noise with my sensitive ES10
  • Detail & Texture were good,
  • Hard to pin down the technicalities with the noise at the show
But overall, I'm liking this depart from the previous almost "hyper-aggressive" sound I experienced with a lot of their amps! Best of all I have a HUGE collection of well balanced Single 6sn7s So I'll be super excited to do a little tube rolling with this

Sonnare The Emotion



Wow... just wow and more wow. THIS was the BEST tube I've heard to date! Dan the designer, executioner and well builder of this product told me the story of how it came to be! He's using some 300B Directly heated tubes but they appear to be a smaller soviet deigns. He also discussed how the human ear has 2nd & 3rd order distortion characteristics almost identical to tubes! So in addition to having a High/Low and 4pin XLR Output option he also had a knob to adjust the level of distortion

Now for my listening impressions I had it turned full counter clock wise, and again this was HANDS DOWN the best Tube Amp I've heard with my Modded ES10. I used my HM901 for source and EVERYTHING was amazing

  • Texture was crystal clear
  • The envelope was perfectly balanced with a slight focus on sustain/release with no loss of aggression or energy in the attack/decay
  • Sound was very open, airy and spacious!
  • Imaging was very precise
Again overall this was just phenomenal to listen to! Even with the noise it was phenomenal! And as a matter of fact Jose one of the vendor's who was using another Sonnare Amp to power a set of speakers [feel in love with my ES10 from another Sonnare Amp, so it would seem that Dan and I's personal preference for what "natural" a signature overlap quite a bit as this really felt like an amp built just for me!!!!!!



I am very much interested in purchasing this for my own home system! An as much as I need a new DAC I might grab this first as it was so amazing even with my HM901!!!!!!! Seriously if your attending PLEASE give this a listen!!!

Swan Audio




They built a Class A Dac/Amp with Planars in mind, this was also my first time hearing the HE 560 and I enjoyed both quite a bit! The designer/owner also informed me that they are able to push right around 6w into 8ohms, so it seems these are built for both Book Shelf Speakers and Headphones.

As for the HE 560 I'm happy to say SwanAudio's Designer Tony went with a Full Silver Cable! As a silver cable guy my self, I was pretty impressed with the HE 560's presentation with this system overall!

  • Nice sense of immediacy
  • good balance of micro/macro dynamics
  • Fairly Natural Mid range with a slight emphasis on texture
  • Excellent bass quality, plenty of power and resolve
Again, build quality aside, at their current price I can say the HE 560 is a steal!!! Heck even if you purchase a second hand Gimbal/Headband assembly from one of our handy Redditors your still getting an amazing sounding open back at an incredible price!

Audeze Mobius




Really impressed with this one! Loved it with Mad Max, overall sound was

  • Fairly clear
  • Solid powerful low end! Plenty of texture with NO bloat
  • Out of this world imaging
Hoping to spend a little more time with it tomorrow as well! But I can confidently say this is an excellent recommendation for any movie watchers/gamers, I personally would have stayed a little longer had they had more of Mad Max for me to watch!!!

Schiit Magni 3




I can see why there is such a mixed opinion about this one!

With the Modi 2 I really hated how it sounded, very harsh and just bright yuck overall, *how ever* using a slightly darker more resolving source, my HM 901, I was actually really impressed with the Magni 3! Honestly I think I'd seriously like to pick one up for my review system. It would make a great solid state compliment to my Vali Gen1. An with my Sys I'd have a nice little Schiit stack!

But I would need to hear it with my Berringer UCA 202 before I can start recommending it, again with an equally priced dac it didn't sound to good, the tone was kinda off. Detail was good but the tone wasn't... now granted they DO have a Loki pair'd with it! An the total cost of the Loki with the Modi and Magni 3 is about what'd you pay for what I feel is a worthwhile DAC

SO if you were able/willing to get the Loki with the Magni 3 I think you'd have a real winner! As the Loki is able to correct the Tonal issues that the Magni 3 had to my ears when pair'd with a modi

Chord Dave & HeadAmp GS-X MK2



For starters, EVERYTHING you've read about the Dave is true. It is the MOST resolving DAC I've EVER heard... PERIOD! Detail wise this whole system was hands down out of THIS world! The presentation of microdynamics, imaging, precision within the sound was literally mind altering!

So props to Chord for that! My only regret is that I had to use the Ether C Flow to listen... again I like it's presentation and overall detail, but it's a little metallic when compared to the HD 820 which offers the same super neutral presentation but with far more naturalness and SLIGHTLY better detail. I MIGHT MIGHT MIGHT be able to slide the HD 820 over to this system tommorow... MAYBE

Astell & Kern



For starters... I didn't really love the AK 70MKII, sounded a bit similar to the Fiio X7 but with a ***MUCH*** smoother/faster and more responsive UI overall. So much easier to both use and navigate for sure

NOW The Kann on the other hand! That's a special one. It had the same level of detail & naturalness as my HM901 AND had BOTH SE and 2.5mm Balanced dedicated Line out and a Full Sized and Micro SD Card Slots... plus 64Gbs internal memory ON Board. So it's got

  • A natural timbre with a slightly energetic tone
  • Great dynamics, both micro and macro
  • Clear cohesive imaging
  • TWO Dedicated hard cable'd Line out Ports!!
  • An I can NOT stress how MUCH I value this feature! I hate having a Line out that's shared with the 3.5mm output OR that's shared with the Chagrining port... both are seriously in-convenient as I personally use Lineout DAILY. So I love the reliability and convince of a dedicated line output!
All in all based on what I heard I think this might be my next DAP, it has literally EVERYTHING I could ask for! An it retails for the same was what I paid for my Hm901 back in 2012... seriously A&K
where was the Kann when I needed it lol!

Fiio





I got to hear both the X7 and M7! Honestly I liked each, the X7 had a nice clear sound, slightly forward in the midrange, so energetic with a little emphasis on attack & decay over release & sustain. But overall very enjoyable to hear, I also liked the M7 which embraces the same sort of warm but energetic sound but with a little less detail overall.

Head Amp Gilmore Lite MK2




Very good! Sounds a LOT like my HeadAmp Pico Power but with a tad more naturalness and a slightly more spacious sound overall. Another excellent and easy recommendation, though it's no secret that I after hearing this and the GS-X MK2 many many times here recently, and owning the PicoPower I'm certainly a big fan of Justin's work!


Also forgive me for the large Pictures! I didn't think they'd be that dis-proportionate

Hi. Did you by any chance audition the Fiio FH5 IEMs? Could you please give some of your impressions on those? Thanks!
 
Apr 13, 2018 at 11:51 PM Post #5 of 23

Makiah S

Formerly known as Mshenay
Member of the Trade: HeadAmp
Joined
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Posts
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Hi. Did you by any chance audition the Fiio FH5 IEMs? Could you please give some of your impressions on those? Thanks!

Sorry I did not danny, sadly I'm not an In-Ear guy! They just wig me out too much lol
 
Apr 15, 2018 at 12:37 AM Post #6 of 23

Makiah S

Formerly known as Mshenay
Member of the Trade: HeadAmp
Joined
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Posts
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Another excellent day today! Shout out to the @iFi audio Audio team for indulging my little experiment today!
20180414_162737.jpg


My highlight listen was the full iFi Audio Pro Stack! Sounded phenomenal with the LCD 4. I demo'd with both Rebecca Pigeon's Spanish Harlem and a lovely vinyl rip of Epica's Divine Conspiracy.

I have mixed feelings about the LCD 4 as when I've heard it previous I haven't been super impressed with it... I feel the same about the iCan Pro as well actually. Both to my ears were a little soft and almost lifeless. However, what I found is with the full iFi Pro stack the iCan Pro had a lot more linear response than what I'd heard in the past! Namely;

  • Clearer instrument seperation
    • What was previously a some what soft and smoother over presentation, now had a more vivid transients and a more defined envelope
  • Better texture and impact in the lows
    • Previously, I again found low end impact to be some what diffuse, how ever with the iDSD Pro the initial hit was more better defined and more powerful
  • Nice top end sweetness without a loss of detail
    • Previously hearing the iCan Pro with other DAC's such as the iDSD Nano, it was always too smooth up top for me
  • Deeper more cohesive imaging
    • Vs a wide but often shallow staging I experienced in the past.
Now I did have the Amp set to Medium Gain and I listened with the none "+" tube setting,

Given my immense pleasure with the iFi Audio All in One portables I'm starting to appreciate how well their house tuning builds upon it self. An with their all in one system I felt it made the difference for me with the LCD 4. Compared to previous system this one had both a combined naturalness with an almost explosive sense of dynamics! With Epica I found that it;

  • Seamless transitioned from the very natural classical sections to the heavier more distorted metal portion
  • Presented both the beauty and delicacy of Simon's voice again'st her husbands deeper very chesty rough growling
  • Easily defined both the stringed electric bass and the deeper notes of the stringed instruments
  • Consistently balanced the grit and sheer force of the band without overshadowing the more natural instruments they often feature as a quiet back drop against the metal riffs
An for me the beauty in Symphonic Metal is the contrast the musicians create. Quite with loud, soft with hard, natural with metallic. An the LCD 4 with the iFi Pro Stack really captured all of that perfectly! Both the iCan Pro and LCD 4 really come to LIFE with the iDSD Pro dac behind them!

20180414_165201.jpg

An shortly after my listen with the LCD 4 I took the time to compare my little USB Cable to their full sized Mercury USB Cable with the Stax SRL 505 and the iFi Pro iESL.

Upon first listening with my generic USB I felt the SRL505 was a little flabby in the low end, with good clarity and exceptional detail in the mid-range and up! An when I switched to the Mercury I was able to not only shed some of that flab but also gain some texture. While I personally use Coaxial input on my dacs with a dedicated isolate converter, for many the convince and overall quality of this USB Cable is very much comparable to the cost of my own Coaxial solution. In a world with many solutions to the problem of digital noise, once again iFi Audio seems to have an effective and very straight forward fix!
20180414_165258.jpg

Next up is Audio Technica's AT - HA5050H which is a tube buffered Dac fed into a Class A Amp with my HM901 as the source and the A1000Z as my headphone.
This time around I did my listening with the Eagles Live Rendition of Hotel California.

20180414_175402.jpg

Overall the A1000Z was;

  • Fairly balanced with a slight mid bass hump and some mild forwardness in the mid range
    • So the big drum at the intro had a very full body but also nice extension as it resonates after that initial hit
  • Stunningly beautiful timbre for each and every guitar in that track
    • The individuality of each strings fundamental note was evident, as was the overall harmonic beauty that they create together
  • Top end was slightly sharp but also sweet,
    • Whistles from the crowd were very vivid but not too rough
My only real gripe was that it added a little too much texture to the singers voice, while he has a roughness present's there's also a smooth from the chest warmth as well. With the A1000Z that warmth was quite as evident as I'd have liked. Though with female vocals and brass horns the A1000Z is a real delight!

20180414_175114.jpg

I also did a little portable Dac/Amp shoot out with my modded ATH ES10. Featuring the Geek Out v2+ the iFi xDSD and the Chord Mojo!

20180414_161439.jpg

Overall the xDSD and Mojo had different presentations but similar detail overall. How ever the Geek Out V2+ was a smidge more resolving than both and had a presentation that drew from the strengths of each with the Green Filter. Namely it was;

  • Equally natural and vivid
    • So there was equal focus on both the initial attack/decay of the envelope of instruments as well as the sustain/decay
  • Better defined with a more cohesive image
    • Both more spacious and with offering slightly better instrument separation
  • Sharper dynamic presentation
    • Micro dynamics were easier to distinguish again'st a very black background
Now the problem with the GO V2+ is that it's no longer in production. However both the Chord Mojo an xDSD are! An each is supported by an excellent team.

Overall the Mojo was;
  • Slightly more natural
  • Smoother with a more relaxed presentation
    • good micro dynamics but macro dynamics are sometimes a bit too relaxed as the sustain and release of instruments have a slight emphasis
  • Offering a very cohesive image
    • but can become diffuse with warmer headphones
Really and truly the Mojo finds itself pair'd better with cans like the DT 880, Aeon Flow Closed or anything that's tuned a little drier.

The iFi xDSD on the other hand actually offers a drier presentation that pairs nicer with more relaxed or darker headphones.
  • Offers a spacious vivid presentation
  • No lack of discernment between micro and macro dynamics
  • Vivid with a more textured presentation
    • maintains a pleasant slight forwardness of presence and immediacy
Now the one BIG advantage the xDSD has over the Mojo is it's physical interface! BluTooth is already built in without any additional modules and the analog volume pot clicks allowing you to pause and play your music! This make single'd handed operation very easy. So in terms of function it's a bit more convenient and robust



20180414_151854.jpg


Just WOW! The Meze Empyrean was a very resolving but in your face listen! For my impressions I was using the softer more spacious "alacantra" pads, an forgive me if I've misspelled it as I couldn't quite discern how to spell that how ever from the young lady at the booth.

Tons of low end power and slam with a nicely balanced mid range and top end, I also found that compared to the Well's Audio amp the Meze Team had at their station Cayin's HA-300B offered;
  • A more spacious sound without any loss of clarity or impact
  • Brought a slightly more balanced sense of texture to the mid range in particular
    • I felt sometimes the with the Well's the Empyrean was very vivid but almost too smooth
  • Resolved some amazing low end detail I'd not heard before
So all in all, I found myself very impressed with how much the HA-300B brought to the Empyrean! Though to be honest I was slightly more impressed with another amp at the Cayin booth.

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So Cayin's iDap and iDac-6 were very impressive but their i HA-6 was PHENOMENAL!!! Holy smokes! Actually the entire Stack was immensely impressive. It was easily my favorite solid state system not only today but ever! I did my listening with my ES10 from the low output with the voltage gain set to low but the current gain set to high. With my Modded ES10 I found switching to High Current gain opened up the sound stage!

I also used the tube buffer out of the iDac-6. And honestly I had NO complaint's with this system at all! Compared to my heavily modified home Tube Amps this stack had
  • Equivalent speed and slam with far less noise
  • A more open and precise imagine
    • with better precision and instrument seperation
  • Clearer more decisive micro dynamics
  • A black background which yielded better resolve and micro detail
More or less I've been presented with a very difficult decision to make, I've been on the war path for a new DAC for my system and ideally a new Solid State amp as well. As I have an all in one system. And I feel really the iDac and iHA-6 would be everything I've wanted/needed! An the price is very aggressive. I'll certainly need to hear some other options before hand before I make my finial decision but I'm very tempted to just pick this up and continue to enjoy it!

Also appearing for the first time is the Kennerton Thror a new Planarmagnetic from Kennerton.

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I have to say not having much to reference it again'st I did find it to be amazingly aggressive. Very much like the Mango Wood HE 4 I had previously, and I'm personally a big fan of aggressive planars. And again, with the full Cayin Stack is was quite good! I also listened to Epica's Divine Conspiracy and I found that it had;

  • Thick, heavy visceral low end
    • Ton's of power and slam but also good texture
  • Able to highlight the delicacy and beauty of Simon's voice
    • slightly smooth with a touch of upper mid emphasis which gave her voice a slightly airer more delicate presentation
  • Presented male vocals with excellent authority
    • Her husbands growling was a lot more aggressive than I'd heard in the past, it was slightly un-natural in that his lowest registers were a little more powerful than what you'd expect in reality
  • Overall aggressive envelope without detracting from a more natural sustain/release
An to be frank, this is MUCH more aggressive and just POWERFUL than the LCD 4 I heard earlier today. Where as the LCD 4 was explosive when necessary and far more balanced overall, the Kennerton Thror was... beautifully explosive almost always and just a visceral kick to the face when needed, and I frankly like that kind of presentation! That slightly faster than life kind of vibe is what I go for when I listen to Heavy Metal or watch movies! Though I imagine the two Planar's would likely compliment each other and each is presented with beautiful wood cups!

Though there is a single monkey wrench that I feel both have to overcome.

20180414_093842_HDR.jpg


Hearing it now for the second time I feel an even stronger desire to own the Abyss Phi! This time around I got to enjoy it with a KimberKable out of the extraordinary Woo Audio WA 33.

Sadly I had no metal to enjoy this with only some Red Hot Chili Peppers, and honestly when I reach for my planars it's because I want a bit more impact and slam. I like planar's with more exciting genres, and the Chili Peppers old school Funk meets Punk sound on their Blood Sugar Sex Magik Album served as a nice show case.

What I feel it does different from both the Thor and LCD 4 is;
  • Presents and even deeper faster more controlled deep bass
    • Low end textures are slightly more emphasized with the Phi than it's counter parts.
  • Overall faster presentation with a more spacious natural cohesive image
    • Able to convey both an amazing sense of immediacy in the attack of instruments but also a more natural and well extended release as well and it does so lighting fast with NO loss of clarity of control or precison
  • Slightly drier airier top end
    • While in no way harsh, it wasn't quite as sweet as the previous two are up top
An sadly, without being able to listen to music I was familiar with it's hard to gauge how the mid-range compares to the other two that I heard today. Still the Phi remains the only clear upgrade to the HE 4 that I enjoyed for many years previously. As nothing posses it's uniquely almost hyper aggressive presentation and very natural imaging! But it's also incredibly finicky and does require a some what extensive head adjustment each time you listen, which isn't very convenient.

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Audeze has also launched their new LCD 4Z which is an even more efficient model of the LCD 4, I would encourage you to speak with them directly to get a better understanding of the technical benefits but when I compared it to the LCD MX4 I found that it;
  • slightly wetter and darker without any loss in resolution or texture
  • presented a mildly more cohesive image
  • bass impact was a bit thicker in comparison to the MX4
    • an this was the only double edge'd sword I felt the 4Z had, in some cases it was an advantage sometimes a minor draw back
Overall I felt the 4Z was an even more refined take of the super efficient MX4 while also having the slightly darker and wetter presentation found in the classics LCD Series Headphones.

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Getting to meet with @zach915m of ZMF was another highlight of the day! Additionally the now out of production DNA Amps he had, the Stratus and Sonette were also exquisite! I think at this time ZMF has the most well balanced open back headphones you can purchase! Truly as master of all trades, out classed only by a very specific tuning that falls in line with your own personal tastes, this is certainly the only headphone I'd own if I was forced to have just one and to make it even better they had their gorgeous new OCC Copper Cable's on hand! Alongside some other beautiful new builds and material concepts.


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Additionally the DNA amps he had were quite phenomenal, they had a level of clarity, spaciousness and naturalness matched only by yesterday's Sonnare performance! An thankfully unlike DNA, Sonnar are still producing and building amplifiers.



I was also excited to get to hear the Ampsandsound amps! Both the Kenzie and new Mogwai Special Edition.

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While I felt each had amazing tone and timbre with stunning detail they seem'd to struggle with imaging and spacial precision overall. Now seeing as headphone innately struggle with these two features I imagine for some this is non issue. Though for my tastes I like a little more cohesion and precision in the sonic image I'm listening to.


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Another excellent tube amp at the show was the Cayin HA-1A MK2, while I found it to be a little to intimate with closed back headphones it pair'd beautifully with the HD 800. Adding a slightly sweeter top end and a little more body and extension on the low end without much loss of resolution in the mid range. An once again I was able to listen with Cayin's exception iDac 6, except this time I used the solid state/transistor dac output over the tube buffer.

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Today I also got a chance to hear the @mrspeakers Ether C Flow out of another amazing system! This time it's the Yggy Gen 2 with the Liquid Glass Hybrid Tube Amp featuring a pair of Tung Sol 12SN7s.

What has impressed me the most about the Ether C Flow is how much it changes from system to system! This time it was with a full silver cable, and rather than sounding a little hard like it has with the Solid States I'm used to running it with, with the Liquid glass it was very smooth. So I'm impressed at how much the Ether C Flow takes on the character of the system it's running in! As that is really the mark of a truly high fidelity headphone.

An while I feel the HD 820 still does better comparatively, especially from the solid state systems I've heard it on these last few days, it's very clear that judging the Ether C again'st anything else need's to be done in the same system! So until then I continue to be impressed with it for how much it changes from system to system! And seeing that is has such an incredible transparency to it and feel I should reserve any comparisons until I've got it in my own system with some other options side by side.

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The Voce, unlike the Ether C Flow, had a beautiful personality of it's own while still offering very high resolution.

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Ahh and finally the Holy Grail of headphones these days, while I certainly enjoyed my time with the HE-1 I wasn't familiar with any of the music and had a hard time really gauging it's performance. It's certainly an exceptional headphone with by far the best vocal presentation I've ever heard, but without anything to reference it to it's hard to gauge just how much better than everything else it is.
 
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Apr 15, 2018 at 7:14 PM Post #7 of 23

B1ll

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The HE1 was the best sounding headphone I heard there, easily. I received a bit of self-validation in my decision with the Zana Deux S + Yggy combo, the HE1 was the only thing that sounded better, I was not impressed with the Cavalli and Woo audio setups, not sure how they charge so much. Sounded thin and recessed comparatively.

As far as speakers, I found myself going back to the Avantgarde and Highend by Oz rooms on the 16th more than any others. I was also (surprise...) impressed by the Sonus Faber, Raidho/CHORD, and Scaena rooms ($$$$$). Had a chance to do a level matched comparison between the Denafrips lineup, not sure if it warrants an upgrade from my Yggy, perhaps the speakers could have been higher quality. I will probably save up for a DAVE if I ever upgrade from the Yggy, that was the only thing that stood out (Raidho/CHORD/Nordost synergy is excellent, wonderful soundstage and imaging, incredibly lifelike) as more lifelike. For the money, Audio Physic and Boenicke were the best "bargain" speakers at the show, really impressed with the W5 from Boenicke given it's diminutive stature, just not sure I can justify 5,000, it's in a weird price bracket.

PS Audio has all but sold me on a pair of M700 monoblocks, best performance from any reasonably priced monos. Can't wait to hear what they come up with in the speaker department - est. approx 1 year from now. I wish the greatest success for all of PS audio in the future, and with their introductions to the speaker market. Paul and his son are the nicest people in the world, I'm so happy their also incredibly talented at engineering audio products and giving support to all in their quest for audio nirvana.
 
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Apr 15, 2018 at 10:59 PM Post #9 of 23

Makiah S

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@iFi audio No problem I'm happy to hear it and actually after sleeping on what I heard yesterday and tinkering around with some other equally priced and sometimes costlier systems I felt you guys hit the nail on the head with this Stack!

Over the course of the first two days I had a chance to listen and re-listen to many of the systems, individual components and headphones that I found featured here at the show! An to wrap up my coverage of AXPONA I'd like to feature the systems that I felt did best within their price ranges, individual components that impressed me the most in terms of overall performance and perceived value.

To start with systems I felt that these three price points had the best bang for you buck.
  1. $500
  2. $2,500
  3. $9,999
An my aim more or less was for each price increment to more or less increase fidelity two fold. In the audio world diminishing returns get nasty as you start to climb the ladder your net gains become less and less per dollar spent. An to my ears, a two fold increase in fidelity is gauged by what I call the AHM or "Ahh Ha Moments." Or those moments where you hear a detail that really catches your attention or one that you hadn't heard before! Meaning when listening to the same song you might have 4 AHMs on the $500 system, around 8 on the $2500 system and 16 or more on the $10,000 system.

An while there was excessive amounts of noise at the show, having a press pass often allowed me to get in little earlier and listen before too many people showed up. As for what Song's I used?

For the entry level price point I switched between what ever was available and a few tracks that I new. Because my own reference system falls between the second and third price points I choose a mix of both music I knew and stuff that was from a genre I like but was new to me. For this truly new music I simply listened for three things;
  • The tonal balance of the instruments presented
    • Do they sound real or some how off
  • How much congestion there was or wasn't
    • So could I discern each individual instrument or did some overpower others or some how cast a haze over the others
  • Are there any glaring faults
    • anything that stands out so much you'r not longer able to focus on the music as a whole
Now I will say that the Hardware presented in the first system was listened to with my own reference headphone a heavily modded ES10. And the headphone that I feel would pair best with it was listened to with my Geek Out v2+. So you'll likely seem some overlap between this systems and individual components that I think excelled within there price point.

For the 2500 and 10,000 systems I again listened to only music I knew, this is because I feel my own system falls some where in-between the the 2500 and 10000 range, being closer to the $2,500 of course. So in terms of AHMs the $2500 system needed to present the level of detail that I expect or am used with each of these tracks. For the 10,000 system I was listening for at least 8 total AHMs over the three songs.

For the music I chose a very special vinyl rip of the Audiophile Classic Hotel California, in addition to yet another beautiful Vinyl Rip of Epica's Divine Conspiracy and finally Rebecca Pidgeon's Spanish Harlem completed my little trio. I also had my LG V20 acting as a USB Transport that worked in conjunction with each DAC.

Now the Best Overall Bang for you BUCK System of AXPONA 2018 had to be the;
  1. Cayin iDac-6
  2. Cayin iHA-6
  3. ZMF Atticus sporting a Silver Plated Copper Cable
At the $2500 System Price point I felt this one stood out above all the others, an I that it found had;
  • Overall a natural tone & timbre with an engaging presentation
    • With a slight mid bass hump, creamy detailed mid range and smooth airy top end
  • No shortage of both texture and detail & depth,
    • These two were truly complimentary in every sense of the way, with each mitigating the drawbacks of the other
  • Truly a jack of all trades Headphone and Dac/Amp pairing
    • All genres of music were presented with equal enjoyment an the perfect mix of technical prowess and enjoyment
      • So no lack of texture, no lack of naturalness, no lack of instrument separation, no lack of sweetness nor any lack of resolution or engagement,
Really this was a system that drew you in more than any other and refused to let you go!



An if you forced me to name one drawback it would be that this system is slightly sweeter than dead neutral, and using the transistor or tubeless output from the DAC helps create a slightly more "linear" response at the expense of some low level dynamics and detail. So you have your choice between a linear tonal response or a sweeter but slightly more detail presentation.

But overall for an all in one system there wasn't much else I heard at the show that had the sheer bang for the buck that this has! I truly feel this is a system that any non-audiophile regardless of taste and preference could purchase and enjoy with very little temptation to upgrade! An seeing that each part is individual it would be very easy to swap out components as needed for personal fine tuning.

For The best $500 System I choose the;
  • Pro-Ject Pre Box S2 Digital
  • E-MU Purpleheart/Ebony Pre Production Open Back
Both I felt excelled at all three metrics more so than any other mix of products. An to be fair the Pro-Ject Pre-Box S2 Digital retails for around $400, while the E-MU Purpleheart/Ebony Pre-Production Open Back is likely to retail for $100 or less and honestly when it launches I'm pretty confident it'll wind up on my list as one of the best open backs under $100! Mr.Chen is doing some amazing work in this price point!!!!!!!

The Pro-Ject Pre Box S2 was particular impressive though too, it offered but full MQA Rendering with Tidal and an exception level of tactility, overall resolve and spaciousness while presenting a very natural tonal balance!


Finally if your going for The Best Top of the Line System under $10,000 you'll want to grab the;
  1. @iFi audio iDSD Pro
  2. iFi iCan Pro
  3. Audeze LCD 4
For it's;
  • Clearer instrument separation
    • vivid transients and a more defined envelope
  • Better texture and impact in the lows
    • with the initial hit was more better defined and more powerful
  • Nice top end sweetness without a loss of detail
  • Deeper more cohesive imaging
Now I did have the Amp set to Medium Gain and I listened with the none "+" tube setting,

Given my immense pleasure with the iFi Audio All in One portables I'm starting to appreciate how well their house tuning builds upon it self. An with their all in one system I felt it made the difference for me with the LCD 4. Compared to previous system this one had both a combined naturalness with an almost explosive sense of dynamics! An it was the Symphonic Metal band Epica that I had the most Ahh Ha! Moments, as I found that it;

  • Seamlessly transitioned from the very natural classical sections to the heavier more distorted metal portion
    • With enough separation in all the instruments to feel both the heavier rough edge of the distorted guitars and the softer more delicacy envelope of the acoustic stringed instruments
  • Presented both the beauty and delicacy of Simon's voice again'st her husbands deeper very chesty rough growling
    • Again the separation and clarity of this system allowed me not only to hear both, but feel the unique envelope of each more vividly
  • Easily defined both the stringed electric bass and the deeper notes of the stringed instruments
  • Consistently balanced the grit and sheer force of the band without overshadowing the more natural instruments they often feature as a quiet back drop against the metal riffs

An when I listened to the Atticus with the Cayin system today I noticed that it didn't do as well with instrument separation as the iFi Pro Stack and LCD 4 did,

The iFi Pro stack & LCD 4 really provided an even greater level of clarity and instrument separation that allowed me to more easily appreciate the unique and often drastically different envelope of the heavily distorted guitars & vocals and the more beautiful and delicate stringed instruments and Simon's vocals, it was how much better than LCD 4 and iFi Pro stack handle'd complex layering of overlapping transients that really gave it enough value to justify the price difference,

So now I'm going to fly home and try to forget about how good that song sounded >.>

An lastly to wrap up today's coverage I'll end with headphones. As there was really only one that stood out far above and beyond all the rest, and I'm happy to say it's from a company that's disappointed me many many times in the past couple of years. But finally, after many years of R&D I'm happy to announce that The Best Overall Headphone at AXPONA 2018 was;



The Hifiman Shangri-La Electro Static Headphone

I'll save the why for tomorrow, as I'm still in shock at what I heard and feel I really need to sleep on it before I can find the right words for the experience. I can only imagine how much better it would have sounded in a quieter environment!

So that's wraps up today's coverage! I've got a flight to catch. Non-the less I'll be continuing to post my impressions from the show in the next few days to come.
 
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Apr 16, 2018 at 1:21 AM Post #10 of 23

Mud_Pum

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This show was absolutely fantastic. My biggest takeaway from this show, and the numerous I've been to before, are that I'm much more receptive to not only good salespeople but exhibitors that are there for not only sales but also the hobby. Shout out to the Cayin, ZMF, Emu, and Campfire booths as each one of these companies entertained me and my barrage of questions and stories for probably 2 hours each. That being said, each one of these companies is now also on my to buy list. Very impressed with Cayin's work in tubes as opposed to everyone else talking about the IHA-6. Campfire has dethroned the AB-1266's spot as best hip hop headphone with the addition of the Cascade. I only expect that headphone to get better. ZMF is doing something right because they were one of the most popular booths each time I visited and passed by. Keith and Zach not only know their own stuff but they know the ins and outs of much of everyone else's and aren't afraid to admit the strengths that their competition has which is an immensely respectable act in my opinion. Chan of EMU was the standout to me. I spent 3 or 4 hours at his booth talking to him as if he were an old friend throughout the course of the entire day Saturday and some of Sunday morning. The hospitality he has showed, along with the fact that he makes what I consider to be a mighty fine product, means he has a customer in me for life. I feel like Schiit really gimped themselves be teaming up exclusively with MrSpeakers to demo their products. This isn't to say MrSpeakers headphones aren't good but they are not my preferred sound signature and due to this I wasnt able to properly audition the Lyr 3. A similar drawback however existed in both the Cayin and Emu booths in that they had a very limited selection of mostly foreign music for auditioning. There were workarounds to this but they wouldnt be in the same vein as one would use for their home setup as well as it was usually bluetooth or something similar which is of a lesser quality. As mentioned before, each of the companies that I found hospitable and treated me like a friend and a customer will end up in my collection of products through the years.
 
Apr 16, 2018 at 10:07 AM Post #12 of 23

Makiah S

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I found that a lot of the full-size Dacs took USB C from my cell directly into them so I was able to listen to a lot of my own music

And yeah I had a small pair of Portables that are used as a reference for many things that happened to be convenient to travel with so I was able to get a good picture of a lot of the camps I was listening to

I would say if you're going to attend a lot of shows might be worthwhile to get a headphone you like that's more or less transportable
 
Apr 16, 2018 at 1:16 PM Post #13 of 23
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Great to read the first show impressions, keep it up guys!
@Mshenay, we’re honored that you featured our upcoming HD 820 in bold, red, italics :grin:
@B1ll , thanks for the compliments on our HE-1! We’re fully aware that there are many headphone options out there, especially on hand at a meet like AXPONA!

Cheers everyone!
 
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Apr 16, 2018 at 5:08 PM Post #14 of 23

musicman59

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I have mix feelings about the show. I have been coming to Axpona every year for at least the last 5 years. I agree the former venue had a space problem mainly for parking but this new venue is huge and sometimes I felt lost.
IMO the hall where the headgear was set is huge, ugly and cold. Whoever made the decision to have the headgear with the marketplace together in the same room needs to reconsider that. With the size and structure of the hall the noise level was to high.
The rooms in the hotel area specially in the 3rd floor were smaller than the previous venue. The exhibitors could hardly have 6 people in to listen in those rooms. Seemed like in the 4th floor and up the rooms were slightly larger.
What Woo Audio, Mr Speakers, Sennheiser and Kimber did getting together in a suite a the top was a great idea and did a great job presenting the products and treating the customers.
I noticed all the "old" HiFiMan crew gone as well as Jimmy from AK. I was sad to see that.
Overall it was a good show just different I guess and it might required some tweaking.
 
Apr 17, 2018 at 2:39 PM Post #15 of 23
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Axpona was a fun show for us, thanks to everyone who stopped by either in the ear-gear or the main hall where we shared with Schiit. We provided some feedback to the show management that the expo hall was too big and loud for people to hear the open back headphones, we're lobbying to get a smaller space just for ear gear next year. I think they wanted to increase traffic to ear gear by sharing with the vinyl, record cleaners, etc, but there was so much noise... Glad people liked the suite we participated in. I'm finding that especially with the electrostatics its really helpful to be in quieter spaces, but we appreciate any feedback we can get on how this is working for the attendees...
 
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