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AXPONA 2018: A New Location, A New Vibe - Part 1

04-17-2018 | By Gary L Beard | Issue 96

1st Floor Entrance of the Renaissance Schaumburg Hotel

The late, great show-master of early TV, Ed Sullivan, would say, "That was a Really Big Shew!"

And yes, ladies and germs, AXPONA 2018 was certainly all that, and a bottle of spring water.

After a successful multi-year run at the Westin in Rosemont, Il, this year, AXPONA relocated to the Renaissance Schaumburg Hotel and Convention Center, in Schaumburg, Il. The 2018 show featured a reported 160 plus, listening rooms; a huge amount of convention space for the popular Ear Expo, miscellaneous static audio displays, and the always busy Marketplace.

Once again, JD Events presented audiophiles an excellent show, and the Renaissance turned out to be an excellent venue. Wide hallways made it easy to get around, and the auditorium, and convention facilities were only a few steps (well, okay, maybe more than a few) from the main hotel listening rooms. Food options were adequate, and prices were reasonable. There was a wide range of listening room sizes with what seemed to me to be a higher number of very large rooms, but that was only an impression, not sure if that is the case. That said, the main hotel rooms were smaller, and I sensed many exhibitors struggled to get good sound in the unfamiliar surroundings. But as generally holds true for shows, sound improved throughout the weekend as systems warmed up, and acoustic troubles were mitigated. I did not hear official attendance figures, but it was clearly well-attended. My unofficial grey-matter counter observed a damn lot of folks especially on Friday and Saturday.  The elevators got slammed at points during both days, and there were times when the small listening rooms were swamped. 

In addition to audio gear, there was a full slate of expert talks and learning seminars, live performances, "after hours" listening opportunities, as well as two free shows in the auditorium; a David Bowie multimedia presentation entitled An Evening with David Bowie, featuring live music by Vanity Crush, (which I missed), and the Delmark Records, Blues Revue, featuring the Corey Dennison Band. I caught about 30 minutes of that show, and it was terrific. I bought their CD. And as any self-respecting reviewer would say, it is Highly Recommended!

The Corey Dennison Band Performs on Saturday Night

The Renaissance is a beautiful hotel, and even being a new and much larger venue, it didn’t take me long to get my bearings. It was a very well laid out show, and despite the hotel room listening spaces on Floors 3 to 7, and 15 and 16 being small, and oft times crowded, there was an overall sense of more breathing/moving space for audio-loving humans. But, there was a lot to see.  A whole lot. In fact, there was an impossible amount for this lone audio-hack from Indiana to cover. So while I had different ideas to start, by the end of the show, my mission became giving the Positive Feedback readership a sense of what this show was like, rather than a highly detailed, comprehensive report.

I’ve made mention before about how much I enjoy drooling over the extreme high-end and my own version of audio-unobtainium, and I did spend some of my time this year marveling at a few of those utterly amazing systems which eventually give us trickle down technology. However, knowing how much ground I had to cover, and how many people I wanted to talk to, I thought I needed a game plan. I’ve always shot from the hip with show reports, while still managing to have a measure of cohesiveness. 2018 will see me reviewing several "mid-priced" loudspeakers, so I decided to spend my show-time checking out speakers generally priced at $15K and under, with a focus on $5K to $10K price range. That turned out to be a terrifically difficult task—nee, impossible—as there were many, many, many speakers in that broad pricing spectrum, with more than a few being incredibly good sounding. Who said there’s nothing affordable in high fidelity? It quickly became apparent that my plan had fallen apart, and I was back to the best plan was no plan at all plan. I executed that strategy quite effectively over my two and one half days...I still never saw the entire show.

(Ad)dressing the Elephant

A very long time ago, I remember someone telling me that almost anyone can afford at least one really nice material possession if they want it badly enough. Many would-be audiophiles look at the prices of fine audio gear and balk, but with a concerted effort to save up the bucks, most could purchase a high-end audio system. Yes, high fidelity music playback can be an expensive lifestyle (thanks, Kent), but I tell you now, there is an audio system each of us can afford. And affordable audio was everywhere at AXPONA 2018. I’m taking a risk here putting a number to "affordable"; betting a significant number of people could afford at least some of the products I’ve pictured below—everything from a sub $1K desktop system, to the equivalent cost of a nice vacation in Hawaii. And great audio is certainly within reach of those with bass boat or sports car money to invest.

I’m not going to make many sonic judgments in this show report. As a new show venue, it’s hard to predict how the rooms affected the sound of each system. I suspect all of the exhibitors would tell you their gear sounds fantastic, and I think in general, bias’ aside, I would agree that the products to be sampled at AXPONA are first-rate: It is a big ol’ slice of the best of the best, and all is worthy of closer inspection.

The People

An audio show is more than just a place to see gear that most of us will never see anywhere else. It is also an opportunity to meet the manufacturers, designers, dealers, and yep, even the audio press. This year I met for the first time, two of my Positive Feedback bosses, Dave and Carol Clark. It only took sixteen years. Great folks. (We love you too Gary. Dave Clark)

Aural Eye Candy

I took pictures. Lots of pictures. Bad pictures. Good Pictures. Not all are pictured herein.

Too many pictures.

Even though I was in attendance from Friday through Sunday afternoon, AXPONA 2018 was so big, I did not get to every room. Not even close. So my apologies to readers, and to those dealers, and manufacturers I missed visiting. And because the show was somewhere on the south-side of humongous, and I can’t spend the next month writing this report—I’ve got a date with a wine glass in Sonoma next week—it will be heavy on eye candy, and light on detail.

My bad.

The Value Quotient: For Those Who Think They Can't Afford High-End

Ryan Loudspeakers and EXOGAL

Schiit & Salk (Say that three times fast). 


Adante AS-61 driven by ELAC Alchemy electronics. Very nice!

Cambridge Audio and Bowers & Wilkins



MarkAudio/SOTA Loudspeakers and PS Audio Stellar Line of electronics

Audio Physic loudspeakers in the Vana Room

The Vana Ltd. Room featured EAT, Audio Physic, and Okki Nokki

Goldenear Triton Reference loudspeakers


Sonist Audio, Snake River Audio, ACE Computers, Playback Designs, VAC


AURALiC with Ryan Loudspeakers

PS Audio with ELAC Loudspeakers

PS Audio Stellar Gain Cell Preamp/DAC with M700 Monoblocks driving Goldenear Tritons

Fritz Speakers with Wyred 4 Sound Electronics.

New Anthem Preamp and Amplifier

Prism  with ATC Loudspeakers

Saturday Audio Exchange Room with Monitor Audio speakers & Roksan Electronics

Falcon Loudspeakers, Leben, Line Magnetic, & Well Tempered Lab

A Few Rooms I Really Liked

Odyssey Audio

Klaus Bunge had his small hotel room rocking. It is true that Mr. Bunge was using a fantastic sounding (and expensive) turntable and cartridge, but the sound $6900 dollars of Odyssey gear was making in that room was mesmerizing. Sitting in the sweet-spot, the enveloping stage, imaging, dynamic scale and sense of three dimensions were really something special. Kudos Klaus!

Gershman Acoustics

Posh. Lovely sound in this room. A gorgeous rendering of classical music.

The Audio Company/Von Schweikert/VAC Room 

What do you get when you turn mom upside down? No...Not an unhappy mother...A simple wow! (Give me a break, it’s 6 am on AXPONA Sunday, and I haven’t had coffee!)

The Audio Company of Marietta, Georgia, Von Schweikert Audio, and Valve Amplification Company teamed up to provide a scintillating experience: I spent some nice time in this room, had a great conversation about cars with VAC's Kevin Hayes while listening to some fantastic rock 'n roll on vinyl. It was incredible, and I’ll leave it there for you to ponder.

A (speedy blur) Vinnie Rossi/Harbeth/Triode Wire Labs 

The Voice That Is Room: Tidal Piano 2 loudspeakers. 'Nuff said.


Nice sound in this room. 

Ayon/Lumen White

Really enjoyable sound in this room.


Holy Bass Horns Batman! This was my first experience hearing the big Avantgarde Trio hornspeakers. I think Yello left a part in my hair. 


High value and very good sound. I will investigate further!

Kyomi Audio/On a Higher Note: Nice. Let's go Walk on the Wild Side!

Dynaudio driven by Pass Labs

This was the best I've ever heard the Dynaudio loudspeakers sound. Very nice. I could live with nice.

New and Interesting Products 

The new Parasound Stereo Amplifier

Aesthetix MIMAS Integrated Amplifier

Fully configured with MM/MC Phono Stage and DSD capable DAC. Around $10K. 

The newly updated PS Audio Sprout do-it-all Integrated.

Pass Labs XP-12 Preamplifier

Pass Labs XP-22 Preamplifier

Nelson Pass First Watt

The new kitchen table jewel; the First Watt SIT 3 Amplifier

Cube Audio Drivers (USA distributor is Refined Audio)

Ryan Loudspeakers

The New S610 Stand Mount Loudspeaker from Ryan Loudspeakers. $3995/pair. Ryan will be introducing two new 3-way floor standing models, the S640 ($6995/pair) and S840 ($8995/pair) later this year.

The Wild, Wacky, Beautiful World of Audio

Volti Audio Rival Hornspeakers, Border Patrol Electronics, and Triode Wire Labs 

Toska Audio/Goldenote Audio

Daedalus Audio, Linear Tube Audio, Lampizator, Skogrand

Musical Artisans, Argento Audio, Kharma, Nagra, and Organic Audio

Joseph Audio, Rowland, and Cardas

Magnapan, Mark Levinson



HHR loudspeakers with Walsh Driver

Pear Audio

Refined Audio/Cube Audio/Pass Labs/First Watt



Part 2