The amiable and loquacious Jason Zidle is a product manager at Lenbrook, the Canadian company behind NAD and Bluesound. Lenbrook also imports Denmark’s storied DALI speakers. At the Renaissance hotel in Schaumburg, the star performers in the Lenbrook space are a handsome pair of just-launched DALI Epikore 11 floorstanders ($60,000/pair). The Epikores were flanked by two K-14 F subwoofers ($2200 each). A couple of bridged NAD M23 stereo amplifiers ($3749 each) were fed by an NAD M66 streaming DAC and preamp ($5499). All was connected with AudioQuest cables.

The Epikores are one model below the DALI Kores ($120,000/pair), the company’s current flagship. Those speakers have some serious price tags. Zidle rightly pointed out that of course DALI makes speakers for moderate budgets too—like the Opticon line; speakers in that series retail for $1000-$5000/pair.

He told me that some Opticon owners gradually upgrade to much pricier DALI offerings. “They’re like a gateway drug that way,” he said. We decided to do some serious listening.

This was no easy task. Lenbrook is exhibiting in the ironically named “Studio.” The word may conjure a one-room apartment, but at AXPONA it’s an absolutely gargantuan space right off the hotel lobby, not far from the check-in desk and elevators. It sits just below a multistory atrium. Combine that with walls of glass, marble floors, add buzz from hotel guests and AXPONA goers and there’s no way you could make that acoustically troubled expanse sound good. Except that … it kinda did. Even at lowish levels, Radiohead’s “Morning Bell” came through with emotional and physical punch, and Leonard Cohen’s voice on “Going Home” missed none of its dark-caramel character.

Team Lenbrook, of course, knows the space isn’t optimal for listening. Their AXPONA strategy is to first capture traffic: “We’re here to draw eyes to the brand,” Zidle said. Visitors who are intrigued enough to seek a more intimate audition are directed to a nearby dealer, Simply Stereo in Palatine, 10 minutes away by car. “We’ll put you in an Uber right now,” Zidle offered, and he’ll say that to non-journalists, too. I couldn’t leave my colleagues in a lurch; there are many more rooms to cover. Otherwise, I’d have jumped at the chance. The DALIs and the NAD components sounded like a fortuitous combo that will wow in a proper room.

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