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Impressions:  AXPONA 2023, a Photo-Essay & Intro to the Extro

05-23-2023 | By David W. Robinson | Issue 127

Ye Olde Editor at work at AXPONA 2023, in ink outline (photograph by Bill Parish; image processing by Robinson)

The years of the plague…

It’s no feat of insight to say that the coming of COVID during 2020, 2021, and 2022 was a time that hit high-end audio shows with significant force. One after another, shows like Munich were cancelled, while other up-and-coming shows like the Pacific Audio Fest were forced to postpone expected launch dates. During the darkest days, there weren’t any shows at all, and audiophiles sang the blues while sitting at home in isolation.

That wasn’t entirely bad; according to a number of my industry friends, high-end audio sales were actually up in 2020-2022, as many audiophiles chose to purchase more music and equipment while they were confined to their homes. The greatly-feared collapse of high-end audio demand was actually a spike, helping many companies to prosper…or survive, at the least…during these times.

Not that there weren’t ongoing problems. "Supply chain issues" has become a constant chant worldwide, interrupting design/development cycles, the delivery of products ordered, and shipping. On the audio journalistic side, review schedules can be left in tatters, affecting the timeliness of evaluations.

Losses and changes everywhere. Some 'phile deaths...friends mourned, and now gone.

Those were the years that the locust devoured….


I had been attending AXPONA during the five years from 2015-2019. In each case, I found a vibrant, growing show, with a significant number of exhibitors, large crowds, and good times with my audiobuds. While I’m not much for Chicago, despite its central location…and especially for O’Hare Airport…I was willing to put up with it, and the costs thereof, for the benefits of being there.

Horror Movie in the Theater. Drawing by Dan Zimmerman.

But then came the plague.

I sat out 2020 and 2021, when even the management of the event finally tossed in the towel, cancelling the show. Even 2022, when JDEvents finally attempted the restart of AXPONA, was a sit-out year for me, as well as a number of other audiophiles. It was still too close in time to COVID for anything more than a tentative and tepid response.

So…would AXPONA 2023 be the breakthrough year that everyone was hoping for? I was planning to attend once again, and made my flight reservations accordingly. But would it turn out well?

As it turns out, the answer was yes, definitely.

In fact, AXPONA 2023, held again at the Renaissance Hotel in Schaumberg, was like a time-trip back to 2019, when the event had hit its stride and was the high-end audio show in the USA. Everyone that I talked with agreed with me…it was like the good old days back again. Big crowds, large numbers of exhibitors, excellent foot traffic, colleagues, and friends right and left…as it should be.

Particularly noteworthy was a confirmed exhibitor room number of over 200, and an attendance of over 9,000.

These numbers would make 2023 the best AXPONA ever.

More than those statistics, impressive though they were, though, I noticed something else that really struck me during the event. This AXPONA had a very noticeable larger contingent of three things:

  • Some younger people, more than I've seen in the past (20-somethings and early to middle 30-somethings)
  • More women…both in singles and pairs, mostly
  • More younger couples, obviously touring the show together, and with interest

And we’re talking more than just a few people. In comparing notes with some of my editorial peers and industry friends, it would appear that others noticed the same thing that I did. This is one of the most important and encouraging signs to come out of AXPONA 2023:  not merely large attendance numbers, but a refreshing improvement in demographics, as well.

This bodes well for the future of high-end audio, and for AXPONA.

In the Tube. Painting by Dan Zimmerman.

One thing, though. The reemergence of the audio shows post-COVID is continuing and extending a troublesome trend that I was seeing just before the plague.

"Humpty Dumpty:  before the fall." Drawing by Dan Zimmerman.

And it's pretty simple to understand. Many already do.

Just before COVID, in 2019ville, there were audio shows on every corner and in every month.

The past three years hammered that trend. But now that things are back-to-the-end-of-the-age neo-normal, it's already clear that there are going to be more shows than ever in 2023-2024. Looks like we'll be going back to the ceaseless grind of local/regional/national/international  shows, with some new events being added even now.

Be forewarned:  High-End Audio Shows are going to become more numerous than ever. Audiophiles will have many options, at least several of which should be within reasonable travel distance for a significant number. 

Audiophile journalists, on the other hand, will be put into the olive press. The exhausting grind is back, and is going to need some lion taming and a wise division of labor. Otherwise, you burn out and go broke, eh? 

I'll be choosing audio shows very carefully over the next 18 months, for sure.

Jump to the Extro...

Enough of the Intro. Time to extro.

My Audio Oasis! Awards for AXPONA 2023 will be following in chunklets.

After that...and more important to me as an artist...will come the publication of my portraits from the event.

Persevere the channel…my Audio Oasis! Awards are forthcoming.