Chicago Fine Audio Show - Audio Nirvana Review 2017

Chicago Fine Audio Show - Audio Nirvana Review 2017

Feb 08, 2017

Myles Astor, founder of online forum Audio Nirvana, was kind enough to provide us with his write-up and pictures of Paragon's Chicago Fine Audio Show. We want to thank Myles for kindly allowing us to repost his review on our blog. Click HERE to visit the Audio Nirvana discussion forum directly.

From Audio Nirvana:

"Symphony Space in Chicago’s fabled Symphony Hall played host this past weekend to Paragon Sight & Sound’s Fine Audio sounds experience. Could Larry Marcus owner of Paragon Sight and Sound chosen a better place to hold an audio show? No. Equal? Possibly. As Heidi and I walked that one block from the Palmer House to Chicago Symphony Hall for the first time, my mind was flooded with thoughts of all the great Fritz Reiner and the Chicago Symphony Orchestra’s ‘50s and ‘60s RCA recordings. The sound of one of the world’s best string sections. The trumpet of Adolph Herseth. There was even a bust of Reiner smack dab in the middle of the entrance to the hall just to punctuate the memories. No, we didn’t get to hear Riccardo Muti and the CSO conducted while in town because sadly the orchestra was on tour. But it felt like they were there as we walked through the hall’s hallowed corridors lined with pictures of the current orchestra members.

Paragon Sight & Sound’s Fine Audio Show could have just as easily been titled the Wilson Audio show too. No surprise there as long time high-end audio retailer Paragon Sight & Sound located in Ann Arbor, Michigan has been Wilson Audio’s number one US dealer for the last six years running (rumors also that that SNS is also Wilson’s largest dealer in the world too.) Five of Wilson Audio’s top speakers (sans the XLF and new WAMM) driven by an assortment of amplification, associated electronics and front-ends were playing music at the Fine Audio show. It’s not often that one can experience all those speakers and equipment at one time!

What’s Larry Marcus’s formula for success (the store’s business grew by 20% last year)? Especially considering not a day goes by where you don’t read about the death of high-end audio. Larry’s secret is, “passion, events and effective marketing through [his] website.” For instance, the store’s website gets 13,000 “effective” website views/each month (as defined by >3 mins and >5 pages). Larry also shared that, “people are shopping differently nowadays. Business depends on now, 1) Find online; 2) Call; 3) Get them in. Obviously, the latter depends on effective people answering the calls.” Another component to his and the store’s success is using trade-ins to make friends and establish long term customer relationships plus using their website to resell product. Paragon Sight & Sound is also heavily involved with the Wilson Audio Pre-owned program (modeled after Mercedes). Transparent Audio has a similar program for their cables too.

The Fine Audio Show had according to Larry, “a two-fold purpose.” First, he was, “checking out the strength of the market for the lines he represents in the Chicago market.” Yes, that’s plain speak for testing the market to open another store. Second was, “to reach other music lovers not reached through conventional means.” To accomplish this task, Larry hired a PR person who reached out through several different avenues left untapped by most other shows. Each of the companies at the event assisted Larry in arranging for the show and were represented at the event by the following individuals: Wilson Audio: Peter McGrath and Bill Peugh dCS/HRS: John Quick and Brad O’Toole D’Agostino electronics: Bill McKiegan MOFI/Solidsteel/Koetsu: Jonathan Derda and Norman Schmied Playback Designs: Brian Tucker Brinkmann Audio: Anthony Chiarella Doshi Audio: Nick Doshi and Jaime Monroy Transparent Audio: Jon Zimmer

Despite the cold, dreary and flurrying Chicago days, 300 or so people found their way to the Fine Audio Show (265 had pre-registered for the event) and experienced the sound of four very fine high-end audio systems. The Sabrina/Alexia speaker systems and the Alexx and Sasha 2/Yvette systems were located on the 8th and 9th floors of Symphony Space, respectively. The format of the show was system A was played for 30 minutes, then system B and so on.

Some quick facts about the show systems. Three of the four systems had Brinkmann turntables. Three of the four systems were solid-state driven. Three of the four systems used dCS digital gear. All systems were wired with and used power line management from Transparent Audio. (In fact, all Wilson Audio speakers are wired internally too with Transparent Audio cabling.) Lo and behold, one system even used 15 ips tape as a music source. Most notably, all the companies really worked hard to produce far, far better sound quality than normally encountered at “normal” audio shows.

Nick Doshi, Bill Peugh, Brad O’Toole and Jon Zimmer introduced and demoed the Doshi/Alexia system. This was the only of the four systems in show using tape in addition to the Brinkmann turntable and dCSDAC/transport. All three sources sounded excellent but at the end of the day, the majority of attendees just couldn’t stop waxing poetically about the sound of the tape front-end. Everything was in their proper place here. Detail. Harmonic structure. Soundstaging. But most of all, just sounding real. None of that would have happened either without the help of the Doshi audio electronics that paired wonderfully with the Wilson Audio Alexias.

Jonathan Derda from Mobile Fidelity handled the MOFI/Sabrina system on the other side of the room. (A nice selection of MOFI records and CDs was also on sale at the show.) Here the Wilson Audio Sabrinas sounded very good driven by the relatively unknown 150 wpc Brinkmann Audio integrated Class A/B amplifier. All the demos—not surprisingly—started out with the recently released and instantly out of print UD1S Santana Abraxas LP played back on MOFI’s new $1800 turntable ($2000 with cartridge). The system displayed nice tonality if just slightly compressed. Mobile Fidelity is currently hard at work finishing up the follow-up to Abraxas—and highly anticipated—Bill Evans Sunday at the Village Vanguard. (the release date hasn’t been announced yet.) Jonathan mentioned that 2000 (out of the 3000 run series) of Sunday at the Village Vanguard already accounted for! So anyone with even the slight bit of interest in the next UD1S release should get their order in ASAP. They who hesitate will live to regret their inaction!

Jonathan also played a selection of digital files through Andrea Koch’s/Playback Designs’ latest Merlot DAC that does up to 384 kHz (PCM) and 11.2 mHz (DSD). On the digital front, Jonathan brought along an assortment of files from forthcoming MOFI releases including “Take the Long Way Home” from their Supertramp’s blockbuster release Breakfast in America. There was total silence during the “Long Way Home” cut! Before leaving, I also asked Jonathan about the status of MOFI’s recently announced 45 rpm Dire Straits releases. (if you haven’t already, you owe it to yourself to buy MOFI’s 45 rpm remastering of Brothers in Arms). It appears, though, that the earliest we’ll see the next Dire Strait’s releases is the end of this year. On the non-digital front, Brian Tucker of Pro Audio (and reps a number of lines including Playback Designs) shared that the chances of seeing the widely anticipated Revox/Horch House tape machine at Axpona is slim.

One floor up was the Wilson Audio Alexx based super system. No question about it! Larry, Peter, Bill, Bill, John and Jon put this system together to shock and awe attendees. And they succeeded admirably. This system consisting of Wilson Audio, D’Agostino, dCS, Brinkmann and Transparent Audio was exceptionally musical, clean (a lack of distortion) and dynamic. There was a lack of smearing while at the same time avoiding sounding overly etched either. Everything just sounded so precise and correctly timed. The low end was exceptionally dynamic and powerful. This was hands down, the best sound I’ve heard from Alexx’s. In fact so much so, I wondered how these D’Agostino amplifiers would sound on my Magico speakers. (and that says a lot coming from me!) Master of ceremonies were Peter McGrath and Bill McKiegan who played a series of multi-format digital files both solo instrument, jazz combos and large scale like Dave Wilson’s Winds of War and Peace (mastered by our own Bruce Brown!), some of his as well as other recordings) as well as an occasional record.

On the other side of this very large and gorgeous 9th floor room replete with a lakeside view resided a pair of Wilson Audio Sasha 2s (I really didn’t get much time to listen to the Yvettes on Sunday as I was rushing around to get a few last minute things done before flying back to New York.) The Sasha 2s, like the Alexx’s, were being driven in this system by the new 500 wpc D’Agostino Progression amplifiers. This was the only system without a turntable but it sounded great nonetheless with the dCS Rossini DAC and clock front-end. The Sasha 2s sounded very much like a scaled down version of the Alexx in many respects. Very clean, quick and controlled. Just not the breadth of sound or low end. But like its bigger brother, the music just flowed from the system.

In the end, the question is whether big audio shows are the best route for demonstrating audio equipment to the public. At least for the manufacturer. The Fine Audio show brought to mind an old idea someone once proposed for an audio show. Find a good acoustic venue with a limited amount of rooms, invite the best high-end manufacturers to put their best foot forward and charge a higher admission fee. Perhaps this another avenue worth exploring. Thanks to Larry Marcus and crew for putting together an outstanding two days full of audio, music, food and drink! To think it’s only 10 weeks until Axpona!"