AXPONA 2022 Saturday Recap: The Best (Our Favorite) Hifi Systems From America’s Biggest Audio Show!

The coolest stuff from Hifiman, Polk Audio, Kef, Cambridge Audio and more!

This past Saturday was my last day at Axpona 2022, and while there were fewer attendees (and exhibitors, for that matter), it still seemed like a successful show, with plenty to see and do. It was terrific to get out again and hear some new stuff (along with some old favorites).

On Friday, the first official day of the show, I primarily concentrated on the “big rooms,” which are ballrooms or meeting rooms converted into large listening rooms. You can check out my coverage here.

On the second day, I checked out the Ear Gear Expo (headphone room) and the Suites located in the hotel tower. There were a lot of great-sounding rooms with both old and new gear. Some even had the affordable equipment we love to talk about here on hifitrends. Here’s a list of our favorite stuff from Saturday!

1. CEntrance Ampersand Portable Balanced Headphone Power Amplifier ($749)

One of my first stops at the show was the Ear Gear Expo, where they had a bunch of audiophile headphone systems. One system that caught my eye (or ears) was this combination of the HEDD HEDDphone AMT Driver Headphones ($1,899) with the CEntrance Ampersand Portable Balanced Headphone Power Amplifier ($749) & CEntrance HIFI-M8 V2 Battery-Powered Portable USB DAC/Amp ($749). The HEDD headphones usually require a substantial desktop headphone amp to drive them, but the battery-powered Ampersand is capable of up to 6W output, which rivals many desktop amps!

CEntrance Ampersand & HiFi-M8 V2

2. HIFIMAN EF400 Balanced Desktop DAC/Amplifier ($599)

A couple of months back, Hifiman announced the EF400 Balanced Desktop DAC/Amplifier, a headphone DAC/amp combo with up to 4.4W per channel output, and an R2R Ladder DAC section.

I finally got a chance to check it out at the show, and I was amazed at the clarity and power it provided for $599. Pictures also don’t do it justice. In-person, it looked and felt like a much more expensive component. I can’t wait to get this in for a long-term evaluation!

3. LTA Microzotl Preamplifier ($4,450.00)/ZOTL Ultralinear+ Amp ($6,800.00)

I loved this Linear Tube Audio room which had the Microzotl Preamplifier ($4,450.00) and ZOTL Ultralinear+ Amp ($6,800.00) paired with the DeVore Fidelity Gibbon Super Nine Loudspeakers ($9900). It had to be one of the Top 5 best sounding rooms at the show, with a natural tonality that’s hard to beat!

4. Devialet Dione Dolby Atmos 5.1.2 Soundbar ($2,400)

I don’t usually cover soundbars, but this one just blew my mind! The $2400 Devialet Dione is the French company’s’ new high-end, all-in-one Dolby Atmos® 5.1.2 soundbar that sounded spectacular, at least during the show demo. When they cranked up the surround track, you couldn’t tell me there weren’t speakers all around the room, and believe me, I looked. Not only that, but this soundbar also produced subwoofer-like bass while maintaining remarkable clarity. BTW, it also did a great job with music!

That’s definitely a testament to this company’s fabulous DSP. It isn’t cheap, but if you have a smaller room, it’ll save you the trouble of putting speakers all over the place, not to mention that seven good speakers and a separate Dolby Atmos receiver will probably cost more.

5. Cabasse The Pearl Pelegrina Wireless Active Loudspeaker System ($29,990/pr.)

Speaking of the French, Cabasse is another company from France making awe-inspiring Active Loudspeaker systems. Upscale Audio, their new distributor in the U.S., had their flagship Pearl Pelegrina Wireless Active Loudspeaker System ($29,000) on demo, and damn was it impressive.

Like Devialet, Cabasse has some excellent DSP, allowing this 2 ch system to produce mind-blowing imaging and presence and room-shaking bass. Each tower has a 12″ woofer, four separate amplifiers, and 3,700 W of power. In addition to the woofer, there are three additional drivers in a coaxial arrangement. All the amplification and streaming appliances are built into the base, and you play music from the companion app. On the other hand, it did sound just a touch synthetic, but the good outweighed the bad.

If you want a pair, you should probably call now. Only 70 pairs will be made!

6. KEF Reference 1 Meta Speakers ($8,999.98/pr.)

Local dealer Holm Audio had a nice setup consisting of the new KEF Reference 1 Meta Standmount Speakers ($8,999.98) paired with the Hegel H390 Integrated Amp ($6000). These speakers have KEF’s new Metamaterial Absorption Technology (MAT) built-in which is supposed to remove 99% of distortion coming from the back of the speaker. The word on this system was refined, as it had excellent detail and rich tonality.

7. Polk Audio Reserve R200 Bookshelf Speakers ($749/pr.)

There wasn’t a ton of inexpensive gear at the show, but as someone who covers affordable high-end audio, I’m always on the lookout for it. I commend Sound United for this room which featured Polk Audio’s new Reserve R200 Bookshelf Speakers that retail at $749.

These affordable speakers have garnered a lot of great press, and I could hear why. They were paired up with the DENON PMA-1600NE integrated amp, which we reviewed a while back, and it was a good match. The bass dynamics were superb, allowing these speakers to play fast and accurately. I actually like the way these handled bass better than the top of the line Legend L200 speaker. However, the L200 does just about everything else better. The R200 speakers are so fun to listen to!

8. Cambridge Audio Alva TT V2 ($1999) and Alva ST ($999) Turntables

Speaking of affordable, Cambridge Audio featured not one but two affordable new turntables at the show. On their main system, combined with their flagship Cambridge Audio Edge NQ preamp/streamer ($5,499) and Cambridge Audio Edge A Integrated Amp ($6,499) was the ALVA TT V2 Direct Drive Turntable ($1999), which has been upgraded with a new more robust tonearm and MC cart.

Alva TT V2

On the their secondary system along with the EVO75 streaming amplifier was the new Alva ST Belt Drive Turntable ($999), which has the same plinth, platter and tonearm as the TT V2, but uses a belt-drive mechanism and Moving Magnet cartridge to bring the price down. Both the Alva TT V2 and Alva ST have aptX HD output for private listening sessions.

Alva ST

9. Aretai Contra 100S Stand-Mount Speakers ($7500/pr.)

Aretai Contra 100S

One of the most interesting new speakers at the show was the Aretai Contra 100S Stand-Mount Speakers ($7500/pr.) which hail from Lativa, Northern Europe.

Just a few weeks after receiving the Red Dot Design Award, Aretai founders Janis Irbe and Edgars Zvirgzdins were on hand to launch their beautiful speakers in the U.S. market. The supporting cast was comprised mainly of Benchmark gear including two AHB2 Monoblock Amplifiers ($2999/each), an LA4 Line Preamplifier ($2599), and a DAC3 B ($1699). This was all fed by an Aurender N200 Caching Music Server / Streamer ($6000).

Each speaker had a silk ring radiator tweeter loaded into a huge waveguide, with a 6′ woofer in front and a 6″ rear firing passive radiator. The first thing I noticed about this system was how widely dispersed the high-frequencies were. It didn’t matter if I stood up or sat, moved from left to right, the sound didn’t change much. I also noticed the remarkable bass depth these speakers produced with no hint of strain. I didn’t expect that from a speaker this size.

10. ATC SCM19 V2 Bookshelf Speakers ($4,799.00/pr.)

This was another one of my Top 5 rooms in terms of sound quality. This simple system was comprised of a pair of ATC SCM19 V2 Bookshelf Speakers ($4,799.00/pr.) alongside an ATC SIA2-100 Integrated Amp ($3,999.00), and like most british monitor systems the midrange was so sweet and pure I couldn’t tear myself away from it.

The amp is conservatively rated at 100Wpc (into eight ohms) with an AKM based DAC section, and the speakers utilize a new ATC developed and built 25mm soft dome tweeter sitting in an alloy wave guide. This system was right in my wheelhouse, and I would really like to hear this setup in my listening room!

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