Dr. AIX's POSTS — 23 April 2015


AXPONA Setting Up State-of-the-Art

The sky is pure blue as I look out from the 6th floor hotel room. My wife and I and 200 pounds of luggage have arrived at the site of the AXPONA show. After we picked up the rental car, we headed to the Westin O’Hare Hotel to drop off the bags and check out the Lakeshore B ballroom. I’ll share some photos of the raw space later but the room should work out pretty well. Thankfully, it’s not clustered near other rooms or separated from a neighbor through a temporary divider. But it is near the Grand Ballroom where lots of content vendors will be selling vinyl LPs, expensive cables, and other audiophile accessories.

It’s going to take a sizeable effort to get everything set up, tested, and tweaked but that’s why I’m here a day ahead of opening day. I’ll catch up with my friends from Benchmark and JVC shortly and begin the process of unpacking.

I feel compelled to continue the conversation on the system that my partners and I have assembled for the AXPONA show. The comments that I’ve received posed some serious questions. Here’s a couple worth posting:

“Why and When did Listening to Music become complicated and expensive???”

“I fear this whole business is more revealing of your personal and business relationships with Benchmark, John Siau, and Oppo, both major advertisers here, than any real audio weakness in the Bryston SP3 or any other compatible high end component combos that you could have used instead of custom modified units. The end result now tells the listeners nothing about the hardware they’re hearing since the chain has a nonstandard component at the very front end.”

Here’s a little perspective on the AXPONA setup. Listening to music can be casual or complicated. The experience that each of desire can be delivered through a simple playback device or complex setup requiring exacting calibration and expensive equipment. It’s not unlike the Burger King slogan; we can have our music our way.

In the current AXPONA model, Benchmark and I decided to up the bar. Assembling another high-end system wasn’t the goal. Our goal was to present a room capable of delivering a level of fidelity that accepts no compromise. The bar we wanted to top was set by the JAS (Japan Audio Society). And the system that we’ve put together does that…from the fidelity of the source recordings through the electronics to the speakers.

It is complicated and expensive…and it should be. We’re living at the bleeding edge of audio fidelity. The wrench that I threw into the mix is surround sound. Getting state-of-the-art 2-channel stereo is a walk in the park in comparison. Lots of rooms will do a reasonable job at reproducing standard definition stereo. But if AXPONA attendees want to hear something unique and uncompromising, they can come to the Lakeshore B Ballroom and experience REAL High-Resolution audio in full 5.1 surround sound with HD-Video.

As for with Benchmark and Oppo, I would like to clarify the nature of my association with these companies and the people that operate them. I believe in their products. As a result, I post banner ads on my site without charge. These companies and all of the other partners in the AIX Records room at AXPONA share the expense of the room and pay their own way.

Benchmark and Oppo design and produce amazing products. I feel very fortunate to have them as partners for this trade show as well as Dolby Labs, DH Labs, and JVC. It’s the first time that Benchmark has been involved in one of my demo rooms and I know that their very high standards for sound quality will help establish our room as among the best at the show.

I’m also a big fan of Bryston and have welcomed them as a partner in the past. The SP-3 is a state-of-the-art preamp and multichannel DAC. However, the signal path that we are using is a notch better…and more challenging.

Got to go setup.

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About Author


Mark Waldrep, aka Dr. AIX, has been producing and engineering music for over 40 years. He learned electronics as a teenager from his HAM radio father while learning to play the guitar. Mark received the first doctorate in music composition from UCLA in 1986 for a "binaural" electronic music composition. Other advanced degrees include an MS in computer science, an MFA/MA in music, BM in music and a BA in art. As an engineer and producer, Mark has worked on projects for the Rolling Stones, 311, Tool, KISS, Blink 182, Blues Traveler, Britney Spears, the San Francisco Symphony, The Dover Quartet, Willie Nelson, Paul Williams, The Allman Brothers, Bad Company and many more. Dr. Waldrep has been an innovator when it comes to multimedia and music. He created the first enhanced CDs in the 90s, the first DVD-Videos released in the U.S., the first web-connected DVD, the first DVD-Audio title, the first music Blu-ray disc and the first 3D Music Album. Additionally, he launched the first High Definition Music Download site in 2007 called iTrax.com. A frequency speaker at audio events, author of numerous articles, Dr. Waldrep is currently writing a book on the production and reproduction of high-end music called, "High-End Audio: A Practical Guide to Production and Playback". The book should be completed in the fall of 2013.

(9) Readers Comments

  1. Good luck at the show! I wish I could attend.

  2. Hi Mark, I believe I am experiencing HRA without the complication by simply passing (bitsream) from my player (lets just pretend it’s an Oppo 103) using HDMI. I get the TrueHD or DTS-MA or LPCM indicator up on my receiver… so therefore should be good-to-go. I realise that there may be some clocking issues with HDMI? …so perhaps that puts it in the ‘compromised camp’. But doing it this way IS SIMPLE, and people need not think they have to modify their gear with multi-SPDIF outputs to experience HRA… Just in case that’s the perception?

    *my source player is actually an HTPC running OpenELEC and bitstreaming audio through a passive nVidia graphics card – but for argument sake, it may as well be any Bluray player capable of lossless bitsreaming.

    • Shane, thanks for the comments and description. The fidelity of your setup relies on the quality of the receiver in handling the bitstream. As I said the other day, the Bryston SP-3 does a very good job of taking the HDMI signal and converting to analog…but reading the specifications are somewhat lower than the Benchmark conversion using multiple DAC2. And out goal was to achieve something that includes no compromises. But if you read today’s post, you’ll discover why living on the bleeding edge is not easy…nothing ever goes as planned.

      • So when do we know we’ve reached the point were it’s good enough on a technical level. I’ve been debating weather or not to buy another DAC and to use the analog inputs of my Lexicon RV 8 receiver. I realize at this point my speakers are the bottleneck because they have a rated frequency response up to 25khz. Is using a highly tweaked HTPC using CAD scripts to turn off over 150 drivers and tweaking performance geared towards audio and tweaking the BIOS via my current chain; iTraxs files>external HDD>SATA connection>HTPC>Mapleshade USB cable>Kingrex UC384 USB/SPDIF converter>Transparent Audio premium coax cable>Lexicon RV 8>11 gauge bi-wired Monitor Audio S8 set up using WASP technique enough.


        Hope your feeling better.

        Love watching your video’s, please make more!


        • Forgot: James Loudspeaker EMB 1000.


      • Benchmark should do a multi-chan HDMI DAC then…and I’d certainly consider the upgrade 🙂
        So, no clocking issues with HDMI?

  3. HDMI is still not up to snuff as an audio carrier of unimpeachable quality. I sure wish it was, it would make life alot easier. But there are clock problems galore. In fact, one of the brightest British digital audio outfits confided something pretty amazing. For movies, the only clock HDMI deals with is for the video; there essentially is no clock for the audio track, and they measured 5400 picoseconds jitter on the audio! To solve the problem, and not cheaply either, they strip the audio track from the stream, re-clockit and send it back in.

    And to make everyones’ day, yes, there are mechanical and qualitative differences between HDMI cables that you can see and hear without any trouble whatsoever. Go ahead, lob the tomatoes in, but be sure you have made as many controlled comparisons as I have re: HDMI.Last bit: that same very bright Brit audio company that provided the above information about HDMI audio also provided a new definition of what the term HDMI stands for, and it’s not what you think. Instead, it’s H.ardly D.eveloped M.ostly I.ntermittent Have a great weekend

  4. I am wondering about the DH Labs cables you are using. What made you choose these? Did you compare them to other cables? In particular, do you have some recommendations for an AES/EBU digital cable?

    • I’m not a huge believer in expensive cables. Greg from DH Labs is a really good guy and provides really good cables without the huge price tags. For the AES-EBU cable I would make my own from goo cable and Neutrik Connectors…no need to spend heavy on digital cables.

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